To Allowance or Not To Allowance?

Do you give your children an allowance?

This is a topic I have struggled with off and on since my oldest child was about 7 years old.

A bit of background about my situation. It gives my relationship with money some context to the situation I am now in.

Growing up we had a very precarious allowance system. Sometimes we would get it, sometimes not. Depending if there was enough money left over once all the bills were paid and it was tied to completing our chores. Some months, we would get an allowance and then asked for it back to help buy milk at the corner store. There was never any consistency. All allowance stopped when I was old enough to start babysitting and making my own money –  around 11 or 12 years old. I never wanted for anything. I had a clothes budget each fall for school and supplies that my parents gave me. But if I wanted extras, I was on my own.

Post childhood, into university. I was left on my own. No sense of how to budget, manage a student loan or credit cards. Just enough sense to know to pay my bills on time and work so I had money.

Money was also a contentious issue with my parents. Bills were always a stress point and money was considered scary. Arguments about money filtered down the vents in whispered arguments at night. So my relationship with money, budgets and allowance has always been

Back to present day, with all of the above in mind and still grasping a bit blindly but not unsuccessfully with budgeting and money – when my eldest child was old enough to start thinking about an allowance, I panicked.

How much, what age and most importantly, how do I start teaching them so they are more educated and better financial planners than I was and am? How can I help them so they have to struggle less and have a healthy relationship with money? I’m still trying to figure it out.

Opinions are plentiful on the subject. From the internet, articles, parenting experts and of course, other parents.

I tried the go-to allowance method at the time with my oldest. I explained about the three planks: save, spend and charity. I opened up a savings account in her name and put in the first $50 dollars.

She was eight years old.

To give her credit, she tried but a few things became clear at once.

  1. She was way too young to fully understand what I was trying to do.
  2. I could not keep up the monthly allowance – with three or more kids. In turn, all of the children wanted some sort of allowance and there were times I just simply forgot. There was no consistency.
  3. Unless it was completely unreasonable, (For example a $40 Collectible Barbie that she would never play with!) she (and her siblings) got pretty much got anything they asked for. Want a book? Sure, I love bookstores and things are going well that day. Let’s go. Want that special candy, have you been good today? All right.

The word no was used too in my attempt to teach them they could not get EVERYTHING they wanted.  (No. We are buying a birthday present for your friend, you do not need another book today!) But the yes’s and the no’s are evenly matched.

Needless to say, allowances have been inconsistent and I feel and felt like I had failed to start them off on a strong footing with money. Parent fail.  The intent to teach is there – but my follow-through needed some work.

I started an allowance with Elizabeth. Stopped when life got busy. Started again with the two younger kids. Stopped again when we moved and life got buys. Started again this year with the youngest being 6 years old, foiled again within two months as work picked up.

Except this time, they are all old enough to realize I stopped.

“Mom! You owe me $11 dollars for this month.” (I took the rule of thumb in most opinions out there, $1/week for each age of the child.)

“Mom, you forgot my allowance again.”

“Mom – buy me this, just take it off my allowance.”

This went on and on, driving me crazy, making me feel guilty that I was failing a major life learing event –  until I stopped. Cold turkey. Trying to play catch up and three little voices and amounts owed in my head was giving me a headache and something had to shift. The system I tried so hard to implement that I thought would teach them wonderful things about budget and money – it simply did not work for me.

“No more allowance.” I stated and tried to ignore the slack-jawed mouths open in shock.

“But how are we going to buy a new book this month?”

Hmmm..how about I already buy you a book via Scholastic from school each month so that should be enough and it helps out your classroom?

Then I started asking other parents about the allowance situation. Especially those with three or more children. The more experienced parents laughed.

“Allowance? I can barely keep up with the laundry.”

I asked if they tied allowance to chores. It was a mixed-bag of answers just like any information out in the general public today. But the consensus came back as this:

Yes, allowances are great. For older kids who want more stuff. (10 years old seems to be a general starting point.) Younger kids get what they need and then some. Why do they need to buy more stuff? (In this day and age of gift cards younger children do get opportunities to spend and consider costs. Save any they get for one big shopping trip or reward.)

No, not tied to everyday chores. But sometimes tied to extra work done around the house for older children. Sometimes. The importance of learning how to take care of the house coupled with learning the art of pitching in outweighs any allowance. Why should you pay them for doing what they SHOULD be doing anyway?

Yes, debit accounts for kids are a necessity – once they start working at a part-time job but not before. Savings accounts are a good alternative for those cash-only birthday gifts but only if you want to – not a necessity. Alternatively, keep the cash in a safe place until you are ready to open the account.

Yes, they usually kept back part of a cash gift and put into savings account/safe unless the child requested a big-ticket item. (New iPod or game system.)

All of this information came from other parents I respect who are in the same boat as me. It gave me an out but still – why did the thought of allowances and opening bank accounts make my stomach churn?

The answer –  there is so much information out there about what is the right and wrong approach. It is overwhelming, especially for a person who 1) Did not have much guidance growing up on how to handle money. 2) Has a fear around money. 3) Is desperate to do something different or more right with how to approach allowances and money with children.

We all want the best for our children, and sometimes, what works for your family is different from what works for another. Sometimes, there is no money for allowances. And sometimes, it’s just too much work when you have three or more kids.

After much waffling, I decided the best approach was no approach. I cut off the allowances for everyone after I had been asked for the hundredth time when was allowance day coming? If I couldn’t be consistent, than it was best just to stop and take stock of the situation at my own pace.

The children were not happy but in truth, the complaining lasted a day.  As I mentioned, it is not like my children are suffering from lack of well, anything.

Instead of focusing on allowance, I decided helping around the house was a bigger mountain to tackle first. Baby steps.

Are allowances gone forever? No. I do see the importance and value of teaching them about budgeting, earning money for a job well done and not to be afraid of it. I started using the term, budget instead of snapping at them when they asked for another small toy that would fill their already full toy bins that money doesn’t grow on trees. Instead I calmly try to say, “Sorry, not in the budget this week.”

And I stopped tying the items they were lucky enough to get each month, (a new pair of shoes they were eyeing, a book, hair accessories), to behaviour. Good behaviour and manners were a necessity, not a bribe. They get stuff when they need stuff or I see something that I think will make their day.

But they are learning too. Along with my new “not in the budget” proclamation, they actually sit and think about the best way to spread out that birthday money or gift card they have received. How much do they want that item if all they have is a set amount and have to wait until their next birthday?

Want to know a great thing I noticed when I took a step back? My kids are generous.

With no probing from me and left to their own devices, if one of them is out of birthday cash on a special trip to the local mall, another will buy them the coveted item. No strings attached.

And these trips to the mall or book store or even time with on iPad to get that app – that IS tied to behaviour. Not the actual thing they covet, not an allowance – but the experience of going out together. I’ve cancelled and drove away from stores or restaurants that we were just about to go in with a shrug and firm parent tone when any kind of established breaking of house rules like respecting each other, hands off and manners is broken. I have also taken them on a spur of the moment when they are behaving well and we have had a relatively stress-free day. (AKA –  no one arguing with each other in the back seat of the vehicle.)

Dumping the allowance discussion allowed me to really address other things first. How to treat each other. Manners. Responsibility for your own things. Expectations around household chores and pitching in. I also got to see them start to budget in their heads, really think about what they wanted because there was no regular influx of cash each month.  Lastly, I am starting to see the natural charitable side of my children. Towards each other or when my eldest pulls out a five dollar bill of her own  money for a homeless person.

Are these not the very lessons an allowance is supposed to teach?

We will circle around, now that other work is going well and the time will come to address an allowance. But instead of an all in one approach – I think tying to their age makes the most sense and is less overwhelming for a parent.

Elizabeth is now 11 years old. She is ready to start with a more regular allowance as she begins to want to hang out with friends on her own or really wants that particular piece of clothing or book. I figure by the time she is 12 years old, we will have a regular allowance system in place to set her up for those teenage years. The other ones will have their turn when it’s time.

The difference now? Me. I can take my time and teach instead of rushing to do it the “right way” and in my opinion, way to early. Introducing an allowance systems at an age-appropriate level with a person who is beginning to understand the world is bigger than our family makes the most sense to me.

And I’ll do it again and again with each child as they hit a milestone birthday but this time – it will be done right.

How do you manage allowance with your family?

 

 

 

 

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Travel With Kids

For the last few months I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to write guest articles for www.sixsuitcasetravel.com. An informative website about traveling with your large family and a great resource I have used for a few years.

My latest article was about our trip to The Poconos a few years ago.

To read the article you can find it here:

7 Must Do Magical Moments in The Poconos

Poconos Countryside

The Daily Grind And How To Change It

Do you know what you call those who use towels and never wash them, eat meals and never do the dishes, sit in rooms they never clean, and are entertained till they drop? If you have just answered, ‘A house guest,’ you’re wrong because I have just described my kids.” Erma Bombeck

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Brewing beneath the surface of most households is the inevitable and quiet resentment of parenthood. Knowing that you are required to take on task after task, giving away your time and space because “that’s your job” is a really, really hard thing to do.  You know you need to teach your kids life skills, but honestly, after a long day of work and negotiations about well, everything, that last thing you want to do is manage and argue about household chores. So, good intentions and important lessons on responsibility go by the wayside.

But what then happens to the parent(s)?  Burn out and then, burn out turns to anger and in the end, we find ourselves in a crazed state shouting at the sky wondering why no one will help us. Well let’s be frank, a lot of the time it’s because we didn’t ask for it in the first place.

We’ve all been there. We want to provide a safe and organized home for our children. We unselfishly want to make it easier for them and encourage them to do the things we did not always get a chance to do. We want school to be a priority and for them to reach their full potential. We want them in bed at a decent time. (‘Cause you know it’s wine-o’clock!) But in reality, the cost can be too high.  At least for me it has been. I was tired. Very tired.

So, I regrouped. Took a nice, long break and started asking some hard questions. What could I do differently moving forward to make long-lasting significant changes? Consistency. Instead of letting the wind decide what chores or responsibilities my children have, I wanted a regular schedule. I wanted more help around the house. Plain and simple. My molly maid days were over, and I told them so, again. But this time I meant it.

The most important thing to make this a success was letting go and then, choosing the things that mattered the least to me. Dishes. Laundry. I don’t care how or when they get done as long as they get done by the end of the day. These chores are low stake tasks that will teach my whole family life skills, responsibilities and give me a break to go and read that People magazine. (Or write this blog!)

So we started this new reality a few weeks ago, but at a snail’s pace. First, I stopped micromanaging their homework. Of course I help them when asked and still ask everyday, “What homework is there tonight?” But I took a step back, a huge step.

When you have three or more kids, you can’t be a homework coach to all of them at the same level. I have to decide who needs me most in what way and let the rest go. My 5th grade student is going to have to start figuring some stuff out on her own and managing her own time so I can focus on a fundamental skill like reading with my 1st grader. And thank goodness my 3rd grade student seems to have a teacher who does not give homework, at least that’s what she tells me.

Next on the list, dishes. Some people like doing dishes. I do not so the kids can do them. After all, I have six little hands that can put a dish away, load the dishes, wipe sinks and vacuum floors.

Next? Laundry. For the last year they each have to put their clothes away. I leave a basket of freshly laundered and folded clothes each weekend and don’t look back, at least until I need the basket back. It is time to up the stakes and teach them how to use the washing machine and dryer. Maybe they will learn to really consider if something is dirty or not once they start seeing the huge piles of clothes.

And last for this crazy new world, dinner preparation. One night a week if I have to eat hot dogs and nacho chips with melted cheese and sour cream that they made – then so be it. At least they are learning to prepare something, use the appliances and set up dinner at the table. Although I will be encouraging them to think about nutrition moving forward and include a vegetable with every meal.

The research backs this philosophy up, time and time again the benefit of children doing chores outweighs anything else. After all, are we not supposed to be raising competent, capable adults? Chores and sharing the household responsibilities can be the stepping stones for other things. Doing chores as a family increases time spent together and provides children a sense of pride that they helped out, at any age.

Now, my children have had their certain “chores” over the years. Once a week room tidy up. Putting laundry away. Bring garbage bins in. Feed the pets. Other chores too as asked. But as of yet, we have not set a serious schedule that will really help me out. It’s been a kind of ad-hoc system where I still end up doing the majority of things around the house.

The first week was a bit rough. Remember, my children are older so resistance was expected, especially with the older two. I tried to carve out time for me to “take breaks,” and keep myself together because (and let’s be honest here) it’s hard to be the bad guy.

The second week has been a bit easier. I pinned a rough outline of the chores expected on the fridge, let them know that chores may shift as things come up (as in life it does) but the plan was to be followed the best we could.

Now, I had to let stuff go. A load of laundry sat unfolded for a couple of days,  we ate hot dogs for dinner and I bit my tongue as I wiped up the puddles of water on the cupboards.  I also had to endure whining, eye-rolling and complaining. But I did it. You know what, this may actually work if I stick with it. This past weekend as we all did chores Saturday morning, well it went a bit quicker and I was met with a bit less resistance. Progress. It’s all a parent can ask for some days.

How long does it take to break a habit? 66 days seems to be the most recent consensus. So I figure with a family of five, breaking bad habits and replacing them with new ones will take 3 months. So I’m setting a goal date of August 22, 2017. A little longer than the norm but with summer, change of schedule and let’s face it, a large family to re-train, I think it is realistic.

Wish me luck and I will post results the week of August 21, 2017.

Surviving Social Media

Bit by bit we are settling into our new digs, but it will be a long process as the five of us, plus Chip the Labradoodle and Sally the Cat, as urbanized as the rest of us, get used to country life.

Back up. What?

Yes, this urban mom, along with her even more urban husband and three children up and moved to the country a month ago. Crazy? Perhaps. But so far we’re enjoying it.

I won’t get into the whole backstory here, you can check out those details at my other site, www.smalltowngal.com where I am capturing our journey and acclimatization to the country.

As part of a way to de-stress over the past few months of packing, moving, boxes, end of school, I listened to podcasts. At first it was just a few and then I got finger happy and downloaded a whole slew of podcasts on parenting, short stories, current events, all things I could play in the background as I drove from place to place and packed up my house.

Now, living a more rural lifestyle, the trips in the vehicle are longer with kids in tow, (shockingly not enrolled in camps this summer as I had no idea about the landscape here), so my podcast listening is reduced to Story Pirates and other kid-related podcasts. Until a couple of days ago.

Having found a reliable babysitter and knowing my kids were bored to tears with my company, I took advantage and started having her babysit at least once a week so I could run into town. You see, errands that used to be quick jaunts to the grocery store have been replaced with planned errand days that take double the time. The kids are beyond grumpy and hungry by the time I drag them in and out of three or four stores to get all my groceries. A babysitter seemed a good option halfway through summer break.

On this particular errand day, I got a chance to listen to a parenting podcast called, Only A Parent (June 28, 2016 Episode). They were discussing a topic I quite enjoyed called, I’m Bored. I loved their discussion and nodded in agreement as they reaffirmed what I knew. It is okay for kids to be bored. I have witnessed (after some prompting and whining) some great imaginative moments when my three kiddies (without planned playdates or friends as of yet) coming up with ways to entertain themselves.

Part of the discussion entered around the pressure parents feel to be “the entertainment” for their kids and dove into a slight side topic of social media. You know what I mean, the Facebook, twitter, Instagram and Pinterest boards where well-meaning parents post beautifully organized crafts or ideas for “How to keep your kids busy this summer.” or “10 DIY Crafts for Summer.” I am not of that ilk, I’m the mom that pushes my kids outside with bottles of water and tell them to play in the backyard so I can get something done. But, I also try to balance that with fun stuff. We go on outings, parks, beaches, hikes, I love exploring and take the kids with me.

And I post on social media, I have for years before it exploded. What I realized listening to this podcast discussion was that I may be considered one of those people who posts only the good, never the bad and ugly side of parenting. Some people would construe my social media participation as trying to depict “perfect family moments.” And, looking back over my posts, I can see their point.

Most of my social media centres around a few things; family life, where we travel, pets, flowers, food and my personal writing. I don’t tend to concentrate on the hard days, parenting or otherwise, when I’m going nuts trying to control the puppy, wash a dish and mediate a new punching game between my two eldest girls. Or the days when I give up and just let them play WiiU and watch movies so I can think for a couple of hours. Maybe I should, but honestly, why?

In truth, social media is a way for me to connect with people. Most of our family lives overseas or away and they enjoy seeing the places we visit and pictures of the kids. Grandparents don’t want to see my kids embroiled in a nasty argument with me as I patiently try to talk to an emotional ten year old and sometimes succeed and oftentimes do not. They see that when they visit. Posts about us enjoying life, well it brightens their day, or so I’ve been told.

I also like to receive and share information. A great place to take your kids, or go on a rare date night, or even finding those quiet spots to go by yourself. I love it when I connect with someone and they tell me, I went to that place too or those times a small business sends me a quick thank you for promoting their business in my small way. Really, how else are people going to be aware of what is in their communities if we don’t share the information? Social media for me is about informing and sharing. If you notice, I’m hardly in any pictures. Because most of my social media is captured by my own personal lens, how I view my tiny area of the world, that does not lend itself to being in front of the camera.

I also like to remember where I’ve been, (okay, to be honest my memory sometimes sucks and by posting where I’ve been I can recommend things to people or go back, so part of it is journal-esque in that way). I capture a special moment and record good things about a day. Life and news feeds can be really hard to read some days and heart-breaking. By putting a little more joy or happiness out there, maybe it will help someone else who is having a bad day.

I live with my feet well planted in reality and by capturing something wonderful or memorable about our simple lives it also helps to remind me that everything will be all right. It is therapeutic for me and I realized listening to the podcast that posting on social media has replaced a regular journal. Life also moves very fast, so on those busy or harder days when I want to just stand still and yell for help, I can scroll back over my posts and remember a lunch somewhere with friends, the way the waters looked at sunset and the precious smile my youngest had eating a huge ice cream. Self-serving? Perhaps, but if it also helps others in the same boat, wonderful. Win-win.

The podcast was great, it mad me dig into a topic I really didn’t think about much. How I use social media and made me stop and think about the lens I captured our life. It also reaffirmed for me, that however you use social media, it is a personal choice. I choose to share the better in life or what I hope people may find useful or interesting. I guess at the end of the day, if you do not want to see my posts, you can always unfollow although I hope you stay. But just know, the story of my life is not carved on social media.

What you see is what I’ve mindfully chosen to share because I hope it helps, informs or brightens people’s days. The rest of it, that bad and ugly part, ask me. I have war stories to tell of being in the parenting trenches and the scars to prove it. I’m happy to share those things if someone wants it. It’s just not going to ever be part of my regular social media presence and that suits me fine.

 

A Moment of Distraction

Let’s face it, life is busy. Not just for me, for most people I know. Especially this time of year, just go back and read any of my annual May posts. One in particular that I seem to respost each year is From Overwhelmed Parent to Grateful Parent because it holds up over time.  When you have children, especially those families with three or more little darlings things get a little, let’s use the word, chaotic in the spring.  For fun, throw in some additional and/or unexpected life events and crazy takes on a whole new level of meaning.

Due to my continued (albeit it not intentional) lack of regular postings, let me give you a brief recap.

  • A puppy joined our household, Chip the Australian Labradoodle. He is loveable, goofy, sneaky and believes I am his bed or a cushion to sit on. It’s like having a toddler again.
  • I took on some paid writing work.  A few wonderfully complimentary small business owners decided I was a good fit as a writer for hire for their online content marketing strategies. Blogging takes a back seat when paid work comes along as well as my more creative flights of fancy via short stories and editing a manuscript take off all at the same time.
  • And the big one, THE MOVE. Because we are a little nuts, (after all who gets a puppy on labour day, right before all three kids go back to school full-time?), we have purchased a property on the other side of the province (Ontario). We decide to trade in our convenient and comfortable suburban life for a life in the country. Not too far away sit picturesque wineries and our new home is found along the shoreline of the gently lapping waters of the Bay of Quinte.
  • My eldest daughter is going for day surgery (tonsils) and will be off school, at home recovering for at least a week.
  • The kids are now ten, eight and five. If you have kids this age or have had kids this age, I do not need to write another word. You get it. If you’re kids are younger, just wait. You will soon learn the art of creative time management and juggling the demands of burgeoning little people with their own agendas.

As I swiftly change my hats faster than the Mad Hatter himself, I do try to slow down at times and enjoy moments of distraction. Right now basketball is a useful distraction for our whole family. It is huge in this part of the world and our whole family cheers when those Raptors sink another basket.

But the other thing I find helps is humour. Laughing at the absurdity of our crazy life is not unusual, but there are times when you realize you may be a little too distracted.

As a parent of three or more kids, I try not to take my kids grocery shopping with me. It is an ordeal, usually ending up with one kid trying to ride the shopping cart, another grabbing cookies and my voice in that special low growl that ensures their little hands are all affixed to the sides of the cart.  I often forget things if they are with me. So, you would think that grocery shopping would be a leisurely outing when I am on my own. Except, well see the above. Finding leisurely grocery shopping is a thing of my not so distant past. Oh sure, it will come again, but not right now. Right now it is all about survival.

So one afternoon about a week ago, I dashed into the grocery store noting (of course) that I had forgotten my list. I tried to rely on my lacklustre memory but all that came to mind were the dishes. I hate washing dishes by hand so yes, dishwasher tabs are a must. Even in my harried state, I always try to spot that special yellow or red tag that screams, “Sale! Buy me!” When I raced down the aisle, threw other random items into my cart, I spotted the  “Sale!” tag near the dishwasher tab section and grabbed an unfamiliar brand. “Oh well, it’s on sale.” I thought to myself. “It’s probably fine.”

Thinking nothing of it, I walked over to the cashier, paid and went home.

In our house, we keep our dishwasher tabs in a dark corner of the cupboard under the kitchen sink. We have to reach beyond the nearly full compost bin and grab the tabs from the bag or bucket each night.

After I arrived home, I threw the bag into the cupboard and went on my merry way.

It happened the first night. The dishes were still disgusting after the final wash cycle.

“What’s this?” Mr. L asked and held up a grungy glass.

“Hmm.not sure maybe the setting was on a quick wash. Run it again.”

We do that, over and over. The next load was a little cleaner but there were less dishes. We had spent a lot of time eating out over the weekend.

Sunday night. The dishes were supposed to be clean, after all it worked once, but they were still sort of grungy. “Maybe it’s the new dishwasher tabs, I got a new brand. Just use it and I’ll get a new one next time I’m at the store.”

I left Monday night for a mini trip to take pictures of our new rural digs and to order furniture. I arrived home Tuesday and my elder daughter, Elizabeth was unloading the dishwasher.

“Ewww.these are still dirty.” She shoved her small hands into the the large, yellow gloves not wanting to touch the clean/dirty dishes.

“Just leave the dirty ones.” I told her, tired and worn out after a very busy forty-eight hours.

Mr. L peeked at the dishes as well, and then at the unusually dirty dishwasher. “I hope it’s not the dishwasher.”

Remember, we are moving in six weeks.

Wednesday morning arrives. We tried to wash another load and this time, Audrey, the younger daughter was unloading the dishes.

“These feel gross.” She holds out a dirty knife like it was covered in something disgusting. I stood to the side, continued to cut up vegetables for their lunches, tried to organize my  day in my head, fed the dog and threw in some laundry.

“Just leave it. I’ll hand wash them.”

Later that day, when I finally got around to hand washing the dirty/clean dishes, I realized they were dirty, really dirty. The dishwasher soap in those little plastic tabs must be really bad. No wonder they were on sale. I managed to get out to the grocery store in the afternoon and picked up my regular brand. I was very happy, my regular expensive brand was on sale, score!

I got home, pulled out the not great dishwasher tabs from deep within the cupboard, and was ready to trash them when I actually stopped to read the bag.

Laundry Detergent. 99% natural ingredients. No perfumes. 

I bought laundry detergent tabs and have been using them in my dishwasher.

This my friends is the epitome of distraction and life’s wry sense of humour. Just when you pat yourself on the back on how well you are handling the chaos of life, you realize you not only bought laundry detergent instead of dishwasher detergent, but have been using it for the last six days.

Well, at least my kids will have no internal stains and the product was the most natural on the market.

Parents of three or more kids, find the humour. When life seems out of control, busy as hell just remember, at least you didn’t wash your dishes with laundry detergent today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birthday Musings

The past couple of weeks have been rather chaotic in our little world. Frankly, life since my last blog seems to be busier than normal, thus the long absence! But whose isn’t?

Regardless, here in Oakville, Ontario winter did not arrive these past few weeks. With stir crazy kids and temperatures fluctuating wildly between spring temperatures with frigid wind chills, we plugged along into the busiest time of year, birthday season.

With Mr. L’s and all the kid’s birthdays falling between the end of December and end of February, this time of year has its challenges, nothing a semi-organized mom of three or more kids cannot manage. See  my past post on Surviving Back to Back Birthdays.

This year Elizabeth turned ten and Audrey eight. Over the years we have tried to pare back the guest count. Last year Elizabeth had to choose her three best friends for a first time sleepover. Being a milestone year, it soared back up to seven. Amelia’s excuse for inviting ten of her friends to her party was that we are moving out of the area and this would be her last birthday with these friends. Parental guilt ensued and I found myself planning two back to back parties, again.

After much discussion and trying to ensure invites were sent out a few weeks in advance as per my comment on being a semi-organized parent, the plans were set in January. Tea party followed by laser tag for Elizabeth. Splatter paint party at a local Oakville art centre for Audrey. One at home, the other out. Perfect. Oh, and a sleepover with their BFF’s forever.

Birthday weekend started with Elizabeth on the Saturday. Mr. L started the morning with her requested Nutella and toast plus sausages for breakfast and asked me what the agenda was for the day. By the time I had outlined all the activities, I thought his head was going to explode.

“It will be fine.” I assured him shooing them all out of the door to their individual Saturday morning activities before birthday madness ensued.

Thanks to some smart planning and wonderful ladies, all the birthday planning was a breeze, okay maybe a bit of a windstorm, but a manageable one.

During a holiday event, I had the pleasure to meet Renee, or otherwise known as The Traveling Tea Lady. I enlisted her help in creating a perfect, not too girly tea event at our house for seven little ladies. Renee was awesome. Responsive and organized she helped me find last minute decorations that Elizabeth requested, made up small tins of her delicious gingerbread loose leaf tea for the loot bags and even gifted me with a new blend of her Stress Free Tea which I cannot wait to try! She arrived with lots of time to get ready, decorated our small dining area, made all the petite goodies, served the tea,  cleaned up all of it done with a smile.

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In lieu of cake at tea time, Elizabeth requested cupcakes. Now I can make quick and dirty cupcakes, but she wanted something a little fancier. For this task I enlisted the help of Liana from Flavours Catering and Events in Oakville, Ontario. Having used her before, I was so happy with the twelve delicious chocolate and vanilla cupcakes she hand delivered to my house complete with mad hatter fondant icing.

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Post tea time and gift opening, I chauffeured the girls to Laser Quest on the west end of Oakville. It was busy being a Saturday night but I had booked the party room. There was no wait for our turn, they made sure our food, coats and cake were all taken care of.  We had a large room, with all place settings ready to go, pizza hot and delivered on time for the kids. You bring your own drinks and cake. They also give the birthday child a free laser tag game and come in for a “Zappy Birthday” song sung by the enthusiastic host when it’s cake time.  Loud but fun.

Now laser tag isn’t for all kids, those who have photosensitivity or wary of dark places. We had one child that needed to be pulled which was done quickly and handled without incident. But for those who enjoy it, it’s a fun way to entertain a bunch of nine and ten year olds. Party one complete.

Back at the house, Audrey and her sleepover guest were waiting for us to return. Elizabeth and her sleepover guest (note one guest)  quickly changed into their pyjamas and the giggles, nail painting started while they watched Harry Potter, a current favourite on our screen.

Audrey’s big party was the next day. After a waffle filled breakfast, family started to arrive. Some were going to stay at our house while I took some to the art party. As happens, sometimes there is an after party, especially when you have people coming from an hour drive away. The day before we discovered we had almost twenty people coming back to our house after the art party. Thank goodness for online ordering where we got everything from pizza to chicken skewers to be delivered for those waiting the hour and a half for us to arrive with the guests of honour.

4Cats West is an art studio that we have frequented a lot over the years. Their birthday parties are a lot of fun, well organized and messy. What else do you want in a birthday party? Audrey chose the splatter paint party, and in lieu of loot bags, I opted to pay a little extra and each guest got to paint their own take home canvas with splatter paint as well. The end result will be a huge canvas, splatter painted with Audrey’s choice of colours to be hung on her wall. All her friends signed the back of it. What better present is there, especially when this is your last year with this bunch of kids?  The facility does not provide food, you bring everything yourself. They give you the space and entertain the kids for an hour while you set up.

The splattered faces and paint drenched hair were a testament to the fun the girls had. Amelia loved seeing her friends get all messy and I was privileged to get many shots of her genuine smile, something that is sometimes hard to catch.

Back at the house, we finished off the birthday marathon with more food, ice cream cake for both the girls, family wishing them well, more presents and play. My mudroom was a disaster thanks to a couple of rambunctious boys who needed backyard time. The toys littered the house. I’m still finding pieces of chocolate mashed on the floors. But it was a memorable weekend, filled with kind and professional people to help make my girls’ birthdays special. All happening on a quiet street in Oakville, Ontario.

As I sipped a well earned crisp white wine chatting with my family as the kids played, well all over the house, Mr. L was quick to point out that this was it. Our last birthday celebration in this house. For dear readers, we move this summer to a new area in Ontario. A place where I must seek out everything from where to get awesome cupcakes to what grocery store to go to ease birthday filled weeks for a mom to three or more kids.  I will need to find a new village.

My mother, (being a mom), pointed out now that it was all done, I survived another crazy December to February, wasn’t it time to start packing? Yes, it is. But looking back, it will be bittersweet when I start filling that first box. After all, I’ve met some great people here in Oakville, Ontario. I have found great small businesses to support, have the stores I frequent, made lots of great connections along the way. I will miss it.

 

 

Thinking Ahead – Switch How You Meal Plan

Entering the month of August, (Here I will throw up my hands and try to excuse a lengthy hiatus from this blog but such is June and July in our little world, busy with a capital “B!”) a parent of three or more kids begins to sweat. Or perhaps panic is a better word. Their minds race plotting out fall schedules, back to school shopping and how to keep delightful children entertained for another four weeks. If you are back to work after some vacation time you are desperately trying to catch up while juggling various camp options.

If you’re like me, with three young school aged kids (or more!) you still glance at the huge amount of articles and Facebook posts hitting your computer screen. “Plan now!” “Set your schedule!” “Get on track for Fall with these tools!” You may or may not have learned to weed through the crap and bookmark the ones you will read later, maybe. Most of the guilt you used to carry about being super prepared vanished over the last five years. But yet, you still make a half-hearted attempt to plan. To at least have a map to follow when the days get dark and you can’t stand seeking out the perfect backpack for your eldest child because the one she was given earlier this year just isn’t the right one.

Then the messages from the mom’s group you joined a while back start. Women in similar situations with multiple kids pleading for advice on how to manage lunches and back to school shopping and still keep your sanity. You realize you are  not alone.

From one of these boards one mom posted this question:

“Okay I’m going crazy with menus and grocery shopping. How do you plan your meals. Any good websites that post weekly or monthly menus. Ughhhhh please help!”

Lots of ladies started posting links to multiple websites, suggestions on how to manage a meal plan. All great advice and resources. But one post caught my eye.

“I plan backwards from most people. The grocery store plans for me. I look at what’s on sale in the meat department, then see what’s on sale I can add to that to make meals. I save a lot of money and stress this way.”

I couldn’t believe what I read. Someone else bucked the trend of being utterly prepared at all times? An alternative to the huge amount of time and work that is menu planning? No way!

You see I realized something the last few years. No matter how much I try to plan ahead, something always buggers it up. It’s like an unseen force makes things a touch difficult to mess with me. Then I feel like a failure at this whole domestic stay at home mom deal, wallow in self-pity and get right back on the crazy train. A vicious cycle.

With specific attention to meal planning, I tried different apps on my wonderful device tethered to my hip this past year and combined it with a written monthly menu board. Not surprisingly, I made nothing that I planned for. Out of pure frustration, I attempted a whole different approach. I picked a day of the week where, unless there is an emergency, I go grocery shopping. The same day. (Yeah, yeah. My grandmother did it this way too..but it must have worked. She had four kids.) My kids were all in school so I spent an hour or so wandering the aisles, (No coffee cup in hand. Remember, I was meal planning.) and let the grocery store decide my menu. I based my weekly meal plan on what was on sale that day combined with what I already had in my pantry.

I did one other thing, I stopped trying to plan every day of the week. I planned only for four out of seven days. One day off to do whatever I wanted. (Leftovers or pasta but I had to use what was in the fridge.) One day I asked the kids what they wanted and ensured I had most requests in the freezer. (Usually tacos, hot dogs, chicken nuggets.) One day for spouse to make decisions.

Done.

Each Sunday night I wrote down my tentative weekly menu with just main ingredients, (No fancy quiches dishes) on a dry erase board based on what I bought at the grocery store and our weekly schedule. (Knowing each week is slightly different and how much time I have to prep and make simple or more complicated meals shifts each day.) I asked the kids what they wanted on one of the empty nights and filled it in. Having chicken nuggets one night a week is a treat for them and takes pressure off me. I can buy organic, locally grown, frozen chicken nuggets if that’s what I prefer. Most grocery stores carry a decent brand.

This system worked the best out of any I have tried the last few years. There is less stress trying to manage a list or app. Grocery store shopping is more relaxing without having to manage multiple recipes or the overwhelming list of ingredients I may or may not use. The best reward is that I use up most of the food in my fridge. Less waste.  If I need a recipe, with the abundance of websites it is easy to find one that includes ingredients I have on hand.

I mentioned the above to my sister, a person who is a shift worker, and she rolled her eyes. “Well for those of us who work shifts we need to have a plan.” Fair enough. If having a detailed weekly or monthly menu plan works for you, great. But for those of us parents of three or more kids drowning and overwhelmed with menu planning, perhaps switching perspectives will work. Stop trying to over plan and let the grocery store be your guide.

Follow up to Open Letter to my children’s school board.

In the interest of complete transparency, here is a follow up to the situation in Ontario and our particular school board, the Halton District School Board. Although not exactly what I and many other parents are requesting, it is a step in the right direction. At least we will obtain our children’s grades. Below is an email sent out to all elementary school parents yesterday after a meeting with the Board of Trustees from the Director, Mr. David Euale.

I remain hopeful that communication to my children’s teachers will result in some tangible progress from the last report card before the last day of school as personally I would love to celebrate expected improvements and help prepare my children for the next school year.

June 18, 2015

Important Message for Families of Elementary Students:
Report cards to be provided for elementary students in SK – Grade 8

At the Halton District School Board meeting of June 17, trustees have supported the Director of Education’s recommendation to allocate up to $100,000 to secure assistance to input elementary student academic marks in the report card system.

Currently, public elementary teachers across Ontario are taking part in a legal strike. This action includes not providing report card comments and not inputting student marks/achievement levels electronically. The production of report cards for more than 40,000 Halton public elementary students relies on the inputting of this data by 2,700 teachers. Trustees had previously supported the concept that the data entry could not be managed by principal and vice-principals at this very busy time of year. Therefore, a commitment was made to have principals and vice-principals produce report cards only for students graduating from their schools. These report cards will be distributed on June 24th.

As a result of the approval of funds by trustees, during the summer, report cards for all remaining students in Senior Kindergarten to Grade 7 will be produced with subject grades/achievement levels and learning skills only (no comments). These will be made available from August 31- September 3 at the elementary school your child attended during the 2014-15 school year. Report cards not picked up will be mailed home to families.

The Ministry of Education indicated they could not provide special funding for this initiative. Therefore, we are very pleased that the Halton District School Board trustees chose to support this allocation of funds. This enhancement to our original plan allows for the equitable access to grades and learning skills for all elementary students for this school year.

For more information, please visit http://www.hdsb.ca

Sincerely,

David Euale
Director of Education
Halton District School Board

An Open Letter to my school board. Let’s teach RESPONSIBILITY.

This morning, I decided to send a letter to our local school board. After that, I made the decision to go public with my letter. Here in Ontario, as a result of work to rule action, some children in some elementary grades will NOT be receiving their final grades. The basics of the situation are this: as a work to rule action, teachers submitted the marks to the school administrators but refused to input them as in other years or provide comments. Boards had to respond accordingly. Each board is responding in whatever way they deem appropriate but it keeps shifting. Yes people, this is what my high property taxes to the public school systems pays for. In my personal opinion, not a great use of my tax money.

Now I do not mean to simplify a very complex situation, but as a parent, the above is the basic premise of what is happening.

I have no desire to enter into a political debate about what is wrong or not or why this is happening. Truthfully, I understand the complexities and arguments, difficulties of ALL involved including teachers/their union, administrators and boards.  But in the end, this is not my fight.  It is simple. I want my children’s marks and have a right to them.  I want to tell my child that anything is possible and mean it. When I teach them about responsibility, I want them to witness it first hand.

If you want more information, there is a lot of media attention on this as school boards across the province deal with this. Just google Ontario school boards, EFTO, Ontario elementary schools to get the latest news.

I share this letter for those parents in the same situation and encourage them to contact your local school board, parent groups and trustees. Make your voices heard. My children are too young to deal with this, so I must. As for anyone else reading this lucky enough to have your children’s final report cards in hand, well enjoy our ride. Maybe you will have to deal with this in the future too. I hope not.

**Note: Mr. Euale is a public figure and Director of the Halton District School Board thus I have left references to him. I have removed all other personal information to protect the identity of my family and children.

**Note 2: I did receive a response from Mr. Euale thanking me for my suggestions and letting me know our board, Halton District School Board, is looking into strategies to communicate with parents. With seven days of school left, I hope it’s quick and takes our children into consideration. I remain cautiously optimistic they will release our children’s marks.

June 17, 2015

Dear Mr. Euale,

We are aware that we may be one of many, many parents contacting you and the board in lieu of the announcement this past Friday. As directed, we are attempting to reach out to our children’s teachers to obtain their end of year marks with no response as of yet and if the media reports are accurate, the teachers will not be answering our pleas to release our children’s marks to us in an informal manner, although we were directed by the email on Friday to contact their teachers.

However, we wanted to reach out to you in light of the decision by the TDSB announced this am, the question on our minds (as many others) is why this strategy is not possible in Halton? For your reference:

http://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/education/2015/06/16/toronto-elementary-students-will-get-report-cards-despite-teachers-manoeuvre.html

In fact, although Halton has indicated it will send report cards home for certain elementary grades, which is the least to be expected for these important transition years, we would argue that other elementary grades also be given similar considerations. In our situation, we have three children within the Halton District School Board, all in primary grades. Do we not have a duty as a collective to ensure they are well prepared for September? That is difficult to do as a parent without some sort of feedback or indication of progress from this year. Perhaps a modified version, such as a summary of marks as the TDSB is doing should be the minimum the board/administrations provide to all the parents in Halton.

We want to share with you our situation with one of our children. We share this with you with the hope that if you understand a real life situation, you, the Board and Administration will reconsider the decisions made on Friday. We are cognizant our situation is most likely not unique but perhaps highlighting to you the difficulty you are placing parents and the concerns we have in not obtaining feedback as well as the possible detrimental affects on primary learning, the decision will be altered.

Our eldest daughter (Grade Three, French Immersion) has been working hard since her last report card in February to improve her learning skills and bring her grades up to a place we believe she is capable of achieving. We also need to ensure she is well prepared for grade four, a huge transition year from primary to junior level learning. There has been a lot of work at home, extra tutoring and attempting to access the very, very limited resources at our particular school for a child who just needs a little extra support to succeed. Her teachers for the most part have tried to help within their limited means as well.

The final measure for this hard work was to be her final report card. Our daughter, Elizabeth, is one of those kids (as are most children in my experience) where positive, tangible feedback on her progress helps builds her confidence leading to steps for success. Being only nine years old, she is also very literal. Telling her I think she did better is not what the public school system has prepared her for.  At the end of it, marks are marks and one of the measures our children expect and deserve to know.

Throughout the last four months, albeit with overall positive general feedback from her teachers, her personal ultimate goal was to see her efforts translated into marks on her final report card. Can you imagine the end of the year when she holds that piece of paper in her hands and says “I did it!” That is a priceless moment.

Well Mr. Euale that is what is possibly being taken away from her and hundreds of students like her, this sense of accomplishment.

How do you explain to a nine year old that her efforts weren’t important enough to warrant even a letter home stating her grades?  Now, as her parents, we are of course assuming her marks are improved based on recent conversations and items coming home from her classroom.

But, what if she hasn’t improved enough? What if we are completely off base in our own personal assessment? Well, as a responsible parent who cares about her education, if her grades haven’t significantly improved and there are still gaps in learning, we must know that too and as soon as possible.

How are we to address possible issues this summer if we are not aware of what they are? It’s like trying to solve a problem blindfolded. We have a sense, but not the whole picture.

The argument, “you should know where your child is in their learning” is not a realistic in our circumstance and I’m sure many other families. Although we may think we know where her grades will land on a final report card, seen improvements at home and with her tutor, we cannot know for certain how that work translates in tandem with her in-class work and learning skills. Truthfully we are not comfortable or equipped to guess what her final marks may be and we should not have to. It is the board/administration and teachers responsibility to communicate with the parents their children’s progress and final marks.

We are not political in any way and sympathize with the difficulty everyone finds themselves from the teachers, administrators and the board. We understand it is not easy for anyone.  However, at the end of the day, this is not our fight. I want my children’s report cards. It is an expected duty of the board and schools to provide end of year report cards to parents. We very much hope that in light of what other boards are beginning to realize, the Halton District School Board reconsiders their position, responsibility to parents and children of their district and if not any of that, consider what you are doing to a child like my own.

How do I teach my children the value of school and learning when they can easily shrug their shoulders and say, “What does it matter? We may or may not get grades anyway.”

We have spent a year trying to instill a love of learning, responsibility and foster a sense of personal accomplishment for a job well done. All values taught in their classrooms. At a pivotal time in their personal development, as we are trying to teach these primary students the importance of words like, responsibility, we believe the board and administrators should be the example and make the responsible choice. 

 Release their marks.

Get it done in any way possible because when we tell our children that anything is possible, we would really like to mean it.

We will be forwarding this letter and encouraging our network of parents, organizations and media to contact you with their concerns in the hopes that HDSB responds accordingly.

Thank you for your time and we look forward to hearing your response.

Rebecca House

(Name of child changed above and personal information omitted for privacy.)

 

 

Get the gear ready!

Elizabeth's first baseball game of the season.

Elizabeth’s first baseball game of the season.

Second week of May and spring sports season is here!  Many parents will give wonderful advice about how to prepare for this time of year. (Me included!) Going into my fourth year of the kid-time hustle, here are some pointers on how to look like you are way more organized than you really are.

1. Your vehicle is a mess from the winter. Salt stains on the carpets. Food encrusted everywhere. It’s going to get worse. First, clean your vehicle or get it detailed. People won’t believe how you manage to keep crumbs off the floor because chances are, as you pop open the side doors and trunks of your multi-child vehicle of choice, people are peeking in to see if the interior of your car is worse than theirs.

2. If you don’t have them, buy enough camp chairs as you have seats of your car. Keep two or three in the vehicle and the rest in the garage just in case your mother – in -law decides to come and watch the kids.

3. Invest in a good waterproof picnic blanket. It will save damp butt syndrome especially when your kids want to sit on the dew-misted grass.

4. Find a friend who sells cool gear like Thirty-One. Tons of bags and organization ideas. Invest in one per sport. I have a large bag that can hold baseball helmets, extra bat, gloves for the family and anything else.  The worst thing is looking for a baseball glove and find instead a bike helmet in that closet you just can’t seem to get organized. If you can, leave the bag in the van. Why bring it inside?

5. In our house, I often have to take sibling along to game nights. This year I am going to have pre-packed knapsack per person for: sunblock, hats, sweaters and toys/colouring etc. Having a couple of cool toys also brings kids together. The best distraction for your kids, the other siblings at the games. If they don’t find a kindred spirit, a good book or colouring helps distract them. Your knapsack should include the water/snacks for your family, camera/camera phone for snapping candid pictures and an umbrella.

6. Don’t stress if your kid can’t make every game or practice. Nobody can.

7. If your kid’s coach isn’t pushing the “every parent rotate to bring snacks for the whole team,” don’t suggest it! I prefer to bring snacks for my own kids that are not juice boxes or granola bars. They had a full dinners before or will be having a full dinners after. Snacks are at my discretion and to be honest, lugging all my kids plus snacks for fifteen other kids through ankle deep grasses to the field the farthest from the parking lot is not high on my wish list.  Plus, I have two extra kids and I’m sure most families have other kids there too, it’s like a virus. If one sees another having a snack, they want one too and where does it stop?

8. Throw an extra blanket or two in your vehicle. It gets cold some nights and you (or your other kids) will want it at some point.

9. Bring a book/magazine or crossword puzzle for yourself. Sometimes it works out and we find new parent friends to pass the time with. Other times, we don’t. Bring something just in case for that inning your kid is on the bench. We are pro multi-taskers and baseball games are long. Don’t be afraid to finish that chapter if you want.

10. BUT, make sure you are off your device/looking up when your kid is up to bat or is just about to score on net. You don’t want to miss it and make sure to cheer every time your kid’s team gets a hit or scores. Your kid will notice if you weren’t watching that.

And lastly, (because that’s how I roll) after you get home, get your kids cleaned up and into bed, make those nights your special drink of choice night. Could be that new wine, beer, summer cocktail or mint tea. Drink it and relax. It all starts again tomorrow.

Good luck to us all!