Monday, January 26, 2009

Our Kids

This is a photo of my son and his robotics partner and friend hovered at their temporarily-assigned computer, desperately trying to retain their, also temporary, lead in the robotics programming "race" that had emerged among the students pretty much immediately upon receiving their kits. Next door, my GFF's daughter and her partner struggle to keep pace. Note the dedication to their task - if only every subject drew this intensity of focus, this determination to succeed!

Of course, little can compete with the pure thrill of a 3-week section on building and programming your own robots, competing against one another in accuracy and speed, adding your own flourishes, and ultimately imbuing your creation with a style and mission all its own. For 5th graders? Bliss.

2-3PM each day might be tense with raw competition, but it is fun and exciting and somehow pure and simple in its goals. I'm glad, because the rest of 5th grade is fraught with dangers and missteps both social and academic. In many ways, 5th grade feels like 1st grade - the expectations and skills my child and I have honed in recent years lie like so much rubble at our feet. It's a new world, a new day, and we are unprepared.

As some consolation, most of my peers were caught unaware as well - all of us, I think, having filed 6th grade as The Turning Point in our psyche. But, it turns out that these days, 6th grade begins in 5th grade, and unless you are one of those parents who has carefully choreographed since preschool your child's peer relations with an eye toward the middle school lunchroom scene, you might feel that a lump of helpless fear has taken up permanent residence in your throat during this last elementary school year.

Rejection, hormones, constantly shifting cliques. These are front and center for girls in 5th grade, but boys are grappling with them too. More shadowy, less obvious, and perhaps less extreme, the knives of exclusion still get drawn, and wound. In 5th grade, kids have been exposed to enough media to understand instinctively the weak points. Thankfully, for some of them, empathy has blossomed and now in 5th grade, true friendships are formed of common interests and mutual alliances are born as well.

Academically, it's no less complex. Middle school looms, with AP classes for the smart and lucky, a workload unimagined in the lower grades, and the institutional distancing of the parents' role. No longer are notes needed for after school, no longer are signatures required to ensure that parents understand and agree to homework or test expectations. 6th graders are expected to manage their own homework, their own challenges. Parents are brought in on a need-to-know basis.

Most of us are looking at our 10 year olds and thinking...WTF? Really? Six months from now it's sink or swim for this kid - KID - who can't remember where he put his socks? And then we find the nearest paper sack we can breathe into. And of course, we will choose to involve ourselves. We will insist on being present, on seeing the homework anyway, on knowing when the test is. We will instruct, support, cajole. Beg.

5th grade, so far, has been hard. Hard for my kid. Hard for me. I feel tool-less in the face of new challenges. So, we've been taking it day by day, doing what works for us. Talking. Playing. Keeping what seems to work, tossing what doesn't. My secret hope is that we are laying a good foundation for next year...that maybe this year is sort of next year so next year won't be as hard as we feared. Stay tuned.

Tonight, I had a meeting at the elementary school. Our elementary school, middle school, and high school are co-located on a 100-acre campus in the middle of the island. There were a fair few cars in the parking lots when I pulled in at 6:30, for what I'm not sure. When I left, at 8PM, three high school boys were congregating near the front doors I passed through - pretty unusual, especially this time of night. Huh, what were they doing here?

Well, our school has a giant art piece, created by the entire 1st grade some years ago, in which each student made a tiny tile and together an island artist formed it into a beautiful turtle - and all involved named it Speedy.

The boys had come over to admire the handiwork.

As I walked past them, I heard their words of praise and surprise at the quality of the little kids' work, and their discussion of individual tiles and their merits. I smiled, inhaled a deep breath of relief and gratitude and faith, and walked on to my waiting car.

You know what? I think he's going to be just fine.

1 comment:

Shea's Mom said...

You captured it. Exactly.