"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.
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.
Photo is a courtesy of my 9 year old son
Monday, 5:35 pm, driving home from Aquatic Center
As usual, I am asking my son about his day, his swim practice, the homework that needs to be done, and the upcoming tests. “We have a quiz on Wednesday – either Science or Italian, I don’t remember which one,” –he tells me. He is great in Science, but not so much in Italian. I vowed to take his Italian under control, since another bad grade would screw up his average. After a heated discussion about his foreign language abilities or the lack of thereof, he reluctantly agreed to me checking him on the new vocabulary words (I can’t really do anything else, since I don’t know the language). This approach has already yield some positive results, since he got the highest grade in class on his last test. “But it is a fluke, not a progress”, he claimed. “If it is not a progress, we will turn it into progress,” I replied.
Monday, 7:30 pm, home
“Did you check what quiz you are having? Are you sure it’s not Italian?” I am asking him for the fifth or sixth time (I’ve lost count at that point). “I’ve told you –Science!” he yells.
“Can we spend a few minutes to review new words, just in case?”
“What case? I told you I am having Science, not Italian!”
Wednesday, 5:35 pm, driving home from Aquatic Center
“Mom, everything is good. And, oh, I had a quiz in Italian.”
“What?! You told me you were having Science! You told me you were absolutely sure”.
“That’s what I thought. I have Science tomorrow. I didn’t say “absolutely sure”.
“But you did not even look at the new words once. This is really bad.”
“OK. You know what? This is completely unacceptable. If you get less than 80, than for the next two weeks, you are not using your laptop.”
“Scratch that. It doesn’t matter what you get. You are punished not for your grades, but for your ignorance. No matter what you get -two weeks without electronics. Then, you would start paying attention.”
“So, how is it going to work? Are you going to take away the batteries or what? And how am I supposed to do my homework?”
(Great! Now we are going into semantics.)
“I am not taking away anything. You can use your computer for homework, but if I see you use it for something else, than another two weeks without electronics.”
Wednesday, 8:00 pm, home
“Are you done with your homework?”
“I did not start yet. I am reading my book.”
“Can you start working on your homework?”
“I can’t. You don’t let me go on electronics, so I have no choice, but to read my book. The story just reached its climax; I can’t put it down now. I need to know what happened.”
Thursday, dinner time, home
“I got my grades back. Italian is 88, other tests in mid to high 90th.”
“How could you get 88, if you did not know one word?”
“A lot of the words, apparently, were the ones we’ve studied before. Plus, I told you I would get at least 30. By the way, it was the highest grade in class.”
Saturday, 2:00 pm, driving home from the dentist
“Mom, I would like to submit a formal request. Since I’ve got 88 in Italian and others in high 90th, and I’ve already served 4 days without electronics, I would like to request to lift the rest of the punishment.”
“OK. You will receive the formal response to your formal request within the 72 hours of submission.”
“What?! Why 72 hours?”
“Based on the family policy, this is the timeframe needed to review the formal requests.”
“Who established this policy?!”
“OK. Then I would like to withdraw my formal request.”
“You will receive the formal decision on whether your withdrawal is accepted within 72 hours.”
“Why 72 hours?!”
“Because based on the family policy, it is time needed to check it for the conflict of interests.”
“But we all have one interest – for me to do well in school! I’ve learned my lesson. Can we just talk like mature adults?”
“Now we are talking. I will think about it.”
Saturday, 3:00 pm, home
“Mom, are you done thinking? Can we talk like adults? Can we make an amendment?”
“OK, I agree to lift the punishment, but only after you fill in your application for Advanced Research Program, including essays, do all your homework, and get ready for Science midterm.”
“But I need to relax. I just came from the (swim) meet. Seriously!”
“Well, you can have electronics for one hour, but then you work on your stuff.”
Saturday, 8:00 pm, home, watching Penny confessing to Leonard’s mother about her childhood rocky relationship with her dad (Big Bang Theory)
“Mom, can we amend the previous amendment? It is already 8:00 and I am too tired to do the homework? Can I do it tomorrow?”
To be continued … Or will it ever end?
Wandering through the small shops of Baltimore Seaport after lunch, he saw this hidden treasure. He felt a sudden urge to purchase it, which he did with the last of his cash. A few kids on the bus tried to use the designated spot for its original purpose. He stopped them before they inflicted any permanent damage on themselves. To their grateful smiles he responded that it was not that he cared about them, he just wanted to deliver the plate to his mother intact. Such a wonderful son he is.
Dedicated to the New Year. Inspired by Dr. Seuss
"Just tell yourself, Duckie, you're real quite lucky." Dr. Seuss
I like my coffee in the morning,
I like to read good book and glam.
When kids are marching and saluting,
respond to everything: ”Yes, Mam!”
I like when Maya wags her tail,
to bury nose in her fur;
with all the worries, mind-games
to part on distant travel tour.
When handsome men, a husband type,
would make some tea to share a cup.
He warms my feet, and brings me snack.
Let’s leave my married life at that.
The candles lit, and wine in hand,
the sweet aroma wraps my head.
With happy family and pet,
“Why”, would you ask, ”You write this crap?”
To put my “better person” hat!
Does someone have an app for that?
I want to live in better world,
to look for harmony, not gold.
But like good stuff… What should I do?
Too bad I am not a kangaroo.
To join PTA committee, but don’t have time.
Oh! What a pity.
To be politically correct;
not easy-feel the disconnect.
To cast my vote, but for who?
These people talk like kangaroo.
To come to terms with inner self,
I need a life coach, who can help.
I need a psychic and beautician,
And just a fix-it-all technician.
I need a lot, but what the heck?
The life is just plain pain in the neck.
It doesn’t go the way I planned,
I will just stick my head in sand!
Don’t blame me for the “crap” and “heck”
I have teen monster in my sack.
I am sure things will come around.
Isn’t it what New Years is about?
The sun will shine; the sky will clear;
the future looking bright and near.
The dogs will bark, the kids will laugh,
the husbands stick through good and tough.
Just try to be your own boss.
Enjoy your life on planet Earth!