It's conference week for San Ramon schools, and I usually dread conference week.
My son, 11, is the Bart Simpson of the family, the class comedian who eschews studying, says it's for "losers." Says he can get by without studying, which he can-- almost.
Last year, he did pretty well in all subjects except math, but math, turns out, is a deal breaker. At last year's parent-teacher conference, his teacher informed me: "I'm sorry, Mrs. Knight, but looks like your son is going to have to go to Summer School."
The words Summer School cut into my belly. I could barely breathe. How could this be? How could I have not known he was falling so far behind?
Why did I believe him when he said the teacher had insisted that parents NOT check homework? Why did the teacher not warn me of this sooner?
As bad as I felt, I suspect my son felt worse.
At first there was denial. He bowed his head. Tears filled his big, dark eyes. "No!" he said.
Then pain: "Why don't you just kill me instead – it would be easier."
Bargaining: "How bout if I do extra credit?"
Depression: "I'm stupid."
"You are not stupid — you're too smart, that's your problem," I told him. "You try to figure out everything in your head — you don't take the time to work it out on paper. You always want to go fast. If you'd just slow down and focus. ...Why didn't you ask for help when you needed it?"
"I didn't want to bother you."
Needless to say, this year, I've been more diligent about checking his homework, though truthfully, I am definitely not smarter than a fifth grader, especially when it comes to math.
Luckily, my live-in boyfriend, Rob, often helps my son with his math homework.
Every night it seems, my son says, "I don't get it. I can't do it."
In the past, I'd try to figure the problem out myself and then talk him through the steps. But Rob just tells my son, "Yes, you can. You know how to do it." He circles the incorrect answers and hands the work back to him.
Almost always, my son gets it right the second time without any extra tutoring, which tells me he is smart, he is listening in class. He just rushes. He doesn't focus.
I know he's doing better this year because we've been keeping better tabs on his homework and the first parent-teacher conference of the year was downright encouraging. His teacher even wrote on his last report card, "He is a joy to have in my class."
And yet, still, I dreaded this week's conference, as if it were my neck on the line, not his. His failing report card is my failing report card as a parent, isn't it?
Nervously, we awaited the unveiling of the report card that would foretell his future. Would he go to Summer School or not?
Well, as fate would have it, he wouldn't go to Summer School in any case thanks to budget cuts decimating the entire summer academic program in San Ramon. Whew – I felt relieved to have dodged that bullet.
But, still curious, I had to ask. "Would he have had to go if there had been a Summer School this year?"
"No way," his teacher said, smiling. "He's doing fine academically ... though I wish he would stop talking when it's quiet time."
I shot my son a parenty look. But inside, I was Rocky, waving my fists in the air.