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.