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Discovering the Wrongness

  • Posted on February 13, 2010 at 5:27 PM

Yesterday morning, I sat at the dining room table after what had already been another more-hectic-than-usual morning, reading through Willy’s notebook one more time.  The words struck me as wrong, and I puzzled over them, growing increasingly frustrated with myself.

“Willy knows to…”  It said.  Why did those words strike me as wrong?

I call Willy over to me.  “Willy, did you lose your recess again?”

“Yes,” he says sadly, hesitantly, expecting a lecture I suppose.


“Because I didn’t do my spelling,” he says.  “I’m sorry.”

“Why didn’t you bring your spelling homework home so you could do it?”

He shrugs.

“You know you need to be organized at school.”

He nods his head, his face melted with the disappointment of disappointing me.

It still struck me as wrong.

“Do you know how to be organized at school?”

He nods and says, “C-a-l-m-d-o-w-n,” in the deep, drawn out way we say it to him.

“But how do you be organized?”

“Use my head,” he says, poking his skull.

“What steps do you take,” I ask him softly.

His body gets stiff.  His voice gets quiet.  “I don’t know,” he says timidly.  He waits for the lecture.  And he waits.

I sigh, and suddenly the wrongness makes sense.  Both calming down and using his head are important.  But neither is enough by itself when the steps to do what needs to be done are not in his head.  Willy knows to be organized.  He knows his homework needs to be in his folder.  He knows each assignment needs to be written down in his planner.  And he knows to do his work when he gets home.  But there are steps in between that make these things happen.  It is these steps that make the disorganized organized.  It is these steps that Willy doesn’t know.

He’s failed to do each of these things on numerous occasions, not because he’s not motivated, or doesn’t care, or doesn’t want to do them.  It’s because he doesn’t know how.  He’s been lectured.  He’s been punished.  But not because it’s his fault; it’s because I failed him.  It’s because the school failed him.  He’s ready for more independence, but before we hand it to him we have to teach him to handle it.

Sometimes the parent disappoints the child, even when the child doesn’t know it.  So, I sat at the dining room table and I wrote a long note in his notebook.  We’ve failed him, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make it right from here on out.  This is a problem that can be solved with a bit of effort and a lot of coaching—something we should have been doing all along.  And so I wrote to his teachers what we need to do so that Willy can succeed.

I’m sorry, Willy!

Because that needs to be said too.