Telling: Altars & Artifacts



Gus's homework, over the break, was to write in his journal everyday. He didn't do it. So in the first week back he had to write a four page essay on the subject of what had been happening during the time away. He wrote about the lizard he got for christmas and the games he played and the snow. While he wrote he mourned the time spent working/not playing.

I haven't written in my journal either. My homework has been the slow unfurling from our packed-up, hunkered-down existence. In otherwords—finding where I stored the mixing bowls, the cutting board, winter boots. Sucking up a lot of dust. Moving furniture. Moving books. Throwing out old saved scraps of paper, bad photographs, graceless fast-food kids meal toys.

That's been my weekend work, this holiday season. During the work-week, I've been getting up at 4, working till 7 when it's time to wake the kids and get them to school. Back at my desk by 9, work till 3:30, go back to get the boys, home by 5, rustle up dinner, orchestrate the doing of homework, bathing, bedtime stories. Collapse.

Yesterday, getting ready to go back to school after a three-day weekend, Jacob handed me a note from his teacher saying I really need to do a better job seeing that Jake gets his homework done and handed in. She's right, of course. Still it came as a blow. I spent the morning reciting the litany of all the responsibilties I bear, playing out the evening scene—me beat from a full-day's work, the boys going off like fireworks, me trying to clean up from breakfast, cook and serve dinner, do laundry and oversee homework simultaneously. Coming around to knowing all this means nothing, working really really hard isn't enough. I have to do better. I have to make it work better. And this means, I have to find a way to come into this part of my day less exhausted, better prepared.

Sat the boys down at the table when we got home last night. Talked things through. Gus moaned about how much work he has and how little time to play. I looked him in the eye and said, "Yep." Jacob just rolled his eyes. That's alright, I can handle that. We just all have to know that this work must be taken on, head-on.

It was good. We got a lot done. And working with Jake, I realized something else. It's true I haven't been on him as much as I am Gus about getting his work done. But then, Jacob does very good work. Jacob gets it. Jacob can first look at his spelling list the morning of the test and come home with a perfect score. It's fun working with Jake on his homework, because its easy. He gets it. So when I work with him, my clearest sense is, he doesn't need me the way Gus does. And beyond that, Jacob is always studying, it's how he lives. He's always thinking about things, the workings behind things. Gus comes home expounding on the game played at recess, the final score, the best plays. He is occupied with superheros, competition and games of his own creation. Jake, on the other hand, will look over my shoulder at the night sky out the window and tell me that it's black because the earth, the point of the earth that we're on, is turned away from the sun and facing out into space. He'll tell me about orbits and rotation, planets visible to the naked eye and the color of their light.

It's clear to me how I can have been lax about monitoring Jacob's homework. I look at him and see no crisis. We'll get a better system going. I'll work on teaching him organization skills and responsibility. That's all he needs, really. The wonder and the capacity to understand, those things he was born with.

A Mother's Journal

field notes from
1997 - 1999