Zeke teaches design at the college level. Every year one of his biggest challenges is trying to convince members of the millennial generation, those kids who attended high school during the heyday of No Child Left Behind, that there is no “right” answer. He teaches at an excellent private university. His students are bright and accomplished. And I’m making sweeping generalizations here which are always dangerous, but a lot of his kids are used to being presented with hard facts, studying their asses off, and acing the tests. There aren’t a lot of tests in design. They tend to, you know, design stuff.
I listen to his stories about teaching and I feel slightly superior as a Gen Xer who went to Sarah Lawrence, where the thrust of our education was Think For Yourself! and Write, Write, Write! We actually didn’t have tests.
Here’s the thing. When it comes to being a Mom I just want the “right” fucking answer. Just tell me what to do, I’ll study really hard and I will kill that damn test. But there are no tests. Or there are, but you have no earthly idea when they are going to happen. Every single one is a pop quiz that carries the weight of a final exam. The stuff you think is important might not matter at all, the things you ignore could very well be the most important, and the results won’t be in for another 20 years or so.
Yesterday when I went to collect T from school he was not wearing the same sweatpants (Yes, Z’s child will only wear sweatpants, or as he calls them sweaterpants. Yes, I find this hilarious.) he had on when I dropped him off. His teacher told me that he had an accident on the playground. That the pee actually pooled in his new Star Wars shoes. They kindly lent him a fetching pair of crocs which he thought were awesome. This was unusual, I can’t remember the last time he had a daytime accident-it has been at least a month, but it didn’t really feel like a big deal. Today T was not wearing the same sweatpants when I picked him up in the afternoon. Another accident.
I start freaking out inside. What have I done, what haven’t I done that I was supposed to do that is causing this? Is it too soon for this much school? He was potty trained 6 months ago. Was he not ready? Should I put him back in diapers? Should I drop by school to take him to pee every few hours? I’ve decided I’ve screwed him up because he’s peed his pants two days in a row. And it isn’t just me, my Mom was concerned when I called her. As was Z when we talked about it.
Unfortunately concern from others felt like an indictment. During my talk with Z he said, “T is a really anxious kid.” And my heart just plummeted. I immediately went into defensive mode- “I don’t think he’s anxious!” Because what I heard was “You, Karen. You. You with your shitty anxiety disorder and atrocious mothering skills. You. You are ruining our child and making him Just. Like. You.” Z, as he reminds me on a regular basis, is on my side. I do not need to be defensive with him. He was not criticizing me when he was commenting on our child’s disposition. Yet it still feels like a test I have failed. Z’s other reaction was that maybe the school day is too long for him. I felt like he was attacking me with that comment even though I’m the one that didn’t want to send him to school so much this year. I’m so worked up about this I think he’s mad at me for something that he wanted.
I’m kind of glad that last part happened. Because it was so nuts it made me snap out of the “we are failing him” spiral. I realized that we are all being crazy for worrying about what it means that T peed himself two days in a row during his first five days of school, which is a gigantic transition in the life of a three year old. This is not a big deal. We aren’t doing anything wrong, he isn’t doing anything wrong, school isn’t doing anything wrong. He loves it there, he doesn’t want to come home when I pick him up. We’ve talked to him about remembering to go to the bathroom at school. If we make this into a great big hairy deal to him that is when it becomes a problem. At least that is what I’m writing as my answer on the test. Do I get an A?