Mornings I drive our oldest to school. There is a school bus he can take, but when he asked for a ride instead, because he found the ride on the bus terribly annoying, I jumped at the chance to drive him. I saw it as an opportunity for us to have a daily check-in, to catch up on stuff, and get a gauge on how he was doing and feeling. My inclination was correct, and we have spent the past four months catching up from 8:30 to 8:50 AM, just the two of us in the car.
At the end of this last week I asked why his social studies grades were lagging behind his other grades. I gave him an opportunity – an out – by asking if the issue was the subject matter, or how it was being presented. I offered up how when I was his age I turned off to social studies and history because it was so focused on memorizing dates, and what I wanted to know about was why people did what they did.
His response? “Every day we have advisory where we do a grade check. I’m aware of this.” And yes, his attitude was quite defensive.
“Well, if you are so aware of it, what are you doing about it?” I inquired.
In classic early-teen fashion, he shut down. What I was subtly impressed by was how he looked at the cell phone in his left hand, so tempted to open it, and check it, really doing nothing more than finding a way to avoid continuing the conversation with me but he resisted. He looked down at the phone, slowly started to lift it, then put it back down in his lap where he had been holding it
In classic parent-fashion, I felt a welling of emotion, screaming from deep within, saying “Well you better listen to me, you little so-and-so,” but this time I held it back. Instead, I remained calm, and continued, “So what do you plan on doing about it?”
We talked about study habits, and some bad habits I had let develop over the course of the year. I also let him off the hook: there are only three weeks left in the school year, state standardized tests are done with, and there are no new real behavior patterns I’m going to establish with him in such short time. He is on notice, however, that next year, eighth grade; study time will be quite different.
I could see he still wasn’t happy with our conversation. I suspect he felt I was intruding, that his grades were still good enough to have him on the honor role, and, therefore, what he was doing was perfectly acceptable. What he didn’t see was that I was watching how he studied, and I had spent his seventh grade year balancing how much I intruded on how well he was doing, and I came to the conclusion that the grades don’t matter – something I’ve felt all along – but that making sure he has solid study habits before high school starts is imperative, which is why I capped our conversation with something else.
I said, “Listen, kiddo, I know you’re not happy with me.” He slumped deeper into the passenger seat of the car. “But I also know that you’re just doing your job.” His posture changed. “You’re pushing back, thinking you know what’s best for you. And you should. If you didn’t I’d wonder what was wrong with you.” I could see he wanted to smirk. “But I’m doing my job. There’s a reason you still live with your parents. You don’t know what you don’t yet know, and I need to do my best to get you to see that.” His smirk softened.
There was a silence in the car for a moment, and we both looked at each other. “My other job is to be patient, to let you push back, but not to back down. And no matter how pissed you get at me, know I still love you.”
We had reached his school, and we pulled up to the drop-off spot in relative silence for the last two minutes of the drive. He started climbing out of the car, and I called after him, “Four-fifteen pick-up?”
He looked back in the car. “Yeah. Love you, dad.”
“I love you too.”
The door closed – the door of the car – but another door had opened.