Every Monday, Charlie comes home with his new packet of homework assignments for the week. There’s usually a language arts/vocabulary component to the set of assignments and it is our habit (Charlie’s and mine) to tackle the vocabulary portion of the homework first, early on in the week.
When we first moved here, it took the two of us about a month to really get a handle on the specific requirements of the homework packet. It seemed that many of the expectations were left to inference and the kind of subtle reminders given during class that a guy like Charlie would surely miss or overlook. Slowly, as time has gone on during this adjustment period to our new life and new schools in California, I’ve been able to successfully decode the homework packet. At five months in, I think I’m even starting to grasp how his second grade teacher operates. There have been hints about her tolerance level (always an important feature to note when dealing with any teacher of Charlie’s) and her sense of humor (which is probably THE most crucial element in discerning how the Charlie/teacher relationship might develop in any given school year). I think her tolerance is on the lower side of the spectrum. Her sense of humor, though I do detect she has one, runs on a completely different plane than Charlie’s.
On this particular Monday, a new rule popped out at me as I quickly perused the top instruction sheet of the homework packet. In the vocab section, a new sentence: “Use vivid verbs in creating your sentences!” This novel element was to be considered along with the tried-and-true check list to which we’d already grown accustomed. “Use specific pronouns. (No more than one sentence may begin with I, he or she.)” “Neatly underline the vocabulary word you are using in your sentence.” “Each sentence must have at least six words in it.” The check list is lengthy, the font is small and one sentence/rule tightly follows another. The rules are not actually listed in a bulleted or numbered check list format. I can never remember all the rules and before I set forth to assist my son, I find myself re-reading the jumbled mass of sentences many times over (sometimes aloud) to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything. Instead of verbally reminding Charlie of all these sentence writing points, I’ve taken to inscribing some key elements on bright yellow post-it notes, which I then stick in a neat row at the top of his workspace. He ignores them, of course, but they are helpful reminders for me. Their bold yellow presence offers me hope that Charlie and I won’t forget something, forcing us to then engage in one of the brutal erase/re-write, erase/re-write battles that have become epic in our family’s collective homework history.
Charlie completes the first part of the assignment by alphabetizing the list of twenty vocab words, many of which are “ly” words – adverbs. How fun! Charlie does this pretty much on his own and with some speed. I’ve had to remind him to stay focused on the task just three times. Next, I write on a yellow sticky note, “Vivid Verbs!” I stamp it down to the right of his writing hand, which has already begun to scribble away, forming sentences in a rush of creativity on the cream colored ruled grade school paper he’s been issued. I emphasize the point by saying, “Don’t forget to use vivid verbs, Charlie.” Then ask, “Did you talk about vivid verbs in class?”
“Hmmm….” comes his vague reply. He’s writing fast. I can already see that letters are not clearly defined as they’re being scratched rather haphazardly just above the bottom ruled line. Suddenly, there are some stray strokes of pencil off to the sides of one or two words. How did that just happen?! Is he holding the pencil too loosely? It’s clear that some serious erasing (to neaten things up) will be necessary before we’re done. I sharpen a new set of pencils; each pencil has its own unmarred rubber eraser, full, rosy pink and intact. We’ll be needing these later…but for now I leave Charlie to his work.
Twenty minutes later I’m back to check on the progress…
Charlie has authored five sentences, some are long and use up two lines. Some serious erasing and rewriting of letters will be necessary because the overall look of his paper thus far is quite messy. This was to be expected. Charlie has just completed his fifth sentence. He’s halfway done.
“5. Joe’s baby sister pooped noisily into the toilet bowl which echoed horribly when the baby farted.”
(Noisily and horribly are the vocab words. He’s underlined them. I count fourteen words – way more than the requisite six.)
“Charlie, I don’t think your teacher will appreciate all this scatological writing, you know, ‘poop talk,’ in your sentences.” I say.
“It’s fourteen words, Mom.”
“Yes, I can see that. It’s quite a sentence.”
“And I used two vocab words in one sentence,” he says with a twinkle in his eyes.
“You did, didn’t you?! It’s just that I think your teacher is a little touchy about toilet stuff in the classroom, Charlie. Remember that time…”
“Well, it’s not like I’m saying it in class, Mom. I’m not going to read it out loud or anything. Anyway, the sentence is creative and it’s very VIVID,” he says pointing sharply to my post-it. Then he snickers to himself, “Pooped noisily…he, he, he…that’s funny.” He then mouth-farts loudly and his spit sprays across the paper, adding to the overall sloppy effect of his work.
“Okay…okay…it’s your call. Finish up your work,” I sigh, dabbing at the spit spots which are bleeding rapidly across the paper. I don’t want a battle. I want peace. I leave him alone again to create sentences six through ten.
Later, when he’s called out, “Finished!” I review his work, alone, because he’s already dashed off to find Gigi for a rousing game of “Zoo.” The paper has some pencil smudges – from the mouth fart spray of earlier – and in the center of the sheet, there’s a slight tear from an erasure that got aggressive, or maybe because the paper was damp from the spit. But, overall, we’re looking good.
“6. The sentence before has an extremeLY vivid verb in it and my mother should know it since she thinks she is such a good writer. (25 words!!!!!!)”
I note that the other four sentences meet all the sentence writing requirements, though they are definitely not as lengthy or powerful as sentence number 6.
Well…our work is done here and I can’t help wondering, as I pack up Charlie’s papers and stuff them into the wall rack marked “Charlie,” whether there will be a comment or two from the teacher about this week’s sentences. And if there are any remarks, will they reveal any indication that she’s starting to “get” Charlie Bollinger…to appreciate his humor, to take note of his intelligence…to celebrate his use of vivid verbs?