Tuesday, September 1, 2015

New School Year, New Focus

As a family we instituted some major changes in our media habits over the summer. The kids were spending way too much time watching Netflix and playing MineCraft. They were becoming more sassy and disobedient, more whiny, and more lazy. Mack especially gets instantly addicted to any video games and loses his freaking mind! He immediately starts throwing fits and he and Amelia start fighting over game time and whose turn it is to pick the next episode. Dan has been after me for years to cut down on the kids' movie time. He has cited study after study that shows any more than 30 minutes of electronics/media a day is detrimental to kids' brain development. But it was too easy to let the kids watch movies so I could get things done without them whining about being bored. It was a parenting fail because I was too lazy to enforce the rules and make them do other things.

What we did to implement the change was make new chore charts for the summer. Each kid had about 8-9 chores to complete each day. We required two things of them. They had to complete all of their chores before they could leave the house and play with friends, and they had to do their chores without complaining each day to earn a checkmark. They had to earn checkmarks 5 days in a row before they could watch movies or play video games (we don't have a gaming system or a TV, so they are limited to Netflix on the laptop and apps on the iPhone). So essentially they only had one day a week of media. The exception was when Dan and I had a date night, we would let them have a movie night while we went out. It was painful for the first week, but they caught on pretty quick that complaining about their chores only set them back on media days.

Summer turned out to be a good time to implement the change because the younger kids, Mack especially, was motivated by getting to play with friends. That is the friend playing-est kid you ever met! He'll play with friends from the minute he gets his chores done till the minute he has to come home at night. He was really good to get up most mornings, start his chores on his own, get done and head out to play with friends by 10:30 or 11:00am. Amelia, on the other hand, could drag chores out for hours unless she had specific plans with a friend. I had to nag her more; she has serious distraction problems. Lily is a reader and was content to read a lot of the summer rather than hang out with friends everyday. So she kind of lolly-gagged on her chores some days. But all in all, the 5-days-without-complaints planned worked pretty well for our family. The kids are behaving better, they argue less, we feel better about how they're spending their time, and school starting has been an easier transition because they aren't going through media withdrawals.

As a sidenote, we also pay our kids for their chores. They earn different amounts according to their ages and they are required to pay for certain things on their own. Lily (age 13) earns $1.00 per chore, plus extra for babysitting and mowing the lawn. She has to buy all of her own clothes (I pay for underwear and socks, and we split the cost on shoes) plus any teenager stuff or treats she wants (she doesn't really buy much of anything besides chocolate). She really likes buying her own clothes because I don't nag her about a single item being too expensive. She can splurge on certain items that are important to her and go cheap on other things. I think she spent under $250.00 on her back-to-school wardrobe. Amelia (almost 9) earns $0.50 per chore and she is required to pay for half of her clothes (just started that this school year) and any toys or treats she wants. Amelia is a good saver and was able to pay for her portion of her school clothes with plenty left over. She is eager to pay her tithing and always gives a little extra for fast offering or the missionary fund. Mack (6) earns $0.25 per chore and just has to buy his own toys and treats. His money is always burning a hole in his pocket and he usually spends it within a week or two, but it's good for him to learn to pay tithing and to work. I don't have to deal with begging for toys and other stuff at the store. I just have to ask the kids if they brought their own money and that solves that problem! Mack has also had to pay his Dad some money this summer for wasting cans of sunscreen and bug spray which he couldn't resist spraying all over the front porch/yard. Boys...

Reading these numbers, you may think, "Man, those kids earn a lot of money!" They sure had the potential to, but the reality is that they didn't do all their chores everyday and I didn't strictly enforce making them do every single chore to get their checkmark for no complaints. Some days we were off playing instead of home so chores didn't get done. They probably only earned about half of what they could have, but the system served it's purpose and everyone had enough money to buy the things they needed/wanted.

Before the end of last school year, I was in the habit of letting the kids brain rot every evening after dinner while I watched something on Netflix. I liked turning off my brain to relax, but the kids were just fighting too much and I was starting to feel like a huge slug. With summer, I kicked that habit because I couldn't expect them to not watch movies while I was glued to Netflix. But something that I still struggle with is checking Instagram and Facebook several times a day and playing Spider Solitaire on my phone whenever I sit down for a break. If I were to tally the time I spend doing those things, including while laying in bed at night, it would likely be two hours a day. That's just such an obnoxious time-suck. My goal for the new school year is to stop checking Instagram and Facebook all day and instead spend that time posting things on my blog. That will at least preserve my family's history and give my kids an actual printed photo book they can look at and read at the end of the year. So much on Facebook isn't even worth wasting the time on, I just want to see what my friends are up to. Instagram is better for that and blogs are even better. I will check notifications I receive on Facebook because I belong to several community groups, but I plan to stop scanning my News Feed every few hours. Wish me luck!

The kids started school last Monday. Cue the music:

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Back to school shopping was better this year than in years past. We did everything down in Utah right after my family reunion at the beginning of August. Lily and I shopped without the younger kids for a couple hours, then spent a few hours the next day finishing up. Mack and Amelia both wear size slim pants which are hard to find in stores, so I bought almost everything for them online (mostly Children's Place). Shoe shopping was the most painful because the kids all had to be there to try things on, but we found something everyone liked at Kohl's. I detest the mall, but now that I have a teenager it's a necessary evil. I turned Lily loose to find clothes and make her own decisions (jeans from Vanity fit her the best because they come in long 35" lengths) while the kids and I grabbed a couple t-shirts and hit the food court. By the time we were done shopping for clothes, I was too burned out to go to Walmart for all the school supplies. I opted to buy everything on Amazon.com and it came right to my door with free shipping (God bless Amazon Prime)! Seriously the way to go! The kids didn't seem to mind not perusing the store for their notebooks and crayons and such, they just pointed to what they wanted on the monitor and click! it was on its way!

The first day of school was so pleasant this year. The kids weren't stressed, we woke up plenty early and everyone was ready on time (which really means 5 minutes early so we could take pictures). Everyone was cheerful and excited and cooperative. :)

It's fun to finally be in a home that we own, where I can take first-day-of school pictures in the same place every year and see how the kids have grown.

 Say "First Day of School!"

Lily didn't give me any lip about pictures and just jumped right into place, posed, and was off in three clicks. It only took 9 years for her to figure that out!

I warned Mack and Amelia ahead of time that I would take their picture in front of the school when I dropped them off, so they were pretty cooperative, too. Amelia grabbed Mack for a spontaneous hug. She moved into the big kid hall this year (K-3rd are in one hall and 4th-6th in another hall). She and Mack no longer have lunch and afternoon recess together but they still see each other at morning recess. Amelia likes seeing her brother at school and always says hi to him, unlike Lily who usually avoided Amelia.

Mack was so mad at the end of last school year when I made him pose for the end of the school picture. There was a field day, which I usually help with, so I was off doing the bike rodeo when school let out. Mack hopped on his bike and rode home without finding me like he was supposed to. I called home and made him ride back for a picture. Yep, I'm that mom.

I didn't get close-up pictures of each of the kids on the first day because I didn't want to destroy their good moods by taking too many pictures. So we did take-two the next morning.

Lily, at 5'8",  is in 8th grade this year, her second year at the 7th-12th Jr/Sr High School. By far her favorite thing is sports. Which is amazing considering the difficult start she had. She went to morning basketball practices during the summer, went on runs with her best friend Mallory often, and started volleyball practice last week. Lily is more into fashion this year. I couldn't believe that she didn't buy a single Under Armour t-shirt, her staple from last year. And I can't even talk about how cute she looks in her jeans.

One of the things I love about living in such a small town is knowing I've got teachers who are my personal friends watching out for my kids in school. Last year there was a boy in the class above Lily and he was teasing and flirting with her. She was totally bugged. Mr. Thomas, her favorite teacher, pulled the boy aside and told him in no uncertain terms that he better leave Lily alone. That's my man!

But I guess I'm not too worried about boys yet 'cause Lily can still bust out with some pretty impressive dorkiness!

She kept messing around so I threatened to post her goofy picture on Instagram. Close enough! I'm a little alarmed at the number of selfies Lily takes on her iPod. But Dan said, "Don't you think you would have done the same thing if you'd had an iPod when you were 13?" Probably. At least she doesn't have any of her own online social networking accounts to over-share on. It gets exhausting looking at teenagers' (and some adults') selfies.

Lily enjoys music and thanks to a Zumba-esque exercise class held over at the church on weekday mornings, I even know a lot of the songs Lily likes! She likes pop with a little bit of alternative twist. Whenever we're in the car she listens to Sirius XM channels 15 and 16. The album she listens to most on her iPod is Fall Out Boy/American Beauty. She mostly rolls her eyes at most of the 80's songs on the radio, but we were jammin' to some Collective Soul the other night and she was into it. The funny thing is that Lily really started getting into music in 7th grade because of her Shop teacher! Mr. Helm keeps music on in the classroom all the time. Lily would start singing along with the radio and I'd look at her and ask, "How do you know this song?" See, because we live in the boonies there are no local radio stations (I think we might get reception for one country station) so for a long time Lily's only source for music was me. You know your kids are growing up when they begin discovering music that isn't on your iPod! Lily is in both band and choir again this year and she really enjoys singing. She is an alto and in band she plays the clarinet. She continues to play the piano and finally made the transition from "Ugh, I hate piano" to practicing on her own and taking the initiative to find sheet music to songs she likes and learning them on her own.

Amelia is in 4th grade. She's been nervous about this new school year because it will be more academically challenging. She will have to do projects outside of school and write short papers. But 4th grade is also one of the funnest year at the elementary school because they study Wyoming history. There are several field trips including one on Labor Day weekend to the Ft. Bridger Mountain Man Rendezvous. Amelia is pretty excited, we went a few years ago as a family. Amelia has always done well in school, but it requires a lot of effort for her to stay on task and she gets easily frustrated. We've been talking a lot about her taking responsibility for her success and not throwing fits.

Amelia loves to be outdoors. She's always excited when we go for a hike, have a cookout, or go pet the horses. We went to Yellowstone this summer and she had a great time taking lots of pictures with her little camera. She likes to do crafts and projects and she likes to draw, but she gets frustrated when she can't get it perfect. She doesn't like piano (because it's hard) but her mean parents make her do it anyway (because it's hard). She is a girl who needs to feel heard and needs to feel in control. She is coming to the age where girls are starting to be exclusive and cliquish and Amelia is having to make the hard choices about who to hang out with and who to just see at school. Amelia hates being teased and her tender little spirit gets so easily crushed when someone says something mean to her. The worst thing you can do is tease her about liking boys. She comes unglued. One of her best friends is a boy and it makes her feel so sad and frustrated to get teased about liking him. Boys are easier to hang out with, there's so little drama. I remember when Lily went through this same phase, although she didn't have problems about the boy/girl teasing until 5th grade. Growing up is hard!

Amelia is very sensitive and she can always tell if I'm having a hard day and she'll come and give me a hug.

Lily and Amelia have been having a hard time getting along for quite awhile now. They share a room out of necessity, but it forces them to have to deal with each other which I think is a good thing. At the core of their conflict is that Amelia hates feeling bossed around or like she can't control her situation. She snaps at people easily if they use any tone of voice that is not gentle. She yells in frustration. Lily likes to be in charge and thinks she deserves respect and has no patience for Amelia's outbursts. We're working on it and both girls get a pretty regular lecture about being kind. I know they are capable of getting along because they were perfect angels for the entire week that my best friend Lori was visiting this summer.

(No, Amelia isn't taller than Lori, she's just standing on a little hill. Close, though!)

Mack is a 1st grader this year. For the first time in 13 years I am home alone for seven hours a day. I'm not gonna lie, I like it. I can go for long bike rides, get housework done without someone messing it up within 15 minutes, work on projects without interruptions, take a nap if I want. But there is also the pang of knowing that my days with little people around me all day are over.

Mack is a great little reader. Because reading was one of his summer chores he hasn't had any trouble getting right back into the swing of things at school. Mack is in a class with 25 boys and 3 girls! Like last year, his class is team taught by two teachers, totally necessary to wrangle that many boys! As I mentioned earlier, Mack loves nothing more than to play with friends. In Kindergarten he would come straight home from school and the first thing out of his mouth was, "Can we do my reading?" because he knew that after homework was done he could play with a friend. Mack had a little meltdown after the first day of school last week when he got home and was told he'd have to do his homework and chores before he could play with a friend. "Mom! I've been in school all day! I need a break!" I cut him some slack that first day and only made him read and do one other chore, but now he is back into the routine of getting everything done. Amelia, not so much...

Doesn't this picture crack you up? It's like those bad school photos where the photographer makes you tilt your head way too far to the side.

Mack loves all kinds of boy things: riding his bike, jumping on the tramp, playing pretend Pokemon battles, collecting sticks, exploring, having Nerf sword fights, etc. And with a class full of 25 boys, he has plenty of friends to play those things with! His favorite book is his Pokemon Guide Book and he can talk your ear off telling you about each of their different moves and types and damage points. He likes to draw and his latest thing is creating his own 8.5 x 11 Pokemon cards. This past weekend the kids had their "movie day" and I had been saving up a DVD set I found at the library - Pokemon Adventures on Orange Island. When I showed it to Mack his face lit up, he said, "I love you, Mommy!" and he threw his arms around me. That kids loves him some Pokemon!

Mack is spazzy and silly and snuggly. He still likes me to snuggle with him in bed at night. When he was younger I worried that if I snuggled him at night it would establish bad sleep habits and he would never learn to go to sleep on his own. Now I know that my days of him wanting his Mama to snuggle him are limited, so I'm soaking up as much as I can get!

Life is good. We are healthy, the kids are making good progress, and it's always refreshing to have a new start.

P.S. See what I mean about Lily and her jeans?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Signs of Spring

The snow has melted off and the mud has dried up, so Spring is here. I knew it was official when I found Dan out in the yard spraying the old mud off the Suburban.

Mack took his mud killing duties very seriously.

Then lemonade stands started popping up on Main Street. Each day a new group of kids would be out with their signs and pitchers and it was like a magnet for every kid in the neighborhood. Mack and Amelia flocked to help their friends sell, then they finally talked their mother into letting them sell their own lemonade.

Really, it's Crystal Light, but who's counting? Our wagon is the perfect storefront. You can drag your offerings all over town to find business.

The kids parked on the bridge over Spring Creek and it only took a couple minutes before kids started pouring out of the woodwork.

Mack's buddy Payton went to grab his little sister, Kamri.

Then Jack and Lucy showed up.

When Mack and Amelia made their sign I thought they were going to draw pictures to give away. Instead, they invited all the kids to color their own pictures. 

Mack's attention span for selling was short-lived and it wasn't long before he and Jack were down trying to throw sticks in the creek.

This horse hair caught my eye.

And this butterfly.

It was a fun afternoon and the kids made a whopping $6.50.

My friend Julia coordinates a short spring soccer league that lasts for 4 weeks. Neither Mack or Amelia wanted to do it, but we made them anyway. No lazy kids allowed here! Soccer's very informal, just something fun for the kids to do. We don't have the resources (i.e. numbers) in town to have a very competitive league, it's mostly coached by well-meaning parents, like me. I'm coaching Amelia's team and my soccer knowledge consists of a dozen YouTube videos. I coached Mack's preschool team two years ago and we didn't even bother practicing, just showed up for the games once a week and let the kids chase the ball around. But I had to step it up this year since I was coaching 2nd and 3rd grade and the kids might actually want to learn something about soccer.

We've been doing lots of ball drills and learning about positions and trying to get the kids to actually play where they're supposed to play.

I didn't get a ton of pictures of Amelia at the first game because I was so busy trying to keep an eye on where the kids were on the field, tell them when it was their ball, encourage and cheer for them, tell them to get out of the defender's territory when they were playing forward, etc.

I was really proud of how both Amelia and Mack played. They ran hard and tried hard and Amelia was understanding better and better by the end of the game. We rotated positions every 5 minutes so all the kids got to play all the positions.

And this, my friends, is why you wear shin guards:

Mack gets frustrated easily if he can't get something right at the beginning, so I was extra proud of him for not whining and throwing fits. He was sometimes seen gawking off in the distance, not having a clue what was going on in the game, but mostly he was smiling and running.

He really liked throwing the ball in.

And his feet actually connected with the ball on several occasions. ;)

He didn't even complain about not making any goals, he just cheered when his teammates made a goal.

We had practice on Monday this week and we got absolutely poured on! I knew it was going to rain, but I'd already gone to the trouble of loading up all the equipment in my car, so I didn't cancel. It started raining about 15 minutes into practice. The kids ran for cover in the Suburban,

but it didn't take long before they decided it would be fun to dance in the rain.

Once they were all out in the rain I made them go back to practicing. We were working on goal kicks when it started hailing and kids started shivering and I had to admit defeat.

They were really good sports about it!

I was absolutely soaked to the bone. Can you say "wet T-shirt contest!"?

The kids piled back into the Suburban for Otter Pops. Hot Chocolate would have been better!

That's April in Wyoming for you!

After soccer I went over to Karla's so we could ruin our dinner and eat really luscious chocolate covered cheesecake for her birthday. (And we totally didn't share with anyone else).

Her birthday is on Star Wars Day. May the Fourth Be With You.

Yesterday, the kids called me outside to see this. Do you notice anything up in that telephone pole?

Little orange and white blob?

Yep, Patch chased a big fat bird up a telephone pole, then couldn't get down.

He cried and cried, but he wouldn't jump down onto the neighbor's barn roof. Firetail came to offer him sympathy (actually I think he just followed us over because we had food to put on the roof to lure Patch down) but to no avail.

I talked to our neighbor, who happens to be the chief of the volunteer fire department, to see if they even had a ladder tall enough to reach that high. He told me what he's told others: "I've never seen a cat skeleton on a telephone pole." He told me it might take a day or two, but cats come down when they get hungry enough.

Patch spent the night out on the telephone pole. Amelia was so worried about him getting electrocuted on the transformer box, but there was nothing we could do but wait.

Sure enough, when Amelia went out to check on him this morning, Patch had made it down onto the barn roof. Before I got over to climb up on the ladder to retrieve him, he had made it down on his own.

He's been curled up inside all morning, sleeping off his traumatic night on the high wire.

I love Spring!