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.

 

The Last Hours Before the Deadline

One night in high school, my Dad stayed up all night with me while I drafted a research paper for school. I do not remember which paper it was or why I was so late getting to it. I wrote in my barely legible longhand, passed him a finished page, and then he typed it for me on his IBM Selectric typewriter. We worked in the basement to make sure the typing didn’t wake up my mom or sisters. I am sure I cried at least once.

It was my first and only all-nighter. I felt so sick the next day that I pledged never to put off big projects again.

And today, I am paying the universe back for my father’s good deed and late night support about thirty years ago.

With my seventh grader sitting at the computer moaning about not having enough sources or ideas for how to expand 30 notecards to the required 40 – and making no progress for at least an hour – I couldn’t help myself. We spread out his 30 somewhat repetitive notecards on my bed and put them in order, looking for holes in the story.

Then, I asked questions.

“You always make things so much harder than they need to be!” he responded. Still, he Googled the answers, and turned them into more notecards. I reminded him of other sources he could use.

“You are stressing me out!”

Another notecard.

I told him to find a good quote in the book he is reading. Another card until he had 50. He renumbered them, still spread across the bed, then bound out the door after his brothers, already enjoying their snow day.

It banged shut on my “but you still have to do the outline!”

Just giving what I owe the universe, and hoping it’s done before midnight.

Crafting at 8

Planning ahead so that a sixth grader finishes his Social Studies Egyptian project without tears does not always safeguard a family from late night crafting.

A paper mache sarcophagus due three days after an out-of-town weekend requires a phased approach. If the week prior to that weekend includes two basketball games and lots of math homework, forethought and timing are critical.

So at 8pm on a Wednesday, a week before the due date, I said, “We’d better figure out this paper mache thing.”

I forgot how fun paper mache is. It has been more than 30 years.

At 9pm, my son’s clothes were splattered with cream-colored goo. His arms were caked with dried paste. His hands dipped in and out of the bowl.

“This is awesome!” he said as the clock ticked past bedtime.

The Real Christmas List

This time of year, I need to keep lists. The kids’ Christmas lists. The teacher gifts. The class party contributions. The grocery list. The address list for holiday cards.

But I was reminded again this morning that, no matter how well I manage my big, all-encompassing list of to dos, I have no control over the real list.

The real list is contained in the fleeting moments of clarity and brief instances of focus that occur at the very last minute in my sons’ brains.

Before 7:00 this morning, I had the band teacher’s gift ready, the second grade Secret Angel gift wrapped, snack for the band party, folded a load of laundry, emptied the dishwasher, quizzed one son for his spelling test, another for his vocabulary and checked a math problem that was baffling the third.

All under control for departure at 7:25 because I am so on top of my lists. But then….

My sixth grader’s face fell as he packed up his books. “Is it Friday?”

“Yes,” I said, assuming he had forgotten to complete an assignment. “You still have a few minutes to finish whatever it is.”

“It’s not that,” he looked scared. “I’m supposed to bring homeroom snack.”

The real list is all about what happens on the fly, literally. I donned my SuperMom cape, flew out the door, got him 15 chocolate donuts with Christmas sprinkles and was back in time to get them to school on time.

There wasn’t even time to add donuts to the list. With the list that matters, there never is.