I’ve become accustomed to having a partner parent. But, as I explained in my previous post, Joe went to Capetown for two weeks just before Christmas. With him gone, I fretted and fumed. Amanda was too much for me, and it felt as though all the tough parts of parenting were mine.
I brooded and sulked, and thought about our lives together, and finally I decided that I wanted Joe to take over supervising homework, the job I hate most. Amanda hates homework too, and she puts a lot more effort into avoiding it than doing it. Every week, her teacher and I would email back and forth, looking for strategies to make it work. School problems were taking all my creative energy. They caused tension between me and Amanda. And I never knew what I ought to be doing, how much I should be involved. I never got it right. Even in a rare session when she tried to be amiable, I couldn’t explain math to her. “Grandma, I don’t want to be rude, and I’m really listening, but I don’t understand anything you’re saying.”
After Joe returned, the house was full of holiday and guests, and I couldn’t find a time to bring it up. He was grading papers when he could fit it in, not a good time to ask him to take over more work. For days I silently argued with him, and rehearsed different ways of presenting the proposal. ‘It’s making me miserable.’ ‘I’ve been in charge since 2nd grade - won’t you do it for the rest of 4th grade and see if things improve?’ ‘I’m not doing it anymore, you’re in charge.’ I expected him to refuse; I prepared for a fight.
Our guests went out to dinner; we sat by the fire. He told me his troubles, most of them due to me. I listened the best I could, and finally told him what I’d been thinking. Without a pause, before I could give reasons and explanations, he said, “I’ll take over homework.” I was flabbergasted.
Amanda went back to school January 7. Joe met with her teacher, and told her he's taking over. Now he picks Amanda up every evening at Girls Place and she does her half hour of reading while I get dinner ready. After dinner she does math and other assignments, while he keeps her company. He is exceptionally patient, and a great explainer. Sometimes she balks. Sometimes he yells. But they both stick with it, and homework time is half as stormy and twice as productive as it was when I was doing it.
Joe is gradually overcoming her resistance. The other night while I did her hair she demanded that he write math problems for her on her whiteboard. After she did about six, he wrote an A+ on her whiteboard, with a nicely-drawn medal.
The change has affected her schoolwork, and her school behavior, but it’s done much more. The nightly work together has brought them closer. He’s taking over more - I sit back and bite my tongue as he tells her not to take more food than she can eat, to get her jacket, to wait for instructions before she tries to fix something. He’s much better at this than I am; he doesn’t take it personally when she misbehaves, just calmly corrects her, imposes the consequences, and moves on.
Amanda and I are getting along much better too. I have fewer things to bug her about. Watching Joe as a father is making me a better mother - I try to ease up on her, and don’t let indignation interfere with problem-solving.
A tiny piece of me is jealous of Joe’s skill and success. A huge piece of me is teary-eyed grateful. All my other family chores are lighter because they’re not weighed down by resentment. I’m the cook, and Joe has long been in charge of doing dishes and cleaning the kitchen. But when our usual routine of Joe and Amanda cleaning up after dinner was interfering with homework, I told him I’d take it over.
I was surprised by how much tension this relieved. I used to have sour thoughts: Why doesn't 'dishes' include iron skillets? Is he ever going to empty the dishwasher? Now I get the kitchen as clean as I want it, when I want it. Apparently he hated cleaning the kitchen every night almost as much as I hated homework. So he is equally grateful to me.
School is going better, Joe and Amanda are closer, Amanda and I have more sunshine, and the house is bubbling with love. But for me, the best is what this has done for my writer-self. My creator, problem-solver, ruminator are now free for my writing. I’ve had an explosion of energy in my work. In three weeks I’ve come up with nine topics for the blog and written two posts. I’ve researched and submitted queries to two agents. Most exciting, the novel I've wrestled with for four fucking years suddenly came clear; I intend to finish a plan by the end of April, and a first draft by January 2014.
I am elated, exhilirated, and endlessly grateful to Joe. Sometimes after Amanda goes to bed we lie on the couch and listen to music. Last night I looked at him and thought, “It’s amazing that I’m married to this man.” We will have our private celebrations, but I think he deserves a public hooray from the heart. Happy Valentine’s Day to my dear husband Joe.
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Next post: March 1; "Feminist"