A Parent’s Work is Never Done


From Chekhov, to the 21st Century Russian-American Experience

Olga, a woman in her late thirties, with a generous waistline the faint outline of which could be seen under the velour leisure suit she was wearing, peered around the bamboo curtain which separated her husband’s makeshift office from the rest of their two-bedroom Brooklyn apartment. Her spying let her to conclude that once again Andrei was immersed in the world on his I-Pad. As soon as she entered, in fact as soon as he heard her footsteps he took the IPad that had been his constant companion since the new model had come out two months ago, and hid it in one of the drawers of his desk. Although, Olga might have been bothered by his attachment to the IPad she didn’t let this show as she approached her husband. She allowed for human weaknesses, and would rather have avoided yet another discussion on his abnormal, or rather for the times normal, devotion to the device.

“Andriush, I need to talk to you,” she said.

“What is it?” he asked, looking up at her with a faraway gaze as if he were continuing to float in an IPad induced mechanical dream, his brain wired to understand only flashing images, neon colors, and the language of the on screen keyboard. Olga looked at his fingers; they were still punching the imaginary keyboard as if he had never put the IPad away.

“Something has to be done about our daughter,” said Olga, willing him to begin to concentrate on what she was telling him instead of on the device that had disappeared in the entrails of the wooden computer desk.

“Why, what’s wrong with her?” He asked with a look of puzzlement, as if this were the first he’d heard of the problem.

“What do you mean what’s wrong? Have you looked at her report card?” she asked, she had put of this conversation for months, in fact, their daughter had failed math in the first semester of the year, which was months ago, but Olga felt that the problem would right itself with just a bit of prodding from her. She mentioned it to Andrei but did not want to start a fight over it, and had not really pursued it. But now she needed to take action, some kind of action. “Of course, yet again you pretend as if everything was just fine. Do you really think that the best method of attack is just ignoring the situation and wishing for it to go away on its own?”

Andrei considered her words for a few seconds, and then with a raised eyebrow replied, “Really? Is that all you’ve come in here to say? Is there anything else you wish to add my dear? Just remember when you’ve run out of original repartees, that I’ve heard all of your little put downs a few too many times for them to surprise me, my angel.”

“Let’s face up to the facts, and the fact is that this will not go away, if we don’t do something about her we will have a lot more problems in the future. Lena is again getting terrible marks in math. ”

“And what do I have to do with it?”

“What do you mean, what do you have to do with it? You’re her father. Do you want her to lose her space in the bilingual program? And where is she going to go? Do you want her going somewhere where no one speaks English and all the kids are impoverished immigrants from Guatemala. Or even worse somewhere on Flatbush?” said Olga with an inward shudder.

“So what’s wrong with Flatbush? Our president is black and I don’t think he’s done so badly in life. Maybe she needs to be around a more diverse group of kids, rather than just a bunch of Jews from Kiev. She’s already developed an accent that makes her sound as if she’s from Kharkov. Anyway if she’s surrounded by Guatemalans she can learn Spanish which is a more relevant language than Russian anyway.” Said Andrei his attention had finally moved over from the app he had been downloading.

“There you go again with your comments about her supposed Ukrainian accent, as if you yourself had immigrated from Moscow or Leningrad. I am trying to get through to you that she is failing math. Maybe you don’t realize what this means but I do. Ever since Lenochka was a little girl, even as a toddler I did everything to get her into Alla’s Daycare. Why? Because EVERYONE in Brooklyn knows that if you attend Alla’s Daycare you then have a chance to qualify for a gifted Russian speaker program. If your kid qualifies, then you can quit worrying about her for at least a few years. From grade one through five your kid is surrounded by like-minded gifted kids, who have interests, who aren’t just satisfied watching TV or playing on an IPhone or whatever. If she’s kicked out of the program she’ll lose her Russian, where else will she be able to take all her classes like literature, math, science in Russian. Look at all the other Russian kids who aren’t in her school, they can barely speak Russian, let alone read it. Do you want her to be one of these ignoramuses?”

“There are only some 170,000 people in Russia and they’re not breeding fast enough to replace the poor suckers who are drinking or smoking themselves to death. We all know that at the end of this century Russian will be as relevant as Inuit or Estonian.” Anytime he could quote yet another random article that he had read online or show off his acquaintance with Russia’s population predicament he felt revived. It was good to have opinions, even if the only person you could espouse them to was your wife. “And furthermore, gifted program, gifted program, it’s all I hear about in this house. Since she was three it is all you’ve talked about, don’t you think that YOU should get some interests? These interests that you’re always talking about, what are they and do you yourself have any?” Andrei continued to sit in his chair but he felt that with his wife standing over him he would never come out the winner in this argument, he had to stand up and exert some authority if only through his height.

“Me, not have any interests? How can you say that when you are the one who cannot tear yourself away from technology? Do I not keep the house clean, cook for you, do the laundry, maintain our finances, pay our bills, and work the same eight to five schedule as you?” Olga was afraid to admit that to a certain extent her husband was right, since her daughter was born her waistline remained bulky, in inverse proportion to her interests which had narrowed and dried up. While before her pregnancy she went to art gallery openings, read new non chick-lit novels, and went to a few classical concerts a year, after the pregnancy just as her waist line refused to go back to its normal size 28, so did her mind never again regain that buoyancy that allowed for it to be interested in things other than the various furniture and interior design magazines she kept buying, and the real estate fliers that kept finding their way into their homes.

Her interests now concentrated on maintaining the apartment, first they bought the bedroom set, this had taken months if not a whole year of consideration; all their bedroom pieces were Italian modern. Then two years later they purchased the living room furniture, leather pieces in bright colors rested against the walls of their low-ceilinged apartment. Coffee tables were mounted with Czech crystal vases Olga’s parents had brought from the Soviet Union, holding fake gladioli that looked remarkably as if they were real from far off. Finally now that everything had been bought and there was no more room in the apartment, they had started thinking of a second home. On the one hand what a bother, but on the other, it would be so pleasurable to have a home to go to in the summer outside of the city, maybe in Connecticut, and she’d have a whole new empty space to decorate. The only thing to consider was the lyme disease, everyone seemed to have it these days, but they just wouldn’t go outside.

“Do I need to remind you that a gifted program is free, we’re not paying anything for a private school education; if we want our child to succeed she must stay in the program. If she is kicked out of the program now as she goes into the fourth grade then she won’t qualify for a good program at another school for grades 6-8, and then she’ll be so far behind she won’t get into one of the specialized high schools, and that will mean that she’ll go to a CUNY or SUNY instead of an Ivy League.”

“Did you go to an Ivy League? No we both went to Midwood high-school and then to Baruch, a CUNY, and seem to have turned out quite normal. Maybe the gifted program is too challenging for her, have you thought about that? Maybe it’s better to be the first guy in a village than the last one in a town. Maybe she’s just too intimidated by the other kids, and can’t perform as well as she would if she were in a class with less astute students.” Andrei had finally stood up, and stretched his hands out above his head as if to assert his mastery over the space above him.

“But Andriusha, I don’t think it’s Lenochka’s fault. Lenochka is a wonderful student; I think the math teacher just doesn’t like her. He is the one who’s giving her a failing grade.” Olga did think that Lenochka probably did not study as much as she should have, but she had to cook, clean and wash after coming home from work, she just did not have time to monitor her every move. Whereas her husband sat in his little makeshift office playing with his gadgets and ignoring his family, if she was going to prepare their dinners and keep their house presentable he would have to do more for their daughter.

“What do you mean he doesn’t like her? How can you even suggest that teachers play favorites at such a school as hers?” He said his voice convulsing under layers of sarcasm, like herring under a kilo of mayonnaise in a dish called ‘the herring under the fur coat’.

“Oh stop it. I am not going to let Lenochka lose her space. I don’t care what we have to do. But you must, must, must go and speak to that infernal math teacher, and get him to change Lena’s grade. I am not going to let neither you nor him sabotage her chance at an Ivy League education.”

“Olechka,” said Andrey his voice dripping patience, “Lena is in the third grade, an Ivy League education, which we will never be able to afford, is still over a decade away.”

Olga stood up to her full height of 160 centimeters and took her hands out of the jacket, stretching them out by her sides. Her back straightened, her breasts, like two satellite dishes, pointed upwards inside of the track suit jacket, her chin assumed an unassailable position.

“It is obvious to me that you just don’t care about our Lenochka. I always knew that your affections for me had waned after ten years marriage, but what does our little girl have to do with it? Look at her, she’s so intelligent, so diligent, such a hard worker, that math teacher is just absolutely worthless. I will not stand for it!”

“Oh stop it, Lenochka, hah! Your saintly Lenochka just doesn’t want to work. What does she do when she comes home, she locks herself up in her room and watches cartoons, or sits on Facebook, or eats those frozen eclaires and profiteroles that you will simply not stop buying even though I have told you more than a thousand times that soon both of you will be unable to wear anything but leisure suits. Now, will you please go away! I was working on something that you interrupted when you barged in here unannounced.” Andrei turned back towards his desk and was about to take the IPad out of the drawer yet again when Olga stomped her foot, and maneuvered herself between Andrei and the desk, taking that particular piece of furniture hostage.

“I will leave only, when you promise me that you will go and speak to the math teacher, and convince him to change Lena’s grade from failing to passing.”

“I have better things to do. Now if you’re so worried about your daughter why don’t YOU go and speak to the math teacher? You have more time than I do. It’s not the 19th century you can speak to a male teacher if you want to.”

“No you’re going to do it, not me. And I don’t have more time than you, my commute is longer, you get back before me, and when was the last time you cooked us a dinner, or did the laundry or vacuumed? Anyway you are much better at showing authority; you can intimidate him much more easily than I. It doesn’t matter to me how you do it and what you say to him, but I got her into the school and you will do everything to keep her there!”

“I will not go. I hardly have any time off why should I take a whole day or a half a day to speak to her teacher

“Because your daughter’s entire future is at stake. And listen to me Andrei you will do it. You must do whatever it takes. I don’t care if you have to bribe him like we used to do or vodka and dine him, or flatter him, or lie to him. But you will keep Lena in that school or else,” added Olga and a hint of menace entered her voice.

“Or else? Are you threatening me?” Andrei who hadn’t seen such a surge of will power in his wife since he had courted her ten years before in graduate school, and she had made a point of making sure that he was up to the standards that she had set for a prospective boyfriend, was a little shocked that an altogether different person from one he had known had just appeared. He didn’t notice as she opened the drawer, and took out the IPad. Olga then raised it and held it over her head.

“Are you crazy, you insane woman? That’s a five hundred dollar piece of technology, put it down!” The alcove where Andrei’s office was set up shared the same concrete floor with their kitchen and so there was a real chance that if Olga were going to throw the IPad, the device would be badly if not irreversibly damaged.

“I will not, not until you promise to go and speak with the math teacher!”

Finally Andrei knew that he had lost. There was no arguing with his wife. In moments of anger or in single minded pursuit of something she was quite capable of irascible acts that would be too costly for his wallet. It was easier to accede and just go and speak with the math teacher.                    “Fine, fine, fine, I’ll do it. But let me speak to that ‘brilliant’ daughter of yours first.”

Andrei went to Lena’s room. The door was characteristically, for a nine-year-old, locked.

“Lena, open the door please we would like to talk to you,” said Andrei.

His command was followed by a long silence on the other end.

“What is it?” asked the lazy voice of his daughter.

“Open the door please.” Repeated Andrei, he was a very polite father.

“Can you tell me what this is about?” asked Lena, and then, “You’re interrupting my show.”

“Why are you watching your show and not doing your homework?” asked her father.

“Why, why, why….why must all parents ask so many questions?” But Andrei could hear her leather desk chair with wheels rolling over the parquet floor. Her laziness had reached new heights; she never willingly walked anywhere but rolled over the parquet floor in the apartment pushing her chair with her feet. She finally opened the door, and went back to perching on her chair, pushing it away from the door and back towards her desk.

“Can you explain why you’re failing math?” He asked his daughter.

Lena, a pudgy little ten-year-old with freckles across the bridge of her nose, dressed in a miniature version of her mother’s leisure suit, clutched her fists, blew air out of her nose and said, “But Papa. It’s the teacher’s fault. You don’t understand he just hates me. I’ve never had a bad grade before. I do everything correctly, I know math better than he does, but he just really, really, doesn’t like me!”

“OK well if he doesn’t like you that’s one thing, but if you don’t do your work, that’s something different. Can you explain why you’re watching a TV show now instead of doing your homework?”

“But Papa, I did all my homework already,” replied Lena with that innocent look in her eyes that dared anyone to challenge her.

“Why don’t you ask her to show it?” He said to his wife.

“Show it, why should she? Of course she’s done it, unlike you I trust her,” replied Olga.

Andrei wanted to ask her to produce the homework that she claimed that she had finished, but thought twice about it. He was too tired from a whole day’s worth of work to bother checking her homework at the moment or lecturing her on the efficacy of lying to her parents while staring them straight in the eyes.

“Fine, I’ll trust her too, but just this once; if it ever happens again, I promise I will confiscate her mini Toshiba.”

“Hah, you should talk,” said Olga, and raised her eyebrows so he would get the point that his obsession with his IPad did not go by unnoticed.

Andrei asked Lena for her math teacher’s name. The next day from work Andrei called the school, spoke with the math teacher and set up an appointment to go see him in person.

A few days later he came to the school. It was a typical New York City elementary school, built with light brown brick. The security guard let him in, and he walked up the stairs and through a few hallways, the walls of which were painted in a baby blue color and covered in children’s drawings. Why did all the school walls have to be painted in this revolting shade of pastel blue? It was the color of bathroom walls in Russian prisons or doctor’s offices. Why use the same color that he associated with urinals in places that were used to teach and nurture poor, unsuspecting children? He went up to the lounge area where the teacher was waiting for him and knocked on the door, but when no one answered, Andrei turned the doorknob and went in.

The math teacher was all alone, sitting at a desk, intent on his IPhone. Andrei noticed that it was the most recent model, and thought to himself that teachers in New York were paid quite well. This was good, he thought, as the people we entrust our children to should be well paid, that is after all democratic, that is the way things should be.

He coughed, and said “Hello, I’m Lena Nakhalny’s father.” The teacher, a man the same age as Andrei, turned around; a high blush rose over his cheeks and covered the large bald spot on the top of his head. He pressed the button at the top of the phone, stood up and went over to shake Andrei’s hand.

“I’m sorry, maybe this isn’t the best time? How are you? A very nice school and office you have here.” Said Andrei, looking around the room, and then looking only at the teacher’s face not below it, that way he could pretend that he hadn’t noticed the teacher slipping his phone into his corduroy, sports coat pocket.

“Well thank you,” said the teacher, still slightly discomfited that a parent had seen him not concentrating on work but fiddling with his phone. “How are you? Did you have trouble finding the office? No? Well good, ok, I’m glad. We try to make everything easy for parents. Parents are our most important customers you know.”

“Oh, really? Well good, I’m glad, you see…” He started to say something but became confused and uncomfortable and stopped. They sat down and Andrei continued.  “You see, I’ve been sent here…well actually I came here, so to speak to speak to you about the grade, the failing grade you’ve given my daughter Lenochka.”

“Oh yes, Lenochka of course. Well I wish it could be different, really I wish I could give her an A. You see it’s very uncomfortable for teachers. Think of the situation we’re in. We’re good people too, we want to give everyone A’s. Do you think I like going home thinking that I gave someone an F?” And he looked at Andrei, with his eyebrows raised, and then facetiously added, “Well who do you take me for? I’m not some monster. I have a conscience.”

“Oh, of course not, Mr. Pokladisty,” said Andrei, “I would never think anything like that. But the matter remains, Lenochka received a failing grade and you do realize that if she fails one of the classes in middle school her entire future will be jeopardized? It’s very possible she will be kicked out, and we just cannot allow that to happen.”

“I’m sorry, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t have grades at all, what do we need them for anyway right? I just heard that in France they’re not going to give homework to elementary school kids. But here things are different, and you see, your Lenochka just refuses to study.”

“But how can that be? My Lenochka was always an exemplary student. What would you recommend that we do?”

“Dear Mr. Nakhalny, would it be too much to ask you not to use the formal ‘you’? Just call me Tolik.”

“Of course Tolik, and you should call me Andrei. Now back to the grade, you do know that she might not be able to continue in the school?”

“Well, yes, but it’s not only in my class that she received an F you know. I don’t think it’s math only that she’s having problems with, she’s not doing well in Russian, or science. No, let me say something and I don’t want to hurt your feelings…” Tolik raised his eyes guiltily to Andrei’s face, “but do you think that maybe this school isn’t for her? Maybe she would be more comfortable somewhere else, where so many things aren’t expected of children? You know as I always say, maybe it’s better to be the first lad in the village than the last one in a town.”

“Yes, really, you always say that? I like to use that expression myself,” said Andrei, and for the first time he smiled. He liked this teacher, he could see that they had a lot in common, surely he’d be able to get him to come around to his side. “But you see, my Lenochka’s not just some fellow in a village, we like her to be surrounded by like-minded, intelligent children, one is so impressionable at that age, and learns so much from other smart children. Why if she went to some other school, who knows who she’d be around, and she’d lose her Russian, and she’d never get into a specialized high-school like Stuyvesant or Brooklyn Tech.”

“Why with her math skills she’s not in any danger of getting into Brooklyn Tech,” murmured Mr. Pokladisty under his breath.

“What was that?” asked Andrei, obviously having heard the teacher’s comment.

“Oh, I only said that it’s a very difficult process getting into high schools like Brooklyn Tech or Stuyvesant. Maybe Lena would be better served by going to a performing arts school like Laguardia, or even Murrow they have a good theater program, and some of the teachers agree that she has a gift for acting.”

“Acting, you don’t say, really? I haven’t thought about that. But you know both her mother and I are programmers and we think that a technical school fits much better with the interests in our family.”

“You’re both programmers? Really, well, it is strange then that Lena isn’t doing better in math, it would seem to be so natural for her.”

“Yes, I really don’t understand it myself. You know I’ve spent so many nights working with her on math problems” said Andrei, but he hoped that Tolik would not be able to see him flush, after all, he really almost never studied with Lena. He just didn’t have the patience for it, every time he tried and she didn’t get what he was trying to say he’d tell Olga to take over or lose his temper. After a couple of times of being forced to scream at her, he decided that it would be a lot less traumatic if Olga taught her, or if she would just learn math in school. Of course he did buy her all the books, math for eight, nine, and ten year olds, she had all the study materials, he just couldn’t bother cracking the books with her. What with the job, the commute, the traffic, it was just so exhausting, here in America you were worked like a work horse, and then at the end if any part of you was left standing, if there were any bones with meat on them that is, they’d be worked over by the machine as well. But Andrei, believed that he was doing no more and no less for his daughter than other parents, and therefore his conscience was not too bothered by the little lie that he had offered for Tolik’s consumption. He continued, “Now do you think that if I promise to keep working with her, in all my spare time that you will be able to change her grade?”

“Change her grade? Why, no I don’t think that can be done,” said Tolik, sorrowfully shaking his head, as if wishing to say that it was sadly out of his power.

“But of course it can be done. I know it can be done everyone knows it can be done. If you just enter into my position you see, just try to put yourself in my spot. Think if you had a child that you loved dearly and your child’s education were at stake, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to convince the powers that be, you in this case, that the situation simply must be changed. Remember, dear man the world is not static and neither are we, something can always be done.”

“Oh no, but I can’t. If you only knew how many rules there are here. Between you and me, I don’t mind telling you that if we were in Russia, of course this would not be a problem. But remember where we are! America is a country of rules and regulations, rules and regulations I always say. Why you know that my fellow teacher Slepakov got fined by the Police Department yesterday, and do you know why?”

Andrei shook his head, he did not know but he was interested or at least he would pretend to be interested.

“Well, hahaha, he was walking past a playground and he really needed to use the bathroom, and there weren’t any nearby but there was one in the playground, so he entered and used the bathroom, and when he comes out there’s this very nice gentleman in blue uniform, waiting for him. ‘Where is your child sir?’ ‘What child?’ says Slepakov. ‘Don’t you see the sign here, adults unaccompanied by children will be fined $200?’ ‘Oh, no, but officer I didn’t know, I’m sorry, I’ll never do it again, I’m just a teacher just a regular elementary school teacher. I teach science, you know I was just going home, but had a bit too much tea during the day, you know it’s good to keep caffeinated when you’re standing in front of a class of kids for six hours a day.’ ‘Well, I understand of course that you’re a teacher, a regular guy, just like me’ said the officer, ‘but you should know that in America we have such rules to protect against pedophiles, now I don’t know how it is in your country but I’m sure you also wouldn’t want a strange man using a bathroom when your child is in there.’ ‘But I’m not a strange man officer, I teach these kids, I just happened to drink too much tea not vodka, just tea, you know we Russians like our tea, surely you can understand that.’ ‘I do understand, but you see once I start writing a ticket I just have to finish writing it, you see here in America rules are rules, and unfortunately I already wrote out your ticket so if you could kindly give me your id, I’ll fill the rest of this out and you’ll be free to go.’” Tolik, evidently found this story hilarious, as he would pause and guffaw every few minutes in the telling of it.

“Oh no,” said Andrei, and laughed both because he wanted to keep Tolik company, it was only polite, and because it was actually quite a funny story. He must remember not to pee in a children’s playground in the future, “did he actually give him a ticket?’

“Yes, of course he did: a two hundred dollar ticket. That’s why I say, America, the land of rules and regulations. So I’m sorry but I can’t change Lena’s grade. I just cannot, it’s already all entered in and submitted to the computer system. You see how serious things are in this adopted country of ours? If anyone finds out what will they say?” Said Tolik, and folded his hands one on top of the other, as if to say ‘and that is that.’

“Well, if you won’t do it nicely, then” said Andrei, and took out his wallet out which he removed three hundred dollar bills held together by a paper clip, “I’ll see if I can’t force your hand somewhat,” and slipped the bills across the desk towards Tolik.

“Why surely you’re joking,” laughed the teacher, “now I haven’t been offered a bribe since I left Russia. But I can’t, you must realize, things just aren’t done this way here.”

“Look don’t you have a wife?” said Andrei because he had seen the platinum ring on the teacher’s finger. “Just take it, go to Loehmann’s and buy her a nice gift, there’s a huge shoe sale there right now, my wife just came back from there with ten new pairs of shoes.”

“No, I’m sorry I just can’t take it. You know I could lose my job over something like this.”

“But who would know? And don’t you have tenure anyway? It’s not in my interest to say anything. I’d never breathe a word. You could pretend that you miscalculated that in fact Lena earned something like a C in the class. Ah, what do you say?”

“Oh no, I can’t I really can’t, I’m sorry. I would like to, truly I would, there’s nothing wrong with taking a little here and then, haha. But it’s just not done, no, no, no.” And the teacher shook his head, as if he truly were very saddened by the fact that it was much harder to take bribes in the United States than in mother Russia.

“Well what if I make it five hundred,” said Andrei, “with five hundred you can buy an IPad, a nice new model, the latest model in fact. I saw, you know, when I came in here that you had an IPhone, it’s good isn’t it? I wouldn’t know what to do without my IPad, I do everything on it, email, texting, taking photos, downloading articles, watching movies, you name it, there’s nothing like it, no nothing like it at all. So what do you say, just take two more?” and he took out another two crisp hundred-dollar bills and pushed them in the same direction towards Tolik.

The teacher looked as if he were almost tempted by it. He even took his own phone out of his pocket and stared at it, wistfully, as if imagining how much sweeter the bigger version of the phone might be. He actually already had an IPad at home, but it would be nice to have another one, one for himself and one for his wife, or he could give it to his parents as a New Year’s present; that would be nice to do. But just then the phone vibrated in his hand, his wife was calling. He excused himself to Andrei and answered.

“Yes? Oh hello. Yes I am almost leaving, I am sorry I had a parent teacher conference, yes, with that…..” there he paused and looked at Andrei, as if to say that he was sorry to interrupt their meeting. “Yes…almost done yes….no, no of course not….yes, ok I will be home soon….yes, I’ll pick up some organic lettuce and tomatoes, ok, ok, bye. I love you too.” He looked up again and rolled his eyes as if to signal that he was always forced to say that at the end. After the phone call was over he turned the phone off and slipped it back into his pocket. The moment was over.

“What can I say, I just can’t do it; I’m in the Union. Anyway, unfortunately, you see, I have to go, but if there’s anything else I can help you with please come back any time. I’m always here you know.”

Andrei, looked confused, he realized that if he came back with nothing his wife would never leave him alone, and all he wanted after all was to be left alone. To come home from work to eat, watch movies, read articles, he had just gotten a subscription to Wired, he just wanted some peace and quiet. He had to persevere here, whatever the cost.

“You see, I can’t come home like this empty handed….my wife just won’t be able to take it. She worked very hard to get Lenochka into the bilingual program, she is very committed to her keeping her Russian, you know everything they say about IQ and how the more languages you speak the better your brain functions and the higher your IQ is. Well, she would be just devastated, and she has this nervous condition you know, I just can’t risk…. I have to ask you, even beg, if need be, I know this is melodramatic, but I’ll get on my knees even, anything but please, please don’t let me go home like this. You don’t know my wife, she’s a dragoness, she’s got a living fire coming out of her mouth, if I come home like this she won’t let me be, she’ll swallow me alive. What’s worse she might come after you; she might come here and throw a scene. And you wouldn’t want that would you? She’s capable of anything that woman, she might even call your wife at home and pretend that she’s your mistress. Oh no, that would be quite a scandal. Please, please just change the grade, and we can all just go on with our lives,” said Andrei, he had finally run out of breath, his chest and belly which had finally started to hang after too many salads seasoned with mayonnaise and too many home-made cakes and pies, expanded underneath his wool sweater, and he felt that if things did not go as planned he might be forced to cry. Oh why was it so hard to achieve peace in the home?

The teacher, was very uncomfortable, he did not know what to do, how could he get this deranged, strange man out of the office without seeing him fall on his knees or having his wife blackmail him? Finally, he felt that he had reached a solution.

“Ok, I’ll tell you what. I’ll change Lena’s grade if you convince all the other teachers to give her extra credit. If everyone agrees to change her grade because of the extra credit that she completes I will also change her grade provided she does all the makeup homework that she missed.”

“Now that is a merciful solution, truly merciful! I am so grateful I came to you; you are truly the right person for this job. I can’t say enough about math teachers, math teachers are really wonderful! I’ll just call all these other teachers tomorrow, and tell them that you promised that a little extra credit was in order, given our family situation, and ahem….” Andrei drifted off, now he could see it the solution was in sight, he would get Olga off his back, get Lena to stay in school, be left alone finally when he came home, life was good, really good, there wasn’t anything else he could have wished for destiny to grant him at that moment.

“Yes, go see them, tomorrow’s as good a day as any.”

“Now can I do anything for you anything at all? Please don’t hesitate to call me, here’s my card. If you’re free one of these days, maybe we can get a drink together after work? On me of course, not even a drink, a bottle, mussels in wine, anything you like. Please feel free. I would really like to see more of you, not me, me and the wife in fact!” Andrei was very profuse in his gratitude, he stretched out his large hand sparsely peppered with brown hairs, the palm was a little wet, there were times in the conversation when he was afraid that he had gone too far or not far enough, and his palm had sweated at the same time as the back of his head and his armpits had excreted that virulently wet and noxious fluid.

The teacher smiled to himself, he was happy to finally be free of this father. But he had to give it to him, he really cared about his daughter, he couldn’t say that for a lot of the parents at the school. Most parents when their kids got into the school just gave up on them, as if a parent’s job is ever over? Didn’t they realize that their children were gardens and without constant maintenance they would be choked up by weeds? But here was one family that cared, truly cared about their child.

Andrei walked out of the classroom beaming, what’s a little lie about the fire-breather at home compared to days upon days of agony of being constantly bothered by his wife, of being deprived of even the most basic of his enjoyments like those moments of privacy with his IPad in his home office. Of course he was now faced with having to do all the extra credit for Lena, she could never be persuaded to do it. Well he’d let Olga do it, if she so badly wanted Lena to stay in the bilingual program she’d have to work for it.

Last Updated 2 months ago


Anna Katsnelson, « A Parent’s Work is Never Done », Journal of Graduate Research, Volume Volume 2, Columbia University | LAIC, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (online), published on January 29, 2017. Full URL for this article

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