Earlier this week, my school’s resident pathologist ran into a number of us drilling flash cards in the lobby. After some small talk he says “think about it, when was the last time you asked your parents for help with your homework?”
I honestly tried so hard to think of the last time meanwhile all my friends said one of two things:
1) “Well…my dad is a doctor, so I still ask!” or
2) “Maybe like 4th grade or so”
This wasn’t the first time this had happened. In college, I would do this thing where I would say the answer to a question posed by a professor under my breath. I didn’t realize I was doing it until one moment during General Chemistry. After two right answers in a row, the kid to my right says “wow, you really know your stuff!” To which I replied “thank you!” and proceeded to feel very proud about (I had spent the two hours before class started reading the chapter on the day’s material. My work was paying off!)
I got the next answer wrong. He then said “don’t worry, you can ask your dad later.”
So many assumptions had just been made, I didn’t know where to start. My head spun out with questions for him…questions like “what dad?” and “why not my mom?” and “what makes you think my dad would know chemistry?”
I settled on “what does your father do?” He replied with what I only remember as “he’s something something physics something something.” I moved my seat and never talked to him again.
I am zeroth generation American. What this meant for my family was that we learned together.
Back to a few days ago:
It finally hit me a few minutes later…I don’t remember personally asking anyone for help or receiving help from anyone in my family, but I remember my sisters asking. The last question I can think of was when my little sister was in Kindergarten or around then. She asked my mom to spell ‘yellow’.
My mother replied “se deletrea Y-E-L-L-O-W y se dice hielo como ‘ice’ en espanol!” This translates to “it is spelled Y-E-L-L-O-W and you pronounce it hielo like ‘ice’ in Spanish!”
I didn’t get to share, my friends had moved on to other conversation.
I then remembered, my mother was never the one helping me with my homework, I was helping her.
As an immigrant from a country that affords its citizens little opportunity to study, my mother arrived in this country with a high school education. She then attempted to learn English…she took classes at the high school and then at the community college and then at the adult learning center. Each time, her studies were interrupted by having to work a full-time job and having three young girls at home. It got easier over time as we got older and could fend for ourselves in the kitchen. She eventually became a medical coder for a clinic in the Bronx. Then she got a phlebotomy certification. Now she works as a medical assistant and she takes classes at night at one of the city colleges. I think we can conclude that my mother’s inability to help me in school wasn’t for lack of trying.
It got easier over time as we got older and could fend for ourselves in the kitchen. We learned our recipes from that show on PBS–Zoom!–and anything we could remember our grandmother teaching us back in the DR. My mom eventually became a medical coder for a clinic in the Bronx. Then she got a phlebotomy certification among others. Now she works as a medical assistant and she takes classes at night at one of the city colleges. She’s 51. I think we can conclude that my mother’s inability to help me in school wasn’t for lack of trying.
I remember one night in particular. She had been assigned A Break with Charity: A Story about the Salem Witch Trials for one of her courses, and had to write an essay about it. I had to have been somewhere between 8 and 10 years old because I remember us sitting at the kitchen table, which we had found in the garbage, split into two half circles and attached to the wall (otherwise, it would not have fit).
I didn’t have the reading compression to understand this book but I remember marking up her essay with all sorts of grammatical corrections (I had read her English grammar books the previous year during recess. I got really good at it according to my second-grade teacher).
I am certain I am not the only one…and isn’t that kind of crazy–that an 8-year-old is helping her mother with her homework?!