This is the year that I become a full-fledged parent. I have been a mother for 9 years, yet it feels like I’m just now earning my stripes. Looking back, I had trying times working through the girls’ separation anxieties and other dramas, but this stage of motherhood is tougher. I have to stop fixing everything.
Years ago when I was in fourth grade, the teacher called my mother and requested a conference to discuss low test scores on my History tests. Betty Brown was mortified. She had never been called to school for anything other than to work a bake sale or to coordinate the Halloween party. To be called in because of something bad? Well, that was terrible.
As it turns out, the problem wasn’t really between the Incas and the Mayans. The issue was reading comprehension. Well, that and my lack of interest in Native American tribes. I would read a passage in the textbook and then attempt to answer a question related to the main idea. But I had no idea. While I sat in confusion trying to figure out why my answer was wrong, I looked over and saw that my mother was hiding behind a tissue, crying. I had embarrassed her. Only imperfection was incorrect.
Flip ahead a few chapters to the year 2012. My fourth grade daughter has been reading about Lewis and Clark…and “Me”. The “Me” in the story is the narrator — a Newfoundland named Seamen. In this particular book, the story of exploration is shared through the eyes of a dog. Ava and I read it together at least three times. We answered the questions in the back of the chapter, and we went to the computer to practice vocabulary and spelling words. Then, she bombed the test.
I couldn’t understand what went wrong, so I sent her teacher a note. She returned my call and explained that Ava wasn’t pulling out the right details. Points were deducted for various reasons, but I had one primary question: How do I help her when I’m already doing all I can?
The answer was simple: Mom can’t. The student has to do the work.
I found myself floating back in time. I wanted to hide behind a tissue and cry. Was I embarrassed? No, not really. But I wanted to find out what happened because we studied for this all week. And that’s when I realized that I wasn’t upset with Ava’s grade. I was disappointed in mine. Reading and writing…that’s my profession. That’s my expertise. Ava got a low score in WHICH subject?! But that’s MY best class! She has a built-in tutor! How can that be?!
Out of fairness to myself, lots of parents take their kids’ academic (and athletic) careers personally. We feel like their scores reflect our performance as parents. And when they don’t do well, we feel like we’ve failed them. We didn’t help enough.
In the end, all we can do is guide them. Sure, our pride may be hurt when our kids don’t grow up to be just like us. Little Johnnie may not want to take over the family business. A former all-star quarterback’s son might excel in music. The daughter of a chemical engineer crashes and burns in Calculus class, but she’s a top-ranked member of the debate team. They have something else to offer the world. Or, our child might be a carbon copy of who we were in the fourth grade. We have to remember what those days were like.
It’s said that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I believe that. However, I also believe that parents can bark up the wrong tree. My mom did, and I almost did — but thank God I stopped short of making the same mistake.
It’s just a test. It’s just one grade. It’s just a dog with webbed feet. This too shall pass.
And so will she.