Monday, February 24, 2014

Mom Genius

We went to a gymnastics meet at the U of I and were going to take part in the clinic afterwards.  All the girls from her Girl Scout troop were going, and I thought it sounded like a nice Sunday afternoon event.  Taylor has wanted to do gymnastics for a couple months and I haven’t been able to sign up yet.  I thought this would be a good way to show her what she’d be working towards, and then give her a chance to try it out. 

We got there, got registered and waited for the rest of the girls.  We start our ascent up the bleachers and Taylor starts getting shaky.  Crap… she’s afraid of heights and I hadn’t thought of it.  I should’ve suggested to the troop leader that we sit further down.  But she presses on, gathers her inner strength and follows the rest of the girls to the very top row.  She joins the girls on the benches and I sit with the moms.  After about 10 minutes, she decides she’d rather sit with me.  Tip off #1 that she’s feeling antsy. 

This meet is set to last about 2 hours because there are 3 teams.  We watch for 45 minutes and Taylor turns to me, worry in her eyes, and says “I just can’t handle all this loud-ness.”  Crap… she’s just like me when I was little.  I never liked being in the gym with tons of people or indoor concerts.  Something about the combination of being somewhat confined and loud noises always made me really nervous and she’s the same way.  I deal with it better now as an adult, but I had neglected that fear of hers too.  I immediately start beating myself up… Why hadn’t I remembered?  She’s not afraid of much, but I had managed to put her in a situation in which she’d be uncomfortable for 2 big reasons.  She’s looking at me for direction and guidance… what am I supposed to do?  She covers her ears and buries her face in my abdomen.  This is her safe place.  I wrap my arms around her while I formulate a plan.  I can scoop her up and get outta here in minutes.  Maybe I should escape. 

I raise her chin so that our eyes meet.  “Do you want to leave?”  I can tell by her face that she doesn’t want to go, but her anxiety in this situation is eating at her.  She asks “Can I just try to take a nap on you until the end?”  I really don’t want her to miss it, and I don’t want to make a scene leaving.  Suddenly, something I call “Mom Genius” pops in.  “How about this, bitty:  we’ll cheer with everyone.  When you’re cheering, you can’t really hear everyone else who is cheering.  We’ll cheer on our Illini or whatever gymnast we like and before we know it, we’ll be ready for the clinic!”  Her eyes light up.  It’s amazing what a mom in love with her baby can think of when the pressures mount. 

The rest of the meet goes by quickly as we cheer for the girls swinging on the bars, flipping on the balance beam and dancing on the big blue mat.  She doesn’t know what to say so she cheers “Blue mat, blue mat!” and “Bars! Bars!”  Others probably wondered why she was saying that, I just rejoiced that she could enjoy this experience.  She rejoins the rest of the girls, reassured that she can beat her fear by taking control of it.  She plays and laughs and takes a trip with them to the bottom of the bleachers to color gymnast pictures.  At the end of the meet we’re on our way to the clinic and she swings and jumps and smiles- worry free. 

It occurs to me as I watch her with pride from the mom area… this is parenting.  Those few moments summed up the work I’ll likely do for the rest of my days… knowing when to hover and when to guide and release, when to leave the situation and when to reassure and endure, and teaching how to overcome some of life’s not-niceties along the way.  And then stepping back and watching her put the advice to work. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Why It's Okay to Fail

A little over a year ago I left a job that I hated.  I had become a generally unhappy person because this job was sucking the life out of me.  I wasn’t passionate or even mildly happy about the work I was doing.  I wasn’t even interested in it.  I had to find a different job… but what?  I had worked in food service and then in accounting/customer service and neither had anything to do with the college degree I was close to earning.  What was I supposed to do?  I looked for my food service sanitation license in my files only to see that it was expired.  Not only that, it expired on the exact same day that was my last working day in that miserable office.  I really felt like that was a sign… I wasn’t going to be doing something I’d done before… It was time to branch out and step out of my comfort zone.

Being the optimist that I am, I pushed onward and applied for every job for which I was even remotely qualified.  I trusted that the right job would come to me… I just needed to put myself out there.  I knew I intended to continue homeschooling.  I knew I could homeschool and work full-time, and I knew that I needed a non-toxic work environment.   Oh, and I needed to get paid.

Day after day, Taylor saw me stare at the computer for hours and hours looking for a job.  Nothing fit.  I couldn’t figure out what it was that I was supposed to do.  I took personality tests, did countless phone and in-person interviews and never found anything that felt like a spark.  Then I found it… A job that felt like the “right” one!  Even better- I got called the day after sending my résumé.  I set up the interview and found out what the process would be like. 

Over the next 2 months I interviewed 6 times and each time was a little more serious than the time before.  I even worked with them for half a day to see how it fit.  I was pretty happy with it and told myself that it was perfect.  At the end of my 6th interview, which I felt went fantastic, I was told “I’ll call you and set a time to come in and go over the job offer and everything.”  Success!!  Her wording said it all!  I called my parents and told them the good news… “It sounds like I’ve got it!  It’s not official, but I got the job!”  I got the call and set up the time to go in.  I was excited but not even as nervous as previous interviews.  I felt good!

I walked in to her office for the 7th time, sat down, made small talk and got comfortable.  The words came out in slow motion as she leaned forward and said “We’re not going to give you the job.”  I don’t know what was said next or what I said… I just remember focusing really hard on not crying.  I’m sure I was wearing the disappointment all over my face.  I left the office and pulled out my phone… You’re supposed to call your spouse first.  But I couldn’t.  I texted my parents: “Didn’t get it. Don’t want to talk.”  Same to my friends who I had already told I pretty-much-had this job.  They all replied something sappy and typical and sweet, but not what I wanted.  I ignored the phone after that.   I don’t remember the drive across town towards home… I wasn’t crying.  I was silent, in shock.  And I could not bring myself to call or text Luke and tell him.  I got to be a block from home and emotions let loose… I couldn’t face him and Taylor after this.  I was so mad and upset and I’d put all my energy into THIS job.  I’d even turned down 2 other job offers and stopped applying while waiting this job out!  We needed for me to be working.  We needed this job and the experience that it would give me.  I decided that I needed to be alone.  I texted Luke: “I didn’t get it.  I’m upset.  Please take Taylor and get out of the house…. I need to be alone.”  He called.  I ignored.  He called again.  I ignored again.  He texted that it was okay, to talk to him, that everything would be fine… all the right things, basically.  But I wanted none of it.  For the first time I was not 100% positive that there was purpose behind this. 

I went inside, threw my interview suit across the room, put on my pajamas, and collapsed on my bed, locked the door and opened up the computer.  I wasn't going to stay upset; I was going to find a flipping job… I had to.  Thirty really fast minutes later, I hear Luke and Taylor come in.  Luke sends Taylor to play in her room and comes to the door.  He knocks, I say “not yet.”  I debate getting dressed and leaving.  I didn't want to disappoint him.  In true Luke fashion, he picks the lock.  He comes in and silently scoops me up and lets me sob.  No empty cliches and no “What’d they say?” questions.  Just pure love and acceptance at the moment that I felt like the biggest failure. 

Taylor, being an only child, knows no real boundaries with us.  If the bedroom door is open (and sometimes even if it’s not) she’ll come in.  I see her and she sees me and it’s apparent that something’s wrong.  Amazingly, the girl who questions everything (which I’m okay with!) has no questions.  She knows it’s just time for hugs and love.  She joins the hug and miraculously I’m feeling more like myself.  A family group hug may as well serve as a “reset” button.  Without another word we get up and decide to all go play a game of Frisbee Golf. 

Four weeks later I started the job I have now.  In hindsight, not getting that job was great for me.  It wouldn’t have given me the flexibility I need to be the kind of mom I want to be.  I wouldn't have been happy there.  My current job has been flexible from day 1- literally! I had to call in for my 2nd and 3rd work days because Taylor was very sick.  They said “family first” and didn’t think anything more of it.  The CEO even checked in with me about her.  It’s not like that at most companies and I know now that God had something more for me. 

Looking back, I can be happy that even in the depths of my failure, I showed Taylor what it’s like to pick myself right back up and hit it again.  I never learned anything so real and so raw as a child.  But I think it’s good that Taylor learned that failure is a part of this life and the more important part is how you respond to failure.  You’re allowed a time-out to cope.  Then you come together as a family and support each other through tough times.  And, most importantly, failure isn’t the end.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Revamping the Chore Chart

I started this year thinking that now that Taylor was 8, I wanted to focus on building her personal responsibility.  She’s always had some level of responsibility in the home.  When she was 3-4 she could put the shoes away and pick up after herself to a degree.  When she was 5 and 6, the expectations for cleaning her room were raised.  Taylor was also responsible for sorting laundry and we’d rotate other chores in as needed… Sometimes I’d have her sweep the porch or walk the dog, other times she could vacuum or sweep.  She even scrubbed the bathtub once which ended up being more fun for her than a chore.  (It’s amazing that bubbles make everything fun!) 

Each year we’ve added more age-appropriate chores.  We want her to know how to do laundry, dishes, and clean a bathroom when she’s grown.  But, more often than not, the chores were met with resistance, or we’d forget that we were supposed to have her do chores that day.  (Life was busy at that point, so some days the only time we were home was for snuggles and 
bedtime.)  It wasn’t what I wanted.

For a big chunk of the year Taylor was 7, we tried this “7-Minute Clean-Up.”  The idea is that you do 7 FOCUSED minutes on cleaning and then you’re done.  I had to explain the focused part each time to make sure we were on the same page.  I’d usually do it with Taylor… I’d set the timer and work on the my own chores.  Sometimes it worked really well and sometimes it ended up being “16 Minute Nag- You- To- Focus Time.”  Ugh.
Then I tried the “Let her room get SO messy she goes crazy and cleans it herself” method.  Yeah, no surprise there.  Didn’t work.  There were no guidelines for success there, no wonder.

I remembered my childhood.  My parents started a cleaning business (which I now maintain) and it was a family effort. From the age of 12, I knew how to professionally clean a home or business.  I learned professionalism and hard work early.  At home, we had chores too.  As I got to my early teens and my mom went back to college, everyone took on more household responsibilities.  I remember making plans and having my parents say “Make sure the dishes are done first.” and it made me so mad.  The reason?  “I’ve been doing dishes for years!  Don’t they know that I know that I’m responsible for the dishes?!”  I didn’t want to be hounded.  I wanted to have the freedom to just do my chores when I knew they needed done.  I wanted to take care of my responsibilities and get a “Thanks for doing that” at the end.  I want to instill that in Taylor.  I want her to have that sense of “I can do this!”

In remembering this, it makes me reevaluate our current chore chart.  I bought the chore chart at Wal- Mart along with the other moms, but it hasn’t worked.  For a while we incorporated appropriate behaviors and personal hygiene in the daily checklist and customized it to our liking.  But it put too much of an emphasis on the reward.  The reward I’m thinking of with teaching chores is responsibility, confidence and self-sufficiency.  I don’t want to have to give out stickers…  So I’ve been thinking of revamping the chore chart. 

I read several articles about chores.  Most emphasize rewards.  One said to tell them their responsibilities and the deadline.  Then explain that if they’re not done, there are consequences.  Give one reminder if the deadline is close and no progress is shown and then enforce the consequence after the deadline.  I like the idea, but it’s geared more towards teens.  I know that Taylor is capable, but she is still 8 years old… Rather than having spoken deadlines, I think a visual reminder is appropriate.  Same idea, just adapted to be more age-appropriate.

I think my plan is this: make 2 lists.  One list for Monday through Wednesday and one list for Thursday through Saturday.  Sunday = Fun day! Of course there are also daily responsibilities like putting dinner dishes into dishwasher and putting toys away before bedtime.  But I’m hoping this new system will spur Taylor to accomplish her chores by the deadline without the nagging.  She likes independence and obviously likes to know that we’re proud of her.    

How Do You Do Mom?

How do you enforce household responsibilities and build self-confidence in your little without nagging?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Making My Own Badge of Honor

I didn't take the "traditional" route to motherhood.  I became a mom through a gradual process that became official in 2010 after years of hard work leading up to it.  My child was 4 when I became the official parent.  But I've loved my daughter, Taylor, from the moment she was born, but she wasn't born to me.  My husband and I have guardianship.

For years now I've dealt with awkward moments and explanations of "Well, I'm not her real mom..."  And every time I'd say that, I felt like I was betraying my own heart.  After all, I did the same job as a "real" mom... but that's not my title.  In trying to cope with this insecurity, I tried to bury the feelings and just let things be...

Several times in the last few years I've been made to feel like less of a parent because I didn't carry my child in my stomach or endure childbirth or breastfeed.  But I have changed countless diapers, been peed on, pooped on, thrown up on and given hundreds of baths.   I've kissed every boo-boo, dried every tear and spent many sleepless nights making sure my sick baby was okay.  I've made my needs secondary to Taylor's in every arena.  But somehow even if I could let go of my own insecurities, I'd still receive comments from friends and family that belittled my position:

"But when will you have children of your own?"
"Where is her real mother?"
"Well, when you have your own you'll understand..."
"Well, as a mom, I can tell you..."

I'd think to myself, "What?  I already have a child of my own! Who are you to ask such a brazen question?  You don't know anything about MY motherhood journey."  But I'd smile politely and pretend it was okay.  Or walk away.  I'd resolved that motherhood was a club I would never be a part of and that that was okay.  I'd never wear the badge of honor called "mommy."  I wouldn't join any "Just Moms" groups because that would mean having my mom-ness judged.  I told myself that even though I'm not called "mom,"  Taylor still knows that I am the one who has done the job. And her recognition is all I need.  And it's true.  It is the only recognition I need.

But... I think I've had enough.  I am Aunt Kelsey and I'm SO proud of myself and my husband- Uncle Luke.  I'd argue that we might work harder at parenting than a lot of biological parents!  Whatever the case, we love our daughter with every fiber of our being and every plan and decision we make centers around our daughters well being.

I am claiming my own badge of honor.  I'm an amazing parent.  I'm an amazing mom.  And I'm ready to tell everyone that with no shame and no explanations. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Valentine's Day on a budget

I'm not a huge fan of Valentine's Day.  I loved it in elementary school, though.  I think that was only because it was a fun party in the middle of the very dreary, boring winter months.  My mom used it as an opportunity to show us some love and she'd have a small gift on the table in the morning and when we were older, she'd send us flowers at school.  It was nice to feel loved and appreciated above and beyond the normal hugs and kisses. I guess that's what it's about isn't it?

In my marriage, we've never been big on Valentine's Day.  We've been together for 10 Valentine's Days and that's pretty much 10 February's that we have done minimal "extra's" on that day.  It started because for our first 3 V-Day's as a couple, I was sick.  So we'd order a heart-shaped pizza from our favorite local pizza spot and fall asleep watching a movie.  Now that we're adults, we still don't do anything fancy...  In fact, as a mockery of all the commercialization of this "holiday,"  I sent Luke a singing Valentine to his work.  He was serenaded by a man with a guitar in front of all his coworkers to the song "Your Body is a Wonderland" while I died of laughter in the background.

As mom to an 8 year old though, I feel like I should celebrate it for the reasons my mom did... A special day to acknowledge how much we love her.  In reality, I think we do an extraordinary job of this year round.  She's an only child and therefore gets all our love, attention and free time.  But for the sake of the holiday, I usually relent and participate.  In years past we've bought cards, flowers, chocolates, and stuffed animals.

This year we're on a budget though.  We've had lots of unexpected expenses needed to care for family, and I'm working hard at not spending above my means.  That's easier said than done when V-Day is essentially a day to spoil your loved ones.  So she got to choose her V-day Cards to give to friends and family.  I told her the sky was the limit... up to three dollars.  She chose horse cards.  Ok, done.  Because we homeschool, she won't have the school party that most other kids do.  So I have to do that too.  "Cookies!" I think... "We can make and decorate sugar cookies."  Then I remember I'm out of flour and sugar.  Crap.  A quick glance through my pantry revealed some 4th of July Fun-fetti cake mix and an almost-full container of white frosting and red food coloring.  I googled "cookies from cake mix" and found a way to make it work.  Ok, done.

I remember doing crafts for V-day at school... what can we do?!  Since we just took down the last of our Christmas decorations during the last week of January, (no judging)  I decide that we can replace the red and green paper chain that usually adorns our living room during the holidays with a red, pink and purple heart paper chain.  So there it is, a craft that occupied her for over an hour, produced countless giggles, fed her creativity because she got to do it all by herself as a surprise for me and Luke, and decorated our living room for what will probably end up being a month.

I think I'll make a homemade card for her on Thursday evening and maybe a heart-shaped egg Friday morning and call it done.  No gift, but on the heels of Christmas/birthday season for her... she needs nothing right now anyway.

Sometimes it's easy for moms to get caught up with the "have-to's."  Really the only thing you HAVE TO do is love your little every day.  And make sure they know it every day... not just Valentine's Day.  It doesn't usually take a whole lot to impress a child... Just a little extra thought and resourcefulness on your part can make V-day on a budget the most special Valentine's Day yet.