This weekend, The Cherubs learned that their New Mom knows nothing about grammar. Even though she’s a writer. They are horrified.

#1 Cherub came home with a worksheet on homophones. “What’s a homophone?” I asked. I thought it might be a project for his tech-ed class. He stared at me, wide eyed. “You don’t know?” he asked. “But…you’re a WRITER!”


A few minutes later #2 Cherub came in and pulled out her homework. “I don’t understand this,” she said. “I have to identify all the predicates…”

“Let me see,” I said, buying time. I can usually figure things out by context, which is how I survived middle school the first time. But this worksheet had no instructions. “I think you’re supposed to find the verbs,” I said.  Then I went the bathroom, where I Googled predicate to see what the heck it was. Sure enough, VERBS. (Or verby-phrases, but whatever. Close enough.) I was able to steer her around some mistakes (“Nope, it can’t be the island,” I said. “It’s not possible for you or me to island, so that can’t be it…”) and help her complete her homework.

But why are these things, things?

Why do we have entire lessons on homophones, when we can just say, “English is a weird language where some words mean two different things. They might or might not be spelled the same way. You’ll spend the rest of your life figuring this out, and feeling self conscious about the whole There/They’re/Their thing. Good luck with that.”

Why predicates? Aren’t verbs enough?

And for the love of all that’s Holy, WHY do we need similes AND analogies AND metaphors? Can’t we please just compare things???

The hardest part of this for me isn’t the actual homework. (Even though now, when #1 Cherub asks me a homework-related question, he adds, “But you probably won’t know…” To which I reply, “Well, you’re probably right.”) The challenge is being in the place in life where I know how little some of this matters.

I learned to write by reading (and having a couple of mentors who gave simple rules like, “Don’t put the ly words there. They always go here.”) I’ve never understood math beyond basic arithmetic & geometry. And that health class where the mortified football coach talked to us about the various treatments for STDs? That was a waste of everyone’s time. I look back on the fun I had in junior high & high school – how my primary focus was on what I would wear each day, how many spins I could do without falling over when I tossed my baton in the air, and conjugating French verbs (I LOVED French class) – and I’m glad I didn’t worry too much about that whole chemistry thing.

This is not what good parents tell their children.

I hate just complaining about how things are dumb and should be different. (Okay that’s not true. I like it very much. It feels good to complain about how things are dumb and should be different. But I hate the results of indulging this pleasure with too much frequency, how it makes me grumpy and self-righteous. So I’m merging this two-part process into one so I can skip right to the “Gee Trish, you should at least TRY to improve and grow” stage.)  I want to be someone who says instead, “Maybe this would work better?”

I just don’t know what this is.

Steve and I met our Cherubs in April. To say that we haven’t given much though to our philosophy of middle school education is an understatement. But now I’m wondering: what do I want The Cherubs to take away from these years of school? What do they NEED to know? What are the building blocks that are essential to someday support a launch pad?

(And how many people are judging me right now because “to someday support” is such terrible sentence structure?)

Thankfully, The Cherubs are very aware of the importance of school. They have an impressive level of internal motivation about their education. For now, I think my job is not to mess this up.

So if my kids ever joke to you about how their mom spends the better part of every afternoon in the bathroom, you’ll know the secret: I’m in there Googling, trying to keep a straight face so I can “help” them with their homework.


4 thoughts on “Busted

  1. I love this, Trish, and totally agree with you. There’s got to be a way to teach kids how to function in a literate world without turning this into inculcating them with rule after rule, many of which are NOT rules but were made up by someone who thought English should be more like Latin (eg the “to someday support” example). All the great authors know how to bend the rules, because they have a love for language rather than an obsessive need to control it.

    1. I didn’t know the rules were based on an age-old longing for Latin. Somehow that makes me feel so much better! Here’s to a bit of free construction in our language :)

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