Friday, July 29, 2011

Praying For Failure

I think I am a typical parent in that I do quite a bit of self reflection and review to check myself on my parenting skills.  Am I doing a good job?  Are my kids screwed up?  Should I have not allowed the word fart in the house?  The questions are numerous but the day I stop asking means I’ve already failed.  Of course our eldest born child, Margaret, has the honor of being the guinea pig of sorts and we learn right along with her.  So, why is it that with our first born we are already praying for failure?  It seems wrong.
Meg is a typical first born with a type A personality and a drive for perfection.  I will be honest and state that she did not inherit this characteristic from her middle child mother.  While I have high standards on some things, a perfect report card is not one of those things.  Meg set an extremely tough goal of getting straight A’s for all three years of middle school before she embarked on her 6th grade year.  I support my kids in their goal setting but I looked at Meg and said, “You know B’s are great too” and “all we want is your best”.  Meg received a schedule containing all advanced content classes and that made me nervous.  It was going to be quite a load and challenge all on its own!  I pictured a teenager in trouble if we didn’t break this goal of perfection!
Sure enough, the first 9 weeks, she nailed it and there we were at the straight A’s ceremony.  Second nine weeks were a little harder but she did it again.  By the third nine weeks I was praying for a B….the stress was mounting. I thought we had it in the bag with a “bomb” on a science quiz.  Like all good parents Pete and I were fist pumping and high fiving when we learned of the poor grade.  We grabbed our baby girl and told her that we loved the bad grade and it will be okay and sometimes you need to totally screw up so that you can appreciate the hard work…..and there it was……the look…..eerily the same look appeared on Meg’s face that I saw so many times on my own mother’s face when I would use the word fart and she would say, “why can’t you say passed gas”….the type of face that oozes of disappointment and disgust.  So it went over like a fart in church (sorry Mom).  But again, she pulled it out on the very last day and got all A’s!  Pete and I felt defeated, like we had lost an opportunity to drive home a point.  Should we have grounded her from homework?  Should we have kept her up late and fed her junk food?  Obviously we had dropped the parenting ball!

In the final nine weeks we thought we were golden!  Art, of all things, was deeming itself to be a Meg buster!  Absences helped to make that an extra challenge but Pete and I were in agreement that we would take the end of the A’s in Art.  And then a bonus!!!!  Meg bombed a math quiz.  A secret high five between horrible parents was exchanged in private as we proudly hung the D quiz on the family magnet board.  Again, a speech was given but this time with far more compassion.  The quest for perfection was falling like a house of cards and then the final blow….
  As I sat in the score board tower at my son’s baseball game, acting like I knew what I was doing, I received a phone call from Meg.  I told her to talk fast because I was in the midst of a 7 to 8 game and somehow I managed to have 3rd down showing on the scoreboard and I was getting nervous about the dirty looks from hardcore baseball parents down below.  Meg’s voice was off….it was the voice I knew so well…..a self confession was about to happen.  I said, “Meg, what’s wrong?” and she said, “I got in trouble today.”  All at once I stood up and let out a Wahoo!…Mabel gave me a disgusted face and said, “Mom, that’s not our team that just scored.”…...ignoring Meg, I announced  the happy news to Mabel…”Meg got in trouble today!”.  Mabel’s eyes lit up with excitement and she immediately grabbed a clean sheet of paper and a marker to make her own demerit sheet for her big sister.  I focused again on Meg as the umpire motioned up to my window that I needed to change the score, and next I began a perfect parent oration on the importance of behaving in school……  “Meg, I’m so proud of you…you need to cut loose once in a while and talk to a friend or try to pass a note!  It’s a rite of passage and most importantly you have to learn that no one is perfect and you aren’t horrible for getting in trouble.  And then I paused and thought , crap, maybe I should have asked what she did first!….sold crack in the hallway?....smoked in the bathroom?.....disrespected a teacher ?.....but it was all good…my instincts were correct….Meg just giggled too much with a friend.  Part of me wanted to get a cookie cake and get out the “You are special today” plate!  Instead, I hugged my baby girl when I got home and reinforced that she should watch her tail at school and not beat herself up over this.

Meg always punishes herself far more severely than Pete and I could ever dream of so we stepped back and did what all good parents do…..let  the 5 year old spitfire little sister  take the lead….Mabels course of punishment included repeated references to juve along with daily greetings at the door to ask if there had been another incident, and my favorite, the constant reminder to Meg that Mabel had maintained a perfect record and had not yet been reprimanded by a teacher during her kindergarten year. This burned Meg up because we all know full well that Mabel should have been nailed several times by now but third borns have more street smarts than the first borns. 
The combination of being reprimanded for poor behavior and some less than stellar grades was just amazing!  We couldn't have asked for more!  Pete and I were convinced that Meg would finally lose the perfect record and go forth in her middle school years knowing that you can always start over and life is too short to forgo outbursts of laughter.  I’ll cut this short and tell you that Meg pulled it out again…..perfect A’s all year long and now we are forced to wait and wonder if next year we can break her spirit and bring home a B.  It’s a hard job but I vow to do my best to teach my daughter how to fail, screw up, get in trouble and keep on trucking.  Gus is following in his big sisters footsteps so we have already begun a course of treatment that includes constant reminders to get in trouble at school each day and our secret weapon, Mabel, has been teaching Gus to loosen up with butt fives and hoola hooping lessons. Obviously we will have to completely shift gears for Mabel but we have time.   

A new school year starts in just a few weeks and Meg’s quest for perfection has crept into my mind.  While Meg sets her new goals, Pete and I are setting our own.  We shall overcome!  We will not accept straight A's and stellar behavior! Who knew that parenting would be so hard? 

1 comment:

  1. Rachael,

    Good entry! Very humorous and refreshing. As a teacher I've also experienced that odd craving for a perfect student to misbehave--not out of any perverse desire to see them fail, but because there's plenty of time for them to take the world's burdens on their shoulders, and because being socially confident and a risk-taker is just as valuable a goal for middle school students as earning straight As/having stellar conduct is. Good for you and Pete to recognize that.