Remember how thrilled I was to pack away L.'s school things in May? He brought binders and binders home of a year's worth of work, folders, and piles of papers. One of the papers was a summer reading assignment. I glanced at the title of the book, and then stuffed the sheet away. Somewhere.
Oh, we won't have to worry about this for weeks and weeks! I though happily to myself, back when the summer stretched gloriously ahead.
Sometime in June I remembered the summer reading assignment, and I asked L. about it.
"I DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT SCHOOL READING ON SUMMER VACATION!" he shouted at me.
We went back and forth for awhile on this, but L. wasn't budging. He had zero interest in tuning into anything remotely school-related over the summer break.
I let the matter drop because, after all, it was still June. But at the beginning of July I began to get worried again. I couldn't find the paper anywhere. Worse, I couldn't for the life of me remember the title of the book. I couldn't find the title on the school's web page. I asked a mom/friend from school but she couldn't remember the title either.
I brought the matter up with L. Did he, by any chance, remember the book title?
"I'M NOT READING A SCHOOL BOOK ON VACATION!" he shouted again.
Again, we went back and forth.
"Forget about it!" he said.
Part of me thought that L. really needed to be invested in this reading assignment, in order for it to have any meaning for him. If he's not invested or interested, then it won't happen. Forced investment in anything never works well around here. But I'm an English teacher, and summer reading lists are important to me. If he had a book to read over the summer, then he should read it. Despite this, I'm ashamed to say (I can scarcely type the words without wincing), I dutifully did what L. told me to do and promptly forgot all about the summer reading book.
Until Sunday night, that is, the night before the first day of school. I was sorting through L.'s clothes and folding laundry in his room, catching a rare few moments to talk one-on-one with him. L. was in a receptive conversation mood, and I wanted to talk with him about school the next day. As it turned out, he was incredibly worried about fifth grade. Worried about how he might (or might not) measure up. Worried he'd fail even before the school year got started.
"Why?" I asked, my heart breaking for him--he's certainly never expressed a fear of failing before.
"Because I haven't read the summer reading book!" he wailed, pacing around his room in distress. Then more facts emerged: the teachers were going to give a quiz on the book the first week of school and he'd fail it, of course, because he hadn't read the summer book. This was the first I'd heard of the quiz--it must have been mentioned on the part of the assignment sheet I hadn't read before I stuffed it away. Somewhere.
"Why didn't you tell me this before?" I asked, feeling equal parts incredibly frustrated and like the Worst Parent in the World.
"I didn't KNOW I was worried about it until just now!"
There are, of course, two options available to parents at times like this: 1) the tough love approach that involves letting your child shoulder the consequences and 2) the approach that involves both parents launching a frantic all-out search for the book title and one parent rushing out to the Barnes & Noble at 8:00 pm to buy the book. We picked option 2) because really, what could we do? We had dropped the ball on the summer book, too, and L. was anxious and distressed, how could we start fifth grade on that note?
As it turned out, L. stayed up until 11:30 reading, and then, because he was so anxious about it, he woke again at 2:00 am and stayed up the rest of the night so he could finish the book. I almost cried out loud when I found out about that the next morning. We hadn't wanted to start fifth grade on that note, either. But the book has been read, L.'s tired and relieved it's done, and Scott and I are a little wiser now.
Life's lessons, I think, are seldom pretty.