Friday, September 9, 2011

Confessions of an Imperfect Mom

I’ve had this sitting unwritten in my draft folder for a long time. Sitting there, because I felt like it needs to be written. Blank, because I’m not sure how to write it or where to take it. I’m not even sure what exactly I wanted to accomplish in writing it, which is unusual for me…but I still feel like it needs to be written.

I think, at least partially…I just want other people to know I’m not perfect. Partially because I know sometimes it’s encouraging to hear about others’ imperfect lives. And partially…because I don’t want my ideals to keep me from being able to be real- from being given the chance to be accepted for who I am, even at my worst.

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I want to encourage people and share high aspirations for motherhood. As a passionate idealist, I have strong ideas and high standards I hold myself to. I desire to be the very best mom I can be….sometimes in a radical direction. I cling to goals and ideas that seem to many to be impossibly unrealistic- I know, because people don’t mind saying so. I throw my whole self into this journey…my energy, my passion, my thoughts. It’s who I am…and in a lot of ways, I think it’s a good thing. I like it….I can’t imagine floundering through each day without goals and ideals to strive for. It helps me to think and rethink through what I’m doing, and what I believe in, and whether or not it’s the very best for our children. I’ll never reach them perfectly…but in striving, I’ll reach higher than I could’ve otherwise.

But my journey isn’t perfect…and like everyone else, it’s fraught with struggles. Because when I don’t uphold my ideals perfectly, I feel like a crashing failure. Many mornings after a long night I’ve indulged in a cry and begged God to help me be a better mother….to help me cling to what I believe and know is best. And yet…I fail again. And sometimes, it feels lonely….because I know that I should be living out my ideals, and what on earth would people think about me if they know that I fail? That I can’t even live out what I passionately believe in?

But, the raw and honest fact of the matter is that, although I strive for the very highest- although my dreams, ideals and ambitions are sky-high…I’m not there as a mom. I wish I could say that we perfectly practice everything I write about here…but I screw up. I wish I could say I had the patience of a martyr…but in the end, I’m just a human. I wish I could look back on my parenting journey with no regrets….but the truth is, there’ve been imperfect days- and especially imperfect nights.

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There’ve been nights- when we’re up at 2 am for the 6th time that night, or when it takes over an hour to get Vivi to sleep- when I wonder what it is that was so bad about cry-it-out. Yes, even though I have very specific reasons for being opposed to it.

There are nights when I get so frustrated with the constant wakings that my frustration turns into stress- and what would’ve been being up for an hour or two with Vivi turns into three, because my stress doesn’t exactly help sooth her to sleep. And it ends with me begging God for forgiveness…and patience to better nurture my little girl at night. And it’s only then that she finally drifts back to sleep “for real” and stays asleep for a little bit….safely nestled against a relaxed mama.

Nights when I don’t even enjoy nursing Vivi, and it’s just a chore…and I would just like space and sleep.

There was a night recently when Vivi was up around 5, crying. And instead of reaching for her and drawing her close, I lay there, paralyzed. Fighting an emotional and mental battle while the rest of me was still. I was frustrated….frustrated that for the past 7 hours, she’d woke up every time I started to drift off. I was desperate to be allowed to just fall asleep. And yet I knew…Vivi needed me. For whatever reason, she was having a hard time sleeping, and I knew she needed my help. But I also knew that if I picked her up right then, it would be in frustration, unless I got past myself…and that wasn’t going to help anyone or be very comforting to her. And, I couldn’t just break through my selfishness to take care of her needs…like a good mom would. Moms are supposed to devote their whole lives to selflessness…and I couldn’t get past this one little thing without a struggle…couldn’t just be rational. And then Ben came (who’s been sleeping on the couch for a long while, now, due to a severely irritating poison ivy rash that makes the living room more comfortable)…and patiently walked with and held Vivi for an hour and half…while I slept and cried and prayed. (Not the first time Ben’s helped in the night…he’s pretty awesome!) When Vivi came back to me, I was ready for her….ready to comfort and soothe and get back at it…

Somehow…I’ve had a harder time dealing with all the nighttime wakings lately. In general, I didn’t have a problem dealing with them when she was younger. But somehow, it’s harder to remember now that this is what she needs. In not remembering…I fail.

There are days when I find myself counting hours to bedtime…even though I want to cherish every moment with my little girl.

Days when I let stress creep in because I’m not getting everything done- even though I know how harmful it is to my family…. when I suddenly realize I need to stop- everything- and sit with my girl and enjoy her, because stressed-out me trying to get caught up while Vivi cries on my back for no particular reason isn’t helping anybody.

There are days when my shower’s a highlight, and I thoroughly enjoy the minutes alone….untouched, unneeded. Even though I’m passionate about babywearing and meeting little ones’ high touch needs, and believe that God gives the grace to fully meet our babies’ needs.

Days when I ask Ben why Vivi can’t be like everyone else’s baby we know and, on a “bad” night, wake up 3 times, instead of 10 or 12. And I have to be patiently reminded that she isn’t “everybody else”…she’s Vivi, with her own set of blessings and challenges…and she needs us to remember that, and to meet her unique needs. (Side note: I’m sure it isn’t everyone’s baby we know that has such good nights….it just feels like it when everyone you talk to has a similar story!)

Days when I’m all too eager to send her Ben’s direction for a while….while I regroup and catch up on stuff that Vivi was determined shouldn’t get done.

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So, we have our moments…and brief times when I consider throwing in the towel on something that rationally, I passionately believe in.

But for the most part, life is good. For the most part, it’s a fantastic journey we thoroughly enjoy as a family. Usually, we have good days and we enjoy whatever gets thrown our direction. Vivi and I have lots of fun sharing life together…and most days are filled with pleasant memories- small and big- to cherish and hold on to. Most nights I smile as I pick up all Vivi’s messes…all the little reminders that she exists in our lives. Most nights I suck in my breath at how sweet she looks sleeping in the middle of our bed…and I enjoy all the midnight snuggles that accompany nighttime nursing. We grow and laugh and play together…and I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. It really is my dream job…and it really is more wonderful than I could’ve imagined.

So I’ll continue….to nurture my family, to meet their needs, to throw out stress, to love life and laugh often, to cherish the little things that slip by too fast, to reach for the best. The thing is, it is a continuing process…continually picking up from a failure, dusting off, and with God’s help, trying harder. Continually moving towards being the better mom I so much want to be….but could never achieve on my own. Life is good, but we haven’t arrived.

Because when all’s said and done….I’m just a mom, and an imperfect one at that.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Organization and Home Management (part 2 of 2)


(see here for part one)

The Folder Sections…

I hope that by now you’re fairly convinced that organization in the management of your home can be a great tool. So now I’ll go into detail with what I do in the various sections I’ve chosen. It’s all a work in progress that’s likely to get changed along the way. And the sections I currently have might not work for you, or you might need others. You might not do any summer preserving, or you might never go on vacations (and therefore not need to keep packing lists and food ideas). You might run a home business and need space for keeping up on different stuff with that. Blogging might be more of a regular thing for you, in which case you might like to keep a schedule of that. Your cleaning schedule will look a lot different than mine- chances are, if you have multiple children, you’ll need to vacuum more than once a week, for instance. So, gather ideas and apply them to what works for you and what your needs are.

Also, there are lots of options for how your notebook looks. You might do it on the computer…an idea I love, but which didn’t seem practical for me, since the computer can’t be moved. However, if you have an ipad or other transportable tool, this could be an option. You can do the binder like I do…or you could buy a notebook to be replaced when you use up all the pages. You can make it fancy or plain.

GROCERY LISTS

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. I personally don’t do anything fancy…I just have paper stuck in there, and keep a running list of what I need as I come across things I run out of. I also double check it/my pantry when making meal plans for the week. One helpful thing has been keeping lists for the places I order from occasionally- various bulk co-op orders. Previously, it’s always been a scramble when we decide to order, figuring out what all things I need. This way, I’ll already have a huge jump start when we order, and hopefully not forget too many important things….unlike the last time I ordered.

Some people like to make up printable check-lists of things they typically buy from various stores, to help make sure they don’t forget anything. I like this idea, except that what I buy is constantly changing as we continue to change our health habits.

MENU IDEAS

This section doesn’t have much….currently, just some lists of new recipes to try at some point. My plan is to eventually have a list of all the meals we eat, with room for adding new ones. That way when I’m feeling uninspired, I can skim through it and find something….too often, I tend to draw a blank on what we even eat! J Another idea that would be really helpful- especially as our kiddos grow- is to have every family member write a list of their favorite meals. It should pepper you with some good ideas, and help to get everyone’s favorites on, too!

MEAL PLANS/WEEKLY TO-DO LISTS

This section, too, is fairly basic- although it’s the one I write in and flip to the most. And if I had to give up all but one part of my notebook, this is the one I’d keep! If someone wasn’t interested in incorporating full-throttle organization into their life, I think menu planning would be the one thing I’d still say is more or less necessary….even if you can scrape by without it. J

I just have blank notebook paper in it. For every week, I date it at the top, and down the left side write the days of the week (one per line- I fit several weeks onto one sheet). I make note of anything special we have going on (potluck at church, going to family’s, etc.) that would effect what I do for the meal or when I get it done. Then, sometime between Friday and Sunday, I fill it in, and add to my grocery list while I’m at it. Sometimes I sit down in one sitting and fill it all out, sometimes I just jot down an idea when I have one over the weekend and don’t spend any concentrated time on it. I also ask Ben for ideas, which helps incorporate his ideas and takes some of the thinking off my brain! Sometimes I write out a couple weeks ahead, or if I have an abundance of ideas one day, at least start to fill in the next week.

Having it written out ahead of time helps in many ways. Not only does it save the time of coming up with what to eat or take somewhere every single day, it also cuts down on prep time- or enables me to prep food more healthily. If I know we’re having pizza, I can start soaking grain the night before. If I know what meat we’re having, I can get it out of the freezer to thaw ahead of time, so I don’t have to invest time in fast-thawing at the last minute. I can spend a minute here and a minute there working on dinner throughout the day, instead of saving it all for 4 o’clock and just hoping Vivi- and eventually future kids- is happy and content and willing to let me spend time focused on dinner. Taking into consideration that for babies, that’s the start of the fussiest time of day, it’s definitely a gamble! Ben finishes work early in the day; menu planning enables me to do my best to work with his schedule and do the meal prep ahead of time so I’m available to spend time with him and Vivi when he’s off, instead of still scrambling to get dinner on the table. It saves the time of having to think about multiple meal ideas because some won’t work due to the time of day and others won’t because I don’t have an ingredient on hand. It saves the time of multiple trips to the store, too, to rescue a situation.

And of course, it saves money….since it’s the 5 o’clock scrambles that cause many people to end up throwing in the towel and ordering pizza. I’m flexible with my menu plans, and if something has to change, it does. But overall, it helps to keep me on track. Typically, if I know what we’re having ahead of time, I can get it done no matter how hairy the day is, because I know what we’re having and that we have to eat….and therefore, that it’s my job to find a way to fit it in. Whereas, a hairy day that ends at 5 o’clock with nothing started and no brainy ideas….is likely to end with take-out. I’m not super mom, and I’m sure there’ll be days when things will go to pot. But thanks to planning, I think those days would be the rare exception to the rule….the rare day when special things come up, or when it really was “for real” crazy, or I’m miserably sick. Not something that occurs weekly or bi-weekly or something that’s almost predictable.

*Case in point: With a sick little girl (and now a sick momma) this week’s had lots of long, low-energy days following sleepless nights. And there was one day in particular when I know I would’ve threw in the towel because I was really exhausted and really didn’t want to spend time in the kitchen, especially since I’d had some running around to do during the day for commitments I couldn’t just bale out of. But meat was already in the crock pot- thrown in with a cream sauce that morning. Which kind of forced the issue of having to just finish up dinner prep! Since I wasn’t motivated, I’m glad my menu plan kept me on track.*

Along the right side of my menu plan I make a weekly to-do list. It generally gets added to throughout the week as things pop up, but it helps me to have a pretty good idea of what’s going to get accomplished ahead of time. I can also use that to help plan meals- for instance, if I’m planning on spending two days canning one week, I won’t have time to make elaborate meals on those days. My cleaning schedule is separate, but if I have anything extra I want to get done, not apart of my regular routine, I add it to the to-do list. Usually my lists are a combination of things that “have” to get done that week, and things I could get done if I have extra time. That way, I’m not caught with extra time on my hands and not knowing how to apply it…but on the other hand, often need to remind myself that I don’t have to complete the to-do list by the end of the week. I’m an idealist; my lists are almost always excessively long. Whatever I don’t finish, since usually there’s some minor projects or something, get carried over to the next week typically.

CLEANING SCHEDULE

I’ve only been incorporating this for a month or two, and I can’t believe I’ve let it slide this long….my house is so much nicer, and it isn’t even taking that long! I put together a cleaning schedule a couple months after we got married, while on vacation….but then I found out I was pregnant and by the time we got home, I was down with morning sickness. One thing led to another….for whatever reason, I let it slip to the back of my mind.

But…better late than never, right? Bascially, I just jotted down what I thought needed to get done daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly (or a few times a year). I’m still working out kinks, and I have some stuff in different categories that will probably get switched around as I do it for awhile and I see how things work out. I’m sure I’ll also discover things that need my attention that I didn’t think to put on the list when I first jotted it out. A new baby could bring changes, too….for sure, it’ll put the schedule on hold for at least a couple weeks, maybe longer. And things will change as the family grows- vacuuming once a week works for our family of three, I’m sure it won’t as we grow!


I’m doing a lot of extra cleaning right now…trying to do all the various yearly things whose month won’t come before baby. And some of the regular weekly/monthly things have taken a lot more time than they typically will, just because I’ve been shamefully negligent prior to implementing the routine. But once things get into a regular swing, I don’t think I’ll end up spending very long per day on cleaning at all…and yet the house will still feel clean and be relatively orderly. At least, that’s the plan... J

While I don’t follow it to a “t”, the cleaning schedule’s been really helpful for making sure stuff is getting done on a regular basis. There are some things, like mopping, that I’ve neglected just because I don’t think about it till I finally noticed major spider webs in the corner. Our floors don’t get sticky very often, since I usually try to clean as I go and don’t have many mess-makers around yet. So there isn’t something obvious to remind me that this really needs to get done. Or vacuuming baseboards... Or things like wiping down appliances that I don’t remember at the right times.

Since I’m staying so busy with all the extra before-baby projects right now, I don’t always fulfill each day’s cleaning agenda on the correct day. Sometimes I save it all and just clean on one or two days, other than the daily stuff. But when life’s more “normal”, and days are chaotic, having it broken down into a daily routine helps to make it feel bite-sized and manageable, instead of having to get a ton of stuff done in one streak. I cheat in other ways, too….my list might make me look like a clean-freak, but I’m most definitely not! You’d find plenty to pick on if you came for a visit. And while I’m really happy with how deep-clean the house is right now, there’s a lot of surface stuff that seems to forever slide, due to the deeper focus. I clean bathrooms weekly, but sometimes I only clean the toilet/toilet bowl and sink. Other times I put more work into a complete job and do the tub and mirror. If the week’s busy and there’s something on the weekly agenda that doesn’t seem like it needs to get done yet, I’ll let it slide. I’ll also switch around what days I do what on to accommodate plans for the week. For example, cleaning bathrooms only takes a few minutes, so I might switch that day with my big project of the week if need be. My daily stuff is Monday-Friday, unless it has to happen on the weekends (say, wiping counters), and not all of it happens everyday. But it’s stuff for me to be aware of and check on. I’m currently having a good week if I clean my kitchen sink 3 times a week. Laundry usually just happens on 1-2 days, other than diapers. So you see…my routine is a guide for me to work off of. And while everything might not happen as often as it “should” according to schedule, it’s getting done a whole lot more than it used to…and I also have a list I can check on to see what might need to get done. Taking all of that into account, here’s a run down of my current daily, weekly and monthly/yearly tasks and how they *should* fit together in a normal week.

Here’s what happens daily: wipe counters/tables, sweep, laundry, pick up, clean kitchen sink, load/unload dishwasher, dishes (the dishwasher and dinner dishes are often something Ben does for me….but I’m working at getting better about keeping up on the dishwasher part during the day so my sink’s clear and ready to be cleaned).

Weekly: vacuum, change sheets, organize/declutter something (closet, pull out season clothes/new size for kiddos, etc.), dust a portion of the house, mop, clean bathrooms.

Monthly: wipe kitchen appliances and clean out fridges and/or freezers and/or oven (week one), dust lights/fans (week two- but this is something that definitely is getting moved to a few times a year project), clean windows (week three- and again, I don’t think it needs to happen every month, unless I just do a couple windows per month). So the only thing that’s probably going to stay monthly is cleaning the kitchen down. The other weeks will go toward the yearly projects and/or just be lighter cleaning weeks (yay!).

Yearly/several times a year: clean van, vacuum baseboards, steam vac carpets, vacuum furniture. Each of these will happen 2-6 times a year, depending on the project and how often I feel like it needs it as we go along. I currently have a tentative schedule laid out, just not sure if it’ll stick. And I know there are a few things I’ve come up with and done recently that needed to be added here, but which I neglected to write down….

In a typical week, that should look like:

Monday- daily chores, vacuum house

Tuesday- daily chores, change sheets, organize

Wednesday- daily chores, see monthly and yearly chart

Thursday- daily chores, mop and dust

Friday- daily chores, bathrooms

However, we have yet to have a typical week…. J

BABY PREP

Right now, I’m living and breathing this section of the notebook…as we excitedly watch the weeks tick down! You can visit here to see what all my goals and plans are with baby prep. Essentially my notebook just has lists keeping track of what needs to get done and what is done, what I need to purchase, and so on. It will, ideally, also contain a list of what all foods I end up having in the freezer exactly.

CANNING & PRESERVING

Here I have a list of ideas for things I want to try/accomplish this year, which gets checked off as we go along. I also have a paper with phone numbers and such for the places we’ll tend to revisit for produce.

The most organized part of this section is a sheet recording what exactly I’ve preserved, how I did it, how much I did, dates harvested, amount paid and where we got it. I also had a slot for mentioning any leftovers we had from the previous year, and a place for recording either when we run out or how much we still have leftover come preserving season next year. I anticipate this being very helpful in making educated guesses as to how much of each thing I should do!

HOLIDAYS/GIFT PLANNING

With twenty-something siblings between the two of us and siblings’ spouses, plus a handful of nephews and nieces, not to mention the need to stay in a very low-budget price range and yet the desire to choose creative and personal gifts…planning ahead is definitely a necessity! I mostly just have a list I jot down my ideas on for birthday gifts for each family member, so I know ahead what to do. So far, it’s mostly been various homemade specialty foods. I also keep a list running of ideas for Vivi and Ben…especially since Ben’s really difficult! He doesn’t try to be…he’s just not a materialistic person, and it can take a lot of thought to come up with new and creative ideas every year for a gift he’d really love. There’s also a Christmas gift list, which is mostly family gifts for our families, and some sort of homemade goodie for married siblings and more “distant” relatives (grandparents, aunts, uncles).

We’ve developed a tradition of hosting a yearly Christmas open house, and plans/ideas for food, dates, etc., are stored here as well.

TRIP PLANNING

Again, this section is very basic. Just a place to store lists of everything we’ve needed to bring on the trips we’ve gone on. It’s helpful to be able to consult the old lists, especially when two trips have many similarities!

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That’s a wrap…and again, that’s how it works for me. It’s not the model notebook, and it’ll probably get changed plenty over the upcoming months. Right now, it’s a giant step in the right direction, so we’re running with it and thoroughly enjoying the benefits! I hope you’ve gained an idea or two for how you might be able to make your life easier through a little bit of planning!