The one about sticks and stones

Um, hi. I am just looking for a cool new bumper sticker.

I want it to say, "My child is an honor student pulled a stick today."

How many other parents would be interested in purchasing one?

It was inevitable. I knew it would happen sooner or later. No child is perfect, and my years in the classroom taught me that even the best and brightest will slip up and "pull a stick," "flip a card," "clip a strip," "clip down," "lose a star," or any other cute way to say, "You slipped up."

When my eyes met Noelle's after school today, she was already fighting back the tears.

"I pulled a stick today," she sputtered.

I threw my arms around her and pressed her cheek into my heart. My first thought was not anger or frustration or defensiveness.

I honestly felt relief.

You see, on the first night of school, when I was reviewing the classroom procedures packet that her teacher sent home, I felt a twinge of anxiety. It's not that I disagree with the idea. I used a similar system with both my 4th graders and my preschoolers. I just knew that my sweet, perfectionist, sensitive 6 year old would want to "end on green" each day of this school year, which is a pretty steep  goal. When, not if, she would fall short, she would surely be devastated.

So, I was relieved that we hadn't built a 174 day streak that would be broken by an ill-timed giggle or forgotten end-of-year assignment. Just shy of two weeks into 1st grade, and we are starting over tomorrow.

Of course, my heart broke for Noelle. I didn't delight in her pain, and a part of me had to fight back the Mama Bear that was trying to come out. This is uncharted territory for us. Noelle provides a lot of challenges to us as her parents, but in school she is typically 100% golden. I didn't exactly know the best way to handle this situation, and with Luke on a camping trip in Canada until next week, I was left to handle it on my own.

The offense -- talking to a friend when she wasn't supposed to be -- was minor. And not surprising. Girlfriend loves to talk! In fact, she has been struggling with passing her 1-minute math fact quizzes because she likes to stop after every problem and chat with herself about how she got the answer or admire the way she writes each digit. Getting dinged for talking was bound to happen sooner or later.

Just because I wasn't surprised doesn't mean I wasn't disappointed. Was I thrilled that she wasn't being a model student? No. Was I annoyed that she allowed something so easy to control to interrupt an otherwise fantastic start to the new school year? You bet. On the drive home, I lost myself somewhere between wanting to bring on additional consequences at home or buy her a puppy to make her feel better.

I settled on having her write a letter of apology to her teacher with a promise to do better, and a strong warning that if she pulls a stick again, she will lose TV privileges.

We went about our night the same we always do. I helped her with her homework, which included studying her spelling words and reading to me. I made dinner while the girls damn near killed each other played sweetly together. I got them to bed at a decent time (and by decent, I mean an hour earlier than normal because the Law of Mondays and Out-of-Town Husbands prevailed).

After the house was quiet, I reflected on the day's events and truly began to understand my role in all of this. As my children continue to learn and grow, they will continue to make mistakes. They will talk when they shouldn't. They will laugh when it's inappropriate. They will say bad words, tell a mean joke, and realize that many times it is simply easier to do "the wrong thing." And it will cost them. Cost them sticks. Cost them recess. Cost them TV and iPads.

It is not my job as their mama to protect them from these mistakes. It is not my job to fight their battles or question their teachers' every move, either. It is, however, my job to be there. To steadfastly be there. In all weather. In all seasons. In all triumphs and tragedies. To be consistent. To be predictable. To be firm when necessary, tough when it's called for, and maybe just a little bit rough in spots. To be cool when they run a little too hot and to be warm in the palm of their hands.

Like a stone.

Some days I am granite, all pulled-together and polished, and other days I am gravel, just a shitstorm of clutter on someone's driveway, but I am always their stone. And it will always be that way, no matter how many sticks they pull.

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