Matt Archbold graduated from Saint Joseph’s University in 1995. He is a former journalist who left the newspaper business to raise his five children. He writes for the Creative Minority Report.
My eight year old, unlike my other children, needs to be cajoled, coddled, and complimented into learning. I don’t cajole, coddle or compliment well. Her grades are good but it just seems more difficult to get there.
All the children have finals this week, starting with Religion and English on Wednesday.
Here’s the timeline of the past week:
Thursday: The study guide comes home. We jump right in. They sit at the kitchen table memorizing and I quiz them. Some right. Some wrong. But it’s the first day. The eight year old got many right but she called the Assumption of Mary the “Intention of Mary.” I corrected her and she nodded her head.
Internal thoughts: I’m an awesome Dad. Prepared. Organized. Awesome.
Friday: We’ve got an hour to kill before going to the church fair so I announce that we should all take out our study guides. Groans. But they all sit at the dining room table and chat a little but mostly study. I quiz them and they’re doing great. We get to Mary’s feast days for the eight year old and she’s rattling off the Solemnity, Mary’s birthday, the Immaculate Conception and then she says, “The Inception of Mary is on August 15th.”
Wait, I said. Think about the word. You’ve got the date right but the word wrong. Think.
As soon as I tell her this I might as well tell her to grow wings and fly because there’s more chance of that than her coming up with the right answer as I’m staring at her. She doesn’t respond well to being challenged. So I downshift and I simply tell her that the word is “Assumption.” She says “Oh yeah.” We smile and she goes off. Remembering the whole cajole and compliment thing I tell her she’s doing great and I’m proud of her. She comes back and gives me a hug. And then I can’t help myself. In mid hug I ask her, “What’s the word?”
I feel her tighten up. I feel guilty. I feel like I hugged under false pretenses. She releases the hug, looks up in the sky and says…ANNUNCIATION?
No. No. No. The word is “Assumption.” Say it ten times, I tell her. Cajoling and complimenting have now left the building. Hammering the word into her head is now official Archbold policy.
She says: Assumption. Assumption. Assumption. Assumption…(you get the idea)
Internal Thought: OK. We’re good. I’m OK here. She’s got four pages memorized and one little word is no biggie. I’m still feeling good.
Saturday: We didn’t study.
Internal Thought: What? I’m not a monster.
Sunday: We study for the Math tests they’re going to have on Thursday because I want to get a jump on those. And then we breezily review their religion study sheets. They’re dancing as I’m quizzing them. When they get the answers right they say “Bam” or “Booyah.” We’re having fun with it. They have it so down that they’re pretending they can’t remember some of the answers just to build suspense before they “Bam” and “Booyah” the answer on me. I asked the eight year old for the Feast days of Mary and she’s got them down until…instead of saying the Solemnity of Mary she now says “The Spontaneity of Mary” and instead of “Assumption” she says, “Intention.”
Uh-oh. The verbiage infection is spreading.
I decide that perhaps this is all because she doesn’t know the actual words. So I’m going to expand her horizon and put it all in context. So I sit down with her and I open the dictionary to “Assumption.” She starts reading the definitions: presumptuousness, effrontery, arrogance, supposition, presumption.
Just my luck. We’ve got an atheist dictionary. I close the dictionary. Never mind that.
Within a minute I’m standing on the chair pretending to be “assumed” into Heaven and believe me it would take a lot of assuming to get me to Heaven. The kids are all laughing at me.
Internal Thoughts: I stink. And we might need a new kitchen chair.
Monday: When asked she says with smiling confidence: “The Presumption of Mary!”
Internal Thought: I have messed this child up irreversibly. For the rest of her life, she’ll be going to church on August 15th for reasons beyond her understanding.
Tuesday: She knows everything for her religion and her English tests. Everything…except she says “The Adoption of Mary.”
I’m about to pull my hair out. I explain to her slowly like I’m talking someone through disarming a bomb that tomorrow is the final exam. My ten year old snarkily suggests that getting one wrong on a final isn’t the end of the world. But I can’t rest. I line up all the kids and have them march around the house singing like a bunch of little Zero Mostel’s “Assumption Assumption” to the tune of “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof.
They’re laughing and singing “Assumption” and falling all over each other.
Yup. I’ve lost it.
Internal Thought: Maybe I should write the word Assumption on an old t-shirt. Or paint the word on the wall…
Wednesday: I wake up the girls. The eight year old is on the bottom bunk so I poke her with my feet as I’m shaking the seven year old who could sleep on a picket fence. The eight year old opens her eyes and looks at me. She smiles and says “The Assumption of Mary. August 15th.”
The girls walk down the stairs singing the “Assumption” song. The boy hears it from across the hall and bounds out of bed singing “Assumption” and catches up to them.
I drop them off, tell them I love them and wish them luck on their tests. And I couldn’t help but ask the eight year old, “What’s the word?” as she started walking away. But she just smiled confidently and walked into school.
After school the eight year old smiles and says she thinks she did really well on her religion final. “And guess what?” she said.
“Assumption wasn’t even one of the questions.”