Sunday, January 7, 2018

At the Kitchen Table

It's nearly eleven a.m. and the cold winter sun is streaming in through the curtains here at the kitchen table. "Read it aloud," I tell Kiddo, who is musing over the construction of a two-paragraph essay. He speaks the words he has typed in already, and then looks to me for help. "After the quote, " tell him, "you can use your own words to show how she goes about finding comparisons. Where else does she study besides the canopy?"

At the kitchen table sits a slightly overwhelmed kid who is trying his best to do something which is not easy, not by any means. He's being asked to draw conclusions on his own based on evidence in a text which does not give easy answers within itself. Yet, he doesn't give in to that doubt; instead, he keeps plunking through the work of finding quotes to support his thinking. We look at the text and draw connections-- just like the topic at hand, biodiversity, everything is connected--and then toy with conclusions. "What does the author learn about biodiversity?" That's a tough one....nothing in the text is spelled out for the reader.

An intellectually rich education means grappling with challenging questions in order to learn how to think for oneself. Richness can also be provided in some sweetness and loving support, so I make a glass of chocolate milk for Kiddo and a cup of cocoa for myself. If you have to work really hard on something, a few sips of something yummy can only make the moment a little better, right? He continues on with his work, and when I offer to type for him so he can perhaps have a little more ease in the flow of composition, he declines. His attention settles more toward his work than his anxiety about it and after several minutes of halting typing and scrutinizing the screen, he feels he's got a good enough rough draft to hand in for feedback from his teacher.

The fractions work which follows is easier for him. He feels good, proficient. We did a lot of work on fractions when I was homeschooling him on my own and I have a feeling this is something his mind just naturally understands. He types the answers into a Google document, photographs the work on paper that he did, better to meet the 'show your work' requirement, and submits all this. Since he has done quite a bit of that work in his head, I'll be interested to see if the teacher asks him to show all the work written out or accepts that he only needed to work out a couple of problems.

The kitchen table is the nexus for life's essential moments: we eat and drink here, gaining sustenance; we do school here, a place where we can both sit down and look at the work together as needed; and below the surface of the tablecloth is hidden entertainment, which I uncover after lunch. A jigsaw puzzle, mostly done, lies protected from the cats. Milton likes to roll around on the table when a puzzle is started, a passive-aggressive way of getting my attention--until I flick him with a bit of water and watch the pieces shoot out from under his feet as he scrambles down. Winter naturally keeps us indoors, but I'm also dealing with strained and painful tendons due to my flatter feet, and so my ventures out of the house are well-planned and often abbreviated, closer to home than I would like. The in-shoe braces I wear to hold those arches up are helpful and the orthopedic doc isn't done with me yet, but for now, I'm home a lot. Puzzles are a great way to get myself out of my own head and focused on something engaging. Anyone can join in and help, but when Kiddo finishes his lunch and his chores, schoolwork done, he is ready to go play his video game and I am ready for the satisfying work, alone, listening to NPR and contemplating which piece might go where.

Later, dinner will bring us together. Joe is out with a friend at a basketball game I was meant to go to as well, except that our sitter woke up sick. I boil up some tortellini for him, make shoyu chicken for the both of us and zap some leftover Thai veggies and tofu for myself. At the table, together again, Kiddo and I chat and eat and chat some more. It's a time for looking into each other's faces, making jokes, talking about the little moments which make up our separate-but-together lives. After the dishes are done,the kitchen tidied up, he asks to go back and play online some more. When he works hard and is responsible, I tend to give him more freedom. But first, I look at him with a comically sad face and say "But I wanted to play a game with you", to which he replies "yeah, but I want to play with my friends." It's been a long week. Joe has been gone for meetings the previous three evenings, and I smile. "Okay. Go have your fun." I mean, it's not like we haven't spent a week together doing other things and frankly, I'm tired. My puzzle is finished, my feet are sore, and there is Netflix and knitting waiting upstairs for me. I turn off the light above the kitchen table, ice packs in hand for my ankles and the knowledge that today's work is done as my prize.

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