This past Thursday was an important day here. It was the day the boy was going to compete in the Math Olympics. He won this honor by getting one of the highest scores on a test the class took. He would be representing his school in the area of third grade computation. Three other kids from the third grade were also chosen. The boy had studied and practiced and was ready for the big day. To say he was excited would be an understatement.
The competition was being held at another school about an hour and a half away. I studied the directions carefully so that I would be confident about where I was driving. I packed breakfast for us to eat in the car and we were on our way before 6:30a.m. He had to be on time or he would be disqualified.
We talked and laughed, ate breakfast and listened to our favorite cds. What a great time we were having! What a great day this would be!
And then? I got on the wrong freeway.
So confident was I that I knew where I was going, I had no idea we were on the wrong freeway until we had gone way (way!) out of our way. I called my husband frantically, figured out what I needed to do to get back on track and tried to make things right.
I was pretty sure we wouldn’t make it to the school on time. I stayed quiet about this, trying to figure things out. But my boy, he is bright (he was picked for the Math Olympics, after all!) and it didn’t take him long to ask the dreaded question. I was honest with him and said I wasn’t sure, but I would do my best. He was O.K. He still mostly thinks I can do anything. I called his school, they called his teacher and she said try to make it to the other school by 9a.m.
I drove faster than I have ever driven in my life.
When we got to a certain point and I was sure we wouldn’t make it on time, I had to tell my boy. He was upset, of course. He doesn’t cry often but ….he cried.
I decided to call his teacher to see if there was any hope at all of competing if the boy was late. We had been told he would be disqualified if he was late, so we were understandably panicked. When his teacher heard we would most likely be a half hour late, I could tell by her voice that there was no hope. She said come anyway, we could watch the awards ceremony and go to lunch afterwards, as planned.
Oh, yeah- that should be fun.
When I got off the phone with the teacher, I told the boy the bad news. He had been upset and crying before, but now? He lost it. I could in no way blame him. I felt like losing it, too.
“I practiced so hard!! I wanted to do the tests!! I wanted to know what it was like!! This is the worst day of my life!!”
I heard this over and over. I apologized over and over. While not disrespectful, he was so very angry with me. And I just let him be angry.
I listened for a long while and then tried to turn things around, be positive. I told him this was terrible and disappointing but one day, we would be over it and he would forgive me. He said, “I don’t think I will ever forgive you.” I let him have that feeling. I wasn’t even ready to think about forgiving myself at that point.
During the time the boy was losing it and I was trying to calm him, I was not paying attention to how fast I was driving, unlike earlier when I was speeding on purpose. I looked down at the speedometer to see that I was going way too fast. My eyes automatically went to my rearview mirror. The officer in his highway patrol car with the flashing lights? He also thought I was going way too fast. We must have been quite a sight when he peered into our car, me visibly upset, the boy with tears streaming down his bright red face. I saw the officer’s stern expression soften, but only a little. He still gave me a ticket. I definitely deserved it.
When we were on our way, no longer speeding, the boy told me he wanted to go home. Why should he watch other kids do what HE should be doing, he asked. I wanted to give him what he wanted. I would have done anything to make things O.K. But I just didn’t think going home was the right thing to do. I suggested we keep going, hold our heads high and support his school.
“But, Mom! I won’t even get to take any tests! I just wanted to take the tests!”, he cried.
“Honey, I’m going to make sure you get to take a test”, I heard myself say.
I didn’t care what I had to do, my boy was going to take a test. And because he still mostly thinks I can do anything (except take the right freeway), he agreed to keep going.
When we arrived at the school, I explained the situation to the coordinator. I told her that I would understand if he was disqualified from winning a ribbon but, please, just give the boy a test. She looked at him and then at me and….hugged me. I must have looked as awful as I felt. That kind woman said to my boy, “Let’s go, there’s no time to waste. The first round has already started.” And then she took my boy, with his required two sharpened pencils in his hand, and disappeared into the third grade test room.
The awards ceremony wouldn’t start for an hour and a half, so I walked back to the car to get my camera. The older I get, the less I cry- it’s not worth it and keeps you from solving the problem at hand. I had held it together for the past two hours, but by the time I got back to the car, I was openly crying. I felt like I had just woke up from the worst nightmare and I was relieved.
Then, I tried to clean up the milk that had spilled all over the car when the boy, in his haste to get out of the car, had slammed the door (with the milk in the cup holder) a bit too hard.
Good times, folks- good times.
Of course, the boy didn’t win a ribbon. (To be honest, he might not have won a ribbon even if he was on time.) The points were tallied and he was at a disadvantage from the start because his time on the first test out of four was cut very short and he couldn’t get many problems done. I thought he might be angry about this but, as we walked to the car, he seemed really happy. I watched him closely and listened to him chatting away about how great it was, taking those tests. We did not talk about ribbons or winning at all. And then my boy said this: “You know, Mom, I didn’t care so much about winning, I just wanted to participate. And I got to!”
Yes, he said that, all on his own. For the second time that day, my eyes were teary.
As we got to the car, I said, “It seems to me like you are O.K. now.”
“Oh, I’m fine, Mom. I told you, I just wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to know what it was like.”
Then, I realized this: He pulled himself out of a really hard situation, all on his own. He was making the day O.K. for himself. He really was fine. Well. I must be doing something right.
On the way into lunch, I asked the boy if he thought he could forgive me today or would that wait for another day. “Oh, Mom!”, he said, “I’ve already forgiven you!” Whew!
My favorite part of the day (I know! Hard to believe there even WAS a favorite part!) was standing in line waiting to order food, watching my boy with his friends, chatting and goofing around. He has been a shy, kind of quiet kid for most of his years and it was so great to see him interacting so easily with his buddies. I know this could not have been the worst day of his life, not yet.
As we got back in the car to head for home (following everyone else to the RIGHT freeway), the boy asked me to apologize to him again. I had already apologized eleventy-hundred times, one more couldn’t hurt.
“I’m sorry I made you late this morning, I really am.”
In a very kind, sweet voice, he said, “I forgive you, Mom!”
This boy, he is my heart.