For the Love of Reading

According to our seventh grader, he read a 401-page book yesterday afternoon. He reads so quickly that we used to doubt his retention. But when we’d ask him to tell us about the story or his favorite character, he would provide every detail, every twist and turn.

I always wondered how you could enjoy a book if you didn’t linger over it.

But as he read yesterday, curled in a chair, his too-big-for-his-body feet hanging over the chair’s arm, a grin would spread across his face, and he’d say, “Mom, do you want to hear a good line?”

Be still, my heart!

And then he’d read me a well-written description or funny phrase that made you visualize a moment perfectly.

Even better, in-between perfectly written sentences, his face would burst into a smile over this plot twist or the next. An amusing comeback. And I don’t know what else.

I could have watched him read for hours…but then he finished the book.

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.

 

Dinner with Teenagers

When you first have children, you look at them and think how absolutely beautiful they are. You want to hold them, smell them, make them laugh. But as they grow into teenagers, you start to see who they might become with their own set of passions and beliefs. And you see the day when you will learn from them.

They are suddenly interesting. Sometimes more interesting than your colleagues or friends because they are willing to talk about anything, pushing the envelope on your thinking without being afraid that they might offend you. Wondering about things you might not have thought to wonder about. Not knowing any better than to ask the questions you’re not supposed to ask “in good company.”

“Can I try a sip of that?”

Tonight, sitting around the fire pit, the conversation with our thirteen year old morphed from what happened at school today to whether a college education is important and if there is a difference is between Stanford or Harvard or Princeton and a school no one’s heard of. We discussed the education of the last few generations in our families. Left the old country before high school was done and worked as a bus driver. First to go to college. Focused on a premiere college because that was your guarantee of a better life. And now here we are, calling college an expensive IQ test and almost expecting it to implode before our children’s children think about applying.

A week or two ago, we talked about both sides of the abortion issue. Mom and dad, do you guys agree on this one? The black, white and gray of a complex, emotional issue.

And for the last two weeks, our fourteen year old lectured us at dinner on the complex and resilient history of Germany. We helped him strategize about how to win WWII in his-school assigned role as the leader of the evil Axis. How did you get Germany?

Then when we are tired of academic banter, the teens catch their breath, readying themselves for the next argument about the NFL Draft, because a night doesn’t go by in April without analyzing every move made by our favorite Packers, Falcons, Broncos and Chiefs this year and for the last ten years.

Because that’s fun at dinner too.

A Mother’s Springtime Prayer

It’s the era of three-sport seasons, tournaments that take up entire weekends, late night games on school nights.

So, we check the weather.

It’s Spring with its unpredictable weather. Snow flurries on cherry blossoms. Cold breezes that chill the air over open fields as soon as the sun sets.

So, we check the weather. Again.

It’s racing across town to pick up one child at soccer. Did you finish your homework?! Another at lacrosse. You volunteered enchiladas for your Spanish fiesta?!

It’s Chick-fil-A in the car before the next event. Then, one last time, we check the weather…

…and pray for rain…

… or a flash of lightening guaranteed to keep us home.

Terence, This is Stupid Stuff

Last night, my husband and I were sitting at our fire-pit drinking wine, talking about how people eventually get what’s coming to them. And he said, “That reminds me of a poem I memorized by A.E. Housman.”

Seriously?

He memorized it in high school without being assigned to do so. “I just liked the poem.”

Well, I too memorized poems and Shakespearean monologues when I was young. I got an A on the hardest exam I ever took – 10th grade English, when we had to identify a long list of obscure quotations and say what texts they came from, which author, and why important. I was in multiple plays. I only missed a line once, but in that play, I was actually Head of Costumes, and only because I had memorized most of the lines in Annie Get Your Gun, I was a last-minute understudy.

But I no longer remember any of it. That monologue by Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream? Nope. My favorite quotes from F. Scott Fitzgerald? I’ll have to check the book that I used to keep by my bed. The really hard-to-memorize …ugh… what was the name of that poem… Canterbury Tales. Nope.

I only remember one line, “It’s like the ladies’ restroom at the Oriental Theater.” From Auntie Mame. I was the nanny.

Meanwhile, my husband, the science guy, sitting at the fire-pit at least thirty years later, recited – almost flawlessly and without pause – the second half of Housman’s Terence, This is Stupid Stuff.

And I felt stupid.

So, inspired by my husband with the memory of an elephant, I pulled out my – yes, I kept it –  10th grade Norton’s Anthology, and today, I’m going to re-memorize an old favorite.

Hopefully, it stays in my head long enough to recite it around the fire-pit.

A Baseball Free Agent

Some of my favorite baseball movies have characters with funny superstitions and odd things they do for good luck before a big game. Major League. Bull Durham.

My nine year old wants to play baseball, but doesn’t have a team. As a free agent, he therefore had to participate in a two-hour try-out so that all the coaches could see his skill level and then spread the free agents out across the league in a way that makes the teams fair.

That morning when I walked into his room, he was wearing a pair of camouflage underwear that is way too small.

“I think it’s time to throw those away.”

He looked aghast, “But they’re my lucky underwear. I have to wear them to tryouts.”

When he came downstairs ready to go, he smiled, pointing to the different parts of his wardrobe. Lucky. Lucky. Lucky. He was decked out in his lucky Kansas City Chiefs socks, his lucky necklace that he made in art class, his lucky baseball cap, and of course, his lucky underwear.

And then he went out and had a really fun time playing ball. “I maybe could have played better,” he said at the end of the day, “but it was good enough for me.”

He may not make it into the Majors, but he would be a much-loved character in a baseball movie.