Can’t Control

I just spent a few days in New York City with Kevin. I welcomed the break, and as we sit on the plane waiting for take-off to return home, I feel sick with anxiety.

This feeling started when Kevin finished a call with Kyle and shared with me that Sam hasn’t turned in his homework this week and that she failed his tests today. Kyle was asking Kevin’s opinion on whether or not to permit Sam to attend a social mixer at school tonight. They settled on “no.” Sam was doing well as of last week, and this week, left to make good choices on her own (complete her work, practice her trumpet, turn in her work, study), she slacked seriously on the homework and studying, didn’t turn in what she completed, and skipped practicing her instrument altogether.

My emotional response is out of proportion to the circumstance. Sam did not meet my expectations this week. Knowing this, I feel anxiety and anger, and as I feel it and watch this, I tell myself, get a grip on yourself. Relax. She’s twelve. She messed up. This week. In sixth grade. This is neither surprising nor earth-shaking. And yet I feel myself shaking internally. This is how crazy people are. I am being crazy.

Several weeks ago, I agreed to join Sam on a ride at the state fair. It was one of those big contraptions that gyrate and swing simultaneously, taking one’s secure-but-flailing body into dizzying arcs of progressively increasing altitude before winding gradually back down. As we began to spin and climb, I felt that dropping feeling in my stomach and felt myself resisting. So I said to myself, This is happening—I am on this ride now whether I like it or not, and I cannot change it, so I hereby say “Yes” to it, I surrender to this, all of it, the heights and the drops, and even the feeling in my stomach. Yes. Yes. Yes. And when I quit resisting, all of the unpleasantness ceased immediately. I enjoyed the ride, and it was over very quickly.

This is what I’m practicing now as we sit on the runway. Whether I like it or not, Sam will make her own mistakes, and she will not always meet my expectations. So I say “Yes,” to this, I surrender to all of it, the ups and the downs. I cannot control her and I do us both a disservice when I try. My job is to role model, to guide, to advise, to help when I can. Then I’ve got to step back and let go of the result.

Anxiety

When I feel depressed, I catch myself thinking I have always been depressed, as if I cannot remember a time when I have breathed without this weight pressing down on, in, and through me.

When I feel anxious, as I do today, as I have for the past three days, I watch myself pacing around the house because when I sit still I think I have to move; I have to do; there is something else I can do to make things better; I will feel better when I do something, and I just have to figure out what that thing is.

I find myself thinking that this anxiety–again, this pressure–that pushes both in and out at the same time, is both my weakness and my strength. I feel anxious because I am weak-minded. I feel anxious because I care about so much that is not as I think it should or could be.

These are limited perspectives, I know. And I remind myself: this is temporary. I say to myself, breathe into this. Lean into it. That’s what Pema Chodron would say. Say “yes” to this. And this. And this. Yes.

And I feel like, No.

So I breathe into that.

No one appointed me the peace keeper of my home. But I listen, I feel, I am tuned in at all times the emotional broadcast of this house, feeling it so strongly it submerges me. I focus on it, resisting. When there is tension, or potential for it, I want to change it, resolve it, contain it. I’m watching a boulder perched on top of a hill over us, and no one else sees that the few pebbles holding it in place are loosening and ready to shift.

Sam just led Kevin downstairs and outside. A minute later, they returned and climbed the stairs to Sam’s room. Kevin, ever the generous spirit, has agreed to play “school,” and evidently Sam wanted to administer a fire drill. Outside Sam’s room, I heard her tell Kevin he could not go to the bathroom without asking because then Sam wouldn’t know where he was. Although I know they’re playing, I do not like Sam taking that tone of voice.

I admire Kevin’s willingness to indulge Sam in this kind of play. And it makes me nervous, because when Kevin gets bored with it (and who wouldn’t? I can’t stand it for more than two seconds) he begins to do ridiculous things like he’s in an absurdist play. But Sam wants him to play it straight, and this is where so many times in the past they would launch into verbal sparring ending with Sam having a tantrum.

Sam having a tantrum equals a twelve year old yelling and carrying on angrily in what is ultimately an impotent explosion of her frustration at not getting her way. This being so, I expend a disproportionate amount of energy fretting about when the next one will erupt. That’s an old habit I’m ready to give up.

Twelve and Throwing Tantrums

At twelve years old, Sam has tantrums on the scale of a two year old. She is still learning how to handle her emotions appropriately. Fortunately, these tantrums are limited now mostly to yelling, some stomping around and some door-slamming, so we’ve seen improvement. Each time she gets in trouble for acting out in this way, we remind her that she earns consequences not because she’s gotten upset, but because of her behavior when she is upset.

I find her tantrums extremely stressful. Way more often than I’d like to admit, I’m walking around on edge because I can feel Sam’s emotions building, and I anticipate a fit. Somewhere along the way I must have decided it was my job to control Sam, that I could control her and that I should. Saying that out loud or writing it, I know it’s ludicrous, but I catch myself believing it anyway. I feel the adrenaline and cortisol rising in my blood when I sense her becoming agitated. My stomach ties itself in knots, my breath constricts, my chest caves inward, and I think, futilely, I must prevent her from acting up again. This is where I get pulled into a struggle with her, where it’s been hardest for me to disengage. I’ve become a lot better at it, though some of the time I put on a performance of calm that conceals distress so palpable I can barely stop myself from trembling. And it’s here that I realize that what I’m trying to teach her–how to deal with his emotions in a healthy way–is just what she’s teaching me. She’s showing me what not to do (flip out), and as the adult, I’m trying to remember to breathe, choose my words with care, and act instead of reacting. That’s not easy for me as an adult, so I can appreciate his challenge as a twelve-year old (with PTSD) in handling herself properly when she feels this way.

An acquaintance who happens to be a psychiatric nurse shared a theory with me the other day. She said we develop some important emotional skills when we’re around two years old, that this is what’s going on during the so-called “terrible twos,” that we learn then to moderate our behavior when we feel strong emotions. And this makes sense, because at two years old, Sam was being seriously abused. Could it be that this part of his development was interrupted? Since that conversation, I’ve been able to feel more compassion for Sam when she fails to control herself as I would like. I’ve been able to maintain a more genuine calm (despite my stress) in the face of his upset. And I still want to help her as best I can to develop the skills she needs to control herself.

Kevin and I often debrief after one of Sam’s tantrums, and its usually to remind ourselves of what we already know. Experience demonstrates that when we decline Sam’s invitation to join her in her drama, it all fizzles out much more quickly. Still, we occasionally let ourselves get sucked in despite ourselves. We argue with her. Routinely, we used to declare consequences during one of her tantrums on the theory that it would show her we meant business. This only escalated things like fuel on a fire, so eventually we learned (mostly) not to do this. It’s not that consequences aren’t ever in order, just that giving them while she’s acting up has proven counter-productive. To date, the best advice we’ve heard has been to disconnect, to take away the audience. When she’s upset, Sam wants to argue aggressively, and to do that, she needs someone to fight with her. We’re still learning how not to be drawn in. Kevin still argues with her more than I do, and we have argued about that. I say, if one party (the adult) stops, the argument is over. Sam can’t keep it going by herself.

This is something we more or less agree on, and it’s often difficult to remember in practice. Like Sam, we’re so attached to being “right.” But as the parents, we hold the power, and we give it away if we allow Sam to hijack a conversation and turn it into a shouting match. It’s hard to walk away when she’s saying something obnoxious, defiant, or otherwise disrespectful, but it quiets her more quickly than anything.

It’s not always feasible to walk away. If we’re cooking dinner, or working in the living room, we cannot evict ourselves every time Sam acts up. So we tell her to go to his room. Usually, eventually, she will stomp his way up the stairs and slam her bedroom door in classic angry-kid fashion. But sometimes she seems intent to perform an aria of outrage. It’s as if she believes she could make us cave if only she could rage loudly enough. If that’s the aim, it’s puzzling because it has never, ever worked. Not once have we ever given in to a demand when she’s disrespectful or obnoxious. Which leads me to believe that if she’s not getting her way from it, she must be getting something from it, or wouldn’t she have dropped the habit by now? I suspect what she gets is some release. She gets the feeling out.

We’ve talked about that with her. “You can have your feelings–they’re always okay–and you don’t have to get in trouble if you can do something else to get them out. Go to your room. Listen to music. Go outside and ride your bike. Punch a pillow. Write down your feelings. And you can talk to your therapist about it. She can help you, give you some ideas of some things you can do instead of having a fit.” She doesn’t say anything to this. Her expression seems to say, “yeah, maybe.”

A few months ago, I did something different. Sam was carrying on and escalating about homework or something, had refused to go to her room, and began rapidly increasing his volume and intensity. She even started jumping up and down–just like a toddler. Spontaneously, without thinking, I began to do it, too. “I can yell, too!” I said. “I can act like this, too! Aaaaaaaaah!” And I jumped up and down.

Sam stopped cold, like she’d been struck. Her whole energy shifted. The rage turned to what looked like sadness or grief, and she ran outside crying, telling me I was mean and horrible. I felt really bad, and at the same time I realized that in a way, it had worked. She had shifted.

I told myself I wouldn’t do that again, but since then I have done it, about three or four times. Last time, before I did it, I said, “Sam, lower your voice. Would you like me to start talking to you the way you’re talking to me?” And on she went, and so I mirrored her (that’s the word I would like to use, because it’s kinder than what I fear may closer to the truth: mocking). Within thirty seconds she was leaving the room of her own accord. She wasn’t any happier, but she was removing herself.

Sam and I have talked about it. When she’s in a positive mood, she talks freely and openly about what’s going on with her during a tantrum. Last week, I said to her, “I know it doesn’t feel good to you when I act like you when you’re doing that. But honestly, it’s the only thing that has ever gotten through to you to make you stop for a minute. I don’t want to hurt you, I just want you to see what you’re doing.” She just nodded.

Two days ago, when we were talking about alternatives to yelling when she’s upset, she said, “You can always act like me again.” She seems to agree that when I’ve done that, it’s helped her shift. But I don’t like it.

Effective or not, I am not sure if mirroring her like this a good idea. I do know that it doesn’t feel good to me, and based on that, I am resolved not to make this a habit. Still, when all else fails, I often feel at a loss for what to do, how to respond. I guess in those cases, I can always take my own advice, whether or not it’s convenient, and disengage. Just walk away.

Dad

I wrote the following in a my journal in December 2010:

I’m at my parents’ house for the week of Christmas. I haven’t spent more than 48 hours here in fifteen years. I feel uncomfortable, awkward, out of place. I want very much to leave. But I also want to be here. I can do this. My being here means a great deal to my parents. They’re so happy I’m here.

I spent the day with my mom. I drove us to the beach–I hadn’t seen the ocean in a couple of years. We shopped in the afternoon, and in the evening went to a Christmas concert at my nephews’ school. We got back a couple of hours ago, and my father was still up. This was unusual for the hour.

“Would you care to sit down for a bit?” he asked. He looked vulnerable.

He was watching a thriller of some kind on TV. A bloody face filled the screen. I didn’t want to sit with him, nor did I want to watch this show.

“I’m not interested in watching that show,” I said.

He hit the power button the remote, and the screen went dark.

“I didn’t ask you if you wanted to watch the program. I asked you if you’d sit down.”

I did not want to, but I did. I can do this, I thought. For him. So I sat on the couch, leaving enough space for another body to fit between us. He smiled at me through an anesthesia of alcohol, something between a grin and a wince. Then he reached out to me tentatively. He wanted to touch me, to hold me. I let him. He sighed and held me close. I can do this, I told myself. It was ok, easier than I thought it’d be. Love to him, I thought. I can do this. I visualized light in my chest, allowing the glow to reach out to him.

“Thank you,” he said, still holding tight. “I feel it,” he said. “I feel… penetration.” I almost laughed at this choice of words. He let go for a moment, then pulled me in again. “I’m not done,” he said. He caught his breath as if laughing or sobbing. Then he sat back and looked at me blearily.

“You know,” he began, and hesitated. “In two years, it’ll be 50 years your mother and I will be married.”

“I know.”

He was silent for a few seconds while he stared toward the wall. Then he looked back at me and grinned. “You know, if you want to… if you really want to set her off… you…” and he leaned in toward me, pressed his lips against my shoulder, and exhaled. I felt the warmth of his breath seeping through the fabric of my sweatshirt. Then he sat back, smiling mischievously. “If I really want to upset her, all I have to do…”

“Let me ask you a question,” I said.

“What?”

He couldn’t hear me. I had to speak loudly.

“Let me ask you, why would you ever want to ‘set her off?’ Why would you want to upset her?”

He was flummoxed. I repeated the question. His expression shifted as he considered, looked confused, then unsure before a bland look came over him as he said (as if it should be obvious), “It can’t be all love.”

“Why not?”

He seemed to think this a naive question.

“Because it’s not out there.”

“You choose your behavior,” I said. “You choose to be loving or not. Why would you choose to upset her, on purpose, ever?”

He thought this over for a few seconds.

“For fun,” he offered.

“It’s not fun for her,” I pointed out.

“No,” he agreed. “It’s not fun for her, but…” and he went silent, then looked confused again.

“I don’t understand why you’d do that,” I said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

“You’re not making any sense,” he said, shifting his body to face me. He was searching for words, clearly wanting to have a talk, to educate me.

“I don’t care to have this conversation with you when you’re this drunk,” I told him.

“What?”

“I’m not going to have this conversation with you while you’re drunk.”

Hearing this, he released me. “Oh. Ok. Good night to you.”

I went down to the guest room.

Twenty minutes later, I opened the door and stepped to the bottom of the stairs, listening.

“He’s downstairs,” he was saying. “What the fuck is up with that? That’s not right,” he told my mother. “There’s something wrong with that.”

“Don’t use that language,” she scolded.

It is very hard to be here.

I love my father. That hasn’t always been easy to say. When I was a kid I frequently told him I hated him. I was always so angry at him. I didn’t trust him. I experienced him as moody, erratic, unfair, creepy, invasive. He enjoyed teasing me. He admitted this years later. I got into the habit of just avoiding him, making myself invisible. I was good at it.

I’ve seen my father a few times in the last several years, on my brief visits back to the northeast. He’s ailing badly now, and his doctors have told him he won’t live long. Mom says he hasn’t had a drink in over a month. This time it’s not because he’s on medicine to curb the desire, or because he’s reached a resolution, but because he always feels like he can’t breathe. I guess that cuts the appetite for alcohol.

About ten years ago while I was in grad school, he and my mom visited me in Iowa City. While they were there, I set up a video camera and interviewed them as they sat in my living room. Not too long before this visit, I had recorded a conversation with my grandfather days before he died, and now I thought, why wait until they’re on their deathbeds? So they agreed to do it.

I’ve lost the recording. I had it backed up on a couple of drives, and last year when I tried to look at the files, they were irretrievably corrupt. But I remember.

“You used to hide all the time,” Dad told me.

I knew exactly what he meant. I didn’t say anything.

“Tell me about when you started drinking,” I said.

“I remember when I was a kid,” he began, “I used to see aunt Rita and Uncle Charlie pour themselves a whiskey, and they’d fill a glass like that…” He held his fingers out to suggest the size of a tumbler a little larger than a juice glass, which he then mimed holding and filling to the top. “And I saw them do that, and…” he searched for words. “I admired it. I wanted to be able to drink like that.”

Wow, I thought.

“So when I was old enough, I started drinking.”

I’d never heard this story before.

I’d asked the question because his drinking affected me, it affected all of us. I believe it’s one of the main causes of our strained relationship right from my childhood. I always knew he drank, but somehow I didn’t understand until I was a teenager just how much. When I was in high school, I got up one morning, and in the kitchen found what I thought was a flat, stale glass of beer on the kitchen counter left from the night before. I poured it down the drain. Not long after, I heard him moving angrily through the house asking “Who dumped my beer?!” I told him I did. I remember feeling very self-righteous and angry about it. I didn’t apologize, I just said, “I never imagined you’d be drinking this early in the morning.”

I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately. I talk to mom just about weekly, and sometimes she hands him the phone. Our conversations are short. He sounds more pleasant, less gruff than I’m used to. Softer.

And it’s easier now for me to feel my love for him. I don’t feel angry with him anymore.

Butt Out

“I’m not saying this to be, uh, mean, or disrespectful or anything, but…”

“Just say what you have to say, Kyle.”

It occurs to me that one cannot render an insult or disrespectful remark benign by prefacing it with a qualifying preamble. Today I was instructed to “Butt out” by my partner’s ex. I’d called him to share a conversation I’d had with Sam and her Resource teacher at middle school about a proposal she offered, an alternative to our ongoing at-home conflicts with Sam about her school work.

At the request of my partner, Kevin, I’d stopped by the school during the last period, when Sam was in the Resource room. During this period, Mrs. Green checks to see that she has written down his homework assignments for the day, and to make sure that she has any handouts that have been given in her classes that day (which she’s demonstrated a talent for “losing”). She also reviews her behavior report for the day, and when she gets high marks, she earns coupons that she can redeem for treats, pens, stickers, or other stuff kids like. I went to speak with Mrs. Green because Kevin and I wanted her insight on how we might help Sam help herself.

Sam sat stonily in a chair, jaw set, eyes narrowed and sullen. “She’s not happy with me right now,” said Mrs. Green. She had her behavior report for the day, and it showed that she had not handed in her math homework. Sam had insisted that she had handed in her homework. Or tried to. But she hadn’t followed the teacher’s very clear, simple instructions. The math teacher tells students to take out their homework, then he walks by each student’s desk to note the work’s completion. Sam had taken it upon herself to march to the teacher’s desk and say “Here’s my homework.” According to Mrs. Green, the math teacher told her to return to her seat, and that he would be over shortly to check it. When he arrived at Sam’s desk, she “didn’t have it anymore.” I suppose she just refused to take it back out. I don’t know. So here Sam sat, angry at the world for holding her accountable.

“You appear to be angry,” I said to Sam. “Is that accurate?”

“No,” she said angrily through clenched teeth, “I’m just FRUStrated.”

I was feeling angry. I mean, what the hell? How is it always everyone else’s fault to her? Carefully moderating my tone, speaking slowly and quietly, I told Sam that she would not earn back her privileges (TV and video game time) until we had a good report from her teachers. I said that she was doing good work, but that by not turning it in, she was asking for D’s and F’s, and that she deserves better.

Then Mrs. Green spoke to her. “Are you having a hard time with middle school? It’s hard, isn’t it?”

Sam barely nodded.

“Is that a yes? You know, it’s hard for a lot of kids, and you’re going to be okay.” And she went on to talk to her about taking care of her school responsibilities in pretty much the exact same way that we have been talking to her: plainly and directly. She didn’t like what she had to say, but she seemed to listen.

When I interjected with agreement a point she made, Sam hardened visibly.

“Your parents are doing what all parents do, Sam,” she said. And she talked about her son, about how he had a hard time in school, and about how she constantly asked him about his school work and checked in to make sure he was doing it. “They have to do that,” she told him. “What are you so angry about?”

“Everybody’s always after me, and I just want them to leave me alone.”

“Do you think you can do this by yourself? Do you think you could do your homework and get everything done on your own if they left you alone?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I have an idea we could try. If it’s okay with your dads–and we’ll have to check, it’s up to them–we can try something. Is this okay if I make a suggestion?”

“Yes, of course,” I said.

“For the next week, if your parents say it’s okay, you go home, and they’ll ask you what you have for homework, and you say Science or whatever, and then that’s it. You do the homework and they’re not going to check it. You take care of it all, you’re responsible for getting it all done. And they’re not going to help you, either, unless you ask. You have to ask if you need help. So you get your work done, and they’ll back off, and then when you come to school you have to answer to me. Does that sound like something you want to try?”

Sam nodded and was relaxing visibly.

“You’ll still be responsible,” she said, cautioning her. “You’re not getting any less work, you’re just going to come and answer to me, and I’ll check on you. Would that be okay?”

I said it sounded great to me.

“And you can all just talk about other things for a change, instead of homework. You can actually enjoy each other’s company.”

If this was at all successful, I thought, it’d be a dream come true. I said so.

“If this doesn’t work after a week, we’ll tweak it. Do you know what ‘tweak’ means–we’ll change it a little?”

Sam nodded.

As I left, I thanked Mrs. Green, and she said she hoped she hadn’t overstepped her bounds. I hadn’t felt that at all, and said “I think it’s a great idea, thank you for suggesting it. Thank you.”

So I discussed it with Kevin, who shared my opinion. We will do this. And since Kevin is out of town on business, he asked me to call Kyle and share the plan with him.

Kyle didn’t share our enthusiasm and openness to the idea. He seemed to take it personally. He argued. I could hear his voice shaking. “I am so sick of all these professionals telling me how to raise my kid. I’m so sick of them telling me what to do, and I disagree, and then it turns out that I was right. Sam needs to be held accountable. She just has these fits because she doesn’t want to do the work! And I don’t like what this will teach her, that she doesn’t have to take responsibility…”

“But she will be held accountable. Someone will be checking her work, it’ll just be Mrs. Green instead of us. I see this as a way to possibly ease some of the conflict at home. We’re always fighting with her, it’s always such a struggle to get her to do his work. I think what you need to ask yourself is, are you willing to fight with her like this over school until she’s an adult ready to move out?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Well, we’re not. I do not believe that fighting with her is necessary or constructive. Of course Sam needs to learn to be responsible. She needs to find her own initiative, to do her best on her own, and to get her work done. And by fighting with her all the time, getting angry, and scolding, and punishing all the time, she’s not learning or developing that skill, that initiative. We are providing, through this fighting with her, the motivation to do her work. We give her that motivation in a negative way. I believe that if we back off and let him report to Mrs. Green, that she will fall, and she may not get right back up. But eventually, she will. And she will have done it for herself.” I pointed out, as Mrs. Green did, that we can still check grades online, and we can check in with her teachers. That we still have to sign her practice log for band, and her reading log.

“We’ve already tried this,” he said. “It didn’t work.”

I think he was referring to a period of a few weeks in fifth grade when Kevin stopped checking Sam’s homework, having agreed to allow her to face the consequences with her teacher if things were incomplete or unsatisfactory. I said that was is not the same scenario, that here Sam has a person with whom she checks in three times each day, that she had more support at school this year to help her do this. Furthermore, when her grades are bad, we could still impose consequences.

About here, Kyle looped back to the same arguments he’d already made. I felt I understood where he was coming from, and that he was misunderstanding me or unwilling to listen because he’d already made his mind up that this woman was trying to tell him how to parent. And when I told him that I respectfully disagreed, he told me to butt out. You know, because I’m not a real parent here.

“I need you to know,” I said, “that Kevin and I will do this. I understand that you disagree, and you will do what you must at your house. But Kevin and I have agreed to go with this plan.”

That didn’t go over well. Unable to agree to disagree, Kyle phoned Kevin. By now, he’d arrived to collect Sam, who spends the night with him half the week, and I watched Kyle pace up and down the driveway while yelling at Kevin on the phone.

Late Homework Gets an F

Sam is four weeks into sixth grade, and although her completed work would earn her all A’s and B’s, as of today she has two F’s, two D’s, and two Cs. This is because she has not been turning in her homework. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

We’re stumped as to what to do about it, not sure what the problem is. Since Sam is in honors classes (except for math), some teachers purposely do not ask for homework. Instead, they have a tray or mailbox into which students have been instructed to submit their homework. Sam has consistently failed to do this, even though she says she sees other kids doing it, and even when she’s in a class where the teacher does ask for the homework.

“Why didn’t you turn in your homework?”

“I don’t know. I just didn’t.”

Okay, then. “You understand that although you worked hard on that, you’re not getting credit. You’re getting an F because you couldn’t be bothered to hand your teacher a piece of paper.”

Blank stare.

What now?

And this all leads me to question, once again, the one-size-fits-all education system. I understand the thinking behind setting the expectation that students hand in their homework without asking. Setting the bar high is often a good idea. And I disagree–strongly–that a student should be given an F for not handing in homework right on time. Let me explain.

As I see it, the grading system is intended to be a measure of how well one has learned the material in a specific subject and how well one has performed in the subject. In Sam’s case, she often knows the covered material well, but is struggling with something else: organizational skill, or self-motivation, or personal accountability. So if for whatever reason she fails to turn in her work on time, her grades very rapidly start reflecting those deficiencies rather than her knowledge or skill. Academically, intellectually, Sam belongs with the Honors students. She does well. At the same time, based on her emotional and social skills and her current ability to be self-motivating and hold herself accountable, she fits in a Special Needs category. She’s a hybrid of honors and special ed. I’m sure there are lots of kids like this. So Sam would be ill-served by being placed in classes beneath her academic ability, yet she is failing some classes because of this procedural rule. Her grades, the primary reporting medium of how well she is learning, are inaccurately reflecting her progress because of a behavior that, while important, has no bearing on whether or not she knows her spelling and vocabulary words.

I suspect that for many students, a strict late-homework-means-an-F serves to motivate them, so the policy serves them–it’s good for them. It would have motivated me as a kid. But Sam is not like most kids, and she is not served by this practice. And I appreciate that school teaches a great deal more than the subjects that appear on my stepson’s report card. She’s learning responsibility, study skills, social skills, she’s learning respect, to be on time, to be a part of a community, and so on. She’s learning life skills. But she’s not receiving a Life Skills grade, she’s getting grades in Math and Science. Great. I say let those grades reflect her real ability and progress. Let’s grade her on behavior and timeliness some other way. Bring on the detention and other consequences for late homework, but let her grades for her subjects be based more solely on what she’s learning about those subjects.

To the school’s credit, they’re taking steps to provide Sam more support. As of yesterday, Sam is now on a behavior-monitoring system. She has to carry around a sheet for teachers to sign whether or not she’s participating in class, whether or not she’s come to class prepared, and whether or not she has handed in her homework. It’s only been one day. We sure hope it helps.