This morning my little guy Cooter was working on his letters. He was working on perfecting his lower case “f”s. He was doing okay, but he knows I will call him out if he just throws something on the paper…..like he did yesterday. He’s allowed to make mistakes. He’s not allowed to just give up and not make an effort.
After about three “f”s were on the paper, he lamented, “Oh, I can’t do it. I fail.”
Ahem. He sounded like his big sister. She’s said that a time or two…..or twenty in the past few years.
And so, I realize, as painful as it might be, it’s time for me to share this story. (If you see me tomorrow and I’m hanging my head, you will know it’s because I am still carrying this one around in my heart.)
It was second semester of my first year in college. I was very lucky because school seemed to come easy to me over the years, and I will say I didn’t take that for granted. I kept waiting for the other shoe to fall and to be found out for the “fraud” I was. Oh, just wait, sweetie, it was coming. I took Calculus I first semester just because I had loved math in high school with Miss Eleanor Bell–the legend–and awesome teacher who taught my Daddy, my aunts, and my uncles. Calc I seemed to be pretty much a review of what Miss Bell taught us the last six weeks of College Algebra. I was not nor did I have any intentions of being a math major. But I was on a roll or so I figured, so I signed up for Calculus II as an elective second semester. I was cranking along the first few weeks okay. Then STUNT season hit in full force…..it’s a busy time at my alma mater, Wesleyan College. Each class writes, directs, and acts in their own thirty minute musical. The time from mid January until March is chaotic. Script rewrites, casting, all night paint sessions, rehearsals, and then the grand night itself. So much fun. I did something I’d never done before. I let the homework problems slide a bit. I did some each night but not all of them. Our teacher told us as long as we kept up with the homework and understood the problems we’d do well in her class. Well she was absolutely right because I didn’t and I didn’t and I didn’t. (keep up, understand, do well) At one point in the semester, *whispering and a big confessional gulp* I was pretty close to failing. This was the end of the world in my book. I could not grasp how this had actually happened. Well yeah, I knew, but the problem was I really didn’t understand the material. I hadn’t put the time and effort into the class that I should have or needed to. It might as well have been Greek for all I could understand it. Such a difference from first semester. *sigh* I missed Miss Bell.
I called and talked to Daddy about it. I didn’t want to have the conversation but I knew I could tell him anything. I wanted to drop the class, just let it fly away into oblivion as if this failure had never even happened in my life. Obviously it was my choice, but Daddy discouraged it. “You can do this, Tara,” he said. “Just put your mind to it. It’s like getting back on a bicycle when you fall. Get back on and keep pedaling. Apply yourself.” I can still hear those words like he’s sitting beside me saying them now.
Never one to want to let my Daddy down, (though it had happened before and would happen again) I set my mind and heart to finish the path I’d started along. The mess I was in was of my own creation. I was the one who had chosen poorly. I needed to make it right and pull my head out of the clouds and realize that we weren’t in Kansas anymore. College was a different ball game.
I took that final with my stomach fluttering and my brain full of numbers and formulas and whatever else I’d studied to prepare. But as I sat there in that classroom in Taylor Hall, working away at the problems on the exam, I imagined myself pedaling that bicycle. One pump at a time. And in the end, I pulled out a D in the course. And I was doggone grateful to get it, I don’t mind telling you. I messed up, but thanks to Daddy, I made the effort and pulled myself out of it (well somewhat). By the time I graduated, the D from my first year was just a blip on the screen of a really good college run. And maybe it was due in part to learning early on what a poor choice could lead to…..doubt I’ll ever know for sure.
So tonight I am writing this for my children. My oldest compares her high school career to mine, her grades to mine, her gifts to mine. This drives me nuts. Yes, I did okay. (And I point out to her–do my children mind me any better because of my high school honors? Oh baby, those trophies are long gone–too much to dust around. Enter the real world.) But she has different gifts. Each one of you, my precious children who make me crazier than most, has different gifts. You are going to try things that interest you or that seem like a piece of cake or that you are curious about. Sometimes you will succeed, sometimes you won’t. But here’s a couple of things you need to know.
First of all, there’s no story you can’t bring home, nothing you can’t tell me. Shoot straight, then we will deal with it together. I. Mean. This. Nothing.
And secondly, it’s okay to fail. Yes, I’m serious. (You ever hear that song lyric, “Win some or learn some” by Jason Mraz?) Don’t ever let fear of failure keep you from trying. Sometimes that is the only way to learn–what will work, what won’t, and so forth. You can create some really beautiful things by trying. But please don’t ever let me hear about you being lazy or not trying. That’s what happened to me. I got slack. I didn’t keep my priorities straight and I paid for it. I’m okay with failure if you’re trying, but if you’re just not even applying yourself, you’re wasting what precious time you have. Ain’t nobody got patience–or time–for that. What a waste of your awesome talents and gifts.
So Aub, Princess, Cooter–as Mama and Daddy quoted one of the local tv personalities quite often–“Keep on keeping on.” Don’t bully yourself and beat yourself up when you try and it’s not perfect. Just know if you are trying your best, that’s all I ever want. More than anything, don’t give yourself an F and call yourself a failure for a poorly written “f.” There’s a whole broken world out there ready to point fingers and condemn and blame. Don’t do it to yourself. Just keep on trying and one day you will get it just right, or maybe, if you keep trying, just maybe you’ll discover a whole new way of writing them–one that will change the world.
Okay, I didn’t get a nap today and my metaphors are way off, but I hope you hear me when I say this–I learned more about myself from that one D than I did from most all of my other classes. I learned that I had the potential to get off track. I am not infallible. I learned what could happen when I didn’t keep my priorities straight. I learned my parents loved me no matter what. And I learned that I could turn things around, even my mistakes, when I set my mind and heart to it and got back on that bicycle and pedaled, one pump at a time, until I reached the goal. Not easy but so worth it in the end.