Measures of Permanence.

I wrote a variation of the following in response to this post. “Nobodys Perfect” is a lovely reflection on challenges of parenting that we don’t easily acknowledge. In my experience we’re quick to share both our exasperation with our kids and our pride in their success. The questions we have about whether we’re doing the right thing? Or of the limitations we see our kids facing? We don’t talk about either enough.

Report cards are in. The questions you ask: “What’s the right balance of supporting and challenging your children? How do I inspire them to try to perform well…?” are very real for me. I don’t have answers to them. All I can do is sit with them. If I’m lucky I may live my way into good answers.

Recently I did one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do as a parent.

Bud studies karate. He was invited by his teacher to test with his class for the next level of his belt. After the test there is an awards ceremony. I was there with camera in hand and ready to record a moment of triumph for the family archives. My chest swelled with pride. I waited for Bud’s award to be bestowed.
Instead, the teacher paused and spoke to the rigor of the test the class had taken. He said some students had not passed. Slowly the camera found its way into my bag. I knew. The speech was designed to reset the expectations of the students and their families in attendance. As others around him received their awards, Bud’s head sank.

All I could do was watch. My eyes watered. He glanced my way. How do you comfort from across a room? “It’s Okay, ” I mouthed. There wasn’t anyway of knowing if he’d read my lips. He’s terrible at reading facial expressions so what–if anything that he’d taken from my expression–was impossible to tell. At the ceremonies end his teacher sat with him for a few minutes, giving comfort with his presence as well as detailing what he’d missed on the exam. From there he moved quickly to the locker room, changing and emerging in silence. I reached out to embrace him in a hug. He rebuffed the gesture saying,”Let’s just go.”

Riding home, I asked how he felt. What he thought about his performance. I didn’t know what else to say. I knew I didn’t want to lecture him on his preparation or anything really. I hoped that if he talked about the test, it would help process the experience. The only thing I feared was his taking this moment of failure and giving it a measure of permanence that was undeserved. He can be very hard on himself. I didn’t know what I might say if that was the case.

All I knew is that I wanted him to know that I loved him. And that no test could change that. We arrived at the house. Before he walked in, he turned to me and gave me a bear of a hug. “Thanks,” Bud said.

Ten, twenty, or thirty years from now I’m sure he’ll have forgotten the test. If he remembers it, it will be in the context of passing the second time. That’s not hubris. He was that close. If I’m lucky and relatively consistent, he’ll also remember that his Dad loves him when he succeeds and when he doesn’t.


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