Saturday, May 23, 2009

Parenting, Middle School Style

The school year is rapidly drawing to a close, and I, for one, couldn't be happier. I'm not one of those parents who love summer vacation and the chance to bond 24/7 with my little darlings. In fact, when I signed my last son up for kindergarten, the school secretary asked me if I was sad, and I laughed hysterically and responded, "Are you kidding?! I've been waiting for this for years!" (The principal almost swallowed his own tongue laughing. I'm guessing that wasn't the socially-appropriate response.) Normally, the approach of summer vacation corresponds with an intense desire on my part to move to some remote village in the Himalayas--alone.

But this year is a little different. This summer vacation marks the end of Older Son's first year of middle school, and I'm just barely hanging on. For some reason, I foolishly expected parenting to get easier as my kids got older and I could do away with things like marathon midnight nursing sessions, mountains of dirty diapers, and screaming temper tantrums punctuated with repetitions of "NO! NO! NO!" because I callously threw away a used napkin that had become someone's best friend.

I didn't count on the insanity that is Middle School.

To say I wasn't looking forward to Older Son starting middle school would be a vast understatement. The middle school years ("junior high" when I was a kid) were the worst years of my life. There isn't enough money in the world to convince me to be 12 again. It's a horrible time of life for many reasons, but the crucible of middle school can turn even a relatively well-balanced kid into a raging maniac.

Older Son is not necessarily the most well-balanced kid in the world. Oh, don't get me wrong; he's a wonderful kid: funny, outgoing, interesting. But he's also smart. Really smart. He's what they call "highly and profoundly gifted." And he knows it, which can cause problems for him. He tends to think that, since he's so smart, no one else could possibly have a better idea than he does so he doesn't need to listen to anyone else. And he doesn't get why he has to prove that he knows how to do things--like how to work out math problems--when he's obviously got the right answers. And he's impatient. About everything. If it takes more than two minutes, he's not interested. All of which makes him that kid on the playground that other kids are itching to smack. And often that kid in the classroom that teachers are just itching to smack.

So when my kid started middle school, I watched him carefully. And for a while, everything seemed fine. He was happy to go to school, had a lot of friends, and brought home straight A's and glowing teacher comments on his first report card. I heaved a sigh of relief and decided maybe middle school's not as bad for boys as it is for girls. Or maybe things have changed since I was a kid. Or maybe his school is better at dealing with the whole pre-teen hormone-steeped culture shock. Or maybe I'm just an idiot.

The second report card came home and I was stunned. He got a B- in math, which was a shock, since he's always had A's in math, represented his school last year in the regional math field day, and was bumped up a grade level in math when he started middle school based on his test scores and his teacher's recommendation. Many parent-child-teacher discussions ensued. The end result was weekly math tutorial sessions at school, daily tutoring and homework sessions from Mom (we'll just gloss right over the irony of that, considering my checkered history with math--at least I'm finally understanding pre-algebra), and a new-found relationship with his math teacher. He's now getting an A- in math.

Now, granted, a B- isn't the end of the world. So how about that D he got in band, of all things? He loves band. And he's good at it. He was in the elementary school district honor band, and a soloist in the elementary school jazz band. How the heck did he get a D in band?! Many more parent-child-teacher discussions ensued. Hmm...could be all those practice sheets that he diligently filled out every day and had me sign every week...and then didn't turn in. Or maybe it was that final he never bothered to take. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the fact that his saxophone was so damaged--who knows how?--that when he finally told me it was damaged and I took it to the shop, the repair guy informed me he didn't know how the kid had even gotten a sound out of it. $130 dollars and a re-test later, his grade is up to a B+, with a potential A in sight.

So when the mid-term progress reports came out, I wasn't too worried. What could go wrong? Ha. Can you say D in Science?! This is more astounding than math and band put together. Science is his Great Love. When he was three, I gave him a CD player to take apart, and he promptly built a "satelite transceiver." It didn't work, of course, but he explained to me exactly how it was supposed to work. When he was four, he announced he was going to Cal Tech to become an inventor, and I never doubted it for a moment. At six, he calculated the rotation of the earth by sticking a pencil in a block of styrofoam to make a sundial, and then watching as the shadow moved across a protractor for half an hour. ("Hey, Mom, did you know the earth rotates 15 degrees an hour? The shadow moved seven and a half degrees in half and hour, so that means 15 degrees in an hour, right?") When he was seven, he wanted to fly a kite, and I told him it wasn't windy enough. He asked me how windy it needs to be to fly a kite. I told him I didn't know. The next day, he announced he had figured out how to measure relative wind speed by hooking a propellor up to a dynamo and the dynamo to a multimeter. The voltage reading on the multimeter would correspond to the wind speed.

So, yeah, that D in Science was a stunner. As you may have guessed, it called for yet more parent-child-teacher discussions. One week, several extra credit assignments, and a major project on volcanoes later, he is up to a B+ and heading for A territory.

That was Thursday.

Friday morning he handed us two detention slips. It seems he got an F on a Language Arts test. (Do I even need to mention this kid was reading at college level in third grade? That I have to buy him new books every week to keep up with his reading habit, because the school library doesn't carry anything at his reading level and we've exhausted the resources of the public library?) He then failed to get the test signed, so he got detention. He got the detention slip signed, but lost it. So he got another detention. And forgot to get the slip signed. So he got a third detention. Plus the F. Sigh.

School ends on June 11th. I'm counting the days.

I think I need a new career path. The luster is wearing a bit thin on this "Mom" gig.

20 comments:

pdxknitterati said...

It's so true; the kids can be brilliant but it's the "housekeeping" that drags them down. All the check marks and practice sheets and "print-outs" that parents are supposed to sign and send back, that don't get turned in. I guess it's just part of learning to be a cog in the wheel, but ouch.

kmkat said...

How is his attitude? Is he still happy? If so, great. If not, perhaps you need to dig a little deeper and see what is behind such severe changes.

I am awed by his science prodigy-ness.

Donna in Ely said...

Hang on, it will get better. Oldest daughter is also extremely gifted. She has taught on a reservation for 5 years. She is a K-12 librarian, 7- 12th grade English teacher, also finished her master's to be a principal. But she is going back to school in the fall for her second masters and doctorate. Oh, yeah, she turns 27 tomorrow.

Khalila said...

I'm so scared for myself. I've only got a first grader and I can't imagine middle school. I too am looking forward to the break from the daily grind that is summer for us. I'm going to dig a hole at the beach and stay there.

Sharon said...

What a roller coaster ride! Hope things are on a much more even keel next year. My prescription for mom: knit something in cashmere.

Emily said...

Oh, lord, I've been there, though neither of my kids is the prodigy yours is. They're both very bright, though, and fervent readers, so when their grades began dropping in middle school I was dumfounded.

The problems for my own kids turned out to be emotional: baggage from a divorce for both, actual abuse for my poor daughter. It was very hard work pulling them thru. By the grace of God, I do believe, neither got hooked by drugs or alcohol, which together are the minefield we have to somehow help our kids thru.

I hope for your son the reasons aren't as serious, and that you survive the rapids you're being thrown thru!

melissaknits said...

Oh heavens. My son was brilliant intellectually and backward socially...till middle school and everything sort of fell apart - intellect, socialization, everything.

I sympathize. ((HUG))

trek said...

Gah! I'm sequestering Neatnik for the duration...

Word verification: comso. Does this mean you need a Cosmopolitan?

quiltyknitwit said...

I hated my own middle school years, and those of my kids weren't so great either. However, everyone survived and went on to college, etc.! Just let him feel the consequences, and he'll either wise up, or not... and it will still be okay.

dale-harriet said...

I had one of those too - and he unnerved the teachers (that was a while ago and there were no plans in place for *advanced* kids). He was instinctive with computers, but they denied him the computer lab because he didn't "conform". He dropped out of high school {sigh} but he's responsible and all, and entertains himself.....wish I could offer advice, but in some cases the school system is not equipped to deal with advanced youngsters. I have a soapbox in the corner but I'll fight the temptation. HOWEVER! I surely do love your Noro afghan! That's almost enough to make me break out my hooks again!

seashells said...

Smart ones aren't easy. Doesn't it make you wish there was a Vulcan around that could be employed as a tutor? Middle school years seem to be about conforming; academically, behaviorally and socially, and with so many more students to teach it must be harder for teachers to extend the personal touch often found in elementary school. Maybe studying for the SAT would help keep your son busy this summer.

Angelika said...

You are seriously scaring me now.

pittsburgh mom said...

my son is an average student who went thru the same kind of up and downs in school. I went to too many conferences to keep track of.....and now wish I had not. Running to the rescue all the time is enabling the habit. My son is now in college...surprise...and struggles with fighting his own battles on campus with professors and administrators. Sigh....

The A.D.D. Knitter said...

Hi Sister-- Yes, my 8th grader has two Fs right now in Reading (even though she's a voracious reader) and History (even though it's her favorite subject). Her bad grades are due to her ever-important SOCIAL LIFE and TEXTING which are, you know, so much more important. The cell phone has been impounded and if she doesn't bring those grades up, I will smash it on the sidewalk with a hammer.

Karen said...

I am always shocked when people say they would go back to those years if given the chance. You couldn't pay me enough to go back to that time. Glad you are both getting a break soon!

Steph B said...

Wow. I'm sorry. I can't imagine trying to keep up with a child that bright. It's tough, getting them to understand that intelligence does NOT conquer all and they still need things like good manners and a strong work ethic. Good luck and hang in there! Oh, and I second the suggestion to knit something in cashmere...self-medication at its finest.

Laura said...

Oh wow, you just brought back some horrible memories. It seemed like every single grading period, one of my kids would choose a different subject to be failing in. Both were bright as can be, prodigious readers, and all-around nice kids, but man, if they weren't interested in something, their grades just went in the toilet!

High school should be a vast improvement. But -- and this is important -- make sure your son develops some good study habits before he goes to college. My brilliant son managed to flunk out of a college honors program in record time, not because he wasn't smart enough to do the work, but because he didn't know how to actually organize himself to get the work done. Thank heaven, the Air Force taught him what I had failed to, and he's not back out of the AF, in college, and juggling a heavy class load with a busy job and doing well at both.

They really do get better. Eventually. But in the meantime, I don't blame you for looking for that Himalayan village!

a friend to knit with said...

oh, i hear you. this middle school stuff is EXHAUSTING!!!

knitalot3 said...

I feel your pain. 1.5 days here... I hope we make it.

Knit and Purl Mama said...

Wow, that's crazy. I hope his summer vacation doesn't wear you thin.

With my 2 boys, I'm not sure I'm ready yet for the school thing. One's not old enough for daycare yet, and the other one is in daycare. Ahh, the innocent age...! I guess I better enjoy it while it's here.