A Moment of Distraction

Let’s face it, life is busy. Not just for me, for most people I know. Especially this time of year, just go back and read any of my annual May posts. One in particular that I seem to respost each year is From Overwhelmed Parent to Grateful Parent because it holds up over time.  When you have children, especially those families with three or more little darlings things get a little, let’s use the word, chaotic in the spring.  For fun, throw in some additional and/or unexpected life events and crazy takes on a whole new level of meaning.

Due to my continued (albeit it not intentional) lack of regular postings, let me give you a brief recap.

  • A puppy joined our household, Chip the Australian Labradoodle. He is loveable, goofy, sneaky and believes I am his bed or a cushion to sit on. It’s like having a toddler again.
  • I took on some paid writing work.  A few wonderfully complimentary small business owners decided I was a good fit as a writer for hire for their online content marketing strategies. Blogging takes a back seat when paid work comes along as well as my more creative flights of fancy via short stories and editing a manuscript take off all at the same time.
  • And the big one, THE MOVE. Because we are a little nuts, (after all who gets a puppy on labour day, right before all three kids go back to school full-time?), we have purchased a property on the other side of the province (Ontario). We decide to trade in our convenient and comfortable suburban life for a life in the country. Not too far away sit picturesque wineries and our new home is found along the shoreline of the gently lapping waters of the Bay of Quinte.
  • My eldest daughter is going for day surgery (tonsils) and will be off school, at home recovering for at least a week.
  • The kids are now ten, eight and five. If you have kids this age or have had kids this age, I do not need to write another word. You get it. If you’re kids are younger, just wait. You will soon learn the art of creative time management and juggling the demands of burgeoning little people with their own agendas.

As I swiftly change my hats faster than the Mad Hatter himself, I do try to slow down at times and enjoy moments of distraction. Right now basketball is a useful distraction for our whole family. It is huge in this part of the world and our whole family cheers when those Raptors sink another basket.

But the other thing I find helps is humour. Laughing at the absurdity of our crazy life is not unusual, but there are times when you realize you may be a little too distracted.

As a parent of three or more kids, I try not to take my kids grocery shopping with me. It is an ordeal, usually ending up with one kid trying to ride the shopping cart, another grabbing cookies and my voice in that special low growl that ensures their little hands are all affixed to the sides of the cart.  I often forget things if they are with me. So, you would think that grocery shopping would be a leisurely outing when I am on my own. Except, well see the above. Finding leisurely grocery shopping is a thing of my not so distant past. Oh sure, it will come again, but not right now. Right now it is all about survival.

So one afternoon about a week ago, I dashed into the grocery store noting (of course) that I had forgotten my list. I tried to rely on my lacklustre memory but all that came to mind were the dishes. I hate washing dishes by hand so yes, dishwasher tabs are a must. Even in my harried state, I always try to spot that special yellow or red tag that screams, “Sale! Buy me!” When I raced down the aisle, threw other random items into my cart, I spotted the  “Sale!” tag near the dishwasher tab section and grabbed an unfamiliar brand. “Oh well, it’s on sale.” I thought to myself. “It’s probably fine.”

Thinking nothing of it, I walked over to the cashier, paid and went home.

In our house, we keep our dishwasher tabs in a dark corner of the cupboard under the kitchen sink. We have to reach beyond the nearly full compost bin and grab the tabs from the bag or bucket each night.

After I arrived home, I threw the bag into the cupboard and went on my merry way.

It happened the first night. The dishes were still disgusting after the final wash cycle.

“What’s this?” Mr. L asked and held up a grungy glass.

“Hmm.not sure maybe the setting was on a quick wash. Run it again.”

We do that, over and over. The next load was a little cleaner but there were less dishes. We had spent a lot of time eating out over the weekend.

Sunday night. The dishes were supposed to be clean, after all it worked once, but they were still sort of grungy. “Maybe it’s the new dishwasher tabs, I got a new brand. Just use it and I’ll get a new one next time I’m at the store.”

I left Monday night for a mini trip to take pictures of our new rural digs and to order furniture. I arrived home Tuesday and my elder daughter, Elizabeth was unloading the dishwasher.

“Ewww.these are still dirty.” She shoved her small hands into the the large, yellow gloves not wanting to touch the clean/dirty dishes.

“Just leave the dirty ones.” I told her, tired and worn out after a very busy forty-eight hours.

Mr. L peeked at the dishes as well, and then at the unusually dirty dishwasher. “I hope it’s not the dishwasher.”

Remember, we are moving in six weeks.

Wednesday morning arrives. We tried to wash another load and this time, Audrey, the younger daughter was unloading the dishes.

“These feel gross.” She holds out a dirty knife like it was covered in something disgusting. I stood to the side, continued to cut up vegetables for their lunches, tried to organize my  day in my head, fed the dog and threw in some laundry.

“Just leave it. I’ll hand wash them.”

Later that day, when I finally got around to hand washing the dirty/clean dishes, I realized they were dirty, really dirty. The dishwasher soap in those little plastic tabs must be really bad. No wonder they were on sale. I managed to get out to the grocery store in the afternoon and picked up my regular brand. I was very happy, my regular expensive brand was on sale, score!

I got home, pulled out the not great dishwasher tabs from deep within the cupboard, and was ready to trash them when I actually stopped to read the bag.

Laundry Detergent. 99% natural ingredients. No perfumes. 

I bought laundry detergent tabs and have been using them in my dishwasher.

This my friends is the epitome of distraction and life’s wry sense of humour. Just when you pat yourself on the back on how well you are handling the chaos of life, you realize you not only bought laundry detergent instead of dishwasher detergent, but have been using it for the last six days.

Well, at least my kids will have no internal stains and the product was the most natural on the market.

Parents of three or more kids, find the humour. When life seems out of control, busy as hell just remember, at least you didn’t wash your dishes with laundry detergent today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Invite in the crazy.

Twilight was descending on a perfect spring day. After another crazy day, (typical at our house) of appointments, managing babysitters, picking up dinner and squeezing in a precious hour at the gym my older girl and I were driving off to her musical theatre class. If her year-end performance was not approaching at top-speed, I would have almost asked her if she wouldn’t rather go to the park with her brother and sister. But, teaching her responsibility and keeping commitments is an important parenting task, so instead we drove down the highway at top speed singing to the radio as it blasted above the whoosh of wind through the sun roof. 

After I dropped her off and managed a quick chat with her very intimidating but kind musical director regarding her costume pick-up, I hopped into the swag wag again to quickly run a couple of errands in the forty-five minutes I had left. Sipping my lukewarm Grande Bold Misto coffee (which had already been re-heated twice since picking it up a few hours ago) a huge breath escaped me and I turned up the radio enjoying listening to the music on my own. It was the first time I actually remember consciously taking a breath the whole day. 

Thankfully the stores were not crowded on this Thursday evening so I quickly grabbed my items in between chatting to my mother on the phone wishing her a good trip. My parents were heading for a weekend get-away and part of me wished I could go with them. 

Time-management is essential as a parent of three or more. Oftentimes and not unusually the hours slip away and I find myself running at top speed to cram as much as I can into twenty-four hours. I can see the effects of such a life on myself, Mr. L and three busy munchkins. They all can tell when Mom needs a break or is feeling the heavy load of trying to manage all their lives. I know Friday afternoons exhaustion kicks in. That is probably why I keep our weekends tightly controlled and protected. The week is busy enough with activities, daily dramatic occurrences, work and basically life. This weekend there are some family and friend visits planned, but I do not push the kids to do homework and try to nudge them to finish up their chores Sunday mornings. However, the times I love best are the ones where the house is fairly tidy, tummies are full and we can just sit outside watching the kids play on the swings.

It is in these quiet moments, such as a beautiful spring night where no children are in the car and it is simply me, that I remember, busy times pass. Getting through them is the toughest part. When we are all treading water desperately trying to keep our heads from sinking below we need to remember that sometimes, treading, is all one person can manage. And it is enough. With that thought at the top of my  mind on yet another busy weekday, I drive back up the street to pick up Elizabeth. I smile to myself, crank up the radio as Thrift Shop pulses from the speakers, open all the windows and of course, my cool sun roof, and without a care in the world sing at the top of my lungs. I do not care that I have become that Mom, the one in a huge van still acting like she is eighteen, and I invite the crazy in. After all, what else is a mom of three or more to do? 

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Dancing around the maypole.

“The wind is tossing the lilacs,
The new leaves laugh in the sun,
And the petals fall on the orchard wall,
But for me the spring is done.

Beneath the apple blossoms
I go a wintry way,
For love that smiled in April
Is false to me in May.”
–  Sara Teasdale, May

Has spring actually finally arrived in my little piece of Southwestern Ontario? Within less than five days all the spring flowers have bloomed, the trees are budding, birds are chirping happily building nests and my children are running for the warmth of the sunshine like butterflies eagerly awaiting the warm temperatures. It has been a long wait this year, but with confidence I think we can state, it is spring!

A person can feel their mood lifting with the onset of constant sun. This week is the longest stretch we have had consistently warmer temperatures and sunshine in a few months. I can already feel my whole being sigh with relief and my house is welcoming the open windows.

Last weekend we packed up the family for an hour long trip to a very close friend’s house. R and S are like family to us and we lament that they live so far. Last year we started an annual family sleepover tradition all having young kids still requiring parental supervision where the adults can enjoy some drinks out on the threadbare patios and the kids can giggle and do well, kid-stuff. The girls bunked with their little girl and Jacob bunked with us. It was glorious. The first real taste of a warm spring. A nice change to our little pocket of Ontario where we left gray skies and lower temperatures down by Lake Ontario.

Beauty in the sun.

Beauty in the sun.

This week my two girls have been obsessed with fairy houses and have been diligently writing note after note hoping for the fairies to visit. Currently our playset in our backyard is being turned into a fairy playhouse. Some of my cherished moments are of hearing them playing in harmony instead of the petty bickering that inevitable arises when there are multiple children in a family. I have learned the art this past month of taking a step back and firmly encouraging them to work it out themselves. A constant phrase is, “Is this an emergency? Have you tried to work out? Talk to your sister about it.” A phrase I hear echoed in the classroom and it is with hope I leave them to it turning back to a household chore or chasing a little man who has decided to empty a bag of rice chips all over the kitchen floor.

With spring also comes the reality of taking stock of the winter damage to your property. Gardening, washing windows, finally putting away the winter gear. We also realized that our stone steps although lovely to look at have loosened and sloped to such an extent that measures need to be taken to rebuild or replace them. Add it to the project list. Do they every truly end?

After sneaking away in early April to a writer’s retreat and a renewed dedication to finish a fiction project I am working on, I spent last month forgoing other activities (including this blog) to re-focus myself on finishing a project in the pockets of time I am able to grasp in between family life. A routine has been set-up and to my delight, a fiction novel has developed and I am nearing the last quarter of the story. I can see the finish line!

Now I cannot pretend a lot of hard work is in store as I re-write and edit but the story will be complete which is an accomplishment for this newbie writer and busy mom. On top of that,  I also implemented a new fitness training routine to help prepare for some goals later this summer and truthfully, am feeling stronger each time I pull myself to the gym and leave feeling that natural high that comes after a good work-out.

So what is in store for May? Outside time with the kids. Baseball season starts next week for the girls so I will be trekking to fields across the 401 highway in between spring concerts at school and packing for a big family trip in June. Fitness is on my mind this month. Now that I have a base routine in place, it is time to amp it up and with that figure out how to include the kids.

What are your plans for May?

My dance around the maypole continues.

Parenting Milestones

My path has not been determined. I shall have more experiences and pass many more milestones.

Agnetha Faltskog

A windy April has flown the days by quicker than I imagined. As we still wait for warm weather to appear, our little household is winding down winter activities and there will be a brief lull that I will welcome with open arms. No more running around Monday nights to get the girls ready for skating as tonight marks the last class. Thank goodness too. The girls’ skates are a touch on the small side. Elizabeth (who has never been fond of skating although to give her credit plugs along knowing she is behind others younger than her) has given up and I have become the Mom who is cringing on the bleachers watching my eldest child hang off her instructor or clinging to the side wall. Finding anything to do but the skating drills the rest of her class is doing. Audrey actually seems to be gaining more confidence in skating and although her little shuffles are still cautious, she is precise in her moves and attempting all the drills. But, I think even she will appreciate the break and this mom will gladly take their certificates, pat them on the back for making it through another term of skating and put it aside until next winter. After all, baseball season starts in three weeks and there will be a whole new set of challenges to face for my two girls.

Jacob only knows he is not going skating and watches each week sadly out the front window as we leave. Upon our return home he keeps repeating, “I skate when I three?” To which I respond by kissing his cute little fingers and nod yes, next winter Mommy will take him skating. I am sure he will also appreciate the break of having a babysitter every Monday afternoon and some much needed quality time with his sisters. One benefit of being a mom of three or more, hopefully one of your brood will embrace some of the sports and activities you try so hard to diligently expose them to.

Knowing that each child has their own unique strengths and challenges, Mr. L and I always believed that there are a set of skills necessary as part of childhood. We do not expect Olympic athletes. But we do strongly encourage our kids to learn the basics of some sports and skills in the hopes they will have fun, get some exercise and maybe learn to find their hobbies/passions that will stay with them through life. These markers of childhood are plentiful. Riding a bike, learning to skate, (after all we do live in Canada where cold weather is dominant most of the year). Learning to ski. Swimming on their own with no life jacket and water safety. Along with other non-sport skills like reading, learning the basics to playing an instrument and how to tie shoe-laces, it is our job to help teach them these things. We do our best in our busy household, sometimes taking things upon ourselves and often taking advantage of the wonderful community programs available to help us.

However, the time it takes to do this with three or more, well anyone who has tried with one child, multiply that times three, especially if you have kids all within a similar age range without the benefit of having older children to model the behaviours or help younger siblings. It is a lot of work for two people. I applaud those families that are single-parent families going through these parenting milestones.  Most days I feel I am not doing enough or teaching them quick enough.

Through the last year or so, I have learned to take help when offered. Often, trying to teach your children yourself just does not work well for various reasons. You need infinite patience that is truthfully sometimes hard to attain after arguing about homework with a seven-year old or falling asleep because your toddler was up at four am demanding that Mommy sleep in his room. You also need time. Time taken away from all the other things you have to manage in your life.

So it is with a great amount of pride and relief when I saw my eldest girl teaching her younger brother his colours. She patiently spent a half hour taking different coloured-crayons out of our huge assortment of pencils/pencil crayons/crayons/markers Ziploc bag and having him repeat each colour to her. It was with little surprise that shortly after that, my two-year old could rattle off correctly nearly every primary colour. Check that off my parenting list!

It was also with gratitude I said, “Yes!!” when my mother and step-father asked if they could get the girls their new big girl bikes for their birthdays. Being February babies, they waited until this past weekend and picked up two very excited girls. Elizabeth had already started on a bike when she turned five. Rejecting the tricycle, she went straight to a bright blue two-wheeler with streamers and training wheels. With a little hard work she managed to take-off and enjoyed leisurely riding around the neighbourhood.

On one of the rare warmer days earlier this spring, she hopped on the blue bike. Right away we noticed how much she had grown since last summer. It was time for the next bike size. Her younger sister then attempted to get on Elizabeth’s old bike but the clunky monster was hard for her to pedal and she was easily frustrated. We hoped by getting her a brand new bike of her own, it would encourage her to keep pedaling.

After a lunch out with the grandparents, they arrived banging on our front door asking me to come outside with Jacob. Jacob ran to get his tricycle, desperate to keep up with his sisters, whom to my delight hopped on their shiny new bikes and took off down the sidewalk only pedaling back when I yelled, “Helmets!!”

“Audrey is doing it!” I exclaimed feeling excited at seeing my younger daughter pedal her first bike.

“She kept riding it in the store until she got it!” Responded my mom. Somewhere in my mind, I knew the excursion to buy bikes with their grandparents worked better for my girls than if I had taken them. I can picture myself distractedly trying to get them on the bikes to size them while chasing a toddler through the store and the inevitable whining as each tried to get my attention. Instead, they were excited and proud to show their grandparents what they could do and my mom and step-dad were infinitely more patient with them than I could have been this spring. A win-win for my girls.

An impromptu walk/ride around the block was next and even after a couple of falls and firm encouragement to get back on their bikes and keep going, both girls did not care their hands were freezing on the chilly April afternoon. They simply rode their bikes while their little brother took it all in watching them pedal their two-wheelers.

As I look ahead with excitement to warmer temperatures and the winding down of activities, I will try to remember the joy and happiness I could sense from my kids doing the simple things. The couple of times we went skating this year and my older daughter just glided in the softly falling snow without the demands of lessons. Riding their bikes on a sunny afternoon or  colouring together at our kitchen table. I will take these moments and try to remember that even if it takes a bit of time and sometimes frustration, it is well worth it to help them learn these life lessons.

Next step. Removing the training wheels on a a seven-year old’s bike. The teaching never stops.

Enter the spring!

No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.” Hal Borland

The first day of spring is here and the snow keeps on falling! Audrey has been very upset the last couple of days as she was determined to make one last snowman before this winter finally wraps up. However the wet snow melts in the warm sunshine every single day thwarting her attempts.

With that in mind, it may be time to dig into our massive children’s library for Sadie and the Snowman by Allen Morgan to read to her later. A delightful book about a little girl who makes a snowman every day until it starts to warm up and she has to save a little bit of her snowman for next year.

sadie and the snowman

On the domestic front, the first of two consultations on window coverings is checked off the list. It  will be interesting what another consultant may suggest as today the very nice lady who came to provide an in-home quote, quite honestly tried to dissuade me from the ideal California shutters for our four bedrooms. As an alternative it was suggested honeycomb shades would fit our windows better.

Still seeking to complete decorating my girls’ suite, they have both expressed interest in having a fairy tent surround them as they sleep so that will aid in finishing their room décor.

Looking at my to-do list this week I shudder and go grab another coffee. It keeps growing!

Last week’s March Break, although fun with a little mini-vacation thrown in, (review on March Break to come another time!)  set back my goals for home organization this month. But I will solider on!

Fortunately, with Passover and Easter right around the corner, addressing those “hot spots” are high on the priority list this week. I have identified at least five “hot spots” within my house, not including the basement which I am leaving until summer to tackle. With family quickly gathering next week, the Dining Room is the first priority.

Dining Room "Hot Spot"

Spring cleaning is also starting to become something I need to deal with. Fortunately, I am going to hire a bit of help this year to do some of the hard scrubbing on key areas like kitchen cupboards and baseboards. I would rather my focus be on de-cluttering and home organization rather than removing many little fingerprints from the wallsToday the dining room table de-cluttered, tomorrow the world!

How do you keep your “hot spots” from becoming out of control and encroaching into the rest of your house?

Decluttering life

Part of trying to maintain a clutter-free semi-organized home for the five of us is keeping my “hot spots” cleared. A “hot spot” is that area where things accumulate that you just do not have time to put away in the moment. Ours is the dining room table. We only utilize the dining room when having a formal family event or dinner party. In vain I have tried to convince Mr. L the uselessness of this room. The room has so much potential but is generally cluttered that I try to clear off at least once a month (or two). Usually corresponding with an event at our house.

In the spirit of home organization month, I am trying to remember to put things away promptly instead of letting the large oval wooden table become a haven of found Christmas decorations or birthday presents to be wrapped. As such, I have spent the last two days driving to Elizabeth’s friends homes to drop off the lingering birthday reminder, beautiful canvas paintings, Jackson Pollock inspired, that her guests painted during her splatter paint party. Today was a successful day with four of the eight paintings delivered to their rightful owners!

Taking a break from a writing deadline on another project and casually checking in online, I noticed a blog written in the same spirit of the de-cluttering I am trying to undertake this month. mommacan is a website dedicated to home management for busy moms. My kind of site! The particular article was on the 100-club. Picking up 100 items a day until you feel clutter-free. Being all in and having the kids home on March Break next week, one of those days will be a perfect day to challenge myself and my family to pick up and put away, give-away or throw-away 100 items!

The last couple of days I have also made some initial calls for our handyman to come and finish some home decorating (end of March) and book consultations for our much-needed black-out bedroom window coverings. Waking up at six am on the weekends needs to be stopped and this Mom of three is determined to find a solution to the early morning sunshine penetrating our bedrooms!

Slow and steady progress towards my organization goals for this month, but progress all the same!

Following the trends – March!

Moving into the first week of March and unfortunately the cold winter weather is lingering. This Mom of three is ready to ditch the soggy mittens and boots and am itching to break out the running shoes and lighter jackets. Thankfully, my bunch do not seem to mind playing in slowly melting snow and ice even through my attempts to dissuade them.

As father winter keeps us in his clutches a bit longer my attention turns towards my goals for this month. Home projects and organization! My mind must be attuned to the media as everywhere I look flashes of stark white titles screaming, “How to De-clutter your home!” or “Organize your entire life!” Picking up the random magazine to spur myself into action a plan slowly forms and I decide to focus on three main goals this month.

The magazine currently reading!

The magazine currently reading!

1)   Finish decorating girls bedroom and living room.

2)   Purge old toys from the downstairs rec room.

3)   Find a proper office space in the house.

In addition to these three main projects I want to dedicate this month to not just reorganizing the home but taking the time to appreciate the elements of my home. The organized and disorganized, the piles of books in my room, the little figurines gathered on the girls’ dresser and piles of clothes to be donated.

We have lived in our current house for just over two years. Making the necessary move just before Jacob was born it has all the elements a family of five, plus dog, can need. One of the criteria when we purchased a home was that it had to be move-in condition. Meaning no painting, no big projects and decor we could live with. Slowly we have started to put our own stamp on the house but with three little ones underfoot things have been done addressing the must-haves versus the want-to-haves.

Finally having my first six months with a little more time since both girls are now at school and Jacob is in nursery school a few hours a week, I have been able to start thinking about next steps. A place we all love for years to come and that will grow with our family.  I am a firm believer in a home as a sanctuary. Part of my personality loves puttering around the house doing random domestic chores, baking cookies or simply sitting at the kitchen table with coffee in one hand and newspaper in the other casually looking into our backyard at the red squirrels practicing their gymnastics on our fence. I am never bored at home.

Is it not time I made a real effort to change our space into a space we love?