I have no doubt that homework time is the source of a lot of friction between parents and children everywhere. With Mario there are extra challenges. Even in school, where he tends to behave better than he does at home, he would rather sit and stare into space than do his work. This is puzzling to both the special ed department at school and to me. I don’t even know if the refusal to do work is an autism thing, or laziness, or arrogance, or some issue that is yet to be diagnosed.
There’s another problem here too: because he is in gifted, he has the big ego that many nerds tend to develop. So when he is told to do the type of homework the school gives little kids, like copying spelling words over and over in a triangle, or writing sentences, he doesn’t see why he should have to do it. I on the other hand am of the opinion that a lot of people have to do a lot of things in life that they think are stupid, and if you refuse to ever do any of them, you might find yourself unemployable. It’s never too soon to start with the threat of fear.
There have been conflicting opinions around the ranch (my parents live next door but on the same property, so we call it the ranch, although there are no cows) as to how we should handle homework. My mother taught school for 30 years, and even though I’m sure exactly none of those years were spent holding a child’s hand with a pencil in it and forcing his hand to write sentences, that is what she will do with Mario if I let her. And he doesn’t mind.
But I do. Unfortunately, even though she has been kicked out of homework time recently, a mandate which does not stop her from appearing at the front door every 20 minutes or so to see if Mario is ready to go to her house to play with my dad, my own homework enforcement methods are also lacking, and consist of bribery, pleading, and, this past Monday, actual yelling.
I’m not proud of having lost my temper. But it’s hard to keep up the saccharine Mommy voice with a child who not only expects homework to be a team effort, he also keeps telling you that you’re doing it wrong. Mustache Pete took over that particular assignment after I locked myself in my bedroom to pout, and the next assignment was completed with a small amount of bribery on my part. I apologized to Mario after I yelled, and again at bedtime, and was met with a typical, “And you should feel bad because Pete could get me to do my work and you couldn’t.” Yes, the Aspergian child is the soul of tact.
The next day I was dreading homework time. I knew there was going to be a science test coming up, and that we also had to study spelling words, and I knew the science study session on soil was going to be more painful. So I told him to first sit down with the science book and read aloud the two pages that were assigned. What he did next was such a simple solution to the homework problem I couldn’t believe I have been so stupid. Instead of reading the book and then enduring my attempts to make him memorize the facts about soil, he started quizzing me about soil! He taught me the science lesson, which made it fun for him, and in doing so accidentally studied for the test. He even got to do his favorite thing: telling me I was wrong, because the only one of the three layers of soil I remembered was topsoil. Hey, third grade earth science was a long time ago!
How could I have overlooked the fact that what this child likes to do more than almost anything is to pretend to be a game show host? He absolutely loves to stand in the middle of the room and make up questions and challenges for the adults, but I never thought to apply it to homework because I was so frustrated that he didn’t develop my personal style of just doing the fucking homework so it would be done.
Studying for the spelling test went so much easier. We just let Mario be the host of the spelling bee, and Pete and I spelled plenty of words wrong so Mario could correct us.
Note: I resist any attempt my brain makes to turn this homework thing into some kind of twee metaphor about learning life lessons from my kid.