DISPATCHES FROM MY DINING ROOM (NO 7): Re-Entering the World – Maybe? (Day 743)

I didn’t think, when we started staying home to try to keep ourselves from getting COVID-19, that we would be just now, over 2 years later, beginning to contemplate a re-entry into society. Of course, for many others, the timing and the choices have been different. We have made the best decisions we could for our family, given our unique medical risks. On our doctors’ advice, we are just now starting to figure out what it looks like for us to interact with more people socially and consider having our kids participate in various activities. It has been two years since my kids have interacted with other kids in person. They were 9, 9, 6, and 5 years old when we started staying home. I expect that their re-entry into society is going to include a significant learning curve.

Of course, the same is true for me. This week, I took FangFang to physical therapy for the first time in over 2 years. I realized that morning that I would have to leave my house two times that day. I don’t remember the last time I did that.

To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I like staying home. Between homeschooling, parenting, grad school, work, and household management, I already feel like my life is pretty full – all from my house! I am an introvert. I love curling up with my heated blanket and a cup of tea and a good book. I’m not sure what my vision for our post-isolation life looks like.

Add to that the reality that my world has shifted significantly in the past few years. I am still me, the same person as always. But I have come out publicly – which has had a significant effect on how I am viewed by many people who were once in my closest social circles. I am over halfway through a graduate career that I had not started before the pandemic began, and I am beginning to investigate what it could look like for me to work in that field. My kids are older, and I am loving the people they are at these ages, but I feel the pressure of continuing to guide them and offer them opportunities to enrich their lives as they grow and the uncertainty of not knowing exactly how to do that.

It’s funny – I am comfortable in the blacks and whites, the definitive answers. So much of my growth as an adult has been learning to negotiate the grays, the ambiguities of which life actually consists. Pandemic life is often very black and white. Stay home. Get vaccinated. Wear masks. Now we’re stepping into another gray area – figuring out how to go back to living a more complex, more full but also more complicated, life. I’m not sure what that looks like or how to do it, but I hope to move forward into it well.

Sometimes We Get It Right

So much of parenting is getting frustrated, making mistakes, wishing we had done things differently. But sometimes we get it right. And we hope that those are the moments our kids carry forward with them.

Sometimes, when your kids blow it, you’re able to sit with them, holding them while they talk through the antecedents to their behaviors and what they were feeling in the moment. You’re able to talk about upstairs brains and downstairs brains and how being in our downstairs brains doesn’t make us bad, unlovable people. You’re able to hear the sadness and shame, and you’re able to offer reassurance of love and relationship and care, no matter what.

And then you’re able to empower your kiddo to be part of the solution, repairing the damage they caused.

We got it right today. We won’t always. But I’m thankful for these moments when they happen, and I yearn for more of them – more instances of love, connection, relationships mattering more than things, and helping our kids to grow into the honest, feeling, empathetic, resilient, and restorative people we know they can be.

Dispatches From My Dining Room (No 4): Day 43 At Home: How the Kiddos are Handling It All

As a mom of four children, obviously one of my major concerns and questions heading into this time of social distancing was about how my kids would handle it.

This is definitely not the case for everyone, but honestly, most of our kids are generally really enjoying it!

When I asked them their thoughts one recent evening, Miranda told me that she LOVED it – she had so much more time to do fun things like reading. She and MeiMei are really into the Wings of Fire series right now and have read the books multiple times. She said that she feels so free at home. In addition to doing school (here she is working on one of her History lapbook projects), she’s been using her time to read, to bake, to make art, and to play creatively.

MeiMei says that there are things she doesn’t like, but mostly she likes it. She says that she definitely likes getting more time to read, and she likes going on walks (she did ride for part of our walk here but also walked for a significant portion!).

Poor FangFang is our sole true extroverted child, and I think she is the least happy with this period of social isolation. She tells me that she doesn’t like staying at home and likes going to HEaT (our homeschool enrichment group) and going places in general. We are doing our best to give her some fun at-home experiences, though!

Atticus tells me that he loves being home – that there is much more time to build with Legos and read and do fun stuff! He really has been spending a ton of time playing with Legos. I’m also treasuring the little conversations we’ve been able to have. The other night, I was brushing the tangles out of his curls after his bath, and he told me, “Mom, I love my hair. I want to keep it long. I don’t want to look just like everyone else. My hair makes me look cool.”

Honestly, this has been a very interesting experience for me. It makes me wonder whether maybe we’re doing too much. We always talked about how, as we homeschooled, we wanted to be very intentional about giving our kids opportunities to interact with other kids and to learn from other adults. We have worked very hard to find awesome opportunities for them to do that – we love our homeschool enrichment group, our swim club, and our horseback riding lessons! But also…I do love that my kids are getting opportunities just to relax – to read, to have creative fun play on their own, and to be outside more.

I made a rare exception to my general prohibition of high fructose corn syrup and bought my kids a box of these popsicles, which they (mostly MeiMei) request multiple times a day! Ah, the joys of childhood…

I also feel like there’s more time to say yes to things like just playing a family games together.

Some families are able to do all of that AND get through their school curriculum and do all of their extra activities. Maybe someday we will. The fact that I need to get in some work hours each day, too, is definitely a limiting factor on our time. I don’t really know how we’ll structure our lives once we get back to “normal.”

Honestly, I think “normal” is pretty far off for us. Even once our state re-opens (currently our governor is saying that will happen on Monday, May 4; as of today, our state has 6,321 confirmed cases and 218 total deaths), we will stay home. I have seen no data to suggest that we are better able to limit spread or offer effective life-saving treatment or are anywhere close to having a vaccine, and with multiple members of our family being high-risk for complications from the virus, it is safest for us to stay home. But someday…I hope we can make those choices again. And I wonder what that will look like for us!

Temporary Homeschooling Tips, Part Two: Schedules

Yesterday I published a post with some general advice for those who may be temporarily homeschooling children due to the coronavirus outbreak. The most frequent question I have gotten since then is about our schedule – how do we organize our day?

First, a disclaimer – we are homeschoolers, but by no means does that mean that we usually spend the entirety of our days at home. All four of our kids usually swim two to three times a week. The big kids and I usually ride horses at least a few times a month. We take “field trips” – we go to the zoo, we go to art shows, we go to the pumpkin farm, we go to parks. FangFang usually has weekly PT, and it feels like we always have a pediatrician or dentist or eye doctor or specialist appointment coming up for someone for some reason! All four kids participate in a homeschool enrichment group 3 mornings a month. Spending more time at home is a change for us, too.

That said, we do have a general routine to our days. Note that a routine is different than a schedule. To me, a schedule is based on specific times, and one of the things I appreciate about homeschooling is that it allows for flexibility and freedom to spend more time than planned on an area that is particularly difficult or especially interesting. Plus, I’m a control freak, and I get stressed out about schedules. Routines work well for us, though!

We divide our academic work into two different categories, loosely called “table school” and “couch school.” Table school is for subjects the kids do at the dining room table but also includes, for the older kids, any subjects on which they do their work independently. Couch school is for subjects we do together on the couch. For the older kids (4th grade and 3rd grade), table school is math, independent reading, and sometimes Language Arts. For the younger kids (kindergarten and pre-k), table school is math and Language Arts.

Each night before I go to bed, I write out assignments for table school for the older two kids for the next morning.

If I’m on top of things, I might get out school books for everyone the night before, as well, but that’s not super frequent 😉 The older kids are quite capable of getting their own materials.

The older kids’ job is to come downstairs when they wake up, get themselves breakfast (or ask for help getting breakfast), and get started on their table school work. I’ve found that they find table school more challenging than couch school – perhaps because they are expected to do more independently – and so it goes better if we start with that. There is no specific wake-up or start time – my kids all usually wake up once they’ve gotten enough sleep, and they just start once they are awake (usually by 8:00 or 8:30, sometimes earlier or later).

After I have breakfast, I start table school with the younger kids.

Everyone gets a break after table school. I would say, on average, we’re all finishing up table school between 10:00 and 10:30, but it can vary pretty widely. What that break looks like depends on the day and whether everyone is ready for a break at the same time or whether the big kids and little kids are finishing up their work at very different times. Regardless, each kiddo definitely gets a break, though I may stay busy working with one group and then the next. Sometimes that break is just free play time. Sometimes we all go for a walk. Now that we’ll no longer have swimming as part of our regular weekly activities, we will need to be sure we’re getting enough physical activity, so I’m hoping we can go for walks more frequently. Otherwise, we might play outside or do some Cosmic Kids Yoga, or I may put together some more active work-out type activities to do with everyone.

What we do next depends on the time. Often times we can move on to couch school, but sometimes we need to break for lunch at that point.

Couch school subjects are always History, Science, and Bible. For the little kids, we also do Literature and Reading as couch school subjects; for the older kids, Language Arts is sometimes a couch school subject, depending on what we need to do that day. Whether the big kids or little kids do their couch school subjects first depends on who finished table school first that day. Usually I sit together with each group on the couch, and we read each of our books and discuss them. Often times the big kids will join us for the little kids’ books – I’m reading the same books with the little kids that I read with the big kids 5 years ago, so those stories feel like old friends to them!

After we’ve finished lunch and our couch school subjects, we do some clean-up. In particular, the common areas of the house (the living room and dining room) need to be picked up. Sometimes I’ll also have kids work on cleaning their own rooms or doing their family teamwork jobs (things like sweeping, unloading the dishwasher, vacuuming, cleaning the bathrooms, etc).

Then we have our afternoon downtime. Sometimes we’ll all have independent quiet time in separate rooms. Sometimes we’ll all sit in the living room for half an hour and read our own books. After that, almost every day, the kids are allowed to watch 1-2 hours of tv while I work. I have a very flexible part-time job, and I try to get in at least an hour of work each afternoon.

What happens after that really depends on the timing. Sometimes we’ll transition straight from that downtime into dinner prep. Sometimes there will be time for a fun activity together. This is another window into which I’m hoping to fit some free play and time outdoors and exercise.

We all have dinner together as a family, during which we go around the table, and each person shares their high of the day, their low of the day, their buffalo (something strange or interesting), something kind they did that day, and something they’re looking forward to.

After dinner we might do a family activity, or the kids might all play independently. Every child also needs to finish any family teamwork jobs that they did not do earlier in the day. Atticus really likes to play Wii or Xbox, and this is the only window of the day in which we allow that, and sometimes MeiMei or FangFang will play with him.

Around 8:00 Matt puts the little kids to bed, and between 8:30 and 8:45, the big kids and I head upstairs for their bedtime routine. After they’re ready for bed, they snuggle with me in my bed, and that’s when I do Literature with them, reading to them as bedtime stories.

The routine is subject to adjustment, as needed, but it’s the general structure we follow for each of our days! As always, feel free to ask questions and let us know if I can help in any way 🙂

The Little Things are the Big Things are the Little Things

This year – 2019 – has been rough for a number of reasons; there hasn’t been room for anything except the essentials. I expect I’ll share more about some of that later. But I do enjoy blogging, and I want to get back to it. This is an important space for me, and I hope I can serve my family and others with it, too. Today I have some parenting reflections to share.

One recent afternoon, I was working my way through a substantial “to do” list. Yet one of my kiddos had been struggling, and I’ve found that when my kids struggle, they need me to ramp up my efforts toward connection with them. To that end, I asked her if she wanted to play a round of Solitaire, which we often play as a cooperative game, working together to strategize and try to win.

I thought it would be a low investment, high payoff situation – it would take 5 minutes, I’d have that moment of connection with her, and then I’d be able to go work on my list. It didn’t quite work like that! We played one game – and lost. We played a second – and lost. We played a third – and lost. We were having a stretch of bad luck.

I could feel my anxiety rising. I needed to get moving on my list. This was taking much longer than I thought it would. I was tempted to tell her that I needed to be done, and whatever happened in the next game, I had to stop, but I knew that would be frustrating for her, not to end on a triumphant, successful note.

And so I started talking to myself. “Connection with your kids is the most important thing you do as a mom. The to do list can wait.” Persistence is important. I needed to stick with this and play until we got a win. That was true in Solitaire, and it’s true in parenting. So much of the time, my parenting work takes longer than I expect, is not as productive as I hope, and is more frustrating than I think it will be. Sticking with it until I am successful is important.

We lost a fourth game. She said, “We should switch from this blue deck to the red deck. The red deck is better for us.” Sometimes we need to change our strategies. Our goal remained the same. We remained committed to working toward it. But we tried something different. And sometimes those different strategies make all the difference.

Did I really think the red deck was objectively better than the blue deck? No. But what was important was listening to my daughter, letting her know that I was willing to hear her, that I would make a change when she wanted us to make a change. It matters to my kids to know that they have a voice with me.

And the fifth game? We won! She was delighted.

It was a brief moment of connection and teamwork in the middle of my day, and it was absolutely worth it to take the time away from my attempts at productivity in order to have that time to connect with her. It ended up being a highlight of my day – I need those moments of connection, too.