Have you ever found yourself making threats as a person, or better yet, as a parent? I’ve made many, and almost that exact same amount have been forgotten, not followed through on, or simply overlooked for the sake of being an overworked, overstressed mom with about a million other things to do.
Restrictions tend to last about a third of the time initially handed down; each time a declaration is made that dinner will be eaten at the table and nowhere but the table,we last about two days. There was that one time I took away the Wii… for an hour.
So imagine the threats that floated through my head as I found myself listening to my sixteen year old son tell me that he had not been doing homework after school in the library like he had promised. He had instead simply been sitting – in the library – waiting for the clock to strike 3:30 – every day.
Perhaps a little backstory to explain why this wasn’t a first time offense: Dominic is a sophomore in high school. Last year, he experienced, what I’ve since described as a “freshman fall from grace.” His freshman year started off toward the honor roll and he was recommended for honors classes. At some point between then, and the end of the year, he discovered that the class clown shoes fit him REALLY well. In no time at all, his “A”’s and “B”’s soon settled to a perfect “F” average.
Thus began my career as a helicopter/hovering/in-your-face parent. I contacted the school for help. Of the seven teachers I emailed on a weekly basis, only three emailed me back. The school counselor literally told me on the phone “I am too busy to deal with student issues” and refused to meet with me in person. The principal, after I vowed to take this matter to the superintendent, was more than happy to help – until she realized I wanted to meet with her in person. I never heard from her again.
At home, there was a lot of yelling, screaming, crying, bribes, empty platitudes, and cursing. At some point, I realized that this was simply not the best parenting I had ever done, and finally settled on a promise: “Get your grades back up on your own, or I will call your dad in Georgia and you can deal with him and internet summer school.”
In a miracle the likes of which have not been seen since the burning bush, Dominic pulled his F average up to a solid C. My dad drummed into me from an early age that “to get a C means that you showed up and kept your seat warm.” Yet, I was proud of my son’s C.
At the start of this year, we sat down at the dinner table (there was of course no dinner present, it’s really more of a meeting table) and made an agreement. Last year was one of the hardest years either of us had ever experienced. That would never happen again.
So here I sat, not three months after school started, and stared at him. He had broken that very promise, had literally lied to me every day and told me he had finished his homework in the library… and in doing so, he had broken my heart.
I stared at him, my mouth was open, my ears were ringing, and all I could do was stare. Kicking him out of the car, though tempting, was a short term solution – we were only a quarter of a mile from home… I was fairly certain he could find his way back. I could ship him to Timbuktu, but payday wasn’t for another three days, and postage would be steep.
I didn’t think. I was on the purest form of autopilot. There is no way to explain the dreamlike state I was in when I picked up my cell phone, pulled up my call list, scrolled until I found the listing I had been looking for, and hit “call”.
Slowly the sound of his voice began to fade, as did the color in his face, when the line was answered, I tilted the phone towards my lips, and said, “Hi, my name is Wendy Woodward – I am mom to Dominic and I would like to attend his classes with him tomorrow. How do I make that happen?”
What possible response could follow that? I’ve heard of parents who had threatened such things, but hadn’t actually met any such person. Clearly both the receptionist and Dominic were trapped in the same cat-got-your-tongue universe. He simply stared at me as I had been staring at him, and the receptionist actually hemmed and hawed for a moment before clearing her throat, and mumbled, “Please hold”.
Wow – so really? The receptionist had to put me on hold to find some sort of policy to allow this insane action? As I waited on hold, pretending I had any clue as to what would happen once the Wizard told the receptionist how to get me out of the mess I had just put myself in, there was one phrase running through my head: “A journey begins with a single step.”
The receptionist returned to the line, and with a still stunning amount of shock and awe in her voice she announced, “Ma’am, we just need you to come to the front office in the morning and get a visitor’s badge. We will contact your son’s teachers and let them know you’re coming. Welcome back to high school.”
Man oh man, had I just stepped in it.
(Part two tomorrow)
Wendy Syler Woodward, 37, has been a single parent for 10 years, with two boys ages 11 and 16. Originally from southern California, Wendy moved her family seven years ago to Phoenix where she manages a law firm for work, writes for fun, and is preparing to go back to college before the end of the year.