Friday, April 17, 2020

I miss me

I miss me.

Perhaps that has always been the hardest part of motherhood for me. The feeling ebbs and flows, depending on the season we are in. It’s stronger in the newborn and infant years, worse when I’m on a long stretch of solo parenting, greater when I’m not in a good place with my own mental health and level of self care. I can now add to the list that the feeling is also strong when I’m faced with a worldwide pandemic.

I miss me.

Some days are better than others. On some days, I feel more energetic and confident under all the hats I’m wearing - teacher, wife, mom, supporter to a medical professional, acquirer of food in a war-time-like environment where store shelves often lay barren. Life is beyond strange right now for all of us.

I miss me.

I miss doing the things that fill my cup. I miss being alone. I miss having the kids GO to school.

I miss me.

I miss feeling like I’m good at something. I KNOW deep down that I’m doing an okay enough job with teaching my kids. In fact, I would even venture to say I’m doing a GOOD job. But my kids aren’t generous with their positive feedback. Mostly they fight me tooth and nail on everything. It’s hard to feel good about the job you are doing when your students make your every request seem like torture.

I miss me.

I miss feeling like I have time for something. I can’t even identify what that thing is specifically right now. Just something. Anything from start to finish. Uninterrupted. Yesterday it was gardening. I wanted to plant a few seeds, toss some fertilizer on my berries, edge the lawn. It was a beautiful day. It really didn’t feel like too much to ask. But it was. It almost always is. One kid wanted me to find and print sheet music for the Star Wars theme song because she has a budding interest in piano. Then she wanted me to spend special one-on-one time teaching it to her. Another kid was having one of her roughest pandemic days to date. Numerous emotional meltdowns. Everything was wrong. She was trailing me around for half the day, her high needs seeping from her every pore. The youngest was out shooting hoops in the culdesac when suddenly a crowd of neighborhood kids joined him. They were unable to maintain a proper “social distance” so I had to call him inside and help set him up with a new activity to keep him occupied. After the third interruption in 5 minutes time, I threw all my gardening tools in a bucket and gave up in surrender. There are some days (most days) when the requests are just too frequent.

I miss me.

I guess what I probably miss most is having lengthy chunks of time to remember who I am and to do the things I love. I get an hour here and there to squeeze in a run or read a couple chapters in a book but, as an introvert, “recharging” in tiny snippets is no longer working. It’s like we’ve all reverted to the newborn phase of parenting again - there are no guarantees whether this nap, this craft you set up to entertain the kids, is going to buy you three minutes or three hours. So instead of starting something, you start nothing and waste away the minutes scrolling through your phone, trying to fill the void. And then when the minutes suddenly turn into an hour, you silently berate yourself for not seizing the opportunity to do whatever it was you wanted to do. But you didn’t know. You never can predict.

I miss me.

I miss the version of me who doesn’t yell so much. Yesterday, after full-blown yelling at the kids for the third time, I had the wherewithal to recognize what was operating, and I narrated it aloud to the kids in live time. “Kids,” I told them. “I’m yelling a lot today which means that I’ve reached my limit and I need some quiet time. For the next hour, I need you to leave me alone.” I ran outside to the patio with a novel and pretended to be invisible. Aside from one kid who joined me outside but whisper-promised that she “would be quiet”, they actually obliged my request. This moment on this particular day felt like a win, but still I wish we didn’t have to get to the yelling point to get this mama what she needs.

I miss me.

I miss having even an inkling of energy at the end of the day to anything other than to eat a bowl of ice cream and drink a glass or 2 of wine in celebration of another day checked off the calendar. I’m often soooo tapped out at the end of another long day with the kids that I don’t even feel like spending time with my husband or jumping on a Zoom call with some of the friends I love dearly. I miss my friends. And yet sometimes I guess I miss myself more and that internal cry to go into my shell in hibernation wins out.

I miss me.

I’m learning about myself that it takes me a good long while to settle in to change. When things are hard and my feathers are ruffled, I’m slow to adapt. I spend a long time flailing before I’m able to don my lifejacket and feel safe enough to stop fighting the current and just let it carry me in the new direction. I exert massive amounts of energy trying to get everything back to the way it was before and in doing so, I often completely miss or overlook unexpected moments of joy because it “wasn’t a part of my carefully orchestrated plan.” I miss enjoying things and a lot of that is my own darn fault.

I miss me.

But things look different now. Maybe this means that I, too, like the world around me, am going to have to change. I don’t like the sound of that. I’m still here grieving my “Dream Year.” This was “supposed” to be my first year with all the kids in school full time. This was “supposed” to be the year I had loads of alone time to remember who I am. This was supposed to be the year I work on writing a book. This was supposed to be the year I revived and breathed life into the parts of “Kelsie” that didn’t revolve entirely around my children. Ha. Boy is the joke on me right about now!

I miss me.

Some days are certainly harder than others. I’m learning to accept the good and the bad. It’s a bit like riding a roller coaster blind-folded - you just never know if today is going to involve a lot of smooth coasting or a steep uphill climb. I know all you parents out there can relate. I hope that we can make space for every part of this crazy ride we are all on - the grief, the good, the hard, the terrifying.

When my husband gave me this chunk of time today to write (can I get a hallelujah!?), I was hoping to compose a post about putting down roots and “growing where we are planted,” but honestly, I woke up this morning kind of wanting to spit on that message. That’s my typical M.O. by the time I reach about Thursday or Friday in a long week of quarantine, I guess you could say. I’ll get back there at some point. I promise I will. Because I know there is a really good message for all of us in there. But some days are harder and that’s okay. There is space for both.

In the meantime, I’ll draw your attention back to the passage of Scripture at the beginning of this post. It’s been really speaking to me and inspiring me to dig deep and keep going during these days that feel oh so mundane and repetitive and exhausting: “Do not grow weary in doing good for in due time you will reap your reward if you do not give up.” Galatians 6:9.

Carry on, Weary Ones!

Monday, March 30, 2020

Making humans who make presentations

Okay all you teachers out there, I think I might be starting to get it. There is something pretty cool about creating an assignment, watching the kids embrace it (and fight it) and then implement it and pull it off. For me there's a little bit of, "Wow, I made this assignment up. And it kind of worked out. Look what they did!" And then, since I also happen to be the mother of my students, there's this other piece that screams, "ALSO, I made these kids! And they're so amazing!" It's a merging of creativity and pride on a whole new plane.

Jack in particular really impressed me. I had given him a sheet of questions to answer and that's the paper he was referring to when he did his presentation. It didn't even occur to me beforehand that he would need to rephrase the questions as statements in order for it to make sense and so his little brain was working overtime doing that on the fly. I was so proud!

Because a new form of online learning rolls out this week in our district, last week I wanted to wrap up any pending projects that I'd given the kids during the 2 weeks of Mom's-100%-In-Charge School. I'm sure legitimate homeschoolers are a lot more organized and set due dates when they assign projects, but I'm obviously making up everything on the fly which is extremely good for my perfectionist-everything-needs-to-be-just-so personality (or so I'm told). So on Friday morning, I decided that the planet science presentation I'd assigned each kids was due....THAT DAY. Daddy was home and so it seemed fitting that we make it a family thing.

One kid in particular was less than thrilled. You see, she's a lot like me. She needs structure and boundaries and guidelines and a vague "teach me some facts you find about Neptune in a Powerpoint presentation" is just a bit too loose for her liking. We'd already had this conversation when I first gave the assignment, after which I provided her with the following guidelines:

I guess I thought I was pretty clear about what I wanted. But leave it to your child to suddenly make you feel like you are the World's Most Incompetent Communicator. Also apparently she lost the above document.

"Tell me WHAT you want me to teach you!
I don't know what kind of facts I'm supposed to include!
My teacher always tells me what to cover!
How many slides long is it supposed to be?
Are there supposed to be pictures?

It took a couple hours to pull ourselves together and it was a stretching exercise but eventually I was able to convince her that whatever she had at 3 PM that afternoon was good enough. There were going to be no grades! There weren't any rules! Every answer was going to be the right answer! What a dream...but only for some types of less-perfectionist learners. (Weird! - It's like she's related to me or something). Honestly, I would hate me if I had been her but we pushed through and she came up with an awesome finished product and we are both perhaps better humans for it.

So all that to say, I see some of the draws of teaching. It's kind of a cool experience to see a learning venture all the way through. That said, today is now Monday and I am beyond exhausted and have literally ZERO IDEA HOW I WILL MAKE IT THROUGH THIS WEEK.

But I did get a round of antibiotics from my doctor today for this everlasting illness so hopefully more energy is around the corner? One can only hope.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The 50 hour day

I realize this photo makes it look like we all sit around on our respective devices all morning doing our work together. Please don't be misled. This pose lasted a solid 23 seconds before Pandora wouldn't work on Emma's computer (and she wanted music to serenade her math work) and Isla could hear the instrumental piano leaking from my headphones, which was breaking her concentration, so she moved to another. This is essentially her M.O. anyways...wherever her siblings are, she is in a different room. But the picture was cute and we all need some cute right about now so I snapped it. 

Graham might have tasked the kids with writing their current Teacher in Resident notes of appreciation last night after I lost my shizzle at the end of a super rotten day. I like the mental picture of me shugling with Jack. I'm pretty sure it's snuggling but I think shugling sounds more fun.

This week is slogging along. Our new reality of being home bound is really sinking in. I find strange comfort in the fact that the whole world is in this together. Often my struggles have felt so unique and individualized so shifting everyone's baseline normal helps me, oddly enough, feel like I'm being "seen" in the midst of the chaos. And if there's one fundamental thing I've learned that I need, it's to be seen and understood by others.

I've been trying to get us outside every day moving our bodies. I need it. The kids need it (though they definitely don't know it). My one guaranteed way to get them out the door is to retrieve our free kids lunches at our neighborhood middle school. In addition to providing lunch, they are also providing breakfast for the following day. I'm so grateful for one less decision I have to make each day (what to feed them) and hopefully it will also help our grocery budget which is off the handle this month with all the rumors of total lockdown. Usually I make the kids walk but yesterday as a special "treat," I let them ride their bikes. 

Rain or shine, we are getting out there. The days feels 50 hours long and so yesterday I made us all go on a neighborhood bike loop in the afternoon as well. We have the time so, why not? The forecast has been for rain all week but we have been blessed with pockets of sun and we are monopolizing on them. The kids also told me about this yoga storyteller called Cosmic Kids that posts exercise videos on YouTube (apparently this is what they do in PE at school when they have a sub). Yesterday they/we did Frozen yoga and this morning it was Pokeman. It wasn't on their school list today but Jack actually ASKED for it and it bought me 26 minutes to finish getting ready and mop the floor so I went with it like a boss. 

Graham's Aunt Nancy has gone above and beyond and has been teaching our kids (and some of the other second cousins) both art and writing lessons via Zoom. 

She taught the first class with my kids in person (when our district was the first to close) and then she took it online which has worked remarkably well. She even porch-delivered some of the art supplies the kids needed. I'm learning a lot second hand from the kids. Perhaps I should just sit in and do the lesson along with them. 

The first session they learn about different color techniques using Prismacolor pencils which are waxier and allow for more blending and shading. In their next session, they learning about how to use different types of lines in their art and they were tasked with creating 5 unique building designs in a non-Coronavirus futuristic world. Today, they began a writing lesson using their buildings as a launching point. 

Our district is putting the finishing touches on a Remote Learning version 2.0 that will begin next week. The state of WA issued an order that learning needs to continue in some capacity during this shutdown. It doesn't sound like it will be nearly as interactive as the first version was but at least they will be in contact with their teachers again and will receive some teacher-led direction. This teacher was doing her best but it's really hard to "quickly come up with a curriculum" for three different grade levels on the fly. I had about a million link options which was much more overwhelming than helpful.

I will close with the above photo that I found immensely reassuring when I read it. My eight-year-old thinks I'm "helpable" so I guess there's hope for me yet. 😂

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

An exercise in challenging perfectionism (i.e. doing a craft project!)


I decided I'm no longer going to state what day of homeschooling we are on because, if we're being technical, I'm actually beginning my 4th week of having kids at home so my count was inaccurate anyway. Plus we took this past Friday "off" from sit-down school and went to see the daffodils in the Skagit Valley. So the perfectionist in me wonders which days "count" and which days don't and then things get messy and I start to reveal less glamorous parts of my like-to-categorize-everything personality. And so let's get crazy and live in the gray and NOT EVEN COUNT DAYS because does keeping track of time even matter anymore?

This week are FEELING IT. I hardly slept last night. And one thing I AM still counting is the number of days I've been sick. Today is day 15 and I've kept up a fairly positive attitude but that always starts to waver a bit after 2 full weeks of feeling like crap. We're trying to get the train back on track and remember the many, many things we have to be grateful for but some minutes are harder than others. Especially when I'm seated next to a kid who literally moans with pain(?), boredom(?) every time a new math problem pops up on her computer screen.

Last night, the governor gave the official "Stay Home" order for the state of Washington. We were already mostly home so it doesn't change much other than that we will no longer be allowing the kids to interact in-person with anyone outside I home because they are simply unable to successfully keep a 6-foot social distance buffer. They were horrified by this news and are quick to tell you, "This virus is ruining everything!" 

I keep thinking we will do more "fun" school like sewing, art projects, cooking, gardening (and we are, to some extent), but it's amazing how quickly the day gets absorbed by the very short list of academics I'm asking of the kids (an online math program from school, journaling for the girls and a brief picture/1-2 sentence writing assignment for Jack), and with the sunshine last week, they have been chomping at the bit to get outside and play. Because of the governor's order, we decided to start our morning today by making mailboxes to put on the front porch so the neighbor kids can still communicate with each other via letters. The kids both loved it and also struggled when things didn't go *just* as they had planned. I have no idea what that feels like! Ha.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Homeschool Day 4: The Troops are Restless

Greetings from Immack Elementary! Isla decided we needed to make our dining room look more "school-like" so she taped a map up on the wall. Graham will be thrilled by the new color scheme! Emma also felt that the living room needed curtains "so the sun wouldn't shine in" (who's kid is she!?) and when I told her no, she made her own set up to keep the brightness at bay.

I'm not sure what was in the water this morning but everyone seems to be a little on edge. I'm getting a lot of push back from the students over requests they usually happily oblige. It must be the Thursday angsties. Even offering screens to work on learning apps isn't captivating their attentions as it has been. Perhaps even screens lose their luster after enough use (one can only hope!!)

I did dial my mom and let the kids chat with her and my dad via FaceTime at breakfast this morning. It was a huge hit for all parties! The kids got to show off their piano skills, their daily multivitamins, their braces-less teeth (Isla), their newly-braced teeth (Emma). All the important things, obviously. We have taken this stay-away-from-those-at-high-risk pretty seriously which means no visits with the grandparents. Thank goodness for technology that keeps us connected! I think we will try to use FaceTime and Marco Polo more frequently to keep the kids in touch with the people they love.

As for special assignments, I've asked each kid to select a planet in the solar system to research. The girls are putting together a Powerpoint presentation and will give the family an oral report to teach us what they have learned. Jack is going to create some sort of poster or visual and recite the facts he learned (he chose earth). Since the libraries are all shut down, we are having to get a little creative with our research. Today I found a video about earth on YouTube and wrote out a few questions I drew from the content for Jack to attempt to answer. I know I'm coming at him with methodologies that are above what is typical for his grade level but he's a bright kid and he's rising to the challenge. Thankfully the girls have been able to work more independently which allows me to focus more on Jack when needed. I spent a good 20 minutes creating the earth activity and he finished it in 10. Worth it? I'm not sure, but I'm definitely getting a taste for just how much teachers pour into their lessons to fill an ENTIRE DAY!!!!

When we learned about a week and a half ago that the library would be closing for good (for now), we made a run for it and I managed to check out from the little that was left on the shelves. I hid the books and I'm doling them out slowly so as to have something "new" to offer the kids. Ha! Never thought I'd see the day where I hid books from my kids to keep them from being read! I've also been thrilled to learn just how many people have videoed themselves reading picture books and then posted them to YouTube. When the library is closed....

Tomorrow is Friday and Graham is off - perhaps we will play hooky and enjoy this glorious spring sunshine and head outdoors. I've gotta say, I sure do love the flexibility!