For all our family fun seeing the lights, the kids experienced tough love the next night. Family is important and the sentiment applies to the good times as well as the bad.

The boys have been losing privileges at home based on their grades. Things were supposed to get better. Nothing was changing. Just before Thanksgiving break one of Gavin’s teachers emailed me a request for him to stay after school with her a couple times a week. She was concerned about his academic performance in her class and wanted my permission for him to attend a tutoring session with her after school. I had to fill out a field trip form and everything to make it official.

I was looking forward to visiting with Parker’s teacher. He had been bringing home some unsatisfactory test scores. When Heath talked to him about it, Parker admitted he didn’t try on the tests. I wanted to see what his teacher had to say about Parker’s slipping grades. She didn’t say anything. Like all of the rest of his teachers, she gushed over what a great kid he is. I know! We love him too but he’s struggling in the classroom! What in the world is going on?

The meeting left me feeling very unhappy. This kid cannot continue to skate by in life on his charming personality. Either he doesn’t care to try or he’s not getting it. Which is it? No one ever seems willing to go there.

Heath and I have thrown the idea of a professional tutor around before. The talks resumed because we were feeling frustrated. Our boys are brilliant in their own right. I know we are biased as parents but they really are quite intelligent.

Gavin is a unicorn. Apparently that’s a business term for someone who is extremely talented in many fields. Not just that but talented in opposing fields. Like math as well as writing. Most people are good at one or the other. Gavin puts my writing skills to shame and eats numbers for breakfast. His standardized test scores are off the charts. I am amazed at his innate intelligence.

Parker can figure out anything he is motivated to learn. He was a precocious toddler that left us tearing our hair out on a daily basis. He was smarter than he was physically capable of being. After a while we ran out of places to hide things from him. Nothing was too high or too hidden or too locked. The kids all know if they can’t figure out the TV they ask Parker. Even I will ask for help if Heath isn’t home!

An emailed report that Gavin was failing sent me over the edge. So many questions! How can a kid fail Language Arts when he is brilliant at it? Why was the teacher acting like I wasn’t allowing him to stay after school with her? She had seen him five times after school at the time of the email. How had nothing changed? And why hadn’t she led this whole two week exchange with the news that he was failing? I felt blindsided in many ways.

Something needed to happen. It’s debatable whether we went about this the right way, but we ambushed the kids. I picked Gavin up from his after school session. As angry as I was I said nothing. I did nothing to lead him to believe he was about to lose everything he holds dear. I did ask him again what he does after school. Again he described those after school “tutoring” sessions as a quiet place to work. That’s it.

I called his teacher on it because I was so mad that she wasn’t doing more for him. It’s not exactly convenient for me to pick him up at 4:00 twice a week. I didn’t say that. I said that Gavin doesn’t say much but that was how he described things. She never did set the record straight. Her tone in her emails to me has become more distant and aloof. That only fuels my fire!

The kids were told to get ready to go out to eat. They were surprised and excited. Heath drove to the parking lot where Sylvan is. We had agreed we would get dinner first and then drop the bomb. He decided to rip off the Band-Aid right away. We walked into Sylvan where we met Sue, the unwitting moderator in our family standoff. The boys looked like they could not have felt worse about themselves.

I never intended for Sylvan to be a punishment. They sure took it that way. We have been hoping for improvements but nothing is changing. Therefore someone else needs to help us help the boys. What we are doing is not working. What they are doing is not working.

Gavin’s chin quivered when he answered Sue’s questions. He was brave and kept the tears at bay. Parker just put his head down and spoke so quietly you could barely hear him. Gwen, on the other hand, could not have been more excited to be in such a fun place! She was all smiles and enthusiasm. Sue got rid of her right away. She let Gwen go explore the transition table that was full of coloring pages and markers. Gwen was in little girl heaven.

Sue explained their token system, trying to sell the boys on the prizes they could buy with the tokens they earn. No prize could have soothed the searing pain in their minds. Gwen was thrilled by the trinkets on the shelves of the “store.” Unfortunately, Gwen is the only kid right now playing the school game. She can’t spell to save her life but she is a model student otherwise.

We didn’t talk long before taking the boys out of the fire and putting them back in the frying pan. Like lambs to their own slaughter, the boys followed us to the barbecue joint for dinner. Gavin forgave us quickly enough because he loves barbecue. Parker let his betrayal simmer. He claimed he hates barbecue. Dinner was a fairly quiet affair. Heath wouldn’t let me talk about anything until we got home.

After two separate conversations with the boys, we concluded that Gavin will not take the study skills test at Sylvan. Parker will take the math test. Gavin hates homework. He sounded like a mini me with his arguments against homework. All I could do was agree while reminding him it’s a fact of life and he still has to do it. I thought it was interesting that he admitted he would write silly answers on his math homework just to see what would happen. When the teacher didn’t say anything or even mark it wrong, Gavin knew the homework was a giant waste of time.

I appreciate his bold sleuthing but it’s still not okay. We told him to turn in honest work. He agreed he will start turning in his homework. I hope so. Why spend hours on something you don’t get credit for? I hope we got through to him that even though he’s bored in a lot of his classes, he still needs to play the game. The homework may feel like a waste of time but he still has to do it. He lost his technology privileges. We agreed if he can show us better study habits at home with better grades, we won’t make him do Sylvan.

Parker has complained about math enough that we are willing to pay the exorbitant fees to have Sylvan test him. Gavin is a chip off the old (father) block with his math habits. Being bored because no one else in the class can keep up. Not doing homework, etc. Parker is more like I was. I could barely keep my head above water when it came to math. We have the means to help him better understand so why wouldn’t we?

For now that’s where things stand. Parenting is not for the weak of heart. Sue put it best when she told the boys they are lucky to have parents who care enough to try interventions to help them succeed. They glowered then. Maybe one day they will agree. Family is there in good times and bad. As a result, barbecue may always taste like betrayal.