Friday, October 5, 2012

"Why My House Is So Dirty" or "Multitasking is the Devil"

For years, or maybe my whole life, I've heard multitasking is a good thing.  We women excel at it; it's in our DNA.  It is right and good that we drink our coffee, make breakfast for a toddler and look for a preschooler's shoes all while on the phone with the cable company (who will be out to fix the cable sometime between noon and next Tuesday.)  Why not pay bills online while making dinner and mentally formulating my next blog?  It's just an efficient use of time.
Well, lately I've noticed an irritable streak in me.  I am snappy with the kids at times I can't even blame it on PMS.  What's wrong with me?  I tell myself. "You're not perfect.  No one expects you to be sweetness and light all the time.  It's inhuman."  Be that as it may, I realized railing at Jack for leaving his shoes in the middle of the floor when I'd ask him to pick them up three time already wasn't really venting for me.  If anything, it made me feel worse.  So, I started an informal study of myself to see when I was most irritable, trying to figure what the triggers were.  Here's what I found:  I am pissy in the morning.  I do not like being talked to early in the AM, especially if it's not even light yet and I haven't had any coffee.  I certainly am not up for a detailed account of the making of hand print ghosts in preschool the day before. (How does he wake up thinking about these things??) This is not really fixable.  All I can do is get coffee as soon as possible, sit on the playroom floor and expect very little of myself until the caffeine kicks in.
Secondly, I noticed I am most irritable when I am multitasking.  I am more likely to get snappy when both kids are around.  And, at 5:00, when everyone is tired and whiny and I'm trying to make dinner, it's the perfect multitasking storm for me to blow up over some tiny infraction, like Jack putting all the forks under the napkins instead of on them while he sets the table (He thinks this is really funny.)  Okay, so how do I fix it?  Well, I decided, I just need to do less stuff at one time.  These are the changes I've made:

  1. I finally caved and decided the kids could watch cartoons while I make dinner, instead of trying to integrate their help into the dinner-making process as all the parenting mags suggest.  Everyone is happier this way.
  2. I do not clean.  Instead of running around tidying up the kitchen after a meal, I pile all the dirty dishes in the sink and leave them for later... or for Jason, which is even better.
  3. When something is irritating me (usually some innocuous thing Jack is doing like, taking his sweet-ass time picking out clothes in the morning or Gage banging pots on the tile floor), I focus on something else.  I leave the room if possible and go brush my teeth or text my sister, whatever.
  4. I remind myself over and over again I'm not responsible to fix every real or imagined problem my children have.  It is okay for them to be upset and cry sometimes.  It is not only okay but good for them to work things out themselves.
  5. If I have a hectic day planned, i.e., first to the grocery store, then to a play date, then to the grandparents' house, then play date part two, I ask myself if I can truly handle all that on this day.  I say to myself, "Because if you are going to get all frazzled and pissy, you need to cancel some of that shit.  It's not worth it."
  6. I try to remember to be present in the moment.  This one is hard for me, because I am a pathological planner.  But, when we are at the park, I remind myself to make eye contact with my kiddos, really see them, really enjoy them, instead of letting my mind go off planning some future event.  Even if we are just in the car or at the grocery store, I try to find things to enjoy about it - sing silly songs with the kids or whatever.  That's not to say we don't still have those times I am driving white-knuckled and teeth-gritting whilst screaming and whining ensues in the back seat.  See numbers 3 and 4 for this scenario.
I've been telling myself for a long time it's okay not to be the perfect mom.  It's okay if I lose my cool occasionally.  I just want to save it for the big infractions and not socks on the floor.  Most of all, I want to increase my own happiness and contentment, and when I am patient and relaxed with my kids, I am happiest and they are too.  On top of all this, I tell myself not to analyze every statement I make to my kids, worrying what impact it will have on their impressionable psyches.  I am a great freaking mom, and despite that, my kids will, without a doubt, someday think, "wow, that was fucked up," about something I do or say to them.  Why fight it?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Go Outside and Play!

I've just been reading a bunch of articles, posts, responses, etcetera on line about whether or not kids should be allowed to play outside unsupervised.  There are a LOT of people who think its an outrage and even neglectful to do so.  What drives me nuts is, in all that I read, nowhere is a discussion of circumstances.  How old are said kids? How responsible are they?  Are they playing next to a busy street where gunfire abounds?  Do their parents check on them every once in a while?  Can they go in the house if they need to?
There seems to be a whole lot of paranoia out there about abduction.  One mom actually said she was wouldn't let her kids play in the fenced-in BACKyard alone, because sexual predators might be observing her kids' play schedule and planning to snatch them.  Really?
I know child abduction happens.  It is every parent's worst nightmare.  But how often does it really happen?  Hardly ever, actually.  And it is responsible to teach children how to deal with a stranger who asks them to get in a car or tries to force or coerce them into it.  My tag line with Jack is, "Don't go off with strangers," or with anyone actually, without telling me.  We've also had the conversation that, if someone tries to force him to go with them, he's to kick and scream and fight like hell.  That being said, I don't anticipate he'll actually need any of that advice.  If I thought there were a good chance he would, we'd move.
My current outside play policy is this:  Jack is four and a half.  He can play outside in the backyard by himself as long as he wants.  He usually comes running in screaming at the top of his lungs ten minutes after I've gone in because of a wasp, though.  Only recently, I've allowed him to play in the front yard by himself, as long as I am downstairs and can check on him frequently, and with the reminder that he stay in our yard.  I think it makes him nervous after too long, though, because he's never out there for more than ten or fifteen minutes.  Gage is, of course, not allowed outside by himself, as he is eighteen months old and has a fondness for picking up bugs, even wasps, and I wouldn't put it past him to taste one, either.
That being said, if another parents didn't allow their four year old outside by him/herself, I'd respect that.  Jack is a cautious kid.  He's not going to run into the street or forget he's not supposed to leave the yard.  He also not going to stay out there very long without me.  In this particular situation, his cautious, sometimes fearful nature can actually be a virtue.  Every child is different and is ready to handle responsibilities at different times. I think it's vital we let kids have some independence so they can grow up feeling competent and confident in their abilities, and also that we trust other parents to know their own kids and what they can handle.  So my question to you is this (yes, I really want an answer via comment):  Do you let your kids play in the front yard unsupervised?  And/or at what age do you think you'd let them, if ever?  What do you think of other parents who let their kids play outside unsupervised?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

"To Be Early Is To Be On Time..."

"To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and to be late is to be sorry, dead, toast."  That was the motto of my high school marching band, drilled into every incoming sophomore's brain during summer practice.  I actually added the "dead, toast" part my senior year, for emphasis.  (And because, as a senior, I was quite full of myself.)  This motto spoke to my inner core from the beginning.  It is how I was raised and how I have always lived my life.  When I was a kid, sometimes we'd go to my dad's parents' house for an afternoon family gathering of swimming and eating hotdogs.  It sounds relaxing, but it always began with my dad sitting in the car in the garage, honking and yelling, "Let's go, let's go!"  You see, when Dad said we were leaving at 2:30, he meant we should be backing out of the driveway at 2:29, and not a minute later.  Why we had to be so exactly on time for an afternoon of swimming, I don't know.  No, I do know.  My dad, raised by his parents, had timeliness ingrained in him.  He couldn't help but get agitated when he perceived we might be less than on time.  So, by the time I reached high school, the "To early is to be on time..." adage was in fact already old news with me.
My genetic timeliness worked to my advantage, for many situations.  I was always early for interviews, on time to work and punctual with bills and paperwork. The reasoning behind it is this:  when someone is waiting on you to arrive, it is respectful of them and their time to be on time.  It did lead to a lot of frustration with others, however.  My high school friends had absolutely no concept of time.  And while I wouldn't go so far as to get angry at someone for being late to simply hang out over at my house, I did experience a degree of irritation with some of them who thought, "I'll be there in fifteen minutes," was a suitable E.T.A., when they still had to shower, eat dinner, and drive twenty minutes over to my house.  I would reason with them exasperatedly that their "fifteen minutes" wasn't just a poor estimate, it was ridiculous, since the travel time was more than that.  Mostly, I'd just get a shrug and a "whatever" in response.
Now that I have kids, my phobia of being late has necessarily waned, though I am still the most on time person I know.  When I think about what time to leave the house with the kids, I factor in surprise poopy diapers, surprise messy snacks and surprise traffic.  Regardless, I am early less often now and, even on rare occasion, late - even Little Miss Prepared can be caught totally unawares by a child under five.  It has taken a lot of pointed effort to let go of my, "I HAVE TO BE ON TIME!" mentality.  I really have to work hard not to act like a shrieking harpy as we gather all our crap to leave the house.  ("Where are your shoes??"  "Didn't you JUST go potty??" "GET IN THE CAR!!!")  I can feel myself tensing up when I experience totally unexpected traffic delays.  I take a deep breath, get my shoulders out of my ears, and repeat my new mantra, "It's out of my control.  'Might as well relax."  Nine times out of ten, I get there on time anyway, just not as early as I thought I would. I have, in the past, felt really stupid/crappy/irrational when I have hounded the kids mercilessly to get them in the car with exclamations of, "We are going to be late!!" as if it's a cardinal sin... and we get there early - oops.  Okay, so I'm my father's child.
Where am I going with all this time nonsense?  Basically, I realize I get myself all worked up worrying about being late, when I am nowhere close to being late.  Many times, it's for something where it's not even that important to be exactly on time.  I am working on letting it go, relaxing about that which I cannot control and not getting so annoyed with everyone else for being late, because, as I said before, often it's not even that important.  Therefore, I promise to be more relaxed about tardiness, if the rest of you will work on being on time for a goddamned change every once in a while. Just kidding... maybe.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Declaration of Independence by a Four-Year-Old

Jack has always been my little momma's boy.  He has been glued to my side since the day he was born.  At play dates when he was a toddler, he'd sit in my lap instead of wreaking havoc with the other kids.  He was the kid who would only let Momma make his breakfast, kiss his boo-boo, brush his teeth, or read him his bedtime story. At the grocery store, people would smile and wave at him with his cute, sticky-up hair, and he'd scowl at them and bury his head in my jeans.  As you might imagine, his first foray into preschool was traumatic for both of us.  This milestone is what prompted his sobbing quote, now famous at our house: "Just wanna stay with Momma all a time!"  It succinctly summed up his whole mentality about life.
Throughout the earliest years, I gently encouraged him to be more independent - to leave my lap, to explore new surroundings and play mates.  Sometimes, in exasperation, my prodding was not so gentle: "Go play with your friends!  Momma wants to have a cup of coffee and talk to the adults!"  Neither approach was very successful.  Jack remained hidden in my skirts in any unfamiliar (and depending on his mercurial mood, sometimes familiar) social situation.  I was not worried about his development.  After all, I was shy as a kid, but I did feel a bit smothered by him at times, which is part of what caused me to enroll him in preschool at age two-and-a-half.  The other part was, I was pregnant with his brother.
Now, at age four-and-a-half, Jack has become more independent.  He still loves being with Momma and is occasionally somber when dropped off at school, but he always has an excited smile on his face when I pick him up and is full of stories about his day.  I can now go to another room of the house without, moments later, hearing a blood-curdling shriek of, "MOMMA, WHERE ARE YOUUUUU?"  Yes, Jack has a flair for the dramatic.
 So the other day, we are up the street at a kid-friendly coffee house in our neighborhood.  We had never been there before.  While I was waiting in line to order, holding a struggling Gage football-style, I suddenly looked around and could not find Jack.  I did not panic, because he is a cautious kid and would never run off, but I was surprised he'd left my side in an entirely unfamiliar setting.  I soon discovered he'd been lured away by the Fisher Price toys in the corner on a small shelf.  I then ordered coffee, drank it and visited with the other moms we'd come there to meet - no big deal.
Later on the way home, we passed a tow truck on our street.  The driver was loading a car onto the bed, and Jack wanted to stay and watch.  As we were already pressing it to get home for Gage's nap, I said no.  Then Jack asked, "Can I just stay here by myself?"  Mind you, this is way at the other end of our street from our house.  I wouldn't have been able to see him from the front yard.  I froze.  I did not want to discourage his independence or make him fearful, (the kid is scared of lots of stuff) but I wasn't comfortable with it.  In the end, I talked him into going home with us, and he was happy to see the tow truck drive past our house as I parked the stroller in the garage.
I thought about this incident a lot later that day:  What was I scared of - that he'd run into the street and get run over?  No, he is a super cautious kid, and even if he did, the odds of getting hit by a car on our sleepy, residential street are almost nil.  Was I scared someone would kidnap him, like maybe the tow truck guy?  Well, maybe a little, even though the odds of that are much less than getting hit by a car on our street.  The bottom line was, it just made me uncomfortable.  I realized while I've been working to get Jack to be more independent, now that he's becoming so, I have to get used to it.  I admitted to myself, it was somewhat comforting to be in a store and feel his little hand holding my skirt, knowing he was right there and would not run off.  Even knowing Jack and his careful nature, I was unsettled in the coffee house when I could not immediately see him.  Now, I'm not saying I should have let him stay and watch the tow truck.  Sometimes the instinct of  "I'm just not comfortable with it," is worth heeding, but I do need to get used to not directly supervising him in public.  He is a responsible kid, and the reward for being such is a degree of freedom.  I do not need to undermine his self-esteem by unintentionally sending the message he can't be trusted on his own.  This letting go I have to do is scary, but I do have to do it.  This is the goal of parenting:  letting go a little at a time so when they move out of the house they know how to handle themselves.  I don't want my kids to be like some of the people I knew who went nuts and got into serious trouble after high school, because their parents had been very sheltering (helicopter-y, if you will) and they simply did not know at all how to regulate themselves.  The bottom line we parents have to face is this:  the risk of letting them out into the world a little at a time when they're younger pales in comparison to the risk if we don't.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Why I don't hate Facebook anymore

I have been resistant to the idea of joining Facebook for a long time.  For one, I was busy with two little kids.  For two, I wasn't particularly interested in reconnecting with high school classmates I hadn't seen in fifteen years.  I also didn't like the idea of random people poking through photos of my kids or snippets of my daily life.  It seemed a little creepy.  I didn't really understand why some people are so persistent about staying connected with people from the past  with whom they no longer have anything in common, save having gone to the same high school.  It seemed, well, lame. However, as time goes on and more of my friends and family plan events or share pictures and information via Facebook, I have increasingly been left out of the loop.  So about a month ago, I caved and set up an account.  I cautiously friended a few close friends and family and was instantly rewarded with posts from them on my wall, most to the effect of, "Yea, you're finally on Facebook!" "Okay," I thought,"this isn't so bad," as I discovered privacy controls and set everything so only my approved friends could see my stuff.  I discovered Facebook as a really easy way to share photos and funny stories about the kids, and I began to enjoy keeping up with others better than I had in years.  I found out about my aunt's new boat the day she got it, and I knew when my cousin's kids got strep throat.  I felt more connected to people than I had in a long time. Jason made fun of me, but I knew about the heinous turf burn his sister got on her leg for sliding into second base wearing shorts before he did, so there (envision me sticking my tongue out here).   I was happily hooked on the world's most prolific social media site.... Until I tagged my sister in a photo of my mom's birthday party.  I tagged her, innocently wanting to be sure she saw the picture.  I did not, however, anticipate that HER friends would see the photo on her wall, realize then that I was on Facebook, and then friend me, send me messages, and post old high school photos of me on their own pages.  You see, my sister, it turns out, is Facebook friends with a number of people we grew up with, including my high school boyfriend. I must admit, the onslaught of communication from past friends and acquaintances somewhat freaked me out.  After mulling it over for a day or two, though, I decided to accept most of those friend requests.  While  it may initially have been a little unsettling to realize people I haven't laid eyes on in fifteen years were looking at pictures of my mom's birthday party at my house last weekend, what's the real harm?  I know, I know - stalkers.  But I put the risk of being stalked as a non-celebrity up there with being struck by lightning or winning the lottery.  Besides, isn't it sort of narcissistic of me to think there are people out there chomping at the bit to be my stalker?  But I digress... I feel I'm at a point in my life when everything has come together and is working harmoniously.  It started with Jason.  Being with him, observing how he handles himself, has given me the strength and insight to be my whole, real self and to love that self, even with its flaws.  We have two wonderful little boys - something I've wanted for a long time.  We live in a peaceful neighborhood near parks and trails and the lake.  I have discovered yoga, which has improved my fitness, both mind and body, tremendously.  My dad and I own a business together which gives me a sense of purpose and allows me to set my own  hours.  I feel like I've achieved a good degree of balance in life.  So maybe I needed to be here, at this point in my life, before I was ready to reconnect with my past.  Now that I feel more secure in who I am than ever before, whomever I was or whatever I did in the past is no longer a threat to undermine my self- confidence. After thinking it over, I decided I might actually enjoy a few virtual chats with old pals.  Now that I'm feeling such satisfaction in my life,  I've been thinking about my life's lack of continuity - how it seems much of what happened when I was young happened to someone else.  I've changed so much over the years, I don't at all feel like the naive girl with long blond hair and braces that I was in high school.  I examine old photos of her and feel very little connection.  Even though the messages I've now exchanged with a few long-lost  high school buddies have been brief and superficial, they've given me a line to my past reminding  me it was real.  That  innocent girl (who does not know what the hell she is doing, though she thinks she does, by the way) is still a part of me.  It's given me a feeling of continuity from then to now.   So, in summary, my life is now complete....because of Facebook??

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Balance

For a long time now, it's felt like my life is one big game of catch-up.  With little kids, after getting everyone fed, clothed, napped, pottied, diapered and entertained, at the end of the day, I had no brain space or energy left for anything else.  I lost track of friends, especially ones that didn't have children, and therefore did not fit into our play date-oriented schedule.  I abandoned interests I previously pursued avidly.  I gave away most of my african violets - with real babies to take care of, the plants became just another task needing doing.  My mountain bike collected dust as it hung in the garage, just like the pile of books on my nightstand.  And my pre-paid, fifteen class yoga pass hung on my key chain unused for months.  I would see these things in passing - the bike, the books, the yoga pass - and frown.  I'd wonder if I ever would get back to doing the things I loved.  Would I, in fact, ever get back to writing, or would this blog sit on the internet, gathering metaphorical cyber-dust?  I was afraid I'd been away from these things for too long and that, by the time I had the time to get back to them, I'd have somehow lost the inclination - that I would no longer know how to enjoy my previously loved hobbies after spending so much time and energy with the little people.
Here's the thing:  I love my children dearly.  I'd wanted to be a mother for years before I had them.  I have a degree in child development, and I find children and the way their minds work fascinating.  I sometimes sit in rapt attention, watching Jack talk to himself as he builds a wall with blocks or observing Gage as he repeatedly dumps sidewalk chalk from one container to another.  The way they solve problems, explore their surroundings and begin to make sense of their worlds is amazing to me.  BUT, the other thing is this:  children are not the only thing that fascinates me, and even my own brilliant, creative, lovable children can get tiresome every now and then.  Sometimes I need a break from cars and blocks and chicken nuggets and constant noise.  I missed my other interests.  I wanted to explore the trails in our neighborhood on my bike.  I longed to buy the plants I saw thriving in the garden center to see what I could do with them.  I needed (yes, needed) to have friends I interacted with on an adult level.  I had writing ideas overflowing the cup of my mind, but those ideas were often lost, as I had no time to write them down before I forgot them.
Now, with Jack being four and Gage fourteen months, I am getting to a point where I can at least begin thinking about other things, like adult friends, vacations, and interests I had pre-children.  My life feels like it is very slowly beginning to swing back into balance.  I know my life will still be mostly about my kids for years to come, but as they get older, I seem to have more mental energy to make plans with friends.  I can water plants and pull weeds while they play in the sand box.  I'm also able to share some of my interests with them, like when Jack and I planted seeds to grow carrots and peppers last weekend.  Jason and I actually managed a mountain bike ride a couple of weeks ago while my parents kept the kids, and it turns out you really don't forget how to ride a bike.  This all goes back to my belief that one person's happiness and contentedness with life does not exist in a vacuum.  Now that I am able to do more of the things that make me who I am, I am happier.  I feel more peaceful.  I have more energy to do nice things for my family, and we are more harmonious as a family.  Because, in short, as I have written before, "If Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."