Tuesday, August 18, 2015

I Want To Murder Mrs. Antbottom

I have a confession to make. I am suffering from homicidal ideation. I want to commit murder. Although I couldn't really do it, I find myself fantasizing about murdering this lady often. How would she go? Maybe a bus "accident"? Or maybe she would just happen to eat a bad apple? I certainly wouldn't stab her with a pencil, that would be too obvious. I'd have to make it look like an accident. I am not a violent person, but sometimes I feel like this woman has got to go. She never stops talking. Her voice is high pitched. She's an erratic driver. Sometimes I just can't stand the bitch.

The weird thing is, I know one day I will miss Mrs. Antbottom. When she is gone I'll remember her fondly and I'll smile. She's kind of like a eccentric old Aunt; you cringe when you hear that she will be present at a family gathering, but once she's gone for good you kind of wish you had appreciated her while she was still around.

Such is the phenomenon of engaging in pretend play with our children. We feel guilty admitting it, but we don't always love role playing for hours on end, especially when we are being fed lines like an understudy. Pretend play is essential for cognitive and social emotional development and it really is a relatively short phase of childhood. We know that, so we encourage it, at times looking on in amusement while our kids create their own worlds, and at other times becoming a play mate, morphing in to a character in the game. I find more often than not, I am the play mate, and I find more often than I would like to admit, thirty minutes on the floor playing Mrs. Antbottom has me feeling slightly antsy. My mind wanders and then it wanders to dark places. What is wrong with me that I am not, you know, enjoying every moment? What is wrong with me that I have a quirky wonderful, smart, creative kid and sometimes I would rather not play with him? What's wrong with me quite frankly, is that I am an adult.

Since I am an avid blog reader and also have friends in real life, I know that I am not alone. We as parents, have a cemented idea of what we SHOULD be doing. These ideas come from a lot of sources - social media, the latest pop psychology study, people in our lives, and most often our own internal dialogue. Play is important. We are our children's first playmates and first teachers. Should we play with them? Sure. Should we expect ourselves to be bubbling over with genuine excitement when we hear the words, "Can you play with me?" I would say this falls under the unrealistic expectations category.

This brings me back to Mrs. Antbottom. I created Mrs. Antbottom around this time last year in an attempt to ease my son's apprehension about starting kindergarten. Mrs. Antbottom is a jolly, energetic teacher who tirelessly answers questions. Mrs. Antbottom also talks in a high pitched squeaky voice and takes her class on many enriching field trips to factories, fire houses, airports, amusement parks, and houses all built by the great Mr. Aiden. Mrs. Antbottom's students are precocious inquisitive little monsters. They ask a lot of questions and they often need to be corrected. I play the parts of both Mrs. Antbottom and the students. There is a whole script involved and it only varies slightly from day to day. What started out as a story morphed into a game. This game is great because it allows for a lot of old fashioned on the floor imaginative play. It also allows for role playing and social stories. It's cute, and I am sure we will both remember our Mrs. Antbottom game fondly.

That said, sometimes when I hear the words, "Can we play Mrs. Antbottom now?" I wonder if I could get away with murder. I know, terrible, right? June Cleaver never grew tired of engaging in pretend play with her children. Probably because she never did it. She was too busy baking muffins while her kids played outside with tin cans. So, it is tough for me to admit it, but sometimes I want to murder Mrs. Antbottom. I won't though because I know one day when I don't expect it, she'll pack up her Lincoln logs and lesson plans and drive her big plastic school bus away for the last time, her high pitched voice forever silenced. Sometimes it's hard to imagine, but I know when this day comes I will miss Mrs. Antbottom. I will want her to come back and visit but she won't.

I won't murder Mrs. Antbottom. I'll enjoy her while she's here and I when I really just can't enjoy that bubbly old hag, I'll tolerate her. Besides, I look terrible in orange.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Friday Funnies: Post-it Pleas

Is it just my house or do dirty dishes seem to magically appear just seconds after you have cleaned up the ones before them? I have actually turned around to throw something in the trash after cleaning up the dishes and found a new dish on the countertop! And those little buggers are sneaky as they quietly retreat from the room before I am even aware they were ever there. It's so frustrating to feel as though your job is never done.

Yesterday, my eleven-year-old experienced the same frustration. She had unloaded the dishwasher and put the dirty dishes from the sink into the newly emptied machine. I have to say, I didn't ask her to do this. For some reason, she was switched with some alien creature that looks just like her but must be programmed to be a domestic diva. After she was done, she decided to vacuum (uh, I'm not kidding, she got out the vacuum and actually vacuumed!). When she finished vacuuming, she went back to the kitchen, only to find more dishes on the counter. "Who did this?" she yelled. "Who is too lazy to put their own dishes in the dishwasher?" She caught her brother and told him to rinse his dishes and put them in the dishwasher while she stood there and watched him do it. I couldn't help but smile in amusement. The next time I entered the kitchen this is what was on the counter by the dishwasher:

I loved her note. I loved it so much, I decided to write my own to post around the house. I haven't finished yet, but here are just a few of mine:
I'm sure there will be more to add to this collection! Have a wonderful weekend everyone!!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Will My Kids Ever Like Each Other?

It's the little things that make my heart sing, especially when it comes to my children. Let's just say my kids are not Facebook kids. They don't sit around the fire singing Kumbaya while they braid each other's hair and offer words of encouragement or affirmations to one another. Nope. My kids will, instead, engage in a pissing contest of who has it worse or who can roll their eyes the furthest while they listen to the other talk. It's painful as a parent to watch such behavior when the whole reason to have more than one was to give them family to love. I suppose when you put an eighteen-year-old video junkie with a girlfriend, a sixteen-year-old girl who is more cynical than complementary and an eleven-year-old who only wants to be acknowledged that she exists to her older siblings and will get that acknowledgement by positive or negative force, it can create quite a bit of tension in the family.

Well, today was one of those Kumbaya moments that I will forever cement in my brain as a small step for sibling-kind. It happened before I even rolled myself out of bed. From my room, I heard the sound of the front door close followed by a car exiting the driveway. Maybe my son was heading to his girlfriend's house? Maybe he was heading to the bank to cash his checks (uh, wait, it's too early for the bank), where on earth was he going this early in the morning? I decided to investigate. I threw on my robe and walked upstairs - yes he was gone, but so were the girls. Someone must have kidnaped the girls!! I grabbed my phone and sent a text to my one of my daughters asking where they were. They actually all went out to breakfast, WITH EACH OTHER!

Now, don't get me wrong. I do believe, back in the dark recesses of their being, there is a part of them that realizes how lucky they are to have each other and that they truly do love each other. I do see glimpses from time to time of their love for one another, but I wish it were more prevalent - on a day to day basis. No matter how many times I remind them to treat each other with respect, it seems to fall on deaf ears...or does it?

I thought back to when I was a kid - my only sibling was, and still is, five and a half years older than me (yes, that half is and has always been important). I was (and I am sure she can attest to this) the annoying little sister. We seemed to fight a lot. I even remember spitting at her! She was so lucky because she was able to to more things than I could (because she was older, of course). She was always cooler, hanging with friends, going to dances and driving. I remember how she would rest her left arm on the window frame of the car as she drove around like she was showing off, and I would get so jealous. It was hard being the baby sister. But I also remember the times we laughed until our sides hurt. I remember sitting in the back of the closed cab pickup truck, as we drove to our grandparent's on a snowy day for Christmas and sliding into a ditch, clinging to each other. We loved each other; we just didn't always show it.

So what does this mean for my kids? I think their love for each other is growing, like a stubborn tree. It has its good years and its difficult ones. Each phase of their journey through life is different and can probably never align perfectly to have sibling bliss, but it can have moments of harmony among the chaos.

If your children struggle to keep the peace, here are some things you can try:

1.  If they're not killing each other, try to stay out of it and allow them to work it out on their own. Too often, as parents, we just want to keep the peace. But stopping them from talking it (or shouting it) out, doesn't help them learn how to work things out on their own. They will be much better problem solvers as they get older if they are given the opportunity to work things out at home without being prompted or stopped altogether.

2.  Separate them if it gets physical. Give them time alone to think about what happened and how they can resolve it peacefully. This also gives you, the parent, time to think of how you will help them resolve this problem without getting too emotional or drawn-in to their ploys.

3. Establish house rules and consequences.  If you have already created rules and consequences, you are ahead of the game. However, you must enforce them. Sometimes all kids need are defined boundaries they know will be enforced to keep their behavior in line.

4. Make each child feel important. Birth order does encourage some rivalry between siblings - it's pretty much a proven fact. The younger children are jealous of the older children because they get to do so many cool things. The older children are jealous of the younger children because they get to do things at an earlier age, etc. None of my children feels I treat them equally, and they're correct, I don't. I expect more mature behavior from my sixteen-year-old than my eleven-year-old.  I also allow my older children more freedom which makes my little one feel left out. But what's important here, is to build up the importance of their age and their accomplishments. Making them feel unique within the family helps them see their place and helps them feel important.

5.  Praise your children when you like what you see. It's so easy for parents to point out what their kids do wrong which only feeds low self-esteem. I have caught myself more times than I would like to admit, pointing out the negatives of their behavior. But what I have found, is when I commend them for a nice comment or gesture, they eat it up like candy. They love to hear how thoughtful they were to take their sister's or brother's dish to the sink or how kind it was to complement their sibling on their singing or the cute outfit they were wearing. If we focus on finding these gestures and giving them kudos for their positive interaction, they will want to do it again and again. After a while, they will find it easier to compliment than ridicule each other.

Peace and harmony among siblings is not always going to happen unless you are a Facebook family. Kids will fight. Heck, anyone who lives with another human being for an extended period of time, especially if they didn't have a choice, will not always see eye to eye. Why do you think your parents tried to talk you out of rooming with your best friend in college?! After a while, even the most even-tempered people can become frustrated and irritable.

I would like to think that this morning, I was given a small glimpse into the potential of my children's future relationships with one another. I can only hope they will grow closer as they mature and that the one thing I asked of them will be granted - to love one another and to be there for each other through the good and the bad. I gifted them with siblings, I just hope they realize what a true gift it really is.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Day One

* Written on Monday, August 3, 2015

I have been preparing for months for this day. Really, the entire past year has been leading up to this day. The momentous start of kindergarten, Aiden's difficulty adjusting, the sounds and smells of the lunchroom, the crying, the teasing, the patronizing staff, the school social worker. All of this followed by moving schools, shorter days, rebuilding confidence, doing extra work at home, research, school tours, and prayer. I am reminded of one of my favorite bible verses:

"While from behind a voice shall sound in your ear, 'This is the way, walk in it.'"  -Isaiah 30:10

I didn't choose homeschooling, it choose me, as hokey as that may sound. I never thought about homeschooling one way or another, until I had to find another way for my son. I didn't really want to homeschool, but it kept coming back, nudging me. As we struggled to find the best place for our son for this school year I prayed for guidance. But I had already been told what to do.

So here we are, day one. The previous months have been spent researching curriculum, buying books, meeting other homeschooling parents and picking their brains (God bless their patience) and jotting lesson plans in a notebook. The previous weeks have been spent turning the loft playroom into a classroom, although half of it remains filled with toys, coloring books, and busy boxes for Elliott. My husband went to Ikea with me on a Saturday without batting an eye. He put together the bookshelf we picked out and he spent the weekend helping me move baby toys to the basement and our chalkboard/dry erase easel upstairs. He has been on the fence about homeschooling. Like me, he never had exposure to it and just took for granted that our kids would go to a traditional Catholic school like their parents did. Despite his misgivings, he has agreed to give it a shot. He is supporting me and for this I am grateful, because aside from lots of coffee I need support on this venture.

Aiden does not begin class at his homeschool school until August 31, at which time he will attend eight hours a week. For now, we are getting acclimated to our classroom and working on math, reading, writing, and spelling. The first day at Mom's School of Hard Knox was a success. It was also my first time teaching math. Saying that math is not my strong suit would be an understatement. I remember learning about Heaven and hell in Catholic school. I pictured hell as being chained to a school desk having to complete long division worksheets for all of eternity. Now my version of hell would have more to do with never ending piles of laundry and an absence of coffee, chocolate, and beer, but I digress. Ever since I purchased the Alpha version of Math U See from Sonlight, I have been teaching myself to teach. Fortunately, this curriculum comes with a student book and a corresponding teacher's manual, complete with numbered week by week lessons. Today I introduced the concept of places - hundreds, tens, and units - a concept that I had all but forgotten having learned it twenty some years ago.

I learned a little about teaching math and a lot about how my "student" learns. He is very eager to learn and catches on quickly, but he is also a perfectionist and does not want to try if he thinks he'll get the answer wrong. I assured him that I would never be upset about a wrong answer, but only if he didn't try. We would have no need for school if we were born knowing everything. I also reminded him that I would be learning with him to a certain extent, after all I am not a teacher by trade. I have the utmost respect for those who are; I admire anyone with the stamina and knowledge to lesson plan and teach a whole classroom full of different learning styles and behaviors. Aiden picked up the concepts quickly and we had time for our math game - building hundreds, tens, and units houses. First we had to color and cut out the number cards. Elliott was scribbling away right there with us, sans pants since we are potty training. More on that later, but hey, where else can students come to class without pants? Don't answer that.

After math, Aiden was eager to play more math games on his leap pad. We had lunch and did writing - Aiden's least favorite. He balked a little at the writing, but with a little encouragement we were able to review the proper way to hold a pencil and form letters from top to bottom and left to right. Yeah, I am pretty sure I have been gripping the pencil and forming letters incorrectly my whole life. See, you can teach an old mom new tricks.

We ended the day with a prayer and the best and worst parts of our day. Predictably, Aiden liked numbers the best and writing the worst. In this way he is definitely more like his father, but hey, it might be best not to have more than one writer in the same family. We can be kind of quirky. Except for Jan of course. Wink wink.

Day one is complete, and truth be told it went better than I expected. Now, don't worry, I know my year of homeschooling won't be all rainbow shitting unicorns. I am a realist. I know that we will have battles and tears and chocolate eating and days where we don't get shit done. After all, it's me we're talking about. But I also know if I am prepared for these things we can get through them. I know it will be incredibly challenging and incredibly rewarding. Kind of like parenting, huh? Elliott also filled his potty chart today so all in all I'd say it was a win.

Not all days are like this one; in fact it seems like too many are not. So this post really isn't about homeschooling. This post is not meant to be in any way boastful or persuasive. I have documented the days where everything seems to go wrong, and I have to keep track of a day that just worked. After all, I want to have it in writing to prove to myself it actually happened. You know, some say the unicorn is more than just a mythical creature...