The College Try? Never Heard of It.

As written for Grown and Flown, a terrific resource for parents to discover just how normal their teens actually are.

Well, we’re only one week into summer break and, already, I’m over it. 

Not the whole thing, but definitely the part where I (again) live with a seventeen-year-old who (again) I really do love very, very much. It’s just that he, well, he knows so very much while I know so very little. I see his logic, of course, what with my 52 years of life experience compared to his not-even two decades. 

Oh, and there’s that whole other thing where this is my SECOND 17-year-old; the former of whom is now publicly admitting that we (the parents) may have been right on one or two items back in her late teen years. That child is staring down her 21st birthday and, I’m telling you, psychologists are not kidding when they talk about the blessings of that frontal lobe. 

Admittedly, we are coming off a rough end to our son’s junior year in high school. It was a year that ended with his “removal” from the International Baccalaureate program, a select program that he opted to give the old college try because (his words) he “could get all C’s but still have a really high weighted GPA.” No, it’s not that we didn’t see that glaring red flag. It’s that we shrugged and moved on with hopes that he would finally find his work ethic.

He did not. 

Okay, so he wasn’t so much removed as he was dismissed after a code of conduct hiccup in which he betted once too often that taking an assignment shortcut would pass as actually putting that nose to the academic grindstone. Cheating? Actually, no. Just a dabble in digitizing a presentation that was meant to be completed the old-fashioned way: by actually doing the work. I suppose the good news is that he was nabbed after telling on himself. Turns out he oversold the project and was the recipient of numerous accolades all in front of his fellow half-dozen classmates who looked on with sleepy eyes after pulling all-nighters to wrap up months of work.  Yes, A+ for the guilty conscious. Kind of. He actually told his classmates, not his teachers. The message of “I didn’t really deserve that because I took a taxi rather than run the marathon but, hey, let’s just keep that on the down low” was not, in fact, kept on the down low.

He may be smarter than the adults in his life, but at least he’s still got great morals. 

And in fairness, the project deadline came quickly. It was, after all, only handed out in, well, September. Granted, the individual topic choices weren’t approved until October so, yes, that did shave off a whole month. We’re not really sure what happened to the remaining thirty-four weeks but really, whose fault was that? (No need to answer, I know it already). 

I suppose the history of hole-digging did not help his case. For the bulk of those thirty-four weeks, our son perfected his ability to take shortcuts. He actually started perfecting the shortcut the day he walked into the middle school. It’s just also panned out perfectly. Perhaps if he’d taken the IB Syllabus seriously, with its signed pledge to do the work, there would have been a bit of mercy at year’s end. Alas, it was not to be, as this was the final of the shortcut straws. The bugger of it all? The relatively unfazed reaction from said our son, including a practically proud declaration of “I’m an underachiever, it’s kind of my shtick.

Um, what?? YOUR SHTICK??!?!? 

I mean, sure … as long as he’s got it all figured out.

For a moment, there was a halt to conversations about colleges or even next year’s classes as we (the parents) really thought that by the time we rounded this corner of “What will you do next?” the benefits of education would have revealed themselves. It’s not that we’ve insisted on college for either of our children, but we have insisted that they Do something next.  

This revelation of our proud underachiever was a punch to the parental gut. Were we really going to head into his senior year, his final year, standing on a foundation of I’m really just not that motivated? Look, we’re not dumb (oh wait …). We know that children come in all shapes and sizes and preferences and, yes, even motivation levels. Still, it felt like the family snow globe was overturned, once again. 

In all honesty, we’d hoped that he would voluntarily drop from the program next year. We saw how miserable he was this year as he watched deadlines pass and low grades appear. For the first time, there were no straight-A report cards. We even saw a D once marking period. And while we heard his words, we knew that it really did bother him. 

We hoped he’d opt out and trade in the pressure, that he claimed he didn’t care about, for a final year that included some breathing room. This is a child who did manage the shortcut for ten years while banking class after required class. This is a child whose use of procrastination did earn him the option of graduating an entire year early if he chose to.

We also hoped that it would be his decision and not because of a committee’s ruling that likely resulted from a very dented track record. We never thought to hope that the option to graduate early wouldn’t be dangled as a delicious carrot/booby prize in not returning to IB.

In the end, we know our son will be fine. He’s just 17, after all.

No signs yet of that frontal lobe approaching the starting line. Yes, he will return for his senior year with a compromise of classes that will include a few softballs balanced with a few that still include his fellow IB classmates (who have thus far kept him within their fold). 

This is going to be a long summer what with the smartest one in the house being a mere baby adult. We (the parents) will likely quietly mutter “Just wait a few years … it will be fine” several times per day. And if all else fails, we will take the advice of our twenty-year-old who insists that, eventually, he will appreciate just how wise we (the parents) we are. 

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