When I was the same age as my eighth-grade daughter, I wrote my first poem. It began, “At fourteen and a half years old I find it hard when I am told …” and concluded with, “… in middle age they’re in a bind and take it out on me.” I’m sure I thought I hit the nail on the insightful head. (Though I recall my mother asking at the time, “Can’t you write something positive?” and me thinking, “Huh?”)
This week all across Florida children in grades 3 through 35 (I believe that’s what grade I’m in now) are subject to the dreaded state-administered FCAT tests. While it’s the kids who actually sit for them, for parents watching the culmination of months of grueling study, it feels like a week of trial by academic fire as well.
The first such test this year was the writing FCAT, a subject near and dear to my heart, and I was not going in, via child-proxy or no, unprepared. That morning I cooked up a mess o’ blueberry pancakes, my daughter’s favorite and sat smiling at she lobbed them down. I didn’t want my delicate flower to wither on the way to school on her usual bus so I drove her, we’re talking 6:15 in the bleary-eyed morning, all the way across town. My angel slept the whole time, her head mashed against the window, and in my every effort not to disturb her, I even lowered the volume on Springsteen, my version of quiet in the car.
When we arrived at school, I puckered up, all my words of wisdom, encouragement and overbearing assurance on the ready, and was about to send my splendid little soldier into the standardized testing fray, when her car door flew open. I watched as she all but dropped and rolled onto the asphalt, slammed the car door shut and was gone. As I witnessed her slight, brooding figure recede into a whole nation of slight brooding figures, I almost smiled. I said, almost. You’d think she would’ve been a little more sensitive. After all, it was the FCAT’s. I could’ve used a hug.
Later that day, when I picked her up after school, she informed me the writing FCAT was, of course, No Big Deal. (To her!) She then proceeded to recount a conversation she had had with her favorite teacher that day, about how I had made her an awesome breakfast that morning and after driving her all the way to school, had given her an awesome hug (huh?) after which she sprang from the car with an awesome smile on her face (double HUH?) which she carried with her the rest of her awesome day. And the whole time she’s telling me this, I’m thinking, Who were you hugging this morning and where was I?
They say reality is perception. I think I was pretty much on the money when I was fourteen and half, though I’m ready to revise that poem now: In adolescence they’re in a bind and take it out on – here we go again! And to think I lowered Bruce.