Thursday, January 28, 2016

Prepping for College Starts Early

If you could help your son or daughter avoid senior year stress, wouldn't you do anything you can? Senior stress, burnout, addiction to relieve anxiety--these are serious conditions and currently widespread. In fact, according to The Atlanticin Silicon Valley, the desperate pressure to be perfect, get into a top school, and please your parents, is causing teen suicide.

As much as I'm divided about prep schools--especially how they condition young people to be elitist--they do a lot right in helping a kid plan for his or her college choice and career. But if your son or daughter goes to public high school, he or she is probably left to procrastinate in a world where that no longer works. It's not the way it was when we were kids.

I'm a writer, and as a writer, I'm penning a YA novel to help young women understand how difficult the transition to college is no matter what your race, gender, or socioeconomic status. But lately, I've realized that writing the novel is not enough, and I've started a new College Prep and Counseling Practice to help students find their way holistically. 

How does this work?

First, I care about my student clients. That's huge. I care about their health. I know firsthand what striving to over-achieve can do to a young person, and what comparing oneself to others who achieve more than you do can destroy self-esteem and lead to some pretty abysmal choices.

As a Test Prep Tutor and a College Counselor, I've seen it all. The kids who are pressured by their parents to do well, the kids who are scared by their so-called "mediocre" testing skills, the kids who are so perfectionist nothing less than 700s in every subject will satisfy them, the kids who are pushing for 800s and won't rest until they're there. Kids who have no idea what to write on personal essays because they've never been encouraged to think about who they want to be when they grow up--aka, themselves. Kids who put in hundreds of community service hours without thinking about where this kind of useful commitment can be enriching and dovetail with their interests. Kids who arrive as first-years unable to think critically or write a decent essay.

So what are the answers?

First, parents, please remember how vulnerable kids are at high school age. Please?

Second, help your son or daughter start a cross-curriculum reading and writing habit early--preferably in ninth grade. Students who do this will reach SAT and ACT time with strong reading skills and vocabularies. They will just know more. 

Third, help your son or daughter find his or her passion. Not a lifelong one--they don't know that yet. But something that inspires them now. By finding their passions and following them, they won't waste time participating in every sport, club, or extracurricular "guaranteed" to pad a resume and impress college admissions officers.

Fourth, help your son or daughter develop healthy life habits--healthy eating, exercise that's not necessarily competitive or achievement oriented, down time, zen. By practicing healthy habits, they'll avoid pitfalls that can derail them when crunch time comes.

Fifth, and it's an important fifth, model the above.

I wasn't the healthiest teen, twenty-something, or mom, but because I held on tightly to some ideals and tough lessons I learned, I was able to help my kids make it through those hideously difficult years called adolescence.  All three are now graduates of (I say with a brag) prestigious colleges that were the right fits for them. All three are doing swimmingly. But most of all, all three knew that I'd be there for them no matter what their scores, grades, successes, failures, and admissions/rejections. We're super close today, even though they're geographically scattered.

One huge reason we continue to grow together? They share with me a love of learning. That's what you want your kids to have. That's the best thing I've helped them find.

This blog is not an ad, even if it does read as shamelessly proud of myself.* It's a kickoff to a series of columns I want out there so I can share what I've learned with other parents of teens--the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Get started on preparing your son or daughter from transitioning from high school kid to college first year. But don't freak out. I repeat: It's learning you want them to love, not academic success. It's a lifelong love of learning that, once inspired, once fostered, once achieved, will give you and your kids amazing, long lasting rewards.

A great reading list for parents who are wondering how to get their kids reading quality materials on their own or with a tutor in ninth grade appears in the Ivy Global New SAT Test Prep Book. Check it out. The book will be helpful later, too! And if you don't have time to read or re-read the books on the list, find someone who will. There are plenty of tutors and starving English teachers out there (and I'm one, see footnote, wink wink, but I can't travel to Kansas).

*If you want to talk to me about helping your high school age son or daughter, and you live in the Greater Boston area, I'm here. I mean, a blogger and a writer isn't exactly swimming in cash, and I do offer something valuable ... Here's my website.

Everything, Everything You Want in a YA Novel

Thanks to Grub Street, my email chat with Nicola Yoon, bestselling author of Everything, Everything, can be read here! Thanks also to Joelle Hobeika for hooking me up with Nicola. She is inspirational! If she can write a novel while caring for an infant, you can, too!

And here's a great column that will help you beat winter writer's block. The Write Practice helps me a lot ... it's a great way to start the daily procrastination. It helped me ... I'm cruising again. Hope you are, too. Hugs to the #amwriting folks everywhere. OMMMM.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Syrian Children

My son at two
knew nothing of war.
Darth Vader
and Emperor Palpatine
all he knew of evil.

My son at twenty-two
has marched 
for #BlackLivesMattter
picketed before the offices 
of hard-hearted corporate-college 
capitalists denying janitors
jobs and a fair wage.

My son is safe
-- for now.
But with all he knows
he writes songs
that make hearts
ache like his often does
for the sons and daughters
of others.

We all
love our sons
love our daughters
beyond words.
But our photographs?
They're as different
as our tongues.

Copyright 2015

Friday, June 26, 2015


I have so little to say, which is a Rare Occasion.

Here's to LOVE and EQUALITY and JUSTICE for ALL.

Dedicated to Paul R, Beth, Paul F, Katharine, David, Howard, and Terry, just a few of the so many family members and long-time friends for whom I'm celebrating today!

Let's always remember 6/26/15! 

Friday, June 19, 2015

A REVIEW: Going Over, YA by Beth Kephart

There are so few novels about teenagers in the East and West sections of Berlin that I was excited to find Kephart's slender volume about two young people in love in the early 1980s. As far as I know, this teen more-than-a-romance, based on true stories of escaping East Berlin, may be the only one in English--I am now on a feverish search for more in German.

Kephart sugarcoats nothing in this beautiful story written in evocative prose. Her fascination with and love and admiration for the people of Berlin are palpable.

Indeed, Berlin is a city that continually reinvents itself, which it could not do without the indomitable spirit of its people.

Oh, Berlin, your air is both heavy with tragedy and the past, and shining with optimism and hope. You are alive with art and music. When with you, I feel the sorrow of your people, the hope of those who are determined to keep sight of strong beliefs and love for family, friends, and justice. Berlin, you propel me backwards and forwards simultaneously, even while I stand in awe, breathing your presence, the present. You are richly represented in Kephart's novel--your young and your old; your hope and your despair; your regrets and your penance; your revolutionary spirit, intellect, and solidarity.

Every time I fly into Berlin I feel like I've time traveled, but I can never pinpoint to which time. Along the Spree I loll in a time of peace, picnics, and privilege; by the Gedächtniskirche and Denkmäler I admire the willingness--almost obsessive acceptance of responsibility--of your young people to own their parents' mistakes; in the streets of your many neighborhoods I commune with generations and linger over plaques in the pavement and plaques on the walls. By both the Fernsehturm and the Galleries Lafayette I marvel at the hypocrisy and vanity of us all.

By the Leere Bibliothek im Bebelplatz I feel the presence of Heinrich Heine in his powerful words: Dort wo man Bücher verbrent, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen: "Where men burn books, in the end they will also burn people." But the thing is--Heine's great Romantic spirit lives there, both presaging men's brutal folly and mourning his own people. What an emblem of consciousness and spirit, warning of the darkness within humanity, and testimony to the timelessness of brutality, the fragility of honor, compassion, and ethics.

Currently, I am planning and researching a novel about teenagers in Berlin. Since I was a college student, I've wanted to write about the revolutionary spirit and courage of young Germans who as part of the White Rose (die Weiße Rosa) believed in freedom, courageously acted upon their convictions, and were silenced by the Nazis. Now, I can write about those who helped freedom come to pass so many years after Sophie and Hans Scholl and their compatriots lost their lives in an attempt to prevent fascism from doing its filthy work. However, now aware that the law of unintended consequences also ruled Der Fall der Mauer and die Wiedervereinigung, I have some additional thoughts to share ... and will do so in my next long writing project. Beware! ;-)

Meanwhile ...

Ich danke Ihnen, Beth Kephart, für Ihre Darstellung der Anstrengungen und Kraft für das Weiterleben der Berliners ! Ein schöner Roman! Fünf Sterne!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

#Bloomsday My Style

Shrimpy, plump Becky Birdie stumbled into her infinitesimal bathroom, bearing a chalice on which an emory board and a toothbrush lay crossed. A terrycloth robe, unbelted, clung to her legs in the humid June air. She held the chalice aloft and intoned:

Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.

Halted, she peered out her one narrow window into that of the neighbor across from her and called out sweetly:

--Come over, Ralph Waldo the XXIInd! Come over, you fearless Unitarian.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Cognitive Dissonance

My son just graduated yesterday, on his 22nd birthday. I'm finding it hard to hold all my emotions together: pride, joy, fulfillment, nostalgia, gratitude, wistfulness, admiration, and fear--he's moving far, far away.

When have you experienced a multitude of emotions at once? Can you name them, oh fellow writers?