Friday, November 6, 2009

It Adds Up

Yesterday one of those things happened that seems like a small thing, but because there was some coincidence involved, it seemed like a signal to take notice.

Jeffrey was home from school because he complained of a stomach ache. By the end of the afternoon he was feeling better so we agreed to go to Rite Aid to buy vitamin water and then pick Tim up from school. When we got to Rite Aid Jeffrey remembered that he needs a calculator for math class, and that they have the kind he needs there.

The reason he needs a new calculator is because last year I bought a nice new one for Tim that did all the advanced functions needed for his math class. I was very pleased to get it at a good price on clearance, just after the back-to-school sales. Within a matter of days, it was GONE. I got really aggravated with Tim because he said that he must have left it in class or somewhere, and then it was stolen. I insisted that he check the lost and found and ask his teachers if any calculators had been turned in, and then I went on a rant about who would steal a calculator, and why wouldn't such a person consider the feelings of the person who had lost it and turn it in?

Well the darned thing never turned up and Tim got through the year using the app on his cell phone or old cheap calculators we have laying around the house. The kind you get for free that look like credit cards.

Then this school year started and Jeffrey needs a good calculator for his 6th grade honors math class. I hadn't gotten around to buying one yet, partly because I hate to pay full price for such a thing at Rite Aid. But there we were, and Jeffrey was asking for it, so I pulled it off the hook and put it in our basket.

When we got to the high school to pick up Tim, he saw that we had bought the calculator and said that it was funny but he found a calculator on the floor during band class earlier in the day.


I asked him what he did with it and he said that he turned it in to the teacher. He told me that it was an expensive graphing calculator, and that whoever lost it would be upset to lose something that cost about a hundred dollars. And, he added, he knew that I would notice it if he suddenly pulled out something like that to do his homework.

The Quinky Dink part of this is that I know when his band class is and it is quite possible that the very same moment he was picking it up from the floor, I was pulling the new one off of the hook at the store.

The thing for me to notice about this small incident was that when faced with the decision about what to do with the found calculator, Tim did the right thing and turned it in. That decision was at least partly influenced by his memory of what I had said in the past, and how he anticipated I would react if I found out he had kept it.

I think that might boil down to the goal of all parenting, which is that you hope you get your kids to do the thing you would want them to do even when you aren't there to tell them what that is. It feels even better than the things I don't truly influence but am always at the ready to take the credit for, such as my kids being good looking, musically talented, or good at math.

But then, as I wallowed in my smug satisfaction, the thought occurred to me that the "right thing" in this situation is relative to my own perception of what "right" is. Where I got this perception could have been from my own parents, or church, or even from watching all those Brady Bunch episodes. It occurred to me that what I think is right is sometimes different from what I might actually do. And, that other people might have an entirely different perspective on the situation, and their reaction to their kid pocketing a found calculator could be "Way to go! Now we don't have to buy you one! Check around the floors tomorrow and see what else you can scoop up!" It still meets my definition of successful parenting. even if that person's kid passes my kid up in the corporate world, or excels in sports, or politics.

Maybe what we parents really want for our children is not for them to fear us, or please us, or to be just like us. We want them to be...better.

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