What's Working: April 2017

This is where I share five things that are working well for our family right now--three for myself (or us as a whole), and one for each child. I love seeing what works for families at different points and hope this is beneficial. Minus the allergies, Spring has been so wonderful. Both boys seem to be less angsty, and we're really in a good season (both literally and figuratively) right now.  Here are a few things that are really working.

  1. Getting rid of stuff. I've written before about this (and my obsession with Marie Kondo). I love how getting rid of stuff frees up my mental space. I realized recently that what keeps me up at night is not big worries but little, silly things like whether the laundry is caught up or where something is. I read somewhere that almost anything you get rid of that you need again (which, let's be honest, rarely happens) can be replaced in 20 minutes, for less than 20 dollars, within less than 20 miles. Plus I tend to let stuff sit around until it can't be useful to someone else. I'd rather sell the bouncy seat before it gets mildew in the basement and give up the clothes I won't wear before they are totally out of season/fashion.
  2. Music. When one or all of us are in a funk, we turn on our speaker and jam to music. It changes our day 100%, especially for my littlest who just really seems to like music. I've been listening to Erin's playlist on Spotify or finding any good toddler music. Sometimes we find a Classical station when we try to have drawing time.
  3. Pancakes/Waffles. Once or twice a week, I make a batch of whole-wheat pancakes or waffles in the morning. The kids play on the deck, we listen to music or Podcasts, and I often tidy the kitchen between batches. Walt knows how to say "waffle" in his own unique way, and Liam asks for them often for a snack. Waffles are super helpful to have stashed in the freezer. I love this recipe (if you want fluffy waffles) or this one (with bananas), and this basic one is my favorite. I've tried to get back to eating almost solely whole grains, and it has definitely improved our health.
  4. Liam (almost 4 years old): He still loves preschool at home each day. He asks as soon as we wake up. Our activities are so simple (from The Peaceful Preschool) and tied to books. I do almost no prep-work (as opposed to our previous preschool at home), and the weekly rhythm of making his own alphabet flashcards with glitter glue is really helpful. The lack of prep means I have plenty of time to still find books and resources on topics that are interesting to us (for him right now, it's earthworms).
  5. Walt (15 months old): Walt has decided (in the last two weeks) to shun baths, high chairs, and shopping carts. One thing that has worked for meals (so I don't have to hold him in my lap!) is putting him at our child's table. Sometimes Liam will pull up a chair and sit with him (did I ever tell you about the Christmas my mom ordered one nice child's chair for Liam and they accidentally sent six?!).

What's working for you this glorious spring? I'd love to know!

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Guest Post: Mothers Always Write

I'm so excited to be featured in the April issue of Mothers Always Write. Click over to read my essay, "Blue Glass Candlesticks and the Dream of Family Dinner." Here's an excerpt:

Family dinner became a symbol for me of what our family could be, yet I was always failing, too lazy to get my act together and be a real mom. Real moms didn’t hold their babies on their laps during dinner or let their toddlers interrupt. Real moms could time the day so the child wasn’t fussy just as dinner was being made.

While you're there, check out the editor's letter that weaves the essays and poems together on the theme of spring cleaning. It's beautiful! I also love "Lessons from the Past". The whole issue has been such a timely one.

Thanks for reading!

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The Board Game Aisle at Target

We’re in the toy section of Target—a stop we always make to encourage our three-year-old to cooperate the rest of the time. He stands on tiptoe and gently lifts down the box of $2.99 wooden trains to dig through. Our one-year-old pulls Star Wars paraphernalia off the shelves, and I rush behind him like the too-permissive mom that I am, frantically trying to tidy up while he carries on with his destruction.

In the midst of this, my eyes drift to the preschool board games. I’m always so tempted to buy one. When I look at those board games, I visualize my preschooler and I happily engaged at the kitchen table. As I look at the brightly-colored boxes advertising math skills and cooperation, I mostly just want one-on-one time with my preschooler.

We had our second son when our first was two and a half years old. We expected our kids would be closer in age, but our first was a bad sleeper, and we really enjoyed being parents to just one kid, so we kept waiting.

The first year of two kids was all about too many adjustments and too much tv. It was about giving most of my time to the baby, who needed me the most. It as about seeing my son learn to depend on others.

During the first year of his life, the baby did nap spottily and wasn’t mobile, so it wasn’t impossible to play with my toddler while bouncing a baby or carve out twenty minutes of play during one of the baby’s short naps.

All that changed when the baby transitioned to one nap and became mobile, both within the same month. And now, time with my three-year-old is all about “We have to play together,” and “You have to go to your room if you don’t want him to knock down what you build.”

To my older son, it must seem like we’re on the baby’s side in all of this. But sometimes, I feel a little resentful of the baby’s perfectly age-appropriate but destructive tendencies and his overeager adoration of his brother.

I often feel guilty, too. I feel guilty that I am forced to take the baby’s side. I feel depleted by the sibling squabbles and constant yelling and injury prevention. I feel guilty that I know I’m often expecting too much of my preschooler, and I feel frustrated by my lack of ability to “Control Baby,” as my three-year-old often tells me to do during heated moments.

And in the midst of my frustration, I feel sad. I feel this deep, deep longing to just play trains or Lego with my firstborn.

Even when I’m frustrated that he is screaming as his brother toddles toward his Magnatile tower, what I really miss is time to just play with my preschooler.

I simultaneously (in this complexity of emotions that is motherhood) feel so guilty that I use my baby’s nap as our household quiet time when I could use it to play with my toddler. But I can’t survive the broken sleep without that rest time. And I don’t know what the best solution is.

I feel frustrated that I ever took that playtime for granted, but I also know how hard it was to have just one child and be expected to entertain him all day long.

I know one day, things will get better. I know that the baby will not always be such a destructive force—that they will learn to play together. I know that they will become playmates; I see glimpses of this in the hysterical laughter they provoke in one another as they zoom around the house on riding toys. I know that it will get easier to carve out time individually with each of them. I know that one day, I’ll be able to finish cleaning up the kitchen without taking a break to separate them.

And I’m learning to take the good days and good moments without being stressed about the future or feeling guilty. This, perhaps, is a lesson for all of motherhood.

The other day, we got home from our typical grocery shopping. We couldn’t keep the baby awake, but I carried him in and miraculously, he stayed asleep in his crib. My son asked, “Will you build a racetrack with me?” and though I craved rest,  I said, “Yes. For a little while.”

My son cheerfully agreed, talking a mile a minute as he does when he’s excited. But I didn’t feel pure joy as I expected, I still had to focus, to stay engaged in the present, to enjoy him rather than feeling nervous about when his brother would wake up. 

But in the end, it was worth it. And a few days later, we had the opportunity again. These times are short. I have to stay engaged, stay cheerful, and be creative.

I know that this is just a season.  I know it’s not a problem that can easily be solved by advice from moms in a forum or a board game from Target. I know we're doing the best that we can and that ultimately, it is good enough. As all seasons do, this season has some especially beautiful parts too. I love seeing the growing bond between brothers. I love how we're learning to play together and how much I cherish individual time with each boy.  

And I believe there will come a season of board games, too.

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2016 Adventure Book

IMG_1415 Each year, I make a family album (you can see previous posts here, here, and here). I feel like I may be being made fun of in that Chatbooks video about *those moms* who actually have time to make a yearly album. I'm so glad to know there are simple options out there for preserving and printing memories (like Chatbooks!). But I do love the whole process. It's one of my favorite ways to exercise creativity and then feel like I accomplished something when I receive the finished product. Oh, and I love reading about and seeing other people's family albums (seriously, I eat those posts up, so feel free to share with me!).

On organizing the book: 

Each year, I put my word of the year on the book (this past year, it was "joy"). Within the book, I always divide by month. I did something a little different this year as far as text goes. Previously, I've just written and added captions throughout. This year, the majority of the text goes at the beginning of the month in a page like this:

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Usually when I'm going through iPhoto picking my favorite photos from each month, the text starts to write itself. I also look through the year's Instagram for ideas and more information. For longer events (like Liam's third birthday or Christmas), I might add text within the month, too.

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I've also started including a spread at the end with pictures of our home. I love looking at how much each room changes from year to year.

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The biggest change this year was having more portrait-oriented photos due to my first year with a Smartphone. It forced me to change a lot of my layouts, which was more work at the time but will be easier next year since the templates will already be there.

On perfectionism and where to start: 

I'm far from a perfectionist (as you can see in the shot below), because when it comes down to it, I just love having a book of our year. I love going back through each month and seeing how we have grown and changed. I also love how it helps me categorize my memories.

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I do the book in little spurts when I am motivated. I start by making an iPhoto album, and then I alternate between adding photos and then incorporating them into spreads (depending on my mood).

Usually I finish the book in January of the following year. For some reason, I really get into it in December (maybe as a way to process through the past year). My main goal is just to have all our favorite pictures together, so I don't worry about making it look too perfect or too artsy.

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We refer to these books so frequently during the year when we have a question about something, whether it's a haircut or our son's favorite toys. I love talking through the pictures with Liam, and I flip through them myself all the time.

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On sites and services: 

For the past three years, I've used Blurb, and I love their software and site. I make the large landscape book for us, but I made the small square books for family members last year, and they were awesome! Blurb has frequent sales, so I generally wait until a 40% off sale to buy our book. The best part is that you can save templates, so when you find some layouts you like, you can just reuse them over and over. And you're not working online until you have to upload, which I think is really nice.

I still make a yearly album for my mom that's a bit smaller, and I always use Shutterfly for that one. Shutterfly is so simple and has great sales. I also loved the look and feel of our Artifact Uprising book, but Blurb works better for us because of how many pictures and pages we have.

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If you're curious about why it's called "Our Adventure Book" and how it relates to our proposal, you can read that story here.

Feel free to ask any questions, and please share posts of your album with me. I love seeing what other people are doing! 

Cleaning During the Little Years

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Let’s be honest: I wasn’t the best housekeeper even before we have kids. I love a clean space, I love purging and organizing, and I even love a good, thorough cleaning time. But it hasn’t always been high on my priority list. 

So when I read this essay, I thought, “Yes, that will be us one day—horrified at the state of our house.”

My kids have both been less than ideal sleepers. They both took really short, unpredictable naps until they transitioned to one nap. And they are very light sleepers. 

Plus, it’s no secret that I love naps. Naps are how I have survived this 3.5 year season of broken nighttime sleep.

All this to say, I firmly do not believe in cleaning while my kids sleep.

A caveat: perhaps if they took very long, consistent, and/or multiple naps, I might use part of a nap to clean. Another caveat: there are days when the house has felt so beyond repair that to regain sanity, I’ve used some sleep time to clean. Usually I have regretted it because it has resulted in a shorter nap or an exhausted mama. I’m all about trying to stay ahead of the kids in the well-rested department!

I wanted to look at the positive things that come from not cleaning during my kids' naptime, and then I want to share one idea that is helping me keep our house cleaner right now. 

  1. If I don't clean, they sleep longer (the best reason not to do it right there). I thought I was making this up, but they wake up sooner every time.
  2. They will better learn to clean. Because of my no-cleaning during nap time policy, my kids have been forced to tag along while I clean. My son has his own mop now, and both are fascinated by spray bottles. We have invented some fun games while I fold laundry, and they both love to stand in the learning tower and help wash dishes. This is all born out of necessity, but I love that they witness how the house gets from messy to tidy. This also means that more messes are often being made as I straighten up, but I take what I can get.
  3. My husband can step in. My husband works long hours and has a long commute. We are on the same page about house cleanliness (we’d love it if it were cleaner but it’s not always the first priority). The fact that I don't clean during naptime means that he often steps in to clean, but I don't see this as a bad thing at all. We both try to give each other lots of grace. 
  4. I am learning to let stuff go (in, what I think, is a really good way). I’ve learned not to waste gorgeous days when we’re all happiest outside to clean. I’ve also learned what’s essential (clean clothes, clean dishes, food), and that has been really helpful. In a perfect world, my baseboards and doors would be regularly wiped down. In this world, it may be another couple of years before it happens on a consistent basis. 

    I love this quote from "What we neglect when the children are young" and I think it applies to so much more than cleaning: 

    But maybe nobody tells us we will regain our vision, our clarity, because it is the blindness to whatever compromises we need to make—to our houses, our marriages, our friendships, our very senses of self—that will usher us, with sanity intact, through those stages in the first place. If we became too aware of what we weren’t seeing, of what we were neglecting, it would defeat the psychological purpose of not seeing it. Some things are best understood only in hindsight.

  5. I'm a more rested and happier mama.  I remember reading somewhere that if you start picking up and tidying, you’ll get a burst of energy and become a whirlwind. The article said that women should not clean at night or they would stay up way too late. I find the same to be true during precious quiet time. I can easily get going and stay motivated. But it’s the crashing exhaustion right when my kids need me to have energy that kills me.

So what do our days look like practically?

I squeeze in bursts of tidying when my kids are having those rare moments of independent play. I ask them to help me while we fold laundry. And I accept that we may not finish the pile. On beautiful days or fussy days or sick days, we let a lot go and catch up later. My husband helps out, and we both have bursts of cleaning when things get too out of hand. I sometimes let my kids fuss while I finish a chore. I try to keep our house free from too much stuff. These are all little things that help. I long so badly for a sparkling clean house, but for now, this is what works. We aren’t living in filth (most of the time). I try to keep the dishwasher unloaded. I keep our clothing and toys to what feels like a good minimum for us.

But when I look back on my years of motherhood so far, I don’t mentally see the laundry piles or the crumbs. In fact, even in photos, our home usually looks decent. So I’m trying to remind myself that the stuff that needs to get done will get done. And one day, there will be more time for cleaning.

Right now, I want to be a present mama, and this totally means that we use some of our days for cleaning up the house. I want my kids to learn how to tidy, and I want them to learn responsibility. But I simultaneously have to know when to turn off my cleaning frenzy and calm down.

What do I use their naptime/quiet time for? Writing or resting or reading—any activity that recharges me and that I can do quietly. I’ve never regretted not using it for cleaning, but I have regretted it when I spend it doing busy tasks.

One thing I've started this week that has helped tremendously: I read this post on Modern Mrs. Darcy in which she referred to this Apartment Therapy post. In it the authors says that maintaining a clean house involves completing the cycle—so finishing what you start. Practically this means when I make coffee I get everything out, make coffee, and then put everything away. But with little kids and their urgent needs, there are uncompleted cycles everywhere--pajama pants that don't get put away, snack stuff strewn on the counter, and crumbs on the table.

While I have to be okay with incomplete cycles to survive this season of motherhood, I'm noticing that making an effort to complete the cycle makes me feel a little less mentally frazzled. So when possible, I go ahead and throw the dirty clothes in the wash or finish folding the dishrags or put away our craft supplies. This is probably common sense to so many people, but it is helping our home stay tidier and helping me stay saner (there's nothing that will deplete my sanity like incompleteness everywhere!).

Do you think housework must suffer during the little years? 

Related: My thoughts on The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up 

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