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Friday, September 20, 2013

A Deconstruction of My Son's Homework Procrastination Habits

My wife and I often marvel at how my son can drag out even the simplest task into a 2-hour long ordeal of tears, frustration and argument. Rather than continue to fight him on this, I've decided to try and understand him by applying tried and true scientific principles of observation. Only by doing so can we, as parents, ever hope to find a cure. 

Shown Above: The only photograph known to exist of Alex smiling in the same room as a book.


Wednesday, September 18th

4:05 pm The subject (i.e. my son Alex) arrives home. Immediately takes off shoes and socks, drops kick backpack across the floor. Asks for a snack and, without waiting for a response, disappears into the garage to rifle through the Costco-sized box of assorted chips.

4:15 pm My wife asks me where Alex is. I know where he is. She knows where she is, but neither one of us wants to start yelling at him this early in the day because we know we have to conserve our energy. Instead I send our daughter out to go look for him.
Our garage may or may not lead to Narnia. 

4:25 pm Both children have now been in the garage together for 10 minutes. My wife is staring at me waiting for me to do something about it. I excuse myself to go to the bathroom so I can hide and play Candy Crush. I fail to get past level 184 for the 12th day in the row and run out of lives. Wisely, I do not send my wife a request for more. I hear yelling downstairs so I turn on the bathroom fan to drown out the noise.
 
Seriously, if you have any tips, email me.

4:40 pm I return to the kitchen to find my son sitting at the table, eating chips and staring at the TV. It's Antiques Roadshow; a program designed to cure insomnia. The sound is muted. Alex is staring at it with the same rapt attention he would give, say, Explosive Robot Sumo Wrestling. His books are in front of him, but none are open. My wife is glaring at me.
 Just knowing that we live in a world where this exists, gives me the strength to go on.

4:43 pm I ask Alex if he has any homework. He casually says 'Oh yeah!" and opens his books. I look at Michelle proudly--I've done my duty as a parent. She does not seem to share the same opinion.

4:50 pm Alex is still staring at the TV, but he has a pencil in his hand. This is progress. I turn off the TV. He lets out an, "Awwww" and then glares at his books.

4:55 pm I am still on the couch. My daughter is sitting on me because she has no concept of personal space and I feel someone watching me. I look over at my son. "Hey," he says and smiles. "Hi," I say. "Do you need help with your homework?" I ask. "Oh yeah!" he says and flips through his books.

5:05 pm Somehow Alex has gotten hold of his iTouch. A moment ago, it was on the coffee table. The next it was in his hands. No one saw him get up. My wife snatches it out of his hands and orders him to, "Do his homework already." "I don't feel like it," he says, but it's under his breath and more to himself. We pretend we didn't hear it.

For my next trick, I will refuse to brush my teeth!

5:08 pm My son is now playing with the napkin holder and the salt and peppers shakers. As far as I can tell, the napkin holder is a boat and the salt and pepper shaker are drawing lots to see who will get to eat who. I really want to see this play out, but my wife has gotten up once again,  snatched the items out of his hand, moved everything else non-school related out of reach, and threatened an early bedtime if he doesn't write something down in his notebook. And now. She doesn't even care if it's his name. Just...write...something.

5:18 pm My son announces he is stuck. I get up, because my wife with a Masters Degree from Johns Hopkins, insists that she's not smart enough to tackle fourth grade math.

"What's the date? he asks. I sigh. "Do your homework," I tell him and begin to think of potential threats/motivators. I realize I've exhausted everything in my personal arsenal so I collapse back on the couch. My daughter immediately moves back to my lap.

5:20 pm "I'm still hungry, can I have another snack?" my son says. My wife has reached her breaking point. She has not yet learned to conserve her energy. She screams, "Have you done anything, anything at all, on your homework?" "No," Alex moans. "Then no snacks. You get nothing until you're done your homework." "Fine." He picks up his pencil and for the first time appears to be making progress.

5:23 pm My son announces he is done and is ready for us to check his work. My wife and I exchange confused glances. I look over his math homework. There are ten questions and he has gotten all of them wrong. Including his name and the date. For two of the questions, he just drew a doodle of two guys on a boat underneath. The rest appear to be a sequence of random numbers. "Every one of these is wrong. I don't even know where to begin." He lets out a sigh like I'm the bad guy, like I'm the one who wrote that 20 divided by 4 equals a picture of a shark. He angrily spends the next five minutes erasing his answers.

5:27 pm I am back on the couch. My daughter is now wrapped around me like a koala. Alex is still erasing. If I could reach my phone, I'd look up child abuse laws in Maryland to see what I can and can't get away with. "Do your homework already!" I shout. My wife is smirking.

I love you tree and I'm never going to let go.

5:36 pm My son actually appears to be making progress. My daughter's grip on me is cutting off my circulation so I get up to clatter around the kitchen under the pretense of making dinner. I do not know how to make dinner--this is just my wife's cue to get up and say, "Go sit down. I'll take care of it, you useless ass." She used to mutter this last part under her breath, but lately it's become more of a general announcement. Or a plea for help. It's tough to say at this stage of the game.

My son looks up, and asks, "Can I have--" But my wife cuts him off. "You're not eating breakfast foods for dinner again. We're having chicken." My son slams his pencil on the table and pouts. He's close to tears, but I've noticed the older he gets, the more and more difficult he finds it to work himself into a good screaming fit. My daughter does not have this problem. I ask Alex if he's done. He says, "Almost," and goes back to his homework.

5:43 pm My wife is sneaking swigs from a bottle of cooking sherry. And by cooking sherry, I mean a bottle of wine. My daughter is sitting on my head. My cell phone is dead. All hope is lost.

 The bottle is exactly this size.

"Done," Alex says. Thankfully, I shrug my daughter off to check his answers. They're all correct.

"Wonderful," I say. He happily packs up his books. All is right with the world again.

"Can I play the Wii?" he asks.

"Sure," I say and playfully muss his hair. I'm proud of him. When he buckles down and focuses, he knocks it out of the park every time. There just might be hope for my boy. It might be my imagination, but the sky outside looks a little bluer.

5:44 pm Alex has just turned on the Wii and has the controller in his hand. My daughter is now standing next to me holding my hand because apparently I didn't sit down soon enough. My wife, who had been safely insulated from all the madness in front of the stove, casually asks Alex if he also has any english homework. He groans and slams down the remote. I want to kill her.

5:45 pm The Wii is off. Alex is back at the table. His English books are open, but he is leaning on his arm and glaring at my wife's back. I'm doing the same. We were so close. So close. "What do you have left to do, buddy?" I ask hopefully. I want this over with as much as he does. If he goes quick enough, I can still catch the last of the Antiques Roadshow marathon.

"Just look up and write two definitions," he says. "Okay," I say, "Easy enough. Get cracking."

5:48 pm I tell my daughter to please get off me. She affects the type of hurt expression only seen on dogs after they've been kicked, but I hold to my guns. Circulation is returning to my arms.
 I kicked this dog solely to get this picture.

6:03 pm Michelle announces dinner is ready and ask us to clear the table. I ask Alex if he's done. He says, "No," and is near tears again. "What's wrong?" I ask. "I can't find any of the words," he tells me. "But it's in the dictionary. It's in alphabetic order. All you have to do is...you know what, it can wait until after dinner."

6:36 pm I am done with dinner. My wife is done. My daughter who rivals only the sloth in terms of speed, is finished. Alex, however, is still busy picking every trace of vegetable out of his meal. My wife tells him if he doesn't finish and get back to his homework he's going to have his iTouch taken away. This is a lie. Taking away his iTouch would punish us more than him.

6:50 pm Alex asks if he can be done with his meal. Aside from creatively moving around his food, it does not appear as if he's eaten anything. I tell myself I'll just give him extra money for lunch tomorrow--that'll even things out.

6:53 pm Alex puts his books back on the table and asks if he can have a snack. My wife and I both yell, "No!" at the same time, but at this point we are completely immune to the humor of the situation.

6:57 pm I realize it's bath night. That's another 30 minutes of arguing I'm not prepared for. I'm watching my evening disappear right in front me.

Michelle cleans up the kitchen and I offer to help Alex with the rest of his homework. And by help, I mean show him exactly where the words are that he needs to look up. All he has to do is copy them from the dictionary. How freaking hard is that?

7:16 pm He's still at it. I'm done. Done! I take my daughter upstairs for a bath. Let my wife deal with Alex.

7:23 pm Even over the sound of the water running and the bathroom fan I hear arguing followed shortly by the sound of stomping feet up the stairs. Alex has finally finished his homework, but he has run out of time to play the Wii even though 'we promised.' My wife has ordered him upstairs to take a bath. A whole other set of arguments are about to begin. I take consolation in the fact that in a parallel universe, I am childless and still have a full head of hair.

Total time elapsed: Three hours and 18 minutes (minus 47 minutes for dinner)
Conclusion: So what logical conclusions can we make from this? Arguing does not work. Threats do not work. Pleading obviously does not work. That leaves us with only two choices--drinking and surrender. I recommend both in large quantities. It's only going to get worse when he hits Middle School.