Never sign your children up for anything

 photo IMG_3561_zpsbd50760d.jpgThe biggest mistake I’ve made as a parent is that I started a playgroup for my firstborn when she was four months old.

FOUR MONTHS. Think about this: Why the heck did she need a playgroup at four months of age?

Let this be a cautionary tale to you new parents. Because, after a few months of pleasant chatting with other moms while our babies kicked their chubby legs on blankets spread carefully over the rug, the little buggers started reaching out and taking each other’s toys. I later remember the three little boys and three little girls all lurching around on unsteady legs, so excited to have someone their size to push over or hold onto when the world got spinny.

And, just like that, my daughter had a social life. And she knew there was a world “out there” that she wanted to explore.

So explore we did.

We went to “mommy and me*” gymnastics, swimming, and music classes that consisted of her swinging a tambourine around in my lap while we sang the most godawful tunes. As she got older, we added art classes, dance instruction, the “everyone gets a trophy” soccer teams, and group nature hikes where we drove twenty minutes to collected the same leaves and acorns I could collect in my backyard.

The whole time, I thought I was so smart. We weren’t overdoing it. Even as she got older, her activities never became of the “five day a week” variety like I saw with some of her peers.

But, I kept having children. And they too learned about playgroups and gymnastics and art classes. Last year, they even took indoor rock climbing classes!

Because I apparently forgot the whole mathematical rule that says (and I paraphrase): If you keep having children and keep adding activities, the cumulative effect will be that you will become batshit crazy. Or X + Y = *(@)#&!(*!!!!!!!!!!!!

This year, when I tried to assemble our jigsaw puzzle of a schedule using a color-coded spreadsheet, I had a revelation that I shared with Liz: “NEVER SIGN YOUR CHILDREN UP FOR ANYTHING.” Because now that they are 8, 10, and 12, they know there are so many things out there to do, and the world is their oyster.**

As homeschoolers, I could have had three children happily whittling away on the porch, who later go off to tend their backyard garden, or who retire inside to knit and read. I could’ve smugly laughed at all those parents who need color-coded spreadsheets to keep track of the days. They could’ve been hermits, and not even lonely hermits, because they have each other. And the squirrels in the back yard.

Instead, I’ve become that person in a minivan driving to the performing arts school, dropping off two kids so I can then drive the third to swim lessons, before picking up the other two, and rushing everyone home for an 8pm dinner.

It all started, I swear, with that playgroup when my oldest was four months old.

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*we live in a more enlightened time now where these classes are called “parent/child”, but back a dozen years, things weren’t so politically correct

**provided their parents can afford it; horseback riding lessons, hockey, and skiing are still on the back burner for that reason

Can you work and homeschool?

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My “desk”, aka, the kitchen island. My real desk is behind me and too cluttered for my laptop.

So. . .can you work* and homeschool?

My short answer? Well yes! After all, I’ve worked part time for the past four years while homeschooling my three kids who are now in grades 2, 4 and 6. 

Though, make no mistake, it isn’t easy.

Most of the families I know who homeschool their kids have one parent working full time (yes, usually–but not always—the dad) and one parent who does the majority of the schooling, as well as the upkeep of the house, the cooking, the doctors’ appointments, etc (usually—but not always—the mom.)

I imagine there are some families out there who would like to consider homeschooling but aren’t sure they can get by on one salary. Or maybe they are single parents and must have an income. Or maybe the parent who would be the primary teacher isn’t sure they want to leave their career entirely. Maybe both parents want to share the homeschooling duties and need to figure out how to do this while also working.

So, let me say that in my small sample of families, which represent about .00002% of the total homeschooling families in the nation (I’m making this percentage up; don’t make me do math this early in the morning), there are several of us who have found ways to do both.

  • I am Associate Editor for two websites, Cool Mom Picks and Cool Mom Tech which allows me the flexibility of working in my pajamas, at any hour, without dealing with a commute.
  • My good friend works as a nurse in a nursing home, 3-11p shift (though she never gets out as early as 11) between 2-4 days a week.
  • Another friend uses her considerable skills to create incredible cakes and cookies for weddings, birthdays, parties.
  • One friend is a talented photographer who may find herself up all night in the maternity ward waiting for a baby to be born.
  • Some work for “home party” companies–you know “Come to so-and-so’s house for drinks and to see Product X”.
  • Another mom I knew used to work nights at a department store, heading out for her shift after her husband came home from work.
  • I know of other mamas who do web designpublish books, or tutor on the side. Some teach violin or piano, or run weekly paid classes for other homeschooling families.
  • And others work from home, taking on projects from the companies for whom we used to work, or from within our same industry.

That said, it’s not easy. Though I have an incredibly flexible schedule, the most understanding bosses ever, and lots of control over what I do, I’m not always the best “juggler” of my time.  It’s hard to tell the kids, “WAIT! Mommy’s working.” (again) There are days when I can feel proud of something I wrote online but look around at my  messy house and the piles of laundry and realize my day is far from over.

And sometimes, I just prefer working over dictating a spelling list. I would rather lose myself in my laptop than start another math lesson.  And sometimes, I want to close the laptop and walk away.

My friend who works as a nurse often finds herself coming in the door at 1am, starving for dinner, needing a shower, and exhausted at the prospect of being up again in a few hours to teach grammar.

Dealing with the logistics of getting a wedding cake done with five (young) children scampering around makes my hands sweat.

Even my friends who do not work “for pay” but run mini-farms in their backyard, canning foods for winter and doing all the backbreaking work of tending crops, wow, do they bust their butts. And they are saving a ton of money for their families in food they grow themselves.

But, I’m curious: Do you work* and homeschool? If so, how do you make it work?

Did you used to do one, but found you couldn’t do both? Which one did you give up?

If you had the flexibility in your job, would that change your mind about homeschooling?

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* A disclaimer: ALL mothers work. And all homeschooling parents have a full-time job to educate their kids (or provide an environment that is conducive to learning). My question is specifically asking: Can you hold down a full or part-time paying job while also homeschooling kids?

5 lessons homeschooling has taught me about exercise

A couple of weeks ago, I started exercising again. I hate even typing that sentence because it means that, even after getting into relatively good shape and running a 10k for the first time, it should be clear that I must have quit exercising if I had to “start up” again. And while I didn’t really “quit”—-I had a lingering, mystery virus that derailed me—-it sure felt like I was starting from the bottom when I finally laced up my running shoes again and hit the road.

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Another time I had “started running” (again).

 

I’ve lived this pattern most of my adult life: 1. Get motivated. 2. Exercise like crazy (and tell everyone I know all about it until they are ready to scream or unfriend me). 3. Get hurt/sick/busy enough to get derailed for  a week/month/year. 4. Feel bad about myself until I circle around to #1 again.

But one thing that hit me as I was again circling around to  #1 in my “Stages of Fitness”, was how much my experience homeschooling has helped me deal with these relatively small setbacks. Yes, this teacher has been schooled.  Keep reading if you want to know what lessons I’ve learned to take to heart.

1. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

This is an often-shared piece of advice in homeschooling circles. It helps those of us who start panicking over the progress (or lack thereof) our kids are making in any given subject by reminding us to step back and look at the big picture. I daresay that most homeschooling parents would say that they are more interested in raising curious, intelligent, and literate children, and not just trying to have kids who are on lesson 45 of their grammar book by February 1st.

I love how this advice applies to fitness and exercise. My ultimate goal is to live a long, healthy, active life, not just fit into my “skinny jeans” or even finish another 10k, right? In the grand scheme of things, getting derailed from any exercise program for a bit of time isn’t the end of the world–just pick up and keep on going. This long-term goal keeps me from acting like a missed workout is the end of the world.

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Another goal? Being fit enough to swim away from sand sharks.

2. Get the hard stuff done early.

I’ve learned that if we don’t do our hardest subject (math) first thing in the morning, it looms over our heads like a gloomy (math) cloud. And then, by the time we get to tackling it (math), we’re all tired, cranky, and that one subject (math) take about five times longer than it should.

For me, at least, the same can be said for running. It is much, MUCH better for me to get up and run out the front door before I do anything else (OK, sometimes I do need a sip of coffee first).

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Getting out early also means running by this before the tourists are out.

The same goes for my 30-Day Shred days: I’d pop on that Jillian Michaels’ video before the kids were even out of bed, get it done in under a half hour, and then collapse in front of my laptop feeling a wee bit smug that I was “done” for the day.

3. Pick a curriculum that works (for you).

I will never reveal how much curriculum I’ve purchased because someone else raved about it, only to then resell the barely touched books because it just isn’t right for us. It’s just too embarrassing and makes me look a bit gullible and indecisive. But, when a friend tells me about a great curriculum they are using for spelling (a subject we’ve been pathetic at covering), it’s easy for me to overlook the fussy manipulatives, the multi-step daily instructions, and the steep learning curve in an effort to just “get something that works”. But it doesn’t work if it just sits on the bookshelf, does it?

I was reminded that I need to be wary of “hot trends” in exercise too, especially when all the warning bells should be ringing: This Isn’t Right For Me (e.g.,  Zumba). I just stopped myself from purchasing P90X (but look how pretty their bodies look!) when I realized that I’d never, ever push myself that hard for a six-pack. Never.

4. Grades are just one measure of success.

We don’t “do” formal grading, though I obviously check the kids work and, when pressed by them, will give them a letter grade. But, even if they were in school, I’m sure I’d be telling them that it isn’t only about the grade. It’s about effort, and enthusiasm, and retention.

I don’t get graded for running (thank goodness!) or situps (ditto!), though I’d say that any time I step on that cursed scale, I feel like I’m giving myself a grade. I lost 3 pounds? A+!!! Gained 5? FAIL!

I’d never let my kids feel like their intelligence is all about a letter grade. And I’m not going to let my fitness progress be defined by a number on a scale, or the size jeans I’m wearing, or even how many sit ups I can do.

5.  If everyone is crying, I’m doing something wrong.

I admit to posting Facebook updates that read something like, “If one more kid cries over their math workbook, I’m going to call the public school in the morning!” Teaching my own kids subjects like history, science, and math can be, simply, Not Fun At All.

BUT, I don’t homeschool to have sullen, miserable kids around me all day long. I want to have fun with them.  I want to see them light up when they learn something new, or we do a fun experiment or project. I want to give them breaks to play, pet the dog, or just run around the house.

That’s why I run/walk. For me, running nonstop is torture on my asthmatic lungs and my knobby knees. But running with walk breaks is just more fun for me. It gives me time to catch my breath and look around outside. It allows me to run longer and farther which feels like a victory to me. It keeps me from crying, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively.

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See? Smiling, because I know I’ll be walking in 3 minutes.

 

And it also gets me to a certain level of fitness that allows me to then go for a long bike ride with the family in Acadia National Park, or scooter down the street with my son, or even kick my girls’ butts in a Just Dance dance-off in our family room.

No pain, no gain? Yeah, I’m with this to some degree. But if that also means “no fun”, I won’t be sticking with it for long.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to start homeschooling this morning. Maybe that’s another lesson I’ve learned that I can apply to exercise: Step away from the computer if you really want to get stuff done.

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ScreenShot2012-09-27at74056AM I’ve partnered with Harvard Pilgrim on this sponsored post (and others to come!), though the thoughts, opinions, and advice expressed are my very own. Want to find even more ways to be well? Check out HarvardPilgrim.org/CountUsIn.