This. This is a picture of my boy, so engrossed in reading that he can’t take the time to eat. Noah: the boy who we say is “always hungry, never tired”. This is after coming in from a full afternoon of biking, climbing trees and jumping rope. This is after playing with the neighbour boy for hours, switching effortlessly between two languages depending on whether he was talking to the neighbours or to his sisters. This is after climbing boulders in the forest and after building Lego houses with his sisters.
And so I was feeling very happy. A great day. But as I rewound the hours in my head, downloading the pictures from my camera that I’m sharing with you tonight, I stopped short when I remembered how it started. It started with whining, screaming even, and three broken pencils. It started with a litany of “I can’t” and a series of “this is stupid”. It started with each 5-minute task taking him 15 to 20 minutes.
Zahra did a cross-numbers puzzle. She read her own lesson on exclamatory sentences; she practised her piano. Leila put three-letter words together with her clay letters. She played a number identification game with me. She practised her cutting skills. In that time, Noah completed one page in his Star Wars math book.
We regrouped and coloured along to our SQUILT selection. We read a Kayak issue on money. Then, Zahra and Leila ran out the back door to have their lunch in the treehouse. Noah had to stay behind because he still had writing to do. This only amplified his frustration and unhappiness.
This is when I pour myself a second cup of coffee. This is when I tell him that when he’s ready to work, to let me know—and I unload the dishwasher while he breaks another pencil at the kitchen table, grinding it into his book. This is when I’m wracking my brain for new ideas, questioning what it is we’re doing wrong: why this is so painful for him and why I can’t think of a better way to present the material.
I want him to learn the material, but there are so many other things I want him to learn at the same time. I want him to be able to correctly judge the amount of work a task requires—to not make a mountain out of a molehill. I want him to accept that learning is a progression—he can’t write stories until he learns to write sentences. I want him to take pride in his work—not just scribble as quickly as he can.
But most importantly, I want to him to learn that a task can be difficult, and it may not be exactly what he wants to do in the moment, but he can still do it—without whining, without screaming, without breaking three pencils. Look at the task head on and accomplish it!
So we had that talk. Everything I ask him to do is a bit of a challenge. If it’s too easy, it’s a waste of time. If it’s too hard, it’s frustrating. But he has to put effort into it. And when the going gets tough, we still have to see it through. Without falling apart.
I told him making dinner often seems like that insurmountable task for me. One of my favourite memes shows a woman in distress saying, “Why do they want dinner every single night?” I open the fridge and see a math or logic problem: how do I make a tasty meal with these choices? I’m not the best cook, but I manage. I’m not inspired; I don’t love to cook. But we have to eat. I asked Noah if he ever saw me throw myself on the ground and scream and whine just before dinner time, or give up and say “I can’t make dinner” and leave them to fend for themselves. Oh, I’ve been tempted…but no, that hasn’t happen. Same goes for your writing practise, kiddo.
I like this book, I like this book, I like this book.
He did finish it, if only to join his sisters outside. And then I got to work on a Plan B. I don’t think that writing and grammar will ever be his favourite, but we need to turn this around. It needs to not be this painful, not so much of a struggle. I have an idea, but I’m going to think on it some more and involve Noah in the decision. Because as much as he needs to learn to tolerate work that is not his favourite, he also needs to be a “solution finder”, finding another path to the same destination if the one he’s currently on isn’t working.
If there’s anything that will help you clear your thoughts and de-stress, it’s hanging out with chickens. And watching your daughter become a pro at her pogo stick. And a black-capped chickadee landing so close to you that you can take this marvellous photo of it. Life is good.