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Patience, patients, & homework hell

I thought I'd finished with homework forever when I was 17 years of age. Now I realise that I've just signed up for another 20 years of the stuff.

Annie's fine. She's seven and she's the diligent one. She threatens to shop me to the cops if I'm slow about putting my seatbelt on. She's the one who looks at me sternly and asks me if I washed it when I give her an apple. But Mike . . . Mike's a different story.

He's currently learning to read. No, wait. That's not quite true. Various people, me included, are attempting to teach him how to read. But a year of school has failed to improve the kid's relationship with reality. He thinks he can read. He just looks at the pictures and tells the story from memory. I can't get him out of this habit.

So the school sends home this reading book. Page one has this sentence: 'I can see the bird.' We struggle through the first four words, sounding them out, but the whole thing falls apart on 'bird'. The problem is that the picture that accompanies the words isn't particularly well drawn. It doesn't look like a bird. It doesn't look like anything in particular. Mike's patience is gone on figuring out what the first four words are. He's starting to squirm.

"I can see the . . ." he says slowly.

"Come on Mike." I'm being all upbeat and happy-clappy. "Sound it out! What's that letter?"

"The letter B."

"Yes! It's the letter B! Good man! Now, what sound does B make?"


"Yes! Buh! That's it! Buh."

We repeat this for each letter and fair dues to the kid, he sounds each one out in turn.

"So what's the word?" I ask him.

He's not looking at the word at all now, he's squinting at the picture.

"I can see the buh . . . er, hedgehog?"

And yes, it does look a bit like a hedgehog. I try to get him to stop looking at the pictures and focus on the words. Again, he sounds it out.

"I can see the buh . . . funny yoke?" He looks up at me quizzically.

So now he's got it into his head that the whole idea is to figure out what the hell the picture is. And nothing I can say will dislodge this idea. Ten more minutes of this and we're both on the verge of tears.


As well as homework, they're also bringing home germs. Annie is at this moment inside on the couch wrapped up in a duvet watching a recording of Saturday night's X Factor. She may be a great student, but she's the worst patient ever. She moaned and groaned through last night, waking frequently to share her misery with everyone else. And I know, as sure as night follows day, that this bug will work its way through everyone else in the house before we pass it on to the next family.

With the rain and the wind, the coughing and the homework, school has become deeply unpopular after only a few weeks.