Motherhood

Not all advice is good advice!

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I love reading Better Homes and Gardens magazine. I never subscribed to it, but for some reason they keep sending me the issues. I find that it’s a great place to get ideas that never work in real life. But I still enjoy looking at it; I enjoy seeing the colors, styles and decor of dream houses – that stay dreams.

And then there’s the practical tips page; the ones that promise you the easiest solutions to all your problems, guaranteed to work and fail proof.

I don’t know who writes them, but it’s certainly someone with little life experience.

Or someone who was never a mom.

So I was reading this must-try brilliant answer to all of life’s challenges, an easy way to get organized:

Post a dry erase board on the refrigerator and every time you remember something, run out of something or need something, just jot it down on the board and presto, at the end of the day your list is made and nothing is forgotten.

Great idea, no?

Well, I laughed out loud and couldn’t help imagining what would happen if I tried this in my house.

I’d start the day off with breakfast,  and we’d run out of cheerios. I’d quickly jot it down on the whiteboard.

The kids get dressed, and I notice 5 year old has yet another pair of pants with ripped knees; I quickly jot down to buy more size 5 pants..

I remember I need to make dentist appointments, and I quickly jot it down.

Ran out of mayo, no problem, it’s already on the list.

More tissues. There it goes, onto the whiteboard.

No more trying to remember things;  the white board is doing it for me!

Somewhere between supper and bedtime, one of my kids – don’t know if it’ll be 3, 5, or 7 year old, will notice the whiteboard. And the dry erase marker.

And there are fewer things more tempting to little hands than a dry erase board. I’d say it comes in at a tie to a Sharpie marker.

And in one little swift giggly move, gone would be my list. And the contents of my brain. And a whole days work. With no way of ever getting it back. And in it’s place would be some indecipherable modern art drawing, probably with Sharpies.

Yes, dear dry erase board and brilliant ideas writer in Better Homes and Gardens, please put a disclaimer with such ideas that for reasons of sanity, not to try it at home until the kids are married and have moved out.

Which reminds me of an important rule I follow when it comes to filtering all advice, especially the unsolicited type:

Not all advice is good advice, and not all good advice is good advice for everyone.

For me, my Little Yellow Notepad works. For some it’s Post It notes or a spiral notebook. Good old fashion ink-on-paper.

And even if little hands get hold of it and try to destroy any level of organization I’ve worked so hard on establishing, I can always get on my hands and knees, collect all the bits and pieces and tape them back together.

Trust me it works; I’ve tried it.

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Motherhood

Mommy obsessions

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What is it with us moms that we never tire of hearing about other people’s kids’ crazy antics? There’s such a thrill and satisfaction in seeing someone else’s house covered in flour, marker on someone else’s white couch or even just toys strewn across the floor from wall to wall.

I can look at photos of such stuff and listen to people talk about it for hours on end.

And I know I’m not the only one!

And the truth is, I think I know why.

Because it validates me. Of course I know it can’t just be my kids and my house; but there’s nothing like seeing it to feel comforted.

And so hence the obsession.

Somethings are funny only when it’s not my own kids.

The other day I was at an event with some of my kids.

I was talking with some people near the food table, and out of the corner of my eye I noticed the table lifting upwards slightly. As a mom, that didn’t startle me. That’s a normal thing.

But I was sure I knew who was under the table, making it happen, and I could feel the annoyance at my kids rising for hiding under the table.

Ready to call my sons’ names and demand they come out, two little heads popped out from under the table.

And miracle of miracles, they did not belong to my family!

The annoyance was gone.

Actually, I thought it was funny. Cute. Whatever. It really wasn’t a big deal, didn’t disturb me in the slightest and totally didn’t matter.

But more than that, I was amazed. Where did the annoyance go? How’d that happen so quickly??

Why, if it was my own kids, would it bother me so greatly? And why, when I discovered I wasn’t related to the culprits, did I barely give it a second thought?

I filed that image in my mental mommy files, one to keep in mind when my kids are up to something like that the next time – other kids do that too. It’s OK!

And that goes back to the obsession; we so enjoy seeing other kids doing stuff like that.

Yesterday was a good example of a day that would have been funny if I was with someone else’s kids.  It was Wednesday, the no school day. It’s the day of the week that the four younger ones are home with me. And it’s always an action packed day.

7 and 5 year old found a wilting lulav branch in the garage; after fighting over it for ten minutes or so, they went out to the backyard to play some game that I decided not to see. But the winner of the game was apparently the neighbor, because that’s the backyard the lulav branch ended up landing in.

Great, just what I needed. Another reason for the neighbor to be annoyed at us.

Off they went, back to the garage, hunting for something else.

In they came with a big grin and a bottle of diet coke they had found hiding in the garage fridge, that one of our guests had left behind. They were ready to make a L’chaim and enjoy it, but I crashed the party and poured it out.

Back they went, looking for some more stuff.

And on it went.

They went to play in the backyard again; I had to make supper, it was getting late and we had to get to swimming lessons.

And then one year old came walking in, looking a lot dirtier than when he had gone out. The firepit and all its ashes had been “sprinkled” on him…

Pretty funny, if it was someone else’s kids.

And back to trying to finish up my quick dinner; but this time with the helpers indoors. And the salt contents poured on the floor once again, in a nice neat mountain.

And the love-hate relationship I had with the water dispenser on the kitchen door…well at that moment it was all hate, with ice shooting across the kitchen.

And three year old gave himself a nice beard with the new markers, a combination or orange and brown. To match the colors of his arms.

Five year old was pretty proud of his red marker “nail polish.”

And I noticed they moved their tic-tac-toe game to the couch, and I mean literally to the couch. There on the armrest was a nice tic-tac-toe board, that I hoped would come off with a clorox wipe. But I had no time to allow myself to be annoyed.

We had to get to swimming lessons – so off we went.

Three year old with a multi colored beard, and 1 year old looking like he came through the chimney..

Only after arriving, did I notice that no one had bothered taking their shoes with them.

And they were all as happy as can be.

And I used all my effort to imagine that this crew of adorable little wreckers were someone else’s kids, because then I’m sure, at that moment, I’d be happy too.

Life in General, Motherhood

I can’t sleep with the door open!

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“I can only sleep with the door open, if you close it I’m never going to fall asleep!”

“I can’t fall asleep if the door is open, I’m so tired! I need the door closed!”

“No, it has to be open!”

“I finally got used to it closed!”

“No it needs to be open!”

“No it needs to be closed! The whole way!”

“It’s too dark!”

“It’s too light!”

I took a deep breath. I was done for the day.

Bedtime can do that to you.

They had all brushed their teeth so nicely as I watched so proudly, until my four year old made sure to autograph the mirror with the toothpaste. Something about the push down tab of the Aqua Fresh just begs for it…

Three year old had done his ritual of stepping into four year old’s negel vasser, and I made a mental note to email the French Twins and tell them I don’t appreciate their sense of humor.

“I need the door closed now!!”

I needed to get involved. My two big boys, 6 and 9 years old, were not going to figure this one out. And I needed them to go to sleep now!

I marched upstairs to their room, not quite sure how to resolve it. All I knew was that I was low on patience.

Who cares about the door? Just close your eyes and you won’t see if it’s open or closed! Stop driving each other crazy! You both woke up at 6 today and you need to go to sleep now! The next one to say a word will sleep on the couch tonight!

But I caught myself just before I launched into my mommy rhetoric.

I had a flashback. Me and my two sisters. We shared a room and we loved it. And we fought about the door. One wanted it wide open, one wanted it closed and I wanted it 3/4 closed. Not 1/2 way, it had to be 3/4, and I had a special way to measure.  And we argued. And we debated. For many, many nights. And despite all that, we are best friends.

I looked at my boy in amusement, still arguing about the door. How did they know that that’s what you’re supposed to argue about? Did they get the memo, bedtime rule #712: argue about the door until mom comes. Then continue arguing.

This wasn’t about them. This wasn’t about deliberately pushing my patience.

This was about the joys of siblings sharing a room.

It’s part of the growing experience. Part of the excitement of whispering at night to each other when you’re supposed to be sleeping, of waking up early and talking until it’s time to get out of bed. Of staring up at the ceiling and sharing your dreams of the night before.

It’s all part of the joys of siblings. And I didn’t want to steal it away from them.

So I used every last ounce of non existant energy to rationally resolve the issue.

And we came to a compromise. They were both happy. And so was I. Not because I came up with a clever solution, but because I had the presence of mind to see past the door.

I walked back downstairs, knowing full well that tomorrow night they’d have the same disagreement. And the next night. And the next. Just like I had done.

And I repeated to myself over and over again. It’s not them. They are doing nothing wrong.

It’s not the door.

It’s part of the childhood experience. Part of the learning to share and care for each other. Just like me and my sisters. 

In that context, I can hold on to my patience a few moments longer when I’m called in to referee.

I could hear them talking and laughing, making plans for the next day.

And I was relieved that I had caught myself in time.

 

Motherhood

The freezer repair guy

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I knew I had to call the freezer repair guy.

I knew it for 6 months. When I plugged in the freezer back in November and it made this monstrous, horrific buzzing sound, I knew something was wrong.

But I did what comes to mind when you discover an appliance is broken – I plugged it in again.

Same noise.

So I did the next knee jerk reaction; I started Googling “buzzing sound when I turn on my freezer.”

What do you know, apparently I wasn’t alone with this! People from all walks of life had similar issues; I narrowed it down to the fan. Certainly the fan.

Now what? Call the repair guy.

But it’s my spare freezer. I didn’t need it working in November anyway, so I made due with the other two freezers I have.

And I pushed it off.

Checked in on it in February, plugged it in, hoping it had fixed itself. No, it hadn’t.

I pushed it off again.

Until finally, I needed the freezer and needed a repair guy now.

With Pesach quickly approaching, and 3 cases of chicken and dozens of milk being delivered next week; this was serious.

I tracked down a decent company, made an appointment and for only $79, I would know what was wrong. No, that wouldn’t fix it. This was just the initial visit.

And the guy came.

Plugged in the freezer. Monstrous noise. I smiled a little, as if to say, see, I was right, it IS broken.

He looked around.

Plugged it in again. Unplugged it.

Looked at the bottom ledge, where the light is. And apparently a small black switch sits there too. And he flipped the switch.

And the noise was gone.

That was it.

$79 to flip the switch.

Apparently this smart freezer has a temperature alarm that sounds if the degrees goes down to low. The alarm had been turned to the on position. So when the freezer was plugged in, this smart freezer sounded the alarm to let me know that the temperature was too low. You can’t get a smarter freezer than that!

I tried to negotiate, “C’mon, this was your easiest call today. Do I get a discount?” Nope, no discount.

I paid. He kinda felt bad, I felt rather stupid and my freezer, well, it felt great! It hummed to life.

At least that’s all it was. You didn’t want it to be broken! Better than having to buy a new one. At least it was so simple to fix. 

And those were all true! But I still didn’t like the idea of spending close to 100 bucks on something I could have done myself!

Moms sure have lots in common with these appliance repair guys.

We also carry around a multi purpose bag of tools and tricks. Only repair guys get more time to assess the damage before pulling  out the right tools. Moms don’t always have the luxury; we have to reach inside our bag and grab one quick!

Sometimes we look for big solutions, and there’s really a simple answer right in front of our eyes.

At times I explore new, complicated ideas; yet it’s the simple ones that work best.

Like what happened two weeks ago.

It was one of those days. My son was having trouble sitting at his computer during class. As I’ve mentioned, the unique schooling my children attend is online;  class, teacher, friends and all, with a webcam and mic. This comes along with unique benefits (I can send the kids to class in PJ’s if they’re late) and disadvantages (having to make sure they sit in their seat!)

And this was being a tough day. He was bouncing. He was bothering his siblings. He was sharpening pencils all over the place. He was doing everything other than sitting in class.

I took a deep breath. Reached deep into my “tool bag” of tricks. And started to formulate some chart I would put together and some system I’d establish to get his behavior back under control. Started to launch into how many warnings he would get and what consequences he would deserve. I was ready to be patient. And firm. And get him to sit in his seat and do what he was supposed to do.

And then, for a fleeting moment, I thought out of the box. Like a light bulb went on.

Ditch the systems and charts. Forget the lists of broken rules.

“Follow me!”

And he did. Eager for a reason to leave class, of course.

We went outside. “Alright, I’m setting my timer. Let’s see if you can make it to the corner and back in 20 seconds.”

And off he went. No questions. No negotiating. No complaints. He ran and ran. And then tried to beat his time. And beat it a third time. And we got it to 15 seconds.

And he was out of breath. Cheeks flushed. The type of flush that is full of life and exuberance, excited and challenged. And the type when a kid looks pleased with himself.

And we went back inside. Him to class, me to continue what I was doing. That was it. It worked.

He didn’t need any complex behavior chart. He just needed help switching gears.

I just needed to flip the switch. He had the wrong one on, and thankfully, at that moment, I was able to realize that.

But I can’t say I always do.

So many times I harp on the same things. trying the same route again and again, thinking it’ll change things, when it doesn’t.

Sometimes I look for complex and time consuming solutions, and that’s not it either.

Like with my freezer. If I would’ve just looked at it, instead of all around it,  about it, and Googling it, I could have saved myself a couple dollars.

Same with my kids. I need to make sure to stop and do that more often.

To stop looking around at what they are doing, saying, going, playing, destroying, bothering, wrecking; and instead look at them.

Because more often than not,  I know that’s where I can find the solution.

Behavior & Discipline, Motherhood

Kitchen grout and kids

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What happened to the grout?”

Huh??

What grout?

“The grout on the kitchen floor, between the tiles;  why is it that color?”

I stood there staring at my landlord, baffled.

There are pros to renting a house and not being a homeowner; namely, when something breaks, it actually gets fixed! A downside, though, is when the owner wants to do an annual inspection and see how the house is doing.

I know he’s not coming to judge my housekeeping abilities per se, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that my capabilities are being scrutinized. As many times as I tell myself he wants to make sure we didn’t knock down any walls or paint the kitchen  without permission, I still can’t help but feel it’s the dreaded housekeeping police, the type every mom has nightmares about, that walk in unannounced when the house is an absolute war zone.

But I was ready and  I was pretty pleased last week when the landlord arrived; the floors were clean and the toys were put away. Even the sinks were empty of dishes!

And the kids – they were all dressed. In matching clothes. No, not matching to each other, that stopped when baby #3 was born. But they were wearing pants and shirts that matched each other, respectively! And some even had socks on. They had all brushed their teeth the night before, their faces were clean. I was proud.

All the more reason why I was standing there speechless when he started asking about the grout.

At first, he gave a quick scan of the living room. All was in its proper place, we hadn’t taken down any walls, or build any new ones either. But it was during his quick look at the kitchen that he stopped to frown.

My first thought was -there are no dishes in the sink! Not a trace of last night’s dinner! Why are you frowning??

And then came the grout question.

You’ve got to be kidding! This house is still in one piece, the place is clean, the beds are made, kids are dressed, and you are worried about the grout?!

But of course, I didn’t say that.

I smiled sweetly and shrugged, “The floor is washed a couple times a week. I guess it’s the sign of life.”

He nodded slightly, not totally convinced.

And I silently counted my blessings. The many blessings that consume my life so that things like tile grout isn’t something that made it to my stress list. To me, that was the sign of a full life.

And later that evening, during bedtime, when I was doing a quick scan of each bedroom before checking off the kids’ charts; to see if clothes were in the hamper and things were put away, I caught sight of some little toy/thingie hiding in the corner of one of the rooms.  I caught myself as I was about to point it out to the kids.

I thought of the grout. Of how I felt when all my hard work on maintaining this house, (ok, with the help of my housecleaner!) was unnoticed, and all that was mentioned was the measly kitchen grout that refused to stay its original color.

The kids had cleaned their room. Their clothing was in the hamper. Their things were properly stowed. And one measly toy, cast aside, was forgotten and unnoticed…well I wouldn’t notice it either. I wanted to motivate them; and mentioning the one didn’t-do instead of the many did-dos would not help them want to do it all again tomorrow.

And later that night, when all was quiet, I did a quick google search just to clear my conscience. And guess what. There is no long term solution for keeping grout clean! Unless you get on your hands and knees and scrub it each night. I’d rather keep it the color it is. As a constant reminder that my life is full of more important things.