2005-03-04 / On Second Thought

Thirty–something speaks

Back to school

Mike Maddock
Mike Maddock

I have a recurring nightmare I just can’t seem to shake. In this dream, I am in college and desperately trying to find my first 8 o’clock class of the semester. I’ve lost my schedule, and I’m not sure if I’ve paid my tuition. When I finally manage to locate my classroom, the professor cannot find my name anywhere on the roll and refuses to let me in. I beg and plead until he finally agrees to give me a desk on the front row. Then the professor starts handing out an exam which will account for 90% of my grade (the other 10% is supposed to come from homework I’ve apparently already missed).

In my dream, I have not studied. I don’t even have a textbook! So I look around for a sympathetic face, but my fellow students seem eager and almost happy for the surprise test. They return my pitiful stares with a look that makes me feel like I’ve just crashed their academic party. I am the last one to complete the test, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t get one single question correct. I sulk out of the classroom knowing my college career is going to be brief. In the hallway, my classmates are gleefully sharing answers to all the questions they got right, while I come to the realization I better start looking for a job. I also suddenly realize I have forgotten to wear any pants!

About this time, I wake up from my dream sweating profusely, and panting like a St. Bernard in the middle of August. The silver lining is that after I wake up, I rejoice in the fact that I am no longer in school. Or at least that was the case before my oldest daughter entered the first grade.

Just when I thought the nightmare of my academic career was just that...a nightmare, my daughter came home with a family project. The family project is something our educational system has dreamed up to further torture those of us who thought those 16 or so years of tests, studying, and homework were all things of the past. Well– meaning souls from the world of education say the family project is a wonderful way to keep parents involved in the academic lives of their children, but I’ve paid my dues! I’ve done enough homework! Isn’t part of the joy of having kids getting to watch them struggle with this stuff?!? Apparently not.

Now if I don’t want to be perceived as a cold and heartless father, I’ve got to help my daughter learn all there is to know about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. If worrying about my own academic career wasn’t torture enough, now I’ve got my daughter’s entire educational future resting in the palm of my hand. I can only imagine the restless nights sure to come from this and future projects. To top off the frustration, I enter this knowing I’ve got two other children working their way up the system as well. At this rate, I may never get another peaceful night of sleep.

The students that were yukking it up in the hallway in my nightmares are now the parents escorting their perfect little children and their perfect little family projects past my daughter and me, while I try to conjure up an excuse as to why my daughter’s project is two days late. It’s the same old nightmare, but this time it’s all too real, and if I get caught without my pants in this dream, I’ll go to jail.

I don’t remember any family projects when I was in elementary school. We did our own homework back then while we were walking 40 miles to school...up hill both ways...with no shoes on...through the snow. Ok, so it only snowed once and I rode the bus, but the point is my parents didn’t have to do any homework. I’m 35, and I find myself up to my eyeballs in book reports, jagged scissors, and Elmer’s Glue. I have a college degree and the nightmares to prove it. I shouldn’t have to feel guilty if I force my daughter to do her own work. Plus, what kind of father would I be if I deprived her of these wonderful dreams?

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