As a mom, I often feel like I’m constantly preparing for a test without a guide. You study and study and study, but no one tells you which chapters to focus on- the test is different for everyone. Even worse, you never really find out if you got the answer right, just a pat on the head for trying (if you even get that). If you show your work, is that a good thing, or will someone use that against you? If your kid only wets the bed on Thursdays, can you get partial credit? Is diaper rash going to be on the final exam, or can I learn it for the mid-term and forget it later? None of this was on the syllabus.
Parenting starts out as a numbers game: 47th percentile; 9 months of breastfeeding; 8 diapers a day; twice as much formula as last month; 102 degree fever. Should I let her cry for 30 minutes? If I start potty training at 2 years old, will I be more successful? 6 hours of sleep = sleeping through the night: True or False.
It all seemed like a math problem I had to figure out. I had this vague sense that if I just solved the right equation, I would get it. If only I could figure out how to get my baby to sleep for more than two hours at a time, I would be a good parent. If I had the perfect baby sling, or made baby food from scratch (80% less sugar!), I would feel right about everything and it would all just work. I never did figure out all the variables in the equation, but I survived the numerical portion of the test, just barely. I was certain that this had to be the hardest part and it would all get easier after that. I’m pretty sure I got about a C+, but that counts as a PASS.
Then, without warning, I discovered that someone added an essay portion to the test:
1. Please explain, using only first grade vocabulary, how babies are made.
2. In 30 words or less, what makes the sky blue?
Fortunately, the essay portion is just kind of annoying, not actually that tough. I realized they were mostly trick questions. All I had to do was come up with an answer distracting enough that we could move on to something else.
1. Babies come from special hugs.
2. The sky is blue because it isn’t green.
Who thought it was a good idea to add this section of the test? My score: a strong B.
But now, I have hit the hardest part so far, the philosophy section. The questions are tricky, but they aren’t tricks, and the answers actually matter. Why won’t she play with me? Why does he say I’m ugly? What will make her feel better when there is no medicine for just feeling bad?
I didn’t imagine this part when my girl was a baby, because I was so focused on just surviving the lack of sleep and lack of silence and lack of personal space. As she got a little older, I thought I had gotten everything under control. Now I understand how little I actually do control. The first stage was about keeping her heart pumping, the second about getting her mind turning. This stage is about teaching her to survive while her heart is breaking and her mind is aching. This is the hardest of all.
So I will keep on trying to figure out the answers, even though the questions keep changing. I’m not feeling like I’m doing A+ work, but I’m doing my best. If the test is graded on a curve, maybe that will be good enough. And since I’m the only one who’s really keeping score, maybe I can come up with extra credit and remember that attendance counts. And I’ll remind myself, as hard as it is, to give myself credit for trying.