Tag Archives: family

The Importance of Routine

It’s the last day of August and my oldest daughter has been back to school since Wednesday. Somehow, it just doesn’t seem “right” to be going back to school when it’s still August! August is a designated Summer month. And school and Summer shouldn’t really intersect in my opinion!

None the less, it is what it is and we are very much attempting to get back into some semblance of a routine. Getting my oldest daughter to the bus on time, my youngest to daycare and (starting on the 4th) myself to school in the morning is a challenge.

We aren’t “morning people” (do those really exist??). On school days my children would likely sleep until noon if I didn’t drag them out of bed (why isn’t this true for weekends?!). If I don’t plan my mornings I wouldn’t have any chance of ever getting out the door remotely on time. Even with planning, there are mornings when the alarm clock somehow doesn’t go off and everyone ends up frantically getting ready, rushing to be late (such as the 2nd day of this school year! Oops!)

I’ve discussed how I deal with keeping my family on schedule as stress-free as possible before. I continue to schedule everything, prep the night before and meal plan. As my children have gotten older I’ve included them more in my routine making.

This school year I gave them both checklists for their morning and evening routines. I found some magnetic dry erase boards in the dollar section of Target (LOVE Target) and modified them by putting the markers on attached strings, so they wouldn’t get lost. I had each child help me come up with their list of tasks, which we separated into morning and evening. Since they take medicine in the morning and evening, we put that task in the middle so it only had to be written down once.

By the way… the checklist on the right… the task in the middle is “take your medicine”. I know. It’s really hard to decipher and I’m not so good at drawing a medicine spoon or bottle.

For my oldest daughter, Z, (8 years old) I wrote out her tasks. For my youngest daughter, E, (4 years old) I drew pictures to represent her tasks since she cannot yet read and I wanted both my children to independently be able to read and complete their tasks. Their checklists are hung on the side of our refrigerator (a central area in our house) at their height levels so they are easily assessable to them.

Being able to check off a completed task honestly feels pretty awesome and it helps guide them in what they need to get done without me having to constantly tell them. Instead, they can look at their checklist and see what needs to be completed. If they get distracted (which happens with children, especially those with ADHD) I can redirect them by reminding them that they need to look to see what needs to be checked off.

So far, this has worked quite well and has given them some responsibility over their morning and evening routines. It also doubles as a reminder to me what they need to be doing!

That hot pink marker will jolt you awake in the morning! Or make you add “change marker color” to your list…

Of course, I decided to run with the checklist idea and made myself one as well. My checklist is hung on the opposite side of the fridge and is something I see every time I walk into the kitchen. Having tasks written down really helps keep me organized. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with all that needs to be done, I can clearly see my tasks and focus on completing them rather than figuring out what they are.

Also, checking off tasks really does feel AH-MAZING!

This is only the beginning. Of my organization, planning, scheduling and routines. Of the school year. Of the rest of my life. So if this morning doesn’t go well, I can take a deep breath and realize I can try to have it go better tomorrow.

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The Illusion of Time & Perceived Guarantees

Simplicity.

It’s something I often lose sight of in the everyday chaos. It’s something I entirely forget in moments of added stress and chaos – in the moments when I need to remember it the most.

Often times I find myself moving through chaos. Through stress from school. Through trying to be a good parent. Through keeping up a household. Through dealing with physical and emotional and financial issues.

I lose sight of the “little things”. I lose focus of what’s really important. What really matters.

And then there are the curveballs that, by all accounts, there is no possibility of preparation for.

The sudden death of a loved one. The realization that your child has a disability. The breakdown of communication and relationships. A life-altering accident.

In the past month or so, my close friend’s (now) fiance was in a near-death accident. He thankfully survived and is currently at a rehab facility with a spinal injury that has left him partially paralyzed.

Weeks after this happened, my brother’s friend who grew up in the same town as me, was also in an accident. He also thankfully survived and is currently at the same rehab facility as my first friend. He too has a similar spinal injury.

It’s not an easy task to make sense of two healthy, active young men from adjacent towns being in similar accidents, with similar injuries, in such a short span of time.

It’s easy to get lost in the flood of emotions, to be gripped with such sadness and the feeling of helplessness. To focus only on the negatives.

However, they both survived. From all accounts, they are in good spirits. Friends, family and the entire community have come together in support. There is an overwhelming amount of people coming together to be there for these people.

It also brings me back to my original point.

It’s so easy to get lost in the stress and chaos, in all the negatives. It’s easy to ignore the amazing things that exist everyday around us. To pinpoint what is important and to savor and place focus on those things.

Thinking about situations like the accidents mentioned above makes me wonder how we can possibly waste so much of our lives not really even living them. We focus on material items. We worry about money. We get upset and dwell on things we have no control over or ability to change. We live in the past and the future, without taking the time to live in the present – the only place in time we can actually live. We don’t take the time to tell the people who mean the most to us what they really mean to us. We don’t say I love you. We don’t say what we mean.

We take forgranted the very nature of life – that life is a finite thing. We act like we have all the answers but fail to acknowledge that often times much of what happens is unpredictable, unfathomable and not “according to plan.”

We live our lives as if we are immortal, as if we are immune from death and will live forever.

We need to live in the present and appreciate all that we have right now.  Time is an illusion in that we assume forever, when nothing is ever guaranteed. Life is fragile. So much more so than we like to admit.

My Life is Hectic! (Here’s How I Deal)

My semester at school just started up on January 23rd and, despite being thrilled to be back, the change in schedule (and routine) has really thrown me for a loop.

This semester I have classes five days a week and I’m at the school until just after noon each day. Compared to my three-day school weeks I’ve been used to the last few semesters, I can certainly feel a difference. Going from a month vacation off from school to being at school every weekday is more difficult that I had imagined.

To keep myself (and my family) on schedule and as stress-free as possible, I employ a few methods to organize our week:

First, schedule. Schedule, schedule, schedule.

Since getting a smart phone a year ago, I’ve stopped using a paper agenda and instead have been using Google Calendar to keep track of my days.

Google Calendar is great for many reasons.

I can view, add and edit my calendar via my phone, as well as on any computer connected to the internet. When I enter an event, I can set a reminder to alert me 15 minutes (or other specified time) before the event.

I can invite someone to my event by entering their email. This is handy for event’s that a family member or friend should be aware of, for example, a Father-Daughter Dance.

I can also share my entire calendar with another Google Calendar user. My partner and I have both shared our calendars with one another. All of my events show up on his calendar coded in a different color then his (and vice versa).

This is helpful with kids, as he can see all of the activities and appointments they have scheduled, without my needing to individually invite him to each one.

I use Google Calendar in the same manner I used my paper agenda.

I write down all of the events that are static (class schedules, dance lessons, swim lessons, etc) and fill in any appointments or other events as I become aware of them. I also block off times for myself to work on homework, when class assignments are due, when I need to pick a child up early, etc.

I even use the calendar to remind me of things that need to be done, such as “Clean cat litter” or “Call to make appointment” so I don’t forget.

Second, I get as much I can done the night before.

We pick out clothes the night before in our house because mornings are hectic enough without worrying what you’re going to wear. And having two daughters only makes that trickier.

Each of my daughters picks out what they want to wear before going to bed each night. Before I go to bed, I do the same.

The rule is that what you pick out, is what you wear. When I started this, I said the rule upfront to both of my daughters. After a week, picking out our clothes the night before started to become part of our daily night-time routine. And it saves SO much time and drama in the morning.

Of course, you might end up with this. But remember, what you pick out is what you wear!

Anything else that can be anticipated needing to be done for the morning is also done the night before.

School lunches are packed and ready to go. Notes, permission slips and the like are signed and filed away into backpacks.

Homework is always completed the night before and everything needed for school is packed into backpacks as well. This includes me, as I’ve likely been guilty of forgetting items needed for school more times than my daughter.

Third, planning.

Yes, I know it seems like it could be categorized under schedule. But, trust me, planning isn’t quite the same thing (though they are intertwined).

The number one planning item is meals. After a long day at school/work/activities the last thing anyone wants to do is come up with what to have for dinner. I try to plan out two weeks of meals at a time.

I know some people plan out day by day, labeling X meal for Y day, but I can’t see doing it that way. What if I’m not in the mood for what’s planned? It’d very quickly throw the whole plan off.

Instead I plan out two weeks of main courses that I can then pick and choose from as I wish. Most of the time this is nothing more than a post it note and a list of meals.

This is an older meal plan. Back from when I still typed and printed them.

The one exception is Wednesday, which is our family’s busiest day of the week. On these days I try to plan an easy crockpot meal that I can quickly throw in the crockpot in the morning and come home to a wonderful smelling kitchen in the evening.

One of my favorite sites for crockpot recipes is A Year of Slow Cooking, which has some amazing (and easy!) crockpot recipes. I’ll likely go into further depth on my love of crockpot cooking in later posts.

Four, Breathe.

Being busy, being a student, being a mom and trying to be it all can be overwhelming. When everything starts to seem like too much, just take a break. Take a moment. Look at the sky. Count to 10. Take some deep breaths.

Take care of YOU.

It’s not going to be perfect. Ever. But sometimes all we need is a brief interruption of our steady swimming to stay afloat to realize that our heads our still above water and we can breathe.

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Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive how-to of juggling busy family life and stress (I didn’t even begin to cover procrastination).

But it’s a start. A change of any type will come with some added difficulty in the beginning but, with time and persistence, a new routine can be formed.

I know the next few months for me are going to be hectic and trying, filled with difficult courses and my self-imposed pressure to keep my high GPA (and that’s just my school stuff!). My goal throughout it all is to go easier on myself and enjoy the process as much as the outcome. Because it’s the journey that teaches us and inspires growth, not the destination.

My Kids Are Me (& Not Just The Best Parts)

Let me start with this. I love my kids. I really, really do.

But sometimes (and by sometimes I mean a lot of the time) they act like, well, kids (On a good day. Wild sugar-hyper monkeys might apply better). And not just kids, but MY kids and my partner’s kids.

And that means that they act like my partner and I did when we were kids.

Tantrums. Throwing anything they can reach. Screaming. Yelling. Kicking. Becoming temporarily deaf (You know, I really do like to say your name 50 times in hopes of getting you to look at me or respond). Changing their mind 59 times about what pair of shoes they want to wear (No! Not those ones! The other other sparkley ones!). Remembering that they have to bring that toy with them when we’re heading out the door, 10 minutes late. (And, oh yeah, where is that toy mom? I need it!) Claiming they absolutely don’t have to use the bathroom when I ask before a trip (and then 5 minutes in, it’s an emergency! I have to pee nowww!) Melting down because they weren’t the one who got to open the door (I don’t want to open it NOW! You already opened it! And closed it!).

Of course, obviously worse than we ever were. Because we were misunderstood and it obviously was our parents that caused us to act like that and, so, it was our parents fault we acted that way.

My kids? Well, it’s not their parent’s fault they act that way.

Because I’m their mom. And B is their dad. And there is NO way that we’ve in any way caused them to act like that.

Except… I guess genetics may play into it a bit (probably like 1%).

And they do spend time with OUR parents… yes! That must be it!

Here are my two little monkeys {Z, left; E, right} at Halloween time. Though they like to wear costumes year-round.

I hope it’s quite clear that I write all this in jest (love you Grama, Nana & Papa!). It wasn’t our parents “faults” for how B and I acted as kids anymore so than it is B and I’s “fault” for how our kids act. They act like…kids.

And while they may drive me near-crazy on a daily basis with some difficult to keep your cool and stay calm moments, I view my kids as the biggest lessons of my life.

Patience. How to stay calm. What’s really important. And how to deal with tiny people who often think, behave, react and/or embody many parts of B and myself.

And all of our flaws. Only, I don’t view those same flaws in my children as such. Instead I see personality, loyalty, creativity and a million other amazing attributes.

Truly they are amazing little people who, with a lot of love, learning, support, patience and hope, will grow into amazing people.

Hey, their parent’s did.

Coping with Holiday Grief

Holidays can be a difficult time.

There’s the stress of  planning, of cooking a meal, of traveling to destinations. There’s the stress of family. Of gathering everyone together. Of  relationships that may be less than ideal. And the feeling of absence of loved ones, either through distance or death.

It’s now been over a year since my father has passed away. This past Halloween was the second year without him and tomorrow will be the second Thanksgiving. People have told me that it will, “get easier” but so far that hasn’t been my experience. I find each holiday, each event and milestone to be equally as difficult as the last.

There’s a constant feeling of, “he should be here.” This past June as I sat at my graduation, waiting to walk for my Early Childhood degree, I had difficulty containing my tears and my emotions. I kept trying to focus on the speakers, on those sitting around me, on the number of seats in the venue… on anything to distract myself from the running thought in my head that he should be here.  Because he should have been there. While I was proud of my accomplishments, my feelings of loss were overwhelming.

My feelings of loss exist outside of holidays and milestones. Perhaps this is just another stage of grief. Or perhaps this is a lasting feeling. I mean, I miss my dad and it follows logic that I would feel that loss even more so in times of heightened significance. Holidays. Birthdays. Graduations.

People that play such a vital, important role in our lives surely would be missed. Surely their absence wouldn’t be overlooked.  I don’t want to dwell on the sadness of his absence. I don’t want to allow my feelings of sadness to become a surrogate replacement for the place where, “he should be”. So how can I, and others dealing with loss, handle the upcoming holidays (and other milestones) ?

Griefnet.org offers several articles on dealing with grief during the holidays. Below are a few points I found to be particularly helpful:

  • Holidays often magnify feelings of loss of a loved one. It is important and natural to experience the sadness that comes. To block such feelings is unhealthy. Keep the positive memory of the loved one alive.
  • Often after the first year the people in your life may expect you to be over it. We are never over it but the experience of many bereaved is that eventually they enjoy the holidays again.
  • Don’t forget, anticipation of any holiday is so much worse than the actual holiday.

Keeping the positive memory of a loved one alive, by celebrating and remembering them can help to cope with the grief of loss. Here are a few ideas on how to do so:

  • Light a candle to honor your loved one, perhaps during holiday gatherings as a reminder of them.
  • Create a memory box by asking family members and friends to write down a good memory they have of your loved one. These may be shared as a group or viewed at a later point privately.
  • Look at pictures and/or videos of your loved one. Often times these will spark memories and encourage conversation of good times.
  • At a gathering, encourage family and friends to make colleges of words and images that remind them of your loved one from old magazines, scissors and glue.

Overall, be gentle with yourself. There is no magic amount of time designated for grieving. There’s also no “right” way you should be feeling. Do what feels comfortable to you and allow yourself to feel however it is you feel.

I Miss You

July 7, 1949 – November 10, 2010

One year ago today my father passed away. He was 61 years old and died alone at his house from heart related problems. He was also an alcoholic. I don’t dare omit that information because it’s important. For most of my childhood my dad was sober. For the last five or so years of his life, he was in a cycle of active alcoholism, treatment/rehabilitation, being sober and returning to active alcoholism. At the time of his death he had been sober for a brief period.

I loved my father. He was the person I most looked up to. I tried to help him. I drove him to hospitals. I offered my support. I called to check up on him and to help him with anything he might need. But, here’s the thing that I feel those who have not directly dealt with alcoholism/addiction may not understand: Only the person using (alcohol and/or drugs) can decide to get help.  Family and friends can assist in creating conditions that may make that decision more attractive.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc (NCADD) offers

I know my dad knew I loved him. I don’t have any guilt over how I acted towards him. I feel no regret that I didn’t do enough for him, because there was nothing more that I could have done. I felt I needed to set boundaries to protect myself and my children. I don’t feel bad that he didn’t see them more, because when my daughters saw him, he was well. He wasn’t falling down drunk and they will never have those memories of him being like that. Instead they have memories of a papa who made them fairy houses and brought them presents from the festivals he had been to and who dressed up on Halloween like a fisherman.

I refuse to let the years when my dad was an active alcoholic cloud my memories of him. Instead I’ll focus on the years prior, when he was the dad I looked up to, who believed in me, who understood me, who was my hero. That’s the dad I’m going to remember.

I’ll remember the dad who I could call when I locked my keys in my car for the 5th time – an hour away. I’ll remember when he would take me fishing. When he took me to pick fiddle heads and dandelion greens. I’ll remember his obsession with the Iditarod. And the presents he would make me out of wood. The time he taught me how to weave a basket. And when we would find him on his mail route and have lunch with him, car-side. I’ll remember going camping and walking on the beaches. The time he took me out in the boat on the lake, gave me a canvas and paints and told me we would both paint what we saw and then compare it. I’ll remember all the times he helped me get my cats down from trees they had climbed and become stuck in. The 4th of July parade. The times he snuck my brother and me candy and drove us around looking at holiday lights, so we could finish it before we got home. Canoeing. All the talks with him about anything and everything. The lasagna and soups he would cook. His tattoos. I’ll remember how he taught me about gardening and flowers. His love of animals. Bob Dylan songs. And trips to Vermont and the cows…

Despite the sadness, I honestly also feel relief that he doesn’t have to suffer anymore. He wasn’t perfect but he understood me more than most people ever have.  He shaped me so much in my love of nature, animals and literature and, most importantly, in believing in yourself. I love you dad and I miss you.

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Resources on alcoholism and recovery:

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc (NCADD)
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Resources for people affected by alcoholism of a friend or family member:

Al-Anon/Alateen
Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA)

Taking Care of Yourself

I had my afternoon planned. I was going to find a frame for a picture of my dad from upstairs in my house, I was going to get some schoolwork completed ahead of schedule and I was going to write a blog post here about Triggers. As I was upstairs, looking through a box of frames, one of my cats suddenly screeched, jumped and ran like a bat out of hell over the box of frames and my hand.

My initial feeling was confusion. I didn’t see any reason why she was so suddenly spooked. As I looked down I saw that not only had she scratched my hand to the point of bleeding, but she had scratched the picture of my dad. Three deep scratches entirely through the picture.

You may be thinking, so what?, and not knowing the significance, I wouldn’t blame you. The picture of my dad was actually part of his memorial program from his funeral. I had wanted to frame it so I could look at it daily. As the cuts on my hand began to sting and bleed, I felt angry. And sad. I wanted to scream and yell at my cat. I wanted to throw things. I just didn’t want to feel this way.

Taking a moment to calm down, I took deep breaths and tried to focus. I knew that getting angry and acting on it wouldn’t help the situation. My picture would still be scratched. So would my hand. My cat would still be scared. I decided in that moment to move on. Holding onto any anger would only make things worse. Instead I took another deep breath, sighed heavily out, and went to check on my cat.  She was still quite scared. I still don’t know what scared her but, as my pet, it was my job to calm her down and comfort her.

Coming back down the stairs, still quite a bit frazzled from what happened, I decided to try and see what positive I could find in the situation. I had been running around all morning, doing errands, and was really running on empty. I hadn’t eaten breakfast or lunch. Sure, I was getting things done and being productive, but I wasn’t taking care of myself. I fall into this trap quite often, the trap of taking care of everyone around me and never quite getting to the part where I take care of myself.

So instead of doing all the (very productive) things I had planned for the afternoon, I’m going to make myself some lunch, sit down and eat it, and maybe watch some Sons of Anarchy (such a guilty pleasure!). I can do the other things later on. And I’m not going to feel bad about it. Of course there needs to be a balance in our priorities and what we do, but taking care of ourselves needs to be included in that.

I once heard an analogy that has been labeled the “Oxygen Mask Theory”. It boils down to this:

When you’re on an airplane you’re instructed to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others in putting on theirs. If you don’t put your own mask on first, you’d likely pass out from lack of oxygen before being able to assist anyone else (your child, your family members, your friends, the guy sitting next to you who can’t figure it out, etc). It makes sense it that context. In day to day life how often to we put the needs of others before the needs of our own?

Yes, everyone matters. And, if you’re like me, you want to help everyone. In anyway you can. But don’t you count as part of “everyone”? Don’t you matter too? On an airplane, putting on your oxygen mask allows you to better help everyone around you. In life, taking time to take care of yourself also allows you to better help everyone around you. This is so important as a parent. Or a social worker. It also serves as an example of what we wish for others to strive to do.