Where Do You Learn That?

The following post was written for Vancouver Island University’s  5X5X25 Challenge.

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My son is two years old.  He learns new skills and new words at an incredible rate: yesterday, he pulled on his shoes by himself –  today, he asked for chocolate milk and French fries for dinner.  (I expect that tomorrow, I’ll hand him the keys to the car and remind him of his curfew.)  Hardly a day goes by that I don’t ask him, “Where did you learn that?”

Where does he learn these new skills?  Some things he learns from school – the shoes, new words, good manners.  Some things he learns from me – an appreciation for fried food and snuggling on the couch.  But it wasn’t until asked to reflect on teaching and learning that I realized there was some things that I didn’t want him to learn from me, including how I learned and applied that learning when I was in school.

I wasn’t a poor student.  I maintained a B-average until I graduated from college, but I wouldn’t say that I ever made the most of my education. I didn’t take what opportunities were given to me, didn’t think and apply myself more than I needed to.   And that was my fault.   I don’t regret it, but like every parent, I want more and better for my children.  It’s so easy to say, “I want my child to be a good student.” But what does that mean exactly? Good grades? A master’s degree and a high-paying job? Fluency in another language?

As I watch my son develop his muscles, I want to tell him how important it is to develop his brain as well, to think critically and ask questions, especially in school.  I want him to flex his problem-solving skills like he’ll one day flex his biceps.  I want him to delve into his schoolwork and come out with an understanding of the subject and a desire to learn more.  But how do I teach him these things? That’s something that I’m going to have to learn myself.

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The Lovestruck Kid’s Club

Mallory flipped her long red hair over her shoulder, extended her arms and legs comfortably, and smiled. “I’m Mallory,” she said, “and I’m a teenager in love.”

“Hi Mallory,” the group chorused.  I stifled a nervous laugh; they sounded like they were in one of those addicts meetings.

“His name is Jake,” she continued, “he’s a first-year college student, got in on a baseball scholarship.  I see him every weekend and help him with his homework, just the two of us.  He likes to keep me just for himself, so I haven’t met any of his friends yet, but that’s OK.” She sighed happily.  “He even turns off his cellphone when I’m around.”

“Okay, thanks, Mallory,” said Peter, who had assumed the position of the leader of this group. “Ready?”

She nodded.

Roger, a preppie kid seated next to me, leaned forward.  “He hasn’t introduced you to any of his friends because he doesn’t want them to know that he’s dating a high school girl.”  I looked at him with surprise but the rest of the group smiled and nodded.

Another boy spoke up.  “And he’s probably using you for your brains.  He should be able to do his homework on his own.”

“Besides,” said the girl next to Mallory, “what guy wants to do his frikkin’ homework when his girlfriend’s with him? He should be taking you to college parties and out on dates and stuff.”

Mallory nodded.  “And the phone?” she asked quietly.

“Hiding his other girlfriend,” Peter replied gently. “Just ask him.  Ask for the truth.  It’s what you deserve.”

“Thanks,” she said.  “You’ve given me lots to think about.”

“Good job,” the group praised her.  Mallory beamed at the array of smiles and applause.

I joined in half-heartedly in the applause and praise, but a stone had settled in my stomach.  Shifting on the threadbare carpet, trying to find a comfortable position in the circle of high-schoolers, I looked around.  Where was Sam? I thought he was going to meet me here.  This was his idea.

“Who’s next?” Peter asked, and another boy put up his hand.  “Jacob, good for you,” he said.  “Go ahead.”

Jacob extended his arms and legs.  “I’m Jacob, and I’m a teenager in love.”

“Hi, Jacob,” we said.

“Her name is Sarah,” he said, and for the next couple of minutes rattled off how brilliant and funny and smart and beautiful Sarah was.  Like, barf. I’m sure that to him, she was all of that, but after a few minutes I realized that I knew who he was talking about that.

When it was Jacob’s turn to receive people’s opinions and statements, I considered briefly adding that the lovely Sarah was manipulating Jacob for his parents’ money. I had seen her flash new watches and clothing around the locker room, wiggling her butt and calling it her “credit card.”  Her actions always made me uneasy but now that I could see Jacob with his starry eyes and dreamy smile, it just made me sick.

Luckily, someone else beat me to the punch.  “Man, she just likes you for your money,” one of the guys said.  “Pretend you suddenly went broke and see how long she sticks around.”

Jacob looked shocked and I felt twangs of pity for him, but then his jaw hardened.  He nodded curtly at the group and scooted backwards a foot or two, away from the circle.

“Okay, let’s try the new girl,” said Peter.  “Jane, you ready to join the conversation?”

I nodded, although I wasn’t, really.  One more glance around but I knew that he wasn’t here.  The stone had grown moss and was planning to camp out until the next Ice Age.

“First you should stretch out, move your arms and legs,” he instructed me.  I uncurled, kicked my feet out ahead of me and let my hands rest on my lap. My muscles protested the unfamiliar position.  “It means you’re open for communication from the group, ready to hear what they have to say.”  I nodded. He waited.  Oh, okay, now?

“I’m Jane,” I said.  The next sentence got stuck and I licked my lips a few times.  “And I’m a teenager in love.”

“Hi, Jane.”

“His name is Sam,” I said quietly.  “He’s my best friend. We do everything together and we’re always joking around.  Like when he tries to set me up with other friends of his.  And the time that he agreed to meet me at a movie and never showed up.”  I smiled at the memory.  I kicked his ass so bad the next day. “But he’s really funny and nice to people and just really, really sweet.”  I stopped and closed my eyes.

There was an awkward silence and I thought for a minute that they couldn’t find anything wrong with my story, that perhaps Sam and I really did have something together, that perhaps I wasn’t being silly crazy in love.

“Honey, if he really liked you, he wouldn’t be setting you up with any of his friends,” said the blonde girl sitting across from me. “Take the hint and go out with someone else.”

My eyes widened and I shook my head.  The rest of the group, however, was nodding sympathetically.

“Jane?” said Peter, softly.  “Lindsay’s probably right.  Plus, if Sam told you about this club, where we help teenagers be not so in love with other people, and didn’t bother showing up himself, he’s probably just not that interested in you.”

I looked down at the floor, head spinning, and realized that my feet were tucked underneath myself again.