How to do Homework: Two Perspectives

This is what we look like doing homework together. Dad is an integral part of the children’s education. Or, wait…maybe this is the UPS guy.

How to Do Homework
by Smalls, age 7

1. Get off the bus. Take as long as humanly possible to walk the 50 feet from the bus to the front door.
2. Ask Mom if you can go play with friends, willfully denying the existence of such a thing as homework.
3. Ask Mom for a snack, then ask for another snack. Continue over and over until dinner.
4. Beg Mom to let you watch TV despite the fact that you’re well aware you have no screen time on school days.
5. Whine about how much homework you have.
6. Pull out a homework sheet, glance at it and start crying, insisting that you haven’t learned anything even remotely similar to it in class. Continue crying and stomp away when Mom tries to help you.
7. Just generally whine and complain.
8. Insist on playing with the dog whom you ignore at all other times of the day.
9. Wander off.
10. Whine some more.
11. Play with a toy you haven’t laid hands on in five years.
12. Finally, do a page of homework. Complete it in approximately 4 minutes after spending the past 45 minutes avoiding, whining and complaining.
13. Realize that your homework sheet is two-sided. Cry and slump down in your chair until you slide onto the floor under the table.
14. Repeat until homework is finally completed many, many hours later.

How to do Homework
by Biggie, age 9

1. Get off the bus. Drop backpack on the lawn assuming your mother/sherpa will bring it into the house.
2. Ask Mom for a snack. When Mom reminds you she’s not a delivery service, point out that getting your own snack will just distract you from your studies. Also remind mom that she picks out healthier snacks than you do. Dig in your heels and enjoy this battle of wills.
3. When Mom opens the refrigerator door to pour herself a much needed glass of wine, appear suddenly between her and the wine. Linger there while mentally cataloging your snack options.
4. Ask Mom if you can have the leftover mac n’ cheese. Eat it cold with your hands.
5. Ask Mom for another snack. Repeat until dinner.
6. Stage a sit-in to protest the injustice of your younger sister having less homework than you.
7. Yell at your sister for whistling or singing or breathing while you’re trying to concentrate.
8. Storm off to your bedroom, slam the door and turn on very loud music.
9. Climb up to your top bunk and read a non-school book until Mom comes to track you down.
10. Realize you’ve left a page of homework at school but try to hide this fact from Mom who is constantly nagging you to be more responsible.
11. Excuse yourself to go to the restroom. Spend an additional 20 minutes reading a non-school book in the bathroom.
12. Offer to take the dog for a walk.
13. Try to negotiate with Mom for a 10 minute break after each page of homework you complete.
14. Suck it up and finish your damn homework.
15. Head directly for the door and attempt to flee before Mom reminds you that you have piano lessons.


Random Childhood Tales: That Time I was in a Gunfight

gunfightatredsandsWhen I was a kid, my family had an RV trailer that we kept at Bear Cave Campgrounds in Buchanan, Michigan. My brother Jeff and I spent much of our summers there waterskiing, catching crawfish in the creek, fishing for Bluegills, sitting around campfires and running wild in a pack of other kids our age. I would often bring my best friend Kathy with me as the boy-to-girl ratio was decidedly heavy on the boys.

One Friday afternoon when I was about nine years old, my family plus Kathy were heading up to Bear Cave from our hometown in the Chicago suburbs but we had to first make a detour to my grandmother’s house in Hammond, Indiana to drop something off. After a quick stop at Nana’s, my dad pulled into a gas station to fuel up our 1974 green Lincoln Continental. My grandmother’s neighborhood was nice, but Hammond is about the midpoint between Chicago and Gary, Indiana, so even at that time, other parts of the city could be sketchy.

My dad got out of the car to pump gas, my mom sat in the passenger seat and we kids stretched out in the backseat while Kathy talked. My parents referred to my best friend as “Chatty Kathy” for good reason. She could talk nonstop from Lansing, Illinois to Buchanan, Michigan without so much as a prolonged pause. The Lincoln was like a living room on wheels though, so there was a good four foot buffer (but sadly for my parents no soundproof barrier) between Mom and Dad in the front seat and the backseat where we kids kept our mobile entertainment station stocked with snacks, books, Smurf figurines, melted crayons and MadLibs.

Kathy continued her monologue as my dad moved the car to the air pump in front of the garage. He was outside filling the tires and minding his own business, or at least that’s what we thought he was doing, when suddenly he tore open the front door of the Lincoln, yelled at us to “Get down!” and grabbed his gun out from under the floor mat.

I should point out here that my dad is a retired police officer. Dad was a cop in my hometown for twenty years. His career highlights included being “Officer Friendly” in the elementary schools in town (including mine) and arresting my friends and classmates for various infractions. Luckily for me, by the time I got to high school, he was a detective and no longer on party-busting duty. That he never had to arrest my brother for doing something stupid is a miracle of weeping-Virgin-Mary-statue proportions.

So, the fact that my dad was packing heat was no surprise to any of us. My brother and I spent much of our formative years at the police gun range and my father was rarely without his trusty sidearm. However, it wasn’t every day that Dad whipped out a loaded gun and told us to duck. Kathy, Jeff and I wisely hit the deck while my mom peeked over the back of her seat trying to figure out what the hell was going on. That’s when the gunfire started. I remember the next few minutes in slow motion. I began crying and begged my mom to get down, Jeff stared wide-eyed, frozen in place and even Kathy was rendered silent.

The three of us freaked the hell out when, despite the wailing police sirens that had joined in adding to the panic, we could clearly hear bullets ricocheting around in the mechanics’ bay just feet from where we cowered in the car. My mother finally saw the error of her ways and joined us on the floor, so by then, none of us could see where my dad was. My crying turned to screaming as I envisioned my father lying in a pool of his own blood. Even at that age, I was a glass-half-empty kind of girl.

Then, just as quickly as the craziness had begun, it was all over. After a half a minute of silence, we dared to inch our heads over the car seats and were able to confirm that my father was still in an upright and undamaged condition. Dad stuck his head in the car door, said everything was OK, and went to talk to one of the handful of Hammond police officers who’d appeared on the scene. Those of us in the car remained baffled as to what just happened and I downshifted from screaming to crying once again, this time, because I was sure this whole shootout thing meant we wouldn’t be going to Michigan for the weekend after all.

vintage_copsHowever, after just a few minutes of chatting with the Hammond cops, Dad hopped in the car, tucked his gun back into its cozy hiding spot and we were on our way. This time, my dad was the one with the story to tell. As it turned out, two guys broke into an old lady’s house in Gary, Indiana, robbed her, and stole her car. Dad spotted a police car heading toward the gas station in Hammond in hot pursuit of a car whose inhabitants were speeding with guns drawn. Dad, of course, figured the cops could use some backup. As an adult, I’ve often questioned his sanity at that moment.

The bad guys started shooting at the cops, bullets missing their intended target, and instead whizzing past our car and bouncing around in the mechanic’s bay like a macabre pinball game. The cops shot back at the guys in the car (I’d like to point out that this was a fairly busy day with many people out walking and driving), and my dad shot at the stolen car’s tires, eventually blowing out two of them and stopping the bad guys a ways down the road where they wisely surrendered and were arrested.

After all the cops-and-robbers excitement was over, Dad asked the Hammond police what kind of paperwork they would need him to fill out. Apparently, in my hometown, if an officer discharged his weapon, he’d be required to fill out piles of paperwork. But the Hammond police just shook Dad’s hand, thanked him for his help and said he could pop into the station sometime the following week to give a short statement. No biggie. There was no need to let a pesky gunfight ruin our fun weekend.

As you can imagine, we were the stars of the campfire that night regaling the crowd with our shoot-’em-up adventure story. The incident is, of course, seared permanently in my brain, but it’s funny the things that occur to me now that I’m around the age my parents were at that time. (Older, actually. Lord help me.)

As a parent myself now, I can’t imagine the conversation my mom must’ve had with Kathy’s mother when we finally arrived safe and sound at Bear Cave Campgrounds and tracked down a pay phone (remember those?). “Um, hi Barb…this is Anne. We had a little incident on our drive to Michigan and I thought you should know about it. Everyone is OK, but…” That’s one parenting moment I’m glad I’ll never have to experience!

Scenes from a ’70s Childhood

Jackie 4 mo. old with MomI was born in the Summer of Love, 1969. Well, it was actually the spring directly preceding the Summer of Love, but there’s really no need to be nitpicky.  As much as I’d like to claim that I was conceived by two hippies in the back of a VW van at Woodstock, that’s not only untrue, but also a biological impossibility.  I was actually born in a suburb of Chicago that wasn’t exactly a hotbed of free love and progressive politics. My parents were both 22 years old, having gotten married two years previously.  Family members assumed that my mother was having trouble getting pregnant since she and my father waited so long to start a family.

My dad worked for the town in various capacities (driving snow plows, working at the sewage treatment plant) before becoming a cop.  I guess he was a company man. My mom had a more glamorous job working as a secretary at an ad agency in Chicago. As was surprisingly common back then, as soon as her boss found out she was pregnant, he fired her.  She didn’t work outside our house again until I was in middle school.

My husband and many of my friends were born in the ‘70s, but I’m proud to have been born at the tail-end of the 1960s.  So many major events happened in 1969, some of which changed the world.  In addition to Woodstock, Neil Armstrong was the first man to step foot on the moon, the gay rights movement was born with the Stonewall riot in New York City, students everywhere banded together to protest the Vietnam War, the Manson Family went on a killing spree in California and PBS launched Sesame Street.

70s family photoI am really a child of the ’70s though.  My formative years were spent running in a pack of kids around our “Everytown, USA” suburb from morning until night.  My mom would feed us cereal for breakfast and then set us free.  We’d return home only for bathroom breaks (the girls, that is…the boys just peed in the alley) and meals.  We knew it was time to head in for the night when my dad used his impressive whistle to call us from the front porch.  It was about as taxing as having a dog in a fenced-in yard (feed it, let it out, bring it back in, occasionally give it a pat on the head) unless someone came home bleeding which happened fairly often.

I spent my days riding my green Schwinn with a sparkly banana seat around and around the block, sometimes for hours on end.  We’d play Kick the Can, Running Bases and “Spy,” a game we made up that had virtually no rules.  We’d ride my brother’s Big Wheel down the steps of our porch and, later, his BMX bike over rickety ramps he’d nailed together himself.

We weren’t allowed to travel far, but luckily, the neighborhood park was just down the street.  Only in my adult years have I come to realize that the park was a death trap. We had the high metal slide on which we burned our butts in the summer and from which, occasionally, someone particularly uncoordinated fell over the side, plunging to the ground below.  There was a red and white mushroom-shaped merry-go-round thing the the older kids dubbed “the bloody tit” (so poetic). You could climb on top of it and lay on your belly, while the other kids tried to spin it so fast that you’d fly off head first.

The most popular feature with the teenagers was the Fun House which was a little house-shaped structure that had a rolling drum inside made of planks of wood that you could run around on like a hamster wheel.  Since four or more kids could fit in there at a time, we suffered your typical injuries from bodies smashing into the hard wood and each other.

The older kids were fond of the Fun House, however, for the shelter it provided from prying eyes.  Adults couldn’t see into it from the street so the teenagers were free to make out with boyfriends or girlfriends and smoke pot without fear of being dragged home by their parents or the police.  And, if that weren’t private enough, there was also a pavillion that had brick walls to about waist height.  We little kids only figured out what the teenagers were up to in hindsight.  At the time, we had no clue what they did in there for hours or what that weird smell was that came wafting out.  I distinctly remember that someone had spray painted in large letters on the cement floor a mysterious string of words…Blue Oyster Cult.

Jackie & Jeff 1976I thought the ’70s was the best time to be a kid and marveled at my luck in being alive to experience the highlight of the decade…The Bicentennial.  I was 7 years old in 1976, the perfect age to get caught up in all the hoopla over our nation’s 200th year. The whole country was bathed in red, white and blue and there was a palpable excitement in the air.  The pinnacle of my young life at that time was riding on a float dressed as Betsy Ross in our town’s Bicentennial parade.  That was my first brush with fame only to be topped years later by half-assed performances in numerous school plays.

To me, red, white and blue were the colors of the ’70s.  One of my earliest memories is of watching Mark Spitz in the 1972 Olympics.  He rocked not only a pretty rad porn-’stache for the Games, but also a snappy red, white and blue, stars-and-stripes Speedo.  And, I clearly remember a family of five we’d see every year when we drove down to Sarasota, Florida for vacation who arrived one summer all dressed in matching stars-and-stripes bathing suits.  It was a thing of beauty.

We didn’t have much money, but my mom managed to decorate our home with a stylish 1970s flair.  We had the requisite flocked wallpaper and macrame.  The living room was decorated in the, then popular and very hip, “Spanish Style.”  The furniture was red and black and the room was accessorized with a 4 foot tall statue of Cortez in armor.  The walls were decorated with ominous looking crossed maces and “ojo de Dios” wood-and-string designs.  My favorite thing was the white shag carpet in my parents’ room, but I rarely got to go lounge in its heavenly fluff because my dad worked shift-work and was usually snoring away in there.

We later moved a few blocks away and our new house was decorated in a more upscale, but ubiquitous at the time, avocado green, goldenrod and burnt orange color scheme.  Anything that wasn’t patriotically clad in the ’70s, was some off shade of either green, gold, orange or brown.  I remember it as an extremely muddy decade.

Being young and not yet partied out, my parents had a large group of friends.  I have memories of them lugging my brother and I along to parties with them.  After we wreaked havoc with their friends’ kids for a while, the parents would stuff us all into our pajamas and attempt to get us to sleep so they could stay late drinking beer, Whiskey Sours and a minty cocktail called a Grasshopper which I would sneak sips of when my mom wasn’t looking.

the_day_afterOverall, I had a pretty happy and carefree childhood.  The ’80s soon arrived though, and the magic of those days faded away.  With the new decade came puberty, Ronald Reagan and the nuclear holocaust movie The Day After.  I don’t know why my parents thought it was important for my brother and I to watch it with them.  It’s not like we headed to the back yard afterwards to start digging a bomb shelter together.  But I do know that my childhood ended abruptly as I entered my teens terrified of an impending nuclear attack.

I often think about how different those days were from these in which my daughters are growing up.  Despite the many differences, though, I hope my kids will someday think back on their own childhoods as fondly as I do on those long ’70s summer nights when the sun seemed to hang in the sky forever, riding in the way-back of my parents’ Buick LeSabre station wagon, fighting with my brother and listening to Jim Croce on the radio.