As a college English professor, I fully anticipated hovering over my 5-year-old daughter Emily's homework, making sure she was trying her hardest and her teachers weren't committing grievous grammatical sins. Her teacher would know me well from our many pedagogical discussions.
But it has not turned out that way.
Oh, the teacher knows me, but she knows me because we exchange pleasantries. I have not been inclined to discuss my daughter's schooling at all. In fact, I have done little hovering either. When she finishes her homework - generally one sheet of simple addition problems or copying a letter 20 times - I glance at it and place it in her backpack.
One day, the teacher sent home a note explaining that the children would be required to read every night. If a child read five pages, she would get a little star for the day. Ten pages would earn a medium star, and 25 pages a large star. Reading was always part of our bedtime routine, so that sounded fine to me - until I had to endure 25 pages a night.
Emily would slowly sound out each word, struggling to recognize it. When I would try to help, in an effort to speed things up, she would angrily cut me off: "Don't tell me!" Once she deciphered a word, a celebratory dance often followed. Sometimes she would act out entire sentences, prancing around the room roaring like a tiger, climbing a tree, or riding a bike. Twenty-five pages took an eternity.
Then one day, I caught a glimpse of another student's folder, which indicated that she sometimes read 50 pages a day, earning extra stars. Another mom told me a couple of kids were reading more than 100 pages a night!
I went home feeling terribly guilty. I wasn't pushing my daughter enough, I thought, momentarily overlooking the fact that she is 5 years old.
So I spoke with the teacher, who reassured me that Emily should simply read what we are comfortable with.
After much anguished deliberation, I came to the conclusion that 25 pages was just fine for us.
Emily gets home from school at 3:15 p.m. By the time she settles down, tells me about her day, completes her homework, and changes clothes, it is often after 4. She has an hour and a half before dinner to play with her best friend, Morgan. After dinner, there's time for a bath and a bit of running around.
Then around 7, Emily reads her 25 pages, and sometimes I read a little also. She has a snack, brushes her teeth, and I tuck her in for the night. The lights rarely go out before 8 p.m.
So if I wanted to push Emily to read more than the 25 pages, we would have to cut into her playtime with Morgan.
It isn't easy for a little girl to make friends in our neighborhood, which is made up mostly of grandparents. More and more children are moving in, but none is my daughter's age. She has met children at school, but most of them stay after school for day care because both of their parents work.
I have a good friend who lives a 15-minute drive from our house and has a daughter the right age, but coordinating a "play date" is nearly impossible. We both work; she has three kids to manage, and I have two.
But Emily met Morgan, who lives in the house behind ours, right before Emily's third birthday, and they have been joined at the hip ever since.
I met my childhood best friend in kindergarten also, and we remained inseparable until my family moved when I was 11. Thirty-five years later, I still vividly and warmly remember riding tricycles in the basement, dancing to Carole King's "Tapestry," and playing with Barbie.
I don't remember how many pages of books I read. In fact, neither does my mom.
So tonight, when I lie down to read with Emily, I won't second-guess my decision to be satisfied with only 25 pages. And I won't wonder whether she really needs to play with Morgan.
I know the answer.
Yes, she does.