Saturday, April 19, 2008

Between you and me...

Yesterday I had an opportunity to sit outside Starbucks with a friend, sipping iced coffee and swapping stories about marriage, our children, school issues, church, and all sorts of other life-defining stuff. Great conversation. Laughter. Sadness. Hope. Encouragement.

One topic that came up more than once was school grades. We talked about how well we think they should be doing in school. Like so many parents, we spoke of how disappointing it is when our children earn grades that we think are below their ability. We wondered aloud: Why don't they pay attention in class? If they understand what the teachers are saying, why don't they perform better? What do they think they will be when they grow up if they don't do well in school now? What's wrong with our kids? What did we do wrong if this is how they are doing in school?

This whole institutional school thing is new to me and our family on the student side of the equation. (And soon it will be over for us... Thanks be to God!) But I used to be a teacher. I used to be the one who scored the tests, quizzes, and homework and gave the dreaded grades to the students and their parents. I used to watch the disappointment rise into the eyes of young people and adults alike.

I hated every minute of it.
I hated knowing that a poor grade meant grounding.
I hated knowing that the student "got it," but had made a few careless mistakes.
I hated it because I knew that those numbers I gave them had nothing to do with who those funny, terrified, earnest, hard-working, over-burdened kids were but everything to do with the system that they had been thrust into, mostly against their will.
Unfortunately, I had no choice but to give them the number they earned.

Earlier this spring, I had a moment of brain-freeze with my dear Daniel and his pre-algebra grade. I hate to brag - but I will anyway - my son is a gifted math student. He has always loved numbers; before he was five years old, he was multiplying double digit numbers in his head. Amazing.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I checked his math grade online: C+. What??? Daniel? My fingers tripped over each other as I fired off an email to his teacher all but insisting on a meeting. Soon. With Daniel. To Light His Lazy Butt On Fire. Then I called Steve and gave him an earful about Daniel watching too much television in the evening and not focusing enough on his studies. Then I drove to the school to pick Daniel up with a volcano of fury in my belly and a lecture on my tongue. He appeared genuinely incredulous and adamantly denied any wrongdoing. He promised that he had done all of his homework and passed all his tests and quizzes with flying colors. I didn't believe him; I had seen the grade myself.

The ride home was quiet. So was the rest of the evening. So was the ride to school the following morning. Later that day, the teacher responded to my email, inviting me to meet with him anytime, but he expressed some confusion about my concern because, according to his grade book, Daniel had a solid 94 average.

Oops. Sorry. Turns out the website grade was incorrect. So was I.

How could I allow a number on a computer screen to come between me and my son? A number given by a person who simply responded to marks Daniel left on a paper under pressure in a classroom? Why would I allow those numbers to ever come between me and him?

I drove to school early that afternoon. Tracked Daniel down in the library (doing his homework!). Called him over. I apologized profusely. Humbly. With tears in my eyes. Then like any good mother, I took him to Smoothie King after school.

The ride home was quiet that day too. As was the rest of the evening. I was deep in thought. I was trying to figure out what number on a report card, what comment by a teacher or a coach or doctor or Sunday School teacher, what outcome of a sporting event ~ was worthy of coming between me and my son.

Yesterday I told my friend that story. I listened to it again as I told it. I thought about Daniel and Kristiana and Steve and my mother, my mother-in-law, my brothers and sisters-in-law, and a host of other people in my life that I have been disappointed with, angry at, and who have been equally disappointed with and angry at me. I realize that few are the legitimate reasons for me to allow anything to come between us.

Earlier this week, I wrote about the holy ground between me and my friends. Lisa posted a fantastic photo of the two of us taken outside the airport before they left. I like the quote she added. It goes something like this: "Friendship is like having one soul in two bodies." I have also read that being a mother is like having your heart (or is it your soul?) traveling outside of your body.

If that is true, then why would I allow anything damaging or demeaning to come between me and the many bodies carrying my soul around in this world? Why would I allow incomplete chores, teenage sarcasm, pre-teen emotional outbursts, marital spats, and other such foibles come between me and those I love? Why should a few unanswered phone calls or emails, a forgotten birthday, a missed appointment, or an undeserved insult cause the ground between us to feel more like a fire pit than holy ground?

Sure, there is room for improved study skills, but the thought of allowing my son to spend an entire day at school confused about his grade and frightened of his angry mother is beyond what he needs to bear. Sure, Kristiana and I snap at each other every now and then, but the thought that she would doubt whether or not she can come to me and talk about what's on her heart and mind is inconceivable to me. Sure, we need to spend more time as a couple working through the issues that continue to bring discord into our marriage, but the thought of allowing my husband to think that I no longer love him or that I am ready to find a "new and improved" model is beyond what he needs to bear.

Between you and me, Daniel, Kristiana, and Steve, I want there to be nothing at all.
Between you and me, dearly loved friends and distant family members, nothing at all.
Except peace, forgiveness, love, and grace.
A whole lot of second and third chances.
And an open tab at Planet Smoothie; nothing says "sorry" like a Caribbean Breeze!


Lisa said...

Thank you so much for sharing this story! Indeed, this situation can be applied to many other things that we allow to get in the way of our BE-ing fully present and truthful and trusting and whole in our relationships (grades, opinions, clothing choices, beliefs, etc)....

Wow! You are *really* on to something here. This, I believe, is the essence of what it means to love one another, as Christ calls us to do.

Let's start working on that book, okay?

Amy said...

You'll never know how much I needed to read this blog post today!

Thank you, Gail. I value your wisdom!

jmgb said...

wisdom lady! cannot tell you how many of our patients come from families where the pressures to succeed, perform, and excel are overly emphasized...


our children are not their grades, scholarships or extracurricular acclivities.

our husbands are not their careers, paychecks, or cars they drive.

we are not our bodies or dress sizes, simply wives or mothers, or italian handbags...

more. we are all so much more.
we are the chosen and beloved. unique. just as we are.

Karen said...

You're wonderful.

Smell Goods '98™ said...

So sweet. Glad you immediately found Daniel to apologize. I am sure he will always remember that in his heart.

I like the sound of the Caribbean Breeze!

You are a great mom Gail, and a genuine person.