How Not to Be Late for School

On the boys’ last report card, we were reminded of our family’s dismal record at getting to school on time.

It’s embarrassing.

After a humiliating recent meeting with the school principal, who wanted to discuss strategies for combating lateness, we decided that come hell or high water, we’d start getting them there before the first bell.  Except for one morning when we were truly late for reasons beyond our control (can you say TTC breakdown?) we’ve been pretty good at being on time. But mornings in our house are, in a word, stressful. Too much yelling! Cajoling! Threats!

And that’s just what the kids say to each other.

We’re looking for a better way. There’s no worse start to the day than one where everyone feels pushed around (children AND adults!) and grumpy because of it.  In our defence, we have a morning plan and a system which has the potential to work well. We’re rarely held up by something so simple as a missed trip permission form or a lack of recess snacks. We have that all figured out.  We’re late usually for one of two reasons:

(a) someone’s slow to move, easily distracted from the task of getting ready, and just plain uncooperative; or

(b) something big pops up and needs to be tended to, like the need to use the washroom. Or test anxiety. Or an existential crisis.

Usually, it’s the former that trips us up, though you’d be surprised how often it’s column (b).

Enter Alyson Shafer’s book, Ain’t Misbehavin. She suggests that morning dawdling is just a form of passive power struggle. The more parents dig in our heels, the more kids resist, so we all need to stop digging. She provides a three step plan and some quick hints on how to put that plan into practice. Unlike some of the other strategies, this one’s meant to be implemented over the course of a week or so, which would have been fine, except the primary dawdler of the family was home sick all week, which meant our morning routine this week was totally different than usual.  So using Shafer’s plan, I’ve been looking at how we can make our current routine less stressful:

  • step one: make a morning plan WITH the kids.

Shafer suggests holding a family meeting to discuss that mornings are not working well, and to ask for input as to how mornings can be better. We’ve done that. And re-done it. I don’t think this is our problem. The boys understand that it’s their responsibility to get themselves ready in the morning. Ask them, and they will tell you the order that things are to be accomplished in the morning, based on a list they themselves made. It’s just that somewhere between step two (get dressed) and step four (brush teeth) is a gaping chasm of distractabilty into which both of them fall on a regular basis.

  • step two: Take Time for Training (TTFT).

Allowing children to do those things they can do for themselves leads to autonomy and mastery. Though she doesn’t specifically say it, consistent with Adler philosophy, I’m assuming that taking a hands-off approach respects the child’s authority to control their own actions. . Here, we could probably make some progress. The eldest is quite capable of getting himself dressed, making his breakfast, brushing his teeth and, assuming he doesn’t pick a fight with the youngest somewhere along the way, is pretty quick about it. The youngest? Not so much. He knows what to do, but I’m convinced he just. Chooses. Not. To. (Hmm. Power struggle, anyone?) So we nag and plead, until out of frustration we end up doing everything from putting toothpaste on his toothbrush to pouring his milk. I think we can change that.

  • step three: Plan to be late.

Oh oh. Since it takes a while to get a plan underway, she suggest building in a buffer to allow for the inevitable bumps along the road to a new way of doing things. Except, I think we’ve exhausted all our good will. There’s no leeway on time, so I guess this means we’re getting up even earlier to make this come to pass.

With this plan in mind, Shafer reminds us that to be successful, we need to resist “urging, insisting and micromanaging”. Instead, she suggests that we go about our own business, stepping in to offer help when and where it is needed, holding the child accountable for getting their own stuff done. If they’re flailing around on the floor, assume they don’t need your help and get on with your own routine. This works apparently for things like brushing teeth and getting dressed. Doing less, and doing it without anger or manipulation, is meant to encourage confidence and self-autonomy in your child.

So that’s the plan. And other than the fact that I think we do an awful lot of nagging, and we truly are lousy when it comes to doing things for the youngest, I’m not sure that we haven’t implemented this plan on our own in the past. So I’m thinking of specific situations where we can apply her principles:

  1. breakfast. I’m a stickler for breakfast, and happen to have two children who (like their mother) lose all ability to reason (read also: become more stubborn and less likely to be cooperative) when they’re hungry. Success in the morning hinges on getting breakfast in to bellies, stat. But it takes forever for them from upstairs to the kitchen. Shafer suggests that we set out breakfast, call “breakfast time!” and go about eating our own. A parent’s job is to put food on the table; it’s a child’s job to eat it. If need be, set a timer, and clear away breakfast when time’s up. Hunger will ultimately win out over whatever else is motivating them to dawdle. As Shafer says “You have to prove you’re not invested in what choices or decisions they make for themselves regarding breakfast”. While I like this idea in theory, I’m dreading it in practice. One missed breakfast won’t hurt either of them, but did I ever tell you about the time in kindergarten that Daniel ended up in the principal’s office sobbing because he was just so hungry? And this was AFTER he ate breakfast…
  2. the getting on of coats. I’m convinced there’s a black hole in our front hall which sucks up all available extra time in the morning. Shafer’s advice is simple: once YOUR coat is on, announce that you’re ready to go. Then go. Get in the car. Wait outside. Keep moving without fighting. It may take them some time, but ultimately they’ll come along. By leaving the scene, you’re no longer providing them with an audience for whatever display of stubbornness they’re intent on demonstrating.

Right. I tried this once, inadvertently. I went out to shovel snow after asking them to get their coats on and meet me outside. Ten minutes later I found them having a light-sabre duel on the living room couch.

Needless to say, we were late that day.

So will it work? I think the key is recognizing that children have as much responsibility as do adults  in getting themselves ready. If I’m taking anything from this, it’s the idea that by NOT micromanaging, we might have better success than we’re having now. And if we can do that without anger or validating the power struggle, we’ll be better off. I’ll try it, and we’ll see.

In the meantime, I’ve got to get to bed. I need to be up early.

If you would like the chance to win a copy of the book, please leave us a comment any day this week letting us know. The competition ends at midnight on Friday, April 22. We will draw for and announce the winner on Saturday, April 23, and Mom Central will mail out a copy of the book to the winner after April 30th.

Disclosure – We are participating in the Ain’t Misbehavin’ program by Mom Central on behalf of Wiley Publishing. We received a copy of the book to review and gift card as a thank you for our participation. The opinions on this blog are our own.

Statistics

It’s not bad enough that my husband and I have never seen the Leafs win the Stanley Cup. Neither of us had yet been born the last time they won.

But our boys? They have no recollection of the Leafs ever making the playoffs. The Playoffs! To them, the Leafs’ season has always ended in April.

It is to weep.  Clearly hope dies last, because even last night, the four of us crawled into bed to watch last night’s game, clinging by the edges of our fingernails to the hope that, somehow, the stars might align, the Leafs might win, Buffalo might lose, and pigs might fly.

All of this, statistically and realistically impossible.

So Peter and I will hang our jerseys in the closet for another summer. I might, possibly, now that the Leafs are out, again, acquire a Canucks t-shirt. It’s not quite the same, but it will have to do. Maybe.

But the boys? They’re not defeated. Having never experienced a Leaf playoff game, they’ve yet to experience true disappointment .  When told that tonight’s result meant the end of the Leafs’ season, they were only concerned with one big, pressing question:

“Is the Jays game still on?”

The Mom Cave – Like a Man Cave, With Scented Candles

 

That'll do. Thanks.

Last Monday the Globe and Mail’s Hot Button Blog ran a post on “Mom Caves” which they call the answer to the “Man Cave” phenomenon – instead of sports memorabilia and leather recliners, think cushy chairs, aromatic candles, and Sex and the City on repeat on the flat-screen TV. The best part? It’s all for you, mom, and there are no, I repeat, no sticky, unidentifiable crumbs anywhere (unless, of course, you’ve left them there yourself).

It turns out, the concept of the “mom cave” is one of the hottest trends in decorating. The brainchild of New York-based designer Elaine Griffin (with a little help from U.S. home decorating store Home Goods, otherwise known as Home Sense in Canada). According to this article, the mom cave is the place where, says Griffin “the woman who nurtures everyone goes to nurture herself”. A mom cave, she submits, has “a place to sit, a place to store things, a place to work and a place to visit” although, the first rule of mom cave appears to be that entry by non-moms is by invitation only.  Your mom cave doesn’t have to be a separate room; it can be a corner, a nook — even the landing at the top of the stairs. But, it should allow for storage and a place to work because, says Griffin, “unlike men, women relax by doing things”.

Good idea? Shannon over at The Bad Moms Club responds by saying that a part of her thinks this is the best idea ever. Peace and quiet. Sunlight. Coldplay. And then, she says, “The other part of me snorts. Loudly.”

Loud snorts because, like so many of us, she’s barely got enough time to go to the bathroom by herself, let alone dedicate time (and, let’s face it, money, else Home Goods wouldn’t be involved) to decorating a room (or nook, or cranny, or niche) for use by only one person. For me, as much as I love the idea of having a room of my own (thank you, Virginia) there are already parts of my admittedly not-very-big house (no spare rooms, here) that I feel as if I rarely enter, if only because I’m too busy generally to enjoy them for their stated purpose (to wit: the room with the TV).

So, I’m torn.  I’d love my own office space, and I’d decorate it (or not, knowing me) as I see fit.  But I already spend enough time out of the house, so hiving off a separate space that is just “mine” seems unnecessarily indulgent. But what really rankles, is the idea that a woman’s personal space must be miniaturized, set apart from the business of the rest of the house.   Setting up a cute and fashionable (and, if you check out the Home Goods ad, awfully pink) nook in a corner isn’t quite, I fear, what Virginia Woolf had in mind. If this space is supposed to be where I go to recharge, why does the idea of it leave me feeling diminished?

Plus that, there’s a lock on the bathroom door. And I have candles, wine and books, all of which are much cheaper than redecorating.

Canadian Air and Space Museum

It used to be all about cars and trucks.  Then it was trains.  Now it’s airplanes.

Old-fashioned paper planes soar around the main floor of the house causing me to shriek, “Watch the baby!” about a gazillion times a day.  A remote control helicopter was a favourite birthday gift and is quickly becoming a Saturday morning play ritual with daddy.  And of course, Santa didn’t disappoint leaving a battery-powered hovercraft under the tree.

To say that the boys are deep into an “airplane stage” is probably a gross understatement.   To satisfy their love for all things aviation we headed over to The Canadian Air and Space Museum at Downsview Park.

I live about 15 minutes away and I didn’t even know that this gem existed!  The large hangar is home to several to-scale replica planes (including one of the Avro Arrow) and some are even the real deal.

Unlike other museums where I panic that we are going to be the new owners of a priceless Picasso, I wasn’t the least bit anxious when the boys, excited beyond words, ran from airplane to airplane.  Simple cord ropes keep the children back from the exhibit but many of the displays have metal, ladder-like stairs that children can climb in order to get a better view of the cockpit.

A cross-section of an Air Canada passenger jet is tons to fun to explore.  The boys eagerly took their seats and belted up, all the while flicking the tray in front of their seat up and down.

The highlight was sitting in the fighter jet.  The buttons!  Oh, the buttons!  If your kids are anything like my boys, they love pressing buttons and this dashboard is guaranteed to keep even the busiest of fingers occupied for a good five minutes!

What You Need To Know:

  • Admission is $11 per adult and children under 5 are free.
  • Parking is plentiful and free.
  • The hangar is spacious with lots to see but after a few hours you will find yourself ready to head home.
  • There is a flight simulator for older children (and grown-ups too!).
  • Definitely stroller friendly but washrooms are upstairs and no changetables were to be found (of course, I learned this the hard way and had to change an explosion diaper on the front seat of the car . . . in minus ten degree weather!).
  • Looking for some down time?  A quiet colouring station is the perfect place to unwind before packing in the car and heading home.
  • The only way to access the museum is to go through the gift shop, so be warned that this could result in lots of incredibly annoying begging polite requests for a keepsake.
  • I didn’t see food or drink for sale anywhere on the premise, so pack a snack (like your purse isn’t a sink hole of nibblies, crayons, hand sanitizer, Kleenex, etc. anyway).

Check it out!  Let me know if your kids enjoyed it as much as mine.

Do you have an aviation museum in your city?  Share with the rest of us . . .

 

When Bird Woke Up, He Was Grumpy

When Marcelle woke up, she was grumpier still.

We’re on day two of a project to convert our household of larks into early birds. It’s a new world for us: Peter has returned to school part-time and has new job that requires him to be out the door early. I’m trying to accommodate his schedule, the boys’ activities, and the demands of my job. All of this means that I’m trying to get up and out the door significantly earlier than I used to, and consequently, every one else is up early too.

So far, so good.  I’ve not yet bitten off the head of any of my colleagues.

The week is young, yet.

We’re really not morning people. Not one of us. If I were to give in to my own natural rhythm, I’d happily fall asleep at 3 a.m and wake at 10. I’m also a frequent insomniac. Over the Christmas holidays, the boys regularly stayed up until 10:30 (not entirely with our permission, granted) and slept until 10 am. It’s a pattern I’ve seen before. When the boys were babies, each of them transitioned from waking every two hours to waking every three hours to eventually settling into a pattern where they’d wake at around five to nurse and then happily doze for another four or five hours at a stretch. Their longest stretch of sleep, both of them, was usually at a time when most babies were dragging their exhausted parents out of bed for the day. It drove me crazy that our local parenting centre didn’t schedule any activities after 11 am, when my kids both were finally raring to go. Even now, we’re usually dragging their little tushes out of bed at the last possible second, both of them clutching their pillows, chanting my morning mantra: just five more minutes. Just five more minutes.

We live, perpetually, on Pacific Time.

It’s ironic that dawn is my favourite time of day, because I so rarely see it, unless I’ve just not yet made it to bed. This morning, as I set off to work, the sun was just barely pushing its light through the grey, snow dusted sky. I would happily have stayed out there longer, breathing in the damp air, feeling myself awaken to the day. But I had other priorities. As I squeezed myself onto a crowded subway car (so much busier than the one I usually take at 9:05) I wondered what in the world I’d gotten myself into, agreeing to join ranks with the worm eaters. Given my choice, I’ll take the cheese, myself.

On this night…

 



six years ago, I lay in a narrow bed in a room with three other pregnant women. I was 37 weeks pregnant, and being induced. My son had been diagnosed as intra-uterine growth restricted in my 22nd week. I’d been on bedrest for four weeks for signs of pre-term labour and to conserve my energy. As we understood, the placenta, that vital organ connecting him to me, was no longer working as it should. It was old before its time. Blood was no longer flowing freely between it and him, and it was time for him to arrive. To complicate matters, the hospital’s neonatal intensive care ward has been closed to new patients because of a Norwalk virus outbreak. If he is born too small, or if he requires intensive care, we have no idea where he will be sent. Out of town, certainly; out of country, quite possibly.

We try not to think about that, he and I. His father and I send him entreaties of love and plumpness. Mere ounces matter, now.

He was so quiet, curled inside me. So much quieter than his brother, the nocturnal acrobat. I gave my belly an occasional nudge. Occasionally, I got a nudge back: gentle, noncommittal. From the bed across from me, a colossal snore. From beside me, the hushed voices of a woman on the phone. I remember her, remember that her water had broken around her 26th week. Somehow, impossibly, she kept leaking fluid, but stayed pregnant, 27, 28, 29 weeks and onward.

The night trickles by. In a room with three other women, someone is always there — nurses checking blood pressure, fetal tones. One woman wears flip-flops; her cadence is distinctive: flipFLIPflop…flipFLIPflop. She is pregnant with twins and too weary to lift her feet so late at night. Be quiet, all of you. I want to scold. I have important work to do tomorrow. But arguing seems to require all the energy I’m trying to horde. I stay silent.

Morning arrives with the news we’ve dreaded. The NICU is still not open. My contractions are ramping up. He’ll be arriving today. My husband and I walk endless loops of the halls, down one side, out the other, until I proclaim that there is nothing I need more than to just lie down. Now. I ask for drugs; the uncertainty of the situation takes away my confidence. But the one bolus gives me all I need, and I settle into the rhythm of the contractions, feeling him slide down, descend. I hear the doctor ask me to reach down and touch my baby, find his head, but I’m concentrating on moving him out of me and my hands miss the mark, to much laughter. It is only then I realize that I’ve been joined by a cast of thousands: doctors, neonatologists, nurses. I welcome them to the party.

And then..another push, and he is born. He is yelling already. The doctor lays him on my chest momentarily, and I commit him to memory. He has his great-grandfather’s feet and my hands. And then, to be assessed and weighed. Possibly to be whisked away, but he is weighed again: someone had read the scale incorrectly. Someone has converted grams to ounces incorrectly, and my boy gains in stature at the stroke of a pen. Ounces matter.

Happy birthday, Sebastian, our little big guy.

Simple Gifts

With all of the hustle and bustle of the season, it’s easy to miss out on opportunities to share with our children the importance of giving. Here are a few simple ways your family can help others this holiday season:

  • Make a donation to your local food bank. Many grocery stores allow you to add a cash donation to your grocery bill, which allows food banks to buy food at wholesale prices and in bulk, maximizing your donation;
  • Donate a new, unwrapped toy, book or personal care item at your local shelter or fire hall. If you’re in the Toronto area, watch for donation boxes for the CP24 Chum Christmas Wish, or CTV Toy Mountain. Local agencies and organizations such as the Yonge Street Mission also accept donations which go to help families and children in need. Check with your local community center or house of worship for more ideas for how you can help in your community;
  • Donate your time. Volunteer to help out at your local community kitchen. Children over the age of eight can sort food at the Daily Bread Food Bank. Organize a food drive or toy drive at your child’s school or at your workplace;
  • Make your teacher appreciation gifts really count. Instead of mugs or chocolates, give your child’s teacher a Canada Gives Charity Gift Card in the denomination of your choosing, and let them make a donation to the charity of their choice.

If you’ve geared up for the holiday season already, consider heading out this weekend to Jake’s Gigantic Give, a fundraiser supporting Jacob’s Ladder, the Canadian Foundation for Control of Neurogenerative Disease. In this unique fundraiser, children visit the Giving Store, where they choose and create a gift to be donated to one of six Toronto- area charities chosen by Jacob’s Ladder. In return, they receive a gift, confirming that giving has its own rewards. Tickets are $25, (plus the cost of your choice of gift) and are available online.

** 4mothers1blog’s Beth-Anne is taking a well-earned and necessary break from blogging so there’s no At Issue post from her this week, but but she’ll be back next week with new posts.