The One Hundred and Forty-Seventh Chart

By Ekta R. Garg

November 14, 2014

On Thursdays I pick up the kids from school and we drive straight to their music lessons. Fortunately they have lessons at the same time and at the same school, so it’s just a matter of transporting them and their instruments to the music school by 3:30 every Thursday afternoon. This often results in what I’m sure is quite the comical scene of me dragging a violin, a guitar, a chair (for Six to sit in during her guitar lessons, since the school doesn’t have any chair low enough,) and a bag with Eight’s violin music to the car every Thursday, all in one trip, often in a rush, sometimes just avoiding tripping over my own feet.

I’m usually watching the clock between stoplights and on empty spots of the road during that space of about 35 minutes from the time I leave home until we reach the music school. I want to reach the school with about five to seven minutes to spare so the kids can have a few minutes to chat. Often when we do get there with that time to spare, I take out Eight’s homework binder and leaf through it. Once in a while I actually get a minute or two to start checking her math homework.

Yesterday when I pulled out her binder, I spotted two graded math tests in it. One had a 90 and an A on it; the other had an 80 and a B on it.

“What’s this?” I asked Eight, keeping my voice neutral.

“Oh, those are my tests,” Eight said. “I have to correct the ones I got wrong on a separate piece of paper and turn it in.”

I nodded and put the tests away. Then I pulled out her math homework, which is always a packet of about six or seven pages that include a mix of a review of the day’s lesson and problems for the actual homework portion. I scanned through it and then decided to ask Eight something.

“How do you feel about the math tests?”

“Horrible,” she said right away. Her voice held no disappointment, no tension, but I’ve started to notice a subtle shift in Eight’s way of speaking when she doesn’t like something. She has begun to try to equalize her voice and her reaction. Almost as if to reassure herself that if she doesn’t make a big fuss about it, the “thing” won’t become a big deal.

Hmm. Sounds—and feels—kind of familiar.

“Well,” I said, “I know you don’t feel good about it, and it would have been nice if you’d gotten a higher score, but I want you to know it’s totally okay.”

“I mean, the A is good, but I don’t like the B.”

“And that’s fine,” I said. “It just means you need to work a little harder on some things. After music I’ll help you fix what you got wrong, okay?”

“Okay.”

My response may sound similar to what many of you have said to your own children. I know it also falls in line with the “you-can-do-no-wrong, don’t-bother-trying-to-work-to-your-full-aptitude, even-mediocrity-is-an-accomplishment” attitude some parents employ these days. In some ways our country has become afraid to point out wrongdoing.

I have no such fear. If the kids do something wrong, they hear about it right away. In fact, Eight will go into this weekend on a probation from books for the infraction of not listening to the grownups. The first time she did it, she had to give up books for three days. This time she can’t read them for a week.

But I also want my kids to learn to accept their mistakes. I say this with the utmost of humility: teachers have identified both children as gifted. As if it weren’t bad enough they have a Type-A perfectionist mother, both of them came with some in-built chip that creates a self-demand for perfection in everything. Anything less brings tears, frustration, and (often from Six) the declaration that “I’m never going to do [insert frustration-inducing activity here] ever again!”

I strive for perfection but have learned through the years to give myself a little bit of grace, to lower the expectations just a notch so that I’m somewhere in the realm of normal people. And I’m definitely not a gifted student. So I think it only makes sense if I start ingraining in the girls now a measure of that grace.

Accept your mistakes, I tell them. Look at them as an opportunity to learn something, not as a failure of your capabilities. Chin up. Smile. Try harder. And if you get it wrong again, start with acceptance and repeat.

I hope Eight and Six both learn this lesson now, as opposed to later in life like me. Grace is called “saving” for a reason. Sometimes you need it from your own insecurities.

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