All I Really Need to Know I Learned (from My Mother) in Kindergarten

At the beginning of every school year, I got used to seeing my mom in the principal’s office. And every year my schedule always changed the next day. It wasn’t until much later that I learned my yearly placement scores landed me in the lowest reading and math classes, and every year my mom met with the principal to request that I be transferred closer to the top.

My mom’s not a pushy woman. She’s not one of those parents who likes to throw her weight around. She’s not even that intimidating (unless you accidentally run into her with a grocery cart when you’re seven). Mostly she drinks tea and knits and watches bad Don Johnson movies.

But when it comes to her children, she’s a real fighter.

Back in school she knew I was capable of doing hard work, even if my test scores said otherwise, and she believed in my academic potential. She simply invited others to do the same, including me. And because of it, I graduated near the top of my class.

I’ll always be grateful to her for that, for advocating for me, again and again, and standing up to the bully of standardized testing on my behalf. But these days I’m more thankful for the example she set, for showing me how to do the same for my children, especially when their potential is called into question, too.

Recently this happened to one of my daughters, and for days I debated doing something about it. Finally I decided to speak up. I confronted the person in charge of the situation, respectfully disagreed with his evaluation, and asked that my daughter be given another chance. But sadly, nothing changed. In fact, things got a lot worse.

But right about the time I started wondering whether I’d made a mistake, whether I should’ve kept my big mouth shut, I remembered my mom and what she did for me so many years ago.

She did what every mother is supposed to do. She protected me. Not from rejection or failure or humiliation. No mother can protect her child from that. No, my mother protected me from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, from taking someone else’s low expectation of me and believing it myself.

I read recently that as parents, teachers, and coaches, we provide the inner speeches our children will hear the rest of their lives. Thankfully, on more than one occasion, my mom spoke strength and confidence into my life when other voices – including my own – screamed doubt and condemnation. To this day I listen to her voice, because I know it’s there to protect me.

But I also know my children live in a world of relentless ranking where they may not always hear words of affirmation from the people put in charge. And when a mother advocates for her child it can sometimes come across as being pushy and overbearing. People might even encourage her to stay out of it.

But I can’t, and I won’t, because that’s not what I was taught. A good mother speaks up for her children. A good mother sticks up for her children. A good mother protects her children, no matter what.

Why? Because my mama said so.

Speak Your Mind