I am standing in front of the open kitchen window. A warm breeze is blowing through, the kind that makes you feel tingly and excited as the joy of simply being alive bubbles up within; it is a spring wind although it’s only January. Through the window I see my younger children,ages 3 and 6, zipping up and down the sidewalk on various scooters and other forms of transportation. I can hear their blissful shouts and the rowdy neighbor boy across the street hollering that he’ll be over in a minute. I let out a deep breath.
Behind me is the sound of a violin sqwaking through practice. I am chopping kale for stir fry. I make a mental count of how many will be at my table for dinner. Right now there are three kids inside the house, ages 11-13, and the two outside (not counting the neighbor boy, I’ll send him home before we eat), plus my husband, plus one of the kid’s parents, who’ll be arriving right as we sit down for the meal. Plus me. That’s eight. I reach for another bunch of broccoli and recalculate the amount of rice to cook. “Rucha” I hear from the other room “How do you spell ‘hemisphere’?”
It’s Thursday. It’s the busiest day after school in my house, the day I host what I call Homework Club. On Thursdays I have a standing arrangement with a friend, a teacher, who drops her fifth-grader off at my house for several hours so she can go back to work and attend her weekly staff meeting. Then on a regular basis, I carpool another friend’s daughters home (5th & 7th grade) when I pick up my own son from school (6th grade). These girls are like family and are always fun to have around. I enjoy their company and the girls-eye view of life in my otherwise boy-dominated world. Today I have just the older girl with me as her sister is on a field trip, and part of my task is to get her through her homework before her dad picks her up for her evening music practice.
The first thing I always do is check in with these kids, “Okay. What homework do you have?”. Two math sheets. Spelling. A report on India. Violin practice. Book report. Art project. More math. I steel my nerves and clear the dining room table so that everyone will have a place to work.
There is a lot that I enjoy about these Thursday afternoons. Being with older children makes a nice change from the preschool set. Conversations are a little more interesting and not nearly as irrational. As I boil the kettle for tea and slice juicey oranges for snack, I catch up on the kids news of the day. I like to hear them complain about which mean teacher did what, and the high-drama of middle school: who likes who, who hates who and all that good stuff.
I catch myself. I remember that I am the adult in charge and steer them back on track.”Let’s start that homework”. My phone rings. A young male voice, cracking with the first signs of puberty asks “did you get the spelling list?”. It’s not for me, I sigh and hand it over.
Mostly these kids can handle their work on their own of course but occasionally they need my help, and that is where things sometime get sticky. Remember the t.v. game show ‘Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?’, Well apparently, I’m not.
“I need help converting this fraction into decimals”. “What’s a pronoun again?”. “The claws of a Siberian tiger are 10 centimeters long, how many millimeters is that?”. “Write a false statement that includes a contraction and two spelling words…what does that mean anyway?”
I bumble along as best I can, trying my hardest not to invoke the dreaded cry of defeat: “Let’s wait til Dad gets home and we’ll ask him”. Behind me, I can smell the rice beginning to burn. I can hear the shouts of the little kids outside escalating into an argument.
I have to be everywhere at once on these days, multitasking like a champ. I silently say a thank you for all those manic years spent in retail, satisfying demanding customers and placating stressed-out managers. I’m well trained. “Bring those flash cards in here” I say vigorously stirring veggies in the wok, trying to prep them for their math review one-handed. I hope the teacher doesn’t notice the grease spots when they hand in their final draft.
There is a delicate balance to keep here. Homework requires time-management on the part of both the parents and the kids. Sometimes they need to take a break, shoot some baskets or shoot the breeze. I know I need to get them back to work but often I’m loathe to.’They need to breathe’, I think, ‘enjoy the last few minutes of sunshine and just be kids’. These are Waldorf students after all and their homework load is considerably less than your average Californian middle-schooler, and generally a little more creative. ‘ I don’t know how those other parents do it’ I think to myself as the 7th grader begins to tune her viola and I start to scrounge up old magazines for someone else’s Spanish homework – a collage of dinner foods labeled en Espanol: pollo, papas, aqua frescas…Dios Mio!
As the strains of “Gavotte from Mignon” stream from the thirteen year-old violist in the other room, I am filled with an immeasurable sense of peace and well being. As hectic and chaotic as these Thursday afternoons are, I can’t help but feel privileged to be ‘Mama Rucha’ to all these kids and to watch them grow into intelligent, capable young people before my very eyes. Plus the thrill of remembering how to multiply mixed numbers cannot be underestimated!
The sun is setting low, it’s time to call the outside kids to come inside, clear the stacks of books and papers off the table and corral six hungry kids to help me set out the plates and remember to wash their hands. Under my feet are Legos and pencil shavings. Above me the stars are beginning to shine. Behind me another disagreement is breaking out. Before me the future hums in the form of happy curious children with their whole lives ahead of them, and homework due tomorrow.