Quote of the day

July 26th, 2006

My almost 9 yr old was telling his 5 and 7 yr old brothers about a book he just read on the Gold Rush.

“The Gold Rush happened a long time ago. I can’t remember the date exactly but I think it was in the middle 1800’s. I do know that they only had black and white tv way back then.”

“We should ask Mom. I’m sure she remembers.”

guilt and time, too much of one and not enough of the other

July 25th, 2006

Hi Chris,

I feel really weird emailing, because a) I don’t usually comment on blogs that I read or email or contact those people who create them and b) the irony of what I’m writing to you about and the fact that I’m sitting here emailing you while I should be doing something else, is not lost on me. My problem: Guilt and lack of time.

For a starters I have three children,ages 4 and under, and am pregnant with number 4, who is also the lucky last.

I suddenly feel I don’t have enough time. I mean before, I didn’t have enough time to go to the park for an hour or so. Or, to make an extravagant dinner, or to sit down and have a coffee and relax with a book etc etc. Now - I feel like I don’t have time to do the simple things - like spend 5 mins reading a book, or playing trains, or colouring.

I can’t do all that and make dinner, pay bills, clean the house etc. I can’t do any of that, it seems anymore and now and then I am struck by the thought “Good God, what have I done?” Why, would I make my children suffer further by having another child? I have become impatient and controlling and I can almost hear the clock ticking in my head throughout the day. It’s not like this everyday but today has been a bad day and when there is a bad day, the guilt is kind of choking.

My questions (finally): How do you deal with time management? How do you find that 5 mins in the day for each of them? How do you stop saying “I’ll help you in a minute?/ I’ll be there in a minute/ I’d love to play Snakes and Ladders… in a minute” Do you get it all done in a day? Do I sound like a bad parent? Because sometimes I wonder.

Thanks for making me feel human. Your blog really does make it feel like you can parent a whole bunch of kids with a smile on your face. I just don’t know where mine went.

The Non-smiling mother

First off, you do not sound like a bad mother. You sound like a normal mother, having a bad day. Pregnancy can do that to you. It can string the bad days end upon end, punctuated with periods of fatigue, nausea, and did I mention the fatigue?

People always ask me how I manage with 7 children, but truthfully it was much more challenging physically when they were all young. Too young to do anything for themselves and they all relied on me for everything. I think that is one of the things people don’t realize before they have children of their own is how exhausting it can be taking care of little people.

They need to eat meals (several in a day!), and have snacks, and be entertained, diapers changed, baths drawn… then multiply it by several young ones and you have a recipe for feeling overwhelmed.

The simple answer is PLANNING! PLANNING! PLANNING! Did I mention planning? And probably lowering some of your expectations.

It is easy to say, but always more diffcult to implement. I’ll focus on two of the things that you mention: setting time aside for your children, and meal preparation.

I make doing something wih my children a priority on my list. Yes, I usually write a list, particularly when I am feeling overwhelmed. To me feeling overwhelmed hampers my ability to prioritize and make good decisions. So I will write on the top of my list, before the chores and such, “Go outside and jump rope with the children,” or whatever it is that they have been wanting me to do. Sometimes it is play a board game which makes me want to gouge my eyeballs out with a blunt butter knife, but they enjoy it so. The game playing, not eyeball gouging.

I’ll give today as an example. Right now it is 9:30 in the morning. I have been up since 7:00. Most of that time I have been writing on my computer, pausing to throw some laundry in, tell children to get dressed, and getting breakfast ready (cold cereal today, easy for everyone). I notice the bathroom needs to be cleaned, but it wasn’t a priority on my list today so I stick it on the bottom of the list. If I get to it, I get to it… if not it’ll wait.

I have written 10-12:00 as outside time. The kids want me to go outsode with them while they show me their new jump rope tricks, which I can only hope doesn’t involve lassoing and hog tying anyone. So at 10:00, I will turn my computer off and go out with them. Even if it kills me.

I used to write on paper, but now I have a nice journal that I write in. I make lists, jot down blog ideas, write funny things that the children say. Sometimes I am forced to write in crayon because I can’t find a pen or pencil, but overall it works for me. I keep it near me all day. So far I haven’t lost it and the children seem to respect it more than random sheets of paper because it is book-like.

Yes, I write down spending time with my children on a list like it is a chore to be accomplished. because, c’mon let’s be honest how many of us really want to play another game of Candy Land in our lives? Yeah, I thought so.

I have found that if I spend some time upfront with my children they are more accepting of giving me some space so I can do work later on uninterrupted. It’s like charging up their neediness batteries. After spending some quality time with me they are charged up and ready to play independently for a while. If they know that they will have their fun time with me at some point they are also willing to be somewhat accomodating if I have to say not now.

On to meal preparation. If you have read my other blog you know that cooking is not one of my strong points. In fact I doubt that there is a household chore I like less. So my goal is to prepare nutritous meals, which also taste good to small people, that require the least amount of my time.

The crockpot is my friend. And so is my bread maker, I actually have two of these. You set it all up first thing in the morning and you will not believe what a load is off of your mind for the rest of the day. Dinner done and cooking by 9:00 am is the BEST feeling ever.

I bring my meat home from the store break it up into freezer bags in portions sized for our family, pour in a marinde, and stick it in the freezer. Defrost it in the refrigerator, or if you are like me, the counter, and it is ready to cook. Add a couple of sides or use your bread maker, and you are done. The times I don’t do this and just toss the meat in the freezer in it’s store packaging, I regret it.

I would encourage you to set aside 4 half hour blocks of time during the day. In fact it is a challenge I have for you. A half hour for each child and one for you. Pick a time and an activity for each of you that can be contained within an half an hour. When it is your turn do whatever it takes to get your time. Put on a video and give them some baggies of dried cereal. Do not do any chores during your time. Try not to even think about them. Do something that will rejuvenate you.

Then anything else you can manage will be gravy. It will feel as if you are really accomplishing spending time doing something with your children, you will be able to prioritize your chores and get rid of some of that guilt.

Good luck. Remember the mama mantra: This too shall pass. And it will.


July 24th, 2006

Thank you all for coming to visit my new blog.

I have moved some posts over from various other places to get the blog a lived in a feel. Posts that set the tone for the way this blog will be. You may have already read some of them, or you may not have. But you can always re read the ones that you liked. And really why wouldnt you want to?

From here on out they will all be brand new posts.

So stop by daily and you can be my new best friend.

Are you looking thinner? Your hair is fabulous today.

How is that?

So go on and scroll down and read about how much I love books, especially free books.

I Love Books

July 20th, 2006

We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty rewards–gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists or Phi Beta Kappa keys–in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.
-John Holt

This quote explains one of the reasons that homeschooling appeals to me. John Holt is one of the first advocates of homeschooling whose work I read. As I read through the first book of his I discovered, I found myself shouting, Yes! That’s it exactly!” And I kept smacking Rob and forcing him to wake up and listen to me read passages out of the book out loud, which he loved.

I do think that it is true that when you reward people, and children in particular, for doing things it makes whatever you are trying to encourage seem like it is something that is not rewarding enough on it’s own. This is why I generally stay away from the book reading rewards things that give a number to shoot for. What good is reading 150 books in a school year, if your focus is on the number not the quality or understanding that goes into truly appreciating literature. Isn’t reading and digesting and discussing a handful of books more important in the grand scheme of things?

Perhaps I am lucky. I have children who thrive in this loose sort of environment. They are all voracious readers, who often have things they can teach me. I know, it shocks me also!

Perhaps it is true that I am becoming lazy in my old age. Clinging less to the idealized notions of parenting that I once held so staunch and rigid. Maybe I have become more of a realist. Most likely it is a combination of the above.

To the point, today I was in Barnes&Noble and noticed their summer reading program. Read any 8 books, fill out the form, then come to the store and pick out your free book.*

And I decided that more than my idealized notions, I LOVE free things. I really, really do. So I weighed the ramifications of picking up these forms off of the table.

On one hand a free book for something that my children are already doing. On the other hand, it’s a book, not a movie pass or a trip to the roller rink** which sends the message that a book is something you must suffer through in order to earn something that is fun. On the other hand, why yes I do have three hands I am a mother remember, if I am truly trusting in my children as partners in their education, shouldn’t I give them a say about it?

And so I decided on the latter. I picked up the forms and brought them home.

They already want to know if we could go back this week and get their free books.

*from a limited selection, which, eh

** not that we have a roller rink near us, though I would love to go if they did and put my comb in my back pocket, feather my hair, and skate around listening to Endless Love and wondering why I don’t have aboyfriend who wants to roller skate next to me with our hands in each other’s back pockets.

hands-on science

July 17th, 2006

Step One

One gallon jug of white vinegar: $2.49

Step Two

Box of baking soda: $.55

Step Three

Single serving bottle of soda: $1.09

Step Four Originally uploaded by the big yellow house.

Getting to watch the excitement of your children as they direct their own learning : PRICELESS

Getting hit in the head by the cork as it flies out of the soda bottle: occupational hazard

an interview with Jacquelyn Mitchard, mother of seven

July 15th, 2006

.Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
(photo from author’s website)

Jacquelyn Mitchard is the mother of seven children, as well as an author of numerous best selling books, and she has graciously agreed to take time from her busy schedule promoting her newest book, Cage Of Stars, to answer my questions about being a writer and mother to many children.

As a mother of seven children also, I find you and your work inspiring.

I read that when your first husband died of cancer, well-meaning friends and family urged you to take a “real” job, yet you persisted in writing your first novel, THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN, (a book which ended up a number one bestseller list and which Oprah chose it for her first book club selection.) How did the experience of being picked by Oprah change your life?

It made it possible for me to attempt to tell stories for a living – a privilege that few writers have, even if has meant some sacrifices, both personal and financial. We have to run a very tight ship and be careful; but we also have given our children some experiences that others don’t get to have, such as going to Europe when I have research there. Other than that, it hasn’t changed me. I don’t think of myself as “famous.” I don’t think of myself as different – just more visible.

How do you find time to write with a house full of children? Do you have a set schedule of writing time set aside daily? What advice do you have for women who have a hard time taking time away from family to follow their passions?

Well, the children are my passion, the primary thing in my life, except for my husband and family. My writing is a great love, but it is the way I make a living. And so, it comes after the children. There are times when I have to sacrifice time with them in order to do that job; but I try to do it during their school hours and at a desk downstairs that is apart from their “stomping ground.” If I really have to buckle down and churn hard at writing, I go to a residence called The Ragdale Foundation in northern Illinois, where I have total privacy and work ten or twelve hours a day. It’s far enough away that I can’t be involved with every minute of their lives; but it’s close enough that I can come home in an emergency, and I have. Believe me, as soon as my back is turned, something invariably goes wrong! Sometimes, I think it’s their way of making me see that they aren’t very fond of my being away.

I think all of us as mothers have had that experience! I have taken to saying to my children before I leave the house, “Don’t get hurt today. It is NOT a good day for going to the ER.” If only they would listen to me.

On your blog you are very candid about missing out on special events with your children since you travel frequently. Do you think it’s harder to be a working mom when you’ve got a lot of children? How do you keep things from getting out of balance?

I definitely think that it’s more difficult now that I have more children. When there were fewer and they were younger, I could easily take them out of a few days of primary school, and take one with me for some of my book-tour events. Now that many of the kids are older; and even the younger ones have such heavy demands at school that I can’t justify doing that anymore. And now that my assistant has a very young child of her own, she can’t travel with me and help out with the kids – except very rarely – so they end up sad and I end up sad and feeling guilty, too. And yet, they do understand that this is necessary for me to support them, and that their dad misses me, too. What’s the saddest thing of all is when I come home and they are just so darned okay! They say they’re glad to see me; but when they cry out at night, it’s for Chris. I guess that’s a tribute to Chris, as a great dad, but it’s made for some tears for me. Of course, I love meeting readers; and I love seeing the effect my book has on people – so it’s a dilemma.

It is such a double edge sword, isn’t it? I never knew before I had children how much mommy guilt I would feel, about things that I logically shouldn’t even feel guilty about. Speaking of children,you also are the writer of several children’s books. Do you have any plans to write more?

I do! Another picture book is coming out next year, and my first young adult novel comes out in January of 2007.

Can you share some of your creative process with us? Do you base characters on real people, or draw from real life experiences for inspiration? Do your children inspire your work?

My children have inspired my work, yes. In fact, my first chapter book for children (‘Starring Prima!’) was written backstage with the help of the children in the cast of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ when I appeared in that with two of my sons, who acted in community theater. And my adult novel last year, ‘The Breakdown Lane,’ was in part inspired by my son, Dan, who appears as the narrator “Gabe” in the book. Many, many of my characters are inspired by people in real life; and many of my books are very loosely inspired by incidents that have happened in real life – by newspaper accounts, by stories people have told me that haunt me. Most of those incidents aren’t at all recognizable.

You travel quite a bit, it seems. You mention Italy as one of your favorite places. I personally have had the desire to travel there and not yet made it. Do you travel with all of your children? Do you have any sage traveling wisdom you could share with us?

Well, the sagest advice I can give is, do it! I think parents are intimidated by the idea of traveling with a large family – so they simply back off. What we’ve done is to try to teach our children manners, consideration for others and to pitch in and be appropriate in other places. It doesn’t always work, of course; but they aren’t spoiled brats who disturb other people. Once when we were on Cape Cod, I heard a waitress pay another waitress to serve our table. And later that server came up to me and apologized. She said, “I really am not used to seeing kids behave that well….” Be prepared. Take lots of books and snack and magnets and go! My son Atticus had taken six plane trips by the time he was five months old!

Tell us about you as a child. Did you have a lot of siblings growing up? Did you always imagine that you would be a mother to a large brood?

I had only one brother, and another who died as a child. Both my brother and I felt there was a shortage of “us.” I did want to have a “larger” family; but I never imagined having one this large! In fact, I wouldn’t have had such a large family if my first husband had lived….but then, so many things would have been different. I don’t mean that they would have been better or worse, but they would have been different!

Your newest novel, CAGE OF STARS, was just released in May 2006, can you tell us a little bit about your book?

It’s the story of a young Mormon girl who witnesses an event of shocking brutality when she is only thirteen. Unlike her parents, she hasn’t the strength of will and faith to eventually turn to forgiveness and peace. She struggles with ideas of revenge, of making the man responsible for her family’s pain suffer the same pain.

Where can we find updates about you and your appearances?

At my website, jacquelynmitchard.com!

Questions that I subject everyone to, because these are the things that people seem most curious about large families:

1. How many gallons of milk and loaves of bread does your family go through a week? Are you ever caught up on the laundry?

We go through at least ten loaves of bread and seven gallons of milk each week; and no, I do five loads of laundry a day, in a washing machine the size of the Apollo 13; and I will never be caught up, ever. Maybe when I’m 65 years old.

2. How have you changed as a mother from your first to your seventh child?

I know how much more important love is than influence. I know that love has more power than any number of speeches or directions, and setting an example of loving and respecting each other has more power than anything else. Kids are going to turn out who they are going to turn out to be no matter what. A parent can guide and suggest, but not command.

3. What is your favorite snack that you take pains to hide from your children?

I don’t HAVE one! My husband is very protective of his Oreos though!

4. When I am home my favorite thing to do with my children is:

Cook. It’s so home-bringing.

Jacquelyn, thank you so much for taking time to answer my questions and share a bit of your life with us. I wish you the best of luck with all your new projects.

know someone you think I should interview for an upcoming column, email me at theBYH@yahoo.com.

the hover craft

July 13th, 2006

I have one son who is always looking for interesting science experiments to do. He is a voracious reader and wants to grow up to be one of those guys from the Myth Busters. He is interested in all things science.

He recently found a science experiment he wanted to do. It was an easy one and we had all the neccesary materials. (that has to be a first for an unplanned experiment)

But as he read me the directions and what the experiment was supposed to “show”, I knew it wasn’t going to live up to his expectations. I knew it and I tried to gently tell him that the experiment might not be all that is was cracked up to be in the book.

The project was to build a hover craft using a 12″ diameter circle of cardboard, a soda bottle cap, and a balloon.

1) You poke a hole through the center of the bottle cap,

2) poke another hole through the center of the carboard circle,

3) glue the bottle cap onto the cardboard so that the holes are aligned.

(Glue takes a really really long time to dry by the way. A really long time. Go take a nap, eat a snack, and come back next week)

4) After the glue dries, blow up the balloon and put it on the bottle cap.

5) Then you are supposed to gently push the cardboard across the floor, where the force of the air will make the cardboard “hover” over the ground.

Think a very low tech air hockey table.

Well it worked the way it was supposed to, which is to say, not that great. He thought it would actually hover off the ground enough for us to see daylight underneath it, like a flying saucer.

Of course I had explained to him before we did the experiment what it would probably be like, but he still had high expectations. Doesn’t he just look thrilled in the photo?

Luckily most of the experiments he choses to do work out better for him than this one. It was still fun though.

Oh and on a somewhat related note, it is never a good thing to hear your 3yr old in the other room, saying out loud to no one in particular, “This is why little kids are not allowed to use glue.”

first round of questions

July 7th, 2006

Hi! I’ve been reading your other blog over the last few months & I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy it. I’ve wondered a few things though…first, what made you want to start a blog & what is your motivation for doing it now? Do you make any money for writing them or anything?

Well, thank you. I always love getting positive email. It makes me feel connected to the people who are reading. I began writing a blog as an online journal and it was only after writing for a few months that I discovered that there was a thriving community of great women writers out there. It was wonderful and made me feel less alone. And we all know that mothering can be a very lonely affair sometimes.

I am still in awe of all the great people I have met through their blogs. People who make me laugh, make me think, or challenge me in some way.
Paid? Haaaahahahahaha. Oh, sorry. No, I don’t get paid for writing. Unless someone out their reading wants to pay me. Any takers? Ahem…

I do have ads up, and while I am extremely grateful for the revenue it produces, it isn’t like I could live on it. But as advertisers become more aware of what a powerful medium blogs are they will be more inclined to pay for advertising space on them, including mine. So, I’m hopeful I’ll be able buy shiny things… like braces for my children.

Also, I wondered what state you all live in, so I can kind of picture where all of these family adventures are taking place. I’m guessing somewhere in the middle of the country…

I live in New England, which is in the northeast for those of you who are geographically challenged, not saying that you are. It is a small town that is a bit too far from the nearest large city to be considered a suburb. Some people in my town have small family farms with cows or horses. Other people are city folk who come to the town on weekends and holidays and walk around in their LL BEan garb and call everything “quaint.”

I’m not either one of those. It is all I can manage to keep seven children alive, so forget about animals. Also, I don’t like to get dirty or sweat. Oh and I am not rich enough to have a weekend house, one house is mroe than enough to keep clean.

Third, I just wondered out of curiosity if you really always say the things you write to people and your kids, or if you take poetic license and add stuff to make it more funny.

Everything that I write is the true. Trust me I couldn’t make this stuff up. People are crazy out there in the world. I wish I could make this sort of stuff up though, because then I would have enough of an imagination to finish writing my book.

So, just thought I’d write and ask my random questions and tell you I have been enjoying your blog and often laugh out loud at the stuff… which is quite a feat! So, thanks for taking the time to share about your funny adventures in motherhood!

Well, thank you. And keep on reading.

A, B, C… something

July 6th, 2006

Some people post videos of their kids to show how smart and precocious they are. Me, I’m just glad they are cute, because clearly MENSA is not going to be knocking down our door anytime soon.