Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Caring for Other People's Children

This is my second year hosting other people's children in my home. Last year, the number never went over three, and the kids were older -- proper teens or nearly. Thus, I had to feed them, house them, pay for the hot water of their showers, the electric heater in the girls' room, do extra laundry, and often, add in trips to school for their older kid schedules. But that was pretty much it.

As a plus, I was able to go to my tango class every Thursday, knowing the household was under control. I could crash early if I felt particularly weary or fell sick, and ditto, know that the next morning I'd find the kitchen pretty clean, and the kids in good shape.

This is not the case this year. Little did I realize when I agreed (I had little choice) to take in these pré-ados that I was setting myself up for a lot more work this year. Ten, twelve and thirteen year olds rarely come to a new home fully-formed and educated. And, they come with burgeoning hormones, new levels of moodines they have yet to master, and, if they're only children, with spoiled behaviors.

Thus, I am finding myself getting firmer and more strict by the day. If the dishes are incorrectly washed, you get to do them again in the morning. If there is a spill on the floor, yes, you will go and get the mop and clean it up yourself.

But what riles me the most is the lack of initiative and the resistence to helping. If I put a trash bag by the front door, they will move it out of the way so they can go out to play. But, pick it up and bring it to the trash can? It doesn't cross their mind. If, as they go outside they brush against a coat and knock it to the floor, they leave it, and if needs be walk atop it. Pick it up and put it back where it belongs? Hunh? And a classic: Filou has a tendency to vomit up a bit of water if he drinks too quickly. Simply water with a touch of bile, no more. They will point it out to me up to hours later so that I can clean it up. God forbid a one of them grab a sponge or a couple of sheets of paper towels to wipe it up themselves. I'm floored.

If the designated child for tonight's dish-doing isn't there, I have no offers to help, but must give a firm request (that cannot be ignored) to one of them that he/she do the dishes this night in the stead of the other (with the promise that on their night, they'll be off dish-duty). And to this I get, No, I don't want to do the dishes tonight. And I say, sorry buster, you are going to do them. Period!

I've kept the tone of my voice down, but I'm just startled by the selfish, me-first attitudes I'm getting. I'm also very annoyed by the constant bickering and pretty nasty comments going on from my teen girl towards our more difficult young boy. It truly is not necessary and it certainly doesn't help.

But these two, far more than the others, respond to all situations by making them worse. They are the first to over-react, the first to duck out of jobs, the first to snap and tease. There are moments I just have a hard time even liking them. How do kids get this way? I've forbidden Leo to listen too much to them, and am begging him not to be influenced! Stay pleasant and helpful, I beg you! And to Jonas, watch it my man, you too need to start helping out more. Being the youngest is an excuse that is wearing thin.

When I've slept a good night's sleep, I awake with more patience, and the realization that de facto I've taken on their education as well as their selves. I've even had comments from the parents that they feel the kids are doing better under my roof than they were before.

But, I'm wavering. Winter is coming and I'm feeling the desire to hibernate. I want to cuddle with my boys around a Fred Astaire movie, with a hot cup of tea in our hands. I'm feeling a bit out of my depth handling these children day after day. And yes, as JP noted, I arrived every weekend this month in need of sleep and rest, not perky and ready for romance. I'm feeling the strain.

Vacation is just two days away. A restorative period will be beneficial to us all. I know that I in particular have mood swings linked to weariness/energy level. So, if I can hunker down and care for me, the boys and the house as I need to over vacation, I should be able to start up again with the necessary verve to get through to Christmas.

I am learning, yet again, my physical and mental limits, (so porous on most occasions). I am also gaining in respect for teachers and child-care professionals on all levels. How can this extraordinarily important and exhausting activity be so poorly recompensed in our socieities? It just baffles the mind.

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