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Monday, February 2, 2015

Playing the Bad Guy, to Everyone's Distress

Sometimes often I get lazy.  I feel like parenting is a constant experiment to see exactly how little I can get away with before the consequences of my inaction are more trouble than dealing with the actual problems in my life.  In my better moments, it's balancing what I can give with what is needed, but sometimes, it's just plain laziness.

Kathleen has always been a good student in school, which has only encouraged my laziness.  I kept a pretty good eye on what was going on in Baku, because she was the only child who was really in school.  Near the end, I started slipping as we prepared for our departure.  I didn't worry too much, because I knew we'd get back to our regularly scheduled program when life settled down some.

Life started settling down and then I had Eleanor.  It thought about settling down and then we visited all of the family we could think of.  Then we moved.  And moved again.  And finally, life settled down.

Somewhere between Baku and Oakwood and Dushanbe Kathleen got lazy too.  Her handwriting, which used to be lovely, turned into chicken scratch.  Whole pages of her Latin got 'forgotten.'  All of the poems she had memorized fell out of her head.  And her math.  Oh, her math.

Our first day of school four weeks ago started with checking Kathleens' last assignment from Oakwood.  Each day she reads one lesson of math (which thankfully, blessedly, is now self-taught) and then completes lesson practice and written practice - usually between thirty-five and forty problems.  I went through her work and found eighteen incorrect problems.

Kathleen, of course, was full of excuses - she was excited about being done with school, it was a hard lesson, she forgot to look over her work.  So I reserved judgement for the next day.  After missing seventeen problems, she thought that perhaps she had forgotten how to carry when multiplying and maybe she had forgotten some of the things - after all it had been two months of school break.

After a week or so more of atrocious math work, it became apparent that Kathleen had just gotten lazy.  Twelve minus five never equals eight, and she knew it the second she looked over the previous day's work.  Two times three might equal six, but two plus three is always five.

And so I buckled down to clean up the problem I had created myself.  It was decided that for every math problem Kathleen missed, she would have to work five extra problems.  If she missed two problems, it would only mean ten more.  But if she missed ten, that would mean fifty.  This applied to both her regular work and make-up work.

Last Thursday Kathleen completed two hundred fifty extra math problems.

Which means that tomorrow - in addition to teaching Sophia, teaching Edwin, minding Joseph and Eleanor, and washing and folding laundry - I have to check two hundred and fifty math problems and then work through ever single wrong problem with Kathleen.

I don't like this kind of parenting.  I'm always on the lookout for heads-I-win-tails-you-lose solutions.  Kids have to clean up the toys?  Okay, I'll set the timer and when it goes off, they have to pay me to pick up any remaining toys which will then go into the gunny sack.  I don't have to bother them and then I can just clean up which is faster anyway.  Children haven't completed their morning chores?  That's fine - but no lunch until they've done their chores.  And lunch ends at one o'clock.

I've found that any consequence that involves more than minimal input from me is a consequence that is not very likely to be enforced.  It's much easier to just not feed you lunch than it is for me to keep you from escaping from the time out corner or bathroom or wherever you've been banished to.

But Kathleen's math is the exact opposite - it's tails-you-lose-and-I-lose-too.  The more problems she misses, the more problems I have to correct with her and the more of my precious time I have to waste correcting them.

I was moaning about the situation one evening with Brandon and he asked why I was making such a fuss if it caused so many problems for me.  I thought about it for awhile.  Why was I making such a fuss?  It's not like Kathleen didn't know how to do math - none of her mistakes came from confusion - it was all inattention.  And in the end it's just math.  Brandon never made it past Algebra I and he's a diplomat for heaven's sake.  Not one person has ever asked him to complete a linear regression or solve a quadratic equation.  I took the AP calculus test my junior year of high school and haven't touched a math class since.  We certainly devote a lot of time in school acquiring a skill set that most of us replace with the calculator on our phone.

I thought about just letting it all pass - that's fine Kathleen, you missed a lot of math problems again today.  Try and do better next time!  My sense of rightness rebelled.  I can't just let those things slide.  That's why I'm teaching my own children - so that they can't get away with a half-hearted job and a pat on the head for doing it.  It's not the result that matters - it's the job.

Because in the end a whole lot of the things we learn in school fall out of our brains pretty quickly.  Occasionally I think on the years and years and years of my life spent in school and how much of it actually applies to my everyday life and wonder if maybe that time could have been better spent learning how to cook or clean house or mind children.

What I'm teaching Kathleen isn't just math.  Math is simply the medium through which much more important lessons are learned.  I'm teaching Kathleen that being thorough is important.  I'm teaching her that waltzing through your work so you can get to the good parts of life will end up getting you more work in the long run.  I'm teaching her that consequences will always get you in the end.  I'm teaching her that a hope and a prayer are never answered without a lot of hard work to do your end of the deal.  And I'm teaching her that a job well done is its own reward.

And I'm also probably teaching her that her mother can be pretty merciless.

I really wish that there was an easier way to teach these lessons, one that didn't involve so much personal inconvenience, but there isn't.  Those are the hard parts of parenting, the parts that mean a long hard slog for everyone involved.  Nobody likes teaching them and nobody likes learning them.  But if they aren't taught and they aren't learned it really won't matter what else everyone has been spending their time on.  And so I buckle down and try to teach them whatever way I can, giving up my free time and my own preferences to drill those all-important lessons in.  Be thorough.  Check your work.  Use your time wisely.  Work before play.  And above all learn to govern yourself.

But in the end, if they are truly and thoroughly learned, they'll never, ever be forgotten.  And then, only then after I've done everything I can and their choices are their own and I can't do a dang thing about them, I can rest.  I'm looking forward to that.

1 comment:

Just US said...

Have you tried IXL? It is a website full of repetitious math problems. It might be a good punishment that would not require more of your time but still get your point across.