It’s Guest Posting time again – and we have a corker this week from a fabulous writer called Rachel Vidoni. Here Rachel shares a key life lesson she recently taught her son – and for any of you out there who struggle with your kids and their homework I think this is going to ring very true… it sure did in MY house!
Thanks Rachel – and enjoy all you GEM’s!
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Last week, my eleven-year old son left for school on a dark, rainy morning without eating breakfast, his face a puffy-red mess. It was too bad that morning had to be so difficult, but I must admit I was a little bit excited. A big life lesson was about to descend upon him—lurking there in the crumpled mess of his backpack and in the ominous grade book that sits on his teacher’s desk—and he finally felt worried about the half-assed assignment he was going to try and turn in. Even though it was due three months ago.
It was a big moment for me that he realized his assignment was sub-par and not because his father or I said it was. Downright monumental! Like a defendant awaiting his sentencing, he headed off to school with fear and trepidation about the grades he had earned during the first marking period. We both knew he would soon be placed on house arrest. I sipped my hot coffee, patted him on the head, and sent him out the door.
I do realize that 6:00 a.m. on a dark, rainy morning 15 minutes before he left for the bus was a tough time for this lesson to rear its ugly head. What can I say? Life lessons suck sometimes. There were a million other times this moment could have found him; say, when I was gently asking if he had turned in all his assignments, or when I patiently reminded him that studying a little every day is easier than cramming for a test the night before, or even when I yelled at him for not bringing home the necessary materials to complete a huge project. Any of those times this lesson could have kicked in, but I understand he’s a little like me and needs the additional motivation of stress.
The following Monday the grading period was to end. As of that morning, he had four grades that were precariously in the “swing,” category. They could all be “Bs.” Or they could be “Cs.” And he knew what was going to happen if he earned anything below a “B” on his report card.
Yes, life as he currently knew it would end. He stood to lose 4 ½ weeks of video games, TV, and recreational computer use! He felt that consequence was apocalyptic, but his father and I feel the punishment must fit the crime. We prayed our son was going to realize the direct correlation between how many levels he progressed in Halo and the itty bitty letters on his report card. He was going to have lots of time to connect the dots in the next four and a half weeks.
I know my son will probably hate me for the majority of that time and he’ll rack up lots of things to discuss with his therapist in the future. Fine. I’m a parent and my job is to ensure he isn’t living with me at age 22, glued to the 42” flat screen, proud of his accomplishments beating all seven games in the Halo series. Unless of course he’s a game developer for the Halo Enterprise, then he’s welcome to turn my downstairs living room into a full-time arcade. In the mean time, I must put forth my best effort at making sure he grows into a well-rounded, capable, self-reliant man. It’s what he deserves.
To set the record straight, his father and I do not expect him to earn all “As”—although he’s capable—or maintain a 4.3 GPA through his senior year of high school. We simply expect him to earn nothing below a “B,” which is setting the bar pretty low if you ask me. We’re mediocre parents and have mediocre expectations, which means it should be pretty easy to reach them. His first year in middle school was the optimum time for us to step back and for him to step forward in his educational success. Even if he tripped a few times. Even if he landed on his rump. Hard. How will he know he wants to avoid the asphalt if it never bloodied his knees or skinned the palms of his hands?
Oh, I could have rescued my son from this moment and asked his teacher for an extension on the assignments or worse yet, I could have done the assignments for him. I could have called his teacher and ranted about how he didn’t receive the correct papers or she must have misplaced his work and it wasn’t his fault. Plenty of parents do that. But it would have sent him the wrong message, see. It would have reinforced that instant gratification was paramount to delayed-gratification—that whining and complaining will get him rescued, even when he doesn’t deserve it.
Because one day in the not-too-distant future, my son will have a job that requires him to be on time and work hard, and he’ll need to do this to pay rent, buy food, and put clothes on his body. He may even have a significant other or children to support. At the very least he’ll be supporting himself, because honey, he won’t be living with me.
But those are bigger lessons for another day. Right now, the lesson he was facing was big enough. That choices matter. Structuring his time well is key. Grades—but more importantly effort—is essential.
I know it wasn’t a fun way to start off a Friday morning at 6:00 a.m. Maybe pancakes would have made it better, maybe not. I tried to put some perspective on his doomed outlook by pointing out that even if he lost electronics for four weeks, it wasn’t the end of the world. He still had friends and his family. We’d always love him. That he was a smart, capable boy. He looked at me with swollen, red eyes like I had lost my mind. But he’ll see I was right (again) and thank me for this one day.
Rachel Vidoni is a professional writer and blogger and former classroom teacher. She is a mediocre mother to three pretty neat kids. You can follow her humor and family blog at www.eastcoastmusings.blogspot.com. You might not be a better parent after reading her blog, but you will feel like one.