Published on June 15th, 2018 | by Andrea Askowitz1
Sebastian came home from school and like every day, he barged through the door of my office, and there he was, sweaty and red-cheeked. He’s in third grade and carries a big backpack, which, seconds after he arrives, ends up on the floor, along with his sneakers.
“Grab a snack and do your homework,” I said. I motioned for him to pick up his backpack and pointed to the kitchen, where the kids do their work. Then I got back to my own work.
A half-hour later, I went to the bathroom and found Sebastian in front of the TV.
I said, “Did you finish your homework?”
He said, “Five more minutes.”
I said, “Get to work.”
He said, “Three.”
I said, “No.”
“No. Get in there.”
I sat next to him and opened his homework folder. I took out his pencil and pointed to number one. Once he got started, I went back to my office.
A few minutes later Sebastian stood at my door. He wanted a break. “Five minutes?”
I said okay because this child is obstinate. Or because this mother is lazy? Or? I don’t know. Why did I give in?
I always give in. When my daughter, Tashi, who’s 14, asks to sleep at a friend’s house, I think: She’ll be cranky for days if she doesn’t get enough sleep. But, I’ll get alone-time with my wife tonight. Then I say, “Sure.”
When we’re driving past Whip ‘n’ Dip and the kids beg for a milkshake even when it’s nearing 6:00 p.m. and a milkshake will ruin their dinner, I think: A milkshake? Sounds pretty good. And I pull off Sunset Drive and order the cookies and cream.
Before I had kids, I had a cat. Coffee Bean hated her travel box so much, or maybe I hated it so much—she’d screech and arch and flair out her nails. Stuffing her in took a tremendous effort, so once I paid $1,000 for a home visit from the vet. As soon as the vet came in wearing her doctor’s scrubs, Coffee Bean leapt behind a bookcase. I waited for the vet to get to work, but she just stood there. Finally, she motioned to me and I chased down Coffee Bean, then held her while the vet administered the shots. The vet seemed so bothered by being there, so put out, that it occurred to me that maybe I spoiled my cat.
Then I got a dog. Beast is a Rottweiler, Lab mix. He weighs 72 pounds. When we walk, I let him run free, the leash dragging. If I’m holding the leash and not paying attention, he could take me down when he bolts after a cat or a squirrel. But that’s not why I don’t hold the leash. I just don’t.
Recently, I took Beast to the vet because he’s been chewing his paws raw. The vet asked about Beast’s exercise habits. I said, “Sometimes I open the front door.”
He said, “Beast needs to be walked on a leash.”
I said, “Does it count if I’m not holding the leash?”
The vet said Beast is experiencing anxiety. He could suffer an emotional hangover for hours after he chases a cat, which may be why he’s biting his paws. The vet suggested Prozac.
What? Everything I’ve ever read indicates that over-parenting—helicopter parenting—causes anxiety. Plus lack of confidence and binge drinking. I thought I was giving Beast freedom and teaching him trust and responsibility. I thought I was empowering Beast to be his own dog.
An hour after Sebastian started his homework, I found him in front of the TV again. He said he finished, but that seemed impossible in that amount of time, so for the first time ever, I checked his reading comprehension. He answered every question wrong.
I stormed into the TV room, turned off the TV and shoved his paper in front of his face.
He was lying down, dazed, with his legs in the air.
I said, “Did you read the story?” I must have sounded scary because he screwed up his face, like he was trying not to cry.
He said, “That takes too long.”
“Oh no, Mister,” I said, and pulled him by the arm into the kitchen. He read the story through tears and answered the questions.
I was pissed, but at whom? Had I sat with him from the start, none of that would have happened. But is that my role? And what about a kid learning responsibility?
Earlier this year, Sebastian’s teacher sent me a note, “Please make a list of Sebastian’s homework and check off each item as it’s completed.”
My reaction: Every day! I’ve already been to third grade. Fuck no!
A few days later Sebastian didn’t want to type a book report. The report was only four sentences long. I said, “You’ve had three days to type your report and all you’ve done is watch videos. Do it now, please.”
He said, “No thanks.”
I said, “Sebastian. You’ll have to type all your papers in middle school. Might as well learn how to type.”
He said, “I’ll learn in middle school.”
I said, “You get 15 extra points if it’s typed. Now type it.”
“So what? I’ll get an 85.”
I was impressed with his quick math, but not impressed with his lack of interest or effort. I thought: He’s too young to be cynical about learning and I’m too…Oh shit! Sebastian’s got a role model.
I don’t have it in me to fight or hover or make a list of my son’s homework assignments. Instead, I write true stories, which means I sit at my desk and think about me. I let my pets and kids do what they want so I can do what I want.
Instead of typing his book report, Sebastian slinked off to the TV room. I opened the front door for Beast and went back to my work.