Thursday, May 26, 2011

Finding Our Feather

Almost one year ago, we finished remodeling our house.  It was a big ordeal that took about 3-4 months of planning followed by 7 months of construction.  The results are great.  Each kid has their own room, we have a bigger kitchen, better storage space.  All in all very happy with the results.  The only problem is our house is still very much a house.  We have nice furniture, things on all the walls (mostly framed posters no real art, but at least they're not bare), but the window treatments still haven't been done in the new space, and it just doesn't feel homey yet.

Admittedly, I have no one to blame for this but myself.  The fact is though, I'm not a good shopper.  I could just go out and buy a bunch of stuff and fill in the empty spaces, but I don't want to do that.  I want to get things that mean something (at least for the small stuff).  And the bigger stuff is such a commitment I have a hard time doing it.  My husband and I have pretty similar taste, so he trusts me to just buy things and he says as long as I like it he'll be fine, and something is better than nothing as we're not married to it.  If we find a better picture a year from now, just change it.  As much as I love stores like Costplus and Pottery Barn and used to love Restoration Hardware before they changed everything to look like it came off some sunken ship, they are hard stores to shop in with a 7 year old, 5 year old and 2 year old, or some combination of those, depending on the time and day.  So yes I've kind of given up due to feeling overwhelmed.  Some people just have a knack for these things, I don't.

We have a designer that we work with when we buy furniture and she's great and I love everything she has picked, even some stuff I was hesitant about in the beginning.  She has offered to help us with the smaller stuff, but I really feel like I should do it myself for the little things to be special.

The title of this post is based on a Oprah show I saw ages ago when Nate was doing a makeover on someone's house.  He had been given hardly any direction, but wanted to make this family's home reflect who they were.  He came across a feather that the woman had saved and while I can't remember the significance of the feather to her, I know it had one and he incorporated that feather into his decorating and they loved it. Oprah made some off the cuff remark about them homeowners "finding their feather" and that phrase has stuck with me.  Now I just need to find my feather.  What is it?  Certainly putting up photographs makes a house more homey, plants help too (although I have a horribly brown thumb).

My idea for getting something on the walls in our bedroom is one that I read in a magazine recently.  I bought 3 small canvases and I am going to have my kids paint on them for me.  I told them that I don't want realistic looking pictures of a house and a tree or whatever.  I want interesting designs/patterns/whatever something abstract using the colors in our room.  Our wall color is Restoration Hardware silver sage that is so popular, so I'm going to get little sample jars of that and complimentary colors and just let the kids go for it.  They are excited about the idea, and I'm looking forward to see how they turn out. 

I wish I enjoyed antiquing or thrift stores but I just don't.  I walk into most of those stores and I just feel overwhelmed.  It's all hodge podge due to the nature of the selection and while something may catch my eye, it's usually not in a good way - more like why would anyone want that?  I have friends who have found great things at flea markets, garage sales, antique stores, but once again I have trouble seeing the trees for the forest.  Finding that diamond in the rough.  To me most of it just looks like junk even though it may not be. Although this is the summer of new beginnings and new habits, so to add to the ones I listed in previous posts, I plan on checking out a few of these kinds of stores when I don't have the kids with me and can really take the time to look around, and find my feather.

Social Coordinator

Being a mother carries many responsibilities, but honestly the one I dislike the most is that of social coordinator.  We are lucky enough to live on a street with a lot of kids, so there are often times that the kids will ring each others doorbells and just play among everyone's yards until dinner.  Love that.  Unfortunately, most of the other kids on the block are older than mine, so they are busier with activities and homework etc.  

I think part of what I don't like is the word "playdate".  I don't know why but it just bugs me. I guess it's the dating part.  Sounds so formal. I am always surprised when I read in magazines about the multitude of things Moms prepare for these playdates.  Admittedly at a younger age, kids may need some direction or they may get bored.  I don't hover over my kids when they have a friend over.  I provide lunch or a snack and otherwise just stay in earshot in case they start arguing, which usually they don't.  I don't prepare special crafts, although we have plenty of crafty stuff available if that's what they choose to do.  Really I end up with free time to catch up on laundry, tidying up or ideally reading a book or the newspaper in peace.

My daughters each have a couple of core friends who they play with on a regular basis.  Or BFFWL as they call them.  So picking who to invite over is the easy part.  At this point I know the parents of these kids and have email addresses for them, so again getting in contact is easy.  I think it's the juggling of my kids schedule with their kid is tough and mine really don't do that many activities.

That said, I understand the importance of being able to play with friends outside of school, so I guess I just need to suck it up and get better about doing it.  Everyone says that once your kids are in school you as a parent make lots of friends through the kids and their friends.  Hasn't happened yet for me.

School pickup is the time that I see the most people. However, every afternoon I feel like I'm walking into a speed dating style cocktail party.  Look around for a familiar face.  Think of a talking point and hope that fills the couple of minutes before the bell rings and maybe leads to a longer conversation.  I always have the younger two with me - sometimes in the car, sometimes we walk.  Often times I'm too frazzled dealing with them to really talk to someone - and of course the days when I really want to talk to someone is when they are pulling on me asking for stuff.  Or if mine are behaving well, the other Mom's kid is tugging at her sleeve or asking for attention.  So far the vast majority of the Moms are very nice, but I haven't gotten in enough in-depth conversations to find mutual interests that can lead to friendships. I friend a lot of people of Facebook to find out more about them, and that usually gives me some openers - their new dog, recent vacation, whatever.  I just don't want to be phony, but I do try and be friendly.

My husband works long hours and depends on me to take care of our social agenda too. Gee thanks. I joined a women's group here in town about 7 years ago, and have lots of acquaintances through that, but no real friends.  It's was a very cliquey group when I first joined. Now there are a lot more fun people who are more genuine, but getting out of the house midweek to go to an event is tough.  I did organize one of our club's big events this year with a committee of about 15 people and while I got to know some of those women pretty well, none really that I would pursue as friends.  Although at least more familiar faces to talk to at these events. 

I guess part of it is that I never really dated and finding new friends to me seems very much like dating. A good conversation can lead to some sort of outing which eventually leads to more plans together etc now you have a friend. Sounds simple enough but juggling 3 kids and their lives and my husbands schedule it's hard to schedule me time which is one of my priorities this year.  Having said all that, one of my new goals is to each week contact someone each week and set up some sort of social event (whether it is my kids having a friend over, my husband and I going out with another couple, or me going to an event solo).  So far this Friday my husband and I are going out to dinner, next Saturday we have a couples event to go to, so now just need to set up something for my two daughters before school lets out at the end of next week.  Should be doable.

Did I Break her Spirit?

My oldest daughter is 7 years old and is a great kid.  She's smart, outgoing, polite, able to interact well with kids and adults alike.  She plays just like any other kid, and has fun playing with her friends.  Most of the time she gets along well with her siblings.  She is very aware of rules and follows them exactly.  Everyone always says that young kids need structure, so when she was a toddler my husband and I set rules for her and she followed them to the letter.  As she got older there were more rules, but for the most part they all come down to the basic principles of keeping our kids safe and healthy and having respect for others.

While I love knowing that if I tell her something I only have to tell her once, sometimes she gets so serious about the rules that she doesn't understand that exceptions can be made and not everything is black and white. She has become the master of sulking.  For example the other day she and her younger sister were playing with one of those little Barbie pools.  They were playing with it outside as I knew they would end up splashing a bit, so rather leave the mess out there.  After a bit of playing they were also pretty wet so I said something along the lines of , "no more Barbie pool, time to clean up for dinner".  To which she started sulking and said, "You mean we need to throw it out?"  No I didn't mean that, I suppose I could have added the words "for today", but come on kid do you need to take me so literally?  This is just one of countless examples and it happens multiple times a day.  She has always been a very focused kid, which is great when focus is what's called for, but that doesn't mean that every word needs to be taken so literally.

She has also started enforcing my rules on her siblings, which bugs me.  For breakfast I give them fruit and milk to start with while I prepare the rest of their mean (these days usually pancakes).  In the beginning to get them to eat their fruit I wouldn't give them the pancakes until the whole banana or at least half an apple was eaten, but now they are usually pretty good about eating the fruit so I don't really enforce it anymore.  This morning, she asked for a banana and her sister wanted an apple.  When the pancakes were ready I gave them maple syrup in a bowl for dipping their pancakes in and put it between the two of them.    She immediately took the maple syrup put it on her place mat and declared that her sister couldn't have any because she hadn't eaten any of her apple.  I told her that was not up to her to enforce and to share the syrup.  She spent the rest of the breakfast sulking, and sure enough after her sister finished her pancakes she ate her apple half.

The main problem is that when she gets in to one of these funks, they last quite a while and she has a hard time getting happy again.  I've tried to teach her how to put it behind her, move on, not sweat the small stuff, step away for a minute and come back happy, find your happy place, all that stuff.  Doesn't work.  I try changing the subject and usually I get a few minutes of grumpy answers and then she brings up what she was sulking about again.  I'm hoping this is just a phase and as she learns how to control her emotions she will learn how to do the things I just mentioned, cause otherwise the poor kid is in for a life of disappointment and grumpiness and I don't think I can take that.  The hard part too is I can already see that change happening with my 5 year old.  She definitely has a bit of the middle child syndrome, but I don't want to the same thing to happen to her as well.

I wonder if I'm to blame.  I know personality is based on nature and nurture, but did all our rules break her spirit or was this just the natural evolution of a very focused toddler who thrived on routine.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Year of Happiness

My best friend growing up now lives about 1000 miles away from me, and though we don't talk often I always make a point of calling her every year on her birthday. She told me this year how much that has always meant to her especially as she has gone through a lot of rough times in her 38 years. Last year was probably one of the worst for her and so on her birthday she decided that this year was going to be her Year of Happiness. Whatever happens one day she would start the next day fresh and with a good attitude.  If someone was bugging her, she wouldn't let it get to her as much.  While I have had it very easy compared to her, I'm taking a bit of a cue from her on this.

I am originally from Denmark, a country that year after year is listed as the happiest in the world.  It's really not that we're happy, but that we're content.  First, we're not caught up in the materialistic needs that many Americans are.  Second, we may settle with second best, but honestly is second best really that bad?

Having said that I think in many ways I am content (nice house, loving husband, happy healthy well-behaved kids, enough money in the bank to enjoy life).  Really not much to complain about.  But am I happy? Not so sure. I have some friends who I've had for a long time who I treasure, but they all live far away and at this point most of our contact is through Facebook.  I don't really have any close friends close by. Plenty of friends but not that all important girlfriend to laugh with, and know that you could call anytime and they would be there for you. I think part of achieving my year of happiness will be finding that person. 

The other part is making time for myself.  I love my kids and my husband but everyone needs a break and to have some alone time.  I am sending all three kids to camp this summer 2 days a week which will help.  I would love to spend much of that time sitting outside and reading or just enjoying creative projects that I have been wanting to do but haven't had the time.  I know that my sanity is greatly improved when I get a break.  My husband does encourage it, but often with everyone's schedules it's hard to find the time.

Another part is to start caring more about how I look.  I have my kids pick out their clothes the night before, and yet I usually end up throwing on some clothes, tossing my hair in a ponytail and going.  If I'm lucky I showered before the kids woke up.  I can't remember the last time I wore makeup on just a regular day.  I'm in desperate need of a haircut and some new clothes.  Taking care of that stuff will help me feel better about myself and therefore happier.

We're teaching our kids to set goals for themselves that are age appropriate - learning to ride a bike, tie your own shoes, learn to swim, that kind of stuff.  So my goals for the next couple of months - find a good friend, take care of my appearance, make some time for me, stop being content and start being happy.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Seeing the Trees for the Forest

Everyone always talks about making sure to see the forest for the trees. I understand the sentiment and have no problem doing just that but sometimes to the detriment of the trees. In order to have a forest the trees need to be cared for too. Big picture thinking is great but if you don't take care of the little details you will never achieve the big picture. This was my little epiphany as I was standing in a cluttered kitchen with a dishwasher to empty, dirty dishes to fill it with and so many papers on the counter I couldn't find the keys that I knew I had just put there two minutes before.

I am a SAHM of 3 (ages 7, 5 and 2). My days like so many other parents are filled with the details of taking care of the kids, and I am a big believer in they are only young once so enjoy this time rather than stressing over the chores and cleaning. But the fact is there's a limit to how much that stuff can be ignored. Sure I'd much rather build a train track for my son than make dinner but the fact is we need to eat. And I could read a story to my daughter but if dirty dishes don't get put in the dishwasher we won't have any clean ones for the next meal. Now that's not to say I don't do those things, I do and enjoy the time with the kids, but sometimes at the expense of an organized house. Like the pile of bills/mail/kid stuff on the kitchen counter mentioned above. It has become a dumping ground and sadly I often know how deep in the pile something is, until the kids start digging through it, or dumping their own stuff. Or my husband starts dumping his stuff. So over the next few weeks I plan to get organized and I'm hoping that my handy new "it can do anything"/"there's an app for that" iPhone will help me in this task.

One of the main things I strive to do is keep better track of kid stuff. I don't mean homework and activities, I've got that covered. I mean writing down the cute things they say or do. The things I want to remember. I used to keep a journal until I got to college and was afraid my snoopy roommate would read it - probably because I was reading hers, until she started writing in Hebrew. I tried keeping one that I would write in at night after the kids were in bed. But it started to feel like a chore. At that point I was to tired, I just wanted to chill with a glass of wine.  So now it'll be more thoughts I need to get down and any random musings about the kids. No particular timetable and really for my purposes only but if anyone feels like reading it, by all means enjoy and comment if you have something to say.