On Unrealistic Expectations

Anyone who knows me at all knows that just typing my declaration yesterday that I refuse to do any work to figure out how to be good at blogging was hard for me. Following through on the actual act of *not* doing any sort of research or reading or anything on writing well or blogging effectively is…not possible for me. At least not yet. I may or may not have purchased multiple books on memoir writing while I just “stopped by” Barnes and Noble…in order to purchase my son not one, but TWO belated birthday presents. Because, alas, I am a high-strung overachiever. [Sigh.] Isn’t admitting you have a problem the first step of overcoming such problems? I have a problem.

Yesterday before I closed up the blog, I made myself a list of draft titles for the first several days — things that I would have likely written about yesterday if I hadn’t cut myself off. I also, in my head, committed to cleaning off my desk when I got home from work, setting up my new laptop (which my parents generously purchased for me for my birthday — several months ago — and it hasn’t come out of the box yet), and then waking up early in order to crank out my writing first thing in the morning. With a fresh cup of tea. And I was planning to squeeze in a devotional, too. [FN1: A possible story for another blog post is about how offended / disappointed in me my mother is that I haven’t started using the new laptop yet. Sigh again.] I did make a little bit of progress cleaning off my desk last night, but to no one’s great surprise, I did NOT wake up early, I did NOT have tea, etc. (Usually those sorts of over ambitious plans survive at least a few days before I collapse in a heap. This one collapsed in a heap of snooze buttons before it even got off the ground!)

In any case, I’d planned yesterday to write about loneliness today, as it strikes me as the most defining feature of my current existence — and it’s really been an ongoing feature for as far back as I can remember. [FN2: This might eventually be a forum where I reflect a bit more about the time my ex told me that I would feel differently about him/us/our marriage/its collapse/etc. if only I had “a couple of friends and a hobby.” I’d never been furious at him before. I got furious then. It was memorable, to say the least.] The feelings of loneliness were highlighted yesterday by the — probably unhealthy — amount of time I spent trying to figure out if anyone was reading what I was writing, and also by the fact that I sent a group text out to the moms of my son’s entire friend posse to see if any of them would be able to join us for a spring football game outing over the weekend…and I got some quick “busy with baseball” responses and then…crickets. I resent the text this morning to the folks who hadn’t responded and then…crickets. Silver lining — hopefully it will be some quality time for me and my son!

But rather than write directly about loneliness, I wanted to vent a bit about what I observed this morning while I was doing my every-couple-of-months-or-so volunteering in the library at my kids’ elementary school. It’s related to loneliness only to the extent that as I was making the observations, I was simultaneously lamenting that it wasn’t something I was going to be able to go home and vent about with my ex. And — shockingly — that was maybe the first time that I’d had such a sentiment in the entire time since we separated. There are a lot of things that I don’t miss, but as I was watching my son suffer through standardized test instruction videos…I realized how much of a loss it is not to have a partner at home to just talk things through with. But I want to talk about it, so here it goes.

My son is in 3rd grade. He has depression and anxiety. He probably has AD/HD. He might be on the autism spectrum. He doesn’t want to be troublesome at school — but he is CONSTANTLY in trouble at school. [FN3: I have a wonderful relationship with his classroom teacher, most of his “specials” teachers, the support staff, and the principal. We’re all basically on the same page about the “trouble.” But we are doing more testing to see if there are additional supports/treatments/therapies etc. that will make the situation better for everyone.] Usually when I’ve been in the library for a volunteer shift, I watch the librarian read a short chapter from an engaging story and then the kids get some time in the library computer lab before they come out and browse the shelves for books to check out.

Not today. Today, they watched excruciatingly boring instructional videos (intended for an audience of “3rd – 8th graders”) to show them how to use the specialized computer interface they’ll need to be able to use in order to take an upcoming state standardized test. These were not creative and engaging animated videos. These were painfully mundane, monochromatic, and monotone voice-over videos — the stuff of your worst webinar nightmares. Each segment was relatively short, maybe 2-3 minutes. But the kids were just booooooored out of their minds. (My son — the exemplary sitter-stiller that he is — was sprawled out and rolling around on the floor. Awesome. #proudmommoment.) And the librarian, using a discipline technique from no pedagogical resource that I’ve ever come across, would stop and restart the videos from the beginning if she determined anyone in the group wasn’t paying close enough attention. Oh. My. Word. Even I was ready to sprawl on the floor by the third time through the explanation of how to use the “sticky note” function. But whatever. The kids survived. None of them retained anything about the interface for the standardized test, and most of them wanted to strangle my son and the assorted others who couldn’t sit still and made the whole ordeal last three times longer than it might have otherwise…but they’ll be fine.

What I’m fuming about [FN4: I’m sure my therapist would laugh if I tried to describe my displeasure to her as “fuming.” We’re still working on identifying and displaying non-stoic emotions.] is the fact that — according to Mister Monotone Voiceover Man — it is very important on this test that the students indent their paragraphs. I guess it’s some crucial element of the state educational standards: properly formatted paragraphs get indented. BUT — despite the fact that they’ve learned and practice what we all learn about indenting paragraphs on a word processor, which is to use the tab key — *attention children who are bored out of your minds and rolling around on the floor and getting up every twenty-six seconds to get hand sanitizer and playing rock paper scissors under the table* everything you learned and practiced for typing paragraphs doesn’t work in this testing interface. If you’re typing along and hit the tab key, what that will actually do is move your cursor to another box on the screen, and it will mess up your typing, and it will get you confused…but it DEFINITELY won’t create the indentation that you were intending to put at the start of your paragraph. Nope. Not at all. To do that, you have to use the mouse, and move it over here to this little box, and you have to click on the arrow button…

It’s nonsense. I try not to get too worked up about standardized testing, or the various ways that my kids’ classroom / public school education might not be precisely optimized for them as individuals. (This is, I’m sure, largely because my kids go to a tremendous school where they really are accounted for individually.) But OH MY WORD. I solemnly swear and affirm that I intend to take one look at my son’s “Language Arts” score on this standardized test and then turn the whole sheet of paper into confetti. If his essay score is going to be evaluated — even a little bit!! — on the proper formatting of paragraphs…but he has to format paragraphs on a computer interface that he’s never used before AND he was supposed to learn about by “watching” those videos?! No. No. NO. I (silently, but full of rage) protest the validity of the whole endeavor.

So…unrealistic expectations. I set myself up with them constantly. And, when I stop to think about it, it’s probably about as useful (useless?) as any expectation that third graders in this state are going to meaningfully demonstrate whether or not they know how to format paragraphs when they take their tests in May. So with that, I hereby release myself from any unrealistic expectations about the quality of this blog. And I hereby give myself permission to keep taking baby (BABY) steps forward. One lonely day at a time.

#onward.

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