Tag Archives: homework

As Honeymoons Go, This One’s Over

The fall marking period at my children’s school ended late last week, and with it my collective enthusiasm for their cussed projects. Make no mistake; I applaud those who give birth to assignments doused in fun and originality—ones that are purposefully designed to encourage thinking outside the box and to harness the creative energies of students. What’s more, I love hauling out the arts and crafts box that lives beneath my bed—the behemoth-sized shoebox crammed impossibly with remnants of this chaotic life. Likewise, part of me truly enjoys rummaging around the garage and yard with my brood, in search of that which would otherwise be devoid of value.

Of course, Thing One and Thing Two become decidedly consumed with the process, wild with delirium as they harvest earthy whateverness from the lawn and paw through the aforementioned hodgepodge of fabric and twine, pipe cleaners and yarn, ribbon and lace. Never mind the vat of paints and modeling clay we’ve amassed in the cellar, the profusion of shoeboxes and poster board that lurks in our attic and the legions of egg cartons, oatmeal canisters and cardboard tubes we’ve stuffed in various closets and cupboards over the years—

precluding their certain death. Hoarders with a higher purpose.

I so completely get the bell and whistles, the inherent wonderfulness of said projects, the cleverness with which a great many are conceived and the good intentions of those who assign such work to the masses; however the sheer volume is fairly suffocating. At least it is beneath this circus tent, where eight of the hands-on wonders were due last Friday. A total of four per child, spread across three major subject areas, some of which took an obscene chunk of time to finish, all of which led to heated debate at the dinner table regarding the progress (or lack thereof) a certain couple of somebodies had made toward that end. Granted, students were given an embarrassment of time to complete the vast majority of tasks and a wide variety of choices were readily available to satisfy every possible artistic whim.

Thirty-four, actually. We counted.

Sadly, my progenies failed to choose anything remotely related to that which was manageable or that possessed even the merest suggestion of prudence given the window of time we have and the initiative duly required. Instead, they selected that which inspired a pervasive state of panic and ensuing dread as it related directly to our collective inability to tackle such a Herculean task. That’s code for: my husband and I wanted to light ourselves on fire—because, of course, that would have been so much more tolerable.

Indeed, after an entire weekend devoted solely to the construction of ridiculously detailed dioramas and co-directing a series of disjointed skits (which our children demanded that we film!) involving a gaggle of giddified fifth graders, I now know WAY more about the Native Americans of the Woodlands Region than I ever aspired to. And for a fleeting moment (shortly after we resorted to using duct tape and just before the pizza arrived), I felt a compelling desire to shrink myself manyfold—so that I could crawl inside the tiny wigwam we had built and hide from the oppressiveness of it all. Never mind the endless evenings crafting math whateverness and the weeks upon weeks that were spent overseeing the creation of TWO freakishly large and painstakingly elaborate board games—not to be confused with last year’s planetary beast-of-a-project (i.e. my brood’s beloved Styrofoam models of Venus, Saturn and more moons than I care to recall) that we somehow endured without the benefit of a marriage counselor.

Needless to say (and crazy as it sounds), we’ve lost sleep over such foolishness, and a fair amount of patience and sanity besides—which is wrong on so many levels I can’t begin to adequately express it. Truth be told, I fear that society has lost sight of the overall goal of education and that the fundamentals have somehow become an afterthought in this age of the almighty project.

That said, Pennsylvania’s education gurus would do well to note that bells and whistles are only as good as the clarity of their sound and the integrity of their message.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (like my friend, Ruth, wondering how many damned dioramas the Duggars have built). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel


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Filed under Homework Hell, Rantings & Ravings, School Schmool, The Natives are Decidedly Restless

The $64,000 Question…and Then Some

We’re barely into the new school year and already I’ve failed spectacularly. It seems I’m a poor tool when it comes to providing the proper balance of parental guidance and just enough of the laissez-faire approach to encourage independent thinking—followed shortly thereafter by independent action.

It all became so painfully clear last week as I attempted to help Thing One and Thing Two tackle a multifaceted fifth grade math project—one that would likely involve and/or require a fair amount of fact-gathering, a smattering of organizational skill and, quite possibly, some flexible wire and a shoebox. And although I found the aforementioned assignment wholly intriguing (not to mention, decidedly fun), a tiny voice inside me screamed because I know myself all too well.

After decades at the helm (overseeing a plethora of term papers and some of the most endearing dioramas on the planet), I recognize how completely unhinged I become when commissioned as the Grand Taskmaster of individuals who are patently unaffected and/or oblivious to the sense of urgency I feel and the palpable wave of panic that consumes me upon learning that THIS hideously large nugget of whateverness has to be done by THAT rapidly approaching due date. Or at least such directives seem like entirely unmanageable edicts.

In truth, the volume of work (and corresponding time frame for completion) is perfectly reasonable—or so my rational-minded husband assures me. However my brood’s collective indifference, evidenced by their vacant stares and an unconcerned blink now and again, fairly exasperates me. And no amount of flailing my arms, shrieking like a banshee or pointing animatedly at the calendar upon our refrigerator makes any difference.

Predictably, the abovementioned math assignment was met with a similar sort of blitheness. “It’s no biggie, Mom. We have it all under control.” If nothing else, it felt familiar. However, the assignment at hand was far more complex than it appeared at first blush. In addition to several exercises that would cleverly test one’s mastery of place value, it posed a unique question: “If you had one million dollars to spend, what would you buy?” encouraging students to explore the possibility (ostensibly, the good fortune) of having an obscene quantity of cash to expend and/or fritter away.

To be fair, it was optional. Students could elect to address it if they felt so inclined. Or not. Naturally, my heathens jumped at the chance to compile a grand and glorious list of that which they’d snatch from store shelves immediately or sooner, no holds barred. “It’ll be a piece of cake, Mom. And FUN! Seriously, you worry too much.” So as I helped them choose which activities they’d prefer to complete, I echoed their enthusiasm and dove headlong into the endeavor, silencing the little voice that invited apprehension and doubt.

But as we began to explore (and painstakingly list) the items of their affection, we soon learned that a million dollars is a ridiculous—almost surreal—sum of money. Granted, we could have simply “bought” a baseball team, a van Gogh masterpiece or a tropical island. But thankfully, and in the true spirit of educational merit, my charges didn’t think of that. Instead, they chose immaculate houses, luxurious cars and outrageously expensive whateverness with which to equip their dream homes. Their lists grew and grew, filling each page to its very borders, capturing the fanciful essence of “what if” indescribably well.

Curiously, and perhaps refreshingly, they began to question not only the incalculable nature of such a sum, but also the frivolity of their desires. The word charity was discussed at length, as was the practicality of adopting eleventy-seven pets from the SPCA. There was even talk of scrapping the whole thing (Oy!) and starting over with a more altruistic mindset.

In the end, the assignment breached the bounds of difficulty, perhaps by design; but it made us all a little wiser in the process—leaving me with the hope that I might not have failed as spectacularly as I once thought.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (probably wrestling with someone’s 5th grade math). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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The Accidental Parent

When it comes to the uncertain journey of parenting, I tend to believe that success has less to do with the desperate search for a one-size-fits-all prescriptive guide (that may or may not exist) and more to do with perceiving nuances in the landscape of our children’s lives, gathering information much like rain and trying ever so madly to adapt to the shifting terrain and impossible demands placed upon us day in and day out. To show up, to invest ourselves wholly in the process of nurturance and to do our level best—imperfect as that most assuredly is. And while I feel fairly certain of my many and varied failings as a parent, there are times during which the gods smile upon me—and I get it right, often in spite of myself. Indeed, much of what works in terms of child rearing I’ve either conveniently borrowed or stumbled into purely by happenstance.

Such was the case with the celebrated Math Hat, so named for its astonishing ability to impart both mathematical competence and never-before-seen composure in the face of frustration (i.e. that which is prompted by the inherent evil of math-related homework—or so it is perceived at times by a certain couple of somebodies presently in the fourth grade). Imagine my surprise (read: unspeakable joy) upon witnessing nothing short of a garden-variety miracle in my living room as Thing Two donned said hat in the throes of an epic meltdown (over something as asinine as arithmetic) only to emerge as a capable, composed pupil who willingly—almost gleefully—tackled the remaining problems without the suggestion of protest. It’s rumored she was smiling as well.

I’m quite sure I stood there like a buffoon, slack-mouthed and completely baffled by this seemingly fortuitous turn of events. Of course, I felt compelled to snatch the silly thing from her head in an effort to demystify that which was fairly incomprehensible to me, but I resisted. Instead I hurled a torrent of questions in her direction. “What on earth just happened?! Why aren’t you bothered PROFOUNDLY EXASPERATED by your math homework anymore?! Who are you and what have you done with my belligerent child?!” She then grinned, shrugged her shoulders and adjusted her newfound talisman. “I don’t know, Mom, but it helps me and I’m gonna call it my Math Hat (pronounced in the spirit of Aflac). Weird, isn’t it?”

Weird doesn’t begin to describe it,” I mused. Four-leaf clovers…I get. Amulets…I vaguely appreciate. The whole Feng-Shui-Chi-Yin-and-Yang thing makes a fair amount of sense to me. But the freakishly magical nature of that stupid, thrift store-inspired hat bordered on the bizarre. Clearly, it was far more impressive than any thinking cap could ever hope to be, and I was convinced that there had to be a cheerleading squad somehow stuffed inside said knitted wonder, likely shouting encouragement, praise AND ANSWERS into the waiting ears of my dear child.

Granted, I had offered the hat as a diversion—to take her mind off the dreaded task of rounding numbers and whatnot: “Stop thinking of stabbing me with your pencil…Put your pencil down and check out the funky-looking hat I picked up today for the Christmas play.” Who knew something so simple would serve as the sanity cocktail we both so desperately needed.

Logically, I was then driven to delve deeper into the notion of accidental successes, eager to lend credence to my curious findings. Translation: I Googled the tar out of the topic, uncovering a host of interesting and important discoveries that were unintentionally made. Like Post-It Notes and Super Glue, Velcro and Vaseline, blue jeans and the microwave oven. Let us not forget penicillin. Furthermore, I came across Greg Pincus, founder of The Happy Accident, another individual who embraces the serendipity effect—using social media to help create the right conditions for unexpected benefits in a variety of areas. Only then did I come to the realization that so many of my important discoveries as a parent qualify as happy accidents—including the aforementioned Math Hat.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (fetching the Math Hat on a regular basis).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "G" is for Guilt, "S" is for Shame, Daily Chaos, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Homework Hell, School Schmool, The Natives are Decidedly Restless, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Finding the Right Words

So much of raising a child involves dissemination. Of wisdom and information, of values and inspiration, of penalties and praise. And let us not forget the mother of all parental offerings: Car keys and cold, hard cash. 

Band-Aids, too. Lots of Band-Aids are meted out over the span of two decades or more.

But it seems the real challenge for parents involves finding the right words and ensuring that our messages are, in fact, delivered—especially when fate hands us the tough stuff. Death and disappointment. Failings and frustrations. Tension and turmoil. Indeed, the stormy seasons of life are when we are tested most.

And so often I feel shamefully deficient in this department—as if I can’t string a coherent sentence together when it really counts. Like when my kids are consumed by negativity, self-loathing and doubt, or when I’m riddled with a barrage of questions for which there are no answers. That is the point at which I fumble and fish for a snippet of speech that promises to soothe what is unsettled, to mend what is broken and to provide what is sorely needed. The “right words,” as it were, are elusive at best, buried beneath volumes of discourse and drivel that fail to deliver.

Case in point: One of my charges became hostile and practically imploded while tackling her homework not long ago. And alas, I was unable to pull her from the wreckage—demonstrating (yet again!) my woeful ineptitude as a parent. The outburst from hell unfolded thusly.

Evidently, my child left the Land of Composure and in a fit of rage choked the life out of her pencil while attempting to obliterate what was apparently a mistake on her homework paper. I watched in horror as she very nearly rubbed a hole in the place where a poor, defenseless math problem once lay unsullied and without fear of retribution. As her face grew redder and her utterances more guttural, I realized then and there that my parenting skills (or lack thereof) would soon be called into question. I needed the right words and I needed them fast.

I paused briefly before saying anything inordinately daft, hoping against hope that I would somehow stumble upon the perfect parental response to such belligerence. Would a bit of humor, compassion or punishment do? Perhaps ignoring her hideous behavior made more sense. Or a distraction—maybe I needed some sort of outlandish distraction in order to effectively calm the beast within. At any rate, I hadn’t a clue what would work. So I took a stab at the impossible task, wending my way through the tangle and torrent of emotions.

Me: “Hey, what’s with all the erasing? You’re going to light the place on fire if you keep that up,” I teased—all the while wondering how long it would take before her eraser neatly ate through the varnish on my table.

Child: “I’m STUPID,” she groused. “It was an ADDITION problem and I did SUBTRACTION. So now I have to erase it and start all over again. Grrrrr….”

Me: “Oh, I see,” I offered lamely. “So you messed up. Anyone can mess up,” I continued.

Child: “Yeah, but I had to borrow and trade and all this other stuff FOR NOTHING. I did ALL THAT WORK…FOR NOTHING! It was a big waste of time!” she spat, literally seething with anger.

Me: “But think of the benefit of practice!” I cheered. “You practiced your subtraction skills! Which helps you improve! So it wasn’t a waste after all!”

Child: Silence.

Me: “You practice dribbling a soccer ball, don’t you? And that makes you better. You practice gymnastics routines, and that makes you better, too, right?” I quizzed, banking on pure logic to drive home my point.

Child: Rolls eyes and gives me a dour look—one that suggests she’s thoroughly annoyed with my existence.

Me: “Tell me I’m not right,” I challenged. “Practically everything you do in this life could be classified as practice and helps you improve!” said the self-appointed Glee Club Captain.

Child: “Oh, yeah, WHAT IF I CHEWED ON MY TOES?! Is that PRACTICE, huh?! Does that make me a better TOE CHEWER or something?! Hrrrmph.”

At this I was stumped—and likely agape. I had no snappy comeback on the tip of my tongue, no nugget of wisdom lurked in my mind and there were no viable arguments that could be summoned in my defense.

Once again, the right words were nowhere to be found. So I crawled back in my box, wondering how much more PRACTICE I might need to get this parenting thing down.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (forever searching for the right words).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Daily Chaos, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Kid-Speak, Rantings & Ravings, School Schmool, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction