Oct 6 – High school English still sucks


I don’t remember reading Gatsby in school, but I do remember who played him originally in a movie and this is how I picture him as I read it now!


A side effect of a concussion as we have learned in our house is a reduction in cognitive abilities.


Naturally we joke that when you start off with a low bar on that skill set, that some brain bruising might be hardly noticeable! Heh. Aren’t we a supportive bunch?


But honestly, I do see the change in 16. He does take longer to react or respond to conversation here and there. It’s inconsistent. And I can definitely see that he has to work hard TO concentrate when he wants to.


He told all his teachers right away when this time and he missed school for two days because attempting to focus in class just made the headache double in intensity. Once he went back he asked them for help over the next couple of weeks. Extra time on homework and quizzes and postponement of any major tests. They have all been very cooperative.


With English though, he cannot fall too far behind since the class only has so many days to discuss the book they are reading this month – Great Gatsby. So his teacher is allowing him to use Sparks Notes to lessen the reading time. Of course, since I love to revisit the high school literature with him, he asked me to also read the book and help him answer the chapter questions. Happy to oblige, and having seen his anemic scores from the assignments on Ch 1-3, I read through Chapter 4 for him. I read it *knowing* I would have to answer 11th grade English questions.


The next night we sat down to answer the assigned questions and that is when I remembered that I kinda sucked at high school English!


Apparently my literary comprehension skills (symbolism, hidden meanings, interpretations, analysis…etc) are no better than they were 30 years ago.


Chapter 4:

1)      Why is the catalog of Gatsby’s guests included?

2)      Why does Gatsby call Nick “old sport”?

3)      Why does Wolfsheim mourn the passing of the Metropole?

4)      What is ironic about Gatsby’s appraisal of Jordan?

5)      What is significant in Jordan’s remark that Daisy’s voice has an amorous tinge?

6)      Why does Gatsby want Daisy to see his house?


See, my problem is that I read books just to enjoy the story. On its’ surface. Nothing more. I’m not great at appreciating language use and prose and recurring themes and…yada yada. It was such a struggle to answer those questions and it took me skimming back and 16 concurrently reading the Sparks Notes online for us to answer them!

Now, he did get a much better grade on that assignment. He also scored 100% on the quiz in class. So, that’s something at least!

But I honestly cannot give him too much hassle for poor English grades. I get it. Apple. Tree. Yeah.

Ah, that pesky motivation


Such a fleeting thing, this motivation. And yet, so very very critical. The graphic above is so fabulously scientific with those big big words that may or may not make sense in your daily life. Hygiene? Really? I’m motivate by whether I can take a shower or not? Ok, I know that’s not the real translation, but that’s what popped into my wee little brain when I read it.

And self-actualization? Lordy – big words that say  “hey, I motivate myself, thank you very much”

What I do get from that chart is just how abstract the whole thing is. And it can change daily..heck, even hourly, right? For sure it changes as you age.

What has me thinking about it is Alex and his utter and complete apathy towards school & learning in general. I was at my wits end with him again last week and his grades dipped yet AGAIN and just a week before finals no less. Basically he needs to rock his tests over the next three days in ways he has NEVER shown before in order to prevent failing grades in 3 of his 5 classes.

He is currently NOT responding to this method of motivation:

We’ve removed all the fun extras in his life AND postponed his driving lessons/permit until he reaches a specific GPA.

Not working.

So I asked him last week – does he have ANY idea what is up? My mom had justifiably suggested it could be a result of the concussion he sustained in October. EXCEPT….he’s been this way since 5th grade quite honestly. It just seems to get worse every year. So it’s got to be something internal for him.

The trouble is, at 15 the whole “self-actualization” concept is REALLY foreign unless they are blessed to be born with some intrinsically deep passion for a particular field of study.

So when all the adults around him are stressing the importance of good grades to allow him to get into college – four more years of hated school all the while floundering around not having a damn clue what he wants to do – his mind thinks – why bother? Money and career are too abstract to him. That’s still all out there in that nebulous “future” thing.

This is his current opinion on “motivation”:

It’s not real. There are no obvious goal posts as there are in football. There is no home plate to step on like in baseball, no visible finish line to cross with a medal handed to you at the end.

He’s outgrown the more childish motivators – rewards of money or video games or anything like that. But he hasn’t been able to figure out what the next step is. I think he has a DESIRE to figure it out, that his inability thus far TO feel any passion for any field of study or possible career is frustrating him as more of his peers do start to figure it out. And I do know that if he is overwhelmed, he shuts down.

I know I want him to have what I have – a job/career that not only provides the bottom half of that pyramid – you know, money so I can buy soap to take daily showers (!) but it also provides me the warm fuzzies at the top half too.

I guess that is my new motivation – to help him find his. Because I really really don’t want him to end up like this:

There are reasons I didn’t study drawing in school


Because, quite frankly, I suck at it:

Partially complete Comic Book Cover "art"

Unfortunately, Alex inherited my lack of talent. What you see up there was our best work on Monday night. Mostly because tracing was allowed for the project. So, he traced and I colored. And that panel was our best work. Because he could trace. And there were no people in it.

Why was I doing this you might ask – well…as I’ve expressed a few times, Alex is not the hardest working student on the planet. He could teach a course on Being Lazy. He’s been perfecting that art form since 5th grade. Avoiding homework, lying about said homework, barely passing classes – the works. His GPA dropped below a 2.0 yet again and he’s been sort of busting his tail (by his standards at least) to not miss any more assignments & to do better work.

Prior to going on his Christmas trip to Sweden, all teachers were put on alert that he would miss the first week of school in January so that we could gather up work ahead for him to do while gone. The biggest of these projects was the AP History Comic Book. He was *supposed* to finish it there.

(You may all start laughing at that notion now.)

He *did* pick a topic and come up with a plot line for the book AND write up a story board for all 24 panels before he left (under my supervision of course). He wanted to do the final panel layout there because he was doing it in Swedish which would give him desperately needed extra credit points. At least, that’s the tale he gave me.

When he got back and I asked to see how far he’d gotten on it, the stories began. When I marched upstairs after hearing too many excuses to look through his school notebooks he brought home, he RACED up to intercept me (red flag!).

” Oh, I think it’s in this notebook…wait..no, I didn’t hole punch it…and..my dad made me do it after I packed so it isn’t where I expected it to be and…..wait wait….where is it…oh geez I think it’s on the desk back in Sweden….!”

So then I asked him where the translation file was (that he said he had completed)

“Um, I did it on Teddy’s computer and I *think* I emailed it back to myself….!”

Now, why would you do that since your laptop was THERE and I setup a drop box account for you to use as a file sharing service no matter what computer you might use (and I knew the dropbox folder had not been updated).



(Go ahead and keep laughing…this really is amusing).

Thankfully the block schedule lined up for him and he didn’t have History until Tuesday SO – he had all day Sunday after I busted him on this topic (all other subjects had been completed to his credit) and Monday afternoon/evening to do the work.

He still insisted on doing it in Swedish so he got right at that and even willingly handed over his phone to avoid texting distractions.  By the time he went to bed Sunday he was ready to start printing out the translated panels and filling them in with drawings.

The rules were: 1) No stick figures 2) Keep it simple 3) No white backgrounds

Trust me when I say that #2 ruled our world!

I knew there was no way anything would be viable unless I helped with the coloring. Which, I thought was OK since it was nothing to do with the substance of the project or even really the major part of the grade. He still had to make the pictures in his head come to life somehow – I was simply coloring them in like a coloring book. Not all either – he did some.

But – oh, how we suck!

We started finally Monday night after dinner around 7pm. We finished at midnight on the dot.

And that laughing I said to go ahead and do? Oh, did we EVER laugh. Mostly at ourselves.

He did avoid stick figures (barely). I did avoid white backgrounds (though I argued for snow scenes constantly!) We even recruited his brother for help but then we had to fire him – he draws and colors too damn well!! It was so obvious that another person was doing that panel!

His horses looked like elephants. His people started morphing into Charlie Brown or Jack in the Box faces. Warrior helmets looked suspiciously like sombreros and half the time his people had no feet or hands. And, if they had hands it looked like they were 3 times bigger than they should have been and had 13 fingers each.

Oh how we laughed.

I kept grabbing the “orchid” colored pencil instead of the brown – Orchid?? What the hell? It was a colored pencil pack not oil painting!! So half of the brown areas have a lovely purple hue underneath. I thanked him when the background could just be “generic sky” or “generic landscape” and cursed him when it had to be a battle field with tiny body parts & swords & rivers of blood. I also did not appreciate the scene in a museum with Roman Dynasty mosaics on display!  WTF?!!

There was, in fact, a whole LOT of cursing going on!

And laughter.

Which is how we survived the night. 5 hours. 24 panels. 1 cover page and one splash page. And THEN he had to come up with a Title and Logo name (Mr Rogers Leaps Through Time, published by Time Travel Inc). Yes, our Mr Rodgers wore Packer colors and yes, the History teacher is a huge sports fan so *maybe* Alex was playing that up a bit for a few more extra points.

We both agree that even AFTER receiving credit for using a second language that we will be THRILLED if he gets anything over 75% for this work of..NON art.

The grading sheet CLAIMS he wouldn’t BE graded on artistic skills…and he DID remind the teacher that if the pictures make him laugh…well..it IS a COMIC book, right?

Right. Back to accounting for me. WAY easier!


What child is this?


It occurred to me last night as I sat watching shows off the DVR while my son toiled away on the computer preparing a History project that it was the 4th straight night that he worked on homework until 8pm or so. Willingly. No fuss, no hassle, no fighting. Just me doing as usual and checking what was due this week and making a list and prompting him every night to work on it. He did still need that prompting, but that was it. Then he was off diving into whatever it was. Even essay writing – no whining! What the heck?

Well, somewhere along the line of all those hours of talks about grades and their importance blah blah blah, I reminded him that he had his much loved laptop because of grades he had obtained last year. I reminded him that while I was unable to be generous in regards to paying him for school work, perhaps he could talk to his dad again about it. But I also said that I would only sign on if the goal was something higher. Not a generic GPA, but more of a particular reward for a specific letter grade (as in – only reward an A). So his dad has agreed to give him $20 for each A. Since there is a specific video game that he wants to buy when it is released in the fall, and he knows the approximate price, this allows him a way to earn it. Also his dad is going to deduct $5 for any C’s and B’s are zero value. Given that even working his tail off and getting all A’s the rest of the way in Geometry will barely pull him to a B – he knows he’s in the hole there. So that means that History, English & Science HAVE to be As. (Drama & PE do not count at all). Money has not typically been an effective carrot for him, but I guess he’s finally moving in that direction because I sure am seeing a difference since this deal was struck.

I have no idea if this will work anytime past this semester – but YAY!

On a side note – a lot of the time he’s doing homework, I am watching either Countdown or Rachel Maddow. Usually there is at least one segment that will interest him and I’ll rewind it so he can watch it. Keith talks a lot of baseball and Rachel has some really cool, geeky science segments. This week though, she’s been talking a lot about the upcoming anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing since she’s hosting a documentary on it on Monday complete with tapes of his confessions from prison. He watched some of that with me and asked me about it – of course since it happened before he was born he was not aware of it. Especially since everything in his lifetime has been dominated more by 9/11 and outside terrorism so the domestic variety was off his radar. Well, hey now, but living in a house where we pay attention to current events has paid off for him in school! He was the ONLY student across all his history teacher’s 8th grade class periods to be able to answer when asked if anyone knew of any specific examples of domestic attacks. Not that we should be glad we even need to know these things, but High Five! He did!

Oh and just to bring myself down a notch – I am slightly disturbed that the second highest search term that brings readers to my site (after Adam Lambert, natch) is “Muffin top” Wee.

Apple. Tree. Not far. Oops.


From time to time I’ve shared my frustration at SportBoy’s rather lackluster study habits.  They have only marginally improved this year. His first semester grades were about the same as before, though he did pull off a B in science which last year was barely a C-. However, there were not as many missed assignments and his organization skills have improved. Still, when I got an email from his English teacher yesterday I about hit the roof. I’ve been on top of his homework planning all year. Every Monday we go over what’s coming up for the week and plan out when to get major tasks/studying done. Last week he was with his dad, but I showed him the essay that was due on Tuesday – after a nice long four day weekend mind you. Now, I *did* forget to tell his dad to CHECK the essay himself. Make sure he saw it, that it was saved on the laptop and printed out. Fine, minor detail, but really – should I have to remind them BOTH of that? I think not.


Thankfully his English teacher sent me that note to tell me that no essay had been turned in. Heck, it’s not even the FINAL VERSION that was due – just a dang rough draft!! She was kindly letting him use his one late homework pass and would give him full credit IF he emailed it to her last night. He gets home from batting practice at 7:30 – checks the laptop and “oh no!” it’s not there! (I’d love to say I was shocked, but I was not). I just sighed and left him to do the assignment again (or, for the first time, who really knows?) Muttering the whole time about how easy he had it since back in my day we didn’t HAVE rough drafts! You just read the book and wrote the paper, dammit! And you know how long ago he got that book? I bought it just before the Christmas break! They had two months to read it and then just write a ROUGH DRAFT! And even *that* he couldn’t do on time??!!

Why, I remember when I read a book while riding in a bus back from a performing dance tour, arrived back at the dorms around 8pm and then wrote the paper that was due the very next day that night, all night, no laptop, just me and a pen! And I got an A on that paper! And…

Wait – did I just admit to waiting until the last minute to write an English paper for high school?

And I *never* pulled all nighters to cram for tests (if by *never* you mean, sometimes-maybe at least twice a semester).

How quickly we forget eh? Not that this means I’ll cut him any slack. I mean, really – a late pass and the opportunity to do a rough draft after two months? I *wish* I’d had those when I was in school! Because I would *totally* have taken advantage just like he is!! 🙂

The Plan


Homework assignments for the week

Homework assignments for the week

Here’s the plan:

  • Monday I will print out the homework assignments from the 4 teacher’s web sites (nothing for Drama or PE).
  • We will look at them together and rank them in numerical order of due date/amount of time needed for completion. I know he already is warming up to this idea and understands it as he had to correct me in my ranking today 🙂
  • I will check off each one as he shows it to me and watch him put it in his notebook.
  • He has a three hole punch with him in his backpack so he can put handouts in his three ring notebook when they are given to him.
  • I’ve implemented, and he has agreed to, a penalty for every loose sheet I find in his backpack each night. I found a carrot! His brother has been showing more interest in hanging out with him ever since the two of them found themselves in the dog house with me at the same time one night awhile ago. They bonded over being shlubs! When he is with me, he wants to head into his brother’s room and play video games with he and his friends (he loves beating the older guys at their own game of course). So every loose sheet costs him 10 mins of play time after homework is done. Given that tonight after his baseball practice, then dinner, then the 90 mins it took him to complete work and then organize his papers – he only had 15 mins to play before bedtime and even one 10 min penalty would have wiped it out. So he is motivated to keep those papers in their place!
  • His dad has promised him a new computer if he carries a B avg and no D’s. Considering that over there is computer is a true dinosaur so that even doing school work on it is a challenge, he is motivated at least at the moment by that carrot too (and I like it because it doesn’t cost ME any money ;-))

My goal was to set up a system that gave him some clarity of expectations which I hope helps him feel in control of balancing his wants/needs. With the full week’s assingments planned out, keeping sports events in mind, he can see a path to completing the work and also getting some play time in. The loose paper penalty traings him towards better organization habits so that when work IS complete, it is not lost and can be turned in. With me checking everything off, he has back up. As I told him tonight, you re-trained yourself with practice to learn to love reading (he’s now 1/2 done with HP #7 – wow!), so you can easily re-train yourself to be organized with practice and I will be there to keep you on track. Tonight anywa, he seemed 100% on board and confident that this will help. Fingers crossed! We all know how easy it can be to show enthusiasm early on, the trick is to stick it out.

The mess in his backpack



Yesterday I got a peek into what I think may be at the root of SportBoy’s homework woes. I fear it is genetic. That picture up there? Could easily be his dad’s or even his grandfather’s (dad’s side). We have long joked about his dad’s “piling system” which, as far as I can tell whenver I go into his house, is just as bad as ever.  Of course SB has to take after them, right?

The clue came yesterday when another dreaded Red Box of doom showed up on his online grade sheet. This time for English. Given that he really has been spending a lot more time on homework and that we have been everything on our end to see what is due, and check it off when he completes it, I was shocked to see this assignment listed as missing. He’d spent at least an hour working on it over the weekend at my house! So I email the teacher just to be sure. No – she saw nothing for sure. I was upstairs resting off my bout of sinus induced dizziness yesterday so I called him upstairs and tell him to bring his backpack & notebook and all school papers so that we can search for the work. The teacher said in her email that since I knew he had completed it, she would accept it today for full credit. Back in December we bought him a different three ring binder to better organize his papers. Well, it’s not working just yet!  His backpack still had about  dozen loose papers, partially crumpled and shoved into the main pocket. We go through those and I make him sort them into the subject tabs in his binder. Fine, but there’s no assignment. So I ask him if he did it in the binder, or on a loose sheet. Loose sheet of course. He then remembers that he has another pile of loose sheets at his dad’s house. So when his dad comes to pick him up, I go to talk to him about it and let him know that he needs to find the home work or else re-do it. I look at the desk where he was working on some other homework – and see another pile of papers! And there is another single sheet on the kitchen counter! WTF? He left those down there when I told him to come up with ALL his stuff. Grrrr. Well, the assignment in question was not there, but I told his dad that he HAD to sit down last night and put every last loose sheet in that binder!

How can you spend time doing an assignment only to not turn it in? I Just Dont Get It. So now that we are getting him to DO the work, now we have to figure out how to keep him organzied enough to not LOSE it and also to TURN IT IN!

How do I organize this kid without ending up doing it all myself? We need to come up with something easy enough for him to not just blow off. His counselor recommeded the single binder method which seems simple enough, yet he still shoves papers in the backpack. Should I try penalizing him for every loose paper? Since he is doing his work, I’ve been letting him watch tv or play on the computer after the work is done. Perhaps charge him 5 mins of tv time per loose sheet? Or make him do one chore per sheet?

Ideas welcomed please!