Two courses in our curriculum fall short of super impressing me. One of them is physics.
It’s not awful, just lighter than I expected. If we don’t add any of our own ideas, she’d only have to take it once a week to complete it months before the last day of school. Mary does take a pretty intensive mechanics course which adds up to a healthy dose of science throughout the week. And this course does leave room for creative freedom, which is nice. There are innumerable ways for us to bulk up the lessons using our own videos, trips and experiments. And we’ve appreciated that about it. (Read: I have, anyway.)
But you have to do that, which makes this one more course she can’t just do independently.
It means that while Scarlett is ker-plunking into running bathtub water with her clothes on and Matthew is synchronously begging with his whole body to be taken outside with a friend who just knocked on the door (yes, while naked – in the bathtub), I can’t just let Mary to do science on her own. At the risk of sounding incompetent, it would just be so fantastic if once in a while she could read through part of a chapter on her own and then maybe complete an assignment, while I freed myself from the constant worry my kids will find a way to dismember themselves while I wasn’t paying close enough attention.
I mean, it’s not the worst thing in the world. It means that I’m a more present teacher and that her education has more dimension to it than it otherwise would. Sure, teaching with a toddler on hip makes it all a little less predictable. But it also means that we do more as a unit, and it’s helped us to all becomes a lot closer. It’s helped me to grow those really attractive eyes in the back of my head that vet moms envy new ones for not having yet because they come with an ever-present sense of lurking danger that DOES.NOT.SHUT.OFF. Those things that are to blame for moms of multiple children being unable to watch sexy horror movies with their husbands anymore because all they think the whole time is “OH MY GOD, THAT’S SOMEBODY’S CHILD!” All told, it’s probably better with this “mom-intensive” kind of a curriculum for ev-e-ry subject… It’s just work. It’s a lot of work.
Yesterday I resolved to suck it up already and just do this thing to the best of my ability; to make it work for us instead of against us and to enjoy it. “Be present,” that’s my mantra. So I planned out this whole activity, which would go down at Scarlett’s nap time and involve Matthew as much as his sister. We wouldn’t have to leave the yard and it would cater to their respective grade levels. After we watched a collection of videos on physics that were a smash hit (even Scarlett rolled with laughter at a few different parts; spoiler: it involved dropping cats in slow motion), we went outside, and everything proceeded to go terribly awry.
The plan was that we’d test the effects of giving our slingshot band a few seconds to cool down before launching our object, after we’ve pulled it back. That, versus shooting immediately. It was going to be a real Myth-Busters style get-up. The timing was perfect because Matthew had just learned about the story of David and Goliath and as part of that project, he and Mary cooperated to build a homemade slingshot together. Now in physics, we’re learning about force and gravity. Finding this video pointed out to me what a perfect opportunity this could be for Mary to get more practice communicating the results of her experiments through notebooking, which has been a big focus for us this month.
Some of our best educational experiences this year have been so much less planned out and organized than this. There’s a name for this kind of lesson plan: Guaranteed Success.
But the-e-en: *inhale vociferously here*
Matthew didn’t want to use the only branch perfect for our slingshot. He wanted to hike into the woods outside our neighborhood to find a better one, but the baby was sleeping so we couldn’t. He vowed not to participate and cried and called us names when we didn’t mind as much as he wanted us to. Mary lost all interest in the time it took to correct him. Mary was cold and Matthew wouldn’t share the “work” gloves pop-pop gave him that are 10 years away from fitting him anyway, even though he was already wearing gloves that did. The only gloves I had were black suede that got ruined when I touched the chalk. It took about twenty minutes for us to find a rubber band/object combination that actually fired any direction but backward. Every two seconds Mary called out “BO-RING”, just to be obnoxious. Once in a while she’d pick on Matthew, calling him ugly or stupid or annoyingly in the way. I scraped the SHIT out of my ankle on a loose brick at the corner of the patio. The tape measurer wouldn’t reach far enough for us to measure our distances. The object kept getting lost in all of the leaves. Once our experiment did finally get under way, Mary randomly went inside to start putting on make-up without so much as asking if that wouldn’t be ridiculous. Matthew threw an enormous fit which made him lose his turn to shoot altogether – which didn’t even seem to matter since Mary was MIA to record the distances anyway. On his way into the house for a time-out, Matthew looked over his shoulder snarly and shouted, “NERD!” throwing a pointed finger at me so hard it threw him off balance. When I ignored it because he was already on his way to time-out and only looking for attention, he said it again and again, louder and louder. The baby woke up crying.
Some people think that kids are hard-wired to push boundaries until someone gives them a good enough reason to stop. Others think that kids don’t have it in them yet to be that pointedly ill-intentioned. I’ve bounced so many times between the two that anything I say here will probably color me a hypocrite.
But that’s kind of my point.
When we have a bad day, I analyze the crap out of it, trying to figure out what went wrong where so that next time I’ll avoid whatever thoughtless mistake got us into this day of disaster. But what I’ve learned most from doing this is that there aren’t right moves and wrong moves that make our days go one way over another. It’s a craps chute. If I do the exact same things I did on Tuesday that I figure awarded us with such a great day on Monday, Murphy’s law dictates that it’ll wind up nothing like the one that came before it. Everything will go wrong, almost as if only to prove that it can. Kids are not a code to be cracked.
I’ve read a lot of books and I’ve learned a lot of things about kids and once in a while I’ll come across something – an idea, a perspective – that makes a difference. But most of these books on how to raise kids right (especially the “in two weeks or less!” variety) start to remind you of big pharmaceutical companies after you read enough of them. Maybe they have the cure, maybe they don’t. Either way, creating customers is probably more important to them than sharing whatever secret ingredient keeps us looking to them for hope.
Hard days with small children are not a disease to be conquered. They’re part of the deal. That doesn’t mean you stop trying to teach them how to cooperate; it means that days spent accomplishing little more than beating them over their brick wall heads with that lesson (theoretically, of course) are not days you have been defeated. They are ones that will matter more than any other hard cover one you had yesterday with a flashy title and big, elusive promises.
In record time, our day was back on track. The kids offered up apologies before I so much as thought to ask for one from them and they actually enjoyed the rest of our time with physics. Once he got the hang of it, after an impressive display of patience and perseverance, Matthew relished every minute of each shot like a puppy through a puddle. Mary recorded and labeled everything so well is was almost as if nothing had gone wrong at all. “The only difference between science and messing around is writing it down,” I told her. (Thank you, Mythbusters meme.) “And a good scientist always titles her experiments!” she replied dutifully over her notes.
When I sat down to write about our slingshot experience — I didn’t even know if it would be about how well it went or what a flaming disaster it was. Sometimes I think the two go hand-in-hand. Like peanut butter and jelly. Or being a decent mom with respectable priorities, and actually looking like it.