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

2018 Goals

1. Conquer my lizard brain

Back in 2015, when I sent myself to happiness boot camp, my first happiness reset sphere was parenting. At the time, E. and I were butting heads A LOT. It was a combination of a difficult developmental stage for him (no one is exaggerating when they talk about how miserable 3.5 can be), a lack of purpose for me (PhD finished, no job, no second baby), and very long, cold winter.

We had slipped into some very negative patterns in our relationship, and I knew things needed to change.

It was a bad phase, but we got through it and things did change and get better and, for the most part, things are a lot smoother chez Turia these days, even with the addition of P., the pint-sized tornado.

When I took a step back and looked critically at the way I interacted with E., I could point to this as the problem:

One of the things that I dislike the most about how I parent E. is how easily I get frustrated/irritated when he starts yelling or getting hugely upset (especially when it is over something that seems highly inconsequential to me). The moment I get frustrated, I feel my jaw clench, and my willingness to compromise or to not sweat the small stuff evaporates. Although I almost never yell, I do raise my voice. The minute I do, the situation escalates.

E. is very sensitive. Yelling doesn’t work. I know this, and I almost never yell at him in anger. But he is just as easily upset by a loud, stern voice, and I am guilty (very guilty) of resorting to using it, especially once my buttons have been pushed and I feel like I’m locked in a battle of wills that I must win.

It’s still the biggest problem in our relationship. I ask E. to do something, he refuses to do it, I ask a different way, he refuses again, I get frustrated and wham! Here comes my lizard brain, which sees danger around every corner, and suddenly my back is up and I’m dead set on winning whatever battle of wills we’re currently engaged in.

I am pretty sure it was Dr. Laura Markham’s Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting which first explained to me exactly what was going on in my brain when I would feel myself losing my temper over the most inconsequential of things (but I didn’t write any quotes down from the book, so I’m not 100% positive. I do remember thinking it was a really important book once I had finished it). Basically, when our children push our buttons, our lizard brain (the oldest, most instinct-driven part of our brain) rears up and takes charge. Lizard brain lives in fight-0r-flight mode. My beloved son is not a sabre-toothed tiger hiding in the grass, but when he’s arguing with me and my lizard brain kicks in, he might as well be.

I don’t feel like I have enough patience for E. a lot of the time. I think sometimes I am too quick to think of him as six-and-a-half-SO-big! instead of six-and-a-half-still-little. Maybe my expectations are too high, or maybe they’re reasonable for his age but he’s not yet able to meet them because of his own developmental arc. I do know I had so much more patience for defiance and meltdowns and hysterics when he was two, because I expected the behaviour.

I know my triggers: not enough sleep, not enough me-time or quiet, being hungry, or having him suddenly disagree about something when I wasn’t expecting it. I know it is developmentally normal for kids to push boundaries and to test their parents, but it’s very very hard for me to keep my lizard brain suppressed when he’s arguing with me or speaking rudely or refusing to do what I’ve asked. I almost always react too quickly and too strongly. I don’t give myself the time and space I need to respond the way I would like. I hit panic mode: “I have to stop this behaviour NOW” rather than being able to take a step back, assess the situation and think “Why is this behaviour happening?”

Lizard brain doesn’t let you step back, take a deep breath and assess the situation.

So if I achieve only one thing this year, I want it to be this: less time with lizard brain in charge.

2. Start getting ready for bed at 9:30 p.m.

Before the holidays, Q. and I were in a bad pattern of going to bed too late, and I was in an even worse pattern of taking ages to actually get ready to go to bed (largely because I kept taking the phone with me to the bathroom so I could read “one more thing” while brushing my teeth). I also hated doing anything that would make the morning more efficient in the evenings because that was my precious “me” time, which meant that E. and I spent quite a bit of December sprinting to school to make sure we wouldn’t be late. We were never late, but it wasn’t a great feeling.

When I was thinking about goals and resolutions for 2018, there were a whole bunch of little ones that could all be neatly folded under this one simple change. So this morning I set an alarm on my phone for 9:30 p.m. called “Go To Bed”. My goal is to be all tucked up in bed by 10 p.m., and to use those thirty minutes to do a bunch of little things that I never prioritize:

  • make E’s lunch for the next day
  • make my lunch if I’m going to be at work
  • fold laundry if it’s hanging out in the dryer or put it away if it’s in a basket
  • file important papers and tidy my desk
  • clean out the litterboxes
  • plug in all of my devices (and put the phone down!)
  • floss

I need to stop thinking of 9:30-10 p.m. as “me” time and start thinking about it as “get ready for tomorrow” time. This is hard- I’m often still upstairs with E. until 8:15, and I don’t like to give up “me” time. I think it will make a huge difference though.

3. Stop taking the phone to the bathroom.

I still have a love-hate relationship with my smartphone. Lately I’ve felt it’s been creeping into my life a little too much. I’m on it too much in the evenings (which noticeably affects my ability to go to sleep) and I tend to take refuge in it too easily. I have been known to hide from everyone in the bathroom with the phone, which feels, on the one hand, like some excellent multi-tasking and, on the other, like maybe I’m a bit addicted to it. So no more email writing or blog reading in the bathroom because it always ends up sucking far more time than I expected.

4. Make the switch to manual and RAW on my camera.

I feel like my photography skills have plateaued. I can shoot pretty well on Av mode, and I control my ISO and my white balance, but I’ve been hesitating before taking that last final step to full manual mode, and I’ve still refused to start editing my images. I’m sick and tired of being jealous of other people’s photos without ever taking steps to change what I know, and I’m frustrated that I default so quickly to using the camera on my phone while my big camera sits on a shelf. Shooting inside my house in the winter is always a challenge- the light’s never very good- but I don’t want to just keep taking snapshots with the phone.

I signed up for the same photography course that Mali is doing. Hopefully that will give me the push I need to practice more. I also need to be more willing to take pictures of things other than my kids, both because they’re not the most cooperative of subjects if I’m trying to fiddle with settings and because I try not to post photos of them online. It seems silly to take a course and not make it possible for others to offer critiques of your work. Plus I do like finding beauty in the everyday.

5. Read 75 books.

I will hopefully write an entirely separate post about this one, but for now I will say this: I am an avid reader and reading is one of my most important mental-health management strategies. 75 books is more than I read in 2017 or 2016, but far less than I read in 2015 (which was the first year I started keeping track). These all have to be books for fun- the (no doubt many) books I will read for my work will not count. My TBR list has expanded exponentially since I started following Modern Mrs. Darcy, and I currently have over fifty books on hold at the library (most listed as inactive), so finding the books will not be the challenge.

6. Go on two dates a month with Q.

Q. and I have a monthly lunch date, which he organized as his present to me for our tenth wedding anniversary last summer (the envelopes with the restaurants’ menus were all presented to me in a tin lunch box because tin is the traditional gift and Q. is amazing). I want to add to this and make sure we get out at least one other time each month, whether that’s for dinner or to see a movie or a concert or just a long walk together and a chance to poke around in a bookstore. Our nanny is happy to babysit on days when she hasn’t been at our house, my mother will soon be close enough to babysit as well, and P. is now (I think) getting to be old enough that my youngest sister might be occasionally willing to look after them both (although her schedule is usually pretty busy). We have options. We need to start taking advantage of them to make sure we remember to prioritize our marriage.

I feel like there should be something in here about exercise and something about writing in general (and blogging in the specific) and something about work, but I haven’t been able to clearly articulate something for those areas yet, and I don’t want to get overwhelmed. So I think I will leave it at six and reassess how I’m going at the start of the next quarter, in April.

What are your 2018 goals/resolutions?



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

Simplifying Christmas

Yes, I know it’s the New Year, but I’m still processing December.

Christmas really crept up on me this year.

It was partly due to the fact that it was a Monday, and E. was in school until the 22nd, so by the time he finished school there was Saturday and then it was Christmas Eve.

And it was partly due to the fact that I spent the penultimate school week with my Dad in the hospital. P. and I had an absolutely horrific drive home again, complete with a major snow storm that approached total white out conditions at one point and a massive diaper blow out that required me to change every piece of clothing she was wearing (while being out of wipes after the previous unscheduled diaper change stop). I ended up carrying her back and forth naked to the sink from the toilet stall that had the change pad in it so I could wet toilet paper and try to get her relatively clean. She stood on the change table and said “cold” and “fall” over and over again and then cried. I ended up with poop on my coat. Eventually she was clean and dry and happy and I stuffed her in the car and drove off into the snow.

It took eight hours to get home (the drive should, at most, take five, even with stops for littlies) and I was utterly shattered by the time we arrived. I then didn’t want to do anything that weekend until I realized that the very next weekend E. would be off from school and it was going to be Christmas Eve.

In 2015, I convinced my family to stop exchanging presents with Q. and I for Christmas (doesn’t apply to the kids). This year my father and stepmother, largely out of the blue, decided to stop doing birthday presents as well (they both have birthdays which fall in the holidays), which made life even simpler. We still do presents with Q.’s family, but that’s Q.’s job to sort out (although I am in charge of presents for our two nephews).

Q. and I decided to get a Sodastream so we can have a ready supply of bubbly water, and to make sure we go on some good dates this year. Otherwise we agreed not to get each other anything else other than the traditional Christmas Eve pjs and stockings.

When I look at my list, I can’t figure out why the lead up to Christmas felt so wildly out of control and stressful.

  • pjs and stocking for Q. (his stocking usually has socks, undies, t-shirts, and tasty treats in it)
  • pjs for E. and P.
  • gifts for E. and P. from Q. and I (using the “something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read” guide, where the “wear” are the pjs)
  • Santa stuff and stockings
  • ornaments for Q., P., and E., because I get each of them a new one every year
  • gift for Q. from E. & P. (normally E. tells me what he’d like to get Daddy but I dropped the ball on this one and had to just make an executive decision)
  • gifts for two nieces and three nephews (and the nieces were sorted out in November as my sisters and I get them and their parents tickets to Disney on Ice every year)
  • photo calendars for three sets of grandparents (two of the calendars I made and the third I was just responsible for choosing photos and sending them to my sister-in-law; I did all of this in late November)
  • annual photo ornaments for three sets of grandparents (left these to the absolute last minute as usual and then struggled to get the photos printed)

Admittedly, E.’s request from Santa required me to make a trip downtown that blew most of a morning, and the photo ornaments were an enormous source of stress and frustration when I couldn’t get the photos easily printed, and I did also make a stop in a bookstore to buy some books for the baby next door, the family where all of P’s clothes come from, and friends’ children whom we were going to see over the holidays. But by the standards of Christmas, even by the standards of my previous Christmases, this was a pretty light year.

I didn’t do any baking at all (I haven’t managed that since 2014) but I did decorate the house. We had a family expedition to cut down a Christmas tree on the 9th, and we decorated the tree and the inside of the house that same weekend. I didn’t get the outdoor lights up before I left to see my Dad, so E. and I put them up once I was back.

There isn’t anything I can really point to as causing the chaos (except those damn ornaments), but I felt like I was two steps behind the entire holiday season.

I think I left everything too late. I didn’t start thinking about Christmas in any serious way until December and then by the time I made all the decisions, I was running out of time to order things online (and I absolutely loathe shopping in real stores especially with kids in tow). I ended up ordering some things online at 5 in the morning when I wasn’t able to sleep when I was away to see my Dad and having to do my in-person shopping in the last week before Christmas when I really should have been working. Everything arrived on time in the end, but it was a bit too close for comfort.

Resolutions for next year:

  1. Think about the Down Under nephews in November (Q. had yet another year of panicking at the last minute for his family and has resolved, yet again, to do things in November next year)
  2. Choose photos for calendars and ornaments, make and order calendars, and print ornament photos in November (I’m sure I’ll leave purchasing the actual ornaments until mid-December like always but if the photos are ready it takes only a minute or two to make them)
  3. Always have five or six excellent picture books stashed away in the house so I have an easy gift if we end up getting together unexpectedly with friends who have kids. Books never go out of style.
  4. Use Black Friday sales as an opportunity to pick up a few things for Q.’s stocking and possibly find Christmas Eve pjs as well
  5. Remember December/January birthdays when planning (Spud and Pea)
  6. Make decisions for E. & P.’s gifts earlier
  7. Realize that it is unrealistic to plan to work full days right up until the very last day E. is in school and not feel guilty when I inevitably end up spending at least one afternoon shopping.

Basically I need to think about Q., E., and P. earlier, be better organized, and maybe bite the bullet and pay for Amazon Prime because two day shipping with no minimum would probably have done a great deal to alleviate my stress.

Christmas Day itself was absolutely lovely, and that’s the important thing.

Do you have any strategies for managing Christmas preparations?


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

Spin Cycle

I am writing this while sitting in my kitchen, waiting for the washing machine to finish what has turned out to be the fifth unplanned load of laundry for the day.

I have many posts I would like to write, about the end of the last year and the beginning of this one, but at the moment I am stuck on this:

P. has three winter-weight sleep sacks and three crib sheets.

I tried to go to bed over an hour ago (as Q. and I have resolved to go to bed earlier which, by our already early standards, means in bed with the lights out well before 10 p.m.).

P. had vomited all over two sleep sacks and two crib sheets by 10:15 p.m., bringing her total number of vomits in the last eighteen hours to nine.

Since the odds of the final set remaining pristine for the rest of the night are not particularly promising, I am now waiting for the laundry to finish so I can transfer it to the dryer and then go, again, to bed, knowing that when I am woken up, again, by the despondent whimpers of my daughter, I can stumble back downstairs and pull them out of the dryer and get her clean and warm and dry, again.

I feel like so much of the time I have things I would like to write about, but the chaos of my current life intervenes, albeit not usually in as spectacularly messy a fashion as has happened today. But the general pattern holds true.


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


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


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?


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.



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?


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