It comes like this – a student academic report, downloadable from the parent portal at our school, and I can feel it. The clench of anxiety. I’ve done the school mum thing for two-and-a-half years, the fear lessens every year, but I’ll never forget the first semester. What will it say? What will the grades be? Then arguing with myself, he’s a tiny child, who cares what this says. But it is a hard fight.
A midwife pulls a baby out of you, and the first thing they do is give your child an Apgar score, these are points, like the baby is seconds old and already they can win or lose. Within the first hour of their lives, the babies are measured again. Their weight, length and head circumference go into a book. It becomes a baseline for their first few years. And for the vast majority of us, the numbers will be fine. Normal, the doctor will declare at every wellness check, and you, Mom and Dad, you will breathe out the air you did not know you held. Relief upon relief because at every appointment you’re wanting to know the answer to the question you ask daily: Is my baby going to be ok?
Month after month, year after year, our children are eyed up and down by medical professionals. Soon they attend kindergarten where the measurements change. Social skills, verbal ability, fine motor skills. Can he hop? Can she stack blocks? There will be playdates and Christmas dinners where your in-laws and friends will observe them and remark about so-and-so’s child who does it differently. School comes swiftly and now it’s about their ability to read and add and subtract and sit still and pay attention.
It’s time to open the file with their academic report. Your kid just finished half a year of prep or grade 1 or kindergarten. One report down, 23 more to go, each one more important than the next. It is an unrelenting snowball of measuring sticks. You’re not converting from the imperial system to metric. No, you are negotiating the numbers and letters used to define your child.
Because everything in you wants your child to measure up. Upward toward glorious destinies. No culture in the world celebrates children achieving less than their parents. Western, Eastern, Southern, Northern, you ask a parent anywhere. They want more for their kids. We want our kids to excel where we excelled. We want them to excel where we failed.
We don’t have much patience for failure. These days even mediocrity feels like a dirty word.
And we are 2019 parents – we are better educated about what kids need and how they work. We’ve got our time-ins, choices, positive AND peaceful parenting. We have speech and occupational therapists who can correct deficiencies early. And when all of that fails, we have the Internet with its vast storehouse of folklore cum research. You could diagnose your child before you ever take him into a doctor’s office.
We are informed. We are motivated. Maybe we are also stressed? We hold in our hands a variety of rulers and thermostats. Ready to take the measurements. Ready to answer our most fragile of questions: Will this child be ok?
Because isn’t this our question behind every weight check and report card? Aren’t we just wanting someone else to tell us, In this big, bad, broken world, your precious child is going to be fine.
Bad news, Mom and Dad. No one can tell you that.
You aren’t prepared for that teacher who only sees everything your son does wrong.
I promise somewhere there is a coach who does not believe your daughter is a future Olympic athlete.
No one is ready for that call from the principal’s office.
You don’t know when it is your turn to sit in a doctor’s office and receive the news that will tear your world to shreds.
Nothing can prepare us for the disappointments inherent in loving our children.
Here’s what we get to do instead.
When the world comes for us with its instruments and measurements, gently put them down.
Turn to your beloved child and bear witness.
Watch her struggle. Listen to his fears. Tell them they can do hard things. Do hard things with them. Pick them up and drive them home when they don’t.
Stand on the sidelines of their life and cheer.
Cheer for them when you see them triumph over the thorns in their flesh. Cheer for the things only you could see. Cheer when they get it right. Cheer when they get it wrong. You aren’t cheering because of their behavior. It’s your child, because it is him, it is her, they are yours, you get to cheer for them no matter what.
Ignore the sheet that tells you they need to be here or they have to get there. Train your mind, teach your heart to see just him. Just her. Just this child who is yours who will be measured everyday of their life by the rest of the world.
But not by you. No. There’s one place where they will know the measurements don’t exist. When they come home and they know it is all love.