Born Procrastinator, Part I

A family of six comes with all types.

I have a husband and a daughter who are superb planners. When confronted with a deadline three months away, they have the ability to instantly backtrack a project start date that makes allowances for events like hurricanes, tsunamis, and as yet unprecedented breakdowns in infrastructure.

I also have a son who is a procrastinator. When confronted with a deadline three months away, he has the ability to instantly determine the last possible start date by weighing the likelihoods of any such events as mentioned above and, also being a math whiz, calculating their expected value. He is usually right on the spot with a few seconds to spare.

To get an idea, let me tell you about German 303.

German 303 was the online language class he had to take as a senior to fulfill his language requirement for graduation. Expat life had stripped him of the necessary two years of a foreign language. Or, rather, the foreign language American school authorities saw fit to recognize. Somehow neither Zulu nor Afrikaans made the cut.

We let him take German II as a junior. Yes, German, his mother tongue, our concession to the role we played in putting him into that predicament. German I would have been too agonizing, but the trouble with German II was that there was no German III on offer from our school the next year.

Of all the ways he could have gotten the required German III credit, he chose German 303 as an independent study course at Brigham Young University, the highest possible university level German class in the program, if not the country.

So far, so good. The paperwork was signed in July 2014, the school year started in August, he was given an extra study hall period dedicated for this independent study course, and the deadline was graduation day – May 23, 2015. Nine long months to finish, eight modules plus one final exam, which came out to be about one module per month. If you wanted to look at it that way.

The hurdle between my son and this beautiful college campus: German 303

Except Zax didn’t want to look at it that way. He saw it as a lot of time stretching out in front of him with an extra hour every day to watch YouTube videos during his independent study period at school. What he heard loud and clear was “independent.” What he chose to ignore was “study.” This would be a really loooooong blog post if I was going to repeat all the conversations we had about his German class, but they all pretty much went like:

Me: “Have you worked on your German homework yet?”
Him: “I’ve started, yes.”
Me: “So how far have you gotten?”
Him: “I’ve read the introduction.”

Sometime in October he attempted (at my urging of course) the first task of the first module (eight tasks to each module). It was hard. It took a lot of time. Each module had him go through a long list of grammar exercises, then read a bunch of German newspapers and watch a lot of German TV, he had to analyze those articles and newscasts and commentate them, and then he had to write his own article on a similar topic and produce his own podcast, in the end tying it all together in his very own newspaper (he called it the “Hintertupfinger Anzeiger” – he’s not without a sense of humor). It was a tall task even for someone fluent in German like him. Even I struggled with the grammar at times, never having learned any rules of my native language.

Christmas break came and went, with a few more feeble forays into module two. By now the conversation was more to the tune of:

Me: “How far are you with your German class?”
Him: “I’m working on module three.”
Me: “Oh great, so you’ve uploaded one and two?”
Him: “No, not yet, I still have to finish some parts of those.”

I know I know, this makes me sound like the mother of a sixth grader. Not that I ever had to ask those questions of my 6th grade girls, mind you. In my defense, by early 2015 I had gotten some tentative inquiries from his high school counselor, wondering what the status was. I’m sure she knew him well enough to double check. I felt a sense of duty to report back with some semblance of progress.

When spring break approached, I saw fit to bring some mathematical calculations to my aid. He likes math, this would speak to him, loud and clear.

“Let’s say you need to be finished by April 30,” I said, “to leave some extra time for grading and paperwork. By my calculations that puts you on pace for one of those modules each week, about one task from each module per day.”

Easy peasy, you’d think, but oh no, my procrastinator son knew better. He had a date in mind, graduation on May 23, 2015, and he was going to be finished by then. Plenty of time to get started for real!

More time passed, and the pace was far from one module per week. But conceding that time was indeed getting a bit tight, Zax quit his lifeguarding job. He started sitting down every night to work on his German. Which was great, except it was a lot more work than he thought, and he also had AP exams to deal with at the same time. Ever so slowly, he uploaded his finished work to BYU, and immediately the graduate assistant assigned to him would grade it.

By the end of April there was still a lot of unfinished and ungraded work sitting in his file.

“Don’t worry,” Zax said. “I’ll be finished before graduation.”

His counselor emailed me. I could detect a slight note of panic in her prose.

“Don’t worry,” he told the counselor when I sent him to talk to her, “I’ve got it under control.”

– End of Part I –

Will he finish the German class in time? Read on