Weather or not
“What if I don’t finish it?”
“What do you mean, ‘what if I don’t finish?’ ”
“Well, what if there’s not enough time?”
I remained neutral, even though I felt alarmed. “How can there not be enough time? You’ve known about this project since before Christmas.” And he’d complained about it every time we talked about it since then.
“Well, I’m just wondering what would happen if I didn’t finish it by tomorrow?”
“You’ll get points off,” his older brother interjected, as he walked by, on his way down to the man cave to play wii. A grade ahead of his brother, he’d had the same assignment and even the same teacher the year before, though that didn’t really matter – the whole 4th grade has to do the same project: interviewing someone about their weather experiences.
“That’s not an option.” I said matter-of-factly. “You have to finish it, no matter how long it takes, even if you have to stay up all night to do it.”
“Yeah, okay. I can do it.”
“I know you can, honey. I trusted you to manage your own time, so I’m counting on you to get the work done.” I’d talked about the project with his dad the Saturday before, explaining the email I had written to the teacher, expressing my concerns. She said she’d go over the project with the kids again before the weekend. Dad wondered if it was a good idea to let Middle Son go to a football playoff party the next day, if he hadn’t finished the project. I assured Dad that the consequences of procrastination were going to be a last-minute rush and the dark cloud of undone homework hanging over Middle Son’s head for the long weekend and that would be enough. I hoped that was still the case.
I had discussed the project with my middle son on Friday when he didn’t want to work on it Friday night. “Mrs. So-and-so talked about it with us today. I’m good.” I asked him for his proposed homework schedule. He told me he’d do his math worksheet Friday night, and that he’d work on his project on Tuesday morning (since Monday was a holiday), Tuesday night, and Wednesday morning (the day it was due) before school. We get up pretty early around here so doing homework in the morning is not really a big deal, but I was not all that comfortable with the extreme procrastination of this project. Still, all I asked is “Is that going to be enough time?”
“Yes,” he assured me.
I told him okay, and that he needed to be respectful of my time if he was going to need my help, and that I wasn’t going to be willing to work with him if he was going to yell at me, or have face-plant rants wherein he threw himself onto the couch complaining about how “stupid” or “unfair” the assignment was, both of which had occurred numerous times during the preceding month or so.
Since we’d had a snow day Tuesday, my middle son had bailed on working on the project that morning. “I’m not doing homework on a snow day, mom!” he’d asserted in the “duh” tone of voice he saves for replying to what he considers to be really stupid questions, like “What about your homework schedule?”. He stayed out in the snow and freezing rain for most of the day, avoiding the project (which, in my opinion, was what was “really stupid” – I’d had enough after an hour and a half of shoveling). Finally, at about 5:30 p.m. when I was just wrapping up the bulk of my work day, he announced that he was ready to work on his project, and the question was posed, “What if I don’t finish…?”
But he did. Cheerfully, even. We spent more than three hours, which included a working dinner, together in my office. We had to enlist the cooperation of his two brothers, who stayed out of our way and managed the cooking of a pizza. I sat at my desk, tying up some loose ends from the day’s work, since I’d had to take time out to shovel and manage the 2/3 of the kids who weren’t avoiding their homework by staying outside all day. I enjoyed his company. We discussed scenarios, such as what if he fell asleep while he was doing the report, and my reply, that I’d wake him up and he could start working on it again. He confessed that what he was really worried about was the oral report part. “First things first,” I told him. Then we imagined what it would be like to give a report on Jacoby Ellsbury or how to throw certain kinds of pitches, like curve balls. (“But I don’t know how to do that yet.” “So, wouldn’t it be interesting to research?”) We shared a laugh over the idea that if he had spent as much time working on the report as he had complaining about it up until now, he would have been done already.
“I’m so glad I got this over with – now I won’t have to feel guilty about it the next time we have a snow day!” which I am sure he hoped would be tomorrow.