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.)

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