December 18, 2006
So yesterday, Grace (my 11 year old) spent nine hours on a school project. Yes nine hours trying to compile statistics on homelessness. I tried to help her, Jeff tried to help her, Atticus (our 13 year old son) tried to help her and two anonymous help-desk librarians tried to help her. But no dice. The stats she needed remained elusive.
At bedtime she was still struggling at the computer trying to find the homeless rate for Illinois. SHe had already found the homeless rate for the US--she showed me--it was 42%.
I said carefully, "Umm, honey, this number of 42%...." over her shoulder I could see Atticus trying to give me the "cut" signal. I shook him off. "Does it seem likely to you that nearly half the US is homeless?" I said gently.
She blinked behind her glasses and said, "Not really but that's the number Atticus came up with." Oh, man, she threw him under the bus.
Anyway, as I said, it was bedtime so I began the arduous process of trying to (once again) get her to grasp the concept of cutting bait--giving up--throwing in the towel -- moving on. She is like her daddy; she does not gracefully accept this part of the process.
I began by explaining to her that she had done all she could and she needed sleep more than anything right now. I assured her that even though the project was not done her teacher would understand when she explained how long she'd worked on it. Grace was not buying it. She dug in deeper and started pounding at the keys more frantically. Her voice rising hysterically and tears coming again.
I tried another tack. I told her that even if she got a bad grade in this class I would not care. This helped a little but I suspect fears of her "permanent record" were looming, so she kept Googling away.
Finally, I offered to email her teacher and explain how much she'd worked on the project--she would still get a bad grade but her teacher would not be mean about it, I assured her. Throughout it all Jeff bolstered my arguments by agreeing with me and Atticus backed me up on whatever I said about the teacher (it helped immensely that he had the same class last year). Finally, our combined efforts yielded the desired result and Grace relented. She reluctantly sighed and logged off the computer and headed to bed, her feet dragging on the stairs in defeat.
As she clumped up the stairs, Atticus joined me and Jeff in the living room. He was giddy with relief that we had worked together to negotiate a peaceful end to the stand-off. These scenes don't usually end so well. Usually they escalate to a fevered pitch and end when Grace turns into "Carrie-at-the-prom" and we all end up covered in blood (err, metaphorically speaking of course).
"Whew!" he said, "We avoided another disaster! I feel like it's the end of a thriller movie when they manage to point the bomb that was just fired at the US from some eastern European country like 'Kerzerkistan', " he warmed to his analogy, "It's like we were all in that dark NASA room staring at computer screens trying to figure out how to change the trajectory of the bomb, our ties all loosened, coffee cups everywhere and we did it. Now's the part where we all cheer and high five and stuff, because we saved Western Civilization!" and he did a victory dance.
We laughed and then enjoyed a quiet moment of commaraderie, my husband, my son, and I and I thought about how my friend Val always says a little dysfunction is good for a kid because it brings the family closer and I think she's a wise woman.