A roller coaster ride that never stops.

Archive for the category “children”

Not Going Well

I’ve decided to say the words “Summer is not going well.” I am hoping that will bring some sort of relief in some way. I don’t enjoy admitting that my plans have gone awry, especially when I put so many hours of effort into them. I read approximately 200 pages of blogs and ebooks and articles to give me ideas on how to design a perfect summer. Last year went fairly well, so I built a lot on that. Somehow, it’s just not working the way I have envisioned and planned for. At all. I like to think I know my children and am familiar with the best ways to deal with them and channel them in positive directions. With all that, it’s going very wrong, daily, and almost everything that has worked for us in the past is failing now. The kids are fighting with a fierce passion. Tim is not ever napping. Instead of relishing the time they are in camp this week, I am at loose ends trying to use those few precious minutes, and am usually fending off an excessively irritable four-year-old. The systems I set up to help the kids accomplish summer work and light housework are falling utterly flat. No one is self-motivated in any area. Even the morning routines, like brushing teeth, are going horribly wrong daily. I am sleeping less than ever, and have not gotten more than five hours of sleep any night all this week, for example, as I struggle to get household management work done in the time after they finally go to bed, close to 9 now, since that fits the rhythm of the day best.

What upsets me most of all is how I am behaving. Going on far too little sleep, losing ground here daily, and in a worse emotional place than I ever was during the school year, I have no idea where to start to fix this problem. So many plans for the fall depend on my having time to be productive. So many visions I had of summertime are quickly evaporating in nearly a month of failure. I am not sure where to look for a way to make this better, but I know it isn’t in seeing the grand successes of the families around me, who seem to be getting this summer thing right with much less effort. I am hoping for an insight that will point me in the right direction, or at least on the road to the right direction. Now that I’ve said aloud that things are faltering, maybe that alone will open a door somewhere. Here’s hoping!


Paradigm shifts

Every summer, I keep expecting that my mind and body will feel a glorious release with the end of all the school demands. I will be ready immediately to enjoy some lazy days and the slower pace. What in fact DOES happen — and it surprises me every year — is that my brain goes into immediate overload at having three new inputs plugged in 24/7, and it takes me a good long while to adjust to that. Meantime, I act a lot like a zombie. I am bone tired and have very little patience or other resources on which to draw. My answers to any and all questions (approximately 764 so far, as of noon) today are represented in the list below:

  • I don’t know.
  • I guess.
  • Ask me later.
  • Please stop talking.
  • Can you ask Janie?
  • I forget.
  • I’m sorry, but my brain cannot process that right now.
  • Because.
  • What?


Right Speech

Lately, there has been an epidemic of cruelty among the girls in this house. In all the discord, which often turns violent, it is the words that upset me most. Such terribly withering and snide insults these verbally gifted females are hurling at each other! They are using their powers for evil, and we are all suffering for it. So I got an idea on how to fix it once I stumbled upon this quotation from Paul to the Ephesians:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

This wise guideline struck me immediately as something we needed to keep front and center for a while, till being more careful with our words became automatic. I remembered the Buddha’s advice on this matter, and decided we could add that in for good measure. It turns out that lots of people have realized the importance of how we “use our words,” and have made pretty posters on the topic. I gathered two pre-made posters I liked, and made one for the quotation above, before laminating and cutting them out:


The next step, I decided, was to have each girl be in charge of one poster, and read it to the rest of us. She was then asked to explain what she thought the poster was advising. Each girl did very well with this, and got the main message I had hoped to convey: If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.

Each girl was then responsible for hanging her poster in a location known to be a hotbed of contention and conflict. While they are experts at picking a fight anywhere, any time, about anyTHING, some areas leaped out at us: the DINING ROOM, the AREA NEAR THE TV, and the BEDROOM. The plan was then to hope that, during a conflict, someone along the way would catch herself or others using unfortunate speech and point silently to the poster in that area, prompting a peaceful regroup.

This is where the plan — so elegant, so teacherly — went awry (i.e., in the application in a real-life family). First, the girls fought about who got to post in what area. Why did Lily insist on using FIVE pieces of tape instead of the four apiece I had designated, so someone was shortchanged on purpose (Emma argued)? Jane also pointed out to all that THEY weren’t the boss, and she would act freely, thank you. For laughs, Lily hung hers in an obscure location. Next, the girls each monitored MY speech with laser-like intensity, and pointed sarcastically to the signs, quickly zeroing in on precisely which principle I had violated. After that demoralizing fol-de-rol, the posters remain in locations Damon and I later moved them to, living testaments to my wrong-headed idealism. However, I can’t stop hoping that their presence will slowly make some sort of impact in this escalating war zone, three tokens of nonviolence that weren’t there before. There goes my idealism again.

Do I Dare?

I have been led to the book Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, and I am so happy I found it. I am just getting my feet wet in this book, but I already see how much I have been trying to live according to the ideas here, and really can’t help trying to live the opposite of daily, thoughtless drudgery. However, at the same time, I often feel I am actually living exactly the opposite kind of life after all. On the one hand, I believe passionately in raising my children myself, and already gave up the little bit of work I had to do a better job with it, but on the other hand, I do not have the sense that I am making a larger contribution, and that eats away at me. I believe I am “stuck with” (on good days, “committed to”) raising my children and trying to learn how to be a competent homemaker at some point, but I will likely always struggle with feeling that this work counts. And doing work that counts is so important to me.

The book starts with this quotation from Theodore Roosevelt, and I see here what I think I’m physically doing (with the dust and sweat and blood (and poop)), but not necessarily the “worthy cause.” I know I’m enthusiastic and devoted, but I don’t know if that counts if you are not laboring toward something larger than your own family. Here’s the quotation:

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

I’m going to keep reading and thinking to see if my work is big enough after all.

For the record, I am reading fiction too: Every Day Is Mother’s Day by Hilary Mantel. This is a dark, almost stifling book, taking place in large part in a house full of ghosts (maybe). This novel is a perfect complement to the other side of me, the one that is “haunted” by sleep filled with nightmares and kinship with less-than-optimistic music and poetry. No one wants to talk about that, though, so we’ll just stick with saying that I am reading Daring Greatly and trying to cheerlead my way through my Grand Midlife Project.

Monster Bus

Friday morning was just one of those kick-offs that didn’t gel for us. When there are several items on the agenda right after dropping the girls off, that means that a whole morning has to be all lined up, and five of us showered, brushed, dressed, and outfitted, by 7:30. That is not easy and today, it did not happen on time. However, on Fridays, I am finished teaching for the week and feeling much looser than I am on the other days, so I quickly did the little mental acknowledgment of the inevitable as we left our driveway at 7:47, and decided to relax and enjoy the ride for once. I am so glad I did. The girls and I were all in stitches for a lot of the trip, and this may have been the first drive all week that was 100% free of lectures or recriminations. And, while I would agree with me that a lot of our lateness is their fault, and much of their morning dithering contributes to my sense of overwhelm, I think we all enjoyed the break from my pointing this out.

So we decided at some point to discuss what kind of car we would get next, since our wonderful Sienna has nearly 200,000 miles on it and more broken doors than working ones at the moment, among other issues. The discussion very quickly turned silly, and yielded ideas such as a two-seater motorcycle (on which I would spend approximately two hours taking one child at a time to school each day), a monster truck (in which each child would have a separate cage for safety like today’s drivers use), and a school bus. Honestly, I liked the monster truck idea the best, as I could then blow right through traffic each morning, and make only the one trip, but then I found this perfect creation:

And there is no rule that says we can’t paint it another color, give it a name, and make it our own!

My favorite part of all is that we can set it up so no child can touch any other for the entire trip. I am already feeling my jaw unclench a little thinking of the peace that alone would bring….

Identical Identities

Every day, I mix the twins up at least once. I always have. They really do look and behave in incredibly similar ways, and even people who know them well have to ask me which is which regularly.

Ultimately, though, they are much more different than they are alike. Some differences have always been evident, from the first week of life. Anyone who has known them these six years could easily distinguish personality traits that are diametrically opposed: Lily’s the loud, nurturing, generous one, whereas Emma’s the soulful, witty, thoughtful one. Even physically, they have plenty of differences: while never more than half a pound apart in weight, they almost never have the same shoe size, and their new teeth are growing in in radically different ways (both requiring orthodontic work, of course). For a long time, Emma’s hair was curly and Lily’s was straight. Lily has strabismus and other vision problems Emma does not share. Emma uses the potty about half as much as Lily does after drinking the same amount, and Lily spills about twice as many drinks as Emma. They like very different foods, and enjoy doing different activities. Really, this is a case where I could go on listing for quite a while.

Somehow, when I encountered a way in which they are radically different — in reading ability — I thought only of their similarities and not of their many differences. They should have exactly the same ability, I reasoned, since they have the same basic brain structure. The fact that Emma read an announcement about Copernicus’ contributions on the school loudspeaker in kindergarten meant that Lily should be doing the same. As of this writing, a month into first grade, Lily struggles to sound out every word. Improvement is happening, but very slowly. Operating under the assumption that there must be something wrong, I waited eagerly for her to get glasses this summer to see if that had much impact. Months later, it has not. Her hearing is perfect. From the way she communicates, there does not appear to be any deficiency intellectually or behaviorally. Fundamentally, she is having a harder time learning to read. I was waiting to hear from her teacher that she was placed in a remedial reading group, and was stunned to hear that she is considered “on track.” Really, then, there is nothing to worry about.

Still having trouble with this radical difference between them, I consulted with a friend who has some special needs experience. This friend pointed out not only the many ways in which the twins are different, but the fact that I have a hard time myself conceiving of anyone having trouble in school, so this issue is particularly jarring to me for that reason. This brought home to me an inherent danger in having identical twins that I thought I was handily circumventing: comparing them to the detriment of one or the other. I am so very dedicated to seeing each of my children as individuals, and meeting each one where he or she is, yet I still falter. This has shown me how important it will be for me to keep that dedication in mind when I find that tendency to compare — which is understandable in parents, I think — creeping in. The next step will be to stop my incessant comparing of MYSELF to other people who are in far more different circumstances than Lily and Emma ever will be!!


All three girls are losing teeth right and left, literally, almost daily. The twins are working on those first inner eight teeth, and Jane is now losing all the rest along the way to the permanent molars. First of all, the $10 worth of gold coins I just got for Tooth Fairy purposes is going to be depleted tonight with Jane’s latest, and at first I didn’t understand how we can be blowing through teeth and money this quickly. Then I did some math. By the time Tim has lost his last baby tooth, SIXTY-FOUR teeth will have been lost altogether. That’s over two months’ worth of daily tooth loss! I now see that I will have to make tooth loss a much bigger budget line-item, but at the same time be grateful that the Tooth Fairy set the price two years ago at just $1 per tooth.

Third Party Therapy

Maybe I just never stumbled upon this quirk in my other children, but I do suspect it is, in fact, unique to Tim. A couple weeks ago, I discovered that I could have him do whatever I wanted if I had Lightning McQueen on his clock talk to him and tell him what HE does. For example: “I always let my mom and dad brush my teeth after I do it so I’m sure I get all the sugar bugs,” says Lightning. “OK!” says Tim, enthusiastically, opening his mouth wide. The fact that I am in the room clearly doing the voicing myself has no impact on believability for him. When we waited for hours the other day for our car to get worked on, he said at one point, “I wish I could talk to our car.” I promptly took the cue and said, “Hi, Timmy!” after which a half-hour long (and loud) Q&A session took place between Car and Tim. Today again, Tim decided he wanted to talk to all the squirrels within earshot in our yard. I obliged. Unfortunately, this conversation persisted on the later drive to Giant and throughout our time in the store. I tried to appear unembarrassed as I squeaked my answers to Tim’s loud, penetrating questions about the food preferences of squirrels, but it was a challenge to even my theatrical sensibilities. Right now I don’t know where this is going, but it would be a fascinating case study for a child psychologist, I am sure.

Not Up to Snuff

Really, I can’t believe how perfect an example today was of all that I don’t want to be as a parent. In a court of law, my defense would be that I got some bad news this morning and then another bad thing happened too, so on a personal level, I really could have used a day to process some stuff. Unfortunately, as I am on the job all day every day, I had to try NOT to process and keep on keeping on. That just didn’t work. So I was very down and very low-energy, yet everyone continued to need me to be at the top of my game. I failed to break up any fights, or jolly Tim out of his tantrums, or provide enriching learning opportunities, or anything else I usually do that’s positive.  I feel like there has to be a better way to get through days like these than just survive them, but today I’m counting the fact that we DID survive as a victory.

Catch-22 24/7

Here is a question I ask myself daily: how are you supposed to

  1. do the dishes
  2. cook meals (which create dishes)
  3. do laundry
  4. pay bills and do other admin paperwork
  5. keep the house clean and inventory stocked

when you are also

  1. your kids’ ride everywhere
  2. still in charge of ensuring the safety of your youngest, who needs almost-constant supervision
  3. in charge of taking said toddler to the potty at least one dozen times a day
  4. the parent of 3-4 pathologically active children who need physical outlets on days that are too hot or rainy (almost all of them)
  5. the errand runner, emergency handler, hug-giver, and all-around guru.


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