15 June 2015

Long Day

Today started out well.  Nathan is finally home from all of his travels over the past eight months, and I was looking forward to mapping out the next week or two with him over a leisurely breakfast.

Children, however, intervened.

It seemed as though everyone woke up in a cranky mood today.  Maybe it was the weather.  Needless to say, halfway through preparing breakfast, a baby needed to nurse, a six year-old was absolutely starving, and a nine year-old was already having some alone time.  Oof.

Nathan has a deadline on Wednesday, so he headed out early to write, and I drafted a lovely list of things to do.  I started in on them right away, and, having called to reinstate our car insurance (we will be driving around the Midwest this summer), I called the bank to release a hold on our online account (one too many password tries had locked me out).

At which point I found out we were $250 overdrawn.


Apparently, the fancy mobile deposit system neglected to deposit a $200 check last week.  So that - with all the overdraft fees - accounted for the lack of money in our account.

At this point, I get a text from a friend asking if we could meet up today.  I looked semi-longingly at my list.  But then weighed in my mind how terrible the day would get if we didn't get out at all (all of my list items were in-house).

So we jetted out the door to meet her and her son at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  She's an artist herself, so it was lovely to go to a place and appreciate beautiful things together.

We did a little Met scavenger hunt - one of the many family brochures they have available for the public - in the Islamic Art Galleries.

Here is a photo of Elsie (on the right), drawing, and sitting next to her good friend, P, who is looking through his bag.  There is a random lady in the background, meditating or something.  She was clearly moved by the beauty in this wing.

We then took some rather hungry children outside to one of the playgrounds to eat.  But of course they did not eat.  When presented with slides and swings, who wants food?

Then the rain came.  We sat for a minute and decided it wasn't going to stop, and so gathered up ourselves, hugged our friends goodbye, and hopped on the bus.  We rode through Central Park and hopped off, bouncing the stroller down the stairs to the train.

We took the local C train all the way from 86th to 168th - the end of the line there - and transferred to the A train.  Eleanor had nursed to sleep on the C train, so we weren't in any hungry baby rush.  I only had to deal with cranky big kids, who had neglected to eat their lunches.

At 207th, we were pushed off the elevator by a cranky old man, who decided that he got preference (even though we were in line first).  I tried to take the high road, but I shot him a rather withering look.

The rain was coming down in earnest, so I took my cranky children across to C-Town grocery to get some broccoli for dinner, and maybe some ice cream.  Because I needed it.  Olivia's mood lightened a bit at the choice of ice cream, but - alas - when I got to the register, I didn't have my wallet.

Elsie lost all self control at this point, and Olivia muttered how she knew "it was too good to be true."

After hastily reshelving our items, we emerged into the rain again.  Elsie and I put up our umbrellas, but Olivia - who had very solidly decided she was going to be mad (to be clear - there was nothing precipitating this episode except a lack of lunch - no one had been mean or cross towards her at all), shunned her umbrella, and stomped quite loudly all the way home in the rain.

I got some looks from neighbors who must have imagined I was punishing my child for something by denying her the use of her umbrella.  Oy veh.

At home, I rushed to make some sandwiches.  Elsie demanded some music and Olivia slammed some doors so we would all know how angry she was.

Eleanor - blessedly - slept.

Problem #1:  The bread was moldy, and I hadn't been to the grocery (with my wallet) in a few days.
Solution:  I made pancakes.

Problem #2:  Elsie wanted music (I knew this was the case because she kept screaming and crying about how she *needed* music - more than food - for at least 15 minutes).
Solution:  Olivia stomped out of the bedroom, said "You want music?  Fine!" and proceeded to play a song on her recorder

Problem #3:  Elsie didn't want that kind of music.
Problem #4: Olivia didn't want any criticism.
Solution: I persuaded the children to put food in their mouths so no one could talk.

Oh my lord, I am so tired even recounting all of this.

At some point, one of my wonderful neighbors sent me a text and says she's making gluten free mac & cheese for dinner and asks if she can pop it in my oven while she runs to pick up her kiddos (we have a standing weekly potluck date).  She brings it down and it is nice to see an adult who is not screaming or crying.  She also brings me flowers, because she is also a mom, and she knows how it is.

Food in the oven, I try to figure out some other veg to contribute to our potluck.  I throw some lentil soup together and find some peas from the market in our refrigerator.

We tramp upstairs and I get to hang out with a sane person who can speak in complete sentences and is not asking me to get her anything.  I am able to take an artistic photo of some peas.

We talk and eat and it is lovely.

Then I have to take my children downstairs.  Elsie hides in two different places while Eleanor fusses because she is tired.  I balance all the dishes and the baby, and head to the door.  Olivia has gone ahead, and is thinking she is sneaking eating the peas as she carries them down, but I know better.  Elsie storms into the hall and accuses me - quite loudly and echo-ily - of leaving *on purpose.*  I don't deny it.

I tell Elsie that she will have some alone time if she screams at me again the hallway, because that it simply not appropriate.

We get into our house without too much more noise.

No, that is a lie.  We were very noisy.

It is now time to wash the people and put them in bed.  I proceed to do so.

Then I fold laundry and tidy the bedroom.

(Oh, and at some point earlier in the day, I recaulked the kitchen sink.  I just wanted you to know.)

We say prayers and go to sleep.

And by "we," I mean my children.

I am not sleepy, only exhausted.  So I watch a terrible mystery show on Netflix.  Then I poke around on Facebook some.  And fold some more laundry.  And nurse the baby, who finally falls asleep.

I text my best friend, who is getting ready for a big move.

Then Nathan comes home.  I tell him this same story.  He laughs.  It is good to laugh, even though it wasn't really funny at the time.  I feel better.

Then I write this post.

Now I am going to sleep.  Tomorrow is another busy day.


05 June 2015

Lists. Lots and lots of lists...

I admit it.  I am - and always have been - a list lover.

There is something so satisfying about seeing things all the messy thoughts written tidily in a row - it gives the writer a sense of control over what is an increasingly-chaotic world.

For me, a to-do list is like a budget for one's time.  A tidy reminder that - even though the tasks are endless (because, let's be honest, they never stop) - your time is precious, and how you spend it is important.  Even if it's just doing laundry.  Or writing a blog post.  The satisfaction I personally feel when ticking a box off of a list is really quite lovely.  I sometimes even put things on my list that weren't originally there, but that I did in between on en route to other tasks, just to keep myself honest.

This is especially important for me as a "stay-at-home-mom" (SAHM), even though I'm not really ever at home with these "homeschooled" children of mine.*  I think that unpaid work often is the least appreciated, even though it certainly takes as much thought and effort as paid work.  Anyone who participates in the running of a household knows this, regardless of her/his employment outside of the home.  However, as ALL of my work is unpaid, it is rather rewarding to see my efforts listed, in order that not only I, but also my family, might appreciate the work that goes on in our family.  It's like my emotional paycheck.

(*Case in point:  Today we went out to celebrate National Donut Day.  As one does, in order to learn more about culture, etc.  What started out as a quick train to the gluten-free donut bakery in our neck of the woods ended up encompassing eight hours, three ferries, two trains, a Shake Shack, a carousel, several teas for mama, and a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.  And some donuts.  Also, that was another list.)

I know that not everyone cultivates this list-making habit, and that's fine with me - I don't think that you should try to fit yourself into a list-making box if it's not your style - but if you are inclined in this direction, I encourage you to try it a little more.  Make it a little ritual - the planning of the day, the chores, the groceries, etc. - and make it special.  Drink tea or coffee in the morning while working on your list and contemplate the day.  Write with a special pen in a special book - something to place value in the work that you are setting out to do.  I find that if I know what's going on in the morning, it helps me ration my energy out for the day.  If you're a night owl, try this the night before.

In our 450 square feet, lists are the maps that help us navigate our little world.  On the bedroom door, we have three:  the "Morning Routine," the "Evening Routine," and the "Self-Care Chart."  The first two are practical steps to remind us (mainly the girls, but also myself) of the steps we take to rise into the day and ease into the night.

The "Self-Care Chart" we developed when Nathan was gone for a good stretch, and I realized that I couldn't expect anyone but myself to take care of my needs on top of those of the house and the girls.  We had a wonderful lesson together, discussing how we had many different parts of ourselves that require different care (spiritual, emotional, physical), and I enjoyed teaching the girls that to take care of oneself is one of the first ways to render service to humanity - because if you are depleted and depressed, how can you offer assistance to others?

We also have "chore lists" which work together with our "cleaning checklists."  Each room has its own cleaning routine, and its own day on which it is to be cleaned.  It is of course nice that we have such a small space - one might think there isn't that much to clean - but we still have five people-worth of things, sparse though it may seem.  The girls enjoy checking off the boxes, and it helps me to remember all of the little parts that are important to me in the maintenance of my home.  I like teaching the girls the value of cleanliness and work, and to know that there is honor and virtue in doing your best at sometime, even if it is just cleaning a toilet.

 We have our weekly menu, which is the map of our food.  This one for me is harder to implement.  I notice that my energy depletes pretty quickly on days I am at home, and on other days when I am feeling particularly drained - in both cases, I appreciate my slow-cooker, in which I can use my morning burst of energy to prepare several meals at once.  If I don't stick to this, however, it becomes a bit of a mess, what with the cost of takeout, wasted food, etc.  This is something that I find works best when Nathan and I partner together and address.  As the girls grow into more responsibilities, it is helpful to have their input as well - I hate deciding "what's for dinner" all by myself!

Along with the menu is of course the grocery list, and in New York on a limited budget, that, too is divided into separate lists for each market.  We have found that a weekly Trader Joe's run into the city - usually made by Nathan sans children - provides the least expensive basics for mostly non-perishables.  This is supplemented by a weekly Farmer's Market trip - which I either do by myself early Saturday morning when Nathan is home, or with the girls a little later on in the morning.  We purchase a good amount of veggies and local dairy, eggs, and honey (which should always be local and raw, especially if you are an allergy sufferer).  Aside from what we purchase, we also take our compost here.  Specialty items and the veg and meat we can't get at the market are purchased sparingly at Whole Foods (another Nathan-without-kids run, usually in the mornings to beat the rush).  And last-minute items are found at our local C-Town grocery, which offers a pretty good variety of things.

In the city, even taking the trash/recycling out and doing the laundry get spots on the list of weekly chores - and it's best to schedule these, in order to ensure the trash gets down and no one runs out of underwear.  We have other mental lists here, too, such as the routine when coming inside of taking off one's shoes and washing one's hands right away.  New York is a dirty place, but no one need bring that inside!

When time is precious - isn't it always? - and the pace of life seems to demand much more than in humanly possible, having lists helps to give weight to those daily tasks which might go unheeded.  Morning routines, daily chores, meal preparation/consumption/dishes, personal care time, evening routines - all of these are important parts of one's day, in addition to the external requirements of school/work/etc.  To some, the list might seem an unwanted additional task - a chore in itself.  But a little extra effort at the outset - not much is needed when establishing the daily and weekly routine - pays dividends in the future.  The development of these skills of self- and home-care soon become second-nature, so that we are better able to address other tasks and challenges in our family and community life.  Additionally, the visual reminder of the list helps others support you.  Not only can you ask someone to assist with the completion of a task, but having your friend/partner/spouse/child(ren) see your plans keeps the importance of these tasks as part of the daily dialogue in the home.  Even if it's just you - you can keep your own dear self accountable!

A little caveat here - and an admission - for all of my love of lists, I am also a great fan of the lazy day, when one tells one's list where to go, and simply lulls about reading or watching Poirot or Murder, She Wrote on Netflix.  And I don't always remember to follow my lists.  Sometimes I have two or three of these off days in a row.  Recently, I justified a week after a particularly stressful stint.  But I do know that - if I have kept up with my tasks - coming back to them won't be as Herculean a task as it have been.  No one need redirect a river to clean out the stables of our house, unless it's been a really rough week.  In those cases, the key is to not let guilt get in the driver's seat.  We are all human, and all striving to grow.  On this path of life, setbacks are part of the ebb and flow, to mix some metaphors.  But even a little step in the right direction can make a big difference - a little list of weekly chores could be a good starting point.  Even if you do them out of order, or it takes two weeks, you are developing a new skill.  And ensuring you won't be out of clean underwear.