Down with Homework!

Homework-MignanelliHomework: bad idea or really bad idea?

That’s a trick question. Homework is an awful idea.

Not only have take-home assignments been proven useless (here’s where I’d cite the appropriate studies if I weren’t in Rolling Stone mode), they’re contributing to the breakdown of the family. At least of my family.

Get within a five-mile radius of our place on most weeknights and listen for an indignant howl. That’s the sound of our eighth-grader railing against his teachers and the American education system in general. (His weekend rants center more on The Man.)

“They’re not in there!” he’ll yell, flinging his history textbook on the couch and slamming his spiral closed. “None of the words are in the book! This is so stupid!” Crumpled alongside him, invariably, is a handout entitled “Terms You Absolutely, Positively WILL Find in the Book.”

My son has a wee bit of trouble focusing. But still. He makes a valid point. This is stupid.

Parents have a tacit understanding with the school system: You keep our kids out of our hair for eight hours a day, and we won’t ask any questions. Common Core? Sure, whatever. Standardized testing? As long as my children don’t come home early.

Reams of meaningless activities designed to “reinforce skills” that must be completed once we’ve all clocked out for the evening? J’accuse, Frederick County Public Schools. J’accuse!

Now, if you’re one of those lucky moms or dads with kids who love all things classroom-related so much that they actually play school, move along. There’s nothing to see here.

If, on the other hand, you birthed the Omen, you understand.

When 9 p.m. rolls around, the only place I want to be is on the couch with a book. In a perfect world, the kids would be in bed asleep. In my world, at least one of them is frantically Googling the noble gases while shrieking about the tyranny of middle school.

It’s usually a minute or two later that he mentions the foam board and stencils required to complete the assignment. (By this point, I’m keying “retroactive birth control” into Bing.)

Now, some experts still insist that homework plays a vital role—that it compels students to take what they’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to tasks done outside of school; that it nudges them toward a deeper understanding of the material being taught and promotes self-reliance.

There’s a reason nobody invites experts to dinner.

There’s also a reason why the concept of homework is fundamentally flawed. Think about it. Do waiters practice reciting the day’s specials after they punch out? Do actuaries spend their free hours handicapping the neighbors’ chances of being eaten by Pomeranians? Methinks not.

So give kids a break. (And by “give kids a break,” I mean, “give parents a break.”) Abolish the worksheets. Just say no to mind-numbing, off-duty tasks.

And if you hear anything about that retroactive birth control? You know where to find me.

[Illustration by Matt Mignanelli.]

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Welcome Back to Snake-Handling Preschool!


Dear Parents,

It’s September again, and you know what that means—back-to-school time! We’re so pleased that you’ve entrusted the education of your little one to the Church of God the Redeemer Preschool. As the only fully accredited snake-handling worship center in the tri-state area, we here at CGR understand our unique role in nourishing your child’s mind and spirit.

While most school policies are outlined in our brochure, “There are No Small Sins, Only Small Sinners” (check your mailbox), please keep the following in mind as we prepare for what’s sure to be an uplifting year:

• Drop off time is 9:30 a.m., with pickup at 2:00 p.m. sharp. Remember: God loathes the habitually tardy!

• Dress code: children are required to wear collared shirts, clean slacks or skirts, and reinforced, knee-high leather boots (no sandals!).

• In addition to safety scissors, Elmer’s Glue, and a 64-count box of crayons, please make sure your child’s knapsack contains at least one pediatric tourniquet, available at most medical supply stores and the I-34 Walmart.

• We ask that all students bring Kleenex for the classroom. Additionally, children whose last names begin with A-M should bring a 64-ounce bottle of Bactine, while those with names N-Z are asked to furnish gauze.

• The Lord loves volunteers, so sign up early! Our fall fiesta is just around the corner, so we expect all you moms and dads to bring in lots of cupcakes, fruit punch, and cookies. Also, anti-venom.

• As announced, we’re taking a broader approach to language arts this year. In addition to discussing The Little Golden Book of Sodom and Gomorrah, youngsters will be encouraged to “think outside the box” by making freeform Play-Doh sculptures of Hell.

• Finally, nothing matters as much to CGR as your child’s eternal soul. Through interactive Bible teaching, dramatic play, and the regular taking up of serpents, we intend to nurture God’s tiniest henchmen. And if the unworthy walk among us—as they surely do—don’t worry. We’ll find them. Anaphylaxis doesn’t lie.

So let’s make this the best school year ever. Get your youngsters to bed early, make sure they drink plenty of milk, and have those liability waivers notarized!

Tetanus boosters couldn’t hurt, either.

See you next week!

Yours in Him,

Donna Magdalene

Director, Toddler Program

This piece originally appeared in the White Shoe Irregular.

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A Stranger among Us

file0001362503108My daughter is Wink Martindale. She wakes up fluttering near the edge of nirvana, and her mood surges steadily upward from there.

Naturally, her father and I are horrified.

It’s not that we don’t enjoy our daughter Sadie, it’s just that we don’t know where she came from. Obviously not from us. We aren’t terribly joyful people. While the optimism train was pulling out of the station, we were back at the terminal trying to buy Excedrin.

When our first daughter, Anna, was born, she didn’t cry; she brooded. She was pensive, reserved. Exhibited a hereditary disdain for all things giddy. She was one of us. Then a few months ago, our second child, Kathie Lee Gifford, pranced into our lives, and the world lost its comforting shade of grey.

It had to be a hospital mix-up. A “switched at birth” scenario would explain how the Addams Family ended up with Strawberry Shortcake. This Disney character couldn’t be ours. Surely our real baby was off by herself somewhere, wearing a black Onesie and reading The Little Golden Book of Sylvia Plath.

But, no, the nurse insisted that Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm belonged to us, and not to the Cleavers in the next room.

We spent an entire month blaming Sadie’s first smiles on gas. Alas, they were genuine. The hours I’d spent listening to Pink Floyd during pregnancy had proven fruitless; I may have been comfortably numb, but yummy yummy yummy, she had love in her tummy.

Even Anna, who understood that life was fraught with doom, couldn’t change her.

Not that she didn’t try.

During those first few weeks, Sadie became her Waterloo. If anyone could cram a healthy dose of reality down the baby’s throat, it was the Gloom Nazi. She could reduce Barney the Dinosaur to suicidal despair. But despite the legions of pacifiers flushed, bottles dumped, and naps interrupted, Sadie remained undeterred.

Our perky little genetic blip began to de-ice the winter of our discontent, like it or not.

Maybe Sadie does share a gene or two with her father and me. I recall my relatives toasting each other one Christmas while proclaiming their heartfelt love toward their fellow man. Of course, that was the same year my sister and I were sent to 7-Eleven for another carton of Camels and some more Stroh’s. And come to think of it, Jack Daniels was usually the guest of honor at holiday get-togethers.

Obviously, Smith family euphoria stems more from J&B than DNA.

Then how about the in-laws? Smiles don’t exactly gush from their old black-and-white photos, but no one ever said 1930s Eastern Europe was a fun place. My three siblings-in-law seem content. Could they be the missing links in this genealogical mystery? Nope. Like the other buds on my husband’s family tree, they were miserable, colicky babies.

So Sadie’s a fluke. Mother Nature mixed 23 chromosomes from me with 23 from my husband, threw them in the crockpot, and then wandered off while the whole mess boiled over. Nine months later, I gave birth to a tiny goodwill ambassador from Planet Dopamine.

We should bottle her. People could toss out their Lexapro and take a teaspoon of Sadie instead. She’s gentle enough to use every day, and the only side effect is a sudden urge to hum show tunes.

On the other hand, with all of her infectious charm and enthusiasm, her calling may be elsewhere. After all, that Brooklyn Bridge is just sitting there, and eventually they’re going to need someone to sell it.


This piece was written a long time ago. Sadie is now 17 years old and as freakishly sunny as ever. She tries to be surly every now and then, but she’s not fooling anyone.

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12 Truths about Parenting


My kids are now 22, 17, 12, and 6. I’ve been a mother since the Dawn of Man. And you know what I’ve learned? That as much as I alternately love and loathe parenthood (and occasionally fantasize about retroactive birth control), the only thing harder than waiting for your kids to grow up or trying to keep them little forever is realizing you have no control over the speed either way. In fact, when it comes to parenting:

  1. If you call in your beer order ahead of your arrival at Chuck E. Cheese? It goes too fast.
  2. If you spend every moment of every day eye-level with your toddler, immersed in his world of stackable cups, LEGOs, and all things sold separately? It goes too fast.
  3. If you rush your kid through each milestone and yearn for the day she’ll be able to feed/clothe/bathe herself? It goes too fast.
  4. If you savor every precious midnight tummy ache and search for under-the-bed monsters? It goes too fast.
  5. If it takes three margaritas for you to even consider breaking out the finger paint? It goes too fast.
  6. If you cuddle with your baby for hours under a blanket, tenting it over you to keep the world out? It goes too fast.
  7. If you handcraft origami pumpkins and marshmallow snowmen for your kindergartner’s classroom parties? It goes too fast.
  8. If you frantically race to the store at 7 a.m. for 20 juice boxes because you forgot it’s your turn to bring drinks to your kindergartner’s goddamned classroom party? It goes too fast.
  9. If you ignore your home’s general stickiness and instead enjoy long, lazy days filled with dress-up, coloring, and block towers? It goes too fast.
  10. If your secret desire is to spend just one more hour at the office? It goes too fast.
  11. If you wish your kids would never grow up? It goes too fast.
  12. If you wish your kids would just grow up already? It goes too fast.
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Club Med


It may be invasive and uncomfortable, but it’s still the highlight of our trip.

Who knew colonoscopies could be so relaxing?

Of course, it helps that my sister, Rachael, and I aren’t the ones being violated. Instead, we’re waiting in recovery as our stepfather, Marty—high as a kite and eerily tolerable—comes down from the meds after letting his doctor get to fourth base.

We’re back in Ohio for the first time since our mother’s death, and with six young kids between us, this afternoon in outpatient surgery is the only real break we’ve had in a decade.

Not that it’s my first trip to the hospital during this visit.

We’re on vacation, after all.

The other day, my husband, Ben, suffocating from boredom after just two nights in Toledo, decided our year-old son’s blonde ringlets somehow weren’t masculine enough.

“He looks like a girl,” said Ben, as I folded Sam’s hand-me-down lavender footie jammies and put away his My Little Pony figurines.

“He needs a haircut.”

“Really?” I replied. “Because I’m not sure that’s the only thing undermining his manhood.”

Undeterred, Ben gathered up my only male heir and took him to Dale’s Barber Shop for his first-ever trim, convinced they were minutes away from creating a precious father-and-his-girly-son memory.

What could go wrong?

Quite a bit, apparently.

An hour later, Ben returned with a nearly bald pygmy bleeding from one ear.

“What happened?” I snapped, while scooping up the midget skinhead formerly known as my third born.

“Well, Dale’s not as young as he used to be,” Ben explained, pressing toilet paper against Sam’s head to stanch the flow.

“And his tremor isn’t getting any better.”

Busy calculating how long to withhold sex from my husband for turning our baby into G. Gordon Liddy, it took me a minute to notice Sam’s elbow.

His floppy, shouldn’t-bend-that-way elbow.

“Oh, my god! What’s wrong with his arm?” I yelled, by now planning to go ahead and install twin bunks in the master bedroom.

“Well, he does seem to be favoring it a little,” Ben replied sheepishly as he hoisted Sam’s now-dangling limb back up to an acceptable angle.

Sam, concentrating on the please-don’t-sue-me lollipop Dale had given him, didn’t seem to be in any pain, so we figured whatever had happened wasn’t particularly urgent.

Nauseating, yes. Life-threatening, no.

Still, this was vacation, so we bundled Sam into the car and headed for the local ER.

Two hours later, we had our diagnosis: Nursemaid’s elbow.

“It’s pretty common in toddlers,” said the earnest young doctor who didn’t seem like the type to call Child Protective Services.

“Little kids’ elbows can pop out of place really easily, so if you somehow pulled on his arm recently”—such as earlier this morning, when Ben had swung a delighted Sam around the yard, I didn’t interject—“it could’ve caused his joint to dislocate.”

Trying hard to forget the words “pop” and “out,” I got woozier as the doctor went on.

“Here, let me show you how to twist it back into place if it ever happens again.”

Preferring to rest my forehead on the exam room’s nice, cool tile floor instead, I ignored the rest of the demonstration and vowed to be fitted for a Loin Taser on the way out.

“Well, that wasn’t so bad,” Ben sighed as we drove back to my stepfather’s house.

“You’re right,” I conceded, watching a now-sleeping Sam holding his Dora the Explorer pillow with two working arms.

“And at least we’re done with the hospital.”

Which brings me back to today’s colonoscopy.

“Good news!” says the earnest young doctor reviewing Marty’s films. (Say what you will about Ohio doctors, they’re all young and earnest.)

“His colon is clean as a whistle, and you can take him home now. He’ll probably live to be 100!”

Or 50 years longer than most of our relatives.

“Are you sure you don’t need to do anything else?” I say, stalling for time. “Because we’re not in any hurry.”

Still high on fumes from five straight hours with no one fussing, puking, or otherwise oozing on us, Rachael and I are hoping to spend a few more minutes in this most sterile of Club Meds.

“No, really,” the doctor replies. “You can go.”

Well, crap.

But as we leave, I mentally promise to be there the next time a friend, acquaintance, or guy who knows a guy who knows a guy needs a ride to the hospital, no matter how repulsive the malady.

Retinal scabies? Sphincter goo? Uvular psoriasis?

I’m your girl.

Who couldn’t use a vacation every now and then?

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