And It Just Breaks My Heart

I wasn’t the best student. Teachers would probably point out how bright they thought I was, but they would also probably point out that I was wasted potential. Some people would probably agree with that statement still today. Maybe they are right. Maybe not. But I understand it now, as a parent.

I worked hard to get into a good college, though it took me a couple of years to get back on the college track that I realistically was never on. I didn’t have any real goals. Then I was pregnant at 18 and my only goals became preventing my child to turn out like me. I was determined that he was going to be better. He watched me work hard every day at my hotel job. I know I worked a lot and it seemed I barely saw him. But he deserved the world and I wanted to give him everything. When I went back to school, I made sure he saw how hard I worked. I wanted him to have goals. I knew he was smart. But I didn’t want him to waste it like I did.

Things always came easy to him. When they didn’t, he became easily flustered. He was a perfectionist. I didn’t care about perfection; I cared that he did his best. I would never punish him for doing his best. If he needed help, I would make sure he got the help. He never needed it before but I would do anything to make sure he got what he needed.

Then, I saw him struggle with his homework. Homework in a subject he has always been fascinated in, despite never actually taking a course. He spent all the time he had on the assignment, and he kept getting one question wrong over and over again. He grew more frustrated. He began to get himself worked up. He snapped when I tried to help or told him to take a deep breath. He called himself “dumb”…

And it broke my heart. As adult as these kids think they are, they are just hormonal kids struggling and too afraid to ask for help. He knows he’s not dumb. I hope, anyways. I told him that he should ask his teacher for help. That was what he’s there for after all. He was determined to figure it out, even after the deadline that his homework was due. I saw him unravel and it just breaks my heart.

Junior year isn’t for the faint of heart. This is when things get real. The classes get harder. The expectations are raised. They have the added stresses of SATs and college fairs, driving school, the acknowledgement that adulthood is sneaking up on them. It isn’t easy for the parents, but it’s even harder for the kids. I’m hoping that we both make it out in one piece. But I’m worried that if he cracks this much now, it’s only going to get worse. And I only have myself to blame for that.

I see so much of myself in him. There was a time where I worked hard in middle school until I realized that I was a nothing that was getting bullied relentlessly. When you see your homework get tossed out a window and no one cares, you start to not care too. It’s easier to fail when you detach yourself than to fail when you tried so hard. But when you put everything you have into something and fall short, it’s hard. It’s how you deal with this failure that can determine your success in life. You can get flustered, but as long as you keep trying to succeed, that’s what matters. But sometimes, admitting defeat and asking for help is what the strongest person will do. This help could be exactly what you need to get to that next level. By getting stuck on the basics, you won’t have the building blocks that you need to stay on track.

I hope this was just a moment of being tired. That he burned the candle at both ends and needs to realize that you can’t do it all. Maybe now that driving school is done, he can refocus. But what happens when swimming starts? It’s hard to teach balance when you struggle with balance yourself. I hope this is a passing phase. I hope he realizes that life will get harder and that taking it too sensitively will only make things harder. That you have to accept that you aren’t a natural at everything just because it has been so easy so far. But most of all, I hope he realizes that he is loved and supported and that we are so very proud.

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Kids Learn More Than You Think

My oldest child is at that fascinating age of almost 17. There are so many things that make this age interesting. This is where they start doing their driving school thing. But even more interesting than the shift to adulthood as far as physical growth, is the other aspects of it. It’s the watching them learn to navigate through life. It’s watching them carefully think and form their own opinions. It’s watching their struggle as they try to break away from you while still understanding there is a lot that they have to learn in the world.

For as long as I can remember, my son wanted to be a forensic scientist. Eventually this grew into a want of being like Abby from NCIS: a forensic chemist but also a cyber forensic specialist. His goal has long been to work for the FBI to help solve crimes and make a difference in the world. I never told him what to be. But, apparently my fondness for crime shows rubbed off on him. Though now he is also wondering if he should be more like Spencer Reid, boy genius. It’s his life. I’m just here to offer support and advice as he asks.

That’s another fascinating thing about this age: your shifting role as a parent. With my younger son, it’s all about teaching right from wrong. It’s doling out punishments for not going to bed on time. It’s picking out their clothes until they learn that stripes and camo is not a great look. You give 6/7 year old choices, but you are still the one making their decisions for them. They don’t know any better yet. At 17, you’re done with that. Sure, you still make them take out the trash and do their chores, but now it’s about them. You give them a curfew of 12am, and remind them that this means they need to be walking in the door before the click hits that number. But you aren’t there to run their life anymore. Now, you let go and hope to whatever entity that you believe in that you did a passable job.

You’re not going to be there when they are at that party where they are offered a beer or drugs. You have to hope that they hear your voice of disapproval in their ear. You have to hope that if they did make the wrong decision in that moment that you were compassionate enough so that they call you instead of getting in the car with someone who is under the influence. I always told my son “my 10 minute lecture the next day is better than not having a next day”. I won’t lie and say that I won’t be disappointed in his decision, but I’d rather him alive than dead because he was too afraid to call me. I’d like to think that my child is always going to make the right choices, but I’m a realist. He’s going to screw up. I just hope that he knows I’m here to help pick him up afterwards. With my judgement of his situation to come later.

But what’s even more fascinating is the things they learn. My son reads the news, and like me doesn’t trust anything he reads. So he reads more until he’s down a rabbit hole where he feels like he has a good grasp on it. He talks about social justice, asking why things aren’t this way. Then I explain the logistics of “it may sound like a great idea, but like most great ideas, people ruin them”. He doesn’t like that answer. Even more recently, he has become fascinated by cold cases from watching crime shows with me and fascinated with things like false convictions. It turns out, these are things that have further inspired him to follow his current dreams. He doesn’t want good guys to get locked up because someone didn’t do their job in the crime lab. He doesn’t want families to not get justice for their loved ones. So much to the point of when he read “The Lovely Bones” for summer reading, he got so mad that he read the end of the book before he could move on because he couldn’t stand the fact the bad guy got away with it.

I say this a lot in these blogs, but you are not raising kids: you’re raising adults. Whether you realize it or not, your every action can impact your kid and this will either set them on the right path or the wrong one. It’s a big responsibility raising the next generation, but that’s what you signed up for when you made the decision to become a parent. Somewhere along the line, parents stopped remembering that and look where we are now because of that. Kids bully others because they see adults bully. They show kindness because they saw kindness. They work hard because they grew up with a work ethic. If we don’t teach these kids properly, other people will. And that usually never ends well.