Tuesday, June 27, 2006

"You've Been Very Naughty!"

Isn't the Supernanny great?

I don't watch much TV these days, but when I do sit down to rock my Baby Savage to sleep at night and flip on the tube, I am always happy to see the sweet face of the Supernanny looking back. Each week, she brings a new family back from the brink of destruction with a few simple ideas. At the end, the grateful families all tearfully sing her praises, raving about how she has changed their lives and taught them how to really enjoy their children.

Maybe she should come to my house.

Never mind, scratch that. If I really sat down and thought about it (like right now, for example) I could probably figure out for myself what the Supernanny would tell us to change.

Let's give it a go, shall we?

Okay, the first thing she always does is post a schedule. A predictable routine.

Now, right there we have a problem. I start out the day with a predictable routine, but it breaks down somewhere around breakfast.


I'm not kidding about this.

Here's how it's supposed to go: Uno gets up first. He's supposed to get dressed, make his bed, brush his teeth, feed the dog and practice the piano. The piano wakes me and the baby up and we do our morning routine too. By now Uno is done with piano and we get ready to go for a walk. At this point, Dos is getting up. He gets ready for a walk, and we all do the 2 mile loop around the neighborhood. Afterwards, we eat a nutritious breakfast and get to Uno's small amount of schoolwork. We break for a nutritious lunch, finish the schoolwork, wrap it up for the day. The kids play until dinner time, then we sit down to a nutritious dinner, have some family fun activity with Savageman, bathe, brush teeth and go off to bed with hugs and kisses.

I think this happened once. Sort of.

Here's what really happens: Uno gets up first. He gets dressed, sort of makes his bed, I hope brushes his teeth, and he heads downstairs and eats breakfast because he's hungry. He lets the dog out but forgets to feed him. While he's eating, he's bored so he puts on the TV or a book on tape. Baby Savage hears this and wakes up, sneaks out of my bed without waking me and joins him, opting for a bag of tortilla chips or microwave popcorn for breakfast, which he munches on the couch, making a crummy mess. When I finally wake up and realize that he's gone, I get up, make my bed, brush my teeth, and get dressed. While I am getting dressed, I sneak a peek at my email. Something interesting catches my eye or requires a response and I take care of that. By the time I make it downstairs, the place is a mess, the dog is scratching at the door crying to be fed, the baby is no longer hungry for a nutritious breakfast and Uno is too full to go for a walk. Not that it matters, because there is still no sign of Dos. I ask Uno if he has fed the dog and he gets that shocked look on his face like that kid in Home Alone. I ask if he has practiced the piano and he starts getting all defensive and we have our first fight of the day. Still no sign of Dos. I go up to see if he is still breathing, notice that Uno didn't make his bed and left his drawers hanging open and clothes strewn on the floor. When he is done with the piano, I remind him that the bed needs to be made and room picked up and he gets all defensive and we have our second fight. The fighting wakes up Dos and the two of them begin fighting with each other. I try to clean up the downstairs mess while Uno takes a second shot at the bed and Dos gets dressed. It is now almost lunchtime. "Can we finally go for our walk?" I ask in desperation. We get our shoes on and get ready to go out the door. Then Dos decides he's hungry and wants to eat too. We wait for him to eat. We get ready to walk out the door again and Tres decides he's finally hungry for cereal. We pack a baggie with dry cereal for him to hold in his stroller.

We finally head out for the walk.

Of course, now it's too hot to do the whole two miles, so the negotiations begin for a shorter route. If I don't give in, Uno realizes after a few minutes that he forgot to go to the bathroom so he has to take a shorter route anyway. Not sure if he is serious or not, I err on the side of dry pants and let him take the shorter way. Dos has long since taken off on his scooter and has finished the two miles easily. We all arrive home at different times. When I get there, I say, "Okay, time for work!" Of course, Uno can't do work because he is so exhausted by the walk. I took the same walk, while pushing the baby, and I'm ready for work, but the healthy, young, energetic boy is wiped out. I mow the lawn or do housework while he catches his breath. When I come back, he has recovered and is tormenting Dos. "Okay, now it's time for work!" Nope, now it's lunch time. "Why didn't you eat lunch while I was mowing the lawn?" "We weren't hungry." I wait while they eat lunch. I have coffee (because now I'm wiped out, but I'm not allowed to show it so I drink coffee instead) and a few bites of whatever.

The rest of the day consists of attempts by Uno to get out of his work, all the while whining that he never gets to do what he wants. I show him the fancy chart I made (idea from the Supernanny herself) with the velcro Smiley Star that moves along the path as he completes each task until it hits the celebration spot. I remind him that after he gets the (three whole) subjects I have lined up for him done, he can have the rest of the day to himself. He takes frequent trips to the bathroom, prays I will get a distracting phone call or that his brothers will require my attention, and does his best to do everything but his work. Eventually, I conveniently forget the Smiley Star and find an excuse to get everyone out of the house. We get home at dinner time and stand around with Savageman eating cold cuts or whatever because I'm too drained to cook. While we discuss what to do, the children wander off in various directions, play with friends, etc. and just as we've decided it's too late to start anything, they show up wanting to do something. We do something, get them ready for bed, maybe bathe, and put Uno to bed. I rock Tres to sleep. Dos is still awake (since he had slept until 10:30 am) and he asks to do his own (optional) schoolwork. We snuggle and do schoolwork until way too late, and he goes to bed too. Too wiped out to do anything with Savageman, I finally have a little time to myself before crawling off to bed way too late.

What would Jojo say?

First, she would probably tell me to stop blogging about her and go to bed.

Next, she would tell me to come up with a more realistic schedule we can actually stick to, and to schedule plenty of fun time that they don't have to earn. Right now, if they want fun time, they have to earn it. They rarely do, so we miss out on a lot of fun. She'd probably also have me get up before them so I will be ready for them when they get up. She would also have me plan for cooking, chores, and time for myself and Savageman before midnight. And she'd tell me to eat better.

Next, she would talk to me about the way I talk to them. She would tell me not to yell and to give them lots of enthusiastic praise and encouragement in a sweet voice. This is easy with the Baby Savage, but I forget to do it with the bigger ones. I hardly ever talk to Uno that way, which is probably why he feels so hassled all the time. Maybe that is why he is so avoidant of me and the stuff I want him to do.

Next, she would probably have me stop counting them with the 1-2-3 thing. Give them one warning, and then off to the Naughty Chair. Have them sit there for a minute per year of age, then have them apologize and move on.

More importantly, Jojo focuses on the positive stuff. Having fun together and building your relationship so that they want to behave for you is probably much more important than what you do when they misbehave. We focus way too much on the consequences and too little on the love. We don't spend enough time just having fun with them. She would have us fix that.

Finally, she would look at how Savageman and I work together. She would tell us to communicate more and look for ways to help each other. She would tell us to spend more time alone together.

And she'd remind me again about the sleep.

Okay, Supernanny, I'm going. Thanks for the consult. I'll get to work on it right away.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Fishing Day

It was raining this morning when I dragged my tired self out to the annual fishing derby. I was tempted to stay home. Numero Uno was up at 6, ready for his Papa to pick him up on the way there, Dos was at cub scout camp with Savageman, and Tres wouldn't have known the difference. Still, it was a tradition, even in the rain.

As it turns out, fish like to bite little rubber worms when it rains. A record number of fish were caught (and released), and Uno actually caught several himself, which was a real thrill. When it was time to pack up and go, he wanted to stay and do more, so we stayed while he caught another three fish. The next few hours were spent wandering through sporting goods stores looking for the same lures he had used to catch all these fish (because it had to be those exact lures - nothing else was acceptable).

By the time we found the right lures, my enthusiasm for Uno's new passion was beginning to wear thin. I reluctantly agreed to go back to the scene of the morning's fishy bonanza, only because he had left his tackle box there and we had to go back anyway to get it. The list of things I had been hoping to accomplish today at home was beginning to grow. The thought of sitting on a dock, trying to keep Numero Tres from getting drenched, twiddling my thumbs while Uno fished and the list of chores grew more and more urgent in my brain - well, let's just say it wasn't a good thought.

So I trudged down to the creek with the biggest and the littlest Savage, and spent about 10 minutes working the fishhooks out of the flap of Uno's pocket, where he had cleverly decided to store them, not realizing that the little barbs at the end of the hooks would keep them from being removed from the fabric without a fight.

Once the hooks were removed, the fishing began and the little Savage got himself immediately drenched. At least I didn't spend an hour trying to keep him from getting drenched first. We waded in the creek and put shells and rocks in his little pail. He picked up handfuls of little shells and pebbles and threw them into the air to watch them fall around him back into the water. Over and over. I laid on the pier and watched the clouds, my feet hanging in the cool water. Listened to the birds and the water and the trees and the occasional whoop from Uno as he caught (and released) seven more fish. Tres babbled to himself and made up some story featuring the rocks he had collected.

Time stood still.

I couldn't believe I had resisted coming back and sitting here surrounded by all this fresh air and peace. The only reason I'm not still sitting there, watching the moon rise over the trees, is that the Baby Savage started complaining about being hungry and wanting dinner. Uno would have stayed too. He'd have still been fishing there at 2am if I had let him.

2am. Yeah, I guess I should get to bed. Numero Dos and Savageman will be arriving back from their wet weekend in the woods early tomorrow morning.

I hope they had as good a time as we did.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Lessons Learned

John Taylor Gatto was voted New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. Although he is certified to teach English and Literature, what he is best known for is his writing on what he believes school actually teaches children, which can be distilled into the six lessons covered in the article you can find here.

Because reading Gatto's Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling was instrumental in our initial decision to homeschool our kids, it is good to occasionally remind myself of and reevaluate these reasons, so I was glad to have been sent a link to this article from my homeschooling friend Jaimie in AZ.

Lesson 1 is to stay in the class in which you belong. How the kids were categorized into the classes are not really the business of the teacher, just how to keep them happy that they are there. The students envy and fear the better classes and hold the "dumber" classes in contempt, which is why they are content to stay put. See Brave New World for a more detailed explanation of why it is so much better to be an Alpha (or a Beta or Delta, depending on whom you ask).

Lesson 2 is to turn off and on like a light switch. While kids are expected to be enthusiastic and interested during the lesson, they must immediately drop everything and switch gears, finished or not, when the bell rings. "The lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything?"

Lesson 3 is to surrender your will to a "predestined chain of command" where a child's rights to question, to disagree, to privacy, and to individuality are granted or withheld by the adults in control.

Lesson 4 is that only those in charge decide what is important enough to learn. Curiosity is discouraged, conformity encouraged. Gatto writes, "This is another way I teach the lesson of dependency. Good people wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. This is the most important lesson of all, that we must wait for other people, better trained than ourselves, to make the meanings of our lives. It is no exaggeration to say that our entire economy depends upon this lesson being learned."

Lesson 5 is that your self-respect depends on the evaluation of someone else. An incredible amount of store is set in the grade a teacher assigns. "The lesson of report cards, grades, and tests is that children should not trust themselves or their parents, but must rely on the evaluation of certified officials. People need to be told what they are worth." One aspect of this lesson he doesn't discuss in the article is the role of peer pressure. Teachers use this tool for years to encourage conformity in the classroom and make their job easier, but amazingly enough, when kids reach adolescence, they are told to think for themselves and not follow the crowd, especially when it comes to risky behavior. The evaluation of one's peers is a powerful force, and one that is hard to resist after so much encouragement.

Finally, Lesson 6 is that you are being watched. This has been a central theme in theories of government throughout the centuries. "Children must be closely watched if you want to keep a society under central control." Gatto continues with a blistering assessment of how school prepares kids to be good workers who do as they are told and don't ask questions or think much for themselves. This is juxtaposed against the values on which our nation was founded:

"Yet only a very few lifetimes ago things were different in the United States: originality and variety were common currency; our freedom from regimentation made us the miracle of the world; social class boundaries were relatively easy to cross; our citizenry was marvelously confident, inventive, and able to do many things independently, to think for themselves. We were something, all by ourselves, as individuals. It only takes about 50 contact hours to transmit basic literacy and math skills well enough that kids can be self-teachers from then on. The cry for "basic skills" practice is a smokescreen behind which schools pre-empt the time of children for twelve years and teach them the six lessons I've just taught you...
At the pass we've come to historically, and after 26 years of teaching, I must conclude that one of the only alternatives on the horizon for most families is to teach their own children at home... I teach school and win awards doing it. I should know."

Wow. Powerful stuff. I hear you, John Gatto, and I agree! I enjoy knowing that I have spared my children from these six lessons of compulsory education and have lit a fire for learning in their hearts so that they may grow to be the independent, free-thinkers that our 21st century Global Community will need and value.

Okay, seriously now.

I have probably taught my little Savages a bunch of these lessons already, despite my good intentions. Numero Uno told me today he wants to be a hobo when he grows up, just so he doesn't have to think or do any real work. This assertion closely followed a blistering assessment of my own educational system. According to him, I have denied my students their rights, forced them to learn arbitrarily chosen boring stuff, evaluated them harshly and kept them under constant surveillance.

Has he been reading Gatto?

Probably not, since he no longer is interested in reading or learning anything after 4 years of my crummy teaching.

I suggested to him that if this is the case and he really hates learning so much, he should just go to school and hate learning there and leave me out of it. I actually like learning and could use the extra time on my hands to finally finish my PhD.

Of course, like with most things, after sitting with it for a while, I can see his point. I have not kept to the ideals with which I set out on this journey, and the results are clear on days like this. I could do more to encourage the kids to think for and evaluate themselves and give them more space to be free-thinking individuals.

I will. I promise.

As soon as they start behaving better and do as they are told.

Okay, maybe Gatto and I need to have another chat, because I'm having a hard time with parts of the plan.

For now, I will console myself with the knowledge that Numero Uno is still free-thinking enough to speak out against his oppressor.

The Founding Fathers would be proud.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Am I Whining?

For the last week or so, I have been itching to write something, but have held back, lest it become another rant or complaint. Needing to break the negativity streak, I've been holding out for something uplifting and inspirational on which to share my thoughts.

Unfortunately, that didn't happen.

I did, however, gain some understanding of why it is so satisfying to rant while blogging.

My good friend Jozet is a seasoned blogger and the wind beneath my own cyber wings. I often try to read her stuff out loud to my Savageman and I usually can't get through it because I'm laughing so hard. When I'm feeling particularly grouchy, this is one place I can go for a giggle, with the knowledge that if I can still giggle, whatever it is I'm grouchy about can't be THAT bad.

Anyway, I was having one of THOSE days and I needed a humor fix, so I checked out her blog today, and found the answer to why I am so tempted to rant here. She gave an award for a great post on another blog detailing, in part, a frustrated mom's reaction when she found her kids delightedly and repeatedly flushing a Barbie in the toilet. While discussing why she enjoyed the award-winning post, she pointed out that when things are going well, one can take something like this in stride...

But, when it's been one of those days?

You know, one of THOSE days. One of those days that started with your kids cracking 12 eggs to make an omelet and moved headlong into doggy haircuts and then sister haircuts and then measuring the perimeter of the house with a roll of paper towels and it's still only 10AM.

Then, after all that, you are called in to witness the princess spinning in the toilet and it's like staring into the parenting equivalent of The Eye of Sauron. You feel your soul (and possibly your college degree) being sucked-out right through your own pupils.

And the only thing that might possibly save you, the only thing that makes it even a little bit better, gets you through to another day -…oh hell, the next parenting moment - is the knowledge that you can tell someone about it (someone beside the hearing-impaired parent).

You can blog about it.

And someone will hear you and answer. Someone out there. Another parent will read along with you, nodding her head in agreement, knowing that she too has stared into the abyss and has felt the utter aloneness of a spinning-toilet-princesses or a 12-egg omelet.

And that other parent will reach out her hand (or his hand, let's be fair) and pull you back from utter despair (and morning martini number three) with those five healing words of salvation through supreme empathy:

"Me too, sister. Me, too."

It's so true. Just as tragedies bring people together, whining about toddler tantrums and squabbling children often elicits the understanding and support we Mommies so often need from each other.

And in that respect, I have been more than blessed to be part of the best Mommy Tribe around.

Yesterday, when she had ascertained that I really was dangling from the last thread on the very end of my rope, one of the Tribe insisted on taking my children for the afternoon. She pulled up in her minivan, loaded up my Savages, and took them away.

I hardly knew what to do with myself.

Okay, after the first half-hour, I figured it out, but at first it was really weird.

And quiet.

I put the Big 80s Lunch on the radio just to make it less eerie - and because I really like the Big 80s Lunch.

I planted stuff in my garden, talked on the phone in peace, and cleaned a noticable portion of the house. I didn't have to break up fights, clean up spills, chase anyone out of the kitchen, break up fights...

Almost enough to make me want to put them in school.


After a few hours, I started to miss the little guys and I headed over to her place. I found my kids having loads of fun, not fighting, (and making a big mess of her house and yard). Numero Uno spent the whole time playing Guitar Hero on the Playstation. He really rocked, too. Despite the house, my friend seemed none the worse for the wear, and she said my kids had behaved just fine.

Within 12 seconds of arriving home (I counted) - they were fighting again. I knew it was too good to last - this was not a big surprise.

What really did surprise me was the way I felt after having an afternoon to myself. After all, my parents take them sometimes on the weekends and once they're finally in bed at night, I do get a good 2 hours of me-time. But by this point, I am usually so fried all I want to do is watch a movie with Savageman or play with my new laptop. Certainly no playing in the garden, drinking iced-coffee and dancing around the cleaning chores to the Big 80s Lunch like I did yesterday afternoon.

I felt SO GOOD. I let the Savageman and grandparents take the kiddies to baseball, and I did a 90-minute Yoga class (and kicked butt at it instead of feeling like it kicked MY butt for a change). I came home, figured out how to download music off the internet, and put some good music on my MP3 for our morning walk. I talked Savageman's ear off about all the good ideas I'm having to help the kids behave better.

He thinks I've suddenly switched over from the depressive to the manic end of the crazies, but that I'm still crazy.

He may be right, but I'm not going to mess with it - it's all good.

And I'm eternally grateful to my friend who knew exactly what I needed and gave it freely. May I only hope to be as good a friend when my own turn comes up.

So maybe I did find something inspirational and uplifting to write about after all.

I'll stop whining now.