| LifeTakes |

Marks That Matter

Being a mother had become a blend of emotional and physical effort

Once upon a time there was a little girl who had hair the color of chocolate and a heart of gold. The girl had a smile that made her mother laugh and melt and cry. Sometimes the little girl screwed up her face and stamped her feet and waved her hands, but that only made her tantrums all the more adorable.

Her mother loved her with the power of a thousand suns. She danced with the little girl in the kitchen, composing silly songs. She made puppet shows, chased away the shadows on the wall, and read her daughter story after story.

And the little girl grew up.

She began nursery and kindergarten and was the life of the party. The class began learning ABCs and CVC words. But forming CAT and HUT and BED and PIN with playdough weren’t as important to the little girl as forming stars and fish and a sun. The little girl was too absorbed in her world of preschool fun to notice the words making up the pictures in her world.

The mother looked on, and a tinge of concern settled in her gut. More kids joined the family. A girl and girl and a boy. Life became hectic. There was running to work, running a house, running on autopilot. Being a mother had become a blend of emotional and physical effort.

And then the phone calls began.

“Your daughter is adorable, but she has a hard time sitting still.”

“Your daughter isn’t applying herself to the lessons, unless we’re doing something amazingly interesting.”

“Your daughter thinks school is just meant to be fun.”

The mother’s heart constricted. This wasn’t meant to be. Not her firstborn. Her daughter was supposed to be perfect. And compliant. And smart, wise beyond her years. And she was — when she wanted to be. The little girl said the cutest comments and asked brilliant questions that the mother painstakingly recorded every night in a little notebook.

But that wasn’t what the teachers cared about.

The mother became a frequent shopper in the health food store. She bought magnesium and omega-3 and even dabbled in CBD oil. There were motivational charts and prizes and goals. She tried to follow up with the teachers’ calls, to crack down on her daughter’s spontaneity.

It wasn’t that the mother was naive. She knew that others had it far worse. That there were more challenging situations out there. That this was normal.

But the mother wanted stress-free nachas, and the calls from the teachers were adding to her ongoing struggle to accept a daughter so different from herself. A little girl who didn’t care what mark she got on her test. Who studied for no more than five minutes. Who was only interested in friends and neighbors. Who thrived on free-play and placed school in her back pocket.

The mother dreaded PTA meetings. She didn’t want to meet the teachers who’d say “Your daughter is lovely, but…”

She didn’t want to hear their buts. Their ideas. Their suggestions. She wanted to hear that her little girl was Perfect. Perfect. Perfect.

She didn’t want to stand on line and watch every mother float out of the classroom, report card in hand, face glowing with pride.

She didn’t want to face disapproval. She didn’t want to see flaws, listen to negativity, taste disappointment.

But PTA wasn’t something a mother missed.

The mother booked a babysitter, put on her coat, wrapped herself in a layer of false confidence and headed out to meet the little girl’s teacher. She sat on the edge of a folding chair, fiddled with her fingers and eyed the teacher anxiously.

“I just love your daughter. I love her and I love her,” the teacher said.

The mother stared, uncomprehending. “But?” she finally blurted out.

“But nothing,” the teacher said. “She’s nice to the kids, she tries her best, she works well with contests, and her comments are a true asset to our class.”

“And impulsivity? And homework? And attention span?” the mother prompted.

The teacher waved her hand. “Oh that? Yeah, so she got a S- here and there. That depends on her mood. But it’s her middos that will get her places in life. You’re lucky to have a daughter who’s always so happy.”

No buts.

The mother wanted to hug the teacher. To embrace her for her wisdom. Because though the mother knew all this, it was always in her subconscious. Everyone always talked about how academics didn’t mean anything. But to actually hear it from a teacher who believed in it? Who saw a child for who she was?

The young mother left the school building glowing like every other mother. Yes, she had her homework cut out for her. She’d probably have to work harder than she ever did in her life. Maybe even harder than her daughter struggling in school. But the mother was aiming for an A+.

An A+ in acceptance.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 771)

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