The Rockwood Files: Dirty little homework secret

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I’m keeping a dirty little secret from the kids. Sometimes when I’m checking over their homework, I pretend to go to the bathroom or go check something that’s on the stove (even though I rarely cook). While I’m away, I use my iPhone to Google whatever parts of the homework assignment I don’t understand.

Shameful, I know. Our oldest is in fourth grade. I figured I’d have at least four or five more years before his math skills would surpass my own. But here I am – hiding in the coat closet searching for some kind of homework app on my smartphone.

Even my second grader stumped me yesterday. I looked over one of the completed assignments he brought home from school and asked him about it.

“Well, you know what metacognition is, right Mom?” he asked, certain that an all-knowing grown-up like me would surely know the words they toss around in second grade.

“Um, yes, but why don’t you tell me what YOU think it means,” I replied, hopeful he wouldn’t see through the old answer-a-question-with-a-question trick.

“Metacognition is thinking about how you think,” he said with second-grade authority.

“Of course,” I said, filing the definition away for later use. “It’s good that you already know that.”

That little humbling exchange proved to me just how much things have evolved since I was in second grade. I’m pretty sure my second-grade homework consisted of coloring a picture of an umbrella without going outside the lines. When did grade-schoolers start learning words like “meta-cognition” and “digraph” and “algorithm”?

Of course, I’m thrilled the kids are progressing as quickly as they are. If they’re already learning about metacognition in second grade and algorithms in fourth grade, who knows what they might be capable of by the time they’re seniors in high school? They’ll probably be programming the family’s flying car by then. It’ll be wonderful.

In the meantime, I don’t want my academic authority to be crushed by people whose diapers I used to change. So I find myself brushing up on the same subjects the kids are studying. Some of it comes back to me once I look over it again. Other parts of it? Not so much.

But I do have one thing going for me. I know that, in addition to learning new concepts and skills, one of the main purposes of homework is learning to work. So I knew just what to say the day our frustrated fourth grader declared – with intense, melodramatic flair – “Mom, this homework is ruining my life!”

“Well, going to school is your job right now. And doing homework is part of the job,” I said. “There are parts of my job and parts of Dad’s job that we don’t like doing, either, but we still do it. And there are always going to be things you don’t really want to do but need to be done. This is one of them. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean you can’t do it.”

I noticed a subtle eye-roll, but he did stop whining and get back to work on long division. Twenty minutes later, with the homework completed and tucked into his backpack, he was happily shooting hoops on the driveway, feeling the satisfaction that comes from knowing you’ve already finished the hard part of the day. It turns out that the homework didn’t ruin his life after all.

As for me, my secret is safe for now. With a little help from Google, I’m learning new things as I supervise the homework around here. Hopefully, if I brush up on the school’s core curriculum, I’ll be able to maintain the air of superior intelligence at least until they become teenagers. At that point, I’m pretty sure all kids decide that their parents are clueless. But that’s a column for a different day.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here.