I don’t recall having homework as a first grader.
I remember some books called “I See Sam.” I remember playing with the Tonka fire trucks out in the play yard. I remember being told not to run on the yard, not listening to that repeated warning, and falling down and skinning my knees and elbows many times.
I remember eating paste. But I do not recall doing any homework.
Times have changed apparently, and I didn’t get the memo.
You ever try sitting down with a soon-to-be seven-year-old and attempt to walk through the basics of counting money? How about explaining exactly why we have “to,” “too” and “two?”
The other night I sat with little, sweet Emily and we worked through some math problems – check! We worked on a writing assignment that wasn’t due for a few days – check!! I gave her a spelling test and she did very well – check!!!
All that was left to do (or “dew?” or “due?”) now was to go over her lesson on telling time.
Now Emily is a smart girl and tends to have the math brain that both myself and Sam are sorely lacking, so we are very pleased with that development. She is also a very proficient reader and pretty good speller, so we have a very smart little Fulton in our midst.
But telling time on a normal – not digital – clock is a healthy challenge for a first grader.
She gets the basics: Little hand is the hour hand; Big hand is the minute. The big numbers on the clock represent increments of five minutes. Big hand pointing at the twelve, little hand on the six means it’s six o’clock.
But after a long day of work for me and a long day of school for Emily, it probably was not a great idea to have our grand finale of the day fixated on asking her to show me what the clock would look like if the time was 8:45. Fifteen minutes before nine. A quarter to nine.
She had done wonderfully to that point. As I mentioned, the math, spelling and writing were put to bed. It was likely a good time to call it a night and move along to some cookies and milk, but no, Daddy wanted to work on freaking eight-forty-five! I’m fairly patient – to a point – but like most, I can be broken. I’ve struggled with Emily on things like getting her to tie her own shoes, riding a skateboard and a bike. These are all things she can do, but requires some help, but there are times when she just doesn’t want to try, and it is in those moments when I feel myself morphing from Super Dad into Super Bad and I’ve had a few moments I’d rather forget. I’m hoping her memories of childhood aren’t clouded with the visions of me putting my own shoes on the wrong feet because I was staring at the television (that was my imitation of her one morning, but instead of getting my point across she just rolled on the floor laughing hysterically).
So any way….8:45 it was.
No matter how many different (and what I thought effective) ways I showed her to get at the answer, Emily just couldn’t get there. And then she took to guessing, which just made it much more frustrating. She whined. She sighed. She huffed and puffed and slouched in her seat. Like I said, she completely gets the increments of five thing, so she counted around, but for some reason kept skipping from forty to fifty. It was really quite maddening. Then I came up with the brilliant idea of counting backwards from twelve, still using the five-minute rule. Blank stare.
Inside I was molten lava. Mount Vesuvius. But on the outside I was super cool. Ice, baby. I had to be. Emily was losing it, so I had to keep it together.
8:45. Quarter to Nine.
More slouching. Lots more sighing. Flustered looks and angry feet. Clinched fists. And that was Emily. Me? I wanted to yell, scream, jump up and down and kick Trevor’s high chair. I wanted to set Big Ben on fire (not the quarterback). “Why are you making me do this?” she asked. “Why do I have to do this?”
Yes, why does she have to do this?
Tough times, but out of the ashes of the moment the light bulb illuminated. “Oh, the nine is fifteen minutes before,” she suddenly exclaimed. “That’s eight forty-five.”
It was a miracle.
I take that back. My daughter is smart and she persevered to the point of figuring out the answer in spite of her frustration. I’d like to think that my patience and dedication to my child helped a little bit too, but at the end of the day she is the one who ultimately solved the riddle and made it happen.
I high-fived her and told her that she had done a good job. She bounded out of the room satisfied that she had finished her homework, but happier still that she didn’t have to look at the clock any more for the rest of the night.
That left me with some unfinished business.
The 20 minutes I had spent with Emily, where I repressed my own inner rage and frustration had left me a little shaky. I’m not a rageaholic who is prone to throwing tantrums, although I have been known to toss a remote control during a Kings game. (I’m pretty certain I mentioned that before, right?) No, I’m just a frustrated Dad and human being, a harried male of the species who has his bad moments. I managed to somehow hold it together, but now I really needed to let out some steam.
So what’s a guy to do?
Well, you excuse yourself and say that you are getting something out of the car and then you sit in the car with the windows up, doors shut, and you scream as loud as you can until it feels better. And that’s what I did. I let out a nice primal scream and I was done. I felt better and it was no big deal. I got out of the car, shut the door and walked back in the house. No one was the wiser.
All in a day’s work I tell you. Being a Dad is a wonderful thing. Sometimes it’s like a job, but its reward is something so amazing and so fulfilling that it is practically indescribable.
That very thought was on my mind as I walked back in and saw Emily running towards me. She seemed pretty excited.
She had something she wanted to ask me.
“Daddy, why do they call it ‘a quarter to nine’ when a quarter is twenty-five cents?”
See? We still have some work to do. We’ll get there.