Wednesday, September 14, 2016

this isn't easy

I wouldn't say that parenting gets any easier, exactly, as my kids get older. It's certainly true that as Daniel and Anya are more self-sufficient about various aspects of their day (getting to and from school, helping with after dinner cleanup), the other stuff is getting more complicated. 

Daniel is starting to have trouble getting to sleep, which has me a little anxious. Is it because he's ten years old and his internal clock is shifting (he also usually gets up later than the rest of us)? Is it because he's getting too much computer time? Is it because he doesn't get enough time outside? Is it because he's still adjusting to the school routine, even though he says nothing causes him anxiety? All of the above?  

Most [middle class] kids have the problem of being over scheduled, but I fear that in my efforts to keep our lives from being overrun with extra activities, I swung the other way. Daniel's soccer team dissolved last year and he's not doing another organized sport, so other than piano practice and homework (which there isn't much of at all) he doesn't have much to keep him busy. There aren't many kids his age in the immediate neighborhood, and a lot of them aren't available to hang out after school because they are playing sports and whatnot themselves. 

Well, I'm not comfortable saying much more for the sake of my kid's privacy. I probably revealed too much already. 

It's just that I'm not sure what to do. I'd love to see him get on his bike and spend the whole afternoon building a fort in the woods nearby or playing pickup soccer games with his friends but these days that doesn't happen so easily. Other kids are too busy, parents are too protective, or something. Maybe we need more structure after all.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

planning meals

I'm more or less an organized person. It's true that I misplace my keys several times a day, but I never actually lose stuff for more than a few minutes at a time and I'm pretty good about remembering where I need to be and when. That qualifies as organized in my book.

When it comes to fixing meals, though, I fall short in the planning department, and more often than not I tend to see what's in the fridge and cook by the seat of my pants, or I'll think of something on my bike ride home from work and stop at the store if I need to fill in any gaps. When I've really got it together, I'll have things figured out a day or two in advance, but that's usually as far ahead as I plan. 

There are two main reasons I have resisted making a weekly meal plan. First, I find the idea rather stifling. How, on Sunday, could I possibly anticipate what we'll be in the mood to eat (or, more accurately, what I'll be in the mood to cook) on Thursday evening? Second, cooking is all about the ingredients for me. I use what is fresh and in season, including whatever is in our weekly CSA box. We get an e-newsletter with veggie forecast so we know more or less what to anticipate every week, but until I see the amount and quality of what's there on Wednesday afternoon, it's hard to plan around it ahead of time.

This has worked so far because - like many, many people now and for many generations before this - I've been cooking for my family on a daily basis for a long time, so I'm pretty good at it. (Daily practice has that effect.)

The problem is that this approach, while it allows for flexibility and creativity and all those wonderful things, is not very efficient. And it turns out that this school year the various kid activities and my own freelance schedule will make me busiest in the late afternoons several days a week, right when I need to make dinner.

I'm squirming at that last statement. I've got two little Susans sitting on my shoulders right now. One Susan is the practical get-it-done mom/part-time employee/freelancer fretting and frazzled about the crazy late afternoons she is going to have at least three days a week and wondering how she can manage being in two places at once, much less in the kitchen cooking supper. The other Susan just indignantly pulled on her feminist power pants suit (this is my imagination, remember; I do not actually own a pants suit of any kind) and wonders why, just why, Frazzled Susan does not call upon other members of her family to help make the food that they help eat up every night. 

Sigh. Indignant Feminist Susan, your family should help, but remember that 8 and 10 year old kids should probably not be using a gas stove without supervision. Also, Stuart just can't get out of work early enough on a regular basis to be counted on for full meal prep (though he does help out when called upon.) So Frazzled Susan shall remain in charge and let's be honest, she'll complain about it more than she should.

Some weeks will be worse than others, depending on the needs of the students I'm accompanying this semester. There will be evenings where I'll have to pull soup out of the freezer or get takeout. But I'm hoping that with some more careful planning, it will be less stressful getting dinner made every night in between all the running around.

Yes, that's right. I said "careful planning." This means that I have decided on a weekly meal plan, and I'm really hoping it helps the weekly routine go a little more smoothly, especially when work ramps up later in the semester. I've tried this before and usually abandon it a couple weeks in. This time, though, I'm writing menus on the chalkboard in the kitchen and I'm making the grocery list based on those menus and I'm trying to come up with ideas for meal prep that are compatible with our daily lives.

I'm also asking my family for their input. "Any special requests before I plan the week and go to the store?" but that's only minimally helpful because they always say the same things. Lasagna. Meatballs. Noodles. Nothing that helps me figure out how to use up the giant beets we got in our vegetable box two weeks ago, alas.

I know, I know. This is what working parents do. This is what organized people do. There are whole books written about this, entire blogs devoted to meal plans and cooking. I'm  probably the last person to figure out that a little more work early on will save me stress later in the week, and I'm finally on board. We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

fall routine

Just kickin' the dandelions.

I took this photo at the beginning of the summer, or maybe it was even before school was out. Since then Daniel got a haircut (thankfully) and he's grown at least an inch, maybe two. He used to come up to my chin, and now he's nearly reached my nose. We wear the same shoe size now, almost. Give him a year, two tops, and he'll be taller than I am.

Bit by bit, we're trying to get into a fall routine. My teaching job started two weeks ago, and the kids went back to school last Thursday. University students didn't start classes until this week, so I'm just now hearing from students looking for accompanists this semester. The work isn't exactly pouring in, but it's pretty early yet, and there's a steady trickle so far. 

I'm trying to make my schedule manageable. I need chunks of time at home to practice and prep for my own students. I'm hoping to line up most of my accompanying work three days a week so that I don't spend half of the working day either commuting to and from campus or twiddling my thumbs in between rehearsals. And of course I'm needed at home in the early morning and late afternoon to get Daniel and Anya where they need to be and make dinner and all those things parents have to do. To be honest, working all that out is a total pain but I wouldn't have it any other way right now.

Actually, that's a lie. I would have it another way. I would totally love to do what I'm already doing, only with more regular and predictable work hours and a salary with benefits. (My teaching job comes with an office and small salary but it is very part time, hence the supplemental freelance work and resulting scheduling headaches.) But since such a position does not exist here at this moment, I am my own boss and I that's the best I can do.

It occurred to me last week that at this time a year ago, the remodeling project on our house started. Heavy trucks were going in and out, piles of mud were everywhere, there were giant holes dug in the ground, holes cut into the sides of my house, and the territorial neighbor trotted out her own special brand of mean and nasty behavior just for us and our contractors more or less on a daily basis. I'm so glad that's done and over with. (And it turned out beautiful; we're really happy with it! If you've been reading for the last several months you already know that, yeah?) Actually, I'm still ecstatic that it's over and done with. We got through it all in one piece but man, that was a long haul, and very stressful.

Now we are easing into fall. School seems to have started smoothly for the kids. I think they're grateful for the routine, too, and the opportunity to see their friends on a daily basis. Little by little, my work schedule is coming together, and even though it's a total pain figuring out the logistics of my own life, it's all good. As much as I love spending all that free time in the summer with Daniel and Anya, I really do much better in terms of self-esteem and productivity when I am doing paid work that I find fulfilling, even when the pay isn't very good and the work is erratic.  As for Stuart, he just keeps on keepin' on! He runs in the early morning, goes to work, comes home in time for dinner, then spends the early evening cleaning up with the kids, roasting coffee, farting around on Twitter and watching a little TV with the kids. (They're into Star Trek these days.)

Life is good.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

so, September

School starts tomorrow and I have mixed feelings about it. Mostly, I'm relieved that we'll be back in a regular routine but the start of the new school year means they and I are another year older and life is going too quickly and all that stuff.

It's the last year of elementary school for Daniel. 5th grade! He has to wear deodorant. He grew two inches over the summer and comes up to my nose now, when he stands up straight. He's asking for a phone (the answer is no.) He wants a YouTube account (the answer is NO.) He doesn't hear me when it's time to stop playing computer games, but he still gets totally excited about playing putt putt golf (we've made it a tradition to putt putt and go out for ice cream the last day of summer vacation) and needs a good night kiss.

Anya starts 3rd grade tomorrow and she's nervous. 3rd grade is when everyone gets more social, and she is shy so I am nervous for her. She's in a class of other smart, sensitive kids and she's got a cracker jack teacher, so I'm not really worried about her.

I think one of the hardest things about parenting so far is coming to the realization that you can't be responsible for your kids' happiness. You can provide a stable, secure home. You can enforce routine and set the standards for good habits. You can be the one they complain to, cling to, push away, puke on, demand snacks from, play endless games with, but you can't BE them. You can't fix their emotions or solve their problems or take away their pain. You can just be the buffer and gently steer them in what you hope is the right direction.

My mom told me the other day that worrying doesn't do any good, so I might as well stop. Worry doesn't change anything for the better or fix anything. Stop worrying and just take things as they come. It's good advice. I'm trying to follow it. Worry is a part of modern parenting that I actively have to work against, though. It's hard.

Today I was trying to remember what it was like going back to school when I was a kid. I remember being excited about back to school shopping. New clothes, new pencils, that stuff was exciting. I don't remember if there was a lot of fanfare otherwise. I think we just went to school without a whole lot of fuss. My mom took pictures the first day of kindergarten, but that might have been it. Or I just don't remember. Who knows.)

I think there is a danger in being so completely invested in your children that you can't distance yourself from them when they need it. We've spent SO much time together this summer, my kids and I. It's not unhealthy, but I think structured time spent away from each other will be a good thing for all of us.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

snapshots: sunflower days

School starts next week, and I'm both relieved and sorry that summer is coming to an end. Enjoy these snapshots from a month ago when summer and the sunflowers were at their peak.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

still summer

The end of summer seems to be a period of relatively high anxiety for me. Mostly, I handle it fine, but I have many moments where I let all the little worries blow up into big ones, and before I know it, I'm freaking out about absolutely nothing. I don't have any big Problems with a capital "P" right now (we're all healthy and keepin' on), but it's still emotionally difficult for me to see my kids growing up and my parents getting older and the globe getting warmer and my hair getting grayer. In other words, time is passing like it always has and there is nothing I can do about it. Being all grateful and in the moment ain't all bad, but it does tend to add to the melancholy.

So now I'm going to cheer myself up with a random list of things that calm me, and stuff I can look forward to:

  1. School starts in a few weeks. Of course I have lots of feelings about my kids growing up and all, but at the same time it will be nice to have us out of each other's hair all day long.
  2. To that end I'll be going back to work with the start of the school year. My teaching job is only a few hours a week, and the freelance work can be unpredictable, but work is good for me. I'm good at it, and it keeps me out of my head.
  3. My front yard garden is bursting with wildflowers. It's a little messy and overgrown at the moment, but that's just how I like it.
    So do the birds and bees and butterflies. The flowers are literally buzzing with activity all day.
  4. Fingers crossed some of the visiting monarchs will lay eggs on the milkweed.
  5. I do love to pull weeds and stir my compost pile. The mosquitoes are so thick and aggressive right now, they take the joy out of it somewhat, but there is something about getting my hands in the dirt, even for just a few minutes, that makes me feel better about everything.
  6. This makes me wonder if I should pursue my interest in the outdoors more seriously as an option for side job, or possibly second career. This would mean going back to school (anxiety trigger), but urban planning or urban land management or urban garden programs are all areas I could see myself in. I'm all about the urban outdoors, clearly. It probably doesn't pay any better than music, but it can't be much worse, and it's just as valuable to society and the greater good. Something to contemplate at any rate.
  7. Stuart and I really want to take a big road trip out west. We're thinking of taking the kids out of school for a few weeks (to avoid peak season crowds and heat) and either renting a camper or booking cabins and campsites in Arizona, Wyoming, Utah, and who knows where else. This is probably two years away, but just the thought of planning it is pretty exciting. The U.S. is so big and beautiful, and we want Daniel and Anya to experience as much of it as we can afford to before they are all grown up.
  8. It helps to remind myself that a year ago we were just beginning to gear up for the giant remodeling project at our house. In fact, a few weeks ago I gave our contractor the final payment for his part of the project; that was a good feeling! No more giant holes in the ground and piles of mud and irate letters with insane demands from the chronically crabby and pathologically territorial next door neighbor. It's done. Over. We can just enjoy living here (and continue ignoring the neighbor.)
  9. It's hot and muggy outside and the mosquitoes are wretched, but twenty minutes of Yoga With Adrienne (I'm a fan of the 30 day challenge series) is always a good thing. After getting rained out of swim lessons this morning, I made the kids do a video with me today and it wasn't as terrible as I expected it would be.