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you be doing too much. that is what a middle-school peer once told bella. it has become a house-staple that jokingly gets thrown out anytime anyone seems to be going above and beyond. you be doing too much. they be doing too much. a confusing part of its use is one can say it in a complimentary or derogatory fashion. when you hear it, you must listen for both the tone and context in each situation.

marty and i sometimes share bella's schoolmate's opinion that she be doing too much. but with marty and i it gets confusing because we are not disgruntled by bella's binge-watching of shows or socializing with friends. we think she is spending too much time on school and work.

bella does more homework in a week than i did through all of my high school existence. it is not because they didn't assign homework way back then. they did. i just didn't do it. and maybe they are assigning more homework now than they used to but that isn't precisely the answer either. the problem we're bumping into is bella wants to do well, like really well, at everything she does. this is undoubtedly an excellent quality, but it is also an unrealistic expectation for a young woman to put on herself. when you are a high school student with a job and hobbies you have reached that maturation threshold where you go from having extra time on your hands (e.g., kid-life) to not nearly enough time on your hands to do all the things you could be doing (e.g., adult-life, first-world-fast-lane adult-life at least).

one time after commenting on bella's overloaded schedule, she paused only long enough to tell me she would slow down next year. that sentence, especially from a sixteen-year-old, sounded multiple alarms in my mind. i confessed to her how her comment concerned me. i told her of all the people i had watched over the years who said they were just going to back-burner this thing for a short while and how that short while quickly and invisibly turned into a multi-year slide.

i explained how evil recovering from such a lapse could be and how most people weren't up for it and for the few that could muster the will to recover, how it was rarely anything short of a joyless slog, a slog that most people aren't equipped to handle. of course the best approach is never to sit out long enough to put yourself that far back in the race to begin with. she stared at me with a face that said little more than you're old and don't get it. i know that look well because i had three children, a wife and worked at a university with lots of young people for ten years. i've seen that look quite a bit. but because i've seen it so often i've learned to ignore the irked stare and trudge on. i told my daughter there are things in your life that can be asked to wait and there are things in your life that should never be asked to wait, just because they are too important to be asked to wait. successful people are good at knowing the difference between those two, and if she wanted to be successful, she better give some thought to the parts of her life she is asking to go sit on the bench. bella endured my lecture as she always does, said she'd think about it, as she always says, thanked me and that ended our mostly one-sided conversation.

two days later bella caught marty and i talking. she said that she had heard all we have been saying (as marty was on her as well), understood our points and was going to look at making some changes. like most people bella is resistant to change and feedback about how she runs her game. UNlike most people bella is wonderfully reflective about this sort of feedback. she asked me to look at her schedule, at her workload, at the hours in the day and tell her what kinds of changes she might make to reclaim control of her life. well, she didn't say that to me. few would. she said it to her mother, and her mother said she should ask me, and ever the doer, bella, printed schedule in hand, did ask me.

marty has a philosophy that she wants her children to go through as many hardships as possible when they are at home. getting overwhelmed (check). getting their heart broken (check). getting a flat tire (check). while it seems weird to wish trials on your child, marty knows those knocks are coming whether you invite them or not. marty would rather they absorb a good number of those body blows while they are still under her roof. then she can be there for them, talk them through the experience, and maybe even crawl into their bed and cuddle them to sleep even though they are old enough to have their car run off the road by some old pissy dude and get a flat tire at the end of an already long day.

in re-reading this account, i feel the need to augment what is there. everything above happened as described. it's just that it didn't play out as simply and cleanly as it reads. in actuality, it more resembled a tennis match, a five-setter, where we'd say we think this and she says we are wrong, and we say we don't think we are wrong, and she says we don't understand and we say that is very possible, but our parental instincts are telling us there might be a problem and we are unable to ignore internal messages like that so here we are. then bella will ask us to stop talking and leave a little agitated and marty, and i will look at one another with those faces that say we may have just botched it again. then a day or two later bella returns and calmly states that we may not have been as wrong as she first said we were and she is open and interested in talking about options. and then, that's what we do.

i mean for these writings to be a record of the things that have happened in our house. i want them to be accurate and genuine to the spirit of the moments they represent. if they aren't that, what good are they? that would be akin to having a scrapbook of pictures of other peoples' kids. kinda pointless. but some things that happen in life, especially human exchanges and double-especially human exchanges between parents and children as they truly play out are (1) hard to capture and (2) even harder to convey in a way that isn't a complete bore-fest. abilities up to that task are what makes the greats great. they know how to report those things in a way that is riveting and accurate, fully, to the moment. i ain't that. which is why i have to sometimes after a story say what you just read isn't completely right and confess that i don't have the skills to convey it properly and i don't want to mislead you about how something played out. short translation is bella's turn-around took time, was clumsy, not-elegant, sometimes embarrassing, but in the end, it all came together. or in other words, it looked like what a whole lot of parenting looks like--a collection of people in varying levels of emotional states and experience-levels trying to work on a problem where each participant might have a different end-goal. i know, super-trivial.




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