It’s my last SAT too, you know

Today my last child takes his last SAT. He took it earlier this year, and conventional wisdom suggests taking it a second time can help you improve your scores, but you need to be careful about giving the appearance on your college applications that you’ve taken it “too many” times.

Meaning you have to guard against looking as though you’re spending time on marginal score improvement when you could be doing something more worthwhile. You know, like applying your knowledge of computer programming to organize carpools in your town that would save individuals gas money, help people get to know their neighbors, and reduce CO2 emissions — thus in your own small way, help save to our planet.

But seriously, I got up early this morning to prepare one of my son’s favorite breakfasts — fried eggs, bacon and chocolate chip coffee cake I had baked yesterday. Earlier in the week I had purchased a box of Ticonderoga #2 pencils for what would probably be the last time. When I woke up, I offered a prayer that all would go well for him today — and I thought about the old saying that, as long as there are exams, there will be prayer in schools. But mainly, I reflected on the fact that this was “my” last SAT.

Our family has acquired a lot of logistical knowledge about preparing for and taking the SAT. Based on the experiences of three children, we now try to avoid Gunn High School for standardized tests due to the long wait for a left turn from the route we take from our house, its single driveway that backs up easily when everyone arrives at once, and overall, Gunn’s poor parking situation.  Palo Alto High School functions better on these factors, in my kids’ opinion — plus it is located close to excellent après-test restaurants for lunch. However, the last time Micah went there, his test was canceled due to someone setting off the fire alarm — the culprits were never found, but it was assumed to be  a senior prank. Today he went to his favorite location, Los Altos High School. Although a bit farther away from our house, LAHS has easy parking, even some covered spaces, and it’s small enough that they take less time to organize students into classrooms. Thus they tend to start (and finish) their tests on time.

But enough about my children and their SATs — back to me.

I know they are the ones who have taken the test prep classes, the tutoring, the practice exams, and of course the actual tests. I know the SAT is anxiety-provoking, a rite of passage, and a flawed yardstick colleges persist in using to process their ever-expanding application pools. And yes, I have no confusion about who’s actually applying to college here — even though I wish I could go back and re-live those years, it’s my kids’ turn now.

I may not feel the relief that my son will sense when he sets down his pencil for the last time at the end of the SAT today, but there is a pause, an exhale, a marking of the moment.

We notice our children’s “firsts” with wonder and joy: the first words, first steps, first sleepover at a friend’s home. Sometimes the “lasts” sneak by without our noticing until afterwards. Or we notice but don’t want to acknowledge them.

It’s kind of like reading. I feel satisfied but also a little sad to end a book I’ve really enjoyed. I know there are many more books to read and savor, but I haven’t found the next one for me yet. In the same way, I’ve already finished the last chapters in a number of my children’s life experiences. Many of them I marked at the time, some not until later. Neither the kids nor I are done yet, however: they continue to explore new “firsts” as they move away and become independent, and I’m working on a few “firsts” of my own.

As for the SAT: this is a “last” to celebrate. Nobody wants to undergo this test any more than is absolutely necessary. Let’s move on. It’s the last day of school for this year, and the first day of summer!

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