7 Things: The Disruption! Edition

1. Today was my first full day in the office this week. Lemme tell you why:

2. I had scheduled a four-day weekend for Dan’s birthday, which was Saturday. (We headed to Oglebay Resort, and I highly recommend their Ultimate Spa package.) We returned home Sunday — and Dan was sick. Michael complained about a sore throat, and he was definitely warm. So, Monday, since I had off, and Michael was still feverish, I stayed at home with him, and, just for funsies, Flora was sick too.

So: PTO day with two sick children.

3. Took Michael to the pediatrician because I suspected strep. I was correct.

So: Tuesday became a WFH day with two sick children, one of whom at least was getting treatment.

Michael is THE LEAST SICK sick child I have ever had. When the girls were sick with fevers or strep, they spent a lot of time unconscious or watching television from the couch.

Not Michael, man. He would watch about half an hour of television, and then play car battle. And then he would get bored and bother me. He ate very well for a sick child too. I suggested napping, but he wasn’t having it. He was literally crying with boredom by 2 p.m. Tuesday.

4. I made a good faith effort to get the office Wednesday — I even made it. Dan spent the morning at home with THREE sick children. I made an appointment for Flora.

5. Flora has been getting sick on and off quite often this year. Headaches, stomachaches, and extreme fatigue. This week was the third or fourth time she has been too sick to go to school. I was unable to get a morning appointment, so I had to leave work and take her to the pediatrician. Thank goodness I am able to work from home, and have an understanding employer (and awesome boss).

We did check for strep (negative), and the doctor decided to test for anemia. Along with the other symptoms, Flora has been suffering spontaneous nosebleeds. So we went and had blood drawn. We are waiting for results.

6. ON THURSDAY EVERYONE WENT TO SCHOOL AND I WENT TO WORK FOR A WHOLE ENTIRE DAY. It was delightful. (Seriously, I love my job. And having healthy children.)

7. BOOK UPDATE! Beta readers finished up, found the weaknesses, liked the book, gave me lots of good feedback. I haven’t blogged much because between blogging for work and doing the final edits (for now) on Lone Wolf, I have spent a ton of time immersed in words. I tweaked my pitch letter, and I am ready to start putting together a list of agents and publishers.

WHAT’S UP WITH YOU?

Adventures in Parenting: The Kate Version

Monday was Halloween and trick-or-treat.

Tuesday was gymnastics for Kate.

Wednesday was a memorial service for people from our parish who had passed in the past year. My father-in-law would be mentioned and remembered.

When I got home Wednesday, I got everyone fed and fought with Kate and Michael from the time I walked in the door until we walked out the door to go to the memorial service. Kate was especially resistant. We fought about dinner, clothes, and going at all.

Kate and Tadone
A girl and her grandfather.

She cried almost the whole service. She and Tadone had a special relationship, and she misses him greatly.

Thursday, I was looking forward to getting home, making burgers and fries for dinner, maybe a salad. I had a little bit of work to finish, I was going to do some writing. Soccer’s been over since Saturday, and my evenings are opening up again. It’s been something I’ve been looking forward to.

Not five minutes in the door, and there was screaming and crying from upstairs. Kate was saying something about having gotten shocked. When I ran upstairs, she was standing in the hallway, sobbing, holding out her right hand.

She had been plugging in a Kindle charger in the outlet behind her bed. Apparently, she had her finger on the prong of the plug when it made contact with the current. Her hand was red, and she wasn’t able to move it.

I had no idea what to do about electric shocks, so I consulted Google. Google basically said, “Call 9-1-1.”

Calling 9-1-1 led to the paramedics showing up, me sending Flora and Michael next door (thank goodness Bella was home), and my very first ride in the back of an ambulance. Kate’s first too.

ambulance selfie
Ambulance selfie!

*sigh*

Long story short, she was fine. Yes, she got a nasty shock, and it did hurt. It lit up the nerves and muscles of her arm, but didn’t burn her or do lasting damage. We left the hospital at 7:15, took an Uber to Dan’s office, grabbed dinner at the Italian place behind his office (just me and Kate; Dan had patients until 9 p.m.), and then went home.

Where Mommy had a big glass of wine.

Is it too much to wish for a quiet Friday night? A little dinner, a little writing? The weekend ahead is busy, but not insanely so. I have a hair appointment, a writer’s workshop, a family party, and I’m making phone calls for the Clinton campaign Sunday afternoon (GO VOTE, PEOPLE). Dan works Saturday; Sunday is CCD and Mass and cleaning, probably.

I just… I just want one or two quiet nights during the week. That’s all.

Latchkey Kids

I was a latchkey kid.

Once I was in sixth grade, my mom went back to work full time. When my brother, sister, and I got home from school, we let ourselves into the house.

I honestly cannot tell you what we did once we let ourselves in. We probably had some milk and cookies. I recall watching 4 p.m. cartoons. Mom was usually home in time to make dinner.

I certainly was not in charge when we came home, which is to say that I didn’t tell my siblings what to do. For all I know, Krissy was watching TV as soon as we walked in the door, and Timmy went to the neighbor’s house to play. Seriously, no clue. I don’t think I did homework until after dinner.

I don’t remember being stressed or my mom being stressed.

So why am I so stressed about my children being, technically speaking, latchkey kids? Although I haven’t heard this term recently, so maybe it is no longer in the parenting lexicon.

Flora comes home first, and Kate and Michael are home an hour or so later. Everyone usually checks in with Bella next door, and/or texts me as soon as they are home. I come home about 30 minutes after everyone is there, so it’s not as if they are on their own for a long time.

I’m not worried about them needing to call 9-1-1.

I want them to come home, do their homework, and do their chores. If they have a snack — and given that Flora is eating lunch before 11 a.m. at school, I fully expect her to have a snack — I want them to clean up after themselves.

I would lament, “Is that so much to ask?” But given the state of my house when I get home, apparently it is.

The tablets have gone away. I have told them the TV is not to go on until I get home and give permission. I come home to homework scattered all over the kitchen table. I come home to a room that looks like the toy box, pantry, and the arts and crafts drawer exploded. I come home, and feel like I have to start barking orders. “Flora, empty the dishwasher! Kate, set the table! Michael, pick up your toys!”

I don’t want to come home and start ordering my children around.

Flora and Michael each have one evening of soccer practice; Kate will be starting gymnastics in a couple of weeks. Pretty soon, also, Flora will be bringing home her violin to practice, and Kate will either be bringing home a trumpet or a glockenspiel (according to her, this is an option).

I was a quiet, solitary child. I’m sure that I came home, had a snack at the kitchen table (probably didn’t clean up after myself), and dove right into a book. And that’s all she wrote. We had after-dinner chores: clear the table, rinse the dishes and load the dishwasher, wash the dishes. Timmy used to *love* washing dishes. He would fill the sink up with water, bubbles, and dishes, and he would take forever about it. He hated rinsing dishes, though; he was totally grossed out by leftover food.

Yeah, my brother, the dermatologist, was grossed out rinsing food off plates.

I didn’t think about it that much. I liked clearing the table the best, because it was easiest and fastest. Homework was done in the dining room or at the kitchen table. I didn’t hate homework. I didn’t love it either. Much like chores, it was just something that needed to be done. I’m sure I had to be *encouraged* to practice piano.

But I feel like I am stressing out my children with my expectations of finished homework and a clean house. Are my expectations too high? Should I try to come home sooner and walk them through the process of after-school activities (it’s not undoable, just means I will have to fit in another hour of work at home after dinner — flashbacks of after-dinner homework).

As far as bedtime, for Michael, it is unmovable. Little dude cannot make it past 7:30 now that he’s in a classroom setting all day long.

We are only a week into the school year. I’m not going to survive. I either need to lower my expectations, or find a way to encourage my children to step it up.

How do you manage after-school time?

Copyright for featured image: naypong / 123RF Stock Photo

Summer’s Over

The nanny has been back at her real job (full time teaching) since Aug. 15, so Dan and I have been doing a mix of WFH, children to his office, and help from MIL to keep the children cared for. I am grateful my MIL is willing to watch the children even just one day a week.

Michael and Kate have new school orientation tomorrow.
Michael, my baby, is starting kindergarten!
School starts next Wednesday.

Sports activities will be starting up next week, too. Stay tuned to see if I end up being a soccer coach.

I am back to being the primary cooker, cleaner, and shopper. Ah, well, it was good while it lasted. The children are getting better about doing their part. Kate even cleaned both bathrooms this weekend, and cleaned well. Toilets and all!

We haven’t told the children about our decision regarding the tablets yet.

I did start talking with the children about some changes regarding snacks and “night time treats.” I am going to phase in more healthy choices for packing lunches and snacking, and we are going to move away from daily night time treats. I’m not even going to buy cookies or other sweets. Snacks will be fruit, nuts, yogurt, and string cheese. We have to reduce the sugar intake in the household. Sweets will be for special occasions. Or we can bake cookies on weekends.

Of course, there was some push back about this idea. Michael kept saying he didn’t like nuts. I kept pointing out pistachios were nuts. “Oh, yeah, I like bistachios.” I know, little buddy. Flora proposed rice rollers, apples, and peanuts. I told her I was fine with those choices.

Kate just sang, “Nuts nuts nuts nuts nuts nuts” over and over again.

I think mealtime may need to move or be flexible, which is one reason night time treats need to go. The race home, cook dinner, and get people to their activities by 6 p.m. — three times a week, mind you — was simply insane last year. A solid after-school snack while they do their homework, then the activity, then dinner at home afterward (then bed!) will work better.

This remains to be seen. But that’s the loose idea for now. That combined with maybe the girls cooking? Or me doing a better job of figuring out freezer meals, and prepping on the weekends? So many options!

What do you do to manage the after-school runaround?

Copyright for image: natavkusidey / 123RF Stock Photo

Kids and screentime

Cold Turkey

I am seriously thinking of taking my children’s tablets away from them when the school year starts.

Not totally away from them. But completely denying access Monday through Friday when they are in school.

The girls did not do as well as they could have done in school last year, and their engagement dropped horrendously after Christmas. (Worst Christmas gifts ever. EVER.) Even after making new rules, the constant enforcement was exhausting and frustrating. And summer’s completely thrown any concept of limits right out the window.

I have to talk to Dan about this, and I will.

Here are some things I am considering:

1. They don’t get their tablets at all on school days.
2. They get their tablets from 7-7:30 on weeknights to veg or check on texts from friends.
3. They get their tablets to do some forms of homework when necessary, and that time is closely supervised by me.
4. Limits need to extend to other screens, but won’t be as total. Homework done by 5 p.m.? Chores complete? Minecraft or a show is fine for a bit.

This is going to make me very unpopular around here. So that’ll be fun.

They can have the tablets on the days they don’t have school, but again, I need limits to be set and enforced (and not just by me!).

And if they do well in school? As well as I think they can do (As and Bs; not losing privileges)? If homework is done daily without the complaints, extra curriculum obligations are fully participated in, instruments are practiced, and bedtimes are respected? We will renegotiate terms over the Christmas break.

What do you think?

M writing words!

Trust Your Gut

Yesterday, I hustled my children outside to go for a walk. They protested, so I just guilted them into it. “I don’t get to go outside and go for walks at work! This is the only time I get to spend with you!”

I’m awesome.

Michael complained of soreness in his leg. I asked where it hurt. He indicated a spot near his groin. I quizzed him: “Did you bump something?” “I don’t think so.” “Did you get hurt swimming?” “No.” “Did you fall?” “No.”

I took a look at the spot. It did look a little red.

I told him he must have pulled a muscle. He wasn’t limping or anything, so we just headed out the door, and went for a walk.

I had to explain pulling a muscle.

This morning, I asked him how it felt. “Still sore,” he said, matter-of-factly.”

“Did you ever pull a muscle?” he asked.

“Oh, sure,” I said. “I’ve pulled muscles lots of times.”

“Like three or four?”

“Oh, more than that.”

“FIVE?”

I went to work. The nanny took everyone to the Aviary (Flora’s at Aviary camp this week).

Kim called around 1 p.m.

“Michael feels really warm,” she said.

Little alarm bells started going off in my head.

Sore low on the body.
Red skin over the sore spot.
And now a fever.

Maybe it wasn’t a pulled muscle.

So, she took Kate and Michael home, and took M’s temperature. In the meantime, I talked to our pediatrician’s office, and made an appointment. By the time M was home, his temperature was normal, but at the doctor’s office, it was elevated again — only a little bit.

The PA palpated the spot. It was definitely sore and red. M was a trooper, flinching from her touch and confirming it hurt, but not crying and not pulling away. She said it seemed like a lymph gland, but usually when lymph glands get infected, something else is going on: a cold, a urinary track infection, an STD — obviously, we could rule that out. She decided to consult with one of the doctors to rule out a hernia. And it definitely wasn’t appendicitis.

They wanted to take a less aggressive approach with warm compresses, and I said that was fine… except for the part where we were leaving for vacation Friday night. “Of course you are,” said the PA with a smile. She asked if we would be back by Monday. “Nope,” I said. So we decided to put M on antibiotics and keep an eye on it.

I’m glad it was nothing serious, but I’m also glad I listened to those alarm bells. It’s probably no big deal in the long run, but it’s better than having a feverish 5-year-old in pain up in the mountains on Saturday or Sunday and looking for the nearest urgent care center.

When’s the last time you had to listen to your gut?

Important Lessons for Boys, 2: Boys Do Chores

Perched on a stool, Michael focused on spreading the Nutella to the edges of the bread. When he finished, he put another piece of bread on top, and cut off the crusts.

“I made my own sandwich!” he said proudly. “I can clean my room, I can clean the front room, and I can make my own sandwich,” he added. “Aren’t you glad I’m growing up?”

I am glad he’s growing up, but more importantly, I’m glad that Michael has a father who has never hesitated to contribute to getting housework done. Michael is learning by example — by seeing his father do dishes and clean bathrooms and change sheets.

Teaching children to do chores is a pain. They will whine, they will stomp, they will accuse you of enslaving them (oh, yes, they will). They will need to be told to do a chore umpteen million times. They will do it badly, and need to do it again.

Raising future adult people is EXAUSTING.

But it will pay off for you, and for them. And having a partner who assumes roughly equal weight makes it so much easier.

Especially in heterosexual marriages, boys and girls need to know that mothers aren’t maids, or chefs, or nannies. And learning to do chores isn’t “help”; it’s part and parcel of being a family.

Here’s a list of chores Michael can do:
1. Put away clean silverware.
2. Clear the table after dinner.
3. Clean the bathroom — he wipes off the sink and the floor. Hey, I’ll take it.
4. Put his toys away. (Der. All children should know how to do this by the time they are 2, IMO.)
5. Clean the front room — sometimes he doesn’t even need to be asked.
6. Clean his room and make his bed. He needs help changing the sheets.
7. Help pack his lunch. This is new to the list, and we are not consistent on it yet. Heck, the girls aren’t consistent yet, and they’ve been doing it (theoretically) for two years now.

It’s true that it is easier for me to tell Michael to do chores for two reasons: 1. As I mentioned, his father does stuff around the house and 2. The girls do chores, and have been for awhile now. Which means I have’t been training three children at the same time. I would say since Flora was 6 or 7, we started with chores aside from picking up toys.

Michael will do things without being asked, for example, cleaning the bathroom. I never asked him to do that. But one day, he disappeared for a bit, then came downstairs declaring he had cleaned the bathroom. He had used cleaning wipes and a wet towel, which he left in the sink, to wipe down the vanity and the floor. He regularly cleans his room, picking up dirty clothes and putting them in his hamper, and he’ll clean up the front room on a whim.

He’s magic.

(He’s not, of course, but neither Kate nor Flora has spontaneously cleaned the front room. Or the bathroom.)

Dan is a better cleaner than I am; I have said this for years. I declutter, but Dan actually cleans. Although he doesn’t dust.

Of course, the best cleaner in our house is the nanny. She’s been teaching the children, too, which is maybe another reason Michael is such a good cleaner. Our nanny isn’t a maid, either; she’s my proxy when I’m not there.

I am very proud of my children for doing chores, and I do let them know. I don’t thank them for helping me, but I do thank them when they do a good job or do things without having to be reminded or asked.

Here’s a link to the first Important Lesson for boys.

Do your children do chores?

Common Sense Solutions

ICYMI (Dad, that’s short for “in case you missed it”), I wrote an article for kidsburgh.org about managing screen time. It was born out of the frustration I feel about the advent of Kindle Fires in my house.

The opening line? “The tablet computers were the worst Christmas present we ever gave our children.”

After writing the story, I will admit to feeling less despair about our computer tablet quandary. We put new guidelines in place (see below).

I will admit, though, I hate the constant monitoring. Setting timers, collecting the tablets when time is up, checking that they aren’t getting into topics they shouldn’t.

But, such is life with media and children. I will also tell you, if you are in a similar situation, Common Sense Media really does a good job of rating apps, TV shows, and movies for children; providing guidelines for parents; and providing a safe forum to ask questions and get feedback. I would highly recommend them as a go-to parenting site. It’s a new world, and children need boundaries. If you find it’s hard to set them for screen time, this site is a great resource.

In the meantime, here are some of the changes that Dan and I made when it seemed things were spiraling out of control (seriously, he took away all screens at one point, including the Wi-Fi router, which I asked him to return since I needed it to WFH).

New Rules on Tablets

Dear Flora, Kate, and Michael,

Tablets are not be available until after dinner. Please, don’t even ask.

Before you get tablets, the following tasks must be fulfilled:

  • Homework done, shown to mom, and approved.
  • Dishwasher empty, table set.
  • Q & A journals filled in and discussed.
  • After dinner: table cleared; dishes rinsed and put in dishwasher.
  • In bedrooms: beds will be made; clean clothes put away; dirty clothes put in hampers. Floors will be clear of paper, garbage, and books.
  • Lunches packed.
  • In front room: pillows and blankets will be put neatly on couches.

THIS MEANS EVERY DAY, MONDAY THROUGH FRIDAY. You may have tablets for an hour each weekday if the above conditions are met and/or activities have been attended (i.e. soccer practice, gymnastics).

On weekends, tablets will not be available until beds are made, breakfast has been eaten, and laundry has been taken next door. Tablet time on weekend is limited to two hours. If I get grief when I ask you to do a chore for the household, you will lose 10 minutes.

If you come in my room before 8 a.m. to get your tablets, you will lose 30 minutes.

The kitchen table and bedrooms are tablet-free zones. Tablets will not be allowed in the car except on long trips. They are not to go to school EVER; they are not to go to friends’ houses or on sleepovers.

Lying to me or dad about tablet use will result in an immediate suspension for 24 hours.

One more call from or conference with your teachers indicating you are not doing your school work will result in tablets going away AT LEAST until the summer.

++
I will also tell you: These rules keep Dan and I in check when it comes to our phones. We have to respect our own rules in order for our children to respect them. Mileage varies, but I think we are all getting better at setting limits for ourselves, and figuring out what to do when the screens are off.

Do you have rules about screen time? Why or why not?

I Give Up

Wednesday night, there was quite a brou-ha-ha at Casa di RPM. People were very angry, and children were very upset. Much strum und drang.

And so I opened a beer, and drank it with dinner.

“NOPE,” I tweeted. “I’LL GIVE UP TV INSTEAD.”

So my sacrifice didn’t even last a week. But I gotta tell you: I didn’t lose my shit Wednesday night. I dealt with the fallout from an earlier decision with aplomb. I had a calm talk with my very distraught 11-year-old about the situation, explaining it to her.

(Short story: Dan is done with the state of our house — cluttered, messy, disorganized. He took all screens away. I mean, he took away the wi-fi router and the Blu-Ray player. NO SCREENS. Until such time as he determines the house is better. He did it without giving me a heads up first, which was upsetting to me as well as to the children. But I’m on his page. Things have got to change.)

(Although I did tell him to return the router. I need that for work.)

However, not all was in vain. Now that I recognize my dependence on alcohol, there are ways I can effectively change my habits to address it, and my anxiety.

(Somewhere my cousin Tommy D is gloating.)

For example, although cocktails are fun, I probably shouldn’t fix one every night. I am going to save them for Friday or Saturday. (Dan is going to be disappointed.)

A daily meditation and/or rosary should become part of my routine. Especially right before bed, I think.

In general, perhaps I shouldn’t drink every day. I don’t know; I waver on this one at this point. People take daily medication to deal with things like anxiety and depression. I know “self medicating” is a bad term, but this week has possibly revealed that I have a choice here: a daily drink or prescription meds.

Or, you know, maybe a little more yoga and deep breathing. Music during dinner prep (h/t to Hope for that suggestion). Kitchen dance parties with the children as we clean up after dinner.

More daily writing. More checking things off to-do lists. (More making of to-do lists. Getting shit done is my Zen, and making to-do lists helps me get shit done.)

Whatever works to round my jagged edges and make me a kinder, gentler mother and wife.

I surmise that my drinking habit — daily, one or two — is what most drinking looks like. Unless you are a college student, in which case slow down, cowgirl. Teetotalers and/or raging alcoholics are extremes, and most of us just don’t live in extremes.

Or maybe I should drink chamomile tea every now and again.

Are you a daily imbiber?

bourbon and potatoes
Booze and potatoes. The makings of any good weekend, right?

Random Thoughts: The Battles to Fight Edition

1. The What to Drink Battle
Flora wants to drink pop — what she calls soda, so I’ve done a bad job being a yinzer parent. And I have let her drink pop and iced tea; nothing is really taboo in our house. But now I need to set limits with it. (Thanks, Soda Stream!)

I am starting to notice that pop is the only thing she wants to drink. So, now I need to fight that battle. I recently told her she was limited to one serving of pop or iced tea in a day, and no caffeine after school. She needs to drink water or milk with meals and night-time treat. I am concerned about calcium intake — no one in my house drinks enough milk. But we all do yogurt, leafy greens, cheese, and broccoli, plus calcium-fortified orange juice. I just bought the children calcium chewy vitamins to try to make up some of the deficit.

2. The Proper Phone Etiquette Battle
Kate asks to call one of her friends at least once an evening. I limit her time (10 to 15 minutes), and ask her to stay in earshot. I am slowly teaching her how to use the phone. It’s surprising to me… that they don’t know how? I mean, can that be a thing? Some phone etiquette rules I have had to explicitly lay out:

  • Say hello, then either ask, “Who is this?” or identify yourself.
  • Ask for whom you are calling. “Can I please speak to Julie?” Or, ask who is calling and for whom.
  • Don’t yell into the phone.
  • Don’t eat while on the phone. (A lot of adults don’t know this one, so.)
  • Don’t say, “BRB,” put the phone down, and walk away. I can’t believe I had to explain this. You don’t go pee in the middle of the phone call.
  • At the end of the call, say, “Goodbye” and end the call.
Rotary Telephones
Anyone else remember these? Image credit: Suwannakitja Chomraj

The phone, I am trying to explain to her, is a tool to communicate plans (“Let’s go ride bikes.”) or have a conversation — a short conversation.

I, personally, hate talking on the phone. I would much rather text or email, or interact on social media than have an actual phone conversation. But I guess I need to brace myself that talking on the phone is something my girls may want to do.

I’m not happy with this development, furthermore, because one of the little girls she talks with on the phone… *sigh* probably needs some of these lessons as well. I don’t know if she’s hard of hearing, or talking in a room full of loud noise, but I hear Kate repeating herself over and over again. Plus sometimes the little girl’s little sister will call, and believe me, nothing is more frustrating than finding yourself on the phone with a tongue-tied 6-year-old.

3. The Sit Down and Eat Battle
Eating as a family is important, and I try to sit down with the children every dinner time, and at least once on the weekends, we eat as a family of five. Some nights, though, I am ready to throw in the towel on this. They jump up to show me stuff; Flora wants to read a book at the table (hello, mini-me); they sing, they goof around. They eat two bites and declare they are full.

I’m just waiting this one out. I try to direct conversation and keep things below a dull roar. Kate and Michael especially treat the kitchen table like a stage. Maybe they need a bit more one-on-one time BEFORE dinner.

4. The Screen Battle
This is of course related to the Homework Battle, which is incrementally improving. Limiting screen time is hard, y’all. Especially when computer time is part of their homework, as it is for Flora. Again, I persevere, but man. Some days, I want to throw up my hands and say, “Sure, watch all the YouTube you want. I give up.”

They say, “Pick your battles” and I sure have. How about you?