Thursday, February 04, 2010

My Report Card

Being a mom is hard. Being the single mom of a teenage girl is unbelievably hard. I question myself on a daily basis whether I’m doing enough, doing it right, or if I’m failing her completely and wait for the evidence of my failure to show up in the form of a swollen pregnant belly, a mid-week hangover or bruises from the wrong kind of boy. Yes, these are extremes, but sometimes I feel that out of control, that my grasp on her is so loose, she’ll fall away at any second. As a parent, I don’t get report cards or performance reviews. I get eye rolls and door slams and arguments when I say no to almost anything.

However, I feel like I have been given a progress report over the last week in some ways and, by some miracle, it seems I’m doing okay. I think I’m getting a B. Maybe even a B+?

Since D started middle school it has been a constant battle with her grades. She’s far more interested in socializing with friends and going googly over boys than in spending a minute thinking about the reason she’s actually in school. So it surprised me when, out of the blue, last week she studied for a test. Really studied. She asked me to quiz her and everything. The next day she reported a score of 49 out of 50, which has been unheard of in the last three years. Plus on A on the essay portion. She was actually glowing for the rest of the week and repeating how proud she was of herself and how good it felt to work at something and be rewarded so positively.

Next we come to the bane of her existence, her choir teacher. This is not the teacher she had the previous two years and she expounds daily on how much she despises this new one for various reasons – they don’t sing enough anymore, she makes “rude” comments to the kids and, the most unforgivable offense of all to a teenage girl, she has a “big butt.”

Two days ago D called me in tears, saying Ms. Hated had given her a lunch detention for talking in class when she wasn’t talking. According to D, detentions were being handed out frequently and freely and not based on actual behavior. I was surprised, because of all her faults, D isn’t disrespectful to adults (well, besides me) and has never been a disruption in class. On the other hand, I’m aware how girls talk and giggle and whisper and that teenage girls especially are prone to dramatizing and over-exaggeration. So I questioned her, whether she really deserved it and was there a grain of truth in what Ms. Hated was accusing her of. She steadfastly denied it. Being at work and distracted, I suggested she just deal with it, it’s only one little detention after all, not that big of a deal, and wouldn’t really mean anything in the long run.

Except it did mean something. To her, it meant a lot. Through her tears she explained that she’s never gotten a detention, never in the three years of her middle school career, and this single, seemingly unimportant event would mar a record I didn’t even know she was keeping track of. And when I realized her moral compass is pointing exactly in the right direction, that she sees herself as a Good Girl and wants to be seen in the same light by others, I went to war for her.

Okay, not really war. I simply wrote a polite but firm email to her teacher, who wrote back with an apology and assurance that the detention was removed. Justice and vindication in just a few electronic sentences.

That same afternoon we had an appointment with the orthodontist. At her last appointment, D was given rubber bands to wear on her braces and the encouragement that it was her responsibility to wear them at all times, that wearing them could reduce the time she has to wear braces. She has faithfully worn them around the clock, removing them only to eat and replacing them immediately afterward. At the end of her appointment, the orthodontist’s assistant praised her highly for her vigilance, saying it made such a huge difference. I swear the woman was gushing like no other kid has ever accomplished such an impossible feat.

In the car later D said, “It’s cool that when you do the right things it’s like you get rewarded. Or praised.” I told her praise can be a reward also, to which she said, “Really? I guess that’s cool.”

What I didn’t tell her is that sometimes praise of others can be a reward for oneself.
Yeah, it is pretty cool.


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