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For Teen Spirit, Gap Year University made him a man

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Smartmom is relieved that Teen Spirit will not be attending Gap Year University next year. And it’s not because he had a bad experience at GYU. Not at all: it was great year and his coursework in the school of life included work at a warehouse in Red Hook, babysitting for a local boy, a road trip to the SXSW music festival in Austin, three days in New Orleans and (starting soon) more work at a warehouse in Red Hook.

Indeed, the year has been full of new experiences and adventure.

Teen Spirit even decided to become a vegetarian at GYU: “Too much fried food and ribs on his road trip” motivated him to adopt a more healthy and vegetable-filled diet. He left a note on the refrigerator when he got back: “Dear Family: I have decided to become a vegetarian. Keep that in mind.”

There were other milestones at GYU: Teen Spirit got his first passport, his first bank account and is learning to drive. He even applied for a job with the Census Bureau and had to register for Selective Service as a result.

At GYU, Teen Spirit concentrated on his songwriting and piano playing and he worked hard recording an album full of new songs. He also had time to rehearse and perform with his band Bad Teeth and perform at places like the Silent Barn, Shea Stadium, The Tank and Vox Pop.

All things considered, GYU was everything Smartmom hoped it would be for Teen Spirit: a chance to do something other than school as a way to figure out what he wants to do with his life.

During his time at GYU, he even decided that he might want to study ancient history as well as music.

A lot of people warned Smartmom that a year off was a bad idea because Teen Spirit would never want to go to college. And you can’t get a decent job without a college diploma, so getting off the academic track (even for one year) might be ruinous to the rest of his life.

That said, many people supported Teen Spirit’s decision and told Smartmom that they wished they’d done it themselves because they would have had a clearer and more productive time in college if they’d had time to grow up before.

Smartmom took everyone’s advice with a grain of salt and sugar. But she stuck to her guns because she’d known for years that Teen Spirit would need a break. Sure, Smartmom was scared that Teen Spirit might decide that college wasn’t his thing — and then never be able to support himself or a family.

But it was a risk that Smartmom and Hepcat were willing to take because they believed it was important for Teen Spirit to see the world through a different lens.

In early January, Smartmom got the sense that Teen Spirit was ready to start thinking about college. He was looking at college Web sites and talking about filling out the Common App.

Smartmom, being a smart mom, decided not to push it. When he did bring up the subject, she would hide how giddy she felt and soberly provide whatever information he needed. She was careful not to nag him so that he wouldn’t push against her. She felt it was important that he be the motivating force.

There were weeks at a time during the winter when the subject of college didn’t come up and Smartmom found herself wondering if he had decided against college, that it wasn’t something he wasn’t ready to do.

But like everything else, he did it on his own timetable. In February, Teen Spirit applied to a few colleges with rolling admissions and devoted a great deal of time to writing his essay and dealing with the applications.

Once the applications were e-mailed to the various colleges, the waiting game began. To pass the time, Smartmom checked with his high school to make sure that his transcripts and recommendations were sent. She checked the mail box hopefully every day.

Well, Teen Spirit was notified last week that he has been accepted to his first choice in Chicago He didn’t tell Smartmom right away, but when he did, he was pretty low key.

“Do you want to think about it?” Smartmom asked Teen Spirit.

“No. I’m going,” he said. “You can send the deposit.”

Smartmom was thrilled. Teen Spirit confirmed his admission and together they submitted the deposit. Teen Spirit’s year at GYU is nearing an end, but he owes a lot to his alma mater.

GYU made him who he is today: a young man on his way to college.

Louise Crawford, a Park Slope mom, also operates “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”
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Reader Feedback

Ellie from Heights says:
Nice column.
Thanks!
May 3, 2010, 8:47 pm
Ellie from Heights says:
Nice column.
Thanks!
May 3, 2010, 8:47 pm

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