Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Parenting: Level Intense

Some days, the best and worst of parenting swirls together in one giant feel and I think, “This. This is the real thing.”

Our kids’ school noticeably increases the expectations of the students each year. Work that got rewarded in second grade because “I can see you understand and I can see you’re trying” does not fly in third grade. Little A, who needs to test every limit to make sure he knows right where it is, has been finding that out.

We warned him about sloppy handwriting, we showed him strategies for checking his work, we stressed the importance of reading carefully…. Then his Friday folder came home last week. His giant stack of worksheets (parents of elementary school kids, you know what I’m talking about!) had a full range of grades, a rainbow of scores ranging from red to purple. They ran the COMPLETE gamut of possible number grades.

There’s no doubt he can do it. The missing factor? Motivation. He wants to “do homework in school” so he can come home and play; he sees no need to do homework to the new, higher standard. Whatever he brings home, he does over (and over!) until he gets it right. So he’s learned that doing it right the first time is faster. It’s those “I did it at school” papers that have fallen largely into the purple end of the spectrum.

Luckily, supporting him as he does some of his homework has shown me that he’s a big picture guy. He may be slow to memorize certain spelling words, but if I explain that “destructive” has the same root as “construct” then he remembers to use the “ruct” in the middle.

It took me a weekend of despair and a sleepless night Monday night, but I woke up Tuesday—at five o’clock—with a plan. I got out of bed an hour early to set up our lesson. I pulled up two chairs at my desk and his grades on my laptop. Then I wrote out a chart with ten rows of ten boxes and got some game markers. I was all set.

After breakfast, I invited him to a meeting. After one complaint—“It’s about homework, isn’t it?”—he settled in. He absorbed the information SO quickly that I’m eternally grateful I had it ready to go! He helped me set up the game pieces to represent 100s, then helped me slide them over to show what happens to an average when a few low grades sneak in. He got it!

With only the slightest hint from me, he figured out what happens to his yearly grades if one marking period is low and three are high vs the opposite. And with only the slightest hint from me, he remembered that he’ll have more choices in the future (robotics or rocket design school!) if he has good yearly grades.

Newly motivated, we went to check his homework one more time. And then, because God, fate, or the universe decided to shower us with good fortune, he went over his science one more time and—all by himself—realized he’d left three questions blank. I had the privilege of saying, “Awesome! You just went from at-best-a-70 to maybe a 100 and all by checking!”

I sent him off to school, happy as a clam, and then I collapsed with my coffee for five minutes before starting work. After all the stress, all of the head-desking, all of the late night “how do I walk the line between stressing him out and showing him what’s important?” thoughts, I hit it. I offered the right lesson, the right way, at the right time.

Best of all, he took the ball and ran with it. In all my various experiences of teaching, that’s the moment—the rare and precious moment—that makes it all worthwhile. When someone takes something I show them and goes with it. As a parent, I've learned to savor these moments.

He’s heading far beyond my reach. I’m so proud of him! And exhausted. And elated. And drained. And hopeful. And anxious. And proud.