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Well Intended / Wishing kids the inspiration to make the grade

Published 6:19 pm, Thursday, January 31, 2013
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Beneath the mailbox to our childhood home was a grated gutter with the words "drains to ocean" spray painted above it. It was by this passageway that many of my report cards found their way to the Pacific. That isn't to say I wasn't a fairly good student. With the exception of geometry, I did fairly well. I just didn't want to be scrutinized.

I try to remember that as I try to recall my passwords to access the online portals that hold my children's most recent report cards. They are getting to an age when grades matter. I remember rushing home to that same mailbox at lunch time during the spring of my senior year hoping to find chubby acceptance packets from my top-choice colleges. As parents, we understand the tangible results of our high school performance. And yet, we also know there is so much more to learn that can't be quantified by standardized tests or academic records.

The other parents are starting to talk about college. They are hiring consultants. They're assembling portfolios. Their children are enrolled in enriching summer experiences that will likely inform their application essays. It becomes both hobby and obligation of the mothers and fathers of teenagers to help navigate the future. It's what we do. I guess.

Kids today seem younger than we were when we were their age. I imagine every generation says that. My parents didn't ask for my seafaring report cards nor did they make a fuss over my college applications. They didn't feel validated by my success. Like all parents, they wanted me to be happy. I believe they trusted me to find my way. I made plenty of mistakes, making my own choices.

I went to a big school and studied literature because it seemed practical. I like to read. I was too anxious or insecure or stupid to get to know my teachers, ask questions or navigate a path that would enthrall me.

I went about college as I had high school, doing what was expected. I checked off the boxes of required courses, without ever really feeling passionate about anything. I regretted this, and returned to school a decade later and wiser and have since hacked my education by taking courses in whatever intrigued me, adding a later-in-life MFA and continuing to learn compulsively. I think many of us are like this. We have finally learned to follow our curiosity. We know and crave inspiration and we trust our own creativity.

I marvel at people who always knew what they wanted to do, and were self-aware enough to trust that and work towards it right from the start. I'm on a more winding path.

As for my children, I, like most parents, want them to be successful. I don't want them to eliminate any opportunities because they didn't turn in their homework or study for their exams or ask for help when they didn't understand how to work out a problem. I want them to learn how to do what is expected of them so that they then can go on and do the stuff that matters. I want them to be exposed to many opportunities. I want them to be equipped to handle whatever comes next.

I can't smooth their paths of obstructions. I hope to encourage them to develop the stamina to continue when things get rough.

These years, when grades are starting to matter, are important. They will have a transcript by which they will be measured by some. But more than that, I want them to develop the pleasure of experiencing curiosity. I want them to crave more. I wish them the kind of stay-up all night, couldn't stop kind of inspiration that comes from always asking, "What if?"

Krista Richards Mann is a Westport writer, and her "Well Intended" column appears every other Friday. She can be reached at kristarichardsmann@gmail.com.