So Tall walks in from school practically levitating. “Mommmmm! Guesswhatguesswhatguesswhat! You’ll never guess!” he shrieks.
“What?” I say, wondering if I should call the News Team or at least grab a pack of band-aids.
“I’ve got homework!” His grin is neon.
Why would any child exhibit these (demented) signs of happiness about the dreaded homework? One word: novelty. Tall is in first grade at Crazy Town Elementary, and this is his very first encounter with this mysterious thing called homework, formerly the bastion of Big Kids or at least gap-toothed second-graders.
“Here, I’ll show you. This is so cool. Okay, so my teacher gave us this worksheet on something called Ecomonics,” he begins, slowly, like Mommy might be too stupid to understand the concept of Ecomonics.
“Economics,” I correct.
“Mom! This is MY homework! Anyway, I need to do a chart and explain the different prices for pizzas for the Ecomonics hand-out.” He glances up, then continues, “Then, we have to practice writing all these words for our spelling test and then, we have to work on some math evasions,”
“You’re doing it again! Stop it,” he hisses. “All right, next, we have to figure out how camels store all that water and then my teacher wants me to read two chapters of this book,” he pauses to hold up an unabridged-dictionary-sized tome.
I have started to zone out to a place far far away, a place called I Can’t Believe I Have To Do All This Homework. This, as we all know, is not Tall’s homework. No. This is Mommy’s homework. Oh, sure, he will ultimately do all the homework, but I will be required to sit patiently by, like some kind of unpaid tutor, helping whenever needed.
Okay, that sounds bad. I want to be a good parent, I want to help with homework, it’s just that, Really? First grade? Can’t they maybe finish anything they were working on at school during regular business hours?
I don't send them my unfolded laundry or last night's dirty dinner dishes and ask if they can just "finish it up" for me. I expect the same courtesy.
Three days ago was the worst: Tall removed a special paper from his StarWars backpack with a slight flourish. “Look, Mom! Something YOU get to do!” And sure enough, it was a sweet little project the teacher had dreamt up for the parents. Below is the note that was attached:
“Dear Parents/ Care-Givers,
I know that you want to be involved in every step of the education process. Please take this opportunity to design and color in this special ‘Handprint of Encouragement’ for your child. Be as creative as possible! Write supportive comments on the hand, like 'I love you!' and 'You can do it!'
*Please do not feel any pressure to make this a masterpiece—just draw from the heart. :)
Tall’s Very Nice Teacher With A Master’s Degree In Teaching (and a minor in Fine Arts)
PS—this is due tomorrow, or today, whichever.”
I read the note and immediately started looking for a small paper bag in which to hyperventilate (or throw up, whichever). “Handprint of Encouragement”? Is this something new? The only “Handprint of Encouragement” I remember as a small child was the “Handprint of Spanking”. That was some pretty effective encouragement.
I decided to play along. I wanted to be supportive and, ahem, encouraging. I looked at the blank piece of paper with the computer-generated outline of a hand. What-should-I-draw-what-should-I-draw-what-should-I-draw. Hmmmmm. And more importantly, what should I write?
A horrible Thought entered my brain. I tried to push it out (“Exit’s over there, jack-ass!” I sneered). Too late. The Thought said,
THE TEACHERS WILL JUDGE YOU. Yeah, okay, I can deal with that. They already judge me on what my son wears to school and the lunch I pack him: is MOV a good parent or a lackadaisical one? So they see my little drawing, who cares?
The Thought’s evil cousin, Thought-On-Steroids, chimed in:
THEY WILL HANG THIS IN THE CLASSROOM AND THE KIDS WILL JUDGE YOU AND THE PRINCIPAL WILL JUDGE YOU. Oh, I did not really consider that. Well, uh, I’m up for the challenge! I studied Architecture, for goshsakes. My major was English Literature. I should be able to eke out something.
Out of nowhere, in spun Thought-On-Steroids-Infinity just to cap things off:
THE OTHER PARENTS WILL SEE YOUR PATHETIC HANDPRINT ARTWORK ON BACK TO SCHOOL NIGHT AND THEY WILL LAUGH ABOUT YOU BEHIND YOUR BACK, AND POSSIBLY TO YOUR FACE. Ooops. I guess I better Xerox this hand and do a rough draft version.
Twenty Xeroxes and two large glasses of Chardonnay later, I had come up with a stellar and appropriate design. Wine labels! How cool would that be! I could cut out the words on the labels and apply them to Tall: well-balanced, crisp, grown in America. Luckily, The Husband walked in at just about this time. He asked what I was doing and I told him. Now he wanted in on the act.
“Why don’t you just take some of the duplicate family photos we have laying around and make sort of an artsy collage or something?” This from a man who majored in Ecomonics and knew his way around a math Evasion.
“I have it under control,” I glared. “This is MY project.”
“I thought it was Tall’s project?” he countered innocently.
I shoved the information sheet in his face, pointing at the word “Parent”.
“I’ve got it. You just do dinner and baths. I need to work on this so the other parents are impressed with my brilliance and creativity or at the very least, so they don’t laugh at me.”
“You are obsessed,” The Husband rolled his eyes, “they’ll laugh about that.”
Three hours floated away. I was very proud of my photo collage surrounded by neatly written words of encouragement.
The next day, I put it in Tall’s folder. Before he walked out the door, he removed it to inspect its greatness.
“Oh,” he murmured.
“What? is that a good ‘oh’ or a bad ‘oh’? what does ‘oh’ mean?” I queried.
“Why are all the people, you know, 'chopped up'?” he asked, perplexed.
“They’re not 'chopped up', it’s a collage, that’s how you do a collage.”
He shrugged. After all my worry, I don’t think he really cared that much.
When he got off the school bus later that day, the interrogation began: “Did your teacher like it? what did she say?”
“Like what? What are you talking about? Hey, I got 100% on my spelling test! And the teacher says I am one of the very best readers. I got an A on my drawing of a bridge and oh, I forgot my library book, so the librarian wouldn’t let me check…”
“THE COLLAGE,” I interrupted, like a deranged Art Student Who Pulled An All-Nighter. “What did your teacher say about the collage?”
“Oh, that. Yeah, I gave it to her. I told her you made it. She and the assistant teacher were talking about it for a little while, and talking about you, too. I guess you did an okay job.”
I smiled inside. She and the assistant teacher were talking about it? That was a good sign! “Anything else? Or is that it?" I pressed.
“Yep, that’s it. Oh, and Mom? what does that mean when someone says ‘zero design skills’?”
(“My Ossified Visage”)