Seven Quick Takes: Life, in Photos

Dear friends, it’s been awhile!  My three little whirlwinds have been keeping me busy, and also we moved a couple months ago.  I keep thinking it will calm down enough that I will start blogging again, but it hasn’t happened yet.  However, I’ve been admiring other people’s Seven Quick Takes (7QT) posts for years now, so I thought I would throw together one of my own.  No theme to this post except … “seven things I’ve taken photos of over the past month or so.”  Enjoy!

ONE: Our little runner, dancer, climber Rachel has finally had her first serious fall – from a patio chair headfirst onto the stone patio.  Ouch!  She cried pretty hard, but it was nothing that a nursing session and some Tylenol could not solve.  On the left is Rachel on the day of the fall, maybe an hour later.  Pretty bruised-up but happy as a clam!  On the right is a photo of the black eye that she still had more than a week later!  For the record, at this age, big sister Elizabeth was not climbing – she was not even walking yet.

TWO: I ran a race!  It wasn’t my fastest 5K, by a long shot, but it was far from my slowest either.  It wasn’t a great run, but I did my best to enjoy the gorgeous course, all along the St. Joe river in Mishawaka.  Absolutely the best part of the race was my kids.  Pete brought them along and they (1) had a ton of fun playing around the little waterfalls in Buetter Park, (2) gave me a boost during my third mile when I felt like dying, and (3) spent the whole ride home talking about when they would be able to run races.  Be still my heart!

THREE: A friend asked for help making desserts for her son’s graduation party, and I was so happy to have an excuse to make Smitten Kitchen’s confetti cookies for the first time.  Word to the wise, if you make a double batch, you will need two large containers of sprinkles.  (Although I think in PA growing up we called them jimmies …)

FOUR: South Bend recently had a flurry of fun events happening for the “Best Week Ever.”  We were really excited about one event in particular involving bubble-blowing and chamber music, and I was devastated when we got there and realized it had ended early.  If I had been on my own, I would have pursued this excellent course of action: drag my kids around the Century Center looking for someone who could explain why the event had ended early.  Impress upon them how unhappy we were about the event having ended early.  Go home feeling miserable about having missed the event and beating myself up for not having gone earlier.  Instead, thank you Lord, I have an awesome husband who handles such situations much better.  We walked across the river (as I silently grumbled about how hot it was and how I hadn’t planned to take a big walk with the kids so they didn’t have good shoes on and I hadn’t packed enough water), made our way through a mediocre craft fair, and then found our children transfixed by the East Race.  We got to see a number of people tubing or kayaking down the river, including one little boat that capsized (no injuries, thank goodness), and our girls never wanted to leave.  They went home entirely happy, and by the grace of God (and the smarts of my husband) I was pretty happy too.

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FIVE: One of the great blessings of life at our new house is that our across-the-street neighbors are now next-door neighbors.  You wouldn’t think it would make that much difference, but our kids are 5, 3, and 1, and theirs are 4 and 2, and pretty much none of them can/should cross the street solo.  What they can do is see each other every time they are playing outside, and ask to play together, and most of the time we say yes.  The girls love Gabe and Silas (“Gaaaaae!  Siya!” Rachel calls whenever we see them) and it’s been awesome to have built-in playmates right next door.

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SIX: The Sunburst 10K, half-marathon, and marathon passed directly outside of our house this year.  Pete ran the 10K, and the girls and I had an awesome morning cheering on the runners.  We blasted Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” on repeat through the morning (and somehow I actually never got tired of it), we set up the sprinkler for overheated runners to run through, and we clapped and cheered and blew bubbles as the crowd ran by.  We got a little tired & sunburned by the end of the morning, but it was worth it.

SEVEN: Another highlight of our new home is our sunroom, which has a gorgeous view of the sunrise in the mornings.  One morning Maggie sat at our little kid table next to the windows to enjoy the sunshine with her favorite bear.  The view of Maggie was even better than the view of the sunrise.

Thanks for reading my first 7QT!  There’s a lot more out there if you want to keep reading.  Happy Friday!

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the hungry jacket, and other toddler tricks

In my last post, I mentioned I’d found a new parenting book that was immediately effective for me.  Honestly, it’s been so helpful that I feel like the Holy Spirit put it right in front of me so I couldn’t miss it – so of course I have to share it with you here.

How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen is written by the daughters of the women who wrote the parenting classic How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk.  I skimmed that older book a few years ago, and didn’t find it helpful for my kids at that time; but this new book has been stunningly relevant and effective for me.  Before I was halfway finished reading my library copy, I ordered a paperback from Amazon because I knew I would be consulting it over and over for years to come.

I’m not going to write an entire book review here, but I wanted to share a few quick stories.   First, in their discussion of rewards and punishments, the authors suggest using rewards for your kids in the same way you use them for yourself.  You promise yourself a piece of chocolate after doing the dishes, or a few minutes of leisure reading after evening chores, as something to look forward to.  It’s less of a bribe and more truly a reward.

So the next time I was having my kids pick up the basement playroom, I worded things differently.  Instead of “if you clean up the whole basement you can watch a video,” I told them, “At 5:00 I’m going to put on your favorite show.  But it’s only 4:15 now, so you might even get some extra TV time, because we’ll turn on the TV as soon as we’re all finished cleaning up the basement.”  I was delighted to see that they started cleaning up without the usual tantrums – and they didn’t even rush upstairs to the TV when we were done, but stayed in the basement for a few minutes to enjoy how clean it was.  (Specifically, to roll around on the clean carpet.  Ha!)

Another trick I’ve been having major, major success with is to use playfulness to elicit cooperation.  When I need my two-year-old to get her jacket on to leave a friend’s house, I put the sleeve in front of my face and say in a funny voice, “I’m so hungry!  Please feed me a hand!  Oh, pleeeeease, pleeease, can I eat Elizabeth’s hand?”  I cannot get over how effective this is.  Not only does she put her coat on, she is smiling as she does it (probably because I continue with “Yum yum yum yum yum, this hand is deliiiiiicious!”)

Playfulness got us out of playgroup and into the car last week, too.   This suggestion was straight from the book: “How should we walk to the car?  Should we take big steps or little tiny steps?  OK, tiny ones – look, here are my little tiny tiptoe steps!  We’re tiptoeing to the car!”  (Another version that I haven’t used yet is, “What kind of animal should we be, walking to the car?  Should we be tigers or elephants?”

I’ve also used playfulness in a few different ways to get the girls up the stairs at bedtime.  In the past I’ve tried “Who can get upstairs the fastest” games, with only modest success, but recently I modified it to “First one up the stairs gets the first five hugs!  Second one up the stairs gets … the second five hugs!”  Worked like a charm.  Then last night when only the two-year-old was refusing to go upstairs, I paused and pretended to listen.  “Wait.  Do you hear that?  It’s your bedtime bunny.  I think he’s crying!  We’d better go check on him.”  She scampered upstairs without a second thought.

Well, the baby is crying so I’d better go.  But you don’t need any more description from me anyway.  Go to the library or go to Amazon.  Get the book, read it, try it, then come back and tell us all YOUR stories!

motherhood is not impossible

img_5902A few weeks ago I was surprisingly encouraged by an article that told me to stop whining.  Although the headline is a little overdone and the author is, I think, overly harsh toward her fellow mothers, I thought her diagnosis of modern motherhood was spot-on.  First, she pointed out that we’ve managed to make motherhood “simultaneously insignificant but also impossibly hard.”  YES!  And then she went on to say, basically, it is hard work that we don’t know how to do well; so it seems impossible; so we give up.

They do not know how to get their toddler to come when called. Therefore, toddlers aren’t controllable. They do not know how to stay caught up with the laundry and the grocery shopping. Therefore, the life of a mom is inherently a crazy cycle of unfair drudgery. They have tried—perhaps tried hard—and given up. They have decided that, like labor and delivery, all of motherhood is something to be waited out.

Mussman’s radical proposal is that instead of giving up and suffering through motherhood, we learn to do it better.  Genius, right? Continue reading

life with my asthmatic child

img_5806My two-year-old knows how to say “nebulizer” and is a pro at taking medication.  My five-year-old keeps us on our toes, making sure her sister gets her twice-daily breathing treatment and her evening pill.  I carry an inhaler in my diaper bag, I’ve made space in the closet for storing extra asthma equipment, and I’ve finally learned how to pronounce “budesonide.”  But we still haven’t quite learned how to live with asthma.

Our first trip to the hospital was almost a year ago.  Elizabeth had a cold, and she was wheezing.  It had happened before, but it seemed like it might be getting worse, and I was beginning to worry.  I took her in to urgent care so they could have a look.  To my surprise, they sent us to the ER, and she stayed there overnight.  It was the first of four hospital trips during 2016; four ER visits, two overnight stays, one pneumonia diagnosis, two diagnoses of reactive airway disease, and then, eventually, they finally said she has asthma.

She only has it when she has a cold, but she catches colds frequently, and the ensuing asthma attacks are both fierce and stubborn – they take her into serious wheezing, and her oxygen saturation dips, and she doesn’t always respond quickly enough to the albuterol we give her when it happens.  Once, her breathing declined so precipitously that the ER even gave her oxygen.

I have never been scared that she would stop breathing – the worry I’ve felt when she begins to decline is more vague than that, just a gut-level knowledge that she needs help, this is not OK.  I am grateful that we live so close to the hospital, and grateful for the ER staff who each time have treated our wheezing child right away.

I’ve found myself somewhat bewildered by this new world of chronic illness.  Oh, it is so mild compared to what many other families have experienced!  I have not even an inkling of what parents experience when their child has a life-threatening disease.  But still – it has been quite an experience.

One flash point for me was when, after Elizabeth’s most recent attack, her doctor decided to add a pill to her daily preventative medicine regimen.  I looked up the medication online to learn more about it, and was stunned by the list of possible side effects.  I was grieved at the thought that my baby might get headaches from her medicine – would she even know how to tell me about it? – and alarmed that the medicine could cause mood changes or aggressive behavior.  What if I lose my sweet baby girl?  Of course those side effects are rare, and she’s been on the new med for weeks now without any trouble, praise God.  But just the possibility of all that woke me up to the seriousness of the situation.  Is she really so sick that we must risk all this?

As our journey with asthma has progressed, we’ve become more and more wary of germs.  I quit going to the Y months ago so Elizabeth wouldn’t be playing with sick kids in childcare there.  More recently, we’ve gone to fewer and fewer playgroups, and called off multiple playdates due to friends’ kids having colds.  We don’t use the cry room at church anymore or send Elizabeth to childcare at People of Praise meetings.  When we bring the girls to an event with other kids, I am on high alert the whole time, wincing at the sound of a nearby cough, rushing Elizabeth to the bathroom to wash her hands when I catch her playing with a runny-nosed friend.

Often we need to simply stay at home by ourselves for awhile.  Elizabeth is more susceptible to infection when she’s already recovering from a cold; so when she gets sick, first we stay home to keep other people healthy, and then we stay home to keep Elizabeth healthy.  And then we stay home because I simply forget to start going out again.  Or we schedule a playdate, but it gets called off, because little kids just get sick a lot!  One way or another, it’s common for weeks to go by when I don’t take my younger girls anywhere but preschool pickup and grocery shopping.

I am grateful that Elizabeth is a peaceful, contented little homebody.  She is easy to be with and easy to take care of.  She loves to help me bake, and is very good at it for her age.  She loves to color, and to play with toys, and she can play independently for most of the morning while keeping up some low-key chatter with me.  Although she enjoys her friends, she has yet to complain about how infrequently we see them, or to be sad that we miss playgroup so often.

But I know the way we are living right now is not sustainable long-term.  Hopefully, it will not be necessary to live like this long-term.  Maybe the asthma attacks will become less serious as she gets older, and we won’t need to keep her away from every germ; or maybe the new medication will prove its worth and she won’t have any serious attacks anymore.

I haven’t written this post to share wisdom about how awesomely we handle this challenge, and I haven’t really written it to ask for your prayers either, although prayers are always welcome.  I mostly just wanted to share with you, my friends, what our life has looked like lately – and maybe to clarify why those of you in town haven’t seen us around at playgroup much!  This is our life.  I hope it won’t look like this for very long, but this is where we are right now.

they don’t mean anything by it

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Socks in my pockets, socks in my diaper bag, socks scattered all over my house.  Socks anywhere but my baby’s feet.  Colder weather has begun, and I can no longer ignore the fact that my daughter’s bare feet will be cold when we go outside.  Alas, I also cannot control the fact that my daughter’s feet will be bare, and cold, when we go outside.  Babies take socks off; it’s a fact of life.  Yes, you can complicate it for the kiddo by putting shoes on her too, but a determined baby will usually figure out how to pull off her shoes as well.  Such is life.  It doesn’t bother me.

But it does seem to bother all the old ladies at the grocery store.

“Oooh, look at your little cold feet!”

“Oh my goodness, no socks?”

“Aww, look at your little piggies, aren’t you cold?”

I grit my teeth when the grandmothers of the world begin these conversations.  It always seems like they are passing judgement on my fitness to be a parent, and it always puts me on the defensive.  Babies always take their socks off.  You put them back on again, they take them back off again.  Most of these women have raised children – don’t they remember?

The state of my daughter’s feet has begun to be dependent not on the weather, but on the likelihood that someone will see her and comment on her poor cold little feet.  If we’re going to playgroup (where nobody will care), or to pick up her older sister at preschool (where nobody will see her in the car), I don’t bother to put socks on her.  If we’re going for a walk around the block, I definitely won’t put socks on her, because she’ll take them off and drop them on the sidewalk, never to be found again.  But the grocery store?  Definitely socks.  Except I’ll often take her outside barefoot and then put socks on her in the lobby of the grocery store, so as to maximize the amount of time in the grocery store that she will actually still have the socks on her feet.

Sometimes when a bystander comments on the barefoot babe, I’ll whip the socks out of my coat pocket to show them.  “Oh yeah, she had socks on, she just took them off a moment ago, of course I’ll put them back on her before we go outside.”  Other times I will just try to nod and smile or shrug to quietly communicate, “Yup, what can you do?”  And sometimes I’ll smile distractedly while intently surveying the bottles of salad dressing in front of me, in hopes that I won’t actually need to respond.

I came home from a grocery trip a few weeks ago completely flustered by one of these conversations.  The baby and the two-year-old had both been fussing throughout the trip, so by the end of it I was completely drained.  The bystander commentary (a grandpa this time) came 40 minutes into the trip, and it felt like an assault on my character.  But as I relayed the story later to my husband, I finally realized, he didn’t mean anything by it.

None of them ever mean anything by it.

Really – they literally don’t mean anything by it.

It is not a premeditated conversation.  None of these little old ladies are thinking to themselves, “I’d better set that mom straight.  She’s not taking good enough care of her children.”  They’re not even thinking, “She must not realize how cold it is!  I’ll just give her a gentle reminder.”  Instead, “poor little cold feet” is really on par with “Cold enough for you?” or on a rainy day, “Sure is wet out there!”  These little old ladies are not seeking to engage me in conversation about the care of my children.  It’s much more innocent:

They are drawn to my children.

And they simply want to connect.

They are reaching out, with just the first words that come to mind, because they actually love the sight of my beautiful babies.  They loved raising their own babies and it makes them smile to see mine.  If I stop listening and look instead, I’ll see that these grandmothers of the world are usually smiling as they’re looking at my kiddos – not frowning at their bare feet.

It’s still hard, because I often do need to respond, and what do I say?  I have yet to come up with the perfect response; I’m still not sure how to avoid becoming defensive.  But here’s hoping that I can remember, the next time, she doesn’t mean anything by it.  She literally doesn’t mean anything.

 

oatmeal pancakes

Today I thought I would share with you our all-time favorite Sunday brunch recipe.  This recipe comes first from Kim Boyce’s cookbook Good to the Grain, but we found it several years ago on Smitten Kitchen.  I have a number of tricks & strategies to streamline the recipe, so instead of just linking up to SK, I’m going to write out my adaptation here.  I’ll also include instructions for making them into pumpkin pancakes, and I’ll also write out a double recipe, which generously serves our family of five on Sunday, with plenty of leftovers for (more reasonable portions of) breakfast Monday morning.

Oatmeal Pancakes

makes about 15 pancakes

adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it slightly from Good to the Grain

  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbsp honey or molasses
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk

 

Make oatmeal: combine 1/2 cup oats and 1 cup water in a small saucepan.  Place over medium heat and simmer until cooked.  While oatmeal is cooking, prepare your dry ingredients, but keep an eye on the oatmeal.  As soon as it’s cooked, add the butter and the honey.  Stir until melted and combined.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Dry ingredients: Using a coffee grinder (ideal) or blender, grind 1 cup oats into oat flour.  In a medium bowl, combine oat flour with white flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Whisk until thoroughly combined.

Wet ingredients:  Beat eggs just slightly in a large bowl.  Add milk and whisk until combined.  Pour oatmeal mixture in and whisk again.

Put it all together:  Fold the dry ingredients into the large bowl very gently, with a spatula, until all dry ingredients are moistened.  Avoid over-mixing.

Make your pancakes:  Use about 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake; cook on a griddle at 325 degrees, or in a pan with melted butter over medium heat.

(Click over to Smitten Kitchen to see more tips/ideas on the actual cooking of the pancakes.  She gives the original author’s instructions in the recipe, and also has her own post on general pancake tips.)

Serve with syrup, but they’re also quite good without anything on them.  Leftovers reheat well in microwave or toaster.

Do ahead:  to have pancakes as soon as possible after church, do anything or everything up to “put it all together” before you go to church, then finish the batter when you get home.

Make them pumpkin: add 1/2 cup pumpkin to the wet ingredients and 1 Tbsp pumpkin spice to the dry ingredients. Our blend is one teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.  We like them pretty spiced, so some of you may want to use less.

 

Double Recipe Oatmeal Pancakes

makes about 30 pancakes

adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it slightly from Good to the Grain

  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 2 cups water
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp honey or molasses
  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk

Make oatmeal: combine 1 cup oats and 2 cups water in a small saucepan.  Place over medium heat and simmer until cooked.  While oatmeal is cooking, prepare your dry ingredients, but keep an eye on the oatmeal.  As soon as it’s cooked, add the butter and the honey.  Stir until melted and combined.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Dry ingredients: Using a coffee grinder (ideal) or blender, grind 2 cups oats into oat flour.  In a medium bowl, combine oat flour with white flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Whisk until thoroughly combined.

Wet ingredients:  Beat eggs just slightly in a large bowl.  Add milk and whisk until combined.  Pour oatmeal mixture in and whisk again.

Put it all together:  Fold the dry ingredients into the large bowl very gently, with a spatula, until all dry ingredients are moistened.  Avoid over-mixing.

Make your pancakes:  Use about 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake; cook on a griddle at 325 degrees, or in a pan with melted butter over medium heat.

(Click over to Smitten Kitchen to see more tips/ideas on the actual cooking of the pancakes.  She gives the original author’s instructions in the recipe, and also has her own post on general pancake tips.)

Serve with syrup, but they’re also quite good without anything on them.  Leftovers reheat well in microwave or toaster.

Do ahead:  to have pancakes as soon as possible after church, do anything or everything up to “put it all together” before you go to church, then finish the batter when you get home.

Make them pumpkin: add 1 cup pumpkin to the wet ingredients and 2 Tbsp pumpkin spice to the dry ingredients.  Our blend is two teaspoons each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.  We like them pretty spiced, so some of you may want to use less.

staying stay-at-home

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When I decided six years ago to stay at home with my kids, it wasn’t really a soul-searching decision.  I simply liked the idea of staying at home, and my husband liked it too, and we were financially able to do it, and that was that.  I loved my work at the homeless shelter, but after eight years of it, I was ready for a break.  Dropping out of the working world to raise kids and make a home sounded like a pretty sweet job.

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you already know that my transition to motherhood was a hard one, and that I’ve struggled with doubts about my role as a stay-at-home mom.  Even when I’ve recognized the enemy lying to me, I haven’t been able to get rid of the nagging thought that maybe I shouldn’t actually be a stay-at-home mom.  Honestly, it is exhausting to think and doubt and wonder about it all the time!  But just in the past week, two things have happened that have finally brought me some peace.

The first is that I happened upon the journal Humanum, specifically their issue on the theme “A Mother’s Work.”  In one essay there (“A Mother’s Work is Never Done”), the author reflects on what families stand to lose when both parents work full-time:

… it becomes a home with nobody home, where very little happens among those who sleep there, much less with their friends and neighbors. There is no nursing a baby (in the well-appointed nursery), no taking walks to the park, no witnessing first steps (which happen at the “wrong time”), no informal neighborhood clubs after school, no gathering of teenage friends under watchful eyes, no real cooking (in the gourmet kitchen), no dinners with friends (in the non-existent dining rooms), no neighborly charity for sick friends or new mothers. In short there is no time together.

Please understand me here – I know many working moms whose families, and homes, are so, so full of life.  I’m not sharing this excerpt to say that all moms should stay at home, but rather because the author articulates, in a way I’ve never been able to, what good things staying at home can achieve.  I can’t speak for any other mom’s skills, abilities, desires, or aims, but I know that staying at home is what enables me to make a home where life can happen.  I, personally, could not have this kind of home if I were also working.

A second epiphany happened at a women’s retreat this weekend when a dear sister – a mother of three grown children – shared about having served at People of Praise summer camp for many years.  Since her children were there, and since she was a teacher with the summer off, it made sense for her to be there; but every year, she would thoughtfully and prayerfully discern whether she should volunteer for camp again.  Eventually she heard the Lord telling her, “You know, you spend a lot of time thinking about whether you should do camp.  You should assume that I want you here until I tell you otherwise!”

When I heard that story, I finally realized – I don’t need to keep asking whether I should be a stay-at-home mom.  I can rely on the Lord to let me know if He is calling me to something else!  In all my moments of doubt, I’ve never actually felt that the Lord had something different in mind for me.  All I had was doubt.  And while I recognized the enemy’s lies, I allowed the doubt to remain.  But no longer.  This doubt is not of the Lord and I’m going to stop letting it distract me from my work.

For now, until the Lord tells me otherwise, I am going to stay a stay-at-home-mom.  I’m going to embrace it, enjoy it, and work on getting better at it.  Thank you Lord!

dirty diapers happen

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I used to groan at the thought of changing my daughter’s dirty diaper.  To be fair, my oldest was exceptionally difficult to change – now that I have three kids I’m allowed to say that, right?  Any diaper change was terrible, but dirty ones were the worst, so when I saw that face or smelled something stinky, I automatically got into a bad mood.  I hated it, I didn’t want to do it, but I had to do it.

But … you know what?  Dirty diapers happen.  They are going to happen … regularly.  (Ha!)  At some point I realized, if I need to do this several times a day, I should figure out how to do it without getting into a bad mood.  Because if a dirty diaper ruins my day, I am going to have nothing but bad days.

During the worst days of diaper-changing, it helped me to sing a praise & worship song while changing the diaper.  (“All Your Promises.”  Always the same song so that I didn’t have to think of one.)  I sang it loudly to drown out my screaming daughter and keep myself from getting too irritated.  It helped … and eventually she got older and potty-trained, and my two younger ones have been easier to change.

But sometimes I still need to remind myself.  I’ll sit down with a hot cup of coffee, and then my baby girl will come crawling over with a big smile and a pungent aroma, and I just need to take a deep breath and remind myself … dirty diapers happen.

designing our days

Eight AM.  The day stretches out before me.  Meals to make, diapers to change, naps to manage, but – the rest is up to me.  Ten hours until my husband gets home for dinner; how will we fill them?  It’s up to me to decide.

It’s a blessing and a burden, you know?  The freedom is amazing.  We’re having gorgeous Indian-summer days right now, and I am completely free to take the girls out for a walk or over to the zoo, pretty much whenever I want.  But the freedom can also be overwhelming.  When I begin a gray, overcast day with too much laundry and housework to do and not enough sleep to make the dozens of decisions that will be required of me, I often find myself paralyzed.

Several months ago I opened up a book I had borrowed years before but never read.  A Mother’s Rule of Life: How to Bring Order to Your Home and Peace to Your Soul.  Order to my home and peace to my soul?  That’s a pretty big claim.  But the author’s purpose is to provide a method for answering that never-ending question of mine, what are we going to do today.  So I decided to give it a try.

The author, Holly Pierlot, recommends forming a “rule” for home and family life, just as religious orders form rules.  Think and pray about what God has called you to, in five areas: your personal needs, your prayer life, and your roles as wife, mother, and homemaker.  What needs to happen in each of those areas, for you to be living the life God has called you to right now?  Now take a good, hard look at your daily life and decide when you will do the things you need to do.

Pierlot notes that it will probably take quite awhile to hammer out your ideal rule, and that’s definitely been my experience so far.  After reading the book I sat down to think, pray, and start drafting a schedule that would reflect my priorities.  And I successfully scheduled … about the first two hours of my day.  Ha!  One obstacle for me is that my children’s needs – especially the baby’s – change frequently, and my daily schedule has to reflect that.  At different times, the baby has been sleeping through the night, or getting up twice; nursing first thing in the morning, or not until she goes down for her morning nap; napping from 8 AM until 9, or from 9 until 11:00.  All of those changes impact my morning schedule drastically.

But even though I have yet to figure out a complete and final schedule for my family, the exercise has been helpful to me.   I’ve started to see more clearly how to figure out each day’s schedule.  Here are a few of the things I have picked up on:

  • I really, truly love routine.  I started doing my kids’ laundry ever Monday, in order to avoid my oldest daughter constantly asking “When are you going to do my laundry?” whenever her favorite dress wasn’t clean.  I also started making baked oatmeal every Monday.  Putting those two jobs together with all my daily tasks (remember, my daily life is a full-time job), I don’t have much time left for any other chores.  So every Monday, I know exactly what I need to do, and it is amazing.
    • (I also recently had an epiphany that I can vacuum the upstairs, and clean the upstairs bathroom, every two weeks while my husband goes shopping with the kids at Costco.  Soon I hope to sort out some of my other chores and assign them a day too.  I don’t know whether it will work to assign them arbitrarily, so that’s why I haven’t done it yet; I’m hoping I’ll have a few more epiphanies!)
  • Thinking about days (or parts of days) that haven’t gone well is a great way to figure out what to do (or not to do) in the future.  I had a number of really tough afternoons with the kids, where I tried to cook or do housework, and got interrupted an absurd number of times; finally I realized the kids need me more in the afternoons so I just need to schedule housework & cooking for the mornings.  I can’t always make that work, but it’s becoming more of the norm.  Some afternoons my kids are feeling pretty peaceful and playing with each other without my help, and I can get one or two small things done, but it helps if I’m not counting on it.
    • (I also realized that afternoons on Maggie’s preschool days were the worst.  So I’ve committed even more seriously to being free & available to the kids on those afternoons.  We usually go out to the zoo or a playground now, rather than coming home after preschool pickup.)
  • I also need to think about and respect my own needs.  It’s tempting to schedule a ton of work for naptime, but even when I don’t need a nap myself, I still tend to need rest during that time.  One thing that has worked well has been to finish a load of laundry during the morning so that during naptime I can put on a show (currently watching this one) and just sit down to fold laundry.
  • Deciding when to have prayer time, and what kind of prayer to include, has been the hardest part of the project.  It still works well to read my devotional while nursing the baby, but I need to add some more prayer to my day and I just don’t know what or when.  I also need to get back into the habit of having prayer time with the girls, but I haven’t found the best time for that either.

I hope to share more about this with y’all in the months to come.  In the meantime I would love to hear any tips or tricks that have worked for you in planning out your days!