Last night I read Courtney Summer’s Cracked Up to Be. I planned on starting it while I worked out and made it all the way to the basement before I cracked the cover while tying my sneakers. I was absorbed instantly and stumbled my way over the elliptical with my eyes glued to the pages and my hand groping for the buttons on the display. I punched a few of these to set it for hill intervals and turned my total attention to the book.
I didn’t lift my eyes from the words until St.Matt came clomping down the stairs wearing a sleepy but less-than-saintly expression and carrying all our bedding.
"Bruschi peed on me!"
"He did what? Why?"
"I don’t know – I was sleeping!"
"Did you take him out?"
"Well there’s really no reason to now, is there?"
I nodded solemnly and managed to wait until he walked into the laundry room before giggling.
After starting the washer, St.Matt came to stand by the elliptical.
"Good book?" He was really asking: Are you going to going to bed anytime soon?
"Excellent." which is Tiffany-speak for: I'll be finishing this book before I even begin thinking about sleep.
"How’s your workout going?"
"Good, it seems really easy today. I’ve been on for –"
I lifted the book to check the display and saw it flashing 00:00. I hadn’t hit start. This is why I need wait until after I get on the elliptical to crack the cover a book.
"I’ve been on for 31 pages," I answered him as I pressed the start button.
I stayed on until I hit page 97, then I had to get off because it was too hard to breathe. Not because I was tired (although I bet I was by that point – I just wasn’t paying attention). I couldn’t breathe because I was crying, because all the air had been sucked out of the room.
Before I go any further, I want to say I think this book should be required reading for all high schoolers and all high school parents. It’s only fair to warn you, you won’t all like what you read, but it’s realistic and honest.
I wandered upstairs to the couch to finish the book – stopping periodically to take some deep breaths and unclench my tension tightened hands. I wanted/ want to save Parker – to save every child like her. And Summer’s honest writing doesn’t allow the reader to keep a safe emotional distance from Parker’s pain.
When I finished reading my chest was tight and my abs hurt from sobs. I had to focus on the inhales and exhales and tell myself: it’s just a story, it’s not real.
Except, for a lot teens – it is. Maybe not Parker’s exact story, but the sense of identity tied to perfection is an overwhelming and impossible reality.
Cracked Up to Be was both the ideal and an awful book to read the night before portfolio conferences with my class. In my district, students attend their spring parent-teacher conference, which focuses on identifying their strengths and weaknesses and setting a few, specific academic goals for them work on in the final semester.
Can you imagine an experience more anxiety-inspiring than walking into a room where your parents and teacher are going to discuss your strengths and weakness – and expect you to participate?
With Parker fresh in my mind, all I wanted to do was give each of my kiddos a hug, say: "You’re amazing, you’re loved, and I’m so proud of you."
While the actual conferences did comprise of more than those sentiments -- I did, after all, have twenty minutes with each kiddo -- I hope they all left knowing those three things. Because they are, every one of them, amazing, loved, and impressive. I hope that if they ever enter into a Parker-type-period, they remember this and remember no matter how flawed they feel or what mistakes they’ve made, they’re still amazing, loved, and I’m still proud of them.
There’s a reason I have the following Emerson quote hanging on the door of classroom so it’s the last thing the kiddos see before leaving each day:
Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities
no doubt have crept in;
forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day;
Tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely
and with too high a spirit
to be cumbered withyour old nonsense.
No matter what happens on any given day, I truly expect the kiddos to come back the next one and impress me again.
Because they are so amazing, so loved, and I’m so proud of them.