The A, B, C’s of Mothering
2pm on a Thursday. What teacher would call a mom at 2pm on a Thursday then ask, “How are you?” I’m fine, just envisioning my life’s worst nightmare that something has happened to my perfect kindergartner daughter, but otherwise enjoying the balmy Fall weather.
The teacher assured me all was fine, no need to panic. She was simply calling, from inside a closet in her classroom, to inform me that my perfect daughter had no real idea what came after the number 5 nor that upper case letters had similar lower case letters that did the same job without all the grandeur. The teacher was sending home extra learning materials for my perfect daughter in the hopes of catching her up to the rest of the class. The kindergarten class.
I repeat “kindergarten” often, as I am floored that 1. there’s actual learning happening in the class; 2. the teacher has flagged my daughter as “unexposed” to the academic rigor of letters and numbers (after two years of pre-school, albeit play-based) and 3. that my husband is actually considering hiring a tutor. For a kindergartner.
This is it, I realized. This was one of the first tests of my mommyhood.
Instantly, I drew on my own experiences. I was raised to appreciate grit more than pedigree, innovation more than knowledge, and hustle above all else. But I also took a nap in kindergarten, then came home at noon and took another nap, then played in the backyard until the sun set. There was no pressure to perform. My parents were pleasantly surprised when I was accepted into a reputable college, after which their financial obligations towards my education were complete. I was never expected to live overseas or meet a president or do any of the markers of success that my child must now meet. Success, theoretically, breeds success. Or it can breed disaffection, entitlement, even resentment.
With absolutely no background in academic theory, I still lecture loudly on the benefits of free, unstructured time for kids. I cite articles. I seem pretty convinced. But then a kindergarten teacher calls me in the middle of the day and I lose all conviction. Should I begin to push my daughter harder? Do flash cards while she eats only brain food dinners? Put stickers up on her bedroom walls so that she lives and sleeps her letters and numbers?
I think about Forrest Gump’s mother. Or Ray Charles’ mother. What would they do? These women knew the real world and did everything (and everyone) to secure a place in the world for their unique children. They would push their kids into every opportunity to become who they have the potential to become. (Note: I am aware that Forrest Gump is not real, whereas Ray Charles is real.)
But, we all can agree, the world was different for Forrest Gump and Ray Charles, for a myriad of reasons. The world was harder. The challenges much bigger than my kindergartener daughter learning her goddamn A,B,C’s (I cuss because I’ve sat with her to help her remember her letters while she spends her time wiggling her bottom in my face.).
Let it be. My daughter likes to come home from school, put on some new item of clothing (whether it’s my shoes or her dad’s hat), and dance her rhythm-less dance to her own made-up rhyme-less song in front of a mirror, unaware that she has an audience. So I let her be.
Maybe that’s my roll as her mother? It’s not to be a part of the system of push and success. It’s not getting a tutor. It’s not the strong-willed mother waking at sunrise (thank god) to ensure her daughter spends every waking moment perfecting a task. Maybe I am the mother that puts a soundproof dome over her daughter’s life, over the sky and sunshine and stars and trees and fairies and unicorns and all the magic of youth, so that the system cannot sound its alarm of worry and doom over the sound of her laughter. Maybe protecting her from the grind will allow my daughter to fulfill her potential. It gives her the time and space to become an extraordinary woman from the extraordinary child she is today.
I expect her to go to a reputable college. But, at this rate, not that reputable. Well, at least she’s good at mooning people.
Maybe her teacher is exactly right…All is fine, no need to panic.
(Artwork contributed by Rachael Jelonek, one of our writer’s very talented children.)