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.

Doors of the World

People are making lots of money off of posters and books dedicated to interesting doors from around the world. Gorgeous, colorful photographs of doors. Big doors. Red doors. Ancient doors. Doors with graffiti. Wooden doors. Gold doors. Doors to pubs. Doors to thatched-roof cottages. Doors to churches and tombs.

The really interesting book would spotlight the doors of our children. Bedroom doors. Fort doors. Clubhouse doors. My son’s door.


The Best Vacation

Spring Break 2016 has ended, and I return from a week at the beach certain that it was the best vacation ever. Ideal weather. Tan but no sunburn. Lots of rest despite the roosters. Delicious lobster quesadillas for lunch three out of seven days. Softest sand on the planet between our toes. Clear blue water.

Sounds great, but “best ever” because…

Our three boys played together in the water, splashing through waves that looked too large… even larger when I was in the water with them several times a day. We dove under waves, Let them crash on our heads. They talked and laughed and made up silly games as the waves kept pummeling us.

They told stories, gave opinions, laughed more, told jokes, paused mid-sentence, dove under, and came up talking. Tireless. Fearless.

They played hours of football with Dad.

We made two styles of sandcastle. A multilevel traditional fortress and a drippy one that received a “Lovely drippy castle. Well done!” from a British accent who walked by as we completed it. They were both our best to date.

The boys read good books and talked about them. Killer Angels, Moneyball, Wings of Fire.

They helped the youngest find Orion in the night sky.

If I could have stopped time a hundred times since they were born, I would have. At each moment, I imagined I could not love them more. But then we would not have had this vacation and I would not have seen how sweet they are together at 8 and 12 and 13, how much fun they have with their brothers.

And I might not understand that “best ever” and “love more” will happen again and again, washing over us like the waves and the sun.






Honesty: Not Always the Best Policy

Today, I sat with my son’s seventh grade English teacher at Parent-Teacher Conferences while he read some of my son’s responses to questions the teacher had asked about the class. He was trying to gauge how his new students were feeling, whether they were keeping up, stressed, having fun.

How are you feeling about La/Lit?

My son wrote something along the lines of “I like class, but I hate reading and writing. It is sooooo boring.”

He had written a similar statement in a letter to his sixth grade teacher, but I made him delete it, explaining then that telling an English teacher that you don’t like to read is not only stupid, but not nice. He is the sweetest kid on the planet, so fortunately everyone gets that he is not being purposefully disrespectful.

He just doesn’t get it.

Do you feel comfortable with the teaching style used in this class?

My son wrote (and unfortunately, I think I have this one close to verbatim), “Your teaching style doesn’t really work with me, because you make everything more complicated than it has to be. Maybe you do that for the kids that struggle.”

I put my head down on the table.

And the teacher, who I respect immensely, laughed, “And that’s not why I gave him an F on his note-taking.”

You know I’m gonna be breathing down his neck at homework time…

… and we might just have to work on ditching the honesty thing. Too much of anything makes you look like a ding-dong.

Developmentally Inappropriate Reading

I was at a small get-together with some sixth grade moms last week, and we were debating whether a school-required book our kids are reading is age-appropriate. We have all read the book so we can guide our children through some issues it raises in case their teachers focus on other things.

As we were talking about those issues (i.e. cocaine use, neglectful parents, violence from older brothers, and bad decisions with no consequences), I realized that the extra assignment I had given my fifth and sixth grade sons this summer might be more intense and grown-up than the book we were discussing.

We got a subscription to USA Today, because I decided they should start reading the newspaper, and the writing is less sophisticated than the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, which my husband and I read. Plus, the kids would get drawn in by the sports section.

What a summer of developmentally inappropriate news… for any age!

This really hit home when my eleven year old walked into the kitchen, which at the time was filled with six snacking boys (his brothers and friends, age 6-10) and addressed them in a stream of consciousness:

“Wow, lots of plane crashes lately. How many people do you think have died? And that war in the Ukraine. Do you think it could start World War Three? I mean, really, did you see they bombed a school in Gaza? What’s the world coming to?!”

Six little ice cream covered faces just stared at him. Wide eyes. Still-chubby cheeks. And now heads filled with real-life stories they may not have been ready to hear.

The sad thing is… the truth can be far worse than fiction.

Lad and the Fat Cat

I realized about a month ago that my two older boys were already starting to read at this point in their kindergarten year. My youngest is not there yet.

“Yes, he’s near the bottom of the class,” said the kindergarten teacher when I brought it up, “but nothing to worry about. They all learn to read.”

I immediately pulled out a set of books specifically created to help kids learn to sound out words. I told my little guy that he is working on breaking a secret code.

Yesterday, I brought “Lad and the Fat Cat” to an appointment with us to work on the short “a” sound. Ignoring “Lad,” he told me a story about Frosty, the baby red dragon who could not breathe fire. As he drew pictures for his story, I saw him hide “Lad” among other books in the waiting room.

“I was hoping we would leave it here by accident,” he grinned when I pulled the book out of the pile. “It is so boring!”

I again explained the secret code he was trying to break and how the book was like a key.

“But mom!” he shook his head. “You know picture books? The ones where one person writes the story and…what’s the other guy called who does the pictures?”

“The illustrator?” 

“Well, how do they make their books so perfect?”

He looked at the reading primer in disgust. “And then look at this! Look at all the white on the page! Why would you read this when you have a picture book with a writer and illustrator making it so perfect?”

He already loves to read. The secret code will come. 

Mom is Reading My Books!

During the last few weeks, I took a break from the stack of books on my bedside table so that I could read the required summer reading for my sons. I wanted to read the books before they did, so that we could talk about them. My fourth grader was too fast. He knocked them off in early June. So I hit the fifth grade list. Apparently, my fifth grader is at least approaching the age of reading maturity where we might enjoy the same books. For a book lover like me, that could be really fun.

I started with Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, which I have reviewed for Yahoo. The link is here if you want to know what a mom gets out of a book written for her kids.

The ironic piece of the review is that I talk about teaching my kids self-reliance, while I am reading their books to make sure they are understanding what they read before school starts. Funny. I did not pick that up until I re-read the review.