How to survive back to back birthdays

“Let’s get together next weekend?”

“Sorry, I can’t. I have to be at my mother’s birthday.”

“How about mid-month?”

“Again, sorry. I have two of my kids birthdays that weekend.”

“The weekend after?”

“No. I will be sleeping. For awhile. Call me in the spring.”

This is an example of my conversations with various people starting early December until the end of February. Having three or more kids with birthdays squished together in a three-month period is tricky. Add in Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s, other family members birthdays (husband, mother, aunt, close friends) and Valentine’s Day and well, you get it. For the most part it is manageable with a good Excel spreadsheet and someone who works well under timelines. The hardest part of the last three months was this past week. My mother’s birthday, Valentine’s Day and Elizabeth and Audrey’s birthdays. Yes, we are those parents who seem to have their kids all around the same time.

I spend a little time full of envy for those who have three or more kids who have birthdays separated by a month or a couple of months. Even a few weeks would be great. Having two girls with birthdays two days apart is a little nuts.

The bright side is that after this past weekend, I am free. No more planning, no more balloon bouquets to purchase and no more cupcakes to bake at midnight. (Okay, to be honest I did that for one occasion but not them all!) Not until December when it starts all over again.

How does a parent of three or more kids survive when birthdays are so close?

  • Checklists for each kid
    • I like to use Excel but any spreadsheet option works. It helps keep track of multiple invites, RSVP, dates and contact information.
  • Party City
    • This is my go to place. It could be any party supplier. It could be the dollar store. At Party City I can get decorations, balloon bouquets and loot bags if I want. One stop shop. I can also place orders ahead of schedule for pick up at certain times and days.
  • Simple loot bags
    • Gone are the days of tiny plastic toys loot bags. No parent wants another bag filled with toys. Other options are: gift cards, books, crayons/colouring books or a donation in lieu of loot bags to your favourite charity. I like to give loot bags that are in theme with the party on hand. For example Audrey had her birthday party this year at our local Cineplex Silvercity. I went to Kernels and got gift cards for the loot bags with a $5 value. They provided little bags to place the cards, sleeves and I added a couple of tiny chocolate bars for a treat. Kernels also has gluten-free options which was perfect for a few of our guests.
  • Bake if that’s your thing, but when you want order from local bakery.
    • Not only are you delegating a task but you are supporting a local business. As well, having some kids with peanut/gluten allergies the bakery could provide that option or at least a few gluten-free cupcakes. The bakery we used, Sweet, hand delivered the cake to our location which ensured a safe arrival.
  • If you have back to back birthdays and three or more kids hard decision need to be made.
    • I love having family parties. But with three kids having birthdays spanning end of December (yes, right after the holidays) into mid-February it is a lot to ask everyone to attend all three of my kid’s birthday celebrations and truthfully, getting more and more expensive. We also see various family members for other celebrations during that time frame. So it tends to work out, one kid has a family party including all aunts and grandparents, one has a small party at the house and one gets a medium-sized party where first age-appropriate cousins are invited. Of course, anyone who wants to come and see the birthday boy or girl is welcome to come anytime on their own but I am not organizing three birthday friend parties and then three family parties. Decision made.
  • Sleepovers are great. Every kid must have one, but be stocked up on coffee in your house. Especially if you have another kids birthday party the next day.
    • Mr. L and I wolfed down double espresso all day yesterday after Elizabeth’s birthday sleepover Saturday night and then getting ready for Audrey’s friend birthday party the next day.
  • Finally, book down time the following week.
    • I am going to a day spa this Friday as a reward for getting through the last three months.

In the end, try to take in the happy moments and remember, it will nine more months until it starts again.

Happy #birthday! #cake #kids

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#kids #birthday

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Responsibility – learning it together.

“It’s a question of discipline,” the little prince told me later on. “When you’ve finished washing and dressing each morning, you must tend your planet.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince, 1943, translated from French by Richard Howard

Nine years old. My eldest child is about to turn nine this week. Some days I feel she is wiser beyond her years. Others I have to wonder if she stopped listening at the age of five. Combine that with a blossoming sense of over confidence that she has her world mostly figured out and a girl who since she could speak, has a question or comment on just about anything. Well, if you have or had a nine-year old, you get it.

The topic this week in our household? Responsibility. Honesty. Building a plan to be more responsible. Why? Well, our clever girl, wanting to do well on a presentation for school, decided that because she felt so good about it, to forge a mark on the paper and pass it off that her teacher gave her an A+ on the spot. Thinking back I should have been a little more suspicious when there was no sheet accompanying her speech and that her attempt to explain that the mark was only for the presentation part was a bit far-fetched, but being a distracted mama, I trusted her.

Thankfully, my little girl, having a Jimminy-Cricket voice whisper in her ear, came down at bedtime and confessed the whole thing. At first I was shocked and disappointed. Then sad. Sad that through my overly loud insistence, and ultimately not so nice efforts after hours of frustrating conversations to get her to even prepare for this presentation, she wanted us to be happy with her effort so she felt she had to bring home some sort of mark.

I did what most parents would do at the time. I expressed how disappointed I was but glad she told the truth. Then ushered her upstairs as bedtime was not the moment for confessions. We would discuss it further in the morning after I talked to Mr. L.

Having a heart to heart later that evening with Mr. L about the whole  situation, I made my own confession. I am sinking. Being on my own most nights, trying to manage three kids with activities and homework, (both items that will be increasing the older they get), while getting dinner ready was getting harder and harder. All of the above while trying to ensure they get to bed at a decent time as I don’t believe having a grade three student up at 9:00 pm doing homework does anybody good.

Elizabeth is the type of kid who needs constant reinforcement, reminders to stay on task and someone to push her. She hasn’t yet strengthened her own inner confidence or drive to get through a single study session for a simple dictee. Jacob desperately wants to learn and is, but at a slower pace because in truth, I don’t have as much time to spend one on one with him learning the alphabet or how to print his name. Thank goodness Audrey seems inclined to get things done on her own and will just pick up a book to read if need be, but she is also getting the short end of the stick. She wants to do stuff, I just don’t have the time to come up with interesting extra work. Hopping between three kids while trying to keep my “no television or other electronic device weekly rule” in tact is becoming harder and harder, and they are young. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m just not cut out for all this.

Then, this lie happens and I realize all the fighting about homework the last few weeks, the badgering, the nagging, the shouting, did not make one difference. Until Elizabeth understands about personal responsibility and will internalize it, I am speaking to the wall. All she took away from everything was that we were desperate for her to get a good mark. In reality, we did say we simply wanted her to take some responsibility for her own work and do her best, but all she heard was good marks or else.

This past Friday was a PA Day. I made a last-minute decision to put the younger two in a morning camp and have Elizabeth help me do some cleaning as a consequence for lying (as well as taking away her iPad until I deemed she had earned it back). After dropping off the younger kids, I made a pit stop at the local coffee shop. With coffee and hot chocolate in hand, I sat Elizabeth down and had a serious one on one talk with her asking what she thought her responsibility was at the house. She knows. She parrots back everything I have said to her over the years about how important it was to be responsible for your own work, to be proud of what you can accomplish, how at almost nine, she had to start caring about more than just what she wants to do. I stopped  her mid-sentence.

“I don’t want you to be like a robot and tell me what you think I want to hear. I want you to tell me in your own words.”

After a few seconds, she finally started to talk. I listened. I talked.

I think we made progress.

I also realized I need to be an example. Some days I am organized, others I am not. I too have trouble keeping things balanced and organized. Not because I don’t want to, I just don’t have the systems in place quite yet to help me. Systems are hard because you want one that works for your family and then you have to hope your spouse supports the system and the kids understand it.

So I go to seek the systems. The chore/homework charts that may help her. The room she needs as a nine-year old which is different from a six-year-old room that she shares with her sister.

All while standing on my head and planning two little girls birthday parties this week. Is it no wonder that this past weekend, I hid in the house with  my children from friends texting asking for playdates and napped while the kids played one more round of Super Mario during their electronics are okay weekend? I had grand plans to make muffins with them, take out the Scrabble board but with Mr. L gone part of the day, the thought of coaching two kids on the game while the third hurls letters across the room because he doesn’t really understand how to play made me avoid most family activities. I finally stirred after a log of guild ate at me while I read post after post of “Fun Things to do Inside When It’s Too Cold to Go Outside as a Family.” I love family time, but my whole life is family time right now. Scrabble? Who needs it when I have kindergarten Lunch Bag Learning Kits to go through with Jacob before school next week? So I made popcorn, put on a movie and we watched The Chipmunks – Chipwrecked instead.

In this day and age, parents are expected to be involved in everything. Homework is no longer a solitary act but a shared family learning activity. Kids want to try all the wonderful things they can access in their communities. Playdates are planned ahead of time for next weekend. Part of me is all for it or at least parts of it. Another part of me wants to scream.

I know lots of single child parents and they find it hard to do all this with one. Times all of that by three and you have two options. Sink or swim. Some days I have to wonder, do schools/teachers know that some things, although fun to do as a family, when you have three or more all fighting for one’s parent attention to help them or listen to the same book read yesterday, is only setting up parents for potential failure?

Why wasn’t Elizabeth’s speech worked on in class? Or at least some of it? She’s in grade three, not old enough to figure out the nuances of a three-four minute speech without significant guidance. Right now I’m treading water.  I am a big supporter of education, but is pushing our kids younger and younger to make these big jumps in learning with the expectation that a parent is always available to navigate a child through the increasing piles of busy work necessary. Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the anomaly who is having a hard time figuring out how to manage three or more kids?

So I forge on, hoping my talk with Elizabeth sticks a little better when delivered during a one on one meeting over hot beverages. I treated her like a big kid. Let’s hope she starts to want to be a big kid. I endeavour to swim so will tread water a little longer until I find the systems I think will work for us and implement them.

What do you use to keep track of your kids activities/chores or homework?  What tactics do you use to help support them and nudge them towards taking personal responsibility? I am on the hunt.

 

Teaching Strength – Morning Musing

 

 

Browsing Facebook this morning I spotted this image on a friend’s timeline. Usually I read these messages, make a brief mental note somewhere in my brain and move on with my day. But this one stuck with me in so much that I went back and reread it for a very specific reason.

My middle daughter, trying to keep up with the reporting tendencies of her older sister, spills all of her daily news as soon as her snowsuit clad legs hit the sidewalk. In the three minutes it takes for us to walk to our driveway, she has tried to fit all her social angst into one conversation ignoring my pleas that we wait until we are inside, warm and all sitting around the kitchen table where I try to negotiate three kids spilling to me about the good and bad of their days.

Yesterday, (as it typical of an almost seven-year old) her daily dose of problems were friend related. For weeks I’ve been quietly observing her kindergarten neighbourhood crew, two other girls, make the transition from “we all play together” mantra to refocusing their energy on each other leaving my girl as the third wheel. It is little things, not intentioned meanly (I hope!) that I can see when they get on the bus together in the morning. Simply put, the other two girls have grown closer leaving my girl feeling left out. Being a bright little girl who listens, she attempts to discuss her feelings with them telling them they are leaving her out and she feels bad.  In reality, they hear her but they are not processing it the same way as she is. They don’t see the big deal. Some days are better than others but my sense is that she is played with on their terms and only if they allow her to play instead of her deciding if she really wants to play with them.

Now in no way do I think these two girls (whose parents I know and this has been discussed how difficult a three-kid friendship can be) are intentionally leaving her out. However, the social nuances pointing to a change in their friendship.  They are increasingly avoiding her and my girl is picking up on that. So what to do?

I have tried the whole, “we should all play together” mantra which is wonderful, but she looks at me like I’m crazy.

“I’ve tried saying that. They ignore me.”

 

“Maybe you can choose to play with someone else?”

“I don’t want to. They’re supposed to include me.”

How do you tell a child that in a perfect world, yes, those kids who were your BFFs in kindergarten would always want to play with you, respect when you feel left out and alter their behaviour accordingly? She gets it. These children do not and truthfully, are only six years old. Her understanding of the situation and how to deal with it may be above what they understand. They are simply playing with who they want, each other.

Being conversation number five on this subject matter, I decided a different approach was needed.

“Do you want me to talk to their parents again? Maybe try to help them understand you feel left out? They are still your friends you know. Friendships just change sometimes.”

“No. I’ve tried telling them. They just ignore me.”

Personally, at this point I don’t think their parents would do anything that hasn’t already been done. How many times can you tell your own child they must include someone when they just don’t want to for whatever reason?

“Well Audrey, let’s think. What are the other options?”

“I could find new people to play with.”

“Yes honey. You know what, stop letting them decide what you do. You do not have to play with them. There are other girls who would love to play with you. You’ve been so focused on these two, you kind of ignore other people. Let the other girls, maybe those in your class get a chance to know you. Ask to play with them. You make the decision. Stop waiting for them to decide to include you. Take charge of what you do.”

“Yeah. I am interested what the other girls play at recess.”

“Then ask to join them. If E. and A want to play with you, let them come and find you and then you can decide if you really want to play with them or your new friends. Just be polite about it. If they want to play only together right now, it doesn’t mean they’re not your friend. But that also means you do not have to drop everything if they come and ask you to join them. You are in charge of your time. Not them.”

“Okay. I’ll try tomorrow.”

My stomach is in knots for her. Then I read this message this morning and think, exactly. That is what I want to teach her. Love yourself more.

We strive so hard to teach our children to be kind, polite and inclusive to all their peers. All wonderful attributes. But do we sometimes forget  to tell them, especially our girls, that you do not need to stay in a friendship that makes you feel bad? That friendships sometimes do not last forever and only so much can be tried before a change is needed? It may be sad, but it will be all right because another friend may be waiting around the corner, perhaps a better suited friend. Or perhaps that friend will come back one day and your friendship will be stronger.

Why are we afraid to tell them that people are agents of their own fates and should not be beholden to others for their happy moments? As long as relationships are managed with consideration, politeness and respect it is okay to walk away. I want to teach my girls to be masters of their own universe and not let their peers dictate what they do. A grand plan that will not always work out I’m sure, but I can try. Is that not my job as their parent?

With bated breath, I await her report at the end of the day and hope for the best.

Remembering simple things

Passing down a weekend tradition. #comics #kids

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Sunday mornings.

I’m not sure how they work at your house, but it may go like this.

If we’re lucky and all three have slept in past 7:00 am, we all march with groggy faces downstairs and I start the coffee machine. It’s the one day of the week this militant mom allows her kids out of their rooms in the pyjamas before breakfast and they love it. If Mr. L and I are organized (50/50 chance) one of us is starting a family breakfast of pancakes or eggs while the other tries to fend off the hungry people from eating two bowls of cereal spoiling any chance of them eating the hot breakfast we slaved over.

Once breakfast is cooked, the kids gobble it up before both parents sit down and then rush off with a

“Sunday morning cartoons!!! WiiU!!”

In the meantime, two still not-quite awake parents look at each other and shrug and say, “It’s Sunday.”

Then a little while later, guilt sets in that we are lounging with coffees doing nothing while our kids are being babysat by Disney Junior. What ensues is kind of a ritualistic dance of  getting kids dressed, teeth brushed so we can get on with our day.

Yesterday, I discovered something my poor tired brain forgot. Once upon a time, we got a weekend paper. Being an old soul, I still prefer the sound of a morning paper crackling versus the hum of the computer to catch up on current events. However, as most parents realize, trying to leisurely read a weekend newspaper is pointless with three young kids running amok. Our recycling bin was full of unread wasted print so we stopped our subscription.

By chance, I had acquired this long forgotten treasure the day before while going through the McDonald’s drive-through. (Before you judge, you wake up and get two kids to dance class for 9 am on a Saturday with a third kid in the van who has the stomach flu and may or may not throw up and you would be wanting an Egg McMuffin too! Besides, haven’t you heard those new radio ads stating how few calories there are in this breakfast item?) Well, free weekend newspapers were given to patrons. Score! (Anything free is a score.)

Of course, I couldn’t read the paper on Saturday. Saturday is activity day and playdate day and catch up on chores and well, you get it. The list goes on. Regardless, I was thinking the paper although welcome, would be another item to recycle this week. Until Sunday morning came.

This particular Sunday morning, because I’m kind of crazy like that, I signed the kids up for ski lessons. With a late start to winter, and having kids who picked up this winter sport last year, I made the parental decision to take them an hour drive away each Sunday for the next six weeks for ski lessons.  Mr. L works part of the day anyway, so why not? We don’t have to leave super early, but we do need to get a move on cutting into coffee drinking and cartoon watching time.

Being a little more organized than usual yesterday, I had all our gear packed and we had a little extra time. I was expecting the usual, “Can we watch TV?” However, something amazing happened. I forgot my girls know how to read. When we used to get the weekend paper, they were a couple of years away from wonderful life skill. Now as I tried to sit and actually read the paper at the breakfast table, they both looked with wonder at this relic until Elizabeth piped up,

“Do you remember you used to read me the comics? They were funny.”

That’s right! I would choose a kid-friendly comic and read it to my blossoming eldest child.

Digging through the pages of news and entertainment I found them. The four-colour processed weekend comic section.

“Here. You can read it yourself now.”

Grabbing it, she dived right in. Then her younger sister said,

“Me too?”

Splitting the pages I was awe-struck. We were sitting together, in relative peace on a Sunday morning enjoying a simple pleasure. A Norman Rockwell moment! They were chatting about what they found funny. Switched sections with no arguments. There was no mention of watching cartoons. Why would they? They were reading cartoons. Only the murmuring sounds of little voices as they read the ones they understood and asked me about the phrases with a satirical bent which I tried to explain in a kid-friendly way was heard.

How little it takes to fill a parent’s heart with joy and how quick a new tradition starts.

 

It’s Complicated

IMG_3297

Audrey

 

The staircase groans under the thundering steps of my eldest child.

“Mom! Audrey is crying again.”

Sighing, I glance up from the weeklong emails I am trying to answer. “What is it this time?”

She shrugs the way an older sister does with an impatient tap upon the ceramic tile in the foyer.

Moving the cat off my lap and placing the computer back on the desk, I stretch out my stiff back and follow her up the stairs. Sore legs? Her sister called her a name? It could be a number of things. The middle child, Audrey is the most sensitive. She is the one I worry about letting in the joys and sorrows of the world with no idea how to filter them.

Walking into the dimly lit room I am relieved to see the girls have turned off their lamps. The tiny stars on their finely webbed fairy curtains drape each of the beds.

“What is it darling?”

“I lied to you.”

Wondering what crime a six year old believes she committed, I sit on the bed rubbing her back. “Well, tell me about it and you’ll feel better.”

“I tried to do what you said and stay on the blacktop at school but Emily went into the field and I followed her.”

Trying not to smile I nod, “Okay. But why did you tell me you stayed on the blacktop when you got home?”

“Because I didn’t want you to get mad.”

Knowing that sometimes I can be a bit abrupt and stern about rules, I pause.

“I’m not mad. But you have to stay in your line so you don’t miss going into the school. If you want to take the bus you have to do that so I know you’re okay and the teachers know where you are. When you’re older you can play in the field. We talked about this last week, actually I talked to both you, Emily and her mom who agreed.”

After a spontaneous visit to the school playground last week, I was surprised my grade one student and her friend were playing in a restricted area. Taking a “watch and see” approach, they did not hear when the bell rang and were left behind as the lines went inside. Afterwards, I had spoken to both girls about being responsible and staying in their area. Following up with Emily’s mother she agreed that in grade one, they were to stay in place during the chaotic morning drop off. It was too easy for two little girls to go missing.

Audrey’s brown eyes look up at me, “But Mom, Emily’s mom told her it was okay to play in the field.”

Here it was, another conversation about my parenting tactics versus another parent. Did I believe Audrey? Yes. So either her friend Emily was telling a tall tale or her mother contradicted me, again.

Keeping the annoyance out of my voice I parrot my standard phrase, “Well honey, I’m not concerned with what Emily does. You are to follow our rules.”

“Okay Mommy, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” I hug her wiping away the remaining tears. “Now go to sleep. And thank you for telling me the truth.”

As I close the door for the second time, relief washes over me because for now I outrank her friends. At this age what they do is relatively harmless, easily fixed with a hug and repetitive message. Hopefully when the time comes, my voice will be louder than the lure of her peers or other parents.