The Motherlode of Homework
Am I smarter than a fifth- grader? Youth wants to know. Or, if not youth per se, at least the band of precocious cutie- pies on the new game show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th- Grader?” And so I say: Glad you asked! Yes, in fact, I am smarter than a fifth- grader, and that is because my daughter is a sixthgrader.
Every afternoon my daughter comes home with a new truckload of work in social studies, math, reading and science that has to be transformed into a sheaf of accurate, neat and above all creative output by the next morning, even if it is an “ American Idol” night. I don’t mean to embarrass her with this disclosure, but unlike others of her demographic, she is mortal and often can’t perform this straw- into- gold- like feat without parental intervention.
Can I deny that I have derived a sense of pride from my efforts? I cannot. Like so many adults, I spend long hours doing work that does not require an intimate knowledge of absolutely everything in the world. I typically devote my free time to gossiping about my friends, none of whom are famous enough to be featured in a game- show question. If not for my daughter’s homework, I might have forgotten vast stores of information including but not limited to the value of pi.
Instead, I am a Renaissance Mommy. I can enjoy many quiet moments feeling superior to my televised fellow grown- ups as they struggle over test items about triangles and trapezoids, polar bears and penguins. ( No, polar bears do not feed on penguins. They inhabit opposite ends of the Earth, you mortgage- obsessed fool!)
And consider the exhilarating adrenaline rush as the nightly deadline approaches. It’s T- minus 60 minutes — that is, 8 p. m., just one hour before “ American Idol” — and my girl still has to do a double- sided math worksheet and read two more chapters in one of those novels they keep assigning about bad things that have happened in history. In addition, she must digest a social studies handout about ancient Egyptian religion so that she can write an article for a hypothetical ancient Egyptian newspaper about the activities of the ancient Egyptian gods.
Of course, in an ideal world she would brush her teeth and change into her pajamas as well, but I know that she can shave crucial minutes off her time if she completes those tasks during the lengthy “ Idol” commercial breaks. I have also counseled her to do the ancient- Egyptian- newspaper- article thing in the morning.
At 8: 35 we are heading into the home stretch. She has given me her math work- sheet to check and is speed- reading her book. The characters are languishing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Maybe they will drown and maybe they won’t.
Meanwhile, I zip through the math, finding very few mistakes. I am reflecting that this is almost too easy when I turn the worksheet over and my blood runs cold. She has failed to complete the second side! And now it’s — I glance at the kitchen clock — 8: 46! I shift into high gear.
Such was the scenario that unfolded last month, with thrills and chills that only she and I and perhaps her future psychiatrist will ever fully appreciate. I can report, however, that not only did my daughter get all her homework done but she witnessed “ American Idol” in its entirety, including the usual failure to vote off the lissome Sanjaya.
Yes, we cheated. I kind of — well, I basically dictated the ancient Egyptian newspaper article to her over breakfast. (“ No, it’s Ra — just R- a, no h! He’s a sun god, not a stadium cheer! And eat your waffle. Please!”) But hey, she’s a kid, and her brain is growing all the time. I’m an adult, and my brain, like everything else about me, is hurtling toward atrophy. Who needs the mental exercise more? Beth Horning is a freelance writer in Massachusetts.