Friday, July 30, 2010

Working Under Pressure

I'm a procrastinator.  Even now, I'm blogging instead of cleaning.  My Granddaddy will be here in 3 1/2 hours (or potentially sooner) and there's a lot to do...

fold a load of laundry

put away 2 days worth of laundry

wash/dry/fold/put away the towels
unload and reload the dishwasher

vacuum the rug

sweep the dining room
mop the kitchen

coffee: because I hardly slept last night

Good thing I work well under pressure.  Good thing I cleaned the bathroom the other day!

But, "Mommy Brain, don't you have four small children?"

Why, yes I do.  But don't you remember how I said just yesterday that I let my children veg out sometimes?  Well, I save TV time for days like these when my to-do list is long and arduous and yells at me in 6 different fonts ;). 

By the way, my reward for doing such hard work is that Granddaddy is taking us out to Duke's Chowder House for dinner. 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I Don't Have Good Kids

The other day, I took all four of of our children to an appointment.  At one point they were all sitting and playing quietly with small toys that I brought with me.  The lady asked me, "How do you do it?  They're so good." 

I wish I could say that they are a product of genetic perfection.  My husband and I breed a superior race and they are perfect toddlers... much like Christ was.  But that's just silly... my chilren are decidedly not overachievers. None of them can read, they count to ten by saying "one, two, three, ten", our 18 month old is too curious for her own good, and our oldest who is four barely even talks.  But I've been told many times in various ways, "You have good kids."

So when I told the lady, "I don't know."  It was totally a cop out.  I know when she asked she didn't really want to hear my parenting philosophy so I didn't whip out my soapbox and give it to her.  Besides, I'm not sure I really have a parenting philosophy, per se.  Am I allowed to say that?  I haven't got a library of parenting books because I was told when I was pregnant with our oldest that I should read books on development and parent according to their development.  I liked that advice so I took it and I give it to others.  I did read and recommend one parenting book:  The Strong Willed Child by James Dobson.

And while I may not be able to tell you the exact formula for a well-disciplined house, I can tell you unequivocally that I DON'T HAVE GOOD KIDS.  My kids are sinners and they need guidance.   But I'd be selling them short if I left out the part where I tell you that my kids are delightful and they make me laugh.

But since she asked, I've been trying to think of what it is that I do differently than many of my parenting peers.  I think it's the little things that add up.  This is in no way comprehensive and I'll probably add to it in my memoiors someday. 
  1. We eat at the table.  Meals and snacks are always contained.  Sometimes they sit on the floor in the kitchen.  And other times, I send them outside with their vittles.   
    • Why?  I insist on sitting at the table because I have four children and not as much time as I need to clean up after snacks and sticky things that are scattered to the wind.  But more importantly, I think this is an essential boundary.  Children like boundaries.  They feel safe within those boundaries. 
  2. We watch very little television/movies.  We got rid of our television 9 months ago.  They don't miss it and neither do I.  We let them watch a few shows on Netflix Watch Instantly to buy ourselves a few minutes without interruption.  The children might watch 3 hours/week.  My husband and I do watch some television... on the laptop. 
    • Why?  While it would be easier to sit them in front of the tele, I find that they are whiny and demanding afterwards.  They ask for their favorite shows over and over again after just one 45 minute episode.  It helps them learn self control.  They don't always get what they want. 
  3. We take naps.   My four year old still take a 90 minute nap and sleeps 10+ hours at night.  My 3 year old takes 3 hour naps.  And our 18 month old takes a 90 minute morning nap (but she's about to grow out of those), a 3 hour nap, and sleeps 12 hours at night. 
    • Why?  Children need more sleep than grownups do.  Their behavior is a direct reflection of the amount of rest they've had.  I see cranky tired children everywhere... let them sleep.  Sleep begets sleep.  And if your child wakes up at a pin drop, have them checked out by a competent medical professional.  I know a gal whose 3 year old NEVER slept more than 90 minutes consecutively... that's not normal.  He was lacking an important hormone. 
  4. We don't eat (much) sugar.  They eat boring low-sugar (less than 3 g / serving) cold cereal for breakfast, their PB&Js are just PBs, their oatmeal is plain, they don't get syrup on their pancakes, and they probably don't even know the word "dessert". 
    • Why?  I tease sometimes and tell people that I don't give them sugar because I'm too lazy to deal with the sugar high.  That's part of it.  But the other big reason is that I'm sensitive to sugar.  I've found that I get a high then a subsequent crash with just a few grams of sugar.  That's in part because I'm hypoglycemic, but if  that happens to me and I weigh significantly more than they do, I figure that they can do without those undulations.  My hope is that they won't be addicted to sugar like I am when they grow up. 
As far as I know, those are the really peculiar things that we do at our house.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Surely Not

Surely I'm not alone. 

Surely other people...

... have hard days. 

... receive bad news then don't have energy to clean the kitchen. 

... have to get up, get breakfast for four other people then themselves all in the dirty kitchen leftover from last night.

... can smell urine somewhere in the house but can't locate it to clean it. 

... have to go to the store with four little people and do mental math because they can't just fill the cart as though they don't have a budget.

... get a phone call at the store with more less-than pleasant news (cue: children screaming).

... have to endure at least one child crying all the way home.

... herd their children into the house begging them not to stop in front of them whilst carrying a baby in a carrier and a fistful of grocery bags. 

... can get all of the little angels lunch and then down for naps at the same time.

... have a naptime to-do list that in no certain order includes but is not limited to: blog, clean the kitchen, clean the bathroom, breathe, and mop the house. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Screaming through the Streets

I'm in the laundry room with the washer and dryer going, the low hum of the computer, and the radio on, but I can still hear Joel in the other room.  As a Mommy, I'm told I have great hearing (though my husband says it's selective).  I can hear the difference between a frustrated outburst and a playful lion from 20 yards.  I can hear the silence that is a child rummaging through the bathroom cabinets behind a closed door.  I can hear toddler footsteps from the other end of the house.  And I know when they're in my pantry first thing in the morning foraging because I'm still in bed too weary to feed them breakfast... at 6:15am. 

However, I wish I could only hear my 3 1/2 month old (who needs to poop) cry.  Instead, my whole body lurches in pain.  It's the pain you feel when you see someone you love with a significant wound.  It happens when my husband, a general contractor, comes home with a granite induced bruised shin or a gash on his hand.  That's Mommy's pain when baby is crying uncontrollably.  It makes me want to go running and screaming through the streets.  Maybe that would provide some release. 

The worst part: the other three are asleep.  I almost had 4 - 4 and under napping concurrently.  If I don't get a few minutes each day to power down for just a few minutes, I get pretty testy by the end of the day.  That is, I lose my temper when I'm in my own strength. 

Today instead of freaking out - because of the good example my husband set by not losing his temper even though I left the soaker hose on all night and it broke spewing water in the yard for probably hours - I'll hum "I need Thee every hour" as I fold a few more clothes and plan dinner.

Color on Paper

We're not really a house with a ton of rules.  "Never wake a sleeping baby" is really the only one I can think of, honestly.  But we do say other phrases frequently like, "Use your fork", "Don't scream, say 'Please stop'", and "Don't slam doors".  One that I don't say often (because I usually hide the crayons and markers) is "Color on paper."  This seemed like the easiest way to explain it.  Instead of telling them where they can't color (walls, books, tables, etc..) I just tell them where they can color - PAPER.

Well, my almost 3 year old likes to color.  She even asked me if she could.  But I got distracted and later I found what she had been coloring. 
I said, "Where do we color?" 
She said, "Color on paper." 
I said, "What's this?" 
She said, "Sa* stool." 
I said, "Okay, now you have to clean it up." 
*[translation: It's a]

(photo by Cynthia Maloney)

So I gave her a green scrubby pad with some baking soda and dish soap and she started scrubbing.  I kid you not, she scrubbed that sa stool for an hour!  It's clean.  I might have to spend 30 seconds on a couple places she missed, but you've never seen anything like it.  She scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed.  She didn't play outside with her siblings.  She scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. 

You'd think I'm telling this story because I'm proud of her.  I'm not.  She was supposed to hate every minute of it.  She was supposed to think of the consequences of scrubbing before she dared take a crayon to anything other than paper. 

Parenting fail. 

I think she likes cleaning up messes.  Let's just hope she doesn't make a mess just for the sake of cleaning it up. 

PS... I'm hiding the Sharpies.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Reclaiming the Livingroom

We have four small children.  Okay, we have a preschooler, 2 toddlers, and an infant.  But just because I'm out numbered does not mean that they get control of my house.  I haven't been pregnant or breastfeeding (or both) for this long to just hand over the keys to the short messy ones.  That's right, I store 98% of their toys in their room (or in their part of the yard). 


We have a lovely Ikea corner shelf in our "great room"  (if you can call the living room/dining room area of a 900 sq foot house a "great" room) with grown up pretty things on the top three levels and a couple of books and toys within reach for our little friends.  In fact, I have exclusively Sandra Boynton books on display next to pretty wooden toys.  I opted for wooden toys instead of the plastic turtle shape-sorter that makes too much noise because well, it makes too much noise, and that shade of green just doesn't cut it in my great room. 

When they play with their toys, they play with them all over the house (except the master bedroom and the laundry room which doubles as my office).  But at bedtime, all the toys return to their appropriate storage for a good night's rest, or, at the very least, to a basket sitting outside their door awaiting storage the next day.

You ask, "Why, Mommy Brain?  Why do you bother putting the toys away?"

Oh, let me tell you.  First of all, they put them away, but that's another blog for another day.  It's the same reason I make my bed every day and (attempt to) clean off the bathroom counter.  I like order.  Admittedly, I like it too much.  In fact, I think it's my own twisted way of controlling something in my life since I can actually control nothing (God is in control - another blog for another day).  I don't clean* my house for my visitors who all know how many small children I have.  I clean my house so that when I sit down at the end of the day, I can stop twitching because I am surrounded by a clean and peaceful living space. 

If you wonder why I twitch, it's the noise.  Small children are loud, and I am, at heart, an introvert.

To change things up next week, I'm going to put out the Richard Scarry books and some different wooden toys.

*Clean is a relative term.  What I'm referring to is relatively neat and tidy... not necessarily sterile. 

School Clothes

I cried yesterday.  I was putting Seth's clothes in the closet, and I thought to myself: "These are school clothes, these are play clothes."  I stopped.  My baby boy (okay he's 4) needs school clothes.  He starts preschool at the local elementary school in only 2 months. 

It isn't my first choice to put him in preschool.  It's not because he's so gifted that he needs to be academically challenged.  Rather, it's because he has a significant speech delay.  They call it a moderate speech delay, but he's a year behind his peers.  I only understand 80% of what he says and I can't hold a conversation with him.  He can't (or won't - we're not sure) answer questions like, "How many sisters do you have?"  or  "What did you do in Sunday school today?"  It's our hope that being around his peers with typical development will push him to the next level.  I hate admitting my weakness, but I spend a significant amount of time keeping my wits about me and making sure our house can function with clean clothes and dishes.  I don't get to spend 30 minutes a day with just him and helping his pronunciation. 

It hurts my heart that my oldest, you know the first person you love completely without them giving you anything in return, isn't perfect (for lack of a better term) in everyone else's mind too.  There's something special about the first child and it's hard not to be disappointed that he's not the crowning jewel I dreamed of so long ago.  But I am disappointed.  I don't want him to have to struggle.  I want to hear what's going on in his little mind.  I'm not disappointed in him.  I'm disappointed that there's not a quick fix. 

So, we're sending him to preschool.  We're crossing our fingers and saying a prayer that when he puts on his backpack and gets on a bus to spend 2 hours a day with children who are older than he is will actually help him catch up a little.  We hope it doesn't undo all of the character lessons we've taught him to be around children from families with different priorities and values than ours.  We pray that he doesn't feel like he's being banished.  We just want what's best for him. 

Yep, I'm crying again today. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Running Plot

We were on our way to church this morning, and we weren't talking because a certain 2 year old of ours likes to sing loudly... and off key... so conversations are challenging at best.  Instead, my mind wandered to an episode of Bones I watched the other day.  I was trying to remember the plot and whodunnit.  Then, I realized that that is a serious waste of mental capacity.  Sure, if I was pondering the news and solving the world's woes, that might've been productive.  But I wasn't.  And it wasn't. 

It got me to thinking.  I've been a little bit of a rebel after a legalistic Christian experience I had a few years ago.  I think spiritual discipline has it's place, but a rigid schedule for a relationship with my Savior didn't make sense to me.  So I kind of gave it up.  In fact, the term "quiet time" makes me cringe.  That's not to say that I don't pray.  I sort of pray all day.  When people come to mind or when fears try to
creep in, I lift them up because I know God is listening.  But the callouses on my knees are from cleaning grout with a toothbrush and pulling weeds in the garden, not spiritual fervor. 

However, I think I've decided to start reading my Bible during naptime.  Or maybe I'll listen to it online (instead of watching Bones).  My reason is not to fulfill some religious obligation.  Rather, I want the plot running in my mind to be about forgiveness, grace, and hope.  I want to have His words continually on my lips (I'm pretty sure that's in Psalm 119 somewhere) and I want to renew my mind (that's in one of Paul's letters).

Oh I'll still Watch Instantly while I fold clothes from time to time... it's a welcome diversion.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Dying Art

I saw a friend's post on FaceBook yesterday, "Wondering if people having guests for dinner is a lost art?"  Lost, no.  Dying, yes.  We're actually having dinner guests this evening, but it wouldn't be my first choice.  I have to stretch outside of my comfort zone to do it. 

I imagine that my mythological reasons for not having folks over more often are similar to your reasons.  Well, since I need to psyche myself up a bit, you're welcome to listen in.

  1. Myth: My house is too small.  Debunked:  My house is quite large compared to houses around the world.  I've been around the world and I tell you I've met some great hosts.  Their houses were not large, yet they had some of the best parties gathered around a blanket on the floor with tea and bread on the menu.  Here's what's amazing: they knew I was wealty in comparison, but I didn't detect insecurity.  They shared what they had and were grateful for my company and I was grateful for theirs. 
  2. Myth:  I can't cook.  Debunked:  I can cook, but often I just don't want to.  This is selfish.  My temporary discomfort in preparing a larger meal is quickly replaced with the joy of laughter and friendship.  (By the way, if you are one of those people who burns water, pick up some fried chicken and have a good ol' time.  It's no excuse to be a hermit.)
  3. Myth:  My house is too dirty.  Debunked:  My house is not a wasteland.  I am not a hoarder.  Everyone knows that I am outnumbered by small children.  I don't have to knock down every cobweb before guests arrive, but I will at least make my bathroom less gross and my kitchen less scary.  Having a lived-in house is more comfortable for guests anyway. 
  4. Myth:  Their children will make a mess.  Debunked:  Their children will make a mess, but this is selfish too.  My temporary discomfort cleaning up after the fact is a small price to pay for the great fun that will be had under my roof or in my backyard. 
  5. Myth:  It will be awkward.  Debunked:  It might be awkward, but unless the folks coming for dinner are from another planet and refuse to play a hand of cards or knock around a croquet ball, you can find something to do instead of having deep conversation.  The bonds of fun are strong!
  6. Myth:  It's too expensive to feed another family.  Debunked:  Buy a cheaper cut of meat.  Find a recipe that's plentiful and is made with less expensive ingredients.  Have them bring the side dishes and beverages.  You have to cook for your family anyway so to add guests, you can make a little extra or water down the soup.  Better yet, have someone over for dessert.  No excuses allowed. 

Golden Rule of Hospitality:
(I just made this one up)
It's not about impressing your friends with fancy faire or an elaborate estate.  It's about fellowship and friendship in a lonely world. 

Now, what are you waiting for?  Call a neighbor.  Text a friend.  Have someone over for dinner.

Uncomfortable Skin

I know a lot of ladies who are fashionistas.  This is not my gift.  I can bake with the best of them and I can hold my own when decorating my house, but personal style illudes me.  Are the well-dressed and made-up snobs about people who aren't?  Do they gather in a room and giggle about my Old Navy flip flops and Goodwill handbags?  Even if my budget would allow for $200 cut and color and $300 shoes (which it most certainly does not), I'm not sure that's my thing.  I'd have to hire a stylist... seriously.

Here's what gets me: I don't particularly care if you can bake or not.  I eat store bought cookies and cakes from a box.  So why would I think that my fashionable friends point and laugh at my style...or lack thereof?  Why am I, at the ripe old age of 31, still uncomfortable in my own skin?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


I just put my four year old down for a nap.  He was happy to take a mid-day break from active play.  We have not given in to his periodic nap boycots even though it seems that they do give up naps around age 3.  Instead, we put him back to bed repeatedly or maybe give him 5 more minutes to play then try again.  If he gets up, we issue "consequences". 

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Pièce de Résistance

We did it.  Our parties keep getting better and better!  Yesterday, we had 76 friends and family members gathered in our backyard for a wonderfully festive event: our son's 4th birthday and the 4th of July.  And it was one heck of a good time, if I do say so myself (inspite of the rain).

  • Details.  I think a party is in the details.  I wanted there to be patriotic flare all over the house and that's what I did!
We had red, white, and blue balloons in front and in back.  We had red, white, and blue homemade bunting and garland.  We had red, white, and blue flowers on the tables.  We had red, white, and blue tattoos for the kids (and adults, I suppose).  We had handmade red, white, and blue "sparklers" on display in the bathroom and in the kitchen windowsill.  And the food table was donned with red, white, and blue pinwheels surrounded by red white and blue flowers.
  • Food (and Beverage).  My other favorite element of a good party is the food. 
We served marinated and skewered beef, pork, and chicken.  We served cupcakes made from scratch with buttercream frosting.  We had "grilled" veggies.  Then, everyone else brought stuff to share so we had pasta salad and fruit salad and green salad and watermelon... the list could go on forever!  There were probably 10 different varieties of beer and a huge pitcher of homemade sangria. 

  • Detailed Food.  This, for me, is the pièce de résistance.  If I am able to incorporate the best of homemade food with my party's theme, I am Martha Stewart for a day.  Except, I don't have her budget so maybe I'm Real Simple meets Martha Stewart with a dash of Country Living.  I am Charming and Cheap
We served homemade from scratch white cupcakes cake with red, white, and blue sprinkles melted inside the cake and topped with a dollop of fluffy white frosting and sprinkled again with red, white, and blue.  And for the finale (drum roll please), we served skewered blueberries and strawberries finely finished with homemade marshmallows shaped like stars.  Am I tooting my own horn too much?  

Here's the deal.  I'm not so original, but I do so enjoy throwing a good party.  I got all of my ideas online.  I'm happy to share all of my secrets... later.  I'm still recovering. 

Oh.  Did I mention the Mason Jar lanterns?  Spectacular!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Roll with It

I just realized that I have an almost 4 yo with a speech delay (it's like communicating with a 2 yo), a "typical" yet strong-willed almost 3 yo, a 17 mo in orthotics, and a 3 mo who - by the grace of a good God - sleeps through the night.  That sounds really hard.  Except, when it's your life, you just roll with it.  I choose not to feel sorry for myself... most days :). 

Today's Request

It's hard not to let those thoughts flit through my head.  I'm not a worrier.  I really don't think of worst-case scenarios very often at all.  But it happens. 

I just sent my two oldest (3 and 2) with my mom to the movies.  It's a 30 minute drive in unfamiliar territory for my her.  While I trust her driving (heck, I survived 16+ years of it), I had one of those thoughts: "What if they never come back?"  I don't think that when my husband goes to work.  I didn't really even think that when my brother went to serve our country in a war zone.  But that thought flitted through my head just now and I had to remember "Be anxious for nothing". 
Aside on worry:  I don't think that moms who are cautious are worriers.  I think it's a God-given instinct that we think streets and heavy machinery can be dangerous and that water and open flames pose a hazard.  We are protective of our children when there is a potential threat... this is normal.  It's not normal to be gripped with fear.

Every translation says it slightly differently, but I like the English Standard Version of Philipians 4:6.
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

I have to admit.  I've had to remind myself of that a lot lately... way more than usual.  I met a gal a few months ago.  She was holding her fourth child and I was holding my fourth child.  Her little boy was 11 weeks old.  My little boy was 4 weeks old.  Just like me, her oldest is a boy followed by two girls and then a baby boy.  We had a great conversation about life with four.  We even "friended" one another on FaceBook.

Then, the unthinkable.  I received word that her little guy died of SIDS when he was 4 months old.  I still tear up (actually, I cry big tears) when I think about it.  Why do things like that happen?  My heart aches for her and her family.  Then I get selfish and I think, is there anything I can do to prevent it from happening at my house? 

My baby boy, Joel, is the sweetest, most content baby you've ever seen.  He eats and sleeps very predictably throughout the day and even sleeps through the night.  I feel like I know him very well: he doesn't like to have a wet diaper, he only poops every 6 days, he likes it when Mommy sings, and he loves his sister Jenna (she's 14 mos older).  But since that happened to my new friend, I have checked on his breathing every day when it seems like he's napped too long.  I watch for the rise and fall of his little chest in the mornings too.  And I have to consciously tell myself, "Be anxious for nothing" two or three times every day. 

It's the last part of that encouragement (maybe admonition) from Paul that I don't always heed:
in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 

I am so grateful for every moment I have with each of my children.  Thank you, Lord, for the gift of life and the privilege of motherhood.  But my request today: continue to heal my friend's broken heart. 

Feeding Time

It's a good thing I'm nursing.  If I weren't, I might forget to feed my children.  As it turns out, they're on the same feeding schedule I am... OFTEN. 

Mark it off

I've heard people joke about writing something on a list just to have the pleasure of marking it off.  Is that strange?  Is that really funny?  I think not.  I think it's perfectly normal.  Then again, I have Mommy Brain.  It's diagnosable, you know.