Sunday, November 21, 2010

A challenge to the simple life...

I swear - for about a week there, I was finding a rhythm.  One that was working relatively well for all of us - healthy, home-cooked meals, one after school activity that the boys love, parent meetings that are winding down at school, and the laundry was in check.

This was not that week.  While those routines were working well, there still wasn't a whole lot of wiggle room for anything else.  Which is what this week presented a whole lot of - that other stuff of  life that throws every carefully planned day off track. By itself, each individual thing wouldn't have been any big deal - shrug your shoulders and regroup tomorrow, right?

First we had one, then two sick boys.  Then we had parent-teacher conferences - both at the boys' school and at mine (where they continue for the first two days of this week).  Then there was a delightful fall program and potluck - the real fun stuff, but a hitch in the routine. An event every night, too much coughing, and things weren't terrible, but they weren't smooth.

The other big thing that has life a little on it's side right now is the health of my grandma.  At the beginning of October she was diagnosed with 4th stage small cell (lung) cancer.  Two weeks ago we all went to church together - she wasn't feeling great, but things were still manageable. Within the last week and a half she has become much more severely ill, and needs a great deal more care.  My mom, aunt, and uncles have been doing an amazing job of caring for her, and my cousins and I try and step in when we can.  Several have come long distances (Idaho, California, and even Afghanistan) to spend time and share our love with Grandma.  Because she lives only 5 minutes from my school, I try and go by after work or on my planning/lunch period. This weekend I spent several hours there each day.

While my grandma's illness has thrown our balance for a little loop, it has been such a reminder of the importance of priorities.  And while balance and simplicity of schedules is a huge priority for me, there are things that trump even that.  Spending as much time as we have left with those we love is one of the reasons why everything else needs to be simple.  It allows us the space to care for those who care for us. I don't want to be anywhere but in the cozy living room in my grandma's house or in the folding chair at her bedside.

So, if everything else has to get a little more complicated or rushed right now, that's ok.  The calm will come back.  But what I couldn't handle is nursing a regret that I traded time loving someone for a home cooked dinner every night.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A boy and his cat...

We weren't sure how it would go, but these two are tight. 
Most of the time. 
And they are both better for having the other.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The boys are back...

After several days at my parents' house, the boys are home.  While the time apart was a treat, it feels great to have them back.  The house feels whole again.

With the return of the children, though, comes the Sunday night blues.  Anyone know what I'm talking about?  That feeling down in the bottom of your gut where the stress about the week ahead begins to build? The disappointment of all that you didn't fit into the weekend, knowing that it will have to wait a week until you can try again?  The feeling that once again you have to leave your real life to go back to work?

Or am I the only one who feels that way?

The thing is, for a couple of years, I didn't feel like that on Sunday nights. Sunday nights were just another part of the week - the reset button for the week, where we got the house and laundry ready, but didn't feel totally overwhelmed about the days ahead.  Those were the years when I was working half time.  (The year that each of the boys was 1, I worked mornings only.)  Knowing that I had each afternoon to accomplish some of the household management tasks made the week seem so much easier.  I could be prepared for work, without worrying that our home life was on pause until Friday night.  We felt like EVERY day was part of our real life, rather than just the weekend.

Last year I returned to working full time.  While the financial benefits were a small part of the reason I went back, the larger reason was seniority.  In our current economy schools are having  to make major cuts, and when you are working part time, you are among the first to go.  In order to protect my position, I went back to full time so that I could be guaranteed a job. But that choice has had a large impact on the way that our family functions.  Many of the tasks (cleaning, cooking, errand running) that had been accomplished in the afternoons had to move to the weekends.  The relaxing pace of enjoying our time as a family on the weekends grew shorter and more harried.

We know that it doesn't have to be this way.  I could look to return to part-time next year.  I love the flexibility it gives to our schedule, and the slower pace it gives to our life.  But there is a large part of me that feels it is selfish to want that.  Why should it be fair that I get to work part-time, and not my husband?  With our oldest in first grade all day, and the youngest in a school where he is comfortable all day, they won't need me at home (although, if I were home, the youngest would only go half-day).  Our benefits (insurance and retirement) are greatly impacted if I don't work full time.  And it does limit our choices for schools for the oldest - if I work full time, the private Montessori is an option, while me working half time means he's headed to our neighborhood school.

There's a lot to sort through.  We have about 4 months before I would need to make a firm decision. And either choice has it's consequences and benefits. A lot rides on those Sunday moods...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Quick little craft...

With the boys away, the mom will the craft room.

Here's just a quick little banner to remind us of the season.  Just a little scrapbook paper, glue, ribbon and eyelets.  I used my silhouette for the letters, and was done in less than an hour.  Gotta love those quick projects that add a little freshness to the decor.

There are a couple of other projects in progress - a table runner, an advent calendar, some Christmas gifts.  It feels like Santa's workshop around here - I've even been tempted to break out the Christmas music. I'm so thankful to have this time, and will try and squeeze every crafty moment out of it.

Look for more projects in the next few days!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An odd bit of quiet...

Right now our home is strangely quiet.  In fact, it's just me and the cat.  For the next 4 days, the little boys are at my parents' house, three hours away.  And while they are loud, even their voices don't travel that far!

We are very lucky.  Our boys have wonderful grandparents that adore them.  This week they have a couple of days off school (one of which I still have to work), so my mom and dad asked if they boys could come to their house for a while.  The boys were THRILLED!  Not a bit of fear about leaving mom and dad - just excitement about having Mema and Papa all to themselves.  After I left for work this morning, they headed out.

I'll admit it.  I've been looking forward to this time, too.  The idea of hours on end without someone who needs a bottom wiped or a glass of milk poured sounds amazing.  There are Christmas projects to be worked on, books to read, movies to watch. In fact, I would need three times as much time to get everything I have in mind done! We are also looking forward to having time as a couple - it's been busy, and while we have more time together than many couples, there's still a "taking care of business" mode that we are in far too often.

But another confession?  I'm a little scared.  I already miss the after-school hugs and the laughter filling the house.  The quiet echoes around me, and the tv noise just doesn't fill the void.  While I'm thrilled to not have to do the bedtime routine, the morning without their calls for cuddling will feel empty. And who am I when they aren't around?

It's because of both of those things - the excitement of freedom and the hole-in-the-heart absence - that times like these are necessary for parents.  They help us find our way back to ourselves as adults and as couples.  But they also help us to appreciate just how wonderfully full our "regular" lives truly are. Without them we can get lost in the day-to-day, glorifying those times before we had children and wasted so much time just being by ourselves.  But we also forget why it was we decided to start families in the first place - because there was something missing from those lives.

Trust me - I know I'm lucky to have family who are willing to borrow and spoil our children in the best of ways. This is only our third weekend apart in over 5 years, so it isn't so old hat that we take it for granted.  And truthfully, I hope I make it the full time before driving over the mountain to pick up the most precious pieces of my life.  But I wouldn't be surprised if I didn't.

What I do know is that this odd bit of quiet is important, needed, and appreciated.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Making it work on a busy night...

One of the challenges we are trying to figure out this year deals with entering the world of after-school youth activities. Every day I hear my students talk about their busy schedules - music and dance lessons, drama practice, sports teams that run year-round, not to mention family obligations and homework.  I'm overwhelmed just thinking about the years ahead and wondering how our boys will feel about participating in the million or so opportunities out there.

For now we are just dipping our toes into the water.  In this case, quite literally.  Both boys have swim lessons right now - 30 minutes, twice a week.  No big deal, really.  We decided that this was an activity worth adding to our schedules.  Water safety is crucial to our family, and if they can take lessons at the same time and place, there are fewer schedules to match.

In choosing their schedule, there were a couple of factors that were important to making it work for our family.  One was the ability to still eat a healthy dinner at home together.  The second was to have as few busy/non-routine nights as possible.  For us, that meant doing swimming on Mondays and Wednesdays, after our dinner hour (6:30-7:00).  We searched the three local pools until we found lessons that met our needs, and then signed up.

Another thing that has made adding evening events to the schedule easier is our meal planning.  Each week we plan our dinners so that the nights we are short on meal prep. time we are having leftovers from the night before.  That way we can be assured that we are eating the way we want to be, without the temptation to pick up fast food.

The boys are loving their lessons, and we are happy that they are able to participate without it feeling like the rest of our lives are turned upside down. We know this is just the beginning, but we are determined to let activities fit into our lives, rather than make our lives fit the activities.

Well, for as long as we can, that is...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

One-on-one time...

Sometimes it's divide-and-conquer.  Sometimes we refer to playing "man to man".  Sometimes it's having a special date.  But whatever the reason, or whatever we call it, we are gaining great appreciation for one-on-one time with each child.

At almost-3 and 5, our boys are the best of buddies and each others' biggest annoyance. Like puppies, they wrestle and play, and that often dissolves into pinching and hitting with someone getting physically or emotionally hurt.  We try to walk the line between letting them work it out themselves and stepping in to coach through the challenges.  But they are together a lot.  And some times it is obvious they need a little time apart.

Out of necessity, we have started to split them up for outings more often.  This morning I took the little one to the grocery store while the big one stayed home and did a puzzle with his dad.  When we got home, I took the big one to Mass, and the little one went to the hardware store with Dad. Then almost all afternoon the boys played together, with only minimal intervention.

Besides keeping the peace, this time with one child has great benefits for our relationships with each child.  When I am with one, I can give them all my attention, and tailor our activities and conversations in a way that is developmentally appropriate to each one.  We giggle together and get the chance to talk about whatever they are feeling right then. Each kiddo can request their favorite songs on the ipod. They don't have to play defense, shouting loudly to be heard over the other brother. I am more patient, too. I really listen to what one is saying when I'm not also trying to monitor the other. And when I hear what they are saying, they feel validated and important.

It's amazing how something so simple - spending time alone with each child - brings balance to our lives.  Finding balance doesn't have to be life-changing rocket science.  Sometimes it is the day-to-day little things. Now to find more of those things...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A loose tooth...

We have our first loose tooth.  I noticed last night that one of our five year old's front teeth was sitting a little crooked.  Today at lunch I checked it again.  Sure enough, there's some serious wiggle to it.  Ack!  I'm not ready!

Of course, being the overly sentimental person that I am, there are emotional reasons I'm not ready.  It's such a sign of getting older - my child couldn't possibly be old enough to lose a tooth!  In the Montessori world it's a symbol of what Maria Montessori recognized as a shift in brain development to the more abstract. It's a world away from being a toddler or preschooler and full on into the whole "school-aged" territory.

But the real (silly) reason I wasn't ready was because I had always planned to have a cute, perfect little tooth fairy pillow all ready to go.  That wiggling tooth was the sign that I needed to get moving - it couldn't fall out without having a pillow to put it in!  When we got home from errand-running this afternoon, The Child of the Loose Tooth and I immediately went upstairs to choose fabrics and plan the pillow.

Sidenote: If I had been doing this project alone, the design would have been very different. Smaller in size, a monogram, that sort of thing. However, working together allowed him to feel ownership in the process, and he's happy with the results. Plus, it was just more fun that way.

So, here's a brief, simple tutorial for a simple tooth fairy pillow:

1. Cut two pieces of fabric for the front and back.  A pillow large enough to sleep on was desired, so our measurements were 13 in. by 13 in..  Then cut two pieces for the pocket - we went with 4 in. by 9 in.

2. Begin with the pocket.  With right sides together, sew 1/4 inch seam starting at the short end, and continuing all the way around.  Leave a 2-3 inch gap for turning fabric right side out.

3. Turn the fabric and press flat.  With the main fabric (the one you want on the outside of the pocket) face up, fold the bottom third up and pin in place.  This will be the bottom of your pocket.  Sew along all three edges.  If you put the open spot where you turned the fabric through, the gap will be sewn closed.

4. Turn pocket right side out and determine where you would like to place your button.  I use the button hole feature on my sewing machine to make the hole on the top flap.  Then attach the button on the bottom front of the pocket. Test it out!  (You don't want to attach it to the pillow panel if it isn't right.)

5. Center the pocket on one of your pillow panels.  Make sure to open your pocket while you attach it to the panel so it doesn't get sewn closed! I used a decorative stitch to hold it down on the bottom and two sides.  Then, with the pocket open, sew a straight seam along the pocket where the top flap folds over so the pocket is attached on all four sides, but still opens.

6. For a little added design, we chose to put a small applique on the front panel.  We just used a small zig zag stitch to attach it to the other large pillow panel.

7. Right sides together (so the pocket and applique are on the inside), sew a 1/4 inch seam around the edges, leaving a small gap for turning and stuffing.  Turn the fabric inside out.  Stuff with batting, and hand sew the opening closed.

8. Wait for the tooth to fall out.  Hug your baby/big boy.

Obviously, this is my first "tutorial" - I'm not even sure it will make sense to anyone who doesn't live inside my head.  But if it gives you any ideas, then great - I'd love to see what you come up with!  After all, I'll have another one of these to make in a couple of years...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Some mornings...

The alarm goes off.  My arm snaps out to shut it off and I roll away from the small knees that are pressed firmly in the small of my back. He stirs, turns over. I creep out of bed and into the dark bathroom.

My jogging clothes are laying next to the tub.  I pull them on and try to bring my brain out of the fog of sleep. Thinking about which show I'd like to watch when I hop on the treadmill, I don't notice the door open. But then he's there.  Eyes not quite open, footie pajamas a little twisted on his slender body.  He's not ready to be up for the day, but if I am, he won't lay back down.

So I shut off the light.  Pick him up in my arms.  Carry him back to our bed, where he curls into my frame. For a moment I regret the run that won't be happening.  Then he kisses my forehead, and sighs.

 I kiss him back. There's nowhere I'd rather be.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A favorite moment...

Our days are busy.  Often it feels like my job is to rush the children from one place to another.  From the moment I rouse them from sleep until their heads return to the pillow, we're moving. That's why the last 5 minutes of our day together are probably my favorite. Nearly every night, the last thing the boys ask is to hear their lullabies.

Let me explain.  I personally am not musical. But I love music - it speaks to that deep inner part of me, and there's nothing like a song to make me cry.  As long as I could remember, my dad and I have had "our song" - "Little Miss Magic" by Jimmy Buffett.  When it would play on our record player at home, my dad would sing along and swing me around the room.  We danced to it at my wedding, and I loved that we always had our song. I wanted the same for my future children.

When my oldest was born, I tried out all the traditional lullabies, but none of them really worked for us. I was bummed - lots of great songs, but they were either WAY out of my vocal range, or they felt like they didn't quite send the message I wanted my amazing firstborn to get from our song.  Then, when he was about 6 months old, the Dixie Chicks came out with the song, "Lullaby" which starts simply:

They didn't have you where I come from
Never knew the best was yet to come
Life began when I saw your face
And I hear your laugh like a serenade

How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough, is forever enough
How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough
Cause I'm never, never giving you up

That was it.  It was perfect.  Everything I wanted to say.  And nearly every day for the last 4 and half years, I have sung him his lullaby before kissing him goodnight.

When his little brother was on his way, the perfect song search was on again. I almost settled on the John Denver song, "For Bobbie", which I love. We even tried it out until he was about 3 months old, but every time I sang it, he cried louder.  But the first time I sang John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy", he looked up with his big blue eyes, and I melted.  I will confess that I sub out "daddy" for "mama", and if I'm singing to both boys, the song becomes plural. The line, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans" is the best reminder at the end of the day to slow down and enjoy the moment we're in.

Laying in bed with my boys, sharing just how much I love them.  I can't imagine much better.  That's my heaven.

The dirty dishes and ungraded papers can wait.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Happy Election Day!

All across the United States it is election day. Not that our elections have anything to do with balance or simplifying our lives, but it's just one of those things that is central to who we are as a family.  In Oregon we only have vote by mail, so there aren't polling places to go to, or cute little "I Voted" stickers.  Heck - if you don't procrastinate, all voting takes is dropping an envelope in the mail box.

Sometimes I worry that the low key nature of the voting process isn't communicating to our boys how special and important elections are to our daily lives.  I have strong memories of waiting in line at our neighborhood school for my mom to go in the little curtained booth to make her choices.  There was a quiet reverence in the gym I had only ever experienced in church. I was fascinated, and couldn't wait for my turn to vote.  And even before that, I remember delivering lunch to my grandmother as she worked at a different school checking voters in and out.  It seemed so big and important.  But I never have gone anywhere to vote, and my boys won't have the experiences I had.

So I'm focusing on what we can do to talk about voting.  Today each boy took a ballot (my husband's and mine) and dropped it in the ballot box at the library.  We talked about a couple of the issues on the ballot (a new library bond being one of them), and tomorrow we will talk about the results.

It isn't waiting in a silent gym, or seeing rolls of registration forms and flag stickers.  But it is something. And even if the rituals aren't there, our conversations about the responsibilities we have as citizens will be.

Monday, November 1, 2010

One of our choices...

I love sugar.  Seriously, I crave sugar the way that some people want an alcoholic beverage after a stressful day at work.  And while I won't ever pass up a bag of movie theater popcorn (with butter flavoring), even that is all that much better when paired with Junior mints or Red Vines.

Today is a tough one for me.  It's the day after Halloween - the day when there is candy all over our house, just waiting to be eaten. I always buy way too much for trick-or-treaters because I have a terrible fear of running out early in the evening.  SO that's all sitting there.  Then the boys went out last night and came home with small bucketfuls of the sticky stuff, too. What I want to do is run home after work and inhale the peanut butter cups and Butterfingers and Kit Kats.

But what I am going to do is stay for my after school meeting and try to be content with an apple.

Healthy eating is one of the choices we are trying to make as a family.  For us, that means meals made of lots of vegetables with protein (both animal and other) and a few whole grains.  We aren't strict about any one type of diet, but seek moderation and variety.  We're love the occasional cheeseburger and fries, and for us we define occasional as once a month. There aren't foods we don't eat, but we seek them out in forms as close to their original format as much as possible.  And yes, I'm on the avoid corn syrup, too much soy, and artificial colors bandwagon.

So, Halloween candy presents a challenge.  How do we deal with the influx of all these things we try and avoid?

Last year we tried the rationing approach.  Each boy could choose a piece after dinner if they ate the "required elements".  It worked fairly well - but I didn't love that they felt that a meal wasn't complete without candy.  And it went on for a couple of months.

This year we are going to try something different. Since our goal is that the boys will learn how to make healthy choices for themselves, we are going to give them a little more freedom with their candy stash in two ways:
            1. Tonight I'm buying candy. Ten cents for each piece.  This money can be taken to the store to buy a toy of their choice.
            2. They may eat as much as they want tonight.

Tomorrow the candy goes away.  I haven't yet decided where "away" is - while it's a powerful motivator for my students, I don't really want them eating garbage any more than I want my own kids eating it. More than likely it will be sent with my husband to work. But the most important thing is that it is out of our house.  Our time with it is limited and special, without being forbidden.

Will it work?  I don't know.  But it does match our goals - promoting healthy, balanced eating in a simple manner.  Special occasions are treated as such - we celebrate them, then move back to values of our daily lives.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the "great candy pile"!  Feel free to leave a comment - what do you do?  What works well for your children?  How do find balance with the mountain of sweets?

Or, as always, am I over-thinking it?