When Failure is an Option
I never foresaw that my puppy piddling on the kitchen floor this morning would reduce me to tears. Boomer is the happiest, wiggliest, innocent being, but this morning I was cramming for a make up test in metrical systems, rhyme and stanzaic forms. Bryan and I had spent the weekend traveling to the majestic Rocky Mountains and the stark reality of Monday morning with the cat throwing up, the old dog begging, the new puppy peeing everywhere and my tween girl groaning about something I said.. it simply reduced me to tears as I looked around at the destroyed house with mounds of pee-stained laundry and dirt that the puppy keeps tracking in. The weird thing was that I haven't out- loud cried for a while. The sound of my own self expression was strangely therapeutic. I was hoping that the animals would feel some primal empathy and behave. I was hoping my daughter would understand all that I try to do for her. I was hoping my husband would wake up and make me breakfast and take care of it all. But I was the leader, and I was failing.
When my husband arose, I barked some orders about what he needed to clean, and to make sure Charlie studies for her tests, amongst other things. With well practiced pragmatism, he ignored me as I ran out the door to class. During class, I kept looking at the clock waiting for the hour to end so I could take my make up test that I missed because of our trip. I had studied hard and was ready to ace this one. After taking the test in an office by myself I felt confident and as I handed my Professor the four pages. It was then that he said, "Kara, I need to talk to you."
After I quietly sat down across from his desk, he handed me back the poem that I was assigned to write last week. It was a simple English Sonnet in iambic pentameter, only 14 lines. I remember thinking how I was going to knock this one out of the park. And when Aunt Jo Anne died that same week I had the perfect emotional wave to ride as I harnessed my words in those 14 lines, ten syllables each.
He handed me the paper and the number 43 was written on it. Forty-three. 43. An F. I held my breath and my stomach to keep from moving as he said "I think we need to discuss this." Now, to give you a little more backstory, I wrote what I considered a very good poem, but I didn't scan it to make sure it was perfect iambic pentameter and that was the assignment. Technically, I could have written, "The dog he loved to eat his bone" and that would have gotten me an A, if I had maintained the iambic prosody, but I wanted to touch somebody. I wanted to honor Aunt Jo Anne and the nutcrackers she gave Charlie every Christmas, but the word nutcracker doesn't metrically fall into a line of iambic pentameter quite right.
Back in Professor M's office, the tears rose against my non-breathing self. Silently, I swore I wouldn't cry, but the nicer he was the more I fought to maintain my dignity. As I choked on my words, I thanked him for the opportunity to write about Aunt Jo Anne because I never would have written something that memorialized her, even if it failed to meet the rules. He looked at me and said, "Kara, there were people who wrote less and got a better grade, so I am trying to tell you to not put the pressure on yourself to do both."
I grabbed a tissue and said "I know, and it's ok." I ran out into the sun and called my husband crying about crying in my Professor's office. Young students passed me by looking curiously, and I didn't care as my red face had tears streaming down it.
When I got home I asked my daughter to come outside with the puppy (so he didn't pee in the house) to sit with me. I looked her in the eye and handed her the poem with my grade on it. I said, what do you think that 43 is out of? She paused and said, "A hundred?" And I said, "Yes. Do you think I am dumb?" She solemnly shook her head no. And my friends, that is the lesson. You may not see it yet, but the greatest gift happened today when I got that F. You see, my daughter has occasionally considered herself not smart enough when she is faced with a grade that was not representative of her abilities. The gift of today was her realization of what failure can be. The gift I will give to her is to show her how excited I am to go back and tackle this number 43.
My Professor emailed me this morning and said that after I left his office he realized the poem had a greater emotional value to me than an ordinary assignment and if I wanted to send it back to him, he would revisit it with that in mind. I wrote back that I would like to take him up on his offer, and that I don't expect a change in my grade, but instead was excited about the chance to improve my poem. He said. "Kara, I'm looking forward to it." I don't know why but I am very grateful to have failed. It's a chance for me to examine my spirit; to test my purpose and resolution, and to keep Aunt Jo Anne's memory alive for another day.