I recently attended an AP conference and as the facilitator went over the various grade equivalence for AP testing score she drew a line between Adequate and Below Average and told us to take a look. She said while there is no pass or fail on the AP exam, there are scores that are better than others. She told us the difference between Adequate and Exceptional was very slight but “Adequate was good.” She went on to point out how many AP teachers stress their students out for an entire year, drilling them with practice tests and timed tests and other useless drills and ingrain in their minds that they have to “pass” the AP exam. Adequate meant they did their personal best and had demonstrated mastery of the content. It meant during the days in their AP class, they paid attention, they took good notes, they learned important vocabulary that would allow them to decipher what is being asked of them on the test and they were able to synthesize all they learned in a logically written manner to earn a 4 on the test. As I listened to her explanation and read over the criteria for the “Adequate” score, I thought about my own parenting.
I have a five year old son who is very hyper active. He is heading to Kindergarten in the Fall and knows his numbers up to 200+, he knows his colors in English and Spanish, can add, read certain words (when he wants to), can write his name and all of the letters in the alphabet without help and can even identify the days of the week , months of the year and all of the planets. As the child of a teacher, I made sure he always had a drawer full of educational resources and computer games he could access to learn and a bookshelf full of books with words and colors he could read and identify. Yet when I received the Kindergarten readiness list, I was overcome with a sense of self failure. The criteria for entering Kindergarten are to be able to identify letters, count to 20, jump with both feet, balance on one leg, recognize your name and tie your own shoes. While, my son can do everything on the list and beyond, the fact that he cannot tie his own shoes, struck a nerve with me. I had to sit back and really look at what I value as a parent and how I was stressing my son out by trying to get his little brain to hurry up and learn how to tie his shoes before he entered Kindergarten in the next few days so he could be seen as “Exceptional” and not Below Average. Mind you, my son can tell you the scientific name of almost every animal living in South America. He knows what animals have predators and which ones don’t. He knows the difference between the female and the male Osprey and how many pounds of fish they can carry at one time but somehow in my mind, the mere idea that his five year old little hands cannot seem to grasp the concept of wrapping strings around one another in a synchronized way to form a bow on his Nike’s makes me a failure as a parent and him just a mediocre kid.
Somewhere along the way, we as parents have stressed not only ourselves out chasing this “Exceptional” child score but we have stressed out our kids as well. In many states standardized testing, gifted testing and selective enrollment processes have turned us into number counters on a mission to make our kids THE BEST. We encourage them from the time they can walk to be great at a sport. We drill them with flashcards and charts on walls to make sure they can read before they can even stand up so they will be ahead of the game. We tell them they have to be the best and get up early to catch the proverbial worm so they do not get left behind. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with pushing our children to be the best version of themselves and to encourage them to reach for the moon. But what if they are more star dwellers than moon walkers? Are we teaching them that their best is somehow not good enough? We want them to be so great and be so prepared that sometimes, we overlook the perfection in the midst of their imperfections and shortcomings.
My mom did not play when it came to getting good grades in school. My sister and I knew that failing a class was not acceptable and would never be tolerated. We went to private school and were often reminded of the sacrifice her and my dad were making to send us to one of the best schools they could afford. I got As in most of my classes without much effort--except Math. I struggled from freshman year all the way through Senior year. I stayed after school for tutoring, went to before school and during school office hours but for me--a D in Math was honestly the best I could do and my mom made a deal with me. Keep working hard in Math and as long as I was working to the best of personal ability, she would accept that one D on my report card. She displayed my As, Bs and 1 D report card just like it had all As going down the columns. She let me know that my personal best was good enough and it truly made all the difference in the world to me as a teen ager. At some points as I grew older and entered the competitive college life this perspective got lost but this little old lady in this AP conference brought it all back to the forefront of my mind. As parents of course we want our children to be better than we ever were. We want them to be great and have access to everything they can ever dream of in life. But what if your daughter does not get the perfect score on the ACT but she gets accepted into SCAD because she is a helluva sketch artist ? What happens if your son does not get into all honors courses but he is the kindest and most honorable boy in his class? When did perfection supercede good old fashioned kindness, honesty, bravery, selflessness and humility. When was the last time we looked at our kids and truly appreciated them just as they were? Check your social media pages and see when was the last picture you posted of your kid sitting on the couch simply watching television in their dirty shirt and shorts--captured just being regular instead of when they champion at sports or get the highest score at the spelling bee. Do our kids have to always be perfect or the best at this or that?
What does being exceptional really mean? What happens if our kid doesn’t make the starting line up but they are the most supportive person on the bench the entire season? Does that somehow mean they won’t be great in life? Does it mean we failed as parents? Heck no! We are rocking this thing called parenting and get up every single day and try again. I would say that alone makes us rockstars. Parenting comes with so many different pressures and unwritten rules and regulations that adding one more pressure to the list, seems quite silly. We want our kids to have high self esteem and love who they are but we are constantly pushing them into a realm of the impossible in some cases. Every child is not gifted or exceptional or the all American athlete. And guess what? That is perfectly fine. I have found that taking a step back and looking at both of my amazingly kind and funny children for the wonderfully adequate little humans that they are has improved our communication and our relationships. They know there is no such thing as failure as long as they are doing their personal best. They no longer feel the pressure to always be right and do right and I am less of a crazy mom who wants everything to be just so. Heck, it also takes the pressure off of me. Some days keeping up with both of them in public and making sure no one comes home without the things they came with is a chore. If I am honest, after particularly long days at work they get sandwiches or cereal for dinner and on those days knowing they are both fed signals success. On those days for me being an adequate parent is enough and I give myself full permission to just be ok being OK.
If we get those days why can't our kids? I will take my adequate child who is funny and smart and gentle and loud and messy that can’t tie his shoes any day of the week. I will cheer for him on the bench or on the starting line. I will be the first mom in the front row of the school play she is the curtain puller for like she is the starring role. And for my little non shoe tying soon to be Kindergartner ,I will just head over the Rack Room Shoes and buy him some velcro Nikes for his first day and be sure to pack his binoculars for his car ride in case he spots a red tailed baboon on his way.