“And God, I’ve been praying for a while now
for the ability to melt faces with my anger,
and I really don’t think it’s too much to ask.”
Stupid Plus Unwelcome Equals Me
While helping my 3rd grade son with his homework, I have learned some very basic dos and don’ts that I would like to share, which may help you to keep from losing your temper in five seconds. But they likely will not help, as they have all only failed me so far.
First, do not let him eat a snack, or his pencil, when he’s supposed to be thinking. Food is a distraction, and their stains on his paper have got to make you look bad in the eyes of his teacher. And a pencil is, simply put, not food. Not even the eraser part. I did once witness my brother’s huge dog poop out a large portion of a red Nerf football, which I would liken to a horrifying neon cherry ice cream. I apologize for the image, but my point is that I am fairly certain a tiny bit of eraser would not do my son any real harm. Especially after living through his baby years with all the bits of bright and happy crayon colors we would occasionally find in his diaper. But hopefully, with my son, I will not have to resort to actual chew toys as redirection.
Also, you will quickly learn to distinguish between his ‘I’m thinking’ face and his ‘I’m pretending to be thinking’ face, which he will use as a way to stall, to finish up a daydream, or to just try to get that pencil back in his mouth. The biggest hint that he is pretending to be thinking is his actual voicing of “umm,” when it sounds staged, as if ‘this is the noise a person makes whilst thinking, and so I, therefore, must no doubt, at this moment, be thinking,’ while tapping the pencil eraser part against his cheek, stepping ever closer, back toward his mouth.
Also, do not allow stuffed animals at the table. They will arrive under the guise of friends who offer moral support, a cheering squad for his efforts, but they are really only there to act as puppets that he will animate to voice his own criticism of your work ethic and methodology.
Next, be emotionally prepared for him to use his teacher against you, immediately and constantly. “She does it this way.” “She said we didn’t have to do that.” My son is a good boy and he is only trying to make his life easier, which I can understand and appreciate, but he is full of crap and lying straight to my face. Performing basic math and spelling homework with parents is how children learn to debate. And lie and cheat. And probably steal.
Most importantly, keep in mind that his academic level is at a point where you are still likely able to help him with minimal preparation on your part. And if not, it’s still possible to fake it at this stage, and pretend to know an answer before you have actually figured it out in your head. Just stall. “Do you know the answer? Can you figure it out? Think for a minute. Get the pencil away from your face, please.” This should buy you the time you need to arrive at the answer. Unless you are my wife. She is a brilliant business strategist, but putting a two-digit number over another two-digit number and combining or separating them to produce a solution requires either the part of the Rosetta Stone that is still missing, or Dad. And Dad is not, as yet, missing.
And when my son does reach the academic level at which I cannot help him without studying ahead of time myself, I will without a doubt fail with catastrophic totality. And thus will begin the ‘Dad is stupid’ phase of my life, which should only last until I am dead.
Even with these early challenges, I still have grand designs for helping him with his homework in the future, as his studies advance. I fully hope to obtain copies of his text books, communicate with his various teachers, read ahead, and ready myself for any and all intellectual challenges posed by, say, 4th grade. And I have already received some crystal clear signals from his teachers that they would be happy to hear from me, but maybe not more than once, maybe twice. Better, though, to be a teacher’s bane than my son’s idiot father, though I will no doubt become both. When his teacher replies to a simple ‘how should he show his work?’ e-mail with phrases like ‘reform mathematical pedagogy,’ I know I’m fast approaching ‘stupid and unwelcome,’ and accelerating at a rate which I will never be able to compute.
My Seven-Year-Old Son And Me, Building Our First Birdhouse Together
A Project I’d been Dreaming Of Since I Found Out I Was Having A Boy
(Basement workroom, work bench, basic tools)
“Okay, my boy. Here we go. I know you’ve been waiting a long time to do this, and you’re finally a big enough boy to use a hammer. But be very careful, and don’t do anything unless I say so first, Okay?”
(I point to his drawing of a birdhouse, our ‘blueprint,’ all crayon, ridiculous, not a single right angle, and hovering unattached in the sky. The scene is complete with a bird family, a cloud, and a sun so huge it would roast the Earth at that distance. His scale would make the birdhouse about the size of a small school.)
“Let’s start with the walls. We can see if we have some wood that would be the right dimensions for us to use.”
(I had spent a few hours over the previous days cutting wood to the proper sizes, so that we would have minimal cutting before assembly. We would make a few short, easy cuts, mostly for show, and then we would hammer the living crap out of the wood, and hopefully have enough uncrushed material left over to actually house a bird.)
“Okay, look over the wood pile and… where are you? Where did you go?”
(He is nowhere in sight and does not answer.)
“Marco?” (His actual name, not the ‘where are you’ game.)
(He has found a box of toys he has outgrown, but now finds himself re-enamored and unable to part with them.)
“We can talk about maybe not giving these away later. We have to do our building today, so let’s please get back to work. We have to work and focus if we want to do the job right. So come on back. Come on. Let’s go, buddy.”
(Back at the woodpile, with the precut pieces all stacked neatly on top.)
“Do you see any that are about one foot square? No? Are you sure? Look again. Right on top there. Use your ruler. That one on top looks to be about right. Just hand me those top few pieces. I’m pretty sure they’ll work. Just hand them to me please. Just… I’ll help you.”
“Well, I do think they’ll work just fine. Can you measure them? Just hold the ruler. Just hold… just… the ruler. Where’s the ruler?”
(Two minutes of looking for the ruler, no luck. Then a snack, a pee (him), and some action figures, and we’re back at it in about a half-hour.)
“Okay. Let’s get these boards together and get this done. Hold this piece. Just hold it still. Just… no, it’s not an airplane. Yes, if you hold it sideways and wag it around it can be kind of like an airplane, but right now we need it to be a birdhouse wall. Just hand it to me.”
“Those are dowels. Yes, they look very much like swords. We’re not sword fighting right now. We can sword fight with your foam swords when we’re done here. Don’t… just for a minute. I’ll get started.”
“No, I’m not going to sword fight with you yet, so please stop poking me. I’m using tools. They’re pretty cool tools if you want to… ”
“Yes, just go ahead and sword fight in the other room.”
(20 minutes later. He’s started a DVD upstairs.)
“Do want to help? Marco? Come on back down, buddy.”
“Yes, that’s good singing. I like that song. You sure sing it a whole lot.”
(20 more minutes later, one finished birdhouse, very basic, box design, no entrance hole.)
“Where are you, Buddy?! Come look at our birdhouse!”
(He comes down the stairs)
“Good job, buddy. Go show Mommy what you did.”
“No, we’re not going to paint it today. I think you’ll be painting it with your mother.”
My son’s basketball coach was sick for practice last night, so I had to assist another dad in running it. The other dad has a clue about basketball, so that was good. I wrestled and played rugby, so if I can’t hit it, I don’t know what to do with it. And having never, ever played basketball outside of a driveway, where all I can do is pass, pick and foul, I am bad. So very bad. Alarmingly, slapstickly, child endangeringly bad. Luckily, no children were harmed in the making of that practice.
If you are terrible at a particular sport or activity, I highly recommend that you still participate if you have time while your kid is young enough to not notice how badly you suck at it. It’s time together, you can help the kid practice at home, and decide if you want to reveal that you’re learning right along with him or her. Also, at practice, your active presence can cushion your kid from any other jerk or bully kids. No matter how pathetic you may be as a man, you are tougher than most 9-year olds, I promise you. And even at just 5-foot 9, I actually look pretty awesome with the rim lowered to 8 feet.
And don’t worry about the fact that the other dads and moms who are watching are openly laughing at you for being so terrible. The moms think you’re adorable and the dads are just glad they’re not as bad as you. And if you’re kid is 9, then you long ago lost any pride or coolness you may have once ever had.