I was an intentional mother—I knew what I wanted to have happen and I thought of ways to make it happen. (And then I thought again.) Here is an example.
My father-in-law worked shifts at Geneva Steel Plant, so Dee used his terminology to dub the hectic part of my day the Swing Shift. Rest time was from noon to two—whether the little kids napped or not they were tucked away for a quiet time so I could restore myself. (I'll admit that sometimes they were locked, rather than tucked; and sometimes it was riot time rather than quiet time.) The swinging part started an hour later and I was ready. After-school snacks were ready on the counter, my projects were set aside and my nerves were steeled.
At 3:10 I opened the front door with a smile on my face. "How was your day, Josh?" I asked my second grader as he shed his coat, boots, backpack and papers in a heap at my feet. He glanced up at me like I was a stranger and mumbled "OK" and headed straight for the food.
Gabi burst into tears as she shoved him through the door. "You always ask him first! You never ask me!" she complained. "How was your day, Gabi?" I asked, with a tad less cheerfulness. She erupted in tears. "You didn't sign my spelling! Miss Strasser said I couldn't get a star by my name because you didn't sign my spelling!" She tripped over Josh's boots, noticed Amy holding her Barbie and smacked her as she grabbed the doll. Three-year-old Amy had also planned this afternoon encounter, and was shrieking before the doll even left her arms. (They each had their parts memorized.)
Micah wailed in the family room when Josh commandeered the TV. Right on cue, the doorbell rang. Amy pulled the door opened and Walter, our silent, 5-year-old neighbor walked in without waiting for an invitation. He was an only child, and his mom said he needed to play. At our house.
Carolyn was on the phone, "Can you take the girls to dance? I've got sick kids."
It had taken five minutes. The kid's paraphernalia was all over the floor, the kitchen counter was covered with wrappers, coated with crumbs, a wrinkled spelling paper stuck to the surface with drips of apple juice, and five children were glued to the vibrating sounds of Electric Company.
There was evidence in the air that Heidi was awake needing a diaper change, and ballet started in half-an-hour. That meant searching for shoes, sending Walter home, picking up Carolyn's car pool, and then watching my kids and a dozen others fight for a turn on the dance teacher's trampoline for an hour. Heidi was too little for the tramp so she bounced on my pregnant belly, while I entertained her with finger-plays and nursery rhymes.
Somehow bonding time had turned into bondage time, so I thought it through again. I had to be in control of the Swing Shift. These were important hours when I could have a positive influence on my kids, and I didn't want to give those hours away to chaos or peer pressure. Here's what I did:
At least twice a week I hung a little sign on our front door that said Halverson Hero Happening! That meant we were having a family after-school party (no friends allowed. Sorry Walter.) Just by naming it, I had made it special. Then, I acted excited! "Hi guys! Did you remember we're having a Happening?" They behaved better because of my enthusiasm. I directed them to hurry and hang up their coats, give me their papers, etc. "Quick! We have activities planned!" First we'd go to the Treat Cafe (normal after-school snacks served by mom acting like a waitress. I'd recite the menu and they'd place their order while they sat at the counter like customers.) With the phone off the hook and a sign on the door that said "We're busy today," we had time to chat.
Then we had Games:
Minute Reports—the timer was set for one minute and each kid had a turn to tell as many things as they could about their day. Someone watched the timer and someone kept track.
Story Time—We'd sit on the floor in a circle and I'd tell a story about my day, or about an upcoming holiday, or a story with a moral, or a funny story, or we'd tell knock-knock jokes. Something fun.
Homework Hop—each kid had to hop on one foot for as long as it took to tell what their homework was.
Laundry Prize—each kid put away their laundry and would find a piece of bubble gum, or a lollipop at the bottom of their individual basket. It was a race to get back to the family room first.
Chore Challenge—each kid drew a chore from a hat and had five minutes to do it well, and return and sit down. Then we'd all inspect each chore and decide if it passed inspection. If it did, the kid got a star on the job chart.
Talent Showoff—each kid performed something they were supposed to practice (a piano piece, a violin solo, a gymnastics trick, a multiplication table) and we all clapped.
Free Time—I assigned partners or trios of kids to invent an activity, which they could play together as long as they didn't bother another partnership. When the inevitable melt-down came, I'd gather the group again and they'd all report on their activity. By then the magic of the Happening had dissipated and we'd break up into homework, practicing, TV, whatever til dinner time.
Happenings met all our needs. The kids wanted my full attention after school. When they got it, they behaved. I wanted their full attention after school and when I got it, I behaved. The whole afternoon went smoother. (To be totally honest, this did not work all the time. But it worked enough of the time for me to call it successful.)
The kids had to deal with peer pressure—telling Walter and other friends they couldn't come play was embarrassing. I had my own peer pressure: telling Carolyn and other friends "I've reserved this time for my kids," was hard for me. I consolidated lessons as much as possible so we'd have a couple of unpressured afternoons a week; sometimes I bagged lessons altogether for a season in favor of a less chaotic home life. (Everyone grew up with a talent or two that they still use in adulthood.)
This week I'll be giving some other examples of Intentional Mothering. Motherhood was a career choice for me, not something on the side. Because I viewed it this way, I could excuse the parts I wasn't thrilled about—every career has its downsides—and concentrate my efforts where my personal talents and interests lay.
"The greatest aid to adult education is children."
—Charlie T. Jones
—Charlie T. Jones
Have you got some after-school tips?