Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Home Is Where The Homework Is

We live in a nearly 200-year-old house (one of the newer models in our pre-Revolutionary neighborhood, actually). It has charm and personality, nooks and crannies, crooked wide pine floors and rooflines that rival Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables in neighboring Salem. There are pass-throughs behind staircases and trap doors down to the cellar ("Pirates," we've convinced more than a few young visitors). A primitive and decidedly spooky oil portrait of one of the home's ancestors hangs above the fireplace in our front room.

Generally speaking, my husband and I agree that history and character trump new and modern amenities. Once in a while, I daydream about a walk-in closet or a master bath with a Jacuzzi tub. And I do envy MacMansion owners who get to hear that satisfying little "swwwiittzz" noise when they close a window that actually ... well ... closes.

Lately, I've found myself wishing that we had one of those newfangled real estate inventions: the ubiquitous, so-called "great room."

Because, if we did, my teenager and her father would stop fighting about where she does her homework.

My husband has a strong case. When we moved into this house more than sixteen years ago, we (generously, selflessly, saint-ish-ly) gave our then toddler daughter the master bedroom. The largest room in the house, it has exposed beams and a vaulted ceiling. It was originally a rather sickening pink, but we since repainted and carpeted it for her in a cool blue. It's filled with treasures: riding ribbons and trophies, a select assortment of stuffed animals and "pillow pals," autographed pictures and CD liners from her favorite bands.

Originally, the room housed a wonderful dollhouse, a tea party table and chairs set, and a toy ranch complete with stables, paddocks, and countless plastic livestock. When she started getting homework, toys were moved to the side and a small oak student desk was brought in. By middle school, the small desk was too small, so we added a butcher block table and created an L-shaped study area. In all our parental wisdom, we congratulated ourselves on this well-eqipped, ergonomically excellent solution. Desk lamp? Check. Laptop with monitor, printer, keyboard and mouse? Check. Filing system? Check. Shelves and drawers? Check. School supplies? Check. Swivel chair? Check, check, check.

So, what happened?

First of all, the desk area is rarely if ever uncluttered. Piles of paper everywhere, pictures, iPhone accessories, tchotchke treasures. There are empty orange soda cans, popcorn bags and bowls with the crusty remains of Ben & Jerry's.

Next, and despite my husband's skepticism that this is a real issue, her textbooks have gotten bigger. When open, the AP World History one looks like the Audubon Society Baby Elephant Folio.

Then, there are all the distractions. Magazines and beauty products, not to mention the constant barrage of incoming electronica.

So, my daughter, recognizing that homework is next to godliness, chooses to bring her books (including the elephantine ones) down to the dining room. She sets herself up there and does seem to be able to concentrate and get things done. The only problem is that our TV room is right next door — next door but without the benefit of an actual door. So whether my husband wants to watch the news or I want to troll through old Masterpiece Theatre episodes, we can't do so without disturbing our little bookworm.

First world problem, I know, I know.

Many moons again, when our daughter was a mere baby (or maybe not even one yet), my husband and I agreed — in principle — that we would always support each other. That we would present a unified parental front. This homework-in-the-dining-room situation has pretty much undermined our best intentions.

You see, my husband still wants to watch the news.

But, I think homework trumps all. 

At least for about fifteen more months.

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