Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Quest for perfection

I have mentioned this before, but to catch others up, Max is in a dual language program at school. This is his second year. 90% of his day is spoken in Spanish. Now for those of you who know us in real life - the cultural backgrounds of both my husband and I are about as far from any Latino based culture as humanly possible. Where Latinos dance around hot climates to keep themselves cool - our ancestors jumped and kicked in remote villages near the Caucus mountains to keep warm. So - other than a few words picked up at daycare or on Sesame Street - Max has no background in Spanish whatsoever. Amazingly - this has not been a problem. Max has picked up a remarkable amount of Spanish and still manages to continue on a regular academic path.
Now that we are in 1st grade - expectations are starting to get higher. For one thing - homework. He has homework everyday. It is always a task + 30 minutes of reading. The task is normally not terrible - writing sentences or math problems. The trixsie part is, the students are required to write down the instructions in their homework notebook themselves - in Spanish. Now - I have some background in Spanish - elementary and college. So with my memory and the help of a Spanish/English, English/Spanish dictionary - we usually do just fine. But then there are those days - those terrible days - when the instructions are vague and Max clearly didn't understand the more elaborate explanation in class given by the teacher. This is where complete and total meltdown happens in our house and chaos ensues.
My son - since birth - has been a perfectionist. He has an unhealthy drive to perfection. For example - He used to refuse to write or participate in the learning process because his left handed newly forming skills did not perfectly match the printed forms or handouts given to him. He would cry and erase over and over again until he had worn through the paper. No amount of love, coaxing, re-focusing, or praise of his efforts could comfort him.
Fast Forward to last night. Last night he had a simple task - write his numbers backwards starting with 64 ending with 20. Normally I sit with Max - we read and re-read the assignment - make sure he understands - and I sit with him (doing other things) while he completes his homework. Tonight- I was distracted. So because my son started without me - and because he assumed that the easiest way to do this had to be wrong - my son took the simple task of creating a mole hill and made an elaborate mountain.

on and on through 20

At first - I was looking at this page of numbers - that to my eye made no sense whatsoever - thinking, Damn it Max - You are so much better than this.... why would you just randomly write numbers all over the page? I didn't see the pattern at first. For your purposes, I wrote them in rows, so you could get the jest of what I am saying - But on Max's homework page - Max wrote it in a long continuous line...line after line after line: 64,54,44,34,24,14,04,63,53,43,33,23,13,03,62,52,42,32,22,12,02....etc
Once my eyes adjusted to the pattern I was amazed that his 6 year old brain had done this. I made the mistake of praising him for going above and beyond the assignment, because he instantly panicked - the realization that he had done it wrong - was overwhelming. I said it was great, but if he wanted, just turn the page over and try again. At this point he was so over wrought with anxiety over what was on the other side of the page, he couldn't focus on the simple task of writing 64 to 20. He would write 3 or 4 numbers, meltdown and cry to me - "Mommy - please - just let me erase the other side - PLEASE- it's all WRONG!! IT's NOT PERFECT!!!!" "Angel - it's great - it really is - and I want your teacher to see how smart you are... Angel - please - mommy is so proud of everything you do and how you do it!" Nothing - he couldn't hear me. I had to distract him from the task at hand just to get him to forget about the other side long enough for me to put his paper back into his folder.
I wrote a letter to his teacher that I wanted to discuss this with her next week at the parent teacher conference. I completely get that Max is going to be that kid. He is going to be that kid that doesn't phone in the science project, but rather invents something NASA might be interested in. I get that..I am prepared for that. What I am not prepared for is this emotional roller coaster. This uncertainty that leads him to do waaayyy more than is asked of him, then he stands there embarrassed because he is different and his stuff looks different from the other kids stuff.

This is one of those parenting times when I am at a loss... I don't know what to do and it seems like everything I am attempting to do is making the situation worse.

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