On Dysfunctions & Teen Drama

Report card day is always a day to celebrate in our house, and last Friday was it.  The kids know they always get a special treat that day no matter what comes home on their report card.  Everyone gets something as a way of celebrating the fact that one quarter is over and a new one begins.   It’s more about the passing of time, or reaching one of life’s milestones, than it is about what the teacher writes down in black and white or what Mr. Lawrence hand writes at the bottom (I adore him for that, by the way).

To Madison, Cameron and Quincy, a new quarter offers possibility – perhaps the next quarter will bring an accelerated reader award, a no tardy award (“Hurry, mom!” says Madison.), or the ever-elusive “I Can” award for Quincy.  I, too, get excited about and look forward to it.

Unfortunately, reality has started to sink in for Emily.  She is becoming jaded, definitely less likely to buy in to that whole possibilities/fresh start thing.  I mean, she is a seventh grader, and just sat through a presentation about picking classes for next year, preparing for college, and the importance of grade point averages, all courtesy of the middle school counselors.   The jig, as they say, is most definitely up.

I have always thought that my children would be curious kids, driven to learn not just for achievement, but for pure love of learning new things.  They would show varied interests, of course based on their different personalities, but they would definitely possess a passion and enthusiasm for learning.  I thought that they would be that way because that’s how I was/am.  I’m curious.  I research if I don’t know something.  I read as much as I can.  I loved school and probably would still be earning credits toward another degree if it were free.

The physical comparisons begin as soon as they’re born:  “That nose is just like his,” or “She has your hands.”  I thought I’d struck it rich when I finally birthed children who looked like me; the twins, with their reddish-brown hair and freckles.  But soon, the behavioral comparisons begin.  “That’s definitely my personality.”  “She is ultra-competitive like you.”

Ah, comparisons.  They are dangerous.

It’s always easier to take credit for the positive traits and place blame for the negative on your spouse or something/someone external because oftentimes, we don’t even recognize or acknowledge the negative in ourselves.  There are so many great things about being a parent I could go on for days  a while, but one of the worst things is watching your worst traits, your dysfunctions materialize in your child, and then watching as they struggle just as you did or, let’s be real, do struggle.

Yuck.  Just, yuck.

We know, don’t we?  Living through it was, whatever it is, or living with it is agonizing.  But I would venture to say that watching it as a parent through our special lens, shaped by time and experience (also called “wisdom”, although I would never call it that), makes it even more painful.

So when a couple of the girls started grumbling about having to go to school almost every morning I brushed it off as “Well, they just aren’t morning people, like me.”  And when the complaints became a little more forceful, expressed more loudly, consistently, I was all like, “Okay, well they just aren’t interested right now.  You can’t like every subject or everything all the time.  Maybe they don’t like their teacher, or they’re having some friend issues, or, etc.”  Excuses.  Excuses.

Lately it seems as if I am dragging them off to spend 7 hours or so in a torture chamber and getting them to do their homework is a long, exhausting, drama-filled siege.  While I’d like to think that they don’t want to go to school because we offer such a happy home life, that can’t possibly be it so I got out my scalpel and cut a little deeper.

“I hate homework!”  Quincy said.

“I realize that, but you’ve got to do it,”  I said.

In her most grating, whiney voice, “Why do I have to do it?”

“Because you have to, Quincy.  It’s practice.  It’s part of going to school.  To learn new things. Now, FINISH YOUR MATH WORKSHEET!”

“I CAN’T! IT’S TOO HARD!”  She stomped off into the kitchen, tears of frustration streaming down her freckled cheeks.

“Just do a line and I’ll check it and help you figure out the ones you got wrong.  You’re smart enough, Quincy.  You’re just lazy.  You don’t want to sit down and do the work.”

It went on from there, but you get the gist of it.  It was ugly, not my finest parenting moment.

I’ve thought about that argument a lot over the past several days.  I’ve punished myself for using the word, “lazy”, for being too harsh.   It dawned on me as I wrestled with it that  I enjoyed school because most of it came easy for me.  Having said that, I wasn’t at the top of my class nor was every single class easy for me.  Chemistry, Geometry, International Econ, and I’m not even going to mention law school classes.  But at seven, Quincy’s age, everything came easy to me.  It wasn’t a struggle.  If it had been, I imagine I would share her frustration and understand her anxiety over homework in a way I can’t relate to now.  I feel powerless, desperate to help her, but lacking direction.  Like I am, to use a John Mayer reference, punching under water.

On the other hand, Emily and I share many of the same traits, several of which are not so favorable.  The very things that challenge her, I still struggle with myself so I have that same feeling of helplessness.  How can I help her if I can’t conquer this myself?  I can’t imagine the pressure kids are under these days – socially, academically, physically.  It is truly intense.  If I were her, I would be tempted to crawl into bed, pull the covers over my head and not come out for a while.  (Oops, I may have disclosed a dysfunction.)

Anyway, because the stakes are higher for Emily now, at least that is her perception (Isn’t everything high stakes drama with teenagers?), it is all the more important for us to help her confront and address these issues.  I have no answers now.  What I do know is that crawling into bed and pulling the covers over my head isn’t an option.

So if you’re thinking that this might be a good time to drop by and visit the Chopps, I would advise you to make other plans.  It is a full-on, emotionally charged, hormonal house right now whether it’s a new f’ing quarter or not.  Just thought you should know.

Love, Carmen

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