Daybook: Mid-May, 2020

Outside my window: gray and green. The temperature today is supposed to top out at 41 degrees (F). I brought the fuchsia plants in so they wouldn’t go into shock. The trees are recovering from the late freeze and finally have some leaves.



I splurged on some hanging flowers for the porch. Normally I don’t,
because when we travel they all die, but… this summer we’re not traveling.

In the kitchen: Last night Phoebe’s first harvest of butter lettuce inspired me to make hoisin tofu lettuce cups and hot & sour soup, but my broth didn’t turn out right. It was a disappointment. However, not all was lost.

While I was trying to finish the final steps to put everything on the table, I had six hungry people chatting all around me and getting in my way. Once all the hungry people are fed, they want to disappear immediately into their own pursuits, though I would love for them to linger. I’m thinking a platter of hors d’oeuvres before dinner might prolong the pre-dinner linger. Please send me your favorite appetizer recipes in the comments!



My favorite part of Zoom school: Bob Ross-like
watercolor paint-alongs with the art teacher.

In the schoolroom: This week is the end of college finals for Jonah, and AP exam week (1/2) for Owen and Moriah. Phoebe had her first committee meeting (via Zoom) for an environmental action group she joined. It all sounds great on paper, but we are exhausted. According to the numbers we should continue school through May 29, but I going to call an audible (Omaha!) and wipe the final week of school off calendar. I figure we had less disruption to our school than, well, most of America, and we can just be done.

In my shoes: While all our lives are better when we move, we’re still struggling to do it.

On my mind: white privilege. It greases so many wheels in my life. I am beginning to see how systemic racism is much of the ground underneath my feet. I don’t know how to pull it up, but I am learning to look where I am walking. It’s not enough, but it’s a beginning.

Also: how health care system pays for procedures, not for thinking. For treatment but not prevention. We are seeing the effects of this in so many ways right now, from the failure to follow through on pandemic planning to the financial crisis in many health care entities.

Grateful:

  • for my neighbors’ creativity
  • for a weekend that managed to be both fun and restful
  • the technology that has made it possible to stay connected with friends and colleagues far (and near)
  • Sam’s hard work
  • my nephew’s college and MBA graduation
  • policy makers trying to thread the needle of economic survival in the face of loss of lives

Praying for:

  • clear answers and compassionate care for a hospitalized friend
  • family members who have to be advocates from afar
  • the lonely
  • safe spaces to grieve whatever we have lost, even if it’s smaller than what our friends/neighbors/communities have lost
  • students trying to show what they’ve learned during this much-interrupted year of learning
  • Mandy, Judy, Joanie, Eric & family, Jennifer, Clare

"I'm never going to survive two months of this."

This was a text from someone dear to me. She asked for tips to survive at home with her kids. She’s not alone. I’ve gotten a whole bunch of texts and messages that are variations on this theme, and I have a few tips.

Social distancing: only one kid per tree.

I’m also going to refer you to some other homeschoolers I turn to when I think I’m not going to make it.

Kelly Mantoan is a Catholic homeschooler and possibly one of the funniest people out there. Both her faith and her humor feature in her writing. She posted the other day on How to get stuff done when everyone is home. Start there.

Julie Bogart has graduated five homeschooled adults into the world and offers a wealth of kindness, encouragement and practical help. I have linked here to her blog post announcing a free conference next week for Homebound learners that might be of help. She also has a ton of curriculum resources, both short- and long-term, and a great book, The Brave Learner.

Melissa Wiley is a writer and long-term homeschooler. She’s got great advice for us.

I also want to highlight an Instagram feed with practical and evidence-based help for parents on managing kids’ behavior. You can find Jennifer on Instagram at everydayba.

My tips for surviving being stuck at home to save the world:

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Remember why you’re home.

We all know someone whose risk with the virus is extremely high, whether it’s grandparents or neighbors or friends from school, and our temporary incarceration directly benefits them. Talk about this with your kids. Let them know that their actions matter. We have chosen to stay home to protect the vulnerable. It doesn’t feel heroic when your floor is covered with rice and ants and you’re yelling at your kids to set the table (um, me yesterday) but it is.

Adjust your goals.

This is code for “lower your standards.”

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This was immediately after some children finished “picking up.”

Perhaps your kids go to an elite school and are now trying to learn calculus off your television. Or maybe you have been in the habit of enjoying six hours of blessed silence every day while your kids are at school, and well… now there’s no silence and a house full of kid crap twenty-four hours a day.

Go back to tip #1 (remember why you’re doing this) and adjust your expectations. This may not be the year your kid masters calculus, but they are going to learn lessons of resilience, independence in time management, and creative mental health strategies that will benefit them their whole lives.

Likewise, you are now sharing your daytime work space with another person (or five more people), and it’s going to look different. But maybe this is the season when your kids finally learn how to pick up after themselves, do their own laundry and clean the house. (Their future roommates/spouses will thank you.)

A word about screen time: there are so many options emerging for fitness classes online, learning remotely, and connecting with loved ones. If you have strict screen-time limits, this is a good time to evaluate adjusting those. However, we should still be strict about WHERE screens live in our homes. There is good evidence that we eat, sleep and learn better if the screens stay out of our bedrooms, kitchens, and hidden corners of the basement.

Make a plan.

Humans like to know what’s going to happen next. This is what makes us different from dogs, and is probably why all of us are losing it right now.

Your plan should work for all of you. Not just for the kids, and not just for you. Sit down together to set some goals and priorities, and then shoo them away while you make the actual plan. Follow it for a week or two, and then readjust.

Move often.

Seven times out of ten, when my kids start snarking at each other, it’s after a prolonged period of sitting or lying around. Ninety percent of the remaining time, it’s because they’re hungry or tired. You schedule your meals and add snacks when necessary. Do the same with movement.

Schedule regular movement throughout your day. And if you notice kids getting crabby, shake it up with some movement. The younger the kids, the shorter (and more frequent) the movement breaks need to be. Think: turn up the music and dance a song. Do five jumping jacks. Take a ten minute walk before lunch.

Dance break!

Be generous with praise.

Our kids are anxious. They may be reading the news, or just reading our moods, but they can tell things are not right. When we draw their attention (and our own) to what’s going well, the more of that we’ll get.

  • “I noticed how patient you were with your sister during Monopoly.”
  • “Thanks for waiting to talk to me till I got off the phone.”
  • “Thanks for unloading the dishwasher.”
  • “You’ve been working really hard on that math problem. Shall we work on it together for a little while?”

Keep a running tally of what went well.

I try to write down at least a couple things every day. My list is as simple as “P called Papa & Grandma, M unloaded dishwasher without complaining, crocuses by the front tree.” These aren’t major victories by any means, but they make all the difference in how my brain catalogs this day. A few small victories can move us from having a “bad day” to “good day.”

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Apologize often.

Say you’re sorry. Hug lots. Be consistent in your rules (whatever you all decide they should be) and have lots of grace for each other and yourself.

You can do this.

You are doing it. Thank you for protecting the vulnerable.

How routine can be your friend right now

These are challenging days, with lots of time on our hands and not a lot of structure. Perhaps your family needs a week or more of unstructured time to decompress from the pace you’ve been going for too long. But when your kids start picking at each other over nothing and you’re looking for a way to add some structure to your days, I have a suggestion.

Right now all our routines are out the window… or are they? We’re still getting up in the morning. We still eat meals and brush our teeth (hopefully). My teens still pick up their phones first thing. Some of us have dogs that need to be walked.

These routines can be harnessed to make your quarantine “school” more effective and pleasant.

Perhaps you have some online or assigned work from your child’s teachers. Maybe you have some of your own goals for your kids’ learning during this time. Today is NOT the day to roll it all out like some kind of new school in your living room. Expecting your child to jump into six hours of “school” at the kitchen table is a disaster waiting to happen, and we have enough of those circulating right now.

Instead, today is the day to make a plan.  Sit down with your child and set a few goals and priorities.

If your child’s goal for this time is to be able to hit a tennis ball against the wall 100 times without missing, and your goal is for them to learn their times tables, write these down.

If what you need is two uninterrupted hours to work from home each day, and your child really wants to be able to lie around in their pajamas, then write these down as your priorities.

Now write down a schedule with only your anchor activities. You don’t necessarily need the exact times, but the order is important. For example:

Take dog out
Breakfast
Get dressed/ready for school
 
Walk dog
Lunch
 
 
 
 
After school snack
Homework from school
Make dinner, eat
Walk dog again
Bedtime

Now I’m going to add in our “work”.

Take dog out
Breakfast
Kid: Times tables (10 minutes) Adult: clean up from breakfast
Kid: Free time Adult: your work
Walk dog
Lunch
Kid: Times tables (10 min) Adult: make a plan for dinner
Kid: Hit ball against garage Adult: work
Kid: Free time Adult: work
After “school” snack
Assignments from school
Make dinner, eat
Walk dog again
Bedtime

#First, did you notice I took out “get dressed/ready for school”? Throwing your kid this bone might work for your family as leverage for some of the harder things you’re going to ask them to do later.

* Did you see I said just 10 minutes for drilling times tables? This wasn’t an arbitrary number. A child’s attention span (on average) if their age in minutes, plus 3, so an 8 year-old cannot be expected to have an attention span of more than 11 minutes. Obviously, when we get into a state of flow or deep work, this may change, but we can’t expect that deep flow state to happen over something like times tables. As you plan your day, keep this guideline in mind. Eight minutes at the table is a good stretch of work for a five year-old. A fifteen year-old isn’t going to work in an uninterrupted fashion on something difficult for more than 20 minutes.

Some days will work better than others. You may find your child wants to learn something else entirely. You may find that your child’s attention span is half of what you thought it was. Some days will fall apart. That’s okay.

Even if during the morning, your kid has a tantrum during their ten minutes of running their times tables and you spend a chunk of your own “work time” trying to help them with their anxiety, your world reverts to normal again with your pre-lunch dog walk. Or at lunch. The anchors fix our schedule, even when the new part is a challenge.

Once you have a bare-bones routine like this working, you might be able to add another activity or two into the mix, always keeping the anchors steady.

Take dog out
Breakfast
Kid: Times tables (10 minutes) and read a chapter of a book
Adult: clean up from breakfast, make a plan for dinner
Kid: Face time with Grandma, then Free time
Adult: your work
Walk dog
Lunch
Kid: Times tables (10 min)
Adult: 10 min of prepping ingredients for dinner
Kid: Hit ball against garage, then 20 min of a YouTube nature documentary
Adult: work
Kid: Free time
Adult: work
After “school” snack
Assignments from school
Make dinner, eat
Walk dog again
Bedtime

Routines are good for us. Kids like to know “what’s next.” While we can’t answer so many of their questions right now (When will school open again? What will we do this summer? What about the school play? Will the Olympics still happen? What about graduation?) we can ease some of the daily angst with routines. All the better if our routines include time to accomplish small goals, daily exercise, and time together.

For some suggestions of small goals and other ways to fill this time, check out this post. Or if your child (or you) are experiencing anxiety right now (and who isn’t?), read here.

Hang in there, friends!

How to help your children who are feeling a little anxious about COVID-19

Are you feeling a little anxious about being in home quarantine? I bet your children are, too. Or maybe they are more anxious about being away from their friends and school.

Some children are able to talk about their anxiety. They might describe it as fear, worry, or nervousness.  Many children, however, don’t have the insight or the language to describe their anxiety.  Instead, they experience stomachaches, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, tiredness or other pain. Or they may not be aware of it, but you notice it in their behavior, with crying, bedwetting, difficulty sleeping, fidgeting, pacing or shaking. As anxiety progresses, it may also bring on depressive symptoms which include fatigue, loss of appetite (or increased appetite), weight loss or gain, sadness, or avoiding activities a person normally enjoys.

So what do we do about COVID-19-related anxiety in our children (and ourselves?)

First, limit how much news they and we are taking in. Do we really need to keep the COVID-19 case tally website open on the computer? (Asking for a friend.) Reducing our exposure to worrying news might mean limiting phone/computer access to certain hours or sites/apps. Talk with your teen/tween about why you think this is a good idea. When we take lots of bad news we can’t do anything about, the powerlessness we experience can lead to anxiety or depression. Stick to reliable news sources, and avoid sites that spread rumor and speculation (I’m looking at you, reddit and facebook.) Once you have set some limits, then follow them together.

Second, hear them out. Your children might be experiencing some really big emotions right now. Create space for them to share these with you, whether it’s in the dark at bedtime, in a drawing, or just over a cup of tea together in the kitchen. When we sit down with them and give them our full attention, it sends a message that we are all in this together. You don’t have to have the answers. Some good open-ended questions or prompts, (“Tell me more…” or “How are you feeling?”) go a long way.

Younger kids especially benefit from our giving names to emotions. When they act out, it can help for us to name the emotion we’re seeing. Saying, “I feel angry, too,” or “I wish you could be at school, too,” can help normalize their feeling and make their anger/fear/worry seem less scary to them.

Answer their questions. Think of this like sex ed: your job is to answer their questions, and if you don’t know, then find out. If no one knows the answer, then be honest about that. But you don’t need to add in fifty further details about your own fears, or your own speculation about it, or answer the next question that seems extremely obvious to you, but that hasn’t occurred to them yet.

Look for ways to act. Feeling powerless is really difficult (remember when you went to buy TP and there wasn’t any?) Maybe your faith community has a prayer ministry you can participate in together, or suggestions of other ways you can support your community. Maybe you could run to the store or cook a meal for a neighbor who is at high risk of infection.

Physical activity is an antidote for stress. So is being outside. We can model these behaviors for our kids and invite them to participate with us. Practicing a stress-relieving technique together (yoga, mindfulness, breathing exercises) can benefit us all. If you don’t know how to do this yet, now is a perfect time to learn. I’ve linked to a few below.

It’s important to remember that our goal is not to help our children avoid every stressful situation (and right now, obviously we can’t.)  Our message to them is that we will get through this together. We want to show them we have (or can learn) the skills we need to help us feel better, and that they’re not alone.

If your child’s (or your) anxiety is interfering with their (or your) ability to function, please get help. Your family doctor or pediatrician is a great place to start. Your local children’s hospital will have a phone number you can call to make an appointment. On the back of your insurance card, there should be a phone number to access mental health services. If you are uninsured, your local Community Health Center (you can find it here) will have behavioral health resources for you and your children.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about how you can use the routines you already have at home to optimize learning at home and reduce anxiety.