Today marks the beginning of semester finals for my oldest. She is a junior in high school this year (which means she is in 11th grade and will graduate from high school next year), and as she has been reminded over and over by various teachers and school counselors this year – this year’s grades matter most. Not at all coincidentally I am sure – this has also been the toughest year for her academically. I remember my own junior year of high school, and I don’t remember it being this stressful. Not at all. I went to school, did my work, played the football games (marching band), had a lot of fun, and my grades were fine. It was relatively easy with a few hair-raising moments in between. I wasn’t a straight A-student, but I did well, and I certainly did not burn the midnight oil while doing so.
For my daughter, and probably most high school kids these days, that would not be an accurate description of her high school experience. She has had several “almost” all-nighters, she bites her nails to the “quick” worrying about tests, essays, etc. She is involved on campus in the theater company for the high school – and the teacher who is the director of the company openly tells them that he “owns” them until June. He did not give them time off to study for finals (they practice every day from 2:30 to 4:50 pm), and it’s openly known policy that they don’t dare miss a single rehearsal for any reason, at any time. So they don’t. In the meantime, the kids struggle to keep their grades above water, and like every other high school in America, they’re told that they MUST take AP (Advanced Placement) courses in order to even be considered for college. Those courses are tough, even for me as an adult – and I certainly don’t have a zillion other extracurriculars going on. The pressure is enormous. There isn’t even time left to search for colleges, much less decide where to visit and apply, which is why she has left the initial search for me so that she has less to weed out later.
As a parent, there are two sides to this nightmare. (and really, should it BE a nightmare? This is supposed to be FUN for her!) On one hand, I push my daughter to do well. I know that in order to get into college AND get precious scholarship money (that we need) for her to be able to attend without taking out several hundred thousand dollars in loans (I wish I were kidding) – she has to have outstanding grades. She is not a straight A student – and to even keep the 3.7 she has currently, it is almost impossible. It just doesn’t come naturally to her as it may for others. I see many of my mom-friends talk about their 4.0+ kids and how they’ve gotten into prestigious schools with full scholarships, and I just wince…the peer-pressure alone is enough to break someone. On the other hand, I have started really asking myself if it’s all REALLY worth it. I mean, do I really want my daughter to stress herself out to the point of having anxiety issues all because she wants to go to college? Is it really worth it? What happened to working hard, doing well and keeping it all healthy? What happened to enjoying life? Are we losing sight of what it all really means to live without burn-out by 25?
This brings me, of course, to the band. I know I’m not the only fan who has read more than one interview from them as they looked back on their time at the top of the charts. As successful as they were, there was enormous pressure to continue that success and keep going. I don’t think the band would disagree with me when I say that I’ll bet at one point or another, the whole process stopped being about creating music they really loved and enjoyed and started being about topping whatever they had done last. It is a vicious cycle – kind of like the roundabout that doesn’t stop, huh?
As a mom, I continually fight the urge to lecture her about grades and buckling down (this semester has really been bad for her, and I think we’re about to see a big dip in the GPA – grade point average – as a result), knowing that somewhere out there, resides a school that would love to have my daughter. Not just because she’s a good student (which she is), but because she is vibrant, vivacious, smart, a natural leader, incredibly talented, and would be a great fit for that particular school environment. I hope that I won’t be serving mac & cheese to my family for the next seven + years as we pay for that great college experience, too…. I think it’s safe to say that she probably won’t be attending Harvard or Yale, but instead a much smaller school – and likely one not many may recognize in name. (Just yesterday I came across a small college called Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. That was a new one on me!) It will be the right place for her to grow and mature, and the experience she receives will take her much farther than having a prestigious name printed on her diploma ever could. If I could only keep reminding myself that in the coming months….
I hope the band feels the same about DD14: they’re fighting that pressure and the urge to try that “magical formula” (not that one actually exists, of course) for instant hits, hoping to outdo everything they’ve accomplished prior; but instead they are writing from the heart and soul, knowing that authenticity counts for so much more. I really believe that if they love what they’ve written: it comes through in the music, and the fans follow.