Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Critical Mom and the Bored Child

"Mommy I am so bored . . . will you read to me?"  This I love to do . . . especially when it is something I enjoy reading.  Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and the radish cure, the one about the little girl who won't take a bath until the radish seeds planted in the rapidly thickening topsoil all over her arms and forehead sprout big leafy green leaves.  Or the madcap adventures of the "children of the lamp," who at the moment have been turned into camels by their Uncle Nimrod in order to see the pyramids at Giza.  Or Morris Zapp and Philip Swallow changing places, the Stanley Fish character chewing the large cigar on his way to England, the timid Philip sipping orange juice on his way to San Francisco in 1968, where all his inhibitions will be dissolved in the student riots.  Now that last one had some raunchy bits--should I read this to the 13-year-old, I thought, as I was reading it to the 13-year-old, who had been eager to hear stories about why England is dumb and America is better, since the teachers back at his gymnasium keep telling my little native speakers to change their accents to British?  I read.  He gets worse on You-Tube.  As my daughter said one day coming home from English class, "Mommy, I was so bored I put my head down on the table."  But degrees of boredom vary:  "Mommy," she also said with surprise, "It's amazing how much fun school can be when Frau X isn't teaching."  Frau X is the one they apparently can't fire, because of inertia or regulations or she's tenured or who knows?  She's the one who told a nine-year-old who asked why his painting wasn't pinned up to the wall (she would have to ruin art class for them) "Because your painting is shit!"  She's the one who won't let first-graders out to use the bathroom and they wet themselves.  "The only thing they get out of her," one mother said, "is good handwriting."  And boredom, when they sit, stiff with good behavior, hoping she'll just calm down.  Never have I been more aware that education happens at home.  As a matter of fact I am home-schooling them.  Back when they were babies it was all CDS of American folk songs that they'd be missing since they went to German kindergartens.  Now it's reading, reading, reading, and me yelling "Speak English!!!"  The schooling that occurs from eight to two every day is almost incidental.  It's the thing they have to get through in order to come home, have a decent meal, and then "Let's see what the children of the lamp are doing now that they're stuck in the bottle." or "Next we'll read Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's cure for the show-off," or "This part is about this thing called the Berkeley Free Speech movement, back when Mommy was eleven years old . . ."

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