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Exceeding Expectations

“I don’t have a single Exceeding Expectations! I lost my E in reading! I don’t understand, Miss Ikeda told me I was one of the best readers in the whole class, I have lots of expression! I’m fast, I’m clear, I understand. I’m doing everything I POSSIBLY can! How did I lose my E?!” Nora bursts into big splashy hot tears in the back seat of the car after looking over her report card. She is eight years old.

I sigh and I do her the respect of not dismissing her deep disappointment. And I most certainly do not clarify at this moment that she can’t lose an E if she never had an E in the first place.first day of school Lucia and Corralee with Mom around 1976

Why is she so hard on herself? Michael and I are supportive and easy going parents with all this. We don’t put any focus on grades. I don’t feel grades reflect much in the way of a student’s intelligence. Each kid learns at their own pace. I can think of far too many “E” students I grew up with who didn’t exceed anyone’s expectations once they graduated from high school. In fact, I can think of a few who are still, to this day, haunted by the expectations of others.

My Mom and Dad never “expected” me to be anything other than a decent human being. They encouraged me to be whatever I wanted to be. I didn’t do very well in school at first. When I was Nora’s age, my Mom had to talk the teachers out of failing me grade one and grade two. I started to catch up in grade three. By high school I was “student of the year”. So, you know, I’m not too worried about report cards.

But Raven, last week, one of the super Dads, let it drop that his daughter got straight Es. Except for phys Ed. And he was going to have a talk with that teacher because his daughter deserved an E in that too.

Straight F’in Es? In grade three?! I didn’t actually think any child got Es. I thought they were just this mythical impossible thing printed on the chart.

Oh dear. This throws off my whole “not too worried” philosophy. Sure, I don’t want to put expectations on her. But what about her expectations of herself? Have I neglected them? Nora is bright and quick and witty and I haven’t been helping her enough to get her the E she is striving for. I’m screwing up. I should be doing drills and flash cards, I should be reading Moby Dick with her, playing chess. I should be doing yoga and quoting Rumi and referring to the latin root. I should be watching environment awareness documentaries and reading only the French ingredients on the cereal box. And this is only public school, imagine if she was doing Waldorf or Montessori or French immersion or for heavens sake, private school like some of my socially conscious friends?! I should be even tempered and cook more kale. I should quiz Sousou and Haha on Algerian economics and have a map of the world for Nora to push pins into countries and name their capitals. I should be more like Raven, like Tomiko, like my friend Anita or Karen or Michelle and their brilliant amazing children who exceed expectations in all possible subjects AND in spiritual reflection. My GOD my daughter only plays ONE instrument and she doesn’t even DO ballet! Not because she can’t, but because I haven’t enrolled her!

And we’re not even getting into the guilt around being divorced.

My daughter is bawling in the back seat because I have not properly prepared her for success and she wants success and she’s capable of success. Holy shit. Do I ever have to change my life.

But first things first. I say, “Honey, you may be disappointed, but I’m not disappointed in you at all. I’m proud of you. This report card was a huge leap forward from the last one and you are Fully Meeting Expectations in most subjects.”

She cries  out, “MOST subjects, but NOT ALL, and I didn’t get ANY Es! Not even one! Not even ART!”

“Miss Ikeda says you are a good role model, you’re helpful, kind and have many friends.”

“So I can play nice on the playground, so what.” She says.

“Miss Ikeda says she’s also impressed with your acting work in the play, Stone Soup!”

Nora looks at me with a full, “No duh” And adds, “Math is only an M. An M Mom, and I understand everything about math.”

“Your teacher suggests we can work on your writing, and honey, we can do that at home. No problem. Writing is so fun.”

“For you”. She says, with a little look of futility. “I use describing words all the time, Mom, doesn’t seem to matter.”

Why is my little girl so hard on herself?! My faulty parenting again.

We go to the gym and Nora reads while I work out with Cross Fit Charlie. I’m late to see him, but even worse, i ate pizza. We speak out of ear shot of Nora. He says, “Why did you eat pizza?”

“Because I’m starting to succeed. Because I got into those jeans. Because I’m starting to look like myself again and it scares me.” Charlie asks, “So then what do you do after you self sabotage?” I smile, “Well, I used to really beat myself up. But thankfully, with age, I’ve learned that I always slip a little right after a success. And that’s okay. I just need to get back on the horse as soon as I can.”

“Good” he says. “Now let’s do some squats.”

We do deep squats against the wall until I fall over. Then we move onto chin ups with a big rubber band. You know, my favourite. I’ve learned not to sack him at least. We work hard on a concave ab tension that swings me forward and then launches me up. Then we work on push ups: currently my worst thing. First we try against the box and I can’t even do one. He says, “Come on, Lucia, are you trying?” And I surprise myself when I snap back sharply and loudly, “I always try, I always try, Charlie. I always do my best. ALWAYS!”

He says a quiet, “Okay then…”

We switch to some other kind of rubber band contraption that straps around my shoulders and I do push ups with less pressure on my elbows. I then do seventy six push ups until I literally can’t get off the floor. I say to myself, “Oh come on, come on! Why am I so weak?!”

He looks down at my crumpled body and says, “You’re hard on yourself. You know that, huh?”

Duh.

It all clicks for me as I lay there on the mat like post volcano Pompei. I haven’t failed my daughter as a parent. I’ve simply passed onto her a voracious drive. And this drive is awesome. And this drive is brutal. And come to think of it, her Dad is the same way too. It’s interesting. Really. Nobody put this drive on us. It has nothing to do with being competitive with others. It has nothing necessarily to do with acumen. Sure, on a bad day it MIGHT have something to do with a fear of not being loveable enough for someone to stick around – all that psycho-babble…but it also has a whole lot to do with knowing what is accomplishable and absolutely loving creating something strong and beautiful. Like long division. Like cursive writing. Like a straight backed push up. Since Nora popped out of the womb, she would set herself to a task and stick her little tongue out in deep concentration.Nora Jan 08 tongue out of course

Charlie gives me a hand up. “I’m proud of you, you know that? You worked hard. I mean HARD. And not a single complaint.”

I think to myself, “Yeah, I play well on the playground…”

I look over at my daughter, grinning at me from the mats. Nora calls out to me, “I can do chin ups too.” Charlie asks, “How many can you do?” Nora shrugs. “Ten. At least.”

We drive back home and I offer to work with Nora more on her writing and decide she should read for half an hour out loud every night while I do push ups. She giggles.

“The fact that Miss Ikeda  says you are a good role model and kind…that’s what means the most to me, and really, the most in life.”

I whip up a tandoori roast chicken while helping Nora with her spelling. And then we’re off to Nora’s swimming. I watch her wiry little body do a strong breast stroke lap. She’s being graded today for this too. The instructor writes the verdict on Nora’s swimming card. I can see her from the spectator’s window. She’s holding her breath, hoping for a pass. She inspects her card, gasps with joy, and then wiggles over to the window where I’m standing and presses her badge to the glass. She aces level two, we’re onto level three.IMG_0061

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2 comments

  1. Kelly-Ann

    I remember living next door to you Lucia! Seeing that picture of your mother, sister, and yourself reminds me of good times playing with my best childhood friend next door! Miss the innocence! Article was a good read too! You are a wonderful Mom as I knew you would be!

    1. Lucia Frangione

      Thank-you, Kelly-Ann! I hope you and lil’ Doug are having a great year. Can you believe how old they are already? Wow. xo

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