The test and the chart
In fifth grade, I was the new girl in a small rural school: less than 20 in my class. Fifth grade was an awful time, in my young opinion, to start a new school. I was finally at the top of the elementary pecking order and now I had to make new friends and navigate a whole new set of social rules. Why couldn’t my mom and step-dad have held off their wedding for one more year so I could come in fresh at the bottom of middle school?
In charge of my class was a well-seasoned teacher named Mrs. Miller. To my 10-year-old eyes, she was old and scary and expected way too much of us. She spoke in an authoritative way, not at all like my former teachers, and expected us all to listen and obey.
The scariest part of all was the timed multiplication quizzes that she gave weekly. I don’t remember exactly how many there were or how long I had to take them, but the paper was full of single-digit multiplication problems. We had not enough time to finish it, especially if we couldn’t remember our 8s times table.
Every week we took the test, and those who passed got gold stars on a chart. Those who didn’t had a blank spot. Week after week, more and more kids passed and the star chart was filling up. I had yet to get on the chart after many weeks due to my issue with my 8s. Those 8s are tricky.
My love of recognition and glory was being quickly defeated by my struggle to remember facts in a quick enough manner, as my classmates’ success rate seemed to sky-rocket. It seems silly now, but as a new student I really wanted to get a star and get recognized before my new classmates.
Being very tall and lanky, I was too clumsy to be chosen for the kickball teams at recess. I was incredibly shy and had yet to make friends. But if I could get on that sparkly chart, maybe I would be recognized for my brains. Darn 8s!
The big chart
Eventually I got on that chart…that part I don’t particularly remember. It was probably after I had taken the test so many times I actually had it memorized (and I think that was the goal in this whole fiasco).
The struggle and the pressure to do something so I’d fit in is what comes to my mind when I think about that brief period. However, being a parent for twenty-plus years has brought that same feeling into my heart and gut many times.
As a parent, I have faced many occasions to rise up to what “authority” thinks is acceptable. The doctor, the grandparents, the family, the friends, the books, the podcasts, the blogs, the lady next to you in the grocery store….who doesn’t set up star charts for you as a parent?
In the quest to be the best mom I could be in everybody’s opinion, I have gone through all interesting methods of diets, disciplining, chore charts, media fasts, and homeschooling curriculums to get gold stars on the imaginary star chart of my peers.
Unlike my school days, I can determine what is important for my family to focus on. We can make our own star chart.
Every child is a different person and they each have varying personalities, interests, and talents. And as every child is distinctive, every parent is just as diverse.
When a mom next to me at Trader Joe’s openly questions my choice of purchasing cookie butter for my kids, I feel confident in my decision that it’s a great snack. I may be wrong or I may be right…but we love a good snack of cookie butter and crackers. It’s on my star chart under “Buy Yummy Snacks.”
Are my kids’ rooms clean? Not really, but they each have cases full of books. That’s also on my start chart under “Read Good Books and Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.”
Moms, so much time is invested in our desire to prove our worth as moms that we take on other’s goals as our own. We want our kids to be successful and beautiful and healthy and secure and comfortable, so we are constantly looking for a way to ensure that.
You are the expert on your kids: you are. You knew their little expressions when they were pooping in their diapers. You knew their cries and their meaning from three rooms away. You know if they need to clean their rooms or eat only organic/vegan/gluten-free food or mindlessly go over their 8’s time tables. Listen to your heart and your intuition and make your own star chart. And make sure there’s a few rows for silliness and joy and love along the way.