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From “Dealing With” My Kids to Enjoying Them

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School is canceled. Indefinitely. Again.

Minneapolis teachers are on strike with no signs of a deal in sight. They’re fighting for class size limits, mental health supports, and living wages. It is a just and noble cause.

But on Day 6 of our kids being out of school, the latest disruption after two years of disruptions, parents are exhausted. Including this one.

The return to distance learning for two weeks in January was tough; I coped by acquiring a jungle’s worth of houseplants. Once Evan and Nate were back in their classrooms, I resumed, best as I could, my previous practice of sneaking in chunks of writing in the evenings or when Bennett napped.

But that arrangement had become increasingly hard to sustain over time, and I desperately longed for some regular solo writing time.

Don’t get me wrong, Bennett is sweet and funny and I love him to pieces. It’s been wonderful to be present for his infancy in a way I couldn’t when I was working full-time after having the first two boys.

Nonetheless, as I’ve written about here, I need an existence outside my family. On March 1st, a part-time childcare spot finally opened up for Bennett (we’d been on the wait list since last August), giving me about 12 hours a week to myself.

That first day, I rode waves of pure giddiness as I cranked through one task after another and jotted down a dozen ideas. A mere one week later, the strike began, and here I am on a Tuesday morning, with two of three kids back at home with me.

Last week, I opted for the obvious coping strategy: denial.

I wanted to write and look through all the new books I’d gotten from the library and just be on my own, so I decided to just throw the normal rules out the window.

I let my kids watch screens for hours on end — indeed, this blog post comes to you courtesy of their tablets — whereas normally we have a firm no-screens-until-5-pm rule on weekdays.

I was lax about meal times.

I let them stay in pajamas til mid-afternoon.

And it was a disaster. I once again confirmed that the no-routine, few-rules approach makes everyone cranky and restless. Me included.

Without any structure to our days, we all get snippy with each other. They squabble incessantly over trivial things. We’re all generally restless and cranky.

Trying to have an anything-goes approach to the day kinda reminds me of the recent time I decided I’d have a big slice of cheesecake as my whole lunch. It sounded wonderfully easy and indulgent, but left me feeling sluggish and a little nauseous, and wishing I’d taken the time for something more nourishing.

So on Sunday, when I came to grips with the fact that the strike might continue for another whole week, maybe even longer, I made a simple shift in my thinking. Instead of starting with the mindset, “How am I going to deal with my kids today?” I switched it to “How am I going to enjoy my kids today?”

And holy smokes, what a difference that made yesterday. Instead of trying to just finds ways to keep the boys busy so I could do my own thing, I gave them my attention and put some parameters around the day.

We straightened and sorted piles in their room. We snuggled on the couch and read together. They had quiet time while Bennett napped, allowing me to shower and clean up lunch.

I played two games of Battleship (and lost both, much to the boys’ delight) and helped stage an epic battle among Evan’s Lego-made version of Beyblades. (More on that in my next post!) In short, I embraced the day for what it was — the chance to spend time with my kids.

I don’t mean to sound overly simplistic. Of course I’d still rather have the kids in school and be in our normal routine. Of course there was still bickering and some stressful moments yesterday.

But deciding to be present with the kids, to engage and say “sure, we can do that!” instead of becoming annoyed by interruptions or opting to zone out on my phone, made the day not only bearable, but pleasant.

It’s obviously still a juggling act to meet everyone’s needs.

Since we’re paying for Bennett to be in childcare on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and have thus removed the biggest barrier to my writing during that time, Evan and Nate are enjoying some bonus screen time those mornings (like right now).

But as soon as I close my laptop lid, my attention will be theirs. Today we’re going to get out to enjoy the spring weather (finally! hooray!), get treats from a new-to-them bakery, and vacuum and mop their room (more on how these specific plans came about in my next post).

I’m learning that sometimes jettisoning my own agenda can in fact set me free. Free to enjoy these little people who won’t always want to spend time with me the way they do right now.

And I’m off to do just that.

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