Thursday, September 15, 2011

Undisciplined


As I sit at my desk and stare at the flashing cursor on my computer screen, in anxious procrastination, I start blaming my parents for my lack of discipline. Why couldn't they have made me do things I don't like to do so I'd learn how to do things in life I have to do that I don't like to do? It's all their fault I can't manage to write this damn book proposal.

So I got up from my chair to get a drink of water. I passed Katie lying on the love seat, her back on the cushions, her feet hanging and bouncing on the armrest, her head turned sideways so she could see the TV screen. Alice in Wonderland is playing. On video tape. In 2011. Did I mention we're frugal?

So I walked by my child and turned a little bit more into my mother. Most mothers would say something like, "After the movie I want you to turn off the video and do your homework." My mother used to come and knock on my bedroom door where I'd be sitting on my bed doing my homework and say, "Becky, you have to come out here and see this show. Put that down. Come watch TV." I, getting my eccentric mothering ways from my own mom, said to Katie, "You want to do your homework now?" Like any child would take such a question seriously? In the middle of a movie.

Without moving her head, Katie rolled her eyes my general direction and said, "No."

"Well, then, after this movie. I'll help you!" I stood facing her, but Katie kept her eyes on the TV screen.

"Don't get so excited." Katie stated plainly without even bothering to roll her eyes at me this time.

"What?" I honestly had no idea what she meant. I thought maybe she was talking to the TV. I hadn't been paying attention to what was going on.

"Don't get so excited about my homework." Katie's voice was monotone and quiet, like she was so bored with this conversation she could barely speak.

I sat in the chair across from her. "Why can't I get excited about your homework?"

Katie sat up on the couch and looked at me. "Because it's booooooring."

She's right. I thought so too when I was a kid. But for some reason I thought if I acted enthusiastic about it, Katie would be somehow symbiotically enthused. Or is it osmosis? I probably didn't do my homework when we studied what I'm trying to think of for that metaphor.

She's heard me argue with Will that it doesn't matter how she holds a pencil or if her writing doesn't strictly conform to the assignment's specifications. Look at that stem and leaf she drew under that funny looking e that looks more like a flower.

It's hard to raise a kid who doesn't want to do her homework when I wasn't a kid who wanted to do mine. I've learned far more about life and myself since I quit school and began studying on my own. Working at the library helps. I have access to all kinds of information. But I think also just getting away from the whole, "You must learn what I want you to learn when I want you to learn it" and being allowed to explore what I'm interested in as I'm interested in it has expanded my thinking tremendously.

What is the goal of a good education? To encourage curious minds or to encourage conformity? Do I want to raise a child who does what she's told or who thinks for herself?

Then I looked toward my desk, at the flashing cursor on the screen and the empty space below it. Ok, maybe it's not my parent's fault I'm undisciplined. Now that I'm in their role, I realize how impossible it is to make someone do something they don't want to do.

So I tried out the honest route. When she said homework is boring, instead of saying something like, "No it's not! It's fun! We can work on it together!" like I had be overdoing it these last few days, I said, "Yeah, I bet it's boring for you to go over what you already did in school this morning. But when I go over it with you, it helps me get to see what you're learning about in class. And that makes me happy."

She didn't respond, so that's a good sign. She didn't flat out say no.

But she went back to watching Alice in Wonderland and I went back to staring at the flashing cursor on my screen. Will can get her to do it like he did the other three nights this week.

But isn't that a little too "wait til your father gets home." I don't want to shirk my parenting responsibilities. I'm fully capable of getting my daughter to understand the importance of doing homework, right? I just have to figure it out myself.

I stared at the flashing cursor so long I could almost feel my heartbeat in it.

I got up and made dinner. Katie finished the movie. We ate.

Then it was time. I whipped out the homework, set it in front of her on the table and said, "Homework time!" I forgot I wasn't supposed to act enthused.

Katie layed her head on the table dramatically and mumbled, "But it's so boring!"

I sat down next to her. I didn't know what to say. My parents didn't push me to do homework. I never had homework in kindergarten, geesh. But at the same time, it would be nice to help Katie figure out why it's important to sometimes do things we don't want to do. I don't want this to turn into a "you can't [insert fun activity] until you finish your homework." That always made homework seem like a punishment to me. If homework is to be done, instead of making it busy work, it should be an actual learning experience. And I had to learn how to make it one.

She repeated, "It's sooooo boring!"

I didn't know what to say. I had no guidebook or magic hat from which to pull out the right answer. I had no Disney animators on my side. No stomach to use fear or power to manipulate her into doing it, "because I said so." So I resorted to my old trick empathy. I told her old stories about myself when I was learning how to write.

"Oh, I remember tracing letters like this, over and over and over and over..." I rolled my eyes into the back of my head, stuck out my tongue and rolled my head around like it was rolling down a hill. Katie started giggling. Her eyes always sparkle when I tell her stories about what it was like when I was her age. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's just nice to be reminded that your mom is human too. She understands.

It took much prodding, much reminding her we needed to finish the assignment and no, I don't want to pretend we're dogs and have you lick my cheek. But she did it. She finished her homework with me by her side.




Then she went over to her art table and brought her art supply case to the table by me. "Now we can work on my book."

"Your book?" What is she talking about now?

From the bottom of her art supply case, she pulled out a white hardbound book with empty pages except for the first three. She had written her name next to "Written and Illustrated By" and she had written a "5" next to "age". I looked at her. She was beaming, like she was happy to finally share her secret.

"Has Daddy been helping you make this book?"

"No. I do it myself." She rubbed her hands over it.

"No one helped you with this? How did you know to write a '5' there?" I pointed to the age line.

"I knowed because it says, 'put down how many years you have been alive.'" She traced the word age with her finger.

"You knew because it says 'age' there?" I smiled.

"Yes! Age. It says 'age' there." She pointed to the word, then turned the page, "See I maked a beach." Then the next page. "See, I maked a birthday party." The next page. "See I maked a campout."


Under the birthday party page were some squiggly lines. I asked her what they were.

"That's the story. I'm working on a book." She looked at my computer screen and once again I was reminded that I'm her example.

Now I need to take Katie's example and get to work on my own book.