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75 and Sunny: A Perfect Day to Make Spanish Flashcards

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At twelve, you’re on the blistering edge of the brilliant world of grown-ups. You feel restless, awkward, and irritable, to say nothing of growing pains. You care more about what your friends think than about what your teachers or parents say. (In fact, your parents are now idiotic and don’t know a thing.) You ache to be independent, yet you have no money and can’t drive, so you still need to live at home. Meanwhile, your parents laugh at the things that come out of your mouth and at how you dress. They might even think you’re obstinate, careless, and overly sensitive (in most cases, you probably are).

We’re a month into the school year. Or at least my son is. Based on how cranky junior high is making me so far, you’d think I was in seventh grade myself.

At his Open House this week, I received a brochure entitled Seventh Graders: Common Developmental Characteristics of eleven, twelve, and thirteen-year-olds. Guess what? All of this seventh-grade strife is spelled out right there in black and white. Ten easy bullets to understanding the hormone-laden boy in the other room!

Sure, there are a few exceptions to generalizations about adolescents—there’s the indigo children, for example. And then there’s Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama—they must have been more evolved at twelve than most children from the Western world.

This week was the pinnacle of the school year to date. My son Duncan actually had to go to detention because of four missing Spanish assignments. Four! Yes, detention! Am I going to hear next that he stole erasers from the school store?

And why did he miss four assignments in only three weeks of school? Fortunately, I found out it was for a legitimate reason.

“Uh … I forgot,” he said.

Forgot what? Forgot he had homework? Forgot he was in seventh grade? Forgot he can’t pull a wand from his robe and make his teachers (or his mother) go away?

This kid has taken Spanish since first grade. Five years in a private Catholic School and one year in public. All I can conclude is he had way too many years of Muzzy and not enough accountability. Clearly. He got a 47 on his first quiz, which covered sophisticated phrases such as “Me llamo Duncan,” “Gracias,” and “Buenos noches.”

His teacher emailed me last night (love that technology—no more waiting for a parent-teacher conference to find out your kid is a rogue). She said he missed another assignment that was due yesterday, even after having detention this week. Does that fall under the bullet point in the brochure that says, “Careless with ‘unimportant’ things such as cleaning their room and keeping track of assignments”?

This time, Pop Warner’s on the line. I told Duncan if he doesn’t get his act together this weekend and adequately prepare for two Spanish quizzes this week, then his dad and I are going to bench him Sunday. We even asked his coach to give him a pep talk, now that we read the part of the brochure that says kids of this age are “more willing to accept guidance from adults other than teachers or parents.”

It seems pretty simple: A teacher tells you that you have an assignment. You write it in your planner under the day it’s due. Sometime before that date, you do it. No rocket science here.

But then again, adolescents’ brains aren’t fully developed in the ways that adults’ are. My friend Erica narrowed her oldest son’s to-do-list down to three things every morning: 1) Open his shade, and 2) Make his bed, and 3) Pick up his towel.

His average is about a .346—most days, he manages only one or two. Just enough to make you want to bang your head against the radiator.

There is salvation on the horizon. Last night, Duncan discovered a games website where you can play “Hangman” and “Battleship,” studying Spanish terms as you play. He got up at 6:30 a.m. this morning to play “Concentration” in Spanish. Of course, he lost his electronic privileges two weeks ago so he’s excited to even touch the computer, even if it is for school.

What do I remember from seventh grade? I remember asking my mother if I could shave my legs. I remember a kid in my class pretending to sell cold medicine as a street drug. I went to dances on Friday nights and swayed to “Stairway to Heaven” in the cafeteria, putting my hands in the rear pockets of whomever my boyfriend was at the time. That’s about all I remember. Hopefully this year will make more of an impression on Duncan and he might at least remember how to say, “Amo a mi madre.”

I did find one other useful tip in fine print on the brochure: “The characteristics in this pamphlet are based on research in children in European and U.S. schools. Children growing up in other cultures may show different developmental patterns.”

Now there’s an idea. We’ll move to Taipei. Or maybe Fiji. There, in a different culture, my son will transform before my eyes. He’ll make his bed, open his shade, pick up his towel, and do his homework. Instead of going to detention, he’ll gather exotic fruits for the poor.

Could there be such a place?

One more detention and I’m packing his Axe bodywash in a one-quart Ziploc and we are on our way.

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