Grades Don’t Matter

Ever since our oldest was in 4th grade I’ve told him that I’ve never cared about his grades; I care about how hard he is trying. If he’s trying his hardest, and getting good guidance from both his teachers and from me as to how to apply that effort – again with the parent, teacher partnership I find to be so important with education – then the grades he receives are inconsequential.

Great in theory.

And, I have to sheepishly admit, it’s been great in practice as well, but I’m also quite aware that the genetic lottery was kind to our kids, and that the results of his level of effort have almost always mirrored a standard grading chart.

A minus

We’ve made it to mid-way through seventh grade on this plan. Elementary school was easy. Sixth grade a couple of hiccoughs. Seventh grade has had its ups and downs, but I had to adjust my own expectations. There have been times where he has been trying his best and he has received D’s and F’s on homework. He’s always responded by seeking extra help from the teacher, or by doing a little extra work at home and his test grades, the ones counting for 80% of his grade, have always rebounded.

Honor role.

Proud father.

Then two weeks ago on a Thursday he came home from school complaining about a pain in his two front teeth. They do cross some, and he will need some orthodonture done on his bottom teeth at some point, but I thought be might be over-reacting. After all, ever since turning 13 he has been increasingly vocal about how boring school is. How there are days where’s essentially suffering through every period, and that there are no teachers who truly inspire him. Well there is one, but that’s different, at least in his mind.

I chalked the additional complaining up to the general state of young teen angst. Then the pain was so intense he did not sleep for two nights, so I called the dentist to get him in the next week to pinpoint the cause of the pain.

Of course the intensity of the pain reduced the next day, but the pain started to migrate towards the molars. It was a dull pain, not acute, so some ibuprofen at night allowed him to get at least some sleep.

Then we began to notice swelling along his jawline under where he was feeling pain, and the swelling was very tender to the touch, but he had also become very congested, started coughing, and had a low-grade fever.

The fever meant he would not be going to school, so I made an appointment to see a pediatrician. Looked like he had the flu, and that shouldn’t be a big deal for an otherwise healthy kid, right?

The next night we were supposed to go to the dentist, but he had a nosebleed that wouldn’t stop for hours. We went to the ER where a decongestant spray and long pinching of the nose later we were about to be on our way, but I had the doctor take a look at the swelling on our son’s jaw, which had increased in size over the past two days. The doctor did not seem overly concerned, particularly since we were trying to get in to see a dentist soon.

Two days later we finally weaseled our way into a rescheduled dentist appointment after I emphasized that my son was having difficulty lifting his head and chewing because of the pain in his jaw. I thought it was directly related to his teeth.

Well it was. When the dentist saw my son he rushed us off to the ER where they hooked him up to an antibiotic IV drip, and performed a CT scan where they determined he had cellulitis. We still didn’t know why our son and developed cellulitis, and at the suggestion of the dentist the next morning we went to an endodontist, who pinpointed what he was fairly certain to be the cause of everything: a molar that needed a root canal, the infection of which had seeped into the soft tissue of our son’s jaw.  The endodontist performed the root canal right then.

Five days later, the swelling has gone down appreciably, and the pain has receded, but our son is exhausted. I’m exhausted. I’ve also found that the Internet is a dangerous thing for a lay-person like me, who read about all of the things that can go wrong with cellulitis, which of course had my mind racing to the darkest corners. I watched my son intently for 48 hours after the second ER visit.

But now we’re firmly, comfortably in the realm of a slow and steady recovery to better health and I realize my son has been out of school for seven school days. Missing this much school was no big deal in elementary school: something he could make up in a couple of days. In middle school – particularly in his math class – catching up may never actually happen. He may have to just take the zero on some topics and move on.

I’ve let him know that I really don’t care about his grades – and I don’t – and that I just want him to fully recover. I have emphasized with him that grades in middle school don’t matter for getting you into college. But they actually do when you understand the mechanics of how administrations track students. And administrations who claim not to track students are lying to you and themselves.

I don’t want to be that father who pushes his son back to school too early. The poor kid is totally wiped out. But every day that goes by is one more day that he has to make up.

Maybe the one advantage he has is Spring Break, which is coming up in two weeks, time he might be able to use to make up all of the work.

And then there’s the nagging fog of my emotional reaction to the past 12 days, how I felt for the 36 hours after I found out he had cellulitis, and I had no idea what warning signs to really watch out for, even after two of the physicians emphasized that I was justified to be concerned, and to keep a very close eye on my son. I did not care at all about his school. I couldn’t care less if I had to home school him for the rest of his life. I didn’t care who thought what about how I was reacting, or how closely I was watching my son’s recovery. I wanted him healthy. I wanted him better. I wanted him to not be hurting. I wanted to know he was safe.

I hope that fog never fully goes away, so, therefore, no, I really don’t care about my son’s grades. I hope that whatever he’s ever doing he’s trying his hardest, and right now that means trying his hardest at getting better.

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