The Sixty-Ninth Chart

January 25, 2013

By Ekta R. Garg

“[Six], hurry up and brush your teeth.  It’s time to get ready for school.”

Six nodded her head, and inwardly I sighed.  I wondered whether my reminder would do any good.

Six has so many wonderful, positive qualities: she nurtures her little sister; she demands nothing but excellence of herself in her school work; she cares deeply for her friends; she converses with adults in a respectful way; she doesn’t hesitate to ask strangers questions if the situation warrants it.  Often I’ll look at my firstborn in awe; where did this child come from, I’ll wonder.  Surely this self-assured, witty six-and-a-half year old couldn’t be mine.  I didn’t have nearly this much confidence at her age.

Like every person in the world, though, Six has a few faults and one of them drives me up the wall: when it comes to moving fast, she…doesn’t.  Six tends to daydream, and often instead of staying on task her mind drifts somewhere else and she pauses to let her imagination run its course.  This would be okay if letting her imagination rule her day helped her accomplish the tasks she needs to get through her routine.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t.  Which leads to me pleading, cajoling, lecturing, and—yes, I’ll admit it—yelling.  More than I’d like.

Yesterday we ran across the same situation.  Six stood at the sink first thing in the morning and contemplated her reflection in the bathroom mirror, and I asked her to hurry.  I urged her as I’ve done so many times to move fast.  We wouldn’t get to school on time, I told her, and she’d be late for board work.

This argument used to wind the key in her back for a lot longer than it does now.  Somewhere along the way she figured out that even if she doesn’t get a chance to finish her board work independently, her teacher will go through the board work with all the students once their day has officially started.  That means that she still gets it done, whether it’s on her own or with the rest of her class.  So while she would like to join the list of the top ten students who finishes board work before school starts, she doesn’t feel a driving urge to attain that recognition every single day.

I’ve had to remind myself time and time again that I’m no longer in school, that I don’t have to bear the burden of finishing academic assignments.  If I’ve done everything I absolutely can to make sure the kids arrive at school on time, and we’re still late because Six lets her imagination take precedence and she drags her feet, she has to endure the consequences.  At the first-grade level, those consequences don’t mean much.  She just doesn’t get to finish board work on her own.  But in the back of my mind I can’t help feel slightly anxious about what might happen when she gets older.

My morning yesterday would have progressed much like many others, with me lecturing Six from the time she leaves the table after finishing breakfast through the time she puts on her snow boots and coat and we get into the car.  Fortunately my husband had a late start to his day and hung around in the morning to give me a hand with the kids; when he saw my blood pressure start to go up, he stopped me and encouraged me to take a break from the kids and go get myself ready to leave the house.

I did, even though I grumbled about it.  Despite my urging, Six still had taken her time and we fell 10 minutes behind schedule.  I seriously considered letting out a full-blown scream, just to give my blood pressure somewhere to go.  But I hung on—barely—and contained my temper.

My husband bundled the kids into the car (after warming it up for me, which I appreciated so much.  We’ve still got bone-chilling mornings here in Salt Lake.)  We wished each other a good day and warned one another about the slick roads.  By the time my husband headed to the garage for his own car, he’d already spoken to two or three people in the hospital on patient-related matters and they’d all cautioned him about the dangerous driving conditions.

By the time I got onto the highway, drivers had had a chance to feel out the road.  Everyone drove as slow as they could while still moving forward, but in some cases it hadn’t been enough.  We passed several accidents on the 10-mile drive to school, and by 8:15 the announcer on the local news we listen to every morning stated that reports had come in of 15 serious accidents.  As I slowly applied the brakes and felt them hesitate, I said a quiet prayer that we get to school safely.  A small hatchback directly in front of me began to turn sharply to the right and skid slowly to the left shoulder, and all of my irritation with Six’s tendencies dissipated.

My mind didn’t stop ticking, though, and I’m sure most other moms can identify with this.  Even when one task absorbs our attention, a small corner of our minds still works on the other issues demanding time from our day.  My eyes stayed on the road, and my concentration forced me to watch every foot of those 10 miles.  But that small problem-solving corner continued to turn over the question: what could I do to help Six turn this challenge into a victory?

I pondered several options, including setting up a chart whereby I awarded her stars for every day she finished the speedy tasks on time.  Nothing seemed to stick, though, and I had to abandon the issue for others that needed my attention.

Later that day when I picked Six up from school, we chatted amiably about her day.  I asked her whether she told her teacher that all the accidents and the dicey road conditions delayed her arrival at school, and that led us to a discussion on what we could do to get Six moving faster.

“All you do is scold me in the morning, tell me to do this and do that,” she said, gesturing with her hands to show how I gestured with mine to get her to hurry up.

“Well, what should we do?”

“I’ve been thinking, maybe I could wake up earlier in the morning,” she said with her trademark confidence and placidity.

“Okay,” I said, nodding my head.  “I like it.  What does that make you?”

“Um…”

“What do smart girls do?” I prompted.

“They find a way to fix the problem.”

“And what are you doing here?”

“Trying to find a way to fix the problem.”

“So that means you’re…”

“A smart girl,” Six finished, satisfied.

And once again, my daughter has surprised me with her level-headed approach.  She has proven to me that once again I’ve underestimated her ability to internalize the fact that we have a problem, but more than that I’ve underestimated her ability to understand that she can act as part of the solution too.

When did she grow up so much?

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