Monday, May 04, 2015

Sitting and Thinking

     I wish I could say that this blog is going to be a well thought out, cohesive, clever piece of writing, but don't get your hopes up. I feel like I've been running around so much the last couple of weeks that I haven't had a chance to just sit and think. And at the risk of sounding like the human equivalent of Ferdinand the Bull, I like just sitting and thinking. I have a very active mental life, even if by all appearances, I am a bit of a slug. When I spend all my time doing, and not enough time thinking, it's no different than neglecting piles of paperwork until they slowly pile up and crowd me out of my office. My inner organizational system is all out of whack, and the synapses can't fire through the mental clutter.
     To draw out this metaphor to its absurdist limit, I have several blog topics attached to the piles with bright neon post-it notes, and every time I set foot in this inner office, they scream for attention. Yes, I suppose I could write a blog about the recent loss of our cat, how much I love animals, or how awesome my friends are, but I don't have the time or energy for the soul searching that would require. What I really want to do is send a not insubstantial bitch into the universe, asking why, for the love of god, did no one need me for a single solitary thing this winter, as the snow piled up and I literally had nothing to do, but now, when the weather is delightful, and I might enjoy crawling out of my (now too) warm bed and tackling house projects, writing, crafting, gardening, etc. that simply weren't feasible when I was grumpy and freezing to death two months ago, does it feel like I'm suddenly the world's beck and call girl? In and out of the house I go all day. Never a chance to sit down and regroup.
     I am already tired and tapped out from a morning of errand-running. An afternoon of chores. The tedium of stay-at-home motherhood has usually whipped into me into a frustrated frenzy by 3pm. And then the boys come home from school.
     I understand the importance of homework. I was a teacher once. I used to assign it. I'd like to think that I gave age appropriate assignments that my students could do independently. But I didn't have kids then, and maybe I didn't care. But the constant spelling tests, and book reports, and reading logs, and homework packets, and timed math fact practice quizzes are about to do me abso-fucking-lutely in.
     Have I mentioned that I am not a helicopter mom?  Maybe my greatest joy as a mother should be to sit with my children, lovingly supervising homework time, and relishing my children's natural intelligence and sense of curiosity. Maybe I should revel in every single solitary millisecond I can bask in the warm glow of their company. But I definitely do not. I frankly don't care how many seconds it takes John to complete his +6 addition facts. I don't want to sit there with my cell phone, timing him to under 2 minutes, or helping him figure out why Billy has 46 pencils and gave 13 of them to Susie. I. Don't. Care.
     Yeah, I know, I suck as a mother. Maybe it was a bad idea to have children in the first place. I should've limited myself to hamsters. But now we're stuck with each other. And as their mother (god help them) I believe homework is something I should see them doing, but not something I should be involved in.
     I have a master's degree, so I've spent about 9 years of my life doing homework. Sure, my mom was available to answer questions (or, as was more commonly the case, confuse the ever loving crap out of me), but she didn't plunk herself down at the table to spend an afternoon with me, learning my spelling words, timing my math facts, talking me through the finer plot points and main character's motivation in Diary of a Wimpy Kid, reminding me every 15 seconds to stay focused because there was a whole lot more homework waiting for me. Why not? Because I wasn't getting this damn much homework in elementary school! When I was assigned this much homework, I was older, and mature enough to keep up with my own assignments and homework schedule.
     If your child lacks the maturity to plan out their daily homework, and an adult needs their own spreadsheet to keep track of when everything is due, it's not age appropriate. And if the child's homework consists of mostly forced parental evaluation of their child (the spelling tests, the timed math facts, the reading logs, etc), then the homework goes from being the child's responsibility to the parent's. In the long run, that helps no one. And I resent being party to it.
     The Jackdaw book report this week was the thing that sent me over the ledge. (Don't know what a Jackdaw is? Look it up. I had to.)
     My third grader had 2 weeks to read a chapter book, find a container pertaining to the theme or settling of the book, fill it with found objects, drawings, cut out pictures, representative crafts, etc. that represented the events of the story, and then, on 3x5 notecards, write out all the main plot points of the story, and be prepared to give an oral report to the class on said book using the notecards and visual aids. The teachers attached a grading rubric to the back. It was like that scene from Office Space with the 40 pieces of flair. We could be total slack asses and earn 1 point for 2-3 items, sadly mediocre with 4-6 items for 2 points, or overachieving whiz kids with 7-10 items for 3 points. (Anything over 10 was apparently considered brown-nosing and earned no extra points.) They also let us know that it would be taking the place of the weekly reading log. Thank you so much for that.
     When I was in 6th grade, we had to do a peanut themed book report. There were specific directions, we had to write certain things on certain peanuts, cut them out, decorate the peanut can the peanuts were supposed to come in, and we had a couple of weeks to do it. I remember it being kind of stressful. I remember feeling anxious at crunch time. I remember reading the directions, and cutting out and decorating the peanuts. I had fun with it and it challenged me. It challenged me. Not my mother. I did it by myself. What a novel idea.
    I can certainly see the value in this Jackdaw thing--for a middle schooler. An older child could've had a lot of fun with it,  reading the book relatively quickly and spending a good week and a half reflecting on the themes of the book and gathering items together that represented the way they wanted to share the book with their classmates.
     But Sam didn't finish reading the book until yesterday because of the rest of the homework he has to do every day, and because he's not a particularly fast reader. He was totally overwhelmed by the requirements of the assignment (as anyone would) and was stressed out about coming up with 7 objects in his container (because we may be confused/apathetic/rage-filled at Chez Vandeputte, but slack asses we are not!). Earlier in the week, we worked on his notecards, and gleaning the main idea from each chapter (which is a challenge for an autistic child... but we'll ignore that rant for the time being), and we'd talked about the objects and container we might use for his project.  
     He'd choosen The BFG, so gathering the materials he wanted was a challenge, as we don't typically have giant-sized silver trumpets, snozzcumbers, frobscottle, or jars of dreams lying around the house. The poor child nearly had a panic attack when I took him to the Doller Tree for supplies. "But the teacher said we have to use stuff from home!" he wailed, panicked. This was supposed to be fun (I think?) and it did nothing but provoke anxiety on both our parts.
      Not giving a whit what the teacher thought at this point, and past the point of caring how this 3rd grade book report would be received, we loaded the cart with craft supplies, a "dream" jar, a glass bottle for the frobscottle, and a package of Boston Baked Bean candies (for human "beans") while I practiced meditative breathing in the check out aisle.
     The whole thing got slapped together at 9pm last night. I don't think Sam found any enjoyment in the assignment. He wasn't ready to delve into so much symbolism, and I'm not completely convinced he ever understood the point of the assignment (and for all my language arts education, neither did I). I spent hours working on it with him--hours that my house, my writing, and whatever John needed (that didn't take precedence over a 3rd grade book report with a goddamn rubric) went completely to shit. And for what?
     Sam is not going to have the same memories I have of my peanut report, because he couldn't take full ownership of it. And that makes me resentful as hell.
     I know how important down time is for me, and he and John are given no time for it (and therefore, neither am I). You know what I would love? A homework assignment like: go home, burn your homework folder, and use the flames to make s'mores with your mom.
     My poor children. Everything is rote to them. You learn the list. You memorize the facts. You follow the rubric. You stick to the schedule. It's no kind of life.  No one has downtime anymore. Not me, not Tom, not them. Maybe if they never get a taste of it, when they're older, they won't know what they're missing.
     But I can't accept that.
     Six more weeks has become my mantra. Then school is out and we all get a break. There will be no camps, no structure, no places we need to be. Just days stretching endlessly and time for doing nothing and everything.

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