Tuesday, September 30

Connecting in the Chaos, Part 2



      Last week I wrote a post about my struggle to connect with my girls, in a meaningful way, in the midst of what often feels like utter chaos around the house on weeknights. If you missed that first post you can click to read it here.

     For those of you who are in the middle of young family life, you know what I mean. The girls get off the bus around 4 p.m.  and the next 4 1/2 hours are filled with a non-stop string of  high-energy activities that include after school snacks, homework, dinner, ballet/gymnastics on the nights the girls have them, baths every 6-8 days, but only if the kids start to stink (I'm joking here...kind of! We usually try to squeeze a bath in every other day, but sometimes it doesn't always happen!) and then the bedtime routine.

     We try, try, TRY to squeeze something fun in there...a craft, a bike ride, some enjoyable reading, coloring or playtime outside, but it's really a challenge most nights.

     I'm guessing many of you can attest to a similar version of evening events, especially if you have multiple children. It's hard to connect, but so very important. I feel like we have to grab our kid's hearts now, while they still look up to us, so that later when they have so many distractions vying for their attention, we'll still be one of the first places they look for answers, support and encouragement.

     It is my deep hope that building bridges now is creating lasting gateways to their hearts for years to come.  

     But that is easier said than done on the fast-track of parenting life, which is why I really liked the quote above when I found it this week. Family time must be viewed as sacred and important.  In order to make it such we must be  super, duper INTENTIONAL about connecting with our kids on a regular basis, or life will just keep flying by one carpool, soccer game and rushed mealtime at a time, leaving us to feel like we're doing so much, but are we doing enough to connect?

      I decided to float the question out on Facebook to find out what other families are doing and promised I'd compile all of the answers into one blog post. Here is a round-up of the answers I received (Thank you all for your feedback!).



7 Ways To Connect in the Middle of the Weeknight Chaos

1. Dinner table conversation. 
Particularly the high/low game where every person at the table (parents included!) shares their favorite and least favorite parts of the day (Jennifer Seiler, Leslie Stewart)
We have tried this at our house and have enjoyed it. Scott prefers to avoid the "low" part and keep the conversation more upbeat (though I can see how this would have relevance as the girls get older). We have also purchased these cool little dinner conversation cards, which the girls have loved- each card has a question on it for everyone at the table to answer. On some nights we all answer the same question, and on others we will each blindly choose our own question to answer. It's a ton of fun!

2. Making an effort to listen, even when it's not convenient. And I mean REALLY listen. 
  
            "Listening. REALLY listening, even for just a couple minutes, or even when the talking is incessant and you just want a moment to yourself. It validates them as individuals and builds a trusting relationship. They'll know that they can talk to you about anything down the road"(Karyn O'Connor, mom to 4) 

            "Also, sometimes I want them to tell me about "life" or the day when it's convenient for my schedule. Sometimes they (especially my 3rd grade boy) are ready to talk when I'm busy with something else. That's the time I've got to stop and listen." (Karen Davis Jones, local mom and creator of the fantastic site Fun 4 Kids in Buffalo)


3. Making the Most of Bed Time.   
            How often are we tempted to rush through bedtime? I know I've been guilty because I'm so tired myself! That said, I appreciated these moms sharing how special bedtime can be when we make space for extra snuggles and offer our listening ear. 
           
            "Both of my girls beg to be taken up to bed early so we have extra time to snuggle and talk, one on one. It's very relaxed and great to hear about all the parts of their day that I missed."
 (Tina Keller Fronden, mom to 2, with one more on the way!)

            "Finally at bedtime is when he wants to divulge everything I've been dying to know from the second he gets off that bus. Lol!"  (Danielle Macaulay, mom to 2)

            "Yes to bed a little earlier so we can unwind and talk about their day. It's also a time for me to pray with them, encourage them and make sure they know how special they are to me - even if it was a day of frustrations and tears.
" (Amy Kinda, mom to 2)
           
            "Bedtime and dinnertime. Colby tends to tell me more when things are quiet, calm and less distractions (tv, phone, noise)." (Jess Fancher, mom to 2)


4. Making the Most of Homework Time

             "
When I do homework with the older two, I do it one at a time, make a special snack or tea/hot coco and we sit together and do it and have conversation then and it's individualized with no distraction (hopefully!)" (Erin Pankow, mom to 4)

            I love Erin's idea and definitely plan to try to implement this one at home. I would add our version of special homework time, which I started with Ava occasionally last year...

            Tim Horton's homework time!  Because the house always feels full of distractions, she and I would pack up her homework and whatever books she was currently reading (from home or the library) and go the the closest Tim Hortons (5 minutes away for us). She and I would order lemon tea, and usually split a muffin or a bagel. I would help her with her homework, read with her and sometimes we'd even both bring our journals and jot down some thoughts on a page or two! The few times we did this last year were some of my very favorite evening moments with her. I plan to start this again this year...now that I have two in school we might shoot for 1x per child one on one and then maybe another evening where either Scott or I take both girls and leave the baby at home. 
          
           
5. Making the Most of the Everyday Moments

Car rides, snack times, or finding the kids playing in their rooms. While it can be easy to shrug some of these times off as unimportant, these moms have found ways to maximize them for connecting potential! 
           
            "Mine is often in the car conversations or around the dinner table. Right off the bus with our after school snack "porch talk" or when they are in their rooms putting their clean laundry away I will sit and chat. When I'm fixing my daughters hair I can get one on one.( maybe I'm connecting more than I thought I was!)
" (LJ Anderson, mom to 4)
           
           "I find the kids are totally engaged when we spend time in "their world" , we often do this by hanging out in their room with them, doing things they enjoy. I find it helpful to be intentional about this time after discipline, it helps tie strings between our hearts to each other . We also enjoy baking together, and making little gifts for people together." (Laurie Gworek Henderson, mom to 2)
           
            
6. Extra Hugs and Kisses
           
            "Hugs. Even if I don't get to have heart to hearts, hugs throughout the day changes EVERYONE's attitudes (Brigitte Holbert, mom to 2)"


Thank you for the super fantastic reminder Brigitte! We do hug a lot in our house, but there are NEVER enough hugs. Never, ever, ever. Ever since I read Brigitte's comment last week I've been keeping this in the back of my mind and when things are feeling extra nutty, busy and chaotic, I go up to the girls and give them an extra big squeeze before I keep going on with the to-dos, or dinner, or whatever. 


7. Be Silly and Have Fun. Whatever that looks like for you!
Turn on music loud in family room after dinner ... dance, hug, snuggle... turns everybody into goodmoods!.... doesn't always allow for conversation but often leads to it.."  (Jennifer Jackson, mom to 3) 
Another fantastic reminder!! I so often get into "serious, get things done" mom mode. Sometimes     it's hard to turn that off and just be silly, but it's incredibly important to the vitality of the house. It infuses the house with joy, and at the end of the day, isn't that the feeling we want are kids to grow up with when they think about their childhood years?!!!


Thank you all for your fantastic suggestions. What I found so encouraging about reading all of your answers was that connecting with our kids is sometimes as simple as making the most of the everyday moments. Bringing meaning to the stuff that is already going on; meal time, car rides, snack time, bedtime, etc.

What is so beautiful about that is that is that most of us don't have time to consistently add one more thing to our days, but we can all make the most of the moments and things that are already there.

So, here's to making meaning out of the sometimes mundane moments and creating memories that will last a lifetime for our children! 


Hope this was helpful!!

Tuesday, September 16

Connecting in the Chaos, Part 1



     Early Monday morning, in the middle of the 'get ready for school' shuffle, our oldest daughter grabbed me by the arms, pulled me close and said, "Mom, what did we do together this weekend?" 

     Oh honey, right now? Is what I thought. 

     "Oh, honey," I take a deep breath and  pause while I try to stop thinking about everything that needs to be done to get everyone out the door in seventeen minutes.  "Let me think about that for a second," I said. 

     She is very sensitive and is going through some pretty significant separation anxiety these days. With the start of a new grade at school and all that comes with that (new classroom, new teacher, unfamiliar students), as well as a change in classes at gymnastics and Sunday school as well (September is moving up month everywhere!), she seems particularly attuned to how often she is with me and how often she is not. She is a kid who, not unlike her mother, likes routine. She likes to know what's going to be happening where, when and how. 

     She begs me to stay at birthday parties, is verbal about letting me know that she doesn't like it when I'm not there for bedtime and several weeks ago when we picked her up in Sunday school at church, one of the childcare workers told my husband that she had been crying for a good part of the time and told them that, "My parents have a baby and we don't get to spend a lot of time together anymore, so I'm just sad." 

    Ugh. 

    If you're a parent you can imagine how sad, and maybe slightly embarrassing that conversation was. 

     She is a kid that needs to connect...frequently, and ideally one on one when where possible. 

    While Aubrey is less and less baby everyday, she's definitely still the baby of the family and one of our biggest challenges in having three children is trying to meet everyones needs on a regular basis. Try as we might sometimes it's incredibly hard to connect, in a meaningful way, in the middle of the chaos. 

    And chaos it is. A lot of the time. 

    Aubrey is a busy, busy, BUSY baby. A friend of mine and I were chatting last week about our one year olds-- hers who likes to snuggle and stay close by and mine who we categorized as a "runner". I like to think of her as one of those little silver balls in a pin ball game going boing, boing, boing, from surface, to surface to surface in a very hasty manner. 

    Just yesterday, after school I told Ava I would play a card game with her in an attempt to connect one on one for a few minutes. We tried to play a memory game until Aubrey came and upended all the cards and started throwing them around the floor. Then I tried to play a card game at the table until the baby climbed in my lap and tried ripping the cards out of my hand. I think we attempted to read a book afterwards and made it halfway through before the baby started pulling on my leg. Then it was time to to take Ava to gymnastics so we hurried into the car and shuffled off to the gym. 

    I felt so sad. I wanted to connect with Ava. I know she needs to connect with me. I made every attempt, but between school all day, and then homework, the baby, gymnastics and dinner...the entire night got away from us. 

    As for her Monday morning question-- it was legitimate to some degree. It had been a busy weekend. Scott's brother was in from out of town and we spent a lot of time with our extended family. She had fun baking cookies with her aunt, jumping on Grandpa's trampoline, riding scooters and playing with Aunt KK's  saved bins of American Girl doll stuff. 

    But, despite all of the fun, she seems to have a connection compass and is taking keen notes about her "connected" one on one time. 

   Knowing this to be the case I had been intentional about taking her home with me while the baby napped on Sunday afternoon. We did a craft together, chatted at the kitchen table and just hung out in the house alone ( I took a short nap while she watched Strawberry Shortcake). It was nice to connect with her and I know how much she appreciates this kind of one on one time. 

    I reminded her of that on Monday morning and she seemed to be appeased momentarily, though you could tell by the look in her eyes that she had been hoping for more. 

    Maybe this is an oldest child thing, or maybe she's more sensitive than others. I'm trying to be in tuned to her needs and proactive about connecting where I can, but sometimes it feels impossible to do as regularly as she would like, and even as much as I would like. Between homework, gymnastics, baths, meals and some general house upkeep-- not to mention a baby who gets her kicks by spilling rice, markers, noodles, and papers all over the floor-- oh and how about the poor middle sister who we find singing to herself as she colors in the corner-- what's a momma to do?! 

    So, I'm going to throw this out there as a question here and on Facebook-- I'd love to hear your answers!

    How, dear mommas, do you connect with your kids in the chaos of life with multiple children?! 

    I have a few things that we try to do on a regular basis, but I would love some new suggestions and ideas. 

    Because I know a lot of you would benefit from the ideas as well I will collect your feedback from here and Facebook and put it together with the few things we try to do and share it in my next blog post. 

    Hoping to hear from you soon! 

Thursday, September 11

Mommy Has Meltdowns Too


     I glanced into the rearview mirror expecting to see the baby smiling and staring out her window. She had gotten very quiet all of a sudden, which I found odd because she had been shrieking and arching her back just minutes before.

Her head was nodded, eyes were closed. She was sound asleep.

Shucks! 

She was supposed to stay awake for ten more minutes so that I could feed her lunch and then put her down for a 1 p.m. nap. Now I was carefully weighing my options, hoping this short catnap would not foil the 2 1/2-3 hour nap (aka: mommy's free time!) that she was supposed to take.

It did.

Hope was kept alive for a few short moments when we pulled in the driveway and I unbuckled her without her waking up. I picked her up, cradled her in my arms and carried her all the way upstairs with her eyes closed, and completely content.

Yes. We made it! I'll feed her lunch after her nap, I thought.

Within seconds of my laying her down that wispy head of strawberry blond hair popped up on the side of her crib grinning wildly like a jack in the box.

Ha! Gotcha! She seemed to say while smiling through her binky.

We moved on to plan B.

I carried her downstairs, fed her some lunch and decided I would attempt another nap time in 45 minutes or so.

She only slept for 10 minutes in the car, she's got to be tired soon, I reasoned.

I'm sure you can see where this story is going. That sweet face was not the least bit tired 45 minutes later. Nonetheless, I gave her her binky, pulled the shades down and left her in her room. She never cried, she simply spent the next 35 minutes jumping up and down, banging on the wall and rattling the side of her crib.

Because she was supposed to take a nap I had all sorts of good plans lined up. Clean the kitchen, go for a run (Scott was working from home),  sort through the massive pile of crafts, pictures, old mail, magazines and papers that were piled high in the dining room begging for attention since the middle of July (and growing taller with each passing day!).

After 35 minutes I relented, went in,  picked her up from her crib and went huffing and puffing my way down the stairs with her in my arms.

You are supposed to be sleeping! I reminded her sarcastically.

She is supposed to be sleeping! I reminded Scott as I furiously pulled clothes from the washing machine and launched them into the dryer, slamming the door for emphasis.

Bah! 

All sorts of grunts and groans seemed to bubble to the surface of my previously calm demeanor...So many so that Scott eventually told me to just go for my run and leave the baby with him, which I refused to do because I knew he had a lot of work to finish and would not get anything done with her at home.

I huffed and puffed and put the baby in the jogging stroller. I huffed and puffed and put my sneakers on. I huffed and puffed as I ran back in the house to get her binky.

And then I got tired of huffing and puffing and did what we women often do too well...especially during a PMS week...I sat down and cried and decided I wasn't going for a run after all because everything is extra-specially dramatic and emotional during a PMS week and I no longer felt like strong mom ready to run.

I was quite tempted to not share this post because I was afraid of what you might all think of me if you read it. She cries? That easily? Over something so silly?

As a matter of fact my blogging as of late has gotten inconsistent for two reasons...

1. I don't seem to have a whole lot of time to squeeze it in anymore
2. I started blogging because I wanted to be able to encourage other moms, especially if they were feeling as overwhelmed as I was from time to time...ok, most of the time.

I suppose I thought that somehow I'd be able to do that in sweet messages full of honest encouragement, but only if I felt I had it all together.  They would be posts that said, "Ah yes, parenting is so hard, but here are 5 handy tips for meal planning that will change your life!"

Or, "Are you struggling with time management or clutter in your home? Well then, you've come to the right place because my home is never cluttered for more than two days, I have a fantastic cleaning schedule and if you can just implement these 3 practices into your life you'll be well on your way to managing the 7,345 pieces of small plastic in your house too!"

I've read many of those articles online and somehow they have failed to change my life...I think it happens somewhere in the execution or failure to execute...maybe I'm reading the wrong articles!

In all honesty, I haven't figure out the niche of being encouraging without being totally transparent and transparent these days means tired, confused and disorganized much of the time.

The mommy meltdown was short lived. They usually are. As much as I can be prone to giving into my discouragement, and find myself in a slobbery heap of tears, I bounce back pretty quickly and was  on to rolling the ball with Aubrey five minutes later.

She didn't seem to notice my bad behavior and was happy to oblige with whatever silly games I came up with, so I folded socks and she flung the mismatched ones around the living room, we read 3 pages in a book (before I lost her attention) and played peek a boo with a helium balloon. She has a way of prompting enormous smiles from me--she's hilarious-- and I knew it ultimately wasn't her fault that she wasn't tired.

And so it goes on the roller coaster ride of stay-at-home or work from home motherhood. I do think some of this is unique to the experience of being at home everyday...a place where it's hard to set goals that will not be deterred, you are constantly needed and the whirl of meals and toys is never-ending.

I try not to have too many expectations on any given day, because plans are often quickly changed, but with the two big girls back in school I did start to have ideas about the things I might be able to get done with just one little one at home. One little one who is supposed to nap.

I did get out for that run eventually. Aubrey finally fell asleep around 3 p.m. and I was able to squeeze a run in and landed right back on my doorstep as the big girls bus pulled down the street.

However, the papers are still piled high in the dining room and I'm sure I've already forgotten to send a form back to school that needed to be signed (it's hiding somewhere in the pile of papers!).

I'm hoping, sometime during this school year to actually find a meal planning system and a house management system that works for me. When I do, I promise to share it! Hopefully it will change all of our lives for the better!

In the meantime, I'm incredibly thankful for the practice and discipline of running in my life and for the little spaces of time where I'm able to fit it in. I'm thankful for baby smiles and laughter. I'm thankful for the ability to laugh at myself when all is said and done.

In the midst of the craziness I will continue to practice thankfulness, because on some days its the only constant we've got and the only thing we have control over.


"In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." 
1 Thessalonians 5:18




Friday, September 5

Back to School: The Happy, Sad Dance


Ah, the end of summer vacation. It comes with so many mixed emotions doesn't it?! 

I know some "I'm SOOO happy my kids are back in school...I couldn't take this ONE MORE MINUTE!" moms.

I'm not exactly one of them (or maybe feel too guilty to admit that sometimes I might feel that way just a little bit more than I expected to!)

There are also the "I'm SOOO sad that my kids are back in school" moms who seem to love every minute of summer vacation with a house full of crazy kiddos, and almost thrive on the chaos. 

I'm not one of those moms either. For sure. 

I'm a somewhere in the middle mom. I'm doing the happy and sad dance. Admittedly I'm enjoying some extra moments of quiet, but I'm also wondering how the time went quite so fast and how the girls got quite so big without my permission. 

I was walking around the house yesterday afternoon...a very quiet house...and this thought went through my head, "Whoa, it's a whole new world!"  and "Whoa, it feels weird to hear myself think again." 

The two big girls started school on Wednesday (kindergarten and 2nd grade) and it feels like a whole new world. Of course I still have little Miss Aubrey at home with me, which I am super thankful for because I'm not ready for a completely quiet house all day long. She naps for several hours and this is the first time that I've had just one child at home who takes a long nap, allowing me time to...gasp...find my thoughts and get some laundry put away.

You might think I'm joking about finding my thoughts, or if you know me well enough, you're laughing because you know I've lost them and have been searching high and low for their whereabouts. But I'm completely serious. At one point this summer I clearly thought to myself, (during a very brief moment that I had to think), "Whoa, so this is what people mean when they say they've lost their minds."

I used to just think that was a funny expression of speech.

Now I realize that it is a phrase most likely coined by a mom at the end of a summer vacation.

It comes out of nowhere, after several strings of weeks where you are going from morning to night trying to feed everyone, keep them from fighting, make them pick up after themselves and provide some low key activities to do out of the house, just for distraction sake.

It is then that a thought like this goes through your mind..."Goodness, gracious, I don't know where my keys are, what meal we just ate, where the bottom to Aubrey's or the top to Ava's bathing suits are, what day it is, or where that birthday card got off too that I had really good intentions of mailing to my good friend...Shoot, the Goodwill is still in the car from three weeks ago?! Did I really just pick up 17 things from the grocery store and forget to buy the milk and diapers that I actually went in for?! Wow, I've lost my mind."

And then someone starts screaming like they've been horribly wounded, only to find out that they stubbed their toe and the baby is on top of the patio table in the back yard.

And that's the end of that thought.

Ha...Such is life with kids.

I jokingly mentioned on Facebook on Tuesday night that I needed a t-shirt that says, "I Survived Summer Vacation!" to don once the girls got on the bus on Wednesday morning (I'm still thinking I should have one designed and printed for next year).

Nonetheless, it was a crazy, busy summer full of fun moments that required an exorbitant amount of energy on the part of the momma person. It was a 'drinking from the fire hose' (to coin a phrase I used in my last post, from a wiser older momma friend) kind of summer. For a while I thought maybe it was just me, still trying to figure out the pace of life with three, though it seems, from the friends I've  talked to, that many of you have had a similar experience.

So anyhow, the big kids are back in school and it leaves this momma with kind of a little bit happy/little bit sad sort of feeling. While a sense of relief comes with the reintroduction of order, there is a sadness that all of the summer fun is over. There is also some sadness because they've gotten so big, so fast. Big enough to be off to school and to have swiftly moved past stages (like princess dresses) that I thought would last forever.

But grateful for the chance to reorganize the house just a little bit and get some laundry done, before they're all home in the late afternoon. Grateful for the chance to write a blog post or two. Grateful for the chance to recover some of my scattered brain and catch my breath.

I jokingly told Scott on the night before school started that it felt like I had reached the end of a marathon and when I returned back to the house after the race, a hurricane had blown through and upended all of our belongings, scattering them here there and everywhere!

"Yup. That feels about right," he said.

Here's to reordering, taking a deep breath and finding my lost mind.

Here's to accepting the ages and stages, as furiously and quickly as they seem to come and go, and to being as present as possible to the new adventures, and moments for all that they are.