Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dear Santa

I really just want to take a nap.  My daughter is at a friend's house, and my son is occupied on the computer with his World of Warcraft (his most recent obsession).  The house is fairly tidy (ehem, okay... it's passable), the dog is curled up on the couch next to me, it's cold outside and I am very, very tired.

Why am I so tired?  Many reasons... but here's what I figured out.  It's the holiday season.  Now, it's not the holiday season itself that exhausts me.  I love Christmas music, baking, gathering with friends and family, finding the perfect gift for my loved ones.  I love the snow, and sitting around the hearth while a fire blazes in the fireplace, lighting up our faces with a warm orange glow.  I love all of those things about this season, and it never seemed to exhaust me before.

But this year is different.  I have thirty-five fewer available hours in my "work-week" than I had last year.  When my kids were in school, I spent those seven hours a day for those first few weeks of December shopping, baking, planning, cleaning, mailing, shipping, writing, candy-coating, wrapping, drinking Bailey's and cocoa curled up with a good book...  Now, I'm not whining.  I know that working mothers/fathers whose children go to school have the same kinds of time constraints, as do parents with small children still at home.  I'm not comparing myself to those people.  I am simply comparing my 2010 Holiday Season Self to my 2009 Holiday Season Self.  This year, I have less time to complete more tasks.

Now, in an ideal world my wonderfully well-behaved children would accompany me to the post office, the craft store, the mall, the market.  They would joyfully don an apron, baking cookies and making caramel corn while laughing at each other's floury faces and frosting-fingers.  We would do this while listening to Christmas carols and drinking home made egg-nog, and afterward they would willingly (nay, eagerly) help mom polish off the dishes and sweep the last sprinkles off the floor.  In the evening, they would be snuggled in bed by 8:30pm, their cheeks rosy from an afternoon of sledding, dreaming of sugar-plums while mom wrapped gifts and placed them under the tree.

What?  WHOSE life is THAT? 

I ditch my kids at my neighbor's house so I can run out for an hour, stop at the bank, run to the grocery store, and pick up a last minute gift.  I barely get the floor swept and the dishwasher unloaded before it's time to cook another meal, and it's trashed again.  My kids are up until after eleven.  They don't feel like baking, they want me to take them sledding and skating before we're even out of our pajamas, they can't even get their rooms clean let alone help with dishes...

Now here I sit, Christmas a few short days away.  All the goodies we've already baked are eaten or given away, none of my gifts are wrapped, I have seven loads of laundry to finish, the winter sunlight draws undue attention to my streaky windows and the dust on the mantel, our Christmas cards are now New Year's Greetings (even though they've been on the counter since Thanksgiving), we have no outdoor lights up, who said you need to get a gift for the garbage man?, and there is a bathroom sink in my dining room.

Santa... if you're out there, reading this... all I want for Christmas this year is a clean, organized house.  Just for a month.  A week?  Just a weekend?  I think I've been very good.  It's not too much to ask, is it?  Practical.  Inexpensive.  Home-made (kind of).  So, Santa... or Mrs. Clause... if you're out there in the blogosphere... never mind the acoustic guitar.  I'd like this instead. -Thanks

I'm sure I will get this under control, the time-management thing, maybe by next holiday season. In the meantime, where's the Bailey's and Cocoa?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Coffee: You can sleep when you're dead.

Sleep... or blog.  Sleep... or blog. 

Lately my blog posts have been sparse because I'm racking up some good sleep hours.  You'd think after ten years of parenting, we'd have bed time down to a science.  Unfortunately, science has never been one of my strong points.  Bed time is more like a theatrical production at our house, complete with trapeze and flying monkeys.

I think my children were trained by Pavlov to start salivating when they hear the words "bed time!"  They are suddenly starving, even if they just wolfed down an entire bucket full of home made kettle corn during the family movie that got started thirty minutes later then intended.  Somehow we are always out of bananas... and string cheese... or anything healthy that can be consumed in under five minutes.

Is a doughnut a good bed time snack?  What if they have it with milk?

If showers happen, add another thirty minutes to the process.  What can possibly take a child that long to wash?  I have to wonder what they do in there (for twenty or thirty minutes) when they get out and they still have a pudding-cup goatee and the hair around the ears is still dry.

We are lucky if teeth are brushed and the children are sufficiently rinsed off by 9:30pm.  At that point, we usually gather in our meditation room with books or knitting.  I know I could ship them off to bed at this point, but it is seriously my favorite part of the day.  The room is cozy.  Dad, kids, Mom... all cuddled under blankets with good books.  Ahhh.  I know, how selfish of me.

I absolutely know that we could push the whole process back (I do actually have a rational side of my brain), starting them with their fourth-meals at 7:30pm, so they could be sawing sustainably-harvested-timber before midnight!  It just doesn't seem to work out that way. 

This is one reason I must choose between writing and sleep. 

Another reason is that I can't seem to wake up early, even when I go to bed before eleven.  I have every good intention, but end up turning my alarm off and drifting back into dreamland until Cady wakes me up!  Wait... that's not absolutely true... if I sleep in the meditation room (there's a comfy foldout couch) the sun wakes me naturally.  It's really wonderful.  But then Jay thinks I'm mad at him!

The last reason is that I can't seem to carve out enough quiet time during the day.  I am still married to the idea that I have to be doing things WITH the children all the time.  My loving hub has desperately tried to get me to insist on an hour of independent, quiet time for us all during the day.  That hasn't worked because as soon as my children are unsupervised (even if I just go to the bathroom) there is a cataclysmic event, World War III right there in my living room... or sometimes it's more like a scene from "Scream," depending on who started it. 

How will we ever accomplish anything this way?  I am looking forward to the structured classes coming up in the new year... Guitar lessons for Asher, Co-op on Fridays, breakdancing, theatre.  Of course there will still be dance for Cady, but that's on Saturday mornings, during which time Asher will be taking his Video Game Design class through the local college's community ed program.

I don't think this first few months of Home Schooling has been a fair trial.  I wanted to take it easy, so I didn't sign up for all of these extras, not anticipating their necessity in breaking up the time my children are exposed to one another.  I think next semester will be a better gauge.  I'll let ya know.

In the meantime, if you see my writing become more prolific, it means one of three things... we have bedtime down, my kids are getting along well enough to be unsupervised for an hour a day, or I am consuming ungodly amounts of coffee.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Couples Counseling?

Judging by the nice, quiet evening we had last night while my daughter was away at a friend's house for a sleepover... I'm wondering if my children need couples counseling.  With each other.

Asher and I went to watch his friend in a play... but not until Asher helped his dad shovel the driveway, then staying outside to make a huge snow fort with his friend.  When we got home after the performance, braving the ice and snow, we all sat down to a hot meal from the crock pot.  Asher set the table and cleared some of the dishes.  Dinner was calm... not one person fell out of their seat.  Not one. Then Asher and his dad played a new found love, World of Warcraft, for a few minutes. 

Finally, we had an hour long discussion about screen time, gaming, movies... and how ADhD brains work.  My son has never been so articulate.  He was quoting phrases from the book he is reading, "Career Building Through Interactive Gaming."  He was looking us in the eyes, straight back and clear language.  No baby talk, not even a hint.  He was also making surprisingly sound points, and was the one who finally said that the discussion had gone on long enough.  It really was incredible.

This conversation would not have happened with Cady around.  I know, she's seven, younger, very very active.  But she also pushes Asher's buttons.  He pushes hers, too... but I'm starting to wonder if it's more her than him.  Each on their own, they are joys.  Together, it gets a little nutty around here. Even teeth brushing becomes a fiasco.  As much as I know they completely love each other, and can be best of friends, they also get under each other's skin.  They bring out the worst in each other.  Is that what siblings are supposed to do?

And where did I sign up to be a therapist?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Just a Quickie

While I stress the importance of writing every day to my children, I sometimes forget to follow my own advice.  So here's a quickie before I head off to bed.

I took an entire day to myself today to go Christmas shopping.  My feet hurt.  I accomplished most goals and came to an understanding.  I understand that I will never go to Twelve Oaks Mall again.  I sucked it up and went because I had a mission or two.  I got lost three times, walked about twenty-seven miles, skipped lunch for lack of good choices, got followed in the parking lot by parking-space-lurkers, and still had to go to other stores because I couldn't get EVERYTHING I needed at the mall.  Ugh.

But I enjoyed the time completely to myself to do as I pleased.  I made it home while my family was away, wrapped gifts, cleaned up the kitchen and had a delicious Asian dinner set out on the table when they arrived.  That was actually my favorite part of the day.

I'm most excited because I bought felt so my daughter and I can make a holiday pocket calendar (like an Advent Calendar) specifically tailored to our family!  Thirty pockets will help us count down first to the Solstice, then to Christmas, and finally to New Year's Eve (my absolutely favorite holiday)!

Why is New Year's Eve my favorite, you might ask?  It's a time to reflect on the past, to look in to the future and all the possibilities it brings, to gather with friends over food and drink.  It spans all religions, all generations... and it doesn't come with an overtone of gifts and consumerism.  We gather with friends to break bread, to enjoy a glass of wine, to laugh and talk around the table or the fire.  The kids play with one another, old friends and sometimes new.  This year we plan to release paper lanterns with blessings and wishes for the future. 

If I could pick one of my favorite gods, it would be Janus... a representation of the dichotomy of life.  I'm looking forward to counting down the days until the new year... and perhaps I'll sew an image of Janus on the last pocket of our felt calendar!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I am writing this from a booth at the roller rink...

I am writing this from a booth at the roller rink... surprisingly, this is the most "quiet time" I've had in a while.  I am inside my own head, easily able to insulate myself from the blaring pop music and clinking of skates against wood.  This is noise that does not require my attention.  The children have quickly made friends to skate with, and I brought my laptop because my ankle is too sore to skate today.  Usually I love to rock the rink! ;)

Anyway, so far our "December Off" is going really well.  Cady and I have read several picture books about Hanukkah, which inspired the pointing out of things like roadside menorahs,  and checking out the dreidles at the book store.  We've all been playing a fun dice game called "Lumps," designed by elves to use up leftover coal! We plan to read "The Nutcracker" before going to see it at the ballet next Saturday.  The kids are asking lots of questions about Santa and plan to track his route on NORAD's web site http://www.noradsanta.com/.  We will also be studying the physics of Santa's ride, which might put some skepticism into the kids' brains if it wasn't already there!

We are baking and cooking a ton, we are playing board games and doing crafts, and we plan to write lots of Christmas cards and Thank You notes.  Also, the kids have been practicing diligently for their Holiday choir performance at church.  I downloaded the audio version of Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol," and I'm sure we will watch at least one version on Netflix.  We already saw a funny street performance of the classic tale right smack in the middle of Woodward Avenue during Noel Night!  But the kids love theatre, so we might catch a local production as well.  We will plot that on our map and time line, too.

Today Cady decided to go to work with Dad for the afternoon, where she got to help with lots of things and also got a personal tour of the chemical manufacturing plant.  Meanwhile, I took Asher to Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum. http://www.marvin3m.com/  It was amazing!  We got to try an "arcade machine" from 1905 that you had to crank to see a clip of "Phantom of the Opera," drop coins into a "magical magician" game from 1910, and test our luck at all kinds of old and new games!  We even got to talk to Marvin himself, who praised my son for being one of very few who actually beat the chicken at the tic-tac-toe game!  I would recommend this place to anyone who is in the West Bloomfield area.  It truly is a gem, especially for kids who are gamers at heart.  It was awesome to see the changes in technology over a century. 

My gamer-kid, who is currently restricted to an hour of screen time a day, is getting his fix by reading books like "You-Tube" (all about how it was invented), and "Career Building Through Interactive Gaming."  Yes, these info books were his pick and he reads them voluntarily.  We are also signing him up for an enrichment class at  Schoolcraft that will teach him how to build his own 2-D computer game, which he will get to take home on a thumb drive at the end of the course. http://www.schoolcraft.edu/  Hey, if he loves computers, why not turn that passion into something lucrative?  Isn't that what home schooling is all about?

Things seem to be mellowing out a lot.  Asher is initiating self-calming techniques like breathing and asking for hugs when he is frustrated.  THAT's a huge accomplishment... in fact, it was one of the goals of bringing him home.  We are all looking forward to neighbors and friends having two weeks off for Winter break.  We plan on participating in a Solstice celebration, learning about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, having Christmas with my dad, and of course celebrating our favorite Winter holiday... New Year's Eve! 

A time for reflection, for appreciation, and for looking forward into a new year.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Just Dance

Last night I had an epiphany in the most unlikely of places... a middle school auditorium.

My daughter and I went to see Asher perform a break dancing routine at the Ann Arbor Community Rec and Ed's dance program recital.  My hopes were not high.  It was a nine week Rec & Ed class, not designed for recital.  And from what my husband had told me, the rehearsals didn't promise a good show.

We were dead wrong.  My son's group is mixed-age because they didn't have enough kids to run a younger class.  Asher and one other ten year old boy, along with a slew of older teenagers and young adults, rocked the floor behind their instructor, Maurice.  They were precise when they were supposed to work together.  They were energized when they were free styling.  They were completely within themselves.  The owned their experience.  They were having FUN.  It was awesome... in every sense of the word.

Without costumes, or thirteen dollar tickets, or special shoes... they put on an amazing show!  My son has been dancing for six years at various professional dance studios.  This was the first time he took a Rec & Ed class.  THIS... was better than any recital I have ever seen him perform in.  Not to mention that he never once whined or complained to go to class each week, even though it's a half hour drive. 

At the professional studios, they are so concerned with learning precise formation, perfect moves, and providing discipline that they forget to show the kids how to love dancing.  How to feel the music run through them.  How to use their bodies to release their tensions, passions, emotions.  They are so concerned about the kids (especially in the all-boys-hip-hop) paying attention, not messing with each other while rehearsing, and staying in line, that they forget to help the kids bond together as a team... and be friends.

This break dancing class was perfect for my son.  With the multi-aged, mixed-gender grouping, Asher got the support, the encouragement, and also the higher expectations that he needs to thrive.  With Maurice teaching, my son learned how to express himself though his body, to take his frustrations of the day out on the dance floor, to feel the music run through his core.  He embraced everything, made friends, became part of a team, and loved every minute of it.

The epiphany:   It's far more rewarding to be passionate than to be precise.  Just dance.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Perfect Would Be Weird

Today was great.  Yesterday was great.  Hmmm, I think I'm seeing a trend here.

The morning after I wrote my last post, I decided to use December as a sort of  "deschooling month."  A friend reminded me that most public school kids have two and a half weeks off for Winter break anyway.  And if I recall correctly, at least a portion of the December school time is spent doing things like Holiday Shop and watching "The Grinch."

I remember my daughter's kindergarten class even having a "Santa's Workshop" in their classroom.  That one I actually spoke to the staff about... what ever happened to "separation of church and state?"  I felt horribly sorry for any Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Pagan or other-faithed child that had to spend their time cutting pictures out of toy magazines to make their wish list and coloring pictures of elves and reindeer.  Never mind that even some Christians don't emphasize Santa, or that some people want to de-emphasize the gift extravaganza!  Ouch, so much wrong with this scenario that it really needs its own post.

Anyway, I digress.  I decided to take this month "off."  With a cupboard full of learning games, a well-organized and labeled book shelf (aren't you proud of me?), a slew of kid's cookbooks, various museum passes, and a well-stocked arts-n-crafts corner, I was ready to let the children do what they most desired.  EXCEPT watch anything on tv, or play ANY kind of digitized game (including learning games and documentaries), until after dinner at which time they had a maximum of one hour.

See my September 23rd post "Drastic Measures" to understand more about the screen restrictions.  I was ambitious then.  I slipped.  I'm now back on the bobsled.

My children readily agreed to this bargain:  "For the month of December, I will not tell you what to learn.  In exchange, you agree to [the aforementioned] screen time rule."  They heartily agreed.  Here's what happened.

Yesterday, my daughter decided to make brownies.  The double batch required her to double fractions, measure ingredients, adjust cook time, etc.  Awesome lesson in math, and even cooking science!  Not to mention that the brownies were delicious!  My son asked us to play "The Scrambled States" game!  Super fun, and geographically challenging.  While I did a few chores around the house, I heard my kids playing a new story-inspiring dice game, "Rory's Story Cubes."  Cady drew pictures to go with their funny tales of iPhone carrying turtles and robot spies.  Then the pair donned arctic gear and played in our thinly-snow-covered back yard for a couple of hours!  I almost forgot, we also played the "money game," which I will explain in my next post.  It's amazing, simple to throw together, and my kids love it.   Later, we met friends for a night of roller-skating!  Even Dad tried to "shoot-the-duck!" (Actually, he skates rings around us all.)  In the evening, Asher independently logged on to NaNoWriMo and worked on his novel, even though we already missed the deadline.  He also signed himself up for Script Writing Frenzy, which doesn't actually begin until March... but he wants to get a jump start!

Children are like snowflakes...
no two are the same.
Today, Cady ran out in the yard in her pajamas to examine snowflakes with a giant magnifying glass.  Tomorrow we'll be checking out snowflake and weather books from the library.  She also got out the hot glue gun and fixed our stocking-labels, which are actually frame ornaments.  Two of them had lost their "loop" so they couldn't hang.  She found matching ribbon and repaired them all by herself (absolutely refusing any kind of help from me).  When Asher woke up, he played "Crazy Bones" with his sister... then we had a field trip to the mall, where the children used their own money to make purchases and buy gifts.  Asher bought himself a journal and spent part of the afternoon writing in it.  Oh, and he's asking for a microscope set for Christmas INSTEAD of a Nintendo DSi.  My baby makes me proud. Sniffle.  :)  Then Cady was off to Brownies, and Asher to break-dancing rehearsal.  Busy, busy day at the Muse house.

While it's true that my kids may not be learning all the things their peers in school are learning, it certainly is more peaceful around here. And they ARE learning. Tomorrow, a trip to the library is in order.  Perhaps an informal lesson on snow for Cady and a script-writing book for Asher.  Of course, I'll throw in the occasional historical fiction easy-reader and perhaps an "Atom Man" scientific graphic novel.  They will learn without even realizing it!  We also plan on making home made dog biscuits, writing our annual Christmas letters to Grammie, and making "Puppy Chow."

This feels good.  It feels like what we need to do for now.  While everything is not perfect (an earlier bed time would be nice), it's peaceful.  Perfect would be weird, anyway.