Ask The Totebag: Let The Homework Battle Begin

 by Another Twin Mom

What’s your take on homework?  Personally, I’d love to follow the advice in this Atlantic piece ( and let the kids be responsible for it, only supervising to the extent needed to make sure it gets done. (Maybe when they’re older?)  That was my parent’s approach.

And wow, is there a lot of homework these days.  (

My kids are in a “gifted and talented” track at a public school, meaning the material they’re learning is approx.  one grade level above their grade.  (Or at least they are supposed to be. With the new common core curriculum and how their school is implementing it, that’s up for debate.  Why they’re in this track, what a horrible name it has, and how they’re doing could each be a separate topic, but back to homework.)  They get 3-6 worksheets a night, plus a writing assignment due at the end of the week, a “graphic organizer” assignment where they’re suppose to analyze a fictional story, identifying plot, characters, setting, etc.  There is also the occasional project, usually one per month.  Last month’s project was to write about a famous woman and her achievements in 3 to 4 paragraphs and make a cover page.  These projects are displayed on a bulletin board outside their classroom.  Oh, and they’re supposed to read 20 minutes a night.  Of course, the projects end up taking a lot of parental effort – a trip to the library or Wikipedia, choosing a subject, explaining the historical context so the student has some idea of why the person is remembered, buying the poster board (oak tag board – does anyone still call it that aside from my kids’ teachers?)

Did I mention my kids are 6 and in first grade?  I certainly had no where near this amount of homework at the same age, back in the mid 70s.  I was also in an “honors” track at a public school.

My kids are in an after school program in which they are supposed to work on their homework (ideally finishing it).  Invariably, the reading, graphic organizer, writing assignment and any project are not done, and sometimes the worksheets are only just started.  So around 6 – 6:30 when we get home, the kids work on their homework while I make dinner.  One usually has it mostly done and is quick to finish the rest  - except for the reading, graphic organizer, writing assignment and any project then due.  The other one is the total opposite – procrastinates, whines, etc., especially when he’s tired and hungry.  And who can blame him? Well, me for one.  I realize the set-up is not ideal: the volume of work, time of day, hunger and so on.   And yet, the same thing happens over the weekend when the set-up is better – lots of procrastinating, whining, etc.  He makes little to no effort unless my husband or I are sitting next to him helping with every page.  Same with the other if it involves writing.  Gets on my last nerve.  I used to think I was a patient person until I had kids.

So fellow Totebaggers, any advice? Care to commiserate?  Am I just whining?

How do I motivate my kids to put in the effort?  How do I learn to be more patient? Have you ever considered letting (or done ahead and allowed) your kids to just not do it all?

Our Epidemic of Busyness

by AustinMom

For the past couple of years I have regularly felt “overwhelmed”.  Full-time job, two middle school girls, rotating middle school exchange students, and elderly parents is the short list of my committments.  But, we know with kids comes their activities and the volunteering that supports them.  Add on the increasing health issues of my parents and some recent diagnosis of learning disabilities in my younger child.  Often, I felt like I was chasing my tail and getting further behind.  And, it felt worse because I know that just a few years ago I had more demands, but it was less chaotic and more productive.

So, when the opportunity arose to retire a few months ago, I took it thinking, and hoping, it would help significantly.  Has it?  Yes and No.  I have learned that most retired people have developed a phobia about traffic and the avoidance of it wastes more time that just coping with it.  I have also found that without external deadlines it is much easier to procrastinate. However, I have carved out time for an exercise class and am beginning to see both the physical and mental benefits.  I also am no longer so short tempered with my family and have had the ability to spend more time right after school with my younger daughter, which is starting to pay off as well.

When I came across this article the other day, I could relate to this idea of contaminated time.  I have always been one with that to do list tape running through my head. I could also agree that being busy is the new excuse for everything.

And for another perspective, this article provides visualizations of how history’s most creative and influential figures structured their days:

What do you think, Totebaggers?  Are you too busy?  Is it of your own creation?  Do you feel that you have never have free time?

Friday Fun: Good Friday

by saacnmama and WCE

Many Totebag families will take part in a religious celebration of renewal and new life this weekend. It is tied to traditions around the world that greet the budding flowers, trees, and young livestock.

David Brooks’ column in the New York Times this week also seems fitting for this discussion:

Totebaggers, what does springtime look like in your household? Do you have decorations or traditions to celebrate the changing seasons?

Ask The Totebag: Generational Asset Transfer

by Sandwiched

I am an only child. My dad is 85; my mom is 78.  They are currently living in their own home, with no mortgage.  While they are generally healthy in the sense that neither is on a lot of medications, both have some level of non-Alzheimer’s cognitive impairment (my dad moderate, my mom slight.)

When we recently met with our lawyer, he recommended that they transfer the house ($250K) and all but $50K of their other assets (currently $400K or so)  to us, so that, if they wound up in a nursing home, they would qualify for Medicaid sooner. Their monthly income from pensions and SS would cover most of the cost a nursing home for ONE of them, so it would take awhile to spend down their current assets enough to qualify for medicaid.  Now if they BOTH wound up in a nursing home, that would be another story.

However, if they do this, then on paper it looks like we have a lot of money, so we wouldn’t qualify for financial aid next year when our daughter begins college (and our son two years after that).  (We have college savings, but were counting on aid covering at least a portion of the costs.) In theory we could use the money my parents gave us to cover what we won’t receive in aid, but we were told that we shouldn’t because if my parents do wind up in a nursing home, the Medicaid lookback would require us to use that money for their care.

My parents are okay with the idea (well, my mom is.  My dad doesn’t really have the capacity to make that kind of a decision anymore.)  But the whole suggestion feels a little fishy to me. It just doesn’t seem right to ask the taxpayers to potentially foot the bill for their care when they have a decent amount of money.

For the moment, we have chosen NOT to make this transfer.  My parents have increased their contributions into our daughter’s college fund, and have given us cash gifts for Christmas and birthdays as a way of decreasing their assets but still allowing us to feel “legitimate.”

Totebaggers, what you are thoughts on our situation? 

Coffee Talk: Has Facebook Jumped the Shark?

by Laura Davenport, aka WhiteFluffyIcing

I gave up Facebook for Lent, with the idea that I would use the regained time for spiritual development.  (Part of that was reading Killing Jesus, a quick and compelling retelling of the Gospels with additional context of what was going on in Rome at the time.)

It took about ten days for me to stop habitually picking up my phone to check my news feed.  It took another week or so to stop thinking of pithy one-liners to post (I fancy myself as a bit of a comedienne in the right settings).

But now, I don’t miss it.  I may not go back.  It’s kind of nice.

I ran across this piece about Facebook’s flaws and found myself nodding in agreement.

Totebaggers, has Facebook jumped the shark?  What will its replacement be?

Man Down (… Again)

by Laura Davenport, aka WhiteFluffyIcing

Gang, we need to talk.

We’ve lost another regular — this time, Mom of Three Teens.  (You may remember her post about favorite cookbooks, wherein she shared with us some of her experience of living in Rome.)

We are a remarkable community for many reasons, our collective civility being chief among them.  But sometimes we slip up.

MOTT cared enough to write in and inform me of her reasoning, so I thought we might walk through this as a bit of a case study.

Take a look at the comments from our March 27 post.  MOTT makes her first comment at 2:23.  She goes back and forth with Rhett a couple of times, and then our elusive friend Kaleberg later makes a reference to her statements.

An excerpt of her email to me:

I will allow that I poorly made my point in my initial post.  However, I was truly offended by one poster’s two responses to my original comment and to my clarifying point.  He deliberately twisted my writing and his comments deeply insulted me.  Another poster’s comment several hours later about the “self-pitying rich” just added to my irritation.  On this blog, we are, by and large, strangers to one another and we trust each other to treat every comment with respect.  It is this trust that makes following and participating in this blog an enjoyable pastime for its …  followers.  In my “real life,” I would not allow myself to be insulted by a stranger in front of [hundreds of ] other strangers.  The same standard applies to my social media life.

Totebaggers, can you see MOTT’s perspective and empathize with her reaction?  Is this bound to happen in an anonymous forum on the Internet?  This isn’t the first time we’ve irritated a regular to the point of them leaving us.  Are we doing our best in this arena?