Wednesday, September 23, 2009

on trying hard....

It took in, I think I was probably a sophomore or so, before I figured out that a person could try harder and get better grades. Before that, I had sailed along fairly easily through school, not going crazy over homework, but not doing too poorly in the grade department, either. I was probably holding my own as far as letter grades were concerned...a check at my transcript would probably not show much in the way of stellar GPAs through my freshman year. You would think a short foray into the world of the "gifted program" would have perked up my cognitive ears, so to speak, and made me want to "try harder to get good grades," but, all it did was get me out of class to make bridges out of straws (yeah, really) and crack jokes with others in my class about amygdala aerobics, cerebellum jumps, etc. "The Thing" that changed it for me was an assignment by Mr. Suiter, our World History teacher.

History had never been very exciting for me back in the day, (although any type of case study or biographical tale was definitely of more interest to me than any other type of learning--remains so to this day) I suppose since I was young and had never left the state of South Dakota, except to venture over to Minnesota to see my grandma Johnson in the spring. This assignment by Mr. Suiter was different in that, he told us we could draw pictures, or use any other means necessary, to get our report across to him. My subject was Henry VIII and his many wives. I decided to draw pictures of Henry, Anne Boleyn, and then a larger picture of some battle; (you can see the details of that don't matter much, even now) which required me to tape two pieces of paper together in order to draw the larger battle scene. Now, luckily for me, while I was never strong at drawing portraits, I had spent years reading about horses; any form I could find....The Black Stallion, Black Beauty, the chincoteague ponies, Little House on the Prairie, etc., which grew into drawing horses--jumping, eating, posing, etc. I came from a long line of people who were quite good at pencil drawings; my mom, (who should have become a top fashion designer; she has amazing drawings of dresses and clothes) my sister, my brother, and also my dad, who didn't draw a lot, but the few times I remember him rendering a quick sketch on a piece of paper, was quite impressive. We had spent many hours drawing as we grew up; during blizzards, sitting in our camper during downpours at the river, etc. Let's just say sitting down to draw was like second nature to me at that point.

So, here was an opportunity to do a homework assignment that did not have to showcase my (very fast) sloppy handwriting, that wouldn't bore me to death while writing out my references. I remember sitting down at my desk that night with a renewed focus; (not realizing at the time it would become a new standard for my homework in the years to come) listening to my crackly fm radio, as bad 80s tunes played, drawing like a girl possessed. I think I drew until supper, having to be called down...which was rare, since I was usually found in the kitchen, hovering around the stove, picking up pieces of food and tasting. After supper, it was right back up to draw; a pattern which continued for two days. On the third day, I was concerned over whether or not to add color to the drawings, an idea which I finally abandoned in favor of shading. I remember turning the drawings in, feeling a bit proud, a new feeling to associate with homework.

The next day, I went in to class and Mr. Suiter had my pictures pinned on the back bulletin board! SO exciting! I felt like I had won an award. It was a new feeling for me, a feeling of hmmm, hard work does pay off, after all. I was excited to enter the room each day, looking at my drawings, and knowing that others had seen them, too. It was a Big Deal in my life, and it kind of opened the door for more hard work=results behavior on my part. The next big event was scoring 100% on the insurance test for Mrs. Bjerke, and having her tell me that no one had ever scored a perfect score on her insurance test, ever! Heady stuff back in the day. That went on into college, from me pouring my all into giving speeches for Mike Schliessman, to doing some surprisingly good (and funny) writing in freshman comp. From that little drawing assignment, came a lifetime of working hard to get results; making the dean's list every semester of college, graduating with High Honors, etc. Before that assignment, I had been getting by quite nicely without putting forth much effort, but until that assignment was turned in, I didn't know the intrinsic rewards associated with pouring your heart and soul (and eraser shavings) into your work.

That brings me to my life today, where hard work does not equal results. It is hard to live in a moment of my life where working hard and trying my best will not mean that things will work out for the best. For example, even though I try to do all I can to help Mason with his toileting issues, he still wakes up 3-4 mornings a week with urine-soaked sheets, and a nighttime pull-up that has bursted all over himself and the bed; leaving gel all over his skin and floor. All the reading and planning and prepping and laundry in the world is not making this problem go away. Could I wake him up every night at midnight and take him to the bathroom? Sure, if I want him to stay awake for 2-4 hours after that...could I put him to sleep later in the evening? Sure, if we want him to get behind on sleep and therefore sleep less. (Yes, my kids are wired that way; the less sleep they get, the less they seem to be able to sleep....) Could we be missing some crucial step in the process that is setting him up for failure every night? (And taking up valuable washing space/time in my laundry room?) The answer is, we must be, so he is now going to be receiving incontinence therapy through a local rehab center. It smacks of failure, being unable to figure this problem out on my own, and to know that the answer might lie outside of what we are able to do for him at home. While persistence and hard work do pay off, they don't fix every problem. Welcome to adulthood, I guess, is the moral of this story today.

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