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Monday, May 16, 2011

A Parenting Fail (Elusive Success)

While it's stimulating to discuss theories of success and failure, most of my time is wrapped up in the ongoing venture called motherhood, an endeavor whose ultimate success or failure is my biggest concern, and whose outcome depends on myriad small choices.  Like the following one.

So the 3rd grader is in a school play. Something about fish and finding your unique self.  There has been lots of drama about this play around our house, with involved daily updates about rehearsing for various parts and about when parts would be finally assigned. Each child would rank their first four choices and hand them in to the teacher. Then, one day, accompanied by lots of pouting and complaining, the update was that the 3rd grader's class had agreed to perform the play with another class, which meant each part would be doubled up.

"It's supposed to be a play about finding our own unique selves," she pointed out. "It doesn't work if there are two of everything." Well, she had a point, but two children reciting in unison would be cute, from a parent's point of view. I told my child it would be fine, meanwhile marveling at how much she seemed to care. She's not the most obviously dramatic of my two children, but she was actually in tears.

Two days later, the 3rd grader's traverse from the school bus to the front door looked like the gallows walk. Parts had been assigned. My child had been given her fourth choice, Clownfish 1.

Oh the tears. Oh the misery. So much angst. "Clownfish 1 doesn't even get to tell Swordfish his problem. All the other fish get to tell Swordfish their problem." So there I am, staring at my usually rather stoic child, in tears again, this time over her lack of lines. At least I'm assuming it's a lack of lines that is the problem. I'm also thinking, wow, how did acting get to be so important to this child? She has recently joined an after school acting class, and I guess she really likes it. Maybe she'll become a movie star and I can finally go to the Academy Awards. I hope James Franco won't be hosting by then. Maybe Tina Fey.

Anyway, it seems the trouble is the lack of lines, and that she didn't get her first or second choice part.

So here's where the parenting needs to happen. Do I say, in effect, look, not everyone can get her first or second choice, and some people don't even have a line, so buck up? That's the "Sometimes we don't get exactly what we want but we're all part of a community" lesson.

Or do I say, well, look, if you're really upset, maybe you could talk to your teacher about adding a line to your part, so Clownfish 1 can tell his problem to Swordfish, too? Advocate for yourself. Maybe that's the parenting lesson here.

Reader, I chose the latter. Immediately my child wanted me to e-mail her teacher. No, I said, you can write her a note, or write her an e-mail from my account, and we'll make sure she knows it's from you. So during the 7th grader's piano lesson, the 3rd grader wrote a note, apologizing for being upset and making her suggestion about the line. I open up my e-mail, make the subject line state who the e-mail is from, and my child types out her message and we send it.

Cue to dinner time, when the 3rd grader is relating all the iniquity of the situation to her sister and her father. There's a certain amount of sympathy, and a certain amount of tearful eye-welling.  Before dessert, I check my e-mail. The teacher has responded that she's sorry my 3rd grader is upset; that she'd had her do Clownfish 1 because she got the beats on the humor so well in all the lines. She'll be happy to talk to her about the change tomorrow.

Do I detect a certain weariness?

Lines? Plural? I go back to the table. I confirm with my child that she does, indeed, have several lines.  How did I miss this? How did my child miss this? Now I'm annoyed. And embarrassed.  Look, I tell the child, your teacher gave you a real part with lots of lines and said you're good at it. If you want to be part of a play, you have to accept you might not get the exact part you want. That's the way acting is. At least you got a part. So buck up, quit being so negative, and do your part.

I go back to the computer and send another e-mail to the teacher, subject: Sorry. I tell her I'd encouraged my child to advocate for herself. I had also told her, I assured the teacher, that her request might be denied.

I had a parenting choice, and I made the wrong one. That's what my 7th grader calls "a fail."

3 comments:

  1. Huh? No way is this a fail...we are faced with so many different situations all the time, and are having to adjust.

    Looking at this from over here, I PROBABLY would have asked a few more questions of the child...let the immediate upset subside a little, maybe offer milk and cookies or whatever is the rule in your house after school for snacks. I've learned that there is always more to the story, as in more facets, and they doesn't always come out right the first time around. I like to let things sit for an hour or so, going on like I am in deep thought over the situation, (which I would be), -- it is OK not to come to our children's rescue immmediately. Find out the sequence of events.

    Anyway, don't beat yourself up!!

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  2. Karin, I agree. A few more questions might have cracked the situation. I was just at such a loss. Turned out that it was a combination of not wanting to dress like a clown, not getting her first or second choice when some of her friends got theirs, and general annoyance about having to share the play with the other 3rd grade. Once we cajoled her out of her vanity by telling her the comic roles are always remembered and are often the hits of the show, and told her that real actors have to wear all kinds of weird costumes, she was fine. In fact, a couple days later, during a carpool somewhere, I heard her explaining to a friend that SHE shouldn't complain about her costume, because if you're really going to be an actor, then you have to get into your role and not worry about it....

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  3. This is an unqualified success, Hope! You stayed out of the way initially, opened up the line of communication between your child and her teacher, and only stepped in when more information was available. Your 3rd grader learned that she can always vent safely with you, that expressing her dissatisfaction (courteously) directly with the influential person is better than stewing in silence, and that, yes, even then, a perfect result is not a guarantee—but one's definition of the best outcome can expand!

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