First Two Days of High School

When he started at his last school, he was four, and his three-year-old brother was in class with him – a two-year preschool.

I walked him in every day. I waited until the teacher hugged him or shook his hand or said good morning. I volunteered in the classroom with other moms – for a number of us, it was our first or only. And we have been laughing, encouraging, comparing notes ever since.

But at this new school – high school – he forges his own path. No mom. No little brother fingerpainting at the next easel. Only one known friend among 500 in his class. We both know it would look silly for me to walk him in. I don’t know his teachers, and they haven’t watched him grow up. Don’t yet know his slow-to-reveal humor and wonderful personality.

His brother asked to come yesterday when I picked him up after his first day. “It feels weird that I’ve never even seen his school.”

And when our high schooler got out of the car on the morning of Day 2, he sighed, “I feel a little sad.”

Me too, sweetie. But you get stronger, more impressive every day. You’re going to do great!

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.

My Mom and the Maker Movement

The Maker Movement brings together technology fans and traditional artisans in a shared do-it-yourself, crafting culture that celebrates innovation. Schools across the country are investing in Maker Spaces, where students can invent or build with a diverse range of recycled products, traditional tools, and technology.

It’s new. It’s hip. It’s the best thing going on in education.

And my mom did it in her kindergarten class more than thirty years ago. She called it the Invention Center.

In the 1970s and 80s, there were always paper grocery bags in our kitchen at some stage of being filled with empty paper towel rolls, plastic tops, cans, bubble wrap, milk cartons, and more. We’d help her deliver them to her Invention Center and check out all the kindergarten “inventions” being built there. Occasionally, she’d send a letter home to her class asking for Invention Center donations, and the coffers would fill to overflowing, because 20 families across the DC metro area spent their kindergarten year collecting for it too.

The best though was watching those little kids walk down the carpool line barely able to carry structures bigger than they were to moms whose mouths were open in surprise. “Wow! That’s amazing!”

And the kindergarten “makers” beamed with pride as mom tried to fit it in the back of the car and they explained all the intricacies of what they’d created, how many times it had fallen apart, how they fixed it, and where they wanted to put it in their house.

I don’t know if my mom has heard of the Maker Movement, but I like to think of her as one of its pioneers.

 

Dressing Up for May Day

In a house of boys living in the oh-so-casual West, we don’t dress up often. So, dress-up days at school cause us some angst.

Do the khakis that fit you at Grandparents’ Day still fit for May Day? Is your only button-down shirt still on the ironing board after six months? No dear, athletic socks do not go with fancy shoes. Your loafers are too small? Can you wear them for two more hours? No time to shop!

And we have sensory issues. Even the softest dress pants rub against the back of one son’s knees and leave a “rash”. Tags we forget to cut out of anything new itch to distraction. Ties make them feel like they’re choking.

And then, when they are all looking absolutely handsome five minutes before departure, I step outside into the sunshine – dressing up in daytime a rare thing for me too – and realize my skirt is completely see-through.

Oh my god, do I even own a slip?!

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?!