Future Engineer

(scene opens in pandemic homeschool)

Beta: Mom, check my eyes? The question says “look at the slide on page eleven and describe a negative feed back loop”. But the slide that talks about negative feed backs is on page ten.

Me: And?

Beta: What should I do?

Me: Ignore page number and answer the question. The question is about negative feedback loop. Do you see the slide that talks about feedback?

Beta: Yes.

Me: Then talk about negative feedback.

Beta: (thinks a moment) I’m going to tell the teacher its on the wrong page.

Me: (sigh) Okay. But also answer the question about the negative feedback loop and don’t wait for her to say “Okay, look on page ten for the information”.

Life is a dark room

(scene opens in apocalypse homeschool)

Me: (at kid table with Chromebook) Okay, this assignment is “Draw a picture about what you liked about the story and record talking about it.” Like the last four hundred videos we watched.

Delta: I don’t like anything.

Me: I know. But you have to stop submitting blank pages, the teacher doesn’t like it. Could you pretend? For mommy?

Delta: (fills in the page with a single color) It’s all black. I like black. (hits submit button)

Me: (sighs) That’s fine. Let me get some more coffee before the teacher emails me again.

Bard From Another Timeline

(scene opens in cluttered dinning room)

Alpha: (stares angrily into space)

Me: (notices this, takes off headphones) What can I help you with?

Alpha: (frustrated) I’m supposed to read these short stories and write something about culture and how it defines us. You can’t help me.

Me: (sips coffee) Tell me about one of the stories. Maybe I can help you break down some thoughts.

Alpha: You can’t!

Me: Try me.

Alpha: Well, one is about this girl who’s embarrassed to stand in front of a 14 year old man and her dad burps when he eats fish. See? You can’t help me.

Me: (sips more coffee) By any chance is the 14 yr old boy the son of the pastor? A boy she has a crush on? When they come over for dinner, she’s totally embarrassed by the way her Chinese family is eating, and about dies when her dad offers her fish cheeks as the best part of the meal?

Alpha: (stares)

Me: So, yeah, that story is called “Fish Cheeks” and I read it when I was in school. A hundred years ago.

Alpha: (stares louder)

Me: (slurps coffee) Wanna tell me about the other two?

Alpha: (pouts, gets up, collects headphones) I’m going to join the Zoom classroom and ask questions.

Shots Fired

(scene opens in cluttered dinning room)

Alpha & Beta: (being dumb)

Husband: (homework checking laptop) You guys are being dumb.

Alpha: We learn from the best. (strutting through the room)

Me: First, we don’t want dumb kids, we want smart, driven, and ambitious kids. Second, that presumes you have the capacity to learn.

Husband: (turns to look at Alpha) You have something on your jeans. (points) Come here.

Alpha: (looks down, steps closer)

Husband: (knuckle punches Alpha in the thigh)

Alpha: (collapses) I can’t believe I fell for that!

Beta: (laughs) I would have fallen for that.

Me: Back to that capacity to learn.

Bro, do you even school?

(scene opens in dinning room)

Me: Guys, I’m getting emails from teachers updating me on your assignments. Who’s teacher is Ms. W? Who has Ms. D? Anyone have Mr. G?

Kids: (collectively) Uh, I don’t recognize those names.

Me: Okay, they’re either Alpha or Beta’s ’cause I know Gamma and Delta’s.

Bigs: I dunno.

Me: (slogs through school web page directories) Okay Beta, you have Ms. W and Ms. D. Alpha – you have Mr. G.

Beta: Oh yeah, Ms. W is the English teacher. I forgot.

Alpha: Who is Mr. G? I don’t know a Mr. G.

Me: IT IS APRIL HOW DO YOU NOT KNOW THE NAMES OF YOUR TEACHERS?!?

Book Club

(scene opens in quarantined parlor)

Beta: (sullen) I finished folding laundry. Now what.

Me: (fiercely) Excellent. Time for one hour of book reading.

Beta: (collapses bonelessly into chair, reaches for laptop)

Me: What are you doing?

Beta: Logging on to the school library for an audio book.

Me: (outraged) No! Reading! Re-ah-ding! Silently! With your eyes!

Beta: (hysterical) But I’ve read every book in this house!

Me: (evil laugh) You have not.

Beta: (sullen again) I’ve read every book in my room.

Me: (standing up from table) I bet you haven’t, but follow me.

(camera cuts to messy but obviously parental bedroom)

Me: Behold (waves hand at stuffed bookshelf) I have over a hundred Dr. Who books. Pick one. Pick two, they’re short. I have books you’ve never seen before. I have boxes of books in the back of the closet. I have books in boxes in the attic. I have boxes of books in the basement. I have more books than you can possible read in two pandemics. The one things you can never say to me is “I’ve read everything”.

Beta: (collapses onto the bed in tears)

Me: (hands him “Novels of the Jaran” by Kate Elliot) Start reading. You’ll like this one, it has aliens. And horses.

Pure Romance

(scene opens at cluttered dinning room table)

Me: (Headphones on, typing on laptop)

Beta: (struggling through a book report)

(sound of back door slamming off screen)

Me: (looks up, sees someone in kitchen, assumes cheesy come thither stare)

Beta: (also looks up) Who is it? Mom, who is it? Hello? (waves hand in front of Carrot’s face) Mom. Whoisit?!

Me: Oh, just making goo-goo eyes at the serial killer in the kitchen.

Husband: (enters from kitchen, wearing black on black on black, holding a large wood axe) It’s the glasses, isn’t it? If I take them off I’m just a cute lumberjack, right? (takes off glasses)

Me: Yes. Totally changes the threat assessment levels.

Beta: (shakes head) I do not understand you guys.

Me: Few people do, honey.

They know a thing, too.

(scene opens at cluttered table)

Alpha: I need help finding references on how alcohol affects the body.

Me: Look up Betty Ford Clinic.

Alpha: Says page is denied.

Me: The school laptop won’t let you look up Betty Ford Clinic? That’s absurd. You can look it up on my computer and use it as a reference.

Alpha: But she’ll think I’m making it up if we can’t pull it up on a school computer.

Me: Trust me, the teachers will know what the clinic is and who Betty Ford is.

Magic Word

(scene opens at cluttered dinning room table)

Alpha: (at laptop) Mom, how do you spell relativ….reali…rel

Me: Relativity?

Alpha: Relatively.

Beta: (hovering around for no reason) He’s looking for a word that rhymes with “orange”.

Me: R-E-L-A-T-I-V-E-L-Y. And “door hinge”.

(stunned silence follows, boys stare, Carrot drinks coffee)

Beta: (mimes mind being blown)

Alpha: Holy shit.

Me: Language.

Alpha: No. Mom. Holy shit. You rhymed orange. That’s insane.

Me: (raises coffee mug and shrugs) Maybe now you’ll believe me when I tell you I know a thing?

Ich bin müde

(Scene opens in tossed dining room)

Me: (looking up from laptop) What are you doing?
Alpha: My German homework.
Me: On your Chromebook?
Alpha: I’m using Google Translate.
Me: (headdesk) Ohmigod. You’ve been doing all your homework with Google Translate?! I think we’ve just figured out why you’re getting full points on homework and failing every test!
Alpha: (explosively defensive) I’m an idiot when it comes to my tests. I don’t know shit and I don’t know why!
Me: Because if you don’t try to memorize the vocab during homework, you won’t remember it for the tests! This is what studying is! (points to the page) “ein Ei essen”. What does that mean?
Alpha: (sullen) Don’t know.
Me: (exhausted) Ei is egg and essen is food.
Alpha: (sinks lower in his chair)
Me: Remember when you threw down at the beginning of the year about how what a waste of time doing DuoLingo was because it wasn’t exactly what you were covering in class? I now officially know more German than you. Now I get to order flash cards so I can quiz you on vocab for an hour every night.
Alpha: (headdesk)
Me: Yes, I’m very excited about it too.

Not Worth the Risk

(scene opens at cluttered dinning room table, strewn with scribbled notes in a childish hand)

Me: (looking over outline) Okay, now explain to me again what this paper is about.
Beta: I had to take two colleges that had programs I want and compare and contrast them. I want to go to Engineering, so I picked Tuskegee University and University of Florida.
Me: (slight disappointment) No MIT? Don’t want to be a pirate?
Beta: (shrugs) These two looked interesting.
Me: Well, I’m okay with going to Tuskegee. It’s a historically black college, just so you know and aren’t surprised when you get there. But I’m never sending you to Florida.
Beta: Why not?! I like warm sandy beaches.
Me: Then I’ll send you to the Mediterranean. Florida has something called “Florida Man” and it is the embodiment of all that is crazy and unstable in the human psyche. Why it only manifests in Florida, no one knows. Maybe its in the water, maybe its swamp gas. There are so many other Engineering schools that I can – and will – send you.
Beta: Is Florida Man like Big Foot?
Me: Crazier. He’ll eat your face.

Time, Time, Time

(scene opens in dim dinning room)

Alpha: (comes in foyer, shedding snow)
Me: (concerned) What are you doing home? Did they cancel track?
Alpha: No, I have homework.
Me: (appalled) ….you ditched track to do homework? You’ve missed all of last week’s practice already! How much do you have?
Alpha: I have to finish the late worksheet.
Me: That’s it? (temper rises) How long do you think that’s going to take you?
Alpha: (hesitantly) All night?
Me: You actually have no clue how much homework you have on any given night, which is amazing since you never bring homework home.
Alpha: (defensively sullen) I didn’t think I could run if I had homework.
Me: (shakes fists at the sky, shrieking) School. Practice. Homework. Dinner. Bed. There is time for all things under heaven! What kind of life do you think you’re going to live where you can clear your entire calendar for twenty minutes worth of work?
Alpha: (tearfully sullen) A life on the streets.
Me: (collects with difficulty) Even street people have a schedule in an effort to survive. Thank you for making homework a priority.

(Alpha exits, Mother screams silently and tears out hair)