After a very full week away to check on our old stompin’ grounds (which gave me unlimited fodder to be used here later), this Mama worked hard all this Monday to keep the stress of being away, away.  Instead of unpacking, running millions of errands, and making 15 phone calls, I began a pilot program on how I will, henceforth, adjust to coming back from a trip.  It’s a work in progress, but it goes something like this:

1) Get ourselves to the park.  Sweat it out when it’s 95 degrees and 85 % humidity at 10 a.m.  Must. Play. Outside.  No exceptions.

2) Leave the kids alone.  Let them play with the toys they missed while we were away.  Let them settle in and work it out through their play.  Resist the temptation to ask anything more of them.

3)  Utilize books-on-tape, so that a load of laundry can get thrown in, Little can have a nap, and one or two (but not fifteen) phone calls can get made.

4) SIT DOWN.  Read an old Childcraft book about trains and planes and space age stuff that, as of yet, has not come to pass.  Talk about it and read some more.

5)  Go to SouleMama to see what she’s been cookin’ up lately.  Be inspired by her inspirations, like 101 Cookbooks, and plan some yummy meals and get to the store.  Ideally, take Sweet Husband along to knock-out shopping speedily so there’s still time to go for a long walk and have sushi for dinner.

6)  Be sure Big and Little get baths, since it will have probably been about a week since their last one.  The pool counts for something, right?

7)  Remember that it took almost a week to get ready to be gone for a week and that it will take about a week to catch-up from being gone a week.  Breathe.  Laugh.  Remember that they will grow up with lightning speed and that I will miss it if I sweat the small stuff all the time.

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As much “work” as it is staying home to raise and homeschool two little things, there is so much joy and truth and fun I get to watch and be a part of every single day.  I don’t have time to sit on the couch, eat bon-bons and watch Ophry (as my Mima calls it), but much of the time I do wonder how I got so lucky.     

I guess I could recall the ways this week was difficult or focus on all the unfinished business that will go into next week being unfinished, but I really think it would be more in-line with how I want to live my life to just be thankful.   

So here are my top 5 memories from the week that took my breath away or made me laugh out loud or cry big Mama Tears of Joy (I could do a top 10, but that would just be showing-off):

1) My kids’ purenaked enthusiasm over the snakes, turtles, fish, and opossum we got to see at the nature center.  Therefore, I had never before been so excited to see these creatures, except, of course, when I was young.

2) Getting to spend most of a day with my mom and my kids – thrifting, exploring, eating at another hole-in-the-wall diner.  And knowing that this is rare, to spend hours and hours with important people, especially for kids and grandparents.  The fact that it is not rare in my kids’ lives makes me feel really, really held.

3) Tickling and sibling-wrestling at bedtime.  Um, actually two hours past bedtime.

4) Coming to the conclusion that I’d rather talk with Big about books and bluebirds and baseball than with most gr0wn-ups about most anything.  Sorry.

5) Realizing that thankfulness breeds thankfulness and that I could do a Top 5 every hour and that it would make me a lot more thankful.  Or just a lot more.

This weekend’s adventure was not really fun.  It wasn’t inspiring or daring or enthralling.  But I do count it as an adventure, and not just so I’d have something to post on Sunday night.  I spent the weekend being a grown-up.

I didn’t climb or bike or run.  I did do some yoga to help my achin’-grown-up-stressed-about-nothing-and-everything-back.  I dozed-off twice with Little, but did not get major Sit Down and Read Time like I thought I might.

I got some good stuff in, like picking up food from our local food club and I made a dent in freezing a half bushel of Arkansas peaches.  I got to spend some time at church getting-to-know some folks.  Sweet husband got some much needed rest, Big got a major haircut, and Little got a leisurely bath with Mama.  We watched Ponyo and Alice in Wonderland, huge treats for Big from us sticklers about screen time.  I had a very satisfying experience cleaning out my fabric closet in preparation for a huge secret mission project, and because of how the cards fell, didn’t need to cook dinner for three nights in a row.

So why am I so stressed-out?  My friend, Mama Wise, and I,were talking recently, and she said that we really run into problems when we need for life to be organized “just so” (because life is anything but organized) and when we think that our life is harder than everyone else’s.  Man, that stuck with me.

I do think we’ve had our fair share of life stressors for the last two-and-a-half years, and sometimes I have to just sit down, breathe, and remind myself that slowing down is a good thing.  That not adding anything extra to our plate is okay.  That weekends when not much happens are totally called for.

Those are the weekends I prefer, actually.  We have two kids under five, so sports are not in the picture, yet, and we make it a point to stay as not busy as possible.  We like it that way. Time to play baseball and rest and read extra books and play extra games – that’s what makes a perfect weekend for us.

But weekends are also a time when I let myself slack-off a bit when it comes to thinking of other things to do, crafts to dig into, projects to start with or for Big and Little, or thinking about homeschooling or how I’m not doing enough.  We all know that the parenting job description does not include days off, but we also know that we need space to think and feel and do on our own, whether that’s spent writing, reading, napping, climbing, or knitting.

The trick for me is balancing the strong desire to be with my kids and my husband ninety-nine percent of the time with making myself take time away that recharges me.  And “away” does not always mean out of the house, although that is certainly needed and justified.  “Away” can mean just giving myself the gift of no guilt. No guilt for letting Big watch a movie while everyone else gets some rest.  No guilt for not planning anything extraordinary for a Saturday afternoon.  No guilt for using take-out as a break from the kitchen.

The real gift isn’t the kid’s animated feature or the sushi-in-a-box.  The real gift is the guilt-free headspace and the confidence that come Monday, I’ll bounce back.

As for the ‘organized’ part of Mama Wise’s sage advice, I definitely feel better when I have counter space (clear of games, cricket containment devices, rubber bands, and various other relics from a day with kids) on which to prepare dinner, a floor that is safely devoid of little cars and Lincoln Logs, and some overarching semblance of order.  But life is definitely messy.  I want it to be messy.  But I also like for things to run smoothly when possible.

I’m not naive enough to think that anyone’s life is perfect and beautiful all the time, but when SouleMama posted a picture of her kitchen after a night of cooking dinner, I breathed such a huge sigh of relief.  “I’m normal!  This is all normal!”

It was the same sort of feeling as when I posted the picture of our unmade bed.  None of us are perfect.  I don’t want to be perfect and I don’t want to raise kids who think everything should be picture-perfect all the time, especially themselves.  When I’m attuned to the lil’uns, playing, laughing, helping them with the par-for-the-course meltdowns that come with being one and four, the mess inevitably piles up around me.  That’s okay. 

There’s always the weekend.  And I’ll bounce back.

As much “work” as it is staying home to raise and homeschool two little things, there is so much joy and truth and fun I get to watch and be a part of every single day.  I don’t have time to sit on the couch, eat bon-bons and watch Ophry (as my Mima calls it), but much of the time I do wonder how I got so lucky.     

I guess I could recall the ways this week was difficult or focus on all the unfinished business that will go into next week being unfinished, but I really think it would be more in-line with how I want to live my life to just be thankful.   

So here are my top 5 memories from the week that took my breath away or made me laugh out loud or cry big Mama Tears of Joy (I could do a top 10, but that would just be showing-off): 

1) Fueling Big’s obsession with The Boxcar Children by letting him listen to the book-on-tape during rest time, in the car, before dinner… heck, any ol’ time.  Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny may as well be family members, at this point.

2) Spending over two blissful hours at our favorite city park.  That’s unheard of here.  It was nothing short of a summer miracle.

3) Wondering if my kids will ever know what shopping for brand new clothes is like.  They get so giddy and silly in the thrift store, rifling through unique clothes, funky toys, and “cool, old books,” that  I kind of hope they never do.

4) Watching Big put a cicada in a jar after months of hearing them and wondering how he could catch one.  And letting go of some of my grown-up ideology about catching living things.  Every time, whether it’s a fish or a moth or a dragonfly, he says the same thing, “It’s so beautiful!”

5) Instead of seeing the dust particles floating around as proof that I need to clean more often, I saw them for what they are: beautiful playthings….

I have this obsession that I might as well get off my chest now, if we’re to become friends.  Ready?

I love lists.  I love them.  I am a chronic lister.  I have grocery lists, lists of items to hunt for at garage sales, and library book lists ( I have a few short versions lying around, with 5 or 6 titles to search for the next time we go, and I also keep a small notebook where I write down titles to search for later.  I don’t know when, just… later.)

I keep lists of writing topics, meals to cook, and runs, yoga sessions, and bouldering routes to finish by the end of the month.  Christmas presents to be bought and made, things to fix around the house, and movies to ask my sweet husband to put in our Netflix queue.

Back in the day, when I came home from teaching and ate bon-bons and watched Ophry, there was a show about compulsive hoarders.  I’m a compulsive lister.  There will probably be a show about it soon, and I’ll probably be on it.  I’ll be famous.

When I’m a famous compulsive lister, I’ll hire List Takers.  List Takers will be like assistants who come in to my house and take lists I’ve made and go do the stuff on them.  They’ll go to the library for me and keep track of all the titles requested (and the 78 titles I have out at one time…. yep, that was the count on Monday).  They’ll do the stuff on the house list and the To Make Before Christmas List. 

Because I don’t think I ever will. 

I mean, I get some of it done, but not because I keep lists that tell me to.  In fact, I get more done when I’m not a slave to my list.

One of our favorite audiobooks is Frog and Toad Together, and wouldn’t you know it, my favorite story on it is ‘A List’, where Toad writes things like “wake up” and “eat breakfast” on his list, and then crosses them off when he completes such tasks.  It gets me every single time.  Luckily, Big doesn’t really understand why Mama laughs so hard at that story.

Part of me hopes I can drop the whole list thing and he’ll never know me to be a compulsive lister.  The other part of me thinks it’s just a goofy quirk that he can laugh at later on (like my sweet husband does now).

Most of the time I can laugh at myself about it, but sometimes I think listing keeps me from living in the present moment.  I feel that I need to do a few things before I can plop down in the reading chair with the cherubs or fill-up the water balloons.

And I have to say that the best days – the ‘These Are The Days’ days, are completely list-less.  Listless.  Hmmm. 

I do think I’m present a lot of the time, but there is a tendency to just jot stuff down on a list instead of going ahead and doing it. 

Those Wallechinsky books of lists are fascinating to me.  I need some.  And one time I  found a book that was photographs of people’s lists that were found on the floor in grocery stores or in parking lots or strewn in yards after trash pick-up.  They really are relics from lives being lived.  So many things planned and so many things left undone. 

When I find a list left behind in a grocery cart, I always wonder if they got everything, or if they got home and realized that they forgot shampoo or chocolate syrup or batteries.  (I always put my list in my pocket when I’m done with it, just in case I forgot something, because that is cause to create a new list.  I know.  Sick.)

One list I currently have running doesn’t have a title, but I guess you could call it ‘Stuff Big Has Asked To Do’ or ‘I Put Way Too Much Pressure on Myself and Call it Homeschooling’ or what have you, but I’m going to let you know what’s on it.  This is under the condition that you share a list with me when you’re finished reading this post. 

Here goes:

Find a cow to milk, finish model, more stick puppets, patterns with beads, butterfly pictures, make pencil holder, make tail, check number rods, new sand, fishing spot in Ronoke, estate sales: white witch, angel, Indian, Legos, tools

It’s not that I don’t stop everything and do stuff when the mood strikes, but I guess I’m afraid I will forget that great idea or Important Thing if I don’t write it down.

I think the next time I feel the urge to add something to a list, I’ll: 1) Stop. 2) Write down the Really Important Things.  Maybe this will be the new list:

raise two kids who see their mama laugh everyday, don’t just look at them while they’re sleeping, know that I’m a good mama, even without lists

 Or maybe I’ll take a lesson from Toad….

Live in the Present Moment

So, what’s on your list?

I spent a wonderful weekend with an old friend.  We hadn’t seen each other in over two years and have been friends for 23.  We met at summer camp when I was 12.

It occurred to me several times that even though it was such a beautiful thing to have her here, it didn’t seem oh-so-hard-to-believe because, as you may know, there are just those friends for whom time doesn’t seem to affect.  And time definitely doesn’t budge the friendship. 

Your life just keeps going, with them such a central part, that them being right in front of you is not such a big deal.  Afterall, they were there all along;  they just happen to be closer at this moment.

We can talk on the phone for the first time in months and pick right up where we left off.  Even more so with visiting. 

Even though I was often looking at the 12-year-old camp friend, I would get a jolt when I watched her with her little girl.  Or with mine.

Swimming, gelato, sprinklers, and the farmer’s market made for a just-busy-enough visit with a little time left over for catching-up sans kids.

It wasn’t near long enough.

There’s talk of it becoming an annual thing.

As much “work” as it is staying home to raise and homeschool two little things, there is so much joy and truth and fun I get to watch and be a part of every single day.  I don’t have time to sit on the couch, eat bon-bons and watch Ophry (as my Mima calls it), but much of the time I do wonder how I got so lucky.     

I guess I could recall the ways this week was difficult or focus on all the unfinished business that will go into next week being unfinished, but I really think it would be more in-line with how I want to live my life to just be thankful.   

So here are my top 5 memories from the week that took my breath away or made me laugh out loud or cry big Mama Tears of Joy (I could do a top 10, but that would just be showing-off): 

1)  Watching Big rehearse, decide on make-up, and find “pops” for Acts I-III of the Turtle House Theatre’s first performance, ‘The Wind and the Willows’. 

Rattie taking a break from the stage.

Moley cleaning and whitewashing.

2) Knowing my little girl is quite the genius (says her mama) and watching her do little genius things all day, and then holding back from bragging on her (until now). 

3) Catching myself wondering for way too long, how dust can collect on the underside of something ( a fan blade, for instance).  I finally thought, “Hmmm… I don’t know.”  And instead of wiping it off, proceeded to have a glorious pillow fight deserving of a soundtrack of Ave Maria. 

4) Getting to spend hours and hours at the pool, and knowing we can go back the next day and the next day, too. 

5) Being able to play with an old friend from out-of-town, and her little one.  Surreal.  We used to be boy-crazy together and now we’re sort of kid-crazy.  But man, this is way more fun.

Not to sound too self-obsessed, but I am central to this family.  To dance around that would be to deny the importance of my being centered, present, and focused for my kids.

It almost goes without saying that most of the time I can completely dictate how a day gets started with my mood, attitude, and presentation, for better or for worse.  But there are two sides to that coin, in that the strongest usually wins.  An overwhelming bundle of positive or negative energy can overwhelm the system, whether it’s from me, my spouse, or whether a child’s needs supercede every other thing going on.

I cannot change everyone around me, but I can certainly affect them.  So, no, I cannot necessarily save an imploding system, but thankfully, I cannot always bring the house down by being a bummer, either, while everyone else is floating along in bliss.

It seems that I do have it in me, most days and most of the time, to use my powers for good.  My being present and open and available means everything.

Perfection is only had a few moments of everyday, however!  The rest of the time I have to balance my needs and desires with everyone’s around me.  Being present and open and available is not about squashing what I need.  And sometimes life just has to happen, whether the trip to the grocery store or the long phone call to the grieving relative are convenient for the kiddos.

There is a balance that must be struck between getting stuff done and putting it all aside to be with them.  A balance between doing things with them, beside them, or doing my own thing completely.  A balance between strewing, engaging, or just leaving them alone.  Between being the instigator and being the follower.

But staying present and mostly positive means everything in our little universe here at our “turtle house”.  For me, anyway.  How does it work for you, in your universe?

 

On Saturday I got to go climbing.  It’s one of my most favorite things to do, but I just don’t get to do it as often as I’d like.  I long for the days when I can climb outdoor routes again, but for now, it’s the climbing gym for me, and that’s fine.  It’s a time-consuming sport, but with going to the gym, you get to skip the drive and the set-up.  So it’s efficient.  Oh yeah, and it’s fun, too.

Recently I had an interesting conversation with a new friend of mine.  She is a staunch feminist and a compassionate but ‘knows-where-she-stands’ person.  She got onto me about calling my agemates “girls”.  (We spent a few minutes sorting out the contexts when “girl” is used to mean “friend” or “buddy”, since I use that version a lot.  And we talked about the difference between “girl” and “young woman”, etc.).

She said, “A girl is someone who still has to be taken care of by someone, and that’s usually a man – her father.  A girl is someone who may not have the capability to make decisions for herself.”  

She said calling a woman “girl” is like calling an African-American man “boy”.  That hit me.

Several years ago, I would get frustrated with my husband for calling women “girls”, but after a while, I realized it was a term of endearment coming from him, and I let it go.  And since I casually throw it around all the time, I had stopped thinking about it.  But since I was 20 or so, I’ve always stumbled around when talking about women my age. “Gir-, well, woman, I guess,”  is usually what comes out.

I’ve been thinking on this for several days.

A “girl” is certainly not married with two children and a home to manage, complete with daily decision-making that affects many people besides herself.

Calling myself a woman makes me feel like I’m claiming something.  My past, my mistakes and successes, and so, maybe a seed of wisdom.  My decisions.  My age and body.  My experiences.  My life.

But there is still a little girl inside of me.  She reminds me to walk a little lighter.  To laugh more.  And that this is supposed to be fun more often than I let it be.

Play has always been a non-negotiable for me.  Before we had kids, my husband knew not to mess with the amount of time I had to climb or bike or run or just be outside.  I needed it, and when I didn’t get it, I wasn’t quite myself.

As I was thinking about writing this post, I realized that at some point, something happened.  I started to feel guilty about taking so much time for Me, about playing so intensely, without thinking of my family.  I didn’t used to feel one iota of guilt when I’d go off for the day to play –  I could leave my husband (he understands, really.).  I could leave my career and it’s responsibilities.  Yep, it was when I had Big that I started to feel guilty about taking that time.

I know we’re not supposed to feel guilty.  I know  we’re supposed to make time for ourselves, lest we all go stark raving mad.  I know it is good for us and good for everyone involved.  I know we have to retain a sense of identity outside of our kids and our families.  But it’s still hard.  When the baby’s upset or the 4 1/2-year-old just doesn’t want me to go out the door to run that morning.  Or things are just a bit crazy… that’s when I feel like getting some time to play is really just a luxury, not a necessity.  Sometimes it’s easier just to stay home. 

I think this resonates with so many mamas, and what Lisa Work-Delzer calls the “Mommy Martyr Syndrome” in her blog, Visionary Mom

To keep from becoming a martyr, I’m going to keep climbing (among other things) consistently.  It’s a blast, I get to play around on the wall and do weird things with my body and then laugh about it. 

I guess it makes me feel like a little girl.

So, which are you, Woman or Girl?

As much “work” as it is staying home to raise and homeschool two little things, there is so much joy and truth and fun I get to watch and be a part of every single day.  I don’t have time to sit on the couch, eat bon-bons and watch Ophry (as my Mima calls it), but much of the time I do wonder how I got so lucky.    

I guess I could recall the ways this week was difficult or focus on all the unfinished business that will go into next week being unfinished, but I really think it would be more in-line with how I want to live my life to just be thankful.  

So here are my top 5 memories from the week that took my breath away or made me laugh out loud or cry big Mama Tears of Joy (I could do a top 10, but that would just be showing-off):  

1. Going on a hike with Big, not because he was trying to do any first ascents or anything, but just as a matter of course, because it’s just something we do together now.  

2. Going to Hilltop Junk Mall in Russellville with Little and Big, both of them coming out with little treasures, and Big exclaiming on the way out the door, “Junk stores are THE BEST!”  Yes they are, my friend.  Yes they are.  3.  Scoring something very special at said junk store.  Brings back 6 years of intense memories and an irrational desire to go shopping for reeds.  Now.   Ain’t she a beauty?

4. Playing at a friend’s house with 5 kids roaming around, playing spies, playing board games, feeding chickens.  It wasn’t ‘homeschool day’ and we didn’t try to Accomplish Anything.  We just played.  

5. Just being with my work-at-home husband day-in, day-out, as we sort, vent, share and seek solace and sanctuary.

May 2010