I could write an entire essay on Jamestown, Virginia. It is not
because I spent months learning about it in the 4th grade. It is
not because I'm a history buff. It is not even because I secretly
want to be an early American colonist.
It is because of what happened when it came time to turn in my
history project when I was 10 years old. I asked my mom for help.
In the middle of raising four kids and driving everybody to their
respective sports and activities, my mom opted to hand me a model
of Ft. Dearborn instead of Jamestown.
Ft. Dearborn was my older brother's 4th grade history project.
My mom had spent hours gluing and staining cardboard into scale
model perfection. It was one of the most beautiful projects at the
History Fair that year. Still, it lost out on first place to a
working model of Chicago's Great Ferris Wheel of 1893.
You just can't compete with a dad who is a structural
So I turned in Ft. Dearborn even though I knew Jamestown was
V-shaped and I was probably going to be outed as a perpetrator of
fraud and intellectual theft.
Thankfully, my teacher played dumb, gave me a B- and jotted down
a little red note that said, "Next time, don't forget that
Jamestown was a triangle!"
I think Mrs. Walters had a bunch of kids of her own and
appreciated history-fair burnout when she saw it. True to my
promise, I have never ever forgotten the shape of Jamestown.
Which leads me to my kids. Last year, I sat through a first
grade science fair meeting where parents were instructed to not let
their kids write on their project boards. Computer graphs were
encouraged. Typed reports were preferred. Since when did the normal
skill set of first graders include typing and graphing? Just last
week, I participated in a parent meeting for the second grade Young
Author's project, which outlined using figurative language and
analogy in the kids' writing. Dan's rough draft has heroically
delivered on this directive and includes the line, "The guy smelled
like poo." Pulitzer Prize stuff right there.
I get it. These schools want the parents involved. But I am not
a patient person. I dropped my teacher-certification option in
college because I realized I don't have what it takes to teach. My
kids used to beg for their father when it came time to do homework
because they knew mommy was going to yell. Better mothers than I
describe themselves as their children's "first and best teacher."
Not over here. My kids learned all their colors, numbers, and
letters via "Baby Einstein" videos. That stuff is gold.
My focus as a mother is to get them to school. To oversee their
character development. To make sure they practice their piano,
brush their teeth, and open doors for old ladies. I just can't
re-do the second grade. I don't have it in me.
I've started allowing my kids to do their own homework without
help. I do glance at it to make sure it is all completed. I
received the first CPS progress reports and so far, so good. The
kids seem to be doing fine without a helicopter parent at homework
time. They're not getting straight A's, but the grades reflect
their own abilities, their own learning - not mine.
Am I just being lazy? A little bit. I also know that my mom
spent way more time helping my older brother and sister with their
homework, and they had a harder time in later years. I was left to
my own devices at a much earlier age and figured things out. My
brother and sister got better grades in grammar school (when my mom
made sure they studied, completed their homework and aced
everything). I was pretty much a C student until I got to high
school, where I was put on the honors track and graduated with
I'm not sure how CPS would feel about my cease-and-desist
homework methodology. It's not set in stone. I am open to
revisiting my involvement should the need arise. Yet for now, I
like the confidence the boys feel in "doing it themselves." They
are not waiting around for me to build Ft. Dearborn. Mostly because
they know they'd just end up with a stick drawing of a colonist
wearing a Davy Crockett hat.
I don't have it all figured out, but I know I completed second
grade. Now it's their turn.
Marianne is mother of three sons and the wife of a southside Irish fireman. She has learned that sometimes you're just too dumb to know what makes you happy. She blogs regularly at We Band of Mothers (webandofmothers.com) and curses with even greater frequency. Her material is written for the imperfect, the imprudent, and the impatient mothers who know that all this stuff is really very funny if you just give it a minute.
See more of Marianne's stories here.
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