Archives for November 2015

The Bedtime Blues

This is one of those posts that I start with a disclaimer. This means that I was offered something cool and I took it, because life is short and cool things are not as plentiful as I would like. This time the cool thing I was offered was membership in the Netflix Stream Team. In exchange for writing about Netflix I received a free subscription for a year and an iPad Mini. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the free gift part of it as you will.

My children’s bedtime is both the best and worst part of my day. I think many parents can probably relate.

On the upside, kids are at their cutest when they’re sleeping. This is indisputable. No matter what happened all day, no matter how annoyed you were with your child just 10 minutes ago, no matter how frazzled your nerves, it’s all forgotten when you see your sleeping baby. And it doesn’t even matter how old that baby is. My daughter is almost 11, and her sleeping face is still one of the sweetest sights in the world for me.

bedtime sleeping

Bedtime is also a time to slow down and re-connect with your children. There are stories and snuggles, footie pyjamas and clean, soft skin fresh out of the bath. (Maybe not so much with the footie PJs anymore in my world, but you get the drift, right?) I have some of my best conversations with my kids when I’m tucking them in, as we contemplate the meaning of life and compete over who loves the other one the most. My kids always one-up me. I may love them to the moon and back, but they love me to the moon and back times infinity. Eventually I let them win, but I know the truth: they can’t even begin to understand how I feel about them.

Of course, bedtime can also be incredibly aggravating. There are the kids who won’t put on pyjamas, who won’t brush their teeth, who won’t sit still for a story, who won’t get into bed, who won’t stay in bed, who just can’t fall asleep, who need another snack, another drink of water, another hug. Some of my hardest parenting moments have happened at bedtime, after spending 90 minutes with a two-year-old who still isn’t asleep while I think about the sink full of dirty dishes I still have to wash and the article I still have to write.

To top it all off, my kids have different sleeping styles. My daughter is a night owl and my son is an early bird. I am a math whiz, so trust me on this: 1 kid struggling to sleep at night + 1 kid who wakes up before the sun = 2 cranky parents.

bedtime

No one ever said parenting was easy, and that’s never more true than at 9:30pm when your child is still awake and everyone is beyond exhausted. Or at 6:00am when you’re just not ready to be awake yet and your toddler won’t sleep anymore. Luckily, my kids are old enough now that they can wake up and entertain themselves for the most part. I don’t like them to have too much screen time, but the day when they learned how to wake up and turn on their favourite TV show themselves was a pretty sweet one for me, I confess.

As a member of the Stream Team I get news updates from Netflix. They recently conducted a global survey around bedtime and found out how Canadian bedtime stacks up against bedtime around the world. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • 79% of parents worldwide are willing to make compromises with their kids at bedtime, spending an average of 20 minutes per night negotiating with them to go to bed.
  • 85% of Canadian parents agree that the last snuggle is the best (vs. 87% globally).
  • 40% of Canadian parents have faced the “just 5 more minutes” negotiator (thankfully I am in the 60% here!).
  • The stall tactics of Canadian kids results in 13.2 additional minutes added to their bedtime routine (vs. 15.7 minutes globally).

Apparently Canadians are also less likely to give in to stalling tactics. I can’t say I’m that good at resisting. One of the things that I run into with my own kids is the dreaded, “But my TV show is almost finished!” For me the extra 7 minutes spent watching a show is usually outweighed by the fact that my kid will be more cooperative. One option if you have a similar kid on your hands is Dinotrux 5 Minute ‘Favorites’ from Netflix and DreamWorks. Shorter shows = less stalling = happier parents. At least in theory. It’s worth a try, right?

Having the Courage to Walk Away

The other day I was sitting in the staffroom at the school where I’m doing my practicum. It was lunchtime and as I ate I struck up a conversation with a substitute teacher who was working at the school for the day. During our conversation the fact that I have an engineering degree and I worked in the field for about a decade came up.

The substitute teacher was surprised that I had left my engineering career and was now a student teacher. I explained to him that engineering wasn’t a great fit for me. I don’t regret earning that degree or working in the field: I learned a lot and I worked with some truly phenomenal people. In fact, it was those phenomenal people that confirmed my decision to leave. They loved being computer programmers. They lived and breathed technology and problem-solving. I admired them, but it just wasn’t me.

The substitute teacher then asked me how it was that, if engineering wasn’t a good fit, I finished university and worked in the field so long. I replied, “I don’t quit.” And I didn’t mean it as a good thing.

walk awayOne thing that I’ve learned in the past decade of my life is that sometimes the most courageous choice is to walk away. Once you’ve started down a path it’s easy to be carried along by momentum or inertia. You start with Step 1 and move on to Step 2 and Step 3 and Step 4. And soon enough, without even noticing it, you’ve been doing something that you don’t love for six years. Or 16 years. Or even longer.

Of course, persistence is an important quality, and sometimes you have to work for what you want. Sometimes it’s only by pushing through the hard stuff that you get to the good stuff. I acknowledge all that. But other times you know, deep down in your gut, that something isn’t for you. And because you’ve spent a lot of time or money, or because you’re afraid of what people will think of you, or because you don’t know what else to do, you persist. You conform to expectations and ignore your dreams. Maybe you even forget to ask what you really want, because you stop believing you can have it.

I was very cautious about my journey towards becoming a student teacher because I know that I’m a persistent, appearance conscious, do what is expected of me sort of a person. I knew that I would worry about disappointing my family, or wasting time and money, if I didn’t end up becoming a teacher. I had to remind myself over and over again that the bigger waste would be to spend more of my life doing something I didn’t want to do. I paused a lot to ask myself if I was really where I wanted to be. And this semester at school I’ve done the same thing. I’ve paid for tuition for one semester, but if this isn’t the program for me it’s better to save myself two more semesters’ worth of tuition and a whole bunch more time.

Fortunately for me all of my experiences so far have confirmed what I already knew: I want to be a teacher. I really, really want to be a teacher. Right now I am where I want to be.

Unfortunately for one of my classmates that decision was different. Recently, one of the 32 student teachers I started with in September made the decision to leave the program. I don’t know everything that went into his decision. I don’t know what he’s thinking or feeling right now. My opinion wasn’t asked for. But all the same I can’t help but feel something, because I got to know him and like him and I will miss him. Mostly, though, I think he made the most courageous choice possible. Walking away can be very, very hard. I hope that he gives himself space to process and then finds something even better that really fits him.

Building a life is a complicated, challenging, funny sort of thing. In the end there’s only one thing that I know for sure, and it’s that the person you’re going to spend every waking moment with is yourself. So, within the limits of decency and compassion, you should live your life for yourself. Whether that means seeing something through or walking away, only you can say.

Tomorrow is American Thanksgiving. Being a Canadian, I celebrated six weeks ago. All the same, today I am thankful. I am thankful for the times when I walked away, or things ended, and I found something better. It wasn’t always easy – on the contrary it was frequently gut-wrenchingly hard. But in the process, I learned more about who I am, what works for me, and what to make space for in my life. Time is short, and energy is limited. I don’t want to waste any of it on things that take me further away from where I need to be.

Okay is … Okay

Oh man, you guys, I have been busy. I knew I would be when I started school full-time in September. Of course I knew. But it’s really only in the past few weeks that things have gotten real.

I’m about three quarters of the way through a month long practicum at the moment. I’m teaching in a local grade 4/5 class and I’m enjoying it a lot. I’m also finding it challenging. This is no surprise. I am learning new things, trying new things, planning and delivering lessons, gaining new skills and sometimes falling flat on my face. And through it all I am being observed and receiving feedback.

Truly, my practicum is great. Being in a classroom, teaching students, watching teachers and hearing their comments, helps me get better. There is no other way I could learn this stuff as well. But it also means I am “on” a lot of the time, both for my students and my advisors. I am not the busiest I have ever been, or the most tired. I have kids. But it’s busy and tiring and I’m feeling it.

A few weeks ago, when my practicum had just started, I attended a workshop with my fellow student teachers and practicing teachers from my district. Or, in teacher language, preservice and inservice teachers. We were talking about how we show care in schools – for our colleagues, for our students, for our communities and so on. I got a little bit overly sentimental and talked about how much care I was feeling from my advisors and my fellow student teachers who were helping me get better. How feedback, including constructive criticism, is just a way of showing caring and isn’t this lovely and yada yada yada.

okayAfter I finished, one of the practicing teachers spoke up. I can’t quote him word-for-word, but he spoke directly to the student teachers and said that we really needed to think about self care. We would have a lot coming at us, he said, and we needed to make sure that we didn’t overdo it. That our needs were getting met. That sort of thing. And then he added, “Sometimes okay is okay.”

For whatever reason, that last phrase stuck in my head. In the past two weeks when I’ve been feeling overwhelmed I’ve repeated it to myself. Okay is okay. Okay is okay. Of course I knew that already. I knew that sometimes you have to let things go. Sometimes you need to say good enough. Sometimes you need to ignore the sink full of dirty dishes and go to bed at a reasonable hour. But you know what? I needed a reminder. I didn’t know it at the time, but those were among the most important words I’ve heard since I started back at school full-time in September.

We’re heading into the holiday season, now. Luckily, I will have a decent break over Christmas so I will be able to focus more on my family and the joy of the season and all of that good stuff. But you know what? I also know from hard-fought experience that Christmas can be one more time when you have too much on your plate, and you’re overwhelmed, and busy, and putting yourself on the back burner. So, as I finish the semester and prepare to celebrate, I will repeat my new mantra. As my kids fight on the way back from picking out a Christmas tree, I will repeat my new mantra. As we rush hither and yon, from one family dinner to another, I will repeat my mantra. Okay is okay.

Because you know what? It really is.

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