red letter F

I say it often: being a single mom raising a boy is hard and often leaves me feeling inadequate as a parent. There always seems to be something missing or just not quite good enough for me to offer especially when it comes to school and bad grades. But every once in a while, something really cool happens that reminds you that there is no straight line to good parenting. We all have to duck and dive with the ebbs and flows of life.

Like a lot of other parents, I find myself looking at what other kids are doing. Facebook and Instagram are great places for us to see how perfect everyone else’s lives are. From a young age, my son was always around great kids doing awesome things in school, sports, and life in general. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing everything I can to help facilitate my son’s success.

After all, when your child does poorly at something when you see so many others succeeding, you can feel like maybe you should be doing more or something different.

Then again….

A Choice to Test Out of a Class

Parents are often faced with keeping smart kids mentally stimulated in classes that bore them. For some parents, skipping a grade or testing out of a class is the best answer. It’s a tough call in a lot of ways. When you have a smart kid, will the adjustment to a higher-level class be one solution only creating a social problem of not fitting in with older students. My choice leans finding a balance of mental and social stimulation.

There has never been a question that my son is a smart kid. As a middle schooler, he decided to test out of Algebra I during the summer so he could get a head start on math for high school. The summer was essentially dedicated to this singular goal and I spent quite a bit of time and money both relearning Algebra and bringing on the hired guns to tutor him. It was accelerated and took a couple of tries, but he passed.

My concern was that Algebra I is the foundation of all other math he will do from here on out. Did he have a good enough understanding of the principals to do well in the future or would it be a problem in the future. He was only in the 8th grade taking Geometry and Algebra II concurrently. Ultimately, he got A’s in both.

Getting Help for Poor Performance

When your kid succeeds at something you were concerned was a wrong decision, well, a bigger pride comes over you simply because they proved you wrong. The Algebra thing concerned me and I still wondered about the long-term effects of cramming Algebra I into a 3-month tutored lesson. But, he not only passed the test, he also showed great dedication and resolve in the process.

Then…

boy with Apply laptop on bed

Along comes high school. He got through his Freshman year in a new school and a new state. His grades weren’t perfect, but there was no concern over bad performance. He became very involved in jROTC and weight training. All in all, he was building a group of friends, doing well in school and starting to develop into a young man of character. All things moms are proud of.

Welcome Trigonometry. At this point, my son has well surpassed my math skills. I wrapped at Algebra II in high school and never thought twice about taking another math class. I would never be of any help. As the quarter went on, it became apparent that he was having more than a slightly hard time with the class. I barked at him as a mother concerned about her child’s GPA would.



Parenting Through a Failing Grade

My barking became a search for solutions. He was required to see the teacher at lunch and after school. I hired a tutor – actually two of them because the first just wasn’t connecting with him. He put the time in. We thought he was making progress but at the end of the semester, the final grades came in and it wasn’t even close. He had failed the class miserably. The F stood out among what was an otherwise excellent report card.

I remember sitting on the sofa looking at the report card as he sat next to me, clearly concerned about my reaction. The rule was that if he didn’t take care of business (his school work), he’d lose his afterschool jROTC activities. I could feel my own anger well up, wondering how such a smart kid could let this happen. Why did I waste the money on a tutor? This was going to be hard to overcome for college planning.

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From Lamenting to Learning

It probably took me a good five minutes of frustrated nagging in search of any plausible answer from him for the grade. He simply had no answer and I knew it; he had gone to the teacher every day. He had gone to the tutor twice a week after school. He did the extra work. I saw it – that I demanded. He put the effort in and neither of us got the result we wanted.

It became very clear to me that I was upset because I want the best for him; I expect his potential to shine through on everything he does. However, there are times in life when you will do everything right, everything you can to succeed and life will just throw you a curve ball. That is what this was, a great big stinking F-bomb (math style). A series of my own failures and struggles in life ran through my head.

A big deep breath and then a hug. I apologized to him for my reaction but he kept apologizing for the grade. It took me longer to articulate my thoughts because the emotions of disappointment still swelled throughout my body. Finally, I was able to explain to him that I was upset that the grade is bad and there is work we need to do to address that but that I was proud of him.

Proud of a Failing Grade?

He heard the word proud and took a beat, shaking his own head in disbelief. Why would you be proud?

He worked hard. He didn’t give up. We knew the journey from Algebra I had its risks that could lead to failure and maybe that had finally caught up to us. He was probably burnt out on all the math and science and his brain simply wasn’t computing things, literally. How could I be mad at someone for giving everything he had and coming up short.

These were points that took the better part of the night for me to explain. Sometimes life doesn’t give us what we want. It is up to us to continue to try, to find other solutions and to work hard. Overcoming a bad grade would be the next project.

HESTEMP and Summer Learning

We conferred with his counselor and decided to pull him out of math for the second semester of his Sophomore year. He already had all the math he needed to graduation so it felt like the right decision to let him focus on other classes and use the period for study hall. As summer approached, he and his friends started a voluntary program through the University of Hawaii, HESTEMP.

They started going to UH on weekends to work with their mentors, Ph.D. students in the engineering program working under a doctorate professor. His group decided on a project idea and the mentors gave them a list of the curriculum to go and learn. Over the course of the summer, my son taught himself via YouTube lectures, conversations with his friends, and some direction from his mentor Calculus, Trigonometry, Advanced Physics, and Coding. They designed a rocket and the systems in it to determine guidance.

Sample HESTEMP project
Similar to what he’s working on.

At this point, I can’t even explain what he was learning or doing other than his end goal was to eventually work on a piece of a NASA project. The program gives him no grade. He gets no credit for going, even though he diligently caught the bus almost every weekday summer morning and many weekends since school started back up. He spends hours online reading scientific papers and determining how what he is developing can be applied.

Math theory. I’m not even sure what that is. All I know is the kid is into it.

Along Comes a NASA Conversation

After nearly a year of self-education, recruiting a couple younger team members and presenting his project idea to the PhD students, professor and a few NASA representatives, he tells me that the algorithms he is developing have applications for NASA and the FAA regarding drones in urban areas.

Huh?

Did he just say NASA understood what he was talking about, felt it was correct, and applicable?

Single Mom Panic to Parenting Win

As I listened to the joy come from him as he explained how successful his presentation was, I couldn’t help think back to the conversation on the couch about putting the work in, being motivated to succeed, and persevere through hardship. I’m not sure what is next on his educational road – we’re planning the college scouting trip for the summer. What I do know is he has the tenacity and intelligence to accomplish what he wants in life.

That doesn’t mean life will always put checks in the Win column, but I feel good knowing he has cracked the code to overcoming disappointment and failure. There is no way to tell if my reaction to his Trig grade played a roll in him developing that skill. Like I said, I’m always wondering if I’m doing this single mom parenting right, if I’m doing enough, and if I’m helping him grow.

This one time I’d like to think that I did the right thing.

Wondering if you’re doing this single mom thing right, too? Come join the Single Mommy Tribe. We’re here to vent, laugh, and support.

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