Hours (and hours and hours) of homework battles threatened to destroy any hope of a meaningful mother-son relationship. Often Jon would come home from work and take over the battling. It was painful. Every last problem of every (very) lengthy assignment was painful. And in the beginning, when assignments would come back with poor grades, our frustration reached its peak. Literally two to four hours of working would sometimes result in failing or barely passing grades. Neither Jon nor I could understand why two college educated adults often struggled to successfully complete 8th grade algebra assignments.
I scheduled an appointment with Caleb's baby-faced algebra teacher who wore stylish argyle sweaters. I was hoping he'd tell me that the student who corrected the assignments had graded incorrectly and Caleb's answers weren't wrong after all. But alas, they were. Often we'd gotten the right answers but had failed to properly show or label each line-by-line step of the solution but other times the answers were wrong and we'd not understand why. If we couldn't understand this, how in the world would Caleb be successful? The teacher did help me learn how to use the online textbook (a HUGE help) and I did better understand his procedures after meeting with him but still, I cried all the way home. There was no light at the end of the algebra tunnel and I truly didn't know how we'd survive a year of it.
Two o'clock always brought a pit of dread to my gut. I braced myself for a minimum of 2 hours of online tutorials, pages and pages of scratch paper and inevitable battles with a belligerent teenage boy. It's hard to say who hated it more.
When test time came, we'd spend upwards of six hours pouring over expressions, equations and functions. Usually he'd get a B and we'd celebrate. And all those daily assignments (which we eventually figured out) kept his overall grade right around an A-. I used to claim that A was as much mine as it was Caleb's.
Jon took these candid shots back in November. It was one of our more peaceful days. Still, they drum up some mighty bad memories for both of us.
I met with his teacher again when parent/teacher conferences came around in mid-November. I lamented that while we now better understood all of his standards and procedures, the lengthy assignments were still taking a considerable toll on our family. He assured me that while the first few months are often laborious, his students typically hit their algebra stride come January. We pressed forward holding out hope for the new year.
But the day after Thanksgiving, everything changed. In an instant. Caleb's teacher went to the mountains to cut down a Christmas tree with his family. A snow bank gave way, causing him to fall 40 feet down a rocky hill. His injuries left him a paraplegic. A terrible, terrible tragedy.
It was clear this teacher would not be able to return and a new teacher was brought in. Soon after, Caleb began completing much of his assignments in school and what little he does bring home, he is able to complete entirely on his own. I hate to imply--because it's not even remotely my intent--that one man's tragedy resulted in more peace and ease in our home, but the fact is that I haven't spent even one minute doing algebra with Caleb in over three months! It's like day and night. Black and white.
Is it wrong--in the face of this tragedy--to feel grateful that I don't have to do hours of homework anymore and even more importantly, that my son and I now fight a lot less? I mean, Caleb's teacher's life has changed forever. He's enduring a far greater trial than daily homework battles, even if they were treacherous. And they were. But does feeling gratitude for our situation somehow diminish the sorrow I feel about his teacher's injuries? I hope not. Perhaps it doesn't have as much to do with getting a new teacher as it does that the new year finally came and it all got easier like his former teacher said it would. Either way, afternoons at our house are entirely different now.
I still maintain a very watchful eye over Caleb's academics and am at times resentful of the hounding I have to do to make sure his best is accomplished. But Caleb finished this semester with his highest-ever GPA and earned an induction into the National Junior Honor Society. He's always made the Honor Roll, but this was the first time he has made it into the NJHS.
"I made it, Mom!" he said when he saw the asterisk next to his name on the program at the Honor Roll assembly, denoting his NJHS achievement.
"That's great, Caleb. I'm so proud of you," I said through the lump in my throat while willing my eyes to hold back the tears.
Perhaps challenges such as Caleb's make accomplishments such as these more difficult to obtain, but I've decided the joy of the achievement is likewise even sweeter.
In my weak moments I wonder what it's like for parents whose kids don't have to struggle. Then I realize I get the blessing of an even greater appreciation for the accomplishment.
We're really not battling each other. We're battling together. And I think we're winning.