One on One

quote mar 23

Any parent of three or more kids will understand the phrase, “If only I had the time…”

Lately, one of the things that I think is becoming more and more important for me is trying to carve out some special one on one time with each child. Tricky yes, impossible no.

Each day I try to attentively listen to each child share a story (or two or three if you have chatty kids like mine) during snack time. It’s the single time every day that I refuse to look at the dishes in the sink, pour myself a mug of tea and let the kids rattle on. Then it’s onto juggling three different sets of homework and each kid gets another set amount of one on one time and of course, bedtime is never complete without a hug for each child and special “I love you.” Not bad for the most part during regular busy days.

But I miss having those longer stretches of time with each child because it’s in those times that I can really listen, or talk to them or just be with them.

For the last couple of years I have struggled to find time. As most people do, I set my expectations way too high.

“Once a month!” I declared to Mr. L. I want an afternoon one a month to spend with each kid doing something one on one.

Well, that didn’t work. Life got in the way and then mom guilt would enter and I would try to make up for something that the kids didn’t even realize they were lacking. Why? Because in truth, they were too young. They were content with the time I could give them and liked us doing stuff all together. But then, six months ago it started. First with Elizabeth.

“Mom, I want to do something with you. Just the two of us.”

“I know honey, me too. We just have to find a time.”

That was easier said than done. Then Audrey chimed in a few weeks later.

“Mom, can the two of us just go for a walk?”

“Umm..sure sweetie. But right now I have to take the dog and everyone else because they can’t stay by themselves.”

Than Jacob started, “Mommmmyyy!! My mommmmyyy!!!” His little voice would scream and he would then close his door so we could cuddle without anyone interrupting.

So along with wanting to find time alone with each child, they were now asking for it as well. Double whammy of mom guilt and feeling overwhelmed made me want to go and hide under my sheets.

With the once a month plan out the window, I focused on trying to find time when I could. Running to the grocery store? Take one of them along and buy them a treat. Hair in desperate need of a long overdue appointment? Take one of the girls and get their hair done at the same time. I was trying to find any opportunity to take one along. But soon enough, it became a competition of who was going when and me trying to remember who got to go with me last time. Foiled again. (No pun intended.)

What choices are left?

Seasonally? Try to do something special with each child when the seasons change? May work and may not. The last thing I wanted to do was promise them something and not follow through.

Birthdays? Great if it works but may not as well.

I still don’t have the answer but one thing I do know, I will keep trying to figure it out. It may not be perfect, but I can only try my best.

The benefit of one on one time is very clear to me after this past weekend. For my daughter’s birthday she asked to go to Toronto, just her and I overnight. Having attempted to do this last summer, she bided her time and requested it when she knew that for a birthday gift, I would put everything else aside which I did booking a room and presenting her with a date on her birthday.

This past weekend, we drove together into the city.  For the first time in a long time, I hung out with my nine-year old. We visited an aquarium, the CN Tower, bought very bad for us snacks to watch a movie in a big king size bed and had an enjoyable dinner out together. Long overdue but worth the wait. I remembered what a curious kid she is but noticed the overly chatty child was turning into a girl who asked thoughtful questions. The child that would crawl all over me to cuddle had morphed into a kid who liked her space when she slept although I still got a tight hug before drifting off. (Thank goodness!) I learned she really is a light sleeper, waking up at the slightest noise to find out what’s going on. Most importantly and with a weepy heart I learned that she was no longer a little kid and I asked myself, when did that happen?

Having the opportunity to do this with her made me even more determined to ensure I make time for one on one with each child, whenever that is. I want to remember these moments. They may not be as frequent as I, or they would like, but when they do happen, it’s a pretty special experience.

Lovin' the fish! #aquarium #toronto

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Advice from a March Break Expert

It is that time of year, SPRING BREAK! A chance to relax watching the snow slowly melt while sipping a hot floral tea taking the time to catch up on quality time with your kids.

Ummm..what? In some alternative universe that may be a reality. For this mom of three or more kids, it’s a juggling act of planned activities and free time that tests the upper limits of patience and mediation skills.

Here are some coping strategies I’m trying this year:

1. Get a firm commitment from your partner, family or wherever your support comes from for helping out a couple of days. After pleading and bribing, Mr. L agreed to take off two days and we decided to book end the week meaning Monday and Friday. Yesterday we were able to join another family for an overnight ski trip and I had help for spring skiing which was most welcome.

2. A quiet day at home is never truly a quiet day at home. Not being a fan of having the kids tied to their devices for a whole day, our quiet day at home has turned into a joint playdate. Elizabeth’s friend wanted to come over. Well, I have to manage the two other kids so my older girl and her friend can spend time together. Solution? Invite two other friends, buy a bunch of snacks, put on a pot of coffee and invite the parents to stay. All during a very specific window of time. Social and fun.

3. Book a cleaning person halfway through the week. Maybe towards the end to help clean up from above joint playdate.

4. Catch up on any missed lessons. We have piano lessons booked and ski lessons that we had to miss during the last few months. No extra costs involved since you already paid for them and takes up a whole half a day with three kids!

5. Plan time with extended family. March Break is a good opportunity for the kids to visit grandparents, cousins or whoever is around and each family will appreciate having other kids around too. Meet up for bowling or lunch.

6. If lucky enough to have convinced partner or other parent to go with you, go someplace different and avoid high traffic areas that will be filled with other families looking to keep their kids distracted. We live close to the Buffalo border. They do not have their spring break at the same time. Rochester is a couple of hours drive away and there is a great, inexpensive museum there called The Museum of Play. That coupled with a visit to Olive Garden for dinner on the way home (a great family restaurant we do not have anymore in Ontario) makes for a fun, budget-friendly day.

7. Forget about your fitness or diet routine. Let’s be realistic, it’s not happening.

8. Don’t change your plans too much. I have a regular writing group I meet every Tuesday. Mr. L needs to work late to make up for the time he’s taking off this week. I chose not to cancel the meet up but hired our babysitter. It will be heaven to get out for a couple of hours.

9. Do a bit of homework. This also makes for a good use of time and keeps the kids brains going. It could be a spelling bee, reading together, or Scrabble. You have enough kids to do stuff like that, but make sure to do a little each day.

10. Ask your kids to help out. They can tidy their rooms, put away the laundry, pick up their toys or get them in the kitchen helping prepare snacks for above mentioned playdates. Especially relevant if you have older kids. It shouldn’t all be on you and it’s good for them to learn a bit about how the household works.

Lastly, not as a point but a comment. Take twenty minutes every day and stretch, mediate, actually shower, read, nap or whatever works to help you relax and don’t wait until the end of the day to do it.  The kids can watch a coveted TV show for a short period of time. You will feel much better and be able to better mediate the next inevitable battle when someone touches someone else on the arm or stop the kids from chasing the cat to give her extra cuddles. Also, since it’s St. Patrick’s Day today, go ahead. Pour that Irish Cream into your mid-morning coffee. I won’t tell anyone.

Good luck!

IMG_9284

10 Lessons When Skiing with Kids

This winter I took it upon myself to get the kids outside for a “learn to love winter” experience . With a father who despises cold weather and does not participate in any winter sports, I knew it was up to this Canadian mom to introduce the kids to all the character building and fun activities in the land of ice and snow.

Last year, 2 out of 3 kids took private ski lessons. They had a great time, bonded with cousins and found a sport that they both were pretty good at. With the little guy turning 4 years old, I figured why not try him on skis and see what happens? So I investigated ski schools, nearby hills, whether to purchase a membership or just private lessons. We even hit the ski show and the swap shop to get the girls their own gear. It was with awe when I walked into the local ski/snowboard shop for the first time overwhelmed at the choices for baklava and toques.

By early January (albeit it with little snow at that time) I booked lessons at Chicopee in Kitchener, Ontario about an hour from where live. Sundays became ski day. I packed up the van early Sunday morning with skis, bags, helmets. Threw some snacks into a Ziploc bag and filled the water bottles.

“How are you going to carry all that and get all 3 kids in their gear?” A befuddled Mr. L asked one chilly Sunday morning. I shrugged. He is talking to a mom of three kids. We are pros at being pack animals.

“I’ll figure it out.”

As ski season winds down, here is what I learned:

1) If it takes you an hour to drive to your ski destination, give yourself two hours. Why? Because you can’t account for traffic, parking mayhem at a ski hill, washroom breaks for kids and line-ups for rentals.

2) Rentals. Don’t purchase the gear until you know if your kid is going to like it. Most rentals for little kids are half the price of adult rentals or included in the cost of the private lesson. Ask your ski hill the options. I chose to buy gear this year for the older kids because they had a year of lessons and I knew they enjoyed it. In Jacob’s case, I had no idea so why spend the money?

3) But, if you want to buy any gear for your kids, purchase the helmet and goggles. Rent the rest.

4) Gear can be an incentive. Jacob desperately wanted a pair of his own goggles after the girls got theirs. The deal, two lessons without complaining and give it a real chance and if he liked skiing, he got goggles. Also, if you have mixed gender siblings, try to buy skis, goggles and helmets that are gender neutral colours. Easy to pass down to the next kid.

5) Choose a hill that’s a good fit for your family. Where you go may not be the most popular one or even the closest to you. Do your research or try out a class at the hill, check out the facilities before committing to a batch of lessons. We drive an hour to get to the ski hill of our choice. Why? Because the instructors are experienced but young enough to have fun. The beginner hills are not intimidating. It has a cafeteria, lockers, washroom and chalet all at the base of the hills. Parking is close to the hill. Important factors when you are carrying all the gear trying to watch three little kids in a busy parking lot on your own. In one word: convenience.

Waiting in line for the lift.#ski #skilessons #kids #winter #chicopee #ontario

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6) Get your kids packs for their boots and let them carry their gear! My standard phrase is this: you want to ski? You have to learn to carry the equipment. I’m a five foot two person. I cannot carry 3 sets of skis, 4 helmets (if I’m skiing) and your boots. The kids can help if we teach them in their early years to be responsible for their own equipment.

7) Take snacks and dole them out as you snap on boots and helmets. I’m on my own each weekend with three little kids getting gear on. They have time to wolf down a banana or granola bar while I get another kid dressed. This ensures they aren’t starving and gives them something to do.

8) Adjust your expectations. Unless you are an experienced skier (which I am not!) or have other people to ski with don’t bother taking your own stuff. You won’t have time to hit the hills in between snapping pictures, bouncing between hills to watch each kid come flying down the hill at least once, run to the bathroom (because it’s your only chance alone) and maybe grab a coffee. I know after an hour of lessons, my kids are done. That may change as they get more experienced but an hour of skiing is a lot for young kids.

9) Consider private lessons for new skiers. I found private lessons a great resource. It really helped move the kids along quickly and they benefitted from having one-on-one attention with an instructor. Jacob was really nervous this past Sunday on his second lesson. He was okay with the bunny hill and magic carpet but did not want to go on the chair lift. His instructor knew exactly how to handle him and made him very comfortable. He needed that one-on-one to build up his confidence.

10) Walk away if you’re feeling nervous. Mr. L does not believe his children are on their way to becoming good little skiers. “They’re so young!” He states again and again. (Remember, this is a guy who does not ski.) One lesson he attended, he grimaced watching the girls easily hop onto a chair lift riding to the top of a larger hill without looking back. I told him to walk away and let the instructors do their job. Then I did the same thing last week when Jacob’s instructor cheerily said to my 4 year old, “Let’s go on the chair lift.”

My immediate response, “But he’s only 4 years old, it was a big jump to get him on the bunny hill last week. Do you think he’s ready?”   The instructor calmly looked at Jacob and said, “We can try, right?”

And the third one is off on #skis! #skiing #Chicopee

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With a hesitant shrug and high-five the instructor took his little gloved hand shuffling to the chair lift. I walked away. He was right, I shouldn’t stand in Jacob’s way but let him try and I need to trust the instructor.

Lastly, just a note. Plan something fun afterwards. Hot chocolate. Lunch out. Whatever it is, reward your kids for doing something that a lot of people are afraid to do. Getting outside in winter and actually having fun.

If you #ski, you get the need for hot chocolate after. #wintersports #kids

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Helping your kids, helping yourself.

As per my a previous post, I am on a mission to help my kids (and myself) be more organized and teach responsibility. Knowing this needed to be done but also being a parent to three small children, I always feel as if I’m playing catch up and one of my goals is to get ahead of the game. Or at least try to. In doing this, the hope is to help our household run a little better and teach the kids about organization at the same time.

Some of this was derived from report card time. My eldest child, a bright easily distracted nine-year old, is struggling with her current school program. The standard message has come home the last few years,

“Elizabeth is a bright, empathetic child. She would greatly benefit from focusing more during classroom time, completing her work in an organized way and using the resources available to her.”

Meetings with teachers generally end with the same conversation.

“Yes, we know she can do the work if she wants to, but her work is too inconsistent to be marked at grade level. If she would just focus in class a bit more and take her time, we think there would be huge improvements.”

My standard question is, “What are the resources available during class time and within the school to support this goal of motivating her to focus on her work? Timers? Reward charts? What?”

Usually I am taken through the standard in class resources. But telling me in February that you are just starting to do things like giving her a private area to focus on her work or inviting her to join a guided reading club twice a week at recess is frustrating with more than half the year is gone. I know teachers are limited to what they can do in a day and it is the hardest job. I empathize and know you try your best. But as a parent, I would like not to wait until the year is half over to address concerns, but deal with them as soon as they are noticed and see mechanisms in place after the Progress Report if you think they are needed. Not four months later. As for other available at-school resources outside the classroom for these types of learning skills, well they are non-existent at our school.  Basically the continued message I have received is that she will continue to be marked low until she writes neatly, focuses all the time during class on a more consistent basis and uses the resources for her spelling.

Ummm..okay.

On one level, I can’t argue with them. It is the same frustrating battle I have at home trying to balance her free-spirited ways knowing she understands the material, but she really doesn’t seem to care if she spells are without the “e” because,even though she knows it’s supposed to be there (as she can spell it correctly when she edits her work or spells it orally) so why should she write it down properly? She just wants to finish and get on with the next thing. Sigh…

Trying to walk the line of working with the school system while encouraging them to perhaps look at alternative ways to motivate her, I am tempted to write a standard letter  to every one of her teachers at the beginning of the year.

“Please excuse my daughter. She understands everything you are saying but unless she sees the personal benefit to write neatly and in an organized way, telling her to do it just isn’t going to work. Perhaps rewarding her with smarties will entice her to focus on her work. I invite you to try any positive reinforcement at your disposal but please try those things now and not in March.”

But some teachers may not appreciate my sarcastic sense of humour.

The only thing I can think of as a parent trying to juggle multiple kids homework etc. was to go back to basics. I researched chore lists, homework lists and found some great online free resources. Some of them customizable.

As a first step, I created a simple system to encourage personal responsibility. The system needed to contain visual cues and reminders to teach what is a good use of one’s time as I do have an emerging reader in JK.

What does this mean in kid language?

The Wall

The Wall

Each child has a folder jammed full of their specific paperwork, homework, reminders and special pencils. To be cleaned out once a month. (As the picture was taken last week, as you can see not emptied for the month yet!)

Above that, each child has a list of expected age-appropriate daily tasks to be checked off. If the whole week gets checked, they get extra time for a movie on the weekend, or trip to the book store to cash in that last birthday gift card. Some sort of “good job” incentive.

Beneath that, each child has a daily schedule with slotted times for piano practice, homework time, free time, lessons,  extracurricular activities etc. I also included their in school library days, or weekly dictation tests. These will change every four months as activities change. My hope is that if they can visually see how much time they have for items or upcoming due dates prompting  them to use their time wisely.

This is as much for me as for them as my head was getting full of so many school-related details.

Now as simple as this looks (and let’s be real, this is not staged so yes I use markers to draw things and items are askew) the point is that it is there for reference.

We went through a tutorial with each kid outlining their charts with an emphasis on independence. What is that? Simply put, if they don’t know what to do, check the chart first. If they still need help figuring out how to use their time, ask a parent.

This also can help any grandparent, child care provider and Mr. L in the event the main organizer, (me) is ill or away.

We got through week one of using the charts and for the most part it went well. Especially with Elizabeth. She likes knowing what is expected of her and having a resource to refer to. It helps keep her focused on the task at hand. It also helps a mom who hasn’t showered in two days take a breath and state the mantra, “Did you check your lists?” With that reminder, the two eldest children figured out what they were supposed to do without much more input. Also freeing up my time to teach a rambunctious four-year old his alphabet.

Next on my list? Investigating and brainstorming simple but creative ways to entice a nine-year old girl to care about her work without overwhelming her. I want to motivate her but more importantly, I want her to learn to motivate herself and be proud of her accomplishments.

Charts were all found from: www.freeprintablebehaviourcharts.com