Summer Homework Procrastination Station

Here’s an ago old question. When given homework to do over the summer (which is just not fair in my book but it is the way of the world these days) why do kids wait until the week before school starts to do it? And (I Know, it’s a second question) why, when they do start to do it, kicking and screaming, complaining, whining, and knocking their heads against the wall, do they get angry at their parents for reminding them they have to do it?

Okay. Maybe this one answers itself.

Still.

How many kids actually do their summer homework when school is over? Yes, that’s a third question for those who are counting.

I mean, if school is over shouldn’t the homework be over also? Numero cuatro.

Isn’t the whole point of summer that you are released from structure for a couple of months? Numero cinco.

All I can say is that next year school isn’t over until the homework is done. Then it’ll really be summer. Well… that’s what I say now. We’ll see how things stand in June. I mean I had the same problem when I was M-ito’s age, only it was with homework during the school year, not over the summer. We didn’t have summer homework. And that was good.

Fireflies

Hank called me over to the courtyard at the Marriott in the middle of the French Quarter in New Orleans. This was last September. He was smoking a cigar. We were both presenting to a group of drug court practitioners – me for one day, him for the whole week. In the courtyard he told me a story about his son that he savored between puffs on his stogie, the burning end reminding me of a giant firefly. It’s been haunting me a bit since last year. He lives up in Buffalo and one year his at that time teenage son asked him to get tickets to the Syracuse football team’s home games. It was a two and a half hour drive each way. Hank told him yes and bought the tickets. He said it was the best two and a half hours of his life because all the way there and all the way back he and his son talked. “We’re best friends,” he told me in his deep, raspy, one of a kind voice. Two months later Hank had a major stroke and now almost a year later he still hasn’t recovered, though he lives and breathes.

Today my son asked me to go with him to Carvel after dinner. It’s a fifteen minute walk. “I love to go to Carvel after dinner, ” he said. We talk all the way there and all the way back. The whole trip takes almost an hour. We talk about alien creatures, summer fireflies, favorite things we’ve done so far this summer, determine how many days are left in the summer, play improv games that he makes up as we walk like making up a story one word at a time alternating between the two of us, eat our ice-cream cones before they melt, and hold hands a good part of the way with him sometimes even reaching for mine. It’s one of the best hours of my life.

The Contact in Contact Sports

I asked my friend, Big A (father of Little A), to put on a small lacrosse workshop for M-ito and a few of his friends. It was supposed to be an informal afternoon of learning the basics and maybe a little game playing. Big A played in college, was the captain of his team and coached when he got hurt. As he would say, “I wasn’t very good, there were a lot of others way better than me.” Sure, Big A. Sure.

Five kids and three parents with lacrosse sticks and Big A in the lead at Mik-ito’s house out on the Island. He’s got a good size yard and two goals so we went out there to practice. The rain held off. M-ito got frustrated after about a half an hour because one of his friends kept stealing the ball from him when they were supposed to be having a catch. I didn’t see it coming. Tears came to his eyes and he melted down. After we figured out what had happened the drills went on and then we played a game. There wasn’t supposed to be any stick checking (we had no pads and no gloves so that made sense). We should have made it the kids against the adults. That would have been a good idea but I didn’t think of it at the time, and neither did the other dads. Big A refereed and after another half an hour of play M-ito, in a scuffle to get the ball with sticks hacking at it on the ground, got hit in the shin and nose and went down in tears again.

There are so many parts to this experience that were both good and bad for my son. The good thing is these things happened with his friends and not at his first day of lacrosse camp with some strangers whacking him . The bad thing it they happened with his friends and he doesn’t understand why they hit him. I told him they didn’t do it on purpose, they were just going for the ball and got carried away. My son has never played a contact sport before and there is a certain energy to them, a certain amount of testosterone that gets plugged into the equation that helps things like this happen. I played until when I was seven, full pads (because my brother played and I wanted to do everything he did – go figure), tackle. I remember getting upset at the violence and being scared much of the time. It took me three years to get my footing with the idea that I was going to hit people and they were going to hit me – tackle and be tackled, block and be blocked. It took me that long to trust the pads to protect me and to find allow myself to use aggression in my game. One year I quit because the coach was a maniac and I developed twitches because he used to have us do tackling drills that were like gladiator fights with everyone watching (not the first time or the last I’d play those kinds of games with coaches). I played eleven years of football through the end of high school.

So I sat next to M-ito on our friend’s couch with Mom-ita on the other side as he cried and let the intensity of the experience run through him. It raged then settled and a rain came down outside that mirrored the tears falling inside and ended the game just in time. My son has not learned to be aggressive in sports yet, and he is only just learning to get his sense of this game called lacrosse. For that matter I’m learning how it’s played too. Team sports are good vehicles in which to learn about aggression and assertiveness, using your temper in constructive ways to play better but still within the confines of the rules and without hurting anyone. He started down that road today. Man it’s hard to watch.

What I noticed about my son’s lacrosse game is that he passed the ball when his friends did not – one pass to me scored us a goal. After running forward he stopped when he was cut off and looked to pass the ball to his team-mates. He played a good defensive game, covering well. He just hadn’t counted on getting hit in the face and shin. Maybe the shin was okay but the face was a surprise. One thing he doesn’t need is a nose like his Dad-dito’s. Mine’s been broken twelve times (once by a doctor so it could be pushed back into place from the far left side of my face back into the center – that was ugly).

I wonder how he’ll do in three weeks when he starts lacrosse camp. He’ll be helmeted and padded up so the knocks won’t be felt so much. Gloves will help. I hope the coaches are good and teach the kids to be good sports. I’m going the first day in any case so I can watch over the experience, and pick up the pieces if need be. I’m proud of him in any case for trying something new and different and for learning something about himself in the process.

Declaration of the Playing of Sports

M-ito wants to play lacrosse. He learned about it in gym class – which is really neat if you think about it. I remember in gym class doing 8-count burpees (squat thrusts I think they were officially called) and then not much else. And that was in high school. I don’t ever remember being taught skills in gym – though we must have been, right? How else did I learn how to throw a ball and play football and basketball? My brother didn’t teach me everything, did he? Well, in M-ito’s school this year they did skills practice in baseball (t-ball), basketball, soccer, and lacrosse. By 5th grade every child must choose a sport and play on the school team. There are two teams, a traveling/serious team and a for fun team. though it sounds very much like an A-side B-side kind of thing. We’ll have to see how it works as we get closer to 5th grade. Thankfully he’s only finishing up 2nd grade now.

But back to the gym class. They brought out lacrosse sticks and the kids were taught how to throw the ball, scoop and rake the ball into the net of the stick (what is that part of the stick called?) and somehow M-ito liked it. He came home and declared he was going to play lacrosse in 5th grade. “You know you get to whack each other with a stick?” he told us.

“That’s why you want to play?” I asked.

“It’s fun.”

“The whacking?”

He didn’t answer.

I have two reactions to this. The first is, wow, that’s great. He’s got some interest in a team sport and wants to learn more about it. I played lots of team sports and overall they were a good thing for me to do. The second reaction is, did it have to be lacrosse? It’s one of the few sports I really don’t know anything about. I didn’t play it – never actually picked up a stick and threw a ball or had even a catch with one. I know nil about it. How am I going to get involved coaching and all that kind of thing if I know nothing about it? Okay I had a third thought. Did M-ito pick this sport because he knew I knew nothing about it? Naaaa, that’s too much about me and not enough about my son.

We learned that a friend of his from school was going to a week-long summer sport camp in lacrosse and baseball (one week of each) and Mom-ita quickly looked into it for M-ito. M-ito said he wants to do both. The camp has a lot of college students and coaches working with the kids – a 3-1 ratio is advertised. They’ll be arranged by age and skill level. It’ll be four days each week 9am-1:30pm each day. A number of phone calls and emails later and Mom-ita had two other friends and M-ito signed up for a week of each. Mom-ita is a wonder at these things.

Since then I’ve watched some lacrosse on TV (we all did last night – a college game), talked to two friends who played in college and picked up a stick and played a little with a ball. So I’ve learned a few things about the game even if I’m still just an inch away from knowing nothing about the sport. My concerns are:

  • It’s a contact sport and M-ito hasn’t, up until now, really been a very physical sport player – though that may be changing. He said he didn’t like soccer a month ago because in recess they played too rough. This was after months of saying he liked the game. I had to explain to him that in a real soccer game there were rules and a referee and that kind of play wasn’t really allowed. He has told me he’d never play rugby after watching a game when he was 3 and hearing about all the injuries I received over the 16 years I played. “That’s too rough,” he’s said many times. Mom-ita was thrilled to hear him say that.
  • As a follow-up to point one above – they wear shoulder pads and helmet’s and gloves on their hands and there is something called stick-checking that speaks to M-ito’s earlier comment about “whacking each other with their sticks.). Oh yeah and he has to get a mouthpiece.
  • I have no idea about the coaching – whether it’ll be good, bad, or indifferent. And coaching is so important to both a good sport and a good social experience. Will they promote good sportsmanship? Will it be age appropriate?
  • There’s a lot of running in the game – always good for kids to run around. And he’ll be outside playing the whole time and in the summer kids should be outside playing on grass and running around. This is not a concern but I had to add it here to balance out the rest.

I’m glad he’s going to try these two sports, both lacrosse and baseball – he should try different sports. And baseball is a whole ‘nother story. I still remember the first time I tried to have a catch with him. We bought mitts and a ball (a hard ball – what was I thinking?) and the first time I threw the ball to M-ito it hit him in the chest and that was all we did for another year with baseball. It didn’t occur to me how much skill and hand-eye coordination goes into having a catch with a ball and mitt. I should have thought that one through. But recently, in gym again (yeah gym!) they’ve been playing t-ball and he’s become interested again. We’ve had a number of catches down at the playground with soft rubber balls and as of yesterday a denser one – working our way back up towards a hard ball. So… he’ll have the chance to learn the skills of both games and play with some friends without committing to a long season of play – which he would have to do if he played on a team. So… again, this seems like a good thing too.

And… I think Mom-ita will have to work that week so I should be able to take him to the first few days and watch the whole thing. I’ll bring my lawn chair, a good book, or maybe my computer and some work (no, no… don’t think that way!). Or maybe I’ll bring my stick (we’re going to get one for each of us today I think so we can have a catch) and my mitt, just in case they need an extra hand. You never know. When you’re a Dad-dito it’s good to be prepared.

8th Birthday: A Save-the-World Party

I find my son’s birthday to be a number of things: sad, anxiety provoking, challenging, tiring, and at some point, hopefully just a little happy. This year we did a home party again. Mom-ita took care of all the arrangements like, food, who was coming, invitations, speaking to M-ito about everything, and helping him to make his birthday list. At 8, my son is still very much into birthdays. I hope he stays that way for a while.

My job as the Dad-dito was, as it has been in the past, to take care of the entertainment (I have been the entertainment the last three years as the yoga teacher for a personalized class two years in a row, and this year as the designer of the save-the-world from Ratzo treasure hunt), pick up the food the morning of the party, order the cake from Cupcake bakery, then pick it up, call my family and make sure they know the date and can come, buy the gifts on M-ito’s list, and help out the day of the party as opposed to getting in the way.

This year my father came with Jocelita, Max’s grandmother (my father’s girlfriend who has taken on the role of a grandmother – it’s a long story but that’s how it works some days) and they arrived with her in tears and him in a grouchy, angry mood. They were the first to arrive. Mom-ita was stressed. I was stressed. Four out of five people in the apartment were stressed. Oh joy. People were coming over, and M-ito was hanging out waiting, playing and already enjoying being the birthday boy even with this madness in the background. I think he didn’t notice what was going on and as his friends arrived (six in all – a small group this year and that was a blessing) he got wrapped up in them. I got wrapped up in occupying my father and listening to Jocelyn and cutting up the fruit salad and regular salad. I put my father to work on drawing characters for the save-the-world game and hoped, hoped, hoped, he would be nice to Max, whom I also asked to draw some characters for the game. My father tends to critique rather than help when it comes to drawing and M-ito is a good artist in his own right but needs to be encouraged not critiqued.

The save-the-world treasure hunt had the evil Ratzo trying to rule the world through the kid’s parents with hand sanitizer – vaporizing spray. I’d hidden  clues around the apartment and throughout the building (laundry, garden, mailbox bulletin board) all written in code with tricks and traps everywhere (every other step of the stairs to the garden was poison to the touch, green paper was poison and some clues were written on green paper, a puzzle of paper pieces was inside a green paper folder). I gave them antidote cards for when they were poisoned so they could keep playing the game, broke then into two teams, girls and boys, code books to be able to crack my code, a storyline to work from and 30 minutes to find Ratzo’s switch that would turn all parents armed with hand sanitizer into child vaporizing machines. I was up until 1:30am the night before setting it all up.

It’s easy to understand the feelings of anxiety, challenge, exhaustion and a little happiness. But why would I be sad? Well, my son is getting older and so am I. It is both wonderful and sad at the same time. I want him to grow up and be a man but I also want him to stay my little boy. Such a simple statement and filled with, for me so much emotion. But that is the nature of birthdays. They make me review life, both my son’s and my own and many times that is painful. So, given that, I try to find some happiness in the story of my son’s birthday, day. The smile on his face as his friends race across the apartment building trying to outrun the clock to find Ratzo’s switch that’s in the refrigerator, of course, dodging parents trying to sanitize their hands (I gave everybody hand sanitizer and they kept asking the kids if they wanted to clean their hands – the kids all ran away screaming NOONONONONONONO!). And watching him open his gifts, blow out the candles on his cake. All the things that make up a birthday celebration of turning a year older and a year wiser. And my son is both. Birthdays need to be celebrated as small rites of passage along the way of life. I need to remember how wonderful it is that he is growing up and learning about this wonderful and challenging world that we live in as human beings.

And also remember, that I  now have a full year to go before I have to do it all again. Whew.

The Shy Child

Here’s another poem M-ito’s teacher showed us at parent teacher conference. This one made us all cry, each for different reasons. The punctuation and line breaks are all his.

Shy

I am always shy

when I meet people

I always make

a shy face

but when I

get used to people

I am not shy at

all

I wish I could change

how I am shy

but I cannot.

What does this mean to me as a father? Have I gone wrong by having a shy child? Would I rather have an outgoing, rambunctious child? I love my son just the way he is but these questions come up for me as a father. Did I somehow make my son shy or is he hardwired from having two shy parents? Is it in the genes? I was shy also (and continue to be) though I see already my son is way ahead of me in being able to express who he is and what it feels like to be him. That ability to express himself like this at his age amazes me. He is an introspective child and that is a wonder.

I remember when he was younger he was the slow-to-warm-up child. An hour into the party he would finally let go of my leg and start to enjoy himself, just as the party was over and all his friends started to leave. He’s grown so much since then in his abilities to socialize and make friends, but like with so many of us, it’s hard to him to do. This poem is such a reflection of his starting in this school and pushing himself to make friends this year – and he has. None of his teachers would say he’s a shy child now because he is so much a part of the 2nd grade and so well-integrated. But his view of himself is on paper in front of me and it is both beautiful in its honesty and sad at the same time because it’s painful what he is expressing. Don’t we all wish better for our children? Is being shy a bad thing? I don’t think so, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the sayings, like the early bird gets the worm, and the emphasis on being assertive to get what you need. The loud child gets the attention at home and in the classroom. But some of us are just not hard-wired that way and we have to learn other ways to exist. Shy is good, even if it’s harder. Perhaps that should be made into a mantra and chiseled into Sanskrit for all the world to see.

Dumb and Stupid Redux

The holidays are still a fresh memory but all the decoration are down.

The DS is now an integral part of the household.

We were all working last night. Mom-ita preparing dinner, me preparing for my yoga class, and M-ito preparing to be a world class fossil hunter. It sounds exciting, I know it does. But here’s the thing. In order to be a world class fossil hunter my son has to do the following:

  1. Sit hunched over a tiny handheld portable electronic gaming device (a DS) for an hour, possibly more if we let him – and we try not to let him ever go that long;
  2. Intuit directions and rules as he goes along as to what is needed to be a world class fossil hunter (not easy because the rules are in small print and I can barely read ’em even with my reading glasses and, of course M-ito doesn’t like to read the rules, and double of course because you also have to understand gaming lingo) – also M-ito makes lots of mistakes along the way and it is frustrating going;
  3. Figure out how to pause the damned thing when either his mother or father wants him to stop to either, say… get the table set, or answer a question, or interact in any way with the world around him;
  4. Yell out successes and failures to me while I’m ten feet away typing wickedly at emails (of which I have no idea what he’s saying because I haven’t played the game and can only guess at what his statements mean – I usually simply answer, “that’s great,” or “keep trying, you’ll get it next time.”);
  5. Do lots of thumb exercises and obtain good hand-eye coordination (hey, I have to be honest – it does take some of these qualities to succeed in the game including make good use of your opposable thumbs)

So… after the fifth or sixth time we asked him to come in and set the table M-ito, still playing, nodded and mumbled something akin to, “Yes.”

I got up and said, in typical, I’m-not-proud of myself-mode, “If you don’t put that game down I’m going to take it away.”

At which point he said, with extreme frustration, “I can’t figure out how to pause the game without losing the game I’m playing.” He said this, uncannily, while still playing, barely missing a beat.

I reached over for the game and he leaned away from me, using his elbow to slightly block my angle on the DS. I said, in my most menacing voice – because I was getting pissed off now (though you should note that I also knew I was tired from my work and upset at myself for letting him play so long and so… attempting to take some responsibility for the confrontation occurring), “You’d better turn that thing off right now or I’m going to throw it out the window.” Ah, that was poetry.

That’s when the tears started and the crying – all while still playing, at least minimally so his game didn’t disappear and be reduced to oblivion. Sometimes the most difficult part of playing these games is figuring out how to save your game. The simple precaution in the future is to read how to do this first, before he starts to play. After you’ve plowed through an hour of hard work making mistakes and learning game-play I understand not wanting to lose what you’ve gained. I do. I really do.

I used some yogic breathing, calmed myself and said, “Let’s look at the instructions and see what they say.”

Twenty seconds, M-ito still playing, I took the DS from him. His eyes wide with terror he shouted, “No!” as I touched a button to find the right screen. A quick flash appeared with the dialog, “Do you want to save this game?” M-ito used his stylus, angling the two screens towards him so he could see and pressed the statement a few times.

“It’s not saving!” he shouted again.

I took his stylus and tapped the, “Yes.”

The screen disappeared and M-ito mouthed, “O.”

Then another screen came on asking, “Do you want to continue playing?” and I quickly tapped “No.”

M-ito only saw the no and broke down into tears again. These are the kind of tears that go right through you. The dad-ditto-you’ve-betrayed-me kind.

“You lost my game,” he said. “Now I have to go back and start all over!” Variations of this came and went between sobbing and weeping. I sat in the other room, looking at Mom-ita and looking back into the room. I might have said, “It’s only a game,” but I hope I didn’t. I tried to tell him it was okay – that I’d not erased anything. He swore it was all lost. The game didn’t mean a thing to me, but I tried to remember it meant a lot to this 7-year old boy. M-ito’s anger turned sullen. He wouldn’t come in and eat. He wouldn’t talk to us. He might even have said something in the nature of, “You don’t want me” or “love me” but I’m still to this moment not sure. Mom-ita as the neutral party, tried to get involved. She said, “We’ll take a look at it after we eat,” but he got angry at her too.

We ate a quiet and unhappy meal. I got angry again after a while too and called him on his attitude (how did he get that look in his eyes and the nasty set of his jaw?) and the way he spoke to his mother. Otherwise I was silent the rest of the meal too. It was a big unhappy party and I didn’t think I could be brought lower until I started wondering if I had indeed lost his game. What if I did?

Finally, dinner over and the game back in hand, Mom-ita playing mediator. We looked at it together and lo and behold. The game was right where it was supposed to be – saved and in one piece.

M-ito looked up at me and smiled, gave me a big hug – night and day.

“Next time have a little faith in your father,” I said. Exactly what my own father had said to me many a time when I was a kid. Oh how these things come back and haunt you.