The note of reflection

A couple of weeks ago I found the following note in Fred’s school folder:

Dear Mommy and Daddy,

Today I poked my freind with a paper clip. I am having trubble keeping my hands to my self. I promiss to be better.

Love, Fred

The note was, I would soon come to find out, a “note of reflection.” It was to be read and signed by a parent and returned to the teacher.

I sighed at the note, mildly exasperated at both my active 6 year-old and his seemingly over-sensitive teacher.

“But I didn’t poke him with the sharp end,” Fred told me when I probed him about the incident. “I just used the round end and I went like this.” He demonstrated by gently touching me on the back with his finger. He was playing around, as I know he is prone to do. So I wasn’t alarmed so much about the paper clip as I was about the second line, “I am having trouble keeping my hands to myself.”

Every former elementary school teacher flashed through my mind. Keep your hands to yourself. Keep your hands by your sides. The annoyed admonishments were directed mainly at the boys, I remember. As a well-behaved, approval-seeking little girl, I never quite “got” what was so hard about simply sitting still. Even at that young age I equated the lack of ability to restrain oneself a sign of immaturity and yet more evidence of the male gender’s inferiority to girls. (And I have a feeling that some of my teachers did too.) As a woman, I couldn’t quite get those implulses until I became a mother of a little boy.

I’ve found it a simultaneous joy and struggle to be the mom of a boy, and all for the same reason: because he is so different from me. Fred is physically adventurous in ways I never dared to be, and assertive in ways that I envy even now as an adult. He is so full of energy and love for the outdoors and as a result healthier and more robust than I ever was. And for as long as I can remember he has had no problem telling a kid off who’s cut him in line or taken his toy without asking. At the same time, the physical risk-taking shows up as scars, cuts and bruises. How is it that he can fall again and again and not learn to avoid it? I worry about the day we might end up in a hospital ER. He will also sometimes defy adults, whether it is us or his teachers. He will not always do as he is told if he disagrees and he will sometimes repeat an offense because he “forgot.” I worry about him ruffling feathers and getting on people’s bad sides. The joy in mothering Fred is that I see strengths that did not exist in me; the struggle is mothering a child who is becoming a person I was not. It feels unfamiliar and so when he sometimes doesn’t behave as I would have, my alarm bells go off.  

I understand that the above qualities don’t only belong to boys, and that this ambivalence can and does probably happen between most parents and their children regardless of gender. I know that I became a very different person than the one my mother had envisioned, and this became hard for her even though or perhaps because we are both women. So often I disappointed her because I didn’t behave as she would have or made the choices that she would have. As a young woman I thought this was selfish parenting; as a mother I am understanding just how hard it can be to let your child be different from you, to trust that your child will turn out well – perhaps even better! – by following his or her own way.

Those notes of reflection are hard on me. Knowing that my son isn’t always the angel in school is hard on me. Wondering if his “misbehaviors” reflectly poorly on me as a mother is hard on me. And yet, I wonder how I would feel if he, like me when I was a little girl, stressed to behave perfectly in school, so terrified of a teacher’s or friend’s disapproval that he couldn’t speak his mind or be himself. Maybe he knows what he’s doing. Maybe he will surprise me. The only way I’ll know is by guiding the little boy who’s in front of us, rather than pushing for the person who’s lived inside of me. 

7 thoughts on “The note of reflection

  1. “Keep your hands to yourself” is a favorite admonishment because most kids seem to have trouble with it.

    I was in the kindergarten classroom today, and my daughter and a friend were hugging each other forcefully (so some girls have trouble with that rule also).

    But your main point: how hard it is to allow our children to be who they are (not who we want them to be) is so amazingly true. It is a struggle that never ends, I imagine. We will most likely always have an opinion about the next step in life they should take.

  2. I will credit my parents with this – they have always allowed me to be who I really am, no pushing me into this activity or that, I tried things and did not like them, not a problem. Yes, they pushed me academically when they knew I wasn’t really trying hard enough. But they never questioned what it was I wanted to do or why – they offered advice but that was all. I want very much the same thing for my daughter and I really do not care what interests she has in life, what sort of life she leads so long as she is happy.

    Like you though I do know that as and when my daughter starts school and I get my first little reflection note I shall feel it is a reflection upon me. But if the only note your son has been sent home with is about tapping another child with a paper clip then I think you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

  3. What a fantastic post, Cecilia! Every word resonated with me – well, apart from raising a kid of a different gender. I am often afraid of how much I would parent by imposing my Self onto my little girl, who is resolutely her own person. I want to respect her difference and even nurture it but everything you said in your last paragraph is like the sound of a gong set off in my head! “Those notes of reflection are hard on me. Knowing that my son isn’t always the angel in school is hard on me. Wondering if his “misbehaviors” reflectly poorly on me as a mother is hard on me.” – I love the honesty of your reflection.

    I have control issues, and with Little Miss, it would be easy to use my role as a parent to tie strings to her appendages and have her do or act as I please but really, do I want that for her? Or do I want someone who can think on her own two feet and make decisions she can be proud of if they’re good, and ones she can learn from if they’re bad?

    And the last line? Pure perfection. I say amen to that. I hope to do the same myself.

    Wish us both luck huh?

  4. Someone once told me, our children are not our own, they are briefly loaned to us from God. Whatever your thoughts on religion are, the longer I am a mother, the more sure I am that children come to us full of themselves. The best we can do is to nurture them so they grow into that.

    This is a lovely post.

  5. I really enjoyed this post! Before having children, I always had imagined that I would be able to embrace my children’s differences as reminders that I do not have all the answers. Since becoming a mom, however, I find that I often have to suppress feelings of anxiety about these potential differences. I am not in control. I know. But, I still struggle with this. I love your last line. It gives me great comfort.

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