Friday, March 30, 2007

A Slice of Pie



An Exchange of Hearts
(Entry for Real Simple Magazine's Life Lessons Contest)
Topic: What is the bravest thing you've ever done? 

It was 1994 and I was twelve years old. I was standing in a long line of adults whose shoulders were shining with chlorine water, heads tilted up toward the top of a water slide whose height I did not yet understand. It cast a giant shadow onto the warm concrete where I had been standing for at least thirty minutes.  I squinted into the sun, watching one person after another step to the edge, sit down shakily on the slick blue seat, cross their arms over their chest and lean back slowly, as if lowering themselves into a grave. They disappeared so fast it was only seconds later that they emerged out of the shallow pool at the bottom, adjusting their bathing suits and offering a tenuous thumbs-up to their tiny compadres, seventy feet above.

Soon I was on the stairs, with only a few people ahead of me. I kept my eyes focused on the water pouring over the edge of the slide, knowing that within minutes this would all be over. At last it was my turn. I sat down, ignoring the enervated lifeguard who recited the instructions insipidly. I knew exactly what to do. Cross your arms across your chest, cross your feet, and slowly lean back allowing the water to rush over you until it steadily carries you over that shocking edge…

Halfway down, as my body shook with speed and my striped suit barely touched the back of the slide, I thought to myself, “What have I done?” It was worse than I thought; deafening, forceful, and relentlessly fast. Then it ended with a liberating splash and a wedgie worth writing home about.

Up to that point in my life, lowering myself over the edge of that slide was by far the gutsiest thing I’d ever done. I was quiet, studious, and still slept with a Care Bear in my bed. But I was certain of one thing: I was destined for great things.

Late one school night when I was thirteen, I sat on the lid of my toilet seat with a flashlight, hunched over my beloved journal. I wrote down three things I promised to never forget:
1.     I will make good choices.
2.     If I make a mistake, I’ll fix it.
3.     If an extraordinary opportunity presents itself, I’ll take it. No regrets.

I closed my journal and tiptoed quietly back to bed.

I didn’t forget my three promises, even a decade later when I was a full-time mother of four small children. I sought out those “extraordinary opportunities” in between pregnancies, nursing newborns, nap schedules, and the day-to-day tasks that kept us all afloat. After my second daughter was born, I ran my first marathon, training through the winter in Utah, hiring babysitters and running late at night on the high school track, clutching a bottle of mace in my half-numb fingers. When I was expecting my third daughter, I studied HypnoBirthing and decided to have her naturally.  I’m certain I earned a badge of some kind on that long, life-changing night.

If there was one thing that I wanted to excel in at this point in my life, it was motherhood. But despite my priorities, I started to feel that I was less than I had planned to be. Loneliness had crept into my daily routine, even though I never really was in fact, alone. I had a degree from a reputable college, skills in editing and writing, and I looked fantastic in a pencil skirt and heels. Yet most days I was alone with four little ones in stretch pants with sucker stains and bangs that I learned to trim myself. Most of my conversations revolved around my children’s sleep habits, potty mishaps, and our Letter of the Week. By five o’clock, I couldn’t stand another person touching me, poking me, or needing my attention in any way. I craved a purpose outside of motherhood, certain that there was something else waiting for me.

Several times, I grabbed the keys and told my husband that I had to leave. I’d eat dinner by myself at a restaurant, spend money on inessential things that made me feel happy for a second, or simply park the car and cry. I was becoming lost inside the walls of my own home.  I took baths after bedtime, staring at my unpainted toenails, feeling invisible.

I remembered a conversation between my husband and I six years prior, before we had children. We were eating dinner in our basement apartment, whose seven foot ceilings made you stoop unconsciously, when he looked up at me and said, “You know you never have to work again, if you don’t want to.” I was wrapping up my last semester of my undergrad, preparing a few articles for publication and my husband was starting a small business. Life had momentum. I stood up with my plate and kissed his cheek on the way to the kitchen, smiling.

A few months later, I was enrolling for an internship with a publishing company. During our meeting, I told my interviewer, a woman just a few years older than me, about my education, my qualifications, and the fact that I’d be having a baby just a few months after the internship started.  I didn’t get the job.

Now, as the rock bottom days roll in like an inescapable tide, I feel much the same as I did falling down that slide years ago. It wasn’t until halfway down that I realized I might have just made the hardest decision of my life.

The other night I found a note on my pillow from my six-year old daughter. It was written on light blue paper that had been folded several times. The front said, “Love Mom” underlined in hearts and stars. On the inside was a picture of one hand offering a heart to another hand. Her note reminded me of my place in this world. I recall holding onto my daughter’s hand when she was a newborn, her fragile fingers wrapped around just one of mine as she slept. Then a few years later those same fingers clutched a pencil, tracing over my letters, my hand guiding hers slowly until she could do it on her own. Those hands now slip into mine when we cross the street, offering three squeezes for an “I love you.” They spread proudly with my wedding ring on just the right finger, assuring me that it looks better on her hand than mine. They reach gracefully over the strings of her tiny violin and rest so peacefully next to her face as she sleeps.

When I feel that I’m standing in that endless line again, dripping with uncertainty and the expectation that in just a few minutes, this will all be over, I try to remember my daughter’s advice to “love Mom.” I see more meaning in my meals, my hugs, the activities I plan and the stories I read. I soak in the amusement in my son’s eyes as he drives his car over my head and face and makes boyish car noises. I count each diaper in the pile next to the door as an act of service rendered by me. Every suppressed swear word is an offering, a calm voice in place of yelling something to be celebrated. I aim to be loveable, not perfect.

When I chose to become a mother, and to stay at home with my children, I had no idea what that would actually require of me. I knew that there would be long nights, but I didn’t comprehend the agony of having an early riser who demands Cheerios at 6 am. I knew there would be potty training, but I didn’t think that so many pairs of underwear would simply be thrown away because they were just so bad. I knew it would get messy, but I never imagined that a diaper could become an artist’s palette or that oatmeal would be considered a hair conditioner. I knew I would make mistakes, but I had no idea that guilt would be a near constant companion and that children are the quickest to forgive, and forget. I knew that I would share my body for a time with my babies, but I didn’t expect that I would also hand over a part of myself, that motherhood would be an exchange of hearts where you get more than you give, in the end. These are things I didn’t understand until I was here, halfway down the slide, feeling both terrified and grateful that I was brave enough to step up to the edge and let myself fall.

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It's Thursday Again

Sometimes I feel very happy and satisfied as a mother. I feel this incredible motivation to go about my daily routine and to-do's, finding joy in making good meals for everyone and keeping things tidy and in order. During those times, I feel capable of balancing housework, activities with the kids, violin, meals, laundry, etc. and while it's never perfect, our house seems to function quite well because I'm happy.

And then I have those other days. I wake up with a sense of dread instead of anticipation. I lay down on the couch while my kids watch morning cartoons, telling them I'll make their breakfast in "just a minute." I drag my feet, my eyelids feel heavy, and the thought of planning an activity for the day or even attempting to load all four kids into the van makes me feel weak in the knees. I want to sleep all day. I dread lunch. I need space. The garbage can seems to slam extra loudly as I scrape food off of dirty dishes. My house is old and unchanging. And I don't have the energy to change it. All I can see or think of is the negative. Simply put, I'm unhappy.

So, I'm sixteen weeks pregnant. And we pregnant women get tired. But these hard days have come and gone in all seasons. These waves of unhappiness don't seem to follow any natural cycles (minus the fact that they are almost always related to sleep). They are the hard times, when even the thought of tackling my dishes makes me cry. On these days, I cling to my cell phone like a cigarette, scrolling through Instagram or my email just to escape my own reality.

I had post-pardum depression after my second daughter and found out first hand that it's no picnic. Since that experience, I assumed that these difficult days that came and went, were part of that depression. I assumed that I was in fact, a depressed person. And while I know that depression is a real thing and affects everyone differently, I've come to understand that motherhood comes with its own depressions. LIFE comes with depressions. That's how we're stretched and learn skills and tools and empathy and gratitude and which movies our kids love most on Netflix so we can take a NAP and stop shooting fireballs out of our eyes at everyone.

But when you're IN IT, it's so hard and blinding. I feel guilty. I think I'm a bad mom and everyone else is better at this job than me.  I don't want to read my scriptures and exercise and eat vegetables and snap out of it. I don't want to return phone calls or see or talk to anyone. Sometimes I feel more comfortable in my grumpiness and want to stay there a while, as if I'm proving to everyone that my life is hard. 

The mind of a mother can be messy and complex. I feel overwhelmed by my four small kids, but so grateful we had them close so that they are playmates and (one day) good friends. I can't believe we're adding a fifth baby in November, but at the same time I burst into tears when I think that this just might be my very last pregnancy. I love being a mother with all of my being and then sometimes I want nothing more than to grab the keys and RUN. It's a tangle of emotions at all times. It's amazing I'm still breathing.

Today was hard. Lots of stumbling, some tears, and at last I had a great talk with a dear friend who just kept nodding her head emphatically as I spilled my questions and fears and feelings. Sometimes it's just nice to know that others have been at the bottom and back at the top, and then back down to the bottom again. That's why we need one another so badly. I felt my shoulders getting lighter and lighter as we talked about motherhood--it's ups and downs, it's depressions and joys.

I'm constantly amazed at how easy it is to think everyone around me is perfect. Or that their house is amazing and clean and bigger. Or that they have such a handle of their routine and know all the answers to parenting and discipline. And then I finally talk to that "perfect" woman and find out that she prayed and waited for a baby for years. And then when she got pregnant, she was in bed for months, so sick that even water made her nauseous. I see another mom who has built her dream home and yet eats dinner alone with her kids every night while her husband works late. I sat next to a beautiful mom who brought the most amazing treat to a baby shower and looked so well put together that I was sure she had it all, only to find out that she worked full time to support her little boy since her husband passed away suddenly a few years ago. A mutual friend told me that the first thing she heard this recent widow say after her husband died was, "I know Heavenly Father has a plan for my family!"

And so today, I believe in that plan. I know Heavenly Father sees me on these hard days when I feel so small and almost invisible. We post our best days for the world to see, and that's a good thing. No one wants to see me in the back of my closet blowing my nose on a hand towel because I'm out of toilet paper since I haven't had the guts to go to the grocery store with the kids. But we must remember that the only reason we have those good days to post about is because we've survived the depressions, the hard days where we want to burn our aprons and set fire to the dishes.

I want to be a the kind of mother that helps other mothers feel normal and real and good. Because you are. I hope I can inspire my friends as much as they inspire me.


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picking peaches


Thursdays hate me. I'm not making this up. Without fail, Thursday turns out to be my hardest day of the week, every week. Today, for example, is Thursday. I have been on a kick all week, feeling very motivated to get things done. I know that kind of motivation simply can't last, but today I didn't just get slowed down, I got flattened. 

For about three months, I've been struggling with a simple little part of life called monotony. I remember being six years old and taking a gymnastics class during the week after school. My mom would pick me up, we'd get into the car, and I'd ask, "What are we doing tonight?" She'd almost always say, "Just going home," which inevitably brought a sting of disappointment and boredom (oh the woes of an only child). In elementary school, I filled the front cover of my homeroom folder with countdowns to my birthday, the night before my birthday, and then the actual day of my birthday party. I lived for my trips to Oregon to visit my dad, holidays, three day weekends, class parties, sleepovers, and anything else that changed up the usual routine.

And now, as a mother of four young children, most of my life is routine. Now I'm the mom telling my daughter, "We're just heading home now." Some days (mostly Thursdays) I pack up the kids and escape to Great Harvest Bread where I can lose myself (or find myself) in their soup and slice of bread and chocolate chip cookies. Then I notice other people staring at me with my four year old begging for more honey, my two year old spilling her water onto the table, and my one year old baby yelling at me with his mouth open like a baby bird for more food. I remember that these escapes aren't as easy as they used to be.

After a particularly difficult week a while back, I called our babysitter. She was available. It was a Wednesday night and I told my husband that we were going on a hot date. We ended up agreeing that our "hot date" should probably be at the Brigham City Temple. There was that rush of getting dinner out for the sitter, quick hugs and kisses and a swift escape to the car. As soon as we entered the doors to the temple, I saw a painting that caught my eye. Before I tell you about the painting, let me give you one more detail to this lovely impromptu date at the temple. We had just returned from a wedding in Atlanta, where I had left my wallet (turns out you CAN board a plane without your license). My temple recommend--your ticket in--was in that wallet. My dear husband's recommend had just expired the day before, which is funny because he's in our bishopric, which means he's in charge of keeping those things current. So we got to stand in this lovely entry way next to this painting for ten minutes or so while we waited for permission to enter the temple.

Here it is:
http://valoyeaton.com/images/lg/2012-peaches.gif

It's a woman picking peaches, painted by Valoy Eaton. But to me it said A LOT. And I'm not confident that I can convey in this post what this painting said to me, but that woman was bending down, for probably the hundredth and sixteenth time, placing peaches into her bucket, and she was smiling. I felt a different perspective of my role as a mother. I felt the "Why am I not..." and "If only I could.." and "What if my kids don't..." and "Why can't I just..." melt away, because I am simply picking peaches. Every day. And yes it is repetitive and at times, monotonous, but my job is important and meaningful and even simple. I'm just here to pick peaches, and do it happily and peacefully. This woman seems so centered and content. There could be a storm of sibling rivalry, incessant messes, meals to be made, diapers to be changed, babies to be cradled, laundry to be folded, waiting for her in that simple home in the background, but she's present in this moment of picking peaches.

That's what I saw. And it has stayed with me. Since then, when all of my children are crying about something at the same time and my baby is clinging to my legs so I can't even move around to do all the things being required of me and I want to SCREAM, I think of her. I'm just picking peaches. One at a time.

And still, there are times when that "other woman" comes out of me, the one who starts throwing rotten peaches at everyone and curses the tree for making too much for one little woman to pick in one day. Tonight, for example, when my husband couldn't come home at his usual time to give me a break, when I had to do dinner and bedtime alone because he had a meeting (I know many of you do this on a regular basis; I bow to you), when my oldest made eye contact with me and acknowledged and repeated what I asked her to do and then walked away, forgetting immediately, this peach-picker had HAD IT.  I succumbed to the storm and yelled at my daughters. I let out my frustration with my hard day that started off with not enough sleep, laundry, a project that was interrupted incessantly, bill paying, homework with a very bored kindergartner, and violin practice with a sweet and stubborn girl who needs more encouragement and positivity than I can sometimes muster.

I'm exhausted. I want to be left alone. But I did remember that there are fragile egos and tender hearts up in those beds and I went back and apologized and gave hugs. I hope they remember the good parts of today and not an angry, fire-breathing mother. I hope they remember my courage to admit that I was wrong to yell, no matter what they did, and that even good moms get overwhelmed and tired. Maybe one day when they are weary, with children of their own, they will remember me, and that most of the time, I had a smile on my face as I bent down, time and time again because mine is the greatest job in the world.

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Friendship

 I'm huge. 
 I'm nearing 36 weeks and I find myself slowing down. I just polished off my ultra power TUMS and I'm ready to break into a fresh new batch tonight. This pregnancy is really flying by. I'm not sure I'm ready for this little guy to come out! I'll find myself at the library or children's museum with my three little ones and suddenly realize that soon I'll have another one. Sometimes it's hard to breathe in those moments.


I knew once I decided to conduct my own "Power of Moms" workshop that I'd be tested. Especially since my topic is "Taking Care of the Person Inside the Mom." I haven't felt very "taken care of" lately. You should see my toenails (no, you shouldn't).

The past few weeks have been particularly difficult and I've decided to place some of the blame on my exhausted and confused hormones. There have been days where I can't handle our regular routine. It's too much. One morning I woke up and walked into my kitchen where my sink was (of course) full of dishes. I had planned on getting them done quickly while the girls ate their breakfast so that I wouldn't have a meltdown during lunch time. I stood there for about two full minutes, staring at those dishes and telling myself to just do it. But instead, I pulled over a kiddie stool, sat down, and cried.

The next week, I was feeling much better. Then at church, of all places, my husband and I had a miscommunication about something small and it totally threw me off. I decided to pack up the girls and drive them to my mom's, thinking a little "getaway" was all I needed. Well, four hours in the car with three children under the age of five, by myself, was enough to make me rethink my strategy. At my mom's, I felt guilty because I had brought several activities to do with the girls for Valentine's Day and I didn't have the energy to do any of it! I was grumpy and tired. I stayed one night and then made the long four-hour drive back home, exhausted.



The next few days, I tried to catch up on the house and tidy things up. One night, while my husband was at a meeting, I decided that I just didn't have it in me to pick up the front room. In fact, I felt ANGER towards all the puzzle pieces and playing cards that were strewn across my floor. I started "scooting" everything into the corner of the room. That felt pretty good, so I began to throw the rest of the toys and coloring books and crayons into that corner until the entire room was clean. I even swept around the pile and vacuumed out my couches and cleaned the rug. My husband came home, looked around and started to say, "Wow, honey this place looks gr--" and then he saw my pile.

He decided to document this moment so we could laugh about it later...


And here I am, sitting contentedly on my clean couch. 


That following week, it was my turn to teach our little group in Joy School. I was doing fine until about twenty minutes before they all arrived. Once again, I sat down in the kitchen and cried. Then the kids came and everything was fine. We decorated cupcakes and I ate like four of them. Luckily for me, the kids were gems that day and I survived.

But I don't want to just SURVIVE. 

I DO recognize that my husband and I have chosen a tough road for the next few years by packing our children so close together. And of course I have all those thoughts about "What if we'd done this differently...?" and "WHAT were we thinking....?" But when I really consider those other options, I know we made the right choice for our family. So why am I having such a difficult time here? Why am I finding myself on that kiddie stool in tears more often than I'd like to admit?



There's more than one answer to that question, I believe. I just want to touch upon one answer that has become more clear to me in the past few weeks:

I NEED FRIENDS.
We all do. 

I need to be around other moms and hear their experiences and see that I'm not alone. Motherhood is isolating. I start to believe that I'm the only one who gets so overwhelmed that I can't even force myself to smile or cook a meal or listen to what my toddler is repeating over and over. And then I yell at them which makes everything worse. I sneak into their rooms after they've gone to bed and look at their tiny hands and feel so guilty I can barely see straight.

That's when I need a friend. The day after my last meltdown (just before Joy School), a friend and neighbor of mine brought me an entire cake. Not just cookies on a plate, but a HUGE cake. I love cake. But more than that, I loved being visited by someone. This woman had not only spent the time to bake and decorate this treat for me, but she actually packed up her kids and delivered it to me in person. And despite the fact that my one year old was constipated and crying miserably, we had a nice conversation.  (Did you know that karo syrup helps with constipation? See, I didn't know that). Her visit made all the difference for me.


 This is the cake. Don't ask why my kids have mustaches.

The next day I decorated the leftover cupcakes from Joy School and delivered a few of them to a neighbor who is a stay-at-home mother struggling with teenagers. We talked for an hour. I took a few more to another mother who recently lost everything in a house fire. 

We need each other.
Kindness is contagious. (So is happiness.)

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A December Meltdown

I feel a lot of gratitude today. I'll admit that the past two weeks have not been my best. I've been overwhelmed, short-tempered, and plain stressed out as I have attempted to unpack from Thanksgiving (nope, not there yet), paint my daughter's bedroom furniture, keep my house liveable, decorate, feed everyone, do my Christmas shopping, flu shots, Joy school Christmas parties, host creative activities for my kids, do service, etc, etc, etc. I finally had a meltdown. A good one. And the nice thing about meltdowns is that when all is said and done and my eyes are swollen and I've apologized to everyone that I've yelled at, I usually gain a new perspective. I see things more clearly and feel more gratitude for the good things in my life. And I finally have the guts to eliminate the unnecessary to-do's that make my life too busy to enjoy the most important people around me.

I've selected a few pictures that epitomize the "reminders" that have helped me re-center myself this month as we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Savior.

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My children. I realized while writing in my journal the other day that their approval is one of the most important things I seek. I want nothing more than to be the kind of mother that they want to emulate one day; one that they trust, admire, and respect.

And during this Christmas season, the greatest thing I want to teach them is how to serve other people. Our Christmas candy cane advent calendar has been such a blessing. Its been difficult on some days to get that candy cane delivered, but it has urged us to think of others every day.
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I love hearing Hazel explain to the recipient what the upside down candy cane represents and why we're giving it to them. I'll remember this service for a long time and look forward to the days we have left.
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I love those crazy "what were you THINKING?!" moments that make for a great picture 
and/or story later... I left the girls on their own for a while the other day and came downstairs to find this. If it weren't for the marker all over their faces, they'd look like angels in this picture.
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I took fifty pictures of these girls in the tub until finally I got one worth keeping. Doesn't that relate to motherhood? Fifty moments of cleaning, teaching, repeating, and fighting to keep your temper and then one shining moment where they fill your cup to the brim and all is right in the world. 
Just for a second.

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Here's a belly update. I'm 26 weeks pregnant with our first baby boy. 
I'm grateful that my husband finally pulled it off.



(can you see how I'm carrying this pregnancy in my face?)

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I've been trying out a few different ideas to keep the spirit of service alive in our home this Christmas season. I bought these mailboxes at JoAnne's and had the girls decorate them with stickers and make them their own. They can make a gift or draw a picture for one another and leave it in the other's mailbox. (So far, my husband and I have delivered most of the notes/gifts.)
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Christmas Mice! is a great children's book about a family of mice that receive a gift from a cat and decide to make a present for him in return. My daughter decided to make a little mouse out of pom-poms and felt, which I suggested would make a great gift for her sister's mailbox...
(She decided to keep the mouse and write a note for her sister instead, but the spirit of service was still there...)
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I love this picture because they look so happy and obedient and you'd never guess that Hazel threw a major tantrum over her dinner just twenty minutes before. All three girls were an emotional mess and we had decided to cancel our plans that night until last minute we sought some fresh air and went out anyway. I'm so glad we did.
 
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I love the magic of Christmas!
(This is Charlotte watching a Q&A with Santa at our local childrens' museum)

I'm grateful for these shirts I found to flatter myself. I need to put these pictures all over my house.
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Obviously this post is more personal than most, but I have to say that one of the greatest reminders I have of who I am and why I'm here and why I sacrifice to be a stay-at-home mom is the man I married and the vision we have for our family. So so lucky. (Isn't he cute??)
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So if you're overwhelmed or having a meltdown this lovely December, please do feel free to share with another mom. I bet she can top your worst moment or at least relate to it. And if she can't, email me and I'm sure I can top it. We are, after all, in this together.

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A Charmed Life

It's funny how certain things sneak up on you. I have to admit that I've always had this mental image of what my future "home" would be like: a roomy front porch with pumpkins and black Hunter Wellies by the front door and kids coming home after school to the comforting smell of warm chocolate chip cookies. The yard is landscaped with hydrangea bushes and a mini willow. We have sprinklers and a roomy garage with an automatic door. Every room is painted the color of our choice (okay, my choice). It's big enough for comfort but small enough so that I can still hear the echoes of my children growing up all around me. It's home. Every once in a while I see a house that fits that "mold" in my head and I feel a tiny pinch of jealousy.

How silly I am to think that way. And I know it, but I still think it. This week as I've decorated for Fall and Halloween, I've thought a lot about the "homes" we've already created in our family. Our first apartment in Sugar House was a tiny one bedroom with low ceilings and pipes poking out of the walls in the bathroom. But I remember hanging our wedding pictures on the walls and making the most of our limited decor. I loved the kitchen. It was nothing fancy but it had a lovely dishwasher that made that satisfying hum in the evening before bedtime. Most--nope, ALL--of our furniture was second-hand and mismatched. We didn't own a couch, but we did have a large armchair that was big enough for the two of us. We planted our first garden, had our first miscarriage, earned our bachelor degrees and started a new business together in that home. Sure wasn't the crown of the cul-de-sac dream of mine, but it was perfect for us at that time.

Our second home was a real house. A really OLD house. It had been built in 1890 and was absolutely beautiful except for the fact that it needed about thirty thousand dollars of updating. We were working full time flipping houses, so moving into one that needed work seemed easy enough. And then reality hit us full force. I was five months pregnant and a little more "particular" than either one of us expected. I spend the first night in our new house crying in the shower for two hours. We slept on a mattress on the living room floor for the last four months of my pregnancy while we renovated our bedroom with our limited resources. I'll never forget lying on my back, 8 1/2 months pregnant, caulking baseboards. We had barely moved into our bedroom when I gave birth to our first daughter (not in the bedroom, at the hospital). We were officially a family in a house with chipping paint, a leaky swamp cooler, and a creepy cellar that smelled like pot. (Literally. The last family that lived there had a bi-polar son who actually camped out down there. We had to tear down his Bob Marley poster). A huge thunderstorm hit one day and I looked out our back window just as a ten foot section of our backyard fence fell over. There was no dishwasher, the washer and dryer were in the kitchen and our "breakfast nook" leaked when it rained. None of the windows opened, our only bathroom was covered in forest green tiles and every time I went to take a bath, I thought of all the bodies that had lied down in that old tub and changed my mind. Seriously, I was so ungrateful and unfortunately, unhappy. I can't say that I had a change of heart and learned to love that house while we lived there. It's only looking back now that I realize that despite my dislike for the circumstances, we still created a home in that house. And it was all the things it lacked that have deepened my gratitude for all that we have now.

When we moved into our current home, I made a promise to never say "I hate this house" again. And it's been an easy promise to keep, not because this is our "dream house" that fits the mold I've had in my head all these years, but because the lessons are slowly kicking in. I know there will come a day when we can afford the house of our dreams, but it might be too late by then to have the "home" of our dreams. I have been amazed at how happy and content I've been feeling for the past couple of weeks. It's really felt like home and not because I've finally painted my living room the right color or got the timer on the stove to stop going off at random, but because there's this perfect space in front of the fireplace where my oldest daughter was spinning this morning. Because my girls love to race around the loop that connects the living, dining, and kitchen area. Because this house is small enough that I don't need a monitor to hear all three of my children when they wake up in their rooms. Because I have a dishwasher. I've brought two new babies back from the hospital to this house and watched them grow within these imperfect walls.

I think it's okay to have a standard as far as living conditions go. But I finally understand how those who have so little in the world can be so happy. I finally understand what makes me happy. I'm so relieved to not be waiting anymore for that dream home.
With all that we lack, we somehow have it all.


Here's some pictures of how we've been getting ready for Fall and Halloween!







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Pumpkin Whoooooopies! A favorite fall treat in our home.

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A fun idea to decorate the mantle, thanks to this picture on Pinterest.
My husband hung every one of those pinecones for me. Not bad huh?

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We cut out some bats to hang in our dining room, using this template.
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You know the classic sucker ghosts craft? I love it.
(Charlotte is making a ghost's "Oooooooo" sound in this pic).
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We used Dum-dums, tissues, and tiny rubber bands I use on my girls' hair. 
It was simple enough for them to do it on their own.

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Hazel is adding the eyes and mouth with a black marker.
 
I found these clear 4x6 frames at Walmart for $1 each. We glued candy corns and pumpkins around the edges and the girls ate as many as they could along the way.
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I forgot to peel off the protective cover on the front of the frame and our candies have been slipping off, so we need to re-do this one. I'll have to add a final pic later, but you get the idea. You could also do this with black pom-pom spiders with pipe cleaner legs or small leaves you find outside--anything!

And the happiness part of it all...

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 Finding Charlotte asleep with her wings on.

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"So a guy walked into a bar..."

I seriously almost peed my pants when I saw Eloise crawling around with this piece of chalk in her mouth. Doesn't it look like she's holding a lighter too? It's a grape.

Behind her in this picture is, well, a mess, but part of that mess was a can of black shiny latex paint that I used to paint the "BOO" on my white pumpkins. I left it out because my girls have never really messed with that stuff and the lid was on. I ran an errand and left Eloise sleeping at home with her Dad. Then I got a call. She had spilled the paint on our wood floors and on my beautiful area rug that I'd coveted ever since we moved into this house. 
 
I really wish I had a hidden camera in our living room so that I could have seen my husband's reaction to a catastrophe of this proportion. He knows how much I protect this rug from any and all possible danger. He said that she had spilled the paint without him noticing and then crawled over the rug, covered in paint, to where he was sitting on the couch. Then she patted his knee with a wet black hand and that's when he saw the shiny pool of paint spreading onto the edge of my rug.
He says that he grabbed her said, "We're in so much trouble!!" He finally set her down in her high chair, stripped off her clothes and started cleaning up the mess. It was then that he saw the can of paint and remembered that it was MINE. He says that he had a moment of relief and said to himself, "It's HER fault!" 
 
When I came home, he left to rent a professional carpet cleaner from Home Depot while I poured water over the stain to keep it from drying. Luckily for us, it all came out. 
 
THEN
While my husband finished cleaning the rug, I ran off to my first prenatal visit with a new OB. 
Did I mention I'm pregnant? 
We are expecting our fourth in March and all thoughts of black paint and stained carpets vanished as we learned that we are FINALLY expecting a boy!!
 
Happiness.
Pure happiness.


Balance

It's taken me a while but I've been learning that part of being a good mom is taking time out for myself. I've been getting up early lately. My main motivation is to have time to be alone. We have very loud wood stairs, so I step on the "quiet" spots and tip-toe down to the living room where I cuddle up on the couch and read my scriptures. I love this time. In the beginning this was difficult because I very much dislike going to bed early. I used to believe an early bedtime is for people age 60+. But now that I'm getting up early, I'm yawning like a seasoned 60 year old around 9 pm. And it's not so bad, climbing into bed around 10pm (instead of 11:30 or midnight) because I know that around 5:30 or 6, I get to work on something entirely by myself.

My husband has said, "In order to be a good mom, you have to be a good you." I recently pulled out my collection of old vintage picture frames I've been collecting to sell at our local farmer's market. I've had a blast packing up the girls and bribing them with SUGAR as I dig through the piles of frames at local consignment shops and thrift stores. I search for the ornate frames that have character and try to never spend more than $5 per frame. At home, I stretched out a huge drop cloth and went to work. I painted some of them and others I covered with fabric. I found a local glass shop and cut glass to fit those that were missing their panes. I poly-urethaned, I sanded, I cut fingers, and lost way too much sleep. But I finished them in time for the market.





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And the result? I sold ONE frame. My total profit was negative nine dollars (booth fee).

But after feeling offended and frustrated, I realized that it was still worth it. I'd already earned far more than negative nine dollars. I'd earned another piece of ME. I learned a lot about refurbishing frames--where to find the good ones, what paint colors look good, how to get an even finish. I even started covering picture frame mats with cute fabrics to brighten a room. I am in love with these creations that are now sitting in a local consignment shop with my name on them.
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And now that my fingernails are permanently destroyed and all my paints are lining the walls of my dining room, I'm motivated to discover more of what I can do. Today I finally painted the first coat of dark brown onto the tops of those loud wooden stairs I creep down every morning. They've been primed forever and now they're on their way to completion. I want them to end up something close to this:



(Aren't those Moroccan stencils beautiful?)

This week has helped me see that part of being a balanced mother is allowing my own needs to be a part of that balance. I've found that if I plan a daily activity time with my kids, I can make it through the day (mostly) guilt-free. I can give my kids the time and attention they need and still make time for those important ME projects.

Our routine is constantly changing to fit all of our needs. And that's okay. April Perry wrote a great essay on balance where she says: "I don't know why I feel like a failure when my life gets out of balance. It's usually not because I did something 'wrong,' but because the balance point has shifted." I usually stress when those "shifts" come along and worry that I'm not doing things right and that my kids won't be as nurtured and intelligent as other kids because those moms obviously have it figured out and I don't. But somehow we always manage to get back on track with what works for us. And never underestimate the power of chucking that routine out the window and doing what you need to to stay sane and nice. I've left my husband and two toddlers at home to eat dinner by myself at the Village Inn. I've driven past the library to go look at a new thrift store or have lunch at Great Harvest Bread because it made me feel better in that moment to know that I could take the reigns and do that for myself. I didn't plant a garden this year. I cancelled activity time the other day because everyone was driving me crazy. So what? If I allow myself a little serendipity, my routine feels more balanced. (A happier mom is better than one who checks off everything on her list).

I'd hoped to finish the stairs today and clean up my mess and bake a beautiful lasagna (what was I thinking?) but sometime around 5pm, of course, everyone became a little stir-crazy and destructive. The backs of my legs were covered in paint because I'd accidentally SAT on my gallon of dark brown and doused my backside. The girls wouldn't stop tormenting one another and baby was AWAKE and needy, so we packed some snacks and went to a nearby splash pad. It was out of order, so we just sat and did nothing and played and then did nothing and ate plums and relaxed. Not planned, but critical to our sanity.

And those stairs will be waiting for me early tomorrow morning if I can get my keister into bed...

"The biggest challenge is finding the right balance. The amount of time we have to 'spare' changes with the different stages of our lives. There is no perfect day where we squeeze everything in. Something usually has to fall to the background while we focus on something else. It would be tragic to tip the scale so much that we forget to enjoy the stage we are in now. Find joy and learning in the simple things everyday."
-Suzanne Christensen (quote found here.)
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Expectations Vs. Reality


Well hello there. I have mighty aspirations for this blog and lately I have not been keeping up with my expectations. That, actually, is the topic of this "rage" tonight: expectations vs. reality. As I mentioned before, I recently became involved with a wonderful network of moms called The Power of Moms. I attended my first "Learning Circle" meeting last month (basically a book club where you discuss motherhood). In our meeting we talked about "Acting or Being Acted Upon."

The topic reminded me of a particularly difficult day a while back when I had two little ones under the age of two at home. It was nearing the 5 o'clock hour and there were no dinner plans, the house was a mess, and both girls were crying and needing my full attention. I gripped the phone tightly as I called my husband at the office and told him that I had accomplished NOTHING that entire day. I remember thinking, "How is it that I am a college grad who has lived abroad, learned a new language, delivered public speeches to hundreds of people and yet I can't seem to get through a day of motherhood without feeling overwhelmed and incapable?!"
My sweet, calm husband replied, "Are the kids alive?"
"Yes."
"Have they eaten anything today?"
"Yes."
"Have you spent any one-on-one time with them today?"
"Yep, maybe a bit too much."
"Well then, I think you've accomplished much more than you think."

He was so right. Just today, I was feeling frustrated with my kids as I tried desperately to paint some frames that I'm planning on selling at our local farmer's market. I'm so excited about this goal; I love hunting for old and ornate frames at flea markets and consignment shops and painting them with a fresh new coat of paint. I'm thrilled about the prospect of making some extra cash. I feel as if I'm developing a new talent and I enjoy it immensely. But today I had to be reminded that all good things have their proper place and this project is secondary to my role as mother. And that doesn't need to be frustrating or unfair. I don't need to feel as if I'm constantly being "acted upon" as my kids interrupt me for a drink of water, a diaper change, a kiss on an invisible wound, or to show me the coolest rollie pollie yet. I chose motherhood as my career and I'm happy I did.

Sometimes I wish I could multiply myself and have fourteen Janelle's bouncing around the house, conquering the world. One would be doing my dishes, the other folding and putting away clothes while another one goes to the grocery store and JoAnne's (alone!). One would be playing with my kids while another would be painting frames or writing or reading or taking a nap. But unfortunately there's just me and that has to be enough. And it is enough. Besides, even if I could divide myself into fourteen Janelle's, I know I'd always choose to be the one that gets to play with the kids. Everything else will fall into place.

At the end of our discussion, we were challenged to choose one thing we would do in the month that followed as well as one thing we would NOT do. This was more difficult that I thought it would be. I could easily choose several to do's for the month; there's always a looming list floating around in my head that's growing exponentially. But to choose something specific that I would like to do but choose NOT to do? That's a toughy.

I chose to wake up early every morning. I've been working on this one and I'm finding that I LOVE IT. It's my quiet time and I always have a better day.

I chose NOT to plant a garden this year. It's just not going to happen and I've accepted it, gratefully.

How we feel about our lives depends on the relationship between our expectations
and our realities.

That quote came from an article written by April Perry, co-founder of Power of Moms, and she went on to say, "When we choose to look at the value of what we are doing as
mothers and see motherhood as a serious career that we have chosen, we feel like we're
really getting things done, that we're really acting, not just reacting. We are all more
successful and happy when we take control of what we can control as long as we recognize
this important little fact: all we can really control are our thoughts and our actions.

I've also committed to be consistent with our activity time here at home now that vacation is over. We will continue with our letter of the week and start 4th of July crafts next week. Please stay tuned, and don't forget to let go of something this month. Just let it go.

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Deliberate Motherhood
I’ve been reflecting a lot about the basis of this blog which is “Motherhood requires selflessness, but you still have to know who that self is.” That really means a lot to me. I find myself struggling the most in those moments when I feel lost behind the piles of laundry, the stack of dishes in my sink, and the constant demands for my attention and time. Having a daily activity with my girls has helped tremendously. It has eliminated a LOT of the guilt I used to feel when I’d desire to do something for myself but wonder if I should instead do more for my kids. But there are still times when I lose sight of who I am besides “mom.” I updated my blogger account the other day and stopped at the part where I have to list my hobbies and interests. I sat there for a minute thinking of all the things I wish I had time to do like learn the piano, learn tennis, train for a triathlon, take classes on photography, or write more. So why don’t I do those things? I know I can’t do them all at once, but I ought to start somewhere. As I reflected on these things, I also realized that way up there on my list of things I’d like to be good at is motherhood. I really am dedicated to my role as a mom and want to be good at it—really good at it. I know that making time for myself will help me be a better mom.
Here’s my point: I am still a person. I need to protect that identity and take care of it. I don’t want to just survive motherhood, I want to thrive in it. And that was the focus of a retreat I attended this past weekend put on by an organization called The Power of Moms. I can’t remember the last time I felt this inspired and excited about both motherhood and myself. Here’s a list of a few of the things they touched upon at the retreat:
*Taking care of the person inside the mom
*Being enough
*Thought replacement therapy
*Pursuing and Becoming
*Margins and Balance
*Goals, Progress, and Serendipity
*Family Systems that Work (Discipline, Family Economy, and Traditions)
*Finding more Joy in Motherhood
The entire day was PACKED with incredible tools, information, shared experiences, and answers to all these questions I didn’t even know I had. This organization was started by Saren and April--two moms who were looking for a way to empower themselves and their families and help other moms around the world do the same. Also speaking at the retreat were Saren’s parents, the Eyre’s who are authors of several best-selling books on parenting. Their latest book is The Entitlement Trap and it was fascinating to hear what family systems they used with their nine children. I was surrounded by over 100 women from Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Canada, and even Japan. We all brought something different to the discussions and I came home with literally fifteen pages of notes.
In addition to the topics above, they also provided training on their program called “Mind Organization for Moms” which helps you get your life organized so you can chip away at that never-ending to-do list. Their website is filled with inspiring and positive (and real) articles written by moms from all over. Can you tell how much I love this? So if any of you out there are feeling like you are only surviving when you want and need to be thriving, check out the ideas and tools on the Power of Moms website.
The biggest piece of wisdom I took away from this retreat is so simple, but profound for me. It is the knowledge that I CAN DO THIS. On my first day back home from the retreat, we all woke up sick. I reminded myself over and over to be patient and positive, despite my sinus headache and agitation. I watched as my girls’ attitude started to reflect my own and soon they were helping me clean up after breakfast and saying “please” and “thank you.” I almost cried as I thought to myself, “This works! I really can do this!” And then I thought, “Oh no. This is too easy. Something is going to happen.” Sure enough, after naps I heard my 3 year old call downstairs to me, “Mom! Come look at Charlotte!” My two year old had “painted” half of her body with the contents of her diaper. I won’t go into any further detail, but it was the grossest thing I’ve witnessed as a mother yet.
So I took a few pictures until I couldn’t stand the smell anymore and I smiled to myself as I bathed her again and again. I CAN DO THIS.
(YOU can do this, too).


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Pecking Chickens
This past week has passed by in slow motion for me. I've been dragging my feet and I'm not sure why, other than the fact that I feel as though I've lost my grip on a schedule. I've been doing a little research to get myself organized and into a routine that works for me now that I have three little ones on my watch. I hope a big break through is right around the corner because for now, I feel a little lost.
I need a preschool routine with my three year old that challenges her
and let's her be creative and have fun...
I need activities that are geared towards my two year old's strengths and abilities...
We do need to get out of the house every so often and be social...
I need some time to myself to even remember who I am
and maybe wear cute shoes again
and you know, keep up with a blog that gives me a sense of fulfillment...
(the list goes on of course).
I watched Julie & Julia the other day in my kitchen while catching up on lost time with my dishes. I stood there in my yellow dish gloves with tears in my eyes when Julia Child got her first published copy of her cook book in the mail. After all that work and patience and frustration, she got a little package in the mail that was evidence that she did it.
Do you think parenthood will have a conclusion like that? A final "Look, we did it!" moment when all your sacrifices and sleepless nights seem to pay off and you become an official, published parent--who made the cut and saw success?
No, I don't think so either. But I do like to believe that there's miniature milestones where you can see that you're heading in the right direction. I think that's why good friends are so critical. You can look at their psychotic preschooler and think, "At least things are that bad for me..." while they're looking at your kids and thinking the same thing. Everyone has a story and I am always refreshed when I hear that I'm not the only one. Sometimes it turns into a competition. I was chatting with the other moms in our co-op preschool group, telling them about how my two year old ate two lip sticks, a lip liner, a couple small beads and a piece to our cardboard memory game--all in one day. A mother of five boys chimes in, "Oh that's nothin'! My five year old took scissors and cut up all of my curtain ties this week! And now he's grounded from the TV and I don't know what to do with him..." Soon other moms are throwing out their horror stories and we end up laughing and feeling better about ourselves and our little biting, chewing, scissor- happy demons.
My husband told me about an older woman he met who had raised a large family. She said that her husband used to say that raising kids is like being pecked to death by chickens. She was recently in the car with her oldest daughter and her little ones who were misbehaving and she leaned over to her and said slowly, "Bock, bock."
I will never forget the best horror story yet from a good friend who is tidy and clean, her kids always look happy and fashionable, and her house is well decorated and "homey." She's just not the typical horror story mom, you know? She has things under control. Well, one day her oldest decided to dip into his diaper and smear his poop all over her beautiful couches, the walls, other innocent furniture and even into the small cracks in her wood floors. When she walked into the room and saw what her wonderful little boy had done, she told me that she had two choices: she could call her husband and lose it (and beg him to come home from work and help her) OR she could just clean it up. She could be a princess or a pioneer.
(Pioneers get published).
If it were up to me...
If it were up to me, my washer wouldn't have died on Saturday leaving me with slim pickin's in my underwear drawer this morning.
If it were up to me, I would be on the floor creating an ingenious toddler craft with my kids right now instead of trying desperately to clean my house so that I could SEE my floor.
If it were up to me, I would bring in a nice supplemental income so that we could repair or replace that darn washing machine without breaking a sweat.
If it were up to me, I wouldn't turn to mini Cadbury Eggs every time I feel overwhelmed. I would just make a plan, adjust my goals, and go to bed earlier. (I wish I liked going to bed early; it just makes me feel like I'm being punished.)
And if it were up to me, I would hang out with other moms all day long so that I could pick their brains and laugh at what their kid did the other day. I was on the phone with a dear friend the other day and found myself lowering my voice as I told her about one of my worst mothering moments that had occurred that week (a night that ended with me yelling up the stairs "We're having family night tonight, dammit!"). I had to laugh when my (nearly perfect) friend responded with, "Well, listen to this..."
The "super mom" is an imaginary mantle that we place upon the shoulders of strangers. We read her blog and assume that behind those pictures is a clean floor, an empty laundry basket, and a nutritious meal simmering in the crock pot. But I guarantee that very mom has a closet full of guilt, tears, and the occasional expletive just like the rest of us.
We need each other. Just the other day, a thirty-something mother of three answered a question I had about breastfeeding, dispelled my (current) worries about my three year old's unique and headstrong behavior, and told me how to cut oranges for my kid's in a way that is more fun and less mess--all during our daughters' ballet class. Because she's been there.
If it were up to me, I'd gather all the tidbits of wisdom I could from good mom's around the world and make it a part of me.
What is your tidbit? Please, do share.
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The Woes of Winter
I will admit that my stay-at-home mommyhood has seen better days than this past week. Last night I was sneaking a few precious bites of Rocky Road ice cream with my slotted serving spoon because I haven't done my dishes in...a long time. I am sitting at my dining room table at 1:12 p.m. with breakfast dishes still on the table and feeling pretty good about that. At least last night's dinner dishes made it onto the kitchen counter. My lovely newborn's diaper leaked onto my pajama pants this morning forcing me to bathe her AND my three year old who wet her bed last night, leaving just enough time for my own pee-stained pant leg to dry. I'm still wearing those same pajama pants, so sue me.

In addition to my dirty pj pants, I am fashioning an unruly hairstyle, an unwashed face, and my ski jacket because it's COLD outside and our old house (which I love) just doesn't heat up as well as our budget would like it to. Which leads to the point of this post: winter can be tough on parenthood.

I think what pushed this winter over that precarious edge was the fact that we had a baby. In the winter, when viruses are multiplying and spreading with every sneeze and handshake. I'm already a bit particular and edgy when it comes to cleanliness, but give me a newborn to take care of and I'm irreparably freaked out. Despite my best efforts, all of us but the baby and my husband caught a nasty cold virus over the holidays and are just now recovering. But now that we're healthy, I'm hesitant to go anywhere! What if whooping cough germs are sitting on that library table? What if that runny nose at playgroup is really something contagious? So we're quarantined. And it's starting to affect us a little...negatively.

Now that we've eliminated our usual "routine" of getting outside at least once a day or so, I feel like I'm working overtime. I feel as if I'm becoming an employee within my own household instead of a beloved member of the pack. Everyone must be entertained, dressed, fed, loved and kissed, pulled off of one another, disciplined with patience, listened to, read to, fed again and again, and given something mentally stimulating to do to make up for an unruly amount of TV time. All of this action makes it harder to keep up with my other household chores like laundry and dishes and getting down at floor level to wipe up the orange juice that was spilled...a while ago. All of it has started to give me a permanent pain in my neck.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE being home with my kids. I just don't like having to spend so muchtime with them. Sitting beside my computer right now are four books I ordered as soon as the holidays were over:

The Power of Positive Parenting
Positive Discipline
Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World
Serenity: Simple steps for Recovering Peace of Mind, Real Happiness, and Great Relationships

Can anyone see a theme here? As I mentioned, a brutal virus knocked out half the family that had gathered in Denver for Christmas. While I was quarantined in the back bedroom with the baby (and a face mask, since I too was sick), I had all the time in the world to think, worry, and read. I perused my sister-in-law's books and picked up "Christlike Parenting" by Dr. Glenn Latham. It was a fantastic book that caused me to perk up my ears and listen more closely to the way my husband and I were disciplining our three year old. Of course there was room for improvement and I started making a mental list of things I wanted to do better. Number one on the list: stop yelling. It makes everyone feel like crap, so why do it? Thus the frantic Amazon order ensued and I am now in possession of over 1000 pages of parenting wisdom.

Now I just have to read and implement them. I'll tell you how far I've come: if I don't yell at my kids for a week, I get to splurge and buy myself a little something. I've put a little box in each day on my calendar with a "PP" for positive parenting next to it. So far, I've made it a total of four days. That was last week. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of this week were losers. Today is better. I was reminded by a good friend yesterday that we shouldn't expect a perfect 100% on our goals right away. Shoot for %80 good behavior and then when you achieve that, go for 82%. I thought that was excellent advice and so applicable to parenthood.

We all can use some help and improvement (especially during these long winter stretches). But don't shoot for giving up all your imperfections at once. You'll wind up in pee-pee pajama pants and a stack of parenting manuals, eating oatmeal cookies for lunch because you've spent all your time and energy on trying to be the perfect mom! (Not that I know any of that from experience.)

I promise this isn't a plug for my blog, but I couldn't survive any of this without "activity time" with my kids. I can't--well I won't--tell you how many times I've started our activity with a scowl and very unenthusiastic attitude, but I'm always glad we did it. Then I know that even if I fail miserably at everything else that day, at least I played with my kids. That sustains me through the bad days.

So please, stay healthy, stay warm, check out some of the winter activities I've posted, and do help yourself to an oatmeal cookie. Despite what they say about sugar, it really does make you happy.



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(This is an essay I entered in Real Simple magazine's Life Lessons Essay Contest)
Living Between the Lines

I never thought I’d spend an hour coloring in my daughter’s coloring book, alone. Looking back now, I see how that hour changed my perspective of the little things that color my life as a stay-at-home mom.
When our second car broke down, I felt a piece of my independence disappear. My husband worked from home when he could, which allowed an occasional escape to the grocery store or library, but the option of getting the girls dressed and just going somewhere was gone. A few weeks later, my computer crashed. It was my last window to the outside world except for our television. And then, as if there were some electronic conspiracy against me, the TV took its last breath, and died. I had become a hostage within my own home.
There was an eerie silence in our house as I tried to piece together what I had left to keep myself sane as a stay-at-home mom. Within a few weeks, I had lost my freedom to plan my day without coordinating my routine with my husband’s work schedule. Checking my email or updating my blogs during nap time was no longer an option. And, perhaps most importantly, I didn’t have Disney as back-up entertainment during that crazy hour of 5 to 6 pm when I needed to make dinner, tidy up, or just sit down.
It was a Friday and the clock showed 4:08 pm. My three year-old was still napping and my one year-old was circling my feet, wanting to be held. I dug out the crayons and a dinosaur coloring book and opened up to a cheerful Triceratops chasing a butterfly. I tried to get my daughter to color with me but after about five minutes her fleeting attention span left me to myself. I considered getting up and doing another load of laundry, but lost the energy as I saw the previous load heaped and unfolded on my couch. I stared at the collage of toys, library books, shoes and the occasional diaper scattered across my floor and decided to gather a family of plastic vegetables into a small crate. As I was digging a potato out from under the couch, my daughter dumped the entire thing onto the floor again. I collapsed back against the couch with the potato in hand as she giggled and gave me the empty crate.
I returned to the Triceratops who seemed to be waiting for his finishing touches. My daughter sat next to me, pulling out the crayons one by one. I reached down and picked up a light brown, rolling it over between my fingers until I saw the small black title, Raw Sienna. I colored the smooth round rocks that dotted the grass, feeling more settled amongst the mess on my living room floor. I even felt a sense of pride once the entire drawing was complete. I slowly turned the page, peeking up at my toddler who was diligently tearing the paper off of a crayon and dropping it onto the floor.
The next picture showed a smiling Brontosaurus grazing in a field of flowers. I leafed through the pinks, settling on Razzmatazz and slowly traced over the dark lines that formed the flower petals, making sure the outer edges were shaded slightly darker than the middle like I used to do in elementary school. I found the sharpener on the back of the crayon box and sharpened a half-eaten Asparagus for the dinosaur’s tall, curved neck. I became addicted to my task until everything was given a color. I even filled in the sky with a pale Periwinkle. The entire process required the sharpening of three more crayons, but I didn’t mind. It felt good to complete something that was somewhat permanent, like a trophy for my escape from the routine. I was tempted to tear out the page and hang it on the refrigerator.
As I stared at my work, my daughter reached over with a dark blue crayon and colored on my completed page. Instinctively, I blocked her hand to protect my artwork. She looked up at me surprised, with a scrap of Crayola paper pasted to her chin. I smiled and slowly drew my hand away, allowing her to scribble across my tidy fuchsia flowers. I turned the page again.


I remember feeling trapped when I was a teenager. No car, no savings, nothing that belonged entirely to me. I wanted so much to own something for myself. When I was fifteen, I saved my money and bought a solid wood nightstand that I still keep in my bedroom, twelve years later. It was my first real possession. When I got married, I worked as an editor for a small publishing company and would get defensive any time my husband corrected my grammar. That was my talent. He was great at a number of things, but I wanted to be the proficient writer and grammar guru. (It didn’t help when I slammed him in Scrabble with the word “militia” and pronounced it “muh-lit-ee-yuh.”)
I do not have ownership over time, the physical state of my living room floor, my bust size, or the length of my kids’ naps. It has become a constant quest to discover what things I can actually claim as my own, besides my full-time title as “Mom.” I have never regretted my choice to stay at home with my kids, but I have had to work hard to maintain a true sense of self. I don’t receive compensation for my hours at home or get recognition for calming a hot temper without losing my own. But only I can decide what to do during those in between moments when I’m alone and the house is quiet. Time to myself is rare, and what I do with that time defines me more than I ever realized.
The next day was Saturday. My husband took the kids outside to play and I knew I had at least an hour to myself. I ran through that mental list that is always looming in my brain: clean the bathroom, finish the dishes, organize the office, scrape off the food that has fossilized on the floor below the high chair. And then I saw them; the crayons were lying on the dining room table conveniently close to our stack of coloring books, politely inviting me back. I walked over to the window and watched as my husband showed our oldest daughter how to throw a basketball. Then I slowly closed the curtain.
For the next hour, I sat alone at the table, coloring a giraffe reaching up for a mouthful of leaves, a playful pull-string duck, and a plump goldfish trapped inside a round, glistening bowl. As I finished each page, I flipped through the book until another caught my eye. I loved outlining the waves beneath the slim legs of a flamingo and highlighting the white in the eyes of a doll. I discovered the contrast between Dandelion and Vivid Tangerine and the cool touch of Magic Mint. With each picture, I promised myself it would be the last before I’d get up and clean something. But after a while, I surrendered to the calming effect of sitting still and doing nothing more than coloring between the lines.
Some days I know exactly who I am during those quiet moments I have to myself. Other days I feel fruitless and expendable. I’m sure I’ll never be perfect in this mission of motherhood. No matter how hard I try, there will always be sticky spots on my kitchen floor and stains on the front of my kids’ tee shirts. But if someone were to ask me today what it is that I do, I might give a little more color to my response. Instead of the simple, “I’m a stay-at-home mom,” I would tell them that I am a keeper of secrets, a gourmet grilled-cheese maker, walking napkin, body pillow and memory conservator. I have rescued jewelry from the fated flush of a toilet and searched for swallowed pennies and balloons in places I’d never mention. And I can color a mean Triceratops.
I never thought that by opening my child’s coloring book, I’d find a piece of myself that was missing; the piece that dismisses guilt and embraces reality. It was the part of me that’s okay with who I am and isn’t obsessing over whether or not I’ll pass or fail in the future. Losing the car, the computer, the TV and, so I thought, my freedom taught me a lesson I’ll never forget. If I’m too busy digging a potato out from under the couch or scrubbing stubborn strawberries off of my floor, I might miss something more important—like the chance to just sit down, pick up a color and fill in some of the space in between the lines of my own life.
And for that I would definitely choose Mauvelous.


--------------------------------

Today


Today I passed gas at my new neighbors house and made one of her kids jump. I had no way out so I just laughed it off and blamed it on the unborn child in my belly
(at least I really am pregnant).

I told my 3 year old to stop yelling at me at the top of my lungs--all because she didn't want me to wipe her mouth off after she ate her lunch. Before that, she tried to put her chocolate milk in the sink and missed, spilling it all over herself and the kitchen floor (why was I worried about wiping her mouth?).

I only put my bra on once today when I visited my neighbor ( and a lot of good that did for me).

My one year old pooped sometime during her brief morning nap and then removed her diaper, stepped in the poop, and shuffled around her bed for a while. She was just getting started;
I ended up bathing her four times today.

I did weed the garden while chatting with my neighbor (this is before I tooted in her basement and scared her kid) but I was really just avoiding the laundry and dirty floors inside, so I don't feel that satisfied "I got a lot done today" feeling. Such a shame.

And to top off the day, I got into a small argument with my sweet husband about our weed eater and he went to bed early. So I did what any normal person would do, having the rest of the evening to myself...I made a huge batch of chocolate chip cookies, watched Valentine's Day which made my cry, twice; Once when the old couple made up in the cemetery and again when Julia Roberts came home to her son.

I tip-toed upstairs, crawled into bed and laid there quietly for a minute. Then it hit me that these are the days I should remember; these typical, disastrous, ordinary days when I find myself not liking everything in my life. Because despite the chocolate milk, the smeared poop, the "unexpected" at the neighbor's house, the dirty floors, the weed-eater argument--and all the imperfections in my life--I'm happy.
And that's a lesson I'd like to pass on to my kids.

Happy Independence Day.
(May the fireworks be enough to remind you of the small celebrations in life
that all add up to much more than we may think.
)



Define "Normal"

Last week, I decided to go to "Toddler Time" at my local children's museum. Not surprisingly, my two year old had a major meltdown five minutes before it was time to go. She refused to go potty, insisted on wearing her tinkerbell costume and her little sister's sunday dress, and bring every toy she found along the way from the front room to the door. My one year old was ready for her first nap that I was skipping so we could get out of the house. I had already committed to changing out of my pajama pants, putting on a bra and brushing my teeth which meant we were definitely going somewhere that morning.


Miraculously, we made it on time for a toddler activity that involved a talking dragon. As I slipped my arm around my now calm two year old, I couldn't help but wonder (as I usually do) if my kids are "special cases" or if there are any other moms that deal with knock-down drag-out tantrums like I do.

At that very moment, another mom stumbled into the theater with two small kids, one of whom was totally losing it. I saw her face and recognized the exact determination that had pushed me to wrestle my kids into the car despite the raging emotions that morning. She made her way to a seat and tried to calm her little boy, who lovingly responded with higher volumn and more thrashing of limbs. I quickly turned my attention back to the dragon and silently commanded everyone else to do the same.
It didn't get better. He started screaming louder and louder until you couldn't hear the dragon talking anymore and she had to practically run out of the theater with her son kicking and yelling at the top of his lungs. As a mother of two, I found myself near tears with empathy as she ran back into the theater for her second child. (That's why they call it the "three kid leap." Two's enough to make you question your religion).
I wanted to stand and applaud her. I wanted to thank her for having kids as crazy and difficult as mine. I wanted to take her out to lunch and ask, "So did you make it back to your car before you started bawling, or did you lose it in the parking lot? Did you call your husband and tell him you're trading him for a nanny?" I wanted to tell her about the time I had to flee the library with two screaming kids because my oldest wanted to eat a granola bar in the middle of "discovery time;" that on my way out of the parking lot, I actually rolled down my window and yelled at an old lady that was staring at me judgementally (or so I took it), as if everything was my fault. And then I cried the whole way home, thinking, "what if it is all my fault??"
Hell child part dos: The next day, I ran into the same mom at the library. And her son was at it again. I wanted to go up to her and say, "Hey, I'm Janelle. Your hellion here has made my day. Twice." Instead, I peeked out from behind the board books and watched as she tried to gather his limbs and talk sense to him. It was like reasoning with a wild boar. I'm always surprised that they don't start foaming at the mouth once they reach the apex of their tantrum. I sighed with a mix of relief and sadness as she grabbed her things, her two kids, and fled.
I almost allowed myself to feel some pride in my own kids who had survived half the day without any craziness until I looked back at where I had left them unsupervised. My two year old was chucking the pieces of a U.S. map puzzle onto the floor and my one year old was emptying the shelves of juvenile literature as fast as she could.
It's so easy to feel like you're the only one who has kids that hit other kids or yell at you at the top of their lungs in the middle of the grocery store check-out line. Yours are the only ones who constantly take off all their clothes in public or really enjoy eating dirt. And you let them because it's not that bad and it keeps them happy. Yours are the only ones who have NEVER slept through the night or refuse to eat on the one night you actually bake something from scratch. You're the only one who ever yells and totally loses it; every else is way too nice.
If only we could sneak into eachother's lives every once in a while and get a peek of what "normal" really is.
_________________________________________________________________
Feta up my sleeve

Boy, do I have a "hypoglycemic rage" for today. I decided to use that label for this section of the blog because I find that my most interesting and conversation-worthy mom stories occur just before meal-time. I'm hungry, irritable and the wires in my brain aren't connecting as well as they should. And that's, of course, when my children decide to LOSE IT.

Today my daughters and I were invited to an egg-decorating party. Things were going well up until 15 minutes before take-off. I hadn't eaten anything since it was a lunch party, so I was short-tempered and snappy. My two year-old wasn't following instructions and my one year-old had just woken up from her morning nap and was clingy. I didn't have time that morning to shower and put make-up on and the only sweatshirt I could find had smooshy cracker on the front that I had to scrub off with a wipe. All this = very bad mood.
But I wasn't about to miss an egg-decorating party. Because that's what we mom's do. I was going to show up with my uncut fruit and be cheerful and patient with my kids and sociable with the other mom's.

The only problem was that sociable, cheerful, and patient were the LAST emotions I was feeling. As soon as we arrived, I headed for the kitchen, cut my fruit while balancing Charlotte on my hip with half a banana in her hands and Hazel clinging to my legs. I didn't know any of the other mom's in the kitchen, so I didn't talk to anyone. I grabbed a plate, loaded it with food and headed to a free spot on the floor in the main room. As soon as I sat down, I realized that Charlotte had smeared her banana all over my left thigh. I left her crying for a second while I rushed into the kitchen for a napkin. When I returned, I suddenly became a magnet for all the hungry toddlers whose mom's were lost in conversation with one another.

As I quietly shooed the other kids back to their moms, Charlotte grabbed my forkful of cottage cheese which spilled all over the banana-smeared thigh. She then grabbed Hazel's CapriSun, which Hazel grabbed back, squeezing juice onto my right calf. The high point was when Charlotte grabbed my arm as I was holding a forkful of pesto and feta cheese pasta. A crumble of feta cheese rolled gently down my sleeve, up to my bicep.

Lunch was over once Charlotte finished off her poppy seed muffin, forcing me to shake her off outside the front door. Once the games began and I saw how excited Hazel was to be there, I felt better despite my messy attire and worn-out attitude. When she held a plastic egg on a spoon in her teeth and walked a few steps, I couldn't help but smile. She dyed an egg and only knocked the dye over once throughout the entire process.

I didn't bring the favorite dish or make a new friend or impress anyone with my awesome banana-smeared attire, but when we left the party I felt...better. I felt like my kids and I were on the same team. I was strictly there for their benefit and while I was a party-pooper in the beginning, my girls didn't mind. Hazel just wanted to show me how well she could balance that egg on her spoon and how carefully she could walk out to the car with her green dyed egg.

Sometimes these "rages" bring me closer to other moms who can commiserate,
and sometimes they bring me closer to my kids,
who despite it all, love me anyway.
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7 comments :

  1. Janelle, Thanks for posting that. I sometimes feel that no one understands what it is like when you have hypoglycemia. You can not always get yourself what you need at the time you need it. That is what being a mom is about. But some how us mom's get through it and have lots of fun with our kids. It is just very difficult sometimes. :) lots of love to you!!

    Julie Wall

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  2. I love your rage. LOVE IT.

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  3. oh, man. your "define NORMAL" was exactly what i needed today. (how do you know that every time?) i actually called husband twice to vent and the main topic was "why does every other mother i know have normal children who never throw tantrums or completely undo what work i've done all day?!" with a side of "and how do they deal with everything so gracefully and smiley like they have everything in control all of the time??!" so thankyou. thankyou very much for making ME feel a little more normal today. whatever normal is. (oh, and can you make your rages on different posts so we can comment on the individual posts and know when you posted them?)

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  4. Hi Janelle, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I love the blog. My 2 year old, Enoch has started hitting... in additional to the ever growing tantrums. I have to admit I got a little chocked up reading your rage. Somehow I feel a little stronger knowing that we are all in it together. :)
    Mellissa Phillips

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  5. Oh Janelle, I read, I laugh, I cry, I've been there and felt that! You have a wonderful way to express reality (I still don't know what normal is?). I only wish I had YOUR BLOG's to read when I was a young mother, like you...can I just say...you are at one of the hardest time of life...but the rewards are unbelievable when your kids are more grown and you take them through the Temple. You are doing a great job, don't doubt yourself!

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  6. why haven't I read these sooner? and I honestly had no idea you got snappy and even yelled...I have been certain that I am the only mom that does that...I needed a reality check...I have felt like 3 has finally pushed me to being a little more selfless, focusing on what my family needs and being ok with that...I don't need adult time with other women every week, I need to develop a friendship with my husband that is more relaxing and fun again...and focusing on that is really rewarding....woah, am I RAMBLING or what, we need to get together soon

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  7. I just laughed until I cried when I saw those pictures of your pile of stuff in the corner and you sitting on your clean couch! Oh man, that is so my life! haha Love it!

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