Once More into the Breach

My girls…Hannah on the left


That’s the number of assignments missing.

Last year, in the weeks after losing my wife and then at the start of the 7th grade year for my middle child, I had to contend with the fact that she was failing 7th grade.  The maddening thing about that was the fact she wasn’t failing due to test grades or because she didn’t know the material it was because she wasn’t turning in her assignments.

This year was going better, I thought.  Until last night.

Let me preface this with the events of the week:
For the last few months I’d been working with the Special Projects Executive Producer to put together a special on bullying. I had to work late a few days, but nothing completely horrendous.  Last night was one of those days, so the meals were simple and the days were long but we were still managing.  This week started with Abbi dropping her iPhone4, something she got as a reward and gift (for Christmas), in the sink…while getting ready for school…with the water running.  Yeah.  Next, the bowl of rice, the hair dryer, all of it.  No signal, no sign of life.

Then, tonight, just 18 hours before the parent/teacher conferences that we’re supposed to have tomorrow afternoon, my middle child, Hannah, comes to me complaining about her Social Studies teacher.
“She keeps changing the assignments and I don’t get them and then it’s all messed up and I have bad grades…”
I saw the tears . . . panicked tears, not sad ones, and asked “how many assignments, Hannah?”
“How . . . MANY!”
Did your teacher really change all those assignments or did you just not turn them in?!
Again, silence.
“I just didn’t turn them in.”
“…and you decided now . . .just before conferences is when to tell me?!  Why, because you screwed up, couldn’t fix it and then figured you’d better come clean right before so it’s not as bad as last year?!”
Again . . . silence.

Before you all come to me with chastising comments, I get that I screwed up as well.  I’d fallen behind looking at the Edline (that’s the weekly update of grades from the school) and was looking instead at her planner and what it said was due.  I asked about the homework.  I looked to see if she needed help.

Here’s the thing . . . it’s Social Studies!  It’s not chemistry.  It’s not trigonometry.  There are no covalent bonds and no angle of incidence.  There aren’t any earthshattering concepts in the homework she didn’t do!  It’s got to be one of the easiest classes . . . because every question has an answer you can look up.  Hell, in today’s world, if you can’t find it in the textbook there has to be a Wikipedia page that you can fudge the answer from, I would think.  So to throw away grades and now have an F in your class is just ridiculous.

I began, at the beginning of the year, to think maybe Hannah was being bullied.  All the missing assignments, the bad grades, the going up to her room . . . I wondered if she was like the kids I’d interviewed for this special.  But none of her friends, teachers, other parents, nobody thought it was happening.  We watched the bullying special and I even pressed her on it.

There are few things that matter to Hannah enough that she will turn things around.  She’d promised and even told her grandparents she’d make the effort to get great grades.  My warning to her at the beginning of the school year was that she’d leave the school.  We aren’t making a lot of money, not for a 5-person family and with no money in savings.  So private school, though I know it’s a major expense, isn’t something I take lightly and I debate its value in the long run anyway, given the number of weeks we spend pinching pennies to get by.  I already told her that if she’s not going to take advantage of the education then she may as well fail at a school that is free and not killing me financially.  It’s true.  I won’t pay for her to go to the same school two years in a row.

She looked at me in a panic saying she didn’t want to change schools, that she’d fix it.  I looked at her and was less than sympathetic.  She said this last year.  We didn’t have a period that didn’t have at least one assignment missing.  I don’t have the energy or time to go through that again.

I’m normally a father who sticks to his guns.  When Abbi failed as a little kid to care for her toys I made Abbi give her dolls to the Salvation Army Hospital.  When Noah couldn’t behave I took away all his Thomas trains as a kid.  Hannah’s grandfather convinced me to let her finish and see how the year ended.  For his sake I did it.

Now . . . I understand that I messed up by not tracking her progress in the last four weeks.  I did it in the first 8, not this last four.  This is what happens when I don’t.

I left her evening by telling her I’d have to think about whether she’d continue at her school.  Until then, I took the only thing she seems to care about: her guitar.  No choir, no band, no practice, no strings, nothing.  Done.  When the grades return, it comes back.

Now I have to decide what to do about the school.  It’s times like this I really miss that other person . . . not for the emotional reasons, for the practical ones.  A united front, the Mom with Dad to help and carry on the work . . . that’s what I wish I had.  But I don’t, there’s nothing changing that, and I have to carry on.

It’s just hard to know that it’s not just her failing . . . it’s that I am, too, and I don’t know how to fix it, either.

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