I spent an hour last night googling "time management skills for kids," "too much homework for elementary schoolers" and "teaching kids to be self-directed." I hated that hour. But night after night, weekend after weekend, I find myself nagging my fourth grader to catch up with all the schoolwork she's not getting done in class and in homework time. My stomach turns as I, standing beneath the embroidered Play is the Work of Children wall hanging in my living room, cut her play time short or make her free reading time dependent upon schoolwork accomplishments. And when she brings home high test scores but low overall grades because her work is not done, I don't know what to think or do or say. I hear myself, as if it not myself, rushing her and her brother to school each morning, quick breakfast in hand, saying "if you don't learn to hurry you won't make it in this world."
What the hell?
I have become, in my singledom, that parent I always judged so harshly. That parent who uses the school system for childcare because I HAVE to go to work and to school. That parent who doesn't serve on the PTO or volunteer in the classroom or get involved in anyway because there is literally NO TIME. I am the mother who hates the system of busy work and pointless desk assignments and government testing, but does nothing about it because she can't even figure out what to do about paying the bills. I conform and I push my children to conform, all the while telling them it's wrong, wrong, wrong.
What do I do?
My children's extracurricular activities are minimal and, I feel, really more valuable to their development than many aspects of school. My time, on the rare occasions when we are home together, I focus on them, leaving my own studying for midnight or between classes or when they are at dad's. We don't watch tv, or play video games, or waste time in any other way. I try hard, so hard, to allow them time to eat well, to wonder and talk and discover. But it's not enough. I feel I am building broken children, only slightly more whole than their broken parents by virtue of their natural strengths.
Reason would tell me I have two choices:
Opt out. Out of society, out of school. Go off the grid or out of the country and let my children grow up in wild wanderlust, isolated from deadlines, grade books, and competitions of social expectations. If I were independently wealthy I might give this some serious thought.
Get married again, and share the burden of providing and the responsibility of parenting with someone else, hopefully creating in that convergence some time not spent rushing and pushing and nagging to do, go, be. But at what cost to me, and the emerging sense of self-worth I have grappled to cultivate in the last six months? At what cost to my independence and goals and plans? At what risk to my heart?
I cannot afford option A and I fear option B.
I suppose there is option C: Find the balance. Guard my words. Teach them what's important and when it's okay to fail. Make sure, somehow, that they are learning, not just memorizing, and that their opening souls are being nourished even more than their minds. And fumble through these years of hurting and healing without looking back in longing for the life that was better in some ways, but never quite right. What we have is now, my three babies and me. An American childhood, in a middling sense, with moments of both the best and worst.