Lessons With Instant Oatmeal

My husband bought instant oatmeal for the kid’s breakfast, the kind that you empty the packet into a bowl, add some water, and microwave it.  Presto! Easy, kinda-nutritious breakfast.  It’s an easy breakfast that I thought my kids could make themselves that’s not cold cereal.

My 8-year old son is usually the first one up and the first words out of his mouth are usually “Mom… what’s for breakfast?” Whereupon I list out his choices that he can have: there’s waffles in the freezer, you can have some toast and yogurt, I was going to make myself some eggs do you want me to make you one?  All of these he just shook his head, none of them would do for this connoisseur of breakfast foods.

“There’s that oatmeal that Dad bought the other day, why don’t you have that?”

He really liked that idea and went to the pantry, opened the door and pushed aside the Cheerios and tortilla chips to get the instant oatmeal.  He brought the packet to me as I was sitting at the kitchen table enjoying my morning tea.  “No, I’m not making this for you.  You can do it yourself” I told him, handing the packet back to him.

“Look,” I said, “Here are the directions, go ahead and read them.  What’s the first thing we have to do?”

My son is resistant to read aloud something that’s new.  He doesn’t know what some of the words are so he prefers not to do it at all.  My high school students do the same thing.  He whined a little (high school students also do this) about reading the directions of the packet but I wouldn’t let this learning opportunity pass him by.  Poor kid, his mother teaches high school math.

“What does it say?” I asked again after he was done with his pouting.  I brought the packet closer to him and pointed to each word in step number one as he read it aloud in a halting mumble.

“Empty packet into…” he said.

“Sound it out… ‘mi-cro-wave'” as I pointed to each syllable.

“Microwave safe bowl.  What does that even mean?”  He whined.  I may as well have asked him to solve a quadratic equation.

“That means you empty your packet into a bowl that’s safe to put into the microwave” I said as I shook the packet to show him what a packet was.  “So, go get a bowl.”

My son left the dining room and walked around to the kitchen to get a bowl.  He opened the cabinet where they were kept and looked up.  He couldn’t reach them.  “Will you get down a bowl for me?”

“No, you can do it yourself”  I replied from my chair at the kitchen table as I took a drink from my tea.

My son heaved another sigh and went to get a chair to stand on to reach the bowls.  He brought the chair back and stood on it to select a bowl for himself.  After making his selection of a bowl he brought it back to me and I walked him through the remaining two steps.

He read the last two steps to me and I helped him understand what 2/3 cup meant and what it means to microwave on high 1-2 minutes.  You always want to microwave it the smaller time because you can always add time if you need too.  He put the bowl in the microwave above the stove by using the chair to stand on and pressed the button to microwave it on high for one minute.  When the microwave dinged, I helped him take it down, and he stirred the oatmeal.

He carefully carried it to the dining room table where he stirred it again and ate it.  He enjoyed it so much that he made himself another packet, this time completely on his own.

Mission accomplished!  One more task that he can do by himself.  We’re raising kids to be independent adults around here!  Then, it was my daughter’s turn to make her own instant oatmeal.

My daughter is 10 years old and can read directions just fine.  She did everything that the instant oatmeal packet told her to do which was why she came to me practically in tears showing me her exploded bowl of oatmeal that she was holding between two pot holders.

“What happened?!” I asked her, peering at her mess of an oatmeal bowl.  “Did you follow the directions?”

“Yes!” She replied, voice quavering with emotion and holding back the tears.

“Did you microwave it for a minute?”  I pursued.

“Yes!” She responded, incredulous that the directions would betray her, and looking at her messy oatmeal in disbelief.  The directions have always worked for her before.  I’ve seen the same look on high-achieving freshmen who didn’t get the correct answer.

“I did it for a minute and then stirred it just like it said and it wasn’t done, so I microwaved it again for another minute” she insisted.

“Wasn’t done?  Logan microwaved it for a minute and his was done.”

“It wasn’t done, Mom!”  She exclaimed.

Then it hit me.  The oatmeal packet told her to put in 2/3 cup of water in the bowl and it came out too runny for her.

“Okay, we can fix this, don’t worry.  Put the bowl on the counter and we’ll pour it into a larger bowl and try this again.”  I said.

I explained to her that the packet asked for too much water for thick oatmeal and that next time she should pour only about a half-cup of water into her oatmeal bowl.  I had her open another packet and she poured it into the new bowl and had her stir it up with her spoon.

“Okay, now we just added another packet to this bowl so that means we should add more water.  Two-thirds is too much for you, right?”  My daughter nodded.  “So let’s just pour a little at a time until the mixture is as thick as you want it.”

Ah, ratios and proportions, I thought, almost as fun as the quadratic equation.

 

Pavlov’s Dogs and Candy Dishes

I rewarded myself for finishing my essay by opening my autumn-themed candy dish at my desk.  I carefully lifted the lid to reveal the assortment of See’s hard candy inside. I took the hard candy out and carefully, very carefully, placed the lid back on the candy dish.  It made a slight clinking sound.

Both my children materialized from the other side of the house at the minute sound of the lid returning to the candy dish.  I’m going to have to share my candy. Like Pavlov’s dogs my kids salivate at the sound of the lid clinking against the dish and come running to my desk and say “Can I have some candy?”

It’s not that I mind sharing.  I have enough candy for all but it’s my candy, special stuff that I buy specifically for my candy dish.  Their extra candy is kept in the glass family candy dish near the DVD player and is filled with DumDums, Jolly Ranchers, and Now and Laters.  My children are not candy snobs and like any type of candy that happens to be in the dish. They turn into Pavlov’s dogs at the sound of the family candy dish’s lid being opened and closed too.  I despair of enjoying a piece of any kind of candy without having the pack of Pavlov’s dogs racing toward the clink of the candy dish lid being returned to its base.

My mom kept extra candy in a family candy dish only when she had extra candies left from the holidays.  Extra candy from the Christmas stockings and Easter baskets found its way into the candy dish. After I ate all my own candy I would get into the family candy dish, carefully open the lid, select the candy, and then carefully close the lid afterwards, just in case I wasn’t allowed to have any candy.  That dish always made a slight clang no matter how carefully I tried to return the lid. My sister remedied the problem when she “accidentally” broke the lid in half when she dropped it on the floor while dusting it. It made getting into the candy dish easier because there was no lid to quietly open and return and leftover candy from Christmas and Easter didn’t last long after that.

We had our own “accident” here in our household.  My son plugged in the cord for the DVD player with the candy dish nearby.  The cord tangled around the dish and pulled the dish right onto the floor where the lid smashed into a million pieces.  My son looked at me and I looked at him. It was an accident, I told him, it’s okay. You’re okay? You’re not cut by the glass?  I cleaned up the glass and put the lidless candy dish back to its place, far away from the tangled cords. If it was a planned “accident” it was well planned.  Now our family candy dish doesn’t have a lid on it which will make getting into it much easier.

Short of breaking the lid on my favorite candy dish, which I don’t want to do, I haven’t found a way to cure Pavlov’s dogs from that sound.  Then I got a marvelous idea from my Aunt on a recent family gathering. She said she kept her special candy in the freezer hidden inside an empty frozen vegetable bag.  Genius. Her kids, my cousins, never knew it was there because all they saw were frozen peas.

I had an empty coffee can and put my candy inside.  My candy-filled coffee can was placed in the freezer next to the can of decaf coffee, they’ll never know what’s really inside, I happily told myself.  When I wanted one of my special candies, I opened the freezer and took one from the camouflaged candy can. I unwrapped the candy, popped it into my mouth, and enjoyed having a special piece of my candy alone.  My solitude ended after a few moments when my son rushed into the kitchen, he must have heard the sound of my unwrapping the candy.

“What are you eating Mom?  Can I have some too?”

My camouflaged candy can worked, but my children are conditioned to the sound of candy wrappers too.  I have to wait until they are in bed or out of the house to enjoy a piece of candy alone. That’s too much to ask of myself because when I want a candy, I want one now, so I get one, and usually share some with my kids.

Chutes and Ladders

Our Chutes and Ladders game has seen lots of use.  The spinner has long broken apart and the cheap card board playing pieces have torn in half from multiple instances of small hands grasping their middle and counting the squares off, hopping in each square as they are counted.  The game board had to be reinforced with packing tape because it almost tore in two.

Rather than toss this game in the trash, we’ve made it work.  Instead of the spinner with six sections we’re using a die which must land on the game board when tossed.  The cheap cardboard figures have been replaced with small game pieces of choice. Lego mini-figures are our preferred game pieces but any small figure will do.  It has made the game more personalized by far and it is fun to see an armed Star Wars Storm Trooper, a Lego Lady, and a Pokemon march up the ladders and slide down the slides.  What rejoicing when we land on a ladder and what lamentations when we land on a slide.

This is likely why my daughter doesn’t like the game very much.  She is devastated even when her Pokemon lands on the smallest slide.  If she lands on more than two or three slides during the same game, tears of frustration fall down her cheeks and she needs to be encouraged to continue to stay in the game.  My son remains optimistic after he encounters the slides and looks forward to the possibility of landing on a large ladder. The Storm Trooper adjusts his grip on his gun and waits for the next roll of the die confident he’ll land on a ladder eventually.

Chutes and Ladders is a counting game in which there are 100 spaces that need to be crossed before you land in the winner space in box 100.  Along the way are perils in the forms of slides. If you land in a box that a slide begins, you must slide all the way down. Some slides are very long and drop you down several rows down the board and some are short, just taking you back a few spaces.  The beginning of the slide always shows a child being naughty in some way and the base of the slide shows their consequence. The longest slide is for the child who reached high to sneak cookies. His consequence was falling to the ground and a broken cookie jar.  The smallest slide was for the child who went outside and walked through the rain with their shoes off. The result is a cold and three spaces back. The message: sneaking cookies is much worse than going outside with your shoes off.

The game designers placed two slides in boxes 48  and 49 where I succumb to the temptation of skating on thin ice or eating too many cookies (bad things happen with cookies in this game).  The other dangerous row is the last row. From boxes 91 to 100 there are 3 small slides that tempt you just before you get to the winners box.  We always hold our breath as we roll the die, hoping we avoid writing on walls, breaking windows with a baseball bat, or pulling a cat’s tail.

As there are equal slides and ladders, the fun part is when you get a ladder.  The bigger the better as it gets you closer to the finish in box 100. Happiness abounds when you help the cat out of the tree and go up from the 20s row all the way to the 80s row. The best ladder is when you land in the 80 box and shoot directly up two rows to the winners box.  Shouts of joy and happy dances occur when that happens.

The game takes only about 15 minutes to play and we get a lot of bang for our buck.  It lets my kids practice their counting and teaches perseverance. Character is built when the Storm Trooper and Pokemon have to go down a long slide and choose to stay in the game.  There’s nothing like instant cause and effect to illustrate what Stephen Covey says about our actions: “We are free to choose our actions… but we are not free to choose the consequences of these actions.” Sneaking cookies? You will fall down and have a broken cookie jar.  Help a cat out of the tree? You’ll have cat loving you, rubbing your legs, and go up 60 spaces. All in the time frame of 15 minutes and a die.

Earrings on the Wall

I can’t leave my house without a pair of earrings in my ears.  Even if I am lazing about the house, with nowhere to go, I laze with a pair of earrings on.  So when my husband nailed my earring holders to the wall in our closet, displaying all my earrings at eye-level, I was very happy.  He’s made it so easy to see which pair I want to wear because they are right next to my clothes and the bright closet light shows the earrings clearly.  It has made getting ready for work in the morning less of a hassle because now I can see all the choices I have for earrings. And I have a lot of choices:  studs, dangly, hoops, gold, sterling silver, leather, and gemstones.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of this earlier.  Before my husband nailed my earrings on the wall I had some earrings in my jewelry box, and some on my dresser, and some others were in a drawer.  I was wearing the same earrings over and over because I didn’t realize what I had.

For Christmas my sister bought me three pairs of fun leather statement earrings.  They are big, colorful, and lightweight. Earrings like those must be worn and not put into a drawer where they will be forgotten. The trouble was that I had no place to put them.  I had three different places where earrings were stored and all of them were a disorganized wreck. I finally had enough and decided to do something about it.

I took all my earrings from all three locations and laid them out in front of me on the carpet on my bedroom floor.  My favorites were in one pile organized by color, type, and size. Another pile was for all the earrings that I haven’t worn in years.  Some of those earrings dated back to high school days: costume jewelry that I wore for high school dances and studs that were so small that you’d hardly notice they were there.  I wanted to blend in in high school and not stand out.

What to do with all my newly organized earrings?  This is when I had a wonderful idea: if I could have them hanging up on the wall I could see them easily.  I asked my husband if he would be able to mount my earring holders on our closet wall just by the door. Would they be in the way?  Would you mind having my earrings on the wall? No problem, he said, I could do that.

He immediately went to work.  I left him alone to work his magic.  About 15 minutes later he said “Come take a look.”

The next morning getting ready for work was delightful.  Walking into my closet and seeing all my earrings in one place in a well-lit space made picking out earrings down right fun.  I was so happy to have my earrings displayed like that and felt so blessed that I had so many nice earrings that I wrote my husband a thank you letter.  I wrote it early that morning, before I went to work, and hung it with a magnet on the refrigerator door for him to find when he woke up later that morning.