Remote Possibilities


I’ve spent much of my life as a World Class Envier – with the time I’ve devoted to the sport, I should have several gold medals. One particular object of my green-eyed monster has been The Homeschool Mom. When Cowboy was young and hyper, I was merely trying to survive each day, using every free second while he was away at school to tend to trivial matters, such as showering, eating, and sleeping. Meanwhile, Homeschool Moms were doing the impossible - spending every waking moment with their children, for years in a row.

I’d love to say my envy bloomed from noble reasons, such as a more personalized, time-efficient education for Cowboy. Or more quality mother-son interactions. Or less stress on my child. But, I’m not that noble. For me, homeschooling would have meant no more waking up earlier than God on Mondays through Fridays. No more packing breakfasts and lunches. No more dealing with public schools’ attendance offices despite my sending detailed notes stating Cowboy’s absences were due to illnesses. And, of utmost importance, no more completing 1,000 registration forms at the beginning of every school year.

But, I wasn’t homeschool material. Cowboy and I both have the dominant Party Gene; my forte would’ve been field trips, and that’s not an employable skill. I don’t have the Teacher Gene, but my homeschool friends do. They can look at a Styrofoam cup and see a space satellite project for a science fair. Garbage can lids become fairy wings. And all those Homeschool Moms seem to grow their own food, such as my friend Frieda. As if she doesn’t have enough to do with her three boys at home, now she’s teaching them how to live off the land. But the Incredible Homeschool Superhero Moms make it all look effortless and fun. For years, I’ve wanted to sign up for their classes, but they discriminate against me based on my age.

Mere days after her homeschool year ended last year, my Superfreak Homeschool Friend, Eunice, started selling her kids’ used textbooks to other homeschool moms, so she could order curriculum for the next year. And she gets excited about curriculum – it’s her drug of choice. I can’t imagine anything scarier than lesson plans. I can’t even plan dinner. I shudder to think what my teaching would’ve looked like, especially geography or math.

On one of my substitute teaching jobs several years ago, I was filled with terror to find myself before 30 high school students in an algebra class.

No big deal, I thought. I made A’s in algebra, and loved it. My thinking had no rationale; when my stepdaughter took algebra, I was worse than useless, and hung my head in shame after perusing her textbook. I remembered nothing about the subject; it was a Mom Fail of epic proportions.

As I looked at the lesson plan in that high school algebra class, the equations didn’t seem too difficult. Stepping up to the blackboard, chalk in hand, I held my head high.

“Okay, let’s see now,” I said, as I proceeded to pretend I was competent. I copied the equation onto the board, sure that the kids were snickering behind my back. But apparently, some were paying attention; I heard, “That’s not right” from some smarty pants guy in the third row.

“It’s not?” I asked, turning around.


I erased my brilliance, then tried again. “Okay, how about this?”

“That’s not right either,” he replied. “Ask Eddie,” he continued, pointing to a kid in the back row. “He knows how to do it.” His suggestion was followed by the affirmations of several throughout the room; Eddie was the class genius, obviously.

And so, dear reader, I handed over my chalk, and let a 15-year-old teach the class how to do algebra. It was one of my finer moments in education.

Similarly, I let others more adept than I teach Cowboy throughout his school career. At one point in motherhood, I felt I hadn’t taught Cowboy much at all. Except for two things. Proudly, I announced to Flash, “You’ve taught Cowboy everything he knows, except how to dance and how to tie his shoes; I get credit for those.”

“I taught him how to tie his shoes,” the Credit Hog replied, explaining how he’d worked with Cowboy on practicing the skill.

My illusions were shattered. I was the Food Supplier, the Appointment Maker, the First Aid Worker, and the Advocate. I wanted to think there was something, anything, other than shaking his booty, that he’d learned from me. I credit several Public Broadcasting Service television shows for teaching him to read; PBS was my nanny when I needed a breakfast break, a lunch break, or a sanity break, back in Cowboy’s hyper days, before he was in school all day long. As a homeschool mom, I’m sure I would’ve used the phrase, “Today, we’re going to watch a movie about…” all too often.

Thankfully, Cowboy had an abundance of competent and compassionate teachers whose skills far exceeded pushing “Play” on a DVD remote control. They helped him with social skills, academics, and learning how to interact with peers on a daily basis. One in particular, Mrs. Sullivan, raised the bar higher than I ever had, expecting more from him; he rose to the occasion repeatedly.

But now that he’s out of high school, it’s my turn to teach the most important lessons. I’m calling my program The Homeschool of Life Necessities. The first subject I introduced was The Remote Control. Specifically, how to use it. Why operate it for him for the rest of eternity, when he could become a fully independent coach potato? And so, three months ago, we had our first lesson. Thankfully, we own only two remotes now, rather than the 15 remotes Flash used to require. Once, I had to take an eight-hour tutorial to learn to turn up the volume without launching Netflix. It was crazy. By the time Flash finished teaching me Remote Orientation, I was trying the mute button to see if it would make him stop talking.

I explained to Cowboy, “The big remote is for the TV. The new small remote is for the Blu-ray player your dad bought, that goes with the smart TV he bought, that somehow magically takes you to channels we never knew existed before.” Seriously. Flash bought that darn TV six months ago, and I still can’t figure out how it all works.

To further complicate matters, I needed to teach Cowboy how to change the settings on the TV, depending on what he wanted to do. Regular TV has one setting; to watch a DVD or Netflix or Hulu or Viewing Options I Never Knew Existed, there are other settings.

Perhaps those who can’t do, teach. But I could do neither very well, on our first homeschool day. I had to keep it simple, not so much for Cowboy, but for myself.

“Push this button on the big remote to turn the TV on,” I instructed Cowboy.

Well, yes, he already knew how to do that. And he already knew how to turn on the Blu-ray player, and how to put in a disc, which he had been doing for years with our regular DVD player. But then, we had to push a small button on the new small remote, to make the movie start playing.

“Okay, push the play button here,” I explained, pointing to the arrow on the small remote.

He pushed it, but nothing happened.

“Okay, try this one,” I redirected, pointing to the button in the middle of the remote. If it has a name, I don’t know it. I am well versed in the Pointing Method of teaching – “push this thingy here” was my detailed direction.

Cowboy pushed the thingy, and the movie began playing.

Next was basic TV watching; he has become more interested in TV in the last few months, enjoying old sitcoms, shows about animals, an occasional game show, and sports of all kinds. But for years, Cowboy’s selfish parents had been the Ultimate Remote Controllers, surfing the channels until they found something Cowboy liked, or finding what they liked that was acceptable for him to watch too. He indulged us for decades. On a few occasions over the years, I’d handed the TV remote to Cowboy, but he lost interest quickly, and handed it back to me. Perhaps he knew I’d handed it over half-heartedly.

But it was time for his rite of passage. After my introductory lecture, I released my firm grip on the big remote, handed it to him, and showed him how to change channels and change the volume. Within two minutes, he was off and running, going around the loop over and over, never lingering on one station more than a couple of seconds.

When Flash got home that night, I excitedly told him, “Flash, look at Cowboy. He’s had the remote for three hours, and keeps picking out what he wants to watch. If it’s not appropriate, I tell him to change the channel, and he finds something else.”

“Oh wow,” Flash said, with a big smile on his face. “That’s great, Cowboy.” And I think, at the time, Flash meant it.

But two hours later, it was a different story.

“Cowboy, let me have the remote. You’re not even watching this,” Flash directed.

Cowboy refused, clinging to that plastic symbol of masculine freedom the way I cling to the last Hershey bar in this house.

“Oh my gosh,” Flash reported to me, “he’s not giving up that thing.”

“Not anytime soon,” I replied.

The following Sunday, I went to my room to read, while the guys hung out in the living room watching whatever extreme sport Cowboy had chosen. All was quiet on the couch, until my serenity was broken by what sounded like bickering.

“C’mon, Cowboy. You’ve had the remote all day. And you need to pick something to watch.” After an incredibly brief pause, Flash continued. “Stop this. Pick something.”

I walked into the living room to find frustrated Flash, and Cowboy grinning and laughing as he constantly changed the channel from one station to the next.

“He just keeps changing the channels,” Flash tattled, in a whiney voice. “He won’t pick anything.”

“Wow. Really, Flash? Now you know my pain; you did that for the first 10 years of our marriage.”

His glare was piercing, as he replied, “I did not.” It was a scathing rebuttal; I doubled over, laughing. “Cowboy won’t share,” he added. “He’s had the remote the whole time.”

“Well, Flash, we controlled the TV for 20 years. I guess it’s his turn.”

Flash must have agreed; it was quiet after that, as Cowboy continued his reign of terror.

But lately, Cowboy is increasingly deferring to TV for his leisure activity, more often than in all the years prior. Before, he might watch one movie, then turn the TV off. Or a couple of TV shows, then turn on the stereo. He’s known how to operate the stereo for years now, because music always came before television or games or anything else except swimming.

So the next thing on my list of classes is How to Limit TV Watching. My ability to teach life-changing lessons is surpassed by my necessity to unteach or alter what I’ve already taught. Such as when I taught Cowboy how to buy candy at the store when he was younger, then had to teach him to not eat too much candy. Or when I taught Cowboy a special handshake, that he later lengthened; I’ve had to explain that he can’t do his 7-step signature handshake at funerals or wedding reception receiving lines.

Unfortunately, and fortunately, he’s an excellent observer. Following in the footsteps of Flash and I, he has eaten at our dining room table only four times in the last six months, including Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. This week, we had a standoff when I insisted he eat blueberries – the World’s Most Staining Fruit – at the table, rather than on the couch. He quickly grabbed the bowl, ran to the living room, sat on the couch, and took one bite. After which, I took the bowl and placed it on the table. Rather than arguing with me again, he waited an hour and a half to surrender, and sat at the table to finish the forbidden-from-the-couch fruit. This unteaching may take awhile. And it will require that Flash and I follow suit.

A month after my first Remote Control class, I taught a follow-up course on Proper Remote Etiquette, including lessons on How to Share with Your Father, and Never Change Channels During Every Commercial. I’ve enrolled Flash into the latter class, scheduled to begin next week.

Also on my curriculum will be refresher courses on Making Your Bed More Than Once a Yearly Quarter, Taking Your Dishes to the Kitchen: Your Mother is Not a Waitress, and Feeding the Dogs Every Day – all skills Cowboy had for a long time, but gave up during his sloth period over last six months. You give an inch, they take 10 miles.

The possibility of my being a world-class teacher is slim. But maybe, if I’m lucky, Cowboy will be a balanced TV watcher, with his bowl full of berries firmly planted on the dining room table, and his dogs well fed. And, of course, we’ll always take field trips.