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.

To Each His Unique Mind

My three boys are all very different from one another. They process the world n their unique ways. Their minds pause on very different things, as shown by snippets of conversation with each from the same day last weekend.

The Fifth Grader

“Dad, why don’t most people notice that the sky is a different, darker blue at the top than it is near the horizon?”

The Fourth Grader (while helping in the yard)

“Mom, it’s not fair that grown-ups get paid more than kids for doing the exact same job.”

“Well, you’re paying adults for their experience, stronger muscles, more school.”

“But I can do anything you can,” he said, as I suffered the three leaves he picked up for every fourth armload of mine making it into our trashcan, “and if you paid someone else to do it, I’d bet you’d pay him a hundred dollars.”

The Kindergartner

“Mom, me and my friends were giving each other wedgies at school today. Do you want me to give you one?”

“No, thanks.”

“But it is soooo funny!”


“Boo!” he yells as enters the preschool classroom, smiling and usually late because he can never find his shoes. His classmates shout his name, laugh, start telling him what he is supposed to be doing. He runs straight to his spot at the table and gets to work.

“I’ll race you to the car!” he yells in the parking lot after school, oblivious to the fact that I am carrying his backpack, lunchbox, water bottle, coat, blue blankie and stuffed animal of the week. “I won!”

When I’m doing laundry, “I want to help!” And he climbs on top of the dryer, slam-dunking each piece of laundry I pull out from the washing machine into the dryer below.

“Can I have a playdate?”

“I love skiing! Can I play soccer? Baseball is my favorite!”

“Can we do it again?”

“This is awesome!”

This is a kid who finds joy in everything he does. What an amazing gift.

One thing. He also loves to make a little noise, bring down the house, all the while charming you with his enthusiasm and big grin. Could be trouble.

How Children Succeed

I started reading Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed for my book club, which focuses on parenting and education books. I thought I was going to get ideas for how to help my own kids have the grit and discipline and strength of character to be successful in school and beyond. Instead, it made me think outside of my own family to the bigger picture of children and adolescents around the country. It made me want to find a way to reach the kids Tough writes about, who do not have the advantages of a safe neighborhood, good school and comfortable home. His book makes you wonder if the only way to improve our schools is to work with one student and, as important, their family at a time.

Please read my book review on Yahoo Voices.