Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Getting around to it

I've been meaning to write about this for a week now, so I guess it's time to do it. I guess I've put it off because it's a hard subject to write about. And end prepositions with, too.

It's about parenting. Yeah, I know that's kind of what I write about on a relatively regular basis (Hush, Mrs. Coach...), but what I'm going to write about is the harder parts of parenting. The not-so-glamorous side, the tears-snot-whining side, the throw-your-hands-in-the-air, the call-your-momma-and-apologize-for-everything-you-ever-did-wrong-in-your-life side.

I have three kids. They are just about as different as night, day and a typhoon. I learned a long time ago that basing one child's behavior on what their sibling did once or twice before when they were the same age is not even remotely feasible. Just because Abby slept through the night at 5 weeks old, did not ensure that Sam would sleep through the night at the same age - in fact, I don't think he sleeps through the night still yet. Abby's the child that breaks out in mysterious rashes and has since infancy, Sam's the one that can't even sit still long enough to take a proper poop and Kady has had asthma since she was 6 months old. Abby and Sam are generally compliant, Kady thinks rules are mere suggestions. Abby doesn't cry, Sam and Kady make up for her lack of tears.

And just because I had two bad parent/teacher conferences until last week does not mean I am a bad parent. At least, that's what I'm telling myself this week. Last week I was ready to don my sackcloth and ashes and flog myself with a cat o' nine tails.

We are still in the honeymoon phase with Kady. Heck, she's in First grade and thinks school is the best thing to ever happen on earth ever and ever. She loves her teacher, loves her classmates, loves to learn, loves to ride the bus, loves loves loves school. So when her teacher told me that she's brilliant and smart and funny and caring and wonderful I just glowed. She's achieved the benchmarks, she's reading slightly above where she should be, she has neat handwriting....I mean, yeah, it was a gigantic boost to my self-esteem as a mom. I floated out of the classroom and walked all starry-eyed over to the bigger kids' building where my self-esteem was about to take a giant kick to the kneecap.

Sam is the middle-child and it drives my sister nuts when I say that, mainly because she thinks I'm giving him a complex and am probably screwing him up for the rest of his life. But really, there is something to birth-order. Being a "first", I know this all too well. (I blame being the first-born on all of my neuroses. Just ask my mom.) I have never had to worry about Sam at school because being the middle child makes him incredibly easy-going, makes him a "pleaser", makes him compliant and my gosh, he does his best to make sure everyone is happy. So I have been spoiled by his honeymoon phase that has lasted until 4th grade.

If I had been smart, I'd have remembered that 4th grade is when Abby lost her mind and we wanted to sell her to the gypsies. 4th grade was also rough for TotOne last year. 4th grade is where Abby called her teacher "dude" and wasn't even sorry for it. I should've been prepared for the moment the teacher told me that my son has trouble paying attention in class. Granted, she first told me he's a great kid, she loves him to pieces, he's a peace-maker, a great friend to everyone, etc. but when she said that he "zones out" in class A LOT, I was stunned. And she obviously saw the look on my face because she stopped and said, "You haven't heard this before?" I said, "Uh....no....this is entirely new." She immediately got a look of concern on her face.

I will be the first to admit that Sam is high-strung. He's always been a button-pusher, a switch-flipper, an I-must-touch-everything-to-see-how-it-works kind of kid. I love that about him. I have always been intrigued by his absolute need to see the world through his fingers. But when it has come to school his teachers have always assured me that he has no trouble whatsoever staying on task, paying attention and focusing. And trust me, I asked. Knowing his propensity for being a little on the hyper side, I've always made sure to keep an eye on things regarding the structure of a classroom. He's never had a problem - until now. Now, he spaces out, drifts off, goes off to Sam Land, whatever. His teacher doesn't feel at this time it's anything that remotely needs medication or anything quite so drastic, but she wants all of us to be aware of it and help him focus and stay on task.

After that conference I was not floating so much anymore. Not out of disappointment in my child - out of concern for my child. And honestly? I was disappointed in me. Because what if my assumption that he was always going to excel kept me from seeing he needed help? What if my Pollyanna attitude kept me from seeing he was having trouble? Folks, I had become quite complacent regarding my childrens' educations.

I made my way over to the Middle School to visit with Ab's teachers, especially the Social Studies teacher because mere days before it had come to my attention that my oldest daughter had a big whopping D in that class. The SS teacher was busy when I got there so I made my way to the Science room where Mr. Science Teacher told me that Abby is a great kid and he never has a bit of trouble out of her - except when it comes to turning in her work. I went to the Math room where I heard the same thing - great kid, no trouble, doesn't turn in her work. English/Reading teacher? Yeah, it was starting to sound like a broken record in every room. By the time I finally got the SS room I was ready to cry. I have always admired Abby's laid-back personality and her sense of independence, but this was ridiculous. Laid-back is one thing, irresponsible and lazy is another.

Mrs. Social Studies was sympathetic and assured me that Abby is capable of achieving far more than she is right now. She smiled at me and said, "I don't think that punishing a student for bad grades is a good thing. But I am not above bribery. Find something that she really wants and hold it over her head. It's not wrong. Trust me." For weeks Ab has repeatedly asked her daddy and me if she could have satellite TV in her room and for weeks we have adamantly resisted, but that lightbulb went off over my head and I decided that, indeed, I would bribe my oldest child. It was a scathingly brilliant idea.

Yeah, except when I told her that if she would get her grades up to B's and keep them there until Christmas break we would put satellite TV in her bedroom, she glared at me and said, "Then I don't want it." Now, I know that she did not instantly stop desiring satellite television, however, she instantly quit desiring it enough to put forth the effort to get it. That's what frustrates me more than anything about her sometimes - she is so independent and has such a strong idea in her head of what she wants and doesn't want that she borders on stubborn BUT the small bit of compliancy left in her keeps her from being as bull-headed as her father. Thank God for that. I like it that she's independent, but there are also times that trait makes me want to poke unsharpened pencils in my eyes.

I cried myself to sleep that night and even moped around the next morning before I finally quit beating myself up over the fact that my oldest child is completely satisfied with below-par work, that my middle child has attention deficit issues and that my youngest child, while seemingly perfect now, will probably pierce her lip and throw Molotov cocktails when she gets to 4th grade. This was the one parent/teacher conference that Paul hasn't attended and man, could I have used the support that night. He was so sweet to listen to me whine around, though, so that kind of made up for it. He is much more laid-back than I am (gee, wonder where Ab gets it...) but he agrees with me that we haven't been as attentive as we could have been when it comes to the kids schoolwork and grades.

Together, though, we have decided that all we can do is start from where we are now and keep on truckin', to quote those mudflaps on 18-wheelers. We can't change what's already happened, but we can re-think where we're going. I may have been lax in the past when it comes to my kids' grades, but I'm not now, by cracky. I now have access to their grades online and oh yes, I check them every day. We have not punished, berated or belittled anyone, but we have expressed to Abby our distress and yes, disappointment over her grades. I think she needs to know that we know she is capable of more. She needs to be aware that we pay attention.

When the kids get home from school they have plenty of time to finish up their homework on their own and play with their cousins for awhile, but after dinner we go over homework, talk about the day, study or maybe we just read. We are changing the way we parent. They are changing the way they see us as parents. Sam is still having attention issues, but they're getting better. He's trying harder to be aware of when he zones out and we're making an effort to praise him when he does better. Abby has brought the D up to a C and a low C up to a high one. I think Kady still secretly plots to take over the word - one Molotov cocktail at a time. She's just biding her time until 4th grade.


Lady Beekeeper said...

Darlin' you are being way too hard on yourself. Start with Abby. I used to teach 7th and 8th grade. Not turning in work is common and you are doing what you need to do to get it fixed. I used to tell my students that doing the work but not turning it in was getting an "F" the hard way.

You didn't ask for advice about Abby but I will give it, anyway - never, never, never put a computer or TV in her room. If you ignore this advice, you will be kicking yourself down the line. Trust me.

And get ready - she is not a little girl and the independent streak that was cute when she was little can get not-so-cute during her teen and pre-teen years. I hope for her sake that she has a well developed sense of respect for authority or you are in for a wild ride. At the same time, sometimes being independent keeps kids from being led into some pretty dangerous stuff.

As for Sam, he sounds like a tactile learner. There is really no reason you would have picked up that he was struggling since at home he is able to pick up things and learn from that. It is in the school room that he is forced into learning styles not of his choosing. So it is natural that his teachers might have picked up on it before you did.

You are being way too hard on yourself, IMO.

Anonymous said...

"It was a scathingly brilliant idea" my favorite line from The Trouble With Angels!

Mr.Coach and I have had this same discussion over and over. We've never helped our kids with school work at night, they usually have it done on the bus ride home. As an educator he should be appalled at his parenting but he assures me it's natural to let them do their own thing and so we do. Drives me insane, could be my control issues. Nahhhh

This is a bridge/overpass moment...let me know when you can get there!

Melessa Gregg said...

Our parent/teacher conferences are on Nov. 7th, at which time I will likely write something very similar on my blog. Hang in there Mom, you are doing fine!

Stewed Hamm said...

Penny's right about the TV/Computer thing. I had a TV in my room at about that age. It lasted maybe a month before I stopped paying attention to much else.

The simple way to keep your kids from throwing Molotovs around town is to de-alphabetize your liquor cabinet. Nobody could see through that cloud of subterfuge.

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