2.12.2013

the life of a fourth grader isnt always skittles and rainbows

Peer-pressured Parents. We all know that our school-aged children face the much-maligned, dreaded peer pressure often--probably more often than we want to admit. We go to great lengths to encourage them to be strong and confident in themselves and to do what they know to be right, even in the face of the big bad monster we call "peer pressure". But let's cut to the chase. Is that enough? Is what we are teaching with our spoken words being undermined by our own behavior?

It occurred to me yesterday that parents also face a great deal of peer pressure--from our fellow parents and, to a lesser degree, from other children, because we want our own children to be accepted. How do we respond, as parents, to what other parents put forth to us as normal and acceptable, even if we disagree?

How do you parent children in this world, while keeping your focus on the big eternal picture?

If, at 40, I sometimes feel the pressure of my peers in an uncomfortable way, how can I expect my sons to resist the pressure of their own peers? (Don't answer that.)

Lately, I've been learning some important lessons about parenting (I think. I hope). Grey is in the fourth grade this year and right out of the gate, declared that he hated Social Studies. This child enjoys school and for the most part, excels at his academic work so this immediate and complete disgust for all things Social Studies was a new experience for us.

"It's boring." he whined. When you are in the fourth grade, being subjected to something you've already deemed "boring" is akin to spending time in the great abyss, covered in tar and being stalked by predatory birds day and night.

(I have no idea where he gets such a flare for the dramatic.)

Bringing up the topic of Social Studies sent him into the doldrums.
He slumped when reading the book.
He fumbled around with his papers when studying notes.
The notes were written sloppily and as you might suspect, the first few grades were failures.

A few weeks into the semester, it was abundantly clear that desperate times were upon us and something drastic needed to be done.

We spoke at length about his attitude and I spoke privately with his teacher. "It's just not interesting." he lamented. "We just read out of the book and write stuff down." We had a very pointed conversation about having to do things that don't always "light your fire". I laid down the law.

I enlisted the help of a friend who also happens to be a teacher--she showed him some ways to associate what he needed to remember for the test with some visual reminder cues and I think it helped to hear from someone other than me that this was a doable task. His next test grade was 95!

Crisis averted. I thought we were done.

But no. The next two test grades were barely passing muster. It was clear, he wasn't putting any effort into studying and the mid-point of the semester was fast approaching.

He worked hard but it was clear he needed some additional inspiration. The deal was soon struck. If his grade for the semester ended up being an A, his reward would be a shopping trip to Toys R Us. (You should know that I detest Toys R Us and we never go there.) I was very clear on the terms of the deal. The grade *must* be an A.

It's going to be a fight because you had those very gutter-ball grades in the first few weeks. You'll have to work very, very diligently.

I was confident that an A was possible, but that it was certainly not going to be easy to come by. A little adversity is a good thing, especially for boys. It's a good teacher.

He did it. He invested himself. He did the work with a little more spark. He tried harder. He wrote neater. He asked for help and made plans for what to look for when he earned the shopping trip. When semester grades came out, he didn't rip into the envelope immediately. Instead he saved it until he got into the car in the afternoon. He handed it to me and I pulled it out of the envelope.

SOCIAL STUDIES: 90
In our school, an A is a 93 and above.

There shall be much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

I'm pretty sure we were both more than a little heart-broken that day. Even though I detest Toys R Us, I love this boy and I knew (in depth) how much he had invested into his own success. He was deflated and broken. Real tears of disappointment dripped down his cheeks.

"But I worked so hard..." he said.

I know. Believe me. I know. I'm so proud of the diligent work you did. I'm proud that you didn't give up. You set yourself a goal and while you didn't make it precisely, you were only three points away. You pulled it from an F to a B. That's a pretty big accomplishment.

I tried to make him see but there was no consolation to be had.

I gave him some time.
He moped.
He hid in his closet.
He smirked.
He kicked things.
He did all the things that frustrated 9 year old boys do.
I gave him some space.

The following day he seemed in better spirits and he asked if the deal could be extended to cover next semester. I agreed.

And then I made the mistake of consulting a few friends about the situation. Some of them agreed with me, that the terms of the deal were clearly stated and there was no backup plan. The requirements for reward were not met, so no trip. Unfortunately, a few of them indicated that they would have given him the trip anyway because "what's three points?".

He had done his best.
He had worked hard.
He deserved the trip.

This gave me pause.

I hemed and hawed, as my father would say. I mulled. I felt pressured by some of my peers. I kinda wanted to be the cool mom who rewards hard work and diligence and poo poo'd the "tow the line mom". You see, it pains me deeply to see this boy hurt. It breaks my heart to see him disappointed. I love him like nobody's business. I really really like it when his life is happy and easy and fun and filled with great music, Skittles and rainbows.

But that's not how life is.

And it soon became clear that this was going to be one of those life lessons that stuck around for a while--for both of us.

In private, I wanted to be the easy parent.
I wanted to relieve his disappointment.
I wanted to bend the rules and give him a waiver.
I wanted to ignore all those underlying messages.
I wanted to cast aside the precedent I would be setting.
I wanted to say "you worked so hard--let's go shopping!"

But just in the moments of my wavering, real life--big and tall--stood up and announced it's presence with authority, and connected *all* the little dots for me.

I am not the parent who takes the easy road.
And there's a reason for that.

About a day after the report card came home, my husband got an email regarding his impending quarterly bonus paycheck. It seems that, despite his very diligent work and careful planning, he had missed getting the top tier bonus by a measly 13 points.

Guess what.
No one at his company called to say "we're sorry." No one considered how hard he had worked, how far he had driven, how neat his handwriting was on his reports...No one offered to spot him 13 points to bump him up to the top tier of a bonus structure because he's a good guy and the fourth most productive salesperson in his company and the youngest guy in the top 20.

Nor did he expect them to.

He lamented the loss of those extra dollars for about 3.57 seconds and then said "I'll get up and go to work tomorrow, just like always."

I couldn't help but laugh. I like it when life makes things real obvious and the lesson here could not have been stated more openly or more eloquently.

The following weekend, Grey and I took a few minutes over Sonic drinks to discuss what had gone down. He seemed to get it--to understand that there will be disappointments in life--some big, some small (that's the easy part) and that how we choose to deal with those disappointments is the very definition of who we are as people and children of God (that would be the more difficult part).

Yes, there is grace.

Grace extended the deal into the next semester.
Grace said "Joal gets a second level bonus".
Grace says "I love you no matter what and if I can help you to learn some of the difficult precepts of life when the price of not hitting the mark is relatively minor, I will choose that for you, even if it's unpopular and mildly uncomfortable for both of us."

The man you are becoming is worth that to me.







2 comments:

KnitterPam said...

I'd love to know what those tips were for helping him with SS. My 4th grade daughter had the same problem earlier this year - homework came home with guesses instead of looking it up in the book. She liked science, and is doing great in math/english, but SS just isn't doing it for her.
Good for you for sticking with it. The tooth fairy still gives my kids one gold dollar, not the $5 the other fairies seem to give their friends. And we don't watch certain movies just cuz other kids do. Don't even get me started about birthday goodie bags, which I detest. Who started giving other kids present at another kid's party, anyway? Some mom who couldn't get past her kid's whining about why he/she didn't get something too....

Desiree B said...

What a great story and reminder. I do not have children, but I do have a nephew. This is a good reminder for me when dealing with him. Beautifully written.