On this day, nineteen years ago, I almost earned the title of Worst Mother Ever. Now, I realize such a confession does not bolster confidence in your school principal, so here’s the backstory….
On February 13th I received a phone call from Mt. Baldy School office clerk Kayjo Ramstead, “come pick your daughter Annie up, she’s got red spots. All over!” I retrieved my polka-dot daughter and immediately thumbed through my 635 page Reader’s Digest Illustrated Family Medical Home Reference book (pre-internet!). Hmm… no fever, no headache, but lots of spots. Incontrovertible spots.
A quick phone consult with my Mother the Oracle (a moniker reserved only for those who have raised at least four children to adulthood) resulted in a hasty trip to the market to stock up on the essentials: Seven-up, tomato soup, saltine crackers, popsicles, orange juice, Jello (Four Fun Flavors!), fruit cups, Benadryl, oatmeal bathtub soak, and a bucketful of videos from Blockbuster.
Bright and early February 14th, I roused my six year old tow-head and dragged her into the brightly lit bathroom, in hopes that a minor miracle had occurred. Alas, the spots hadn’t disappeared, but, in fact, seemed to be settling in for a nice long visit. But, still no fever or headache.
Incontrovertible spots. My heart sank as the truth sank in. I was going to have to ruin my daughter’s life by telling her that she was going to have to miss her first grade Valentine’s Day party. Worst Mother Ever. Did I happen to mention to you that Valentine’s Day is my all time favorite holiday? I took a deep breath and readied myself for the inevitable display of sorrow and wrath. I delivered the salvo, and in response, after a quiet pause, Annie responded with equanimity, “well then, can I go watch one of the videos now?”
So, who was having the issue here?
Life is hard, we want to protect our children, but we really can’t. I really wanted my daughter to be able to enjoy that Valentine’s day—but I needed to separate my disappointment from hers—she actually didn’t even know what she was missing! I learned if we can learn to recognize and contain our own pain and worry, we can then attend to the work of supporting our children through periods of disappointment, anger or sorrow in little doses, and, in doing so, we can, to some degree, equip them with tools to handle the bigger events that inevitably come with living a life.
It is hard in the trenches of parenting, and we are not going to get it right every time. In my many years as a parent and educator, I have worked with, and have tried to emulate, parents who were able to be objective about their children’s challenges and support them in learning, and emerging stronger, from these experiences. I clearly didn’t have that skill down when my daughter was six, but got a lot better at it through the process of raising two children into adults.
I see the philosophy of developing problem-solving occurring daily in our school, as I watch teachers, proctors and student peer mediators supporting students in learning how to deal with the inevitable conflicts and disappointments that come with growing up. I am thankful that our small size and passionate staff allow this type of learning to occur.
Those red spots? Turned out to be poison oak! We loaded Annie up on Benadryl and Calamine, went camping in Anza Borrego, and got to witness her first lost tooth around the campfire!
And those supplies? We got to make use of those the following summer, when Annie really did came down with chicken pox, bookended two weeks later when Will succumbed, effectively wiping out our entire summer plans for the Upland summer reading program, swimming lessons, and the Claremont outdoor concert series. Happy ending: they eventually learned to swim, and I eventually learned to let go!