Friday, December 17, 2010

Dear Santa (2010) Part I:

Finally, a Santa after my own heart. 
Must be the mediocre version.

I know it’s a little late to be writing you, but I figure with all your magic you won’t have any problem getting this by December 24th—your busiest workday of the year (unlike my life, which is hectic everyday). I want you to know that I do love you, in all your happy splendor, even if we do have a slightly contentious relationship.

Honestly, Santa, I’m a little annoyed with you. Every year my children sit down to write their Christmas wish list, with their biggest, most expensive request going to you. Why is this? Because you are Santa and you have no budget constraints since your indentured servants elves make all your toys (and electronic gadgets) there in your toasty sweatshop workshop. 

This is a problem for me fat man, because my husband and I don’t get to take credit for scrimping and saving for the “big gifts.” After ripping open their American Girl Dolls, or Nintendo Game Systems, or POOL TABLES for heaven’s sake, our children are shouting, “Thanks Santa!” into the air, (like you can even hear them) while we take credit for the underwear, socks, and functionally warm Christmas sweatshirts. It’s like thanking a Unicorn for knocking out the mortgage. I’m getting tired of letting you take all the credit for my husband’s paycheck and my shopping efforts. Thankfully, you don’t wrap your presents (at least at our house) so I don’t have to do that for you too. (Because finding a wrapping paper that only you have, is getting to be a little difficult too.)

But worse than that Santa, I find myself doing all kinds of things to keep my children believing in you and the magic of the season. How’s that for crazy? I want my children to believe the impossibility that all things are possible. That anything can happen. Paper gingerbread men really can turn into REAL gingerbread cookies on Christmas morning, simply because you willed it. That you can always find us, even if we travel on Christmas Eve, lock all the doors and window tight, or have a fire raging in the fireplace. I perpetuate the myths of the season because seeing that sparkle of hope in my children’s eyes is worth not getting credit for having to take a second mortgage out on the house to pay for “your” gifts. Because Santa…

I lost two believers this year. I know my son knows because now he always refers to you in “air quotes” when others aren’t around. My middle daughter knows too, but she hasn’t come right out and admitted it. We dance around the topic with our usual lies; she’s waiting for me to slip and out you as a farce. But I won’t do it. I won’t say those words until she asks me point blank, and even then I’ll give her another chance by asking, “Are you sure you really want to know?” Of course by that time, they already do know. It’s a little sad for me to know my kids are getting older and skeptical now; a step away from the jaded adults we all become when we know how Christmas really works. 

The good news is that I still have one believer left in the house…my three-year-old daughter who barely understands your story and shtick. We’re all starting to fill her in now on how you work, and I can see the excitement budding in her eyes. So when I asked her what she wanted you to bring her, do you know what she said?

“Coloring books. The big kind.”

Yes. Isn’t that beautiful!? She hasn’t figured out to ask for a TV or a cell phone or a convertible Volkswagen Bug yet (the newly designed 2012 version), taking cues from her big brother and sister. She asked for floor-sized coloring books. And do you know what you are bringing her? Well, of course you do. You’re Santa. I’m betting you’re going to throw in a pack of her own mini markers too, because you are good like that and think of everything.

So I’m focusing on that this year Santa. That my youngest believer-in-you still wants the little things, and is happy with big white pages with dark black lines that she can color. I’m happy to let you take credit for this one. I didn’t have to get a holiday paper route to pay for this gift.

What do my son and daughter want for Christmas, you ask? Or me or my husband? Well, it’s not a very long list Santa, but the items are pricey. I’ll be getting back to you with those items in the next day or two. Right now I have to work on writing more website copy so I can invoice my client and have money to make the higher payments on my credit card. Until you get my next installment letter, continue enjoying your steaming lattes and packing on the pounds while Mrs. Clause waits on you hand and foot. One of these days I'm going to have to write her a letter too...

Sincerely,

Rachel G.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Making the Grade. Or Not.


Some of you have mentioned that I left you hanging about my son’s grade status and the consequences my husband and I imposed after he brought home his report card. I apologize. Some info I write here, some info I post on Facebook, and some info I’ve written for Good Enough Mother. I don’t want to go around being redundant (I do that enough here in my mediocre mother life), but I also don’t want to leave my readers in a lurch. The bigger message in all this of course, is that all of you should be following me in all venues of my writing, wherever the hell it happens to appear. Yeah yeah, I know, you all have day jobs. (Most of you anyway.) But I bet you take bathroom breaks don’t you? Well put on a pair of Depends and read me during that precious time. It’ll be worth it. And those Depends really can hold a vast amount of liquid I’m told.

But the long and short of it is, yes, my son had one C on his report card. And yes, in the interest of following through on promised consequences, he lost all TV, video games, and recreational computer for four and a half weeks.

Quit feeling sorry for him. It’s not as if the boy was locked in his room this whole time, and trust me, he got plenty of TV watching in by default. He’s been hungrier these past few weeks than I’ve ever seen him, as he eats snacks at the table where he happens to be able to watch the TV while it’s on in the living room. He has been the best big brother to our youngest, and loves to snuggle with her and keep her company while she is watching movies on her little video player. He has been super cold lately and has needed to stand in front of the fire in the morning before school while I’m simultaneously viewing Morning Express with Robin Meade. He’s found very creative ways to endure his consequences.

It hasn’t been easy for any of us, let me tell you. It’s exhausting trying to enforce consequences of this nature, especially when the long and short of it is—he’s a great kid.
He’s not into drugs. He doesn’t ditch school. He is respectful to authority and does what we ask (occasionally with a complaint, but he does it). In the scope of life and what is important, he is on the right track and we are proud of him.

So, how are his grades now, you ask? Has all this time that’s opened up for him to complete his homework and focus on his studies paved the way to better grades and improved school performance?

Umm, no.

On his last report card the boy brought home, (1A), (3 B-‘s), and (1C+). As of this morning, he has (1 A) and (4Cs).

Sigh.

This is despite OUR working on his homework with him for over two hours every night. I say our, because I am grading and double checking everything he does, putting it into a pile for his backpack, and making sure he has all components of ANY rubric on ALL projects. His teachers say he is focused in class and not goofing around or off-task. This was the year I was supposed to sit in the backseat and let him drive his educational bus for once. What the hell is happening?

Is this typical boy growing/learning pains? Is it an organizational issue? I’m honestly out of answers. Is his life so meaningless without technology that he is doing worse in school instead of better? Should we just leave well enough alone, since he performed better during the first grading period when he was in charge and played video games? Should I just shut he hell up and see what happens, instead of getting all freaky about grades, which we all know are arbitrary?

Yes. I said that. Grades are arbitrary. I can make that statement because I used to be a teacher. And even though I understand that, it’s still important to me (and my husband) that our kids always strive to do their personal best.

And in the last few weeks, I really feel like our oldest IS doing his personal best, even though his grades continue to tank.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming anyone here. But I honestly can’t figure out the disconnect. I have my suspicions as to why we are in this place currently, but it’s only a hunch. I’m trying to be proactive and have open communication with the teachers, without becoming THAT parent who emails and complains constantly. (Because I’ve had my share of those when I taught as well and it’s no fun.) I must say that his teachers have been uber-prompt at responding to my inquiries and extremely helpful in suggesting solutions. I know it’s a thankless, difficult job, which is why I don’t do it anymore. They have enough to handle with oversized classes, relatively little prep time, and more and more “requirements” and pressure coming from our educational system. I get it.

And my son? What’s his take on all this? He’s frustrated, but surprisingly upbeat. His biggest concern of course, is what happens when he gets his progress report and he still has C’s. Will he still lose TV, video games, and computer over the Christmas break? Would we do that to him just to prove a point? Even I know that would be pushing the enforcement too far. I mean, we’re definitely mediocre, but we’re not downright mean. We’ve always said it was about effort, not the printed letters on school issued paper. Since he’s been giving his best effort (and his teachers confirm this), that’s all we ask. After all, it’s effort, attitude, and fortitude that get you places in life, not necessarily grades.

But I’m open to suggestions. If you have older boys, I’d love to hear if you’ve gone through any of this and how you handled it. If you say you just drank your way through middle school and high school, I’ve got that covered. Just so you know.