Raising Children Can Be Triggering
Not exactly sure what most people mean when they claim something triggers. Nevertheless, using my own definition of triggering, last week I felt triggered.
The child came home about two weeks or so ago with three pages of papers full of writing from a book all about the great state in which we reside. She was given the pages to study because ten students volunteered to participate in an academic contest against other schools come spring. The three sheets were to be studied and at the end of the week, a test would be given and the top five scorers would represent the school. Naturally, no results were given until the day after the test. This meant I (note, I am not saying she) had to suffer through the day of the exam, then the night, and the entire next day until she was home from school to learn the results.
I don’t push the child into participating. She brings invitations/applications home, I read them, and then with the straightest and most inscrutable face I can muster, I ask if she wants to join or not. Unlike her older sister, the child will attempt to read signals in order to decide. I first noticed it when she was very young. I decided to stamp it out of her as early as possible. She needs(ed) to learn to do what she wants(ed) to do, not what will please others.
Last year without waiting to read my countenance, she told me she wanted to run for historian. I could tell without a doubt she wanted to do it. Instead of the old-fashioned way when one student nominates and another student seconds, the student interested in running had to acquire twenty-five signatures endorsing her nomination. Not in class though and not during lunch. So when exactly? No student could sign twice. Although the student council claims it is open to every student, it is not. There are not enough students to sign the nomination form for everyone who is interested in running, without signing twice. There are not enough students to sign even if only one or two students from each class wanted a chance. Because it is mathematically impossible and because my daughter is a “does it by the book” type, on her behalf, I went to the school and questioned the requirement. It turned out that the two teachers in charge of the student council would have eliminated as many students as possible using the rule. However, the second I approached the principal she said, “It’s an impossible requirement, we do not have enough students.” Unfortunately, that principal is gone, because this year there was another ridiculous technicality that knocked the child out of the race and the same student council teacher from last year, again did not care. She wanted to eliminate as many students as she could, and I believe she has a prejudice motive regarding which students she prefers to exclude. Talking to her was senseless. Then again, I would’ve known that beforehand if I knew that she takes pride in having a reputation for being obsessed with Doctor McDreamy. Obsessed as in decorating her classroom with his image, posters, and throwing viewing parties to the extent that the teacher’s lounge is commandeered for the purpose. How embarrassing, or it should be embarrassing. Does not having an image built on noteworthy convictions mean anything anymore? It is like my mother having no qualms telling the story repeatedly with laughter how she did not want a baby girl and refused to acknowledge said baby girl for ten months after birth. Is there no shame? Has over correcting disparities cause the pendulum to swing too far in the wrong direction, to the point that nothing warrants shame?
Since everyone including educators have heard of helicopter parents, it has been difficult for non-helicopter but concern parents to investigate, defend, and assert for one’s child. You can see the brace on teachers and principals faces when questions are asked, especially in person. Email has alleviated some of the “confrontational” angst because without it, the parent would have to go in more often, thus, make oneself physically familiar enough to be privately complained about when seen approaching, or worse, dodged. Yes, I would call it confrontational. When a parent is simply standing in line or waiting around after class to ask a question and/or clarify particulars and the teacher contorts her face and body defensively as if to endure an attack, it does discourage parents from consulting teachers. That was in second grade. Third and fourth was much better, especially after confident and fair-minded teachers erased most traces of the second grade teacher. Now, in fifth grade, we have a Sherman tank. Every email, note, question, or in person interview is met with defiance and dismissal. And a sexist principal who sends misogynist authored poems via email to inquiring parents is no help, –poems that basically, no, literally tell a child (and parent) to man up.
With meek or severe teachers, I often have to fight back from screaming out, “I am not the enemy!” Every year the little handbooks, notes, and contracts are sent home about how parent involvement is essential blah, blah, blah, but those handbooks fail to note how that sentiment must be a copy and paste paragraph started once upon a time by some short-tenured enthusiastic administer to never be revisited again. Actually, sometimes I wonder if the teachers do not want parent involvement at all, so they will have something to complain about. It all feels like unnecessary energy flying around nowhere real fast. Except, intellectually, I know most teachers are overworked, unpaid, and underappreciated. Still, the ambivalence of dealing with a duel reality is there. Neither parents or teachers want to be blame for a less than productive system, yet the dynamic of an us or them dichotomy is rarely starved at the rate it is overfed.
Nevertheless, I can only check all of that and concern myself with my child. Now my child is not a loser in the cultural sense of the word loser. She is well liked by her peers; her grades are above average and her state test scores fall in the 99% range. That along is triggering when I think about my oldest daughter, the education she acquired, and the type of assistance she received from a mother who could have very well been an older sister. However, the child does seem to be a loser when it comes to recognition. She simply does not get it (and no, I have not complained about it to her school, never, but I do see a pattern forming). She bears it well, I think. Maybe it is just me. I think I am afraid that she may eventually internalize the invisibleness that seems to be circling her elementary years. Especially in a climate where esteem building rewards are handed out like penny candy. It seems that one has to be the teacher’s favorite or belonging to a group that appeals to the teacher’s sense of feel-good activism. In other words, it is not about that child personally, but what external signifiers associated with that child that the teacher can appropriate for her own feelings of magnanimity. And true to white supremacy, it is hardly ever anti-racism that benefits, more like environmentalism, animal rights, creative and religious freedoms (the freedom to practice a religion freely in an intrusive and disruptive way for others), etc.
I don’t know about other parents, but with my child, more so now that I am older, each time she starts a new year of her life, a new grade in school it takes me back to that age and place. I see the benefits in re-living these times with her. I can act as a guide for her to avoid similar circumstances that I suffered at her age and by having a different outcome, it can help heal my past traumas. There it is, — the balancing act. An act if not successfully executed can perpetuate the cycle: Parent has awful childhood, works through it (consciously and/or subconsciously) with own child’s experiences, thus, creates new awful experiences for child to work through as an adult with her child. That is, if she has children.
These thoughts came raining down after expecting to know the day of the test if she made the Spring Team. In hindsight, I know all irrational emotions at the time were projections and anticipated outcomes fueled by my past negatives experiences. The minute she said she did not know if she made the team, I was suspicious. The test had only ten questions. There were only ten students taking the test. Why would results not be available that afternoon? My mind went wild with defeat. Eight boys and only two girls entered the contest. I started imagining an all boy team, and how instead of suspecting sexism someone would/could conclude, “Well enough girls did not try out.” The assertion has some truth. At this grade level, girls are doing better than boys are and there seems to be no concrete reason to explain why more girls do not volunteer for academic contests. Unless words like “super bowl quiz” and “the hardest contest ever” etc discourage girls over boys. It is a possibility. Especially after reading how boys and later men always think their skills are more superior than they actually are, and how we are told females are not pay more because they do not ask for more. If that is what in fact discourages girls, then it is sexism. It is sexism when someone (or something such as institutions) teaches girls to be afraid of recognized achievement.
It was only ten questions. To reassure myself, I asked her to remember the questions and what answers she gave. (Note to reassure myself not her, because I don’t really know what she thought about it at the time. I did ask later after I apologized for ranting. I asked on a scale of 1 to 10 how certain she felt that she made the team right after she took the test. She said 10. Then I asked how certain from 1 to 10 did she felt that she made the team after I started ranting. She still said 10, but I suspect she said that to appease me. Or perhaps, I did not shake her confidence, the way my confidence would have been definitely shaken had one of my parents started ranting). She would remember a question and then give the right answer. There was just one question she was wobbly about, not at the time of the test mind you, but when remembering the question and/or how she answered. Of course, four hours later she would not have remembered all the questions. Nevertheless, it was the uncertainty and the possibilities that could be used against her by others that ignited a rage within me. At that very moment, I hated them all, the institutions, the potential for abuse, the opportunity for discrimination, the indifference, the callousness, the superciliousness. With her sitting there next to me riding home, possibly feeling like she did something wrong, I knew I had to simultaneously process and defuse the rage bubbling up inside me while not poisoning her with cynical discouragement.
When we got home I went upstairs, closed myself in, and sobbed in my hands. I was so angry and did not understand why. She had a winter break program that night and I did not want to go. I did not want to see those horrible people that deprive my daughter. It was a very crowded event and I had made up my mind to do nothing but than take her there, let her perform, then go home. There would be no superficial niceties. Then it happened. The Sherman tank approached me. It became my turn to brace myself. Directly she told me that she had not told the child yet, but she had made the team. Not only did she make the team, she made a perfect score. After hinting and throwing her head back to indicate the others, I realized she was telling me that none of the rest had come close to scoring perfect.
I spent the rest of the night and all of the next day wondering why I became so angry and why I was so pessimistic about the outcome when it should have been obvious that my child was prepared. Even with considering the child’s luck, I should have not been so negative. What if she had not made the team? Would it have been that serious?
Then I figured out the triggering. Without being aware, I have taken comfort in believing that I would have been better prepared for higher education, the world, and my life as an adult if my parents were involved in my academic life when I was growing up. Both my mother and father were high school dropouts. We (their children) received absolutely no help, encouragement, or even punishment regarding our schoolwork. If homework got done it was because we did it, not because we had overseeing parents. If we did not understand something, it was put away until we went back to school the next day. We were told to get a dictionary. To ask the teacher. To not do it. Anything, but expect them to assist. And there was never a time, not once, that either relented. If any of us dared to push them on the matter, we would have been rebuked instantly. Guilt was not allowed to soften their position. And if we were afraid of our teacher or our teacher expected help from our parents, we had to navigate between the teacher’s expectations and our parents’ demands.
I have allowed myself to believe that my education would have been different if my parents were involved, but I never quite grasped how much emotions I had at stake in this belief. If the child had failed after I as a parent did all I could do to prepare her, then, it would reveal the lie I have been nursing, and that is, children are more prepared when there are involved caregivers. To believe/know otherwise would be too emotionally excruciating to bear. To think that she (or me) would never have a chance regardless of what we do, would bring forth the reality of an existence that one could not consciously sustain without going over.