Report cards for 4 year olds. Yes, really.

preschool report cardsWhat, your preschooler doesn’t get report cards? You must not live in New England.

We are wicked competitive here, so we start tracking them early.

Can’t tie your shoes by age 4? Not destined for greatness. Reading Dr. Seuss fluently at age 4? Great potential for Phillips Exeter.

Ok, so I exaggerate. A little. Because in Grace’s case, the report cards are more like photocopied assessment-type things. They evaluate whether she uses her manners, recognizes letters, and doesn’t throw too many blocks at other kids’ heads.

But a few weeks ago when I was looking over Grace’s little report card, I realized something with horror.

I was looking for the “bad” marks first.

I wasn’t looking to see what she had accomplished. I was looking to see what her teachers thought she wasn’t accomplishing.

And this is when I also realized I was channeling my dad.

I started thinking about the days when I dreaded getting my own report cards. Not because I thought I did poorly. But because I knew when my dad saw them, I’d feel awful, no matter what I accomplished.

I always felt like I was never good enough no matter how hard I tried. “That’s great you got an A-, but I thought English was your best subject. Why not an A?” “A 3.6 GPA? Why not higher? I thought this was an easy semester for you.”

My dad was a complicated man. He was a genius. He came to this country from Hungary at age five with nothing except his family and a few trunks of clothes, not speaking a word of English. Twelve years later he went to MIT on a Fulbright scholarship. But his collegiate career didn’t go the way he wanted it to go, for many, many reasons. And he never graduated.

I understand now that my dad wanted me to have everything he didn’t. He was, in his way, trying to get me to always try harder, keep doing better. He just wanted me to succeed.

But his tactics didn’t mesh with my personality. I just wanted some recognition of how hard I was working. How much I accomplished. What I was doing well. I didn’t feel I got that from my dad until I was an adult. I always felt not good enough. And I don’t want to do that to my girls.

I want them to know how proud I am of what they achieve. Focus on the positive, and then when the time is right, discuss what can be done to help them improve in areas that need improvement.

I’m sure it’s easier said than done. But that’s my goal. And given my lineage, it’s probably going to be hard for me.

So this time I will fight the hereditary urge to look first for what needs to be improved on Grace’s report card. And I will remember to give my big, proud girl a big, proud hug.

Then, in a secret, sound-proof room, Hubs and I will dissect the report card, course-correct where necessary, and devise a brilliant plan for Grace’s path to Harvard.

photo credit: Halans via photopin cc

The Faces of My Father

He was the most perplexing and complicated person I’ve ever known. A confusing jumble of polar opposites.

Handsome leader. Stubborn hothead.
Fulbright Scholar. College dropout.
Computer science genius. Bankrupt businessman.
Doting dad. Difficult husband.
Religious education teacher. Bitter alcoholic.

My early memories of my dad are also filled with contradictions. Fun times playing whiffle ball in the backyard and going fishing together. Terrible times of being embarrassed by his alcoholism at my fifth-grade graduation, and of hiding in my bedroom from his drunken rages.

He was a father who wanted me to have the best possible education, so he drove me to high school 30 minutes each way, every day of my freshman year. He was bursting with pride at my high school and college graduations and told anyone who would listen about my accomplishments.

But he was also a father who stormed out and went drinking when he and my mom fought. Who seemed so miserable so often. I was so afraid of him sometimes. I hated him sometimes. I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t just keep it together, be nicer, stop drinking, be the dad I needed and wanted him to be.

Now I understand more about my dad’s issues. That he was deeply disappointed with his life and was likely dealing with extreme, untreated depression. It doesn’t excuse the things he did and the way he acted. But at least I understand now.

My childhood was rocky, but then my dad mellowed out as he aged, starting with when I went to college. It dawned on me while I was away that me being out of the house was actually better for my parents. My dad started drinking less. My parents’ fights decreased. They got along better and seemed happier when I was home for visits.

Perhaps my dad was jealous of me and my mom’s relationship. I know it was often “us against him” in so many ways. Taking me out of the day-to-day equation was better for everyone. I never lived at home again.

By the time I got married, dramatic changes were apparent in my father. He still had many of his faults, for sure. But my mom retired and my dad became semi-retired, and I think when the stresses of working dissipated, a major burden was lifted. There was nothing to try to prove anymore.

My dad laughed more often. He spent more time on his hobbies, with friends – even with my mom. He really enjoyed spending time with the Hubs, relieved that there was finally another guy in the family.

And when I became a mother, he became a sweet, doting, loving grandfather.

The ugly faces of my father faded as he seemed to become more at peace with his lot in life. My anger and bitterness about the difficult parts of my childhood also faded, as I silently and subconsciously forgave my dad.

And then he was gone.

Right as my dad was becoming who I always hoped he could be, a sudden stroke rendered him brain-dead and I found myself writing a eulogy. Just like that.

It’s been over three years since he died, and I am still angry that he was taken too soon. Still furious that he only knew Annie as a young preschooler and Gracie as a tiny toddler. Still desperately sad that he didn’t get to experience more of life as a happier person.

But yet I am grateful that he did not die a sad and angry man, and that his last days were spent playing with his grandchildren, gardening with his wife, and eating dinners with his friends.

I am grateful that at the forefront of my memory, the faces of my father are not ones of rage and disappointment and bitterness.

I see a face whose eyes are crinkled up with mirth. A face filled with the joy of being a grandfather. A face of an imperfect man who despite his many faults and mistakes, always loved his daughter.

And those are the faces I am choosing to remember today.

How I'm choosing to remember my dad this Father's Day

photo credit: archer10 (Dennis) via photopin cc



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Things I’m Afraid to Tell You: Link Up Your Posts

Michele at ODNT clued me into this little blog meme/linkup/phenomenon called “Things I’m Afraid to Tell You.” And I thought – oh yeah, here’s a good meme for Honest Mom!

I’m not afraid of telling you all much, obviously. My blog name says it all. But I have only been writing at this blog for six months, so there is still plenty to tell!

And like Michele, not all my confessions are heavy.  Some are kind of funny or odd.  But one or two are a bit bombshell-like. So here we go…

1. I am a closet science fiction fan. I am a bit of a geek deep down. In fact, one of my top 5 movies is the 2009 Star Trek movie. My dad was a computer science guy and my mom was a math teacher. There was no way to escape it.

2. I pick at the edges of my fingers and the heels of my feet. Gross, I know. I think it’s part of my anxiety issues.

3. I grew up a pretty devout Catholic but I am so pissed at the church – and have been since the pedophile scandal broke – that I can’t bring myself to go. And I feel a big hole in my life because of it.

But I can’t belong to an institution that is so broken that it put a greater priority on protecting pedophiles than protecting children. And the fact that women are second-class citizens, gay people aren’t truly accepted, priests can’t be married … all this drove me away.

I am really struggling with the fact that Anne will be in 1st grade next year and she should start Catholic religious education and make her first communion in 2nd grade. I don’t know what to do about this.

4. Sometimes I wonder if I drink too much wine. And I worry a little. But not enough to stop having a glass almost every night.

5. I’ve never been a big Seinfeld fan. Some episodes are great but most of the time I am watching an episode, I sit there, detesting the characters as I watch and thinking how, in real life, I’d avoid them at all costs.

6. I almost always have dirt under my fingernails because I am a gardener and can’t keep my hands out of the dirt.

7. I don’t know how to do a cartwheel.

8. When I wash my hair, a lot of my hair falls out and I wipe it onto the shower wall. I almost always remember to throw it away when I am done showering. Almost.

9. I have a half-sister who I found out about the day after my dad died. I don’t know who she is or where she is. And I don’t think I’ll ever find out.

10. I grew up in a house filled with yelling and fighting. My father was an alcoholic. I once heard him tell my mom if she left him, he’d “get” me to get back at her. I used to sleep covered up by my stuffed animals so I could hide. My father humiliated me at my 8th grade graduation and at my wedding rehearsal because he was drunk. Despite all this, my relationship with my dad improved after I got married and had kids. He suddenly died in 2010 and it makes me so mad that most of my life I struggled with hating him, and just as he was mellowing out, he died.

11. One of my girls has ears that stick out and I live in dread of the day she gets teased about it. I am afraid I will cry in front of her on the day she comes home and tells me it happened.

12. No one has ever hurt me as horribly as the guy I dated for almost two years in college. I did not truly get over the pain of our breakup until about a year before I met my husband.

13. I like being the center of attention.

14. My house will never be truly clean and organized, and even though this is most people’s plight, I HATE IT that I have an “office” that is just a room filled with crap and I even if I do ever get around to cleaning it that means the basement or garage or shed or playroom or whatever is still a mess and I find this completely OVERWHELMING. I have a really hard time enjoying the little accomplishments and always end up thinking about what I haven’t done rather than what I have accomplished.

15. The first live concert I went to was New Kids on the Block. Not REM. Even though I tell everyone it was REM.

I could go on and on …. but I’ll stop now…

7/4/2012 : I found the source of this meme and wanted to give credit where credit is due! Jess Constable at Make Under My Life started it. Her friend EZ at Creature Comforts and a bunch of her tweeps ran with it. And the meme was born…

I think we may officially be round 5 of this linkup? Who knows, but it’s cool to be part of the movement.  🙂


New to Honest Mom? Get the backstory on why I write naked.

I blog about my high-maintenance kids, write about dealing with depressionI do the memoir thing, and sometimes, I can be kinda funny.

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