Christmas is for everyone

I have lost count of the number of times I've heard it this year. "Let's just do gifts for the kids." And every time I am shocked, dismayed, speechless. What? Since when is Christmas just for children?

These are not easy times for most people, I know that. Everyone is trying to squeeze as much out of their budgets as possible, including us. If I don't impose spending limits on myself for each and every recipient on my Christmas list, I end up spending twice as much and eating things like macaroni and cheese for most of January.

But still. Only the kids get presents this year? Am I the only person who objects??

My husband asked me if Christmas was "only about the presents" for me when we had the discussion about whom to include on our list and how much to spend. After I sputtered for a while that it was about much more than presents, I tried to explain that I wouldn't even care (too much) if I didn't receive any gifts, but I didn't see why I couldn't buy or make gifts for the adults, too. I happen to like my friends, siblings, and other relatives just as much (or more) than I like their children, and I don't see why I shouldn't be able to do something special for them as well. Doesn't everyone enjoy gifts? Ok, no, some people don't. They find them a waste of money and usually don't get what they want or need. I won't name names here. But most people do like gifts, even if they are small and/or homemade. In fact lots of people like that kind the best.

I can't even picture what the Christmas trees at the various family parties will look like this year. Decorated and sparkly, sure, but mostly empty underneath. I come from a huge family, and the Christmas Eve pile at my grandparents' house is usually pretty impressive. Not this year. There are a handful of children doing an exchange, and everyone else has agreed not to do gifts. I understand, I do, but deep down I hate it.

I think the idea of outgrowing Christmas is depressing. I may be a lapsed Catholic, but I'm pretty sure I learned that Christ was born for all of us. And even if you don't go for the religious angle, everyone is in need of some thoughtfulness, especially if times are tough. It's true that I can sleep through the night on Christmas Eve (something that was particularly upsetting to me the first time it happened, as though now I was finally, sadly a grown-up about Christmas), but I still get that thrill when I wake up and realize what day it is and head for the stocking I just know will be stuffed with all kinds of fun goodies from my family.

This year I went along with it (mostly) in order to keep from making people uncomfortable. But this is my fair warning - a year in advance - that I'm going to refuse from now on. I'm going to buy or make gifts for anyone I want, regardless of age. I'm happy to do something free if the money thing will make people uncomfortable, but I don't want my son to grow up thinking that the holiday is all about him, but only until he is 18.

And no, I don't believe my parents or in-laws who say that we are still their "kids" so they can still get us presents. No need for the loophole or rationalization. We are not kids.

And Christmas is for all of us.

Sleep deprivation

Lack of sleep is currently responsible for the (temporary?) destruction of my resolutions, effective habits, and overall mood. I am never surprised in moments like these to recall that sleep deprivation is used as a means of torture and mind control.

Though our trip back to Michigan for the holidays was wonderful, it resulted in now nearly two weeks of interrupted nights courtesy of our toddler who had difficulties adjusting to the time zone each way, and is just generally having a hard time putting himself back to sleep without shouting about it multiple times a night. I know there are people out there (like my next-door neighbors who just brought home a newborn) who have to actually get up when their child cries and who are probably more exhausted than I am. I don't even know how to express my sympathy to those people because really - I NEED my full night's sleep. Even more than 3 or 4 hours uninterrupted would feel like bliss right now.

Even with monitor turned off, the mid-night cries of my son have yanked me out of a sound sleep for too long now, and if one more cat jumps on my head to demand to be fed at five in the morning, I might go seriously off the deep end.

If anyone knows how the fathers among us can sleep through the vast majority of this, let me know. I read an article about how it may not be their fault; they're just not programmed that way. I am no less annoyed.

I am fortunate enough to not be teaching this year, because I'm not sure that I could handle a classroom full of holiday-crazed children with any amount of patience right now.

Really, I have no patience for any of the Christmas cheer going on these days, which more than anything else tells me that it's getting close to time for drastic measures. Like sleeping in the guest room with our loudest fan. Or a hotel. I'm considering it.


"I've got
money in my pocket
I like the color of my hair
I've got a friend who loves me
got a house
I've got a car
I've got a good mother
and her voice is what keeps me here
feet on ground
heart in hand
facing forward
'be yourself'

~Jann Arden, "Good Mother"

'Tis the week to be as thankful as possible, and I happened to be listening to this song as I was thinking about what my "Thankful Four" list would be, prompted by MommyBrain and SupahMommy.  Doesn't this pretty much say it all?  I think so, but then again, this blog post would be too short.  So I used the song as my starting point, and here are the four I've narrowed down as the best gifts I've been given in life.

1)  Family.  You know from this post how big and wonderful and important my family is.  The value of this in my life simply can't be overstated.  I told my husband once (who is more or less from a family of three) that being part of my family meant that we will never go hungry or be homeless unless we are too proud to ask for help.  There will always be someone who will take care of us until we can get back on our feet.  My family will always mean good advice, loud laughter, delicious food, and a place in the world.  I cannot think of any better gift I can give my son than that of belonging to this bunch of incredible people, and knowing that no matter what might happen to my husband or me, he will still be as surrounded by love and joy as I was.  Of course he and his daddy are my nearest and dearest family, without whom I would have almost no reason to get out of bed.

2)  Health.  Do you ever think about your throat?  I don't, unless it is wickedly sore, and then I think about it all the time.  In general, though, it just goes about its business so I can go about mine, and is more or less unappreciated.  The same goes for every part of my body, because as far as I can tell they're all working just fine (except for my eyes which require contacts, but we had a discussion about it and I've forgiven them).  Every single time I get sick, know someone who is sick, or even read a story online about someone who is sick, I get teary and beyond grateful that my loved ones and I are all healthy, even if it is only for this fleeting moment.

3)  Education.  Of course I'd be grateful for this, given that I'm a teacher.  What I mean is that I'm thankful for the education that I've been given, both in and out of classrooms, because that can never be taken away.  I'm also incredibly fortunate to have been trained in a career that is pretty hard to outsource.  I'm fairly confident that people will always want their ten-year-olds to go to school with teachers who are with them in person.  In this new world and scary economy, that's no small gift.  Finally, I appreciate the education my husband has and his brilliance because it has given me the opportunity to be home with my son as much as I want.

4)  Imperfection.  I thought about this last one for a long, long time.  As I pondered the "be yourself" part of the song above, I realized that I am grateful for my character flaws because I need the challenge to be a better person.  I appreciate the obstacles in life because they have helped me to connect with people I might otherwise have passed by with just a smile and nod, and given me some incredible friends.  I'm grateful for the rain so that I smile in delight when the sun comes out {really, I couldn't stand L.A.  It feels so fake}.  I'm thankful that my husband and I argue once in a while so we can put forth the extra effort of being kind and have a fresh start at this crazy marriage thing.
"Screws fall out, the world's an imperfect place." That's not always such a bad thing. 

My aunt and uncle do "thankful fors" every night with my cousins, and when the kids were here visiting over the summer, we did them with them, too.  What a powerful tradition.  Now I whisper to my son each night before I put him in bed, saying what I'm thankful for and what I bet he is thankful for (yesterday: a playdate with a friend who shared her Cheerios, and new library books about trains and garbage trucks).  It will be really fun to keep doing this as he grows up.  Thanks, Aunt Julie and Uncle Steve, for giving me the idea!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.  I am headed home to Michigan.  Joy!

The new rule in effect

I already have two garbage bags full of clothes ready to go, and I haven't even finished tackling the closet yet!  Someone decided not to take a full nap yesterday (boo).   (See yesterday's post for what I'm up to if you're confused).  Some things were hard to decide on like pajamas, since I have a lot of them that I like and really would wear in front of my in-laws.  However, I forced myself to play favorites with my clothes, and I try not to listen when I hear them calling to me from inside the garbage bag.

I decided the rule was more helpful than my old one about just giving away the things I haven't worn in a year, because there were some clothes hanging around that I do wear, but they just aren't that great.  I must know this deep down because as soon as I asked myself if I would really take them on vacation, I knew I would not, and out they went.  My best example is a white t-shirt with a pink heart on it.  I do wear it under sweaters sometimes, and I like it for Valentine's Day, so I started to put it back in my drawer.  Then I thought about it:  If I were going on vacation in February, would I take this for the 14th?  Or would I take the soft pink sweater and a white t-shirt from Ann Taylor?  No contest.  Goodbye, heart shirt.

A conundrum: what does one do with unwanted underwear?  No one else is going to buy or wear it, but that's a lot of perfectly good fabric to throw out.  If I am honest with myself, I will NEVER use it, even if I cut it up and pretend I will do something with the usable scraps.  So I think that goes into the garbage bag unless anyone has other ideas.

That reminds me, I always feel a little guilty about donating clothes in a garbage bag as though they are trash, when really most of them just aren't my favorites or don't fit me.  But there's nothing so easy for this kind of decluttering than trash bags, so I guess I just have to be grateful there are people who work for Good Will who take it out of the bags, sort it, and make it look nice in the store.

I'll head back to the closet this afternoon and see what's left when the purging is done.  Then perhaps it will be time to schedule my shopping spree.  Black Friday is coming up!

My new rule

As you know from numerous posts here, I'm working on decluttering my mind and my house.  This week I'm tackling clothes.  Wow, do I have a lot of them.  And they are mostly bad - so ill-fitting, in fact,  that I recently posted on Facebook that I'm sure I'm just one bad outfit away from having Stacy and Clinton knock on my door.  (One lovely friend commented that it would be nice to have a shopping spree at least - true!)

Anyway, I'm trying to get rid of all the hideousness so that I'm only left with flattering, well-made clothes, even if it means that I only have five outfits left.  And it will probably come to that not too long after I begin applying my new rule.  Here it is:

Only keep clothes you would wear on vacation.

I realized as I starting thinking about packing for two upcoming trips away from home that I only ever want to take my favorite clothes with me.  You know, the ones that make you feel great when you put them on or smile when you pass a mirror?  The ones you won't be ashamed to wear in front of your mother-in-law who used to be a model??  Oh wait, that might be just me.

Anyway, those clothes I'd take on vacation might be a fancy dress to wear to a wedding, a great pair of jeans that works well with all kinds of tops, or my most comfy sweats.  So, I don't mean I'm going to get rid of all of my work clothes, because sometimes you need a nice outfit or two while away from home.  It just means that the best of any given category should stay in the drawers and closet, and the rest should GO.

I think having fewer clothes will make me much happier.  When I was pregnant with my son, I had a fabulous maternity wardrobe (if I do say so myself).  I had one or two of every staple kind of pants - khakis, black work pants, sweats, jeans - some other mix and match basics like black or white t-shirts and camis, and a few really cute tops that I wore to things like showers.  It was easy to get dressed because I had fewer options, and I was confident that they pretty much all looked good on me because I refused to spend money on anything that didn't.  Ok, my happiness came partially because having a big belly was acceptable then in a way that it isn't now, but my point remains.  Having fewer, better clothes will help me get dressed faster and feel better all day.

That's my plan, and I'm heading upstairs now to put it into effect.  I'll let you know how many bags of clothing I'll be taking to Good Will tomorrow morning!

Multiple personalities

As I juggle two blogs, I often ask myself why I have two in the first place.  Isn't one enough?  (Ok, I actually have three, but my Newbery project blog seems very separate from the writing I do about my life, so it doesn't count for this conundrum.) 

The reason I started this particular one was to have a place to be all the different roles I play, not just The Mama.  Nevertheless, I find myself occasionally wondering where to put a particular thought or post because I know that other parents find themselves here, and there's no real way to separate my being a mom from the other thoughts and dilemmas I'm currently facing.

So, this is just a note to let those parents know that there are occasionally entertaining stories and thoughts about motherhood and my toddler on my other blog. At some point I may meld them, but as I work through trying to figure out what else I'm doing with my life, it's nice to keep grandparent-friendly stories separate. 

I'll be back tomorrow with more thoughts on my happiness project, which still needs a name.  Project Wisdom?  Seems presumptuous.  Project Serenity?  Perhaps, since that's the one I typically lack.  It doesn't sound snappy, though, and I like alliteration, so I may keep thinking about it.  Suggestions welcome.

My Mission: Impossible?

We're back with MommyBrain and SupahMommy for All About MEme Monday.  This week's topic: our very own missions impossible.  This works well for this blog because it will help answer two very important questions:  How the {insert four-letter word of choice} did I end up here? and What do I do now?

Let us flash back to two and a half years ago, when friend and fellow fourth-grade teacher R and I concocted The Plan.  Both of us were transplanted here by the Corporate Behemoth (Microsoft) and our husbands, had just bought houses for outrageous prices, and were now starting to think about kids.  The Mission:  try to balance working and staying home without costing ourselves our entire salary in daycare.

The solution we crafted?  We would share a classroom and the child care.  Every day one of us would drop our infant off at the other's house and head to work while the other would spend the day with the two babies.  It was perfect, right?  It would cost us nothing in day care, we were already teammates who worked together well, and we trusted each other to love and care for our precious little ones.  We got to be teachers and have a work life and still spend the majority of the week with our babies.  Brilliant, right?

Yeah, by now all you mothers out there are laughing and shaking your heads, I know.  We were so naive.  This occurred to me as I was sitting there nursing my son, a year and a half later (when he was about a month old), thinking about how the freaking hell I thought I could handle TWO of these.  I know, people with twins do it all the time, but in that case the crucial point is this:  They are both yours RIGHT FROM THE BEGINNING.  In our case, the boys were not quite five months apart, so that seems like it should be easier, right?

Wrong.  What that age difference really meant was that they were NEVER on the same eating, napping, or awake schedule.  R and I were constantly on the move, barely a moment to sit down, eat, or go to the bathroom.  Suddenly caring for 26 fourth-graders on the work days seemed easy by comparison.  And even that was no picnic as the kids quickly settled into a two-parent routine with their two teachers:  If you don't like the answer one teacher gave, just wait a day or two and ask the other.  If you don't know what the homework is, tell your mom that it's because the teachers told you different things!  Many people underestimate the intelligence of ten-year-olds.  These people have never spent any time with one.

There are many, many other challenging (and wonderful) aspects of our situation, but let's get right to the point.

The revised mission:  Survive the school year with two healthy boys, our friendship still intact, and some shred of sanity.

Let's see how we did:

Well, the boys seem fine.  Now they walk and talk, do all the amazing and aggravating things toddlers do, and love to hang out together (or at least, near each other, unless there aren't two of the same toy, of course).

Our friendship also appears to be unscathed.  My proof?  For my birthday R bought me two tickets to see a play and babysat for my son while my husband and I had a date.  I know she must love me because she did so on the day her sister flew in from New York to visit and told me it was no problem.

As for our sanity?  Well, we had just enough left by the end of the year to decide NEVER TO DO THIS AGAIN.

And that, folks, is how I ended up here, on leave for the year while I concoct a New Plan.

The next seemingly impossible mission?  That would probably be trying to find a part-time teaching job that doesn't require endless hours of communication with a teaching partner (even if I adore her) and the students' parents, one that pays enough for stellar day care on my working days.  Ha.

Also being able to once again park in my garage.  No, I'm not talking about parking a car.  Even being able to park a double stroller would be counted as a success at this point. 

Wish me luck.

P.S.  I know, you teachers out there want to know how our fourth graders did last year.  We don't know.  SInce we got out of Dodge, there are no fifth grade teachers to ask.  This is possibly a VERY GOOD THING.


After doing some thinking, looking over my resolutions, and reading some helpful comments, I think I'm going to combine my categories of resolutions so that I go from 8 to 5.  Five seems manageable.  You can count them on one hand, and being able to do things with one hand is no small feat when you are chasing a toddler.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, you may want to start here.

Ok, so I began with these eight categories in my life:  physical, emotional, intellectual, marital, parental, social, organizational, and career.

First, I decided to eliminate emotional.  After all, isn't my entire happiness project one big emotional goal?  I created the category so I could put down goals like, "Don't complain" or "Don't criticize" (thereby ignoring every rule about phrasing things positively - whatever), but I don't think I need this anymore.  And let's face it, those things can easily go into the marital or social categories.

Next, I decided to combine my career goals with my intellectual goals.  Becoming a better teacher is usually about learning some new technique, rethinking some unit of curriculum, etc., so that's clearly intellectual.  Right now I'm taking a required distance learning course in order to get my next level of certification, for example, and this could be the intellectual goal.  It will bump "Read Newbery books" off the list, but I obviously need no smiley faces on my resolution charts to get me to read.  Reading is what keeps me from getting everything else done!

Finally, I figured I could combine marital and parental into one category of family.  Right now my parenting goals mostly involve making sure SP eats something besides crackers, so I can probably manage to work on that without putting it on the list, though I do like putting a smiley face somewhere if I get him to eat anything green.  How do they just KNOW when something is a vegetable??  I don't understand it, but I figure it might be a survival instinct we are born with and that someday scientists are going to tell us that vegetables are actually killing us slowly.  Then all the kids will say, "SEE??  We TOLD you!"

But I digress.

That brings my list down to physical, intellectual, family, social, and organizational.  The organizational one is temporary, too, since I hope to actually finishing decluttering my know, ever.

So I'm going to try managing with just five - that's one per weekday and time to catch up on the weekend - and see how it goes.

My Christmas wish list

My dear brother asked me last month what I wanted for my birthday, and I came up with three ideas before I finally settled on what would be a reasonable one.  Why was it so hard to come up with a suggestion?  Everything I could think of that I wanted was either a) for my son (ha!) or b) way too expensive.  The solution should have been to tell him that I didn't need a gift because he was the best brother ever just for giving me the chance to ask for something, but clearly I'M NOT THAT NICE.  So we traded emails for a while before I told him I'd love a subscription to Real Simple.

But now MommyBrain and SupahMommy have asked me to go on a virtual shopping spree, and here I get to say what fabulousness I would buy if it were on someone else's tab (and I wouldn't feel guilty about it).  I think the idea was to get new clothes, accessories, etc., but I'm in need of Stacey and Clinton's help for that one, so here are my nonbeauty items that I'm currently coveting...

1) The Nook.  I was wanting a Kindle desperately after my friend Katie showed up here sporting her new one, but then I saw the email from Barnes & Noble for their new e-reader -- IN COLOR.  Joy!  I've had an ebook in the past and liked it, though I did miss the feel of an actual book.  But having an eReader that could let me travel with less luggage would be amazing, and being able to download a new book from anywhere?  How did I ever live without this capability??  Since I make regular trips to the library with The Toddler, I have NO NEED of this.  But that's hardly the point, right?

2) A new washer and dryer.  I want a front-loading washer to save money and water, and a dryer that has a moisture-sensor that will turn off when the load is dry.  Having them on pedestals would be incredible, but with the built-in cupboards we have over our machines in the laundry room now, may not be feasible.  And ripping out build-in cupboards is far beyond my DIY capacity.  So I'll settle for the shiny new appliances just on the ground.

3)  A four-bedroom house.  What, I can't buy a house?  There are no rules to this shopping spree, are there?  Since I live so far from most of my nearest and dearest, we are in need of a guest room that doesn't double as an office (or a someday second child's room).  There are many things about the house we're in that I currently love, but the lack of guest room is going to cramp everyone's style when the next Rasler makes an appearance.  Sure this is still in the hypothetical stage, but a girl can dream of a new house anyway.  Other qualities I want: a laundry room that isn't next to a baby's room (having it on the second floor seemed so brilliant before he was born!), a backyard that opens out into enough space to watch munchkins play on the lawn, and a window seat.  A bigger house would also give me room to buy a piano, which wouldn't ever fit in our current living room.  This house already has everything else I love, including a great neighborhood (and great neighbors!), so if we could move to a house like this, say, down the street, that would be stellar.

4) Speaking of lawns, I'd also like a gardener (one who looks like this?  Bonus!).  No, I'm not trying to buy a whole person, but having someone come in, landscape the place, and then maintain it would be a dream come true.  My husband and I hate yardwork, but we also hate how the yard looks when we try to pretend it isn't there.  Every two months or so, we'll get all pseudo-committed, buy a bunch of products and plants and whatnot, work vigorously for one Saturday, and then leave it all to die by the wayside.  It's not a pretty sight, and it's a good thing our neighbors like us.

5) Finally, I have my eye on a Ford Escape Hybrid.  Trying to get a toddler in and out of my beautiful blue Camry has been difficult lately, especially for my husband who is 6'1".  And if there is a toddler and another one at some point?  Forget it.  Yes, I like not having a car payment, and it's not clear whether a hybrid SUV can save me money on gas compared to my economical sedan, so if the shopping spree fairy could give me the money to buy this car outright, I'm all over it. 

Now you see why I had no ideas to give my poor brother, right?

But...Santa, are you listening??

One (small?) change

My happiness project has stalled out a bit, and I'm trying to take another look and see what's working and what isn't. 

Working on so many different resolutions is definitely not working.  I have a hard time just deciding on one thing to do each month.  By that logic, I thought I'd never get to most of them!  So I chose one for each arena of my life, which ended up being eight different ones for each month.  Am I crazy?  Yes.  Yes, I am.  Acknowledging the insanity and moving on.

I put the eight categories into a table, typed the specific resolutions for each one into the boxes, and put a smile in the box next to the day of the month if I worked on that particular goal.  At the end of the month, if I feel I didn't do a good job on that resolution, I repeat it for the next month, and try to figure out why it didn't work. 

For example, I made a resolution to play with my cats more because they seem a bit perplexed and unloved, both standoffish and needy, ever since The Baby arrived.  Now that he is The Toddler, they are even more wary of being in the same room with us until he goes to sleep.  So I felt like a bad parent and wanted to play with them more instead of just shooing them off the bed and collapsing into it.  After an entire month, I had only done it twice.  TWICE.  I know, you want to adopt my cats because you are now sure I am no good for them.  But they do play with each other, so it's not like I'm making them live alone in a dark closet.  A little sympathy?  Ok, I know, you're still wondering what's wrong with me. 

Well, it turns out that what was wrong was that the toys are all upstairs, and usually I am with the cats downstairs at the end of the day.  By the time I go upstairs, I'm getting ready for bed and don't feel like playing.  I'd moved their toys upstairs for a good reason - so The Toddler wouldn't get into them - but it was making it hard for me to keep my resolution at the end of a long, busy day.  So I made two changes: I moved a handful of cat toys downstairs and stored them out of Toddler reach, but still easy to grab.  I also head upstairs earlier each evening so I have some energy left for teasing cats with long strings (this is also great for helping me keep my get enough sleep resolution this month).

So I've discovered a deeper truth about myself and resolutions:  if there's any logistical barrier, however small, it will keep me from getting it done.  The key is to find ways to overcome these, and usually a small change makes a big difference.

Back to the problem of too many resolutions, well... I'm having a hard time giving up on that idea of working on more than one area of my life at once.  Maybe the key is just to eliminate a category or two.  Will this be another small change with a large effect?  I hope so.

Which aspect of my life is least important at the moment?  My career is certainly on the backburner, but the part of me that resists referring to myself as a stay-at-home mom won't allow me to delete this one, at least not this month.  So what else to cut out?  Here are my categories:  physical, emotional, intellectual, marital, parental, social, organizational, and career.  Perhaps I can combine some of these, at least for this month.

Thoughts welcome, and I'll think about it more and let you know what I've come up with.

*If you'd like to see my resolution chart or effective habits charts, feel free to leave a comment and I'll find a way to send them to you.

Taming the green-eyed monster

This past week I've been thinking about another major obstacle to my happiness:  envy.  I have always struggled with that pesky last commandment about not coveting what others have.  Although I would never want to trade entire lives with someone, it wouldn't really hurt to have a nice house like this friend or a sweet part-time job like that friend, right?

I especially hate when someone has what I want as a result of luck.  My confession:  I spent way too long being jealous and bitter at people who got pregnant on the first try (or without trying) when I couldn't.  I had to bite my tongue to keep from pointing out how lucky they were and how they should be appreciative of it (and probably some of them remember that I didn't always bite the words off before they escaped my mouth.  Many apologies to those dear friends).

Fortunately that particular difficulty resolved itself, but the battle with envy remains.  Though I'm getting better about not complaining about the unfairness of whatever situation I'm fixated on at the moment and how others have it so much better than I do, I still think about it.  A lot.  Too much.

Then I read this brilliant quote by a guest blogger on The Happiness Project:

The happiest people seem to be very focused on whatever they are doing. 
Unhappy people seem to be very focused on what other people are doing.

Yes!  I wish I'd thought to put it so succinctly, but I'm going to remember it and remind myself of it whenever I wish for something I don't have.

What I can't change:
Life isn't fair.
I don't always get what I want.
There will always be people who do have what I want.

What I wouldn't want to change:
The charmed life I currently have.  I often tell my husband that we must have done something seriously right in a previous life to be so fortunate in this one.

What I can change:
I can focus on what I'm doing and look to others only insofar as it helps me reach my goals.  Sometimes people get somewhere by luck, but often it's by making choices that are different from mine.  If I want a house with four bedrooms or a part-time teaching job with my mom babysitting while I'm working (you don't mind, right, Mom??), I need to work toward those goals or accept the choices that I make instead.

I have trouble with goals that focus just on attitude adjustments, though.  I'm going to have to DO something in order to distract myself from those envious thoughts.  I hope that when that monster rears its ugly head I'll take it as a reminder to review my Resolutions chart and refocus.

Hard habits to make

The last time I looked at my resolutions was on October 15th. That is seriously unimpressive. Haven't done my Effective Habits since the 16th. The reason? I've had an out-of-town guest, a birthday, and a party - all of which contributed to a sense that I had Better Things To Do than what was on my recurring list.

The lesson I've learned is that even with a month and a half of trying to create these new habits, it took very little time to undo them. I know they are undone instead of just on hold because as soon as my son went to sleep this afternoon, I thought first of going to sleep myself, then to just replying to emails, then to reading blogs, and finally to writing my own post. Which I also haven't done since the 15th, but is much lower down on the task list. I feel a little guilty about it, but only just a little, which is the other reason I know my habits are undone.

One of my Guiding Principles is borrowed from The Happiness Project: Do what ought to be done. So what ought to be done right now? And why am I not doing it?

The answer to the second question is quite simple, really: a good book. A good book is the complete undoing of every resolution I have of accomplishing anything.

Today's was The Tipping Point, and I cannot stop thinking about how I wish that I had access to testing like they do for the show "Blue's Clues" before I taught my lessons to my students! If I just had several hundred sample students, I'd know how best to deliver every nugget of crucial information to those ten-year-olds. It would be a wonderful sight to behold. Alas, I don't, but I surely wish that the extensive educational research that has been done weren't so difficult to easily find and apply. It also usually boils down to the notion that it all depends on the individual teacher. Great. More pressure on me to be fabulous. Anyway, I have lots of thoughts about this excellent book (thanks for the birthday present, Renee!), but they are too numerous to list here.

The next book on my list is another break from my Newbery Project because I simply couldn't put it down at the bookstore. It spoke to me, just like The Penderwicks did a while back, and many, many other books. You can see why when I show you the cover:

It has 500 pages and a sequel.

I may not be getting anything done all week.

Different like everyone else

I've been thinking a lot about what makes me stand out in a crowd, thanks for the All About Meme post from MommyBrain last week (sorry I'm a week late, D!). The challenge was to think of five things about me that make me different. When I read hers, I found that we were the same on 3.5/5 (I won't say which one and a half were different), and that many of those were things that wouldn't make me stand out in my crowd at all.

So what does? And do I like to stand out? I confessed in another post to being a bit of a drama queen, so the answer is probably yes. I'm reading The Tipping Point now and was trying to figure out if I was a Connector, Maven, or Salesman because I was so drawn to the idea of being special and important, but as I read on, I decided that I was none of the above. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I'm drawn to characters in books who discover that they are different in some way, but even in that I'm like a lot of other people. I read once that one reason Harry Potter books are so popular is that most kids wish they could wake up and find that they were special and were getting out of their ordinary, unpleasant lives.

Now my life is far from unpleasant, but it's clearly and disturbingly ordinary, so I kept thinking about this idea of what makes me stand out. Confession: It's supposed to be an "I never..." post, so I'm supposed to think of things I've never done. But that would be all too easy, because there are a zillion things I've never done. So here's what I came up with instead:

1. I know sign language and can still be found carrying on silent conversations with my mom when someone is sleeping or across the room at a family gathering. We learned when I was young, spent a few summers at a deaf camp, and became involved with a deaf church when I was in middle and high school. When my son was born it was wonderful to be able to be able to communicate with him in both sign and English. I just wish I remembered more of the actual ASL!

2. I was (am?) a ballroom dancer. I learned a bit through doing a production of "Guys and Dolls" in high school and joined the dance team at Yale. That's right, I can not only do the rumba, I have a blue ribbon for it! But once I graduated, I stopped dancing for the most part, because it's an expensive hobby for a teacher who also has student loans. I love it, though, and am hoping I can get back into it at some point.

3. I am a grammar geek. My relatives are kinder and say that I'm a grammar cop, but this is only so they can tease me about blowing my grammar whistle when I hear something like, "I did good on my English test." Tweeeeet!! I love revising and editing and harbor the fantasy that I'll get to be a children's book editor for a living and work from home as much as I want.

4. I didn't think that I was outside of the mainstream parenting group, but I've found that within my circle of friends, I stand out for being one of the only ones who uses cloth diapers. I think this is because people think they are much more difficult and disgusting than they really are. We use Mother-Ease diapers and they rock. I'm saving the cost of diapers (an extra load of laundry really doesn't come close to being as expensive, people) as well as doing my bit to reduce landfills. They help keep my son from having a miserable diaper rash, too, so it's a win-win. Turns out I'm also an unusual parent for not letting my guy cry it out in order to sleep train him, but that's a subject for another post. Hey, that fits with the I never prompt! Whew, I can follow rules a little, I guess.

5. I have Sebastian. This is what makes me different, just like every other parent out there. And every other parent out there knows exactly what I mean.

Still thinking about who I am. I try not to think too much about who I never was, unless there's still a chance to become her.

The Sink Trap

A few years ago I read an article about how to have a successful marriage. I'm a sucker for such articles, even though they often are obvious or so patently wrong they make me angry. I'm too lazy to look up this particular one again, so you'll have to accept my paraphrasing of it. The way to a happy marriage in the view of this author was acceptance. Now if you've seen my inspiration at the top of this site, you know I believe in acceptance. Limited acceptance. Only of things we cannot change. Remember that, for it will become important later in the story.

Ok, so one woman is quoted as being constantly irritated with her husband because whenever it is his turn to clean the kitchen at the end of the day, he forgets to empty the sink trap. This is disgusting, frankly, and she doesn't see why she should have to do it for him. Clearly. How she solves this problem? She reframes it. Instead of being annoyed that he hasn't cleaned the sink trap, she tells herself, "This is great. Now all I have to do is clean the sink trap." In other words, she thinks about how helpful her husband is so she only has one part of the clean up to do instead of all of it. How wonderful, right? Acceptance and a happy marriage!

NO FREAKING WAY. I read this and became instantly furious. Why should that stupid husband get to do a sub-par job on his day to clean the kitchen? Why should she have to accept that in order to be satisfied with his less-than-sparkling performance? Does HE have to "just clean the sink trap" when it's her turn? Of course not!!

And I referred to this marital problem as The Sink Trap henceforth.

What exactly is The Sink Trap? It's the idea that in order to have happy relationships, women end up just accepting whatever men contribute in order to have peace and harmony. But it's a trap because it's incredibly hard to get out of once you have fallen in. Once you have accepted that he will never clean the sink trap, and he knows you have accepted it, then guess what? He will never clean the freaking sink trap. Ever. This is one reason why women still do far more than their fair share of the raising of children and the household chores, even when they work as many or more hours outside the home as he does.

What am I doing here?

Sick Day number 7. This is getting completely ridiculous. It is only thanks to my helpful husband that I have not been long since buried in dishes and laundry since I take every toddler nap time to lie on the couch. It's not to sleep, though that would be lovely. No, sleep is impossible when one has Watermelon Head. It's just to escape the dizzy feeling I get when vertical. So I find that the one task I can cross off my list every day is to write in this journal {Side note: I hate the word blog. It sounds ugly and heavy like slog and bog and blah. It is a horrible word, and I despise the person who came up with it. Weblog is better. A log is a great word for a journal. Why shorten it to blog? No, thank you.}.

But then I started to think about this journal, this public-yet-not-quite log (since I haven't yet shared it with most people I know), and wondered how I got here and what I'm doing exactly. Last year I took a look around at the stay-at-home options. Mommy and Me classes, playdates (another word I detest), blogs, and mommy groups, and I felt... what's the right word?... confusion? disdain? Many mixed feelings to be sure. I didn't want to have a life in which I became only The Mom who used any free time I had trying to figure out what to do with myself and chose to do mostly things related to being The Mom. I didn't want to be the person who only had friends who were other moms and couldn't talk about anything but our children. I did NOT want to be the person who used my intellect to write about my child day in and day out when I wasn't actively caring for him.

Then, through a convoluted series of unfortunate events and difficult decisions, I became a stay-at-home mom. I still told myself I would do it my way, a different way. Yet a few months into my stint, I have become the mom who does playdates, goes to classes, and lo and behold, begins writing a blog journal. Sigh. How did I get here? And what is the goal?

Well, it started with insomnia, as you may have read in this post. Before that it started with trying to figure out what sort of life I'm trying to have, and what sort of blend of identities I can create for myself (not just mom, but woman, wife, friend, sister, daughter, teacher, neighbor). It then became a task to find other, non-mom-related activities to do. This was immensely difficult since I can only do things in the early morning or evening because this is when my husband can care for our son. So I put my organizational brain to work and signed up for some teaching gigs - some paying, some volunteer - and thought that would help make me feel like an adult, not just a mom.

Though my task list is endless and now I have great teaching opportunities that can fill up my free hours and give me a creative outlet, I still have so much on my mind as I work through my Happiness Project (that may need a name), the Toddler project (he has a name), and the overall Jessica's Life project (which definitely needs a new name).

So here is the question: am I writing this journal because I have nothing more pressing to do with my time? Or am I writing it because it's what I wished I could do but was too busy before? Or some acceptable combination? If it's just the former, I need to get offline and get back to figuring out and achieving some goals. If this is just part of the life balance I wished I had last year and was desperate for when I signed the paperwork to take the year off, then I can move forward.

I'll be back once I've figured it out.

You always have time...

...for what you do first.

I don't remember where I read that quote, but I've been trying to live by it for about a year now.  I even tried to teach it to my fourth graders as a lesson in time management.  I think probably two of them got it and the rest just nodded along and then did whatever activity was the one that seemed easiest or most fun, but life lessons from ten-year-olds (and there are many!) will have to live in another post.  

Time management is apparently this crazy western notion we have because we are overscheduled, underrested, and generally pushing ourselves to the limit.  Many others advise scaling back our lives in order to have enough time to really enjoy them.  This is good advice, but as my sister and I ask ourselves often, just what exactly can we scale back on these days as mothers of toddlers?  I don't think they'd appreciate not being fed, so going to the grocery store has to happen as well as making some meals (and I already cut corners on that aplenty thanks to my trusty microwave).

Anyway, whether you think you can simplify your life or not, it remains true that you always have time for what you do first.  Clearly, it's all about priorities.  I find that if I'm mindful about what I do first, I tend to be satisfied with however the rest of my day plays out.  And if I'm unsatisfied, I can do something else first tomorrow.

So what do I usually do first?  I put away the clean dishes.  This starts me off putting things where they belong and paves the way for doing so the whole rest of the day by having the dishwasher empty and waiting to be refilled.  As I've been sick and not doing this task this week, it's become very apparent to us just how helpful this was for the state of our kitchen and my state of mind.

After that I have breakfast and read emails, blogs, the news, or just whatever strikes my fancy until my son wakes up.  On days when I don't get up before he does and don't have a chance to start my day this way, I feel slightly harried.  But if hugging my son and reading him a story over his morning milk is what I do first, no one could say that wasn't a pretty good priority either.

How about you - what do you do first?

Image from here

When you can't do it alone

I don't know what it is about asking for help, but I am terrible at it.  There are probably a lot of reasons for this, which include the following facts:

a) I like things to be done my way and therefore would often rather just do them myself
b) I see asking for help as a sign that I can't do it, and deep down I am still trying to be Superwoman.
c) I want others to offer so I don't have to ask.

It is c) that is especially on my mind today, as I finally after four days broke down and asked my husband to take a sick day from work so he could care for SP - who is also sick - and I could take care of only myself.  He did half days on Tuesday and Wednesday, but even when he was home I was doing chores or I was still helping with dinner, bathtime, etc.  I found myself growing increasingly resentful that I was still trying to take care of everyone when I decided to take a deep breath (through my mouth; my nose is still impossibly stuffed), and recognize that the only person I can really change is myself.

The fifteen-minute guide to greatness

No, this post won't take you fifteen minutes to read (I don't think), nor is it some guideline to whatever is your particular kind of greatness.  Rather, it was my shining moment of introspection that is helping me along in my goal to be happier.

Last weekend I set myself an ambitious task to collect and print out new pictures of pretty much everyone we love to put them on the fridge for my son to enjoy since we live too far away from most of them to see regularly.  {He is learning tons of names and his face lights up when he recognizes someone up there!  Just wait until Thanksgiving!}  Anyway, I spent pretty much every nonparenting, nonsleeping minute working on these pictures, and by Sunday evening they were up and they were lovely.  I was proud as I checked it off my (neverending) Task list...

...until I looked around at the rest of the house.  I saw dishes in the sink, a full laundry hamper, files still out from my Great Refiling Project, a pile of emails in my inbox.  ARGH.  Nothing else had been accomplished.

Monday morning rolled around, and I got going with my new Effective Habits list.  It is a list of things that I typically forget to do or put off doing.  I have it set up so that I don't spend more than fifteen minutes doing any one thing on it.  It includes items like "sort and reply to emails" or "put things where they belong."  I set a timer on my computer and do as much of those things as I can until the fifteen minutes are up.  I give myself a little smiley on the box in my Word table just for finishing fifteen minutes even if the task needs to be continued the next day.  I crave metaphorical (or actual) gold stars, so I think the smiley faces are the key to my Effective Habits success.  Then I move on to the next thing on the daily list (I have monthly and yearly versions built into the system now, too - another thing I was mocked for by aforementioned teacher friend, but I think it's great!). 

And it turns out that I was much happier on Monday evening.  I hadn't finished any one task in its entirety like I had the photos, but overall I felt a greater sense of accomplishment.  This was a huge Aha! moment for me, as I have always been the sort of person who doesn't like to start a task I can't finish right then.  This sort of behavior is what leads to the Disaster Zone my garage has become.  But now that I have my fifteen-minute guide to greatness, I think I can tackle pretty much anything.  It just might take me a while to finish, but that's true of any parent of a toddler, isn't it? 

And now my fifteen minutes of blogging are officially up.

My Happiness Project, part one

Since this is a project, this will probably be part one of many posts about it.  I started it after spending a considerable amount of time reading The Happiness Project blog, so if you're interested in doing one of your own, you may want to start there rather than here.  I'm just derivative.

Nevertheless, my project is underway.  I started by trying to think about how to be happier, which meant that I had to try to determine whether I was happy overall, if I felt I should be happier, what things were making me unhappy and many other such circular thoughts.  Since I LOVE lists (I sometimes make them just for the joy of organizing my thoughts and then never look at them again), I began making lists of my goals, divided into subcategories like Marital goals, Parental goals, Career goals, etc.

At this point you are probably thinking about how freakish I am and how it's no wonder I needed a project in order to be happier.  Or as a teacher friend of mine put it:  "Wow, you are SO a teacher on leave right now."  This is very true, but it is also true that doing this project made me do a lot of hard work at analyzing my life and what I wanted from it. 

Before I get to the goals or resolutions, I wanted to write about my Guiding Principles (or "commandments" as Gretchen Rubin at The Happiness Project calls them).  These are statements that I'm using to guide my thoughts, behaviors, and creation of resolutions.  They are a work in progress, so I welcome feedback.

Guiding Principles (so far):

Friends and Family

To move or not to move, that was the question my husband and I were mulling over one night not long ago.  We live far, far away from where I grew up and where the majority of my family still resides.  Home, sweet Michigan.  When we moved to Washington (thank you, Microsoft), we had a roughly 5-year plan to stay before moving home to start a family.

I remember sitting on the plane as I flew out here to find us a place to live and mulling over the future as I passed fields and then mountains.  It dawned on me, quite suddenly, right about when we were flying over the Cascades, that I would be having my first child out here.  The idea that we would both quit our jobs, find new ones, and move home all right before becoming parents was suddenly absurd.  I started to cry, thinking of having a baby so far from all of the relatives who had helped raise me: my parents, grandparents, the Aunt Hill.  But there was nothing for it.

Fifteen months ago, our son joined the family and we set up a website to share his pictures and progress with our relatives.  Many of my generation had also moved away from home and this seemed a bit more normal.  A very tiny little bit.  But every so often it comes back to me how much my baby grows up in between visits home, and how much he -and I- am missing out on by being a long plane ride away.

Last year while I did a weird amalgam of teaching part-time and caring for two boys the other part (my guy and the son of my teaching partner), I didn't have as much time to yearn for home.  Now, with him full time, it feels completely pointless to me to be out here.  If I'm going to be focusing on raising my toddler to be a happy, healthy human being, why on earth would I not tap many of the very people I credit for whatever mental health and happiness I currently have?

So I said as much to my husband that night.  At 11:00.  He was unimpressed with my timing.


I've been trying to declutter my life, and realized after several consecutive nights of insomnia that it might be wise to begin with my brain. How does one declutter a brain? Meditation? Perhaps. I've never been very good at meditating, which is obvious because one needs a decluttered mind in order to be good at it, to learn meditation in order to declutter. A circle I have yet to penetrate. So how else to clear out all of these thoughts? {Interesting side note: I accidentally typed medication the first time. Freudian slip?}

Well, I've been reading a lot of blogs lately. I blame...ahem, credit... two people for this: my neighbor for writing funny, sweet stories about her daughter on her MommyBrain blog, and Gretchen Rubin at The Happiness Project who has been instrumental in helping me on my quest for serenity. In any case, they've linked me to lots of other great blogs which probably contributed a bit to my mental clutter, but also gave me the idea that it's helpful to just put a lot of these thoughts out there.

I've resisted this for many reasons that have to do with my battle to determine my sense of self as I redefine it in the wake of recent motherhood. Even after sleepless nights, I figured there was little point in writing a blog; why not just write a journal? Why post things for the world to see? I am already slightly obsessed with feedback and getting gold stars and being in the spotlight. Won't a blog just exacerbate those drama queen tendencies? Perhaps, and yet I find the sharing of stories and ideas invaluable. I've learned a lot already and been given all kinds of food for thought by the aforementioned blogs and their blogging counterparts, so... maybe the teacher in me thinks others could learn from my thoughts and experiences.

Or else I'm just trying to make my mental clutter your mental clutter. Hard to say.