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A teachable moment

Posted: December 8, 2012 - 1:10pm

My wife is a professional educator. She has a master’s degree, a slew of continuing education credits and close to 20 years of classroom experience. She has read extensively on the latest brain research in an effort to be the most effective teacher she can be.

However, she is having some troubles figuring out the inner workings of the middle school-age boy’s mind.

Which isn’t to say she hasn’t tried. A few months back, she was lecturing me on just that topic. I had lost my cool with our sixth-grade son. In pushing his chair back from the table, he was banging in to the brand new, freshly installed baseboard heater covers. The first time, I asked him to watch what he was doing. The second time, I asked, perhaps a little more firmly. The third time, I raised my voice and told him he needed to pay attention, to which he replied, “I don’t have eyes in the back of my head.”

That’s when I lost it and sent him to his room. Then I got the lecture on brain science studies, and how young people process — or don’t — all the information streaming into their heads.

“You need to take it easy on him,” my wife told me. “All the research says that his brain is not fully developed yet.”

So, it was not without a little bit of irony that I had to talk her down this week when she called me at work, hopping mad. She had started some chicken breasts in the slow cooker that morning, letting them simmer in an enchilada sauce for the day. The idea was that by the time we all got home for dinner, we’d have some tasty shredded chicken to wrap up in tortillas.

My son’s job was to add some onions, peppers and corn to the chicken when he got home from school. My wife left the ingredients in a container in the refrigerator for him; all he had to do was pour them into the pot.

Unfortunately, she also left a bowl of cubed chicken in the fridge, marinating in some teriyaki sauce for a stir-fry the next night. Now, marinating chicken doesn’t really resemble corn, peppers and onions, but I guess young minds don’t always process that information properly, and the teriyaki chicken went into the slow cooker.

“Calm down, he just made a mistake. It happens. What would you like me to pick up on the way home?”

“We’ll make do with what we have here,” was the reply.

“What do we have there?”

“Nothing! He ruined dinner for the next two nights!”

I’m becoming somewhat skeptical of her still-developing brain theory. I’m basing my theory on first-hand experience, though, not scientific research.

First off, any time my son does something that strays into knucklehead territory, he will immediately say, “Don’t blame me, my brain’s not fully developed.” I’m pretty sure that if you’re cognizant of it, you can’t use it as an excuse.

And I certainly can remember plenty of clueless moments from my middle school days. In fact, I remember one cooking gaffe in which I baked a cake with about 3 1/2 cups of vegetable oil in it. Hey, if the recipe my mom left had called for water, why did she write “H2O” on the card?

But I’m pretty sure that I’ve had plenty of “don’t blame me, my brain’s not fully developed” moments since then. Just last week, I took a trip to the local home improvement store to pick up a trap for under the sink. And I came home with several useful items, none of which had anything to do with the trap under the sink.

According to the scientists, my son’s brain will continue to develop over the next few years, and he will develop a greater capacity for reason, judgement and insight. Which means that, for the time being, I’ll be keeping some frozen dinners stashed in the freezer. And I’ll have to keep a tub of spackle on hand, to patch up the dings in the walls he can’t see without eyes in the back of his head.

No big deal — I have to stop at the home center on the way home for a trap for the sink anyway.

Clarion editor Will Morrow can be reached at will.morrow@peninsulaclarion.com.

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