Saturday, January 19, 2008

preparing for six

Q. What would Super Mama do?

A. sent this out before the kid actually had his birthday. Whoops. Also, maybe managed to do those new year's cards, hmmm?
Today, the Eldest is six years old.

He woke up this morning, hair sticking up and grumpy, and promptly promised to get dressed and do the a minute. Ten minutes later, he was propped up by his equally groggy father, promising something about doing taxes and a little civil engineering - I'm unclear on the details, as I was in the kitchen muttering about needing to buy more coffee.

All in all, it was an ordinary morning, an ordinary kid, and some really lousy coffee. Barring the coffee, how very, very wonderful.

We've had a tempestuous year with the Eldest, concluding with an ADHD scare courtesy of a careless neurologist, but it's settling down into something really lovely. Here are some highlights:
* the Eldest is king of the projects. Over winter break (the first, apparently, of two), he began drawing, cutting and pasting dinosaurs. QG helped, and when he ran out of moulded plastic dinosaurs to draw, his father stepped in, and printing pictures from the internet. The Man also helped the Eldest construct the board that holds the dino-shapes, and the Eldest proudly carried his work to the hospital, where he showed it to his (now largely defunct) psychologist.

We have almost all of the dinosaurs, he explained. Almost. And he held it high as he walked, turning the board so that other pedestrians could see it, too. They grinned. More have been added since, and the dinosaurs are now populating the back of the board.

* While dino-mania was brewing, some quiet neurons were reshaping themselves. One day, I walked into the living room (living zone?) to find the Eldest reading to the Toddles. They do this from time to time, the Eldest reciting or explaining narrative to a delighted Toddles. I smiled, and walked back to making dinner, musing. The rhythms of the narrative sounded a bit different, more hesitant than usual. Pots a-bubbling, I filed that away for later, when I returned to find this:
The Eldest was sounding out words, practicing the sound combinations with a patience we had not yet seen in him. For over a year, he's had the basic skills he needed to read, but had neither the zitsfleish to sit and work through the words, nor the real interest in doing so. But here we are in Hop on Pop what changed?

Maybe the kid's more mature - certainly he's long since had the focus to conceive and pursue a project for months. Whatever changed, you can see the marks of it outside of the revered Dr. Seuss. There's the 20-30 step origami shapes that he's been making for months now. The chapter books that he loves. The FIL had great fun in offering the Eldest games such as this one, and we watched the child spend over two hours working his way through the various puzzles. Then, there was this:

In between dinosaurs, the Eldest spent winter break playing chess. When nobody could play with him, he took his father's enormous chess book, and set up chess puzzles. He taught the Toddles (sort of), his friends and tried to teach his cousin. If the houseplants could nod at him encouragingly, I suspect he'd try and teach them, too.

He's now trading his bedtime stories for time to play chess with a parent, and talks about it so much that the Toddles is having chess dreams. I was dere, anna knight came and went, whoosh, bump! An I was the QUEEN, an you were the king, Mummy. Ah. Good to know, kidlet. Oh, it's a happy, happy fascinated Eldest, learning and thinking and planning. (Dad, don't you want to take my bishop? I think you'd really want to do that, says the oh-so innocent face.) Unfortunately, his brain is leaving his emotional development in the dust, as the Eldest loses game after gentle game (we do throw the occasional game, but still), and struggles with losing.

Chess might be king, but he's got one cranky high minister.

* Me, I find all of this intellectual activity reassuring, partly because any kid who plays chess, makes zillions of drawn and cut dinosaurs, origami and reads at this age, is highly unlikely to have ADHD. Or so says the psychologist, and I'm not hurrying to argue.

Nope, I find this comforting because the Eldest is the class clown. He is, he explains, a jokester, which is why he can't sit at one of the group tables. Instead, he tells me proudly, he sits in a jokester chair, just like his hero, Other Kid Inna Chair (henceforth to be known as OKIC). Oh, boy.

The chairs aren't punitive, and I know of a girl in the first grade who sat separately, so as to get a break from the social whirl of the class. More to the point, the Eldest does not feel punished by the chair. Fine. And the Eldest isn't the only jokester, just one of the more aggressively interfering ones, so fine. I sat down with the school dean and ask her to think this through with me.

Item 1. We are an intelligentsia family, and our type tends to panic if Tommy isn't reading by age three. (But if he isn't reading, how will he ever be able to fulfill my dream and turn Harvard down?) No, really. I was reading by age three, and when the Eldest didn't - and seemed actively disinclined to do so - I had to sit on myself. That was a readiness thing, and this is a social thing. The Eldest has chosen this path to navigate the social aspects of class, and we need to make this distinction. And sit on ourselves a bit.

Item 2. We use humor to manage anxiety-provoking situations. Thus, jokester Eldest. Duh.

Item 3. The Eldest, having found a way to win peer approval, now needs a sense of social occasion. He needs, in other words, the skills to understand when jokestering is okay and when it's not.

Item 4. The Eldest doesn't metamorphose until he enters the classroom, and then he's almost unrecognizeable in his behavior. (The Eldest does prat falls? Who knew? And yikes.) Since he doesn't act like this around me, we're unlikely to be able to really intervene. A number of talks with the Eldest on the subject have proven ineffective. Is this something the teachers need to take point on?

Item 5. When I sat next to him in class one morning, we spent a very quiet 15 minutes working on the class assignment. He did his and I did mine, and I watch him switch the jokester off. It can be done, in the right environment. The dean opined that the shift was because he knows that I don't respond positively to jokestering, and that he doesn't need to do it around me - I'm safe.

Item 6. The number of jokesters grows daily, and their behavior reinforces each other. Last week was the week when the jokesters' ranks crossed gender lines...hoo, boy.

Yep, six is going to be interesting. A class clown and a chess fanatic, all in one. Didn't see either one coming, and I'm fascinated by both. I find myself relaxing my usual, slightly edgy approach to my sturm-and-drang Eldest, and marvelling. What a fascinating kid, and what a privilege to be able to watch him grow.


mother in israel said...

Welcome to the club. There's a very simple answer. School is boring, compared to chess, origami, and dinosaurs.

mama o' the matrices said...

(slaps head) Right.

Although the curriculum bit about Martin Luther King Jr and protesting did catch the kid's interest. Still, I suspect it was interesting as a technique available for future home, perhaps?

dykewife said...

it's an incredible privilege to watch children grow and mature. boy has been turning into a really cool person for all his years. i'm so lucky :)

magid said...

Happy 6!

Auntie A said...

Happy belated 6th to Eldest!

Sounds like it's going to be an interesting year...can't wait to hear all about it. (And also, hopefully, at some point, to come and see a bit of it in person.)

mama o' the matrices said...

dw, yep. Today I feel lucky. Tomorrow I may be gritting my teeth and reminding myself that I feel lucky. But overall, it's a good deal.

Thanks magid, Auntie A - and yes! Do come along and share some of the year with us.