Tag Archives: children of divorce

People Who Forget History Are Doomed to Have a Crazy Homework Assignment

Yesterday evening, I was just settling in to polish the draft of today’s blog about fun with Craigslist, when my son came home early from his Dad’s. At first I was psyched because that often means he finished his homework early. And then I saw his face. It went beyond normal teen indifference to downright morose. Uh-oh, there’s trouble in Homework City. With no prodding (also a bad sign) he said he’d been feeling bad all weekend about a history essay assignment. So much for my superior parenting skills – I’d just thought he was in a classic teen bad mood. He had to read two original, dense articles published in academic journals in the late 1940s, one calling for peace with the Soviet Union and one calling for containment. He had to outline each article, then choose a side, and write an essay using one of the articles as a source. He’d been at it for over an hour and had barely gotten though a page and a half of the first article. I saw the despair on his face and looked at the blinking lights on my laptop. I took a deep breath and closed it.

Moving quickly into efficient mom mode, I told him brightly that he could do this, and I would help. I assumed the issue was his tendencies towards perfection and detail. Math and science are easier for him, and in those subjects perfection and being detailed is useful. In writing, though, perfection is like Superman’s Kryptonite. So feeling the return of my parenting A game – one might even say overconfidence – I took a look. As predicted, the outline was highly detailed, with a maelstrom of roman numerals, letters, and numbers. I barely started to tell him that he just needed to highlight the main ideas of the article (In my mind, I was already triumphantly wielding that essential college tool, the highlighter, like Excalibur) when he showed me the teacher’s outline instructions. The happy, free-spirited highlighter got ripped unceremoniously from me. My son was actually following the instructions. For each paragraph (whether it was three sentences or 20) he had to write the main idea (roman numeral), then the main points (A, B, D), then examples of the main points  (1,2,3). I really wanted to head to the unopened bottle of wine on the counter whispering my name. But even I could see this would require sobriety. Did I mention I hate the word “rubric”?

Now, I started to panic. Yes, he started this monstrosity way too late, but I learned long ago that finger-pointing just makes him fold in on himself, and then I have to feel guilt over both the pointing and the folding. Better to stick it in my back pocket, and then vigilantly pester him every weekend, “Got any history homework? You don’t want to repeat the Soviet Union essay do you?”

Much like the Soviet regime, which I learned about from the containment article, we needed to brutally ramp up production, only we’d be sacrificing that insanely detailed outline instead of the Russian population. See? We already have learned from history. He’s an auditory kid, so I read the paragraphs aloud and we talked through summarizing the main ideas and he wrote those down: no main points, no examples. It still took nearly three hours. It was close to midnight, nearly two hours past my bedtime and past any time my brain can actually work. I desperately wanted to go to bed, but then he gave me a big hug and thanked me, saying he couldn’t have done it without me. Damn that kid and his gratitude! I could see from his face that he needed me to hang around a bit longer for moral support as he started the essay. I stayed up another 30 minutes, floating in an out of consciousness. until his essay was well under way. Ah well, that’s how the Communism crumbles.

Divorce 80s Style

I came of age in the 80s. Say what you will, make fun of all the big hair, the shoulder pads, the music. I adore its leather pants, the shiny running shorts, and big blazers. But it was quite another thing to encounter it in the court-required class on kids and divorce. While I’ll concede the idea of the class is OK, the time it was offered was yet one more obstacle the state puts in your way to try to keep you together. It’s offered once a month, on a Friday night and a Sunday morning, times that equally punish everyone and derail all divorce coping strategies—the pity party folks who go home on Friday to watch movies with their dogs, the partiers who try to drink and sex their pain away, and the churchgoers who are turning to their god. Oh, and you pay $80 for the privilege. I will admit to none of those coping strategies, but I had a very intense work week, so I showed up at 7 pm with absolutely nothing in the tank. The two very nice, earnest people started the class and before I know it they played a video clip. As in a VHS video. While I was distracted by wondering how the tape hadn’t disintegrated yet, the video itself proved even more distracting. It featured kids talking about how divorce affected them, and they look like they came out of my high school year book. The padded shoulders, the Flashdance ripped sweatshirts, the big permed hair—there was even a scene where a girl is using a curling iron to create two-inch vertical bangs while talking about her deadbeat dad. I had this weird moment of feeling bad about these kids, sad about being old and divorced, and having a flash back to a Wham video. As I leaned over to my fellow divorcee to comment, I realized she was much younger than me. I slowly panned the room. Twice. They were all younger. Some by a little and some by a lot, but there was no doubt that my 47 years were the front-runner in the age race. The vision of George Michael prancing around in shiny shorts give way to an irritation fed by it being 8 pm on a Friday night after a 50-hour work week. I started to feel indignant. I put 20 years of sweat, tears, and a child’s projectile vomiting into my marriage. What the heck were you people doing here? Did you have your first fight and throw in the towel? Was your spouse not stepping up to help with the kids like you thought? Were you having money problems? Boo hoo! When I was your age, my marriage was like walking 10 miles in the snow and eating bark off the trees for sustenance. But I did it! I didn’t run off to divorce court at the first sign of trouble. I futilely banged my head against that tree in the snow for years, and I’m (twitch) perfectly (twitch) fine! The facilitators began talking again, and I started thinking about a sliding scale for this class—the longer you’ve been married, the less you pay. Heck, I should have gotten the class for free. I was working up a really good righteous anger, but I couldn’t sustain it—I was just too damn tired. That’s when it occurred to me the real purpose of the late time of the class—despite our anger and bitterness we were rendered harmless by our own fatigue. I understood the kids in the 80s video spoke truths that we all needed to hear, whether we’d been married one year or 20. We transitioned to video movie clips and I was blissfully distracted again—a young Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs Kramer. I wonder how he would have looked in shiny shorts?

Photo credit: Chai a Cup of Life