Marina: “Turn off the TV! Sit at your desk like a mensch! Do your homework like you’re supposed to!”
Boris: “But Mom, you can see I’m getting my homework done!”
Marina: “Nonsense! No one can study when the TV is blaring and you’re sprawled on your bed. Turn it off and sit properly! And stop munching!”
Boris: “But Mom, I just can’t do my homework any other way.”
Marina: “Try harder!”
Marina grew up in Russia. She was taught that there was only one way to study best – in a chair, at a desk, with quiet. That’s how she studied, it was clearly the best way to study, and she was darned if she was going to let her middle-school son do it any other way.
She also would not let him snack when he was studying, which he insisted on doing.
The next day, Marina called her friend Anne, with whom she was studying in a college program for English teachers. They were partners doing a final project together in one of their courses.
Marina: “What time can we get together to work on our project?”
Anne: “How about 9:00 p.m. at my house tonight? My kids will be asleep by then and we’ll have some quiet.”
Marina: “Gosh – that’s pretty late. Couldn’t we meet tomorrow morning early, maybe before your kids get up?”
Anne: “Well, no, they’re up pretty early.”
Marina drove to Anne’s house and arrived at 9:00 p.m. It was nice and quiet, just like Marina liked it. They sat at Anne’s large desk, just like Marina liked it.
They started talking about the project, and soon Marina felt a little drowsy. She was exhausted after a long day of work; clearly no one could pay attention this late at night. She was also a bit distracted by Anne’s munching on carrots and celery but didn’t say anything. After all, it was Anne’s house.
Maybe they could try again the next night when she had a shorter work day and a longer attention span.
The same thing happened the next night, even though Marina hadn’t worked particularly hard during the day.
She tried her best but the words just didn’t make much sense to her at that hour; she could barely even recall the material.
The partners didn’t get much done.
Their project was due soon and they needed to make some serious progress, so Anne reluctantly agreed to come to Marina’s house early the next morning.
Anne rang Marina’s doorbell at 7:00 a.m. Marina was fresh and eager at this hour; she found herself using her higher-order thinking skills and making connections about the material which the night before seemed impossible to do.
Meanwhile, Anne yawned. She munched on raisins which distracted Marina, but at least they didn’t invade Marina’s quiet space like those PacMan wakka wakka crunchy carrots.
That afternoon, Marina’s son again insisted on having the TV on while doing his homework and again she insisted he sit in a chair, at his desk, quietly.
“But Mom! I don’t even like the program and I’m not even listening to it.”
His protests went unheeded.
“Just try harder”, she insisted. “No one can do homework while the TV is on. And stop snacking – you’ll get fat.”
Their college course project was due that week so Anne & Marina went into high gear to finish it. This time they met in the library. Anne kept nibbling heaven-knows-what. Marina was feeling a bit tense and annoyed about the late date and finally got up the nerve to ask some questions:
Marina: “Why do you keep snacking when we’re studying?!”
Anne: “I just have to. If I’m not munching on something, anything, my brain just trots around, eager to gallop off into some far away field of green. I suppose munching helps me to corral it in and focus on our project.”
Marina: “Well, I’ve never heard of this before. And I have another question. How can anyone work as late at 9:00 p.m.?!”
Anne: “Are you kidding? Even before I had kids I had to start my work late at night. That’s when the world slows down for me and I’m at my best.”
That afternoon, Boris sat on a chair, at a desk, in his quiet room. He had a test tomorrow. He didn’t seem to be getting much studying done.
Marina looked at him, shook her head, and then slowly walked into the kitchen. Reluctantly, she put some celery and carrots on a plate and brought them to his room. She hesitated near the TV and saw that he was observing her expectantly.
She said, “TV is completely distracting!”
Then astoundingly, she flicked it on.
He picked up his pencil and finished his homework in no time.
He did exceptionally well on his test the next day.
As for Marina, she still didn’t get it.
“What is the world coming to?” she mumbled to herself.
But she made sure to stock up on healthy munchies for Boris.
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