Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Progress or Sanity

Another attempt at a fast post. We'll see. My inability to post regularly is related to a different problem I have been unable to solve. I am going to use the female pronouns throughout because we have mostly girls and I want to protect the innocent and the guilty.

This year I have four students with school work. Three of those students require an intensive time investment from me just by the demands of their grade levels. One of those four students needs minimal input from me.

My minimal time student completes her work in a reasonable fashion. Our daily interaction consists of listening to a narration or two, correcting her math work, reciting a dictation selection if scheduled, and checking all the boxes on the checklist. This routine is basically smooth. A hiccup every now and again, but dependable.

One of my time intensive students is excited to learn. She cooperates. She completes her work in lightning fast time, and is a joy.

Two of my time intensive students require constant redirection and are like dragging stubborn mules through the mud. The younger of these students needs my assistance for 90% of her work so daily I drag this stubborn child through her work because I see it as my work too AND WE ARE GOING TO DO IT. Our daily meeting, inevitably, eats far more of our school time than I can afford to spend, but appropriate progress is made because I insist.

The older of these students, theoretically, should be able to work independently on the work that does not require me. Reality says this does not happen with any due speed.

My day is spent running from fire to fire. If I only had one uncooperative student, I would have much more time to repeatedly redirect the one. As it is, I have two students working on vastly different subjects who both need to be stood over all day. And a 1yo toddler. Don't forget about her. If I had more than one room downstairs, I might could set up zones to walk through and redirect. But I don't.

What I actually have is one room downstairs. This room contains the cooking and the eating and the schoolwork and the toddler area and usually three children and me. I used to have an alternative work table (read: piece of plywood on a keyboard stand) in my bedroom, but there's a crib there now. Upstairs I have a husband, working and making phone calls, in an area open to the downstairs, which requires continual shushing of children. Also upstairs is one dependably working student in her room and one student in her room who spends a lot of time doing...something. They both want to be upstairs to avoid the noise and chaos of downstairs. Both feel their dignity insulted if I insist they work downstairs. If I am being honest, it is easy for me to lose track of this daydreaming student upstairs in all the demands of the downstairs crew.

My dilemma is how to prioritize her work. If I put down a hard deadline after which I am no longer available for school in the afternoons, which I desperately need to do, she makes very little progress in her work. I assign the same assignments week after week after week as she accomplishes a day and a half worth of work over the course of an entire week.

If I insist that all the work scheduled for the day be completed in the same day, two things happen. First my attention for the constant redirection isn't available until late in the day, which means I will have to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening (and night?) making sure the work is complete. The second thing is that after the time gets later than her perception of "The End of The School Day," her work turns to garbage. There is crying and crying and crying and no effort and pages of sloppy work with wrong answers. I don't feel like we are accomplishing anything except torturing all of us.

What generally happens in reality is that she does what she does until I finish readalouds and then she gets my full attention until it is time for supper. This time between readalouds and supper is not long enough for her to get all her work done and she usually loses focus before supper time anyway. My afternoon is busted and she is still behind.

I also have to consider the line between being her teacher and being her mother. I do not want our family life consumed by her school work choices. I am capable of grabbing onto that incomplete work and shaking it like rag doll in a dog's mouth, but I am making a conscious choice not to do this. But, argh, I want to check off that checklist. The unchecked boxes drive me mad.

I should probably spend less time working with the younger stubborn one, but this is difficult for me to accomplish in the moment. I always second guess how long it actually takes and the time flits away. I need a hard stopping point with this one too. 

So it seems I have a choice between progress or sanity. I can preserve my ability to do anything aside from school--and I do mean anything. I am currently not cooking or cleaning or exercising or doing much of anything aside from dragging children through schoolwork and tending a baby--by establishing firm deadlines, the consequence of which is to allow her to fall very, very behind. It is hard for me to imagine a meaningful consequence to avoid this outcome. Or I can continue dragging, dragging, dragging. The work will get done, eventually, but I won't be doing anything else.

An aside: I have talked to the pediatrician about the focus issue. Her answer is that if the child can focus and follow through on tasks she wants to complete, it is not ADHD. I am...not convinced of this explanation. I am not sure it is ADHD, but I am also not sure it is not.

(Okay, this post took nearly two hours to write, half of which was spent baby wrangling. Not terrible, I guess.)

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Swimming Summer

Back in April, I bought a summer pass to my local rec center in order to try to get swimming worked into our family's summer activities, and more specifically it is a low impact exercise for me to strengthen my core. The pass was $150 for five months, May through September. I thought I'd give an update for how it all worked out.

We did, indeed, go swimming more than we ever have in the past. This outcome was not difficult to achieve since one swimming outing per summer was a high water mark. However, I think the summer pass is a little deceptive.

The rec center has two pools, an indoor pool and an outdoor pool. The outdoor pool is the expected domain of children. The indoor pool is for rec center swimming lessons, lap swimming, and water aerobics. It isn't that there isn't open areas in the indoor pool to swim and play. It's that children get hard looks if they are present in an unstructured way. How to say this? The body language of the older people seems to indicate that perhaps a truce has been violated. So the outdoor pool it is.

The outdoor pool suits the swimming desires of the children nicely, except it is only open from Memorial Day until the day before county's public school starts. That's the first week of August.  All this means that in reality the five month swimming pass only equals two and a half months of swimming in the outdoor pool. (Why is the outdoor pool season so short when even today, October 6, the high is 88 degrees? I do not know.)

My initial goal was to get to the rec center once a week all summer. So how'd it go?

We did not go to the rec center at all in May. We were behind in school and I was unwilling to take time away and risk extending school into June.

June arrived and I was determined. We went once a week the first three weeks in June. During the last week in June, the four older kids spent the week with my parents, but I was not going to skip my swimming trip. I dutifully brought Ella to childcare to stay by herself and went to the pool. I was pulled out of the pool within ten minutes because Ella never stopped screaming.

The first week in July was very busy with travelling so we skipped the swim trip. The next week, the kids had swimming lessons every morning, but I managed to squeeze in an exhausted trip one afternoon because I didn't want to miss two weeks in a row. The next week, the children had VBS. I had learned my lesson about attempting solo trips without anyone to keep Ella company in the childcare room so I did not go. After VBS, we then were afflicted with a GI virus that took two entire weeks to slowly work its way through the family. No one was seriously ill, but you didn't want those children in a public pool either. July did not go as anticipated.

Now it was August and I was set to resume the weekly swim trips. I put off the trip to the end of the week because schools were starting mid-week and I thought the pool would be less crowded afterwards. Well, it was less crowded. It was empty because it was closed. I can't fault the rec center because they had had signs up all summer stating the close date. I had just never paid full attention to those signs until the day I walked into the building with five children expecting to swim in a closed pool. It didn't occur to me the pool would close in August. It was this day I discovered children are not terribly welcome in the indoor pool.

After this, I pretty much gave up on going to the rec center. I know that my pass was technically good through the end of September, but the thought of trying to convince children to go with me to placate Ella while I went swimming and they...dribbled basketballs? It didn't seem worth the effort. And then school started and we were already behind. Heh.

In totality, we went swimming six times over the summer. Was that worth paying $150 for a pass? Honestly, I don't know. Is $25 a swim too much to pay for three hours of swimming for six people? Probably. Is it totally out of line? Maybe not. I can say truthfully, I would not have gone at all if I didn't have the pass, even though paying at the door would have wound up costing half as much.

I am not sure what I will do next summer. Given the extremely short outdoor pool season, I think you have to plan to go more than once a week so when the inevitable off-weeks happen, you will have gotten your money's worth in the workable times. I am not sure that next summer will be amenable to planning multiple swimming trips a week. I only completed about half the work I intended in The Purge this past summer. If past experience is any indication, I will start next summer with the rest of the house still unfinished and in need of attention. I can hope to get some bigger house projects done during the school year, but I know better than to plan on it.

I should be able to go solo next year too, but it is hard to make the schedule work on a regular basis for solo trips since just getting there and coming back home eats up most of an hour.

I am glad I spent time in the pool this summer and found my buoyancy again. I think it was good for all of us to have goals for leaving the house instead of spending every day neck-deep in housekeeping. I also kinda wish I never left the house the entire summer so I could be finished with more of the house. I have learned that in this season of life, balance means inching forward almost imperceptibly while completing almost nothing. I'll have to reassess in the spring.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Prioritization and Pockets

I have another Purge post coming. I started it the second week of August before life and responsibilities snowballed on my head, and the post stalled out before pictures could be added. We are now in the full swing of school.

I have had a hard time prioritizing the blog since I stopped working--or, um, leaving my house to work. I ain't stopped working yet. When I was working, I had long, long stretches of time with nothing to do. It was easy to write in the 8-9 hours a day I sat in front of a computer in utter silence with little company. My problem back then was that I had way too much downtime and few productive ways in which to spend it.

In a little cosmic joke, I now have the exact opposite problem. Now I have no downtime. Ha! Ask and ye shall receive? Well, there are definitely worst ways to spend one's time, but if ever I get a stretch of 3 or 4 hours, I usually have bills to pay or taxes to do. Blogging drops down the list fast.

A secondary problem is that I cannot figure out how to write posts faster than I do. My approach to blogging tends to be long set pieces. It's my approach to conversation too, which is probably why nobody likes talking to me. (I kid, I kid. Kinda.) But given the long form approach, a post takes 3 or 4 hours to write. I need to learn how to break it up into shorter pieces of work, or gasp, write shorter posts. This problem of too big chunks repeats itself all over my life so it is something to practice.

So I endeavor to post more, even though I will likely fail. I feel like I have written this post before about shorter, more frequent blogging, but I am too lazy to go looking. 


And now the pockets.

Yesterday my phone fell out of my pocket at least half a dozen times. I would be completing innocuous tasks like walking across the room or bending down to pick something up off the floor, and the phone would crash to the floor.

Dave witnessed one of these episodes and I vented my frustration to him.

He said he noticed my phone was sticking halfway out of my pocket.

I said to him it was the result of the terrible, terrible design of women's pant pockets that I could not carry my phone in my pocket.

He looked at me, dubiously. He said that he doubted phones were meant to be carried in pockets. They are too big, he said, as he patted his bulletproof plastic phone carrier attached to his belt.

I said my phone would definitely fit in his pocket. He gave me a look. I walked across the room and deposited my phone into the giant abyss of his pants pocket. The phone disappeared. He had to reach into his pocket to find where the phone landed. He could probably could carry two or three phones in his pocket.

Reader, he started laughing.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Purge, Part 7

It occurs to me at this late date I should have subtitled all these posts. Oh well.

Okay, so this probably wasn't a great idea for getting all the things done I want done, but the truth is I never expected it to take as long as it did. I thought a couple hours one afternoon and then I would move on to greater heights. How wrong I was.

What am I talking about?

I purged my hanging clothes. I thought it would be easy. It was not easy.

When last we met here, I had cleaned the laundry room and decided the obvious next step was to clean the upstairs bathroom and purge a few toy bins. It made sense to prioritize a few smaller tasks to make housekeeping maintenance easier. However my motivation for those particular tasks was low. After spinning my wheels for several days, I decided it was stupid to let time slip by while procrastinating the things I did not want to do, and I should do another large task that I wanted to do. I looked towards my closet, which has been a source of crammed, wrinkled angst, and thought I will purge my clothes this afternoon. And so I began.

After I got all my clothes out of the closet, I realized I had probably made a big mistake. This job was going to take more than an afternoon.

Let us catalog all the ways purging your closet is not a fun activity:
  • How do you try on clothes while wearing a baby? You don't.
  • How do you decide if you like the item you tried on while the baby screams on the floor? You can't.
  • How do you know if this shirt is still relatively fashionable when you absolutely remember wearing it just a few years ago? Or maybe that was a decade ago? When *did* I last wear this?
  • How do you figure out if these pants are worth keeping even though they don't fit right now, but will probably fit in six months? Maybe? Unless the slowest possible weight loss while still being able to detect weight loss rate of a pound every six weeks stops altogether. What *do* I do with this pile of pants? 

  • How do you decide which old favorites to let go because they have seen better days while suppressing the urge to re-imagine them as quilts? Even though you don't sew!
  • How do you keep from imagining possible scenarios of use for every single item you find?
  • How do you decide between this shirt and that similar shirt? Or if you should keep the skirt that has no matching shirt but you love it? Or if this shirt in the great color that should be cute but maybe the cut looks odd on you is worth the closet space? Or maybe the cut doesn't look odd? Maybe it's your own perception? How do you know?!?

  • How do you make these decisions without some person, knowledgeable about the issues and sympathetic to the cause, sitting there metaphorically patting you while listening to you natter on like a neurotic?
  • How do you even meet people willing to do that? How might I acquire one? 
  • How does Facebook decide that you shouldn't even have access to the virtual world of advice by helpfully refusing to show your pleas for assistance to more than single digit numbers of people in groups with dozens of members?
Where was I?

Oh yes, the closet. 

After a long and cranky week in which my clothes were spread all over the downstairs in ginormous piles and several existential crises, I filled an entire diaper box overflowing with discards from my clothes closet. 

After. Yes, I know it looks almost exactly the same as the before, but it's different. Believe me, it's different.
I probably didn't purge enough, but I did the best I could. Now on to the rest of the closet! Surely it won't take more than a few days, right? 

I have two weeks now before school has to start. I want the kitchen reorganized. I know for certain that large job will not happen when my attention turns to school so it has to happen soon. I also have to organize all the school books and, um, plan the school year. I am also teaching a music class twice a month to three different age groups. The room to procrastinate that little planning task is shrinking fast. A complication is that outside obligations are beginning to take their slices of time since pretty much everyone else around here has started school.

As a result, my room is probably not going to be touched, but if the closet is made functional, I might be able to work on my room in fits and starts after school is in full swing. After I finish the closet, I will move to the kitchen. The end of the summer is in sight. 

Ella, chewing furniture

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Purge, Part 6

After last week's hormonally induced panic and a conversation about a rejiggered schedule, it has been decided that Algebra has to start on time, which is Aug 20th, but every thing else and all the other students can wait until after Labor Day. I am trying to take the wise housekeeping advice that a clean house makes schooling more efficient. It is against my nature to prioritize in such a way, but I'm trying. So I still have another month and suddenly the mental block against the laundry room organization evaporated.

The laundry room serves several purposes. First it is the, um, laundry room. It isn't big enough to store anything more than the active laundry, but I need places to collect dirty kitchen towels and cleaning rags and store laundry sundries.** It is also the most easily accessible bathroom for guests. It is also home to a bookcase that stores most of the arts and craft supplies, the kitchen tablecloths, and some books.

I jumped into the cleaning on a whim. I'm not sure what happened. I started picking collected junk off the dryer and then before I knew it, I was outside spraying bins out with the hose. Because of the unforeseen nature of the cleaning job, I don't have any true before pictures. But here are a few kinda before pictures:

The machines didn't take all that long. I wiped up the collection of sticky, congealed laundry detergent and the lint. I cleaned out all the bins, some of which had wandered to the garage, with soap and the garden hose. Why the garden hose? Well, the reason the bins fell out of use is that we had a mouse. Mice poop. The bins were moved, but not cleaned. Disaster ensued. The laundry area, spiffied up:

Between the toilet and the washing machine, the red bin is for collecting dirty kitchen towels. I wish I had a pole for letting them air out but I don't. On top of the dryer, the left blue bin is for laundry supplies. The right blue bin is for collecting cleaning rags. My goal is to do a weekly load of rags to keep us in the cleaning mode.

After the laundry area was complete, I turned to the disaster of the bookcase. So much stuff crammed in there. So little room for sorting.

I broke down science and craft kits. Please, people, no more kiddie kits from Target. I tested markers. I sorted crayons. Why is it hard to throw away broken crayons? The problem with purging and organizing is that success is defined by forcing myself to go against my natural inclinations. There must be something to be done with crayon bits, right? No. No, there's not.

Here are my bags of collected beeswax Advent candles. I am going to meltdown and repour those candles one fine day. It might be years from now, but it will happen.

Let's dissect the above picture. This is me sitting on the floor between the toilet, a stool, the sink, the bookcase, and a trash bag sorting a variety of objects with Ella asleep on my back while I listen to a podcast. Both of my legs are asleep in this picture and I am in no small agony. Nevertheless I persisted.

After 2.5 days of work and a 13 gallon trash bag crammed full, the clouds parted, angels sung, and my laundry room was again functional. Nothing will crash onto your head when you take something off the bookcase.

I moved the loose leaf school paper into a bin and the drawing paper into a bin. The construction paper, which has always had its own box, was moved back onto the bookcase. I consolidated most of the kits into quart freezer bags inside a different bin. There is a crayon box, a chalk box, a marker box, and a colored pencil box. Long may they all be separated. There is even enough room, I think, to move some remnants of art supplies that are in the closet under the stairs to this bookcase. If this is true, it will be amazing.

As for the housekeeping portion of the bookcase, I need to buy another bin to put the tablecloths. This bin will live underneath the school paper bin. I also need to take the sides off of those two clementine crates on the shelf. One of those crates will hold clean handtowels for easy replacement in this bathroom. The other will hold clean rags for cleaning this bathroom. This system is going to work great!

(A small lament for clementine boxes. Where have they gone? It's been several years since I have found them in the grocery. They have been pushed out by those upstart California Cuties, which come in a stupid plastic mesh bag. Has anyone seen any genuine Spanish Clementines lately?)

My next task will be to clean this bathroom--I mean disinfect clean, not organize clean--and then clean the upstairs bathroom. After these two bathrooms are clean, my dear children will have a daily bathroom job so that maybe we will never be embarrassed by dirty bathrooms again.

After the bathrooms are set up, I will return to the toy purge. And then ?probably? my bedroom. I have two solid weeks for cleaning. Then I will take a week on the kitchen, hoping a week is all it takes. Then I will plan out the school year. It's going to happen.

**I love the word sundry. It aptly describes so much in this house.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

What Now?

I am hitting a lull before the panic of school grabs hold of me again. My target date for starting school is August 20th. I feel like September 20th would be better. Perhaps October? I know that theoretically I am in charge of my own schedule, but I have not really internalized this wisdom. I have been told more than once by people who are wiser than I am to get the house situated before I restart school. That school will be easier and smoother if the household is organized and we are not always having to dig for all the things. I intellectually understand, but emotionally feel guilty for prioritizing anything over school. And so I don't. And then it's a mistake. You'd think I would learn, but we will see.

Anyway, assuming I do start school on August 20, I really only have two more weeks to work on the housecleaning. The week before the 20th will be designated for getting the school stuff ready. The week before that is for the kitchen, which will take me the entire week to clean. So that leaves me the rest of this week and next week to pull an area or two out of the red zone.** What should I do?

Because I realize I am not going to get it all done, I am fighting the urge just to shove it all. I have already decided the papers won't get touched--this really vexes me. The papers will take a week or two all by themselves and I just don't have the time left. Other areas are not going to get done either. I don't see how I get to the books. None of the storage closets will be visited. The art supply bookcase, such as it is, will probably remain unkempt.

I know it is probably unreasonable to expect to have cleaned out the entire house of the course of a handful of weeks, but I wish it weren't. Realistically some of this will have to wait until next summer. There are worse things, I suppose. Maybe I can try to complete a few projects during the year, knowing I will be limited. It is just frustrating to know we will be troubled by issues borne of areas of knotted chaos in the house that I had to deprioritize. I need to focus on maintenance so my next stretch of time, whenever that is, can continue forward momentum and not revisit old junk piles. 

We have also been slowed by a GI bug that is working its way through the children. The virus has knocked swimming right off the agenda for the past two weeks. You just don't bring children with unpredictable bowels to a public pool. So I haven't been swimming either. It's disappointing. 

But I do have a little time! However I am having trouble deciding where to go so let's have a vote. I think I will be able to squeeze in five to seven work days before I will have to move on. Here are the possibilities with estimated time requirements.

  • My closet. Full of clothes that should be organized and/or purged. The floor has school supplies and birthing supplies from 2013. The shelves are full of bathroom supplies, old medicine, and sundry. TIME: 2 days, maybe 3.
  • The upstairs toy purge. The toys are put away, but there are too many. As long as we keep a thumb on it all, it should be okay, but if it gets away from me, too many toys means a MESS. TIME: maybe 2 days
  • The laundry area. Clean up the yuck and create drop zones for different soiled items. TIME: 1 day
  • My part of the bedroom. My dresser is full of papers and stuff. I haven't fully cleaned off my dresser in years. I have several times gotten it mostly clean, but had to stack a bunch of stuff back because I didn't get finished. It is a perpetual problem I hope to resolve. Getting the upstairs paperwork back in order would help here, but that is not happening now. Also a nightstand full of stuff. Also another side table full of maternity and baby sundries. TIME: probably 3 or 4 days
  • The bathrooms. I really want to create areas in each bathroom for daily cleaning supplies to facilitate cleaner bathrooms. TIME: Maybe 2 days. Probably requires the laundry drop zone to be finished first.

That's all I can conjure right now. What is my must do and what can be left for next time, even if next time is next June. Help me find my motivation again.

**And I just looked at the calendar and realized I have one less week than I thought. Ack. Blargh. Maybe I should delay school until September. But Algebra! Or heck, I don't know, invent a time machine. Did you ever watch the oldie but goodie 80s show _Out of This World_ where Evie could put her palms together and stop time? I need that power.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Random Observations

Some of the same people who urge me to require the older children to do their own laundry so they can "learn some responsibility" would be shocked and appalled by how many times the three, I mean four, I mean five year old has made her own lunch.