In response to Seattle Public Schools closing for the year, I've made the decision to basically let my fifteen-year-old daughter self-manage. For her whole life Lucia has been a straight-A student. She's conscientious and aware and I don't want to spend the next three months in a power struggle with my daughter. We're in a fucking pandemic and she, like the rest of us, is just trying to get through this madness with no social life or normal teenage activities. Yet I find myself riding Lucia all the time. I am compelled, some might even say possessed to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks, that every teacher email is read, assignment completed, virtual soccer workout done. My controlling tendencies are making both Lucia and my partner Nancy crazy.
I try. I really try to silence my impulse to ask how many minutes Lucia has read or to peek in her room to see what she's up to, but there's a beast inside of me, desperate to stay on course, even though I don't really know what course that is. The beast, it turns out is my own inner teenager. The other day I was having Zoom therapy and my therapist Carol, a wonderful, wise 80-year-old woman asked me why, when I really didn't have cause, did I push Lucia so much about school. When Carol put this question to me, an image of me, age sixteen came into my mind.
Here's the scene: I am sixteen-years-old, a senior in high school, sitting at my dining room table with my classmate Heather Larkin, pouring over a physics textbook in preparation for a test. My twin sister and my friends march through the dining room towards the front door to go hang out at the statue on the midway with a bunch of boy seniors. They look at me, rolling their eyes, stopping just short of flashing the "L" sign on their foreheads. I was the only one of my friends who insisted on taking four years of science and they all thought I was dumb for torturing myself. The truth is, I never got physics. I was in a constant struggle the entire year I took physics.
Because physics did not come easily to me, I dug in and tried to master the completely illogical content by working harder and more. I was desperate to find some kind of understanding. In my teenage brain I had no choice. I'd already met my science requirements and I could have dropped physics and been okay, but the very idea of letting it go was impossible to me. So I made myself miserable. On my midterm I got a 3 out of 100. And that was after studying for hours and days.
There are a lot of unknowns in our children's education right now. There are dozens of emails and voicemails and texts telling parents and kids what to do and how to do it. I can't really make sense of it, yet I expect my daughter, much less experienced in project management than I am, to master her own self-education for an entire a semester of high school. I expect her to take on this educational fiasco like I took on physics. And the truth is, it's a shit show, just like physics was a shit show for me. So when Carol asked me why I was pushing Lucia so hard, that inner teenager came back. "You can't stop" she was telling me (and by proxy Lucia). "You can't surrender to the hugeness of it. Just keep working. Keep trying." In the end I barely passed physics and I made myself completely miserable for an entire year.
I'm working on taming this inner teenager. I want to save my poor daughter from her. I don't know what will happen this year, what kind of education our kids will get, but I know I can't control it. My plan to control every aspect of the plan is not a good plan. I wish someone had told me all those years ago that I'd be okay without physics. I still feel that girl---the one who tried relentlessly to master physics--- showing up and trying to make Lucia take that same path. That inner teenager is stubborn and persistent. But the truth is, I really am fine not understanding physics and Lucia will be fine too, no matter what happens for the rest of this stupid school year.