Our First Week with Lauren

I’ll circle back to Lauren’s birth story and hospital stay soon, but I wanted to write up a little bit about the last week while it’s still fresh and new in my mind.  I know from experience that the details will blur together with the passage of time and the decrease in consistent sleep and I don’t want to lose them forever.

Lauren made her appearance early last Saturday morning, and we headed home from the hospital as early as we could on Sunday morning.  As soon as I walked in the door of our home with her, she was the star of the show and has been ever since. All of her siblings are constantly honing in on her wherever she is in the house.  They want to be close to her, to watch her sleep and stretch, to hear her elephanty noises and tiny sighs.  They gaze at her admiringly, note new expressions and cheer when she holds their fingers. They seem to sense how fleeting these early days are and my heart’s happy when I see them soak her in.  Spending time with Lauren is as close as any of us can get to heaven right now.

Who She Is

The more I get to know my kiddos as they’ve grown, the more I realize they truly came to our family whole and completely themselves. The same personality they had as babies generally persists into toddlerhood and beyond.  (One notable exception is Josie who screamed for her first year and then totally mellowed out. I’m still not sure what happened there… )

So it’s with a lot of interest that I watch Lauren and imagine what the coming years will bring. So far, she is a people person.  She will completely relax when she’s got human contact, and fuss when she thinks she’s alone.  She’s a generally calm kiddo who will just be awake and watchful when she’s not sleeping.  She’s quick to smile when she’s dozing and hears me talk to her or hears a sibling laugh.

She’s got one adorable dimple that I discovered several days after she was born.

Sleep!

There are few more important topics when you have a newborn in the house.  Lauren was tricky in the hospital because she kept spitting up and choking on colostrum, which would wake us both up in a panic.  But since she’s been home she’s rarely spit up and seems to spend 2 blocks of time between feedings each day awake and the rest of her time pretty much sleeping soundly.  Since she gained nearly a pound between discharge and her doctor’s mid-week checkup, I decided to let her stretch out her nighttime feedings. She’s waking up once in 8 or 9 hours, nursing and going back to bed.  So basically she’s doing 4 and 5 hour stretches at night (2.5 to 3 during the day) and I’m loving it while it lasts.

My Recovery

Of course the sleep is helping lots, but I feel like my recovery has been a bit more challenging than with the last couple of babies.  It took me a good four days to stop feeling weak and dizzy, and I’m still not back to my normal energy level.  I had lots of fatigue during this pregnancy before I started supplementing with iron, and I wonder if blood loss at delivery played a role.

I am doing a better job this time taking it easy but part of that feels mandatory rather than precautionary.  I have no stitches or birth complications to deal with, and engorgement lasted just a couple of days, but I’m still choosing rest rather than joining the rest of the family on excursions and activities.  My dad took the kids on romps in the woods, to Enchanted Forest and to the Space and Aviation museum, and I happily waved them on their way and took some naps while they were gone.

I suspect the biggest difference was I was much less fit going into this labor than I have been in the past.

Curveballs

Our washing machine drain hose popped out on Monday night and flooded our laundry room, pouring dirty water down through our ceiling into our Great Room.  We have a drain pan and drain installed under the washing machine but a good amount of liquid missed the pan so we had quite a clean up job .  Miraculously, all dried out just fine and a few days later the washing machine was back in working order with a more secure drain hose.

Also, Josie, who has to this point been the world’s easiest two year old, has decided this week that she is going to make up for lost time and cause some toddler mayhem.  It’s really minor compared to what we’ve had from her older siblings at this age, but it caught us off guard because it’s so out of character for her.  The first time she threw herself on the ground and wept and whined, we just sort of looked at each other and blinked.  A tantrum? What?

Comings and Goings

Scott’s sister and nephew came down for a visit Saturday and Sunday and it was perfect timing to meet Lauren and spoil our older kids with attention.  My dad stayed through Thursday, and my sister-in-law Meghan is coming out tomorrow with her sisters for a quick stopover.  The weekend before Lauren arrived we had Scott’s brother and his family stay for a couple of nights.  All this to say, we’re feeling loved despite living in a different state from both of our families, and we’re also feeling grateful we included a guest bedroom in our house plan.

Siblings

This time has been so sweet for my kids. I’ve seen each of them bond with Lauren in their own way.

They’ve also had lots of time to just hang out with each other with less supervision/oversight/interference from me.

These kids were Bean burritos and were patiently waited for me to come out of my room after I laid Lauren down for a nap:

And this was the scene that awaited me outside my bedroom door after one of her feedings:

My kids always love looking through our blog books and reading about the funny things they said or the adventures our family has had together. But after the birth of a baby I think they’re especially drawn to these books. They want to hear their birth stories, read how excited we were to welcome them into the family, and see how much they’ve grown.

In Summary

This is my view from my chair in the morning when I feed Lauren and it’s pretty much how I feel about life right now.  Building a house was hard in many ways, as was this pregnancy, but both were tremendously positive and privileged events in my life as well. It’s nice to pause, catch my breath and appreciate this new chapter:

This last photo just turned up on my phone one day. 🙂

Lauren has quite a life ahead of her in this family!

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Ahem.

I feel as though there’s been an awkward silence on this blog, even though I know it’s largely one-sided.  I don’t think even my mom checks it anymore!

Here I am, though, clearing my throat and jumping back in.  Rather than attempting to play catch-up in this space, I’m going to lay the current state of things at our house as a foundation for future posts.

I’m pregnant with our fifth child.

I’m not just a little pregnant, either.  I’m this pregnant:

That’s actually a super flattering picture compared to how large I feel right now. But I sent it to my mom and she said my belly was “ginormous” so perhaps the picture is not so far off after all.  That picture was taken at a few days ago and I’m now 39 weeks pregnant.

When I was 39 weeks pregnant with Caitlyn (my 2nd child), she arrived!  Here I am walking to the hospital to have her:  .

As I type this, I’m currently wearing that same purple shirt, the same jeans, and my hair is in the same bun.  (My maternity wardrobe options shrink considerably near the end of pregnancy.) . The little girl with the velcro shoes now looks like this, though:

We don’t yet know if this baby is a boy or a girl, and we don’t even have names picked out yet so I’m hoping the baby stays put at least a week or so more!

One wonderful thing about having a bigger family is that the older siblings get to anticipate the birth right along with me and Scott.  They are all so excited to meet this new Bean, with the possible exception of Josie (2).  Josie would like the baby to stay in my belly. 🙂  For the rest of us, it’s a waiting game at this point.

We moved into our new house 7 weeks ago.

The last time I mentioned building, I thought we’d be moving in February.  It turned out to be 3 stressful months later than that, during which time I was so sick in my pregnancy that Scott had to take point on house building stuff for us (as well as pick up the balls I was constantly dropping).  Now that we’re mostly settled, though, the endless stream of decisions has slowed down considerably and the thought we put into design over the past two years is really paying off in daily living.  I am in disbelief we get to live here!

There are still some rough spots to smooth out … (notice the grout around the sink in my belly shot above doesn’t match the wainscoting? Yeah, that’s the wrong color and the tile guys are coming back out to fix their error.)… and gaps to fill in (No couches yet! Can I offer you a folding chair?) . We sort of rushed the move-in process trusting our builder would finish up the odds and ends after we were living here. That’s meant we still have sub-contractors here regularly, but it’s also given us time to settle in before our baby arrives.

I’m hesitant to post many pictures here and I’m not totally sure why.  Maybe because it feels like bragging? We lived in far more modest apartments/houses for the first 14 years of our marriage and this new house feels totally fancy pants to me!  Granted, we aren’t pretentious people and didn’t choose things that *look* fancy, but the nature of a custom home is that you have the privilege of choosing everything and that’s pretty amazingly privileged.  I’m really happy with how things came together, though, and most especially with how the spaces are being used just how we imagined.

Here’s Mackenzie in the music room (where I can see her and hear that she’s playing but the sound doesn’t dominate the whole house):

We’ll eventually put a chair or love seat in there for listening, but Josie went ahead and dragged a big pillow to that same spot to do just that in the meantime! There’s a built-in bookcase to store piano books in that room and great light and views out two sides so it draws us all in to play.

We started a new homeschool year.

We homeschool year round with regular breaks, like so:

We start up mid-July with “Daddy dates” for each kiddo and fresh books and routines.  Then we do formal learning 4 days/week and generally take a break week every 7th week, plus extra breaks for Christmas, Easter, trips, etc.  That means about 36 weeks of school (6 6-week terms) finishes up at the end of May and we take June as a “Bonus Month” where we study something different as a family. (Last month we read through Around the World in 80 Days and mapped Phileas Fogg’s journey as we went.)  The first two weeks of July are off and away we go again.  This rhythm works really well for our family.

Last year we had so many interruptions with building the house and my pregnancy that we probably averaged 2 days of a school a week (plus we attended a co-op 1/week).  I was really grateful to see that so many of our educational goals still moved forward despite my inconsistency.  Our kids still adore reading, had much more time for creative play and hobbies, and ultimately learned a lot that wasn’t part of any plan.  All that said, however, I’m really looking forward to more routine this year and I know my kids are as well.  It was frustrating for Mackenzie in particular to feel like she couldn’t get any traction with piano and Latin because they both require consistency.

We switched up a lot of our curriculum for this new year, and I get more and more comfortable every year with choosing an approach that fits our family.

Here’s what happens when Mama is too busy packing to do school:

Right now our school day looks like this:

  • Classical music to wake up in the morning (Bach, then Handel, then Vivaldi this year), then family scriptures and prayer.
  • Memory work at the breakfast table (scripture, poetry, Shakespeare).
  • Math/Audiobooks/piano rotation.  I work with one child on math while another listens to an audiobook, then we switch.  I teach two kids piano then they each practice individually while the other does handwriting. My oldest adds Latin to her morning as well. Then play time for all.
    • Math is Beast Academy for 2 kids and Singapore Mathematics for one.
    • Audiobooks are mainly chosen from Ambleside Online’s recommendations (currently Kim, Princess and the Goblin and Pinocchio, for ages 10, 7, and 5).
    • Piano is my own mix of Hoffman Academy and Suzuki.  I’d like to get Mackenzie a legit piano teacher but haven’t yet committed to weekly formal lessons and practice.
  • Family school: Science or history, depending on the day. *The Good and the Beautiful for both subjects.
  • Play until lunch.
  • Lunch loop: I read to the kids while they eat and we loop between composer, history, science, character, or whatever else I throw in there!
  • Language Arts: Each child has a course book and assigned reading. My two oldest also have memory work, spelling, and some time spent on “keeping”. I rotate between kids so I can help each one with the parts that need me.
    • Language Arts course books are from The Good and the Beautiful and include grammar, literature, art, and geography.
    • Assigned Reading comes from Ambleside Online’s recommendation and loops each child through great biographies, nature novels, etc.
    • Spelling consists of a 1/week test from Spelling Power to find 5 words the child doesn’t currently know. Then they spend the other 3 days practicing those words using a Spelling Box (writing the words in morse code, watercolor painting the words, using scrabble tiles, etc.).  I spend ~12 weeks during the year teaching my kids from Logic of English so they get a grounding in phonograms and spelling rules.  The rest of the time is word lists as described.
    • “Keeping” is a way of typing or writing something they’ve learned, observed, or are thinking about. They can choose between a nature journal, gratitude journal, written narration about a reading, timeline entry, note to a friend or relative, etc.
    • Memory Work is grammar or geography depending on the day, and my oldest two work together on this.

A school day lasts from 9am to 3 or 4pm but includes 2-3 hours of play/lunch/chore time in there depending on the age of the child.

A lot of our curriculum came from The Good and The Beautiful this year and it’s far more “open and go” than anything I’ve used in the past.  I’m loving the independence it gives my two oldest because it’ll enable us to be much more consistent even when I’m busy feeding a baby!

We’re doing cool things that I always wanted to do but rarely “found time” for previously, just because they’re laid out nicely instead of relying on me to come up with them!

Here we’re learning about bones in the human body:

 

We still memorize several dozen names of bones and dive into bone marrow and blood cell formation (because I am who I am) but we all enjoy it more because we get to play with playdough and make floppy boneless people then add crayons for structure.

Here Mackenzie’s reading in her course book mentioned illuminated manuscripts and so during her Language Arts time, she sat on the porch and came up with her own beautiful initial letter:

I’ve been fairly anti-workbook in the past but honestly, I feel like what she’s doing in her TG&TB coursebook is generally very worthwhile.  Plus, it’s such a win to be able to work with a different child while she’s doing it.

We are not doing a co-op this year but we are doing an online charter school, which basically means testing, weekly accountability, and funds to purchase curriculum with.

This is often what recess looks like lately (as viewed through our kitchen window):

Biking in our unlandscaped backyard, occasionally with a book in hand.

We are still fans of travel. 

Last week we took off on a last-minute road trip to Victoria and pretty much played every day by ear.  We had lots of picnics in beautiful places, saw amazing bugs at the Bug Zoo, a great fireworks show, baby peacocks in the park, and explored the ferry boat with each crossing.

Earlier this year we also spent a week in Chicago with great friends, took a trip to Utah for my mother-in-law’s wedding(!) and even had a glorious date week in New Orleans for my childhood friend’s wedding.  (No wonder homeschooling took a backseat. Yeesh!)

Without fail, it takes us much longer to get out the door for a trip than I think it will and at least a week to get back into the swing of things when we come back home, but I’m always glad we make it happen. As the shirt Scott bought me says, “The diem ain’t going to carpe itself.”

We are still heavy users of the library.

Even when the rest of life seems crazy, you can count on us having 50+ books checked out at all times.

Fortunately, lots of readers means lots of helpers at the book return.  Ever wonder why they have three slots when only one car can go through at a time?  It’s because some people have to use all three at once.  Ahem.

Also fortunately, our library does “Food for Fines,” which allows us to turn a shameful amount of overdue fines into a warm fuzzy feeling as we feed the hungry.  Ha! You can measure how crazy my life has been by the status of my library fines.  Typically I accumulate just a few dollars here and there, but this year even Scott lifted an eyebrow at the number of cans required to wipe our slates clean.

Scott is still my very favorite.

Speaking of Scott, there’s no one on this planet better for me than that man.  He makes me laugh every single day.  These past six months have been rough for me physically, mentally and socially and he’s picked up the slack, encouraged me, provided much-needed perspective, and just made life sweeter.

He’s game for my crazy ideas. Here he soberly doling out our celebratory family root beer when we finally moved out of our rental:

He’s brave.  Check out this guy who abhors spiders, laying it down at the Bug Zoo to the delight of his kids:

He’s silly.  The kids kept bringing him wildflowers and he almost ran out of places to put them.

He’s an excellent doctor.  And did I mention he makes me laugh?

Of course it doesn’t hurt that he’s the father of my children, either.  These kids never smile for the camera at the same time, but other than that they’re absolutely perfect. 🙂

Posted in Life as we know it, Pregnancy, Trips | 9 Comments

Teaching Resilience

I’ve noticed a pattern as I talk to adults who interact with teenagers and young adults in the current generation.  I hear over and over again that kids are more fragile.  They lack resilience and the coping skills that are so necessary for handling the vicissitudes of life.

So, these are things we hope to foster in our home.  Here are some ways we do it, many gleaned from observing other parents I admire. I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments, especially since our oldest is 10 and we can’t see around the corner to how things will play out as our kids hit their teenage years and beyond.

 

1. Life is not always fair at our house. Or equal. 

If there’s one cookie left, I don’t split it in 4 equal pieces for each of my kids. I just hand it to a random child.  A similar scenario presents itself in a hundred different ways.  I typically don’t make an effort to equalize things or soften the rough stuff that comes my kids’ way. When a child whines about things not being the fair, or it being their turn, or whatever, I just matter-of-factly remind them life isn’t equal for everyone (and I have them run a lap).  Good things come to all of us in different ways and at different times, and we can be happy for other people and see the good in our own situation.

2. We have a resiliency playlist, of sorts

We all love The Piano Guys, and the song “It’s Gonna Be Okay” is one of our favorites. But it wasn’t until I was having a hard day a few months ago and my oldest queued up that song for me and it brought a smile to my face that I realized it has definitely become part of our family culture.  We just dig it and the message is awesome. I notice sometimes a sibling will just hum it to remind their brother or sister that things will work out.

Another one we like is Alex Boye’s Lemonade.  This one isn’t so much for when someone is already having a rough time, it’s just a good mindset song to throw in our regular listening.

We have one child in particular who tends to get really down when she’s down.  She can just absolutely crash and burn after a pretty spectacular display of anguish and/or rage, which is hard to recover from, especially in a social situation.  Well, we’ve got a song for that.  When I can tell she’s had her cry and is ready to get back on the horse with a little encouragement, I’ll sometimes throw on this song to nudge her in the right direction and make her smile: Danny Gokey’s The Comeback . It shifts the focus to the triumph of a comeback rather than the embarrassment of the initial failure.  The chorus is so catchy, it just takes me saying “oh oh woah oh” and she knows just what I think she’s capable of.

3. Ditto for movies.

So far, the only one that comes to mind is, “Why do we fall, Bruce?” from Batman.  Watching that clip on YouTube burned something into my kids’ brains and they love quoting back the butler’s response to Bruce’s question: “You still haven’t given up on me?”

“Nevah!”

 

I’m sure other movies will be added as we go. 🙂

4. Poems

One of my favorite we’ve memorized as a family is Equipment by Edgar A. Guest.  Everyone knows what “get hold of yourself” means around here and sometimes it’s just the encouragement we need to start moving in the right direction.  When we learned it, we thumped a fist over our hearts for “courage must come from the soul within” and a raised fist means “the man must furnish the will to win” and those are winners as well that come to mind when someone feels like giving up.

EQUIPMENT

Figure it out for yourself, my lad,
You’ve all that the greatest of men have had,
Two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes,
And a brain to use if you would be wise.
With this equipment they all began,
So start for the top and say “I can.”

Look them over, the wise and great,
They take their food from a common plate
And similar knives and forks they use,
With similar laces they tie their shoes,
The world considers them brave and smart.
But you’ve all they had when they made their start.

You can triumph and come to skill,
You can be great if only you will,
You’re well equipped for what fight you choose,
You have legs and arms and a brain to use,
And the man who has risen, great deeds to do
Began his life with no more than you.

You are the handicap you must face,
You are the one who must choose your place,
You must say where you want to go.
How much you will study the truth to know,
God has equipped you for life, But He
Lets you decide what you want to be.

Courage must come from the soul within,
The man must furnish the will to win,
So figure it out for yourself, my lad,
You were born with all that the great have had,
With your equipment they all began.
Get hold of yourself, and say: “I can.”

5. Quotes

Thomas Edison is a gold mine.  Here’s one we’ve learned:

“I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

but there are a dozen more here that are salient and might grab you.

Teddy Roosevelt took the cake with this one:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. “

I reminded my 7 year old (and myself) of that gem on Thanksgiving this year when she came out to run a mile with my older daughter and I and she really struggled.  She hadn’t run that far in a while and was discouraged and pretty whiney about it.  She dragged and walked and complained. When we got back to the house, after taking a deep breath and letting my frustration go, I looked her at the eye and asked how many of the dozens of aunts, uncles and cousins in the house had gone out to do something hard on that cold morning.  “You were actually in the arena, Babe.  You can be proud of that.”  And she was.

Henry Ford? “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

And this one from the Old Testament in the Bible has had a profound effect on me and my own ability to keep my chin up when things are rough:

Psalm 118:24 “This is the day which the Lord hath made. [I] will rejoice and be glad in it.”

6. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

I have a kiddo who struggles (struggled?) with anxiety and we’ve made huge progress with her through reading David Burns’ books on depression and anxiety because he talks about cognitive distortion, what he refers to as Stinkin’ Thinkin’.  Since we’ve learned to recognize those distortions and challenge them, we’ve been able to educate our daughter on the same tools and it’s helped all of us to get unstuck when we experience a downward spiral of negative thoughts.

There’s a good summary of these here, but here’s one example:

I listen for words like “always,” “never,” and “should” and try to rephrase.

“I always forget to do my job after lunch.  I never get to go outside and play” is more accurately and helpfully stated as, “Today I forgot to do my job after lunch, but every day is a new chance.”

“I should be able to get out the door on time by now. I’m an adult, for crying out loud.”  That’s discouraging, and who says that’s true? “I would like to improve at getting out the door. It’s obviously not a strength yet.”

Simple changes in thinking lead to a dramatic change in attitude and emotion.

7. Value guts over perfection.

“Beans do hard things” is something you’ll hear at our house often, most often out of the mouths of our kids.

Sometimes it’s said with a rueful smile as we pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off after trying something outside of our current abilities.

It brings to mind this excerpt from President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech about going to the moon: “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills…”

If failure in our house is met with a hand up and a clap on the back because we truly believe in daring greatly, then we won’t choose the easy thing.  We’ll get in the arena and stay there even when the going gets tough.

I want our home to be a safe place to land and I try to give myself that same gift. I try not to expect perfection from myself or from my kids*.  I fail at something or other every single day and I don’t try to hide that from my kids, instead I try to model failing with grace.

Caitlyn-tree

Sprinkle ’em in.

That all reads as a bit heavy-handed, but they’re just woven into other things we learn and do together. I honestly only recognized they all pointed towards greater resiliency when I was having a really rough time recently dealing with sickness and discouragement and over the course of the tough month all three of my oldest kids encouraged me with the things listed above (and more!) and I realized that they had been accumulating tools to deal with challenges.  They knew how to dig deep, how to get in a better frame of mind, and how to encourage somehow else who was struggling.  It was humbling but pretty awesome to see.

*Keeping it real: This is actually one of the biggest challenges of my life. In my heart I don’t expect perfection because that would be silly, but my words and tone sometimes disagree and it’s difficult to make sure I’m showing my heart to my kids.  My goal is to have high expectations but to love and encourage no matter what.  I play this song for my kids and twirl them around the room sometimes just to remind us all how I feel about them and how they can feel about themselves:

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Shakespeare and Dishes – Staying Sharp as a Stay-at-Home Mom Part 2

I wrote previously about why stay-at-home moms end up with mush for brains, and a list of 7 ways I try to stay sharp. What follows is the rest of the list.  Add yours in the comments, please!

I intended to publish it earlier but I’m glad I waited because thanks to a blog comment I received today, I can post the real quote that inspired this series. Thanks, Dianna!:

“I enjoy doing housework, ironing, washing, cooking, dishwashing. Whenever I get one of those questionnaires and they ask what is your profession, I always put down housewife. It’s an admirable profession, why apologize for it. You aren’t stupid because you’re a housewife. When you’re stirring the jam you can read Shakespeare.”
– Tasha Tudor

8)  I limit “filler.”

This overlaps with my previous post on infobesity , but specifically for stay-at-home mothers I think we only have so much room in our brain and filling it up with what our friends ate for lunch (I’m looking at you, Facebook), means we have less room for truly enriching thoughts.  I have an app on my phone (Moment) that monitors “pickups” for my phone during the day.  I try to minimize the knee-jerk reaction to grab my phone in idle moments.

9) I regularly clean out my brain.

There are also many legitimately important things that still don’t need to be taking up brain space.

I’m a big fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach to productivity.  I used the Mind Organization for Moms implementation of it years ago (woah, the price has gone up x4 since then!) and it made a huge difference in my ability to think clearly and enjoy the moment I’m in.  Lately, for a shot in the arm, I’ve been going through Simplified Organization, which applies similar principles (and is now a similar price. I must be an early adopter or something?). That last link has a free brain dump available right on the home page, which should give you a taste for all the stuff that’s currently taking up brain space. It was a *shocking* amount the first time I did it!

Basically the idea is that your brain should be used for grappling with ideas and savoring life and not as a calendar or a list of reminders.  Anything that can be captured in a reliable system (usually lists and a calendar either on paper or digitally) should be off your brain. Then you review things regularly so that you learn to trust the system.  “Buy more oats” shouldn’t be knocking about in your head, and neither should “someday I want to look into violin lessons for my son.”  One should go on your Errands/Shopping List and the other on your Someday List or Incubation List.  The lists have a home and you review them at regular intervals.  That frees up your mind to dwell on things that are more consequential and/or delightful.
planner and lists

Even though I’ve followed this system for ~7 years, I find myself having to continually direct myself back to using it because my instinct is to still try to remember stuff. When I catch myself trying to hold too much in my head, I do a Brain Dump. The more closely I adhere to this system, the easier it is and the freer I feel.

10) I homeschool.

It’s not for everyone but I’d remiss if I left this gem out.  I have learned so much by teaching my children and it’s an ideal overlap of roles.  I get to follow all kinds of neat rabbit trails from everything from astronomy to English history.

Yes, I will be teaching core skills like multiplication four times over, but since each kid is different it’s a new and different challenge each time.

Also, because every education has gaps I have the liberty of allowing my various kids *different* gaps so I get to deep-end on different topics in different years without ever flirting with boredom. For example, my oldest and I learned Latin together and I’m learning lots about English and Spanish grammar because there’s so much carryover.  My second learner has a serious interest in fairy tales and folklore and there’s so much truth woven into the stories that are told and re-told that I’m finding it fascinating as well.

If you don’t homeschool, there’s nothing to stop you from sharing some of your kids’ educational journey. If they’re learning about the American Revolution, pick up 1776 by David McCullough or read a biography on Hamilton (and see the show!)

I couldn’t figure out how to play waterglasses when we were learning about frequency, but my daughter was a natural.

11) I make a plan to learn about things that interest me.

I consider this part of our homeschool but I would do it anyway because I love it.  Basically I pick something that interests me and then I work it into our everyday life as I learn more about it.

Example: Classical music.  I’ve always enjoyed a good classical music concert but I never knew much about specific composers or terms like “concerto” vs. “symphony.”  I decided to change that.   Here’s what we’ve been doing for the last several years:

Every three months or so, I pick a different composer. (I often look at our local symphony’s season and pick something that’s coming up.)  I grab a greatest hits CD or compile my own playlist of iconic songs from that composer that are available in the public domain, then I wake up the kids with that music in the morning. Generally I spend a few weeks per song.  It sounds like this: “Good morning, Loves!  Here’s Dvorak’s New World Symphony.”  Sporadically sometime during the week we’ll catch a ~5 minute segment of Classics for Kids  , which gives biographical information about the composer, clarifies different terms, and gives snippets of pieces all in one beautiful, free, power punch.  Learning about classical music takes 10 minutes of preparation every 3 months, but other than that it’s just a bit of intentionality and consistency.

Again, and this is important:  I don’t do this because I feel like I “should” or because I want to give my kids an academic edge.  I do it because it’s interesting to me, and because when we sit down together in the theater for the live concert and our eyes all light up when we hear a familiar theme, it’s a magical shared moment I wouldn’t trade for anything.  If you don’t have any desire to learn about classical music, DON’T.  Well, maybe do anyway because it’s pretty fantastic. But in general my advice is to follow your own interests or you won’t get far. 🙂

The three of us squeezed into two seats in the concert hall when the pianist, Stephen Hough, took the stage. We wanted to see his hands and there wasn’t a view from the third seat. Blurry picture but awesome memory.

Another example:  Trees and flowers.  I enjoy being out in nature but I never grew up knowing the names of things and understanding the characteristics of different plants.  I decided to learn them so that when my kids and I go hiking or walking, I’ll notice and appreciate more.  I’m still not an expert by any means but just by picking up a few books and bringing home items to sketch or observe more closely from time to time, I’ve accumulated a small bank of knowledge I wouldn’t have otherwise, and along with it a whole lot of wonder.  Now, while my toddlers are taking an eternity to walk from point A to point B, I’m not (as) impatient because I’m looking closely at leaf shapes and the different kind of lichen on the trunks of trees.

Last example: Shakespeare!

I knew next to nothing about any of his plays, except the one Leonardo DiCaprio starred in a remake of when I was a teenager.

Yep.

But I knew I was missing out on something great so I picked an approachable play, one that I’d heard of.  (Anything that Bruce Coville has retold in picture book form is a great beginning).
– I read the picture book to my kids
– Then we listened to or read a more advanced retelling
– We memorized some lines from the play
– Then sought out a performance, a DVD from the library, or at least some YouTube clips so we could watch it being performed.

I picked just 3 plays a year, we spent a month or two dabbling in each play, 15-30 minutes once a week.  Again, small amounts of time add up! Several years later I’m pretty familiar with most of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. The characters and whit have enriched my life and led to some great shared experiences with my children as well.

It doesn’t have to be Shakespeare, of course! But it can be… anything you like.  Pursue any interest with diligence and the rewards will be rich.

I’ve seen my sister-in-law pick up cake decorating with gusto and her girls love to help her in the kitchen.  She knows more about the tools and science of perfect cakes than I ever will.

One of the best things my dad did for me as a parent was to get interested in what I was interested in.  He still does it even now for his adult kids and it’s magical.  As my kids are growing and developing their own interests, I try to notice and join them when I can (without drowning a budding desire with my sometimes over-eager homeschooler enthusiasm).

The first time my oldest showed interest in a lizard, I got a whole stack of books from the library.  Now, when my preschooler shows interest in a lizard outside, I just stop what I’m doing and enjoy looking at it with him and maybe try to catch it for him. 🙂

12) I seek out meaningful conversations and connections.

Confession: Small talk is not my favorite.  I am around the under 10 set all day and when I do have an adult conversation I much prefer talking about a book, a challenge, or an idea.  That means when my husband comes home at night, I bite my tongue when I feel like griping about how many diapers I changed that day.  It’s usually more helpful to me to bring up something I’ve been thinking about and get his take on it, or to ask him what happened in his day that made him think.

I love being a group talking about a book we’ve all read, or about our religion, or our mothering journey. I don’t like talking about shopping, sitcoms, or sports scores.  (It’s fine if you do, but just know yourself and know what keeps your synapses firing.)   The conversation doesn’t have to be high-brow.  I absolutely love laughing and crying and connecting with good friends, I just don’t like exchanging pleasantries and then going our own ways.  Given the choice, I’d prefer less frequent but more meaningful interactions.

My favorite people inspire me to be better.

13) I won’t stop reading to and with my kids as they get older.

I continue to share great books with my kids long past the age of nursery rhymes and Frog and Toad.  My oldest and I are reading Robinson Crusoe together currently.  Our whole family is enjoying the Fablehaven series before bed.  Learning together, laughing together, wondering together… those are precious moments with my kids and they can absolutely double up with reading books that personally interest me. I passed more than one book club book over to my daughter this year so she and I could talk about it as well.  If your kids are in school, you can read the books they’re assigned and finally enjoy them! (Some of my English teachers unfortunately sucked the life out of the assigned books, but re-reading them as an adult has been neat.)

I love this thought from a sermon in 1888 that seems even more pertinent today, as our kids are being raised in a deluge of social media within a selfie-centered culture:

“It is easier, no doubt, to talk about persons, because so many disagreeable remarks spontaneously occur to one. It is more difficult to talk about things and events, because this requires a certain amount of intelligence and reflection and information. If we are to talk of things, we must know something about them.” – Rev. A. W. Momerie 

I want that for my family culture, and I think sharing books will help us get there.

14) I regard mothering as a marathon, not a sprint.

Even I’m a little intimidated by this list and I see the simple, imperfect day-to-day implementation of it.

The truth is, though, that there have been many days as a mother when I’m too wiped out to read anything but Dr. Seuss.  (His books are easiest for me because I’ve read them so often I can read several with my eyes closed and catch a little rest at the same time. 🙂

Some weeks have been stomach flu weeks. Some months have been morning sick months.  I spent 7 years as a mother not learning about classical composers.  I’ve spent 30 years of my life knowing next to nothing about Shakespeare.  But motherhood isn’t a sprint and I don’t lose if I spend some time in survival mode or I spend every free minute napping with my newborn for a while.  Motherhood is a marathon.  The small things we do over time can add up to great things in the development of our character and our minds, but only if we resist discouragement and don’t count ourselves out.

It can be slow-going at first to develop an interest, almost like starting to run after a long time away from it.  The sensation of running through wet cement is one I’ve revisited again and again over the years. After I have a baby my body insists it was never fit and there’s no way my hips are going to line up properly again. My brain is a muscle, too, so I expect some push back when I’m trying to stretch it and do something that requires focus.

A quote I have tucked away in my head by Samuel Johnson says, “What we hope ever to do with ease we must first learn to do with diligence.” That’s true for running and it’s true for learning.

15) I view my children as an asset to learning, not as a liability.

I grew up in the heart of Silicon Valley where the character traits of creativity and curiosity are highly sought after.  They are cultivated in the best workplaces through artificial means (enforcing time for passion projects, bringing in outside ideas, granting extravagant cubicle decorating budgets, etc.).

In my workplace? Creativity and curiosity come with the territory.  Google and other forward-thinking companies are trying to recapture the lost arts that children come into this world fully equipped with.

My children are excellent noticers.  They frequently have striking insights that cut to the heart of what I thought was a complex matter.  They have a zillion zany ideas on any given day and I do my faltering best to learn from their example. If I’d write down and seek out answers for a fraction of the fascinating “why, Mama?” questions they ask, I’d never run out of things to think about.

My kids are in charge of spotting raccoons in trees.

In short, my goal is to let my kids rub off on me.

In a move that helps me as much as it helps them, I deliberately allow my kids to be bored. It’s usually a fleeting state of mind that serves to keep that creativity coming. For us that looks like fewer organized activities and little reliance on parents or screens for entertainment.  I also try to support their curiosity by saying ‘yes’ when they want to try stuff, hearing them out when they have ideas, and seeking out materials and resources to make their cool schemes come to pass. **Again, something I don’t do perfectly but I love it when I do!**

I called her ‘Silly Goose’ one too many times…

Even with really young kids, just getting down on their level and slowing down (or speeding up) to match their pace of life has been so eye-opening for me.  Their spontaneous delight and sense of awe is unmatched.

It was over 100 degrees outside and our air conditioning was out (along with lots of books and toys, apparently).  My daughter danced and twirled in front of the fan in complete and utter happiness. 

 

This sweet boy thought he had a pet spider for about an hour and then even after he realized it was just a bit of fluff, he was attached enough to it he took care of it anyway.  He named it ‘Billy’ and it was like Horton and the Whos at our house all afternoon.

The opportunity to see the world through the eyes of a child is a gift and I choose to relish it rather than resent it.

Deliberate mothers

Deliberate mothers are incredible to behold. I see it in so many women I admire: the strength and foresight and fierce dedication to their goal of raising a strong family.  Unfortunately I also frequently see a pervasive sense of insufficiency if they don’t simultaneously work outside the home.

But the truth is working outside the home doesn’t guarantee (or preclude) a full and beautiful life.  The backdrop of our life is less important than our outlook.

I once had a friend with six children tell me she wanted to go back to work as a secretary so she could do something “worthwhile” and “interesting.”  I was so surprised I didn’t know what to say.  Many mothers work because it’s a better fit for their situation but oh, may it not be because they think life at home isn’t worthwhile or interesting!

Posted in Deliberate Mothering, Life as we know it | 2 Comments

11 Things That Happened At Our House This Week

1.  I washed this boot in the washing machine.


Accidentally, of course. I’m no boot nitpick.  I just pulled out the load of sheets and there it was.

I’d like to think it looks noticeably cleaner now, but I may never know because I can’t find the other one to compare it to.  Maybe I should check the dishwasher…

2. We officially entered the stage of “no pens, pencils, crayons, or markers anywhere but the kitchen table. No exceptions.”  Josie is a budding artist but hasn’t figured out which medium she prefers: chairs, floors, walls, counters, blankets, scratch paper, or herself.  Any guesses which option I’m campaigning for?

3. Daniel is in a very physical stage where he wants to “boom” everyone he meets.  We’re working on keeping his hands to himself but he’s not above slashing his hands in the air to make his point.

I was walking the halls at Willamette University with my wiggly boy during Scott’s chorus dress rehearsal Friday night when a university student walked by and said, “Hi,” with a smile for Daniel.   Daniel responded with a fierce look and an air karate chop.  Without missing a beat, this stranger, this stellar example of a human being, clutched his chest, stumbled backwards and sprawled completely out backwards on the floor groaning, “You got me!”  I’m not sure who was more delighted, Daniel or I.  Then the student hopped back on his feet and headed on his way.

4. Scott threw out three of my socks. He thinks holey socks are a disgrace so when he spots one on my foot, he surreptitiously pulls it off and throws it in the trash.  I, on the other hand, think things “still have some life left” so I try to keep my feet out his reach.  Apparently I haven’t been vigilant enough lately.

5. We instituted a few new rules around here: “Whiners run” and “Get into it, get after it”.   

The first means if you whine or kvetch, you head outside and take a lap around the house.  I love it because it distances the kid from the situation, gives them fresh air and some perspective (especially if it’s chilly or raining outside). Whining has never been a fast track to get what you want, but now it’s more obviously a step in the wrong direction. We’ve had a lot less of it, and the kids are pretty agreeable about taking a lap.  Siblings will join in and they’ll often come back smiling.

“Get into it, get after it” means if you get into stuff on the counter or things you shouldn’t, you get after it with 5 pushups.  This is another winner!  It’s making my touchy kids more aware of what they’re doing with their hands. Previously there were unnecessary spills, items gone missing or broken because they’d just walk around messing with stuff.


If you look carefully you’ll see that someone crossed off “whiners run” and replaced it with “whiners play! YAY!”   Yep, the perpetrator got pushups. 🙂

6.  Scott completed his 4th marathon! His training was seriously impacted by our added busyness in building a house, but he got in the arena and finished that sucker.  What a champ. He paired it with a trip to Southern California to visit his great brother.  Unfortunately, he got on the plane right as Josie came down with croup so I had a teary baby on my hip a *lot* while he was gone.
Also: I texted my general contractor that Josie had croup because apparently I text him more than my husband so he’s now my phone’s default? Minorly embarrassing.IMG_7435.jpg
I’m pretty much going to turn pro at this house building thing. Ahem.

7. I had a pretty serious heart-to-heart with one of my kids about whether homeschooling is the best fit for them right now.   Oh how I love having them at home, but we have to consider the dynamic of the family as a whole, their relationship with me and their own needs. It’s not an easy choice, but we’ve made some adjustments and we’re going to see if we can get things in a better place while continuing to homeschool.

8. Filed under the category of “bored kids are creative kids”:  All in the same day, my children had a multi-round (outside) peanut fight with a bag of peanuts that had gone stale in the cupboard, I had a daughter make her own stringed instruments out of rubberbands and a plastic play kitchen pan and *tune* it so it played “Old MacDonald” perfectly, and my kids made a dragon trap (AKA a fort with an elaborate back story) in the family room.

None of this required any instigating or oversight on my part, which is good because I was on the phone with subcontractors.  Though, I’ll admit a little more oversight on the cleaning up of the peanut fight would have been nice. Scott came home to a skunk having a feast in our driveway.  It didn’t spray him though, perhaps as a gesture of gratitude for the convenient meal.

9. Scott offered to go grocery shopping (to two stores, with a mile-long list) after he finished performing in a Veteran’s Day concert, and it wasn’t until he was headed home afterwards that I realized he was still wearing his tuxedo for the errand running.

Talk about the man of my dreams, he walked in the door dressed to the nines with bananas and sweet potatoes in his arms.  He also came bearing brand-new, unlooked for pink pajamas for our girl who was pajamaless (yes, mom fail).

If you know my second daughter, you know that her joy was complete and very loudly expressed in squeals of rapture.

10.  We went on an “apple” hunt, which is somewhat less fun than an easter egg hunt, I’ll admit.  We had a sweet boy at our house from Safe Families who has had some food insecurity at home and he kept grabbing apples from our box in the garage, taking a few bites, and hiding them around the house in corners and closets.  I’m reeaaally hoping we found them all!

11.  We saw major progress happening on our home build.  I think our new move date will be somewhere in February, since they’re going to start drywall around Thanksgiving.  (I hope!)

 

Posted in Life as we know it | 2 Comments

Shakespeare and Dishes – Staying Sharp as a Stay-at-Home Mom

I recently published my thoughts on the role of a stay-at-home mother and my lament that it’s often depicted (and sometimes lived out) as a life exclusively spent in wiping noses and bottoms.

In any given day, much of what I do is directly taking care of my children – cleaning, cooking, hugging, reading to, listening to, and yes, wiping.   (The hugging, reading, and listening are admittedly more fulfilling to me, but like so many things in life, parenting is a package deal.)  Outside of my direct care of my children, however, I want to model for them what a beautiful life looks like.  I hope they grow up wanting families of their own, not dreading the inevitable laundry and messes that accompany such a family.  I hope they persist in being curious, interested, and interesting people.  If I want that for them, I know I need to live that for myself while I’m raising them.

Unfortunately, in my experience, the work of a stay-at-home mom can lead to mush for brains.

I’ve found that it takes deliberate effort to keep the neurons firing when you’re running on little sleep and reading the same picture book for the 12th time in a week.  The further challenge is: I do not need extra items on my to-do list nor do I need extra pressure to measure up to what the super mom down the street is doing.  

Instead, I’ve focused on ways to tweak what I’m already doing to better prevent brain mush.  Also, I seek out ways to enrich my life that make sense to me and my interests and strengths, even though they won’t ever make it to Pinterest.

Here are 15 tips I’ve personally used to stay sharper as a stay-at-home mother. Each fits into my regular day without requiring time outside my home.  (There are plenty of great opportunities there as well, but that’s not what I focused on here.) A few are just mindset shifts.

I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments because we’re all different!

Mega Disclaimer:  I’m putting myself out there in hopes of sparking ideas. Don’t let this list discourage or overwhelm you. If something doesn’t fit you or your life, skip it!  I don’t do any of these things perfectly, nor do I do them all the time. Got it? Ok…

1) I don’t read inane books to my kids.

Reading “Dippy the Dim-Witted Dinosaur” would be enough to make anyone’s neurons run up the white flag, but stay at home parents are particularly prone to having brain drain from dumb books because we often log so many hours reading to our kids.

The majority of children’s books at the library are mind-numbingly bad. But because there are still a thousand fabulous, beautiful, clever, thought-provoking books out there, we can skip all the dumb ones and still have plenty to read.  I let my kids read whatever they like (within reason) when we visit the library but I only check out good books to bring home.

A perfect book selection for a ride in her boat.

How can I tell if book is good? I find reliable booklists and excellent authors and use them as a starting point, but as a general rule, I agree with C.S. Lewis: ”

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

That means if I flip through the book and it looks dumb, it goes back on the shelf. I have no qualms about teaching my kids that some things are more worthy of our time than others.  *See the end of this post for a comparison of a good book to a lame version of the same story.*

Every single book in our home library (and we currently have several hundred) is a winner and I typically don’t mind reading it repeatedly, though I will draw lines to save my sanity as needed. I also rotate our books so old favorites surface and some books and I can take a break from each other.

2) I memorize things worth memorizing.

There’s lots of data around sharpening your mind by memorizing things (any things), but in particular I memorize things I find compelling, beautiful, or funny.   It comes in handy when I’m pacing a fussy baby in the middle of the night, waiting in a long line, or scrubbing pots and pans.  I have poetry, Shakespeare, scripture, quotes, and hymns stored up in my mind so I’m rarely bored even while doing the mundane without a podcast (#6) or the brain power to think my own thoughts (#7).

I’ve also found that when I’m doing something difficult, whether that’s persisting in a workout, waiting out a tantrum, breathing through a labor contraction, or washing a particularly tedious mess, if I have something in my mind I can turn to, I am better able to patiently endure.

I use a really simple system for memorizing things, just 5-10 minutes in the morning over breakfast and it’s paid 10 years of dividends and counting.  I choose what I memorize so it’s always enjoyable and worth my time.  As a bonus, my kids just naturally joined me in this as they became old enough to see what I was doing.  I love sharing all this great language with them and seeing them bring it to mind to form connections with what they’re seeing in a regular day.  “It’s not the critic who counts…”  “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…” “Behold the duck.”

3) Nap time = Book time.

At our house, all ages take a nap time or book time for an hour or two in the afternoon.  The youngest naps, the next one up listens to an audiobook and plays quietly alone, and the oldest kids read.  It’s tempting to cross things off my to do list during this time, but I love the days I follow my own advice and curl up with a book by myself.

I was inspired by what I heard the author Jonathan Auxier say in a podcast , referring to his childhood: “I constantly saw [my father] reading. I constantly saw my mother reading and so I was taught that those were adult activities.  When I was projecting into my future and what it would be like when I was grown up and had my own home and my own life and could make my own choices, I just assumed that one of those choices I would make is what I’d be reading next… I think the number one thing we can do to help our kids [love reading] is to show our kids that reading is not only worth their time but worth our time.”

Side note: I tend to read books in paper form or on my kindle rather than on my phone because I want my kids to know exactly what I’m doing, and because I don’t want to get sucked into anything else on my phone.

4) I seek out opportunities to create.

I realized early on that my kids would enjoy drawing, painting, and sculpting more and for longer if I sat down alongside them and gave it a go as well.  What I didn’t anticipate was how hard and good it would be for me to consistently do that.  I am not an artist. I drew like an 8 year old when I re-started creating art.  I heard a wise artist tell a group of adults once that if you draw like an 8 year old, it’s probably because you stopped drawing when you were 8. Somewhere along the way you decided you weren’t an artist so you stopped trying. Had you persisted, you would have improved.

True, right?

I was embarrassed by my early attempts, even when I was sitting shoulder to shoulder with my preschoolers who of course were in awe of my creations.  But I heard myself say to my kids that their effort was wonderful and that trying was enjoyable and would lead to improvement.  I had to hear that message myself, right?  Persisting has been enormously fun. And, what do you know? I’ve improved!  I’ve acquired a couple helpful books on drawing over the years. I’ve only practiced in pockets of time (when my kids are drawing, when I’m writing someone a note anyway, when we’re listening to an audiobook as a family, etc.) but I’ve been doing it for years now.  Because I look for opportunities to draw, I find them.

I will never be an artist, but that was never the point. 

I also write.  Ahem. This fulfills #7 for me as well, in a big way.

Other ways to create include photography or playing or composing music.  All of those can be done alongside children.  I adore the illustrations by Marla Frazee in the book, The Seven Silly Eaters.  Many of them include a cello that belongs to the mother of the seven children in the story.  In some scenes the cello is gathering dust.  In others she’s playing it in the eye of the storm, as her children swirl around her.  I’m sure there are times where she plays it alone, but I am moved most by the image of this mother making beautiful music in the thick of everyday life with kids at home. Why not?

5) I seek out mastery in some arts of homemaking, and embrace “good enough” in other areas.

I do not do this with everything, but I’ve really enjoyed tackling some select homemaking tasks with extra fervor.  There are plenty that I only do a bare minimum on. I’m not crafty and I don’t excel at home decor… I’m pretty sure I’ve never properly mopped a floor… the list could go on.

But laundry? I do pretty darn well at laundry. Rather than continuing to do a middling job, I decided to optimize it.  I studied out the chemistry of stains. I refined our systems to streamline things so I was doing fewer unnecessary loads.  I designed our laundry room in our new home with great care.  As a result, our hand-me-downs hold up for at least three kids, I rarely encounter a stain I can’t get out, and I’m hardly ever behind on laundry.  (Incidentally, this skill allowed me to really help out another family by taking on their laundry for several months while they were in crisis.  Good thing they didn’t need me to mop their floors…:)

I also have an interest in healthy eating and have learned a fair bit about nutrition and the human body as a result.  My family benefits and I have had lots of opportunities to help others as well.

My own mom deep-ended on gardening and has a backyard like the Garden of Eden. I know women who love gourmet cooking, sewing, interior design, or cleaning.  Those interests absolutely “count!”  They also happen to have a fortuitous overlap with our regular duties around the house.

I’m going to hit you with another salient thought from C.S. Lewis here,

I think I can understand that feeling about a housewife’s work being like that of Sisyphus (who was the stone rolling gentleman). But it is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, miners, cars, government etc exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? “

I hope as homemakers we feel how valuable our work is and take pride in the doing of it.

At the same time though, I have found that letting go of perfectionism in some areas leaves me more time to pursue other interests.  Nobody can do it all and the truth is *we* (with our families) decide what “warmed” looks like for our house or what being “fed” means. Here are just a few of the time-savers I employ as a homemaker. Prepare to be shocked:

  • I wash windows… never?
  • I don’t dust blinds more than approximately once a year.
  • I don’t wash sheets more than once a month or two (unless needed).
  • We are vegetarian so vegetables usually are the main dish.  I rarely make side dishes, preferring one dish wonders to feed my crew more efficiently.
  • I cook extra at nearly every meal so leftovers are almost as common around here as new meals.
  • My decorations for holidays are underwhelming and my day-to-day decor is pretty much limited to beautiful pictures on the wall.  What’s an accent pillow? I’m sure I don’t know.
  • Ditto for statement necklaces.  I try to make sure my kids’ clothes match and are clean when we walk out the door, but if they win any fashion points it’s due to their own efforts.  As it currently stands, my odds of personally winning a fashion point are one in a million.  I’m pretty sure I once wore the same outfit to church every Sunday for a month simply because I didn’t pay attention.
  • The bottom line is, my floors are “clean enough” to satisfy me even though I’ll never wax them. I’d rather sit down with a book instead!  Many people of course, do both. They wax their floors and read books… but they leave something else undone instead. Because no one does it all.

6) I always have an interesting podcast ready to roll.

There is a balance here because if I’m trying to listen to a podcast and my kids need me, that can be a frustrating situation for all of us.  But often I’ll kick the kids out of the kitchen to pick up the house while I finish making dinner and I’ll turn on a podcast. Or, I’ll listen to a podcast while on a run or in the car when the kids have their noses in their own books.

The key for me is having a podcast I’m interested in already loaded up so it’s easy to make use of the little pockets of time I have.  I enjoy podcasts for topics that interest me such as homeschooling, but I have purposefully include a few in my docket that have a wider range of topics to keep me on my toes and broaden my horizons. Freakonomics is one that fits this category for me. What are your favorites?

7.1) I take time to think my own thoughts.

Our house is often noisy.  Interruptions can seem near constant.  In the pockets of time between, I’m inclined to take more information in (see #6) but I’ve found I think more clearly and articulately when I have time that is not full of interruptions or full of input.  In addition to using these ideas for fighting infobesity , it’s just important for me to pause and fully think over what I’ve just learned before moving on.  It helps me evaluate the information I’ve just received and if an idea resonates with me, it’s more likely to stick if I give it some time to mull and settle.

So I’ll often listen to 5 minutes of a podcast and pause it for a few minutes, just to ponder or review in my mind what I’ve just heard.  In  homeschooling circles this practice is referred to as ‘narrating’ and it’s incredibly useful to ensure attentive listening. It’s also helpful with reading something meaty. I don’t recall doing this often before having kids but it sure seems essential now when my brain threatens to turn into a sieve.

I try to be transparent with my kids about my desire for uninterrupted thought so they better understand when I ask them to wait a minute even though I don’t look busy. I have one child who is often lost in her own thoughts and I try to protect that space for her to think as well, rather than barge in with my own agenda.

I also consciously try to consult myself before I ask the internet. It gives my brain a reason to live.

7.2) I don’t allow toys that make their own noise.

See 7.1.  How does anyone think with repetitive kid toy sounds around? I can’t do it.

 

Perfect time for an intermission, I think.  Coming soon… the second part of the list!

 

* From the original “The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Anderson:
FAR out in the ocean, where the water is as blue as the prettiest cornflower, and as clear as crystal, it is very, very deep; so deep, indeed, that no cable could fathom it: many church steeples, piled one upon another, would not reach from the ground beneath to the surface of the water above. There dwell the Sea King and his subjects. We must not imagine that there is nothing at the bottom of the sea but bare yellow sand. No, indeed; the most singular flowers and plants grow there; the leaves and stems of which are so pliant, that the slightest agitation of the water causes them to stir as if they had life. Fishes, both large and small, glide between the branches, as birds fly among the trees here upon land. In the deepest spot of all, stands the castle of the Sea King. Its walls are built of coral, and the long, gothic windows are of the clearest amber. The roof is formed of shells, that open and close as the water flows over them. Their appearance is very beautiful, for in each lies a glittering pearl, which would be fit for the diadem of a queen.
From Disney’s book, “The Little Mermaid”:
Deep beneath the sea lived a little mermaid named Ariel. She loved exploring her underwater home with her friend flounder but dreamed of living on land as a human. Ariel was always searching for human treasures. When she and Flounder found a strange forked object, they swam to the surface to find Scuttle the seagull.
“It’s a dinglehopper!” he proclaimed. Ariel’s father was King Triton, ruler of the sea. He thought humans were dangerous.
Posted in Life as we know it | Leave a comment

Shakespeare and Dishes – on being a stay-at-home mother

I wrote this blog post a long time back and never published it.  I discovered the draft, read it and found I still agree with my three-years-ago self so I’m publishing it. 🙂 

Yesterday at lunch, my three year old started our mealtime conversation by asking me quite seriously, “Mom? Does my mouth look like it has peanut butter in it?” She then opened her mouth wide, inviting scrutiny.

“Yes,” I confirmed.

She nodded and continued eating her sandwich.

I’ll be the first to admit that this type of interaction is not all that uncommon with young children at home. There are mundane (or downright inane!) parts of nearly every job I can think of, and motherhood is no exception.

What I “do”

When someone asks me what I “do” and I respond that I’m a mother(.) and I end my sentence there, often the conversation stutters a bit. It’s not nearly as common of a full-time job/profession/role/calling as it used to be and it seems to catch people off-guard. Almost like it doesn’t count as a legitimate answer to the question?

Maybe these people have previously conversed with a three year old and they envision my life is full of peanut buttery mouth inspections? Maybe they wonder how taking care of children and a home and a husband could possibly occupy an entire working day? Sometimes the person I’m talking to goes as far as to confess that they could never do what I do. A few would “go crazy”. Others “couldn’t handle it”. I suspect many silently think they’d be bored out their minds.

Something that I often think but rarely point out is that life has seasons. I have spent 4 years getting a chemistry degree, 8 years working my tail off for an amazing bootstrapped company, and 7 years (so far) devoting my best efforts to my three children, my husband, and our home. (For those doing the math who know I’m 30… I’ll clarify: Some of those seasons overlapped.)

mom-collage
Painted as “Black Cat” as a SmugMug Super Hero, in a triathlon, in Hungary

I’ve also traveled to more than 20 countries, skydived, bungee jumped, scuba dived, completed a half-iron man triathlon, played soccer internationally, and done other things that are fairly interesting. But when people ask what I “do” and I answer truthfully, the conversation is usually dead in the water.

The simple truth though is that while I don’t consider myself “just a mom,” unquestionably I have experienced more personal growth since I became a mother than at any other time in my life. Some people imagine my job is composed of drudgery and yes, dishes. But it is also one of the most freeing and flexible jobs you can imagine, not to mention downright funny. It’s also so fulfilling that at least once a day, joy wells up inside me and overflows until I’m dancing with my kids. How many jobs can you say that about?

As I explained to my oldest daughter recently, she and I actually share a birthday. The day she was born is my mothering birthday.

Since then I’ve been stretched (physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally) and changed in so many painful but beautiful ways. Yes, raising children is worthwhile, important, crucial. It’s also incredibly rewarding.

But? I’ll be the first to admit that it can turn your brain to mush if you’re not careful.

Fight the mush

Maybe we stay-at-home mothers talk too often and too casually about “pregnancy brain” or the “brain fog” that comes with living with little people like it’s a foregone conclusion. Maybe that’s why confessing we stay at home with our children is often a conversation killer.

I came across a quote many months ago that has been mulling in my head ever since. I can’t put my finger on where I found it, though, which is driving me nuts. It went something like this, as a response to an insinuation that staying at home was “aiming low” in some way:

“Nonsense. Taking care of a family and home doesn’t mean you’re any less intelligent. You can listen to Shakespeare while you do the dishes.”

While not everyone wants or needs to dive into Shakespeare (though I’ve surprised myself by loving it lately), the point stands that the possibilities for refinement are endless in nearly any phase of life.  Stay-at-home mothers come in all varieties and I’d hate to think that other people, or far worse, we limit ourselves by the mundane tasks that we tackle every day. Diapers, oatmeal pots, stained shirts… the mom treadmill can be definitely monotonous. But it is not confining.

I should know, I hop on and off it all the time. 🙂

Those mundane tasks also don’t define me. A CEO of a major corporation doesn’t say he “ties his own shoes,” “spends a lot of time in an elevator,” or “flips through unnecessary paperwork” for a living. He defines his role by the overall growth and health of the company. I’m nurturing souls, raising the next generation, and creating a safe haven for 5 people and counting. I just wipe lots of sticky fingers along the way.

Bring your kids along

Every mother finds her own way, and I see many develop passions which take them outside of their home (a job, photography, athletics, etc.) These generally make it easier to answer the question “what do you do?” A mother could respond, “I’m a mother and I…. [am a photographer].”

But if you choose, you can stay right at home and stay (or become!) intellectually sharp and develop passions and skills outside of changing diapers and inspecting peanut butter mouths.

With my husband’s (previously) busy schedule and my (arguably irrational at times) aversion to hiring out the care of my children, my own personal growth often happens with a child on my hip. These days I have another one holding my hand and a third one racing ahead.

I’m not convinced that “me time” must mean “time away from children”. As I ponder what truly recharges and challenges me, if I narrow that list to things I can do with/near/for my children, I am still left with several lifetimes’ worth to choose from.

Soon, I’ll post 12 ways I personally stay sharp as a stay-at-home mother, and I hope you’ll add your own ideas to the comments over there!

Posted in Deliberate Mothering, Life as we know it | 3 Comments