"Happiness is only real when shared". Jon Krakauer
“Procrastination is the practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones, or doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, and thus putting off impending tasks to a later time, sometimes to the "last minute" before the deadline.” Wikipedia
“Suggest children tackle distasteful tasks first so they feel a sense of relief. Starting is the biggest hurdle; help children take small steps to get the ball rolling”- Tip#5 out of 15 provided by Karen Stephens – the author of early care and education books and a frequent contributor to Parenting Exchange
“Set the right atmosphere. When physical labor is needed, lively music can rev up everyone’s tempo. However, music or television during homework is a distraction to be avoided” – Tip#13
I am sure Karen’s children are very hard-working; they do all their chores, immediately after creating a “to do list” and breaking the task into “manageable parts”, but before jumping on the couch with the remote in their hands. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about mine. My reward system failed miserably, because unless I offer something within a six figures range, the reward is not worth the effort. “To do” lists or any instructions I am offering only take up the time that could be used for relaxation. The sense of relief from doing a chore is insignificant in comparison to playing Minecraft with a bunch of friends on an X Box.
I call my older son a master procrastinator. My younger one is not far behind. Once, I pointed out that if procrastination were an Olympic sport, my children would compete for Gold and Silver. They said that it would not work, because then the Olympics would never end.
They have a right (even though it is not covered by a Constitutional Amendment) to relax before starting their homework. The amount of relaxation needed depends on when I come home and make them do “work”. I am using the term “work” loosely here, because things like cleaning out the plate, putting the dirty T-shirt in the laundry, practicing an instrument, taking the dog out, doing math, or anything other than using electronics fall under the definition. Every “work” comes with a strict timeframe: practicing guitar – 15 minutes, violin – 6 minutes, reading for homework-30 minutes, putting the clothes in the laundry or cleaning the room– the speed of light. When I ask: “Why 6 minutes?” My son responds: “This is what the teacher said. You are not the teacher.” I can’t argue with that. The clock is being watched closely; because this is the time they would never get back. “Work” should be avoided; if impossible – done as fast as possible. “Work” should only be performed if the procrastinator is well rested and has exhausted all efforts to continue the relaxation. As Ronald Reagan once said: “I’ve heard that hard work never killed anyone, but I say why take the chance?”
After coming home from school, the calculation is made as to how much time is needed to complete the homework for each subject. Then the times are added and subtracted from the bed time, taking into consideration the meals and other activities. The result is the homework starting point. If at any point, the procrastinator decides that he has overestimated the time needed, the appropriate adjustments must be made. The research paper should be split into the last few days before deadline evenly depending on the number of pages. This does not include bibliography, which should be done on the last day.
Studying for the test is always a huge variable. But not for people who know everything. My kids, surprise, fall into this category; at least, until I start checking. Halfway through his freshman year in High School my older son said: “I never studied for more than 15 minutes for the test. Now, I’ve just studied for 30. Wow, I did not expect that level of commitment from myself!” His voice did not project much happiness.
When the procrastinator wants to keep up good grades, while doing sports and other extracurricular activities, it becomes a source of an inner conflict. On one side, the procrastinator wants to do interesting projects, take on challenges, prove to himself that he is smart and capable, that he can pick the college (not the other way around) and be nicely compensated for the job he likes. On the other side, he does not want to study for the tests, write pointless essays, read the books he would not otherwise pick, and, oh horror, learn the Italian vocabulary. He wants to drive a nice car and travel around the world, but he can’t earn money for that without removing himself from the computer. How to reconcile the burning desire to procrastinate with the daily requirements of various types of “work”?
The practice widely used in my house is to go to bed later. For example, procrastinate until dinner time, eat, do homework, continue to procrastinate, then around 12am print out the homework. If there are any after school activities or a sport- eat dinner, procrastinate, do homework. If you are pressed on time- finish the homework on the bus or during lunch; but make sure the time allocated for relaxation is used for its original purpose. Remember what your priorities are. Even if 2 minutes of homework is left and the estimated time has expired -stop, procrastinate, than finish up.
Procrastination is an addiction. The good part is that it is free, and does not have negative health effects, which also makes it a bad part, because it is very hard to fight.
There could be no rehabs or procrastinator’s anonymous meetings. Since these methods can easily turn into another form of procrastination, it defeats the purpose. One of the possible solutions my son met on the Health Fair in his school. The name of it was a Life Coach. My son asked the person: “What are you for?” The Life Coach responded:”To help people achieve their goals.” “Why do people need YOU for that? Can’t they do it themselves?” asked my curious 9th grader. “They can, but sometimes they need help,” responded the fairy godfather charging $200 per hour.
Since my kids can’t afford the life coach, I volunteer to do it for free. My approach is not that scientific; I did not go to the Life Coach School, but it is based on an extensive experience. I prefer a diplomatic solution (since all others are against the law).
Step #1: Discuss the advantages of doing chores right NOW in a nice, calm voice – in particular: the sooner they do it, the sooner they can go on electronics
Step#4: Discuss the advantages of doing chores right NOW in a very loud, angry voice – in particular: they are not getting their electronics until they do everything
Step#6: Take away electronics
Step#7: Check if all the chores are done. Give back electronics. Tell the kids how proud of them you are.
There has been some positive dynamic in this area. My older son complains that he feels bad when he leaves stuff to the last minute. Not enough yet, to do it earlier. Well, baby steps….. I know it’s not easy.
One of the signs that the Spring Break trip is coming is my annual car washing. My car is getting professionally cleaned once a year, despite my husband’s pleas and demonstrating the dust accumulation with his index finger every time he drives it, which is not often. I am not proud of it, but not ready to put it on my priority list either. The car cleaner performed some old Dutch folk song along the antique vinyl record player displayed outside next to the conveyor. The amateur singer had a great voice, taking all the high and low notes equally well. Different singers, 10 yellow and green canaries, entertained the customers at the cash register. $13.95 and my car looked brand new. May be I should start washing my car after all?
We chose Montreal for this year’s Spring Break. I did not do any research; only took the Fodor’s Guide from the library the night before the trip. I expected the city to look French, have great food and lots of museums-everything I needed to be happy.
Montreal is the city of contrasts: modern skyscrapers and asphalt roads on one street turn into the paved streets and the stone building facades on the next. The street signs change the color from white to red indicating the entrance to the Old City.
Narrow alleys lead to the huge square with the monument in front of Notre Dame Basilica. The church, originated in 1600’s and finally finished in 1829, is absolutely magnificent. The craftsmanship is impeccable. “Not made in China” as my son noticed with admiration.
The gothic architecture is how majority of city’s churches are built. My biggest disappointment was that all of them were closed. They only open for public in some unknown visitor hours or never. One of the churches was even converted to a residential building. It contradicts my understanding of how religious institutions should operate or how they do in other countries, but that’s what it is here.
The biking tour took us across the canal, passing Old Port into the market. If you truly want to experience the French gastronomy, this is the place to go. Fruits, vegetables, flowers, chocolates, pastries and cheeses look very welcoming and ready to melt in your mouth. We bought a bucket of fresh strawberries, and ate it right there, dirty, on the bench next to the market. Montreal is the best place for biking with kilometers of pathways and bike stands available in every part of the city.
The downtown is yet another shade of Montreal with the “5th Avenue” look, Tiffany, upscale boutiques, art galleries, and Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal located on the both sides of the street. You go from one part to another underground.
Looking for parking made us feel at home. After circling Rue Sherbrook and all nearby streets for a while, we found a space on a meter parking. Tightly fitting into the spot, we celebrated our virtuoso “New York” parking skills; only to find out later that we were the second car parked in the space intended for one. At least, that explained why the meter would not take the money.
Montreal offers a unique combination of a big city with a large industrial and business areas and a modern infrastructure with the slower pace of living and the comfort and intimacy of the smaller town. It offers the blend of North American and French cultures with everybody speaking both languages and respecting each other’s traditions.
The food is always freshly cooked and delicious, whether it is an elaborate meal, or a quick soup and sandwich in the café. We did not miss fast food. We saw only one McDonald and one Subway in the heavy tourist area; maybe that was why there were no obese people anywhere to be seen. Mineral water with a slice of lemon was our preferred beverage.
During our last dinner in the Brassiere in the Old City I got seduced by the huge colorful menu of the self-brewed beers, and ordered a huge, 0.5 liter cup. Not a beer drinker, under the strict watchful eyes of my kids (they felt responsible for my sobriety, and were ready to stop me at the first signs of being drunk), I sipped the bubbly amber liquid while watching the Montreal Canadians Hokey game on a big screen TV. It was a new experience for me, but I liked it.
The weather did not cooperate, dumping snow and rain on us, trying to freeze us with sub-zero temperatures, while blowing us away with the gusty winds. But we were on a Break, so who cared about the weather? We explored the city, the museums, learned a little French, and, most importantly, joked and laughed. We shared food, and argued who was sleeping with whom in what bed. We debated history and took turns screaming at GPS for giving us the wrong directions. We had fun and made memories. Isn’t it what family trips are all about?
Dinner in my house is not only “the most significant meal of the day”, but also the loudest. Screaming around the dinner table is not a fault, but a necessity; otherwise, what’s the point? You don’t need to gather the family members around the table to eat; they are not going to chew your food for you. You gather them to communicate, or, in our world, to scream at each other. It is also considered a form of entertainment, in which everybody should participate and have fun. Once, my son’s teacher asked the kids how many of them liked having dinner with their families. Only a handful raised their hands. My son was puzzled; he did not understand why?
When I come through the door, I am not greeted with “hello”, but with “what’s for dinner?” I barely have a few minutes to wash my hands, and put the meal on the table. Everybody is starving; but too many important daily events should be discussed. Therefore, food consumption and conversation happen simultaneously, with the dog barking, utensils falling and beverages spilling along the way. Minor inconveniences are being taken care of while I am listening to the captivating story of enacting the dance from “Romeo and Juliet” in my son’s English class.
He prepared the mask a day before – some scary, alien-looking character from the “Doctor Who” (the fact that Doctor Who lived in a slightly different century was not important). His teacher paired boys with girls and showed the 16th century dance moves they had to mimic. My son is not good at dancing. I’ve tried to practice with him few times, but he still has a lot of room for improvement (to put it mildly). Once, when I put on the waltz on our new vinyl records player, he agreed to dance with me. Then my husband took over, criticizing my methods, and my son’s robot-like movement. He instructed him to relax, loosen up, and pretend that he was dancing with the girl of his dreams. My son responded that he could not do it, because his dad was too hairy to be the girl of his dreams. That was the end of that.
The students only had to bow and go in circles, but my son’s partner ”looked like she would rather kill herself than dance with him”. I asked him if they said at least one word to each other at any point of their involuntary encounter. He responded: “Why? What is there to talk about?” “Romeo and Juliet” was our dinner partner for the past week. We discussed the purpose of teaching Shakespeare in High School, the underage sexual activity of the main characters, their preferred methods of killing themselves, the language changes, etc.
My younger son jumped in discussing the advantages of being popular in school. He has a lot of friends and considers himself quite popular. However, there is this one kid, who is “a liar” and “thinks that he is better than everyone else.” He is also manipulative and tells the teacher on kids. This tiny red-head is a mandatory part of a daily news brief. The other issues on the agenda include the tests, the grades, the list of class cheaters, stories told by teachers, current political climate, degradation of society, human psychology, historical injustices, education system, anything else that comes to mind.
I am trying to teach my kids manners. They’ve learned to eat with a knife and a fork, to keep the elbows off the table, to chew with the mouth closed. I am not that lucky with interrupting. Every time my older son starts talking, my younger son talks louder. Then my older, claiming that he started first, turns up the volume. My younger, without any hesitation, increases the level of noise even more, saying that my older is talking too long, and it is not fair. I am trying to stop the screaming by setting up the time limits, so that everybody has a chance to talk. This strategy, used for Presidential debates, is not good for my household. It turns out, I am a lousy moderator. It seems to work in the beginning. But the first speaker would not stop talking, claiming that his time has not expired yet (even though he has not looked at the clock). Now, we are back to square one. Can they just eat? Is this normal? Does it happen in other families? May be I should read another parenting book? Is there an expert who can help?
At some point, the decibels reach the point when my brain stops processing the information. I am consuming my calories mindlessly, observing the screamers’ mouths open and close, their facial expressions changing, invisible electricity filling the air. I enjoy my meal; I am at peace. Eventually, the sound intensity goes down, and I realize that I have no clue anymore what they are talking about. I announce that it’s time to finish up and do the homework. But I am wrong, because it is not the time to do the homework; it is the time to have a dessert. For me, it’s the time to clean the table, and maybe, just maybe, while doing that, I will be able to exchange few words with my husband without interruption.
Someday, we will have a quiet dinner; just the two of us enjoying a candle-light gourmet meal, but by that time we would not remember how to talk to each other anymore. We would crave the noise and the craziness, the school dramas and the political debates; but all that would be gone. I guess we have to enjoy it while we can.
When my teenage son starts complaining that he does not have any jeans, and is wearing the same T-shirt two days in a row, I know it’s time to go shopping. I’ve thought complaining about the empty closet is my thing; apparently I have a competition now. Unlike me, though, my competitor does not really want to go to the mall; he just wants the clothes he likes, nicely folded and organized, to magically appear in his closet while he is playing video games.
When girls go to the mall they are looking for the shopping experience. For us, it is an outing where we can be artistic, adventures, original, inventive. We enjoy going through the aisles, picking out outfits, accessories, shoes, trying them on, carefully judging the transformation in the mirror; and repeating the process as many times as necessary until we are fully satisfied with the new look. It does not mean that the decision is final. We reserve the right to return the outfit for any reason, and start the process all over again. My husband claims that for me it is easier to buy a house then to buy a pair of pants. That is because I have to look good in the pants, which I cannot say about the house.
When boys go to the mall, they are not looking for the shopping experience; they are looking to visit the Sony and Apple stores, which would help them to pick the next electronic gadget, but would not solve the clothes shortage problem.
It takes a lot of strategic planning to dress a teenage boy. First, you have to detach him from the computer. Since it is nearly impossible, especially when he is in the middle of the game, and will remain there for unknown amount of time, it is better to do it right after the meal or homework. You have to narrow down exactly what is needed, and pick the stores you would visit. You have to park strategically, so that you would walk into the chosen clothing stores before you pass the electronic stores. Finally, you have to realize that time is of essence, and move fast.
If you think you know what is in trend and looks good on your son, think again. GQ magazine fashion editors and all these cool celebrity stylists should look for another job. The trendsetters of Kennedy High School know better. They can smell “the moron” from 100 feet away, and would not hesitate to give him “a look”. “A look” would mean “a thought”. “A thought” could either be an approval or a disapproval, but who wants to take that chance? So here is a dilemma: he wants to look different, but not so different that people would start glaring. In times, he comes up with a radical idea like wearing a jacket or a bow time, but then quickly rejects it: “Nope. Too much.” Buying the pea coat for winter was a courageous move inspired by watching British TV. Only a hand fool of kids was brave enough to do it. We were very proud of him.
The everyday “uniform” consists of a T-shirt, a sweat shirt, a pair of jeans and a pair of sneakers or boots. Jeans are the easy part – faded or slightly-ripped boot cut would do the job. The rest is much more complicated.
Since there is nothing interesting for him in the clothing store to look at, he is doing me a huge favor by standing in the middle of an aisle waiting for me to bring him pieces to look at. Most of the time he just shakes his head “No”. When he gets particularly generous, he would give me some hints by making a comment about the image, size or color of the letters, quality of fabric, etc. Sometimes he elaborates, explaining that he is not “a moron”, or not “a pornography star”. He rejected the T-shirt with a picture of an astronaut and a year 1973 written on it on the basis of its historical inaccuracy, since the moon landing happened in 1969. Another T-shirt was too fruity; a few were V-necks which did not reflect his personal style. Some stores, like Abercrombie & Fitch, we could not shop due to the owner’s stance on social issues; but now he was changing his tune due to losing a lot of business because of it. However, a few attractive bare-chested male models were the only good things in the store. Unfortunately, they were not for sale. Or maybe they were; we did not ask.
A boy in the clothing store is a very sad picture to look at. He doesn’t belong there, and doesn’t want to be there. He is hot and bored, and painfully wasting his precious time. He would rather be somewhere else, but he needs clothes, damn it; and his mom is taking too much time to pick something at least remotely acceptable for wearing to school. His mom doesn’t understand the repercussion of the wrong wardrobe, its lethal effect on his social life. One “wrong” T-shirt, and the reputation, he has worked so hard to establish, is ruined forever. Trying on the stupid clothes in the fitting room and staying in line to the cash register should be officially established as a new torture in Guantanamo Bay.
Upon arrival, the shopping bags are usually being thrown into the corner of the teenager’s room. The new wardrobe patiently waits to be moved from the bag to the appropriate place in the closet, or, at least, to be taken out of the bag and worn. But it’s “work” and the proud owner is busy with his homework. So until he finds time, the teenager would wear the same T-shirt two days in a row, and complain about the “empty closet” situation. Of course, mom is always welcome to come in and help out.
I came back to the car with the platter of insanely overpriced kosher chocolates I just bought in the “elite” gourmet store on Central Avenue. Topped with a fancy sign, the place is considered to be high-end in the upscale Jewish neighborhood that my husband’s family we came to visit lives in. We don’t know any other “good” kosher stores in the area, and don’t want to look cheap, so wasting money seems like the right thing to do. We usually are invited twice a year – for Chanukah and Purim. Every visit sparks a discussion about religion, the existence of God, and his role in our lives. Not that we need a visit for that; the topic is one of my son’s all-time favorites. That’s why I am trying to avoid it at all costs, because once it starts it never ends. The fact that it is a belief, and, therefore, does not need a proof, only makes him more passionate in trying to prove that God’s existence is not proven. The fact that nobody disagrees with him does not stop him from moving on, presenting countless arguments for indefinite amount of time.
Anyway, when I came back my husband was laughing, so I asked him why. He said that they were talking about circumcision. Not understanding how this barbaric, but medically beneficial procedure could be funny, I’ve asked him to elaborate. This was the statement my son made on the topic of Purim while I was away: “ God is so messed up. First, he wants to cut up your penis, and then drink to the point where you won’t recognize your neighbor.” This description of events, certainly, had a right to exist, since you did have to get drunk on Purim. However, we had to point out, that in the case of a circumcision the sequence of events was the opposite. First, the 8-day-old baby was given wine, and then his penis got cut off. That was when the philosophical question “what came first” did not only get a new life, but also brought many more questions. My older son was concerned about the effects of the alcohol intoxication on a baby. My younger son wanted to know what part was being cut off. My older son was concerned with how drunk-ing the baby was legal, my younger son was worried about the bleeding aspect. My older son, just finishing the reproductive unit in his Living Environment class, identified the unfortunate body part as nothing other than “a foreskin”. The value of this knowledge for my younger son could hardly be underestimated, since it could drastically improve his reputation among his fellow 4th graders.
Even though we are Jewish to the bone, we’ve never been particularly religious. We do try to follow certain traditions, like eating latkes and lighting the Menorah on Chanukah, Hamentashen for Purim, no bread for Passover. However, even though each ritual has deep meaning and historical significance, it is very hard to explain to kids. They don’t buy into “the tradition” rhetoric. They would gladly listen to the interesting stories about their ancestors, but why should they starve on Yom Kippur, or deny themselves their favorite food on Passover to show solidarity with the hypothetical Jews that lived thousands of years ago. Didn’t these Jews endure all the hardships, so that the future generations would not have to suffer? Other religions don’t seem to be that cruel to their members.
Every time we come to a Purim party, there is a different set of ideas coming from the same exact script read and analyzed over and over again. This time it was the double meaning of clothing: one that we wore on the outside-physical articles of the wardrobe; the other, spiritual one- the people we were on the inside. Looking beyond the surface, digging deeper could uncover the new concept or a theory never explored before. Reading between the lines, interpreting every single word, gesture, detail of a dress are the signs of a true scholar, which we are clearly not. That’s why I’ve asked my family members to be quiet, and pretend like they were smart, or at least somewhat educated. As Mark Twain said: “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”
Why would you get a dog as a life companion when you already have a house full of human companions? Why would you voluntarily bring another living creature into your life that needs feeding, bathing, walking, etc. (I am not even talking about housebreaking)? First and foremost, dogs don’t talk; and second, they follow directions. They actually do what they are told without voicing their opinions, or postponing it to later. Their sole purpose is to be present. By just doing that they provide unconditional acceptance and love, fill you up with tons of warm and cozy energy, lift your mood, and make you a better person overall. They don’t care how much money you make, or if you kill your grandma, dogs will make you feel better anyway, and they will accomplish it without uttering a single word.
Sure, dogs know how to communicate. Their ears and tails speak sometimes louder than words. If I see my dog laying on the rug quietly with her ears and tail down, looking in the opposite direction, pretending she does not see me, I know something is up. She knows that eating sleepers or chewing pillows is wrong; not that it stops her from doing it. Sound of her tail hitting the wall or the staircase indicates that someone she loves is about to open the door. At times I am afraid she would break her tail (if such thing is possible), but she does not seem to be in any pain. Then wagging the tail turns into wagging her whole body, with her little tuchis rotating 360 degrees with an incredible speed, followed by jumping on her object of love until he acknowledges her existence.
Dogs could be quite loud at times, especially when they perceive something as unknown or dangerous. Balloons, for example, put my dog in an instant state of panic, causing her to bark at the top of her lungs for a few minutes, and then, realizing that the balloon is not scared, slowly move backwards while watching the balloon closely to make sure it is not following her. The other day she saw some “weird” people shoveling the snow from my second floor window. They either were making strange noises with the shovels or came too close to my property; in any case it was not right and clearly deserved a bark. But after a few minutes she felt it was not worth the effort, and relaxed on the couch. The danger is also eminent when people talk loudly, smoke, or otherwise do not exhibit good manners. I can’t blame her; that’s her noble upbringing speaking. She makes an exception for my screaming, establishing early on that any involvement is useless; plus you never argue with the boss.
Dogs also communicate with their actions. I remember when we were potty training my dog, she did not want to pee outside. We held her in the backyard for hours waiting for her to do “the business”. We asked, urged, begged; we offered treats, praises; we tried every recommendation in the book and more. She did not budge. She was like a soldier willing to sacrifice her life (bladder), but not surrender one inch to the enemy. As soon as we gave up and let her in, she sat in the middle of the room, and peed. She took her sweet time; as the puddle expanded, she kept looking straight into my husband’s eyes, silently declaring her small, but important victory. He said the dog was as stubborn as I was. I considered it a compliment. She had character; I liked it.
If dogs could talk it would change everything. The animal adoptions would drastically reduce, or stop altogether. I have a theory that people do good things not because they are good, but because of how it makes them feel. Think what you want of me, but I, certainly, don’t need another creature telling me how to live my life.
Talking, as a mechanism of forming words, is not an indication of intelligence, education, or that the person has something to say. It is a guarantee, though, that there will be a noise with the shades of judgment, opinion, attitude, social pressure, and comparison to others. Even things that have not been said; you knew they were there, on the tip of the tongue, trying to escape, but pushed back all the way back to where they were coming from. That is a human nature to compare and to judge. People who love you would try to protect you, make you fit into society. People who hate you would try to make you miserable, and bring you down. No matter what the intentions are the elements of judgment and comparison are still there.
Of course, you can go to the therapist and try to fix the “talking” with more talking; or you can take a pill and pretend that “talking” does not bother you anymore. There are few other well-known ways to escape the reality not appropriate for promotion. The fact of the matter is that sometimes I don’t want any more talking; I just want to stop thinking, relax, and inhale these happy serotonins and endorphins that come out of my warm, furry, four-legged companion. I want them to somehow pass into my blood stream, enter my brain, triggering the chemical reaction of transforming me into a happier person. She brings me comfort. She brings me peace. Her love is pure and unconditional, her acceptance is absolute.