On Thursday night, I would not have been surprised if a crowd had gathered on the corner in front of my house. Inside, it sounded like World War 3.
We were studying for Max's spelling test.
There were tears (his and mine) and shouting. This was day 4 of preparation, and the test was in the morning. Tonight was supposed to be the final review - catching all of the last minute stumbling blocks that were hampering his careful memorization of those 22 words. And yet, it didn't feel like a review at all. I would read a word and sometimes he would repeat it back to me in wonder - as though he had never heard the word before in his life. I was bewildered. He had been cruising through these words. The second night, he had been spelling them almost giddily, rejoicing at his newfound spelling skills. Skills that were now resembling "skillz".
So we took a few steps back and approached it from a different angle. We tried a few different things: Breaking down the words into syllables. Sounding it out. Tricks. Rote recitation. Copying the word down 3 times, spelling it aloud each time. And still, every word was coming out wrong - it was as though he had fallen down the rabbit hole of spelling words, and everything was the opposite of what it had been the day before.
Now I was reading the words out loud and spelling them for him to copy down spelled correctly, in a desperate attempt to somehow teach his hands how to form the words automatically. He was repeating the words back, our voices rising with each line, until we were spelling words at the top of our lungs, shouting at each other across the living room.
And this is exactly why we don't homeschool. By the end of the school year I would be in a fetal position on the floor clutching a flask and rocking back and forth, and he would be throwing dining room furniture through windows and setting the dictionary on fire.
It's crazy that we should find ourselves here, now. We had made a lot of headway with his spelling recently and I had been confident that the tools we had honed last year were going to work for us again. Spelling takes a lot of effort on his part. Max is not a natural speller. When he writes essays or poems, it is a struggle to read them.... almost impossible at times - even for Max - to figure out what the words are supposed to be, so badly are they misspelled. This is my Waterloo.
For me, the most challenging thing about being a parent has been learning to parent a child so unlike me in so many ways. And this homework thing - spelling in particular - has been a huge issue for me. This boy of mine thinks homework is "optional'. He does the bare minimum, if that. For the most part, he is completely capable of doing the work, he just prefers not to. The spelling, on the otherhand, is not laziness, I don't think. He just had no natural aptitude for it. It might always be hard for him, and I have finally accepted that. But it's not easy. I was raised by a newspaper editor father and proofreader mother. My father once corrected a handout on Veteran's Day at school with his ever-present red pen, and handed it back to the teacher as he left the classroom. Spelling just comes naturally to me. And teaching? Does not. So each night we have a careful understanding. He does his homework when I ask, to the best of his ability. I do not hover. I do not correct. I certainly do not give him the answers. But at this point, all of our carefully agreed upon guidelines were completely out the window.
Which is why when he spelled 'South Carolina' "Soth Carolinean" I said the first thing that popped into my head:
"Are you fucking kidding me right now?"
He was not kidding.
And then we got to 'Rhode Island'. I must stop and remind you that the child just spent almost 2 months in Rhode Island. I grew up in the area. My mother still lives there. And yet all of those months of seeing road signs (Not "rhode" signs), reading the address on the mail, saying the word over and over and over again when anyone asks where he was staying, or where he had been this summer, all of the lecturing about the silent letters in this tricky state.....he still spelled my home state Rode Iland.
The mind, it boggles.
By the end, it was a screenshot right out of a movie: the mother sitting on the couch, slumped over a sheaf of photocopies. Defeated. The son, sitting at the table under a single lightbulb, head in hands, his tears falling silently onto the composition book lying open in front of him.
Lucy, meanwhile, was in the TV room chattering away with Sam. They were reviewing her spelling words, and as silence fell over Max and I in the living room, and we sat there completely drained from our ordeal, she chirped along through each word without a moment of hesitation. At the end, she closed her folder with a sigh. "Daddy, I wish I had more homework."
Max looked up and caught my eye, questioning.
"No, she is NOT doing your homework for you."
He sighed, and looked back down at the soggy page, and went back to writing each word. Three times. "Max, you gotta learn these words. You don't know enough of these words to pass. You have *got* to learn these words."
He kept his head down, and kept writing. I was worried. He had been working so hard, and hadn't made any discernable progress. I was sure he was going to fail the test, and I knew it would break his heart.
The next day, he only got four words wrong. 4 out of 22. Thats 82%. And that is amazing.
The tables have turned, and I can freely admit that I stand corrected. Where the hell is my red pen.
27 minutes ago