Category Archives: School Days
If you had driven
Down Shields Avenue
Past a school at roughly
You might have seen a brown-haired boy
With glasses, and a button-blue shirt tucked in
Standing against the black steel fence
A score of other children swung and hula-hooped and dribbled balls and played tag
Forgive the boy waving
As if at the cars driving by
Or those waiting at the bus stand just past the parking lot
Or at nothing at all
He was waving to his mother
He was waving to me
Sunday evening, one week into my 19-unit semester. Four months of classes and assignments, abstracts and annotations, essays and reflections loomed ahead. I wanted to get in bed on time … so I wanted the kids to get in bed on time. I approached the boys’ room to pray with them for the night.
I stopped in the doorway. The room was a mess.
Books, papers, and writing instruments covered the desk. Trio block creations scattered the floor and Legos were on top of the dresser and every other horizontal surface. During the weeks leading up to the kids’ school and my classes starting again, I had spent more than a couple of hours organizing, cleaning up, and cleaning out that room with the boys … then telling them in no uncertain terms that their room needed to stay clean because the weeks ahead would be too busy to spend much time deep cleaning.
“Boys, this room is a mess,” I stated. They looked at me as though I was speaking another language. “How much time did we spend cleaning this room?” They were silent. “You’re not watching any videos until the room is clean.”
As I tried to go to sleep that night, I thought back on my motherly feathers being so ruffled by the state of their room. And I thought on the state of their room. The Trio buildings. The art work and projects. The Lego towers. I realized it was all creative play. Building. Drawing. Even reading. All good things. Creative expressions.
No wonder I felt like I was speaking a different language. In a way, that’s just what I was doing. I said “mess” because I saw a mess. They drew blanks because they saw their creations and ongoing projects. We looked at the room and came up with very different conclusions because of our very different perspectives.
And then I thought about later. Five years from now. Or ten. I thought about their room, and how I might wish to see my kids’ latest drawing or project or poem or construction. But my kids will no longer be kids. They will have moved on to bigger and grander things.
Their room might be clean then. But the loss would be mine.
How many times do I, as a parent, look in from the outside, or from above, and fail to see the world from my children’s perspective? Through their eyes? Whether it be their room or their homework, an argument between siblings, or an emotional situation they’ re going through.
The next morning, before I even got up, the boys had cleaned their room. (And I thought my words had gone selectively unheard.) I missed the chance to get on their level and ask them what they were working on. Or join them in their creative play. Again, the loss was mine, even though the room was tidy.
No, it’s not my job to clean up after my children. And yes, they do need to develop a sense of responsibility. But perspective makes such a difference. Perspective on messes. On time. On teaching and learning. As a parent, I am slowly coming to learn that I have more to learn than I ever did. And even that is a matter of perspective. Seeing the learning as a joy, as something to be gained from every person and every situation.
Even from a “messy” room.
The 2014-15 school year hasn’t been the easiest for my children, especially the older two. The number of afternoons they came home without homework was definitely in the minority. And the number of times they ended up with detention due to incomplete goals was higher than all their previous school years combined.
It probably didn’t help that my schedule was busier than usual this year, juggling a full class load, teaching part-time in two locations, and working from home as a freelance editor.
This is their last week of school. When I picked them up from school yesterday afternoon, all three of them had homework. On the way home, I tried to encourage them with, “It’s the last day you’ll be bringing homework home this school year! Tomorrow and the next day you’ll have tests, so you won’t have homework. Isn’t that exciting?”
They weren’t as jazzed as I was.
At 8:30, the older two were still slogging through their homework. I washed dishes as they sat at the dining room table.
“Mom,” my daughter said, “do you ever feel like you are so close to something and you still have so far to go? I mean, I know it’s my last math book, but it’s so hard and it’s taking me forever!”
Do I ever feel like that? Earlier this month I completed the fourth draft of my current work-in-progress, and I feel like I’m further than ever from finishing the book. A few weeks ago, I was enthusiastic and eager; this week I’ve been struggling to write a single paragraph.
“Yes, Jessica,” I answered. “I actually feel that way right now.”
“About what?” she asked.
“Dishes?” Allen added.
“About finishing my book.”
“Oh.” My daughter didn’t need to ask for more information. Nearly every night for months now, without my asking, she’s prayed for my writing, and for the people who read my book to like it.
I have to finish the book first. But I appreciate the prayers. I appreciate my daughter’s faith in me and in my ability to finish strong. I think she might have more faith in me than I have in myself as my mental self-gauge pendulum swings between incapable and clueless.
But then I thought, Maybe that’s what my kids need from me as well. Faith in them. In their ability to finish strong. Yesterday evening it was finishing their homework. Today and tomorrow, it’s finishing their tests, and their respective grades. In a few months, another school year will begin with more tests and assignments. Between now and then, life itself will be sure to serve up a random sampling of challenges.
Or maybe it’s not so random.
Maybe the challenges are chosen. The dates. The timings. The methods. Like a school with personalized lessons and grades and testing, administered by the Author of Life and all good things.
Maybe the difficulties and tests He allows to come our way are a sign of His love for us and His confidence in us. That we will look to Him and find strength and courage to keep at it another day. One day at a time.
So that we will finish strong.
Kindergarten placement testing. That moment of truth where you know whether your efforts in early learning, flash cards, and countless stories made a difference. Whether those moments counting everything in sight, sorting, categorizing, and teaching your toddler (then preschooler, then child) to follow directions were effective.
I had been both anticipating and dreading the moment. He is my youngest, and since our middle child began attending school in fall of 2011, it had been just the two of us during school hours.
But it was also a time of change for our family. I started school again, and began working from home as an editor and ghostwriter. Amidst all that, I knew I did not give him as much time and focus – scholastically speaking – as our first two children.
Hence the mingling of anticipation and trepidation. The defining moment arrived. Our van was in the shop so my dad dropped us off at the school he would be attending in the fall. I waited in the office while he took the test.
Finally, the door opened. The kindergarten teacher walked up the hallway, approaching us. My son followed her. She stopped by the principal’s office and he ran up to me. “Mommy, I did very, very, well.”
Well, that was a good sign, especially since he doesn’t normally use the words “very,” especially twice in a sentence. Maybe he heard it straight from his prospective teacher.
She called me into the office and showed me how he did. She turned the pages of the test, explaining briefly what he had been asked to do on each one. He aced following directions, did well in problem solving, and thinking skills (probably talked a blue streak while working out certain problems). He struggled with the page on phonics. Overall, besides the phonics page, the teacher said that he did “very, very well.”
I was happy. My teaching had been at least relatively successful. Even though I hadn’t given him all the attention and focus that I had wanted to, he was definitely ready for kindergarten. It was all good.
My son played outside while we waited for my dad to pick us up. After a few minutes, he came to sit beside me. “Mommy, I wish sometimes that the Bible would tell us that we don’t have to be nice to each other. I wish it would say that we can be selfish and think about ourselves.”
I blinked, taken aback at his statement, but thankful for his honesty. My other two kids had never said anything like that, especially not at five years old. I tried not to overreact. After all, he wasn’t angry. He was just expressing how he felt. About something rather important, in my point of view.
I said, “Well, let’s think about how life would be if the Bible told us that we could do whatever we wanted. What would the world look like if people did anything they wanted to?”
His eyes glazed over. It was clearly too nebulous of a question. I realized I’d have to bring it home a little closer.
“What if the farmers didn’t feel like doing their work and decided to do something else instead? Or the truck drivers who bring food from the farms chose to stop bringing things like milk, fruits, and vegetables to the stores? Then we wouldn’t have anything to buy. What if the people who keep the streets safe or keep the traffic lights working decided they didn’t want to help people and went home?”
He was quiet, but I could tell he was thinking about it.
“What if Mommy decided I didn’t want to take care of you for a little while? What if I felt like going to a trip to the mountains so I could read and write?”
He looked at me and laughed. It was a small laugh, as if he wasn’t sure whether I was joking or not.
“I would never do something like that, and I’m happy to take care of you because I love you.”
He seemed satisfied with my answer. Usually, if he didn’t agree with something, he would either continue the discussion or stalk off in a huff (and then I’d have to reason with him a little more).
So my youngest son entered kindergarten. I no longer have him with me for the majority of the day. Does that mean my job is ended? Not by a long shot. That single conversation showed me just how important and vital my role as a mother is. And I’m in it for the long haul.
Only God knows what kinds of questions he will come up with on his own, much less what kinds of attitudes and perspective he will face when he enters school. He will likely bring home or store up in his mind many new thoughts and questions, things he will need to weigh up against the foundations that my husband and I have taught him and are teaching him.
I am tempted to get overwhelmed by the responsibility, rearing a child – not scholastically, but spiritually and morally. Teaching Him about God and truth and love. What threatens to alarm me most is that I can give this little man all the information in the world, but only God can do the work in his heart.
But I can help. I can help by praying. By “raising him up in the way he should go,” by loving him and reasoning with him and keeping an open dialogue with him, and with his brother and sister, as they learn and grow. By giving them solid input and informing them of all sides of deep, foundational issues. By having the courage to let them come to their conclusions. Then I can pray some more, that the conclusions will be good one, and that they will grow into courageous and compassionate grownups.
At the end, that’s the very best I can hope and pray for … for any of the upcoming generation.
I know that God knows me because he says it in his Word. God knows that my name is Jessica and that I like to read. He knows it is important for me to have Godly character. It will help me obey him like King David did. He knows that I mostly have the character traits of faith, and gentleness. God even knows I would like to have the character trait of patience with others.
God helps me just like he helped David. When it comes to temptation just like David did, I can ask God to help me. God will always help me resist temptations. He helped me once when I was tempted because I saw two Hershey kisses on a shelf. I wanted to eat one, but instead I asked God to help me not to be tempted, and he did.
God had a plan for David, and he has a plan for me. God chose David to be king, because David did not think about riches. Instead he thought about God and how to please him. God also has a plan for my life. I think God’s plan for my life is for me to be a missionary, or to write children’s stories about his love.
Tuesday was Superhero or Disney.
Wednesday was Hillbilly
Thursday was Favorite Book Character
Friday, today, is Senior Citizen
We got the information slip last week and I took the kids shopping on Sunday afternoon. Why I even though that I would be able to find full, ready-made costumes nowhere near Halloween, I had no idea, but we were hopeful as we went from store to store. I found accessories – a hat, some hair ties – and a couple of backpacks on sale for their next school year, but no outfits.
“We’ll find something at home,” I assured them, promising myself that I would make it a priority and not wait until last-minute to help them find costumes.
Then there I was, Tuesday morning, tearing through the kids’ closet to find that last princessy dress that still fit my daughter. I mixed and matched a few ideas for Allen (he wanted to dress up as Wyatt from Super Why); he declined. “I’ll just go in my normal school uniform,” he told me.
I felt like a failure, especially when I saw the picture that the school principal posted of the kids, all in amazing costumes, and my son was absent from the photo.
He’s probably going to feel bad about it, I thought to myself. I better tell my husband to give him some extra attention this afternoon and evening. I was attending classes until after their bedtime. I only remember to ask how Allen was at about 11:30 that night.
“He seemed fine,” my husband said.
The next morning, we found some hillbilly outfits. Well, more like cowboy outfits. These had been the only costumes we had worked out from the previous week, and somehow this morning they weren’t good enough.
“My teacher said we’re supposed to wear things that are full of patches,” my daughter said.
“I’m sure she just was trying to give you ideas if you didn’t have anything to wear already,” I answered.
She pulled her face, that face that means she totally doesn’t agree and wants to make that fact very apparent without saying a word.
My husband walked into the kitchen. I fumed to him, “Suddenly everything everyone else says is the Gospel truth and anything I say has to pass some litmus test.”
He laughed. “I’ll help them get dressed.”
By the time I had finished making their lunches, they were in costume – the ones we had picked out last week – and they were both happy.
The next day, Jessica was Violet from the Boxcar series (how easy is that? Pull out everything violet that you own and wear it.) Allen decided to dress up as Christopher Robin, complete with the Winnie the Pooh stuffed bear that he had gotten from a friend last year.
This morning, I took a deep breath before going into the kids’ room to wake them up. I knew what I had in mind that they could wear, but I realized that didn’t mean they would want to wear it.
“I don’t want to dress up today,” Allen told me as soon as he rolled over and opened his eyes.
Oh no, I thought, someone teased him about his costume yesterday. I gently inquired why not. Everything seemed okay. He just didn’t want to dress up.
Jessica readily agreed with the outfit I suggested to her. It took a while to get her hair done up in bun complete with baby-powder grey, but it looked good. I was happy with myself, and with her. I was happy with Allen too, even if he didn’t want to dress up.
I said goodbye to an old woman and a little boy, on their way to school. So my son won’t be in the picture with the rest of his class in costume. That’s okay. Every kid is different; and every one of them is precious. I couldn’t imagine loving them more.
And I’m thankful Spirit Week only happens once a year. I think I just found a grey hair … and it’s not baby powder.