Saturday, September 28, 2013

Song of the Homework Nazi

Homework Nazi. Not a very complimentary term, is it? That was the name my husband gave me when our son was in Kindergarten, because absolutely nothing else in life happened until homework was done and terrible consequences were doled out if my demands were not meant.  

Yep, that’s right. The TV actually can stay off all night long.

It was a decision I regretted sometimes when the war over whether or not he would get to play after school vs. whether his math homework would get done before his sister came home from Pre-K reached epic proportions, and it begs the question.

When is the right time to make your kids do their homework?

I’m a Procrastinator

There. I said it. I’m a procrastinator. A low down, dirty putter-offer who will drag her feet until something that wouldn’t be anything at all if I took it in tiny little bites turns into a BFD. Deadlines fly past, leaving skid marks behind them. I was infamous in school for writing papers during lunch an hour before they were due. If I can put it off until tomorrow, I will.

That’s actually how I became a Homework Nazi in the first place.

When Mr. A first started school, I wasn’t all that picky about it. As long as homework happened before bedtime, I was okay with it. I mean, I wasn’t on top of it when I was in school. Why should I expect him to be?

The problem with that is that when you have three kids, nights tend to get crazy quick. The baby would be fussy. His sister would want to play. Soon homework was getting done at 9:00 at night, after the other two went to bed, leaving us both tired and cranky the next day.

It didn’t take long to realize that if homework was going to happen without someone having to come in and clean up the bodies, the boring stuff was going to have to come first. Even if it did totally go against every theory I have about parenting a child with ADHD.

So, from that point on, the kids came home from school/preschool to find a snack on the table and standing orders to sit down, shut up and either get their homework done or grab something quiet to do so their siblings could.

No, I didn’t actually tell my kids to shut up and do their homework. Thought it. Waaaaaaay more than once. (Like you haven’t.) But I didn’t say it. Personally, I think I deserve bonus points for not screaming it at the top of my lungs when the kids are poking at each other instead of just doing their freaking math homework and getting it over with so we can cease this relentless torture and watch “Doctor Who” like normal people!! But that’s a story for another day.

Ahem. Anyway. The point is, even a long-standing procrastinator like me could see the path to failure was short and well-greased if we continued on the way that we were. These days all the kids, from Mr. A to Baby G, know the first thing they need to do when they get home is bust their homework out.

There Are Serious Perks

The kids get really annoyed with me when they have to crack-a-lack their homework before they’re allowed to kick off the playtime. Especially when their friends and cousins are allowed to come home and hop straight on the computer and they’re not. I hear all about it when homework takes awhile and I still kick them off the electronics when dinner hits the table at 5:30. 

So why don’t I just lighten up and let them do their homework later? Because I LIKE being able to enjoy our evenings. I love that I can come home and unless the younger two haven’t had homework help at their afterschool program, we can relax and spend some time together as a family. Even if spending that time translates into spending that last hour before bedtime watching an episode of something on Netflix. (“Once Upon a Time”, Season Two, is their show of choice right now.)

I don’t have to tell them no if a friend asks if they want to come over, or sacrifice weekend activities trying to get homework done. Except for the occasional book report or forgotten science fair project, we rarely find ourselves rushing to get homework done. I have time to check their assignment books and make sure everything’s done in a manner that guarantees they might actually pass the class with a little more leeway than the skin on their teeth.

And let’s be honest here. You can swear up and down you’re enjoying yourself as much as you like, but at the end of the day? If you’re thinking about what you still have to do, you’re not enjoying what you’re doing. You’re spending your whole life waiting for the axe to fall and serve your head up on homemade sandwich bread on your teacher’s desk.

I’m a procrastinator. I know these things.

Teach Your Kids How to Fly Solo

Sure, doing homework as soon as the kids get home is a royal pain in the derriere.  Especially when you’ve still got a 3 year old that thinks he/she needs to be changed and stuff while you’re trying to explain the fundamental basics of algebra to your 2nd grader. But knocking out homework while the after-school chaos is in full swing has another advantage you might not have thought of yet.
Basically, it teaches your kids how to do their own homework.

Let’s talk about hovering.

Hovering is a great idea in theory. When all you have to do is supervise your kids’ homework, you’re going to peek over their shoulder. You’re going to offer helpful hints and tidbits. You’re going to gently guide their little minds down the path of academic success.

After about five minutes of being “helpful”, however, my kids usually look at me and go, “MOOOOOOOOM, I can DO it!”

Yup. When I have nothing but their homework to pay attention to, they feel like I’m accusing them all of being the village idiot. After all, G-Money’s been doing his multiplication tables since he was four. (He gets it from his dad.) Why am I hovering over 2+2 again?

When homework is happening in the middle of bedlam, I don’t have the chance to hover. Supper needs to be cooked. Gym clothes (please god) need to go into the wash. Lunches need to be packed, the cats need to be fed, and those dratted water bottles aren’t going to wash themselves.

The kids know where to find me if they need help, and since I check their assignment books before they get started I usually know what assignments I need to make time to look over before they go back in the backpack. The other bonus is that they often end up helping each other. Mr. A actually likes helping Princess C with her math homework (a modern day miracle considering how they fight over everything else), and both the older kids love grilling G-Money on his spelling words.

They become a self-functioning, independent unit, and I get to keep my sanity. That’s why I don’t take it too personally when someone tells me I’m being a Homework Nazi. Because at the end of the day, those rules work.

Are you a Homework Nazi? When do your kids do their homework?   

Sunday, September 22, 2013

When Daddy’s Away

Let me preface this (slightly whiny) post with a quick statement: There are wives who have it a lot worse than I do. Military spouses. Wives whose husbands are frequently away on business for months at a time. Wives whose husbands work out of state and only come home on the weekends, or are who knows where for any length of time working on the power lines or the oil pipelines. 

Keeping that in perspective, the fact that my husband travels an average of 4-5 times a year for business or personal reasons (his family’s out of state, and my schedule is considerably less flexible than his these days) isn’t that big a deal. But that number's crawling up as time goes by, and as I find myself home alone with the kids more often I find  myself wondering.

How am I going to stay on top of things while Daddy's away?

Why am I Weepy Today?

Given that I was all set to embrace single parenthood not too long ago, you would think a week or so without my recently-reconciled spouse wouldn’t be that big a deal, right? Yeah, so would I. 

To be honest though, I think this is the first time I’ve really been bothered that Big M is gone. Some of it is due to the fact that it’s only been a month since we really moved back in. Things are still shaky, and having him gone doesn't help. More of it is probably that I am, once again, taking time off work because I don’t have any back-up daycare…and the situation promises to get worse, with more travel right around the corner. (The last time he traveled I had to take almost an entire week off of work because of sick kids after I'd already taken vacation and bereavement the two weeks prior.)

That’s hard on the kids, who aren't used to dad traveling so often. Especially my daughter, who really doesn't do well when either parent is away. It's hard on me too, and not just because I find myself having to shoulder the majority of the kid running around and the housework. I also find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to bid work adieu to stay home with kids who aren't feeling well, without any relief in sight. 

Three of the last six months I’ve had to take time off work because the kids were sick and dad was out of town. It brings questions to light like whether or not I should even bother working full time if I’m going to have to constantly take time off (my personal time is in the negative right now, metaphorically speaking). What that’s going to mean if I end up going to school full time and exactly how much travel we’re talking about here? (It’s been one week out of every month since last spring, and we're expecting him gone for a week both next month and the month after.)

Moms with kids, careers and traveling/deployed husbands, how do you do it? What are your tricks for maintaining sanity and a career in a busy household when dad’s away more than he’s here?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Telling the Kids Mom and Dad are Splitting Up

No one ever imagines on their wedding day that anything other than a pile of bricks smashing down on your head will be the end of "Til' death do us part". It never even occurs to you that the day in, day out stress of daily living can be just as deadly. But it can. In fact, in many ways, it can be so much worse.

How do I know? Because as of yesterday, that reality belongs to me. It was nothing sudden. In fact, it was my choice, a decision made after almost a year and a half of careful deliberation. After nine years of marriage, misunderstandings and miscommunication, arguments and endless, endless misery and silence that screams overtop of any words either of us could have said, I finally said enough. I'd rather BE alone than be married and FEEL alone. Do you know what I mean?

I thought the hardest part would be telling my spouse I was moving out and taking the kids with me. I was sort of right. After days upon end of arguing about it, however, I was finally able to plead my case. Even if he didn't entirely agree, he knew where I was coming from. We'd both been doing marriage wrong, and we both agreed that I was well within my rights to say I wanted the marriage I signed up for, or I wanted out.

Those hurdles were hard to jump, but now that we're over them, going to counseling, and dating while living apart, it's a decision we're coming to terms with. The hardest part, however, was telling the kids.

It wasn't that they melted down when I told them. In fact, Princess C was absolutely thrilled at the idea of getting to decorate her new bedroom. But there are always questions you don't really want to answer, and I keep sitting on pins and needles waiting for one of them to come up.

They never did. Maybe it's because we decided to keep things simple. Rather than dragging each other through the mud, we laid it on the line. It didn't matter whose fault it was. It didn't matter who had finally put the nail in the coffin. They don't need to be caught in the middle of that. We simply told them that Mom and Dad needed to live apart for a while. Neither of us hated the other, we were still going to spend time with them, and we were still going to spend time with each other. Their lives were going to stay as normal as possible.

So far, they're okay with that. We moved the furniture in yesterday. I've gotten a few "I miss Daddy"'s. Mr. A is angling to spend as much time at Dad's as possible, although I strongly suspect that has less to do with Dad than the fact that we left his computer over there. (Given that video game addiction was one of the biggest nails in the coffin of my marriage, it wasn't hard to make the decision that computer games were something fun that could happen at Dad's house instead of something that would fill each day, every day here at home.) G-money hasn't said much about it, one way or the other, except to say that he wasn't used to this new place yet and it was a little discombobulating.

It helps, I think, that my husband and I are still feeling our way. We're going to counseling, and we're still sweet and affectionate in front of the kids. He brought them over yesterday after we moved stuff in and stayed for dinner. We all ate dinner over at his place tonight, and he helped me bring the cats back over (and offered to stay to de-worm them.) He'll stop by most nights to help me tuck them into bed, and I'll do the same on nights they're over there. We have a pretty good visitation agreement worked out-two nights a week and every other weekend-, but we're not sticking to that like glue.

Although given the fact that my in-laws are coming to town next week-my weekend with the kids-and my mother in law has been very vocal in her disapproval of the whole thing, I'm kind of wishing we would. But I'm looking forward to seeing my nephews again, so it's really not that bad.

My hope is that even if we don't stay married, keeping things close and friendly and making sure both of us are still a large part of their lives will make it easier on the kids once they've had a chance to adjust. Anyone out there have any advice to help a mom keep her peace of mind?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Taking Life Small Bites at a Time

One of my biggest resolutions this year was to learn how to make small, achievable goals. It’s far too easy for that list to open up and swallow me whole, especially when I’m having one of my down days.

I can’t say that I’ve done very well keeping up on my daily to-do commitments. Between my daughter’s sprained ankle, both the boys having a virus and generally being exhausted from getting up early for work every day, plus the usual lineup of homework and afterschool activities, I’m way behind. Even more so since Tuesdays and Thursdays are now my days to slog down to physical therapy.

Even being behind, however, there’s a tremendous amount of freedom in being able to give myself permission to get just a few things done each day. I promise myself I’m going to do six things each day-and three of those things are physical therapy, ONE load of dishes and ONE load of laundry.

It’s a sanity saver, because I’m not beating myself up. I don’t spend all day agonizing over everything I didn’t get done. I can do what I need to do, then give myself permission to relax and enjoy because it’s enough.

Granted, it’s resulted in an unbelievably messy house. I have laundry stacked to the ceiling after re-organizing all the kids’ rooms. (Princess C apparently has a previously undiscovered gift for stashing laundry in the darndest places. After cleaning out her room, I think I need to do a piece on hoarding next!!) We’re definitely going to need to get back to evening chore lists once the kids are all healthy again.

A little clutter and mess, however, is more than justified by how much more relaxed I’ve been this week. I’ve been doing my writing and cleaning right after work, so I have the night to sit and relax with the kids. I can lay down with G Money when he has a cold without stressing about all the cleaning I’m (not) doing.

Then there’s the whole “working two jobs” bid. In the past, I’ve gotten overwhelmed and fallen behind on writing projects because I would schedule too much to do each day. Then, when life happened and I wasn’t able to get it ALL done, I’d freeze up and wouldn’t get ANY of it done. It feels now like I don’t get much done, but I’m caught up on my projects and actually managed to carve out some time to write a few hundred words each day on my personal writing projects.

What do you think of that? Now if only I can get my living room shoveled out before my dad gets here tomorrow night…

Time for a Break

I have to tip my hat to working parents who manage to have kids involved in everything under the sun. Ever since I went back to working full time out of the house, trying to keep up with the kids’ homework and after school activities has been running me nuts. 

In light of the fact that we’ve missed tae kwon do more than we’ve gone this past seven weeks for one reason or another, I think we’ve officially decided it’s time to take a break. For the next seven weeks the younger two will have dance on Monday and Wednesday as usual, and we’ll spend the rest of the week squeaking in more time together.

Given that my work schedule is about to flip upside down AGAIN, with me going back to day shifts rather than overnights and working 12-8 two days a week, I think it’s going to be a good thing. The difference in behavior I’ve seen in the kids just from spending more time one-on-one rather than constantly being on the go is a little ridiculous. Less stress, happier and more willing kids, less fighting between siblings.

Definitely time to get some stress off the table and get back to the simpler things in life.

Also…and this is on a completely different tangent…I’m dabbling with the idea of homeschooling for my oldest. This year has been hard for him. He doesn’t do well in a traditional classroom environment. The younger two kids love school, while Mr. A absolutely loathes everything about it. The chance to make learning more hands-on, to take out some of the unnecessary nonsense that goes with it and to personally work with him rather than trusting teachers to find things that work for him, is tempting.

On the other hand, I work 40+ hours a week out of the house at a job I absolutely love. So maybe not. 

We’ll see. On that note, the lazy cats are reminding me that I have to work overnight tonight. Now would be a good time to sleep! 

Sigh. Three more days…

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Introducing My Kids to My Childhood

My husband often laughs at me. Okay, not like I don’t give him plenty of reason. But. In this case, he’s consistently laughing at me for one thing. 

My incurable desire to share my childhood with my kids.

Tonight, we’re watching “Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?” It’s a cartoon version of the Carmen Sandiego game show I used to LOVE when I was a kid. Part of it was that I was your average trivia buff at a VERY young age-even though I was terrible at geography. More importantly, it was fun. Exciting. Educational, while making you feel like you were one heckuva detective.

Television is a big one for nostalgia-we have Thundercats and Fraggles on DVD-but that’s not all. I find myself almost compulsively driven to take my kids to the parks we used to haunt when I was a kid. To go bowling and ice skating (which we still haven’t done). To play Uno and Clue.

I had a happy childhood. I see nothing wrong with sharing it with the kids. Especially considering it seems like there’s so little quality entertainment for today’s kids. So we’ll keep making chocolate chip cookies and going for bike rides at the park and hitting the pool as often as possible. And I’ll think of it as sharing a cultural experience with my kids rather than reliving my youth.

More or less.

What one thing from your childhood can’t you resist sharing with your kids?