I took this picture of J way back in August on the first day of Junior year.
I wish I had known that morning when I admonished him for making that face (“Come on, give me a smile or something!”) that the face he gave me–one of sarcastic annoyance with a touch of “Are we done yet?”–would be a 100% accurate representation of the year as a whole, because perhaps I wouldn’t have given him such a hard time. (Perhaps.)
Junior year sucks, and has sucked. It was the same with D, and although I can’t claim to know that Junior year sucks for every Junior and his or her family, I do know that every single friend I have who has had a kid or two go through the eleventh grade feels the same way.
Junior year is where the high school experience comes to a head. A few things are happening simultaneously:
1. Colleges are paying special attention to the grades for Junior year, more than they do for Freshman and Sophomore grades and less than they will for the grades in the Senior year.
2. Students typically choose a heavy course load for eleventh grade, both because they are making sure their graduation requirements are being satisfied and because they are trying to impress colleges.
3. This is also the year in which many teenagers are juggling school, extra-curriculars, a new job, and dating for the first time.
4. ACTs and SATs are being taken in the Junior year.
5. Somewhere in the middle of all that other stuff, you have to go on college visits.
J, like his brother, had a rough adjustment to the ways of high school, and for more than a year it was nag, nag, nag (from us) and eyeroll, eyeroll, eyeroll (from them). There were late assignments, missing assignments, forgotten assignments, ignored assignment notebooks, and all kinds of other class-related problems that seem to be common among teenaged boys in school. Both of my boys did the same thing: earned grades in their first two years of high school that didn’t reflect their best effort (though not HORRIBLE, they were just not an accurate representation of their potential) and then suddenly in the first semester of junior year they jumped on board with the program.
A wee problem cropped up early for me this year. After going through the first two years of high school in this house, I found that the class load J selected for this year (AP Psych! British Lit! German 3! Physics! Algebra 2/Trig! Get the idea?) gave me so much pause that I asked if he was sure about it no less than twenty-five times. Finally I had to let it go and trust that he was going to be able to handle it like he kept telling me he could, and would.
J is indeed one of those guys I mentioned above, the kind who juggles. He has that tough load of classes, a job where he works after school four days each week plus all day Sundays, guitar lessons, a car, a girlfriend, and very little spare time. We’ve done a couple of college visits during the school year but to be honest, the time hasn’t been there so we’ll be checking out two more this summer before he decides on three or four that will receive his applications this fall.
The year has been NUTS.
And we’ve all survived, especially J. He’s been ultra-stressed out about school for the first time ever this year, which most parents would worry about, I guess, but I am happy that he has cared so much. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like for my child to be upset about anything, but sometimes it takes a little bit of stress to give you the extra kick you need to get the job done. This year, even though there have been some recurrences of his letting some details slip through the cracks, I know that he has kept so many balls in the air that I just can’t give him as hard of a time about it as I would have two years ago. Besides, one brand new thing I’ve noticed this year is that he is harder on himself than Jim and I have been on him (as evidenced by my not needing to say more than a sentence about something having to do with a grade before he nods and says earnestly, “I know. I’ll take care of it.”), and his drive to succeed is clearer than ever. It’s been great, because as parents, we need to keep giving our kids more room to take responsibility for their own actions. Giving up some control over some behaviors that frankly, we don’t have supreme control over in the first place, is tough at first. The reward is discovering that even though you never thought that surly fourteen- or fifteen-year-old would go away, he does and the seventeen-year-old you eventually end up with down the road is not only willing to be the captain of his own destiny but also doesn’t mind having you along for the ride.
As the year closes out, it’s nice to realize that, setting aside the minor stumbles, he’s done very well at balancing everything out and I think that his ability to succeed at everything he’s juggling says a lot about his character. I’m really proud of him. He deserves this summer break–a break through which he will be working 32 hours each week but still a break from school–and he deserves the lighter Senior schedule he chose for the fall as we jump feet first into his whirlwind final year of high school and conquer all of the various milestones that go along with it.
So yeah, Junior year? We’re done with you in this house. Forever. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Next year’s picture? Smiles all the way.