It’s the third week of June. For those of us who grow up in the Northeast, that always means finals week. Even if we haven’t seen in the inside of school in thirty years, those early school rituals leave long shadows. That’s why we all secretly believe that September marks the real beginning of a year, not January. And we still associate the first week of September with new binders, a fresh pair of jeans, and the excitement of seeing THAT boy for the first time in two months. (This year, he’ll notice me, for sure!)
The third week of June is the dying embers of the school year — teachers too burned out to teach, so they let us play card games while they grade last minute papers on the Grapes of Wrath. As we play “spit” and “gin rummy,” we put aside the mild feelings of regret over the B’s on the report card, because we’re teenagers and we don’t have the front lobe development yet for full fledged regret and despair.
I’m reliving all that stress and boredom of the last week of school now through my son, Jonah. He’s a high school junior cramming for his math exam in his upstairs bedroom probably with the digital equivalent of our card games in the background. He clicks it off the screen the second before I walk in his room and thinks I don’t notice. In a few days, he’ll also have that mild, short lived regret. Full-on regrets will come in another twenty years.
Until I became a parent, I didn’t know that new baby poop was the color of mustard or that a wet Cheerio shrank to half its diameter after a few days under the kitchen table. I didn’t know the pain of stepping on a Lego brick on the way to the bathroom at 1am. I didn’t know how much I would deeply feel my kids’ pain and joys. I didn’t understand how much brain capacity I would devote to making their lives better.
Sure, teachers hate those helicopter parents — parents who hover and coach and intervene to give their kids an edge. But, really, all of us are helicopter parents. We’re hardwired to make our kids’ lives better. Most of us wouldn’t break the legs of the cheerleading rival to get a spot for our daughter. But if we can smooth the way for them, put our savings into Kumon classes rather than a new car, and proofread the history paper, we’ll do it.
There’s always a parenting guru on the Today Show trying to pedal a book that lectures us that it’s good to let kids fail. Failing, they tell us, builds resiliency or grit or chest hair. The books always sell well, but I’m not sure whether anybody actually reads them. Nobody is going to let their kids skip a history final, when they can badger that kid to get to school at the right time with at least 60 percent of the battles of WWII committed to memory. Grit, be damned. We gotta get that kid to Rutgers in two years.
Over the years, I’ve hovered and coached as much as he would let me. I suppose that’s part of the growing up process — telling the parent to back off. And to his credit, he’s told me to back off a lot. I actually think he’s told us to back off too much. He wouldn’t let his father help him on his European history final last year. Steve has a PhD in European history and enough books on Hitler that we’re probably on some FBI watch list. He wouldn’t let me help him with exam on the impact on enlightenment philosophy on the American constitution. Ugh! Please, please let me tell you about Locke and Thomas Jefferson! I taught college classes on this! I know more than your teacher! I love this stuff! No, he said.