Wednesday, December 11, 2013

All That Matters

Our family schedule and routine has, of late, been up-ended by a series of unusual events. First, my husband had to go out of state for business-related travel, then there was Thanksgiving (which meant we had therapy canceled and missed library day in the same week-the horror!).  Additionally, we have been at least moderately affected by the latest winter storm system and my husband was forced to take a four-weekend due to poor road conditions (also causing therapy and regular activities to be canceled).  To top it off this week, my husband was able to go back to work, but has been working ten hour days and going in before the kids are up because of holiday overtime AND big brother isn't feeling well.  Needless to say, we have been on a roller coaster of tantrums, meltdowns, crankiness, potty accidents, and all that comes with a schedule upheaval of such epic proportions.  I have (mostly) kept my cool during this tumultuous time.  It's been difficult.  My house is a mess and we've got family coming to stay with us in a few short weeks.  I have volunteered to make and bring things to places and people that I haven't even bought or prepared yet.  Laundry is threatening to envelope our bedroom and make sleep completely impossible.  I spent three solid minutes last night on the phone with my wonderful, generous, and loving husband (who in addition to making a 1800 mile round-trip work excursion a couple of weeks ago and having an awful time of it to boot, was currently on his way home from a ten-hour day at work and driving on roads that were still partially snow-covered to get there and back, all to get a paycheck that single-handedly supports all four of us) about the fact that NO ONE had helped ME with the dishes this entire week.  So....maybe I haven't completely kept my cool.
I woke up this morning with a violent headache (the kind that always end up nesting behind my left eye and festering, making me want to pluck my own eyes out...sorry, unnecessary visual), a sick kid, my daughter's normal everyday garden-variety tornado of messes to clean up, and a veritable MOUNTAIN of housework that needed my attention badly.  After posting a picture of my daughter's latest horrid mess that had been made on social media, a good friend of mine said this to me:  (in reference to her son who has some special needs very similar to those my daughter faces), "...So, when someone asks why my house isn't perfect, why the laundry isn't done, etc, I know that I have taken care of my little boy, and that's what matters!"  That comment sort of changed my attitude for the week.  Because that's exactly where my attention was needed, even more so than the dishes, laundry, and tub that was going to HAVE to be scrubbed before the end of the day combined.  My wonderful friend was right.


And so came Revelation of the Day #1:  My placement on Earth was not that of 'laundry doer' or even 'activity mom' as my husband jokingly calls me these days.  I was put here to be a mommy, a wife, a friend, a servant.  And while housework does need to be done and it's nice to have help; my stress over it NOT being done is unimportant.  What is important is that my kids built a tent together in our living room today and 'explored' it with flashlights.  What is important is that the three of us made crayons to give to the kids' friends as Christmas gifts.  What is important is the two beautiful children I am so blessed and lucky to have (messes included).
As the day went on, I received an email that discussed the 'one thing every marriage should have.'  Intrigued and because the emails from this particular party are usually well-worth the read, I clicked.  As I read, the email discussed this one mysterious ingredient necessary for a good, solid, loving marriage:  Grace.  I'm paraphrasing here, but the article basically stated that without grace a marriage would grow hateful, resentful, and stagnant.  How can two people grow together and grow their family if they lack the grace it takes to moves past petty issues like who washed more dishes this week?  Here came Revelation of the Day #2:  I am not a perfect person and neither is the man I married.  Therefore, our marriage isn't perfect.  He doesn't always read my mind and do the dishes when I want and I don't always greet him at the door with a smile on my face.  We both have many faults.  And that doesn't make us bad.  It makes us human.  (Enter Grace, stage right.  Exit resentfulness, stage left.)  


Feeling completely humbled at this point, I started to rethink the blog post I had intended to write today.  The holidays are approaching fast, and maybe soon I'll get back to the post I intended to share with you today.  But for now, I'm busy.  I'm busy making crayons.  I'm busy listening to the giggles coming from under the tent blanket.  I'm busy catching up the dishes so my exhausted husband doesn't have to do them tonight.  In short:  I'm busy taking care of my family and striving hard to do so with grace and love (and probably an apology or two).  Because they are all that matters.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Crazy Mom's Guide to Enjoying the Holidays

My husband and I chatted about our upcoming weekly schedules last night. In my mind, these chats happen either in European outdoor cafes or mountain lodges with blazing fireplaces while whiteout blizzards happen outside, steaming mugs of cocoa in hand, but in actuality occur while hanging up clothes in our bedroom (ahhh, reality)...  Conversation turned to how quickly the holiday season had come upon us this year and how busy our schedules were going to be for the next month or so.  My husband's line of work requires a lot of overtime for the holiday season and the kids and I seem to be engaged in at least one additional out-of-the-house activity each week between now and Christmas.  I'm not complaining; I have no room to do so as most of the extra activities are ones I thought of or signed up for.  My thoughts now are centered around how to survive (and even enjoy!) the holidays when schedules are hectic, kids can be difficult, and time seems to slip through your fingers.  So.  Here it is.  My "Crazy Mom's Guide to Enjoying the Holidays."

Rosie the pug is ready for the holidays...sort of.

 Tip #1.  Choose your activities wisely.
Our schedule for the month of December is getting crazy-full.  We have club meetings, playdates, parties, and service projects in addition to my husband working extra, our daughter's therapy, our son's home-school, and that's not counting family gatherings.  Altogether, it's looking like a super busy month.  However, we have NOT planned more than two extra activities a week.  And we rescheduled some activities and appointments that could stand to wait a few more weeks.  The things that made the final cut and landed on the monthly schedule were activities that the kids really love and activities that gave us an opportunity to serve someone else.
We LOVE our library.

Tip #2.  Know your child's (and your) limitations.
My son is a total homebody.  He's also a fairly easygoing kid and I used to forget how taxing it can be for him to be "on-the-go" until it was too late.  These days, I think about it this way.  If YOU are tired, stressed, and exhausted because you've over-planned or over-stretched your time; CHILDREN feel all of that, doubled.  Doubled because they are KIDS and don't have an adults' capacity for compartmentalizing and coping with stress.  When our daughter came along, we realized her special needs require us to plan ahead more extensively and as a family, we have a constant discussion of "what will happen next."  We do nothing that is unexpected or surprising.  Some parents (and children) love spontaneity, but we cannot handle it.  So we talk, we plan, we write schedules, we make lists.  This way, Mommy and Daddy remember what has to be done and the kids know exactly what will happen next.  I've also found that it is much easier to keep your engagements minimal when you have them laid out on a calendar or planner for everyone in the family to see.  My husband and I are visual people, so looking ahead at a calendar with four days full of scribbled activities lets us know we need to take a step back and rework priorities.  Doing this prevents us from having overwhelmed, overloaded, and melting down kids (and parents!) by the middle of the week.

Sometimes home is just where you need to be.

Tip #3.  Flexibility is key.
I'm not talking about as a family this time.  I'm talking about you, as a parent.  Maybe you planned to finish your Christmas shopping, go to the bank, AND get groceries today, but that screaming two-year-old has other plans.  Go home.  Leave the cart in the store if you have to, and get the heck out!  In my experience, if it has come to "that" kind of meltdown, it's better to go back to something normal, routine, and comforting and try the outing or errand again another day.  Of course, it's not always possible to just leave... for example, you're at the store because you are out of a necessity and MUST have toilet paper.  Planning ahead with a greatly organized list helps, but we are NOT perfect people!  I've been there, with a screaming child (or two), frazzled, on the verge of tears, and all I needed was a box of pantyliners!!!  For times like those, I've found it's best to smile, speak softly, and bribe your children. (My daughter's OT refers to this as 'pairing an unwanted activity with a wanted reward' and that makes me feel somewhat better about it.)  You gotta do what you gotta do.  But remember that Rome wasn't built in a day.  And neither was your TO-DO list.

We love list-making.

Tip #4.  Do for others.
My son is all about service this year.  He wants us to bake cookies for everyone we know and ship some more to Africa if possible because "the people there would probably like that."  Wow.  I read last week about people breaking out into fights over THINGS on sale for Black Friday and I literally thank God that my children are here to remind me what life is truly about.  We did go shopping this past weekend with our children (not on Friday!) and they helped us choose gifts for our close family.  They were excited to get things others would like and couldn't wait to help wrap these presents, even though they weren't for themselves.  Several of our "extra" activities this month include some type of service project or gift-giving to someone other than family.  These made the finalized schedule because they weren't about US.  If Jesus is the 'reason for the season' then I think He would be happiest if we used it to serve others.  There are many ways this can be done and I highly recommend trying to fit at least one "service" activity into your holiday schedule.  Would it be easier to stay home in your PJs and catch up on that mountain of laundry before company comes?  Absolutely.  BUT, will that laundry still be there tonight if you spend an hour or so delivering cookies to local shops you frequent, just because it's Christmas?   Yep.  (Trust me, laundry mountains are as immovable as Everest.)

Sharing; it's not just for people.

Tip #5.  Involve your children.
Fact A:  Baking and cooking are easier done in a quiet kitchen that is devoid of children.  Fact B:  My children LOVE helping in the kitchen.  I have offered in the next few weeks to bring various baked goods, candies, etc. to several different functions.  It would be easier and faster to prepare these things while my children are watching a movie, playing, or even better:  sound asleep.  I just can't bring myself to do it though.  My kids LOVE helping in the kitchen and it's a special time I get to spend with them.  I'm home with them every day, true, but being in the kitchen is OUR time.  We chat, we laugh, we make messes, we learn, and sometimes, we have deep philosophical discussions.  I hope with all my heart this is something that continues long into the future.  If I kicked them out of the kitchen for convenience, how many opportunities to discuss the possibility of God allowing dogs in heaven or to present an impromptu math lesson in fractions (courtesy of my measuring cups) would I miss?  I shudder to think.  Your thing may not be the kitchen.  That's okay.  One of my husband's times with the kids is cleaning out the cars.  It's their thing (for sure not mine!), and they do it together.  I encourage you to find something you enjoy doing with your children, and let them do it with you!  The caveat is that it must be something 'grown up' that they are being included in.  (Examples could be holiday-specific like making cards, gift-wrapping, crafting, OR something more mundane and everyday like laundry or cleaning out the closets.)  Your kids will love being allowed to do something grown-ups do, they'll learn valuable life-skills, and you'll gain instant quality time with them.  Not to mention the enormous sense of pride your children will take in their accomplishment.  (My kids practically force-fed everyone a taste of their potato casserole they made at Thanksgiving!  Total pride of ownership.)

Kitchen help.

Well, there it is.  Five tips to keep parents sane (maybe) and grounded (hopefully) during the holiday season.  From our family to yours, we hope you have a wonderfully enjoyable and relaxing holiday this year!  May it be filled with love, joy, and peace.