Thursday, May 03, 2007

King Arthur

I read a piece in the New York Times today, called “Young, Gifted and Not Getting into Harvard,” by Michael Winerip. I read the descriptions of young students he has interviewed, ones he knows will not make it into the prestigious school and I shuddered.

One of the descriptions, from Mr. Winerip’s article, of kids who did not get into Harvard:

"…the charming boy I interviewed with 1560 SATs. He did cancer research in the summer; played two instruments in three orchestras; and composed his own music. He redid the computer system for his student paper, loved to cook and was writing his own cookbook. One of his specialties was snapper poached in tea and served with noodle cake.”

I can’t even tell a joke about how I wished my kids would boil a hot dog from time to time. I can’t. It makes me sad to think at the age of 17 or 18, kids have crammed so much into their lives. When do they get to be kids?

I watched Jake this morning in the back yard. He was playing before it was time to walk to school. I had just finished reading an email from another parent at the school who is helping create a calendar of exception student art to be sold at the art show later in May at the school.

Jake’s picture of sunflowers had been chosen. I responded to the email, promised to sign the release paperwork and added a quick line about how proud I was of him.

As he walked across the backyard, he was carrying a toy shield, a long plastic sled and a hockey stick. He was on a mission, it was clear.

He stopped at the small hill of dirt left over from several holes dug for trees last fall. I noticed at the site was the wheel barrel and several baseball bats. One bat was sticking up in the middle of the dirt mound.

I went out with my camera and asked him what he was doing.

I’m building the sword like King Arthur had.

From a distance, I could not see the ring of smaller stones around the base of the bat holding it still.

The sled and shield were more knight accoutrements. He was working on his own version of the round table.

Very cool, I said to him.

Why are you out here in your pajamas? He asked.

Because I’m crazy.

He nodded and went back to building his creation. After a couple more photos, I returned to the house.

No formal art program for a seven year old would ever teach him to drag out sleds and bats from the garage. He didn’t have to finish practicing two instruments this morning. He ate cheerios, and then proceeded to bug his brothers enough to warrant a small time out before going outside.

I spent the other day obsessed about what camps to send the kids to this summer. Ben has some talent in volleyball; I needed to find a camp to hone his skill. Zachary really wants to become a pitcher in baseball but the other kids on his team are way ahead. A summer camp for baseball might be the perfect place to practice every day of the week. Jake’s skill in art is so impressive but so is his musical ability- after one time seeing the play Wicked he knew all the songs. All of them. Word for word. I considered which theater camp to send him to- Wheelock’s nationally known but far away. Am I going to be in the car all summer? But it’s a great camp…

Part of me? Part of me simply wanted to take them to the beach everyday. Or the swimming pool. And just hang out. Get bored. I could have the kids help me paint the garage and send them out on the truck once or twice with Walter to learn how to pull a few weeds.

I’m afraid if I do that my kids will miss out. Not only will they not go to Harvard, they will be so far behind their peers. When I went to I college and I was faced with many people who had gone to private high school. Their knowledge and abilities were far beyond mine. The books they had read, the things they had tried- and not just the expensive drugs- blew me away. I was awestruck.

And I felt stupid. I knew my public school education did not measure up.

What’s right for my kids? What’s the right balance? How do I keep them eligible for the things they may want to do- like play in an orchestra or on a sports team? In this town, specifically at Newton North High School, they have to start young. They have to work hard or else they won’t get the chance. Most of the kids here have been trained, practiced and drilled since they were very young. Miss a year of soccer and you’re done unless you have an amazing gift.

I’m frozen trying to decide what is the best camp for each of them this summer. My indecision will end up a decision- these choices are usually made in January- all the slots tend to be full by now. I know Ben has two weeks at one camp, Zachary four at another but Jake has none so far.

I took some comfort in reading Winerip’s article today. Like him, I know I don’t want my kids to go to Harvard. Aside from anything negative people have to say about it, it’s simply too close to home. Period. I know I want my kids to go away. Not because I don’t love them or because I don’t want to do their laundry but because I want them to grow up. I want them to become adults and make their own decisions, their own mistakes.

While they are there? They can study the effects of weightlessness in mice, or how to splice genes or develop new mathematical models for economic theory. Because I think that’s what college is about. Intensive study in different areas of interest helping you form who you might want to be in your early adulthood. Not in high school but when they are in college.

Jake finished his sculpture, looked at it a while, then took it apart. I’m not sure what it will become this afternoon. Probably nothing because I know I’ll tell him to pick up his toys and put them away before dinner.

I don’t know the right balance for this talented little boy. I’m sure of that.

I do know, however, no matter what I do, no matter what kind of camps he goes to or programs he attends? If it’s his passion? He’ll do it no matter what.

He did this morning.


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