My world for a short time revolved around a bottle of Coca Cola, back in the days when high fructose corn syrup could still be given as a reward to young children in public schools. That glass bottle, dripping with condensation, cold to the touch, is my first memory of multiplication.
I’m pretty sure there were flashcards and I must have taken the time to learn all of the answers through 12 times 12. But none of those pictures flash into my mind when thinking about 3rd grade. All I see is a clock made from construction paper hanging over a wooden desk, my desk. I see the numbers disappearing under stickers, and when the sticker finds its way over the 12, I see the Coke.
It’s not as if I lived in a restrictive household where sodas were banned. I drank them every day. But this Coke was special, given only after accomplishing the task of memorizing the multiplication tables and consumed in front of the rest of the class to both encourage and shame them. I was the first to drink the Coke in my class, a teacher’s kid, early over achiever. It was the peak of my mathematics career and I do not remember anything we learned in math after that until I almost failed 10th grade geometry.
But I do remember that Coke vividly, earning it and savoring it, sure I must have done something right and taking a moment just to sit back and enjoy it.
That’s why the multiplication party came to be. The same woman who can still reminisce and remember almost everything revolving around her one person math celebration when she was eight became a mom who doesn’t over do the frill. This mom also gave birth to a daughter who can live on frill, inhale it 24/7 and never get enough. So when this daughter started working on her multiplication facts, well, the mom knew the teacher should probably do something nice for that daughter when she finished.
The problem is, I’m the teacher. And the no-frills mom. And Wren somehow emerged from my womb expecting to be bathed daily in glitter and rhinestones.
As far as homeschool, my kids have a very chill life full of free time and random experiments that one time involved my entire kitchen table being covered in mud from the back yard. But they also work hard; they accomplish a lot. The no-frills side of me recognizes this, comments on it, but in a very low key way.
So my memories of the Coke experience seemed extra important, flashing into my mind as I handed over flashcards to Wren. That effective bribe started looking like what it really was: a prize for hard work, something to look forward to when the task was done. We had to learn to multiply anyway. My teacher paved the path to make the learning an uphill battle to something. Yes, of course, there’s the knowledge-on-the-other-side reward. But the Coke help sweetened the deal, so to speak.
High fructose corn syrup is not actually a reward in our house due to food allergies, so I started thinking of a way to celebrate the milestone once accomplished, to break out of my mode of always being low key and really take a minute to recognize an accomplishment thoroughly. Since Wren has been planning for her birthday party since February (her birthday is in December), I thought a party might work.
It did. Wren would have learned her multiplication anyway but she loved planning for the party. My favorite exchange associated with the party planning was the following:
Wren: Mom, Sammy has really been helping me with my flashcards and he is so good with food, so I’m going to let him be the menu planner for the party.
Me: Great! What are we having, Sam?
Sammy: Hot dogs.
Wren, screaming hysterically: See what I mean! He’s a genius!
So there were hot dogs and a pumpkin roll, two different kinds of chips and hummus. Grandma and Aunt Sherry came over. Balloons entertained the masses for hours. It was a hit.
And it was a reminder to praise the accomplishments of my kids. I’m not talking about giving them a prize every time they turn around. I don’t go for that. But to remember there are things in their lives that are big to them, just like the Coke was big to me. Don’t skip those. Take the time to enjoy. Capture the memories. As the mom, frills or not, that’s part of the job, and part of the pleasure.