Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Play It School

If he wasn’t practicing math, he was reading. If he wasn’t reading, he was writing. If he wasn’t writing, he was organizing school supplies. And if he had spare time, he slept -- but only if the “School Success Stories” CD was playing softly in his ear.

Fifth grade is a giant leap for an elementary school student, and my 10-year-old son had to be ready. The opposition this year would be fierce.

I’d originally planned a rigorous training schedule for my son’s entire summer vacation, but somehow the break got away from us. The two days before school began would have to suffice.

“I’ll be fine,” my son said when I shouted it was time to hit the books.

The kid always assumes everything will be fine. And just because it usually is, it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be an over-worrier like me.

I shot a math problem at him. He failed.

OK, maybe 1,027 multiplied by 165 is a little difficult without a pencil and paper. But it made the kid realize he had work to do. He’d also have to pick up the intensity.

Right away, my son and my program didn’t get along.

“This work is too bossy,” he complained. “It always wants to know what I just read or what the chances are of getting a red marble in a bag of forty red marbles, thirty blue marbles and ten green marbles.”

Yup, fifth grade was going to be rough on my boy.

I purchased several cases of Gatorade to provide hydration for my son while he exercised his mind.

“But Daddy, Gatorade doesn’t hydrate,” he said when I threw him a bottle as he transitioned from the study of Mayan culture to the examination of earthquakes and tsunamis as they affect ocean life.

“Gatorade does so hydrate,” I replied. “I refueled with it when I played football.”

“No,” he said, “it gives you electrolytes, but it’s full of sugar and bad chemicals and very little water content. It’s better to just drink water.”

“How do you know?” I asked him. “You don’t even know the entire periodic table of elements.”

“Actually, Mommy and I did an extensive study of the elements when you were at work one day. As for the accusation that Gatorade doesn’t hydrate, I learned about that from Mommy’s ‘Health Tip Diva’ podcast.”

After exchanging the Gatorade for bottled water, I devised a new strategy: Mommy could help the kid prepare. After all, she’s a teacher. And she has those really helpful podcasts.

Go! Fight! Win!

Mommy had trouble from the beginning. Her pupil kept getting up -- getting water, getting the phone, getting restless, getting nothing done. Even my wife, who educates middle school children in a rough neighborhood, couldn’t get our son on track.

On the evening before the first day of school, I tested our boy to see what he’d accomplished. I made the problems more difficult than they should’ve been. I also invited some kids over and had them run around the room to simulate a typical classroom environment. And guess what? Our boy didn’t pass.

At dinner, no one talked. We barely ate. And then it hit me: “I guess it’s up to the teacher now.”

“No, Daddy,” our son said. “It’s up to me.”

After we finished eating, the kid went to his room. He sharpened his pencils, laid out his clothes, set his alarm clock, packed enough water in his backpack to stay hydrated for the day.

“I’m ready to learn,” he finally announced with new focus and determination.

The next day, we tried to kiss him goodbye (unsuccessfully, because that would be embarrassing to a 10-year-old) and we wished him luck. He was off to dominate fifth grade.

My wife and I smiled. It was going to be OK after all.

Until the yard duty busted him for running.

It’s gonna be a rough year.

-August 2013

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