Friday, January 11, 2013

Mom may help prepare, but son takes the plunge

From today's Briefing:

Being a mom to an 11-year-old requires a constant readjustment of roles.
Sometimes I’m as hands-off as possible. Other moments require intense supervision. In the middle is a whole bunch of squishy gray.
Some of the hands-off parenting is forced, such as when Cooper is camping with Boy Scouts. Cooper and I have a little joke: “It’s called Boy Scouts, not Mom Scouts.”
It’s my way of reminding him that he needs to be responsible for tracking his requirements for rank advancement and merit badges or for gathering supplies and packing for a weekend away.
And it’s his way of reminding me that when he’s out camping, he lives by slightly different rules than when he’s at home.
The most recent trip was a four-day winter camp in East Texas. The troop left while there was still snow on the ground from Christmas Day.
Cooper’s footlocker contained plenty of cold-weather gear — gloves, hand warmers, hats, thick socks — and a pair of swim trunks.
Winter camp includes a polar bear swim — an opportunity for boys and Scout leaders to jump in a cold lake, swim out a few yards and back, then boast about surviving.
I’d cautioned Cooper that if he chose to be a polar bear, he’d probably be cold for the rest of the day, as there’d be no hot shower to recover in, no true shelter from the elements.
But it’s not Mom Scouts, so I didn’t forbid him. Instead I worried long-distance for four days about him staying free from frostbite.
Cooper did jump in the lake at 6 one morning, when the air temperature was 21 degrees and the lake about 35 degrees. He describes not being able to breathe well or feel his fingers afterward. But he survived, and I did, too.
Still, he needs me plenty.
He’s only halfway through sixth grade, and already we’re plotting strategy for college. Cooper wants to be an engineer, and one of his college choices is Texas A&M University.
Automatic admission currently requires that a student be in the top 10 percent of his graduating class.
So, why are we planning now? Because some seventh- and eighth-grade classes can earn high school credit. And with the credit comes grades that count toward a high school GPA. And with that comes the concern that the study skills and abilities of a middle-school student will potentially drag down a GPA.
The benefit of early coursework could outweigh the risks. If Cooper is ready for the challenge, he’ll be freeing up his high school schedule for specialized coursework in technology and engineering.
Is the prospect of getting ahead worth it, even if he might earn a low A or a B in middle school — a grade that could doom his chances of being one of the top 50 or so kids in his graduating class?
As we ponder that question, just weeks from seventh-grade registration, I’ve got bigger questions. Why is it all so complicated? Why should an 11-year-old be concerned with how he’ll get into a university? Why should the mom of an 11-year-old be so worried?
In the past week, I’ve described to Cooper the process of applying to universities. I’ve told him I will support his choices and help in whatever way I can. I’ve told him how much work will be required to get into A&M. I’ve told him that there are plenty of excellent engineering programs across the country and that he has plenty of time to decide what’s best for him.
And I’ve told him that I love him and love being his mom, no matter how much supervision is required. We’re in this survival thing together.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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