Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Coping, Part II

Before I leave this morning to go and teach a gaggle of Girl Scouts how to make soap (because I don't think anything spells F-U-N so much as hot bubbling lye, a baby on one's hip and a bunch of third and fourth grade girls jacked up on after school snacks, do you?) I thought I would share a Maddie story. Partly, because if I don't eventually write it down, it will be gone, gone I tell you. And partly because I am beyond pathetic and missing her already. Four hours into her trip. On the river.Last year Maddie started working on her science fair project three months before it was due. This tiny little girl would get up in the winter mornings, in the dark, and hide socks with our scent on them all over our property for the dog to find. Then she would take notes and tell us how Ella was going to be the best search and rescue dog ever. Understandably, the concept of Ella becoming a star search and rescue dog excites my husband beyond measure, but that's a different post.For months she did this, five days a week, and by the night of the science fair exhibit, we had watched her pour her heart and soul into the project. We couldn't have been prouder. Especially in light of the fact that last year Maddie didn't like school so much (again, another post). At the last minute, she added the requisite part to her three-fold board where she had to explain why she chose the project she did."I Chose This Project Because I Really Like Dogs And My Dog Is The Best."I have referred to myself before as a helicopter parent, and I guess in some ways I am, if you count ubiquitous micromanaging, suffocating protection, and excessive involvement as "helicopter-esque." Whatever. But one thing I find both deplorable and puzzling is the phenomenon of doing the kids' school work for them. I even stopped checking Chloe's math homework this year, because I figure if she doesn't get something right, she'll figure it out pretty quickly when the bad grade comes back. I do answer questions. I do help my kids figure answers out for themselves when they ask me for help, and I don't let them leave the kitchen each day until their homework is done. I may even say something like, "Wow. I guess your teacher really likes receiving papers with no name at the top. Huh." And then stand there annoyingly until they take the hint.So Bob and I were understandably puzzled by the science fair exhibits we saw that evening. Take, for example, the little twelve year old girl whose father owns a company that manufactures heart stents. Amazing to see that this pre-teen was so preoccupied with the current materials used in heart stents, that she stayed up nights figuring out which polycarbon-based alloy would make a better heart stent. I couldn't figure out her graphs, but I did see an amazing rendition of the new improved heart stent. And the blue ribbon for her age group.Or the other little girl, ten years old, daughter of a landscaper and carpenter. This little girl was also an insomniac who couldn't rest over the insufficiencies of current pine needle baling methods, and so not only came up with a better method, she masterfully crafted one out of wood. Joseph himself couldn't have done better tongue in groove woodwork with cedar planking. It was a Catholic school, after all. She, too, won for her group.I think other parents out there will understand when I say this made us think our daughter was even that much more of a superstar. No ribbon, no honorable mention. But we felt like we had won the whole damn thing and free ice-cream, too. Maddie didn't even seem fazed, she was happy because she could run around the gym with her friends and eat cake. And who isn't happy when there's cake?I think this is the norm. Parents who complain of sleeplessness, because they were up all night working "with" their kids on projects or homework. Parents who ask me, "What are you and Chloe/Maddie doing for your book report this month?" I don't know. Ask them. They better get it in on time.It's even extended into the universities, with stories of parents calling in and asking for time extensions on work. For their college-aged children.I don't get it. Do I win a prize if I jump on this bandwagon? Will I get to join the other parents who seem irrationally, snarkily proud of their kids' accomplishments, as if it were their own (yeah, well, I guess it is theirs), and get to place themselves in the pecking order of parents based on how their kid does in school? What happens when we're not there for them and they have to come up with that work presentation on their own? Or even get up on time to get to work in the first place?Maddie and her science project taught me a valuable lesson. I am not the sum of my children's accomplishments, I can only do my best to give them the skills they need. I make a lot of mistakes, but I'm pretty sure when the time comes, some day in the future, they will know how to get to the office on time. In their jet-packs, courtesy of the eleven year-old who invented them.