Saturday, October 15, 2011

pretty smart.

when i was in high school i believed i was not smart, not pretty, and i was pretty shy. i was surrounded by pretty, smart, and outgoing friends, so i covered this up with bravado, sarcasm, wit (no shortage of ego there ;) ), and really really short skirts.

why? because my father, who raised me, didn't ever really tell me i was. not in general, and not on the days it was obvious i was suffering with some sling or arrow of adolescence. not just for the sheer parental praise of it. not ever.

thus i spent my high school years with, at time, crippling self-esteem that extended well after high school.

before you feel sorry for how i felt about myself, don't. we, and by we i mean me and my younger self, worked that out. it got better.

but in high school? not so much. i couldn't figure out why i was in the advanced classes if i wasn't smart? (for everything except math. stupid math)

my grades were crap, even though i fully understood the material (for everything except math. stupid math) and at times was so bored i couldn't keep my eyes open. but i was not raised by someone who paid a lot, or really any, attention to grades, and test scores, and attendance. my father was so busy trying to keep the lights on and food in the house and his own demons at bay that i was on my own.

my father loved me and he did the best he could, but parental praise and educational participation were not his strong suits. which is funny because i always knew he was my biggest fan and the smartest guy in the room.

but, if you grow up incredibly shy, and grow up never hearing, 'you're pretty, you're smart' by the ones who love you best how do you know?

you don't. and you believe that you are neither of those things. and you proceed accordingly. and are graded accordingly. and you measure the boys who like you based on that they like you at all, and that brings your self-esteem up. and then you add in short skits and a smart mouth and if you weren't basically a good girl what a recipe for disaster, right?

thank god my low self-esteem 'mistakes' were made MUCH later. you know, in the days when you know a little more than you did in high school. making ALL the difference in the world. still not always pretty, but keeping you out of the places you shouldn't be in in the first place.

all right. where were we? oh. yeah. all about me. i SWEAR I HAVE A POINT. i do. really.

okay, so it took a LONG time for me to understand that how i felt was not how it really was. when it finally dawned on me that what i never heard from my father DIDN'T automatically mean the opposite was true, it was a light bulb turned on.

the reason i tell you all of this?

the duke is failing math.

and yes, they are related.

see, okay, he's getting a high D. so not technically 'failing.' but c'mon, there's not a lot of difference between a D and an F. well, except if you're me and it's two days before graduation and you just learned you failed the geometry class in your SECOND ATTEMPT taking it and you are most certainly not going to graduate and add to that your mother is already in town for the graduation and how can you NOT FREAKING GRADUATE YOU DUMBASS so you cry to your teacher with big wailing gasping sobs and he takes pity on you and gives you a D and you pass and now you can actually graduate and no one is the wiser. then. yes. it makes a difference.

in the duke's case, it's in a sophomore advanced algebra honors class. so. it's a tough class. but still, none of us can understand it? it doesn't add up. pardon the pun.

so there's that and here's a recent snippet of conversation:

'the kids in my history class are all really smart.'

'yeah? well. you're smart, too.'

'i am? i mean, i know i'm not dumb, but they are like, really REALLY smart.'

'um. you're really smart, too.'

'i am? like how?'

i just looked at him and he was getting his backpack together and the bus was going to come and so we left it at that.

when he left i was left with the thought that the duke does not think he's smart! he's in mostly honors, doing well in EVERYTHING but his math class and he doesn't think he's smart? how can that be?

because he was never part of the public school system with its segregated classes of 'smart' and 'regular.' because he never had several teachers at once telling him or demonstrating to him that this was the case. and because he never got progress reports or report cards or awards or spelling bees or labels from the school and from other kids. because when you homeschool there is no honor roll. because he wasn't ever part of that process he never had a clue.

did i tell him he was smart? sure. but not on the regular. because we spent so much time together and he did so well on all his work, and i would tell him he did well. and help him when he didn't. and because he understood what i was saying to him and what he was reading and he taught himself geometry and algebra and did high school latin and greek and french.

i just assumed he knew? he finally started getting graded in 7th & 8th grade and i would tell him he got all As, but that was a pretty abstract concept to a homeschooler. and because i never emphasized grades as much as comprehension and participation and dedication to learning, i guess it was even more abstract.

it was just never an issue.

so he goes to school. and he's in these classes. and he looks around. and based on what kids around him say about who is and who is not 'smart,' and now there's As AND A pluses and minuses and Bs and Cs and Ds and Fs and everyone is so hell bent on grades and percentages and splitting hairs about pluses and minuses and suddenly he doesn't think he's smart. or at least 'as smart' as the other kids in his class. even though they are ALL in the same class. he's lost some confidence.

and it's impacting him. even though it couldn't be further from the truth.

so. i got out every year-end cumulative test result from every year he took the test starting in the 3rd grade. every year in may i would take him for a two day standardized test proctored at a big creepy church in the middle of nowhere. and every june they would send the results and i would look at them and file them away. so i got those test results out. and when he came home i spread them out in front of him. and he looked at them. and he saw how highly he scored in everything every year. grades and grades above the present grade he was in. by 7th grade he was scoring post high school in every single subject.

i'm not telling you this to crow about my kid. i'm telling you this because i never told him. and i think i probably should have.

he was dumfounded. again, pardon the pun.

'why didn't you ever show me these? whenever i asked how i did you just said i did well.'

'i didn't show you these for the same reason i wouldn't have shown you these if you did poorly. they are a measure of a time. a few days in the month of may. they aren't the whole picture of who you are as a person or a student.'

'yeah. but they're pretty FREAKIN' awesome!'

'yes. you did well.'

'WELL? i'm like totally smart!'

i may have created a monster.

but at least he's a monster with a new healthy dose self-esteem that will hopefully serve him well. and hopefully in algebra. and hopefully soon. (he's got a plan in place. someone to help. they offered to move him down but he declined. 'i've already taken geometry. why would i take again just for a good grade? and moving to a lower algebra 2 class would mess up my whole schedule. so, i'm just going to do it.' good for him. fingers crossed)

look, being a teenager is so tough. just 'being' a teenager. and then you start measuring yourself against everyone around you. and if you find you come up short, and who doesn't, really, you grab and reach for whatever makes sense. to keep you afloat. to bolster you.

if the duke starts wearing really really short skirts i'm going to begin to worry.

and add to all this that pesky frontal lobe. throwing any logical reasonable thinking out the window when you need it the most. so you NEED your parents to believe in you. to support you. to tell you you are pretty and you are smart. and i'm not saying my father didn't believe in me, quite the opposite, but he never told me what i NEEDED to hear.

the duke is different. he knew even before seeing those test scores that he wasn't dumb. that he had the chops, and that he was doing well. BUT he was letting his perception that he couldn't possibly be as smart as his peers affect his performance. at least in math, and who knows how far it might extend as time and pressure wears on. simply because he hadn't grown up being told that 'this is what you are. you are smart.'

all i know is it's pretty darn hard to sit in a room full of people and feel like an idiot. to hang out with pretty friends and feel not pretty. for four years solid. to know there is something there, to you, in you, that is *more* than what you think of yourself, but not have access to it. just because you believe this one thing. just because you never heard differently.

i don't want that for the duke. i don't want him strutting around like he's gods gift to the educational system either, but i'd rather he feel empowered. and we'll see where that takes him. either way, i'm a proud mama. no matter the grade.

and yes, i told him that. he's been hearing that for years. :)

so there you have it.

and just in case no one ever told YOU;

you are pretty.

you are handsome.

and you are smart.


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