Friday, April 22, 2016

Hour-a-Day April 2016: Days 12-22

Sorry for disappearing, there. My mom came to visit, and I dropped out of "HADA" mode and into "AMAPADWIHAEAH" mode ("As much as possible-a-day while I have an extra adult helping"). I got a lot done. My mom got me caught up on dishes, and between us, we did a bunch of deep cleaning, de-cluttering, and organizing. We also did some fun things, like a trip to Longwood Gardens and seeing Samson at Sight & Sound Theatres.

I also got my raised beds built, filled, and mostly planted (I just need to get more lettuce seeds, because my kids apparently needed two whole packets of seeds for the 1' by 3' patch of garden I gave them to plant).

By the time my mom left yesterday morning, I was feeling pretty decent about my prospects for keeping up with the house. For months, I have been saying that, if I could just get over the backlog, the day-to-day wouldn't be quite so bad. So, here I was, with no backlog (well, no kitchen backlog - my general to-do list is endless), feeling ready to conquer the world. Okay, maybe not the world, but I could conquer Dinner! I dragged the kids to the store to get some ingredients I was missing, and I assembled one of their favorite casseroles (au gratin potatoes and sweet potatoes with ham). I even washed my prep dishes as I went along!

Then I got a phone call.

In the next three minutes, my kids managed to undo a whole week's work with a bin of flour and a box fan. Yes, I am serious. My kids are like those horrible kids in the movies that are totally implausible, because who does idiotic stuff like that in real life? My kids, that's who.
"Life is always going to be stranger than fiction, because fiction has to be convincing, and life doesn't." -Neil Gaiman
While I was screaming into a pillow, I received a text message from my husband telling me he would be late getting home. I looked at the clock, and realized that dinner wouldn't be done in time for us to eat it, so I turned the oven off, gave the kids some crackers and cheese, then piled all three kids into the car, and dragged them all to my Girl Scout meeting, because, oh yeah, I forgot to mention, I had a Girl Scout meeting, which Jeremy was supposed to be home in time for so that he could watch the younger kids while Valerie and I went to Girl Scouts. I sent him a message telling him to walk over and get the younger kids when he got home from work. But he didn't get home from work until the meeting was over. Yay.

There's always something, isn't there? I actually felt hopeful for the first time in a long time, and then bam, nope. Goodbye hope. I knew it would happen eventually. Someone would get sick, something would break, something unexpected would come up. But I kinda thought I might have a whole day, first. Nope.

It's going to take everything I have to get back on the horse again this time. I got most of the flour cleaned up, and the first of many floury loads of laundry started. And, fortunately, dinner was a no-brainer tonight, because there was a barely-touched casserole from last night's debacle. And it is the weekend, which means I should have a few kid-free hours while Jeremy entertains the hooligans. But I'm having a really hard time feeling optimistic. Ever since the flour incident last night, I have felt completely defeated. I look around the house, and it's like everything has a big, neon sign on it, blazing the words, "Why bother?"

I hope a good night's sleep gives me back a shred of hope in the morning.

Sorry for the downer ending. Here, have some pretty pictures from Longwood Gardens.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Hour-a-Day April 2016: Days 7-11

I'm trying to write this post from underneath two children who are fighting over my lap, digging their claws into my armpits in an attempt to occupy as much of my personal space as possible. "She's my Mama!" "No, she's MY Mama!" "She's MY MAMA!!!"


I suppose there is a lovely analogy buried in there somewhere, but I am too tired to find it.

This motherhood gig is hard.

I lost my grip on HADA a bit over the last few days. I realized that I have been finding it all-too-easy to ignore the daily stuff in favor of the "fun" HADA projects. My justification was that HADA wasn't "keeping me" from the daily stuff, because I was neglecting it anyhow, and anything was better than nothing, right? I'm very good at rationalization.

So, I turned the tables on myself. "Oh yeah?" says I to me, "If you're having a hard time doing the daily stuff, then you should make THAT your HADA project! Take that! HA!" I can be really mean to me sometimes.

So, the next three days were spent attempting to do the boring daily stuff that I hate, making some progress, but mostly failing miserably. When you're behind it takes so much energy to catch up. And when you have a mental health condition that likes to knock you back down before you make much progress, it's like trying to swim upstream towards a waterfall. The closer you get to the waterfall, the stronger the current is, and the harder it is to make any progress.

Here's a fun math problem for you: If routine housework takes approximately one hour per day, how long will it take to catch up when you are several weeks behind? (Don't forget to adjust for the "kids who can destroy the entire room you just finished cleaning while you are working on the next one" factor.)

On the bright side, the mess seems to plateau at some point. Once all the dishes are dirty, you can't dirty any more. Once all the toys are strewn across the living room floor, there is nothing more to dump. It's not exactly "nice" in that limbo zone, but there is the small comfort that at least it can't get any worse.

The downside to that bright side is that any progress you make out of the limbo zone feels futile.

On days 10 and 11, I got mad enough at the mess to work really hard. And I actually made serious progress. The living rooms completely clean, the front hallway almost completely clean, more than half of the dish backlog cleaned and put away, even a few loads of laundry. I was actually feeling on top of things enough to address a few minor HADA projects, too. Moving the photos on my hard drive into the correct month folders (I have a bad habit of uploading everything from the camera to the current month, even if the batch overlaps months). Swapping the kid's shoe bins out for the bigger ones I bought months ago. Moving the old printer from the kitchen to the side porch. Little things, but check marks nonetheless.

But nature abhors a vacuum. And, in the case of my children, it only takes a few seconds of my back being turned for them to fill the newly uncovered living room floor with whatever happens to be nearest to them. Craft supplies, the entire tub of Duplo, half a loaf of bread, all the cushions from the couch, the boxes of muffins we bought from the church fundraiser (don't forget to remove the wrappers and grind them into the carpet!), the clothes they were just wearing, all the marbles. At least, when the house has plateaued in mess-limbo, it can't get any worse.

The waterfall was so close, I could almost touch it, but then the current got me. Not quite back where I started, yet, but close enough to have an overwhelming sense of "Why bother?"

But HADA is all about starting where you're at. And this is where I am currently at. I'm not feeling overly optimistic about my prospects for Day 12, but I didn't include it in today's post, because I still have half the day to redeem it. I have to at least try.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Hour-a-Day April 2016: Days 5 and 6

Day Five. Today was not a good day. I couldn't seem to mobilize myself for most of the day. I did get outside at some point and transplant some strawberry plants into another bed to spread out my patch. I think it was an hour, but I'm not sure. I feel guilty counting it, though, because I didn't do the normal, daily stuff that needed doing.

Day Six. I spent some time playing outside with John Wallace this morning, which gave me a bit of energy when I came back inside. I spent about 45 minutes cleaning my room, then made some under-dresser drawers for my undergarments. Dorothy wanted to help, so I got out the poster paints and we decorated them.


Yesterday, during an especially frustrating time with my children, I stepped outside to get some fresh air. As I sat on the step, my attention was drawn to all of the little green sprouts in my garden. I haven't explicitly planted anything, yet, but I had buried some rotten pumpkins and the birds had dropped some sunflower seeds, and I had eagerly been watching the progress of those sprouts. But the temperature had dropped below freezing the night before, and several of my garden volunteers had withered overnight. I was somewhat disappointed, but not too much, because really, I had done nothing to nurture those plants, and if even a few survived, they were still freebies. And a few actually had survived. I thought to myself, "Those were probably the strongest ones, and a good dose of cold probably just made them hardier."

My mind wandered back to my children. They have been misbehaving more than usual lately, and I have been losing my temper and yelling more than I like. I found myself praying an all-too-familiar prayer, "Dear God, please don't let me screw them up too much."

One of the hardest parts of motherhood, for me, has been watching the consequences of my imperfect actions affect my children. It's terrifying to think that I have been entrusted with these perfect specimens of humanity, and it feels like anything I do will just damage them.

Suddenly, the parable of the talents from Matthew 25 came to mind. A master goes away, and entrusts three of his servants with varying amounts of money. Two of them invest the money and turn a profit for their master. The third one buries his in the yard and returns exactly the amount he had been given. The master is angry with the third one. He wanted to watch his money grow - that's why he entrusted it to the servants in the first place.

It is so tempting, as a parent, to want to shield our children from anything negative in the world. To hide them away and keep them safe. Especially as a Christian, the idea that my children are not mine, but God's, can be overwhelming. What if I mess them up? But God gave them to us to grow. And they will never reach their full potential without some degree of trials and testing.

Two thoughts immediately began battling for my attention. The first was how horrible it was to think of myself as the agent of suffering that my children will have to endure in order to grow stronger. That's not a very pleasant role for a loving mother to imagine herself in! But I think that's taking the analogy too far. I am not recommending or condoning causing any deliberate suffering in your children's lives. But I can't beat myself up for doing my best and falling short. God knew my failings, and still gave me these kids. If nothing else, my kids can learn all about repentance and seeking forgiveness, because my failures offer me ample opportunities to model that to them.

The second thought was even darker. What about all those sprouts that shriveled up and died? What if my gamble doesn't pay off, and instead of growing stronger, my kids are ruined forever?

And the parable of the talents came back to my mind again. It has always bothered me just a bit that none of the servants made bad investments and lost their master's money. The story could have gone an entirely different direction, then, with the master praising the one who at least returned his original money, instead of gambling and losing it.

But, it's a parable, not an economics lesson. It's there to teach us about our relationship with God. And, whatever the "talents" in your life are - your children, your skills/abilities, your resources - God gave them to you to watch them grow. The fact that none of the servants in the parable lost their master's money is not an oversight, it's reassurance. Your omnipotent, omniscient God gave you that talent, and he will guard his investment, if you just trust him, and let go.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Hour-a-Day April 2106: Days 3 and 4

Day 3: Sunday. No HADA. Went to church, had lunch, then spent the rest of the day at a friend's house. It was a good day off.

Day 4: I've really been wanting to write more, lately, and since I left Facebook, my writing itch is getting even less scratching than usual. So, today, I wrote two blog posts that have been on my mind. It might not sound like much of a HADA project, but getting writing out of your mind into print is very liberating. I'm glad I did it.


The Biblical character that I relate to the most is the Israelites. Okay, maybe they aren't a character per se, but I love the Israelites. They are a perfectly flawed example of humanity. Over and over, the same pattern repeats itself: God reaches out to them, they follow him for a while, they get distracted and turn away, bad stuff happens, they cry out to God, he reaches out to them again. It's so easy to shake your head and think, "Why didn't they learn their lesson the last time?" until you look at your own life and see the same pattern repeating itself over and over on a smaller scale.

I've been going through some dark years recently. Once, before, I thought I knew God's plan for my life. I thought I saw a clear path stretched out before me. Things were pretty good between me and God. Then, something happened. Or, nothing happened, rather. Plans fell apart. The path disappeared. The guiding voice fell silent.

But I thought about the Israelites. I remembered how, even when it seemed like God had abadoned them, he was always there in the wings: watching, loving, waiting. I thought about those 40 years in the desert, the Promised Land just out of reach. How it must have felt to be given a promise, and then, just before reaching it, to be turned around and sent the other way. For 40 long, desolate years.

I have often thought of these past few years as my own, personal Wilderness. It is a comfort in the times when all seems dark to think that there are still lots of bright spots in the story to come.

But I had forgotten about something. When the Israelites were in the wilderness, God was present in a way he never had been before or since. His Presence, in the form of a pillar of cloud/fire went before them. It rested above the Tabernacle, for everyone to see. He was Right There. When they got hungry, he sent them manna. When they got thirsty, water from a rock. When they got sick of manna, he sent them birds to eat.

It reminds me a bit of that Footprints poem. "Where were you when we were in the desert, God?" He was RIGHT THERE! If we only see one set of footprints, it's because he was carrying us.

Does any of this make my dark days any less dark? No, not really. In fact, in many ways, this whole thought process has made me feel worse. The Israelites only had to wander the desert for so long because they didn't trust God the first time they arrived at the Promised Land. Not only am I still in the dark, but it's my fault that I'm here! And if I can't see God at work in my life, it's my fault for being blind to his presence. In fact, in light of my last blog post, blaming myself for one more thing is probably the last thing I need to do right now.

But it's reassuring in a way, too. I already knew I was flawed. I already know how easily I can be distracted from the path I should be walking. It's nice to be reminded that God isn't going anywhere. He is always there in the wings: watching, loving, waiting.

Which brings us right back where we were before: Knowing that, on the other side of this Wilderness, God will be there. But it adds a dimension that might just be semantics, but to me, is the word of life today. It's not that God "will" be there: God "is" there. Present tense. Always. Even when I don't see him. That's why his name is "I am".

My Fault

It's my fault.

My son dumps his oatmeal on the living room floor. He shouldn't have food in the living room, but we're eating in the living room because the kitchen table is covered in dirty dishes I haven't washed. He laughs and runs away because I don't discipline him well enough. My fault.

My older daughter is running late for her bus because she can't find socks and shoes to wear. There are no matching socks because I need to do laundry. None of her shoes are in her shoe basket because she takes them off wherever she feels like it, and I am not consistent enough with enforcing the “put your shoes away when you take them off” rule. She can't find her shoes on the cluttered, messy floor that I haven't cleaned. My fault.

My kids don't clean up after themselves. Clothes are left in a heap wherever they were removed. Toys are abandoned on the floor to be stepped on and destroyed. Oatmeal is dumped in a board game that was left lying open, and now needs to be thrown out. They have no concept of what it's like to live in a clean house, because they never have. They don't know how to clean up after themselves because they have never seen it modeled in their parents. How will they know how to clean if no one teaches them? And who will teach them if their mother is curled up in a ball on the couch, overwhelmed by everything she needs to do? My fault.

My middle daughter is throwing a tantrum. I have tried everything in my parenting bag of tricks, but nothing gets through to her. I can't give her my full attention, though, because I need to find her sister some shoes and clean up her brother's oatmeal mess before someone steps in it wearing the closest thing to a matching pair of socks I could find... Scratch that, now I need to find another pair of sorta-matching socks. I know how tough it is to be the middle child. She probably needs some quality one-on-one time, but I can't seem to find the time. My fault.

People like to tell me that I'm being too hard on myself, that nobody's perfect, that I'm doing my best. But then people like to tell me that things would be better if I taught my kids to clean up after themselves, if I just washed the dinner dishes as soon as we were done eating, if I made a cleaning schedule and did one task a day, if I bought such-and-such a book and used their system, if I budgeted better so we could hire a maid, if I just ran one load of laundry a day, if I just spent five minutes cleaning every night after the kids are asleep, if I, if I, if I… My fault.

And the suckiest thing about this illness of mine is that, when faced with all of the things that I want to do better, that I know I can do better, that my kids deserve for me to do better; I shut down. I know, logically, that it's better to get up and do something. That if I could just wash one dish, I might find the momentum to wash another. But logic always seems to lose out to the darkness. If I could just shake off this fog and listen to reason…

My fault.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Hour-A-Day April 2016: Day Two

My first HADA project today was actually picked by the kids. They found a jar of coins and decided to play "bank". Seeing this as an opportunity, I grabbed the coin wrappers and taught then how to count and roll coins, just like real bankers! Later, once they had wandered off, I dragged out the rest of the random jars of coins and finished rolling them myself. In the end, today's first HADA project earned me $102. Double win!

Most of the rest of the day was pretty unproductive. I did clean the clutter shelf where the coins had been stored, though. I discovered a terrifying Tupperware underneath some boxes of tea. Whatever was trapped inside had completely liquefied, and the lid was bulging about as far as possible without popping off in a shower of green and blue goo. I carefully placed the entire thing in the trash can. That's a mystery I don't mind leaving unsolved.

I had the house to myself from the afternoon on, and I chose to split most of that time between napping and reading. It was wonderful. But right before bed, I had a strong desire to accomplish one more thing, so I finished cleaning the kids' room and vacuumed their floor. Then that looked so good, I brought the Lego tables back into their room and glued the base plates on (a project that has been on my to-do list since Christmas).

Pro Tip: If you glue the base plates flush against each other, the edge is just a smidge too small and you won't be able to build across the joining lines. But, if you use Lego bricks to lock the base plates together as you are gluing them, you will get the exact spacing you will need.

And now, it's time for a little bit more reading and sleep, my two favorite activities in life right now.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Hour-a-Day April 2016: Day One

I picked one project to tackle today. One, simple, little project: gluing the base plates onto the girls' Lego tables. I didn't do it.

The good news is, I didn't do it because I did so much else!

You know when you want to do something, but you can't really do it until you do that other thing, and really, you should probably do that other other thing before that, and it would be much more efficient if that other other other thing was done, too? I call those things the "but firsts". I had a lot of "but firsts" for the Lego table project.

First, I needed to clean the kids' room, which is the current home of the Lego collection. I did that. I actually made the kids help, too. Bonus points for that. I got my hour in there alone. Unfortunately, I didn't finish that task, either, because I got side-tracked by the bathtub crayons on the tub walls.

I decided to try a little experiment. Three different substances that the Internet seemed to think might help get the old, dried-on crayon off the tub walls: cooking spray, shaving cream, and WD-40. I labeled three sections of the tub walls and treated each section with its respective substance.

Then I left that to sit while I did something else. I don't even remember what anymore. I was all over the place today.

I went to the store to get some supplies for some trophies I was making for a Girl Scout event tonight. It was a recycling-themed carnival and the trophies were made out of plastic bottles cut into goblet shapes and spray-painted gold. They actually turned out really cool, but I totally forgot to take a picture. Darn it. I made cardboard gold medals, too. And spray-painted the chest of drawers I had made out of cookie cases. And did some boring paperwork stuff. And made a trip to the bank to deposit cookie money. And did some weeding. And paid the rent. And dug up some baby strawberry plants to give to a friend. And took a shower. And did some reading. Wait, was this really all today? No wonder I'm tired and slightly incoherent right now.

Oh yeah, the bathtub walls. The cooking spray did nothing, the shaving cream worked pretty well, but the WD-40 was even better. Is there anything WD-40 can't do? Since it worked so well, I went ahead and finished scrubbing the bathtub walls.

Somewhere in there, I made lunch and dinner, too, and attended the Cardboard Carnival (which was awesome).

A pretty good start to this year's HADA, I think! I'm not even going to pretend I will keep up this momentum. Today was exhausting. Maybe I can get to those Lego tables tomorrow, though...