Sunday, July 31, 2011

Life is a Trade-Off

Today marks the last day of our summer break. Matt has been home with me since the first week of June, but he’s back to a full-time schedule tomorrow. This means that I’m back to the routine of actually taking Reese with me to run errands and buy groceries. This day was bittersweet for me last year too because I knew I would miss spending extra time with Matt, but I love my stay-at-home-mom role so much that I look forward to that too. This year, however, it’s a different feeling altogether because Matt isn’t returning to his usual job as a classroom teacher.

This year Matt is joining the administrative staff as the assistant principal at the high school, and although I couldn’t be happier about the advances he’s making in his career, I also know that this is a big trade-off for us. On the upside, our prayers have been answered because we are looking at a drastic increase in our income. We might actually be able to move into a different house in the next year or two. We will be able to start saving again, and we can start doing more date nights and family outings. Most importantly, I have peace of mind knowing that I can continue to stay home full-time. 

The downside to Matt’s new position is that he’ll have to put in a lot more hours than he did as a teacher. He’ll be expected to attend meetings and school events in the evenings and on the weekends. He’ll be spending about half of his Fridays supervising athletic events, and it will be harder for us to travel on the weekends because he might get called in to supervise a Saturday School. He’ll leave earlier in the morning and come home later in the evening every day. I’ll be alone a lot more during the week, and I won’t have him home early enough in the evenings to help with Reese while I make dinner. It’ll definitely be a big adjustment for me, especially after having so much help for the past two months.

When I feel sad about the downsides of this change, I immediately start feeling guilty. I feel like I’m complaining about such a positive step forward. This is the outcome Matt wanted for his career and the outcome I wanted so I wouldn’t have to go back to work. The same thing happens when Reese drives me nuts or when I get down about the money we gave up or the career I sacrificed to stay home. I think, “I chose this lifestyle, therefore I don’t have the right to complain about it.”

Realistically, it’s not fair for me to expect that of myself. Even though I have some fleeting thoughts of dread about the challenge to come, I’m still really excited about the life we’re building together and the direction we’re heading. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the downsides of a life you love. And there’s nothing wrong with wishing for a moment that life could always be win-win. Unfortunately for most of us, it doesn’t work that way. But that doesn’t mean life can’t at least be win-more-than-lose. That’s how I feel about staying home and that’s also how I feel about Matt’s new job. Life is a series of trade-offs, and even though we had to give something up with each choice, we can go forward feeling like we've made some pretty good deals.  

Monday, July 25, 2011

Lessons from a Load of Laundry

As long as I'm on a roll with putting my personality flaws on the table, here's another one... I have a tendency to overreact to things that aren't really a big deal in the grand scheme of life. I don't do well when things don't go as planned or when things are beyond my control (as you all probably know by now). It causes me to have really dumb arguments with Matt, and after our last unnecessary battle, I finally decided to pray long and hard for the strength and guidance to help me face the unexpected with a little more grace.

Well, I often forget that God has a wonderfully challenging sense of humor and less than 24 hours later I opened the dryer (which was brand just a few years ago) to find that a pen had exploded and left blue ink stains on the inside of it and all over an entire load of clothes! It looked like the grisly murder scene of a family of Smurfs. Now, normally I would freak out about something like this. And then I would probably yell at Matt and say: "Did you not empty your pockets yesterday? Because a pen exploded and the dryer's covered in ink. Our new dryer. That's never gonna come out, ya know. And a whole load of clothes went in the garbage. We can't afford to replace that stuff." And then I would probably just storm off, leaving him feeling bad about something that was a total accident and leaving me feeling like a complete jerk.

Fortunately, that's not what happened at all. I won't lie though. I might have freaked out a little bit, but after just a few seconds I remembered my little chat with God and I just closed the dryer and took a deep breath. I reminded myself that being mad about this won't undo it and that reacting inappropriately will only make it worse. So I put the clothes in a basket and set them aside. Then I Googled "how to remove ink from your dryer." (In case this ever happens to anyone else, you just soak an old towel in bleach diluted with water and run it through a cycle by itself. It works pretty well). Then I went through the basket of clothes and kept anything that was salvageable. As it turns out, only about half of the load was actually ruined.

When I talked to Matt later, our conversation when something like this: I said (calmly), "Guess what? A pen exploded in the dryer today." He said, "I bet it was mine. I'm sorry." Then I said, "No, that's ok. I forgot to check the pockets so I'm sorry too. I got it cleaned up pretty well, though. You can hardly see the spots. But some clothes did get ruined. My t-shirt that you hate was in there." He said, "well, at least something good came out of it."

Now every time I do laundry, I'll see the stains in the dryer and the sign taped to the wall that says "Check Pockets" and I'll always remember that (1) a simple change in the way I react to a situation creates an entirely different outcome; (2) attitude, self-control, and tact make all the difference in the world; and (3) being upset about a mistake doesn't change the fact that it happened, but learning from it can keep it from happening again. Matt was right. Something good did come out of it... in more ways than he knows. I just hope he's not disappointed when he finds out that I kept the t-shirt.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

She Gets That From Me

It’s time again for the Hearts at Home Third Thursday Blog Hop. The topic for July is “How are you like your mom? How are you different?” I love that they included "how are you different?" in this prompt because it's so easy to get swept up in the "like mother, like daughter" mentality (or "like father, like son," if you prefer) and the idea that our kids should be just like us; that they should want to be like us. We're doing it with Reese already when we talk about who she looks like; who she acts like; and the features, talents, and personality traits we hope she gets from one or both of us. As a parent, there's just something special about those moments of pride that come from seeing yourself in your kid and thinking, "she gets that from me." Of course, I want Reese to be like me in some ways, but not so much that I forget that she also deserves to just be Reese.

When I think about how my mom and I are alike, I do get a lot from her. There are the simple similarities like our preferences for music, movies, books, and food. Then there are deeper similarities like the fact that we are both overly emotional and the tears come all too easily whether we’re feeling proud, happy, sad, or angry. We’re both a little dramatic (hey, at least we admit it), and we tend to assume the worst before we know the full extent of a situation. We’re also very independent, and we both have a hard time asking for help. (And if you read my last post, you're probably not surprised). We both love organizing things and any opportunity to make a list is an exciting moment for us. We have a similar sense of humor and the ability to finish each others' sentences, know each others' thoughts, and predict each others' reactions.   

Ok, so we are a lot alike, but we are different too. We have different opinions on a lot of political, social, and even some religious issues. We have different financial views. My mom is definitely not a control freak (I don’t really know where I get that), and she’s much more relaxed about her schedule than I am. We approach situations differently, solve problems differently, and address conflicts differently. And even though I grew to be different from her in some ways and even though I disagree with her on some major issues, she never said, "don't ever do this" or "don't be like that" or "I raised you to be this way."  I love that about my mom. She validates my opinions, supports my choices, and encourages my dreams, even if they are different from her own. She supported me when I thought I wanted to work, and she supported me when I decided to stay home. That's why I love our differences, and I love that we are open about them. Each time we disagree I am reminded that I am free to be me and that my individuality is respected. 

It’s a beautiful accomplishment for a mother to build that kind of relationship with her daughter. My relationship with my mom has a foundation of love, support, and encouragement; a foundation that makes me want to embrace our similarities but also allows me to exercise my individuality. I’m so glad that my mom encouraged me to find my own unique identity, but I’m also glad that we enjoy so many of the same things and can relate to each other in so many ways. I hope I’m able to find a good balance between raising Reese to be like me and raising her to be like herself. I hope we have enough in common to enjoy the kind of fun-filled friendship that I share with my mom. But I also hope she knows that she doesn’t have to be like me to be loved by me; that she can be a stay-at-home mom or a doctor or a tattoo artist or a circus acrobat. No matter who she grows up to be, I have to remember that if I instill that freedom in her and if I embrace her individuality, then whether we are completely alike, completely different, or some beautiful combination of both, I'll still be able to say, "she gets that from me."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Yes, Please!

Earlier this week, Matt went outside in the morning to do some work around the yard and he didn't come in until it was almost time for dinner. He did a bunch of projects around the farm that really needed to be done. When he finally came in, he was sweaty and tired. I'm sure it wasn't his idea of a relaxing summer day. Still, I was frustrated that he was outside going about his own business all day long. I was irritated at his ability to go outside and work as long as necessary without interruptions. When I have something to do, it only gets done if I can do it during a nap, or with one hand, or with a child hanging on my leg. I knew that voicing my frustration would only cause a fight because he wouldn’t understand how I could possibly be jealous of his yard work.
Decorating a cake... one-handed.

Well, I really did try to hold my tongue, but he sensed that something was wrong so I tried to explain my frustration. I was right - he didn’t understand why I was mad. But he did understand that I needed to get out for awhile, so when I asked if I could take the whole next day to go somewhere with my laptop and get some of my stuff done, he simply said, “Sure. No problem.” I couldn’t believe it was that simple. (And looking back, I was only half-serious about leaving for an entire day. I think maybe I expected some sort of rebuttal).

So the next day I sat at Panera in front of my laptop for over 6 hours. The whole time I wondered why I don't do this more often. Reese is almost 14 months old and I still hardly ever leave the house without her. You would think that my husband is some kind of tyrant who never lets me go anywhere. You would think that my mother-in-law (who lives right next door) doesn't make frequent babysitting offers. Maybe you would even think that I'm just such a devoted mother that I can’t be away even for a minute. Well, none of these things is true. The reason I don't ever do anything without Reese is quite simply that I never ask for help. 

When I say I never ask for help, I mean I never ask for help. I do things on my own even when it's much harder and takes much longer. I move heavy furniture by myself when I know Matt will be home soon. I take Reese with me to really inconvenient places when I know his mom or sister would love to watch her. I even struggle to carry in all the groceries when I know Matt is in the other room. Sometimes, he'll even call to me, offering to come and help. "No, I got it," I usually shout back, even though I don't have it. 

Daddy taking care of bath time.
I often forget how easy it is to get a little relief when I just ask for some help. It makes me wonder why I can't be more honest about what I need. It might be because I see it as a sign of weakness. I feel like I'm saying, "I'm not capable of doing this by myself," which makes me feel inadequate as a wife and mother. I see other moms who seem to be juggling so much more than I am, and I wonder what's wrong with me. But deep down I know it's not just me. It doesn't matter if you work or stay home; if you have one kid or seven kids. Every mom has a difficult job and every mom can use a break now and then. That's why asking for help is a necessary and healthy part of being a good mom. Instead of saying, "I can't do this on my own," I should say, "I shouldn't do this on my own." Instead of saying, "I don't need help," I should say, "I deserve to have some help." And when someone offers to help me, I need to stop saying, "No, I got it," and start saying, "Yes, please."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Welcome to Toddlerhood

If you read my last post, this will come as no surprise, but lately I've been getting so aggravated with Reese. I suppose this is common seeing as how she is almost 14 months old and has officially entered the toddler stage. Ah, the toddler stage, just another part of motherhood that we all hear stories about but can never fully appreciate until we're actually standing there fishing plastic farm animals out of the toilet. It's such a gradual shift from the cute, cuddly, sleeping-in-a-bouncy-chair-all-day newborn stage to the food throwing, poop smearing, queen of destruction toddler stage that it's hard to see it coming and even harder to prepare for it.

Not that the occasional random act of insanity isn’t funny (I’ll admit that I have videotaped her destroying a roll of paper towels), but if a box of tampons dumped in the bathtub doesn’t frustrate you, there are plenty of other ways to get aggravated. One of my favorites is the "guess what I'm pointing at" game where I get a limited number of attempts to find what she wants before the meltdown commences. Then there's the game of opposites where she wants to go outside and then she wants to come inside and then she wants to go back outside (or she wants her shoes on then she wants them off, then she wants them on again). 

She also never wants to be held anymore... unless I'm trying to get something done; then that's all she wants. This means that I have figure out how to do everything with one hand, and even though I already mastered this skill when I had a newborn, now I get the added challenge of her superhuman octopus-like ability to successfully get a hand on everything in sight. I just want to drink a glass of water that hasn’t had Reese’s dirty hand dunked in it. Is that so much to ask?

I think the hardest thing about realizing that my baby is now a toddler is knowing that it's going to get so much harder before it gets easier. She doesn’t have full-blown tantrums; she can’t talk enough to tell lies; and she’s still somewhat limited in her mobility. I get aggravated on a daily basis now, and there’s still so much more to come! As I look ahead to the next couple years, the only thing more unimaginable than living with her is not living with her. 

Now don't worry. I'm not going back on what I said before. It certainly does help to remember how short-lived this stage is and how much I will miss it when it's over. It definitely takes the edge off of my frustration, but that doesn't mean I suddenly love all things toddler. I still get aggravated every day (usually more than once). I still want an occasional break from her nonsense. But that’s the point. Sometimes I can’t get enough of her. Sometimes I can’t get away from her enough. Sometimes I speed a little on the way home because I’m so excited to see her. Sometimes the sound of her waking up from her nap makes me want to cry. Charles Dickens may not have been talking about motherhood, but he still had it right: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” Welcome to toddlerhood.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Different Kind of Vacation

Last week we took our annual trip to Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. It’s always a fun week of boating, swimming, shopping, eating at fun lakeside restaurants, riding the wave runner, and relaxing by the pool. It’s a typical week-long vacation – you know, a break from the responsibilities and “shoulds” of everyday life. What better opportunity for me to begin working on my little “I’m going to be a more relaxed person from now on” experiment? Let the relaxing begin, right?

Wrong! Unfortunately, I forgot to take into consideration that I am the mother of an active toddler and there is no vacation from that role. There is no vacation from planning her meals and naps, from coming back to the condo early to avoid a late bedtime, from keeping one eye - and also often a hand - on her at all times to prevent her from falling into the pool or eating rocks. When we went out to eat, Matt and I took turns following her around the restaurant as she weaved through all the tables and blew kisses to random strangers. When we went to the pool, we took turns following her around the deck, steering her away from the deep end and the stairs and other people’s beach bags.

Sure, I still got to read a little and jet-ski a little and go out on the boat a little and sit in the sun a little, but I can’t help but compare it to all my past vacations where I did all of those things a lot. Vacations where I got to enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning and a glass of wine before dinner. Vacations where I got to eat every meal without any interruptions. Vacations where I didn’t have to spend time every day in the condo because my kid needed a nap. Throughout the week I saw lots of people reading books and sunning themselves, and I wondered how long it would be before I would have some of my freedom back.

At one point, I was following Reese around the pool deck and people kept making comments like, “Thirteen months, huh? Such a fun age!” An older man hanging out in the shallow end said, “Ah, the walking-like-Frankenstein stage! Isn’t it cute?” Another mom sitting at a table with her kids said, “They never seem to get tired, do they?” After about the 4th comment from an obviously seasoned parent, something clicked for me. I realized that all of these people have done this. They’ve all been here. They’ve all sacrificed parts of their summer vacations during the demanding toddler years. They all probably struggled with the guilt of wishing for a little more freedom. And they all got their wish.

We all get our wish eventually. We all get our freedom back. But all that means is that our toddlers aren’t toddlers anymore, and they’ll never be toddlers again. I had lots of freedom before Reese and I’ll get that freedom back when she’s older, but I only get a short time in this stage. I can read books in the sun for the rest of my life, but I only have a few years of ending my day on the boat a little early so I can go upstairs and feed and bathe and snuggle my baby. When I think about it like that, it’s easier to pass on the extra relaxation time. It’s easier to make those sacrifices. And it’s easier to enjoy the kind of vacation that comes with being the mother of a toddler.