The Calm Before the Storm (aka Pre-Junior Year Summer)

It’s the summer before the dreaded Junior year of high school for Lauren.  Things aren’t what they were back in my day.  We didn’t have AP or even Honors level courses.  However, I did notice that all of my core classes from sophomore year and beyond had college-bound peers.  Today’s 4.0 grade point average is not equivalent to a 4.0 in 1984.  With AP classes and kids strategically padding their schedules with the easier AP courses starting their freshman year, it’s possible to graduate with above a 4.5.   The pressure is on  kids today like no other point in history, and it’s not enough to just have outstanding grades in the most challenging of courses.  You have to participate in numerous extracurricular activities, and take on as many leadership opportunities that come your way.  I have fought this somewhat as a parent.  I feel that if your only motivation to serve as a student council president derives not from a place of service but from a place of being more competitive on college admissions, then that’s not authentic and good for anyone.  As frustrated as I am with the current trend, I have no choice as a Mom but to encourage my kids to pay attention to all of this.  I do really believe there is a college and university for everyone, but when your child comes to you and has dreams of going to a top-tier school, you have to lay out the truth.   I have never been a parent who tells my kids that all of their dreams can come true if they just work hard enough.  My life is full of talented people who have worked tirelessly on their craft and have amazing songs, yet they still haven’t achieved their dreams.  Where is this dream-deferred talk going? 

Lauren wants to be a nurse.  I always thought teaching was in her blood but after helping me with science club two summers in a row, she has decided she can’t “stand bratty kids who don’t listen.”   I watched her a little over two years ago take care of her Dad.  She would heat his lavender neck pillow exactly the way he liked it.  He would look at her, raise his eyebrows (because talking had become very tiring at this point) to indicate that he wanted water with just the right amount of crushed ice.  It was a beautiful and yet terribly sad thing to witness yet I think she will carry this memory of service to her beloved father with her forever.  Nursing is Lauren’s call. 

This summer Lauren went with my sister Anne back to Pittsburgh to shadow nurses at my brother in law’s hospital. On her 16th birthday she witnessed her uncle perform spinal cord surgery and another neurosurgeon clip a brain aneurysm.  Very cool!!  She followed a pediatric nurse in the NiCU and met with an admissions director (thanks to Uncle Ray’s mother, Kathleen)  at Duquesne University to give her tips on what to look for in an undergraduate nursing program.  She came back very fired up with big dreams.   And then like most of our teenagers on summer break, she sat.  She texted.  She tweeted.  She surfed the internet and watched tv. Every now and then I would say, “You could use this down time to start filling out your college notebook (Aaron taught her how to research colleges, write down their ACT/SAT GPA information, tuition, etc).”   Or..”We have those SAT and ACT books you can work in, Lauren, because you know you won’t have time once school starts.”   Nothing.   I stopped making suggestions. 

Maybe it was her first college visit to JMU that lit the fire.  She really liked it and didn’t really think she would like her “hometown school,” but she did.  Maybe it was seeing the calendar close in on summer that got her to read her AP English books.  Maybe it was the idea that we were taking Aaron to freshman orientation at UVA this week, and she knows her last two years of high school are going to fly by.  Who knows?  All I know is that one day I got a text that said, “Mom, I’m at Starbucks working.”   Aaron suggested that she was using their wifi to look at Lily Pulitzer dresses online.  But no…she came home with her college notebook completed after researching the best nursing schools, but also with a dose of reality.  She knows what it’s going to take to get into a certain university (like Voldemort, that which cannot be named)  And even though she knows that it will take extracurricular activities,  outstanding grades, above the 50 % ACT/SAT scores, and perfect college essays, there is no guarantee of admission.  I think Lauren understands all of this and I think she is starting to think more like Aaron and me on this:  That wherever she goes will be exactly where she is supposed to go to fulfill her dreams of becoming a nurse.  

School starts in just a few weeks for us.   That’s what happens when you get out before Memorial Day.  I am dreading this Junior year again because I know it comes with tons of homework, late night and early morning studying, typing essays and tears.  I hope I can find a calm place during the storm but more importantly, help Lauren find it, too.