A New York City Education
This week has been somewhat of The Perfect Storm if you happen to be the parent of two New York City public school kids: one, a 10th grader in an urban high school and the other, an 8th grader staring down the face of auditions for New York's elite performing arts campuses (if you're not from the city, think FAME).
In between my normal work week and daily commute on various subways between Park Slope and Manhattan, I have been to three high schools spread out from Queens to the far reaches of Brooklyn, watching young Matthew test the waters of where he will spend his next four years. On top of his AP homework load, we have been out past 10 o'clock every night going through the tour and audition process. Add on Ben's parent-teacher meetings and getting the full scoop on learning Latin, Chem and Trig in classes of 34 people in a school of 4,000 and you get a good flavor of why so many friends outside of NY are daunted by our choice to put kids through this. The results are not always easily quantified.
Last night, both my guys were out with friends in the city. Geri and I enjoyed dinner at a superb neighborhood Japanese restaurant (Yamoto on 7th), and testimony to Brooklyn parenting, truly did not worry a lick about subways, our kids, or their whereabouts in Manhattan on a Friday night. They are street smart and they've earned our trust. That's part of living here, too.
When Ben got home around 10:30, he was starving (probably because he is a teenager and had only eaten 14 times so far yesterday!). I handed him a twenty and shooed him out to score some Chinese. He came back 10 minutes later with a sack of food and no change. I gave him the "huhhh?" look and here is what he said.
"Jake looked hungry and cold, so I bought him a big thing of eggdrop wonton soup."
Jake is our local -- what is the politically correct word for this? -- homeless guy. We have known him for years. He is a friendly smile, a craggy-toothed hello, sometimes a thousand-mile stare, but never a threat. Not even close. He's been telling my boys to "read a good book" since we moved here. In a way, he is nearly family. None of us has a clue where he goes at nights. Maybe we should, but you can't fix everything. Not in New York.
Words cannot convey what I felt as a parent, hearing that my son, of his own accord, bought a guy on a cold street corner a hot container of soup. There is no grade for that. It doesn't add points to his PSAT. It doesn't go on the high school transcript. But it is a beautiful example of street education. Life lessons learned outside of the classroom. And a reminder of why, as a parent, even on the hardest of weeks, I am so darned proud watching my kids grow up in NYC.