It’s been almost three years, you know. Three years since I began trading disaster-kitchens and toddler TV time for (interrupted) hours of mental stimulation courtesy of this little blog.
Goodness, how I miss it.
I’ve tried to be practical these last several months. We’ve been in survival mode or by-golly-I’m-going-to-make-all-this-work-somehow mode for most of that time, and I just haven’t felt like I could afford the luxury of writing (much). I’ve been pushing through my days, running running running (with the notable exception of social-media-fueled nursing sessions) from early morning to late night, desperately trying to get a handle on my mothering and housekeeping responsibilities.
And surprise, surprise – I can’t seem to keep up. No matter what little enjoyments I deny myself, there’s always something (lots of somethings!) left to do.
So at this point – nearly three months after baby #4’s birth and nearly three years after the blog’s – I’m ready to throw up my hands and say, “Hey, if it’s not going to all get done anyway, I may as well have a little fun around here.”
Tonight, I’m leaving the kitchen a disaster. Tonight, I’m eating a brownie and tapping away at my computer and scratching the itch that is wanting-so-badly-to-be-writing-but-never-feeling-like-I-have-the-time.
The blog will mark its third anniversary at the end of this month. To celebrate, I plan to gift myself with 30 minutes a day in which to just sit and write. (Dishes be damned.) I plan to publish blog posts (probably just short, simple ones – but still!) three times a week. And I’m going to work on a few “housekeeping” changes to the blog that I’ve been thinking about for some time.
I hope you’ll come back to check them out. ‘Till then!
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.
Yesterday afternoon I sat in my kitchen, brooding in a comfortable sort of way. The window was open and the day was cool and drowsy. If I’d spent it cuddled by a fire with a good book and no cares, it would have been lovely. As it was, the day felt like a lovely kind of somber. I was preoccupied with my vaguely depressed mood, my feeling of being in a state of “meh.”
I was perched on a pillow because of a ridiculous hip joint that’s been bothering me for a few days. (And by “bothering” I mean making me hobble around like the overweight old lady I feel like I am. And making me wonder whether I’m too old and out-of-shape to be popping out an adventurous man-baby every couple of years.)
But my five-month-old was napping in his swing while his two big brothers took their daily movie-watching-on-the-sofa “resting time.” (I choose my battles and I choose not to engage in that awful, horrible, no-good battle called “naptime.”) All three were quiet and still, so SCORE. Hip be damned.
I had dishes in the sink, but not too many. I had a pile of papers sitting behind me, but not too tall. My kitchen floor was relatively free of clutter, but the dining room was covered with it. I had (ahem, have) loads of lovely emails and blog comments to answer (I love you people even when I take forever to get back to you!) and I’d meant to take care of them then, but instead I decided to finally, finally put school and choir dates in my planner.
I was feeling perpetually overdue, disorganized, and distracted. I was feeling like I don’t spend enough time doing fun things or educational things or creative things with my children. I was wondering whether I’ll ever get my act together. (Please don’t tell me I won’t.)
But I was also recognizing that I have healthy, polite, happy little boys. That they give and receive an abundance of cuddles. That I make dinner most every night and my boys eat reasonably well-rounded meals. That they have clothes that fit and we always seem to have clean laundry to wear, even if it has to be pulled, crumpled, from a pile at the foot of my bed.
In short, I may not feel all that successful at managing my home or my family (or my blog), but I’m keeping it together. Everything is at least functioning, if not flourishing. Meh.
A short while later, wouldn’t you know, my boys reached down into my slump and started to pull me out of it – with some delightfully poor behavior. While I was trying to prepare their dinner, the four-year-old lay screaming at my feet, in full meltdown mode because I’d turned off his movie. I stepped over his flailing limbs, determined to ignore his temper tantrum.
Then I saw it: a wicked robot was advancing, in the form of my slowly-stomping two-year-old. He wore a menacing look on his face and he stretched out his wiry little arms and fingers into claws. He knew that his prey was vulnerable. And… he pounced.
Honestly, I thought it was a brilliant way to deal with a brother who had lost it. And I kind of enjoyed the ensuing ruckus: two boys rolling around on the floor, one sobbing and hollering and the other striking with his robot claws. (We don’t call that kid “fierce” for nothing.)
Soon the baby started screaming too, so I picked him up and sat in the rocker with him while we watched his brothers.
Today my slump has returned, and sunk a bit deeper. Today’s brooding doesn’t feel as lovely as yesterday’s. I’m feeling more discouraged about my hip and a little more grumpy, all around. Those “carefree” summer days seem long over; we’ve now re-entered the season of schedules and commitments and comparisons and knowing that time passes too quickly. I’m feeling sort of unequal to it.
But it’s just a little slump.
I have these wonderful little trouble-makers, you see, who are liable to make me jump out of it at any moment. I’m sort of looking forward to whatever-it-is they come up with next.
For now, they’re pretending to be alligators.
And the little one has brought back something interesting to their alligator nest — a trophy from his latest conquest, perhaps?
This has been one of those weeks when I feel like I’m behind on every front: My house is a mess; piles of (possibly damp and smelly) dirty laundry and baskets of unfolded, clean (yet probably still smelly) laundry seem to be taunting me; a rotating collection of dirty dishes has been occupying my kitchen counters; I owe a long list of emails and phone calls; I’ve been getting to bed too late and my boys have been waking up during the night (usually with their sheets soaked – seven crib sheets in three days!); and my list of interesting-looking articles to read has been growing and growing…
I guess I feel like I should be caught up on something. Like, if I’m going to neglect my house, at least my mind should be stimulated with interesting reads. Or if I’m not responding to people’s emails, it should be because I was busy eliminating the mountains of laundry and dishes.
— 2 —
Also, someone has vomited every day this week. As anybody who is friends with me on Facebook knows, my boys are prolific vomiters. Some parents deal with children who won’t sleep through the night, or are picky eaters, or throw major tantrums. Ours vomit. All the time. And it’s not because they’re sick – we’ve never been so unfortunate as to have a stomach virus visit us. (I say with trepidation, because you know that once I say it, we’ll get one.) The boys are gaggers. We have to go to ridiculous lengths to feed them food in such a way that they won’t gag and vomit. And when we get a respiratory bug with phlegm and coughing: Watch Out.
Anyway, last week I made the stupid mistake of saying to my husband, “Can you believe that we’ve gone almost a month without anybody throwing up? Maybe the boys have finally outgrown it! And even if they’ve haven’t entirely, at least #2 knows to lean over the side of his booster seat so he doesn’t get it on his clothes anymore and #1 runs to get a bowl to catch it! Win, win! I barely even have a mess to clean up anymore!”
Yeah. So on Sunday, the little one throws up on his Grandpa. (Sorry, Dad!) On Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, he throws up all over himself. On Wednesday, the big one gets carsick and throws up all over himself and his car seat. Once again, I have a load of vomity clothes to deal with. And a car seat to clean.
— 3 —
But. Yesterday when I came up the driveway, I saw this:
Isn’t it lovely? And have you ever seen a hydrangea with both blue and pink blooms? When I saw the bush after a long day out with the boys, I had kind of a funny response:
Wow, that’s beautiful. I love hydrangeas. I should cut some to put in vases around the house. That little white pitcher would look really nice filled with hydrangeas and placed on the kitchen mantle. But it’s covered with junk right now. What’s the use of going through the effort of cutting and arranging flowers when the house is so messy? I should clean. Really clean. I should do a big push and get the house in great shape and put hydrangeas everywhere.
Makes sense, right? That a five-second glance at a flowering shrub would turn into enthusiasm for cleaning my house? Whatever; I don’t care where the enthusiasm came from. After a week of vomit and no sleep and peed-on sheets, I’ll take whatever enthusiasm I can get. So let’s see what I can do today: Dishes and laundry and junk, here I come! Hydrangeas, don’t fail me!
— 4 —
I have to admit that part of the reason (besides the rough recovery from a full weekend and the boys not sleeping and the vomiting) that I’ve been in a funk this week (and btw, Grace Patton had a good post this week on being in a funk) is that I spent a couple of nights staying up waaay too late writing blog posts.
I am someone who is very easily distracted; I can’t concentrate well when there’s commotion around me. (Rachel Balducci had a good post this week about needing quiet in order to write.) So starting a blog with two toddler boys in the house was a great idea, wasn’t it? With my days full of monster roars and “pwetend kitty-cats” mewing at my feet and boys who like to act, alternately, like rock stars or members of a marching band, the quiet of a late-night, everybody-is-asleep-but-me house is oh so enticing. Enter one, two, or ahem three o’clock bedtimes. With 3:30 wake-up calls from a soaking wet 20-month-old. Yes, sometimes I am brilliant.
I’m nearly a month into the blog now and I’m trying to figure out how best to fit it into my life. Right now I feel like I’m in the trying-it-on phase. I’m hoping (hoping!) that once I’ve done it for a little while and examined its impact on the rest of my life, I can find the right balance of writing time to housework time to time with the boys. In the past year or so, I’ve done a pretty decent job of establishing some general guidelines for running my home and schedule to minimize my stress. Soon I’ll need to recalculate them to account for the blog.
— 5 —
In particular, I want to make space in my schedule to take on some meaty subjects. I was decently well-pleased with how these longer, more serious posts on my background, immigration, and parental love turned out. And I’ve done a few shorter ones that fall into the same mold. But I feel like most of what I’ve been writing so far has been light and focused on my home life. And though there’s nothing wrong with that (and I very much enjoy reading such things from other bloggers!), I’d like to keep a steady pace of at least one or two more meaty posts a week.
Like I said when I started the blog, I want this space to become a comfortable place for readers to dialog on some societal/religious/political issues. I don’t have in mind a certain number of visitors I want to attract; I only hope it’s enough to generate some good discussion in the comments section. So, (hint, hint!) speak up if you have something to say! For my part, I’ll try to keep up that steady pace.
Here are a few topics I’m thinking about right now, and on which I plan to write once I’ve read up on some of those interesting articles I mentioned in #1: The worth of the individual, religious freedom, Pope Francis and the liberal/conservative split, and global poverty. I hope you’ll come back to weigh in!
— 6 —
I spent a long time Wednesday night cooking a very complicated meal for my husband. On the one hand, doing so made me feel like a very good wife, because it took FOUR hours and like a million steps and it involved a couple of his favorite dishes: Spaghetti Bolognese (as in the real deal, with carrots and mushrooms, veal/pork/beef, wine, etc.) and a dark chocolate tart with a gingersnap crust (which, to be honest, sounds fancy and tastes divine, but isn’t all that hard to make).
But on the other hand, Wednesday night made me feel like a bad wife, because (1) dinner wasn’t ready until 10pm, which (2) meant that the boys got their standard hot dogs instead of partaking in the deliciousness, (3) the whole reason we had a fancy dinner on Wednesday was to celebrate a belated Father’s Day because I wasn’t prepared on Sunday. (I’m blaming that one on our family reunion and the celebration of our son’s birthday, both this past weekend.) And (4) one of our gifts for my husband was the oh-so-thoughtful catalog in a gift bag, so he could pick out which item he wanted. (Though I was thoughtful about which catalog it was: The Great Courses, because we’re the kind of nerds who like to listen to recordings of university lectures.)
Working on a Father’s Day card for his grandpa — also belated.
— 7 —
I’ll sweeten the end of this mildly negative Quick Takes by leaving you with some of the cute/funny/stinkerish/sweet things our big 3-year-old boy said this week:
“I’m havin’ a bad, wough day!”
After being put into time-out for yelling a nasty “No, Mommy!” at me:
“I sorry for sayin’ a bad no to you, Mommy.”
“Dere’s a bug in my back! Es eatin’ me!” (There actually was a bug under the back of his shirt; it was not eating him.)
“Yiyons and mans and bears, oh my!”
Lunging and dancing while singing into his new toy microphone:
“I yike a wock sar!”
Pointing out the sunset:
“Yook! A boo-ful sy!”
Just after I walked away from him and his little brother, who was pretending to be a cat. I’d heard the little one scream and marched back into the room, asking big brother what he’d done. Him: “I hit da cat.” Me: “Do you mean you hit your brother?” Him: “No. I hit da cat.” Me: “Did you hit the cat that is your brother?” Him: “Yes.”
After I gave a quick kiss to his injured thumb:
“No, not a pwetend kiss! I want a weal kiss yike diss.” (He demonstrates.)
“I’m a man washin’ my hands.”
Him: “Mommy! Da table is waffin’ at me!” Me: “The table is laughing at you? Why?” Him: “Because, es funny! I bedder take a nap.” (He lays his head down on the table.)
“Dis is a tart.”
At the playground as I was pushing him on the swings:
“You’re good. You’re a nice mommy. Sank you pushing me SO fast.”