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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.)

 

 

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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10 Lessons When Skiing with Kids

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

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

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

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

“I’ll figure it out.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Helping your kids, helping yourself.

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

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

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

Meetings with teachers generally end with the same conversation.

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

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

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

Ummm..okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does this mean in kid language?

The Wall

The Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charts were all found from: www.freeprintablebehaviourcharts.com

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.

The Purge – Facing your fears.

The last of the snow melts away in the warm spring sun. The ice cracks on the lake hissing and popping.  It’s coming. Be ready. The temperature begrudgingly moves up a few degrees into double digits. There are no more excuses. Is now or never. It is THE PURGE! 

Winter fades away in our little abode and I dream of washing winter clothes finally able to tuck them away into, some random closet shelf. Or do they need to be washed? Hmmmm….

I have ignored the robins arriving. My head down intently clacking away on my keyboard writing at my fiction project in anticipation of an upcoming retreat. It is not time yet. 

But it lingers. The thing that mother’s all over the world (or at least here in Southwestern Ontario) cannot seem to escape. In the shadows it presses on our brains at night. Boxes. Storage Containers. Garage Sales. These words filter through our dreams, never going away.  

Spring arrives. The smell of fresh soil in the air as the first crocus pushes through reaching for the sun. Droplets of water, slightly warmer, tap on our rooftops. Random pieces of furniture appear on fronts lawns as if fairies brought them for a party. Still I write, desperate to cling to the last few days of winter hibernation before I am swallowed up, consumed with THE PURGE!

Plans are made.

“Of course we need an office. Extra money you say? No, we shall not save it. We’ll spend it and get our office. A wonderful brightly painted spot where the shelves will be forever organized and the children are not allowed. A dream come true.” 

“Mid-April start date? Sure. I can clean out the basement by then.” 

April 6th.

“Hon, did you start the basement yet? You know I”m away until Tuesday. You did say you would help… No? Really? Nothing? Maybe you can get it started? Okay..guess it will wait until I come home.” 

Night.

Sleep escapes me. I dream of random sleeping bags thrown in a pile from the last cousin sleepover. Fragile glassware spread on long white plank shelves. Gift bags from baby showers and birthday parties decorate the floor. Tissue paper crinkles underfoot. Unopened boxes sit in corners waiting to be discovered. The purge searches for me, reaching it long tentacles hoping to drag me down. But I will not give in. Not yet. 

For one more day I will hide. Tucked away in a silent cottage overlooking an ice-encased lake. The purge will not find me here. I am too far away. Tomorrow. Tomorrow as I hug everyone tight upon entering my house I will tell them,

“Yes, yes. I missed you!” 

Then after I tuck the children into bed after one more story, I will succumb. I will head to the basement to face THE PURGE and we will battle. For a week. And I will win. I always do.  

It’s been weighing on my mind…

Three years and a month. That is the amount of time that has passed since I hung up the working mom suit that nows hang in the very back of my closet and traded it for the uniform of lululemon pants, hoodies and on those days when I am able to actually get semi-dressed, jeans and a simple long-sleeved solid colour shirt or chunky sweater with this cold winter we have been blessed with this year.

It has been a whirlwind. A decision discussed and discussed at length with my partner, my parents, my close friends and myself, I sit here on February 4, 2014 having no idea if it was the right decision for me. At the time, the pros outweighed the cons. I was burnt out trying to juggle marketing clients, helping my husband with his business, being pregnant for the third time, managing a household including a live-in caregiver and well, life. The path seemed simple. Being home meant I could focus on one main thing, care of our children. Being home meant I would not have to manage anyone but myself and said children. No dog walkers, no caregivers, no well-intentioned grandparents. I could pick and choose what I wanted help with versus what I needed help with. I could be home when they were sick instead of feeling insanely guilty I had to cancel a meeting because goodness knows Mr. L in a thriving and essential business to pay for the majority of our expenses could not. I would not feel resentful doling out more than half my paycheque to child care and babysitters wondering why I was working to pay for someone else to spend time with our children. I could rest my brain. Sort of.

It has been an adjustment. I still cringe when someone asks what I do and I try to fumble out the words, “I’m at home with the kids.” I know it’s hard work and well-meaning people pat me on the back saying, “I could never do that. Good for you!” But I dread each and every time I meet someone new and have to divulge I am a SAHM, (stay at home mom). My life revolves around three little people’s schedules. When they eat meals, snack time, when they need to do homework, when does someone need a nap or (my favourite), who is being the most naughty and I can use that to make them help me fold laundry still sitting in a basket from two days ago and call it a learning moment?

Logically, I know the choice was a right one for our family at the time. Being on our own in our suburban town, no close by parental support, one of us had to be the go-to person. The one that was nearby in case a kid got sick at school or forgot their mittens. The one that could drop them off and pick them up after school and have the flexible hours to do so. Mr. L works in the nearby “big city” building his life dream. He was not the go-to person. It was me or hired help and honestly, the salary for a reformed corporate marketing professional to marketing consulting for the not-for-profit sector would barely pay for all the support a family with three or more kids would require between day care, after school care, extra help with housework and dog walkers. Any pay I brought home would be eaten up, nearly every cent. It was not worth it.

But part of me resisted. I still kept one eye open for that “perfect” opportunity. In between nap time and I even updated my resume and sent it out as a feeler to a couple of potential employment situations. Then I would smack myself on the forehead and think, I barely keep it together some days just handling the kids and the house. If I had to add a job on top of that, I think I would cry. What am I thinking? Then my brain tortures me saying, I did do it. Once upon a time I was a corporate marketing on-the-path to becoming an executive career gal. The only thing was I hated it. It was an easy job for me to slide into that utilized my innate skill set. I took my first corporate marketing gig being uber paranoid about paying off my rather large student debt from university and post-graduate school. I got on the wheel and got off, sort of. Trading corporate for not-for-profit kept me going for another two years and then life hands you a BAM moment. A third pregnancy with complications that required being in the maternity ward on a weekly basis for tests during most of my final term combined with having a beautiful but early and small baby boy who required intensive medical attention and blood transfusions over a three week period robbing me of that blissful first month with your newborn and I was changed. Changed so much that no matter how alluring the pull back to work was and continues to be, I will never do it. At least not in the same way I did before.

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From womenonthefence.com

However, the dilemma remains as my now thriving three year old enters the brief season before starting full-time kindergarten next September, what do I do now? It is a question that is asked quite frequently when people learn our youngest is off to full-time school in the near future. It is assumed I will pick up where I left off. But how can I? I am changed. Different. Those suits look real nice in the back of my closet, but I have no hidden desire to try them on again. I have learned to love the casual look I get to enjoy every day sparkling it up when I can with a scarf or new bracelet. I like having every day be a new day.

It really came to light last week as my elder girl came down with a four day stomach flu. I was able to be at home, altering the slightest plan in my flexible schedule so she could be in her bed, resting and drinking plenty of fluids. It hit me again when on their PA Day, I was able to take the girls an hour away to a lovely ski resort and enrol them in private lessons and then take the kids out for lunch and hot chocolate afterwards.

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Jacob lovin’ the hot chocolate.

I wouldn’t trade being able to be there when they got home from school bubbling with stories about their day, fighting with them over homework, seeing how happy they are if and when I manage to actually force myself to bake blueberry muffins as a treat. I am lucky. Lucky that I am able to do this because it won’t be long until they won’t need me so much or only as a driver. Not long at all and my heart will break thinking back to these days when I could pick all three up from school and have them safely tucked where I can keep an eye on them hugging them whenever I want.

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Taken at Chicopee Ski Hill. Elizabeth private ski lesson. She’s in the purple.

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Elizabeth and Audrey at lunch post-ski lessons.

I have managed to carve out my own time over the last year as Jacob is potty-trained and can play more with his sisters. Slowly but surely I realize my dream is not working my fingers to the bone for someone else, but working them to the bone to try my hand at my dream, writing. At least this makes sense for me.

I admire all parents, mothers in particular for making whatever their decision is in the SAHM vs working mother discussion. There should be applause that for many of us, we have the option to work or not work. It may take sacrifice (Alas, no I am not shopping at Coach all day, I only did that once!)  Most importantly we all have a sisterhood that should support whatever one’s decision may be for whatever reason. Goodness knows either decision comes fraught with doubt and guilt we inflict upon ourselves. We do not need anyone else helping us deconstruct why a mother chooses her path.

Next September I will get the first real taste of how I sculpt my days around writing. I plan to immerse myself in what I write. At least form 8:35 am until 3:10 pm. I’ve been cobbling hours or evenings here and there to produce blog posts, edit scenes from my story or come up with a new idea that I hope to start in the future. I can research rather than scan the results on google. And maybe if there’s time, I’ll get the damn basement organized. Maybe.

So until then, when I can legitimately say, I’m a writer instead of a SAHM, I will try not to cringe as I say it but realize it ‘ain’t’ so bad. It really is not.