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What Is Success?

I’ve written before about the difficulties, peculiarities, and comedies that come about when you have two children with completely different, unusual personalities. Raising my son for four years did little to prepare us for the challenge of raising our daughter, except for the baby equipment we got to reuse!
Unlike our son, our daughter is a person who has trouble following rules. She has an enthusiastic, energetic personality, and when the adult in charge can harness that, it’s like having nuclear power for your classroom. Anything is possible! When you give up on her, you might find her leading a whole room of 3-year-olds in chanting, “Poopy-head!” at the top of their lungs.
So my parenting journey has included a perspective from both sides of the fence. When I talk to my son’s teachers, we are likely to talk about how helpful and friendly he is, how the other kids look up to him, and yes, how he has trouble dealing with changes in plans, criticism, other kids misbehaving, unfairness in relationships and rules… But these problems don’t translate into everyday, nagging problems for teachers, so they usually mention it in the spirit of trying to help him grow.
Then there’s my daughter. When I talk to her teachers, we don’t usually get much time to talk about how helpful she is, how kind and generous when other kids are upset, how she loves to share her ideas and knowledge with others. Of course, a good teacher tries to mention that, but then there’s the other things… My daughter is a difficult person to have at school, in a class, in your house, in our house. And it’s hard not to focus on the difficulties.
I’ve noticed that my husband and I sometimes (or is it often?) expect that something one of our children does is a precursor to a standard piece of bad behavior, and we react negatively even before the bad behavior starts. For example, our son may have been bugging me about using the computer, and yet again he comes into my office, and in anticipation of the question I’ve already answered, I might say, “Stop bugging me about the computer!”
His face will fall, and I will realize that wasn’t at all the reason he was there. “But Mommy,” he’ll say, “I came to tell you that your timer is going off.”
I realize at times like this that I have to remember to enter into each situation with the knowledge of past situations, but with a positive expectation. It’s probably the hardest thing about parenting, and teaching.
I complained to my sister by e-mail at one point that I was frustrated that I heard a teacher telling a “well-behaved” child all the things she’d done wrong that day. It was quite a list — a list, I pointed out, that would have gotten my daughter sent home for the day. But since this was a “good” child, no such action was taken, and the girl was simply given a short lecture.
My sister responded, “I’ve noticed my son’s teacher, who is very gentle and patient, continually gets frustrated by the same boy over and over, and he now occasionally overreacts to situations involving him. I can imagine if they didn’t have the history together, it wouldn’t be that way. It’s just part of having human emotions, unfortunately.”
So how do we, parents, teachers, and caregivers, check our emotions before they take over our intellect? I’m not sure. Every time a teacher is frustrated with my daughter, I sympathize. When they jump on her for doing something that they’ve been letting other kids do without comment, I understand. When they peg my daughter for her actions and don’t notice the other kids who goaded her into it, sometimes I don’t even notice. Some kids are harder to have in a family, not to mention a classroom. But the job description of a parent and an educator has one non-negotiable item: You can’t make kids be who you want them to be. You have to take who you get.
Once when I was visiting a classroom, the teacher exhausted herself just getting one of the kids to get in line and get ready to go to the playground. She rolled her eyes at me and said, “In every class, there’s always one!”
Yes, and that one is just as deserving of love, encouragement, and education as the rest. That one is the one who makes us work, and as I tell my kids, if something is too easy, it’s not worth doing. The jobs you really have to work on are the ones that make you remember what success is.

Posted in Education, Parenting.


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