School as Childcare

school childcare parenting

This coming weekend my kids will have four days off of school, since public institutions are closed for Good Friday and Easter Monday where I live. Last weekend they got three days off, because Friday was a professional development day for teachers. The week before that was a full week where they went to school five days in a row, but it followed on the heels of a two week long Spring Break.

Chatting with other moms on the playground after school, I often hear the comment that it can feel like there are a whole lot of days when the kids aren’t in school. I can relate. Days off from school can really disrupt the usual routine with kids. As a work-at-home mom (and student) I rely on school to give me kid-free time. When my kids are out of school more, I find myself working in the evenings more, and scrambling to keep up. Many parents love that school gives them free childcare, including me.

Chatting with other people, however, I’ve noticed that many people view this tendency of parents to use school as de facto childcare negatively. I’ve heard a few comments from a number of quarters recently along the lines of, “Well, you know, many parents think school is just free daycare.”

The funny thing is that parents who extoll the virtues of school as childcare, and critics who deride the idea of school as childcare, are actually saying exactly the same thing. They may even be using exactly the same words, just with a slightly different tone of voice. There’s no dispute that some parents use school as childcare – there’s only disagreement over whether this is good or bad.

I spent the past four months studying the philosophy of education. My textbook has this to say: “… schools do as a matter of fact serve as child-minding facilities, regardless of whether that was either the community’s or the parents’ intention or wish.” I think that sums up the issue very well. When you put a whole bunch of kids in a classroom for six hours a day, five days a week (most weeks), you are freeing up their parents to do other things. If those same parents were already doing other things, you’re reducing the amount of daycare they need to pay for outside of school. Either way, the parents come to depend on school to some extent. However, it may be the case that nobody actually meant to establish a state-run free daycare system. Hence the conflict.

It’s true that my primary aim in sending my children to school isn’t for the free childcare, but for the educational benefits. It’s also true that before I had children of my own I would have viewed school-as-childcare with some level of suspicion. I likely would have thought that daycare was something that parents should handle themselves. Now that I’m a parent my opinions are different.

When my daughter Hannah turned three years old she aged out of her infant and toddler daycare centre. Her father and I had a difficult time finding a new childcare setting for her. She ended up spending six months at a local Montessori school that just wasn’t a good fit for her. At the time I was pregnant with my son Jacob, and I needed to continue working to qualify for maternity leave. While my husband and I knew that our daughter was safe and engaged at the Montessori school it was very stressful for us, because she wasn’t happy. When she got a spot at another school that was a better fit for her, it was a tremendous relief.

This is just one example of how difficult it can be to find good childcare. I’ve had other experiences, and virtually every other parent I’ve ever met has stories to share, too. It’s emotionally gruelling when your need to work conflicts with your child’s need for quality care. It’s even harder for lower-income parents, parents of special needs children and single parents. That’s what makes public school so great. The staff are highly-qualified, the program is educational, and your kids are guaranteed a free spot. It may not meet all of your childcare needs, but it meets a lot of them, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

At its root, I think the conflict comes down to the question of whether or not we believe society should be involved in childcare. It’s clear to me that we don’t believe this, speaking in broad terms. In most of Canada the daycare system is privately-run – we leave it to parents and businesses to sort it out. Some people still believe that mothers shouldn’t work, especially while their children are small. Culturally, we value self-reliance, encouraging parents to raise their own children.

Not every country holds this view, however. In Denmark, for instance, all young children have the option of enrolling in a childcare centre, and parents must not be charged more than 25-28% of the cost of the child’s care. And why do other countries provide affordable, universal childcare and early education? Because it frees parents to work and pursue outside interests, which benefits their families. Systems with more oversight tend to provide a higher level of care from more qualified staff. And children who may not otherwise have access to educational opportunities can learn. Society benefits from more educated citizens who come from more economically secure homes.

It’s true that the primary aim of school is educational. However, it serves many other purposes, some very intentional (think hot breakfast programs in inner cities) and some not so much (think making sure your child is exposed to the Rainbow Loom craze). I am inclined to think that that some of those maybe-not-so-intentional benefits of school are still very valuable, including childcare. Not every parent will take advantage of it – I know many homeschooling families who are very happy with their choice. I don’t think those of us who do rely on school for child-free time need to be embarrassed about that, though. We’re benefiting as parents, but our kids, our employers and our society are benefiting, too. These are all good things.

If you are relying on school for childcare, though, there is one thing you need to do. Keep on top of those professional development days so they don’t sneak up on you. They have a way of popping up when you least expect it, as the other moms on the playground can tell you.

Five Things I’m Forgiving Myself For

It’s the weekend, so I’m writing another Forgiveness Friday post. Once again I’m thinking about forgiveness. Today, specifically, I’m forgiving myself for a few things that have been nagging at me. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

As I said, today I’m thinking about forgiving myself. It’s not the first time I’ve written about the importance of letting go of your own shortcomings. Today, specifically, I’m forgiving myself for five little things that have been weighing on me, and causing me to castigate myself, but that aren’t really a big deal in the long run. Here’s to learning to forgive yourself and embrace your imperfection.

I’m Forgiving Myself For …

1. Leaving the kids’ toys outside in the rain, because I haven’t been able to muster up the energy to bring them inside to dry off.

2. The fact that I put lemon peels in vodka to make limoncello three years ago, and haven’t touched the jar it’s all in since. (I actually thought it was only two years ago until I visited the recipe page and saw my comment from 2011.)

3. My failure to start studying for my final exams as far in advance as I should have. I also forgive myself for taking the time to write this post instead of studying for my final exams.

4. The fact I haven’t tried any of the recipes from Homemade Cleaners: Quick-and-Easy, Toxic-Free Recipes yet, in order to share my experiences with you. I will do it soon, I swear.

forgiveness friday book

5. My vacuuming delinquency. I literally cannot remember the last time I vacuumed the whole house. It’s been at least three weeks, but probably more. And I have kids, and a cat, and all that jazz. But you know what? On my deathbed I’m pretty sure I won’t wish I’d spent more time vacuuming.

What about you – are there any things you’d like to forgive yourself for?

What I Learned in March 2014

Strocel.com What I Learned Last MonthIt’s April already! Where does the time go? Once again I am, in fact, overdue for my monthly review. I didn’t want to let it go, however, because monthly reviews are one of my favourite traditions.

Here’s how it works – every month I come up with some things I learned, and not always the easy way. Then, I ask you all to join in with some recent revelations of your own. Or this time, perhaps you can share some less-than-recent revelations that occurred over the past year. Either way, we all learn and grow and what-not. Or at least share a laugh at our own expense, because some of these lessons are both hard-fought and funny. Sound good?

So, without further ado, here is what I learned in March – or some of it, anyway.

What I Learned Last Month

1. I re-discovered the joy of seeing those first sprouts poke through the soil.

what i leanred last month

2. I learned the injustice of rain during Spring Break, and a gorgeous first day back at school.

3. I found out that you could drink maple sap … and it’s actually not bad. Much better than coconut water, in my book.

what i learned last month maple water

4. I re-discovered the process of letting go that is writing and submitting a term paper.

5. I found joy in raising my own Mason bees.

mason bees what i learned last month

6. I learned that when teaching your child their first song on the recorder, you become well and truly tired of hearing that song long before your child tires of playing that song.

7. I painted the playroom, and re-discovered just how much prep work is involved in that. Luckily, the result is worth it.

what i learned last month

8. I learned, yet again, that I cannot be trusted around a bag of Cadbury Mini Eggs. Not even a little.

9. I discovered that cooking and cleaning is much more pleasant when listening to a podcast. You would think I would know this, having recorded 80+ podcasts of my own, but it was a revelation.

what i learned last month podcast

10. I went for a world record in the number of times in a row I can turn on a kettle and then completely forget about it until the water is too cool for tea. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I’ve shared what I learned – what did you learn in March? Leave a comment and tell me! Or, if you’d like to play along by writing a review post of your own, link to it in the comments. And please feel free to grab the button from the top of this post.

Me and My Mason Bees

I am very suggestible when it comes to gardening. When my West Coast Seeds catalogue arrives each spring I have a very hard time narrowing my order down. I want to buy all the seeds, and all the supplies. I am very much a bandwagon jumper. Sometimes this pays off, like when I discovered my fabulous potato planter bags that make potato harvesting a breeze and free up garden space. Sometimes this doesn’t pay off, when I bite off more than I can chew and my crops fail.

This year I’ve undertaken an experiment, prompted by my catalogue, that may or may not pay off. I’m keeping Mason bees. They are native pollinators, and reputed to be very gentle. In fact, apparently the males don’t even have a stinger. I ordered a mason bee starter kit that included a mason bee house, nesting tubes and a little cardboard box filled with Mason bee cocoons. When the cocoons arrived I put them in my fridge, as instructed.

Keeping Mason bees sounds very easy. You put the house up, take the little box of cocoons out of your fridge, open one end and place the box inside the house. Within about half an hour the males emerge. The females slowly make their way out a few days or weeks later. The females then return to the house to lay their eggs, and by the fall those eggs have hatched, pupated and built cocoons, which go into your fridge for next year.

This past weekend I put up my Mason bee house and placed my little box of cocoons inside. When I opened the box I was surprised to see a bee staring back at me. I’m thinking that maybe it somehow got a little warmer than it was supposed to, and I was scared, but the bee emerged in a few minutes looking none the worse for wear. It flew off pretty quickly thereafter. Only a few minutes later my daughter and I could hear another bee working its way free. He slowly climbed out, then made his way to the top of the house to warm up in the sun before flying away. My daughter took his empty cocoon and put it in her box of treasures.

So far, I haven’t seen any females making their way out, but it’s been a little bit rainy. I’m just trying to leave the bees to their own devices, and trust that they know what they’re doing. It’s not like I can control them in any way in any case, so this seems like the best course of action. I’ll keep you updated on any more bee-related action that I see. In the meantime, here are a few photos of my Mason bee adventures.

mason bee house
Mason bee house

mason bees
Another angle of the house

first mason bee out
The first mason bee to emerge

looking for the sun
The second mason bee to emerge, crawling into the sun

mason bee cocoon
An empty mason bee cocoon

Owning Your Anger

It’s been over a month since I published a Forgiveness Friday post, but I haven’t forgotten about this series. Once again I’m thinking about forgiveness. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

I am (very, very slowly) making my way through Forgiveness Is a Choice by Robert D. Enright. One of the things that he talked about at the beginning of the book is the need to recognize your anger. His assertion is that many of us are carrying a lot of anger around, which we don’t acknowledge. As long as we remain in denial about our feelings, we can’t really forgive. Instead, we excuse others’ behaviour or use a variety of coping mechanisms, but none of them actually resolve the issue.

forgiveness friday angerI certainly don’t think of myself as an angry person. I am generally cheerful to others, I don’t yell or swear at strangers (even in traffic), I work hard to remain calm and present with my kids, and so on. As I read Enright’s words, though, which included many examples, I found myself re-thinking my anger. When someone does something I don’t like, my usual M.O. is to feel briefly annoyed, and then to excuse their behaviour and move on. I try not to let that annoyance get to me. When you add up all the little annoyance, though, it comes to something much bigger. Also, words like irritated, annoyed and pissed are actually synonyms for angry. I just happen to not like the word angry, because it carries negative connotations. When someone is annoyed we often assume they’re justified. When someone is angry we’re more likely to think badly of them.

What happens when you don’t acknowledge your anger or allow yourself to feel it? You can’t really deal with it and offer forgiveness. If I’m not able to recognize what I’m feeling – regardless of what I’m feeling – I can’t work through my emotions and handle them in productive ways. Anger, especially, can lead to other problems if it isn’t handled. Freud classically said that depression is anger turned inwards. When unacknowledged anger leads to depression or anxiety or what-have-you, we try to deal with the depression or anxiety or what-have-you, but we never get to the root cause. Then we can never truly experience forgiveness and move on in productive ways.

I should point out that I’m not an expert here, I’m just laying things out as I understand them. And I can see why unacknowledged anger can cause problems.

Since reading about the need to acknowledge your anger as a first step to forgiveness, I’ve been trying to recognize those feelings of annoyance, irritation and so on. I have to admit, it’s a little scary. I’m afraid of becoming an angry person. I’m afraid that I’m being self-indulgent and cultivating a victim mentality. Women, especially, are discouraged from expressing anger. Overcoming all of that fear and conditioning is uncomfortable, to say the least. However, so far, I can tell you that recognizing my anger and actually facing up to it hasn’t led me to wallow in it, to act out aggressively, or even to feel angrier. It’s paradoxical, but when I can say to myself, “I’m really angry right now,” I actually feel less angry overall.

I still have a lot of work to do. Recognizing your anger is only a preliminary step to actually dealing with your anger and offering forgiveness. For now, at least I feel like I’m on the right track.

My Happiness List: March 2014 Edition

I blogged my last personal happiness list some six months ago in September, before I embarked on my new adventures in post-secondary education. I’m feeling like it’s time to re-visit it, and remind myself about the things that are going well in my life. Who couldn’t use a little hit of positivity once in a while? There’s all kinds of research to show that it’s very good for you. Plus, it’s just plain fun.

Let’s get the joy party started, shall we?

happiness list garlic gardening>

My Happy List

  1. Spring! It’s in the air! I’ve seen daffodils and ladybugs, and I’ve planted radishes and spinach and kale.
  2. Really good chocolate. Always.
  3. Herbal tea. My current faves are bergamot sage, and mint licorice.
  4. My education class, which is making me think in the best way, and which I’m enjoying a lot. I’m taking this as a good sign because I’m going back to school to study education.
  5. New purple tights.
  6. The way my son is learning to read, picking out words from signs and posters when we’re out and about.
  7. My daughter’s extreme enthusiasm over her spring break theatre camp. This tickles me pink, because my husband and I became high school sweethearts when we were both cast in the same school play.
  8. Once Upon a Time is back on TV. I heart Once Upon a Time.
  9. I’m keeping mason bees this year, and I’ll be putting them out soon, which is exciting.
  10. Regular acupuncture appointments.
  11. Knowing that my husband is always on my side.
  12. VSCO Cam. I am totally smitten with this app. It’s made me fall in love with iPhone photography all over again.
  13. Poached eggs and avocado for breakfast.
  14. The semester is almost over, which means semester break is almost here. Yes, the papers and exams and so on are hard, but it means the end is near!
  15. Living within easy walking distance of my kids school. I feel so lucky.
  16. Family support as I head back to school.

What about you – what’s on your happy list right now? I’d love to hear!

Random Bits and Pieces

Every day I add write a blog post to my to-do list, and every day I don’t get around to it. Then every day I feel sad about it. Today, I have no brilliant ideas, and the writing muse has gone on hiatus. Being back at school, reading textbooks and academic articles, and writing papers for class, is using up most of my brain power. I’ll come clean and confess that when I’m not reading for school, I’m re-reading the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy. Right now, the poor writing quality and extremely easy-to-follow narrative is comforting. I’m looking for something that isn’t challenging, and it definitely isn’t.

Early this week we got a letter confirming that our contractor was no longer in creditor protection, but now officially bankrupt. Our names were on an attached document with more than 180 others, detailing a debt of over $2 million. The amount they quoted as being owed to us was low, however, so it’s definitely possible that the contractor was in the hole by more. It’s erupted into something of a story locally, and my husband was on the news talking about it on Tuesday. I was at class when the reporter stopped by. There was good news today, though – it looks like the bank that arranged all the home improvement loans is going to try to make good.

random bits and piecesThere are more bright spots, too – lots of them. The weather has been lovely this week. So lovely, in fact, that I planted spinach and radishes. I bought a mason bee kit a couple of months ago and the cocoons are currently in my fridge hibernating. I’m hoping to put those out soon, and I’m excited about that. I’m planning to finally paint the sunroom in my kitchen (the one part of my renovation that was mostly finished) this weekend. My kids are awesome. I bought a new organic wine today. I have new purple tights. Things aren’t so bad.

You would think that I would be at my wits’ end right now, but I’m actually not. Truthfully, I think I was more stressed out a couple of months ago. Right now there’s just so much going on that I honestly don’t have much time to worry. Also, I’ve started getting acupuncture to help me with my oh-so-delightful monthly mood swings, and I’m loving it. I’m not sure whether it’s the needles themselves, or the fact that while they’re in I get to lie in a lovely, warm, quiet, dark room that smells good and listen to music all by myself for 20 minutes, but going each week has been really positive. I’m a fan, and knowing that I have that to look forward to is helping to smooth out the rough edges. Plus my improved energy circulation, I am sure.

So yes, I’m here. I’m alive. Lots of things are happening, and I’m doing my best to take it as it comes.

What about you – what’s new in your world?

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