The Great Homework Conspiracy

IMG_4378There has been a lot of debate in my sons’ school about homework – its role, its value, the amount a child of a certain age should do etc.  I know where I stand on this issue.  Homework is a valuable tool in helping children to work independently and to reinforce learning in the classroom.  For me the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages and I’d far rather my child was spending time reading or doing maths for an hour after school than watching endless Stampy Whathisname videos on YouTube or having mindless, inane chats online with kids with whom they’ve just spent the whole day.

However, there is a caveat.  There is another whole field of homework which I am less keen on – that which is designed to highlight the inadequacies of the parents and divide mothers/fathers/random relatives into three main groups – “The Can-and-Will-Dos”, “The Can’t-but-Will-Try-Dos” and “The Can’t-and-Will-Not-Dos” (The Can-and-Will-Not-Dos” is a very small minority group who irritatingly could do but rather breezily choose not to – “too cool for school”).  What am I talking about?  I am talking about all those homework tasks that are ostensibly set for the children but are in fact set as some sort of test for the parents – which I inevitably and somewhat regrettably (for my children) fail on an all too regular basis.  Call me paranoid but I think there is some sort of conspiracy at work to foster parental competitive spirit and an almost Darwinian battle for superstar parent supremacy.

Let’s take the last couple of weeks in my children’s school lives.  First up, my middle child had “Roman Day”.  Nothing makes my heart sink more than the email landing in my inbox informing me that one or other child has got to find a costume to wear to school because it’s role play time.  I know I sound like a miserable old goat but how many people have actually got gladiator, Julius Caesar or whatever Roman outfits hanging around the house?  “Make one!” I hear you cry.  Just the mere thought of making a Roman costume is enough to send me into a hot and cold sweat  – my sewing lessons ended very abruptly at the age of 11 when I was dismissed permanently after breaking the sewing machine three times in one lesson (actually something I am rather proud of if the truth be told).

No, making it is not an option for me – to be honest, arts and crafts generally are one of my weaker parenting skill sets.  For me, the only option is good old Amazon and the inevitable plethora of Roman Costumes being hawked around precisely for all those poor parents like me who would otherwise be an utter disgrace to their precious offspring.  Even with a particularly tasteful Roman Soldier costume that looks like it would combust if even shown a flame, my son is not satisfied.  Apparently he needs footwear too.  Sandals….in January.  I draw the line at this – I tell him that he will have to wear his (admittedly bright blue) Crocs.  He looks mortified and plumps for his school shoes as a very much last resort.  I’ve failed him of that he makes sure I am aware.

Roman Day is hotly followed by “making specialised cells” homework for my eldest child.  Again this is some sort of hidden testing of my parental abilities I’m sure. First off, my son is 10, nearly 11, and I’d much rather at this age he was learning the properties of such cells and drawing diagrams than being tasked with making 3D versions of said cells from whatever material he wishes.  Inevitably, my son chooses to make sperm cells along with every other boy of his age in a single sex school.  No other cell was ever really going to get a look in was it? He informs me of this task, I immediately get “the fear” and then he promptly leaves it with me with the nonchalant suggestion that he might do them in plasticine or papier-mâché.  Well, I don’t do papier-mâché.  Full stop.  A way-too-advanced technique for someone who can barely use a ruler to draw a square.  So plasticine it is – which, of course, has to be bought because funnily enough my 10 year old son hasn’t really played with plasticine for the last 5 years.

Sperm cell plasticine test – passed – I think (although not without much debate about the length of the sperm “tail” and where to put the nucleus).  I dare to breathe a sigh of relief…but oh no, too soon because into my inbox pops the next test of my parental skills – the baking test!  My favourite! My baking offerings, in the past, have always been rather conspicuous by their absence.  Frankly, the boys have never been that bothered and there always seem to have been countless other mothers keen to showboat their baking masterpieces, so I’ve just sort of slipped under the radar.  This approach does not work with my daughter.  No, not only does she insist that “we”(and I mean “we” in the loosest sense of the word) must bake for the cake sale but also “we” must enter the cakes “we” make for the cake decorating competition which the school is so kindly running alongside the cake sale.  Incidentally, the cakes must be decorated with a nod to her school house (Mars) and include a full breakdown of their ingredients for “health & safety”.

So “we” make the cakes badly, “we” decorate the cakes badly, “we” photograph the cakes for the competition, “we” take the cakes to the cake sale and then I can’t be sure but I’m fairly certain that my daughter buys back the very cakes “we” have baked at a vastly inflated price.  OK, I know, I know,  it’s all for charity.

As I sit here writing this, I am eagerly awaiting my next mission (should I choose to accept it).  Half term is nearly upon us and I’m quite sure that with all that time off when we are supposedly twiddling our thumbs, the schools will have concocted something fairly spectacular for the children/actually the parents to do.  Before I am roundly attacked for my lack of enthusiasm and support for my children’s endeavours, I ask you just to think back to the last time your child was supposed to make something at home for school – who made it? How many minutes attention did your child give the task compared to the hours you put in?

Advertisements

Just a small token of our appreciation

English: Mother's Day card

English: Mother’s Day card (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had my annual job appraisal yesterday. Mother’s Day.

I have to admit to being a little nervous as my three bosses can be quite tough on me sometimes. However, I think I’ve had a pretty good year – I’ve shown dedication, commitment, flexibility and a willingness to work long hours in some quite trying circumstances.  My strengths: reliable, get the job done, multi-tasker, no job too menial (this morning’s task was picking up 143 Honey Cheerios from the kitchen floor), able to withstand “constructive” criticism (of which there is plenty), helpful with homework (except when it is begun at 6pm on Sunday evening), GSOH. My weaknesses: punctuality (I was 3 minutes late on the school run last week which resulted in a well-deserved berating), sometimes turn up for work less than smartly-presented (tracksuit bottoms are apparently not considered appropriate for the work place),  can be a bit “shouty” (my bosses’ description), useless at art/creative school projects (but have mastered the use of “Amazon” for buying in whatever service is required), reluctant ironer (make that non-ironer).

I wasn’t sure what time my appraisal would be yesterday, so when it became evident it was not going to be first thing, I got up and made my own cup of tea and got my own breakfast…It soon became clear that my bosses were very busy yesterday and so my appraisal got pushed back until early evening.

Finally the moment of truth came and I was asked to sit on the sofa and each of my bosses offered their opinion on my work. One of my bosses gave me a written report: “To Mummy, I think you are special because…I like you and you do the washing up”. Nothing if not honest. You can’t ask for more than that – to be liked and to have mastered that life skill of washing up. Very fair, I thought.  It might have been nice if she had also commented on the million and one other things I do for her but I guess I must make it all so seamless, she is not even aware of the extent of the services I provide.

Another of my bosses gave me a token of his appreciation for all I contribute to the “Firm” – a mug with the word “chauffeur” on it.  How clever of him to have recognised one of my key skills – taxi driving – and to have rewarded me with an official title.  My own sort of business card, I suppose.  I am very grateful.  I sort of like the irony of it being a mug too – who is the “mug”? I suspect that my colleague (husband) just couldn’t resist the little joke when he suggested to my little boss that this would make a very suitable token of his appreciation and was a fair reflection of my loyal service to the “Firm”.

Just at the point when I was feeling overwhelmed by their appreciation, they did genuinely shower me with lovely cards, a candle and flowers. It was worth the anxious wait all day.  It would appear my bosses are happy and wish to retain my services for another year.  I decided this was not the time to bring up the thorny subjects of remuneration (still waiting for some), days off (looking increasingly unlikely) and my benefits package (if there was one).

However, I am very grateful that they have seen fit to promote me to “chauffeur” from “taxi driver” – or at least I think that is a promotion.  Of course I can always exercise my share options too…my option to stop all screen-based activities, my option to enforce the doing of homework more than ten minutes before it is due in and most importantly my option to insist that I am addressed only as “mummy” not “mate” or when things are really bad, “idiot”.

All in all, I work for a great company. I have no real complaints.  I wouldn’t work for any other company and I can see no reason why my loyal service of 9 years won’t stretch out to loyal service for the next 20 years (assuming of course that I am fit for work).  I am one lucky lady, I have three of the best bosses in the business and I wouldn’t change them for the world.

When in Rome…

Villa Borghese gladiator mosaic Español: (obit...

Villa Borghese gladiator mosaic Español: (obitus)// Iaculator// [——]/ Rodan[—] (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today is “Roman Day” at my eldest’s school.  There is nothing that makes the heart sink further than the thought of dressing up an unwilling gladiator on a Monday morning.  Off he went, gladiator-clad (with school blazer over the top), whinging that his Geox sandals were not very gladiator-like (I explained, patiently, that the alternatives were Crocs or his Hi-tops (which incidentally look utterly ridiculous on my thin-as-a-pin child, great galumphing shoes with two little stick legs but he loves them)  and it was my feeling that the two latter would seem rather too 21st century for Roman Day).  His general mood was not greatly improved when both his brother and friend who comes on the school run with me mocked his “skirt”.  I tried to tell him that for the Scots, men in “skirts” were totally normal and very manly. I don’t think he bought it and I’m pretty sure he is probably now at school wearing his tracksuit trousers under his gladiator skirt – a Roman with an urban edge?

Now for the first time in living memory, the sun is shining so it feels a bit mean-spirited to complain – but I’m afraid I’m going to anyway.  I HATE all these dress-up days at school.  With three children I am perpetually producing a Roman one week, Harry Potter the next, Princess Whatever the following week and, oh yes, world wildlife day – a turtle.  These costume days seem to have been specifically designed to yet again show up my parenting inadequacies.

When the children were younger, I sweated over making costumes myself, being all “Blue Peter” and “double-sided sticky tape” about it – it never worked because I am not creative like that and nor am I competitive enough.  I remember the Easter Bonnet parade (supposedly a parade of hats made by the children) at my children’s old school being more like a Philip Treacy catwalk show – don’t try and tell me that your children had any input in those creations – don’t believe it for a second. I am never going to be able to compete in that arena so my children would turn up in creations which hadn’t been made by them either but had been made by me – whose artistic abilities rival a 3 year old’s – and were therefore disastrous, bordering on pathetic.

Then I had a thunderbolt moment.  One of my sons was a shepherd in his school play and I had to provide the costume. I could feel the familiar sense of dread and panic setting in at yet another test of my creative skills and just while I was musing whether I could get away with one of my husband’s ties as his belt (answer: I could have done in the 70s but not now when school plays are as slick and professional as Broadway productions), it came to me.  Why am I doing this?  What am I trying to prove? My skill sets lie elsewhere so why am I wasting my time on something which always make me feel useless and which the children equate with ritual humiliation as the models for my “creations”?  Buy them…BUY THEM….of course, that’s what I should do.  And I did. Off to the supermarket, £7.99 for full-on shepherd’s outfit including rubber crook – bargain.

I haven’t looked back since then and now my first stop when the inevitable letter arrives home from school about some or other dress-up day is “Amazon” – a couple of clicks and problem solved and not any more expensive than buying all the material and bits and pieces to cobble together myself. Result: my kids are happy because they look normal rather than a poor excuse for a Roman/Harry Potter/Princess Whatever/turtle and I’m happy because I’ve averted a wave of inadequacy. OK so there will probably be 10 other Romans/Harry Potters/Princess Whatever (may be not turtles?) decked in the same garb (because, as I now realise, a lot of people do the same), but I don’t care and they certainly don’t – safety in numbers.

One note of warning.  Last year, I got so carried away and warmed to my theme a little too enthusiastically.  At my son’s old school, they would come dressed as characters from their favourite books on World Book Day. So what did I do on World Book Day at the new school? Sent my son dressed as his favourite character.  What were the other children wearing? School uniform.  Humiliation for my son and another black mark against my parenting record (one of many)….oh well, character-building for all concerned, I’m sure.