Long Division

Dear third grader,

Long division is hard. Besides potty-training and reading, it might be the toughest challenge you have ever faced. It is especially awful when you imagine that Mom is doing it wrong.

Divide. Multiply. Carry down a zero. Subtract. Divide. Multiply. Carry down a zero. Subtract. Repeat until you hit a number smaller than your original divisor.

Because if you imagine that Mom is making stuff up, you’re going to invent a new way of doing division that gets you to the incorrect answer. And it is likely going to take you longer to get there. And then after all that effort and brain power and creativity that you just dedicated to dividing one number by another, you are going to freak out. Cry. Scream. Stomp your feet. Run out of the room.

“You think I’m stupid!” will be followed by “Then you think my teacher is stupid!”

And you will still have to come back later to finish your homework.

So while I will definitely slide off the “I know this” platform after a few more years of math, I promise I will admit it when the time comes. For now, though, stick with me. You will get this, because you are all about effort and brain power and creativity… and we make a great team.

Divide. Multiple. Carry down the zero. Subtract.

I love you, sweet man,

Mom

The Turkeys Grew Up

This summer, when we visited Grandma and Grandpa at Goose Hill Farm, you could hold the baby turkeys in your hands. The boys took charge of feeding them and locking them up for the night to protect them from the hawks and other wild animals prowling for meat in the dark.

Now visiting for Thanksgiving, the turkeys have grown waist-high. They are cautious, but curious. The male leads the females up to the kitchen windows, and they peer in at us from so close you can see the short hair on their heads. There are shades of pinks and light blue in the male turkey’s face. He struts and fluffs his tail feathers, a hundred different browns.

Abandoning her flock hiding from the snow, the only white chicken comes adventuring with the turkeys. We are told she prefers them and follows them around like a little sister. “Hey, wait for me!” Shorter legs racing to keep up.

But with “Turkey Day” only two days away, we expected this crew to be gone. Isn’t that the turkey’s sad story in all the picture books? In fact, for third graders at our sons’ school, the Thanksgiving homework is to take a cut-out paper turkey and “disguise” it so that it does not become part of the feast. Using any mix of materials and creativity, the kids dress their turkeys as football players, clowns, pilgrims, lions, mermaids and more.

Our youngest disguised his as a tomato plant. Very unusual and sneaky.

But the three Goose Hill turkeys don’t need a disguise. They are members of the family this Thanksgiving: the crazy uncle with warts on his nose, the cousin wobbling around the table after too much wine, and the vegetarian sister who every year, loudly mourns the poor bird.

We Can Do Whatever We Want

My house echoes with the school year’s constant whining that school and homework “get in the way of life.” My older two boys couldn’t wait for summer, so “we can do whatever we want.”

On the last day of school, I said to a friend, let’s see how quickly “whatever we want” turns into “we’re bored.”

And the sun rises on Day One….

I sat on the edge of the pool chatting with my thirteen year old, who had been floating alone, looking up at a clear blue sky, occasionally glancing at his brothers at swim team practice.

“Mom I am soooo glad it’s summer.”

“Me too,” I smiled.

Pause. Dramatic sigh. “But I’m bored. I’m happy. It’s just that… I don’t want to do anything at all for the first month. No reading anything, no exercise, no golf, no work at all. I hate running. Don’t make me run.”

Running was the deal if he didn’t do swim team.

“And don’t remind me to do my summer journal.”

Last weekend, he passed his test to be a golf caddie, which he was thrilled to do soooo many days ago, when he sought a distraction from exams.

“And I’m not going to caddie.”

“Yes you are.”

“Why? Because I invested so much time in it?”

“No, because you were sooo excited about it two days ago.”

Sigh. “I’m bored.”

Ahhh, teenagers.

 

Beyond Algebra

I love algebra. I remember how to do it. I can help with homework. But as my middle school sons get a taste of math beyond algebra, my skills start to fall off, my memory fades.

One of the perks of having a child four and five years younger than his brothers is that as their skills grow past mine, I can still be a math homework hero… because I rock at subtraction!

I didn’t know that I had any emotion tied this little perk until two days ago. My second grader just transitioned from addition homework to subtraction with numbers up to 100. He completed it without asking me any questions, then asked if I would look at it to make sure he got it all right. I checked the first page. 100 percent.

I turned the page over. Two word problems. Uh-oh. Word problems are tough. Word problems are big kid stuff.

100 percent.

Why did that make me weep?

Middle School is “Fine”

“How was your day?”

“Fine.”

“Learn anything new?”

“Not really.”

“Who’d you hang out with?”

“My friends.”

“Was it fun?”

“It was fine.”

As a mother of two middle school boys, I have learned that “fine” means “I’ve got it.”

….unless, of course, his slumped body signals utter defeat as he walks down the carpool line. Or “fine” is followed by tears.

That was yesterday. My sixth grader was dragging himself to the car, head bowed, bangs hiding his face.

“Things are not fine,” I said to his brothers.

He slammed the car door and burst into tears after launching his first-ever f-bomb. “All five f-ing teachers gave me homework!”

He’s mildly hypo-glycemic. I gave him chocolate milk while putting together a very large nutritious snack. That’s what moms do, right?

Unfortunately, he saved his toughest assignment for last. His first algebra homework. The teacher had written that if they understood the day’s lesson, it should only take 10-15 minutes. Thirty minutes later, he was sobbing and exhausted.

But boys rebound quickly.

By 7:00, after a quick entire-family review of algebra with dad and the snack by mom in his system, all returned to “fine.” He was playing soccer in the living room.

And later when I said goodnight, he hugged me. “Mom, remember at the beach when we went on that walk and I told you I was nervous about middle school?”

“Yes.”

“I think I’m going to remember that walk my whole life, because you were right. Middle school is fine. I think I’ve got it.”

What I Just Read: Draft One

The hardest thing for any writer to learn is that Draft One is very rarely final. My fourth grader is suffering from that lesson today.

I told him to write down what he wanted to say for an oral book presentation he is supposed to give tomorrow. He is an avid reader, and when inspired, he can convince an entire class to read his latest top pick. Apparently, the book he must present tomorrow did not grab his attention.

This is what he wrote:

The book I read was Flora and Ulysses. Ulysses is a squirrel and Flora is a girl. Flora’s mother wants to kill Ulysses because she wants Flora to be normal. Her mother is a romantic novelist. I think killing isn’t romantic. Any questions?

When I told him to think about what he wanted to add for Draft Two, he claimed that no one else ever says more than that for their book reports, like they are the kings of queens of book reports.

“It’s not fair! I am not saying all that stupid stuff you want me to say about if I liked the book or how it compares to her other books or my favorite character, or…”

See, I smiled, he knows all about Draft Two.

The Second Child Picks a State

In fourth grade, our school requires that each student become the class expert on a particular state of their choosing.

Last year, my oldest son chose South Dakota because we had just returned from Mount Rushmore, a place he “always wanted to go”. He was barely able to contain his joy.

This year, our second fourth grader in two years watched as classmates chose Georgia (he’s a huge Falcons fan) and Massachusetts (he likes the Red Sox and the batting cages on Cape Cod).

“All my states were gone by the time it was my turn to choose!”

I know my son. If he isn’t going to get what he wants, he is going to make it easy. He picked South Dakota.

His teacher does not how closely he watches his big brother do homework or how relentlessly he infuses his opinions into his brother’s project work. So she said that as long as he does not copy his brother’s report, he can keep South Dakota.

“I’m not going to copy his report,” he told us matter-of-factly at dinner. “I’m just going to erase his name and put mine. No copying necessary.”

The challenge for Mom is getting him – with all the same photos from our trip and my limited tourist’s knowledge – to dig deeper into the piece of earth that is South Dakota and to make it his state.

Fortunately, our youngest will not make the same choice. On our return drive from South Dakota, he stared out his window. Miles of dry prairie seemed to keep us from home. Impatient and pissed off, he asked, “Are we still in America?”