I was one of those lucky children for whom learning came easy. So, when I became a parent, I naturally assumed that if I read to both of my children faithfully and offered them fun, educational playtimes, they would follow in my footsteps. They, too, would learn, retain materials and receive all As as I had done.
Amanda, my first child, was right on target. She learned quickly and earned good grades. However, even though I practiced the same methods with my second child, Eric, I sensed that life would be a challenge, not only for his teachers, but for Eric and myself personally.
I did my part for this sweet, loving youngster who was never a discipline problem for anyone. I made sure his homework was completed each night, kept in touch with his teachers, and enrolled him in every assistance program the school had to offer. But, no matter how hard he struggled, report cards with Cs were met with frustration and tears. I could see his discouragement and feared he would lose all interest in learning. Soon I doubted myself.
Where had I failed my son? I wondered. Why couldn’t I motivate him to help him succeed? I felt if he didn’t excel in school, he would be unable to create a life of his own or support himself—and perhaps a family someday.
Eric was a sixteen-year-old blonde when my eyes were opened. We were sitting in the living room when the phone rang; a message that my father had suffered a massive heart attack and died at age seventy-nine.
“Papa,” as Eric had called him, had been such a part of my little boy’s life during his first five years. Since my husband worked nights and slept days, it was Papa who took him for haircuts, ice cream and played baseball with him during those earlier times. Papa was his number-one pal.
When we entered the funeral parlor, I stood in the doorway and looked at my father, so still, so unlike the man I knew. My children were on either side of me, and I felt Eric take my hand as we walked up to his grandfather. We shared our moments together then took our places on the side of the room as hundreds of friends filed by. Each person shared sympathies and memories of my father’s life. Others just touched my hand and walked away.
Suddenly, I realized Eric wasn’t beside me. I turned to look around the room and noticed him near the entranceway helping the elderly in need of assistance with the stairs or the door. Strangers all, some with walkers, others with canes, many simply leaning on his arm as he led them to his grandfather to pay their last respects.
Later that evening the funeral director mentioned to me that one more pallbearer was needed. Eric immediately said, “Please Sir, may I help?”
The director suggested he might prefer to stay with his sister and myself. Eric shook his head. “My papa carried me when I was little,” he said. “Now it’s my turn to carry him.” When I heard those words I started to cry. I felt as though I could never stop.
From that moment on, I knew I would never berate my son for imperfect grades. Never again would I expect him to be someone I had created in my own mind, because that individual I envisioned was nowhere near the fine person my son had become. His compassion, caring and love were the gifts he was born with. No book could have taught him these things. No degree framed behind glass would ever convey to the world the qualities Eric possessed.
He is now twenty years old and continues to spread his kindness, his sense of humor and compassion for his fellow man wherever he goes. Today I ask myself, “What difference do science and math grades make? When a young man does the best he can, he deserves an ‘A’ from the heart.”