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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Whose Screw is Loose?

Is it mine?

Last week I had this piece in the New York Times Motherlode blog. It ran in tandem with KJ Dell’Antonia’s response to it. In case you missed them, they are about how my daughter's course selections for next year triggered my anxiety about how much to push for prestigious colleges and KJ's lack of anxiety about it and her heartwarming belief in passion and hard work. Together, they are still generating comments, which is good, since there’s no such thing as bad publicity, I am told. If only I could publish my blog in the NYTimes everyday, I’d get a lot more comments on it. Of course, I would have to grow a thicker skin. Maybe just let my tendency to eczema fulfill itself…

Because some of those comments – hoo boy. Let me tell you. I’ve tried not to read too many of them, because I can only stand so much. Plus, I am suggestible, so it’s best not to pay too close attention or I might start (really) believing them.

Interestingly, every comment I saw suggested or downright declared that I had better seek help for my mental illness. Which, you know, rankles, since I’ve been doing that for years. And none of those professionals has ever told me I’m crazy. Except one, but she was joking. I am pretty sure.

Meanwhile, every comment the husband read was about how the commenter hadn't been a bit concerned one way or another about college, yet his/her child had grown up to be an exemplary human with absolutely no stress or intervention of a parental nature.

Yet my friends told me they thought the comments were overall kind of in agreement with me.

Go figure. We find what we are looking for, I guess.


I thought, Readers, you might be interested in a few background details about the posts.

First of all, Gym Mom immediately identified herself. Not to worry. We are still on excellent terms. In fact, she emailed that she was “excited and proud" to make her debut in the Times. So all is well there. And you can see she has an excellent sense of humor.

I, too, have retained mine, despite glancing at one too many exhortations to let my kid eat lunch already. Far too many commenters use as evidence of my mental illness and my terrible mothering the “fact” that I am “making” the 9th grader skip lunch. Hello? She took lunch this year, her first year in high school, because I/we insisted. She has put her foot down about next year. None of her friends take lunch, so why should I force her to if she doesn’t want to? Eventually, one HT from Ohio wrote in explaining why she avoided lunch all through high school: "my high school cafeteria was like something out of The Lord of The Flies, and anyone who could avoid it, did." Of her cafeteria experience, the 9th grader says, simply, that it's full of “drama.” 

Furthermore, since we live in a town that has its school schedule organized for the benefit of the all-important athletic teams that “need” to practice in the afternoons, high school starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 2:07 p.m., and not at the time that would most fit with adolescent development and support academic achievement. (Do NOT get me started on that.) The point is, the 9th grader can have lunch slash snack when she gets home.

By the way, many of these kids take that extra period and use it for art or music, because they’re only allotted time in a regular schedule for one or the other, and this way they can take both. So it’s not as if it’s only the Type A tiger cubs who drop lunch.

Second of all, almost better than having something published was emailing with KJ Dell’Antonia about publishing it. After she accepted my initial essay, I decided I wanted to rewrite it, making it less flippant and self-deprecating, which doesn’t play well when Motherlode readers are ready with their comment-trigger-fingers. Subtlety doesn’t really work, as I’ve found on both occasions I’ve published in Motherlode. In fact, half the readers don’t even finish the piece, which I could tell this time, because they criticize me for being too invested, when I concluded by letting the 9th grader make her own decision about her extra class. Yes, that little factoid eluded most readers. KJ told me she hashed out her response with her husband, who comes down a little closer to my side than she, and then it was a go. Still, she worried that she was “letting me out to hang,” because my piece was going to offend people who didn’t have ways or means of getting their children into top colleges. I could see that my piece hinged on my emotional conflict, while hers was a reasoned, logical argument, and therefore I would be blasted by people who didn't read the subtext, but I told her it was fine. I am all about conflict. So I put my head on the block and wham!

I am still here.


  1. Yes you are! Still here. I love this Hope, your whole journey here. And this Motherlode commentary brou-ha-ha (did I spell that correctly?) shows that. You put yourself out to hang, and then you hang the hanging. That's amazing! You're amazing, and I hope your kids see you writing about all this - which means of course that you are thinking deeply about all that most people only react to. Brava.

    1. Thanks so much! I appreciate it. Yes, I do put it out there. Probably too much information sometimes, but so it goes. It's fun, and maybe helpful to people, so that's good.

  2. You're just too honest. Most of them feel the same way, they just won't admit it.

    1. Probably most of the people who agreed with me didn't bother to write a comment.

  3. So you made me go back and read the comments. Only a couple said you should get counseling!

    We all worry about different things. I don't worry about college. I know it's likely that my two will not even take the 4 years of college in 4 years right after high school route, so that helps erase any stress about prepping them for top schools. I worry that my kids will ever be halfway socially adept. So far some days are better than others in that regard.

    I can see both sides of the lunch thing. Kids should eat, but the cafeteria isn't enjoyable for a lot of kids. What the real issue is the fact that BHS forces kids to skip lunch if they want to do music, etc. THAT'S what you should write a column on, if you can handle more stressful comments.

    AHS doesn't schedule things during lunch, but when they extended the school day a few years ago, they made school start earlier rather than go later, all because of the almighty interscholastic sports schedule. I think the only way that is going to change is if every school in the Cap District decides to change game times. We all know through multiple studies that a later start time is optimal for teens, but why worry about maximizing their education?

    1. You are so right, Susan. And I would be willing to get behind a campaign to change school time. The only glimmer of hope I see in effecting change is that the bond referendum to improve BCHS track and fields failed tonight, while the school improvements passed. So maybe some folks are less invested in athletics than I thought.

      I don't understand how AHS can avoid scheduling classes during lunch. Do they feed everyone at once? BCHS has a couple of different lunch periods, from what I can tell. Since the kids only get one elective officially, either art/music/tech, they sometimes schedule a second one that ends up during lunch.

    2. AHS has 9 periods. Lunch is an entire period. (Kids have lunch during either 4th, 5th or 6th period.) Most kids don't get study halls, which leaves 8 periods. Sophia has two electives (Art and Clothing & Textiles), which I guess means 6 regular classes (let's see - Science, English, Foreign Language, Math, Social Studies. Oh, and Phys Ed which alternates with Science lab.) Does that sound right? Are there other standard classes? The only one I ever notice is Math since that's where all the trouble is.

      From what you said above, I think our school day is 30 minutes longer than yours.

      The problem I've discovered with a later start time is that lots of parents are against it. I think it would be a long haul, but I would still promote it for future generations. I'm on the mailing list for this group: They promote school starting at 8:00 am at the earliest. That's still early, but would give an extra 30 minutes of sleep to BHS students.

    3. I'll look up

      BCHS has 8 scheduled class periods, and a 9th period for extra help or clubs, so if a student stays for 9th period, they leave at 3. But since there are no academic classes scheduled at that last period, there's less flexibility in the schedule. And nobody is required to stay for that last period.

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  6. Did I fight with you on Betsy's? Your name seems familiar. Maybe we agreed on something.

    My daughter quit high school pregnant. Got a scholarship based on her GED scores to Loyola, Chicago, is an ICU nurse, carries the family's insurance cuz it's better than her husband's. She did it, not me.

    1. Virginia, I don't think we fought over anything, but definitely I've seen you on Betsy's....

      Do you wanna fight?

      My childhood best friend's big brother dropped out of high school, became a mechanic, eventually took some computer classes at the Computer Learning Center (advertised on TV) and now is a higher up at Important Computer Company in SF. And I? Well. Don't get me started. So, your point is taken.


  7. Hi Hope,
    I loved your Motherlode piece, which I thought was hilarious, in your usual, subtle style, and then I began to feel physically ill reading the completely literalist interpretations and vicious mean-spiritedness of the comments. I started to write some defensive replies and then I just had to turn away from it all. My biggest takeaway was perhaps I should stop blogging myself, b/c if I ever get any readers beyond my incredibly supportive friends, I could possibly get slammed when making myself vulnerable and I don't know if I could take it. But your comeback is fabulous!! You rock!! The photographer should be nominated for Pulitzer (or the blog equivalent). Keep writing! The world needs your voice, your intelligence, your humor, and your children are so fortunate to have you as a mother.

    1. Thanks, Kate. I know, some of those comments. Sheesh. And I'm not of sound mind to begin with, so I did have to physically remove myself and engage in a lot of self-talk and stuff.

      I think the question of exposure is something you can decide as you go. After all, your blog is unique and surely fills a void. There are always people to disagree with you, so one way to look at it is that if you blog, and you're out there, then they'll do it directly. Whereas if you try to please everyone, you'll never know how they feel.

      I think it's pretty unlikely either of us will attract HUGE followings, because we write with subtlety (if I do say so), and that takes too much time to read and think over for a lot of people who cruise blogs. But let's hope I'm wrong.

      Thanks again for your much appreciated support and boosting!

  8. I loved your motherlode blog. I actually came here BECAUSE I read it and loved it. Regardless of what the commenters say, you are not alone in feeling this way.
    I am a mom (of an elementary student) and I am a youth speaker. I see (and hear from) parents all over the country about this very thing. I talk to students about the importance of failure and how you learn from those and use those failures as lessons for future successes....whatever it is that they have defined as success.
    Giving your daughter the ability to ultimately make her own decision was probably the best thing you could have done for her in that moment. You let her know that you trusted her to make the best decision and you gave her the confidence that she could do it as well. Bravo to you!!

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Amanda. I appreciate it! And I am so glad you were one of the people who read my Motherlode piece all the way to the very end....