It’s been more than a dozen years since I had to crank out a term paper at 2 a.m. or cram for a final exam or God forbid had to apply an utterly meaningless mathematical theorem to anything. But weirdly I am still haunted by homework and wake up in the middle of the night sweating that I’m about to flunk a test because I forgot to study. My number one recurring anxiety nightmare after forgetting to brush my teeth and having massive morning breath while meeting with a famous person, i.e. President Clinton, Oprah, Gandhi etc.(that’s for another post), is that I inadvertently haven’t finished all of my credits and left college without actually graduating. This nightmare may stem from actually having completed college a semester early and then waiting to graduate with my friends. But probe deeper into my chronic sleep anxiety and I’m sure any expert would just unmask loads of my insecurities, fears about failure or of being called a fraud. But now for the first time since the early 90s, my latest midnight sweat-on-the-brow homework stress, has nothing to do with me – it’s about my kids.
Second grade homework is a colossal bitch. There are daily journals and nightly math flashcards and 20 minutes of reading each night and spelling index cards to be sorted and backpacks full of papers to be filled, signed, stamped, processed and recycled. The paper alone makes me want to cry. Each night when I come home and rip open my son, Jonah’s, backpack to read his assignments I twitch with anxiety – please let it be easy I think to myself. I know that I should be more chill about all of this – after all – it’s Jonah’s homework, not mine. But at seven years old it doesn’t seem like he’s ready to do it alone. I also want him to get it right. The Alpha Mom in me wants to make sure he’s mastered his math facts and reads above grade level. The Slacker Mom in me just wants to uncork a good Cabernet and casually eyeball his assignments as I kick back and read a novel. I’m torn.
Truth be told, I’m embarrassed to admit that the unattractive Alpha Mom in me usually rears her nasal nag and gets into drill sergeant mode the moment I pull into the driveway. After quick kisses hello I’m rushing like a lunatic to get homework done, setting an egg timer to read, reviewing “sight words” and math facts. And it doesn’t stop at home. Trying to multi task, because I don’t have the time during the week to do as much reviewing as apparently I am supposed to do, I find myself randomly shouting out addition and subtraction computations as I’m driving the kids around on the weekends. “Mom, Stop!” Jonah will shriek back at me.
I’m blaming my sudden madness on our teachers. At back-to-school night they put so much homework pressure on us parents our heads were spinning.
“What do you mean by December the kids should know how to automatically add 16 plus 17 in their heads?” I asked Jonah’s teacher. “I still carry the 1 in my head. Are there new math tricks? How do we help teach them? I don’t know any tricks?”
“Maybe you should come back to second grade,” Jonah’s teacher responded with a smile as other parents nervously giggled. Oy.
It’s only the third week of school so hopefully we’ll get in a groove once the homework routines settle and I’ll feel less freaked out. But tonight my daughter Lexi, a kindergartner, has her own homework project. She’s “Star of the Week,” and has to do an “All about Me” project complete with photos, drawings and a little writing. Bring out the wine. I’m going to need it.