We teach our kids that it's okay to make mistakes. Well guess what? We need to give ourselves that same grace too.
Education Parenting

Tales of a Fourth-Grade Letdown

We teach our kids that it's okay to make mistakes. Well guess what? We need to give ourselves that same grace too.

By Jacqueline Miller of Boogers Abroad 

My fourth-grader gets a weekly homework list with five assignments. For each task completed and signed off upon, he earns points from his teacher to save up for a prize. It’s an unconventional, rewards-only system for those willing to put in a little extra effort on their own time — no penalties for opting out.

Without fail, my son meticulously completes each exercise, and I chicken-scratch my name to verify it. Yet, I’m secretly awed at how seriously he tackles this non-compulsory academic endeavor.

I’m pretty sure my fourth-grade self would have scoffed at the very concept. Two years earlier, his older brother banished those non-required dictates directly to the recycling bin — often, I suspect, without my knowing they had ever graced his take-home folder.

“A plastic toy or piece of candy just isn’t worth it,” he’d declare, making his disdain for the reward-only system loudly known.

In contrast, my steadfast fourth-grader pursued his reading, fractions, grammar, vocabulary and writing duties last week just like he does every week. Without another thought, I placed the red sign-off paper in his folder and filed it in his book bag. (This is where I messed up, I just didn’t know it yet.)

Fast forward to the drive home from school Monday.

In a quiet but sturdy voice, my youngest child notified me that I had forgotten to mark his homework sheet with my ever-important signature. His efforts wouldn’t be earning any recognition this week. And it was squarely on my shoulders.


I asked if I could scrawl my name on the line right then and there, and he could return it Tuesday. Heck, I even considered turning the car around so I could try to rectify my goof-up tout de suite.

But no. It was simply too late. Kiddo explained that homework points were already awarded and done for the week. In his fourth-grade classroom, overdue work yielded zero dividends.

All. My. Fault. That’s what I kept thinking.

When we got home, I pulled out the offending red contract and stared at the blank lines I had every intention of signing. Even scarier was that I really thought I had signed it! But the evidence was clear: I had completely spaced. And worse than that, I let him down.

I was having one of those bad-mommy moments, filled with sinking guilt and thoughts of, “How can I make this up to him?”

Though I hadn’t uttered a single word, my little guy must have sensed how I was beating myself up over a stupid signature. He grabbed a pen and wrote across the bottom of his never-to-be-turned-in homework list, “I’m fine.”

I gave him a little hug, and he flashed his dimples in a quick grin to reinforce that all was well. Then he made a beeline for the Xbox like nothing ever happened.

And he was right. He was, indeed, just fine.

As I reflect on it now, I’m even more touched by the reaction of this child-of-mine. Hadn’t I told him a million times that it’s OK to mess up? That’s how you learn and grow and do better next time? Hadn’t we watched dozens of episodes of The Magic School Bus where Miss Frizzle challenges us to “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

It took a nine-year-old to give me some perspective and remind me that to err is human. We tell our kids no one expects them to be perfect; so how can we possibly expect it of ourselves? In our day-to-day drudgery we somehow forgot that the lessons we teach our children, well, they apply to us grown-ups, too! A little forgiveness and understanding go a long way.

That even includes moms who forget to sign the homework sheet.


About the Author

Jacqueline Miller is a freelance journalist who has appeared in Scary Mommy, Her View From Home and Sammiches & Psych Meds. She lives in the Midwest with her husband, two sons and a rescue mutt. Find her at www.boogersabroad.com and https://www.facebook.com/boogersabroad.