Please pass the Mother-of-the-Year Award

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.

Lessons learned from Dr. Seuss

I loved Dr. Seuss as a kid.  Some of my earliest memories were of my mother reading me Dr. Seuss books.  She will credit the books for helping teach me to read.  I loved the rhyming, silly stories and made up words.  But as I’ve grown up, I realize that the themes and messages from these books have made an impact on how I see the world and who I am today.  I started out thinking I would list my top 10 favorite Dr. Seuss books here, but realized it would take me forever.  Instead, here are my top 5:

  1. The Lorax.  I love the Lorax.  I love his sense of right and wrong.  I love that he recognizes the need to speak for those who have no voice.  I love that he sees the beauty of an unspoiled forest.  I love that he’s willing to stand up for what he believes in, even when it is the unpopular opinion.  But most of all, I love that maintains a hope for the future, even when it seems so dismal.  And I love that he not only believes that one person can change the world, but he empowers them to do so.
  2. The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.  This is not a typical Dr. Seuss book.  It’s long and one of the few that doesn’t rhyme, which only intensifies the intellectualism.  But it tackles some of the themes that Dr. Seuss is so famous for: the innocence of childhood, the rejection of absolute power and the fantasic occurences that are hallmarks of Suess’ works.  It explores conflicting purposes of arbitrary (and perhaps ridiculous) rules.  And, while I have heard some criticize Bartholomew for being weak and not standing up for himself (quite the opposite of the indignant Lorax), I see him as showing a gentle obedience and politeness in the face of unfair treatment from an arrogant leader.  He shows courage and bravery as he faces punishment for something that is truly not his fault.  And at the same time, the executioner shows obedience in that he cannot do his job until Bartholomew’s hat is removed.  In the end, there seems to be a confidence that leaders—even non-elected leaders—will do the right thing.  There’s that hope again.
  3. The Sneetches.  As far as I’m concerned, this is one of Dr. Seuss’ most under-rated books.  It’s a classic tale of two groups of creatures who are separated by class.  An arbitrary star on their belly makes one group think they are superior. The star bellied Sneetches control everything while the plain bellied Sneetches are social outcasts.   The message of tolerance is obvious.  But equally as important is the idea that the social divide that the Sneetches have created for themselves is ridiculous.  Add to it unfortunate truth that people sometimes profit from conflict and harmful products and you have a brilliant story, packed with lessons for everyone.  As a child, I remember feeling like a plain bellied Sneetch.  And, now that I’m an adult, I often still feel like a plain bellied Sneetch.  Dr. Seuss taught me that it’s okay to be plain bellied…and in fact, it can be preferable.  It is important to point out though, that the Sneetches did not achieve peace until they no longer knew who was who.  But, I don’t think that Dr. Seuss was saying that we should just assimilate and become anonymous in order to get along.  I think the lesson is that most of us don’t really know which we are — star bellied or not — even if we choose to identify with one or the other.  And when we can come to the realization that we all have insecurities and needs to be accepted, that is when we can begin to move toward tolerance.
  4. Happy Birthday to You!  It’s a simple message — we are all unique and should be ourselves.  I love the pictures, the use of color and the general idea that birthdays should be celebrated in an extravagant way. 
  5. Horton Hears a Who.  This was not a favorite of mine growing up.  I liked it, but it didn’t resonate with me the way some of the previous books did.  And after the movie came out several years ago, I didn’t like how it was being used to promote political messages that simply weren’t there. ( That’s not to say it didn’t have political undertones — but it was written in 1954 and was a commentary on post World War II occupation of Japan).  However, it makes my top 5 because of the way it has impacted my son.  While the message “A person’s a person no matter how small” certainly resonated with him, given his small stature, it was not the Whos to whom he related.  Instead, he was drawn to Horton…a gentle character who courageously stood up to a mob mentality to protect what he believed in.  Very much like the Lorax. 
And there you have it.  Out of 46 books, those are my top 5.  It’s painful for me to stop there because I really could go on and on.  But really, this list encapsulates most of the major themes that Dr. Seuss wrote about:  Be yourself (and don’t be afraid to be different).  Stand up for what you believe in. Question authority.  Use your imagination.  Be silly. Be courageous.  Be loyal.  Love your friends.  Stand up for them.  Always have hope.

In retrospect, it’s really hard to say whether or not my world view was shaped in part by the writings of Dr. Seuss or if I simply related to his characters and stories because of my world view.  It doesn’t matter.  I am glad he was born.  I’m glad he wrote whimsical stories that were fun to read.  And, I’m glad I get to share them with my son.  I know he will share them with his children.