Category Archives: aha moment

Confessions of a Former Homework Rescue Mama

confessiosnformerrescue

I have a confession to make.

You ready?

Last year, I rescued my second grade son from imminent homework doom often. Often as in all the time. It sounds innocent enough, but I assure you, it wasn’t. My need to help him led to him needing my help, and it set up a dynamic that resulted in a pattern of helplessness, frustration, anxiety, yelling, and tears (for both of us).

I would suggest spelling sentence ideas. I would ask him to rewrite his work with neater handwriting. I would ask him to sit up straighter, pay attention, and hold his pencil differently. I would correct him when he struggled with a math concept. With common core math, especially, my “help” was a suicide mission for both of us. No wonder I poured a glass (or two) of wine at homework time!

Surely I’m not the only mom guilty of helping too much, right? Right?

But there’s more to my confession. Sometimes, my son would forget his math homework at school, and I would call one of my Mama friends from his class and ask her to take a picture of her son’s math worksheet and text it to me. Then, I would print it at home and my son would do the homework that he forgot to bring home from school.

There’s more.

This is the really bad part. Occasionally, by the time I got in touch with my Mama friend, her son had already completed the math worksheet. Per my request, she would still take a picture of it and text it to me. Then, I would use the photo editing features on my phone or computer to erase her child’s work and print a “fresh” copy for my son.

Ugh. I wish I could tell you that I feel better after spilling the beans about these repulsive homework rescue missions, but I don’t. I feel uncomfortable. I feel embarrassed. By not letting my son screw up – by not letting him struggle to solve (or not solve) problems on his own and by not letting him suffer the consequence of forgetting to bring his homework home – I failed him. I knew it was a bad idea every time I did it, but I couldn’t help myself from helping him.

This summer, I read Jessica Lahey’s book, “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed,” and it caused the biggest and most important aha moment I’ve ever had as a mom. I need to put my kids in the driver’s seat of their lives or else I’ll be tying their shoelaces, cleaning their dishes, making their lunches, and doing their homework for them until they eventually spend their adult lives living in my basement.

I’ve since made sweeping changes at home for both of my children. They make their beds, put away their laundry (folding is next), put their dishes in the sink (loading the dishwasher is next), and pack and unpack their backpacks. If they forget something at school or at home, the problem is theirs to solve and the lesson is theirs to learn. They’re contributing to our household, learning personal responsibility, and taking pride in their accomplishments. It’s not easy for me to walk past dirty socks on the floor or watch my son open (i.e. tear to shreds) a new box of cereal all by himself, but I’m getting better at it, and so are my kids. Our change has been gradual and hard, but we’re changing for the better.

I recently started listening to the podcast, “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.” She’s the author of the book, “The Happiness Project,” which I haven’t read yet but plan to at some point in the next eight to 10 years. The first episode I listened to was about choosing a theme, or an intention, for the year ahead. It’s a cool concept that can ground you when life inevitably spirals into chaos and you find yourself photoshopping another kid’s math homework. My theme came fast and easy. Organization. I want to be and I want my kids to be organized, which leads me back to homework and to the story of how I fell madly, deeply in love with my now third grade son’s teacher.

On back to school night, she said eight words that started my infatuation: “Do not help your child with their homework.” The she added 12 more words that made me fall head over heels: “If your child is struggling with the homework, tell him to stop.” And then 24 more (she had me at hello!): “If you do your child’s homework for him and then he struggles on the test, you will have wasted your child’s time and mine.”

Suddenly (and gratefully), all of my anxiety over helping too much or not enough and the insanity about common core math or Singapore math or whatever math were not. my. problem. I care about my children’s education deeply, and they both have learning challenges to overcome, which is an even better reason for me to step back and let them do their homework (or not) on their own. I’m always nearby to guide or redirect them, but giving them personal responsibility for their assignments, I’ve realized, is as important as the assignments themselves.

Free from the role of micromanager, I can focus my energy on helping my kids get their shit together – packing and unpacking their backpacks, giving me papers, permission slips, and reading logs that need to be signed, finding the right space to complete their homework, getting it done in a timely manner, and putting it all away properly.

Currently, my first grader’s homework includes a language or math worksheet and a few minutes of reading. My third grader’s homework is more time consuming but equally straightforward. Their assignments are simple (except when they’re not, because, you know, homework…), but I know what the future holds. By the time they reach middle school, they’re going to need the organizational, or executive functioning, skills to complete long term assignments and projects in various subjects with multiple steps and due dates.

Hang on while I catch my breath…

A few nights ago, my older son wanted to skip his nightly reading. It was late, he had a long and difficult hockey practice, and after finally finishing his math and spelling homework, all he wanted to do was zone out on Minecraft or Lego Dimensions before going to bed. I understood completely.

“Do I have to do my reading?” he asked me.

“It’s up to you,” I said. “I want you to think about what you want your reading log to look like when you bring it to school tomorrow morning. Whatever you decide is okay. It’s your call.”

He paused and then said, “Okay, I’ll do it.”

That would never have happened if I were still controlling his homework and every other task in his life, and I’m not sure who was prouder – him or me. I failed miserably when I rescued my son from his homework woes over and over again last year, but I’ve come clean and changed my ways, and it’s proof that the gift of failure isn’t just for kids. It’s for parents, too.

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Filed under aha moment, homework, school

Dear Little Boy in the School Cafeteria

littleboycafeteria

Dear little boy in the school cafeteria,

I saw you sitting alone today. I don’t know if you wanted it that way. Maybe you did, but it kind of felt like you didn’t. You also weren’t eating your lunch. You didn’t take a single item of food out of your enormous lunch box, which is what prompted me to walk over and ask if you needed some help.

You said, “I’m not feeling very hungry today,” and then you grew quiet. It didn’t seem like you wanted to talk, especially to some random mom wearing a volunteer sticker. I told you to let me know if you needed anything and then I went back to walking around and monitoring the room, but I couldn’t stop thinking about you and why you weren’t eating your lunch.

Maybe you had a hearty and filling breakfast. Or, maybe you didn’t like what was in your lunch box. Or, maybe you take medicine that helps you stay focused and remember things better at school, but it takes away your appetite until dinnertime. Or, maybe you were nervous. It’s hard to be different. It’s hard to fit in. It’s hard to make friends. When I’m nervous, I don’t eat much either.

When my younger son came home after the first day of school, he said the worst part of his day was lunch. It’s a new school and he had never been in a big cafeteria before. He said it was busy and noisy. He said the table where his classmates sat was full and that no one would let him squeeze in. He said he didn’t know what to do, so he sat at a table all by himself. He didn’t eat much of his lunch that day.

I gave him some advice. I told him to pick one kid he wanted to sit with at lunch and stick to him like glue all the way from the classroom to the cafeteria. I told him it was okay to ask someone to move over if there wasn’t a lot of room left at a table. I told my shy, anxious boy to be bold and not take no for an answer. I promised him it would get better.

When I saw you sitting alone today, I realized the advice I gave my son was well-intentioned but missed the point entirely. What I should’ve told him was, “If you don’t know where to sit, sit with someone who is sitting alone.” Tonight at bedtime, I’m going to do just that.

Anyhow, it was nice to meet you today. I hope you’re hungrier tomorrow, and I hope the next time I volunteer in the cafeteria, you’re sitting with some new friends.

Sincerely,

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Filed under advice, aha moment, school

Four Words (Approximately) To Live By

Do you remember the episode of “Mad About You” (how badly did I just age myself with that 1990s television reference?) when Paul and Jamie make Mabel cry it out for the first time in her crib? They sit on the floor outside her bedroom door tortured by her sobs.

I remember those difficult nights with both of my boys, and I can still feel in my bones the heartache I endured and strength it took to make them cry it out at various times during their babyhood, Terrible Twos, Threenager Threes, and What The F**k Fours.

Five, though, was my sweet spot. At least it was with Dylan. With him, five was the year that occupational therapy peeled back layers upon layers of anxiety, fear, and discomfort to reveal a charismatic, funny, and bright boy with whom I enjoyed (almost) every moment. Five was the year he blossomed. It was the year we knew everything would be okay.

Five with Riley has been the opposite. Five has unraveled him. It wants to swallow him whole. My sweet, silly boy who once skipped (literally) through life now moves (figuratively) with a slow, aching limp. He dislikes school. He’s withdrawn from his friends. He’s rigid. He’s anxious. He’s fragile. If he were a grown man, I’d send him to a therapist and suggest a pill or two. But he’s five, so it’s complicated.

I would sell my soul in exchange for his happiness, but since I don’t anyone who does that sort of thing, I have to put my faith in a more conventional strategy. Given my journey down a similar path with Dylan a few years back, I’m prepared, ready and eager (but heartbroken nonetheless) to get to the root of it all.

I’ve spent the last several weeks having Riley examined, evaluated, studied, observed, poked, and prodded by an arsenal of doctors and therapists to figure out what the heck is going on. Slowly, we’re checking some boxes and (thankfully) un-checking others, finding answers, and getting to work, but in the meantime, there’s a hella lot of malaise to endure.

At the pediatric eye specialist’s office, where we spent nearly three hours ruling out convergence insufficiency (a condition that has plagued his brother and a box I was relieved to un-check), the doctor asked Riley what he liked to watch on television. She wanted to distract him with her iPad while she administered eye drops.

“Do you like Thomas?” she asked.

As Dylan would say, What the?!  That ship sailed train left the station a long time ago.  (Thank God.)

I waited for Riley to say, “I watch Stampy Minecraft videos on YouTube.”

I was close.

“I watch Stampy Terraria videos on YouTube,” he said.

“Who’s Stampy?” the doctor asked.

I tried to explain that Stampylongnose is a super annoying British bloke who makes videos of himself talking about and playing video games and whose high-pitched voice will haunt me in my grave, but the sound of my own voice was drowned out by the epiphany that Riley said Terraria instead of Minecraft. It suddenly occurred to me that Minecraft was no longer the “it game” of his boyhood and the bane of my parental existence.  Just as his interest in “Thomas the Train” in time faded away, his obsession with Minecraft, I realized, had begun to run its course, too (except for the new mods Mike just downloaded) (don’t ask me what a mod is because I don’t know).

In that moment, my mind flooded with memories of the some of the most daunting phases of Riley’s early childhood that had come and gone with no warning, instructions, or guidance.

Like when he breastfed every one and a half hours for weeks months.

Like when he woke up every morning at approximately 4:15:37am with a scream for two three years.

Like when he began every sentence with “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy…

Like when buckling him in his car seat was like stuffing an elephant in a shoebox.

Like when I had to sing You Are My Sunshine and Moon Moon Moon three (hundred) times at bedtime.

Like when it took no less than forty-five minutes to get from the parking lot into the front doors of preschool due to sticks, rocks, lizards, butterflies, and birds.

Like when he had to poop in every public bathroom he passed.

Like when he wanted to use the Rainbow Loom all by himself.  Often.

Like when the only place he would sleep was in my bed.

Like when he was stage scared. (He still is.)

Like now when he chews his shirts to shreds.

Like now when he tells me that school is hard. That homework is hard. That school is no fun.

Like now when he won’t get out of the car at morning carpool.

Like now when he prefers to be alone in his room more than anywhere else, including birthday parties with bounce houses and cake.

Like now when he has meltdowns over every. little. thing.

During the phase when Riley habitually woke up before dawn, I eventually habitually awoke a few minutes ahead of him with a jolt of anxiety and dread. It’s the same anguish Paul and Jamie felt when they sat helpless on the floor outside of Mabel’s bedroom door, and it’s the agony I feel right now as five tries to take Riley and the rest of us down. But I won’t let it because I’m holding on for dear life to the four words that have gotten me through eight years so far on this wild ride:

This too shall pass.

That, and: Expect the unexpected. (Three words, I know.)

And: Trust your instinct. (Three words again. Sorry.)

And: You are your child’s best advocate. (Six words. Crap.)

And: If something feels wrong, it probably is. (Seven words. I can’t stop.)

Last one: The only expert on your child is you. (Eight words. Okay, done.)

RileyFive

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Filed under aha moment, anxiety, boys, expect the unexpected, going to the doctor, motherhood, school, sensory processing disorder