A for Effort
Recently we were sitting together while you made a card for your friend’s birthday. You drew a half hearted picture on the front (red stick figure Iron Man turned into Ice Man after you scribbled blue on it) and we worked together on the words inside. There’s no other way to put it, you were phoning it in. You weren’t concentrating. Every letter was a different size. You asked me to repeat myself over and over and I was doing my best to be supportive despite the fact I knew you could do better. There’s a fine line between encouraging you and discouraging you and I was trying not to cross it. So, when you made an M instead of an N in your friend’s name, I helped you fix it. I didn’t lose it. I didn’t say, “if you were paying attention…”. I stayed calm and helpful. However, 10 minutes later, when we finally got to the sign off, Your Pal, and you wrote YOUR PAE because you were completely unfocused it bothered me. There was no way for me to turn an E into an L and with one mistake already on the page the only choice was to start again. I have to admit, it made me crabby. I took away the card, folded another piece of paper and we began for the second time. However, this time when you wrote an R instead of a P in Happy and looked at me with this lazy, little “oops, oh well, who cares” face, I lost it. I picked the card up off the table and ripped it in half.
It wasn’t my finest moment. I find it infuriating when people do subpar work out of sheer laziness, but watching my own child do it made me doubly nuts. Look, I have no desire to be a Tiger Mom. For example, I’m perfectly happy with the fact that, despite your gender, you seem to have no interest in competitive sports. You don’t want to play soccer or baseball. You aren’t interested in riding a bike. You don’t scooter. You don’t do the monkey bars. That’s all ok with me. I get it. You haven’t found your jam. You love swimming. You like skiing. You like costumes and acting and dance. You’ll find your place. I’m not worried or pushing you to do what you’re not interested in. I want you to be you, whoever you turns out to be. But…I want you to be the best version of you, and that lazy, unfocused kid I was hanging out with was not it.
Frankly, I don’t think I was too horrendous. You hadn’t drawn the picture yet, it was just 3 letters (2 right, 1 wrong) drawn on a piece of paper in the shape of a card, but you were pretty shocked when I ripped it. I’m embarrassed to say you started to cry. It made me feel awful. Your mother shouldn’t make you cry and it was a horrible feeling for both of us. I told you if you wanted to take some time in your room you could and, a couple minutes later, I joined you for a talk.
You told me you were mad at me and I understood. You said, “You ripped my card” and I said, “I did. I’m sorry.” Then I asked if you understood why I’d done it, and you said, “because I made the wrong letter”. That devastated me. I don’t want you to EVER feel you can’t make a mistake around me. That I’m going to be mad or cruel if you’re anything less than perfect. That’s not how a mom should make you feel and said as much to you. I said, “Lochie, you can make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. That’s ok. What’s not ok is being lazy. Not doing your best because you can’t be bothered. If you’re doing something, working on something, trying something, always do the best you can. There’s no other way to do things. The world is full of people who don’t try very hard, but that’s not who you are. That’s not how our family is. That’s not good enough.” Then we talked about your Dad (who you worship) and how he works a lot. I explained that when your Dad works he works at 100%. He does the very best he can and sometimes the very best takes longer, but when he’s done he knows there’s nothing else he can do to make whatever he’s working on better, and that’s the only way to approach things.
You’re going to want things in life Lochie. You’re going to dream of them, and hope for them, but you’re also going to have to work for them. It’s an aggressive, competitive world and the people who rise to the top are those who aren’t afraid of hard work, those who are willing to put in the effort for the things they want. I realize working on your friend’s birthday card and having your future career where you want it are not the same thing, but it’s my job to teach you the skills that’ll help you when you get to that level. It’s my job to push you. Not in a way that makes you unhappy ,but in a way that makes you accountable. So one day, when you’re on your own in college or the job market, and someone gives you an assignment or you want something from your life, you go after it at 100%. I want you to grow into a man who’s natural reaction is to do his best so you never have to force yourself to work harder because that’s the only way you know how to work.
I don’t say this to pressure you. I want you to be happy. Whatever you choose to do in this life – work, play, love – do it at the highest level. Whatever job you decide to pursue – Doctor, DJ, Actor, Politician – pursue it as hard as you can. Those kind of choices may seem far off now, but when you’re there I hope you’ll be grateful I encouraged you think like this way back when.
After our talk we went to the playroom together to do the card again. This time you did it with such focus and concentration it broke my heart. The finished product was amazing. Detailed personalized picture. Same size letters each on their own line. Plenty of color and creativity. We even added stickers. I complimented you on it and you looked so proud. Then I held up your first card beside the new one and asked how you thought they compared. You smiled and said, “This one is much better”. I agreed and asked why you thought so. You looked at me very seriously and said, “Because I tried with this one”.
Always try baby. Always do your best. In School. In Love. In Life. Doing the minimum and just skating by isn’t enough. You’ll always wonder what could have happened if you’d tried just a little harder. Don’t take that chance. If you’ve done all you can and put your best foot forward on all counts, then any dream you have will always be in reach. Isn’t that worth the energy?
As they say, make an effort, not an excuse.
I love you.