Monday, December 31, 2012

Quality Family Time

Winter break is a wonderful time. If you're a younger grad student, it's a welcome respite from classes. If you're an older grad student or a postdoc, it's a welcome respite from hordes of undergrads. If you're pre-tenure faculty like myself, it's time to get back into all that work that you put off while teaching during the semester: doing research, writing papers, preparing for next semester's class, etc. My to-do list is a mile long. And above all, if you're an astronomer heading to the AAS Meeting next week, you're frantically doing last-minute calculations and polishing up your talk or poster.
The trouble is, my kids also have time off from school themselves. Now, if I had been on the ball, I might have been able to sign them up for winter break camp someplace, but my organizationals skills were all used up on other things during the semester. It almost would be easier if my kids were younger, because whatever day care set up I would have would probably be able to accommodate them.
And, of course, there's the question of why child care duties should always have to fall to me, the mom? Well, in my particular case, there's any number of factors that play into it, but one major point is that my husband has a "real" job where he can't work from home and has to use up valuable vacation time if he doesn't go in to work. On the other hand, my job is much more flexible: I can work where ever I like and no one keeps track of my vacation time. Hence, it's my problem if the kids aren't usefully occupied.
So, here's what we have been doing to keep the kids out of my hair while I try to get work done. There's been a lot of TV and video games, but I've been limiting their screen time to 2 hours a day. I insist that we go for a walk each day, no matter the weather. This keeps us all from going completely stir-crazy. We made each kid write a list of activities to do while I work to keep them out of my hair. Use of these lists has only been partially successful so far. There has been a lot of reading of books and playing with LEGOs. Not so much practicing of instruments or working on long-term school projects.
What do you do for childcare during school breaks? How do you keep your kids and yourself sane? Please share your ideas in the comments!
p.s. Best wishes to all WiA readers for a Happy New Year!



2 comments:

Vicky Kalogera said...

Hannah, some years we have signed the kids up to full-day camps for this period. This of course means extra expenses. Pre-schoolers who go to day-care facilities are easier to deal with, since those facilities are usually closed only for a couple of days around christmas and new year's. When kids have stayed at home, we do what you're describing ... we also arrange for play dates with one other friend per child (not a whole crowd) - sometimes the play date is at another house, but even if it is at our house, kids are happily playing for hours entertaining themselves and all I have to do is make sure they stay safe and offer them a snack (which they have to take in the kitchen, so I don't have to deal with spills and messes) ...

Mordecai-Mark Mac Low said...

I faced the same situation (partner was on service at her hospital, so I was responsible for childcare over break, as the one with the flexible schedule.) Two big parts of the solution for a nine-year-old were to invite a friend over for the day, and kits. We invited a friend over for at least three different days. They would go off and do stuff on their own quite happily -- and I only had to run the washer/dryer a few times: after the tie-dying kit got used, and after cleanup of an outdoors coke & mentos experiment got a little overenthusiastic. Having some kits and activities set up in advance definitely helped -- we did write out the lists of stuff that could be done, both solo (which worked alone for another day) and with her friends. One day pretty much got taken up putting together a robotic mouse kit, which she mostly could do on her own with just occasional help. Between all that, I managed to get about as much uninterrupted time as I would have in the office (speaking as a tenured faculty member with some admin responsibilities), and finished off a big review paper...