From 1969, when my first child was born, to 2002, when my youngest child graduated high school, I cared for children, mostly alone, because I married two men who contributed virtually nothing to caring for a family (I know I sound bitter, but I’m not – I just made stupid decisions, which actually turned out to be OK, because four beautiful children and lots of amazing grandchildren resulted from those decisions).
I spent several more years providing care not only for my own kids and grandkids, but also for other children. I usually had a job or two in addition to providing day care, and when I got cancer in 2009, I went on disability and, thanks to the cancer, was able to retire.
Retirement – whatever it is you think that word means, know this, it’s not at all what you might envision. I saw myself sitting in a lakehouse overlooking the lake from my screened-in porch as I penned my books and drank coffee or iced water with lemon. Ahh, serenity.
Retirement, like my home on the lake, turned out to be a fantasy.
The reality is that I’m just as busy now as I ever was during those 32 years caring for children (actually busier since I give myself tons of projects to complete), and I’m remembering that busy with kids is an entirely different experience than busy without kids. About two to three times a year I get to experience being both Mom and Dad – again – but those two to three times a year these days allow me to replay that role with three of my grandchildren.
How soon Grandma forgets what is entailed from the moment my grandkids awaken in the morning, as I scurry to prepare breakfasts, make sure they brush teeth and hair, pick out clothes for them to wear, pack lunches and backpacks, send the two oldest ones off to school and spend the entire morning and afternoon entertaining the youngest child until they return.
Then it’s homework – and WOW has homework changed – did every educator out there have a meeting and decide, “Let’s complicate math to the point where it drives everyone crazy! No more simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division – uh uh – let’s add a thousand more steps to each problem!” No wonder homework takes so long these days. Here’s how I see the way math was taught when I was growing up compared to the way math is taught today:
The Old Days
Problem – go to the top of the tree.
Solution – climb the tree to get to the top.
Problem – go to the top of the tree.
Solution – climb the tree halfway, jump to a branch on a different tree, follow the branches until they reach almost to the next tree, jump on that tree, climb that tree to the top, hop around the forest several times until you return to the original tree, jump on one of the lower branches, hop up to one of the higher branches, flip over to a different tree, climb that tree to the top, then return to the original tree and go to the top of that tree.
Well, that’s how math seems to be to me today anyway. After homework, we have dinner (or not, because one of the kids might be practicing some sport that night), attend after-school activities, take showers or baths, if possible (homework for the oldest takes nearly the entire night, due mostly to math problems), and if we have time, we squeeze in some fun (by that time, I’m so exhausted, though, fun time means movie time), then we make sure everyone brushes his or her teeth, puts on pajamas, and then we all go to bed, where I will attempt, but will fail miserably, at getting alone time, because I will fall asleep.
I usually think I’m doing fairly well until some “crisis” occurs, and all four of us might spend an hour looking for somebody’s tablet or try to calm down whoever is arguing after a quarrel. Or Grandma might forget something – one time I sent the two oldest kids to school with yogurt and no spoons. No problem, I later discovered – schools today provide spoons! Crisis averted! Success for Grandma!
Little crises occur every now and then too, like the time (then) 10-year old Audrey spent the night at a friend’s house. Nolan, who was 7 at the time, and Avery, who was 3, decided to sleep together in Nolan’s bunk bed. However, Avery couldn't figure out how to get her mammoth stuffed animal to fit on Nolan's twin mattress. Because she used that big-as-a-child stuffed animal as her pillow, she HAD to have her pillow! And because it was a late night for them, Avery sobbed when she discovered she couldn’t position the animal in a way that was comfortable for her without knocking her brother off the bed. Fortunately, minutes later she was sound asleep.
Beginning on Halloween, I will again play Mom and Dad. Once again, every organizational ability I have will be put to the test, though my daughter has assured me that she has made every effort to streamline my work, going so far as to bribe the kids with money to keep their rooms clean (insert smiley face) and set up clothes for the school week.
Will everybody get to where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there? Will clothes and sports uniforms be freshly washed? Will meals be prepared on time? Will I know how to help with homework? Has common core math taken on an even newer dimension? I mean, will I need to know how beings from other solar systems teach math? Martian Math, anyone?
So I’ll deal with the cooking, cleaning, laundry, homework, sibling rivalry, rushing to get ready in the morning, rushing to finish homework in the evening, and watch the kids try to trick Grandma into staying up late every night.
But then I’ll also have moments like the last time I cared for them, when Avery ran up to me while I was folding towels and hugged me tightly. I dropped the towel and hugged her back, saying, "How much do I love you?" And Avery responded, "Free."