With the start of the new school year, I have a senior, a junior, and a first grader. The two teens are dialed in, they know their routine and it’s been an easy transition from one grade to the next. However, with my little one, it’s been a different story.
Unlike my sons who rarely pay attention to detail when it comes to their academic pursuits, my daughter is a perfectionist. You might assume that this is a great character trait for a student — and it is in certain respects — but it also has its drawbacks.
On the third day of school, after my daughter had eaten her breakfast and we were preparing to get dressed, her eyes filled with tears and her lip trembled as she admitted that she had a tummy ache. I checked her forehead for the telltale signs of a fever (isn’t it amazing how a mommy’s hand is a built-in thermometer?) and found her soft skin cool to the touch. I ran through the gamut of questions normally asked when a tummy ache is the symptom but found nothing to support her claim aside from the crocodile tears that were coursing down her cheeks. At a loss, I finally asked if there was something at school that was bothering her. The conversation went like this:
“Is there someone at school being mean to you?” I asked. She shook her head. “Is the teacher mean?” Again, she shook her head. I racked my brain, then remembering an incident in kindergarten when she accidentally got locked in the bathroom, I asked, “Are you afraid to use the bathroom at school?” Her little head went back and forth but her eyes were still large and wet. Exasperated, I said, “Then what’s wrong? You have to tell me if you want me to try and fix it.”
Her eyes welled with more tears and then she wailed, “It’s the ABCs!”
Come again? She explained on a tide of woe, “There’s too many! There’s always so much work and it’s over and over and it never stops. I don’t like it. It’s too hard and I don’t want to go to school anymore!”
At this point, I was perplexed. My daughter loved her kindergarten class and she excelled in spite of my less-than-admirable track record of making sure she got her homework finished in a timely manner. Then the realization dawned, she’s a perfectionist. Of course the class work is stressful. If she’s not doing something perfectly, her perfectionism meter is probably going off on tilt and overwhelming her. So, I gathered her in my arms and dried her tears. I affirmed that yes, the work is hard right now but the reward for all that work will be the greatest prize of all — she will learn to read. And knowing how to read was the greatest thing in the world.
I don’t remember learning to read but I remember the joy of discovering books. Once I learned the power words had over my imagination, there was no going back. I’m excited about the prospect of that awakening for my daughter. Sadly, neither of my sons inherited my love of reading. They read what is required for school, but never pick up a book for pleasure. I’d like to hope that that might change as they mature but I’m not holding my breath. I know my daughter will be different. She loves books and always has. Just like me.
But first, we had to struggle over the rocky mountain made from her own expectation and for that, I enlisted the help of her new teacher. Now that her teacher has some insight to my daughter’s process, I think she’s going to be just fine.
As if to validate that hunch, when I picked up my daughter from school yesterday, she smiled and said, “Today, we did letters Q, U, R, and T. They were easy and I got a star!”
Suddenly, thanks to the power of a shiny star, school wasn’t so bad and she is that much closer to learning how to read.
And I’m a happy mom of Eryleigh S — first grader!
Kim Van Meter is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News, and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.