Tag Archives: perseverance

You Get What You Get: Helping Our Teens (and Ourselves) Take The High Road



You get what you get and you don’t get upset.

We teach this jingle to preschoolers to eliminate envy or any suspicions of favoritism.   A blue Popsicle/crayon/Lego/paper triangle is just as good as a yellow one.  It takes practice and reminders, but eventually this little lesson sinks in and makes life easier for kids and the adults in their lives.

By the teenage years, kids don’t care so much about their Popsicle color, but they do care about circumstances that they think could thwart their success and happiness. And parents care, too.

Sometimes, you get what you get and you don’t get upset seems hard to swallow.

Like when they get the teacher who clearly is more interested in retiring than teaching. Or when the coach is unreasonably critical and short on praise.  Or when they find themselves always sitting on the bench rather than on the field or the ice.  Maybe they never made the team at all.

But I’ve come to realize that no matter what disappointing situation a person finds himself in, if he reacts in mature ways rather than quitting or begrudging others, he can move on and thrive.

I wasn’t always so level-headed about this.

I remember cringing (or was it seething?) when my freshman casually reported that every day, one or two students in her math class would be kicked out of class for talking.  Her seasoned teacher would point to the door and bellow “Get out!” – even if the student was asking to borrow a pencil.  This practice would inevitably make everyone chuckle, even the teacher himself.

That year I lost a lot of sleep wondering how my daughter would learn those important math concepts that weren’t coming easily to her.  I also worried she wouldn’t take school seriously if she continued to be placed in classes reminiscent of Welcome Back Kotter and the sweat hogs..

She recovered.

The next year, her math teacher took the time to review concepts before moving on to a different kind of math. It was a very productive year. Is my child a math whiz now?  No.  Math may never be her area of strength.  But one “off year” (or should I say “off teacher”?) did not ruin her.  In fact, it was good preparation for the real world.

Adults have to deal with challenging people and situations every day.  They may have difficult co-workers or bosses. They may not get the job or the pay raise they hoped for.  Perhaps they didn’t receive credit for a project they worked hard on.  They may have long hours of commuting that take time away from their families.  Maybe they’re laid off.

You get what you get and you don’t get upset. But you can switch gears.

You can stay for extra help.

You can get a tutor.

You can practice more.

You can try something different or new.

You can look for options and make a plan.

You can refuse to quit or point fingers or whine.

You can count all the blessings in your life and focus on the good stuff.

You can be happy for those who succeed and learn to be compassionate toward others who are struggling, because everyone will, sooner or later.

Learning To Let Go


This week my second child got his license.  I was at work, staring nervously at the clock when his road test was scheduled to take place.  I prayed that if Warren, the intimidating registry inspector was assigned to give him his road test, he would remain focused on the task of driving safely and using the proper signals.

Moments later, a text came to me. I GOT MY LICENSE!  This was followed by a picture of him behind the wheel, ready to take his first solo ride back to school. Fantastic.

How did this happen?  How is he old enough to drive away alone?  I distinctly remember standing in our driveway (the one he just backed out of alone), watching the kindergarten bus take him away for his first day of school.  He was smiling happily.  I, on the other hand, couldn’t talk to the grandparents and neighbors standing with me. The lump in my throat prevented any sound from escaping.

Why is it so hard for me to let go?

As a parent, I’m fully aware that letting go is necessary if my kids are to become independent.  Letting go means letting them make some decisions on their own and letting them be responsible for their own actions.  This is not easy.  It’s hard for me to refrain from reminding, warning and advising my children — about everything that they should do, everything that could happen — even though I know it’s more helpful to trust that they are making good decisions and choices.  It’s perfectly normal for teenagers to not want to hear the reminders, warnings and advice because they want to be trusted. In fact, it is the occasional eye rolling that reminds me I may need to back off and let go.

Letting go and accepting that some mistakes will be made is an essential part of raising teenagers who will be able to function on their own.  I am still in the process of learning this.  I was recently upset, then pleased when a heavy package containing a high school text book arrived to our house via UPS.  Frankly, I couldn’t understand how a big textbook could be misplaced somewhere between school and home but my daughter took the initiative and ordered another, gently used one, and paid to have it delivered to our home.  I was not involved in any part of the process, yet the problem was solved. (She would not be allowed to graduate, I realize now, if she did not produce a textbook).

My son learned a valuable lesson when he showed up to play a high school baseball game and his uniform pants were caked with dirt from the previous game.  His coach was disappointed in his appearance and voiced his feelings in front of the team.  Since then, making sure his uniform gets into the laundry has become one of my son’s priorities, even if that means moving wet clothes from the washing machine to a temporary basket to make room for his uniform.  I can accept that.

Bigger mistakes, I realize, will result in bigger lessons.  A friend recently told me she wishes all new drivers could experience a minor car accident so they could learn how it feels and how easily it can happen to even the most attentive drivers.  How will my young drivers react to being pulled over by a police officer?  How will they deal with running out of gas when they are far from a gas station?

Years ago, before they had their own cell phones, my kids would occasionally call from the school office.  I forgot my trumpet.  Or, You forgot to sign my reading log. Or, I owe money for lunch.  Unshowered, I would jump in the car and drive up to the school to make everything right. I wanted them to receive credit for homework they had completed.  I didn’t want them to owe money for lunch or to have to sit and watch during band practice or gym class while everyone else participated.

At the time, the simple act of driving less than two miles to help my child, felt right.  What I didn’t fully realize then, as some wise parents did, was that letting my kids face the consequences of their mistakes or absent-mindedness, is often wiser than rushing in to rescue them.  Kids learn from their mistakes, even if the same mistakes are repeated over and over again.  If the lessons don’t sink in right away, they will eventually.

By the time they are in high school, teenagers have been told over and over again to do their best.  They know that hard work and perseverance in any activity is the key to success and that beginning in high school, grades really do count (on transcripts).   It is up to them to show up, do their best, and ask for help if they need it.  When they learn this most valuable lesson, the possibilities for them are endless.



Reclaiming Patience — Can It Be Done?


If I could find a decorative sign with the saying Patience is a Virtue, I would hang it prominently in my home to remind us all that we can’t have everything we want when we want it, lest we become whiny, perpetually dissatisfied beasts.

Patience  (noun) 1. The quality of being patient, as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.

Ironically, I just returned home from dropping the minivan off to be fixed.  On the ride back to the house, kindly given by my teenager in our other car, she informs me that she and some friends will be using the car to go to Castle Island in South Boston today and that she has already discussed this with my husband.  My first thought was: I will be without a car on this gorgeous, sun-filled day.

Instead of thanking my teenager for getting out of bed and following me to the auto body shop, I felt instantly annoyed by this new information. Without thinking I snapped  at her that I would need her to help clean up around the house before she left.  In my impatience I blurted it out in a tone that sounded bitter and mean, kind of like Faye Dunaway in Mommy Dearest.  As a result I was treated to some eye rolling.  The whole exchange could have been pleasant if I had given myself time to think.  I really didn’t need the car.  I had things to do at home and going for a walk would be beneficial.  Patience is a Virtue.

Patience (noun)  2.  An ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay.

My family has a hard time waiting.  Each of us is currently waiting for some big events to arrive and we are guilty of getting restless:

  • Fifteen days left of high school for my daughter (and then the start of college a few months later).
  • Less than a month until my sophomore son takes his driver’s license test.
  • A seventh grade week-long trip to Washington, DC for my youngest child.  (She’s finally there this week after she thought it would never come).
  • An exterior painting makeover for our house, weather pending, any time now.  (Some may wonder if it’s an abandoned home, it looks so bad).
  • Spring weather!  It’s almost May and brief flurries are in tomorrow’s forecast.  Sigh.
  • Big events are hard to wait for but the waiting serves a purpose.  The waiting makes the event that much more delightful.  Christmas, Hanukah, big trips, graduations, marriages, the arrival of newborn babies, house renovations —  all require planning, preparation and yes, funding.  Surviving the wait is almost as joyous as the event itself.

On the other hand, there is a different kind of waiting or patience that is almost missing these days.  These days it’s easy to get what we want, when we want it, thanks to technology and the availability of services and conveniences.   I worry that the younger generation, including my own teenagers, is slowly forgetting how it feels to have to wait even a short amount of time for something.

Recently we picked up donuts to bring to my in-laws’ house.  Prior to going into Dunkin Donuts, one of my children made a request for bottled water. This certainly wasn’t a major request, or an expensive one, but I decided she could survive the ten minute ride to her grandparent’s house without water.  She disagreed wholeheartedly.  (She survived).

7079fe14-ac9e-4fc3-ae62-86b6f0bf8e36How many of us need a coffee to drive wherever we’re going?  How many of us prefer to grab a coffee on the go rather than wait for the coffeemaker to brew a pot?   When I was little, people drank their coffee before they left the house or waited until they reached their workplaces to have a cup.  Now people can’t wait.  They need to drive directly from home to the nearest drive-through.

When I was a teenager, it was a treat to get a manicure and a pedicure. We would wait to get one when we had a special occasion to attend.  It was a treat to eat out at a restaurant.  I didn’t know what eyebrow waxing was (and I certainly would have benefitted from this service).  Watching TV and going to the movies was a one-shot deal.  There were no videos and DVDs and On Demand.  We looked forward to seeing our favorite TV shows on their scheduled nights and we talked about them with our friends the next day.  Today, young girls are getting manicures and pedicures and all sorts of expensive hair treatments on a regular basis.  (Do teens have bad hair days anymore?)

I’m sure there are plenty of people who choose to eat at home and who don’t need fancy beauty treatments, clothes and gadgets.  In fact, most people know when they need to “tighten the belt” and when to turn off the TV or computer.   But I also know that we could all use a little more self-restraint and that requires patience.

Patience (noun) 3.  Quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care; diligence: to work with patience.

There are some things that absolutely demand time and patience.  Earning a degree, writing a thesis paper, mastering a golf swing, learning a foreign language, saving for college or building up the strength and stamina to run a marathon – all necessitate patience.   We owe it to our children to emphasize the importance of sticking with a task patiently – to not give up no matter how boring, uncomfortable or challenging a task might be.

Today I was fortunate to be able to have lunch with my Godchild Elise.  At 13, Elise knows more about patience and perseverance than most kids her age and probably more than many adults.  Elise was born with an upper limb anomaly.  She is missing her left hand.  Most kids Elise’s age want nothing more than to be accepted by their peers. They dress alike, talk alike and form friendships based more on their similarities than their differences.

Elise has been navigating the same world as her peers but she has developed a different mindset. While the average 13 year old makes the most of her strengths and minimizes her weaknesses, Elise makes the most of her strengths and prevails over her weaknesses.   She’s a good student but admits that math is not as easy or enjoyable for her as science and reading. (She’s reading Pride and Prejudice for fun).  She has set a goal for herself:  To work extra hard at math since she’s hearing that high school math is significantly harder and she will need strong math skills to pursue a career in either neonatology, genetics or forensic pathology.

I have no doubt that Elise will succeed at challenging math.  This is a girl who learned at a very young age to focus on her abilities rather than her disabilities.   She learned how to dress herself and tie her shoes – no Velcro necessary. Her parents nudged her to give swimming a try.  She didn’t love it at first but stuck with it and now swims competitively.  She writes poetry, knits and does Pilates.  Many of the tasks that others take for granted require patience, practice and determination for Elise to master.  (She had to sit out when her gym class did chin ups on a bar).  She has no desire to be fitted with a prosthetic device simply because she has managed just fine without one.

Has all this been easy for her?  Not at all.  She has suffered through her share of girl drama.  (She now prefers to hang out with academically driven students).  She is accustomed to people staring at her anomaly.  But she wishes they would approach her with questions rather than remain silent.  In fact, she chose to talk to her mother’s fourth grade students about her missing hand – to demonstrate how efficiently she can do certain tasks.  To welcome their questions and eliminate any misconceptions they may have.  I have a feeling Elise’s future is very bright indeed.  She has the patience and determination to make it so.

That’s a wicked good teen.








Projects and Teamwork Develop Real-World Skills


Who hasn’t heard their child at one time or another expressing frustration in their learning?  When will I ever have to use this in the real world? is a statement that comes to mind. I remember saying it in high school – about Trigonometry.  The response I have come up with for my kids is something along these lines:

Regardless of whether the task you are learning seems relevant or irrelevant in the real world, there is value in making sense of and mastering a task.

You have to admit: succeeding at new or challenging tasks feels good, and feeling good instills confidence.  When I try a new, more complex recipe and I receive compliments on my cooking, I feel good and I’m more likely to make it again.  I’m more apt to try other, unfamiliar recipes, too, due to my growing confidence.

Kids who learn how to master tasks – doing laundry, pumping gas, cooking a meal, learning long division, figuring out why the printer won’t print – are developing self-efficacy —  the belief in one’s ability to succeed in a particular situation.

Applying formulas and remembering names and dates from a period in history can be difficult for some kids, hence I will never use this in the real world-type statements. Of course, many students love and can easily solve complex math problems. And other fortunate students have no difficulty remembering names and dates. (They’ll excel at Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit).

It makes sense that teachers see the value in student projects and presentations. Parents may not love the idea of time-consuming projects, but they just might if they realize these projects are mini versions of real-world thinking.  Think of projects in light of kids developing these real-world skills:

  • Time management (Do I work a little each day or leave it all for the days prior to the due date)
  • Problem-solving (How and where can I get the materials?  If one material doesn’t work, what else can I use?)
  • Decision-making (What information should/should not be included? What’s most important?)
  • Motivation (Should I do just what’s required for the project or should I go the extra mile and make it outstanding?)
  • Perseverance (Can I keep at it without losing stamina or interest?)
  • Assertiveness (Can I ask for help if I don’t understand something or need advice/special supplies?)

My kids used to participate in the Science Fair when they were in elementary school.  This was a great opportunity for young kids to practice those skills mentioned above while inventing something or carrying out an experiment.  Adults would volunteer their time setting up tables, serving snacks, and playing the role of judges (interviewing students and evaluating their projects). Each student would receive a score from three randomly assigned judges. You could see the pride and relief in the children’s faces, for completing a large project and for finishing the presentations.

Although some school projects and science fair projects have clearly received help from an adult (we all know the ones!), the real test is whether the student can explain the project meaningfully and answer questions posed by teachers, peers, or judges.  What a skill!

But nothing encapsulates real-world learning like a group project or presentation.  Why?  In most cases, working in the real world requires interacting with others: getting along, dividing up tasks, sharing the workload, setting goals, managing time, problem-solving, dealing with varying personalities, and handling success or failure…

All types of groups – sports teams, instrumental groups, choral groups, theater groups, yearbook committees, cheer leading squads, debate teams — require that members show up prepared, follow rules and follow through with their responsibilities in order for the group to function smoothly.

* * * * *

I was happy to read in our town paper about a sophomore I know whose robotics team at Boston College High School met with success.  This extra-curricular team meets outside of school hours in the high school’s basement to build robots.  Now in its third year, BC High’s robotics team participated in a challenge presented by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) at the Granite State District event on March 1.

Each team that participated was given a time frame of six weeks and a kit filled with parts to use to assemble a working robot.  The challenge at the event was for robots to be able to play on a team and score as many goals as possible by throwing and catching a ball with other robot teammates.

Remember those real-life skills of getting along, problem-solving and time management? This robotics team of 20 had six weeks to collaborate — not just to design the robot but also to reach out to sponsors for funding, to trouble-shoot when the process wasn’t working, and to persevere during the long hours of time spent working, in addition to doing schoolwork.  Oh, and there were a couple of snowstorms during that time, creating additional challenges.

BC’s High’s robot, named “Schrödinger’s Cat,” won the Imagery Award for attractiveness in engineering and outstanding visual aesthetic integration.  Not bad.  Apparently none of those obstacles could dissuade BC High’s robotics team from reaching their goal.

The skill sets these young men are developing and refining will undoubtedly help them become engineers, inventors and other types of scientists in fields that are making big changes in the world.  Already, robots do intricate surgery, drive cars (supervised), go into dangerous settings in place of police and fire fighters, and search in some of the deepest waters of the ocean.  In Japan, a 4-foot robot babysits children while their caregivers shop. I’m excited for the future of robotics.  (Maybe some day a robot will sort and fold my laundry).

For now, I will encourage my teens to work hard at any task, large or small, no matter how irrelevant it might seem.  The more tasks they master, the more confidence they will possess.  The more confidence they possess, the more tasks they will try to master.  The future is looking brighter already.

Swing That Bat! (Who cares if you miss?)


As a mother, I find it so easy to dole out advice to my kids.  A big piece of advice I seem to be doling out lately is don’t give up, i.e.  stick with it or  keep trying.  Or, as the late Ed Amaral (my Trigonometry teacher of ‘84) used to repeat daily:  You’ve gotta get up and swing the bat!  You have to be a doer and when things don’t go perfectly, try it again. Keep at it.

My daughter, 17, is on the fence about trying out for the lacrosse team this spring, her senior year.  Her thinking:  She and a handful of other juniors were placed on the JV team this past spring, so her chance of making the varsity team as a senior, when so many talented underclassmen are trying out too, is slim.  She will probably be cut, she reasons.  “Don’t give up!” I keep telling her.

It sounds so easy.  But it’s not.  Because unless you were born with a photographic memory and you can ace verbal and written tests, you need to work hard to learn something new and to improve your skills in most areas.  So why don’t people follow the Nike message and Just Do it?  Why do I have to keep reminding my teenagers to keep trying and to not give up?

As far as I can tell, a person who moans and groans at the thought of working hard does so for one of three reasons:

  •  Reason #1:  Fear of failure.  This person gives up prematurely or procrastinates because he or she is paralyzed by the prospect of not succeeding.  Instead of saying “I think I can, I think I can…” like the little toy engine did, this person says “I can’t,  I can’t…..”   yet deep down knows that doing well is within reach.  This kind of person needs encouragement. My youngest child (12) is a good student but will whine about tackling a big school project until she knows she is running out of time to complete it.  Then she works with tunnel vision, excited by how it is coming along each step of the way.
  • Reason #2:  Laziness.  This person cannot bear to feel the pain of thinking, practicing, or preparing well.  He or she will do just enough to say he tried, but no more.  Most people who make New Year’s Resolutions to get in shape or lose weight start out with good intentions until they realize reaching that goal doesn’t happen overnight – it takes hard work.  A student who takes a final exam without having studied (because he already learned the material all semester!) most likely won’t get a good grade.
  • Reason #3:  Reality.  This person comes to the realization that he or she is just not skilled enough to perform the task – and he’s right!   This would be me if I suddenly decided it would be cool to be an opera singer.  (I can’t carry a tune to save my life nor do I like to be on stage, although I dream of having a beautiful singing voice).  The non-reader who knows that taking AP English would be disastrous is making a smart decision by not enrolling in the class. (Note: Taking a difficult course to be challenged is good if extra hard work results in a attaining a C or better, in my opinion).

The point is, most teenagers (and many adults) are still learning that hard work is required of any worthwhile task and the sooner they learn this lesson, the sooner they will realize perseverance pays off.  Does it mean they will always get the A, make the team, land the job or lose the weight?  No.  However, it will help establish a very positive mindset that they’ve given it their all and that’s a tremendous feeling.

I recently read a story in The Boston Globe about a local teen, Sammy Davis (Pembroke, MA), who was invited to try out for the U18 national hockey team in Lake Placid, NY.  Although she ultimately got cut, she was thrilled to be one of only 30 girls nationwide to be selected to try out.

How did this remarkable feat happen?  Sammy has been ice skating since she was five years old, playing on boys hockey teams through the Squirt (age 10) level. Then she played on girls teams, including her most recent Tabor Academy team and Bay State Breakers Green (U19) team.  That’s a lot of hockey.  In response to getting cut from the national team she said it only gives her fuel to come back stronger next time around.

So….  Back to my daughter and her upcoming lacrosse tryout. Is it totally unreasonable to think that she might make the varsity team?  After all, she is a decent player and has played on a lacrosse team (albeit the JV team) all three years of high school.

I think she has a shot at it IF she adopts the attitude that she needs to train extra hard in the weeks or months leading up to the tryout.  She will be tired because she will have to push herself to run faster and further.  She will have to spend a significant amount of time practicing her cradling, passing and catching with a friend.  She will have to head onto the tryout field with the attitude that they need her on that team and she deserves to be on it.

And, if she doesn’t make the team, she can feel good about herself for doing her best and for swinging that bat.

Now that’s a Wicked Good Teen!