Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Lesson of the Gerbil

This afternoon, before Abby's bus arrived, I sat down at my computer with the plan of catching up on some news. As is my habit, I first checked my email. There I found a note from Abby’s teacher letting me know that she hadn’t earned her bear today - her day had not been “beary” good. 

My heart sank.

We’d been making such a big deal about her getting one every day this week, and earning her pizza and surprise on Friday. I wondered how bad it would be to amend the reward (Best 3 out of 4 - and pizza only?), or should I stick to my guns and hold firm to our original bargain? That’s when the story of “The Gerbil” came to mind - a story that has become a bit of a legend in our family.

Imagine if you will a young Elizabeth, maybe a year or two older than Abby is now. Little Elizabeth had a personality and imagination much like Abby, but with a few differences. One of those was that I was not a big fan of school. See, I struggled. School never came very easily to me - not like it had with my older sister. The area in which I struggled the most was the Language Arts - more specifically.....spelling. My, oh my was I a horrid speller. It is still something that I struggle with today.

“The Gerbil” story took place around third grade, and it must have been around the time of a break, because I came home from school with a proposition for my parents. The teacher had asked if there was anyone that wanted to care for the class gerbil over the break, and remembering that my older sister had enjoyed the company of one of her class pets years earlier, I asked if we might host that darling little thing. I asked if I could have my turn. 

I’m sure that my parents talked and discussed, and finally they said it would be alright - with one provision. If I studied for my weekly spelling test, and if I got all of them right when they quizzed me that evening, then I would be allowed to watch the class pet.

Knowing me, I’m sure I immediately agreed to the contract and headed up to study. Finally, finally I felt that I was ready and so the family gathered (for some reason in my parents’ room) and the quizzing began. I’m sure I was nervous - there was a lot at stake after all, but I forged ahead and after each word correct my confidence grew. The tension in the room was almost palpable as I finally arrived at my last word. I’d gotten them all right, and I was but a few short letters away from my goal. My mom delivered the word and it wrong.

I remember there was a short pause and then my mom told me I’d missed it. I remember thinking that they were kidding, but no, I’d missed the very last word. I remember my tears and their laughter - not a mean kind of laughter, more of a “I can’t believe that just happened” chuckling.

Despite the fact that I’d studied and despite the fact that I got nineteen right and only one wrong, I did not get that gerbil.

Now, in my parents’ defense, I was not an easy child, and even though I struggled in the world of academia, I did not struggle when it came to exerting my will and milking things for all they were worth (as is evidenced by the fact that I’m still bringing up that silly gerbil). I’m sure that it was quite a struggle to raise me and part of what I needed was to know that what my parents said, they meant. But even now my mom will say to me, “I don’t know why we didn’t let you bring home that gerbil.” And a few years ago she even went so far as to get a little stuffed one and give it to Abby, I think secretly hoping that it would stop me from bringing it up again. 

As soon as I connected Abby’s bear notes to my gerbil story I knew I would be amending her reward. One rough day isn’t going to erase the two great days she already had this week, and so we talked after school about how to be a good listener and that tomorrow she would get another chance to earn that bear, and most importantly that I loved her very, very mater what.

The weather here has been just crazy. We had a snow day Monday,
50-60 degree temps on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then
this morning we woke to more snow!

Tonight Abby came with me to my school for our Science/Curriculum
Fair. She walked in the room and exclaimed, "Look, Mom...Art!"

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