Well, at least I’m not putting her in a basket to be raised by a she-wolf.
If that line made you say, ‘huh?’ know that today’s blog post is brought to you by my sixth grader. Two major projects have occupied the sixth grade at Davis Waldorf this month. In class, they have been working on their annual play. Performed to great acclaim in two showings yesterday, it was an epic depicting the founding of Rome, written by their teacher, Dr. Tan. At home, the kids have been working on their European country reports, due today. Or, most of them have been working.
Our parenting style, especially with Caitlin and school, consists of monitored space. Rules exist, behavior will be monitored, homework will be checked, but within that framework, Mike and I are largely hands-off. With Caitlin and school projects, this approach has been primarily at her request. We check her homework and keep abreast of her assignments, but she has stated multiple times that if she needs help, she will ask for it. Despite her tendency to procrastinate, this has historically worked well. We have trusted her when she says, “I’m on it,” and she has delivered.
“Is she really that serious?” a friend asked after the play. “She seems so serious and focused. She did in last year’s play, too.”
Last year, in Demeter and Persephone, Caitlin played Demeter, and her wrath upon the abduction of her daughter was fearsome. This year, one of her roles was that of Amulius, the wicked great-uncle of Romulus and Remus. Amulius usurps his brother’s throne, killing his nephews, exiling his brother, and sentencing his niece Rhea to what he presumes will be a lifetime of virginity in the service of Vesta. Caitlin’s Amulius was calmly, coolly, and suavely evil, in the grand tradition of Voldemort and Darth Sidius. As her father pointed out, it was her ‘dream role.’
Serious? With Caitlin seriousness is unpredictable. She can switch from blasé to impish and back in a flash of dimples or arch of eyebrow. Focused? “Aye, there’s the rub,” to quote my daughter’s favorite playwright. Where her interest engages, Caitlin’s focus is a laser. Where she is reluctant, the beam scatters into a dappled patch of sunlight.
For her country report, Caitlin selected Greece. This choice derived from her love for ancient mythologies. The situation began to deteriorate almost as soon as she learned (from her evil mother) that her report needed to be a researched, factual paper on the modern nation of Greece, and that she couldn’t merely write and draw everything she knows or thinks she knows about Greek mythology. This was going to be work, and the focus dissipated immediately.
Caitlin’s teacher, among his many talents, is a gifted composer. Prior to the play, he spoke of the importance of studying the Roman Empire in the sixth grade, and how the study of Rome is the study of one’s boundaries. Exceeding our boundaries can lead to war and destruction, yet pushing the boundaries leads to creativity and expansion. Welcome to the paradox of puberty, the paradox of life. During the play, the girls sang Rudolf Steiner’s “Destiny Verse” to music composed by Dr. Tan:
The wishes of the soul are springing
The deeds of the will are thriving
The fruits of life are maturing
I feel my destiny
My destiny finds me
I feel my star
My star finds me
I feel my goals in life
My goals in life are finding me
My soul and the great world are one
Life grows more radiant about me
Life grows more challenging for me
Life grows more abundant within me.
Caitlin’s voice sang from the group, clear, strong and confident. I wanted to kill her. At that point (6:30 pm the night before her report was due), her will had led her to the deed of a report that was scarcely 2/3 completed. Her goals in life appear to be reading whatever she chooses and driving her mother insane. During the next 14 hours, life would grow more challenging for us both.
During the first class meeting of the year, the hot topic among the parents was the country report. Various parents and Dr. Tan brainstormed strategies for keeping the kids on task with a challenging project. I sat smugly silent in Caitlin’s desk, reveling in the fact that my daughter is an independent worker. Ouch.
Even then, the mice of uncertainty nibbled at my brain. I came home with a raft of questions for Caitlin. Do you need help setting up a work schedule? Do you know how to look up the information you need? I’ll take you to the library. You know you can’t use Wikipedia, right?
No, Mom, I’ve got it. Yes, Mom. Ok. I know, Mom, you’ve told me like a thousand times!
Mike and I didn’t leave her completely to her own devices. We pushed her to “go work on your report” every weekend, and as part of her nightly homework. But, we didn’t stand over her, or poke our heads into her room to check her progress. She showed us her map, and her lists of flora and fauna. I helped her a bit with figuring out the definition of culture, and navigating the internet. We discovered that the BBC’s world site is a great resource. Progress seemed to be occurring.
Yet, Caitlin’s continued insistence that nothing of interest had happened on the Aegean peninsula in the last thousand years was a hint that not all was well. Mike and I knew that she was behind the schedule we would have liked, but the years have taught us that while Aidan will work to direction because he wants to please, pushing either of our girls provokes rebellion and reversal. We stayed out of it.
Fast forward to Thursday. Driving home after school through sheets of rain, I asked Catlin, “What do you have left to work on for your report?”
“Well….I’ve done…” The silence, punctuated by raindrops and the fluttering of her murmuring lips and counting fingers, carried us a mile and a half.
“Caitlin! What do you have left to do?”
“Mom. I’m trying to figure that out!” More silence, more fluttering.
“What do you mean you’re trying to figure it out? Don’t you know?” So much for calm parenting. At the red light, I looked in the rear view mirror. Each hand displayed an equal number of fingers. “You’re only half way done? Caitlin, it’s due tomorrow!”
“IknowIknowIKNOW!” Pre-teen cool had begun to crack.
I drew three deep breaths. “Go home and work. If it isn’t done, you get to explain it to Dr. Tan.”
She went home. She worked. But by the time we needed to leave the house for the play, three sections remained unfinished. Against my better judgment, I fell into lecture mode as I backed the car from the driveway. By the time we reached the school, Caitlin’s face had slumped into sullen mode and her eyes were black. I pulled her into a hug. “I’m sorry. I’m really frustrated with you, but I love you.”
“Nice motivational speech right before the play, Mom.”
“I know. Go do your play. I know you’ve got that down.”
And she did. Lines, singing, evil twirling of sword, every bit down cold.
Rhea placed her twin babies in a basket, sending them down the River Tiber. The choices we make for the benefit of our children are not always easy. “Should we ask Rick for an extension for Caitlin,” Mike asked me during the intermission.
“No. She knew what she was doing. She chose to goof around. She needs to deal with the consequences.”
And deal she did. In one thing, I am very proud of my daughter. I fully expected a 9:30 meltdown that night. It never came. When the chips were down, Caitlin knew the deal. She had goofed, and she buckled down and dealt with it.
The report was completed and turned in. I won’t vouch for the content, and if it is inadequate, I hope to goodness that her teacher takes her to task. But, the lesson has been learned. Caitlin pushed the boundary of time too far, and I think she’s learned discipline far more thoroughly from this episode than she ever would have from our words alone.
And, I am pleased to report: her brother escaped the episode un-slain.