Long Division

Dear third grader,

Long division is hard. Besides potty-training and reading, it might be the toughest challenge you have ever faced. It is especially awful when you imagine that Mom is doing it wrong.

Divide. Multiply. Carry down a zero. Subtract. Divide. Multiply. Carry down a zero. Subtract. Repeat until you hit a number smaller than your original divisor.

Because if you imagine that Mom is making stuff up, you’re going to invent a new way of doing division that gets you to the incorrect answer. And it is likely going to take you longer to get there. And then after all that effort and brain power and creativity that you just dedicated to dividing one number by another, you are going to freak out. Cry. Scream. Stomp your feet. Run out of the room.

“You think I’m stupid!” will be followed by “Then you think my teacher is stupid!”

And you will still have to come back later to finish your homework.

So while I will definitely slide off the “I know this” platform after a few more years of math, I promise I will admit it when the time comes. For now, though, stick with me. You will get this, because you are all about effort and brain power and creativity… and we make a great team.

Divide. Multiple. Carry down the zero. Subtract.

I love you, sweet man,

Mom

Serious, Seriously?

On Monday, my son’s Spanish teacher emailed me to let me know that he was upset. He had forgotten about a quiz scheduled for that day, even though it was posted on her website and announced in class.

On Tuesday, he went to Freshman Registration Night at the high school he plans to attend next year. His schedule is going to be really tough. So while his teacher had recommended Spanish III, I suggested taking Spanish II, so he isn’t slammed from all sides.

Nope. “I should take Spanish III.”

“I don’t know,” I shook my head, imagining another four years of nagging and checking up on him.

“Mom, it’s time I took school seriously.”

Well, you can’t argue with that… until an hour later when I received a late-night, bail-out email from his Social Studies teacher, saying that he “probably knows this, and has yet to start… but please remind him to…”

“Aw man, I forgot!”

He didn’t even remember that it was his turn to bring snack today. How can you be a serious student when you can’t even remember snack?!

First Day of Vacation

Last night, we got almost a foot of snow. The first day of Christmas vacation.

My kids are exhausted. The semester ended with a major poetry project for the seventh grader, high school applications and two tests for the eighth grader. And my third grader has more homework than is developmentally appropriate (not that I have an opinion on that).

They awoke on the first day of the Christmas break ready to chill. But Dad had something else in mind.

“Whoever can tell me the exact temperature when Celsius and Fahrenheit are the same, gets five dollars.”

Competition. Drama.

The seventh and eighth grader worked at the problem in their own ways with their own levels of mathematic learning… pre-breakfast, and they don’t drink coffee. There were tears. But eventually, there was triumph. Both figured it out and got their $5.

Vocabulary tomorrow?

An Empty Library

My son is looking at high schools. He has visited two of five schools so far, and it strikes me with each visit that what excites him most makes me wary.

After the first: “I could go to Chipotle every single day for lunch!”

And…“everyone carries their phones around everywhere, even into class!”

After the second: “I only saw one device that wasn’t an Apple product!”

And… “no one uses their lockers because there are no textbooks. They’re totally digital!”

And then when I walked into the old library, there wasn’t a single book. The tour guide said, ”When we realized that only three books were checked out one entire year, we turned the library into a resource center.”

Schools with no books. Makes me sad.

The Spelling Test

At breakfast on Friday, I was quizzing my third grader for a spelling test, frustrated that too many on the list are completely irrelevant to his eight year old life. “Abstract.” “Contrast.”

We were both distracted. Who cares how to spell “abstract” when you aren’t going to use it in a sentence for at least four more years?

So his older brother, who often brings up random topics, decided it was the ideal moment to explain the Cold War to everyone in the kitchen. “War,” he explained, “is profitable. No one seems to understand that.”

Relevance?

“And the Cold War wasn’t a real war with soldiers shooting each other. It was an escalation of fear by building bigger and bigger weapons. That’s what your book is really about.”

Ahhh, relevance.

In front of the third grader was the book he’d read the night before: The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Suess.

“Triple-sling jigger.” “Tough-tufted prickly.” “Zooks.” And real words for the sticklers, “Slingshot” and “Vigor.”

Words with new relevance. Too bad they’re not on his spelling test. They might stick better.

 

A Summertime Social Studies Review

It is ninety degrees. When the ATVs are at rest, you can hear a hawk overhead, a deer or raccoon or fox rustling in the brush, the hum of western New York’s seasonal flies. At the top of the hill sits a white farmhouse next to an old red barn and a new shed that houses tractors, mowers and ATVs. The apple trees are failing to put forth last year’s abundance, but the blueberry bushes are showing off plump purple splendor in preparation for U Pick Free days. The hay is being harvested for the second time this year, and it is only July, promising a third cutting. And the smell of a burn pile tended by Grandpa drifts across the new north field, mingling with the scent of freshly mowed grass.

Next to the barn is a coop for the chickens, and a fleet of baby turkeys being raised to replace their wild cousins who mysteriously disappeared over the winter. They share the coop with seven motherless ducklings, who need to be coaxed to the pond at the bottom of the hill, where they merely dip their webbed feet before high-tailing it back to the safety of their coop, stumbling over eachother’s bodies in the short race uphill.

Three boys cool off in the pond. They play a war game with the goal of knocking each brother off his raft. The middle brother – inventor of games and pied-piper of fun – stands precariously rocking on a hot pink raft and yells, “This is Athens!” before collapsing off the side.

His brothers laugh, but they are not yet drawn in. He clambers back to his standing position. “This is Corinth!” Again, he splashes to his presumed death laughing in the face of a soldier’s fate.

Then again, “This is Thermopylae! We are the Greek city-states!”

His older brother, lying lazily in a tube, thoroughly un-warlike until now, raises his fist in a call to arms, “We are the Mycenaeans!”

And the little guy, not to be bested, thrashing arms and legs in a rapid paddle toward his brothers, yells, “This is Olympus! The immortal gods will destroy you all!”

Ancient battles reenacted in a pond. The birds and flies – even the breeze whispering through the maples – fall silent awaiting war’s end.

Kids and the Big Debate

We have been watching a sampling of the debates for both Republicans and Democrats with our boys so they can learn the issues, how the process works, and who these characters are who want to run our country.

And the kids are talking about the issues: the wall, racism, Obamacare, socialism, taxes, North Korea, ISIS, the Supreme Court and more.

But last night, as if it were the most important lesson learned 45 minutes into the Republican debate, my 13 year old announced, “If I were running, I’d wear a white jacket, white pants, white shirt and a maroon flower and shiny maroon tie.”

Now, that’s how you stand out when you’re running for President.