Tuesday, September 25, 2012

An Embarrassment (of Riches)

At Ander's Back-to-School Night yesterday evening, I may very well have blushed after uttering the words "Trapper Keeper" in front of a room full of parents.  Later -- oh the shame -- I raised my hand amongst the seated adults and asked Alexander's Literature teacher if he should be composing or only typing final drafts on the "word processor."

I'm a grown-up (mostly).  

(I am apparently also a time-traveler from the 80s.)

I can sheepishly laugh off that sort of public embarrassment (mostly).  

But it was the secret embarassment I felt last night that haunts me today.  

There was a rather protracted chunk of the Q&A with Ander's (sainted) home-room teacher that revolved (and revolved and revolved) around homework, reasonable deadlines, whether parents preferred having their children work on projects over weekends, whether or not assignments handed out Monday could realistically be completed by Thursday night (on top of the nightly math homework and soccer and football and commuting and Hebrew school), and the slippery slope of need-based 'extensions' and whether the kids should be penalized (and how much) for turning in assignments late.  This went on and on, but the consensus seemed to be that -- while it would be nice to receive assignments a little earlier so that materials could be purchased over weekends -- four days was a reasonable amount of time to finish most of their projects.  

I agree.  I do.  And I sat there nodding.  

But I swear -- and maybe it was just a guilt-induced hallucination -- that Ander's teacher was cocking an eyebrow at me while he refereed the debate.

Because the mortifying fact is: I had strongly suggested to Alexander that he ask for a one day extension on last week's assignment.  

Because it was my fault he was behind on his project.

Ander is ridiculously good about managing his time.  (Thank the flying spaghetti monster that he takes after his father-who-typed-my-term-papers-in-college.)  Ander's is the voice of reason piping up from the back seat, saying, "Can't you pick up the dry-cleaning while I'm at school tomorrow?  Because I need to get home to do my homework."

But my mandated soul-cleansing death-march journey to the sea on Monday and my inability to get to the candy store before Thursday had hampered Ander's progress on his "Layers of the Earth" assignment.  

Arguably, he did have something kind of complicated in mind: he wanted to make a stop motion film using candy to illustrate the layers of the earth.  (We had been brainstorming, and I had mentioned that the Earth is like a layered jawbreaker or an Everlasting Gobstopper. He ran with this idea, but didn't think actual Gobstoppers had enough layers.)  

His plan: make a stop-motion film from photographic stills, using a series of increasingly smaller spherical candies to illustrate the deeper and deeper layers of the earth.  He would shoot the stills of himself and his props with a camera attached to the underside of his loft bed, using a remote control, lying on the floor under the camera, so that the floor would be the 'wall' behind his head.  

He wrote the script, rigged the camera, and chose his wardrobe.  

But then I failed to make it to the fancy-pants new candy shoppe in a timely manner, and then oh then his camera wouldn't cooperate.

I knew he could and would find a work-around, and I knew he could and would push through and make his Friday deadline.  But I also knew that his beautiful Vision would then devolve into something less, requiring a panicky, crabby, all-nighter with family-wide unpleasant repercussions.

I strongly suggested he ask for an extra day.  He asked for it.  He got it.

And I couldn't admit this in front of all those parents because they would just not believe me that Alexander's respect for deadlines and his ability to pace himself and manage his time would not be undermined and forever derailed by this bit of leeway.  

And I sat there feeling like a big hypocrite.  Embarrassed to be the (secret) bad example.

But then the wonderful and relentlessly patient John (yes, the students and parents call the teachers by their first names, I know, I know, it weirds me out too) reined in the debate and said (more or less), "Look, if your son or daughter just doesn't get around to starting his or her project until Thursday night, and then asks me for an extension, well, they can have one...but they're going to lose a half grade for every day past their deadline they turn in their work.  That said, if your family has stuff one week, big stuff, family stuff...or if your son or daughter has an amazing idea that they are really, really excited about, and they need one extra day to see it come together, well, they can have an extension and not be penalized.  Because I'm not going to grade down for something they couldn't plan for.  And I'm not going to threaten a kid with a lower grade when all they want to do is work HARDER."

Not everyone agreed. (John's ability to not roll his eyes at all our inane questions and lame parenting is super-heroic.) But I felt a bit less embarrassed about my parenting fail.  

Especially in light of this:

Turned in a day late, via the class website -- because they are all tech like that, yo.

(yes, he likes that particular piece of music for stop-motion)
(yes, i ended up having to be the shutter-button pusher, 
but he did his own editing in iMovie)
(and yes -- duh -- real candy was consumed in the making of this film)

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