When I was in the second grade I had terrible handwriting and spelling skills. Because of this, I wasn’t given my “pen license” until the last week of school, and even then, I think it was out of pitty. While everyone else in my class scribbled away in blue and black ink, I was stuck with ugly chewed on pencils. I practiced my handwriting every night in little notebooks I made from scrap paper. I would write letters and words twenty or more times, but I could never seem to impress my teacher no matter how straight, how narrow, or how curly my writing was.
I became obsessed. Second grade ended and third grade began and my need for perfection and validation only grew. I simply had to do it right; I had to impress my teachers. There was a need to be a teacher’s favorite, while still flying under the radar. As I moved up in school that need branched out into other areas. I was the one with a solo in the church choir. I was the anchor of my relay team. I was the captain, the group leader, the manager. I always got an A. It MATTERED.
The thing about it was, I wasn’t that good or that smart or that quick. I had to try really, really hard. Sometimes my 110% effort wasn’t enough and I failed anyway. Like Chemistry or the 800 meters at States or when the hot guy broke up with me for good. Those failures were devastating to me because I thought they were so important. I thought one mistake would somehow be the end of me…everyone would know this bad thing about me and somehow I wouldn’t be able to move on. It led to a very intense depression that lasted for a very long time.
It took me years to realize how little those imperfections and slip ups actually mattered. I haven’t fully been able to cure my personality but I can often catch myself before I get too carried away with something. And now that I have children it is more important than ever that I let go, and that I forgive my own mistakes. I can only imagine the anxiety my children would grow up with if I didn’t…I shudder at the thought!
My four and a half year old son has been working on the Dolch Primer words for about six months now. He’s been very particular in getting them right. The thought of crossing out a mistake and leaving the blemish visible is simply mortifying to him. For him there is no “next time”. If he’s wrong he will do it again and again until he’s perfect. While I certainly appreciate his diligence and dedication (and totally get where he’s coming from) a part of me fears for him. When he cries because he’s erased a hole right through his page I feel like screaming, “It’s ok to be messy! It’s ok to be wrong!” but that won’t help. Instead, I gave him a pen. Not being able to remove his mistakes he learned to deal with them and learn from them. His handwriting and accuracy improved greatly. By being entrusted with a pen he has the confidence to go slow and do it right. But he also has the confidence to simply strike through a mistake and move on. I can see that those mistakes and blemishes mean less and less to him since he is no longer focused on covering them up. He’s no longer ashamed of them.
Who knows where I’d be if I’d been given a pen right from the start; if I’d learned to accept mistakes and not let them define me; if I’d not taken so much so personally. But I guess that’s what life is, just a learning game to pass on to the next generation. I’m sure when my children are grown and writing their own memoirs there will be less than ideal passages and things they will wish to have changed or vow to break from for their own kids. But all in all, if I do it right, they’ll at least be happy, because that’s the whole point after all, isn’t it?