31 January 2005

Single...With Children: A Little More Preparation Can Come In Handy

Single With Children: Humble pie hard to swallow, but necessary nourishment

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 10/27/04

I remember eons ago when I was in high school, the mere whisper of a book report was enough to send my pulse into triple digits and cause my palms to drip.

Twenty years later, I still find the prospect of having to make the briefest announcement at any given meeting can create a lump in my throat. I get the distinct feeling public oratory will never be my strong suit.

Looking back, the quick wit, the smooth bravado, the "I am just so completely calm" attitude wasn't hard to buy into. The fact that this self-assured air was being emitted by my son, made it even easier to believe. I didn't harbor any misgivings about his ability to stand before his peers and fulfill one of the requirements of his senior project by giving a dissertation on his research topic.

Justin's never displayed any visible stress tied to school assignments before, even when I felt a little tension and well-placed concern might be a good thing. In his almost 12 years of school, I've never seen a hint of angst.

Senior project is probably the most dreaded aspect of the academic year for students toying with the idea of graduating. And it was my son's turn last week. He prepared by making a trip to the mall and selecting a dress shirt, smart looking pants and a necktie that transformed him into someone I almost didn't recognize, but made me swell with pride upon inspection.

I never had to encourage him to work on his research or memorize more information. I had no doubt he knew his material and facts. His chosen subject is one close to his heart; "The History of the Mustang." If anything, Justin has more information than he will ever need to compile his paper.

The morning finally arrived and the hour was near. It was midpoint presentation day and there wasn't a trace of trepidation to be found in my son. I wished him good luck and told him to "break a leg." He bounced out of the house and headed for school and his five-minute spotlight. I didn't give it a second thought.

The young man who returned home was not the same self-assured teenager who swaggered out of the house a few hours earlier. I realized something had gone wrong, but his presentation was last on my list of possible culprits.

"I choked, Mom. Everything I knew just flew out of my head and I wound up sounding like a babbling idiot." I listened, near tears for his obvious pain.

He reviewed the carnage with me. He said as he stood front and center and surveyed the audience, he knew for certain that his classmates probably weren't paying very much attention at all to what he was about to say. He even noticed that one young man in the back row was taking the opportunity to catch up on his sleep. Inattentive audience notwithstanding, every fact, statistic, noun, verb, adverb, adjective and "pause for effect" called in sick and left him stammering and sounding as if he weren't quite certain the Mustang he was reporting on was the horse or the car.

It's those hurts my kids present to me that can't be corrected with a Band-Aid or 10-day course of antibiotics that I find most difficult to handle. I knew better than to say, "I know just how you feel," even though I think I had a good idea. My heart ached for him. It was one of those times when a hug seemed to be the only thing I had to offer. I did share a few of my own public speaking disasters, but I realized this moment was one of those not so fun times when it's "all about him.".

There was no erasing the fact that he would have to suit up, show up and get back in that Mustang (the car), climb back on that mustang (the horse), and revisit the scene of the accident. I reminded him that his age group, overall, tended to exhibit a short attention span and it really wouldn't take long for his performance to fade from the collective memory of the group. I'm not at all sure he bought that.

Lessons in humility can be harsh, but they are also essential. When we seem to believe we are bigger than we really are, it's a sure bet that it won't be long until we're reduced by a few notches. In the long run, though it doesn't merit a grade or a ticket to graduation, those "notch reductions" provide an even more valuable lesson than "The History of the Mustang." They help keep us real.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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