Quiet Day Reboot

A morning when I can sit and write, dog curled up on my left and coffee cup on my right, is usually something I only daydream about. Yet here I am, having this morning today.

Amazing.

The day won’t be all relaxation and leisure — there are always things to do and places to be. But for now? I’ll take this bliss. When I opened my writing file, the title of the following piece caught my eye. I kind of remembered the content, but not specifically, so I opened it. Written a year and a half ago, the piece focused on our often chaotic everyday life, and how I recognized “slowing down” as something to pursue.

Looking back now, I’m satisfied with my efforts to simplify things in my life. Granted, there are still times when I’m in maximum overdrive mode, but for the most part, things have calmed down. The one thing that had fallen off my radar was the concept of scheduling down time, so even if a day is spiraling out of control, I know there will be a set time to stop for a while. Stop moving. Stop stressing. Stop worrying. Stop planning for tomorrow and days ahead… Just. Stop.

I decided to reprint the essay here, because reminding ourselves to just stop is often a constant battle, even though things have gotten easier. Our current status is three high-schoolers and one in elementary. BUT, two high schoolers have their own transportation now, so I’ve been relieved of shuttling duties for the most part. I do feel like an Uber driver some days, but they’re fewer and farther between. Regardless, scheduling a quiet day (or even a quiet hour) would be welcomed. And let’s face it… a few minutes’ respite is always a good thing.

 

A Good Thing

While I’m not a full-throttle Martha Stewart devotee, I do love me some Living magazine throughout the year. I generally take her ideas, tips, recipes, etc. with a grain of rosemary-infused sea salt, integrating those that fall in line with my abilities, pantry inventory and required effort. (Although she almost lost me as a follower the day I received an email titled, “Life-Changing Laundry Tips.” Seriously. Want to give me a life-changing laundry tip? Tell me someone’s coming over to my house to do all the laundry.)

One of the magazine features that never fails to catch my eye is Martha’s calendar, in which the gentle reader gets a glimpse of what I’m sure is a scaled-down version of M’s monthly To Do list. In my most recent issue, the calendar spanned December and January. I’ll admit — I did enjoy a little wistful daydream as I read of her pre-holiday prep, which included decorating her tree and taking a horseback ride the same day. Imagine! We were lucky to have gotten our tree completely decorated in one day, with rearranging the living room to accommodate said tree, weeding out the strands of lights that decided to crap out on us this year, and tasking the kids with selecting only a few of their personal ornaments to hang among the wide array of family ornaments that needed branch real estate.

And then I saw it.

There is was, on January 10 — nestled between “make lemon curd” (and a horseback ride!) on the 9th, and “prune topiaries in greenhouse” on the 11th:

“Quiet day: plan garden for spring.”

Of all the daily agendas I’ve read over the years, I don’t remember seeing anything like this. Let me be clear — it wasn’t the garden planning that stopped me in my tracks.

Quiet. Day.

Leave it to Martha to reach into her hand-knitted bag-o-tricks and pull out a show-stopper like that, which, as she would say, is a “good thing.”

My own inclination toward slowing the pace in 2016 was instantly reinforced. I mean, if Martha’s going to stitch in a quiet day every once in a while, why shouldn’t I? The truth is, I’ve been really needing one. Or two. Or twenty. Here’s a sampling of what could be considered a “busy” day for me so far this school year:

5:20a   Wake and go for a 30 minute run

6:00     Home, coffee, shower

6:20     Wake middle-schooler

6:25     Wake middle-schooler

6:45     Threaten middle-schooler

6:50     Drive middle-schooler to school

7:20     Home, wake 1st grader

7:40     Walk 1st grader to bus

7:45     Home, wake high-schoolers

7:50     Wake high-schoolers

8:00     Threaten high-schoolers

8:15     Drive high-schoolers to school

8:45     Arrive at work

1:45p   Leave work

2:15     Pick up middle-schooler

3:00     Home, fetch 1st grader from bus, work at home remainder of afternoon

4:15     Pick up high-schoolers, transport to off-site sport practice

5:00     Home, begin dinner, begin laundry

6:30     Pick up high-schoolers from practice

7:00     Home, dinner

7:30     Help 1st grader with homework, clean up kitchen, continue laundry

8:00     Start 1st grader pre-bed routine

8:30     1st grader to bed, tell middle- and high-schoolers to shower

9:00     Remind middle- and high-schoolers to shower, continue laundry

9:15     Threaten middle- and high-schoolers

10:00   Lights out for kids, continue laundry

11:00   Tell myself to get to bed

11:15   Remind myself to get to bed, finish laundry

11:30   Threaten myself

11:45+ Bed

 

This is just an average sampling. Some days are less busy, some are even more chaotic. My husband is a firefighter, and works a 24-on/48-off schedule, so the days he’s on duty, I’m the Alpha Parent. (Those are the truly chaotic days!) On his off days, he totally picks up on critical items like cooking dinner, which is awesome. So, you can see how the idea of scheduling a Quiet Day is more than just a little appealing to me — and after 2015, it’s a requirement. Looking back over the past 12 months, a high-level glance would show a roller coaster that lurched to incredible highs and devastating lows. In between the peaks and valleys, the ride was rickety, bumping along at breakneck speed. Sure, there were enjoyable parts, but the feeling of constant busy-ness kept me from ever really relaxing enough to fully recharge and restore myself.

I had already planned some changes for the new year — not so much solid resolutions, but rather a general change of lifestyle. I need to slow down, place my focus where it should be — on my family, close friends,… even myself. I’ve grown tired of reaching each weekend feeling like the preceding week had chewed me up and spit me out. I was spending weekends feeling like I was treading water, and before I knew it, the week began and I was pounded with waves again. Yet despite doing this week after week, I still felt like taking time to relax and recharge was selfish. How could I possibly justify sitting down to write, read a book, or cruise HGTV with unfinished projects, clutter and laundry waiting in the wings?! I know a lot of other moms feel the same way. How did we get to this point? How many times have we forfeited what we “want” to do, for what we feel we “should” do? Cue the Mommy Guilt.

If all it takes is actually inking in a Quiet Day into our schedules, then let’s get on that train. Pick up those calendars, planners and smart phones. Pick a day, any day. Write it down. Make it official. We owe it to ourselves to set aside one day a week, or month, and regroup. Recharge. Rejuvenate.

My first Quiet Day is scheduled for Sunday, January 17, 2016.

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Whose mans are these?

If you have teenagers, or peruse social media enough, you may have heard the phrase, “Whose mans is this?” I first heard it several months ago, from my 15-yr old. when we arrived home to see Stella (our Vizsla) standing like a sentry at a front window. Her physique — standing up with paws on the window ledge — can sometimes look eerily humanish.

Whose mans is this?!” Sam said, as we laughed at Stella. Hearing him utter this phrase made me laugh even harder. Sam’s verbal delivery is everything.

I figured it was pretty much self-explanatory, something along the lines of, “Who IS this person?” and/or “What is this person even doing?” Even so, I double-checked my resources (me and Urban Dictionary are like this *crosses fingers.*) which supported my assumed definition. Since that day, I’ve thrown the phrase around a few times, when appropriate. I like to think subtle references to current slang gives my street cred a li’l boost — at least in my sons’ eyes. (They tolerate me so kindly.)

This particular phrase has been rolling around my head lately, because I’ve noticed in the month or so since school let out, I’m seeing the four still-at-home-kids in new and different light. Glimpses of more maturity and responsibility,… and I swear Bobby’s had a five-inch growth spurt. (Eight-year-olds can often grow like weeds, am I right?!)

Whose mans are these?!

Perhaps the catalyst for this shift my perception came the last day of school. I was in the car, heading out somewhere with Bobby, while the two almost-18 ManChildren were leaving as well. They both stopped to say goodbye, and give their little brother hugs and high-fives. Charlie appeared at the passenger side window, and motioned for me to lower the window. When I did, he leaned in with his trademark smirk.

How does it feel to have two SENIORS now?

There was a certain amount of glee/excitement in his voice at his and Jack’s newly-acquired status, while his words pierced my heart. Seniors. SENIORS.

Ten weeks (actually seven weeks at this point) and the twin-babies will begin their senior year of high school. We’re officially on the clock. This should come as no surprise, as we’ve already had two kids graduate from both high school and college (one of whom has even relocated to NYC). It’s been several years though, so time has blurred the emotions, much like a mother will “forget” the pain of labor after delivering a baby. It hadn’t resurfaced until Charlie said those words.

WHOSE MANS ARE THESE?!

The three older boys arrived home last night after a friend’s graduation party, and it was a genuine pleasure to see them. Don’t get me wrong — I’m always glad to see the kids — but they’ve become so fun/funny and entertaining as they’ve grown older, that I enjoy our time together on a completely different level now. Rather than immediately retreating to their bedrooms, they stayed downstairs in the kitchen with me and Bobby. We talked and laughed… a lot.

Later, after saying good night to each of them, my emotions ran bittersweet. While I’m sad to realize their time at home is dwindling, I’m overjoyed to send smart, funny and kind young adults out into the world, much like we did with Tyler and Kate. And I know that who they are now has been shaped by both family and friends. I hope and pray for equally smart, funny and kind friends to merge paths with them in the future, enhancing who they’ll become — to mutually broaden each other’s horizons, and introduce them to a world bigger than their high school campus.

Whose mans are these?

These are my mans.

 

 

 

 

Adaptability

It’s been a full four weeks since last posting. Admittedly, that’s a long time. In my world, however, it’s passed in the blink of an eye.

Beginning one day after that last post, the following events passed our radar:

  • Hand surgery to correct a painfully arthritic basal thumb joint in my left hand. (And the right hand is next!)
  • Our daughter’s graduation from Purdue — after which, we’ve enjoyed having her home for three weeks prior to beginning her professional career in NYC.
  • Mother’s Day, including a day-trip with the kids to visit my mom
  • Work, home upkeep, grocery-getting, laundry, etc.
  • Dog to vet appointments
  • Kids to dental appointments
  • Post-op follow-ups, physical therapy sessions
  • End-of-year school functions
  • Varsity baseball games for the two man-children

This holiday weekend alone, there have been three sectional round baseball games for the man-children (resulting in being crowned Sectional Champions this afternoon!), various household projects and an extended family cook-out dinner tonight before we move Kate to NYC in three days.

Through it all, in the craziness of the month, my key, go-to phrase has been ADAPTABILITY — the quality of being able to adjust to new conditions. ADAPTABILITY, because even when you’re functioning one-handed, there are still showers to take, meals to make and bras to be hooked. ADAPTABILITY, when someone is moving from the sweet, down-home Midwest to the hustle and flow of The Big Apple. ADAPTABILITY, when I feel that aching twinge in my heart, seeing my mom deal with day-to-day life almost two years since my dad’s been gone. ADAPTABILITY, as I see a group of talented young men prepare, pull together and perform on the playing field. ADAPTABILITY, as the remaining kids at home prepare to finish one school year, and begin the next as a 3rd grader, sophomore and [gasp] TWO seniors.

There’s always a new situation to overcome, whether it’s a huge life-changing event, or a tiny concern, like what to make for dinner. ADAPTABILITY is going to get me through — because whether we like it or not, we’re all nowhere near being done. We’re still learning, growing, ADAPTING. And through my faith, I know that whatever comes my way, I’ll either have the strength to get through it, or I’ll find a new measure of grace shine down on me, providing the surge of “I can do this” necessary to pull through.

It’s been raining for days. Six days, to be exact, and I’m rained out.

I know it’s necessary, and I do enjoy the occasional rainy day — even a good, cleansing storm. But six days? Please.

Misery hit it’s apex Friday evening, when our two 17-year old “man children” came home from their baseball game soaked and cold. I’d be straight-up lying if I said I was devastated to hear their double-header and our 8-year old’s flag football game were canceled Saturday. Sitting outside in 40-something degrees and rain? No thank you.

But the silver lining to living under continual rain clouds is that we’ve been forced had the opportunity to spend a lot of time together this weekend as a family. Not that we necessarily did things all together, but just having everyone home and under one roof for a while has been nice. Our usual hectic pace drew to halt. Or at the very least, a slow crawl.

This morning I’m squeezing in this writing time between school-drop off and Stella’s vet appointment. Usually I’d be running around doing who-knows-what, and already throwing weight on my own shoulders. My ability to heap pressure and expectations on myself is professional level, and the resulting stress markers (shallow breathing, tight shoulders, irritability) feel normal to me.

Until today.

Today, I begin teaching myself to throw down the worry and stress, and just enjoy everything, especially my family. A friend lost her husband yesterday quite unexpectedly, which (naturally) makes one stop and take stock of life around themselves. Something I caught on the radio this morning related to how worrying about things will never change them. I’ve heard it before, but for some reason it struck me differently this time. Maybe it’s my age catching up with me, but I’m beginning to see that taking everything in stride and really seeing the joy in every situation is so, SO what I need.

So, while the storms will continue to swirl around us, I’m going to stand in the calm.

Slow the pace.

Worry less.

Enjoy.

 

6×8

It’s 12:19am on December 31. Nineteen minutes past my 48th birthday, and I’m thrilled to say (based on my last post) that I definitely re-established my faith in the past month, as well as finding peace & joy. It didn’t happen by reading a book, making drastic changes or going on a pilgrimage — rather, I opened my eyes to the world around me, and made a conscious effort to notice that blessings come in every shape and size. I realized that my faith hadn’t been lost; it was hidden under a lot of junk. I cleared the junk, and gave my faith room to stretch out and grow. I know my path is already laid out before me; I just have to focus on enjoying the walk, rather than straying and trying to create a path on my own.

Peace & joy came one night as my family and I were all together, watching a movie. At one point, I looked away from the television and looked at the individuals around me: husband, children, friends. That snippet of time spent watching a movie brought me more peace and joy than any holiday special, Christmas music or gift I could have ever received. In the time since that night, I’ve had several occasions to repeat that exercise — stop, take note of my surroundings and be truly fulfilled. Truly happy.

So, it’s with a happy heart that I begin 2017 in about 23 and-a-half hours. I’m walking into the new year fresh off my 48th birthday. And despite that number, our youngest child declared several times today that I look far younger than that… “maybe even 39,” he said. HELLO, FAVORITE CHILD.

A long time ago, I came up with the description for this blog as, “Celebrating the overlap of chaos and hilarity.” Many things have changed in the past seven years, but those words still ring true. Our family will never be perfect, nor will my house, my marriage, or myself. We are our own best hot mess. It’s taken me the latter of the last 48 years to wrap my mind around the concept of embracing imperfection, even though moms everywhere have been staging this revolution for a few years now.

The New Year tempts many of us to create resolutions, and I’m no exception. I want to become a work-in-progress in 2017, being a person who will…

  • Be kind to others
  • Be kind to myself
  • Read/write more
  • Finally submit a 15-year-old manuscript, in hopes of finding an agent and get published
  • Hurry less; stop and appreciate more often

I’m sure there will be other goals I create as I go along, because that’s how works-in-progress do it. New Year’s Day isn’t always ground zero for self-improvement. As my niece, Shelby, said so well on a Facebook post earlier this evening, “I wonder if people understand they can stop bad trends in their lives at any point, not just January 1st…”

Happy New Year!

 

 

Juxtaposition

Thanksgiving was two days ago, and I’m sitting here on a Saturday night feeling grumpy, out of sorts and snappish. As the season of peace, love and good will kicks off, I’m feeling more inclined to stomp around and feel sorry for myself. In all honesty, stomping around would take much more energy than I even want to expend — I’d much rather sit slumped on the sofa, brooding.

The fact that almost every radio station is now playing holiday music 24/7 isn’t helping. Somehow in the past several years, I’ve become highly susceptible to blatant displays of emotion when hearing a majority of Christmas songs. Translation: I completely lose my shit and become a hot mess of tears.

Awesome.

So, yes… while everyone’s all “peace & joy,” I’m over here all “could you just not?”

The catalysts of this funk in which I find myself aren’t as important as my reactions. I can’t control the events around me, but I sure thought I had a better handle on my responses. I can talk big about having faith that things happen for a reason, when things are going my way. When it seems like the odds are stacked against me, for whatever reason, my faith crumbles. This is a problem. When you factor “wavering faith” into the other factors in this equation, it sets up a perfect storm: a + b + c = nothing good can come of this.

I decided tonight, post-pity party, that the thing I want most for Christmas (besides, maybe, a new pair of running shoes) is a restoration of faith in … well, just about everything. As I put together lists of errands and things to do for other people, I’m going to do something for myself as well:  rebuild my faith. And, if all goes as I hope, I’ll find true peace & joy. There has been so much to be unsettled about lately, I’m probably not the only one who feels like the ground is slipping out from under their feet, am I right? The best I, or anyone else, can do is just start shoring up our foundations, getting back to solid ground. I think occasionally stumbling in one’s faith offers a chance for building up and strengthening our relationship with God, so that’s what I’m going to do. After a good, solid cry to release all the pent-up stress and frustration, I’ll pick myself up and start building faith again. Maybe then I won’t feel so “out of season,” with a preference for brooding on the sofa or snapping at people.

I’m still going to cry at Christmas music though.

“We are all broken, that’s how the light gets in.” — Ernest Hemingway

Tough Love

Tough love.

I’ve heard the term thrown around before, but never had to add it to my parenting agenda.

Until yesterday.

One of the children in our house — I’ll refrain from naming the culprit — has built a solid history of “crying wolf” when it comes to staying home from school due to illness. Whether the reason behind the charade was lack of preparation for a particular class, or sheer desire to take a “personal day,” I’ll never know for sure. What I do know for sure is that this crap isn’t going to be put up with any longer. We’re a solid six weeks into the new school year, and yesterday was the day this child decided to test the waters. Thirty-eight minutes into today’s school day, I received the following text:

“I just threw up. What do I do?”

“Go to the clinic,” I type back.

It kills me, by the way, that I had to say this.

This began — I kid you not — a three-and-a-half hour volley of texts, in which my child pleaded and begged to come home. Ordinarily, I’d have keys in hand and jump into the car in a heartbeat — if the vomiting had actually been witnessed by a credible source. Claiming to throw up in the bathroom, with no one else around, does not guarantee a ticket home. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not wishing a classroom or hallway incident upon my child, the teachers and custodians. However, just like the a tree falling in the woods when no one’s around to hear it, if a child claims to vomit at school, and no one’s there to see it, … as far as I’m concerned, it has not happened. Luckily, a quick and insightful conversation with the school nurse tipped her off to this child’s penchant for playing the vomit card. She, having raised three kids already, and being responsible for over 1,000 students in our school system, was instantly on the same page as me. Combining forces with the school nurse shouldn’t have made me as giddy as it did, but hey… on the parenting battleground, you take any ally you can get.

As messages popped up continually through the lunch hour, guilt tip-toed around my mind. The “tough mom” part of my brain was giving “guilty mom” a hard side-eye, which prompted them to spar.

“You know he can’t keep doing this.”

“I know, but…”

“Another text? Just ignore it.”

“I can’t ignore my own child — besides, what if he’s really sick”

“Please. We all know he isn’t really sick.”

“I know, but…”

“You come at me with another ‘I know, but…’ and I swear to Heaven we’re throwing down.”

To pacify Guilty Mom, I fired off quick texts to my other children at school, asking them to be my eyes and ears during lunch period. Reports came back that my allegedly sick child went to the cafeteria, did not eat, and was on the quiet side. This is not typical. At that point, Guilty Mom grew bold and began digging in her heels against Tough Mom.

“See?! He isn’t himself. He’s definitely not feeling well.”

“Simply not feeling well isn’t worthy of leaving school for the day.”

“But if he’s feeling light-headed and queasy, that’s a miserable feeling, and I’m forcing him to feel miserable at school, rather than at home where it’s comfortable.”

In the end, Tough Mom won by reassuring Guilty Mom that this was a life lesson my child had to learn, and the end justified the means. My child will (hopefully) learn the following:

1.) One cannot cry wolf repeatedly, and expect to be taken seriously.

2.) If this was a way to avoid something at school — an incomplete assignment, a test for which he hadn’t studied — he’ll learn that one must face the consequences of one’s actions.

3.) Tough Mom is the new sheriff in town, and Guilty Mom has been relieved of her duties in the parenting department.

Tough love.

Most people probably thing the “tough” part of that phrase refers to assessment by the person on the receiving end. I, however, have first-hand experience that tough love can be toughest on the parent. We are so programmed that being a good parent means being everything to our children, and doing everything in our power to make our children happy. I think back to my own childhood — which I loved, and have no complaints about whatsoever — and I’m straight up telling you that some of the shenanigans that kids pull today would have never passed with my parents, or my friend’s parents. Never. My parents never sent notes or made phone calls to a coach, just to raise hell and get me on a sports team. My parents never took time out of their work days to hand-deliver a forgotten homework assignment to me at school. If I forgot something at home, it stayed there until I remembered to bring it to school myself. All of this to say that my parents were great, and I have to admit, I think I turned out pretty well despite the fact that they didn’t cater to my every whim, or drive themselves crazy trying to pave the way for me.

In a few conversations about the situation since yesterday afternoon, my child insists, and swears that he did, in fact, get sick at school. I have a pretty good hunch that allergies may be the culprit. I had forgotten that when this particular child was little, any sort of “congestion situation” would end up in him throwing up with very little warning. (Those were fun times, when we had to stash plastic bags in coat pockets in order to consider ourselves fully prepared to deal with the problem. To this day, I still keep a few plastic grocery bags rolled up in our cars, so apparently I’d been scarred for life.)

Most times it’s easy to love our kids, despite their fits, tantrums, sass and basic ability to drive parents to the outskirts of Crazytown. But it’s those days when tough love is the only way to solve a problem that you really understand how going against the grain can be sheer torture, yet also be the best, most loving and caring thing you can do for your child.