So, after a long silence, I’m back. I have been feeling much better, although I am now getting to the point where I feel huge, so the period of comfort was fleeting.
I have come through my company’s busy season in one piece. We do overnight high school graduation parties, so June is crazy busy. Last year I worked the parties themselves; this year, because I didn’t think I could be on my feet all night, instead I stayed in the office overnight and manned the phones—a sort of nerve center of operations for nights when we had multiple parties going on. I worked 11 overnight shifts in a row, and boy, was my sleep schedule messed up!
Prior to the graduation season, it loomed like a huge monolith on the horizon and I could not see past it. Now that I am on the other side, I am thinking about September, when the baby is due. As I start to have trouble getting out of bed each morning (both literally—who knew sitting up was such a chore?—and figuratively—I could sleep all day if I didn’t have to get to work) the baby is making his presence known at every moment.
Oh yes, “his.” It’s a boy. I was surprised, I think because I was assuming the baby was a girl because I’m a girl. Duh.
Anyway, with the graduation season just past, I’ve been thinking about kids and what makes a successful parent. These parties are celebrations of an achievement, yes, but I don’t know that graduating from high school is the landmark it once was. Are these kids really adults now, and are their parents’ jobs really finished? Somehow, I doubt it.
We ask a few of the kids at each party to fill out evaluation forms to let us know what they thought of the party. Reading through them, I’ve been rather appalled at how few high school graduates can spell well, and how few can form complete and coherent sentences. Our boss’s 17-year-old daughter has been working in our office the past few weeks, and when she was asked to file a series of documents alphabetically in boxes, she asked for 24 separate boxes, one for each letter in the alphabet (yes, 24. Don’t ask). She had to have it explained to her several times that when you alphabetize things, each letter doesn’t need to have its own box; you can start with A and keep going though B and C until you run out of room in the first box, then start a new box. And it is not the first time I’ve heard of a teenager being unaware that one continues alphabetizing beyond the first letter of a word. That is, Aaron comes before Abel, and it’s not enough to just throw all the A’s in one spot willy-nilly.
All of this had me very down. I came home and said to my sweetie that I expected our son to be able to write whole sentences without spelling errors, and that he had better know how to alphabetize by the time he hits junior high, much less by the time he’s graduating from high school. I fretted, “What if our kid is stupid and I don’t like him because of that?” It’s one of my faults that I have a very low tolerance for stupidity, and though I’ve worked on it, I don’t know how I’d react if my kid were stupid.
My sweetie looked at me like I was nuts (he often does) and suggested that perhaps, at least on the subject of spelling and alphabetizing, we as parents might have a little bit of influence in the matter. Which I would take comfort in, except that I seriously doubt that any of these kids’ parents set out to make sure their kids didn’t know there are 26 letters in the alphabet.
So, what happened? I mean, I don’t know how much my parents taught me about these things. I know they emphasized the importance of school, and that I should get good grades. But other than trying to teach me the multiplication tables a grade early at home, I don’t recall them really actively helping me with school work or teaching me anything in particular. I definitely learned to alphabetize at school—I can remember it. I assume my boss’s daughter did, too: why didn’t she retain it?
On the other hand, my parents, who both learned English in their teens, never say “lay down” when they mean “lie down,” never say “he and I” (or, worse, “him and I”) when it should be “him and me,” write in complete sentences with good spelling and never confuse “it’s” and “its.” So maybe there’s something to leading by example.
Friends tell me that my sweetie and I will be good parents. But I don’t think anyone plans to be a bad parent, so I want to know: how can you tell? I don’t think my parents were great parents, but they weren’t bad parents. I think they muddled through. I think a lot of parents muddle through. They do the best they can. And school stuff is relatively easy to measure; if I wanted to be obsessive, I could play my son music in the womb, teach him sign language at age one, grill him with flash cards at age three, enroll him in five hundred programs by age six that will teach him three languages, how to do geometry proofs and the basic principles of chemistry by age ten. I am fairly sure that with a little effort I could sit at his high school graduation confident that he knows how to alphabetize.