Saturday, January 28, 2012

Finding Joy in the Everyday

As a parent, do you worry that you're not enjoying or appreciating this stage of your life enough? It's a concern that weighs heavily on me, especially when I'm frustrated and irritated with my children.

I think of it often, but a couple days ago I read a few related blog posts and decided it was time to get these thoughts written down. An article called Don't Carpe Diem has been floating around the internet. I read it and in many ways I thought, "Amen, Sister! Don't expect me to bask in the glory of motherhood while I'm rinsing poop out of my 3-year-old's underwear." I feel like I'm more in a perpetual state of "just make it til bedtime" rather than enjoying this life called motherhood. I know this is normal, especially for mothers of toddlers, but I wonder, am I wasting this time being exhausted and cranky?

Sometimes I feel panicked, like when I realize that Mack is the only one left in the house that uses plastic kid plates and sippy cups. In another year or two, those things will be gone. I see my firstborn morphing into a sassy tween before my eyes and I can hardly remember what it felt like to sit at the table and make crafts with her as a creative 4-year-old. It's times like those that I feel the urgency of needing to appreciate all that is happening in my life as a mother. One day I will wake up and there won't be any little bodies around to snuggle with me or exclaim with bright eyes about the cool thing that happened at school. One day it will just be Dan and I, no discipline problems to discuss, no funny anecdotes to share. And like this post on Memories on Clover Lane, one day I'll be dead and all the tangible objects that seem so essential and significant to life will just be yard sale finds for thrifty shoppers.

The problem is that I don't seem to recognize the urgency often enough. Those moments when I feel so tender about being a mother, about each of my children, are fleeting and I so rarely take the time to record them. I take a lot of pictures, it's my way of remembering and feeling positive about the life that I have, but I usually don't record the feelings that accompany the events or images that I so painstakingly capture on my camera.

So what can I do to appreciate this life more, to live for today and cherish my family more?

What I've noticed about myself lately is that I don't really play with my kids enough. I just want to meet their basic needs, help them with homework, make sure they do their chores, then have them go play with each other or by themselves so I can work on my own projects or just have some solitude. It's like I'm solely driven by the need to feel like I'm raising capable, responsible human beings, but I've forgotten how to have fun with these little people that I love.

I think part of it is the life situation that Dan and I are in right now. I am mostly home alone with the kids and I know that there's no help or relief coming later in the day and I am solely responsible for making sure all the "stuff" gets done everyday that needs to be done. It's exhausting and I'm lacking the emotional energy to be a fun mom right now. I can sit and do puzzles with Mack and Amelia or read books to them for 20 minutes, but I'd rather poke my eye with a fork than pretend I'm a pet store owner and Amelia is an orphan kitten I found (a frequent request). And Lily, well, she's not getting much at all. I arrange for the kids to play with a friend whenever there's time, so it's not like they aren't having any fun at all, but I just can't engage my imagination or my patience enough to do anything active with the kids.

When Dan was home for a short 2 days off this week, he wrestled and rough-housed with the kids for a long time each night and they were so hungry for the attention and the interaction. It's a solid testimony to me why a child needs a mother and a father. I leave the wild tickle-monster Robo Daddy games to Dan and he's happy to delegate the puzzle building and baking to me.

I think one thing that has been to my detriment since Dan started working in the oil field is that I have become selfish with my time. When Dan is gone, I can do what I want, when I want once the kids are taken care of and I think it has gotten me in the habit of being stingy with my personal time. If I have spent a lot of time tending to the children, and decided that now it's "mommy's time", I find myself resenting the many interruptions that are so commonplace in any home with small children. It feels like an offense, like a blatant disregard for my needs, a disrespect for all the time I have already given my children that day. Everyday I wake up thinking of things I'd like to get done for myself once the house and the kids are taken care of. I'd like to write on my blog, work on my digital Project Life album, write in my journal, archive all my photos, transcribe interviews I've done on my digital voice recorder, read a book. I may grab 20 minutes here or there throughout the day, but I always tell myself, "I'll have time tonight after the kids go to bed." Problem is, by that time I no longer feel like writing or doing much of anything other than falling into bed.

The thing is, when you get to the point where parenting is just a series of completed duties, followed by guilt and disappointment about all that you no longer have the energy to do, there seems to be little joy in life. You start asking yourself, "What is there to look forward to? How can I find fulfillment? What can bring joy back into being a mother?" And the ever-present question, "Why in the world do I want a 4th child?"

These thoughts have been churning around in my mind for quite awhile and over the past couple of days I've tried to find some answers about how I can be happier, how I can feel satisfied with the way I am spending my time as a mother. I've been trying a few new things (well, not really new or novel, just making a conscious effort to do something) and my attitude has greatly improved.

First, I've tried to plan at least one activity each day to center around the kids. Something intentional, not an afterthought. On Friday the kids were off school and I made sugar cookies with them. Sounds like nothing monumental, but it's like a four hour ordeal once you make the dough, let it chill, roll it out and cut shapes, bake the cookies, make the frosting, color the frosting and put it in decorating bags, frost all the cookies while suppressing the urge to freak out about the huge mess, then clean up the mess and hand wash all those annoyingly intricate cookie cutter shapes.

I felt pretty good about my effort. And the cookies were dang good.

Today was a little different. I told the kids last night that we weren't doing anything today until their chores were done. Usually I try to work on my chores while delegating and supervising their chores, but today I really helped them and spent almost an hour with each of the girls helping them organize and declutter their rooms. Amelia likes to clean and organize, Lily not so much, but both were so pleased with their clean rooms that I could tell they appreciated the individual attention and help I gave them. We were done with most of our chores by noon so Mack & Amelia played with friends while Lily & I finished her room. Then we went to a roping (a sort of mini-rodeo with several teams doing just one event- team roping) that our friend and neighbor Brian Nate put on in his new indoor arena just outside our backyard. We got to eat burgers and watch the cowboys (and a couple cowgirls) and Mack had fun loudly commenting on the noisy calves "running and running so fast".

I've also been trying to be more cognisant of those quiet little moments that make me think, "Man, I love that kid!" Like tonight when Amelia was in the bath and she gathered a bunch of bubbles in her hands, curled her fingertips together at the top and her palms at the bottom, and said, "Look, it's a heart!" Or when Mack finishes peeing on the potty and asks, "You so poud (proud) of me?" Or when Lily says, "You know what I wish I had? A replicator. Then I could put these rainbow earrings in with a plain t-shirt and it would make me a t-shirt to match my earrings." She's been watching a lot of Star Trek Voyager and Enterprise with her Dad.

Something I started in 2010 and have been sort of sporadic with lately is keeping a book where I write down the funny things the kids say. It is so much fun to go back and read through them. A classic one from Mack last month was when he walked into the living room and I said, "There's a suspicious smell coming from your diaper," and he replied, "That's a big delivery of poop for you!" I could do, I need to do, a post with all of the kids' funny quotes. There are so many things my kids have said that I thought, "I need to go write that down" but I don't do it right away and then it is forgotten. So the key to the quote book is to have it accessible and to just do it right when they say something funny.

What I'm going to start tonight is taking a concept from the Don't Carpe Diem article and not only recognize, but make an effort to write down in my journal each night, the Kairos moments that happen to me each day. Just a brief, half a page description about what was memorable, what had meaning for me. Because those fleeting moments each day where you find joy in your life can be so quickly swallowed up in the chaos that always ensues when you are a parent. And then you get to where I have been lately, feeling like life is just one big struggle with nothing to enjoy. It's just not true. A concerted effort to just pay attention can make a huge difference in our attitude. I know it has mine.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Heaven Help Us!

We're starting hard-core potty training today. I started about 3 weeks ago and didn't have much luck. The first day Mack went through 5 pairs of underwear in less than 2 hours. The next time I tried he pee'd in the potty twice in the morning and I got so excited. But that was the last time we had any success. And that was over 2 weeks ago.He gets mad every time I put him on the toilet and insists that he can't do it. He holds it, holds it, holds it, then pee's in his underwear. I have a timer set for every 20 minutes. We have tried sitting, standing, aiming at Cheerios, rewarding with treats, reading books on the toilet, running water in the sink to make him feel the urge, singing potty songs, you name it. Mack just WON'T pee on the potty.

I didn't try at all last week because we'd spent the previous weekend at Grammie's and were planning another trip to Grammie's this past weekend. I knew I wouldn't have the time to monitor him all weekend so I decided to wait until we were all done traveling to start again. Now we're home and not planning to go anywhere so I'm committing to giving it another try.

Pray for my sanity, will you?

The one thing that helps is Mack is super cute running around in his big boy undies.

Aren't his hat and boots fabulous?! Dan's a little concerned.

I keep trying to reassure him that the boy loves swords and guns just as much as he loves headbands.

Just part of the hazards of having two older sisters. And speaking of those sisters, they were SO much easier to potty train. Why is that when boys have the easy-aim equipment?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Bad Words

A week or so before Christmas the kids were watching A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Didn't you just love that movie as a kid? I remember anticipating every year when it would come on TV. Not like those other creepy Christmas specials, like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with the snow beast.

Anyway, the kids were watching and I took a moment to sit down on the couch. Amelia came over and in a loud whisper said, "There's a lot of bad words in this movie." I thought, "Hmmm, I sure don't remember that from when I was a kid."

I asked, "What kind of bad words?" Amelia replied, "I don't want to say them. But they start with (whisper) D and S."

Dude, I've been known to occasionally spout off a "dammit" in moments of frustration. But I sure don't make a habit of saying the "S" word. How did my kids even know those words? Besides, since when did Charlie Brown have a potty mouth?

Lily piped up and said, "Mack says it all the time. S-T-U-P-I-D." Oh, and DUMB.

Phew. My kids aren't as corrupted as I thought.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Our Thanksgiving & some family history

I started this blog post over 5 weeks ago and have been working on it a little at a time. It just kept getting bigger and bigger! So feel free to read it in stages or at the very least, grab a snack before you dive in!

Glory hallelujah, I'm home alone! Amelia is playing with a friend and Dan took Lily and Mack with him to Montpelier to get the wood splitter repaired. As much as I want to curl up on the couch in front of the fire, I decided I better seize this opportunity to do a little blogging. My computer time the last couple of weeks has been taken up with online shopping and working on the annual photo album for the grandparents. Just as I was getting in the zone with my blogging, I fell off the wagon!

The kids and I had a quiet Thanksgiving with my Mom down in Utah while Dan was working. For reference, here are my siblings:

David, Becky, Sue, Don, September 2011

I love this picture for so many reasons, despite the fact that I wasn't wearing any makeup, I was having a chubby summer, and I didn't bother to retouch our eye bags or my zits in Photoshop. I love this picture because it was the first time we'd all been able to hang out together in 5 years. We ate and talked and played board games late into the night. I love this picture because although we're starting to age, we all look healthy and happy. And I love my Mom's apple tree in the background. It adds just the right touch.

My brother David's family lives in Virginia and since they had just been out for a visit over Labor Day weekend, they stayed home for Thanksgiving. My sister Becky and her kids stayed home in Rock Springs, WY so they could be home in case their oil field husband/daddy made it home. Becky and I, we share a lot of similar life challenges. My brother Don and his family live close to my Mom so we were able to spend time together. They had plans to spend Thanksgiving Day with Lora's family, so the whole crew came to my Mom's on Wednesday night and we had a sleepover. It was a blast!

We sat around and surfed the internet for Black Friday sales and looked at photography blogs and such.

My sis-in-law Lora, my niece Rachel, me, and Amelia

Can you believe Rachel?! She's 18 and going to BYU Idaho.

Rachey and Me, 1993

I have always had a special place in my heart for Rachel because she was the one who made me an aunt. We were lucky enough to get some alone time on Thanksgiving morning and it was so great to talk, so great to recognize and appreciate how wide open and full of possibilities her young life is.

Amelia and her cousin Faith, who is a year and a half older, had a great time in Grammie's craft room making ornaments for the mini Christmas tree.

Isn't Amelia's jacket cute? It's a hand-me-down from Faith. All of her cutest clothes come from Faith. Score!

Mack went off the binky in October after the appearance of the Binky Fairy (she brought him guns, the only toy enticing enough to make him willing to trade in his binkies.)

He was pretty pleased.

Mack has been binky free ever since and only mentioned wanting his binky a couple times. But on Thanksgiving Eve, he found a spare binky at Grammie's house and you should have seen the joy in his face! I was mildly panicked, thinking that he would want it back for good, but fortunately he just nibbled on it a bit, then gave it back when we mentioned ice cream.

Mack & Luke watching Cars 2.

Farr's Peppermint Stick ice cream is one of my favorite things about the holidays. It comes in a green box, is only available in November and December, and I've only been able to find it in Utah. I had a hard time even finding a picture of it on the internet:

Oh, baby! It is Deee-vine! My Mom bought 2 boxes and it did not disappoint.

Rachel hadn't seen her brother Nicholas in awhile since she's been away at school. When he arrived she was blown away by how grown up he looked with his new glasses. Nicholas hates pictures, but I snuck this one before he could shy away from my camera.

We intended to play board games, but we never got around to it. You know you're getting old when you'd rather go to bed than play Settlers of Catan!

On Thanksgiving morning Don and Nicholas treated us all to buttermilk pancakes and homemade syrup.

It was truly luscious! My Mom kept commenting about how nice it was to have some men in the kitchen.

And then, our breakfast was interrupted by this:

You thought the nap-inducing haircut was short? Wait till later in this post when you see what we had to do to fix this mess!

We were all sitting around the breakfast table when in walks Mack with a reverse mohawk. It was so short I immediately thought, "Oh my gosh, he's gotten ahold of some clippers or someone's left their razor out!" I took him upstairs and said, "Show Mama how you cut your hair." Proud as can be he went straight to the craft room where he had a stash of scissors and demonstrated:

I totally rained on his parade when I told him that was very dangerous, he could have cut his scalp, and that cutting his hair was a no-no. He got downright pissed when I took the three pairs of scissors away.

The whole thing was very reminiscent of when Lily snuck into the toy closet under the stairs and cut her hair when she was 3 years old.

Don, Lora, and all the kids except Rachel headed out about 10am to go to Salt Lake. Rachel had plans to spend the day with her mom's side of the family, so we enjoyed the morning together before I dropped her off in Provo.

One of Rachel's finest qualities is that she is very gracious, always has a hug and an "I love you" for everyone.

Doesn't Mack's hair just totally "make" this picture?

One of the best parts of Thanksgiving weekend for the kids was that Grammie let us bring our kittens. (Big Pumpkin stayed home.) Dan was like, "Your Mom is really OK with letting 3 cats stay at her house? She's crazy!" When I told Mom what Dan said her response was, "Well, it's a lot like the grandkids. I know that in a few days they'll go home." I assured Dan that Mom was a seasoned cat owner and that the kitties would mostly stay outside during the day and sleep in the garage during the night. But it turned out that they spent a lot of time inside and provided hours of entertainment for all the kids.

Here they are having their Thanksgiving breakfast:

Don't worry, we scored them some turkey scraps later.

The kitties spent a lot of time sleeping under Grammie's couch, out of reach of Mack's grubby little hands.

Oh man, is there anything cuter than little kitten paws?

Mom did all of the cooking and the only useful thing I did was take pictures and wash dishes afterwards. Oh, I guess I cut and boiled the potatoes.

Lily was less than impressed with the raw turkey. My Mom was like, "Just wait till we start shoving stuffing in its bum!"

Mack was excited to help with the mashed potatoes.

He loves to help in the kitchen and is always eager to help me make a meal or some cookies at home.

And he always watches to make sure that the oven is doing its job properly.

Since it was just us, Mom decided it was safe enough to break out the real china.

Mom has had this china since 1969-1970 when my Dad was in Vietnam. He sent her the catalog and told her to pick out the design she liked the best. Then he had it shipped straight to her door in Sheridan, WY. She said that when she opened the box she just sat there and cried because she had never owned anything so beautiful.

Instead of the crystal goblets, the girls wanted to use Gram's antique teacups. Before Gram passed away in 2008 we had started a little tradition of going to Gram's for tea. Oh, how Lily loved it! Gram would bake shortbread cookies and break out her grandmother's tea cart and tell stories about the olden days. She taught Lily what a tea cozy was and explained how having daily visitors over for tea was as much a part of life as afternoon naps for toddlers.

Tea Party at Gram's, January 24, 2007. Amelia was too little to sit at the table for tea:

Halloween Tea Party at Gram's, October 31, 2007:

When Gram died, Lily asked if she could inherit this teacup and saucer with the little purple flowers. For now it is stored safely in Grammie's china cabinet.

As we sat down to eat, Mack went straight for the drumstick.

He was super PO'd that he had to wait until after the prayer to demolish the turkey.

Our Thanksgiving meal was a bit of a family history lesson. Grammie used the carving set that belonged to Grandfather Sneath. He won the set in a curling match. Those crazy Canadians!

Charles Alexander Sneath, my mom's maternal grandfather (1880-1941). Perhaps he wore a fur coat like that when he was curling.

Mom made three dishes that were special family recipes and told us about each one.

My Mom's paternal grandmother's (Anna Allen Cox) sister, Aunt Top, always made this salad for family gatherings. It's made with lime jello, cheese, and nuts. It sounds totally gross, but is actually quite tasty!

My Mom has been searching all over her archives for a picture of Aunt Top (Addie Allen Teeter Dudley, 1881-1976, she and all of her siblings had fun nicknames, although we don't know the story of how Aunt Top got her nickname) but only found one. You can't see Aunt Top very well, but it's fun to see Gram and Grandad's living room in Sheridan, WY.

Christmas 1971. Aunt Top is on the left with the white scarf. Sitting next to her is her nephew, my grandfather Don Cox (1907-1990) and in the foreground is Don's sister Helen Cox Shields (1903-1996). 

Listen to this story: Aunt Top got married in January 1910, got pregnant right away, then her husband Lawrence Teeter contracted some kind of massive infection and died in April. Aunt Top gave birth as a young widow to her daughter Lorene who had cerebral palsy. Aunt Top married a second time, to a widower named Irvin Dudley, and had two more sons, but she devoted her life to taking care of her daughter Lorene who lived to be 40 years old. Mom said that Aunt Top was never in any of the family pictures because she was always taking care of Lorene.

This is Gram's 24 Hour Salad, which was her mother's recipe, Lois Rebecca McGregor Sneath. You have to make it 24 hours in advance so that the marshmallows have time to melt with the whipped cream.

Lois Rebecca McGregor Sneath (1884-1971) and Charlie Sneath's wedding portrait.

My Mom made this frame with Mod Podge at some Relief Society activity in the 1970's. She also made one of her paternal grandparents, Anna Allen & Samuel Cox, and I remember those green great-grandparent portraits always being displayed in our home when I was growing up.

I found this pic when I was going through old photos to find the tea party pics. This is from a collection of photos I took of Gram's treasures at her house a couple days after she died. Apparently my Mom made her some cool Mod Podge frames, too. Gram's were oval and ours were rectangle.

Standing: Lois Rebecca McGregor Sneath. her mother Mary Lois Bridges McGregor (1850-1950), and her two daughters Jeanette Sneath Cox (1914-2008) and baby Isobel Sneath Phillips (1923-2002). If you're interested you can read more about my Gram, Jeanette, here.

This is Cranberry Jello Salad from Grandmother Mary (my Dad's mom).

Mary Merritt Garlitz (later Kinzler), born in 1925 and still with us. Wasn't she such a beauty? The picture on the right is how I remember my Grandmother growing up, wearing bright colors and reading her bible.

The kids and I got to visit Grandmother Mary in Midland, TX this summer.

Sadly, Grandmother has Alzheimer's and did not really understand who we were. But she was so sweet to the kids, commenting on Mack's cute curly hair and so happy to have young visitors. Although she doesn't really recognize anyone except my Uncle Kenny, we had an amazing day together looking through old photos. She was able to recall many details and I had my digital voice recorder going while we looked at pictures for over 2 hours. Her bright personality shined through as she told of her high school days and how handsome my Grandad was when he hit on her at church, wearing his army uniform.

Me, Grandmother Mary, and Uncle Kenny Garlitz, July 31, 2011

An interesting side note about both of my grandmothers. They both have/had their own original teeth! You don't see that too often these days!

The whole time Grammie was telling us these stories Mack kept asking, "NOW can I have the turkey leg?" After offering the blessing we let Mack go for it. He was awfully disappointed when it came apart, leaving most of the meat on the turkey.

But that didn't stop him from enjoying the other intact turkey leg. Nothin' like meat on a stick. :)

He kept saying that he had a dinosaur bone.

Our afternoon was pretty quiet, we had naps and watched movies. Then, undecided about whether I wanted to participate in the midnight Black Friday madness at Walmart, Lily and I went over to scope it out around 10:00pm.

In a word, INSANE!

I decided there wasn't anything I wanted bad enough to subject myself to hours of the scene I was witnessing. I'd much rather spend a little extra on the internet and be able to shop right from the peace and quiet of my own home. (And you know I mean peace and quiet in the relative sense, right?)

We went home and went to bed before midnight and about 10am on Friday morning I set out for a day of shopping. Lora and I met up at the movies to see Breaking Dawn. It did not disappoint. (I was disappointed, however, that I didn't take a picture of us together.)

After the movie I headed to the mall. I haven't been in a mall in several years. They intimidate me. Too many choices, too much cute stuff, too much money to lose! But I was in desperate need of a new bra so I hit Victoria's Secret, only to discover that they were having a buy one bra, get one half off sale. That never happens. I texted Dan to ask how much money I could spend and he said, "Unlimited". Sweet.

I gotta tell you, whoever designed the dressing rooms in VS are geniuses. I'm not sure if it's the lighting or all the pink femininity, but you go in there and think, "Oh my gosh, I look cute!"

I may have taken pictures of me in a couple outfits to text to Dan to get his opinion. With the threat that he better immediately erase them. Or not.

Let's just say that Dan got an early Christmas.

When I got home from my marathon shopping trip I found the kids all cuddled up on Grammie's sleeper sofa with Lily's BFF Liesel Wynn, watching a movie, I think it was Megamind. Good times.

On Saturday we hung around Grammie's house and I spent the majority of the day working on tying the reunion quilt while Mom finished the binding on a quilt for my niece Rachel.

In the evening I took the kids and Liesel to Jump On It, an indoor trampoline park. I took pictures, but they're all on Lily's camera, which we haven't been able to find since Thanksgiving weekend. Ug. After jumping I made the kids go to Burlington Coat Factory so I could try to find a dress coat for Lily to wear for the kids' Christmas picture. Mack kept sneaking off and by far, his favorite place was the shoe aisle.


On Sunday morning, after Dan asking, "Are you really going to take Mack to church looking like that?" we busted out the clippers and gave him a real buzz cut.

He looks like a completely different kid without his hair. A big boy, for sure.

After church Amelia decorated Grammie's Christmas tree.

Aren't those pink boots to die for? They used to be Lily's and Amelia loves them, I dare say, even more than Lily did.

I worked on finishing the quilt while Mom sewed a new woobie for Lily from fabric she chose out herself. She's in love!

It was after dark when I finally finished tying the quilt. That thing took forever!

We had planned to go home on Sunday afternoon so the girls could be back for school on Monday morning. But driving at night in the winter with all the deer in Wyoming is a bad idea. So we stayed one more night and watched 17 Miracles and left Monday morning.

Our Thanksgiving weekend was fabulous, dampened only by Daddy's absence.

And now I must stop, as I'm sure this is the longest blog post I've ever done. I have a serious problem with being succinct.