One recent Monday morning I was talking to the other parents at drop-off near my first grader’s line outside of school.
One of them asked, “Did they have to bring in a picture of a polar bear or something today?”
The bell rang, the kids made their way inside, and I felt sick. A week earlier my daughter had come home saying she needed to bring in a picture of an animal from the Arctic for an art class project. Our printer wasn’t working, so I told my daughter to remind me later in the week and we’d figure out an alternate way to get her a picture.
And then I forgot all about it.
So had she.
Mondays are already a tough day for drop-off. There’s a productive element to it, where I know as soon as the kids are on their way into the school, I have six hours of productivity ahead of me. (In theory.)
But there’s a sadness mixed in as well. I don’t like losing my weekend pals and digging into the work week. I sometimes feel as sad as I did when I was a kid on Monday morning heading into school after a weekend at home with my family. That feeling gets worse on mornings where we have a bad drop-off – either there’s an argument about what clothes to wear, or whether my daughter needs to put on a jacket, or no you may not bring that candy bar as a snack.
Or, I now knew, when someone forgets an assignment. Except in this case, I was the only one having a bad drop-off. My daughter wouldn’t figure it out until she got to art class, I supposed.
I knew there was one possible solution that could save my day. It’s just that it was something I had promised myself I would never do.
I could drop off a picture of a polar bear.
I was a fifth grade teacher for ten years. We assigned homework, and you might be surprised how seriously most of my fifth graders took their homework assignments. (You might also be surprised how often some fifth graders blew off their homework assignment, but that’s a story for another day.)
Every year a responsible child would forget to bring in his or her completed homework, and the only rule in this case was that the students had to take responsibility and tell the teacher what happened. Our response would be for the student to bring the homework in the next day. (Unless this became a pattern, in which case different consequences would be put in place.)
It was never a big deal. In fact, I didn’t mind when a student forgot to bring something in to school once or twice. It may have affected my grading an assignment by a day, and I didn’t like that break in my routine, but I always knew the offending student would learn more from the experience of forgetting than anything else.
A similar situation would present itself more often every year. A student would tell me they forgot their homework, and then it would magically appear in their cubby sometime after lunch. Or a student who forgot to bring in their athletics clothes for gym class would take the necessary steps to find a loaner outfit, only to be greeted by their parent’s face popping into the doorway window during language arts class, holding a pair of sneakers up for all to see.
I would look at these parents and think that, while I knew they were acting out of love for their child, they weren’t helping the child at all. Sometimes we talked about it at parent conferences, and they took a step back and let their child fail occasionally.
Sometimes they didn’t.
I tried not to judge, but I vowed I would never be that parent, which is easy to say. It’s another thing to carry out that promise.
Here I was faced with that decision, no longer with a foot in both the parenting and the education world. I was one hundred percent parent. I could help prevent my child from having a bad day.
But I resisted.
I want my kids to learn how to fail. I want them to bounce back and do better the next time. I dealt with the pit in my stomach and felt it get smaller and smaller throughout the day. It would be a learning experience, and we’d be better for it.
What I didn’t expect was that I’d be learning about responsibility from my daughter.
There were no tears when my first grader emerged from school at pick up time. When we got home, I worked up the courage to ask her how art class went.
“It was great!” she said.
I apologized for not remembering about the picture of the animal.
“That’s OK!” she told me, triumphantly holding up Eric Carle’s Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You See?
“I remembered this morning before we left for school. I think you were in the bathroom, so I just brought this book to school because it has a picture of a polar bear in it!”