Friday, February 10, 2006

Trials and Tribulations of Adolescence

My daughter Rachel, 16, is a member of the Westerville North High School Mock Trial team. She and a number of her schoolmates are being trained to be junior lawyers, and they take part in a simulated trial competition with teams from other high schools. I don't understand all the labyrinthine rules, but basically the teams that are most authentically lawyer-like in their defense and cross-examinations and rebuttals move on to the next round, where they then compete at a district level, then a regional level, and eventually the state level. The winner of the state competition goes on to the national competition in D.C., where they get to imitate Dick Cheney and Condoleeza Rice, gradually perfecting their stonewalling and obfuscation tactics as they move up the competitive ladder.

It's a dubious honor for many reasons. First, the world needs more lawyers like it needs more cockroaches. But beyond that, and at a more personal level, these kids work their litigious butts off, often at the expense of the rest of their lives. The pressure is intense. These are driven, smart, highly competitive kids who are often not very nice to one another (great training for the real legal world), and they are capable of reducing any sentient being with a heart and a soul to tears. Last year the WNHS team made it to the state competition level. This year the expectations are just as great, if not greater, and these kids work incredibly hard. Most of them, including Rachel, are also immersed in a bunch of honors/AP classes that involve mounds of homework on a daily basis. In short, they don't have lives outside of school.

And I want Rachel to have a life; really have a life. It's an odd predicament. With her older sister Emily, Kate and I had to regularly crack the whip. No, you can't go out until your homework is finished. No, you can't invite seventeen friends over on Friday evening. It is just the opposite with Rachel, who is hyer-responsible and a caricature of the Type A Overachiever. "Blow off your homework," we tell her. "Who cares if you get a B on that upcoming quiz? We don't care. Go out with your friends. Get out of the house. Don't come home 'til 2:00 a.m. Be wild and go crazy. Live a little."

Parenting is such a humbling experience. I have two wonderful daughters who could not be less alike. What worked for one does not work for the other. It has always been that way. As Rachel navigates the treacherous waters of adolescence, I pray that she will understand in deep ways her value as a human being, a value that supersedes achievement or lack of achievement. That is my prayer for her. The world tells her that she has to earn everything. And she does not. She's my daughter. She's a child of God. She has value because of who she is, not because of what she does.

The latest round of the Mock Trial competitions starts today. I watched her march off this morning to the Ohio State Capitol building in her middle-aged lawyer suit. I deeply desire that the real verdict will sink in, regardless of the outcome of the competition -- Trial Dismissed. Found Guilty, But Forgiven by Reason of Grace and Mercy and Love.


John McCollum said...

Looks like we'll be in the same boat.

Chien will want to commit Hari-Kari if he gets a B. Pak won't be able to give a damn on cue.

Karen said...

i love having friends with older kids. it is encouraging to me to see what you guys have to deal with and how you are doing it. thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Speaking as one who knows and loves both of your daughters, chill out. Rachel will turn out just fine, just as Emily is in the process of doing. I find it impossible to think about either one of them without smiling.

Incidentally, some of my best friends are lawyers. Some are even nasty music critics who take pot shots at prominent Republicans. I think all of them will turn out well also.

Stay well, bro.

Andy Whitman said...

Hey Bill, the Cheney and Condi references were just for you.

By the way, it's contagious. When I think of you and your family, I smile too. That's a good thing. I look forward to seeing you again soon.

I have a big stack of CDs for you, too. For some reason, I have a lot of record labels sending me two copies of the same album. That means you win.

Anonymous said...

Seeing you and Kate and my nieces is always the main treat, but your extra CD's make for a nice icing on the cake. Speaking of which, I recently picked up the new CD by one of my favorite groups, The Subdudes. May not be quite as good as Miracle Mule, but good nevertheless. Most tasteful accordion I've ever heard.

Just got back from Scottsdale, and while there I visited a store recommended in Paste, Stinkweed's in Tempe. Picked up the two Nada Surf CD's you recommended (Had them on my list of look out fors, based on their cut on a Paste CD), also picked up the Decembrists CD you like so well (I remembered the Paste cut once I heard it) plus Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, after reading about it in the Paste top 50. All winners. I thought about picking up Sufjan's Illinois, but just couldn't get Rafi out of my mind. Incidentally, the new Paste CD has another artist from Sufjan's label who sounds even more like Rafi. Is this a trend? You may have to just sit me down and make me listen to Illinois all the way through so that I can get beyond this.

e said...

Don't freak. I did mock trial in high school and look how I turned out.

On second thought--freak.

I also snuck out of the trial with a couple of the lawyer types (I was a witness) and got drinks at a local applebees. I was 17.

So you can have the worst of both worlds!