Since we moved, things have been much different. School, especially, has been a hurdle we all have had to climb much more quickly than we thought. I’m going to let you in on a secret…people in Illinois do not think people in Indiana are getting a kick-ass education. Now, I’m not here to speak to the whole state and I can’t even speak to the whole school my kids are in but I can tell you in the two classrooms my kids are in they are getting an education that far surpasses their previous education.
Which, friends, is a double-edged sword.
I had to give a Friday Night Lights style pep talk (I miss that show forever and always) to my kids at the end of week two at the school. They were overwhelmed, their grades were all crap because they weren’t used to grades at all (previous school gave E for exceeds, M for meets, and P for progressing toward goal) and they didn’t know what to do with the Cs and Ds and even (I seriously almost fainted) Fs my kids were suddenly coming home with.
I steal all my best pep talk jamz from Coach Taylor.
Even though I was terrified they were going to pull my kids out of the High Ability (HA) classroom and put them into the regular classroom, the first thing I had to acknowledge was that, if they did, that was okay. Don’t get me wrong, I nearly cried when both kids tested into the program because Oldest Sister is strong in reading and weak in math and Middle Sister is strong in math and weak in reading and I didn’t know how it would work if they only tested strong for their preferred subject and when I was informed they were both going to HA I was absolutely thrilled (who wouldn’t be?) and hoped we could bring up their weak subjects without turning my house into Brave New World or The Giver or some other awful place where children only do what they are supposed to and never have any fun.
I realized while I was in my pep talk that it really was okay if they ended up in the regular classroom. Of COURSE it was okay. But only if we made the effort – first – to bloom where we were planted.
Big Sister brought her grades up within a month. The hook of my speech was, “We only have two choices. Catch up or give up.” Big Sister had taken it to heart and I think everyone in her class being really kind and helpful made it easy for her to decide to catch up. The entire district has a philosophy to keep the same class together from 1st grade though middle school, so these kids kind of know they have to get along because they’re going to be together for years. It forms close bonds among children and parents alike because the class has it’s own identity as it passes from grade to grade. So it was fairly easy for her to catch up.
Middle Sister, on the other hand, struggled. She forgot to turn in a couple assignments and it was the end of a grading period so her report card had two Fs on it. She was getting run down. She had never felt any kind of educational adversity before. Everything has always been so easy for her and it was hitting her hard. She cried. She looked tired all the time. I ended up holding her and stroking her hair a lot when she just couldn’t do one more thing. I asked her if she wanted to give up and every time she would say in this quiet, sad voice, “No mommy, but I do want the hard part to be over now.”
“Soon, baby, it will be over soon and you will be so happy.” You know every time I said that I prayed with every cell in my body I wasn’t lying. I prayed that it would be over soon. That she would catch up before she just couldn’t take one more step. I had her read out loud to me and I would read her the same paragraph out loud and then have her read it out loud. Back and forth for a half hour a night. I signed up for a free account on www.spellingcity.com and had her do extra spelling practice a half hour a night. It started to work. She brought home a C+ and then a B+ on her spelling tests. She was reading with a little more fluency. She was starting to get a foothold.
Then we had a setback. A big one. They do timed fact practice at school. 100 problems in 4 minutes for now and I think they go faster as the year progresses. Every one would come home with an F or a D- on it. She was stuck. She didn’t know what to do. She was getting bad grades at math. A great deal of her personal identity is based on being great at math. My confident child was handing over papers and saying things like, “I don’t understand. I know all these. I just can’t go any faster.”
My heart broke.
I told her, “Well, you know your times tables, so the problem isn’t your knowledge it’s your speed so I need you to know first, last, and always that how fast you can do math is never a good way to judge yourself. These sheets are to help you memorize the times tables to the deep marrow in your bones, like they were part of your skin, little memories tattooed in your brain forever. This is not a test that judges how good you are. This is a test to help you be better, even if it feels like you’re failing, every time you’re remembering a little more.”
I’m paraphrasing myself and it was kind of a long speech. I talk until I can see the kid’s eyes focus back on me and hear what I’m saying. I may say the same thing ten ways until one of them hits the target and my kid really HEARS what I’m saying. I talk in a gentle, almost hypnotic voice because if I yelled it all none of it would stick. My kids aren’t horses and I don’t plan on breaking their spirits!
So when this came home today:
Middle Sister has always been a whiz at math. Since we moved she has been getting a D- or F on all the times times tables they have done. She was hurt. She questioned if she was really good at math. She thought something was wrong with her. I told her she was good but good only gets you so far. You have to work to get the rest of the way to great. When she brought this paper home today with the B and the sticker and the exclamation point smiley face? She realized the extra practice sheets and relaxation exercises we did made a difference! I told her I love when she gets an A but this fought-for B makes me even prouder. She has been beaming all night. As she should.
I’m not even going to lie, I got misty. Like, almost started bawling right there.
I made sure Big Sister heard my speech about the hard workin’ B and how important it was even she got in on cheering Middle Sister and being as supportive as she is able. I mean, she was fine, not mean or anything but I can’t even tell you how happy Big Sister is to be The One That Is Good At School™ since it has been Middle Sister’s title for so long.
Big Sister has bloomed since we have been at this new school and Middle Sister has experienced things that are not easy. Who knew two girls could get so many maturity-boosting lessons in 9 weeks?
Today, I signed them up for a softball camp. Three Saturdays of hitting, stealing bases, learning about sportsmanship and doing whatever other cool things softball players do. There is a big sports culture in this town and even if my girls turn their eyes to books and drawings I still want them to try and experience as much as possible so they have fewer “what if” moments as they get older. Middle Sister is loving the board game club she is in now and has applied for the next session. Big Sister has signed up for a coding workshop that starts in March.
Today is the first day I finally stopped holding my breath because today is the day I know both of my girls not only chose to catch up, they followed through and are going to be okay.
Breathing brings me great happiness.