Middle school hunger games

I’d like to paint a little picture for you of how I “chose” my middle school, or junior high as it was called in my hometown.

My siblings and I piled into our 1990 red Suburban one warm August morning. My lips were frosted to pink perfection, I was 25 years ahead of the VSCO trend with my new hair Scrunchie, and my mom was on the verge of an aneurysm because we were already 10 minutes late. (Some things never change). We dropped my little sister off at the neighborhood elementary school, drove 5 minutes up the road to my new junior high school, I got out, and that was it.

Finito. Done. School chosen.

Was it the best school for me? Did it offer courses that would interest/enrich/inspire me? To ask such things would’ve been like asking if the New Kids on the Block were really just five ferrets dressed in clip-on earrings and Members Only jackets. It had never occurred to anyone, and no one ever thought to ask. It was my school and that was that.

My 10-year-old twins, on the other hand, are applying to a district magnet program that requires the following of each applicant:
entrance exam
at-home essay
in-person essay
campus shadowing days
interviews
scale model of prospective school created with salvaged materials and plant-based dyes
urine, blood, and hair samples
stool samples (advanced track applicants only)


I pondered all of this the other night as I sat through my 426th middle school showcase this month. The principal reassured the roughly 500 fifth graders present, (or more likely, their parents), that they were all wanted and valuable and gifted, no matter the outcome of the ensuing entrance exam. She then encouraged a current student from the school to share her experience.

“Getting into a good middle school is basically the Hunger Games,” she deadpanned to the nervous twittering of the school officials and parents present. I’m pretty sure at that point I saw someone in the back of the cafeteria matching President Snow’s description take a red Sharpie to her permanent record for that little stunt. All dissent must be contained. “I’m glad I made it through or whatever though, because this school is alright I guess.”

“Pfft…the Hunger Games. That’s just not true!” I thought as my twins eagerly nodded along with the other kids in attendance, alternately whooping and dabbing their assent. Sure, there had been that little snafu from the previous week when we showed up to an interview for a potential school only to find my son had somehow gotten into the car wearing only one shoe. What had happened to the other one he couldn’t say. He was also murky on the details of how he had suddenly unlearned a skill, (namely, that of dressing himself), he had mastered some 6 years before. The fact remained that we had one shot to get into this school, there was no way to reschedule the meeting, and one of the two applicants present was only halfway compliant with a standard sanitary regulation.

We scrounged the depths of the minivan, hoping and praying to find an errant sandal, ice skate, flipper- anything that could act as a temporary fill-in. Nothing. His five-year-old sister offered her slightly battered ballet slipper, but that was just a bridge too far. Plus, it didn’t fit no matter how hard we tried to cram his stupid big foot in. At that point, I did what any good mother would do. I lovingly looked into my son’s eyes, took his hands in mine, and told my him to pull one of his pant legs over his foot and to not, under any circumstances, allow it to slip up to his ankle for the duration of his interview.

I worried about permanent psychological damage as he hobbled his way to the office, but quickly dismissed the thought. If anything had scarred him, it was that time a couple of weeks ago when I had tried to convince him to wear a wig and change his name to Marie so he could have a shot at the all-girls school everyone was raving about. He had reprimanded me for being insensitive to transgender students, but he didn’t see that sick new library they’d just built.

And of course there was the time I learned a friend’s kid would be shadowing at a prospective school on the same day as my daughter. I printed out a picture of her from my friend’s Instagram, taped it to a dummy, and ran some simple takedown drillls with my daughter the night before shadowing. Over dinner we had a pep talk about eliminating the competition and how showing mercy was for losers, but really that was just standard middle school applicant stuff. I knew my friend was across town doing the same thing with her daughter.

I really don’t think this whole process has had any long-term negative effects on my kids though. Sure, they’ve started  muttering “I volunteer as tribute” in their sleep, and the cat still isn’t walking right after the bow-and-arrow incident, but I’m sure it’s purely coincidental.

So if any fellow middle school applicant moms are reading this, I say “YOUR KID IS GOING DOWN!!!”.

Excuse me, I meant “may the odds be ever in your favor.”

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