family fun · Kids · parenting

Day 287: Thirteen

My firstborn baby turned thirteen years old today.

Last night, after the kids’ bedtime and before we went to sleep, Mr. December and I hung some balloons, carefully placed others, strategically hid rubber ducks, and set up a prank outside her door.

Sadly, most of those things were in disarray by the time K saw them. The balloons on the wall fell off it; the giant ducky balloon tipped the whole stand over (note to self: use a weight next time); and the bag of ducks that was supposed to shower Kali with its contents when she opened her bedroom door… well, she opened her door this morning to see a plastic bag of ducks on the floor. It’s okay, though. She was still thrilled. She spent half an hour reorganizing her duck collection to accommodate the newcomers.

As a baby K slept a lot, ate well, cried shrilly, and had an infectious smile and laugh. Thirteen years later, not much has changed. Sure, she’s taller and more adult-shaped now, but her personality has remained constant.

I love watching my kids grow up. But for a very early exception (I cried when she outgrew newborn size diapers at four weeks old) I’m always excited about whatever new stage they’re growing into. It’s miraculous, all of it, and I’m not trying to hold on to their babyhood; and yet sometimes I get nostalgic for the days of snuggling baby K to my chest.

Apparently she gets nostalgic too. Tonight she begged me to read to her, to which I agreed. We went into the library and I sat down in my favourite chair: a fully upholstered rocking chair. I expected K to spread herself out on the beanbag, but instead she announced, “I’m going to snuggle you.”

I barely had time to process that statement before she climbed right into my lap and arranged a fuzzy blanket around her. Her head rested on my shoulder the entire time I was reading. Even though she’s as tall as I am now, it still brought back some of that snuggling-a-baby feeling. My legs may beg to differ (once they get their circulation back) but I told K we could snuggle like that anytime she wanted.

Happy Birthday, K!

DIY · education · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Montessori · parenting

Day 281: Appy Days

I’m a firm believer in the Montessori method and its underlying philosophy. I vastly prefer my kids to do their learning with materials that they can pick up and manipulate, rather than on a tablet or computer. I really do believe that the motor planning, fine motor skills, and sensory feedback kids get from wooden tiles, or puzzles with pieces in the shapes of the continent, are important input. And yet…

I’ve been trying to engage E in learning to write her letters for months now. I had one success; then E went back to refusing to do anything resembling schoolwork. I have tried writing the letters in kinetic sand, shaping the letters with play dough, writing letters on the windows and mirrors for each other to find, having her trace in pencil the letters that I’ve written in highlighter. So far, nothing has been successful for more than a minute or two.

In a Montessori classroom E would have observed the writing lessons being presented to other children; she would be familiar with the materials and might eventually be curious about them. I don’t have a classroom of children around her age. Clearly, a lot of the motivating elements of Montessori are absent if you’re not in a Montessori classroom.

Meanwhile, R has asked me to find her a cursive writing workbook so she can learn it too. I started Googling, and very quickly came upon lists of cursive writing apps. A year ago I might have scoffed at the idea and extolled the benefits of learning to write with pencil and paper. Today I took a look at the app, made sure it was ad-free and had features I liked, and I hit “Buy.”

I got out our convertible tablet/laptop and told E that I got a new app just for her. That was enough to fuel her excitement. I then realized that the kids lost the stylus that came with the device (of course.) Not to be deterred, I made a DIY stylus out of a Q-tip, an empty pen barrel, and some tinfoil (and yes, it works!)

I introduced E to the app. She was instantly enchanted by the animation that follows each writing attempt. She worked diligently with the stylus and tablet for at least twenty minutes. She told me excitedly that it even lets her practice writing her numbers.

When I first imagined homeschooling E, I pictured peaceful mornings of working with the wooden movable alphabet and then writing the words down on paper. Having her work on a tablet for half the morning would have been on my list of things not to do. But in some ways homeschooling is just like every other aspect of parenting. You go in with ideals and principles, and after a few months or years you’ve accepted that you have to do whatever works, even if it doesn’t look the way you wanted it to.

Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting · whine and cheese

Day 275: All night long (all night)

I’m not as young as I used to be.

This profound thought is brought to you by last night’s sleep deprivation.

Two nights ago, N woke up in pain that was severe enough that he didn’t feel he could swallow liquid Tylenol. In an effort to avoid a repeat performance, last night I set an alarm for myself to wake up when his next dose of Advil was due… at 12:30 a.m.

(Yes, I know some people don’t even go to sleep until then. But it’s two and a half hours past my usual bedtime.)

I wanted to stay on top of the pain, though, so I woke him up to take his medicine. As soon as his eyes popped open, he started crying violently. It already hurt too badly to swallow; I ran downstairs to get the prescription pain meds, which are concentrated enough that we can just squirt a dose under his tongue and wait for it to take effect. In the meantime, K, who had woken up, sat with N and rubbed his back until I returned with the drugs.

Long story short: after fifteen minutes it kicked in. I then gave him his Advil, which he could finally swallow, and his Tylenol, which he was due for any minute. I stayed with him until he fell asleep and then retired to my bed.

I awoke to loud crying at 2:30 (less than an hour and a half after I got back to bed.) He was in pain, but it wasn’t his throat: he had terrible air pains in his belly. My best guess is that he swallowed a whole lot of air during all the crying, and it was making itself known. I lay down next to him and rubbed his belly until he was asleep.

I must have dozed a bit. When I opened my eyes it was 4:30 and N was asleep. I crawled back to my room and got into bed. Less than four hours later I was nudged awake by N, asking if it was time for more medicine yet (it was past time, actually.) I staggered to the bathroom and gave him his medicine. Then I lay down again and pretended it wasn’t morning yet. At 8:40 I gave in to obligation and got up to join everyone else for the school day.

It was an exercise in grit, which I hope the kids will remember, but which I’m certain they won’t. I worked with them on their writing project; I worked on some of my own projects; I drove K to the orthodontist. By the time we got back I was beyond exhausted, and excused myself to go nap.

I woke up in time for Shabbat dinner, a bit rested but not feeling especially good. Now I’m counting down to bedtime, which feels like it should be now, but somehow is still a couple of hours away. Wake me up when it’s time for more meds, mmkay?

family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Just the two of us · Kids · parenting · waxing philosophical

Day 272: 41-derful

Happy Birthday to me! As of today, the world has enjoyed my presence for 41 years.

I think we’ve done ourselves a disservice by glorifying youth. I really do. I don’t particularly want to be 25 again. University was fun, those early years of marriage were too, but I think I’m a better person for the last 16 years of life experience. Why would I want to give that up?

People keep asking me if I’m doing anything special today. My answer is one of two, either: “You know, these days it’s all special;” or, “Like what? We’re in lockdown. It’s not like I can do anything I’m not already doing.”

A few fun little things stand out, though:

  • This morning when the kids asked if they could have popsicles for breakfast I paused, about to say no, and then instead announced, “Heck, it’s my birthday. Popsicles for everyone!”
  • Tonight was Funnel Cake Night in our house.
  • I got to pick what we were ordering for dinner (Indian food.)
  • Our Language Arts lesson was a game of Scrabble, and literature is watching Gulliver’s Travels tonight after dinner.
  • I took time out in the afternoon to go for a walk and have some alone time with Mr. December (yes, I sold my kids’ souls to Disney for that hour. I regret nothing!)
  • My parents came over to light Hannukah candles and eat funnel cakes with us.

And the less fun thing (although my inner mama bear finds it deeply fulfilling) was taking care of N today while he recovered from his tonsillectomy. I showed him the lego pain scale so we could keep tabs on whether he had adequate pain control. There’s nothing sadder than a kid begging for Advil an hour before he’s allowed another dose (and yes, we’re staggering Advil and Tylenol so he’s got constant coverage.) So I spent some extra time snuggling and hugging him. I’m not happy he’s feeling awful, but I do enjoy the snuggles.

And that’s it… my birthday is over almost as soon as it began. Maybe I’ll just do as the rabbis did and declare that outside of Israel, birthdays are a two-day celebration.

Yes, that will do nicely. Popsicle breakfast for everyone!

community · education · Jewy goodness · Kids · parenting

Day 266: Voting Time

I used to proudly proclaim that “My house is not a democracy! It’s a benevolent dictatorship!”

I’m not sure exactly how and when that changed, but these days we do involve the children in more decision-making than a dictator would. I think decision-making and consensus-building are skills that can be taught, like everything else, so we’re trying to teach them through experience.

Last week was our annual Tzedaka vote. I couldn’t resist throwing a little learning into the mix by explaining to the kids that the root of Tzedaka is Tzedek, or justice (sometimes also translated as righteousness.) We give Tzedaka not because we’re generous and charitable, but because it is just and right to share some of what we’ve been given.

Mr. December gave each child ten poker chips. I had prepared cards with the logos of our usual charities (and a couple of causes that were new this year) and I spread them out on the table. We explained briefly what each charity was about and why we originally decided to support them. And then… voting time.

It’s always interesting to watch the kids allocate their chips to different organizations. Some years I wonder what they’re thinking; this year Mr. December asked.

“I’m donating to Sick Kids because they have really good stuff that helps kids not be scared, like that special stand that holds the iPad so you can play while the doctors are working on you.”

“I like our old school and I want to see it continue, so I put my chips in for that.”

“I think we should support the community orchard because it’s cool to have in our neighbourhood.”

“We use Wikipedia a lot and it’s great that it doesn’t have ads.”

Do you see what I see? For the most part, the kids voted to support organizations that they had personal experience with. Or, as Mr. December cynically pointed out, “There’s a significant element of self-interest at play here.”

One of the new items on our table was really a borderline decision: allocating funds towards supporting local businesses. In other words, we’re setting aside a certain amount of money to make purchases at our local shops (many of which are on the expensive side) instead of at cheaper chains or big-box stores. Is that charity? Nope. But is it Tzedaka? I’m not sure—we are choosing to spend extra money in a way that supports our community, so… kind of?

If you think that the kids didn’t put the majority of their chips on “buy local”, then you’re probably not aware that our neighbourhood boasts a Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlour, the kids’ favourite laffa restaurant, and an authentic French bakery that makes delectable baguettes and croissants. And those are just three of the many businesses whose products the kids like to eat. They definitely voted with their stomachs this time.

family fun · parenting

Day 264: Happy Birthday Dad!

If you like my writing, if you appreciate my way with words, you might want to thank my dad. Here’s why:

When I was a kid, if I used a big word and then couldn’t define it for him, he’d send me to get the dictionary.

“Nah, it’s okay,” I’d say.

“It’s not okay,” Dad responded. “Go get the dictionary.”

“I don’t want to,” I’d shoot back.

“I’m not asking,” he said.

And so I found myself, over the years, learning to use the correct words for things—and not to use words I couldn’t define.

Today is Dad’s birthday, and the kids and I went over to my parents’ house tonight with his favourite dessert, a coconut cream pie. Seventy-five candles would have been a bit over the top, I thought, so once again I wrote his age out in binary: 1001001. Isn’t that cool? 75 is a nice round number, but 1001001 is a palindrome, all symmetrical and very pleasing to the eye when rendered in two colours of candles.

I really wanted to write a lovely tribute to Dad for his birthday, but my neck is hurting very badly. The massage he gave me a few hours ago was excellent, but the pain is back now. So I guess this post will have to remain short and sweet; in the absence of elaborate descriptions, I can only say that if you think I’m cool, well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

family fun · Keepin' it real · parenting · snarky · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 258: There once was a family of six…

There once was a family of six
Whose kids did not like limericks
Blake’s The Tyger they knew,
and The Highwayman too,
But each lim’rick Mom read, they would nix.

An ambitious young homeschooling father
Asked one day, “Must it be such a bother
to get the kids working?
Why are they still shirking?
Is there something to do they would rather?”

For us it is tougher to feed
Our kids greens, than to get them to read.
With their noses in books,
They ignore pointed looks
And peruse a long, zombified screed.

One tweenager often will rant
To the nearest onlooking house plant
That her work is unfair.
Then, she pulls at her hair
And shouts, “I cannot do it! I can’t!”

One day was so terribly rough
That I sat up and bellowed, “Enough!
Stop your moaning and crying
As if someone’s dying.
No-one cares if you think life is tough!”

And this one, courtesy of Mr. December:

There once was a kid with a temper
Whose anger we just couldn’t temper
She said “you’re a jerk”
And the chicken went “Berk!”
Having kids is a caveat emptor.

I think that I’ve written enough
And my tone is becoming too gruff
So this post I’ll retire
Lest a coup I inspire.
Back tomorrow, with some sort of fluff.

education · Fibro Flares · Keepin' it real · parenting · waxing philosophical · whine and cheese

Day 253: Better and Worse

Thanks for all your well wishes—I’m feeling quite a bit better today, although my legs are still pretty painful. It’s not my pain that made today painful, though.

It is so difficult, as a parent, to watch your child struggle and not be able to really help. Mr. December thought I was upset because I had a kid yelling at me constantly while I tried to offer support, but what really made me feel like crying was seeing how miserable said kid was. From the outside looking in, you might think that this was a case of terrible disrespect and laziness; from the inside, I can tell you there’s a lot of fear, frustration, shame, and sadness behind every outburst.

I’m sorry for being so non-specific, but as my children get older I feel that some of the frustrating things need to stay more anonymous; I also realize that while I know my children as wonderful people with their own difficulties, my readers don’t, and I don’t want to create the wrong impression. At the same time, my frustration as a parent is front-and-centre some days, and I want to be able to write about it. It’s a delicate balance.

Today I found myself idly wondering where we went wrong in our parenting. Maybe we’ve been too patient and supportive? Maybe we needed to be stricter? Or perhaps, as Rowan Atkinson suggested in one of his comedy sketches, if we “had administered a few more fatal beatings…”? Okay, maybe not that last one. But you get the idea. There was a lot of self-doubt in my head today.

One of the biggest frustrations for me is how long it takes to help our kids with their issues. First, it takes time to identify exactly where the problem seems to be, and which professional to engage on it. Then we wait for an assessment appointment and then come the interventions, which take time to work… or to not work. It’s trial and error, and as we go through this process repeatedly, years of the child’s life are going by: years where maybe we could have chosen a different intervention or clued in to a different aspect of their problem.

For a child who had difficulty learning to read, we tried the following: extra phonics support; vision therapy; Orton-Gillingham tutoring; Occupational Therapy; and finally, intensive (15 hours a week) one-on-one tutoring at a specialized centre. It took us two years to get from recognition of the problem to a solution.

The child who spent most of the day yelling at me was particularly solicitous this evening, helping me tidy up and get dinner to the table; they also voluntarily practiced an instrument and really put in a good effort. Maybe it was an attempt to remind me of something I’ve never actually forgotten—but the child perhaps fears I might—that they have their bad days, certainly, but mine are fundamentally good kids, doing the best they can with the skills they have.

crafty · DIY · education · Homeschool · Independence · Montessori · parenting

Day 244: Obvious

Even experienced parents sometimes forget the basics.

Last Thursday I had a meeting with E’s Montessori teachers. “It’s really hard to get her to do anything,” I griped. “I find myself threatening loss of screen time, but I know that’s not the Montessori approach.”

The teacher nodded sagely and suggested a visual schedule so that E could choose the order of activities and keep track of them herself. You know, kind of like the magnet boards I made the other kids.

You might have heard me slap my head and groan. Of course. This is, like, parenting 101. How did I forget?

So this morning I made her some schedule cards based on the assignments her teachers suggested for the week. I don’t have an extra magnet board, so I put elastics through a hole in the top of each card and wrapped them, luggage-tag-style, around the bannister railing on the main floor.

Did it work?

Sort of. She did the first three things eagerly enough, even snack prep. I found that amazing, given that she’s always been able to make her own snack, but almost never did it before the schedule board told her to. It’s almost like magic!

She very happily brushed glue along the lines of cursive letters and then sprinkled them with sand, making her own sandpaper letters. She dove into the stencilling work I’d prepared for her, holding her pencil and the stencil carefully. And she made her own strawberries and toast with cream cheese for snack, all by herself.

To think, she could have been doing far more these past five weeks if only I’d remembered the power of this kind of list. D’oh. At least I finally got my act together.

DIY · family fun · Homeschool · Independence · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting · waxing philosophical

Day 229: Reality Check

“Your kids play Little House on the Prairie? Wow! Look at them with the brooms and everything… this is how kids should play, you know?”

The kids had gotten tired of the trampoline, so R took charge and announced that they would play Little House on the Prairie. Moments later they were all doing their chores and waiting for ‘Pa’ to come back from hunting in the Big Woods. I happen to agree with my friend’s assessment: imaginary play like this is, in my opinion, the kind of play our kids need more of.

Shortly after that, the back door banged open and K emerged with several bowls and plates. “Who wants to taste-test my weird pasta flavours?” she hollered.

My friend turned to me with a questioning look, so I explained that lately K has started adding different flavours to the water when she boils pasta.

“Wow, that’s really cool. Your kids are amazing!”

“They have their moments,” I replied. “Oh, did I tell you that N is trying to teach himself whittling? I finally bought him a knife so he would leave my x-acto knives alone.”

That morning, sitting by the campfire in our backyard, we probably looked like a stereotypical homeschooling family: the younger children playing “wholesome” outdoor games based on the books they’d read, the independent teenager doing weird culinary experiments for the family to taste-test, and the boy with his own knife who is teaching himself to whittle.

That beautiful picture lasted all morning. Then I went into the kitchen for a glass of water and saw the formerly-tidy countertops strewn with bowls, colanders, and spoons. An empty cellophane pasta package was lying on the counter next to an identical bag that was half empty and wide open. K may have taken the initiative to experiment and share her pasta with others, but she did no cleanup whatsoever. In fact, I asked her to put away the bag of pasta five times throughout the afternoon before she finally did it.

That seems to be the norm these days. This morning I walked into the kitchen and immediately called Mr. December to come in and look. The microwave door was hanging open; there was an empty takeout container on the counter in front of it; a dirty plastic plate was next to that, and a plastic spoon lay beside it, dripping sauce onto the counter. “Who do you suppose finished the leftovers?” I asked sarcastically. Mr. December shook his head, sighed, and cleaned it up himself.

Meanwhile, R (the same one who came up with the Little House on the Prairie game in the backyard the other day) was on her third straight hour of playing Roblox on the computer. When I finally told her it was time to get off, she moaned about how there’s nothing else for her to do.

I’m not saying that my kids aren’t amazing—they are incredible, unique, and fascinating souls who will be wonderful adults one day. I’m saying that they’re kids. They do some wonderfully creative and independent things; they also do some thoughtless, lazy, and annoying things. It comes with the territory.

Every time a friend or stranger comments on something my kids do that is unusually responsible or mature, I feel the urge to show that person photos of the wet towels on the floor or the smoothie cups that went outside one summer day and have been on the ground near the trampoline ever since. You know, in the spirit of keeping it real. But the truth is that seeing my kids through someone else’s eyes is probably a more important reality check than the other way around. Every time I notice a wet towel or a tantrum, I see that my children are still children; when other people comment on my kids’ mature, creative, responsible behaviour, I get to see the adults they will become.