Category Archives: Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood)

Sandwiched

On Sunday, I was eating lunch with Q. and the kids and getting ready to take E. out to a special concert (an early Christmas present). A flurry of messages from my sisters led to a phone call to my mother, which led to me putting P. in the car on Monday morning and driving for the rest of the day.

My Dad has been very unwell over the last couple of weeks with several major ups and downs. My youngest sister had been in to see him that weekend and it was clear that one of us needed to be there after she left.

The drive up reminded me of those train rides after he first had the accident, the landscape equally bleak, his status equally tenuous. It is easy, too easy really, for my sisters and I to shift back into crisis-management mode. We have done so much of it over the last (almost) two years.

The big change, of course, was that I was driving rather than on the train, because the unborn baby who rode that train with me was now a toddler giggling at me through the backseat mirror as she made her stuffed animals dance to the music. She was better company, certainly, than when she was still in utero, even if we did have to make a few unscheduled stops in the parking lots of roadside rest stops so I could put her boots back on after she pulled them off, tossed them away, and then regretted that choice.

Better company, but not easier to manage.

I was able to come only because my father’s health crisis occurred both after my semester had finished and before my mother had moved. Q. had enough flexibility in his work week to do the school run on the days when we didn’t have our nanny, and I was able to stay with my mother and leave P. with her during the day while I drove to the hospital. The drive is an hour and fifteen minutes (except for last night when it was inexplicably two and a half hours) and during the day, when it’s clear, it’s a nostalgic journey through the landscape that still feels like “home” to me. At night, or in a snowstorm (we had one of those this week too), it’s long and tedious.

By the time I was able to see my Dad on Tuesday morning, he was much better, and by Wednesday he was clearly on the mend, despite, as his doctors said, their total inability to find out what had been wrong with him in the first place. It must have been an infection of some sort- his nurse told me that it happens not infrequently where a patient gets sick and then recovers without them being able to identify where the infection is hiding. It would have been better if they had known what it was. The work required to allow my father to leave the hospital and live in his new house progresses at a glacial pace and this latest scare will no doubt contribute to even more heel dragging on the part of my stepmother.

I am taking P. with me to the hospital this morning for what will almost certainly be a very brief visit with my father (busy toddler and critical medical equipment not being an ideal combination). Dad is looking forward to seeing her. It’s been nice for me to have some time just with him, something which, again, hasn’t happened since the early months after his accident as usually when I’m in town I have both children with me. We’ve been able to talk about my work and play some online Sudoku. I’m confident that I’m leaving him in relatively good spirits and restored to (his version of) good health.

We are out of crisis and back to our (still new) normal.

By the time I am home again, I will have put close to 2,000 kilometres on the car and spent more than twenty hours driving.

I have blown an entire week of work.

I have been Christmas shopping online at 5 a.m. when I can’t get back to sleep after P. has woken up to nurse.

I am glad I came.

It was the right thing to do.

But I am tired.

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Filed under Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Family, P.- the second year

Habits

I’m not sure how NaBloPoMo is going to go in the last week. I’m three posts behind at the moment, I have a seminar paper to give on the 30th, and my mother really wants me to come look at potential condos with her on the 29th since I’m her unofficial real estate consultant. I can make the time to write, but, as I’ve discovered over the last couple of weeks, doing so almost inevitably eats into the time I have for academic writing. It’s been hard to find a balance, and I don’t want to post something just because I have to- I’d like my posts to be thoughtful, to have a point, something for the reader to take away with them.

Here is an incomplete list of what is on my desk right now:

  • a recycling bag with old artwork of E’s that I had been hiding in the winter clothes bin until it was safe to put them in the recycling- I had to get them out when I dug out the winter clothes and I haven’t had a chance to take the bag out to the bin with me. If I put them in the recycling bin in the house he’ll find them again.
  • a bag from a Banana Republic Outlet store with a work shirt I bought at the start of November
  • a collection of completed schoolwork E. brought home last week that I’ve looked at but haven’t yet had time to decide whether any of it should be kept
  • a pair of waterproof mittens and a pair of waterproof gloves that I bought E. but have turned out to be ever so slightly too big- they need to go into his storage bin for next year
  • one pair of pjs that E. really has outgrown
  • three white shirts that need to go into P’s 2T bin (the rest of the newest round of hand-me-downs are in a box upstairs after being washed last night)
  • two onesies and a pair of pants that P. really has outgrown
  • the vocabulary quiz my students wrote on Tuesday
  • my teaching prep for the last two weeks
  • the textbook for my course
  • my good camera
  • my iPad and its keyboard
  • a hydro bill
  • two credit card bills
  • two packages with Christmas presents for the kids
  • three separate piles of receipts
  • E.’s report card
  • a library book I’ve read but I don’t want to return yet because I haven’t had time to type out the quotes I want to keep from it
  • a toy house my mother made for E. when he was two- I got it out for P. two weeks ago but she’s not quite ready for it yet
  • two felt flowers P. pulled off of the house that I have to glue back on before I put it away

I have said on here before that one of the biggest challenges I have found in going from one child to two is the lack of time to keep on top of what I call “life admin”.

So my desk has become a dumping ground, and every couple of weeks I freak out when I look at it and take an hour when I should be actually working to clear it off. It remains blissfully clear for the rest of that day and then, inevitably, things start to pile up again. (I don’t work at my desk, but I find it difficult to concentrate on work if I know it’s messy, even if I’m working outside the house.)

I don’t have a good habit for managing the stuff that ends up on my desk.

I don’t have a good habit for flossing my teeth anymore. I used to floss in the morning but my mornings are so rushed with getting the kids ready that I can make time to brush my teeth but taking the extra minute I need to floss seems indulgent.

I don’t have a good habit for cleaning the litter box. We have two and only one cat now, so if I miss a day occasionally it’s not a major issue, but I have been missing much more than the occasional day of late because I can’t figure out when to do it. I’m either rushing in the morning to get E. to school, wrangling both (tired and crabby and needing connecting time with me) kids by myself after school, or I’ve got the kids in bed and by the time I go down into the basement it’s so I can brush my teeth before I can go to bed and I’m so tired the idea of one more thing seems overwhelming.

What has become clear to me over the last couple of months is I won’t get anything done well if it’s not a habit. My brain feels like it’s running at its maximum capacity all the time. I can make to-do lists and plan my calendar and keep my agenda up to date, but I only ever stay on top of the things that have to be done in that immediate moment. I never forget to pay a bill. I (usually) get my library books back on time. I remember the permission slips. My kids have seasonally appropriate clothing at all times.

It’s the little things that need to be done on a regular basis that seem to be always slipping through the cracks.

Do you also struggle with this? Any tips or suggestions for me?

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Filed under Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Daily Life

Helicopter Parents

One of the books I’ve read this month was How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims, the former Dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising at Stanford.

It wasn’t one of my favourite books for the year. In general I felt there were too many quotes from authors of other parenting books (or anecdotes from the author’s own experience), too little hard data, and (above all) an extremely restricted demographic for the expected audience (even with her disclaimer that what she’s discussing largely applies to children growing up in upper/upper middle class households).

I am curious about how to raise independent children, who will be ready and able to go out into the world, to have adventures and make mistakes.

I want P. and E. to be resilient.

I want them to have growth mindsets, rather than a fixed mindset like their mother.

I want them to be able to explore, even though I’m not sure how to give them the same freedoms I had when I was a child. It’s a lot harder to send your children outside to play “until the streetlights come on” when no one else’s kids are out unsupervised. One of the things I love about our area is that I do see kids walking to school without a parent. They’re older than E. is, of course, and they’re usually walking with a friend, but they’re still doing it free of adult supervision.

There were useful nuggets of information in the book I tucked away, and I will freely admit that the common parental problem of equating your child’s success or failure with your own is one that I still struggle with at times (especially when it comes to school since I was an extreme overachiever and rule follower). A large section of the book is devoted to the problems with the current college admissions process and the overscheduling of children that results, and I don’t think the system is nearly as cut-throat in Canada (although E. is only six- maybe I’ll feel differently about this in ten years’ time). That section was an interesting read, especially since I’m in academia, but I didn’t feel it was particularly relevant to my parenting (although it did align with what my instincts have always been- it’s more important to find a good fit for your undergraduate degree than to attend the most prestigious school, and there can be advantages to being a big fish in a little pond if you later apply for a very competitive graduate program).

Honestly, I thought she was laying it on a bit thick. Students who get to college and don’t know how to ask someone to help them move their boxes into their dorm room? Young adults who get momentarily disoriented in a new city and have to call their parents (who are in business meetings in a DIFFERENT city) to get directions? Parents who stick around to watch or, worse, join in the welcoming rituals of frosh week? Kids who text or call their parents multiple times a day and ask them what they should do for any situation, and parents who tell them what they should do rather than asking the kids how they plan on handling it?

When I was almost finished the book, I was reading it during one of my office hours. A couple of my students happened to come by, and one of them asked me what I was reading. This sparked a long, intense discussion for the rest of the office hour. My three students are all in their first year at university. Two of them are living in residence and the third lives with a cousin “near my Mom, but I’m not actually living with my Mom.” (his phone rang as soon as he finished that sentence- he looked at it and said sheepishly, “Actually, that’s my Mom now” and disappeared to talk to her for a few minutes).

The two who live in residence both had childhoods that very much resembled my own, with plenty of freedom to roam and explore, and high expectations about developing independence and the necessary life skills to function in society as an adult. This is exactly the kind of childhood that Lythcott-Haims says has been eroded for the Millennials (according to her the rot set in during the 1980s, which is when I was a child, which I found quite puzzling since I’ve always felt like I had one of those “good ol’ days” childhoods that people these days are always bemoaning the loss of). Even if I can’t classify myself (or my childhood) as a Millennial (I’m apparently right on the border between Gen X and the Millennials), my students, who are now a full twenty (!) years younger than I am, certainly are.

I gave them some examples of the over-parenting and the failure to grow up that Lythcott-Haims argues results from it and asked them whether they thought this was a fair assessment of their generation.

And the floodgates opened.

They have friends who don’t know how to make a phone call to book a doctor’s appointment; friends who don’t feel comfortable ordering for themselves in a restaurant; friends who don’t know how to organize or manage their time because their parents always told them where they had to go and when they had to be there.

They were unanimous in their assessment that most of the students they lived with in residence were lacking some of the basic skills they needed to be able to function as adults. And what’s more, both of my students said that their friends repeatedly came to them and asked them to help them do these things, because their friends had recognized that these two did come to university prepared to be independent from their parents.

They had lots of advice for me: Make sure my kids order for themselves at restaurants. Let my kids make mistakes with money. Teach them how to cook. Encourage them to work a service job, like a cashier at a grocery store or a barista at a coffee shop, so that they have to make small talk, engage with other people, and learn to let other people’s bad moods not affect their own.

I’m still not convinced we’re in a full-scale parenting crisis, but it was an eye-opening conversation, that’s for sure.

 

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Filed under Books, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Soapbox

The Dreaded Homework

Now that E. is in Grade One, his teacher expects him to spend some time every night on homework.

If the homework were busywork, I’d have no trouble at all if E. refused to do it. I don’t see the point of homework for homework’s sake.

What E. is sent home with, however, is undeniably useful. He gets two new French readers each week, and a list of dictée words every fortnight. In the first round of homework he also came home with a huge stack of French sight word flashcards, which we’ve largely ignored because he knows almost all of them already, and some number cards (now up to 0-40), which we’ve also largely ignored because the goal is for the students to be able to recognize and write from 0-100 in French by the end of the year and E. can already do this.

Books, however, are useful, as E. is a very fluent reader in English but doesn’t yet read well in French (unsurprisingly). And the dictée, although more rigid than I would like to see at this stage in his learning, is invaluable because he is motivated to do well, which means he will sit most nights and practice writing out the words. Writing is his weak spot. He’s improved so much since last year already, but he finds it hard and his hand gets tired and it can be a battle at home to get him to write anything.

The recommendation from his teacher was that homework should take a maximum of twenty minutes a night. I’d say most nights we spend closer to ten minutes- E. doesn’t need more at this stage.

What we’re really trying to instill, of course, is the homework habit- the expectation that he will be able to sit and concentrate and do some work, because as he gets older the homework will come and it will start to be more important and it will start to require more effort from him.

I’m trying to foster a growth-mindset (rather than a fixed one). When E. came home with a perfect score on his first dictée, I didn’t tell him how clever he was or how smart he must have been. I told him that he had worked hard for two weeks and his hard work had paid off.

E. is easily frustrated and a perfectionist. When things get harder, as they inevitably will, or when he makes a mistake, as he inevitably will, I want him to be able to recognize that this is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Before the first dictée we talked about what he should do if he realized he’d made a mistake but his teacher was on to the next word (go to the next word and come back later to fix it if he had time) and what he should do if he couldn’t remember how to spell a word (skip it and start fresh with the next word). To be honest, I was hoping he would make a few mistakes so he’d have room to improve and see that he could still do well even if it wasn’t perfect.

Overall, I have no problems with the homework.

Trying to figure out WHEN to do the homework? That has been painful.

After much trial and error, we’ve finally realized that the only time where it makes sense for E. to do homework is after dinner. He sits at his little table in the kitchen and Q. reads him dictée words or quizzes him on numbers while cleaning up the kitchen. I’m upstairs, putting P. to bed, because she still nurses and needs desperately to reconnect with me after I’ve been at work.

It’s not an ideal situation, as Q. didn’t learn French from a native speaker and has a less-than-perfect accent and pronunciation (as he would be the first to admit). In particular, Q. feels very uncomfortable reading the books with E., as he doesn’t want to lead E. astray.

But when we tried to do homework before dinner, when I was available, it was a constant battle.

E. was tired and hungry.

I was tired and distracted.

P. was tired and hungry and wanted my attention.

By the time I’d settled in after getting home from work and we’d said goodbye to our nanny we usually had thirty minutes (at the most) before I needed to do something about dinner (and this is with Q. largely prepping and cooking the dinners ahead of time on the weekend).

E. didn’t want to sit down and concentrate on homework during those thirty minutes, and P. most certainly did not want me sitting down with E. to concentrate on homework.

Someone always ended up yelling.

Someone always ended up crying.

P. could often be counted on to do both.

Finally I realized that a) E. is six now and can go to bed significantly later than P. does with no ill effects and b) it’s so much easier for him to concentrate when he’s no longer hungry and he doesn’t have his baby sister glued to my chair leg screaming, or yanking his papers off the table and throwing them on the floor if she’s sitting on my lap.

Most days I still listen to E. read (in both English and French), but it’s easier for everyone involved if the rest gets saved until after dinner.

How does homework work at your house (or how did it work when you were a kid)? Any tips or tricks for us newbies?

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Filed under Brave New (School) World, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Grade One, Siblings

Hallowe’en

Mel’s most recent Microblog Monday post (which I yet again missed participating in as Mondays are devoted to prepping Tuesday’s class) was about sucking at Hallowe’en.

The title grabbed me, as I was, for once, extremely confident that I was rocking at Hallowe’en this year.

Then I read the post and discovered that for Mel, sucking at Hallowe’en meant not being super creative with her choice of costume and opting for comfort over clever. Since it hasn’t occurred to me to dress up at Hallowe’en for more than a decade, my definition of sucking has to be different from hers.

We are largely minimalists in our Hallowe’en preparations at our house, a combination of lack of time (both), lack of creative skills (me) and a lack of interest (Q., who comes from a country where Hallowe’en was a non-event in his childhood and is only now starting to get a bit of a foothold thanks to the inundation of American culture). Q. is happy for me to do whatever I want to do, but finds the entire holiday deeply strange.

I buy the candy (and secretly eat too many tiny chocolate bars) and buy the pumpkins and carve the pumpkins with E. and roast the pumpkin seeds and organize E.’s costume and take him trick-or-treating. Q. stays home and hands out candy (and secretly hides the tiny Snickers to eat later).

I suspect this is our last year where our house boasts only one (or two, if I’ve felt ambitious) inexpertly carved pumpkins, as E., at six, is now cognizant of all the decorations on the other houses. He believes firmly that we should “make our house more scary” next year. I quite like the giant webs stretched over people’s front porches, complete with equally giant spiders lurking in the corners. I’d be happy to string something like that up next year, provided I can buy a pre-made web (see above re: lack of creative skills). I think Q. would draw the line at some animatronic monstrosity.

This year was especially complicated since a) P. was now in the mix and b) I teach on Tuesday nights, so would be unable to participate in any of the evening festivities. Luckily my youngest sister was in town and was happy to come and help out.

As of Monday morning, our house had no candy and no pumpkins. Despite discovering on Monday morning that our two closest grocery stores were out of pumpkins (although there was still plenty of candy), by Monday night all was sorted, and we’d even managed to carve the pumpkin after dragging it home after school (E. picked the largest one in the flower market and we were just able to get it home by draping the bag over the handle of the stroller to take some of the weight). E., like last year, drew the design for the pumpkin and (new this year) did some of the carving himself, as well as most of the scooping.

I felt like I spent most of Monday rushing around in a blind panic, but I was still utterly confident that we were going to have an amazing Hallowe’en because E’s costume was THE BEST.

Months ago, E. decided he wanted to be the Titanic for Hallowe’en.

He never changed his mind.

I haven’t been one to make E’s costumes in the past. He was a hand-me-down monkey his first year (when he didn’t go trick-or-treating), a shark his second (I picked that costume and purchased it), a bunny his third (the first year he decided what he wanted to be- a friend made him bunny ears and a bunny tail and I dressed him in brown), a monkey (again) his fourth (because he was insisting he wasn’t going to go trick-or-treating at all and I had a (different, larger) hand-me-down costume that we stuck on him when he changed his mind (predictably) on the day itself), a red snake his fifth (I ordered a snake mask from Etsy and made a tail of sorts by stuffing paper into one leg of a pair of red tights), and a witch his sixth (I ordered a witch’s hat online, stuck him in my graduate gown from the UK and handed him the child’s broom we have in the kitchen). My approach to costumes can best be summed up as “buy it and keep it simple”.

This approach doesn’t work when your child wants to be the Titanic, especially when your child is obsessed with the Titanic and has firm ideas about how the costume has to look (“The fourth funnel was a decorative funnel, so all the funnels have to have smoke coming out of them except for the fourth and it needs to have working red and green lights to show the port and starboard sides and an iceberg dangling off the side, but just the tip of the iceberg because most of it would have been under the water”).

Between E’s vision, his auntie’s creative genius, labmonkey’s willingness to use her Amazon Prime membership to purchase a captain’s hat at short notice, Q.’s deft touch with an electric drill, our surprisingly appropriate collection of craft materials, and my determination not to disappoint my kid, over the course of a couple of weekend afternoons, we built a Titanic costume.

And I am not going to #humblebrag here: it was AMAZING.

E. brought the house down at his school’s costume parade.

On Hallowe’en night, trick-or-treating with his baby sister, the shark (reusing his old costume!), he was a sensation.

He came home with a frightening amount of candy. “People gave me extra as soon as they saw the costume!” he told me the next morning.

He was SO happy.

He’ll probably remember that night forever.

I don’t think we’ll be able to top it- we’ve peaked at age six (either that or we’ve just set a very worrying precedent when it comes to creating unusual costumes from scratch).

It was so worth it.

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), E.- the seventh year, Family

NaBloPoMo (ish) 2017

I’m in a rut with my non-research related writing (in that I’m not doing any of it).

I have a Google Doc called “Future Blog Posts” that keeps getting longer because I add new ideas to it but never actually write any of the old ones.

So I’ve decided to shamelessly adopt Ana’s idea to post 30 times in November. Not a true NaBloPoMo because I’m not going to post every day (not least because today is the 2nd and I didn’t write anything yesterday), but a similar end result if I stick with it.

It’s a tall order, but we’ll see how we go.

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Filed under Blogging, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Writing

Microblog Mondays: Planning Ahead

I’d been doing really well with Microblog Mondays until September arrived and my new academic year started. I think I’d only missed one or two in 2017 before Labour Day. Since then it’s been a struggle, as evidenced by the fact that I’m writing this on Tuesday morning in the spare fifteen minutes I have before meeting with my postdoc supervisor (for the first time since the postdoc started on 1 September- we’re pretty relaxed about the whole thing and she recognizes I don’t want to drive the 90 minutes it takes to get to her university any more often than I have to).

It’s a combination of being home with P. on Mondays (and thus having very little time to myself), teaching on Tuesday nights, and trying to keep teaching prep and marking from eating into my regular working hours on Tuesdays. This means I spend P’s nap on Monday and Monday nights frantically making a PowerPoint, creating an answer sheet for the exercises from the chapter(s) I’m teaching that week, adding grades to the spreadsheet, etc. I should also spend Sunday nights working on the course as well, but I’m usually so tired by the end of the weekend that I opt to watch something on Netflix with Q. instead.

All that to say I think I need to start writing these entries on Fridays.

Have you had to suddenly change up your routine this fall? How do you figure out what needs to change and where you can fit it all in?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

 

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Filed under Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Life after the PhD, Microblog Mondays