In Celebration of Average

It’s been two years since Charlie first stepped foot inside a classroom and ever since that very first month of protesting preschool, it has become clear that his first love is not formal education. We’ve spent two years encouraging and cheerleading and praising and cajoling and threatening and all of the other things you do and say to a child that needs to learn but doesn’t want to learn. We know Charlie is entirely capable of mastering reading and writing and math facts. Our middle child is bright and inquisitive and personable. He is good at many, many things. The problem is, Charlie would just rather be doing all of those other things instead of schoolwork.

I can’t really blame him. We moved him to the country, bought him a pint-sized Gator, a BB gun (THANKS, BOB) and a coonskin cap and then set him loose. Charlie is living his best life (well, his best Daniel Boone-esque life). He is in his element at home, with his backyard and the trails and the mountains and the tractors that go rumbling by. He loves the outdoors with his whole heart. But you know what isn’t outdoors? First grade.

Bob and I knew going into this current school year that it was going to be a Big Year for Charlie. Since kindergarten is still a half-day program in our county, first grade has been his first exposure to a full day of instruction. The second half of first grade was also when reading really clicked for Henry so we knew that some of the big fundamentals seem to come together during this grade and at his age. No pressure or anything, Charlie.

So, understandably, I was filled with a substantial amount of trepidation as the first grading period of the school year came to an end and parent-teacher conferences approached. I was worried that Charlie wasn’t going to be progressing, wasn’t going to be reading on grade level and I was worried he was going to be falling behind his peers. Not for lack of ability but for lack of effort.

Proving that it’s always best to keep expectations super low, I was delighted to learn that Charlie seems to be doing just fine in first grade. He’s not necessarily excelling at anything but he’s also not outright failing at anything either. Total middle-of-the-road report card. They don’t hand out letter grades in first grade but if they did, Charlie would be pulling a C average. And, I’m absolutely thrilled with that. Way to be totally typical, son of mine!

Outside of a perfectly average effort in school, we’ve also noticed an uptick in creative work at home. Charlie’s been pulling out pen and paper to make lists, draw pictures or write notes to us. This is really encouraging behavior for a kid that couldn’t have cared less about communicating in this manner only a few months ago. We recently found this note taped to his door:

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Decoded, it reads, “New TV going to Henry and Charlie’s room.” When we brought an extra television up from the basement recently, this was Charlie’s plea to have it delivered straight to his bedroom which, no, that’s not going to happen but I applaud your effort at persuasion, son. It doesn’t look like much – the spelling is all wrong and there’s no punctuation – but this note is a big deal. It’s exactly how people learn to write – phonetically. It’s one of the first times I can remember (outside of forced in-school work) when he’s had an idea in his head and communicated it on paper. That’s just never been his jam. In the past, Charlie has done all of his best persuasive work through non-stop talking.

A few days later, Charlie drew this for us on a Friday evening:

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In case you have questions, let me explain that it’s an illustration of how a daffodil bulb grows. His class had spent the day planting daffodil bulbs around their school and the whole concept fascinated Charlie (probably because it took place outdoors). He came home regaling me with stories of how daffodils are not planted as seeds, they are planted as bulbs and they have a nice, warm home in the ground over the winter and emerge refreshed in the spring (this is how I hibernate, too). I think he nailed down the process quite accurately in the picture.

We can see the wheels turning in Charlie’s head. The connections between concepts being made. We are so encouraged to see him writing and reading willingly. These are things that have taken awhile to make sense to him and his progress delights me.

You know those bumper stickers that brag about someone’s child being on the honor roll at school? I think I need one that says “My Elementary Student Is Wonderfully Average” because I am crazy proud of my totally normal, typical, non-honor-roll-achieving first grader.

Bits and Pieces

I’m a little scattered today so this bit of writing is bound to be as well. I blame the very large stack of back-to-school papers I completed last night. Haven’t we found a better way to do that yet? I feel like if I can turn the air conditioning on in my house from four states away, then surely our paperwork for school can be shifted online.

Speaking of school, second grade is happening around here.

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He appeared, fully dressed, at my door at 6:30 a.m. I’m pretty sure this enthusiasm will fade by Friday.

I think my biggest wish for this upcoming year is that Henry will learn to love to read. Reading really finally clicked for him in the middle of the last school year but he still doesn’t see it as an enjoyable way to pass the time. I read for FUN when I was his age so I’m hoping he will soon discover the joy that can be found in books. I could, perhaps, help influence this by curbing the television and Lego-games-on-my-phone time so perhaps that’s what we’ll do around here this year. Care to share any tips on how you control electronic time at your house?

(I’m pretty sure my dad is rolling his eyes right now and bemoaning the fact that we just don’t say, “NO!” when the TV clicks on or the laptop opens but what’s modern-day parenting without some sort of color-coded reward chart with stickers and complicated point values? Right, DAD?)

Work on the laundry room continues.

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That bit of yellow next to the baseboard was our first painting attempt. It dried way too bright and then we just never did anything about it. We are horrible at home-owning.

A new washer and dryer, bright new light fixture and clearing out all of the junk that belonged elsewhere anyway has helped tremendously. We still haven’t cracked the can of paint. Painting requires a specific time commitment. It’s not something you can start, pause and come back to, which is how we have to handle any task around here because: kids. Even loading the dishwasher is never guaranteed to be completed in one go. We’ll get there. Even if we have to get up before dawn to thwart them, we’ll get there. And, we can’t just shut the laundry room door and lock them all out because we removed it. To make the room more OPEN. Of course!

In her continued effort to prove she is nothing like the ones that came before her, Millie appears to be a bit of a night owl.

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Keeping things fresh by keeping us guessing.

She gets up late in the morning and stays up late at night. I… don’t know if this is okay? She’s not quite two years old (even though she tries desperately to convince us otherwise). So, I can’t imagine that’s normal. She has begun to fight her afternoon nap as well and that will not stand. WILL NOT STAND! For years, the boys have abided by my wish to cease all parenting responsibilities at 8:00 p.m. and are usually sound asleep by 8:30. I can still hear Millie “reading” in her room after 9:00. I guess it’s not a big deal as long as she can keep her act together during the day but listening to her yelling at her dolls is really distracting when mommy’s trying to watch her shows.

Just to put the exclamation point on the world’s most disjointed essay, now I will complain about the weather.

I think I have the opposite of that seasonal affective disorder that makes people all super sad in the winter time. I get super sad when summer won’t end. Specifically, the heat and humidity. The arrival of September is really no different than the arrival of August around here. Sweater weather isn’t a guarantee until November at the earliest. (Does anyone wear sweaters anymore? I feel like fleece has replaced all the sweaters.) I love a more temperate environment and think I could be happy in Vermont or Maine or any of those misty-looking places in the Pacific Northwest.

And, because I have no neat way to wrap this up, where would you live if you could live anywhere?

Drawing to a Close

I don’t know what it’s like at your house right now but we are pretty much holding our breath around here as summer comes to an end; just waiting for the long exhale that the first day of school brings. On the one hand, I feel like we must Make! The! Most! of the last couple of weeks of free time but, on the other hand: tired. So tired.

The kids are bored. “Bored, bored, bored,” they say to me. (Well, not Millie. Millie is never bored. I found her eating a marker this morning and she was pleased as punch so she’s a bit easier to entertain.) The boys are a different story. I resisted the urge to sign them up for All of the Activities this summer because I had the naive notion that we would spend our days together. In our home. Doing things. Having fun. I even contemplated craft-like activities and was willing to go so far as to involve glitter.

Turns out, we just watched a lot of Disney Junior interspersed with the occasional trip to Target for more Goldfish.

It hasn’t been all bad. The lack of planned camps and activities has forced the boys to make their own fun, pioneer-style. Even though he has access to an endless supply of toys, this is what Charlie has been playing with for the past two days.

I actually need some of this stuff back.

I actually need some of this stuff back.

He’s made a tractor out of a Bruder trailer, a large box containing our new (unassembled) mudroom bench, my “good” pillows from the living room and an expired car seat that I have yet to figure out how to properly dispose of. It’s a very complicated set-up and please don’t disturb him while he works, he explains to me. Also, this whole… vehicle is located right in the middle of my foyer. So, you know, convenient to work around.

Henry has devoted the greatest amount of time this summer to Legos. The good news is, he will entertain himself for hours building boats and castles and cars and entire towns that are honestly, amazing. I am consistently in awe of his creativity, imagination and dexterity. (My hands would cramp right off if I worked with those things for more than 15 minutes.)

The bad news is, well, reading. Aren’t we supposed to be reading more this summer? Or, writing? Practicing punctuation? I definitely think we were supposed to be practicing punctuation. Also classified as bad news, the fact that I am constantly stepping on, tripping over and pulling out of Millie’s mouth tiny, tiny Lego pieces. They are so small and they are absolutely everywhere. As evidenced by what I found when turning on the light in the playroom last week.

Whee!

Whee!

That’s a Lego Coast Guard/Firefighter/Security Guard/Mine Worker mini-figure rappelling from the light switch. He’s probably having more fun this summer than we are.

As much as I lament the school year and the homework and the lunch boxes and the forms (oh, dear heavens, the forms), I think our family is definitely better with the routine that quality public education brings to our home. The more structure, the less aimless wandering. Even if some of the aimless wandering this summer has had the best views.

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