Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Homework Conundrum

I hate homework. Granted, it's been several years since I had any assigned to me directly (hey, I went to grad school. When I say "several" I don't mean "dozens." I mean, like, eight.). But as if to help me appreciate the misery that my middle- and high-school-aged sons must suffer, teachers make sure to pile on the homework so that no kid can really do it alone. Invariably, they will start off fine. But before long, they need to call in reinforcements. Read: Mom, just as she's starting to cook dinner.

This year, however, has been different. Ben comes home, sits down, takes out his planner and his books and gets to work. When he says he's done, I pop onto the computer and log in to the school website, click on his name and check all the assignments he has due tomorrow, listed by class.

"Ooh. Science test tomorrow. Did you study?"
"Yep, we studied in class."
"OK, we'll review after dinner. Math worksheet?"
"Done." Holds it up.
"Spanish vocabulary words list?"
"Done." Holds it up.
"Did you start your music paragraph on jazz yet?"
"I started it at school, but it's not due 'til Friday. I'll finish it tomorrow."

And I brush the computer dust from my hands as he heads outside to play.

Jacob, however, is in high school. They use a different grading system, which means the assignments can't be posted on the school calendar site the way Ben's can. This year, it's up to Jacob to write it all down, keep track of it and get it done. And he has stated categorically that he hates homework and doesn't see the value in it.

But with my ignorance of the assignments, and the inability to check them, I have to take him at his word when he says the work is done. The fact that he's a sophomore means he should be mature enough to handle the responsibility. I mean really, what 15-year-old needs his mother nagging him about his homework? I was excited to have a hands-off year with him, finally.

Until the grades started showing up.

"Um, hey Jacob. What's with this chemistry homework grade?"
"Oh, yeah, that. I didn't realize it was two pages so I didn't do the back."
"Hey Jacob, what's with this math homework grade?"
"Oh, I didn't realize it was due today."

Etcetera, etcetera. Control freak that I am, I went a little crazy. Crazy to the point of lecturing every day, threatening to take away privileges, following him around the house and telling him he couldn't possibly be done with his homework because he had hardly done any at all and I'd better not see another bad grade or else blah, blah, blah.

It was so effective that I managed to end every afternoon in a shouting match with him, and every bedtime became a mutual apology session.

Then the other day I read a quote by Ben Franklin that I loved:

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn."

And it dawned on me that maybe this new situation is a good thing. Maybe the fact that I can't go on line, see what his assignments are, remind him and nag him and ride him about getting them done is a sign that I need to let go. I need to allow my kids make their own choices and mistakes, regardless of whether I agree with them. Will it impact his ability to get into college? No. Will it ruin the rest of his life? No. So do I need to start World War III over it every single day? Unquestionably no.

Jacob is old enough to do this stuff on his own. And he is the one whose grades will drop if he doesn't figure out how to manage it all. He'll be disappointed in himself when we don't go out to dinner at the end of the quarter to celebrate his making the honor roll. Maybe the only way for him to learn is to let him see what happens when he does the work on his own, and when he doesn't.

Maybe homework does have some redeeming educational value after all.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Odor Control

My kid stinks. Not his attitude: his body. But he can't smell it on himself. When it first started happening, I tried not to hold it against him. But soon, I didn't want to hold anything against him, including myself. How do you avoid hugging your stinky kid when he wants to be hugged?

Of course, it's not his fault. He's a teenager--it comes with the territory, and we made sure to tell him that. We explained that when wet sweat and hormones mix with bacteria in a warm place, it becomes a petri dish of growth and stink. Then we set out to help him manage it. We tried deodorant. We tried deodorant soap. We tried daily showers. We tried a combination of all three. I've also read that drinking lots of water helps, and antibacterial wipes can come in handy after gym if there's no time (or desire) to shower after class. Finally, we decided he has to shower every morning, not before bed, because physiologically, he is only capable of remaining stink-free for about 18 hours post-shower. This seemed to do the trick.

As this is my first-born child, the whole situation is new to me. But apparently it's a widespread issue that impacts families, peers and even teachers, as a high school teacher friend recently pointed out to me. She was scheduled to spend an 87-degree day hiking in the company of a group of teenagers, subjecting her to multiple cases of body odor. And she was not at all happy about it.

But how does one approach the parents of stinky teens and have them instruct their progeny on the mechanics of their changing bodies, and their responsibility to maintain order when in the company of others? Or should teachers be offering tips and tricks to their students on using wipes, re-applying deodorant and showering daily?

Personally, I think that goes above and beyond a teacher's duties, even if she is looking out for the well-being of her students (in addition to trying to maintain a healthy classroom that's conducive to work). So parents, listen up! Take a whiff! Save your teen the embarrassment of being told by peers that they are smelly, and spare their instructors the uncomfortable job of a hot classroom full of B.O. After all, aren't raging hormones and late-summer heat enough for them to contend with when trying to educate our kids?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Trying to Get Demoted

I'm trying to get demoted from my position as super-mom.

When the kids were little, of course, I did it all. That's when my control freaky nature was helpful--I had to take care of every little thing, so being detail-oriented was a perfect trait for the job. Then Jacob started to transition to just "needing a little help" and he'd roll with the rest of the job himself. Cooking dinner?

Me: "Figure out what you want to make."

Jacob: "Stir fry."

Me: "What time do you want to serve dinner?"

Jacob: "Six."

Me: "And how long will it take to prep and cook it all? Work backwards from six and that will tell you when you need to start prepping."

Jacob: "Hm. I have to start now."

Me: "OK, take out all your ingredients: chicken, veggies, sauces, rice, oil. Then your tools: cutting board, spoon, measuring tools, knife, bowls, pot, pan."

Jacob: "Got it."

Me: "All right, all your stuff is assembled. Now what's going to take the longest to cook? You want to start that first."

Jacob: "The rice. OK, I'm good, Mom. You can go."

Sweet. Now, Jacob can do all these steps himself without my help. I figured I was well on my way to being demoted. Next, I tried to help Ben do the same type of thing: take control of whatever he's trying to accomplish, with me standing by and handing him the tools he'll need.

Then I was reminded that my kids are two completely different people and don't operate the same way at all.

When I offer Ben tools, he seems to keep lifting his hands up, as if the tools are too hot to handle, and he'd rather I do it for him or leave the job undone.

The problem is, my control-freaky nature is trying to rear its ugly head back up, and I know that's exactly the wrong tool for the job.

Take riding a bike. Ben never learned how when he was younger. We did get him balancing on a bike with training wheels years ago, at the end of the fall. I could see we'd be able to remove the training wheels shortly, and he'd be on his way. Then a snowstorm hit. Several feet. Power outages, school closed, the works. And just like that, bike-riding season was over. The following spring, he had no interest in getting back on the bike.

"That's OK," I figured. "They say once you learn, you never forget."

This summer, I tried to get him on his brother's (bigger) bike. He was not enthusiastic. I pushed it. He conceded, grudgingly. It wasn't long before we both learned that, apparently, you can forget how to ride a bike, especially if you'd only learned for about five minutes.

But I can't let it go. I keep pushing him to learn, and to learn to swim, and do all the things kids are supposed to do in summer, acquiring skills they can carry into adulthood when they will ultimately NO LONGER NEED ME AND MOVE AWAY TO START THEIR OWN LIVES. Ben is having none of it.

I remember talking with him once about "someday", when he's married and living in his own house, and he cut me off and said, "Mom, I don't ever want to leave. I want to live here with you forever."

Oh dear.

I've read that the more you push a kid, the more he will resist. But rather than step back into the do-it-all-myself role, I'm going to try a different approach. I'm standing right beside Ben. And just like when he was a picky eater as a baby, I just keep handing him the same tools over and over. I change the form they take, or the way I hand them to him, but I'm making it clear that they are not going away.

My hope is that, with a little maturity and a realization that I have faith that he can do these things, he will one day decide to take the tools and give them a try. I figure all he'll have to do is surprise himself once or twice with his true capabilities, and he'll be confident enough to be on his way too. Then maybe I'll be able to get that demotion after all. Hopefully before he's twenty-five.