Good Friday today, so no pressure at all to do any work. Go Benji, though. We gave him a ‘chart’ recently with images of the things he needs to do and the order he needs to do them in the day. He is very visual, so this really helps motivate him – even down to getting up, getting dressed, doing his teeth, doing his hair, having breakfast, doing his maths, English, lunch and so on. For every day that he completes his whole chart with no issues (such as complaining, arguing and so on), he gets 50p pocket money. It keeps him really, really motivated, and makes our lives an awful lot easier – takes the fight out of daily life. The pocket money goes on his ‘go Henry’ card, and he’s absolutely made up to have the independence to have his own bank card and earn his own cash. I hope he doesn’t realise that we are actually evil capitalist exploiters, who are making him do at least 3 or 4 hours of effort (including behaving at meal times etc) for a measly 50p per day. This is 5 days a week – on the days when he doesn’t have school work (2 days a week) he gets no remuneration – but still enjoys ticking off his chart to say he’s done what he should. This morning was supposed to be a ‘day off’ but Benji saw maths and English on his chart, so maths and English it was…
Maths Whizz, Spelling Hero and a brilliant new ‘app’ called ‘opposites.’ It starts off with ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ on level 1 – and then by the the time Benji got stuck (level 8 of 12!!!) it was really starting to get complicated – affirmative/ negative – about/exactly – ancestor/descendant. We are consistently amazed by him. He did who knows how many maths exercises – and we watched things that were difficult for him two days ago (taking 2 digit numbers away from 3 digit numbers IN HIS HEAD!!!) suddenly become easy… and we saw the skills apply across to ADDING the same way – 2 digit numbers to 3 digit numbers – he just really dashed them off. And then the strategies develop – “ok, so if I’m taking away 19, that is just take away 20 and then…” “If it’s take away 63, then take 60 first, that’s one hundred and seventy four… okay count down from seven… six, five, four, three, two one… so one hundred and ten, one hundred and fourteen… and take three from that…” and so on. It’s so amazing. Maths Whizz goes up to the end of primary, but if he continues at the current rate of progress (he’s covered 3 months work in one week) he will be at the right level by the time his curriculum arrives in about 2 weeks! I hope nobody reading this thinks I’m wrong in just reiterating the fact that this child was put in the second maths group at school, out of a class of 22.
This afternoon was a long walk by the Bann – the dogs running about like mad and the boys on their bikes. It’s so nice to see them ‘let free’ and just going for it. Exercise is one of the things on Benji’s chart, and he’s loving it – the picture is of his bike, so literal minded as he is, he’s wanting to be pedalling every day. It was very windy, and a man on a bike was very rude, but Lauren shouted appropriately “don’t be so rude,” and peace was restored. Rowan wanted to stay behind at one point, in a strop because he didn’t want to walk. We held our nerve, and didn’t let him dictate the situation – and two minutes later, he was trotting along beside us in a great mood. In some ways, kids are like dogs, in that they need exercise, discipline, rules, boundaries, affection. In other ways, they aren’t like dogs, in that they need all sorts of complicated emotional and intellectual stuff that dogs don’t – but the basic principles if they are kicking off are the same – stay calm and assertive and make sure they know what the rules are, at the same time as being loving (rather than angry or despairing). If they get strong, calm assertive vibes from us, then they behave. And if they don’t, there’s always dramatic counting and the naughty spot 😉
Note to self: we have said Benji can have a bike for his birthday, so had probably better go shopping tomorrow, as, goodness me, our son is nearly seven years old. How on earth did that happen?
Before bed, Benji read with mummy Ceri. She tried to find some words in James and the Giant Peach that were too difficult or needed defining, but failed. Benji was also absolutely super brilliant at pulling nuances out of the text today – e.g. why the centipede would want to tell James that he has 100 legs (instead of the 42 he actually has). Of course, every chapter in that book is a cliff hanger, so Benji persuaded us to let him read two chapters downstairs with mum, then another chapter downstairs by himself, then another ‘few’ chapters in bed – it’ll be a late one! But honestly, I’m not going to complain if my six year old son wants to sit up reading Roald Dahl under the covers. It’s not even that he needs to know what happens next – it’s just that he loves the story – he wants to hear the rest of it so much, for the umpteenth time.
One of mummy Ceri’s favourite things about books is that when you read, you become part of a conversation – part of a party. The party, of course, started long before you were born. Thousands of years, in fact, and there are lots of interesting conversations going on at it. You can read the transcripts of the conversations, you can read people’s notes of the conversations, you can stay awake having a ‘conversation’ with a long dead children’s author, if you are six and in love with books. If you are really lucky, you can join in the conversations and move them a little bit in your own direction, but the only thing that is certain is that the conversation will go on long after you are dust. The party will carry on whether you are there or not, no matter how passionately you feel about the conversation you are in, somebody is going to come and tap you on the shoulder and say “time to leave.” In the case of Presley’s friend, Kevin, who died of childhood cancer this week at 7 years old, that may be very, very much too soon.
The only thing worse than having to leave a party too soon, of course, according to Christopher Hitchens, is being told that the party is going on forever and you CAN’T leave. But I’m with Hitch – if there is a God, and I meet him when I die, I’m honestly going to have a few questions to ask him about where on earth childhood cancer fits in this ‘plan’ that he has for the world.
But that’s a different point. It’s not actually a sad thing, it’s not a depressing thing to think that all conversations end eventually. It’s a lovely thing. Seasons end. Conversations end. Some end much to soon. Roald Dahl and our beautiful, brilliant son had a conversation tonight – something like the conversations I had with Roald Dahl under my own covers in my narrow bunk bed when I was a kid, but something different too. A conversation I hope goes on with my grandchildren – because I hope that if I pass anything on to my kids it’s that they have failed at parenthood unless their children love books.
Benji said to me this morning – he came in specially for a cuddle to tell me – that he knows that I don’t like the Power Rangers Jungle Fury on TV. I said that I knew he liked it. Benji said that he liked them because he liked imagining that he was that powerful – powerful enough to defeat the evil “Dai-Shi” (whoever that is) by doing the right thing and fighting. It made me think of his alien story, and a comment my friend Sarah made on our blog post about it. We loved his alien story – that the aliens died by falling in the fire that somebody had lit in the grate – because Benji very recently overcame a massive match phobia to learn to light fires. He wants to light a fire every day now.
We thought that there was something – fitting? Apposite? Just plain RIGHT, about Benji imaging that the aliens that were destroying planet earth could get smoke from a house fire in their eyes, and then fall into that fire, and die. The moral of the story seemed to be “Benji overcomes phobias and saves the world, and as a happy side effect, feels he can conquer everything.” I ended up actually feeling quite warm towards the Power Rangers Jungle Fury, and identifying with a child with such energy and strength who wants to feel powerful and in control – I get that. And I get why Power Rangers would make him feel like that. But I do, honestly, draw the line at Jujitsu moves on his brother… not that he does, but he does want to watch it til his eyes go square. Limits. Rules. Boundaries. Limitations. Benji is getting so, so big – he’ll have to set his own when he gets not much bigger at all. In fact, if he isn’t making almost all his own decisions in another 7 years, then I think we will have failed as parents.
Enough philosophy! Time for bed – and to post this before it’s past midnight and it confuses us with dates again!