School Days Past and Present Struggles (Homework Then and Now)

Last week, we looked at a typical morning in the lives of my children versus a typical morning in my own childhood. This week, I would like to look at an afternoon at my house today versus a typical afternoon in my formative years. As a parent, I’m sure you will notice the stark contrasts between the times and the behaviors of the children in the scenarios. You may even find similarities between this house and yours, as well as my childhood and your own.

Me: I walked home, just as I walked to school. It didn’t matter what the weather was. Everyone in my neighborhood walked to and from school. School wasn’t far from where we lived and the walk not only gave us exercise and fresh air, but it also prepared us for the rigors of homework, reading, and studying that we readily embraced when we arrived home.

Children: Immediately upon being released from school, the children nervously look around for my car. Sometimes I park a little further from the school than normal, which means it takes longer for the Miracles of Christ to see their transport and refuge. On those days, their collective sigh of relief is longer and louder. On other days, they realize there is no such refuge and they are forced to march miles (it’s more like a little less than one mile) uphill in punishing, unforgiving elements (sunshine and a light breeze) barefoot, tired, and hungry.

On other days, they are forced to march miles uphill in punishing, unforgiving elements barefoot, tired, and hungry.

Me: Upon returning home, I remove my shoes, hang up my jacket and place my bag in the hall, out of the way of anyone who may come or go through said hall. Kiss my mother and say, “Hello.” Proceed to the kitchen for an apple or other such healthy and delicious snack. Return to the hall for my bag and go upstairs to my room.

Children: Doors open before I can even stop the car. I slam on the brakes to make sure I don’t roll over any cherubs who are inspired by the weekend’s screening of “Marvel”. I follow the cherubs into the house, carrying their bags that were somehow forgotten in the car. When I reach the top of the stairs, I see the door is wide open, prompting me to hear my father’s voice in my head. (“What am I, heating the city of Lynn?”). I enter the house, close the door, and nearly trip over discarded jackets and sweatshirts that mark the path from the door, through the porch, to the kitchen.

As I enter the house, I hear the snack drawer being opened and slammed shut. I call to the Miracles of Christ to collect their bags and pick up their jackets they “forgot”. My gentle, loving voice is drowned out by the stampeding footsteps hauling it upstairs. Doggie cowers under a chair thinking a herd of elephants is coming after her. Kitty books it to the basement thinking it’s Doggie running after her.

Me: I’m at my desk with books and notebooks out, ready to tackle the intellectually stimulating exercises before me. Off to my side is my snack on a plate with a napkin. I spent the morning tidying up my space and I would hate to clutter it with any garbage. It would have wasted my efforts in the morning and delayed my afternoon duties.

A child sitting at a desk. Books, pencils, glasses, a clock, and an apple are on the desk.
A typical afternoon for me after school. Photo by Alexandr Podvalny on Pexels.com

Children: Pieces of torn granola bar and candy wrappers lead a trail upstairs, picking up where the jackets and sweatshirts leave off. The gate upstairs is wide open. Doggie, recovering from her trauma, sees the opening and gallops upstairs. I chase after her, hoping to catch her before she leaves some sort of surprise in my bedroom. I lead Doggie back downstairs into the yard and return upstairs where The Boy has something shoved in his mouth before I can ask what he’s eating and suggest something that won’t overload his delicate system with sugar that will amp him up far beyond bedtime. I remove work from his bag. He protests, saying he just finished school and needs a break before he is subjected to mental torture. (He has to add and then color the boxes based on the sum he added.) I go downstairs to let Doggie back in. The Oppressed is in the living room with The Gaggle watching a YouTube video of someone narrating someone else’s video. I wonder what I’m doing wrong with my life as the children explain to me the genius and high entertainment value of what is being offered. The Oppressed leaves the room under protest and complains about her arduous work that has been heaped upon her by uncaring, heartless teachers.

Meanwhile, The Boy is cursing my name as well as his evil teacher. He doesn’t want to color and refuses to fill the box, which is supposed to be red. He goes to every room of the house searching for that perfect shade of red that doesn’t exist in the box of crayons, pencils, and markers in his room. The crayon I find, marked “red” is the wrong one and I don’t know what I’m doing. In the middle of coloring, a sentence needing to be commuted by the governor, I ask about empty wrappers laying about the room. The Boy has no idea what I’m talking about and I need to be a kinder parent instead of one that enjoys forcing him to (wait for it) color in boxes.

The slave ship from "Ben Hur".
Homework at my house today

Me: Written exercises are done. Assignments are placed in proper books and notebooks. I go downstairs with my dish and napkin, discard garbage and napkin into the trash and place dish in dishwasher. Wash my hands and go back upstairs read and study.

Children: Homework is done. They never should have received so much, or any at all. One assignment is on a table. Another is on the dresser, of all places. Folder, provided specifically to keep assignments is in another room. No one can explain why. I take my place in the guard tower as the children place their work in the folder and put away the folder. The bags are placed by the door so they will be ready to go the next morning. The Oppressed is on the computer emailing Congress to ban homework assignments. The Boy is with her making sure his grievances concerning coloring are not forgotten.

Me: In my room reading and studying until called for dinner.

Children: Screen Time. Can’t be bothered to come to the kitchen to eat. They’re not hungry and have better things to do.

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Teaching the Children

Homeschooling for another day.
I try to help. They say, “No way!”
Instead they’d rather run away.

The start of yet another
productive morning

A morning meeting. Please sit still.
It’s important. Can’t you chill?
They leave the room. Run down the stairs.
They don’t sit still. They won’t. They can’t.
I’m just glad they’re wearing pants.

The door’s wide open. Of course it is.
It’s cold. Who cares? Not my kids.
I give a chase. Run down the flight.
I’m pouring something strong tonight.
Maybe bourbon. Maybe scotch.
I don’t know. It’s not yet lunch.

This may be needed tonight…

There are meetings. Log on Zoom,
Then get my kids back to their rooms
And sit them down. Now, pay attention.
It’s important. Did I mention
That what is being said, you’ll need
To finish your assignment, see?
Now, be good children and learn how.
It’s too early to think scotch right now.
Sit right down. There’s nothing to it.
You must anyway. Just sit and do it.

… or this.

“But, Dad,” they say. “It’s way too hard.
“I’m bored. Where’s my Pok√©mon cards?”

I don’t know and I don’t care.
I can’t hear ’bout life’s unfair.
You need to do your work today.
Get it done, then you can play.

They settle down. They read and write.
Then run like that word I can’t type.
I know we’re all adults right here,
But what if a little one sneaks near?
Mom! Dad! What does that say?
Nothing, Dear. Now go and play.

Their work is done. Lord, what a chore.
They flee from academic bores.
Again, forget to close the door.

Another day is done, at last.
The evening will pass by so fast.
I put the books and pens away.
I think of what comes the next day.
More of the same. More protesting.
More resistance and more jesting.
But I will help them, yet again.
I’ll help them see it to the end.
Reading, writing, Uncle Sam.
Daddy sure could use a dram.

Decisions, decisions

Child on the Go

“You know I can’t stand still.” – AC/DC

The chair is only in the room for decoration.

One of the complaints about baseball is that it takes too long to play. In Major League Baseball, steps have been taken to help speed things along. There were some people who didn’t like the batter stepping out of the box after each pitch. The pitcher would walk around the mound, blow on his hands, wipe sweat off his forehead, grab the resin bag, motion for the hot dog vendor to bring him something to eat, run to the bullpen to see if anyone wanted something. There were little things that were taking time away from the game itself.

I think of this as I tell you about my son, The Boy, who can take the simplest task and turn it into a union project that makes the Big Dig look like a quick run through a fast-food drive-thru. For my friends who do not live in Massachusetts, look up The Big Dig.

We’re still not sure what it is exactly that ails The Boy. It could be Ants in the Pants, hyperactivity, boredom. Pick something. We’re open to suggestions so we can identify it and treat it.

One of the Gaggle first noticed it about the boy. When the family sits down to dinner, it will be a matter of seconds before he is out of his seat, running around the table, playing with the cat. It has now reached the point where The Gaggle will watch the clock and let everyone know how long he was able to sit still.

This constant need for movement and inability to stay in one place is not just limited to the dinner table. One of the underlying issues of The Homework Wars involves Boy Genius’ stroll around the bedroom after writing one word. After two words, he needs a snack. Three merits a bathroom break. Four? He’s tired and he needs to lie down on his bed.

Math involves the same. He does one problem and he needs the bathroom. Wait. I haven’t dressed yet. I need breakfast. (I made it for him two hours ago.) He wants to check on Kitty. He wants to see if Doggie is okay. He just needs to lie down on the floor because David had five apples and gave two to Omar. The mental stress of that calculation may have wiped him out. He needs a nap and maybe a snack. Maybe he just needs to use the bathroom. His room is upstairs. He needs the bathroom in the basement, of course.

As I patiently await him to complete the four-word sentence he merely needs to copy, he laments over his unfair lot in life. He throws himself on the bed and wails to anyone in the house who will hear. He slaves everyday on his work. He works so hard but his father doesn’t know it. He wishes he had a nice dad. Other dads don’t make their sons do this. I remind him every kid in his class has the same assignment as him. Of course, that doesn’t matter. His classmates have nice parents.

Time for another nap. Not in his bed, though. This time, he needs to go downstairs and lay down on the couch. One of the Gaggle, done with their work, is watching TV. The Boy thinks he’s no one will notice him under a blanket. He is found and he runs back upstairs. Hopefully is hiding in his room… At his table… in front of his work with a pencil in his hand. We all have our dreams.

Math Problems

I try to help children with their homework. By helping, I mean I will help them find the answer. I refuse to give them the answer, much to the chagrin of The Oppressed and various members of The Gaggle.

There are times when I try to help children find the answer but they don’t want my help. They have the answer and it is right. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell them to check their work. I need to find other ways to get them to check their work.

One such incident occurred with The Oppressed. She was doing math homework and was confident she had done her homework without getting a single problem wrong. Part of doing their homework includes me, the taskmaster, checking their homework and (gasp!) making them correct their mistakes. The scars are many. The therapy will be expensive.

I told The Oppressed to go over one specific problem. She wouldn’t. She got all of her answers right and she is good to go.

This is a good time for me to mention The Oppressed has informed me she needs a cell phone to help her deal with the multiple challenges and demands of elementary school.

“Listen,” I say to her. “Are you sure this is the right answer?”

She is sure.

“Okay,” I say. “If all of these answers are right, then I am obviously wrong. If I am wrong, we will stop everything we are doing right now. We will drive to the mall and get you a cell phone.”

Her eyes lit up. She almost dropped her homework.

I continue. “We will get the newest, latest phone they have. We will get the biggest data plan they offer.”

She smiled wide.

“We will download the YouTube app and we will not leave the store until we have created an account for you.”

Christmas had arrived. All of her dreams had manifested. Everything she had possibly wanted was coming true. All in one night.

Alas, eight times eight does not equal 60. She was stuck with playing games on a phone I stopped using six or seven years ago and continues to be deprived.