July 18, 2012

Managing Mini-Hijackers. ~ Amy Ratto


(Or, How to Get Anything Done while Your Kids Are Home.)

It isn’t news to suggest that kids are usually more excited about summer vacation than parents—especially parents who work from home. Whether you schedule your time by the minute or bask in the ability to free-wheel it, your ownership of your day is suddenly hijacked. Trying to do anything—write, meditate, practice yoga, read a book—can be a challenge, to say the least.

I happen to love summer with the kids, but I also really happen to love time to get work done. Because my kids are now seven and nine, I sometimes convince myself that I have actually figured out how to write while they’re home for the summer. We can’t afford a sitter all the time, and I want them to be able to be at home, but I also need to work. Often, we stutter-step through it. I remind myself that it’s a chance to practice mindfulness as I write a sentence, answer a question, write a sentence, make a snack, etc. I think of it as a time to practice what I preach about attending to the thing at hand—even if the thing at hand changes pretty quickly.

But today I had the great “pleasure” of being reminded about all the reasons it doesn’t work as I negotiated/refereed/endured an hour-long, wild temper tantrum from the charming younger child because the darling older child got to sit in the back porch reading chair all morning and it was his turn to be alone on the back porch! I would like to say that this made me feel grateful for all the times I have been able to work, but I’m not that evolved yet.

Instead, it reminded me to review my strategies for efficiency:

1. Keep your expectations really low. Like über, under-achiever low. Hope to express a single thought and if you get a paragraph you’ll be psyched. Do not aim to create something great. Just aim to create something. Save revision and crafting for true alone time.

2. Find something for them to do, but know that they probably won’t do it. They’re very smart about knowing when you’re trying to distract them. Or, they will do it and they’ll want to update you on their progress every three minutes and you will have to say, “Oh, yes, very nice” in order to continue working.

#2 addendum: TV can count as “something” here, but if you’re like me and there is a nagging part of you that wants your kids to do something more worthy than TV for several hours a day, then I would hold TV out there like a shining reward for good behavior and resist relying on it as a default mechanism to occupy their time.

3. Know that writing—like having an interesting phone conversation or making a meal—will suddenly make you the most amazing center of your child’s universe. They can smell that crap a million miles away. (“Ooooo! She’s focused! This looks exciting! Let’s go be all affectionate and try to sit on her lap.”)

4. Create a food ration because they will be hungry right away no matter how long ago lunch was. Set out plates of food and water and cross your fingers. Pray that nothing will spill or be thrown.

5. Prepare yourself to actually not get to write at all. Surrender the whole attempt at the outset to the possibility that it just won’t happen. Someone will fall off the couch and cut his head on the table, someone will punch someone else, or the neighbor will come over and ask you to watch her daughter (which you will be obligated to do since she watches your kids when you go to yoga) or sometimes, frankly, you will waste your time on Facebook because now that you did all of this you can’t remember what you wanted to write.

But sometimes, when the stars align and the kids have had naps and no one is evil, you will have just long enough to get in the flow and then, well, then you will feel super human. You will say to yourself, “See! It is totally possible! All those people who told me it couldn’t work were wrong!” You will surf on a swelling wave of self-righteous vindication and you should live it up, because eventually, when this happens often enough to be able to rely on it, two more things will happen:

1. It will stop working and you will respond with all of the passionate fury which led you to become a writer and your children will nickname you Medusa, and/or

2. The kids will learn that when you’re writing they can do whatever the heck they want and they will proceed to do whatever they want (dig out Halloween candy, pour the milk by themselves, paint the cat, leave for a walk to the school yard without saying anything, etc.)

Then there is always a day like today when I just conceded the loss and agreed to give it up. I shut down the computer, made some lunch, read them a book and then, guess what? They forgot about me and went off playing and I wrote for two hours. This time, I made sure to feel grateful. Who knows what will happen tomorrow.


Amy Ratto Parks is a poet and yoga instructor who teaches writing at the University of Montana in Missoula, Montana. Her two children participated almost angelically in the writing of this article.  Almost angelically.






Editor: Alexandra Grace

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