I am, emphatically, not a “Tiger Mom”. At first, I was a bit ashamed of this, being a PhD myself. Now I have embraced my slacker mom status fully and defiantly, like a black-nail-polish-and-pierced teenager with an upraised middle finger and a sneer. I am the anti-establishment punk-version of motherhood and I have decided that I am pretty okay with that.
My son is not going to summer school.
When I was a kid, when dinosaurs roamed the earth before the comet came, summer school was for those kids who were in danger of not passing grade, strictly remedial only. Having passed 22 years of official adulthood sans child, and another five before formal schooling became an issue, it was to my astonishment to find out that summer school had become the province of over-achievers. Summer was no longer time to “catch up”, but to move to the head of the class, and guarantee the coveted Ivy League college slot before the kid is off of training wheels.
I was a good student, near the top of my class, but rarely number 1. The tracked New York school system guaranteed a class peer group that could kick my academic butt from 7th grade onward. I don’t remember any of us voluntarily participating in summer school. Summer was a coveted time of long, lazy days spent on bicycles, in backyard pools, in street baseball games or stretched out on the lawn with reading material NOT assigned or sanctioned by the school district. I remember a summer when we took over an abandoned playground concession stand, vividly painted the inside with tempera paints, and made it into a clubhouse for the summer. Many a childhood drama was played out in those abandoned and adult-unsupervised walls.
Harry does not go to summer school either. He goes to a “summer daycamp”. Yes. It is a glorified daycare, but he goes to the pool at least 2 days a week, has water-wars and craft projects, a “sundry store” where he has an account to buy himself summer snacks (lacking the mom-and-pop corner stores I enjoyed as a child), and he comes home flushed and tired and smelling of little boy sweat mingled with the undefinable scent of hot summer sun. Little boy dramas are recounted, and what he lacks in lessons on math and vocabulary, he gains in working his way, in fits and starts, through the complicated social navigation of his world.
I value education. Highly. Everything I have I owe to hard academic work and persistence. But there is more to life than school. There is more to life than work, no matter how meaningful or worthwhile it is. And there is definitely more to the human experience than relentless pursuit of socioeconomic status.
I don’t think I have abandoned my desire for my son to have a successful life. But I have over the years redefined what “success” is, and by what scale I would like the value of my own life to be measured.
I have come to the conclusion that success has room for a little bit of summer. Especially for little boys.