I’m in charge of bribes: Slice of Life 30/31 #SOL20

Lately, I can’t stop thinking about Kurt Vonnegut. Specifically, I keep thinking about his short story “Harrison Bergeron”.  You might remember this dystopian gem from high school English class. It’s set in a world where “everybody was finally equal.” George, the main character’s father, is smarter than average, so to prevent him from thinking too deeply a “mental handicap radio” that sends out a loud noise every twenty seconds or so has been installed in his ear.

This is currently my life. Ok, ok, I’ll admit that I usually get more than twenty seconds; I’d guess that I get, on average, three to seven minutes between interruptions, and no government has had to provide an in-ear noise generator for me. Oh no, my thought-preventing mechanism is much simpler: I have children and we are stuck in our house.

After two weeks of complete chaos – the first week was officially March Break; the second was our own fault – we decided to institute a routine so that the kids don’t need to ask me for things every few minutes all day long. (The boys have pointed out that if I would let them do non-stop online gaming, they would barely ask for anything at all; I have chosen not to accept their gambit.) Last night, after dinner, we all sat down to co-create the schedule. This morning, before the kids woke up, I positioned three laptops at a kitchen work-space so that the boys and I could sit and work together. We were ready.

8:15 – I find the 11-year-old in his bed with a device. “My schedule doesn’t start until 8:30,” he assures me. I make him come down for breakfast.

9:00 – Everyone is working on something for school or work – hooray!

9:03 – Just kidding.

And so it goes.

9:42 – Despite the fact that we have devices for everyone in the household, approximately a million non-computer games, and a schedule that has the kids online at different times, a fight breaks out over the computer.

10:03 – Upon learning that I’ve organized a neighbourhood blog challenge for April’s classroom “Slice of Life” challenge, my children declare that they will have none of it – even though we haven’t started yet.

11:47 – *Someone* tries to convince me that bread with Nutella is a perfectly acceptable nutrition option for both breakfast and lunch.

1:00 – It’s cold and rainy – again – so the kids decide that “exercise” should be balloon soccer in the hallway. Wait, let me be more precise: balloon soccer in the hallway where we currently have all the framed artwork that we haven’t yet put up.

1:04 – I’m just about to start yelling when they get into a fight and stop playing together. The schedule says that exercise is supposed to be half an hour. I wonder if 4 minutes is close enough?

Last week, my husband resorted to bribing the kids to do math. I am typically anti-bribe, sometimes going so far as to refer to the research of Alfie Kohn and regularly touting the benefits of intrinsic motivation. Andre is more practical: if it kept them busy and focused, it would be worth it; he suggested that this was not unlike being remunerated for work. Then he offered an exorbitant sum if the kids could finish a particular math app which teaches linear algebra using pictures. (DragonBox – I highly recommend it.) Properly motivated, both kids finished in under 24 hours – so much for keeping them busy.

The 9-year-old laughed, “Dad is terrible at bribes. He pays way too much. From now on, Mom, you should be in charge of bribing us.” I pointed out that I’m not a huge briber. “Ok,” he shrugged, “but I would have worked a lot harder for that much money.”

So here I sit, thinking about how to create a schedule that they can manage a little bit more on their own. There are things that need doing, and too many “natural” consequences involve a lot of MY attention, which makes it hard for me to get work done. And the internet swears that 9-year-olds really only have an attention span of 18-27 minutes or so. Harumph.

If it comes down to a choice between bribes and installing a little radio in their ears so that they will stop taking “unfair advantage” of their brains, apparently I’m in charge of bribes. Wish me luck.

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Cat nap: Slice of Life 29/31 #SOL20

I am sitting in my bedroom trying to take advantage of some quiet focused time to write. Our internet connection is flickering in and out, and I’m not getting much done. Frustrated, I look up and catch sight of a minor miracle: our two cats are sleeping together. img_2984

Tippy and Hera are each, individually, wonderful cats, and I like to tell myself that they are secretly fond of each other, but I’m not 100% sure that they agree. I’m not even 50% sure they agree. They are sisters only because we chose them at the same time at the Humane Society. They are both calicos. Their resemblance more or less ends there. But now – will miracles never cease? – they are *grooming* each other.

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This will almost assuredly end in a fight. It pretty much always does. I’ve been parenting so much for the last two weeks that I am highly attuned to “things which usually end in fights.” I wait. They settle. I am stunned.

And then, just like that, Hera is done. She gets up and leaves. Look at Tippy’s shock.img_2989-1

I imagine she’s thinking, “But I was being NICE. WHY ARE YOU LEAVING?” To be fair, pretty little Tippy is not usually nice. Hera was probably smart to leave when she did.

And Tippy doesn’t seem too bothered by it all. She settles back in for a nap, moving to the center of the chair seat, her rightful spot reclaimed.img_2990-1

 

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My achy breaky heart: Slice of Life 27/31 #SOL20

This morning, my 9-year-old had his first-ever online meet up with his class. The kids were so excited to see each other that some were literally bouncing out of their seats. Several brought pets which led to others leaving the room to go get their pets. Dogs, cats, guinea pigs and even a hamster all played brief outsized roles. I stayed until my son waved me out of the room, but I wasn’t focused on the guest appearances. Instead, I watched his teacher’s face, transfixed by the genuine delight and caring that crossed it as he saw each little person show up on the screen. For one moment his eyes glistened, then he took a deep breath before he continued. My heart ached for him.

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This afternoon our 18-year-old exchange student went home to the Netherlands. During his short stay with us, he met a young woman and, in the way of teenagers, they fell head over heels for one another. Because pandemics apparently hold no sway over passion, they struggled to stay apart. Ok, truth: they didn’t stay apart. So this week our family and her family decided to break social isolation and let the two of them be together for four final days. Yes, we took a risk, but seeing them together at our house for the past two days made my heart swell. I had nearly forgotten about that overwhelming, all-consuming love that makes the rest of the world fall away from you. They were almost glued together at our house and were completely devastated when we dropped him at the nearly empty airport. Their hearts are broken for now, and my heart aches with mirrored emotion, aware that I know more than they do and that the knowledge isn’t always sweet.

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Today is my husband’s birthday. He woke up and made *us* scones because that is who he is. Later, while he was dropping the teens at the airport, the kids and I tried to secretly bake him a cake. Because I had a call scheduled with some of my own students, my boys proceeded on their own. When I finished the call, I found the kitchen and the kids fairly covered in butter and flour. Unable to find a mixer and unwilling to interrupt my call, the children had tried to cream the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon, then added the flour without adding any liquid ingredients. When I showed them how to read the whole recipe first, their faces fell: “Do you think it will still taste ok?”

“Oh yes,” I assured them, “if you have good ingredients, the results are almost always pretty good.”

Before I could stop them, they dumped all the buttermilk in at once, adding to the existing kitchen chaos. I started to laugh, my heart aching with happiness at their excitement.

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After the cake-baking, I insisted that we go for a walk. This was not a popular decision. Still, the kids have been inside for two days and it was finally sunny and veering towards warm. I was relentless. I forced them outside.

On our walk, my younger son complained and complained of a bellyache but offered little information and no solutions. Eventually, I lost my temper and yelled at him. Not long after that, he ran behind a metal bin and everything came out of him. I had to use my disinfecting wipes to clean him up. Afterward, he held my hand and snuggled close as we walked home, and he didn’t say anything about my inappropriate anger. My heart broke a little at his ungrudging forgiveness.

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Today my heart has ached all day long.

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The little things: Slice of Life 25/31 #SOL20

Today did not go the way I expected it to although, now that I’ve written that phrase, I suppose I could say that about pretty much any day of the last two weeks, which is when COVID-19 reared its ugly head in this part of the world. And, if I’m being even more honest, daily chaos of some sort or another has featured in my life for nearly 12 years (hello, children), and probably for longer than that (hello, teaching). Still, since we’re in middle of a global pandemic, I’m totally going to blame the virus rather than my life choices. After all, pandemics need to be good for *something*.

At any rate, I woke up today ready to write this blog – clearly I did not, in fact, finish it this morning because it is now decidedly evening and here I am. And, worse, none of my “hangouts” worked, my children were stir crazy (we baked brownies and polished silver, among other things – yes, you read that right. We polished silver. I cannot explain this. We don’t even *use* silver. I honestly didn’t even know we *had* silver. But there you go.) Still, I had a plan, dang-nabbit, and involved pictures. I’m plowing ahead.

Yesterday, Molly over at Nix the Comfort Zone joined Leigh Anne’s Self Care Spring Fling. Leigh Anne invited us to share our three best self-care ideas. Molly’s second was “Focus–At least for a little bit every day, take the time to slow down and focus” then added, “For me, both writing and photography help.”

If you want to see some beautiful nature photography (and read some excellent poetry, too), Molly’s blog is a great place to hang out. I find the pictures inspiring or calming or just what I need, and recently her inspiration has slipped over into my walks. My walking has increased because of COVID-19 (remember a few days ago when I didn’t even want to name it? Take that, you nasty virus! I can say your name!); I am often nearly desperate to get out of my house. With the walking has come noticing, and with noticing, photography (from my cell phone – don’t get too excited). The photographs, in turn, have enticed my children to come walk and notice. This is a cycle I highly recommend.

We have taken to looking for small unexpectedly beautiful things or big things with details we might have overlooked before. One boy likes close-ups and shapes; the other likes the way colours go together or how things look from a distance. We try to look at both natural and manmade things. We pass my phone between us, sharing each delight with the others. Every walk reveals things we’ve never noticed before, no matter how many times we have previously walked that way.

Our neighbourhood is quiet these days, and we have plenty of time to pause, notice, reflect. Our walks meander. Our focus, however, seems to have sharpened. It turns out that our everyday is brimming with wonder. Who knew?

 

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Up: Slice of Life 24/31 #SOL20

Thomas has been asking to watch Up for the better part of a week. For reasons he cannot explain – but which he assures us are not merely to torture his brother – Eric has been saying no. Because we are trying to establish some sort of family togetherness or, at a minimum, some basic negotiation skills, we’ve been choosing films that “everyone” wants to watch. Thomas says that means Eric usually “wins;” even I have to admit that Eric’s sheer stubbornness means we watch quite a few of his choices.

Last night, Eric relented. Surprised, Andre and I relented, too. It was a little too late to start, and no one believed that the boys would “go straight to bed” without at least a bit of a read aloud. Work from home has started in earnest and we really had too much to do: Andre needed to clean the kitchen; I needed to create a lesson. “Fine,” we conceded, “you can watch the first 45 minutes while we work. Then it’s straight to bed!” The boys agreed happily.

But then we only have Disney+ on the upstairs tv, and they wanted to watch in the living room. The Amazon dongle wasn’t working for reasons we couldn’t quite fathom. I’d been doing IT support for the boys all day long and was near the end of my tether. Andre offered his phone, assuring us that he could live without it for 45 minutes, but somehow I was on the hook for remembering another password and Andre chose the wrong HDMI port. Thomas kept trying to help; Andre kept saying no; Eric refused to take part. By the time we got everything set up, we were all four on the couch in the living room, but no one was particularly settled.

When the movie finally started I looked at Andre and said, “Stay for the first part. I know how much you love it.” The opening montage, ten minutes that shows Ellie and Carl’s whole life together, engulfs us, and by the end we are holding hands and Andre is crying – he always does. The boys snuggle closer, not quite understanding, but not quite not understanding, either. Our battered old brown leather couch, pushed too close to the television, surrounded by our life in semi-unpacked boxes, holds our family in its embrace, and no one gets up. We just watch. Together. We laugh and talk, colours animating our faces, love animating our faces: a whole life in one short montage.

 

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Precision: Slice of Life 22/31 #SOL20

Days before we all became aware of COVID19 and started practicing social distancing, we moved back into our house after nine months of renovations. While the world has changed so much so rapidly that I could almost swear we moved home months ago, we’ve actually been home for less than two weeks. And our builders only finished up two days ago – or maybe three? I honestly cannot remember.

The last thing the builders finished was the basement, and the renovations meant that we lost some of our attic storage space. Taken together, this means that we have not been able to unpack nearly as much as we would have liked to because we really needed the basement space for a) things that used to live in the basement and b) everything else. Mostly, we’ve been moving boxes to new temporary homes, cursing a lot, and swearing that we are just going to donate everything that’s still in a box so that we don’t have to make another decision. Things are so bad that I might have even taken that last step if only any of the charities were open.

Our house is still complete chaos.

While I am very, very far from a neatnik and can tolerate a fair amount of mess, I have realized over the last few years (ok, truth: after having children) that there is a level of clutter beyond which I get pretty stressed out. We have been there for weeks. No matter what I clean or move, when I turn around, more awaits me. Boxes are everywhere, taunting me, daring me to open them, their unknown contents laughing evilly, waiting for me to despair. My senses are tuned too highly: every noise bothers me, every touch sets my skin to alert (yes, I’m rashy); my tastebuds, oddly, dull & I sneeze often. Many days, I hide in our bedroom to avoid the onslaught. Sometimes I have trouble breathing.

Andre, however, is largely unphased. He spends hours in the basement moving things from the front to the back, from the floor to the shelves with dogged determination. He is calm, careful and confident, knowing that all of this will eventually be sorted out. He finds a happy medium between motion and perfection. He just keeps working, even when I try to pick a fight. He is measured where I am not.

This afternoon, trying to calm my senses, I steal a quiet moment in the sundrenched space of the new kitchen. I sip my tea, concentrate on reading, on writing, on breathing. At the other end of the room, hidden behind the kitchen island, Andre and our younger son begin a project. Andre tells him about the proverb “measure twice cut once.” They practice cutting; they roll something out. Oh! They are making a peel & stick chalkboard calendar for our family schedule. I overhear them measuring and measuring again. “Ok,” says Andre, “We need to cut at 24 and 7/8 inches.”

I am incredulous. 24 and 7/8″? Seriously? At this very moment in our house I cannot reliably find my bathrobe. Our kitchen things appear to have multiplied while in storage. Our younger son’s room is literally knee-deep in stuffed animals; the 18-year-old exchange student is on hour four of a “socially distanced” walk with his girlfriend (so let’s just acknowledge that there is no distance left there, thus undoing all of our work); I think my older child may have been playing video games for 48 hours straight; there are boxes in every single room of our home and, oh, yes we are in the middle of a global pandemic and my husband – a man I married on purpose – is cutting something with a 9-year-old so that it measures exactly 24 and 7/8 inches?

I start to chuckle deep in my belly. I feel a smile threatening to become a full laugh and press my lips together, hard, to stop it. My eyes crinkle as the smile fills my cheeks. Of course he is. In a world filled with chaos, Andre figures you might as well get the measurements right. When they get that calendar on the wall, it will fit perfectly, and it will stay there for years, I bet.

Suddenly, I can breathe a little more easily. Might as well finish up this post and then, I think I can tackle some of those boxes again. I’ll leave Andre to finish up in here. He’s got this under control.

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Piano: Slice of Life 19/31 #SOL20

Today we decided we had to move the piano. We had to move the piano in order to set up the work area and plug in the computer. We have to plug in the computer because sometime soon we are going to have to start working from home. This week is our March Break, so everyone has been off; next week, reality will hit. We’re going to need that computer.

Unfortunately, the piano was here:

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You can totally see the piano, right? Just back there under the blanket. I mean, no problem at all.

Obviously, I hid upstairs while Andre tried to clear enough space to get it out. I got a lot done upstairs.

Eventually the path was clear and it was time. We tried to slip sliders under the piano’s feet so that it wouldn’t gouge the hardwood floors. Only it turns out that the piano has wheels. Great! Wheels! We maneuvered it away from the wall. Um… it was still leaving marks on the floor. Time to use the sliders after all.

“The backside is heavier. Let me just lift it up and then you can slide it in really quick.”
Groan, gasp, quick intake of breath.
“It’s ok, try again. It’ll fit, but that angle’s not going to work.”
We started to giggle. We are terrible.

After all our work, the piano rolled off the sliders during our first good push/pull. Now what? We looked around… carpet remnants! After another slightly naughty conversation and an awful lot of lifting and sliding, we got the piano’s wheels onto two carpet remnants. Now all we needed to do was slide it down the hallway and into the dining room.

Actually, let me amend that slightly: we needed to slide the heavy piano on two random pieces of carpet down a narrow, freshly painted hallway without marring the newly refinished hardwood floor.

Our 11-year-old, lured by the siren song of his parents struggling, came to perch on the stairs and watch.

With our first heave, the piano slid right off one of the pieces of carpet. Undaunted, we pressed our now-laughing child observer into action: his job was to squat between his father’s legs and keep the carpet roughly in place. Andre pulled; I pushed.

“3…2…1… GO!” Down the hallway we went, inches at a time, over the treacherous air intake grate, past the door frame, narrowly missing the bit of wall that juts out for no discernable reason.

“DAD! Your bum is in my face!” We ignored Thomas and pressed on.

Hours (ok, minutes) later, we were in the dining room and near-ish to the piano’s final resting space. We paused. Only one challenge remained: get it into the corner.

We pushed one side back, Thomas vigilantly ensuring the carpet remained in place. Then the next. Then the first side… the second… there! It was in. Now to remove the carpet. We held the middle and one side and tilted the piano a tiny bit and… voila! The carpet came out. The second side was even easier.

We stood back to admire our handiwork. Thomas cocked his head to one side and said, “You know, I’m not sure it really goes in this room.” Then he laughed like a maniac and ran down the hallway and up the stairs.

That piano is staying where it is.

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