Anyone who’s a mother knows that when we publicly proclaim that we have earned the “mother-of-the-year” award, it’s likely that we have experienced an epic parenting fail. And, let’s face it, we’re looking for some commiseration. (Wow. Commiseration really is a word…I wasn’t sure. Either that or the auto-correct gods are mocking me for trying to use big words.) Anyway…it makes us feel better when others tell us how they’ve done something similar…or worse. The truth is that most of the time, it’s usually nothing that is going to land our kids in therapy. Most of us don’t post those things on Facebook.
At the end of the school year, my 12 year old had a culminating project in his Reading class. It was one of those projects that just seemed doomed from the start. He was in the middle of rehearsals for two different plays and worked really hard to get a head start on it. I was proud of him for having the foresight to get ahead of it. Then, he lost the folder that contained all of his research and drafts. Incidentally, this portion of the project carried the most weight in his final grade. I encouraged him to talk to his teacher and see what could be done. This particular teacher is not especially gracious and they had a rocky start to the year. He’d eventually won her over though and I know that she was aware that he was doing to the required work. She agreed to let him stay after school to recreate the folder, which he did for several days. He learned an important lesson around it all though — and that is that relationships are important. Sometimes they are the most important when it comes to things like this. I had tried to impress that upon him when he was having trouble getting along with this teacher. It ended up being a blessing that this had happened because he was able to see it all play out. Well, then came the day to turn everything in. It was a Friday. He was finished with it and was so happy to finally be getting this thing out of his head. He’d been wearing the jump-drive around his neck for days so that it wouldn’t get lost.
I dropped him off at school and headed to work. I was the second one there and I remarked to my co-worker that I always have such high hopes for Fridays, but they rarely end up going the way I expect them to because inevitably something random comes up that I have to deal with. Just then, the phone rang. It was Jake. He was in tears because he’d left his jump drive at home. I wrote a quick email to my boss, telling him what happened and that I’d be back in an hour. I quipped that they could leave the Mother of the Year award on my desk. And when I got back, there actually was one on my desk.
Some people said that they wouldn’t have done it and that this was an important lesson for him to learn. Lucky for him, those people aren’t his mother. I knew how hard he’d worked. I knew how devastated he was. I knew that he was sorry. Now was not the time to rub it in. His grade depended on it and sometimes I think we just need to extend a little grace. Although I did put a note in the envelope that read “Not Happy”, which kind of negates the grace thing, but I felt like he needed to know that this was a huge inconvenience to me. I never once have held it over his head, but I do remind him regularly how important it is for him to be responsible, especially now that he’s almost…ahem….a teenager. Mom isn’t always going to be there to bail him out.
These past two weeks, he’s taken part in a Counselor in Training program at the YMCA. He’s been working with kindergartners. He has always loved little kids and they love him too. He’s just got a way with them. One of the things that is nice about the program is that he earns Student Service Learning (SSL) hours, which are required for graduation in Maryland. He has to have 75 to graduate and students can start earning them in 6th grade. There is a special award for kids who have earned all of them while still in middle school and that’s a goal of his. The hours he put in the last two weeks were going to get him really close to that goal.
As I was driving him to camp, I asked him if they were going to get the SSL forms today. The blood drained out of his face as he remembered that he was supposed to print it out and fill it out to turn in today. He begged me to go home and get it. He could fill it out on the way back.
As hard as it was for me to do, I said no. I reminded him that he came home from camp yesterday and basically did nothing but work on his fantasy football team and watch baseball all evening– which is fine. It’s summer. But, he knew that he had a responsibility. And, I know that he genuinely forgot (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree), but this was an instance where I wasn’t going to bail him out. I told him he had to figure it out. He needed to talk to his counselor and figure out what his options are. He may miss out on those SSL hours. It’s not the end of the world if he does. There will be other opportunities to earn them. I told him that I did my part — I signed him up for the camp, I paid for it and I got him there on time every day. That was the extent of my responsibility. He was mad. He wouldn’t look at me when he got out of the car. He didn’t tell me that he loved me back and slammed the door without saying goodbye. It’s okay. He can be mad. I know he’s more mad at himself.
I wanted to rescue him. My instinct was to rescue him. But, that doesn’t teach him anything. Sometimes, my job is to rescue him but at the end of the day, parenting is really about giving our kids the tools they need to rescue themselves. Days like today are when the rubber meets the road. And, I look forward to finding out how he went about dealing with it when I pick him up today.
On a somewhat related note, right before this happened, Jake was telling me about how he was being peer pressured to chew gum. He has braces now and knows that gum is off limits. One of the things about having a kid with a black and white personality is that they usually will follow the rules, if someone else lays them out. He told me that he knew I was serious by the “evil eye” I gave him when I told him that if he breaks anything because he’s eaten something he wasn’t supposed to, he will pay for the repair. And, since he has no money, he’ll have to do it by doing the grossest chores I can come up with. Then, he went on to say, “Don’t tell Dad, but I’m more afraid of you than him”. He said it is because of the “look”. I said, “surely your Dad has an evil eye, too”. He replied, “Well, if he does have an evil eye, I’ve never seen it”. I realized that when we got on the discussion of the SSL form, I was giving him that “look”, which he describes as wide eyed, eyebrows raised and serious. I think it would scare me too.
So I think sometimes, we really do earn “Mother of the Year” (or at least, Mother of the Day) and my sense is that it isn’t always pleasant for anyone involved.