Confidence Issues

I was going through some of Mike's school papers from last year and found this:

Mikes Affirmations.jpeg

I am a little concerned why he didn't check number five. Number ten is a puzzler, as I've never seen him do a front flip (or "dou a frunt flip", for that matter). I'm not sure if number eleven is supposed to be "Nah, nine affirmations are enough" or "N/A: Not applicable."

I could have come up with of a few more, like "I am good at making backwards check marks" and "I get my humble spirit from my father."

King's View of School

The other day, King informed me that he didn't like school.

"You start out thinking it's going to be fun, but pretty soon it turns into a total nightmare."

I didn't really have a response for him, at least nothing encouraging. The only thing that popped into my head was:

"Yup. That's life. Get used to it."

But seeing as my mother-of-the-year status is already in serious jeopardy, I held my tongue.

I think King's experience of education to this point can be summed up with this image.


Passing the Test

King started third grade last week. Monday and Tuesday of this week started and ended with King in tears, exclaiming:

This is the worst day of my entire life!

I must admit, my first inclination was to laugh and say,

Oh, Son, you have no idea what real trouble is.

But I held my mother hat firmly in place and tried to see things from his perspective. King's third grade stressors include:

  1. All his books won't fit into his backpack correctly, including this huge new third grade three ring binder (he informed me that he now categorically hates three ring binders).
  2. His homework load has seemingly doubled in both quantity and difficulty.
  3. Mad Minutes: a timed test of thirty math facts to be done within a minute.

King has to take a Mad Minutes test every day of every week and it has been the bane of his third grade existence, so far. The problem is not the math facts. He's got the math down. The problem is the test. More specifically, that it is a timed test. Unfortunately, King inherited from me a mutant test-taking-deer-in-head-lights gene, that shows itself whenever fast thinking is involved. Some people excel under pressure, others crumble. King and I are crumblers. You put a stop watch on us and we seem to forget everything, even our names.

I grew up in the shadow of my brother, the quintessential test-taker, and I always assumed I was slow, as in kinda dumb. It wasn't until much much later in life that I came to entertain the idea that this might not be true. Perhaps I wasn't the dunce I thought I was. Maybe I just sucked at taking tests.

Timed tests are a fact of life in today's educational system. The standardized (timed) test is used across the board to gauge where you are on the smart curve throughout your educational career and ultimately decides where you can go to college (SAT) and then grad school (GRE, MCAD, LSAT, etc.). But do these tests really measure how smart you are, or do they measure how good you are at regurgitating facts under pressure? Tests like these may be useful in pointing out those individuals who might be better suited as air traffic controllers or floor traders, but they shouldn't be the main mechanism by which we decide academic success and placement.

As much as I'd like to take a philosophical stand against the tyranny of the standardized test, I must get off my soapbox and back to King. He's still got to get through his Mad Minutes. The whole class is working towards a pizza party based upon each child's ability to pass these tests, with each level achieved being marked by a slice of pizza plastered on the classroom bulletin board next to their name. If King can't earn his slices, everyone will know that the pizza famine is his fault.

How to proceed? Curtis and I started by watching him take a practice test at home. We immediately noticed how carefully King wrote his answers. We took the test away and asked him to write the numbers "1 -10" three times as fast as he could, only to discover that he could not even do this in one minute. Of course, King had been taught in school that you should have good penmanship, not to rush or write sloppily. This led us to our first lesson for King: The Mad Minute Penmanship Exception.

Back to the test.

Okay, try it again and write your numbers fast this time.

Curtis stood over him with the stopwatch, checking his progress and giving him status reports:

You're doing good.
You're halfway there.
Pick up the pace.
You're running out of time.

This scene was really horrible to watch. As the test went on, King's agitation increased, his lips pursed, his face got red, his pencil was slipping in his hand from the flop sweat, until finally he couldn't see the paper through his tears. This was not working. We took the test away again and sat down for a talk. It was time for Lesson #2: The Proper Importance of Mad Minutes in the Grand Scheme of Life.

We had always stressed to King how important it was to do well in school, but it was time for some perspective. I wasn't going to let King suffer the same fate as myself, living under the idea that he just wasn't quite as smart as every body else. We emphasized to King that he was a smart kid who was good at math. Mad Minutes just wasn't that important.


Why do they make me do it then? he asked.

Good question.


Because it is important and helpful to be able to look at a 2 and a 4 and just know that it's 6, without having to think about it. The teachers at your school need to find out if you know these things and this is the way they have decided to do it.

It worked! The pressure is off and he has passed a mad minute test almost every day since. He's one test away from his first slice of pizza.


What do Jesus, Andy Warhol and Carol Channing Have in Common?

King had to do a biography book report at school. It had to be on somebody famous who has had a positive impact on the world. I thought, "Well, Jesus, of course!" But doing a book report on the Bible seemed a bit ambitious, so King made the obvious second choice: Andy Warhol.

The assignment included a written report, an oral presentation with visuals, and each student had to come to school dressed as their biographical subject. To King's utter disappointment, we could not find a picture of Mr. Warhol wearing anything but a shirt and tie. As he was lamenting the fact that his "out of uniform" day was being totally ruined, I added salt to his wounds by commenting, "We should have stuck with Jesus - he got to walk around in his bathrobe all day."

King settled for wearing a non-uniform shirt and tie with jeans and sneakers. I found one of my wigs (yes, I have a collection of wigs) and hacked the hair down from a page-boy to a bowl-cut. We popped the lenses out of a pair of my sunglasses, and voila... Carol Channing!


The Volunteer

One of the director's of King's soccer team said to us, "if you have a complaint... volunteer." Curtis and I love that. But what do you do if you have a complaint about volunteering? I'm not really complaining... more expressing my stunned dismay at the disappearance of my newfound freedom now that King is in school. I should have known not to get too giddy.

 It all started when I went to school registration day. I should have taken Martha's advice and ceremoniously "thrown away all the PTA stuff". Of course, at private school, they call it a "club" (whatever), and it is not a nameless faceless piece of paper beckoning you to "get involved", but a gym-full of smiling women, who in reality said only nice encouraging things to me, but in my head all I could hear them saying was this:

"Surely, you are not going to leave this room without signing up for something? Look at us. We are volunteering. See, we are doing it right now! ...AND we even had time to shower and put makeup on, AND our houses are clean too. What's your excuse?"

I signed up to work in the nurse's office and to help with some festival, which I think is in the spring. I also signed up to be an "on call" volunteer, which I thought would be a relatively safe non-committal decision, however I now get emails asking for my help on every sort of thing; it's been a steady stream of guilt flowing into my inbox. I didn't feel too bad about my choices until I went to King's classroom to meet his new teachers and found that there were even more things to sign up for in there. I couldn't say no to these women. I would not become a footnote on King's file that reads "parents not involved." So I added organizing a class Halloween party to my list of commitments.

Even though I definitely signed up for more than I wanted to, I still felt my responsibilities were manageable and would only slightly cut into my "free time" (hah!).  But then came soccer. Upon receiving the third email from King's coach regarding the need for a team parent, I realized that no one else was going to volunteer. The job was billed as simply organizing who would bring snacks to each game and putting together the end-of-the-season party. However, the day after I agreed to take on the role of official "soccer mom", the coach forwarded me several emails from the league's Volunteer Coordinator outlining what my real duties were. I must also find volunteers to line the field with white paint, work the concession stand, and take orders on team photo day. The hounded was now the hounder.  I was also given a general directive to "protect my coach" from all organizational and parental concerns. It is the recreational soccer equivalent of the Secret Service.

For the final cherry atop my volunteering sundae, I added some new duties to my regular Sunday School teaching obligations at Church, including helping to organize the production, props, and costumes for our first children's Christmas program (it's really more of an "appearance" than a program, as they are only going to be posing in their crèche positions long enough to snap a few photos and sing one song, but not long enough to cause any major mayhem); designing and assembling a "thank you for visiting" card for new kids who attend our Sunday school; and putting together individual craft supply kits for each regularly attending child. I do not use the "cherry" metaphor lightly here, as this is the one area of my busy schedule that I actually sincerely enjoy. It is the sum total of my volunteering efforts that has gotten me down.

 As you can see, my dreams of having time to sit down and write in (dare I say it?) a clean house were spurious, at best. I am more a headless chicken than ever.