Everyday Life, Parenting

Seize the Nanosecond!

It’s 3:45 p.m. I’ve needed a shower for approximately 1.5 days. Finally, Baby and Big Boy (3) are asleep and Little Miss (5) is happily coloring. For a blessed slice of this day, there are no urgent needs or tasks — no mess to wipe up, no crying baby, no squabbles to settle, no tummies to fill, just a tiny piece of silence.

“Seize the day!” I think. Except for it’s more like “Seize the nanosecond!”

Jump in the shower, jump out of the shower while nap time lasts! Grab the chicken to defrost before it’s too late in the day! It’s 6:30 a.m. and the baby is crying, hop out of bed and throw some clothes on before she wakes the big kids! Quick!

It’s craziness all the time, but when a minute of downtime comes my way, this fast and furious mindset doesn’t go away. I don’t breathe a sigh of relief and sit down. Instead, I think “seize the nanosecond!” Figure out what’s for dinner. Put the clothes in the dryer. Answer an email. Get something, anything done.

Why do I run around my house at a frantic and frenzied pace on most days of the week? How are there are one thousand items on my mental to-do list and all of them seem like they need to be done right now? I really don’t know how this happens, because I’m here at home more often than I’m not, and still feeling like it’s a gargantuan effort to get the breakfast dishes washed before dinner time.

It baffles me that Hectic lives right here at home with us. 

It baffles my husband, too. Sometimes when he’s home, he watches me and asks, “Why the big rush?” I don’t know how to explain that I’m running behind on laundry and dishes and dinners and it’s all a great big boa constrictor that’s got me up to my knees and is still swallowing. (Thank Shel Silverstein for that one).

It’s like what we tell that kicker on Saturdays: “You have one job! Make field goals!” Except it’s more like, “You have one job! Take care of everything!”

(Fact: I do not take care of everything around here, because I have the best husband in the universe. We both “take care of everything,” just not often at the same time).

I know where the problem lies. I start the day responding to needs and they keep coming all day long. That’s the nature of life with Littles. So when an opportunity to actually get something tangible accomplished presents itself, I’m all over it like ants on a melted popsicle. I’m grabbing that vacuum cleaner faster than you can say “dirt,” and no crying baby or coloring book is going to stop me, because the rugs are overdue for a cleaning by about three weeks.

“Seize the nanosecond!” is the mantra in my head on any given day.  I think I’m through with it, though. This frenetic way I go about the day is (a) exhausting and (b) basically ineffective. I get to the end of the day and ask myself if I actually got one thing done. If the answer is a surprising “yes,” that “something done” usually doesn’t involve the things I think are most important, like playing with my children or calling a friend. I don’t need a mantra, I need a method. And, much to my chagrin, I know what the method should be. It’s called Get-Up-Before-The-Kids.

Sigh.

When your nights are full of lots of things besides sleep — put the covers back on this kid, take this one to the bathroom, give this one some water so she can stop coughing, feed this one, soothe this one after a nightmare, give this one some Tylenol for ::fill in the blank:: — getting up before you absolutely have to is rough, right?

But spending all day getting swallowed by a boa constrictor is rough, too.

So I’m laying down my “seize the nanosecond!” mantra and setting my alarm instead. The experiment for this week is to get up just a bit earlier than my kids and get just three things done:

1. Shower/dress

2. Read and pray

3. Make a short to-do list

I know I should add a few other things, like exercise or prepare all our  meals for the day or lay out the kids’ clothes, and all that good stuff. But I need this to actually work, so I’m starting off with what I can fit in just twenty minutes. I know from experience that it’s a long road from having a baby to getting back into a morning routine. I’m just setting my feet on the path and hoping for the best.

If the Seize the Nanosecond mindset sounds familiar to you, maybe you would like to join me on my Twenty Minute Morning experiment? Or maybe you’d like to see if it actually works first? Check back next week and I’ll let you know. I doubt I’ll have defeated the boa constrictor for good, but maybe he’ll be only up to my ankles instead of my knees.

One can only hope.

Everyday Life, Parenting

Put Down The Scissors

It’s inevitable. About the time when a child learns to use scissors, age three around here, something disastrous happens. I know, I know, why am I surprised? You’re right, I was kind of prepared for this, the dread fascination with cutting things just by moving your fingers.

What I wasn’t prepared for is what would get cut. A shirt they don’t really like maybe. An important document, sure. A doll’s hair, or even their own hair. Everyone does the hair thing, right?

But I am baffled by my children. At age three, they inevitably take scissors to the thing they love most in the world.

When Ella was three, we got a tip that a local thrift store had some great deals on really nice shirts. I marvel at how easy it was to just get in the car and go, because that’s what we did. Sadly, we didn’t find any shirts. The trip was worth it, though, because Ella spotted an adorable dress. If you have little girls, you know princess dresses are everywhere and that most are poorly made. This one was not by Disney, though. It was cotton on top, with a full length tulle skirt, and laced up in the back. We were both  smitten by it, and it was only five dollars. Sold.

2013iPhonephotos 017On the way home, Ella said, “Why don’t we go somewhere fancy tonight?” So we did. Dinner at a pizza place is fancy if you have the right dress. This dress made every day fancy, and Ella loved it.

Then one morning I was getting ready to do some errands and walked in Ella’s bedroom to hear “snip, snip, snip.”  I was aghast. “Ella, why are you cutting your dress?!?”

“I don’t know.” She looked at me, her face red, scared of the trouble she was in.

“You love that dress!”

No answer.

The two top layers of the tulle were in tatters, but Aunt Destiny came to the rescue and made it look decent again, thought it will never be the same. And Ella never showed the least bit of remorse for the (bad) alterations she made to her favorite possession. “It looks like a fairy!” She was optimistic, and I was way more upset than she was.

And she never cut anything she wasn’t supposed to cut again.

But then it was Isaac’s turn. All week, Isaac brought his helicopter with him everywhere. It is a rescue helicopter with a line and a hook that can actually pull things up into the cockpit. My husband saw it one night in a bookstore and it was so clearly perfect for Isaac, he bought it right there and then. Isaac has loved this toy for months and his attachment to it was at an all time high this week. So I was a little surprised to hear Ella ask him on Saturday morning, “Isaac! did you cut the hook off your helicopter?”

Isaac denied it.

80367C0B-F663-4032-BA32-70613E48EE21“Mommy, did you cut the hook off of Isaac’s helicopter?”

“What? I would never cut the hook of his helicopter!” I was horrified.

Isaac quickly picked up on that line. “No, I would never cut the hook of my helicopter.”

Then we found the scissor and the hook in his room.

Stunned again. A favorite toy, destroyed at the hands of its owner for no apparent reason other than the desire to cut something. But why the favorite thing? And once again, no remorse! Boy, I was mad.

I wasn’t upset about the money these items cost. I wasn’t even mad that the scissors were used inappropriately. I was sad and mad for my children’s sake. Their beloved objects were ruined by their own hands. Surely they would feel the effects. They must be just hiding the guilt and heartbroken pangs.

But then. Then it was my turn.

I didn’t have any scissors. I’m not three years old. But I did the exact same thing. In fact, I do it all the time.

I tell my exuberant, cheery, affectionate boy, “Would you please calm down and stop jumping on me!” when really he just wants to lavish hugs on his mother and be hugged in return.

I tell my precise, careful, beauty-loving daughter, “It’s okay if the butterfly’s wings are not the same size on your drawing. It’s pretty and we don’t have time to fix it right now,” when all she really wants is to do her very best and create a beautiful card for her great, great aunt.

I whisper to my three-month-old baby girl, “Please, would you just fall asleep without me holding you for half an hour tonight?” when she just needs the comfort of her mama because her dadgum first tooth will just not come through and be done with it, and anyway, who does not want a snugly baby?

I take my scissors and I try to change my favorite, favorite, favoritest things in the world: my children.

There are plenty of areas I need to train my children in, plenty of ways I need to mold and shape and sand down some rough edges. We are all flawed and need saving from ourselves. But the beautiful things in their nature that God wants me to foster and cherish should not be the things I try to squelch or cut out willy nilly when some part of these characteristics is inconvenient for me. I need to put down my scissors.

Maybe I wouldn’t have ever even noticed my tendency to do this if I hadn’t agonized over why my children cut their favorite things. I should probably thank them for being small packages of pure human nature that I get to learn from every day. I am thankful for what they unknowingly teach me.

But my goodness, I’m still going to hide their scissors! And it’s time to hide my own scissors, too.

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Everyday Life, Parenting

Saturday Mornings With Kids

Saturday Morning With A Baby

You wake up to feed Baby at 5:30. It’s too early, but your baby is so sweet. You feed the baby, then spend an hour patiently rocking and pacing with the baby, enjoying the warmth of her tiny little body and the knowledge that once she goes back to sleep, you will, too. Yes, you must will yourself to ignore that basket of unfolded laundry as you get back in bed. But you’ll fold it later, maybe as you watch some football while the baby takes another nap. You might even have time for a nap later, too. Saturdays are the best.

Saturday Morning With A Baby, A Three-year-old, and A Five-year-old

You wake up to feed Baby at 5:30. It’s too early, but that hardly registers because you’ve already been up five times in the last three hours with another kid who can’t breathe through his nose. You stumble into the baby’s room, feed the baby, and sink into a pit of agony when you realize she’s not going straight back to sleep. You rock for five minutes, pace for five minutes, all the while watching the clock tick closer and closer to the time when your other children will get up (6:30), whether they’re still tired or not.

Finally, you put the baby into her crib still awake, hoping she can squirm it out instead of cry it out so the kids won’t get woken up a nanosecond too soon. Your hope in the squirm-it-out-method is pretty weak, though, so you lay down on the floor next to the crib. The baby keeps squirming, getting more agitated. But this carpet is surprisingly soft. Oh, maybe she’s actually falling asleep. She is! It’s a miracle! You could get back in bed, but then you’d have to navigate around the five baskets of unfolded laundry that you have successfully ignored for three days. You’re so good at ignoring laundry, you only think about it when (a) it’s in the way or (b) someone runs out of underwear. And anyway, this carpet is really not so bad. You feel yourself drifting into sweet, sweet sleep, which is a darn good thing because there’s no hope of a nap for the rest of this busy day.

Then you hear the pitter-patter/running of the bulls coming down the hall.

“Can we have ORANGE juice????”

It’s morning.

And Saturday is just another normal, crazy, beautiful, wonderful day of the week.

As long as there’s caffeine.

Everyday Life, Parenting

Building Dams in The River of Life

How many times have we heard it: “You can’t slow down time.”

We know it’s true. We feel it when we look at the pictures of our children a year, two years, ten years ago. We feel it when we race the clock again to do this before the holidays or that before the arbitrary but very set in stone deadline. I feel it when my newborn outgrows her newborn clothes in just four weeks. I feel time rushing by so quickly these days.

Time is a river that keeps on flowing, and the only way to slow it down is build yourself a dam, picking up the rocks in the river and collecting them into a wall so that the weight of your moments becomes a life of substance.

photo (19)A weighty life can be a good thing.

Each moment I feel the weight of my baby in my arms and let it really sink into my memory, that is a rock I add to my memory dam. Each time I look up from the thousand tasks and look into the gray-blue beauty of Ella’s five-year-old eyes that won’t be the same when she’s six, that’s a rock in the wall. Those moments when I squeeze that hand my husband reaches out to hold mine with every single time we ride in the car together after nine years of marriage make up a boulder. When I trace the curve of a chubby cheek on a pillow as I stop by to check on three-year-old Isaac in the middle of the night, I claim that moment from a sleep-deprived season as a gift. When I stop sighing at the laundry and start fingering the toddler t-shirts and memorizing the pattern of the favorite dress, I make my life into something tangible to my mind.

Each moment truly realized by how it looks and feels and smells and sounds becomes a rock in the dam to keep the river from rushing too quickly.

When my family goes to the mountains, there is always a creek nearby, and there is always an hour when the kids who live inside the grown ups gather rocks and build a small dam in the creek. It’s just for fun, a test of man versus nature. The kids always win, but just for a little while. Even though they’re grown men and women now and know how one rock stacks on another, the next hour or the next day, the dam is gone and the creek rushes on. The creek makes short work of all our work to slow it down, but this fact remains: we made memories in making those walls of rocks in mountain creeks. We made crazy fun memories when we built sandcastles while the tide came in and made a game of saving them from the waves as long as we possibly could. The sand, the rocks, they wash away. That doesn’t diminish the memories.

photo (20)

I know the dams I build will be just like that. I know that time will keep rushing on, even though I have stopped and picked up memory rocks, cradled them, and considered them and stacked them together. I know they’ll not stay there, that the weight of the minutes fully cherished won’t stop change. But when I gather my memories during my days, they become apart of something bigger. The joy and the pain and the sorrow and the giddy happiness will be there, living on in the timbre of life.

The memory of a three-year-old boy asleep in your arms as you carry him from the car will contain that feel of heavy arms and legs against your skin and warm breath on your neck. A lifetime of noticing and grabbing hold of the heft of the baby curled in your arms, and the softness of a quilt handmade from your grandmother, and the warmth of the sun that broke through the clouds at just the moment you needed it like a gift straight from God…these moments remembered and fingered make the whole of life into beauty realized. The beauty has been there and has been felt and seen. The stones have been held before they moved on down the river, and that makes all the difference.

photo (18)

Children's Books, Parenting, Reading

I Need A Hero(ine)

As my daughters grow up, I remain concerned about what values I’m promoting amidst the fairy tale frenzy they live in. I love fairy tales as much as the next little girl at heart, but I have concerns about flooding our children’s minds with glittery dresses and happily ever afters that usually involve castles and servants. Real life has more grit to it, which is why it’s harder to expose our children to it. We don’t really want them to have to deal with real life just yet, and that’s understandable. But I want my little girls to value hard work, bravery, and honesty. I want them to see beyond beauty on the outside and care deeply about the inside of a person. So when we browse the shelves at the library or bookstore, it can be disheartening to see how the sparkly pink book bindings and the elegant gowns draw my five-year-old daughter in like a hummingbird to a red flower. Pink, sparkly books abound in the picture book genre (not so much for girls in the chapter book age, I’ve noticed), but there are some gems out there we’re slowly discovering. These books don’t feature princesses at all; just real life young girls who became heroines by bravely facing the hard tasks before them.

KeeKeep the Lights Burning, Abbie (On My Own History)p the Lights Burning Abbie is a book my mom read to us when we were little. I loved it then, and I still love reading it now.When Abbie’s father leaves the lighthouse in the hands of his daughter, he doesn’t know what a test she is facing. Abbie and her sisters prove their bravery as they care for the lights and each other. I get a lump in my throat on the last line every single time — not a “that’s so sad I can’t take it lump” but that kind of lump you get when you watch someone win an Olympic gold medal. The Reading Rainbow episode that goes with this book is also one of my favorites.

 

Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express (On My Own History)If I could have picked a story to star in when I was about eight years old, it would have been a story like Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express. Kate sees a problem, knows that people will die if she doesn’t do something about it, and does the hard work of stopping an engine full of people from plummeting into a river. Now that is some serious girl power. Did I mention the illustrations are riveting? And that Kate crawls across a train trestle over a raging river in the dark? I never did anything that brave, but it seems important that every girl aspire to heroic bravery at some point in their young lives.

Brave Irene (Sunburst Books)Brave Irene  by Kevin Stieg isn’t based on a true story as the other books in this post, but that’s alright with me. Irene doesn’t save lives like Abbie or Kate, but she does display the kind of character traits I would love to see in my daughters. When her mother, a dressmaker, becomes ill right at the moment when she needs to deliver a dress to the Duchess for the ball that night, Irene puts her mother to bed and delivers the dress herself, despite a raging snow storm. Irene is caring and compassionate and, obviously, brave. She is also not above getting discouraged on her journey–I appreciate that kind of honesty in a book about a wonder girl.

I wish I had more Picture Book Heroines to add to this list, but I’m still on this search. If you have any suggestions, chime in!

P.S. My kids are crazy about Mulan right now. Just this morning I had to explain to Ella that Mulan is not actually a princess, but she’s really cool and important; this conversation further confirmed that we have some work to do on the princess mindset. It’d be nice if Disney put out a movie about a lovely girl who lived happily ever after and washed dishes at the same time, but it looks like that lesson is all on me. Come on, Disney.

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