Kids · parenting

Day 981: Read-aloud

I’ve been feeling it for a while now: the sense of something slipping away from me. Everytime I went into the library and noticed the many picture books we had, I felt just a little sad that we’d soon be out of “please read me a story” territory (if we weren’t already.)

So this week, while we were trying (and only partly succeeding) to organize our library, I pulled out a couple of my favourite picture books and showed them to E. “I love reading these books. They’re so much fun… but they’re not as much fun without an audience and a snuggle.” She very gallantly offered to let me read two picture books to her every day.

So far we’ve revisited The Monster at the end of the Book, The Lorax, Wacky Wednesday, and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. I’d almost forgotten how much I love reading aloud to my kids—especially when there are different voices and accents. It’s some of the best fun there is.

(That’s what I plan to tell any kid from now on who says they’re too old for a cuddly storytime.)

Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting

Day 908: School Daze

We really need some more discipline around here. At least, that’s what Mr. December has been saying for the last two years. After last night and today I’m thinking he’s right.

We all woke up late today. Mr. December and I looked at the time (8:45!), looked at each other, and decided we could stay in bed for a while longer. When we finally emerged from our cozy cave, three out of four kids had to be woken up. At least I remembered to make overnight oatmeal in the rice cooker last night.

Bedtime around here was kind of a farce over the summer: what with Mr. December’s shenanigans encouraging mirth and merriment right before bedtime, the de facto bedtime around here shifted from 8:30 to 10:00… sometimes even 10:30.

Despite the late bedtime, we did some good school work today: E drafted a sewing pattern for a stuffie that she designed and then dictated two pages of a story; N did some math contest practice, worked on whittling a new sword, and began reading 1984; R worked with me on the dress she started designing last year. All three of them did some math with Mr. December.

K was the outlier—she’s sick, complete with fever. I’m starting to think we’ll never be rid of this stupid virus.

But, good work or no, everyone was kind of sluggish and moody today. I went through the motions in a daze: at 3:45 I stopped E from working on her story because “My brain feels like it’s breaking.” At dinner I told the kids they’d be taking some melatonin at 8:00 and getting tucked in at 8:30. They actually did it—maybe because I said that we’d have to stop screen time extra-early tomorrow if they can’t fall asleep tonight. As I type this, it’s 9:00 and two of the three are already asleep (K is still up, but she’s sick and slept some of the day away.)

parenting · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 906: Books I Could Write

The More the Merrier: What parents of two kids can learn from parents of four

Slow Down, it’s not a Race: Supporting your kids’ development on their own schedule

“My Marriage Predates You”: A guide to putting your kids second

P-E-R-M-I-S-S-I-V-E: Not a four-letter word

Say Yes to Drugs, Kids: How antidepressants, fertility drugs, and ADHD meds changed my life for the better

What the Unschoolers Taught Me

Oh, The Places You’ll Go! (Teaching your girls pee when there’s no toilet around)

Do I want to know? When, how, and why to rely on Blissful Ignorance

Parent Like an Engineer: How spreadsheets and solving problems make parenting straightforward

Why are you Reading This? How to put down the parenting books, ignore the experts, and do what works

I’m Tired: memoirs of a Mom (does that make them momoirs?)

Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting

Day 882: Reassuring

I’ve recently noticed something interesting: whenever I ask N to do something—like empty the dishwasher or move laundry from the washer to the dryer—he says, “Okay,” and then… he does it. No arguing, no whining. Today he cleaned the bathroom he shares with K, broke down a bunch of cardboard boxes for recycling, took out the garbage, and did his laundry—just because I asked.

(Cool aside about the laundry: he had to teach Mr. December how to use our laundry machines. It was really adorable.)

Now, don’t get too excited yet: certain jobs, like cleaning the bathroom, require a lot of supervision on my part. It tends to sound like this:

Me: Did you wipe the whole toilet down? Including the seat?
Him: Yeah.
Me (lifting the toilet seat): Uh… do you see this yellow stuff here?
Him: Oh. Ew. Okay.
Me: Why don’t you go over everything with a wipe again? Pay attention to the hinges, the part behind where the seat attaches to the bowl, basically everything.
Him (reaching for a wipe): Okay.

10 minutes later:
Him: Okay, I cleaned the bathroom!
Me: Did you do the sink and countertop?
Him: …
Me: Please wash the sink and countertop.
Him: Okay!

5 minutes later:
Him: I’m done!
Me: Are your dirty clothes still on the floor right next to the hamper?
Him: … I’ll be right back.

See? He’s agreeable and cooperative, but he needs a lot of reminding. Maybe I should just make him a checklist.

My point, however, is that he seems to have stopped fighting me on these things. He does what needs to be done. The very last time he balked at emptying the dishwasher, we had this exchange:

Him: What happens if I don’t?
Me: If you don’t pull your weight, it will breed resentment from your siblings, all of whom do their jobs. Over time, that sort of thing causes relationship damage.

At that point I walked away, leaving him to think about it; a few minutes later he was emptying the dishwasher.

We went through a similar turnaround with K, which is why I’m writing this: to tell you, readers who have young kids, that most of the time, those frustrating behaviours do go away… when the kids grow out of them. Just hang in there.

Camping it up · Kids · parenting

Day 854: Staying at Camp

We’ve responded to camp, telling them that R can stay for however much longer she wants.

(“Can she stay until October?” Mr. December joked. Not funny.)

This means that R and K will be at camp together (when K isn’t out on a canoe trip.) It also means that anything R needs for the rest of camp can go up in the bus with K on Monday. Looks like I’m going shopping for snacks—likely Ramen and granola bars (kosher, of course.)

I’ll have to reschedule R’s appointments with the optometrist, orthodontist, and dentist. No big deal. She’ll be missing a visit to our family friends’ cottage and a visit from my brother and his family. She’ll probably be unhappy about the latter, but I guess a five-day family visit can’t compare with an extra two (or more) weeks at camp—especially when my brother will be back again towards the end of the summer.

We’ve had only two kids for the last three weeks, and now we’re just trading N for K but keeping the numbers steady. Having just two kids is so easy! And for those of you with two children who are feeling overwhelmed, I have a brilliant idea: I’ll lend you two of mine for two weeks. I guarantee you’ll feel the difference when they finally leave!

Sigh… I miss R already.

Notes to self:

  1. I went on a 10-minute bike ride today. Was able to actually pedal with my left leg for a bit. Accidentally put myself into a higher gear and didn’t notice until I’d gone several hundred metres.
  2. No kayaking today—my arms and shoulders were sore from the past two days, so I took today off. Back on the water tomorrow, though.
  3. I remembered to order the Hebrew workbooks we’ll be using this school year. I was unable to buy them anywhere in Israel, so I’ve once again ordered them from Boston.

education · parenting

Day 848: Learning from Literature

It’s easy to be dismissive of our children’s interests when those interests are on a screen—TV shows, video games, YouTube videos—but maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. We don’t always know what they’re getting out of it.

I’m reflecting on this, having watched and read a lot of Outlander. On the surface it’s historical science fiction (what with the time-travel and all) with a lot of sex and violence in the mix. When we read side-by-side in bed every evening, I consider the contrast between my novel and Mr. December’s nonfiction books about education and parenting, and it’s easy to feel like maybe I should be reading something to improve myself, rather than just for entertainment.

It’s not just entertainment, though. Have you heard my constellation theory of education? In brief, the idea is that learning doesn’t always have to be sequential or thematic; every single piece of learning is like one star in the sky. As you add more of them, you’ll see connections all over the place; the more stars the better, even if they appear at first to be unimportant or unrelated to the rest.

Tonight, at Mum and Dad’s house, I discovered a small paperback book called Songs of Scotland. I thumbed through it, humming the melodies quietly and reading the lyrics. I’ve looked through the book before, but this time I noticed all the references to “Charlie” and realized they were songs about “Bonnie Prince Charlie” and the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Even the Skye Boat Song—which I’d always assumed was a love song for some reason—turns out to be about Charles Stuart escaping Scotland after the battle of Culloden.

(Mr. December—ever the fact-checker—looked up the rebellion online and confirmed some of the details I’d gleaned from my reading.)

What’s my point? Well, I’ve clearly learned something from Outlander, and after re-encountering songs I’ve known for decades, I’ve been able to put them into a historical and cultural context. I think that’s pretty good for a series of highly entertaining novels.

Now, if only I can remember this next time my kids start to binge-watch something on Netflix.

education · gardening · Kids · parenting · waxing philosophical

Day 816: Weeds or Wildflowers?

Yesterday morning we came home to a jungle.

K mowed the lawn right before we left home for our trip. We knew the grass would get long, but we were shocked to see the waist- and chest-high plants that were dominating the front yard.

“It rained a lot,” my mum explained. She, my dad, and my in-laws are all fans of keeping the front yard neat and tidy. None of them appreciated Mr. December’s quip that this was our way of making homes in our neighbourhood more affordable.

Fearing that the neighbours would call bylaw enforcement on us, I biked out to Canadian Tire yesterday to get a new battery for our lawn mower (the old battery died before we left, and that last mowing was done with a lawnmower borrowed from the couple across the street.) This morning I told K it was time to mow; but first, I went out to pick some flowers I didn’t know we had. Now I have four flower arrangements brightening up my windowsill.

Four ceramic cups filled with wildflowers

As I snipped blossoms off their stalks, I reflected on how we wouldn’t have seen these flowers at all if we’d mowed our lawn like we’re “supposed to.” It occurred to me that these flowers are a bit like some kids:

  • They’re obviously not like the grass around them; they stand out from the crowd and don’t conform to our expectation of what a front lawn should look like.
  • When treated the same way as the surrounding lawn, they end up looking stunted and broken.
  • If we give them time to grow in their own way (instead of insisting they behave like grass) they thrive, flourish, and flower.

It’s so hard, when your child isn’t neurotypical, not to wish they could just be “normal.” Society is bent on making them fit in and behave like everyone else; but often these expectations only leave neurodiverse kids feeling like there’s something wrong with them that they need to fix. The very behaviours that make up part of who they are have been deemed unacceptable and unwanted.

But something magical happens if we stand back and observe. If we stop trying to make kids behave and learn and play like everyone else, if we give them time, our children astonish us. If we let them grow their way, they thrive. They put out flowers. They’re beautiful. They’re not weeds anymore—they never were, really—they’re wildflowers.

A weed can’t become a blade of grass no matter how often we mow it. A neurodiverse child can’t become neurotypical no matter what therapy or consequences we apply. But if we let them grow, unfettered, they will flower; and the world will be more beautiful for it.

Darn Tootin' · Kids · Montessori · parenting

Day 775: I want her back.

Remember last year, when we bought E her first flute? She played it constantly; every free moment, she’d run back into the library (also our music room) to play another little song. Whenever someone came over, she would haul her music stand out to the living room and play one song after another. She was so proud of herself. And I was so proud, but mostly in awe of how happy and excited she was about playing her instrument.

Pic of a 7-year-old with long hair playing a small black flute. The flute has a fuzzy toque on its head end.

That was last spring. As we approached the new school year I decided to find her a teacher, and I did: a wonderful teacher who specializes in flute lessons for very young children. She was amazing—she was cheerful, engaging, and she even sent little “flute mail” packages to E a couple of times, once with a variety of straws and blow toys, the other time a little toque for her flute with instructions for how to make another one.

I thought E would blossom and flourish with this new teacher’s help, but the opposite began to happen. E would refuse to practice between lessons; then she began to object vocally to even having lessons. Her teacher tried to engage E with new games and fun videos of giant flutes. Nothing worked. E stopped playing her flute in her spare time, and she refused to engage in her lessons. Her love of playing music wilted before our eyes.

Congratulations, I told myself sarcastically, you’ve managed to kill her passion for the flute. Well done.

I had the best of intentions when I hired our flute teacher: I wanted E to keep on playing and to gain skills and confidence. Our culture tells us that to learn an instrument, we must have a teacher—so I found one. But would E really not have continued to develop her musicianship if left to her own (joyful) devices?

That question is moot, since she certainly hasn’t developed or improved her musicianship since she started lessons in September. If anything, she’s taken a step backwards, swapping eagerness for resistance.

I’m reminded of the time we moved our kids from the Montessori school we all loved because I wanted my kids to be learning more Hebrew than Montessori could provide. Within a few months, N had gone from the child who burst out of his classroom yelling, “Today was AMAZING!” to the kid who would answer my question about his school day with three words: “It was bad.” We killed his love of school. I’m still not sure whether it has recovered.

Since that disastrous decision, we’ve established that it’s a very bad idea to take a kid out of a learning situation where they’re happy and enthusiastic, in order to satisfy our own concerns about content and rigour. And yet, I did it again with E and her flute.

So I’m cancelling flute lessons. We might start them again one day, when E is ready and willing. Until then I’ll back off, provide songbooks and support, and hope like crazy that my excited little flautist comes back.

Keepin' it real · Kids · Montessori · parenting

Day 774: “Let your sister work.”

We baked goodies for the Ve’ahavta Street Outreach van again yesterday. R immediately took charge of making the blondies; E begged to help her.

After ten minutes of E begging and R saying “no!” I had to intervene. R grudgingly handed E the measuring cup and spoon, and asked her to fill the cup with brown sugar and pack it down tightly.

The moment E started spooning it out, there was a scattering of brown sugar all over the floor.

“E!” R scolded, “What a mess! This is why I didn’t want you to help me!”

“Hold on there,” I said. “You weren’t always able to do things neatly either. She’s still learning. We’ll clean it up. There’s plenty more sugar where that came from. You have to give her a chance to do it, or she won’t become as skilled as you are.”

“But it’s killing me!” R moaned dramatically. “Watching her do it like that is killing me!

“Yep, welcome to the past twelve years of my life,” I said. “Now sit on your hands, zip your lips, and let your sister work, just like I used to do with you guys.”

“Were we this messy?” R asked.

I shook my head. “Worse.”

It’s hard watching them at times, isn’t it? We could do it so much faster and neater than they can; but, as I told R, they have to learn sometime, mess or no mess. Cooking isn’t the only skill they’ve got to learn this way, either. Settling arguments with friends; decorating their own rooms; making phone calls; navigating the neighbourhood. These things can get so, so messy—but we still can’t do it for them. Once we’ve taught them what we can, we have to sit on our hands, zip our lips, and be ready to help when it’s cleanup time.

family fun · Just the two of us · parenting

Day 772: Business Trip

Mr. December left this afternoon for his first business trip since COVID started.

(It really is just since COVID started. When he flew home from San Jose the last time, there were already known cases in California. A few days after he landed we went into lockdown.)

“I’ll miss you so much,” I whispered in his ear.

He looked at me oddly. “I’m only leaving for three days,” he pointed out. Which is all well and good, but when you’ve been together for the last seven hundred and seventy-two days, a three-day trip sounds like an awfully long time.

“I just like having you around,” I told him. After that I couldn’t tell him anything, because the kids had all piled on top of him and it quickly morphed from a group hug to a mosh pit.

Mr. December being hugged by three children. Their legs are braced as if they're trying to push him over.

I know it felt like my recent post about Bridgerton as a jumping-off point was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I’m actually finding myself pausing the film to address the topics that come up. Tonight we discussed why homemade abortifacient concoctions were (and are) a very, very bad idea. We talked a bit about the history of abortion laws and the positive impact of safe abortion options. We also looked up feminine hygiene practices in the Regency period.

“So what you’re saying,” K said slowly, “is that they basically wore diapers. OK.”

What I’m saying to you, dear readers, is that I think I’ve managed to instil an appreciation for the advancements in medicine, science, and menstrual products that we enjoy today. Not bad for a non-school evening in front of the TV.