Let’s play a short game of “Never Have I Ever.”
• Bought the “My Baby Can Read!” Program?
• Enrolled your two year old in Mandarin lessons?
• Prepped your four-year-old for a pre-school entrance exam?
It’s been ten years since I was pregnant with my son. Due to a severe and unannounced complication, Jesse became my only child. All of those proverbial eggs went into this one basket. My husband and I, ignoring our collective DNA, believed our seven-pound,12-ounce baby would one day be a boy of grit and determination.
Why on earth did we think a child born from our creative chromosomes would express an interest in perfect penmanship, homework done without a hint of procrastination, or a sincere desire to conform to school and suburban societal standards? Both of us were boundless daydreamers, not “good students.” Neither of us went to an Ivy League school. It took me 12 years to get a Bachelor’s Degree. Who was I as a parent to have such unrealistic expectations of an infant?
I decided to ignore genetics, and turned to nurture and instead of nature. From before that soft spot closed on his not-so-hairy head, I read to Jesse for hours: Sandra Boynton board books, The Old Man and the Sea. By the time he was two I’d bought a small chalkboard, where I would write out the alphabet every day, singing along with an actual pointing stick. Of course he knew the whole song by 26 months and four days but who’s counting?
Right before Jesse turned three in February of 2011, a bestselling book was released. You know the one. The Tiger Mom. Her Battle Hymn. With children practicing instruments on vacation. This tome was sweet validation for my maniacal child rearing practices. Immediately after reading the book, I began teaching him to sound out three letter words:
Bat, cat, hat, pat, sat. Bet, jet, let, met. Bit, fit, hit. Cot, dot. But, cut.
By the time Pre-K rolled around, he was more than ready for real kindergarten. Imagine my elation at my four-year-olds parent teacher conference upon hearing, “What a smart boy. Such language skills!” That sound you hear? My inner tiger roaring across the Okavango Delta.
September 2013 arrived, and sadly, Kindergarten started with a whimper. Jesse cried on the bus every. Single. Day. I thought to myself, “If he’s so sad, he can’t concentrate. But it’s ok, I’ve already taught him so much.” (In hindsight, I should have been thinking about his feelings, but I was a tiger, not a kitten.)
Fallen crimson leaves replaced fallen tears, and by Thanksgiving, I was most thankful that Jesse was doing better. Plus! The most wonderful time of the year was soon upon us: his very first report card. The day arrived and I tore open the envelope. A grade of “4” was the best. A “1” was the worst.
And there it was, in the right hand column, not under reading or writing or “rithmetic.”
There was a one.
I never realized there was an “emotional” side to a report card.
At his parent/teacher conference, Mrs. Crusher of Dreams tells my husband and I, “Jesse takes no pride in his work. He thinks he knows everything already.”
Of course my son felt this way and it was all my fault. It was time to accept a few truths. My parenting was much like my cooking: overdone. Children should learn things in their own time. And my son was no tiger cub. More like a sloth – cute as could be, moving at his own pace.
Every year since Pre-K I’ve made my son hold up a sign on the first day of school. You know the one. “Jesse’s first day of…” and the date. I always added the line, “When I grow up I want to be a…” First grade it was policeman. Second grade I winced as I wrote “garbage collector.” Last year my heart swelled when he wanted to run Apple. This year, fourth grade, I have done away with asking the question. Because I have finally learned – the only right answer is HAPPY.