Monday, February 27, 2012

More Than a Passing Grade

When I was in college, somewhere along the way I discovered that I had the ability to figure out what each of my professor's wanted - what they each considered "A" work. There were some factors that came into play, sometimes making this harder. For example, fumbling grad students were more difficult to figure out. Thick accents sometimes left me struggling just to take accurate notes, much less glean much else out of the lectures. But for the most part, just by paying attention during class, I could tell what my professors most valued in their students' work. Some wanted just the facts, without adding anything personal. Others wanted details, details, details. Many tested solely off lecture notes, others expected students to thoroughly exam the text books on their own. Some wanted us to get personal and use our individual insights and experiences to embellish our papers, others weren't in the least bit interested in anything outside of x,y, and z. Some were air-headed and very forgiving with minor details, others were quite intellectually sure of themselves, always knowing they were right in every circumstance and wanting us to reiterate their very own words back to them, almost verbatim.

This might sound pretty simple, and I'm not suggesting this is necessarily a special ability. I just figured out that if I went to class, paid attention to my professors, and took good notes, I could get an A if I cared enough. I'll admit that sometimes I didn't. Economics, for instance, made my eyes glaze over with utter boredom. I couldn't get interested enough to care, and I settled for a B. My last two semesters I had two deaths in my family, and I had a harder time getting my butt to class and focusing. My point is that I learned to read people, to give them what they wanted, and to use it to my advantage.

What I'm wondering now, many years later, is why I can't use this same ability so easily with my children. These four little people who I know so intimately and love so deeply are sometimes such a mystery to me. Every day I second guess myself. I doubt my instincts. I worry that my decisions are scarring them for life. I fear that I'm not doing them justice as their mother. Should I help them more, or should I step back and let them figure it out for themselves? Should I email the teacher, or wait and see? Does that cough require a trip to the pediatrician, or can we ride it out? Do I let them have enough free time, or should I structure their time more? Am I being too tough on them, or do I actually need to be tougher? Do they know, really know, deep down inside, how much I love them? Do I  need to show them more, or am I smothering them? Should I make them talk to me, or wait until they come to me? Do we have enough fun, or do we have too much fun and not enough time spent on responsibilities? I'm only at age 10, but so far every age and stage has its own intricate complexities that make my head spin on a daily basis.

Sometimes I get something right, and I know it, and it such a beautiful feeling. I know just how much to coax and prod Connor to get him to do something that he's afraid of doing. I know just the gentle words that Lucy needs to calm her down. I know that just now Bethany needs to talk about something important to her, and I need to give her my undivided attention. I know to give Mathilda some cuddly time before she goes off the deep end. I see them helping each other without being asked, or being particularly kind to a friend. They get a good test score, or get chosen as Student of the Month. I sigh with relief. They are okay, I did good. I know my babies, and I know what they need to be happy.

Other times, I'm distracted or tired and I lose my temper. Or they push me beyond my limits with their whining and bickering and I can't take one more second. I'm in survival mode, and all that matters is making it to bedtime in one piece. I don't worry about being patient enough or kind enough or attentive enough. I just worry that I'm going to put them out on the back porch to sleep for the night if we don't get to bedtime NOW. These are not my shining moments of motherhood, but they aren't all that scarce. Like all families I know, we are so busy. I'm so busy being busy, that I don't take as much time as I should to pay attention to them. To learn to read them like I used to be able to read my college professors. To know what I need to give them so I can get an "A" on whatever parental hurdle I'm trying to pass at the moment. We spend days rushing through after school activities and homework and dinner and chores and baths and birthday parties and shopping and errands and doctor appointments and school obligations and family obligations.

Since I have four kids of four different ages, we will always be pulled in four different directions. There is no getting around that. They are each going to have their own assignments and tests and activities and friends and appointments. I can try to multi-task as much as possible, and schedule things together, and satisfy more than one need at once. But sometimes that can't happen. So for now, there is no end to the busyness. I try to see through the haze of bustling activity and find the joy, and often I succeed. I live for those moments. I grab onto them and embrace them, fleeting though they may be. I strive to understand the needs of my children, to fill those needs to the best of my ability, and to do my part on their individual roads toward success and personal fulfillment. I will never stop trying, because it has never mattered more.  

No comments: