Susan's Blog

Friday, April 11, 2008

I Am What I Am Not

As much as I try not to, in the end I still assign roles to my children. Then I am surprised when they show me that they are not what I thought, and indeed, they are far more. I should not be surprised; why do I have to keep learning the same lessons over and over? I never like to be thought of as just one thing. I feel that to define is to limit, in almost an existential sense, a la Martin Heidegger: once you posit what a being is, its real self is no longer that. Naming brings something into the light, only to lose the connection to the unnamed thing-ness it was before.

Growing up, my sister and I seemed to accept such narrow roles for ourselves. Sometimes, ridiculously, I thought of myself as “the pretty one” and Laura as “the smart one,” for example (She is, needless to say, quite beautiful.) Or I was the fuck-up, and she was successful. It is so unfair to ourselves and to each other to think this way. She should have the chance to be the fuck-up, the needy one, and I should get to be successful and together sometimes. So when suddenly I scored much higher than Laura on the verbal SAT, it was practically a crisis in identity for me.

With the boys, I have often found that I am wrong about Nat, and who he is, and what he can do. He is continually surprising me, refusing to be defined. I am also guilty of thinking of Max as the more successful student, and Ben, the struggling one. But although it is good for Max to be encouraged to be the best he can be in school, sometimes he is not. He needs to be able to occupy that role, the role of the child in trouble with his parents at times, and that does not come easily to me or to him. Sometimes when I am trying to speak to him seriously about the need for more A’s, now that he is almost a junior, we exchange a glance that seems to say, “we both know that you’re going to do just fine, humor me.” But I feel that it is my duty as his parent to keep pushing him, anyway. He does, however, give me that feeling of ease and calm, and he always has.

Ben has always worried me. Even in utero we had troubles that required one or two emergency room visits, only to find that little sprite practically grinning at us from the ultrasound pics, seeming to say, “Gotcha!” As a growing boy, he has never really enjoyed schoolwork, because he always has his own fish to fry, something else he is thinking about, reading, or drawing, and so we often have conversations like, “Who invented school anyway?”

And I reply, “Irving School.” (This is an old Senator family joke. My father has always answered the question, “who invented …?” with “Irving ….” I always thought it was simply funny, that he would pick that name, the name of his dad, my grandpa, every time. One day, though, Ned explained it thus: “Well, who invented your dad? Irving!” I laughed and laughed. Still laughing, with only one cup of half-caf in me at 6:12 a.m.)

Ben always talks about how people should be born already knowing what they need to know; how school wastes his time; how he needs more time to do X, Y, or Z. So when he brought home a homework assignment that was three parts long, including an essay, I just about fainted, anticipating the nudge sessions I would have to endure.

But Ned started in right away, just getting Ben to work on it a day at a time. He discovered that if he lets Ben dictate his answers, and Ned records them, it goes incredibly fast. So I took over the next day. I typed on Precious while Ben formulated essay sentences.

I was amazed at the gorgeous sentences Ben constructed, out of thin air. But why should I be surprised? He also does large math problems in his head. It is the “show your work” demand that stymies him. So his essay evolved into a very interesting and well-worded piece, about the Stinky Cheese Man. I did nothing but type. Even when he came up with an odd construction or weird syntax, I let it be. I was merely the facilitator.

Then came the part of the assignment where Ben was supposed to draw the Stinky Cheese Man, precisely the way the artist had in the book. This was as close to a murderously insulting assignment as Ben could ever have. Ben, the artist, being forced to copy someone else’s art. Disgusting.

But, the idea was to get the child to see what it feels like to create a Caldecott-Award winning illustration and book. (I really don’t like this assignment, but I’m just the parent, and even when I was on the School Committee, there was no real forum in which we could change the kind of assignments teachers gave. Thou Shalt Not Micromanage is the First Commandment of the School Committee member.)

Once Ben realized what he had to do and that he had to do it, he got out every colored pencil we own and worked for hours trying to color the picture exactly as it was drawn in the book. No matter what Ned and I said about it being great, or just fine, or finished already (!) he would not let it be until it was exactly the same as the book’s picture. Needless to say it was a fantastic rendering. He told me that when the teacher held it up to the class, he could not tell at first which was his and which was the one from the book. Obviously he was very proud of himself.

I have not been accustomed to thinking of B as a dedicated student, and now I see I was wrong. The thing is, to Ben, assignments are so incredibly important, that he leaves himself no room to do simply what he can. Being so literal, he believes that he must do exactly as the teacher asks, or what he thinks she’s asking. And then he becomes overwhelmed, of course! So the thing is, Ben may be kind of a perfectionist, and that is why he gets so resentful of school work and so reluctant to even start it. But when he does do it — wow.


Ben is like my Ben…creative kiddo’s!

— added by r.b. on Friday, April 11, 2008 at 9:00 am

Ben sounds like me.

Nat is very handsome btw…….I saw a picture of him wearing his medals…….

I came to this blog from leftbrainrightbrain

I have one as well……..feel free to come visit 🙂

The Integral of athenivanidx

— added by athenivanidx on Friday, April 18, 2008 at 2:02 am

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