Thursday, September 2, 2010

Summer Gains

This was a glorious summer for both of my children. Major achievements, lots of joy, time with cousins and friends, the rhythm of the summer cottage and so much more.

Jonas can now swim! and dive into deep water! Why so thrilled? Why the exclamation points? Well, this is a child who wouldn't put his head under water in the bath tub the 1st of July and who lived through a near-drowning at the tender age of four. This déclic seems to have given him such a boost of self esteem that he is expressing himself more and more clearly, he is attacking books -- determined to read and to write, he is tolerating littler cousins and friends who aren't always perfect, but hey, he can still play with. He is consciously putting up with his bossy brother, knowing full well that he can stop him if he wants to... and some day will. But for the moment, being teased/not ignored is far more amusing than not. He is in control. It is quite marvelous to see.

And Leo, my elder. Now nearly my height (he'll catch me by Christmas I bet!) leg and arm bones longer than mine, knee caps wider than mine. He is thirteen this summer.

We've had the discussions on hygiene (wash your face daily to prevent pimples, your teeth twice/daily, showers at least every other day, hair at least twice/weekly), and we've had the wake up and start working at school discussion. This following the reception of his report card, which basically said one thing, he's very bright, but he only does the minimum. He can do better.

Thus, how to motivate my beautiful young man? How to convey to him the next path? How to shake him up, wake him up to his own role in his future?

I took this tact: You are thirteen. What do you want in this life? I see you eyeing that comfortable house of our neighbors, the toys, the Wii, the boats, and all that fun stuff. How are you going to get it? I hate to break it to you, but your mother is not wealthy, and though I should be able to get you through high school and we can hope into college, I won't be able to support you. And, it is quite possible that you'll need to care for your father. Even if you inherit his house, the funds from its sale wouldn't last more than two/three years at best. So. You need to work. All these friends we see who've 'made' it worked hard in school and went to university. They didn't settle for the minimum. Yes, you are doing better in school than before, and I applaud this. However, it's still not enough. Sorry my friend, but you need to give more of yourself, more than even you can imagine is necessary to truly get ahead. You are responsible for your future. At this point, I can only be here to help you along. You will make it or no, no one else will hand it to you on a platter.


The reaction? Shock, sadness, and a time of reflection alone in the bathroom. I let him be there. He's an intense one, and I'd said all I needed to (and likely too much), but it had felt fiercely urgent, to convey to my adored elder son that he needs to work harder. And so he sulked (boudé) and stayed out of sight for most of the evening.

It is a month later now. His sulking just that one night. He was far better the next day, and yes, more willing to do his short one page essays for Ma and me, to read aloud with me, and to be helpful.

Today is the first day of school. He is excited. He has the teacher of his dreams -- a lovely man with lots of experience handling multiple Waldorf classes. He will be his guitar teacher as well. Leo is back in his known environment and willing to focus. I will also find him another speech/writing therapist to work on his writing/grammar/etc., He has expressed that he is more than willing to get extra help.

Last year we had the cathartic moment of absorbing the fact that he is not dumb, that he may have a learning disability that makes it, for example, difficult to remember spellings. He clearly doesn't have a photographic memory for letters and words, nor for sentence structure from books, etc., He devoured the series of Percy and the Olympiads this year, and has an idea now that he might have a bit of ADHD in him, if not the dyslexia. In any case, he knows that no one thinks him stupid, but he needs to work harder. School doesn't come easy to him, or rather not the subjects that require writing and written expression. He's fine with math in his head.

May this year be the one where he takes himself in charge and begins pushing himself, discovering what it might be to break through mental barriers, to no longer be afraid when he doesn't 'get' it immediately, but to keep working at it.

We'll see, and I'll be there to cheer him along, and to have more of our pre-adult discussions!


joanne.summers54 said...

I wanted to say that I enjoy your recipes and hearing about life in France, so thank you for that. I rarely comment on blogs, but I read your entry today and was frankly shocked by how you treated your son. As a single mother of boys myself (yes, it is unfortunately much more common these days and this is not my choice, but I have to live with it), I know exactly how hard it can be. We went through some really difficult times too, but I would never take the route of scaring a child with threats and worries about his future in order to try to "shake him up". Caring for his father ? He's only thirteen ! This is a conversation for a much older boy and I think you were just being cruel. I'm sorry if you don't like my viewpoint, but I felt so strongly about this that I had to respond. I hope you can appreciate it for that reason, Joanne

Madeleine Vedel said...

Dear Joanne,
Thank you for your comment. I am sorry that my tact with Leo disturbs you. Perhaps it is being from a demanding family, perhaps it is living in Europe where future paths are decided by junior high school, (and second chances are way too few) perhaps it is simply a realistic view of life looking at a lovely and dear and yes, bright underachiever and trying (for years now) to encourage him to do his best, to understand what his best might be, to get him to understand that pushing himself is for him, not just to please me or any of his teachers. Clearly, he's not going to do better in school for anyone else. He is not made of the "do anything to please" clay. So, how else to convey that it is his own future which is in his hands? And yes, if you don't get on track by 7th/8th grade it is very very difficult to catch up. In France the school system will let you fall through the cracks, "allow the cream to rise to the top, and leave the whey behind". There are no guidance counselors at university, nor bonus points for retention of students. It is sink or swim on your own merits. Thus no, I do not feel I can afford the luxury of coddling him. I can encourage, be there, help, but not allow him to think it isn't important. - Madeleine

Airelle said...

I agree with you Madeleine that the school system in France is very harsh, swim or sink, as you said. or if in luck your school is in a "priority zone" and just might have good after school tuition. otherwise it is a disaster. especially if the child has dyslexia. as does my daughter. I was told that being bilingual might accentuate it... still, I would have thought going to a steiner school would be more adapted to children that don't fit the mould you are acquaired to fit in in France. personaly I think it is the school that has to adapt to pupils, not the contrary but unfortunately that is not the way they see it in here.