Happy (real) Mothers Day!

I’m sitting here listening to the quiet and sluggish sounds of the kids eating breakfast and getting ready for their day. Somehow, the excitement of the first day of school has changed drastically, yet imperceptibly, over the years. With two moved out, one away to university, and the last two starting high school today, everyone is one step closer to the front door. My latest mantra? “Everybody! Out of the house! (I love you, but you all have to go…)” They get it. They’re ready. I’ve made sure of that…

But there was that year that I had all five of them at the same school, in the same place, at the same time, all day, every day. Ohhh, that was a good year. They spanned the student body, from first to eighth grades. As Parent Council Chair, everyone else seemed to automatically defer to me as the expert. I got a lot done that year.

It was hard-earned. And I knew it would go quickly; I was only ever going to get that one and only year of ease, comfort, and routine. I saw it coming. Realized the gold value of it right about the second day of kindergarten, when I was bundling and trotting two kids to school every morning, taking one back home, taking that one back at lunch, bringing them both home, feeding them lunch, trotting them both back over to school, leaving the other one,…. well, you get the idea. Every day. In all weather. For a year.

I know. I chose to have kids. But in my defence, no one ever manages to think through all the little crappy details.

And so, on the third day, I downloaded a countdown app on my phone. And I set the thing for the first day of grade one.

362 days. And counting.

Every time I felt the pressure and despair of the daily grind, I’d check the screen.

361 days.

Halloween came and went. Threw an awesome party for the kids. Christmas. Valentine’s Day. The milestones were ticking off the calendar. March Break. 171 days.

Summer relief lasted 37 hours. With teacher dad and all five kids home in my hair for two months, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. I am no entertainment director, though I did learn the secret to keeping kids busy 24/7 with ease and a big long chore list! 70 days.

30 days.

Back to school shopping. Good and early, smiling all the way through WalMart. Erasers for everyone!!!

5 days. The grumbling started. Rooms to clean. Laundry to be done. Clothes to try on/throw out/replace. Groceries to be replenished. So much work.

1 more day.

I couldn’t sleep. For the first time since motherhood set in, I was going to be by myself. Completely alone. For five and one half solid hours. I had a plan: celebratory breakfast with the moms, a long hot shower, crepes for lunch, maybe a little tv – something R-rated. Oh yes, this was going to be a good day.

As I happily escorted the children down the street, that fine September morning so many years ago, my feet barely touching the sidewalk, my good friend and neighbour waved from her porch.

“You’re looking mighty happy this morning,” she called.

“11 minutes ’til the first day of school!” I bubbled.

“YES!” she agreed. “I just saw your husband; he didn’t look quite so enthused.”

“I know! Did he even talk to you?”

“Oh yeah. And then mumbled something that sounded like, ‘302 days until summer…'”

Yeah, he used to be a morning person…

So as I watched the kids line up and disappear into the big double doors of scholarly bliss, I heard the choking sobs of some of the other moms waving goodbye to their offspring like they would never see them again. I had the dubious privilege of having five incredibly well adjusted, confident kids; never understood the separation anxiety. But I tried to respect theirs, as I went around the corner of the building to flip a few cartwheels. I skipped back home with the weight of the world sliding right off my back like water on a duck.

Putting the key in the front door, my phone beeped with a text from my husband.

‘Happy Mothers Day ;)’

‘I love you too X)’

My last two highschoolers are now watching me type; they’re ready a half hour early, and I know that’ll pass. But the celebratory breakfast is a mere hour away. The house will be empty, even if just for a few hours. And I do know, that when everyone has gone and moved on, and there will be times that I’ll miss them, I also know that I will have earned the right to sleep in a little, eat the good jam, and shower with the door open.

Happy (real) Mother’s Day everyone!!

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Raising Steel – Or Maybe Just Jello

Dear Village:

I have a gift for you.

Having now reached the age of adulthood, my 18-year-old daughter is now a full-fledged member of society. She’s a wonderful young woman. Bright, beautiful, and popular. You’ll love her.

At first.

And then you’ll start to see that she’s short a few marks on the responsibility scale. frustrated mom

You’ll start to take note of her growing absentee record at work. This will cross over into late bill payments, missed medical appointments, and more expressive frustration at others who cause her inconvenience. Eventually, she will have trouble holding a job, maintaining a home, and caring for her personal health. And if luck prevails, she will marry and have children to whom she will pass these remarkable skills, creating an evolutionary spiral into a blase pit of indifference.

I’m sorry to be the bearer of such ill-tidings. But I’ve tried to warn you. I’ve tried to get you on board with my kids. I’ve tried to teach them true values and ethics. I’ve done my best.

I am the mom who sent the 11-year-old down the street to the women’s shelter on Christmas morning to donate all of her presents, including the entire contents of a well-stuffed stocking, because she was clearly not impressed with either the quality or the quantity of goodies under the tree. I am the mom who spot-checks cell-phones and computers, who insists on meeting the friends – and their parents, who requires manners, who monitors bank accounts. My kids all clean toilets and do their own laundry; they know how to use the stove, the lawnmower, the vacuum cleaner, and the power tools. They know the difference between fault and responsibility.

frustrated mom2But in the end, they reach an age where I’ve got nothing left. I’ve explained, told, asked, begged, pleaded, threatened, warned, taught, yelled, screamed, cried, and given up. Over and over again. I’ve now even used up my last vestige of power – the holy grail of teenage angst – the wifi password.

And still I sat here and watched this morning as the now-adult daughter jolted out of bed at 8:57 a.m. to ask me in a mild panic if I could drive her to school in ten minutes.

“Of course,” I replied between sips of my coffee, “not!! You’re on your own, Sweety.”

She muttered some blasphemous reply as she stomped into the bathroom. I heard the shower start at 9:05. The final exam started at 9.

I have spent years warning of consequences to such actions. If you screw up, then you will pay.

But Village, dear Village, you’ve made a liar out of me. There are no consequences. You’re making me out to be the fool. Already this school year, this daughter is graduating, even though she earned a mark of 39 in her Grade 12 required English. Without talking to me first, the teacher made a ‘judgement call’ and gave her a 50. Even after she missed or was late 44 classes out of 78. Even after she hadn’t handed in her final assignment on time. Even after I had spent months using every tool in my chest to try to get her to school on time. (The third morning she slept in after I imposed a $10 fine for every morning she was late, she rolled over, threw a $10 bill at me, and tucked back under the covers.) But she needs to graduate with her friends…

She has a part-time job. They love her. She’s an excellent worker – I’ve taught her how to clean. But she’s late 3 out of 4 shifts. But that’s okay, because she just doesn’t get paid for the time she’s late.

So when the school phones me this morning at 9:30 asking where my daughter is, I am thrilled! Ah ha ha! BUSTED!! supermomPlease, school, feel free to lock her out of her exam. Feel free to dock her grade for the marks she misses because of it. Send her home. I’ll deal with her. But please, let there be some consequences!! And yes!!! have the Principal call me back!!!

The next phone call I get is from the daughter herself, within an hour. I smile as I see the caller ID. I breathe, because she’s going to be upset, having to confess to me that she’s blown off a whole course. It’s about time. I will be stern, but understanding. I will bring the lesson home.

“Hello,” I answer carefully, keeping my voice as neutral as possible.

“Hi Mom, it’s me, can I go to my friend’s house I’m done my exam and everyone’s going over there to celebrate that school’s over and then I’ll be home later to get my uniform and you can drive me to work but first I have to stop at the bank, OK?”

“Oh, and what happened with the exam then?”

“Oh, Mr. So-and-So said I shouldn’t be late and that exams are really important and all that and then I just went and wrote it. It was pretty easy I think. I probably passed.”

Pffffft!!!!!

defeatedAnd so Village, there you have it. So long as you’re not willing to back up my best efforts to make my kids accountable, to make them live up to their responsibilities and potential, so long as you’re willing to let them get away with everything, and tie my hands behind my back in the process, she’s all yours. I’ve done what I can. I’ve given it everything I’ve got. But I needed some help.

Good luck.

 

How To Get The Kids To Help Around The House

Mom medalIt’s finally happening!! The reward that every mother longs for, yearns for, over years – nay, decades – of perseverance, dedication, and wine!

“Mom, if I have to teach one more person how to do his laundry, I’ll throw him in the dryer. Thanks for not sending me away to school as a total idiot.”

AHHHH! Giant mom tears roll slowly down my cheek. There is an unfamiliar clenching in my throat. Where is my medal?!?!?

My kids, all five of them, have always done chores. And over the years, I’ve had many moms ask me ‘how’ I manage this. “How do you keep your house so clean with five kids?” “OMG, you only have the one bathroom? Where’s all the stuff?”

Really, friends. You know me. So you know it’s not me doing all the cleaning. It’s my kids. And I’m beginning to understand that there are more than a few of you who would like to know how I still manage to get five teenagers – okay, one just turned 20, but it’s close enough – to help around the house without so much as a heavy sigh. Here’s my best advice….

Start early. Seriously, I’m talking 6 months old. Babies first toy should be some blocks and a shoe box. “Okay, sweetie, yes! Block in box! YAY!!” Child with broomNobody goes anywhere, bed, play, dinner, until all toys are thrown back into the toy box. Yes, let’s learn how to throw a dinky car across the room and hit the bucket – after all, serious basketball skills could end up being your retirement plan. Make a game of it. Put on some music. When he’s ready to walk, don’t let him hang on to the table; give him a broom! Much more developmentally challenging. Tall enough to see over the top of the washer is tall enough to do her own laundry. If she can get herself a drink of water – even with a step stool – she’s old enough to learn how to wash dishes. Seriously, don’t underestimate your kids!

Be persistent. This is key. I know it’s hard to keep repeating the same thing over and over, day after day, year after year, kid after kid. On the plus side, I now hear the older ones spouting off things like, “We never leave an empty roll of toilet paper for the next person!” to younger siblings. This pays off in the end. Trust me. Don’t give in. Don’t give up. Not for a day. Not for a moment. The smallest crack in your armour can be turned into a pothole in a flash by one smart-ass kid. Then watch how fast he can take the others with him. Much easier to stick with the plan than to get it back on track.

Respect and explain. I’m not talking about, “Johnny, do the dishes please. Johnny, please do the dishes. Johnny, the dishes need to be done. Johnny did you hear Mommy? Johnny? Hey! Did Johnny just slam front door?!!” Oooh, there is nothing that grates my nerves more than parents pleading and bargaining with their kids. By respect, I mean simply telling your kids what needs to be done and standing over them until they do it. We don’t make up things for them to do. We don’t make it harder for them. We explain. The bathroom needs to be cleaned regularly, or it will stink and grow mold and we will get sick. Leave it clean for the next person. This is how and why we do each and every one of these chores. I am a firm believer that people are far more compliant to an unsavoury situation when they understand why. Kids are no different. “I know you don’t like it. Neither do I. But that doesn’t change the fact that it needs to be done.”

My successful chore chart - click on it for a downloadable PDF version!

My successful chore chart – click on it for a downloadable PDF version!

Find a plan that works. But be prepared to change it. Regularly. A plan that works when your kids are 5 and 7 won’t hold a lick when they’re 14 and 16. Job jars, reward plans, calendars, time sheets, bonus points – whatever works for your family.

Use it. If it doesn’t work, get rid of it and try something else. There’s no shortage of great ideas online. My best success came from the fridge magnet chore chart. Each kid has a colour-coded magnet – the two youngest shared one – and the magnets rotate around the schedule every Monday. The first few weeks were iffy. The kids who didn’t have to clean the bathroom left it in shambles for the one who did. By the time the last kid got bathroom duty, even the toilet was spotless all week as they all learned how much work/pride goes into a clean bathroom. I, myself, have not cleaned a loo in over 20 years…

And last, but most importantly,

mom with wineSit down. Yes, this is the Golden Rule of child-rearing. Mom, grab a coffee, a magazine, a glass of wine, a romance novel, and sit your tired ass down. I learned a long time ago that my pitying my kids does not help them. My doing everything for them does not increase their competence on any level at all. I am the coach, the foreman, the director. I am there, present, available. But I don’t actually do the work. No child can clean his bedroom by himself – even up to 16/17 years old. They all let their rooms fall into ‘disaster area’ status, then they have no idea where to start. (You certainly cannot send an 8-year-old to his room to clean it and expect any sign of success.) Instead, from about age 4, pull up a chair and instruct. Put on some music, prepare some snacks – only time the kids are allowed to eat in their bedrooms, supervised, planned, and they can’t get away! – and direct the begat in the process of the cleaning. Collect the dirty laundry – perhaps you hold on the hamper while you point and she picks up. Next comes garbage. You hold the bag, he gets better at throwing. Sort through stuff – maybe even make a special trip to the dollar store for some hangers or bins to make the process a little more special. At the end of the day, you’ve spent some serious quality time with said child, had some fun, made some memories, taught a lesson, relaxed a bit, and ended up with goal accomplished – one clean bedroom. Accept that this will happen again and again X #of children. But these days, my kids will ask for this help, not so much for the help, but for the company. A very worthwhile investment.

Sure, sometimes it’s just easier to move the kid out of the way and get ‘er done. But in the long run, that’s not the easier thing to do. Remember the big picture. The end goal. Everybody, ready, responsible, and out of my house!! In the end, it’s all about the empty nest…

So moms, share your wisdom; what’s the best idea you’ve found to get your kids to pitch in?