Thursday, October 13, 2016

screen time and wanderlust

Remember those bumper stickers that said "Kill your TV"? I get that now, only in my house it's not about the TV, it's about the computer. Since when did daily screen time become a God-given right that should not be sacrificed for any reason whatsoever? This evening my 10yo complained that he didn't get enough computer time because his homework took too long. So unfair and unjust that he was limited to less than his usual time watching gamers on YouTube and playing whatever scrolling video game is the latest because his math took an extra 20 minutes.

My kids have limits on screen time and they're not allowed to have it until certain tasks are complete (homework if they have it, cleaning out their lunch box from school, setting the table for dinner, general pick up of their crap on the floor, and they also help with clean up after dinner), but still, I feel like I am failing as a parent in this regard. Like maybe they (the boy, especially) wouldn't be so insistent on getting screen time if they had more hobbies, or played more sports, or had lots of friends to roam the neighborhood with. Alas, I can't force them to have hobbies, I'm not a big fan of organized sports, and all the neighborhood kids are similarly busy or spending their time playing computer games, too. 

Taking away screen time would seem like a punishment, and that's not what I'm after. I just wish I could find a way to draw their interest to more productive activities in a positive and organic way. The first thing that comes to mind is that they should help more with dinner, but my late afternoon schedule is so crazy Monday through Thursday that we're lucky I haven't resorted to take out yet. If I had to allow even more time to have them help, we wouldn't eat until bedtime. 

Another thing I've thought of is just sending them outside. But that doesn't always work, like when it's raining, or when it's dark by 5:00 (which will be the case soon enough.) Much as I would like to have more or less free range kids, that just doesn't always work.

You know what I really want to do? Take off on a road trip. Spend a couple weeks driving someplace completely new, maybe out west. Go camping or rent a cabin (bears kind of freak me out), hike up a mountain, paddle around in a kayak, huddle around the campfire on a chilly evening. 

It seems I've got a touch of the wanderlust and I think it's a natural reaction to feeling bogged down and emotionally drained (not dangerously so, just a little spent) with daily life and the election and the more gnarly issues of parenting a soon-to-be teenager.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

snapshot: cello

5th grade strings started a couple weeks ago, and Daniel is enamored with the cello. Yes, my heart is a puddle. This is an opportunity I never had, and even if he's over it by the end of the year, I'm glad he got to try it and is enjoying it so much now.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Snapshot: I voted! (And a PSA)

I popped over to the library this afternoon and saw a huge sign outside that read: "VOTE HERE!" It turns out you can vote early - any time between now and November 4 - at any library location in the city, no matter what your usual polling place is. Tuesday can be a very busy day of the week for me, and while I always vote in every election, I was relieved to get it done with now. I am happy to see that the city of Madison has made it more convenient for people to vote. It's one bright spot in the scourge of voter ID laws blighting the state of Wisconsin.


In the middle of writing this brief post, I received a robocall from the school district that there has been a shooting in a neighborhood where many students who attend my kids' school happen to live. The shooter is still at large, and those kids can't ride the bus home until later in the afternoon, and can only go home if an authorized adult is there to pick them up. Imagine living in a neighborhood where it's not safe to go home. My heart is heavy.

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