Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Groundhog Day

I once had a friend share her pros and cons of being a stay-at-home mom for her preschoolers. The pro was that she got to spend the day in her pj's. The con was that "every day was groundhog day."

I couldn't agree more.

Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of reasons why I love being home with my babies. In fact, I think I have the best job ever. But sometimes, it is a pain in the hind-end doing the same things over and over and over and over...
And it's not like I haven't tried to mix it up sometimes. Every now and then, I will throw in a change or two into our schedule just to keep things interesting...but then my kids have a meltdown. So mostly, I stick with a lather-rinse-repeat philosophy.

There are certain things in my house that must happen every single day or the planet will implode:

-My son will wake up soaking wet. He will immediately say, "Hi momma. I need new pants and a new shirt." I will change him and bring him downstairs where he will ask for a juice. (Need a refill there, hey little buddy?) He will drink the juice and run 29 circles around the house until I turn on The Wiggles to make the kid sit still.
-My daughter will wake up 45 minutes later, in the foulest mood you have ever seen. (She takes after her mommy in that way.) She will not greet me or her brother. She will curl up in her corner of the couch, pull a blanket over herself, and I will bring her a chocolate milk. After about 30 more minutes of silence, she will ask for a piece of candy. I will say no. She will pout. Twenty more minutes will pass and she will eat whatever breakfast I have set on the counter...and then ask for a piece of candy.
-The dog will whince at us through the back door the entire time we are eating breakfast.
-After whatever morning activity we have scheduled for the day, I will make the kids lunch that they will get to eat in the living room. I will eat my lunch in front of the computer, waiting to see if there is any indication at all that my husband might be online. I will check e-mail, Skype, Facebook. Nothing. (Maybe he got on while I was checking Facebook?? Okay, just in case...) E-mail, Skype, Facebook. Still nothing. (Third time's the charm??) E-mail, Skype, Facebook. Stupid broken charm! I will just get on Pinterest and he can call me when he's done...
-My kids will tell me they are done eating. They come to show me their empty plates. Mommy gives them hugs and kisses and "good jobs!" Then I will walk into the living room to see mac-n-cheese, apple pieces, and goldfish crackers smeared into the rug. It is now that my husband will call.
-I will talk and talk and talk and talk and talk to my husband. He will try to talk back to me whenever I take a breath, but it is at that exact moment that someone will say "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!" I will miss what my husband says. I will say, "I'm sorry, Babe, the kids interrupted. What?" He will be so frustrated that he'll say "Nevermind. It was nothing." I will ask the kids if they want to talk to Daddy. Though they have pretended to talk to him on the phone or write messages to him on the computer all day, they will say no. Then the moment my husband hangs up, they will both throw themselves onto the floor because they didn't get to talk.
-2pm: my son's naptime. It is the most awful time for a nap EVER! If I miss it, he will be so cranky that we will not be able to do anything the rest of the day. If he takes it, he will likely sleep for the next 3 hours and we will not be able to do anything the rest of the day.
-My son's naptime is also my time to do dishes and play with my daughter. My daughter will want to help with the dishes, (which is sweet, but also makes the process 9 times longer than it needs to be,) and then we will go up to her room where she will ask "What do you want to do today, Mommy? Barbies first, Princess Yahtzee first, or puzzles first?" No matter what I suggest, we will always play Princess Yahtzee, then Barbies, then puzzles. (Note to self: we need to pick up some more puzzles.)
-My son wakes up from his nap, much in the mood that my daughter starts the morning in. He is soaking wet, but this time, he just cries. I change his clothes, and take him downstairs where he asks for a juice and a show. We turn on the kid's program so I can start supper. Right after I begin, the kids will tell me they are hungry. "Here, have a cheese stick while you wait..." Supper's on the table---the kids rush to the table shouting "Hooray! Dinner!" They take one look at dinner, and reach for their drinks. Suddenly, they are no longer hungry. I convince them that if they eat one bite of everything on their plates, they can have that piece of candy they've been bugging me for all day. (Well, wouldn't you know it?! Their appetites are back!)
-I clean up chocolate fingerprints from the dining table, do the dishes, and send the kids outside to burn off their last bit of energy (or, you know, the surge from the sugar rush.)
-I hear them argue with me the entire way up the stairs that they are not tired. I fight with them to put on their pj's and brush their teeth. They march down the stairs so they can have their "good night show" and milk. They are both so sleepy, I have to fight with them to get them back upstairs. We read our bedtime stories and tuck into bed. Jack will get out of bed at least 5 more times, just for good measure.
-Mommy will finish all the chores she was not able to do the rest of the day before she passes out from exhaustion.

*Lather-Rinse-Repeat*

I hate to sound like I'm complaining; this is not a bad life I have lined up for myself here. Mixed in with the mundane are all sorts of cute little moments full of tickles, kisses, funny dances, and sweet sayings. But every now and then, I find myself lusting for what it will be like when my children are grown and our schedules are more sporadic. I daydream about how it will be to wake up, drop the kids off at school, and do whatever the heck needs to get done (scratch that) whatever the heck I want to do while they are gone. But then I snap back to reality, toss another load of soaking sheets, blankets, and clothes into the wash, and thank God that I have the opportunity to hang out with my kids these first few years.

That having been said, even as a stay-at-home-mom, I don't lounge in my pj's all day. I get dressed up, fix my hair, and put on makeup every single day. It is my secret way of telling the world that if it wants to throw me a change-up, I am READY for it!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Training Games

For the past few weeks, I have made a sad attempt to begin potty-training my son...

The odds were not in my favor.

I would like to say that it's not working out because he is not ready yet. At least, that is the official reason I will give when prompted to answer why I am calling it quits. But the truth is, I am not sure if he is the one who's not ready or if I am the one who's not ready.

Cognitively, my boy is ready. He can tell me what is supposed to go in the potty and what is not supposed to go in the diaper (or on the couch, or on the floor, or in sister's bed...) He loves to make "potty noises" while he is practicing (and realistic ones, I might add!) and then flush the toilet and sing, "Whoosh! Down goes the water!" He has memorized the potty book that I checked out for him at the library, and recites it in full while sitting on his training toilet.
I have even channeled my "inner-teacher" and created a potty activity box to keep him entertained while he is on the job and developed a reward system that I thought was sure to bring down the house: a star sticker placed on the lid of the training toilet for every successful attempt. And while my son has learned letter recognition (both capital and lowercase letters!) from the flash cards I left for him in his potty box, the boy has only put two stickers on his lid in two weeks :(
He's smart enough, but he's just not doing it.

Unfortunately, I cannot help but feeling totally responsible for our failed first attempt. If I learned ANYTHING from potty-training my daughter, it is that potty training is more a battle of wills than a development of skills. Your kids know what to do---you just have to be the one that makes them do it. Frankly, I am just too darn lazy right now to stop what I'm doing every thirty minutes to tell him to go to the bathroom. I like being able to go to store without having to head to the bathroom on the way in AND out. I like being able to go to the park for two hours and let the kids play uninterrupted. I like being able to drop my kids off for a couple hours at childcare and not worry if my child will regress because they are not being held to my highly-regimented potty schedule. I like the freedom that comes with just letting a kid do their business when and where they want to. (And if that makes me a bad mother, then so be it!)

But all this back and forth thinking I've been doing about whether or not Jack is ready for the toilet has got me thinking about how I have been playing the same game with myself...

One of my New Year's resolutions was that I wanted to start entering races, and I wanted (at the minimum) to run in a 5K race. I run all the time--3 or 4 times a week. I have no idea how far I run, because I like to vary my routes to keep things interesting, and I have never gotten around to tracking the distances. (And on-post roads don't register on GPS maps--I checked.) I also don't know how fast I run, because I always forget to check my start and stop times on routes. (I know. I'm a weirdo.)
I know in my heart of hearts that I am probably capable of running a 5K race tomorrow, but I have neglected to enter one because I don't have a real grasp of what my current performance level is. I also have postponed entering a race because I know that in all likelihood, I will have to enter the race and run it with my two kids in the jogging stroller, which will add about 100 extra pounds for me to push across a finish line and will greatly effect my running stride. (Not a big motivator right there, I have to say!)

Fortunately, I have a lot more control over the immediate results of this training habit than I do my son's---and tomorrow the kids are getting strapped in a jogging stroller and I am taking them on a 3.1 mile ride. Let the games begin.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wonder Woman

I can hardly believe I am coming up on the last leg of my family's first deployment. (Can I get a collective WOO-HOO from the audience?!)

As a first-timer, I had no idea what to expect. But being the planner I am, I tried my best to mentally prepare for the many struggles I was sure to encounter along the way. Truth be told, I figured it best to expect to be completely miserable for about nine months straight.
And I will admit, the first few weeks were really tough. Readjusting the kids' and my schedules in the beginning was frustrating. Weekends were awful reminders that Daddy wasn't home. Night times were mainly comprised of me lying awake, desperately wishing that sleep would find me.
But lo and behold, we all eventually found our groove. I developed a new routine that kept me and the babies on a more consistent schedule, we ran around like crazy people on the weekends so we weren't so aware of the emptiness in the house, and I was eventually able to sleep peacefully--shamelessly hoarding every square-inch of the bed and blankets all to myself.

It was around this time frame that I began to gain a bit of confidence in my abilities. I was one put-together lady. "This isn't so bad," I thought to myself. The more weeks that went on, the more confident I became...and then my confidence led to cockiness. I was the best Army Wife ever! "I don't know why people make such a big deal out of this!" I began to boast in my mind.

Little did this beginner know, deployments wait until you are at your cockiest to strike. In a single week, my washing machine caught on fire, the plumbing to the toilet in my guest bathroom burst and flooded the room and its adjoining hallway, and my children and I all caught a stomach bug at the same time. (Good thing the toilet was operational...oh wait...) I wish I was lying about this--I'm not.
I also wish I was lying when I said that my birthday present from my husband was stolen from the delivery guy (Thanks for the empty jewelry box, Honey!), that my bank information was hacked from some guy who tried to make thousands of dollars' worth of fraudulent charges to my account, or that the sprinkler system in my backyard malfunctioned and created an ankle-deep wading pool the night before Easter Sunday. But alas, all of these stories are also true.

The fact of the matter is, deployments stink. Each and every one of them is awful. And though there are moments that seem easier than others, for the most part, it is just plain hard. But through my experiences, I have learned there are ways to power through even the roughest deployment hiccups (or hurricanes.)

1. Celebrate the little things.
Perhaps the best advice I'd received from "veteran" spouses is that you have to focus on the "little victories." I discovered these little victories in really silly things, like opening the pickle jar all by myself. (Hooah!) I bragged about figuring out how to empty and reattach my vacuum bag, a skill I had not learned until my husband left. And I publicly boasted the fact that I had successfully weaned my son off his bottles. (By the way, you may henceforth refer to me as "Super Mom.") But in all seriousness, some days are so awful that you have to cling tight to these little victories, because they are the highlights of your day. Thankfully, every day holds something minor you can make a really big deal out of.

2. Realize the grandness of what you are doing.
Don't sell yourself short. It is easy to lose sight of the important role you are playing. You are the payer of the bills and the keeper of the house. You are the liaison between your spouse and his family. You are the link between your spouse and his country. If you are a parent, you are on the job 24/7 for two. And I don't mean to say that you are "both mother and father," but you are the person who coordinates everything to make sure that your spouse still gets to parent while halfway around the world. You change EVERY diaper, you cook EVERY meal, you deal with EVERY sick day (while taking none for yourself,) and you make EVERY holiday, birthday, and special event spectacular for your children--all the while taking photos and videos so Mom/Dad doesn't miss a minute of it. You are a mil-spouse and you are phenomenal! Don't let yourself forget it!

3. You are your strongest when you are supporting others.
Your spouse has battle buddies, and you need them too. Looking back on these past months, I've realized that I felt my best when I heard someone say "thank you for the talk; I really needed it" or "your gift really pulled me out of my funk today." I know I personally have been saved by a friend's surprise delivery of banana pudding after she read my rant on a status update, a neighbor dropping off a meal when she heard I was sick, and a close friend stopping by for a chat after my kids had gone to bed. Shocking truth about the mil-spouse: regardless of what any t-shirt says, we are only strong because we have each other to lean on. But it is when we lean on each other that we are truly unstoppable.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

All About the Shoes...

Interesting fact I learned after starting my blog...my momma had one first. Apple doesn't fall too far from the tree, I guess. All of her entries are quick reads that packed full of insight (A double win, in my opinion!) The best part about them: everything she writes about is referenced to different kinds of shoes--genius!

(I hope she doesn't mind that I'm sharing her blogspot here. If you don't hear from me for a while, it's because I've been grounded. http://slhart365.typepad.com/blog/#)

Anyway, I decided to take a cue from my momma and try my hand at this whole shoe-business. After all, mother knows best.
----------------------------------------------------

A couple days ago I had taken the kids to an Easter celebration at one of the parks on post. There must have been a thousand people at this thing. That's the deal with these military events--you say "free" and everyone and their neighbor's dog is going to be there. (Ok, maybe not the neighbor's dog since they are not allowed at the park. Seems unfair considering the park is one of the few places in El Paso with grass...but I digress.) Anyway, in the massive crowds of people, my daughter sees one of her friends and races across the park to the playground to meet her. All at once I threw my son on my hip and ran across the park after her, all the while pushing the stroller laden with balloons, cotton candy, and the like. When I met my daughter, she was in tears.

Out of breath from the chase and exasperated because I am having to deal with a whiny kid in the midst of all this free fun, I lashed out.
"What is the matter with you kid?!"

Completely breaking down now, she sobbed, "She said---she already has a friend ---to play with--- and she doesn't--- want to play-- with me-- today."

I felt so bad for her. It was her first experience with rejection. Trying to console her, I asked if she would like to find her friend and see if she could play with both of them. She came back to me a second time, rejected again. It was at that point I decided our "fun day" needed to wrap itself up, so I loaded up the stroller and headed out toward the car.

After about a minute of sniffles, Sammi asked me, "Mommy, do you think she didn't want to play with me because she didn't like my shoes?"

(I laughed---which probably confused my daughter. But I laughed because it was right then I realized it is at age 4 that girls become critical of their shoes.)

"No baby," I answered. Your shoes are just fine."
"Then why?"

It is here in the story that I have to break to say there are golden moments in motherhood where you are given an opportunity to re-teach a big lesson that you weren't sure how to teach the first time around. Weeks before this incident, Sammi had told me that there was a girl in her Sunday school class that was getting left out. (Four-year-olds have the tendency to tattle on themselves in that way.) When I asked Sammi if she wanted to invite the girl to play with her group, she said "No, we told her she couldn't play with us because she wasn't one of our friends." I told her that she should include everyone, because she wouldn't like it if she were the one being left out, but I could tell Sammi wasn't grasping the lesson--or at least I thought she hadn't.

To answer her question, I said, "sometimes, our friends can leave us out because they are already busy playing games with other friends, and they are not sure how to change the game to include another friend. I'm sorry you were left out. I know you feel bad, because that wasn't fair."

I could tell my daughter was lost in thought. And after a little more silence, Sammi replied, "It's not good to leave other people out. God wants us to include everyone, right Mommy?"

I, overcome with happy shock, responded, "Yes baby girl. You are exactly right."
(At that point, I was honestly looking around for the person who should be handing me my trophy...VICTORY!)



It is one of the first and arguably most important lessons we learn in our childhood--to put yourself in the other person's shoes. It is a hard concept for children to learn, because cognitively, they have real difficulty envisioning other people's emotions and circumstances as their own. But I think even as adults we struggle with this. We tend to get so wrapped up in our own problems that we become totally oblivious to the problems we create for others. We are just taking our fancy shoes and walking all over each other, if you will.

I'm guilty as anyone of this. I stomp on other people's hard work with my criticisms, I parade around people with my self-imposed titles, I skip out of social obligations and responsibilities, I run away from confrontations instead of dealing with them...(I've got a lot more of these sorts of puns, but I'll stop now because I think you've got the point.)

And the point is, so much hurt could be avoided if we think before we act, if we treat people the way we would like to be treated, and if we walked a mile in the other person's shoes. It's a lesson--and a lifestyle-- one should never outgrow.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Grass that's Greener

About a week ago, I got some new neighbors to share the fence that lines the far backside of my yard. I haven't met them yet, but I know they're there, because I've been spying new patio furniture popping up one piece at a time. Normally, I would be jumping at the opportunity to meet a new neighbor--maybe lingering in the backyard with the kids a few minutes longer hoping to bump into them. But this time, I am avoiding those people like the plague.
Why?
Because I am so embarrassed about the way my yard looks.

I know this sounds dumb, and possibly even a little bit trite, but I don't want their first impression of me to be marred by the weeds, over-grown grass, withered hanging plants, and dirt encrusted patio furniture which would presently serve as our backdrop. Much as I try to fight it, I am too big on appearances to be associated with all that business! (I guess the military lifestyle has finally taken its toll on me...)

As I went to feed and water the dog tonight, I heard them talking to each other on their back patio. I hurriedly went about my chores, refusing to lift my eyes off of the ground for fear that I would make accidental eye-contact and be forced into a conversation. Our fences are pretty low--I know they saw me.
Options for the first impression I probably left?
-That girl is an anti-social weirdo.
-That girl is a snooty witch.
-That girl needs to control her super-loud dog on garbage day. (This actually has nothing to do with tonight...that's just what I always fear my neighbors will think.)

I've spent the remainder of the night trying to figure out what is making me so nervous about meeting these people and why I have been obsessing over everything as I have. Turns out, I'm jealous.

I'm jealous of their super-shiny windows. I'm jealous of their freshly cut grass. I'm jealous of the clean, upholstered furniture that is sitting on their freshly swept concrete porch slab. And I'm jealous that they don't have a crazy dog who makes a giant rutt in the ground chasing birds back and forth in the yard and barking at the UPS and garbage trucks that drive down the road.

I couldn't help but think about the last time we had neighbors move in next door and how differently I felt about the situation. In fact, I wrote about it in my second blog entry ever. It's so short, I decided to include it here:

"This afternoon after our son woke up from his nap we decided that it would be fun to change into our swimsuits and play outside in the sprinkler. My husband, the handyman that he is, has rigged the kiddos playground so that a hose can connect to a shower head that pours down onto the slide.
Unfourtunately, the sprinkler head was shot and we couldn't get the darn thing to work...so we improvised. Instead the afternoon was composed of us chasing one another around the backyard with the hose, screaming widly, and trying to avoid slipping on the giant mud puddles we were creating in the lawn. It was a beautiful afternoon.
In fact, it was made even more perfect because we had new neighbors moving in next door to us today. I couldn't help but hope they spotted us out there...it would have made a perfect first impression of us in my opinion! It could have been made even better if we were actually able to introduce ourselves to them in that way.
Here we are in our bathing suits dripping wet, covered in patches of mud and grass clippings, silly smiles on our faces...
We are the Tarters. Nice to meet you :)
I love my family...Absent of pretense. Practical. Simple. And isn't it really the simple things in life that make it worth living."

Re-reading this really humbled me. Not only was I not ashamed of an messy introduction, I was hoping for it--proud of it, even. That's who I am. I am a crazy woman driver. A wife of a deployed soldier. A stay-at-home-mom of two rambunctious preschoolers. An owner to a dog who barks at birds, garbage trucks, and fire embers that blow out of the firepit... A wonderful mess. Next time I am given the opportunity, I am going to walk to the back fence and introduce myself proudly... weeds and all.

(Fun side note: The first time I met the other neighbor was not as idyllic as I had hoped, either... I was scooping doggie doo. HA!)