Because of how our district is arranged, my three school-aged children attend three different schools. They each come home with folders packed with reminders. I call them “micro-aggressions.” Each one represents some upcoming significant date, whether a field trip, free dress day, or even just a heads-up to expect a progress report soon. Honestly, I’m doing my best simply to match the correct slip of paper to the correct kid (help me out here, admin, and put the school names on the top of each paper, will ya?!)
My husband and I carve out time every afternoon to do the homework routine. While the kids plug away at their assignments, we are busy checking the folders, signing the daily reports, sorting each reminder, categorizing the information into stacks denoting urgency, plugging the dates into our shared digital calendars, and setting reminders in our phones because God knows we’ll never remember any of them. (“SIRI, SET A RE-MIND-ER FOR TO-MOR-ROW AT 4:15 TO TAKE CHECK-BOOK TO SOC-CER FIELD.” “Ok, I’ll remind you.”)
After one of these evenings, which was followed up with extra-curricular activities, my oldest excitedly proclaimed that the next day was a free dress day at school and proceeded to select his outfit for the next day.
Dubious, I quickly sorted through the cluttered and frightening place that is My Memory in my Thirties. Was there a free dress day? I don’t remember getting a slip from his school. What color was the paper? Did it ever exist? I had a mini panic attack as I could feel the control falling away from me. Still, this was also the moment that I realized that my third-grader perhaps knew better than I did. That my responsibility and leadership had developed his. That the learner had become the master and the circle was complete.
Unless he was wrong.
“Bud, I don’t think you have a free dress day tomorrow.” “Yes, I do! We talked about it in class today.”
This was the critical moment. Do I fight him? Do I put my foot down and insist that he wear a uniform? I did a quick analysis of the options. He could wear his uniform, missing out on his free dress day but playing it safe (always my favorite option of any choice in life ever). OR he could wear whatever he wanted, taking a risk that may end badly for him. How embarrassing if he were the only one to show up not in uniform! What if he had to go to the time-out room? Worse: what if they called me to bring him a change of clothes?! While I could tolerate the first couple options and chalk them up to learning experiences, what I was not about to do was leave work to bail him out because of his own wrong choice.
We decided to compromise. He would wear his free dress outfit but pack a uniform just in case. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some peace about the whole thing. I was actually proud of myself for shifting some responsibility back to him, even if he’s “only” in the third grade. What could it hurt, even if he learns a lesson the hard way? He still learned. Grateful to be free of the mental weight, I didn’t give the matter another thought.
Until a few days later, when I saw him retrieve a bunched-up shirt from the bottom of his booksack. “What is that doing in there?” “This was from the other day when I thought it was a free dress day, and it wasn’t.”
Stop the presses. It wasn’t?
Naturally, I had several questions. I discovered that he had been the only kid to show up to school in free dress. To me, this was the real-life actualization of that familiar nightmare of showing up to school or work naked. I had severe second-hand embarrassment for him. When I asked if he were embarrassed, he giggled and admitted, “Kind of” but then shared that he simply asked his teacher if he could go to the bathroom and change, even mentioning that he waited until he wasn’t going to miss any important instruction. Now that I reflect on it, I hadn’t even noticed that he was in his uniform that afternoon when he got home instead of the Astros jersey he had left the house in. If you haven’t thought “Some mom she is!” by now, here’s your chance.
But I got every answer that this situation or any like it could have brought to the surface. The worst had happened. Yet he more than survived. Was he as responsible as I had been giving him credit for? While the quick answer is no, I’m thrilled by how he responded. He made a mistake, just like I do daily, but he adapted to the situation.
When we wrapped up the conversation, I asked him what he learned from it. “To pay attention and make sure I know the information.” Yup. And next time you can bet I won’t give him a change-of-clothes safety net … and not just because I’m sure I won’t remember to!