I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people. - Vincent Van Gogh

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Five wrong!

My daughter got five wrong on a Math test. Five!

I could tell the moment she appeared in the doorway of the school at the end of the day that something had gone wrong.

Everyday, my seven year old daughter steps into the doorway, scans the crowd excitedly, spots me in the parking lot, smiles, grabs her sisters, and they all come running out together, a blur of plaid, curls, and smiles.

But on Thursday she saw me and she looked me in the eyes and she seemed...scared? And the girls all came walking out together. Funereally.

My mind raced through the possibilities. A fight at school? Disrespecting a teacher? Mind you, none of my children have ever gotten into any trouble at school but when your little girl avoids your eyes after school your mind jumps to conclusions. At least mine does.

I took their hands silently. They threw their bags onto the passenger seat and filed into the van. After she buckled herself into the backseat I saw her eyes search mine out in the rear view mirror. And when I looked at her she looked away.

"What's wrong, doll?"

She looked at me for a moment and her wide blue eyes filled with tears and she couldn't even speak for a moment. She stared up at the ceiling of the van and squeaked, "I got five wrong."

She had a Math test which we'd studied for. Now, I wanted to say, "It's OK." But that's not what I said. I asked, "Out of how many?"

"20," she said, still finding it difficult to talk.

"Oh my. What happened?" I said. "We studied. You knew it all so well."

She continued telling me as I drove home. You see, she added instead of subtracted on a few of the problems. She forgot to do one and one she just got another one wrong. And then I know I should have said, "Don't worry doll. We'll do better next time." But what I said was, "Pass it up. Let me see it."

And there I was. Driving and examining this Math test for my second grader. I could see her staring at me. Waiting for me to say something. And what did I do? I lectured all my children how we all have to pay attention to everything we're doing. I talked about details. And then I spitballed a system that maybe she could circle subtraction signs and put squares around addition signs just so we'd be forced to pay attention to the signs.

And when we got home the day simply went on. We sat down to do our homework. I checked it all. I made dinner. We cleaned it up. The children played until it was time for bed. We went upstairs, said our prayers, and they all climbed into bed. I came downstairs and got on the computer.

At some point, the computer froze and I had to shut it down and then it hit me. I realized what a jerk I was. Well, that's not true. I know what a jerk I am. But I realized what a jerk I was today. My seven year old wasn't upset because she got five wrong. She was scared of telling me she got five wrong. I hadn't even taken the time to notice that my seven year old had been circling me the entire afternoon and early evening. Looking to me...for something. And then quickly looking away. Even while cleaning the dishes I noticed her looking at me out of the corner of her eye. I noticed it but I didn't see it, if you know what I mean. She'd been waiting for me to say what I should've said the moment she walked out of school. That no matter what happened I love her. That no matter what happened I'm proud of her. And no matter what happened I think she's the most special seven year old in the world.

This little girl. My little girl. She was waiting for her dopey father to tell her he loved her all day and that it was just a math test. Instead he told her to circle subtraction signs.

I had to face it. I did a lot worse on my test than she did on hers. Sometimes you just think that children know how much we love them. But the harsh words we say I think somehow stick with them longer than many of our kindnesses. Our little cruelties are like splinters. They go in easily, cause pain, and they're very difficult to get out.

If children could know how much their parents loved them, I believe it would make them feel so much safer than they probably do. But maybe that's our main job as parents. We need to let them know they're loved. Tell them how special they are. Because we are their introduction to God. Can you believe it? I know. But we are.

As much as we see the workings of God in our tiny immortal children, they look for God in us. I am sometimes amazed at the responsibility that's fallen into my lap. These precious gifts who feel, who love, who can be hurt, who sympathize, who close their eyes when their favorite part of their song comes on, who help each other climb trees, who run to tell Dad when one of them is hurt. These precious gifts look to us to find God.

And when my seven year old was crying in the backseat, afraid that she'd disappointed me I told her to focus on details. I got up from my computer and walked quickly up the stairs. I peeked into the room with the four girls in it. By the glow of the night light I could see that my seven year old was asleep. I thought about waking her up but that would've just been more selfishness on my part. I sat there on the stairs for a few minutes watching her sleep through the crack in the door. And I did all I could think to do at that moment. I said a prayer that I would do better tomorrow, be better tomorrow.

In the morning I went up the stairs and sang to everyone to wake up with a silly song that my father used to sing to me and my brothers as children. The seven year old didn't move. She never does. The other two got up and the two year old was doing calisthenics in the crib. I called the seven year old in my sing song way and I saw her smile a little. I grabbed her feet and slowly pulled her off the bottom bunk. I had her down on the floor and she was still pretending to sleep but smiling so I jumped on her and started tickling her. She screamed with laughter. The other girls, seeing this, piled on and began tickling me. The boy heard us from across the hall and came tearing in and jumped on the pile like he was going for a loose ball. Hold on, I said. I need someone on my side. My seven year old said she would be on my side. And the tickle war began. Now it turned out a few moments later that she was a spy for the other side and she attacked me from behind. But I was never so glad to be attacked.

We were a little late to school Friday morning. We all went in and I had to sign them in. But I did my job a lot better than I did it the day before. I told them all that I loved them as I sent them down the hall. Those are the details I need to focus on. As they walked into their classrooms I glanced around just in time to see the two year old running into the Principal's office.

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17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you know it, but re-read Coventry Patmore's The Toys. I'm not even a mom (though I am a teacher) and it cuts my heart every time. But by God's grace, we DO learn, and it does matter.
God bless you and your family.

dancingcrane said...

I am a wife and mom, of 5, and we're all a pretty intense, intelligent bunch for whom academics is serious business. We've had more than our share of days like yours.

Thanks for the reminder that Love is not only a much more serious business - but also much more fun!

I second the blessing. Live long and prosper!

Anonymous said...

Precious:-).

Dirtdartwife said...

Thanks for posting this. A friend of mine and I have been talking of this very issue for the past few days and I sincerely appreciate not only the insight, but the humility you've shown. Thanks for showing me an example of how to do it. (that sounds so stupid but I would have reacted the same way you did about the math test and everything, but wouldn't have known how to fix it even though I knew I needed to... so thank you)

Anonymous said...

On the other hand --
Dad ~was~ there to pick them up and hear about their day at school and he is taking time to make sure they do and understand their homework. Also, bet she remembers to look at the signs the next time -- perhaps on the high stakes test -- or with dad's help, in those advanced science and math classes later on. So glad I read this post.

Anonymous said...

So very tender... touching.... but the particular 'failing' if one could call it that will be so miniscule compared to the things that REALLY matter... was she baptized? Raised well in the faith? Loved? Cared for? When I look back over our child rearing of four... we have some doozies as far as mistakes go. Those still sit in my gut or that special parent closet that it bothers me to visit. Bless you and all who read this. dt

Rick said...

It's not like you called her stupid or careless or embarassed her in front of her friends. Also, you can always reassure her even after the fact. Your heart was in the right place and that is what matters. So, your not perfect but I wouldn't go any further than that.

Anonymous said...

Five wrong! She was condemning herself for that long before she ran into you, friend. Perhaps her teacher is not using "five wrong" as an opportunity for growth and learning, but glorying in her big red pen and the rank it imparts. No wonder kids hate school.

Anonymous said...

Pay attention to what we are doing; while reading a math test and driving.

shalimamma said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts... absoltuely heartwarming, and rare to hear from a father feeling as if he's 'falling short'... blog postings and emails are replete with these types of sentiments coming from mom's feeling as if they are falling short of their mark. I don't believe we can be too scrupulous when it comes to love. Keep up the good work! Many blessings, ~shalimamma

Anonymous said...

It's so easy and human to react as you did. Our children are such precious gifts and it's good to be reminded of that...they too make mistakes and it's ok. And it's ok that we do too as parents. We want them and ourselves to be perfect and our Heavenly Father above doesn't expect THAT of us. But He does want us to LOVE and that is the point you drove home with your story. Thank you again for the beautiful reminder and for being so aware and loving to your children - they are blessed to have you. May God continue to bless your family.

jill said...

Thanks so much. That was beautiful. You have nailed it: "But maybe that's our main job as parents. We need to let them know they're loved."
Linked to you.

sriddle415 said...

Dear Sir,

Perhaps you were just a bit too hard on yourself. It is the immediate mode of the American Male to fix a problem when one is spotted. This isn't about emotion, it isn't about image, it isn't about right or wrong, it's about fixing stuff. Men fix stuff. Period. That's our job. Unfortunately, in the midst of that fixing, we sometimes overlook what is really needed. "Five wrong doesn't make you any less my special girl." But you caught on and caught up, and that's really what matters here.

Hope I have sufficient introspection to do the same when faced with a similar small calamity. (And in a little one's life, these things take on much more weight than they ought.)

shalom,

Steven

Maura said...

Parenting is a hard job, and one of the hardest things to decide is whether we are being too hard or too soft. My kids are mostly grown now, but I'm pretty sure I reacted exactly as you did. And I never thought I was pressuring them! I thought I was being reasonable. The worst was when my 6 year-old daughter was crying because a boy chased her in the school yard and called her "fatty." I told her she was beautiful, but then I added, "Of course, you'll be way ahead of those skinny girls, because you're learning early how to watch your weight." I'm ashamed even to tell that story. So good for you, you're learning now, while there's still time, that sometimes we should hug first, talk later. (My daughter forgave me and doesn't have any eating problems, but I still wish I had never said it. And now that I wait a second before I fire off those blunt and practical remarks, I seem to be making fewer of them.)I liked your line about the tumble of plaid and curls.

TrogloPundit said...

Yeah, you're being too hard on yourself. You did fine.

Byron Lee said...

As a father of four, there is nothing wrong with helping your daughter do succeed by reminding her to pay attention if you feel indeed she has the potential to do better. If she is struggling, then that's a different issue. But yes, telling her you love her and expect only the best from her and for her should be a constant for any situation.

Karen E. said...

"Our little cruelties are like splinters. They go in easily, cause pain, and they're very difficult to get out."

Oh, so perfectly put. Ouch. Yes. Thank God that He fills in the cracks we create.

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