One More Chapter
Thank you for your advice yesterday about school. It was interesting to hear — first and foremost — how other places approached education but also, the wide range of experiences with school — either your own education or what you were now doing for your children.
I should have also told you that I am the product of public schools. I was never a fantastic student. Actually, I was such a terrible speller in fourth grade that I had to go down to a third grade spelling group because the lowest spelling group in my fourth grade classroom was still too advance for a child who could not tell the difference between “flour” and “flower.” (And to be fair, could spell neither one correctly.) I was in a few honours classes later in school, and one or two AP classes. But mostly I was an average student in average classes who daydreamed way too much to follow what was happening in the classroom and who didn’t ever want to sit in her chair. I wandered the room; and when I wasn’t wandering the room, I was making glue sculptures inside my desk.
And look, I turned out okay.
I always point that out to kids — my own and other people’s children. That the fully functioning adult you see before you once struggled with math and French. The person who has published four books wasn’t in the highest English classes. That doing school well doesn’t always translate into doing life well.
And I think, whatever shortcomings I had during my school years — nursery school through graduate school — I have done life well.
Let me tell you a story about a lollipop. I once took a lollipop that someone offered that was in the shape of a flower. I took it because it was pretty and it was candy. As a kid, I always accepted any candy offered because you never knew from where your next dose of sugar would come.
I kept said lollipop in my room, looking at it all the time. I was really psyched that I owned such a cool lollipop. At some point though I realized that I had no intention of eating it. I’m not really a fan of lollipops, and this one looked particularly vile. The clarity reminded me of a Jolly Rancher, another candy I dislike. But I had this lollipop because how the hell do you say no to a lollipop? And this single piece of candy drove me crazy because I didn’t want to eat and I didn’t want to throw it out, and in the end, it became clutter.
I feel like we’re supposed to want to apply to that GT school because who knows when our next educational hallelujah will come about? Turning down the opportunity feels like rejecting the lollipop; it just isn’t done, not by people who care about sugar and worry where their next treat will come from. But I also know that I don’t really want that lollipop. And I’m not getting a strong sense that the twins want the lollipop. All four of us in this house only know that we’re supposed to want the lollipop… by which I mean school… and I guess the two adults don’t know why we are so reluctant to push the kids ahead. To nudge them towards the greatness that these schools silently promise by their mere existence and exclusivity.
I have no clue how we got here. I know rationally that I celebrated my 7th blogoversary last June, and that the twins were giving up the bottle around the time I started this blog. Along the way they moved from cribs to toddler beds to real beds to separate rooms. They learned how to build a sandcastle and tie their shoes (sort of) and bake cookies and write stories and program computers. They cut their hair for the first time, and then they cut it again and again — the Wolvog more often than the ChickieNob. They lost teeth and grew new ones. They’ve said hello and goodbye to 6 teachers.
Along the way, they’ve become these amazing, inquisitive, funny human beings that cry over iOS changes and friendship slights, and then turn around the next day — all smiles — and spit out the answer to 3 x 9. They are third graders in the largest sense of the word: excited pleasers who feel things intensely.
What I am worried about is that things are moving so quickly that every day feels like a blur. And when time moves like that, to the point where you don’t know how you ended up with two third graders, you wonder if you’ve missed things along the way. Have we instilled in them all the values and ethics and information they need in order to keep succeeding?
Sometimes life feels a little bit like a sick day, when you come back to class and have no clue what is going on because you missed a vital lesson and now nothing makes sense for a while. I show up every single day in their lives — overly present some might say — because I don’t want to miss one minute of them, and I don’t want them to miss one minute of whatever vital lessons I can instill, mostly because I feel if I don’t, I am sick-daying their life.
And then how will they catch up?
Nothing is broken right now. They are not bored — as far as I can tell. They are just regular kids doing regular kid things with their regular kid friends. They like school enough, though they really come alive during after school activities. They are curious. They are sensitive. They are obsessed with fairness as well as trying to figure out how they’re perceived. They’ve got a great group of friends. As Somewhat Lower told me in regards to her own education decisions: “”if it’s working, then there’s not a problem, and if it stops working, we’ll make a change.” That’s really smart, and maybe instead of looking at what we’re getting or giving up, I just need to see it as not trying to fix something that isn’t broken.
I guess if I had one moment that I wanted to serve as a snapshot for their childhood, it would be this great moment that came during their book club recently. We were reading aloud Percy Jackson after the kids had finished shouting out answers to my etymology quiz in exchange for Hershey Kisses. The ChickieNob went into my bag and doled out more candy to everyone else while I read, and the kids were flopped on the floor or sofas or each other. And everyone was silent as I read the moment with the Minotaur; collectively holding their breath during a great moment of fiction. And it was just getting cold outside but the doors were open to let in the night air. And I thought: this moment is exactly how I want learning to be. This is the sort of moment that will turn them into writers; that will make them love books. And sure enough, when I told the kids I was only going to read until the next page break, one of them screamed out, “no! I need to know what happens.” And I jokingly told them that we were going to pull an all-nighter then. And they looked at me, totally earnest and said, “really?” There was this popcorn chorus of kids saying “really?” with such hope that maybe I wasn’t teasing; that we were really going to stay up all night reading Percy Jackson together.
That’s what I want learning to be; something more akin to the old Greek tutors except with perhaps a bit more cheekiness. I love that the ChickieNob felt comfortable to help herself and others to the candy. I love that they were all flopped on the floor and furniture like puppies. I love that they were so engrossed in the story that they wanted to stay longer. I love that even though I’m the twins’ mum, in that context, I’m just Mel, the bringer of the books.
An education well played should always make the person ask for just one more chapter.