The Banshee

22 Apr

This is a hard one to write. And it will be even harder to post.

On the way home from a scholarship reception last night, my oldest son Charlie announced that he probably wouldn’t be going to the University of Texas at Austin, mine and my husband’s alma mater.

“It’s really hard to get into,” he said. “And I am not smart enough.”

I stopped. Literally. I pulled the car over and turned to face him.

“What do you mean you’re not smart enough?” I asked. “You are certainly smart enough.”

Charlie’s eyes grew wide as looked at me. “I am?” he said.

“Yes, you are,” I said matter-of-factly. “You really are.”

I didn’t lie. If he applies himself, Charlie is smart enough to get into UT.

 

But that conversation has me troubled. I don’t care if my son doesn’t go to UT, but I can’t get it out of my head that my kid, my own kid, doesn’t think he’s smart. He was shocked when I told him he was.

This morning I have replayed the conversation in my head too many times to count. I always thought I told my kids often enough that they were smart. I know I say it. I do. But for some reason it hasn’t stuck.

I think I am to blame for this.

I am a bit of a banshee when I check homework and look at schoolwork and grades. Perhaps, it’s better to describe me as a tiger mom (or at least, that makes me sound a little less crazy). I am demanding, and little mistakes frustrate me when they happen over and over again. I was such a perfectionist when I was a little kid. My kids are not. And that frustrates me. They are about all about speed — how fast can we complete the work, not how accurate.

This speed-first method tends to leave them with the wrong answer quite often. It’s not that they don’t understand the concepts. They can explain to you how to get the right answer – what they need to do. It’s the speed, that’s the problem. They will multiply a number wrong, forget a digit, leave a number out, misspell a word, forget a period. Little errors equal wrong answers. And this frustrates me.

So I yell. And I demand better. They always relent, after a little fighting, and they do it better. But I do not want to have to ask. Or demand. Shouldn’t it come naturally? Shouldn’t they want to get a 100 every time?

My sister says I should be grateful. My boys are rarely stressed — except when their banshee mother is yelling at them. They are okay with being okay. It’s a hard concept for me to grasp. I always wanted to be the best, and when I knew I couldn’t be the best, I was still going to give my best. Admittedly, it has caused stress in my life through the years. I can’t tell you how many all-nighters I pulled in high school just so I could pull out an A. I am shocked I didn’t have any ulcers when I graduated.

My boys are different. So very different from me. And that’s hard for me. I think all of my yelling, all of my questioning of why don’t they care more or try harder has left Charlie feeling not smart. I did that. Me.

My boys are not stupid. I am sure of that. But at least one of them feels that way. Or at least, he doesn’t feel “smart enough.”

My homework rants and grade rants have left him feeling “less than.” And that hurts. It’s not what I wanted. I wanted to raise brave, confident, caring young men. I wanted to raise boys who believed in themselves — independent problem-solvers and critical thinkers. I thought I was doing that. And with some things maybe I am, but not all the way, all the time. That’s what’s so hard about parenting – it’s all the time. Every minute. Every moment. It’s hard to be a good parent all of the time.

Charlie shouldn’t be shocked when I tell him he’s smart. It shouldn’t be a surprise. But it is. Or it was.

And honestly, I don’t think I can stop all of my rants. I want to push Charlie to be better. That’s my job, right? I know his potential – shouldn’t I at least tell him he can do more? But somehow, I have to figure out how to get him to do better without making him feel “less than.”

Argh. Parenting is hard. It’s really hard. It’s both my favorite job and the one I like the least. Sometimes I just want to take a pass. I am out for this turn. Maybe someone else can step in and fix my mess. I’ll be back when everyone feels better — including me.

But alas, there is no pass. So I am going to have to dig deep and try harder. Be better. Less Tiger. Less Banshee. I want Charlie to know he’s smart. I want him to feel it and believe it.

Maybe it’s time I back off. Tell him he’s smart, and he can do it. Just leave it at that.

 

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One Response to “The Banshee”

  1. Theresa April 23, 2016 at 7:30 am #

    The hardest thing to accept is my child is not a mini-me. No matter how much I prodded, yelled, begged, punished, cajoled, loved (insert whatever verb you would like because I did them all), my son did (and still does) exactly what he needed to do just to get by (barely). It’s not that he is not capable; he is near genius IQ. He just doesn’t have the drive that his dad and I had in school to be the best. The good news is they will find their own paths. The bad news is we will have more gray hair sooner and more sleepless nights. I have yet to find the answer. My son is kind, polite, generous, funny, fun, responsible. Just not driven academically.

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