Dragon Tales

This is Boris.

This is Boris. He bakes cookies.

One afternoon, I picked up Alex from school to find him holding a small, stuffed dragon. “Oh, how cute,” I thought, as he approached. Then I got a look at Alex’s face. At once I recognized that the existence of this plushy pal was, at best, a mixed blessing.

So to lighten to mood, I put on my Happy Dad face.

“Well!” I exclaimed with a wide smile. “Who’s this cute little guy?” I pet the dragon’s head.

“Boris,” Alex replied with a level stare. The stare spoke volumes. The stare said, “Wipe that grin off your face, buddy! You think this is funny? You think you’re being funny, Funny Guy? Well, trust me; you, sir, are NOT being funny.”

It turns out that neither Alex nor I like Happy Dad all that much. Happy Dad is a phony. So I put Happy Dad away, hopefully forever.

“Boris is homework, right?” I asked.

It was as if I had lit a fuse.

“Yes!” he exploded. “I gotta take him on an adventure! And then I gotta draw a picture! And then I gotta write a story about it! AND I have to do it by tomorrow! AND I have a math sheet! AND I have to do classwork I didn’t finish!”

I’ll say it right now. My boy gets too much homework. The little guy is only in first grade. When I was in first grade I whiled away entire afternoons drawing faces on my toes and using them to act out elaborate kitchen sink dramas. Alex never has time for such foolishness. All he does is work, work, work.

“Alright,” I said. “Let’s make this stupid thing as quick and painless as possible.”

On the car ride home, we kicked around possible Boris adventures.

“How about Boris hunts for buried treasure?” I said. “That could be fun.”

“How about he makes cookies,” said Alex.

“Or maybe Boris can get kidnapped,” I said. “Your essay could be a ransom note!”

“How about he makes cookies,” said Alex.

“Or, or, or, he could be accused of a crime he didn’t commit! Maybe your Bed Entourage thinks he killed Froggy and they put Boris on trial. But Froggy isn’t really dead, she’s just asleep.”

“How about he makes cookies,” said Alex.

Alex made other suggestions, too. Alex suggested that after Boris baked cookies, Alex could eat the cookies. Alex also suggested that there was NO WAY he was going to write more than three sentences.

“Well, if it’s an involved adventure, you might need to make it longer,” I said.

“I only have to do three,” Alex said.

“Yes, sure, but you might want to do more,” I said. “Oh! I have another idea for an adventure! How about Boris…”

And here I had my epiphany. At that moment I realized that I was the one who was preventing this assignment from being “as quick and painless as possible.”

Unlike me, my son is not a fan of writing. Not at all. For Alex, writing is something akin to torture. In my zeal, I forgot that Alex is not me.

Of course he doesn’t wanna do more than three sentences, why would he? And why, with his workload, would I suggest otherwise?

I had apparently replaced Happy Dad with Oblivious Dad. So I put Oblivious Dad away, hopefully forever.

“I like your cookie idea,” I said.

Ellen and Alex (and Boris) baked cookies. Then Alex and I worked on the Boris drawing and crafted three brief-and-to-the-point sentences. It wasn’t easy for Alex, but it was, as I  promised, quick and painless.

Unlike me, Alex is passionate about math and science. Making up math problems and messing around with snap circuits is the Alex equivalent of my childhood’s Big Toe Theatre. So, once his homework was finally done, he went off to play with Ellen’s calculator.

Maybe Alex will learn to love writing someday. That would be nice. I sure would love to share that interest with him. But I’ll be fine if Alex takes his math and science interests to the next level, too. All I want to do is support him — and make sure I don’t force my own passions on him.

And who knows? Maybe someday Alex will find a happy medium between math and writing. After he went off to play, I heard him refer to the calculator as “Mr. Calculator.” And Mr. Calculator later began a spirited dialogue with Lamby, one of the leaders of Alex’s Bed Entourage.

Oh, yes, there’s a storyteller in that boy. I can see it. But I won’t force it. It’ll come when it comes.

Boris’s visit caused more than his fair share of trouble that day. Not only did he cause angst for Alex, he also kept me up that night. That rotten, little dragon switched on my storytelling brain.

“What if Boris…” I thought as I settled into bed.

“Or what if…”

“Or what if…”

On it went until I finally fell into a fitful sleep.

And, the very next morning, the world was forced to deal with Crabby Dad.

61 thoughts on “Dragon Tales

  1. OMG, I would have *loved* that assignment as a kid. But yeah, I can see how other kids can dread it. I have to keep reminding myself my children are not writers, either. They may like it one day, but for now, it’s homework, it’s a chore. I definitely like the cookies idea. Clever way to get cookies after school! (I’d be bringing Boris home every day!)

    • The plate of cookies softened the impact of the assignment, that’s for sure.

      I loved creative writing assignments of this kind as well, but wasn’t assigned them as a first grader. Too young, I think.

      We are supposed to cultivate a child’s passion for writing and allow it to grow naturally. Assignments like this, at a time in my child’s life when he is still trying to write his letters legibly, may kill any interest he has in writing before it has a chance to flower.

  2. Especially in first grade where it takes a lot of time just to figure out how to spell the word adventure, (3 syllables people!) let alone take a dragon on an adventure. So, when can we read your Boris story? 🙂

  3. Personally, my ideas for adventures with Boris became Really Inappropriate. I would have loved to take mock pictures of Boris clubbing or perhaps with a chalk outline. I could have made this “adventure” really fun, but I think school personnel might not have like it much.

    • Oh, I hear you Rebekah. Maybe I’m seeing my own elementary school education through rose-colored glasses, but my days were more about exploration than they were about grunt work. I see the classwork my son brings home and it’s just one ding-dang stack of worksheets after another.

      Where is the whimsy? Where is the delight in discovery? Where is the nurturing of the creative spirit?

  4. I am so glad that you realized your son’s desires may not be the same as your desires or those that you wish he had. T

    here is one possibility that you may not have thought of and that is that your son’s aversion to writing may not be the creative process itself but the task on handwriting. Many young children abhor handwriting and need to move through their own protest to get over the hump of doing it effortlessly. One way to find out is to let him create stories in which you do the writing, of course this would not apply to homework assignments. The fact that he went off to play with Mr. Calculator who had a dialogue with Lamby seems to indicate his creative process is just fine.

    I’ll give you an example. When I was teaching, our school had a very high standard for handwriting and to complete the handwriting requirements the student had to have perfect cursive. As is not unusual, I had one student who just resisted ever writing neatly but this boy was extremely good and accurate in math. One of the goals of the students was to get their work put up on the board…this guy’s work never made the standard in terms of quality of penmanship…almost illegible.

    One day during math period he completed a fairly complex assignment with 100% accuracy. I praised him for his work and said that I wish I could put it up on the board…I told him that if his work was neater then I would have certainly put it up on the board. The very next day he turned in math work that was accurate and neat…which I DID put up on the board. He couldn’t wait to show his mother his accomplishment. He rarely ever turned in sloppy work after that. It didn’t take him any longer. He had the ability to perform the work. What he lacked was the willingness.

    If you can determine if it is actually handwriting, not creative writing which he is having trouble with, then it will guide you on how to help him be more successful at it. Force almost never works well…but establishing a purpose that is desirable to the child can move seemingly immovable resistance…effortlessly.

    • You’re absolutely right, Mrs. P. (as usual). My son does like to tell stories. He is an orator of the first order. But, when he is required to write it, he shuts down. Penmanship, spelling, grammar and sentence construction make him hate the act of writing and keep him from finding fun in such an assignment.

      • Simple penmanship tips. Use large lined paper until he feels HE can do it easily, and then make them gradually smaller. Watch formation of letters so he doesn’t have to relearn them correctly. Make giant clay letters, sand letters or even butcher paper sized letters and or words using big markers. Have him write words he likes.

        Spelling, grammar and sentence structure can be practices orally until he gets through the writing hump. You can make it fun…and it should be fun. It should also be very short bursts (possibly as little as one to five minutes/day) of activity…his attention span will guide you. In order to keep it fun, stop when he is no longer interested. Do not try this after he has a homework assignment. By the way, you could break up his homework task by having a snack or chore between. I wouldn’t recommend play time as it is often hard to get them to stop what they are doing in order to do MORE homework.

        On grammar and sentence structure, draw quick sketches or act out with his animals incorrect usage so that he sees that language is a tool for helping us communicate exactly what we mean.

        You know, I have been meaning to write some articles to help parents with school work…I guess I’d better get busy.

  5. I love the cookies idea! If the poor kid is going to have that much homework he might as well get some cookies out of the deal! You’re right; that’s a lot of assignments for a first grader.

  6. Oh, Mike! Take a look at the posts in my “Thought Cloud” subject, My Son. I’m having deja vu with your child. My son is now in 3rd grade and has made it over the hump, but it took him about a year and a half. He wasn’t expected to write an adventure, though, until 2nd grade, so he had it “easier.” He’s a snap circuit kid, too. We talk about the varying sizes of infinity at the dinner table, for example, but he’s not afraid of writing anymore. I’ve got my fingers crossed for you and your son. I think in a year or two, it will all be OK, that is if you play it cool. 😮

  7. A wonderful story to read! As a parent, it can be difficult to hold your own enthousiasm back. You can be ever so determined never to push your own ideas/wishes on to your child, but there are those moments when you don’t even realise what’s happening. I love the way you handled it here, and the way you write about it. Your son is very happy to have you as dad!

  8. Sounds like my son, maths and science great, writing not so much. Although like Mrs P commented, it’s more the actual act of handwriting he dislikes than anything. When he’s allowed to type it up on a computer then he doesn’t mind half as much. But either way, a science experiment is always going to be more of a winner with him.

    At my kids’ pre-school there was a build-a-bear that they used to take turns to take home at the weekend and it had a journal that came with it, and we had to write in the journal what it had done over the weekend. Luckily because they were so young, the parents could do the writing instead!

  9. Dragon Tales: Boris and the Three Bad Dads

    My DD’s school dreamed up “Sneaker Stories” in which the child dresses up a discarded shoe as a storybook character for Fit & Lit month. Fortunately the children have all of April school vacation week to work on it. (!) When they are all displayed in the library, it is really amazing to see how talented many “kids” are! 😛

  10. Okay you’ve got to write a dragon story about drawings on toe nails. I have same issues with son who brings way too much class work home in grade 2. It’s so annoying that they’ll get plenty of hw soon so they should just be playing now. We got a great note home this week, I just hope it lasts. There’s way too much pressure on kids. And my friend’s son at another school never brings home unfinished work.

    • Too much pressure is right. Some time ago, U.S. politicians got all bent outta shape about our country’s educational ranking on the world stage.

      But I never thought a question such as “Why do U.S. children score lower than the Japanese in math?” was the right one to ask. I think the question should be, “How are our children applying the knowledge we give them?” or better yet, “How can we get our children to love learning?”

  11. Boy can you tell a story, Mike! 🙂 I think I would have reacted as you did, but I feel for your son. Too much homework at too young an age. And by pushing so hard so early, when a lot of kids just aren’t ready yet, homework ends up turning them off to something they might have loved if only it had come later or without feeling like a chore. I don’t think I have rose-colored glasses about my childhood – we really didn’t get this kind of regular homework. I went to a very good private school in NYC and with the exception of a report on caribou in 3rd grade, we didn’t get homework until 4th grade. I spent my afternoons in the playground, or pogo sticking in front of my building, or terrorizing whatever unfortunate people happened to be walking along the sidewalk while my sister and I raced each other down the block on bikes and skateboards. It was way more fun than homework – even writing homework 🙂

    • Yes! And this is why you are such a wonderful children’s book author.

      A kid needs to be a kid. The drudgery of work should be postponed for these little guys. Why make ’em tiny adults? Where’s the hurry?

      So much of my young life was influenced by the stuff I did after school let out. I have more memories of building (and endlessly repairing) my fort in the woods than anything that ever took place in the elementary school classroom.

  12. First, that is one dead ugly dragon (sorry Boris, but really, could you smile or something? I mean, you got chocolate chip cookies, for heaven’s sake…). Secondly, you are detailing a parental adventure that most of us have experienced, yet many have taken many more years to figure out that what we want for our child is often what we want for ourselves, not for him/her. Thirdly (this is when MY kids roll their eyes, two points are bad enough, but THREE?) I remember when my daughter decided to focus her energy on science instead of literature and writing (even though her teachers said she wrote amazing poetry and short stories). I was concerned, aghast (science? yuck), and confused. But fortunately I did not discourage the science interest, and she is now a rocking 6th grade science teacher. She also admitted to me that when she was younger, she knew I was the writer in the family, and she didn’t want to be ‘just like her mother.’ She wanted to be her own person with her own talent. Now who can argue with that?

    • You make an excellent point with the “charting your own path” thing. No one in my family writes for a living. In fact, none of them even writes as a hobby. In my case, however, I didn’t initially pursue writing to be different; I just fell in love with the idea of weaving tales. The writing bug got me especially early, too; by ages 7 or 8 I was devoted to the craft.

      Once again, your kind words make me blush. As to your second point, I doubt that I am unusually aware of my child’s needs. I am, however, sensitive to my child’s cocked eyebrow; nothing else makes me more quickly reassess my words and actions quite like seeing it. That eyebrow makes me self-aware.

      As to your first point, I don’t think Boris is ugly. I do hate him, though.

  13. Your posts are always such fun. My oldest is a writer and my two youngest are math wizzes. It’s hard to get the second two to read or to write. The oldest I have trouble stopping sometimes 🙂

  14. If my kids had a nickel for every time they had to remind me “Mom, I’m NOT YOU,” we’d all be packin’ up our bags and movin’ to Beverly. I think it’s really funny that “Happy Dad” is not a good thing!

  15. That is a lot of homework, I agree. What happened to letting kids’ minds wander? That free time is actually so important! That’s when you find out that putting coins in the air vents is awesome, or when you decide to sell stickers you made at school, or when you cut off all of your hair with your mom’s sewing scissors. :))

    • It is a neat little assignment. But for a child that age, it may extinguish creativity rather than cultivate it. I don’t think I got homework until the third grade — and then it was only a couple of dittos.

  16. Thanks for the like on my blog! This is such a great post. 🙂 I’ve nannied before and tried to get the kids excited about writing. Haha. It’s always interesting trying to figure out ways to do it…

  17. I can’t believe I missed this post! It’s fabulous and hits a little too close to home . . .

    My older daughter writes great stories, until she has to . . . and then Nagging Mom appears . . .

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