Wednesday, May 23, 2018

That Time My Daughter Folded All the Laundry

Out of my four daughters, only Greta is exceptionally clean. She really appreciates cleanliness and hygiene; she showers every other day and very thoroughly. She's an obsessive hand-washer. She keeps her drawer organized the Kon-Mari way, picks up toys without being asked (not always, but frequently,) and has been known to wash the dishes for me. But her really big thing is laundry. She likes to have all her clothes clean and in her drawers, at all times. (Impossible. Sorry, G.) She isn't tall enough to reach the knobs for the washer (we have an apartment size stack unit,) or the detergent, but she IS able to climb up and get the clothes out of the dryer, then put the wet clothes in to dry. And sometimes she helps me fold clothes, especially if she's feeling upset about something, it's always been kind of her way to hang out with me and talk things out.

Laundry is only halfway my favorite part of housework. I really enjoy the DOING of the laundry--the sorting, the washing, the switching, the drying, and so on--but when it comes to folding and putting away... I suck. And while I may have the World's Tiniest Washing Machine, I make up for that by having the World's Most Enormous Laundry Basket! And it's usually OVERFLOWING.

So, a few days ago--who knows what I was doing all day--it was the first day of our official summer break from homeschool. It was a little funny because the girls didn't know quite what to do with themselves without our morning school routine, but I guess I had plenty to do, because I did not experience the same level of boredom. Toward the end of the day it somehow comes out that all day long Greta had been folding clothes... THE ENTIRE CONTENTS OF THE LAUNDRY BASKET. Matched socks, undies put away, each person with her own pile, then tucked nicely into each assigned drawer. IT WAS INCREDIBLE. It was a total gift, and I gave her all the tremendous thanks she very much deserved, but on the inside, I was weeping. I felt like the laziest slug of all. How could a NINE YEAR OLD finish the chore that had been hanging over me SINCE CHRISTMAS?!? How could I have gone so long without accomplishing that simple piece of work? It took Greta a big part of the day, but SHE DID IT. Why couldn't I do it? It wasn't just that I was lazy... Every day I woke up staring at that overflowing laundry basket and every day I vowed to tackle it, and to conquer it once and for all. And every night I'd got to my bed, and there that laundry basket would be. Just sitting there. Still full. Laughing at me. WHY WAS IT SO HARD TO JUST GET THE LAUNDRY FOLDED?!?!?

I did mention my regret over this aloud in front of the girls. I couldn't keep it in, I felt SO BAD. And do you know what I was met with? Greta told me it was just her way of helping out because she didn't know what to do all day without having any school work to do, and Elka chimed in saying that I don't have time to fold the laundry because I'm busy doing so much other work during the day.

It really was a comfort to hear that, but at the same time, I was doubtful. I mean, truly, WHAT am I getting accomplished in my days? I have four children who are almost entirely independent. I have no diapers, no nap times, I can let them play outside by themselves, they can even get their own cups of water when they're thirsty. SO WHAT AM I DOING!??

After a few days of thinking it over and really observing my days, I've figured it out: I do nothing. So much of my day is filled with mundane nothing tasks. The little girls still like me to stay in the bathroom with them, so I end up spending SO MUCH TIME just standing in my bathroom, usually listening to weird stories or dreams from the night before. I spend a lot of time trying in vain to fix Unfixable Objects--broken toys, broken sticks, broken bananas. More listening to dreams. I make food... Oh my gosh, SO MUCH FOOD. Then I clean up the food. And while the food is still being consumed, Elka always drops her fork at least three times. I sort drawings into "keep" or "toss" piles. I watch. So much watching. I watch people stand on one leg and hop. I watch people make funny faces in the mirror. I watch people ride their bikes with their legs sticking out. I also read freshly written stories and am privileged to view new dollhouses made of empty butter boxes. I vacuum a million times a day because #NEWFOUNDLANDLIFE.

All that food prep and clearing creates dishes to be washed. Martin usually calls in the afternoon to talk, during his break between work clients.  Elka and Ingrid still love finding pictures in their food, so I spend an absolutely ridiculous amount of my days observing (and taking pictures of!) bits of food that look (to only them) like funny objects.

(Pictured: A "cave" in a.... I don't even want to know what that piece of utterly unrecognizable food is. Ew.)

I admit that I do a lot of daily yard work. Our yard is a wild beast that needs tamed and it's very hard to keep up with. Slowly I've been taming it--basically turning the whole thing into garden beds. I do this while the girls play outside, and from the yard I can't see my laundry basket.

Ingrid, being only freshly four, is still very enthusiastic about things like swimsuits and fancy dress-up dresses, but she needs some assistance with the straps and clasps and zippers and whatnot. And of course, with arms through leg holes and heads through arm holes, comes lots of crying. And comforting.

Then, a lot of the days, I actually take them places.

(At Happy Hollow Park)
Or help them navigate domestic experiments.

(Elka and Anja made their own sourdough starters from scratch... Elka's is doing REALLY well.)

And there's still the set up and light monitoring that comes with our normal, every day activities. 
(Painting. Always.)

And really, when I think about it, my house is a lot cleaner than it was when I was holding babies all day every day.

So, gosh, what DO I do all day? So little. So much. There are many days when I think I could probably slip away and these girls could run the house themselves perfectly smoothly. The only thing that would be really lacking (besides nutritious food, because let's face it, my girls' favorite thing to cook is chocolate cake and if I were out of the picture they'd be eating chocolate cake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner) is the watching and the affirmation. And even still, sometimes once they're tucked into bed at the end of the day, I feel like I didn't watch them enough. I didn't pay close enough attention to that newly learned somersault, or I didn't really listen so carefully to that exceedingly drawn out story of something funny that had just happened. I'm here listening and watching all day long, and still it doesn't always feel like enough. I often wish I could find the time in a day to write down every cute thing they do all day long because tomorrow they won't be doing it anymore. I'm so busy soaking up their childhoods spent with me that I guess I don't care about the laundry as much as it should. That's what it comes down to.

I am SO appreciative of the work Greta put in to help give me a restart on my laundry debacle. I've vowed to keep up with it and quickly fold each tiny load as it comes out of the dryer instead of saving  it for later until it builds up to be an insurmountable task. And Greta learned about giving and helping and gifts of service and love, so that's hard to regret. But in thinking it over, I see that my days are full of very important tasks of listening and loving, and if that means Mount Laundry gets a little scary, well, so be it. I have plenty of years ahead of me to sit and fold laundry quietly without missing out on anything else. For now, I might just let it grow right alongside these funny girls.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Mothers Day is Weird

So, Mothers Day always feels kind of weird to me. I guess this is because Motherhood feels weird to me. Still. After more than a decade of it. I just feel like Mothers Day was a lot better when it was just a fun time to get together with my cousins and extended family to celebrate my mom, grandma and aunts, and eat morel mushrooms and other foods that my uncles made that one day every year, and imagine a far off and distant land in which I would someday have cute little live babies of my own instead of just Barbie dolls. Mothers Day sounded great when it seemed so far off. But then it actually came upon me. It's shocking to wake up one fine Sunday in May and realize, OH. This day is about ME now. It's only a little less shocking than becoming a mother.

Motherhood just kind of happened to me. It came suddenly, a lot earlier than I'd expected it and I didn't have the faintest idea what I was getting into. I liked babies alright, but I had never LOVED them. Babysitting was for the birds and the only infants I knew and actually enjoyed were my nieces and nephews. (Still my favorite people.) So when the time came when I was sitting face-to-face with my own offspring, I was a little bewildered. Okay, a lot bewildered. And that feeling has never really gone away completely.

I'm not a good mom. On bad days I think about sending them off to someone else (forever), or hint at Martin that maybe he should go looking for a new wife who would do a better job than I ever could of this child rearing thing. Good days are when no uncomfortable topics are broached, we play happily all day, we actually LEARN something during school time, and the kids all get to bed at their actual bedtime, or at least sort of in the general window of it. I have absolutely zero qualifications for motherhood. Biologically, I'm old enough (creeping toward the "too old" mark, in fact!) but even speaking strictly biologically, I'm a 4x c-section mom--I'd totally be dead by now if it weren't for western medicine! My worthless birth canal would have gotten me off the hook FROM THE GET GO. Therefore,  I consider myself: naturally disqualified. I'm also a mix of the two worst parenting "styles": Helicopter and Permissive. Basically I just hover around my kids while they act like complete savages. I'm WATCHING them be all the bad parts of "wild and free." (And then I post about it on Instagram.)

An example of this would be from last weekend. We had guests. Actually, we've had guests at our house for the past three months, but this was the last of our guests and they were older people. They were very nice people. People who have really good table manners and remember to put spoons in the bowl of fruit for their guests. I, being not one of those people, forgot the spoon for the fruit and my children, being raised by me, just helped themselves with their hands, straight out of the bowl, like any barbarian in her natural habitat would do. I had thought this was going to be a nice patio lunch I was providing, and it turned out to just be a showcase of what a rotten mom I am, BECAUSE JUST WAIT IT GETS WORSE. 

I had tried to delicately explain Ingrid's bathroom troubles without going into all the nitty gritty detail. (In short, she's a withholder. She doesn't like to poop, she's convinced it will hurt, so she holds it in until she gets so constipated that it DOES hurt when she finally goes, and then the next time she can only remember it hurting so she doesn't want to go.... it's a bad cycle.) One of my "tricks" when Ingrid gets into these cycles is to let her go without undies because just having to deal with underpants in a moment of "maybe I have to go poo poo" is enough time to allow her to change her mind. Trust me, it's just better to leave them off. So, we had commando Ingrid sliding down the slide in front of our guests (Ha! Slide! AS IF we have an actual SLIDE. We have a freaking piece of plywood leaned against a homemade balance beam BECAUSE WE ARE TRASH BAGS) and I was given a friendly alert that Ingrid had forgotten her underpants! Whoops!

OH BUT JUST WAIT IT GETS WORSE. You know what's coming.

A little later, I got another friendly alert about Ingrid, who was hanging out awkwardly on the sidewalk near the kitchen door. "Ingrid's not constipated anymore!" Sure enough, all along the sidewalk she'd been pooping. So we gave her her promised Poo-Poo Prize, which was a little package of gummy bears.


The combination of being biologically and educationally unqualified and not having a speck of natural talent for the job is enough to make me worry that someday (probably after I've written this blog post that really lays it all out) somebody is going to catch on that I have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING HERE. I mean, I'm still surprised to have these four living beings in my care. I don't feel old enough to have children. I don't feel mature enough to have children. I don't feel like I am mom-material in any way shape or form. Yet, here I am, answering to "Mama" and hanging out with these super cute, spunky sidekicks every day of my life. How the heck did this even happen?!

Since I don't know what I'm doing, I just go along with my life, doing what I do, allowing them to do it with me (so I can safely hover over them while they do tasks recommended for adults.) This method seems to be working out miraculously well--Greta now switches out my laundry loads and folds clothes without being asked. Anja hears we're going to a gathering and asks what she can make for it. (A cake! We all love cake!) Elka is a natural gardener and has taken over a chunk of the weeding and watering, as well as planting a cut flower garden. Ingrid... well, I don't know where she came from or who's in charge of her. I certainly don't go around pooping on sidewalks. But seventy five percent isn't a terrible success rate, is it?

I'm nowhere near a success and I certainly don't deserve to be celebrated. But I do consider myself INCREDIBLY LUCKY to be able to be with these girls every day. Last week we were learning about composers of the Baroque era, which meant sitting on the patio observing birds and drawing while listening to Vivaldi's Four Seasons. I AM SO LUCKY.  During an evening storm last week we all cuddled together on the couch and read a chapter of Little Women because some of us are a little bit afraid of storms. I AM SO LUCKY.  Today we went to a Baptism (of my new nephew with the most adorable little tiny face!) and my kids were attentive, respectful, and kept their clothes on the whole time! I AM SO LUCKY.  I get to give reminders to brush teeth and fix hair into braids and wash grubby faces and deal with endless piles of loose drawing paper on a daily basis... I AM SO LUCKY. And even though I'm pretending not to know about the rose bush they got for me this afternoon to replace the rose bush they got me last year (which was a replacement for the year before... I have a really hard time keeping roses alive) it brought me such joy to listen to them outside with Martin planting it and to be ordered to stay away from the front of the house, and to see them scurry around trying to help me avoid that area. Even though I feel like a failure, I AM SO LUCKY.

I'm celebrating all the moms I know tomorrow--hats off you! To those of you who are on the path of success, to those of you who are hanging onto the back bumper of the struggle bus, to the grandmothers, godmothers, biological mothers, adoptive mothers, to the mothers who think they're failing--YOU ARE SO LUCKY.

I've got so, so, so many negative marks against me as a mom. But that number is nothing compared to the precious bits of life these girls give me every day! Happy Mothers Day to all the moms. Even though it still feels weird to be among you, I'm glad I am.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Compact Ecosystems (The Urban Backyard)

Oh my gosh, you guys, SPRING is HERE!! I am so, so unbelievably happy about this. Winter dragged on so far into the springtime months that I really thought I'd never see a green leaf again. I was just beginning to dip my toes into the Pool of Utter Despair (okay, let's be honest, I was already knee-deep) when suddenly we got a burst of warmth and sunshine, and everything erupted. Lilacs blooming, dandelions everywhere, little wild violets and white flowers I can't identify. The garden centers are open all over town, I laid out new garden beds and then ACTUALLY FILLED THEM WITH DIRT AND PLANTS. I've been pulling weeds! Things are really growing! It's amazing!

Over the years we've tried to improve our house on the inside and on the outside. Limited funds, limited time, limited skill... not everything gets done when or exactly how we'd like. But this year I really have devoted myself to the yard. I've got dreams for some things I can't do myself (like installing a fence along the back alley) but I was able to use some of our old wood stashed in the corner of the yard from the dying Tulip Poplar we had cut down years ago to build some fresh garden beds. I answered a Craigslist ad for free stone--it turned out to be my cousin!--and stoned in little flower areas. Martin put a picket fence panel across the top of the driveway, replacing the stick fence I made last year (which fell down, whoops) and closed in that area to make our entire yard secure for kids and dog. I set up some pallets to make a little fence wall for the girls' play area underneath the honeysuckle, and in another corner of the fence we tied up a hammock (an old woven baby wrap, idea stolen from my sister-in-law and her daughters!) and I put up an extra panel of picket fence behind that just for decoration. I've planted flowers all over the yard and vegetables in all the beds, and I'm really pleased with my own hard work. (Toot-toot! That's my own horn!)
This year I think I've finally kept my planting to a reasonable level. I started everything from seed (except some potted flowers) but I don't know if any of my seedlings are going to survive. They're definitely not thriving, that's for sure. But it's still early yet, I suppose. Back in April we bought some little strawberry plants and the girls and I set up a new bed for them--they look GREAT! My onions and garlic look fantastic too--actually, pretty much everything I bought as plants from other people is doing wonderfully, while the things I started inside on my own with all of my love and passion are sort of withering.

But it's not just plants that we're enjoying around here. Our little snippets of wildlife are giving us such joy! We don't have deer down here, unfortunately... we do have lots of urban deer in our town, even just a few blocks up the hill from us, but our neighborhood doesn't have much in the way of woods, so we have to be content to watch our birds and insects, but we do have lots of birds and insects! We keep our feeders filled and really enjoy watching our feathered friends (and bushy tailed thieves) visit for snacks. But today we saw something we'd never seen before!

Right before dinnertime Anja noticed a bunch--I mean, hundreds--of baby spiders coming up from the dirt under the old air conditioning fan thingy that is in the yard. (We don't have air conditioning anymore and we really need to have that thing removed.) They were SO TINY, and they all crawled up a thin web, then they spun their ways over to this trash can (we sound so dumpy right now, and I can't even deny it, we really are,) then from there to the bird feeder. There were SO MANY TINY BABY SPIDERS. And I'm not a lover of spiders, but these things really were so cute. They were just unbelievably little, and yellow, with a little bit of black on them. So, from their web that they'd made, they hung out for awhile, AND THEN! THEY STARTED DRIFTING AWAY ON THE WIND ONE BY ONE!!! It was JUST LIKE in Charlotte's Web when the baby spiders go parachuting away. It was so, so beautiful, I can't believe we were lucky enough to see it. Some of them went up to the top of the bedroom window where I bet they will stay. Some of them ended up all over us, haha, and some just went off to who knows where. It was seriously amazing, I've never seen anything like it. Over the span of about three hours they almost all went away; I counted 20 still on the web when we headed in for baths and bed. A basic Google search lead me to believe they are orb weavers, or garden spiders, and extremely beneficial to the environment while typically not inviting themselves into homes. So basically they're my favorite spider.

I am beginning to see an odd benefit to having such a small space (and this is made better by our awesome neighbors who yard-keep in the same spirit as we do) in that we don't need to look far for these little miracles. There is an intimacy that comes with all of our nature-ing being crammed into a teeny urban backyard. The birds are friendly, so we get up-close views. Things as tiny as baby spiders don't go unnoticed. Snakes, centipedes, worms (we love worms!), all kinds of creepy crawly things are in abundance and just waiting to be observed. (Okay, snakes don't come in abundance, but we have had a few over the years.) And our bees!
With our beekeeper friend we opened the hive last week and found all of our busy, buzzy friends are thriving in there. Anja has really become brave in her beekeeping. I love these things. They are beautiful and fascinating and whatever breed they are (they were caught wild by our friend pictured here,) they are SO docile. Our only stings have been accidental, except for Martin--they don't seem to like him very much and tend to go into attack mode when he's around. But the girls and I can go right up to the hive door and observe them for as long as we want and they don't seem to care at all. (I think they can sense our peacefulness.) We also have mason bees making homes in various places in our yard--also insanely cool to watch. 

We've got a good spot here. And even though this afternoon I was reminiscing on our cozy winter nights of Hot Buttered Rum and Poldark binge-watching, I am so incredibly glad it's not winter anymore. In fact, I think a measurable portion of my days lately has been spent standing in the middle of the yard exclaiming, "It's such a beautiful day!" to the kids who have started ignoring me. It's not that they don't notice the beauty of the day--they're just too busy setting up their mud pie pastry shops to comment.