We’d just finished eating dinner when Tristan, my 7-year-old, said, “I never did my homework.”
It was after 7PM, and we were having a late dinner. There really was no time for him to get it done now because we needed to clean up the living room and get ready for his 8PM bedtime. I try really hard to make sure our kids are in bed by 8PM for a few reasons. One is so that they will be rested for the next day, and because I often have to teach my online class between 8PM and 10. But the main reason is that getting the kids to bed after 8PM significantly diminishes my probability of getting sex. Long story short, I had no intentions of letting him stay up late to finish his homework.
Tristan told me that he hadn’t done his homework with a shit-eating smirk. It was the look he gets every time he thinks he’s out-smarted the system. Tristan has reached an age where he thinks he can manipulate me. This was a perfect example. Obviously he came home from school, dicked off when he was supposed to do his homework, and now that it was time to clean up and take a bath, two things he hates more than homework, he admitted to what he’d done, and assumed that Mel and I would have him sit down and do his math and reading rather than clean. One thing I have to give my son credit for, when it comes to getting out of things, he is very calculated. He will plan and scheme. It really does show me that he is thinking on a higher level, but at the same time, it makes me want to smack him upside the head. If he focused his attention on getting things done rather than trying to get out of doing things, he’d probably be the most productive kid since the history of ever.
I just read what I wrote and realized I sound like my mother. She used to say the same thing to me, and yet I didn’t realize that she was right until I was in my 30s. It is my goal to help Tristan realize this fact, and become more productive, long before I did… which I would think wouldn’t be hard, but then again…
Anyway, I looked Tristan in the eyes. He smiled. It was his poker face. Then I looked at Mel. She was sitting across from me at the table finishing her taco. “What do you think?” I said.
I will admit that I almost fell into Tristan’s trap. My knee jerk reaction was to make him do his homework. I really believe in education, and want my children to take full advantage of it. I do this a lot, fall into my kids’ traps. I’m easily manipulated, and I have a feeling that this is going to be a real problem come the teen years.
“Looks like you are missing out on recess tomorrow,” Mel said. She gave Tristan her raised eyebrow mom-look that seemed to say, put that in your rainbow and see if it shines.
This is one of Mel’s best qualities. She is always one step ahead. At Tristan’s charter school, if a kid shows up not having completed their homework, they have to stay in for recess until they finish it. If my elementary school had had this same policy, I probably would’ve missed every recess. As a kid, I was a lot like Tristan. I procrastinated on everything. The only difference was my father was gone, which meant my mother worked nights. No one hassled me to do my homework, so it just didn’t get done. When I think about that, I realize how fortunate Tristan is to have two parents who have the time and who care enough about him to follow up about his homework. But from Tristan’s vantage point, he sees this as us against him. And indeed, Mel and I had just formed an allegiance.
I looked over at Tristan and said, “Sorry, buddy. Mom’s right. Clean up your plate and start picking up the living room.”
Tristan looked out on the living room. His eyes scanned the toys, school papers, shoes, and other random crap he and Norah had managed to scatter about the living room in the last 24 hours. Then Tristan looked at his sister, Norah, who was five years old, and had her face stuffed with taco shell and sour cream, and said, “Norah did her homework. She should have to clean. Right Norah?”
This is when being five-years-old, and the younger sibling to a manipulative brother, doesn’t pay off. Norah, bless her heart, will agree with anything Tristan says because he is her older brother, even if it means she has to clean the living room herself. Norah didn’t say anything. Instead, she looked up at Mel and myself with big blue eyes, the sides of her mouth freckled with cheddar, and nodded as though what Tristan said made a lot of sense. She didn’t see the injustice. She had done her homework like she was supposed to, so cleaning the living room alone was more of a punishment than a reward. Suddenly she was being treated like an evil stepsister might treat Cinderella, and happy about it.
Tristan looked at me as though the problem had been solved, and suddenly Tristan and Norah had formed an allegiance. The only independent at the table was Aspen, our 6 month old. So much of parenting comes down to us against them. The kids joining forces to bring down the system that Mel and I have established. Sometimes they go between us, trying to find errors in the system, searching for the answer that they want in hopes of creating a disharmony that will grant them more candy and fewer chores. I suppose this is the reason people say that both parents need to always be on the same page.
Tristan stood from the table, strutted into the living room, grabbed his school bag, and then sat down in a large chair. He started to tug out his folder as though the problem had been settled. Norah was going to clean; he was going to do his homework. It was a win-win for him. He wouldn’t have to clean the living room, and he’d get recess the next morning.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.