Reality keeps reminding me how important my role as parent is, even now here midway through the elementary/middle school years (our kids go to a school that goes from Pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade, so for us it’s all one school. Middle school starts in 5th grade. One is in 4th, one is in 6th this year.)
It seems to me that some parents start to semi-check out once they check their kids into the Great Yellow School Bus of Sanity™. Don’t get me wrong. I do a little dance every late August, too. Not because I’m sick of my kids, but because the routine and structure of school does good things for my kids’ mental development.
However, even as spectacular as our school is for the kids, our jobs don’t end when we drop the kids at the door (private school, no Great Yellow Bus of Sanity™ for us, sadly.) There’s still quite a lot of parenting here in the space between 3:30 PM and the fast crash into slumber. I have a friend who actually quit her job once her kids started school so that she was home for homework and Mama Taxi and all the other parts of the parenting job that seem so vague when you’re holding a newborn.
So the situation that arose that has me writing about this is easy enough to describe. The boy child has been struggling a bit with organization and staying on top of schoolwork. What 6th grade boy doesn’t? But it’s been a … journey, to say the least.
We’ve been talking about what habits, practices, things will help him remember assignments, help him get what he needs to school, and help him complete assignments within the expectations (and more than just the MINIMUM expectations) of his teachers. I spend time pointing out how I do things at home. How I have one place I keep my keys because if not, I’m certain I would lose them, regularly. How when I open a new page in one of my many notebooks, I always date the page at the top. And in the front of every one of my many notebooks (I’m a writer, I keep tons of them!) I always have my name and cell phone number so if any goes missing, hopefully the notebook can find its way back to me.
As setup, here’s the scenario: I’m turned from my computer. My boy tells me he’s DONE with his homework, yay! It’s that afternoon slump. I’m tired, he’s tired. I could so easily say “Oh, okay.” But I press. What is due tomorrow in Math? Language Arts? What score did you get on that quiz? And then my dear boy looks at me and tells me he has just this one bit of Science homework. He’s supposed to have some answers prepared to a question about his Mars Project from last week. Well this is no trouble, he worked his tail off on that project (with much Mom-sitting-in-chair-close-by prodding with additional questions, asking leading questions about whether Mars is a proper noun, thanking her lucky stars for Mrs. Carroll’s 6th grade Language Arts lessons, which took.)
The best part of this, though, is when my adorable, smart, sweet little shit grinned at me and said, “It’s no problem, mom. I’ve got it memorized.”
And here’s where the hard part of parenting kicks in.
I could have let it go. I’m tired. I don’t wanna do anything else. I certainly don’t want to have another conversation with him about why this is important to handle now. And why putting in five more minutes of effort today will be better than trying to stammer out a half-remembered bit of Mars minutiae tomorrow. Why anything is better than that clutch in the pit of your stomach when you realize you’re really not prepared. That feeling of dread when you realize you forgot something important at home.
And that equipping him with these life skills, these “spend the time now so you don’t have to feel foolish/regret it later” lessons are worth it.
I’m so very lucky in that my eldest is an easygoing one. This wasn’t an argument, a fuss, a fight. Honestly, he gave me that grin, the one he gives me when he’s checking my parenting temperature, which lately I’ve taken as a signal flare for a need for strong parental involvement and much double checking. This grin was recently used at bedtime and a rogue electronic device was discovered in bed, for instance.
So when I said “Dude, this is too important to rely on your memory only. You got a great score on that Mars project and this is going to add to your score. Go quickly type up your thoughts on it. You say you have three points? Make sure you put down at least three sentences.” (Because hand writing is one of many weaknesses for this particular child, typing is his workaround, so don’t go thinking I’m supremely evil for making him type. This is actually a positive workaround for him when he’s feeling completely unable to tackle an assignment that has a worksheet and pen/pencil component. Thankfully with a small school and agreeable faculty, he can do this anytime he needs.) He actually did it.
Before you go dust off the Parent of the Year award for me, I want you to know that paper is currently sitting on the desk in the office.
Two steps forward. One step back. But it’s still my job to be his parent. Here, today, and every day.
I write on Suburban (In)sanity. I have two kids, two cats, two dogs, a husband and a minivan. I live in the suburbs now and try to stay sane. Some days, I succeed.
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