Snakes and Baby Bottles

We are almost in our new house. I hope we don’t have to move again for a long time. While we wait for our new home to be finished we have gone from sleeping at our old house in beds to sleeping at our old house in sleeping bags to staying in an apartment (back in comfortable beds, thank you). We hope to be in our new home in two days. However, the bed situation there may not be much better than sleeping bags again. At least for a few days.

Through out all of these changes, which is so much more than uncomfortable sleeping, I’ve been impressed with the children’s ability to adapt to our situation. One detail that stands out more than others is their imagination when toys became lacking.

The evening of moving day I was exhausted and feeling ready for bed. As I sat down on the floor with my son to a dinner of salami, crackers, and grapes he brought his “snake” to join us. Snake was a measuring tape he had discovered in the tools earlier in the day. Pull out a little of the end and voila, a snake. He even shared his dinner with Snake.

My daughter became interested in some scraps of bubble wrap she found lying around and came up with numerous ways to have fun. Amongst them, she made a baby bottle out of a rolled up piece held together with a rubber band.

I think this is a shining example of how children create play no matter what we provide to them. Toys have their place and children learn and grow from them. But I also think that when all we provide is the world around them, children come up with ideas far greater reaching than any toy with a particular purpose.

Replacing “Too Busy”

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When with my children, I have always made an effort to sparingly use the words we’re too busy or we don’t have time for that. A hurry, we’re late never helps when waiting for them to put their jacket and shoes on while we’re late getting out the door. There are always more activities to do and places to rush and it’s easy to get lost in the mundane. Why does my brain constantly look forward to the next task while trying to accomplish what’s at hand?

So instead of rushing through everything we make an effort every day to try to find beauty in the small and listen to what each other has to say.

I’m struggling with this as of late. While buying a house, selling a house, being pregnant, and starting both my kids in preschool for the year, the words we don’t have time for that and we can’t do that until we move are unfortunately a frequent outlet. And now my almost 5 year old daughter has been saying we never have time for anything anymore! She’s understandably frustrated. I’m not saying these words can’t ever be said but I think it’s important they be used only rarely. In doing so I find that we then make time for what’s really important. This might be a particular art project or taking time out to go to the park or even simply making time to read.

At moments like these I find it helpful to go back to a story Joshua Becker told in one of his books. He tells of an old saying that keeps you in the moment. No matter what you are doing, do it and only that task before moving on to the next. You do this by stating what you are doing. For example, When I am making dinner, I am making dinner. When I am reading with my children, I am reading with my children. When I am talking on the phone, I am talking on the phone. At first this sounds silly to say but it helped me realize how often my brain was thinking of other things while my body was doing something else.

With my family and our recent busyness, I’ve translated this to Let’s finish what we are doing now and we’ll see if we have time for that later. This is my way around we’re too busy or we don’t have time for that. It’s a different way to approach the problem and rather than focusing on the loss of time, it allows for possibility. Who knows. Maybe we will find the time.

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Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.

When I’m not repeating this too shall pass to myself as my daughter is smacking her little brother over the head with a box car, simplify has been my mantra of choice. I think my husband might start soliciting neighbors for conversation of another sort if I continue to talk to him about it so I’m taking it to the blog.

A friend recently moved her family of four from her just-far-enough-out-of-town-that-I didn’t-see-her-all-that-often house to a new location right downtown. It is superb. After visiting her in her new digs this week I took an enviable glance at the kids toy room. She and her husband have always seemed to have an understated and in control amount of toys in their house. The kids play with unabashed fervor but when it’s time for clean up it seems to be done within minutes. (I’m guessing she would disagree with me on this one but I’ll go ahead and let her know that’s how it appears.)

I would love for this to be true in our house. And I believe it can be true.

In an interesting twist, the last time I cleaned up the toys the kids haven’t touched them. Six days it’s been. All the toys are sitting along the wall lined up waiting patiently. But right now running back and forth on the couch seems to be entertaining enough. (And dangerously enticing. The one year old has taken to swinging off the back onto the hardwood floor. Be still my beating heart.)

To make matters even more challenging I will admit that many of the children’s toys I love. The Melissa and Doug fruit and vegetables, dress up outfits and accessories, and the large-and-in-charge Green Toys trucks are great. I can’t get rid of those! Don’t even get me started on all the beautiful hand me downs we’ve received from ever so generous family members.

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In addition to my personal vendetta against stuff I’ve been further inspired by a few articles and posts I’ve read and how getting rid of stuff truly enhances the quality of life.

Why I took my kids toys away from the blog Living Well and Spending Less

Zero Waste Home

Becoming Minimalist

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After cleaning out art supplies and books. I still look at this and want it emptier.

I find that I tend to make arbitrary choices in deciding how much stuff I’m willing to keep around. For example, my art supplies needed to fit into the cubbies next to my desk. No more storing extra in the closet or on top of the cabinet. These were just the parameters I set for myself because of the space I had in that room. Arbitrary but in my mind necessary. I have an idea as to the space I will allow for the toys but I know it’s going to be very hard to stick to it.

The bin for toys downstairs.

Toy bin for downstairs.

I’m wondering if you have any further suggestions for how you simplify and then keep it that way. For now, I’ve set a garage sale date as November 23rd. Here goes nothin’.

Grey Matter

This poem was inspired from a question asked to me by my father-in-law. Some time ago he asked me if I was happy. He was referring to my marriage with his son and the life we have built together. I answered a simple yes but have always been haunted by that answer. How do you put the emotions of happiness into words? Yes does not seem to do justice. Yes, beyond my dreams still doesn’t do it. Here is my answer. It still seems too simple but it is what I can muster. To my father-in-law, you have raised a good son who puts his family first. I am loved and protected. To my husband, thank you. (Again, I cannot figure out how to separate paragraphs so spacing is off.)

Grey Matter

He goes about his day on an axis,

turning,

rotating,

a slight tilt as if to correct any misunderstanding of perfectionism.

Work is important.

First job of organs under stress needing immediate attention:

appendix, cancer, gall bladder, thyroid.

Second job of serving his country with a flag on his arm:

teaching, flying, medicine at its moment of highest desperation.

Family is cornerstone.

Sunday picnic at the park with bagels and cream cheese,

helping a frustrated jacket zipper or code brown at bed time,

then air through the hair on their way down the slide,

a smile that spans his big daddy heart.

Sacrifice is accepted.

4 AM alarm and running with a head lamp,

football with a joystick and big screen up front,

lager after hours enjoyed in his slippers,

Email forgotten, perhaps intentionally.

When I ask, Could you put them to bed tonight?

Sure, he replies with fatigue in his eyes.

I settle on the couch ready to lift my feet.

I hear shouting, things falling, both kids are now crying.

Footsteps to the stairs, I hear from above,

Could you please help? 

Of course.

For you, always

of course.

The Tug

Sometimes I think I’m hypnotized by my children. Overwhelmed by their beauty: the blue in their eyes, half-toothed smiles, their creamy skin. I am enchanted by their affection: the way they bury their head in my shoulder, sit in my lap for a good story, share their fudgescicle with me. My chest aches as I feel my heart swelling with my love for them.

I think, “I want more of these wonderful beings.”

Then dinnertime comes around. The baby is below my feet trying to adjust the knob on the stove; he begins crying not because I nudge him out of the way but I can’t figure out the reason. The toddler pushes a chair into the kitchen knocking down toys in her way and begins rifling through the fruit basket on the counter which contains goldfish crackers I forgot to remove. She dumps the crackers onto the floor for the baby and continues to eat some herself. “I want water!” she demands. The baby continues crying, I’m still unsure why. He’s looking up at me with tears streaming down his angelic face. Crying, crying, crying. I almost forget about the vegetables on the stove and quickly give them a stir. The toddler hits the baby on the head to make him stop then offers him a goldfish cracker. This does not appease him. I stand in the kitchen, grease spattered shirt and spatula in hand, not sure what my next move should be.

I think, “I don’t know how people have more of these beings.”

Caught!

The clock ticked to 8:30 PM and my mind fogged over under the weight of sleeplessness. Son sat on the floor checking his stability with one hand while trying to read the board book with the other. Daughter was practicing the art of procrastination.

Teeth time.

I need more toothpaste, as she sucked the dollop off that had already been provided.

Diaper time.

Let’s do it over here, as she lays down out of arms reach and looks up with an impish grin.

Story time.

I want to sit on your lap. Let’s lay on our tummies. I want to sit in the rocking chair. 

Did I have the strength to face prayers? Thoughts were incomplete, brain misfiring, bed my utter temptation. Next to me Son began to whimper with fatigue. My actions deceived my devoutness as I consciously did not mention it.

Prayers! yelped the sharp two-year-old mind, knowing she was about to be swooped up.

I’m so tired and it’s late. Let’s skip tonight. She conceded and hugged her monkey tight as I wrapped her in her blanket and laid her in the crib. Son followed without complaint. The guilt of denying my child her prayers seeped under my skin as I walked down the hallway and sank into my sheets.

The next morning Husband was kind enough to get the children up. As I tied my robe and blindly stepped down the stairs I heard an echo down the hall of unsolicited reporting,

Momma said it was too late last night so we didn’t do prayers.

Ducks!

The following is a short essay I wrote for a series called Simplicity In Action on a blog I’ve been following called Be More With Less. I’ve recently made great efforts to simplify and minimize the ‘stuff’ in my life. It’s hard work and constantly in progress. This story is more about taking in a simple moment but I hope to continue to post stories about how this concept has had a positive impact in my life. 

 

Most people say that having kids makes life more complicated. I disagree. Having children has given me the gift of recognizing and appreciating life’s simple moments.

One fall day in an attempt to get some exercise, I bundle up my two-year old daughter and three month old son and buckle them in the stroller. I leash the dog and begin walking hastily to get some calories burned. After we’ve walked for a while my daughter asks, “Mom, get out?” I look up. The sun is shining and the dog frolics in the trail beyond as we head in her direction. I would want to get out too, I think to myself. I decide to forego the extra calories and let her out of the stroller. She picks up a stick and examines it with scientific expertise. I pick one up, too, and draw a sun in the dirt. “Sun,” she says with exclamation. Then I draw a moon. “Moon,” she says with confidence. We share affirming glances and then some ducks are heard quacking from behind. “Ducks! Look mama!” as she points to the lake. I turn around and see her silhouette beaming in the sunlight. She turns and smiles at me and then runs further down the path. I close my eyes and drink in the moment of simple pleasure.

Beyond the love we give our children I think the most important skill we can offer them is patience. Patience to let them climb the stairs by themselves; patience to give them the control to pick out their own clothes; patience when they deliberately draw on the wall after multiple pleads for the construction paper.

Although much of our patience can be found in discipline or tiresome moments, such as waiting for the shoes to be tied, what it truly translates to is slowing down. A child’s pace of life is sometimes oh, so frustrating, but if we allow ourselves to slow down we can also capture precious opportunities for bonding and growth.

My father always says, “It’s the journey, not the destination.” Although I am not perfect, I strive to give my children the memories that are made through out a journey rather than a rush to the finish line. And this is the beauty of it all: they return that patience, that time, with simple moments of beauty that I will cherish in my heart forever. The gift of time is really the best gift of all.