New & Improved
For over 10 years, my wife and I talked about installing hardwood floors to replace the original early ’90s carpets and kitchen vinyl, and about replacing the builder-grade cabinets that were literally crumbling near the floor. Those talks always evolved into: “Should we expand with an addition?” “Do we really need a dining room?” “Whoa–How much?!” Agreeing on what it should all look like and deciding to commit the money were challenges that always stopped us in our tracks.
Until this year. We finally settled upon a general plan and a far more general budget, set up a home equity loan, and invited contractors in for estimates. With a contract signed and details sorted, in October a dumpster landed in the driveway and work was under way.
I’m not going to claim to be an expert on home remodeling, but there is one very important thing that I learned: We shouldn’t have waited.
Driving to work one morning I realized how much brighter I was feeling with work on the house underway. Wood, paint, a little (well, a lot) of expense–It all seems pretty straight-forward. Now the house looks nicer, the kitchen is much more user-friendly…just what we were after. But I have to admit that the benefits have been much more than what shows on the drawings and invoices. We’re all actually happier in the space. Not a “let’s show off what we’ve got” type of happy–more of a contentment. In fact, except for the grandparents, we haven’t had anyone in since the work was done. We’re just….happier. More comfortable in a fresher house.
I just wish we had done this years ago.
An ordinary night in September: 54 math problems. Convert the fraction to a decimal–which is basically long division, right? So how long should a long division problem take a reasonably capable 11 year old. Maybe 2 minutes? SO that means 108 minutes for one night’s homework for one class.
As a dad and as an educator, I have to ask, “WHY?”
- Practice? What benefit is there in 54 problems that would not be in 15, or even 20?
- Different types of problems? It has been a while since I took middle school math, but I don’t remember several dozen different types of fractions to divide. (Sorry–Watching my son get frustrated and discouraged by a wave of homework tends to make me uncharacteristically bitter.)
And that’s just one class. Toss in some work for English. And then some social studies. Definitions and illustrations for science. Don’t forget the 6th grade ‘research’ class. If the perfect storm of homework hits, the boy may be looking at 3 hours or more. Plus cello practice. If it happens to be a soccer night, we’re probably headed for an email to Coach: Sorry–too much homework. We can’t get there tonight.
Once again–he’s 11.
I had a professor 25+ years ago who firmly believed homework was an antiquated, ineffective part of K-12 education. His philosophy was that if the work were meaningful it deserved time during the school day, with support from a teacher. To be honest, he was on the very short list of professors I found less than….inspiring. But now, at a point in my life when I celebrate the rare announcement of “No homework tonight!” from my son, I may not completely agree with that, but I think there is more truth there than I saw when I was an undergrad.
Our kids are 18, 15, and 11. Almost every year we spend a week at the beach, and most years my sister-in-law’s family is also there, including my two nieces—now 14 and 16. And for the last 18 years, there has been this green, vinyl drawstring bag from Benetton right there with us, a holdover from my wife’s days as a trendy teen in the ‘80s. The bag holds the toys: Shovels. Buckets. Rakes. Sand molds. Boats.
Though the contents have evolved over the years as new toys were added, as some disappeared into the surf or under the sand, and as others wore out and were thrown away, the Benetton bag has been a constant. But there’s one problem: Although no one has ever accused me of being a neat freak, sand that finds its way anywhere but actually on the beach is my proverbial kryptonite—an odd confession from a 30+ year volleyball player, I know. Perhaps I need help—or perhaps the sand just needs to stay where it belongs.
So for years I have more or less hated that Benetton bag. At the end of each day, someone has to carry the awkward bag full of toys that you can never get completely clean as you come off of a beach. Then there’s always the decision: Take the bag back to the room or leave it in the back of the van? Either way, sand is going to wind up somewhere it has no business being. If it gets on the floor of the condo, it will then find its way all over the unit. If it gets on the floor of the van, traces will still be showing up months later when I am looking for the ice scraper. It’s the Kobayashi Maru of beach vacations.
On the beach, it has been years since our now-18 year old has had any interest in playing in the sand. Castles and canals are all in her past. And this year, for the first time, our 15 year old and her two cousins spent all week playing in the waves and hanging out under the umbrella with books without ever touching the sand toys . Our son is now the only one. He once again spent hours each day on complex sand engineering and construction, drawing his grandfather, his parents, and temporary friends made on the beach into his projects whenever he could. I commented that if everyone worked as hard at their jobs as that boy works in the sand, we would do anything.
So on our last day at the beach, I wound up carrying the accursed green back to the van, trying not to get sand on my driving-home clothes. But on the way across the parking lot I wondered how many more summers the boy will use them. And I realized: I’m going to miss that green bag.
The Green Bag of Sand Toys