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By Jordana Bales

In my job as a teacher and program chair, I’m sometimes asked to do things I find unpleasant. I’ve had students I would not particularly recommend ask me for letters of recommendation. I’ve had to do meaningless, brain numbing data entry because no one else wants to do it. I’ve had to speak to other teachers, who I consider friends, about mistakes they’ve made. And I have had to complete tasks without any training or guidance.

Yet, because I am bright and competent – and know how to ask for help – I’ve always managed to figure out what I needed to do. Sometimes it’s not always accomplished in the most elegant of ways. Sometimes I look back on what I did and realize I could have done it better. But it has never, ever made me cry or question my self-worth.

Enter the latest task on my home front – the dealing with tantrums. My almost two year-old daughter has been throwing the most horrific tantrums. From a completely objective perspective they are magnificent. They last for what seems like days (although at most, I think they are about an hour) and involve screaming, kicking, hair pulling and jumping up and down in an almost dance-like maneuver. What amazes me most is her utter lack of fatigue or embarrassment. I wish I could say the same for me.

I do what I was told to do – I ignore it. In theory, I guess, a good idea; in practice, not too effective. Strangers stare at me with a mix of pity and compassion. Some kind-hearted mothers smile knowingly. Today one woman told me, “Try not to hold it against them. Believe it or not, they grow up to be nice people.” I appreciated her advice and hope to God she’s right.

I just feel so utterly incompetent and incapable of being a good mother. I know that Ava is not permanently damaged by these episodes – as soon as they are over she’s smiling and laughing and giving me “pat pat.” Why is it that I never doubt my professional capabilities and yet often doubt my mothering skills? Maybe it’s because I’ve been at my job for 11 years and have been a mom for less than two. Maybe it’s because I know in my heart of hearts that the worst that happens at work is that I teach something wrong or screw up a kid’s schedule, while here the stakes are much more important. I guess when all is said and done, I’d rather waste my tears of frustration crying over Ava then some other kid who wants to get into Cornell.

2 Responses to searching for ava’s job manual

  • Aunt Marcia says:

    Is there something happening in common with the tantrums? Is she going home? Leaving a place she wants to be? Are you interrupting something she's doing and wants to continue doing? What sets it off? Do you know what she wants or doesn't want? Make a video of it for posterity to show her when she has a 'kid just like her'…love, A.M.

  • Aunt Marcia (to Jord says:

    And by the way, you were a good 'screamer' also when you were a baby/toddler….I thought there was an air raid happening when you 'went off'…duck and cover…from my kindergarten days during WWII.

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