Monday’s apples

It was one of those weekends where my only survival strategy was focusing on the fact that Monday would, eventually, arrive and the boys would go back to school. And I could return to the bliss of #nicolaonspringbreak.

‘Bye! I love you all!’ one of the boys yelled as he walked out the door this morning. It would have been heart-meltingly sweet instead of eye-rollingly ironic, had the professor not been forced to pry the three boys apart, after ‘an incident’ two days before that resembled three pitbulls at a dogfight.

‘I don’t like to go to school,’ balked another boy. If it had been the first, or even tenth time, I’d heard this particular line I might have offered a more sympathetic response like ‘why?’ Instead I went with ‘yes, I know. But unfortunately you also don’t like eating dinner. Or putting on shoes. Or doing chores. Or going for walks. So your list of things you don’t like is pretty long.’

He mulled it over and said, ‘you’re right mom, I’d better buck up.’

Or maybe he just stomped his foot, crossed his arms across his body in utter defiance and yelled louder.

I can’t quite remember which it was.

It must have been the latter, for his teacher took one look at my face when she saw me in the hallway, five minutes after the bell had rung, and said ‘how can I help you?’

True story: when report cards came out this last time, one of my children had perfect attendance, zero lates. The other had six.

That simple statistic sums up pretty much everything you need to know about my current stage of parenting.

Back at the house, I’d bid adieu to the professor with the words: ‘I still don’t think Fredo is a real Corleone!’

‘That’s okay, they don’t think so either.’

It took me three nights, but I’d finally finished the first part of the iconic series. Having never watched the movie before, it is rather fascinating to see it forty plus years after its debut. Mostly it’s indicative of how storytelling, and movies, have changed. And how much our threshold for violence has increased in that time.

That Al Pacino. That Marlon Brando – even with his weird hair and seemingly wired-shut jaw. That Diane Keaton. And Mr. Coppola, he must have been alright too. I’m still thinking about the $600,000 horse head at the foot of its owner’s bed.

After the Drop Off from Hell, things were looking up, as I had a breakfast date. At a restaurant. Featuring edible food cooked by someone else. Where I was unlikely to be accused of ‘ruining’ anyone’s ‘childhood.’ Direct quote.

But first, I had apples on the brain. Of the inedible variety.

‘So those apples that came home from school on Friday, were they due today?’ I questioned fellow school-mom number one, who had kindly offered to drive us to breakfast.

‘Uh, yeah’ she set me straight. ‘I filled them all in and sent them to school this morning.’

You did the assignment?’ I burst out laughing. Because I was fairly sure the intention was for the kids to do the work. Or so I gathered from my cursory review of the accompanying letter, before my six year old boy wonder had an apoplectic meltdown over the apples and the horror that is identifying 14 members of one’s extended family, and writing two descriptive sentences about each person.

Fellow school-mom number two slid into the backseat of the car and I pelted her with the same question.

‘Was that apple assignment due today?’

She gazed back at me silently with slightly narrowed eyes and mouth closed; unwilling – or perhaps afraid – to deliver the bad news. ‘Well, that’s what it said in the agenda,’ she began and I threw up my hands at the mention of the dreaded ‘a’ word. For I have not checked ‘the agenda’ since Christmas Break. And I don’t seem to have the kind of kids who say ‘such and such is due on Monday.’

After a leisurely breakfast, I returned home and spent the remaining three hours before pick-up getting organized for battle. The house was cleaned. A schedule was created. After school snacks were made. I even exercised.

Cue the Rocky theme song: tadada ta dada tadada ta ta ta ta da-da.

After what-I-hoped-was-a-sufficient-amount-of-time had passed, I sat down with young Percy. I reviewed the assignment instructions again, my eyes landing on the words ‘Spanish project’ ‘write 2 simple sentences for each family member’ and the subsequent list of spanish vocabulary words: abuelo (grandfather) tía (aunt) hermano (brother) etcetera. It was 4:02pm.

‘Let’s start with you,’ I suggested. Or yo. Having taken exactly four months of Spanish in 1995, I am not particularly poised to be writing assisting anyone with writing sentences in Spanish, even at a grade 1 level. But when the resident Spaniard is at ‘work’, you make do. With a little help from whatever blond semi-Spanish speaking boy is within earshot.

‘Okay, so me gusta,’ I prompted him to start writing, and also to identify whatever he felt capable to disclose about himself. Silencio. ‘I don’t know what I like,’ he despaired. ‘What about jugar con Lego,’ I used one of the three verbs I know, even though I would never describe Percy as someone ‘who likes playing with Lego’ were I to have English vocabulary at my disposal. ‘No,’ he shook his head, and started writing jugar fùtbol instead. ‘Okay, soccer’ I approved even though he hardly ever plays. ‘No, I mean basketball.’ And before I could say ‘I don’t know the word for basketball,’ the Gort yelled ‘báloncesto.’ From his perch at the piano where he was teaching himself a new piece, averaging one correct note for every five.

The Spanish, the spelling, and the struggles with penmanship all to the soundtrack of 80% wrong notes and rhythm made for a rather hostile working environment.

We continued in this halting, constantly erasing and trying to find words, manner. One brother. Then another. Then me. ‘What do I like to do?’ I pressed my youngest, always curious about how I’m perceived by my spawn. I half-expected him to say ‘yelling’ but instead he said ‘sewing’. ‘No, I do not like to sew,’ I refused to consult my blond dictionaries for the appropriate word. ‘Sleeping,’ he suggested. I glared at him.

We worked for 45 minutes, at which point we’d completed 5 out of 14 manzanas. How were other kids doing this assignment? Especially the ones without two older brothers to help! I released young Percy to return to his beloved báloncesto, while I posted a picture of the minimal fruits of our labors on instagram.

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My friend, the aforementioned fellow school-mom number two, saw it and sent me a text message: ‘I see you totally upped the ante. The letter said they could write the sentences in English.’

My reply was of the unprintable variety followed by a brief internal struggle: do I tell Percy ‘good news, we can do the rest in English,’ or do I stay the course and finish the remaining apples en español.

Naturally I chose the latter option. Because I may not check the agenda, but I am not averse to making my kids work a bit. We started again after dinner. Seven more apples. Luckily there were several male relatives in this bunch, all of whom ‘happen’ to enjoy eating and other equally simple pursuits. (I did, however, draw the line at sleeping.) After another twenty minute basketball break, he returned to finish the last two apples.

Glory be! Total time expended: one hour and 35 minutes.

‘Bring me your agenda,’ I decided to carpe the diem and check it. Sure enough ‘please return homework on Monday’ was written in big Percy letters. And then my eye landed on something else. A note from his teacher. To his parents. One ‘reminding’ us that we should really try to make time to help him with his home reading. The note, written in pencil, had been severely smudged. Likely by small fingers holding an eraser.

‘Did you erase this?’ I confronted mi hijo.

Silence. Wide eyes. Closed mouth.

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