My daughter has been fiercely independent, literally from birth. We first clashed when she was a day old. She refused to nurse. She was physically capable of nursing, she just wasn’t interested in working that hard for food.
The lactation consultant told me to express a drop or two of milk on my nipple. “The baby will smell the milk and be interested in taking the nipple,” she said.
I tried it. My day-old daughter opened her eyes (I swear she gave me the side eye), stuck out her tongue, licked the milk off, and closed her eyes again. The attitude was palpable. I didn’t know until that moment that it was possible to want to call a day-old infant a name that begins with the letter “b.”
I should have known right there that I was in for a rocky ride with this one.
My longstanding battle with my daughter over her desire for independence recently came to a head over the New York City public high school application process this year. She had very firm ideas about what type of school she did and didn’t want to go to. She wanted to make the final decision.
I was impressed by the level of her research about not only the specialized high schools, but other NYC public school options. I decided to let her run with it.
My daughter looked up the open house schedules and signed up for the ones that interested her. She found out about the admissions process for the specialized high schools and the other schools. Over dinner one night, she gave me a very astute and perceptive breakdown of the differences among the schools that interested her. She was very clear about her values and needs.
For my part, I wasn’t completely hands-off. I asked around about the leading prep courses for the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), the test that determines whether or not a student gains admission to one of eight high schools designated as “specialized high schools” by the New York City Department of Education (a ninth specialized school, LaGuardia, bases admission in part on student auditions, as well as grades and test scores). I signed her up for the prep course that was said to be the best. I attended some of the open houses with her (but not all). I solicited feedback from alumni of the schools that were top on her list. But mostly, this was her show.
Things seemed to be going well. She ranked her school choices. She took the SHSAT. She signed up to interview with her top alternate school choices.
And then the wheels fell off.
A couple of weeks ago, my daughter asked me if I’d received an email with her interview date for one of her top ranked schools. I checked my inbox and my spam folder. I did not.
I called the school. They had no record of her having completed an application. She swore she did. I asked her if she printed out either the application she completed, or the confirmation. She did not. It was our word against theirs.
She was devastated. And I felt like the world’s worst mother.
I instantly thought of all the “should’ves”: I should have done the online application, or stood over her shoulder while she did it. I should have reminded her to print the confirmation. I should have been more engaged in the process.
When I was in 8th grade, I knew, like my daughter, what high school I wanted to go to. I got my mother to sign me up for the admissions test, I took it, and I got in. I mostly did it without her help.
But that was Detroit, not New York City, with its complicated system that makes applying to college look easy. I never should have let her take this on, I told myself.
For my daughter’s part, it was a lesson in learning what she could not handle. Because ultimately, all she could do is beg me to “fix it, Mom! Make them let me interview!”
I couldn’t promise her an interview. I could only promise to try. I spoke to a friendly person in the school’s admissions office, who gave me an email address to send a note to, explaining our situation. I sent a follow-up email with the additional information they requested. And I crossed my fingers, because there wasn’t much else I could do. Not like I’m close friends with Mayor Bloomberg or Chancellor Joel Klein.
And then, miraculously, at the end of last week, I received an email with my daughter’s interview date.
I don’t know if I actually “fixed” anything. Maybe it was prayers answered. Maybe it was leprechauns. I have no idea. I suspect they double-checked and found her application after all. I’m just glad it worked out.
My daughter and I both learned valuable lessons in responsibility over this situation. She did a great job, no question. Her lesson was learning how much is too much for her to handle on her own.
My lesson was that, even if I give her the freedom to make decisions, I still have to supervise and monitor the process closely so it doesn’t go off track.