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When you get an F

When do you know you’ve arrived at rock bottom?  If there’s such a thing as an “F” for parenting, just a mark of total and outright failure, what is it? 

  • Is it the moment your child hits you, or threatens to?
  • Is it the moment they first tell you they hate you?
  • Or maybe the moment they toss a knapsack on their back and bike away, telling you to have a nice life… and you glance back to make sure their helmet’s on securely?

This quote grabbed me from Anne Lamott’s Some Assembly Required – a Journal of my Son’s First Son over the weekend (emphasis mine):

“…watching Sam changing poopy diapers all the time nearly brings me to tears. My wild son, who like most boys smashed and bashed his way through childhood, with branches and bats and wooden swords, who shut down and pulled so far away as a teenager that sometimes I could not find him, now taking tender care of his own newborn, a miniature who is both unique and reflective. Sam is still every age he ever was, from the fetus to the infant to the adolescent to the father, And Einstein would probably say that Jax is already every age he will ever be, but in such super-slow motion relative to our limited perspective that we can’t see the full spiral of him yet, ony this tan bundle of perfect infanthood with a blue butt.”

I was blown away by this quote.  I read it out loud to YM, who was washing dishes at the time, and he just shrugged and said “I know.  It’s on the back cover.”  Oops.  Guess for quickie epiphanies, I should flip to the back cover instead of reading the whole book.

I dunno – you know?

You figure if you take the very best you were raised with – laughter, Monty Python, silly laughter… um… good food… Jewishness… and then eliminate the worst of what you were raised with – the fighting, the crying, the sheer random cruelty of life with the two most mercurial people on the planet – it’s got to be a formula for ideal parenting:  G – B = P, where G = Good, B = Bad, and P = Sheer Parenting Perfection.

Apparently not.

You figure if you remind them they were little once, inside your womb once – well, that’s not a guilt trip, that’s just me, marvelling over the sheer neis of it – maybe they’ll catch a little of the awe.


You figure if you read a lot and lay it out for them logically, take their side, even - “Of course you feel oppressed and frustrated; that’s the product a society which insists you remain childlike almost a decade beyond your body’s physical maturity.” – they’ll nod and come to the table for supper.


They know it’s all about YOU.  They’re holding the report card, they’ve got all the power, and they’ve got a big red pen to hand you that F, bright-red crayon gashes across the page of your life.  “The last 18 years you spent carrying me to term and raising me?  Worthless… I’m gonna raise my ownself from now on, and it’s time things were done right around here.”

It ought to be a rite of passage, your proudest accomplishment as a parent – the day your child declares self-sufficiency and heads out on his or her ownself, gunny sack knotted to a pole from the backyard elm (elms being automatically reminiscent of times past, since there are none here any longer).

Winds of change are prophetically blowing everywhere around here today.  The trees have not stopped dancing, the wind chime is clanging its alarum, and I am thanking Hashem in so many ways that these are breezes compared to the tornadoes some families are probably fleeing as I write this.  And yet it feels as if my life is being uprooted, repudiated, torn from seam to seam.


  1. An unexpectedly fantastic post!

    (I love Anne Lamott, btw.)

  2. Hugs.

    You so, so do NOT get an F. If your kid can give you an F and then go off with a gunnysack, that means you've raised them to be capable and independent. As an outsider who has, at times, employed both your older kids, I can tell you that you're doing a fine job.

    ... although I presume my saying so doesn't make it any less painful.

  3. To quote Anne of Green Gables -"Motherhood is a sweet and terrible thing." I think kids only get to really understand and appreciate their parents when they become parents themselves. It's hard not to take teenageitis personally but it's really no reflection on your mothering. I certainly feel at times that I deserve an F in mothering and it already feels sometimes like I have a house full of moody teenagers and my oldest is going to be ten. Hang in there, hopefully this too shall pass and you'll have lots of nachas from all of them!


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