This piece is from a mother/daughter memoir we’ve been working on for a number of years.
My daughter took her first round of SAT’s. Before delivering her to the site where hordes of anxious adolescents stood by padlocked doors waiting access to this barbaric rite of passage, we argued about food. She didn’t want to eat. I told her she needed fuel for her brain.
Of course she won.
As she stepped from the car she whisked off her jacket, exposing a pink tank top filled with her young ripening body, then flung the garment into the back seat. My heart stopped. First no breakfast, now no jacket. How will I ever get through this? I cried the whole way home. A sophomore in high school, she’s far too young for the rigors of this pre-college inquisition. I’m almost certain I weaned her from my left breast the other day.
This only child of mine has always been a good student, using grades to fill the gap our broken home left in her psyche. Testing has never been a problem for her. I don’t believe she even grasps the phrase test anxiety. This was not the case for me. An affliction I’ve been intimate with for many years. Far more intimate than I’d like to admit.
A second child, I’m one of the middles of four siblings. My sister, the academic headliner of the family, was a master performer on the scholastic stage. Waltzing her way through high school with top honors, I had the inconvenience of trailing behind her—three years her junior—not enough time for teachers to annihilate her brilliance from their memory banks. Ah, Sue Weis’ sister, they proclaimed upon eyeballing me my first day of freshman year. We’re SO glad to have another Weis at our school. Despite emerging from the same womb, my sister and I had little in common, a romance with testing was not one of our shared attributes. Witnessing the nonchalance my daughter brought to the task, sauntering from the car as if meeting a small gathering of friends, I considered her the same alien pedigree as my sister.
I vaguely recall the day I took the SAT, certainly not in my sophomore year, as I slogged my way through the mire of high school that year. With desks crammed together in a stuffy classroom, I imagine sweat pouring from pits and gushing from palms, prohibiting me from holding my pencil in place, that cursed #2 point slipping from the page, marking the wrong minuscule circles on the answer sheet that seemed an irritating blur before me. Or being so nervous my blood sugar plunged off the hypoglycemic charts, which meant not one clear thought surfaced during the test session, let alone a correct answer.
Naturally my scores reflected my battered composure. My math score slid into second at 485 and my verbal struck out swinging somewhere around 423. I believe they gave us two hundred points just for showing up and scribbling our names—a bribe of sorts—the only surefire way they could guarantee my attendance. As my mother used to say, in a tone far too syrupy for the message she aimed to provide, My darling daughter, you are your own worst enemy.
Those words chimed in my ears as I fetched my daughter after completing her exam. She smiled brightly as she slid into the car next to me. Though I’ve suggested that testing is not an issue for her, I detected a different demeanor, a bit more relaxed. I asked how it went. She shrugged her shoulders as she always does, not exactly sure how to decipher her own performance. I only left five blanks, she said proudly. All the others I knew.
She was hungry and craved a high caloric breakfast from McDonald’s, a sausage biscuit to be exact. That sounded good to me. Comfort food was what I needed. Because I am still my own worst enemy. I’m the one who worried for days about my daughter’s SAT, worried about her getting enough rest the week before, about her skipping breakfast the morning of and relinquishing warmth for fashion before entering the test site. And as I watched her chomp down on her sausage biscuit, I sighed, knowing I’d just gone through another round of letting go.