Dresses, spiders, and laundry; little moments with big lessons

I like to think I am not reinforcing gender stereotypes with my kids.  Even so, I have to constantly remind myself not to say and do the same things I have been subjected to throughout my own lifetime of fighting pink, dresses, and heels. I learned pretty early on that this is a lot harder to do now that I have both a son and two daughters.    Even though I know that I want my kids to be who they are and do what they want, and I feel very strongly about that in my own life and family, I’m realizing it may not always be obvious to my kids.  I also recognize I have to be consistent from now until, oh, forever in how I model this, otherwise it just gets confusing.  Living with me has to be confusing enough as it is, I don’t have to make it worse.

So, even though I do rely on hubby to kill spiders, I somehow have to model that it’s not because I’m a girl, it’s because SPIDERS ARE CREEPY AND EVIL.  And hubby isn’t afraid of that awful squish sound.  Not because he’s a boy, but because our fears are different.  Spiders.  Blech.

So what can I do every day to avoid teaching the wrong lessons?  (the stereotypes, not the spider extermination process)

Well, when Bear and Goose wear dresses and anyone tells them they look beautiful, I have to remember to also tell them they are beautiful when they are wearing mismatched outfits they picked on their own and are dirty and digging in mud.  I have to tell Bean that he is handsome both when he is dressed for church as well as when he is a sweaty mess.  I have to compliment their appearances at a much lower frequency than complimenting other parts of who they are.

When Bean wants to help me cook, wash dishes, or fold laundry, I need to find the patience to let him.  Hubby does all of these things as much or more than me, and is already a great example, so I have to be ok with the six-year-old version of helping.

When my daughters imitate me and throw a purse on their shoulder and wave bye-bye, I can’t say “are you going shopping?”, I have to challenge myself to come up with something other than the easy comment.  So far I have asked if they are going to the library, to work, to the doctor, to play, to the museum, and for some reason I have to think really hard to say something other than shopping.  Why is that?  I don’t go shopping, why would I even say that?  The point is, I’m looking for more creative activities to suggest than what a girl and a purse are stereotypically assumed to be doing.

(Also, just to be snarky, anything that would normally be a “princess” something I choose to use “queen.” If you’re going to aspire to be part of a royal family, at least shoot for the leadership role.)

When it is time to split resources and have one parent outside playing with the kids and one inside being productive, I can’t always default to being the productive one, even if it soothes my overwhelming need to “catch up.” I need to be the parent playing and running around just as much as hubby needs to be the one being productive, because we are equal partners in this circus and our kids need to know that, too.

I recognize these are all small moments in the thousands that go by every day. I’m trying to focus on the little things now before they get older and the little things turn into big things that are hard and confusing. I may get it wrong more often than I get it right, but thankfully I have kids to be the first to point that out. At least that means they know what the right thing is, and they will never ask me to get rid of the spider.

 

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When it straight up breaks down

Parents do countless things on a daily basis that can only be explained by “because I am a parent.” We accept a constant barrage of stress, illness, sleep deprivation, fear, guilt, and running our lives around what is best for our children. That is a short and bleak picture, and nowhere near comprehensive.  There is, of course, all of the reasons we wouldn’t change it for anything in the world because we love those little buggers with a power indescribable.  But this post isn’t about all of that.  This post is about what happens to me when that parenting self-sacrifice, that maternal instinct, straight up breaks down.

Thankfully, it doesn’t happen often, and when it does, I can usually look back and see the progression, understand the unlucky combination of events that leads to this point.  But hindsight is only helpful for understanding; I have not yet mastered the ability to realize I am in it while it is happening.  So here I sit in a coffee shop, with a husband at home who has (mostly) lovingly kicked me out of the house to recover, to gather myself, to find the sh*t that I lost. It is cold and icky midwest spring weather outside, so I won’t hit the trails. I hate shopping. I am in no place to talk to any of my friends who would love to listen.  So this is my default.  Sitting with the quiet buzz of grown-ups around me as I drink hot drinks without fear of little hands. I am calm, but it isn’t the watching a sunrise kind of calm, it’s the dumbfounded what just happened? calm when you can’t even gather the energy to shake it off and move on.

Our lives are hectic even on most good days. The last few weeks of my job have been intense.  All three of my kids have been sick  in an alternating and overlapping fashion for three to four weeks.    Hubby and I have not been sleeping enough because when kids are sick there is always overnight assistance needed, on top of late evenings and early mornings.  For the last three days, I had been home with sick kids, trying to work, and hanging on tightly to the tiny sliver of candle I have been torching at both ends for too long.  Yesterday, the candle just disappeared altogether.

You’ve been there, right?  This isn’t just me?  Absolutely no gas left in the tank but no choice but to move forward.  I got Bean to the bus on time.  I fed my daughters.  We played,  we cuddled, we did all of the things we normally do.  But I was on autopilot.  I was letting two toddlers run the show, and thankfully they had no idea.  I desperately looked forward to their nap time so I could just catch a few minutes of rest.  But then they didn’t nap. They jumped and squealed and had a grand old time, and I laid on the couch with a blanket over my head, wanting to drown out the noise but knowing that I had to keep listening for the sounds of danger.  By the time I gave in and got them up, all patience, all creativity, all selfless powers of motherhood were gone.  I was physically there but that was it.  I muddled through until hubby got home.  I ensured safety but gave no more.  I only talked when necessary.  I was a broken mess.  Once the kids were in bed I stared at the tv in silence while hubby avoided me. At some point I gave up and mercifully ended the day, passing out within seconds once I went to bed.

So right now I am out of the house and recovering because I have a very understanding partner who is living through the same events and has kept it together.  We seem to balance our breakdowns, a yin and yang of crazy if you will.   Today it is my turn, and another time it will be his.  Perfect parents with stars on their report cards aren’t the only ones who earn perks like a few hours to think in solitude.  We all need a break, and the helpers who can and do provide that break are extraordinary heroes.  Every day with kids is a new adventure.  After a few hours to myself, I’ll be better prepared to jump back in and not only tackle, but enjoy, the next round.

 

 

A fond farewell to the woman who wore my wedding dress

For almost 13 years I have been indecisive about what to do with my wedding dress.  I didn’t really want to keep it at first.  I was six years away from being a mom. The thought of paying the kind of money it takes to correctly store that sort of thing for someone who may or may not exist, and then may or may not want it, was silly.  But I couldn’t bear to get rid of it, either.

Today is a totally different situation, but the feelings are the same.  I’m a mom, I have daughters, and I still can’t bear to get rid of the dress even though I hate the amount of money it takes to clean and store. But I finally made the move, and took the dress this morning from the back of Goose and Bear’s closet and handed it over to a perfectly helpful dry cleaner who specializes in this sort of thing.

I guess the process of finally completing this task after so many years was a bigger deal than I realized, because I found myself in a daydream of memories on the way home.  The woman who wore that dress and somehow managed not to spill anything on it anywhere, a feat I currently fail to accomplish ever, feels like an alternate reality version of me.  I remember the day, I remember our life then. But it almost doesn’t feel like mine.  Everything was new, exciting, and simpler, even though mid-20’s me might not have agreed.  We spent a lot of time planning and looking towards the future, the constant “once we get THIS (house, better job, kids, yard, dog, etc.) then we will be able to relax and enjoy” mentality.  I regret that we wasted that simpler time stressing about the future.  But we did.

It is a bizarre feeling to realize that the life I am in today is the one I had spent so much time looking towards from the other side.  I am currently living “THIS”; we have the house, the better jobs, the kids, the yard.  (We had the dog for almost 11 years, who sadly died when my toddlers were babies, and we aren’t quite ready to start that again). But I’m in it, I’m the me I was always planning towards.  Have I lived up to expectations?  I don’t know, that’s probably a whole other blog series.  But whatever I am, I’m living and not just hoping and planning.

IMG_20160312_143634470As for the dress, I didn’t try it on.  I know that three-kids me had no chance of zipping up a dress that wedding-day me wore perfectly.  Strange as it may sound, though, I had to touch it again.  It honestly looked a little foreign once I pulled it out of the closet and studied it for a few minutes under the plastic cover.  It’s a far cry from yoga pants and a 10-year-old fun run t-shirt with a reminder of someone’s breakfast on the sleeve.

But once I felt the fabric again, somehow that  touch assured me that dress was mine, and it was me who wore it and me who existed in such a different time of life.   I just hope that one of my kids decides to use some part of that dress so I didn’t spend the money just to have a really expensive epiphany.

Love in the Time of Mashed Bananas

I’ve been scanning few articles lately about marriage.  This time of year it is a popular editorial and blog topic with so many newlyweds back from their summer honeymoons.  Articles about what it takes to have a happy marriage, to stay together, to not get bored, to fight less, to love more, to make it through rough times, to be a team during parenting, etc. etc. etc.  I have a few years of marriage under my belt now, so I can look at those and laugh, scoff, agree, shake my fist, and have a bit of confidence that I know a thing or two.  There is no one answer that works for every couple for anything, no matter how many lists try to tell you otherwise.  One thing that all of those articles have in common, though, is that none of them mentioned ice bullets.

My husband and I have three kids.  A five-year-old son and twin eight-month-old daughters.  We have full-time jobs.  Right now, there is not much life outside of those two topics. Our time together is spent juggling children and everything that goes with them.  During this season of life there is no time or money for dates, presents, vacations, clothes without spit-up or conversations longer than three sentences.   If I’m being honest, marital health is pretty low on the list of things either of us think about on a regular day (as far as I can tell, anyway).  But it is vital for us to remember each other every now and again, even if it is in the middle of a three-ring-circus.

Our ice-maker in the freezer sprung a leak a few weeks ago, so the hose was disconnected until it could be replaced.  Suddenly it was June and summer and no ice.  Sure, the fridge keeps beverages cold enough, but sometimes in the summer I just really like ice in my drinks.  (why didn’t we just use old-fashioned ice trays, you ask?  because we got rid of them long ago.  who needs ice trays when you have an ice-maker in your freezer?)  So every couple of days I would mention how much I missed ice.  Then my husband would mention that it would be an easy fix, he just needed the time to get to the store to buy it and fix it.  Repeat. Time is in short supply, and we still don’t have ice.

Yesterday I was prepping all of the supplies needed to batch cook and puree baby food.  We have special trays for freezing the food in small portions, and I looked all over the kitchen without finding the one I needed.  After I yelled into the general vicinity of baby shrieking and toy crashing to inquire if he knew where it was, he walked in with a sheepish grin and said that he was trying to do something nice for me, but I had spoiled the surprise.  I was in the middle of work-mode and completely taken aback that he was talking about nice surprises when I just needed a baby food tray.  He pulled the tray out of the freezer full of mostly-solid, glorious ice chunks in what looked like over-sized bullets from the shape of the holders.  That seemingly mundane act of freezing water, in this time of our lives, held the equivalent weight of a dozen roses and a romantic dinner out.

So, bloggers, journalists, and women’s magazine headline-writers, there’s your next scoop.  How do you show affection to your spouse when you haven’t slept past 5:30 am or eaten hot food for dinner in the past year?  Listen for the little things.  And ice cubes.

Keeping it simple

A handful of my mom-friends have spouses that travel regularly for work.   There are a multitude of single parents out there who always take care of their kids on their own.  I have nothing but the utmost respect and awe for all of them, because, on the rare occasions that my husband is out of town for a few days, it gets challenging around here.  One positive thing for me, though, about solo parenting for a brief amount of time is that I allow myself to shut off the angry gnome and the to-do list, pretty much because there is no choice.  So even though it might appear to be hectic, it actually kind of calms down for me mentally.  But during this last week, while hubby was away, I began to consider the simple things in my life that would disappear if I had to parent on my own for longer than a few days.

  • Clothes without wrinkles.  This requires getting laundry out of the dryer, folding, and hanging as soon as it is done.  That rarely happens even with help.
  • Meals made with more than four ingredients.  I barely even wanted to bother with cooking fresh vegetables, which adds two minutes to the cooking routine.
  • Sleeping more than 5-6 hours a night.  Again, I find that challenging as it is, and it would only get worse.
  • Gardening, weeding, watering, pretty much anything that requires regularly tending to the nature outside of this house.
  • Watching tv that is not animated.
  • Shopping for myself.  Internet all the way.  Maybe it fits, maybe it doesn’t.
  • Printing the pictures I take.  No chance.
  • Keeping plants alive.  What’s the problem, I just watered you last month?
  • Feeling relaxed.  Ever.

To all of you who do this on a daily basis and do it so well, many, many kudos to you.  Hubby, I appreciate all that you contribute to this organization and would like you to consider signing another long-term contract. You don’t need any vacation time, though, right?

More than enough

I have reached my limit before.  In many ways, at many different times in my life, I’ve hit that point where it was very clear to me that whatever my limit was, I had found it.  I am confident it’s not the best way to handle it, but it takes that point of explosion before I am able to finally hand over the controls.  This time, the limit reached was in regards to too many things.  Obligations, commitments, chores, tasks, work, hobbies, all of it.  It has been a frequent pattern of mine.  I say yes, I plan more, I underestimate the amount of rest I need, and it all goes great until it doesn’t.

The past few weeks have brought some changes.  Work has gotten busier and later, time has decreased, stress has gone up, balls have been dropped.  Never in my life have I just completely forgotten plans that had been made.  I might confuse dates, times, need to look at the calendar a few extra times, cancel on short notice, but never just forgotten.  Until I did.  That was the limit this time around.  A kick-to-the-gut announcement that this just can’t continue.  So I started making changes.  Things that I wouldn’t even consider discontinuing a few days prior were suddenly the things that had to go.

I heard a story a few weeks ago about an Olympic athlete and the after-training recovery he endures.  Rather than ice packs or ice baths to soothe muscles and joints, he goes into some kind of cryofreeze chamber.  For 30 seconds, it gets so cold that the body abandons all hope for the limbs and pulls all the blood flow into the core.   When he comes out of the chamber, the blood that rushes back into the limbs has gone through a filtering process that has removed much of the lactic acid that causes soreness and swelling, etc.  I think it sounds absolutely crazy, but I like the metaphor that it creates.  I am going through my own similar process.  My limbs are important to my body, just like many of these to-dos are important to who I am.  But in a crisis, those to-do’s need to be abandoned to take care of my core for a while.  And when I’m ready to start reaching out and getting back into some of those things, the energy I am able to put into them has increased ten-fold.

I am getting a lot of positive reinforcement that I am doing the right thing.  Have you ever had that experience where you hear something you’ve never heard before, and then all of the sudden it keeps coming up?  Ever since I decided to start pruning things, I’ve read blogs, seen pictures, heard stories, had discussions, all about exactly this topic.  And every decision I make to reduce the list makes me feel a little bit better.  I know I am doing what is right for me, as much as I wish I didn’t have to let some of those things go.

One of the blogs I read makes the amazing point that sometimes you have to get rid of some of the extraneous good things to make room to really enjoy the important good things.  That is a great explanation for myself of what I am trying to do.  I have been blessed more than I can ever understand with so many things.  Everything I am pulling back from is important to me somehow; I don’t want to let it go.  But if I can’t  truly be in the present and enjoying any one thing because I am focused on trying to juggle 50 things, then there doesn’t seem to be much point in doing any of them.

I am on the right track and feeling better.  The long-term challenge will be maintaining a lower level of stuff so that I can go through smaller cycles of building and pruning instead of hitting the wall and sliding downward.  I’m not ready for that challenge yet.  For now, I just have to focus on enjoying the important good things…

….and saying goodbye to some others.

For my boys

This blog is a lot about me.  Sure, there may be some anecdotes about you guys now and again, but the whole purpose of this blog is to celebrate me doing things I want to do.  I know you support this endeavor, but just in case there is every any confusion, let me set the record straight.

To my amazing husband:  You married the person I was almost nine years ago.  And yes, while I agree that I have become oh so much better with age, as have you, there still were a lot of things about nine-years-ago me that were awesome.  So I’m trying to get to a blend of them both, kind of a Me 2.0.  I know that you like this idea and want me to continue, but just to be clear, this is not an escape from anyone or anything.  You know that more than anyone, I suppose, because you are a part of, or right next to, all of the activities that I write about.  Assuming that you read them.  Sorry, just couldn’t resist that one.  A joke filled with love 🙂

To my beautiful son:  One day you might actually read this blog.  Such a strange thought today, but it won’t seem strange for long.  And you’ll probably read my Facebook posts too, because oh yes, I will be a friend, and I will know your password so that I can jump on in and check your stuff at any old time.  There will be SO many things you will see about you.  Some good, some frustrating, some funny, some sentimental.  And no matter how much I might talk about the challenge of parenting, there aren’t enough years on this planet to talk about the joys.  Please don’t think that any part of this whole me blog is any statement about wishing for a different lifestyle.  Knowing that you watch every single move I make and hear every word I say is the single most motivating thing for me wanting to better myself.  I want you to know who I am, not just as your Mom, but as a person, and I want us both to be proud of who that person is.

And then there is you, Hoosier.  Not to worry, you have not been forgotten, though I think we all know you spend a little more time watching and waiting for us than any of us would like.  You were the first baby of this family, albeit a fuzzy one, and even though you’re not quite the crazy pup you used to be, you’re still always going to be our first puppy.  As soon as this whole exercise topic improves, you will definitely benefit from that too, because there’s a big world out there with all kinds of paths to be sniffed.

Even without enough exercise, time to read, time to cook, etc etc, I am definitely a much better version of me than I was nine years ago.  That version didn’t have the three of you.  I had NO idea what was coming.  Wonder what the eight-years-in-the-future version of me has in store?