Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Today I Didn't Save the World

Parents across the globe will tell you that having children is an incredible experience. Children bring joy and fulfillment that you can't find anywhere else. And it's unique in that you don't know how it is until you actually have children. Parents of all walks will also share that parenthood is so, so hard... but totally worth it.

Sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking about all the things I'm not. Causes I'm NOT helping. Music I'm NOT making. Money I'm NOT bringing in for my family. Social groups I'm NOT a part of.  It's really pretty easy to name plenty of activities I'm currently sitting out as I devote my life to my home and children. And there are many, many days when I go to bed at night asking myself the question, "Self... what DID you do today?" and I can't think of one success in the entire day.

Today I emptied the clothes drier onto my bed. The clothes are still there. Today I washed dishes, but they all became dirty again and are still in the sink. Today I needed to mop, and I did--but only one room. I didn't get to the rest. Today I was supposed to have the girls copy down their 8's in multiplication, but that didn't happen because we had visitors drop by. Today we were meant to go to a restaurant for dinner for a fundraiser for our church, but I couldn't get the kids to put on their sweaters and shoes when I asked. (We did eventually go, but it took some raising of voices.)

My day was full of a lot of little failures. I sorted the dirty laundry, but didn't get my whites load washed--it's still on the bathroom floor. We were supposed to do the second half of our Ancient Rome lesson, but it just never happened. I tried to record a song while all four girls were occupied in a different room, but it didn't turn out before my time was up. I went to change the cat litter and emptied it before I realized we didn't have any refill litter--so I lined the boxes with paper towels and my house smelled like cat pee for the rest of the day. Because we went out to dinner I didn't even cook --and we had leftovers for lunch. And I yelled. I yelled kind of a lot. Nobody seemed to be listening to me. The first time I yelled was when Greta was scaring Elka by doing this thing we call "monstering." She wouldn't stop when I asked her gently the first three times, and even kept on monstering as my voice became more and more firm until finally I yelled, "STOP IT!" and she ran out of the room sobbing. Her not listening was my failure. My yelling was another.

So.... what DID I successfully do today?

I peeled and cut up four apples for my girls and their friends and they snacked happily.

I taught my visiting friend how to knit. (To be fair, she already knew how; I just refreshed her memory.)

I took yesterday's pot of leftover mashed potatoes, onions and green beans, added some chicken broth and ham, and served the kids a pretty yummy soup for lunch. I think that was inventive. That could be considered a success.

I read "There's a Bear on my Chair!" too many times to count, among other story books, to adoring little fans.

I played with Ingrid, making a little setup with two plastic pigs she lovingly named Shady and Sunny. And we laughed and snuggled and it was nice. That was a success.

I did eventually get all four kids dressed and out the door at 5:00 to meet Martin at the fundraiser night at Culver's. It took some big doings, but it happened. Success.

I cultivated creativity through drawing time and free writing with the big girls, and wrote out phrases for Elka to copy and practice her letters. Those don't feel much like successes in the big picture, but they were small successes that can build up over time to make a successful person.

I did wash their dishes and clothes, even if the jobs were never finished.

I said "yes" a lot and in return heard Greta improve in her mandolin playing and Anja build bravery when she went out to the car by herself.

I apologized to Greta for yelling and to everyone for being short tempered about them not putting on their shoes when I'd asked (a bajillion times.) I helped others apologize when feelings or bodies were hurt. And I forgave when I was the recipient of an apology. I fed my growing girls nourishing, healthful foods and indulged them just a little bit with dum-dum rewards.

I gave them a safe, loving home today, one full of music and creativity and plenty to eat and a mama who listens to their super-sized ideas.

From someone looking in at my life, I would probably be labeled a "not very successful person." And it's true that I have many, many failings, both big and small. But how is success measured? Is it measured by what you get done? Is it measured by what you gain for yourself? Is it measured by what you give? At this point in time, my life's success is definitely measured by what I give. And when looking at it that way, I'd consider today and overall win.

I gave them my attention. I gave them answers. I gave them love. I gave them me.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


Surprise! We have recently acquired a roommate!

It's a pretty good setup, really. The roomie happens to be my best friend, who has moved around a lot over the past decade and after quitting her job in New York, has decided to move back here to her hometown and bunk up with us for awhile until she gets herself settled. She's the share-all friend, the kind I don't clean up the house for when she's coming over. She likes my children and my husband, and really is like a family member--she spent last Christmas Eve with us, having a sleepover with our kids and shared in our Christmas Morning. Together we sit up late drinking coffee and watching cat videos and laughing uncontrollably at funny cat-themed internet memes. We scroll our Facebook feeds from opposite ends of the kitchen table saying, "Did you see X got married?!" and "Oh my gosh, are you following this huge argument on X's Facebook feed?!" or, "OH EM GEE YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS CUTE CAT PICTURE!" It's just like being young and free, staying up late, carb bingeing and doing boring things together.

The only problem is, while SHE might still be young and free, I am a tired, haggard, old parent. And nothing has made me realize this more than having a shiny, young roommate.

It specifically has been made clear upon the entrance of the dating scene to our home. Recently she had a "first date," for which I tagged along because it happened to be an acquaintance of mine. I was sort of their ice breaker. It was fun! We had beers and appetizers at a bar at four o'clock on a Sunday! So young and free of me! But then it got to be about 6:00 and I remembered that Martin was home with all the kids and I hadn't left them with any dinner prepared and if I didn't get home and feed them soon, bedtime would be later than ideal and then they'd be tired the next day... and it was a good reason to excuse myself, which had been my plan anyway, so it didn't have any impact on the outing... but it made me think.

It made me think about how very different parenthood is from non-parenthood. Not in a good way or a bad way, just in a different way. Very, very different. And suddenly I'm reminded of all the things I don't do anymore, all the things I haven't really considered doing in ages. Today we walked down Main Street, past a little coffee shop that I've never been to, and I thought, (for the first time, because I walk by this place all the time and never think twice about it!) "Look at all those people, sitting on the patio having coffee on a Sunday night. Wow. That sounds like a really nice time." And then a few steps ahead there was a couple deciding where to eat, and they mentioned the pub across the street, and I thought, "I haven't even taken notice of that pub in months. People eat there! Regularly!" It's really incredible--there's a whole society functioning outside our door that we are simply not a part of. It's crazy! Do you realize that some people go out to eat every night? And do you realize that whether they eat out once a month, once a year or three times a day, they never have to make a call ahead to the establishment to make sure you don't have to be over 21 to enter? !!!! This is ridiculous! These people, these others, are on an entirely different playing field of Life! And I'm not even in their ballpark!

But it's not just outside-- My Roommate's dating escapades, employment, and sleep habits have also enlightened me to my own home life and the very stark differences between Mom Life and Non-Mom Life. We'll start with sleep. And from now on we'll refer to My Roommate as Fifi.

On a typical night, my two youngest daughters go to bed at 7:00. Sometimes it's more like 6:30, sometimes it's more like 7:30, but it's in that general vicinity and if it gets to be 8pm and one of them is awake, that's grumptime. Following their bedtime, I get a good two hours with my older daughters. Usually they read or play quietly for about an hour, then we start bedtime routine which includes bath/shower, together time either drawing or playing a card game, read aloud, then prayers and bed. I am fortunate that bedtime in our house has finally gained "routine" status and goes down relatively smoothly every night. After they are down for the night, it's grownup time in the kitchen! Party! We usually make a pot of coffee, sit around gossiping about people, complain about various past and present employment, and review and compare our Instagram feeds. Wild times. Then we all retire around midnight.

Okay, here's where the differences begin. To my beloved Fifi, nighttime involves getting into bed and falling asleep. Sometimes she has too much coffee and feels anxiety and can't fall asleep right away, or sometimes she struggles with insomnia and I understand and respect that. But generally speaking, her night is: Fall asleep. Sleep all night. Wake up in the morning. That's the way a typical night for Martin is too.

This is my night:
Get into bed. Get out of bed and make sure all the doors are locked. Get into bed. Get out of bed and make sure all kids are in their beds and breathing. Get into bed. Get out of bed to get the cats out of the bedroom before they wake the baby. Get into bed. Fall asleep. Wake up between one and three hours later because Ingrid is crying. Move to her (small) bed and nurse her back to sleep. Fall asleep in her bed. Wake up one to two hours later when Elka comes into my bed. Snuggle Elka in our bed while she talks to me and complains about being hot and finally asks me to move back to her bed with her, and also, can she please have a glass of water? After water and lot of fussing over blankets, go to sleep with Elka in her bed. Approximately one hour later, Martin stumbles in to tell me that Ingrid is awake again. Leave sleeping Elka in her bed, return to Ingrid's bed. Nurse her back to sleep. Some time later, wake up to see Elka is back in our bed again, she is sleeping but the cat is pouncing all over her feet and I can't get the cat off without waking up Ingrid. Find various toys in Ingrid's bed and throw them at Martin's back until he wakes up and I can tell him to get the cat out of the room. Cat gone, everybody is back asleep. At some point around five every morning, I end up in my bed with Ingrid on one side and Elka on the other in a very uncomfortable position. This is basically how I end my night. At 6:30 or 7:00, they both wake up and being done with me, they have Martin get up and fix them breakfast, and I get my one, blessed, solid hour of sleep during which I know I will not be interrupted.

(Last night was even more extreme with Greta, Elka AND Ingrid taking turns being awake for ungodly amounts of time. Our middle-of-the-night happenings last night included two separate sessions of apples and milk, coloring, and doing mazes. And thanks to the time change, I even got an extra hour of being awake with them!)

You can see that my Mom Nighttime is very different from Fifi's Non-Mom Nighttime. It's a lot of taking care of people and tending to needs. Much like the rest of my existence.

So, it's no surprise that another obstacle I've run into in regards to Fifi's dating life is that I'm always meddling. In some ways having a single friend living with us is what I imagine it would be like to have a teenaged daughter. Fifi has been dating--let's call him Mo--only for about a week. She had a spontaneous second date with him on Halloween, where they handed out candy to trick-or-treaters on our porch, while we trick-or-treated in our usual neighborhood where we know lots of people. After some hours of not hearing from her, while we were driving home, I texted her, asking how it was going. She didn't respond. I started to get nervous. I didn't know this guy THAT well, what if he was actually an ax murderer? I texted again: "he didn't murder you, did he?!" Still no response, and suddenly I was mildly freaking out that I was going to arrive home to a scene much more gruesome than had been advertised.

Of course, they were just outside sharing wine and Kit-Kat bars. She hadn't seen my texts, so deeply had they been looking into each other's eyes (JUST KIDDING!) and all was well. But then he came over again on another day, and I was trying to tidy up quickly, making sure he didn't get the impression that my poor roommate is forced to live in squalor (which, let's face it, she kind of is,) and when he arrived, I offered them coffee and water and I occasionally offer dinner, and why do I feel the need to do this? because I AM A HOMEMAKER, DARN IT, THIS IS WHAT I DO. But Fifi is not my teenaged daughter, she's a grownup(and not my daughter at all)! She can offer her own guest a glass of water! I do not need to meddle!

Also, this arrangement has made me more aware of my parenting, or more accurately, of the fact that I'm surrounded by children twenty-four hours a day. Until recently, it wasn't as clear to me that this was the case. I mean, I was aware, obviously, but I wasn't aware to the full extent of reality. Interrupted conversations, scoldings, violent outbursts from certain daughters. The crying--so much crying! And why doesn't anyone ever wear clothes?!? All these things are blindingly clear to me now, whereas before they had just been background noise. (Literally and figuratively, haha.)

I've always been a pro at putting off grocery store trips, but now when Fifi says she needs to go to the store and I say, "me too!" I realize that I'm putting it off because the idea of taking four children to the grocery by myself makes me nauseous, so I wait until times when Martin can go with me, or better yet, without me, on his lunch breaks. Fifi is putting off her grocery shopping for all the reasons I used to. Sometimes I miss those reasons. (And sometimes I don't.)

Generally speaking, it's the whole having a social life that is the most noticeable change in the way I view my world. It's been years since I've noticed the extent to which I have no life outside my children. And it's not that I don't get out, it's just that everything is so painstakingly planned. I have been playing music quite a bit lately, and it's great! But it's a much more involved process nowadays than it was in my beginnings, when I all I had to do was make sure I was paying attention to the time so I wouldn't be late to a gig. Now I need to secure childcare, which sometimes involves Martin taking off work early, which makes me feel guilty about playing out, blah, blah blah... and the whole time I'm gone, I'm hoping that all goes smoothly at home, that nobody gets hurt, nobody is sad, nobody is fighting too much, everybody is eating their dinner. More blah, blah, blah. And after the gig, there is no lingering, there's no going out for drinks, there's no staying for dinner. And it's okay, because I love walking in the door to four little voices saying, "Hi, Mama!" and jumping on me and asking about where I've been and what songs I sang. And it's okay because I enjoy playing music out even more than I used to before children, because it's no longer what I do every single weekend--it's a fun treat!

Still... no matter how completely awesome it is to have my four girls (and it IS completely awesome, super duper completely awesome,) there's a bit of nostalgia that strikes when I notice young people who are clearly not tied down by kids and I realize just how much my life has changed over the past nine years.

But, you know what? There's something all the people of the non-children group of society don't have. And they can't take it from us, either. And I feel it's really telling of how kind of ridiculous our life is at the moment, that Martin brought it up to me tonight, while discussing this blog post, in the form of a question: "You know what they don't have, right?" And we were both able to answer in declarative unison: "Chuck E. Cheese."