Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Just Don't Be a Jerk

When you're out in the world, interacting with society, this should be the absolute bare minimum:

Just don't be a jerk.

This could be online. It could be with strangers in the store. It could be with neighbors. It could be with family.

We've all got our own stresses, our own buttons that can be pushed. Sometimes, we make an active decision to be a jerk, because selfishness gets in the way of good sense, or someone was a jerk to us, so we feel we can go ahead and toss it out. Sometimes, we lose ourselves and our focus, and we're an accidental jerk.

But honestly, neither is ok. It's just not. You're not going to get anything good, not long term anyway, from being a jerk.

Maybe it's parking. Your neighbor parked in front of your house, blocking your mailbox, and you feel the need to pay them back in kind and block THEM in. Or maybe you don't do a direct retaliation, but when the opportunity comes up to be neighborly, you opt out, choosing to make their life a little harder. Payback, you might think. Or maybe it's a stranger in a crowded lot, at the height of holiday shopping. They squeezed their car in next to yours, and now you can barely get your body inside. So you decide that if they decided to be a jerk parking, you can give them the ding on the door they so obviously deserve.

Maybe it's online. Yeah, people tend to be super jerky about big topics - politics or vaccines or (ironically) bullying, but sometimes it's the little ones, topics that no one should feel all that passionately about, that attract jerky behavior. It's the time of year when seemingly calm parenting groups get all flush with arguments about the Elf on the Shelf. If you go all in, or if you don't do it at all, chances are you've either been a jerk, or you've had to deal with one. You feel like it's ok to be a jerk online, because it's an obvious right/wrong, and the other side is probably being a jerk right back.

Interesting anecdotal evidence - it is almost always the anti-Elf parents, not the over the top ones, who are behaving like jerks. The judgy, superior, smug, doesn't matter whose feelings I hurt, even a preschooler is fair game, attitude, usually the domain of the "sanctimommy", is taken on in a big way by anti-Elfers. They will mock, they will post hundreds of anti-Elf memes, they will let it be known that they are making the obvious "right" choice, and they judge you hard if you don't join in with the mocking. They might be totally normal and judgement free from January to mid-November, but those last six weeks of the year they go full jerk. Yes, I know. Not everyone. But still, I've found far more jerky bullying from the anti-Elf contingent. 

Really, it could be anywhere, with anything. You feel stressed, you feel wronged, you feel like if you AREN'T a jerk, you'll be taken advantage of, so why not?

But here's the thing.

Even if it works for you in the short term - you feel like you got even, you feel like you got what you deserved, you feel like you proved yourself right....you didn't really win.

Because people remember. 

Negative energy, put out into the world, will create more negative energy. Maybe it'll come to you directly, maybe it'll come to you indirectly, but jerky behavior invites more.

I have found that the most powerful "revenge" is turning it backwards.

Your neighbor blocked you in? Shovel their sidewalk when you're out doing yours.

Someone tries to start a fight online? Take a deep breath and scroll by. Or defend someone (in a non jerky way) who is being attacked.

Someone is rude to you? Be extra kind back to them.

No, it probably won't be Disney movie experience, where the jerk immediately apologizes and you become best friends. But jerky behavior can't thrive in an atmosphere of positivity.

So just don't be a jerk.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Tried and True, Something New

There are some parenting hacks that work so well for me that I see no need to mix it up.

Girls lusting after something in a store, and I can tell the begging is near? We take a picture and add it to their "wish list".

Arguing over turns? Set a timer.

I like that I've settled on solutions that work for us. I know how to keep my kids - mostly - running pretty smoothly.

But then, I've noticed that sometimes, mixing it up with something new is exactly what I need.

For example, I feel pretty confident with long drives. The girls are accustomed to 1-2 hour trips - we make them to visit family, we make them for homeschool field trips, we make them for dance. This is standard, and we're all pretty good at knowing exactly how to make the drive go smoothly. We know what to pack in the girls' bags, we know what snacks we'll need, we know how to handle rest stops.

But when something changes, I need to adjust. Maybe it's what time of day we're driving, maybe it's distance, maybe it's why we're traveling, but something needs to change to make the trip go smoothly.

We hit into this the other week. It was super early in the morning and we were driving the full length of the state. Just me and the girls, since it was for a dance thing (shocking, right?) It was the worst drive we'd made in ages. They bickered over chargers and who needed which cable more. They didn't have water. They didn't have anything they wanted to eat. They needed bathroom stop after bathroom stop (which was bizarre, considering the beverage situation). They were asking how long until we got there. They were just feeding off of each other, and I was completely unprepared and annoyed.

So, while they danced all day, I hit the local shop and I mixed it up. I got snacks. I got color coded cables. I even hit the dollar spot and got some new trinkets, which I packaged "blind bag" style to add excitement and novelty. I mapped out when I'd be willing to stop. When they climbed into the car that night, I filled them in on the changes, and, whether in spite of, or because of them, the ride home was easy, and they were happy.

Tried and true is the way to go, but when something changes things, don't fight. Time to go with something new.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Why I Keep My Kids "School Ready"

One of the main reasons I give when others ask me why we homeschool is "freedom". I have the freedom to choose our schedule, our curriculum, and honestly, pretty much everything.

Yet, my girls are on a September - June schedule, in the traditional grade for their age, and I make sure we are at least in touch with what their peers are learning.

Wait...what? Why?

One of my reasons is "insurance". I can't predict the future, and I honestly can't say with 100% certainty we'll still be in the same place five years from now. If all things go as I hope, then yes, we'll still be homeschoolers, but can I guarantee that? No. I don't have that power. There are some things that could change our circumstances enough to force us into the system. And IF that happens, I want my girls to be as prepared as they can be to integrate. Yes, it will obviously be a major adjustment, whether they're used to their age/grade norm or not, but it'll help. And I like that they can confidently say "I'm in fourth grade" without a dissertation.

I also like that they have friends from all different schooling backgrounds. They have a large contingent of friends from our co-op, who are obviously homeschooled. But they also have a large group of friends who aren't. Although it's wonderful to have uncrowded visits to museums and libraries when school is in session, I like for them to at least have some time to connect with their school friends. So although we don't line up EVERY day (our start and finish days are slightly off, and we don't plan all our off days to line up), we make an effort to enjoy those long weekends with friends.

Finally, although I've tried to school year round, taking more time off during the year, going to "school lite" in the summer, the fact is that it just doesn't work with our schedule. I love that my girls are having traditional summer experiences with camps, sports, and dance intensives (ok, that part might not be as traditional). I love that we can spend our weekdays at the pool.

Do we still have freedom? Of course! I chose our curriculum, evaluating every single piece, replacing carefully, and I know it's a good fit for our style. I can slow down and speed up as necessary. I structured our week as I love it - four days of "work" and one "swing day" for trips, co-op, or catch up. If we get an opportunity for a trip or a class or an event, we can take it. I can play with ages and grade levels enough to get them into the classes I know are right for them.

Keeping my kids in line with the basic framework of the schools, while not having to be IN them, provides us with just the right balance to let my girls know that we can do our own thing, and still fit right in with our friends.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

I Admit it - I'm A Full Dance Mom Now

I really didn't like calling myself a dance mom, especially when it was said in such a laughing way by my friends who don't have kids who dance. I'd swear that "dance mom" was all a stereotype, and I was basically the same as any mom with kids in an activity.

But it's time to look at the facts. 

This year marks Madison's sixth year as a competition dancer, and Reagan's third. Madison is entering her EIGHTH year of dance class, and Reagan is starting her fifth.

We are at the studio 4-7 days a week, and schedule the rest of our lives around those times.

I factored "can we fit two competition bags into the trunk" and "how many kids can I carpool to dance class" into my car purchase.

The girls will be entering FOURTEEN dances (between the two - not each) into five different competitions this year, participating in three or four conventions, and are dancing in six or seven different styles.

We are spending an obscene amount of money between tuition, private lessons, entry fees, costumes, "gear" and conventions. So much that I'm scouring each invoice thinking, "there has GOT to be a mistake".

I have become the unofficial go to person for new moms at our studio about what they'll need, how to do things, how to navigate competition. I'm the one with the answers. Should they buy a dream duffel? What's the deal with make up? Is this convention worth it?

I make garment bag labels for all the girls on the team.

I really don't think I can deny it any more. I'm not just the mom of a kid who dances.

Because I've been asked questioned so much, I decided that I'm not going to downplay this part of our lives anymore, and I'm going to start writing about it regularly, covering the basics, the best hacks I've figured out so far, and the scary (OMG, it costs WHAT to have two kids in dance?).

Will anyone read it? Maybe, maybe not.

But I've accepted it as part of who I am, and that means I'm ready to share!


Monday, September 16, 2019

September is Exhausting

I am WORN OUT.

We are only a few weeks into the new school year, and between settling back into homeschooling, and figuring out all the chauffeuring I need to do, and making sure that I know the schedule, who needs to be where, with what, when, and then actually making it happen is running me ragged. Plus, these people seem to want to eat EVERY DAY, and when you homeschool, that means you are making three meals a day happen. And even though they are perfectly capable of making breakfast and lunch, you have to make sure that there is FOOD for that. There is so much to physically DO, and so many places to BE.

And there are checks to be written and forms to be filled out and appointments to schedule. And lesson plans to make and work to be checked. There is so much MENTAL energy exerted that my brain is just tired.

And, just to reiterate, we homeschool! I'm not even DEALING with back to school nights and supply lists and teacher communication.

I remember when I was teaching, there were days when I would be driving home at 5:00, and I'd really have to make sure I was alert for the commute home. As in, this is what truckers do when they have an overnight shift, and now this is what I have to do. And since, Adam pointed out, I'm basically teaching AND momming, I really shouldn't be surprised that the September adjustment is wiping me out and leaving me collapsed on the couch once everyone is FINALLY home from all their evening activities.

And it's only getting worse as the girls get older. Madison's dance team is made up of 9-11 year old girls, and we're at the studio until 8 or 8:30 three nights a week. And Reagan is there until 7:45 the fourth night. I don't want to know that the teen years bring.

But I've been a mom long enough, and a teacher longer, and I know that we will all adjust. We'll have weeks where I feel like supermom because I got it all figured out, and weeks where I feel like we just squeaked by, and weeks where I had some fails. And that those weeks are ALL normal, and around October, it'll feel like we've been doing this since the beginning of time.

And what I need to do is...

Plan as much as I can to make things easier.

Set alarms and reminders on my phone.

Rest my brain and body when I can.

Forgive myself. 

And most importantly, don't forget that all these new beginnings are as wonderful as they are tiring!


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Who Am I Trying to Impress?

Every once in a while, I need to laugh at myself, because my motivation comes from the strangest places.

Last week, we had a babysitter for the first time in a long time.

Sidenote: I miss my regular weekly sitter SO MUCH. So very, very, much. Why do these girls need to grow up and get real jobs? 

Anyway, we hadn't had a sitter in a while, because over the summer the bulk of our social calendar ends up being family friendly events, and now that the girls are older, they're much more a part of everything. And now that we needed one, all I could picture was the mess in the girls' bathroom that I hadn't bothered to clean, and the boxes in the living room waiting to be dropped off at consignment, and the homeschool materials that have totally exploded in the dining room. Plus, we'd just been plain BUSY since it was the end of the summer/start of the school year, and I was behind on my regular housekeeping. And suddenly, I was seeing our home through someone else's eyes.

So I cleaned. I cleaned HARD. I cleaned like I was preparing to have both sides of the family over for a full holiday stay. I tidied the LINEN closet, because what if the sitter needed an extra towel? I tidied the basement, because that's where we store extra snacks and drinks, and the sitter would inevitably need to go there. I tidied the hallway, because someone might ask her if our house is cluttered, and she'd tell them, and then they'd judge me. And since we OBVIOUSLY can't eat at a cluttered table, she'd know that our family dinners had become much more casual.

And, in case you are wondering, I did all this for a fifteen year old girl who is totally sweet and unpretentious and probably wouldn't care if a house has some clutter. I remember I had her help Madison clean her room, and all Madison could tell me was that the sitter said that her room was WAY worse.

 But yet, I don't feel the same ambition to do all this for my family, who lives here and who I love.

It's like when I make sure my car is looking spotless and smelling great...for the eight and ten year olds that I carpool home from dance.

So clearly, I care deeply about trying to impress teens and tweens who get a quick view of our lives. So, if my family were smart, they'd let me know that I have an acquaintance stopping by. The whole home will be spotless in no time!
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