Friday, December 6, 2013

To New Moms

You know, I tend to wince at the term "parenting expert" and I am certainly not one, but I do have a little bit of experience with my 3 babies. Here are a few simple things that were running through my head tonight - things I wish I'd fully understood right from the get-go.

Your baby needs *some* germs. Stop sterilizing every little thing. It's fine for a few weeks, but common sense is what will work best. Stay away from sick people, but don't worry about cloroxing the stuff baby won't even be touching for months. 

Crying isn't dying. I'm not for sleep training weeks-old babies, or leaving them to wail just because, but if they cry the whole time you are in the bathroom, rest assured they are still going to be okay. Whether a trip to the restroom or a dash into the kitchen to make a sandwich, you have to take care of your body's basic needs, and the baby won't die in 30 seconds. Really. It's okay. Don't let a frazzled panic take over when baby gets upset. Which segues into my next point.

Stay calm. As much as humanly possible, just stay calm. When the baby starts screaming because they are hungry and you are in the Target checkout, at the very least over half of the people in your immediate vicinity are either parents, grandparents, or are closely involved with a niece/nephew/adopted-by-love-friend's-baby. They know. They get it. They sympathize. Sure the occasional grouch is there, huffing at your noisy babe and/or looking at your child with grave concern as if you can't hear them, or worse, you just don't care. But you will be happy to discover that most of what you will encounter is understanding and even straight-up kindness. Smile at your angry, irrational baby and talk to them; smile at the clerk and pay. It is okay. It's really, completely, totally okay, and you absolutely will not be the only mother to come through the store with a wailing child that day. I guarantee it.

Babies aren't the only ones who get overstimulated. It is perfectly normal to feel like you just want to go off alone and have NO ONE TOUCH YOU for an hour or so. It's NORMAL.  Let Dad take a shift (I recommend leaving the premises for breaks as soon as Dad is ready to fly solo for an hour or two - a change of scenery is re-centering like you wouldn't believe). In that hour you will reset a bit and probably start to miss your baby and long to come home and sniff that precious little baby head. It's okay to let yourself miss them. I would even say it's a good thing.

And hey, good news, you probably can do it all. Seriously. If you want to. With the right level of commitment, you, my friend, can probably keep your home clean to a sparkle, your baby mostly clean, and cook three hot meals a day, coordinating the dryer to go off right at your available moments so that nothing EVER piles up. But you don't have to. And I recommend that you give yourself permission to not run around on a frantic mission to make your home look like there are no children or babies there. Choose your priorities. Let snuggling and sleep be among them. It isn't laziness to do the dishes once a day instead of making absolutely sure nothing ever sets in the sink past the end of a mealtime. Sometimes it's just more efficient that way. Asking your husband to help you fold things or stick something in the oven isn't a sign of your inadequacy. I promise. 

This is a learning experience. Not because you aren't wise/smart/prepared enough, but because that is the very nature of parenthood. We go in expecting to be teachers; trainers, so we prepare for that role. Instead we quickly realize that it is us at the little desk watching the blackboard. It is really easy to feel like you are failing when others seem so confident and together. Rest assured that you are never seeing the complete picture, and we are all a little bit of a mess when it comes down to it. 

Your job? It's hard. Usually in ways you never expected. We are *all* constantly confronting things we aren't sure how to handle. That is why it is so incredibly important to support one another.


Welcome to Club Parenthood. We're glad you're here. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

It sums it up. :)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

In Which I Reject End of the School Year Guilt... Before School Starts

It's our second year to homeschool, and we haven't started yet. Like last year, we're starting in September instead of August. I made this decision months ago, but I still feel a bit left out and "behind" as I watch all of the photos of backpack-toting children fill up my Facebook and Instagram news feeds. It's all so new each year - the notebooks are flat and unmarked, the pencils are hazardously sharp and ready to go. The backpacks are free of sharpie marks and crinkles and lunch leftovers from the week before. I love it. Even though my kids don't really use new backpacks (since school happens in the dining room), each new box of crayons sings to me of possibilities. I'm still a child like that.

In all of my excitement, there is an undercurrent of realism. Last year was hard. It was also great. A newborn, angry and tormented with colic and silent reflux layered over our first school year experience. There were a lot of sacrifices made, and a lot of items on my list that had to be removed or adjusted. Fun activities weren't as frequent as we'd hoped, and field trips were practically a joke. But we finished, and at the end of the year when I assessed Micah's understanding of all of the skills we'd learned that year, I was absolutely proud.

But I know - I know that my fun activities will start strong each new school year and there will be fewer of them in the second half of the year. I know that even though everyone clears their calendar for the first weeks of school year, the supplemental commitments and activities creep back in and that is life. I understand that in the first part of our school year, lunches will be more interesting, lessons will be more fun, and everyone will be more excited.

And I don't feel bad about that anymore. Something clicked for me last year. Even if we are eating ramen noodles for lunch and having pizza for dinner by May, I will probably still be on Pinterest looking for fun First Day of School activities come the end of June. Despite the jokes about getting lazy toward the end of the school year and our humorous self-deprecating remarks, I think maybe it's just supposed to be this way. I won't feel guilty for being tired as we pull the rear wagon wheels over the finish line at the end of the school year - my kids will be "done" and weary, too. We're in it together. Whether it's public school, private school, or homeschool.

We start strong because it's a new beginning; a new start. There will be hard days, but we anticipate and celebrate the good moments we can immediately appreciate and the memories we gain from pushing through the hard ones. We start strong because our kids are important to us and their education and future is something we invest in fully and unapologetically. We finish tired because we worked hard.

So here I am, excited for our curriculum to arrive on my doorstep, deciding now not to let the guilt creep in right on cue after Christmas break. Whether lunch is sandwiches cut into the shape of diagrammed sentences or ramen noodles with sausage thrown in so we feel like we've had some protein. We're going to do it, and we're doing it together. All of it.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Moving and Changing

I'm sinking into my husband's video gaming chair (which is actually just a lawn chair) and waiting for the long silences that signal that the children have fallen asleep. JJ is softly snoring in the crib near me and Micah and AJ are listening to stories on an old tape player and CD player respectively.

Today we had the luxury of Daddy coming home between work and work. Mondays used to be his late day. He'd leave by eight or nine, usually, and come home between nine and eleven. Since our recent move, work is close enough that his one late task doesn't necessitate that he be gone all evening. Now he comes home for dinner and the typical evening rituals and dashes back to work for a brief moment before coming home to go to bed.

This move has been so fantastic for us. There's the obvious fact that I was dying to get out of the country (I know -- there will be no Hallmark Channel movies based upon my life, apparently), then the lovely blessings that just make life a million times easier for a mom of young children. More immediate access to... everything. Parks every few miles. Shorter commute to work and church, therefore lessened gas expense.

Our lovely little backyard is home to at least one bird's nest that we know of, and the bird bath in the middle of the yard predates our move here, so we have lots of flying guests in and out of the yard all day, feasting on our apparent abundance of earthworms. A glass jar for a growing feather collection sits in our dining area. So far our specimens appear to be blue jay and sparrow. But we've seen robins, so we're holding out for a real, vibrant robin feather.

Neighbors on three sides of us are grandparents. My social (chatterbox) Micah is absolutely in Heaven! It's been a great learning experience on the proper addressing of adults. A favorite moment was when he burst through the back door to report, "Mom! I met our neighbors! And they're reeeeeaaaaally nice. And I showed 'em my karate moves. And they were very impressed!" His story held up - they were really nice. I hope their days of peacefully relaxing on their back porch aren't behind them. We'll work on it. ;)

The other two sets of neighbors offered welcome gifts in the form of homemade spice cake and garden fresh okra. Both of which have been duly "accepted" with gratitude and the licking of lips.

I'm going to try to blog here more often, if the internet is ready for intermittent verbal vomit sprinkled with passion and sincerity, with just a little snark. Just a teensy. :)

See you soon.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Training to Tidy

First I want to start this blog by saying that if you are reading this to find a way to prevent your children from making messes, this is not the blog for you. I've dedicated many, many hours to training my children so that they can be kids and make a big, healthy mess and not be overwhelmed by the idea of turning around and cleaning it up. That is my goal. Not the prevention of toys in the living room (there are toys in my living room now, actually), but the training of little people to be responsible for their messes, starting simple and starting young. I think most mothers hold the belief that children should cut loose and play and make messes as part of a healthy childhood, and I am definitely among that group. In this blog I'm going to mainly talk about cleaning up *their* things - toys, etc. Chores and such are a different blog altogether, and a subject I'm still learning a lot about.

I usually start around walking age or just before. It depends on the child. Most parents do this in some form. We have always had a basket of baby toys in the living room when there is a baby in our home. The first thing I do is just involve the little toddler in dropping toys in the basket and work up from there. At first, I may plop them down by the basket of toys and give them a pile to put in the basket while I talk and guide. "Here you go! Put it in here like Mommy!" With second, third (or however many you have!) children, big siblings can be an amazing help with this. They usually *love* to praise the baby.

If the little one doesn't mimic my action I put a toy in their hand and help them drop it in and make a big show of praising them and asking if they can do it again. We usually sing The Cleanup Song from Barney and I know it sounds cheesy, but it makes them enjoy it so much more! It's a fun game and that's it. No pressure, no punishment. And I don't extend this exercise for long periods of time. You want to start gently.

Later we may move up to running toys to the basket and making it a race or any other sort of game that has them picking up. The trick here is to just do this casually and somewhat regularly. Don't make it a big ceremony or you will hate it and they will hate it. Praise them a lot! Overdo it, tell them how well they are doing, how big a help they are, how they are getting faster and becoming a "super speedy cleaner" or anything else that makes them feel that pride and confidence.

Eventually you can ask them to pick up the toys that go in the basket and they can do it easily. At that point I will usually push the toys together into something of a group or pile and let them transfer them. Before long, they will be able to run around and collect the toys as well and they won't need any help from you. Do not feel overly rushed to get through these early stages - they are such little people still yet! We're just laying groundwork and shaping good habits.

At some point, when they are able to understand rewards - offer one for their work. I usually say something like, "Would you like some m&ms? Okay, clean up your toys and I'll give you (whatever number)! You are such a fast cleaner, you can do it really fast, I bet!" Little boys, especially, tend to respond to such a challenge pretty favorably. And sometimes they don't feel that favorable - sometimes they don't want to clean up their few little toys, but often with a reward they will do it anyway.

That is a little overview of how we start, but the more daunting job is teaching them to clean their room (dun, dun, DUUUNNNN!).

This training takes time from Mom, no question. It will be less work at first to do it yourself, so it takes some patience and dedication to take the time to teach them, but it is so worth it!

When I was a kid, I would stand in the doorway of my messy room and feel completely overwhelmed. I saw piles of things that I couldn't mentally see as groups of like objects. It took me a long while to see it and break it down into tasks. Because of that memory I've tried to find a way to work my kids up to the ability to see a room full of toys and see a room full of groups of objects. Make sense? Not really? I'll explain.

Note: If you did not start during the toddler years and your child is well able to put toys in a basket, this next phase is where you will want to start with regards to cleaning their own room. As the kids get more and more competent with simple gathering and dumping of toys in a basket, we move to sorting through a messy room. I usually declare that we are going to clean their room and go in with them and quickly divide the things in the floor by the location of where they belong. In my daughter's room, for example, we'll have a pile of baby doll accessories that go in a specific bin, a pile of play food and dishes that go in another location, a pile of books, a pile of dolls, a pile of stuffed animals, etc. Just divide it by its home location.

Then I point to a pile and ask them where it goes and to put it there. Try to be as enthusiastic as possible and offer lots of praise. This is a big job to a small person. You will definitely want to work WITH them at first and slowly work up to less and less help from you.

I do a lot of enthusiastic talking and encouraging. "Look, you just cleaned that WHOLE part of your floor! Wow, doesn't your room look better already? It's so nice to have a clean room! Look how much room you have to play!"

Soon you can help them sort their toys (which truly takes very little time from Mom) and leave the room and periodically check on them to keep them on task.

Another tip is to grab anything that doesn't belong in their room and put it by the door or even toss it into the hallway to handle afterward - that becomes its own "pile" to handle last. With small children, sending them on an out-of-the-room mission to put something away is just tempting them with distraction and opportunities to dawdle.

I have never had to teach the kids to sort the toys into piles themselves. It is kind of a pointless thing for them to do - the purpose of sorting the toys for them to put away is not in the sorting, it is to teach them to know where everything goes and to look at a messy room and see groups objects and be able to mentally divide them.

When they have fully mastered the task of putting away the groups of things correctly (always make them put the toys where they go or you are wasting your time), you can move on to putting things away from one pile. Sometimes this stage isn't even necessary for your child and you can just use it when they have an exceptionally big mess. Just shove everything into one pile and they will be able to put each thing in its place because they have the training to know where it all goes. Before long, no sorting and no piles are necessary and they can clean their room quickly on their own.

I know that this sounds like an exhaustive amount of effort, but it reads a lot harder than it is. Each of these stages take time, and you don't have to rush through them.

My little girl is almost three and we are right between the groups of piles stage and the one big pile stage. If the mess is small, she flies around cleaning it herself with no problem. If it is bigger, she will get overwhelmed so I come in and help her by showing her to pick up all the big things first and then I will put a few things in groups for her. I definitely still help her with the cleaning if maybe she has had company or something and it is just a huge, overwhelming task. My five year old almost never needs help with his room, other than some help with his bed, and a checking over to make sure he was thorough. Again, though, they are still young and I still help them when they have had a friend over to play and the room looks like a war zone, which definitely happens at my house - I don't know about yours. :)

I also want to dedicate a moment to positive reinforcement and dealing with resistance to cleaning. If your child is overly resistant, consider a few things:

One - Are you asking too much of their age? Make sure your expectations are reasonable. Every kid is different and their ability to move through the stages of cleaning will vary.

Two - Are you making them clean up their messes too frequently? Announcing a cleanup every couple of hours for their room will make them burn out quickly. Quick blitz-cleaning of common areas ("Okay guys, I need you to clean up any toys you may have left in the living room, dining room, or hallway!") is a good thing to do, but I have found that obsessing over the state of their room kills their motivation very quickly.

And three - Are they motivated? Sometimes you do just have to make them do their work, but often it's good to break out some positive reinforcement, particularly when they are little. My kids know that if they want to play a game on the iPad, they might as well not even ask if their room isn't clean. That motivates them like nothing else. If you feel that offering a reward for cleaning their room is unnecessary, consider how you potty-train them - with praise and rewards. And then you wean them off of the rewards. You definitely don't need to offer rewards every time, but it is great to pull out something special now and then when you can see that they need a bit of extra motivation.

In summary, work with a goal in mind. My goals are two-fold:

One - Not for them to always have a clean room, but for them to always have the ability to clean their room when asked and the training to take on a task and see it in steps.

Two - For them to see the benefits of neatness and help them to LIKE their room better when it is clean.

Okay, and maybe there is also the fact that I really don't want to clean up after them forever. That may be one of my goals too. :-P

Now if someone can write a blog on how to teach a two year old to stop picking their nose? I'll be all over that.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mother's Day: To the Dads

It happens every year on the day after Mother's Day.

Many moms get up and go back to the trenches of parenthood, feeling just a little extra inadequate. Yesterday passed, and they watched most or all of their friends get honored, and recognized and spoiled all. day. long. Facebook and Instagram are jammed with photos of roses and candy, designer bags, giftcards to the spa, handmade cards in cute childish script. And they received nothing at all.

I always hear about it from more than one of them -- usually several of them. It was awkward. It was disappointing. They tried not to expect anything, but they couldn't help it. They did. The day is, after all, called Mother's Day, and they are, after all, a mother.

The friends who were honored and lauded can offer little comfort. They don't know what to do other than attempt to be sympathetic. And slowly, these forgotten moms start to dread this huge, unavoidable holiday every single year.

Don't let it be the woman in your life who is forgotten, Dads. It hurts. Probably  more than she will ever tell you. Honor and appreciation can be shown without cash or a debit card. Do something. Do anything.

Write her a letter, sing her a song, put candy in her sock drawer for her to find. Have breakfast cooking when she wakes up, print photos of the children and have them write letters to her on the back with crayons. Or the ultimate gift -- clean the house for her! I promise you, she would love any of these things. It doesn't matter if it's an awkward gift, and it doesn't matter if it's made out of a paper grocery bag and fingerpaint. Believe me when I tell you, your words of affirmation are the ones she wants to hear more than anyone else's.

And please -- please, please, please do not offer the excuse that "mothers should be honored every day of the year." She will agree with you because she doesn't want to seem selfish, but deep down she will feel that you are offering a well-worded excuse to do nothing. Don't do nothing.

Maybe I'm not qualified to write this post, because my husband never forgets Mother's Day. Or maybe I'm exactly qualified, because we know what it's like to have to get really creative because you have very little some years. I promise you can do it. And it isn't as hard as you think.

It's not enough to expect society to appreciate her today with sappy commercials and a discount at the buffet. Society doesn't appreciate her, and that is the problem. Monday she will probably go grocery shopping with a toddler, who may or may not have a complete meltdown in the cereal aisle. Or a baby who may or not have a poo-splosion all over her shirt. Or maybe it's a teen who is about to roll her eyes one too many times. Let her know that you see that!

The worst gift she can receive is nothing at all. And you can totally give her more than that. You're awesome -- that's why she married you. Show her this Sunday that you think she is awesome too.

Happy gifting, Dads.