It's Hard to be Ten

Oh my goodness. It’s Victoria’s day to make my brain explode. She is not a happy camper today.

I suppose she had it coming. She’s spent her life being a very responsible, level-headed, easy child. It’s not like it could go on forever and it probably wouldn’t even be healthy if it did. Everybody needs to have at least occasional episodes where they’re allowed to weep, wail and gnash teeth. Without it they become robotic, numb or liable to end up on the evening news years later.

I’ve been informed that it’s miserable being ten. Nine is apparently all roses and sunshine. Nine is the golden year. Friends, fun and no responsibility. Ten is apparently a horrible time. Maybe it’s the double digits, though it’s more likely baby brother who’s increasingly mobile and demanding.

The thing that differentiates parenting from any other job, hobby or activity on earth is that you can never really get it down.

You have your first child and it’s like juggling– figuring out what this cry means versus this cry and how to make her happy and deal with this issue and that. You read books, you listen to older parents, you listen to her cues and you eventually (if you work really hard) get it down — for the most part anyway.

Then, just as you’re starting to feel smug, she enters a new phase and it’s ALL NEW STUFF. The old tricks don’t work. It’s new challenges, obstacles, issues. Now it’s like juggling except the balls have all become different weights and they’re not coming down the way they did last week.

And then, just to make it even more impossible, you have another child. And every single thing that worked with the first child will be different with this one. He has an all new temperment with all new wants, likes and magic buttons.

Suddenly those balls are randomly flinging themselves horizontally and whacking you in the forehead.

(If you’ve ever been one of those know-it-all mothers whose kids were all fabulously behaved because you were so good at it, this is where all your long-suffering friends laugh a lot. Let them — you have it coming.)

Then you have another child and perhaps another. The balls are all different sizes, weights and speeds and they go in all directions, frequently beaning you in your once-confident head.

And it never stops. You have to pretty much plan on not dropping the balls for… ever. But especially not for the first 18 years. Each.

The way I deal with it when my kids enter new stages and new challenges is pretty consistent — I read everything I can about the age and what’s typical, I talk to parents who have kids a little older to see what wisdom they can share, I try to increase my one-on-one time with the child (I have yet to encounter a behavior issue with one of my kids that didn’t get much better just from increased mama time) and I wait. I try to be patient, keep a sense of humor and remember this too shall pass. (Sometimes I drink wine coolers and tell my children they’re making my head explode, but mostly the other stuff.)

The problem at the moment is that I have 4 kids all going through developmental bumpy roads.

  • Alex is one. That in itself makes him exhausting and requires the patience of a whole mess of saints. He also is teething AND he’s got a cold that won’t go away.
  • Jack, at 5, is dealing with this massive scary changes. He’s now officially kindergarten age and is wavering right on the line of the whole big kid/little kid universe. He’s also too young to do all the fun things his sisters can do but too big to get to use Alex’s cool baby things. AND he has a baby brother who gets, well, babied — by his mama.
  • Anna, at 8, is really getting tired of being a middle child. She gets lost in the shuffle when it comes to attention but she gets lumped in the big kid group when it comes to responsibility and expectations. She had to move aside and let Jack be babied for years and now she’s watching another little interloper get babied. AND while she’s exceptionally intelligent, artistic, sweet and talented, she’s got the overachievement poster child Victoria for a big sister.
  • Which leads to Victoria, who has decided at 10 that she’s tired of waiting around being perfect while I try to meet everybody’s needs. I try not to ask too much of her. I try to switch things up and equal things out. I also try to dole out lots of extra perks for being my helper. She gets more allowance, more late night talks, more chocolate slipped to her from the secret stash. The fact remains, though, that she’s my go-to girl. If I need something done, I know she’ll not only do it but do it cheerfully 9 times out of 10. And better. So I lean on her. AND since she acts like a grown up half the time, I forget and treat her like a grown up half the time too. I really have to remember that even at 10 she needs to be babied sometimes too — or at least get to occasionally weep and wail and gnash teeth.

So today is Victoria’s day to make my head explode. She’s unleashed all that pent up emotion and has been prone to throwing herself on the floor and sobbing. Really. It’s a bit unnerving.

She cried a lot, vented a lot, told me her troubles. I brushed her hair and mostly listened, and tried not to be too practical about the whole thing. There’s nothing worse when you’re having an emotional breakdown than someone throwing logic and reason at you.

(Though I did point out that perhaps she could rethink the bit about tossing herself on the floor, if nothing else so she doesn’t trip people. I told her I get depressed sometimes too and I never throw myself on the floor, though it might have to do with being old and easily bruised.  At that point Daryl compared me to a tomato. But anyway…)

I don’t know how to sort this out, but I know by now that it’ll get better.  It’ll just take some work and some time.  I’ll order another book, work on giving her more of the neat childhood stuff, start doing one-on-one time with all 3 of the “big” kids again…

It’s hard to be 39 too. 🙂

Our Family Olympics


We held our own Olympics yesterday!

The kids started by picking a country to represent and finding its flag on the “flags of the world” poster to copy.  They carefully made flags and we taped them to the front of their shirts.

I helped them make 15 medals (gold, silver and bronze for 5 sports).  We cut cardboard circles and covered them with slightly crinkled tinfoil.  Then they dabbed paint on them with a paper towel and rubbed it in (bronze for bronze, yellow for gold and unpainted for silver) and used a screwdriver to put holes on the tops.  We threaded some coloful yarn through and tied it and were done.

Then we made an Olympic torch and talked about what it symbolized.  The kids each took a leg of the journey from the flames at Olympus (the corner) to the host city’s Olympic games (the soccer goal).

Daddy came out to help and brought some of his favorite Olympic games.  They’re some of the more obscure sports!  There’s the “partially filled water bottle toss at the turkey target” competition, for instance.  That one is usually shown late at night so you may have missed it.  😉

All total, we had the bottle toss…

The javelin…

The discus…

(Where Mom got too busy playing to remember to take a picture!)

The 100 yard dash…

The long jump…

 And gymnastics (mostly floor routine)…

For some of the events, the kids honestly competed.  Jack legitimately won the bottle toss and Victoria legitimately won the discus.   With Daddy’s additional games we had more than 5 games to choose from and ended up deciding on 6.  Because of that, the kids didn’t get to medal in all the games.  They chose whether to medal in gymnastics or the long jump.  Victoria chose the long jump and had to try to beat the Russian and Japanese athletes (me!) to see where she’d place.  She got silver.  Jack and Anna got 4th and 5th but enjoyed jumping nonetheless.

For the other games, we drew from a hat and they had to try to get that medal.  For instance, Anna drew gold for the race and Jack drew bronze so they had to plan it so Anna would come in first, Victoria second, and Jack last.

Since Victoria couldn’t medal in gymnastics, she decided that she got disqualified for poor sportsmanship.  🙂  She taunted the judges!

Jack had several meltdowns about not getting 5 gold medals.  We all deserve copious amounts of chocolate or cash for not throttling him several times yesterday.  I don’t know what was in the air yesterday but my good mommy muscles were certainly getting a workout.  Anna threw a fit about not getting to run the torch back and launched into an overdramatic rant about the unfairness of her life.  Victoria bossed and nitpicked, Alex tried to run off with the spears and I blew up more than once and said I was going to quit the whole rotten thing!  🙂  (It’s not even Friday and you got full disclosure!)

However, we worked it out each time and survived the thing with smiles mostly intact.  It ended up being pretty fun and we enjoyed it despite ourselves!

Later on, I read the kids some information about the ancient Olympic games, the traditions associated with the Olympics and how the modern Olympics got started.  It was pretty interesting!

At the end of our Olympic talk, I gave the kids forms where they can track “their” countries in terms of how many medals they get.  They fill it out any time an athlete from their country gets a medal and write down what the competition was and what medal was earned.  Jack was filling his with quite a lot of swimming for the USA last night!  Now we all have to root for France and Germany to get some medals for the girls!

Some days you have grand plans with the kids and it feels so hard to make it work.  Or at least I do!  I think patience and a sense of humor are the only things that get me through those times, but it does work out eventually.  I guess nothing good comes easy, but it did end up being a very good time.

Mom & Me Days

We’re still going strong with “Mom & Me” days here.  Each child gets one on one time with me one day a week and we decide together what we’ll do with our time.  It’s tentatively scheduled:

Victoria– Monday

Jack– Wednesday

Anna– Friday

If we have a busy day planned we do it the next possible day.  Today I have a make up day with Anna since Friday was a very busy day and so was yesterday.

So far some of our activities have included:

  • Going for a walk to get ice cream bars and sitting in a public garden enjoying them
  • Playing a game and baking cookies
  • Going to the mall and getting Anna’s ears pierced
  • Making sculptures and painting them
  • Playing marbles & going on a bike ride
  • Going to a local restaurant for pop and fries, then going to a garage sale
  • Playing with playdough and coloring together
  • Going to the lake

Today for Anna’s make up day I’m going to suggest taking some art supplies to someplace shady and doing art together, going to a park or doing some sort of fashion design with unwanted clothes.  It’s hot and it’s a Sunday so there aren’t a lot of options around here.  Our grocery store burned down last week and the drug store and variety store are closed Sundays.  It’s a nice day to do something lazy anyway.

BTW, I’m putting this in the “behavior” category along with plans and fun because I know that the more quality time I spend with my kids, the better they feel and act.  I do M&M days with the kids because they need it and deserve it and I like to spend individual time with them, but I also do it because it makes life easier for all of us.  🙂

HS experiment: Living someone else's schedule!

Anna has been talking about how unfair her life is a lot lately and I got fed up last night. I decided that I wanted her to live a “typical” HS life (as if there is such a thing) for a while and see how little she has to do compared to many kids. So I googled some HS schedules and printed out two that were for her age range.

All day today we’ve been following one of the other HS mom’s schedules. I woke the kids up at 7:30 a.m. and they had an hour for breakfast and getting ready stuff, then a half hour for morning chores (we did another list of those that a different HS mom posted). After that we did a half hour of bible study and then a half hour of silent reading and then a half hour of reading to mom (about Ethiopia since we went to an Ethiopian restaurant yesterday). Then 45 minutes of math, lunch at 11 and now in 8 minutes I have to move on to reading workbooks. LOL

I wanted to really make it authentic so we did everything on their list even if it was not a normal part of our life at all.

Some observations–

a) Anna loves it. Snort. Of course! 🙂
b) Victoria is putting up with it much better than I expected.
c) I like the quiet (I told Daryl no TV except during lunch).
d) I don’t mind doing it as a weekly thing.
e) It weirds me out that the schedule goes morning to night and there is no physical activity planned. There is occasional free play but I’m not sure most kids would choose to go do vigorous physical exercise during those times.
f) Mama doesn’t get as much time online! <G>

I find it interesting that the kids are so into it. Leave it to my kids to want to do school at home! I’ll report back on how the day goes!

UPDATE: 3:00 p.m.

We made it till just after 1:00 before Anna completely lost it. The drudgery of the schedule and subject after subject with no play time was torture for her. She told me she had been going along with it nicely just because she was trying to make me happy.

When I quietly told her that she couldn’t put spare parts on her fingers and toes to make herself into a robot and put on a play because it was still science time and then it was social studies time, she reached her limit. She had a complete screaming meltdown about how much she missed her old life and how she wanted her old life back now. I calmly told her we were sticking to the schedule for one day and yowza did that go over well.

Daryl had taken Jack off to a friend’s house so it was me, an overtired baby and the two girls. Victoria was loving all the spelling tests, workbook pages, science projects, etc. Anna quickly devolved into a shrieking banshee. I stayed so calm that I should get a medal of some sort or at least a pile of chocolate.

We ended up doing a lapbook on Ethiopia for Social Studies and we ran over into our English slot. I didn’t care and we worked right through it because frankly it was fun and educational to make our lapbook. Anna had angrily let us know that she was not having any part of it so I had her sitting in a chair with a historical novel, but she ended up helping us occasionally in spite of herself because it involved all sorts of art and creativity.

We completely skipped English workbook time (how much more English do they need in one day?) and we happily made up injera shape books, fact strips, booklets about school in Ethiopia, maps and more. I know I should have put it away undone after our allotted half an hour but ah well. I suck at being a being a “School at Home” homeschooler. 🙂

When Daryl came home, he and Jack had spotted birds, seen some friends’ baby goat, cleaned up our wetland habitat and rock hunted. He eyed our schedule and announced that it looked like there was a prison break scheduled for 3:00. Sure enough, they had an hour off (the first break all day!). He took all 4 kids (even baby!) and they are off to see baby goats and birds again.

As they were driving off, Victoria announced that they’d better be home by 4:00 so they could do their scheduled chores. She is such a weirdo. 😉

Anna and I are so over this. I’m going to try to stick close to the schedule for the rest of the day just to finish this out. I am going to try to do something like this once a week for Victoria since she likes it so much though. Participation will be optional and we’ll be a little more flexible. I may also keep just a little bit of the routine for Anna, too. I think she might even like it in small doses.

The thing that was most interesting is that I kept printing out spelling lists and finding science projects and getting out math workbooks and they aced everything. They already knew ahead of time what the results were going to be about the types of metal and magnets. They knew most of the spelling words without looking at them once. They got every single math problem right. For our family, we don’t need all this scheduled bookwork in order to learn. I’ll do it anyway when they want it, but it’s pretty cool that our normal wacky, chaotic, fun-centered way is teaching them all that stuff too.

Now I have to google some final touches for that Ethiopian lapbook. And then find chocolate.

Food for Thought

Behaviorism is as American as rewarding children with apple pie. We’re a busy people, with fortunes to make and lands to conquer. We don’t have time for theories or complications: Just give us techniques that work. If firing thousands of employees succeeds in boosting the company’s stock price; if imposing a scripted, mind-numbing curriculum succeeds in raising students’ test scores; if relying on bribes and threats succeeds in making children obey, then there’s no need to ask, “But for how long does it work? And at what cost?”

Alfie Kohn
Atrocious Advice from “Supernanny”

My clean team

Yesterday the kids spent a long time outside since the weather had warmed up a bit. At one point I saw Annalee outside shoveling the drive and otherwise I figured the kids were just making snowmen and playing. I was busy with the baby and a new mystery novel so I really didn’t pay much attention.

Later Victoria came in and asked me to come see something outside. I figured she made a snow sculpture or something. I followed her out and she opened up both my car doors to reveal a completely cleaned out car!

We only use my little car when I take the kids on road trips to Tiffany’s and such, so it mostly sits buried in snow. There had been tons of stuff left in it from our last trip (ten hours round trip with 4 kids means lots of little stuff!) and I kept meaning to clean it out when the days warmed up.

It turns out she went out to find a coloring book, noticed some things that needed to be thrown away and then just kept going! She got every single scrap, every broken crayon, every toy, everything! All that was left was the road atlas on the seat!

I told her she knows the way to my heart. LOL

She spent about 2 hours outside doing this just to make me happy, bless her heart. And Victoria enjoys cleaning about as much as I do, which is slightly less than a root canal. 🙂

Then last night I started organizing Jack and Anna’s room. Jack came in, asked what I was doing, found out I was cleaning and offered to help. He stayed with me and helped sort legos, find pieces and otherwise clean what had been a very messy room.

Annalee also asked me yesterday if it would be okay if she made Victoria’s bed to make it pretty for her! I said sure and she carefully made it as pretty as she could and then asked me to help with the finishing touches. She is also the only child in the free world who actually asks if she can clean the toilet!

These are little things perhaps but I am so proud of the kids for volunteering to do all of these things, completely on their own! I have always been a messy person and it’s a constant struggle for me to not only get the house under control but to manage to teach my kids how to be better at it than I am.

I really want my kids to not only become good at keeping a house, but to enjoy doing it. I’ve been getting much better at that myself and we’re all starting to really pull together as a team and find what things we each like to do to help out. I’m beginning to feel there is hope for us all. 🙂

Surviving your four year-old!

Lately Jack (age 4) has been really pushing my buttons! He’s been argumentative, angry, bossy, defiant and just plain trying. He’s told me he hated me (which neither of his big sisters have ever done!), threatened me, made mean faces, you name it.

I have read enough parenting books and been through enough parenting to know that children act bad when they feel bad. Still, it is very hard to take when a small boy keeps shouting at you and saying mean things! There is only so much of the Mary Poppins hat you can put on before you feel like beating him with it.

I know what the conventional wisdom is. Spank, yell, punish, show him who’s boss. Be meaner back to teach him how to be nice. I’m not a fan of conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom was once that the world was flat and you should own slaves. That doesn’t mean I didn’t lose it and yell and act mean a time or two during this phase, but it wasn’t my goal.

The behavior has been going on for several weeks and it was a long few weeks. In order to get through it, I read _Your Four Year Old_ again to remind myself what was age appriate and what works for the age, modeled handling my own anger well, firmly told him that he could not treat me badly and left the room if he was nasty to me, offered lots of hugs, talked about his feelings and healthy ways to express them, dramatically increased his mama time, gave him more choices, read extra books, smiled lots, told him I loved him lots, complemented his good behavior and waited.

Of course I also lost it and yelled, told his dad to take over, vented to friends, and acted rotten myself a few times! I’m human, after all. 🙂

Fast forward to the past few days. I have my old Jack back now for the most part, just a little older and wiser. Today he greeted me with “Hi mom, how ya doin’?” and then made up a poem for me later (You may be big, you may be small, but you’re my bestest friend of them all). The past few days he has presented me with artwork, told me many times how much he loved me, helped out when asked, apologized when he was rude to his sister…. He’s been a mature, sweet, helpful, funny little boy.

This is a big time in Jack’s life. He stopped being the baby in the family 8 months ago when his brother came along. He is learning to read and write and add. He is growing and changing. He’s stuck inside during a very cold winter and not able to run and move the way his body needs to. He’s got to share, compromise, negotiate and be patient many times a day, which are skills a lot of grown ups never master.

It can be so hard when little ones (or big ones!) go through stages that make us nuts. I can just imagine what it will be like around here when we have a bunch of teenagers! I am so glad that I had faith in him and kept working at helping him through it, instead of turning us into enemies.

And with that, I’m off to go play with said four year-old! Have a great day all!