Friday, December 30, 2011

Thinking about the new year

Here we are, at the time of year when resolutions are made, a fresh start is begun and people are often thinking about how to make themselves better.

I usually make a few resolutions. I know people that don't out of principal, because it's something "everyone" does and "no one" ever follows through, so why bother. And I know people that journal or blog or post on Facebook all their resolutions in order to be accountable, then manage to track their progress.. at least for a while.

I fall somewhere in the middle. I usually have a resolution or three. Sometimes I remember them in February, sometimes not. Except during times when I was pregnant or breastfeeding, I usually resolve to lose weight or get in better shape. Last year my resolution was that this year I would not resolve to lose weight (meaning, of course, that I'd have lost it already). So this year I will not be making a new year's resolution to lose weight - even though some of the weight seems to have found me again. ;)

My one resolution, if I choose to call it that (depending on whether I'm currently siding with the pro-resolution types or the anti), is to make daily toy pick up a habit. I have been severely lax in teaching my children to pick up after themselves and to take care of their things. Two problems are resulting from said parenting failure. 1) My kids aren't taking responsibility for their own things and 2) I am going insane with the tasks of trying to keep this house in a reasonable state of tidiness.

Up until now, I have been bad about toy pickup because with small children, it really means a lot more work for me. I know there are probably magical parents out there with magical toddlers who learn to pick up their toys and do so happily alongside their mommies as she sings a fun clean up song. I am not that mommy. Clean up in my house goes something like,

"Ok everyone, time to clean up!" (pointing to each child in turn) "You can start with the stuffed animals. Yes, put them in the bucket. No, it doesn't matter which color. No, its ok if David's toys go in the red bucket, they just need to be in the buckets. And you, start with the Legos.... Yes, all of them. Ok, at least put them on the lego table in your room, we can sort them later. And I know the pile is already huge, so put them in the bins. Wait! Ella! Don't dump out the stuffed animals baby, we're cleaning up! Here sweetheart, can you put the animals back in? That's right! No, not out again honey. We're cleaning up. Grayson, you're supposed to be picking things up, not building a spaceship. Yes David, I know you're the only one cleaning up toys, but you're the oldest so you can handle it. Ella! Oh sweet girl, really, just go find Daddy and get your teeth brushed. I know you want to help, but dumping the puzzles out is not helping Mommy right now..." and so forth.

Once I've started the process, we see it through, but it tends to take a while and then they're late getting to bed and it's just... tiring. So I wind up leaving most of the mess until it really starts to get to me (or we have guests coming) and then I wind up doing most of the work myself because it's just easier.

The "its just easier" cop out is not usually a great long term strategy in parenting.

So I'm going to build clean up time into our nightly routine. Seems simple enough, the kicker is the follow through. I need to get everyone upstairs earlier than we do now so we have time to pick up. But imagine, things cleaned up at the end of the day. No legos to step on in the morning when I stumble out of my room. No piles of things to walk around. No dress up clothes scattered in the hallway. Things roughly in their places. Ahhh, the peace of a bit of tidiness.

It's something I need to work on for myself as much as them. I keep hearing these words echoing in my mind, although I can't remember where I read them, "Don't do anything that your children can do for themselves." That's an approach that I can really embrace. Not only do I want to teach them responsibility, I want the extra help! I haven't been great about it up until now, but hey, what's a new year for if not to try to improve :).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Keeping it simple. and real.

So many of my friends are caught up in the just-before-Christmas frenzy. Shopping, wrapping, baking... busy, busy, busy. I'm prone to being overwhelmed with the here and now of living all too often during the rest of the year. I knew this year that if I was going to have a calm and peaceful Advent and Christmas, I was going to have to keep it simple. And real.

Here is my recipe this year for a stress-free holiday. And no, it does not involve finishing all my shopping and wrapping before December 1st.

My list of things I don't do is longer than my list of things I do
I didn't read every Tomie dePaola Christmas book and do themed crafts and baking to go along with them. We didn't make handmade Christmas gifts to give to all our relatives. We didn't bake endless batches of cookies to put on cute little paper plates and pass out to all our neighbors and friends. I didn't have Advent themed projects every day or tons of Christmas crafts. I didn't even send out Christmas cards.

We prioritized what was important and ditched the rest
We watched our favorite Christmas movies with the kids. We'll bake Santa cookies on Friday. I did most of my shopping online. We made some salt dough ornaments because I was in the mood. We've read lots of Christmas stories. I'll wrap the rest of the presents this week, a little at a time. That's about it.

I took my favorite ideas that we didn't do, and filed them away for another year
With no guilt, I might add. The Internet is amazing and I have found about a gazillion really great ideas for projects, homeschool, books, etc. And I can't do even half of them. I just don't have time. So rather than killing myself trying to squeeze in everything, I'm filing ideas away (and this is why I love pinterest) for another year.

If it stresses me out, I won't do it
My house will not be spotless when we have friends and family over for Christmas brunch. I already mentioned, I didn't do Christmas cards. I don't wrap presents all fancy. I'm lucky just to remember everyone that we planned to buy for. I have enough going on that adding additional things simply isn't worth it.

The purpose of Advent is to prepare our hearts for Jesus. In celebrating his birth, we celebrate not only the fact that He came into the world as King and Sacrifice - we celebrate that He will return for us. And whether He calls us one by one and we meet Him when it is our time, or someday comes for us all at once, this time of year should be peaceful, serene and joyful. So I refuse to do more than I need to, more than makes my family happy. Yes, we believe in Santa and we hang stockings and play all types of Christmas music and we'll open too many presents and eat too much pie. But in the days leading up to the feast of feasts, I am making a conscious effort to keep my heart in the right place. Enjoy my family, pick activities that are fun and not stressful, and leave the rest for later.

Simple. Real.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Happy birthday to my biggest baby

My oldest child turned 7 yesterday.

I remember so well the day he was born - seeing this little person who I already knew so well. We were instantly in love with him, in a way that I had never realized was possible. We couldn't stop looking at him - his face, his little fingers and toes. Delicious!

Now he is seven. He is confident and a little bossy, but so sensitive to his own feelings as well as the feelings of others. He wants to be good and please everyone and hates getting in trouble. He can seem so fragile one moment and unbreakable the next. He's wicked smart, with such a literal and logical mind. He has declared he will be a scientist when he grows up since he was about three, and it wouldn't surprise me a bit if he does. He has such a passion for learning and discovery and wants to know, down to the tiniest detail, how everything works. He asks at least 1,852 questions a day and his most spoken word, even at this age, is probably "why?"

He's a sweet and kind big brother, most of the time. He's very social and does not like being alone, or feeling like he's missing something. He and his brother are inseparable and he dotes on his sister. He's the most ticklish person I know. He's fun and funny and smart and wonderful.

I have no idea how I got so lucky as to be blessed with such a great kid. I am endlessly thankful to God for trusting me with his little soul.

Happy birthday to my little man.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Does it really have to be that way?

This photo has been making the rounds on Facebook lately:

I'll be honest - I didn't find it all that funny.

I don't fault the person who created it, nor the people who posted and reposted it. But instead of making me giggle, it made me think - does it really have to be that way? Because one very big reason that people will laugh at a picture like that, is because it rings true. They see something of themselves, or their families, in it. Perhaps not quite so extreme, but I'm sure there are millions of families out there (especially those with teens) that feel as if they see the top of their kids heads more often than their faces, as they lean forward, intent on texting their friends or reading the latest must-read tweets or Facebook updates.

Does it really have to be that way?

I look around at so many things that most people in our culture consider to be "the norm." Maybe not ideal, maybe not even desirable, but many don't question them because it seems to be "the way it is." People don't sit down and eat together very often. Kids have a zillion different clubs, sports, and activities that turn parents into taxis. Everyone has a phone on them every second of the day so they don't miss out on one single thing that happens to their friends... ever. They are constantly connected, constantly distracted. People used to talk about how much TV their family watched with a slight tinge of guilt or worry if it might be too much. Now things are far more complicated. We bring our TVs with us, everywhere we go, and they aren't just TVs anymore. They are little computers and communication devices, making disconnection from the world of peers, pressure and drama nearly impossible. Home is no longer the safe haven for those having a rough day. The complexities of peer interactions follow them everywhere they go and connection with the family seems to be fading away into obscurity.

Does it really have to be that way?

Perhaps I am naive because my kids are still young enough to believe their parents are the greatest people in the world, followed very closely by their siblings, and probably tied with various members of their extended family. It is easy for me to look into our future and think, "We'll be different. We won't let those things rule our lives the way other people do. We'll do it right."

But will we? Am I kidding myself?

The truth is, I don't really know. I'd like to think that we are going to sidestep some of those issues of family disconnectedness because my husband and I both place a high value on family connection. I'd like to think we will always make time for dinners together and keep outside commitments in their place as being secondary to the family. I'd like to think we'll keep our kids free from the slavery of electronics until we feel they are old enough for the responsibility, and then create boundaries to make sure those things don't dominate their lives. I'd like to think our kids won't be so obsessed with peer relationships and fitting in because we're doing things a little bit differently.

I suppose I won't know the answers to those questions until we cross those bridges, but I'll admit, I'm optimistic. If I'm honest, I do believe it is possible to raise a family that doesn't fall victim to all the pitfalls of our popular culture. Not that we will be perfect and not face common problems and challenges along the way. But we've gotten pretty adept at questioning the norm the last few years, so why stop now? Why assume that my kids will be sullen, argumentative, peer-obsessed creatures in 10 years. Why not assume that things can be different - that for us, it doesn't have to be that way, if we make the right choices along the way.