Like Grandfather, Like Grandson

My eighth grader, typically an A student, received a C- on his notecards for a research paper on World War Two. He reads a lot and loves history, so his knowledge about the subject before the unit was already fairly impressive. The teacher said he hadn’t followed the instructions regarding the sources to be used. He relied too heavily on a single source, which might lead to bias.

True. A good lesson for my son…. maybe.

I read the 75+ notecards, which were full and demonstrated knowledge of the topic, but he did rely heavily on one source – a rather long book that most of his classmates wouldn’t have bothered to muddle through. He had more than double the number of notecards required (or matched by most of his classmates). Had he completely erased this book from the project, he would have still had enough other sources, notecards, and information.


But after days of stewing on his behalf, I remembered a story my father told me. It involved another history lesson and a teacher whose name he remembers even now.

My Dad, according to the tale, was taking a high school essay exam for a class that covered the American Revolution to Teddy Roosevelt. The final essay was to list any books (and the authors) he had read that addressed that timeframe. Excited to share, he went straight to that essay, and was so absorbed in making his list that he barely had time to complete the rest of the test.

He listed 57 books and their authors.

Like my son and his C-, if you’re a rule-follower, his grandfather should have bombed the test. But his teacher, the one whose name stays with him now that he is a grandfather, was so tickled to have a student that passionate about reading and history, that he upped his grade to a B.

When I first heard that story, as a girl who was very good at following directions, I remember thinking, “what kind of ding-dong does that?”

My father. My son.

And even though the “ding-dong question” still hangs in the air, I love that they are both so passionate about books and history.

Another lesson: history, at least in families, repeats itself.


The Nerd and the Space Pirate

Last week, on the way home from instrument lessons, my ninth grader was extolling the joys of looking at leaves under a microscope. He described the different things he saw and was practically bragging to his fellow travelers about how much fun he is having in Biology Lab.

Our eighth grade friend commented from the back seat, “I don’t really like school that much.”

“You must have a favorite class,” replied my doubting son.

“Well, I guess I would say Social Studies, but…”

“Then you have to take AP Human Geography. That’s what I’m taking right now and…” he launched into a soliloquy about all the fascinating things he has learned. He went on and on and…

Again, from the eighth grader in the back seat, “Seriously though, if you want to be smarter socially, you need to stop talking like this.”

Undeterred, the socially clueless ninth grader followed with, “Then what do you want to be when you grow up if you don’t like to learn about anything?!”

Silence. Then, “A space pirate.”

A few days later, as if he’d been pondering the conversation since then, my ninth grader confided, “He’d actually be a really good space pirate. He’ll just have to like Astronomy.”

Walking the Dog Today

Our dog Star, who is not a star, randomly threw herself at a moving car on our walk today. I wasn’t ready, because she typically saves her “crazy” for big, mean trucks and yappy little dogs that look like bunnies.

I don’t know what snapped in that dog-brain of hers. It’s a beautiful day. A regular car. No loud car rumble. No young pup hanging its head out the window taunting her.

But her leash was loose. I wasn’t ready.

My dog was hit by a car today. Or really, the car was hit by Star. A full body slam.

A smack and a yelp.

The car slowed, but drove on.

She hobbled to my side. Sat down, holding her paw up to be checked like she knows the drill. Like she gets injured battling evil cars all the time.

Then Star, who is not a star, dragged me around the neighborhood as if nothing had happened.

I kept the leash tight and Star close. She ignored the yappy dogs. Discovered no bunnies. Didn’t notice the other cars at all, until a little red sportscar passed on our return home.

I don’t know what snapped in that dog-brain of hers, but this time, I was ready. Star and the car survive to see another day.


An Elevator in the Kitchen

There’s a story whirling around in my head that I can’t write because I need to finish another one first.

I was thinking about how there are certain kids, when they come to our house, who are drawn to our laundry shoot. Most houses don’t have one. So, they are enthralled by it. Happy to spend their time just throwing things from the second floor to the basement. Stuffed animals mostly. Or they invent games where one kid throws a ball down the shoot, and the others stand in our laundry room and try to catch it.

Maybe not enough for a story, but…

When I was growing up, my best friend had an elevator in her kitchen.

It was creaky. You pulled a metal gate across before it would go up. And when she pushed the button, I was always a little nervous it would stop mid-route. We’d stare through the gate and watch the drywall beyond it moving, holding our breath a little until it jerked to a stop. At least that’s how I remember it.

I think, if the picture in my head is right, they sometimes stored a few cases of Coke in there.

I have yet to be in another house with an elevator. And I think of the boys at my house, running up and down two flights of stairs, through the kitchen a hundred times during their invented laundry shoot games. How magical my friend’s creaky elevator would seem to them!

Which gave me an idea.

There’s a story whirling around in my head…


African Feasts, Spanish Fiestas, and Cheeseburgers

I typically make dinner for our family six days a week. So, you might think I relish the homework assignments where cooking is involved.

I do not.

Frankly, I’d rather write a paper, make a poster, spend hours on a diorama, or muddle through a calculus problem. And it seems that the African feasts and Spanish fiestas always happen during a week of tests, meetings, and any version of silly end-of-trimester chaos you can imagine.

I love project-based learning. I want more global awareness built into my kids’ curriculum. But I have boys who bite off more than I’d like to chew.

One year, my oldest decided to report on the history of cheeseburgers. Having never seen him more excited about school – and this was six years ago – we cooked up a cheeseburger buffet for 22 kids.

Big hit.


Tonight, my fourth grader and I are making a dish from Botswana that combines ground beef, milk-soaked bread, and strawberry jam. He found it on the Internet, but…

I don’t even know if it’s a real dish.

And after soaking the bread and chopping the onions, he cracked the egg, which exploded all over the kitchen counter and floor. “If that chicken were born, it would have ADHD!”

I know. He’s having fun.

Still, I cannot imagine a single 4th grader wanting to taste our dish.

Fortunately, my middle son, after his brother’s cheeseburger incident, decided that mom likes it when he volunteers chips and salsa. Every fiesta, always timed perfectly with the Christmas parties and end-of-year celebrations, he offers, “Mom, how about chips and salsa?”

And I can’t help but smile.


What I Love About 10

Today is Pajama Day at school, and while our middle school son wore sweats and a favorite Falcons t-shirt, no different than any other day, our 10-year-old strutted into school proudly sporting his flannel Snoopy Christmas pajamas.

Bright green. Snoopy. Charlie Brown. Woodstock.

Not a care in the world. No thought of “cool” or “not cool”.

Just lovin’ his PJs.

Struttin’ into 4th grade.


Middle School Spirit Week

It was a four-day week, a week to inspire school spirit at the boys’ school.

Tuesday, wear your favorite sports team jersey.

My eighth grader said, “Julio Jones.”

Wednesday, pajamas.

His other Falcons’ jersey. “Julio Jones.”

Thursday, wear something that represents your favorite fictional character – movie or book.

“Nope, Julio Jones.”

And finally Friday, blue or gold. School colors. School spirit.

What am I going to wear?!”

Julio doesn’t do blue.