Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The secret to "success"

Did you ever have a day (or week or month or year) when you believe that, as a parent, you must be doing everything wrong? (If your answer is no, don't tell me. I'm not so sure I can be your friend anymore.) You do a mental check to be sure that you've at least taken your vitamins, eaten something and had a caffeinated beverage. And yet with all the basics checked off, you're still behaving like a frustrated beaver who's just encountered one too many fenced up trees.

Oh, wait a minute. I know what it is. It's these damn kids. Yep, that's what it is. It can't possibly have anything to do with me.

It can't be that I've had so little sleep in the past four years that I'm practically sleep walking.

It can't be that I expect my kids to have more than 10 good minutes in a row. And by good minutes, I mean, time during which no one cries, begs for a snack, throws said snack on the floor, hits a sibling, pees their pants, clears a countertop or table or uses a toy for an unapproved use (namely hitting a sibling).

It can't be that I expect boychild (all of 3.5 years old) to have the hang of pooping in the toilet nearly a year after he was first introduced to the concept.

It can't be that I expect girlchild (all of 18 months old) to leave my desk and computer alone just because mommy said so.

Yep, I'm feeling this way because my kids are just rotten. And, of course, I'm a rotten mommy for saying so. There, I said it. And, if you're honest at least with yourself, you'll admit to thinking the same thing every once in a while.

Hrumph. Now that that's out of my system, I can be more reasonable.

One of the drawbacks of working in the professional world for years before having children is that your standards for success are rather high. These days, if the kids are still alive and the house has not burned down by day's end, we've had a successful day. It's a big bonus if there are no fresh bruises on Fiona and Danny hasn't spent most of the day in time out.

I've been held to high standards and met them. I've held others to high standards and ensured they met them with more patience than I currently exhibit with my own children. I'm used to seeing results pretty close to immediately. I hire a vendor, they do the job the way I ask. I ask a reporter to make some changes, we have a discussion that (usually) doesn't include whining or defiance; there are some compromises and the article is properly finessed. My assistants always did what was asked in a reasonable amount of time. Both assistants I've had the pleasure of working with understood my requests easily. They never forgot the task at hand on the way to the copy machine and wound up in the break room. Not once.

You can see why my  parenting approach sometimes veers into my-way-or-the-highway territory. Some days I flog myself mercilessly over the defiant, willful, borderline (I'm being very generous here, don't you think?) obnoxious behavior of my children. It must be my fault, right? After all, I am in charge here.

That said, the past few weeks have been wildly successful. Loud, messy and irritating, yes; but still rather successful by my revised definition.. Danny hasn't peed his pants much and has actually been making unprompted trips to the potty. We only started potty training last July, so this is good, right? He did poop his pants at the park this week, but, really, who hasn't pooped their pants at the park a few times in their life?

Danny has been spending a lot of time in time out lately. I know that doesn't sound very successful, but stay with me here. One night, he pushed his sister twice when she made a grab for his toys. Each time he landed in the TO chair (which also doubles as the "shoe on" chair. Amazingly, my kids don't think of getting shoes on as punishment.). The next time Fiona made a play for his toy, he yelled at her "I'm having a turn." He didn't even make a threatening gesture this time. This is progress. Of course, I realize we will repeat this same scene every day for the next few years.

Fiona has actually been listening and doing as she's told sometimes. One night I told her to put the toy groceries back in the cart (the cart that will soon be living at Nana's house). And SHE DID. She even gave Danny back the toy she stole when I told her to. She even responded appropriately to praise. That is, she didn't repeat the unwanted behavior to gain the praise.

Accepting the one step forward, two or a hundred steps back dance as the new definition of success is progress on my part.

I was once told by a very dear woman that an expectation is a premeditated resentment. In fact, she felt it was such an important statement that she wrote it on a piece of paper and slipped it across the table to me, probably while I was whining about something. I've always felt that words are more powerful when written whether in a book or a torn piece of paper. I, of course, lost the piece of paper, which is why I almost never remember her wise advice until I've chained heavy expectations of my children to myself like a ball and chain around my ankle.

No wonder parenting is so exhausting.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Interior decorating for parents

My house looks nothing like it did when we were first married, or even the way it did a few months ago. It's actually less cluttered and the space better organized now than ever—very few knick knacks, more open space, more storage areas, less useless junk. We've found that you don't need more stuff and you don't need much fancy when you have kids. Just pack up every gift from your wedding for the next 10 years or so and stick with whatever dishes, flatware and furniture you had when you got married. If you've already bought new furniture, put it in storage and visit your local thrift shop. Same goes for dishes.

Over the past four years, we've rearranged our house and pared down our supplies every few months just to keep a step ahead of the kids. As you'll see, "de-decorating" the house is an ongoing process. Here are a some of my interior decorating and home tips for those with babies or about to have babies:

Doors on the kitchen: When we first looked at our current house with a real estate agent, we commented that the doors on the kitchen would be in our way and besides, we preferred to have a more open floor plan. We removed them soon after moving in. Our agent predicted that we'd miss them once we had kids. We did. Jim put them back up a few months ago as Dutch doors when the kitchen started to resemble a busy hive and the queen bee became very agitated. Unfortunately, Danny can open both doors and Fiona can open one. Next up? Locks for the doors.

Carpet: No matter how nasty your carpet becomes, try to hold out on a new flooring until the last one is potty trained. Best to wait, too, until they can reasonably be expected to carry a drink without spilling and have a snack without turning their immediate surroundings into a pigsty.

Funiture: I mistyped that last word but decided to keep it that way since that is really what our furniture has become. Stick with whatever hand-me-down stuff you had when you got married. Our children climb, stand and jump on furniture and no amount of correction or scolding seems to work. Not only that, this furniture will be the scene of countless dirty diaper changes. (After a while, you'll just be too damn tired to trudge to that fancy, expensive changing table.) The furniture also will be puked and peed on, have snacks ground into its fabric and tucked in every crevice, and have more drinks spilled on it than a barroom floor. So we have my grandfather's recliner plus a three piece living room set that Jim got used from his sister.

A word about entertainment centers and stereo equipment: These items are like crack to young children. They can't keep resist touching all the buttons and dials. It was my kids' first stop upon learning to crawl. We've finally hit upon a solution. Our flatscreen TV is mounted on the wall and the stereo equipment is in the recently constructed hall closet. We control the system through an RF remote sensor. No entertainment center also means one less item to dust. The whole set up is the fanciest thing we own (just in case you're thinking of robbing us). I'm not saying everyone should do this; it's just an idea. You'll figure out your own solution soon enough.

Ditch the coffee and end tables: These clutter-gathering forehead gougers are totally unnecessary. But where will I put my magazines, newspapers, that dust-collecting piece of junk I got in Aruba, drink coaster, drinks? You won't be reading magazines and newspapers nor will you be lounging about with a drink of any kind let alone setting it down near a roving toddler hell bent on destruction. And that precious knick knack? It will be broken two seconds after your little darling learns to pull himself up on the table which he's already hit his head on a hundred times whilst crawling under.

Dining room furniture: Don't buy any. Wait until your kids are at least 10 years old to have a formal dining room. We bought an eight-piece, Mission-style dining room set with a china cabinet to store all our beautiful wedding gifts. Seven years later, it is childproofed to the hilt and when those devices failed, we were forced to zip tie the door handles together (hence WE can't even get into the cabinet without heavy machinery). The dining room table has grooves in it that gather dust and play dough crumbs. The dining room chairs are fabric covered and disgusting. They need to be recovered with fabric and 1 mil plastic sheeting. We should have gone with our original plan to make it into a sitting room. At least then we could put up the baby gate, hide from the children and let them have the rest of the house.

Eat in kitchen:  My old boss made a point to discuss this critical feature with me upon my engagement to Jim. She was so very wise; I go from kitchen counter and fridge to table about 20 times during each meal. Be sure you have one in your house even if it means knocking down a wall to create one. The EIK is where do most of our eating, except on Fridays after Parents Morning Out when the kids and I eat Micky D's chicken nuggets in the dining room on paper plates. My kids think that's just as fancy as can be. And speaking of fancy ...

Dinnerware: Resist the temptation to have any silverware or dishes that match or that you find attractive in a way. The minute you develop a fondness for any of these things, they will be lost, broken or thrown in the trash. When my husband and I first got married, he had an assortment of plates and bowls of all different sizes, shapes and colors. Same thing with the silverware. It made me twitch. It looked like he bought cast offs from a little old lady's garage sale. We kept only two from that "set," and only because they matched the new set. That set has been broken and chipped from heavy use. Our silverware collection gets thinner and thinner with each passing toddler who finds the trash can the most fascinating device in the house.

Best way to organize things? Baskets and shelves for toys. Toddlers just LOVE putting in and removing items from baskets (it doesn't even matter what the item is). Adults' books up high, toys and kids' books down low. Everything else under lock and key.

Best way to arrange rooms? With lots of open spaces and minimal furniture. What furniture you do have should line the walls and preferably be bolted to them.

And don't buy too many toys (remember my feelings on toys?). Save that money for the fabulous new flooring, dinnerware and furniture you'll buy later.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Real time dispatch

I've barricaded myself in the kitchen with the only child who seems somewhat sane today. After all, Owen cries and screams in terror whenever his sister or brother screeches. Seems like a pretty sane reaction to me. Maybe I ought to try it.

So far today, we've had about one good hour, which is more than we get some days. And considering the intense heat, that's actually pretty good. We went out right after breakfast to burn off some energy. Unfortunately, all they wanted to do was swing on the swings. Not much of an energy burner, but at least it's a way to stay cool. They played with the water table I set up for all of five minutes; then Danny stripped down to his underwear and dumped all the water out. 

Danny is in his room reading his High Five magazine. I sent him there after an attempt at snack time that was swiftly aborted when Danny slammed the refrigerator door on his sister's head and fingers. She never cries over these things. She's really that tough. But I flipped out and sent him to his room. In the past 24 hours, he did a handstand on a chair and kicked his brother in the head while I was nursing him and then threw a large rubber ball at my face ten seconds after apologizing for the last infraction. At this point, we're safer with him in his room. 

Fiona has muscled her way into the kitchen and is stabbing a pack of ramen noodles with a fork and whining for more water from the fridge which she tries to drink and then pours on the floor. In the process of learning to drink from a cup, she's coating the kitchen floor with water. Maybe I'll mop later.

We're now having the second attempt at snack time. Hopefully, it will go a little better this time.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fair weather mom

A few months ago, my husband, my son and I were huddled in the kitchen listening to an indignant and wild-eyed Fiona shrieking outside the closed Dutch door. It felt an awful lot like being under siege.

We had kicked her out of the kitchen after tiring of the nightly dinner drama: an overturned plate of food, thrown cups and silverware, climbing onto the table, grabbing at everyone else's food, whining and grunting and crying, barely eating anything. (And, no, we cannot put her in a high chair anymore. She has rendered the seat unsafe by thrashing about too violently when confined. Come to think of it, she's a lot like her mother in that respect.)

She was about 15 months old at the time. We're still under siege, only it's intensified quite a bit here lately.

Right now, my daughter isn't just a handful; she's about 20 handfuls. On daily basis, I come upon scenes that would terrify even the most seasoned parent. I've found her halfway up the bookshelf, wielding a knife in the kitchen, standing on the desk with a pair of scissors that I thought were out of reach, climbing into her crib and trying to climb out, in Owen's bassinet (when Owen was not, thank God), trying to pick up his bouncy seat with him in it.

Everything she does right now is an exercise in frustration for her and us. She wants whatever someone else has and whatever is out of reach or off limits. We're really hoping that this is a toddler thing and not her actual personality.

She walks about all day long with an outstretched hand, whining and hyperventilating. We offer her a toy, she runs away crying. We offer food or drink, she knocks them from our hands. We tell her no, she cries indignantly for very long periods. (One day at lunch, she spent 45 minutes screaming indignantly at us as we directed her to stay seated.) We try to hold her, she squirms so violently that she hurts us. I've been bumped in the face with her head, scratched, poked and almost bitten.

My shins are bruised. My nerves are shot. My feelings are hurt. I wonder how many more days, week, months this behavior will go on. I also wonder just when we should call in an exorcist.

I've never admitted this to anyone, probably because it's just starting to dawn on me, but I like my kids when they're behaving and dislike them, sometimes intensely, when they're not. And I should stop here and define behaving as whenever they're having fun, doing as they're told for the most part, easy to please, not crying and whining at me, sleeping pretty well, and eating at least some of what I put in front of them. 

The rest of the time I find myself wondering why my kids are so abnormal and crazy and why I, as a parent, can't just accept them the way they are with all their imperfections. I mean, really, Jesus can do it. Why can't I?

Mostly it's because I suck at empathy (and there's that whole not being perfect thing). I know that most moms have these feelings toward their children from time to time. What disturbs me, however, is the fair weather nature of my feelings toward them. My children shouldn't feel that they have to behave to be worthy of my love or just my somewhat joyful attention. Some days it takes a mighty effort to not sigh heavily and growl at her. I certainly have not been well-behaved in my life but have never felt unloved because of those shortcomings by anyone, least of all my creator or my parents.

Trust me, I want to respond with patience and tolerance. But after the 500th time of telling my daughter to sit on her bottom or get off the spinning desk chair, my reserves are just a little low.

Family lore has it that on a trip to West Palm Beach when my sister was 18 months old, my father sighed heavily and surely shook his head and smiled as he told her "You better do something cute kid or I'm gonna throw you out the window."

It was at that moment she looked up at him and said, in a sweet sing-song voice, "West Palm Beach."

And that's precisely what 18 month old Fiona is like. When my nerves are completely shot and my patience is at it's breaking point, she does something cute like lean over and kiss her baby brother on the head or offer me a lick of her Popsicle or rock her glow baby back and forth when it's playing Rockabye Baby.

Maybe I won't sell her to gypsies this week after all.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Danny, meet world.

This week, Danny attended vacation bible school at a local church. I was a bit anxious since this was the first time he'd ever done anything remotely structured. I figured, though, what's the worst that can happen? He'll be going with his "best friend," our neighbors' 3 year old son. Well, friends, read on, read on. 

Day 1: Danny is brought to me soaking wet, kicking and screaming in the arms of an older lady who wished me luck. He wanted to go on the "boat" on the stage and took a swing at the woman who stopped him. I thought seriously about not taking him back.

Day 2: A happier boy with wet pants is sitting at the feet of the preschool teacher when I arrive. Hm.

Day 3: A happy boy with dry pants is once again sitting at the feet of the preschool teacher. Utto.

Day 4: A subdued, sad looking boy with dry pants and no name tag is once again sitting at the feet of the preschool teacher who seemed to be avoiding my gaze. A teen volunteer carries him to me. I ask if he's okay. She says "He's jumpy." (sweetie, you don't know the half of it) A lady in the church lobby said to him, cheerily, "There's a special chair for you in the office, isn't there?"

So he essentially got sent to the principles' office. Within four days. At church.

When I got him into the van on day four, he told me quietly that his teacher, Miss Jackie, took his name tag. It just broke my heart.

Day 5: A happier boy who let off steam last night by screaming his head off and running around in his underwear in a summer downpour (so sorry dear neighbors) is now at his regular Friday morning PMO.

Over the week, Danny shared bits and pieces of what went on. They played tag and duck, duck, goose. They had snacks of cookies and gummy worms or M&Ms and marshmallows. Each day his mouth was stained red from the fruit punch they gave him. He made a friend in a tween boy named George who seemed just delighted with Danny. Other adventures?

"I got lost, mommy," he said. He probably wandered away from his class.

"I hit a kid," he told me. He said this each day. He got a time out for it, which is totally appropriate.

Now, I don't want to be one of those moms who thinks her kid is unique and needs special attention. Nor do I want to ever come off as the mom who thinks her kid can do no wrong. Believe me, my kid takes wrong to a whole new level some days.

I had hopes that he would behave because most of the time, for us and others who know him well and respect him, he does. Our expectations here a different than those of a preschool or day camp or any other social setting. And that's okay. I feel no need to teach him how to sit still and be quiet and listen to stories and do crafts. If he wants to do those things, he will and usually does.

But what I struggle with is how to tell him to behave in social situations that I'm not even sure yet are best for his age, maturity level and, more importantly, his temperment. Surely there will be growing pains. His personality and maturity will bend and stretch and grow, sometimes painfully. My job as a mom, his first and best teacher and always his advocate, is to make sure he doesn't break in the process. The human spirit is quite resilient and I do believe there's very little that can permanently ruin a child. However, the damage that can be done if I knowingly try to force my little square peg into a round hole may leave lifetime scars. There is plenty of unintentional damage flowing from his parents, I'm sure. I don't need to knowingly add experiences that will break his spirit. That is tantamount to negligence in my mind.

He's going to preschool in the fall. Two days a week, three hours a day. Time for us to establish a longer, more meaningful relationship with the environment and the teachers. While we probably will home school, the experience is not incompatible with that goal. He needs to learn to get along with other kids. He needs some time to do his own thing, apart from his sister and brother. He does need to learn to listen to other adults just in case we do find that school is a good choice for him.

So, yes, it was just a church camp. It was just one week. It was a short preview of what we may be in for this fall. If it doesn't work out, if he comes home with that heartbreaking look on his face, I'll know exactly what to do.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Proudly "doing it wrong"

This post is dedicated to my friend and former colleague Stacy and all the other brand new moms who think they're doing it all wrong. Trust me and millions of other moms: You're not.

I've broken with the accepted parenting orthodoxy on quite a few issues since the birth of our son three years ago. Maybe I'm just lazy, but I prefer to think that my tolerance for frustration or just plain inconvenience is very low. Our culture tells us to keep trying even when it seems hopeless and we moms inevitably wind up adhering to experts' theories even when it's clearly not working for our families. Many of the theories seem to hinge on parental consistency, or what I like to call the "failure is all your fault" clause. And failure is made to seem like a permanent stain rather than a bump in the road.

"Just keep plugging along," they say. "You're kid will eventually come around." (By the way, when I was a kid, that was known as "growing out of it.") And if you fail, according to the latest study, you're kid will be fat, lazy, fall behind in school, have sleep problems, have nipple confusion, be  undernourished, never become interested in reading, and on and on.

My approach? Stop trying if it's not working—do something different, or, my personal favorite, do nothing at all. Of course, this approach often looks (and sometimes feels even to us) like we're lazy or just throwing stuff at the wall to see what will stick. As you can tell, I have no patience for "programs" that don't seem to be working. My limit for how long I'll stick to one thing is directly related to how frustrated I or my child become.

So I've decided to let you all in on a few of the things that I've done "wrong" so far. I'm limiting it to the first year of my kids' lives since the verdict is still out on some things we've done and, really, I could fill a book with all the things I've done "wrong." I am starting to sense, though, that there's not too much you can do to permanently screw up your kid.
  • My kids all took a bottle of breast milk within two weeks of birth. They did not become confused about how to eat. They went from breast to bottle and back again beautifully and hungrily.
  • I actually put my first infant in front of Sesame Street when I ran out of ideas and patience in trying to soothe him. He now has a fabulous vocabulary and likes to read books with us and by himself. These days he watches Curious George and Word Girl before bed. He doesn't beg to watch television all day long and I don't feel guilty if, on some days, he watches television or movies while I catch a break. 
  • My kids all slept with me for much of their first year. Danny slept with us for the longest period of time. He has been sleeping on his own in a twin sized bed since shortly before his second birthday. He does not beg to come sleep with us. Fiona sleeps in her own crib, even climbs in herself these days. Owen sleeps in a bassinet and in our bed and hasn't yet shown a clear preference for either. 
  • I began feeding Danny and Fiona solid foods at four months. Actually, I started Fiona a week before she was four months because she was just plain hungry and I was just plain exhausted. Danny and Fiona are both healthy and fit for their age and don't have any food allergies. My milk supply did not suffer one bit.
  • I didn't start them on rice cereal, either. I gave them bananas and yogurt and sweet vegetables like sweet potatoes and squash. They currently eat a variety of foods including vegetables. My son loves raw red peppers. Fiona prefers green beans.
  • When I did give my kids cereal, it wasn't the overpriced, vitamin supplemented baby cereal. It was brown rice or oatmeal ground into a fine powder in the coffee grinder. Both my older kids had excellent iron counts at a year old.
  • I also never gave my kids iron supplements their first year.
  • My daughter started eating finger foods at around 6.5 months because it became an epic battle to get her to submit to spoon feeding. She never choked. Not once. (Recently, though, we had to Heimlich her when she got a piece of chewable vitamin stuck in her throat.)
  • We didn't have an established bedtime routine for much of Danny's first year. As new  parents, maybe we just didn't recognize the signs that he was tired. There were some nights when we just let him hang out with us playing quietly on the floor until he was sleepy. Fiona began choosing her bedtime at around 6 months. Owen seems to prefer an 8 pm bedtime right now. This is all flexible, of course. There's no sense forcing a child who's not sleepy go to bed.
  • I never fed my babies on a schedule. A feeding schedule emerged eventually, but it wasn't at my prompting. The downside to this was that I became a one trick pony, sticking a boob in their face whenever they cried. The upside? Both of the older kids were easy to wean. Danny walked away at 16 months. Fiona weaned at 13 months, which brings me to this ...
  • I weaned my daughter to a pacifier. (hey, don't judge, I was desperately tired and seven months pregnant at the time) She uses it only at naptime and at night. How we'll wean her from that, I surely don't know yet. But I'm confident that she'll give it up in her own time and on her own terms. 
  • I turned my kids' car seats around early. Danny was a year old but still 18 pounds. Fiona was 20 pounds but a few weeks shy of a year.
 So there you have it. I've been proudly doing it wrong and actually proclaiming it on this blog for more than  three years—enough time in parenthood years to be considered an expert, actually. In fact, I've created a new label called "Doing it wrong" and am in the process of relabeling three years worth of posts. (I know, I'm an anal retentive geek. Sue me.)

No one knows a child and a family's needs like a parent. Trust your instincts and tell those experts and "by the book" moms to just go to ... well, you know.

    Thursday, July 08, 2010

    Idling away

    I've often wondered and worried over the past few years whether I should be playing more with my kids instead getting them to do the housework for me, I mean, with me and dragging them around town on errands. Should I spend most of my waking hours sitting on the floor teaching and playing and reading and talking with my kids? Should I plan every activity with their comfort and convenience in mind?

    Here are the answers I've come up with respectively: Only if it's something I enjoy doing, too. And only if their discomfort and inconvenience will exponentially increase mine.

    It sounds heartless in this day and age of hyper parenting to say what I just said. But, it's really not. The best thing I can do for my kids sometimes is to just leave them alone most of the time and take them along the rest of the time. Heck, I'm even finding that sometimes I need to leave the baby alone. Recently my 2 month old began sucking his two fingers to calm himself down when I can't get to him fast enough. Leaving Fiona, our 18 month old, is a dangerous proposition, but I have Fiona-proofing down to a science. She entertains herself in her own bedroom quite nicely. The other day, I left Danny alone in his room for more than an hour. He dug it, even though it was an extended time out. He went to the bathroom himself, returned to his room and closed the door.

    And, honestly, I don't really enjoy playing with trains or play dough or making crafts. If making crafts were my thing, I'm sure my kids would be interested in it. It's not that I never play with my kids. It's just that I don't make that my main objective. It's not the only way to make my kids feel important and loved. I do that mainly by making them a part of the daily real activities around here.

    Self-entertainment and self-sufficiency is important in this house and it's not because we don't care about our kids. It's important because we care about our kids. We don't want kids who are dependent on constant structure and external stimulation. We don't want kids who exist outside the realm of household duty. We want kids who can make their own fun and motivate themselves yet understand that life is not all fun and games, that chores are a shared responsibility and that work comes before play.

    This evening, I felt like cooling off in the family-size blow up pool in our yard. So I did. The kids came, too, and we all had a fantastic time chilling out, literally, in the backyard. And when I felt like getting out, I got out. They didn't spend the rest of their time in the pool begging me to get in like they usually do. I sat in a lawn chair talking to baby Owen (all of 2 months old), who is quite the conversationalist these days, I must say. I just felt more like, well, a human being instead of a babysitter.

    As for the housework, over the years, we've given Danny little jobs to do here and there. He was "taught" to sweep the kitchen floor shortly after he started walking. Currently, his favorite chore is what my husband calls the "squoosh and push." It involves putting rolls of toilet paper into a basket in our downstairs bathroom. He's real good at it, too; doesn't need a lick of help. I just set the package of toilet paper in the hall and he goes to it. I don't even have to trick my son, Tom Sawyer style, by telling him how much fun these chores are. Nor do I have to bribe him. My son knows he's doing work and he's proud. Today he was delighted to be helping me make a big "dentist" in the pile of laundry. "We've got a lot of work today," he repeated excitedly.

    The truth is that my kids want to be adults. They want to do grown up things. They want to use adult forks and spoons instead of the plastic or miniature metal utensils that barely work. They want to use the big broom and mop. They want to use the bar rags to clean the table and the baby wipes to shine the trash can. They want to stir and mix and crack eggs and add ingredients, real ingredients, to whatever I'm making. They want to sit in real chairs, not child-size chairs, booster seats and high chairs. They just use the child-sized chairs to see over the Dutch door in the kitchen or turn on lights and fans or look out the top part of the windows. More often than not, they don't want the kid's view of the world. They want to see what we see and do what we do.

    And part of being an adult is slogging through the grocery store or to the post office or the bank, even when you don't want to.

    The way I see it, I'm teaching my kids to be adults and my kids are teaching me to relax and just be a kid sometimes. It's a delicate balance.

    Friday, July 02, 2010

    Serenity NOW

    Today Owen is two months old. I'm seeing signs that he is getting "organized."  He takes a morning nap, is starting to take a more solid afternoon nap and sleeps in three hour shifts overnight. He even smiles, laughs and talks to us. This glimpse of the routine to come is cause for celebration. After all, as my best friend put it today "Doesn't he know who his mother is?"

    Actually, his mother is someone who is trying to be less organized, or at least trying to just turn it all over to God for a fix. That is one odd thing to ask of God, but being organized is almost a disease for me. It's chronic and it's crippling. It's an underlying symptom of one major defect: Perfectionism.

    For years, I've made a weekly menu. I adhered to strict rules like no meat on Mondays (it's just cheaper, adds variety and is healthy, not that I'm trying to justify myself.), spaghetti and meatballs on Wednesdays in the colder months, tacos on Tuesdays during the warmer months, fish on Fridays always, pizza on Saturdays. Some of the rules are just born of nostalgia ... Saturday was always pizza night when I was a kid and those who grew up in the Northeast will surely remember that Wednesday is Prince spaghetti night. I haven't made a menu since mid-April. Somehow we haven't starved to death. And once, a few weeks ago, we even ate pizza on a Sunday and tacos, with beef, on a Friday. I have no idea what we're having for dinner tonight. It might just show up at our door around 6. It might be cheesy and fattening and cost about $15 plus tip.

    For me, unfolded clothes piled in a laundry basket is the equivalent of living out of a suitcase. For a chore that I dislike, I certainly have a lot of rules for folding and organizing clothes. Maybe it's my way of finding some order in the chaos. I fold outfits and two-piece pajamas together, organize the kids' clothes in their drawers or by drawer, and even organize my own shirt drawer by color of the shirt. My husband seems to organize the clothes in his dresser by frequency of use, as far as I can tell. The fact that I even try to make sense of how someone else organizes their own stuff is an indication of how sick I am. I've been known to refold my husband's t-shirts right after he's folded them. My husband and even my sister have suggested that I might ought to back off just a scoche. Jim even suggested putting Danny's unfolded clothes in a basket in his room and letting him put them away (um, no). As a compromise, I let Danny put folded clothes away and I don't fold underwear anymore. And I've ceased stuffing the babies' pocket diapers when they come out of the wash because, really, what's the point? Around here, when it's half past diaper washing time, it's time to wash again.

    I have even left dishes in the sink overnight. I blame my mother for this one. All my life, I've heard the story of how the pipes froze in the trailer when I was a baby and my mother had a pile of dishes in the sink that couldn't be cleaned for days, maybe even a week. There may have even been some roaches in this story. I don't remember. Like most stories, it gets more dramatic the more times it's told. Now, as you guessed it, I can't bring my self to leave dishes in the sink.

    One thing I'm learning about having three kids is that you have to let go of a lot of the little things. My children can suck the serenity right out of me and I must make the minute-by-minute decision whether to act upon (read: correct or discipline) or to let go of whatever serenity-sucking behavior they are engaging in. Those daily mental gymnastics leaves little time for all of the above.

    I love a neat, orderly and serene home, but, as I found this past weekend with my toy purge, there's an easier way to accomplish that. I didn't need to do more cleaning and organizing. I needed fewer toys.

    No time or energy to plan, much less make, meals? Just wing it. I've been planning and cooking meals almost nightly since just before Danny was born and I happen to live with a chef. Who cares if dinner is just sandwiches and chips? And, I've found, that it really is okay to let people bring you meals, even when the baby is two months old and I should be able to handle this by now (I'm a little hard on myself, can't you tell?). We had two lovely, hot meals this week courtesy of neighbors.

    Who cares if the laundry is wrinkled and unfolded? It's just going to get crumpled on the way to the dresser and filthy dirty two minutes after they're dressed for the day.

    Who cares if the some dishes are left to, um, soak overnight? Unless the ants leave the start making their way to the counter, I'm just not going to sweat it. I'll just think of  the crunchy kitchen floor buffet beneath the kids' seats as a decoy.

    When new serenity inducing ideas are not forthcoming, no matter how many deep breaths I take, I can just stand in my kitchen and do what George Constanza's dad does.

    Yell, at the top of my lungs, "Serenity Now." Surely, God will hear me.