It’s taken me over a week to write this – I’ve written it twice. The first time it sounded too supermom hokey – “oh it’s so wonderful teaching my daughter.” The second time a little too Joan Crawford – “no colored pencils!!” Hopefully, the third time’s a charm. If not, you can stop reading now.
Having a front row seat to my daughter’s journey to literacy is so incredibly cool, and watching the light click on as she makes connections is inspiring. But hold on! She does, however, ricochet between highly motivated student and total slacker. Some days she’s so excited to learn she’s initiating her own writing practice and racing through worksheets like an editor on a deadline. Other days she’s so unfocused and distracted I just want to rip my hair out. Look at me! LOOK AT ME.
I wonder how educators find the patience for the kids constantly staring out the window or humming their own little tune during lessons where you know they haven’t heard a word. Mr. Garmin, my 11th grade Chemistry teacher (who, now that I come to think of it, was probably younger than I am now) once yanked my brain out of the clouds by asking me if I liked squirrel pot pie. I’m sure he learned pretty fast how fun and easy it is to f*** with spacey hormonal teenagers. When I asked Ava what she thought would happen if she behaved like this in Owen’s school she said nothing, because she wouldn’t do it in Owen’s school. How’s that for crazy-making?
Meanwhile I find myself uttering those saintly preschool phrases like, “eyes and ears on me,” when I really want to scream “sit down and shut up!” And, inevitably, my little passive-aggressive nymph will look me straight in the eye and shout, “don’t yell at me!” even when I’m not. Deep breath. In. Out. In. Out. What was I thinking? In. Out. I can’t teach this child. In. Out.
And then I remember that she’s learning more than letters and numbers from me. Like the other day our morning conversation began as a dialogue about why grownups yell at each other, that sometimes they don’t get along but that it’s never okay to hurt each other. She quickly added that if you call your best friend stupid, she won’t be your best friend anymore and somehow this all segued into a discussion about profanity. Both of my kids currently find profanity, and any adult’s use of it, hilarious. And here’s me – former queen of the f-bomb – trying to explain why swearing is not nice, even when grownups do it and it’s especially not pretty coming from a little girl or boy. Owen pointed out that daddy uses the “s” word a lot and Mom-mom likes the f-bomb. Yes, my son said “f-bomb.”
In life there are teachable moments, and then there are those other moments where you lose all credibility for laughing your ass off instead of keeping the stiff upper lip-reprimand pose. The new “Fred” movie has really opened the door for discussion with my 5 and almost-10-year old about the use of foul language, whether real or implied. Fred’s constant use of “oh my gammit!” is like nails on a chalkboard and I recently found myself explaining to Ava that it’s gammit, not dammit. Either way, I don’t want her to say it. Thankfully, no more airings of this show have eliminated another whole argument about parent-regulated television.
Then the other day Ava walked into the kitchen where the dog was lying and declared, “it smells like shit in here!” Just as quickly she clapped her hand over her mouth, eyes wide as saucers, and braced herself for……………..my momentary silence followed by a Mona Lisa smile that erupted into side-splitting laughter.
How angry could I get? My own personal constitution has always been made up of equal parts humor and mischief, with a slice of seriousness on the side. Which got me into trouble one night last week over dinner as Owen and I reviewed mammals for his science test. He had to describe what makes mammals different from other animals like, say, mammary glands. Well, this became the dinner discussion of the month.
I asked him what mammary glands are – mammary glands produce milk to feed their young, came his studied response. Yes, but where are they located? (Okay, I will admit this was not a review question but I just couldn’t help it.) “Um, in their stomach?” (“Oh, I know! I know!” came the response from the other side of the peanut gallery.) I shook my head and pressed on – “well, do I have mammary glands?” His response was, in the quiet voice reserved only for moments of uncertainty, “um… I don’t think so………maybe?……. I don’t know.” Now in my defense, I have to say that I really wanted him to think about what he’s learning, not just memorize words in a textbook. And then of course the little ham on my right seizes her opportunity to add “butt” to our anatomy lesson, and the discussion went right down the proverbial toilet.