Monday, February 4, 2019

Making My Own Rules

What works for other people doesn’t always work for us.

I mean, fair, right? No one else has our kids, in our house, with our schedule and needs and strengths and weaknesses.

I have a few friends who keep very strict bedtimes for their school aged kids - no matter what. They’ll turn down evening activities if they can’t make it home by bedtime, even if they’re on vacation. It seems a little excessive to me, but according to the mom, one late night sets one of her kids off for DAYS. So staying up on a Friday or Saturday night means that school on Monday can be a disaster, and it’s not worth it. Now that her kids are older, it’s starting to be a battle because she’s starting to feel more alone - and her kids know it.

I know some who are strict about screentime. They go beyond just a daily limit and have very clear “blackout times”, whether it’s morning or evening. One family I know allows their kids no screen at all Sunday evening through Friday afternoon. No TV, no games, no texting friends. Weekdays are for focus on school. They keep a consistent movie night on Friday and allow the kids access to their devices again on Saturday.

Some parents are very regimented in how they structure chores. There are daily and weekly jobs that are carefully monitored and recorded on a chart. 

Some families are strict about food, both what you can eat and where you can eat it. Sometimes it’s that food can’t be taken out of the kitchen. Sometimes it is about the amount of sugar - or any sugar at all. Some families don’t believe in dessert and are shocked to hear that there are families who have dessert as an expected end to a meal. 

When is the right time to get a phone? What is the right approach to homework and grades? How do we feel about allowance and how kids manage their money? 

There are plenty of blogs telling you what we should all agree to do - call out activities for time spent, agree to technology rules, etc. To be honest, they really annoy me. When I see an article that wants parents to all stand together and agree that after school activities take up too much time or a phone before eighth grade or goody bags should be banned, I roll my eyes. Yes, there are things that bug each and every family. But really, this call to arms doesn’t make much sense.

Sometimes, as a parent, you want to draw a line in the sand that you know your kids won’t like. Maybe it’s a ban on technology or multiple soccer practices a week or refined sugar. Maybe it’s an 8:00 bedtime or a chore chart. And you know that your kids talk to other kids, and it would be SO MUCH EASIER if you didn’t have to make this stand on your own. If everyone could just agree that three soccer practices are too much, the league would have to change it and you wouldn’t be the bad guy saying no, because it doesn’t work for your family. If everyone could agree to one bedtime, you wouldn’t have to hear that your kid is the only fourth grader not going to this evening activity because it doesn’t start until 7:30. It stinks to be the parent who isn’t allowing food in the car, or TV during the week, but you feel like it’s important. But sometimes, we need to own that we’re the rule maker here, and instead of imploring society to agree with us, we’re ok with saying, “this is how it is in our house”.

Because my kids just realized they don’t get snow days. We homeschool, so really, there’s no need. We can do a normal school day and still manage to play outside and drink hot chocolate. And honestly, it’s great, because we just keep on with our schedule. My kids didn’t even notice this until this past year, but now they both have plenty of friends to clue them in that they’re different. During the last snowfall, both of them came to me, whining that they had been texting with their friends and it was totally unfair that they weren't getting a "day off".

I could have told them about how we take plenty of days that public schools don't - sometimes just because we feel like it. I could have told them that we're on track to finish WEEKS ahead of their friends, and they'll have a longer summer. I could have told them that snow prevents travel - not learning - so kids in boarding schools and colleges don't get a day off. I could have caved and thought "can't we just all agree?"

But instead, I said, "Cool. In this house, we're doing school today."

And I'm fine with being the mean mom here.

Friday, February 1, 2019

The Mid Winter Blues

This is not my favorite time of year. Everything feels dark and cold and messy. It feels like we’ve gotten past the fun winter activities of Christmas and New Year’s. We’ve had our snow and done those fun outdoor winter things. We’ve snuggled up in our warm pajamas. We’ve checked off all those boxes of “fun winter activities”.  Really, we’ve DONE winter. So now we’re done.

It’s maddening. It always seems to snow, or sleet, or ice, when there’s an activity that we want or need to do and the thought of either a) driving in the ice or b) postponing, seems so overwhelming. We get annoyed when people cancel stuff for no reason, and we get annoyed when they don’t cancel and it’s sloppy out.

We have big heating bills, and furnaces that don’t sound right, and we’re sick and tired of coats and boots and mittens clogging up the entryway. It feels like the dirty slush or white salt has migrated onto every surface, no matter how much cleaning or preventing we try. The nights are so bitingly cold that picking up kids from activities feels downright cruel.

There's sickness all over. It's the stomach bug, it's the flu, it's a cough that won't quit, or a cold that rapidly morphs into a sinus infection. We're desperate to air the house out, but it's just too cold for that. So we drink our grape juice to ward off the stomach bug and our honey and ACV mix to ward off colds and our elderberry to ward off the flu, and we hope.

And just to drive the point home, this is where we’ll get the slightest hint of spring. A day when it’s 50 degrees, or when the air feels fresh, and we’ll start to think we’re heading back to the warmth...and then it snows. Again.

My energy drops big time. I'm sloth like. I can get SOME stuff done, if I have to, but it's done either last minute or with a complete lack of energy and enthusiasm. I have projects to do, but my brain just isn't there.

Truly, I’m usually not a season complainer. Winter isn’t my favorite, but I like a few things about it in moderation. It's just that after a few weeks ... or months .... moderation is over, and I'm done.

All in all, I'm done with the snow and ice and cold. I'm ready for open windows and outdoor time, and I have a feeling we're still a good six weeks off, groundhog or no groundhog.

But, since we're here in February, I need to buck up and make the best of it. Get out and make snowmen, and cuddle with hot chocolate, and celebrate birthdays, and look at the days getting longer each night as I drive to dance and lay down the law that you need to wear pants over your tights when it's 20 degrees out. Spring will be here soon enough.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Ever Feel Like Things are Working Against You?

Fair warning. I am in a cranky place right now.

There are times in life when it seems like everything is moving in your direction. Bonuses at work. Bills that are less than you expected. An email of praise for a job you wondered if anyone had noticed you took on. A streak of good weather, and a clean house, and timing that works in your favor.

Then there are times that just seem unfair. Bills that all come in at once and a bonus you were counting on that didn't. Emails with issues that shouldn't be your problem to solve, but are, and then angry emails that you didn't solve it fast enough or exactly how they wanted. Sickness in the house that just lingers. Minor breakdowns, one after the other. A fluke car accident - like a deer.

We're in one of those latter times right now.

My new car got scratched - badly - in a parking lot. My NEW car.  The car I've had less than six months. When I first looked at it, it was dark and cold and it didn't seem that bad. Maybe a little buffing or touch up paint. But then we looked at it more closely, and it's BAD. Really deep, like someone just dragged something metal across it. We called insurance, and it's not only a time consuming fix, it's an expensive one (well, for them. Our deductible isn't bad). But my brand new car will be heading to the body shop for at least two weeks, and that just stinks. I'm getting a rental, but it's back to the old cramped five seater, which kills my carpooling for the next few weeks too.

We've had runs of sickness that just won't let up. Nothing AWFUL. No flu, or anything like that. But fever viruses that linger. Irritating coughs. And one wretched run of the stomach bug that I hope is never repeated.

Then work stress and house stress and all that anxiety inducing stuff. Lots of expenses that won't break us, but aren't exactly fun. And then when we figure we can go back to cutting back, we get something like the insurance deductible for a scratched car, and we get irritated all over again.

No, it's no Lifetime movie, but it's definitely making us cranky.

The good news is that this kind of run doesn't last forever. We've been through them before, and they end, and end with us still standing, still together. And sometimes, more often than not, they're followed by the other kind of run, where the good news just keeps coming. And that's where I'm hoping we end up next.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Keeping Up with the Curriculum

Public school, private school, homeschool, even dance school.

Every teacher starts the year with a great plan and the positive outlook that they are on top of this. They are organized. They are ready. They have work lined up and schedules in place.

And every year, around mid winter, usually about four months in, EVERY SINGLE TEACHER feels like they are flying by the seat of their pants, throwing things together last minute, and so behind on that careful schedule that they'll never catch up.

I was a public school teacher for over ten years. I was a drama and choir and voice private teacher too. I'm a homeschool mom now. EVERY DISCIPLINE OF TEACHING. EVERY YEAR.

Every teacher feels like a failure a few months in. In my current homeschool groups, we spend a lot of time talking each other up. We all feel like this, no matter what, at least once a year, and we always get through it. The kids will be ok. It happens to public school teachers and private school teachers too. YOU are not a failure. You will be ok.

So I'm in that place now, even though I thought I took extra precautions against it back at the beginning of the year (further proof that it's just inevitable).  Sometimes it's scheduling, or sickness, or something that just ate up way more time than you anticipated. Sometimes the kids aren't getting something you thought would be easy. Sometimes it's them. Sometimes it's you.

But I'm experienced enough to recognize it, and I'm determined not to feel like a failure, and more importantly, I'm determined to catch it before we get in too deep. We're not going to fall behind, even if it means we school on the go.

I actually like schooling on the go from time to time. Sometimes a change of location does me good, and a lot of times it does the girls good. Sometimes, we're on our way to somewhere fun, like a field trip, and schooling in the car is the way to go.  This is great when it's work that the girls can do with limited help from me. I can listen and answer questions, and they can do some practice or review work. We can get that out of the way, and spend our time at home on the things we need to dive into more deeply.

Sometimes, we just need a change of scenery, so we'll head off to Starbucks or Panera or something like that. I'll bring my laptop, they'll bring their stuff, and they feel like on the go businesswomen, working at a coffee shop. We don't need to have library voices, we can have a special snack, and getting out of the house helps.

This takes a bit of preparation - which can initially be daunting if you're already in the slump. You need to make sure you pack up the backpacks, or have a car stocked with the right supplies. You want the balance of having what you need with the annoyance of lugging around backpacks the kids can barely heft on their own.

But the spark that a good day of carschooling followed by a fun trip can provide? It's worth it.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Disney on Ice - Fifth Time as Fun as the First

As we headed out to the Webster Bank arena in Bridgeport last night for Disney on Ice, we did our normal recap of previous shows. The very first year when we got a meet and greet with Mickey and Minnie. The year when everything was "Dream Big" princesses (and a huge hit), but we were able to see eight skaters forming a dragon that breathed fire. The year that we thought wouldn't happen due to an issue with the ice, but which ended up being one of our favorites. Last year, when Frozen dominated the show and we realized how perfectly Frozen fits in with an ice performance. And then I realized, this is the fifth show we've gotten to see.

I was provided with a four pack of tickets in exchange for this review, but all opinions are my own.

Five years, five different shows, five different experiences. From a not-quite two year old on wiggling on my lap to an almost seven year old dancing in the aisles. From a three year old who considered herself a princess expert, to an eight year old who is still entranced by the spectacle. It's been five years, and the show works just as well for toddlers as it does for big kids. That's Disney Magic right there.

Each Disney on Ice show has its own theme, and this year, the show we saw was "Worlds of Enchantment". Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy introduce us to four different mini-shows: Toy Story 3, The Little Mermaid, Cars, and Frozen. Four very different shows, some of which I wondered how they effectively would translate to ice (Cars? How would that work? And how would the size of the people and toys translate in Toy Story?).

The show was great, as we've come to expect. Each mini-show was about twenty-five minutes and managed to get both the gist of the story and the crucial musical numbers. The girls LOVED watching the Barbie and Ken interactions at Sunnyside Daycare, and I really enjoyed all the green toy army men skating in their formations and parachuting in. Under the Sea, with the colorful costumes and props is an amazing spectacle, and, like I've said before, Frozen was just MADE to be performed on ice.

As for the cost, tickets are definitely affordable. I always think the best views are from above when you're looking at this grand a production. Yes, there's something to be said from being close to the ice (we've done that too), but you can get seats with a great view for as low as $15.

Bridgeport is a GREAT arena to see a show, because it's right off two major highways, and there's plenty of parking. Very easy in and out. We've parked in the garage, but the past two years we've opted for the big outdoor lot. Both are $10, which is about what I've come to expect for any show parking. We arrived at 6:15 for a 7:00 show and there was plenty of parking. Leaving is always a bit of a mess of cars, but we were out of the lot and on the highway within 10 minutes.

The add ons are what can get you every time. Last year I told the girls they could each get a light up souvenir, which are expensive - averaging about $30. This year I told them - in advance - that we weren't doing it. They're fun at the show, they're fun for a short time after, but now that my girls are older, they're forgotten (or dying) within a few weeks. In fact, during our last toy clean out, we purged a few of those types of toys. But the great part about Disney on Ice is that the concessions come with souvenirs too, and I'm much more likely to ok those. I got each girl a cotton candy ($15) that came with a crown with Mickey ears, and four of us split a $12 popcorn in a Mickey tote bag. Lemonade and sno cones are comparably priced (average of $15) and come with take home cups.

NOTE: It is COLD in the arena. I mean, duh, it's ice. But we've noticed that the past two years have been exceptionally chilly. I wonder if some of that is due to the snow that falls during Frozen. Still, be prepared. We wore our winter coats the whole time and were kind of wishing we'd brought a blanket.

Reagan loved it, but was a bit disappointed at the serious lack of princesses (she's not into princesses like she was a few years ago, but she was definitely anticipating them and figured they'd be out for the finale as always. If you have a princess lover, be prepared for that with this particular show. The Toy Story and Cars segments were great and Reagan definitely enjoyed them, but I think she had a picture in her mind and it didn't quite line up.

With Madison, I'm starting to wonder if she's getting too old for certain things. Although she was by no means the oldest kid there, she did notice how many toddlers and preschoolers there were, and she wasn't jumping up and down in her seat like she was four years ago. Although she always loves the opportunities, I'm wondering if she's starting to wish I got tickets to Kidz Bop or JoJo Siwa (and let's face it, she is definitely wishing that). But once the show starts, she's finding new things to be excited about. She GETS what a big production should look like, and she's impressed with all the talent. It isn't "babyish", it's a show, and the production value of anything Disney is spectacular.

Disney on Ice is at the Webster Bank arena for the rest of the weekend (today, tomorrow, and Sunday) with tickets still available from or the box office at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport. Next weekend the production moves to Hartford, so there are plenty of chances to catch this fun show in CT!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Keeping it Fun

As we're getting into these short, dark days, it's hard to keep spirits running high. The holidays are over. There are no more advent calendars to open, no more free for all on Christmas movies and sweets, and as much fun as it is to play with new toys and wear new clothes and shop with gift cards, the anticipation is down. Driving TO a Christmas party at Grandma's is exciting. Driving home, less so.

In fact, January is probably one of my least favorite months. It's cold. It's dark. There will probably be ice or snow that wrecks plans. You're in the doldrums of school. The girls are in the "cleaning" portion of dance - the dances are learned, but competition is still a little ways off, and cleaning rehearsals are frustrating and not exciting. Yes, playing in the snow is fun, but playing in the ice is less fun. Not to mention that adults everywhere are making those efforts to improve themselves, which may mean extra cleaning and decluttering and purging the unhealthy December treats. Which can make people cranky.

So how do we keep it fun?

Somtimes it's board games (we have a few family favorites right now - like Boggle, Yahtzee, Sorry), or card games (we recently discovered Anomia, and it's AMAZINGLY fun), but honestly what's kept our winter evenings fun is this (probably destructive) ongoing, cutthroat game of Monkey in the Middle. It started because Adam got one of the giant inflatable exercise balls, and now it's become this MASSIVE game ball that is someday going to break the picture frames on the piano. Once spring hits, we'll take it outside, but in January? I'll allow it. The giggles and squeals are totally worth it. We also have some epic games of hide and seek that have everyone scurrying around, trying to be as quiet as possible. Love it. Game nights are fun, but out of the box, silly family game nights are even better.

Adam and I are both CHAMPION show bingers, but what's been fun is using Amazon Prime or Hulu or Netflix to binge stuff that all four of us like. That may be old but that the girls haven't seen. American Ninja Warrior, Masterchef Jr., World of Dance. Actually the four of us love watching Love it or List it and trying to figure out how it'll end. Reagan in particular is always so MAD when she thinks it should have gone the other way. And both girls were actively rooting for their favorites in World of Dance and Masterchef Jr, and devastated when their favorites were eliminated.

Now is the time to dive into the indoor stuff. We drove an hour to a mall that has a carousel and an indoor play place and spent a day there. The goal wasn't to shop, it was to get out of the house and have fun. We went to a Harry Potter day at the science museum. We used our reciprocal membership and went to an aquarium. We've been to an indoor ropes course. This is the time to get out and do all those fun indoor things!

And yeah, we keep doing school. After a two week break, I'm sure we'll come back with fresh eyes. We'll do some science projects we put off in December. We have a few books to read together. The girls will keep practicing dance. And we'll do those cleaning and organizing and purging jobs, fitting in the new Christmas things.

So although January isn't my favorite month, we've got the plans to make it fun.

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