Thursday, November 6, 2014

Soothing the Savage Beast

I hate homework. I know I've mentioned this before, and some might think I should just shut up about it because I'm not the one that has to do the homework. But here's the thing: I could deal with doing it. What I can't deal with is the kid who has to do it and doesn't want to, and instead chooses to whine, complain, yell, gripe and kvetch about it. To me. While I'm trying to work. And then when I offer to help, he yells at me even more.

This happens a lot, and even more when it's the end of the marking period and every teacher is heaping on the assignments, projects, quizzes and tests the final week before grades are due. So what's a mother to do when the level of homework threatens her sanity and the potential health and safety of her children?

Blast some music.

Yes, it sounds simple. And listening to music is the oldest study aide in the history of schoolwork. Sure, the methods have changed from record players and AM/FM radios to cassettes, CDs, MP3 players and Internet radio. But it's not the method of delivery that matters. It's the music.

The old saying is often misquoted. In fact, the phrase was coined by William Congreve, in The Mourning Bride, in 1697:

"Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak."

In my house though, anyone with ungodly amounts of homework automatically becomes a beast, so I stand by the title of this post. Yesterday, my younger beast was close to being locked out onto the porch for how difficult he was being about the amount of homework and studying he had to complete. It was that or beat my head against the wall until I hurt myself. Voices were being raised, ultimatums issued, and I saw the escalation potentially soaring. Then something occurred to me, and I stopped.

"Ben, what's that song you heard on the radio last night that you loved? Let It Burn?"

"Huh? Let It Go you mean?"

"No, it was Burn something." I Googled 'the Burn song' on YouTube. Boom, there it was. I hit play. Ben said, "Oh, YEAH! This one!" He watched the video the first time, then I hit play again and he sat down to start working. When the song ended, he got up and went to his room, but before I had a chance to call him, he returned with his portable Bluetooth speaker and his cell phone, complete with playlists. He hooked them up, put them on the table, hit 'Play' and went back to work.

And it worked. The music, that is. by the end of the night, Ben had completed six Social Studies worksheets and studied for his Spanish exam. Yes, I had to listen to Minecraft parody songs repeatedly until I thought I would have to leave the house myself, but it was better than shouting. And way more effective.

So when the homework load gets heavy in your house, I highly recommend popping the 'Frozen' CD (or whatever tunes of choice will make your student drop everything and start singing) into the player and letting it rip. If your kid is anything like mine, it will make the process far less painful. For everyone.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Homework Conundrum

I hate homework. Granted, it's been several years since I had any assigned to me directly (hey, I went to grad school. When I say "several" I don't mean "dozens." I mean, like, eight.). But as if to help me appreciate the misery that my middle- and high-school-aged sons must suffer, teachers make sure to pile on the homework so that no kid can really do it alone. Invariably, they will start off fine. But before long, they need to call in reinforcements. Read: Mom, just as she's starting to cook dinner.

This year, however, has been different. Ben comes home, sits down, takes out his planner and his books and gets to work. When he says he's done, I pop onto the computer and log in to the school website, click on his name and check all the assignments he has due tomorrow, listed by class.

"Ooh. Science test tomorrow. Did you study?"
"Yep, we studied in class."
"OK, we'll review after dinner. Math worksheet?"
"Done." Holds it up.
"Spanish vocabulary words list?"
"Done." Holds it up.
"Did you start your music paragraph on jazz yet?"
"I started it at school, but it's not due 'til Friday. I'll finish it tomorrow."

And I brush the computer dust from my hands as he heads outside to play.

Jacob, however, is in high school. They use a different grading system, which means the assignments can't be posted on the school calendar site the way Ben's can. This year, it's up to Jacob to write it all down, keep track of it and get it done. And he has stated categorically that he hates homework and doesn't see the value in it.

But with my ignorance of the assignments, and the inability to check them, I have to take him at his word when he says the work is done. The fact that he's a sophomore means he should be mature enough to handle the responsibility. I mean really, what 15-year-old needs his mother nagging him about his homework? I was excited to have a hands-off year with him, finally.

Until the grades started showing up.

"Um, hey Jacob. What's with this chemistry homework grade?"
"Oh, yeah, that. I didn't realize it was two pages so I didn't do the back."
"Hey Jacob, what's with this math homework grade?"
"Oh, I didn't realize it was due today."

Etcetera, etcetera. Control freak that I am, I went a little crazy. Crazy to the point of lecturing every day, threatening to take away privileges, following him around the house and telling him he couldn't possibly be done with his homework because he had hardly done any at all and I'd better not see another bad grade or else blah, blah, blah.

It was so effective that I managed to end every afternoon in a shouting match with him, and every bedtime became a mutual apology session.

Then the other day I read a quote by Ben Franklin that I loved:

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn."

And it dawned on me that maybe this new situation is a good thing. Maybe the fact that I can't go on line, see what his assignments are, remind him and nag him and ride him about getting them done is a sign that I need to let go. I need to allow my kids make their own choices and mistakes, regardless of whether I agree with them. Will it impact his ability to get into college? No. Will it ruin the rest of his life? No. So do I need to start World War III over it every single day? Unquestionably no.

Jacob is old enough to do this stuff on his own. And he is the one whose grades will drop if he doesn't figure out how to manage it all. He'll be disappointed in himself when we don't go out to dinner at the end of the quarter to celebrate his making the honor roll. Maybe the only way for him to learn is to let him see what happens when he does the work on his own, and when he doesn't.

Maybe homework does have some redeeming educational value after all.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Odor Control

My kid stinks. Not his attitude: his body. But he can't smell it on himself. When it first started happening, I tried not to hold it against him. But soon, I didn't want to hold anything against him, including myself. How do you avoid hugging your stinky kid when he wants to be hugged?

Of course, it's not his fault. He's a teenager--it comes with the territory, and we made sure to tell him that. We explained that when wet sweat and hormones mix with bacteria in a warm place, it becomes a petri dish of growth and stink. Then we set out to help him manage it. We tried deodorant. We tried deodorant soap. We tried daily showers. We tried a combination of all three. I've also read that drinking lots of water helps, and antibacterial wipes can come in handy after gym if there's no time (or desire) to shower after class. Finally, we decided he has to shower every morning, not before bed, because physiologically, he is only capable of remaining stink-free for about 18 hours post-shower. This seemed to do the trick.

As this is my first-born child, the whole situation is new to me. But apparently it's a widespread issue that impacts families, peers and even teachers, as a high school teacher friend recently pointed out to me. She was scheduled to spend an 87-degree day hiking in the company of a group of teenagers, subjecting her to multiple cases of body odor. And she was not at all happy about it.

But how does one approach the parents of stinky teens and have them instruct their progeny on the mechanics of their changing bodies, and their responsibility to maintain order when in the company of others? Or should teachers be offering tips and tricks to their students on using wipes, re-applying deodorant and showering daily?

Personally, I think that goes above and beyond a teacher's duties, even if she is looking out for the well-being of her students (in addition to trying to maintain a healthy classroom that's conducive to work). So parents, listen up! Take a whiff! Save your teen the embarrassment of being told by peers that they are smelly, and spare their instructors the uncomfortable job of a hot classroom full of B.O. After all, aren't raging hormones and late-summer heat enough for them to contend with when trying to educate our kids?