Friday, March 08, 2013


Jedi Knight is starting to come into his own. Because he has never really done sports, he hasn't always gotten recognition of that kind. He does karate, but he isn't at a level to do tournaments or anything like that. He has difficulty making friends because he thinks that a conversation subsists of two people sharing random facts back and forth with one another. He hasn't (thank goodness) figured out the art of "hanging out" as opposed to playing like most kids his age. He is remarkably unspoiled. And while these traits are endearing and sweet, they don't exactly mean that other children are knocking down the door to be best friends.

But lately some great things have happened for him that have helped with friendships, or at least filled gaps where friendships normally live. And while some of these things are related to recognition; to me, they are more related to him learning about commitment and responsibility.

Here in Oregon, we have a thing called Oregon Battle of the Books. And for all the things that frustrate me about schools and school funding here, OBOB is one of the things I love. Each year, by late spring, a committee of librarians chooses 16 books in 3 different age categories (high school just chooses 10), and the kids are encouraged to read them. They form teams of four and then compete against one another by answering questions about plot, characters, etc. The questions aren't any deep thinker-type, more comprehension than anything else, and some of them are incredibly specific. Some schools and parents are really into it. Our librarian treats it as a fun thing.

Jedi Knight's team, as 4th graders, took 2nd in the school last year, losing by just a couple of points to the first place team. He was really the catalyst for last year's success. Before school had been in a week in the fall, last year's 3rd place team recruited him. For him, it was a no-brainer. The team that picked him up is composed of some very popular (and thankfully very nice) boys with whom JK has long hoped to get in good with. This momma had her doubts. As nice as these boys are, they have nothing in common with my quirky son, and it was clear to me that their choice was a clear desire to win the competition. They weren't exactly using Jedi Knight. After all, if they won, then he would win too, but it still didn't sit quite right.

And then the boys didn't really read the books. Or at least not enough of them.

I think the reasoning was that since the team was comprised of the 2nd and 3rd place teams from last year (the 1st place team having moved on to middle school) then winning was a given. Besides, they are all really smart. So why shouldn't they win?

Not long before the end of the competition, mother's prediction came true--they got creamed by another team. Of girls. Oh the horror!

Jedi Knight kind of blew it off and then he and I had a long talk about consequences. I told him that it didn't matter to me if they won or lost, but that it did bother me that he had signed up and committed and then not done the work. It bothered me that he was treating the loss as no big deal, or even a joke, instead of seeing it as something to be learned from. He came back with the classic kid response, "Well, we are smarter than them, if we'd read the books we'd have won."

Yeah. Well, the whole point is to read the books. It doesn't matter a fig how smart you are if you won't make any effort.

Once I got him feeling nice and bad about how much he had slacked off (and don't take me for Tiger Mom, please. I wasn't asking him to do anything he didn't do a year ago; this child reads like 4 or 5 books a week. OBOB reading should have been a cakewalk), I reiterated to him that I didn't care if they didn't win, but I cared very much that he hadn't made his best effort. I cared very much that he had signed up and committed and hadn't kept his promises.

Then he read four books in 5 days.

They pulled out a last minute win of the school tournament when the girls suffered an embarrassing loss to a team of third graders, and they had a fantastic showing in their last battle.

The region tournament is tomorrow. I've been drilling and drilling and drilling him . . . but only when he's asked me to. I'm reminding myself over and over that this is about him, and I'm trying to best navigate the lessons to be learned in all this competing.

In recent weeks Jedi Knight has also found out that he will test for his yellow belt in just a few weeks. He earned his Tenderfoot Rank in scouting and has earned a couple of merit badges. In addition, he is a great volunteer at school and works as a peer mediator at recess. But lest you think he has gone mainstream, I will also tell you that he has worked out a secret code using Roman numerals and letters and is passing notes with a select group of like-minded spies.

I don't know how things will go tomorrow, but for the first time in a long time I'm not nearly as worried about my eldest child as I have been.

And I haven't forgotten about that secret. I'm almost ready to tell.


heidikins said...

May The Force be with them!

(Sorry! I had to!)


FoxyJ said...

I love Battle of the Books too. My oldest is in fourth grade and did it last year and then this year. I almost discouraged her from doing it this year because I was worried about her being overscheduled since she does piano lessons, is in the school play this year, and does Activity Days too. She loves reading but isn't always a careful reader and doesn't remember things that well. I really didn't push it either year--last year her team lost early in the competition. This year I was worried because she didn't seem like she had read and studied enough, but her team managed to be the champions of the 3rd and 4th graders (our school splits it into 3/4 and 5/6 groups).

I also struggle with when to push my kids more and when to let them do what they want. I worry that since I'm working and since they are often with their dad, I'm going to miss my opportunities to see what they need. My oldest is not very competitive and has high self-esteem--she is confident in doing anything and doesn't really care or notice if she didn't do it that well. I never know if I should push her harder or just be happy that she's not a neurotic perfectionist. It's hard to figure out as a parent sometimes.