Turning Homework Fails into a Parenting Triumph

Homework has never been my children’s favorite. It’s probably no child’s favorite, ever. Although Michael loves when I give him “homework” — because it makes him feel like a big kid, I’m sure.

This post is not about Michael.

I got a phone call yesterday that derailed me. Turns out one of my children was not completing her homework. And I didn’t know about it because every time I said, “Is your homework done?” she said, “Yep!”

And I believed her.

Pile of homework
Not very popular in these parts. (Image by Ed Sweetman)

Now, I will be upfront here and say: the other girl is not great about homework either. I have asked them to do it when they get home from school. One of them starts at Bella and Tadone’s and doesn’t finish, and the other doesn’t start until I get home, and we fight about it while she does it at our kitchen table. Which just makes it take that much longer.

So. This is the current state of homework at Casa di RPM.

I took awhile to process my feelings after the phone call. I was furious at being lied to; I was disappointed that my child was lying; I was even embarrassed that the teachers had to call. I was frustrated with my own failure to be on top of the situation. And while all of my feeling are valid, I couldn’t deal with the situation by being reactive and emotional when dealing with it.

I came up with a plan and consulted with Dan. We agreed on a strategy. And when the girls got home, I sat down, first with one, and then both, and talked about how we were going to do homework from now on.

And it starts with no screens. No television, no computer, no mini-Monk (this is what Bella calls her tablet, it’s a long story), no Minecraft. And it’s not “no screens until homework is done.” For at least the next two weeks, it’s no screens until night-time showtime at 7:30 p.m. One half-hour of television each day. That’s it.

I have no doubt my children are going to be bored. We will play games, they can read books, I will read books with them, they can do chores. (Flora is actually very good about doing her chore each day, which is emptying the dishwasher. The other two — yes, Michael has chores — are not as good, but they are getting better.) They can play with Legos and cars and superheroes; they can draw pictures.

And then in two weeks, we will see if things have improved.

One of my children was very upset during the conversation. She knew her teachers had called; she knew what the problem was; she didn’t want to keep being lectured. (My father is chuckling to himself right now.) I let her be upset. I let her cry and show her frustration. I think she was embarrassed and I think she was angry at letting us down. The other child was more receptive.

I did not talk about my feelings. Dan did not talk about his feelings. We didn’t tell the girls how smart they are. We didn’t tell the girls how disappointed we were. We calmly talked about the problem, the solution, how we were going to reach the solution, and how we were going to measure the solution (teacher conferences). We let the girls express their feelings, and we let them know it was okay to feel the way they were feeling (sad, angry, frustrated, uninterested in homework). However, despite their feelings, we were going to solve the problem.

Together. As a team.

What failure have you turned into a triumph lately?

Another Version of That Mom

Among many of the things I am generally opposed to as a parent is doing my children’s homework for them. Yes, I am present. I encourage, I instruct, I check Flora’s work. But she does it.

Except for last night when I did Flora’s homework for her.

Before we left for North Carolina, Flora came home with a paper about making a rosary. (Ah, Catholic school.) It was due the Friday that we were going to be out of town.

I forgot about it.

Yesterday, a little politely worded post-it note came home on Flora’s school folder.

“10-24-2011 Flora needs a rosary. This is the third reminder.”


Flora: “I was so embarrassed that I had to borrow a rosary from Miss B!”

Oh, dear.

I had no idea they were using the rosary. For the record, this was the first reminder I remember getting, although when I mentioned it to Dan, he said, “Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you about that.”

Plenty of guilt to go around.

Last night was the usual craziness. Trying to sit down one-on-one with Flora to string beads was a futile mess. She did her math homework. She wrote her vocabulary words on index cards. By the time I got Michael in bed, and we found beads, string, and I figured out how to get the beads on the string (the yarn was too wide for the holes in the beads; stringing the bead involved tying thread to the end of the yarn, and pulling the yarn through the beads that way), it was 8:20. Plus, Kate was hanging over me like a shawl.

I sent the girls to bed. Flora cried. “I’m supposed to help you with the rosary!”

“I know,” I told her. “I know. You did help. We counted out all the beads and you drew the cross. I think it’s more important that you have a rosary to take to school tomorrow than I let you stay up extra late to help.”

Reasoning with a soon-to-be 7-year-old is not very effective. In case you didn’t already know that.

Between making the rosary and various and sundry other PITA activities (trying to cancel a lost debit card, finding a puddle of water under my clothes washer, cleaning the kitchen — which never did get done), it was 11:15 before I went to bed. I’m not proud about having done the rosary for Flora, but other options seemed more unpalatabale to me.

What would you’ve done? More importantly, how do I keep from having to do this type of thing again?


Subtitle: I don’t understand why more schools don’t use social media.

Mornings have never been my favorite time of day. As of late, of course, they have become more problematic.

But I thought — I thought — I was doing okay this morning.

Granted, I didn’t wake up until 7 a.m., but I’m making up hours as I go along at work anyway. So I figured I’d just suck it up, and even drop the kids off at their respective schools.

It is Flora’s last day of preschool at St. J’s. I actually managed to put a barrette in her hair to keep it out of her face, so I felt on top of things.

Not so much.

Now I am not the most attentive of mothers, and by that I don’t mean I ignore my children. I just… I don’t have baby books; I don’t have scrapbooks (although I have lots of scrap); I don’t save every single piece of art and school work that they have ever done (probably one out of every, oh, 15-20?). I try to be good about taking lots of pictures and video, but mileage varies.

But when it comes to school stuff? I downright suck.

On the plus side, I seldom (never say never) forget to send my children to school without food. I pack pretty healthy lunches of stuff they like; Flora gets a snack and a drink box for preschool three days a week. When it’s their birthdays, I send in cookies (usually of the Eat’n Park variety; a baker I am not).

I am pretty good about permission slips for field trips Flora’s class goes on. I even usually take a day off to accompany her to the pumpkin patch around Halloween. (A field trip I will be going on for two more years, as Kate moves through St. J’s pre-k program.)

However, I am terrible about things like show and tell. Out of 10 months, I may remember to send something with Flora half of those. (Thank goodness they only have it once a month.) I completely spaced on school pictures this year (Dan saved our bacon there). And when stuff like baby photos are requested for the end-of-the-year DVD, you can bet I’ll forget about it.

To top things off, I dropped Flora off this morning at 8:10 a.m.

She didn’t have to be a school until 9.

I did not have a clue.

And do you know why?

Because I do not read paper.

I just don’t.

Flora comes home three times a week with her backpack filled with paper. Drawings she’s made, letter papers, school “work”, and, yes, class newsletters, calendars, permission slips, and so on.

I glance at most of this, tack the monthly calendar on the bulletin board, decide if I’m going to hang anything on the ‘fridge, and throw out everything else.

I am an connected mommy, a social media mommy. I read emails; I read tweets; I have a blog.

Schools would serve parents like me much, much better if they had active blogs, Twitter and/or whatever-is-replacing-Ning accounts (Facebook is too big for private K-8 schools, I think), and used emails.

Am I alone? Am I alone in having schools that don’t do this?

I understand that resources is an issue — probably THE issue. I’d be running my daughter’s school’s social media program… if they could pay me. Alas, they cannot (they almost closed this year, as a matter of fact), and I’m simply not in a position to quit my job and volunteer to do it.

I consulted (for free) with the volunteer who does run their marketing “department”. We actually — she, rather — did set up a Ning account for the school looking toward boosting enrollment and fundraising activities. We also talked about changes to the schools’ Web site to make it more interactive, and even about blog possibilities the school should explore (providing they stay open).

She was told to pull the Ning site down — which is a whole ‘nother post.

My point is: I don’t read paper, but I would read emails or Tweets. Given the proper time and incentive, I would even pursue that more with the school, because I am sure I am not the only one. (Well, I was the only parent there before 9 a.m. this morning, and that may have as much to do with the fact that I don’t usually do the morning drop-off, so it’s something my husband may have been told, and failed to pass the info along.)

What do you think? Should even small schools actively pursue engaging parents through social media? (I say, resoundingly, yes.) If cost is an issue, how should schools address that? Should I talk more to schools in my area about budgeting for it and/or how to use their current resources (i.e. office administrators, teachers to blog, etc.)?

Or should I start reading paper?

Random Thoughts: News of the Week

I signed Monkey up for preschool and a new daycare on Tuesday. I am so excited for her! I would spare you the, “I can’t believe my little baby is going to preschool” yadda, yadda, yadda. But you know what? My little baby is going to preschool!

She asks everyday, “Am I going to preschool today?” She can’t wait. I can’t wait! I really think she is going to love it.

And, yes, a new daycare. Right now, just three days a week (well, technically two half days, after preschool, and one full day). She may start there full time depending on what DCL decides to do. More on that in a moment.

And Bun is on the waiting list at the new daycare, too. They have to hire another staff member for the toddler room first.


DCL: First, I have noticed some changes since DCL, DearDR, and I sat down for our little conversation. DCL is trying to bring more structure to her day, instituting table time, planning activities, and so on.

Second, DCL received an anonymous note in the mail threatening to report her to the state and the IRS. She thinks it came from one of her neighbors (no, it didn’t come from me or DearDR). As a result, she and MK are considering going in together, and getting a license from the state. That would mean should would have to cut the number of kids (regardless of the season — she says she always has more in the summer). It would probably also mean her prices are going to increase, but my expenses are already increasing as Monkey enters school and a new daycare. So what’s the diff?


I get to go to dinner with some blogging Burgh moms tonight. They will probably manage to write about it before I do because: We are going to Kennywood tomorrow!

It’s my company’s annual employee picnic. It is only costing $20 for the four of us, and they have free pop and a free lunch from 1-4 p.m. How cool is that?

I haven’t been to Kennywood since I was pregnant with Monkey. In case you didn’t know, you can’t ride ANYTHING at Kennywood when you’re pregnant. Not even the Turnpike. Well, actually, you can ride the carousel. I don’t even like the carousel, but I did ride it on that occasion. Just to prove a point. Don’t ask what point.

It will be Monkey and Bun’s first time. I’m curious to see how they do and what they want to do. And what kind of dirt Bun decides to try to eat. I promise — promise — to bring the cameras, both still and video.


In house news: We have killed three mice. (For the funniest mouse-killing story I have seen online, go here. If we could buy a cat, we would. But I am allergic. Maybe when the girls are old enough to clean out the litter box, I’ll reconsider and take a daily Claritin for sniffles, but for now, no cats.) Of course, I mopped my kitchen floor and put things back together last night (I still have to disinfect the drawer under the stove), and then saw the body in a cupboard this morning. Gross!

Left a note for DearDR. For goodness sake, I’m a vegetarian. I’d let the critters share the house with us if they weren’t disease carriers. And if they would agree to not poop in my silverware drawer.


The bathroom floor is a disaster. DearDR pulled up a corner of the rug, dried out the floor, and then ripped out half of the rug. The former owners GLUED the rug on top on linoleum. So now I have a big, sticky mess in there.

I have three levels of frustration about this project:

1. I had wanted that rug removed when we first moved in, a little over three years ago now. I consider rugs in bathrooms the height of disgusting-ness (is that a word?). Unfortunately, it wasn’t high on DearDR’s list. I’m still not sure it’s on his list.

2. I went though the trouble and stress to take the girls to Erie by myself (driving on the interstate with two toddlers in the back is a recipe for an accident, and I have to stop doing it). When I first noticed the spreading dampness on the rug, I told DearDR something had to be done. He said, and I quote, “Take the girls to Erie, and you will have a new bathroom floor when you get home.” I have a different bathroom floor than the one I left last Friday, but it’s certainly not new.

3. So now when is he going to do it? We are completely tied up the next two weekends. Unless he commits to doing it on a Sunday, and gets help, I don’t know when it is going to happen. And I’m not taking the girls to Erie by myself again so that it can happen. So sorry, Charlie.

I am getting an estimate from my sister-in-law’s brother, who is a contractor. But unless he gives us a break on the price, I sincerely doubt we’ll be able to afford it. One plus: We got free ceramic tiles from my parents. So at least we don’t have to pay for that. Just time & labor. Great.


If you are not already checking out this site, you have to go. Go now. This chickie (and I sincerely use that term with the highest respect) makes me laugh out loud. She pretty much takes stuff from the Post-Gazette and sums it up in her own inimitable and very, very funny style. I’m glad she’s saying it, because somebody should. Thanks, PittGirl.