Sunday, October 3, 2010

We, the Unwilling

re·cal·ci·trant [ri-kal-si-truh nt]: adjective
1. resisting authority or control; not obedient or compliant; refractory.
2. hard to deal with, manage, or operate. See unruly.

1. a recalcitrant person.

“We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much,for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.” -Anonymous

As you probably know by now, I home school my children. This was one of those decisions that was made, to all outside observers, very quickly, but in fact was forming in my mind for several years before it ever happened. Never let it be said that I didn't know what I was getting into; I did my research, I talked to home schooling parents, I read articles about socialization, and I listened to the skeptics. But as every mother EVERYWHERE knows, getting children to cooperate and follow directions is probably the biggest challenge of raising children. The aptly-named Terrible Twos are pretty much the age when any given child realizes how much of a power-trip it is to single-handedly send Mommy through all the stages of apoplexy. Every old saying about children enjoying nothing so much as fighting with their mothers does kind of point out that teaching one's own children will probably not be all sunshine and roses. So of course I knew going in that some days would be better than others. I knew that, and in my heart I truly believed that with love and perseverance, I could get us all through - and I still do believe that.

BUT (you knew this was coming, right?) THERE ARE DAYS when I'm not sure it wouldn't save us all a lot of time and trouble to just run screaming out of the house and come back to check on everyone when they're ready to go to college. I had a blast in school when I was a kid. I remember keeping that a secret, because I didn't want to come across as even weirder than I was, but I really sincerely looked forward to learning new things. I didn't look forward to hanging out with friends - I didn't really have too many, and mostly the ones I had just sort of banded together because we were all socially awkward. Sitting together at recess and being awkwardly silent together isn't exactly a high point of anyone's day. Reading, however, was a joy beyond all telling. Learning to write essays was bliss, especially since it erased all the awkward phrasing, starts and stops of someone who is chronically shy and has a tendency to blurt out excessively personal stories or not-actually-funny jokes in an overly jovial way. Math was just another kind of writing to me, and I enjoyed learning the new tools and signs that expanded that vocabulary.

Now take Spidey and Xena. I'm not sure where their attitudes about learning come from, but I refuse to take the blame for them. Credit only, please! When they have a good day and a positive attitude, I'm more than willing to say it's because they take after me. It's those other days when I glare at Daddy. It's totally his fault.

Spidey believes firmly that sleeping late and playing with Legos is pretty much the epitome of life, and that everything else is just an annoying distraction. On his worst days, he palms a few Legos and plays with them under the table rather than doing his work. Once he is caught and the offending toys have been confiscated, he sulks through classes, spending more time staring off into space and thinking about playing with his Legos than he does actually finishing the dang worksheets so he can be finished and go play. He stares blankly at new concepts and, just when he seems to have grasped what's going on, adds several layers of unnecessary complicated pseudo-logic. Then, when he gets a bunch of questions wrong because he decided they must be more difficult than they seemed ("Don't extrapolate, honey! They just want to make sure you actually paid attention to what you read!"), he throws down his pen in frustration, folds his arms and scowls, insisting that he "can't" do whatever it is we're doing. Since he's a foodie, sometimes a snack helps. Sometimes. Other times it's just an endless parade of setting the dreaded timer ("It's review, for heaven's sake, it should not take you over an hour to do a single page!") and removing privileges a little at a time until either his attitude improves or it's dinnertime.

Xena, on the other hand, is a little contrarian beast. I'm dead sure she knows all of the stuff we've gone over to date, but she seems to have decided it's a better use of her time to grin and pretend she doesn't know. Oooooooh boy, is that a fun game! Almost as fun as the game where I review the same material four or five times in one school year because you "don't know it" yet! Eventually, daughter of mine, you *will* get tired of pretending you're an idiot. Probably around...what, 20? 25? She learned to count VERY fast because I used chocolate chips as a counting tool. If you can count how many, you can eat them! I'm nearly to the point where I'll use the same expedient in order to get her to recognize letters, because a child hopped up on enough chocolate to spell the entire alphabet is worlds better than one who thinks it would be fun to remain illiterate just for the sheer joy of watching that vein in my temple throb.

Don't get me wrong, I love my children and I really do believe strongly that I'm doing what's best for them. By all accounts I'm actually doing a decent job; I get decent marks at county reviews, and our first foray into standardized testing went pretty well (well, except for Social Studies, but I digress). I can even claim credit for teaching Spidey to read, and he enjoys it so much that I catch him up at *midnight* reading Calvin & Hobbes comics. It's a proud proud feeling to see my children casually throwing around words that some adults have trouble with, or to hear Xena aimlessly counting up to 15 as an intermission between choruses of Mulan and Sleeping Beauty. 

It's just that some days, I find myself waiting for the glorious moment when His Kiltiness will come home, so that I can (finally!) leave the table and go detox somewhere else. Anywhere else. Because there are only so many times you can tell the sweet little person you love with all your heart, "It's right there on the page we just read. Don't make up the answer. If you don't remember, just reread until you find it. It's right there in that chapter. I swear to you, we just read it! Don't tell me you reread it and it isn't there, I'm looking right at the answer! It's on this page, right here! Right in front of your eyeballs! For heaven's sake, look! I'm pointing to it! Read it! No, don't look over there. The answer is not on the refrigerator. Right here. Where. my. finger. is. No, you can't go to the bathroom! You just went 5 minutes ago! You're just trying to get out of doing this assignment, and it isn't going away until you've answered the questions. Read. the. stupid. paragraph!" After a while, everyone has had enough of each other, and frankly I'd even gladly have to plunge a clogged toilet or talk to a telemarketer rather than go through the same mind-numbing discussion for even 30 more seconds. [I love that she loses it just like me!! Nina is a saint with the short ones in our lives.  Me, the Mean Mommy Voice comes out.  And, on a personal note, I'd rather do ANYTHING other than deal with a clogged toilet.  Crow just spent several bucks with me calling the plumber. again. at. $95. an. hour. Again, new respect for people with strong stomachs.- Katya]

Am I alone in this little semi-private torture chamber? By all accounts, no, I'm not. It's not even limited to the home schooling crowd. I have seen well-educated career women whose work involves *saving lives* frustrated to the brink of infanticide by a toxic cocktail of reasoning, threatening, cajoling, begging, bribing, and eventually even screaming tirades, just trying to get their angelic little 8-year-old to do their one measly page of Math homework. I have seen stay-at-home moms who are normally a complete lake of placidity break out the Mean Mommy Voice after their toddler throws a tantrum about putting on their shoes.

Of course we all love our children. We had them. They changed our lives. They give us so much emotionally and spiritually, sticky kisses and all. But oh lordy, when they've had a Day? Give me a kiss and get out of my way - I'm going to go hide in the bathroom with a good book, because there just isn't enough room in that swear jar. [Bath, book, tea.  A great combination.  Or sub some sake in there, you deserve it!- Katya]


[Aren't you impressed I can edit stuff now?! Yay me.  Ducks are coming up!]

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