Sturm und Mom

The Storm & Stress (& Joy) of Motherhood

Archive for the tag “large family”

Death by a Thousand Cheque Book Paper Cuts

Hey -- you enjoy that! It cost good money.

Back in the day, my Grandma would call Trick or Treating “Shell Out” (she would also call Canadian Tire “The Tire Corporation” for some inexplicable reason.) As we donned our homemade costumes, she would be at the door. “Shell out, shell out,” she’d call. I thought it was strange and embarrassing back then. Little did I know she was warning me what my life would be like in 30 years.

Oh, I lie to myself. “Now that school has started Liz, the expenses will drop off.”  “It’s just Christmas. When January comes you’ll be able to save LOTS of money.” Yeah, whatever. The cheques are ripped out and handed off.

Scholastic Book Order

RIP

Girl Guide Sleepover

RIP

Pottery Field Trip, Museum Field Trip, Skiing Field Trip

RIP RIP RIP

That was a skiing and snowboarding trip, remember?

Right – RIP

School Christmas Gifts

RIP RIP RIP

Winter Activity Registration

RIP

School Book Fair

RIP

Should I put the 4 and 3 year old in Kindermusik?

RIP-RIP-RIP-RIP-RIP-RIP-RIP!!!

I don’t begrudge giving my kids stuff, and all of these expenses are worthwhile.  They’re all educational, memorable, and brain building.  That’s the problem:  How do you say “no” to the good stuff?

I’m not wasting money on kids temporary hair die, or those plastic straws full of sugar.  It’s the costs of all the great trips the school organizes, thank you’s to great teachers, birthday party gifts for great kids.  This is all the stuff that you want to say “yes” to as a parent.  And it’s not just an issue because I have a ton of kids.  When I just had two, I had them enrolled in music, dance, swimming, and gymnastics.  We went weekly to the bookstore, and bought a shelf load of Sharon, Lois and Bram CD’s.  It’s easy to say “no” to the candy aisle, and a lot harder to say it to cello lessons.

But at some point, you have to.  Even if you are a stay-at-home mom with two nannies and a gazillion, billion dollars, it is humanly impossible to buy and do everything of value that will cross your kids’ path.  You can’t fit that much activity into a 24 hour day, and where are you going to house all those math games?  Parents today are both blessed and cursed — blessed that we have so much to help us parent and enrich our children’s lives, and cursed that we have so much to choose from and have to say “no” to.

So, I have a confession to make:  I recycled the book orders this month.  I did cave on Sweetie Pie’s new Christmas Dress, but she needs it for the school Christmas Concert.  The same concert that I bought fundraising raffle tickets for.  And we did stop at the book fair, but I limited the kids to one book.  A piece.  Plus some for the kids at home.  And some erasers.  But I swear that’s it, and I mean it.

I’m going to go order some more cheques now.

Thank you! And please hold…

I used that line when I was a receptionist.  I would pick up the phone and say “Good afternoon, (Business Name.) Thanks for holding!” in an uber-cheerful voice, and before the caller could argue, hit the hold button.  Hey, when the switchboard’s lighting up, and you have three people standing in front of you waiting for appointments, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Thanks…

Which brings me to the first order of business:  Thank you, thank you, thank you Kana!  Kana from Kana’s Notebook, generously and shockingly nominated me for a Versatile Blogger Award.  Shocking!   You are a shocking woman, Ms. Kana!  But, I would like to thank you for considering me a good read, especially in light of the wonderful writing that you post day after day.

…for holding!

I’ll be passing the Award along, and listing 7 things about myself in a couple of days.  This weekend involves a boy’s birthday, babysitters, a sleepover, meetings and enough precision planning to launch the Prussian Army on a winter campaign.  Why right now a 6, 4 and almost 3 year old are eating a Peep! on a stick left over from Easter.  And it’s not even 10:30 a.m.  Yep, buckle up folks, it’s going to be a bumpy ride (or depending on how many Peeps! are found: crunchy.)

So, thanks again!  And if you can hold on a sec, I’ll be passing that award along to some deserving bloggers.  Or regaling you with what eight-month old Peeps! do to the under 6 set.  Well, hopefully not the last one….

Purple Peanut Has Left the Building

First off, who did I offend at Amazon to get this as a recommendation? I mean, I never knew them to be passive-aggressive before. This must be a misunderstanding. Sure, I’ve been using the library more, and all those Kindle Samples, but I’ll change. Just don’t add Liquid Gold to the list….

***********

We were reminding Sweetie Pie how she used to live in a dream world when she was 4. We used to call it “Lulu’s World” like Elmo’s World.

“Oh yeah,” she said wistfully. “I remember Purple Peanut.”

“You mean your imaginary best friend?”

“Yeah. He moved to Athabasca. I really miss him.”

**********

I try to put on a decent front when we all go out as a group, but I’m about to give up. Today at Church, one kid was running around with her snow boots on the wrong feet, and the boy!  He was wearing a clean shirt when he left the house, and by the time he took his coat off, it was filthy — covered in lint, smudges and oil stains!  It was like he went through a car wash deposited dirt onto to you.  How do you get a grease stain from the inside of a Snow Jacket?  God knows what people behind us are thinking…..

**********

Today, Art Girl asked how old we were.

“I’m 41 and Dad’s 40.”

“Oh, right,” she said.  “I forgot.  I used to think Dad was older because he was taller, but then I learned that you shrink when you get old.  So, now I know that Mom is way, way older than Dad.”

I stared at her open mouthed.

“It’s true.  That’s why (Tall Girl) is almost as tall as you Mom.  You’re shrinking.”

The Heroism of Everyday

(T)he great poems of heaven and hell have been written, and the great poem of earth remains to be written

– Wallace Stevens, 1879-1955

When I was a kid, George Bailey was a hero. Every Christmas, I would look forward to watching the movie It’s a Wonderful Life on TV, the 1946 classic by Frank Capra. The story revolves around an everyday fellow in crisis, who is given the opportunity to see what the world would have been like if he had never been born. That movie (and Black Magic Chocolates) were probably the highlights of the season for me. Why? George saved a boy’s life, George built houses, George saved the family business, George stood up to Mr. Potter, George was a good father, George helps an angel gets his wings, etc. His hometown without him is a den of sin and despair. I loved the idea that the famous and powerful, whom we all worship, are in fact harming the world, while the guy in the back of the room that no one notices, is saving it. If I could only be like George Bailey, I thought.

Somewhere along the way though, I started to question my hero worship. I mean, George was for all intents and purposes, a loser. He missed out on college and his honeymoon, he was the propertior of a failing business that had to bailed out by crumpled up dollar bills from all his buddies, his house was falling apart and full of screaming kids. His dream was to see the world and become an architect. Instead he got travel posters and a paper-pushing desk job. Was this all propaganda? Feel good hokum?  More pap churned out for the masses to keep them in line?  “Oh sure, little guy, you matter so much! If you weren’t here to turn on the lights, how could you admire your betters? If you didn’t keep having children, who would pay our taxes and fight our wars?  Consider yourself lucky — do you know how stressful it is to have something different and exciting happen every single day? The stress and responsibility of being successful?”

Now as a grown-up, I feel like these two Georges – the winner and loser – sometimes wage a battle in my soul. The life of a mother of small children can seem an uber-exercise in self-mortification. Don’t get me wrong — I totally get my vocation. But sometimes, what with a toilet-training two year old, a pouty, attention-hungry four year old, a baby up all night, school age kids with all their assorted crises, part of me yells, “You’ve been duped! You’re a chump to be doing all this work. When will it ever be your turn?” The time to pursue the dreams that my adolescent self thought it should pursue — wealth, fame, infamy — is slowly slipping away, even if I were to try to chase them. But what surprises me most about this life is how hard the little things are. It requires amazing amount of effort and self-control not to snap, scream, to act patient, to explain, to discipline instead of ignore, to forgive again and again. Heather King writes about this force of will in her new book Shirt of Flame: A Year with Saint Therese of Lisieux. She describes how “Therese trained herself, literally breaking into a sweat from the effort,” to keep from turning around and glaring at an annoying Sister during prayers.

Try that the next time someone jumps the line at the bank, or cuts you off as you try to merge onto the freeway, or insinuates you aren’t working hard enough! Begin to ponder the years of discipline, prayer, and the turning of the will toward God required for such a ‘tiny’ taming of the instincts.

Rather than being the life of a weakling, of a bumbler, or the unambitious, the everyday grind with its constant self-denial and sacrifice, is actually a work of unnoticed heroism.

This article by Michael Kirke from MercatorNet, really spoke to me. It summarizes the work of Professor John Paul Wauck on the role of the everyday in Christian literature. Professor Wauck asks where is this heroism of everyday life portrayed in literature?

“How might one, then, in practice,” he asks, “convey the heroism of ordinary Christian life? To appreciate the difficulty, consider, for example, the following point from The Way by Saint Josemaría Escrivá, the champion of sanctity in ordinary life:

‘We were reading – you and I – the heroically ordinary life of that man of God. And we saw him struggle whole months and years (what an ‘accounting’ he kept in his particular examination of conscience!) one day at breakfast he would win, the next day he’d lose…. “I didn’t take butter… I did take butter!” he would jot down. May we too – you and I – live our…. ‘drama’ of the butter.’ ”

Kirke ponders Wauck’s question, whether it is even possible to capture the struggle of everyday life in literature.  Kirke too feels that this epic struggle requires more attention.  For it is, quite plainly, in the boring everyday that our souls are lost or saved.  Most people don’t wake up and declare “Today’s the day for Mortal Sin!”  It’s the constant little choices, the turning of the will either toward or away from God, that determines the fate of our eternal life.  To paraphrase Peter Kreeft, we need stories of heroic virtue.  The virtue required to tend small children, provide for your family, return rudeness with kindness, and persevere when no one seems to notice or care.

So is George Bailey off the hook?  Overall yes, but not in the most important way. The movie sums up with “No one’s a failure who has friends,”  which does seem to be the sort of feel-good twist of a Hollywood movie.  The real drama is a lot harder to accept:  He who chooses failure in the World’s eyes for the sake of Truth, is a hero.  I hopefully await someone to take up this challenge in his or her art.

Why we aren’t buying a bigger house

With six kids, people are always asking if we live in a big house.  Sometimes those people are ourselves.  And the answer is: no, it’s 1800 square feet, three-bedroom plus a basement.  Where we live, this house in on the larger size of “average.”  Back in the 1990’s, this would have been considered a “move-up” home. That was back in the day when it was acceptable to build with vinyl flooring and laminate countertops.  Now, new 1200 sq.ft. duplexes have granite and a soaker tub in the basement bathroom.  So, as you can imagine, we’ve been feeling the pressure to sell and trade up to some larger real estate.  But to continue our trend bucking lifestyle, we aren’t moving.  And here’s why…

1) “Afford” when a bank says it, means something different then when we say it

It’s taken us a while to realize that when the bank says you can “afford” the payments, they mean that you have liquid capital to cover the principal and interest.  When we ask “Can we afford it?”, we mean will the purchase fit comfortably fit into our lifestyle, and leave us with enough money left over to do something else, like cover an emergency or go on vacation.  In the bank’s mind, we can “afford” to spend $350 a month on chocolate truffles.  While this is technically true, I don’t know if our kids would get a checkmark for a “Rainbow Lunch” with 4 different colours of foil wrapper.

2) Houses should go back to just being a place to live

As this article from David P. Goldman shows, we middle class folks can’t count on our houses funding our retirements anymore.  I’m suspecting they also won’t be doing a great job beating inflation or funding our kids’ inheritance, either.  Once upon a time, my great-grandfather (along with everyone else he knew,) cut wood and hammered nails, and built his own house.  It was exactly enough house to keep his family warm, fed and sheltered.  It was not a grand homage to how well he did at his career, or an existential statement on his personal design aesthetic.  It was a house.  Period.  I propose we all give that attitude a try.

3) We would like to buy our grandchildren Christmas presents

I once heard someone say, that it’s harder to be old and poor, than young and poor.  If our kids have even small families of 3 kids each, we should expect 18 grandkids.  If they decide to have big families, we could have 36 grandkids or even more.  And we would really like to give them all presents at Christmas and birthdays.  If we stay crammed in our three-kids-per-bedroom situation now, we won’t have a mortgage in 12 years.   In 12 years, incidentally, we will only have 4 kids age 18 or under.  However, if we trade these payments for a mortgage that extends out 25 years, we will still be paying off space that no one is inhabiting for an extra 13 years.  I think older generations realized this and avoided debt, allowing them to enjoy their golden years with a sizeable nest egg.

4) Does this really sync with our values?

I’m in no way saying that large house owners are bad people or lacking in virtue.  Some of the best people I know live in some pretty swanky digs.  But is that path the one God has laid out for our family to walk?  We have a big family.  Our resources are split between more people.  This requires that we all make sacrifices to get along.  Personally, I struggle with materialism big time.  My first impulse for any problem is to hit the Supercentre, and purchase a solution.  But sometimes the solution is just make do.  Do we really need the room, or are we trying to impress people with what we own?  Can this house be made workable, can we use some better organizing solutions, get rid of a bunch of junk, or build a bedroom in the basement?  If our heart is where our treasure is, should we be putting all our treasure into a note to the Bank?  Shouldn’t we be trusting in God to provide for our needs, rather than scheming on how we can get more?

5) This house is just fine — if we stop looking at other houses

Our current house has one of the largest kitchens I’ve seen in a suburban house, it’s new so we don’t need to replace the roof for years, it’s about 150 feet from our school and a playground, it’s on a major bus route, we’re walking distance from our Church and a new Recreation Centre, it’s bright and sunny, and we already have a fence and garage.  BUT — It is on a busy street, doesn’t have front driveway and it only has three bedrooms.  “Moral arithimetic” would seem to prove that we should stay, no contest.  But in grass-is-always-greener fashion, we keep looking at other houses on the Internet.  And becoming disatisfied with the one we have.  I spent my twenties and early thirties watching decorating and home renovation shows.  It’s time to grow up and accept reality.   Cultivating house envy may be a fun pastime, but as a way of life it sucks.  A house should be clean, functional and pleasant to be in.  Anything else is gravy and most likely the domain of those who don’t have little kids.

So yes, the bunk beds and selves of shoes stay (I draw the line at family closets.)  Looks like we’re staying put. But at least now I know what I’m asking for Christmas: built-ins.

I now have proof I love my kids

Why?  Because I remained exceptionally calm when my 6 year old came up to me this morning and said:

“Okay Mom.  You have a test.  When does Sparks start?”

“6 o’clock.”

“Good!  Now don’t you ever be late again.”

And she walked away…

How a Mom of Six Gets Stuff Back Under Control

Usually, my husband says I run a “tight ship.”  This morning, I think he just used a bunch of words that rhyme with “ship.”  With this many souls running around, I need to keep on top of things.  When I don’t, everything breaks down, like it did sometime between 7 and 8 am today.  Between losing about 6 hours on Sunday at the Emergency Room, working on my kids’ Halloween costumes (because every year I forget that it is not easier or cheaper to make them yourself!!! I need to auto-email myself the beginning of every October with that reminder,) and having to take 4 kids to another Specialist appointment this morning, well, as my Grandma would have said “Everything’s gone to pot!”  There was no cereal for breakfast, no clean underwear for the preschooler, and just the general “chicken-with-head-cut-off” running around, which ensues from such a situation.  I need to get my, er, ship together fast.

So, here is my quick and dirty guide to re-attaching the head to the proverbial chicken:

1) Deal with urgent things first

Usually when things are this bad, you have a couple of burning fires that need attending to ASAP.  My lack of breakfast, for example, an urgent email that needs a reply, bills that are overdue, the over-flowing kitchen garbage, or permission forms without signatures, are things that you just need to muscle through. All those little tasks are about to turn into major problems.  Get them done first, and try to leave the non-urgent things alone until then.

2) Laundry, laundry, laundry

If you are a Mom, you have laundry.  I can guarantee it.  Children make laundry.  Sometimes, I wonder if they have a magical ability that enables them to reproduce their clothes, so 5 shirts turn into 10 by the end of the season.  And, in the rush to do all that laundry for the little ones, I am also going to guarantee that you have been putting off your own, so that you are “recycling” those yoga pants and your last clean t-shirt for more days than you want to mention.  Make laundry a priority and it will reward you with a happy home.  Remember – laundry’s not done until it is folded and in the drawer.  This is a cruel reality, but any woman who’s had to walk out of the Hospital with a newborn still wearing her maternity pants, knows life’s not nice.

3) What are you going to eat?

Mealtime screw ups and laundry are the two big killers to household harmony.  Write down, or commit to memory what you are going to eat for breakfast, lunch and supper for the next 2 to 3 days, or until next big grocery shop.  Now, I don’t mean “Coq au Vin on Monday, Poor-man’s Paella on Tuesday…”  If you usually end up eating Mac and Cheese with Weiners, then write down “Mac and Cheese with Weiners.”  If breakfast is always cereal and juice, then write that down for each day.  You’re not trying to impress the editorial staff at Bon Appetit, you are just trying to save stress at meal time.  Then, check if you actually have the ingredients to make those meals.  Do you have enough bread, bologna, chicken fingers, yoghurt or are you about to discover, right before you load the family into the car for yet another unscheduled restaurant visit, that you are running out?  Either make substitutions, or buy enough to tide you over.

4) “Emergency” Clean your Home

By this I mean, clean the house the way you would if your mother-in-law was due in 20 minutes, without all the closet stuffing.  Grab a laundry basket and pick up everything on the floor, tables, etc.  Hang up jackets and straighten shoes.  Wipe down the counters quickly with a cleaning wipe.  Suddenly, everything will look better.  There is something calming about seeing bare floors and flat surfaces.  Now, take that basket and start sorting by the garbage can.  Why?  Because 80% of that basket will be either garbage or laundry.  Children adore trash.  I had a friend whose son refused to throw out the cotton ball taped to his arm after a needle.  He wanted to create a special box for it, so he could keep his medical waste for ever and ever.  This is typical childish behaviour.  The only thing they like as much as junk, is to drop their spontaneously created laundry all over as a way of marking their territory.  So toss, toss, toss away.  All those lame fast food toys, lidless markers, foamy craft shapes, pieces of sticks, Sponge Bob colouring sheets — gone.  It’s going to feel freaking awesome.  Be ruthless.

By the way, this is not the time to “tackle that closet” or “create a filing system” or “finally get organized.”  With the 20% that’s left in your basket, assign a kid (if the are able) to help put it away.   Pile up (or file if you have a place) bills and important papers.  Note dates from school and extra-curriculars on your calendar — remember to toss/recycle the paper once you’re done.  You don’t need to keep a lot of the paper that comes into your home.  Just put it on your calendar, which is the safest place anyway.  When’s the last time you lost your wall calendar?  Stack dishes in sink, or empty the dishwasher and stack them in there.  Recycle all those bags and paper towel rolls you’ve been saving for “crafts.”  Breathe deeply.

I hope my tips help you out.  It goes without saying that your kids can help with a lot of this.  Even a toddler can run around and put things in a laundry basket.   You’ll be amazed just how much better everything will be once the frozen lasagna is in the oven, there is a path to the front door, and you are looking forward to wearing clean jeans tomorrow.  Trust me.

Now, I’m going back to sewing gold sequins onto Athena’s chiton.  (I know, I know…next year I’m buying a costume…)

You know you’ve been in Emergency a long time…

…waiting for stitches, when your son, age 2, asks:

“Mommy, is this our new home?”

Location, location, location

Today, we were traveling along by car.  Suddenly my 4 year old piped up from her car seat:

“Mommy — We just passed a graveyard!”

“Yes, dear.  That was a graveyard.”

“Mommy, if we ever have any dead people we should put them there.”

“Umm..sure, honey.  We should probably do that.”

“Yeah.  Because it’s really close to our house.”

Motherhood — Check your dignity at the door

…because no one makes it through with it intact.  Or to take off from Simcha Fisher’s post, once the guilt is gone, the apologies begin.

Case in point:  Today I had to run back into the Public Health Centre to retrieve a forgotten toy.  What was it?  A doll shoe — cleverly disguised in a wad of tissue to look like garbage.  I delicately avoided eye-contact as the nurse dug through her office waste basket.  She said I shouldn’t feel bad because the bin “was just emptied so it wasn’t too dirty yet.”

It improves.  Later, I had to interrupt a phone conversation to tell my son to “stop licking the window.”

Yeah, the glamour gets pretty monotonous in this job, but someone’s got to do it….

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