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.


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.


The Nerd and the Space Pirate

Last week, on the way home from instrument lessons, my ninth grader was extolling the joys of looking at leaves under a microscope. He described the different things he saw and was practically bragging to his fellow travelers about how much fun he is having in Biology Lab.

Our eighth grade friend commented from the back seat, “I don’t really like school that much.”

“You must have a favorite class,” replied my doubting son.

“Well, I guess I would say Social Studies, but…”

“Then you have to take AP Human Geography. That’s what I’m taking right now and…” he launched into a soliloquy about all the fascinating things he has learned. He went on and on and…

Again, from the eighth grader in the back seat, “Seriously though, if you want to be smarter socially, you need to stop talking like this.”

Undeterred, the socially clueless ninth grader followed with, “Then what do you want to be when you grow up if you don’t like to learn about anything?!”

Silence. Then, “A space pirate.”

A few days later, as if he’d been pondering the conversation since then, my ninth grader confided, “He’d actually be a really good space pirate. He’ll just have to like Astronomy.”

African Feasts, Spanish Fiestas, and Cheeseburgers

I typically make dinner for our family six days a week. So, you might think I relish the homework assignments where cooking is involved.

I do not.

Frankly, I’d rather write a paper, make a poster, spend hours on a diorama, or muddle through a calculus problem. And it seems that the African feasts and Spanish fiestas always happen during a week of tests, meetings, and any version of silly end-of-trimester chaos you can imagine.

I love project-based learning. I want more global awareness built into my kids’ curriculum. But I have boys who bite off more than I’d like to chew.

One year, my oldest decided to report on the history of cheeseburgers. Having never seen him more excited about school – and this was six years ago – we cooked up a cheeseburger buffet for 22 kids.

Big hit.


Tonight, my fourth grader and I are making a dish from Botswana that combines ground beef, milk-soaked bread, and strawberry jam. He found it on the Internet, but…

I don’t even know if it’s a real dish.

And after soaking the bread and chopping the onions, he cracked the egg, which exploded all over the kitchen counter and floor. “If that chicken were born, it would have ADHD!”

I know. He’s having fun.

Still, I cannot imagine a single 4th grader wanting to taste our dish.

Fortunately, my middle son, after his brother’s cheeseburger incident, decided that mom likes it when he volunteers chips and salsa. Every fiesta, always timed perfectly with the Christmas parties and end-of-year celebrations, he offers, “Mom, how about chips and salsa?”

And I can’t help but smile.


What I Love About 10

Today is Pajama Day at school, and while our middle school son wore sweats and a favorite Falcons t-shirt, no different than any other day, our 10-year-old strutted into school proudly sporting his flannel Snoopy Christmas pajamas.

Bright green. Snoopy. Charlie Brown. Woodstock.

Not a care in the world. No thought of “cool” or “not cool”.

Just lovin’ his PJs.

Struttin’ into 4th grade.


Middle School Spirit Week

It was a four-day week, a week to inspire school spirit at the boys’ school.

Tuesday, wear your favorite sports team jersey.

My eighth grader said, “Julio Jones.”

Wednesday, pajamas.

His other Falcons’ jersey. “Julio Jones.”

Thursday, wear something that represents your favorite fictional character – movie or book.

“Nope, Julio Jones.”

And finally Friday, blue or gold. School colors. School spirit.

What am I going to wear?!”

Julio doesn’t do blue.




Your Best Fan

There are times when I’ve watched my boys and felt as if I were going to explode with pride.  Today, when my eighth grader gave his This I Believe speech about the power of reading, I was so proud I wanted to tell everyone in the room that I think he’s absolutely amazing. (I held back… until now.)

It was beautifully written, laced with humor and a window into he is. He was also extraordinarily poised standing up before classmates, teachers and parents. Looked up at his audience. Paused at just right the moments for laughter.

But what struck me almost more than that was his huge smile of encouragement, whispered congratulations, and the high fives he gave each classmate as they passed him on their way to and from the podium. Not just his crew of his friends. Everyone.

I’ve seen it before – I may have written about it before, because it seems to come so naturally to him – when he came in last in a swim race, but was the first to reach over the lane ropes to shake his opponents’ hands. Last week, when his friend made his first basket in a game, he was as happy as the hoopster. And in past years, in the math competition, when each competitor moved on to the next round, he greeted them with encouragement, as if they had just impressed him like no other.

So, as I walked away from a great speech about the power of reading, I thought about the power of his very big, genuine smile, greeting his more nervous classmates, his teammates, even his competition with… “you were awesome!” and “isn’t this fun?!”


Nelson Efamehule Agholor

When my 8th grader made his announcement, he did not utter the words we expected to hear. Instead, he said “Nelson Agholor. That’s my answer,” and walked out of the room with a grin on his face.

He waited until the evening before his enrollment letter was due at one of the high schools he was considering to finalize his decision. Go to the school that seems a little shinier, a little bigger? Or follow his brother?

“I’ll tell you at dinner.” So, I made his favorite steak and mashed potatoes to celebrate Decision Night.

Then… “I want to be eating ice cream when I tell you.”

We waited. Maybe he was nervous. Our 9th grader was holding his breath, hoping…

“Four score and seven years ago,” the 8th grader began.

“Remember, that was a short speech,” his Dad said.

He stopped. “Nelson Agholor.”

What? Who? 

We had to look him up. Nelson Agholor, born in Nigeria, is a wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles. Not the most famous NFLer, in 2017, he became a league leader in third down receptions and made some of the best, most important catches of the Eagles’ season.

The Eagles.

Only our 8th grader would turn his announcement into a sports challenge.

He chose to be with his brother…. but admitted to a second-string NBA point guard picked out for the other school, just in case he changed his mind in the moment.