Written by Kari Patterson of Sacred Mundane.
Sometimes it’s like I sabotage myself. Have you ever been there? It’s like,
“Oh let’s see: I’m super tired and grumpy today, we’ve had a full week and we’re all a bit on edge this morning. Why don’t we go ahead and set the day on fire by doing our state achievement practice tests today?!
Even though I’ve never given you a bubble test before, I think I’ll just throw it at you with zero preparation and expect you to do well, even though you have Asperger’s and are incredibly intolerant to change or surprises or new situations. Sure, great idea!”
What in the name of all that is good made me think this was a reasonable idea?
With unfounded optimism I glanced over the test and smiled — it was all stuff he knew, so I figured he was more than prepared.
What he wasn’t prepared for is test-taking.
Surprise surprise, it went poorly. The frustration began when I explained he couldn’t talk to me about all the reading comprehension. He wanted to discuss it, of course!
He disagreed with the historical section, so he wanted to give his opinion: They should have included the Romans in this summary! I continued to redirect him to the bubbles, to fill in the little circle for the correct statement.
Photo by DrWurm
Then the trick questions on math threw him for a double loop, the ones where “none of the above” was the answer, which I hadn’t told him about. Even though he did the work correctly, he doubted himself and picked a different choice since he didn’t see his answer.
I became more and more frustrated as I watched him work his way through problems I knew he knew, second guessing himself and becoming flustered.
I was clearly disappointed, which upset him even more. Time was running out.
Somewhere along the way we both just quit. (Hence the hiding in bed and my head in my hands.) It’s embarrassing to admit this, but I’m guessing we’ve all had an all-time homeschooling low-point somewhere along the line. This was mine.
Eventually, I went into his room. We sat in silence together, all my frustrations and fears and doubts and discouragement just weighing heavily in the air. There are so many things about him I don’t understand.
Finally I suggested we go review the test together. He agreed, his head still hanging down, and he shuffled out of his room.
I sat there for a moment longer, praying, asking for insight to try to understand him. Then suddently I heard shouting,
“Mommy! Mommy! Come here quick! There’s a hummingbird in the house!”
Photo by Ken Bondy
I ran out to the dining room. There it was, a hummingbird flying frantically against our large picture-windows, trying to break free. He must have flown inside accidentally, and now the powerful, rapid flapping of his wings were loud against the glass. He darted up and down bumping into the window-frame corners.
I glanced around the house, trying to think of a solution, a box or a net, but didn’t know how we’d ever get it inside, it darted and fluttered so quickly. I didn’t know what to do.
“Mommy! I can do it! I can catch it!”
I looked at my boy, his eyes wide, his hands shaking with excitement. He loves birds, loves to study birds, watch birds, often pretends to be a bird (!). He’s my bird boy.
He leaned in, timid at first, and moved toward the hummingbird but then it darted the other direction. I watched his face, excited and scared and determined.
“You can do it, Dutch! I know you can. You always manage to catch the chickens. I know you can do this.”
He put out his hands a little farther, stronger, surer. He inched slowly, slowly in, then with a quick swish –thrust his hands out …
… and caught that hummingbird. The tiny creature stopped frantically flapping and lay perfectly still in his hands, the most amazing sight. He stared down in wonder, watching, then whispered into the air.
“I did it.”
We carefully walked out the door onto our second-story deck perched high in the trees. He carried the perfectly-still creature in his outstretched hands, over to the railing, then lifted up his arms as high as he could and thrust the tiny bird up into the air. In a split second the hummingbird’s wings burst into blurry-action and it took off like a shot into the open air, out above the trees, far above our heads, into the distant sky … wild and free.
Dutch stood there, silent, breathless, watching.
“I did it, Mommy.”
“You did it, Son. You saved the life of that bird. I knew you could do it.”
He broke into a wide grin.
“I did it! I saved his life! I’ve never held a wild bird before!”
He started walking around the deck, back and forth, talking a mile a minute, like his mind was suddenly uncorked and now rushed out with ideas, inspiration.
He talked about joy, about how to persevere through hard days, about the kingdom of God. Out of his little mouth flowed wisdom so far beyond his years, I sat and listened in wide-eyed wonderment. Just fifteen minutes before he’d been in tears staring at a test-sheet and despairing about long-division.
Like a bird stuck against a window-sill, desperate to be free.
Here, having touched nature and held life and done something that matters, his tears dried and his mind flew free, out into the open of endless possibilities.
I sat out there on the deck, beside him, watching his face, soaking in his steady stream of joyful observations. I saw it, of course, so clearly.
Tests have their place, but that place is small. Learning has its place, and that place is large. That place is life.
So we will learn about bubble-sheets and “none of the above” answers and why 3rd grade test-excerpts aren’t always the most historically accurate source of information.
But we won’t stay stuck there. We’ll touch nature and hold life and do things that matter.
We’ll pursue an education that cannot be summed up on a standardized test. And, most of all, I’ll never again surprise my poor son with a practice test on an already-difficult day.
Good grief. So glad the hummingbird saved the day.
How do you keep your perspective on the hard days? What has proven most helpful for you?