When I was in third grade I did a book report at home. I don’t actually remember which book I read, it was probably Beverly Cleary something, because I loved Ramona. I did this book report all by myself. I was proud of it. Hugely proud. Until I got to school, that is when I saw my book report creation next to everyone else’s and I realized that mine was crap. Made by an 8 year old. It is the first time I remember comparing myself to my classmates and I no longer felt good enough.
Chelsea. Chelsea’s was AMAZING. I remember the book she read (actually, the jury is out, she may have just watched the movie) Wizard of Oz. Her book report was suspended by string on multiple layers of bent wire hanger, with the characters and scenes from the Wizard of Oz perfectly crafted with this amazing cotton ball and starch created tornado. It was perfect and very Pinterest worthy. It absolutely was not created by an 8 year old, but my little 8-year-old-self didn’t know that.
I saw Chelsea’s book report in all of it’s splendor and felt bad about mine. Mine was made, without a doubt, by an 8 year old before the age of Pinterest.
I’m sure that my mom still has whatever I created in a box somewhere, she would have appreciated it and still believed it was the best thing she had ever seen. That is what moms do. She was still proud of it even if I wasn’t any more. She was proud of it because I made it. I read the book by myself and created something wonderfully flawed. And she let me experience that. Even when I begged for help, she made me believe that I could do it and that it would be great (even if it was flawed).
What an incredible gift!
As a kid, I often wished my mom would step in and help me look like a boss, but the gift was in letting me be 8. The gift was in letting me grow and learn as an 8 year old.
As an educator, I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to sit back and watch that process. To see ways that it could be improved and not to intervene. I didn’t appreciate this as I was growing up, I wanted to be perfect like Chelsea.
As an adult, I’m eternally grateful. I’m the adult who isn’t afraid to create and ship as I learn. I take risks. I don’t love failure, but I also don’t avoid it. I like to learn. I like to try new things. I thank my mom for this gift.
I don’t remember what book I read, I don’t know what grade I got. I do remember and treasure this experience.
I read this article yesterday about how College-Age Depression is Increasingly Tied to Helicopter Parenting. It had me thinking about this year of my life when I was exposed to second-hand helicopter parenting. About how this second-hand helicoptering led me to believe that the thing I was previously proud of, was no longer worthy.
I remember another project from my third grade year. This time we were tasked with creating something that would be a good insulator and keep ice cold the longest. Mine was made entirely of Legos. Again, I was SO proud that I had thought to use Lego and designed it with a door to slide the ice in. There was no aluminum foil, no Styrofoam, no professional welds (just kidding). Mine failed (in that it didn’t keep ice cold the longest) and I remember this. I wonder if Chelsea remembers. I wonder if her mom did her work through high school? Got her into college? I have no idea. I know this wasn’t my story and I am so thankful.
Parents, I urge you to let your kids create and learn as kids. As hard as it can be to step back and watch it happen, it is SO important to the learning process and as it turns out, to mental health. Kids need to experience safe failures in order to learn that they are resilient. Kids need to see what they alone are capable of. They need to have the opportunity to learn independently. They need to know that they can improve because they want to.
Mom, thanks for giving me safe opportunities to fail. Thanks for helping me see that my worth isn’t contingent on those moments. Thank you for believing I was brilliant even when I ceased to believe what I had done was worthwhile. Thank you for all the times you sent me to the dictionary to look it up, especially when I pouted and complained and didn’t want to. Thanks for not helicopter parenting so that I could believe in myself.