Thursday, July 16, 2015

Work Crew

If you’ve been reading this column for any time at all, you know my preoccupation with getting the kids to do the chores around here. The chore wheel, the points auction, the list goes on. So many systems that the kids say: “Well, that’ll last about a week before you forget all about it.” Well, this time is different.  I give you: the work crew.

The work crew came about from actually listening to the kids.  I noticed I was getting a lot of “feedback” anytime they were working alone.  Let’s say I asked Kid #3 to empty the dishwasher.  Rather than this being a fairly simple task that literally takes 2.5 minutes, I had to hear speculation about what everyone else was doing. It was better when there were a couple of kids at work, but then I had to make (improbable) assertions that I would get to those others who were currently sleeping “later in the day.” I was hunting down people multiple times a day to do things and still doing way more than anybody else. 

So now, we have the work crew. We started with yard work. I rounded up the kids and announced we would all be working outside. One person would mow the lawn while the others did other things. When the lawn was done, we would be done. This magically got Kid 1 to mow the lawn cheerfully because the other jobs were even worse. Even better, we got so many other things done. One kid scraped the cottonwood seeds off the air conditioner. A couple others tag-teamed trimming the birch tree that was practically blocking the garage. A couple others weeded.  The weeding was so unpleasant that I think I’ve actually gotten them excited to mulch next week. The total whining was less and the work accomplished was more.

I’m going to deploy the system for inside chores too. Forty minutes (the amount of time it takes to mow) seems like a good amount, so I’ll set a timer and we’ll all work together to take care of the house. 

I think the work crew is better for both parents and kids.  One, the kids like it better. We are all doing it together so it feels “fairer.” It concentrates the work so they feel like they have more free time. We can make a dramatic difference because there are so many of us working. It’s gratifying to see things actually look substantially different in a short amount of time. Two, it’s better for me. I only have to detach the kids from their reading or video gaming and get them working one time. It is much better than having to nag all day. I don’t have to deploy the work crew on any set schedule or keep track of anybody’s work. I just have to hands-on supervise and direct the work for the 40 minutes we are working and motivate any slackers, which is much easier with the co-workers looking on. I can expand the number of jobs that the kids do and they actually kind of like some of the new jobs. Finally, I think I may have finally found the way to ensure that I don’t do more than my fair share of the work. Yes, I have to sit on my hands sometimes with a dirty kitchen while others are still sleeping, but by saving work for the “crew,” I too can feel like I’m getting a fair shake. Frankly, this feels like genius. 

I really hope it lasts more than a week before I forget all about it.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Late Blooming Sap

Most of the time, I’ve been pretty firmly on the non-sentimental end of the Mom spectrum. While others cried putting their babies on the kindergarten bus, I waved with a bright smile then went inside and had a virtual margarita. (Not a real one - I’m not much of a drinker - but I like to have mental drinks to celebrate things.)  Generally, the older my kids get, the better I like them. I love seeing them move on in life, become more mature, learn new things and leave me behind for new interests they’re excited about. My babies not needing me anymore is a good thing in my book.

So what a surprise to find myself crying at the Forest Hills 6th grade final Parade through the Halls.

This was new one on me – though my first kid started at Forest Hills some thirteen years ago, I don’t remember this event happening before. Sure, my first year there, I went to the outdoor Celebration of Learning, which very soon became known in our house as Baking on a Hill While Not Caring about Box Tops for Education (I told you, we’re not so sentimental here). I noticed that only the other first grade parents were there (suckers) and figured I could skip that one in the future. But as my final kids were preparing to exit Forest Hills, I heard about this 6th grade procession and I thought, hey, I can get away from my desk for that.  The younger kids and any parents who could make it would line the hallways and cheer the sixth grade classes as they walked through.

So, I got there on time, said hi to a couple of moms and dads and grabbed a spot along the route. As usual, I didn’t have a camera so I got out my phone, figuring this showed at least some sense of the significance of the occasion. I wouldn’t want the kids to think I didn’t care about their milestone. The intercom system that normally only sends out barely intelligible crackling messages from the principal started to play Pomp & Circumstance.

And then, I blubbered.

It wasn’t about the kids at all – many of whom I knew from years of being in the school. Most of them looked self-conscious or bored, alarmed at my occasional attempts to high-five them. I used to teach 7th grade, and I recognize the signs. They were ready for middle school for sure. Somehow it was about the school itself. Just thinking I wouldn’t have any reason to come here anymore. Gratitude to all the teachers who guided and taught and cared about all my children for more than a decade. Long after the shuffling, awkward parade was over, I stood in a line to hug the principal and cried again. What the heck?  I guess I’m a late-blooming sap.

You always learn the most from the parents who are maybe five years ahead of you. And there’s one thing they’re always saying. Pay attention, savor these moments, because you will miss them later on. I never did regret the ending of the dubious joys of toddlerhood, but I think I’ve finally arrived at my sappy threshold. I guess it’s time to get the camera and the Kleenex for the final lap of parenting. I am going to miss these moments, after all.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Coming Soon: Managing Kids' Expectations

Every year, I get a reliable laugh out of my cardiology appointment. An ultrasound is part of it. They get me in there, I conquer the task of putting on that weird robe that somehow seems to have three arm holes, I lie down, and right before they put this ultrasound scanner against my chest, they warn me, “This gel may be cold.”

Lord have mercy! Not cold gel!  Because that would be way worse than other things they’ve done to me at that hospital, like slicing me wide open and taking babies out of me. I have to laugh.

What they’re trying to do, though, has a point. It’s generally easier to get through tough things when you know what to expect. That’s even truer for kids.  Because of their emotional immaturity, they can fly apart at all kinds of situations.  If you know your kid and trust that feeling in the pit of your stomach, you can often tell ahead of time what the pitfall might be.  Managing their expectations with a three-part process goes a long way to help head off trouble:

1)  Tell them that something tough will or may happen. This could be all kinds of things. It could be something obvious that most kids dislike, like a shot. It could also be something particular to your child, for example, the likelihood of losing a game against older kids for a competitive child. It could be a change in routine if your child gets thrown by changes.  Let your kid know that this situation may cause some discomfort.

2)  Explain why this tough thing has to happen and anything you’ve done to mitigate it.  For example, why the routine has to change that day, or how the older kids are going to be supportive of you as you are learning the new game. It helps if the suffering isn’t pointless and if people are trying to make it as tolerable as possible.

3)  Give them a mental script to respond to the tough situation. Kids typically lack the wisdom and experience to roll with the punches.   They need parents to coach them in self-talk before situations that are tough for them.  For example, the competitive kid could be coached ahead of time to think, “My goal today is just to learn the rules of this new game. I’ll probably lose and that’s ok.”  An inflexible child could be coached to think, “I’m disappointed, but I can handle this change in our plans.” Even if it’s not true (yet), you’re helping put a wise voice in your kids’ heads so they can develop this ability over time.

Usually just talking through these steps is sufficient. For big-deal situations or kids who really struggle with expectations, take a cue from the autism community and put it in writing (google “social stories, Carol Gray” for more on this).  For example, before surgery, or before starting a new school that the child is nervous about, reading and re-reading a paragraph about what will (or may) happen, and how to think positively about it, really helps.

Next time I see the Cold Gel guy, I hope he’ll do a more thorough job of managing my expectations. He will not only tell me the gel may be cold. He will also tell me I need this ultrasound to help my heart and that he warmed the gel up as much as he could.  He’ll tell me that I can handle the cold gel for the sake of my heart. 

I think I feel calmer already.