Yesterday, Emilia brought home her very first report card. Emilia is four. Just yesterday she was in diapers and nursing and the only thing that anyone ever reported about her was quantity and quality of her bowel movements. How did we get to report cards?
For the longest time, I couldn’t open it. I’m not sure why. The reasons that I gave myself – that reading others’ evaluations of my child would be awkward and challenging; that the report card was a symbol of school and so a symbol of her moving ever further into a life of her own, a life apart from mine; that I just couldn’t bear to see anything other than the highest praise for my child – were not, in themselves, convincing. They just landed in my psyche and fell limp, like drained water balloons, or banana peels, or something else more figuratively appropriate that I can’t think of right now. I was anxious for all of these reasons, and for none of them, and for a thousand other reasons that I probably wouldn’t understand until sometime around her high school graduation, and as I sifted through these known and unknown and entirely inscrutable reasons for my anxiety, I thought, this is the problem. This. This worry. Not the reasons for the worry. The worry itself.
Here, I realized, is one more set of things to worry about. How is she doing in school? What do her teachers think of her? What does she think of them? Is she thriving? Is she not? What words will be used in her evaluations? What will the words mean? Emilia is working to use her conflict-negotiation skills independently… Emilia uses oral measurement tools correctly… Emilia actively enjoys playing Submarine and is proud of her navigational abilities… Emilia loves to collect data from her peers and explain to the class what this data represents (wait, what?) (Years of graduate training in critical textual analysis and I’m stymied by a junior kindergarten report card. Is my daughter a Black Ops Naval Intelligence Officer in training, or is she just good at math and challenged by conflict? Also, what are ‘oral measurement tools’ and should I be worried?) One more set of things to worry about, one more reason to stock up on Ativan. When does this all end? Does it ever end? Will I be fretting over her tenure review when she’s thirty and teaching International Political Economy at the John F. Kennedy School of Goverment?
Motherhood, for me, has been a complicated mixture of anxiety and joy. The joy, obviously, outweighs the anxiety – by volumes it outweighs the anxiety – but the anxiety is always, always there, lurking in the dark corners and bursting into the light when I least expect it, casting shadows, imposing a chill. Emilia’s junior kindergarten report card – the first report card of years and years of report cards – was a reminder that there are anxieties awaiting me that I haven’t even yet thought about, anxieties that lurk in shadowy corners that I’m not even yet aware of. That I’m not prepared for these worries me – but to devote my energies to seeking them out in advance just fosters a different kind of anxiety, and so I find myself caught in a cycle of worrying about worrying and worrying about worrying about worrying, and you can see how this could be a problem.
I don’t want this to be problem. I want to just get her report card and snicker a little over her teacher’s observation that Emilia is quick to raise her hand and eager to share ideas and ask questions but sometimes needs to be reminded to let her peers ask questions, too and not be so quick to sweat the small stuff and to remember that, really, it is all small stuff, so long as we’ve always got the joy.
And we do have the joy. Also, data-collection.
How do you fight the impulse to obsess over small worries? Do you obsess – even a little – over the small worries? Or is this just me? You can tell me if I’m crazy. I kind of already know.
(IS a report card a small worry? It’s not, is it? It’s HUGE, isn’t it? IT IS. See, I’m totally not crazy. I am ALERT. I know a your-kid-is-so-totally-going-to-be-a-Mossad-agent warning when I see one. SO THERE.)
(I am so freaking doomed.)