I Know How to Get Through Winter with Six Kids

Sometimes you have to turn a disadvantage into an advantage. Or at least an embarrassment into something useful. For example:

Why is "Do You Hear the People Sing?" stuck in my head?

I often have piles of laundry this big and am ashamed to let people see them. Why? We all have laundry piles and no time to fold them. I’m not alone. Still, I usually tuck them away in a corner where I think they’re less obvious. But they’re always there.

Anyway as you can see by my groovy sectional couch (circa 1984, I kid you not) there is a perfect way for littles to climb up a seat, go over the table, and down the other side for a lovely roundy round jumping game. That is if they don’t stop in the middle and throw themselves off the table. I like to call it the “Make Amy Insane Game!”

I can stop this activity in a variety of ways:

1. Nagging
2. Physically removing them (which hurts my neck)
3. Pushing the table into the corner every day (which hurts my back)
4. Blocking them with the laundry

Ahh, the laundry blockade. The perfect solution! Sometimes you have to be creative.

And that’s what getting through winter with six kids in the house boils down to. Being VERY creative. I try to come up with projects they can all do, including the toddlers who eat stuff and the three-year-olds who want to use the beads. We sing hour-long renditions of “The Wheels on the Bus,” and man is that a wild and crazy bus (the dogs on the bus go woof woof woof. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the bus go “Cowabunga!!”). I dig through the music collection for favorite songs, games and dances, we do yoga (most of them have a pretty mean downward dog), I get out the giant box of stickers, and then there’s coloring. Lots of coloring.

Sometimes the solutions are simple. The kids love reading a book in my lap, as much of it as there it to go around with four of them vying for it when they see someone else in it. I also have two teething babies who want to eat the books. So I found a giant box of board books and just brought the whole darn thing out of storage. We have been working our way through them, several books a day, and aren’t even close to reaching the end of the pile. It’s a perfect activity – they get my attention. They are learning. And they love being in a puppy pile of kids on the couch (until somebody starts asserting dominance. Much like puppies).

We spend a lot of time cleaning up the messes they make. Because they are literally climbing the walls. We lost our chair privileges last week when Mr. W taught Mr. P how to use them to climb up and get what we want off the high shelves. So when they get bored with the toys that are available, they find their own. Watching piles of construction paper cascade off the art shelf is very entertaining. Or letting babies empty an entire box of kleenex. So fun. Evil geniuses.

But the thing is, I can’t get mad at these activities. I know this is what two-year-old boys do especially when they can’t get outside to run, jump, spin, climb, and get rid of that energy in a positive way. We just keep cleaning up. I try to explain how some things in this room belong to Amy and shouldn’t be touched. But I know logically they don’t get that. They see a challenge, they want something, they problem-solve to get it. Two.

As I process all this information and think of what’s happening in the education community today, it makes me sad. The teachers in my neighboring city of Holyoke are facing a new academic hell, something called “receivership,” which I’ve never even heard of, due to low test scores. This means that the state can make them re-apply for their jobs and force the school to get outside help (paid for by who?) even though it’s been proven not to work time and time again. (Oh and standardized tests have been proven not to work time and time again but we’re basing receivership on that. Follow the money trail, friends. Your kids are a cog in the wheel. Child labor. But that’s another story.)

I think about what would happen if some state educational representative walked into my program on an 8-degree day in January. When toys were strewn all over the floor and kids were cranky, noisy, and hard to please. I would say Yes, it looks crazy. And I’ve been doing this for fifteen years, and I know that this is what two-year-olds do. And I know how to handle it. But my voice would not be heard, because a politician and a businessman sitting in a quiet office somewhere, while other people raised their children (if they had any), decided that that’s not what kids should be doing at their age.

I’ve gone from creative laundry uses to a dark place here. I guess what I’m trying to say is, where kids are involved, some things are predictable, and some things are controllable. The rest is beyond us, and being the creative, supportive, patient, guiding adult is our job. And the voices of the professionals who do this job are the ones we should be listening to, no matter how ridiculous the solution may look to an outsider. Because believe it or not baby, I am a pro.

 

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Jack Frost, I Salute You

I’m a member of several child care provider groups and every winter there’s lots of buzz about whether or not we stay open for snow days. I finally started closing for them a few years ago, and it’s been incredibly liberating.

I know for my parents it can be a hardship (sorry guys), but usually there’s at least a little warning time and they can prepare for the possibility with a backup plan. It’s not like my sick days where they get a call at 5AM with the bad news that I’m not making it today.

I try to tell people my snow day horror stories so they understand why I do it: I’ve had kids stuck here until 7:30 at night because their parents are out in the storm somewhere. I once had to carry a child through knee-deep snow to meet his parents at the end of my street because it wasn’t plowed. That was fun. And really, if the towns and safety officials are saying it’s too dangerous and we should stay in, why push it? Isn’t it better to just be safe?

But there’s more to it than that. Child care providers never get to play hooky. Even my kids don’t really get to play hooky. They don’t get to have sick days at home with mom tending to their icky-feeling-need-lots-of-extra-hugs time, because she’s watching the six other kids who don’t care if you have a headache, and they just keep on screaming and crying and doing what they do.

Heck, I don’t even get to go to doctor’s appointments without having to pay a sub. I can’t just tell my boss, “I have to see the dentist this afternoon,” and then not come back after lunch. So I either neglect my own checkups, or have to go through the trouble of finding a sub, and coordinating her schedule with the doctor, and then paying both of them for the privilege of getting a mammogram.

It’s not fair. So that’s what snow days are to me. They’re for the half day of school last week, when my mom friend posted a picture of lunch out with her kids, and my heart blazed with jealousy while I fought my way through quiet time, trying to keep the after-schoolers settled so the babies could nap. Or girl-day manicures or trips to Six Flags or all the other awesome things that people with normal jobs get to do when they sneak away from their responsibilities and have a day of fun with their kids.

The title of this blog refers to the movie Rise of the Guardians, in which Jack Frost is mad because no one appreciates him. He has to learn why he’s a true Guardian and what his center is. Spoiler alert: his center is FUN. And not just fun, but the kind that comes in the dead of winter when there’s really no good reason for it except that we all need a break.

That’s what snow days are about. No school, no work, snowmen, shovels, cold fingers, sleds, hot chocolate. The thrill when you hear your town’s name in the list of closings, and then you listen again to make sure it’s CLOSED, and not just a delay. And turning the alarm off and pulling the covers back up over your head.

So I ask you to put aside the work for a day. Be the most important person for your kids, not your co-workers. Because these days are short, and fleeting, and you only get to play hooky for a few joyous childhood years.

I Miss the Power Outage

My husband and I were almost disappointed when the electricity popped on at 2:30 in the morning, waking us from a deep winter slumber. It was the end of our adventure, the test to see how we’d survive without heat and light.

On the first morning without power, we scanned the radio for news. The local stations weren’t even broadcasting. No internet, no phones, no tv, we felt cut off and worried but also enjoyed the quiet. What we did hear was Boomer Esiason talking about the big weekend football games, and, of course, Led Zeppelin. As Dave said, “Nothing stops classic rock.”

When we realized this was going to be a long haul, our first priority was ice. I went downtown looking for any store that might be open and found nothing for miles. People were already out building snowmen, one an Autumn Queen with a wreath of colored leaves on her snowy head. It reminded me of the broken branches my son carried in from our maple tree, which had been crushed in the storm. He asked me, “If the tree dies, can we keep these to plant next year?”

People were being really good to each other. Driving through town everyone took turns at the blackened stoplights, patiently letting each other go through the intersection. I finally found that Big Y was running on generators. In the store the mood was upbeat – people were chattering and sharing stories. I actually felt like I’d done a good deed by helping someone find the ice freezer (which in twelve years of shopping at Big Y, I never once took note of before).

It seemed that rather than being upset about the damage and chaos, people were relieved that the worst was over and we were all OK. After a ridiculous five-month span during which our quiet little valley has seen a devastating tornado, Hurricane Irene, an earthquake, and now this crushing early winter storm, it felt good just to make it through safely.

On day two, in an effort to find heat (and snow clothes that fit), I took the boys to the mall. As soon as we walked in the bright lights and the blare of dance music hit my ears and I shuddered. I remembered hearing the Dalai Lama once say that after he visits America, he has to go into seclusion for a while. I got that.

It’s amazing how little we need to get by, yet how much we require to get by. In all our talk of developing new power sources, there’s never a thought given toward consuming less. These four days were a reminder that even my family, which tries to live very simply, could use some serious energy-consumption belt-tightening.

We also found that we want to connect as a family more. It was so nice not to be distracted by all the talking boxes that invade our lives. We made a couch fort out of blankets and read books all in a row. We ate by candlelight. In the mornings we huddled in bed for much longer than normal, afraid to get up because it was too cold out there. When the boys got cranky without their video games, we reminded them that we were camping in winter! And wasn’t it fun to have no school? (That beat the camping bit by far.)

On the third night without power our neighbors came over with their two daughters for a backyard campfire and “s’mores in November.” The parents sat back and let the kids tell story after story, mostly about when they puked and injuries they’d had. Younger Son, who is taking his sweet time coming out of his shell, was animatedly telling a story and I was staring at him, probably with wonder on my face. I happened to glance at my neighbor and she was looking at me watching him. We shared a smile that only mothers can truly appreciate.

My doctor once told me that “humans are amazingly adaptable beings,” and I think it showed this week. We were able to do so much to make ourselves comfortable, to find ways of getting by more simply, and sustain ourselves without really having to struggle. We actually kept having moments where not having power was just absurd. We laughed at how I charged my laptop thinking we’d be able to log in for at least a couple of hours to get news – but then we had no router. Every time I went into the basement or a closet I’d flip the switch out of habit but, duh?

We take so much for granted, and we can get by without it. A little blip like this shows you just how well we can do under duress. And that’s what this storm was for us – a blip. When you’re in a disaster like this you need to ask yourself two questions: 1. Is my family safe and unharmed? 2. Is our home destroyed? If that’s all good, you thank God and move on with gratitude for everything you have.

Blizzard in October? Why not?

We’ve already had a tornado, an earthquake, and hurricane Irene in the past five months (that’s it – five months), so why not? Blizzard in October. 13″ of snow, 21 degrees, Halloween was cancelled. This isn’t a doomsday scenario, it’s reality.

Because the leaves hadn’t fallen off the trees yet, the snow snapped them like – well, twigs. Our town was/is a wreck. We’ve been without power for the last four days. Many people in my area still are.

So let’s take a look at what happened in my yard Saturday, shall we?

The big scary tree

First I have this big bad white pine tree.

I actually LOVE this tree, and it’s almost 200 years old, and I can’t imagine something that saw the days of the Transcendentalists and the Civil War and the publication of “Origin of Species” and Lewis and Clark actually standing in the yard right next to me. It provides all the shade in my yard and a fresh layer of pine mulch every year.

I also fear this tree, for the simple fact that if it falls on my house, the 100-year old structure (it’s seen WWI, civil rights, and people still trying to deny “Origin of Species”) that protects my family, my business, and all my belongings will be crushed to smithereens.

Baby mapleThen we have this little baby maple which we planted about six years ago.

I love this baby maple. It was actually 13 when we planted it so it’s almost through adolescence (it’s been pretty easy on us all). During the storm when the snow was piling onto the leaves and they were hanging almost to the ground, Dave kept going out and shaking as much of it off as he could. We thought the tree would make it through pretty well.

And then we woke up to this:

Crushed

WHERE’S THE TOP OF THE BABY MAPLE? It’s hard to see in this picture (taken from the 2nd floor) but the bottom of that fallen tree limb is about two feet across. Thank you for not crushing my roof to smithereens, big white pine branch.

So here are a few more shots from the storm. Driving home the point that it was still FALL when this blizzard hit – in case you didn’t get it already – I give you: snow hydrangeas.

Snow hydrangea

And the peppers still growing in the garden.

Unharvested peppers

The apples on the tree during the storm.

Apples during

And the next day, after the snow blew off and the frost set in.

Apples after

And finally, life goes on (this is the daddy of a little bird family that was playing in the branches of the fallen pine bough).

Cute bird

After (sad face)But will it for my baby maple?

This was just our little backyard drama, we really did fine in the big picture. The destruction from this storm has been huge and we were so lucky to come through with minimal damage. I’m still praying for people who lost everything in the other storms this year, and hoping that next year (or at least for the next five months) we will have an easier run of it.

Just Another Day in the Life of a Child Care Provider

Well here was my morning.

Younger Son wakes up and starts complaining of the exact same strep throat symptoms that Older Son had yesterday when I had to close early and take him to the doctor (thank you parents!!). At that appointment, Younger Son swore that he felt fine so we didn’t test him (an oversight by the doctors and nurses who should have just tested us all because now I’m feeling a little woozy myself). I’m pretty sure he just didn’t want the throat swab.

When we got home from that appointment, literally as we were walking in the door, Younger told me, “I don’t feel good.” Literally.

So today I’m sure he has strep. I call the doctor’s and they say they can’t just give me the antibiotics because they need a positive test and they can see him at 8:55. I explain that I now have six day care kids with me and can’t they just call in a prescription? No. They can see him at 8:55.

I’m thinking I’ll drop the school-age kids off, grab the three others I have, run to the doctor’s and be back by 9:30 for Miss M’s normal dropoff time.

But did I mention there was a two-hour snow delay at school?

So I load the twins, Miss S, Tornado, and Sick Younger into the car (Older chooses to stay home and play Playstation. He’s no dummy). Miss D is screaming and won’t get in because there’s a problem with her hood and/or hat (both of which she is wearing) and she can’t or won’t explain to me what the problem is, so I have to just hoist her into her seat. I trip over Tornado’s boots, which he removed and threw on the floor as soon as I got him buckled into his seat. Miss S reminds me that she needs her backpack to go to school and I explain that we’re having a field trip! Won’t this be fun!

Oh and I forgot to mention that when I told Younger we were going to the doctor he broke down in tears and I had to dress him while he was a sobbing lump of nervous-breakdown-child. That didn’t hurt my heart at all.

And he’s now sitting in the seat across from me refusing to make eye contact. But he did let me hold his hand.

I troll the parking lot for the safest spot that will allow us to not have to cross in front of moving vehicles. I have to drive pretty far away from the building and when Miss S notices that we’re heading in the wrong direction she helpfully points out, “I see lots of parking spaces over there!”

Luckily the waiting room has a small walled-off area for kids to play so I herd them all in there and block the opening with Tornado’s stroller. The nurse who saw us yesterday afternoon stops by to chat and comments about how many kids I have! I explain that they’re day care kids and only the sick one is mine.

As we wait, I’m trying to read a book to Miss S, who for some reason has become obsessed with having me read it to her RIGHT NOW, while keeping the doctor’s office toys out of the mouths of the other children. Then Miss C, who is potty training, informs me, “Amy, pee!!”

OK there’s a bathroom right next to the play area so I can take her in there, hold her over the potty, and keep the door propped open so I can see the other kids. Miss D swears that she doesn’t have to go and keeps playing.

When I get Miss C cleaned up and back to the play area Miss D goes running toward the bathroom.

They call Younger’s name and he looks at me as if I am sending him off to slaughter. I tell him to go with the nurse and we’ll catch up, as I’m dangling Miss D’s naked butt over the toilet.

Don’t think I haven’t noticed the looks I’m getting from all the people in the waiting room.

We find Room 17 after another nurse asks if I need help with my kids, and I tell her I can really handle this, I am a professional it’s a day care field trip isn’t that funny?

After getting everyone safely in the room, the next nurse informs me that I should bring all these kids back for their flu shot if they haven’t had them already. I tell her, and it seems like she’s somewhat surprised to hear, that they’re not my kids! This is my day care. “Ooooohhh!” they say with relief every time, as if I was a little insane the moment before.

Miss S still has the book and is still insisting I read it so I’m doing that quietly while the nurse takes Younger’s vitals. Miss C and Miss D are taking turns putting Tornado’s socks on and off his feet (remember his boots on the floor of the van?), and while I am bothered that there are all kinds of opportunities for spreading germs here, I just let it play because at least they’re all occupied and happy for the moment.

The doctor comes in and asks me why my kids haven’t had their flu shot, and why I’m more than two years overdue for my own physical. At the same time I am pulling Tornado’s hand off the plugs on the examining table, warning Miss S to stand back from the doctor’s laptop, and trying to keep Miss D from grabbing the tools off the counter.

I explain, for the fifth time today, THAT I RUN A DAY CARE.

We leave and I have to say for all the chaos I’ve described, my kids did a really great job on our “field trip.” They were good listeners, there was no screaming or tears, and they just followed me around like little ducklings. So as we’re heading back to the car I ask how I can reward them for being so good, and Younger instantly goes for his favorite: Munchkins. YEEEAAAHHHHHH! We all scream. Even me.

While in the Dunkin Donuts drive thru my cell phone rings. It’s Michelle, who is having her own version of chaos due to her street not being plowed, and can I pick up her son for school? “Of course, we’re already out!” I tell her. She is surprised but not shocked, as she understands that my life is totally random, and why wouldn’t I be out driving around town with day care kids in a snowstorm at 9:30 in the morning?

By the time we get home we have an hour before school begins. The kids need some real food so I quickly whip up an entire package of bagels for all eight of them. But they don’t all want cream cheese. Three want butter, two want cream cheese, and three want peanut butter (a new twist that someone invented and now I’m stuck with making at least three instead of two different kinds of bagels whenever I serve them. Pause while I wistfully remember the days when I thought two choices was a pain).

But it’s OK. I’m taking it all in stride. You want peanut butter? I can do that. Because I saw the writing on the wall and forced myself to be very calm through this whole morning. It was bad enough as it was, but would have been ten times worse if I’d been cranky and P.O.’d the whole time. I kept it upbeat and moving, and my kiddos just followed along. You want us to do what, Amy? Ohh-kaaaay. They’re used to the insanity of it all. See? Day care is good for kids! Teaches them to be flexible.

After the bagel devouring we got our coats, boots, hats, and mittens on again and piled back in the car. Ironically, my two sick boys stayed home while I transported other kids to school. I’m sure they appreciated the quiet for a few minutes.

And we have made it to quiet time. The boys are watching TV and I sit here almost ready to go back to school for the afternoon pickup. Just thinking about what I’ve already done today is making me exhausted. And there’s still snack, playtime, cleanup, pottying, pickup, dinner, homework, and bathtime to come.

OK, everybody’s right. I DON’T know how I do it.

Here Come the Snow Pics!

Wow. We got a lot of snow last week. The news said over forty inches total in January. And there’s more coming Thursday, maybe! Wahoo!! I know people are sick of it but it’s winter. It’s supposed to snow.

In this post and this one I had a few snow pictures from BEFORE the storm that ate America. The first two pics below are the same so you could see how much more we got AFTER (the storm that ate America). And then I threw in some more just because it’s awesome. We’re living in a snow globe.

Remember the snow mountain and how it was up to their porch? Now it’s up to their second floor.

Your house is sinking!

Last week it was still swing-able (in theory). Not anymore!

Swingset - buried.

Now THAT’S a lot of icicles. And yes, that is their 6-foot-high fence in the foreground.

Daaaaaaamn that's a lot of icicles.

It’s kind of unnerving to be driving along, look out the window, and have the snow be higher than you are. (I’ve driven through snow tunnels in Colorado that put this to shame but still – this is Massachusetts.)

The snow is gonna get me

Anyone for hoops? I think the ball’s frozen.

No room for the car

These are my rainbow icicles. I was trying to get the colors – they were sparkly – but the camera didn’t pick them up. Still, pretty.

Shiny icicles

Welcome to the home of snow! (Yep that’s my poor Christmas tree still jammed in the snow bank. Bet the plow guys love that.)

The Gauntlet

What to do with Seven Kids Trapped in a House in the Winter

“January is the make-or-break month for day care providers.” – My friend Karen

And probably February too, since as I sit here we’re adding to the record snowfall (more arctic ice coming our way, and more pictures too, as soon as I can get out there with my camera).

So you can get a better idea of my dilemma, I’d like to explain that I am an outdoor girl. When the weather is nice I have the kids outside for as long as possible. We only come in to eat and sleep, and not even to potty – they can do that in the yard. I have a chair out there. TMI?

But what do you do when the snow drifts are higher than the children? Up until now I’ve had an excellent way to burn the kids’ cooped-up winter energy, and that is called The Running Game. I’m not sure how it started, probably on a day similar to this one. I had the soundtrack to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on and the kids just went nuts at “Wonka’s Welcome Song.” I think because one of them listened to it at home alot, and she got excited that we had it at Amy’s house too. I love it when those things happen and freak them out (like how you never thought your teacher had a life outside of the classroom and it was really creepy to see them at the grocery store buying, you know…food…to eat?).

Anyway they started giggling and running around in circles so I opened the doors and gates and set them free. My house has a circle through the rooms on the first floor so they just did laps – it was awesome. It became a daily thing at the end of every circle time (and sometimes again late in the afternoon, when the energy is really starting to crank up). It was a lifesaver for me – the only way I’ve discovered to really tire them out when I can’t get them outside.

A lot of my older kids graduated this year so I had to train the younger and newer ones to do The Running Game. At first they didn’t know what the heck was going on (What? You want us to run? Inside the house?) but then they got into it. Soon Tornado was old enough for it, and everything was fine until he reached the kitchen.

Tornado doesn’t necessarily like to run, so much, as, maybe, eat the cat food. Or use her dish for water play. Or open the cabinets and dump out the clean dishes or help himself to some cereal. Or hunt for treasure in the compost bin under the sink. OR, my favorite, go in the bathroom and rub his hands all over the toilet seat.

When the twins see him in there they think it’s time to go potty and they’re all in there slamming the door on each other or having water play. Miss M sees Tornado’s crib set up in the kitchen and climbs in, and they all think that is just hilarious and start piling in.

And so it comes to pass that we have reached The Death of The Running Game.

I tried dance parties but I’ve only got one dancer. They love throwing balloons around and chasing them, but only on days when there’s no baby to eat them. Our daily yoga has become run around Amy’s legs and then climb on her back in the middle of cobra and kill her.

I usually bring a few outdoor climbers into the front porch and we can sometimes go out there if it’s warm enough. Last year I even resorted to bringing a small slide into the playroom, but this year after a friend donated a new kitchen playset to me, there’s no room (but that’s OK because we love the kitchen set thank you Trace and Chels!!).

I used to let them put the couch cushions on the floor and jump around on them, but that leads to climbing on the cushion-less couches, which are now so destroyed that you can see the springs. Since I hate losing children in the couch, I frown on that activity. BUT that idea reminded me of the mats. My group is young so they all sleep in pack and plays, and the preschoolers’ mats have been stored in the basement.

Voila: a sea of mats.

A Sea of Mats

Tornado on the couch-a blur even when sitting down

It’s not as good as the running game because I still can’t get them deep breathing. But it has given them a little room to ramble and spurred some other activities, such as fort building and climbing Mt. Mat.

The title of this post could have been an excellent haiku:

What do you do with
Seven kids inside a house
The dead of winter

You learn to live with chaos, try to be very patient, and wait for warmer weather.