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Steph puts her kids in their place

for The Brooklyn Paper
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I started meditating again recently, sitting cross-legged in front of many flaming candles, letting my stressful thoughts — about my eldest getting into high school, my younger adjusting to middle school — flicker in, and then pushing them out.

But the candle-lighting ritual only lasted one morning. It was cool, but I couldn’t muster the energy in the still-dark to get myself into position on the pillow that still had a sleeping dog snuggled atop it. Instead, as I neared the deli on my walk to the park, I thought how maybe what could work to ease the strain was a ritual of candy bars and lotto tickets. One was pleasure, the other hope, right? Couldn’t hurt to try.

The Butterfinger tasted great, but I couldn’t make myself buy a lottery ticket. That article I read years ago about how winning the lottery ruined the lives of so many people rang incredibly true.

So. What was it going to be? How was I going to remain fearless in my parenting amidst the incredible pressures of the New York City school system, the constant barrage of tests to take, essays to write, grades to be shown? How was I not going to judge myself and my kids for every tardy, every missed homework assignment, every slight screw-up that seemed, under close scrutiny, to scream “You are failures! You will never measure up!”

Buddhism, Jungian analysis, Reiki, astrology, psychology, marital counseling, party throwing, and lots and lots of baking have all helped in moments when it seems that the pressures of this ultra-competitive place might rattle my desert-born brain. I grew up going to the schools in my neighborhood, moving with the same group of kids from elementary to middle to high school, and meeting some new ones fed in from other schools on the way. This is what I know, and that was — as I recall — stressful enough.

But here I am, right smack dab in the middle of where I always hoped to be, in the Big City, filled with well-read, high-achieving folks from all over the world, here to make their mark and teach their kids to make theirs.

I sat with a group of mothers recently while our children took the two-and-a-half-hour Specialized High-School Test. There was talk the whole lunch of our hopes and fears for our children, the failings that might prevent them from getting into one of the top schools, the strengths that (fingers crossed) might get them noticed and admired by some of the many admissions directors. There wasn’t enough wine at the table to soak up all that stress.

With weeks to go and so many more tours and applications, I am cooked. I’m not sure I can keep up the game face for my son, whose own energy is beginning to flag. But I have to stay on track. I have to remain calm and carry on. I have to stay in it to win it, just do it. I have to follow whatever encouraging aphorism or ad campaign can convince me. I had these children, now they are mine to shuttle through life, to try to lead them, through whatever means possible, to the places they might fare best.

I put my youngest in a theater class recently, which he fought me on for a bit before relenting. Last night he told me, begrudgingly, that I was right. He liked it, though he warned me, finger wagging, not to say “I told you so.” He was all smiles as he told me of an older aide in the class who “does all the things I do, but better!”

I smiled and realized that all the meditation, therapy, and candy bars in the world don’t hold a candle to seeing your kids happy. You just have to keep trying to help them find their place.

Read Fearless Parenting every other Thursday on BrooklynPaper.com.
Posted 12:00 am, November 6, 2014
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