Our Kids Are Not In a Race

race

[This piece was originally published by Parent.co on March 30, 2016.]

The call came from my son’s math teacher (I’ll call her “Ms. W”). She wanted to discuss her recommendation for his freshman math class placement next year in high school.

I could hear the nervousness in her voice as she described her perception of his performance in her honors-level math class this year.

“He’s smart and very capable, and his test scores put him just above the line for a recommendation for Honors Geometry next year.” This was not news to me. My son had transitioned from elementary school to middle school fairly seamlessly, and was placed in honors-level math and language arts classes in 7th and 8th grade. He was earning all A’s in his classes every marking period. Maybe an occasional B+ in science or math.

Math is the only subject my son has always described as the one he “hates.”

Although he’s capable of learning every concept taught, it doesn’t come naturally for him. He has to work hard in math to get A’s and B’s. It’s the only subject that has, on many occasions, brought him to angry tears of frustration. He’s told me that math simply makes him feel stupid.

He is, by nature, a “creative.” He draws, he cartoons, he makes videos and he writes amazingly well. He will not be a doctor, a scientist or an engineer. Those professions, and others that require heavy hard science and math, just don’t appeal to him.

Ms. W continued on, “In 9th grade, the intensity really ramps up in honors math. I know he doesn’t like math, although he works really hard at it. I would love to see him in a situation where he’s comfortably performing well and he feels really good about himself.”

Bingo. It was a no brainer for me to agree with her recommendation that he be placed in the “academic” level geometry class next year.

When I instantly agreed with her recommendation, her sigh of relief was audible. The tension in her voice evaporated. She had prepared herself for the inevitable parent pushback. The pushback that comes instinctively from a parent who fears their child is falling behind in the race. About my decision, she said, “That’s so refreshing. Parents just don’t do that in this town.”

The following week, I told a group of my mom friends about my decision over coffee. One friend with a daughter in her junior year at our high school had an expression of shock on her face, and looked at me like I’d sprouted a second nose. She asked, “But aren’t you worried he’ll be a year behind?”

I smiled as kindly as I could and said, “Behind what? It’s not a race.” She’s still not convinced. She thinks I’m closing a door of opportunity for my son.

What is this fear that is driving parents to crack the whip behind their kids and push them until they crumble?

How many news headlines about teens being exhausted, depressed and suicidal do we have to read before we get it?

This isn’t a race.

Parenting is an opportunity to raise happy, self-confident, well-adjusted human beings who understand they have strengths and gifts to offer the world, but that not everyone excels at everything. That’s just life. Our job is to help them find their strengths and gifts, and to nurture those. To support them when they put effort into mastering areas in which they naturally excel.

I talked with my son about the discussion I had with Ms. W and the decision I made. He feels really good (and relieved!) about it. He’ll take honors-level English and Science and he’ll audition for the a capella choir (he’s a talented singer and it’s something he really enjoys).

He’s looking forward to his freshman year. Many of his classmates are already nervous and worried that the academic pressure in high school will be too great.

Sadly, for many of them, it will be.

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Shifting Gears to Fully Appreciate the Gift

IMG_3184Smack in the middle of editing a piece that’s due to a client by noon tomorrow, I get the school district robocall to my cell phone telling me my boys are being released early from school due to the snow storm that is becoming heavier than expected.

Drat. Just as I was getting into my writing groove.

I begin the mental shifting of gears that every part-time work-from-home mom knows so well. Did I seriously expect to finish what I’d started? Time to put my “Mom” hat back on.

I’m embarrassed to admit that it sometimes makes me angry and irritable to have to shift gears from work to family. It’s frustrating to have my progress interrupted and to reset my expectations about how the rest of my day will be spent.

This is how I shift those gears:

I sit for a few minutes before they walk in the door from their buses, I close my eyes, and I focus. I focus on the way their little faces looked when they were just two and five years old. I focus on how my younger son’s lisp used to sound and how he replaced the phrase “what happens if” with his own unique “whunsif”. I remember how my older son used to sing the chorus to “Leaving on a Jetplane” whenever we were headed on a trip to visit his grandfather in Florida.

I think about my younger boy’s classmate, now in 5th grade, still courageously fighting an inoperable brain cancer she’s had since she was just five years old. I think about a former coworker who lost her son when he was just 21, two weeks before his college graduation, when he was in the back seat of a car that was struck by a drunk driver.

In just four short years, my older son will leave for college. Four years?! That’s the blink of an eye. My younger son still snuggles with his two favorite blankets (his “cozies”) when we watch TV. I tell myself, “Momma, stop being such an idiot. These days are numbered, and your babies are leaving you.”

Gear shifting now fully completed, I hear my boys clambering in through the front door, dropping their backpacks on the floor, shaking the snow off their jackets, kicking their wet boots off and laughing about something someone said to one of them on the bus ride home.

I walk to them, grinning from ear to ear at their bemused faces, and I tell them we need to grab a quick bite and then head out to the nearby golf course to go sledding. They agree it’s an excellent idea.

The goal of parenthood is to raise independent humans. Simple, really. Tweet: The goal of parenthood is to raise independent humans. Simple, really. http://ctt.ec/fmBaf+

Teach them how to negotiate their paths through life, how to make good decisions and be kind to others. And to pick up after themselves and make their own food.

You’re teaching them how to leave you. That’s why I find parenting so difficult. You’re teaching these little creatures that you love more than life itself how to be so independent, they will not only be able to leave you, they will want to leave you. Pure and utter heartbreak, isn’t it?

As the years pass, if things go as planned (I know, they sometimes don’t), you watch your kids make these astounding leaps forward. They’re growing. They’re maturing. They’re getting it right. They’re cutting the strings loose, one by one. And it’s happening much, much too fast.

I’m now fully able to recognize that this unexpected shortened school day and interruption of my work progress is nothing less than a sparkling, glorious gift from the universe. I’m determined to gratefully soak up every single second of it.


Originally published by Parent.co: http://www.parent.co/shifting-gears-to-fully-appreciate-the-gift/

My Kids Don’t Love Nature Like I Do

mice
These guys are so darned CUTE!

I’ve always had an unusual fascination with wildlife. Growing up, I not only had multiple dogs and cats, but also birds, hamsters, gerbils and mice.

I majored in Biology (of course). I have excellent memories of camping with my Mammalogy 101 class right outside the mouth of a bat cave in northern Vermont. Junior year, my Evolutionary Biology professor noticed my overzealousness and invited me to spend a few summer weeks in the Arizona desert catching geckos by the tail (he was gathering data on tail-regeneration). I declined, because my boyfriend would be in Connecticut all summer (Stupid! I should have chosen the geckos.).

You get the picture. I was really into weird nature stuff that most girls don’t like.

So, naturally, I assumed my kids would be just as fascinated as I am. I have two boys, and boys are supposed to get into that kind of thing, right? What I’ve come to realize is that you can’t convince someone to be a nature lover. But God help me, I’ve tried.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gleefully purchased wildlife-lover items for my kids hoping they’ll find bugs and nature as compelling as I do. Without fail, after half-heartedly feigning interest, my kids cease to notice these “projects” and go back to their Legos, Nintendo DS’s and iPods. Sadly, I’m saddled with keeping these creatures alive while they languish in their various containers (“habitat” is a cruel distortion of the truth in every instance I’m about to describe).

The African Dwarf Frogs lasted almost two godforsaken years in their little self-contained aquatic cube/prison. You only needed to feed them once every few days, so when the first one finally died, I found it afloat on the surface with the other frog shooting daggers at me with its eyes. The second one gave up hope immediately afterwards and died within a week. No one was upset (not even me). I’m not sure the kids even remembered we had frogs after the first week they’d been in our house.

The praying mantis egg case in the little netted cube habitat was, seemingly, a dud. I glued it onto a stick as instructed, and we checked on that damned thing every two or three hours for two weeks. Even I had given up hope. Then, on the day I’d resigned myself to admitting defeat and tossing it into the garbage, I awoke to find – I kid you not – about 300 newborn centimeter-long mantises crawling around in that container. The kids found it fascinating for exactly 6.5 minutes and then ran off to claim their Pop-Tarts.

The praying mantis episode sort of ran me ragged. I had to get rid of all but one of the teeny tiny mantises within a day, unless we wanted to witness them killing and eating each other (in retrospect, maybe that would’ve captured the kids’ interest). I released them into the yard, and the one I kept became my every-waking-moment obsession for the next three months.

Mantises grow slowly, and they ONLY. EAT. LIVE. FOOD. Each morning, my husband giggled and smirked through the window at me as I traipsed around the yard, cursing and swatting mosquitoes away from my face as I searched for tiny aphids and baby inchworms. Finally, I resorted to purchasing flightless fruit flies from Petco.

Yes, this is the explanation for why a person would actually shell out cash for a small container full of maggots.  Tweet: Yes, this is the explanation for why someone would actually shell out cash for a small container full of maggots. http://ctt.ec/d1ybp+

The mantis only grew to about an inch long before he was accidentally murdered by a friend to whom I’d entrusted his care while we vacationed on Cape Cod (In truth, his death was likely due to a change in environment. That’s what I told her anyway – she was riddled with guilt.). Thank God that was over.

I end this diatribe with my current dismal situation. Christmas before last, I purchased a “self-cleaning” fish tank made by those damned “As Seen On TV” people. You can already see where this is going, can’t you? When the algae on the sides of the tank began to obstruct the view of the colorful Betta fish inside, I did some googling and purchased a couple of Inca Gold snails. I now must not only feed the fish its pellets, but must remember to throw in occasional bits of blanched cucumber to keep the snails happy (because, of course, snails don’t survive on algae alone).

self clean tank
“Self-cleaning” fish tank.

The system isn’t exactly working. For some reason, the snails are now slacking off on their algae cleaning jobs (too fat and happy on the cucumber bits?), and I can’t really even see the fish unless I look down into the tank from above. Why do these damned things live so long???

My husband is totally mortified that we even have this green-slimed container in the house, and he keeps pleading, “Just get rid of the fish for God’s sake! Put it outside!” (it’s 20 degrees today). But I can’t. At heart, I’m still a lover of all living things and it’s my duty to keep this guy swimming until his natural death.

Betta fish are pretty hardy though. I’m thinking he can probably make it just fine while we’re gone on vacation next week and the house is lowered to 50 degrees.

Much to the horror of my husband, my younger son just asked for a bearded dragon for his next birthday. I am in serious and dire need of an intervention, friends.. Please remind me about how this will end badly, because I’ve already caught myself perusing bearded dragon care and feeding sites online.


 

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