Tag Archives: Catholic school

Homework or Flowers?


Look: I’m the last person in the world to be ragging ANYONE about homework, because I spent most of my childhood simply acting as if homework were merely an absurd suggestion from ridiculous grownups – grownups WITHOUT weaponry to enforce these hilarious suggestions.

That is, until I hit Catholic school. There, to my dismay, I found someone had equipped the nuns with a secret wooden arsenal of rulers – and slapping hands, besides, which they clearly were highly trained in the use of, particularly in the application of maximum pain and minimum trace marks that might reveal their cruelty beyond the crumbling walls.

Nasty stuff.

Still: that only made the game of homework avoidance more of a challenge.

I spent sixth grade math class playing a diabolical game with Mr. Elvins. I would prop up my book right on my desk, hiding my empty notebook. To me, it seemed so blatantly obvious that I wondered at times, even then, if I was trying to get caught.

The trick went like this: chubby Elvins was too lazy to collect and grade any homework. So all he would ever do was randomly choose students each day and have them give him the answers to the math problems from the previous night’s homework.

If he called on me, I’d simply look down at the problem, solve it in my head, and give him the answer.

Mr. Elvins was so rigidly blinkered at the idea of any student, much less a GIRL student, being able to pull off such a Las Vegas trick, that although every once in a while he’d cast a suspicious glance at my book wall and my wide-eyed innocent gaze, he was not about to rouse his low-belted, big-bellied body off the chair behind The Big Desk and actually CHECK to see if I’d done the work.

Even in college, I was able to scam a bit.

I was scholarshipped to college, but worked my way through the rest of it: there’s more than tuition, of course: there’s drinking and partying money you need.

So naturally, I was loathe to waste my money on $400 books. Actually, what used to end up happening to me at the beginning of each semester was this:

I’d enter yon bookstore with all good intentions of buying the books I was supposed to buy, but then I’d get so very intrigued with all the OTHER cool-looking books from all the OTHER classes that I’d buy THEM instead, leaving me, er, a little short when it came to MY books.

So I’d make deals with the other students. I was a phenomenal studier – a perfect test-taker. I knew JUST what professors wanted to hear in essays, on tests. So I’d find myself someone who was NOT, and pair up with them.

They had the books, and I had the savvy, so we’d both make out.

Now, I have two daughters, and I’M the one who’s supposed to be getting on THEIR case to do their homework.

What an ethical conundrum.

Considering that despite all my rackets and schemes, the whole problem with the homework thing throughout my whole life was that I didn’t believe in it to begin with – and I still don’t.

After all, unless you’re on salary, and have major responsibilities at your job, which you for some reason have to take home – most adults go to work at a certain hour – say, nine a.m. – and come home at five p.m., and then they’re DONE.

Kids, on the other hand, get up at around six a.m., get home around three p.m., and I’ve seen mine – and others – work on their homework for HOURS.

In New York, I queried one teacher: “How long do you expect a student to work on homework for your class?”

“I expect them to spend about 45 minutes,” she answered blithely.

At the time, my kid had seven periods. That would add up to five hours and fifteen minutes of homework a night if all her teachers expected the same.

In addition to a day’s worth of school? That’s just wrong.

So I face an ethical dilemma, as I try to align myself with my kids’ teachers.

Sure: boring homework has its place in life. It’s good practice for life, since we all will someday face a life of work with incredibly useless, boring tasks that we will have to perform.

But will we have to perform them for hours and hours, after work, and all weekend?

I dunno. I’m a grownup now, and I still think homework sucks. And I sometimes still write notes to get my kids out of it.

“Dear Teacher: Please excuse my child from her homework last night because we were attacked by a giant squid. Love, me.”

Okay, maybe NOT that outrageous. But I DO make sure to write it on my InklessTales.com stationary, to ensure my “authority.”

I just can’t stand the idea of watching them do 100 math problems when we could count flowers outside instead.

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Filed under confidence, education, family, homework, humor, kids, life, parenting, school

Smoke the Guilt Away.


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Elizabeth Williams Bushey self-portrait, smoking with I exited the store today, after some retail therapy, new blue jeans in a bag, and to my delight, saw another smoker just outside.

Thus, I expressed said delight, as I am wont to do. “Ah!” said, I with said delight. “Another smoker!”

The woman – one of those terrific women “of a certain age” whom I admire: you know the kind – they keep in shape, get their hair cut cool, still wear lipstick. On their lips. With lip liner, so it doesn’t bleed into all the cracks they’ve earned. Neat-looking lady.

Except for the part where she nearly jumped out of her skin like we all used to do in the girls’ room when Sister Josephine walked into the nicotine haze. I wanted to go: Calm down, ma’am, I’m not wearing a habit, or carrying a ruler.

“Oh my gosh – I thought – oh, how silly, I felt just like I was getting caught smoking.”

“You were,” I said, lighting one up myself. “Only I’m thrilled. Smoke up. The French smoke, they eat more fat than any other country in the world, and they drink wine every day. They’re thin and they live a long, happy life. Vive le France.”

She felt guilty, however. Guilty that she was enjoying a smoke. Guilty that since she’d stopped smoking in the house, she’d gained a few pounds.

“You look great,” I said. She did.

“Oh,” she waved at me. Have I mentioned? Every woman thinks she’s fat? They’re even willing to smoke themselves to death to be thin.

“Well, there’s always portion control,” I suggested.

“I do that,” she nodded enthusiastically.

For those who have not yet caught on to portion control, here’s the deal. What you get when you sit down to Ruby Tuesday’s, TGIFriday’s, Choose-Your-Own-Weekday EatFest is NOT a human-sized portion. One plate that your server hands you is a skosh or two more like the size of what ordinary-sized people feed a family of about four or so.

On massive plates.

And YOU eat it ALL. With appetizers first. Breaded, fried appetizers. Maybe even some bread and butter, and some iceberg-lettuce salad – or even salad bar, which is a hilarious choice, really, considering that most of the buckets are slop-ful of loose mayonnaise with beans floating in it, or cheese.

Then you ease yourself uncomfortably away from the booth, wondering why you seemed to fit better when you got there (did the coats expand, or the bags get more full?) Stomachs straining, wallets far emptier – especially if you indulged in fake micro-brew beers or wine – you head home after another night of consuming enough calories to sustain a small African village for a week.

Which you didn’t know, because it was all on one plate, after all. And after all, Mom always told you to clean your plate, because of the starving African children.

Which you didn’t know – and still don’t – how cleaning your plate could possibly help them out, but became deeply ingrained in your soul, creating a ferocious guilty monster inside you every time you see half-eaten food on your plate.

You know, forevermore, have my permission to leave it there, and not even take it home, even if you have a dog. (He shouldn’t be eating people food anyway – especially stuff that salty.)

But anyway, back to my new friend, who was feeling terribly guilty, and whose name happened to be Bernice.

Poor guilty Bernice was simply unable to enjoy her poor cigarette: she couldn’t even hold it comfortably, unlike myself, who was standing loose-limbed next to her, loving the warm spring air, my bag of $10 Calvin Klein jeans (TJ Maxx really IS a steal), and taking in long, unhealthy, but stress-relieving drags.

I turned again to Bernice, who was fluttering around, trying to figure out where she was going to put the butt. (Me? I field-strip them, pack the butt in the box and throw them away when I find an appropriate spot. When anyone’s looking, that is. I admit, sometimes the world is my ashtray.)

“Bernice, don’t feel guilty. Guilt is a waste.”

“Oh, but I do,” she said.

“Guilt makes people feel badly about themselves. People who feel badly about themselves aren’t motivated to do better in the future.”

“Oh, but I feel very guilty today. I’m here shopping, and my husband is at chemo.”

Uh… she had me there. Good luck with the death treatment, honey. I’m going shoe-shopping. But, still…

“Bernice, you can’t feel guilty. Seriously.”

She stopped dead in her tracks. I could feel it, palpable in the air: the challenge. What could I possible volley back to that one?

“Bernice, you’ve flown on airplanes, right?”
“Dozens of times.”

“What does the flight attendant tell you to do?”

Don’t you just HATE when people make you GUESS? I didn’t leave her hanging very long.

“Put the orange oxygen mask on THE GROWNUP first. THEN put the little mask on the child. Why? Because otherwise you’ll pass out and die, and then where will the child be? Dead, too. You have to take care of yourself, first, or you’ll be no good to anyone else.”

“I TOLD him that this morning. I made him his breakfast. All he had to do was ZAP it, but he wants me to do everything for him!” Bernice said it in the same voice you use when you say: “I know! How COME the Professor never gets it on with Ginger or MaryAnn? He’s single; he’s not gross. What is there, saltpeter on Gilligan’s Island or something?”

“I told him,” Bernice went on, “that I’m training him to be an invalid – that’s what I said, I told him: I’m training you to be an invalid.”

I took a rare break from my usual ha-ha self (yes, I can even make cancer funny) and spoke softly. “Bernice, when I was still living with my parents, my favorite uncle came to live with us. He had terminal colon cancer, so I’m no stranger to living with and caring with cancer patients. Trust me: you need to keep that oxygen mask on yourself – and he needs to take care of himself, too. It’ll keep him strong, and might even help him recover.”

We used to call ourselves The Amateur Nursing Association; people came to our house to die. You were wondering, maybe, where I acquired this black sense of humor of mine?

“Have fun shopping, Bernice. Don’t feel guilty.” I smiled at her.

“I will,” she said, much more enthusiastic and relaxed than she was before.

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