First Snowfall

First snowfall in mid-November

Glows in the dark through my windows,

Beckons a glance, but

Waits patiently until morning.

 

First snowfall in fall

Bunches up on vacant tree limbs and

Forces tall grasses to bow down

Under its weight.

 

First snowfall of the season

Bedazzles rooftops, fences, and bushes,

Recolors the ground, and

Glimmers in sunlight.

 

First snowfall this year

Reminds me of the comforts of home,

The necessity of yielding

To the power of nature.

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Got 15 minutes? Spend It With Your Kids

timeI’ve read several articles through the years that suggest that spending 15 minutes of quality time with your kids every day can help you to establish a meaningful relationship, a lasting bond. Some authors suggest reading with kids for 15 minutes a day. Some say to chat with your kids about their day, their interests, or their hopes and dreams for 15 minutes every day. Others have suggested playing board games or doing puzzles together. Of course, all of these things are good things to do. What you do might depend on the mood of the house or what is needed in that particular moment. Here are some of my thoughts and ideas that may seem obvious, but perhaps it’s helpful to remember that spending a little bit of time with our kids can make a big impact.

One night after dinner, my youngest son said he wanted to “draw.” In the morning before school, he had found a big piece of white paper (from one of those Ikea rolls) that already had some blue paint on the bottom. At first, he was upset that we only had that bit of already marked paper. But, then, he decided he could use the blue paint as a sea, on top of which he could draw some ships. He asked if I wanted to draw with him, and I took him up on his offer. After a while, my oldest son decided to join us. We each drew a ship, with some fishermen, fish, a sunshine, a few clouds, and, of course, TNT! You can’t have a ship without explosives! I think we spend around 15 minutes engaged in the creative process, maybe a little more. It wasn’t hard work. It didn’t require a lot of energy. But, it was good, quality time we spent together!

On a whim, we taught our kids to play euchre. Just as a reminder, they are 9 and 7. I had just recently learned to play the game myself (not a native Michigander), and my oldest son took an interest in learning to play. After dinner, after the table was clear, we sat down and explained the rules of the game. Then, we played a hand. I sat next to my youngest son, who was my husband’s partner, and provided some assistance with when to bid and what cards to throw. My husband helped my oldest son to remember that he had to abide by the rules he had just learned. It was a ton of fun. I was surprised at how quickly my boys caught onto the game, and I was quite happy that we had just created another thing we can do as a family!

Why 15 minutes? Amazingly, that’s all the time most busy families can muster. Some days, there will be a little bit more time. But, in all honesty, that’s all the time it takes to get the ball rolling. If I sit down for around 15 minutes with my kids–drawing, chatting, playing a game, etc.–they are usually quite content to wander off and play on their own afterward. I think they really like when I get down to their level and do the things they like to do. Sometimes, instead of chatting or playing, I sit down with them while they do their homework. This is a great way to be involved in their schooling and figure out what they are learning and what they are struggling with.

Here are some of the ways I spend 15 minutes with my kids:

  • Playing a board game, a card game, or doing a puzzle (Mine aren’t huge on puzzles, but they do enjoy board games and card games. They’ve even learned to play some of these games on their own when we are unavailable.)
  • Chatting about the day over dinner (I’ve learned a lot about what the kids are learning in school and who they spend their time with during these dinnertime conversations.)
  • Walking around the block together (A dog is a great reason for walking, but there are also leaves and acorns to pick up, snow to jump in, blooming flowers to observe, and ant colonies to discover.)
  • Involving them in preparing a meal (My youngest son has helped to make pancakes from scratch so many times, I’m sure he could make them on his own. They’ve also helped me make cookies, muffins, pies, and other tasty treats.)
  • Reading a book together (We have been reading the illustrated version of Harry Potter together. This is something we have both enjoyed. We make it a point to read every night with both of them, even though my oldest son does most of his reading on his own now.)
  • Drawing or painting with them (I’ve found that having makers and crayons and paper available and out where they can see it encourages them to want to create. They draw or paint on their own, but I’m glad to join in the fun too!)
  • Sitting on the couch and chatting (I have been known to make a cup of tea and sit down on the couch and just wait for one of them to wander over and chat. They usually cuddle up next to me and tell me all sorts of wild things. It’s a relaxing way to spend a few minutes together after school or after dinner.)
  • Involving them in doing chores (Helping them clean their rooms gives us a chance to talk. Helping me clear the table allows for more time for us to spend together. These are both win-win scenarios! I always tell my kids that helping around the house is part of being a family. They don’t always love it, but they seem to get it.

I figured I’d put these ideas out there because life gets busy, and I’ve found that my kids give me a reason to slow down. They love it when I hang out with them and chat with them. And, I love it too! I feel like we are making a connection in these moments. I’m sure all of these little moments will become even more important as they get older and busier and less inclined to hang out with mom and dad. I want them to know I’m interested. I’m paying attention. I have time for them. What kinds of 15-minute activities do you do with your kids?

 

 

 

Living and Work and Trying To Balance

The first person to respond to my query about how to handle the work/life balance was my brother, who emphatically said, “Two words, I don’t.” When asked to elaborate, he said, “one word: Separate. When I leave work, I do exactly that…I leave everything behind…leave any issues behind…And I just try to enjoy my family time.” Seems smart and simple to me. Of course, things do not always work out that way. Sometimes work bleeds into our home-lives and home bleeds into our work-lives in ways we do not anticipate. Sometimes we are forced to do our work at home, particularly when deadlines are looming or if one happens to be a teacher. Other times, we end up bringing our home All of us have at least thought about, if not struggled with, how to balance the responsibilities of home and work. Many of my family members and friends were generous enough to share their insights and experiences on my Facebook page. I am glad to be able to share my insights based on what everyone said. I hope we will all realize that we are in this together and that there are various ways and means of finding balance.

One of my friends explained the problem of the work/life balance with an example. She wrote, “Got up, started work at 8am today, got home from work at 8pm, made dinner, time for bed. Same as yesterday, same as day before. Balance? Um, no. Not so much.” No, not so much. In fact, the most common sentiment expressed in the responses was that the balance was nearly impossible to achieve: “I constantly struggle with the feeling that I am not doing any of my roles any justice.” “I have come to understand that I cannot achieve balance–at least not consistently.” “Ha! I use humor to mask the poo-show that is my work-life balance, ‘Hi, we are team slow, and we live in a circus!'” A lot of us know that the answer is to slow down, but we do not know how to do it when there is so much work to be done. We do our work and forget ourselves. We take time out and get behind at work. We want to spend time with our family and friends, but we have to set priorities and somebody ends up feeling left out. We feel guilty and cranky and tired. We are left wondering: How do we eke out another hour out of the day? When will my life slow down enough for me to catch up? What can I let go of right now that will make my days a little bit easier?

Many of us have given the work/life balance problem a lot of thought. In the midst of many of the responses I received, there were great nuggets of wisdom on how to bridge what sometimes feels like an enormous gap. My cousin said, “Lately, I have stopped demanding perfection and just do my best ‘at that moment’ and KNOW and ACCEPT that sometimes life will come before work and sometimes work will come before life (but not as often 😉).” I love that response. So many of us are unrelenting perfectionists. The other day, with much work hanging in the balance, and feeling like my house was out of whack, I spent the entire morning organizing. I am not sure if it was fair to make my students wait an extra few days to get their papers back, and this little stunt will probably come back to bite me in the ass on my evaluations, but sometimes you have to put your stuff in order. Or, at least sometimes I have to put my stuff in order because my shit gets out of control.

I appreciated all of the responses to my questions, but I especially appreciated the answers that reminded us all of the importance of “self care.” Several years ago now, I came to the realization that I needed to prioritize my health. I had not worked out in a long time, which was something I had done since junior high school, and I was feeling stressed and lethargic. So, I got a YMCA membership and started running and lifting again. It was a really great feeling, and I have been able to maintain a routine schedule of working out at the gym or running outside for many years. A couple of other people who responded also noted the importance of exercise and mindfulness. As one friend put it, “Exercise truly helps me feel balanced overall!” Me too! Other friends mentioned the importance of “organization” and “planning,” “meditation and mindset,” “therapy and yoga,” and “setting positive intentions for the day.” Also, coffee. As my cousin put it, “Coffee is my go to de-stressor.” This is good stuff. Great advice. This is what keeps us moving forward. And, as my mother once (or ten times) told me, “A body in motion stays in motion.” Was that my mother who said that?

During a recent conversation with my doctor, I explained that I had been feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious. She brought the problem back to the work/life balance and basically described the image that is featured in this post. She explained that we are all on a kind of teeter-totter that goes perpetually up and down. That is, we do not spend our time firmly straddling the middle. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, there is only so much time in the day. So, we have to let some things go. We have to simplify, organize, prioritize, get exercise, and check in with ourselves.

One friend, who was kind enough to respond to my work/life balance question, summed up how I have often approached this troublesome conundrum. She said, “I love my job, and I think I do it well, but I won’t sacrifice time with family to be the best. I know many disagree with that, but I’ve just made a really conscious decision to put family first.” Some do “disagree” with this stance; if they do not disagree, they have simply chosen to live life differently. I am not here to make judgements about how people live. I am interested in learning strategies from others and sharing my own ways of finding balance. In a particularly telling moment, one of my friends explained that she did not think her and her wife had been able to strike a very good work/life balance and that they were wondering how they would ever be able to find the time to “make the leap” into parenting. I guess we all find our ways and means. We sacrifice some things. We get behind sometimes. We wander around aimlessly a little bit. Things fall apart, and we put them back together. We are all doing pretty damn good, from what I can tell. And, we will keep doing.

 

More Tech Trouble

As we take in the last few days of summer, and our kids return to school, we have to get back into the routine of waking up a little bit earlier, making sure to have a healthy breakfast, packing lunches, getting to school on time – with their lunches, their water bottles, and their signed permission slips – attending after school activities, doing homework, making sure to have a healthy dinner, and getting to bed at a reasonable hour. Sounds exhausting writing it out! During the summer, we relaxed these “rules” a bit. They boys would wander around the yard past dark, gathering sticks to build forts under the stars, while we would sit on the patio, listening to the sound of crickets and following the glint of tiny lightning bug bodies. Along with relaxing on our patio, we also relaxed our rules around technology. I do not regret this choice, but it has made the transition back to school that much more difficult.

Last winter, we decided that it would be best to take technology out of equation during the school week. We also made the hard decision to take away their tablets and video game system. We had been noticing that our youngest son was having issues with technology. He wanted to use it all the time, and he was angry when it was time to shut it down. He was having trouble with his school work, and he was choosing technology over spending time with friends. We thought both our boys could benefit from removing , they would get busy doing other things. They did. They played more, argued less, and seemed happier. By the time school was out for summer, it had been a solid six months since we had removed the majority of devices from our house. Since summer is supposed to be a time to wind down, we thought it would okay to reinstate the video game system and to relax our rules around the use of technology. We did. Summer seemed okay, but fall presented some old/new challenges.

The first two weeks of school were rough. I am a teacher, so I was going back to school as well, though a week before the kids started back. The about-face is always hard. But, convincing my youngest son that we would need to go back to the routine of no technology during the week proved to be a special kind of challenge and resulted in some epic two-hour meltdowns. A monkey wrench was thrown into the mix too. My youngest son’s teacher decided that they would celebrate birthdays at school by allowing the kids to bring their own devices to play on for 30 minutes. While I appreciate the necessity for technological fluency, I have a hard time understanding the rationale behind 30-minute birthday celebrations that involve kids on individual devices. Aren’t birthdays for celebrating together? The transition plus the allure of the technology party was too much for my youngest son.

Before we drastically limited access to technology in our house, my youngest son was having trouble learning to read. He started getting extra help at school, and I am certainly grateful for this help, but I also realized that his singular focus on technology was standing in the way of his education. After taking technology away during the week (and insisting he wear his reading glasses), we started to see some improvement in his reading fluency. At the end of the school year, he tested at grade level. We were happy with his progress, but we think summer break may have resulted in some backsliding. Perhaps that is inevitable, given there is no possible to way to coerce your children into completing their summer bridge books. Perhaps the backsliding is the result of reintroducing the video game system? Either way, there is work to do this school year.

My hope is that we can put the first two weeks of school behind us. We can start fresh next week with an eye toward reaching some learning goals and doing some personal growth. We will keep our technology rules in place – no technology during the week, family movie nights on Friday and Saturday evenings, and some free technology time on Saturday and Sunday mornings. We will see how it goes. We have realized that the video game system is not big problem without Minecraft, which we chucked because it caused so much fighting.

But, we have another issue on the horizon. The boys are both interested in Fortnite, which they have played at friend’s houses. I am not interested having them play Fortnite. In my view, they are too young at 9 and 7 to play a video game designed for people 12 and older. They want to play to so bad though that they started saving money to buy a new game system that would host that game. Both kids turned their coins into dollars, and my oldest son has been diligently collecting cans and returning them all summer. They have nearly saved enough for an XBox One. We have enough cans in the garage to put them over the edge, and I am not sure how I will handle this “problem.” I am proud of my kids for saving money, and I want them to have their reward. How can I steer them away from rewarding themselves with ANOTHER technological device and a game they are technically too young to play? Thoughts?

10 MORE Heroic Things…

  1. When I am not critical of the face I see in the mirror
  2. When I am comfortable in my clothes
  3. When I take the time to listen to someone’s story
  4. When I do a hardcore workout at the gym
  5. When I take a long walk with my dog
  6. When I have a particularly kick-ass teaching day
  7. When I finish a terrific book
  8. When I take the time to appreciate my surroundings
  9. When I move slower and more deliberately
  10. When I write something, even if it isn’t perfect

10 Things That Make Me Feel Like a Hero

  1. When my kids eat what I cooked for dinner
  2. When both of my kids have showered in the same day
  3. When I do a load of laundry during the week
  4. When I help my kids with their homework
  5. When I pack a particularly artful lunch
  6. When I help with an activity at school
  7. When my kids are happily playing together
  8. When I make a joke that my kids think is funny
  9. When I show my kids up in basketball
  10. When my kids tell me, “I love you, Mommy.”