I unfortunately pride myself in lofty goals. Lose 42 pounds by Thanksgiving, learn to run then run a marathon by Christmas, teach myself to play the violin by March, stuff like that. When summer started I decided to kick my mothering into high gear and planned to teach my children everything they need to know to succeed in life by the end of August.
We began the summer with an impressively intricate points system (I bummed it off a much more intelligent girlfriend of mine) to encourage the children to use their jobs to earn rewards, like media or swim days. My kids loved it.
The summer also started with a strict bed time and wake up schedule. We planned to retire at a reasonable hour and arise with the sun in order to conquer the world and the toilets before the day burned off. The morning ritual included oral hygene, bed making, Learn About Jesus Time, daily chores, and most importantly, summer school.
It lasted three days.
For three days their little minds expanded and their habits showed the promise of aspiring good citizenship. Finally, our family was proving that we can be a well-oiled machine, balancing the delicate tension between work and play, rewards and discipline, learning and meandering.
Then we went on vacation.
Don’t ask me what happened between then and now but with one week of summer left I keep walking around the house, scratching my head and wondering who these weedy little hoodlums are and if their mother is ever going to show up and take them home. I don’t know what I’m dreading more, the first day of school next week or Tuesday’s dental appointments. Not only do my poor little children have puffy summer gums but they can’t seem to remember which end of the pencil they’re supposed to write with.
I was playing a board game with Harrison (9) a few days ago. It required some very elementary math skills, like 2×4 and 6+8. He’s going into fourth grade; at one point last year he passed off all his multiplication tables.
“Okay honey,” I said at the end of the first round, “What’s 2×3?” He stared at me, his popsicle-stained mouth hanging slightly ajar as he tried to crank up the old mathematical cogs. I waited. And waited and waited and waited.
“Don’t tell me!” he finally said, holding up a finger before I could supply him the miserable answer. I shut my mouth with excruciating effort and watched as he counted them up on his fingers.
Heavens to Betsy, were we in trouble. The rest of the game went about the same as I attempted to drill him on simple multiplication tables. As the game finished I laid the hard news on the table for him.
“Buddy,” I said, “I hate to break it to you but we’ve got two weeks until school starts. Do you know what that means?” He looked back at me with his do-we-have-any-cookies-because-I’m-really-not-listening-to-you expression (the one thing he’s perfected this summer).
“Hello?” I said, “Earth to Harry. Did you hear me? We’ve got two weeks until school starts.”
“So?” he said.
“So? What’s 7×2?” Once again I watched in agony as he tried to resurrect his defunct mathematical tools.
“Don’t tell me!” he finally said. I put my head in my hands as he counted up the answer.
“Son,” I asked, “How will you feel when you start fourth grade and your teacher realizes that you can’t remember any of your multiplication tables? What will your teacher think of you? Aren’t you a little worried about that?” Finally a sliver of understanding cross his face. Nobody wants to feel stupid on the first day of school. He quickly agreed to a steady diet of flash cards.
I was telling my girlfriend about our lost learning. When I got to the part in the story where he couldn’t do simple multiplication any more, like 6×2, he yelled out to me, “I do to know what 6×2 is, it’s 18!”
Fourth grade, here we come.