Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hot Irish Temper

I'm one of those old fashion Irish guys who is quick to get mad and quick to forgive. That was fine as a kid, but as an adult I had to start learning how to be more mature. To do so I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and learned the universe did not randomly break things just to mess with my head.

Then I worked at a summer camp as a cabin counselor. Children are not cats, you cannot herd them. I learned to let go and just let kids be kids.

Next I taught. It turns out the average classroom has 29 Tom Sawyers and 1 Becky Thatcher. I learned students love to explore and learn, but they don't like uncertainty. If you make the classroom safe with predictable situations the students will stop trying to take over and start trying to learn.

I had a mantra when I taught 4th grade. "You have to be smarter than the kids" Meaning simply that if I got into a war of wills with the
kids I would always lose, but if I used my brain I could convince my
students they wanted to follow the rules. That worked fine for a school
day, no matter how long, because I knew eventually they would go home.
Living with children is tougher.

There is one thing for certain with my children, if I tell them to do something they will not do it.

Putting toys into a garbage pile is how they interpret cleaning up.

I thought 12 hour school days were long. Now I have kids. At 2 in the morning someone is crawling into bed. At 5 AM someone wants to get up. At 6 I'm chasing a barefoot and naked two year-old down the street. (He's naked I'm wearing a bathrobe - something I didn't even own when single) At 8 I've cleaned the kitchen twice and all I want to do is catch a bit of the morning news. This goes on and on until hopefully 8 PM but sometimes until 10 or 11.

It was a bit easier when I was a stay-at-home dad, I could create a schedule based on the life style of my kid and adapt to it. Of course that was just one kid and he wasn't walking yet. Still the ability to create a sound pattern was there, because if the kid wasn't sleeping or eating I could spend most of my attention keeping him occupied and just a grab some extra time to take care of the household duties.

It's different now. I'm actively looking for work. I have to spend several hours a day working at finding work and I also try to put in some hours learning or developing my own skills. All this cuts directly into the time I can spend one-on-one (or is it one-on-two) with my boys. I am amazed sometimes at the ability my boys have of playing independently for long periods of time. I just can't count on that time. One day they will grab the HotWheels and play for hours quietly and the next it's kicking and screaming because so and so won't let me take this car.

Of course the first instinct is to say "be quiet and let your brother play". Hoping to get a few extra minutes of work on the particular task. I might be in the flow of working, or taking a break right this second would require going back and re-doing a lot of work whereas in two minutes I'll have time to take a break. It just doesn't matter there comes a point, and you can hear it in their voices, when I as a parent I have to stop and pay attention to my kids immediately. If not I'll spend half a day sorting out my children. That isn't to say I always have to stop what I am doing when the crying starts. Sometimes children have to learn to work it out among themselves. The trick is knowing the difference.

As a teacher I learned the value of setting up a proper lesson then stepping back and letting the students learn without me getting in the way. If I tried to just get by without a strong plan things often went south quickly. More often than not the day ended up with me frustrated and the students unsure of what they were supposed to have learned. Being a parent can often be similar. If I try to get through the day thinking about what I want to get done what actually happens is I spend the entire day putting out the fires my kids started. (Not literally yet, but give them time).

So I try (remember I said try) to keep a regular schedule, be consistent when enforcing rules, and do my best to give my children enough attention first before they ask for it with screaming and kicking. What I can't do is ignore my kids and get into a 12 hour work marathon, actually if I can get an hour or two of uninterrupted work I should feel lucky.
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