The PTO Years

19 Mar

I stared at the email announcing the next Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) meeting. A slight twinge of – indigestion perhaps – gripped me as I moved my mouse pointer back and forth over the “Delete” button. After a brief pause and thinking, “I really should go to this meeting,” I clicked the mouse and sent the email hurtling into cyber-oblivion.

Once upon a time I attended every PTO meeting I could. I signed up to volunteer whenever possible, whether it was snack duty, reading to the class, or helping out a teacher with an in-class project. The reward was in seeing my daughter’s look of delight when I showed up in her classroom. “That’s my mommy,” I heard her say to her classmates, with a note of excitement, pride and happiness in her voice. A feeling of tender warmth would course through my body.

The elementary school years were rich with opportunities to volunteer. At Back-to-School nights, not wanting to appear overly aggressive, parents nevertheless jostle each other in their rush to sign up to help in the classroom. If you arrive to the evening late, the best slots were taken. Attendance at PTO meetings was robust as we listened with rapt attention to the principal’s reports, raised our hands to ask probing questions about academics and socialization, and prided ourselves on our involvement with our children’s education.

During middle school, parents were discouraged from volunteering in the classrooms in the belief that it was no longer “developmentally appropriate” for us to be there. Instead, parents were asked to help with fundraising events that took place elsewhere on school grounds. At the PTO meetings, there would be about a dozen attendees. I was given a reprieve from PTO meetings when we moved to Ireland where the schools do not have PTO meetings.

Returning from Ireland, I went back to attending PTO meetings for the first three years of high school. Attendance was robust at the beginning of the year, especially when the head guidance counselor was asked to speak at the first meetings. The room would fill up with parents eager to find out about what to expect in the high school years. Already in freshman year I could sense rising parental anxieties about college in the form of questions about class placement, AP courses, and standardized testing.

When senior year began, I found myself feeling lackadaisical about attending the meetings, even the first one where the head guidance counselor spoke, so I decided to skip them. It was as if I had been struck by senioritis, the condition of disengagement and lack of motivation usually experienced by high school seniors during their second semester. I didn’t know it could affect parents too.

So as the email disappeared from my inbox, I realized that the twinge I felt was for the end of an epoch, for 13 years of PTO meetings that passed by in a blink of God’s eye. With that, only one thought emerged: time to move on.

President Obama to Speak at Barnard College

7 Mar

This weekend we were excited to learn that President Obama will be giving the keynote address at Barnard College’s commencement this May. Whether you like the President or not, it’s a coup for the college to land him as speaker. The consensus opinion is that he will be using the occasion to appeal to women and youth voters, two groups that pundits say are necessary to his re-election. Tickets to the graduation have become sizzling hot. For the rest of us, we will have to watch the speech live on Barnard’s website.

The news about President Obama has also publicly exposed simmering tensions between Columbia University and Barnard. I noted in a post from 2010 that some Columbia students believe that Barnard students are inferior to them, either because Barnard ranks lower in national rankings or because Columbia is more difficult to get into (7% acceptance rate for Columbia vs. 25% for Barnard). In reaction to the President choosing to speak at Barnard over Columbia, students have taken to the blogosphere to vent, with many doing so behind the cloak of anonymity.

Some of the comments are downright mean-spirited and have distressed and embarrassed many Columbia and Barnard students and administrators alike. So much so that a Facebook page was formed, calling for all the Columbia schools to come together against the anonymous hurling of insults. The presidents of Barnard and Columbia issued a joint statement saying, “disrespectful comments are not representative of our community.”

It’s heartening to see the Columbia University community speaking out against the nastiness of the exchange and I hope change will occur that addresses the attitudes behind the comments. I always knew that my daughter would receive a fine education at Barnard as she heads there this fall. I just didn’t think that her education would begin right now, as she witnesses this controversy and thinks critically about it for herself.

Views of Tufts University

2 Mar

Last April we visited Tufts University in Somerville, Massachusetts. The school mascot is Jumbo the elephant.

Views of Northeastern University

24 Feb

Northeastern University is located in Boston and is a large urban university. It is famous for its co-op program that offers students work experience as part of the academic experience.

Watching Basketball Together

21 Feb

“Hey it’s the Knicks game!” I yelled out in surprise as I peered at the men on-screen darting around the court. Not being a regular basketball fan, I didn’t know we could get broadcasts of Knicks games on FIOS.

There was an excitement in the air as my husband and daughter converged in the family room to stare at the screen. Sure enough, in crisp high definition clarity, we could see the lanky figure of Number 17 sprinting up and down, dribbling the ball from one hand to the other as if it were a mere extension of his body. Without taking our eyes off the fast-moving game, we backed up around the coffee table to plant ourselves on the sofa.

It was Friday night and the start of the weeklong February winter school break. For a change, my daughter did not need to go do her homework right away. So this was one of the few occasions when we could gather as a family after dinner to watch TV. We don’t usually watch sports except for the major tennis tournaments. But since the Jeremy Lin story exploded in the media, the Linsanity tsunami has swept us up along. There are so many compelling elements to this story: of struggle and perseverance, of luck or as we Christians believe – providence, of a young man’s growing faith in God, of ethnic and spiritual pride. In Jeremy Lin’s example, I have found many opportunities to talk to my daughter about life lessons.

I feel an urgency to talk to her about life lessons because I’ve become aware that times like these, watching TV or eating dinner as a family, will become scarcer in six months. In six months, she will be entering college and taking her first steps towards independent living; she will face a panoply of choices that the college experience promises to offer. As a parent my hope and fervent prayer is that we will have equipped her well to make wise decisions.

And judging from the continuing media spotlight on Lin and the Knicks’ up-and-down roller coaster performance, I won’t soon run out of life lessons to discuss.

Views of Brown University

16 Feb

We visited Brown University last April. As you can see, it was a beautiful spring day. I thought I had lost these photos so I’m delighted that they have re-surfaced. Hope you enjoy the views of this Ivy League campus in Providence, Rhode Island.

“What Are You Going to Study?”

4 Feb

Hands down that’s the most commonly asked question of my daughter after learning where she is attending college this fall.  It’s a logical follow-up question and it also signals a shift of attention to the next stage in her young life.  That question is just as important as where one goes to college; some would argue it is more important.

Right now when asked, she just shrugs; she doesn’t know.  Recently, the value of a liberal arts education has come under scrutiny (see articles like this), especially in a struggling economy.  But for someone who doesn’t know what she wants to study, a liberal arts education makes sense.  It will give her a well-rounded foundation of knowledge from which she can discover and pursue her interests while developing critical thinking, analytical, and communication skills (if that sounds like it came from a college brochure, I think I have internalized all that marketing spiel; I didn’t plagiarize, honest.)  Seriously though, the choice of major is frequently intertwined with later career choices and these days, what parents of college students, even the most relaxed ones, do not fret just an iota, about whether their children will be able to find meaningful employment?

When it comes to our children, there’s always something over which to wring our hands.  One mother recently related how her college-aged son talked about perhaps becoming a musician: “We’re going to need a talk with him about that.”  From the roll of her eyes and the skeptical tone in her voice, I can tell that there will be many “talks” in that family.  I suspect there may be such “talks” with my daughter in future about career choices and I suppose I could worry about that now.  But I will fight that urge.  I believe a liberal arts education will help her uncover her strengths and passions almost as much as I believe in a God that has created her for purposes the discovery of which will be her life journey.  So I will trust and not worry.

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