This Time, I Talk. You Listen.

For two days, I couldn’t look at her. I’ve never been in such a bad place with one of my kids before.

She obviously resented me for homeschooling her, for following through with the high standard I told her that I would hold her to if we were put in this position. But now, I resented her right the hell back. Mad does not describe what I was.

I knew that it was my responsibility to talk this out with her. I’m the mom. The problem was, I couldn’t do it subjectively enough to pull any sort of lesson from the experience. Not yet. If I talked to her any sooner than I did, while the salty taste of distrust was still so pungent on my tongue, it wouldn’t have been very productive. I would have been doing it more for myself than for her, and that’s a line I don’t cross with my kids.

Last night I finally asked her to help me peel potatoes for dinner. It was time. Matthew played video games in our living room for the first time, giving Mary and I a minute to talk that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. She was nervous. I was a hundred things at once.

I started by telling her a story of a time that I did something similar (though minuscule in comparison) as a kid, and the trouble I got into for it, and why. I told her that I didn’t understand it at the time, but that the lesson stuck with me enough that today, I want to pass it on to her.

It was a lesson on integrity.

One thousand, five hundred dollars I spent on your curriculum, all told. My entire summer, I put into watching teaching seminars online and reading books and studying history. Months, I put into refinishing an entire room of our house to give to you for school. (One dark wood-paneled wall in particular, I reminded, took eight coats of paint. I scrubbed rust off of the floor until I couldn’t feel my knees.) I wake up everyday before dawn, and instead of writing or painting or sorting through photos I took the day before like I used to enjoy doing with my morning coffee last year, I color code weekly schedules for you and I plan activities down to the hour, months in advance. I spend whole Saturdays glued to the copier, paper clipping lessons and organizing everything into a neat little filing system. I read through homeschool articles and teaching blogs that bore me to the core of my soul, so that I can collect ideas on how to be more engaging for you when I teach. I clean up from every craft and project and experiment that we do, and I do it happily, even when the entire rest of my house is an embarrassment to our way of life. I’ve taken on your chores, so that you don’t have to focus on anything more than school.

This is something I’ve striven for you not to have to know. But, Mary, everything else in our family life has suffered. Matthew never behaved this way last year, because last year I was a better and more fair parents to him. Last year, he wasn’t expected to keep his mouth shut and stay out of things from sun up to sun down, day after day, while I make you the bigger priority. I’m lucky if I have the opportunity to read to Scarlett once a day, much less get her out of the house to play – and I sit up at night sometimes wrought with guilt over the fact that her speech development is probably suffering because I don’t make the time for her. I’m too busy fighting with you. Daddy hasn’t come home to a hot meal in months, because after all of that painstaking and passionate planning I put into homeschooling you, all you have to do is refuse to work for an hour — and all of that organization I worked so hard to accomplish, unravels.

Instead of getting through our school day in the 4 to 6 hours I schedule it to easily be completed, I, your dad, your siblings suffer the consequence of you refusing to work, or treating me with such blatant disrespect in the midst of a lesson, that I have to walk away. It’s me who has to spend the evening hours making up for all the work you refused to do in the morning when it was assigned; it’s me who has to reteach every lesson to you (once when I actually assign it in the morning, and then again hours later when you finally begrudgingly agree to get it over with)  — while I’m supposed to be tending to responsibilities I have concerning everyone else in the family. I have a sinkful of dishes I’m not getting around to until 4:30, when I should be getting ready to unwind and maybe finally take a shower. I’m scrambling to put laundry away after everyone else is in bed. Daddy doesn’t have a hot meal waiting for him when he gets home because you’ve only just by then agreed to let me teach you science. Look around, I said. My house is falling apart. I work my fingers to the bone every weekend trying to catch up on housework that’s impossible to keep up with because while 50% of my time at home with you goes into homeschooling, the other 50% goes into struggling with your behavior. I go three days at a time between showers. Daddy has to go four days in a row sometimes without sandwiches for lunch because shopping has to be perpetually put off until a day when you agree to do all of your schoolwork before it’s too late to get out of the house!

You have 100% of my time. You have 100% of my attention. You have 100% of everything in me right now.

I told her that I have never been so miserable. I have never worked so hard to be treated so badly in return. Homeschooling, I reminded her, was a lifestyle change I took on as a necessity. A sacrifice I made. It was a position I was put into by her. Did I not give you six months in public school to convince me that you could handle not being taken out? On the last day of school, did I not have to drive you home myself because “extensive profanity” had you suspended from being able to ride the school bus for the rest of the year?

How dare you, after all of this time, continue to behave like I deserve retaliation for doing this to you. How dare you.

The thing is, it’s not your fault for not knowing how miserable this experience has made me, because I worked very hard to not let you see it. I wanted you to have no doubt that I was nothing but happy to do anything for you that you needed from me. I would walk through fire for you, kid, and I wanted you to know that. I wanted THAT to be what you saw. I know that you’re only a kid and I can’t expect you to have the capacity of an adult to appreciate things you don’t fully understand. So I never expected appreciation. But I did not expect this. You need to know that I am grossly disappointed in you for lying about the effort I put into homeschooling you. What you did was callous and irresponsible. I know you know that.

In all the six years that I’ve raised you, I have made mistakes along the way. But I have taught you to have respect for your father and I. I have taught you to appreciate the devotion other people put into their relationship with you. And I have taught you to have integrity. In lying about a member of this family, Mary, you gravely disappointed me.

She was biting on her finger with a far off look on her face when she nodded, a tear falling from her jawline and disappearing onto her lap. “I was mad at you,” she said after a minute, in more of an admitting way than a defensive one. It isn’t like her to listen quietly, especially while being reprimanded for something she’s actually done. This was a new and a very genuine response. It made me proud, and I let her know.

After that, the conversation brightened up fast. She stayed with me in the kitchen to talk even after the potatoes were peeled, offering help with other medial chores instead of going back to Mario Kart in the living room. I crumbled bacon over a cutting board and she passed me the paper towels and we gossiped about her old friends from school. I stirred garlic into the onions while they seared over a flame and she cried into her sleeve a little about her mom, which almost always happens when we have a strong parent/child moment like the one we had tonight. In less than a minute, she was smiling again, teasing me for the way I do something. The weight of sadness around her mom has already thinned so much, dissipating into smaller clouds spread farther apart as the years gone by make a terrible part of life feel strangely normal. Waiting for Spencer to come home, I loped in and out of five or six different, much happier topics with her, leaving the lecture behind with a strong sense of accomplishment. Both of us, very glad it was over.

I may have been too hard on her. But I don’t feel like I was. I want to raise a woman of integrity, not one ruled by her emotions. On the other hand, I think it was good for her to see that she isn’t the only one who has emotions. I think it was perfectly healthy for her to see that I was hurt by what she did. I think it was good for both of us to have a moment of real honesty about what this experience has been like from both sides of the fence.

 

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