Stressed Out, Stressed Out

By Zerline Hughes

report cardMy son said I stress him out. He said it’s me, not his teachers. No surprise there, though. They put the zeroes in on his grade spread sheet when he doesn’t turn in his work. And there’s not a lot of follow up; no reminders. And if they do remind him, apparently their feedback is going into one ear and out of to the other: nonchalance on the boy’s part, I say.

But when I check in on his online grade keeper (modern technology, I tell ya) and see those zeroes, AND see a plummeting A or B average in his classes, I get nervous, concerned, and turn on my (over) react mode (see my recent post on overreacting).

His teachers say he’s a bright student. He has great ideas. He can handle the work. But they also say he needs to ask questions more and work better at group assignments. Oh, and he struggles with “materials management. Know what that means? He loses his stuff! All agreed.

As the parent of Black children, it’s often hard to not translate some feedback without applying under- and overtones of race. And I don’t necessarily want teachers to be harder on him because of some myth that Black kids — especially Black boys need a heavy hand in the classroom. I don’t want him generalized, stereotyped, pigeonholed and thought of not working well with others, separating or segregating himself, or being considered one who does not want to assimilate/integrate. And of course, once an average grade or two gets on his “permanent record,” he begins to get lumped into a group of students that may be thought of as not caring.

Listen here: I got plenty of Cs in junior high, high school AND college. And was proud of some of those average grades. Damn proud, in fact. And grateful, too. I also have told my kids I’m not TOO concerned with grades. I can tell that they are learning, increasing their knowledge, having fun at school and making efforts. That really is most important. But I also have to explain to them what most every Black parent has to explain to their Black scholars: you have to work twice as hard. It sucks. It’s unfair. It’s all part of the disparity that exists in our employment, education, even prison system (Read the linked Justice Policy Institute’s research brief series on the link between improving public safety and outcomes for youth through positive social investments.) And because we know it exists, we must conform and act accordingly: try your best to be above average. Oh the pressure.

My son processes slowly. He chooses his words wisely and he wants to give you the right answer – whether the question is “what is the square root of pi,” or “how did you like your dinner.” (Sometimes it’s actually maddening sitting there waiting for his response.) And as you’ve read, he is so busy trying to not be average with his saxophone playing and martial arts, and attending a great school that is an hour away from home, so winding down in between all this overachieving is hard – especially when there’s no time for downtime. (Hmmmm, that sounds like another blog post: no time for downtime.)

For the girl, she’s got it a bit easier, at least for now. Her public school, I feel, is easy on students – not a lot of projects, reports, homework – not so happy about that – so I tell her that overachieving is easier for her. “Excel on the few assignments that you get,” I tell her. But she tells me when she’s not challenged, there’s simply no interest. So then, I extend the conversation to overachieving on her chores. “Cleaning the kitchen doesn’t just mean putting the dishes in the dishwasher and pressing start.” (Boy do they have it good!) It’s clearing off and wiping down the counter; sweeping AND using the dustpan; and cleaning out the sink.

The way she huffs and puffs and expels air, it seems I, too, stress her out. In her own words, “Oh well.” Just do it!

Is it too much to ask for overachieving, functioning, accepted young people who are happy with where they end up and comfortable on how they are perceived by the public, their peers – regardless of what others may, in fact, think of them? Well, maybe.

So, I have agreed with my son that if he monitors his own progress and responsibilities, I’ll interfere less, thus, the stress will end. What will also help end the stress is the end of the school year in just about 7 days. YESSS! I don’t know which of us is looking forward to it most.

And for the record, I’ve got stress, too! I have to schedule, organize, negotiate pick up and drop off to the various activities, oversee homework, party invitations, special assemblies, bake sales, school volunteer opportunities, AND consult with clients. Hmph … overachieving central in our household, it seems.

But when I think about it, my Cs in algebra, trigonometry, geography and Spanish didn’t really affect how others perceived me, affect my success, and no one has ever requested my “permanent record.” So maybe I should lay off, you think?

BUT it is a new day. Competition is fierce. The pressure is on. Scholarships are harder to come by today and a college education is more necessary now than ever.

Must. Find. Balance. for these two … and me.

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