I sit in the garage trying to let go of work and tune in to home. A peaceful “me moment” hangs softly in the air, and I relish the darkness and solitude of transition. “The Princess had a test today,” I say to myself, “and the Daredevil has one tomorrow.” I have to get in there. I need to be present for them.
They’ve always been nerdy, just like me. They loved the synonym game on the way home from school and the math challenge at the dinner table. No fancy game pieces or cards. Just the creativity of a tired mom and the eagerness of little girls. Now, in second and third grades, we’ve graduated to homophones and homonyms and intentionally complex word problems. We giggle at silly analogies and solve problems in different ways just because it’s fun, and sitting together after a long day of Carlos calling the Daredevil stupid in class because she still sometimes makes her letters backward and the Princess following her teacher annoyingly around the room asking “Did I do it right?” even though she most certainly did and my wondering if I’ll ever figure out how make a real difference in the lives of teachers and students I’m charged to lead just feels right, the best kind of right.
They’ve been fighting a lot lately, though, and I know part of it is because I’m always away, and when I am home, Bubba wants my attention. He’s learned so many sight words, and though he still needs help identifying his letters, he knows that word is “play,” and he wants me to do that sight word app with him again. I get a kick out of watching him struggle less today than he did yesterday with “have” and “no” and “will,” and I see new opportunities in just a few months to do the rhyme game with him, too.
I come through the backdoor, and the customary wail of “MOOOMMMY!” smacks me hard in the face as bodies slam into mine for hugs and kisses.
“Sit back down, and finish your dinner,” I say, giving a few more kisses to each one of them. “How did it go today?”
“Good,” they sing in concert before they each start trying to explain simultaneously all the ins and outs of life between 7 AM and 7 PM.
“Stop!” I say. “Bubba, you first! How was your day?”
“Ca’ see yo’ phone? Sight words, Mommy.”
“No, baby. You cannot use my phone. Sit down and finish eating.”
“Well, actually, my day was good except I was on orange.”
“That is the third day in a row! What are you doing?”
“I know, Mommy. I just keep talking. Did you know that Hope has…”
“Daredevil, I don’t care what Hope has! What I do know is that I’m not sending you to school to figure out what Hope has. You better stop talking in that lady’s class. It’s rude! Do you hear me?”
“Princess, shoot.” I head toward the living room to drop my bags and take off my coat. My couch is still my favorite spot to relax after a long day.
“Well, I was on outstanding,” she says, no doubt looking down haughtily at her little sister. “But I didn’t do so good on my math test.”
“What!?!” I hobble toward the kitchen with one boot in my hand and the other still on my foot.
“Yeah, I didn’t do so good. I didn’t know my 6 times tables, so I didn’t finish.”
“First of all, it’s ‘well.’ I didn’t do so well on my math test. When, may I ask, did you start not doing well on math tests?”
“Well, she always lets people who don’t do well do it again.”
At this, I was livid. Not because the teacher has opportunities for students to master skills after initial setbacks. This is just good teaching practice. The real issue is that in that one statement, I had already figured out what the Princess had done.
“You ran around this house and watched television all night last night. When I asked you if you had done your homework, you told me ‘yes.'”
“But I did do my homework last night.”
“Little girl, don’t treat me like I’m stupid! You know exactly what I mean, and if you keep trying to play word games with me like I’m an idiot it’s going to be a problem. Do you understand me?”
“You played all night, knowing that you needed to study those 6 times tables, and you did that because you knew that your teacher would give you extra opportunities. You took advantage of her, right?”
Tears started to well in her eyes, but because she’s stubborn, she refused to let any fall.
“You took advantage of her, right?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” she whispered.
“There are kids who study and study and still end up failing. That’s who those extra tries are for! Not for you! You know that you can learn those like that (snapping my fingers), and you just wanted to do what you wanted to do instead. That’s selfish, and it’s wrong! Get your butt up and get your legal pad and write out those sixes right now.”
“But the test is over.”
“And you failed it, right?”
“Get up right now and go write them out! You sit there and learn them and be ready for my test! You’re not going to fail another anything. Am I clear?”
I hobble back to the living room and take off my other boot. I sit for a moment in disbelief wondering where I’ve gone wrong.
“Mommy, I’m ready for your test.”
It hasn’t been 5 minutes. My boot is still warm on the inside. Every question I throw at her, she answers correctly, even the multi-step word problems, which in no way will appear on her teacher’s test.
“Princess. This is ridiculous.”
“No, you didn’t fail. You just wasted my time and the time of your teacher today, and that’s not fair! You can’t be lazy like that. You just can’t. It’s not good.”
“I’m sorry, Mommy.”
“All right. Go in there at heat your dinner up in the microwave and finish eating.”
“Mommy?” The Daredevil was proudly walking with her agenda book and legal pad toward the living room.
“My test is tomorrow, and I have been studying my spelling words.”
I sank hard into the couch, letting my boots thud to the floor.
“I know how to spell all my words, and I can even use them in sentences. Can I have a test, too?”
Somehow, this has turned into a new game.