It was a Friday morning like any Friday morning. You know how it goes: The previous night’s dishes weren’t done. Lunches weren’t packed. The kiddo wasn’t focused on anything but her kittens. Her hair, her teeth, even her clothes could wait. There were kittens to cuddle.
Waiting for her to pack her backpack wasn’t getting us anywhere, so I took over and opened her school folder, sitting on the table. Inside was undone homework, due that day.
“Let’s do it right now,” I said confidently. It’s first grade stuff — read a few sentences, answer a couple of multiple-choice questions. After school, she knocks it out before her snack is finished.
She began to read. I turned my back, for a few seconds, to finish getting ready.
“I CAN’T DO THIS!”
I spun back around.
“Yes, you can,” I said, returning to the dining room table. “You do this every day.” I was calm and composed. I wanted her to be calm and composed. And so I said, “Calm down. Compose yourself. Getting mad doesn’t do any good.”
“You get mad,” she said.
“Well, um …”
There had recently been a night unlike many nights. I was working through edits on a book and my editor thought the last third of the book — roughly 35,000 words — needed a structural overhaul. It wasn’t going well. Dinner was ready and the kiddo arrived to find me splayed across the table, despondent.
“I don’t think I can do this,” I said. I picked at my food for a few minutes before taking my plate to the kitchen and slumping back to my desk in the basement.
It didn’t occur to me she was watching and learning. Which is kind of insane. After all, she parrots lines she picks up from her favorite shows with regularity. And that’s fine when she’s into Scooby-Doo, and less fine when she gets on a Jessie jag — if for no other reason than she eventually asks for a yacht, a large apartment in Manhattan and wonders why we don’t ever take a private jet anywhere.
And if she can be influenced by television, I’d hope her parents could hold some sway.
When all this hit me on that typically chaotic Friday morning, I wasn’t upset that she’d seen me frustrated. I get frustrated. My wife gets frustrated. We all do.
What I wish she’d seen is what happened next, and over the next few days, when I straightened my spine and sat at my computer for hours writing, and deleting, cutting and pasting, organizing and re-organizing. I dug up old pieces of reporting and tracked down a few more facts to punch up old stories that, I hope, made the end of the story better. I did the work, which remains the only decent way to get anything done.
I wish she’d seen that even when you think you can’t do something, you usually can.
So, I sat down beside her, and we punched through her homework. I helped with a word here or there, but once she was unstuck, she handled most of the page with the ease with which she handles most assignments.
So on a morning like any other morning, she got a small lesson that she could. And a few weeks later, when the first copy of the book arrived on the porch, we were reminded that I could, too
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