Thursday, August 30, 2012

Here we go again...

Ah... back to school..  This is one of those times, like Christmas, that is both exciting and wonderful, but so much work-- and often anti-climactic.  The excitement of new backpacks, teachers, and a fresh box of colored pencils is gone by the end of the second day, and then it's just complaints about teachers, homework, and why can't I stay up til 9:00 like I did last week?  And it seems that each year my response of "because I said no" is harder for the kids to swallow.  As they get older and smarter, they seem to want to manipulate everything and, much to my chagrin, I've discovered that they often do.  Even when I don't think they have.
I have to admit I've often ridiculed those mothers who let their children win every battle.  Standing on the sidelines, it is easy to see how those mothers could be better parents and what they should or should not be doing with their children.  And I'm not talking about basic eating, tv, play habits.   I'm not even talking about homework policies and extra-curricular activities.  I'm talking about basic "send your son to school and let the teachers make all the rules into he comes home" policies.  Things that, as a child, I pretty much took for granted.  I didn't WANT my mother interacting with my teachers, since I knew that would only hurt me in the long run (and by "hurt me", I mean literally, on my bum, pain).  But somehow, someway, I have morphed into that mother that I swore I'd never be.  That "helicopter" mom that hovers over the school system waiting for the opportunity to swoop down and add my own two cents to the extensive education that our teachers and principals undergo before being hired.  Because, of course, how are they going to make the right decisions for our children if WE non-professionals don't intercede?
The real irony in this is that for the last four years I've been teaching at the college level on a part time basis, and for a long while my husband, in a futile attempt to help (and increase our level of income), would suggest that maybe I should get a job teaching at the high school full-time.  My over-emphasized reaction to that suggestion would always be "Heck, no!  I do NOT want to deal with parents.  EVER."  I would typically continue (while he nodded off in sleep or turned his attention back to the iPad) about how parents now days won't let teachers do their jobs and how children are being taught that their rights and privileges are more important than their education, etc, etc., and just how detrimental to society this trend was.  He was smart enough to agree with me, even if he didn't hear a word I was saying after "No"-- which is the only part of the conversation that mattered to him anyhow.  
And now I, however unintentionally it may be, have become one of those parents.
It happened gradually.  Last year my son had a problem with a teacher. It seemed serious, from his perspective, so I called a Parent-Teacher meeting.  I interceded.  Things got better.  I patted myself on the back.  I refused to believe that my son may have felt he had pulled something over on me or "won", and when that sneaky thought wiggled its way into my brain, I managed to convince myself that, well, it's okay if he wins sometimes.  It's for his own good.  I wasn't one of "those" moms.
Then, stage open, second day of third grade.  First day of math.  My son enters the house, scowl in place on his face.  I, ever the good mother attentive to his moods and needs, ask "What's wrong?" and get the angry "My math teacher is horrible!  Math is SO easy this year!  I don't WANT to be in this class!"  I try to reason with him.
Give it some time.  It's only the first day of math, I'm sure it will get harder.
NO, she said we would be doing this for weeks.  She said this was what this class did.  She said...
Okay, what do you want me to do?  (Parent mistake number 2 is asking)
Put me in a different class.
I can't do that.
You did it last year.
Uhmmm... well, that was different.  (Parent mistake number 3 is even considering this line of conversation)
YOU said I would be in a hard class this year, Mom.
(Parent mistake number 1 was actually having said this a few weeks earlier-- I was, to my credit, trying to motivate him, but with this child I should know by now to NEVER say ANYTHING that can be used in ANY way in his favor down the road... which, according to my husband, means never say anything.  Period.  My husband is often much better at parenting than I give him credit for.)
And the angry, upset Mason set in.  The "I'm going to act like this until I get my way" Mason.  The "I will make your life so miserable from this moment on and make you feel like the worst parent ever" routine.
And I started to fold. (Parent mistake number 4)  In justification, I had lectured for 7 hours the day before, had 4 office hours, and hadn't got home until after 10:30.  I was exhausted.
Okay, how about I email your teacher, asking her to please make the class harder and to move you to a different class if it turns out this class is too easy for you?
This worked.  Somewhat.  He wasn't thrilled, but he was smart enough to realize this was the best he could get.  Thanks, Mom.  You're the best.  Let me know what she says. (Parent mistake number 5 is letting yourself feel validated by things like this in situations like this)
And I did it.  I emailed the teacher:  "Mason says math is too easy this year; and because he is pretty good at math, I want to make sure he is in a challenging class.  Is this the best class for him?"  (Man, I'm a sucker.)
Within an hour I had a response back from the teacher starting with the very accurate:  "I have to laugh.  This was the first day of math class.  All we did was get to know each other.  It will- obviously- get harder as the year progresses.  If Mason proves to be advanced for this class, I will happily move him.  After progress reports.  Call me THEN."

God bless teachers who know how to deal with parents like me.

Feeling properly chastised, ashamed, embarrassed, and, well, fooled, I go up to Mason's room where he has already been put to bed for the night, curled up next to him, and said "I got an email from your teacher.  You'll be happy to know that she is going to make this class much harder for you AND if it's still too easy, she'll move you to an even harder class. All you have to do is get straight A's on everything for the next eight weeks."
Without missing a beat, Mason pops up in bed, scowls at me, and says angrily, "WHY would you DO that? I don't want to do anything harder.  I HATE hard work!"

I can't win.
Lesson learned.  God bless the Elkridge Elementary School teachers.  I'm just going to let you do your job from now on.

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