BS Parent Retrospective

Tunneling through a mountain to see your kiddo

Tunneling through a mountain to see your kiddo

In less than two weeks, Nerd Child will be graduating from high school.  (I suppose I’ll have to change his Fringie name at that point–the current one doesn’t feel so right anymore.)  It’s a big deal, not just for him, but for me, and not only in a two-down-one-to-go kind of way.  It will mark the end of an era for this mama as a boarding school (bs) parent.  The other night a friend of mine asked me about boarding schools because her child is interested.  These two things coming up together made me think it made sense to post about our experiences.  Disclaimer, I do not and cannot speak for all boarding families, all scholarship boarding families, or all boarding schools.  I will try to hit points that I think are fairly universal in the world of being a scholarship family at fancy shmancy boarding schools, but of course, this is all just our experience–and really, my perspective.    I know exactly zero about therapeutic, military, or single sex boarding schools (though I’ve heard great things about several of the all-girls schools), or even being a full-pay family at a selective bs.  After two kiddos attending two different boarding schools, visiting/touring/interviewing at approximately 30, and 9 years, I’m not an expert.

If you mentioned boarding school to me fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t have known what you were talking about.  As far as I was concerned, the term was either a polite euphemism for “juvie” or part of the fictional realm of glam and glitz novels.  Ten years ago I had a glimmer, but if you asked if my child would attend, I would have laughed.  Actually, I’m pretty sure I did laugh.  So how is it that I’m about to see my second child graduate from boarding school?  It wasn’t an accident, it didn’t just happen.  It was the result of tons of campaigning by Man Child, research and hard work done by me, Husband, Man Child, Nerd Child, and the middle school both boys attended.  That and the fact that our home had become the center of medical doom and gloom.  Husband wasn’t well, then Art Child wasn’t well, I had a bag permanently packed and at the ready for a hospital admit.

Both my boys went to a small, private middle school here in the city, a prep school that involved ties and dress codes, but not what jumps to mind when you think prep school.  This school is bare bones, for gifted, economically disadvantaged inner city kids, with an emphasis on personal responsibility and responsibility to the greater community.  Oh, and a no-dating policy.  Sound silly?  Not at all.  Remember, this is middle school.  Half the kids are relieved to put off dealing with romantic entanglements.  Half aren’t, it’s true.  But trust me, the kids don’t ruin their social lives forever by waiting and focusing on an inclusionary community.  Dating, by its very definition is exclusionary.  The staff/school has connections with the top high schools in the country; parochial, private day, and boarding, and they work hard to make sure each child gets into the schools with the greatest chance of success–and enough financial aid to make it possible.

Kids in NYC, particularly Manhattan, are well versed in the concept of applying to, interviewing for, and being rejected by schools by the time they reach high school admissions.  I realize this isn’t the case for much of the country.  Is it stressful?  Of course it is.  But it’s manageable, especially if you, as the parent, keep your balance and don’t convey to your child that any one school, or even one type of school, is the only option.  Their chances of getting into a “good” college, their lives aren’t ruined if they don’t get into school A (or B or C), regardless of how glossy the brochure is.  So.  What’s it like, opening to the possibility of boarding school?  It’s exciting, it’s an adventure, it’s a lot of road trips, it’s eight gazillion essays written by you the parent, and 32 gazillion written by your child, it’s fucking terrifying.

I’ve said it before but this can’t be said too many times.  BS isn’t for everyone.  Not for every family, not for every kid.  Your child has to want it.  You have to want it for them.  You have to know your child.  You have to believe your child is going to get up on time, and do their homework without you standing over them.  In my opinion, they have to already be doing these things–but I have heard from many parents whose kids weren’t already doing these things, but they figured it out and managed, with time very successfully.  You have to be able to take a breath when your child calls, upset over x happening, and figure out whether this is a boarding school upset, a high school upset, something that requires a call to their advisor, or an unplanned trip to eyeball them in person.  When/if you go tour, ask the staff, they’ll be honest about how quick they will/won’t be to contact you, it differs with different schools.

Boarding schools do offer tremendous opportunities.  Academics are top–in a way I couldn’t have imagined, ten years ago.  The teachers are truly passionate and caring.  They live there, with your kids, so believe me, they care.  Not just in the classrooms, but onstage, in the dorms, on the athletic fields, in the dining hall.  Class size is generally not an issue, they’re small.  The schools want kids engaged, working, interested, happy, and successful.  Trust me, there are many more applicants than seats available.  When we’re talking about kids on full scholarships, we’re talking about major investments, averaging btw $40-50,000 per year, per kid–and they expect these kids to stay all four years, do well, contribute to the community, and need the same money every year.  Your kiddo won’t be bored.  Ever.  Not to say there are never problems, they’re kids, life happens–but these kids are kept busy–a lot less room to get into trouble.  Your kiddo has been breezing through school?  So has every other kid in their class.  They stop breezing, and are challenged, while still being supported.  Your child’s dorm mates will likely be from all over the country, maybe their closest friend will from Beijing. Or Jamaica. Or Korea or Nigeria.  And I mean the friend, not just where the family is from.  Most of these highly selective boarding schools have large endowments, allowing them to offer generous financial aid packages–more than their equivalent day schools.  Your child will become independent, in amazing and wonderful ways.  That said, your kiddo won’t be 13 forever, growth and maturity happens regardless of what type of high school they attend.

There are commonalities among the highly selective BS, but there are many differences.  Some things to look at:  what are the dorms like? nice? cramped? mixed ages? are there Saturday classes? every week or just a few times a year?  are parents always welcome to visit? kids able to come home (if within a reasonable distance) for the weekend if they need/want to touch base or are there many “closed weekends?”  is there a way for the child to leave campus and come home by public transportation?  is there a dress code? how strict?  are meals formal? assigned seating? how is the food, anyway?  is there a religious affiliation/how prevalent? how large is the school?  some schools are very small, with a total of 300 kids or so, “large” bs are about 1200 kids, not that large compared to many public high schools.  what percentage of kiddos are receiving financial aid?  Is it needs-blind (needs-blind means the decision to accept or deny is made without looking at financial need, if they believe the child is a good fit/they want them, they offer enough financial aid)?  what is the percentage of kids of color?  –how does that break down (so called under/over represented minorities), and how much do you/does your child care?  are there day students?  what percentage?  a few schools are 100% boarding, but most are mixed to varying degrees.  what is the academic range?  are the kids friendly as you pass them on your tour?  how strict/what are the rules?  different schools expect varying degrees of independence, and offer varying degrees of structure. all BS have active athletic programs, and all kids are expected to participate–how much? do they have to participate in 3 sports each year, can they take a season off, do they have alternatives for kids who aren’t athletic by allowing theater to count as a sport, basic instructional classes, etc? Can your child see themselves there?

Are you ready for the judgement, assumptions, and hairy eyeballs of…everyone?  Seriously, everyone.  Some will assume you’ve been hiding the fact that you’re a bazillionaire.  Many will assume that your kiddo has in fact gotten into serious trouble with the law/drugs and are in juvie or a residential treatment facility.  People who have known you as a parent for years (including family members) will assume you are “sending your kid away,” don’t want to parent anymore, aren’t parenting anymore, and/or kiddo hates you–either because you “sent them away” or that’s why they wanted to go in the first place.  You can try to explain, but not too much because then it sounds like you’re making excuses or they’ll hear it as you judging them.  (I’ve even heard stories of teachers being openly judgmental when asked for recommendations for the applications, the assumption being you either hate your kid or think the local teachers are incompetent.)  If you have more than one child and they don’t all go boarding the assumption is you dislike one of them (either the one who stayed or the one who went, take your pick).  When friends/family talk about issues with their kiddo attending the local high school, it’s oh-those-teenaged-years; if you talk about the same issue with your kiddo, it’s clearly the result of your horrible parenting that enabled you to send your kid away.  This doesn’t ease up, by the way.  Most who don’t “get it” still don’t get it 4 years or 4 kids later, with luck they just learn to be quieter about what a horrible and unfeeling bitch you are.

Money.  It can’t be ignored, not in life, and not in bs.  I thought my boys were well prepared.  The staff at their middle school addressed this head on; and we live in Manhattan, in a building that is part of a program designed to keep working class people in the city, on a block that includes 9 million dollar brownstones and project housing.  Public school classmates that included families with country houses in the Hamptons, immigrants living in SROs, and families living in homeless shelters.  Yeah, no.  The level of wealth that can be found in these schools is a whole different playing field.  Not that every full pay family is a family of billionaires, many make significant sacrifices so their kiddos can attend, but seriously, some live in a world so different that even after being a part of the boarding school world for 9 years, I can’t grasp it.  But your kiddo will.  They will when they hear what the other kids are doing with their breaks, hear about familial residences, names they’ve read about in the papers/seen on tv, and when they realize those $20 music lessons you scrimped and finagled don’t mean shit compared to the opportunities and lessons some of their classmates have not only experienced, but live.  They may visit classmate’s homes, and then not feel comfortable inviting classmates back to their home, because now they feel the difference.  (maybe, depends on the kiddo) Financial aid only goes so far.  Speaking of, check those offered packages carefully, there’s a wide difference in how different schools define full scholarship, and those extras can add up quickly, you don’t want to be sitting in a dark house with an unpaid electric bill while your bs kiddo is taking notes in a $12 notebook he charged to your account at the school’s bookstore.

It isn’t about the end game.  If you’re only looking at bs because you think that will guarantee your kiddo admission to an Ivy, forget it.  First of all, the days of “feeder schools” are long gone.  Second, Precious Brilliant Talented Snowflake will be one of 3-1200 precious brilliant talented snowflakes, no one college is taking all of them.  Diversity, it’s a good thing–in high schools, in colleges, in life.  Third, boarding school is an end game unto itself.  The experiences, the growth, the opportunities, the relationships, the way it shapes the way your child sees themselves, others, the world and their place in it; these are valuable unto themselves, to say the least.  Bonus: If you’ve done the boarding school application process, by the time they’re applying to colleges the stress is greatly decreased, you and your kiddo have had tons of practice!  The flip side is that college tours are harder to schedule and frankly, less impressive.

Most of all, you miss them.  Even when you 100 % believe it was the best decision, at the best possible school for them, you miss them.  Some kiddos will call/text/Facetime/Skype all the time, and tell you all about their days, some won’t–it’s basic personality, they are individuals, it’s just how it is.  And you miss out.  Whether it’s a dance or a show or a game or a trip to the ER or an argument.  Even when you live close enough, if the financial aid office works with you to help you get there for a visit on parents’ weekend, even if you have a job with enough flexibility to go see the big moments, you miss out on a million small moments. When we dropped Man Child off for the first time, I sobbed all the way home.  Heh.  I had no idea how much I would/could miss him.  Every drop off after that was harder, I think I stopped breathing when Nerd Child left for the first time.  I couldn’t go with him, because Art Child had just started middle school the day before, and for the very first time in her school career, she wanted to go to school the next day. He was fine with it, I couldn’t comprehend how I was still walking around.

There are many, many things I wish I could do over in life, different paths, different choices.  But given the parameters I have, the life we live, I do not regret allowing my boys to go to boarding schools.  They each took exciting, interesting classes, pursued extra curricular interests we couldn’t offer here at home, enjoyed successes and failures they wouldn’t have experienced here.  They were safe, loved, and supported. They each had fabulous opportunities, cultivated real and wonderful friendships, received high school educations many colleges can’t match.  I didn’t send them away.  We let them go, each with a clear safety net and connections to home.

Good grief, this is the longest post I’ve ever written!

Our children; individual human beings, with or without boarding school.

It’s Official, We’re Doomed


Critical thinking.  In my opinion, it’s the single most important thing (after learning to read) for people to learn.  It’s what allows us to make informed decisions, objectively analyze information, sift opinion from fact and learn to incorporate the nuances of life.  Develop empathy, compassion because we understand (at least the facts of) all sides, whether we agree with them or not. Not just so we can make sensible charts and see patterns, but critical thinking also feeds imagination, promoting innovation, new discoveries, and progress.  The higher the level of educational institution, the more critical the thinking should become.  And it’s something we’re seeing less and less of.  There isn’t a whole lot of room and time left for teaching critical thinking skills when public schools are forced to spend the majority of their days teaching to (high stakes, homogeneous) tests and teachers are evaluated based on how their students perform on said tests, and how well they design a bulletin board.  That leaves college, right?

On one side, we’ve got Bernie Sanders, who wants to eliminate tuition, and offer free education at public universities.  I like Bernie, and I agree with much of what he has to say.  I would absolutely support free tuition at public universities.  It isn’t unprecedented in the US, California public universities were free to California residents until the 1920s, with a nominal fee for another fifty years.  In New York the CUNY (City University of New York) schools were free (I think some, but not all) until the 1970s.  If I were king, I’d make it free for in-state residents, still charge for room and board for other than low-income students, and place GPA restrictions on the free tuition, both to get it in the first place, and then to keep it once a student is in.  (And no more bullshit with these “weighted” high school GPAs, stop penalizing economically disadvantaged kids from poor communities who don’t have the opportunity to take 23 meaningless AP classes.)  I think these types of restrictions and minimum requirements would have to be in place to avoid degrees from public universities becoming meaningless.

And on the other side, we’ve got this. Excuse me a minute while I puke, will ya?  In a nutshell, concealed carry laws will now allow students to carry handguns on campus at public Texas universities.  Because of this, professors are being told to avoid sensitive subjects, drop certain topics from their curriculum, and limit student access to them.  Putting aside the underlying facts regarding guns, gun violence, and gun safety (because we don’t want to get involved in too many high fallutin’ facts here, it’s just a blog, after all), there is no way to look at this and not see how very wrong it is.  College.  What’s the point of it, anyway?  A liberal arts education was intended to provide students with (drumroll) critical thinking.  Different ways of viewing the world, figure out how to solve complex problems, communicate effectively, provide you with the ability to think for yourself.  I suppose liberal arts is definitely out with this now, huh?  Well how about an applied degree in science, mathematics, law?  Nope, sorry, because any and all of those fields of study may include sensitive topics and be offensive to personal beliefs, they can’t be studied.

To be fair–and possibly even demonstrate critical thinking skills–despite my left leanings I also think the extreme on the other side is a bunch of bullshit. Excessive trigger warnings and attempts to “protect” students from subjects they might find uncomfortable or offensive effectively muffle debate, discussion, and analysis. This warm and fluffy blanket of avoidance isn’t doing us any favors.

I believe in education.  Power, reasoning, and opportunities grow from academic discourse, exposure to new ideas, and studying history.  That said, I don’t believe everyone should or needs to go to college.  Some people aren’t academically gifted.  Some people aren’t good at sitting in a classroom. *that’s me*  It doesn’t make sense to me when I see help wanted ads for receptionists that want college degrees.  Way to penalize people who don’t go to college.  Skills learned outside the classroom are important too, and many jobs and careers that make our society keep chugging along have nothing to do with a BA, BS, MS, etc.  I do believe everyone who’s capable of doing the work and wants to go to college should have the opportunity to do so without trading a degree for homelessness, life on the pole, or forfeiting any chance of ever using that degree to get ahead in their chosen field because they’re so in debt from it.

Regardless of the path chosen, and regardless of whether you lean left or right, aren’t we all saying we’re frustrated because we want better, we want more?  Downward mobility isn’t just about economic status.  One by one we’re burying the tools we need along with our heads in the interest of…what?  Ignorance, narrow-mindedness, and divisiveness.

I don’t care whether your classroom of choice is a traditional one, online, or in the corner bar at happy hour.  What matters is that we insist on continuing to learn, listen to all the sides and all the facts, and grow.

We need knowledge.  Progress.  Problem solving.  Opportunity.

Wait, Come Back!

How does he manage to end the bottle of shampoo exactly when he's leaving?

How does he manage to end the bottle of shampoo exactly when he’s leaving?

Oh Summer, why do you always end so quickly?  Not quite over yet, but Nerd Child goes back to school tomorrow.  At this point I’ll be lucky to squeeze in one more beach day.  This is our ninth year of watching at least one of the boys pack for the beginning of the school year, and yet it never, ever gets easier. And this is a big year.  Art Child is going into high school, Nerd Child is in his last year of high school, and Man Child won’t be in school at all.  Almost three months past and still a huge thought, that my oldest is a college graduate.

Once August begins, posts from friends in other parts of the country begin creeping into my newsfeed, showing me back to school pictures and advertisements.  For the first week or so, I resent it–in New York we’re only halfway through.  But by the third week, I’m in countdown mode, insomnia increasing even as I remember soon enough sleeping late won’t be an option; knowing it’s only a matter of time before I’m frantically filling out paperwork, asking for the eighth time if he’s sure he packed enough shampoo to last him until Thanksgiving.   You’d think he was headed to Antarctica instead of New England, with no readily available drugstores.

I should be happy and excited for all of them.  Art Child is going to a school that seems like it will be a good fit for her, a small and welcoming community. Not an art school, but she can and will continue with her Saturday art classes. Man Child will be home for about a week, and then he’s off to Europe for several months, with a job and housing lined up.  Nerd Child is poised for an excellent year, and there’s no reason to think he won’t have at least a couple of great options for college once it’s all said and done.

Sure I’ll have a little more room when the amps clear out.


I’d say I won’t find picks underfoot constantly, but that’d be a lie.  Those things multiply like Legos.

on the floor

on the floor

on the table....

on the table….

He should have begun packing this morning, but instead he headed downtown to the super sekrit, super awesome word-of-mouth-only luthier who made his guitar in order to get it adjusted.

Now he’s home, and should be packing. I should be yelling at him to pack. I should be reminding him to keep working on his application essays. But he’s playing, and I’m listening.


Exhaustion: It’s What’s for Dinner. and Celebration!

On the road, parenting style.

On the road, parenting style.

On Friday morning, Husband, Art Child, and I got in the car to head north for Man Child’s college graduation.  College! Graduated!  I did it!!!  Err, I mean, Man Child did it. And in all seriousness, he did it well.  Congratulations to you!  Naturally, life being what it is here on the Fringe, Nerd Child and all his stuff needed to be picked up from his school on the same day, a mere three and a half hours from where Man Child was graduating.

So we drove.

I've always had a thing for log houses. Wonder how one will look on the beach in HI. ;)

I’ve always had a thing for log houses. Wonder how one will look on the beach in HI. 😉

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You have reached your (first) destination!

You have reached your (first) destination!

Lovely petunias in flower boxes outside our motel room–a mere one state away from where the college actually is.  Apparently the good mommies book their rooms six-nine months in advance, the fringe mamas end up 35 minutes away, across state lines, and pay a completely unreasonable amount of money for one of the most questionable motel rooms I’ve ever stayed in.  Not to fear, we shooed the five bees we found in the room back outside to the flowers, and established that one of the five lamps in the room was indeed working. Then Husband got back on the road to pick up Nerd Child while Art Child and I rested (or in my case, waited for the painkillers to kick in so I could straighten up),  got ready for the evening’s festivities, and sent panicked texts to Man Child regarding who would pick us up to take us to the school. His college puts on a lovely graduation, splitting it into two days so you’re never sitting for an unreasonable amount of time.

Man Child and Miss Music picked us up, I admired his new blazer, he admired my new (to him) cane, and we arrived in time for the dinner and speeches.

Thank you weather gods, for not being too hot or rainy.

Thank you weather gods, for not being too hot or rainy.

IMG_4181This is a small, arts focused but not arts exclusive liberal arts college.  I met several of Man Child’s friends–so full of talent, energy, and optimism.  Dancers, artists, biochemists, one I’m certain has a great future ahead of her in comedy writing, another who’s written a Japanese opera. Together this means I saw some fabulous fashion, spectacular hair colors, had plenty of vegetarian options to choose from, and *drumroll* Gloria Steinem was the featured guest speaker. Can a 40,000 year old woman squeal and fangirl? Yes, yes she can.

First the speaker from the senior class gave her speech. Clever, well timed, full of hope and witty comments about attending a not-quite traditional school that prizes individualism. This young woman is a writer, graduating from a school that has more than a few successful and prize winning writers among its alums. During her time at the school, in addition to her coursework she finished a novel and interned at a literary agency.

This is about when I started becoming very interested in the structure of the tent.  So much harder for the glassy eyes and sniffling nose to become full-on sobs when trying to determine how the cloth is joined to the poles.



Then Ms. Steinem spoke.  I’ll be honest, she could have stood and read her grocery list and I’d have applauded and proclaimed her brilliance. C’mon, Gloria Steinem, forty feet in front of me! But she didn’t read her grocery list, and her speech was wonderful, inspiring to the young people (men and women) sitting and listening. I was thrilled to listen, but I’ll be honest again. I didn’t feel inspired. I felt smaller, further on the fringe, more frayed and broken. Plain old old. After telling everyone I hoped to meet her, when the speeches ended I walked away from the line formed immediately by those who wanted a chance to meet and take a photo with her.

After a few minutes of fresh air, Man Child encouraged me to go back and get on line. I realized there were just as many moms waiting as graduates, so I summoned my old mosh pit moves and got on line. We joked and waited, and then I was face to face with this woman who represents so much. Not only what she did do, but what she continues to do. I said hello and told her how pleased I was to meet her, and mentioned that I had told a mutual friend how much I was looking forward to this opportunity. She politely asked who the friend was and how I know her. And that’s where I metaphorically found myself on my face. Not my friend’s name, of course. But she’s someone I met through dog walking. I walked her dogs for years, she herself is a known, successful, talented journalist and feminist, and we have become friends.   Standing there, though, surrounded by all that youth and hope and talent; with this successful, brave, powerful woman in front of me, the only image in my mind was dog shit in the rain–and rejection letters oddly addressed, “Dear Fraudulent Feminist,”  I mumbled something about dog walking and fringiness, grimaced for the photo and slunk off.

When we got back to the motel, Nerd Child and Husband had arrived, and were already 2/3 asleep. I pretended for a few minutes that I’m a reasonably mature and graceful woman before Man Child and Miss Music headed back to school and I collapsed into the sleep of self-pity.

It rained all night, and was still quite cool and gray in the morning. Somehow, New England manages to be bright and beautiful even under cloud cover.

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The commencement ceremony itself was beautiful, and aptly positioned (for us) right outside the financial aid office.

Afterwards, of course, were more photos, and a celebratory lunch. Once again the deadbeat mom, it hadn’t occurred to me that in a small town, reservations would be needed way in advance when an entire senior class was there with their families, all going out to eat. We ended up back across the state border, in a restaurant not far from the motel we had stayed the night before.  While having lunch, Man Child brought it up.  Yeah, we know each other well enough that he knew all the speeches and creative youth would hit that melancholy nerve in my heart.  You can’t stay mired in self pity on such a beautiful occasion, and when you have an adult child who knows you well enough, and cares enough to acknowledge mom as a person. Said our goodbyes, then headed to yet another state to drop off Nerd Child at a friend’s–because they were going back to their school the following morning to cheer on senior friends for graduation (not theirs, thankfully, that’s next year).  With any luck the contents of his dorm room will find their way out of the car and into his bedroom before the end of the week.

We couldn’t be more proud of Man Child.  It isn’t easy to be a kiddo raised on the fringe.  For whatever opportunities he’s had, help and sacrifices offered and acknowledged, it sucked to be the one listening to classmates talk about fabulous vacations, watch others go off on school year abroad while he plowed through. He’s worked hard, not just in the classrooms but outside; connecting with others, joined the greater community and created opportunities for himself.  I’m hoping he enjoys this summer in New England, continuing to work in the restaurant he’s worked in for the past three years, now as a new graduate. He’s heading to Italy in the fall, so exciting!  Bottom line, he’s doing what I wish for all three of my children; not living by “I will,” all too quickly followed by “I would’ve/should’ve,” but living by “I am.”  May your future blogs never include the tag “downward mobility,” in any language. All the best and all my heart, Man Child, not just on ceremonial days, but every day.


Hasta Luego, Summer

Yes, I really do miss this.

It never gets any fucking easier.

And so it goes.

Hello Fringelings!  Lots of life since I last posted.  Still adjusting to life without Big Senile Dog, Little Incredibly Dumb Dog is continuing to have a hard time, searching for her buddy.

I just said goodbye to Nerd Child.  You’d think with the years all this would get easier, wrapping up summer, saying goodbye to the boys, school starting up again…but it doesn’t.  For me, anyway.  Some people say the first year is the hardest, but I disagree because after the first year, you know just how much you’re going to miss them. Supporting each boy’s desire and decision to go to boarding school wasn’t easy, but the school Man Child attended was great for him, and the school Nerd Child is attending has him happier than I ever knew was possible to be in high school. This is a big year in Fringeland.  Man Child is in his senior year of college, Nerd Child is a junior in high school (though they don’t call it junior year in his school, all the boarding schools have strange and individual terms for the grades), and Art Child…Art Child begins eighth grade tomorrow.

Eighth grade means insanity here in New York.  High school admissions.  For those unfamiliar with the pomp and circumstance of city schools, entering high school isn’t limited to the “usual” adolescent stress of worrying about getting lost in new hallways and remembering where your locker is.  It’s a process.  There is no zoned high school for us, so even limiting the choices to public schools, there are tours and applications and interviews, portfolios and auditions.  Because being a young teen and parenting in the city isn’t stressful enough.  So yesterday, in preparation, I approached the crate.  Then I spent an hour and a half sorting through and tossing out all the junk we no longer need.  I thought I did this after Nerd Child’s high school admission rounds were finished, but apparently not.  From what I found, I hadn’t tossed anything since I cleared out after Man Child’s college admissions.

The Crate

The Crate

This is my super system for school admissions.  Sure, the savvy moms use Excel spreadsheets and apps, but I’ve got a crate.  The above pic is what’s left after clearing out.  The latest high school books from the Department of Education, a notebook I’ve used for notes and tracking since I began this fun eight years ago, a notebook from Nerd Child’s high school process (excellent tips that are still applicable from the admissions counselor of his middle school), and acceptance letters and packages (those I could find, anyway. I know several are missing).  Because mama pride.  All this experience, I’m more relaxed, right?  Nope.  This will be the first time everything is riding on the public school admissions, and Art Child would like an arts-focused school, so much will be new again.  Three different kids, interests, and abilities means different school choices. Crap!!!!

New Yorkers, of course, believe this is the best and only valid way to have their kids in the best schools, and have the best college options later.  Oh bullshit.  Colleges around the world–even those “top,” Ivy League colleges–are filled with kids who didn’t go to the “top” NYC schools.  And I’m having an ongoing panic attack thinking of many of those not top NY public schools that kiddos are assigned to when they don’t make their choice schools.  Can’t I just go back to the beach and stay there, eyes closed and iPod in my ears?  I may not have done anything fabulous or gone on vacation, but I will miss this summer.

I did have a couple of pieces of good news last week.  *drumroll please*  The larger apartment came through.  Oh. my. God.  I have no idea how we’re going to get it habitable and still have enough money to eat this year, no idea how we’re going to get packed and moved without the boys here to help without my back literally breaking, but it’s going to happen.  Even if I have a stroke from the price quotes I’m hearing for painting and floor installation, it will happen.  Even if  they don’t fix the toilet that’s currently doubling as a fountain, it will happen.  And luxury of luxuries, a second toilet, a little half bathroom.  Two!  I’m so thrilled by this the first second third thing I did was go up and scrub that toilet.  The first was sweeping, the second was bathe Little Incredibly Dumb Dog, who was gray and sneezing after spending a few hours up there with me.  The thought of moving into an apartment that won’t immediately be covered in a layer of dog fur is…strange.  Maybe not bad, but strange. (the little one doesn’t shed)

Another bit of good news.  I had applied to be a mentee through the WoMentoring Project, and received an email from the agent I applied to for mentoring, and yes!  I/Astonishing was chosen.  What, specifically, will this mean for me and Astonishing?  No fucking clue, but it won’t be bad, and could potentially be fantastic.  Actually, being chosen is already fantastic.  Funny, because when I wrote the essay for the application, I was thinking about all my application essay experience–writing parent essays for kiddos’ school admissions.  And I’ve written many, many of those, each school has their own special set of essay questions. Hmmm, if I never earn a dollar for my fiction, maybe someone will pay me a dollar for admission essays.  (Kidding of course, that would be unethical.)

Last week Mrs Smitholini and I celebrated thirty years of friendship.  I suggested matching tattoos, but for some reason Mr S didn’t care for that idea.  So we went to see Wicked.  Just Mrs S and I, like two grownups, a perfect show to celebrate friendship.

So as the season gets ready to change, changes in Fringeland.  Good stuff, nerve-wracking stuff, life.

Scales of Mama

C major scale on guitar

C major scale on guitar (Photo credit: Ethan Hein)

This morning I was chatting in an off-topic section of the writer’s forum, and the subject turned to musical instruments.  One friend posted a photo of her dream flute.  Very fancy.  One friend posted a picture of her dream guitar.  Funny enough, it happened to be a photo of my favorite guitar, a Gretsch.  Yeah, I know I don’t play guitar (or anything else) but I love that hollow body sound.  Then I told her about Nerd Child’s electric guitar, made for him by a super cool luthier in the East Village.  One of those New York secrets,  you have to have a referral, call and leave a message, appointment only, high quality for great prices.

Wish I had a better photo of it.

Wish I had a better photo of it.

I began looking through my photos, trying to find a pic of Nerd Child’s guitar.  I knew I had a few in a folder somewhere.  I found them, but didn’t post or send them.  Because then I just started looking through these photos, all downloaded from my old phone.  And several videos, short clips of Nerd Child playing and singing.

He hates when I video him.  He isn’t shy, never had or has a problem getting up on stage and performing.  This is a kid who didn’t hesitate to quote Eminem when he gave a speech at his middle school graduation.  In church.  At the alter.  Nothing inappropriate, but not what you’d call a shy choice.  Nope.  It’s a mom/kiddo thing.  You know, “Mo-om.”

I adore each of my kids.  They are individuals, and as such, I feel like I have an individual relationship with each of them.  I cook and wax philosophical with Man Child.  I can be smooshy and explore museums with Flower Child.  Nerd Child is the one I was able to share my love of Stephen King with.  Seriously, watching him read The Stand was pure Nerd Mama joy.

I spent a good chunk of the morning watching and listening to these little video clips, thinking about how much I miss him and feeling a bit weepy leaky.  None of the videos are recent.  I don’t care.  He isn’t a hugger.  I get it, neither am I–except for my kiddos.  Yanno, I’m mo-om, so he doesn’t feel the same exception.  But he’s got this rich, deep warm voice that makes me feel like he’s giving me a hug when he sings.  His spring break is about to start but he’ll be gone for half of it, on a service trip to help build a house.

I’m happy he’s happy.  We video chat when we can, or a quick note or link through Facebook, a text…but he’s busy up at school.  That’s why he’s there, so he can do and experience all he wanted to do and experience.  I’m lucky. He’s healthy, a good guy, grounded, great judgement, an excellent sense of humor.  He’s beautifully supportive of my writing, I think he was genuinely happy for me when we spoke the other day and I told him about agent requests.  But I miss his youtube playlists coming from the desktop while I grumble into my coffee and start the day, ranging from classic rock to classical, meringue, show tunes, rap, alternative.  I miss him.  I’m looking forward to him coming home and seeing my funky new glasses, raising that eyebrow and shrugging as he says, “If you like them, Mom.”

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Stay the Hell Home!

Load em up and slide down Broadway.

Load em up and slide down Broadway.

So says the Mayor and Schools Chancellor of NY.  Except wait, schools are open.

I will never understand these decisions.  Stay off the roads!  Visibility is terrible, the roads are terrible, trains are running but only local, dangerously cold, don’t call 911 unless it’s an emergency (no kidding!), State of Emergency…but schools are open, offices are open, just go ahead and use that magic teleporter to get to school and work, so you don’t interfere with the plows or interrupt the flow of the dollar.

There have been four fatalities in my neighborhood over the last week, pedestrians struck by cars/buses.  I’m afraid to turn on the news and see what might have occurred during the storm yesterday and last night.  Even today, the snow has stopped, but contrary to the image they’re showing of the street outside the mayor’s house, the streets aren’t all clean.  The plows have obviously been through, or the snow would be piled much higher, but still far from “cleaned up.”  And we’re back to frigid temps, so plenty of ice to go along with the snow that won’t be melting anytime soon.

Snow storm in NY photos.  I would have gone into the park, but it was too freakin’ cold.

Pfft, NY, don't let a little snow get in the way of $

Pfft, NY, don’t let a little snow get in the way of $

Some are from yesterday afternoon, some from last night, a few from this morning.

No rain, Mrs Carmichael–but plenty of snow.  This is going to be a long winter, isn’t it?  Stay warm and dry, Fringelings!

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You know those friendships.  We all have them.  Pick-up friendships.  The people you don’t see, or don’t speak to, or don’t see an email/post from for months and months, and then when you do it’s like you saw them last week and it feels so…good.  They are the sweetness in life that leave us smiling, seemingly small but full blessings within the frustrations and drudgery of day to day life.

I saw one of those friends this evening, Honor, and in fact I think it was from him that I first heard the expression, of friendships being like a game of pick-up basketball you find on the public playgrounds of the city.  Just walk onto the court and start playing.  He was a teacher of Man Child’s years ago, and over the years became a friend to Man Child, a friend to all of us.  I call him Honor because he is one of those rare people who lives his principles, always kind, always thoughtful.  He was raised by a mother who believes you never show up at someone’s house empty handed.  Old fashioned?  Yup.  Unnecessary?  Absolutely.  And completely lovely.

A frigid, snowy night.  Could there be a more perfect gift?

A frigid, snowy night. Could there be a more perfect gift?

After a little catching up, Honor, Man Child, and Miss Music left to go out for dinner.  They went to a local restaurant that’s about to close.  Priced out of the neighborhood after more than thirty years.  Oh New York.  I’m sorry I won’t get the opportunity to go in before they’re gone, but I didn’t realize they were closing in time to plan.  Ah well.

I didn’t get to have my favorite sandwich one last time, but Flower Child and I were treated to our favorite live music.

Thank you, Nerd Child!

Thank you, Nerd Child!

Now all is quiet.  I’m just watching the snow coming down, waiting to hear if the public schools will be closed tomorrow.   Thinking about the WIP, turning a few ideas over in my mind.  Tomorrow I write.  And continue avoiding the mirrors, I got my hair cut today.  Blech.

It's coming down hard and fast, a snow day is feeling possible.

It’s coming down hard and fast, a snow day is feeling possible.



Guilty Pleasures

We all have them.  The nice part of being old?  I don’t actually feel guilty anymore.  Maybe just mildly embarrassed.

English: Bates Motel Set at Universal Studio H...

English: Bates Motel Set at Universal Studio Hollywood CA. Source: Taken by User:Ipsingh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We used to vacation on a semi regular basis, once every couple of years or so.  We usually took the car, Husband driving until he couldn’t pretend his eyes were open, and then stayed overnight in inexpensive motels  (upgraded once we reached our destination).

There’s something fun about a basic motel.  The ice chest down at the end of the hall, pulling the car into a spot right outside your room, free continental breakfast! Lucky Charms in the morning!  I would get suckered every time, “magically delicious.”  Eww.  But then you could change your mind and stick with Rice Krispies. When I was a kid, those were the only motels we ever stayed in, and I don’t think I understood the difference between the Super 8 and the Four Seasons.  True, there was that one time my mother got fleas from the room we stayed in, but that didn’t dim the glory of the ice bucket for me.  You know what?  Cheap motels still fit the bill when you’re just passing through, and they’re still fun.

The other part of a road trip.  Road food.  And here we reach the guilty pleasure portion of today’s post.  Road food should be quick if you’re behind schedule, slow if you need a break, it should be cheap, have something for everyone.  For people who haven’t done a lot of vacationing, we’ve eaten a lot of road food, especially when you add in the road trips that weren’t overnight, touring boarding schools and colleges for the boys.

Brings to mind cute little hole in the wall places, right?  With the tough talking but spunky waitress serving the best. pies. in. America.

No.  Cause that might be what you get.  Or you might find yourself starving at a table and there’s nothing for half of your family to eat.  Or it might be so tiny that there’s no table for a family of five.  The food could just plain suck.  Or, nightmare of nightmares, you could find yourself on the road with food poisoning.  The solution?

Cracker Barrel, road food extraordinaire.  Rockers on every front porch, all for sitting and for sale.

Cracker Barrel, road food extraordinaire. Rockers on every front porch, all for sitting and for sale.

The food is reliable, they serve breakfast all day (important when you’re a traveling vegetarian), sure it’s kind of cheesy, but it’s also cheap and charming and very clean.

They have big checkers tables set up on the front porch and inside the restaurant, great for waiting with kids.  Even better, there’s one of these for playing with on every table.

The peg game.  How many will you be left with?

The peg game. How many will you be left with?

The food?  Country/home cookin’ style.  Don’t ask more than that, I think it’s a mix of southern, midwest, new england, or other.  And it isn’t just food and games.  Ye Old Country Store is attached to each one, selling inexpensive toys/games, old fashioned candy, blankets, candles, t-shirts, sweaters, and countrified nicknacks.

After drinking 12 cups of coffee, eating pounds of eggs, grits, and hash browns, who doesn't need some candy for the road?

After drinking 12 cups of coffee, eating pounds of eggs, grits, and hash browns, who doesn’t need some candy for the road?

Just sitting, there’s lots to look at in the decor.

Something to see on every wall.

Something to see on every wall.

And of course

Heads Up! I'm never certain if this stuff is for sale or not.

Heads Up! I’m never certain if this stuff is for sale or not.

Heading north for a couple of days tomorrow.  I’m quite certain there’re two buttery, over easy eggs waiting for me.

I’ll save the Lucky Charms for Flower Child.



Itsnot Me, I Tell Ya

Must have been someone who looked like me.


IMG_0010 (Photo credit: RosieTulips)

Here we are, the evening of February 28th, and I’m so damned tired I don’t even feel human.  I want to be positive, and happy tomorrow is Friday, but all I can think is whaddya mean it isn’t already Friday?

*Nothing to do with this post, but there was just a crash and thud outside.  I’m wondering if someone lost a flowerpot from a terrace, or if I’m soon to hear sirens.  Life in the big city, always an adventure*

So, tonight I’ve got boogers on the brain.  Flower Child is still sick.  Not bad, and able to go to school, but still sick.  Lots of sniffling and snuffling and blowing.  This makes me nervous.  March is generally an iffy health month for her, and I was hoping she’d be back to baseline before it started.  On the positive end, Parent Teacher conferences went very well.  The adaptive technology she’s using has been incredibly helpful.  The math teacher’s a little confused as to why she answers every question and interaction with him, “live long and prosper,” but hey.

Star Trek TOS Cutting Room Floor Clippings

Star Trek TOS Cutting Room Floor Clippings (Photo credit: The Rocketeer)

I’d like to explain it to him, but can’t.  Her thinking can be…circuitous.  For some reason she associates the math teacher with Nerd Child, which in turn connects her to the phrase. I’m guessing the teacher regrets his surprised laugh the first time he heard it from my girly girl.  Poor man.  Still, an excellent, creative teacher and I’m grateful for the fabulous team working with her this year.

Seeing as it’s the 28th, I feel I should report on how the writing went this month, since I announced I would be making an all out push, producing as much as possible.  Turns out that between Flower Child’s illness, the passing of my father in law, and life, this might not have been the best month to choose.  Between the morning of February 1st and this evening, I got about 12,500 words added to the WIP.  I also wrote that short, about 3800 words.  Not a wasted month, just not quite the momentum I had started with and hoped to continue.

Speaking of the short, I’ve got a reference in there to snot, connected to the main character, a woman in her late sixties.  The reason I mention this; super interesting to me to find that a few people strongly and specifically associated snot with children, and not older adults.  Is it the word or the mucus itself?  I’m no gerontologist, but I am and have been around a good number of older people.  Boogers don’t disappear when the AARP card arrives.  And someone who would use the word snot at thirty is likely to still be using it at sixty or seventy.  One of my mother’s favorite insults was to call someone snot-nosed.  She had other, more colorful insults, but that one was always used to great effect, with much power behind it.

A man mid-sneeze. Original CDC caption: "...

A man mid-sneeze. Original CDC caption: “This 2009 photograph captured a sneeze in progress, revealing the plume of salivary droplets as they are expelled in a large cone-shaped array from this man’s open mouth, thereby dramatically illustrating the reason one needs to cover his/her mouth when coughing, or sneezing, in order to protect others from germ exposure.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gesundheit, and happy almost Friday, fringelings!