Sunday, December 3, 2017

Temper, Temper

Given the amount of stress and chaos this fall, we all have been struggling with short fuses.  Alden is as three as three gets -- he lives form emotion to emotion.  Happy one minute and grumpy the next.  Hunger manifests as anger without any initial request for food.  He'll just go from playing happily to being extremely pissed -- without realizing he needs a piece of fruit.  That's three.  Kai was the same way at three.  The difference is we were much better at modeling behavior for Kailey and also responding immediately to her needs.  She was just one child. 

Alden has an older sibling to model himself after.  That can, of course, be incredibly positive.  He is better at sharing than Kailey was at three, for example.  But, it can also be problematic.  When Kai was three, she would yell and shout "no" and get mad.  When she was five, she had a hard time not taking her anger out in a physical way (she did, after all, get sent home from Kindergarten three times for hitting and spitting at other children... fun times).  Now, she has these rages where she might tear something up or destroy something (usually some piece of art she has created), stomp her feet, slam doors, and scream at the top of her lungs.  And say how she hates school, her friends, her teachers, or whatever else she is mad at (including us, of course). 

Alden is a master imitator and his favorite person to imitate is Kailey.  And, Kailey has had a really tough fall full of major meltdowns and temper tantrums of the variety described above.  Which means Alden, who is prone to emotional outbursts on at least an hourly basis, is modeling a new level of tantrum for a three year old. He spits at us and yells and tells us he hates us.  He slams doors.  And, because his emotions run hot and cold throughout the day, we are dealing with this behavior on a daily -- or, more accurately, an hourly -- basis. 

So, it's another aspect of what has been a tough fall.  Kailey has tantrums nearly daily.  Alden hourly.  And, Eric and I are not perfect parents (I hear you gasping in shock... or maybe that's the sound of your eyes rolling at the most obvious of statements).  We have had our own degree of stress this fall at work (I've been run through the ringer this fall... it's been incredibly trying) and Eric's work has been no picnic, either.  And, we're both stressed about the national political climate -- which I think plays out in our daily anxiety.  Combine that with general exhaustion and dealing with children that have constant needs and numerous outbursts... suffice it to say, it's a rare moment when someone isn't in a bad mood. 

I know I need to do better about this -- and need to figure out a way to be positive even when I'm feeling frustration, exhaustion, anxiety or anger.  I know how to model behavior back to the kids and how to talk through their feelings to get them to calm down.  But, it's easier said than done.  Sometimes, I am just at my wits end. Which, of course, only makes everything worse.  Nothing escalates their behavior faster than being yelled at -- and yet, here we sit. 

Right now, Alden is playing that he is a lion.  He succeeded in getting me out of bed at 7 AM and making him french toast.  And, with his belly full, he is excited about the day. He's playing pretend, smiling, laughing and directing his own play. 

Kai is in a less good mood.  She is not feeling well today.  Alden had a high fever for five straight days last week and it appears Kai may have gotten his virus.  The idea of missing more work to stay home with sick kids has me irritable and being woken up six times last night (three by Kailey, three by Alden) is not helping.  But, I'm trying to remind myself that my mood impacts their moods. 

Hopefully my pot of coffee and a bit of morning reflection through blogging can help me get off on the right foot. 

UPDATED:  After writing this on Sunday, we got through the day with relatively little conflict.  It helped to have reflected this morning and been more mindful of my responses to their tempers throughout the day.  Then, this morning, Alden totally lost it over the notion of going to school  He was kicking the back seat of the chair in front of him in the car and yelling how he hated school.  When we pulled into the driveway, he burst into tears. 

Alden had nearly two weeks at home with us because of the Thanksgiving break and then his week of illness.  And, he knew Kai was at home watching movies (because she was sick). I understood how frustrated he was at being shipped off to school.  When we got to school, I told him I'd stay and tell him stories for a bit.  He wiped his tears and we went in, with him clinging onto me.  I told him stories and we cuddled at school for a bit.  He calmed down, but got really clingy when I stood up to go.  He said he hated me and I said, "I think you're sad.  I think you're sad that I'm leaving.  It's not hate.  It's sadness.  You want us to be together today.  And I love you so much -- and I want to keep playing too.  It's OK to be sad a little.  But, you'll also have fun.  And then mommy will be back."  He nodded.  He felt heard.  His emotions were validated.  I left and he was OK.

I know I need to work on my own patience and temper -- and the rewards when I do are usually immediate. 

Here's to diffusing tempers for the coming few weeks that promise to continue to deliver the stress!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Self-Advocate

Kailey's teacher at her new school is sort of a traditional teacher -- very focused on behavior, fairly rigid in her style, and often calling kids out for their transgressions.  I think this comes, in part, by managing a classroom of over 30 children.  I really cannot imagine.  I lose my patience with two children on a near hourly basis -- with 30, I'd be rocking in the corner in inconsolably or yelling incoherently. However, Kailey has been used to having a teacher in a much smaller environment and does not have the breadth of experience in life to be able to put herself in her teacher's shoes and understand why she is cranky sometimes . She just takes it personally.  

Kailey came home from school recently quite upset.  It took awhile to get the story out of her -- because she was too mad to tell it in a linear fashion.  But, basically, what happened is they had a math test at school.  If the kids hadn't finished their test by the bell, they were allowed to stay in at recess and keep working on it.  Kai was among those kids and ended up spending her whole recess stewing over a particular problem that really had her tripped up.  After recess, the rest of the class came back in and she continued on her test while others worked on their grammar (in groups).  Kailey was trying to calculate the answer in her head and staring off into space and her teacher looked over at her, assumed she was not really doing the test anymore, and said (loud enough for everyone to hear), "Kailey, if you are just spacing out then just turn the test in."  Kai was pissed because she wasn't spacing out.  She was trying to figure out the problem and was both embarrassed that the rest of the class knew she was still working on the test and mad that she had been accused of doing something that she wasn't doing (spacing out).

So, she and I talked it through.  I talked about how her teacher had a big class to manage and might not be able to tell what Kai was doing by looking at her.  Kai had little empathy for her teacher and said, "I don't like her.  She's a terrible teacher.  She's so mean."  I told her it sounded like something she should talk to her teacher about -- to explain that she had been struggling with the test and that it embarrassed her when she got called out in front of everyone.  Kai said, "she won't talk to me... every time I try to get up to talk to her she tells me to sit down."  We then talked about how you have to be respectful of class time and that trying to talk to a teacher in the middle of class is probably not great timing.  I advised her to ask her teacher before or after school when a good time would be to talk.  We talked about how to approach someone in a non-defensive way.  How to be respectful and calm when telling someone something they had done to upset you. 

I didn't really think our talk would go anywhere.  But, the next day, Kai climbed into the car and said, "Mama!  I did it!  I talked to Mrs. Goodwin."  I was shocked and said, "really? What did you say?"  She said, "I did like we talked about -- I asked her before school when would be a good time to talk.  She said we could talk now.  So, I went into the classroom and I told her that I had really been trying on the test and that I was upset she called me out.  She didn't remember what I was talking about -- so, I told her the whole story about what had happened and then said that it made me feel embarrassed that she had called e out and that I had been trying.  She said that she couldn't read people's minds and so she wasn't sure what I was doing, but that she was glad I told her and that she was glad to know that I had been trying.  Then she explained the problem to me so that I understood what to do."  Kailey had a huge smile on her face while she told the story.  She was so pleased with the fact that she had addressed the problem herself and made a bit of a connection with her teacher. 

The day before, when we had been talking about it, she had said to me, "why can't YOU just talk to Mrs. Goodwin?"  And I had told her, "because it's really good to learn how to deal with issues yourself.  You're nine.  You have a voice.  You have feelings.  You can use that voice and tell others how you are feeling.  I can't solve everything for you." 

Seeing her shining eyes and sensing her feeling of empowerment at having used that voice to solve her own problem -- it made me so proud. 

Later in the week, she told me about a conflict she was having doing a group project.  She told me that there were frequent disagreements among her group and that she hated group projects. We talked again about how much group work there is in life and in jobs -- and that it is really important to learn how to deal with a group of people on a project.  I gave her some advice about how to navigate tricky issues with a group and told her sometimes it's best to just table to more difficult issues and do the things where everyone agrees -- because it helps to build trust among the group and it can be easier to come back later, once people are feeling like they've been making progress and working together well, and then tackle the bigger issues.  I told her about how I frequently have to take a big breath and just not say the things I'm thinking so that I diffuse instead of escalate a conflict. 

The next day, Kai came home from school and said, "Mama -- our group started arguing today... well, I was arguing, and they said they didn't want me in the group.  I took a big breath and counted to five.  Then I said, if I don't argue and we all just work quietly, can we keep working together?  they didn't say anything --  but, we all quieted down and kept working.  And, then when we started talking again, everything was OK.  We got through it."

I know she won't always try out my advice -- and I know I won't always have the answers -- but, it's remarkable to see her trying to work through these problems and taking to heart advice she is receiving on navigating difficult circumstances.  Kailey often has a very quick temper and can be really intense. But, her ability to self-reflect, to try new tactics, and to be open to advice and dialogue is a good counter-balance to a temper and intensity that otherwise could get her in hot water. I'm really proud to be her Mama. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

October Recap

Our new normal seems to be insanity -- hence the lack of posting on my blog.   October was another insanely busy month.  Part of the issue is that because Kailey transferred to a new school part way into the school year, she was not able to get into the after school program.  She did get into a couple of after school clubs, but they are not every day and mostly only last for an hour or so -- which means we are picking her up at 3:15 or 4:15 every day.  Incidentally, that is not the hour at which work ends.  So, we've been picking her up and taking her back to our office (or, on soccer days, rushing to soccer practice) and then trying to finish out our work day while helping her with homework, addressing her snack needs, and answering questions ("Mama, do you sometime feel like your in a tunnel and you cannot get out?"  "Mama, do you get pain in your chest and feel like you're having trouble breathing sometimes?"  "Mama, do you feel like you are angry for no reason and don't know how to get unangry?")  The questions, as you can see, suggest that Kailey is still struggling with the transition and so it's not easy to just brush her off so I can finish my work -- because I want to be mindful of her anxiety and help her navigate her way through.  But, it leaves far fewer hours to get my ever increasing workload addressed.  I've taken to setting my alarm at 4:30 am to try to get a few tasks done in the morning.  However, that rarely works as Alden senses my departure from the bed and is usually close on my heels, reminding me that it is "still nighttime" and that "you are supposed to be snuggling with me in bed right now, Mama."  Very sweet and also very irritating when one is trying to snatch an additional couple of hours out of the day. 

It's funny, I was looking at pictures with Alden this morning taken over the last year -- and pictures and videos are so misleading.  Although, they are also very telling and honest.  What I mean is that the pictures capture a lot of incredibly fun things that we did and capture the essence of those moments, freed of whatever stress, arguing, or irritation might have accompanied the moment in that moment.  I was watching a video of Alden skiing last year at Timberline, and it was a video full of joy of the moment of watching him take his first tentative solo slide on the skis with the biggest grin on his face.  For the 45 minutes before that video was taken, we were sweating it out in the ski shop trying to rent our gear, force boots on people's feet, deal with crying and bickering between Kai and Alden, convince them it would be worth the sweat and tears once we were finally out on the slopes, and wrangle all of our stuff outside.  We were arguing and bickering and questioning our sanity in taking a 2 year old skiing.  And then we got out there and captured that video and watching it brings a smile to my face every time.  It feels like these months are increasingly like that -- the memories and moments are beautiful and I feel deep nostalgia when I look at them despite that the actual moment was actually stressful and compromised as it was occurring, making it much more difficult to enjoy in the actual moment.  I feel exhausted and frustrated at the end of most of our long days when only a fraction of what I need to do is getting done, and then look back and marvel at speed that time is flying by and how quickly they are growing up and changing.

It's helpful to keep those competing viewpoints in mind looking back at months like the one we just got through.  There was a lot of stress in each moment.  But, we threw an incredibly Halloween party, complete with a large paper mache rock to complement Kailey's costume (that took several weekends to make), we got the grass planted out back (finally!), we took a weekend away in Tahoe without the kids, we played a lot of soccer, and got Kailey further settled into her new school. 

About  mid-way through the month, we went to a Farm Sanctuary with our friends Brian and Linnea.  They, like Kailey, are vegans and very supportive of her move to a vegan lifestyle.  They thought Kai (and Alden) might like visiting the animals on the farm -- which they did!  It definitely reinforces the notion of plant-based diets. Kai has become ever more strong in her belief that we should not eat things that required animals to be used or abused in order for us to get our food.  She does make the occasional exception for cupcakes or other desserts.  But, on the whole, she's adopted vegan eating whole heartedly.  I cannot say the same thing for myself.  I've mostly given up meat -- with the rare exception here or there.  But, I eat dairy and cheese while out in the world (mostly at lunch time).  I've found you really have to bring your own food if you want to be a full time vegan -- and, I am too lazy for that.  Anyway, our farm day was a ton of fun and we got some fantastic pictures of the kids.










Halloween was an event, as it always is at this house.  We handed out 650 pieces of candy!  Kailey went as a character from Ms. Perrigran's home for Peculiar Children (the thing that brought the costume together was the enormous rock we made, because the character, Brownyn, is an incredibly strong but tiny looking girl.  Of course, toting the rock around was not practical -- so most people thought she was a sailor!).  Alden went as a grasshopper.  He asked to be a grasshopper in August and, remarkably, never changed his mind.  We watched Alice in Wonderland a day or two before Halloween, and the kids decided that Eric and I should go as the Mad Hatter and the White Queen. Eric managed to pull our costumes together the day of, with the help of the costume shop down the street.   It took a good 30 minutes for me to get in that dress -- but, the kids were so excited that we went all out with our costumes.  While trick or treating, I had both a request for a photo with a fellow trick or treater and a small child run up to me and say, "I LOVE YOUR DRESS."  So, the costume was a hit.  Kailey had a friend over from school and Alden had several school friends over, as well as his favorite teacher from his class (who also had a 5 year old, and so came over to take advantage of our jam-packed Halloween extravaganza).  Alden was beside himself that Eramis was coming to our house.  He asked about it every day for the month leading up the big event.  She arrived after we were already out trick or treating, and when she walked up to us to say hello, Alden froze in place and then burst into a sprint and dove into her arms.  He asked her if she would please come to his house and was so excited when she came inside.  He say by her on the couch, snuggled up to her, so happy to have her visiting him outside of school.  It was a fun night -- but a really rough morning the next day trying to get out of the house for school.  Let's just say that Kai did  not make it to her 7:50 AM orchestra class.







What other updates do I have from my month-long sabbatical from writing?  Alden got a regular sized twin bed and is now sharing a room with Kailey.  Of course, this doesn't really mean much.  He is SUPER excited about the bed because it is much more fun to jump on a twin bed than a toddler bed, but he still wants to spend his nights in our bed with us. But, we're hoping that we are moving towards a time when he stays in his own bed through the night. 

It feels like the house is full of a lot more bickering as Alden gets older.  Right now, Kailey and Alden are playing happily together, dressed in costumes and working together on a play.  But, they are both so incredibly strong willed.  Kailey definitely has firm ideas on how every game should unfold.  Alden used to be fairly willing to go along.  But, these days, Alden also has his own ideas of how games should be played.  Alden is a master of pretending and is serious about his role playing.  Most of the time when I call out to him, he reminds that, "I'm not Alden." He has, invariably, told me who he is at the moment.  But, his character changes frequently throughout the day and it can be really hard to keep up.  He wants us to be in character, too.  And, Kailey often resists playing the character he wants her to play.  Fights and yelling ensue.  It's not pleasant.  We're trying to work through the issues and teach them how to be better communicators and compromisers. I suppose it was unrealistic to think we'd avoid serious sibling fighting -- but, I wish there wasn't quite so much of it these days. 

That said, when they are getting along, they really look after one another.  And, after a big fight recently, Alden turned to me and said, "I just feel so bad."  He then found Kailey, of his own accord, and apologized to him and she accepted his apology. And, Kailey was not at all opposed to Alden sharing her room. She was excited and said, "I won't be alone anymore!"  So, it's not all doom and gloom.  They're just siblings... siblings bicker.  But, they love each other, too.  So much.

We're already racing through November.  The months just whizz by.  I wish I had more time to write these days.  But, alas, I'm doing my best.  We're looking forward to hosting Thanksgiving again this year after taking last year off.  Kate is coming from NY, which is fabulous.  It will be like old times and the first time we've had her at this house for our favorite holiday.  We are also hosting several other families as well, so it will be a full house.  And, then, it's just a few more weeks before we head to Oregon for our annual trek to Timberline.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

September, Don't Let the Door Hit You On the Way Out

So much for a return to routine and predictability with the start of school.  September was as chaotic as they come.

As I've written, we have not been happy about the changes at Courtyard.  The loss of nearly all of our favorite teachers, the exodus of many students, the authoritarian leadership style of the new Principal that was encouraging a further exodus of both kids and staff, and the uncertain financial future of the school all felt like a big gamble at the start of the school year.  But, we didn't really know what else to do -- it was September, afterall, and most of the public schools had already been in session for a couple of weeks. 

Then, I got a text from Justine's mom late one night about a week into school.  She told me they were pulling Justine out of Courtyard and that Crocker Riverside, one of the best public schools in the area, had several spots available for 4th graders.  It felt overwhelming to think about pulling Kailey out so soon into the new year.  Then we were told that another friend, Abby, was leaving too.  Her class was going to be down to about 14 kids and there were only going to be 4 girls, including Kailey, left in the 4th grade. 

I emailed the Principal at Crocker and he emailed back right away and told me we just had to submit a letter expressing our interest.  So, I did that.  And then I applied for an inter-district transfer, as our home school district is not Sacramento Unified.  Our home district had to grant the request and Sacramento had to also accept the permit to transfer into their district.  Justine didn't need to get a permit, as they live within Sacramento Unified.  The people in our home district told me it would take up to 2 weeks to process the paperwork.  This was all on a Friday of the first week of school.  By Monday, Sacramento Unified had approved our request to come into their district and to attend Crocker.  Now we just needed the permit from our district. 

We went to back to school night at both schools to compare the two teachers and the plans for the year.  It reaffirmed our decision to move Kailey and we started talking to her about the possibility of a move.  The teacher at Crocker had been teaching 4th or 5th grade for over a decade.  The new combined 4th/5th teacher at Courtyard had only one year of teaching her own class and it was for kindergarten.  And, the leadership at Courtyard continued to be more than problematic with increasing examples of his lack of transparency and used car salesman approach to education.  Nothing he did instilled confidence.

The second back to school night was on a Thursday. As of that day, Justine and Abby both had completed the process to start Crocker on Monday.  I panicked a little, wanting Kai to be able to start school with her friends and not have to prolong the transfer.  And, all the talk of transferring had sent Kai into a tailspin.  She had told friends about it that morning at school, even after we had been more than firm about the need to NOT talk about moving schools at Courtyard.  She knew Justine and Abby were leaving and that she was likely leaving and the secret was too overwhelming for her.  And, then she panicked and called us sobbing and out of her mind with worry for telling the thing we had admonished her not to share.  We felt bad that she was feeling such stress over it all and it also just made me want to get the decision part over with.

So, I called our home district Friday morning at 9:30 AM and asked if there was any way to expedite our permit request.  I was basically told that speeding it up might be asking for a denial but also told that if we had a child care affidavit signed (signifying that we had a child care provider that would be getting her from Crocker and not able to get her from our home school) that our request would be automatically granted.  One of the reasons for moving with Kai's friends was to be able to share in the duties of pick up after school, and so I got off the phone and rushed across town to get Justine's nanny (who had picked Kai and Justine up from camp many times over the summer and would be helping with pick up after school if Kai switched to Crocker) to sign the affidavit. She lives 25 minutes from my work in the direction of North Tahoe.  I had to get the affidavit and drive to our home district office and then get the signed permit to the Sacramento Unified Office before 11 AM when the Sacramento Unified Office closed.  It was 25 minutes to the nanny's house, and then 30 minutes from there to our home district office, and another 25 back to Sac Unified.  It was 9:40 AM. 

It was beyond stressful, and speeding laws may have been broken, but I walked into the Sac Unified School district with my signed permit at 10:59 AM.  I got Kailey registered and they said she could start on Monday.  Then I rushed back to my office to draft a letter to Courtyard withdrawing her from school and ran over to the school to drop the letter off and let Kailey and her teacher know that it was her last day.  I stayed and had lunch with Kailey and talked to her friends about the transition. 

The whole thing was both a giant ball of stress and also just uber depressing.  We love - or loved - her little school and it was like going through a breakup.  The staff still standing that we had come to think of as part of our school family were the hardest to tell.  As was talking it through with the girls. 

My conversation with the Principal just further affirmed our decision as he nickel and dimed us on the reimbursement for October's tuition and generally seemed oblivious to the fact that squeezing an extra $100 out of us when we represent $10,000 walking out the door may be exactly the type of attitude that was creating the mess to begin with.  But, I learned long ago that there are certain types of people that are not easily persuaded by facts and logic... this guy seemed to live in the fantasy world that what he said would be believed no matter how far afield from all the evidence to the contrary.  A little like what's going on in our country at large -- and dealing with that type of cognitive dissidence at school as well was enough to drive us over the edge. 

So, I left her school feeling angry and sad and resolved that we were making the right decision.  And, then I jumped on a call with my new boss at my job and dealt with another round of insanity.  Without getting into it, suffice it to say my new boss has a decidedly D.C. mentality in her approach to policy and seems not to care or be aware of the fact that she has joined a decidedly California non-profit that has a different, albeit well-informed, point of view as to what is and is not beneficial at the federal level.  Always nice to have your first interaction with a new boss be one of contention. 

September did not improve from there.  Kai started at Crocker on Monday and had an OK first day.  However, by Wednesday, the permanency of the transition caught up to her and she had a really rough morning getting out of the house. She was dragging her feet and complaining about going to school.  My ongoing work stress combined with an insane amount of work to do, separate and apart from the stressful nature of what was going on, did not result in me demonstrating the amount of patience the morning required.  By the time we dropped Kai off from school, she was feeling adrift and panicked because she didn't have anyone to ground her at school and she and I had just been arguing.  It was too much for her.  She fell apart and was crying in class and got sent to the office.  Eric went and sat with her at school and hung out in her class for awhile.  She made it through the day. 

However, that morning of tears at school seemed to have opened the floodgates.  There were more tears the rest of the week, each morning at drop off.  She would run after us and cling to us, begging us not to leave.  She was having chest pain and going to the office multiple times complaining that she couldn't breathe.  We took turns sitting outside her classroom and trying to get her to unarm us in the morning so that we could get to work.  We dreaded the phone ringing during the day, knowing it was the office calling to tell us to talk Kailey off the psychological ledge she has crawled onto. 

It was bad, but we made it through the first week and developed a star chart -- if she can get herself ready to go in the morning (there is a checklist on the whiteboard of what needs to be done) by the time we have to leave, allow us to drop her off at school with no tears and not go to the office during the day (i.e. stay in class all day), and get her homework done at night she gets a star.  30 stars gets her a laptop.  Desperate times call for desperate bribes, what can I say. 

Monday went OK.  We were able to drop her off without too many tears and she got a star.  Tuesday, she lost it.  She threw herself on the ground crying, desperate to have Eric stay with her at school.  She lost a star for the day.  But, it seemed that was the last stand (hopefully).   The remainder of the week she got back on track and earned a star every day.  And, in that second week at school, she started Beginner Orchestra (she's playing the violin), art class, and an engineering class after school.  Having activities after school and getting used to the structure and routine has helped. 

This weekend, we had a playdate with a new friend from school and she had a blast.  She also scored a goal in soccer.  Things seem to be looking up.  But, man oh man, it was a hard month.  My work stuff is not improving... but, it seems more management as long as I don't have a kid struggling at home.  One of my colleagues said to me, "you're only ever as happy as your least happy kid."  Parenting, it's not for the weak of heart. 

Months like these make me SO GRATEFUL for my many fortunes, though.  I have a job where I have a ton of flexibility.  I can leave in the middle of the day to deal with a kid crisis.  It doesn't make it easy to juggle -- this last week I was stressing about Kailey every day and was also in Los Angeles two separate days, did 4 trainings, dealt more with the stressful boss situation, and had at least a half dozen conference calls - most of which I was leading.  However, no one is keeping tabs on me and if I have to do one of the calls while sitting outside Kailey's class, I can make that work.  I really am in constant awe of the single parents out there and all the folks that have jobs with no flexibility.  This stuff is hard and having the ability to juggle it as I see fit makes a huge difference.

These parts of parenting where you essentially are being forced between the lesser of two options are the hardest -- and so much more difficult when the decision is fully resisted by the kid in question.  We've spent a ton of time talking to Kailey about it to walk her through our reasoning.  We made a list of all the things that no longer exist at Courtyard that she'll still have the chance to do at Crocker (music is gone at Courtyard, but there is a beginning Orchestra at Crocker; no more plays at Courtyard, but a professional theater company will be offering an afterschool program in December to put on a production of Alice in Wonderland; only 3 girls left at Courtyard and she already has 6 friends at Crocker since she knew kids that transferred over and also had friends from camps she has been to).  We also spent a lot of time just giving her extra snuggles and attention.  She slept in our room again for those two weeks because she needed the reassurance at night.  We also talked a lot to her teacher and I, in my rush to fix it all, inadvertently became the room parent for the year (hoping that by stepping forward to help the teacher would also be a little more patient and forgiving of Kailey's tears in class).  And then we talked to Kailey more.  We talked about her last experience with public school and compared the differences between Thornhill and Crocker.  We talked about how much she missed her Courtyard friends and allowed her to text her friends from Courtyard.  We've had extra playdates with Courtyard friends so she would know those connections are not lost.

In essence, we gave September over to making sure Kailey had support in this transition.  Hopefully, the foundation we've been helping her build is a solid one and she feels more confident going into October. That said, I'm not going to jinx October by wishing for calmer days.  I'm just going to bid farewell to September a grateful farewell.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Our 4th Grader - the Inventor!

Kailey started 4th grade today!!  FOURTH!  I remember the 4th grade.  I cannot believe how quickly the first few years of elementary school flew by... and now she's going to be doing math that might exceed my ability to help her (ha ha) and going to Astro Camp! 

Kai worked hard over the summer to keep up with her studies.  We bought her three math books and she did a lot of work staying up with her multiplication and fractions -- I think she's ready for this year!  Over the last few days, she finished up fractions in each of her books and also finished reading a few more novels that she picked up over the summer. 

The other thing she did in the last days of summer was continue to create.  Kailey is an inventor.  She sees the box that our produce comes in every week and thinks -- jet pack!  And then she sets about making a jet pack.  Or, she looks at the empty can that once contained vegetable soup and thinks - telephone!  And she proceeds to make an old fashioned telephone.  This summer with her cousins, she had them writing the script to a play and making puppets.  Kailey is always creating.  It can drive me a little nutty because she will be in her art room in the morning rather than making her lunch, eating her breakfast, brushing her hair or getting on her shoes.  She wants nothing more than to be making things at all times. 

There has been a lot of chaos at Courtyard over the summer and we are nervous about this school year.  We think she lucked out with another good teacher.  But that teacher, although seemingly good, is a newbie.  The person who was supposed to be teaching this year quit just a few weeks ago.  We are pretty sure her departure was in response to the new Principal, who has a bit of an authoritarian style that is really not conducive to the culture at Courtyard. Unfortunately for us, it means we are having to spend a lot more time at school board meetings and other school events.  And, we spent the weekend writing him a letter explaining why we didn't like the new decree (I use that word purposefully) that the students would be lining up every morning in the school yard to recite the pledge of allegiance. Our letter said the following:  

Thank you for the information about the start of the school year.  We are writing to express concern about the new Morning Line Up routine and, specifically, requiring the children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day.  Part of the attraction to a school like Courtyard is that it is a non-denominational school that encourages our children to be critical, outside-the-box thinkers.  We want our children to be in an environment that encourages diverse and independent thinking and helps them develop a worldview. The Pledge of Allegiance, which includes reference to God and is focused on allegiance to country over responsibility to our larger global community, is, in our view, antithetical to these principles. While we understand that many public schools have a daily tradition of reciting the pledge of allegiance, Courtyard is not a public school and we are not bound by the rote traditions of public school. 

We do believe that other aspects of the Morning Line Up make sense including daily affirmations, gratitude messages, and recognition of birthdays.  These things are the types of community-building exercises that support all of the children and do not divide them based on their religious or world views.

The culture and community at Courtyard is one of the primary reasons that we chose to send our daughter to this school. It is also what has led us to reach out to other families and encourage them to consider sending their children to our school.  That culture includes (1) celebrating diversity; (2) recruiting and retaining teachers that are exceptional at teaching independent thinking and not bound to teach to a test or boxed in by standardized curriculums; and (3) ensuring that arts, drama, music and foreign language are part of the core curriculum for every child.  Our concern in watching the developments at Courtyard over the summer is that, in all three areas, this culture is at risk of being lost.  

Forcing the children to recite the pledge of allegiance each morning is the latest indication of a culture change at Courtyard that is concerning us.  The loss of master teachers late in the summer was also a disconcerting blow.  And, while we understand that cuts are required due to a 17% decline in registration, the elimination of the enrichment teachers and how that was communicated to the broader community was yet another indicator of a changing culture and focus that is of great concern.  

We would like to partner with you in making Courtyard into the school it promises to be and that it has the potential to become.  We hope that you take this letter in that spirit.  We would welcome the chance to discuss these issues further.  

Best,
Angie and Eric


So - the year is off to a rocky start.  Hopefully Kailey's inventiveness and love of learning see her through this coming year.  We have so loved this school and how it has encouraged her to be the inventive, creative student that she is... I hope we can maintain that culture for her and that we don't have to start searching for other options.
 
Here's to a new school year!
We love you, Kailey.
 
 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Take a Break

School starts for Kailey on Tuesday!!  Yea!  No more summer camps.  Courtyard opens at 6:30 AM and is open until 6 PM.  Every day!! And Courtyard is close to work.

If I'm being honest, the camps this summer have not been the biggest issue.  Just one of many things going on that have left me frazzled.  My travel this summer has been insane.  I was just looking it over, and it seems that I was out of town for something or other nearly every week the entire summer:

- week of May 29th:  Los Angeles (1 day)
- week of June 5th:  Eureka (3 days)
- week of June 12th:  Milwaukee (3 days)
- week of June 19th: Los Angeles (1 day) and Houston (3 days)
- week of June 26th:  no trips but back-to-back interviews most of the week for two positions
- week of July 4th:  Mendocino trip with family (gone 6 days)
- week of July 10th:  Los Angeles (1 day)
- week of July 17th:  Washington DC (2 days)
- week of July 24th: Los Angeles (1 day) and then leave to drive to Oregon and gone for 5 days
- week of July 31st: Los Angeles (2 days) and a new employee started
- week of August 7th: New Orleans (3 days)
- week of August 14th: Los Angeles (1 day)
- week of August 21st: Los Angeles (1 day)

SERIOUSLY?!  I was on the road every single week this summer except one.  Add to that a new camp for Kai practically every week, the drama at Kailey's school, hiring and training a new employee, converting to veganism, replacing our sewer line, fixing our busted air conditioner, the ongoing projects in the yard, Eric's many river trips, Eric's hiring a new employee, dealing with multiple days over 105 degrees outside, starting soccer coaching, and BEING PARENTS... no wonder we are beyond exhausted.  This summer was insane. 

 I've been very judging of myself lately for how cranky I've been lately -- but, then I look at the last 14 weeks and think about how intense it has been and realize that I really, really need a vacation.  A real vacation.  That isn't in the cards, but just getting down to only two work trips in September and another two in October feels like a vacation.  Whether it actually remains at only 4 trips in the next couple of months remains to be seen.  There is a lot of transition going on in my job and it is entirely possible that additional work trips get scheduled.  But, at the moment, I like living in the fantasy that I am going to have whole weeks at home.  And, this last week, I was home every day and it felt good to be here.

Of course, it was nutty week despite the fact that I was home.  We signed Kai up for a tennis/swim camp at the last minute that didn't start each day until 8:30 AM and ended at 5 PM.  That meant getting to work late and leaving early every day.  Since I was gone EVERY WEEK leading up to last week, I felt guilty and so made myself available for the bulk of drop offs and pick ups.  And Kai's soccer has started, so that was a particularly early end to my Wednesday. And, of course, there was other parenting drama mixed in -- like Kai losing her shoes and clothes at camp on Wednesday (when I picked her up she was in her swimsuit with no clue where her stuff had gotten off to... which made us late for soccer... which necessitated a run to Target on Thursday morning to buy new shoes... sigh).  And, we try to keep up social engagements with friends -- so, we had pizza night with friends on Friday night.  While working in the yard this weekend, Eric put the yard claw through his nail -- so, now we are also dealing with a new injury and I'm trying to find someone to help us finish picking each little blade of nut grass out of the yard. 

Maybe being on the road is better... I kid. 

The reality is, I don't pause enough (because, really, who has time to pause?!) to reflect on how much we are doing and feel OK about things.  Instead, I just feel like I'm constantly behind and I'm crabby because I cannot get it all done. I owe responses on projects to all variety of people, my staff need closer supervision, an my own work falls behind.  The house is not as tidy as I would like.  The laundry is never done.  Meals are often rushed.  The roof in the in-law unit needs repaired.  I lose my cool with my kids too often. I'm grumpy at Eric because he's one of the few people I can really BE grumpy at that doesn't take it too personally (at least he USUALLY doesn't take it too personally... this too is a delicate balance!) This is the stuff that plagues me. 

I need to give myself a mental break.  I was gone 33 days this summer.  And, each of those trips marks a major presentation or facilitation of some meeting or event or culmination of some project -- each trip represents an equal or greater number of days preparing and following up.  And, that's just a piece of my job. There is a lot more to what I do that isn't tied into all the travel -- and those projects also require significant time and energy.  And, I'm a mom to two young children that have all kinds of needs and wants. I coach soccer.  I volunteer at school.  I'm considering being on the school board.  I take kids to swim lessons (well, that's on the list -- if only I could find a moment to sign Alden up!), soccer practice, piano recitals and play rehearsals (again, possibly).  And, we have a big old house that has lots of things that break and need repaired.

And, for some reason, I've been thinking about getting a puppy.  Why, you ask?  Good question.  There is no earthly reason to get a dog.  That is one responsibility we don't need.  We have awesome cats that keep to themselves but are cuddly and sweet.  Dash is laying next to me while I write this.  We don't need another animal.  Sometimes it just takes writing it down to realize how much we do NOT need another thing in our life -- especially a dog! 

What I need is a nap.  Or a housekeeper.  Or a personal chef.  Or a driver.  Or a clone.  Any one of those things would be amazing.  I'm guessing the one within reach is the nap.  I'm letting the kids watch a movie so I can write on the blog.  And, the whole time I'm writing, I'm feeling guilty about all the things I SHOULD be doing.  But, I don't really want to do any of them... so, I'm writing (because god forbid I actually take that nap or do nothing).  It's like a disorder... I feel guilty if I'm doing something mindless unless it's between the hour of 9:30 PM (when the kids finally fall asleep) and 10 PM (when I fall asleep).  Otherwise, I feel like I need to be attending to work cleaning, cooking, ordering supplies, parenting, or -- as a break -- blogging.

I think - I hope - I let the kids have more down time than I give myself.  But, I know I put a lot of pressure on them, and especially on Kai, to stay on task, do chores, do homework, practice piano, practice for her play, help her brother, etc.  She's very good natured about most things.  She shares our work ethic -- I see it in her all the time -- and then I get frustrated when she's off task and have to remind myself that she is NINE.  She hasn't even hit double digits yet.  And she does a lot. 

I have this astrology book that has a description for every day of the year -- and, while I'm not a real believer is such things, the advice on my day is something I strive to keep in mind.  It says: "May 3 people must remember to invest enough of their energy in maintaining close friendships.  Those born on this day will make good friends if their human understanding and insights concerning the workings of society extend to the personal level.  They must never forget the importance of simple daily acts of kindness." 

My days are taken up with caring for a lot of people, ideas and keeping a lot of balls in the air.  But, I think that I get lost in the big picture and sometimes forget to just slow down and enjoy the people and ideas that drive me in the first place.

It's hard to carve out the time to enjoy things as a full-time working parent.  I'm not totally certain where the balance is -- but, I know part of my ability to slow down comes from the "breaks" I take when blogging.  This gives me a little chance to reflect and to appreciate what has come and what is coming.  So, I keep blogging.  I keep it in the mix of activities even though it hangs over me as another thing to get done and another area where I'm falling behind.  But, it is in the blogging that I slow down and reflect and recalibrate. 

OK... break is over!  Back to the grind... :)


At Home Vegan

Over the course of the last two months, we have transitioned to become a largely vegan household.  Alden, of course, still has "milk and snuggles" three times a day.  But, the meals we make at home are almost all vegan now and the contents of my refrigerator are quite different today than they were three months ago.  There is no meat anywhere in the house and, other than Alden's milk and a container of sour cream, there's no dairy.  All variety of dairy-free "milk" products (soy, cashew, almond, macadamia); earth balance butter; veganesse mayo; dairy-free cheeses; dairy-free yogurts and ice-creams; new grains; tons of frozen fruit; and all variety of veggies stand in the place of the chicken, hamburger meat, cheese, and eggs that used to dominate my fridge.

Kai, of course, maintains her veganism while she is out in the world.  She, after all, is the reason the rest of us have transitioned to this new way of eating at all.  But, when I'm away from home, I still eat cheese and dairy and, occasionally, I'll still grab a burger.  But, it's been a remarkable change - even if only partial for most of us.  Since the beginning of July, I've had two burgers and maybe a meat product one other time.  Three meals with meat in two months!  And, I would say that at least 50% of what I eat is now vegan. 

This change in diet has consumed an enormous amount of time.  I wish I could say I am totally gracious about the whole thing -- but, I've been quite a grump about it many times.  Mostly when Kai is complaining about something that is put in front of her that doesn't look very appetizing.  Kid!  We are ALL learning to eat new foods because of you -- so, no complaining!  Of course, that's not fair.  First, she's a kid.  Second, she's a somewhat finicky eater.  Neither of those things changed when she decided she no longer wanted to eat things that came at the expense of or exploitation of animals.  But, when I spend HOURS (really, hours) of my week pouring through recipes to find the few that look bland enough and familiar enough to make, and then spend additional time buying the right ingredients and cooking the food... it makes me a bit grumpy to see it go uneaten or listen to the whining that ensues.

There have been a few moments that have really not been pretty.  Like our battle over chia pudding with a mango smoothie on top.  It looked disgusting.  That much, I will admit.  But, it tasted fine.  Kai took one look at it and balked.  A yelling match ensued.  She dug her heels in.  I dug in right back.  Eventually she was forced to eat it after much teeth nashing and hollering.  Later, she said to my mom, "how do you decide to eat something after you've already decided it was gross."  She is good, at least, in reflecting on her behavior and improving going forward.  She always has been so self-reflective.  Since that day, mango smoothies (complete with protein powder) have become a mainstay and both kids slurp them down.  We haven't tried the chia pudding again.  I hear there are white chia seeds -- I have a feeling that might make it look a lot more appealing!!

After a few incidents like the chia pudding one, I started having Kai try things with her eyes closed.  That has helped.  She really psychs herself out about things and is quick to form opinions.  She might get those traits from me.  Just saying.  But, they are not helpful characteristics when trying to adopt a new diet. 

Several friends and co-workers have commented on what awesome parents we are for supporting Kailey in her newfound beliefs.  A friend at work who became a vegetarian at a young age told me that her parents were not supportive at all, and she had to pick around meat and figure out the new diet on her own.  That said, I would say that while we've been entirely supportive and have completely assisted Kai in adopting a new diet, the arguing about eating and cajoling her to try new things have not been among my proudest parenting moments.

We do seem to be adjusting, though.  The last couple of weeks have been much better.  I have started to find the range of things that the kids really like -- and the new brands that are their favorites.  Kai is more open to trying new things and has been much more appreciative of what is being made.  Last night, I was making a fried tofu dish, saffron mashed potatoes and a sweet potato and avocado salad.  Kai came in and said, "this looks amazing!"  Then she started helping with the cooking.  She ate nearly everything on her plate.  She also has asked me to make cous cous cooked in vegetable broth again.  And, she wants this vegan pumpkin pasta I made a few weeks ago again, too.  Oh, and a spaghetti squash with tofu ricotta.  It is very satisfying to have her ask for repeats of dishes and to be trying so many new flavors and dishes.  It doesn't happen with every meal, but, she's getting better. 

I think Alden would prefer that we'd go back to eating chicken and steak -- two things he very much enjoys.  He also is really missing mac and cheese.  I think, at 3, if we keep it up, he'll learn to adjust.  But, it's hard to have two children with such completely different dietary preferences.  I want to support Kailey in her beliefs and convictions.  But, I also want Alden to enjoy the food he is eating.  But, equally important, I do NOT want to make multiple meals for them.  And, ultimately, I think the plant-based diet is better for the planet and a healthier way to live -- so, if one of them is going to insist on eating vegan, it makes sense that we all do it.  The more I've learned about dairy production (even on organic and so-called "sustainable" farms), the more I believe that eating plant-based diets is really the responsible choice for the planet.  I don't think I would have ever made the transition on my own accord -- but, I am glad to be pushed in that direction.  I just want to have NO COMPLAINING about doing it since the brunt of the work in making the change has fallen on me.  I know, I'm a fun mom.

Beyond helping the whole family live in a more planet-friendly way, I'm also glad Kai has gotten me to spend more time thinking about what we're eating.  We eat a TON of fruit and vegetables now.  And, we are eating a whole range of grains that we didn't eat before (quinoa, lentils, whole grain pastas, chia seeds, nutritional yeast, and tofu--so much tofu!)  I know what we are eating now is much healthier than all the dairy and meat we relied on before, and that feels good.  And, while it has been a lot of work to discover new recipes, I have also enjoyed trying to find new family favorites.  There are many evenings now when we stir fry a ton of veggies and heat up some brown rice -- and it's delicious.  We also are going out to eat far less because it's not easy to find places that have good vegan options for Kailey (the rest of us are happy to abandon veganism when eating out). When we do go out, it tends to be to Asian restaurants.  We found a new Vietnamese place we all loved.  We also still very much love going to sushi restaurants -- giving Eric and me a chance to eat fish, which we both enjoy. 

I have a feeling this new way of living is going to be with us for a long time.  Glad to have a daughter that forces me to be the better person I've always wanted to be!