Monday, June 17, 2013

The Permanent Record (or, Stuff Parents Say)

When I was a kid I had a fear of being late, or absent from school, or of getting a bad grade in something because my mom used to say,

"That will go on your permanent record!"

This pronouncement generated visions in my head of people wearing reading glasses and important-looking suits, sitting behind a long table, making decisions about my life. They would look over my file, which is by that time quite fat, and every tardy, absent, or poor mark would be circled in red. One too many, they mutter to each other, shake their heads, move my file aside and move on to examine the boy who had the perfect attendance record every year. He gets the nod.

Who are those people? Why are they examining me? What are they preventing me from doing? As strange as it sounds, I don't think she was kidding. I think she believed in the "permanent record." She gave this warning more than once, and she was always telling me not to do things because "You don't want to get a reputation for... (insert whatever here)." So instead I had the reputation of being a goody-goody. Oh, don't get me wrong--I was a sinner along with the best of them. I just managed to keep it hidden while I was in school, while sins and issues were still kid-sized, but it all comes oozing out eventually, doesn't it?

I have had a recurring nightmare through my adult life in which I must go back to high school and take one English and one Math credit because if I don't, both my B.A. and my M.A. are null and void. I find myself back in the same honors English class taught by the same teacher, but usually the students are 17 year old kids, not my classmates I graduated with. Invariably I hear myself saying, "This is so stupid! I could teach this class myself, why do I have to go through this?" Once in the dream, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I finally got up, left the classroom, signed myself out of school and left, and decided it didn't matter anymore. I haven't had the dream in the same way since. It was tied to a twisted belief that there must be something buried in my past that I can maybe go back and fix and then "it will all be okay."

The strangest things can burden children for life. An often-repeated line or phrase, a belief that we hold, a prejudice. I think sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that because we homeschool that we are insulating them from these things, or that by our extra effort in child-rearing that we will win the award for turning out healthy, unadulterated humans. Unfortunately, homeschooling is not a fix for these things. The permanent record is not a myth. Rather it is one that we create in our minds, and often with our parents' help--the lies and ungodly beliefs that we cling to. There is nothing in ourselves that can expunge the record, but God can. We can be completely new. We can  go to the cross and wipe out the permanent record that has haunted us.

As we teach our children, and more importantly pray for them, we must help them write a different record--one in which the Examiner holds out his hand and says, "well done." Frequent talks about heart motives, forgiveness, asking for their forgiveness when it is needed, praying together, walking together in the truth, not in wrongs and rights, comparisons, and concern for reputation, but in whole relationship, will soften the surface upon which the record is set. Let us help them to constantly revise the record with the truth.

A few nights ago, I had the dream again. I went back to the high school English class but this time there were only about 5 of my old classmates there and the same teacher. I was aware that most had moved on, and we wouldn't see them again. Once again, I had the sense that I was wasting my time. Once in the classroom I discovered someone had stolen my iPhone. I decided to look around the school and see if anything was different, and I found it to be completely changed, and it was all rather chaotic, all except for that one classroom which was stubbornly remained as it was in 1987. I decided to look for a place where I could get a cup of coffee, and I found a counter with a coffee maker on it. Behind it I heard my text alert and looked, and there was my phone on a charger. Indignant that someone would be so bold, I removed it from the charger and walked away. I started to go back to the classroom and then thought, "No...I've been doing this (school) on my own for years now (this definitely tied in to me homeschooling my kids). It just doesn't matter. I'm going home," and walked out the door.

I think I may finally be free of the permanent record. Let the one we are writing with our children be full of grace and truth, forgiveness and acceptance.

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