Wow! This back-to-school stuff has sure given me a run for my money!
Our second week back in school has proven to be harder than the first. The novelty has worn off and the kids are sure struggling with getting to bed on time and getting up on time so our evenings and mornings aren't all that peaceful and orderly around here. Plus Ashton's started early-morning Seminary (a religion class offered by our church) before school so I need to get kids out the door at two different times and that's pretty tricky.
We've had talks about how to make things work better and I've tried everything from getting new alarm clocks for kids to fining kids $5 for getting to the breakfast table later than 7:10 and thus making us all late. It's a work in progress. And there's more rushing and yelling going on that any of us like.
But my 15 years as a mom has taught me that I don't need to throw up my hands in dismay and despair of ever getting things right when I'm in a tough patch. Tough patches and trial and error are just normal parts of motherhood and as we keep tinkering and tweaking, we get things sort of right and things get better. Then other things get worse. Then we do some more tinkering and tweaking and talking to make those things a bit better. Deliberate motherhood is all about getting some things wrong, learning from mistakes, making changes, forgiving ourselves and trying again as we move towards our beautiful visions of what family life can be.
I read a book called "Tinkering Towards Utopia" for an Education class once. I can't really remember what it was about. But the title stuck with me. I think it describes very well what motherhood is all about - tweaking and trying and making mistakes and trying again as we strive towards the ideal. And then a couple weeks ago, I made this podcast with a friend and she talked about the importance of "tinkering" in parenting - so the concept has resurfaced in my mind.
Here are a few things we're working on right now:
The twins are obsessed with legos and with the book series, Mysterious Benedict Society. When they have legos or a book in front of them, they are in a different world and cannot seem to hear me at all. They're generally pretty obedient but lately I have to call for them for scripture time or homework time or dinner time again and again (sometimes with threats) and ultimately I have to go all the way upstairs (they're on the third floor) and hold their faces in my hands to get them to listen. I love legos. I love books. But we've got to figure out a happy medium here.
Isaac has been super lethargic and came home from school sick yesterday because he was so tired and groggy and dizzy that he couldn't focus on school at all. Plus he had a weird swollen bump on his foot that was making him limp. I asked whether something was worrying him about school. Nope. He loves school and has remarkably few worries. I looked up everything about infections and bug bites and ultimately we decided the bump on the foot wasn't related to the tiredness, I gave him a big lunch and put him to bed for the afternoon. He slept for about 3 hours. Then he seems totally happy and fine this morning. Another thing I've learned this past 15 years as a mom - most of children's maladies go away with some extra rest, extra water to drink, and extra TLC.
It's so hard to get kids to bed at a good hour when it's light outside and the evenings are so pleasant. Everyone wants to be out on the trampoline and playing around with neighborhood kids. It's hard for me to get into the routine of dinner at 6 so we can get kids to bed on time. It's hard getting up in the morning so early when I'm just so tired. It's hard fitting in everything that needs to happen while the kids are at school so I can be fully present for them when they get home - especially on days when unexpected needs of friends or church callings or our kids or neighbors or extended family members come up (which is quite often).
The kids want to take home lunch every day this year and I'm theoretically great with that but it involves a thought and time that we haven't built in very much. I'm trying to get them to put together their lunches the night before but we aren't into a good routine there yet. And wow, there's a lot of paraphenalia the kids need to take to school this year - our evenings and mornings are full of finding and packing up running clothes and shoes, volley ball clothes, Ashton's guitar, signing kids planners, checking to see if homework made it into backpacks, etc. There are just so many THINGS to keep track of around here!
I was also really strugging with how many times we needed to drive kids to or from the school each day. Ashton needs to be there at 7am. The rest of the kids need to be there at 8am. Regular pick up is at 3pm. Eliza and Isaac need to be picked up from cross country practice at 4pm. Ashton finishes volley ball practice at 5pm. That's five trips to and from the school each day! Each round trip is about 20 minutes so that's over an hour and a half of time in the car each day. So we did some tinkering and now my friend and I are trading off on who does the 3pm pick-up and who does the 4pm pick-up (her daughter's also doing cross country) and I had a good talk with Ashton last night about the big picture of all these trips to and from school and he came around to seeing that if he rides his bike to school, he can get there almost as fast as we can drive there (there's a nice bike path that avoids lots of stop lights) and he can save us 2 round trips of driving (40 minutes of driving!). So now, at least while the weather is good and Ashton can bike, I'm down to just two round-trips a day!
On a more positive note:
Ashton has become a remarkably more pleasant and fun kid to have around. A summer full of positive affirmation from all the relatives we spent time with sure seems to have helped. He was so amazingly helpful with all the little cousins we spent time with and was always quick to help when anyone asked. And the more praise he received, the more praiseworthy he became. Watching this process made me realize more fully that this wonderful boy of mine needs to know that we think he's wonderful in a more pro-active and constant way.
Plus he's developed some serious skills that give him lots of confidence. He learned to slalom ski like a pro. He learned to drive the beach car at Bear Lake. He found a real passion for guitar (he's practiced hours a day and has a reperatoire of over 70 songs now, many of them really tricky - plus he's become a super singer with his beautiful new low voice). And he just made the volley ball team at school.
And he's just plain matured and so have I. I've learned to pick my battles and to give him a lot more freedom. I've learned to really seek out and listen to his ideas and concerns. I've learned to not react in an overboard way to overboard statements from him but instead to find the truth in whatever he says, agree with what is indeed true, and work with him towards solutions we both feel good about.
Sure, grumpy and moody Ashton still escapes once in a while. But we're in a much, much better place now.
And the kids just really like school and are involved in activities they're really excited about. They never complain about going to school. They sometimes wish it wasn't so early. But that's about it.
I realize this is a huge blessing. I remember struggling with anxiety as a kid - going to sleep with a stomach ache as I worried about the next day of school - had I finished all my homework? Who would I sit by at lunch? Would there be a test I'd forgotten about? Who would I play with at recess? When I was in third grade, I called home sick all the time because I was so stressed out at school that I really was sick (I had a particularly difficult teacher that year who was a real screamer). Because of my experiences, I was geared up to deal with some worries and anxieties in my own children as they went to school. I resolvied long ago to pull my kids out of school and find them a better option be that a new school or homeschooling if they really weren't enjoying school. But so far, nothing. Nada.
So anyway, I'll keep you posted on my tinkering as I move forward. Every family is a work in progress. No matter how perfectly wonderful a family might look from the outside, I guarantee that there is a lot of trial and error and tinkering going on in that home. And that's OK. That's how we learn and grow. That's life.