Monday, October 27, 2008

On Raising a Tiny Vigilante

My son is a good boy, with a big, tender heart. He is whip-smart, funny and aims to make people happy. He is the kind of kid that will play with anyone, regardless of what they look like, how they have treated him before or whether or not everyone else is playing with that person. He is also quick to root for the underdog, and anxious to defend the weak. Like I said, he is a good boy. And I am very proud of him.

Like all kids though, he makes bad choices sometimes, and gets in trouble...which is today's overly PC euphemism for "being a little punkass". When he is at home, we can and do closely monitor what he is doing, so that we can guide and advise him for or against certain actions (read tell him "knock it off, right now, or I will auction you off on eBay") and decide on appropriate punishments for his various "crimes" ("You are grounded until your grown-up teeth are all in!"). At school on the otherhand, we are at the mercy of the teacher's rules.

Sebastian's classroom, like so many today, uses a card system to track and quantify behavior. If a child keeps all of their cards on a given day, they did well. If they lost all 3, they are on a one-way trip to juvy hall, or worse, the principal's office. I've never been a big fan of this format that starts every child out, everyday, being the best that they can possibly be, and giving them nowhere to go from there but down. But it is not my classroom, and I understand that my role, as a parent, requires me to show a unified front with his teacher. I would much rather let my child start out each day with a clean, neutral slate, which he can then improve upon. But maybe that's just me. Either way, it is what it is, and I am along for the ride, whether I get car sick or not.

Sebastian has been losing cards. Almost everyday he loses at least one. And he will get off the bus, shoulders slumped, hang dog expression pasted on his face, upset to report back that, yet again, he has been judged a "bad seed". See the thing is, in this color-coded, card stock brand of justice is all crimes are judged the same. There is no "misdemeanor" versus "felony" level of misbehavin'. You do exactly what you are told, or you will lose a card. And if you lose said card, there is no defense. You are guilty. You are wrong. You are bad.bad.bad. Reading a book while the teacher is talking? Bad. Lose a card. Throw a pencil at someone's head, because you don't like them? Bad. Lose a card. Help a classmate tie their shoe, when you are supposed to be sitting at your desk? Bad. Lose a card. Call someone a retard, and make them cry? Bad. Lose a card. ...Now, again, maybe it is just me, but I tend to think that some of those things are worse than others. I also think it is an odd message that we are sending to our shoelace tying friends about the inherent "rightness" of being altruistic. Personally, I think first grade is a bit young to be learning that no good deed goes unpunished. And as for the "no ifs, ands or buts about it" aspect? I think it is a bizarre lesson to teach in the land of "innocent until proven guilty."

So, the litany of his sins?

  • Monday: He lost a card for finishing all the sheets in his packet for that week, even thought they had only been assigned the first one.
  • Tuesday: He had his hat pulled down over his head and was pretending he couldn't see anyone as he was sitting at his desk, waiting for his bus number to be called.
  • Wednesday: He blew his pencils off of his desk, and onto the floor during reading time. He had finished his work.
  • Thursday: He was seen tackling another child to the ground.
  • Friday: He kept all of his cards.

As the parent, trying to show the unified front, I have to attach some consequence to these transgressions, but really? Sometimes I just don't see the point in meting out further punishment for a crime that, well, I don't really understand as so wrong in the first place.

So what can I, as a parent, do to ensure that my child doesn't become a"good, card keeping at all costs" citizen, who in order to keep those precious cards looks out for only number one? And almost as importantly, what can I do , without totally subverting the rules of the classroom? The answer that I ahve come up with is simple: I talk to my kid...which I would have done anyway. Rules are rules, and if you break the classroom rules, you have to bear the punishment. If the rule that you break in the classroom is *also* a family or house rule, there will be further consequences at home.

So the day that he did all of the work? We told him that he couldn't have any candy. That was all. To us? To me? To our way of thinking? This was a stupid thing to punish him for. He gets the work, he knows how to do it, he just wants to be done.

The day with the hat? No candy...but really? I bet it was pretty funny.

The day day that he blew his pencils on the floor? No candy and no dessert...he was distracting the class and being us, that doesn't fly.

So you can imagine that, the day that he came home and had to tell me about tackling another boy, that he was quaking in his boots. And I am sure that you would guess that the punishment was more severe...and it would have been...except for this:

"Why did you tackle "little Johnny", who is 6 inches shorter than you? "
"Because he was kicking "Mikey" and throwing his notebook away from him, so that he couldn't finish his work."

My little vigilante...he was doing the wrong thing, but for the right reason. And the real rub? "Little Johnny" is one of his best buddies. "Mikey"? "Mikey" has been known to push Sebastian in line and take the ball from him on the playground. Even though he doesn't truly *like* Mikey, he knew that what Johnny was doing was wrong, and he did what he could to stop it.We talked him through it, and explained the concept. And then hugged him, and told him that although using his words, and telling a grown-up would have been a better choice, we were proud of him for looking out for another person. That doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason will always get him in trouble, but doing the wrong thing for the right reason, when he has no other choice...well, that is a different thing altogether.

Now I guess we just have to order him up his very own "Bat Symbol".

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Because He Is My Son...

When asked at a recent Cub Scout meeting to tell what his favorite "Healthy Food" is, the boy reported back:

"Chicken Cordon Bleu".

When asked to tell one thing about himself, he answered:

"I'm responsible."

Um, yeah...that's my boy!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Back to Cool

The boy has been back to school now for a month and a half. Since I am home right now, I have been taking advantage of the opportunity to volunteer in his classroom. This has several perks: I get to see my little guy for a few hours, a couple of days a week; I get a taste of what the girl child will need to know in order to succeed in 1st grade next year and so, have been able to modify her homeschool curriculum ever so slightly; I get to see how his days go; I get first crack at going on field trips, and lastly but certainly far from leastly, the girl child gets some experience with being in a classroom setting.

All in all it has been a pretty fun little activity, and has really made me wish that I had pursued a teaching certification when I was in college. I really enjoy being in the class with these kids. The thing is, it has also brought me face to face with some of the very real challenges in education today.

There are 22 cherubs in the boy's 1st grade class. And there is one teacher. I know that there are districts with worse ratios, but I don't live in those for now, for this post, they are not my concern. Of the 22 cherubs, there are at least 4 distinct groups: children that are not sure where they are or why they are there; children who know where they are and wish that they were anywhere else; children that are fully cooperative and fully engaged, and children that are bored to tears waiting for the other groups to catch up. And 1 teacher left to try and provide all that these diverse groups need simultaneously. Which is impossible. Which is why, I suppose, my offer to help out was jumped on like a hooker in prison. While the teacher works with the kids who are "above grade level", I can herd the stragglers back to their seats and help them understand what they are supposed to be doing. While the teacher works with the children who are struggling so, I can prevent the small geniuses from plotting the overthrow of the classroom, and instead point them in the direction of the books.

Within each of these groups, there is an amazing study in human behavior and psychology happening. Of the lost little lambs there is one who continually gets up and wanders about the room, looking blankly around continually confused as to why she is being shown back to her seat. There is another who stares in wonder at his classmates and continually asks when his mom is going to pick him up. The rest are clearly going through the motions, much as a tourist does in a foreign country, when they don't speak the language...they look for cues from their peers, and laugh and react in kind with what they see...but have no idea why they are doing it.

At the other end of the spectrum the boredom is being handled in a number of ways as well: one child just calls out the answers when his classmates are struggling to speak it. Another looks for ways to entertain himself which, being a six year old boy means making loud noises and generally being a pest...which lands him in the principal's office at least once a week. Another sits quietly and politely there, making more of the work than is really required, but hey it's better than being bored - right?

I don't really remember my first couple of years in school comprehensively enough to know whether or not this is how it always was, but I know that starting in about 3rd or 4th grade I was always in a class with children who were very "similarly skilled" with me; AKA the Gifted Class.

I realize now what a saving grace that was. There are educators and philosophies that state that classroom leveling is wrong! All wrong!! for kid's proper social development, but now, more than ever, I disagree. While the more average students might not get the push from the above average crowd, the slower group doesn't get lost in the shuffle. And those above average kids? They get better challenges and learn to think independently, rather than being forced to quell their innate curiosity and learn to shuffle along obediently with the herd. Or become regulars in the principals office.

Now, I know that parent's can have their child tested for the gifted program, starting in the 3rd grade, but I also know that this is a once a week, 2 hour respite from the doldrums for the kids that qualify. In my humble opinion, that is not enough. 2 hours out of 27 and a half hours in a school week is less than 10% of their time.

I am not sure what all of the arguments against leveling are, but I know that alot of it has to do with this "no one can lose" mentality that is so widespread when it comes to our kids. Wanting to keep everyone together and not make anyone feel "less special" seems to me to be a disservice to those kids who are MORE special - in either sense of the phrase. And it is not a realistic portrayal of what is to come in the real world. In the real world, there are rewards for achievement - not punishments. In the real world, if you get your work done quickly, you don't have to sit around and wait to do anything else until everyone else catches up. Or if you do have to wait, it is temporary, as that kind of performance will merit a promotion. Likewise, if you continually fall behind, there are consequences. If we don't clue kids in to that early, that there are rewards attached to succeeding, then what is the motivation to succeed? If we don't show those that demonstrate more limited academic prowess that there are other areas that they can excel at what are we doing to their spirit?

I am sure that there are reasons that I don't see...and I am not about to try and overthrow the district but I can say that I feel much more understanding about any "behavioral infractions" that might come home with my children. (My most eye opening moment to date was when a child had to pull one of their behavior cards for the day because they went ahead in the work and did the next set of problems in the math lesson, before the class was working on it. If I was a student today I would probably be expelled, as I finished my texbook in November...)

And the boy child? How does he fare in all this? Let's just say that I am just glad that I have the opportunity to be there and help keep the ants in his pants from getting the better of him, while he waits for the rest of the class to figure out that d-o-g spells dog.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Vacation Is Over

OK, ok, technically vacation has been over for almost 2 months. And I never really let anyone know that I was taking a vacation per say...and it sort of seems odd to be taking a vacation from something that isn't particularly taxing to begin with, but I did it anyway. I'm such a Maverick.

Truth of the matter is that I had no concept of how busy I would be with nothing to do. And 2 to 4 kids doing that nothing with me at all times. Really? It was more of a full time, full tilt, balls-to-the-walls, go-go-go than any job could ever hope to be. Or at least any job that I have had. Especially for the pay.

Now school is back in. The boy is in first grade, and three days a week so are the girl child and I. And the rest of the time, we are doing homeschool kindergarten. And PTO stuff. And ballet. And soccer. And Cub Scouts. And I have never used my planner as much as I have in the last 2 months. I chuckle thinking back on how I used to obediently carry it from meeting to meeting with me in the office. You'd think I had something hard to keep track of going on the way that I clutched that thing to me for all of those years. Truth be told, it was more an accessory than anything. Now? Now that I am home and have two active children? Now it is a tool. An indispensable, mission critical, absolutely necessary tool.

We recently celebrated the girl's 5th birthday with a Puppy Party. It was probably our most successful shindig to date, other than the Pirate Party. And maybe even moreso. Because almost every parent there commented that this is something I should be doing for a living after this party. Whereas all they said after the Pirate Party was something to the effect of "Thanks, now my kid's party is going to suck." Course, none of them offered to hire me to plan their party...apparently I should be doing this for a living for someone else. Which stinks. Because I would love to plan parties for someone and then have me pay them. I just have no idea how to convince people that a kick ass party is a worthwhile investment. Especially in this area. I mean, this isn't exactly Beverly Hills 90210. And with the economy being what it is, what are the odds that there are buckets of people chomping at the bit to throw an elaborate child's birthday bash.

In unrelated events I am fascinated by the hysterical historical electoral proceedings that are going down. This has seriously got to be one of the most compelling elections that I have ever witnessed. We have some hard choices and frightening options spread out before us. Nevermore has the phrase "lesser of two evils" been applicable than now...and never before have I felt a greater need to vote defensively...I'm not truly, wholeheartedly voting for one candidate, I am voting against the other. I think one has to truly examine the running mates in this election, because both candidates (unfortunately) have about the same odds of surviving in office. One because of age, and the other because (again, unfortunately) there are still loons out there that might shoot him down in a fit of racism. If that were to happen, what does that leave us with? A Hockey mom who has more greatly polarized women than any other single issue in my lifetime - which is saying alot, because us women? We can be a divisive lot...I dare you, just dare you to walk into a salon and proclaim that breast is best...or that a woman's place is in control...just watch what happens - or Biden, who tends to be a bit of a loose canon. Unfortunately, voting for "C. None of the above" does nothing more than negate your vote altogether. I really want a candidate that I can stand behind and cheer on to victory. I am a Dem at heart, but I cannot agree to all that I hear from Obama...I don't however feel the luxury of taking an "all or nothing" stance, so it's going to have to be a "better than nothing" decision instead.

How about you?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Great Equalizer

Over the summer, one of our constant "slacker" activities was the community pool. Without fail, every time that the hubbers would call and find out that we were at the pool the name calling would commence. And not just from him. He would get all of his co-workers in on it too. Apparently they thought I was there just working on my tan...apparently none of them have been to a pool with two children under the age of 7 lately...let alone 4 children under the age of 7. It is a constant exercise in vigilance. "where is Sabrina?" "Is Sebastian running?" "Does he look like he is getting a little sunburned?" "Is she shivering?" "Is there a logical reason that this pool is like an ice bath all day, every day?"...that and of course the constant female concern of "Am I the fattest, oldest mom here?" "Do I look as bad as her in that suit?" "Will I ever wear a bikini again?"... There was also the back breaking work of cponverting 2 non-swimmers into proficient little fishies. It was with no small amount of pride that we closed out the summer as a family of 4 swimmers.

In the midst of all this frantic and repetitive thought and direction came an interesting realization:

Kids today are alot different than they were back in the day.

Our youth is much more mature, much more savvy, much more entitled and much less "child-like" than I remember us being...until you dunk them in the water.

At the pool, nobody is the poor kid...or the geeky kid...or ironically enough, even the fat kid. At the pool, you play with whomever is there. Nobody has a nicer cellphone than you do, and no one has a higher score on their DS, because in the water, those things get WET and FIZZLE and DON'T WORK! In the water, sullen mini-adults, who are usually strutting their stuff and trying to be way more alluring and provocative than their years should allow jump and splash around like the 12, 13 and 14 year olds that they really are. Tweens that are usually trying to channel Miley Cyrus or some such thing are squeezing their eyes shut, reaching their arms out and calling "Marco???"

This reflection set me very much at ease. I looked around at all of the young, wet people and saw only what summer was meant to be, breathless, waterlogged, carefree fun.