Tonight, I made the mistake of having a wonderful evening with my children.
As soon as I left work, we hurried over to do the final walkthrough at the new townhouse I am purchasing on Friday (if all goes well…knock wood….spin three times etc). The realtor and Bunny and I watched from the big picture window as Pip ran laps around the yard. My realtor laughed, “This is why you picked this place.” He did summersaults, you guys. It was beautiful. A future of watching him do that makes up for the practically non-existent kitchen.
By the time we got home, it was going on 7pm. I had ordered a shipment of food from one of those companies that delivers ingredients and recipes to your door. I can't afford that kinda thing but I got a deep introductory discount so I thought we could have a great time and eat well for a week. Something special. The three of us cooked together. Pip measured coconut milk and tore basil leaves and read directions. He told me twice that cooking is fun. I taught Bunny how to hold a knife. She sliced vegetables and minced garlic.
We like to watch Master Chef Jr so we carefully plated our meals. The whole thing was supposed to take 30 minutes to cook. We are novices. It took us an hour. We had hoped to set a 30-minute timer and throw our hands up in the air when it sounded but that was clearly not to be. Still, the food looked beautiful and tasted fairly OK. We were pretty pleased with ourselves.
Once the dishes were cleared, we thought about homework for the first time. Eight-thirty is late to think of homework for the first time, I recognize, but I wonder, then, which part of our evening I should have cut out.
They ride the bus to my office and arrive no earlier than 4:20, no later than 4:35. I typically have a snack for them there that would more aptly be described as a light meal. They are always famished. By the time they get their food, eat their food, and clean up after themselves, it is time to start packing up to go.
We did the walkthrough from 5:15 to 6:15. I had forgotten the food at the office (I had it delivered there since I pretty much live there) so we ran back and got it and then drove home. We arrived home at 7, cooked for an hour, and ate.
Bunny announced that she had 5 poems to write plus her math. The math took a while. She was too tired to think clearly and she made a careless mistake that made the final answer incorrect. I was tired as well and I suggested she take it back to school with her attempt. She had clearly worked on it. She refused to stop if the answer was wrong. She said she’d be punished if she brought it in with the wrong answer.
Bunny can be overly dramatic and she is highly intimidated by adults in authority positions (other than her parents) so I am hoping this is not the case. It really better not be the case. Her teacher seems like a totally reasonable guy and I just can't imagine there being a punishment for trying and failing because, of course, that leads to an adult who is afraid to fail and, therefore, afraid to try. I'll investigate.
I talked her through it (not because I can do math but because I kept asking her to explain it to me because I truly didn’t get it and she ended up finding her mistake. I’m hoping she thought it was a brilliant parenting technique).
By this time, it was after 9pm. I needed to put Pip to bed so I left her there struggling to come up with 5 poems before the mandatory “lights-out-regardless-of-what-you-are-leaving-unfinished” clause of our parent/child contract was to be enforced.
I returned from Pip’s bedtime stories and lullabies (during which he begged me to lie down with him and then trapped me in his loft bed where I may have dozed off briefly) around 10pm. I had to crawl across his head to extract myself. Hope he’s OK.
Bunny had written two poems while I was in the other room.
I explained that even the poet laureate couldn’t write 5 poems in one night. She said she had been given 45 minutes in class to work on them but she had mistakenly written what her imagination gave her instead of following all the rules. (Don’t EVEN get me started on a tangent about that. Her ART was WRONG?! OK). She was proud of them but the Haiku wasn’t about nature and the limerick didn’t include two items from the list of required elements. She had wracked her brains trying to figure out how to squeeze a simile into it, or maybe some alliteration, but that task proved more difficult than starting from scratch. So she scrapped them both.
I occasionally find myself begging Bunny to turn in incomplete work. I know it sounds counterintuitive. It isn’t at all a lesson I ever wanted to teach. She's so incredibly responsible - so much more than I was. I want her to retain that quality. But, as her parent, I am responsible for every single tool she will take into her future. Not just the math skills and the literary skills but the life skills. And when I say life skills, I do mean holding a knife correctly and pre-heating an oven. But, more importantly, I mean knowing the importance of putting the work down and laughing with your family.
I get precious few hours with that little girl. As a divorced parent, I lose half my Saturdays and half my Sundays. I get the morning rush to get ready for school as I get ready for work. I get the evening rush of homework and meals and showers and bed. And I get two Saturdays and two Sundays per month.
It is precious.
I have to be able to make my time count.
There are 4 times throughout the entire month when I have the gift of 6.5 waking hours in a row with my children. Their teachers have 6.5 hours with them every single day. I’m sorry if I ruffle some feathers, but I really think that those are the hours when the schoolwork needs to happen.
Bunny went to bed tonight at 11pm with one more poem left to write. I am to get her up early tomorrow so she can write it before school. I’m just relieved that the typical half hour of mandatory reading was waived tonight or she would still be up.
I begged her, again, to please just show up to school with an unfinished assignment. I said that I would write to her teacher and explain that there simply wasn’t time for Bunny to complete her assignment AND be part of a family. Maybe I would explain that there will come a time when I will have to make hard rules for her safety. I will, someday, have to ground her or forbid something or do something otherwise harsh and parent-like in order to protect her from her own inexperience. When that time comes – with all the stomping and yelling and eye-rolling that puberty promises – I need her to have a database of memories of laughing and cooking, or scouring the Claire’s online catalogue for earrings she might someday buy (which is what she really WANTED to do tonight that we never did), or spending a lazy evening at the park or the beach in the chilly spring before the lifeguards show up to blow their whistles.
She told me she simply HAD to finish. She said she would be punished. Sigh....
I want her to be a great student. She already IS that. I want her understand the importance of her education and know how lucky she is to have the teachers and the resources she has. But even if she aces all that, and I think her teacher would agree when I say that she already has, it is a wildly incomplete existence without all the other stuff.
I know that there are studies that say that homework does more harm than good. There are educators and educational philosophies that take a firm stand against it. I’m not even gonna go there. I’m not talking about studies and philosophies.
I’m talking about snuggling and firefly catching and giggling about boys and movie nights and board games and making videos and impromptu dance performances and all the things that make up a good life that cannot be done on homework nights.
I don’t need a study to tell me that having those moments strengthens my bond with my children. Losing those moments weakens my family and there are times in life when a strong family might be all you have to fall back on.
Bunny’s homework will be complete tomorrow morning.
We didn’t get to snuggle once. We didn’t read a bedtime story together and I didn’t sing her the lullabies she typically requests.
But her homework will be done if that’s what matters.
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