Marjorie Brimley's sons, Austin and Tommy, read a book in DC room

Report Cards

My kids came home this week with their first term report cards. I opened them up and braced myself. Last year’s report cards were decent, but Claire struggled academically in math and Austin sometimes shut down in big groups. I figured that those flaws were okay because, well, if they were managing to just attend school, that struck me as a win for the year.

But this year’s report cards were great. I mean, no one is going to Harvard tomorrow, but both of my big kids are on grade level and doing things like “respecting the rights of others.” Austin “has a large peer group and enjoys interacting with all of his classmates” and Claire “demonstrated a strong understanding of how to classify shapes by their attributes, including angle sizes.” Even Tommy “enters the classroom with ease.” I was thrilled and read each of their report cards out loud to them in front of their siblings. “Great work, kids!” I said with a smile on my face.

And then I put the report cards in their school files. Because, of course, there’s no one else who really wants to find out whether Austin is “using time wisely” except me.

It’s just another stupid small thing that broke my heart. I texted a few widow and widower friends of mine, “Why is it that report cards break my heart? My kids are doing fine, but it’s terrible that I don’t have anyone else who really cares about what they say. I mean, Claire can actually do math this year and Austin has raised his hand more than once this Fall and I’m the only one who thinks these things are momentous.”

My friends all texted back that they were really proud of my kids. I got a few hilarious emojis and more than one “woohoo!” I was grateful for that. But I still felt sad.

Shawn used to love report card time. He spent hours analyzing what the teachers said about the kids and once I realized how important he thought they were, I spent more time on the comments I wrote for my own students. He also got a huge kick out of the standards that asked 2nd graders, for example, to “understand the global presence of art and its cultural and historical importance.” Every time report cards came home, he’d sit on the couch in the evening and read the standards one by one. When there was a particularly extreme one, he’d read it out loud and we’d both laugh.

God, the things you miss when someone is gone. Just typing that paragraph made me cry.

When I try to explain to other people the stress of being a single parent, there is always so much focus on the logistics. Many people think that it must be difficult for me to shuttle all of my kids to their various activities every weekend. Others worry that I must be stressed out making sure that the kids all have their flu shots and haircuts and properly-sized raincoats. And then there are always those who are concerned that the stress of keeping us afloat financially must be very difficult.

Of course, all of those things are tough. But I have help with a lot of the logistics. I am lucky that someone different picks up Austin for sports practice each week. My dad loves to go to the grocery store for us. And someone is always helping me organize my life in one way or another.

But no one pours over those report cards anymore. No one except me.

Yes, my dad was excited that his math tutoring of Claire has paid off, and yes, I know that he was glad that Austin is following classroom rules. But it’s not the same. We both know that.

Single parenting is tough for so many reasons.

But I’d make a thousand lunches and do a million carpools if I could just watch Shawn as he looked over their report cards this year. I’d do anything for a moment like that because I know what it would be like. It would be like seeing my own emotions reflected right back at me.

He was the only person who ever looked at those report cards with the same love that I did.


  • Melissa

    “God, the things you miss when someone is gone.” Exactly. Sometimes it’s the little things you shared that hit the hardest, and unexpectedly so.

  • Shelley ellis

    Yes. This. Exactly this. The aching loneliness of knowing and seeing and loving my five little people without him is too much and one of the greatest losses of life without him.

  • Maria

    I am crying as I read because here I am trying to review my son’s math homework…my husband was the math person. My son told me to “check with the computer because I am not good in math”…Two months since he is gone; a lifetime ahead to figure out our life’s equation…

    • Marjorie

      Oh, I have BEEN THERE so many times. I think math homework is the one of the top 5 grief triggers for me….I’m serious! It’s so tough. Hugs.

  • Sonya

    This post resonates with me. I lost my husband 2 months ago and, like you, I can handle the logistics of being s single parent. However, what’s been most difficult is the quality time that he spent with my 11 year old daughter and 3 year old son. He was a math professor and I have been now been charged with the task of helping my 6th year old with math homework and other intellectual work. Thank you for sharing this blog. It’s good to read that I am experiencing some of the same feelings as other widowers.

    • Marjorie

      Oh, the homework! It’s the worst. While my dad helps now, I do really miss how involved my husband was in the homework too.