Excuses, Excuses!

As a self-described Supernanny, part of my job is to get stuff done. And by stuff, I mean tasks that the kids don’t want to do and the parents don’t want to do with them (chores, homework, etc). I take the initiative on this because I want the children’s time with their folks to be quality and fun. And besides, I can make chores and homework fly by with my mad Mary Poppins skillz.

I surmount the hill of have-to-dos by breaking up the routine as much as possible and making the kids’ required tasks as clear-cut and easy to complete as possible. I draw up a master list for each, grouping the tasks by proximity to one another—empty backpack, wash hands, get out containers for tomorrow’s lunch can all be done downstairs; set out clothes, set alarm can all be done upstairs; then homework time.  If you send kids all over the house and are constantly giving them directions they stop listening and/or get distracted. Believe me, I get it. As an easily-distracted child (welp, let’s be honest, person) I know how hard it is to complete chore after chore, assignment after assignment when all you see are toys you want to play with, books you’d rather be reading, your pals outside wanting to play, or (as would later become the biggest detriment to my being a productive college student) cocktails and swimming pools. I’m sensitive to the whole, “There’s not enough time!” feeling. I am actually well acquainted with that very excuse, as it was my constant companion all the way through college graduation, but never more so than in middle school.

In fact, just last night I was reminiscing about a rather embarrassing, though ultimately life-shaping episode between my dad and I circa 7th grade. I attended Catholic school up until sophomore year of high school, and so 7th grade was another parochial year at an academy that placed punctuality right up there with the virtues of faith, hope, and love. I know this because I was tardy constantly, and with each tardy earning me a violation slip, my cup runneth over with truancy transgressions. Once a certain number of violations were accumulated, one was granted the next phase of punishment (or ring of hell as I came to refer to it): Saturday School. Detention. On a Saturday morning. For several hours. Now if you’re not already gasping in shock or righteous indignation, get ready to. Not only did I have to wake up on a Saturday and come to school, but I had to perform manual labor. Weekend after weekend, I found myself pulling weeds at the convent adjacent to my school or picking gum off the undersides of desks. The memories of these tasks are vastly exaggerated in my mind—the nuns’ garden a forlornly fecund fright fest of towering weeds; the desks huge slabs with stalactites of ABC (Already Been Chewed) gum festering beneath them. It was truly a nightmare! (Said the poor little rich girl who was late to her private school.)

Obviously I howled to my folks that this just wasn’t fair, there was NO WAY in CONVENT to get to my classes on time! I tried, I TRIED! But God himself wouldn’t have been able to make it by that bell! “Mama and Daddy, you have to believe me!” And at first, it seemed they did. That is, until they very calmly explained that in an effort to understand what was taking me so long to get to my classes, my dad would take the morning off from work and walk me to each and every one of my classes. Timing me. One by one. At my school. Where my FRIENDS were. Oh God.

Now I may have failed to mention to my parents that my Achilles’ heel of attendance had little to do with lack of time or the layout of the school (full-disclosure, the academy consisted of a single, square building, with all of my classrooms located in chronological order on the same floor). On the contrary, it was my Goliath-grade socializing. What can I say? I had a steady boyfriend, BBFs (Best Buds Forever), new friends to make, new lives to shape! I was the Cher Horowitz of Incarnate Word Middle School! (If only by self-decree and the fact that I not only encouraged but badgered friends into calling me “Cher” the year previous. Clueless had a PROFOUND effect on me then…still does. Though Alicia Silverstone feeding her baby “bird-style” is a YouTube video I could have lived my whole life without seeing.)

So there we were: a school day, just me and Pops, casually walking from class to class as he timed me with a stopwatch. In an obvious effort to abbreviate my humiliation, I sprinted from classroom to classroom; no longer caring that I was wrong, my sole concern was getting my father off campus!  “No, no, Cherbie, take your time, no need to rush. Take a minute to talk to your friends, what time you’d be taking to exchange books, all that. You should have time for that.” All the while a little twinkle in his eye, knowing not only that he was right, but also that this was a lesson I would not soon forget. I don’t remember the exact figures, but the time I had between each class was something like three minutes more than it actually, physically took to get there.

Now I would be lying through my now-perfectly-straight teeth (thanks for the braces too, Mama and Daddy) if I told you that I never had attendance problems again; they would all be revisited tenfold in college (Me:“Which one’s our teacher?” My pal: “It’s the final. Did you even come to a class?”). But I would like to think that time management was a seed planted in my mind that day, and that I am a much better person for my parents’ insistence that I was capable of anything, even if they had to see to it personally.

And so, although I can completely sympathize with how hard it is for my charges to buckle down and complete their chores, it’s my responsibility to manage their time and guide them through their assigned tasks. If they stray from the list, wander off, lollygag, I take them down Charlie Franck-style, walking them to each area and watching them perform each task from a loving distance. After a few minutes of this, they are so over having their nanny treat them like a baby! “Like I can’t set out my clothes and write a few sentences by myself. Piffle!” And “Boom goes the dynamite!”—another excuse bites the proverbial dust, followed by a patented Miss Cheryl victory dance!

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