We’re pretty hard on our oldest son.
My wife and I push Will hard and expect a lot from him. Why? Because he’s very intelligent and more than capable of above average work. We’re not (completely) unbearable task masters or Tiger Parents, but we definitely crack the whip from time to time and set the bar high. Because you can’t assume you’ll get great results without expecting greatness at the outset.
So as you might imagine, we take Will’s performance in school very seriously.
Will, who is in first grade and turns seven in April, generally performs very well on his homework and weekly tests because he’s a bright kid. Unfortunately, he’s come to know he’s smart and that is his undoing.
In September at the start of classes, he realized homework consisted of reading at a level slightly below what he’s used to, and doing math he had already learned. And yet he struggled initially. It wasn’t that he couldn’t do the work, but because he thought he was above it all. As a result, he began making careless mistakes because he liked to rush through assignments and be the first one done. His letters were formed haphazardly, and his math suffered because he’d see “9 – 3= ?” and add instead of subtract.
We put a stop to that real quick.
We hammered home the need to take his time. With the help of his teacher, we worked tirelessly on reading and following directions. Forming his letters was the most difficult part, as he sees no reason not to make a lowercase “r” the same size as a capital “R.” Little things, but important things.
It took a few weeks, but it worked. Or at least we thought it had worked until yesterday.
When I got home from work I went through his homework like I always do, but his spelling words marked up with copious amounts of red ink stopped me in my tracks. Everything was spelled correctly, but his letters were all out of whack again. Having just let him have Minecraft on the iPad last week as well as Minecraft tutorial books, I came to the rapid conclusion he was rushing through his schoolwork to get to his new, all-consuming hobby.
And my wife and I were PISSED!
MJ and I put on our game faces and called him into the kitchen using his full name, which every kid knows is parent-speak for “kiss your ass goodbye.” We were unified. We were justified. And dammit we were going to make academics a priority in a BIG WAY!
“William,” I began, with a disappointed look on my face. “There is no excuse for this. What the heck happened here?”
Will threw on his “deer in headlights” look and flashed his innocent Bambi eyes our way as he took the paper. His eyebrows scrunched in confusion as he scanned the page, but then shot upright as if hit with a sudden realization. He started to talk but I cut him off because I was already rolling, and had no interest in that moment of listening to him.
And then the riot act commenced as I rained down the thunder.
“Will, this is unacceptable. Completely unacceptable! You worked so hard in the beginning of the year on your letters, and now we’re seeing this? What’s changed?? I’ll tell you what’s changed, you had Christmas vacation and then you got Minecraft. Well you can kiss that goodbye. We’re cutting down on TV, because you’re watching too much. But most of all, we’re saying goodbye to Minecraft. For at least a week. Because it’s clear you’re paying far more attention to that than you are to your schoolwork. Will, you’re better than this. We spent all this time talking about proofreading and checking things before you turn them in, but now you’re clearly rushing again. You’re not paying nearly enough attention and it has to stop. I’m sorry you’re going to hate us, but this is the way it’s going to be until you can prove to us that you’re responsible enough to do your school work the right way. Only then can you earn Minecraft back. Now, what do you have to say for yourself?”
I was SHOCKED to see he was calm and quiet. Usually if we threaten to take Minecraft away, he acts like we’ve just tasered him. But not this time. Instead, he was perfectly unaffected and — wait, is that — son of a bitch, I think he might have a faint, smug smirk. If my rage meter was already high, this sent it through the roof. But before I could rain vengeance down upon thee, he finally spoke.
“Mom, Dad…that’s not my paper. See? It has someone else’s name on it.”
Sure enough, he was right. I felt the blood drain from my body as the panicked expression on my wife’s face grew. To her credit, she apologized right away and said how sorry she was. As the self-satisfied grin spread across his face, I knew I’d also have to apologize. After all, I had just accused him of not proofreading and checking his work, while failing to make sure the test was even his. He had me dead to rights — and he knew it.
“Dad,” he chirped, with an aura of smugness. “Do you have anything you’d like to say to me?”
There was no way out, so I offered my apology and told him I needed to be more careful too. And I could tell from the look on his face it was sweeter than Christmas and his birthday combined.
And then, in an all-too-familiar tone known to those fluent in smartassery, he delivered his knockout blow.
“That’s OK Dad, we all make mistakes and I’m sure you’ll do better next time. I’ll be in the other room…playing Minecraft!”
Touche. Well played, son.