Last Monday was a really bad day. Henry and Evie just could not stop antagonizing each other. I was cranky, they were cranky, and all three of us were either whining or scolding or tattling. It was just bad. When I reached the end of my rope, I looked at them and said, “Put your shoes on. We need to get out of here.” The septic pumping truck pulled up as we were heading out, so we watched that for a while. It’s surprisingly entertaining. Then we wandered through our fields picking daisies, and then over the hill and out to our own back acres where there is a wild raspberry patch. I’d been thinking they might be near bloom time, since the season is progressing at light speed this year. We weren’t disappointed! There were a few blooms still on the briars, but there were hundreds of infant berries. We explored a little, then made the trek back home for lunch – and naps.
In retrospect, what we were suffering from that Monday was sleep deprivation. I had moved Henry upstairs the night before and he did not transition well. Both of us were exhausted. Evie hadn’t done a single thing wrong; Henry was just picking on her because he was tired and cranky and mean-spirited, and I was just scolding her because I heard both of their voices in the din, but really, she was an innocent bystander. But our nerves were frayed, and our tempers were short, and changing our plan made all the difference.
I have noticed, in my long years of mothering, that everybody likes routine. Oh, people may say they don’t, but we do, every last one of us. We build our lives on routine, and I think that’s especially true for homeschooling mothers. Sometimes, though, we get bogged down in the cooking and the laundry and the runny noses and the dirty diapers, and we get fanatical about finishing all the math worksheets before we can go and play, and we maybe to forget to actually enjoy our babies. The best thing about homeschooling, though, is the relationships we can foster among our family members. I want love first, and when I see that friendly relations are breaking down, or children are sagging under the weight of their school books, we walk away. Kids can get burnt out, too.
Last Monday, our outing was reactionary, but I prefer to regularly season our ordinary days with extraordinary events. The funny thing is that it doesn’t have to be elaborate or costly to be effective. Think lunch on a blanket in the yard instead of at the table, an impromtu movie complete with popcorn, ice cream for no reason, or a trip to a local park to play on the playground or just walk. Even educational activities can be restorative; things like nature study and art are often sacrificed for more bookish pursuits anyway, but the children – and the mama, truth be told – are refreshed by the change of pace. It can be more elaborate or expensive if you want: like a trip-of-a-lifetime to the American Girl store, or a visit to the beach or zoo, or tickets to see a play or film. I like to mix and match – most of the time simple and cheap, but once in a while, above and beyond. It keeps them guessing.
Sometimes, bad days happen, but a little change of venue is usually enough to restore the lost joy and remind us that we are in love with each other. And if it’s not enough? We probably just need a nap.
How do you cure or prevent bad days? How do you give your kids a break from their routines? What is your favorite free or cheap activity? What is something they’re still talking about?
Bonus Tip: Check your local library for free family activities.