Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Kitchen and Sundry, Part 1

Let's see how blogging on the regular goes. I have the timer set for 15 minutes. Right now, Sam and Marian are wrestling loudly at my feet, Ella is yelling and keeps pulling my laptop away, Dave is ripping out flooring, and I am not looking for Olivia's math book which has inexplicably disappeared since Tuesday. Onward.

I said the kitchen floor is being ripped out. Why? you wonder. This story starts awhile back in 2007 when we bought the house out of foreclosure. The previous owners used our house as a rental. The renters had animals. The animals left messes. The owners were foreclosed on. They didn't clean up the animal mess. The floors in the house were trashed and all had to be replaced (and all the subfloors scrubbed and primed). Well, we had just spent all our money buying the house. It was at the top of our affordability range. We didn't have much left for remodeling, and yet we needed to do a bunch of remodeling. 

Inexplicably, the kitchen was half carpet. I had dreams of putting hardwood down in the kitchen. But we were poor and could not afford hardwood. I may have been poor, but I was also a snob. I was not buying laminate, I sniffed.

We searched out a flooring that wasn't quite hardwoods but certainly wasn't laminate, and ran into engineered flooring, which was sold as being the best of both worlds. The look of hardwood with the ease of laminate. More expensive than laminate, but cheaper than hardwood. I was sold. Dave and his father installed it themselves.

Soon we discovered we had made a stupid, stupid mistake. The floor did not wear well at all. The top clear coat peeled at the slightest contact with water. It was obvious the floor would have to be replaced before we moved, but we weren't moving anytime soon so we did what everyone does when you don't have money to replace items. You just live with it. Besides we had a gaggle of children who took no particular care so may as well let them destroy the floor we have before putting in something shiny for whomever gets the house next.

Time is up. To Be Continued.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Blog Revival

Why u no post? Once again I shall begin again. 

This post at Catholic Conspiracy has been floating around the last few days reliving the glory days of the blogosphere and whether it can be revived in this brave new world of Facebook and Twitter. There was a discussion, ironically on FB, killer of the blog, about attempting to get a group back in the blogging groove, maybe as a Lenten exercise. I'm going to try. (Do or do not; there is no try.) 

For me Facebook is easy and mindless, but blogging is hard. I feel like I've said this before. My biggest hang up is that I see blogging as a long-form narrative concept and I just don't have time these days. A baby is always hanging off my appendages. I think I shall attempt the 15 minute minimally edited post and see where that gets me. And I have just the story that can be told in easy installments!

So we are replacing our kitchen floor. For reasons. Stay tuned. (Yes, everyone on FB has heard most of this, but the blog mojo has to be restored one way or another.)

Friday, December 21, 2018

Quick Takes-Draft Edition

The perennial theme of this blog is probably summed up in the phrase, "I don't have time." I know that gets boring. Still though, learning time management is the struggle of my life. If anyone figures out how to pause life for three to six months, let me know.

One consequence of my never figuring out how to get it all done is that I start blog posts with all good intentions, and then it dies in draft. Either the moment of inspiration passes or the current event is no longer current. Whatever it is, I have amassed a number of draft posts that languish. So in the spirit of Quick Takes, I thought I'd pull seven titles out of the draft folder and tell you what I meant to write about.


The Purge, Part 8

I cleaned out my bedroom closet! I laughed. I cried. I can walk to the back wall now. Well, I could before Christmas descended, but by next week it should be cleared out again. The pictures are glorious, I promise.


Return of the Sticks

A year ago, I pulled out the sticks to begin the chore routine with the three oldest children again. This time we were going to earn sticks rather than lose sticks. We lasted a whole month. I have tried to get chores going without sticks. It's hit or miss. The basic basics get done. The other basics don't. 


You Aren't Supposed To Talk About It

Parenting children is hard. When you are struggling in a particular way with a particular child, you aren't supposed to write about it in any great detail on the Internet because that child will grow up and read it and get his feelings hurt so you suck it up. And it sucks, especially when there isn't anyone in real life who knows any of the details or people well enough to offer an outside perspective. Instead of advice and solidarity, there's gaping silence. 


Wedding Craziness

I started this post way back when Leah Libresco announced her engagement. I know! My wedding day wasn't very well planned. The guests had a good time, but I forgot that I had to eat. I was going to tell you about all the things I tried to cram into 24 hours, culminating with a flight scheduled to leave town 4 hours after the ceremony. What can I say? Sometimes I'm an idiot. The highlight of my wedding day, aside from the whole getting married part, was the waitress at the bar in Florida at 11pm, who was essentially serving me my first meal of the day--bar pizza--saying, "I don't know what you've done today, but..." We looked whipped.


Adventures in Driving

When I was seven months pregnant with Ella, I brought the four ex-utero children downtown for a priestly ordination at the Cathedral. This was a comedy of errors. I got there too late to park at the church and had to park on the street. I did not have change to feed the meter so had to beg strangers on the street for quarters. Imagine me in my billowy maternity dress and gigantic belly with four children in front of one of the oldest and fanciest restaurants in town begging for change. We were a sight. But of course, an ordination Mass lasts longer than a parking meter so I had to leave in the middle to go move the car. I dropped Marian in a pew with a lady she did not know, which did not please the 4yo.  (No worries, I know the woman and she didn't mind at all) and whisper/explain why I was leaving. It was pouring down rain. I got soaked. All's well that ends well when the salesperson at the bookstore took pity and let me park for free in their lot. 


A Piece of the Past

Everyone laments how it used to be in the past when kids roamed the neighborhood, and all the parents looked out for all the kids on the street, and how it's not like that anymore. But it is still like that here. We are so lucky to have a gaggle of kids on the street who play freely in and among the yards and houses, running all day long. But unlike the old days of stability, modern people move, and move frequently. We have had a good run of over a decade with the same families here, and our children feel like adopted members of this extended family. Now, though, the moving has begun. It won't be too many years before we are all gone, and with us, this golden piece of the past.


Mistress or Slave

I wanted to recount and process a conversation I had with dear Anne Kennedy right after I stopped working. In it she told me that when you become a mother and a new housewife, you are a slave to the baby and the crisis of the day, but gradually you gain mastery of your circumstances and learn to how to impose order on the chaos. You become the mistress of the household. She said my ascent up the mountain would be steeper because of my late start, but I would gain the skills faster. I think about this conversation almost every week even now. How has the difficult become easier? I think, three years out, I have gained so many skills, but the mountain is still pretty steep.  

If you too have a pile of draft titles, join me and give us the cliff notes version.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Late Fate

I am always late. I have been late my entire life. I don't know how to be on time. I've been working on this problem for my entire existence. It is the nut I cannot crack.

It's not like I run hours behind, usually not. No, my every day problem is that I am running five or ten minutes late. It seems like this should be an easy problem to fix. Just get ready for whatever ten minutes sooner, right? It's not that easy.

I have tried every possible hack to get out of the door on time to no avail. There is some internal disconnect in me that makes time management very hard. I have no instincts here. Whenever I try to start getting ready to leave such that I will be on time, I have to fight all my internal clocks screaming that it is a ridiculous amount of time, that it should not take nearly so long, then time melts into the ether, I don't know what happens, and I am late again.

I do not have the ability to accurately measure the passage of time. I read once that a classic symptom of ADHD is to ask the person to estimate when three minutes have passed. The person with ADHD will say that the three minutes is up when approximately 90 seconds have passed. I have the opposite problem. I call three minutes after five or six minutes. Time not only flies, it evaporates. I do not know how to fix this.

I'm not looking for tips here; I'm explaining the situation.

But occasionally, the stars align. Somehow a miracle happens and I leave the house on time. Not wink wink, drive like a madman on time, but regular person regular on time. Do you know what happens almost every time this minor miracle occurs?

There is an unforeseen and unavoidable traffic jam, and I'm late anyway. That's what happens.

All my heroic effort gets rewarded with the exact same outcome: late as usual. It makes it hardly worth trying.

This post brought to you by the traffic tie-up on a road I wasn't even driving on, which made the dump truck drivers crossing at my intersection feel entitled to run their red light and block my road through three light cycles.

I'll also note there are other cultures in the world in which my deficits would not be considered moral failings. I wish I lived in one of those.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Math Book

See that I am posting two days in a row. I am as shocked as you are, but this is too weird, creepy, providential not to share.

Back in the spring, the plan I made for Sam's 2nd grade math curriculum was to complete the Saxon 1st grade book and then skip ahead to the Saxon 3rd grade book, since I had been assured the 2nd grade book was essentially a repeat of 1st grade material. I own the Saxon 3 teacher book, picked up at a used curriculum sale three years ago, and do not own the Saxon 2 book so this plan was very convenient for my finances.

All summer I had the nagging thought that I needed to locate the math book, but I wasn't terribly concerned about it. I knew I owned it. I also knew there were limited places it could be in the house. I have kept the homeschooling materials fairly contained. I thought the task of finding the book would be simple and quickly completed so I procrastinated.

On Friday, Sam and I completed Saxon 1 so the day for finding the book could not be put off any longer. We were scheduled to start Saxon 3 on Monday.

About midday on Saturday, I went upstairs to where I am almost 100% sure the book resides. The book is not there. Huh. Well, I must have put it in one of the great piles of books I created over the summer. It's not there either. Hmmm. Maybe it's just been buried under papers in the downstairs bookcase. No. Did I find it already, forget I had found it, and it's already sitting in the holding spot for this year's materials? No. Is it buried on the bench upstairs? No. Is it in my room in the corner of used school stuff? I don't have time today to dig it out and look. I'll have to try that spot tomorrow.

Where on earth did I put this book? All afternoon I would think of another place it might be, go check, and come up empty.

Finally as I was getting ready for bed, I had the flashing thought that maybe I had let someone borrow the book. I don't remember giving it to anyone. It was as close to a false memory as a memory can be, but what the heck. The thing is that the last time I definitively remember seeing this book was right before I got pregnant with Ella. I have lost a lot of memory cells since then.

There are a limited number of people I could have possibly lent the book so it wouldn't hurt to ask around. Because I wasn't sure if I was making it all up in my head out of desperation to explain how I lost a giant spiral-bound book, I was hesitant to reach out. I decided to swallow my pride, and approaching midnight, I sent out a text to five or six people asking if they had any idea about my math book. Then I turned off my phone.

This morning when I turned my phone back on, I had a cascade of negative answers waiting on me. No one knew anything about my math book. I didn't really think so since I didn't really remember handing it out. I'll have to dig out that corner in my room after all.

Here is where it gets weird.

We went to Mass. Afterwards H, the woman who manages the homeschool lending library at our parish and was one of the recipients of my desperation text, approaches me and says K, a woman from a different parish, had dropped off a few of hodgepodge books to donate to the lending library this week. Coincidentally, one of the books in the box is exactly the Saxon 3 teacher guide I am searching for. H says that since the homeschool library already has a copy of the book and these new donations have not yet been entered into the library database, she is just going to give me this book. If ever my book turns up, I can donate the extra copy then.

What is the likelihood the exact book I am looking for is donated the very weekend I need it? As I am contemplating this profound coincidence, H goes to get the book for me. I am blown away.

But Wait! There's more!

She arrives with the book. Again I am amazed this book should happen to surface at the moment I need it. I take the book and begin to flip through the book as one does.

And there, on the first page I open, is my own handwriting staring back at me. There is my hastily drawn, messy numbers in purple colored pencil. This is my MO.

What?! How?!

I take this book to my sister, who is unaware of the subdrama. "Does this look like my handwriting?" "Yes." "I THINK SO TOO!!"

I flip some more and find more evidence of my own handwriting.

Reader, this *IS* my book. The front cover is even creased in the same spot.

How did K get it? It's so improbable she borrowed it from me because she is a homeschooling veteran with many years of experience under her belt. She was homeschooling Saxon math before my kids were in school. Yet she had it and just so happened to decide to donate it the very week I needed it. And H just happened to be included in a text I almost didn't send and decide to give me the book.

I. I...don't really know what to say about this. I am astounded.

N.B. I should probably put my name in my books. Lesson learned.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Housekeeping Techniques

We are now far enough into the school year to assess how successful my summer projects were. Hard to believe it's been three months since I last posted about The Purge. I even have one last post about my closet languishing in draft.

On the whole the summer was a mixed bag. On the one hand, I am super pleased with my cleaned laundry room. I love walking into the room and knowing nothing is going to fall. The bookcase is not going to throw things at me. I don't have to contort myself with the laundry basket to make it across the room. It is a solid win. Also my closet is great. Spoiler from yet to be published post: I purged clothes, trashed a pile of stuff, and reorganized the school supplies. I can actually walk to the back on the closet. I can hang clothes without stepping over and standing on a pile in the floor. Again, this is outstanding.

However, on the other hand, this is not what I spent most of the summer doing. I spent the vast majority of the summer digging out the pit that is the upstairs. On this front, it's hard not to feel like I wasted so much time. Nothing is as bad as when I started in June, but nothing is clean anymore either. There's still too much up there. The children dump and walk away and then dump more on top. It's too difficult to keep them out of the unpurged boxes and so it all gets mixed back together.

I knew when I chose--and I did choose--to walk away from the upstairs and clean my closet, this would likely be the result. It just took so long to get everything organized, I had severe decision fatigue being upstairs, and I needed to get away from that stuff. This decision fatigue is probably why it was so difficult and took so long to clean out my closet. It's very mentally taxing to have to make decisions over and over and over. That sounds stupid to say, but it's true. Nevertheless, I needed to complete some project that was under my control to maintain and not subject to the sweet mercies of children. 

That's the summer recap: trying not to despair over all I didn't get done and trying not to think about the fact that next summer I will actively need babysitting again in order to work and probably won't get much of it. (I don't even know how to find a daytime babysitter that isn't a daycare.) But I am super happy about my closet and the laundry room.

Anyway. So I realized something about my housekeeping style this week. I may not get everything put away, but if the surface is clean, I will not pile. If I leave an item out that ought to be put away, it may look like I have forgotten about it, but I have not forgotten about it. I see it and WILL NOT put anything on top of it. If I should need the surface, I will put the stray item away. However if several things are piled up, it moves mental categories from 'simple task' to 'project.' Projects are mentally intimidating so projects get procrastinated. The problem arises that, since I do not live by myself, other people see the stray item as an invitation to pile. A table I have cleaned off quickly gets overrun while the item at the bottom is something easy to put away. I don't have wider lessons to draw here. I only noticed when I am likely to pile and when I don't. Maybe I should always put everything away every time, but that's not how life works.

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.)