Groaning the End of Summer Blues

Last week Google told me it was the first day of fall. Shut up Google. I haven’t even turned the calendar in my kitchen from August to September yet – because if I don’t, summer’s not over. This is just my way of showing mother nature that I object. I’m usually fighting the power, but I might have to admit that there’s nothing I can do to keep fall from coming.

In the weeks before we went back to school a lot of parents were excited to get their kids out of the house. I even saw a few non-parents posting funny cartoons on Facebook, dancing chimps and frazzled moms, with comments like “I hear this is how parents feel this time of year.” They haven’t talked to me.

The grind of the school year is too much for me. I like lazy summer days with their own rhythm. I let the boys sleep in, then they get their own breakfast, watch a little tv, get bored, and hop on bikes to ride to all their friends’ houses and see what’s up. They come back hot and tired, with some goodies from the candy store, and maybe hang out with me and the day care kids in the yard for a while. In the evening it’s another ride or walk to town, a board game, kicking the soccer ball around in the yard, grilling, ice cream.

Now that school is in session I’m finding ever more creative ways to pry teenagers out of bed in the morning. Hustling them out the door against their will. They come home and there’s barely time for a snack before it’s off to practice (well that’s fun). Then the endless late nights of homework are like sticking a needle in my eye. Nobody is any good at that hour. We are barely three weeks into it and I can hardly keep up.

The sad remnants of a provider's summer: one last apple from the tree, bathing suits to be packed away for next year

The sad remnants of a provider’s summer: one last apple from the tree, bathing suits to be packed away for next year

Fall also means another year gone by. I sit here writing this in my house that will be 100 years old in eight months. The previous owner lived here for forty years and when I, the young pregnant wife bought this house from her, I thought good God, forty years. That’s a whole lifetime. Well the new housewife has been living in this house for fifteen years. She has four (blink-of-an-eye, instantaneous) summer vacations left until her baby goes away to start his own life. So yeah, I don’t want to send them back to school. I want them with me all the time.

I’ve always been fascinated with the detachment that moms of older children have – they don’t always seem to be as engaged with their kids as the moms of younger children. I see the goodbyes that parents of younger kids go through, the long hugs and kisses, secret handshakes, hanging around to be sure they’re OK before mom and dad leave. Now my guys just march themselves off to the bus while trying to avoid my hugs. So it’s self-protection to become a little detached the more our babies draw away from us. It’s not because we’re not interested – we’re naturally a bit hardened by all those goodbyes.

My big boys and I still have our own ritual, even if I’m not allowed past the hedge. They each have a saying for me and I try to keep it simple. I can’t yell, “Goodbye sweet darling light of my life I love you so much my little petunia, have a wonderful day and don’t let anything bad happen!” (Though I do toy with that every day.)

They can’t possibly know that my “Have a good day” flung out the door as they leave means so much more than its words. It means, I hope you don’t get bullied. Take care of your friends. Be smart. Behave but be cool too. Don’t stress yourself out over getting perfect grades. Think of me when you’re in a bad place because I am always thinking of you. And I’m always wondering how you’re doing, if everything’s OK, if there’s anything you’re not telling me. And what could I do if you did? It means my child, you are the most important thing in the world to me, and I will be missing you until you’re with me again. Forever and always.

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Feeling the Love

Sometimes in the middle of the insanity you can feel so much appreciation. Or maybe it seems even better than usual because you’re in a bad place. I needed it today, and boy did I ever get it.

This is a job where you don’t always feel that love, especially in summer. Parents are stressed out because they’re juggling schedules and trying to find care for kids who are out of school. My kids are home feeling neglected and bored while I work. And then there’s just the normal job stuff of making everybody follow the rules and managing extra equipment and activities for multiple ages – in your living room.

Today was looking to be a doozy. Without school in session I am IT for both my usual crew plus the after-schoolers, and I am overloaded. Usually the house and yard are trashed from one end to the other by the end of the day. I was expecting chaos from the get-go.

Instead, I started my morning with the sweetest moment. One of the moms was dropping off and she commented, “Your house has a certain smell and I realized what it is when I came in today. It’s comfort.”

Wow. Could you say anything better to someone who spends her life trying to comfort many little people? (And isn’t it nice that the soccer and baseball equipment are laying right there in the front hall, but she could still say that somehow.)

Another wonderful thing today has been my boys. I finally offered to pay them if they would stay with me and help with the kids, and geez why didn’t I think of that before. They have been all over me, doing everything I ask IMMEDIATELY. I need to mention that I’ve spent the first half of the summer begging them to put away their dirty laundry and dishes to the point of wondering, is there something mentally wrong with them?

Not today. Throw a little cash at them and they’re suddenly professional child care assistants. Having them with me has been delightful. They’ve carried babies (I’m still hurting from the bad back), set up pools, served lunch, and led the arts and crafts time. They’ve been simply amazing.

My five-year-old who already spent a week at camp commented, “Your house is like a campground!” So we decided that my boys are the camp counselors. They didn’t mind. In fact I think they kinda liked it.

Finally, I have a little one who has been fighting nap and her mom has been very concerned because she wants her on a good sleeping schedule. Today, after a few days of fighting through nap, she fell asleep for the first time. I was thrilled and immediately texted mom. Her response: “YOU ARE A SUPERSTAR.” (Her caps.)

It may sound silly but that’s exactly what I need to hear. A little bit of praise is so nice. When it comes to kids, I know what I’m doing, I’ve been doing it for a long time, I get good results. But on a day when eight of them are running through my house in various states of nakedness and/or dripping wet, I have my doubts. So that little bit of extra love every once in a while is just what I need.

First Day of Summer

Let’s talk about today.

First off, I started the week by putting my back out. Mr. O is going through a second phase of stranger anxiety but at 18 months instead of nine. So now he’s twice as heavy as a 9-month-old. And I’m twice as old as somebody who should be hauling around any baby.

When Famous Carol came to sub for me to go to Younger Son’s graduation from elementary school, I picked up a screaming Mr. O, the back went pop and so, pretty much, did the rest of my week.

With school out I don’t have to transport the boys back and forth, which is great, and I love having them home more than anything. But they are two extra bodies in the house who, however self-sufficient, still need attention and feeding and leave a trail of dishes, crumbs, and wet/dirty/smelly clothes in their wake.

Younger actually wants to help with the day care kids, which is awesome, but requires extra work in finding supplies and cleaning up after the highly complicated art projects he chooses at random each morning.

I had an interview coming at noon and had to print out a contract – and the printer was out of ink. I should add that an interview makes you want to have everything clean and tidy. But there are seven kids underfoot who don’t care all that much about cleanliness. And that just creates a lot of angry noise in your brain that you’re carrying around on top of the usual chaos.

The weather has been crazy this week and it was downpouring all morning. At 10:15 when there was a break in the rain I told the kids, we need to get out in the yard now before it comes back! Once we got there, the skies cleared and the sun was beating down on us.

I hadn’t brought out any supplies for swimming (towels, bathing suits, change of clothes) but the children were already half-naked and jumping in the pool full of rain water.

Well, OK fine, they’re distracted, we’ll deal with that mess later, I thought. Now is the perfect time to put together my new climber that the neighbors donated and are bringing over at this very moment. The interview will see it and think, what an awesome place to bring my daughter. That climber will put me over the edge, I’m sure of it!

The babies were running around naked with soaking wet “pendulum diapers,” as my neighbor noted. Miss A was playing a half-serious game of chase with Mr. L in which she showed him her doll, he tried to take it, and she ran away screaming, “You can’t have my doll!”

I stopped her and explained that she should stop showing it to him if she didn’t want him to take it. She listened politely, showed Mr. L the doll again, and ran away screaming with him trailing behind her.

I realized the climber was going to need more help than a good swift kick to pop it together, so I went to grab the rubber mallet out of the garage. Not there. But this small axe should do the trick!

The two big girls were playing a game of princess rescue in which one of them hid somewhere in the yard and screamed in pain to warn the prince that she needed help. This game intersected with the baby doll chase and four children were now running through the yard tackling each other with various levels of real- and fake-pain screams. The babies were beginning to melt down, lunch time was approaching, and I feared my interview could walk in at any moment.

Pay no attention to the axe in the play area.

I hustled the sweaty, dirty, crying, mosquito-bitten, sunburned, droopy-drawered children into the house and somehow miraculously managed to get them all cleaned up, changed, and sitting down ever-so-beautifully at the lunch table when the interview arrived.

I found out five minutes after she arrived that she used to be a preschool teacher. She was completely nonplussed by the disaster, and sat down with a book and two kids on her lap while I finished cleaning up lunch. Some things are meant to be.

They left and I put the kids down for nap and to have a lie-down on the living room floor (oh yes the back is still twinging amidst all this). I have lately fashioned a pillow out of two comforters and a pillow case for Mr. L who, instead of drinking his water, dumped it out in his bed and wailed about having a wet bed.

It’s 1:50. I’m just sitting down to lunch. We’re only two hours behind schedule. And I’m just a few clicks away from a nervous breakdown. Welcome, summer!

Play is Children’s Work

Just a quickie today, it’s the weekend and I’ve got baseball games and birthday parties and guests coming and even though school is over, the grind continues.

And for those of you who may wonder, where did Amy go? It’s summer. That means I have at least 2 or 3 school-age kids every day who don’t nap. My precious naptime writing time has become: entertain the big kids so they don’t wake up the little ones who are napping time.

I will write when I can. Stay with me.

So why am I here to talk about play? Because someone came to my blog with this question:

How would you respond to people who say that children in child cares only play all day?

Um, I would say that that’s what they’re SUPPOSED to do?

And that at Amy’s House, besides feeding, changing, circle time, maybe a short activity, and telling them when it’s time to be in or out of the house, I stay back and let them do what they want.

The title of this blog is a quote that is widely attributed to Jean Piaget, a researcher who worked with children and was one of the first to tell the world – hey – lighten up – kids learn from what they do naturally, not from what we Really Smart and Wise Adults force on them. This is because their brains are different from ours, and their brains are growing by learning through play.

In researching that quote, I found all these quotes that are also really cool, and a good response to anyone who doubts the value of  play. In fact, because of that website, I have just discovered the National Museum of Play!?!?, where I sincerely think I need to plan my next vacation!

I think a lot of parents today have bought into the idea that we must start our Baby Mozarts early, and the day care must not only nurture and care for them, but also support the development of their genius brains (so if I’m not only changing diapers but growing geniuses, can I have a little bump in pay for that?).

Guess what – not everybody is a genius, and no amount of flash cards is going to change that. How about parents deciding that the best outcome for their child could be a healthy, well-adjusted, normal and average but happy life?

The state has been requiring more and more curriculum for years, and I understand the value in trying to quantify what we do on paper, so we can say “Look at all the great stuff we’re teaching kids!” But really, we don’t teach them so much as guide them. I make sure they’re not hurting each other, and then I sit back and let them do whatever they’re gonna do.

One of my favorite memories is of an early childhood professional who came to visit and observed my kids playing. They had the pieces of a wooden puzzle that were shaped like tools: a screwdriver, a hammer, tape measure, etc. But instead of doing the puzzle, they were laying on a blanket on the floor and it was checkup time at the doctor’s. The puzzle pieces had become the doctor’s tools, and the kids were all taking turns at checking and being checked. My visitor was amazed that we had come up with this game, and it was so nice that I let them use the puzzle pieces in this way instead of making them go back in the puzzle and back on the shelf.

I just thought, that would be silly. What would we play with if the pieces were on the shelf? And I had to admit, I didn’t come up with the game. They did.

All the best games we have in my day care – the kids made up. Honest to God. I can’t come up with half the stuff they do, and whatever they discover is infinitely more beneficial than anything I could invent. Because their brains are different than ours, remember? They know what they need far better than we do. So I just follow along and if they say they need dinosaurs, I find some dinosaurs. Simple as that. (And I’ll admit I’m pretty good at playing dinosaur.)

I also remember being in a toy store with my mother and sister. I was newly married but not even pregnant yet. I was looking at some cool outdoor toys and my mother, beaming, said to my sister, “Oh look she’s getting ready for when she has kids.” And my sister said, “Mom, she’s not looking for her kids.”

Sadly, that was true. I was looking because I liked the toys.

So anyone who criticizes the value of letting kids play doesn’t get it. If they want you to change your program for their child, maybe they need to find a “better” program. But know that the kids who are with you – maybe doing ridiculously illogical things – are doing exactly what they need to be in order to explore the world, and learn from it, and truly grow their brain (honestly).

While I’m sitting here typing away my two boys are doing their usual Saturday morning hangout in jammies routine. And Older just asked Younger, “Will you play with me Younger?”

How Do You Get Kids to Sleep in Summer?

PROVIDERS!!! I need your help. Summer is looming. I’ve had a few sick/half days that remind me that I have three big kids who don’t sleep, and then a bunch of littles who do. How do I preserve naptime when the big kids are here? How do you do it?

As it is, I have kids spread all over the first floor of my house for napping: kitchen, hallway, living room, play room. I have to do this because my kids are generally not natural nappers. They are a very social bunch who would much rather play and horse around than sleep. That’s why I keep them so spread apart. If they see each other, no sleeping.

Now, add the big kids into that. Do I just confine them to one room? It’s hard to do. They’ll sit for a short movie but after that they’re restless. If I can get the littles down they’ll sleep much longer than the bigs are willing to be quiet. And the bigs are also asking for snack, using the bathroom, going outside to play, running upstairs for a new toy, etc. etc. etc. etc. I actually do spend quiet time with them to (attempt to) keep them entertained, but they lose interest in me after half an hour.

I know some providers who sleep all the kids in one room – I don’t know how they do it! If I could manage that the bigs could move more freely, but I don’t see how I’ll get the littles to settle down to sleep. I’ve also seen dividers that some people use and when I’ve tried they just get knocked down. Does anyone have a good STURDY divider suggestion?

If you have secrets for me, please share! I’ll take all the help I can get. Thanks ladies!

Perfect Moments

It was a very long summer here at Amy’s House FCC. We had lots of unexpected challenges, and it was definitely not what summer is cracked up to be (you know, peaceful, restful, lazy). So, to be honest, I was disappointed.

There’s nothing I love more than summer days – putting up pools and sprinklers and letting the kids run wild. Maybe throwing in some bubbles or shaving cream to make a big fun mess that can be hosed down before we go back in, hot and tired, for lunch and a nice long afternoon rest.

But we didn’t have nearly enough of those dreamy days, and now we’re unceremoniously thrown into the back to school grind. It’s been an especially hard September because we had lots of goodbyes this year. I graduated three kids for the first time – that’s half my group! It meant big changes for everyone and we’re all still adjusting to the new schedule.

So while I was incredibly busy and stressed out and not feeling very relaxed or summery, it seemed like part of me was always searching for some peace. My schedule doesn’t allow for yoga classes, or long walks, or lunch with friends. So most of the time I have to find those moments during my workday.

Have you ever tried to find a peaceful moment among eight children, and at least one of them is usually crying?

The good news is that I did have a few over the past months. One was on a sunny morning when the boys were involved in one of their imaginary sagas. I love these. They roam all over the house and yard, and some places are hideouts, and some are bad guy lairs, and some are ships, and anything can happen.

On this day they were inventing an awesome dinosaur battle game, and they had to run to the big tree, put their weapons on it, and countdown from three to summon their spaceship.

I wanna play too!

Summoning the mothership

One of the reasons I love these games is because of Michael Gurian, who points out in his book “The Wonder of Boys” how happy boys are when they have a purpose (does that remind you of your husband, anyone?). He says that boys are not only happy when they have a quest, but in fact they need one to feel good about themselves. So as I watch them play, I know the boys are not only being wonderfully creative but they are also developing some real self-esteem, and that is a lovely thing to have happen on my watch.

As I thought about all these things, the baby was snoozing in the swing, the twins were happily blowing bubbles, there was blue sky and a light breeze, and I sat under the apple tree, smiling.

Another perfect moment came courtesy of my very own Younger Son. I had taken the whole group on a field trip to one of their favorite school playgrounds. It has not one, not two, but three separate play areas. And they, of course, are located at three opposite points of the building. And we, of course, had to visit them all.

I had the infant with me and she needed a bottle so I would just get everyone playing and myself sitting somewhere with the baby when one of them would decide it was time to move to the next playground. (To his credit, Older helped round everybody up and sit them on the bench to wait for me, with the stroller, bringing up the rear.)

Still. You can imagine by move #3 I was getting pretty cranky at chasing along after them dragging the baby, bottle, burp cloth, stroller, and our picnic cooler.

As I busted out the snacks for everyone they decided it would be so nice to sit in the shade of the gazebo instead of the tree I picked. I had reached my breaking point. “I will not move again!” I bellowed.

But Younger just took charge of the situation. He went right over and got the stroller, picked up the water bottles, carried the bag, and started handing out the snacks to everybody.

I was surprised, proud, and honestly almost cried because someone was taking care of me.

I gave Younger a perfect moment so I have to be fair and share one of Older’s before signing off. We were at a family reunion where seven kids from age 9 years (Older Son) to 11 months were wandering around. At one point I went out looking for them because it had become disconcertingly quiet. I was getting ready to stop something dangerous or inappropriate, grumbling to myself, I can’t even sit down to dessert without these kids causing some problem…

Older came cruising past and saw the look on my face. “Don’t worry Mom,” he said, “I’m taking care of all the kids out front.”

Sure enough, he had every child except the baby on the front lawn, and they were all engaged in a game, and they were all riveted by whatever it was. My sons were leading the pack. The littles were delighted, agog, hanging on their every word, and having a hell of a good time.

So if I know when to stop and look, I’ve learned how to find these really great moments in all the chaos of my life. And I’m so lucky I have them.

The Fine Art of Delegating

I’ve always been lousy at it. Even when I give my boys a job to do, I’m usually not happy with the way they’ve done it and I just do it over myself.

Oh, hold on. I just slipped into fantasyland for a minute there. My boys don’t do the jobs I give them!

So I don’t bother. I spend a lot of time cleaning up after all the kids because it’s easier to do it myself than use up my energy trying to get them to do it.

Shameful

Shameful

My past attempts have included having them sit at the table while I clean up (“But if you help me it’ll go faster and we can get outside!”), giving stickers and prizes for helpers, or trying to make a game of it (“Who can find a blue car?”). None of these lasted, and I never found that magic way to motivate kids to help me with the drudgery.

As usual, my mentors do this better than me. They seem to know what toy every child is playing with and see when the child walks away. “Miss A, are you done with that puzzle? Is that where it belongs?” When they are in my home the place is spotless. I have no idea how they do it.

So this has always been my weakness and I don’t see it changing any time soon. I’ve gotten a lot of response from providers who have their own kids in care and it seems we have a lot in common. My boys are the oldest so naturally they become the leaders, and they don’t do a great job of inspiring the rest of the troops.

When I ask my mentors for advice on this, they all tell me they waited until their kids were grown to open a child care program. Such is my luck.

So as I face a long summer of caring for a lot of kids and long days where I rarely sit down and my feet are aching and every morning comes too soon, I’m formulating as many strategies as I can.

I’m working on my oldest girl, Miss R, who loves to be a helper anyway but her favorite jobs involve Windex. Generally I try to keep the chemicals that spray in eyes away from the child care space. Lately I’ve had her helping me set the lunch table, pass the baby his bottle, or keep an eye on him around stairs.

All the girls are willing to help me contain the baby. All I have to do is ask and they’re all over it.

However, in their excitement to help sometimes the baby gets crushed.

So I have to be very tricky in what jobs I pass out, and who I ask to do them. The nice thing is that Younger Son has noticed how much praise I lavish on my helpers and maybe it wouldn’t be so bad for him to get a little of that lovin.

The other day at lunch we had butter pasta, which I’m ashamed to say is exactly what it sounds like (I serve it with vegetables! And milk!). While I was doing the 100 things I have to do at lunch, Younger decided to help me by dishing out the pasta.

I keep the salt and shaky cheese (parmesan) out of reach of the littles because they’ll be covered with buttery fingerprints if I leave them on the table. A better provider than I might allow it, but I have enough to clean up at the end of the day (isn’t that the whole point of this post?).

Anyway Younger took them down off the shelf and went around to each child asking which one they preferred. I was so grateful for the help, even with such a silly little job. I told him to say, “Hello, my name is Younger and I’ll be your server today.”

Now if I could only make all the jobs as fun as shaky cheese.