The Invisible Sisterhood of Complete Strangers: Facebook Moms Groups
The beginning of eighth grade for most middle schoolers in NYC marks the beginning of hunting for high schools. Hunting for high schools is not only intense for middle schoolers, but their parents. I wonder if it’s worse as a parent, knowing that some of the outcomes will have disastrous impacts. I grew up in NYC and took the specialized high school exam. I remember being focused on getting into a good school, but not as stressed as a mom, now sitting across the table from my son and daughter. My parents, although they were divorced, and have different ideas on just about everything, agreed 150% on the importance of education.
I have four children, two of which are in eighth grade, one is typical, and one has special needs. Finding an appropriate match for my thirteen-year-old special needs daughter has been an ongoing battle, because there are so few options. Finding an appropriate match for my thirteen-year-old typical son has been a huge undertaking, because there are so many options, and so much competition. I began researching schools over the summer for my children. I began talking to other moms I know in my real life, asking them about their opinions of different schools. I attended countless zoom meetings about what tests to take, what schools are looking for, and dozens of dos and don’ts about applying to high school. What many people are not aware of is that the children are divided into tiers, or groups, based on their seventh grade GPA. So, if you were not doing your absolute best work, and you had a traumatic experience in seventh grade, your chances of getting into a highly competitive school were whittled down to almost nothing. When I say almost nothing, I mean that your last chance is to do well on the specialized high school entrance exam and apply to schools who do not look at grades, only at your scores on those standardized tests. I am only roughly summing up most of the information that I’ve learned over the last 6 months.
I began studying with my son over the summer for the test and looking into private schools as well as parochial schools. While doing my research, I learned that a number of these high schools are harder to get into than some ivy league schools, simply because of the high-pressure application to acceptance ratio. In many of these elite high schools, there are a handful of seats and thousands of applicants. I helped my son by keeping track of all his test dates, signing him up for tests, school tours, and making lists of essay topics. I also kept a list of prospective schools and their requirements, which were different for each high school. Some high schools require written essays, short answers, multiple recommendations, in person interviews, video essays, graded classwork samples, great grades, and high test scores. Some high schools require only a combination of these requirements, but those are few.
Many times, over the course of application season, I thought of all the time that I spent helping my son through this process, and how it would’ve been different if I did not have the mental and emotional resources to help my son through this arduous, highly technical, and lengthy process. Every day after school, I would prepare cooked snacks for all four of my children, and then we would sit at the table and do homework. My oldest son and I went over his high school materials, after he finished his homework. He would read it aloud to me, to find errors. We read each essay aloud several times, until we couldn’t hear anything that would detract from my son’s natural voice and his main point. My job as a mother has countless hats, which have been even more intense during high school application season. This application season, I have also been a chauffeur, a nutritionist, a pastor, spiritual leader, a nurse, a voice coach, a tutor, a chef, a housekeeper, an organizer, a personal assistant, a financial advisor, a morale booster, a teacher, and any other job for my kids to do their absolute best. Not to mention, always pouring into my children, while going through a divorce, leaving my cup often depleted. Waking up each day, being resilient, strong, and joyful was a symbiotic relationship with being highly organized, and so, highly sane.
Towards the end of the public high school process, and with the private and parochial process still ongoing, I realized that I needed help from other moms who are in my position or have been in my position. My eighth graders’ current middle school didn’t have answers to some of the urgent questions that I had been asking since the fall. I still felt a high degree of uncertainty and confusion, regarding my special needs daughter’s options, and my typical son’s academic profile. I decided to ask the UWS Moms group on Facebook for their opinions and experiences on applying to NYC High Schools. The moms on the board were extremely encouraging and helpful, leading me to another Facebook group: Applying to High School in NYC. I asked the mothers all my questions, and immediately, I had in-depth answers. I also had the comments from other Mothers who had related questions or predicaments. Some of the other moms in that group also had special needs children and directed me to join another Facebook group: NYC Parents of Teens with Disabilities. After getting accepted to the NYC Parents of Teens with Disabilities, I asked them all my questions, and they also answered me warmly, and with great detail. They were kind and compassionate because they were in the same boat as me. While I was able to receive an amazing amount of knowledge, I was also able to get something else that I wasn’t receiving in my waking life: commiseration, understanding, and the feeling of being seen. There was a huge weight on me, always doing these applications and school research by myself, but these women, who were strangers, who I had never met in real life, helped that load feel a bit lighter. I suddenly felt less alone, there was more wind in my sails, and immediately, I was less weary.
As I filled out the last few parts of the public high school application, I finished with confidence, as opposed to previously feeling like I was wandering around a maze, in the darkness, without a flashlight. These Facebook Mothers had given me some light. Many women, that I had only ever seen through a blurry picture on the internet, turned out to be more helpful than I would have ever expected. So many of the critiques of social media are so negative, but I am also thankful for social media for a multitude of reasons, and this is one of them. If you go online searching for a knowledgeable community, you will find one. The internet, much like anything else, depends on your intention. Seek, and ye shall find. #grateful