Expectations of Perfection

My daughter lives in fear of Tuesdays.

Why Tuesdays, you ask? Well, that is the day her teacher sends home her test papers from the previous week for myself and The Ex to read and sign. KatyBeth lives in mortal terror that she's going to get a bad grade, and that her mother and I will somehow be disappointed in her.

Doesn't matter that she's a straight A student. Doesn't matter that she's the only second grader in the entire school on the high honor roll. Doesn't matter that her mother and I have told her ceaselessly, "Less than perfect grades are okay, as long as they didn't result from less than perfect effort." She knows that we love her, and she knows that what we expect of her is to try hard in school, period. As long as she tries, we're satisfied, because we know we've got a good kid, and a smart one. She can do anything she puts her mind do. Maybe some of the physical stuff she doesn't do as well as the other kids her age, but academically, she's head and shoulders above her peers.

None of that matters to KatyBeth, because to her, one bad grade makes her a bad kid. In her mind, a B is a cause for disappointment, and God forbid she get a C or lower, because her parents will drive her into the street to live amongst the wolves. The child worries herself into a sobbing mess every. single. Tuesday.

I just don't get it. I was a straight A student myself, but I never put that much pressure on myself. On the rare occasion I made a bad grade, I got over it quickly. Perhaps she gets it from her mother, who has been known to be a bit of a worrier, but The Ex makes it a point not to project those things onto KatyBeth. It's our job as parents to worry, not our daughter's.

Take yesterday's test packet, for example. KatyBeth's aide handed her off to me after school, smiling and rolling her eyes, and mouthed to me, "She's worried about her test papers. Again."

Turns out the conduct summary on the front of the packet had three "no" checks marked; one for listening in class, one for following directions, and one for finishing her work on time. KatyBeth was mortified, dead certain that I was going to shove bamboo splinters under her fingernails or beat her with a lead pipe or waterboard her, or even worse, express disappointment. And as usual, KatyBeth chose to focus on the three areas where her teacher felt she needed improvement, instead of the conduct grade at the bottom of the sheet that read "A minus."

A quick perusal of the test packet revealed the source of the bad marks in conduct. Amidst nine 100's, a 94, and a 95, there was one lonely 69 on a math test. Turns out Katybeth added on a few problems when she should have subtracted, wrote the incorrect answer on one and didn't erase it thoroughly before she penciled in the correct one, and in one problem where she was asked to plot a point on a graph, missed it by one point in the Y plane.

So, of five questions marked incorrect, haste and following directions poorly explained four of them. Had she taken her time and listened to the instructions carefully, she'd have only missed one question, and made another A.

Yep, sounds like my daughter all right. The poor kid apparently inherited my math work ethic (or lack thereof). But dammit, she's still a straight A student, even in math, and she's got her mother the calculus queen to help her avoid ending up like her daddy, who had to give up on medical school because he doesn't have the patience for math.

So why the snot works every Tuesday? I'm truly at a loss here.  I tell my daughter I'm proud of her. I tell her at every opportunity that failure is okay, but failure to try is not. I don't punisher her for bad grades, because they truly are aberrencies, and I make sure she corrects her mistakes.

I manage my expectations, so why can't Katybeth manage hers?

I suppose there are far worse things than having a daughter for whom an A minus is not good enough, but the lip trembling, quavering voice, on-the-edge-of-tears thing every week is ripping me up, and I'd like to spare my daughter the angst.

So, parents and teachers, help me out here. What the hell am I doing wrong? What do I need to do differently?

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