Study Skills as a Foreign Language

My son’s fifth grade class visited middle school this week in preparation for next year. They went to Drama, Science lab, and Spanish. Fun activities. All about seeing how cool middle school is going to be.

So, at the end of the day, he got in the car. Smiling. Excited. Looking to the future. “We get to choose L.E., Spanish or French!”

L.E. is a study and organizational skills class for kids needing a little extra help in developing as academic learners. I explained, “You don’t get to choose L.E. The teachers tell you if you need it.”

The light in his eyes went out. Smoke came out of his ears.

“I am NOT taking Spanish!”

“Well, actually, you are.”

“I don’t understand a word anyone saying! Not a single word! Today, he said ‘tocar something something’, and everyone pointed to their elbow. Soooooo, I pointed to my elbow. That’s how I do Spanish.”

“How does everyone else know what he’s saying?”

“I have NO idea!”

Hope he cools off by August, when his teacher greets him with… “Buenos Dias!”

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Looking Back in the Weeks Before 8th Grade Graduation

I volunteered to interview our school’s 8th graders for a Middle School Graduation video, and jotted down some of the things they shared. I asked a lot of different questions, but what I expected them to remember and talk about wasn’t always important to them. Only a few could come up with a story from Lower School, while I can tell you numerous memories from my own early years. First grade. Third grade, certainly. And Fourth.

Only a handful could remember anything that happened in the news, yet here too, I could talk for hours about how I perceived or even participated in historic events of the 1970s and 80s. And oddly to me, quite a number of “best field trip” moments took place on the bus rides there. The only bus ride memory I have took place in fifth grade, when one of the boys told me I was “gullible,” which I was, but I thought it meant “huggable”, and it made my day.

Funny story:

“We were seeing how many of those little orange slices you can stuff in your mouth. We were backstage, and I was on the floor laughing so hard that I started to spit them out just when an admission tour group came through. I’m guessing none of thosekids are coming here.”

Wisdom you might share with your second grade buddy:

“Don’t stress out. It gets harder every year, but when it does, you’re ready for it. And it’s not that hard, because the teachers help you.”

“Spend as much time with your friends as you can.”

“Be yourself. Don’t worry about what other people are going to say, because most of them are nice.”

Best part of the Washington DC trip:

“It was on the bus ride, and he was sleeping, and his brother and I were throwing cashews at him. And then he woke up, and yawned, and I threw one perfectly into his mouth. He was soooo surprised.”

“Well, one story, I can’t tell you.”

Best day at school:

“My very first day here in sixth grade. I came here and I realized I could be myself. I didn’t have to be crazy or anything for people to like me.”

“They were going to tear the old Lower School building down, and so on the last day of first grade, they let us write on the walls. I remember we were drawing on the bathroom walls. Everywhere. But then we started drawing on the carpets, and apparently, they were planning to re-use the carpeting. So, our teacher got really mad. That was the best day.”

Middle School Dances:

“The dances are pretty ‘cringy’, because there are like two slow dances, and there’s like three couples who dance together, and everybody starts freaking out because they’re dancing.”

“Everybody only has six dance moves, and they just do them over and over.”

“Most importantly, you get candy.”

Something that happened in the world during your time at the school:

“The Broncos winning the Super Bowl.” “The Patriots winning the Super Bowl.” “The Broncos winning the Super Bowl.” “The Patriots…”

“I will always remember the day in December 2012, when the world was supposed to end, and we were all standing out on the field looking up at the sky waiting. And then it didn’t.”

The Optimism Rollercoaster on Competition Day

When we make State,” my son said to the Drowning Robots early on competition day, “we’re going to make a prototype.”

“Yeah!” they agreed. “When we make State!”

They are a middle school robotics team. The competition combines an environmental sustainability project with challenging robotic missions. Three presentations. Three programming sessions. Only six would qualify for State.

“And when we have a prototype, we’ll make Nationals!”

“Yeah!”

Remember, this was early.

“Where do we go if we win Nationals?”

“Disney?”

“Oh, then we’re going to World!”

The presentation of their water evaporation tower project – adapted from a strange looking orange contraption piloted in Ethiopia – to water lawns, golf courses, and recreation fields went beautifully. Their Core Values presentation went swimmingly. Their ability to discuss how they went about building their robot and designing programs impressed the judges.

These kids can talk.

And it was still early. “Nationals are in Houston or Detroit. Which one should we go to?”

But then came the robotics. Tension rising with each round. Round One had them in 22nd. Everything that had worked for weeks in practice failed them. The team buckled down. While other teams threw plastic bottles of water at each other, this team worked on their programming. “We can do this!”

But in Round Two, they dropped to 24th. After the final round, revising programs on the fly, they remained near the bottom of the pack.

One of the Dads gave a beautiful pep talk to unhearing, sad faces about their work ethic, team spirit and grit.

They begged to leave before the award ceremony. “We’re just making excuses,” my son whispered to me.

“Even those toddlers throwing water at each other can program better than us,” moaned one of the girls.

But more than an hour later, they heard, “The Core Values Award goes to the Drowning Robots!”

And… they are going to State. Their presentations were so good that talking catapulted them over 16 teams who beat them at robotics.

And the very first thing my son said?

“We’re building a prototype, and we’re winning the Project at State.”

Parenting at Midnight

I have been waiting for my 8th grader to crash. Last night was the Middle School play, for which he was on Tech Crew, arriving home at 9:30 to do his Math homework. The night before, he attended a high school open house after showing up at school early for robotics, then working on Tech Crew after school, eventually coming home at 9:00 to take an online Science test. The night before that, a two-hour basketball practice. His first of the season.

On Friday night, he will get home from basketball practice at 8:30, then wake up early Saturday for an all-day robotics competition. He’s been putting in a lot of hours across the board.

But he has been full of energy through it all. With an “I’m good!” anytime I asked if he needed help or wanted to wait until morning to complete assignments.

Last night was the same. Chatty. Feeling great about the play. “I’m good!” The Math, he claimed, was easy.

Then just before midnight…

“Mom, I threw up.” All over both levels of his bunk bed.

Sigh. I pulled on socks and a sweatshirt to survive the chill after sleeping deeply in my warm bed. Took a look at the damage, then headed to the kitchen for Clorox wipes and paper towels, where…

…the floor surrounding the dishwasher was flooded with soapy bubbles.

And the first thought that entered my head (after “I’m going to kill whoever put the wrong soap in the dishwasher”) was that if anyone has the right to cry it’s him. Not me.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” he whispered at me. Not crying.

Deep breath before re-entering the vomit-y bedroom. “We’ve got to wake up Dad” to divide and conquer.

Together, we cleaned up the bubbles on the kitchen floor. Threw our son’s blankets in the shower, then to the laundry. Clorox wiped the bedroom floor. Then cleaned out the chunks collected at the shower drain. Took out the trash. Put together a comfy bed on the floor for our very tired boy, who fell instantly back to sleep.

Then back in our own room, “I can’t fall back to sleep.”

“Me neither. I’m not good at throw up.”

“Me neither.”

“And my stomach hurts.”

Slow Dancing in Middle School

Friday: 9:00 p.m. I walk into the middle school, 80s-themed dance to pick up my guys. My I-don’t-talk-to-girls seventh grader is hidden in a clump of other seventh graders wearing neon. I can’t see who he is dancing with, but one of the teacher-chaperones reports over the music that while he may not talk to girls, he does dance with them.

In a small crowd of eighth graders, I see mine slow dancing, his hands on her hips, her hands on his shoulders. Lots of sunshine between them (had they been dancing outside). Step. Step. Step. Eyes darting around the room. Barely talking even though they have been good friends since kindergarten.

As one of the girls supposedly reported to her mom later, what happened to those six weeks of Cotillion? Should I give my guys some direction, or enjoy their awkwardness for another year?

At least they were willing to talk after.

Post-Dance with the Seventh Grader

“Who did you dance with?”

“Can’t remember.” Then he listed three different girls. “But seriously, mom, middle school dances? I don’t think they should have them. A lot of kids aren’t ready.” He described a classmate who stood in the corner all night with his GoPro filming for his YouTube channel. “And a bunch of my friends didn’t even go.”

“But did you have fun?”

“It wasn’t bad.”

Post-Dance with the Eighth Grader

“The girls were dressed weird.” While the boys all chose their shabbiest, I-am-not-trying-to-impress-you clothes, the more spirited girls were in theme – 80s Footloose style.

“And the seventh graders slow dance wrong. It drove me crazy!” I barely stifled a guffaw. “You’re supposed to put your hands on their hips, not their shoulders.”

As I was saying, a little guidance before the graduation dance may be in order. A spin. A graceful twirl. A slow tango through the crowd.

Middle School Sleepover Talk

“If Trump builds a wall, there won’t be anybody to mow the lawn.”

“Yeah, I think the guys who cut our grass are Mexican.”

“I’m pretty sure ours are Thai.”

My son grinned, “We have two Irish guys. Me and my brother.”

You mow your lawn?!”

“But you’re not really Irish.”

Later, when we went from the car to the house through the garage, one of his friends paused at the lawn mower. He waved his hands above it as if performing magic and spoke in a low and ominous voice. “This is Jackson’s mower.”

A Window into the Past

When I was twelve to fourteen, I traveled in a pack that our moms called The Mafia. We were mostly a mix of boys and girls who did Drama on Tuesdays and Saturdays or were in Team Four. That group expanded a little when we got to high school, then eventually dissolved into different interests and diversified friends.

A few years ago, I found out that most adults do not have good memories of seventh and eighth grade. I was shocked. I had a blast. I belonged. School was more fun than it would ever be again, and after school was even more so.

Still, there was a part of The Mafia that I felt excluded from, and though I knew I could not be included, I felt I was missing out. It was when the boys in our group hung out – just them. The crew would stay overnight after we all went sledding or to a dance or to the movies.

And I would fall asleep knowing that if were there with them, I would be laughing. I would be enjoying their rambunctiousness, which I admired. And given that I was in a family of all girls, I longed to be privy to the secret – and I assumed, hilarious – life of boys.

Last night, driving a bunch of boys from basketball practice back to our house for a sleepover, I was struck by the fact that fate has given me a glimpse – or a lifetime of glimpses – of the one thing I missed growing up.

They were really loud and ridiculously funny. They talked over each other even more than girls do. They have goofy, unexplainable nicknames. They wore their hearts on their sleeves, yet got no sympathy and moved on. They sang badly but passionately. They teased each other mercilessly, then laughed even more.

They even talked about Drama class and Dungeons and Dragons.

A gift to my middle school self.