If only I was a stay-at-home mom…for the school.

Sometimes I wish I was a stay-at-home mom. I would get the Legos picked up off the floor. I would have the clothes actually put away in drawers. I wouldn’t get so wrapped up in trying to decide whether to crate the dog and keep the floors clean or chance it that maybe she won’t pee today while we’re gone.

And if I managed to get all this done during the day, I’d actually look forward to hugging the boys after school and sifting through their artwork and crumbs and broken pencils to find the one sheet of homework crammed into the torn folder in their backpack. I’d pull it out and gently guide them through a relaxing session of learning at our comfy “homework” snowman2station, reviewing their scattered errors on the week’s spelling or math test, finding the blue crayon to color in the weekends and yellow crayon for the weekdays of the calendar, and cutting out and pasting a photo of something beginning with the letter “N.”

Life would be so different if I was a stay-at-home mom.

It’s 4:17 pm. I leave a meeting at a local university. I’ve been in and out of the office all day. I’ve been trouble-shooting via email. I’ve been writing up grant ideas. I’ve been designing our new website. I’ve been answering phone calls. I’ve been learning how to merge scanned pages into a single PDF document. I’ve been shaking hands, smiling and thinking up grand ideas for collaboration during a two-hour meet-and-greet session. And I’ve been sweeping all that into the corners of my mind during the harrowing drive on snowy roads to get to the daycare center to gather the two youngest boys.

I rush through inches of snow in dress shoes to check on the driver of a car crash right  beside the center. I put up cones “borrowed” from the day care center to warn other drivers. I meet the parents of my middle kid’s new best friend. I commiserate on how not all day care centers are perfect. I find coats and back packs. I forget (again) to empty the papers from the boys’ mail slots which overflow until the teachers just hand them to me. I buckle the boys in with fingers numb from cold exposure and stubborn carseat buckles. I turn on track #8 so we can listen to it for the thousandth time. I breathe.

Home – gather up and take out trash and recycling. Move the clothes from washer to dryer and start the next never-ending load of soiled torn boy clothes (and just spray a couple of those stained white items – who ever bought white!?!). Take the dog out and beg her to pee because my ears and legs are frozen standing here with you. Open and close the fridge looking for left-overs. Open and close the cupboard doors looking for something mildly nutritional. Greet the second-grader dropped off by my mother who helps with after-school care. Warm up the chocolate milks. Monitor the math homework of the eldest child. Stop countless battles over Legos, time with the dog, who broke the train set, flashlights, Spy Gear goggles, books, basketballs, stuffed animals. You name it – it’s scattered on my floor and ammunition for whichever kid doesn’t have it in his hands at the moment.

Bathtime. Pajamas. Mama’s glass of wine.

Book reading. Teeth brushing. Really – put the pull-up on!

Settle down. Stop joking around.

Be quiet

Lay still.

By the time the oldest and youngest are asleep (and I awake from my mini-nap on their bed), I find the kindergartener wrapped in his special “blue blanket” sacked out in front of the space heater. I sigh. Lifting him gently and tucking him into bed, I kiss his forehead and pat the dog who cuddles in beside him.

Quiet.

For a moment.

I’m sorry, dear kindergarten teacher. Thank you for your kind email this morning. Yes, I know that homework at age five “is important to set a good foundation to carry through in the upper grades”….but I just didn’t get to it last night.

Forgive me.

And yet, this single working mother of three wild, delightfully rambunctious boys is going to do better today. I think…..

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Sometimes the Positive Parenting just doesn’t work….for me….

angry baby

(Image courtesy of clip-art)

I’m sorry, but sometimes reading a bunch of mini-articles and blogs on “positive parenting” techniques is just a bit too much for me. Like when Mr. Ornery has drawn his battle lines – he’s not going to kindergarten today; he’s not going to put his shoes on; he promises to take his seat belt off in the car. His arms are crossed. His brows are furrowed and the eyes narrow to slits. His feet are planted….without socks on yet – he refuses them too.

I look at him. I size up my worthy opponent. I conjure up all that I’ve read about being a “great parent.”

Okay – the kid is apparently experiencing some pretty intense emotions.

  1. Take some deep breaths and calm yourself.
  2. Label the emotions – “Wow, Mr. Ornery, it looks like you are feeling very angry about school today.”
  3. Provide support and love as “those big emotions can be scary.” I kneel beside him and extend my arms to offer a “supportive loving” hug. He shoves me off balance.
  4. Empathize
  5. Encourage
  • Check
  • Check
  • Check
  • Check
  • Check

“Whatever!” I finally yell. I tuck the 47-pound obstinate soldier under my right arm, scoop up his shoes and backpack and coat with the left arm (we small wily moms have incredible strength) and march through the door graciously opened by our Thai guest (who must be thinking, “these American parents are nuts!!”). I toss him into the minivan and glare intently into his eyes ~ “GET  your  seatbelt  ON  NOW!!!!  And I mean NOW!!”

Yep – “positive parenting” at its best. Did it – failed. Tried it – failed. Resorted to….Power.

I know – in the long-term, the physical power of picking up a kid is not going to get me anywhere (especially when he’s 100 pounds). But on Thursday it got us to school on time.

Mr. Ornery does not like his new kindergarten class. I understand that. I understand that this month of “change” in every single aspect of his life is a bit disruptive. I understand he’s stressed and expressing his inner turmoil through obstinate defiance. I understand his emotional woes.

I understand a lot.

“Get in the car now!!” is how all that soft stuff boiled down in the moment of confrontation.

I’m not a bad parent. I’m a stressed single working mother. I get three kids off to daycare and before-school YMCA care before many people finish their morning coffee (thank goodness for Keurigs at the office!). I’m trying to be sweet and sensitive and sometimes I am. Sometimes I’m a really super mom. Sometimes I’m not.

Do you know that if you meet your dear sweet baby on their first day of life…and stick beside them for 18 years, you’ll spend 6570 days together (give or take a few necessary “business trips” and “I just need to get away” trips!).  That’s 6570 opportunities to completely mess up – but in reality, you’re more likely to have thousands of awesome days, thousands of “pretty good” days…. and just a few “that was really truly awful” days.

So on those downright no good truly awful horrible days (like when I’ve threatened to return the dog to the pound, have grounded the boys for the next 5872 days, or carried a flailing screeching kindergartener out of a birthday party at the bowling alley)…. I just tuck those little ones in at night with a kiss and an I-love-you and remember – tomorrow is a new day. And it’s likely to be an awesome day.  Day number 3184, day 2173, and day 1379, respectively…to be precise.

 

 

 

 

5 things to do differently next year so that I’m not apologizing again

Because I really do owe my boys a great big huge apology for totally underestimating their amount of stress this week with the start of school.  It became pretty clear by school day number 4 when every single person in the house was tantruming in the morning, including me. It was a bit obvious the night before when the 5-yr-old new kindergartener cried every 5 minutes about absolutely everything in big weeping, sobbing tears punctuated by blood-curdling screams.

Yes, it took me three days to become reflective enough to see that the boys were exhausted and I certainly had not done well enough to prepare them nor to help them navigate the huge change of starting school. By the time I got them to bed on day #4, I had myself a little cry-out of emotional exhaustion on my bed (and though I stumble on the “language” in this post about emotionally exhausting mothering, when I read it the next morning, I thought – wow, that’s exactly what I’m thinking!)

I was actually glad there was no school on Friday. I took the “little boys” (ie, Mr. Trouble and the Little Guy) in to day care with Mr. Ornery so that he could “visit” and say hi to his friends again. Then we all just played at home for the morning – the school boys on the computer, me in the weeds – until the afternoon when IMG_4478we explored a new pool (thanks to Pittsburgh Mommy Blog’s mention of it). It was exactly what we all needed. No stress. No worry. Something new and fun. Time on a pool lounge chair for me to just sit for a bit, to breathe. A chance to regroup and become friendly to each other again.

So, today I say:

Super Tall Guy, I am so sorry for being so grumpy with you this week and for not being more patient. You knew you didn’t want to go back to school because “it’s too boring” and “second grade is too hard.” You have changed classrooms, changed teachers, and changed most of your classmates. And to top it all off, your best friend from the past two years is in the other second-grade class. Despite all this, you have “stayed on green” every day, and I haven’t had a call yet from the teacher!, and you haven’t even given (too much) of a fuss about getting ready for school. I shall try to give you a little extra attention this next week and let’s find the fun in second grade.

Mr. Ornery, I owe you a super huge apology for completely underestimating the amount of change you would be going through and how exhausting that would be for you. Your cheerful smile and bouncy energy mask the fact that you’re so nervous inside that you just can’t hold back the tears. Your whole daytime world has changed and Mommy’s just been like, “hey, you’re going to kindergarten now….have fun!” I know – it’s the second time “kindergarten” for me….but it’s the first time for you. I’m sorry. You certainly needed many more cuddles and hugs and explanations than you were getting from me, even with the whole “Kissing Hand” bit. Thanks for being such a brave little boy and for loving your awesome teacher so much (but, um, hey – don’t forget about your Mommy!). I promise to give you much more “lovings” this coming week and find time every day to listen to just you tell me about your day at school.

Hey Little Guy, sorry for kind of forgetting about you…..again. With all the excitement of the brothers going back to “real” school, there certainly wasn’t much hoopla to celebrate that you were also moving to “the big kid class” at your day care center. Yes, you visited it a few times and you always seem to handle transitions well, but maybe your extended and extraordinarily annoying whining fits are just your way of saying “Hey Mom, my life is stressful too, you know! Where’s my attention?!?  Hello!!!”

So….to possibly avoid future apologies (yeah, right!), next “Back to School” season, I’m going to try to remember to:

  1. Acknowledge that it’s going to be stressful and tell the boys that. Let them know that they are going to get so tired from meeting new teachers and new friends and old friends and figuring out new classrooms and new seating arrangements and new schedules. They have new desks and new chairs. New backpacks and lunch boxes. New clothes and new shoes. New readings and math and homework. It sure is a whole lot of new at one time – and how many of us like change?!?
  1. Have something fun and special in their lunch boxes every day. Take some time to write a little note or draw a little picture. I’m not super creative like some parents, but I would like to do something a little more meaningful than a hurriedly packed sandwich.
  1. Celebrate the end of summer and the beginning of the school year by having some one-on-one time with each boy. I thought about it a bit late this year and asked Super Tall Guy to go out to breakfast last week…and he wanted The Flipper to join us. I wish I had done the same with the other boys.
  1. Stock up on a little more patience and a lot more sleep! I definitely needed to be in bed earlier myself each night to be more rested and ready to handle their emotions. I had a hard enough time managing my own emotions and feelings feed off each other like wildfire!
  1. Slather the boys with as many hugs and kisses as I can get away with. After all, they are still young enough that they’re letting me hug and kiss them before they walk into the school and I know this isn’t going to last long.

In fact, none of these days and years and moments of time last long, so I don’t want to live in regret. We’ll have a re-do next year and next week!

Handling transitions

Story Teller. The award for Story Teller went to Micah at his Kindergarten graduation ceremony. I was pretty sure (after seeing the first graders’ awards) that he would Story teller2win for “Energizer Bunny” – ie, the inability to sit still. He came in a close second for that one said his teacher. Despite my initial surprise, “story teller” does fit Micah. He’s told his class that he ran the marathon with me, that he has a pet tiger in a cage behind the house, and that he’s planning to go to Pluto in a rocket next year. It can be “good or bad” this story telling ability!

I wasn’t quite ready for Micah’s current transition, however. It sort of snuck up on me that he was finishing kindergarten. I keep realizing that I had “intended” to be a little more sentimental about it. Have great plans about the end of this year. Even now as I sit here, I think to myself “oh, I meant to have his teachers sign a book for him.” I meant to get more thoughtful gifts for them rather than a quick stop at the store right before graduation (though I did get Micah to sign their cards – bonus points!). I realized I never really got to know the parents of his classmates even though we often crossed paths in dropping off or picking up the kids (and should I have asked for contact info from them? – they seemed like nice people as we sat chatting before the graduation song began). I just wasn’t quite ready to close that chapter of his (probably particularly because I don’t know in which school his next chapter will open).

Just as I’m thinking about Micah’s transition, the director of the day care center called two days ago to ask about transitioning Seth (she forgot to say right off the bat, “this is xx from xx daycare and they boys are fine” so of course I spent 2 very long seconds after called ID ID’d her, wondering who fell and broke their arm and which emergency room they were going to). Seth is two now and they’re ready to move a group of toddlers over to the next room.  On the other end of the line (at work), I said “sure, I think he’s ready. He’s tiny but he has a huge personality.” She laughed and agreed. But now I realize he’s moving out of “babyhood” and into the “big boy” class….and even if he’s ready, am I?  (Well, I am ready to stop changing diapers, I am ready to understand more than 50% of his words and stop some of the melt-down tantrums, I am ready for him to understand the word “no” in all the many nuances of the word…though I acknowledge that it’s likely he never will….)

The one transition she also mentioned is the one I’m really not ready for — Noah moving over to the “pre-k” room. Yes, I’m ready for him to finish day care and go to kindergarten to save me some moolah….but, I absolutely love his preschool classroom teachers and I’m not sure I’m ready to change that relationship yet. His teacher helped me so much when I was struggling with Micah’s behavior a few years ago. She has a great relationship with Noah now and every morning he wants to take in something to show her. And she won “teacher of the year” award last year (beats “Story Teller” I’m pretty sure). But more than all that, she understands my insanity. She lets me stand and chat for a few minutes in daycare drop-off and makes me feel like she cares. And she knows that on the occasional morning when I carry Noah in under one arm and his shoes in the other hand that she doesn’t even need to ask – just take the kid and the shoes and say “have a good day, Lynne.”  We’ve got it down.

So I’m not really ready for all this change. I say things like “I can’t wait until they’re older” and yet I don’t really want to experience the changes that go with aging. It’s a bit unsettling, especially as each kid is transitioning at the same time. Instead of dealing with it head-on like any good problem solver – I run – to the beach!

“Conditioning our children”

“Green and green” is my mantra to Micah now as I drop him off at kindergarten.  They are using the “stoplight” system – green is good, yellow is your warning, red is trouble.  At the end of the day, the teacher puts a “face” (smiling green, flat-lined yellow, frowning red) on a sheet of paper that comes home in the folder.  I pick up Micah and look at the sheet every day and we talk about the day.

Last week was rough….On the previous Friday, Micah was yellow for school and his after-school teacher wanted to “talk to me” (so far, I’ve never been excited to have a teacher want to talk to me….maybe they need to start making up some good stuff, because I’m starting to get Pavlovian conditioned to not want to walk into the after school building to pick up Micah!).

Anyway, on Friday he was yellow and yellow.  I said “aw, that’s too bad, Micah.  I did plan to take you for a surprise treat at Rita’s if you were green and green.” He sobbed…literally from the bottom of his heart sobbed all the way to the daycare center to pick up the brothers.  He wasn’t upset about the treat – he was upset that I didn’t tell him about the “reward” ahead of time.  He thought it wasn’t fair to “surprise” him like that.  I thought as I drove along – all those years of training, 7 years of grad school in psychology learning that “variable-ratio schedule of positive reinforcement in operant conditioning” is best (ie, “Variable-ratio schedules occur when a response is reinforced after an unpredictable number of responses. This schedule creates a high steady rate of responding.” http://psychology.about.com/od/behavioralpsychology/a/schedules.htm) – all for naught.  My son is tearfully telling me that psychology doesn’t work for him!

So now we’re back to “green and green, Micah, green and green….and I’ll take you to Rita’s.” Monday – yellow and yellow.  I spend a long time talking to the afterschool teacher about Micah being a “boy boy” and that after 5 hours of academics in kindergarten, the only thing he wants to do in afterschool is play (worksheets and more worksheets and sitting at a table with his head down along with the rest of the class is not really what he wants to be doing).  Yes, I agree that he needs to listen to his teachers, but I’d like to know that his teachers are also striving to match a 5 or 6-year-old’s developmental stage.

Tuesday – yellow and yellow.

Wednesday – red….hmmm, apparently Micah has decided to become the class clown with “potty words.”  Yes, Mr. M., I do inform Micah that those words are inappropriate (I think at the same time about Micah and Ryan sitting at the dining room table every night cracking each other up with pee and poop stories….).  You know, Mr. M., I do think he’s doing it for (ahem) positive reinforcement, I mean, there wouldn’t happen to be a group of boys sitting around him cracking up, would there?  Right.  (Psychology at work.)

Thursday – yellow and green…progress.

Friday – green and green!  Wahoo – Rita’s!!  We stop.  We get an ice cream cone for

This machine is outside our local fire station!

him, a guava ice for me.  We’re so happy.  He eats half and throws it away – it’s too cold for ice cream he informs me as we walk through the farmer’s market across the street.  Kettle corn – now that’s what we need.

So, are you going to get Pepsi or Coke out of this machine?  How do we match our expectations for our kids with the reality of how they function?

Smitten by a Kindergartener

“My baby girl fills a place I didn’t even know was empty. I am positively smitten.”  (K.H.)  I love this line that I “borrowed” (with credit) from a friend in her Facebook stream.

I also love vicariously reliving the “smitten” stage of the first-born child.  There is something so wonderful and special about those magic moments.  Those moments when time stands still and you realize that you have sat on the couch for two hours listening to the uneven yet peaceful breath of your baby and your mind has been still and content.  Those moments when you stare into your baby’s face and realize you never knew love could be so powerful and so peaceful and so strong.  Those moments when you realize your life has changed forever and you’re so thankful for that.

I watched my friend cuddle her 2-year-old son on the subway during our recent trip to New York City.  Her arms wrapped around him.  Her face bent forwards to snuggle against his cheek.  She spoke softly, whispering. Smitten. Blissful.

I was on the other side of the train – restraining a one-year-old with one arm, “spotting” the three-year-old as he bounced around looking out the window into the darkness and jumping back to look at all the people on the train, and verbally reminding the 6-year-old to “hold on,” “sit down,” and “be quiet.”  There was no quiet within my brain.  And yet, I was still okay with it all the chaos and the madness of my three.  (Alright, actually….I was thinking “yes…just you wait until baby #2 is born and then all of that lovey-dovey-attentiveness will change.  Just you wait.”  Not in an evil-haha kind of way, but in a reality-is-coming kind of way 🙂 .)

You see, I have a great friend who has 4 little boys about the same ages as my three guys (poor dear – she’s amazing!).  And we are good for each other because we are honest with each other.  And we agree that we absolutely love our boys.  No questions about it.  But we don’t always feel that love.  Sometimes, I’m just going through the motions of care-taking. Sometimes I’m just changing another diaper, wiping another snotty nose, putting on another pair of shoes that I just put on and that he just took off again.

And sometimes, I am “not happy with your behavior” and the love feels far away.  Present, but currently unavailable.  But then I sneak into the boys’ bedroom before I go to sleep each night, and lean over to kiss each one (a blown kiss to the little guy whose crib mattress is too far away), and whisper I love you.

Yet, it is in some of the “big moments” of parenting when I am overwhelmingly reminded that I am still, 6 years later, smitten with my boys.  This week Micah started kindergarten.  I stood along the wall of the church’s gymnasium and watched as he made new friends with the boys sitting beside him as they waited to go to their classroom.  I signed “I love you” whenever I caught his eye, and I gave him a kiss as he walked away from me.  The tears flowed by the time I reached the anonymity of my car.  My boy.  Kindergarten.  The start of the journey of school.  And as I drove to work through the fog of my eyes, the chorus of a song played over and over in my brain – “well done, well done…” (Moriah Peters).  It just seemed to sum up my love for him, all the work that we’ve done together over the past six years, all of that – well done – you got him to kindergarten!

I did much better the next two days of dropping him off, until I opened his backpack Friday evening and found a card that Micah made at school.

A Handful of Love

(by D. Conway)

It was my first week of school,

And now that it’s done,

I can’t wait to tell you

About all the fun.

We read a book called The Kissing Hand

About Chester, a sweet raccoon.

He went to school up in a tree,

Beneath the shining moon.

Chester was scared and a little shy,

Until his mom kissed his hand.

It sent the love right up his arm,

Towards his heart for it to land.

Just like Chester, I was brave

Because of love from you.

I made this gift so I can show

How much I love you, too!