What I’ll Teach My Kids This Summer (It Won’t Be Math Facts)

This summer, I will not complete summer math packets.

I will not practice math facts with my kids or even touch a flashcard. I will not sit my kids in front of a computer to “play math games” or even utter the letters IXL.

I will not look at a reading log. I will not keep track of reading minutes, and I will not keep a tally of books read.

I will not purchase any of the big ass first grade or second grade reading or writing workbooks that are currently on display at Costco.

I will not force my kids to practice their handwriting.

I will not spend one goddamn second even thinking about the summer slide.

Because as far as I’m concerned, there is a whole lot of equally (or more) important stuff that slides during the school year.

Instead of focusing on all that stuff, I will do this:

I will take my kids to the library. I will encourage them to check out books. And if they choose to check out books (they will — they always do), I will read them to my kids. Or with my kids. Or I will let them read to me.

And I SWEAR TO GOD, this summer we will return all of our books on time. *crosses fingers and holds breath*

I will teach my children about the importance of down time. Of rest for your body, and rest for your brain.

I will encourage spontaneity, and do my best not to overschedule.

I will devote time to teaching the kids.

I will teach all of them how to operate the washing machine and the dryer, the dishwasher, and the vacuum. Even the five year old. Most of them know how. But not all of them. Not yet.

I will teach my kids how to plant seeds and then take care of them.

And then I will devote time to training them. Not training them how to have perfect penmanship.

I will train them all on how to load a dishwasher (efficiently enough so that I don’t fell compelled to rearrange it), how to empty the litter box, how to replace the bag in the garbage can, how to clean a toilet and how to fold a fitted sheet.

Okay, just kidding about folding the fitted sheets. I fucking hate those things.

But I pledge to devote my teaching and training time not to worksheets, packets, math facts and reading logs, but to developing better organizational skills and encouraging self discipline, responsibility and accountability.

I pledge to hold regular, weekly family meetings so that we all feel we have a voice and a duty regarding what goes on in our home.

I will encourage my kids to spend as much time as possible outside and live by the principle, the dirtier you are by the end of the day, the better. And I will get dirty with my kids.

Maybe I’ll teach them all how to make one fairly healthy meal from start to finish.

But I’ll also have them take most of their “baths” in the pool and feed them way too many hot dogs.

I’ll let them stay up too late and I’ll let them sleep in whenever they can.

By the time September rolls around, they may not remember what 7 x 9 is in less than .12 seconds.

But they’ll hopefully be more rested, more responsible, more proactive, and more self-sufficient than they were in June.

And that’s what matters most not only to me, but to the greater good.

So this summer, that’s what I’ll be devoting my time to.

All those packets and logs and unfinished workbooks?

Between you and me, they make pretty good firestarters. And making s’mores is also on my summer syllabus.

So I think we’ll use them for that.

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Organization Is A Team Effort

Yesterday I posted this picture on the Facebook page:

My mudroom had gotten out of control.

I knew exactly what the reactions would be because I have posted similar pictures in the past.

There would be three reactions.

First would be the people who would give me advice on how to solve this problem. The KonMari enthusiasts (I’m one of them by the way. I’m just still not there yet, obviously) would tell me to check her out. There would be book suggestions and other life changing suggestions.

I’m not knocking those. I appreciate them all.

But more on that in a minute.

Second would be the HELL NO people. The people who would tell me there is no way on Earth they would let their house look like that. Some would say it without judgment and tell me they just wouldn’t be able to function. Then there would be those who would imply my kids were self absorbed, irresponsible slobs and that I was a shitty mom for letting them get away with this.

Then there would be the people who would feel relieved that they weren’t the only ones who had rooms in their houses that looked like this, and they would genuinely thank me.

I was not disappointed. Or wrong.

I got all three reactions.

Before I get to the after pictures, because I cleaned the fuck out of that damn room yesterday, I just have a couple things to say.

Thank you to everyone who offered to help me. I really do appreciate your suggestions. And I am going to check some of them out.

But believe it or not, there is a system that works in this mudroom. There is a place for everything. And the kids know where those places are.

Obviously the system is flawed. And I’ll tell you what the flaws are.

First, my kids are fairly responsible and extremely independent.

They pack their own lunches, they are responsible for packing up their swim bags and baseball bags, they load and unload the dishwasher and clean the bathrooms and cut the grass.

And I know you’d never know it by looking at that picture, but they also fold and put away their own laundry. Usually.

So they aren’t heathens who expect me to wait on them hand and foot and run around picking up after them.

But we have two major problems.

The first is that while they know what they are supposed to do, they don’t always do it. And I have been awful with consistency.  And as soon as I am lax about one thing, then everything goes downhill.

Kind of like the laundry.

If I skip one day of laundry things back up. And once I’m behind, it’s really easy to get more and more and more behind until things are out of control like they are in that top picture.

So the lack of consistency and helping the kid to remain accountable is a very big part of the problem.

The second is that I work every single afternoon and I don’t get home until 8:30. And most days I have to take all the kids with me, so 15 minutes after the little guys get off the bus I am shoving them into the car. And because I’m often running late, we skip the routine of what they should be doing, and then things snowball.

I need to be more organized and  present when the kids come home. I need to stay consistent. And I need to hold the kids accountable.  It wouldn’t take that big of a time investment each day to make that happen. And then we wouldn’t find ourselves in before picture territory again.

There is one more piece of the puzzle.

This isn’t about me threatening my kids within an inch of their lives and taking away every thing they’ve ever wanted.

This needs to be a whole family thing. Not just a mom thing.

And I’m not the only one who realizes this.

Yesterday when Number 5 came home, she walked in the house and said, “MOMMY! Did you do some cleaning today???”

She was thrilled. There’s a big difference in how you feel when you walk into a house that’s not a fucking shithole.

So anyway, I told Number 5 I’d been cleaning in the mudroom all day, and then I told her we’d ALL need to work together to keep it that way, and she said, “Mommy! How about if we have a family meeting so we can figure out who can do what job? Can we have a family meeting this weekend?”

She gets it.

If we can sit down as a family and discuss what needs to be done in order to maintain order, come up with a list together, and then figure out together how we are going to keep this room neat, our chances of success are much higher.

So we are going to do that this weekend. I know that will help.

Okay. So that’s that. Now onto the pictures.

I spent five hours in the mudroom yesterday.


I threw a whole bunch of crap away.

I washed all the winter coats, when through hats, gloves, scarves, etc, and put away all the winter stuff in the basement.

I cleaned off the top of the refrigerator. GROSS.

I cleaned out a cabinet in the back corner of the laundry room and discovered Number 4’s secret Walter White/Breaking Bad slime-making lab, and found the missing salt shaker, my cornstarch, two bottles of glue, baby powder, and a missing bottle of conditioner.

The slime lab has been disassembled.

Fucking slime.

I found a thermos that I was afraid to open (it had spaghetti and meatballs in it and wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be), I found a recorder (straight into the garbage), the missing reindeer food from last Christmas, and the source of a really disgusting smell (a water bottle full of milk-turned-cottage cheese).

I also found this:

Two baseball gloves, three pairs of fins, a missing iPod charger, the missing  ball pump, and about 4,000 caps and goggles.

So…. all  that stuff has been put in its proper place.

And now?

My mudroom is calm.

Now when you open the door instead of seeing this:

you see this:

When the kids hang up their coats and bags, instead of seeing this:

they see this:

And on the other side, instead of seeing this:

they see this:

Finally, when the kids walk into the laundry room/bathroom, instead of seeing this:

They see this:

I sorted and folded every piece of laundry, threw some clothes away, donated a bunch more, cut the super raggedy towels into rags, and put every single thing in its place.

So we are starting fresh.

It took a whole day, but I did it.

The real challenge isn’t cleaning it up, but rather keeping it that way.

But if we all embrace the challenge as a family, then I’m pretty confident we can do it.


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One Way I (Effectively) Deal With Power Struggles At Bedtime

Number 6 and Number 7 share a room. And every night, we have the same routine at bedtime.

I read them a story, and then I lie down in their beds with them and sing them each two songs while I rub/scratch their backs.

Usually we do things in the same order.

I sit on Number 7’s bed to read the story. Next I sing and rub/scratch Number 7’s back. Then I go to Number 6’s bed and do the same for him.

Two nights ago, both of them were super tired. And when they are exhausted, that often results in drama.

So after we finished our story, Number 6 was lying on the floor and was too tired to get up off the floor.

I didn’t feel like dealing with an epic meltdown, so I picked him up and plopped him on his bed.

I dropped him (on purpose) so he bounced a little. He thought that was funny. He laughed.

I went to sing Number 7 her songs, and Number 6 started making super loud noises just to be a pain in the ass.

This annoyed the shit out of Number 7.

I said to Number 7, “Maybe I should sing to Number 6 first so he quiets down. Then I’ll sing to you.”

“NO!”  she said. “ME FIRST!!!”

(She was justified in her protest. I was only asking to sing to Number 6 to get him to shut the hell up, and I was reinforcing his annoying behavior. I didn’t realize this at the time, but I certainly see it now.)

ME FIRST!” yelled Number 6.

“NO. ME FIRST,” Number 7 yelled.

Ugh. I had gotten myself into a jam.

I found myself trying to reason with the two of them and come up with a solution, but they were not really being reasonable.

Then I pulled my head out of my ass.

I reminded myself that here I was again, attempting to negotiate with a headstrong, opinionated and exhausted five and six-year-old. Plus I remembered that my goal is not to solve their problems for them. It’s for them to come up with solutions together so I’m not constantly playing referee and breaking up arguments and fights.

It wasn’t going to end well if I came up with the solution. Someone would have a freak out and feel like they “lost.” And they’d be right.

So very calmly and quietly, I said to the two of them, “I’m confident you can come up with a solution you both agree on. If you can do that in less than ten minutes, I will come back into your rooms and sing your songs.”

And then I left the room and walked downstairs.

About 30 seconds later they both came down the stairs.

“We agree on a solution, Mom!” said Number 7.  “I’m going first!”

“Great!” I said.

“NO WE DIDN’T!” yelled Number 6. “Number 7 just came downstairs and said that!!!”

So I sent them back upstairs.

They came down two more times. Both times Number 7 said the same thing and so did Number 6.

I explained to Number 7 what agree meant.

They went back upstairs a third time. When they came down the fourth time, Number 7 said,  “Okay, Mom! We figured it out. Number 6 can go first tonight, and I’ll  go first tomorrow night.”

Number 7 was happy. Number 6 was happy. There was not a single freak out or screamfest.

“That is some good cooperating,” I told them.

We all walked upstairs, they climbed into their beds, I sang them their songs, and they went right to sleep.

Yes, it took them about ten minutes to work it out so they were up a few minutes later than I would have liked.

But if I had gone the old route, the one that comes naturally to many of us, the do-it-the-way-I-tell-you-to-or-you-will-never-get-a-song-or-use-technology-again route,  there definitely would have been meltdowns and hysterics. They would have been awake way more than ten minutes past their bedtime. And while I often just want to get them the f*ck into bed, I really don’t want them to be upset and all worked up before they go to sleep.

I want them to have a nice, peaceful, calm experience before they fall asleep.

So that mission was accomplished.

Plus, last night when it was time for bed Number 7 said, “Mommy, remember… Tonight I get the song first!”

There was no protesting by Number 6 because he had been part of the solution and decision making process the night before.

Tonight, in order to head off any problems at the pass, I’ll give them time to come up with a plan that they both agree on moving forward. It might go really smoothly. It might not. But the more opportunities I give them to figure this stuff out on their own, the more I’m helping them develop those characteristics I am hoping they possess when they are older.

The next time you find yourself approaching a power struggle or a refereeing scenario with your kids, keep this in mind.

Putting the decision making and the problem solving duties on the kids rather than on yourself doesn’t just take you out of the equation. It gives the kids some control over the things that are important to them, and it also helps them practice some of the valuable life skills we all hope they have by the time they leave the nest.

Plus it reduces your desire to gouge your own eyeballs out night after night.

And that’s definitely pretty high on the priority list for me as well.


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