Saturday, February 21, 2009

Super Success at Failing

What’s it like to be 13 today?  I just saw a  13 year old gymnast in a pink leotard score a phenomenal 14.65 on her tumbling routine.  I thought of my 13 year old son who has brains galore but earns Ds and C minuses at school.  He couldn’t concentrate for more than 30 minutes unless vast sums of money or perhaps vast quantities of screen time were offered as rewards.  Maybe I ought to say “won’t concentrate” instead of “couldn’t concentrate”.

I look at the Olympic performing 13-year-old gymnast and wonder if she makes her mother coffee in the morning, with lots of skim milk, and then zapped in the micro so it returns to its piping hot state.  I wonder if she can ace every single verbal SAT question I hand her way. 

I found it ego-centrically embarrassing at first, that my son was choosing such underperformance.   I wished, at times that he was some sort of underperforming employee who I could meet with, write a memo about, put on probation, follow up with, and either re-integrate into the team or laterally move him out, or possibly “take steps”. 

Some people say, “Give him consequences!”  Like we don’t already.  I don’t have much left to take away from him; what else is left? Bread, water and a dark closet?  Others say, “Work with him!”  Yeah while he stretches eight  math problems into 30 minutes each? No one gets dinner, the other high performing kid gets neglected, and I’m insane by bed time, exhausted the next morning?  There just aren’t enough hours in the day for my precious but underperforming son.  Let him sink?  Yeah, and then I look back in five-ten years and blame my lack of intervention. "If only I had coached him more when it was easier he wouldn't have sunk so low into habitual sloth," I'll tell myself.

I give thanks that we're a close family and fairly balanced emotionally.  We are in touch, we do stuff together, we laugh often and deeply,  an no one's on drugs, depressed, or "at-risk" of destructive behaviors.  But the 13 year hold has puberty ahead, and I expect things could get tougher.

Performance management is so much easier in the workplace, when you have the ace card to play; separation.  But in family, that’s not an option…we stick together through thick and thin.  Let my 13 year old test me. I’ll just keep doing my best, even if he keeps doing his worst.  May Heaven help us all.

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