This has been a challenging school year for Mister Man. I’ve discussed before the fact that he’s high functioning autistic, which has its blessings and curses. Social interactions is his biggest challenge because he just doesn’t get why so many things matter – and he frequently doesn’t read the clues. As he’s getting older in school, it’s beginning to set him apart more, and he’s no longer so oblivious enough that he doesn’t notice that he’s being treated differently.
We’ve been having a lot of discussions about what he needs to do differently – waiting for the teachers to give directions on the work because it isn’t always what he thinks it will be or making sure he’s using his best handwriting and not making it silly writing. I’ve learned to be careful in those conversations because he so easily shuts down.
I’ve been hearing from his teacher that he’s rushing through his work so he can read and that when he has to redo his work because it’s sloppy or wrong or didn’t follow directions, he resists and the work comes back still not where it should be. When I talked to him about it the other night, I was able to get him to open up a little about it. He told me that when that happens, it makes him feel lonely in his heart.
“Lonely in my heart” – that’s a phrase to break a mother’s heart. As I hugged him and talked about what it really means to redo your work and why his teacher asks him to do it, I searched my brain to understand where this came from. I explained that he’s a smart kiddo and that means his teacher expects a lot from him. When he doesn’t meet expectations, she will ask him to do what she knows he can easily do. When he’s rushing, he’s showing a lack of pride in his work, and he isn’t showing her that he knows the material. If he doesn’t learn the basics to create a strong foundation, then he can’t move forward to learn the more complicated – and often more fun – things that he wants to learn.
It seemed to sink in a little bit because he does want to learn and he does want to please. It slowly dawned on me that the things he rushes through and the things he claims he “hates” in school (ahem, writing) are the ones that are the biggest challenge to him. They’re the things that don’t come easily to him. As I pointed that out, he nodded slowly.
But Mom, when I do those things, I fail lots of times, he explained.
Ahhh, failure, my friend. I lived a lot of my life not wanting to fail. It kept me from things I wish I had tried or done. I don’t want the wee ones to live that way.
I took a deep breath and looked at him. What does failure mean to you? I asked him. What does it mean to fail? Why do you not want to fail?
And we had a most awesome conversation after that. We talked about how what’s important in life isn’t doing things perfectly. It isn’t about getting 100% on every test. It isn’t about being the fastest and the smartest and the “best” at everything. Failure is what happens when we try and things don’t work out the way we want them to, but there’s no shame in that. Instead, we need to take pride in our effort, knowing that we did the best we can, regardless of the results. And if those results weren’t quite what we wish they’d been? Well, we have a great opportunity to take a look at what we did and analyze it to see how we can improve upon it.
We walked through some of the great figures in history and mistakes they made – though still they are so highly regarded and had so much of what so many people consider to be success. Thomas Edison. Albert Einstein. Marilyn Monroe. Vince Lombardi. There are so many examples out there. And he started to get it. I think.
We talked through how he doesn’t like the things that are difficult for him and how that’s been a trend for much of his life. My child who I cannot get to put down a book used to hate reading. My free-wheeling child used to hate bike riding. And on and on. Once he practiced and gained some expertise, many of these things because his favorite activities. The light bulb grew a little brighter.
And then I went to the gym where Pandora played Pink’s “Less Than Perfect” as I was running. With little else do to, I listened to the lyrics, really listened. And I almost started crying in the middle of the gym. This is the song that explains it all. No matter what, you’re perfect to me. Through all the wrong turns and bad decisions and and mistaken by others, you’re perfect to me.
I found a clean version of the song and played it for him last night. I made him listen to the lyrics – especially the ones discussing the negative self-talk and not looking for critics – and we talked about how everyone often feels this way. We reiterated that there is no perfect, but that instead we do what we can – and that no matter what, he will always, always be perfect to me.
Because failure is not a four letter word. If we don’t fail, we aren’t trying. This conversation isn’t over with him. What we’ve talked about doesn’t fix everything, but it’s a start. I had no idea he felt so strongly about failure already at eight years old. How does your child feel about failure?
PS I’d link to the video, but a) explicit lyrics and b) some disturbing imagery. But if you haven’t listened – really listened – to Pink’s “Less Than Perfect” I strongly suggest you do.
Also, I’m giving away a $25 American Express gift card. By entering, you’re helping me out, too. So… would you? Who can’t use an extra $25?