I am not an idiot.
I mean, I may have some bouts of momnesia every now and then, and my math skills may be a little questionable sometimes, and, admittedly, my geography kinda sucks…but still, with almost 41 years under my belt, a bachelor’s degree, and a thriving writing career, I assure you, I’m no dummy.
Now can someone please tell this to my 10-year-old? Because my Mari’s under the impression that she’s actually smarter than me.
Oh, she hasn’t come right out and said it, but it’s crystal the moment she pulls her homework out of her knapsack. Witness yesterday’s “My Mom Is Not Smarter than a Fifth Grader” homework exchange:
Me: *Looking over her finished homework* “Babe, you didn’t answer numbers eight and 14.”
Mari: “I didn’t really understand them.”
Me: “Oh, okay, let me take a look at your math book.”
Mari: *blank stare*
Me: *snapping fingers* “Let me see it.”
Mari: *slowly turns to math problems in question, then gets really stiff*
Me: “Oh… um… uneven fractions. I kinda remember this. Let’s see…”
Mari: *more blank staring*
Me: “I think you have to make the denominators even in order to subtract one from the other… ”
Mari: “Um, yeah -- I’m going to ask Daddy when he gets home. You think maybe I could have some goldfish?”
Similar exchanges have occurred over long division, multiples, research on the first American settlers and southern explorers, and even essays on summer vacation. Once, I hesitated a little too long when asked to name the capitol of New Mexico. Pop quizzes are not my thing. Now, the girl won’t get in the car unless our portable navigation system is charged and in the windshield holder.
I’d be offended, I guess, if it weren’t for the fact that just when I’m about to rip into her for treating me like I’m as dumb as SpongeBob’s hapless, helplessly idiotic best bud Patrick, I get flashbacks of doing something similar to my mom. While I don’t think I was as blatant as early in my school career, I do remember bursting into tears once in junior high because I didn’t understand a complicated Physics equation and my mom, bless her sweet heart, tried and tried to help but just…didn’t…get…it.
It’s not that I thought she wasn’t smart; it’s just that I was in school, expanding my mind for eight hours a day, getting drilled with all this new knowledge. My mom was archaic -- old school and other-worldly, a product (at least in my mind) of one-room, K-12 school houses. She got her schooling in the 40s and 50s, for goodness sake. Did they even have Physics way back then? No, I knew better about everything: math, science, social studies, how to fix my hair, what to wear, how to make friends. I was the know-it-all.
Of course, by the time I had my first baby -- my Mari -- I realized just how brilliant my mom was and just how little I actually knew when it came to what really counts. She may not have been an expert at Physics or the latest shade of M.A.C. lip gloss, but she sure knew something about babies. In the many moments when I doubted my mothering skills and constantly questioned my decisions and pondered way too hard about what other mothers and friends and aunties thought about everything from the way I nursed my baby to the way I styled her hair to how I chose to discipline her, it was my mother who put me at ease -- not by showing she knew better than me, but by showing me in every way possible that she trusted me as a mother.
That I should trust myself.
That I was, indeed, smart enough to be somebody’s mama, and that I should never, ever question it.
It was the smartest piece of advice I’d ever heard. And I find myself constantly leaning on the wisdom my mother gave me before she died, especially as I raise three children of my own and run a household and work to be a better wife / friend / mentor / writer.
One of these days, my Mari will come to this realization, too -- that, yes, nailing long division is great and being super smart is preferred, but it’s the wisdom we each apply to every decision we make during the course of the day that bares witness to our true intelligence.
Fifth graders don’t know this.
I think I’ll keep it to myself for now -- you know, stay in my lane and work my title: Chief Snack Fetcher.
I’ll leave the uneven fractions to Daddy.