Mom’s Overreactions

“Once again,” our fourteen year old announced as he climbed into the car after school, “you totally overreacted.”

Apparently, the math quiz I made him study for that morning was only two problems. “You always panic about nothing.”

We are in a funny cycle into which lots of middle school boys and their moms fall. I let up on nagging, his grades go down. I nag, he “remembers” to do his homework, his grades stabilize, and he thinks the “crazy overreacting” – and more importantly, the fact that he actually studied – is completely unrelated to the newly acquired A.

So, every time he does well on a test, he celebrates with a big smile and… “See! Everything was fine, Mom!”

Like I’m a crazy, stressed-out wacko instead of his way-cool, full-of-wisdom mom, who just can’t understand why he doesn’t get the game.

If you do the homework, you get the A. You win.

Third Grade Homework

Last night, my nine year old was struggling with long division again. I knew he was tired, so I stayed close in case he got frustrated. Plus, there was the spelling test to study for, and although he was getting “bruise” consistently, he kept messing up “cruise”. And we weren’t getting anywhere with “reduce”.

The expected “UGH!” came.

He was able to translate the word problem into an equation, but couldn’t remember the process he needed to go through to find the answer.

He slid the paper over to me, and I could tell he was on the verge of exploding with rage. But as I started to talk him through the steps, he took a long, deep breath, then placed his hand on my arm ever so gently.

“Mom, I don’t want to hurt your feelings,” his voice was quiet and his big brown eyes filled with pity. “I know you’re trying to help, but you’re making it harder, and it’s driving me crazy.”

So, I slid the paper back and watched with a big smile on my face while he finished his math.

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.

 

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?

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.