Friday, April 22, 2011

The Turn Around

Being an eleven-year-old girl has got to be the fucking hardest thing in the entire world.

Being my eleven-year-old daughter can't make it any easier. I'm a hard ass with high expectations. Not to mention, being a military brat can't be easy either. Sure it's all we know, and it has its positives, but it isn't exactly the ideal situation for a highly sensitive girl like mine.

So I've mentioned before, the month of February was just about the worst month of my daughter's life.

That girl failed in so many ways in the span of about three weeks that it had me questioning everything I believe about parenting and maternal love.

Sure she failed tests, but she failed because she didn't do the work. And then, worst of all, she lied about not doing the work. She hid stuff. Manipulated situations (or tried to). And in those three weeks, she lied more than she ever had in her whole life combined.

The people who love us kept telling me, "But she's such a good kid..." Yet all I could think was, "Really?"

Do good kids lie? And lie and lie and lie?

It got so that every time the phone rang, I was worried that it was another one of her teachers calling to tell me something else she had done. Or not done.

Our school's entire philosophy is based on an honor code. The kids sign a pledge every year and also sign a pledge on every test, quiz and project. They are known for having "open lockers" with no doors. The honor code is central to all that they do.

So an honor code violation is a very big deal.

During those three weeks, my daughter was caught having not done her math homework. Which would have been okay, except that she didn't tell her teacher. When her teacher called her on it after class, she just cried and sobbed and was so upset the teacher was taken aback.

Lucky for my girl, the teacher decided that based on her excellent (former) reputation, maybe she just didn't quite understand that not admitting that she hadn't done her homework was as bad as lying about it. She gave her a firm but understanding talking-to, and let her off the hook.

Unfortunately, I had to find out about that whole incident by having the teacher call me. My daughter hadn't told me on her own.

And that was the last straw.

Frankly, I don't have a friend close enough to share any of this with. And while I always share with my husband, I didn't want to lay it on too thick, because he was in Afghanistan. The only thing he could do from that far away was worry.

It ended up being my mother who helped me the most. Here is a woman who loves my daughter more than anyone on the planet (possibly even more than me) yet she agreed with me. She wasn't being a good person. She needed something.

My mom advised me that I needed to stop trusting her. Clearly that wasn't working. "You've got to sit with her and watch her do every bit of her homework. You've got to make her study. You have to make sure she has no failures to lie about until she can mature and handle these things. And most of all, you need to get her some help."

My mom never gives advice. She always just says that she knows that I know better than her. (Seriously, she's been telling me that since I was eleven.) So for her to say something like that, well, she only confirmed what I already knew.

She also said, "Maybe she's getting her period."

And I said, "God, I hope so! At least raging hormones would be some kind of excuse."

So our school has a full period at the end of every day when the kids can participate in activities, get extra help from their teachers, or do their homework. I declared she would have no more activities and would spend every free period with her teachers.

I designed a white board to-do list. I set up a calendar system and taught my daughter to use it. I made sure she used it every day. I micromanaged every second of her homework time. I forced her to study even when she insisted that she already had. I made up practice tests and quizzes.

I pretty much became the Tiger Mom from hell.

Sure there were tears at first. But then came the good grades. She went from 30's and 40's to 90's and hundreds. She went from twelve dings on her tri-weekly responsibility report to zero. And slowly but surely, she started to believe me. She started to believe that when you go to a school as challenging as hers, you have to spend three hours a night doing homework. You have to go above and beyond.

We decided to read a book together. The school had assigned the girls to read The Secret Language of Girls as part of their "Ophelia Project", a project designed to proactively teach girls about treating each other well and with respect.

We both hated the book (the writing was weak) but it got us talking a lot about right and wrong. It got us talking about how hard it can be to do the right thing sometimes.

We reaffirmed ourselves to her violin study. Violin is one aspect of her life where she can really have some success. And that girl needed a win more than any child I have ever known. She had been avoiding practicing with me in the morning. So I declared that for every minute she was late to her violin practice time, she would be grounded that many days. (See, hard ass.)

Her teacher noticed the difference. And next weekend she will be playing in an advanced student chamber group.

I grounded the kid for sure. But once my husband got home, I also spent more time with her. We went to the movies and shopping and out for meals. Just the two of us.

And we took her to counseling.

The counselor mostly worked on how to handle stress, how to handle failure, and how to handle anxiety.

The truth is, the counselor didn't say anything to her that we haven't said a hundred thousand times. But having someone else say it probably helped. Also, I think just the fact that her parents love her enough to get her that kind of help affected her in some way.

Oh, and also, she got her period.

It just two months, her life has completely turned around. Her grades are great. (She managed to pull out of that horrible semester with all B's and a C.) She's the Gypsy Queen in Mary Poppins. She finally moved beyond the Vivaldi concerto she's been working on in violin. A boy at school told her he's "really into" her. And she starts softball at school in May.

We're closer than ever.

I deeply believe that when you love each other enough, you come through the hard times even better. Back in 2005 my husband and I had a tough time in our relationship. We grew through it and came out the other side better off. I think my daughter and I have had our tough period too.

The damage was thankfully minimum.

The thing I am most grateful for is that she talks to me so much now. She tells me all the little things she won't tell anyone else.

She's having a tough week this week. One of her best friends is moving this summer and she just found out that her very best friend is switching schools in the fall. And her third best friend...well...she's growing into quite the little bitch.

Her classmates suddenly all seem to be struggling. They've had more honor code violations then ever this past couple of weeks. Actually, these are the first real honor code violations her classmates have ever had.

But, today she told me a story. The kids were supposed to bring in a local newspaper with a tides chart for science class. She asked me to stop on the way to school and pick one up this morning, but she also went online and printed one out just in case we couldn't find a paper.

So when her friend asked her if she had an extra tides chart, she immediately replied, "Yes." But when her friend asked to borrow it for class, she told her, "Um, I'm sorry but I don't feel comfortable with that. You didn't do your homework and if I gave you my chart, that would be like cheating."

Can you even imagine how hard that was for her to do? Her friend is mad at her. She's probably telling everyone what a bitch my daughter is. But my daughter still did what she thought was right.

She learned!

Can you believe it?

Being eleven-years-old has got to be the fucking hardest thing in the entire fucking world. And it can't be easier when you go to a school where the expectations are so high. And it can't be easier when your hormones are raging.

But she's making it though. And now I have hope.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

An Audience of One

So, I wrote this very long post about homecomings. I went on and on about my very strong feelings on the reunion part of a deployment and the media's portrayal of such. I got way too personal to illustrate just how hard reintegrating a member of your family can be.

And I never finished it.

I just had too much to say. I couldn't wrap all of my words around what I was really trying to express. So I decided to let it all go. (I mean, seriously. If I can't choke something to death with words, who can?)

I'll just sum up by saying that it was really hard. Very hard. And it is still ongoing. But we've all learned a lot. We're making it through.

My husband was home for a little more than two weeks when he had to leave again. He is currently nearing the end of a three week long TDY to train for his next deployment.

Somehow, this short TDY has been harder than the entire sixth month deployment. Isn't it funny how that happens? Maybe it is just because I know he'll be gone for a year pretty damn soon and if things stay this way, I'm not sure how I'm going to make it through.

But I'm just so sick of doing everything on my own. I'm mostly sick of sitting in audiences all alone while my kids perform on stage. I'm sick of going to concerts alone. The kids deserve more and I deserve someone to share it all with.

He'll be back Friday and then we'll make the most of our time together until June. And then I'll survive another deployment. We'll all be just fine.

And come June 2012, I'll be looking forward to another reunion and chastising myself for whining about what I'm going through now. But after eight reunions (Eight! Seriously?) I hope I can start to get them right.