Friday, October 12, 2012


We all dream of the moments of truth when the world — and our teenagers, especially our teenagers — will see us for the heroes we truly are. We will know exactly what to say and do. We will inspire the artist, mend the broken heart, lift the wrecked car off the child pinned underneath.

Well, I just missed one of those opportunities. All right, it was nothing quite so dramatic. But, it was a test of sorts.

Compliments of Columbus Day and teacher training, my teen daughter recently enjoyed a four-day weekend. Here are some of the things she did: 

• Had dinner with friends visiting from out of town
• Competed in a 3-phase equestrian event
• Rode at the stable not once, not twice, but three times
• Went to see Perks of a Wallflower
• Had frozen yogurt at Orange Leaf
• Hung out at a friend's house
• Attended a formal bar mitzvah bash
• Watched back episodes of Switched at Birth on our old iPad
• Played videogames on her new iPhone

Here's what she did not do:

• Study for her World Cultures test

While her sainted mother was aware (and more or less approved) of all the items on the first list, she was blissfully ignorant of the single item on the second. I learned about the exam the night before the exam. Late, in fact, on the night before the exam.

It wasn't pretty.

We were warned that high school was going to be a tough transition. No more recess. No more hand-holding. No more easy A's racked up by my daughter and her classmates in middle school. Until last night, I thought my daughter and I were on the same page. Her schedule includes two study halls, which are to be used for homework and ... well ... study. (Duh.) Her schoolwork has to come first, then she can ride and compete and shovel manure to her heart's content.

When queried over the long weekend, my daughter kept repeating, "My homework's done." And, if we are going to be literal, she was telling the truth. The homework due the day after the break was, indeed, done. Preparing for the test, however, was not. In fact, it was being thoroughly ignored.

News flash, my dearest daughter: if the teacher gives you a week or ten days notice about a big test, chances are he thinks you need ... oh ... a week or ten days to prepare. I'm just guessing here.

I knew we were in trouble when she came up to my office to complain that the school's website was down. I shrugged it off. After all, if the site was down the teacher would understand and give kids an extra day, right? Wrong. It turns out that the material my daughter was trying to download was the study guide for the test. It would hardly behoove us for her instructor to find out that she hadn't looked at it until the last day.

But, if there's anything that teenagers are adept at, it's work-arounds. She texted a number of classmates and found one who could email the worksheets to her. Problem solved? Not exactly. 

More like problem exposed.

The short-lived panic about the website opened up an issue my daughter was clearly trying to avoid (just like she was trying to avoid studying in the first place). The jig was up. Mommy Dearest now knew that (a) there was a test, and (b) her little scholar had not held up her end of the bargain. 

The evening will not be remembered fondly. My daughter crammed for her test (on top of having to read two chapters of Lord of the Flies — for the record, one of the most miserable novels ever written). My husband and I fumed and marched about spewing what must have sounded like we were completely out-of-touch and Monday-morning-quarterbacking. "You got yourself into this mess ..." "You were not responsible ..." "It's up to you to know how much work you have to do and pace yourself ..." Blah, blah, blah.

Not that we were wrong. No, we were right. It's just that our timing was not very effective. We finally went to bed and I heard my daughter give it up about an hour later. 

This morning, my daughter was clearly worse for wear. She took a long long long shower, which prompted more parental badgering. As I heard her finally coming downstairs, I vowed to wait and discuss the situation after school. I would just say one quick insightful thing and let it go until later. I imagined my best self, offering firm but compassionate and blessedly brief words of wisdom.

And, I may have. But, she shrugged me off with that look of utter disdain (the look that all mothers of teens know and loathe). And, I lost it. So much for brevity or moderation. I launched into a fairly verbose recitative of all her failings, complete with extravagant threats that we both know will never be carried through. I definitely didn't sound like my best self. 

She sneered and left. At least for the moment, we had a common enemy. Me. I flunked this particular test.

Let's just hope my daughter does better on hers.

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