My daughter is doing one of those standardized practice tests and I am her timekeeper. She just finished the reading comprehension section with six minutes to spare and she said, "Mom, I just read a whole passage on the word good."
"Good!" I said.
"No," she said. "Not at all. The writing was unnecessarily convoluted and hard to understand. Too many extra words and phrases you could just simplify."
My beautiful child is a critic.
"Check your answers," I said. "You have six minutes."
There are so many things convoluting my brain and I have to simplify, so I can address them one by one, these things that demand that I push away the rest of the agita so that I can accomplish the real world tasks required of me, like the performance review narratives I have to finish writing for my direct reports at work before our sit down and here-is-your-raise conversation tomorrow, and the highlighting and cross-referencing of receipts and explanations for my follow up appointment with the tax auditor this week, and the fifty-mile-long parent questionnaire that I have to fill out about our daughter before our meeting with her college counselor next week.
And that whole paragraph was one sentence.
The beautiful critic would have something to say about that.
We had to fill out one of those parent questionnaires for my son, too. Parents are asked to give insight on their children's strengths and challenges and special natures, to help college counselors figure out how your child can best be packaged to make a compelling pitch to the schools of choice. It's all about selling their individual story and I am starting to realize that my son's experience as an Explorer Firefighter with the FDNY helped set him apart. How many applicants had search and rescue training, how many had the experience of putting out fires using the actual garb and gear? How many had studied the patterns of how flames spread, and could navigate through small spaces with bulky equipment, finding and hoisting heavy test dummies on their backs in blinding white storms of steam to simulate real smoke?
No wonder he got into all but one of the schools where he applied. I didn't really understand that others would grasp how special he is, that others would see what I see. I thought his mediocre SATs would be a roadblock, but in the end, he leveled all the obstacles. And now I am in the same place again, not trusting that others will see how wonderful and unique my daughter is, trying to figure out how to help her stand apart from the numbing sameness of all the college applications. I feel as if I am standing in at the foot of a mountain and trying to marshall the energy to climb it again, but with more faith this time. More faith.
Our son's high school guidance counselor made approaching the parent questionnaire easy when she said, "Think of it this way: You are writing a love letter about your child." So this is how I will think about the questionnaire for my daughter. It is a love letter I look forward to writing as soon as I can clear the significantly less appealing tasks off my list of must do now.
Maybe I won't even get dressed today. I'll just sit at the computer and work. That way, I won't be tempted to leave the house, to escape my obligations. Oh right. I have to get dressed. My aunt is in the hospital after falling again. I will need to go there and sit with her for a while. What happened at the hospital on Friday with her two children is the saddest story that touches my life. Sadder still, for my aunt. Later.