Keeping It Real

At least once every couple of weeks two things happen: someone will comment about what a wonder woman or inspiration I am and I will fail spectacularly at some aspect of life.  Clearly there is a disparity – sometimes of chasm proportions – between people’s perceptions of me and my reality.

I absolutely do not set out to convince people that I am some sort of incredible individual who has all of her ducks in neat and pretty serried rows.  Each and every time someone compliments me, I am flabbergasted and don’t really know how to respond because it is unexpected.  And also because I have never really learned how to graciously accept a compliment.  Anyway, I am not deliberately presenting a facade to the world or hiding my shortcomings from public view but somehow, nevertheless, people have this perception of me that is far removed from the reality.

When I first started blogging (over four years ago!), I made a promise to myself that I would “keep it real” on this blog.  My original intention had been to maintain the blog as a sort of diary of my early experiences of life in a new country so it would have totally undermined the purpose had I finessed the truth.  Obviously I now maintain my blog(s) for other reasons but I still hold to that aim of presenting the reality of what my experiences are, sometimes red in tooth and claw.  Clearly, I don’t write about the mundane reality of my everyday life.  My readers don’t need to know that my sock orphanage, where all the unaccompanied single socks accumulate, is currently a mountainous stockpile.  Nor do they need to know that I spend every single weekday morning yelling the same script at my children who must surely be bored by now of my voice loudly hectoring them to put on shoes and coats and pick up backpacks and lunch bags.  I yell so loudly that I understood entirely why my new neighbours, when we first moved into our house, knew the name of my youngest son without the need for introductions.

People seem to perceive me as being super-organised, efficient, a fantastic time-keeper, with an ability to juggle multiple and varied draws on my free time while somehow, miraculously, still having time for art and other hobbies.  Many of those things used to be true of me.  Before I had kids, I was anal retentive with my organisation and punctuality.  I was notorious for my To Do spreadsheets and my colour-coded everything.  However, as my life became more complex, I had to choose between maintaining that level of efficiency or my sanity .  These days I am still a massive control freak but one who regularly freaks out amid the chaos I have little to no control over.

The truth is that I am perpetually frazzled, am prone to yelling because I am apparently hard-wired to associate assertiveness with volume, and frequently over-scheduled.  I experience regular spikes of anxiety because of running late or barely making it on time when punctuality is one of my neuroses.  I juggle many balls and fail to keep them all in the air.  Frequently I drop the ones that can safely bounce; regularly I drop the ones that smash and need cleaning up; and ever so often I just drop all the balls everywhere.

And the truth about how I find time for my hobbies, especially art, isn’t that I am massively efficient with my time or am spectacularly whizzy at getting things done – though I do work fast.  The truth is that I make time for those things by sacrificing other things ranging from dusting to TV viewing to sleep.  I confess I sacrifice dusting a lot.  Furthermore, there are times when my scheduling of “me time” goes spectacularly wrong – such as times when we end up having the most random, cobbled together dinners because I forgot to prep a key ingredient in advance.

I am often in the midst of a scheduling mess.  Back in November, I had a day where I had to be in three places at once.  I am used to problem solving being in two places at once but three was just too much.  It was head-imploding crazy.  And then my oldest son asked if he could be dropped off at the cinema as if it was no big deal to add in being in a fourth place at once.  Clearly my kids think I have super powers too.

Then there was the day when I was already up against it at the thought of having to get my two youngest sons to the orthodontist for 3.30 only to receive a phone call asking where we were since the first appointment was actually 1.30.  This necessitated me dropping everything – literally since I was doing laundry at the time –  quickly organising myself while calling the school secretary to ask for the boys to be whipped out of their classrooms and ready and waiting for me at reception, and driving rapidly to the school to pick them up, and then to the orthodontists’ office.

And, in another orthodontist related example, there was the recent day when my youngest son finished getting his braces fitted at 3pm only to have snapped them by 4pm simply by fidgeting with the wires.  Coincidentally, he snapped them at precisely the minute that the orthodontist is supposed to close up shop for the weekend.  We quickly dashed back to the office in the hopes they had not totally packed up and gone home, which luckily they had not.  I cannot tell a lie – yelling was involved.

Yes, as previously stated, I am a yeller.  I yell a lot.  My kids turn it into white noise so I don’t know why I do it.  Cathartic primal screaming maybe.  When Pennsylvania experienced an earthquake on 30 November, for a fraction of a second I thought it may have been caused by my frustrated rage at supervising hideous mathematics homework.

So, yeah, I am not some wonder woman or role model of togetherness.  I will keep accepting praise and compliments when they are given but – for the sake of keeping it real – please know that my successes are absolutely balanced out by my failures.


Thwarting Summer Break Insurrections

My boys are one week into Summer break.  In Scotland, Summer break was approximately six weeks long; here in Pennsylvania the Summer break is ten weeks long.  That month difference could prove significant.

Today, for instance, I have already had to thwart some insurrections.  My kids get “electronics time” twice a week with bonus time some weekends.  Today is one of those days when they can play the computer or a games console.  The rule is that they can have a couple of hours in the afternoon.  My oldest interpreted that as meaning that at noon precisely he could jump on the computer and lose himself in Minecraft.  Despite informing him, several times, that I would determine when electronics time commenced and that certainly it would be after we had eaten lunch, he was checking the various clocks in the house every few minutes.  He then decided to launch a legal case that “afternoon” literally meant “after noon” and that, therefore, I was being unjust and that he should be able to switch the computer on as soon as the minute hand moved past the 12.  That’s not the type of law we practice around here.  That attempted revolution was put down.  Meanwhile – because my kids launch attacks at me like velociraptors – my other three sons were trying to flout my “outside time” rule.  I told all four that they had to play outside in the fresh air for a while.  I should have been more specific clearly because every few minutes they were asking me when they could go back inside.  Next time I will set an alarm.  And booby trap the doors.  This is because, as I was working in the house upstairs, the three younger ones were sneaking into the house downstairs.  I, therefore, had to defeat that rebellion too.

This is just day seven of the summer break.

The usual pattern of our summer breaks was that we would sludge around, recovering from a busy school year, for the first few days; we would then embark on trips out and about to castles and standing stones and forests and lochs on the sunny days and would play games and watch movies on the rainy days; we would have a break away from our own four walls and for Mr Pict a break from work by going to visit my in-laws in England for a couple of weeks; and throughout it all I would be “homeschooling” the boys by working on a themed project.  In creating such a programme, I not only got to be an anal-retentive, control-freak, colour-coded diagrams and spreadsheets mother to my heart’s content, but my kids were always kept busy, engaged and stimulated.  That was how I prevented anarchy: keep the colonies so busy that they can’t find time or energy to organise a rebellion.  I also organised the learning projects to prevent recidivism in their learning over the Summer break.

But that was for five or six weeks.  This year I have to fill ten weeks with fun and activities, keeping my potential rebels engaged, keep their brain matter charged.  In some respects, it should be easier.  The weather is more consistent and certainly more accurately predicable here which means I can make plans for trips without those plans being thwarted or go for treks wearing appropriate clothing rather than, as we used to have to do, dressing for the beach while also packing wet weather gear.  Now that we live in the suburbs of a major city rather than a small and remote town, we have easier and quicker access to a wider range of activities – such as the cinema and museums – to add to our usual outings for walks and explorations.  However, ten weeks is still a lot of time to fill.

Furthermore, this year I have decided not to organise a homeschooling summer project.  This is a decision I may live to regret.  In previous years we learned about, for example, the continents, about knights and castles and two years ago I put together a massive project on each of the 50 United States plus Washington DC  – which has subsequently proved handy.  Last year – knowing our summer was going to be disrupted by a whole lot of immigration hoo ha and that our possessions were being packed up and shipped – we decided to create animated movies using lego so the kids got to storyboard, direct, build, film and edit stories (they chose recreations of Universal’s monster movies).  This year I was going to teach them History of Art.  However, my parents are visiting for the whole of July and the boys’ other grandparents are visiting in August so we will be busy touring around with them plus hopefully packing up and moving (yet again) so I decided – in my myopic wisdom – to keep things simple.  Instead, we would pick up our curtailed lego animation project and work on it again.

One week in, however, and I am remembering the other reason why I homeschooled my kids so intensely: they need structure and routine and order.  They are not kids who thrive on endless flexibility and freedom.  That way chaos lies.  Essentially they are my children, products of my nurturing.  They now need the lesson plans, lists and spreadsheets as much as I do.  Oh dear.  Oh dear because now it is too late.  I cannot put together an entire learning programme, gather materials and organise resources without a lot of planning time.  This year, therefore, we are going to have to wing it.  Hopefully between all of the trips we will be taking with their various grandparents, including a short vacation, and the fact that the school has provided them with packs of math and literacy work, they will be kept occupied enough to not plot a coup against me.

But I am going to start planning next Summer’s History of Art project as soon as they return to school in September.

Matryoshka Momma

The Week 24 challenge for the Documented Life Project was to incorporate a text page into the Art Journal.  This was a difficult one for me because I am normally so very precious about books that the idea of tearing one up and cutting it was anathema to me.  However, having purchased an old dictionary from the library for the purpose of collaging, I decided to just go for it.  I did, however, plump for a preface page rather than attacking the actual dictionary.  Baby steps.

I don’t actually know where the inspiration for the page came from.  I must have been mulling over creating something that represented myself and my four sons, however, as the idea of a matryoshka doll suddenly hit me.  If only giving birth to them had been that easy!  I was short on time last week so the idea of a simple page containing simple shapes also appealed.

The background was just blobs of acrylic paint spread with an old store card in order to keep it uncontrolled and random.  I then cut the matryoshka shapes from the preface page and glued them down with gel medium.  I added the details with pen and kept it all quite naive in style because it was a page about kids and that childlike simplicity seemed apt and – mostly – because I was seriously short on time.  I then added to some of the negative space by sticking in some washi tape.  The whole thing probably took me under ten minutes if you subtract the drying time for the paint and glue but I think that sort of slapdash energy complements the subject matter so it’s all good.