"HAVEN'T you got some homework to do?" I ask irritably without looking up as the youngest loiters lankily around the kitchen island while I'm trying to chop vegetables and listen to music. "You're getting in the way of my multitasking," I add from under my eyebrows.
"Well," she says cagily, "I've done my actual homework . . . but I have extra."
"Oh?" I say, disinterestedly, meaning, 'shouldn't you be getting on with it?'
"Yeah," she says, drawing an invisible line along the countertop in a way that signals a lengthy explanation coming on.
"Alright," I tell her, putting down a carrot and wiping my hands on a cloth, "I give up. Why do you have 'extra'?"
"Well," she says, "I was supposed to do some research on the internet – which I DID – but my teacher said I didn't do it properly, so she gave me extra work."
"And what were you supposed to research on the internet?" I ask.
"It was about how the indigenous people of the rainforest dress – the sorts of things they wear. I looked it up and Yahoo Answers said that the people of the rainforest wear hats and coats – and gloves . . ."
"Oh, come on," I say, exasperated. "That's just someone messing around. Your teacher is right. You obviously didn't research it right. Why would someone in the rainforest need a coat and gloves?"
"For when it snows," she protests, voice rising. "That's what it said and the person who answered the question said the reason they know is because they actually LIVE in a rainforest – in Canada."
"What's up?" says my wife, coming in and seeing my jaw suspended in mid air.
"Our brilliant daughter," I mock, "has extra homework – because her EXTENSIVE research into the clothing customs of indigenous rainforest dwellers has revealed that they dress . . ." I pause for effect, "like Canadians."
I give my wife what I think is a suitably comic look of utter incredulity. "There's still a place on my pub quiz team for another member, you know," I add.
"She did her best," says my wife sympathetically, which is when I notice for the first time that the lanky girl, who suddenly seems littler again, is leaning on her elbows, forehead creased and hand hiding a rapidly crumpling mouth.
"Oh, come on," I say. "Really?"
"She has a lot of work to do and she's tired," my wife tells me.
"I'll help you," she says, taking her to the other side of the kitchen where they begin tugging huge books out of a schoolbag and onto the table, and I'm left gawping down at my stupid pile of vegetables and hating myself for being such a jerk.
Hours later, we all sit down to tacos, my attempt at cheering things up, having ditched the half-chopped carrots.
"Bo Diddley," I suddenly announce, between mouthfuls.
"Sorry?" sighs the eldest, looking at me wearily, like I'm some sort of harmless lunatic at a bus stop.
I'm doing what I think is my impressive trick of being able to name the artist just as the next song begins.
The youngest teen gets up, on cue, and goes over to check the iPod. "Yup," he says, sitting down again.
"Yessss," I say, punching the air. "Mastermind eat your heart out. I'm telling you. I am that GOOD!"
"Uh," says the middle teen from behind his hair, "isn't this all your own music we're listening to?"
The little girl snorts involuntarily from behind a napkin, the first sound she's made in an hour.
"Yeah," I say defensively, "but it IS on 'shuffle', so . . ."
"So," says the eldest, "just to be clear, your 'chosen specialist subject' is guessing your own music collection."
"VERY specialist chosen, uh, subject actually," I tell him.
"Wow. Impressive," he deadpans. "Good luck with those pub quizzes."
"I'll have you know," I start to explain, "that the team I'm on actually came in second place on the very first night I joined up."
"Before that, they had always won," my wife butts in helpfully. "Your dad helped break a record."
"Just because you're right," I mutter jokingly, "doesn't make you clever."
"Words of wisdom at last," she lobs back and the boys chuckle.
"I hate my whole family," I tell my taco.
After we clear up, our daughter begins hoisting books back on to the table again rather dejectedly.
"So, all this extra work you have, what's it on?" I ask.
"The brain," she pouts.
"How apt," I tell her.
"What do you mean?" she says.
"Might I suggest a little research?" I offer, taking a book from her hand, sliding it back into her bag and winking at her mother, "such as the effects of ice cream and The Simpsons on a little girl's brain?"
"Okayyyy," she giggles suspiciously.
"And when you hand in your work to the teacher tomorrow morning," I tell her, as we all balance bowls and spoons and take them into the TV room, "don't forget to give her a photo of your dear old dad . . ."
"Why would I want to do that?" she grins sheepishly, eyes glittering.
"Why, as a scientific example, of course," I say, "of someone without any brains in his head whatsoever."