Schooling, unschooling, homeschooling

One thing that really annoys me about unschoolers is their need to take every little thing they do with their kids and turn it into Who Unschooling is Awesome. “I went to the science museum with our kids today! #unschooling”

Wow. I take my kids to the science museum, too. Does that mean I’m unschooling? Am I an unschooler now? Bob Blow takes his kids to the science museum, too. Does that make him an unschooler, too?

Then again, this is something regular, run of the mill homeschoolers do, too. “The great thing about homeschooling is that you can just go on field trips to learn about things. Like we’ve been learning about animals, so we went to the zoo! It’s so hands on! Homeschooling is awesome.”

Non-homeschooler can then reply, “Oh! I take my kids to the zoo, too! So I guess I’m homeschooling, too! Hahaa.”
And the homeschooler frowns. This was not what they meant at all. “No no no, you send your kids to school, so you’re not homeschooling when you take them to the zoo. You’re just…going to the zoo.”

It’s a matter of definitions, but also a territorial issue, too. Homeschoolers want people who send their kids to school to know how awesome they are as homeschoolers. They want them to know that yes, they, too, could homeschool. But as soon as the non-homeschooler points out that the things they do are hardly exclusive to homeschoolers, the homeschoolers immediately get defensive and try to mark out boundaries as to what makes them special. And more importantly, what makes them better.

It’s the same with unschoolers. They know that on the surface it looks like they aren’t doing a whole lot with their kids. So they end up pointing out every little thing that happens as the learning that must be going on in that moment. And, boy, does it get annoying. “Outside splashing in the puddles! Kids are learning physics! #unschooling.” Wow I wonder how long until they use that to derive the Pythagorean theorem all by themselves! My kids splash outside too! The difference is…I just call it playing. Sure, they might be learning something, too, but they’re also having fun. No need to dress it up.

I’ve started having fun with the labels. Whenever I hear someone talking about unschool this, homeschool that, or how they could never do either of the above, I like to tell them I couldn’t either.
Because I couldn’t. There’s no way I could structure my childrearing around just one of those things. We have our structured learning times (“homeschool”), sure, but I also give my kids lots of time to follow their own interests (“unschooling”). My kids also go to German school, Finnish school, PE class and art (“school”). We divide our time between all of those because all three of them have merits. Parents teach their kids, whether they want to or not. And you’d probably have to tie them up and leave them in a darkened room to prevent them from learning things on their own.

Which brings me to those “homeschoolers” in California who did just that to 12 of their 13 kids. “We need more homeschooling regulation!” people are now screaming. “Homeschooling should be illegal!” Except…well, California is actually quite strict when it comes to homeschooling. Except…they weren’t homeschooling when the abuse started. Their oldest kids went to public school in Texas and former classmates remember them being thin and smelling bad. They were dirty. And still, no one did anything. They fell through the cracks simply because there are so many cracks for children in abusive families to fall into. They’re so lucky one of them worked up the nerve to save themselves because, in the end, you’re the only who can.

But…on the other hand, there has been discussion among homeschoolers I know as to what level of regulation they would deem acceptable in order to prevent homeschoolers from falling through those cracks. In order to prevent educational neglect from occurring. The short of it was…there is none. Homeschoolers want to regulate themselves. They don’t trust the state to educate their children, why on earth would they trust the state to make sure they are actually educating their children themselves? It doesn’t help that the government spent so much time trying to keep homeschooling illegal or that they see homeschooling as competition or one way they lose money (state funds are distributed according to pupils enrolled). Nor does it help that homeschoolers watch the amount of their property taxes flowing into the public schools, which they benefit from and can’t opt out of.

But I’ve noticed whenever people are left to regulate themselves or self-police, they usually don’t. We excuse things in ourselves that we would never tolerate from others and that is a problem.


The Travails of Homeschooling

Homeschooling has been going pretty well. It’s my first year homeschooling two kids, so things have been a bit different. The biggest change has been the fact that it takes about an hour longer to get things done on a good day. On a not-so-good day, things can take several hours longer.

Alpha is doing really well. We had him tested through our school district last year to see how he was doing and how much his ADHD and Dyslexia were affecting him. The results showed that his dyslexia wasn’t affecting him at all. He was performing right at grade level in every subject except for writing. While he still had some issues with reversals and forming letters backwards, he did well even with decoding nonsense words. It’s a sure sign that switching up our phonics program in first grade worked.
His ADHD, on the other hand, was still hindering him. He tested as very distracted and would definitely need some interventions to help him manage his ADHD if he were in a classroom setting.

We gave him the option of going to school, but since he was exactly where he needed to be, we didn’t see the point in forcing the issue. He remains happily homeschooled and has insisted that he never wants to go to school. I told him that eventually he is going to have to go to school. He can’t stay home forever.

His favorite subject is history and this year we’re covering the modern times era, using history odyssey from pandia press. I love pandia press’ materials so much, I wonder why anyone would use anything else. Then I remember not everyone likes a very structured and detailed program that requires a lot of work. Not even me, at times.

Beta is a more reluctant homeschooler. She’s very social, but decided after being in school last year, she wanted to stay home this year. So we let her. But she quickly started complaining about how she wished she were in school. When she would get frustrated about her work, she would start complaining that she wished she were dead, she hated her life. All very dramatic.

I panicked and found myself wondering if she was suffering severe psychological damage from homeschooling or something. I was used to my son getting frustrated and yelling or throwing his work, but not this. So I had her tour a local montessori school to see if she wanted to go there. I was so sure she would that I had the paperwork printed and filled out before she toured it.

Afterwards, she said, “It wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.” That was the most positive thing she had to say. Aside from that, she said she didn’t want to have be there five days a week and the days were too long. She would miss the homeschooling groups we go to and the art class.

I was surprised, but I slowly realized that her dramatic statements of self-hate was just her venting her frustrations, similar to how Alpha’s yelling and throwing his books were his. It’s not that she hates homeschooling or that I’m damaging her. It’s that she hates it when she doesn’t get things immediately. Since then, I’ve changed my tactics with her. When she declares herself stupid, I ask her why she thinks she’s stupid. I force her to question her statements until she reaches the conclusion that she doesn’t reaaaaaly mean them. She’s just frustrated.

So that’s getting easier.

Harder is the fact that she’s learning physics and modern times history in fourth grade when these subjects are basically too advanced for her. But I didn’t want to start off teaching two kids at two differen’t subjects and levels in history and science, which would make my day very complicated. So Beta is basically auditing Physics and Modern Times history. When she complains about it being too hard, I just remind her that this material is meant for an older child and next year, she’ll do Ancients 1 and Life (Biology 1) and things will be much easier for her.

Because I don’t have enough to do, I’ve decided to try and organize a science and history co-op so I can have other homeschoolers to hang out with and help teach these subjects to our mutual kids. In other words, friends. Unfortunately, I’m realizing this means I’m going to most of the work while the other people just show up. But that’s pretty much how all these things go. I’m trying to finagle it so that I’m only teaching one of the subjects and other parents do the other three. So I would teach, say, Biology 2 and then three other women would do Ancients I, Ancients II and Life. Or we would alternate which subjects we teach so everyone teaches or doesn’t teach based on how things work. I don’t know. It’s a work in progress.

But so far I’m the only doing anything, so I don’t know. And I want to make sure things are taught well, so there’s a distinct possibility i will be too much of a control freak to be able to hand over any of the control to anybody else and have a successful co-op.

We’ll see. We’re halfway through this year and we’re doing well and that makes me happy.

A day of rest

Every time the kids have Finnish school, I make plans for what I’m going to do with my day off. These include some firm things I really must do (make food for the week ahead, clean out the chicken coop, go through the baby clothes) and things I would really like to do (take a bath! Exercise! Calisthenics! Thorough stretching! Foam rolling! Watch a movie! Write! Read a book!), but I rarely manage to adequately gauge the time available to the amount of things I aim to get done.

Today I:

  • Made 11 quarts of sausage stew
  • sanded the cubby holes in the boys’ room, which have been unsanded and unpainted since we installed them 6 years ago. So it’s probably time to finish that so we can cross it off our damn list.
  • Cleaned up the sanding mess.
  • cleaned out the chicken coop. It really needed it because I’ve been avoiding it like the plague during the horribly cold weather we’ve had since Christmas. My presence also forced the chickens out into the snow and I’m hoping their discovery of bare ground will encourage them to leave it more often. They’ve been staying in the coop since the first snow, the big wimps.
  • brought in Christmas lights that the snow finally melted enough to uncover. It’s a limited time opportunity since more snow is on the forecast.
  • Put away diapers.
  • Had lunch
  • Pumped. Omega went to Finnish school for the first time today, so this was necessary.
  • Watched more Anthony Bourdain on Netflix. I loved No Reservations. Parts Unknown is a bit different in tone. Less adventurous, less behind the scenes in front of the camera. More polished. I’m buying No Reservations so I can get more of that and forget that Tony has actually aged because it’s kind of bumming me out.
  • Showered. Sanding is an awful, awful activity and I was covered from head to toe.
  • Brought in the mail.

Then the rest of the family came home and I nursed Omega, who had drunken about half the bottle I sent with her. She was thrilled to see me, thrilled to be back home among her usual toys. With the kids home, I:

  • Started the laundry
  • Sorted through Omega’s clothes, getting rid of all the clothes under 6 months since they no longer fit.
  • Sat down on the couch and read. I’ve been on a reading kick this year and right now I’m reading Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher. She has a very distinct style.
  • Cleaned up the mess in the kitchen.
  • Front plank and side planks. Got to strengthen the core for my back pain.
  • Ate dinner.
  • Dealt with the kids
  • Made 5 lbs of taco meat for the week

The end. Now I’m chilling and I’m tired. I should probably have one Finnish school day were I don’t really do anything, but I enjoy getting things done too much. I like progress. I like crossing things off my list and there is almost an endless number of things on it that I could cross off if only I get around to doing them.

Comparative Insecurities

A few years ago, I flew cross-country to attend the wedding of one of my close friends from high school. At the reception, an older woman approached me and two other high school friends. “So, you guys went to school with Samantha?” We answered yes. “And you’re still friends?” We answered affirmatively again. “Wow that’s so neat! So what are you guys up to these days?”
The first friend answered. “I’m in the final year of my surgical residency.” Positive comments followed.
The second friend answered. “I have two years left on my MD/Ph.D.” Very, very impressive.
Then it was my turn. The set up could not have been better, I thought with internal mirth before replying cheerfully, “I stay at home with my two kids.” A moment of awkwardness followed before the woman embraced me with a warm hug and congratulated me on my choice and told me how wonderful it was. Not being a huge hugger, I accepted her hug as best I could. The four of us chatted a bit longer: her son had recently graduated from our old high school, was attending college in Washington, D.C., they lived on the same cul de sac as Samantha. Upon parting, she gave me another hug and told me, “I feel like we’ve formed a real connection!” My friends slightly avoided my gaze.

The whole situation made me feel unexpectedly awkward. I felt like I was being pitied and for the first time since becoming a stay-at-home mom, the thought occurred to me that my position in life might be something worth pitying.

Truth to be told, my group of friends from high school was a very high achieving one. I’m the only one among us who doesn’t have a master’s degree. Among our ranks, there are 3 medical doctors (and is the aforementioned MD/PhD), one PhD in Biology who is now a professor at a college, a masters in geophysics working for a large oil company, a social worker, and a CPA with a master’s degree and probably some other degrees as well. She likes to collect them. I’m proud to know them and I love to tell people what all my high school friends are up to and I know that they’re always down for interesting conversations.
Not only am I the only one without a master’s degree, but I’m also the only one who has more than one kid. I have exactly one friend with one kid…and then I have four. I’m the outlier in that respect. I’m also the only one who graduated with her Mrs. degree, which I didn’t even know was a thing until I heard the term in a movie. I got married when I was 22 and my husband was 24. If we hadn’t needed a visa in order to live in the same country, maybe we wouldn’t have gotten married so young, but we we were sure enough of our relationship for it to seem like a good bet. I had my first kid at 24 when most of my friends were still working on their master’s degree, and I’ve been a stay at home mom ever since. T

One day when I was puttering around doing my normal stay-at-home-mom-with-four-kids-who-homeschools routine, I found myself wondering what one of my former middle school friends, Jessica, was doing. We had been pretty good friends through freshman year, but we grew apart in sophomore year and didn’t really talk much the rest of high school. I remember when I went over to her house once freshman year and we spent time leafing through various girly magazines like Seventeen. It was boring. I remember looking up at her and being surprised at seeing her completely engrossed in her magazine. How could she find it so interesting? I can even remember one of the articles/ads I saw in it: a shampoo for people who’s hair was always at its best two days after washing that you could use every day to get that every other day effect. But…why?

At any rate, I decided to look her up and see what she was up to these days. Thanks to Facebook, I quickly found her. She’s married. Cool. She has two kids. Neat. Still living in the Bible Belt. Better her than me. She’s a stay at home mom, too. She has a blog. I clicked on the link immediately and started reading.
Her blog had unfortunately been defunct for about a year, but it was pretty successful when it was going on. She had nearly 800 followers. But as I read it I became more disappointed. It was a mommy blog.

Pot calling the kettle black? I know. But it wasn’t my type of mommy blog. It was that type of mommy blog where many of the posts are pinterest-esque craft ideas or start out with “I was given this product to try out for free, but received nothing else and was not required to write a positive review.” Where they have guest bloggers from other related blogs who offer their advice. One such post featured her friend with four kids (Hey! Me too!) and how she manages to keep control of the dishes. Disappointingly, her post did not consist of:

How I manage my dishes

Instead, she discussed how with four kids, she served a lot of dishes from one big platter and did this and that. Oh. Okay. I just shove mine in the dishwasher and start it. Beta cleans out the dishes and Gamma cleans out the silverwear. I load.

There were a few posts about her daily life, but most of it was of the style that was meant to increase readership and, presumably money. It was so boring. And I was disappointed. No interesting discussions, thoughts or observations. Just “make these paper bags into cute reindeer for a teacher’s gift!” Seriously, just give the teacher a $50 gift card to Amazon. He or she will appreciate that more.

But that’s probably her idea of boring. I guess I don’t have to wonder why we grew apart in high school, and I realized that she wasn’t just reading those teen magazines because she felt that’s what she was expected to be interested in. She really thought they were interesting.
Out of curiosity, I poked around a bit more on her Facebook and found a whole bunch of other people we went to high school with. And to a large extent, they were all living lives similar to mine: stay at home moms (one former cheerleader listed her job as “CEO at home. That’s right! I’m a stay-at-home mom.” My husband: “why do American women always list staying at home with the kids as their jobs? In Finland if they stay home with the kids, they just put, ‘unemployed. Taking care of kids.'”). Or they had jobs, but they were normal jobs. As far as I know, not a single person I went to high school with is a hollywood A-lister, or member of a famous rock band. One is doing post-doctoral studies at Stanford, which is pretty cool. Another helped discover some new type of LED or something. But even in our high achieving set of students, we’re all relatively normal 15 years on.

I told my husband about my realizations and he thought for a moment. “I don’t think your life is lame. You homeschool. You work from home. You travel. You garden. You do a whole lot!” I guess it’s true. But it’s not a high status life, and maybe that’s what I was sensing at that wedding. While I had the family, my friends had the status. They were the ones our former teachers would be proud to have taught, as though they were personally responsible for their achievements.
I could lie to myself and say I could have been a doctor, but the reality is I could not have. Not only do I lack to the aptitude, I lack the desire. I’ve never been passionate about having a career or trying to amass any sort of status. But I have been passionate about kids ever since my first nephew was born when I was 11. I’ve always enjoyed working with them. And I’ve been passionate about languages since I was at least 7 and have spent time trying to learn at least a dozen and even made up my own (I didn’t get very far designing its grammar though. The verbs were very regular). And now I’ve living my normal, everyday life combining both of these.
I’m still extremely proud of my high school friends. I’m really proud of how smart and hardworking they are and just like our teachers must, I like to tell people about what they’ve accomplished. But I’m also proud of my life. I’m proud of the way I’m raising my kids and how much they’re learning.

All in all, I have a pretty good life.

Google search result for “Stay-at-home-mom.” How the hell is her kitchen floor so clean? The look on her face is on point, though.

Finished with Finnish? Considering Future Options pt1

An off-hand comment has spawned a parenting crisis in my household.

We had just returned home from German class and Alpha showed me this Christmas card he had made there and gleefully pointed out how he had written over “Frohe Weihnachten” in his secret code. He likes to do this: not pay attention during German class and write things like “lol stupid” or “death” or whatever in his secret code instead. I looked at the paper as disappointment washed over me again and told him, “Alpha, sometimes I think it would make just as much sense to put you in a closet for an hour as to send you to German class.”
This triggered my husband, who is already suffering from language anxiety. Finnish has fallen on the wayside, largely due to his inability to schedule a set time where he sits down with the kids and does Finnish with them. Their understanding of Finnish has plummeted. They very, very rarely use any Finnish at all. Beta says “olkapäällä”when she wants to ride on DH’s shoulders, Gamma says “hattu” (hat) and a few other words, but for the most part they speak English with German coming as a distant second. Consequently, my husband has decided that if they can’t understand him in Finnish, he’s going to speak to him in German. Problem is: his German sucks. I mean, fine, it’s better than my Finnish, but it’s like my Spanish: he had it for many years in school, can understand it pretty well, but anytime he can’t find a word he goes into his next best language (in his case, Swedish) to find it– oh, and his grammar is lacking. It’s completely pointless.

“Why do you do that?” I asked him. “It’s not going to improve their Finnish and it’s definitely not going to help their German.”
“I refuse to speak to them in English!” he insisted. “I’m not going to do it!” But he does. We both do. It’s inevitable when you’re homeschooling or when you live in an English-speaking country and the kids talk about most things in English.
But what followed was an angst-ridden evening on his part where he threw out suggestions ranging from the ridiculous to the implausible to improve their German and Finnish. “We’ll take their tablets away for the whole weekend unless they actually speak in German in their German classes and Finnish in their Finnish classes!” Alpha’s eyes immediately teared up. “We’ll just move to Germany and stay there for as many years as we need to until their fluent in German!” Sigh. He knows the kids the are against moving to Germany and phrasing it that way makes it seem like a punishment: you’re going to stay in prison until you’re sorry for what you did! I told my husband that this was not the time nor the place to discuss this, especially if any of the suggestions were going to be as ridiculous as those were. But still, he spent a lot of time telling me how upset it was making him that we were failing in our attempts to teach the kids Finnish and German and how they didn’t appreciate how we were trying to give them a leg up in life. “Languages open so many doors! They could go to university in Finland or Germany and save a ton of money, but they need to know the languages!” (Germany actually has a lot of English language university programs, but he didn’t know that) His despair was palpable. And, honestly, even I’ve been feeling that way a lot more when it comes to our languages.

The next day we finally had a chance to talk about things and, through the course of our discussion, came up with three plausible solutions to improve our kids’ language abilities:

1) increase the home study and make sure the kids do Finnish three times a week and German twice.

2) Move, either closer to Boston or abroad to Germany or Finland, either temporarily or permanently.

3) Drop Finnish. Concentrate on German. Or drop both of those and let the kids pick a language to learn.

Option 1 is fairly straight forward.  I already sit down twice a week with the kids and do German, using the German at home course “Einsterns Schwester.” The kids aren’t fans of it (given the choice between doing it and not doing it, they would rather not do it), but they do it and I’m pretty impressed at how much German Alpha understands and recalls. Beta…well, it feels like she’s learning German more as a second language now as far as recall is concerned. So German is covered.
Finnish is a whole other story. For the longest time (two years maybe?) my husband has had “Finnish” penciled into his calendar for every Friday. Guess how many times he actually sat down and did Finnish with the kids.
In August after another period of language angst, we had decided that twice a week DH would do Finnish with the kids while I drove Gamma to preschool and the other day of the week, I would do German with the kids while he drove Gamma to preschool. Guess how many times this actually happened? Yep, zero. I drive Gamma to school every time. Though twice now after smaller bouts of language-concern, my husband has sat down and done Finnish with them, though one of those was this morning, so I’m not sure it counts.
My husband has lots of reasons why he doesn’t have time to do Finnish with the kids. He has a lot of work to do. True, this is a constant factor, it’s not going to change. He either needs to work around it or give up. We don’t have a good resource for Finnish like the ones I have for German. Also true: the Finnish schools won’t even hand any over to my mother-in-law when she asks. It’s like they keep their curriculum under lock and key and, true to low Finnish self-esteem, don’t actually think there might be children who want to learn Finnish at home. He can’t find the materials we do have. This isn’t even a proper reason; it’s just his lack of ability to find anything and then not asking me where they are (though I would probably tell him “On the bookshelf,” instead of giving him the exact longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates he’s probably looking for).
I’ve tried doing Finnish with the kids at home, but my Finnish isn’t good enough to understand a lot of the Finnish-language stuff we have, so I have to ask my husband for help translating if it’s not in my Finnish-English dictionary. My pronunciation is pretty bad, too. “You should really have dad do this,” was my kids’ advice after the first time I tried. I agreed with them.
The basic problem, I think, is one of habit. DH is not in the habit of teaching the kids. I am, so throwing German into the pile on top of everything else a couple of times a week isn’t a big deal. But for him… it’s a wild deviation from the norm. He also isn’t a natural teacher. I don’t think I am either, but I’ve learned a few things over the past 4-5 years of homeschooling. DH is good at explaining things to adults, but it doesn’t translate well to kids.
We ran through some suggestions, including the possibility of getting the kids Rosetta Stone for Finnish. That fell flat when I looked online and discovered that in the 11 years since i last looked for a Finnish Rosetta Stone program, they still don’t offer one. So screw Rosetta I’m-going-to-offer-courses-in-Irish-Dari-Pashtu-and-Swedish-but-not-Finnish Stone.
So I started throwing out suggestions that he would have known had he read the book on Growing up Trilingual I asked him to read 5 years ago but he never did. Make language learning fun! Play games with the kids, like memory or Uno or this Finnish Moomin game I can’t understand and so have never played it with the kids. He’s followed this advice, but a new complaint from the kids has arisen: “You always win when we play games with you,” Alpha groused.
My husband looked sheepish. “I’m not trying to win! It was just luck!”
There are other things he could do, like bribe the kids. Here’s a list of Finnish vocabulary words. Every time you learn one you get a dime.

But just starting with sitting down with them three times a week…would be a great start in the short-term. The other two options I’ll discuss in later posts and are more long-term in as far as planning and consequences are concerned.

The Tooth Fairy Sucks

We tell our kids about the tooth fairy. It’s just one of those fun things we do, although we don’t take it very seriously. Since he stays up later than I do, my husband plays the tooth fairy. I’m usually asleep in bed before Beta actually manages to fall asleep and since she’s the one who’s losing all the teeth right now, it makes life easier.

Except the Tooth Fairy keeps forgetting to show up. The first time this happened and Beta came downstairs disappointed in the morning, we said, “Oh no! Were you awake really late? Because the Tooth Fairy won’t come unless you fall asleep early.”

She admitted she had been up late. “I was just so excited about the Tooth Fairy coming and giving me a coin, I couldn’t fall asleep.” She tried her best to fall asleep the next night and my husband made a note to remember to go up there and take the tooth. It all worked out and Beta found a coin under her pillow the next morning. That was a close one, we told each other.

This last tooth, however, we failed miserably. My husband forgot the first night and without prompting, Beta blamed herself. “I was awake too late! I’m going to have to go to bed really early tonight so the Tooth Fairy will come.” My husband felt horribly guilty.

Next morning, Beta slept in. I quietly asked my husband in the kitchen if he had remembered the Tooth Fairy. He cringed. “No! I forgot! What are we going to do?” I thought a second, then went to his office and grabbed the coin and headed up to her bedroom, hoping she was still asleep. She woke up when I entered and I approached the pillow and, while slipping the coin underneath it, told her “Good morning! Did you sleep well?”
“Yeah,” she answered sleepily. I cast around for a way to distract her so I could slide the envelope containing her tooth out from underneath her pillow.
“Well, why don’t you go get dressed?”
“Okay. But you have to turn around so you don’t see me get out of bed. I don’t want you to see my underpants!”
I gave her a confused look. “What? Aren’t you wearing Pjs?”
“I am, but you might see them and it would be embarrassing.”
I thought for a moment. “Alright. If you turn around and face that wall, I’ll turn around and face this wall while you get out of bed.” She did and I quickly snatched the envelope and crammed it under my shirt. She then got out of bed and I opened her blinds.

“Oh!” I said suddenly, as if a thought were just occurring to me. “Did the Tooth Fairy come last night?”
“No,” she answered sadly. “I didn’t see a coin.”
“Oh. Well, did you look carefully?”
“I did but I didn’t see one.”
“Why don’t you look again?”
She moved her entire pillow and there was the coin. She smiled happily and took it into her hand. “I must have looked before she had time to come. Or I didn’t look in the right spot because here it is!”
I smiled at her and agreed that must have been what happened. Then I headed to my room to stuff the tooth into my underwear drawer until I could sneak it downstairs to where we keep all the kids’ teeth. They’re one of the millions of things we’re planning on keeping to hand out to the kids when they pack up to move out.
When I went back downstairs to the kitchen, my husband whispered, “Did you get it?” I nodded and told him what happened. He looked relieved. Crisis averted. Disappointment averted.

We’re beginning to wonder how long it will be until my kids figure out that we’re the ones who are forgetting and not some mystical being who is simply waiting for you to fall asleep before taking your tooh.

You can have it all, except your sanity

The previous edition of the Economist had several articles about the gender pay gap (and gender pension gap) and included many suggestions to remedy it – and to not make things worse (bonus article: getting the housework done). The goal, essentially, is to encourage both men and women to stay in the workforce, working the same number of hours, saving the same amount for retirement while having at least 2 kids (the ideal is to increase the birthrate) and getting both maternity and paternity leave for these.

It’s worthy goal, but it does fail to address one problem: logistics.

Say you have a family of five, mom and dad both work outside the home. Kids are ages 8, 5, and 3. It’s Monday morning. You need to get 5 different people to 5 different places, all at the same time. GO!

In some places, this might not be impossible. In Germany or Finland, the 8 year old could get himself to school and then one parent each takes one child to day care/Kindergarten. In Finland, since school doesn’t start until age 7, they could conceivably be in the same place.

But here in the US…If my husband and I didn’t both work from home, we would both have to commute 30 minutes at least to get to the nearest town where work is. And since we would be commuting along with everyone else, make that 45-60 minutes commuting.  So let’s make that the case for our theoretical family. Let’s say they have to be there at 9. Well, the local elementary school doesn’t start until 8:30 and they don’t want you dropping your kids off until 8:20 (unless you pay for before and after school care and there’s room). So the two oldest have to go there and get dropped off at 8. Other parent takes the 3 year old to daycare. It’s 7:30-5:30, so we’re good on time.

Then mom and dad go to work. But wait! Kindergarten gets out at 11:30! It’s only half-day in my town. Someone needs to pick up the 5 year old. Oh, and there is no after school care for Kindergarten because the rest of school is still going on. I forgot to mention that. Maybe 5 year old should go to private school which, like day care, has hours from 7:30-5:30. That costs more though. This shit is getting expensive: $300 a week for private school for the 5 year old, $200 a week for day care for the 3 year old.

Then school still gets out at 2:30 for the 8 year old, but that’s okay after school program will keep him until 5:30.

But wait! Work lasts until 5:00! Commute is 30 minutes without traffic! With traffic it’s 45-60! How are they going to make it there on time? It’s not physically possible! Who is going to watch the kids? Who is going to cook dinner for that matter? We eat at 6 because it’s a well known fact 3 year-olds turn into pumpkins at 8pm. Whiny, cranky pumpkins who hate everything. Can these two parents get dinner on the table for their whole family and get their 3 kids, who have also just come home, fed while they themselves haven’t had a break? And then homework! And then bed! And after school activities!

This would be hard with just two kids, but I think three kids is where everything really starts to break down. It’s not a problem that can be solves with state funded maternity and paternity leave, or guaranteed daycare spots or even before or after school care. With three kids, it becomes necessary to have someone who dedicates a large portion of his or her time to managing the family: getting everyone from Point A to Point B and maybe occasionally having a nice drink at Point C, which is located at a convenient distance from point A.

Either that person is going to have to cut hours back to part-time or just surrender and become a stay at home parent. It doesn’t matter WHO does it, the mom or the dad, but someone pretty much has to, otherwise you go insane.

We manage by both working from home and homeschooling our kids. Our toddler goes to “preschool” (more like a daycare) three days a week so we don’t go insane.

My sister managed with two kids both parents working full-time with her husband working the regular 9-5 job and she worked overnights at the hospital on the weekend. Since shifts for nurses are 12 hours, she’d work Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights to be full-time, my youngest nephew went to daycare on Monday so she could sleep and she’d be up in time to pick oldest nephew up from school and then get youngest nephew from daycare. It was about as much fun as it sounds. It worked, but my sister and her husband pretty much never saw each other and after a few years, working nights lost its appeal. You can file this under the “flexible work hours” the Economist recommends.

So, yeah, while eliminating the wage and pension gaps and increasing the birth rates are all well and good what we really need help with is managing the time gap. How exactly are two parents supposed to fit everything in? Will someone come around and plan out the logistics of modern day family life?