I’ve just completed the self-evaluation for my annual performance review at work. It’s a process that I dreaded in my pre-motherhood days. It seemed so tedious and judgmental.
These days, though, I embrace the tidy form with boxes to check and behaviors to assess and goals to set. I appreciate clear-cut expectations and numbers and rules.
I’m a big fan of being graded on a predetermined job description.
There’s nothing tidy or clear-cut or predetermined about my most important job — mom to Cooper and Katie. There’s no written job description for being a parent, partly because it would take too long to write and partly because no one knows precisely what the job requires.
In the past week, I’ve taken on all kinds of tasks that I never anticipated way back in the 20th century.
For example, I helped Katie transform a miniature pumpkin into a lamb. Each classroom at her elementary school is contributing a decorated pumpkin for this weekend’s fall festival.
Katie’s second-grade class is going above and beyond, with a big pumpkin serving as a barn and 20 tiny pumpkins standing in as farm animals.
After much discussion and sketching, Katie settled on a lamb. We glued fluffy batting around the pumpkin. Katie drew a template for its face, and I cut it out of black fabric. Then I hand-stitched the lamb’s eyes, nose and mouth on the fabric and glued the whole face to the batting.
The lamb wobbled without legs, so we headed to the grocery store in search of black pushpins. There were only clear pushpins. We bought them, then drove to the drugstore, where we found black nail polish (Halloween merchandise to the rescue!).
At home, we painted the pins, let them dry, then pushed them into the fake animal’s rotund belly.
Voila! A baby sheep crafted from a tiny orange gourd. A task I never imagined I would tackle.
This week, I’ve also had the unexpected role of consoling Cooper for receiving a detention.
He’s certainly not perfect, but he’s also not a discipline problem at school — he hasn’t had his binder signed since the second grade. So I was shocked when I received an email this week describing insubordination and notice of an hour-long detention after school.
In the hours between the email and his arrival home, I debated what to do, what kind of punishment he’d have at home to complement detention at school.
But when Cooper walked in the front door that afternoon, his long face and slumped shoulders told me he’d been punished enough.
The class had been asked to stop talking. He stopped. He and his tablemate traded work to be graded. Cooper noticed that the other boy was making mistakes on grading.
He had a choice to make: Should he stay silent and watch his grade fall or talk to the student?
He chose to talk, despite the no-talking mandate. He was caught, summoned to the teacher’s desk and given detention.
Any disappointment I’d harbored throughout the day dissipated as Cooper spilled the story. He was bewildered and embarrassed. He felt wronged.
I gave him a hug before a gentle, abbreviated lecture on following the rules. I suggested that next time he wait until talking is permitted to address a mistake. I asked him to write a letter to his teacher to apologize for being disruptive.
I chose not to add any other consequences at home. He was devastated enough by detention itself.
In my pre-mom days, I imagined how I might react to certain situations. A child has homework? She should do it all herself. A child gets in trouble at school? He should pay the price at home, too.
Then those theoretical scenarios actually happen. You realize that a 7-year-old with a big vision can’t always carry out the details by herself and needs help with a needle and thread and a trip to multiple stores for supplies. You witness the defeated spirit of your 11-year-old and know that a hug and some kind words are better than piling on penalties.
There’s no formal evaluation process for this parenting job. The self- critique is a daily affair. The work is exhausting. The end results are years away.
It’s still the best, most important job I’ll ever have.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.