Sunday, March 28, 2010

Car Accident, Bike Wreck, Pink Eye, Teething

This has been quite the week, and we are ready to put it behind us.  Monday night Dan's car started to hydroplane as he rounded a tight corner on a freeway on-ramp.  He overcorrected and the car slammed front and then back into the concrete median wall dividing his lane from the rest of the freeway.  He came to a stop facing the on-coming traffic, which had all come to a stop in time to avoid hitting him.  Dan was able to move the car to the shoulder and walked away unscathed.  The same could not be said for his car, affectionately known as Venus.  Venus was the first new vehicle we bought together.  She joined our family just a few months before Adam did, and has been a trusty and reliable friend ever since.  We had dropped her insurance to liability and the body shop came back with an estimate of over five thousand dollars to fix her.  The cost, along with the fact that she had almost 200,000 miles and no AC, led us to the difficult decision to say goodbye.  Wednesday Dan cleaned her out and removed her license plate.  We are selling her for $350 to someone at the body shop who plans to sell her parts on eBay.  She's a DNR and an organ donor.

Tuesday on his way home from school, the chain slipped off of Eli's bike, causing an accident which resulted in a sad, scraped-up boy claiming that both arms were broken (although one was worse than the other).  Being the kind, angelic mother that I am, I was dubious.  I called the nurse and she said to give him some Tylenol and see if he felt better in an hour.  I kept an eye on him.  He seemed to be using both arms somewhat, and there was no visible swelling, but on the other hand, he was trying to keep the worst arm close to him and kept saying he thought it was broken.  Dan offered to take him to the ER when he got home from work, and lo and behold, the left arm was indeed broken.

Wednesday night Esther's eye started oozing goo, and Thursday morning it was sealed shut.  That meant a trip to the Pediatrician and a prescription to fill.  Friday morning her other eye was equally bad, but I made an executive decision to just use the drops on both eyes, which she takes like a champ, and by now is almost 100% better.

Meanwhile, Naomi spent the week toddling around the house crying, probably due to an entire mouthful of new teeth coming in.  Normally she plays happily with her dollies and the curtains between the back of the couch and the picture window in the living room, but this week there was no happy playing.

And what did I do this week?  I decided that it would be the perfect time to dive back into one of my most addictive, obsessive habits: family history research.  If I could do this in moderation, it would be fine, but when I get on the trail trying to hunt down missing information, it is really hard for me to stop or to limit myself.  So I spent most of the week up until 2 or 3 in the morning doing research until my eyes crossed.  It was a Little Caesar's week for sure.

Yesterday I got to a good stopping point and put the genealogy away in the basement.  Today I took two excellent naps.  We are getting closer to a decision on Dan's replacement car, and time is healing his sorrow and frustration over the accident.  Eli goes to the orthopedist tomorrow to get a cast, hopefully one that will allow his elbow to bend.  Naomi is back to her quiet playing behind the couch, and Esther's eyes are clear.  Friday is a holiday for Dan and the children, my brother is coming to town, and it is almost Easter.  Here's to a better week!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Walking. Very. Slowly.

I may finally be maturing enough as a parent to allow my three year old to set the pace for our walks. Or maybe it is because my darling friend picks me up every morning at 5:45 so that we can work out together before child duty calls, that I can take a walk later in the day without feeling desperate to call it exercise. Today was the second time this week that I have taken the girls out on a nature walk. We walk very slowly around the block together looking for signs of spring. I told Esther to keep her eyes out for two signs in particular: buds and shoots. On our first walk of this kind, we saw a few buds, no shoots, and then a whole yard full of pine cones, several thousand of which we wanted to gather and take home.

Today we took a different route and found an exciting display of shoots, some really big soft furry buds that we petted gently, and...a sign of spring I hadn't expected... CROCUSES! Yay! The object of passionate collecting today was a yard-full of spikey dried brown ball things that had obviously fallen from the tree above. I did not know what they were or what the tree of their origin was called, so later in the day I tried to look them up. Striking out several times, I finally found a very helpful blog post from a naturalist in Princeton, NJ, who suggests that you identify the trees in your neighborhood by looking at what is on the ground beneath them. And low and behold, there he had a picture of some of the very same little objects that we collected so many of today: the seed ball of an American Sweetgum, affectionately known as a "gumball" or "monkey ball." As it turns out, this is an unusual tree to see in Michigan, because its range does not usually extend this far north. Right here in our very own neighborhood. I feel a new interest in tree identification coming on...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The FlyLady Teaches Me About Perfectionism

One thing that I'm starting to realize about myself is that I have some perfectionist tendencies and they get in my way. This perfectionism does not take the form of "I will work myself into a frenzy and my stress level will go through the roof to do this task perfectly," but rather, "I don't have the strength, time, motivation or resources to do this task perfectly, so I won't do it at all. In fact, I may just do the exact opposite of this task. But don't worry, I won't enjoy myself, since the task I am avoiding is hanging over my head the whole time."

One of the things that sold me so quickly on the FlyLady's book was her understanding of this whole mindset and how it affects something as simple as cleaning the house (simple for you, maybe). Here are some of my favorite things she says about it:

FlyLady: "I have found over the last 2 years that perfectionism is the main reason our homes are in bad shape... Perfectionism is the reason we are depressed and perfectionism keeps us from making things better" (14).

PotatoGirl: Intriguing possibility. (evil voice: Handy excuse, too.)

FL: "What!? You are not a perfectionist! As strange as it may seem, I will guarantee that you have traits that those so-called perfectionist, Born-Organized People (BO) have. There is a fine line that separates you from BOs and it has to do with where we measure up on the perfectionism tally. BOs tend to be compulsive about getting it clean and keeping it that way, while some of us won't even start a job unless we have enough time to do the job correctly. So we do nothing! Or we are trying to do too many things at once and nothing ever gets finished so we just give up and say, 'What's the use?'" (16).

PG: [Nodding in agreement about doing nothing, giving up, saying "what's the use?"]

FL: "You may have picked up this book in your never-ending struggle to find the magic formula to fix your family and your home."

PG: I can't count how many books I've read on this topic.

FL: "But, sweetie, the problem with your home has nothing to do with idleness on your part."

PG: Really? But don't you find it problematic that instead of working on that pile of dishes in my kitchen, I am sitting here on the couch reading this book? That seems like idleness to me.

FL: "I hear what you hear over and over again--the reason your home is trashed is because of your laziness."

PG: This woman is reading my thoughts. "Lazy" is one of my favorite mean labels for myself.

FL: "I know for a fact that I have never been lazy and I will wager the same about you."

PG: That is kind of you, but I'm not so sure...again, look at me sitting here reading this book, ignoring the disaster that is my kitchen.

FL: "Your problem is that you don't know what to do first and when you decide on a course of action, you are continually spinning your wheels and unable to finish anything. By the end of the day you are exhausted, the house is still trashed, and you have accomplished nothing."

PG: [Somewhat stunned]. This is exactly how I feel. FlyLady and I are the same person! I feel like a chicken running around with my head cut off most of the time. I feel paralyzed by the chaos and by the thought that no matter where I start, I won't finish everything that needs to be done, and in the meantime, the kids will be messing it up more. I find myself walking into the kitchen, determined to face it, taking one look at it, turning around, and going back to the couch and my book, completely overwhelmed yet also disgusted with myself.

Okay, well I'm tired now and I need to go to bed. I'm sorry to leave you right here in the pit of my perfectionism-induced despair, but stay tuned for a hopeful ending!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Goodbye Television, My Nemesis

It all started with an icky feeling that letting my children sit, jaws slack, eyes glazed over for hours at a time in front of a flickering screen, was not the best choice I could be making as a mother. But fighting them was so hard, and the peace and quiet purchased at the cost of my aggravated conscience was so guaranteed, so total, so immediate, it was nearly impossible to resist. I have given away television sets before, only to buy new ones a few months later. I have canceled our cable and not tried to use bunny ears to get a picture. I have set rules and systems governing amount of screen time, type of screen time, timing of screen time. I have agonized over content, wondering what is too violent, what is educational, what makes them more hyper or more prone to fight with each other. But in the end, if I am tired, if I "need" a break, if I want to escape, I let them at it and enjoy (with a guilty conscience) my vacation.

If you know me, you know that I like to do research. Screen time became a pet topic for me, and in my trolling of the library holdings on the subject, I came across The Plug-In Drug by Marie Winn:

It sat with its companions on my shelf at home for a long time until I finally took it with me on a road trip in read it in the car. The book changed my life. I am not prepared to tell you everything I learned reading this book (it is late and I am tired), but it did help me understand the guilty conscience I've had about using a screen to babysit my children all these years. Since I finished the book in August, I've been wanting to get rid of our television, but I keep talking myself out of this move for being too drastic. Besides, I reason, our lovely computer plays DVDs, so there would really be no point in getting rid of the TV because we could just abuse the computer screen instead.

Last week was a busy one for me, and I was counting on Friday to get a lot of housework done. Friday morning Eli woke up vomiting. That sort of threw a wrench in my day, and I ended up plunking him down in my bed with the television and a stack of movies. Esther, of course, made a bee line for the bed, and Naomi is a little angel child who never fusses or cries, so I sat down at the computer, freed from the demands of my typically needy children, to "check my email." The day went poorly for me. We watched our separate screens virtually all day long, and the next morning I was mad. I was mad at myself and I was mad at that screen for stealing my day and my children away from me. Now, getting rid of myself would be a bit tricky, but I knew I could get rid of the screen. So I finally sat down and wrote an email offering my television, DVD/VHS player, and DVD player to anyone who would care to take them off my hands. By Sunday afternoon the television and DVD/VHS player was gone, and today I dropped off the second DVD players at a friend's.

To be truly screen-free, we would have to get rid of the computer I am using to write this post. I honestly cannot picture doing that, although there are days when I wonder if it wouldn't be worth the extreme inconvenience. But one nice thing about the computer is that I have child locks on it that allow each boy 30 minutes of screen time a day. When that time is over they cannot get back on, even if they are being supremely sneaky, because they don't know my password. Another nice thing is that with only one screen in the house, I can't stick them in front of one and then stick myself in front of another. With the resource more scarce, we're going to have more competition for it, and hopefully less mindless wasting of hours and days.

If this post sounds radical to you (it kind of does to me), it is probably because I have not taken the time to walk you through Marie Winn's wonderful book and all I learned while reading it. It is not a radical or guilt-inducing book. It is a thought-provoking book, and I've given it a lot of thought. The things she says in her book ring true to me, and give form and weight and deeper meaning to many of the upsetting feelings I've had about the relationship our family has had with television over the years. I have been trying to implement things I learned from her over the months, and explaining my actions to my children as I go, so there wasn't much of an outcry this weekend at what I'd done. When Esther and Adam saw two big boxes of movies get handed from the back of our van to the back of another, there was a moment of panic, but they were easily pacified by the reassurance that the other family would give the movies back to us if we wanted them (no need to mention that I don't want them back). Dan, with the wisdom gained from watching my television purges of the past, did ask me to sign a statement promising that a certain amount of time would elapse before I went and bought yet another new television. I assured him that since reading Winn's book, I have no plans for such a purchase until the baby is a teenager and her brain is safely developed, free of "the plug-in drug."

Friday, March 5, 2010

Marla Cilley, The FlyLady

I have just finished reading Sink Reflections by Marla Cilley, aka The FlyLady. A friend recommended this book to me several years ago. When it was obvious I hadn't done much with her recommendation, she loaned me her copy of the book. The book is pink, rather hard to miss, and it has been sitting on a shelf by my bed for several months. Untouched. Let's face it, there is a giant picture of a stainless steel kitchen sink on the front cover and it is about cleaning your house. Not exactly what I've been in the mood for. In January, while Dan and I were on our vacation, my mom read the book while watching the kids. I must admit, her admonitions upon my return that I read it were kind of a turn off, but at the same time, I was intrigued, and I can always use more suggestions in the homemaking department.

When I finally decided to read the darn book, it took less than a chapter to realize I had found a new soul mate. I don't know if Mormon women are really particularly good at balancing the care of a large family with the keeping of a beautiful home and the maintenance of a cute figure, but it seems like they are to me. I can't help but feel like a bit of a dysfunctional ugly duckling. I have often wondered if I am the only (Mormon) woman in the world who can't keep her house clean, and I'm not talking about the kind of deep cleaning that is only visible to people with obsessive-compulsive disorder. I'm talking about you drop by to visit and it looks like our home was recently struck by a tornado. As Dan likes to say, "the good thing about our house is that if a robber broke in, he would take one look at the living room and assume that someone else had beat him to the punch." Ah, the ransacked look. So cozy. So inviting.

So, back to my new soul mate, the FlyLady. There is so much about her to love, but my favorite right now is the fact that she knows I am a perfectionist, she knows that my perfectionism gets me paralyzed with indecision ("Where to start...I know, I'll sit on the couch and look out the window!" ), and she says set a timer for 15 minutes and tackle one small job until it goes off. The 15 minute approach has really been helping me, and the boys like it too. She also says that cleaning your house the "wrong" way still blesses your family, and describes imperfect cleaning methods that work just fine, like wiping off the bathroom sink with the dirty hand towel at the end of the day. She is also encouraging me to get rid of anything in our home that is not blessing us. Dan is thoroughly enjoying pointing out things that are not "blessing" our home, such as the broken floor lamp that has been propped up next to the dresser in our bedroom for several months (in the garbage, baby, oh yes), or a bottle in our kitchen cupboard that Naomi wouldn't even drink out of when she was small enough to use it (um, not in the garbage yet, come to think of it).

If you ever find yourself feeling like your messy house is going to bury you alive and you don't know where to start, I highly recommend making friends with the FlyLady. You may find her website overwhelming at first, so start with the book if you can.