If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, then you know that I have four daughters three of whom carry a diagnosis. Eadaoin has a severe anxiety disorder coupled with a possible mood disorder. Her psychiatrist is careful to watch for the development of the mood disorder because of Grace’s diagnosis. It’s Eadaoin’s crippling anxiety, however, that is her nemesis.
Her most maladaptive coping skill is magical thinking. If I believe something is true, then it will be. If I avoid something, then it won’t exist. If I retreat to a fantasy world in my head, then my life will become the fantasy that I crave. The consequences of this strategy fell directly on her head yesterday when I sat down with Eadaoin to help her with Music Theory.
Eadaoin struggles with math. Consequently, she struggles with all things related to musical notation. She took piano lessons when she was young, and, upon turning 11, she insisted that she quit. Why? She had never learned to read the music. She couldn’t. She had been memorizing the songs. The notation made no sense to her. It never had. Eadaoin, however, attends a performing arts school now. Music theory is a requirement. If you are going to pursue vocal performance, then you must learn to sight-read or at least have a sense of what you’re singing. Her way around? Pretend that it doesn’t exist. Fake it. Tell me that everything is fine, and then proceed to fail the class.
As if I won’t find out. Ha!
Let me be clear. I don’t give a shit about grades. I don’t! One of the biggest lies our teachers and parents ever told us was that if we put our minds to it, then we can become anything that we want. Just try hard enough. You will succeed. That’s not true. Not everyone is going to be an astronaut or a chaos physicist or a ballerina or an NBA basketball player or even a mother or father simply because they tried really hard to be. Authentic effort combined with blood, sweat, and tears will get you far in life, but it won’t get you everything you want. Sometimes sheer effort and will aren’t enough.
Just look at the plot behind “Captain America”. Steve Rogers wanted to join the army and fight for his country with all his heart. In fact, he had more desire, integrity, and loyalty to the cause than just about any soldier out there. He tried harder than anyone, but he didn’t have the body or physical health to match those qualities. He would have been a detractor. Enter the “magic serum” to give him the body that matched his heart, and Captain America was born.
Sometimes our best efforts don’t get us where we want to go, and we fail. I failed geometry in ninth grade. Proofs!! It wasn’t because I didn’t try. It wasn’t because I wasn’t paying attention in class. I simply didn’t “get it”. So, as a parent, I understand what it’s like to do your best but find that your academic best isn’t good enough. The grade didn’t reflect the effort. It reflected my understanding. I had a 69.4% understanding of geometry, but I had given it 100% effort.
Doireann is a senior this year. She begrudgingly applied to Harvard. Why? Because all the Ivies are pursuing her relentlessly, and she wasn’t going to apply to any of them. She doesn’t want to leave the state for college. So, we told her to pick one. Apply to one. Just for fun. She doesn’t have to try very hard at all in school. Two daughters. Different brains. Different skills. Different efforts. Different results. It’s hard for Eadaoin. Living in the shadow of an older sister who’s applying to Harvard. Just for fun.
One can’t pretend that real problems aren’t there though simply because it’s hard particularly if there are resources present. Yesterday, it all came crashing down. I sat down to help her with her homework and saw a failed test in her folder. She could have retested but chose not to. She had pages and pages of homework that were incomplete and improperly done due to lack of understanding. She had been lying to me when I asked if she needed help. So, this is why she has an ‘F’ as her midterm grade. It’s not the grade I care about. It’s how she got it that matters to me. Can you imagine what the rest of her life would look like if she continued on this path? If she let her anxiety rule her life rather than taking responsibility for herself? She has to start somewhere. It may as well be this class.
It wasn’t pretty. The conversation wasn’t fun. I felt like a member of the SWAT team. I hate that. Like an enforcer. Like a true disciplinarian stripped of all maternal and nurturing softness. To discipline means to teach. It doesn’t mean to punish. I was not punishing her. I was trying to teach her what her choices had led to and what continued engagement in avoidance behavior would lead to. Pain and loss. And she could change at any moment. We would help her. I would help her, but she had to start being honest.
We came to some agreements. She would go to her teacher this morning and be very honest about just how behind she is in her understanding. She would ask for help. If there are opportunities for extra credit work, then she would do that. She would practice self-advocacy by asking for help every time she didn’t understand something rather than pretending that she did. She would also review what she learned with me daily because of her learning disorder just to make sure that she truly learned it. That’s what I’m here to do–help her. This class increases her anxiety. By building in consistent actions around it, she will learn to deal with it and make it manageable rather than avoid it and increase her anxiety around it.
Then, we had tea and cookies. It’s the only thing I could think to do. She had been crying. She was so disappointed in herself. I have the blessing of life experience on my side. This is a moment in time. Make a better choice, learn from it, and something like this becomes one of the best things you ever did because it becomes a springboard into learning something vital about yourself and what you want. Even if you don’t choose well, there will be another chance to do so because you’ll undoubtedly screw up again.
Success is wonderful, but mistakes are often better. If we learn from them, they can launch us and give us the momentum we need to move ahead in life–much further than any success ever could.