We used to take the approach that once the kids get their homeschool and chores done, they could do what they want with their free time. For a million reasons, that wasn’t working, so recently we had to tweak our policy on that a little and institute screen time limits. Before you tell me how scary that sounds, let me tell you that we all had a rough two days, as they had to redirect their free time focus from TV, tablets and video games (and I had to receive the grievances). But now we’re all better off.
Here’s how our day typically goes. When Mister leaves for work, we all go to the table and get our homeschool day situated. We do not break for summer, so this has been our weekday routine for years. That is, until we were all down with flu. Somehow, I got hit the hardest and I was sick longer than anyone else, so I relied heavily on screens when I needed to recover. (Thank goodness we go all summer!)
Once we recovered, we had a heck of a time getting back to our school flow. Learning time and chores started to be treated as an interruption to their day, and they reached for the remote or tablet as their default activity. Although we got back to our school time routine, the screen habit had taken root and there were fireworks every time I asked them to do something else.
Additionally, I saw subtle but building changes in their demeanor. My previously chill kids started to launch into full-throttle emotion at the teeniest issues, and we all took turns butting heads all day. It was not a happy time.
So, I saw three main problems in our house after our two weeks under the weather…
1. Reaching for screens to the exclusion of all else
2. A distorted sense of how daily responsibilities should be treated
3. Reduced emotional control
I figured #1 and #2 could be addressed with screen time limits. Another homeschool mom friend said she had to limit screen time to Friday through Sunday so that screen time would be completely off the table for those days. If it’s not an option, they will neither reach for it nor ask for it. Then, they would be forced to read, draw, play legos, pretend, kick the soccer ball…anything but sit there and vegetate in front of the TV or tablet. I borrowed her plan.
Imposing screen time limits also helped me start learning time and chores without much protest. I’m not saying the grumbles are gone–that’s just not realistic. But now it’s once again an assumed part of our day instead of an interruption to their Mario board or episode of Jessie.
As for emotional control, my chill kiddos have returned! I cannot say for sure whether or not their tantrums had anything to do with screen time, but I imagine the problem came from a combination of me nagging them to get through their to-do lists, from the overstimulation effects that electronics have on our neurons, and from the general sense that no matter what they were doing, they would rather be doing something else. The freakouts still happen, but the part of the brain that moderates all of that seems to have come out of its slumber.
Screen Time Limits – How We Do It
So, here’s what we’ve been doing for two weeks now, with more success than I could ever have imagined.
No screens before breakfast, ever. Mister and I recognized a year or two ago how much impact morning screen time has on our kids’ behavior.
No screens Sunday through Thursday. If it’s not an option, they don’t ask, I don’t have to say no, and there’s no negotiation and protest. It keeps things simple. We make exceptions for doctor’s waiting rooms and long car trips, because come on. Sanity.
Friday through Sunday screen time is earned throughout the week. We cannot do limitless, wild west style free time anymore, lest we end up re-training and pulling our hair out every Monday again. When school and chores go well, they can earn up to two hours per weekend day. When they do not go well, time goes down.
It may sound strict, but my kids are so much happier when they know what’s expected of them. Not to mention, as a homeschool family, we’re together a lot. Clearly defined expectations keep everything running much more smoothly.
We wouldn’t be surprised if we saw another round or two of snow up here on our mountain, but I’m already gathering supplies for my summer to-make list. I have my water-resistant sunblock recipe ready to go (glad you asked…yes I’ll share the recipe soon!), my favorite SPF lip balm melt and mix is ready to roll, and I made it a point to update my DIY bug spray to include ingredients that ticks absolutely hate.
Prevalence of tick-borne illness including Lyme is increasing with no sign of slowing down. If you’re interested, you can compare maps from 2001 to 2015 (maps here) – it’s a little alarming when you’re smack in the middle of a blue zone.
A few years ago, my then four-year-old son came down with a high fever and extreme fatigue in the middle of summer. He rarely caught colds, and after a day or so we noticed a peculiar red circle rash pattern forming all over his body. We took him to the doctor, who thought the notion of Lyme was ridiculous and he begrudgingly ordered the tests I requested. Results came in confirming Lyme, and fortunately we caught it early enough to clear it completely with antibiotics.
We’re among the lucky ones. Not everyone gets the rash or fever – a large portion of infected individuals show no symptoms at all. That means if they didn’t notice a poppyseed-sized nymph embedded on their scalp, they will not realize they’ve been infected until it is too late to clear the infection.
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Lesson learned – we need better prevention. Since the tick bite, we started our unofficial protocol when we come in from hiking trails and wooded parks.
keep a comb in the car and do thorough tick checks on the kids, ourselves, and each other after spending time in wooded or brushy areas
thoroughly check any gear we took along
look for ticks on clothing
keep the dog’s hair short in the summer so we can check her for hitchhikers
Where’s the bug spray in our prevention list? Well, I refused to use bug spray on any of us because of the main active ingredient, DEET. It has been somewhat publicized that there can be adverse effects in children, but I’m also finding information about its effects on adults that I’d rather not deal with. Manic psychosis? Seizures that power through anti-convulsants? Cardiovascular effects? Yeah, I’m going to go ahead and skip it, thanks.
Once I started exploring plant properties, I learned that there are essential oils out there that bugs simply do not like. For a while there, my DIY bug spray was made of half witch hazel and half water mixed with citronella essential oil to keep the mosquitoes away. We smelled like tiki torches but hey, no bites!
Now, I’m finding that ticks have very specific distastes. In addition to repellant promise, I’ve found that some essential oils such as tea tree, geranium and eucalyptus can even be lethal to ticks (tea tree study,geranium and eucalyptus study).
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Armed with new information and a small arsenal of essential oils, I decided to reformulate my basic citronella DIY bug spray with targeted ingredients. The lineup…
Studies such as this one have shown it has strong tick repellant properties, comparable to DEET.
Lavender & Geranium
The same study showed weaker but still somewhat repellant properties of lavender and geranium. I opted to include them because it makes the formula smell so much better (bye bye, eau de tiki torch) and both offer a little extra protection.
Don’t you love scrolling and scrolling through a never-ending soliloquy when all you want is the recipe already? Here you go.
DIY Bug Spray Recipe
1/4c witch hazel
10 drops lemon eucalyptus essential oil Get it here*
5 drops geranium essential oil Get it here*
5 drops lavender essential oil Get it here*
10 drops citronella essential oil Get it here*
10 drops tea tree essential oil Get it here*
Combine all ingredients in a dark glass spray bottle*. That’s it! Since the essential oils tend to float on top, give it a good shake every time you apply.
While I wish I could claim this spray will make us all invincible against ticks, lions, light sabers, et cetera, I cannot. We still go through our tick check, after hanging out in areas with trees and brush.
This week, we did something that scared the daylights out of me.
I was thumbing through my favorite blogs on the way to Hoss’s wrestling tournament today, and I landed on a short and insightful piece on how physical and mental discomfort helps us grow. Since I was a nervous wreck about his first throwdown in a full-contact aggressive sport, it fit the day.
Wrestling was not at all my idea. In fact, we put him in not one, but two situations where we were sure he would get knocked around a little, then hate it. But it backfired, and here we are. It’s the first of my kids’ activities that I didn’t choose for them.
Could this be one of those times that marks the transition to big kid?
After a few weeks of him not hating practice, it came time to test his skills in a real match with kids he didn’t know. He paced the house all morning. I paced the house too, in different rooms, so he wouldn’t pick up on my nerves. We left, we arrived, and waited.
Me shredding a napkin, a full two hours before anything started. Mister noticed I was doing this without realizing it and thought it was funny so he took a pic.
When his number came up, he took the mat. I was sure he would freeze, or get a facefull of rubber, or come off bleeding. Instead, he pinned his opponent in 35 seconds. After that, my nervous energy changed to eager excitement, and of course Hoss was pumped.
His second match, he went hard but lost, during which his shoulder took a twist that didn’t jive with my understanding of human shoulder anatomy. He was fine, but the straining, the look of pain and panic on his face…moms don’t like that.
Back to shredding napkins for me, uncertainty for him.
He won his third, and based on a points and brackets system that I don’t yet understand, that landed him second place in his weight class, and a new love for a sport.
He was happy when he won, driven to give it a little more when he lost. He was thriving in an arena I hadn’t chosen for him.
There was some legit fear, literal discomfort, and a whole lot of growing happening in that gym that day.
On the other side of fear, Hoss found a challenge, a killer workout, a new sport to get excited about, effort rewarded, and a little more of his likes and himself revealed.
On the other side of fear, mom found a the sweet side of loosening the grip, of letting the kids grow up and start learning to fly.
My wardrobe hasn’t been intentional since…high school, possibly?
For the last few years (I refuse to count), the uniform has been jeans, a hoodie or half-zip, and shoes I don’t need any hands to put on.
I’ll go back as far as I can remember. Picture a grad student in a sweatshirt by day, barista in black by night. Then, my wardrobe turned professional for a minute and a half before it shifted to maternity business casual. Onto postpartum in-between business casual, then stay-at-home mom in yoga pants. Two more cycles of maternity and post-partum in-between, and here we are.
I describe the current state as not pregnant, not in-between, likely true-to-size, and not a walking milk-barf, drool and grape jelly canvas. And at this stage, somehow nothing works. Time to start building a wardrobe, a real one.
But first, a mega-purge
Oh, the stains. The wrong sizes, a few leftover maternity pieces, dresses I’d never wear, and plenty of professional clothing for a job I don’t have. Sound familiar, ladies? Because I know I’m not the only one.
Yes, I did the KonMari thing once. But I wasn’t being honest about what my life looks like when I decided to keep so much.
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In other words, it was time to clear out and get some clothes. After pitching the obvious – everything that was either ruined, ill-fitting or irrelevant – my closet was pretty bare. I’m not exaggerating. It was a symptom of years of just not paying attention to that sort of thing.
Onto the needs assessment
Okay, here is where I decide which pieces I need.
Pieces. That’s funny. I’m building an entire wardrobe, minus a few camisoles for layering. You have no idea – it was so, so bad.
Historically, this would be the part where we go to Target and get one t-shirt in every color and call it done.
Not this time. I’m frustrated with things that wear out, and it’s time I look a little more together when Mister and I bump into one of his colleagues or clients. I wanted some nicer things that would last.
To Pinterest I went, looking for a capsule wardrobe how-to or just a list of things I should have in my closet. Finding minimalist wardrobe lists discouraged me – these would be more clothes than I’d ever owned and way more than I felt I needed. But, they were good places to start building a wardrobe. I used what I found as a basis and created this checklist to pare things down to the bare necessities.
Next, time to shop!
This is the part where we get excited, right? We’re female, so we should get all giddy about skipping through the malls, all care-free?
I don’t expect I’ll ever get excited about clothing, but for now, we’re getting somewhere. Purging was huge, and it’ll force me to go get some things and choose them intentionally.
Next time we talk wardrobe here at Intentionalish, I’ll tell you how I survived the shopping part of building a wardrobe and (gasp!) enjoyed the process.
Have you been rocking the late-for-finals look since 2005, too?
Good, because you can do this with me.
Your steps this week:
Throw out the obvious. Stains, holes, funky colors, clothes that no longer fit your situation, clothes that you don’t feel great in. Pitch ’em. You can even thank them if you’re tossing KonMari style.
Take an inventory. Find yourself a list of what you need, and check off what you already have. It’ll give your shopping some direction, especially if you’re out of your element like I am. I created a checklist you can use as-is or adapt for your own needs.
Getting dressed should be effortless, error-free and always result in a got-it-together-ish presentation. You with me?
All the cool kids are doing it. Michael Hyatt journals as part of his morning ritual. Seth Godin built his platform with often short, sometimes longer, always profound thoughts posted every day. Happiness guru Gretchen Rubin straight up tells us to keep a journal. I see over and over this unstructured writing time as the common thread between the big names in everything. If journaling is something all of these highly effective people do, isn’t it time I learned how to journal?
Sure, I’ve written online for a long time, namely as a brain exercise – it helps me notice things I’d otherwise pass by. But journaling is different – it’s not for public consumption. I’m talking about writing for nobody, writing for me. I could write about anything and nothing – no purpose, no goal, no judgment. No spell check! Though I wouldn’t dare err.
I’ve tried journaling experiments before. Blank page, I write a few paragraphs about how my day went. Day 1, then day 2, then day 3…by day 4 I usually decide my life isn’t interesting enough to write about and I quit.
I liked Gretchen Rubin’s idea of a one-sentence journal, but I wanted a little more of a nudge than that. I was looking for direction – any direction. I could easily find a list of prompts, but we all know what happens if we make this too complicated.
So, I came up with a few things that I want to think about every day. Yeah, I’m adding a little structure to something that is supposed to be free, at least in the beginning. But if it gets me going, then direction works here. The writing can still go anywhere.
I even gave it a name! Enter [sound the royalty trumpets]…
I had to come up with a dumb nonsense name so I’m not flipping back to reference my four prompts every day. Remember, complicated, quitting, throwing the paper all around? Don’t want that.
So the made up word – it’s a mnemonic device that helps me remember what to write. It might look something like this…
Something that went well
We can call this the gratitude element, or noting the wins of the day. Go ahead, write out more than one.
My sweet girl was so brave during her ear piercing! She had a small panic moment as I was filling out the papers, but once she saw the sparkly blue flower studs she decided she was going for it. She was brave and she’s spreading her wings a little, but still wants mom for comfort. Can she stay this age forever?
Something that could be made better
Here, we decide that we want to improve something.
Went to bed after midnight. For what? It was SO not worth it. Did we really need to learn that fish have swim bladders to control their buoyancy? Your need for factoids is not filling your brain, it’s frying it, Court. GO TO BED. On time, please and thank you.
While we’re at it, let’s note second area to improve…stop disparaging yourself using the second person in your journal. That’s not what it’s for.
Something I noticed
This is the part where we stop and bounce something around that we might have otherwise passed by without internalizing at all.
I noticed that I notice so much more when I free-write even a few little meaningless bullets. It’s important to me to notice things. Now I’m noticing what helps me notice things. I’m glad I learned how to journal in a way that’s accessible to me.
Something I’m loving
Now, we bring it all home with something that just plain makes us happy.
I’m loving our “first snow of the season” traditions that have developed. We hold the door open and laugh at Bella dog as she goes outside and acts like she’s never seen snow even though she’s been through 11 winters. She leaps around like a little puppy, bulldozing a path with her nose and doing rolls in the fluff. We always have chili and cornbread on first snow day, and we wish each other a “bon iver” (bohn ee-VAIR, “good winter”) because that’s what they did in an episode of Northern Exposure and we liked it. How do people live in a place that doesn’t get snow?
That wasn’t so bad, was it? Of course you’re intimidated by a blank page expecting paragraphs of prose. Those things have teeth. But a few scribbles – we can all do that. Go buy a simple, pretty notebook (I use a sunshiny yellow Moleskine) and try it for a few days. After a while, you can write in the “no” section what you noticed it’s done to your brain.
Sometimes we say things, and we have to say them out loud because it makes them more convincing.
FINALLY, I can get a cute handbag now that I don’t need those diaper compartments and sections for baby gear.
Because we’re sad that the days of diapered bums and lugging baby gear are over, and it’s sad to leave such a special and transformative time behind.
Thank goodness the nursing days are over and I can get a full night’s rest!
Because we miss the long days and nights of equal parts chaos and quiet, snuggling close and deep breathing baby head smell.
We’re having so much fun now that the kids are more independent.
We are, but now we’re starting to think about not being as needed, or needed at all, and while it’s a far cry from where we are right now, it will someday be reality.
I’m so relieved I don’t have to yank my homeschooled kids out of bed and deal with buses and homework.
Because every hour of every day, we wonder whether or not the hardest and most high-stakes decision we’ve ever made was the right one.
Ah, motherhood – so strange. Celebration and mourning over the same milestones. Sure, we’ve found bright shiny silver linings. But we can’t pretend the clouds aren’t there. Clouds aren’t all bad; after all, rain helps things grow.
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