Welcome to the real world I said to she, condescendingly. Take a seat. Take your life. Plot it out in black and white. Well I never lived the dreams of the prom kings and the drama queens. I’d like to think the best of me is still hiding up my sleeve.
As a parent I have to tell you to stay inside the lines, knowing something may be better on the other side.
So the good boys and girls take the so-called right track, faded white hats grabbing credits; maybe transfers. They read all the books but they can’t find the answer. And your parents we’re getting older. Wonder if we’ve wished for anything better? Yes, filling our memories: tiny tragedies.
I don’t want you to run through the halls of your grade school. You shouldn’t scream at the top of your lungs. But you should know there’s no such thing as the real world, just a lie you’ve got to rise above.
You are invincible, as long as you’re alive. I just can’t wait ‘til your 10 year reunion, when you can strut through the double doors. And when you stand in front of your friends who adore you, you will know what all this time was for.
It finally happened. Thing 1 The Super-Scholar has become Thing 1 The Super-Slacker. She has always been ahead of her peers and school came easy. Fourth grade is taking a toll on her, causing her to question her scholastic aptitude.
The main culprit is busy work. The “doodle in your journal while I count the meal money“ work. The “write your spelling words with blanks where the vowels go” work. The “read a book for twenty minutes and write a summary of what you read on this sheet” work. Never mind that she is very creative, aces the spelling tests and reads above grade level. She runs the risk of being evicted from the gifted program before it even begins because she is not finishing her work.
So we had to have a talk with her. And since I don’t believe in lying to my kids I told her my thoughts. I admitted that some of the work she is supposed to be doing is not doing much to further her learning and may even be a waste of time or not as important as it is being made out. And no one will care what her grades were when she was in the fourth grade.
But that’s not the point. Hot Mama and I let her in on a little secret—meaningless busy work and mundane tasks are a part our lives too. Judges, clients, bosses, customers will sometimes require us to do things that we would rather not do. But we have to do them. Life doesn’t get better, fifth grade will be even worse. And just wait until seventh grade when you have to try to get your school work done while navigating the social hell that is junior high.
She is getting bad grades because she is not conforming to the expectations. And being lazy. See, I wish I could say that she is so enlightened that she already sees through the fluff work and is forging her own path toward accomplishment. But really she is being lazy. Hopefully she understood my explanation that fourth grade laziness, if left unchecked, can turn into tenth grade laziness. And that turns into middle-aged laziness reflecting on how your life is going and wishing you made some better decisions.
My hope is that she can excel for her own ambitions, not just to conform to expectations. I hope she can excel in her own way and be proud of her accomplishments. I hope she can put herself in a position where she never has to do busy work again. Or at least find satisfaction in the busy work while striving for greater things. But this isn’t about my hopes. This is about her hopes and aspirations.
I remember when she was learning to ride a bike. She so wanted to ride that bike but would get discouraged when she was unable to do it without training wheels. There were times she didn’t want to practice when things didn’t immediately go her way. She didn’t want to put in the work to learn to ride on her own. Hot Mama and I spent evenings running beside her along the sidewalk trying to assist in her endeavor. And then one day it clicked. She could suddenly ride her bike anywhere she wanted, by herself.
Parenting is about to become more difficult. She is one of our proudest accomplishments. I don’t want to screw her up. I want her to want to succeed. Ideally her idea of success will be similar to mine, although admittedly my generation’s definition of success is different than that of my parent’s generation. Primarily I want her to achieve whatever it is she wants, even if it doesn’t fit inside my lines. The trick it seems is to run along her with one hand on her shoulder and another at her back until she is going her own direction under her own power. Then it will be a matter of offering cheers for her accomplishments and encouragement when she falls off course.