Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bedtime drama and the permanent sleepover

Shortly before we moved, the kids wanted to have a "sleepover" in the boys' room. With all the craziness of moving, and being summer and all, we figured, why not? So we threw a mattress on their floor and Ella started sleeping in there. We thought it would be for a night or two, but they kept it up until we moved and asked if they could keep sleeping in the same room in the new house.

We figured it was a decent enough idea. They were going to bed (mostly) ok all together, and we figured we could have them all sleep in one room and put toys in the other bedroom. This house is laid out very differently from our old one, and the bedrooms are considerably smaller, so we were struggling a little to figure out toy storage (the fact that they have *that* many toys is not lost on me, even though I swear we donated a TON before we moved). Having a "playroom" and a "bedroom" seemed like it would solve some storage problems. What the heck?

No, seriously, what the heck?

Now that we're attempting to get back to a normal routine, which includes going to bed at a decent time, I am questioning my sanity in allowing the three of them to share a bedroom. We have not had one single night where they all went to bed, were quiet, and stayed in bed until morning. Usually it is Grayson and Ella (sharing the bottom bunk) who are up to all sorts of shenanigans and David is the one getting up to rat them out. But at this point, I'm getting ready to haul her bed up to the other bedroom and be done with it.

And yet...

Last night they came out together because their fan (for white noise) had suddenly turned off. They figured out on their own that the plug had simply come loose and fallen out of the socket, but it startled them and they needed some hugs. Ok, fair enough. And as I was inwardly imagining tying them to their beds with duct tape sighing a heavy sigh for yet another out-of-bed-after-bedtime experience, they all hugged and kissed me goodnight. They then all clasped hands and walked back to their bedroom together, giving each other little hugs and squeezes as they went.

And then...

The tiny, sweet chorus of "I love you's," not directed at me, but at each other, as the entered their bedroom and headed back to bed.

Those silly little people, they love each other a lot. They bicker a little and fight sometimes, like siblings can do, but mostly they get along and they really love each other. They even like each other, which is something else entirely when you're talking about brothers and sisters. They didn't beg us to keep sharing a room so they could get on my nerves with their bedtime antics; they simply like being together.

In this new place, they're taking comfort in each other. Now, the little turkeys need to sleep and they need to go to bed without so much drama, and I'm hopeful we'll get there. But I don't know that I want to separate them at this point. They need each other, and they know it, and I want to encourage those relationships in any way I can. I love how close they are.

Just when you're ready to tear your hair out in frustration, kids will do something so impossibly sweet, you can't resist them....

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tips for moving with kids

I'm very happy to report that THE GREAT MOVE OF 2013 is almost entirely finished. I think we almost died a few times, but thankfully God had mercy on us and we survived. Mostly. I wish I could say with any sort of seriousness that we are never. moving. again. Alas, we'll be doing this all over again in a year or two. This is definitely a lesson in keeping tomorrow's worries for tomorrow because the thought of doing this all again makes me break out in hives. For real.

In any case, since we did just survive a move with kids, and one that had us packing up after having lived in the same home for nearly a decade, I have a few tips to share for those of you foolish enough faced with moving. I figure most people think of the basics - things like, start organizing and cleaning out closets early, check for used moving boxes on Craigslist, and so forth. So I thought I'd share some slightly less common tips for moving, especially if you have children.

1. Put a sign up somewhere prominent that says, in very large, clear letters, "IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHERE IT IS, IT IS PACKED." Below that, in smaller lettering, you might include, "Why? Because we are moving." Then you can direct every question about where some particular item is to the sign, saving you at least some wear and tear on your vocal chords. Somehow, despite the fact that your house is full of moving boxes, half the furniture is cleared out, and you've read every picture book ever written about moving to your kids, they will still ask, at least 800 times a day, if you know where to find their blue truck or white teddy bear or Lego instructions to make the Hobbit Warg Attack set. Instead of allowing yourself to become exasperated with answering the same question multiple times a day, simply point to the sign. And if you have children who don't read yet, you can accomplish the same thing with some cute clip art pictures. I'm filing this one under "do this next time," because I didn't think of it until it was too late, and found myself rather frustrated with the results.

2. Bring your sign to the new house and post it prominently (and perhaps make two) because questions about where particular items are will undoubtedly begin 10 seconds after you walk in the door, even while people are still hauling boxes and furniture into your new house, the whole place is in chaos and nothing is even remotely close to being put away.

3. This one might sound crazy, but if you have a day of work to be done (such as, cleaning your old house from top to bottom) and your kids are going to be with you, a new Lego set can buy you a few hours uninterrupted work time. Yes, I realize giving your kids something with 8 billion little parts during a time you are trying to pack and move and clean sounds crazy. But, at least for my kids, a new Lego set means hours (not minutes, as with so many toys) of occupied time. There is the initial build time, and then lots of time playing with it afterwards. If the thought of breaking out a new Lego set during a move makes you question my sanity, the principle applies to a lot of toys - the novelty of something new and interesting can give you some much needed packing/working/cleaning time.

4. When you can, enlist the kids' help. My kids did great with things like spraying weeds in the patio cracks with homemade weed killer (vinegar, salt and dish soap, thankyouverymuch Pinterest), and wiping walls with those magic erasers. Seriously, magic erasers are not only magic because they work pretty well in getting walls clean, but magic because the kids think they are super fun to use. You can go behind them and clean up the streaky parts later.

5. Ella had a lot of concerns about what we'd be taking to the new house. It was helpful, and reassuring, to walk around and point out the things we were bringing with us. It was a little bit tedious, as she needed to point out every last small thing she could find and ask, "Are we taking THIS to the new house?" But indulging a little child's curiosity and helping ease her anxiety was time well spent. Yes, we are taking the pink kitty. No, we aren't taking the closet door. Yes, we are taking the box of baby doll clothes. No, we aren't taking the toilet.

6. Plan ahead for things like where you'll sleep and what clothes you'll wear, during the big moving days. We used Door to Door Moving and Storage, so they put moving pods in our driveway, we filled them, they picked them up and dropped them off at our new house. That whole process definitely does not happen in a day, so we had to be without our stuff for a couple of days. We had to make sure we thought ahead and kept out things like sleeping bags, air mattresses and overnight bags with a couple days' changes of clothes. Otherwise, we would have found ourselves with nowhere to sleep and nothing clean to wear - not a happy prospect when you're no longer a carefree couple with no one to worry about but yourself (ahem... like last time we moved).

7. Lower your standards for a while. My kids have watched an enormous amount of TV and played more levels of Candy Crush and Angry Birds than I want to admit, even to myself. But we have been in survival mode for the last couple of weeks and sometimes the magical screen of flashing light needs to babysit the kids so you can get things done. I don't usually want to rely on massive amounts of screen time, but in the short term, you kind of do what you gotta do and let go of the guilt. It won't last forever and I don't think their brains will melt.

8. Finally, don't forget to pack your sense of humor and ability to breathe deeply. Or should I say, don't pack them so they are easily accessible and not buried in a box in the garage. The past couple of weeks were seriously busy and hectic and stressful and above all, exhausting. We had days on end of packing, loading, moving, cleaning, and then doing it all over again. It was a huge amount of work, but letting myself get snippy with the kids and slipping into "grumpy Mom" certainly wasn't going to help.

And when all else fails, go out for ice cream.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Pinterest fail? Or fabulous?

The other day me and the kidlets were hanging out, doing our thing and I had the brilliant idea to take one of those many ideas I have pinned on Pinterest and, you know, actually do it. Go me. So I take a peek at the blog post I pinned, and find the instructions to do shaving foam marbling. It is simple enough - a tray, some shaving cream and food coloring. Swirl the food coloring in the shaving cream a bit and then lay some paper over the top. The color is supposed to stick to the paper, making a nice marbling effect. Once it dries, you can cut up the paper and make fun things with it. I had all the supplies, a nice sunny day so we could work outside, and three kids eager to have some fun.

Here's where I say I really wish I would have had my camera out from the beginning, as if I knew I'd want to blog about this little project later. I'd love to have pictures of the kids as they started to swirl the shaving foam around, mixing the colors a little.

The next picture might be a close up of the foam with the food coloring mixing in; maybe another of their little fingers trailing along, making a totally unique pattern, impossible to replicate.

Here, I'd show them gently laying a piece of crisp, white paper along the top of the shaving cream, and lifting it, ever so carefully, revealing the amazing work of art underneath. I'd finish up with some neat shots of all their various pieces, lovingly set aside with little river rocks to hold them down in the sun to dry.

But wait, that was how I thought the project might progress.

Instead, they did this:

And this:

And this:

Yes, instead of swirling the shaving foam gently and carefully imprinting it onto paper, they started squishing it in their hands, and that felt pretty neat. So they smeared it up their arms, and that was even more fun. Shaving cream demands a beard, so they painted their faces. And since their arms were already covered, why not their legs as well? Pretty soon they were covering themselves in green-tinted shaving cream from head to toe.

And then they thought they looked a lot like zombies, so they did this:

And this:

And then Ella chased her brothers around, moaning, "Brains! Brains!" Honestly, I have no idea why my not-yet-four-year-old daughter knows about zombies, nor that they moan and say, "Brains!" I swear, we're not letting them watch zombie movies.

So what do you do with three kids who are covered from head to toe, quite literally, in shaving cream? Turn on the sprinkler, of course!


The sprinkler got the worst of it off, but I did have to hose them down myself before they could go back inside. I'm not gonna lie, that was pretty fun. For me, I mean.

Our project didn't quite turn out the way I was expecting, but hey, they had a blast anyway. And really, I should have known. Shaving cream + sunshine + outside just has to = big giant mess. These are my children we're talking about.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Hard to say goodbye

There are so many reasons I don't want to say goodbye to this home and community. Today was a big one.

Our lovely homeschool group hosted a picnic for us. As I looked over the RSVP list last night, it hit me how many great friends we have all made since we started out with this group two years ago. My kids have made such good friends, and I have too! Over the last several months I have thought more than once that I need to quit meeting so many great people I want to hang out with - it is making it too hard to leave!

We had a great day at the park. My sweet friend Liberty put it together, and even brought stuff for root beer floats for everyone. So fun! The kids ran around together and had such a good time.

Totally stole this picture from Liberty, who posted it on Facebook.

Although we are only moving about an hour and a half away, it is far enough that we'll be out of the regular gatherings and meetups of our group. We won't be going to our nature club every other week or seeing friends at park days or museum trips or the zoo. We aren't moving so far that it would be impossible to see them again, but far enough that it won't be a regular thing anymore. And that's hard.

David and Grayson with their good friend, Holly.

People have told me that it is great that I'm homeschooling during this move because my kids don't have to change schools. That is true, but this means we're starting from scratch in terms of a homeschooling support system, community and friends. With school, you hope they will make friends with kids in their class, even if it is hard at first to be the new kid. With homeschooling, you don't have that ready-made way of finding other kids to hang out with. You have to work harder to create that social network.

My homeschool group has shown me that the work is well worth it.

Climbing "the hill" is always a favorite at this park.

This group of people have been so fun and supportive and accepting of each other.They've been so welcoming and I will always treasure the friendships I have made. My kids are going to miss their homeschool friends so much.

And that's the crux of it, right there - what makes this so hard. I will still get to keep up with my homeschool mom friends online. We're all on Facebook and they can read this here blog and we can stay connected, even if we go months without seeing each other. My kids? They will be far more disconnected from their friends. My kids aren't on Facebook and they don't have their own phones - and neither do their homeschool friends. They will only see their homeschool friends when we, the parents, make the effort to get together. And I hope that will happen once in a while - but I also know life gets busy and it probably won't happen nearly as often as we'd all like.

Playing in the water is fun!

Whatever the future holds for us, I'm grateful for the wonderful group of families that added fun, excitement and friendship to our last couple of years. And thankful for the Internet, so they can't get away completely!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

For those of us who fail at chore charts

One of the bittersweet realities of parenting is that you're preparing your children to leave you. As much as I like to dream of them being little forever (and always thinking I'm the coolest person ever), they are going to grow up. And when they do, I'd like them to be able to take care of themselves.

This is one of those areas of life where what I believe in theory is often different than what happens in practice. I believe that kids should contribute to the running of the household in an age appropriate manner. I believe kids should learn to do things for themselves as they are able. I believe kids should have responsibilities and be helpful and do meaningful work in their home.

The biggest obstacle to achieving that with my kids is most certainly ME.

Yep. This girl, right here.

The best way, that I can envision, to make sure they know how to take care of themselves and contribute to the family in a meaningful way, is to be consistent. Come up with a system, or at least a set of expectations, and stick to it. Do it daily. Be more like that mom, who can keep her house beautifully clean with the help of her little minions, checking off their ten daily chores on their Pinterest-inspired, vintage, hand-made chore charts.

I fail at chore charts.

Why? Because I'm kinda lazy. I'm not great at being consistent with housework by myself, let alone when you add in the drama that comes with trying to make kids do it. And yet, I know I'm doing my kids a disservice by not making them do more around the house. I've even tried to tackle this problem before, and we did great for a while. The problem is, I get lazy and inconsistent and don't really want to deal with it, so I let it slide once in while. Once in a while turns into most of the time, which turns into they don't know what the word "chores" means anymore.

I've tried chore charts and stickers and magnets and rewards. The biggest problem with all of those things is, of course, me. I don't follow up with them. I don't check them off or move the magnet or make sure the kids pay attention to them. I love the idea of chore charts - they look so nice and organized! But I have yet to implement a system that we stick with for more than a couple of days.

Seriously, why do I suck at this?
I am also resisting the urge to tell myself that I'll make everything perfect after we move. It is a trap that is all too easy to fall into. "Once we're in the new house, I will completely overhaul our lives and everything will be organized and perfect and wonderful!" Riiiiiight. Are you forgetting the chaos of boxes and unpacking and for the love of all that is good, where is the white kitty with the pink collar because she won't go to sleep without it!

But I will not give up!

My mantra this year is "simple and real." I'm not trying to win any awards for "Most Amazing Homeschooling Mom." I just want to find ways to accomplish the things I think are important. One of those things is getting my kids to do chores. I don't expect them to love it, or flit cheerfully around with their Swiffer dusters and cleaning rags (although they do love those dusters, let me tell ya). I do expect them to help with the things that need to be done to have a nice home to live in. And that has to start with me.

Although I don't have a solid plan, here's what I know:

KISS: Keep it Simple, Stupid (that "stupid" is not directed at you, but squarely back at me). Fancy isn't going to get the job done around here, regardless of how nice it looks in photos. If I go with any kind of chore chart or routine, it needs to be simple.

Give the kids ownership: I think a solution that puts the responsibility for checking off their chores on the shoulders of the kids is the way to go. If I'm the one who has to keep up with what has been done, it won't happening consistently. Been there, done that. But maybe if they have a check box or a chore card to move, and it is their job to do it, they will actually, you know, do it.

Do chores together: This has been successful for us in the past, again, I just need to be consistent. Instead of assigning a bunch of separate chores, we all work together on something. It might be vacuuming, and we take turns with the vacuum while the others move things out of the way. The kids actually like cleaning bathrooms, with their squirt bottles of a water/vinegar solution; another thing we can work on together. There's a nice sense of working as a team that occurs if we tackle a chore as a group, rather than sending them off to do separate things. It also cuts down on the whining, negotiating, and "It isn't faaaaaiiiiiir!" that comes with assigning separate chores.

Take it slow: Better habits won't be built all at once. We can start with just one thing when we get settled in the new house. That will probably be having the boys help empty the dishwasher. Once that becomes routine, we can add something else - whatever else is simple to implement and will have an impact on our daily life. But slow and steady will build good habits - a big overhaul won't have staying power.

So what works in your home to get the kids helping, and keep things running smoothly? You know, aside from the cleaning and laundry fairy, who consistently shuns my house. No amount of clapping and chanting, "I do believe in fairies!" seems to bring her here.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A friend with an urgent need - please help!

In an effort to try to get the word out in any way possible, I'm sharing this here - just in case someone else might see this.


A dear friend of mine left her abusive husband about six months ago. She is now a single mom to three young children. Her courage in leaving him was great - it was a terrible, terrible situation and it still amazes me she lived through it, and is now on the other side.

Only, she isn't really. Not yet.

Her legal fees are mounting rapidly. He has caused her to spend an enormous amount of money already (with incessant phone calls, emails and requests to her lawyer, which her lawyer has to respond to, and thus charges her for), and now he is trying to get custody of the children. This man, who abused her in every way imaginable for over a decade is still trying to victimize her. Because of the protection order, he can't get to her physically, so he's going for her where it really hurts - their children.

She needs to raise $1200 by Monday the 12th. Because of his constant emails and phone calls to her lawyer, she's spent all her money and more. There is an important hearing on the 12th and it is critical that she continue to have legal representation. This man CANNOT get custody of those children. She needs help so she can continue to protect herself, and them, from his violence and abuse.

Please consider donating to help her with her legal fees. This is a chance to help a family in need - a family who has already suffered so much. Please consider helping, and sharing on Facebook, Twitter, your blog - anything. The more the word gets out, the more people who can possibly come to her aid.

I know her - she is a dear friend and in desperate need of help. Please consider it. The link is below.

Thank you!


Thursday, August 1, 2013

The weight of all this stuff

It is only a couple weeks until our moving day, and I am knee deep the process of sorting, organizing cleaning out and packing... everything.

We've been here for over 8 years, and it is rather astonishing how much junk one family can amass in that time. It almost makes me feel a little ashamed. There is so much waste around me; things that sat useless for years, taking up space and weighing us down. We've already taken two loads of donations to our local St. Vincent de Paul store, and there is likely to be more. And don't even get me started on how much stuff we are simply throwing away. It makes my skin crawl, to think those bags of trash were strewn about my house. Granted, we're not talking fly infested, rotting food garbage. It is more like old, broken things that aren't worth donating. But still. How could we have produced this much stuff?

I feel the weight of these possessions, and have for quite some time. Knowing that a move was on the horizon brought the enormity of what we own into stark relief. I walk into any room in the house these days, and find myself making mental notes. "Do I want to move that?" Often the answer is no, and I'm hauling things into the garage left and right.

But how did we get so much? Why is it here? We're not huge shoppers (except for maybe Legos... and books, but books don't count). Some things are items we've had for years and no longer need, but perhaps were useful once. Others are things given to us that we can live without, or things we thought we wanted that have fallen into disuse; clothes that don't fit quite right, extra sets of sheets for a bed we no longer have, many things that seemed like we might want to have "someday" so we kept them around. It is easy to do that when you have space, and aren't moving.

The truth is, at least in part, that I'm kind of lazy and tend towards procrastination. I tuck things away to deal with "later." But later didn't come until we decided we needed to move, and now later is most certainly here. And I have eight years of junk to sift through.

I'd love to say that, going forward, I will be more mindful of what we bring into our house; that I'll be willing to part with things we don't need and bless others with them. I don't know how true that is, in reality. It is a lesson in letting go, of the things that weigh us down, and I'm glad we've been forced to go through this process. In the future I need to think about the usefulness of the things we buy and bring home. Maybe we can begin to live a little more simply and not let the urge to buy and store and amass so many things overtake us.

We shall see.

In the meantime, the process continues. I'll keep tackling rooms, cupboards, closets and shelves and weed out what we don't need. Hopefully as we unpack in the new house, I won't be left wishing I would have downsized more.

Except for books. They still don't count.