Wednesday, June 22, 2011

the end is near (at least for this school year)

June is a beautiful with its sun kisses and its temptations to set everything aside and imbibe golden warmth. But (and this is a giant BUT), school is not over. And, it remains in session with a vengeance. June is a carrot dangling before our children. It speaks in seductive tones- "You will have all of this: sunshine, warmth, leisure, if you just work a little bit longer." School in June is like a month long ass whooping. It aims to keep the kids in line, leaving a sharp sting on their hides so that they remember to keep learning- keep their brains tuned and sharp over the extended vacation. Unfortunately, all three of my older kids turned in their studiousness Memorial Day weekend. For someone who has suffered from a paralyzing anxiety disorder her whole life- more specifically school/ performance related anxiety- the loose ends of the children’s projects these past few weeks has stirred the demon once again. I find myself restless, impatient, snappish and cold. I cannot help but to view their work, their academic performance( so often wildly beyond my control) as my work, my assessment, my accomplishment- or my failure.

Ever since I graduated from college 13ish years ago, I have had a recurring dream. For someone who has always held academic performance and responsibility to a high standard, it is really a nightmare. I dream the week of spring finals in senior year. It is my last day. I have just completed my closing exam and I am a feeling confident and at peace with my mastery of the material.  I am walking down the hallway ready to leave the building, ready to graduate; and, then I overhear something which jolts my awareness- reminding me that I am not done. There is still one crowning final I have to take. The problem is- I never attended the class, never learned the material. I panic. Do I take the exam- certain to fail? Do I conjure up a tangled lie about how I dropped the course in the first week of school, but the department secretary neglected to file my paperwork? Either choice requires that I must face a professor, a stranger, and explain that I am ill prepared. The dream ends before I make my choice, before I must -with my heart racing and my palms sweating-confront my instructor with my mistake. I’ve always chalked up the dream to not having taken my History of Jazz final in senior year. (I was excused due to my overall A+ average). I figured that the dream meant that I was dealing with a need for closure.

In the past few years, when the school year rolls steadily toward completion and there is among the children an equal amount of excited energy and academic exhaustion, the dream insinuates itself once again and more frequently. I am coming to understand that it is indeed a reflection of the desire for closure. But, not for an exam I did not take. The panic, the feeling of vulnerability, lack of preparedness and fear of being labeled as a failure- all stems from being a parent with 3 school aged children- who in the final two weeks of the grading period had among them a Mandarin Chinese project, Regents exams, 5 final exams, 2 ELA projects and one 3rd grade Earth Science report- which they would rather ignore. I cannot fathom letting work hang over my head. I marvel at how they can live- eat, sleep, play- knowing that their work is not done. I bark at them like a distressed dog. “Work, work, work.” They put up walls and ignore my pleas. They howl back with tones that taunt my apprehension.  “Mom, it will get done!” How is it that all three of the older children inherited their father’s Last Minute Larry approach to living and complete obliviousness to schedules and time constraints?

At the consummation of the final academic week, when the last label was placed on a diagram of volcanic formation and the last scale of a Chinese dragon was penciled in, I realized that the children were correct in their assertion that the work would get done. It may not have been completed in the time I would have wished to see it wrapped up. And, as summer beckoned them, the work was not always a master piece. But, it did get done. Without my hand holding, First Born Son independently worked to score an A on his ELA assignment, as did Henry.

 I am coming to understand that independence-the trait that we work so hard to develop in our children- is also the tricky pressure which forces us to “let go” of our babies- pushing them further into the world where our opinions and vices begin to lose their hold on them.  I am stuck in a limbo- a place between my children’s ultimate autonomy and the lingering need for direction and parental guidance. And I am learning to reconcile that while, yes, I did put them out into the world and they are representations of my family, of my character- not everything they do is a reflection of me- of my performance as a human being or as a parent (But perhaps one could argue that First Born Son's Sharpie across the face is a reflection of my own artistic tendencies). 

I can continue to provide them the tools, support and guidance they will need to make smart choices, to be productive members of society. But, as they are exercising having "minds of their own," I am coming to grips with the reality that they will not always use the implements and nuggets of wisdom I have served them. So, I often hold my breath and spend too much energy worrying over them instead of embracing them. For now, the only sense of closure I must be satisfied with is the relief that tomorrow officially marks the end of the 2010-2011 school year. I accept that I have a lot of work to do in learning how to reign in my anxiety disorder. I also accept that I will continue to be haunted by the dream of taking an exam I am not prepared for. I don't expect that to go away until they are all good and graduated from college with careers which will support them. But, at least, in my dreams, I never end up in the classroom wearing nothing but my underwear. 


  1. This hits close to home! I have the re-curring dream that I forget to show up for the final exams, or I forget to study for the exam, or I forget a very important book etc, etc, etc. I am so panicked when I wake up it takes several minutes to convince myself it is just a dream-mare. My oldest is a major procrastinator, and I worried myself sick all year - he ended up with a 3.63 and I have several more gray hairs and sleepless nights.

  2. I have dreams quite similar to this too! I am always back in school be it college or high school, and I don't know ANYONE. I'm always aware in my dream, that I have already graduated and done all of this, but I am always having to do it over! Not fun.

    I've always struggled with anxiety too.. with not having enough time to do things.

    I always love reading your entries, I feel like they equip me with tools that I will need when I become a parent someday. It's so important to be self-aware, and you always hit the nail on the head! Great writing. :)