I sit here on the eve of yet another new school year, silent house enveloping me, and I think of my hopes for my children for what they will begin tomorrow.
I have always had a tendency to "overthink" things, to analyze to the hilt every nuance of a conversation, or to plan years in advance as if I actually have control over this thing we all participate in together called "life". This compulsion of mine has been both a blessing and a curse at moments, sometimes allowing me to be better prepared for imagined events, and others to wallow in disappointment when life doesn't turn out the way I had it all laid out. Inevitably though, I continue to grow and learn despite whatever failings or gifts I may or may not have.
Education is an important and serious matter for me. I come from a long line of high school drop outs or those who definitely could and should have attended college yet didn't as life called sooner than it should have or the necessary encouragement and leading to gain further education simply didn't exist. It was a culture of acceptance that you went to school, maybe graduated high school, then went to work.
This evening in the car the boys and I had a long conversation about education and why it is important. We talked about long term goals for life, about the expectation that Dominick and I have that some how...some way...each of our children would attend college for at least a couple of years. But we also talked about how learning is a lifelong process, that it occurs both in and out of the classroom, and I shared all the many things Dominick and I have managed to teach ourselves despite having no specific education in a particular field...typing, bookkeeping, insurance, adoption issues, business management, pest control, computers, home maintenance, marketing, photography...and so many others.
We also talked about how important learning the basics is, that you CAN teach yourself many things in this world if you can read and write well, and if you can perform basic math calculations. A hunger for knowledge can lead you down paths to extraordinary learning experiences that are self-directed and rewarding.
But beyond all of that, and perhaps most importantly, we quietly all talked about what is most important for a happy life. Character, caring for others, honesty, integrity, work ethic, compassion, good decisions regarding the selection of life partners and friends. You don't learn that in school. It might be reinforced there, but those are the things we don't learn sitting behind a desk copying what has been written on a chalk board. I asked the boys where they thought they went to "school" to learn those things and was quite pleased when Kenny responded without hesitation "Home and church".
We all focus so much on making sure our kids SAT and ACT scores are the highest possible, we want them to have the "right" coach so they can gain scholarships in sports, we push them to join every club possible to look good on college applications. But do we honestly put as much effort into teaching them how to be decent human beings? Do we forget they need to "go to school" for that as well and that WE are the most highly qualified teachers they will ever have for Character Class? I know many parents lay awake at night worrying about whether their child will be accepted into their preferred college, but do they ever lay awake at night worrying about whether their child is kind and non-judgmental when not in their parent's presence? Do we only find ourselves staring at that proverbial ceiling after the fact...perhaps when we discover that our children have made a monumental mistake that revokes that long hoped for dream of college and a professional life that will make us proud to say "My son the doctor" or "My daughter the CEO"?
Matthew, Kenny and Joshua are all bright children. We are fortunate that none has faced learning disabilities or organic problems which would keep them from being just about anything they would like to be. They are not geniuses, they are not high IQ, but they have good brains which thankfully would allow them to be a doctor, lawyer, architect or just about anything else should that be their hearts desire...they will not be hindered by the inability to learn.
What might eventually set them apart is their stick-to-it-iveness, their maturity when approaching homework, their "Steady Eddie" qualities which keeps them in the game not because they are the hare who runs as fast as they can and shines in front of a crowd, but because they are the tortoise who doesn't veer off course and keeps the finish line in sight.
I worry during those ceiling staring moments of my own about my own failings as a parent. What am I not exposing them to that I should be? How much is too much pressure? Do we have balance in our lives? Is God and Family being kept a priority? Am I teaching them all I should be teaching them? Are they secure? What am I missing?
After all, this is the most important and challenging job I will ever have, despite the fact it doesn't come with a paycheck attached. I want to succeed at this job more than I have ever wanted to succeed at anything else in my life.
Tonight, as the boys fell asleep, they shared prayers with their special older friend, a young man entering his senior year of high school and beginning to realize that adulthood is knocking on his front door. So many decisions to make, so much to consider. I have loved this young man for years myself, watching him grow from a 12 year old child into the 17 year old man who towers over me. As he willingly readied himself to sleep there on an air mattress on the floor of his adoring young friends, I thankfully realized that there are others who have contributed to "Character Class" and done an outstanding job of it. There are as-yet-to-be met influences who will shape and mold our children. There are those from all walks of life, all ages and stages who are helping our sons in the areas that school doesn't address.
And there are those who have been mentor parents to us, leading us as we learn, showing us by example how to raise children who are respectful and kind, relaxed and yet still disciplined. For we are all really going to school every single day, as long as we remain open to the learning opportunities and experiences presented to us. For some of us, the learning never stops!
So tonight as I think of the next 9 months, I wish for my children to absorb it all, to have motivating teachers, to find new things to excite their souls and draw them to learn more. I want more than anything for everything to "click" for Kenny this year, for Joshie to further his love of reading and for Matthew to feel more confident socially. I also hope that God uses me somehow as I volunteer in the classroom to touch the lives of other kids, that maybe I am there at a moment when a hard working mom can not be and I can offer a smile or a "great job!" just when it is needed.
But I guess overall it is what is learned outside the classroom over the next 9 months that concerns me most, for it is those skills learned far from the class that are what takes a life and makes it whole and complete.
So here's to another school year, for those parents who have yet to walk hand in hand with your child up the walkway to their new school, for those who are seeing the remaining years dwindling, for those in between who are beginning to see the results of the impact of education and yet recognize they are only part way up the hill...have a wonderful new year and always remember you too are a teacher and in fact are the most important teacher your child will ever have.