There. I said it.
You got 98% for your spelling test? Well, sure. You’ve been drilling those words into your brain for a week. Should I be concerned about the fact you’ll probably never use the word “bipartisan” in a sentence again … at least for another twenty years? And that even then you probably won’t know what it means?
You got an A+.
That’s all that matters, right?
Well, I’ve a got a secret for you: I am not proud of you.
I don’t think it was a good idea for you to skip break to “get ahead” in your English. And I definitely don’t admire your teacher for letting you do so.
(And don’t even get me started on keeping kids in at break as punishment for not being able to sit still. That’s like depriving someone of oxygen as punishment for breathing too deeply. Kids need to play!)
When you come home with loads of homework and spend all afternoon doing it – even skipping Family Movie Night to study before tomorrow’s big test – I am not pleased. I admit that I admire your tenacity. It’s great that you’re doing what you committed to do. I’m pleased that you’ve found something that is important to you, and I’m very glad that you have the self-motivation to make sure you achieve your goal.
But, Honey, here’s the thing. Why do you care so much? It’s just a test. It means nothing. Frankly, if the teacher hasn’t managed to convey enough in six hours every … single … day … for you to be able to pass a Grade 4 test, what on earth has she been doing with her time?
And do you honestly, truly care about fault lines and plate tectonics? I mean, if you do, fantastic! Let’s study the crap out of those things! Let’s make models and do experiments and really understand the whole fandango.
But I know you. And I know that all you care about is that grade. That 98%. That A.
Why is it so important to you? Why would you give up your afternoons, evenings, and weekends for it? Especially when you’re only 10 years old?
I am not proud of that.
Frankly, I’ve failed.
Because you should be outside, playing. Climbing trees. Building forts. Covering yourself and everything else for twenty feet in thick, sticky mud that makes me want to cry when I think of the laundry I’ll have to do.
That would make me proud.
My friends on social media all post status updates and photos of their kids – JJ just won this award for science. Amy just became a prefect. Susanna came first in her class. They’re all so proud of their kids.
But not this Mama.
Your success is not a number on a piece of paper. Your success is finding your self in the midst of this crazy, noisy world. When you have the courage to tell people – firmly – that you will not hug them, I am proud of you. When you can gently but truthfully tell your best friend you’re “peopled out” when she asks to play … and when she graciously accepts that … I am proud of you both.
When you then realise you would LOVE to see her, and you have the courage to change your mind without shame or guilt, I know you’re growing inside. When she is happy to spend the afternoon with you without a shade of bitterness or malice, I know her parents are doing a good job.
When you feel your friend’s pain, and weep quietly for her when she’s not here, I love you to the shattering, splintered ends of my bursting heart. When you ask me to advise you on how to counsel her, and trust that I will understand that you won’t ever tell me the whole story (because it’s not yours to tell), I admire and respect you. I would move the earth for you.
When you forgive the unforgivable sinner, young and innocent though you are, knowing (as you do) that he will never, ever apologise … my darling, then I am proud of you.
Because those are the things that really matter in this life. And they have nothing to do with fault lines or sentence diagramming or times tables or dates and maps.