Family Ties

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 19, 2000

MARY ANN FITZMORRIS / L’Observateur / February 19, 2000

Ever since I left for school that day in the sixth grade carrying a book report on “The Three Little Pigs,” I’ve wondered why my mother allowed it.

And why the teacher accepted it. Now that I’ve had a little taste of this homework thing, I understand. The alternative, I think, might have been murder, which is illegal, of course, and certainly untoward, but in matters of homework not wholly undesirable. Call it justifiable homicide.At a recent awards ceremony for a mask contest, the emcee gave out the first prize with the witty comment, “This is what he looks like after a few hours of homework with Mom.” I couldn’t help but wonder what SHE looked like. That was probably too scary for children to see.

Now I realize all the horror stories I’ve ever heard about homework are absolutely true. But I suppose that depends on the type of kid you have. I’m not surprised that I have a kid like me, so I guess I must have picked up some biological science along the way, despite myself.

What I have learned this year, to my grave chagrin, is that I have TWO kids like me, so laziness must be a dominant gene like blue eyes. Did I get that right? I am shocked to discover this year that my lovely little girl, the one who has always made her own projects, is, too, only interested in her own projects. About mid-year her teacher mentioned she has had an extraordinary number of missed assignments for a kid her age.

Since she is always busy, I never felt it necessary to check up on her.

When the teacher informed me of this disappointing fact I approached my daughter for some answers.

Her response was startling and given in a high-pitched wail. “I don’t have time to do all that! By the time I come home, get settled, play, ride my bike, watch a little TV, have dinner and bathe, it’s time for bed. When do I have time to do it?” I see she picked up the family procrastination gene as well.

After that conversation with the teacher I realized the nightly aggravation of homework “prompting” should now include my daughter.

Homework must become a family thing. Up to this point I have focused entirely on my son.

The poor kid has an obvious thing against him. He’s a boy. By definition he hates to write. He hated to color. Now that he’s older, he hates to read, he hates math, he hates spelling, and above all, he hates penmanship.

To say he hates all assignments would be unfair. The ones marked “optional” are OK with him.

Like his parents, he is easily distracted. This kid is so easily distracted that spiders wrestling in the corner of the room could get his attention.

My job has been to shake him back to the homework.

This process is a six-hour ordeal. We begin shortly after arriving home. We do a math problem or two, annoy the cats, take a spin on the bike, irritate the little sister, put a few Legos together, and then Mom shouts, “HOMEWORK!” He’s back on the math. The routine repeats a hundred times until the lights go out.

Not long ago I discovered sitting with him and prodding him along problem by problem can cut this nightmare into a 30-minute span of torture. Even though I regard homework as their task, anything that can cut down on the shrieking of Mom is a good thing.

So we have begun a new chapter in the saga of nightly homework, where I act like a maternal version of Jiminy Cricket on his shoulder, motivating him through. This worked out beautifully, until little sis noticed the attention meter shifting in his direction.

The little girl who can figure out the eight grade LEAP questions in her head is now exceedingly dumb. “Mom, what’s four plus two?” she asks pathetically.

Homework has become easier, but I warn them this dependency on me is not good. They can’t take me to school with them. I could never fit in those desks.

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