Not all daughters turn into their mothers

I love my dad.

My dad is a planner, a list maker, an organizer, a rule regulator and a contract creator. As a kid, I loathed the “family meetings”, the inescapable discussions about curfews or “house rules”, and the endless lectures if you broke any of those rules. I didn’t just push the boundaries, I tried to re-draw them, over and over again. I was grounded a lot, and for good reason. One particular incident sticks out in my mind lately. At some point in high school my dad got completely fed up with my lackadaisical approach to homework.

Some days I would do it. Some days I would not.

So he created one of his famous contracts for me to sign, out-lining the consequences specifically in regards to crappy homework grades. I, of course, tried to find the loop-hole. In response to my breach of contract, he took it a step further by creating a weekly progress report. He required me to talk to my teachers, explaining that I needed their signatures on Fridays to confirm that a) all of my homework had been turned in that week and b) I had written down all of the assignments due on Monday.

No teacher signatures. No weekend privileges. That got my attention.

It didn’t take long for me to start getting my homework done in a timely manner in order to get rid of that whole contract/paper signing thing. I also remember distinctly saying to myself, “I will never do that to my children!”

Of course, “back then” my dad didn’t have the luxury of things like Parent Portal or Parent Connect, an online tool teachers use to post student’s grades and assignments each week. It is a great way to spy check on our kids’ progress. Unfortunately, not all teachers update it in a timely manner or put in as much detail as others. I still have to rely heavily on my child to be personally accountable and honest about what work needs to get accomplished.

Sometimes it gets done. Sometimes it does not.

The Tortoise and I have butted heads numerous times about her study habits and approach to school. Although, we have seen a marked improvement in the last couple of years, it is still a heated topic in our house. Recently, there was some cause for alarm after looking at her grades on-line. Most exasperating was the fact that English needed the most attention, and not because she couldn’t do the work, she just didn’t put in the effort or ask for help.

“I’m not kidding around!” I vented, “These grades have to come up or you’ll start losing weekend privileges.”

“I know what to do, Mom” The Tortoise retorted, rolling her eyes.

“Then why aren’t you doing it?”

The Tortoise just stared at me blankly, probably trying to cast a spell or something that would cause a huge black hole to suck me up into oblivion. DW sat quietly finishing his dinner. Usually he was the enforcer, but something had snapped inside me that night.

“I bought you a planner pad to write down homework assignments and upcoming projects for each class. Where is that?” I asked.

“In my backpack.”

“Can I see it?”

“There’s nothing in it.”

“What do you mean there is nothing in it?” I barked, reaching for her backpack.

“I mean, there’s nothing in it!” she snapped.

“That’s it!” I exclaimed, “I’m giving you one week to pull it together. I’m going to check your planner pad every night and you better have written what you worked on and what homework was given in each class. And if you don’t, if you miss even one day, I’m going to start having your teachers initial on Fridays confirming you have no missing grades for the week and that you wrote down all of the assignments due on Monday!”

DW put down his fork, smiling.

The Tortoise looked at me in horror.

“MOM!” she shrieked, “You can’t do that! Do you know how embarrassing that would be?”

“YES! YES I DO!”

File 13

I don’t like clutter, especially on the kitchen counter. Papers are the worst. The amount of crap my kids leave everyday is staggering, probably a whole trees worth. Several recycle bins live in our garage, carefully labeled to avoid confusion. The paper bin, unfortunately, is the least filled. We have a bad habit of throwing them in File 13, the kitchen trash. I find graded papers, school announcements, book orders, notes from friends and scraps. Occasionally there will be a paper that I am unsure of its importance and will place it in the appropriate child’s “In Box”. There is also a “Lost and Found” basket in our hall closet for anything else that I refuse to carry back to that individual’s room, things left haphazardly around the house, forgotten at the end of the day. If you can’t find it, then you at least know where to look for it.

The Hare receives a homework folder on Fridays that is due on Thursdays. It is a perfect system for a busy family. The folder typically stays on our kitchen desk, in plain sight, so she can fill out her reading log each day and complete tasks. Those are the only homework papers that have ever come home. This Tuesday, she pulled out two stapled pages. It was classwork that had not been completed. My mom is visiting this week, so she helped at the kitchen counter helping her finish the work. It was all due on Wednesday.

On Wednesday afternoon, my smiling third grader was replaced by a grumpy, weepy kid.

“You forgot to put my classwork in my backpack! It was due today.”

I smiled politely, “No, you forgot to put your classwork in your backpack.”

“Well, Mrs. G said I could turn it in tomorrow anyway, ” she grumbled.

My mom and I dropped her at gymnastics, picked up The Tortoise from practice, went home and started dinner. I fed my mom, The Tortoise and DW. A few hours later The Hare came home and I fed her, then got her ready for bed. As I turned out lights and wiped the kitchen counter one last time before bed, I scowled at a new pile of papers decorating the counter. I sifted through them absently. Blue grades stared back at me, paper after paper. I scooped them up and put them in the trash.

I went to bed knowing I would be greeted by a clean counter in the morning.

“Ok – you have about 5 minutes left, so you better finish packing your backpack,” I called from the kitchen after breakfast this morning. “And don’t forget your homework.”

The Hare grabbed her blue folder off the kitchen desk, scanning the kitchen counter. She sifted through her “In Box” and then headed for the “Lost and Found”.

The tears came quickly. “Where’s my classwork packet?”

“What classwork packet?”

YOU KNOW!” she said, throwing her hands in the air, “The one that I forgot to bring on Wednesday, so I have to bring it in today.”‘

My gut wrenched.

“I think it got thrown away.”

“BUT MOM!…”

I took a deep breath in, then exhaled out. My heart was heavy that she would most likely have to do the whole paper over, but I knew she should have put it away in the first place. This was a combined mishap, and one that I was tired of always taking the brunt of the blame. But that is what “us Moms” do, we take on everybody’s responsibilities. But this makes our kids accountable for nothing, while we are accountable for everything.

“It is unfortunate that your work was thrown away. But all I saw on the counter were graded papers and I didn’t realize you left the classwork on the kitchen counter…”

“BUT MOM…”

“Let me finish. If something is important to you, it needs to get put away. You knew that work needed to be turned in and it should have immediately gone in your backpack or in the homework folder.”

The Hare crossed her arms and glared at me.

“And for the record,” I added, “my first name is not But.”

Still glaring.

The Hare was so mad, she wouldn’t speak as we crossed the parking lot. I went in the school to talk with her teacher, but unfortunately she had a sub today. A sub that is very familiar with my daughter, and agreed to write Mrs. G a note. There is no doubt in my mind that she will get to re-do the work and get a grade.

It took all my might not to say, “I’m sorry, this was my fault.” I didn’t want this to ruin her whole day. But I can’t teach her to be responsible if I continue to take away that responsibility. Instead all I could leave her with this morning was a quick face to face.

“I love you and I am sad that you are sad. This situation is unfortunate but it will be fixed. We need to work harder at being more organized and putting papers away where they need to go. Okay?”

The Hare looked through me, “Whatever.”

Sometimes being a mom is harder than I ever imagined.

I finished school, so why do I have homework?

I’ve never understood why in the world so many teachers create assignments that clearly require an adult to participate. You see it all the time at Science Fairs or Open House nights where we get to peruse projects from different classrooms. There’s always the one project that sticks out – and not because it was hideous, but because it looks like a Michelangelo work of art. Last year, The Hare was asked to create an Encyclopedia of birds. Our task, and yes I meant our, was to find three birds or characteristics of birds for each letter of the alphabet. We were to type or print neatly the information along with a picture (either drawn or pasted). I don’t know about you, but I don’t know too many 7-year-olds that can complete this size of a project on their own. Every night for weeks and weeks, DW and I sat at the computer helping her research. Besides the fact that it was extremely time-consuming, I really didn’t think it was a well-thought out project. Do you think she remembered anything specific about 78 birds? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to create an Encyclopedia about a specific region or country? We could have researched the people who live there, the culture and agriculture. The Hare could have learned about the wildlife and weather. But no, instead we had to look up three birds beginning with the letter “z”. And now that The Tortoise is in Middle School, we have entered a season of math that I care not to revisit. I barely made it through math the first time, I definitely have no desire to learn it all over again.   

I’ve paid my dues. Now it’s my kids turn to suffer.   

Friday The Tortoise brought home a sheet of paper from her teachers. Now let’s not forget last week was our first week of school. We hardly made it to school on time. The paper read:   

In a million words or less, tell us about your child…
  
Dear Parents,  

We are very interested in getting to know as much as possible about your 7th grade students, but we need your help. We are requesting you to submit a letter telling us everything you’d like us to know about your child: the good, the bad, and yes the ugly! Not to worry, spelling and grammar do not count!   

Really? You mean besides the pound of paper I had to sift through filling out numerous school forms and emergency forms, you gave me a homework assignment? What happened to the sheet I filled out last year about my child? I was under the impression that the 6th grade team communicated with the 7th grade team when they were sizing up the classrooms.   

Sigh.   

Well, here is what you get when you ask a writer to write a letter:   

September 12, 2010   

Dear 7th Grade Team:   

I’ve spent most of this weekend trying to think of what I really want to put into this letter that would give you a clear picture of my daughter, but what I keep coming back to is the reality that the older she gets, the less I feel like I know her. I don’t really worry about academics because all I have to do is keep on top of her grades, check her assignment pad or parent connect and stay in contact with her teachers. Academics are fairly tangible and easy to see where she stands. But what I don’t know is what boy she might have a crush on or which group of girls she really hangs out with during lunch or which girls she wishes she hung out with during lunch. I can’t tell you what her real fears are or how she sees herself compared to her peers. Those are things that you have opportunities to witness. Perhaps I should be asking you, at the end of the year, to write me a letter.    

She has the best smile ever.

 

Besides, this letter is sort of a double-edged sword, isn’t it? I mean, truthfully, what parent is going to write that their child is a trouble-maker or as dumb as a box of rocks? If I praise and sing her accolades, then I’m boastful and your expectations are going to run high and yet, if I point out all of her weaknesses I worry that you will form a very biased opinion before she gets an opportunity to prove herself. There is no doubt that I think she is bright and capable of any task that you put in front of her, but then there are days that she struggles endlessly with organization and focus. She is shy at heart and yet seems to make friends with anyone within arm’s-length. She is a pleaser and will believe you unconditionally. Her heart knows how to forgive, and she will always be the first one to apologize. She never holds a grudge or pre-judges. She would be the first one to stop and help a stranger and I’ve witnessed her pass on dessert so that her sister could have the last piece of cake. My daughter never wants to be first in line, pick sides or to have the most of anything. She is embarrassed easily and avoids being the center of attention. Yet, if given the opportunity, she will sing her soul in front of the world to hear with the most amazing and sweet voice. I think that she is a perfect example of gentleness, kindness and unconditional love.    

However, at an attempt to focus on the information that you’re probably looking for, and be completely honest, she really doesn’t like school. She struggles with anxiety, focus, organization and at times, depression. Sometimes these traits are mistaken for defiance, sarcasm, or laziness but I believe in my heart of hearts that she is none of those things. Over the years we have given her ample tools to combat each of these hurdles, and continue to try and help build her skills as well as her self-esteem. I wish it only affected her school work, because that I can see when it starts to fall apart and throw her a life-preserver to help keep her afloat the rest of the year. But unfortunately these struggles bleed into her relationships and self-esteem, things that are much harder to monitor, things that she tries to hide from us. Each school day for my daughter is one day closer to summer. Ironically, or perhaps optimistically, she does see a future for herself that requires college. She thinks she would like to be a special education teacher and work with special needs children. I’ve never known a child who is as comfortable around children and adults with disabilities or the elderly as my daughter. At times it even seems that these individuals gravitate to her as much as she does to them. That is one of the things that I admire the most about her.  

My daughter is a tactile learner as well as a visual learner. I’ve tried for years to understand why I could ask her to complete a task a dozen times and it would never get done, but the minute I wrote it down for her it would get finished almost immediately. If I show her how I want something done, then she usually jumps in and gets to work with no confusion or frustration. Sometimes I even ask her to repeat what it is that I’ve asked of her to be sure that we are on the same page. I can do these things because I am her mother and there are only two children in my home. You, on the other hand, have a classroom of many. I understand it is unrealistic to expect you to teach her in the same way that I parent. However, be aware that because she is generally shy, she won’t ask a lot of questions – even if she is completely lost. My daughter has been known to sit at her desk quietly for an entire period, seemingly focused on the task at hand, and yet have nothing to turn in because she couldn’t decide where to begin.   

My hope is that my daughter starts to enjoy school more, and see it as a burden less. She has always held her teachers in high regards over the years, but I don’t know if she has ever really felt inspired.    

So there it is, exactly what your assignment asked for, a letter including “the good, the bad, and yes the ugly” and it was even under a million words. I am available anytime for a conference if there are concerns about her performance. In fact, I am that parent that comes to every conference available even if not required. Email is also a great way to contact me, and I am pretty flexible if ever you need some volunteer work done in any of the classrooms.    

Thank you for wanting to get to know my daughter better so that you can better teach her.    

Sincerely,    

Emily