Plague of locust
The last swim of the summer took place in our neighbor's pool. After the standard boyish frolic (gleeful pantsing) and the requisite motherly threats (baleful warning), Charlie and his friend H. grudgingly hauled themselves out, toweled off, and prepared to trudge back home. But as they walked past the pool filter's reservoir, H. spotted a grasshopper, floating, apparently dead.
"Let's take it home," he suggested, and Charlie was quick to agree: "Yeah! We can cut it open!"
My lifted brow was eloquent enough that he hastened to add, "And look at it with a magnifying glass." (You know, Mama: For Science!)
Back at my house, they repaired to the den, where they busied themselves with the corpse.
Or did they?
Apparently they did not. Oh, they were busy, though not with a magnifying glass but with magnets and Snap Circuits. No, it's the corpse part that was in question, because the next thing I heard was an excited squawk: "Come see! COME SEE! COMMMMME SEEEEEEEeeeeeEEEEE Mama oh MAN come SEE!"
So duly I come'd see, to find that they had — well, they had done this:
Do you see that poor creepity bastard moving?
Despite my gentle suggestion that maybe, just maybe, the grasshopper had only been mostly dead, the boys were convinced that they had successfully reanimated it — so sure that they were practically sketching out a plan for selling a goddamn franchise. I have to hand it to them, though; they were reasonably pragmatic about its long-term prognosis. When I offered Charlie a container with some holes poked in the lid, Charlie declined, opting instead for what seemed to me a reasonable standard of care, expectant management. "He's not at that stage yet," he told me, in the same somber tone someone once used of him. "It's not well at all," indeed.
Still, the grasshopper clung to life long enough to be moved to the mobile step-down unit, a nice glass jar stuffed with damp green leaves. He did well enough there, flinging himself against the lid with increasing vigor until I suggested that maybe it would be a good idea to discharge him to the competent care of his family. "You've given him a second chance at life," I urged. "Shame to make him waste it."
We turned him out of his jar into the rainy evening. I don't know what Charlie was thinking as the grasshopper sprang away; I was only hoping he'd hurl himself far enough into the bushes so we wouldn't find his frizzled husk tomorrow. I didn't really worry about Charlie being sad or disappointed. I was mostly just terrified he'd want to hook it back up to his homemade AED.
So all this suggests a few possibilities, aside from my concern Charlie will now think that this is a perfectly good way to perk up any living creature who's looking kind of, you know, peakèd. One of these two disturbing things is true: Either I let my kid electro-torture a living creature for his own idle amusement...or it was really dead, as the boys insisted, and they brought it back to life.
It could conceivably be, as a friend suggested on Facebook, that Charlie and his friend "metaphorically rolled away the stone from in front of the tomb door and let the resurrected grasshopper out. A whole new branch of grasshopper religion just cropped up and they'll probably be handing out pamphlets on street corners by lunchtime."
Sure! Why not? It could have happened. I believe! Look, if I have to choose between recognizing myself as a parent who blithely lets playdates go vicious, or hailing my son as the new grasshopper god — well, I think I just got religion. Now let us all bow down before Charlie and lick his sacred batteries.
Who walks in the classroom, cool and slow
If I'd been blogging it all along, cataloguing it day by discouraging day, I wonder if it would seem inevitable. I'm a little bit afraid, instead, that this comes out of the blue: Charlie's changing schools. After three years at the public elementary, this fall he'll go to what I self-consciously call Hippie Do As You Please School.
We've known since October of his kindergarten year that he needed lots of structure and support, and I'm grateful to say that he's gotten it: the 504 plan; the occupational therapy; the physical therapy; the daily social learning; the kindness and heroic forebearance of teachers, staff, and students. (Thank you for pretending not to notice when I tear up in meetings. Thank you for telling me you like my kid — that feels like a gift. Thank you for not shoving back when there was any way you could help it.)
And he's come a long way. If you could stand the six-year-old version of Charlie next to almost-nine, you'd be amazed at the difference. And then you'd sternly tell the younger that wedgies aren't funny, to keep his hands to himself, to stop making that noise, my God, it's boring a hole in my brain. And then you'd have to stop almost-nine from a decisive response — Hey, Charlie, stop hitting yourself — because if The Highlander has taught us nothing else, we know there can be only one.
He's really doing great, our kid. So the obvious question is why we'd want to leave that behind. I guess the briefest way to answer that lies in the comments that bookend his school years so far. As we first started exploring the problem during kindergarten, the principal summed up our concerns: "Some of Charlie's light is going out."
And we ended the final team meeting of this past second-grade year, Paul, discouraged, observed, "All we ever talk about is getting Charlie through the day."
Now, of course that's a prerequisite to learning, right? You can't get an education when you can't move past the bullshit your brain's churning out. And the hard work of his team, coupled with Charlie's growing maturity, our own determined efforts, his determined efforts — God, my kid works hard — and a little pill I like to call You Can Take Our Methylphenidate When You Can Pry It Out of My Cold, Dead Claws That Will Probably Have Big Chunks of Skin Under Them from Fighting You off, You Bastard
...Sorry, I just got lost in a pleasant reverie. Clawed-up Christopher Lambert break.
As I was saying, a lot of factors have helped him reliably — mostly — get through the day, to the point where we feel that shouldn't be the team's main focus. We feel he's ready to take on more. See, Charlie, well, he's smart. I don't want to go all special-snowflake on you, but, daaaaamn, is my child beautiful, delicate, and possessed of a magnificent crystalline structure unique only to him and visible only with a microscope. And we're finding, to our chagrin, that the school has no real plan for letting our snowflake...not melt.
(I could do this all day.)
In our state, in our district, at this school, there's no real vehicle for gifted education. No mandate, no money, despite all the good will in the world. Although the team has made a good-faith effort to differentiate in class, it's not enough. Plans to ship him off to other classrooms for higher-level learning have foundered for various reasons. And although he has great ability in its purest sense, he also makes what I'd describe as errors of attention — answering one problem in the space meant for another, or not answering a question at the end of a longish worksheet — which prevent him from demonstrating the kind of administrative mastery that satisfies a formal school curriculum. He's not failing, not by a long shot, but that doesn't seem like enough.
The upshot of all of this is that Charlie spends his time at school, the biggest part of his day, feeling dispirited, unmotivated, and unseen. His significant gifts go unappreciated and undeveloped. He notices it, and he feels angry. And although I understand (and have myself succumbed to) the temptation to roll your eyes and mutter, "Suck it up, kid," this past spring I bucked my own substantial prejudices long enough to start asking myself, Wait, why exactly should he suck it up?
I accept that, irrespective of the talents, the love, and the efforts of the individuals within it, the public school's first job is to see that our child performs as well as his cohort. By contrast, our job as his parents is to help him perform as well as he can. If there's an environment where he might feel excited about what he's learning, why shouldn't we try it? If there's the chance that a different model could let him feel invested in his education instead of alienated by it, why wouldn't we look into it? If we can let him know that that matters, we're listening, we care — well, I can't see much that we have to lose by trying Hippie Do As You Please School.
This has gone longer than I thought it would. (You've gone old and gray by now, my love, but you still look really good.) I promise I'll be back to talk specifically about HDAYPS, to answer any questions any few remaining readers have, to react defensively to even the slightest perceived criticism — hahahahaaaa, as if a blogger would ever do that — and to freak the fuck out over my own significant ambivalence while there's still time to change our minds.
Passeth all understanding
Elementary school art classroom
Helping with Charlie's school's Peace Tiles project
Okay, everybody, come sit in a circle. Circle. No, circle. That's the round one...So now that you're all seated, let's talk about what represents peace to you. ...Nice. The way you describe that, I can almost see it. A swim in the lake on a hot day sounds soothing. Good one -- I like fireflies at twilight, too. Oh, yeah, snuggling in front of the fire with a pet...sunsets...sure... Ah. Well. Yes. I, too, have always found hard-boiled eggs to be...peaceful...I guess.
Now we're going to start on our collages. At each table there's a stack of magazines, and we have paper, paint, fabric...all sorts of...sure, I'd be happy to help you find some pictures related to your peaceful idea. Let me just look here. You know, I can't seem to find any pictures of semi trucks, but...oh, you found one of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. Way to be flexible! That's like peace on wheels right there. ...Meaty peace.
Ah, I see you're already cutting some stuff out. What was your peaceful thought? Oh, right, the ocean -- when you said that in the circle I could just imagine myself sitting on the beach with the waves lapping at my toes, too. I...huh. I didn't imagine sharks, though. Wow, you sure found...a lot of them. Yeah, the red paint is over there, but I really think the picture already looks exciting enou...well, okay, now, isn't that vivid. ...Yeah, you'll want to let that dry.
Oh, yeah, there are a lot of pictures torn out of that National Geographic, huh? Well, I'm not exactly sure why. I guess someone else wanted to use them in their peace collage.
I agree, it's really cool how that snake is completely misshapen by...whatever rodent it just swallowed. So do you think that's...peaceful? Well, but even though it swallowed the...armadillo?...whole, without chewing, it's still...right, nature in general is something that makes us think of peace, but...wow, you certainly did a careful job cutting around its fangs.
I'd add the dripping venom later. Not today.
But seriously, folks, I'm here till recess
Speaking of trying hard, Charlie and his class were charged with the task of doing a report on notable women for women's history month. Charlie's choice surprised no one, though his title did strike me as maybe a little too hip for the room:
Marie Curie: Radiation Lady
The "trying hard" part wasn't the research he did, grumbling the entire time. It wasn't the exquisite restraint Paul exercised in getting him to organize his notes into some semblance of coherence. It wasn't the long self-sacrificing dive I took — "NOOOOoooooooooooooooooooooo!" — between him and the laptop to prevent him from adding "Gangnam Style" as the soundtrack to his slides.
No, the "trying hard" was how resolutely I stood in my refusal to let him add to his scripted talk, "So really, when you think about it, she was actually kinda asking for it."
If ten years of blog posts here have taught us nothing else, by now we've all learned that I'm sometimes an asshole. Do not worry: despite how seldom I post these days, I'm in no danger of forgetting that. Parenting reminds me regularly.
I've been fretting a fair amount about how Charlie doesn't want to do anything hard. In that he is truly my son; I never wanted to spend time practicing things that didn't immediately come easily, either. You know how they say that the things that make you crazy in other people are actually things that bother you about yourself? Not completely true — pretty sure I'm not the one who comes into the office in the morning and turns on lite jaaaaaazz — but, sure, okay, a little bit.
Anyway, it had kind of been eating at me, this worry that my kid was never going to buckle down and do anything tough, to keep after something and master it, to learn the value of good old American stick-to-it-iveness, the pleasure and reward of hard work. Yes, like his Puritan forebears! Who soberly toiled their whole lives long, seeking only to amplify the glory of God, with the Xbox only on weekends.
Now, first of all, what an asshole stance that is. Don't we all mostly just want to do what's easy and fun? Do I expect my eight-year-old to be magically different from — better than — almost every other kid in the universe? Is it reasonable to think he should be innately better at that shit than I am after 42 years of practice?
So that's bad enough. But the real asshole part is that it recently struck me, shortly after a parent/teacher conference, that I've had it all absolutely wrong.
We have these conferences regularly as part of Charlie's 504 plan to check in on which accommodations are helpful, which need adjustment, and exactly which awful thing I should dwell on every night at 4 AM for the month until the next conference. Over the last three or four months there have been some real improvements — some slow but perceptible changes in his ability to participate in the class, in his self-regulation, in his impulse control, in his capacity to just...hold it together. To get through the day.
The result is that with the help of meds and some classroom supports, Charlie is mostly managing himself, to the extent that there are no longer insanely detailed behavior charts sent home — seriously, at one point there was a chart for which facial expressions he was using, like, "Oh! Hey, good work: I see you were merely 'mutinous' today!" My heart no longer races fight-or-flight-style when the phone rings during the day. (My palms do not sweat. They glow.) Among his peers, his behavior is rarely...let us say notable. Even a quick note from the teacher is unusual these days.
And after a couple of months of this gradual progress, after a conference where we were actually able to focus more on his learning than on his hyperactivity, his impulse control, and his oh-my-God-stop-with-the-armpit-farts-the-entire-class-has-moved-on, it suddenly occurred to me: none of that comes naturally to him. None of it is easy. Forget riding a bike or stepping through a tae kwon do pattern or improving his handwriting; every day of his eight-year-old life, he is practicing something hard.
Dear Mom (writing about Mom) writing about Mom on the iPhone
These days I don't usually get too exercised about mom-on-mom atrocities. You know: the mommy wars. Momtroversy! Hand-to-hand mombat! ...OkayI'llstopnow.
...Momnia Brawlia in tres partes diviOKAY.
It's not so much that I feel that hot-button topics don't apply to me, because Marissa Meyer and I have a lot in common and I plan to give her a call next time I feel like getting my peasant on, see if she wants to bump panniers or something. It's more, I think, that I feel comfortable.
I don't have a lot to fight over, not a lot I'm ambivalent about. I don't feel the urge to argue about what goes on in my life. The need I might once have had to defend a position is satisfied now by living it. When it comes to caring what other moms do, or what others think about me, I'm as disengaged as one of Marie Antoinette's cows, as immune to controversy as her pretty pink sheep.
So it surprised me to get so annoyed about a piece that was making the rounds last week, the one about the mom on her iPhone. Yet get about it so annoyed I did do. First of all, don't call me Momma. I spell it Mama, and it's pronounced I'll thank you not to patronize me. Second, I found the sanctimony of it repellent. Third, the implication that every moment is golden and not to be missed strikes me as disingenuous, although I do agree that watching a four-year-old stick his finger up his nose all the way up to his elbow is more gripping, in its way, than anything a smartphone can easily serve up, possibly with the exception of a video of same set to K-pop. Fourth — and this is the biggie — I reject the notion that I should always be available as an audience, that my kids should be entitled to endless applause, and that they should get positive reinforcement for expecting it.
Now pretend there's a paragraph here explaining what I don't mean by that last. I mean, look, I'll gladly watch you twirl once. I'll even watch you do it twice, to verify that in fact your twirling only improves as you work to hone your talent, which is, I agree, prodigious. And if you're Ben in your pink sequined skirt, I'll even give you three more times, because, child, you are hilarious. But beyond that — well, anyway, are we good here? Okay, moving on.
So that post made me crotchety, and I know I'm not alone in that, as I saw several rebuttals posted in a much more timely fashion than this one. (What. I was busy having my farthingale rewired, installing new rebar in my stomacher, and getting my wig sprayed for silverfish.) I was glad to see so many dissenting opinions, because it seems to me that sistermothercommunityhood is only powerful as long as we're willing to call each other out on our bullshit. But I was chagrined to see so many of them miss what I felt was the point.
The responses that disappointed me all boiled down to this premise: What if the trope on the bench with the phone were doing something important? She could be answering e-mail from work, so as to keep the job that puts food on the table. She could be scheduling therapy appointments for her child, who has, I don't remember, scrimshaw or something. She could be organizing a fundraiser to benefit cancer research. She could be reaching out for emotional support from her 60,000 Twitter followers. Don't judge her: she's righteously busy.
And, you know, she could be, this entirely fictitious lady on her entirely hypothetical phone ignoring, imaginarily, her theoretical children. Plenty of people manage to be respectably productive on a smartphone, even in the presence of children. Me? When my kids are around I find I can't work, so fragile is my focus. (It's not you, boys, it's me.) (And you.) (But mostly me.) (...Andalsoyou.) And when I'm on my phone, it's Scramble city, sweetheart. Or Facebook, or HootSuite, or texting snotty things with a friend about, seriously, the four cans of soda her son was given during a recent playdate. ("Howler monkey on PCP?" "ADHD lemur on meth.")
The thing is, I'm usually not busy with something important when I'm ignoring my kids. I'm generally dicking around, and why is that not okay? Why do I need to justify doing something just because it's fun with phrases like "self-care" and "recharging my batteries"? Oh, wait. Huh: I don't! It is okay to just screw around, to put my own desires in front of my kids' now and again, and I wish more people would thrust a fist into the air and declare it. I'm fucking off and I don't care.
I mean, we still get to do that, even once we have kids. If you're uncomfortable with the baldness of that assertion, you can dress it up if you want to, acknowledge that during interludes of benign neglect we're simultaneously teaching our children something valuable: that other people's desires are important, too; that you're not always the focus of every eye, and you mustn't expect to be; that when you need us we'll be present, but not every second you merely want; that if Momma — shudder — looks away for a minute, you'll still be fine. You'll thrive.
All true. All true even if the reason for my benign neglect is not that I'm organizing an airlift of humanitarian aid or spearheading an adult literacy program or singlehandedly keeping special needs primates off street drugs and Dr. Pepper. The same thing is true even if I'm merely scowling over my phone, wondering why SHIT and SHAT are words in Scramble but SHITTER doesn't count.
And, whoa, 950 words later I find I must still have something to argue about. Hey, good thing it's something important, like what anonymous strangers think when I'm tuned out with my kids.
Posted by Julie at 09:50 PM in I've learned a lot...but I'm not sure it's worth it. | Comments (69)