At the beginning of third grade, my son was excited for a couple of reasons. If he were to make all A’s, on every report card for the entire year, he would receive a trophy. He would also receive an Academic Excellence patch, along with another gold star for his karate uniform. This year the stakes were high. Actual number grades were given and an A is a 93 and up. 93 and up is an A. When I was in school, 90 and up was an A but these days it’s a 93. Wonder why 93 was the number they settled on…seems a little arbitrary to me, and a little ridiculous.
The first 3 grading periods came and went with my son getting high A’s, and 100’s in a few subjects, but half-way through the 4th quarter, the Graded Work Papers came home. And the Math scores were hovering right under 92. There was little room for error for him if he wanted to get that trophy and patch, but I had to get perspective on this thing. I had a difficult time telling him to pull that Math grade up from a 92 to a 93 because I can’t pretend that a 92 is not a grade to be proud of. But I knew he wanted to get his prizes, and I’d hate to see him not succeed because he was a point shy and he could do the work.
Awards Day arrived and the program began. The coveted Principal’s Honor Roll Award trophies were given out last. They called his name and my child went on stage, shook the principal’s hand and sat down with his trophy. At the end of the program, I started making my way to my son and congratulating other parents on their kids’ honors while I moved forward. I wanted get to my him and take a picture so I could text it to my husband and put it on social media. We all know that if every moment is not documented with a photo and posted on Facebook then it didn’t happen. When I saw him, I said, “Congratulations, Buddy!” He was underwhelmed to see me and gave me a side-hug. I asked him to hold up his trophy and other award he received and took out my phone to get the shot. My son said, “No, thanks, Mom. I’ll show Dad when he gets home. See you later!” And he walked away.
My heart broke a little, a lot if I’m being honest. I get a bigger response from the people I know that work at the gas station when they see me. I wanted him to run into my arms and jump and scream and really pose in a big way with that trophy. I wanted him to hug me and say, “I love you so much, Mom!” But that’s not what happened. In that moment I was feeling awkward and a little embarrassed. I wanted to cry, and but something happened. I realized I had a choice; a choice to accept my son’s innocent response of simply being ok or to make this about me.
I thought this was about me. It felt like this was about me, and I could have gone there. I could have made that moment into a perceived rejection and hurt by my sweet son who has no clue that I was feeling some kind of way. I was at a crossroads and I had to choose…choose whether to move closer to my son or to push him away a little by keeping a tally of this pain in my heart. Add it to the record of wrongs, as I’ve heard it said.
I could have forced the issue, followed him and made him take the picture with me and caused a bit of a scene. And then I thought about my Mama. That’s what she would have done. My mind flashed through many memories of being in awkward positions to please her. I’m not saying there is never a reason to bend to someone else, everything is a give and a take, but for me I recognized something significant in this moment.
I zeroed in on the memory of my first day of college. I had moved into the dorms at USC with my sweet roommate. (My stay at USC lasted for approximately 3 semesters and my love affair with alcohol began!) Mom drove me there, helped me unpack my stuff and set up my room. We walked around the building a bit. And then she wouldn’t leave.
She. Flat. Out. Wouldn’t. Leave. Many parents had long gone and my friends, old and new, were coming and going and exploring the campus, inviting me to come with them. But I couldn’t because she wouldn’t leave. I was about to lose it. She made it about her. I wanted her to say, “Fly, my daughter. Spread your wings and FLY!” But she didn’t, and we ended up in a huge, horrible argument and said many hurtful things to each other. Neither the first, nor the last time that’s happened. I’m 46 years old and still waiting to hear her say, “Fly, my daughter! You got this!”
In the cafeteria of the school that my sons attend, that my brother and I attended and that my mom attended, I decided to release my son a little. I wanted him to fly free of the responsibility of trying to make me happy. Free to be him and celebrate how he will. Free of trying to do the impossible thing of predicting my feelings and behaving accordingly. That’s not his job. I felt huge victory in loving him without expectation, just where he is, for just a moment.