Monday, June 27, 2011

The Jewel of the Nile

My mom is finally going to read a report card that makes her proud.

It’s not mine. It’s Nikita’s, my eleven-year-old, who just wrapped up sixth grade and is heading to junior high.

My mom, a former teacher, always urged and pleaded and begged and cajoled and demanded that I did my best in school, did my homework as soon as I came home, emphasized my academic goals and made her proud.

She’s still waiting.

Since she turned 71 last week and I don’t know how much longer she can wait, I’m mailing Nikita’s latest report. They don’t use letter grades anymore – my mother has thankfully seen her last “D” – opting instead to offer number assessments ranging from 1 (is not meeting grade level expectations) to 4 (meets end of year grade level expectations). Nikita’s report “card” is a five-page document with nothing but 4s under 22 different subject headings – from Earth Science and Language Arts: Writing to Mathematics: Data and Probability and Social Studies: Economics – followed by written comments from her teacher:

  • Nikita is a responsible, respectful, conscientious and delightful young lady who always works hard in class and goes above and beyond on each assignment.

  • Nikita is well liked by her peers.

  • Nikita is such a gem! It has been an absolute pleasure working with her this school year.

  • Nikita excels in math and science.

  • She understands all concepts taught in Language Arts and Social Studies.

  • I am so thankful that Nikita is in our learning community!

  • We look forward to hearing about all of Nikita’s future successes.

Not only does Nikita kick *ss academically, but she makes me smile in other ways too. The way she cuts through the water when swimming the backstroke is a sight to behold. Her sense of humor is as advanced as the rest of her – I disagree with those who think eleven-year-olds aren't developmentally ready for sarcasm since Nikita uses it as effectively as the grownups in this house – and she’s one of the most sensitive and talented and disciplined human beings I’ve ever met.

She tolerates her three rambunctious siblings with the patience of Job, deals with her crazy natural father with the wisdom of Solomon, and fills any room with light and good energy. She folds her clothes and brushes her teeth and makes her bed and helps cook and clean, unasked, and practices her French Horn without being told and doesn’t yet talk on the phone too much.

Where are the wet towels she’s supposed to leave crumbled on the bathroom floor? Where’s the long hair she’s supposed to leave in the sink? Where’s the tardiness and moodiness and irritating precociousness and disrespectful eye-rolling that she’s supposed to display? This kid is too good. I don’t deserve her.

I’m learning that I need to watch for cues with Nikita because sometimes she’s still a little girl who wants to sit on my lap and sometimes she’s embarrassed by the way I breathe and would prefer that I stay out of sight. Sometimes she wants to watch “The Voice” with the rest of the family and sometimes she wants to isolate herself in her room, doing whatever it is that young girls do behind closed doors for hours. Sometimes she wants to wrestle with her ten-year-old brother and sometimes she wants to wrestle privately with her feelings, which are often raw and perplexing to her and to me. There are times when we don’t connect, when things are a tad challenging, but thankfully those times are still few and far between.

I’m a lucky man indeed. The love of my life came with four amazing, beautiful children, and the oldest of them is like the Jewel of the Nile.

Now my mom can finally brag with the best of ‘em.

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