Friday, June 3, 2011

A Very Painful Day

Once in my twenties while I was still nursing Meme, I had a cavity that needed filling.  As most nursing moms know, we generally don’t stop breastfeeding simply because some dentist tells us that breastfeeding and dental anesthesia don’t combine well. “Can’t the kid take a bottle?” is not acceptable.  I hated dental anesthesia anyway, so I decided that it would be fine to have the tooth drilling done without any pain meds. None at all. Not even a Tylenol. And yes, it did hurt. Quite a bit.

I would gladly take the pain from that day over the pain I felt yesterday afternoon trying to guide Jojo through the LEAP. It’s not that she can’t do the work. She is capable, but does she know that? I don’t know, but she acts like she doesn’t.

I thought after the success from the day before, Jojo would be less anxious. She should have felt more at ease from knowing that this test-taking stuff is within her realm of capability. The reading passages aren’t hard, and she had no problem understanding either the passages or the questions.  A greater familiarity with the test format should have made her more comfortable. I figured that we were ready to take a real life-sized language arts portion pretest and use the results to hone her skills.

Yet, she began with the attitude that she’s going to fail, and I don’t understand why she should feel that way. Test anxiety doesn’t sum it up, at least not fully.

Our work session yesterday didn’t start out well. I guess I forgot to tell her the day before, when explaining the LEAP and why she had to take it, that it wasn’t an on-line test that would take an hour or two.  I suppose I forgot to mention that it was a three day, written test she would have to take at a school in mid-city with a bunch of other kids.

“But it’s on-line!” she insisted.

“No hun, the Connections Academy’s assessment test is on-line.  The Louisiana LEAP is a state test; it has to be supervised by actual teachers and stuff.”

That look she gave me I mistakenly saw as sarcastic indignation.  You know, one of those looks of “Are you f***ing kidding me?”  But it turned out to be a look of pure panic and terror. My bad, but I won’t confuse the two looks again.

On a mildly related note, for the last three days while I’ve been working with Jojo, the boys have been exceptionally good. Maybe it’s the semi-clean state of the playroom, which is now messy enough that it should have caution tape around it.  Maybe it’s the extra sleep they are getting, but giving me 3 to 4 hour chunks to work with one of their sisters is a gift from them.

Back to yesterday: While the boys were occupied, I was puttering around the dining room just in case Jojo, who was at the dining room table, had a question. Just a little bit of light sewing so that I didn’t seem so engrossed in helping her, but it kept me near enough that she could feel comfortable asking me anything. Quietly she read the first passage.

“I don’t understand this question.” Now that look I should have recognized. Anger. Self-righteousness.  Sometimes my own naivety surprised me, but I thought she really didn’t understand the question.

“What’s the question?” I asked as I hopped up, possibly a bit too enthusiastically.

“What’s the point of this passage?” I was ready with my stock answer that the point of a passage is generally summed up in the first and last paragraphs, so let’s take a look at those.

“No mom,” she said with dead calm. “I understand the article. I just felt it was pointless.”

Okay.  There’s no stock answer for that. It didn’t get any prettier from there.

I just didn’t recognize all the signs of frustration and being overwhelmed.  We’ve had a weird view of schooling for the most part. I figure if the kids are really good readers and can do adequate math that they should be fine. After all, if you can read well then you can learn to do anything else. I push loads of good books at them and have them do their math work consistently. I have them write practical things like stories, letters and such.

Maybe I haven’t prepared them enough for standardized tests, but there wasn’t anything in these tests that she can’t do – except the test itself. 

Let’s just sum up the next hour with tears from us both, yelling from her, almost giving up (both of us again) and other unpleasant things. Towards the end, she was determined not to do the test for no other reason than the principle of it, but I was still determined that she does it.

If my children learn no other lesson from me I hope it’s that you don’t ever give up until you’ve really tried. 

I tried several tactics to convince her. She tried several tactics to convince me. Finally I reminded her that it’s only been a bit over 3 years since she started reading at all.

“No mom, it’s been 5.” Always the need to correct me. *sigh*

“No, I remember being pregnant with Ebby doing flash card with you in our old kitchen. I remember still doing the flash cards when he was a baby in the sling. And I remember you throwing a book across the room saying that you’ll never be able to read it, so why bother trying.  I remember the book.  It was the shorter, thinner Dick and Jane book with the brown cover. Do you remember that?”

I got a smile from her at least. “Yeah, I remember.”

“Can you read it now?”

“It’s way too easy to read now.”

“But you remember how that felt? And you remember we worked through it.” By then my bladder was screaming obscenities at. When I was washing my hands, I saw myself in the bathroom mirror, and I thought, “How did I come to this place? I’ve ruined my children’s lives by doing this, by homeschooling.”

By the time I got back to the dining room, she had finished writing the answers to that question and the next one. I looked over what she wrote, was satisfied and then went back to sewing.  I sat down with her several more times to explain things, look over her work and talk about stuff, but I’m hoping she worked a little more past her fear.

Today we took it easy and I gave her a bunch of workbook pages on punctuation and other grammar bits.  Of course she informed me that not only had she done these workbook pages before, but that she’s done much better ones. “You need the review,” I told her.

Tomorrow we start on the math portion. I still don’t know how we’re going to squeeze all this studying in and do everything else we have planned. Maybe some creative shuffling is in order.  

I haven’t even started the essay writing section, and I know she’ll freak out despite not being a bad writer. I figure the old 5-paragraph essay I learned in tenth grade English should do the trick. It will at least give her a concrete formula and framework to work with.

If I survive next month . . . I deserve a cookie!

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