The trials and tribulations of Kate, mother

Golden Hour Swing

Don’t let those innocent faces fool you. I’m on to them.

In the past week, a couple things have happened in my world.

First, we learned that our 5 1/2-year-old needs a nap after school. Luckily, it only took us two days to realize what was going on. Unluckily, we haven’t figured out how to make it really work yet, so sometimes it happens, and sometimes…it doesn’t.

Second, I’d had it up to HERE (envision the hand at the hairline) with being ignored. For example: that blasted black sock was STILL sitting on the living room floor THREE DAYS and FIVE REMINDERS after first being pointed out/instructed to put it away.

I was not happy. Not happy at all.

Saturday morning, I cornered the kids in the van, where they were all seatbelted in and couldn’t get away, and I announced (calmly) (mostly) a change in procedures in our house. From now on, I will give an instruction one time. If I have to give it again, the consequence will be an extra chore. Two reminders = two extra chores. Three strikes and you’ve lost your screen time for the day.

That was 9:30 a.m. By lunchtime, Michael had lost his screen time.

On Sunday, Nicholas made it to two strikes. Even though we had a conversation about it while he was doing the job I’d given him.

(What kind of conversation, you say? I’m so glad you asked. Here’s a strong-willed child insight: “So,” he says, as he’s sllllooooowwwwwwllly doing what I told him and getting his a) loose change, b) wallet, c) ear buds, d) book off the table so I can set for dinner. “So…do we get three strikes every day? Or do they just add up till we hit three?” Would you like to know where I found all that stuff? On the stairs. Still not put away. Envision me pounding my head against the nearest hard surface.)

But wait! There’s more! Sign up today and for absolutely free (oh wait, this isn’t an infomercial? my bad) you’ll get Miss Julianna on Sunday afternoon, trying to sneak extra iPad time by closing the door to the boys’ room so I wouldn’t hear it talking to her.

And that night, in what is becoming almost a nightly pattern, we came upstairs to go to bed and found Nicholas and Michael having a sleepover on their floor.

As my husband is known to say, when told of his children’s latest and greatest exploits:


Stained Glass, A Strong-Willed Breakthrough, and Learning to ride a bike in a week (theoretically)


It’s been a pretty intense week, with Julianna in iCanBike camp in a nearby town. I’ve had to pull her and Nicholas from school early every day so we could make the half-hour drive to the camp. They begin with this gizmo, which is sort of barrel-shaped, so it’s narrower and less stable than training wheels, but follows the same principle.Arm and Bike 010

Bike Gizmo

As you can see, she does fine with this–her side walker doesn’t even have to hold the pole. But she’s slow. Very, very slow. She’s spent most of the week on this bike.

Step two is a special tandem bike:


She’s a stinker. Forced to pedal faster, she mostly put her feet down on the ground, until her instructor finally realized you have to be very firm with her, lest she run right over you. I gave them twenty minutes the first day to try to learn this on their own, and then I intervened, because this is too intense a week for us to waste the time coddling her.

Step three is a real bike, with the pole on the back for support:

Full Deal


They had us buy a bike for her, which will be fitted out with one of these poles today. Many of the kids graduated yesterday to riding outside on the parking lot; these kids (and young adults, in some cases) will probably actually achieve the goal of bike independence in one week. Julianna? Not so much. But they don’t want us putting training wheels on her new bike; we are just going to have to run with her whenever she rides, until she either learns or another similar camp is offered. I know: as if we need any more to do…

Speaking of more to do… Nicholas and I butt heads every so often about the horrific state of his drawers and his closet. I lose my cool really quickly trying to teach him over and over again how to hang clothes on hangars and fold the ones that go in the drawers. I takes so darned long, I end up doing half of it myself because I can’t stand the waste of time. Last night, I had a breakthrough. I brought my flute upstairs and I practiced for over an hour while he rehung every piece of clothing in his closet, and dealt with this, the contents of his drawers:


(not one of which came out of the drawer folded when he dumped them on the floor for sorting, I might add)

We got rid of about half of it. Fewer clothes= easier cleanup. And while he sorted and folded, I spent forty minutes getting comfortable with my newly-repadded flute while playing Moyse Daily Exercises…


….and then some Piazzola Tango Etudes.


“Mom, why are you so loud when you warm up?” Nicholas asked.

“I’m loud when I go up high. That’s just the way it is,” I said, “and tonight, you’re going to have to put up with it.”

Over an hour, I practiced last night. And he did the entire job himself, because I had something to keep me busy in the room where I could supervise. And I didn’t come anywhere near losing my temper, because I had something useful to do with my time while he was learning this important lesson in self-care.

This is a huge breakthrough, people. I’m telling you, this is entering my permanent repertoire of parenting solutions.

Finally, a beautiful picture I took from my position as choir director at church on Wednesday night. I love these windows.

Stained Glass

The great god, “Screen Time”


Photo by Thomas Hawk, via Flickr

My kids are such jerks after they’ve had screen time. It’s so weird. They get up from that favorite time and they’re whiny, uncooperative, quarrelsome, and generally not fun to be around.

I told my mom about this, and she said, “That’s why I stopped letting you girls watch Saturday morning cartoons, you know.”

I did not know.

In fact, in light of what we went through last week in our house, that nugget of information illuminated a great deal about how my sisters and I behaved growing up.

Raise your hand if you identify with me on this: I’ve always tried to avoid screen time as a consequence of bad behavior, because I think it’s more of a punishment for me than for the kids. Because when they’re staring at a screen, they take care of themselves.

But last week, I’d had enough. I took away the kids’ screen time for a week.

On Day One, I held my breath, but a single reminder of their transgressions made them subside. Even Julianna and Michael.

By Day Three, they were playing with kites, Legos, and a deck of cards.

By Day Five, I was thinking this was the best thing I’d ever done.

By Day Seven, I was trying to figure out how to make it permanent without being a jerk.

The behavior in our house is by no means ideal. There’s still a crazy amount of ear-piercing shrieks, tug-of-wars over dollies and balloons, and tattling-while-ignoring-my-own-duties. My three-year-old’s legs still fold themselves to the floor in the most dramatic collapse you’ve ever seen; Alex still growls through his teeth and shakes his brother; Julianna still wails when crossed; and I still shout, “WHATDIDIJUSTTELLYOUTODOANDWHYAREYOUNOTDOINGIT??????”


Photo by debaird™, via Flickr

For one week, I didn’t have to arbitrate who gets the Wii and who gets the iPad. For one week, they actually did the cleaning instead of asking repeatedly, “When I’m done can I have a movie?”

Until this week, I hadn’t realized that somehow, our life has become structured around screen time. I can make two dozen rules about what happens before a child gets his or her movie. But the fact is, it’s still the structural foundation of everything. We have to figure out how to plan the day to make sure there’s time for the great god Screen Time—even if half a dozen other things are done poorly or not at all as a result.

And I’ve felt guilty if they don’t get their screen time. Like I’m somehow depriving them.

This has been a very illuminating week for me. And my children are not going to like the result. But I think I’m going to like it very much.

There’s a very important series of guidelines in our natural family planning classes. They’re called the Phase I guidelines, to help couples plan their intimate activities. I won’t go into detail beyond this: these guidelines are designed to help you be confident that any signs you’re observing are related to fertility and not to sexual intercourse. The Phase I are:

  1. Evenings Only.
  2. Not on consecutive days.
  3. If “dry”.*

I am instituting Phase One guidelines for screen time in our house. In order to get screen time, kids will have to be fighting-free from rising to bedtime for one full day. If they continue to get along the second day, they can have screen time after school. And the next morning begins another day of abstinence, while we make sure we’re still fighting-free.

We’ll see how this goes. I have high hopes.

*Disclaimer: If you try to practice natural family planning using these three rules without instruction, you deserve to get pregnant. And don’t blame NFP.*