Wednesday, September 30, 2009

9/30/09 Schoolkids

God. What a horrible night. I hope I can describe it in a few sentences and then be done with it, but history doesn't support that.

I left work early today to pick the boys up early, and Dave left work early too to pick Katrina up, later. This was engineered entirely to give me some concentrated pre-dinner Katrina-free time to work with Gabriel on his book report.

Big backfire. He resisted, refused, complained, made faces and rude remarks, and only infuriated me during the entire hour and a half I'd so carefully planned to work with him. I insisted he sit in a chair in the office the whole time, and went back and forth between checking on him to see if he was ready to work, and just ignoring him. I've had trouble getting him to work before, but not for this long.

It ended when at 5:30 when I ran out of patience and time and said, "I'M DONE." And I had to be, it was time to make dinner, clean up lunches, make tomorrow's lunches, and brace myself for Katrina's arrival. Then he finally relented and said he was ready to cooperate, but it was too late. I insisted he sit there and work on it himself -- I wasn't about to let him blow it off and go play. He wailed for over an hour, sitting in that same chair he'd been in since we got home, saying he couldn't. He alternated between getting angry with me for not helping, to pitifully crying saying he didn't want to repeat 2nd grade.

It really struck me: is this really too hard for him to do himself? He certainly believes it is. Is that because he's so used to getting help that he really can't? As objective as I can be, I lean toward option #1, as I'm quite confident that no second-grader is doing this project without significant parental help.

And today was the easy part: no more drawing. Just writing, the "I Think" section in which he's supposed to write a 5-sentence paragraph on what he thinks about the book, and if he'd recommend it to someone and why. Second-grade moms: could *your* second-grader do that without help and supervision? More importantly, would they?

I was so furious and upset, and conflicted. A big mixture of irritation at his resistance, frustration that we'd worked so hard on this already and are so behind, anger that we have this project imposed on us by the school, resentment that I'd missed so much work and life at home to work on this...yet still some disappointment that my allocated time to work with him alone was shot.

Why can't I just let this go? He's going to have to fail sometimes, and we're going to have to let him. But in 2nd grade? No. He's too young to see the bigger picture and care about the consequences. He'd just as soon flunk out of school, he says. And what consequences really are there for a 2nd-grader who turns in a half-complete book report?

Maybe because I was such a spotty chronically late student, I just can't stomach seeing it all over again. It's one thing not to do well because you just can't (like drawing), but it's another not to do your best. Or is it because I feel like the teachers will judge me?

Dammit, can't this just be a stupid book report instead of a gateway to over-self-analysis and reliving the low points of my own studenthood?

The pre-dinner Katrina-free hour wasn't lost though. Incredibly, I found myself doing yet more "preview" drawings and making suggestions on another book report, though this time with a far more willing participant: Julian. He had a "story sequence" to do: Draw the beginning, middle, and end of a story. Once again, I found myself suggesting a scene in the story to draw, drawing it myself on a piece of paper first, outlining a box on a separate paper for him to practice drawing in, showing him how to draw specific things....and I stink at drawing! This drains me!! I'm tired of drawing!! But Julian finished his whole "story sequence" tonight and is ready to turn in his homework.

I'd planned to attend a Back To School night at Katrina's preschool tonight, then go back to work to make up for time lost today. I left for the preschool exhausted and filled with angst. Gabriel had defiantly refused dinner during the 20 minutes we alloted him, then was back sitting in the office chair, alternating between wailing and demanding help, as I walked out the door.

It was sort of a relief to have somewhere to go, and be forced to stick to my guns. I'm glad I went, it was actually very interesting. Once again, other parents asked far more questions about the "curriculum" (they're three!) than I can ever imagine caring about, and asked about how to reinforce schoolwork at home. They're three!

But it was interesting hearing what they learn about, as that explains a lot of what Katrina sings or does, such as sign language. Julian's been learning the sign alphabet from the CDC, and I thought she was picking up some of that from him, but it's from preschool.

I learned that my contrarian little tantrumer is a model citizen at school, very inquisitive, very very interested in letters and numbers and shapes, and very focused and serious when she does her work. This is an example of her tracing her name. I'd never have believed it if her teacher hadn't told me that she does this entirely herself, with no help at all.

I was also relieved to hear that she draws a lot on her own. Oh Lordy, please let her hold onto that at least into 2nd grade.

I can be proud of Julian and Katrina as students today. 2 out of 3, not bad.

But Gabriel...arguably the one with the most potential (I know I'm not supposed to say that), but the most difficult to tap, with such extraordinary but such polarized abilities. He's so remarkable in so many ways, I just can't stand to see him do so poorly on something that's well within his reach. I know I have to get over that. It's going to take practice.

I called Dave as I was leaving Katrina's preschool and asked how it was going. Gabriel was brushing his teeth, ready for bed. Will he work with me if I come home now, instead of going back to work? Yes he will.

So I came home and found Gabriel waiting for me. Tired, but finally, finally willing. We spent a productive 15 minutes writing a draft of his 5-sentence paragraph, based on notes he'd already taken in a previous session. (Note to self: other parents do drawings for kids; don't do the writing for them just because that's easier for you!) Another 10 minutes and he'd have completed the final draft and had the report officially done. If only he could have done this at 4pm instead of 8pm, we could have spared many very trying hours for both of us today, and practiced his presentation. But that's life with Gabriel.

Graduate school was difficult for me: I'd been out of school for 5 years, and my math-avoidant undergraduate philosophy left me woefully underprepared for a graduate-level computer science program. I took extra classes, attended every T.A. session, got supplementary textbooks from the library, formed homework study groups, globbed off other students as much as I could and scrabbled every day to catch up. Who knew 2nd grade would be even harder.


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