26 January 2012

Practical Tools for Challenging Times

At my best, I am a loving, gentle, compassionate parent who adores my children and strives to be positive and focus on relationship. At my worst, I'm pretty sure clips of my week could be sewn into a reality television show about how not to parent.

So what about the in between? What about when you want to be centered and calm but trials of everyday life become overwhelming? What do you do when you start to become frustrated and need a better way to handle things?

Following are six tips I use around our house when things start to spiral. 

(Or, Six Ways To Get Through the Day When You're About To Lose Your Mind. Not that I've ever—ahem—felt that way.)

1. Chill out. (Breathe, Momma, Breathe!)
This one is soooo hard for me to put into practice. I may possibly have a wee bit of a tendency to overreact. So I attempt to follow the old adage: Will this matter in 10 years? 10 hours? 10 minutes? I try to maintain a calm perspective using the ideas in this fabulous post from Dr. Laura MarkhamCan I just tell you how many times a day I mutter to myself, there is no emergency . . . no one is dying?

2. Take a hug break. (Remember: Break before you snap.)
Sometimes all I can do is invite Agent J to come flying across the room into my arms. I just call out "hug break" and she comes running. (Well, 95% of the time, anyway.) When I'm tempted to get angry with her, or to yell at her (again) . . . or when I start thinking this time I'm just going to bag all that gentle parenting stuff and try something different . . . I hug her instead. And I squeeze tight. 

3. Sing a lot. (Talent optional.)
Kids love to hear singing. I don't know why this works so well, but I can get my kids' attention instantly if I sing instead of talk. The louder and the nuttier the lyrics the better. Our favorites include Where Is . . . (sung to the tune of Where Is Thumbkin?) as well as variations on the Kindermusik Hello Song. Works great for diaper changes on a wiggly baby, too. Agent A is a huge fan of the ABC song.

4. Talk really fast. (Topic irrelevant.)
Remember the TV show Gilmore Girls and how Lorelai and Rory would engage in rapid fire conversations that would baffle anyone listening in? Babies love to listen to your voice, and they seem especially interested when you talk super quick. I find that if I just start yammering on about whatever, A will forget all about trying to run away from a diaper/clothing change and actually lie still (for 30 seconds, anyway). Talk about your to do list, your last vacation, a great new website you just discovered, your thrilling plans to clean out the refrigerator.

5. Get really quiet. (Yes; the exact opposite of #3 and #4.)
Sometimes, however, the other extreme can be just as effective. Quiet down . . . to a whisper if you need to . . . and often your little ones will, too. Many days weeks I need to get drastic and just stop talking altogether for a while. It helps me to focus on my words and how often I keep talking when I should really just listen instead. On a related note, having time each day to be quiet with my own thoughts helps tremendously, too.

6. Use labels. (Ooh, wait . . . is that bad?)
We have this running joke that sometimes we all turn into giant grumps and we need names to match, like Eva Grumplepus and Mommy Grumplepus. We've shortened these to initials: E.G., J.G., M.G., etc. Cracks them up every time and helps to lighten the mood. Even my usually serious E can't help but giggle when I call her out on her E.G.-ness. Now she is able to just tell me "hey, I'm just feeling grumpy right now" before things go off the deep end. I already use silly nicknames for all of them so this fits in well around our house.

We definitely don't get it right all the time (and plenty of days I need to re-read some of my own advice). But we incorporate these six things into our routine to release the tension and give us me a chance to get back on track.

This post was also shared at Connected Mom.

20 January 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday (19)

Oh, how I love Fridays and this 7 Quick Takes thing. Thanks so much to Jennifer for hosting each week. Find her post here . . . be sure to leave a comment and then check out the others linked up.

1. Tried to install CommentLuv on my blog this week . . . and uninstalled it two days later. Sigh. I wanted something that would allow folks to link up their most recent post when they leave a comment, and this seemed like the best option for Blogger, but . . . maybe there's something else that would work better? Any thoughts, blogging friends? I really don't want to lose all my previous comments. One other issue was with the comment "counter" . . . it would always indicate zero, but when you click on it there were obviously comments there. Ugh.

Agent J loves art time
2. On a related note, I tried to have My First Bloggy Giveaway this week. All folks needed to do was leave a comment for a chance to win a free book. But guess what? When you uninstall a comment program, you also lose all the comments. Sigh.

3. Starting to get really excited about moving again, even though it's still over four months away. Lately I've been very motivated to let go of stuff and start getting more organized. Although if you could see the condition of our apartment right now, that might not be evident.

4. Agent J wanted to finger paint yesterday. As you can see in the accompanying photo, she enjoyed it.

5. Bought Agent A a new car seat this week. He is almost 15 months and close to the height limit on his infant seat. We purchased a convertible seat but will be keeping him facing back for quite a while.

Agent A's new ride
6. I'm truly amazed that our cat has not scratched, bitten, or otherwise maimed one of our children. That feline has the patience of a saint. I cannot get Agent E to stop holding her like a baby, wrapping her up in blankets, and otherwise torturing her. Poor kitty . . . we got her almost seven years ago, and since then have brought three of those small people into our home. Every time we came home with a new baby, we just imagined her rolling her little cat eyes and muttering to herself, really? another one?

7. Raining today (again) so we may stay in and skip our usual Friday play/library/lunch time. I'm thinking we will try to make some homemade play doh instead. You know, since the finger painting thing went so well.

19 January 2012

Let It Go

I consider myself to be sort of the anti-pack rat. I don't really have a problem with holding on to too many things, and I am more than willing to sell or donate unused items.

This doesn't mean I always do this. It just means I know I am capable. (Unlike most people in my family and my husband's family . . . but we're not even going to go there.)

I am also not a big fan of cleaning. Just keeping up with the laundry and vacuuming and kitchen stuff makes me woozy. But the truth is . . . the less stuff you have, the easier it is to clean (and organize). We're making a concerted effort to par down right now . . . resolution-y January and all. It helps that we are getting ready to move in a few months—additional built-in motivation.

So, my biggest tip for keeping all those resolutions to finally have a clean, efficient house is (drum roll please) . . .

Get rid of stuff.

If it sounds too easy, it's because, well, it is.

Here are some specific tips I use for deciding what stuff goes and what stuff stays. (And, I'm trying to see how many times I can use the word "stuff" in one blog post.)

Household Stuff
Less cleaning, more playing with cute babies
Think about the end result: How nice it will be when dusting/cleaning doesn't take forever. A few meaningful framed photos, knick knacks, or candles can be nice. Moving 27 separate items just to dust the top of the TV stand, not so much.

Kitchen Stuff
Ask yourself these three questions: 1. Do you use it? 2. Do you use it? 3. Do you use it? 

Clothing (and Shoes and Jewelry) Stuff
Does it serve a specific purpose? Does it make you feel fabulous? And (ooh, here's the hard one) does it fit?

Sentimental Stuff
If you're mushy, embrace it. Then move on. Even I keep lots of stuff I will never use/need again. (Um, three ginormous boxes of baby clothes in the attic, anyone?)

Now I think I need to take my own advice and go organize a closet or something.

14 January 2012

Second Semester Is a Go!

Sharing some thoughts on our homeschooling so far this semester and linking up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

We just finished week two, semester two, and have decided to take a somewhat different approach this semester/year. After the first week, I really started feeling way too scheduled . . . my neurotic planning and homemade "curriculum" didn't feel right anymore. So, I made a couple of changes.

Let the fun begin
First, I eliminated my weekly "agenda" and instead will simply be using my semester overview notes as a guide instead of trying to get to every "subject" every week. In other words, instead of planning what to DO at the beginning of each week, at the end of the week I will recap what we actually DID. Of course, I will  probably still have a variety of things printed and ready in the binder at any given time, because that’s what Eva likes.

Second, I'm trying to let her take the lead more and wing it more than previously. And the result so far is that she does want to learn, she loves to learn, and she will come up with ideas about what to learn all on her own. For example, this week without prompting (too much, anyway) she wanted to learn about telling time (which we started a while ago but didn’t get very far). We worked on learning to the hour and half hour, but have a few worksheets ready to go for learning 10-, 5-, and 1-minute increments. She became curious about fractions, too, so we’ll likely incorporate that next week. We’ve also been talking a lot about Florida and the move in June (again, her interest). 

Our library books for the week
Third, I'm working on finding balance for myself, particularly when it comes to computer time versus reading time. I find that if I don’t mention it, but just sit down and pick up a book myself, she is more likely to join me (and read on her own) than if I say hey let’s read something, or why don’t you go read a book. Also, as I consciously make an effort to spend less time on my laptop, her computer time seems to be waning as well (on it’s own, not because I put a limit on it) . . . or perhaps the novelty is just wearing off. 

I was wondering if I should start keeping track of the books take out of the library each week, and that seemed like a lot of work/typing . . . so instead I decided to take a photo of them. Okay, so maybe it's not brilliant, but it was a lightbulb moment for me.

11 January 2012

Can't We All Just Get Along?

I'm blessed to have found so many wonderful, thoughtful, reflective writers out there who are sharing peaceful, honest advice in a helpful way . . . and I truly believe they should keep on doing it. Writers like this inspire me.

Choose kindness
However, that's not always the case. Folks can easily hide behind keyboards and iPhones. They forget about the real, live person on the other end, and sometimes it can get downright mean.

You may have seen this post this post floating virally around. I think the writer is spot on. And I want to throw my own two cents at the topic. (Full disclosure: I actually had this post drafted before I read her article. Then I had that Crap Someone Else Wrote Exactly What I Was Thinking Before I Did experience that all bloggers have at least once a week. But I decided to polish and publish anyway.)

Indulge me in my soapbox, please?

I think sharing information is fabulous. I post links on my own Facebook page, and follow others links on pages I "like" all. the. time. They make me think about my own choices and provide new perspectives. My theory is, read it, and if you don’t like it, don’t use it. 

The problem I have is when folks move from offering genuine information and concern to reading/talking/writing over each other. I have watched threads turn so ugly on usually very respectful, peaceful blogs or message boards because people stop listening and just want to get their own view across. Or some poor Momma is desperately seeking advice, and they mock her choices or judge something that has already happened that she can’t change. 

(An extreme case: A blog dedicated to gentle parenting posted an article about the circumcision-related death of a newborn. Readers were actually posting “I told you so” comments . . . snarky, see that’s what you get kind of complete @#$%. No kidding. Usually it’s not that bad, but still annoying. And unnecessary.)

A few things to consider:

Just because you did it doesn't mean it can be done by someone else. (Just try this!)
Classic example: Potty learning
That's great if your child learned independent toilet skills at 14 months. Not believable, but great. The Mom desperate for tips with training her three-year-old before preschool is not going to benefit from your story. Nor can she go back in time and use your glowing insight.

Consider other viewpoints
If it worked for you, that doesn't mean it will work for me. (You're not doing it right.)
Classic example: Sleep
Sleep does not beget sleep for all children. Bedtime routines are not a panacea. Breastfeeding, rocking, and co-sleeping are not bad habits in need of breaking. Cribs were not constructed by Satan himself.

Two reasonable, intelligent people can research the same topic and come to two very different conclusions. (Sometimes the only answer is to agree to disagree.)
Classic example: Vaccines
Guess what? No one in the opposite camp is swayed by any "research" in this area. Trust me.

Your pet obsession agenda is not the pat answer for every problem. (Knock it off. Seriously.)
Classic example: Random question on a natural parenting site
I know people mean well, I do. But . . . I honestly do not believe the solution to any given parenting dilemma is stop vaccinating, give up dairy, and see a chiropractor. Really?

Use your words . . . nicely. (Remember that Golden Rule stuff?)
Classic example: Breastfeeding
Wanna start a Mommy War? Bring up breastfeeding versus formula feeding in a group of new mothers. Bonus for working in the terms nazi, poison, selfish, tied down, give up, IQ, or bonding.

How about we all make a pact that for 2012 we will rise above this insanity?

Because you know what? That person you are slamming behind the safety net of online anonymity loves her kids as much as you do.

Spread some joy
The aforementioned post pretty much sums it up:
"Do you beat your kids senseless? Do you starve them? Do you withhold all love and affection? Do you tell them they aren't worthy? If you answered yes to any of [these] questions, then I think we have an issue. If not, then my guess is you are doing your very best at the hardest, hardest job."
Can we make a conscious effort to be empathetic instead of critical? Can we please stop steamrolling each other? Can we remember to simply be nice

10 January 2012

On Writing

Early this week, I (purposely) deleted my writing/blogging calendar from my iCal. I realized that all it did was make me feel bad for not meeting self-imposed deadlines and not staying on track like I imagine those Really Organized Bloggers Who Actually Follow Calendars do.

Instead, I came up with a short list of (realistic) Goals for Blogging in 2012:

It's good to have goals
1. Write frequently and honestly. Be more open and less self-censoring. I cannot even tell you how long I sat on posts because they weren't "perfect" enough to publish. Or how many times I re-read something from my own archives and thought who wrote that? I would love to continue posting two or three times a week; I think that is reasonable for my current season of parenting.

2. Engage actively and positively in the writing/blogging community. Encourage other bloggers with thoughtful comments, links, tags, shares. Remember we are all here to learn from each other; criticizing and harsh words have no place. In other words, I'm going to be supportive and nice.

3. Re-evaluate often. This is usually where all my best laid plans fail. I am beyond awful at objectively assessing what is working and what is not. I need to make a conscious effort to do this routinely, and through an honest lens.