When A Carefully Built House Of Cards Collapses – You Build It Again

Yes, yes. It has been a long while since I paid any attention to this little blog. I do have my reasons.

  •  I started a new blog about our move to a rural life at Small Town Gal that I am trying to keep updated.
  • I took on paid writing work.
  • I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo again to flush out a story idea that a few encouraging people told me to finish.
  • I started binge watching Netflix, again.
  • I began excercising more seriously, again.
  • I realized I require more sleep.
  • I have three kids.

Nonetheless, I also wasn’t sure if I had anything of value to share on parenting three or more kids that I haven’t either already wrote about or was written about in the general blog, Facebook, Twitter space. After all, I’m just one mom in a million who have multiple kids and I struggle with time management, to-do lists and priorities just like everyone else.

I also had to take a step back, is it really different having one versus two versus three or more children? I think so, but maybe it’s just because I’m not great at the juggling act as others. Of perhaps it’s because I feel guilty that I find managing three little people at times, challenging and unrewarding. Maybe it’s because I just turned forty and I’m tired. Or finally, is it simply that this is my reality so I think having three kids is unique or different in some ways and I tell myself I deserve a space to vent so I don’t go out of my mind. Who really knows? Not me. It could be all of it or none of it.

mother-free-work

From mycity4kids.com

 

But now that I’m here, I have noticed that spending the last few months having little bits of time with one or only two of my adorable munchkins, it seemed, well easier. A breath of fresh air. This small thing along with discussions with others about kids made me realize something. Having kids is hard. Having more than one kid is hard. Having three or more is crazy. Crazy fun sometimes, but crazy.

This fall, I’ve been dealing with a lot of emotional management. Sometimes I do okay and other times I fail, big time. I find having kids that sponge off me physically and emotionally although necessary and wonderfully empowering as a mom who tries to be there for them that they take my advice, hugs and want me there is not so great for me as an individual who requires some personal space and time. The whole thing is sometimes very draining.

But, we have had a lot going on and they have required more attention than normal. We moved. Across the province. Away from our support systems, friends and schools. Big picture it makes sense for us. After all, this was not an easy or whimsical decision but a well thought out, hard one. Regardless, the last few months have been an emotional roller coaster for us and the kids. Happy one minute, enjoying their new home and exploring  the area with unbridled passion all seems wonderful. Then, in a snap they can be in tears. Homesick for what they know, friends they used to see everyday. So much so that it tugs at our heart strings and we wonder if we robbed them of their idyllic childhood.

I almost wonder sometimes as a parent of three or more kids, do they secretly strategize out a plan to keep me on my parenting toes? To see how much I can stretch as a mom?

This past week or so,  just as I finished dispensing hugs and encouragement to my almost eleven year old, told her  that she will indeed find new friends in her new school, the next day my eight year old starts to well up, her eyes full of tears as we leave a playdate back in our old town and wham! I’m back in the therapist chair. The house of cards is starting to fall.

Then, (oh yes..not done), I get her calmed and excited about seeing her new friend at school the next day when the next day wham! My little man, the five year old, breaks my heart when he draws a picture of two very sad stick people, separated by a line. With crocodile tears running down his face he sputtered,

“It’s me and P. Separated forever.” (P was his very good friend from SK last year who we haven’t yet visited since we moved this past summer, although they’ve exchanged a few letters only the way five year old boys can.)

The house of cards is down. Something has been triggered in all three of them. Maybe an unseen hand knocked my thriving kids backwards and I was back to square one. At least it wasn’t all at once, someone had the foresight to only give me as much as I could handle. One emotional tailspin at a time.

I picked Jacob up, he sobbed onto my shoulder and part of me wondered at the sensitive nature of my usually happy-go-lucky man. (I secretly hope he maintains this side of himself and doesn’t hide it away. ) In this moment, although he needed me both physically and emotionally, I had to reach over to stir the taco meat on the stovetop. I rocked him back and forth and told him it was okay to be sad. For on this night, I also have a starving and cranky tween daughter who kept hollering that I can’t expect perfection from her, a reaction because I made her rewrite her messy assignment.  I bit my lip and looked longingly at the glass of untouched red wine on the counter. It had to wait. At least the eight year old seemed content today.

The house of cards is down and I woke up today and started to rebuild. Because that’s what we do. Thankfully, all three of them are seemingly better this morning after a week of roller coaster emotions, the only thing I can think is thank goodness it wasn’t all at the same time.

But it  never ends, not really. There will always be one of them out of sorts. Always. For that is life as we know it and I think I’ve learned to accept that. It’s part of the deal being a parent to three or more kids, the difference if you will between having one or two or three or more kids. You oftentimes will have a fire to put out, a flare-up to manage or a full out storm so intense it takes your breath away, there are no real breaks in between. And perhaps that is what I can offer; how to survive the constant barrage on your own self. I can offer strategies to cope, suggest how to be kind to yourself and most importantly be someone who can empathize when you say, I have three or more kids. For I get it. I really do.

So for today, for all those parents who throw up your hands and ask will I have a day where there isn’t any drama from one of my multiple children? My answer is yes, yes you will. It may not be a whole day, it may be an hour, but take it. Grab tight and do something you love. For me, it was yoga first thing this morning. It calmed me. Maybe I’ll get to do it again this week, maybe, if I’m not busy with the hose.

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From overwhelmed parent to grateful parent. Repost.

I decided to repost this blog from May, 2014. It is still relevant, albeit with some minor changes in our lives but I thought it was a good reread for this time of year for parents of three or more kids. Happy reading! 

There are generally three times each school year that leave me feeling breathless, rattled, unsure of my ability to be supermom, flying from this to that. And that was when I had just one kid in school full-time. Having two this year and a third gearing up for kindergarten in September, I wonder how I’m going to handle it all.

The first time is back to school. If you have one or eight kids this is a crazy time as you prepare you little student for their upcoming year. Second is just before Christmas break. Concerts are planned, gingerbread house making nights, presents to buy and the holidays to prepare for. Third is right now – mid-May until mid-June. Four weeks of frantic activity from everyone involved.

The kids start getting their first taste of warm sunshine. They want outside. All the time. Desperate to soak up the rare vitamin D in our part of the world and chase the explosion of white butterflies and bumblebees. Especially after a year like 2014 that has been low on the sunshine and a what seemed like we lived in the movie, “Frozen” where snow and ice-covered our land.  Trying to get them to bed at their regular bedtime is challenging, even with blackout shades as the older ones know how to raise them up and peek out the window at the sunset.

“Mooom!! It’s not bedtime yet. The sun is still out. I can’t possibly sleep when it’s not dark.”

“I know honey, but while school is still on you have to go to bed at your regular time. Read for bit.”

So they read, chat and play and don’t fall asleep until after 9 pm and it is dark outside. For some reason it doesn’t phase them getting up with the chirping robins at 630 am. The only person in the house who is still going to sleep no matter what is Jacob, the three year-old.

“I’m done everything and ready for school. Can I go in the backyard?”

“No dear. There’s still a heavy dew on the grass. You’re feet will be soaked.”

So, trying to match their boundless energy I coerce them into completing homework and practicing for upcoming recitals and performances.

Yes, every single program my kids participate have their end of year performance, recital or celebration within this four week period. If you are blessed with children who like the performing arts, it means costume trials, dress rehearsals and early morning line-ups to buy tickets to your blessed child’s five-minute routine during a three-hour show. It also means trying to prepare them for these routines the best that you can while they blow bubbles in the backyard because how can you deprive them outside playing time when they have waiting almost seven months for warm summer breezes?

But we try. Oh do we try.

end of school year

Another testament to my patience this time of year is the endless “end of school” celebrations. I admire and appreciate the school’s desires to honour parental volunteers and celebrate the end of the year. But between you and me, having three kids means I have to squeeze in trying to attend all of their school-related stuff. Spring concerts, BBQ’s, Fun Fairs and volunteer teas. Not to mention the onslaught of trying to do that last-ditch attempt at fundraising so movie nights and art nights. Trying to attend them all,  I enthusiastically cheer and really do appreciate the time it takes to organize these things and have a lovely time when I’m there. But then my kids can’t complain when their summer clothes are being pulled out of the bins as the temperatures increase and I really can’t send them in cords and long sleeved-shirts any longer. A quick check to see if too wrinkled and a sniff to see if items pass the smell-test I throw summer dresses and short-sleeved shirts their way hoping they haven’t grown out of them. Something has got to give!

Oh, did I mention soccer started? Yes, all the spring activities start during this time frame as well and with that means extra nights for picture nights and Friday evenings fraught with on the go dinners to get two kids to soccer.

In between all of the above are teacher-parent meetings as teacher’s start collecting their marks for the year and parents try to encourage their kids to “give it all you got for these last few weeks!” Time to shop for year-end gifts and decide if other parents are giving the jazz class instructor a token of appreciation and who makes the cut and who doesn’t in my quick and dirty gift-shopping spree. Having three or more kids means you also have to remember, did I give that gift to that teacher last year? Will the bus driver appreciate yet another gift card from me for coffee at Tim Horton’s or should I do something new?

Oh and I’m trying to pack for our first summer trip of the year, finish editing a book (this is where I am glad I finished it before this time period), exercise to get ready for two and a half weeks at the beach and squeeze in those last playdates with my kid’s friends because goodness knows there are some kids they won’t see all summer (gasp!) and they absolutely must have them to our house one more time.

GratitudeCiceroquote

But yet, although I may complain about how crazy life is about to get I am aware this is brought all upon myself. I can pick and choose how absurd our life gets and for that I am thankful. I am thankful I have schools in our area that care enough about their students/teachers/parents to celebrate a successful school year. It is with gratitude I give tokens of appreciation to all the people who taught my children all different things this year or kept them in safe environments. I will buy tickets to support a local community theatre group and try to coerce my relatives to come and see our kids play pirates in an hour-long play or drive to the obscure theatre to watch my daughter dance for five minutes. For these are the markers of another year gone by. One where despite the full and crazy life we have, I manage to get out once a week for a run. I get to travel a little bit with and without the kids. I completed a novel. I took my son to his first professional baseball game. These are the memories they and I will have.

And that, makes it all worth it.

One last note.

Even though all worth it, do not think for a moment that this particular mom of three, will not hesitate to pour a big tumbler of wine after dinner while the kids sing “Let It Go” to the neighbours and sit with my feet up on my toy-laden patio table looking forward to bedtime each night. For it is only after my little darlings are finally asleep and the house is quiet can I permit myself to do nothing. Absolutely nothing at all and for the next four weeks and I refuse to feel guilty about that.

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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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

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.

It begins.

And so it begins…

Life with kids is hectic. We, as parents, know this. We know our social calendars get booted aside as our dear ones start creating their own social networks. If you have children interested in well, anything, your nights and Saturday mornings will be full of driving from one activity to another while balancing multiple birthday parties.

It was easier when they are small and portable. They came with you to run errands, napping in the car seat (if you were lucky) or content to sit in a grocery cart with a half eaten cheese bun in one hand while you frantically threw things in the cart praying they did not have to go number two as the thought of abandoning your cart in a panic to find a washroom for your potty-training child made tears well in your eyes.

After you weather these and multiple other things, you breathe a sigh of relief as you children move out of toddlerhood into more independent little beings. No more diapers! No more diaper bags! Soon we will be able to downgrade the dreaded swag wag for a cool SUV because the stroller is in the process of being sold on Craigslist. They all sleep through the night (most of the time), and the oldest one is starting to take showers alone.

But it is all a sham. What no one tells you is that your social calendar downgrades even further. (If that is possible.)  Your newfound free time is not spent elegantly sipping a glass of wine with your significant other. You are both still snoring on the couch trying to spend some quality time together exhausted beyond belief.

Why?

Because you have three children who have started the next stage of their development.

The participation stage.

What is the participation stage? It is the age when your children understand there are a plethora of activities available to them. Dance classes. Swimming lessons. Girl Guides. And all their friends are in different things and they want to go to all of them. Then add in the start of extracurricular activities from school. Cross country meets or choir performances. To even further complicate the issue, this doesn’t even take into account requested play dates or birthday party invitations. I have a calendar just with the kids activities or social activities on it.

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What I am slowly starting to understand is that when you have one child in multiple activities there are a lot of benefits. You can ensure one parent is always available or if you can’t for some reason make it, finding another parent who lives close to you to carpool with is an easier task. You have no tag along children needing to be entertained. You can bring a book, your work or just choose to sit in your car and nap. But you have that choice.

When you have two children the participation stage is a tad trickier. But if you can encourage said children to join things together or very close by with staggered start times, it is still doable without too much angst.

With three or more children there is no escape. You live in whirlwind that does not stop. You are either taking children to activities while trying to throw goldfish packages in the backseats because someone is hungry or trying to desperately find a babysitter because your littlest one, exhausted from all day kindergarten, wants to go to bed by 7:00 pm. Your new Coach purse (that you splurged on to celebrate your newfound freedom), resembles a babysitter’s starting kit. Pads of colouring sheets and crayons in case someone needs to wait longer than ten minutes somewhere and not to mention the wrappers and crumbs at the bottom. You arrive home, put kids to bed and cringe at the thought you have to now make three lunches and go through three piles of agendas and paperwork to ensure nothing is missed so you sit, spaced out, in shock from what just transpired that day.

I had the pleasure of starting my kid’s activities this past week. There was a lot of preamble at the end of August as we finalized everything.

“Kids, you get to each pick two activities and that’s it.”

“I want musical theatre.”

“Me too!”

“Great! Two checked off. Oh wait. You can’t be together this year. So Elizabeth you’re Thursdays 515 pm and Audrey you’re at 615 pm. What about Jacob. Hmmm..will deal with that later.”

“Mommy..I want to do tap dance this year.”

“Okay Audrey, you can do two activities as long as it fits into Saturday morning. I want everything on Saturday morning when Daddy is here to help me.”

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“But mom!! My two friends are doing Girl Guides again this year. I realllyy wanted to do that too.”

“No Elizabeth. We talked about this. You’re in grade three now. You’ll have more homework so can only have one activity during the week at least for the fall until we know how you’re doing. Okay? Plus Girl Guides is on the same night as musical theatre.”

“But it’s not until 630 pm and I’m done at 615 pm! We have time to get me over there if Dad comes home early and stays with Audrey at her class.”

Big sigh. How to explain to an eight and a half year old as much as I would like her to do everything, I can’t be in two places at the same time and her dad doesn’t get home on time for weekday activities and I have to consider her younger brother and how much he can handle in one night? So I try a different approach.

“Elizabeth, you can’t do both musical theatre and girl guides on the same night. Pick one.”

Musical theatre wins out and off we go. Thankfully Jacob is content with his one activity on Saturday mornings with the promise that I’ll look into hockey for him in the winter after he turns four.

A few days before our crazy Thursday night I realize two things. One, I can’t take Jacob on the crazy after school activity ride. Poor kid is struggling with full day kindergarten and exhausted. I’ve never seen this kid rub his eyes so much once he’s home from school. So I contact a new babysitter I’ve interviewed and ask her to come for a few hours until Mr. L arrives home. Done. I’ll reassess if I should keep her or try to take Jacob with me after a couple of weeks.

Second, all of Elizabeth’s homework is due on Fridays. She has two dictations (one French and one English) and needs to hand in a French reading report each week. I’ll need to ensure she gets most of it done before Thursday night and spend a half hour with her (while she wolfs down take-out dinner) at some random coffee shop quizzing her while her sister is at class. This issue reaffirms the need for a babysitter even more so I can focus on Elizabeth and her homework.

We get through the Thursday night in not too bad of shape. It was nice to have dinner with just Audrey and then be able to focus on Elizabeth (even if we’re in a food court). Some fine-tuning is required with regard to homework as she still had to rush Friday morning to finish something, but we did it.

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Saturdays are infinitely better. With two parents we can divide and conquer. I can take one to her dance class. Mr. L can take Jacob to his class and Elizabeth (who is supposed to be doing extra reading) is the tag along but being older she should be able to handle it the best.

We get to the dance studio on Saturday and find a good friend has signed up his two daughters for a jazz dance class. I can see Elizabeth’s mind swirling and it isn’t long before the question arises,

“Mom, can I take jazz since I’m here anyway?”

Another sigh but I ask her. “Will you promise when we get back home after you will still do your extra reading homework?”

She nods (although I know this will be an ongoing battle) and I go over to inquire if there is space in the class. Two spots left and a few hundred dollars later (and a realization that I need to increase our kid activity budget at some point) she is enrolled.

So my Thursday nights will be crazy but if I can schedule and budget in a sitter each week, manageable. Saturdays will be busy but with all kids occupied at the same time, when I’m not bouncing back and forth between two classroom windows to wave and smile at my two girls, maybe I’ll be able to sit for ten minutes and reflect upon weather it’s possible to clone oneself? I will accept the fact that this is only the beginning. Next week we add in three birthday parties over a two-day period. I’m still not one hundred percent sure how we’ll manage that but I think come Saturday night, we’ll have to plan a very lively comedy to watch to keep us both awake.

Let the crazy times begin…..

Part of the conversation

Unsure if I am able to get to any updates for the next couple of weeks as I go into last-minute crazy times before school ends while packing for our family vacation, I cannot resist posting about one of the funniest things I have seen in a while.

After the girls’ piano lessons, the three amigos had a bit of free time while I diligently sorted the out of control mismatched sock pile. With the sunshine making it harder and harder to get the kids to bed before 8 pm, my tiredness of being on a set schedule, less homework to deal with, I am descending into summer mode.

The most tell-tale sign is that dinnertime has become much more relaxed the last couple of weeks. The kids are lucky to get a hot home-cooked meal. I am just simply, done for the school season. For example, tonight the choice on the menu is cheesy scrambled egg wraps or leftover spaghetti and meatballs. The kids choose the egg wraps.

Usually a strict 5:30 pm dinner time is being pushed later and later to 6:30 pm to coincide with Mr. L arriving home so I have some back-up as my voice has gone hoarse from telling my crew to please use their utensils, stop speaking all at once and just please, have a pleasant meal.

But I digress, deciding to attack the sock pile, I hate leaving tasks half-finished and vowed to get it done before I began the dinner dance. The kids run upstairs enjoying the free play time and right away the girls start pulling out stuffed animals from their toy chests, under their beds or whatever corner they have been hiding.

“Mom!! Guess what I found? Remember this bear?”

“Mom!! It’s Sweet Pea! I missed this one so much!!”

“That’s nice girls. You know all of that needs to be sorted and cleaned up before dinner?”

Before I know it, they are self-organizing their stuffed animals into keep, giveaway and put away in toy chest piles.

Hmmm…Maybe they were actually listening the four or five times a year I go on a rampage organizing their rooms.

Ten minutes later as they finish up a quick sorting, the joy and observation ability of the third, younger sibling shows itself. Jacob starts pulling all the stuffed toys from his overflowing toy box bringing each one downstairs.

“Mom! Look. I love her. It’s Sweet Pot.”

Five stuffed animals later, he settles upon a soft, blue bear he got as a present when he was born and has not looked at in his three years on earth.

“Mom! Look it’s Sweet Pot Pot. She is my favourite. She is very blue. She’s going to stay with me forever.”

I am going to dread going up to his room after dinner but I smile as I shoo them all downstairs to tidy up before dinner.

“She’s lovely Jacob. Sweet Pot Pot can help you tidy up your toys.”

Having three or more means accepting once one starts something, be it crazy laughter, sorting stuffed animals or eating with their hands, the other kids will follow. It also means allowing yourself to laugh as your cute three-year old boy, innocently copies his older sisters as they obsess over their hundreds of stuffed animals just so he can be part of the conversation.

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Silence is Golden

This past weekend I had the pleasure of spending one on one time with a single child in my clan. It was a tiny glimpse into another life where I had one child. And that one child was easy and quiet. The kind of kid other people rave about and who puts together puzzles in an airport instead of running up and down the aisles of seats waiting to board. It was one of those fairytale moments this mom of three imagines during the chaos that determines my life. Perhaps in that afternoon, I did have one favourite child, my middle child, Audrey. Yes, the typically emotional firecracker turned into every parent’s dream child.

It all started when Mr. L, looking at the beautiful forecast for the weekend, casually asked if we should accept an invitation to his business partner’s newly purchased lake house. A beautiful home on the shores of Lake Simcoe. But alas, Audrey had jazz class and with an upcoming recital and could not afford to miss a class. There was also a playdate scheduled for Audrey and one of her little BFF’s to make-up a long ago almost forgotten birthday party that I have been trying to plan since February.

“Let’s just go after jazz class.” Mr. L says.

“Would love to, but it took me forever to find a date and the school year is almost done. Audrey has been looking forward to it for days. I can’t cancel.” I respond shaking my head, firm in my belief it is important to teach our children the importance of keeping their commitments.

“Ask Audrey.” He says. “I bet she would rather go up to the lake house.”

“No.” I respond annoyed. “I’m not putting that on her. She shouldn’t have to decide between a friend and family. She’s six.” Then inspiration hits, “Why don’t you just go up with Elizabeth and Jacob? They have nothing planned for the day. We’ll divide and conquer.”

He likes the idea and makes plans to go.

Saturday morning arrives. I help get them ready throwing bathing suits, life jackets and pyjamas in a knapsack for him to take. Audrey and I bid them goodbye and settle into the rest of our day.

I let Audrey know I have to do a few chores and then we can go for a bike ride together. She happily agrees and before I know it, she is reading, quiet as a mouse on our couch. Silence. There is no chattering, no kids running laps around our kitchen/dining room as I try to guide them to the backyard, no requests for never-ending snacks, no clicking of keys tapping on Mr. L’s iPad or ever-present blackberry. There is only pleasant and welcome silence. I check in with her,

“Are you okay honey?”

“Yep.” She buries her head back into her book.

The morning passes and miraculously I get most of my chores done stopping to check on Audrey who reads, plays with her toys or colours only asking once what she can do and agrees to help me dust while I crank up the radio.

We head out for a bike ride, racing around the neighbourhood enjoying the sunshine together. I can’t remember the last time I spent a whole day with such a pleasant child!

Lunch passes quickly as we head to Audrey’s jazz class, stop and get groceries before heading home. Typically I avoid grocery shopping with the older kids and definitely not with all three. But with just her and I, there is no child touching every single item in the grocery story or preschooler asking over and over when is he getting a snack. She helps me find our items and I drive back home finishing up a few chores, shower and take Jake the dog for a walk before her scheduled dinner/playdate with her friend.

Audrey is so relaxed, my lovely cherub-cheeked girl falls asleep on the couch while I’m showering  This is a first for both of us. Me that I had an uninterrupted shower on a weekend and her having a nap during the day. I know she is her mother’s daughter, likes a good nap but I have only seen her actually have one when we’re on vacation and enforce mandatory afternoon rest time for the whole family.

The rest of the evening passes like a dream. Dinner out is manageable and without my attention divided between three of my own kids, I laugh and giggle as the two six-year olds try to drink their milkshakes out of curly straws. Afterwards, Audrey and her friend run around an empty indoor playground playing pirates and princesses.

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Audrey and friend

 

I realize a few things throughout this luxurious day.

One. I am in danger of having a favourite child. At least for the moment. Audrey is so easy compared to the other two chattering squirrels when she is on her own. She basks in the one on one attention and it brings out her best qualities. She doesn’t ask a million questions. She is happy to go along with whatever I am doing. She is a champion cuddle-monkey and content to sit outside in silence together having a cup of juice and a snack. She is still. I have one of those kids I dream about. I just never realized it.

Remember, this is the girl (if you’ve read past posts) that has temper tantrums, has trouble keeping her temper, is emotional and in some ways I would classify as my most challenging child. She is also the one I’ve spent a lot of time talking to, explaining about words are better than actions, helping find calm down strategies.  Do I dare and hope that my years of work with her have helped her in some way or that as some people said, age and time would help or perhaps a bit of both? It took a day on our own for me to realize how far she has come from the firecracker of unpredictable behaviour of only a year and a half ago.

Today, all of those things were non-existent. We had a pleasant day, one of those days where you realize you know parts of your child’s inner workings, but when you have three or more, you don’t get to see the breadth of their own unique little personalities until you get that one on one time. When her brother and sister are around, she feeds off their tendency towards hyperactivity and tries to keep up sometimes unable to control the roller coaster ride of emotional stimuli she is exposed.

Two. She is more like me than I imagined. Which means I know that a day off once in a while for her, where the house (her favourite environment) is quiet and still is nourishment for her soul. A day where she can nap on a couch without siblings crawling over her asking when do they get to play their iPads is as welcome to her as it is to me.

Third. To cherish this special time where her and I can simply be content in loving silence holding hands while we both look at the blue skies above enjoying the golden silence.