We’ve been knee deep in the struggles of doing homework recently. Not because of the difficulty of the subject matter but because it’s mundane, boring, busy work. Stew calls it grunt work–which it is–but most of life is made up of doing the grunt work in order to get to those big shiny moments we all dream about. It’s just something that has to be done. So the majority of us just do it. Period. The end.
But to an almost 14 year old this concept is unimaginable. He’s never felt the need to do “busy” work and has always been ready to leapfrog ahead. His brain works differently than ours and I don’t say that to brag. Quite the opposite actually. His giftedness gave him the ability to self-teach at a very early age but that same giftedness has also interfered with doing what’s necessary to show that he has mastered a skill or a certain level of understanding on any given topic–you know, the mundane boring grunt work. He finds it unnecessary and his complaining usually lasts longer than the amount of time it would take to actually do the work.
Getting good grades is not a motivator. Being the smartest in the class isn’t a motivator and to prove that point, at the end of 5th grade he came home and announced that he didn’t want to be the smartest because he didn’t want to be seen as a nerd. He wanted to be “good enough” and to this day he has lived up to that expectation… Good enough. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Tensions rose as we squared off on the homework battlefield. This wasn’t our first rendezvous and neither will it be our last. Later, one side angrily retreated into a withdrawn shell while the other quietly contemplated the failures of parenthood.
For the last several weeks, I have laughed at myself daily for thinking the hard years were behind us. As it turns out, the hard years are always going to be the “here and now”. The hard years will always be what stands before us in the moment–the known and the unknown intermingling, causing worry and self-doubt, making us question how we got here in the first place, where we went wrong, and how to fix it. These pervasive thoughts never leave my mind. Raising teens is not for the faint of heart as you well know.
Ten Years Ago Life Was Hard.
Ten years ago life was hard. Different from the issues we have today but still hard. And looking at this picture brought all of those issues back.
“Call me Professor Grey,” he said with all of the seriousness of an old soul trapped in a four year’s old body.
“I am a scientist and I’m going to be a herpetologist one day,” he would exclaim to any and all he met. His captive audience would nervously glance at me as they stumbled over the word “herpetologist”.
“Reptiles. He studies reptiles…snakes, lizards, komodo dragons… You know, reptiles,” I would say, thinking that would ease their mind from wondering if a herpetologist had something to do with herpes. But, of course, that would send them off into a lecture on the dangers of reptiles while silently questioning my parenting decisions.
I would nod my head, smile, and thank them for their concern. Yes, indeed, I knew how dangerous a black mamba was, along with a timber rattlesnake, a fer-de-lance, a cottonmouth, a saw-scaled viper, a Russell’s viper, and a king cobra. Just to name a few.
I knew where they lived, how long they lived, and which had the most toxic venom. I knew the bite force of the crocodile compared to the bite force of the alligator, the monitor lizard, and the komodo dragon–if you wanted to compare apples to apples. But if you wanted to compare apples to oranges then I also knew the bite force of a grizzly bear, a shark, and a german shepherd–all due to the young professor reading reptile books that were written for adults.
He would use the index to find his chosen topic, cross reference the information from four or five books scattered around his little body, and then point out discrepancies in lifespan, size, what they ate. His younger brother and I were his pupils and he had taught us well–whether we wanted to be taught or not.
I would tell the four year old professor to go play and he would vehemently remind me that he did not “play”…that he “worked” and could I please remember that so that he wouldn’t have to remind me again?
Yes, I can assure you that I remembered that he worked. He didn’t start talking until he was 3 1/2 and he gave up toys at four because “toys were for babies and I’m a grome (grown) up,” he would say. A “grome up” that had been talking for six months but in his mind he was a grown up nonetheless. His play was his work and his work was his play. Something that I was hard pressed to forget.
Then he would segue into telling me about all the countries and capitals in the world and what continents they were on, and which country had the longest river vs who had the widest river…
The solar system, the hottest planet, the smallest planet, the one with the most moons…
With my tired brain spinning, I reached for another cup of coffee as I realized it was only 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning, bedtime was such a distant point in the future. How was I going to make it through the rest of the day? All the while the little professor continued chattering nonstop. Making up for the lost time when he didn’t speak.
Where were we? Oh yeah, I was daydreaming about going back to bed while you were discussing the function of the T cell’s that were fighting the pneumonia in my grandmother’s 91 year old body…
I sent up a silent prayer thanking God for that science degree I had never used. It allowed me to hold my own in conversations with the little professor.
This was our every day normal but obviously not the normal for a typical four year old. We would soon learn that public school embraces conformity and prefers it’s little Einsteins to be high achievers, but not necessarily gifted, if it means they learn in a different way or are easily bored because they learned the material at the age of four instead of at 14.
The Dark Clouds Always Had Silver Linings.
This morning as I pulled out this picture for Day 2 of the Black and White photo challenge, I took some time to reflect on those hard times that had come before. And I realized those dark clouds always had silver linings. I just had to look for them.
The intense, inquisitive child who loved to learn until he was forced to learn in the manner which schools require? That part of my child is still there, lying dormant, waiting on the day that he can study what he wants. That’s my hope at least. “College is four short years away buddy,” I want to tell him. “You’re almost there but you gotta do the grunt work in order to make your dream become a reality.”
I recalled a meeting where a team of educators told me he would be such an awesome college student when he got there. A ripple of laughter broke from my lips. “I agree but he’s in first grade right now. Any ideas on how to help bridge those years in between?”
You see, we’ve been waiting on college for a mighty long time. We’re closer but not quite there yet.
So today, after some reflection, I want to offer a little forgiveness, to him and to myself, for not completely understanding his lackadaisical attitude towards homework. I want him to know that I get it. I really do. But I also get that grunt work builds character and he’ll be better off in the long run for sucking it up and getting it done…