This book is different from other books

You and YOU ALONE are in charge of what happens in this story.

There are dangers, choices, adventures, and consequences. YOU must use all of your numerous talents and much of your enormous intelligence. The wrong decision could end in disaster – even death. But, don’t despair. At any time, YOU can go back and make another choice, alter the path of your story, and change its result.

–RA Montgomery

I got an email from Blogher yesterday and it gave me a nightmare that I was there! Spam-induced nightmares! Probably not the first. The last time I was there I had anxiety so bad it was like the sucking chest wound of anxiety. So not me. I’m glad I wrote for the site for a while, I guess it was experience of some kind. At any rate it let me know I wasn’t interested in pursuing freelance internet writing for large media groups. For a long time before that I was chasing that rainbow, writing punchy blurblets and submitting them to gossip sites, which I think were respectable to have on your resume 10 years ago? Anyway.

Presently I’m experiencing parenting choose your own adventure, which I’m sure will culminate in my head being crushed by a giant ant. What I am about to say probably won’t make much sense (par for the course or rare moment of self-awareness, you decide).

Franny has had a rough year. She is So Middle School right now. As I’ve mentioned, I just feel a deep sense of compassion for her since I remember these feelings. I’m impressed how frank she can be about her feelings, without being hurtful or nasty. She thinks everyone is stupid and annoying at times (welcome to life), and has that feeling like she wants to scream and run out of the house, and she does. Currently it’s just within the neighborhood, but I suspect she’s on the verge of becoming a bus rider, to the extent that will be possible here with all the cuts. I don’t want to make excuses for her, but she definitely seems challenged by her hormones.

We were all set to launch her to Japan with part of her class for two weeks, starting at the end of this month. All I had to do was pay the last bit of deposit. At the beginning of the year we made a deal that she would keep her grades at a B or better, and I would consider an occasional C on a case-by-case basis. I didn’t think this was an impossible bar, since she’s been doing this for most of middle school as long as she pays attention and turns in her homework.

Last week I checked her grades again, which were pretty bad around progress report time, and had been pretty bad since xmas. When her progress report came home we had that fight where her nose started bleeding, dramatically, and I kind of blew it by “OH POOR POODLE”-ing her. I told her then that Japan was on chopping block if she couldn’t turn it around this quarter. I had told her she was in danger during third quarter when she turned in her first bad report card, but that I would grant clemency if she finished the year strongly and her semester averages were okay. She knew what to do, what was missing.

This is the nice thing and the sucks thing about electronic grade tracking, in a way. I’m kind of perversely envious of my parents, who had the pleasure of acting really surprised and blowing up once a quarter when grades came home, since what was going on the rest of the year was a complete mystery to them. I am expected to monitor her list of assignments and failed quizzes and nag her about them. I fell down on this when I was sick for a month or so and I noticed the difference. I often ask myself what the difference is between kids who can self-manage and those who cannot. I knew kids in school who never missed an assignment, while I was sometimes surprised when assignments were due because I didn’t remember hearing about them in the first place. Franny seems to be in the latter camp, unless she focuses until she sweats a little, which she can only seem to maintain for a short time.

I have seen her do last minute hail marys with her grades and the lenience of her teachers, who often let her turn work in late or make up tests. I don’t love this practice, because then you have a kid who is doing weeks of assignments at once, in addition to their normal homework load. I don’t really care about the letter grade itself, but it’s obvious she’s learning when she’s doing the homework and passing tests, so it’s a good barometer. She is happy and relieved when she’s up to date on her homework and trying in school, so I know there’s a feeling of reward there.

Unfortunately, last week she finally passed the point of no return with her grades. School is wrapping up. She got a D in Washington State history last quarter, and is pulling an E as of now. I emailed her teacher to see if summer school was on the docket for her and he said that she might be able to pull off a D if she aces a presentation today, which means no summer school but is still pretty bad. I asked her about it on Friday and she said, “What presentation?” Abandon all hope etc.

When she went back to school yesterday her teacher told her I emailed him and asked if he “ruined her weekend.” HA. This teacher also has a countdown chart on the wall that reads ‘Days Until No More Shane.”

“What’s up with Shane?” I asked.

“Oh, none of my teachers like Shane,” she said. It’s just a fact. Poor kid!

So, after a lot of thought and discussion with P., Japan has gone from being on the chopping block to having its severed head in the basket being hooted at by the crowd. I sent the email this morning including my address for the partial refund check.

We’re very sad. I really wanted this for her, and I’m sad that it came to pass that I had to be tested on the grades issue. I really thought she could pull this off. I am trying not to be that dick parent who says “Okay head on up to Olympus and bring down fire, then you can have some ice cream.” I almost feel like it’s bad timing more than anything else, since the hormone dial has just now gone up to 11. But I also feel like this will set the tone for high school and what the expectations will be there.

She was teary over the weekend and asked to be reassigned from the nontraditional arts high school she was accepted to and put in our traditional, neighborhood high school.

“No,” I said. “That’s not possible at this point.” (It probably is, but, NO.)

“I thought you said if it wasn’t working out I could…”

“Yes, that’s true. But you need to try. At this point you haven’t even gone there. If you’re bombing at your school now, going to our neighborhood high school will be the same experience–a traditional assignment schedule, quizzes, regular grading system. That’s not working very well for you now. Why don’t you give something different a try?”

“Okay.” Gloomy.

I feel a lot of angst over this even though I think it’s the right thing. I emailed her grandfather (my former FIL of many years) and told him what was happening and that we would be sending him a check to “refund” the money he had generously contributed to the trip. It was a heartfelt email and I said I hoped he understood. He is a big fan of education and travel, so educational travel was basically chocolate and peanut butter for him. He replied shortly after:

Thanks for letting me know. I know this is a tough decision, but I think you are making the right decision. It reminds me a little bit of almost exactly the same issue with [Franny's aunt] at exactly the same age.

I have heard tales of the terror of the middle school aged Auntie Jaguar. It also made me feel better that I have just a tiny, tiny slice of parenting left in my own life, which is something I have always been running on a deficit on.

Franny and I have had longstanding plans to have dinner alone tonight as “one last hurrah” before school’s out and she’s away at SeaFed’s for long stretches. We are also going to get her a graduation dress for a week from today. She reports that all of her friends are wearing lace and shopping at Papaya, the very hip mall store.

“Want to start at Red Light?” I asked. “Maybe we can find something vintage and unique.” She said yes, but I have a feeling I may end up taking her to Papaya. She is not dysfunctional like I was and wants to fit in with her friends more. I just want her to see there is something outside of Papaya. I guess she can vacation outside of Papaya, but doesn’t have to live there, like I felt I did.

I have told the girls more than once that I don’t enjoy punishing them and that I would like us to all follow the rules (meaning our family compact, of course) so we can go through life skipping and holding hands. And that when we have conflicts I feel more tired, and we all do, and there’s less fun and happiness to go around. They laugh sometimes at this image of us skipping around, but it’s true. I don’t like dropping the parental boom but I am not going to be her pal. I hope some of the gap that I feel between us right now can close a little tonight.

9 Responses to “This book is different from other books”

  1. anne says:

    We had a few incidents like this when K was about the same age. It was ROUGH. Because generally we do get along like pals, with the skipping and the handholding metaphorical but very real. But yeah… we’re not pals, and there were situations where I had to parent up. The good news is, he’s 17 now, and he absolutely runs himself. Assignments done on time, grades fine, etc. And home life too, and work, the Very Responsible Young Man who learned about consequences and moved forward with it. So! There is hope!

  2. A says:

    I think you did the right thing, but I know it was a tough choice to make. You did give the warnings and the consequences. There will be other trips. Maybe you can both go to Japan together on a mother/daughter trip at some point in the future?

  3. iasshole says:

    There will be other trips! And hopefully at a time when she’s a little calmer. I admit I was excited to have someone else take her to Japan right now.

  4. dorrie says:

    Seriously, you can do this work now or NOT do it, then the window closes, and nothing is learned and they are kind of…fucked. You know you did the right thing. It’s okay to feel sad about the outcome, as you know. Good job. I hate it when my kids force me to parent them.

  5. iasshole says:

    “I hate it when my kids force me to parent them.”

    THIS A MILLION TIMES THIS. I actually get a high-pitched whining noise in my head and my forehead vein pops out. I’m like, okay, assess crime, think of punishment…argh. Can we not just spend the evening watching a movie or something?

    I talked with a friend who I think was probably an easy teenager, but she said she wished there had been more follow through on consequences for her, because she suspects the transition to adulthood and adult consequences.

  6. A says:

    “I admit I was excited to have someone else take her to Japan right now.”

    * A laffs forever. *

    There ought to be comedy clubs exclusively for parents of teenagers. The eye rolls and the sass and the Woe Is Me is comedy to me now, but I felt it all so hard at that age, too.

  7. Mir says:

    Sending many virtual fist bumps. We had a very similar incident this year, only there was no refund available, so in addition to missing the trip (which could’ve easily been earned if a certain someone had only bothered to, you know, turn in schoolwork), she had to pony up the deposit. I’d love to tell you that a lesson was learned and everything like that. But. Yeah. It’ll happen again. (For us, I mean. Hopefully not for you!) And it’ll still be the right decision to be that buzzkill parent who enforces the rules. Siiiiiigh.

  8. Suenos says:

    Ditto, tough decision but. a good one. Middle School is tough, I student taught middle schoolers in college and decided not become a teacher because of it. I don’t regret my decision not to teach but I remember thinking that the kids had so little control over themselves at that at age that I would have to be um…almost perfect everyday to keep them motivated and focus and i knew I wasn’t up to the task. Good news is that it does get better.