Tag Archives: the mom job

Summer of changes

Summer vacation is the hardest time to be a stay-at-home mother. The weight of responsibility is on me twelve hours a day to make sure the kids get their needs met, and that means giving them some structure, but it’s a daily battle just to find structure for myself.

It’s also a particular kind of horrible to parent in an age when kids aren’t playing outside. One of the biggest gifts my mom gave me (thank you, mom! xoxoxo!) was the freedom to do what I liked in the summer, including going on long walks outside, or finding groups of kids to play with, or going to the park alone. I haven’t managed to give that same kind of freedom to my kids, and even if I did, all the kids who should be out playing are either in summer camps or indoors playing video games.

On top of that, I feel cultural pressure to justify my existence by finding paid work. Most of the women in my peer group went “back to work” (as if we hadn’t been working so hard already) when their youngest kids started elementary school, but my plan is to continue to stay home, working on my novel. But in the summer, I’m adrift in a sea of structurelessness and it’s hard to work on the novel. It’s just plain hard to think.

Next year, both kids will be in middle school. They deserve much more independence, including the ability to walk to and from school without an adult and the ability to set up their own social lives. They also deserve more responsibility, including the job of making their own lunches and cleaning their rooms. I did all those things by the time I was in middle school. My kids aren’t ready.

So this summer, my goal is to help them be ready. They’re doing regular room cleans now and we are getting out on daily hour-long walks, where they are starting to get a sense for how all the different neighborhood landmarks connect to each other. We’re taking the bus and going to drop-in programs at neighborhood community centers. Weekly library trips.  They find their own breakfasts and lunches. The social life planning . . . well, work in progress.

But I am only one person, and the price I pay for this is letting them have extra screen time, which lets me have some time to do my own thing. I intended to limit it to three hours a day, but I have a feeling it’s more like six. I feel enormously guilty about this. It’s just . . . that’s what I can do, on my own, during the day.

This is the first summer I’ve been able to go out and about with the kids without feeling like it’s an obligation. We’re getting to do things I want, instead of endlessly visiting playgrounds and watching little kids have fun while the adults around me all hang out texting. My kids are partners in my fun now, and I’m enjoying getting to know the people they are becoming.

It’s all changing. Life is going by so fast. I think I’m almost keeping up.

– Kristin


from pixabay.com


My daughter, the guinea pig

We’re a very mathy family. We all learned math the way human beings learn things — that is, by making it a fun part of our everyday activities. But this year, my daughter is a guinea pig for the new national experiment that is called the Common Core standards. Her class is using a new curriculum designed specifically for the Common Core, “My Math,” and she hates it. I’m hearing her say, “I don’t like math,” and I’m concerned. She still likes math, really, but only when we mess around with it as a family. Her homework is procrastination and resentment and sometimes tears.

The Common Core standards came to us by a fairly strange route. Sixty people wrote them without public input, and only one of them was a teacher. And there’s a lot of controversy surrounding the Common Core, particularly the assessments designed for them.

I’m trying to keep an open mind. As one of my kids’ teachers told me, they’re simply one more set of standards. I do like one thing about these new standards: they tell us what our kids are supposed to be learning.

But what exactly are they supposed to be learning? Mathematical reasoning, the boring way. What makes it boring is the frequent testing to make sure kids have learned each individual concept, which appears to mean that each individual concept takes priority over a holistic understanding. Even worse: there is national pressure to base teachers’ job evaluations on kids’ mastery of these standards.

Also, it looks a lot like math fact fluency is being pushed aside. I’ve looked at the standards many times, and they do say what kind of fluency kids are supposed to have, but as one standard among many. And I’m not seeing it in the curriculum. My kids, and other kids whose parents I’ve talked to, are not getting the five minutes of math fact practice per day that they need to learn the facts.

Here are the standards, if you want to know more.

And here are some examples of math lessons that teach to these standards. The National Education Association (NEA) teamed up with some company or other to bring together lots of teachers to share the curriculum that they use in classrooms. So this curriculum is free online for browsing, which makes it a godsend for parents who want to understand what their kids are learning in class. I keep looking and looking for math fact fluency exercises, but I’m not seeing them.

I do realize that there are lots of things I don’t understand about the standards, the way they’re being implemented in curriculum, and the way my kids’ teachers are handling them in class.

But I sure am sorry my daughter has to be the guinea pig. 

But what are we changing into?

Yesterday I talked about coming to grips with the rapid pace of technological change. But today I’ll take a step back and ask: what are we changing into? What are we gaining? What are we losing?

Our brains are changing. Scientific American recently published an article, “How Google is Changing Your Brain,” pointing out that quick access to the cloud is changing the way we think. We use the Internet to get information we used to get by asking friends and family — essentially, as an external hard drive. Yes, indeed. I bought a Kindle Fire because my kids keep asking me questions, and although I don’t know the answer, I can get it in just a few seconds. Yesterday my daughter asked me what a Rube Goldberg device was. It was right at bedtime, so I gave her the accelerated version with hand gestures: “Ping, ping, roll, crash, clatter clatter pop — ding!” But then, once their teeth were brushed, I googled it, read Rube Goldberg’s biography, and showed them two youtube videos of Rube Goldberg devices.

Whoops! That violated our house rule of “no screen time just before bedtime.” And sure enough, bedtime was late and everyone woke up groggy. Screens are so very tempting.

The kids use computers way more than I’d like them to. Sure, I set limits, but they’re higher than mine were when I was a kid, and it’s easy to slide. Even easier if I’m on the computer when I didn’t mean to be. The temptation’s higher, too. When I was a kid, “screen time” wasn’t a word. It was “TV.” And it was broadcast TV, which meant that it had a predictable beginning and end. When the Muppet Show was over, we turned the TV off.

On the flip side, what the kids are doing with their screen time is a bit mindblowing. They’re playing Minecraft, a game that’s a lot more than a game. At its core, Minecraft is a 3D building program. They make buildings, trains, you-name-it. Their spatial skills probably already exceed mine. And very likely, they’re learning stuff they’ll need in tomorrow’s world. They’re also programming in Scratch, a language designed especially for kids.

But what’s being lost? Easy. Exercise and reading. Exercise was already in trouble, because most kids don’t roam the neighborhood freely. Too many cars and too many parents afraid of child molesters. But screen time is so tempting, they get even less. As for reading, my kids read, yes, but not as much as I did.

In fact, I don’t read books as much as I used to. I read blog posts, Facebook entries, and links from the Facebook entries. This gives me less opportunity to just cuddle down with a book and lose an hour in pleasant concentration. In fact, when I do have that opportunity, my mind races a bit. It’s used to speedy browsing. I have to always remind myself to slow down, unplug, enjoy the life right in front of me. And teach my kids to do it too.

There’s some kind of balance to be struck here, but I don’t know what it is. How can I? Our world, and the people in it, are changing. Into what?

I don’t have an answer. Do you?

Bedtime reading for the kids

We’re still reading bedtime books to our kids, ages 8 and 10. And we plan to keep it up as long as they go for it! Choosing books has gotten tricky, though. Some books are too scary for one, and some are too filled with girly stuff for another. Others drive me up the wall. Here’s a quick list of books we’ve done successfully, starting about 2 years ago:

  • The Hobbit
  • The Lord of the Rings (twice)
  • Harry Potter, books 1 – 7
  • Enid Blyton’s Famous Five Series (partway through)
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
  • Pippi Longstocking
  • Jupiter Jones and the Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot
  • Half Magic
  • George and the Big Bang (and other books in same series by the Hawking family)
  • Wayside School
  • Percy Jackson (too scary)
  • The Roman Mysteries (through book 3)

What to do next???

I’m thinking A Wrinkle in Time. But one of the kids already read the graphic novel version. Might fly, might not!

Here are some of the suggestions people have given me: Wringer (Jerry Spinelli), Journey to the River Sea (Eva Ibbotson), The Phantom Tollbooth, The Brave Little Toaster, The Streets Are Free, Brave Girl, The Witches (Roald Dahl), all of Roald Dahl’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia, and books by Garth Nix, Susan Cooper, and Phillip Pullman.

Strange times to raise children

This week we found out that the state had agreed to hand over all kinds of confidential data to our local newspaper, so they could get grant money from a nonprofit funded by our local billionaire to help further his political goals. I wrote about some of the ramifications on the Aqueduct Press blog.

Thinking about family traditions

My daughter’s teacher assigned her the homework of finding out about our family traditions and learning what our ancestors’ lives were like. I’m having an unusually difficult time with this. The thing is, these conversations about family traditions are happening in connection to the Nelson Mandela memorial curriculum our teachers are doing. The typical “Our family came from Scotland and here are some shortbread cookies” seems completely inappropriate in this context.

We celebrate all the standard US-Christian holidays: Christmas, Easter, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving. But we don’t do it because it’s a family tradition; we do it because we’ve assimilated into a culture that celebrates them.

What about holidays “from the old country”? Well, which old country, anyway? These kids have thirty-two great-great-grandparents. They came from Scotland, Germany, Sweden, Britain, Ireland, and miscellaneous Scandinavian countries. Each of them had different family traditions, and most of them died out when the person with that tradition married into a family that had a different one. Or traditions died out when living conditions changed. My grandparents did “the harvest dance.” We don’t farm now, or even live in rural areas, and we don’t have a harvest dance. Conditions are changing faster than ever. The family I grew up in had fabulous Easter egg hunts. But we don’t do that. We go to the neighborhood Easter egg hunt, with plastic Easter eggs, and brunch afterward.

How about religious traditions? Thirty-two great-great grandparents, and sixteen great-grandparents, and nine grandparents, and four parents, and they tended to have conflicting beliefs. If I pick a tradition, why exactly would I pick that particular one?

So I have a vague general sense of unease about this whole thing. Maybe I feel like I should do a better job than usual, in honor of Nelson Mandela. Maybe I feel like when I tell our children about our heritage, I tell them nothing of use.

I’m also struggling because I’ve been reading up on our heritage in a much more broad, sweeping way. I’m fascinated by our cultural heritage, reaching back to the beginnings of written language in Mesopotamia. The people who lived back then were probably my ancestors, but even if they’re not, they brought me my cultural heritage. And then way, way back, we all have ancestry from Africa. That’s in our heritage.

So too much flows into my head whenever I think about heritage, and none of it is ready to be explained to an eight-year old.

Day-before-school todo list

1. Launder tomorrow’s clothes.

2. Get list of library books that need returning.

3. Ask daughter what she wants in lunches.

4. Make grocery list.

5. Convince kids to eat breakfast and brush teeth.

6. Label kids’ school supplies with their names.

7. Find pencil sharpener with screw-top lid.

8. Call a teacher to find out what is going on with the contract teachers will vote on tonight.

9. Make contingency plan in case school doesn’t start tomorrow.

10. Look up when the back-to-school picnic is and whether I need to bring anything.

11. Figure out what time the kids have to go to bed.

12. Gather library books.

13. Photocopy the two pages out of library books that contain information I need.

14. Make sure I have enough cash to pay library fines.

15. Call friend to invite for Nerf battle in park.

16. Check weather to see if it will be raining.

17. Convince kids to take showers and brush hair.

18. Go to library.

19. Go to grocery store.

20. Go to park.

21. Make contingency plans in case we need to do strike support for teachers tomorrow.

22. Play Ni No Kuni, but not before I’ve done a bunch of these items.


I just want to go back to bed . . . .