1-10, Honestly

I volunteered to mentor my daughter’s Robotics team this year. This means I spend an hour and a half in a room full of noisy, energetic preteens three nights a week. It has been… an education. To say the least.

One of the interesting aspects of this age group (sixth grade) is that they are on the balance point between childhood and the teenage years. Some of them, mostly girls, look – and act – very much like teenagers. Some of them, mostly boys, look – and act – very much like my third grade son. Most of them are caught in between. They are exploring the brave new world of teendom in a distinctly childlike manner.

One example of this was on display tonight. The other girl on Jane’s team began to ask one of the boys on the team a series of questions. Actually, it was the same question asked repeatedly but with a different girl’s name substituted in each time. Apparently, this is a regular team pastime.

“1-10, honestly. How pretty do you think Rachel is?”

He would turn and look, I presume at Rachel, and respond with a number. She would move on to the next girl. And then the next. He kept most of the numbers low, less than 5. Eventually, she spied Jane. “1-10. Jane.”

She was across the room behind him and as he turned to look, I gave a mock warning, “Now, remember. Her mother is sitting right here.”

He paused for another second and responded, “7.”

She accepted the answer and moved on. Once all the girls in the room had been covered, she changed the question. “1-10. How annoying do you think Rachel is?” Not surprisingly, the numbers were higher for this question.

Eventually, the question was applied to Jane. Without hesitation, he said, “2.”

WHAT? Are you kidding me?” I asked. “This is ‘annoying’, right? Do you really think Jane is only a 2?”

“Well, her mother is sitting right here,” he responded in a dead serious voice.

I have to say that I’m truly growing to love these kids. He seemed a little bit surprised that I would recognize that my daughter contains great capacity to get on people’s nerves. He and Jane had butted heads the previous week while I was helping another team. I looked at him and asked, “You certainly would have ranked her much higher last week, wouldn’t you?” He agreed.

The game went on among all four team members present. It even included hypotheticals, like this one, addressed to a boy, “If you were a girl, who in this room would you score a ten?”

Jane jumped in before he could answer. “Me, of course!”

“I said if he was a girl!”

“I know. I’m just so awesome that he’d be gay so he could still pick me.”

Everyone laughed, including the one young man who actually happened to be working on the robot at that moment. Tonight I saw clearly what my greatest blessings will be for this year of my daughter’s life. One is to see her “in action” with her peers, to truly see her social circle, not just listen to her talk about it. The other is to find my place as a parent who is comfortable interacting with my daughter’s peers. And to think I almost passed up this opportunity as too much of a time commitment. 1-10, honestly? This experience has been a ten.

I am sorry, Mommy

Dear Mother,

I’m sorry. I don’t know what I whas crying or gripping about. Sometimes I’m not sure how much you or daddy like me because you yell at me, but that because I’m spoiled rotten clear through.

Your Loving Daughter
P.S. I don’t know what I’d do without you or daddy.


As can be seen from the signature, this letter was not written by Jane. It was written by my mother to her mother on June 7th, 1962, when she was just slightly older than Jane is now. My grandmother wisely added the date to the paper before storing it away.

She found it recently and handed over the yellowed lined paper to my mother, who shared it with me. The letter fascinates me. For one, it reminds me of the reality that is so hard for a child to wrap her mind around, which is that my mother was once a child. I mean, really a child. This note brings it home, makes it real.

I am also drawn to her lovely handwriting, very clear and pretty and not too different from how it looks now. I chuckle at the misspellings and the “spoiled rotten clear through.” I can hear those words in my grandmother’s mouth and I know they must have been spoken often enough for my mother to decide it adequately accounted for the particular failing she felt compelled to apologize for.

The letter reminded me that I have saved letters of apology from my children. The most recent was from Jane in August of this year. She had not gotten up to feed the dog despite me asking her twice. The dog saw my breakfast waiting for me on the table and helped herself. This was after some other frustrating events. It was not a good morning. When I came home, I found the following note, written in sloppy cursive:


Inside the folded letter,


A king sized Mr. Goodbar was taped to the opposite side.

I hadn’t actually blamed her for my breakfast being consumed by the canine. I was the one that left it within reach of her snout, after all. I didn’t call her lazy either. But it was obvious to her that I was having a bad morning and her actions (or inaction) had contributed.

Late last year, I received the following. The front of the bifold sheet of paper was addressed to me and signed by Daryl and Jane, done in careful green and blue calligraphy. This was the inside:


Then there’s the note that wasn’t even to me but was about me. It was addressed to The middle child in the Hill family. Inside, it said:

Daryl, it’s not that hard to be nice to mommy so please be nice to mommy.


I can’t help but wonder if she felt an apology note was in order and when one wasn’t forthcoming from “the middle child”, she wrote her own, telling him how to behave.

While looking for the above letters, I came across this gem:


I have not been as assiduous as my grandmother at dating the notes I have received. Based on the papers near it and the writing, I’m going to guess this was written during his last year of preschool when he was five years old. The translation, best I can guess, is:

I am sorry for hitting you at church. I love you, Daryl

I have a lot of experience with my children writing me apologies. What my mother’s note illustrates to me is that my children are not unique in this regard. Either that, or it’s a strong family trait. Children misbehave. Parents express their disapproval, perhaps calmly, perhaps not so much. Children (hopefully) express remorse. Parents forgive. Love continues.

And that is why what I cherish most about my mother’s note is the slightly uncomfortable line that says her parents yell at her. It’s not because I’m happy that she was yelled at nor that it caused her to doubt whether they even liked her. It’s because I yell at my kids too. And feel terrible when I do it. And they probably wonder if I like them. Sometimes I get it right and handle the situation as calmly as June Cleaver. Sometimes. Other times… well, other times I don’t.

It is a small comfort to know that my grandmother yelled at her children just like my mother yelled at me and I yell at mine. Sometimes. It is a comfort because it means that my children can still love me just like I still love my mother and she loves hers. Humans raising humans.

{Updated with scans of some of the original letters on 12/09/2012}