Monday, September 17, 2012

Keep Calm and Muddle On

Remember back in late June and early July, when I said that my work and life were ganging up on me? Well, it is happening again. I've got eight projects running at work right now, which is about twice what I think a project manager should try to handle. Two of them are hitting major inflection points in the next 2-3 weeks, another couple have just exited the proof of concept phase and are rolling into full development phase, another one is just wrapping up technical specification and will also be under active development soon. We're going to try out a new programming framework on that one. That should be... interesting. I've transferred the management of another project to a team member who wants to learn how to be a project manager, and the other two I'm pretty much ignoring right now, checking in on progress weekly at best.

Oh, and I'm also running my group. I have a quarterly report to turn in, and a couple of reasonably big software purchases to watch over (thankfully, someone else is actually negotiating the details of those). I'm lucky I have such good employees and contractors- they don't need a lot of "people management." But still, "hectic" is a charitable description of my work days right now.

Meanwhile, at home, Pumpkin started Kindergarten and Petunia's about to turn three.

Mr. Snarky and I have divided up the Petunia birthday party planning tasks, and since we're old pros at this by now, that isn't actually stressing us out too much- it is just adding items to our to do list.

But the Kindergarten honeymoon period ended on Wednesday last week, and Pumpkin apparently spent a good part of that day in tears. I think that it finally sunk in that her teacher really is only going to speak Spanish to her. She cried a bit before bed and in the morning for the rest of the week. She says Kindergarten is harder than she thought it would be, and she misses her friends from day care. I tried various things to cheer her up, with mixed success. The idea that she should wear the Hello Kitty watch my sister brought back from China for her- which I pulled out in desperation when she was crying Thursday morning and saying she didn't want to go to school- was a surprisingly good one. She says it reminds her of all the people who love her, and she wears it every day now. The idea of decorating the breakfast table, which I borrowed from Gretchen Rubin's Happier at Home, amused her and Petunia, but didn't really help. To be fair, the idea in the book is to have special holiday breakfasts on the "minor holidays" like St. Patrick's Day- but I was grasping for ideas, so I ran out at lunch on Thursday and bought a bunch of fall decorations and some stickers at the nearest drug store.

My idea for getting Pumpkin off to school without too many tears this morning was to go out on the weekend and buy some new clothes. We hadn't really done any back to school shopping, and I wondered if having some new clothes would make her excited to go to school. We'd also discovered that her backpack was too small to easily hold the folders that get sent from school, so we bought a new backpack. Pumpkin picked out a Hello Kitty backpack. And a Hello Kitty shirt. And some Hello Kitty shoes. And a Hello Kitty hat. Noticing a theme? But hey- I would have bought every single Hello Kitty item at Target if it would help Pumpkin get through this period at Kindergarten where she doesn't have a lot of friends and can't fully understand her teacher. I think I got off easy. Anyway, it worked. Pumpkin was excited to wear all her new Hello Kitty gear to school, and didn't cry this morning.

Pumpkin and I also had a talk Friday after school, and I asked her what she thought we could do to help her be happier at school. She thought about it, and said she thought we should study Spanish over the weekend, so that she would understand more of what her teacher says. So we did that, too. She pulled out a Spanish workbook my uncle had given her over the summer, and worked on it. I found some better Spanish flashcard apps for my Kindle Fire, which she liked. We watched some Pocoyo in Spanish on my computer. Pumpkin always begs to watch video on my Fire, too, so I searched and found Rock 'N Learn: Spanish, which I find unbelievably cheesy but Pumpkin loves. We listened to my "listen and learn" Spanish CDs whenever we drove anywhere. And, best of all, my parents sent her a Spanish-English Picture Dictionary, which arrived on Saturday. She was thrilled to discover she already knows quite a few of the words, and loves to be quizzed on the words on a page. (There are helpful pronunciation guides for her monoglot quizzmasters.)

Either the cramming helped, or things are just starting to click from the immersion program, because she said tonight that she understood almost everything the teacher said. This is probably an exaggeration, and she said she was still a bit sad at school, but she didn't cry tonight, or at least she didn't cry about school. There were some tears shed when her mean, mean father made her go brush her teeth.

There are a lot of other things going on, too. Pumpkin really wanted to start gymnastics, and of course, the session started Saturday, and it took roughly a gazillion emails and phone calls to get signed up for that. Petunia had a fever a couple weeks ago, and she has a snotty nose and a cough now, and both of the fever and the cough mess with her sleep, and by extension, my sleep. At times, things still seem to be teetering on the edge of collapse, both at work and at home. But I'm learning to handle that better, and live with organization that falls far short of my usual standards, but still somehow seems to be good enough. At one of my project meetings last week, I said something about how we'd come back and improve our build and deploy process in a few weeks, when the lead programmer has time to tighten things up, but in the meantime, we'd just muddle on. That made me think of the British slogan from WWII- "keep calm and carry on." So that night, I grabbed an image of that poster and doctored it with what I think will be my slogan for the next little while: keep calm and muddle on. Perhaps I should have t-shirts made.

25 comments:

  1. !me encanta pocoyo!

    Sounds like you are doing a great job with some tough situations. Keep calm and rock on!

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    1. Rock on does sound more upbeat than muddle on... but I think muddle is more accurate!

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  2. oh my goodness...I SO relate. Grant deadlines, collaborating projects, moving spaces, hiring all going on at work with new daycare class, potty training, little one starting to walk & getting a fever, dog behavior issues and to top it all off I've got some medical stuff going on that involves specialist visits/MRI/lab work to fit in this week. Balls have most certainly been dropped and muddling is the best I can manage.

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    1. Yikes! I hope it all settles down soon for you.

      We're potty training, too, but in perhaps the most lackadaisical way imaginable. We're making progress, but it is a good thing we aren't in a hurry...

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  3. I'm glad Pumpkin is feeling better! It's so hard when they are crying about going to school and seem so unhappy. It sounds like you guys did a great job of trying to help ease her through the transition. My mom was an elementary school teacher and she said it's also common for kids to get really excited about going to school, but then sometime in the first week they're like, Oh, I have to do this every day? Forever? and then they get unhappy for a while.

    I've finally come out of my own muddle, and it feels pretty good.

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    1. There were more tears this morning, because the magic Hello Kitty watch was broken.

      I actually left work 30 minutes early today to go get her and go to Target to get a replacement. That is either a flexible schedule win or totally worn down parent fail... not sure which.

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    2. Flexible schedule win! We went through a whole summer of my eldest crying every day before "camp" - I would have done anything to make that transition easier on him. Throwing stuff at kids to get them to shut up is one thing but trying to figure out how to make a situation work for them (even if it involves buying something) is different. That's what we do. Transitions are hard, school is scary. My eldest was crying this morning in the other room, and when he finally let me come in and comfort him, I told him how I remembered as a little girl how awful it felt to be alone and crying, how much I wanted someone to come in and comfort me. This feeling is my most vivid memory of childhood. I don't want it to be his. All I'm saying is that I have a healthy respect for the power of their feelings about how hard life can be, and leaving them alone to tough it out is not my style.

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  4. First, hugs. Sounds like you guys have SO MUCH going on.

    Re: Spanish immersion, if you're looking for more videos, etc. there is a cartoon called Pocoyo on YouTube (they have their own whole channel) - it's computer animated and comes from Spain, though they dub it into lots of versions. It *might* be a little too young for Pumpkin but might be worth a shot? Search for 'Pocoyo en Espanol' to get the Spanish episodes. They're about 7 min each.

    We also have a few videos from Amazon in the Whistlefritz series of Spanish learning. They're short, have lots of kids and GREAT songs. Those songs are also downloadable from Amazon MP3 so we listen in the car.

    We're also having some meltdowns as a result of the switch to the new (immersion too) preschool.

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    1. Duh, just re-read and saw you watched Pocoyo ;) Anyway, we love the Pocoyotv channel because all the new episodes get posted there, so I just set up a subscription.

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    2. I didn't know about the Pocoyo channel- that's good to know. I just searched and found a few.

      We also have Whistlefritz- two DVDs and one CD. They are good, but didn't really prepare her for the reality of immersion, I think. Perhaps nothing could have!

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    3. The Pocoyo channel is VERY handy when the kid is sick and we need to keep her quiet and chill for a while. It just keeps playing the videos so we don't have to stop in between. Problem is, some of the ads before the videos are not kid-appropriate so I have to keep an eye out anyway.

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  5. I'm glad you're making time to blog in the midst of all this! I sent the invites to my soon-to-be-3-year-old's birthday party out at midnight the other night. Good times. Glad to hear school is going better.

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    1. I needed a break from everything last night- so I gave myself the night off. I'm paying the price tonight, but it was worth it!

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  6. I love that British slogan. (the original, "Keep calm and carry on" is a mantra of mine, although not one that I follow successfully). The start of the school year in my household also coincided with craziness at work, leading to a very frazzled two weeks.

    I have friends who have enrolled their children in immersion Spanish programs, and they have all said that it is very difficult in the first few months. Hang in there!

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    1. Yeah, I think immersion programs are just going to be tough. But then, the experience of not getting something immediately- and having it eventually all be OK- is part of what we wanted for Pumpkin out of this program. I may write a follow up post on that, actually.

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    2. My colleagues here say that after that initial hump, it gets way easier. (Which is why we didn't try for immersion K this year in place of private school 2nd grade. I do wish he could have that experience though! He's learning some Spanish, but much slower and non-immersively, more stock vocabulary and less grammar.)

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  7. Alexicographer8:47 PM

    Wow.

    Ages ago I was a Public Administration student and was quite tickled by the follow up piece Charles Lindblom wrote to his 1959 article, "The Science of Muddling Through" praising incrementalism in policy change. The 1979 piece (that so tickled me, still does) is titled, "Still Muddling, Not Yet Through." Perhaps a bumper sticker is in order (not sure how that relates to fair use).

    (Google being what it is, you can readily track both down online, not that you'd have time (or, perhaps, interest)!)

    Best of luck with everything that's going on.

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    1. That's pretty awesome.

      I googled "Keep Calm and Muddle On" and other people have used it, too. So nothing new there, either!

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  8. Have you seen the ones that say "Keep calm and carry yarn"? Like many others, knitting helps me calm down at the end of a stressful day.

    Your days sound tough. I'm rooting for you.

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    1. Thanks! I'm more of a "kickboxing to get the stress out" sort of person. I do find yoga helpful, though!

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  9. I'm glad you blogged about this. I'm a working mom with a three year old too and sometimes all the little details of being a mom and having an intense job overwhelm me. Then I look around and wonder why having a "pretty regular life" (my words) seems so difficult when others appear to breeze through. The glimpse into your life reminds me that others are going through the same thing as me, I just don't see all the details. (I could really relate to the million calls and emails to sign up for some class. Why is that always so complicated and protracted?) This is a long way of saying, thanks for sharing. For some reason it feels a little lighter to know that I'm not alone.

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad this was helpful to someone. It always makes me feel better to write a post like this, but it also feels a bit self-indulgent. You are most certainly not alone, though.

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  10. Of those Spanish learning options, what would you recommend for my five year old? He's not doing immersion, but this year his Spanish teacher is pretty good and (just tonight) he says he wants to learn more Spanish than what she's teaching them.

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    1. To be honest, I suspect the Rock and Learn show has taught her the most Spanish. It is cheesy and sort of expensive, but she loves it. She hasn't shown that much interest in the workbooks, maybe because they all start with things she already knows well (colors, numbers). We may try skipping ahead a bit this weekend- she's asked for another study weekend. The second most successful thing is the picture dictionary. She likes to get quizzed on one page at a time. If you're wanting to try out some immersion, the Whistlefritz DVDs are pretty good.

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    2. Gracias!

      Looks like Netflix has one of the Rock and learn spanish dvds. Right now he just knows colors and numbers and un poquito of conversational espanol. (DH says he greeted the El Salvadorian owners of the restaurant they did take-out from tonight.) We do have a picture dictionary-- I should dig that out of his bookcase. It is a very tall book. He has quite a few children's books en espanol tambien (como Buenas Noches, Luna).

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