It wasn’t the time change that did me in this morning. I hardly even noticed the earlier hour that my alarm woke me up this morning. In fact, I was already awake when it buzzed. So I was doing fine as I got ready for work while the kids got themselves ready. But what upended me was when I told my son to get me his “Friday Folder”, the packet of papers his teacher sends home every Friday that we routinely forget to look at till Monday morning minutes before we are to leave. I was still in my robe with my hair all in knots, applying the last of my makeup while he opened the folder and took out its contents.
“Oh, my report card!” he exclaimed, piquing my interest. He left the room to finish getting ready, and I interrupted my morning routine to thumb through the folder and peruse the report card. First thing I noticed was the wet spot that seemed to be on the corner of every single piece of paper in his folder. Upon further investigation I found that there was a molding container of yogurt concealed in one of the pockets of his backpack. And his backpack was trashed. My heart sank further when I went back to his report card. He had some excellent grades on there. As and Bs shined out at me in several tough subjects. And some Ds reared their ugly heads as well. And as I studied the report card it was obvious that the reason for these lower grades was not from lack of knowledge. It was from lack of trying.
I couldn’t help but think about all the ways I’d failed him as a mom for these bad grades, for the messy backpack that probably had been like that for weeks, for all the times he’d been lazy and I’d let him slide because it took so much effort to get him to pull his weight and shoulder his responsibilities. On Sunday I let him stay home from church just because it was becoming too hard to be on him constantly to sit up, sit still, stop laying on the chairs, and that no, he cannot play my iPhone for the millionth time. I let him watch TV all day long because there was “nothing” else to do while I folded all the laundry, including re-folding the laundry I had made him fold earlier. I didn’t teach him how to fold the clothes over again so that they would stay folded neatly and not wrinkle in his drawers. Oh, I’d tried. But when he ignored my instructions I let him just believe they were fine, and then I re-folded the messy crumpled up piles he created when he wasn’t looking. I found it easier to just do it myself rather than further instruct him.
On Saturday, as I loaded my car with the laundry I needed to do, I had him take out the trash. And as we got ready to leave I noticed a piece of our dinner from the night before had escaped the bag and was lying in the parking lot. I gave him a napkin and told him to pick it up and take it to the trash. And as he did that, I watched him walk right by a mound of garbage further down the road that looked painstakingly familiar. He hadn’t checked the bag. The bag had broken. And he had left it there hoping I wouldn’t notice. I was floored by this, lecturing him while we both picked up pieces of stench and put them in a new bag. But inside, I felt it was hopeless. If the kid can’t remember to brush his teeth every morning, if he prefers to hide his clothes all over his room rather than put them in his drawers or in the hamper, if he can’t even fold a pair of pants so that they at least looked sort of like a square rather than a crumpled ball…how was I going to teach him to check the bottom of the garbage bag before he picked it up to take out? How was I going to teach him that nobody but him should pick up the mess he creates? How was I going to teach him to sit still for just one hour in church, to clean out his bag regularly, to actually do anything without being told (and to not argue about it repeatedly when he is told)?
How was I going to teach him to actually read the books he takes his AR tests on, or listen to the teacher so that he knows the material? How was I going to teach him that you can’t expect an A for doing nothing?
“I didn’t raise you this way,” my father had told me when I was younger. We were looking over my 6th grade report card, the Ds and Fs screaming at us even though I was bright enough to be getting all As. But I didn’t care about the work. Sometimes I did my homework. Sometimes I didn’t. Rarely did I take the time or effort to turn it in. Was I doing it on purpose? Maybe. I vaguely remember being curious about what would happen if I just stopped putting any effort in at all. Would it be noticed? Would my grades reflect it? Would my dad see it? What would he do? Well, he gave me the same lecture he gave me whenever I was lazy. When I didn’t pick up my clothes off the floor and instead went to school with wrinkled clothing. When I got caught downtown with all my friends holding a cigarette in my hand at 16 years old. When my room was a pit and I sat in the middle of it all with my nose in a book rather than cleaning it up. When I purposely washed the dishes like crap because I didn’t want to do them, and figured my parents would give up and just do them since I obviously couldn’t.
“We didn’t raise you this way.”
I didn’t raise my son this way. I didn’t raise him to get bad grades, to make messes, to not care. Never once did I tell him that this was the way to do things. But this is where I stopped myself. Because while I hadn’t raised him that way, I also hadn’t raised him to make more of an effort to get good grades, to understand the importance of being orderly, to care enough about his personal responsibilities. It was obvious that it was going to take way more effort then just telling him what to do. I was going to have to actually hold his hand and do it alongside him until he was able to do it on his own – a thought that both frustrates and exhausts me, as well as instilling a feeling of guilt for even feeling frustration or exhaustion over parenting my child.
And this is why I beat myself up over those bad grades, even though they were his with his name on them. There are so many lessons he still needs instilled in him. And I was letting it slide, brushing it under the rug, pretending it would all fix itself on his own – as if a 10 year old would suddenly become responsible overnight without any prompting at all. I’ve been overwhelmed with everything that needs to get done around the house, with my job, with what to make for dinner, with getting from point A to point B to point Z because of all the activities that surround school, sports, social engagements, life… And yet, I was failing to teach my boy the skills to become a man – the fine art of responsibility. I wasn’t even being a prime example of it, judging by the late morning we experienced due to the last minute Friday Folder check and lecture that ensued. And part of me sees exactly where he learns his laziness from.
But the other part doesn’t even know where to begin turning it around.