Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Allie Pleiter on the OTHER ABC’s

Well, it seems I woke up itching to climb on my soapbox this morning.  Don’t worry, I’ll bring this back around to books by the end of it, I promise

Having finished my tour of duty as an on-site parent (meaning I’m an empty nester with one still in college), I find myself continually wondering when “C”s became failures.  I heartily disagree: the class I learned the most from in high school was the one I could barely scratch my way to a C: chemistry.

I remember stupefying formulas, bad experiments, and disappointed lab partners.  I remember my teacher’s…um…bold choice of ties and his inexplicable (to me) passion for science.  But I also remember how he would not let me throw my hands up and “fail.”  He helped me stick with it, search hard for understanding, and even accept my limitations.  “Face it, chemistry’s just not your thing,” he said with a smile, “But hang in there—we’ll work hard and you’ll pass.”

Back then I was forced to take chemistry.  Now, I am thankful for the lessons in persistence, trial and error, recognition of limitations, asking for help, and the power of encouragement that his chemistry class taught me.  I count that “C” as valuable as the easy and delightful “A”s I earned in English.  Maybe more so.

I hope to pass that value on as a parent.  My son’s first college semester yielded a grueling schedule.  His only available elective turned out to be Russian.  Russian? Difficult, extra course hours, way out of his skill set, and by no means an engineering necessity.  Far from the fluffy-easy-A elective one would hope for a brand new freshman.  I could have worried (I did, a bit) about what it would do to his GPA or what other stellar electives he might have missed.  Lots of parents do. Instead, I preferred to hope it was his “Chemistry.”  

It was, in many ways.  Russian turned out to be hard, but fun. There was a cute girl. It pushed him in a new, adventurous direction.  I love that he occasionally spouts Russian phrases or texts me in Russian just to stump me.  The “B” he earned in that class held lots of other values that won’t show up in his GPA.  

Risk-taking must be partnered with the ability to do “just okay” or even fail.  We need people ready for adventure, willing to be bad at a few things in order to find the place where they truly shine.  We need engineers willing to get a “B” in Russian and writers willing to fight for a “C” in chemistry.

Why?  Because the ability to take a risk is what enabled me to take the dare that got me started writing romance.  And now I work with a whole different kind of chemistry—the kind between a man and a woman.  You’ll find lots of it—and lots of encouragements to step out of your comfort zone—in The Doctor’s Undoing.

What have you found hard but worthwhile?  What did you learn from the experience?


  1. Such words of wisdom, Allie! Physics mystified me. I didn't understand all that stuff that I couldn't see, but the class taught me to find new ways to succeed. If you can't climb over the mountain, walk around it.

  2. What a great post, Allie! You're so right. I love a well rounded education. And we can learn so much from challenges. Organic chemistry was my painful experience. But I survived and was much better prepared for grad school (where statistics just about did me in). :) For my daughter, physics was the killer, yet that's my son's major. So we all have different gifts!

  3. Christine, that's so funny you'd say that about physics and walking around that mountain. When my oldest was a toddler, he used to spend forever on this large shape sorter that had a lot more shapes than the standard toy. He would work for long periods, taking his time and carefully putting each shape through the slot perfectly. Then along came my middle child. He looked at the thing, snapped open the lid, then dumped the shapes all inside at once. LOL Yes, the second son is the physics major. He also got in trouble in middle school for not writing out his work in math. He would solve the problems in his head and write down the answer. Different perspective! :)

  4. I think in our quest for "exceptional" kids we've forgotten that gifts are all different. I never thought my talent was writing--and spent many years honing an "okay" talent for performance. Lots of writers I know have started out in one genre, only to experiment and find their brilliance at in completely different genre. I worry we're loosing that in our students today in our quest for awesome resumes and perfect GPA's.

  5. Great post, Allie, and a true testament to the mantra, "I will survive."

  6. But I have yet to use algebra. I can add up ten items in a clearance sale in seconds, however. Wise words, Allie. The hard things always built character, right?

  7. I'm glad you had a good chemistry experience, Allie. My chem teacher actually told me that my "feminine logic was going to cause me to fail the Regents exam." I remember being motivated to prove him wrong (and did so), but the stigma of being no good at science stuck with me.

    I have something in common with your son. I studied Russian in college too - for 3 semesters. It was hard because it was a new way of thinking about letters and sentences, but I loved it.