When my 17-year-old son moved past the halfway point of his junior year in high school, something pushed me into overdrive on the parenting-without-perspective spectrum. I had already mastered the passive-aggressive compliment: Through his high school years, my son's steady but easily attained B+ report cards (with the occasional A) had been met with me imploring, "If only you'd work a little harder, think of how these could be all A's." He'd come home proud of an 89 on a test, and all I could do was ask what careless error he'd made that kept him from the 90, from the A.
All along, of course, I imagined myself to be a supportive parent, the type who glimpses that most seductive thing in a child: potential. All along, I felt it was my job to push, to prod. If not me, then who?
So you can imagine what happened when it was time to register for the SATs. Of course, I told myself, my son would sign up for the prep course offered after school, do the SAT question of the day e-mail, and study three different SAT prep books every evening to supplant his television watching. My son did as he was told. And then one day, he'd had enough.
"Mom, you're getting crazy about this," he said, good-naturedly at first. But I launched into a lecture about potential, working at one's full capacity and his not understanding what was at stake. Then, a lot less good-naturedly, he let loose the unkindest cut of all: "Mom, I'm just not like you."
And there it was. Seventeen years of blunders by a Type A parent, finally explained by her Type B child. He and I are not alike, in perhaps the most poignant of ways. My son seems to understand something about balance which I never will, and exhibits an innate sense of not wanting to drown in the often unrequited quest to outdo oneself. Somehow I hadn't noticed that, in the six week pre-SAT prep schedule I'd imposed, in addition to tossing out TV, we'd also shoved aside driveway hockey time with his little brother, bike rides with Dad and his ability to read a chapter a night of his favorite book.
"I need down time," he grumbled one day. "If you want to help me, I need pencils."
"What?" I thundered. "Pencils?"
"Yes," he said. "More number-two pencils." That's all he needed, thank you very much.
The next morning I stopped at Staples, came home and put the box of 72 pencils on my son's desk.
"Wow, that's a lot of pencils," he said when he got home from his prep class that day.
"Well, you know me," I said. Then, with great difficulty, I forced myself not to say anything more.