You can’t rely on Mommy forever, you know

Stephanie Chen, Op-Ed Editor


I was sitting in health class, a lone senior, when two women came in and introduced themselves as part of the school’s counseling service.

Counseling service? I thought we already had counselors, but apparently these counselors were much more accessible than your own counselors – you could simply go to them if you had an issue. Man, I wish I knew them earlier, I thought, thinking about all the hardships I’d gone through for the past two years. It might have been a load off my chest.

Or would it have? The more I thought about it, the less likely it seemed that I would have gone. What kind of help would I have needed, anyway? “Oh, counselor, I’m just getting so burned out. I just get this awful feeling in my chest whenever I think about preparing for college. All the adults around me are talking about responsibility and SATs, and all I want to do is to crawl into a hole.”

Yes, not likely. I didn’t have any “real” issues, right? If I went, all I would do would be to vent my stress, while they patted my head and told me that it would be over soon. Or, say that I should cut back on the extracurriculars. There was no real solution to this problem.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t sign up for getting little sleep every night, stressing myself out until I had a gallon of tears stored up inside, and 15 hour workdays. I didn’t sign up for burning myself out, for being thrust into “the hardest time of my life”, for getting violently ill every so often from too much work and no rest.

“You’re a good student,” people tell me with benign smiles. I wonder, do they tell all of the other kids like me the same thing? Do the other kids feel the same way I do? Is it possible that I am an anomaly, an overly-anxious person who just isn’t suited for an environment where all kids should feel comfortable learning?

While I may be naturally anxious, I don’t think it’s all inside of my head. I can think of very few other times in my life when after a seven-hour school day, I must still go to a variety of school extracurriculars with a smile—clubs, sports, music (and let’s not even mention activities outside school). After all this, I go home, exhausted, with a ton of homework.

Okay, let’s be fair. I should have done some of my homework earlier. I could have done it if I’d gotten up earlier on the weekends – but wait, I was sleeping to make up for my chronic sleep deprivation. I could have done it in the hour that I spent reading a comfort book – but after ten hours of a busy day, could you blame me for not doing homework right away?

“Maybe the reason this is so hard,” my parents tell me, “is because you’re slow.”

Yes, I guess I am. I’m not a “gets stuff done quickly” person to begin with, but I’m starting to think that chronic sleep deprivation might’ve taken a toll on the alacrity of my brain.

I’m aware that I, in no way, represent the majority of the school. I have an inkling, a suspicion that the other kids in school do have time to hang out, watch TV, and have fun. They get their work done quickly, and get to play. They’re the hares in this race toward college, and I’m that tortoise that everyone commends because “I am meticulous.”

Sometimes, I think that if I were less meticulous, this whole “school” part of my life would’ve gone easier. From elementary school, I was always the person who colored in the whole circle, showed all of my work, and carefully thought out long sentences for the “Wordly-Wise” packets we got for homework.

It was commendable, back then. In high school (and this took me a while to realize), there’s no time to think out everything. “Good” work is sometimes five minutes of nonsense on a page. “Homework completion” means that you could go through a chapter in twenty minutes, make up answers for the questions you don’t know, and hand in a sheet with all the blanks filled out.

“Good effort,” teachers say, while I sit there with an hour’s worth of work. I vaguely remember something about crying the night before because I was panicking about not getting all the answers.

I’m starting to become disillusioned about the whole idea of “trying your best”, because it seems like there are better ways to try your best. Maybe the idea should be “Try your best to get sleep, because you’re going to need it”, or “Try your best to participate in class instead of sitting there dead from no sleep, so your teachers know you”, or “Try your best to find all the loopholes in this system so you can breathe a little easier.”

Maybe all the kids I see around school with bags under their eyes and sallow, pinched faces from too little sleep – maybe they, too, feel some of the frustration I keep hidden. Maybe they, too, are struggling to find the struggle between living life and doing work.

Is it any wonder that my smile slips a bit when I come across an adult who looks down on me, simply because I am a teenager? Can you blame me for letting my temper simmer when adults say that “You can’t rely on Mommy forever, you know” or “Wow, try to sleep earlier!” or “I have a life outside of work, I can’t make this appointment?”

Because that’s funny, I’m pretty sure I’ve given up my life these past few years. The worst part is, I know I am not alone. Most of the kids you see smiling in pictures of “honored students”, most (because I have no right to say “all”) of them have felt the unnatural stress that presses on us.

Sometimes, I wish the abundance of opportunity at our district didn’t exist, so I wouldn’t be expected to take advantage of it. Even though I realize education is a blessing and not an awful experience for most people, the way “high-achieving” students live life is not only extremely unhealthy, but also sad. Life is not just happy-happy district news; no one sees us behind the scenes, half-dead. We are struggling, frightened children under the guise of adult masks.