The ‘must do’ nature of homework sometimes gives us strong-willed sorts pause. If it’s too easy, e.g. Spanish, it’s a waste of time. Too challenging, a longer essay, say, in English… possibly with the Odyssey as its subject… well, then the Frustration Monster and her bestie, Anxiety, rear their raging, irrational heads.

“You’re not helping. You’re making this harder!”

There are few creatures who can cut through one’s self esteem more deftly than a teenage girl.

 “Let’s try to break this down and…”

“Mom, stop. Please.”

“I’m just trying to help.”

“Well, you’re not. Please go.”

“it’s late – you need your sleep…”

“LEAVE!”

She banishes me from her room. But not before I offer up my oh, so helpful reminder, “It’s due tomorrow.”

I like to think of myself as an agent for good in this world. My teen makes it clear that I am no such thing. I have failed. As a mother — as a human. I shouldn’t be allowed to occupy space. I am not worthy of the oxygen I inhale.  

When I was pregnant, I prayed for a strong daughter.  Be careful what you wish for.

“I can read a calendar, Mom! LEAVE, already!”

And there she sits, like a mirror into my past. Smart enough to know the task needs to be tackled in steps. Too young and anxious to break it down into a manageable checklist.

To see one’s worst character traits reflected back in living color… well, it’s not one of the joys of motherhood. Why can’t she learn from my mistakes instead of repeating them? Do as I say, not as I did. Please. 

“Mom, stop staring at me. You’re stressing me out!”

I parent differently than I was parented. My mother was more hands off, believing that school and homework were the realm of the private school to which she paid a hefty tuition. She did help me with a paper once. In 8th grade – I got a ‘C’.

Different input clearly does not guarantee different outcomes. Can nurture do nothing to influence nature?

I know I can help. I re-enter the arena, fueled by foolish certainty. There she sits, surrounded by books and notes, typing and deleting.

“People have paid me to write and edit.”
“So?”

“You need to get some sleep. Maybe I can help you with your essay.”
“I can do it.”

“I know you can. But since I’m standing right here…”

 “Yeah, why are you so close?”

“Because it’s late and you’re tired and…”

She exhales as tears well up in her eyes. The Frustration and Anxiety Monsters have tag-teamed with Homer. My Little Pistol is weary.

“I have a draft of it.”

“I bet it’s pretty good.”
“I don’t know that.”

“I’ll look at it in the morning if you want.”
“Thanks.”

“I love you.”
“I love you too.”

And it ends. Where it began. With love. And a completed paper that hopefully gets a grade higher than a ‘C’.

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