"What year did the United States take over Guam?" my daughter asked me while I was contemplating nothing more taxing than whether to give away my prettiest, yet most painful, pair of shoes.

"Guam?" I asked. I knew nothing about Guam, other than it was somewhere out in the Pacific, was considered strategically important, and would be impossible to pronounce if you had peanut butter in your mouth.

As I stalled for time, she said, "Never mind. Found the answer in my book. We got it from Spain in 1898."

"I was just going to say that!" I called after her, but in vain. She was already beginning her essay on the Treaty of Paris (also 1898, if you must know) while I returned to my own cost-benefit analysis of maintaining my inventory of pretty, painful shoes versus the cost of ongoing podiatric care.

This anecdote underscores why I agree with all the educators who have been fuming about piles of homework that kids bring home. They claim that excessive homework robs children of part of their childhood, when they could otherwise be doing fun things, such as hacking into other people's web sites. But they've only got it half-right: What about excessive homework robbing me of my adulthood? Didn't I already do all this homework more than thirty years ago?

Admittedly, I enjoyed helping my kids with schoolwork when they were little. Then, the questions were easy. When a kid asked, "Mommy, what's two quarters plus three pennies plus three nickels add up to?" I could do it! When a child wanted me to help him think up homophones, like "son" and "sun," I was there! These questions were beautiful in their simplicity. Since I could answer them easily, or at least guide my kids toward finding the answers, they boosted my own self-esteem (tragically neglected by teachers in the benighted days of my own elementary education). Best of all, my agility with first and second-grade schoolwork preserved my young children's belief (so sadly short-lived) that my husband and I knew just about everything in the world. Ah, those were the days.

But around middle school, the kids demand much tougher information, such as the difference between a cerebrum and a cerebellum, and what happened during antebellum, and if this wasn't bad enough, they want my help as they craft essays in which they plead guilty to devastating the environment simply because they live, breathe, take the occasional shower and drink from the occasional plastic water bottles. While I scramble to help them find answers in their books or in our encyclopedia, I can't help but wonder, "Why am I not smarter than a fifth grader?"

I secretly agree with my kids when they complain that much of their homework will have little practical application to their lives as grown-ups. There are no budding scientists in the family, so the advanced study of mitochondria and the nervous system seems just an annoying impediment to their reading up on information that really interests them, such as "Why is a frankfurter called a hot dog?" and "Will Kobe Bryant make good on his threat to leave the Lakers?"

But I have to pretend to be on the schools' side, and besides, I'm a Jewish mother. So when one kid recently argued that it was a waste of his time to practice factoring trinomials, I feigned shock. "If it was good enough for Alan Greenspan, it's good enough for you," I answered. "After all, Ben Bernanke won't be around forever. You could be waiting in the wings as next Secretary of the Treasury, ready to dazzle them with quadratic equations and canny speculation about the future of hedge funds." During my short tirade, I caught the same kid sneaking a look at a Snapple cap, where he learned that a goldfish has an attention span of three seconds. Hmmm.

To my shame, I am utterly useless at helping with any math problem from fifth-grade or above. Those questions are met with shouts of, "When's Dad coming home?" I actually feel sorry for my kids, hunkered down over fat math books, open to questions that ask them to simplify equations that have about four dozen strings of numbers, x's, y's, and square roots. I get dizzy just looking at them.

My solution to simplifying the equations would be to take them to an accountant. But once, out of sheer desperation, one kid asked me if I remembered anything about multiplying radical expressions, using the product rule for radicals. I answered honestly that I felt there were already way too many radicals in our society and I refused to be a party to helping to multiply them at all.

Personally, I think that kids need practical math, the kind that will help them make the following calculations later in life. For example, "If the water heater explodes at the same time that the car transmission dies, which gets fixed first?" Or, "If I can't really afford to spend money on new clothes but Nordstrom is having its semi-annual women and children's sale, and the credit card bill won't come till after my next paycheck, do I still charge the clothes or put them on layaway?"

But no. Instead, educators are badgering kids into knowing how to convert Celsius to Farenheit, who started the Peloponnesian War, oh, and, into writing more essays on what we can do to reduce our carbon footprint.

Meanwhile, I have concluded, after arduous study, that it is not worth keeping my pretty-yet-painful shoes. I am keeping my notes on this study for inclusion in the small book I intend to write one day, called "Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in the Nordstrom Shoe Department."