Failing to Make the Grade

It all started with bacon.

I decided to add some crumbled bacon to the salad I was making for dinner, the one that would accompany the barbecue salmon and homemade corn bread, but I only cooked six slices of bacon.

Apparently, that wasn’t enough.

In my defense (which I argued to my family) I cooked six slices even though I only planned to crumble two into the salad. There were still four slices left for the kids and my husband to grab. The only problem was that my oldest son and my husband got there first, leaving only a half of a slice for my 11-year-old.

Hence, not enough bacon.

Still smarting from the lack of pork, my 11-year-old headed to the refrigerator. Crap, I think, I forgot the milk.

“You forgot the milk,” my 11-year old said while staring into the refrigerator. “Bad mommy,” he said with a smile as he turned to pour himself some water. “Yeah, bad mommy,” my husband chimed in as he flipped the new batch of bacon.

Really?! I knew they were just teasing me (it’s what we do around here) but, I wanted to scream, what about the salmon and the cornbread and the bacon? But I didn’t. Instead, I decided to embrace my failings.

“Yep,” I responded. “Bad mommy. I failed you.”

See, I’m trying to teach my kids that it is ok to fail because, according to the New York Times, this will help them succeed.  The article by Paul Tough, What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?, has been on my mind a lot these past few weeks. I live in an ultra-competitive neighborhood and my kids attend schools filled with over-achievers who have parents who over-achieved. Failing is not something to be embraced here.

But, according to Mr. Tough, letting kids fail and overcome that failure is a better indication of how successful they will be than any grade they get in a class. “We all know — on some level, at least,” Mr. Tough writes. “That what kids need more than anything is a little hardship: some challenge, some deprivation that they can overcome, even if just to prove to themselves that they can.”

My kids know failure. They are good students, good kids, and good at what they attempt but by no means are they shining stars – yet. They have been cut from sports teams, done badly on tests and been in trouble at school. But they still live with this idea that to be good at something you have to be great. I don’t just blame our town, I blame myself (see, I am embracing my failings).

I have not really let my kids see me fail. Nor have I let them hear about my past failings (and I’m not talking about my perm or my bad taste in boyfriends in the 80s). I’ve tried to protect them from seeing my struggles because I thought that was a lot to put on a kid. I grew up watching my parents struggle at times with their business and, although in hindsight, it was good to watch how they pulled themselves out of it, at the time it was tough to watch.

So, back to the bacon.

After admitting my failings in the kitchen I decided to let it all out. “You know,” I mentioned casually. “I got a “D” in college. In Greek Mythology.” I added the last part because my 11-year-old is reading a book about a young Greek demigod who is supposed to be the son of Poseidon; AND (this is the best part) I’m Greek. 100%. How much worse could that be?

“You?” gasped my 11-year-old. “A ‘D’? On a test, right?” As if the idea of a “D” in a class was so beyond his imagination.

“No,” I admitted. “I finished the year with a D.”

“I thought you only got ‘A’s’?” my 15-year-old asked incredulously.

“Mostly A’s.” I explained nonchalantly. “Until my sophomore year in college.”

“So, why didn’t you mention this before?” my oldest asked skeptically. “And how did you get a ‘D’ in Greek mythology? You’re Greek!” He was now eyeing me with serious suspicion. I could see the wheels turning. Was he questioning my honesty? Maybe I should have reveled in my failures a lot earlier.

“But you never got a ‘D’ after that year, right?” he asked.

“Right,” I responded hesitantly. I wasn’t quite sure where he was going with this.

“Because you couldn’t have gotten into law school with a bunch of D’s, right?” he asked.

“Right,” I said slowly.

“So, getting a ‘D’ really doesn’t matter, does it?” he stated. “It didn’t ruin your life.”

Now I saw the path we were on. Rather than learning about resiliency he figured he now had a pass to fail- at least once. Apparently, I failed at teaching failing.

I guess I won’t mention my “D” in psych.


*Originally posted on on October 7, 2011

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