Hooray! Eli got into Stuyvesant! I mean, holy s---! Eli got into Stuyvesant!

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I am thrilled that my son, Eli, got into Stuyvesant High School.

And I’m scared s---.

Visiting the tall tower together this fall, listening to the exciting stories of the cheerleader and football player who led us on a tour, it seemed like a no-brainer that Eli, who tests well, would place the school first. He had a shot, and why not dream big?

After all, dreams are catalysts to pull us forward into a place that feels good and natural if we let them. And yet I know from experience how scary it is to set one’s goals high, to place expectations on oneself that will inevitably require a slew of hard work and place one in a competitive realm that could be incredibly stressful. And for what?

Where is it that my son is trying to go, and is it worth it?

I have had to ask myself the same question, repeatedly, as I fall to pieces over trying to do difficult things, like starting a nonprofit to help kids connect through the arts.

The last time my mother was in town, I lost it at the kitchen table.

“I am completely overwhelmed,” I said, between sobs, “and I have no idea what to do about it.”

She shook her head and looked at me, eyes filled with sympathy and exasperation both — this had been the same old refrain for a while.

“I just don’t understand why you have to dream so big,” she said,

I thought when she said it she was crazy, but then I thought, maybe she’s right. Maybe it is better to lower one’s expectations to reasonable easily-achievable goals. After all, how much is too much to expect?

Unfortunately, now it is too late.

It seems my children have already been affected by what I call my “Big Dream Syndrome,” for better or for worse. Eli, at 7 or 8, boldly exclaimed that he wanted to go to Harvard. I remember wondering where in the world he might have gotten the notion, since I don’t recall ever pushing it or even mentioning it. But he had somehow heard it was the best school, and decided that’s where he wanted to go. I remember, even at the time, wondering if, in fact, Harvard is all it is cracked up to be. If, in fact, it would be the best place for his active little brain. If, in fact, he could even get in.

But words people utter, even at a young age, mean something, and so I took it seriously.

Now, as he prepares to accept the opportunity to go to Stuyvesant, and the stories of crazy homework and super-competitive kids abound, I wonder to myself, (with my mother’s voice in my head), “Why does he have to dream so big? Maybe he should go somewhere a little less tough, a place with a few fewer expectatio­ns?”

And then I remember we are who we are. I believe there is a path for us, and even if it is a difficult one, we are going to have to follow it to see where it goes. We’re going to have to suffer the trials and tribulations of that particular road because that is the one we’ve been put on. Certainly he is blessed to have the opportunity he’d hoped for, and so he must move forward, fear be damned.

Having a dream, a vision of what one might actually be able to achieve, is important. The size of that dream, I guess, is commensurate with the star you were born under and what surrounds you in support of those dreams, but I believe that people can go incredibly far if only someone looks into their eyes, and tells them that they can.

So I say to my mother, to myself, and to my kids — my birthed ones and the ones I work with in schools — it is okay to dream big. You just have to take it step by step and relax and enjoy it along the way.

And you have to be flexible, as dreams are metaphors not literal to-dos, and if it so happens that one dream doesn’t come true, try, try again. Dare to come up with yet another big dream.

I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Read Fearless Parenting every other Thursday on
Posted 12:00 am, March 12, 2015
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Reasonable discourse

Stuyvesant mom from brownstone neighborhoods says:
This article bothered me. I mean, yes, it's wonderful that your child got into Stuy, and congratulations. If this were a Facebook post, I'd say go with it. But since it's in a newspaper read by many, I wonder if the article might have acknowledged the many children who did not get into their first choice high school, or indeed into any high school at all. I'm rather going to assume that your child went to the sort of middle school that prepared him academically for Stuyvesant, but you might also have mentioned the fact that many middle and elementary schools are not even remotely up to that standard. I realize an opinion column is not the same as a news article, but even so, shouldn't there be some awareness that not all 8th graders have access to the same good fortune that has allowed your son to dream?
March 12, 2015, 7:49 am
Michael says:
It is a total vanity piece. The article is certainly interesting to you (the author), and those who know your child. i just fail to see how this provides information or anything of interest to readers. There's no connection to other people's experiences. Even your son's experiences are cast only in how you view them, no comment on his feelings - nor even questions posed from you to him.
March 12, 2015, 8:15 am
Ed from Bay Ridge says:
I agree with others here. This is a personal social media-type post, not a column. Please learn the difference.
March 12, 2015, 10:43 am
Anonymous from Park Slope says:
Please, an end to these self-involved parenting columns!
March 12, 2015, 2:23 pm
Gena from P Slope says:
Amen, Anon from PS. I'm so glad that my parents didn't hover or mistake me for themselves. I was a good kid and student but I swear to Bob I'd have run away to hell if they were constantly neurotically noodgingly handwringing and watching themselves in some kind of therapeutic mirror.
March 13, 2015, 12:07 am
old time brooklyn from slope says:
she is turning into the carmine of 7th ave - lots of hot air but organic
March 14, 2015, 10:58 am
Confused from Old Tea Room says:
Why is this column called "Fearless Parenting" when the author says: "And I’m scared s---."
March 14, 2015, 2:07 pm
Steph Thompson from Park Slope says:
Hey All,

Thanks for reading! I appreciate the feedback. I was extremely tentative about publishing this column, and your comments confirm my suspicions. It's tough to write about the challenges that a family faces even when they have access to the best opportunities. Just yesterday a neighbor nodded his head vehemently and said, "don't do it..." about sending my son to Stuyvesant. Cry me a river, I know, but every decision every person makes for their children -- privileged or not -- is challenging, since we want them to be happy and do well. Believe me, I've been volunteering and bringing programs to an elementary school in Bed-Stuy for four years to try to even BEGIN to understand how unequal our education system is and how heavily weighted tests such as the one to get into Stuyvesant are toward kids who are raised with exposure to all kinds of literature and experiences. How do we bridge that gap? I have shied away from writing about this because it is SO complicated, and every time I've tried to sort through it in an article it ends up making me look even more self-centered than this piece in that I could even deign to think of telling other groups of people what to do to "succeed." My point in writing this article was to say that Big Dreams are important to help all children get where they want to go, be it in rich neighborhoods like Park Slope or poor ones like Bed-Stuy. My goal working with kids--my own and others--- is to make them curious, and to help them follow that curiosity wherever they want to go, even if seems impossible. Arguably, some kids are up against so, so much that it is hard to break through to them that any other way is possible without being able to "hand it to them on a silver platter," and seeing that firsthand every week makes my heart ache. I guess I should write about that, but sometimes I feel like that's not my story to tell from where I sit. I need to give these kids a voice. Maybe in the next column...Thanks.
March 16, 2015, 3:20 am

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