Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Life's Lessons

Francie has an amazing brain. I don't write that to brag because we never take it for granted. It's completely a gift and we usually just stand back and watch her go. She is a very self motivated student and she truly enjoys academic pursuits.

But with that great brain comes a price. She is a perfectionist in the extreme and that can be a hard way to live.   If something does not come easily to her she would rather abandon it than put more effort into it.  She has a hard time accepting that even if she is not accomplished at something, it doesn't mean she should quit.  The work she puts in is the important part.  

When she came through the door yesterday and burst into tears over her report card I was surprised to say the least. I never even think about Francie's report card; I just read it over, congratulate her and sign it.

Since I have seen and signed every test she's taken this year, I just could not imagine what could be serious enough to cry over. After she calmed down enough to tell me, this is what came out:

She had set herself the goal of Principal's Honors for the quarter, and she didn't make it. Because of a grade of "satisfactory" in gym class. Well, you would have thought that someone took a big red marker and wrote FAIL on the front.

The whole story is that to attain Principal's Honors a student must get a 97 average or higher with a grade of "good" in all minor subjects, with gym being one of those minor subjects. If you fail to meet those criteria, well, you can try again next quarter. You don't get busted down to First or Second Honors. It's all or nothing. Just like Francie.

Watching her cry, my first reaction was to try to make it better for her.  Should we talk to the teacher and try to get the grade changed?  I know plenty of people who would do that.

As I thought more about it over the course of the afternoon, I realized I was of two minds about the report card.

Half of my brain was saying, "Really? A satisfactory in gym is enough to negate an entire report card? Huh. That seems kind of cruddy to miss her goal for what amounts to a subjective assessment of her physical fitness skills. She got a satisfactory, which means she is average in gym. She did not get a "needs improvement" or "unsatisfactory,"  but it still kept her from earning any kind of honors."

Then the other half of my brain responded with, "Well, maybe this is a good time for Francie to learn this lesson.  Whether or not we agree with the criteria for honors is not the issue.  The issue is that she needs to put forth her best effort in all things.  The smartest brain can be wasted by a poor attitude and an unwillingness to make the effort.  Even though she felt like she was doing the best she could, her teacher thought not.  There will be times in her adult life where she will not meet the expectations of her superiors, and she needs to learn how to handle a setback like this.  I'd rather have her learn it now, in a place where people love and support her, than out in the world."

 In the end, Rob did end up writing a note to the principal, whom we respect very much and who has always been very supportive of our children.   He did not ask for the grade to be changed, but I felt like he was able to articulate our conflicted feelings.  He let her know that we expected Francie to be responsible for her own attitude and work ethic, and that we had advised Francie to seek out her gym teacher and ask him how to improve her grade.

As for Francie, she had a good cry and got it out of her system.  She decided to adjust her outlook and she got some good feedback from her gym teacher after class.  She got busy setting herself some new goals.

But I will admit that this one was tough for me.  I could taste the disappointment almost as bitterly as Francie.  I know how hard she works, and it was so difficult to just let her feel that and realize that what she says and does will eventually come home to roost.    

It was a tough lesson, but one worth learning.  Hopefully it sticks.


  1. You and Rob are truly amazing parents! I couldn't think of a better plan than the one you came up with (and I will be borrowing that type of plan in the future). Supportive without overstepping. Giving her ideas on how to change the outcome for next time. I hope her conversation with the gym teacher proves helpful--and by the way: WOW--tell her congrats from me on an outstanding report card :)

  2. Thanks for sharing this. Please share as much as Francie and you guys are comfortable with as you go through these challenges. Someone in TX needs all the wisdom she can get!

  3. I'm sure it's a good lesson for her. But GYM can really keep her from getting honors?? They don't count gym at our school. They also don't count art and music and I'm not sure I agree with that, but I'm all for not counting gym (this coming from a completely uncoordinated, sports challenged woman... no I'm not biased at all...). Keeping my fingers crossed that "gym" doesn't hold her back next time.

  4. Tell her Juju says congratulations on her excellent report card! And good for her, setting goals for herself - I consider that a massive accomplishment, since I myself have a hard time setting goals and then really putting forth every effort to achieve them. I'm a dreamer, I think.

    But on another note, I think it's good that she's learning how to deal with this little adversity now, rather than in the future, out in what can be a cold, adult world. I know that E. told me that when he was TA'ing, the pre-med students at Cornell were all super-perfectionists, who could not handle the idea of not getting a giant A+++ on every single one of their tests, assignments, classes, etc. After all, they got into Ivy League. Better she learns now, than wigs in college or elsewhere.

    Love to her (and you!)!

  5. Oh my goodness, I feel so badly for Francie. I had a similar situation when I was a senior in high school and I was ranked 7 in my class when I should have been #6 but the girl who got #6 got it because she sang in the chorus, and therefore had more credits than me. I was like what the???. Anyway, you can see I'm not still bitter about that at all ;) Give that girl a hug from me and tell her that she's AMAZING!!

  6. GeeGee1:49 PM

    I remember the first time I received a grade less than "100" on my report card...I was in 7th grade (just like my Francie). I was totally devastated. I felt ashamed and inadequate. I believed every person who looked at me was saying "There is that slacker who got a 97 in math!" It was like having a giant pimple in the middle of your forehead!!! And, like Francie, I was the one who set myself up. My parents never pressured me about was my own doing...
    Unfortunately,when I got to high school I acquired a bad attitude because by then I felt that I wasn't good at anything, so I sort of "threw in the towel". I got good grades but they were never again good ENOUGH for me.
    I hope Francie will not follow in my footsteps. The one advantage she has is having you and Rob for parents. I know you will talk and encourage and support her so she doesn't lose all self-esteem. I never shared my feeling with my parents,so I remained disgruntled all through my teenage years.I did not learn the lesson (it's OK to be less than perfect) until I was well into my 40's...My children and husband may agree that it made living with me very difficult!!
    I truly empathize with Francie and I will try to help in any way I can.
    Love to you all...

  7. Congratulations! We all have our stories of perfectionism and how that one little gym/art/music/handwriting grade kept us from getting there. I hope that this doesn't discourage her, and that she is instead motivated to try something new instead of giving up.

  8. Anonymous2:08 PM

    So, Francie won the diocese spelling bee this morning.

    I guess she bounced back.

    Patris of a p-h-e-n-o-m-e-n-a-l child


Go ahead and say it. You know you want to.