Liv­ing up to the po­ten­tial

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Siob­han Con­nally Siob­han Con­nally is a writer and pho­tog­ra­pher liv­ing in the Hud­son Val­ley. Her col­umn about fam­ily life ap­pears weekly in print and on­line.

The boy isn’t liv­ing up to his po­ten­tial.

At least, that’s what his teacher called to say at 2:16 p.m. — about a minute af­ter class was dis­missed — last Fri­day af­ter­noon.

I’m sure I wasn’t sup­posed to laugh, but I find ner­vous re­ac­tions of the parental sort are hard to con­tain. The stress of get­ting good grades, which will lead our kids to bet­ter col­leges and open­ing up the best life pos­si­ble seems to be over­whelm­ing in this day and age of dis­rup­tion.

This is why I usu­ally close my eyes and plug my ears and try and empty my mind of all the things I can’t con­trol...

Such as how to get my son to care about eval­u­at­ing nu­mer­i­cal ex­pres­sions in­volv­ing dec­i­mals ... or which home­work as­sign­ments he has yet to com­plete ... or how to im­prove his god-aw­ful pen­man­ship.

You know .... like I’m tak­ing it for granted that his teacher is the only hu­man on the planet who can make out his hatch marks, which are for­ever de­creas­ing in size as they trail at a di­ag­o­nal across a smudged loose­leaf page.

You know what hap­pens to those who ASSU-ME?

Ap­par­ently, I wasn’t sur­prised by the phone call or the con­cern. And it’s not that I don’t take it se­ri­ously.

I mean ... who isn’t wor­ried their son will prove to be a fail­ure to launch and spend the rest of our nat­u­ral lives liv­ing in the base­ment, play­ing video games, and do­ing deep dives into the dark web?

Maybe you can tell, I’ve been wait­ing for this shoe to drop.

The boy fol­lows in the shadow of his sis­ter, whose school work, while not be­yond re­proach, left lit­tle for a sixth-grade sci­ence teacher to de­sire. Hers was on time. Leg­i­ble. And mostly ac­cu­rate. And she had taken great pains to cor­rect the things that she mis­un­der­stood in texts she could trade for ex­tra credit.

My son, how­ever, doesn’t re­ally aim to please.

Any cir­cle on the tar­get is fine.

Doesn’t have to be near the cen­ter.

He aims to fin­ish. Quickly.

And with­out dou­ble check­ing to be sure he handed it in to be graded.

You know that school teacher in “The Christ­mas Story?” The one who dances about Ra­phie’s imag­i­na­tion as he dreams about the A-plus, -plus, -plus grade she will give him for his preter­nat­u­rally elo­quent es­say on the at­tributes of pos­sess­ing “a Red Ry­der, car­bine ac­tion, 200-shot, range model air ri­fle with a com­pass in the stock and this thing that tells time?”

Well, the not-so-fic­tional teacher of this story might very well have cel­e­brated my daugh­ter’s cere­bral out­put with bet­ter than per­fect scores, but the score she had to set­tle with my son was a lit­tle more to the point.

And it was just as blunt as it had been for Ral­phie: He’d shoot his eye out ...only the “I” my boy would shoot out would be the “In­com­plete” he’d get for all the home­work as­sign­ments he’d ne­glected to hand in be­fore the mark­ing pe­riod ends.

“But I fin­ished them,” he protested as I turned off the TV and fanned out a stack of pages 100-yearold-tree deep that I had ex­tracted from his book bag. None of which had been in­scribed with a red mark or frowny face. “Doesn’t that count?”

“Only in flawed logic and movie dream se­quences.”

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