4th Grade is Tough

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My last post was originally going to be called Yin & Yang, because sometimes I feel like my daughters grow up as if they’re playing a relay race, passing the baton back and forth. “I’m feeling really low-maintenance,” one might say, and the other one will sigh and reply, “Well, in that case I better bring out my inner uber-bitch.” You know, because it’s important that parents stay challenged.

And with M in a delightful stage, the pendulum has swung over to J. I blame too much work with just a splash of pre-pubescent hormones.

Except that I realized that her high-maintenance phase isn’t misbehavior. She’s just stressed, and it’s hard to be around. In the mornings she is frantic to get out on time, which can be aggravating because her “on time” means “one of the first kids to arrive at school, always.” In the afternoons, she is moaning over homework, then she makes me feel like I’m shipping her off to a gulag when I’m politely telling her that she can’t watch tv because we need to go to one of the activities she (theoretically) loves. In the evening, she’s overtired, but it takes forever to get her to settle in and sleep. And then, especially since we sprung forward, she’s up at the crack of dawn and doing things when she could really use a little more rest. I have told her not to get out of bed before 6 am, but I can’t enforce this rule properly because I am always fast asleep at that time.

Fourth grade has been brutal. I expected this, because in our school, especially, all the parents talk about how demanding 4th grade is (and how 5th grade is a vacation afterward–fingers crossed on that one!). The kids had their huge New York project, and way back on April 30th I’d said that “I’m hoping that J can go into coast mode.” And then, instead, we jumped right into another huge, anxiety-causing project. It’s not that I hate the project so much, except that we could have used a week of normalcy before kicking back into high gear. So once again I’m hoping that the worst will be over after today, when the latest project wraps up. Although we’ll still have her reading book, which means she’ll want to take notes while she’s in bed. I really can’t believe that all of the kids in her class are taking the ridiculous number of notes that she’s taking while reading her book. I want to wrestle the little lapdesk away from her and shriek, “Just enjoy the damn book!”

It’s interesting, though, because this whole year I’ve felt like J’s been a little bit less joyful about school. Then, yesterday, we had a conversation in the car. I asked her, now that the school year was almost over, how she thought her current teacher ranked among the others that she’d had. She thought for a long stretch, and then she said, “Well, most of the other teachers are meaner to the other kids and nicer to me.” After a little probing, we figured it out. This year’s teacher doesn’t play favorites. Which is great, in theory, unless you’re the kid who is always, always teacher’s pet. J behaves well in school, making her an instant magnet for teachers’ affections. Then she walks to and from school, which offers her a little bit of extra time with her classroom teacher. She loves to  do little jobs or chat with her teachers about favorite tv shows or their kids’ antics at home. This year’s teacher is terrific, but what feels like standard professionalism to grown-ups feels, to J, like he’s aloof. J summed it up: “You know I really like being the teacher’s pet slash friend, and that aspect was lacking with [my teacher].” Funny, huh? But you’ve got to think that all of the kids who tend to get ignored or labeled naughty had a terrific year.

Beyond school and homework, J’s been a little bit stressed because she’s feeling torn about her activities. She does a long gymnastics practice three times a week, and lately she’s been interested in field hockey. She did a field hockey clinic over the winter in a gym, and we were eagerly awaiting information about more field hockey in the spring. And, of course, it turned out to be scheduled in direct conflict with gymnastics. Now, gymnastics is long enough that even though field hockey takes up the first hour of practice, I could still drive J over to gymnastics afterwards. In fact, the way traffic works, it means a smidgen more free time for her. I was okay with her missing some gymnastics, and so we went ahead and signed up. But then J started fretting about missing practice before her last meet of the season, the “states” meet. Except that she was fine missing gymnastics for her friend’s birthday party and Niska-Day. This is in contrast to M, who has skipped the most fun things possible (overnight camping parties, excursions to Great Escape, etc.) without hesitation because she’s so devoted to soccer.

And here’s the deal: J’s had a tough gymnastics year. In previous years she’s had moments of glory on the podium, but this year? Not so much. So I really, truly didn’t think that an extra ten hours (or 30 hours, for that matter) of practice was going to bring her medals  at a meet that would have stronger competition than all of the other meets where she hadn’t placed this year. Not that I said this to her, of course. But if I thought that she had a good chance of placing really high, I might have urged the practice. Instead, my attitude is: where’s the fun? This is a little stress-puppy who needs some fun. Part of this, too, is colored by witnessing how much M loved being on her school soccer team this year. There’s no school team for gymnastics and no one from her school is on the team, so a back-up sport would also offer a back-up social group at school. Yes, middle school looms. And the thing is that gymnastics has been great at teaching J to persevere and to use her perfectionist tendencies for Good instead of Evil, and I think her coaches are terrific, and they do a wonderful job of getting the girls to cheer each other on. But I also hate that someone feels like they have to specialize so much at 10 years old. And, with field hockey, I was really proud of J for trying something new (I wrote about how nervous she was on that first day).

J ended up skipping most of the field hockey before her big meet, which was last weekend, and now she’s attending field hockey again. But when I picked her up after her field hockey-gymnastics combo yesterday, she was bemoaning the fact that she’d missed a couple of really fun things at gymnastics. And I said that she could choose what she wanted to do, so we’ll see what happens.

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I have a feeling I’m not alone about the homework fatigue. I shared this post about homework on the KidsOutAndAbout Facebook page, and commenting teachers and parents agree that we wish the kids would just go play outside, dammit. So if we all agree, why aren’t we doing it?

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