Wednesday, September 18, 2013

First things first

Homework and footballOne of my sons had chosen to take a nap after school before dragging himself to football practice. By the time he got home and showered, it was already 8:30 p.m. when he was starting up his laptop to do his homework.

“When is this due?” I set him up with a plate of food and a drink at his desk.

“I have to get this part done by tomorrow.”

I passed by a little later on my way to the laundry room and peeked over his shoulder, balancing the basket on my hip. It seemed like he was off to a fine start.

“I’m gonna need a color printer.”

“We don’t have one anymore. I guess you’ll have to color in the stuff you printed out.” I supposed this was a good use of the colored pencils on each of my boys’ school supplies lists.

He groaned.

I’d remembered I’d wanted to add some hand towels to the wash I’d started, and on my next trip to the washing machine, I brought my son a container of hand wipes so he wouldn’t get food all over the keyboard.

“Mom, do you know how to make titles or labels for these stupid graphs?”

“No – I use Excel for work but rarely make graphs or charts.”

So we Googled, “How do you create titles and labels for graphs” (omitting the word “stupid”) to figure that part out. “See, honey, if you get stuck again, just ask for help online.”

Later, when I went to check on him again the laundry, my son was sound asleep in bed. I moved the laundry to the dryer.

The next morning, he was back at it, but was struggling with charts. “No, honey, I can’t imagine why the pie chart isn’t working...” I answered on my way to the dryer.

“Sigh, mutter, grumble,” he was starting to panic, I could tell.

“Can I get you something to eat?”

I brought his breakfast to his desk and discovered him struggling with graphics. I didn’t know what that had to do with the charts, but I offered some suggestions. “Can you right click?”

“NOoooo-oo-ooo!” he wailed loudly.

“Okay, well,” trying to remain calm, I suggested, “Save as. Yes, on the c: drive, or wherever you can find it again when you need it. Then insert it into a document…”

The next time I looked in, I saw that he was again agonizing over a “dumb old pie chart.” “Here, let me see.” I leaned over him and grabbed the mouse. “Hmmm, I don’t know, honey. But look at the time. Why don’t you just give me that flash drive and I’ll see if I can print these other two for you.” Our shared non-color printer is also non-networked.

He came up to my office dragging his open and overstuffed backpack just as the papers were spewing out of the printer. “Honey, the charts didn’t fit on one page. I am sorry, I tried to move them but there was something behind this one and the alignment is off.” I handed him the flash drive.

“What about the graphics!?” He demanded, alarm causing his voice to rise.

“I didn’t know you needed those printed, too. Honey, we really don’t have time. You can’t miss the bus!” The alarm in my voice matched his. We no longer live half a minute from the school and a trip there would require a good 30 minutes of my time, which was not an option that morning, and even if it were an option any morning, I had already warned them that they would owe me taxi fare. (I have yet to ask the elementary school bus driver if she would take them an hour later.)

“I’ll try to hold it for you,” his brother called as he took off out the door.

My son was distraught, “What am I supposed to do!?”

“Well, you could stay up later or get up earlier. That’s what I do for work when I have something due…”

“No, I mean now, today, about this!” He was frantically stuffing the papers into his backpack.

I urged him along towards the door. “Take your flash drive to school and tell your teacher you need time to work on it; that you were having trouble with Excel, with printing. What are kids who don’t have Excel, never mind computers, or color printers supposed to do!?” I was annoyed.

“Whatever! Bye!” He took off down the driveway after his brother. Later, I found his muffin and orange juice barely touched.

It was only the second week of school. I’d corresponded with a couple of my son’s teachers already (regarding whether my son could use a free kindle app instead of a $120 calculator in math class and to clarify another project that was assigned during Labor Day weekend because my son felt “uncomfortable” emailing his teacher), but I didn’t know the teacher who had given the Excel assignment. I logged in to the school website to see if I could figure it out, but when I did, couldn’t bring myself to write a note. Just the night before, I’d had a conversation about homework (via text) with a couple of my fellow football carpool moms (none of us was driving at the time). Hadn’t I said, “…my older two really need to do it on their own or suffer consequences (bad grades).” The topic had come up because one of the moms had kept her son home from football practice due to his abundance of homework.

Though I felt rotten all morning – as if I had absorbed all my son’s angst, compounded by worrying about how hungry he must be – I never did contact the teacher.

It was midday when I consoled myself with the thought that it was better he have a small setback now and pay the price, than have a bigger one later. I am not going to be able to solve all his problems in high school: I do not want to relive high school calculus, physics, or chemistry. I can’t make him go to class if and when he gets to college. He’s going to have to have his priorities in order before he gets his first full-time job.

I braced myself when I heard the boys chattering as they walked down the driveway after school. I met them at the door. “How was your day today?”

“Good. Fine. I smell cookies!” They answered, dropped their backpacks on my feet, and headed to the kitchen.

“Alright, then,” I replied and headed back to my office. I’d left the cookies I made during a June-Cleaver moment on the counter.

Later, my son came by my desk (but didn’t bring me any food). “I’m sorry I was kind of jerky this morning.”

“Okay. Well, hon, how did everything turn out?”

“Mr. H. let me use his computer. It’s networked to every single printer in the school! I printed everything out – in color – in the library!”

“You reformatted everything and figured out what was behind that one chart?”

“Yeah, there were like 20 things behind it!” he laughed. “I helped other kids with it, too. Some of them hadn’t even started yet!”

I didn’t understand his explanation about how he fixed the pie chart, but answered, “Well, good. I’m glad you got that all sorted out. I left some laundry on your bed to fold and put away.”

“But, Mah-ahm! I’ve got homework.”

“It doesn’t matter to me which you do first, but please do both before you use any electronics.”

Monday, September 2, 2013

TV or not TV -- that is the question

TV or not TV“…and he wants to go over to so and so’s to watch the game because we don’t have cable…” I was explaining the evening’s logistics to another mom watching our sons’ baseball game go into extra innings and why one of my other sons was texting me.

“Yet,” she concluded, since she knew we had just moved into a new house.

“No, at all. I have internet and phone already – I needed that for work right away.”

I am not sure if she didn’t answer me because I’d rendered her speechless or if she had simply reverted her attention to the game, where her son was at bat.

“Are you going with dish?” the guy at the hardware store asked me when I availed myself of their UPS drop off to ship the set-top boxes and remotes back to the cable company.

“Actually, we thought we’d try streaming TV. You know, from the Internet.”


“Yeah. People do it. I’m gonna try rabbit ears, too.” I held up my two finger in a peace sign to indicate the antenna I remembered from childhood, which, back then, we sometimes augmented with a coat hanger and/or aluminum foil for better reception or if one of the “ears” had broken.


“Well, the device I got is actually a flat HD antenna. I expect to get all the local broadcast channels. They are free, you know.”

“You’re all set, ma’am, this shipping label is prepaid.”

“Thanks.” I guessed he didn’t know what else to say.

A couple of days later my cousin and her boyfriend stopped by to see our new house. As we sat on the screen porch overlooking the boys playing Wiffle Ball in the back yard, my cousin’s boyfriend asked, “Why aren’t they watching the game?” He was checking the score periodically on his smart phone.

We don’t have cable and haven’t figured out how to stream TV yet. My cousin and her boyfriend actually thought the streaming idea was “kinda cool” and that launched a remember-when discussion about the TV that used to be in our grandmother’s house. “It had those two dials and a pull-on knob…What were the dials for?” my cousin, who is a “millennial,” asked me.

“You know, one was VHF and one was UHF.”


I racked my brain to explain, “Well, the VHF one – I don’t know what it stands for, but – that’s where you’d tune in all the low channels; except there was no channel 1 and you could probably only get three to four of the channels total. The other dial – the UHF one – was for the high number channels, but it didn’t go anywhere near 100 and again, I think you could only get a few of them. We used to watch 56. UHF is where I discovered ‘Creature Double Feature, ‘and ‘Community Auditions.’ ”

She looked at me blankly. Her boyfriend was checking the score.

That night my son watched the playoff game, it went into overtime at nearly 11 p.m. on a school night. I told him, “Sorry, hon, I’ve got to take you home now.” His friend’s mom backed me up and consoled him with, “You can listen to the game on the radio on the way home.”

My son asked as he was tuning it in, “Do we have a radio at home?”

Being nowhere near unpacked, I answered, “I can’t think where it is, but I’m sure there’s an app for that.” As soon as we pulled into the driveway and were within range of our wifi he began the download.

All summer we’ve watched mostly ‘Leave it to Beaver’ on Netflix (since we already lost the remote to our streaming entertainment device and most of the channels we get with our HD antenna are in Spanish). We don’t have the variety of sports the boys were accustomed to (nor do we have hundreds of channels with “nothing good on”) but they can follow the games via apps on their iPods.

But no one will see it

I set up the nativity in the back yard again this year. In the past it has been out front near the fire hydrant that is on our property, and...