Thursday, July 30, 2015

Why I DO Shoot for Perfection as a Mom



have a sign on my wall that says "Good Moms have sticky floors, dirty ovens and happy kids."

But I don't believe it.

I can't stand a sticky floor. It's gross!

So I vacuum at least once a day, and have even got my 5- and 3-year-olds vacuuming.  My kids don't get to eat in the living room, or anywhere but the kitchen, with the exception of popcorn on movie nights, and they must pick up any dropped food at the table - yes, even the 1-year-old.

Actually, 1-year-old Zachary is so well-trained, that when water, milk or juice spills or drips a little, he says "Mess!" and often goes to get a dish rag.

This is the degree of my severe dislike for sticky floors.  The oven? Also pretty clean.

I can't help but notice the number of blog posts, signage and media centered around the principle that if you're a mom, you don't have to be perfect, just spend time with your kids and make them happy. And this is sometimes really good to hear. No, you don't have to be perfect. But a lot of these things basically tell us that it is ok to just throw our hands up and say, "Oh well. I'm a mom."

"Don't expect to have a clean house. Don't expect to make good from-scratch meals. Don't expect to ever be done doing laundry. Don't expect to also be a good wife to your husband. Don't expect to take showers. Don't expect to do your hair. You have KIDS! You're doing so much already! Kids are the epitome of work and time and effort, and you won't regret spending each little second cherishing their growth. You don't have to be a good friend, you're a mom. You don't have to be on time for commitments, you're a mom. You don't really have to be a responsible human being (except when it comes to raising perfect children) because... you're a mom."

Uh. No.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not a perfect mother or housekeeper or friend... but it was around my third birth about a year-and-a-half ago that I thought to myself, "Hey, if I'm not done having babies... then I better get myself together here."

I'm constantly witnessing moms who are, as I call it, "overwhelmed with life." Be it kids, or a demanding job, or medical problems, or any of the things that come with marriage and family, they're out there, and they can often be heard saying things like, "I don't do that, I'm a mom."  I am still one sometimes.  I don't have it all together.

What I do have though is a different perspective to offer, and it came to me once when I was pondering just exactly how I as a Catholic am called to live my life - particularly this passage from the gospel of Matthew:
"Jesus said to his disciples: "You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." ( Matthew 5: 43-48)
Jesus is asking really difficult things here. He's asking people to love people who hate them, to go against the ebb and flow of what the world around them is doing. He's saying we don't need to be like everyone else. Applying this in my life, it means not buying into the idea that motherhood makes me unable to shoot for perfection. It's like Jesus is saying, "Hey little mother over there, be better than you were yesterday. Be perfect."

So I've tasked myself with shooting for perfection; with having a standard and surpassing it whenever possible. And you know what? I've never had a perfect day. I've never been perfect. I likely never will be. I don't expect my friends to be perfect - but I love to hear when they're trying, and even when I see the improvements they make in their own lives.

And, you know what else? It feels better to have perfection as the goal than to have given up and resigned myself to imperfection, and being constantly overwhelmed with my children and the world around me. It feels better to be teaching my kids to aim high too, because why shouldn't they learn, even by osmosis at less than 1 year, that life is about doing your best to be your best?

It feels good to set standards - not impossible ones mind you - and then meet them. Sticky floors? Nope. Not here. But happy kids? Here too.

I think of each little goal as a step in the direction of true peace and balance in my life. Looking back, it seems we've climbed up the ladder from "overwhelmed with life," to... well, something better.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Answer Me This! (Insert witticism here)


Linking up with Kendra today to answer some fun questions and really, who doesn't want to know if I prefer ice cream or frozen yoghurt?

1. What's your favorite grocery store splurge?
This is so tough.  Right now? It's San Pellegrino, which means I'm pregnant and can't have a real drink, so I take fancy watery-juice stuff and put it in a fancy glass with some orange slices and a straw and pretend.

Normally though, I splurge on alcohol... Usually things like Baileys Irish Cream, Killkenny and Guinness Beers and English ciders, but often other liquers and good tequila. I mean, I know that's not technically grocery store, but that's my biggest splurge. Call me a lush!

Fancy chocolate is another. Particularly this stuff.

2. How's your penmanship:


This is it. Kind of a combo of calligraphy and printing.  My answer could be pretty much identical to Christy's, who also did courses of calligraphy because... homeschooled.

Christy and I used to be pen-pals too, so my secret envy of her gorgeous writing spurred my desire to take this calligraphy stuff seriously.

Years later in journalism school, we had to conduct interviews and write everything quickly by hand at the insistence of one teacher, which kind of derailed the beauty of my writing, but I can now write quickly AND legibly, so win?

3. Do you have a "summer bucket list"?

Easy one. NO.

At the beginning of the summer, I was getting over the first trimester of the most intense pregnancy I've had so far. There was no ambition to list anything back then, not even groceries. My main goal was to survive each day, and try not to fall asleep while the youngest was awake, in order to avoid certain catastrophe.

Now that summer is half over and I feel like a human being again, I still have some stuff I want to get done, like spray park visits, mommy-get-togethers and getting Patrick's afternoon nap phased out so that he's not a basket case in September when afternoon kindergarten begins!

But I'm putting that off as long as possible, because if he doesn't nap, his extroverted little self can't seem to stay away from me for more than 15 minutes, which is endearing, but a challenge for my need for some quiet time.

4. What's the best thing on the radio right now?

I listen mainly to my province's listener funded radio station, so I end up with a lot of indie and folk and some classical and jazz...

I'll put in a shameless plug for Carter's godfather, whom we've requested to hear on said station from time to time. He's got kind of a folky-rocky Lumineersish type of sound, in my unprofessional and really biased opinion.

5. Ice Cream or frozen yogurt?
I've never met an actual ice cream I didn't like, but now that I have an ice cream maker, I'm extremely picky about it.  I figure, why waste caloric intake on something that is really only sub-par?

My favourites right now are the chai vanilla ice cream I make by infusing tea leaves and spices into the milk (sounds so fancy, but it's darn simple), and rhubarb flavour - which requires cooking and straining rhubarb, but once you've tasted the tart with the sweet of the ice cream, so worth it.

6. Have you had that baby NOW?

Eeee! Kendra has this amazing accidental home-birth story. So click back to her.
I'm so happy for her that everything worked out with sweet Mary Jane.

As for me... still a few months to go:



Sad that Answer Me This has to go... not that I participated till now, but I love a good light blog read. If you do too, click over for more fun answers to these same questions.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Seven Quick Takes: Vol. 33

Joining Kelly for quick takes again, because apparently my kids are going to nap and let me blog! 

ONE:


This is our weather right now.  It screams "More coffee!!!" Or something. The grey day + pregnancy = great temptation to nap.  Which I could do, but then you wouldn't be hearing about the goings on around here.

TWO: 

Growth! The more we've lived here, the more we've kind of gotten into the "urban homesteading" thing.  We have an apple tree, a Nanking cherry tree, a small raspberry patch (yeilds about 20 raspberries so far), and rhubarb! Joseph's agricultural background is soothed by the growing of a garden and the use of all the things that grow, I think.  Plus it's kind of fun for little boys to pick things. This 3 cups of cherries bought me an hour of newspaper reading and coffee drinking this morning.


THREE:
This is the face of the little nut-box who just drank a 1/4 full cup of coffee when I left the room to go get dressed.



Five minutes later, he had pushed a chair over to the cupboard, gotten a knife and started playing in the butter, yelling "Butter! Butter!" for all the neighbours to hear.

10 minutes after that, he was pulling books off the shelf, yelling "Boo! Baa!" which is his favourite book:

He then stole my phone and ran away, saying "Daddy? Hone. Hone. Daddy?"

Now, he's peacefully sleeping at his usual naptime. Phew!
The moral of the story - ALWAYS finish the cup of coffee you've got going.

FOUR:



I was in my old neighbourhood all week every morning for the boys to attend Vacation Bible School.
This gave me a chance to visit all my old haunts: the park I used to take Patrick to, the cute little cafe that was weirdly right across the street from Second Cup, and I stalked our old house one day.  Above my head is the white picket fence.  There were people home, so I didn't really want to be that weird woman selfie-ing in front of their house with people watching.

As I walked, all the feelings of being a first-time-mom came back with intensity.  It could be pregnancy hormones, but I actually shed a tear for my past self and all of the angst I had felt walking those streets with this new little guy, thinking about how much I was going to utterly fail him.

Of course now that I'm "seasoned" by 2 more children and one half-cooked sibling, I'm pretty sure I won't utterly fail at this - and standing on that street, I was filled with the joy that is my awesome, very abundantly blessed, life.

FIVE:

I wrote on marriage this week.
I was lying in bed, and had this little epiphany, and by some miracle, blogged it. Sooo if you want to know all the little secrets of a six-year marriage veteran (a baby to some of you!) click HERE.

SIX:

There are those bloggers that make me wonder, "Why do I even blog?" because everything they write is just that good. Well Kendra is one of them, and I must first congratulate her on THIS amazing birth of sweet Mary Jane.

I have to admit that I have a little bit of birth-envy.

I am one of those people who, because of my previous C-section (first birth where I knew nothing), will not be birthing at home by the community standard my (wonderful, careful) midwives follow... but that doesn't mean I don't sometimes fantasize about an accidental home birth.  I know, am I weird, or what? Probably.

But in Kendra's case, I'm so happy everything went well!

SEVEN:

A pregnancy update. 2nd trimester and I'm trying not to be a big baby myself. The aches and pains of having a loosey-goosey preggo body are here, and I'm taking a million pre-natal supplements and eating all the good food and sleeping lots to take care of myself.

The consolation in all this is that my tummy is moving with little kicks and flip flops - not the kind that are uncomfortable yet, so it's like a little miracle every time I sit down, drink water, or lie down.

Most of the other pregnancy stuff, I could take or leave... at number 4, I'm really over being pregnant, but going to sleep with gentle little movements of a human being INSIDE MY BODY?

That is still nothing short of amazing.


Happy weekend everyone! 



Friday, July 24, 2015

The Thing That Makes Our Marriage Work


Before beginning to spout all of the wise words this post will undoubtedly contain, given my six-and-a-half years of marriage to Joseph, I will first acknowledge that this "wisdom" seems paltry in the face of say, my grandparents, who were married for six decades +, or my parents' marriage of over 30 years before my Dad passed away. I profess that I still feel like a baby when it comes to being a married person, and as Joseph would tell you (or wouldn't, unless you asked) I still behave like one too from time to time.

****

This morning was like any other morning: I woke up lying next to Joseph who was starting to get out of bed and get ready for work. He gave me a quick hug before leaving the room to brush his teeth, and I began thinking about what it was like in the beginning. The getting-out-of-bed-to-brush-the-teeth-before-the-other-awakes stage. Romantic, I know... Now, I don't condone stinky breath any more than the next person, but it's a fact of life that I'm willing to overlook because hey, there are more important things.

"We have come a long way," I thought, as I crawled out of bed to go help Joseph get the kids' breakfast. That's something he nearly always does - makes us a hearty breakfast to begin our day.

In fact, I thought, staring at his back as he scrambled eggs, "Joseph is... wonderful."

I drank my coffee later while the three boys ate, lost in a little reverie, thinking about why, after six-and-a-half years, I think I just might love him more than when I married him.

I thought, "Well, he's a hard worker, and I like to think I am too, so there's that - we've just worked for this."

"And we're both great communicators, so we just talk it out and don't leave things unsaid..."

"And he's a man of action, and I am a contemplative, so I have the ideas, and he makes them happen, so that works too..."

"And we both want to get to heaven, and God is here in our life, blessing us as we go along..."

And then there was my ah-ha moment (after a brief pause to get 3 little boys and myself dressed).

As I went to to take my pre-natal vitamins with what remained of my coffee, I heard Joseph's voice in my head, saying "maybe you should take those with water..." and there it was:

"He wants what is best for me. He wants me to be the best I could ever be."

That is it right there.

I want the same thing for him.  I want him to be the best he could ever be.

As long as we've been married, we've both wanted this.

Sometimes this desire manifests itself in ways that aren't pretty. 

Take this gem from our first month as a married couple:

"(Expletive), I wish you could just learn to close the cupboard doors! That's the fourth time this week I've hit my head on one." (Maybe this is why he has not built my custom doors in our current home yet.)

All the credit can go to Joseph when I say that in my married life, I've become an organized person. Things have places in my home now, and I actually endeavor to put them there! Not, though in part, just because it drives Joseph crazy when all the things are lying around, but because through his example and philosophy, I've begun to see that there is virtue and merit in keeping an orderly home. I've still got a long way to go, but hey, now I have kids to teach this to as well, so by the time I'm oh, 45 or so, I'm hoping it's just second nature. This is only one of the virtues I've grown to embrace as a direct result of being married to Joseph. He is efficient where I am bumbling, generous where I am selfish, and reasonable when I'm being rash.

Sometimes it's really hard to see the other person continually fail at being their best.
I'm the first to say that I'm not the poster-child for pregnancy.  I go from crying-lump-on-the-couch with a dash of just-plain-mean, to overly-particular to more-than-slightly-paranoid and anxious in 9 months. Every time.  This current pregnancy is the fourth time Joseph has persevered through with "not the woman he married", and three times, I've heard him say, "That was hard. Being married to pregnant you is hard." And since I've been pregnant for over 2.5 years of our marriage, a lot of our marriage has been hard.

Daily, Joseph struggles with being merciful to our boys.  I believe discipline and order with child-raising is key, but he and I have often discussed his propensity to simply get angry and not understand the reasons for certain behavior.  If our children misbehave because they're tired, I often need to remind Joseph that they don't need to do X thing to make up for what they've done, they just have to go to bed. He has gotten better at listening to their cues, and I've gotten better at letting him input his thoughts on our parenting plans (because my failure is that I like to think I know everything because I've read a million parenting books and he has not). I've also learned that he most often spends time with them at the end of the day when he and they (and I) are not at our best, because we're all tired.  Mercy is always needed on my part here too.

Sometimes it's hard to support the dreams of the other person.
Joseph runs a carpentry company.  I often hear, "well since he's self-employed, his hours are flexible."  It's true, but there are also more hours of work to do. At night, unlike someone who just goes to their job and comes home, Joseph spends time writing quotes, phoning customers and suppliers and doing the paperwork that keeps his business going.  In the beginning, especially after our first baby, I complained bitterly about being a single-parent during some weeks.

But I was also pursuing a dream of my own in finishing my Bachelor's degree. Joseph's flexible hours were helpful when it came to childcare during some days and evenings when I was feverishly writing essays or conducting interviews. Joseph never once asked me to quit, to give up, or to cut back on classes.  He only encouraged me to be efficient with my study-time so that between his work that supported our family, my schedule, and the needs of our baby, we could find some time to be with one another. He never once balked at the fact that because we were married, he was financially responsible for paying back my student-loans, should I not be able to myself.  If not for his sacrifices, I would likely not have graduated.

Even as I typed all that, I have to marvel at how it all worked. Now, I'm better at supporting him in his job. I bite my tongue and save him some dinner when he calls me from his job sites having to work late.  He is also better at giving me a break from the kids at the end of the day, often putting them to bed by himself, or taking them out to his workshop on Saturdays to let me nap, though he'd be more productive if they weren't there.

Sometimes it seems like you're traveling in different directions:
A good friend of mine put it this way: "I was going my way, and he was going his. He didn't want to turn around, and neither did I."

I am not presumptuous enough to suggest that I have all the answers when it comes to having a happy marriage. I just know that I've been blessed with someone who puts me first, and someone who makes it easy to put him first. I get that I'm just a baby in the grand scheme of things.

My heart goes out to people who are struggling more than we are.  I think, even our biggest struggles have been nothing compared to what others have gone through together.  We likely have a lot of hardships coming our way in our lifetime, and I can only hope and pray that we can withstand them and come out stronger.

There have been times where Joseph has asked me to make sacrifices, or simply, where it has become necessary to make sacrifices on both our parts.  I've resented him, and he's resented me.  We've had our blow-ups and ugly times.  More than one day, we both have questioned whether or not it was worth it to work it out. I've honestly thought of just packing up the kids and leaving.

But usually, I end up thinking about why we're together in the first place, and come back to the one thing: He and I want what is best for each other. We both want each other to be the best we can be.  Usually, I can pinpoint exactly where I'm not being the best I can be, but only after I spend an adequate amount of time blaming Joseph for not being the best he can be.

Then we've come back together and gotten back on track.

So that's my little epiphany on marriage:

We want to help each other become the best we can possibly be.
Many thanks must go to those people who've daily given us concrete examples of this in our own lives, and to our friends, whose marriages are beautiful and blooming. Again, we're the babies, just starting out, and I can only hope we end up as beautiful examples to our own children.

****

I'm going to include some of my favourite blog posts on marriage down here, because these other writers are amazing and wise, and these particular posts moved me in my own journey.

Hallie Lord - When Your Kiss is Met With a Cold Shoulder


Catholic All Year - Dear Newlywed, You're Probably Worried About the Wrong Thing

Fountains of Home: Marriage - The Mysterious Sacrament

Carrots for Michaelmas - Marriage is a Kind of Death

Heidi St. John - 25 Ways to Stay Married for 25 Years