Fifth Grade Frustrations

img_4017My fifth-grader is having a school meltdown. I’m reminded of those toddler tantantrums of yesteryear that I thought were behind me.

“I can’t take it anymore. I hate school. I want to be home schooled,” She wails and rants.

I watch her scribble her homework out and then accuse me of  “not caring.” Tears roll down her cheeks as she tells me “I don’t get it” and “I don’t understand.”  The reality is I DO care and I DO get it. Learning life lessons is hard. Watching her learn them is painful,  but I know that I can’t and probably shouldn’t protect her from them.  Not everything comes easily.  Instructions aren’t always clear. Distractions make it hard to concentrate. Deadlines are stressful. Sometimes, you have to do things you don’t always like to do.  Not everyone is “nice,” including teachers.

As I retreat into my mind, I get quiet and thoughtful trying to figure out a way to help her deal with her emotions when she’s frustrated. I try to put myself in her place. What was fifth grade like when I was a kid? It’s a foggy haze that I vaguely remember. Was fifth grade this traumatic for my older daughter? I can’t remember. For my youngest though the struggle is very real. The part that breaks my heart most  is when I hear the words “I can’t” come out of her mouth.  Because, I know she most definitely CAN.

“What are you going to do?” she pleads with me.

“What do want me to do?” I ask.

“I don’t know. S-O-M-E-T-H-I-N-G!!! I need help!” she shrieks.

“What do you need help with?” I try to stay calm.

“I don’t know!” she screams.

I get down on her level and read through the math problems. Patiently, I try to explain the word problem to her. She tells me I am wrong and refuses to listen to me. (I am reminded of the scene in Airplane where the woman is hysterical (you know the woman with eggs coming out of her mouth) and a line of people are waiting to ‘help’ her get a grip.)  My daughter won’t be reasoned with. I want her to calm down and listen to me, but instead she screams at me, breaks her pencil and storms out of the room. I’m frustrated and she’s frustrated.  I’m at a loss on how to make homework time go smoother. Should I punish her?  Reason with her?  Ignore her?

She is very conscientious and is far from lazy. She gets down on herself when she gets a “B” and is afraid of being let behind. I’ve told her time after time I am proud of her for the effort she puts forth. She doesn’t need to strive for perfection.  She responds well to positive reinforcement. Last year she thrived trying to get the most “Dojo points.”  She’d get excited to do extra math problems to earn “dojos.” It got to the point where I’d ask her if it was “real” homework or just extra credit for dojo.  She’d get that look on her face and I’d know it was for dojo. Even though her motivation was to earn dojo’s, she was learning and excelling in her classes along the way. She loved to go to school and she loved to learn.

This year the paradigm has shifted. Instead of being rewarded for positive behaviors, the students (at least from her perspective) are punished for negative behaviors. She is fearful of doing wrong and getting “yelled” at. This is probably the most frustrating part for me as a parent. Failure is part of the learning process. Failure leads to growth. I want her to be encouraged to fail and try again. I dont’ want her to be afraid to fail.  I want her to be afraid to stop trying.  I want her to thrive. I don’t want her love for learning to be squashed by fear.  I also know that you don’t get a gold star for everything positive you do either. It’s a fine line.

Eventually she calms down enough to finish her homework and apologizes to me for taking her frustrations out on me. I give her a hug and accept her apology. I tell her I care and encourage her to focus on what she does like about school instead. If only we could skip over that hard part inbetween and get to the hugs quicker. I guess that can be said about most difficulties in life.

One thing’s for sure, I’ll be glad when fifth grade is over!

Does any one have any helpful tips for getting through homework?  Is fifth grade harder or is it just me?

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Time Musings

Missing Tooth

As I walked along our deserted country road this warm summer evening, holding my five-year-old’s hand, my mind wandered back through time. Last week she lost her first tooth. This afternoon she told me how she got to cross the road all by herself to get the mail, looking both ways to make sure no cars were coming of course. And in less than two weeks, she’ll start kindergarten. My eyes water already at just the thought of watching her climb aboard the big yellow bus and disappear out of sight.

I only have to close my eyes and I feel her tiny fingers wrapped around one of mine, her soft cheek pressed against my breast. I can hear the little sighs and gurgles she made as slept in my arms. I can smell the sweet pea shampoo in her freshly washed hair. I can see her little legs carry her across the living room, one shaking step at a time to reach my outstretched arms.

I try to wrap my mind around that elusive concept of time. Some days the seconds drag by in excruciating slowness. Yet in this moment it feels as if the years raced past me. Some days I wish I could pull a brake and slow time down and other days I want that fast forward button to take me some unknown place in the future that has to be better than the now. Some days I greedily wish for more time and other days  I wish it away.

Time…60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in day, 7 days in a week, 356 days in a year…The math adds up the same every time, yet in my mind I still struggle and wonder how that can be.

I try to live in the present. Not think too much about the past or skip too far to the future. I know I only really have this moment and then its gone. The moments turn into memories and if I contemplate too long I’ll miss it and the next time I look at my daughter, she’ll be leaving for college…