My Favorite Number


“Mommy, one is my favorite number. You know why? Because there is only one of ME!”

My son got his first real week of assignments back.


He got check minuses for not coloring perfectly within the lines. And check minuses for not writing his letters perfectly. And a check minus for insisting on writing his name backwards all the time.

This is his first year in a formal school setting. He has not really practiced writing his letters extensively to this point. They are legible. But after three attempts he is not going to have perfect form drawing a B.

I love my kid. I think he is terribly smart.

So I am struggling with check minuses for my perfect boy. The baby that I did not even know that I wanted.

Part of me wants to make him spend the long Labor Day weekend practicing letters and coloring in the lines until he gets it right. I have to remind myself that he is FOUR and it is not necessary to have perfection at this point in his life.

Still. I want everyone else to see and appreciate the perfection I see in him.

It makes me sad that he will be judged from now on based on someone else’s ideals. This is why I grieve for him. Not because of school itself but rather because it is an allegory for the unfairness of life that will be foisted upon him and because I, like all mothers, will be defenseless to protect him in the end.


47 thoughts on “My Favorite Number

  1. It’s fantastically wonderful how much you love him ❀
    Apologies, but what exactly are check minuses? (I've not heard of them.)


  2. Okay, so now I’m really confused. My wife teaches first year University in an English department, as well as Milton and Shakespeare. Each succesive year the students are dumber than the year before. It is at the point now where students are graduating high school with top honours and are illiterate. She has colleagues all over North America and the U.K. and this epidemic is happening there as well. So stupid, the jaw drops. To the floor. I have friends who tell me they teach to only two to four students who have potential in a class of twenty or thirty. And yet children are being submitted to larger work loads, and at what seems to be at an incredibly young age. And I’ve heard this for a years now about children in elementary school being given massive amounts of homework on a daily basis. And yet these kids are far, far, less educated, curious, posses diminished intellects, cannot write, and saddest of all cannot decipher even the simplest literary puzzle. My fear would be your son is being made to work hard, not smart.


    • I am worried, after two weeks of school, that the spark will leave him. He can recite the days of the week, the seasons, and months of the year in order. He can spell “red”, among other words. And he is learning Spanish and music. Now I am wondering if I made the wrong choice. I don’t want him to lose that creative spark now so he is incapable of thinking critically in high school and college. Maybe I am just being overly dramatic because of a few check minuses early in his career?


      • I understand that completely. I talk about this with my wife and friends who all grew up in the 70’s. A big part our childhood was our parents did not want to spend much, if any, time with us, nor did we want to spend much time with our parents. I didn’t really like my parents so this not a problem (and to this day I find it bizzare when children want to spend a shitload of time with their parents). But anyway, that meant we spent vast amounts of time in the company of other children and we were forced to amuse ourselves. We created our own structures, social groups, got our own food, practiced first aid, read, invented games, told stories, faught, experimented, had laws and regulations, and we did everything without adult supervision. Getting a ride to the mall in a car was a massive deal. This environment no longer exists. Could you imagine this happening today? Everyone would be hauled off to a re-education camp. But I wonder if it was that particular environment that fostered curiousity, imagination, and critical thinking skills.


      • Admittedly I have not done a ton of research into this, but the gist of what I have come across suggests that yes, kids have too much structure and that free play like you and I had is crucial to development. There was another comment about a TED talk from a blogger (Vontoast) that I now intend to investigate…


    • It is something I don’t get. Working smart doesn’t always work. Not everyone is gifted with an amazing intellect – I wasn’t. I don’t know where I would be if I was taught the UK/USA way..I had to learn to work very hard to succeed. In all honesty, the way I see it is that if you don’t instill hard work at an early age, don’t expect it to grow overnight without exceptional failures and a lot of pain. But then, maybe that’s the French way. 30 pupils is standard, teachers learn to manage differently (ie children can’t behave and be as free as they would if there were only 10 in the classroom) and everyone understand that the teacher is 1 pers so one will never have the amount of attention a parent would give him. And that’s okay, the role of a teacher is to teach not nurture imho. But there is a clear contrast in the French way and the USA/UK. I don’t think it is bad to spend a sunday at 4y practicing how to write properly. Not everything school related will be fun in life. No point trying to hide it haha He is lucky he has you. You seem like a good mother to him πŸ™‚


      • Well, we will see what his opinion of me is at age 17! πŸ˜‰ Meanwhile, I am interested in the French way of educating. How do you think boys fair in that environment? Is it harder for them? Are kids in all day preschools? How much free time is there?


      • In France most children go at nursery from 2,5 months old from 7am to 7pm if parents take time off but you can go in as early as 1 month. So children are used to that structure and long days outside of their home. This is what you call pre school and it only last until you are 3. I think until 2 you can still do half day after that you have to at least stay from 8am to 4pm.
        So what your child is doing at 4, in France, you are usually doing it earlier.

        Boys and girls are fine. There isn’t that holitic emphasis on being well, nurtured etc. I mean, it is school, you buckle up and go through it xD
        As long as you develop as expected, then that’s good. When you don’t, either you are lucky and the school tries to help or you suffer your way through bad grades until eventually you make it, or your parents pay for a private education and a more nurturing environment. There is very little, if at all, emphasis on mental wellness (ie no special treatment for student facing anxiety, dyslexia or any other stuff). It is a sink or swim mentality.

        From 3 years old, normal/proper school starts – this is what you call kindergarten – and in France it is from 8am-4.30pm now with most people staying from 4.30pm-6.30pm until their parents retrieve them. There is a 15min break at mid morning and mind afternoon and a 2h lunch break during the day and except for if you go back home for lunch, people eat at the canteen (which unlike in the UK/USA is usually VERY good and usually stays that way until the end of high school). There, they do some activities/artsy stuff. They recently changed that last year to begin to incorporate the artsy bit during the day, shorten the school day etc. It is not going so hot atm. Usually there was some homework involved in the later years (at 4-5 years old) which should take 30min everyday.
        There used to be no classes on Wednesday afternoon but longer days. They changed this so Wednesday afternoon is artsy/sport stuff and normal day finishes at 4.30pm now.
        Oh and you have to stay the entire day.

        I mean you don’t go to school to get free time so the 2x 30min break before 3 years old ans the 2x 15min break after 3 should be enough….


      • I can appreciate what you are saying. Working hard was something I had to do from a very early age because I was not gifted with a fantastic intellect, in fact I failed grade three largely due to some developmental problems stemming from my mother drinking like a sailor on shore leave while she was pregnant with me. I learned early to compensate for these dificiences and I was gifted with a fantastic memory for anything I read. But I had to learn by rote every times table because the part of my brain that is responsible for math and languages does not work. So for much of my schooling I had to work very hard. But my concern is the overstructured environment children of this generation are marinated in. I see this as a form of coddling that stifles creativity and critical thinking because every need is met and every decision is made for the child. So, by the time they get to University they are expected to form arguments based on ideas that they should form on their own but are unable to because that skill has been so muted. I do understand what you are saying about hard work though. And mostly I’m forming my thesis anecdotally from own experience and much of my conclusions are based on my own limited experience.


      • Oh yes I understand that. It really depends on the culture. In the UK children are used to question everything and even encouraged to stay stupid things just so that they “participate”. At Uni some people would just ask the dumbest thing and the teacher would just smile and explain again something that could be looked up. It is the same at the hospital sometimes abd unluckily for them, some consultants just don’t have the time for that rubbish. In France you better have something brilliant to stay to disturb the class and “challenge” the teacher. So the way they taught ys was that, before even thinking of being critical you had to know your subject to a T, confront them with other profesional’s work/pioneers and then you would be able to attempt to question it. But it is a difference of culture. So we usually don’t start properly questioning concepts and things before we have some experience/a LOT of reading under our belts.


  3. I read the first line and read it originally as “Mommy is my favourite number…” and I thought how nice. πŸ™‚
    Have you seen Sir Ken Robinson’s Tedtalk on education and creativity?


  4. WHAT!?!?! No grades! Not yet! I’m a firm believer in intrinsic motivation. I don’t think kids should start getting grades until middle school. By the way, drawing your name backwards is exactly what he should be doing in pre-k, it’s developmentally normal. I “homeschooled” (read books) my son until 6 (kindergarten), I worked very hard on drilling the perfectionist out of him. Letting him be ok with coloring outside the lines and erasing a drawing to do it over again. Death to the check-minus!!!


  5. Been through it. Well, not really. We chose another way. Waldorf School until high school. Kids loved it and they did very well after they left. Excelled in high school and college. Check it out if you are anxious about people making your son color in between the lines.


  6. That’s unbelievable! When my son started kindergarten, after one week, the teacher told me he would likely fail because he couldn’t cut a straight line! I went right to the principal and it wasn’t long before she was fired. Your son is there to learn, but he’s just a baby and brand new at it. She needs to lighten up and boost his ego before she shoots him down like that. I can tell you from experience that a teacher like that can affect his entire school experience. Give him a big hug for me please. ❀ Enjoy your weekend! πŸ™‚


  7. Sometimes, you just need to color outside the lines and write backward . . . most schools seem utterly unaware of this :o) With the introduction of common core and all the blah, blah, blah, the schools are so very different now than when my kids were young. Let them be little while they are learning to grow, my kids learned best this way.

    What I know –

    Minuses and pluses will be forgotten, mommy putting them on the fridge no matter the mark will not.

    The world, even in elementary, is unfair and these lessons will be learned in school and on the playground and as long as they have a soft place to land and decompress, home is the place they will learn to deal with it all. In so many ways the best time to learn these lessons we wish they didn’t have to learn is when they are young and have a hand to hold as they navigate through each experience.

    It’s okay to get less than perfect marks even when you’ve tried your best, knowing how to learn from them is the greatest lesson they teach.

    Most of the real learning comes at the end of the day when mommy helps make sense of the disappointments and the successes and how to learn from them both.

    If it was not nearly 1 in the morning my thoughts would likely make more sense, the important thing to remember is you are the most important teacher he will ever have and no matter what he goes through at school, he will learn and grow from every moment as long as you are there to guide him through it all . . .


  8. Sorry to hear that. You are right–perfection is not necessary at the age of four; exploring and discovering are. That was how my son started kindergarten too. Within a week he hated going to school. He had trouble cutting and pasting and grew frustrated, and yet he was advanced in math, but they weren’t covering anything like that yet. To make a long story short, I discovered a Montessori school. What a wonderful philosophy toward learning. We switched over, and both my sons attended until eighth grade. By then they were ready for a more traditional environment, but Montessori served them well, and they’re thriving in high school.

    Good luck with things. As another commenter said, as a parent, you’ll have the greatest influence on him, and through you he can learn that not everything has to stay within the lines!


  9. Hmm. When they are very young they are extensions of us still. Those checks and minuses we feel resonate through us, our presentation to the world: our child.

    Yet we must allow them to fail, for how will they learn graciousness in failure, or how to stand up again? I feel we have lost sight of the fact that life is tough and we no longer prepare our children for the reality of that. Hard work is often required, and goes unappreciated, often unremarked. They need to know this. There also must be a safe place for coloring outside of the lines, just to simply see what it looks like, experience creativity. The balance of retaining creativity while being prepared for the rigid reality of adult life seems a difficult spot to find. Perhaps that is simply the price to pay in exchange for compulsory education.

    My oldest grandson started Pre-K this week. My daughter is spending the weekend on his skillset in reading πŸ˜‰ It is an interesting cycle to watch. One of my favorite quotes:
    “Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with dry, uninspiring books on algebra, history, etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the ‘creative bug’ is just a wee voice telling you, ‘I’d like my crayons back, please.” Hugh MacLeod

    This too, shall pass πŸ™‚


      • Yes, and it was from a very young age. All I remembered was that discipline was important and praises were rare and only given when deserved. Punishment was swift for not doing my best. I remembered getting a B for drawing, and my dad said that it was good effort. I nearly died of shock as I was trying to drum up the courage to tell him I had a B amongst all the A+ i got. I suspected that he knew I had no talent in drawing and that I tried my best.


      • Probably not. It’s entrenched in my head that if I hadn’t done my best, I am not worthy! It can be a curse but it is also the drive that got me here against many odds. I don’t know of any other childhood apart from the one I have experienced, and I definitely did not envy other children because I knew I was a lot more accomplished than they were and I took pride in my achievements because my parents did.


      • No worries πŸ™‚ there will come a time when practicing letters and coloring will be necessary, but I would let the four year old be the four year old! When he does it at 6, you will just have to tell him that he’s now a big boy and need to do it properly! That’s my five cents’ worth!


      • Your last sentence: this so much. When I look at my peers here in the UK, I feel lucky I was pushed as much as you were because those who have lived in la la land with parents who never wanted them to fail, always putting the blame on the teacher (even now at uni) with stupid saying like “they don’t see your worth.”/”you don’t have to perfectly nail this at that stage” (when will they?) And blabla, well those are still not doing well because their inner circles keep telling them that they are not the failure/the problem/they work hard (even when they don’t)/they are doing their best (more like they are barely trying) etc. I do not see how good it can be to always try to protect the child from his own failure and shortcoming. That gives entitled teenagers/adult/students who are never wrong and who surestimate their worth. I am pretty sure you see a lot of those at the hospital…


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