Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Maid

We had some tremendous upheaval here at the house a couple weeks ago. 

The maid quit.

Just like that.  No two week notice or anything. 

She was gathering up dirty dishes off of the table, picking up toys off the floor, listening to the sound of the kids playing upstairs, and she just quit.  Called all the kids into the living room and announced it right then. 

“Guess what, kids, the maid is quitting.”

“What maid?”

“The one you call ‘Mom.’  That maid.  No more cleaning up your dirty dishes or doing all the housework myself.  I quit.”

“But, Mom, that’s your job!!”

“No, my precious children, it’s not.  I’m pretty certain that God has given me talents and priorities that don’t involve spending all of my time picking up after you.”

See, downsizing and simplifying our lives had an unintended consequence: It is technically possible for me to keep up with all of the housecleaning by myself.  It takes pretty much all of my available time, but it is possible.  And that’s what I had been doing since we moved in.  The kids needed a break from the stress of having a house on the market followed by a big move, so I took over the things that they would normally do around the house. 

After a while, I found myself a little resentful of the attitudes they were developing.  The fewer chores they had, the more they whined about them.  They were feeling entitled to any service that they thought I should be performing for them at any given time.  And when I started to think, as a friend of mine said, that I should just wear a t-shirt that said “STAFF” on the front, I asked myself, “Now whose fault is that?”

I’m the one who’s responsible to set the chores in our home.  A good manager delegates.  A good mom wants to see her kids develop diligence and a strong work ethic.  Human beings aren’t known for working hard without at least a little shove in the right direction.  We’d all rather play than work.

So we had to get back on track.  There was some grumbling to begin with, but we’re starting to get into a routine.  The chore chart, revised to reflect the new house, went back up and I reinstated the “no whining about chores” rule.   I included the kids in the process so that they’d have some ownership in it.  And, yes, I pay for chores.  I’ve found that having monetary incentive gives me the leverage I need to make sure the stuff actually gets done.  With no whining.  (I really hate whining.)

It’s impressive, actually, how much kids can do if you just expect it of them.  Carsten, at five, keeps up with the big kids at chore time.

I try hard to cultivate a team mentality when it comes to chores.  We’re all in this together.  It’s our house.  It’s our responsibility.  I think it’s important for kids to understand that they have a role to play.  It gives them a sense of worth and purpose.  They may not always like their jobs, but they’re learning the sense of accomplishment that comes from diving in and doing it anyway. 

I’ll be honest.  There are days- many days- where it would be a lot easier to do it myself.  I could “do everything around here” and then complain to my friends about it.  I wouldn’t have to spend time convincing a three year old that he is indeed capable of putting ALL of the toys in the bin.  I wouldn’t have to mete out consequences for whining.  And the house might be just a tad cleaner.  

One of my friends teaches a (really fantastic) workshop called“Managers Not Martyrs.”  It’s all about the importance of being a good manager of the home.  Her title is more spiritual than “The Maid Quits” but it’s the same concept.  It’s a parent’s job not to do everything for our kids, but to train our children to work and do things well. 

It’s harder to teach that than it used to be.  We like to read aloud and listen to audiobooks, and my children and I are continually impressed by how HARD kids used to work.  The Little House books and the Little Britches series are great examples.  Those kids milked cows, churned butter, helped build things, plowed fields, pitched hay.  It’s amazing.

We’re blessed to live a life of convenience and comfort, but it’s important to remember that what our kids do today will shape their expectations of the future. 

When they move out on their own, I’m pretty certain there won’t be a maid.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Rolling With It, Part 2

So…we all have tough days.  Anytime we're living close to the edge (too little time, too little support, too many “moving parts” to our days) we're far more likely to have mini (and sometimes not-so-mini) crises pop up.  Although those things are undeniably difficult and stressful, we can still choose our reaction.  Out of sheer necessity, I've been learning more and more to go with the flow rather than fighting the current.  This is by far not a “lesson completed- check it off the list” situation.  I am fairly certain that I will be learning to roll with the punches for the rest of my life.

I like peace, harmony, and idyllic days as much as the next person.  But I also like lots of lively activity.    Some people cut down on stress by limiting their activities and responsibilities.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not for me.  I get bored easily if I’m not busy.  So, busy I stay, and that means that sometimes things get a little crazy.  If the stress I encounter is something that I expected, I usually find that I handle it without much trouble.  It’s all those little unexpected things that get me.

When I walked into the foamy laundry room, for example, there were a couple of responses that I could have had.  I could have looked for someone to blame.  (“That Austin!  He can’t stay out of anything for two minutes!” or “Who left the grocery bag where Austin could get it?!?”)  I could have also berated myself.  (“How stupid was that?  You’re such an idiot and now look at this mess you've got to clean up.”)  I’ll bet most people tend to swing to one extreme or the other.  Some of us blame others, some of us blame ourselves.  The problem with that is that neither reaction fixes the problem.  Both reactions make things worse.  We get angry (either at ourselves or someone else) and sulky and self-pitying.  And those emotions can easily lead to bigger problems.

Instead, it’s important to first establish in my mind that life isn't perfect.  No surprise there, but don’t we sometimes act awfully shocked when things go wrong?  “What?????  An interruption in my day????  Where did that come from????”  Setting reasonable expectations helps my initial response to be less dramatic and far calmer.  “Ah, the first crisis of the day…”

Then, and especially if my split-second reaction is one of shock, I pause.  I take a mental step back and just observe.  “Foam.  Lots of bubbles.  LOTS of bubbles.”  On a good day, the situation might strike me as funny.  A good laugh or even a smile dissipates the stress almost instantly.  But, even if it’s NOT funny, at least I can think about it a little more rationally.

The next step is to avoid the blaming- either of myself or others- and instead take a “note to self” approach.  “Note to self: No soapy towels in the washer.  No hammer on the top of the ladder.”  This reassures me that I've learned a lesson and helps me move on.

It’s time, now, to fix the problem.  The best thing to do is take care of things immediately.  Messes, mistakes and mishaps rarely improve with time.  Sometimes, though, I am simply too tired and overwhelmed to deal with it.  After all, disasters usually strike just before bed at the end of a very long day or just as we’re headed out the door.  And since there’s no one else to step in and share the burden, I have found that I sometimes need to just step away.  Shut the door, cover it up, whatever.  Everything seems better after a good night’s sleep.  If that’s not a possibility and I’m really exhausted, I’ll set the timer for fifteen minutes (or two minutes, or whatever I can handle) and just take care of as much as I can.  Usually, once I start, I find the strength to finish, and even if I don’t, I've taken care of enough of the problem to set it aside temporarily.

Now that the problem’s taken care of, it’s good to take a few minutes to reflect and see if there’s anything I could have done to avoid having to deal with it in the first place.  Some things- like Megan and the Frisbeeor Nathan being sick- I chalk up as unavoidable.  I’m not going to send my kids out in helmets (except on bikes!) and safety goggles or raise them in a bubble.  But other things might have turned out differently if I had taken preventative measures.  I can refer back to my “notes to self” and either plan a better strategy for the future, or I can use it as a learning opportunity with the kids.  “I will NEVER put soap in the washer again.  And, Austin- never mind, you’re a toddler.  Of course you’re going to dump out bottles.  Guys, put the groceries on the counter, not on the floor where he can get them.” 

Once all that’s done (and it usually takes far less time to do all of that than it does to write all of that), I need to let it go.  It’s over.  Done.  On to the next thing.  Think about it:  If you lose your keys, your two year old throws a tantrum, you forget a meeting, yell at the kids, and burn dinner, your day is a complete disaster!  Each event follows you around and by the end of the day you are so burdened with stress that you can’t function.  Instead, deal with each as it comes:  Find your spare keys, hug your two year old, reschedule, apologize, and serve PBandJ.  It really wasn't that bad.  Just some small things, and I'll bet there were a lot of good things in between.  Don’t hold onto those events and carry them around with you.  Let them go.

Finally, the most important step:  Say thank You.  Nothing conquers stress like gratitude.  “Thank You that my washer didn’t break.  Thank You that Megan’s eye will heal.  Thank You for health.  Thank You that all days end eventually.”  Just be thankful.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
Will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:7

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Rolling With It- Part One

Ever have one of those days?  You know, the days where everything just seems determined to go wrong?  In my adventure in single parenting, I've found that it’s pretty easy for those days to reach full-blown crisis days pretty quickly.  There’s no second shift- no back-up- no calling in the reserves.  So I’m learning to roll with it.  No sense in getting stressed out over what I can’t change.

I've been told before that I am good in a crisis.  What’s funny about my life now is how many times I get to practice that art. 

Little ones, of course, think everything is a crisis.  “I can’t fiND MY SHOES!”  “But I WANT a Lego set.”  “Take me outside NOOOOWWWW!”  And, when there is a crisis, like this:

(Totally my own fault.  Austin- maybe it was a little his fault too- dumped an ENTIRE bottle of dish-washing liquid right before bed.  I put towels on it to soak it up and in the morning- I’m going to blame not being fully awake- I thoughtlessly tossed them all in the washer. Bad idea.  At least soap suds are a “clean mess.”)

Anyway, when Mom is diligently (and calmly- at least outwardly) dealing with a laundry room full of foam, kids have no concept of BEING QUIET and just getting out of the way.  Nope.  Their crises are STILL every bit as important as they were before.  “Mom, mom, mom, MOM…”  “I’m sort of in the middle of something right now, sweetie.” 

Then there are the days where things just seem to stack up.  Two days after the soap incident, Nathan had woken up sick.  Plus, it had been raining all day and the boys were climbing the walls.  I was hanging curtains in the living room, and, while dealing with the inevitable kid distractions, I forgot that I had left the hammer on top of the ladder.  (That, by the way, is another bad idea.  Probably worse than the soapy towels in the washer.  You can guess where this is going.)  I moved the ladder and the hammer, obeying the law of gravity, crashed down on my head.  Major headache- thought I was going to black out- nausea and the whole bit. 

Ten minutes later, while my head is still pounding, Megan comes in the house.  She’s been hit in the eye with a Frisbee and her iris is filling with blood.  Lovely.  I missed getting a picture of the initial injury, but it ended up turning brown.  She couldn't see out of the eye, and I spent two hours on the phone trying to get a straight answer on whether or not I needed to bring her in.  (Note to moms: For eye injuries, call the ophthalmologist directly.  The groups will have someone on call.)

In the midst of all of this chaos, Steffen had a meltdown, Austin had one of those just-put-him-in-the-tub issues, and a few squabbles had to be refereed.

The next week, the wheel of my car was threatening to come off, resulting in an emergency trip to the shop with all the kids in tow and a rental car for several days.  And so it goes, one mini-crisis after another.  Like most people, I'd rather just have everything go well all the time.  No temper tantrums, no car trouble, no laundry disasters.  But that's not realistic, so while I can't escape all the bumps in the road, I am learning, a little at a time, to take them in stride.  

I'll share some of what I'm learning later in the week in Rolling With It Part 2.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Enchanted Rock

The kids asked me how I wanted to celebrate Mother's Day, and I told them I wanted to go to Enchanted Rock.  They were thrilled with my selection, and we took off early so that we could hit the trail before there were too many people.  (Sometimes during the peak season- which is now- Enchanted Rock actually closes due to too many visitors.  It's a cool place, but it's also very popular.)

When we pulled into the parking lot, Carsten, my born hiker, said, "This place is sooo AWESOME!"  Everyone agreed.  Nathan and Megan are the only ones who have been before, and the others were very impressed by their first sight of the massive rock.

I packed Austin into the backpack.  He's usually pretty good about tagging along that way.  Steffen, on the other hand, has been a bit of challenge on our hikes.  This time, we had a BIG talk ahead of time.  I impressed the whole "celebrating Mother's Day" thing on him, and then told him we were going to walk all the way to the top with no stopping and no whining.  I wasn't particularly confident about my powers of persuasion, despite the fact that I promised him a snack at the top, so I brought along the front pack, just in case I ended up having to carry both the little guys.

All the kids started off with a will.  There were already a good number of people making their way up.  The great thing about Enchanted Rock is that it's almost impossible to get lost.  You can look up and see exactly where you're going (though it's farther away than it looks) and it's up to you how you get yourself up there.


Carsten figured the best way up was, well, up.

Either my conversation with Steffen had its desired effect or he's just gotten older and more willing to hike (crossing my fingers), but whatever it was, he did great!  He kept saying, "I'm doing great.  All the way to the top with no stopping!  I'm fine!  I'm good!"  He was like a hiker and cheerleader all in one.  And even though he took a nose dive into a puddle and had to hike wet, he made it all the way to the top all by himself!  That's a pretty great accomplishment for a three year old.

I handed out the promised snacks at the top, and let Austin out for a bit of running around time.  Every time he tried to take a step though, the steep grade had him wheeling his little arms around for balance.  He decided to stay put and just snack.

Steffen showed off the secret to his great hiking success- Lego Crocs.

And all of the kids enjoyed the stunning scenery.

We walked down in a zig-zag so that I could keep my balance with the backpack, and we passed so many people going up that I was indeed glad that we had gotten there early.

We drove back to San Antonio for lunch at Green before heading back home, where everyone sort of crashed, all worn out from our exciting and happy Mother's Day.

Oh, and thank you, Nathan, for lending your phone for all the picture taking.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

In My Image

Steffen was having one of those mornings.  He has a lot of those mornings.  See, Steffen likes to be in control.  He has definite ideas about how the world should be, and when things don't go his way- well, let's just say he doesn't give in without a fight.

It was Sunday and I decided that since we were going to be at church all afternoon setting up for evening activities, it made more sense to go to the late service.  Now, changing the schedule when you have kids is always a tricky undertaking.  "But, Mom, when are we leaving?"  "We're going to be late!"  "Why are we parking over here?"  "How come we have to go to Sunday school first?"  "What if you forget to pick us up?" "Mom, when are we leaving?"  It's not something I do frequently.  The questions just drive me crazy.

So, on this morning, I was already on shaky ground with Steffen.  Then, when we got to church, I forgot to let him climb out my door of the van.  He does this at home because our driveway is steep, but now, he thinks he has to do it everywhere.  This resulted in several minutes of threats and negotiations.  I finally scooped him up and carried both him and his brother into church.

Here, we encountered our next obstacle:  the nursery name tags.  The printer prints one long line of tags for each child in the family.  There's always a debate over whose turn it is to hand out the name tags.  Carsten has given up on this one, and all he asks is to be able to take his own tag off.  Steffen, though, refuses to settle for this compromise.  HE is in charge of the tags and HE gets to hand out EVERY ONE of them.  The meltdown was inevitable.

I marched him into the bathroom and got down on his level.  "Steffen, Carsten gets his own tag and that's final."

Steffen stomped his foot emphatically, "But, Mom, God wants ME to hand out the tags on Sunday morning!"

I was still grinning when I left my recalcitrant little guy with the wonderful and patient nursery workers, who weekly add more jewels to their eternal crowns.

A divine appointment.  Interesting how God's will coincides so neatly with Steffen's own wishes.

But the fact is, my three year old acts a lot like me and many other people I know.  We decide what we want God to be like and what we want Him to do, and then we attempt to squeeze Him into our box.  We want to be in control.  We want things to go our way.  In short, we create God in our own image.

Awhile ago (January 20th, to be exact), our pastor preached on just this topic.  We don't have to have gold statues sitting around our house to be idol worshipers.  All we need to do is have a skewed idea of who God is- an idea that doesn't line up with Scripture- an idea that, while it allows us to fulfill our own wishes, doesn't acknowledge that the God we serve does what He wills without asking us for permission. 

Have you ever found yourself saying (or thinking) things like these:  "I like to think of God as...." or "In my mind, God..." or "I don't believe that God would..."?  When we allow ourselves to begin imagining God a certain way, a way that makes us more comfortable, we are entering dangerous territory.  God, like Aslan in Narnia, is good, but not "tame."  He is not ours to control.  We don't get to make the rules or hand out demands.  Many of the requirements God has are hard; many of our own requests go unfulfilled.  It's easy to ascribe our own thoughts, biases, and wishes to God, whether or not what Scripture says supports our thinking.

God is "my God" only in the sense that I have chosen to give Him the glory and obedience that is rightfully His.  (Psalm 29:2)  He is not "my" God that I can mold and shape to my preferences.  It's not about me.

Any God that I would create would not be wonderful, or terrible, or powerful enough to do what I need God to do.

"There is none like you, O Lord..
Who would not fear You, O King of the nations?
For this is Your rightful due...
A wooden idol is a worthless doctrine...
They are the work of skillful men.
But the Lord is the true God;
He is the living God and the everlasting King."
From Jeremiah 10  

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mayors and Other Impatient People

I mentioned in my last post a story involving the mayor of the city of Bulverde.  I had to give this story a little more attention, because, first, everybody loves a ridiculous local news story, and second, it is such a good illustration of what we've become as a society.

You can follow the link above to get the full story, but here's a brief recap:  The mayor wrote a letter in the local paper complaining about cyclists on the road.  Apparently, he, in his big Dodge Ram, got stuck behind some riders.  When they moved to the side to let him pass, he revved his engine.  They followed him to his destination, tapped on his window and they shouted back and forth for a little while.  The aggravated mayor then wrote the letter, telling cyclists that they are "endangering" motorists.

Although I want to focus on the character issues involved in this little altercation, I just can't help commenting on the ludicrous nature of his complaint.  I'm thinking that if there's a tangle between a motorist surrounded by 2 tons of steel and a cyclist surrounded by...air...and a styrofoam helmet, the motorist won't be much endangered.  I'm just saying.

Now, with that off my chest, on to the real heart of the matter.

We can't wait for anything anymore.  "I've been in line for six minutes; what is taking that cashier so long?" "I texted her two minutes (seconds) ago.  She must have lost her phone."  "Stupid red light!"

Certainly in another time and place, people were not obsessed with losing a minute here and there.  There was a time, believe it or not, when messages took months to deliver, and humans existed without watches.  Time was estimated by the sun and exact calculations were impossible.  I wonder if the inventor of the first minute by minute time-keeping device knew he was changing the very core of human behavior.

Plus, the technology we have today creates a "now" addiction.  We should get everything instantly, and it ought to be tailored for our unique preferences.  And, the more that's reinforced, the more self-centered we become.  Because that is, after all, what it's all about, right?  Self-centeredness.  Nothing and no one should ever come between us and our goal.  The mayor was going somewhere!  How dare those cyclists in their "expensive riding attire" out "joyriding" get in his way!

The interesting thing about this story is that the riders were able to follow him to his destination.  Now, adrenaline may have made them a little more speedy than usual, but still, if they caught up to him in the parking lot, the mayor couldn't have been going far.  Think about it: all that anger over just a few seconds.  That can't be good for his health, and similar reactions most definitely aren't good for ours.

It's not a big deal.  That's what we need to say a lot more often.  Most of what makes us hopping mad is really no big deal in the grand scheme of things.  A little patience and a little humility would do all of us some good.  After all, sometimes we're the ones holding up the line.

And, whatever you do, if you lose your temper, try not to publish it in the newspaper.