Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Second Day of School-at-Home: A Memoir

I had to resist the urge to stab myself in the temple with my red pen this morning. No, really. I wanted to jab my pen into that soft part that pulses in and out during chewing. The cause of my anguish? Introducing my children to the art of writing a memoir.

They each declared that they couldn't think of anything to write about. They can't remember a single, solitary event from the past. I strung together half a dozen ideas out of thin area. None of those suggestions would work for them. Our three-week trip to Houston and Orlando? The night their baby sister was born at home while they swam at the pool? Having fun at the fair the other day with their dad? First day of school? Getting a new pet? Christmas?

No. Nothing would do. But the first step in their instructional book said to come up with three to five topics. Then they were to pick one. The final step for today was to brainstorm ideas. I was to limit their time to ten minutes, allowing more time if necessary.

I did appreciate that little joke. "Limit" their time. As if.

I looked at the clock. The 10-month old would be awake any second. My daughter stood at my elbow demanding sticky tape and scissors. The blue-eyed twin dropped his pencil and banged his head onto the table. The brown-eyed twin wiggled his legs until the floor shook and I shouted, "STOP SHAKING YOUR LEG!" He wailed that he couldn't think because he was starving.

At those times, I do not get sweet and sympathetic. My voice grows in fury. I begin to beg. I cajole. I threaten. I say unhelpful things like, "Hurry up! Just pick an idea! This is not rocket science! Do not make this harder than it is! Come on! Come on! Come on! Pick one!"

My teeth start to hurt because I had to clench them together to keep bad words from slipping out.

Finally, my blue-eyed twin retreated to a couch where he sat huddled under a blanket, pouting. His brother sat at the table with all ten of his scrawled ideas crossed out. He finally decided to write about the train trip to Texas he took with his dad and his brother seven years ago. But once he started brainstorming, he scribbled down two sentences and then declared, "That's all I could think of. I'm done."

I pointed out that perhaps he could write about something he could actually remember, like OUR TRIP LAST SUMMER. I fumed internally. Not only can my children not write, they can't even think. This is the more disturbing fact.

Half an hour later, my blue-eyed twin said, "Mom, I'm sorry. I just needed some time to recollect." He had completed his assignment and filled his brainstorming page. His brother stole his idea and decided that he, too, would write about the fair. Although the handwriting was messy, they seemed to have put some thought into their work.

So, I abandoned the whole red-pen-stabbing idea. But just to be safe, hide the stapler.


Blogger Judy said...

Oh, Mel. Thanks. Your post has caused me to remember the day I sat around the dining room table with my two eager high school students. We were all in our pajamas. We had a cat as a centerpiece. Under the table, the dog threw up.

Nobody moved. Nobody. Not even me.

Which caused me to question my sanity and that of my children.

I remeber saying aloud to no one in particular, "There is something wrong with this picture!"

5:07 AM  
Blogger Vashti said...

I can relate. Even though I am new at this "school at home" gig the red pen has beckoned me as well. My daughter is really good at rolling her eyes and saying "boring." For example, when I say, we have two things we need to finish still today, your math and your quiet reading, her response is "Let's do the reading first so I can be done with the boring stuff." I have to clench my teeth to keep from saying stuff like "Do you know how lucky you are? Do you know the sacrifices I'm making for you? Do you know that there are kid's whose house and school were washed away in the hurricane? Do you know there are starving kids in the world?" I don't say these things. I breath deeply. Try not to get angry. Move forward hoping that the results of "school at home" will one day be joyfully apparent and maybe, just maybe...she might thank me.

7:11 AM  
Blogger tab said...

I can definitely see this scenerio at my house (and this is just w/homework)...which is why just the mere thought of homeschooling or school at home just makes me break out in a cold sweat and go into a panic. Are our kids related in any way?

7:15 AM  
Anonymous Monika said...

In our home school, we are not allowed to announce that we are bored, or we are assigned chores to occupy our time.

They aren't allowed to say they "hate" anything either. . .("I hate math. . .)

Free speech has its limits!

9:23 AM  
Blogger Christi said...

Oh man, I tend to kind of push those thoughts out of my head when I think of the joys of homeschooling. I plan on starting with my son soon, and I would rather not remember the anguish of teaching and trying to get my students to work for me. Now I'm scared, very scared. I like Monika's idea with the chores. I may have to keep that in mind...

1:59 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

I'm glad those thoughts are not limited to just my head!!! :) I like Monika's idea too... I'm gonna have to try that one!

Oh, by the way, I changed the settings that you mentioned at my blog so you could list me. I think it should work, thanks for telling me how to do it!

3:38 PM  
Anonymous Simply Coll said...

My kids finished their schooing many years ago. It was hard enough helping them complete their home work assignments while they attended public school. I so admire the fact that you are doing this for your children. ( and I also completely understand about the red pen ) :-)

I hope you don't mind.. I have added your blog to my blog roll. I always enjoy reading your posts.

3:53 PM  
Blogger WordsRock said...

I don't know, Mel. That whole "pen in the temple" thing sounds terribly messy.

I think it takes time to learn how to think about memories, at least in a manner that allows recording them on paper. Sounds like your boys made some progress. :)


4:57 PM  
Blogger Gem said...

My children aren't that age yet, so I'm sure we have some of those 'joys' ahead of us. I would say, though, that one of the neat things about hsing (or even school at home :P) is that you don't _have_ to follow the time guidelines. Like your blue-eyed twin discovered, sometimes kids need the pressure off, and alone time to 'recollect'. The nice thing about teaching 2 instead of 20 is that you have the freedom to do that.

2:49 PM  

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