Ms B. is starting the fourth quarter of her last year of elementary school: We’re rounding third, headed for home and she is certainly ready. As I was bitching to D about getting up early for the annual pancake breakfast and about going to the annual science night where I will watch Ms. B. put ‘stitches’ into a chicken breast and sit in an ambulance to have her blood pressure taken for the fifth year in a row, I realized that D and I are probably ready to be done with elementary school for a while, too.
At the start of each new quarter we always have the same conversation with Ms. B about grades and study habits. We don’t expect perfection, but we do expect her best (and everyone involved, parents and child, needs to be reminded every now and then that those are not necessarily the same thing). And, Wah wah wah. Sometime shortly after that first sentence Ms. B. gets that glazed over look. I suspect she’s as tired of hearing this conversation as I am with going to science night every year.
Ms. B. is like most children (and perhaps most adults): she starts off each quarter with a bang, falls into a slump midway through, and then finishes in a scramble to bring things back up to snuff. She inevitably slides into the same bad study habits. Rushing through and not checking her work, talking over people and not listening, thinking that she already knows the answer, and blaming others when she falls short of her goals. We’re all guilty of falling into those habits. It’s easier than the alternative: admitting when you’re wrong, admitting that you don’t know. Part of growing up is learning how to recognize when we do and learning how to take the hard road. I know Ms. B. isn’t listening, but I can’t seem to help myself. The obnoxious parent in me feels compelled to say it every quarter anyway.
This past January was the anniversary of my Granny’s death and, to mark the moment, my Uncle emailed us his eulogy notes. Reading through them, I was reminded of her, of course. I remember her toughness, her single-mindedness, her story telling abilities and her passions. But I had forgotten that my Granny had told my Uncle she prayed every night to be a better person, to be quicker to forgive, to make decisions for the greater good rather than her own selfish motives, and to be more accepting.
It’s strange. When she was alive, I would sometimes struggle to find charitable things to say about my Granny (at least in the traditional sense – she didn’t have many soft edges, and she didn’t bake you cookies). But I still find, years after she’s gone, that I’m learning new things about her and learning new things from her. I suspect I’m like most people in that I view those I love (particularly the ‘grownups’) as already completed wholes. I think that is the cracked and clouded lens I was using to view my Granny. But, really, aren’t all of us, except for the most narcissistic, constantly thinking about ways we can be better?
I don’t like going to the pancake breakfast or science night because I don’t think Ms. B., like the good twelve-year-old that she is, really needs us there. She promptly runs off with her friends and D and I are left leaning against lockers, gossiping with other parents. Every half hour or so she will breeze by with her friends, a rush of giggles, linked arms, and some sort of overly-fruity body spray or lotion that came from I don’t know where. We’ll holler, “Doing okay?” or “Twenty more minutes” and, if we’re lucky, we’ll get an “Okay” half mumbled in response.
Maybe Ms. B. tunes out the ‘good study habits’ lecture each quarter because she doesn’t really need to be there for it. She knows I want to say it, so she’ll politely lean against the lockers and let me go. But she knows the phrases coming out of my mouth, and she knows the phrases she is supposed to say back, and, as much as it looks like she’s blowing me off, she gets it. She gets it because she, like my Granny and me and everyone else, is always trying to be better. She may stumble, but she’ll get back up. And she doesn’t need me to remind her to do it.
Or maybe I’m giving her too much credit. Maybe she’s tuning me out because she’s twelve. Yeah. I think I’ll give her the ol’ lecture again, just for old time’s sake…