Father bother, Day 4

I’m tired. Hungry. Emotionally drained. Stressed about upcoming deadlines. Scrambling to pull together some samples to mail in for a contest. And wondering if “Entries must be postmarked by January 21″ can be interpreted as “Entries can be postmarked on January 21.”

But the strongest feeling I have right now is empathy. For my wife. Yes, I love her and I miss her, but at the moment, I mostly feel sorry for her. If I were her, I’d kick my ass. Probably the only reason she doesn’t is, she’s too exhausted.

She leaves work earlier than I do, so she picks up the boys. And every afternoon, she faces the ordeal alone. It starts with the homework checking. Christopher usually completes his homework before she picks him up so she checks it as soon as they get home, just to have that particular odious task done. I’ve gotten only a taste of it this week, as he’s had only one or two subjects’ worth each night. I can’t imagine what Kim goes through when he brings home the full slate. Or what it will be like after Matthew starts getting homework.

This week has been math-heavy. Just my luck. I’m okay at math, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Most of his homework problems have been putting fractions in order from greatest to least. This makes my head spin. I’m okay with the lead-off: 2/5, 1/5, 3/5. But I’m about ready to drink a fifth when they start moving into vastly different denominators: 3/4, 2/3, 5/8. Or 4/6, 7/12, 2/5. I almost had to open Microsoft Excel for that one.

It was only later that Christopher told me they’re allowed to use a cheat sheet, which was sitting in his backpack the whole time. It’s a drawing of ten horizontal bars, each divided into equal units from a whole to tenths. The tickmarks are accurate, so all the kids have to do is compare the length of 5/8 on the eighth bar, to 2/3 on the third bar, to 3/4 on the fourth bar. No math required, just decent vision. That’s good — if they don’t teach him how to use math to compare fractions, he’ll have less to forget once he graduates.

Because really, none of this will help him in any practical way. Life doesn’t come with fraction labels, so what’s the point of knowing which fraction is larger? All he has to do is a visual comparison of two objects to know which is larger; it makes no difference whether one is 5/7 of a whole and the other is 4/9.

This point hit home with one of his word problems from tonight: “The cafeteria made a punch using 1/2 gallon of apple juice, 5/8 gallon of orange juice, and 2/3 gallon of raspberry juice. List the juices in order from greatest to least.”

The most logical answer is: “What the hell for? They’re just going to pour them in the pot; there’s no need to arrange them. You think the cafeteria workers are OCD or something?”

Then there was this one: “Kyle bought cookies at a bakery. He bought 1/2 dozen oatmeal cookies, 2/3 dozen cinnamon cookies, and 3/4 dozen chocolate cookies. List each part of a dozen cookies in order from greatest to least.”

I still don’t know what that means. What is “each part of a dozen cookies”? Are they talking about the fractions themselves? If so, why do cookies have to enter the equation? Just tell us to put those three fractions in order! But if it’s not talking about the fractions, then what part of the cookies do they mean? I still don’t get it.

But the last one was the worst, because it switched directions. I was almost acclimated to fractions, when it pulled real math on me. No fractions at all, just lots of multiplication. All while Matthew kept interrupting me.

“Karen cuts lawns for $15.00 each.” Dad, can I have a snack? “She cut 2 lawns a day for 9 days.” Oranges, please. “Mark baby-sits for $3.25 an hour.” No, wait! Applesauce. “He baby-sat five hours a day for 8 days.” Dad, I can’t find my DSi; will you look for it? “Who made more money?” Dad! Are you listening to me? “How much more money?” Dad, can I watch TV?

Once I finished “checking” homework, I started prepping their bags for tomorrow. I really had to go to the bathroom, but knew if I didn’t do this stuff now, I’d forget to do it. Take out old papers, look for gloves and hats, check coat tags to be sure they didn’t come home with some other kids’ stuff and load up tomorrow’s snack plus whatever elective items they need to take to school with them, be they musical instruments, gym clothes, library books or order forms.

By then it was dinner time — typically the time at which I’d just be getting home, dragging myself in and plopping onto the couch. But tonight there was no one to take for granted, so I had to make their dinner myself. It’s not that much work sticking a couple of Kid Cuisines in the microwave, but in between dings I was trying to take care of lots of other little things — read the mail, check for messages, take the trash out, load the past two days’ worth of dirty dishes into the dishwasher, do a load of laundry and set out their clothes for tomorrow morning. All things that Kim does without asking for help.

I need you to understand, I’m not sexist or chauvinistic. I’m just a lazy shit. I don’t feel like those things should be women’s responsibilities, I simply want them to be someone else’s responsibilities. Inexcusable, I know, but not invidious. And it’s not that I don’t help at all. I just don’t help enough. Or I haven’t in the past.

I was reflecting on this as I cleaned the sand out of Matthew’s carpet tonight, something Kim does with regularity. Their school has a sand-based playground and apparently, he’s trying to build his own beach at home by smuggling out shoeloads of sand every day. Tonight it wasn’t just inside his shoes, it was inside his socks. And his pockets. And his fingernails. And his hair. Enough to fill the chamber of the dustbuster while he jumped over it, danced around it, kicked it away, giggled and generally resisted getting his PJs on.

He told me he needed help with said PJs as I was emptying the Dustbuster into the trashcan in the bathroom, a place that I still needed desperately to visit. Instead I trudged back to his room and attempted to pull off his shirt while he wriggled away in fear of getting shocked. I eventually managed to get his PJs on without making dangerous, static-inducing contact with him, whereupon he reminded me that I’d promised them ice cream tonight.

Back downstairs to the kitchen, glancing longingly at the bathroom as we went. Christopher was playing on the computer, but was all too happy to stop in the name of frozen dairy dessert. They gobbled it down and ran back to their end-of-the-evening pursuits, Christopher finishing one more level on the computer and Matthew catching the tail end of “Go, Diego, Go!” on TV.

I’d already warned them that we had to adhere to their 8:00 bedtime tonight, as they’d managed to push that out by 30-40 minutes for the past two nights and I wasn’t going to be a pushover again. But as Diego was clicking the last piece of the animal photo puzzle, Matthew asked if he could watch “The Wonder Pets.” I hadn’t even gotten to the “o” in “No” before he collapsed on the floor, sobbing.

I promise, he’s not usually like this. I think he’s exhausted from staying up late on two consecutive school nights. The 8:00 bedtime is a reasonable rule, after all, so Kim is once again correct. I learned that lesson at the cost of listening to a loud wailing sound for 10 minutes, then having to console him for another 20 — you’ll notice the timing was such that he still managed to stay up 30 minutes past bedtime. Once again, I was a pushover.

They’re finally asleep, leaving a quiet house where I can see to my deadlines, contest entries, blogging and resolutions. I’m going to stop being a pushover for them and I’m going to stop having Kim be a pushover for me. I promise, I’ll never take her for granted again.

I know “never” is a strong word, but it’s one I feel comfortable using tonight. After all, that’s when it feels like I’ll eventually get to go to the bathroom….

About Dan Bain

Dan is an award-winning humorist, features writer, emcee and entertainer from Raleigh, NC. His collection of humor essays, A Nay for Effort, has earned him fans from one end of his couch to the other. Why not join them and buy one? (You won't have to sit on his couch.) Dan will donate 10 percent of the book's proceeds to education. You can check it out at www.danbain.net; thanks!
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