Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Stream of consciousness during homeschool family writing time

 It is homeschool family writing time, which means we are all cuddled up on the couch - cat included - typing away. It may look like a beautiful homeschooling moment on social media but let's dive into it a bit.

 We just finished up a rather frustrating attempt at completing Colonial crafts we bought in Jamestown last August. The directions were poor and with only one adult jumping between two different craft projects to provide assistance we all got a bit frustrated. What to do? Take a break and write about it in a 'small moments' style. Of course, when you are already frustrated trying to complete a group composition isn't always going to help. Ehhh... we got through it.

That text completed we dove into our fifteen minutes of independent writing. Nothing to write about? Often happens in moments of frustration... so.... diving deep into my creative writing classes from my childhood I implemented the "just write anything - even if you write "I have nothing to write about." I'm writing this... one child is writing about how tired she is and one is writing about me.

I'll write about her too.

My oldest is one of the most determined children I have ever met. She taught herself to tie shoes one afternoon in kindergarten, taught herself to tell time on Christmas morning when she was six and just got a new watch, and she follows through with whatever deep challenge she comes upon. 

Lately, we have been diving into some of my favorite books together - Wonder and Book Scavenger. It's been so lovely to share these books with her - and even more exciting to get book recommendations from her. One night I came upstairs at 9:50 and found her sheepishly still up and reading. "You HAVE to read this book, Mommy" she declared, showing me the sequel to Wonder she had been reading. So I did. It was excellent. Both the book and the fact that I now have another book-lover to give me recommendations. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Homeschooling Reflections

 We have been homeschooling for about a month now. My greatest surprise, other than how much I love it, is the stress I feel in being in charge of my daughters' education. This took me by surprise because I've taught many, many children over the years. I've also supported parents in their homeschooling. I've written up homeschooling units, monitored students' progress, adapted for student need, and always felt 100% confident that the child was completing what they needed for that year. So I was not ready for the wave of mom guilt that flooded over me about a week ago. Was I enough? Am I wasting a year of their childhood? What if I explain something incorrectly? What if I don't cover some essential knowledge.

How have I felt confident creating plans for others but am so wracked with guilt when it comes to my own kids? Is this just the way being a mother is? When it comes to our own kids how do we ever know what is enough?

Logically I know my kids are fine. They are nonstop readers and are doing great in math. At the moment I am sitting between them on the couch for family writing time. On one side of me my third grader is converting one of her stories into a play. On the other side of me, my first grader is stretching out her sounds for words in a fiction story about a girl who is moving. I think we are OK. But all my logic does not quiet that little voice that says "what if you are wasting their time? What if this isn't enough?" I think I need to acknowledge that the voice is there and let it push me to be better for them. But I also need to know when to tell it to hush. Remind myself of the good-enough parent. And enjoy our good enough moments.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Spies, Spies, spies

 For our reading curriculum we are using the Digital Reader Subscription from Pioneer Valley. I have always loved Pioneer Valley's books, and was thrilled to discover that this spring they quickly put them on-line to make them accessible to all of us stuck at home without our school libraries. Truthfully, I'm not sure I would have been up for homeschooling a first grader if I hadn't had such a great resource. You are able to input your children's reading levels and they provide your child a digital bookshelf with books at that exact level. 

My third grader stumbled upon their spy series - which is a collection of fiction (graphic novel style) and nonfiction stories about spies. Who doesn't love espionage? Even better - the fiction stories take place in the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC - which I have never taken my children to - AND is one of the few museums open right now. Hello, field trip! 

We also happen to be halfway through the first novel in the Book Scavenger series, which has introduced us to ciphers and secret codes. We've also spent the morning writing each other notes in code - just like the books from the Pioneer Valley website and Book Scavenger. 

I had not been to the Spy Museum since it first opened - maybe 18 years ago. At the time I remember thinking it would be awesome to come back with a fourth grader, but that was about all I could remember. I hoped it would give us enough context for connecting with some of our social studies or science content.

We spent forever there - despite the fact that we were starving. Your ticket is only good while you are in the museum and there is not a place inside to get food. My husband and I would have left far earlier if listening to our stomaches was up to us, but every turn seemed to bring some other inviting investigation that needed to be explored. 

The museum is designed for 9 year olds and up, and we certainly felt that. There were a few movies and exhibits I hurried them through, only to hear my six year old say "Hey! They cut that man's head off." GREAT. I also wasn't prepared for all of the context. Join a CIA team to decide whether to bomb Bin Laden? Extremely well-done exhibit that makes you feel like you are in the situation. Yeeeet... there is a reason a six year old and nine year old are not invited into the situation room. Part of why we were there so long was that each exhibit required context. Osama Bin Laden? My 9 year old correctly pointed out that spring 2011 was before she was born - and by the way, why are they going to KILL that guy? Um... where to begin?

I want to go back in four or five years - when both girls know more world history and understand more of the nuances in politics. 

Still, they loved it. The cipher exhibit was a win, as was anything associated with our individual spy missions. We all got into it and were quickly enthralled with the puzzles and games. We bought cipher rings so we can write each other secret messages as well as a secret code book that will let us decode messages from famous people around the world. This will go right into the ancient civilizations that the third grader is studying. 

I give the museum props for their COVID safety measures - they give you a stylus upon entering to use whenever you want to touch part of the exhibit or the computer. These came in very handy. Being there on a Tuesday morning it was practically deserted at first, and we never had that "I can't believe I have to share a space with this guy that can't figure out how to put the mask over his nose." 

So... maybe listen to the 9 and up age recommendation, but even if you don't there is a lot to get out of the museum. A creative high school world history teacher could probably teach an entire class within the museum. Our brains hurt but despite that both girls are home playing spies. Off to use my cipher ring to send some messages... I wonder if decoding "clean the playroom" will be motivation to actually clean it :)

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Boxcar Children Love

 Early on in our COVID-19 quarantine time my daughters discovered the Boxcar Children audiobooks. My girls have always loved audiobooks and our public library seemed to have an un-ending amount of digital audiobooks in this series. We dove in. We needed something for them to do while we were working and they could somehow spend hours listening and re-listening to these stories. 

Guess what. The library's collection is NOT unlimited. We've heard them all. Many, many times. We've bought them the actual CD's.  We downloaded them from audible. We had drama over them using my audible credits to buy $3.00 books. (Turns out there is no reason for mommy to panic - audible will let you return a mistakenly bought book). 

We may as well have had the Alden children move in with us in March. Benny, Violet, Jessie and Henry have become a part of our lives in the last six months. So much a part of our lives that when we got caught in a rainstorm at the Natural Bridge park my youngest said under her breath "Grandfather Alden would have known it was going to rain." This was not a one-time occurrence. She often told us how Grandfather Alden would have handled a situation better than we have.

I don't know if you are familiar with this series or not. ORiginally written in 1924, it begins with four children who are on their own and end up living in a boxcar. By the end of the book their kind (and father wealthy) grandfather finds them and takes them to live with him. For the 16 more books the children and grandfather have adventures and solve mysteries. 

17 books isn't too bad, you must be thinking. 

17 is the original amount of books from the original author. Now there are over 100 books. The children have gone from seeing horse and buggies going down the road to talking on cell phones. My girls haven't questioned this. Their disbelief is suspended despite the fact that sometimes the oldest boy is 18 and in college, and sometimes he is 14. His age literally goes backwards. Doesn't matter. My kids love these books. 

The one aspect we do get held up on is that these four kids never fight. Ever. 100+ books and we have let to hear one argument. They discuss, disagree, and investigate, but there are no "I hate you and wish you weren't my sister" moments. No one gets upset or frustrated with each other. Perhaps this is why these four children have been such great quarantine companions. 

So, since we have memorized most of these stories, I've used these books to my advantage for homeschooling. We've printed out both maps of the US and maps of the world so that we can track their adventures. My girls will now forever remember states, climates, and landmarks based on what was happening to the Boxcar Children. I imagine one of my girls in her 20s visiting a new state and thinking, "Why do I already feel like I've been here... my friend... no wait, not a friend, just a book character was here before." 

In addition to our new found map skills, my children's vocabulary has also exploded from these listening to these books. The other night my youngest made a statement about elephants and I thought she was making up words. I literally cannot remember the word she used, but it turns out it was a real word and she used it appropriately. She also, at this moment, is typing that a character "howled". I've taught first grade for a long time, 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Almost two weeks down

 Two weeks into homeschooling and so far I love it. I say that as we are all having a grumpy day and one of my children even said to me "your face looks mean today." Yes, darling. This is my serious teacher face. The 'no nonsense, I'll just repeat myself until you answer the question' face." BUT... regardless of our grumpiness, I love it.

We start each day by reading a poem from Sing a Song of Seasons poetry book a friend gave me years ago. The girls each have poetry journals they can use to draw the mental images they make as we read the poems. 

We follow this with math from the Right Start math curriculum. It's manipulative and game based, so we often end up with some competitive games before moving on to reading and writing.

Yesterday I realized that we hadn't been to the library since the quarantine began, and that we'd never actually walked to our neighborhood library, despite the fact that it is less than a mile from our house. Maybe less than half a mile. Suddenly, feeling flushed with time, we wandered to the library as a part of our reading adventures. The girls loaded up on books from various genres (we talked about genres - totally a lesson, right?) and headed home to actually read the books we read.

In writing, one of my children announced she wanted to learn how to write plays, so she is working on taking a story she wrote before and turning it into a play. The other daughter is working on a diary with descriptive words to illustrate her days. After an entire six months of her playmates being the Alden children from the Boxcar Children series, her vocabulary is similar to the wholesome Gertrude Warner's stories. I about fell over when I saw she'd written "the sun is delightful and full of music" in her diary. 

For art we tie-dyed shirts and then, because of the evil teacher I am, we wrote how-to story together about how to tie-dye.

I crawled into bed with a sense of peace, or if not peace, at least the feeling you get when you know you are in the right place at the right time.

Of course, it's not all roses and sunbeams. Today we are all slightly grumpy and put off. I'm trying to think about what I want them to do today while also thinking about my mounds of work for my other jobs and projects. To make homeschooling possible I've carefully stacked clients into two days a week, given myself two days of homeschooling with my girls, and a work day. When I'm not with my girls they have work to do on their own. It's a fine balance, but I *think* it's working. And it's incredible to watch them learn.  

One of my other projects is teaching an inclusive augmented learning pod for Joey's Foundation. Check out what we are doing on the blog at their website! 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Putting it All Together in Colonial Williamsburg

When I realized we had a trip planned to Colonial Williamsburg and that we are homeschooling it started to occur to me that I could really make the most of this trip. Since I am not using a curriculum, but am trying my best to follow the Virginia Standards of Learning, this trip seemed like the perfect opportunity to blend our learning objectives in science and social studies.

We started the week before traveling reviewing the different regions of Virginia (which is a first grade SOL standard). My girls have experience traveling around the state so we were able to compare our real-life experiences to the different land regions. 

Each girl has a field notebook for science and social studies, so I printed out small maps of Virginia (when you hit print you can just select '2' per page or '3 per page' to make anything smaller) that they could color and glue into their notebooks. 

Geography - Virginia Regions
This gave way to discussing how the differences in the regions impact how people live and make their money in the region, which is another first grade SOL objective. (For my third grader, this is a great warm up to discussing ancient civilizations. We've established that how people live is influenced by the environment. We'll pull out that concept later.) 

Economic Standards:
How people live based on their land leads into learning about both first and third grade economic standards as well. (Goods and services, producers, consumers, making choices, and specialization). 

Here are some of the resources I found and printed for my girls to put into their notebooks.

Studying maps of Virginia also leads to the first grade standards of reading a map, using a map key/legend, and a compass rose. 

Science - Ecosystems
Before we dove into the history of Jamestown and Williamsburg we also looked into ecosystems. This is a second/third grade standard and I knew that understanding the wetlands that surround Jamestown would help understand the history there (hint: the mosquitos and lack of water).

Around this time we also found a snail in the backyard and made a habitat for him, which played right into this discussion. 

In studying ecosystems and our snail we also looked at producers, consumers, and decomposers (third grade standard), as well as the food chain (first grade). This also laid some groundwork for how the animals in the new world worked together, and how humans changed that as they settled into Jamestown. (Another first grade AND third grade SOL). 
For all of this we drew a lot of pictures in our science notebooks. I haven't saved the youtube videos we watched, but there are so many out there that a quick search found an abundance of videos on ecosystems, consumers/producers/decomposers, and the food chain.

And so, we were ready to dive into the historical aspect of Jamestown and Williamsburg. 

Khan Academy has excellent videos on this time, and while I thought they would be over my first grader's head, she loved them. 

 fantastic resource about Jamestown is from National Geographic. It has interactive games that let the children learn a history lesson through performing the game (what is more accurate, a riffle or a bow and arrow?) and my children watched/played these games so much that by the time we were hearing lectures in person they already knew the answers. They must have watched and played these games for days before we left... they were particularly fascinated by the Pocahontas story. 

We also watched some of the great videos Colonial Williamsburg has put out on what life was like then - including (my girls' favorite) what clothing was like that. 

After a week of intense study we were excited and ready to get into the car, travel through both the piedmont and tidewater regions (with our maps so we could note how the land changed as we drove) and head to Williamsburg. 

Stay tuned for our adventures in Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown!

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

And now... for homeschooling!

 For the next chapter in my education life I have the opportunity to take what I've learned from 17 years in education and apply it to my own daughters. 

After some long, late-night conversations where my husband and I weighed the pros and cons of every possible different learning situation out there we decided that homeschooling was going to make the most sense for our family. I love my girls' public elementary school and it felt like a loss to submit the paperwork to withdraw them. Knowing those teachers, I also 100% believe that my girls' school is going to knock virtual learning out of the park. 

But... after a rough spring I realized that if I am going to be home in the room with my children while they are learning, I want to be the teacher, not the enforcer. I don't want any more fights about when to sit in front of the computer, how to sit so the teacher can see your face, being both tech support and the social-emotional counselor when the computer crashed during small group with teacher... And I didn't want any other occasions of being told "Mommy, stay out of it, you aren't my teacher. My work is fine." Followed by my ever mature response, "I've been teaching small moments longer than you've been alive, kiddo. I know I know what your teacher wants." 

And so, we have taken the homeschooling leap. Today, while all over our region teachers and students are going back to school for their first virtual day, my girls and I are entering our first official week of our new routine. We've had a three week long slow-start. We spent the first week preparing for our trip to Williamsburg, Virginia. We dove into studying Virginia landforms, history, geography, economy, and ecosystems. Then we spent a week visiting Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown. The third week of our "slow start" we got into our math curriculum (We are using Right Start) and got comfortable in our math routine.

Today marks our first full day of homeschooling. Interrupted, of course, by a sudden run to the pediatrician (but hey, easy to get an appointment, everyone else was in school). 

And right this instant? We are having family independent writing time, where each of us is silently working on our writing. Or at least pretending to work on our writing. We'll see what each girl has to share during the writing conference portion of this experience.

I am still seeing clients this year, as well as working on some other exciting projects. But after some creative scheduling we've made it possible to also be here to teach my girls.

So stay tuned, for at least two days a week we will have family writing time, so I hope to actually stay somewhat up to date on this blog. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Moral Injury and Teaching

I originally wrote this as a message for an amazing school I work with and was asked to put it into a shareable format. 

~~ ~~ ~~
Yesterday, in a lecture on resiliency during this COVID-19 time, I heard the term “moral injury” used to describe what teachers are currently going through. This is usually a term applied to soldiers at war who are forced to do something they don’t believe in, and I was struck in hearing it used in reference to us. 

The Wikipedia definition is:
Moral injury refers to an injury to an individual's moral conscience and values resulting from an act of perceived moral transgression,[1] which produces profound emotional guilt and shame,[2] and in some cases also a sense of betrayal,[1] anger and profound "moral disorientation".[3]

The concept of moral injury emphasizes the psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual aspects of trauma.[1] Distinct from psychopathology, moral injury is a normal human response to an abnormal traumatic event.[1][4] According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the concept is used in literature with regard to the mental health of military veterans who have witnessed or perpetrated an act in combat that transgressed their deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.[5]

“Moral injury is the normal human response to an abnormal traumatic event” when we are unable to complete work that we believe in.

Teaching is what drives each of us. Each of us wakes up every day ready to make the world better because of the work we do at Carlin Springs. We see the faces of our students when we go to bed at night, and if we wake up at 2am are filled with worry about what is happening to our students. Normally, all we need to do is get back to school to see them. Hug them, listen to them, teach them, support them.

Right now, we can’t. And frankly, that sucks. (excuse my language. In my house we’ve recognized that while we don’t usually use words like that, sometimes we need to have language that matches the situation.)

Something about naming the term helped me understand the deep helplessness we are each going through as we fight to match our beliefs in helping our students with the current situation.

I have no great advice here other than to be kind to yourself. Sit with this feeling of moral injury, now that we have a name for it, and consider what it means for you. Realizing that we may not be able to do what we believe in now is hard, and facing that we cannot do what we are trained to do is perhaps the worst part. No one got into teaching to sit on the sidelines. We won’t be here forever, and we will be back with our students and able to do what we love. Meanwhile, be kind to yourself, take deep breaths, long walks, and find ways to show your students your smiling face. 

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Cloud of Doom

This winter my family began reading Wayside School books by Louis Sachar. My husband and I both remember reading these when we were younger, so it was a treat to dive into them and revisit all the craziness that occurs at Wayside School.

While we were checking them out of the on-line library we noticed there was a new one - The Cloud of Doom that was just released on March 3rd, 2020. More Wayside stories? We were sold.


I want to know what Louis Sachar knew when he was writing this book that the rest of us didn't. In fact, I think we should start looking at any Wall Street deals he had going on and any trades he made right before the pandemic hit, because, um, the story feels pretty true to life right now.

And published ten days before we were sent into our houses under our own clouds of doom?

Yeah, someone knew something to write a book about a Cloud of Doom settling over one elementary school. Pretty much sums up where we are.

-- --

"What's the point" one of the Wayside School students asks his teacher in regards to why he should bother with his work... "The Cloud of Doom is getting bigger every day! ... What does it matter if we can spell?"

(I mean, it's like Sachar's heard every conversation happening inside the houses of all the kids trying on-line learning. "What's the point?")

The class agrees with the student until Mrs. Jewls, the teacher, replies, "I understand you're scared and upset, but what's the point of quitting? We can all sit around and grumple (read the book to get the joke), or we can try our best, cloud or no cloud."

"And it hasn't been all bad," Mrs. Jewls continued.... "Someday the Cloud of Doom will be gone and the world will be a much better place, even better than before the cloud. Colors will be more colorful. Music will be even more musical. Even Miss Mush's food will taste good. The bigger the storm, the brighter the rainbow." 

We haven't finished the book yet, so I don't know how it ends. Maybe the Cloud of Doom will eat the school and this comparison will just make me really, really depressed. But right now, we're able to joke that we are currently living in the upside down world of Wayside School, and that we can follow Msrs. Jewls' words of hope. Which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your opinion of Mrs. Jewls, her classroom management skills, and Wayside School in general.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Creating Meaning Amongst the Madness

My daughter's large school district went "back to school" this past Tuesday. For my kindergarten and second grader it went great. Their on-line classes were an hour, and were extremely well-run by their teachers. I was exhausted by just navigating our new schedule and helping them get online by the time my second grader finished up, but also impressed.

Then we woke up Wednesday morning. 

My girls were struggling the moment they woke up, and I soon realized it was because we'd lost what we had to look forward to. For awhile, we looked forward to Easter and then as soon as Easter was over we turned our attention to starting virtual school. Once that first day was completed we woke up on Wednesday to literally nothing else to look forward to but the routines inside our house. Of course, my children did not express this outright themselves, but after taking a moment and feeling where we were and reflecting on a class I'd been in the night before, I put it together. We took time and planned a virtual party for them and their friends on Friday. Clearly we are going to needing to actively work on making our own events we can look forward to in these coming weeks.

The "nothing to look forward to" problem solved, I busily started the day to prepare them for getting ready for virtual school - until we got an email saying there was a two hour delay due to improving security issues. OK, we can roll with this... Then we got another email from one teacher saying they were going to meet as planned... OK, we can roll with that. Our heads were starting to spin but this was important to our kids. Then we sat down to log on ... and tried... and tried... and tried. At first the error messages we were getting were amusing because they changed each time - Access forbidden! Error - try again! Network not available! You stupid parent, why can't you log on? 

All of us were in tears, trying to log on using different devices, scanning Facebook to find out if other parents were in the same boat. "Keep trying" someone recommended on facebook. But no one said they got in.

Finally we sent an email to teacher saying we loved her but that we couldn't do this anymore. We'll try again tomorrow. 

It was by far the worst day of our quarantine yet. 

SO, we put down our expectations and hopes of the day and just sat in our disappointment. No more rolling with it. No more "this is going to be OK!" We let ourselves just sit in the suckiness of it all. And it sucked. 

Yes, it sucks that we are stuck inside and you can't finish kindergarten in person. It sucks that there will be no kindergarten parade for you. We won't have our Kentucky Derby party. We can't hug our family members. You can't do gymnastics. We can't go to the park. You can't see your friends. You can't see your teachers. You've lost your autonomy outside of our family. It just sucks. 

Sometimes we need to feel it all.

And so, 
we ate ice cream Sundays for lunch. 
We held each other.
We colored our massive coloring page a bit.

Amazon came and delivered all the audiobooks I ordered last week. I let my children stay in their pjs, blow off their virtual taekwondo classes, and binge listen to the Boxcar Children. They listened to THREE novels. At one point my husband and I wondered what they were up to. They were so quiet we were sure they were up to no good, but we were both getting work done so we let it go. Turns out, the girls were re-organizing their bookshelves while they listened.

My husband and I recognized that our low moods were not going to let us get any more work done today so we turned off our computers and walked away. We took time for us, ordered delivery for dinner, and just sat as a family.

That night at dinner we were able to reflect on the "worst day yet", and you know what, that reflection made it all worth it. We recognized all the things we needed to do to calm down, talking about how we are problem solvers and we can get through this and do hard things - but that sometimes to do hard things you just need to breath. One of my girls commented on the fact that I was really good at taking deep breaths while we were trying to get onto their classes today - and we talked about why I'd stopped talking for a bit and just started breathing.

We made meaning of all of it. 

Research and academic writing on what makes children resilient shows that resilient children are not those with perfect childhoods, perfect parents, or children who are naturally not bothered by anything. Instead, resiliency is built from recognizing hard moments, sitting with those uncomfortable feelings, and reflecting on them later. We build our resiliency when we make meaning from how we handled the conflict, or how we restored a mismatch.

Yes, we lost it and yelled at someone, we sat and cried, we ate ice cream for lunch. Now, instead of ignoring the feelings we had then, we take those moments and create meaning. 

On-line learning in our district is postponed until Monday so they can work out the kinks in the system. I now know better than to put all of our hope on Monday. There will be future bad days, and there may be many of them. We can't avoid them, we can hide from them, and we can't just pretend everything is OK. 

These are the moments life is based on, and these are the moments we can come together and create the meaning we will rely on to move forward with the rest of our lives. 

So breath deeply, slow down, honor the feelings of sadness and despair. Sometimes we need to go slow to go fast.

Friday, April 10, 2020

stream of consciousness from a quarantined working mom

There is a roller blade in the middle of our living room. Just one. Alone. Propped against the coffee table as though it's going to join in our next game of Clue. The coffee table itself is covered in a giant coloring map of the world, with markers strewn across. A taekwondo belt is in the middle of the floor, next to a pair of sun glasses. The box of Easter decorations sits nearby. Easter is on Sunday, three days from now, and the decorations are slowly being placed around the cluttered surfaces, one by one, by a bored family member.

Easter. The girls are worried that the Easter Bunny may have the corona virus, or may spread it if he comes in. And yet they still want it, and ask repeatedly, can we still do normal Easter? Just without the church and the big family dinner.

My to-do list grows by the day between my various work projects and keeping up with the family. Why does it seem so much harder to keep on top of it in our new reality? On paper we are home all day. Shouldn't it be easy to get through work, do laundry, keep up with the mess of the house and play with my kids? Doesn't my normal guilt come from the fact that I don't spend enough time with my kids. Now we are together, day in and day out. Just, with a door and a stop sign between us as I try to work and balance their needs.

Advice is everywhere, from everyone.

Cherish these moments with your children. These are the moments they'll remember when they are older - the ones where you connected with them. Let them as much TV as they want - let them indulge and they'll remember how great that was too. Make a home-school schedule (don't see too many of those out there anymore, do you?) Learn something new. Start a new project. Plan ahead for next year. Deep clean the house. Practice self-care. Manage your emotions. Breath. Wash your hands. Don't watch the news. Limit your social media. But watch enough to make sure you are learning all the advice everyone else wants to share.

When this first started, I filled my days between work and my girls. I knew I needed to stay busy, so I made sure I was. Now, I'm starting to realize the busy-ness was simply masking panic - like reorganizing the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. That's great, but what I need is to slow down enough to listen to my body and to listen to what I need.

I need an uncluttered house. A moment to dive into the deep work that drives me. I need to snuggle with my girls. Take deep breaths. I need my commute where I spent time in deep thought and listened to audiobooks and podcasts that intellectually challenged me. I need time to check facebook without feeling guilty that I'm not working, connecting with my kids, my husband, my extended family, or friends. I need permission to just be.

We all need to grieve. Be able to stand up and say "this sucks". Recognize that we are going through a grief process that no amount of creativity, organization, productivity and positive memes will mask. We've lost the world as we knew it, and that's quite a blow. We need to be able to sit with that. Not wallow in it, but sit with it. Sitting with it, naming it, talking to it, will all help us identify what we need instead of pushing it down and ignoring what is pulling at us.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Being Emotional Honest and a "Good Enough" Parent with COVID-19 Knocking on the Door

In the stillness of the morning, when it is just me and my cat awake, my anxiety is the worst. The day is looming before us and so much of its success feels it will depend on my Mary Poppins Mom ability - can I pull off another magical day with the perfect balance of structure, expectations, connection, love, and spontaneous joy?

The stakes, if I cannot, feel high - there will be meltdowns during conference calls, screaming outside while the neighbors - all home to hear - will wonder what sort of monster parent I am. Will I be able to balance my own work with the needs of my children who are doing something - who knows what- somewhere in the house while I work? And the greatest fear of all - what long term implications will there be for moments of pure exhaustion and loss of patience on my part? What will my children remember from this unique time in their childhood? An invisible threat looms outside of our house and yet we are inside where it feels safe, though confusing. What memories and long-term narratives are they creating?

The first weekend - it had only been a few days into quarantining - I suddenly lost my mind and just walked out of the house for a walk. There had been no space for me amongst trying to meet their needs and in the middle of a crying fit from someone I just needed to leave. (Benefits of quarantine - my husband was there to pick up the pieces as I cry-walked around the block). What emotional damage did I do to my children in that moment?

Right before the world went into COVID-19 lockdown I was attending the opening weekend of my fellowship program in Infant Parent Mental Health at U-Mass Boston. It was an intense filled four days of lectures from people I'd only known of as expects and writers, and I was so divinely happy. It feels like so long ago now.

On Sunday, after my uber-driver and told me he didn't want to take me to the campus because he thought that was where the virus was first found in Boston (he also told me that within two weeks we'd be shut down. I laughed at his extreme thinking. It was less than a week later that school closed) I heard a lecture by Dr. Claudia Gold on Dr. Donald Winnicott. I wasn't familiar with Winnicott before, but his words spoke to me as a mom, especially as a PANDAS mom.

Winnicott, a physician and psychoanalysis, is known for his work on the "good-enough" mother. He writes that overtime, as we move away from the infant stage, our ability to be fully present and meet our children's every need decreases. We start to miss our children's cues - those same cues that we were so carefully tuned into. In the end, the "good enough parent" will meet their child's cues only 30% of the time.  This isn't just referring to those basic needs of food, shelter, security, but the needs of connection. Throughout a day a "good enough" parent misses 70% of their child's cues.


That seems high.
I don't want to miss 70% of my chid's cues.

And yet, Winnicott found that this was a good thing. Not that we should be intentionally ignoring our children's needs, but that in the midst of life we will not be able to be perfect. And it is in those moments of non-perfection that we create the room for growth and resiliency in our children. Our children need the 70% of moments we miss their cues. It is in those moments that we can come back, repair our connections, create safety, let them know that the world doesn't end when we make mistakes or their needs are not met. Naturally, through mis-matched connections and then coming back together and repairing the interaction, we slowly give our children the power to be resilient. We make mistakes and then come back and reconnect. 

Donald Woods Winnicott quote: I would rather be the child of a ...

Right now, in the time of a global pandemic, we would do more damage if we were a perfect parent to our children. We would be showing our children that during scary, upsetting times, the best thing to do is to hide your fear, push down your anxiety, create pin-worthy activities, smile for the camera, and pretend like nothing is wrong. That is not how we want our kids to handle a crisis 30 years from now. That gives them no tools or internal narratives to fall back on when their own lives get rough.

It is OK to be emotionally honest with our children. Yes, there are things that mommy doesn't know the answer to. Yes, there is a strange virus outside and we don't understand it. No, mommy doesn't know what will happen. Yes, mommy is a little scared and worried. No, this has never happened before - we don't know what will happen next. No, I don't like being quarantined either. This sucks. No, mommy should not have used that word. Yes, you will be in trouble if you use that word. But frankly, it does suck.

But now let's make a list of what we do know. Let's look at what we can control. Yes, mommy stormed out of the house for a walk because she couldn't take it anymore. I probably shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry. That must have felt scary for mommy to just walk away when you were crying at her feet. Man, I'm sorry. Next time I am going to try to find some space for myself before I get so upset that I need to leave. I'll try to pay attention to where my worry is. I think it's in my chest - have you found where you keep your worries in your body? Where do you feel it first?
I feel a lot of that right now - that worry in my chest, that moves to my stomach. But you know what? when we are together - cuddling - reading books and talking? It makes me feel better. That worry goes away. Because what we do know is that we are together, and that inside these walls we can take care of one another. We will get upset - these are tough times. And we can't control our feelings. We can't stop the worry or the frustration of being stuck here away from our friends. But we can control what we do with those. What gives us joy? I notice you find joy in creating art projects. What can we create together tomorrow? I wish I could do it with you all day, but I have so many boring meetings. Let's find a time in my schedule that I can be with you - no phone, facebook, meeting, or to-do list and we can create your masterpiece. I wish it could be all day, and I wish I didn't have to work so much on the computer when I could be with you. It must be strange to know I'm behind the door with the sign that says "Mommy is closed". When you feel sad about that check the schedule - know that I will come back out of that door and we'll play together soon, OK?

Wednesday, March 25, 2020


On Monday the governor of our state announced that schools would be closed for the remainder of the year.

My initial reaction to this was "There is no way you can expect me to break that news to my children. At all. The governor himself is going to need to come to my house, and standing six feet away from us, break my children's little hearts."

Realizing that in this time of a global pandemic the governor is not going house to house, I finally put on my big girl parenting pants and told them myself.

My second grader took it like a champ. I was surprised by this because every single day we have been home she has said she wants to go back to school. She has one of those magical second year teachers who is full of energy and excitement and has made my daughter feel like second grade is life. Over Christmas vacation all my daughter talked about was going back to school.

My kindergartner took the news a little harder. She nodded, then said she needed to go to bed. It was 3:30 in the afternoon. We got her up for her on-line book club, and then she went back to bed. We caught her on and off sneaking back to bed over the afternoon. She looked at dinner and cried, "I don't know why, but I just can't eat."

I'm watching my little six year old experience her first true heartbreak.

On my oldest's last day of kindergarten she announced it was the worst day of her life. At the end of the day, when I asked her what she did that day, she told me she cried.

"When did you cry?" I asked, assuming it was the beginning of the day.

"I started when my teacher put up the 0 for 0 more days of school. I never stopped." Oh baby girl.

There is a magic to kindergarten. Even though both of my girls had gone to full day preschools and had amazing experiences with strong pre-K teachers, there is still something about kindergarten itself. I don't know if it is being old enough to be in the big school and ride a bus, or something about the developmental age, but kindergarten changed both of my children. They grew that year. They leaned into the person they are becoming and discovered interests they didn't have. Both of their classrooms had strong communities that made kindergarten feel like another family.

For my youngest, that ended too soon. The school has not started any virtual experiences yet as they work to get themselves organized and all of the on-line platforms up and running. I'm hoping once they do there will be more of a sense of connection and community.

In the meantime, I have very sad children who are truly mourning a loss.

That afternoon I let them binge watch Mr. Rogers and I curled up with a favorite book because I needed a bit of comfort too. All of this - all of the upside downness that is happening for all of us - is a loss. As parents and teachers we are trying to stand tall and take care of those around us, but we have to recognize our own feelings of loss as well. If we don't let ourselves grieve, we won't be emotionally available for our kids who need us the most.

It's hard right now. All of it. The closed schools, the trapped at home, the unknown future, the scary news stories. It's hard and scary. It's OK for it to be hard and for us to acknowledge it is hard. Yes, this sucks. We are heartbroken. We are sad and lost and scared. We have to recognize how hard it is so that we can take the next step. We can do hard things. We've got this. Together. One step at a time.

Monday, March 23, 2020

COVID-19 - How is everyone holding up?

So. This is... a new experience. I hope everyone out there is staying sane, healthy, and able to maintain access to whatever fills your cup - whether it is moments alone (which are hard in a house packed with kids) or moments with others (that is hard when you are an extrovert and stranded alone in your house).

We survived the first week, and after initially getting over the disappointment of canceled parties, playdates, and school, my girls have been enjoying themselves - somewhat. One of them looked at us with a confused glance last night when we made a comment about how this was something we just had to get through. In her six year old eyes this is a pretty good gig (at the moment) and she doesn't see why being stuck at home with no schedule or responsibilities is a problem.

Of course, we have two full-time working parents, so suddenly trying to take four people's lives and force them into an on-line schedule with only two computers and one struggling internet has been a cognitive task that should get all of us into Mensa. We went into survival mode, and survival mode needed to encourage independence, allow for free play AND school work, and of course, together time when possible.

Knowing my kids' personalities and what they need to stay busy, we implemented two different systems to fill their days while we try to continue to handle our full time jobs.

The first is a to-do list with a total of ten items on it. Something to do with reading, something to do with writing, something to do with math, something to do with a content (science/social studies), then help mommy, help daddy, do something kind, play outside and practice the piano.

Every time they complete four tasks (or tickets) they can turn them in for screen time. At the moment it is educational screen time, but I'm sure eventually we'll move to anything. We are in survival mode. Let's be real.

This is working for us because one of my girls loves schedules, so with this she can plan her day and make out her schedule. She likes to choose what will go on the to-do list the night before, choosing what she will read, what sort of writing activity she will do, what math project she'll play. She gets a deep sense of satisfaction from this list.

My other child is more of a free spirit. She doesn't need the guidance from the list and often doesn't realize how much she's completed until we sit down and go over it with her.

Our other current COVID-19 hack is that each girl also has a bingo board. This is how we are surviving. The boxes include anything from "Left Mommy alone when she was working", to "put on a puppet show" "took a bath" "got mad at my sister but just walked away", "did two worksheets", and"got myself a snack"

Ever since we implemented these we haven't heard an "I'm bored". The girls enjoy choosing what to do, and realizing that if they are trying to decide between playing dollhouse or an art project they can game out the system and strategically do something to make sure they get a bingo. Bingo = two chocolate kisses. Yes, candy. It's working. Back off.

BINGO gives the right amount of structure mixed with choice, kind of like a menu. While I am happy to share what I've done with you, I created it quickly in google docs using a 5 x 5 table. It's not fancy, but it's keeping us sane!

What are your parenting hacks these days?

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Family Point System

A few people have asked about my family's morning point system. It's something we started over a year ago, and it works for us. Every family is different and has different needs, but this is how we currently stay sane on weekday mornings.

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At some point last year I decided I was tired of spending the morning yelling at my children in order to get out of the house. At that point, the only incentive I had to get them to move faster in the morning was the fear of KISS AND RIDE. I basically had my children believing that the kiss and ride line involved a terrifying fire-breathing dragon and if we missed the bus life would basically end. (I mean, we are lucky enough to have a bus - I am NOT waiting in that ridiculous line of cars just because you couldn't get your shoes on fast enough. Run Girls! Run!) In actuality, the kiss and ride line isn't that bad, but still. No one has time for that.

I considered giving up all together and just letting us be late, but since I work that didn't make sense either.

Instead, we went to a morning point sheet. Each girl earns points individually based around two basic requirements - that she moves quickly and acts with love. At the end of the week, the points are pooled together for a family experience over the weekend. It's a group contingency plan - no one is winning or losing, and they are working towards an experience we can do as a family. This is key because it fosters working together to earn something together, instead of competing with one another.

The Nuts and Bolts:
Our morning is divided into the three critical breaking points for us - the upstairs time (getting dressed, brushing hair, putting on shoes, getting out of bed), the breakfast period (you know, just EATING the breakfast), and then leaving the house (getting your backpack and leaving the house on time).

There are only two official rules - Move Quickly and Act with Love. Both of these cover a variety of sins, distractibility, feet-dragging, and "don't want to get out of bed" moments. Each period gives each girl a chance to earn 3 points - one for acting quickly, one for acting with love, and one that is parent discretion. Over time, this has moved to include things like clearing the breakfast dishes or making the bed - things that weren't even in the cards when we started this, but now we can add on.

You will not earn points for "acting with love" if you yell at your sister, your parent, or even the cat - if you ignore someone talking to you, say something mean, etc. You may wake up grumpy and that's fine, but you cannot take it out on the rest of us.

On the other hand, you may be as loving as possible, but if you sit there telling us how much you love us and don't actually get dressed or follow the morning routine, then you won't earn points for moving quickly.

So each day there are 18 points possible - 9 for each girl. At the end of the week 90 points is a perfect score, and my girls decided the best possible experience is dessert at the American Girl store. (Other than actually driving to Tysons, their desserts are reasonably priced so this isn't actually extravagant). 85-89 points gets us ice cream out as a family
80-84 points gets us ice cream in as a family
75-79 points is a cookie treat at home

Why it works for us:

Teaches us to forgive ourselves:
The system is set up so that even bad days can be recovered from, so that no one can just give up on Friday. I also have one child who always wants a perfect score, no matter what she is doing. I intentionally set it up as having so many points so that she can see it is OK to miss one or two here and there. It's OK to forget your breakfast dishes one morning of the week - we all make mistakes. (And thank goodness, I couldn't handle the AG store weekly).

Changes our parenting language:
What I love about our point system is that it lets us work as a team toward a common goal in the morning. It changes the conversation from "PUT ON YOUR SHOES!" to "Let's get our points for this week! What do we need to do to get all of our points?" and "Don't forget - you need to be down stairs by 7:30 to get all three points. What do you need to do before then?"

The "don't use that tone of voice with me" response became "I'm going to remind you to act with love."

Supporting Teamwork
Most importantly - they will occasionally help each other out - clear one another's dishes, help each other find their book bags, or shoes. Of course, there are times they are totally ready to let their sister suffer the consequences of losing points, but at other times they do step in and help each other out.

Yes, I wish we could have perfectly peaceful mornings without a point system, but this lets us work towards a common goal, supports our constant message that perfection isn't the goal but working hard is, AND gives us an excuse to eat ice cream, all while preventing me from yelling.