If your household is anything like ours, major changes have a way of taking place with little to no forethought. One minute you’re in a conversation with your child’s teacher, discussing some additional focused academic work and new strategies that ought to be put into place immediately, and the next moment you’re acting on your intuition that your child will be better equipped to get Important Things Done if he has a more formal desk space in the house. One with a jar of pencils and highlighters on top, and a set of drawers containing paper, post-its, and the other school supplies he uses regularly. All this so that he doesn’t have to work on the dining room table and clear everything at dinner time and he has his Own Official Work Space. With your old laptop on it for research and word processing, and photos of him doing his favorite things in a frame to help him feel good while he’s working through his challenges.
And so you find yourself at home on a Saturday afternoon, moving furniture around so that a desk can be placed in the room off the kitchen, which means removing both a couch and the world’s biggest bookcase and relocating them to other rooms. 8 boxes of children’s books get displaced and stand stacked in boxes in the dining room. You’re grateful that you have friends hanging out for the afternoon so that you have company, extra hands for moving things, and other kids playing with your own for hours on end. You also appreciate that one of your friends decides to bake a pie in the midst of it all, leaving you feeling like things could be quite normal at that moment if you simply closed your eyes and inhaled. It’s a 3-day weekend and you know that when both adults are home for three days in a row you need to take full advantage of that time to rearrange large, heavy objects. And you crave a concrete way to help your child because he’s struggling a bit, so this fits that bill as well.
As you sort through those boxes of displaced books, you create piles to help you determine where they will live next. Some belong to one child, and others are just right for the other. Some weren’t great anyway, and are heading to Goodwill. A few have been outgrown and can be brought to the office. And then there’s the stack of books that your younger child still loves to read and that, frankly, you do, too. You stand there holding some of them, considering the fact that they are preschool books and this is a good opportunity to weed through them – and you’re hearing your child’s teacher’s voice encouraging you to share more challenging books with him because he reads so well. But when you glance at the big box of Magic School Bus, Magic Tree House, and Beverly Cleary books, you know that he’s not there yet, nor do you need him to be. There’s still plenty of time for Corduroy, Miss Spider, and Olivia. In fact, many of the next level books tend to lose a fair amount of linguistic richness; they become simpler, since the kids are starting to read them independently. And so you hang onto all the books you’ve been reading him for the past couple of years, and put the “big kid” books aside in another box for later, marked “1st grade”.
The internal debate about books picks up where some of your thoughts about the school challenges that started this furniture upheaval left off: considerations about individual differences and neurological development, how to know when anxiety about an academic subject is due to an actual challenge versus when it’s secondary to a child’s need for just a little more time to get there. When can you put aside the big kid books and enjoy the baby books just a little longer, and when do you need to push a little harder for more independence, better organization, and focus on a child’s achievement of “the standards” even when you don’t entirely agree with all of the standards?
And if there’s one thing you see clearly it’s that sometimes, as your kids get older, the choices aren’t so easy – and they’re not even completely yours to make.