But that was it. No marathon math assignments like the one my brother-in-law and sixth-grade niece endured together the other night. Like many parents, my brother-in-law and sister share my complaint. They often spend weekends working on “family projects” for school. They resent it. “Do you ever remember Mom or Dad sitting with us doing homework?” she recently asked me.
“Never,” I replied.
But times have changed. After years of declining student test scores, school boards have decided that it’s parental involvement that’s lacking. We need to take a stronger role in our children’s educations, they say. And sometimes they do it surreptitiously. “Ask a parent or adult in the household to play the money game with you,” was one son’s recent math assignment. Yet instead of challenging my sons, their homework challenges me by testing my patience as I try to get dinner on the table simultaneously participating in their homework. Now every defeat they suffer, every error they make, I take personally because somehow, in some way, I feel I am ultimately responsible.
The missing reading log bothered me all weekend, although it seemed to escape Jeff’s notice almost instantly. And by Sunday evening, it festered until I couldn’t stand it any longer. “Why wouldn’t she listen to him?” I asked my husband as he organized the trashcans for collection the following morning. “You’d think it would stick out in her mind. It’s not every six-year-old that reads Charlotte’s Web.” Then something occurred to me.
“What are you doing?” asked my husband as I tipped over the recycling can and began picking through the week’s discarded papers.
“I can’t let it go.” I said. “He read it. We know he read it, and I want him to get credit for it.” I stopped and stared at him, hands on hips. “Come on. Help me!” The two of us dropped to our knees, poking through discarded catalogs, bottles, cans, dozens of school assignments, and newspapers. We went through every piece of clean trash and still no reading log. Could I have thrown it in with the regular trash instead of the recycling bin? I slowly turned and walked toward the other trashcan. As I lifted the lid, a foul stench hit me as hard as a carefully aimed dodge ball at recess. Millions of ants scurried across a disgusting collection of decaying bags lying inside. My husband stood dumbfounded by my actions.
“You’re on your own,” he whispered as he wheeled the recycling can right past me.
I grabbed a stick and began poking through the soggy mess. Then suddenly something caught my eye. Could it be? Yes! Yes, I think it is! There, sharing a corner with some discarded coffee grounds was my son’s lost reading log. Ah, ha! I’ve been vindicated. Rather, Jeff’s been vindicated.
The following afternoon, I triumphantly approached his teacher, waving the lost reading log. When she saw me, she smiled brightly. “Jeff explained the whole situation to me. When I realized my mistake, I immediately gave him his sticker,” she said sweetly, slowly stepping away from the greasy paper. “There really was no need to bring it back.”
Embarrassed, I thanked her for understanding, and as if I had just been caught without a hall pass, I smiled sheepishly and slipped away into a crowd of first graders.