Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Keeping It Clean

Women (and a few men) know that it is no easy feat to keep a house clean. The level of difficulty increases exponentially with each child and pet you add to the mix. You have to come to terms with the fact that your house is never going to look like it belongs in a magazine because you actually live in it.

Clutter happens.

The mirror you have on your coffee table is going to have fingerprints on it 90% of the time. Said coffee table will also have rings from sippy cups and bottles. The magazines stacked oh-so-nicely underneath will be scattered by someone trying to add his favorite books to the pile. The baby wipes will find a permanent home there as well because, to be honest, the living room is where all the diaper changes happen.

I give you Exhibit A:

I can shamelessly post this picture because I know that there are plenty of homes out there that look very similar to mine. But, clutter is tolerable. Dirt, not so much. (And, no, I don't consider fingerprints and water rings "dirt".)

We have a few simple rules that everyone in the house must live by:

1. No shoes in the house. My husband thought this was a silly rule until we tried it for one week and then I had him sweep the entire house. He was shocked at how clean the floors stayed when the shoes were left at the door.
(Most of you in Canada or on the eastern coast of the United States will be shocked to know that, here in the Valley of the Sun it is not common practice to remove your shoes when entering someone's home. I can only assume it is because it doesn't snow here or rain often so native Phoenicians never saw the need. Therefore, I feel uncomfortable enforcing this rule when we have guests. I just make sure to sweep after they leave.)

2. When you're done with it, put it away. This includes dishes to the dishwasher (or at least in the sink) and clothes in the hamper. No stray socks or cups need to be left around.

3. The house gets a nightly pick-up. As everyone in my household (myself included) is human and nowhere near perfect, there are times when Rule #2 isn't followed as strictly as it might be. So, every night we go through the house together and pick up all the toys, bring any cups to the kitchen and just generally neaten up. There is nothing better than waking up in the morning to a (mostly) clutter-free house.

Those three rules tend to keep the house as neat as possible. But, you ask, what about the actual cleaning?

I give you Exhibit B:

(Try clicking on the image to view it larger)

I made this for myself to try and stay on top of the cleaning. To be more specific, I made this for myself last August. I am not embarrassed to admit that I didn't start putting it into practice until I was on maternity leave.

In February. 

My original plan was to come home from work, start dinner, and do the chores on the list for that day. Instead, I would come home and convince myself that I was too exhausted and that I would rather relax after work and then do the cleaning on the weekend.

Boy, was I wrong. Having kept up on it the past few weeks, I have been able to truly enjoy my weekends with my husband and kids as opposed to sending them outside to have fun while I clean the house.

I am pretty proud of this schedule. It's very organized well thought out. Even when bi-weekly and monthly chores are added, they go hand in hand with the chores already scheduled on that day so it doesn't feel like there are many extra steps at all. Feel free to copy it if you think it will help you!

There are a few reasons why I enjoy this chart:

1. I am a lover of lists. They keep things nice and organized. A chart like this one is just a list that is spread out over the course of a week.

2. I never feel overwhelmed. I know that I only have a few things to do every day and then I'm finished. I don't feel guilty if I don't pull out the canisters and the microwave to clean behind them each night after dinner because I know it will get done every Friday when I do a deep cleaning in my kitchen.

3. It's flexible. If, for example, I have a day filled with doctor's appointments or we are going to spend an entire Saturday at the zoo, I can easily take the chores from that day and spread them out between the day before and the day after

Yes, I know there are only 24 hours in a day, but each day I spend about 30 minutes getting it done. I prefer (now that I am on maternity leave) to get it done first thing in the morning. That way I don't have to think about it for the rest of the day. But, those 30 minutes could easily be used any other time during the day. Right before you get in the shower for the night, or right before your favorite television show comes on. (At least you would have an incentive to get it done by a certain time!)

When I go back to work in May, mornings will be hectic around here and I will have to find a different time of day to get it done. I'm thinking I'll use the time that Roy is giving the kids a bath and getting them ready for bed. That way we'll be ready to tuck the kids in together and we can both enjoy our evening after all is said and done.

Granted, the chart isn't perfect, and it may need some tweaking as time goes on. For example, once Lily is mobile the floors will need swept every day. And I doubt I'll be able to go a week between mopping once she's feeding herself and most of it ends up on the floor. But, it's a place to start and it's keeping my family and me sane.

Friday, March 26, 2010

She Smiled At Me

I have yet to capture it on camera as she hasn't quite mastered it, but Lily smiled at me today.

Just as I was beginning to doubt myself as a mother . . .

Just when I was beginning to think I was a terrible person for not feeling a bond with my child . . .

Just as I was starting to resent this little creature who demanded that I feed and change her dozens of times a day without so much as a "Thank You" in return . . .

Just as I felt that my head was going to explode if I had to button the snaps on her sleeper in the dark at 2:00 AM one more time . . .

Just as I picked her up to get her dressed for the day . . .

She smiled at me. And she melted my heart.

One smile. One sweet, toothless, goofy smile that lasted only for a few fleeting seconds.

Only when you are at the end of your rope, can one smile mean so much.

Only when you begin to question if you are actually cut out to be a parent, can one smile make the world stop spinning.

Only when you wake up to a crying baby and think that you won’t last another day, can one smile give you strength.

Just one smile says, "I love you for the diaper changes.

I love you for the milk in my tummy.

I love you for the cuddles, the kisses, the late night snuggle sessions.

I love you for helping me grow big enough and strong enough to make it this far.

I love you for my snuggly jammies and my warm bed.

I love you for holding me when I'm scared and playing with me when I'm happy.

I love you for keeping me safe.

I love you for taking care of me.

But mostly, I love you for loving me."

One smile. . .


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Closer Than Yesterday

Today started out like any other Wednesday.

I was gently nudged awake by the sudden sound of a screaming baby on the other end of the monitor. I stumbled my way down the hall and into her room. As soon as I walked in she calmed down (slightly) and the wails turned into the whimpers of someone with an incredibly soggy rear end. Scooping her up in one arm and grabbing a diaper with my free hand we blindly made our way to the kitchen. I made a bottle and we settled in on the couch. A quick diaper change and she was more than ready to eat.

As she gulped away at her bottle I reached over to my laptop and brought up my Facebook page to see what was going on. The first thing I noticed on my page was a posting from Weight Watchers. The Weight Watchers page on Facebook frequently posts ideas, recipes and inspiration to help keep followers motivated. This morning, the post referenced the following quote:

“You may not be there yet, but you’re closer than you were yesterday.”—Unknown.

I could easily see how this quote would help inspire me to reach my weight loss goals. But, as I watched Lily look up at me with wide eyes and milk dribbling off her chin, I realized that it meant so much more to me than mere weight loss. I have a family that depends on me and when I get discouraged I do them all a huge disservice. I held her to my shoulder and patted her back to work out a burp and mentally ticked off my "To Do" list.

1. Buy a home

We are currently renting our home right now but the owners want to sell and we want to buy. What are we waiting for? A few things. Roy works on commission. While he's been with his company for almost 5 years he has only been on this pay scale since July 2008. The only way to get approved for a mortgage is if he is able to show 2 years worth of pay stubs proving that his commission is stable. My income would be beyond helpful in our quest for home ownership, but a lack of much credit to begin with and an ugly divorce means my credit is in the crapper.

We're also trying to pay down any debt that Roy has in order to make his debt to income ratio as low as possible, and it's a slow process. But now? Every time we make a payment I’ll think:

“You may not be there yet, but you’re closer than you were yesterday.”

2. Fix My Credit

This is actually tied very closely to #1. If we can manage to buy our house our monthly payment will drop between $400 and $500. With that amount of money freed up every month we will have that much more to put towards paying down the rest of Roy's debt and paying off all of mine. After that, the plan is to get a small credit card in my name and make purchases and pay them off to build by credit back up. We can't start working on #2 until #1 is complete so, in the meantime, I'm focusing on saving where I can to make as many payments as possible.

I love to shop. And a good sale is hard for me to pass up. But now? When I walk past the clearance racks I can chant my mantra:

“You may not be there yet, but you’re closer than you were yesterday.”

3. Graduate College

I am slowly but surely working my way towards an Associate's in Business Management. The process is painful. I can only manage 2 classes at a time because there just aren't enough hours in the day. Because of the class structure at my college I am able to take 4 classes a semester (full time status) but only take 2 classes at a time.

Sometimes I just want to throw in the towel because life is so much easier when I don't have classes and homework to worry about. But now? Each time I turn in an assignment my own personal theme song will ring in my ears:

“You may not be there yet, but you’re closer than you were yesterday.”

4. Lose Weight and Live Healthier

This is obviously what Weight Watchers was hoping to inspire with their quote. Anyone familiar with Weight Watchers will know that they tell you to aim to lose no more than one or two pounds a week. This shows that you are losing weight the correct way and making the appropriate life changes. While it makes sense logically, it's not what you want to hear when you have weight to lose. Especially when we all know that you will not lose that one or two pounds every week and you may even gain weight some weeks. I have 37 pounds left to lose. Knowing that it will take (at the minimum) four and a half months to lose it is frustrating, to say the least. (I'll be skinny just in time for swimsuit season to be over. Great.)

It's hard to make the right choices everyday but I try to make little changes where I can. It's easy to drive around the parking lot at the grocery store until I find a closer spot. But now? As I park in the last row, grasp Nathan's hand, and lug Lily in her infant carrier (25 pounds, all together) up to the door I will tell myself:

“You may not be there yet, but you’re closer than you were yesterday.”

I looked down and realized that Lily had fallen back asleep. Feeling motivated and ready to enjoy an early morning cup of coffee in peace, I had just laid her down when I heard Nathan shuffle his way down the hall to the kitchen. I'll admit, I was irritated. I can't remember the last time I had 10 minutes to myself in my own home and it looked like it wasn’t going to happen this morning, either.

But, as he rounded the corner, I noticed his pajamas weren't covering his ankles anymore. And his mannerisms have recently become that of a little boy. He's no longer a baby. As he curled up next to me on the couch and proceeded to ask twenty questions about what I was doing and why I was doing it, I realized that I couldn't imagine a better way to spend the morning. Children have a tendency to grow up faster than their parents can imagine and someday mine, too, will be grown and gone and I will have to enjoy my early morning coffee on the couch alone. That is a “someday” that I can wait for.

“You may not be there yet, but you’re closer than you were yesterday.”


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

But First, An Introduction

When the going gets tough, the tough start a blog.

That seems to be the trend these days. Not one to be left behind, I decided to jump on the bandwagon.

I tend to catch on to most online trends long after everyone else. I was in my 20s and already a mother the first time I set up a MySpace account. That lasted a few years then, feeling a little more mature one day, I closed that down and started a Facebook profile in February 2009. I think the 8 year old down the street had a Facebook profile before I did.

Blogging is no different. Everyone has a blog now. (Please reference afore mentioned 8 year old down the street.) That means it's my turn to try it out. After all, how hard could it be? (I hear seasoned bloggers chuckling at me already.)

So, here begins my attempt to squeeze one more thing into an already packed life.

I like to think that I am an integral part of my family and that, without me, all would crumble around them. In reality, that's probably not true, but it makes me feel important so I'm going to continue to pretend like it is. I am the definition of a control-freak. I have to know every detail possible about everything that affects me or my loved ones. (I scour the Internet for websites about child development, parenting techniques, illnesses . . . you name it, and I’ve Googled it.) There is not a patient bone in my body. I live life in fast-forward and I have to constantly remind myself that most of the world is living for today, not for next Tuesday.

On the other hand, my husband is probably the most patient man on the face of the earth. Job has nothing on him. I kid you not. Roy could watch moss grow without being discouraged by how long it is taking. This tends to drive me absolutely crazy. He is never in a hurry to do anything and that, as much as it frustrates me, is one of his best qualities because it carries over to his parenting. He is teaching me that kids are just kids and I can't force them to fit into the neat little compartments I have arranged for them. Through him, I'm learning to enjoy each moment as they come and to let the kids just be themselves instead of mini-adults.

And speaking of those kids, just who are they, exactly? It's hard to sum up each of them in just a paragraph, but I'll try. Hopefully, you'll get to know them better as I write more about them in the weeks and months to come.

Nathan is three years old. Roy isn't his biological father, but he's the best Daddy the kid has. He does see his father, but he doesn't have much of a relationship with him. Roy has taught him to have a love for all things Craftsman. His favorite stores are Sears, Home Depot and Lowes because "they have tools." He learned to work a screwdriver at the age of two and "helps" Roy in the garage every weekend. He could spend all morning at the library and all afternoon cuddled up on the couch having you read to him and then "reading" the books back to you. Nate also loves to sing and to dance and make his little sister smile. On the flipside, he has recently discovered the little adrenaline rush achieved by pretending that he doesn't hear Mommy and Daddy when we ask him to do (or not to do) something.

Lily was just born this past February and is only about 6 weeks old. She already has us all wrapped around her teeny little finger. She just started smiling within the last week and every day we get more and more smiles from her. Each night is an adventure, as she isn't sleeping through the night yet. She has been sleeping in a bassinet in our room since we brought her home. However, that bassinet only holds up to a 15 pound baby. Upon weighing her last week and realizing that she is almost 14 pounds I decided we better make the transition to the crib sooner, rather than later. We started putting her in her crib in her own room this week and it has been a success so far. She will still wake up every 3-4 hours to eat, but she has no problem sleeping in there alone.

Aside from my family keeping me busy, I am also a full time student. I take online courses and am working toward an Associate's Degree in Business Management. If anyone tells you that online classes are the easy way out, they obviously have never taken one. I struggle with finding a time when the house is quiet enough to get the required reading done. Usually I am interrupted every 3-5 minutes by a fussy baby or an inquisitive preschooler asking, "What are you doing?" for the tenth time. (Never mind the fact that I have not moved since he asked me the last time. He is sure that my activity is going to change without me notifying him, so he has to keep checking in.)

Since Lily was just born 6 weeks ago, I am still on maternity leave. My company gives 12 weeks paid, so I am expected back around May 3rd. I'm doing a pretty good job juggling the house work, the kids and my homework right now, but once I go back to work all bets are off. I'm a little scared, but also a little excited for the challenge.

Balancing all of these aspects of life at once is not easy and some days are a little more challenging than others. The title for this blog actually comes from these personal challenges I face. I am learning to be more patient. Patient with myself. Patient with my kids. Patient with my husband. Patient with humankind in general. After all, I have to be the kind of person I want my children to be.