On The Increasingly Complex Algorithm of Parenthood

When I was 15 or so I asked my dad to help me with some algebra homework.  I was not good at algebra way back then (she notes, as though she might be much better at algebra now) but my father was purported to be quite handy at math so who better to ask?

My father gave the text book a cursory glance and began telling me about the stock market.   I  hate to out my father but I really do not think that he knew a lot about the stock market. Clearly, however, he felt more secure opining about the stock market than he did about my algebra homework.  Algebra is a less nebulous subject, to be fair.  I mean,  we can talk all day about why our net worth has declined or blossomed, blaming all sorts of things-the price of twink lots in Judina, the prevalence of snark wood in Delusia-but in the end, algebra has one right answer per problem.  It’s rather exact, isn’t it?  And my father had no bloody idea how to solve that problem.

Why would he? Chicken Theory #134 states that 98.2% of the population has no practical use for algebra. The 1.6% who do have a use for algebra are algebra teachers.  And the other .2% (good for you for picking up on that; you are obviously very good at decimals) are advocates in Washington for algebra education. Or maybe they work for NASA.  Maybe NASA knows practical uses for algebra. But I digress.

What I’m leading up to is that I asked my father ONE time for help on my homework.  I don’t recall ever asking anyone else.  I never asked for help on book reports, didn’t require assistance building a catapult, and wasn’t quizzed on my math facts.

Now that I’m a parent, things are different.

My first grader’s homework assignments go something like this:  Regular homework-10 minutes per grade level,  math facts-15 minutes per night, reading-15-30 minutes per night, writing-4 sentences per night and don’t forget to practice your spelling words and build a rocket and study for the SAT! Add in dinner, bath-time and bed-time routines and that is a pretty tight schedule which, and I can’t emphasize this enough,  must be supervised.

Not only did my parents not help with homework, half the time they weren’t even sure where the hell we were.  We had free reign, from a tender age, over not only our three acres, but the entire neighborhood.  My parents came home, made dinner, and we kids showed up around five, as we had been trained from an early age, to wash our hands and eat.   Then we cleared the table and watched the news. Then maybe we watched a sitcom like  Happy Days or Laverne and Shirley.  We ate ice cream, all lined up along the imaginary divide between the kitchen, where we were allowed to consume food, and the living room, where we were not.  Maybe Dad fell asleep in his LaZ-Boy. Maybe us kids did our homework after school, maybe we didn’t.  My parents weren’t concerned.  Homework was our problem until the principal called or report cards came out.

Because when I was a kid things were different.

You weren’t allowed homework until you went to Junior High.  It was something you looked forward to because it meant you were older and more mature; a big shot.  Only  big kids got to do homework. You didn’t need help doing it because you were 11 or 12 years old by that time. You knew what to do and you were motivated to do it because, my God, you waited all these years to get homework and now you finally had some.  You were one important SOB, toting home your books and five subject notebooks (back packs? planners? Please).

Back when I was a kid my parents delighted in telling us how much easier we had it than when they were kids.  They had to walk a mile to school.  Up hill in the snow. Both ways. Barefoot.  They had one outfit and by the end of the year, it stood up by itself in the corner of the bedroom they shared with their four siblings and two sets of grandparents.  They got a new pair of shoes every September whether they needed them or not.  I could go on, but you know these things about my parents, I’m sure.

It’s true, I had a peaceful middle class American childhood.  The only thing I really had to worry about were those starving children I was depriving in Africa if I didn’t eat all my mashed potatoes.

But back to modern day parenting…

I’ve spent years of my life driving my kids around because it’s not safe to let them loose in our suburban neighborhood. I’ve memorized “Where  the Wild Things Are” and “Goodnight Moon”.  I am regularly subjected to the unconventional wisdom of Captain Underpants.  I work 45-50 hours a week, bring work home, and have supervised mountains of homework. I’m literally afraid of food; does it have sugar, is it a GMO, is it organic? OMG the price is astronomical….In addition, our mortgage is 99 million and although I live several miles from the nearest water source, I wonder if we should buy flood insurance.  I’m paying into a social security fund that won’t be there to collect from by the time I can retire at 75, if I live that long what with all the air pollution, resistant flu strains and nuclear weapon threats.

All that, and  I’m supposed to age like Christie Brinkley, execute a bloody bucket list, and keep up with social media.

And do yoga instead of lunch.

Mom and Dad, you had it so much easier as a parent than I do.

I’m exhausted.

At times like this I wonder about dropping off the grid.  Retreating into a simpler existence.

But it seems like so much work, you know?  Selling the house, moving to the woods, building a yurt, homeschooling, gardening, actually building shit that gets stuff done without electricity, selling that extra power we generate to buy goats and chickens, bartering eggs and goat cheese to buy raw wool to spin into yarn to make into socks, killing the chickens and goats, cooking them…

I mean, really, I might as well stay right here, stop procrastinating and do my bloody kid’s homework for him so that I can watch “Friends” reruns in peace, like any decent 21st-century parent would do.

I don’t have it so bad.  I could use a new pair of shoes, though.

Chicken out

This is a photo of a really nice Yurt I snatched from “The Guardian”.  Suffice it to say my yurt would not turn out like this.


  21 comments for “On The Increasingly Complex Algorithm of Parenthood

  1. March 7, 2014 at 5:08 am

    From algebra you learned its most important lesson: there are solid methods by which unknowns can be solved. You'll solve them too. As for homeschooling, 2 of our kids went thru public school, 2 didn't. Everybody went to college. Lotta work. Must go lie down now.


  2. March 7, 2014 at 5:14 am

    Hi Geo, in the end it's not that complicated, is it? I have one through college, three to go. I must go lie down, also.


  3. March 7, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    I loved Algebra back in the day — at least I did after a rather rocky start to the subject.

    Otherwise, TG for weekends although I am sure they are busy for you too.

    Danica is in grade 1 and doesn't get much homework. The bot across the street is in grade 1 in the same school and does get lots. I think Danica is fast enough in school to escape most of the hw load.


  4. March 7, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    I still break out in algebra pox at even the mention of the subject. And I grew up in just the same kind of household. My daughter who's a senior in high school has to go elsewhere for help with her homework. It's too hard for her dad and I, even with our college degrees.


  5. March 7, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    I don't remember any homework until high school, and that was the early sixties. My kids had more, but they also had parents who'd pull them out of school for other things, like the entire month of Jan to live in Mexico.

    I was a math/science kid, and algebra was easy for me. I agree with Geo.'s comment that it teaches a organized, formulaic approach to solving problems.


  6. March 7, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    Algebra didn't bother me, although I no longer remember how to solve those whattaycallits; my difficulty was with history and geography. I found it boring to tears. Now that I am older and marks no longer matter, I enjoy it. “Too soon old, too late smart” haha

    Parenting does seem harder as the generations go along. I loved having kids and raising kids but it's a lot less stressful on me now that they are grown up. And I am so glad they grew up before the huge issues with social media. Bullying was bad enough when it was face to face. It's at a whole new level now. That yurt looks pretty attractive from a number of perspectives.


  7. March 8, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    Hi AC, truth be told, I also loved algebra and statistics, when I got there, but I had to really work at it. It never came naturally and it hasn't stayed with me, but I liked it. As for schoolwork, it's not so much the actual homework, which is minimal, as much as it is all the extra practice they want you to do to get those basics down. That practice used to be why you went to school-you did it there. Now you do it there and, hopefully, your parents are working with you at home so that the kids get there faster.


  8. March 8, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    Shelly-I am sure you could figure it out if you had to, but I agree. It gets harder as they get older. I had to help one of the kids build a catapult one year and learned that I am woefully disinclined towards engineering. We built one though, and it worked pretty well, until one of her friends broke it before she even got to class. I was so bummed out, you would think that it had been my class/my grade. She wasn't worried about it at all. C stands for Cool in her book!


  9. March 8, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Hi SFM-I think your kids had awesome parents:-) Thank you for reading.


  10. March 8, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    I also appreciate history and geography a lot more now than I did back then. Biology and chemistry, not so much. At one time, in college, I majored in computer science. It also did not come naturally to me, but in some ways, I wish I had stuck with it.


  11. March 9, 2014 at 5:22 am

    Your blog voice speaks to me, always, so very well. And look at us both writing about nostalgia this week, each in her way. This post takes me back to eating bowls of ice cream on the right side of the imaginary divide, and for that alone, I adore this post.

    Plus, there are all the other sentences in it.


  12. dbs
    March 9, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Lots of times homework is more about perseverance and reaching independence level than it is about the actual content. You may have developed that independence mindset early. Not all kids do. What's my point? Not sure. But I will say that reading books is the best homework of all. And yes, it's good to lie down every once in a while too.


  13. March 11, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    Your childhood sounds suspiciously like mine. Did you and I once share a dirty tub along with all the other kids, all at once?



  14. March 12, 2014 at 12:49 am

    First off…Algebra is the most useless class ever taught in any level of education. A few years ago, I wanted to take some classes at a particular school that I hadn't previously taken classes at. For the class I wanted I had to pass an Algebra test. So, I bought the text book and “freshened up” my skills. Much easier to learn the second time around but again…why is it even a prerequisite? I am 60 yrs old and haven't ever used it…never…not one time.

    I think today's moms have it far worse than my generation. It's not that we didn't work outside of the home but children weren't nearly as involved with things. Plus as you pointed out you could still tell your kids to go play outside and not worry. It's the stress that is nightmarish. Keeping up the pace and getting everything in that has to be done. CRAZY! Maybe my grandparents had to walk a mile to school…who knows? But the pace was slower and people still had time to eat meals together without having to rush, rush rush.


  15. March 13, 2014 at 2:22 am

    I never knew there were so many of us lined up on that divide. I wonder it, all lined up, we would have stretched from Maine to California. That's a lot of ice cream.


  16. March 13, 2014 at 2:28 am

    Hi DBS. I get it. I'm not complaining about the homework as much as I am commenting on how parents now have it much harder than parents of earlier generationns, as do the kids. Expectations are higher, there's more danger, more pressure, etc. No time to sit around eating ice cream, taking bets on how long it will take Dad to follow asleep in the lazy boy


  17. March 13, 2014 at 2:29 am

    Hi Pearl-yes, I was the one who got soap in my eyes and squealed like a baby pig.


  18. March 13, 2014 at 2:35 am

    Hi Cheryl-yes, you get it. It's a much faster pace with higher expectations on everyone. I don't see it changing anytime soon, though, do you?


  19. March 14, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    You made it to algebra? I flunked general math. This is a great piece of writing, Chicken. You really should submit it to some magazines, because really, what else do you have to do? But mostly because it's that damn good. We had a similar childhood. I liked it so much I decided to remain a child and never have any of my own. Kudos to you. You rock!


  20. March 15, 2014 at 3:23 am

    “made it” is strong language. Forced against my will would be more accurate. But, oddly enough, after I figured out it was sort of like solving a puzzle, I excelled at it. If they had said, right from the beginning, “Hey, here's some puzzles. Bet you can't figure it out”, my life might have taken a different course. Ok, that's a little extreme and most unlikely. Anyway. Thank you. I plan to return to my childhood at some point. Maybe we could meet up once I get there?


  21. March 15, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    In the midwest we also started getting homework when we got to junior high… except for Wednesdays, which were church youth group nights. That was one area in which we didn't mind the mix of church & state.


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