On becoming the mother of a teenager

IMG_8473Today I became the mother of a teenager.

Even though I am a teacher to dozens of teenagers every year (or maybe because I am), I’ve looked to this day with some trepidation. I’d watch these kids feeling suddenly self-conscious about everything, blushing and awkward and growing taller than I am.

I know logically that today is no different than yesterday, but yet thirteen has hit me the hardest of any birthday so far. My son is undeniably growing up now.

The past few years felt like a comfortable holding pattern, with my kids somewhat capable and independent, but still very much little boys.

My son is easygoing and kindhearted and reliable. Sometimes he’s the one comforting me. When he saw me getting teary-eyed at his birthday dinner, he picked up a few crayons and started coloring as if to show me he’s still a kid.

Every morning when I open my classroom door, I see that the stalk of this amaryllis bulb has grown a little taller, and today, the red flower is about to open. How fitting to watch this flower blooming on the same day I am thinking of my son and his full potential about to burst forth.

 

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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Keeping your house sane with routines

flylady

If you’re a regular reader, you’ve probably guessed that my biggest obsession is how to run the household smoothly. Today I want to talk about a website that got me on the path to sanity and organization through daily routines: www.flylady.net.

The FlyLady is Marla Cilley, and FLY stands for Finally Loving Yourself. You could spend hours reading everything you need to know about decluttering and cleaning your house on her website, but if you prefer, you can sign up for her daily emails that break down her whole process into smaller steps. When I was a housewife, I did attempt to follow the whole system, but I ended up unsubscribing to the emails because it got overwhelming once I had two kids and a full-time job. Theoretically I should still be able to keep up with her step-by-step cheerful directions, but truthfully, I dust when I see dust or I have company coming over, not according to a schedule.

Still, trying to keep up with FlyLady left a lasting impression and some improved habits. I make my bed every morning (well, almost every morning) and somewhere I picked up the phrase “messy bed, messy head,” which is so true. The days I don’t make my bed tend to be the chaotic, hurtling-through-to-the-finish-line kind of days.

She advocates doing laundry every day to conquer “Mount Washmore,” and I wash a load every other day (well, almost) and keep up pretty well. It’s so much easier to wash, dry, and fold one load three times a week rather than three in one day, at least I think so.

Her first instruction is to “shine your sink.” I don’t shine my sink every day, but I do the dishes every night. It’s so worth it when I wake up grumpy and tired to walk into a clean kitchen with my favorite coffee mug waiting in the dishwasher.

The general idea is that the more you do things by routine without thinking about it, the less stressed out and overwhelmed you will feel. I’ve read in other places that you have a limited amount of willpower each day and you spend a lot of it on decisions of “should I or shouldn’t I?” I’m really hoping that since washing dishes and clothes is automatic rather than a matter of willpower, I can save my miniscule supply for saying no to donuts and coffee.

I’ve also read that the most successful way to build new habits is to attach them to habits that are already firmly in place. I’ve built the habit of washing the dishes every night by making a cup of herbal tea after dinner and doing the dishes while the water is heating. Since I was already having tea every night, adding a few minutes of doing dishes wasn’t a big deal.

Whether you can follow all of the FlyLady’s ambitious plans or just a few of them, I think you’ll agree that she has a lot of great advice for making the home front more pleasant.

What routines help your days?

Thanks for reading and take care,

Grete

 

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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The little rituals that make our house a home

One of my most faithful blog followers mentioned how her grandchildren love to come to her house for after-school snacks, and it got me thinking, what are the little rituals in our household that make our house a home? Here are ours, and please comment with yours… maybe we’ll find some new ideas to add to our list!

  1. The annual viewing of the (original) Star Wars. I grew up with Star Wars, and have watched the movies dozens of times (and yes, I’m so excited for the next one!). When I was in college, the trilogy always seemed to be on TV in mid-December, right when I’d be studying for my final exams. I watched them as an excellent form of procrastination, and I knew even then that my future children would be educated in the ways of the force. We sit down once a year and watch them all, not in one sitting, but over a few nights. It’s a travesty when I meet a kid who’s never seen Star Wars.
  1. Coming home from trips and saying “east or west, home is best” as we pull into the garage. Traveling is fun, but nowhere is better than home to me, and I love that my sons appreciate our house so much too. They often say how cozy it is.
  1. Sunday morning pancakes. This came from my dad, who made whole wheat pancakes every Sunday morning on a huge iron griddle. He was the most relentlessly cheerful morning person I’ve ever met, and I’m proud to say I discovered how he did it: He got up way before anyone else in the house.
  1. Saying “sweet dreams, I love you” before bed every night. I tuck the boys in (although sometimes they’re up later than I am now) and we say good night. Sometimes once is enough, but other nights I hear one or both of them call out “I love you” from down the hall, and these are the times I never want them to grow up.
  1. Getting out the door on time (or almost on time) every weekday.  Our morning routine to an observer would look like a well-rehearsed play with characters moving from room to room in synchronized fashion. One is brushing teeth while another is in the kitchen making breakfast and the third is getting dressed, then it’s time to rotate. Who knows how many times I ask “Do you have your gym clothes?” and my sons ask “Do you have your keys?” It’s good to have someone reminding you of that stuff in the morning flurry.
  1. Dinner and grocery shopping. I often shop alone out of necessity, but my favorite trips to buy our groceries include going out for dinner first (we love Panera!). We write a shopping list while we’re still at the table, and then take turns pushing the cart and selecting items in the store. It seems like less of a chore and more of a special occasion when we all go together.

These are the moments I most look forward to in our home. What are yours?

[Image courtesy of public domain images on http://www.pixabay.com]

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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“Why am I so encumbered?”

My son and his friends enjoy playing online games together, and the other day I overheard him ask, “Why am I so encumbered?” What he meant was he was weighed down by the items his character was carrying, but it struck me that I’ve been encumbered too, if not by physical objects, at least by the maintenance of myself, the people in my family, and our stuff.

I have constant running to-do lists, one for work and one for home, and I realized I rarely feel a sense of accomplishment on either of them because there’s always more to do. Now that the boys have constant homework and activities, it feels like life has gotten infinitely more complicated. They are big enough to help out around the house, and they do, but there are three people’s schedules running through my head at all times and most events have to be scheduled weeks in advance to happen.

I’m working out how to enjoy my days and savor them, despite all of the parts that make me tired and sometimes weigh me down. Even though I can’t stand the idea of looking at one more list, I had to make one to remind me of all the good little routines that pull me up like helium-filled balloons. Here’s mine and I’d love your suggestions too.

  1. Every morning, I look forward to my same breakfast (coffee and raisin bread toast with peanut butter) and reading a few chapters from the Bible. That is often my only quiet time in an entire day!
  2. At least one meal where I sit down with my boys. It’s usually dinner, but even if it’s breakfast or lunch, we talk and find out what’s going on with each other.
  3. Time with my loved ones to go for walks, work on a New York Times crossword, or watch a movie. These are a few of the moments where my mind isn’t running on hyperspeed.
  4. Going to sleep at night. Usually it’s more like passing out from exhaustion, but I treasure those few minutes where I’m warm under the covers. I love my bed.
  5. Listening to RadioLab podcasts on the way to and from work. This amazing show has opened my world to so many new ideas I would have missed in my myopic little world.

[Image courtesy of public domain images on http://www.pixabay.com]

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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A thoughtful article about drone parenting (and you thought helicopter parenting was bad)

I just read this article by a parent who realized she was getting overly involved in her kids’ lives, especially their school work, and I shuddered when she said that often her first question to her sons after school was “What’s your homework today?”

Starting the after-school conversation with homework sounds cold and impersonal compared to “How are you?” or “How was your day?” which I always say first, but the second question I usually ask is “What’s your homework today?”

This mom said she micromanaged not because she was pushing her kids to excel, but because she realized her children were in that gray area of needing but not needing their parents so much anymore and she did not want to fail at parenting during this most critical time.

Like these parents, I could choose to look at my sons’ grades online every day if I want to (I don’t). She called this constant monitoring of her children “drone parenting,” and she gives some tips at the end of the article for how she stepped back and got back to being a more relaxed parent.

Since I’m a teacher, I sometimes feel an extra pressure for my kids to do well in school. After all, if I can’t help them stay organized, do their work on time, and get good grades, who can? I often advise parents to let their children become more independent and for kids to stop asking their parents to study with them, so I need to set the example by treating my own kids that way.

For the most part, I’m pretty hands-off when it comes to schoolwork, but every now and then I have that mini-breakdown where I fear I’m not doing enough (whatever enough is) and I start looking at my kids’ planners or their teachers’ websites to try to glean insight into what they’re doing every day in school.

I noticed I get more stressed out when I go into this mode and it doesn’t do anything helpful for my kids. Therefore, I vow not to be a drone parent!

[Image courtesy of public domain images on http://www.pixabay.com]

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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The top 5 Momisms in our house

It’s that time of year… school has been in session a few weeks and we’re back in the daily grind: Get up, make breakfast and lunches, rush out the door for school, eat dinner, do homework, take showers, go to bed. The kids are exhausted already and so am I, and it’s only September. I’ve been wondering how I’m going to make it through the rest of this year. How are we going to make it through the next fifteen years?!

I find myself reaching for all of the “momisms” of my youth – those sayings that were repeated often in our house and became the backdrop of our daily life. In honor of my mom’s birthday today, I’m going to share a few gems from our house.

“Lord, give me the strength to raise four children.” This was not so much directed at us, the four darling children, but muttered as a plea to get through whatever we happened to be doing to exhaust our dear mother. I’m only raising two and I have the same feeling. I pray for strength on a regular basis.

“A family is a warm, safe, loving environment.” My mother said this whenever one of us was picking on a sibling. My brothers drove me to the point of tears at times and I remember often telling my parents that I wished I were an only child, but now that we’re grown, I don’t know what I’d do without my brothers. We are scattered over three states and don’t see each other all that often, but I know they have my back and I can call them anytime. When my boys are arguing, I remind them that they’re going to be friends someday, believe it or not. If my mom wanted to embarrass us and drive us out of the room, she’d amp it up by talking about “the bosom of the family.” Yuck!

“Only boring people get bored.” I hated to hear this. It didn’t make me stop feeling bored. All it did was irritate me. And wouldn’t you know it, now I say it regularly to my kids. I never have time to feel bored anymore, so I can see why my mom wasn’t too sympathetic to my plight.

“Fight sweetly, children.” This one came from my soft-spoken, genteel grandmother. My dad said he and his brother got along great, so I wonder why their mother ever had to say this? Hmmm….

“Go play in traffic.” This was technically from my dad, but I had to include it because we heard it quite often. My dad didn’t join in often with the trite sayings, but we heard this whenever our parents practiced that vile technique of ganging up on us. They were still outnumbered four to two, but it was much harder to get away with anything when they were both alert and paying attention to our misbehavior at the same time.

These tried-and-true phrases are very familiar in my own household because when I get tired, they just pop right out, no matter how much I vowed as a kid that I would never say such lame things to my children.

I’d like to leave you with this very funny video of a mom who’s managed to say everything that every mom has ever said to her kids. What are the momisms you grew up with?

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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It’s 10x easier to do it yourself (but you shouldn’t)

FullSizeRenderI decided this was the summer that my sons would learn to cut the grass. They would take over a job I’ve been doing since I was 12. It’s a task that’s half tedious and annoying, half meditative and relaxing. I’ve been looking forward for years to pass the reins.

My younger son embraced the challenge, but he’s an independent type, one who doesn’t like to be told “the best way” to do something, even if he’s never done it himself. Therefore, there are little mohawks and tufts of grass that didn’t get cut because my directive to overlap each row went unheeded. The tracks run a criss-cross haphazard path rather than the orderly farmer’s rows I create each time I go out to mow.

As I watched him work, growing impatient at times to be finished (how I know the way that last twenty minutes seems to drag out!), getting frustrated when he got into corners it was hard to get out of, and altogether missing a few areas, I thought how much easier it would be to do it myself. I could keep cutting the grass — it’s only an hour a week, and only for those few precious months of summer.

I could do it myself and look out my windows at a yard mowed by someone with years of experience, or I could put my perfectionism aside for the more important goal of seeing my son learn how to do something better with practice (there were fewer mohawks the second time). I can appreciate his pluckiness – even though his arm isn’t quite long enough yet, he wants to try to start the mower himself each time.

I don’t even remember how I learned to cut the grass. Knowing my dad, he probably just sent me out and said “figure it out,” which is how I got so good at doing a lot of different things. I can show my son that I have that same confidence in him that my parents had in me. When my sons do a cleanup job that wastes paper towels, at least they are cleaning up, and when the grass isn’t cut perfectly, it’s still getting cut, and that’s good enough for me.