The Optimism Rollercoaster on Competition Day

When we make State,” my son said to the Drowning Robots early on competition day, “we’re going to make a prototype.”

“Yeah!” they agreed. “When we make State!”

They are a middle school robotics team. The competition combines an environmental sustainability project with challenging robotic missions. Three presentations. Three programming sessions. Only six would qualify for State.

“And when we have a prototype, we’ll make Nationals!”

“Yeah!”

Remember, this was early.

“Where do we go if we win Nationals?”

“Disney?”

“Oh, then we’re going to World!”

The presentation of their water evaporation tower project – adapted from a strange looking orange contraption piloted in Ethiopia – to water lawns, golf courses, and recreation fields went beautifully. Their Core Values presentation went swimmingly. Their ability to discuss how they went about building their robot and designing programs impressed the judges.

These kids can talk.

And it was still early. “Nationals are in Houston or Detroit. Which one should we go to?”

But then came the robotics. Tension rising with each round. Round One had them in 22nd. Everything that had worked for weeks in practice failed them. The team buckled down. While other teams threw plastic bottles of water at each other, this team worked on their programming. “We can do this!”

But in Round Two, they dropped to 24th. After the final round, revising programs on the fly, they remained near the bottom of the pack.

One of the Dads gave a beautiful pep talk to unhearing, sad faces about their work ethic, team spirit and grit.

They begged to leave before the award ceremony. “We’re just making excuses,” my son whispered to me.

“Even those toddlers throwing water at each other can program better than us,” moaned one of the girls.

But more than an hour later, they heard, “The Core Values Award goes to the Drowning Robots!”

And… they are going to State. Their presentations were so good that talking catapulted them over 16 teams who beat them at robotics.

And the very first thing my son said?

“We’re building a prototype, and we’re winning the Project at State.”

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How Was Your Day? Who’s Your New Friend?

As a mom, I lack patience. I want to know how their days were. Who said what? Anything fun? How was the test? What did you eat for lunch? Who’d you play with at recess? Did you make a new friend? Who did you talk to at…

Maybe after all these years of saying I was meant to have boys – and being happy about it – I really needed chatty girls who tell mom all.

But I am trying. During the ride home from school with my teenage boy, I am limiting myself to a quick “good day?”

“Yep.”

And in this quieter approach, I am starting to hear more. His first high school friend has two younger siblings, and he wouldn’t want to be an only child.

That was all I got Week One through Five.

Then yesterday, my son offered that his new friend “doesn’t know anything about Social Studies. Not even who the bad guys were in World War II. Or World I, but I guess that’s okay, because that’s more complicated.”

Apparently, the kid is good at math.

“He didn’t even have Social Studies in elementary school, the teachers were so bad. So, he couldn’t catch up in middle school. And now…”

Pause.

“I’ve made it my mission to teach him everything I know about Social Studies by the end of the year.”

I grinned. “And how does he feel about that?”

“Great!” as if every fourteen year old boy is eagerly waiting for his friends to teach him world history in the lunchroom.

It sounds like the start of a beautiful friendship.

 

 

How Do You Explain….

How do you explain to an introverted ninth grader that the best part of high school doesn’t happen in the classroom? That the school only really comes to life after the last bell rings.

Actors running lines for the fall play. The hammers of set-building. Click-click-click of cleats running through the hall to practice. Cheerleaders shouting. Choirs singing. Posters being illustrated for the next dance. Marching band trumpets blaring and that deep drumbeat echoing across the field in through the windows. Teams tinkering with robots, debating politics, inventing headlines for the school newspaper.

Just stay. Peek in the room. Pick something. Anything. Add to the noise.

Because after school, in those rooms or on that stage, they will be the first to know your name. To drag you to lunch tomorrow. To make this new school feel more like home.

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?!