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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Taking stock in the home stretch
June 3, 2012 - 4:26pm

We've paid the deposit on Ben's cap and gown, so it looks like this is really going to happen. In just a few weeks he will have completed the journey he began on his first day of kindergarten. I cried then, and I'm sure there will be plenty of tears shed when he accepts his diploma, as well.

At many points, his father and I doubted whether he would make it to the end of the trip—or whether we would. There were the years before his ADHD diagnosis, when he was constantly in trouble for interrupting the teacher, distracting other kids, and absentmindedly destroying school property.

Even when he was on medication, there were often unfinished and lost homework assignments, complaints about drumming on his desk or playing air guitar when he should have been paying attention. Nearly every spring, there were warning letters that he might not be promoted, though he always managed to squeak by, either by pulling all-nighters at the end of the term or taking incompletes and making up the work over the summer.

And now it is really over. He passed all his required high school coursework last semester, and is nearly done with his internship, teaching music at his high school. According to his supervisors, he is functioning as a responsible adult at the school; when the head music teacher was away for a month on tour, Ben took over his classes, arriving early each day to review lesson plans and to be sure he had mastered all of the instruments he had to teach that day. I'm sure there will be bumps on the road in college as well, but I think he will enter better prepared, having had this positive experience of work beyond school, and knowing that his course work is geared toward preparing him for a career in music.

Looking back, my biggest regret is that I didn't trust that this would be the outcome. I wasted a lot of angst, and probably ruined some potentially great family times, haranguing Ben about homework, school assignments, responsible behavior and my fears that he would lose his place in his competitive public high school and be forced to deal with the sort of rough, desperate kids I had worked with cared about and sorrowed for, but whom I didn't want my own kid exposed to.

Ben definitely needed guidance, but he also needed support for who he actually was, and I didn't always measure up in that area. I was too fearful, too stuck in my own history of having to fight to go to college against not only my parents but  the expectation that girls of my background and SES would work in the local eyeglass factory until they got married and started having babies. "You have everything handed to you," I would shout at Ben, "yet you sit and play that stupid guitar while your chances go down the drain!"

There are things I am glad I did, too, of course. I'm glad his father and I gave him what he wanted for his fourth birthday—a guitar—and found him a good teacher who instilled the basics with enthusiasm and laughter. I'm glad that when he got bored with lessons a few years later, we stopped them without fuss or recrimination, and when he took the instrument up again, we never nagged him about practicing, just told him how great he sounded. I'm glad that however tight money has been otherwise, we have always found ways to supply him with good quality instruments and equipment. I'm glad that, through middle school and high school, I fought hard and successfully to keep him in the school band and music classes when his teachers wanted him to drop all electives and focus narrowly on academics.

Mostly I'm glad for whatever combination of genetics and environment created the amazing person he is today—kind, gifted, funny, loving and engaged. His presence in our lives has been the best possible gift, and another thing I know we did right was to communicate that to him, so that despite all the nagging and the fears, he has never doubted that he is deeply loved, lovable and worthy of love—and thus entitled to pursue his own dreams even if they aren't, or weren't, ours.


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