If You Were a Monarch

“If you were a monarch, what would your portrait pose be?” 

Sometimes it takes my brain a minute to confirm that yes, that’s the out-of-the-blue question I just heard.

So our sixteen year old positioned into his own pose. Feet crossed. Arm resting on the back of a stool. Chin raised. Very royal.

He looked at me expectantly. Grabbed his phone and pulled up Louis XVI in a lavish cloak. Tweaked his own pose. “This is my favorite.”

“Ummmm…..”

“Elizabeth and Victoria have good ones….” he suggested.

His Dad didn’t miss a beat. “Sword raised. On a horse.” 

Advertisements

The Next to Disappear

My favorite room in our house was my dad’s wood-paneled study where I talked to my best friend Mary on the rotary dial phone every day. I’d sit with my legs over the arm in a big, soft, fake-velvety chair with a zig-zag pattern in subdued beige, white and black. Some days, the stale cigarette air was clocked with the sweetness of a weekend cigar. Our number, shared by the entire family with no caller ID or call waiting, was 301-656-5635. Hers was 301-654-1776. I twirled the long cord while we talked. My kids don’t have their place or home base like that. They carry their phones with them wherever they go. And none of us know our best friend’s phone number.

They’ve never seen a telephone booth, and I will never forget the night of a swim team pizza party, when Eleni and I got trapped inside the booth as some bad-boy teenagers threw firecrackers at it, then ran directly into the hood of a police car, chased of course by the swim team Dads.

My first 45, Hurt So Good. They were in the process of disappearing. Replaced by all the mix tapes friends and boyfriends exchanged to capture the beach trip or the summer, how we felt about each other or a year in our lives.

When was the last time you saw TAB in the soda machine? Or even a soda machine? It’s all energy drinks now – florescent blue – and water. TAB was my “go to” coming down off the Edgemoor lifeguard stand until I learned about iced tea mixed with lemonade.

I brought my Dad’s 100-pound IBM Selectric typewriter to college, managing perfectly fine with it as news editor the school paper until my senior year Chinese History professor told me he would fail any paper not produced on a computer. Back then, computer paper had the trim on the sides that you had to tear off, so it was obvious. He said my 30-page papers were disorganized and “White Out can’t save you.” What’s White Out?

Last year, my son never used his school locker. He said it was broken. Was too shy to ask for help. So, he carried a 50-pound backpack around all day, every day. His little brother, joining him at high school in recent weeks, stood in front of his, clueless about what to do. Walked away. So, they got on Youtube. Three turns clockwise, two turns counter-clockwise, then directly to the third number. And now they’re in.

Our lockers had combo locks. Our bike chain locks had combo locks. Most houses had an old combo lock or two lying around that no one could remember what it had been for. Little kids thought they were toys. But we all knew the pattern. Three turns clockwise, two turns counter-clockwise, then directly to the third number. And I remember how almost every year of middle and high school, I’d return from Christmas Break having forgotten mine. A few days without a locker trying desperately to remember. Until… click. I still dream about it.

Maybe it’s the next to go.

His First AP Test

He’s a freshman taking AP Human Geography. It’s his lowest grade entering exams. But when I dropped him off this morning to take his first AP Test, I gave him a high-five, “You’ve got this!”

Keeping our fingers crossed…

5 Days To Go: He begins re-reading his text book. A few hours, face serious, with the book open.

“Can I take a break?”

“Nope.”

“I’m soooo tired.”

“Focus.”

“You’re soooo mean!”

4 Days To Go: Same thing. Book open. Occasionally shouting out interesting facts. Then, Dad starts quizzing him.

Not good. Blank stares. Lots of “we didn’t learn that” and “wait… I know this… don’t say anything…” then “why can’t I remember?!”

Time to intervene.

3 Days To Go: I find an AP Human Geography Quizlet online. More than 900 terms. Multiple ways to test himself. “This is your life for the next three days. Go!”

“Can I take a break?”

“Nope.”

“A snack?”

“Focus.”

“You’re soooo mean!”

2 Days To Go: Amazon Prime delivers AP Human Geography flashcards. Quizlet by day. Flashcards with Mom by night.

“Can I go to bed?”

“10 more.”

“You’re soooo mean!”

1 Day To Go: Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And then… “We did that one last night!” and “Ohhhhhh, nailed it!”

And then, finally headed to bed… “I’m really looking forward to the test tomorrow. I think I enjoy reaching mental capacity.”

Looking Back in the Weeks Before 8th Grade Graduation

I volunteered to interview our school’s 8th graders for a Middle School Graduation video, and jotted down some of the things they shared. I asked a lot of different questions, but what I expected them to remember and talk about wasn’t always important to them. Only a few could come up with a story from Lower School, while I can tell you numerous memories from my own early years. First grade. Third grade, certainly. And Fourth.

Only a handful could remember anything that happened in the news, yet here too, I could talk for hours about how I perceived or even participated in historic events of the 1970s and 80s. And oddly to me, quite a number of “best field trip” moments took place on the bus rides there. The only bus ride memory I have took place in fifth grade, when one of the boys told me I was “gullible,” which I was, but I thought it meant “huggable”, and it made my day.

Funny story:

“We were seeing how many of those little orange slices you can stuff in your mouth. We were backstage, and I was on the floor laughing so hard that I started to spit them out just when an admission tour group came through. I’m guessing none of thosekids are coming here.”

Wisdom you might share with your second grade buddy:

“Don’t stress out. It gets harder every year, but when it does, you’re ready for it. And it’s not that hard, because the teachers help you.”

“Spend as much time with your friends as you can.”

“Be yourself. Don’t worry about what other people are going to say, because most of them are nice.”

Best part of the Washington DC trip:

“It was on the bus ride, and he was sleeping, and his brother and I were throwing cashews at him. And then he woke up, and yawned, and I threw one perfectly into his mouth. He was soooo surprised.”

“Well, one story, I can’t tell you.”

Best day at school:

“My very first day here in sixth grade. I came here and I realized I could be myself. I didn’t have to be crazy or anything for people to like me.”

“They were going to tear the old Lower School building down, and so on the last day of first grade, they let us write on the walls. I remember we were drawing on the bathroom walls. Everywhere. But then we started drawing on the carpets, and apparently, they were planning to re-use the carpeting. So, our teacher got really mad. That was the best day.”

Middle School Dances:

“The dances are pretty ‘cringy’, because there are like two slow dances, and there’s like three couples who dance together, and everybody starts freaking out because they’re dancing.”

“Everybody only has six dance moves, and they just do them over and over.”

“Most importantly, you get candy.”

Something that happened in the world during your time at the school:

“The Broncos winning the Super Bowl.” “The Patriots winning the Super Bowl.” “The Broncos winning the Super Bowl.” “The Patriots…”

“I will always remember the day in December 2012, when the world was supposed to end, and we were all standing out on the field looking up at the sky waiting. And then it didn’t.”

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.

Hmmm.

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.

Effort Grades and the Secret Seeker of Knowledge

I would have loved Effort Grades when I was in middle school, because I would have cleaned up.

In fact, I remember the first time I discovered how happy a teacher might be if you went beyond the assignment. It was fourth grade. We were supposed to write a two-page story, and I was so excited to have writing homework that I ended up handing in a 10-pager with illustrations. If Effort Grades had existed back then, I would have received a “1”.

Most girls in my class would have too. Almost every time.

Effort Grades are about neat handwriting, raising your hand, adding to the conversation, handing in homework, being respectful, and seizing the opportunity to share what you know with your classmates.

So easy!

So, it is a complete mystery to me that a child chooses not to let his teacher know that he loves what he is learning. It perplexes me that he might choose not to do the extra credit. Or do the homework.

But over the last two weeks, my son – whose teachers express frustration regarding his effort and focus and consistency –  has spent hours teaching himself German history.

A research paper for which he chose the WWI Battle of Cambrai (aiming for the minimum page recommendation) and a WWII simulation game in Social Studies inspired him to investigate further on his own. He has watched numerous documentaries and what seems to be hundreds of short videos online to fill out his knowledge. He has talked us through the dysfunctional alliances that led to WWI, mistakes they made in WWII, what their navy was like, their innovations, their showing in past Olympics, their impressive ability to bounce back.

Of course, none of it is captured in any assignment he turned in. He will get no credit for it.

“Was all that research part of the simulation game?”

“No.”

“Then does your teacher realize how much you know?”

He shrugged, “I don’t think so.”

“You should tell him!”

But apparently, that wasn’t the point. And no matter how much it drives me crazy, I’ve got to respect that, for him, the assignment and grades aren’t going to be what drive him. It’s just the knowing what he wants to know.

 

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.