Thursday, April 3, 2014

Busy work matters

Grade School Erin was always in those enrichment programs where they would take the bored smart kids and stick them in another classroom and make them do logic puzzles with the boxes that you’d determine whether Jenny, Johnny or James liked Baseball, Bowling or Badminton. The harder ones had a third category, sometimes fourth, where you’d have to determine whose parents were splitting up and which one had a peg leg.

I went to a great montessori preschool where we were working on things that slightly resembled multiplication right after nap time and we’d have breakout sessions after Sesame Street to determine the symbolism of Big Bird and Grover’s Friendship.*

When I got to “normal kid school” in first grade and was put into classrooms with the Great Unwashed public school kids, I acted out because it was so boring for me. A kid who grew up with working parents was used to school from morning until just before dinner. These kids cried on the first day of first grade because they had to stay all day and eat cafeteria food.

I had the same teacher for first and second grade.  My teacher’s name resembled another word for male genitalia. High school kids turn non-derogatory words to horribly offensive and disturbing messes. Having a name that sounded like a creative word for penis was asking for it, hence why she taught first grade instead of high school. This teacher was so mean. She loved all of the other kids and she hated me, probably because I already knew how to read and didn’t want to do her weird lessons. 

I would sneak out of the classroom and spend extra time in the bathroom stalls reading stolen library books. I once hid in the metal firetruck out on the playground and waited for everyone to go inside from recess before I started playing out there for an extended recess of my own. Another time I found the copy machine in a back room of the library and made several black and white copies of a picture book that I loved, with hopes to take one home to my mom and then sell the rest to other kids. My first step in becoming an entrepreneur was extinguished shortly after by my first lesson in copyright law.

In first and second grade I had a big crush on a boy named Christian. He complimented a black pair of Adidas knock offs I had (the two stripes instead of three stripes clearly showed they weren’t the real deal, but Christian didn’t mind), which meant I wore them everyday. Christian moved away to Atlanta my second grade year and broke my heart. (My first crush isn’t entirely relevant to the moral of this story. I just think it adds to the picture I’m painting of myself as an angsty eight year old who’d loved and lost and was really bored in the classroom.) 

I was in seventh grade when a kid named Devon asked me if I was one of those “really cool smart people who never did her homework but still got really good grades.” I had never really described myself like that, but I liked the way it sounded.

For a girl who tested well and was put in all of the enrichment, smart-kid, seminar classes, you’d think it had hit me sooner that doing my homework mattered. But I never really got the point. I remember getting a B in Miss Blanton’s sixth grade math class. I was so confused. I’d gotten all A’s on my tests. I talked a lot but never while she was talking and only about important things like pretending I knew things about hockey and boys and my bushy 12-year-old eyebrows (god bless ‘em). My parents asked me why I hadn’t been doing my homework and for the first time in all my life I started to realize it was all based off of a point system. They had to explain to me that you get points for doing your homework and you get points for your tests and you get points for not constantly talking about dancing with Connor Rosenbaum at the canteen then kissing him on the cheek and running away.  

I thought that was bullshit. When Devon told me it was cool how smart I was without doing my homework I wore that description like a badge of honor. I cared about my grades, and I always did the kind of homework that I took interest in, like science fair experiments where I tested different dish soaps or creating little felt and yarn Benedict Arnolds in US History class. Don’t get me wrong I was a total nerd, but I also thought it sounded so much cooler to just be plain smart, instead of the kind of person who only got good grades because they did their homework.

Here’s the thing though. Homework is a part of the point system. And it meant that my not-always-completing-everything-by-its-due-date wasn’t going to win me the points.

This isn’t a blog post about how eventually I learned to do my homework, especially in college when homework was doing the reading and you couldn’t get A’s on the tests if you only attended lecture. Eventually, I forced myself to start doing my homework, especially once things got harder at the university level.

This is a blogpost about the point system. There are always going to be things that you don’t think you need to do. You think you’ll be able to not do that extra little busy work and still get an A on the test. But that’s not how life works, really in any aspect of it.

Take relationships, for example. Relationships aren’t about just sliding by because you’ve got the smarts. In fact, it’s that busy work that makes a relationship so damn good. I scraped off my roommate's car every snowy morning this winter. My roommate lets me borrow her shoes whenever I want. It's wonderful! Extra effort is usually unnoticed, but in the end it gets you closer to that 100%. 

Other examples: Taking a couple minutes to wash out your coffee mug every now and then makes the coffee taste so much better.  Taking a minute in the morning to wash your face makes your entire mood.  Eye contact and smiles to the people you’re passing on the sidewalk makes the world less cold and crummy. Pulling $7 a month out of your bank account and giving it to something/someone else changes your entire outlook on life. Putting down your phone while you’re waiting in line for your panini to be pressed might spark a conversation with a stranger who will, one year later, become your best friend (true story!).

Doing all that extra crap is the difference between a good person and a great person, a good friend and a great friend. I like it.

I didn’t have crazy parents who wouldn’t settle for anything below a 95. They were proud of me when I put in the work and even more proud when I learned that I liked the outcome of putting in the work more. You don’t want to be one of those crazy people who can’t be proud of themselves, no matter how much work they put in it, either. Be proud of yourself, dammit! It’s all about working hard and caring about others. If you put in that extra effort, it will never go wasted. 

*Can we just talk about how nobody ever wanted to talk about Grover? He was always my favorite. He was Blue Elmo with a cooler, more masculinely sophisticated voice. Preschool Erin had taste.


  1. Haha, you were so ornery!!! Never would have guessed that. I went the other way and didn't become truly ornery until college. I think your way is better haha.