Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Being Easy

I had an experience with my son last night that illuminated much of my life philosophy. It probably was compounded by something my daughter had just told me (a friend of hers who’d made a REALLY stupid decision, that thankfully my daughter also recognized as stupid). The gist of my illumination? Why do people seem to need to do things the hard way? Let me e’splain…


The middle schools in Ann Arbor use a record keeping system called Powerschool. Parents can log on and see how their kids are doing, what assignments they are missing, how their test grades have been… in short, they can micromanage their kids’ education (did you see me scoff at micromanaging? Because I did). The first time I logged on to Powerschool my daughter was in 7th grade. We knew there was math trouble, as we’d just gotten an interim report card. She had Ds in both German and math. My heart pounded. How could that happen? How could she LET that happen?

The culprit? Oh sure, there were some bad tests, but in every case over the next year and a half she could have ALWAYS had a high C or better, usually a whole letter grade better if she’d just turned in her homework. The TRULY baffling thing was half the time she DID it and just didn’t turn it in. I never even knew that was an OPTION in school! Did people do this in the early 80s? (so learn to micromanage I did, hating every minute)

Last night I logged on with my son for the first time. English 100 A+, Math 100 A+, Science 95 A, Social Studies 99 A. I clicked on Science, as it was obviously the only place he’d done ANYTHING wrong. From next to me he gives an outraged , “A C?” How’d I get a C?” (mind you on all the OTHER assignments, he was only missing 2 points TOTAL). I told him which assignment it was (the metric conversion the husband ‘helped’ him with—that won’t happen again, though the word is mum if you see him).

My point is that my son had what seemed a NORMAL reaction to me. Doing poorly isn’t an option, and you do what you need to, to do well. My daughter acts like grades descend upon her and have nothing to do with anything she DOES (though she did brag about having an A in science, so maybe she is finally getting it, now that she’s in high school). A person just needs to do what they are supposed to do…

Tart Advocating Rules? Surely Not?

Have I told you my favorite family tale? I don’t think I have. If I follow my paternal branch all the way back to the war of 1812, there was a Naval ship (his majesty’s navy, that is) from which a certain Welsh sailor liberated himself in Nova Scotia. (In fact there were two—I don’t know to this day if the one who spawned my family line was actually a Roper or an Alcott… the point is, he decided to be a Hart and raised his family in Caribou, Maine.) So my rebel roots run deep.

But it isn’t actually about the rules. It is about the STUPID rules (indentured servitude, that sort of thing). I won’t stand for hypocrisy, absurdity, or asininity in rules. I tend to ignore them when it’s easy, and fight for smarter rules where they are causing problems (cough*sexualcontentHPANA*cough). I have no problem being the loud mouth and raising a ruckus to bring sanity to the rules.

But some rules (do your homework) are actually HELPFUL. They keep us on track to learn what we need, so we can master the content. Just like most traffic rules makes sense—I follow those too. Things meant to protect ourselves or others, and things meant to improve ourselves are things I can abide by.

Does any of this have anything to do with writing?

I’m not going to get into writing rules per se, except to say that I agree with the philosophy that it is best to know them so you can break them mindfully.

What I was actually thinking, was more rules TO WRITING… what I mean is… just like doing your homework… you have to go through the steps. To have a finished book, you need to have put in the time. A book is of course more like a master’s thesis than a term paper—the feedback comes if you ask early, but that is informal—you really don’t get evaluated until the end. But in the meantime, you have to plug away and get the thing done.

My college roommate (the coolest woman in the WORLD, I might add) had an opposite study pattern from me. I would do some reading and homework every single day. She didn’t really do much—always saving everything to the end. Now she and I got nearly identical grades that year (much to my astonishment) but I could never have pulled off what she did. I HAVE to pace myself. You may be like Lisa, and succeed in mad rushing chunks, or you may be like me and need to step step step… but you need to KNOW, and you need to DO what you need to DO to get it DONE. Your book will not magically descend upon you, or if it does, it will likely get a D. So make yourself some rules and follow them, THEN you will be easy too!

[Publishing is of course a whole ‘nother matter…]


Cruella Collett said...

You wrote this for me, didn't you...? :p Seriously, though (since I happen to know the world evolves around the sun, and not just me), thanks for writing this to all of us out there who secretly want to walk the easy path (without putting in the hard time). Good advice!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

We have the same online grade watch here, called Parent Assistant. It's nice to stay on top of our kids! They're responsible for the assignments, but sometimes I wonder if the importance of school is lost on them. I guess that's why I lean on them to treat it very seriously.

And you're right about getting the book done. It helps to set a reasonable goal. Mine was always 1 page a day before deadline craziness descended on me. I let myself do it all in one chunk, or during several sessions, or in the carpool line--as long as it got done.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Elspeth Antonelli said...

It all comes down to a routine, doesn't it? And massive amounts of self-discipline. When I have deadlines I am the type who does the majority of work 2 weeks before it's due. It always gets done ahead of schedule, but I do need that ticking clock.

Kids and homework...it's tough. In our house I've got a specific time that everyone sits down and does it, but I don't hover. I've two teenagers and hovering accomplishes nothing!


Watery Tart said...

Mari--my point what that it isn't NEARLY as hard with a plan... that's all... I write 45-90 minutes every night... occassionally I can sneak a little extra time, but it's rare. I do some typing most mornings and weekends but the typing always lags. (LEGACY has 18 chapters written and only 3 typed)

Elizabeth-I've tried so hard to emphaisize that grades matter (or really DOING THEIR BEST) but one got it and the other doesn't seem to! I think part of the problem is Ann Arbor doesn't give letter grades until 6th grade, so kids don't really have info to work with before that. Cracks me up that you write in lines... I walk around reading, but not typically writing.

Elspeth- Absolutely YES on routines! I am such a creature of habit--seems the only way I ever could have done this. I will have to see if it changes when I have deadlines... hopefully at that point I won't need my day job as badly...

Hovering doesn't help at our house either. My daughter has my rebellious streak and gets mad. My son is already doing it on his own... but the watching of assignments with my daughter was critical. She'd claim not to have homework (we finally made her sit and study for an hour no matter what she said)... I keep hoping things are really better this year... they seem to be.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

I wish Thing Two were my son - that is the only way to be - you do what needs to be done because that is the only thing to do. But, I'm afraid my older one is just like Thing One - he does his homework and just forgets to turn it in. How that is an option, I do not know!

And I quite agree with you on the routine bit. I would rather do a bit a day, rather than all at the same time, but without knowing what it is I want to do, would anything get done?