Thursday, May 3, 2007

How many more weeks of homework?

Please tell me that summer vacation is right around the corner. Because I am completely ready for this homework crap to end.

No, I am not doing E's homework for him. No, I am not doing E's homework with him. But how far am I supposed to go to prod, cause, encourage, coax, remind, bribe him to do his f***ing homework?

I am having a lot of trouble figuring out this particular parenting skill. I've tried it lots of ways. At first it was no problem. In fact, he was the model homework child. I got cocky. An eight-year-old who loves homework, can't wait to do it, goes into his room and happily works until it's done!

What a fool I was.

Maybe it's the restlessness of spring, or burnout, or knowing that the end of the year is around the corner. And, admittedly, he is getting a lot more homework at eight than I did at, oh, probably 18. I don't ever remember doing much homework.

But things that should be taking him half an hour are stretching to two or three. Things that should be taking 10 minutes last an hour. It's as though his work is expanding to fill the time available. If there are four hours between when we get home from school and bedtime, minus an hour for snack/dinner/shower, then homework will take three hours, no matter how much or how little. Well, not completely true -- if it's a lot, it just won't get done before bedtime, so either he stays up late or it goes unfinished.

And that's after I've spent the entire three hours saying, at least once every five minutes, "E, go do your work" or some variation thereof. He breaks to talk with his brother. I walk by his room and find him reading Captain Underpants. He hangs around the kitchen whining about dinner. Anything and everything. I start out firm. I end up screaming. I hate it.

It's been a particularly bad day on top of a particularly bad week where this homework stuff is concerned. I am trying hard to control my rage and avoid the expletives, so please bear with me.

I'm preparing for a tearful showdown at the moment, which is perhaps why my anxiety level is high. I tried a new tactic today. I told E that I was not going to say a word to him about his homework this afternoon, was not going to remind him or get him back on task. I told him when bedtime was and that 10 minutes before bedtime he would have to stop working, brush his teeth, wash up, etc. And I stuck to it.

And now it's bedtime, and he didn't finish, and he's angling to stay up late, and I'm saying no and he's yelling and crying. He's in bed with the lights out, crying. We talked it over, but he's still devastated. And it's just going to get worse. Will he actually get the sleep he needs? No, because he'll be so upset that he won't fall asleep. I bet he'll be out every 10 minutes until 10pm. Did his work get done? No.

Why is this making me so upset? I don't know.

I don't actually have any intellectual problem with letting him suffer the consequences of going to school with his work undone. I think he should. Certainly this would be a good time in his educational career to learn this lesson. He's eight. I don't think undone homework will affect his ability to get into a good college.

But somehow I feel that I'm failing to teach him an important lesson: Make hay while the sun shines. Don't put off until get the point.

His teachers say this is all developmentally appropriate. But I wonder. He's always been ultra-distractable. He rarely sticks with the same project, game, book, etc. for more than a few minutes. The exceptions have been projects he has devised himself, and which clearly he finds exceptionally interesting: Mapquesting the entire school roster, so he can visualize where everyone (all 300 students) lives. Transposing his favorite classical melodies on the piano into every available key. Writing a world atlas -- no, I'm not kidding. These things he can do for hours at a time.

When I was in his room just now, trying to calm him and explaining why, in his words, I have been "mean to him" for the past three days, he protested through his tears that he is "just too easily distracted." Is this an excuse for laziness? Or does he recognize something in himself, something clinical and diagnosable? I hate to think of my kid as a diagnosis, a label, but when I read the descriptions of ADD it sounds like him exactly. Or does it sound like every eight-year-old kid?

Another point to make: Maybe eight-year-olds shouldn't have to get hours of work to do outside school every week. He's in school seven hours a day. Isn't that enough? I doubt I'll be changing the school system anytime soon, even at E's posh and parent-influenced private school. But it never hurts to dream.

Meantime, how do I handle this? I do not want my child to think that I hate him. I tried to explain that sometimes teaching your children life lessons means being strict. Maybe he heard that. I cuddled with him and kissed him all over his face. Will that make up for the Mean Mommy week? Can anything?

No comments: