Up till now, school for Ruby has been more adorable than challenging. There was her pre-school International Baccalaureate project titled, “How To Make Cupcakes,” which consisted solely of baking and eating a batch of Funfetti. In kindergarten, her big project was gluing 100 Valentine’s conversation hearts to a piece of poster board. Things got a bit harder in first grade with a reading log and several math worksheets to complete each week. But it still seemed more like playing school than actual high-stress curriculum. This is not a complaint, by the way. I appreciate academic rigor as much as the next Type A mom, but even I don’t think it needs to start in kindergarten. 

That time, though, I think has finally come. Ruby started second grade about a month ago, and please pardon my language, but shit is starting to get real, y’all. She has projects. She has actual homework. She has weekly spelling tests, and today she took her first geography test on the continents and oceans.

(I don’t even want to admit to this, but I just had to go back and edit that previous paragraph because I realized I’d typed that “we” had projects, homework, and tests. Sigh. I know it’s her homework, her education. I know that logically. But I still feel like it’s ours somehow. I am working on this; I am trying not to be that mom. It is a constant struggle.)

So far she is doing well, although she is clearly plagued by the test anxiety I remember all too well from my own childhood. “I can’t remember if I spelled ‘paddle’ right,” she fretted when I picked her up last week. “I think it’s P-A-D-D-L-E, but I might have spelled it E-L on the test. Ughhh. I can’t get it wrong! What if I got it wrong?”

“Then you’ll probably never get it wrong again,” I told her, sharing the story of misspelling “Tallahassee” on a spelling test in third grade and subsequently never again putting only one L in Florida’s capital city.

She didn’t get it wrong. To date, all of her spelling tests have been perfect, and though I’m proud of her, I still wish they didn’t add so much tension to our lives – and here I am using “our” correctly because even if it’s her test, it is adding tension to our lives.

In addition to writing each spelling word three times for homework, I give her at least one practice spelling test (at her request) before the real one. For the geography test, we have been studying all week, singing songs about the continents, complete with hand gestures; practicing labeling oceans on a blank map; and making up mnemonics like “I Am A Silly Person” to stand for “Indian Arctic Atlantic Southern Pacific.” (Also, the new ocean totally threw me. They added that damn ocean after I’d graduated from college. I am not super-knowledgeable about geography, but I thought I at least had a second-grade-level grasp of it. Turns out, nope.)

I love watching her grow and learn, and in a slightly sick way, watching her struggle with anxiety makes me feel closer to her – I have never before seen myself so clearly reflected in her face as I do when she has her brow furrowed and is chewing her lip.

But I do hate the fact that I started humming the continents song at my desk at work today – and I definitely miss the days when eating cupcakes counted as studying.