Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Habits and Choices

A couple months ago, I proposed a change in how we approached our school day and I thought I'd give an update.

First the good news! I am consistently getting several tasks done in a timely manner that I previously struggled to get done.

Most mornings I read through Morning Prayer before getting out of bed. Before getting out of bed is the important part. If I get up, it probably won't happen. Some of these mornings, I am sipping sweet coffee while doing it, but others I just stumble through. I lose my place a lot and forget the words to the Our Father sometimes because I'm not quite awake, but I try.

After I get out of bed, I head to the bathroom and get myself ready for the day. I get fully dressed, including shoes, and get my contacts in. Shoes and contacts are required for me to feel functional. After I am dressed, I go back into my room and make the bed. When the bed is made, I immediately bring a load of laundry to the washer and start the first load of the day.

It takes me a solid hour to accomplish these few tasks. I cannot step outside my room before finishing or I will get sidetracked. Well, the laundry is on the other side of the house, but you know what I mean. Even as I work, I have to ignore the cacophony of chaos swirling outside my bedroom door. The children are getting themselves breakfast and I have to pretend not to hear it and not intervene in their spats. I'm sorry Marian is running away with your yogurt, but I can't help you yet.

Even though I have kept this schedule for over two months, I cannot claim it as a habit. It could all fall apart tomorrow. Every day I have to actively choose to do every. single. task. It's so stupid. I am tempted to go in the kitchen in my pajamas to drink coffee every day. Before picking up Magnificat, I think about doing it later. Before heading to the bathroom, I think about going to the kitchen. Before putting my contacts in, I think about turning on the computer. Before brushing my teeth, I think about that coffee I could be drinking. When I go to make my bed, I make excuses in my mind about how I could do it later. Even between pulling up blankets, I am tempted to wander away. Then when I finally emerge with the laundry, I practically have to chant to myself to go straight to the washer. I get irrationally frustrated with the fact I have to do all these things again today. Didn't I just do this yesterday? It is absurd, but I have made progress on this front and I generally begin the day on solid ground.

Now here's where it starts to go awry. I didn't mention above my waking time. It's way too late in the morning. I have recently been waking up between 8 and 8:20am. By the time I am ready to face the day, it is 9:30 and I still haven't eaten one bite of food.

As soon as I walk out with the laundry, they all start clamoring for my attention. Olivia will start asking school questions since she starts working before I am even awake. Marian wants her second or third helping of breakfast as I pull her out of the fridge, the pantry, the garage, the countertop. Sam is bouncing off the walls. Grace is either working on her school work or plopped in the middle of it all drinking tea and reading her Kindle. If she is doing work, she also will be asking me questions. They are all demanding my attention all at the same time. I am trying to make a cup of coffee and eat and scroll down ye ole Facebook and figure out what's happening today and it's all to a chorus of "Mommy!" It regularly takes me an hour to drink a cup or two of coffee and eat a bowl of yogurt.

Here is the point where I am having trouble transitioning. Breakfast wasn't exactly an abode for gathering thoughts. I feel completely scattered and like I have used up all my available executive function. It's now 10:30 or later. It turns out that Grace is not particularly interested in directing this rodeo in the morning. She is more than content to sit and read until I make her do otherwise.

I eventually gather them all into the living room for our readalouds. We have progressed in adding subjects to our daily reading routine so that we are spending upwards of an hour and a half reading every day. Now this time includes reading, discussions, bathroom breaks, and Marian containment actions, but it's a good ninety minutes. The reading is going well, I think, even if it might be a touch long.

Now it's noon or later. Sometimes it's as late as 1pm. It is definitely lunch time. The kitchen chaos begins again. I am shoving food at Marian to keep her happy while other kids fix their own food and ask me school questions. It is difficult to eat a meal properly and I usually am standing at the countertop eating random bites. Lunch always takes an hour. After I eat, I try to start getting the kitchen picked up.

Now it's 1pm on a good day and after 2 on other days. Olivia and I still need to work through the activities we do together. These can be finished in 20 minutes or take as long as 45 minutes. Also as I mentioned above, Olivia is much more of a morning person. This is not a good time for us to be doing her work. She is crabby and cranky and easily frustrated. I know it would be different if it were morning. But how do I work her in and still eat breakfast?

It's usually after 3 when Olivia is finished and she and Sam go outside. On some days when she has been diligent, Grace will join them. On other days, when she has flitted all her time away reading, I will have to sit on her to get her work done. These days are exhausting. I put Marian down for her nap. I wrestle with Grace about how she can choose to do her work in the morning or the afternoon, but if she chooses to read all morning, that means she can't play in the afternoon until her work is done. If she demands quiet to work, she cannot be upset when quiet means her siblings are playing outside without her. She will usually finish by 4, but sometimes it has dragged on until 5. And of course, some days, she just does her work and goes out between 2 and 3 with the others. Those days are glorious.

On days that I do get some quiet time in the afternoon, I am absolutely frazzled and am rarely productive. I have about 90 minutes to fold clothes, get the kitchen in workable condition, look at and correct school work, sit down, rest, plan, gather my thoughts, chat online, all of it. Most of that doesn't get done. Folding clothes eludes me. A load only takes ten minutes, but it is a seemingly insurmountable ten minutes. The days that drag on until 5pm are just ugly.

My ability to plan ahead rests not just on quiet time, but enough quiet time in a row to defrag my brain first and then engage in higher level thinking. I almost never get that much time anymore so I always feel behind, stressed, and unprepared. Things beyond daily requirements don't get done until they reach requirement levels. These things subconsciously nag at me constantly.  So much of my quiet time, if I get it, is spent zoned out scrolling the Internet.

It's now after 5pm. Marian is awake again. I should have started dinner at least 30 minutes ago. She consumes vast quantities of Curious George and Wild Kratts. I rarely get dinner started when I should because I am just paralyzed in the mid-afternoon. I begin cooking, which always takes much longer than I think it should. We aren't eating these day until after the 7 o'clock hour. We really should be eating an hour before we are. After supper, I begin cleaning the kitchen. This is another seemingly simple task that takes me an eon. Between all the items that need handwashed, wiping the table and the countertops, sweeping the kitchen, verbally directing the children through their bedtime routine, saying bedtime prayers, and getting the children in bed, I am usually not finished for the night until after 10pm. 10:30 isn't terribly unusual.

Now what should I do? Many nights, it is only now that I go to do the school planning or run off school papers or finish correcting math problems or work on our taxes or balancing our accounts. I might hit a lick at a blogpost or chat online. Some nights I might actually take a shower. Every later part of the evening is haunted by the fact that I really should be going to bed if I don't want to sleep until 8:30 again, but it feels like my only opportunity to achieve quiet with the relative guarantee of not being interrupted. If I get in bed a little earlier, I might read a few minutes, but some nights I am not crawling into bed until after midnight. It's a cycle I have to make the conscious choice to break.

I am both happy with my progress in the morning and frustrated with my lack of progress in the rest of the house. I think our days would be noticeably more smoother if I got up an hour earlier, but I also long for the quiet of night. I really need to figure out how to get some thinking time. I also can't figure out how to get any of the backlog cleared. I have years of backlog waiting on my attention, but it just doesn't seem like the schedule allows for anything except the bare minimum of cooking, dishes, laundry, and school. I know, intellectually, there is nothing bare about that minimum, but I'll be happy when I don't have piles of stuff staring at me every day. I think school is going well given all the changes and transitions we have had this year in addition to my utter nube status, but the clutter is driving me crazy. Summer will be here soon and hopefully the house will have my full attention.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Obedience or Something Like It

The general computing policy in our house in regards to our children has been a flat no. There have been exceptions over the years where a child is allowed to play a game from school or do some research on a topic or, um, write a short lived blog about cheetahs, but in general, we did not want our children spending much time on a computer when they had other, better options in life.

With the advent of homeschooling, that policy had to change. I made heavy use of Khan Academy at the beginning of the year so the girls needed to have easier access to the computer. We have Windows 10 (yippee </sarc>) and so we set up a separate profile for the children to use for their schooling. The separate profile came with its own password. We set their account up with restrictions to protect them from the wiles of the internet, but I am not naive enough to think these restrictions are foolproof.

Still, I did not want them to have free rein to run all over the computer. There are better things for elementary school children to do than spend all their time playing computer games. Not to say that they could never play a computer game, but I wanted to keep a handle on it.

The general advice is to put the family computer in the family room so all computer use can be supervised, but that is not feasible at my house. There's no room in the family room for a computer set-up. Heck, there's barely room for a couch. So contra best practices, the main computer is upstairs in the office/playroom/den/hallway/room-that-holds-junk. The expectation for computer use is that the children may log-on without permission if they are going to Khan Academy. All other use must be cleared with a parent first.

At first, this expectation was fairly well abided by, but over time and as they became more comfortable on the computer, they began to wander. They would leave the computer and I would find remnants of books examined on Amazon or websites aimed at children or digital copies of the latest installment of cat clans forever at war. I would remind them they needed to have permission before going to these places and they would nod that they understood and then do the same thing again tomorrow.

I had the niggling thought in my mind that I needed to put my foot down and change the password, but I never quite got around to doing it. If I changed the password, I would have to log-in for them every time they needed the computer. That's a pain and out of the way, and besides even though they were in rank disobedience, it wasn't like they were going anywhere bad. So this little game played out for months while I generally ignored it in favor of bigger fish to fry, hoping they wouldn't accidentally stumble into some place of horror.

And then it happened.

One day, I sat down to a computer that had obviously already been used that day without permission granted. As I sat down and waited for the computer to wake up and the darkened screen to come to life, there, before my eyes, was a sight that let me know that the time had come to immediately take action. I knew in that moment that I had been abdicating my parental responsibilities for long enough and I needed to rectify that failing immediately.

One of my children had created for herself an illicit Candy Crush account. Candy Crush, yall. No. Just no. This game was going to be nipped in the bud, right now. I immediately pulled up the computer profile information, changed the password, the password hint, and then I waited.

After a day or two, a child nonchalantly brought up the subject of computer access. The fact of her flagrant violation seemed not to cross her mind at all. That her password no longer functioned did not seem to signal to her an end of her trespasses, but only a technical problem in need of resolution.

So this child, blithely, at suppertime says, "For some reason when I type in my password on the computer, it doesn't work. I clicked on the password hint, but it doesn't say 'Tennessee Vols' anymore."

"Oh really. What does the password hint say instead?"

"It says, 'What should you do?'"

"Really? That's interesting. And what, exactly, should you do?"

"Well, I typed in 'Ask' but that's not the password."

No, indeed, child, 'Ask' is not the password.