My little team of artists — kids draw; mama paints. A mommy and me series, with creatures, monsters, and imaginary friends who roam around eating boba, chicken, and noodles
“Mama! Come look at my tree house,” my nine-year-old son Evan shouts.
I respond, “Wait, mama has a massive deadline today and must send this email out to a client.”
After 10 minutes, ”Mama, you MUST come look at my tree house…!” I realize he doesn’t understand what a deadline is. Time flies by and I’m still in the thick of my long email. I look at the clock. Yikes! I need to hop onto my 5th zoom call for the day, my email is not done, my deadline looms closer and I can feel myself spinning...
Sound familiar? I know that the pandemic has many parents homeschooling their children now. While I have always worked hard, and smart, I knew I needed to rehab the system I have in place to help me integrate my role as a single mom to my boys and the demanding role I have for my teams and clients. Through this pandemic, I’ve learned that I’m a LOUSY homeschooling teacher!!! I can easily work 18 hours a day building big businesses from scratch — but teaching my two boys (age six and nine) their American school education has been extremely challenging for me. First of all, I didn’t grow up with an American education. I barely understand the curriculum and grading system, and the math education is dismal. I feel completely helpless trying to guide my children through their homework, and pushing my Asian math on them may not be helpful. Mama Mel often feels like she’s about to explode.
Lesson #1: Stay In The Moment and BREATHE…
As a single mom raising two hyperactive boys while running three businesses, I classify myself as an expert in the art of “Working from Home.” The first rule is always STAY IN THE MOMENT.
So, before Evan could call out to me a third time about coming to see his treehouse, I briefly paused work to sit beside him at his computer. He proudly showed me the phenomenal five-level tree house he’d built on Roblox, complete with multiple hot tubs, swimming pools, gyms, a living room, a kitchen, a large screen tv, a hang glider, a state-of-the-art car garage and a soccer field. Evan told me he needed to earn “money” to afford all these luxuries. He wished in real life we had a larger home and said we must invest and save to afford it. I laughed with delight as I saw the pride he took in his creation and his understanding of how to manifest these dreams.
This interaction lasted less than five minutes. It ended with smiles and hugs, which actually eased the stress I felt earlier. These tiny “distractions” actually help me regroup my thoughts and become more productive. I finished my important email and wrapped up my zoom calls. Later, during dinner, Evan and his little brother Tyler told me more stories about their tree houses and how each of them designed their buildings to have bunkers, traps, and secret rooms. I took a deep breath of gratitude reflecting on how five minutes with Evan REALLY inspired all of us. Perhaps my boys will walk in their mama’s footsteps and explore architecture!
Lesson #2: Maintain Boundaries and Schedule with Flexibility
In March, home schooling became a reality. I had to quickly create a make-shift workstation next to my own computer for my eldest, and kept his little brother Tyler working in their room. This way, I could keep an eye on Evan through his transition from in-person to virtual learning. But hopping onto zoom calls while my boy was reciting Charlotte’s Web aloud, or voicing occasional outbursts of excitement got ME and my clients frazzled. Over summer, I rearranged our home into a more functional space. I set my boys up with their own workstations, turned half of the dining room into their group learning, and made their bedroom a play and art space. Mama’s office is Mama’s Office, although the boys can ask for cuddles whenever they want. They have zoom bombed my calls so many times that my clients know them by name. The truth is, everyone is in this situation now, so it’s best to just laugh and keep working.
This extended containment taught me that all three of us have very different circadian rhythms. The awareness helped me design activity schedules specific to each child. They have different interests. One loves dance; the other enjoys game development. One likes to spin around open play grounds; the other is focused on his swim strokes. As the only adult, I needed to set positive, habit-forming schedules for them, as well as for myself. Each schedule also has room for flexibility/change. Years of project management have accustomed me to expect the unexpected. Plans do change, no matter how concretely we envision them. Kids get sick, get bored, and may ignore something one day and love it the next. They move a thousand miles per hour, just like my clients at times. But the ability to just say “It’s okay. We didn’t quite nail this, but let’s see what we learned and set a different pace next time” goes a long way. Having flexibility and a growth mindset are key.
Lesson #3: Redefine Priorities: Identify Your Rubber Balls and Glass Balls
We are always juggling requests, tasks, and
choosing best methods to approach our work. We can think of these as
rubber and glass balls. What do we identify as being absolute priority
(glass balls), and what do we identify as being less crucial (rubber balls).