Monthly Archives: September 2016

No One Should Have To Do Homework!

A typical teen doing his homework.

A typical teen doing his homework.

Can you imagine coming home from a long day at your job and doing two to seven hours more of the same work? That is what many of our kids experience almost every day. Everyone needs a break at the end of the day to relax, replenish and let any new knowledge and experiences percolate through their brains. Homework has caused many squabbles in my home and I would love to see it abolished. My dream situation would look like this after school: kids pleasure reading, playing, working at a job, helping with chores, and enjoying the outside world and then getting ten hours of sleep.

When my oldest was in second grade I made him cry every time I tried to help with math. So I stopped helping and would write at the top of the sheet, “He doesn’t understand this.” We sent our second child off to college exhausted, with circles under her eyes because she gave up sleep to do AP classes, a sport, chores, and her social life. My high school junior has a crazy ass schedule and says he will rest during his gap year between high school and college. Last year my seventh grader’s math teacher asked me to check that his homework was done each night. I’ll never forget the look on his face when I said, “No. I don’t help with or check homework.”

My last child dislikes doing homework so much that he gets up an hour earlier in the morning to do his work so he has his afternoons free. He’s asked me to champion the “No Homework” movement.

“Why don’t you do your work in school and participate in class but don’t do any homework and see what happens.”
But I won’t get into a good college.”
“You’ll be fine. A middle school principal once told me that anything that happens before high school doesn’t matter.”

What do you do when you get home from work? Do you mow the lawn, cook dinner, and walk the dog? Who would do that if you came home and worked until bedtime? I got a taste of what my kids must be experiencing when I opened a brick and mortar art school seven months ago. A few months into it, a friend and fellow business owner asked me how things were going.

“I love what I’m doing but I’m tired and noticed that my endless creative well is not overflowing as usual.”
“You’re experiencing burnout.”
“I am?”

While I’d heard of burnout, I didn’t think I’d been in business long enough to experience it. Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. You can get burnout by working long hours. You can prevent burnout by eating right, exercising, relaxing, and getting enough sleep. As soon as I stopped working on my business seven days a week, I relaxed, started doing neglected chores around the house and my creative juices began flowing again.

I owe the chore part of this remedy to a play I recently saw at the Theater of Western Springs called The Clean House. The story is about a very busy couple that hires a housekeeper who doesn’t like to clean. The wife’s sister, who loves to clean, takes over the housekeeper’s job, unbeknownst to her sister. The cleaning sister poses the question, “How will you know if your husband is cheating if you don’t sniff his underwear while doing the laundry?”

Personally, I can usually find problems in the laundry by eyeballing them but she makes a good point. Doing chores keeps you in touch with your home and family. If repairs are need anywhere or to anyone, you’ll know. Children, who are required to do chores, not only learn time management but also understand that they are not the center of the universe. And here is an added bonus: Doing mindless chores give you a chance to think, daydream, and work out problems.

So try skedaddling out of work early, give your kids a homework pass, and do something fun when you get home. I’ll bet you’ll return to work and your kids will return to school the next day with renewed vigor.



Books Are Life On Steroids!

The 2005 midnight launch of Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince at Mendham Books in Mendham, NJ.

The 2005 midnight launch of Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince at Mendham Books in Mendham, NJ.

There has been some back and forth in the news on whether parents should bribe their children to read. It’s really a no-brainer. The answer is Yes! While using bribes to control behavior such as, “You get a coke every time you eat your broccoli,” is a bad idea, bribing your kids to take a leap of faith into something you know they’ll love is a great idea! It’s like teaching them to ride a bike. As soon as you let go of the seat and they pedal a few times without falling, they’re hooked!

I’ve bribed my kids to do various and sundry things with spotty success. Bribing for good grades doesn’t usually work. My brother promised a new iPhone to both his son and his son’s teacher if his son got all A’s. Needless to say, neither of them got iPhones at the end of the year. I did bribe one of my kids to get a job and employment gave him rewards far beyond my inducements.

The bribe I’m most proud of was offering each of my children $10 to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. When each kid reached third grade, I taped the money to the fridge. I knew that if I could get them to read that first, fabulous book, they wouldn’t be able to stop themselves from reading the next six. Once a kid reads over 3,000 pages, you’re golden!

Reading is many things but most of all fun. Lisa Lucas, the new head of the National Book Foundation has a goal: help people to love reading! I hope she is successful! I believe that if you can match up a person with the right book, magazine or back of a cereal box, you can get them to love reading!

You can tell your kids that reading will help them get better ACT/SAT scores, it will improve their vocabulary, and make them smarter but most of them don’t care about that stuff. Instead why not tell them that reading books lets them escape to new worlds where they can laugh, cry, or get the bejeezus scared out of them? Better yet, why not sit down with a good book yourself and show them how much fun reading is?

One summer, my family spent some time with a friend’s daughter. While she was beautiful and accomplished in her profession, she seemed a bit clueless and boring and I commented on that to my daughter.

Mary Jo responded, “She doesn’t read. People who don’t read tend to be boring.”
Wow! I think I’ll have to take a poll of my boring friends to determine if this is true! So instead of telling your kids they need to read to build their vocabulary and get smart, tell them they might want to read to be interesting and funny but if you are compelled to use the smart card tell them if they read they’ll never have to study for spelling tests. It’s true.

I have been pondering why I love to read more than any other entertainment. I’ll even forgo socializing if a novel is really good. I deduced that books were like screenplays and my brain was a movie theater. I figured this was why I am rarely compelled to see a movie after reading a book.I thought I had proven my theory when I saw Harry Potter and The Life of Pi because the movies were just as I had imagined them. I’ve tried to further prove my theory by trying to be aware of the “movie” aspect of my reading but found that there is no silver screen in my head. So I was back to square one trying to figure out what is happening in my brain that makes reading so pleasurable.

The answer came during a lovely mother-daughter gathering. One young lady mentioned she was reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the eighth book in the series.
“How is it?” I asked?”
“I love it!” Elizabeth replied.
“Is it a normal Harry Potter novel? I thought it was a play.”
“No, it is only dialogue. It is written by JK Rowling and the playwrights.”
“What about the visuals?”
“There are no visual descriptions. I really think the dialogue was the best part of all the Harry Potter novels.”
“Hmmm…I always thought the visuals were important even though I don’t ever remember “seeing” the stuff happen in any book I’ve read. Why do people find reading so pleasurable?”
“Because it allows us to experience the gamut of life experiences at a faster clip than real life. It is very satisfying because your brain doesn’t make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and actually having the experience! It all occurs in the same part of the brain.”
“Wow! That’s why I can read for hours on end! It’s like I’m living it!”

Perhaps you don’t need to bribe your kids to read after all. Just tell them that reading books registers in their brains the same as playing a video game, watching a movie or going outside and living life. Once they start reading, you can be relieved that in addition to building their vocabularies and getting smarter, they will also learn some of life lessons without ever having to leave the comfort of home!

I Returned Nineteen Pairs Of Pants To Kohl’s

033A3601 2A number of years ago I called L.L. Bean to order jeans. The salesperson asked if I would be ordering a size six, eight, ten, twelve or fourteen. Clearly she had looked at my order history but I was surprised that she would risk embarrassing me by pointing out a possible weight problem.

I’d forgotten about this humiliation until last week when I was swapping out all of my plastic hangers for wood. I came across a pair of black jeans with the tags still on. I hesitated to throw them out because they had made the cut two years ago when I was cleaning out my closet. At that time I found nineteen pairs of Lee jeans, shorts, Capri pants and skorts, all hopefully folded in a plastic bin, waiting for my thin self to return. Each pair was an ambitious size, four or six, with their price tags attached. I calculated the value in my head, over $600 worth of clothing.

I’ve only been a size four once, in my twenties, when a romance turned sour. I was a size six briefly after moving to a new state where I had nothing to do but go to the gym. Size eight was reasonable for me as long as I ate only salads. My body seems to really only be able to cope with nothing less than being a size ten.

My daughter, Mary Jo, came into my bedroom and saw the pants and shorts laid across the bed.
“You know, this is not normal?”
“There are plenty of people like me. I have a friend whose husband has a closet full of different-sized suits.”
“With the tags still on?”
“Well, no.”
“Mom, you bought all of these pants when they were too small for you.”

Of course, she was right. I was always trying to get into the next smaller size; when I was a ten I wanted to be an eight and an eight a six, and so on. Those sizes always seemed attainable because someone once told me that there was seven pounds between sizes. At my current size I’d have to lose thirty-five pounds to fit into those pants.

So what do you do in this case? Do you keep the pants or get rid of them? Would they inspire me to lose weight while packed away in a bin on the top shelf of my closet? Even if I did get thin, would I climb up and excitedly take down those nineteen pairs of out-of-style jeans and shorts and start wearing them or would I be treating my thin self to something beautiful at the nearest boutique?

I called my husband and confessed to hoarding unworn, too-small pants. I told him I was too embarrassed to show up at Kohl’s with nineteen old returns.
“Honey, you’re frugal. You love a good deal. Will you try to return them for me? I’ll let you keep the money.”

Maybe Mary Jo would return them. I’d let her keep the refund. She said okay. But then I thought, ” What if Kohl’s think she’s a shoplifter and she ends up in cuffs?” Who brings in nineteen pairs of pants to return with no receipts? My mind was awhirl. I looked up Kohl’s return policy and was impressed that they give store credit for returns older than twelve months and without a receipt. Not bad. I kind of wish I didn’t offer this sweet deal to my daughter. With the several hundred-dollar store credit, I could pick up some new pants.

Feeling like a wimp, I figured I’d own up to my problem and return the pants myself. Since Mary Jo had been willing to do this for me and agreed to come with me for moral support, I would give her the store credit. So off we went to Kohl’s. On arrival at the return counter, I immediately start telling the cashier my saga.
“Do you need to hear my story about these pants?”
“Only if you need to tell it.”
I tried to stop myself but the story spilled out.
She began scanning and ringing up my credit. I was shocked to see that almost all of the amounts were in the three and four dollar range. One was $.68. I ended up with a credit of $70.74.
“What will you do with these clothes? Donate them?”
“Nope, we’ll sell them. People will be fighting over them at these prices.”
All I could imagine was my thirty-five pound, lighter self, rebuying my pants in the not-so-distant future. I would rip them out of another customer’s hands.
“I owned these when I was fat! Now they fit! Let me have them!”