Monday, July 29, 2013

Sticks and Stones

     I have a huge issue with name-calling.  I don't find it constructive in any way, shape or form.  To me, telling your child they are a brat is the same thing as calling them dumb, or stupid, or lazy.  Someone once told me that your children will believe they are whatever you tell them they are, and I am one hundred percent sure they were right.  The more I tell Punkgirl she is a great writer and so creative, the more creative she gets and the better her writing becomes.  The braver I tell Happyboy he is for wearing whatever style of clothing he truly likes, the braver he becomes.  
     So Coffeeguy and I are having a dispute over this.  To him, "stop being a brat" is equal to "end your rude behavior", and that's that.  To me, it's name-calling, and while, yes, I want my child to stop acting a certain way, I don't think the use of that particular terminology is going to do anything other than set up a head-butting match.  Now I know I suck at staying at home, but I know kids.  Coffeeguy often tells me that, in adults, I see them how they could be, the best part of them, but not necessarily how they are.  This is true, and I freely admit it.  But I think children should be seen that way.  We should see their potential, and emphasize that.  This is not to say that a punishment isn't in order, a grounding, a lost privilege, etc, but I believe that the way that punishment is rendered is equally as important as the punishment itself.  Do I stay calm at every challenging behavior? Hell, no.  But I try not to belittle or label the perpetrator.  There is no response to "Happyboy, you're grounded because you made a poor decision regarding the sharing of the wii, and you were rude to me when I tried to correct you", because both of those facts are specific, non-judgmental, and true.  "Punkgirl, you're grounded because you're being a brat" does not specify's very judgemental...and the truth of it depends on your perspective.  
     So let me get to the part where I suck.  Coffeeguy and I are co-parents, all the way.  We back each other up, even if we don't agree, and then discuss it in private.  So when Happyboy came to me, telling me he "needed to talk to someone", and haltingly revealed all of the things he did wrong, agreed that he should be grounded for doing those things, but sobbed because Daddy called him a brat, and Punkgirl calls him that all the time, I hedged.  I agreed that he should be grounded, but I told him that I disagreed with Dad calling him a name...I said that Dad was probably pretty frustrated with him, but that we would talk about it.
     Coffeeguy didn't like this convo.  He felt that Happyboy was using it to turn the subject away from himself.  I disagreed.  We sort of left it there.  This morning Happyboy was still grounded, and was angry that he had to write a book report (the standard punishment for grounding in our house) "all because Dad called me a brat."  I was taken aback, because last night he knew why he had been grounded, and I reminded him of that.  So who is right? Does Coffeeguy have a better handle on this, and am I just being a naive enabler? Or am I correct in feeling that it should have been addressed differently?  Suck at home moms, let me hear you, how do you handle discipline in your house?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sleep, Baby, Sleep...

     Rose has been awake every two hours for three nights.  Three times two equals cranky minus patience plus yawning! (That's the most math I can do with this brain fog I am currently standing in!)  I have tried gently sleep training her--I go in every few minutes to reassure her, then a little later than every few minutes, and usually she does fall asleep...but she wakes up inevitably at 1 am, stays up until 2, gets up at 4, etc etc.  It's driving me crazy.  
     As a suck at home mom, I'm used to struggling with the issues of raising the children--despite all my years of child care, I find that Punkgirl and Happyboy are now their own little people, complete with ideas and quirks of their own.  This leads to the occasional butting of heads, and I accept that.  But Rose is only 7 1/2 months old...and she has already shown that it's her way or the highway.  I let her "cry it out" a little--something I could never bring myself to do with the older two, but which I felt was a necessity with Rose, if only to tire her out a little before she finally gets to sleep.  
     Now don't get me wrong--in some instances Rose is pretty easy--for instance, I took all 3 kids into the Boston Common by myself, which I wouldn't have done when my eldest were younger.  But as long as I am nearby (read, right next to) Rose is a pretty happy, content baby.  Unfortunately, the instant I leave the room, the tears begin.  I try to spend a few minutes away, reassuring her ill be right back, in the hopes that she'll get more comfortable with me being away, but it doesn't seem to be working!
     So tell me, suck at home moms, do you let your baby "cry it out"? Do you have other sleep miracles?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Camp Awesome

     I've mentioned before I'm an ex-teacher.  I also have some control issues, so the idea of spending my summer without a concrete plan sounds more like torture than a vacation.  With that in mind, I make a calendar, complete with themes and activities and, yes, field trips, so that I can keep my sanity and still enjoy the time with my children.  In life I use my last name, but for the purposes of anonymity, I'll call it Camp Awesome.
     In years past, we had two paychecks coming in, and while mine was no whopper, it paid the bills.  This year, we have a new baby (Rose), and since it costs more to send her to daycare than I would make, it makes more sense for me to stay home--hence this blog, because I suck at that.  I don't like not having a little money for vacations, or extras, or sometimes, even groceries! So how do I plan a bunch of activities with little to no cash?
     The first thing I do is look up the Highland Street Foundation, and its Free Fun Fridays.  If you live in the Boston area, or even in Massachusetts, this is an invaluable resource.  You can take a look here:
but basically, you get six free attractions to choose from every Friday throughout the summer.  Nice ones, like the Museum of Science, the Museum of Fine Arts, Franklin Park Zoo, Buttonwood Park Zoo...I plug one of these free visits into each week of my schedule, because I know that way I have someplace to take the kids that will only cost me gas (I will go over how to avoid the "gift shop trap" at a later date.)  
     Next I go to my community website.  Most towns have a "Wicked Local" or a community news source, a recreation center website, etc.  I check these out, because there are numerous free events your town offers, and since your taxes are paying for them, you should make full use of them.  In my town, there are free movies outside at night at town hall once a month in the summer.  There are community events at each of six parks, including cookouts (being gluten free, I pack myself and Punkgirl a GF sandwich, but we get the chips and soda or water that they offer free.  Coffeeguy and Happyboy can enjoy a nice glutenous burger or dog--and it costs me nothing!)  
Now, before I go on about other sources of free fun--like lakes and beaches--I should mention that I never let Punkgirl and Happyboy just go someplace.  They have to complete what I lovingly term "challenges."  It might be a simple one like designing a recycled dollhouse (see my last post), or it might be a ten-minute triathlon of running, using the elliptical, and getting six dishes loaded in the dishwasher (see how that last one works for me?), but they have to complete the challenge to go anywhere.  I try to make challenges where they have to work together, but the most important part is that they are doing something.  You would be surprised how much time even a quick challenge can take, and it makes them feel like they've gotten double out of their day--even if you get rolled eyes at first, I guarantee it will be something they're talking about to everyone they know for days.  Be consistent--if they don't do the challenge, they don't get the reward.  One time of missing out on the special activity or special trip or even special dessert, and they will be clamoring to complete each challenge.
     Now, we've talked about free activities, but there are some small investments that I recommend which will result in "free" activities for the rest of the year.  Memberships, memberships, memberships!  Now, memberships aren't super cheap...but once you pay for them, you have a free place to go all year long, not to mention deep discounts on exhibits or special events.  What most people don't know is that you can also save money on memberships.  Yes, you can.  There are two ways.  The first, is phone a friend.  That's right, you can share a membership with a friend!  Usually you have to get a higher level membership to do this (anything that allows you to have another cardholder from a different household), however, when you split the cost with your friend it still costs less than just a regular membership!  You and your friend each get the benefit of the membership, and as long as you don't go on the same day you can each take your whole family (because generally the children on the membership do not have to be named, and only one cardholder must be present.)  The second way to save a few bucks is to check out the cost of a membership at a reciprocating museum, and buy it there if it's cheaper.  The Capron Park Zoo is probably a little cheaper than the Stone Zoo, but if you can get into the Stone with your Capron Park membership, buy it there! (Disclaimer: Memberships change all the time, so actually check the membership reciprocals before you buy.)
     This is just how I start my Camp Awesome lesson plan.  I take any memberships, free activities and events, and plug them in.  Stay tuned for how I come up with activities to fill in the rest.  Suck at home do you fill your summer?  How do you save a few bucks?  How do you challenge your cherubs?

Green With Envy

     It's "Going Green" Week here at what I like to call Camp (Insert your last name here.)  Let's just call it Camp Awesome for the purposes of this post.  Every week, I give the kids little challenges to complete, and in return I take them someplace not only fun, but almost always free.  The purpose of the challenge is one of three things--to get them to work together, to get them thinking, or to give them a little friendly competition without actually giving them competition.  For example, this week one of their challenges was to take a two-story "dollhouse" (two wipes boxes taped together) and use recycled materials to decorate it.  There were a couple of requirements--it had to have a "character" living in it, it had to have a recognizable couch, chair, bed, and wall decorations, and lastly, it had to be good enough that it could get 25 likes if I put it on my Facebook account (I had no real worries about that as I have enough adults on there that it shouldn't be an issue.)
     Fun, right?  Right away there were issues.  Punkgirl had jumped right up for this challenge, thrilled because she had made a dollhouse before,  so this should be easy, right?  It's actually kind of tough when you can only use the materials provided.  Happyboy, who had been hesitant, realized he could use a toy dragon as a character and immediately began designing a funky cut-up water bottle chair.  Punkgirl did not like this.  Being the older child, I think she thought it should come much more easily for her, but she was stumped.  There was a mini meltdown, which frustrated both of us.  At twelve years old, Punkgirl is still a master of the mini-meltdown--it just doesn't involve tantrums like it did when she was little.  There is an icy silence, followed by retreat from the family, followed by a few grunts and frustrated howls in the privacy of her room.  I often am at a loss as to whether to ignore these outbursts or meet them head on, and sometimes I do lose out to my own sense of frustration--after all, it's supposed to be challenging but fun, and as an ex-teacher you tend to expect yourself to be able to engage your children without all the nonsense!! 
     I took a few deep breaths and decided not to screech back at her, but the only thing that got her back to the table was the conversation that this was supposed to be fun, and the reward was the chance to go to a neighborhood playground cookout, complete with a dj and prizes, the kind of thing Coffeeguy and I generally shy away from in the heat.  
     In the end, she took herself a little less seriously, and didn't worry as much that her little brother was finishing faster, accusing her of copying his designs, and boasting that he would surely get more "likes" than her.  I explained carefully that I was posting them together, and that they needed 25 likes combined.  Once she realized they wouldn't be in competition against each other, their efforts were pretty darned admirable, and the resulting cookout was surprisingly kind of fun!  (The other added incentive was a chance to win 'chore bucks'--which they can trade in to get out of a chore here and there.)  
     So my question today--Suck at home you encourage competition? And how do you handle jealousy and the occasional mini-meltdown?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Life's Little Challenges

     Sorry, it's been a few days...I've tried several times to write, but unfortunately Rose has been on a non-sleeping kick, so every time I try, she wakes up!  I'm taking advantage of a rare quiet moment...we'll see if it lasts.
     As you know, I've been making my kids participate in our family summer camp--by that I mean the activities and themes that I force them to "enjoy."  Last week was Around the World, complete with yodeling challenges, crepes, scones, and an "Amazing Race" to find out what fun place we were going to that day.  The kids ended up having a blast, and for their trouble, they got a prize---for completing their challenges (making their own crepes, "skiing" on the elliptical while yodeling non-stop, designing their own sari out of pink and blue metallic tissue fabric, and getting "knighted" by composing poetry that complimented their parents) they got to spend one hour of one on one time with whichever parent they chose, doing anything that didn't cost a lot of money.
     Because I like to torture them, I gave them a unique opportunity to add a second hour of one-on-one time...they had to care for a "potato baby"--take it for walks, give it baths, feed it--the best was when they had to get up in the middle of the night to feed them--because yes, I'm just that cruel.  Plus, it's summer, so I have to keep them on their toes!  They worked hard at it, ended in "divorce", and had a hard time "keeping it civil for the sake of the (potato) baby.  I then made them call around to find a good adoptive parent for their potatoes, because they would be better off in a happy home--I prepped their family for this, so hilarity ensued as they asked prospective parents how they would care for the baby and their relatives answered "a little ketchup, lightly salted..."  They finally were rescued by their grandmother, who promised to give a loving and caring home for each potato.
     Now, it sounds fabulous and fun--and parts of it were...and I was looking forward to a nice time of one-child-at-a-time fun...but since both of my children chose Coffeeguy to spend their quality time with, it inevitably ended up being more work for me!  Not only did they each end up violating my "little money" rule--but they missed the point that it was "quality" time, despite Coffeeguy's assurances that they did get to sit and talk.  Not to mention how great I felt when I worked my butt off all week to give them challenges and they both picked Daddy!  To add salt to the wound, Happyboy proceeded to tell me that "it's great that while (Punkgirl) has her two hours with Daddy that I get two hours with you...just like she did while I was with Daddy...even though she said it kind of stunk, but I'll try to have fun."  Gee, thanks, honey.  
     This week the theme is "Arts and Entertainment."  So far we have painted boxes and learned the infinite joys of Spirograph (a childhood favorite of mine.)  As a challenge, they're going to have to act out a scene I'm going to make them write, and if they do it they get another hour...but let's hope that
this time that at least one of them has a little love for Momma!
Suck at home mom's, have you ever had an idea backfire? How did you handle it?