Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sometimes Everyday Life Means Grilled Cheese Sandwiches at 9:45

I've been reading Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin in bits and pieces, while I wait for Molly at gymnastics or during horseback riding lessons or last night while I waited for back to school night to start. I really enjoyed her first book, The Happiness Project, as well as her blog and the videos she posts. What she has to say makes sense to me; outer order creates inner calm, people over estimate what they can get done in a day but under estimate what they can get done in 15 minutes, and any happiness resolutions you make can only be about yourself because you can't make anyone else happy.

But you can't be happy all the time and somedays it's hard to be thankful for the things you have even though you know you should. Whether you are a stay at home mom or a mom that works outside the home, trying to keep up with everything that goes along with running a "happy home" is hard work and never ending. Yesterday, after getting the kids out the door for school one by one, I threw in a load of laundry, unloaded the dishwasher, loaded the dishwasher, cleaned off the kitchen counters, threw in a load of laundry, sat at my desk and sorted through some papers, checked my emails, went over our afternoon schedule to make sure I didn't forget anything, wrote four birthday cards...belated birthday cards...three thank you notes, went through a stack of catalogs, threw away 90 percent of them, put library books in the car to return, sorted through the mail, put my neighbor's mail in the car because the mailman keeps delivering their mail to us, threw in a load of laundry, took a shower, volunteered in Molly's class, came home and ate lunch, threw in a load of laundry, picked up Ryan and Molly from school, brought Molly back to school because she forgot her homework, did homework, got the kids ready for CCD, drove to Timmy's middle school while he was at CCD because he forgot his homework, picked up the kids from CCD, dropped Ryan and Molly at home, drove Timmy to football, went to the high school for back to school night, sat in the car and spoke to Chris who just started a new job who was sitting in gridlock traffic so would not be able to pick up Timmy from football, called my good friend and neighbor to see if she could pick up Timmy, went to back to school night, got lost a few times, came home to everyone watching Honey Boo Boo in the family room, told Molly to get her pj's on and go to bed, she said, "but I didn't have dinner," made grilled cheese, ate dinner at 9:45, cleaned the kitchen, kissed everyone good night and it will all start over again tomorrow.

It is so very hard some days to see the value of your everyday life when you do the same things over and over again. But Gretchen also says that what you do everyday is more important than what you do every once in a while. 

So I dig deep and think about yesterday, and everything I did was somehow connected to my family and that has value; the laundry, the scheduling, and even this clean kitchen counter. I feel like this kitchen counter is never clean. It is a dumping ground; for mail, for school papers, for catalogs, for books. We all have that one spot in our house that never seems to stay clean. You may only see a clean counter in this picture, but I see the mail that got sorted, the catalogs that got thrown away, the kids' papers that I went through, the birthday cards that got sent, the thank you notes that got written, the library books that were returned and the mail that got delivered to its rightful owner.

Somedays, you've got to dig deep and just be grateful for a clean kitchen counter.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Mama Bear and a Proud Mama All in One Day

This past Saturday, in the late afternoon, Timmy with cell phone in hand, asked if he could go to the movies. Three girls were going and they had asked him to go with them. A completely innocent situation, they were going to see Nemo in 3-D. But the movie was at night and there weren't any parents that were staying. They were all dropping off. 

When it comes to this whole parenting journey, I have found that the biggest transition so far has been moving up from elementary school to middle school. Up until now, my kids moving from one stage to the next has been more subtle. A baby doll whose arms and legs were duct taped on because it was loved so much and was slept with every night was one day on the shelf and not on the bed. Beloved stuffed duckies that went everywhere with another child, were one day found in a bin. One day you clean out the kitchen cabinet and you realize you don't need the bottles any more and so you throw them away without any thought and then a few years later you do the same with the sippy cups. The family has movie night, and when the movie is over and you have sleeping kids, you realize that you no longer can carry them to bed but have to wake them up so that they can walk themselves to bed. These are very subtle signs that they are growing up.

But then middle school hits you and it's not so subtle. My two oldest got their cell phones when they went to middle school and it just changes how they communicate with their friends. My kids can sit in our house, on our couch, watch a game on TV, and they will have phone in hand texting a friend who is sitting in his house watching the same game. They text each other to make "plans" and then will let me know what the plans are. Gone are the days of, "Mom, can you call so-and-so's mom so we can have a play date?" At least that's true for my two oldest. Their circle of friends has also gotten bigger. It is no longer our little neighborhood around the elementary school. You find yourself driving to other neighborhoods to drop your kid off so that he or she can "hang-out" with their friends and you stand at the door with them so you can meet the mom or dad, or make sure that mom and dad are even home.

So on Saturday when Timmy asked if he could go to the movies, I wasn't sure what to do. I have dropped him off at movies before but there was always at least one parent there and the movies were always during the day. This one was at night. I could be the mom in the back in the movie theater watching Nemo in 3-D far away from Timmy and his friends. Option number two could be to see another movie playing at the same time. Then Chris suggested that we could go out to dinner at one of the restaurants right near the movie theater. I liked that option. Timmy gets a little bit of freedom and I had the comfort of knowing we were close by. So that is what we did.

After we dropped Timmy at the movie theater, Chris and I walked to the restaurant. We went to Firebirds which, by the way, really has great food. Chris and I started to talk about our day because like many Saturdays, we go in two different directions with our kids activities. On this day, I had Ryan and Chris had Timmy. Timmy had a travel basketball game in Maryland and then a flag football game. It was the first basketball game for this fall season. Timmy has been playing travel basketball since last summer. Each season they will have try-outs and some boys will get bumped up to the next team and some times boys get bumped down. This time, they didn't have try-outs. They knew it was football season and a lot of boys wouldn't be able to make the commitment to basketball. I think they picked a handful of boys and invited them to play, and Timmy was one of them.

So as Chris and I enjoyed our drinks, Chris told me about basketball. The boys played hard but they lost by a few points. Timmy got a good amount of playing time but when they got in the car to drive to his flag football game, Timmy told Chris about words that were exchanged between him and one of his teammates. Timmy knows this boy from basketball. He has been a teammate in the past. Timmy calls him a "showboat" because whenever he gets a breakaway, instead of getting the easy lay-up and getting the two points, he always tries to do some fancy move and then, a lot of times, will then miss the basket. He also will try to get the three pointer, instead of passing the ball to a teammate that might have a closer shot.

So as Timmy walks on to the court, this boy looks Timmy up and down and says, "What are you doing here?!?!"

Timmy replied, "I'm here to play basketball."

"On what team? This team?"

"Yes, this team."

"So YOU, made THIS team?!?!"


"Well, just know that you're not going to get a whole lot of playing time on THIS team."

Chris then asked Timmy what he said next. Timmy said that he walked away and just started shooting hoops. He told Chris that there was a whole lot he could have said to this boy and really wanted to, but that they were teammates and they were about to play a game together and it didn't make sense to get into anything with him right before the game.

The Mama Bear in me was so angry at this kid. I know this kid from Timmy's last basketball team. He had an attitude then and it certainly hadn't changed over the summer. He puts down his own teammates and if the team loses, he is quick to point out everyone else's flaws but not his own. But he never was so rude and bully like to Timmy before and I was angry. But then, it started to sink in how unbelievably proud I was of Timmy. He walked away from him, not because he didn't want to stick up for himself, oh, he did, but because he knew it was better for the team if he didn't get into it with him right before the game.

So as I sat there in the restaurant eating dinner because I wanted to be close to the movie theater that Timmy was in, I realized that he was oh so very grown up in how he handled a bad situation that day. Chris had told Timmy how proud he was of him and if that had been him, he didn't know if he would have had enough self control to walk away and keep his mouth shut.

There should be a GPS for moms. There should be something to help us navigate this journey of motherhood. Instead of punching in the state, you punch in your kid's name, then the problem, and then it gives you step by step directions on what to say and how to handle a situation. And then when you follow all the steps, Betty (that's what we named our GPS) tells you that you are "arriving at destination." 

But reality is there is no destination when raising kids. There is no finish line. And so today, I will go through our daily routine. I will kiss them good-bye as they leave for school, tell them to have a good day and to do their very best. When they return, they will do their to-do list, read and do homework, and then do any activities they might have in the afternoon. We will have our family dinner, tell the best part and worst part of our day and then when it's time to say good night I tell them to think about what they did better today than what they did yesterday. This is an ordinary day for us. But as a mom, we do these things over and over and over again and then one day, you have a day like Saturday when you are so proud of the choices one of your kids made and you think, "Things are starting to sink in and they are listening." I was a Proud Mama.

The next day, I was on the computer and I came across this clip from a year ago. I remember seeing this on the news when it happened. This is how teammates should be!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Seeing Everyday Life

Just an ordinary week...nothing special...but oh, so good.

Life is good when you try new recipes...

Just found this recipe and have already made it three times. They may not taste exactly like chick-fil-a, but they're close.
You can find the recipe here.

Life is good when you notice the sunsets...

Life is good when the book you have been anticipating to read finally comes out...

Life is good when you try new things...

Molly's first gymnastics class.

Life is good when you can read just about anywhere....

Life is good when you stop, look up, and watch the rain come down...

Life is good when you try to catch a rain drop on your tongue...

Life is good when you can wear shorty shorts and cowboy boots while you take pictures of deer tracks... 

 Life is good when you find an azalea bloom in your yard in the middle of September...

Life is good when your mom lets you ride in the shopping cart even though there is a lot of food to buy...

Life is good when your daughter says you did a good job of getting her hair in a bun for dance class...

Life is good when you get everything done on your to-do list...

Life is good when you get beautiful fall days to walk home from school...

Life is good when you find everyday things that make you giggle...

Life is good when you read a magnet or bumper sticker on the car in front of you and you agree...

(It's hard to see but it says, "Wag More, Bark Less.")

Life is good when you wear fake, lense-less glasses with duct tape all day long at school and your teacher doesn't even make you take them off...

Life is good when your son says, "Hey dad, you're copying my look"...

And finally, life is good when you can fall asleep on your mama's lap at the dinner table...

Everyday Life

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Story of a Family, a Storm, and a Pair of Hello Kitty Scissors

This past weekend, there seemed to be a theme of "family." Before the weekend even started, I thought about a family that I haven't even met. This time last year, we were in the middle of very heavy rains, one day right after another. I remember going out and taking pictures of the rain.

  I remember thinking, "When will it stop?" I remember walking to the creek right behind our house to look at the water. The boys wanted to go and I remember saying not without an adult. They didn't understand because this was the creek that they wade in while looking for turtles. This is the creek that they go to when they need rocks to build a "camp" in the backyard. This is the creek that we cross everyday when we walk to and from school. They didn't understand why they couldn't go there alone. This is what the water looked like that day. The water was moving, it was fast, and it was roaring.

This is what it usually looks like, barely even moving.

This is what it sounded like that day last September.

But it was this time last year that a 12 year old boy named Jack wasn't so lucky near the creek by his house. And you can read his story here.

I thought about Jack this weekend as I was thinking about Chris and his family as they said a final good-bye to their Aunt Toni. She would have celebrated her 90th birthday today. This past year Aunt Toni was up in Boston in a nursing home where Chris' sister works. Chris is one of six kids and phone calls were made and emails were sent to see what the arrangements were going to be for planning purposes. What started as, "I'll call you once mom and I figure out hotels for everyone and arrangements for dinner Saturday night" quickly turned into, "Oh, mom and I didn't look, everyone is kind of on their own. There's a hotel nearby..." while a voice in the background could be heard saying, "Isn't that the hotel that a guy got murdered in last week?" What? Okay, this is no help! I guess we'll do our "own thing." So three Nealon brothers did their "own" thing and they all ended up in three different hotels. After Chris finally made it up to Boston, to his hotel and then to his sister's, she said, "You can stay here, there are extra rooms." On a side note, Chris' sister is a nun that works in the nursing home and they have extra rooms for guests.

"No, I'm not staying here. You told me to do my own thing." 

"Can't you cancel your hotel?"

"I already checked in, no I can't cancel."

So in the end two brothers stayed with their sister and the three other brothers were in three different hotels.

Meanwhile, back in Virginia, I had family coming down to go to the Yankee/Oriole Game on Saturday night. We were actually suppose to see the game this time last year but it was the weekend that a hurricane was hitting the east coast. My family didn't make the trip and we were able to trade the tickets in for a game for this season. But there were questions and confusion as to who was going to the game. We had ten tickets and I knew who was suppose to go to the game last year but it turned into this big deal as to who was going to go to the game this year. Again phone calls were made, messages were left, phone calls not returned right away and just confusion that I think could have been avoided.

But when it was all said and done, we ended up with two extra tickets, one being Chris' because he was up in Boston. So the boys asked a friend and Shannon asked one of her  friends to join us. 

Before going to the game, the boys had flag football games. Of course they were both at 3:00 on two different fields. So the plan was to split up and meet back at the house when the games were over. I had my mom and Ryan. My brother was with Timmy, Molly, and my mom's friend Jim. But Saturday afternoon they were calling for some severe weather. A cold front was coming through and I was watching the radar on my phone. I didn't think the boys were going to get to play but we were there, on the fields for pre-game practice and my phone was in hand checking the radar every few minutes. My hope was that the storms would come through and then it would clear up for the Yankee game that night. You could see the dark clouds slowly moving toward us from behind where we were sitting. The radar was red and orange. As 3:00 approached, the game on the field was ending and our team was getting ready to take the field. But then there was a flash of lightning, a few drops of rain, and the coaches shook hands as they agreed to call the game. At that moment the sky opened up, the rain started to come down sideways and by the time we got back to the car, we were soaked, we looked liked wet rats.

After sitting in the parking lot for at least ten minutes waiting for the rain to let up just a little so I could see where I was going, we finally headed home. When we got home, I expected my brother Brian to already be there with the others. But he wasn't. Their field was closer to home. I sat for a while in the parking lot. Why weren't they home? 

After being home for at least 10 minutes, they finally walked in the door. My brother just looked at me and said, "You have no idea what just happened!!!!" They were soaked to the skin. They were all shivering. Molly's long hair looked like it was glued to the side of her face. As Ryan's coaches shook hands and then called the game. Timmy's coaches attitudes were, "It's just rain?!? What's the big deal?!?" and they played in the sideways rain. Before the rain got too bad, Brian had given Jim and Molly the keys and told them to go sit in the car. He would stay behind with Timmy. Brian's thought was that these coaches will have to call this game any minute. But they didn't. One more play...one more play. Now this was 12 year old flag football. It wasn't high school football battling for a championship! Brian was torn as to what to do. He's not a parent himself. He wanted to pull Timmy off the field but he didn't know if he should. FINALLY, the coaches called the game, Brian grabbed Timmy and they ran to the car. When they got there, Jim and Molly weren't there. Jim and Molly had the keys, and where my brother was parked, not a paved parking lot but a graveled field, the water was rising around his car and he was nervous that he wouldn't be able to get it out. But where was Jim and Molly? As the rain pelted Brian and Timmy, Brian called Jim. He could hardly hear him but he finally found them in a small shed on the field grounds. It was raining so hard that Jim and Molly couldn't see where they were going so they couldn't find the car. Jim found a little shed to get himself and Molly out of the rain. Brian found them, got them back to the car, and he was able to get his car out of the flooding gravel lot.

It truly was a crazy afternoon. After everyone dried off, a few took hot showers, and then putting Brian's phone in a tub of rice because it shut down while he was using it in the torrential rain, we were ready to go to Baltimore for the Yankee/Oriole game. Of course we got a later start than planned. There was traffic on the beltway because of the storm and we made a stop to get my brother a new pair of sneakers at Target because the one pair be had were soaked. But we finally made it to the game. We were late, but we were there. After a bathroom break, we got in line for food before we were going to find our seats. As I was standing in line ordering food for 6 kids, Brian comes up to me to show me Shannon's finger which was swollen and purple. She had found a pull tie, you know, those things that you use to tie garbage bags. You can pull them tighter but can't make them looser. Well, Shannon had found one, put it on her finger, one of the other kids pulled on it, Shannon then couldn't get it off and as I was standing in the food concession line trying to get my orders straight for 6 kids, Shannon's finger is swelling in front of my eyes and I knew that plastic tie had to be cut off immediately or we would be heading to the hospital. Luckily, the first-aid was right next to the concession stand. I told Brian to get her over there. The gentleman there wasn't sure how to get it off at first. He rummaged through his bag and the first thing he pulls out was a knife. Shannon looked at Brian, looked away from her finger but it was a pair of Hello Kitty scissors that actually did the job. I'm not sure if Hello Kitty scissors are officially part of a first-aid kit, but it was those scissors that freed Shannon's finger. 

After all the chaos and confusion of the day, we finally made it to our seats, food in lap and Shannon's finger in a bag of ice no longer a deep purple but more a pretty shade of lavender...phew!!!

On Sunday, my mom, Jim, and Brian got in the car and  headed for home, and Chris flew in from Boston. At Sunday night dinner, our family was back together and we had stories to tell. Molly told Chris about how scared she was standing in the shed during the storm. Shannon told Chris how the first-aid guy told her she could have lost her finger if they didn't get the pull tie off. The boys told Chris about how the last out of the game was a bad call and Teixeira was safe at first and all the replays proved it.

All was right again as I sat at our dinner table and I thought about how this crazy time in our life will make for the best stories years down the road. I can hear my children now...remember when...

At that Sunday night dinner table, Chris told us about his weekend. He told us about Aunt Toni's service and how all the Nealons are doing. He then said, that despite all the craziness and confusion, despite the miscommunication or lack of communication, that he really does enjoy his family's company. They laughed and told stories and reminisced about their own childhood. Chris had said that if he had gotten angry about all the miscommunication about the hotels and the details about the weekend, he would have missed out on enjoying the good part of his family. Sometimes you just have to say "it is what it is" and just not get angry about certain things. It's just not worth it. Chris chose to see the good stuff and really, isn't that all you can do? We can't control other people's actions but we can chose how we deal with it.

So one last final note, here is a picture that my brother took when he went out west this summer. It is one of my favorite pictures that he took. In it, I see that you never know where you will find love and that life is not always easy, it always come with a few thorns. (This weekend it was miscommunication, storms, wet sneakers, dead cell phones, and pull ties on fingers.) But I also see the road that it will take you down, it will have bends and curves and twist and turns and you may not always be able to see where you are going but as long as we are together, it doesn't matter.

So after a crazy and confusing weekend, we will remember the good stuff. And the bad stuff that happened, well, it will all make for wonderful story telling someday.

Happy Birthday Aunt Toni! 

And to Jack, a boy I've never met, I think of you often and all the stories your family has of you. There should have been more.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Do We Do the Things We Love to Do?

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about happiness and how I spend my time and how my kids spend their time. Their new school year has started and I want them to be happy just like every other mom. I want them to like their teachers and their teachers to like them. I want them to enjoy what they are learning and have friends to eat lunch with when they walk into the cafeteria. I sit here at my desk looking at my September calendar already quite full with soccer and football and basketball and horseback riding and dance. Not one of my kids is too over scheduled but for me as the mom who has to get them to all their activities, it can be a bit overwhelming. 

As I looked at the calendar yesterday afternoon, I thought about their free time. They had lots of free time over the summer to hang out with friends at the pool, play basketball in the driveway, or watch a favorite movie. But now that school is in session, how will they choose to spend their free time?

So last night at dinner, I gave everyone a piece of paper and a pencil. 

"Oh, no, what's this for?" one asked. 

"School has started and mom's giving us a test," another replied.

 "I want everyone to write 5 things down that you enjoy doing in your free time," I told them.

"It's some sort of trick, I know it," was another response.

Then Timmy said to the others, "You might want to be careful of the order you write everything because the last time I got in trouble, mom made me write all my electronics in order of how much I enjoy them and then she took them all away from me for a punishment and I had to earn each one back in order of least favorite to most favorite."

Then Shannon said, "I don't know if I should write down what I really like to do or what she wants to hear. If I write reading, she'll know I'm lying because everyone knows I don't like to read!"

It was just too funny the panic that arose from simply asking the question, "What do you like to do in your free time?" They were all wondering, "Why...why does she want to know this and what is she going to do with this information?" 

I really just was curious as to what they would write down if asked the question, "What are 5 things you enjoy doing in your free time?"

So I told them that I would go first. The first thing I wrote down was documenting our life, whether it's taking pictures, Project Life, or this blog, I enjoy all of it. Number 2 was read. The next two were ride my bike and bake, and then I told them that I don't do these enough. When we go to Kiawah, I really love going out in the morning and riding our bikes but when we are at home, my bike is hanging up on the wall, in a hard to reach place and I really should make more of an effort to do this activity that I enjoy. It was the same thing with baking. I used to bake a lot more years ago but now it has gotten harder to find the time. My last activity on my list was watching Gilmore Girls on DVD. The series no longer airs but we have the DVD's and when there is nothing on TV and I just need to veg-out, I'll pop an episode in. Shannon enjoys the show as well so it is one thing that I can actually say I have in common with my teenage daughter.

So after I went through my list, everyone seemed to settle down and wrote their 5 things on their list. We went around the table and they shared their lists. Chris had golf and fishing on his list and then one of the kids said, "But you hardly ever do those things!?!?" 

That was exactly my point! Do we do the things that we enjoy? Do we make time in our everyday life to have a little bit of fun? I asked the kids to look at their lists and I said, "You have 5 things on your list. Do you do one thing more than the others? Do you spend most of your time playing xbox and maybe not enough time doing something else that you enjoy on your list?" 

I just wanted them to think about their time and how they spend it. I just wanted to plant the seed that if you watch a little less TV and play a little less xbox, that they would have more time for the other things on their list.

Then our dinner continued, our conversations went to other subjects, and stories were told. Did I get my point across? I don't know. But parenting is about planting one little seed at a time and then revisiting that seed every once in a while to nourish it and hope that the seed you planted starts to take root in their heads.

Now, that I'm finished writing this blog (documenting our life, number 1 on my list) I am going to order Gretchen Rubin's new book Happier at Home that was released today (read, number 2 on my list).

Monday, September 3, 2012

Good-Bye Summer 2012...Happy New School Year 2012-2013

So the kids have been back to school for a week and I am trying to get caught up with all those things around the house that are hard to get done with four kids at home. Closets are all organized and clean, old clothes have been donated, my Project Life album is up-to-date, my calendar is all filled-in with their activities for the month, I organized all their school work from last year and purged all the papers we don't need, and I reorganized all our financial papers so it's easier to pay the bills each month. Ahhh, yes, wouldn't that be just wonderful if it were all true. 

I started to clean out their closets but never finished. I am trying desperately to get my Project Life book finished from January to June but still have to order pictures from Shutterfly. I still have two huge folders of Ryan's and Molly's work from fourth and second grade that needs to be organized. And all those bills and financial papers, well, the system I have now will just have to do. 

But, I do love this time of year and the start of the school. To me, the new school year is more of a fresh start than New Year's Day in January. When the new school year starts, everyone gets a fresh start. It's a clean slate. It doesn't matter what happened in your class the year before. It doesn't matter if you forgot to do your homework or if you forgot to bring your homework to school or if you didn't understand a unit in science or if you were told one too many times to stop talking during sustained silent reading. This week my kids all got a "do-over." They are in new classrooms with new teachers with new groups of friends and they all get a fresh new start. Just like their notebooks that are filled with fresh, crisp, white clean pages, they also get a fresh start and get to decide what kind a year they are going to have.

So even though I have a lot on my own to-do list for this new year I did manage to make a Shutterfly book of our summer adventures this Labor Day weekend. One thing I can check off the list.

Good-bye Summer 2012 and Happy New School Year Everyone!

Happy New School Year 2012-2013