It’s partly my fault. I signed permission slips for my daughter to take four Advanced Placement (AP) classes in high school.
After she’d been in school for three weeks, I was already so tired, I had trouble making it to back-to-school night. Watching her put in six (and sometimes more) hours of homework a night wore me out. So did the teachers’ endless demands.
Now that we’re a few years down the pike, I offer the following survival advice to AP parents:
1. Accept that the school expects your teen to have 30-hour days. Let’s see. The schools in our county had no study halls built into the schedule. Homeroom was a place you went only on the first day of school to get your schedule. So except for a quick lunch, the kids went to school all day without a break.
When I dragged myself to back-to-school night, the AP English teacher said she assigned three to four hours of homework each night. So did the AP Government instructor. I was relieved to find out college-prep analytic geometry amounted to “only an hour or so” of work each night because I was already running out of fingers on which to count. However, we still had AP French and AP biology to go. The French teacher was vague, and I nodded off somewhere during the first five minutes of the biology section. I don’t even remember meeting the physics teacher and must have missed orchestra.
2. Be prepared to really pay for your kid to take all those AP tests. No matter that your teenager has no plans to major in Latin in college and will forget every word of it once he or she aces the SAT vocabulary section. And never mind that a fire drill interrupted last year’s AP French test twice, and no student scored above a “2”. Despite what the school tells you in writing, you will still have to shell out for all these tests.
3. Expect to battle the school over summer visitation. If your “ex” lives out of the area and has summer visitation rights, prepare to lock horns with the high school faculty even before the end of June. My explanation to a Virginia school that my daughter was required to be in Texas for the entire summer brought only a, “So?” She wasn’t even home to get the summer vacation (vacation?) reading list for AP English, let alone take a field trip in a canoe and grab two dozen different leaves. Apparently, required parental visitation did not figure in the syllabus of any of her courses.
4. Anticipate hysteria when the first report card arrives. Buy lots of tissue for tears. Sadly, just as in college, not everybody in an AP class can get an “A”. If your kidlet is typical, the reaction to the first “B” that appears will rival being jilted at the altar further on in life.
5. Get used to being reminded that you’re not smart. After all, the school tells your teen that you aren’t. Why else would you discourage him or her from applying to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, or a handful of other schools because they don’t fit your budget?
6. Be prepared to argue with the guidance department. When they call you to find out why your child has been absent so often, expect them to challenge you when you suggest the kid is tired to the point of being sick. They’ll tell you your teen needs to be challenged even more. After all, they see the kid more hours a day than you do, don’t they?
7. Keep a minimum of $200 cash in the house. You will need this for special supplies for reports, projects, and last-minute field trips. What value could an AP Government project possibly have if it didn’t include visuals on fuchsia #14 poster board and audio effects? The reason you need cash is the mom-and-pop stores to which you’re directed for all these supplies don’t like credit cards.
8. Hire household help. Since your teen has no time to even sleep, you’ll need to hire someone not taking AP classes to accomplish all he or she used to do. How about your non-AP child? This includes mundane stuff like feeding the fish, mowing the lawn, carrying in groceries, and babysitting for a younger sibling. You’ll also need someone to fill in it at the table for all the nights your teen’s at the library and misses dinner.
9. Anticipate a sudden change of goals. When I spotted my giggly friend Sue weeping in the 7-Eleven, I was incredulous. Between sniffs, she admitted her son Simon, the class physics nerd, had come home with his hair buzzed. He was too tired for college, he insisted, and had signed up to enlist in the Marines since he was already 18.
10. Believe that this year will finally end. You will get your life back by the end of June. That’s assuming, of course, that your teen moves out to go to school or get a full-time job. Eventually, the dark circles go away. AP exams become a kind of vague memory. But the sleep . . . it’s gone forever.