Teaching what I know

I’ve said before that I can only teach my kid what I know. I’ll be learning more that he has yet to learn, right alongside him – the beginnings of Common Core have already taught me a new way to look at things. At some point hopefully in the distant future, he will outpace me, and I will no longer be able to keep up, or offer relevant direct help, only structural or general advice.

I’m thinking it will be whenever he gets to advanced math, since I never took anything beyond algebra, but hopefully not before then.

In the meantime, I teach what I know. Sometimes I feel good about that, and sometimes I wish I had other things to teach, but I teach what I have, regardless.

Today at the grocery, we talked about making choices based on price, and how some packages look the same but you have to look at the weight to determine which is the better value. It’s the first time I realized a brand of bacon I usually buy is actually a 12-oz. package and not a whole pound – caveat emptor. On a very tight budget for food after a week-long vacation, I chose the cheaper, mass-produced bacon. We talked about the dirty dozen and the clean 15 when selecting produce. And that he would need to eat a lot of the same stuff this week for lunches, with less variety, as there is less money for groceries this time around. Which is fine. All good lessons for him to learn.

When we got home, I gave in to the long-urgent need to “spring clean” my car. The winter and the boy have been very hard on it, and though I’m not a super tidy car person, it was really out of control with dirt, sludge, garbage, and the horrible state of the back of the passenger seat from his muddy, wet feet all winter. We took out a bucket with murphy’s oil soap and a sponge, windex and some rags and I went to work. At first, he wanted to play with the other kids who were outside. But they don’t know him, and he is awkward about inserting himself into other kids’ groups, so he mostly observed them for a long while and played around with some stuff on the ground while I cleaned and cleaned, coming back to check on my progress periodically. “Mom,” he finally said, “You are doing a great job!” Which was so cute, and so awesome. Then he got interested in it. Why are you using this to clean that, and this thing to clean that area. He helped me pick up all the tiny bits of trash in the car. I don’t generally allow eating in the car but it still gets junked up. Post-its to remind me where I’m going, printed out maps, gum wrappers, receipts, grocery lists, broken CD jewel cases everywhere. Back and forth until he was committed to helping and asked for a task, so I let him clean the wheel outboards, which he got really into. I showed him how the sponge had different sides when he was about halfway through, and he insisted on going back to the first two so he could use the scrubber part and get them cleaner, even though I told him more than once he didn’t have to. I admired his commitment to doing the work the right way. I don’t know where he gets that; if I had been given such a task when I was a kid, I would have half-assed the whole thing, gotten into trouble for shoddy work and then been pissed if made to re-do it, making everyone miserable. He has a more dedicated pace to this type of work, which I think he gets from his father, who is not a flashy worker, but is reliable and dedicated with things like this, albeit equally as cross as I am with unwanted work. But my son does it without the crossness, and just the zen of doing the work, which is refreshing. I showed him how it’s important to go over certain details by hand on the exterior to help prevent rust, things the regular car wash can’t get. After we did the whole interior and he did the wheels, we drove it to the car wash and then pulled around and vacuumed every place I could reach inside. It’s not perfect. The mats and seats could use a shampoo, but it’s clean and feels a lot better for any road trips that may happen this summer.

I have acquired that zen in other areas, I realized tonight while cooking ahead for the week, partly due to the amount of food-related writing I have read. I now happily and capably clean as I go, and so when I am finished cooking, almost the entire kitchen is clean save whatever I am serving food on or in, instead of having a disaster to contend with at the end. I also understand the Thomas Keller zen of cleaning a pot the right way, with as much detail as you’d put into seasoning a piece of meat or into making a sauce, which I never had when I was younger. Which led to cleaning the burners, which is also a zen. Again, I am not enough of a perfectionist that Martha Stewart would enjoy my stovetop, but it’s clean enough for me, and cleaner than when I began, and that’s nice.

At dinner, I read over some of D’s papers from school. The weekly newsletter, and some information about a “first grade parent prep” night coming up. “You read that already?” he said, looking at the full page of text. “Even this part at the bottom?” “Yes,” I told him, “I read very fast.” “How do you read so fast?” he asked, and I looked at him very seriously and told him the way I got to be a fast reader was by reading anything and everything I could, all the time. I told him how when I was his age, going into first grade, our classroom was FULL of books on the shelves. Thin, little tiny things, and you could get extra credit by reading a book and then answering a few very simple questions on a form to prove that you read it, and then handing that form in. After I read every book in the first grade classroom’s shelves, the teacher went to the 2nd grade’s shelves and got books for me. By 4th grade, I was bored, and I remember the teacher taking me aside twice to give me books that she said were at 8th grade reading level. “You might not know some of the words or feel lost sometimes, but keep reading,” she said, “You’ll figure out the meaning as you go along.” She could see I needed more challenging shit to read. I hope my kid has teachers like that. I had some good ones there, before everyone gave up on me and no longer gave me appropriate challenges, and so I shifted my young life’s focus to drugs, drinking, shoplifting and dating. I will work hard to connect my son up with people to hopefully prevent that from happening. And I will teach him what I know as long as I can, as long as any of it is helpful and relevant.

I showed him a PG comedy routine earlier in the evening, and he kept trying to act out different portions of it at dinner. Once he was finally done eating, I let him get up and actually gave him specific lines from the routine to repeat, as he wanted me to videotape him doing the lines. But he kept starting before the camera was ready, so then we learned about cueing. He can recite lines PERFECTLY after you give them to him; it’s scary, and he has always been like this. He would recite Where The Wild Things Are along with me as we went along at some point. One night, we just did it from memory. I think we got most of it, too. We did several little clips of lines from the comedy routine tonight, and he had me in stitches with his delivery, which he refined with multiple takes based on my reaction, trying harder to make me laugh.

He is going to be a terrible dentist.

My Mom needs a new car soon, and knows this is my wheelhouse. I learned from my Dad, who sold cars for 17 years or so, and have helped a lot of people with what can be a confusing, frustrating and intimidating transaction. I will take D along to the car lot with me if I can manage it, and lay down some foundation there like my Dad did. The game has changed a lot since his day, but it’s still a game and it may come in handy for him one day. He turns six in less than a month. Six. How did that happen?

He asked me to cuddle with him tonight on the couch, which is increasingly rare. He held my big hand in his little one, and let me kiss his head and we shared a blanket. We both needed it.


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