My Children, My Chore

An artist’s rendering of the girls.

Online source, modified by me

My kids are spoiled, entitled, lazy, brats.  And it’s our fault.  Despite the fact that we say no, put our foot down, and don’t allow them to get away with shit, we’ve still managed to foster an environment in which one minute our children will be complete angels, and in the next they will be complete and total assholes. (I will say to be fair to Zoë, she does have Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which I’m sure half of you will say is a made up disorder that is simply the easy way out from disciplining my child. To you I say, Bwahahahahahahaha! Oh, shit; you’re adorable!)
One of the ways in which this lazy brattyness manifests itself is through whining over chores. We have told the girls to help by cleaning their rooms, the living room, the basement where they have their playroom, emptying the dishwasher, feeding the cats, and putting away their clean clothes, but not with any regularity. On the rare occasion they follow through without the wailing and gnashing of teeth, but their marching orders are usually met with stomping, screaming, “Why do I have to do everything?”, (a personal favorite) and whining at a pitch that makes me surprised that the words “Some Pig” aren’t woven into a spider’s web at the tops of their door frames. These reactions are increased ten-fold if we have told them to turn off a screen in order to carry out these chores, at which time their screen privileges are threatened, and they shut the fuck up for awhile.  If the task involves cleaning a room, they will stand in the middle of the room, survey the damage, and then suddenly forget what anything they own looks like. Furthermore, they will flail about because they have temporarily lost the use of their arms and hands. The force of gravity will increase on their butts, and we will find them playing 10 minutes later, often having made the mess worse. When they are discovered by Mike or me, they will immediately jump up and plead for their lives by saying, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I got distracted!” Oftentimes, one will throw the other under the bus and say that it was their sister who had distracted them. It is also at this time that they will take the opportunity to ask for a snack, because they are absolutely dying of hunger. They, having done nothing and it having only been 10 minutes, are denied their request. This will set off a great and deep wail of hunger, in which they writhe around on the floor as though they are dying from demon possession. They are told that the sooner they finish, the sooner they can eat.

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This process goes on loop for the next 1-3 hours, depending on who gives up first. Sometimes I stay with them to help them stay on task and, lo and behold, Rachael is able to remember that books do indeed belong on bookshelves. Sometimes I end up cleaning it up with them or for them because it’s easier and less exhausting than keeping them on task and yelling at them. And sometimes we hear them playing upstairs together nicely for the first time all weekend, and decide that’s more important that following through on being able to see carpet to walk upon.
And then, I had this amazing idea! I put my psychology degree to use and thought, What if we created a set list of chores for the girls to complete on a regular basis, for which they receive monetary reinforcement upon completion each week? I’ll call it, a Chore Chart! I can’t believe no one has thought of this before! I’ll take it to all the parenting magazines and blogs! It will revolutionize parenting and how children learn responsibility!

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…………………………………….. Ahem.

So far, Rachael’s like, Fuck yeah, I’ll do chores for money with a good attitude! We’ve tried rewards for chores before, money and candy, but I guess having it laid out for her helps Rachael understand and value what she can earn and how she can earn it.

Image via Pinterest

Zoë, on the other hand, took a lot of convincing. Once she understood that she would be saving money and be able to buy things she wanted that mommy and daddy didn’t want to buy with their own money, she thought it was awesome! However, when it came time to actually do said chores, I would have preferred my chances with an angry gorilla. Zoë’s funny, (in this case, funny uh oh) in that when she decides that she wants to do something, she’s a fantastic helper! She will actually do a good job of cleaning her room by herself, (sometimes of her own volition) if she’s in a good, amenable mood. When she’s not, there is no positive reinforcement, no bribe, no negative reinforcement, nor any punishment in the world that will move her to do what you want her to do. You could offer her a kitten party, on the beach, with all the ice cream and lemonade in the world, followed by a week at Disney World if she would just put away her clean clothes, and she would tell you, Yes, please! I would love all those things so very much, BUT I’LL NEVER, NEVER PUT AWAY MY CLOTHES BECAUSE I HATE HATE HATE IT SO MUCH! The way I managed to get her to put away her clothes yesterday was by staying with her and naming an animal for each letter of the alphabet for each item she put away. 27 items took around 90 minutes. She made up an extra letter called ölazella, and it makes the “biz” sound. No, I didn’t have anything else to do. Why do you ask?

I feel like I did have a small bit of genius by making weekly bonuses available. Each child will earn an additional 25 cents for each room if their bedroom, living room, and basement does not require cleaning at the end of the week. Each child will earn an additional 25 cents each week for a good attitude about their chores. This means that they do their chores without having to be asked or do not complain or have to be told multiple times to do their chores. Rachael suddenly became very eager to do all the household chores, including those which were not assigned to her.

So we’ll see if this helps with the lazy brat attitude. It already helped me this weekend; the kitchen stayed cleaner because Rachael stayed on top of unloading the dishwasher. This intervention is long overdue. I actually apologized to the girls this weekend for having a part in creating their shitty attitudes, right before making sure they understood that that doesn’t excuse their shitty behavior. In the meantime, maybe I should make a parenting chart for Mike and me. Gold stars for not giving in to girls’ whining! Rainbows for following through on punishments! Laser cats for less screen time!

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And….They’re Off!

   

Our school year has finally begun!  And not a moment too soon, I think.  I had a difficult time doing much of anything this summer for some reason.  Mike had a hard time picking up the slack because he was under extreme stress from work and worry for the health of his parents.  So the girls had a massively high level of cabin fever and were ready to be among their own people, having recess and music, art and STEAM.  Even if it meant homework and getting up early on purpose.  
 

Our geeklet

Rachael is in 3rd grade, which is insane, and I refuse to accept it.  She’s approaching tweendom, with the rolling of the eyes, the annoyed attitude, and the noticing of boys.  After Back to School Night and Open House, I was a bit concerned over whether Rachael would have a good year.  And by a bit concerned, I mean I was kind of panicking and burst into an ugly cry after we got the girls into bed that night.  I had heard that third grade was a big jump from second grade, but after her teacher’s presentation all I could think was, Oh my god!  This is where the magic of learning comes to die.  I was also completely turned off when her teacher announced that there was no excuse for failing to complete the homework for each night.  After all, if she can teach all day and take classes at night to earn her doctorate, then our families are certainly able to ensure that our children complete their homework.  Look, I don’t have a problem with insisting on homework completion; that’s not the issue here.  Her seemingly myopic view of reality, in which she seemed to preemptively take offense at the notion that we all don’t have our shit together, (because she has hers together) just gets my back up.  Believe it or not, it is actually rather hard to squeeze in time for homework when you only have four hours to do a combination of the following: have a snack and recover from your day; spend time in time out for rolling eyes at mom/talking and/or screaming back; any after-school clubs and activities; dance class; dinner; chores; parents can’t help you read a word in your homework because your younger sister is having a complete meltdown; shower; read before bed.  But, I’m trying to let it go, (obviously, because I’m blogging about it) and hope that this is just a case of a not so great first impression.  Rachael seems to really like her. Also, they’re going to be studying rocks and soil this year, which is totally in Rachael’s wheelhouse, especially after just having gone to geology camp a couple of weeks ago.

I also hope that Rachael will work at establishing some more friendships this year.  Rachael is such a shy introvert that, prior to this year, she’s really only put her time and effort into her one best friend.  Unfortunately, her best friend is going to the gifted and talented elementary school this year.  Rachael will still see and play with her, as they just live around the corner.  She complained last year of feeling lonely.  I have explained to her over and over again that it’s fine to be an introvert, but if you want someone to be friends and want to play with you, you have to put in the effort now.  You actually have to speak to people and try to engage with them.  I asked her if she played with anyone at recess yesterday.  She said no, she did her own thing.  “But, I talked with people at lunch and at my table in class.  Happy?”  This morning, I introduced her to the older brother of Zoë’s new kindergarten best friend.  He is also in third grade, and doesn’t know many people because he has been homeschooled prior to this year.  I figured, he needs a new friend, she needs a new friend, win win win.  Right?  Guys, if the scowls little girls give could kill, I wouldn’t be typing this.  

A little anxious, but ready to go!

In the days leading up to the first day of school, I had never seen Zoë so anxious about anything.  Maybe because it was one of the few times when she managed to put her fears into words, rather than simply acting out.  Oddly enough, she was really focused on worry over not being able to operate the computers and their programs correctly.  I think she felt a bit of relief once we met her teachers and saw her classroom.  Fun fact: although she has a teacher who is new to the school, it’s the same classroom Rachael was in for kindergarten and the same assistant teacher!  I’m thankful for the teacher Zoë has.  She’s been teaching for 20 years, holds degrees in both general and special education, and has four children of her own.  So, just like the Femputer on Futurama, she know what do.  There will be an additional special education teacher in the room to assist Zoë.  While Zoë is fine, academically, for kindergarten, she does have an IEP for ADHD and the social behavioral issues which stem from that disorder.  So we feel like she’s in really good hands and feel good about our decision to send her on to kindergarten.

It was exciting on Back to School Night to find out that a friend from Zoë’s preschool class would be in her class this year!  Zoë was also introduced to another little girl by her teacher that night who, lo and behold, we found at our bus stop yesterday!  They were so excited to see each other!  I know it made Zoë’s apprehensiveness, with regard to riding the bus, lower just a bit.  Once the bus came, Zoë knew the drill and dutifully walked toward the bus steps.  I practically had to grab her in order to kiss her goodbye because she was so focused on her mission.  At the bottom of the steps, she paused and looked up at the driver hesitantly.  With some gentle encouragement from the driver, Zoë almost literally climbed those huge bus steps.  Mike and I watched Zoë and her friend as they tried to figure out where they should sit, finally settling on the seat behind the driver.  And, in all the chaos and focusing on Zoë, Mike and I failed as parents and accidentally didn’t say goodbye to Rachael.  I made sure to give her extra hugs and attention when they got home.

Zoë was exhausted when she came home.  She had had a great first day of kindergarten!  She was terribly excited to have gone to the library and checked out her first book, Silverlicious.  (Okay, I like the Pinkalicious series, but can we all agree that Pinkalicious is a giant brat, and it’s probably because her parents never seem to punish her for bad behavior?)  The class took a tour of the school, under the pretense of looking for the mouse from, If You Bring a Mouse to School.  Zoë giggled as she showed me the movements they learned during the movement activities her class did, forming a potato with her arms over her head, and then peeling the potato one arm at a time.  She made a fish tail with her hands on her lower back and wiggled her toush, demonstrating how the students maintain their personal space in line.  As Zoë chattered on and on about the things they did at school, her new best friend from class and the bus stop, and how she wanted to make a pretend school classroom of her own, it was clear that her anxiety about kindergarten had been dropped on the ground and left behind.  After all, she had better things to do.

Mike told them to make a silly face.

Maybe Mommy Should Have a Time Out

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Image via Shutterstock

I’m sure that my mornings are no different than anyone else who has kids in school. They are stressful, hurried, and full of yelling. My girls and I have an arrangement: they give me reasons to lose my temper and I, in exchange, give them plenty of material for when they’re in therapy as adults. While the specific material varies, the skeleton of each morning’s script remains the same. Since we rehearse this almost every morning, I’m fairly confident that we could make a good showing on Broadway.

Off stage: Rachael plays with her sister, rather than brushing her teeth and getting dressed. Mother enters, stage left, and finds that Rachael is just now taking off her pajamas.
Mom: Why are you just now getting undressed?
Rachael: Zoë distracted me!

Zoë pulls her heart blanket from the hamper. It needs to be washed because she spilled nail polish on it and was treated with acetone. Mom takes blanket away. Zoë has a meltdown.

Zoë visits Rachael while she is supposed to be brushing her teeth. Rachael chats with Zoë. Mom yells from off stage.
Mom: Rachael, stop talking and brush your teeth!
Rachael: I am!

Zoë runs away and refuses to following instructions. Mom is helpless, as she is on the toilet. Mom commences pointless yelling.

Rachael has a difficult time putting on her socks. Mom grabs socks and puts them on Rachael’s feet.
Mom: If you were paying attention, you wouldn’t have so much trouble.
Rachael: I was paying attention out of the corner of my eye!

On the way to the bus stop, Zoë squats and declares that her shoes hurt too much. Her posture resembles that of a donkey that has refused to move.

Zoë refuses to remove her hat and coat upon returning home.
Mom: Zoë! Now! One…
Zoë: Two…..

And, scene.

I tend to lose my patience easily, especially when it’s the same bullshit day after day. I could honestly pre-record the top ten things I yell and go to a spa; it would be as equally effective. I do need to find a way of controlling my temper. Not just for them, but for me as well. With fibromyalgia, my body feels the stress and anger. Most people experience increased heart rate, blood pressure, tension, and quickened respiration. I experience all those things too, but the stress manifests itself within my muscles. My skin. My bones. Even though regular body responses have returned to normal, the skin in my right arm is still on fire. Sometimes it means that muscles in my legs will begin to feel as though they are being stabbed, making it difficult to walk. Pain that tingles and rips through my chest used to worry me that I was having a heart attack. Now I know that my chest is just pitching a fit because I’m upset. My favorite, though, is when I think I doing alright and have come back down, but sudden numbness, tingling, and burning in my face informs me otherwise. Even while writing this post, I realize that my body believes me to be a cunt for stressing it out, and so is giving me all those things at once.
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Image via film, Camp Takota

I don’t have any great solutions or wisdom to impart to other parents facing the same problem. If I did, I’d bottle that shit, charge $75, and get a book deal out of it. I suppose that I just wanted to commiserate with my fellow Spoonies and to share with others what it’s like for me and others like me. It really is best to remain as calm as possible in order to avoid pain flares. Oh, and I guess it’s important not to damage your child’s little spirit. When you’re unable to maintain control, then you end up like my girls and I this morning- girls crying because their mom lost it and said that, with as much as I yell, the neighbors are going to call social services and take the girls away. Damaged spirit: check! Mom, knowing she’s gone too far, apologizing and hugging her girls close, telling them that no one’s taking them away. Mom, still in pain hours later because she lost her temper and was a complete and horrible asshole toward her children.

Some work and some play

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Image source

Over the weekend my friends and I agreed that we all have had the same dream at one time or another. They all involved some form of needing to return to high school or college because we had not actually graduated. In my dreams, it’s usually because I need to take a math class or an English class taught by one of my former English teachers. The only thing she and I had in common was contempt for one another. My best friend, Beth, and I would sometimes skip class and go shopping instead. I have great memories of trying on prom dresses at Bloomingdales, hiking up the skirts and pretending to run down the beach, imitating an Elizabeth Hurley commercial that was out at the time. I’m sure the clerks loved us.

Anyway….

Since homework began for Rachael about a month ago, it has felt like I actually am back in school. Rachael generally doesn’t have difficulty with understanding the work. Although, when she does, I can’t help but feel like this is actually the pop quiz my teachers warned me about. I am relieved to find that Rachael doesn’t receive an inordinate amount of homework, like in the horror stories we all hear. Still, the small amount of work she does receive has caused a big change in how we spend the precious few hours between coming home from school and bedtime. The addition of an after-school Spanish class once a week has stolen more time and, seemingly, more energy from my little 6 year old. (Thankfully, she loves the Spanish class.) It seems, now, we are spending afternoons completing homework within the sludge of exhaustion, (both she and I.) Words on the pages of the books she reads become jumbled and blurry because of tired tears.
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Mike and I have wondered what we can do to make everything easier on her. I let her take breaks when the frustrated screams burst out of her. I do my best to maintain patience and, what Mike calls, an “NPR voice”. Last week we had Rachael go to bed earlier and had her take some quiet resting time in her room. But this morning, I had a realization: Rachael isn’t getting enough play time during the week. Recess is a paltry 20 minutes and she only gets choice time on Fridays. She has PE, but we non-athletes know that PE is A) not free, imaginative play, and B) pretty stressful when you’re being forced to do things you don’t have the ability to do, (I’m looking at you, Presidential Fitness testing!) She no longer has time to play with friends after school. So she’s left with whatever she can squeeze in between homework, dinner, and bed.

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Is it any wonder that she has become a little red-headed ball of cranky melancholy during the week? Not only is she not getting time to just be Rachael and have fun, she’s not getting a chance to have much of a cognitive dump during her waking hours. Free play allows kids to tap into different brain centers and let the others take a break. It gives them a chance to work out problems they encounter at school. Free play builds the bonds of friendship and teaches kids how to be empathetic. Most importantly, I think, is that it doesn’t require anything of them. They don’t necessarily have to be “good” boys and girls. They don’t have to be quiet, still, and focused. Rather than following instructions, they make the rules of their imaginary world or choice of play. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by all the information with which they are inundated, (as Rachael has expressed to me) they have a chance to exert control in their world.

So I think, this week, my homework will be to protect the sacredness of playtime. Now is the time that precedent and expectations are set. Rachael needs to know that, while education and hard work are important, so too are fun, creativity, and a chance to just be. The last thing I want to do is inadvertently communicate to her that this will be the rest of her life- work, stress, and no free time, with no time for things like reading for pleasure, playing games, and self-care. Perhaps if we all begin valuing play time a little more, it will infiltrate the “real world” and press a reset button for our priorities. Learning this has been infinitely more valuable than knowing the cosine of an angle or how to do a pull up while eeeeeeeeeeeverybody watches you. Seriously, Schwarzenegger, what the fuck?

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Tell Tales: A great game for spoonies and their kids

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Rachael has always liked making up stories. Lately, Zoë has fallen in love with it, too. In particular, she has become enamored with fairy tales ever since Mike made up a story for her one night before bed. Princess Zoë not only saved Prince Stuart from the dragon, also named Stuart, she also engaged in diplomacy with extremely large beavers whose dam was preventing water from getting to her palace garden.

So I’m glad that we gave Rachael Blue Orange’s Tell Tale Fairy Tales game for Christmas. The girls are able to make up stories based on the pictures: a pirate ship; a fire-breathing dragon; a magic carpet; a woodland cottage, just to name a few. They can sit quietly and insert themselves into their own traditional fairy tale. Or they can play together, layering pieces of the story on top of one another, making each and every story unique.
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What’s great about this game is that it’s also an easy game for us spoonie parents to play with our kids. All it really requires is that you be conscious and are able to open your eyes long enough to see which card you have to play next. Yesterday I laid on the couch while Zoë and Rachael sat across the table, and we wove fun, quirky stories together. I loved hearing their imaginations at work. It was wonderful for them to be excited about something other than tv and that I was able to engage with them without having to exert energy I didn’t have. I always feel guilty for having to say I can’t when they ask me to play. Fortunately, with this game, I won’t have to say no nearly so often.

Models off the runway

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Image source

I often catch myself beginning to say, or actually saying, something negative about my body in front of my girls. I make a conscious and concerted effort not to, but every once in awhile, something will slip out. You see, I don’t want to pass on a negative body image and stereotypes to my girls. Yes, they’re going to be getting it everywhere else as they grow up. That makes it all the more important for me to be a refuge from our culture’s body standards lunacy. I’m the one who is going to set the tone for the rest of their lives on what is and isn’t important about themselves. If they see or hear me being neurotically concerned about what I look like, they’re going to learn and model that behavior as well.

This has become even more difficult with the onset of my fibro. Medicines make me gain weight without any change in my diet. They make me extra hungry, too. They make my skin break out. Fibro makes it difficult to exercise at all, let alone in any way that would actually change my weight or muscle tone.

So, I’ve been working on that, for myself and my daughters. My friend, Megan, over at Megmess articulated all of this perfectly. I had been thinking about all of this lately, and then she hits me with this perfect post. It very pointedly asks the question, How can I teach confidence to my daughter when I don’t have any myself?

I do want to note, that I think this is also important behavior to model for boys, too. It’s important, especially in the sort of rape culture we live in, to not reduce ourselves to our bodies and the way they look. The last thing we want to teach our children is that we are only valuable if we have perky breasts, flat stomachs, and thigh gaps.

What do you do to model confidence for your children? What, if any, impact has chronic illness had on your self-confidence? Have you found a way to fight back against low self-confidence?

Homemade gingerbread houses

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Yesterday and today have been snow days for Rachael. We had sleet and freezing rain on Monday and a couple of inches of snow that hit during rush hour today. Since the government is closed, Mike is working from home. So we were able to all go outside as a family and play in the snow for a bit.
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They named him Olaf.
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I am unbelievably sore from playing outside. It was not helped by the fact that Mike tackled me to the ground during a snowball fight. Yes. He tackled the woman with fibromyalgia to the ground.

I decided that yesterday and today would be perfect days to make gingerbread houses with the girls. I wanted to make them from scratch, rather than using a store bought kit, for a few reasons.
1) Store bought kits can be really expensive.
2) The “gingerbread” in the kits is stale and gross.
3) The candy in the kits can be stale, too.
4) The pouch the icing comes in is really difficult to use.
5) A kit a friend bought ended up having a couple of maggots crawling inside the box. Just..eww.

Now, I’m not going to lie and say this process is quick and easy. If you really just don’t care about eating the house and want to make the house in quick order, (although putting together a kit isn’t a super fast process either) then just get a kit. But if you want to inhale the wonderful warm smell of orange and spices as you assemble your house, knowing that you’ll have a fantastic snack for later, a Christmas party centerpiece, or even a gift, this is for you.
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It’s a Christmas-themed snack.

Gingerbread

Ingredients

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 2/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp + a tiny pinch kosher salt

2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup dark molasses
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

Sift together into a separate bowl the dry ingredients, flour through salt. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, molasses, and orange juice. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, and orange zest. Beat until smooth and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.

Mixing on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Scrape the bowl to fully, making sure to check the bottom of the bowl, as necessary. Add the molasses mixture to the bowl. Mix until all ingredients are fully integrated, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary.
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Divide batter in half and wrap each portion in plastic wrap. Try to make the batter uniform, patting it into a flat disc. Refrigerate for one hour.
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Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Take out one portion of dough from the refrigerator at a time. Flour a clean surface and knead some flour into your dough. When you take the dough out of the fridge, it will be firm, but still wet. Kneading some flour into the dough will make it manageable when you cut out your pieces and lift them off of the counter. Roll out the dough to approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. (The thicker the dough, the more difficult it will be to bake it uniformly and use for assembly.) Cut your pieces using a sharp knife with a smooth blade. I used these templates from Martha Stewart’s website: 1 and 2. Use a metal spatula to lift the pieces. If the dough is really wet and not coming off of your rolling surface easily, knead more flour into your dough and try rolling out your dough again.

Bake your pieces at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown. Smaller pieces will only need 8 minutes, while larger pieces may need 10+ minutes. If the middle of your large piece still feels extra soft to the touch, it may need some more time. Once out of the oven, allow your cookie sheets to cool on racks for about 5 minutes. Transfer pieces to cooling racks to cool completely. The larger pieces will be fragile, and require the use of a very large spatula, (I used a pancake spatula) for the transfer.

So, you’re going to need some glue to hold this all together. Enter royal icing. It’s super simple to make.

Royal Icing

Ingredients

4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 Tbsp meringue powder
5 Tbsp water, plus more for thinning

Combine the ingredients in your mixing bowl, fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low for 5-7 minutes, until the icing is no longer shiny. At this point, your icing is going to be too stiff for decorating. Add a small amount of water, about a teaspoon at a time, until you are able to pipe it through a piping bag and tip. If you add too much water, add more sifted powdered sugar to thicken it back up. When not in use, keep the icing covered in a air-tight container. If the icing is already in a bag, wrap the tip with a damp paper towel and place the bag in an air-tight container. The icing will keep on the counter for 1-2 weeks. If you want a color other than white, you can tint it with gel food coloring. Liquid food coloring will thin the icing out.

Assembly

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You’ll need to pipe a line of icing and settle the front piece into the icing. Have a can ready to keep your pieces standing until the icing hardens. Allow the bottom pieces to set before attaching the roof pieces. Use your candy of choice to decorate, using the royal icing as glue.

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Gingerbread recipe adapted from Alex Guarnaschelli, Food Network.
Royal icing from Annie’s Eats.