Wednesday, February 9, 2022

True Detective

"Sheevani, you've got to calm down. It's just a math test, hon," Lindsey said, her sparkly blue eyes shining at me with concern.

I watched as Mr. Jacobsen handed back our pre-calculus tests and I guess I wasn't hiding my stress very well. Why does he have to do this so slowly? Look at test, read name, survey the room to find student, walk at a snail's pace to their desk, lower test onto desk, lift stack back to face and start over.

I shrugged my shoulders at Lindsey, apologetic about my anxious vibe. She tilted her head and smiled at me. We met our freshman year, so almost 4 years ago now, and I've never really recovered from the perfection of her smile. It was like her entire face smiled, even her eyebrows somehow. Yes, focus on Lindsey's smile - that's a perfect distraction from the impossible task of predicting my test score.


He had arrived. I took a deep breath and stared at my desk, waiting for my test to be placed in front of me. After a few seconds of nothing happening, I looked up at Mr. Jacobsen. He looked back at me with an indecipheral expression, then looked at the test he was holding, then back to me. 

"Mr. Jake! What!?" I said in an annoyed tone usually reserved for my parents.

He smirked, looked at the test again and looked back at me before slamming it down. 


I collapsed in dramatic wave of relief and rested my head on my right forearm. I heard a few chuckles in the room. When I looked back up, Mr. Jacobsen was walking away on his glacial-paced journey to hand the rest of the tests back. I looked over to Lindsey who was shaking her head.

"See? No reason to stress!"

I nodded and looked at the test again, specifically that 91% at the top. Excuse me, the beautiful 91%, written in deep red marker and encased in a haphazard circle. Oh, what a gorgeous sight. I can relax.... that is, until the next test, the next quiz and then, oh god, the FINAL EXAM! Here we go again...


I'm sorry to report that the infant and toddler memories of my kids are now starting to fade. At least Facebook's On This Day feature does help to remind me of when my daughter was obsessed with ice and my son couldn't stop quoting PJ Masks. I'll smile wistfully at my phone screen and then look up to see my kids in the present; laughing at YouTube videos or bopping their head to a rap song (clean version, relax) by an artist I have never heard of - and I panic a bit. More-so than longing for when they had chub rolls on their wrists, my panic stems from the realization that they have entered the stage of life that imprints so much of their future selves. 

For that reason, I find myself in the "detective" stage of parenting. No, I'm not going through my kid's belongings, but rather I'm constantly investigating behaviors in order to solve the mystery of who and what they will be. Okay, I know that sounds very heavy (and impossible), but it's rooted in my desire to nurture the parts of them that will be helpful in life, and at the same time recognize the parts that will hold them back. 

This thirst to understand them comes from my own memories of disconnection. My parents did the best they could, but I've never forgotten the ever-present doom of isolation and shame because my strengths didn't fit into the traditional paths they held so high. Since I didn't want to disappoint my mother and father, my life is a combination of some of that tradition and frantic dream-chasing. Don't get me wrong, I love so much about my life, but I do often wonder how it would be different (better or worse) if I was encouraged to follow a path where my talents could fully thrive. 

I never want my kids to wonder about that.

Eyewitness Clues

From the moment your kids are born, I think it's a natural human tendency to attribute every little fuss or pleasure to an inherited family trait. My son starting solid foods early HAD to be something he got from my father who enjoyed everything about food. My daughter's affinity for animals most definitely comes from my mother-in-law who seems to be the All-Animal Whisperer. Obviously none of this can be proven, but it gives us that anthropological comfort.

As my kids have gotten older and their interests more specific and complex, I keep a keen eye on how they respond to various stimuli. Much like a scientist. That's right, I'm a parental detective AND a scientist, constantly observing my subjects (kids), hypothesizing and drawing conclusions based on my findings. And just like a scientific experiment, sometimes the results will surprise me. 

The Case of Puberty

Within the last year or so, I've seen my once bold young girl become more and more shy and fearful. I had to remind myself that this was normal considering she's entering puberty. Hell, I can clearly remember those intense emotions when I was around her age. 

When my daughter refused to go to her first middle school dance, I was shocked. This is a girl whom I've observed to love music, loves to dance and loves being social with her friends and yet, when I asked her if she wanted to go, she shrugged her shoulders and expressed that it was "not her thing." 

Paul and I took turns gently expressing why we felt the dance would be a fun experience. We told stories from our middle school dances; she delighted in the possibility of seeing some of her teachers dance based on my memory of seeing my stiff science teacher, Mr. Hyre, groove to disco music. I even showed her the moves he did. Paul spoke more broadly about how these are the moments and events that build lasting memories with her friends. After a few minutes of sharing our thoughts and listening to her reservations, we left the discussion with, "just think about it." 

The next day, on our way home from school, my girl casually dropped the news that she was going to the dance. I squealed with excitement. A few days later when I picked her up from the dance, she ran to the car breathless and said, "THAT WAS THE BEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE!!" 

Parenting win.

I've been able to use this dance example as fuel for whenever she displays some irrational fear, which leads to more examples of her overcoming obstacles; it's exponential really. The more she faces her challenges, the more reasons she has to believe she can conquer the next one that comes along. 

Conversely, some of the clues into my girl's psyche can be distressing because they seem all too familiar. Struggling with math, for instance. If only the solution was going to a dance!

I chose my opening story to illustrate that my relationship to math education was rife with anxiety. I willed, wished and yes, even prayed for my kids to inherit the math talents of my husband. It seems my son has directly descended from his father, but not my daughter. She's going to have to put in a lot more work, just like I did. 

There are layers to her math struggles and we are peeling them back one by one. I am determined to help her nip this issue in the bud. Perhaps because I feel responsible? She gets it from me, after all. Whatever the motivation, after every disappointing test score, I've been adamant to tell her repeatedly that we will figure this out. Emphasis on the WE. And after every test triumph, I tell her that her hard work paid off and that she is capable of math greatness. Emphasis on SHE. 

My daughter is dealing with some fear and math confidence issues, but I've also observed some very encouraging behaviors as well; 

  • She stands up for herself and speaks her mind 
  • She loves storytelling
  • Her imagination is non-stop
  • She gets a wide range of comedy, from broad to very dry (this is particularly pleasing to me 😏)
  • She loves to make her friends laugh 
  • She holds herself to a high standard
Ah, nice to remind myself of the positives as well... my heart can get so tangled in guilt and concern for the habits I want her to break, but that's parenting. Nurture the helpful and starve the hurtful. 

Incessant Inspection

What about my son? Yeah, I just spent a lot of time analyzing the observations of my daughter. I wasn't necessarily expecting that would take up so much real estate in this post, but it makes sense considering her age. A lot is revealed when you have to deal with so many unfamiliar, and sometimes scary, changes. So, my magnifying glass has been pulled in her direction a bit more during the last year or so. 

But a good parental detective who uses the scientific method doesn't just IGNORE her other test subjects! My son gives me plenty of clues and I spend many hours theorizing what they could mean for his future self. 

Here is a quick rundown of my findings:

  • OBSERVATION: Son is really into Emo Rap
    • He's an empath. Or is he identifying with the lyrics about feeling so much anxiety and depression? Must keep an eye out for any behavioral issues. Inquiries about why he enjoys the genre elicits vague responses. Will track how long this lasts. Could be very temporary, like his love for Beyonce's Homecoming.
  • OBSERVATION: Son loves to find ways to jump off high surfaces
    • He's a thrill-seeker. Enrolling him in Ninja class has allowed for a safe outlet of this tendency. Does he want to keep going with this and expand to tumbling and gymnastics? Parkour, perhaps? Maybe he will climb rocks and mountains? Will require heart monitor for my palpitations if this expands to dangerous areas of adventure.
  • OBSERVATION: Son is obsessed with super cars and loud engines
    • He will be a car enthusiast. Has already stated he will own multiple Bugatti's and Lambos, even though I and his father have informed him they are bad investments. Audibly reacts in a positive way when he hears a loud engine on the street. Future career may entail engineering or car design? If so, looking forward to a sporty whip in my 60s. 
  • OBSERVATION: Son wants to learn EVERYTHING
    • This curiosity will serve him well. From helping me cook to perfecting barrel rolls, it's difficult to find knowledge he doesn't want to gain. Except the Beyonce catalog. He's all set. I can live with that because I believe this tendency will lead him to cook me meals one day. Very excited for that. 
  • OBSERVATION: Son is very sensitive and cries easily
    • I know this is my genetic gift and curse to him. People will love him for it, but it will be a frustrating trait during stressful times. Must validate feelings and also use the tools I use to temper when and where the emotions are necessary. We shall make progress together, son.
  • OBSERVATION: Son laughs at toilet humor... A LOT
    • Makes sense as he descends from generations of fart and poop humorists. 

These findings are just the tip of the iceberg and subject to change at a moment's notice. At least I'm never bored with this boy. 


For the last couple of months, I've been thoroughly enjoying RuPaul's Drag Race. It's the binge experience I didn't know my soul needed. In almost every season, at least one of the drag queens reveals how he is estranged from family because of his lifestyle. The tragedy of those experiences are written all over their faces, no matter how much make-up they've applied. 

I was so moved by something a supportive mother said during the Season 7 finale episode. Violet Chachki, one of the drag queen finalists, was so lucky to have the full support of his family. His mother was in the audience and RuPaul asked her if she had any advice for parents out there who have a son embracing drag. 

"Just let them be who they are and love them," she said.

So simple and so beautiful.

The entire purpose of being a Dr. Detective is to serve that sentiment. As a parent, the least we can do is stay cognizant of what our children show us, because they are constantly showing us who they are. They will grow and change and it's our job to keep up and roll with all the growing and changing.

After all, to use RuPaul's wisdom, if we cannot teach our kids to love themselves, how in the HELL are they going to love somebody else... can I get an amen in here?

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