Household Word: This is Only a Test

My oldest son is a high school senior. Heís dreaming of where he wants to go to college, and Iím fantasizing about where he might be accepted. Heís taken the SAT and gotten his scores. Letís just say we wonít be visiting Harvard. Actually, his test scores were pretty good, but Iím wondering whether he could have done better, and itís driving me crazy.

Maybe if the tests hadnít been scheduled for the morning after Matrix Reloaded opened at our local theater, he might have been more focused. Maybe if I had made him scrambled eggs and bacon instead of a bowl of Captín Crunchô for breakfast, he would have felt more alert. Maybe we should have hired a tutor or signed him up for one of those test prep classes. Or maybe I should have begun grooming him for the SATs before he even entered high school.

I knew I should have bought the Stim-Mobile. Those popular black and white crib mobiles were just gaining popularity when I was pregnant with Mr. 630 Math. They are supposed to help babies focus, to recognize patterns and possibly enhance basic math skills. Instead, when my son was born, I hung pastel plastic bunnies over his crib. Who knows? If I hadnít been such a slave to nursery decor, he might have eked out a few more points on the spacial reasoning section of the Math SAT.

If only college admission offices would take a look at my sonís Apgar scores. Those were perfect. Sure, his scores were better than those of the average American high school student (1020), but not good as my neighborís kidís (1550). That irks me, because Iíve driven that kid to soccer for years, and he doesnít seem like a genius. In fact, he always forgets to say ďThanks for the ride.Ē I assumed that he was rude, but since his mother bragged about his test scores, I now know that heís simply preoccupied with logarithms and Latin roots. Yet, despite his incredible test scores, his parents are hiring private tutors and spending hundreds of dollars in a quest for the elusive perfect 1600 test score. Itís crazy and itís highly contagious. Right now, I have a full-blown case of Standardized Achievement Test jitters.

ďThe registration deadline for the October test is next week,Ē I gently remind my son. ďItís the last chance to up your scores. Thereís even time to hire a tutor.Ē

ďChill out, Mom!Ē my son advises as he fiddles with an amplifier in his room. ďMy scores are fine. I donít need to take the test again.Ē

Indeed, he has already taken the test twice. The second time, after an intense weekend test-prep class, his math score dropped a full 30 points. Who knows how far they might plummet on a third try?

I blame myself.

Maybe I should have played Mozart instead of Meatloaf on the way home from the hospital, bought him flash cards instead of baseball cards and sent away for Hooked on Phonics. Now itís probably too late to turn him into a prodigy.

If I had only been more diligent about taking my prenatal vitamins! But who could predict that scientists would find a correlation between folic acid and IQ? I hate chicken livers and turnip greens, but I would have gladly choked them down by the platter if had know they would help get my kid into the Ivy League.

ďAre you sure you wonít take the test again?Ē I pushed just one more time.

ďMom,Ē my son said, looking at me firmly. ďYou are taking this SAT thing way too seriously. I did fine. Itís just a test. Itís only a number. My score is not the only reflection of who I am.Ē

Turns out, heís a pretty smart kid. I bet heíll get into a fine school, despite his motherís neurosis. Still, I think it couldnít hurt to hang the Stim-Mobile over the bed in his college dorm. Even if itís not at Harvard.

Carol Band can be found surreptitiously roaming department store aisles, looking to purchase a Stim-Mobile. Write to her at

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