. . . like a mama scorned.
I’m not sure I’ve introduced most of you to my alter ego, Cuckoo Mommy. In recent years, I’ve banished her for the most part. She tends to overreact, extrapolate too far into the future and generally worry about things beyond her control. Sound familiar? Any of you with the slightest Tiger mom tendencies–and you know who you are—are tracking with me.
Both of my sons attended a small school for gifted children. My youngest is still there, in his last year. Because of attending this school and good academic performance, my younger son was invited to attend an online year-long symposium of sorts by a Big University. Not a university like Stanford, but a well-known competitive university nonetheless.
We filled out his application, got the appropriate recommendations, etc. We moved heaven and earth to arrange our schedules for the intro broadcast—only to be told it was full. Big University made a Big Mistake. They seemingly forgot to tell their tech people to up the quota for the broadcast to accommodate the number of students who would be attending online.
I was displeased they had dropped the ball. We tend to be pretty tightly scheduled in my house. I work long hours. My youngest is involved in school and a variety of extracurriculars. Big University assured us we could watch the replay and all would be well.
Only all was not well. It seems there was an enrollment contract due, despite the fact my son was already accepted into the program. A contract that was mentioned in one email sent to us. One. Out of the hundreds of emails I get each day, I was supposed to be paying attention to just this one? My son got the same email. Neither of us was tracking.
When I emailed the school to let them know we missed the contract deadline by two days—and could my son still make things “official” with them, I received a polite but firm email telling me enrollment was now closed.
I guess it’s ok for Big University to make a Big Mistake. We are expected to forgive them simply because of their apology. So how is my son making a Big Mistake and missing their deadline by 48 hours unforgivable? I’m not quite sure that makes sense. A university that is loosey-goosey enough to miss an online quota by 1,000 people seems like a university that would forgive a 48-hour lapse. But I guess not.
Fast forward. After tabling the decision to contact a connection on the board about the lackluster start to this program, I wrote said BU a scathing reply. In it, I mentioned that my son had been training diligently for his tae kwon do black belt test, one it’s taken him roughly four years to earn the right to take. I mentioned his recent gold medal at the state science fair, his poem’s upcoming inclusion in the America Library of Poetry anthology, his angst over the fact that the doctors still have not taken his father’s chemo port out after a year of being cancer free. He knows what that means. He has, to put it mildly, a lot on his plate. And then I began to mention the number of elite boarding schools that were courting him, the fact that he works a full year ahead in school, makes High Honor Roll, etc. Yes, Cuckoo Mommy was in full force.
I was tempted to mention my schedule as the divorced mom who brings home the bacon—all the bacon. Ghostwritten bylines for a few Major Magazines. Conference calls in the wee hours of the morning with Europe and with Asia when I should be in bed. Fielding calls from my eldest’s dean because his recent bout with senioritis has included doing a doughnut in the school parking lot and skipping his last afternoon classes because he was “tired.” Trying to figure out how I’m going to foot my health insurance bill next year, as it’s already far too high and I’m getting early predictions of an increase of at least 40 percent in my premiums—despite being healthy. Thanks, Congress. Stellar job. BU may think its program should be a Priority, but honestly—in the big picture—we’ve had bigger fish to fry lately. It’s called Life.
And then I stopped. And realized I was doing what I call other parents out for doing—I was making excuses for us.
Yes, Big University made a Big Mistake and should be more accommodating.
Yes, they’re missing a great candidate in missing out on my youngest. And I promise you—when he is a titan of industry, or medicine, or government—he will not forget what he perceives as their high-handed attitude. It is truly their loss, despite the hundreds of other bright students I’m sure are in their program. This kid has it in spades. He may be in his head far too much, but it is a wonderful head to be in.
Motherly bragging aside, he missed a deadline. This is just the way life works. Many other families are busy. Many other students have worries in their personal life. To this BU, right or wrong, this deadline is written in stone. None of those worries and other obligations matter.
If I push my advantage—contacting the board member, venting with a scathing email—I hurt my son. Because I don’t let him feel the consequence of his lack of action. Unfortunately, I feel it too. I was the kid who made it into some elite schools but could not go because my parents could not afford it. Education and what it provides runs deep for me.
However, at my son’s school, I’ve seen too many parents make things smooth for their children. Run back home multiple times to retrieve the homework Junior forgot or the lunch left on the kitchen table. Rewrite the competitive school admission entry because they didn’t like what their son or daughter had written. Mold an archetype instead of allowing a child to blossom into a unique individual. When I realized who I was mimicking in that moment, I stopped short. Deleted the email. Did not complete the call to the board member.
Life is life. Money and academic advantage can get you so far. But eventually, you are judged on your own merits. Your actions—or lack thereof. My son is learning a painful but extremely important life lesson before the stakes get even higher.
And I’m standing by, biting my lip, watching him do it. It is painful.
I will not lie to you. My least attractive side hopes he graduates Stanford or MIT, Harvard or Yale, and never looks back. This BU will appear as but a brief blip in an otherwise stellar academic career.
But my wisest self knows life sends us what we need. Perhaps he required a reminder that he must take more responsibility for what is on his plate. That I can nudge and support—but it’s his ball game.
Even scorned mama bears know enabling their kids is not the way to true success and happiness.
Today, I am honest enough to tell you I wish it was. I know I could make this happen for him. I’m just choosing not to do so.
And in that is the lesson for me.