Monday, February 27, 2012

The Meaning Behind the Mess

When I wake up in the morning to find this on my bathroom floor:

I have to remind myself that it started off like this:

No, that's not quite right. It started like this:

Mommy, I DON'T want to take a bath!

Really? Oh, that's too bad. I was wondering what would happen if I got a BIG bowl of snow from outside, and then scooped it into your hot bath. I was hoping you'd like to help me out with that.

Oooooohhhhh! Oooookay!

I was thinking science.

They were thinking snack.

And when my husband woke up this morning, he was thinking:

What am I supposed to do with this silver bowl and pair of spoons that's sitting smack-dab in the center of where I'm supposed to take a shower?


There's always a story behind the objects strewn throughout the house.

This is today's.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Just Around the Corner

My son got a Frog and Toad book from my mom for Christmas. In one of the stories, Frog keeps walking around corners, looking for Spring. I think I've been making the same mistake as Frog, assuming I'll just stumble across it each time I turn a corner.

I can't help but point out, though: he does find it in the end.

* * *

I started a new job on Monday; I'll be teaching three evenings a week: yoga or pilates. This will make me busier than I already am, which is not necessarily a good thing (an exercise class at the end of a ten hour day! i feel tired just thinking about it!), but it's doing something I love, which has a higher net gain, so we're going for it. Two nights a week I'll have the option of bringing the kids to the brand-new childcare, so my husband will get some time to himself, which I know he needs, too.

We're slowly figuring out what work-life balance looks like in our home. I keep hoping Spring is right around the corner with that question, but I think it may be a bit of a walk, yet, before we stumble into the sweet spot.

* * *

The housekeeper has been coming weekly. Here's the difference:

When I'm walking through the house, picking up all the millions of tiny toys that four kids under four have trailed in their wake as they wander to and fro for ten hours a day, and returning them to their rightful baskets and bins, and noticing all the curious crumbs and baby dustbunnies who seem so intent on growing up fast and then reproducing as rabbits are wont to do, here's what I think:

Should I text Nichole?

And then I think:

Yes, yes I should. 

Ooh, these toys look so cute arranged here! Let me pull these puzzles up front and see how the kids like them this week!

What I DON'T think anymore is this:

OMG, these floors desperately need to be cleaned. When can I do it? Will I have the ENERGY to do it at 10pm tonight? Can I get away with sweeping? WHAT is that sticky stuff? HOW did I miss it when I raced through with a clorox wipe after lunch? But the baby was sobbing and hanging on my leg, so tired she needed to be put down for nap right away, and I had three other sets of hands to wash, and three highchair trays, and OH MY GOD, WHEN am I going to get these floors done? Can I squeeze it in at naptime? But the kitchen is next to the baby's room and the bathroom is next to the toddler's room, and neither has been sleeping well lately, so filling and emptying the mop bucket is likely to wake them up, and nap is the only time I have alone with my three year old, and we like to hang out together in the quiet (which also makes it more likely the others will sleep). Should I give that up for the floors? DO I HAVE TO START GETTING UP AT DAWN TO CLEAN THE FLOORS, GOOD GOD, HOW WILL I EVER DO IT? I CAN'T KEEP UP! I CAN'T KEEP UP! I CAN'T KEEP UP! 

From a mental health perspective, I think we can all agree, the first is preferable.

* * *

We've had the easiest winter I remember in a long time. I can jog, outside, at least once a week. Snow falls occasionally, but it doesn't stick. I'm not having my usual argument with myself about how I really ought to take up skiing. Today it's nearly 50 degrees. I think I'm going to try and fit a jog in.

It's not as simple as a jog on a Wednesday afternoon. I want to write it like it is, probably because I wish it was that simple. And in some moments, it is.

It's still just February. I'll be working evenings AND I've agreed to take one of the boys full-time for the next two months. I also signed my three-year old up for a twice-a-week afternoon preschool (he went from complaining about not wanting to go to preschool when he turned four to suggesting that he attend a preschool for threes, starting now! I made a couple calls and found an opening at what appears to be a wonderful little place for little people! He starts next week.), and I'll have to transport him, with two other kids, during what should be their naptime. My car needs new tires. My husband's job continues to be incredibly demanding. We still need to eat those pesky three squares every day. Any number of things can -and will- overwhelm me in the next few weeks.

But right now, in this particular moment?

It feels like Spring is just around the corner.

I'll take it.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Just Do It With Love

Emily, at Keeping Time,  invited us to Celebrate Parenthood today. I didn't know if I'd make the deadline. I wanted to, but my confidence level was low. And then I visited Emily's blog, and she said the following magic words: stream of consciousness. And the sun came out from behind the clouds and I thought: I can do this!

So here goes:

The alarm goes off in the morning, and I groan. But then I roll over, walk down the stairs, and start my day. I have about 15 minutes to myself before the first of the boys I babysit arrives; my kids are usually still asleep. I meet little Noah (not his real name) at the door, and lead him into the living room, where we read stories until we hear Lulabelle, my baby girl (see previous disclaimer :)) beginning to stir. He looks at me and says: Baby!

Yes! Baby's waking up. Should we go and see her? I ask, and we walk to her room.

The next hour is a blur of diapers, and dressing, and Milo -our other friend (and another not-real name)- arriving, and my three year old boy, Ben (last fake-name announcement!) waking up. It's booty-wiping, and hand-washing, and tooth-brushing, until we all make it back to the living room.

I lie down on the floor, and await their gifts.

Can you read me this? 

Looka dis!

My turn! My turn!

Oooh! Oooh! Oooh! (with much pointing)

I a airpwane on you yegs pwease?

Mommy, mommy, I need a turn! I want to go first!

Katy, Katy, you read a choo-choo book a me?

Uh! Uh! Uh! (with much reaching)

I read. I look. I remind: it's still his turn. did you offer a trade? maybe he will trade you for another toy. I decipher: I think Lula is showing us her rattle! Pretty cool Lulabelle! I airplane, and keep track of whose turn it is. I read again, and decipher again: Up? Up? You want up? Heeere we go!

Eventually the chaos settles for a moment of pause. I gather them in, my children, and the children who aren't mine, but who are part of our story nevertheless, and who need me to care for them in the same ways my own do. In the same ways someone else cared for my babies while I was at work.

I gather them in, and I open a book with feathers, furry animal patches, rough denim and straw, flaps of fabric populating its pages, and I begin to read.

What dat?

Where is the rooster GOING, Mommy?

I touch! I touch!

Me turna pages!

What dat? I say what dat? And what dat, too?

Mommy, Lulabelle is climbing on your head! She is like the rooster in the hen house!

Baby! Baby on you head! Dat silly!

I touch!

My turn!

The cacophony begins again.

In the half hour I've spent in this stream-of consciousness, I've also: helped Ben make "words" with foam letters, retrieved an early-waking Lulabelle from her crib, shared an armchair with my two children, had my "hair done" by tiny fingers, brushed a baby girl's barely there hair because she likes the feel of the brush on her head, offered board books and kleenex, stopped to sing a song or two, kissed and been kissed.

The floors haven't been fully cleaned, from lunch. There's a load of laundry, waiting to be switched over to the dryer. I really need a cup of coffee. And I think that's Milo I hear, beginning to stir, an hour early.

There's always too much. There will always be too much, as long as I do this work. I'll never finish. So then the question becomes: Did I do it with love?

The answer, almost every day, is yes. Yes.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Myth of Doing it All

I found this today. Nearly a year late, but I'm not going to apologize for that. Because keeping up on blogs is not something I do anymore, although I once did. And what's more? I needed this today. I read through all 82 comments, and each and every one was a balm to my poor, angsty soul (I find myself embarrassed by the naval-gazing angst I'm able to summon at 35. I thought I was done with that after 17. Apparently not. I'm a veritable fountain of naval-gazing angst these days. You short on it? No worries. Just fill me in on the details of your situation. I can probably summon some extra angst on your behalf. I can gaze at your navel too! Life is hard for everyone. I find myself particularly skilled at bemoaning that fact on a regular basis these days. ).

So, in the spirit of myth-busting, here are the things I don't do:
  • My appearance doesn't really matter a fig to me right now. I color my hair from a box, less frequently than I ought to, if the goal is really to cover the grey. I wear yoga pants daily. Sometimes they even have bleach stains or small holes (that I tell myself nobody else notices). I'm 30 25 pounds overweight and have VERY few clothes I fit into. I don't buy new clothes because I'm cheap, and I'm broke, and I fully intend to lose this weight, even though I've accepted that it might take me a long time to do so. (I just took up jogging and lost 5 pounds in 10 days. Exercise is one of the things I DO do.) I almost never wear make-up, and I pull my dirty hair back into a tight ponytail, imagining that no one can tell how dirty it is far more often than is recommended by any standards whatsoever. Manicures and pedicures are foreign concepts to me, and I'd choose a massage first anyway, if offered the choice. There are so many things in my life that need work. My appearance is simply not one of them that matters enough to me. I'll be beautiful on the outside when I'm beautiful -and balanced- on the inside. I'm content to wait, and focus my attention on the inside for the time being.
  • I don't fold the kid's clothes. At some point in the last year, I realized that all of my children's clothing are made of cotton and/or fleece. WHAT is the point of folding that? I separate them into piles and stuff them into drawers. Far from apologizing for this, I think it's genius. My only regret is that it took me more than 2 years of my son's life to figure it out. I'm also pretty bad at keeping up on the laundry in general. I do it, but not in a timely fashion. And then once I wash it, it takes me forever to fold it and put it away. We live out of laundry baskets is more or less what I'm sayin'.
  • I'm really floundering, professionally, and I beat myself up over it pretty regularly. I plan curriculum for the kids, but infants and toddlers don't care that much about curricular plans, and so I fail as often as I succeed. I started a professional blog, and then froze, afraid to ask the parents for permission to blog about their kids. It's sitting, a series of incomplete drafts, waiting. And judging me. I need to ease up on myself here. And I also need to just ask permission, already. I'm stuck at frozen, though. And maybe that's okay. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's okay. But at the same time: I have a really hard time just letting it be okay.
  • I've always been okay with letting my housework suffer. I frankly don't give a shit if my floors are clean. But suddenly, I can't ignore dirty floors! My house is my classroom. This: Honestly, it SUCKS! I actually kind of miss my dirty house. But, I've hired someone to help me keep it clean, and I have no qualms or guilt over this at all. Just grateful it's an option, and determined to do what I have to do to balance the budget and make it work (no new clothes? no problem! as long as someone other than me cleans the friggin' floors!!!).
And -because I haven't done it enough recently- I want to look at what I AM doing:
  • I'm a kind, loving parent and child care provider. I don't give myself nearly enough credit for this. Some days I really beat myself up over being "short tempered". And then I really think about it and realize: I sighed. That's all I did. I sighed a few times, and inside my mind, I'm suddenly a terrible, terrible teacher, ZOMG! The kids don't seem to notice. And that's because I am -the vast majority of the time- patient, loving, and kind. And the kids who come here know it, and they're happy here. And MY kids know it, and they are loving and kind to me in return. That's important. And I do it well. I should pat myself on the back for this more often.
  • I exercise nearly every day. I do yoga stretches almost daily, and pilates and jogging a few times a week. I've always hated jogging, and this past month is the first time I've stuck it out. Tonight I walked a half-mile to a reservoir near my house, and jogged 2.4 miles around it (3 laps). Then I walked a half-mile home. For the first time ever, it felt great to jog. I'm proud of myself for that.
  • Since September, I've been working very hard to eat intuitively. This is SUPER HARD for me because I HATE to pay attention to my body. I'm NOT a sensory learner, and it takes a lot of hard work and concentration to tune into sensory cues. But I've done it, and I've gotten better with practice. I didn't lose any weight at all between September and January, but (like I mentioned above) I lost 5 pounds in 10 days as soon as I started running. I believe this is due not just to running, but to the fact that I've been practicing listening to my body, and feeding it healthy food that makes it feel great for the past number of months. We also plan our lunches and dinners, and eat whole, fresh, homemade foods regularly. This is very hard work, but we make the time and effort for it (my husband gets the credit for cooking it!), and we're doing a better job with it now than we've ever done before.
  • I make the effort to plan curriculum, and carry it out with the kids. Not all the time, and it doesn't always work. But it would be easy not to make the effort at all, and I do. And when I fail, I come back to the drawing board and try again. This, too, is an area where I tend to see my failures looming larger than my successes. But I think making the effort, again and again, is a success of it's own. Both of the boys have significantly improved language skills since starting here, and while I can't claim all the credit for that, by any means, I can probably claim some. I'm a good teacher. It's often feels like I'm teaching in a vacuum, where no one cares if I bother or not. I'm used to reporting directly to the state department of education. I'm used to having big names in Albany in my rolodex, and my in-box. So what I do now often feels like less like a step down, and more like a leap off a cliff to the no-man's land below. But I haven't given up. I practice good teaching in no-man's land. Nobody sees it. Nobody seems to care. But I keep doing it.
  • Finally, my husband and I both deserve some credit for this: we are in what's probably the hardest season of our life together so far, and we are kind to one another. We are soft, and supportive, and loving. We make each other better, but we also make each other feel better, when it might be easier to blame or bicker. Sometimes I am so full of the overwhelmed it seems impossible that it won't leak out the seams and spill all over the one person who can take it. But I breathe deeply, and ask him how his day was, and then rather than fight, we sit together and talk about how hard life is for us right now, and we offer each other permission to forgive ourselves our failings. We're in it together, a good team. And sometimes it seems the way we baby each other through the hard is the very best way to survive it.
What do you do best? What could you give a flying fig about? Tell me in the comments, pretty, pretty please. I need to hear it! And maybe, just maybe, it would do you some good to say it, too.