Deborah Ross: Our Woman in Crouch End

Homework is a wretched business for the child, the parents and the dog who has to eat it
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Homework: A Parents' Guide

This guide is for parents everywhere, as well as those who, through no fault of their own beyond the big fat spliff they had at breakfast (and who can blame them?) are somewhere else entirely.

Homework can be a wretched and tiring business for absolutely everyone: the child; the parents; and, most particularly, the dog, who will have to eat so much of it over the years. Our dog, for example, once ate an entire history project on Nelson Mandela as well as that term's textile project, a tabard, in a single evening, and looked very sorry for itself indeed. "What do you expect," I had to say to it, "if you're going to eat Nelson Mandela and a tabard in the one sitting?"

To show just how wretched it can be, here is a conversation I overheard between two mothers in the changing room of a smart health club I joined but only went to the once (obviously):

Mother One: "How is Harry doing at Highgate?"

Mother Two: "You know what? He had so much homework that I had to send him to boarding school."

I don't know if they were stoned. All I do know is that while you believe your own child gets heaps of homework, and have declined all social invitations for several years on the grounds that you might be required to dash off a tabard (I'm so cross the dog ate it, I can't tell you) or make a pepperoni pizza that looks like a blood corpuscle, there will always be some other parent claiming their child is being "insufficiently challenged". You could just laugh this off, ha, ha, unless you don't find it sufficiently challenging, in which case a punch in the face is pretty good. Here is the guide:

The Place

Your child will need a place conducive to study. This should be quiet, well-lit and free from distractions, so a working coal mine is simply not going to do, no matter how much more convenient it might be.

If you have the space, a desk is a good idea. Ikea is excellent for desks, if you can bear the visit (so many veneers, so little time!) and even though you'll probably assemble it in such a way that the drawer is upside-down, which reduces its usefulness dramatically. You may even find that, towards the end of the assembling process, you become so fed up and bored you can't be bothered to tighten the screws. This may cause it to sway alarmingly at the slightest hint of any pressure. Still, once you have installed the swaying desk in a quiet, well-lit place free from distractions, your child will be most appreciative and will probably say as much with something along the lines of: "Oh, for God's sake, Mum. I can just copy off Ben on the bus."

The Time

There should be a very specific time when homework should be done. Ask your child when he or she thinks the best time might be. Directly after school? After a snack? After Friends? Do watch out for "after Friends", though, as it is a dirty trick. There is no "after Friends". Friends runs on a kind of continual loop so that, in a single evening, you can watch Chandler getting fat and then thin again at least 72 times over. "But there is no after Friends!," you might protest at midnight, when the penny finally drops. "Oh well, I'll just have to copy off Ben on the bus then."

It is always a mistake to let children do homework in front of the television, especially when they have their own desk well away from a working coal mine, but what the hell. If TVs are the new hearths, then it's only like doing it in front of the fire.

The Rummage

Every so often, and to possibly locate your child's "homework planner", you may have to "Rummage In The School Bag", the prospect of which strikes more terror into the heart of a parent than anything else. During "The Rummage In The School Bag", for which rubber gloves are strongly advised, there is every chance you will find the following items: many leaking, topless pens; rotting organic matter; several out-of-date letters saying how incredibly important it is you come to the meeting that was two months ago; a snapped ruler; empty crisp packets; a note about a child in the class having nits and we're not saying it's your child exactly, but you get our drift; Christmas cards, unopened ("they're from GIRLS; they'll only say 'love, Becky' so what's the point?"); a sock; an ancient corner of sandwich; a further note about a child in the class having nits and we're not saying it's your child exactly, but did you get the first note? The planner, once found, which is by no means a foregone conclusion, will have been graffitied with "I LOVE BECKY" and then underneath: "NO I BLOODY DON'T! SHE'S A FAT SLAG." The planner will say: "No French homework." You will say: "What happened to the French homework?" Your child will say: "The dog ate it." Alas, you now cannot say "but we haven't even got a dog" because then everyone will know you never made that tabard. Instead, you will say: "That dog!"

Presentation

Ensure that their work is neat and tidy, unless they have to do it at a swaying desk with a drawer that, should they try to drop a pen into it, will only ricochet it back, possibly stabbing them in the eye. In these circumstances, the fact they can produce their usual, messy scribble on a torn corner of paper may be considered a triumph.

Parental Involvement

Parents should not do their children's homework for them, should restrain themselves, which isn't that hard if you're lazy and can't be bothered and don't give a toss about the Roman Empire or maths or cloud shapes or anything. If it comes down to it, a get-out clause is: "Ask your father. He really knows about that sort of stuff." This works in all instances unless the child is Brooklyn Beckham, in which case it doesn't.

The Ultimate Solution?

Boarding school. And then you can get rid of the dog, too. Vets' bills. They're no joke, are they?

d.ross@independent.co.uk

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