Sunday, September 27, 2015

New nephew!

Skipper and Duchess are disappointed that he's not going to be named Momotaro, but they'll get over it. Look how beautiful he is!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Raising an adult

I've been thinking about parenting.* Both the kids right now are storming through growth periods, transitioning more or less into being A Grade-Schooler and A Middle-Schooler. Both these stages involve increased rights and responsibilities, and they're working out how to balance these things. I have been reading a book about the perils of helicoptering, and considering how to balance things in our family life.  In general, I think Cook and I are pretty good about giving our kids opportunities to handle stuff on their own, though of course we can do better. However, some of the cautions in the book, particularly about overscheduling and under-responsibility-ing, ring alarmingly true to me. Since reading the book, I am considering how to deschedule the girls a bit. It is very evident how much Duchess is benefiting from her free time in the afternoon (which will be somewhat less expansive when she starts Chinese one day a week next week). She loves being home alone to do homework, practice flute, and lie around reading or playing Minecraft. She listens to music and podcasts and practices being a teenager. More free time for everybody would clearly be a good thing.

I am also stepping up chore expectations a bit (though not as much as apparently I should). This school year we have a chore chart on a whiteboard, with chore cards affixed by magnets. The cards get moved to "done" when they're done, and it means much less nagging.** I've added a few new chores since reading this latest parenting book, mostly after a review of the annoying small tasks that I do that make me crazy - I realized that the kids can do many of them. The first thing I punted to them is the packing of lunches. (I think I need to next get them washing the lunch dishes, since the endlessly repeated washing of those damned small containers remains pretty much my least favorite chore.)*** This is working out okay. Not great. Okay.

The trick here is to make these tasks so consistent and regular that they become automated and the girls stop complaining/arguing/resisting. Skipper in particular is so relentlessly awful about doing chores that it is very tempting to just give up. Duchess tends to flare up, yell, cry, and then angrily do the chore very ostentatiously and then be quite pleased with herself for having done the chore. (She usually brags about it.) Skipper never moves past the yelling and crying. She's actually kind of a genius about resisting things. She ends up taking so much time and energy to do the chore that we subsequently ALL consider the chore as much larger and more painful than it actually is. While her schedule is far busier than it should be (and I'm just talking about the aftercare required by having two working parents, not an overscheduled life of extracurriculars), she has plenty of time to get her chores done if she just did them. She does not have plenty of time for extensive screaming and crying AND doing chores.****

This weekend, Duchess is gone on her 48-hour ninja adventure, and we're having an unusual stint of weekend time with just Skipper. Turns out she's MUCH nicer when she's an only child. And it also turns out that she's more willing to do chores. The presence of a sibling creates an additional energy-drain because each kid has to constantly assess the Fairness and What She's Doing While I'm Doing This. It's exhausting for them, and for me and Cook.

Anyway. Oh! The other thing I've been meaning to tell you (all of you) is that we have been trying to do Movie Nights on Friday nights. And right now there is ONE thing that we can all watch and enjoy together as a family. ONE thing. Skipper likes incredibly mild television (Caillou!) and cannot bear more than a frisson of possible danger, and Duchess still has pretty unsophisticated tastes as well (she loves a TV show called Lab Rats). Cook likes depressing, complicated movies and TV shows. I like silly TV shows. The ONE thing we can watch together is Mythbusters. That's it. Thank goodness there are so many seasons.

*I always think about parenting; I suspect I think about parenting as a way to love my kids without actually being with them, similar to my diligence about reserving books from the library for them.

** Or at least different nagging - I say "How's the board coming?" instead of "Did you brush your hair? Did you brush your teeth? Did you pack your lunch? Did you pack your lunchbag? Did you pack your flute?")

*** The girls spent a few days this summer at an expensive day camp which has a few major selling points, but key among them is that you can drop your kids off any day you want, without reserving a day, and the camp provides ALL THE FOOD. No small containers!

**** Want to know what they do for chores? Of course you do. Duchess does the family's breakfast dishes every day, changes all her bed linens once a week and cleans the toilet once a week. Skipper cleans the bathroom sink (when Cook doesn't get impatient and clean it first) and strips her own bed every week. They both are responsible for at least one irregular household chore (like organizing and cleaning the spice rack) per week as assigned, tidying their own things daily, and periodically making their room less miserably messy. They both are (now) responsible for packing and unpacking their own lunches and backpacks for school. Their non-chore daily tasks are practicing flute/piano, homework, and personal care. We need to start moving Skipper into dishwashing and Duchess into cooking...

Growing up, and belated photos

Look! Old bad phone photos from our beach trip in August.

Duchess got braces this week. This is her before they were installed.

No post-braces close-up photo yet. Duchess headed straight off to her camping weekend after school on Friday. This is her at the bus stop, snarfing a hastily-assembled burrito, and rocking an overall awesome adolescent geekery. She's now a good inch taller than I am.

And this is a random photo from my bike commute last week, waiting for the drawbridge to go down.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Duchess walks herself home from school every day now, and is home alone for 90 minutes or so. While this is in line with the Surgeon General's Call to Action, what it really gets us is a lot of time. Duchess has time to walk home (often walking most of the way in the company of O Blond, likely being loud and ridiculous the whole time), unpack and put away her stuff, practice flute (fifth-grade band!), do her homework (every night!), AND read or listen to podcasts or play Minecraft for quite a while before I get home. It's luxurious. No more evening scramble to finish stuff, no whining about not having enough time to read, chores getting done without complaint. Fabulous.

Unfortunately, Skipper is not allowed to walk herself home yet, so she goes to aftercare at 2:15 and gets home around 6, which leaves her a scant two hours before bedtime to unpack, repack, eat dinner, do her homework,* and practice piano. Not to mention any extra time to read or play alone or with Duchess. So she's feeling, understandably, pretty jealous of Duchess. The poor kid needs her downtime, and she's not getting it. I'm not sure how we're going to get it for her.

Also, as Duchess prepares for a 48-hour camping adventure (the packing list for which included army surplus woolen pants, large and terrifying knives, fingerless wool gloves, and sharpening tools for the aforementioned large and terrifying knives), I must remember that it will make her a better person.

* Skipper's school is not messing around. She has Japanese homework three times a week, due the day after it's assigned, and a packet of English homework assigned once a week, due the following week. I can't remember how much homework Duchess had in first grade, but there was definitely a lot less of it. And this is the first year of Duchess's entire school career that she has EVER had to return homework more often than once a week.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Reason #45709 why parenting is very hard for me.

Skipper is at a weird point right now. She is pretty comfortable in her school and aftercare. She has friends and an active social life at recess. This is all great, of course, and it means she's working through some of the selective mutism, and actually expressing herself sometimes. However, a new problem is developing. What she's is expressing at aftercare is mostly her manic goofball show-off side, and she combines the selective mutism with the manic show-off in a way that comes off to older kids and adults as rude and weird. (Like silently making weird faces at her teacher when greeted and then ostentatiously turning away from her.) Her aftercare teacher, who is kind but strict, does not tolerate rudeness. This is problematic, because any kind of correction is enormously painful to Skipper, and just pushes her back into herself.

In our experience, the only way to correct Skipper's behavior effectively is through descriptive praise.  (This technique entails describing every positive thing that the kid is doing, no matter how ridiculous. As in "I see that you did not hit your sister, even though you wanted to, when she walked past you while you were screaming and writhing on the floor. That took a lot of self-control." It's really hard to do this when what you actually want to do is leave the house and spend the next few hours in a dark quiet bar. It does, however, work.) Punishment is useless, or worse than useless, because it just sends her directly into a world of despair and self-loathing, and she learns nothing except that the world is so painful and she is failing. She BELIEVES that she is awful and bad when she is behaving badly, and she seizes on any evidence that supports her belief. Offering her instead a narrative that identifies (honestly) places where she is making good choices gives her a chance to be a person who makes good choices.

I find it extremely difficult to take this approach, even though I both understand it and see that it works where punishment does not. It feels really unfair to me, and to Duchess, who sees that her sister is treated differently than she is. (We should, of course, use the same approach on Duchess, because it's a solid approach for everyone, but it's so hard that we almost always take the easier route with her. Because we can.) Duchess and I are both people who like things to be FAIR.

Anyway, it's not an easy thing to explain to an aftercare teacher, and it's not easy to ask her to do. It would be pretty tough for her to implement, even if she was totally on board, as she has a bajillion rowdy kids she'd have to treat the same way, for the sake of fairness. I'm not sure how hard to push this.

Sunday, September 6, 2015