Virtual School is For the Birds

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We are in our third week of virtual school. With three kids. Two full-time work-from-home parents. Two dogs who lie around all day. And virtual school is for the birds.

I know there is not much of a choice right now. And overall, I will say my family is coping magnificently. I am still being productive. I make lists. I get my work done. I get the house cleaned occasionally. I stay on top of the kids…mostly. They are doing their assignments…mostly. We all still get along…mostly.

Today, the most-amazing teacher of my youngest child emailed me to tell me she hadn’t shown up for her small group? What? She has Whole Group followed immediately for small group. I walked into her room, and she is in bed playing her ipad. Grrr. Seriously? I had loads of work to do this morning, and I just assumed she was doing what she was supposed to do. You know what they say happens when you ASSuMe right?

I realize we are lucky, because we do have the privilege of working from home. But, geez, times are hard. It’s okay to not be okay with virtual school. Or with anything, because we are in the middle of a pandemic, and there is social and political unrest, but I I have these seriously mixed feelings. I wanted my kids to go to school, since they moved hours away from the only home they’d known and had to start over this year. But I also knew being in actual school probably wasn’t the safest place for them. So I felt okay when our district announced we would all start out virtual. Until it actually happened.

You know when you’re about to go on vacation and you have this dream that everything will be perfect. I had that before virtual school. Don’t ask me why. I must be a mostly positive thinker or perhaps I’m delusional. But managing virtual school for a high-schooler, middle-schooler, and an elementary-schooler is harder than I imagined. And the parent Canvas updates make my eyes twitch. I mean, I guess I’m appreciative of knowing whether or not my kid turns his work in, but I sort of feel like his secretary now. Pencil in your Thursday for constant nagging about that English paper that was due Tuesday at 8 AM.

For the most part, the teachers have been amaze-balls. I mean what a freaking hard time to be a teacher. Amiright? They basically went from teaching one way, to being thrown into teaching virtually in March. Then everyone hated on them, because it wasn’t amazingly perfect. I mean is it even possible to recreate the wheel in one day? No, the answer to that question is no. And now the teachers are going above and beyond. And I’m pretty sure they realize virtual learning sucks and isn’t ideal either. The teacher emailing me to tell me my kid didn’t come to class. I mean, how awesome is that. And they also realize how hard this is for the kids, and so most of the teachers have been so amazing about cutting them slack. My English teacher from high school would have circled every amazing in that sentence, besides the first one for repetition. Also, I found one of my high school papers the other day, and did you know the word “interesting” conveys nothing. How interesting.

I do feel lucky not to have a Kindergartener right now or any younger children for that matter. I have a friend who does. I cannot imagine trying to teach little children via Zoom either. My sister has that role, and I am having anxiety for her. She’s an amazing teacher, so I know she will do an awesome job. I mean, seriously, y’all. Our teachers need some serious props for putting up with all this shit. Their world has been turned upside down, just like our world. Let’s start really appreciating them during teacher appreciation week, and also during every.single.other.day they teach. They deserve mad props. Watch the video below to see why teachers are heroes. It will make you laugh, I promise.

The thing about virtual learning is it is only temporary. I keep having to remind myself and my kids that. Especially for my 10th grader, it feels like it will last forever. He’s missing out on his high school experiences, but let’s face it most of those suck. (Ha, just kidding–sort of). But we just need to tell ourselves, our kids, and our teachers every day: we’re in this together. We’ve got this. Communication seriously helps. I have had my kids email their teachers, I’ve emailed teachers, I’ve attended every optional Zoom parent call. Because I want to make this as easy on myself and my kids and their teachers as possible. Because, let’s face this, it’s not easy or even ideal. But we can get through this together.

And one last thing, if you want to be a hero you can donate to my fundraiser for NAAF. The link to the fundraiser is here: https://support.naaf.org/fundraiser/2880085. I am trying to raise $500 for the National Alopecia Areata Foundation to help them continue their research and efforts. Click NAAF to learn more about this amazing organization.

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Judgy McJudgersons

Okay. This post is probably going to offend some of you. I mean, we all judge right? Judging is human nature, right? I know I do it. Sometimes I do it, and I reprimand myself for doing it. Because the thing is, you have no idea what other people are going through in their lives.

On Sunday, we went to church. We were looking forward to it, because Sunday breakfast was starting again. I don’t know if you are aware, but the number of young people who attend church has been shrinking. Or perhaps just the number of people going to church is declining for various reasons. 

Breakfast was provided this week, but Sunday School won’t start until a later date. On Saturday night, we stayed out late and Darling Daughter was supposed to spend the night out,  until she didn’t want to at 11:oo PM. She hit the hay in my bed some time around midnight. Perfect storm, right? We should have known and just skipped church, right? Only Son #1 had to acolyte. Duty calls.

So after breakfast my children were acting like wild banshees  children. They were running around, playing tag, and being incredibly too loud. I got onto them, not once, but twice. And then an older woman came up to me and said, “I mean, some people around here are trying to eat breakfast.” Did I respond with grace? Did I bite my tongue? No–I didn’t because I was tired, and Darling Daughter had already melted down once that day, and it wasn’t like I was sitting back and doing nothing. I had disciplined the children! So I looked at her and said, “It’s like you’ve never been a mother before and don’t know what it’s like!” I was bitter. And curt. And her comment had hurt my feelings. But all too often strangers make these types of comments to me and it PISSES me off! And it ticked me off in this instant too, because for a church to survive these days they need young people. And the young people who come with their kids don’t need to be judged. They need to be welcomed. They need to know that they have love and support. They need guidance, not criticism.

She has no idea that my kids were running on fumes. She has no idea that sometimes boys are physical and loud, with my boys maybe being more of both. And that one of my boys has another issue going on. And that emotional regulation doesn’t come naturally for them. And that, for fuck’s sake, they are only children and they only get to run around and act like crazy people for a few years of their life before they have to sit with their hands on their lap and have a stuffy breakfast with people like you who obviously think you could do a better job parenting my children. I’d like to see you try. Not all children fit inside a box, and my children seemed destined to destroy the box all together.

So then the morning went from bad to worse. I had an adult temper tantrum after Son #1 hurt my feelings–I was already on edge. I actually got into the car, drove around the neighborhood I grew up in while I cried and felt sorry for myself, then came back. And Darling Daughter then proceeded to throw a fit, because we told her it was inappropriate for her to lie down under the church bench. Some days, so help me God. By this time I didn’t care who was judging me. I just wanted me and my children to get out of there alive and still a little bit sane.

Anyway, I know I’m not perfect and I judge people too. I’m working on it. I’m working on becoming a kind, more considerate person. I’m trying hard not to judge other parents. I see parents struggling, and I hope them the best. Sometimes I ask them if they need help. Because I know how hard parenting can be. And I know that a one-off comment can make you question every aspect of your parenting skills and make you never want to take your kids out into public (or church) again.

After this incident I thought about our Friday night, out at Dairy Queen, where we were celebrating the first two nights of school. Two older couples came up to us and told us that they just loved seeing our kids talking and enjoying their ice cream. And one mother said, “It brought back those days that seemed so wild and crazy when my five were little, but that went by so fast. Your kids are so sweet.” These are the comments to tell parents who look like they’re on their last rope. Sweet, kind comments that show you commiserate with them, that you understand how hard parenting can be, but that there is a joy in the fleeting days of childhood that can parallel no other.

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Thinking Errors

Blame Game

Every once in a while I start to question my ability as a writer. When this happens, I usually take a break from writing. Or I procrastinate. I put my writing on the backburner as if this will solve the confidence problem I have when it comes to my writing instead of just making my confidence plummet more.

This week, my husband went out of town. He works from home. As such, he also does the majority of making dinner and cleaning the house, and he picks up the kids from camp, etc. He is basically Mr. Mom. I’m not sure what I would do without him, because he LOVES doing that sort of stuff and I don’t. I was lucky, because my niece and nephew were in town so we went over to my parent’s house most nights. Taking care of the kids and making dinner became a collaborative effort. Single parents: I have the utmost respect for you. I could not do it.

But my tween seemed to be having a hard time this week. And he was blaming everyone else besides himself. This is common among kids, tweens, and teens. I was upset by my tween’s behavior. I went to the internet to search why he always deflected blame, and why when I addressed it the whole thing blew up into a huge fight between us, ultimately ending with me feeling guilty. And then I read this great article and realized: It’s a classic thinking error. I found out from reading this article, how to challenge thinking errors when dealing with my tween. His classic thinking error is in thinking the whole world is against him. He has painted himself as the victim, instead of the aggressor. He has done this over and over again, because he has limited problem solving skills, probably because his parents (aka me and his dad) have not modeled correct problem solving skills when faced with certain issues, or we’ve been inconsistent in addressing issues when he’s in the wrong. In his way of thinking, when he hits a kid or gets into a fight it’s the other kid’s fault because that kid was “bothering” him. I challenged him yesterday. And I think it hit home. I’m trying to change the dialogue between us so he can start growing up and realizing that making himself the victim is a thinking error and won’t help him in the long run.

And in thinking about this, I started thinking about my own thinking errors. I have no time to write. I’m not a good writer. If only, I didn’t have a full time job, three kids, and 5,000 activities. I’m laying the blame for my failure to write everywhere else besides in myself.  I’m not taking responsibility for the fact that I’m ceasing to create. I’m making excuses. I’m procrastinating, when in reality I have the ability to change the dialogue. I have the ability to tell myself I can write. And I know this, because I’ve done it before even when I was busy. I made the time. I stopped making excuses.

Overcoming thinking errors is hard, because thinking errors aren’t just mistakes. Thinking errors occur over and over again, because we’ve learned to use them as coping mechanism so we don’t have to face the reality of our actions or the intensity of our emotions. People use thinking errors to try to protect themselves from getting hurt. Thinking errors are justification to ourselves when we’re doing something wrong. They serve a purpose of trying to keep our self esteem intact when our self esteem is plummeting. When we don’t take the blame, we perceive an injustice to us that’s not there. When we procrastinate, we tell ourselves that everything else is more important than what we’re meant to be working on. These are all ways to protect our ego and to protect our identity as we see it. But the problem with thinking errors is that they’re destructive. Do we really want to go through life feeling like we’re a victim of our circumstances? Do we want to make excuses or procrastinate until the opportunity doesn’t exist or we feel so hopeless about our own destiny that we throw up our hands and we cease to create, cease to strive for better? I don’t want to be that person.

I’m rewiring my thinking error about writing today. I’m telling myself that I do have time to write. I have time to blog, even if it is 5 words a day. I’m going to stop using procrastination as an excuse not to face my fears where writing is concerned. I’m going to do what I’m called to do even if I suck at it (which I don’t think I do). When we overcome thinking errors, we become more emotionally aware. We also become more capable of being happy, self-confident, and achieving success.

Do you have a thinking error that’s holding you back from achieving success, establishing friendships, or facing your own demons?

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Parenting and Expectations

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Kids. Guilt. Expectations. They go together like three peas in a pod. I probably read every article I come across about parenting. Some serve to judge. Some serve not to judge. Some ask people not to judge while they are then judging other people. Judgment is just human nature. Taking all the information in, processing it, and then finding what works for me as a parent is what I normally attempt to do. It isn’t a fine science.

A few years ago, I found I felt angry a lot. I took it out on my husband and my kids. I yelled and I snapped. I snipped at people. And it only made me feel worse. It took me a while, but I found a way to control that anger, especially when I realized it made my kids act like me. They took on all my anxiety and anger, and they began to express it. They expressed it in their play and in the way they interacted with other people. And that was not something I wanted, because I knew it was one of my major flaws. It prohibited me from appropriately relating to other people. It caused a cease of communication, when all I really wanted was to communicate.

I still have a temper. Sometimes I get so mad I could hit something. Instead, I write. Or do yoga. Or I go for a walk. Or I take a hot bath. I try to push a pause button until I feel better.

I thought taking the anger away was enough. I wanted my children to avoid feeling like they had to please me and their father above themselves. You see, for a long time I felt that way. My parents had HUGE expectations of me, and everything I had striven for in my early adulthood I did for them instead of for myself. I couldn’t figure out why it was so important for me to make them happy. And that feeling made me unhappy. Trying to please others above yourself always makes one feel unhappy, because you never know if you’re succeeding at it and because you’ve placed your happiness in the hands of another person who you have no control over. I felt like I had to be a superhero to avoid my dad’s criticism or to mold myself into their idea of success. And I don’t want that for my children. I love my parents, and I don’t blame them at all. They’re good parents, and they’re there for me, and everyone should be as lucky as I am to have been born of such wonderful, loving people. I know my parents are proud of me. I know it’s my own life to live, and I know that they didn’t mean to heap their expectations on to me. Parents should expect a lot from their children, but children should also expect more from themselves. They should be taught that success is driven by achieving their expectations of themselves, not by reacting to others expectations of them.

I read this great article yesterday (from April 2014) titled What to Say Instead of Praising. Praising brings conditionality into a relationship. In fact, saying “Good job,” implies that you expect them to be good. Instead of “Good job,” say “You did it!” and match your child’s excitement. This is one of the hints from the article. This also allows your child to realize the value of what they did, without feeling like they have to do a good job to please you. Instead, they learn that working hard reaps benefits for themselves. It in fact, leads them to succeed without having the burden of having to please their parents.

I think I say, “Good job,” more than any other phrase to my kids. And this morning, I changed that. I sent Hailey to the car while I went to the bathroom. I said, “Hey, if you try to buckle up while I’m in the bathroom it’ll be a big help to me.” She beamed at me.

When I came back from the bathroom, she was in the car completely buckled with a huge grin on her face, “Look Mom!” And I had to bite my tongue. My first instinct was to say, “Good job!” but I didn’t. Instead I said, “Look. You did it!” and I grinned back at her and gave her a love pat.

Like consciously stopping my anger, this is something I’ll have to work on as well. But I think like the article stated it will increase my children’s self-esteem. It will show them they have the power within to succeed in the ways they want to succeed. Instead of trying to understand and live up to my expectations as adults, they’ll live up to their own expectations and create happiness from within. At least this is what I hope for them.

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PS: The Devil Within is only available for the next three weeks. Don’t forget to get your copy while you still can at Amazon.

It’s Payback, Really

My kids fight. Liam and Hailey seem born of hatred for one another. Sometimes, they will play together so nicely. I look back fondly on the good ole days when Liam called Hailey, “Harry,” and thought she was the cutest thing ever. But we are past all that. I think it comes because they are two years apart and insanely jealous of each other. Liam is praised because he is calm, makes straight As, and is so laidback (except when he’s being left out—then he’s just mean). And Hailey is praised because she’s cute, sweet, and the only girl. They both vie for my attention and their father’s, and they hate when one gets it over the other. I know a lot of sibling rivalry stems from sensing things are unfair. I know this from experience.

This weekend, before I left to attend one of my book clubs, they were playing in my room so nicely. They both have great imaginations. They could play for hours together until the bickering begins. By the time I made it home for our afternoon grill out, the niceties had fallen by the wayside and they were picking on each other.

Liam: “Hailey you’re doing that wrong.”

Hailey: “LIAM! STOP TELLING ME WHAT TO DO!” on the top of her lungs. She has no other voice setting.

And then hands around neck, or light sabers to the stomach, until someone screams or is not-so-seriously injured. I think part of the problem is I tend to get involved. At some point, I should just let them duke it out and see who comes out the winner. Fight Club, anyone?

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Aren’t kids precious? Hailey has that eyeroll down pat–should I be worried?

But, I guess it’s fair. My sister and I had a horrible time getting along when we were growing up. I take a lot of that blame. I was mean. I remember once, my older sister, my brother and I started a sticker club and wouldn’t let Allison join. My dad banned us from trading stickers. Oh the horrors! But Alli and I duked it out the same way Liam and Hailey did. And for a long time I had an intense jealousy of her. She was so motivated. She always made good grades (yes, that happens when one studies), and she seemed to be the apple of Mom and Dad’s eyes. I felt like an afterthought. And even more so, I felt like my parents tended to side with her in our arguments and blame me, even into adulthood. Now, I see they were trying to protect her because she was the middle child, and because we did treat her horribly. All the adversity turned her into an amazing wonderful person, and I’m proud to say she’s my sister. I love her to death, and I feel closer to her now than I ever have. I hope my middling Liam can say the same about his little sister when he’s grown up.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep screaming, “Stop fighting, you two!”

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Let’s Have a Ball

Meet season is finally over. We sprung forward this weekend, and on Sunday we enjoyed a 70 degree day with the sun staying up until almost 7. We played a game of baseball in the front yard, in which my 11 year old decided it would be fun to peg us with the ball as we ran to the (very far away) first base. This resulted in a lot of screaming and crying from the 7 and 5 year old, a few meltdowns, stern talks, and even a threat of no-dessert. Aww—the joys of parenting.

In case you noticed, I’ve been trying to make a concerted effort of blogging and scheduling my blogs. I generally try to write on Mondays, but I was a little late this week. Monday is my top day, because I post it to a discussion on a writers’ group I belong to. I enjoy reading others blogs, especially budding authors and people who I wouldn’t know or even have heard of without the group.

I’m trying to be more deliberate in my life. As you know, because I’ve blogged about it before, I have a problem with procrastination. I tend to be of the camp that if it’s due tomorrow start it at midnight the day before. I sometimes feel overwhelmed because of this, and I’m trying to stop this behavior or at least adjust it a little bit. It’s hard, and I’m not sure I’ll ever achieve this goal in my life. I’m stuck in my ways and have been stubborn for far too long.

This weekend, my son had to attend a Spring Ball. He was not happy about it. In fact, I was ruining his life. But I spoke to him, again, in the fashion of life lessons, of having to do things you don’t want to do. For a parent this is an everyday lesson, but it also led me to reflect on my own life.

You see, Caden, gets a lot of his tenacity from me. I’ve always been a mule when it comes to doing something I don’t want to do: school work, cleaning, cooking. I have a knack for passing these things on to other people. I simply refuse to do these tasks if I don’t feel like doing them. To.this.day! But I often feel guilt associated with that refusal to do tasks that are expected to me (I wouldn’t be a true Southerner without the guilt, right?) And I’m sure Caden has learned his behavior from me. On the way to the Junior Cotillion Spring Ball yesterday, he said, “Why don’t I have a choice? Why are you making me do something against my will?” Oh, lovely tween years. I can’t wait for the full blown TEEN years. But in that moment, when he asked that, I felt bad. I felt bad I signed him up and didn’t ask him. I felt bad, because he’s asserting his independence. I felt bad, because I remembered how I felt when I was forced to do things I did not want to as a child. Powerless. And no one likes to feel powerless.

Dance 1

But it was just one day. Just one dance. And I knew he’d survive. I knew, from the experience of the last dance, that he’d even enjoy it. It’s a good lesson to learn. Sometimes, quite a lot of times actually, as adults we are forced to do things we’d rather not do. And somehow we learn to stop complaining and just get it done, and sometimes we find some fun in it. Even my son learned how to do that at the Ball I made him go to. Smile just a little bit. Have a good time, and realize the sun will still be up when you get home and they’ll be plenty of time to play outside, at least for this brief moment of his life where he still wants to.

Dance 2