Most of us have had to undergo the dreaded Job Performance Evaluation, or whatever they call it at your job. Sometimes it’s a simple, “You’re fired!” Or it can be a laborious process of filling out forms, rating yourself, and meeting with your boss and other higher-ups so they can grill you. Afterward you heave a sigh of relief.
For our most important job, however, we parents don’t have to face such a firing squad. That job, of course, is raising our kids. Usually we’re left to face our own regrets, to acknowledge where we fell down spectacularly or subtly. Some parents crack wise about putting money into the “couch fund” to pay for the inevitable therapy bills their kids will run up when they seek help to deal with the effects of their bad parenting.
I hated it when people said to me, “Your work is done” when my kids went off to college. I would stay their mom for life, after all, pulling for them, worrying about them, loving them. But it’s true that you only have so many years when what you say is a big deal in your child’s life. After that, you worry: Will they go to Mass? Pray? Abuse alcohol? Cheat in school? Become slackers? Once they’re out the door, you hope and pray that what you gave them took hold.
That’s why it was instructive when my daughter wrote “100 Things My Mother Taught Me” as part of a high school project. It was, in a sense, her Job Performance Evaluation of me. Let’s admit that it was somewhat generous–a kid probably isn’t going to write something that slams her mom in front of the teacher.
1. How to read. 2. How to write. 3. How to fry eggs. So far so good. Let’s skip around. 16. How to shop for bargains. A hereditary trait in O’Connell women. 17. How to live without a cell phone. Very important. She was about the last kid in her class to get one in senior year. 19. Why Vatican II matters. Yes! It does matter! 20. How to sit quietly and look at the lake. I learned this from my own mom, a Chicago style of meditation on beautiful Lake Michigan.
67. How to stand up for what you believe in. 68. How to accept losing with good grace. 76. Why you need to soak the pot after cooking oatmeal. 77. How to be myself. 80. Who Emily Dickinson is and why she matters. My English profs and Garrison Keillor are smiling. 83. The value of a good union. Whew, her grandfathers and great grandfather are relieved—staunch union men all. 85. To never start a sentence with “there are.” Hats off to Sister Eleanore Hillenbrand, my high school English teacher. 98. How to write a thank-you note.
Lest you think this is all complimentary, my daughter also included “10 things my mother has failed to teach me,” featuring: The importance of wearing a winter coat. How to iron a shirt. Why I shouldn’t wear gym shoes to 99 percent of events. Who Madeleine Albright is. (Girls should know the first female secretary of state.) The order of the four seasons. (Terrible but true.) And worst of all: Whether the Nazis ever caught Julie Andrews and the Von Trapp family in The Sound of Music . . . by neglecting to show me the second half of the movie for seven years. I hang my head in shame.
Thanks, Mary Kate, for the eval! Even if “my work is done,” as they say, I’ll never let up on the winter coat. And thanks for number 100: How to love a daughter.
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Image: ©Flickr CC/Bev Sykes