Quiet Time

Every morning, it starts at the crack of dawn. Which at my house is 5:50 a.m.

“SHHHHHHHHHHH! Mom’s still sleeping!”

“I KNOW that, butt-head.”

“Stupid.”

“I’m telling you said stupid. MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!”

“Mom, can we watch cartoons with our cereal? We walked the dog FIVE TIMES. And we hardly argued at all.”

“Mom, can you unbutton me?” (She has on this gauzy number with impossibly large buttons on the back, which even in my un-bespeckled state I can see very clearly.)

“Mom! I can’t find socks!”

“Mom! Can we have eggs?!”

*sigh* It is now 6:15. I’ve put it off long enough. Groaning, I roll out of bed, as my dear husband pulls the pillow over his head. “Just fifteen more minutes.”

At the other end of the day, Craig is passed out on the couch after the strenuous activity of tucking Sarah into bed and reading her a bedtime story. Every thirty minutes, she parades through the living room, just to be sure we’re still there. Or to ask us to kill the fly/mosquito/moth/other flying creature that has wandered into her room.

In between, it’s more of the same. Shrieks and bickers, interspersed with periods of enforced quiet. “Reading time!” “Flash card time!” “Sock matching time!” (That last one will get them to scatter outside for ten whole minutes before they come back inside for a snack/drink/mom check.)

I love them. Really. With all my heart. But I love what’s going on here, right now, even more. Okay … that sounds bad. Can we just agree that — right now, in this moment — I love it almost as much?

My husband — my dear, sweet husband of almost eleven years — lassoed the kids and took them for a swim at his brother’s house. Without me. Sure, he left the dog. But the dog doesn’t say much.

And so this afternoon, here I am with my Diet Coke and snickerdoodles and old movie, folding laundry with a big, fat smile on my face. My own special “quiet time.”

At this rate, I just may make it till bedtime!

Juggling with the Stress Monster

In my book “Raising Up Mommy,” I write about how the seven deadly sins of motherhood that catch us up in our unguarded moments, especially in times of stress or anxiety. (I have often said that I didn’t realize what a problem I had with anger until I became a mother!)

For most of us, certain times of the day are especially stressful. For us, it’s the “witching hour” right before dinner, when the kids can’t look cross-eyed at one another without erupting into shrieks and fits. So, as much for my own sanity as their growth in virtue, I’ve learned a few “tricks of the trade” that I thought I’d share with you today. Feel free to write in and share what works for you!

  • Find humor in the moment – no matter how un-funny your life seems at the time. When a child practices his penmanship all over your freshly painted family room wall: “I declar I am the President of the upstair, and SARHA must GET OUT and quit bugging me!”), you can go nuts … or chuckle at the creative way he attempted to solve his own problems with his pesky sister.
  • Use blocks of time wisely. Crashing on the couch with a Mike’s and your favorite sitcom is tempting … but you will feel a lot better AFTER you load the dishwasher and toss in a load of laundry. Instead of turning on the television, turn on some good music or listen to a book on tape.
  • Find creative ways to delegate certain chores you really don’t like to do. Do you hate having to figure out what’s for dinner every night? Find a “dinner buddy” (perhaps with the “working mom” next door, or from a play group), and once or twice a week double a recipe to trade and take home, so you don’t have to cook the next night! Do you just really need an hour of peace and quiet? Maybe your neighbor would be willing to host a “pizza and movie” night in exchange for weeding her garden.
  • Teach your kids to help themselves. Train your kids early in life to value self-sufficiency. A six-year-old is capable of pouring herself a bowl of cereal. An eight-year-old can make a peanut-butter sandwich (better yet, have her make a whole loaf of them and freeze, so you can pull them out each morning for lunch boxes).
  • Beware the “witching hour.” The hour before dinner can be the most stressful hour of the day, so be ready for it. Have a special “play corner” and a nutritious snack for younger children (perhaps a few veggies from dinner), and send older children to bathe and change into their jammies while you take a moment to turn on some good music and pour yourself a glass of wine while you fix dinner. 
  • Exercise is your friend! A ten-minute romp in the park or around the block after dinner with kids and dog helps everyone to reconnect and enjoy one another. That connectedness is a natural mood-elevator – especially when you turn off the cell phone and focus totally on the activity at hand.

What are some of your “secrets” for combatting your Mommy Monster?

“Thinking Green” (Why Moms Need to Conserve Brain Cells)

Today over at her blog “Chocolate for the Brain,” my friend Sherri Antonetti writes about hitting a mental block with her third grader’s homework.

I haven’t experienced this quite yet … my kids are still young, and thanks to my academic pursuits, I still have a few years before I become the Worlds Dumbest Parent. Maybe.

Even so, I can’t help but notice that my brain is missing some of the elasticity it had ten or twenty years ago. More and more frequently I have to look up familiar verses and quotes. In conversation with kids and adults alike, I grasp for words, or accidentally replace one with another. All mothers go through this, due to stress and sleep deprivation. But it’s unsettling when it happens to you.

All this does not point to an easy road ahead, when I return to school. I remember watching my mother struggle to learn her pharmacology conversions when she got her LPN license at the age of 36. Then I couldn’t understand why she went over and over the same sheet of paper, never seeming to get anything to “stick.”

Now I get it.

So, how is a mom supposed to conserve brain cells — and keep the ones she has fresh and supple?

Taking care of yourself is a good first step — keeping hydrated and taking those Omega-3s, watching the diet to maintain a healthy level of cholesterol and blood pressure. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and grains for Vitamins B (spinach, beans, strawberries), C (citrus and tomatoes), and E (nuts, seeds, and grains).

Brush and floss. Did you know there is a connection between chronic inflammation from gum disease and Alzheimer’s and heart disease?

Stay physically fit. There is a connection between physical and mental fitness. As we age, a holistic approach is best — striving to keep a healthy balance socially, spiritually, mentally, and physically. Seek moderation, rather than excess.

Challenge yourself. Minimize the time you spend in front of the television — do crosswords or Sudoku, or listen to classic books on tape while you’re running errands. Next time you go to the bookstore, stop by a non-fiction section of the library and pick up something on history, science, geography/travel. Make a point of learning something new — and of memorizing something — every day.

Finally, if you want to be sure to recall something, remember that visual memory is more reliable than audible memory — that is, you’re more likely to remember something if you see it than if you just hear it … and even better if you actually write it down.

Institute “family reading time.” Choose a family goal – 100 hours or 1000 “manhours” of non-essential (non-school related) reading. When you hit your goal, the whole family gets a treat! (One family I know makes their kids read the book version of whatever movie they want to see … ).

As we head toward summer, let’s think of how we can make the most of the time — let’s keep learning!

“Monster Mommy” Mute Button

As I get ready for another week of substitute teaching, I think over the events of the past week, keenly aware of the “self-censoring” button that (judging from where my headaches originate) mothers have installed somewhere between the eyes.

Every time a child says something that makes me bite my tongue until it bleeds, to prevent me from retorting in kind, the little button zaps me right between the eyes … I think of it as the “Monster Mommy Mute Button.” This invisible, but highly useful, device saves us moms from saying hundreds of things that we’d REALLY like to say sometimes, but know in our heart of hearts that it would do more harm than good.

You know what I mean …

For example, one day last week after listening to my little cherubs bicker all the way home from school, I stopped the car at the bottom of the drive and opened the sliding doors on both sides. “Okay, out.”

“OOOWHHHHHHHHHYYYYYYY?” (Three syllables.)

What mother thought, “Because I’ve been dealing with ornery brats all day, and if I have to referee one more scuffle I’m going to go STARK RAVING MAD!!! If I don’t get thirty seconds of peace and quiet, and fast, you are going to spend the rest of the week in your bedrooms.”

What comes out Self-Censor, “Because there are popsicles waiting in the freezer for little children who get a little exercise and run up the driveway.” (Said children break all speed barriers getting out of the car.)

It works in classrooms, too.

“Jadaquisha, I’ve told the class twice to put away all electronic gadgets, including cell phones. Twice. Please end your conversation, and put your cell phone on the teacher’s class until the end of class.”

Eyes roll makes me wonder if there’s a little pin between her ears. “That *stinks.* Do I HAVE to?”

What teacher thinks: “I don’t get paid enough for this aggravation, you spoiled little twit. You’ve been carrying on with your neighbor and now your boyfriend, even though the bell rang ten minutes ago. If you don’t make that phone disappear, and quickly, I’m going to take the class to the top floor, throw it over the edge, and have everyone calculate the velocity as we watch it disintegrate into a pile of metallic toothpicks.”

What Self-Censor comes up with: “Yes. Now, can anyone tell me how you calculate velocity?”

Now, to be fair the thoughts that flit through my head aren’t always quite so … worthy of censoring. Most of the time, my interior monologue is such that I don’t need a zipper and two rolls of duct tape to keep me from embarrassing myself. But some days … of some weeks … “Monster Mom” comes to call, and all bets are off.

On those days, thank God for the button.

“Are You Raising a Narcissist?” Favorite Post at Scribbit

Michelle at Scribbit posted this thought-provoking article that I wanted to share here. Head on over and check it out!

I confess I went ahead and took the “Narcissist” test. To my relief, I fell in the “normal” range, though my “authority” score seemed a tad high for my own good. Hmmm … Made me wonder why I so often have difficulty getting my kids to follow where I’m leading!

Ah, the dilemmas of parenthood.

Feeling Trapped? Remember St. Patrick

My husband, Craig, has had a chronic health problem that makes it impossible to sleep at night, difficult to get up in the morning, and leaves him feeling perpetually fatigued and unproductive at work. Yesterday he overslept and missed a meeting – I forgot to give him a “wake up call” from school – he was so agitated about what was going to happen that I was afraid he’d have a car accident. Thankfully, he arrived with both the car and his job intact. But it was a hard day.

I spent the morning thinking about what we would do if Craig lost his job. Frankly, if a comparable work situation was immediately available I’d be delighted to see him switch tracks. But at his age and in this economy, he feels certain that it would involve a move and a pay cut. Likely I’d need to return to work full-time as well – immediately. But doing what? Substitute teaching is a great stepping stone to teacher’s certification, but does not pay well enough to support the family. Lord, I need a plan.

A short time later, I received an e-mail from a friend about a mutual friend – a single adoptive mother of two – whose mother had been placed in hospice. She had been juggling job, hospital visits, school events, Girl Scouts, bedtime routines, and every other aspect of family life with such good humor and grace. Now she was about to lose her mother, who had been a constant source of support to her.

Well, Lord, perhaps what I need is not a plan but a little perspective.

On St. Patrick’s Day we remember the fourth-century patron saint of Ireland, who as a teenager was captured and sold into slavery in Ireland. He later escaped, and volunteered to return as a missionary. That is, he willingly returned to serve the people after escaping the bonds of servitude.

This aspect of his life is one that extraordinary moms do well to consider when the circumstances of our lives leave us feeling trapped – as they sometimes will. We can chafe and fret over the unfairness and indignity of it all. Or, like St. Patrick, we can rise above these things by choosing to see

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in the hearts of all that love me,
Christ in the mouths of friend and stranger.

For the full Prayer of St. Patrick, click here.

“We the Unwilling…” Thought for the Day

Every time I visit my parents, I return with a piece of their lives. It’s a little disquieting. Pictures. Other collectibles and memorabelia. The family silver service.

Throughout the house, Mom has tags on things — a chest of drawers for my sister, my father’s childhood portrait, taken when he was the age Sarah is now (that one’s for me).

It’s a lbit sad, really. Obviously, I’d much rather have them around for the next several decades than to take hold of their most precious possessions, one shrimp fork at a time. And yet, if pressed, I’d have to admit there is something …. two things, actually … that I’d really like to have. They’re in Dad’s workshop, so I doubt they’ve been tagged yet.

Dad has two little signs posted above his workbench, reminders of his days in the Air Force and National Guard. They read:

“We the unwilling, led by the ungrateful, have done so much, for so long, with so little, that we can now do the impossible with nothing.”

And right next to it:

“Good. Fast. Cheap. Pick any two.”

Can you relate to this?