Monday, November 30, 2015

Just 5 More Minutes: Netflix Bedtime Strategy

My kids are skilled in bedtime delay tactics.

It's a battle I've recently realized I'm going to lose -- they have played a long, cunning, collaborative game of avoiding my authority when it comes to going to bed and they have outwitted and outlasted me at every turn. Now that they're 9 and 12 I feel like I don't really have the time to gain any ground on this particular parenting battleground, so I've pretty much resigned myself to this fate of quiet time starting later than I'd like. 

Their favorite tactic is to send one out for another goodnight hug or kiss because what monster would deny her precious offspring a second helping of love? If the one is successful, the other sneaks out too. Yes, yes, it's very sweet, it is but I am available ALL DAY LONG for this kind of affection and there's already a goodnight routine in place. If not wanting to do the nighttime routine twice daily makes me a bad mom, add it to the list. Unfortunately, this one works 85% of the time due to the guilt. 

Also, little kid has the gall to request a new tuck-in since his old tuck-in was disrupted when he got out of bed uninvited. He doesn't see how this isn't really our problem but it's easier to just do it. They have worn me down with the constant out-of-bed attacks and I surrender almost immediately these days.

Strategic pooping also has a solid history of effectiveness. We've had a name for this since Big Kid was four, so it's not a new concept. I don't know if they have actually trained their bodies to comply like bedtime avoiding ninjas or if they are taking advantage of the fact that we can't really insist that they not do this but this one works every time and is deployed 2-3 times a week. 

We came to a peaceful negotiation at one point where they were allowed to stay up an extra half an hour if they were reading. We felt really smug about this and our kids have been really dedicated readers ever since, but the fact of the matter is that they have slowly combined this deal with their old tactics and now bedtime is even later. 

Netflix came up with the brilliant idea of Dinotrux 5 Minute Favorites so that you can promise one more show before bed and really mean it, but don't mention the 5 minute part because they'll catch on to your tricks and you'll be watching 10 episodes of Dinotrux because negotiating at night time is hard. 

It's too late for me because my kids are too skilled and I have been defeated.

*I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team and was not compensated for this post or these opinions (but sometimes they send me cool stuff, like Popples and Care Bears, and I do love that.) I just want to help moms marching on the same dusty road while also helping Netflix help those moms, and I think there should be more of a general awareness that strategic pooping is a thing. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Out of Left Field Trips

Part of the transition to homeschooling has been the promise of more field trips and real world educational opportunities. As with everything in life, this has been easier said than done. All of that free time and boredom I was worrying about has yet to surface. 

Our first field trip was to the Crystal River Archeological Park. It was near an area we had visited over summer vacation so I decided to make it a mini-vacation with an overnight at a hotel and some fun before the organized field trip the next day. Big Kid loves freshwater springs and the area has several of them so we decided to enjoy a quick tubing trip. 

Then we found out that tubing isn't allowed off season and October isn't their season, 90 degrees or not. 

We settled on the waterpark at Weeki Wachee Springs. 

Then we found out that the waterpark is closed in October. 

The boys had been excited about a haunted corn maze advertised on the hotel's event calendar. 

Then we found out that the maze was the previous night and the date was wrong. 

Understandably, Big Kid was frustrated about this series of frustrating events. 

I was too. We were supposed to be celebrating and all stress-free together. I was in a very small area far away from home and nothing was going right.

(little kid was rolling with the punches, as always. He was just glad to be missing school the next day.) 

As I tried to think of what to offer as an alternative, Big Kid walked up to me in the hotel room and gave me a big hug -- the good kind, where he leans in and obviously needs the hug. 

"Mom? I'm sorry for being such an asshole." I heard him say. 

I was struck by his surprising amount of self-awareness before I realized he's not allowed to say asshole, even if it's about himself and he is being one. 

"Big Kid!! You're not allowed to say that!" I said. "And you haven't been that bad."

"Not allowed to say what? What do you think I said?" He asked. 

His obvious confusion made me hesitate to answer. "What did you say?" 

"I'm sorry for being such a hassle?" As I started laughing, he realized what I thought he said and joined me. 

We ended up wandering around Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park where the boys fell in love with a hippo who was an honorary Florida citizen, we ate at a delicious dive bar/steak place, and after getting our fill at the archeological park the next day, we left the field trip early and went to Weeki Wachee Springs where we were allowed to play in their freezing cold spring (sans waterpark) and watch their roadside attraction mermaid show before driving home. It was weird and wonderful. 

Hanging out with sea cows and these two in Homosassa.

A photo posted by Ashley McCann (@ashleyquitefrankly) on

And a stop at Weeki Wachee. No mermaid sightings yet. This place is super weird though.

A photo posted by Ashley McCann (@ashleyquitefrankly) on

Our second field trip involved a visit to a working dairy farm and I GOT TO BOTTLE FEED BABY COWS. I mean, they got to bottle feed baby cows. This is all about the children and their education. Baby cows mean business when they eat, though, I bet the mama cows prefer the milking machines. I was incredibly impressed by the cleanliness and efficiency of the whole operation. 

So much fun at @dakindairyfarms today! We love their cows and how they treat them.

A photo posted by Ashley McCann (@ashleyquitefrankly) on

And then Big Kid had to catch up on homeschool (yes, catching up is a thing with virtual school) and I had to catch up on work (yes, catching up is a thing with freelancing) and little kid had to catch up on regular school, so big field trips are on temporary hiatus until next semester. 

Hopefully everyone will be less of a...hassle after the holidays.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Big Move

Remember the whole mid-life crisis thing I was planning?

(Guys, you know my commitment to questionable ideas -- they are my third favorite thing. Cats and Netflix being first and second.)

Well, after spending weeks researching a small island off of the coast of Nicaragua, analyzing how long we could live there on our savings, determining if the wi-fi signal was strong enough for me to work and discussing it all at length with a stranger I met who lived there for 8 years, I quit my job and took Big Kid out of school.

Not to move to Nicaragua though, I'm going to have to save that for my three-quarters life crisis because I can't figure out how to get two cats, a dog, a hedgehog and a box turtle to an island in another country and I think I should at least visit before attempting it.

(I know that's disappointing. I might have finally been book-worthy.)

Anyway, Big Kid was miserable in school -- beyond your normal tween misery. I'm not talking about the average drama of eye rolling and whining in the mornings, I'm speaking of a defeated sense of sorrow; of waking up with tears in his eyes and retreating more and more into quiet despair.

At first we tried to fix him. We've had similar issues in the past, always around school. He has friends, things seemed fine, just freaking hated school. We couldn't really figure out what was wrong, other than school.

We also tried to fix school. We reached out to teachers, guidance counselors and administration and were met with a bland indifference. They couldn't make any changes because it wasn't allowed or because they would have to do so for everyone.

No single issue was a big deal, I don't have some dramatic tale of injustice. We just couldn't fix anything and neither could they.

Then one day I saw this video about a boy who just wants to be happy. Later that same day I saw on the news that a middle schooler had been arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school. I realized that in the eyes of the adults present, a middle schooler would be more likely to bring a bomb than a homemade clock to the classroom. I looked at Mr. Ashley and said, "Holy shit, it's not him. There's nothing wrong with him. He's just in the wrong place."

I consulted my village and found two camps: the people who acted like we were giving up and the people who urged me to do something and cheered me on. Counselors, teachers, moms, and wise women all told me to trust my gut and relayed their own experiences of feeling marginalized or hopeless and helpless and how that affected who they became. The skeptics either seemed doubtful about my endurance or abilities (don't blame them) or worried that we were setting him up for a life of entitlement.

The truth is: real life isn't like middle school. It doesn't have to be.

I want him to be happy. I want him to feel heard.  I want him to want to learn. I want him to have his own voice. I want him to know his creativity is valuable and powerful and a force to be nurtured. I want him to recognize when a situation isn't right for who he is as an individual and to honor that.

They couldn't help him because then they'd have to help them all. He is my all.

I found myself walking into his room to wake him up on the first day of homeschool and then realized that I didn't have to. I stood in the doorway and mourned the loss of my alone time for a moment as I watched him sleep and then thought, "Genie, you're free," like the end of Aladdin. It all felt a little like giving up my last wish; bittersweet but filled with boat loads of hope.

So he is doing Florida Virtual School (which is actually still public school, making me a bit of an outcast in the homeschool world) and my plan was to continue working. I do freelance writing and marketing and was the digital media manager for a chain of yoga studios. I made my own hours, worked from home, and had what I thought was a pretty good system in place. I finally had everything I thought I wanted professionally -- a flexible schedule, steady freelance work, regular pay in a position I liked, and I spent my days writing about things I truly believe change people's lives. My relationship with the yoga studio changed my world and my co-workers were some of my truest friends.

And yet I quickly found myself miserable. I thought this might be because I'm an ungrateful asshole. I would do the math and tell myself that 20-30 hours of work and 10-15 hours of freelance writing a week is doable and that I'm lucky to have it. I would remind myself that this is what I wanted. I would come up with new ways to carve time out of the middle of the day so I could actually help Big Kid. I would get so mad at myself for feeling like I was doing a half-assed job at everything.

And one day Big Kid said, "Maybe your job is like my old school -- even if the people are great and the work is fine, maybe it's just not right for you right now," and that landed so hard in me that my breath caught in my throat for a minute.

There I was evangelizing to him and the whole rest of the world about finding happiness and feeling empowered and believing in yourself and changing your perspective and I was completely unwilling to do those things for myself. 

So I resigned. It was as easy and as difficult as that. Again, it was bittersweet and filled with boat loads of hope.

One day after I gave my notice, one of my bosses and I were working together, sitting in an empty studio like we had so many times before. I had just been thinking about how I would miss that -- lounging on that floor barefoot for business meetings. She was lamenting about how she would miss my help and when she finished I said, "You know, this is really scary for me too."

She looked at me and asked, "What's the worst that could happen?"

I considered that for a moment -- maybe I would do a shitty job at homeschooling, maybe my relationship with Big Kid would suffer, maybe I would lose my place professionally or lose the connection with my yoga friends...and I knew none of that would happen.

"Well...maybe I'll be bored?" I answered, feeling great relief to realize what was actually at risk.

She shrugged. "Then you can come back. We'll be here."

They'll be there.

Everything that really matters will always still be there.

On the second day of homeschooling, Big Kid looked me in the eye and said, "Mom, thanks for going through all this trouble, and for understanding and for listening to me and making it better," and there he was again -- the actual him, with the spark of life that makes him him.

He's been homeschooled for six weeks now and he's happy.

I've been doing my thing for three weeks now and I'm happy.

So far the only thing missing is the boredom I so feared, but there's time for that.

And that's the story of my way-less-exciting-than-Nicaragua midlife crisis. I don't know if it will be our happily ever after but it's our happily right now.