Guys, I am so rusty. I swear, in the however-many-months I wasn’t writing, my brain calcified or something. I feel like I’ve forgotten how to do this – how to sit at the computer for an extended period of time, stringing words together in a way that will convey coherent thoughts.
So bear with me?
I think whatever writing I do here for a while is likely to be all over the place. Like, right now the things I most want to write about include (1) the Republicans’ new immigration bill (blech), (2) privilege and poverty, and (3) my noise-cancelling headphones, which are probably the best thing to happen to me this year.
Except for New Baby Girl, of course. (Can I insert heart emoji into a blog post?)
Anyway, Quick Takes. They seem to be about my speed at the present moment. Here we go:
I’m always trying to get organized, so me trying isn’t exactly newsworthy. But me making some actual progress is! Lately we’ve gone through a ton of clothes and household items and donated them to a local thrift store. I’ve tackled our dining room and our disaster of a bedroom. I’ve folded piles of laundry so old they’d begun to feel like permanent fixtures. I’ve gone through papers and toys and boxes and dishes. I’ve been filling in my new Blessed is She planner (which is beautiful!) with months’ worth of doctor’s appointments, meetings, and school holidays.
I still have so much to do. I’m not done with all the scheduling and all the many tasks that the scheduling reminds me to take care of. I want to get the kids’ bedroom stuff organized so we can move them around. And I want to get last year’s school papers cleared out before this year’s start coming in. Still, progress is progress!
But don’t let me fool you. These days I’m driving around with a bottle of Windex in my front seat because I keep forgetting to ask my husband to refill my van’s wiper fluid. I am on. the. ball.
Last Sunday I took the following pic of my kiddos after Mass:
I do believe it might be my favorite in a long, long time.
I’m helping to organize my 20th high school reunion this fall. Twentieth, you guys. Twen.ti.eth.
We’re going on a vacation! It’s only for four days (travel included) and it’s not to anywhere very far away, but I am so, so excited. We haven’t been on a family vacation in four whole years (meaning only two of our kids have ever been on a vacation before, and those two probably have no memory of it). And this will be our first vacation to somewhere other than Minnesota or Indiana (i.e. places where we were visiting family.)
We’re going to be staying in a hotel! And eating out! And doing touristy stuff! I know that we’ll be exhausted and that packing/traveling/sightseeing with the kids will be a hassle, but I’m still thrilled. We homebodies are getting awaaay!
(Not the moment we told them. We actually haven’t told them yet, so if you see us in person soon, don’t you tell them either!)
Oh, I should have told you where we’re going: Williamsburg, Virginia. We’re going to visit Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown (where I have some neat family history), and we’re going to swim in the hotel pool.
We homebodies are easily entertained.
If you’re a Catholic lady heading to the Edel Gathering in Austin this weekend, I hope you have an amazing time. I was fortunate enough to attend the first Edel Gathering, and it was incredible.
Here’s a post I wrote in the run-up to the second Edel Gathering (which I could not attend). All those hopes for those ladies back then – I’m hoping them for you today. Enjoy!
Please keep baby Edith, Rosie Hill’s daughter, in your prayers today. She’s undergoing surgery this morning to remove some masses from her lungs. May her surgery and recovery all proceed smoothly, and may her family be comforted in this stressful time.
On Monday, I fessed up to a week’s worth of mommy meltdowns. I’d shouted, I’d sought solace in the liquor cabinet (not much – I promise), I’d run away from my family, waving my arms in the air while making what my boys would likely describe as monster noises.
I was a real gem to be around, I’m telling you.
In the post, I attributed the meltdowns to my easily overstimulated/overwhelmed/distracted self. I said that I’d been failing to account for my weaknesses – parts of me that I know are there, but which I’ve tended to wish away rather than face head-on.
Since then, I’ve received welcome commiseration from fellow moms-to-littles, who say they share my struggles. And I’ve received words of comfort from more experienced moms, who remember what it felt like to be overwhelmed when they too were in these trenches.
Kid President! Who doesn’t love him?! (Thank you, Lisa, for the boost. I promise to do something fun with the boys in your honor.)
More fun than this.
In Monday’s post, I also promised a follow-up. It was supposed to be “tomorrow,” which was foolish of me to say, considering I was to be out of the house for most of the day on Tuesday and Wednesday (and I was in the middle of a miserable sort of cold). Mea culpa. Let’s just chalk this up to yet another of my weaknesses: a terrible sense of time.
Which brings me back to the follow-up post. This post. The remainder of this post is addressed to those of you who, like me, do NOT have it all together. It will be of no use to the well-organized, the efficient, the minimalist, the unflappable.
This post is for those who struggle with sensory overload, distraction, and a general inability to deal with more than one thing at a time. It’s for those of you who want to find a better way, but who keep finding your counters covered with clutter and your trash cans overflowing. It’s for those of you who only seem to remember important tasks while you shower and who never seem to be able to locate the right combination of shoes and socks to get your children out the door on time.
I’m on a journey and I want you to walk it with me.
That is, I don’t have this thing figured out. I’ve just thought about it (quite a lot), and I’ve asked myself some questions that you might consider asking yourself.
On a few counts, I feel like I’ve found solutions that work well for me. On others, I’m making progress. But there are a fair number of challenges that I continue to stew on, having not yet come up with good enough plans for addressing them. I’m working on it.
All in all, I suggest four steps for figuring out how to work with our weaknesses:
1. Go back and watch that Kid President video again.
No, seriously – take the opportunity to smile (and cry?) and remember that your children love you, distracted/disorganized brain and all. Make a mental note to be silly with them, to dance in the kitchen or sing in the driveway – or go do it right now! Allow it to give you some perspective on this whole thing.
2. Think about your own particular situation in great detail.
What are your triggers? Which small things contribute to your stress? Which parts of your home or your schedule trip you up? How do you use your physical space? Are your rooms and things arranged in such a way that they help or hinder your peace? How do your days and your weeks tend to proceed? Are you a morning person or a night person? How do you feel at different times of day? How much solitude do you need? Which of your family’s schedules – work, school, etc. are non-negotiable and which can be adjusted? Do you have a hard time remembering things? When do important ideas pop into your head?
3. Identify some potential solutions and try them out – but not all at once.
There’s no use in thinking you can devise a perfect system, let alone implement it in one fell swoop. So start small. Can you make a tiny tweak that will address one particular trigger? Go for it. Think you have a strategy for addressing a bigger issue? Try it out. But don’t bite off more than you can chew: you don’t want to feel like giving up because your plans prove to be too much for you. Small successes are still successes.
5. Adjust, add, and adjust some more. (Forever and ever, Amen.)
If a plan isn’t working out quite right, make an adjustment. When you’ve settled on one good solution, tackle another problem. When circumstances change, adjust your strategies along with them.
As far as I’m concerned, those four (well, maybe just the last three) are probably the most effective steps to making useful changes in your life: Think. Solve. Adjust.
How simple is that?
As I’ve been going about all this thinking and solving and adjusting, I’ve landed on several strategies that I’ve come to realize are essential to me. And who knows – maybe you’ll find them useful too. So here they are, along with some particular examples of what I’m doing, or what I need to do.
We have a large home. Inevitably, when we’re getting ready to rush out the door, or while I’m changing a dirty diaper, or as I’m juggling a half-dozen tasks at once in the kitchen – I realize we’re missing something. No one has socks. Shoes have gone missing. Diapers and wipes have not been replenished. The box of Kleenex is empty.
These are each small things – almost insignificant. But when they happen right in the middle of the crazy/loud/demanding hub-bub of caring for home and children, they can become the very straw that breaks the camel’s back. So as much as possible, I try to anticipate these small stumbling blocks and be strategic about avoiding them.
Now, don’t get me wrong – my house is pretty much a wreck right now – so it’s not like I do any of the below perfectly. I just try to do them well enough to prevent me from losing my mind.
The boys’ shoes are kept in a basket by the back door. Most of mine and Brennan’s sit lined-up right next to it. Their socks (as well as their underwear and pajamas, because we dress the boys for bedtime downstairs) are kept in a changing table located in the family room. (It is way easier to hop over to the family room for last-minute socks than to run all the way upstairs.)
We also keep lots of spare diapers and many, many packages of wipes in the changing tables. I keep some in my purse and more in a little back-pack, ready to grab for hours-long trips out of the house. We keep a couple boxes of Kleenex just out of sight so we don’t resort to swiping from the napkin holder until we make the next trek into the Great Upstairs.
I keep my car keys and sunglasses in the same place every day. I keep a grocery list on the fridge. I keep my drawers and cabinets orderly – all so that when I’m in a rush, I can find what I need quickly and easily.
I even keep (and this might be the idea I’m most proud of) a notepad on the master bathroom’s counter. Because wouldn’t you know it, I tend to do my best thinking and remembering while I’m brushing my teeth or taking a shower.
These are all piddly little things – but they’re real, effective solutions to problems that used to trip me up on a regular basis.
Keep to a weekly rhythm.
I’ve known for a long time that I have a laundry problem. And I’ve known for a long time that in order to make that chore less intimidating, I needed to do a little laundry each day. But it’s only been a couple of months since I’ve (finally!) landed on a strategy that works for me.
On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, I do at least one, preferably two loads of laundry per day. If I’ve got my act together, the full baskets are set in the hallway the night before and the first load goes into the washer before I’ve even gotten the baby out of his crib.
But if I don’t have my act together, it’s not such a big deal, because Wednesdays and Saturdays are for sorting and catching up.
I plan to establish a similar schedule for cleaning our home, but I’m not there yet. (Mostly because the rooms are currently too messy to clean. Crazy, right? See below.) When I do come up with a schedule, I’m going to aim for the same rhythm: schedule work for Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays; reserve Wednesdays and Saturdays for catching up. Which brings us to…
Build in opportunities for catching up.
In addition to my can’t-handle-stimulation and shuts-down-easily weaknesses, I’m also a perfectionist. So a huge stumbling block for me is that when I don’t get something quite right, or when work starts to stack up faster than I can get through it, I tend to shut down and just refuse to do anything more. This tendency has been the death knell of pretty much every schedule I ever set up in the past.
Now, I have finally hit upon the realization (HOW could this have taken me so long?!) that I need to anticipate that particular stumbling block and build its solution into my schedule. That is, catch-ups.
So far, it’s working like a charm. No one week has looked “perfect” on the laundry front, yet in the months since I began my 4 Days On / 2 Days To Catch Up schedule, the chore hasn’t once stressed me out. It’s felt consistently manageable, and (wonder of wonders) we’ve consistently had enough clean (even folded!) clothes to wear.
Reserve the right to reset.
A major problem in our household (which is also attributable to the perfectionism thing) is the glut of deep-cleaning/organizing projects awaiting my attention.
I love the idea of doing frequent touch-ups so that deep cleans are unnecessary. But that requires you to actually start from clean. We’re far from there. (Maybe some folks know how to chip away at a cleaning project bit by bit, but this perfectionist’s instinct tells her to go big or go home.)
In the course of my daily life, though, I generally don’t have time to go big. Most days, it’s all I can do to keep up with the feeding/changing/cleaning that is absolutely necessary; cleaning my bathroom tub feels like a luxury.
But do you know what’s recently occurred to me? The concept of a “reset.” Next week, I’m hiring someone to watch the boys for several hours so I can “hit reset” on some cleaning/organizing projects that have been sitting around for too long.
I reserve the right to do so again – and again and again. If I can’t get a project done in the course of my everyday life, then clearly I need to step away from my everyday responsibilities to get through it. And if I have to hire someone to take those over for me for a few hours while I work, so be it.
Set aside time for the little things.
Here’s a place where I have an idea of what I need to do, but I haven’t yet properly implemented it.
My most obvious problem (and I know I should be loathe to admit this – look away, Mom!) is our overflowing trash cans upstairs. I enter our bathroom at night to get ready for bed, and there it is: a trashcan overflowing with Kleenex and dental floss. But I’m too tired to deal with it, so I don’t. In the morning, I’m rushing to do just what I have to do, so the trashcan gets bypassed again. Then I may not return to the space until that night, so the cycle is repeated.
I know what I need to do. I need to set a particular time to walk through the house and take care of the little things: empty the trashcans, replenish the changing tables with more diapering supplies, make the boys’ beds, wipe down the counters, tidy up a bit. Not doing these little things stresses me out, yet I fail to make time for them.
I tried the walk-through thing for a short while and I loved its results (I even enjoyed the work), but it didn’t last long – I think because I chose the wrong time of day. I keep meaning to try again at another time and see if it sticks.
Protect the time for yourself.
I think this one may be the hardest. It’s certainly the one I’m worst at.
I have a pretty good idea of how I should structure my day so as to best secure my health and my peace: I should get up early. I should take a few quiet breaks during the day (and a solid, several-hour break once or twice a week). I should get our family through dinner at a reasonable time. Each evening while my husband puts the boys to bed, I should head up to our room to unwind and ready myself for the next day. I should get to bed at a decent time and get a good night’s sleep.
But it pretty much never goes this way. I tend to stay up too late, so I get up too late. I run behind on all the day’s major events and by the time I’m done with our (also late) dinner, all I want to do is sit still in front of my computer. So I stay up too late again and the cycle continues.
I need to make a better effort to change this.
But I also need to (and I think this was mostly the culprit behind last week’s meltdowns) focus on my needs for solitude and space during the day. Pretty much anything I do that requires thought (since I’m mostly incapable of focused thinking when I’m surrounded by my children) has to be done at night, when the boys are in bed. But then, not only can I barely keep my eyes open, but I feed that unhealthy cycle of staying up too late/getting up too late/etc. And if I try to fit in such things during the day when the boys are up, things tend to go badly. (See last week’s meltdowns for Exhibits A through C.)
So last weekend after the meltdowns, I talked to my husband and we agreed that I’d try to hire a mother’s helper this summer. Nothing is settled yet, but I’m hoping to get someone here one or two mornings a week to take charge of the boys and give me some (quiet!) time in which to think, write, and re-charge.
I really think it will help. I really think all of these strategies will help. I just need to keep working on them. I need to keep adding and adjusting and adding some more.
As we wrap up 2014, I thought I’d do a little recap o’ the blog to highlight some of my favorite posts from the year. (I’ll admit – it was pretty fun to scroll through them all.) And since I want to do you the favor of making it obvious as to why I chose these particular posts, I thought I’d include each in its own category. So… without further ado (since there’s plenty of it below)… here are 14 From ’14:
1. The most viewed post (and the closest to “viral” that I’ve ever gotten):
Wow. I knew this post in opposition (so to say) to Breastfeeding Awareness Week might attract a bit more attention than usual, but it went and blew “a bit more” out of the water. In the post’s first day, I received nearly ten times as many views as I usually do on post-publishing days and I more than doubled my best day ever. All told, the post has gotten more than a dozen times the views of my average post.
So let’s see… what element of the mommy wars should I tackle next?
(No, no – I’m kidding. Stoking fires just for the fun of it isn’t my thing – there are plenty of others you can go to for that.)
Doubly selfish: using formula and counting on the four-year-old to feed it to his brother.
This thing was a bear to get through. (ISIS? Evil? Hmm… I wonder why?) I worked on it for weeks – weeks in which I felt like I was trudging through mud every time I sat down at the computer. It definitely felt like there was some Resistance at play. When I finished writing the post, I could barely look at the thing, I was so unhappy with it. But with a little more distance, I’ve come to think I did a decent job of it.
3. The post with the best discussion in the combox:
This post makes me so happy. Not because I think the piece itself was any work of art, but because it generated such a great discussion in the comments section. This (despite all my mommy ramblings about exhaustion and vomit) is why I started the blog – to encourage discourse on touchy, divisive, important matters of politics and society. Polite discourse, open-minded discourse, respectful discourse. I know this one little post was just the tiniest of drops in the bucket, but it’s my drop and I’m glad to have let it fall.
“If I had to choose one piece of advice to offer young people at this very moment, it would be: Don’t be a pack-rat. And if you absolutely can’t resist the urge to be a pack-rat, make sure to be an organized one.”
Courtney Lenaburg, the beloved daughter of Mary from Passionate Perseverance, passed away this past Saturday morning. Courtney’s wake will be held tonight and her funeral tomorrow. Please keep the entire Lenaburg family in prayer during this very difficult time.
12: The post written with most love for my oldest:
I had a baby this year! Few things are of greater consequence than that!
I’m linking this up with Dwija’s 12 Photos in 2012 link-up at House Unseen, Life Unscripted. (12? 14? Photos? Posts? Close enough, right?) Be sure to stop there for more 2014 recaps — and much more beautifully-shot photos than my own.
I hope 2014 was kind to you. The year brought me some great challenges, but even greater blessings. Thanks for coming along for the ride!
It’s a blue-skyed, balmy 57 degrees this afternoon, so the boys are outside playing, enjoying the beautiful weather.
Let me re-phrase that: I’m enjoying the boys playing outside in the beautiful weather. They’d rather be inside watching a movie, but I told them their choices were outside play or naps in their beds. Surprise, surprise: they chose the former.
I have a million things on my to-do list, but thought I’d take a quick twenty minutes* to post a little update on the blog, because: Quiet! Ohmygosh it is never quiet around here! Boys outside, baby napping, and this the first quiet, awake, non-committed moment I’ve had in a week!
I’ve got to sit here and savor it a bit.
We’ve been very busy lately – the typical Christmas stuff, plus commitments and medical appointments and then, for the baby, a hospital stay. The poor, pathetic little thing has pneumonia. He came home on Saturday after two nights in the hospital and fortunately, he’s already most of the way back to his usual happy, peppy self. Brennan and I are slowly (slowly) recovering from all the sleep we lost during the ordeal.
But anyway, I’ve been meaning to note my relative absence from the blog over the past couple of months. And here I am, so here we go!
The thing is, I am an easily-distracted, easily-overwhelmed, easily-overstimulated kind of gal. And I’ve come to realize that I need to get a handle on the things in my life that distract and overwhelm and overstimulate me. Like, really need to – actually need to – not just acknowledge that I need to and promptly move on to something more interesting.
When I try to live my daily life (namely, when I try to mother) in the midst of those distracting, overwhelming, overstimulating things, I fail. At so much. I have too little patience, I enjoy too little time with my children, and I have far, far too many meltdowns.
A few weeks ago I told my boys that I’d be back in a minute: I just needed to take the baby upstairs to put him down for his nap. After I changed his diaper, I set the baby down on the rug with a few toys so I could wash my hands. But then I noticed some bins of clothing that I hadn’t put back in their place, so I went to move them. Then I noticed how dusty that corner of the room was, so I decided to sweep it before I put the bins away. Then I went into the laundry room for the Swiffer, where I remembered that I hadn’t yet switched over the laundry. Then I had to retrieve a laundry basket so I could get the already-dry clothes out of the dryer. Then, just as I started emptying the dryer, I heard (1) the boys erupt in a massive fight downstairs and (2) the baby screaming, tired, ready for his nap.
I ran downstairs, yelled at the boys, and ran back up, flustered. I still needed to wash my hands. I still needed to take care of the baby and the bins and the sweeping and the laundry. I’d wasted all that time, gotten nothing accomplished, and worked myself into a tizzy. This is completely typical behavior for me.
I know there has to be a better way.
So I’m trying to deal with the background noise – the unfinished chores lingering in each room, the fluid schedule, the tasks I’ve been telling myself I’ll get to for far too long, the disorganized ways in which I deal with the information and the responsibilities that come my way.
I’m nowhere near through, but I’m making progress. It’s come at the expense of blogging, spending time on social media, communicating and getting together with my friends, and pretty much any other fun thing I can think of.
For the past couple of months, I’ve tried to find something constructive to do with just about every spare moment I come across. Goodness knows that I could be in this mode for a year and not quite end up where I need to be, but my plan is to push through as well as I can ‘till the end of December. Come the New Year, I’ll try to stretch my legs a bit, to occupy this less-cluttered space (both physical and mental), and see how it works for me. I certainly can’t keep up my current pace forever.
So while you’ll hear from me a few times before then, I probably won’t get into a regular blogging routine until January. I’m hoping that by then I’ll have dealt with enough of my issues to operate on a more organized, more peaceful level.
Wish me luck! And in the meantime, I wish you a blessed Advent, a merry Christmas, and a happy New Year.
* Ha! Did I really think I could get away with that? It took an interrupted two hours, full of potty breaks and crying babies, smashed fingers and late naps chosen over outdoor toy clean-up. C’est la vie!
If I had to choose one piece of advice to offer young people at this very moment, it would be: Don’t be a pack-rat. And if you absolutely can’t resist the urge to be a pack-rat, make sure to be an organized one.
Because one day you might find yourself eight-months pregnant, with two small children to care for, sifting through box after bag after box of your worldly possessions to make room for your mother-in-law and all of her worldly possessions.
You might find yourself putting all of your (admittedly, modest) energies into this work (and laundry – there will always be laundry), only to look around and count no less than 20 boxes and bags left to go. Just in one room.
It looks more organized than it actually is: that cedar chest is packed full of junk.
And you’ll know that you can’t simply chuck all the boxes and bags, because for years you had no discernable organizational system and you have no idea what’s in them. You might recall that you once found your high school diploma in a box of junk mail.
You’ll likely realize that you won’t actually finish the task on this, your 26th round of attempting it, but you have to try, because with the impending addition of the mother-in-law and the baby, you’re running out of places to hide your stuff.
You might, ten years or so down the road, finally learn to rein in your pack-rat tendencies. They might not even be obvious to your future friends, because you’ll be so determined to be rid of them (the tendencies, not the friends) that you’ll refuse to allow clutter a permanent home in your main living spaces.
But your spare rooms and attics and closets will tell on you.
For once you build up that backlog of stuff, only moves and additions to the family and New Year’s resolutions will push you into tackling it.
Take it from me, the so, so tired pregnant lady who’s done eight loads of laundry today (in case it makes me seem any less ridiculous, please know that some loads included things like basinet and car seat liners) and who has at least another ten loads waiting in the wings.
The same tired pregnant lady who needs to figure out where to temporarily stick a dozen boxes and bags o’ junk (plus a big pile on the floor) so that furniture can be rearranged tomorrow. And who will, once all the furniture is in its proper place, still need to either sift through the junk or find permanent hiding spaces for it.
Trust me, this is not how you want to be spending your last days before welcoming a new baby (and a mother-in-law) into your family. This is not an oh-so-sweet round of “nesting.” There’s nothing fun about boxes of credit card offers, old magazines, and expired coupons.
Do yourself a favor and take my advice: Don’t be a pack-rat. Resist the temptation. Think of your future moves and babies and mothers-in-law. Think of your closets.