Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Home ownership is not for the weak, apparently.

We've been having some work done on the house lately. We're really unhappy with the quality of work we've received. I want to talk about it so much, but I also feel like it probably isn't proper for me to say too much until this whole situation is over. I always feel better after I can write about my problems, but  pouring my heart out over this keyboard only to click "save as private draft" is unbearably frustrating.

I've been upset about this whole thing for a week and a half, but today was the first day I actually cried. I was in the middle of making myself a snack when I looked at the work that was done and became completely overwhelmed with thinking about all of the stress involved in this whole situation. It was all I could do not to cry, so I stopped fighting it. I cried.

And you know what? It's stupid to cry over home improvements. No matter how unhappy you are with how they're turning out, it's stupid. Completely stupid.

Believe me. I know this is a stupid thing to cry about. I know that there are so many worse things that could be happening to me. I'm healthy. My kids are happy.  In the big picture, my life is so much more than I could have expected. I know that my house is just a house and our money is just money, but I can't stop thinking about it. It's like telling your brain, "Don't think about lavender elephants!" and then all your brain can obsess about is, "Ohhhh. Purple pachyderms! Can't get enough! Think about them! Become one with them!"

Every time I come home and I pull into the driveway, I see their work and I get angry. When I sit down to eat lunch, I look at their work and I lose my appetite. When I climb into bed exhausted after another long day, I just can't stop my brain from thinking, "Elephants. Don't think about them! Definitely think about something else. You aren't thinking about that, right? Does thinking about thinking about them count? Stop thinking that!"

But of course, I can't do that. It's not that easy. I can't just shut off my mind.

I'm so exhausted. I've been losing sleep over this stupid problem at night and then waking up early in the morning with the kids, who (due to this project) no longer have blackout shades in their bedrooms to prevent them from getting up at the crack of dawn. I wasted so much time on the phone calling people to try and figure out the situation and determine what I should do. We had my mother-in-law staying with us for the week and I feel like I barely got to spend any time with her because this problem was consuming me so completely.

For a year we saved up our money for this project, looking forward to getting it done and feeling excited about how nice it was going to look and how much more functional it'd make our house. But now I just regret ever calling them up in the first place.

The only upside I can think of for this whole mess is that at least I am getting better at sticking up for myself. That counts for something, right? I have to take any positive thought I can get at this point.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Looking for a reading rainbow in this thunderstorm.

Oliver has recently shown an interest in learning to read. Which is great! Sort of. Don't get me wrong, I think it's awesome that he wants to read.

But teaching him to read? It is painful. I would rather change 1,000 diapers.  I'd probably even rather rip off my big toenail. It is nothing short of a miracle if we both don't end up angry at the end of a 15 minute reading session.

To him, reading is this magical thing. Adults do it! His teachers do it! Important people do it! Video games and board games and road signs and kids' menus require it!

He sees all the benefits that come along with literacy and he wants them. Reading would open up so much for him right now. The only problem is that he thinks he should be able to do it and that he should be able to do it now. But of course, he can't. He's four and half. Most kids his age can't read. Most kids aren't even trying. It is natural for him to struggle, but he doesn't even begin to see it that way. He's used to being smart and being able to learn things easily, so when something is a true struggle he gets frustrated and then he gets MAD.

Yesterday he shouted at me, "I AM NEVER GOING TO READ EVER SO I MIGHT AS WELL THROW AWAY ALL OF THESE BOOKS." That was actually much more preferable to me than the time he yelled, "YOU AREN'T DOING A GOOD JOB AND IT IS YOUR FAULT I CAN'T READ."

I think experiencing and overcoming frustration is important for children, but this just feels like too much. I've tried ending sessions before he gets to that point of explosive anger, but I just can't stop him. He insists that he really likes reading and that he wants, nay needs, to practice more. The obsessive part of his brain that he inherited from Jared makes leaving a story unfinished feel like a torturous failure.  If we stop, he is angry that he was bested by a "really super easy" story. If we keep going, he is unbearably frustrated because everything in the entire world is against him and the letter H is just too hard.

Either way, I lose.

Regardless, I still continue our reading sessions.  Since he is so completely determined, I feel like I shouldn't discourage him. I don't want him to think that he should quit when something feels hard and frustrating. But I also don't want to watch him get angry and volatile every afternoon, either.

It's a hard place to be, and I'm unsure of which direction I should head. Soon this should get easier, right? Or at least less frustrating?

I took this video toward the end of one of his "pleasant" reading experiences. He was still doing fairly well at that point, but he was starting to make mistakes and you can see the frustration under the surface just waiting to explode into anger. 

Every night when I tuck him in to bed, it's my tradition to tell him something positive about the day. Lately I've been telling him how proud I am that he keeps working on his reading skills even though it is really hard for him.  Every night he says the same thing.

"Yeah, maybe tomorrow I can read."

I wish.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Belated Mother's Day Thoughts

The boys getting ready to go out for Mother's Day Malts.
While we were sampling some dried fruit, a woman 10 feet away from us spilled her coffee and dropped a box of canned green beans. In Costco, this is a major disaster. It's not like you're just dropping 10 or even 12 cans of beans, you're dropping enough beans to feed the entire congregation of the mega-church down the street. Oliver, Colin, and I walked over to help her pick up the mess and she could not thank us enough. In particular, she thanked Oliver for being so thoughtful and asked him how he learned to be such a good helper.

"My mom! She teaches me to be nice. And so I always try to be nice too."

I don't know what it's been lately, but my kids keep saying things that make me want to cry. I'm sure crazy pregnancy hormones are only part of the problem, because I can't remember other instances of them being so darn heartwarming. In Costco of all places!

I didn't want to bring out the full waterworks in front of this lady, so instead I pretended to be very deeply focused on getting all 1,000 cans of beans off of the floor. After we had finished with our free samples and our shopping, I couldn't stop thinking about how Oliver had said that.

Oliver learned being nice from me! He thinks I am a nice person!  It's the hugest compliment he's ever given me. It made me feel so good.

If there is anything I've learned from being a parent, it is that it is really really hard to just be nice to people. It is especially hard when you have children who form an omnipresent audience, an audience who is building their ideas and values and ethics based on the example you are providing. It is really really intimidating to think that if I want my kids to be their very best 100% kind and loving selves, that I have to be the one modeling that. It's hard. And there are days when I think no one can do this! No one is that nice!
And then I think about my mom. My mom is that nice. My mom can always think of something nice to say about anything.  Whatever I was into, my mom could get behind it. She didn't tell me it was stupid that I wanted to collect a million pieces of trash from the recycling  bin to make "art." She didn't tell me how stupid it was that I wanted to build mazes for my pet rabbit. She didn't laugh when I wanted to design clothes for my cats. No matter what my sister was teasing me about, my mom could always find some way to stick up for me. I can think of a hundred different ways in which I was completely annoying and obnoxious, and my mom just let me be. She never had anything but positive things to say.

When I was terrified of the older big kids on the bus, my mom drove me to school. When I had bad dreams, my mom would come and sit outside of my bedroom door reading a book until I fell asleep. When I got in trouble, I sang a song to comfort myself. It was all about how great my mom is. 

When Oliver was first born, I felt completely overwhelmed by how hard it was to be like my mom. I wanted to do things the same way she did, because I could never have asked for more when I was growing up. Somehow my mom kept a clean house and a never-ending supply of clean clothes in my drawers and good food on the table. She always made the time to take me places. She always let me have friends over. It is hard to think of a way in which I didn't perceive my mom as perfect.

For a long time, I held myself up to her standard. For a long time, I felt absolutely terrible that I just couldn't do it all as well as my mom could. I ball up my fitted sheets in a tangled mess in the closet. My shower walls don't shine. My pie crusts are never so perfectly pinched. 3 days out of the week we eat dinner late because I messed up the recipe or I got a late start or I completely forgot what I was doing.

Eventually, I realized that I had to stop trying to be my mom exactly. Instead, I thought about what she did that was most important: she was kind. She was patient. She was loving. The pie crusts and fitted sheets and punctual dinners weren't what really made her so great; what mattered was that she showed me patience and love. She showed everyone limitless patience and love.

Since that realization, that has been my goal. To have the patience and love of my mother. Even after all of these years, she still has that. When I go over to visit her, she takes endless time with the kids. She doesn't get impatient when Oliver wants to point out and discuss every single picture on every single page of the longest book he can find. She doesn't get impatient when Colin insists on doing everything for himself.  She takes the time to show them things and teach them things. She shows them how important they are to her, and for that they love her more than anything.

Just in case I never told her what Oliver told me this afternoon, I decided I should tell her now. It's a day past mother's day, but it's better late than never. Do you know who taught me to be nice? Do you know who is still teaching me to be nice? In the words of Oliver,

My mom. She teaches me to be nice. And so I always try to be nice, too.

Thanks for that, Mom. Happy Mother's Day.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Park Exploration.

Today I am dead tired. I haven't slept well in the last couple of days. The dog was up sick all night on Monday, and then last night I kept waking up during a dream in which I was afraid that I went on vacation and didn't have any razor refills. Scary, I know.

I barely got the kids to school this morning. I very nearly fell asleep and missed pick-up time for preschool.

On the drive to get Oliver I looked at the clock and thought how am I going to make it to naptime today?

The boys received a McDonald's gift card for Easter, so I stopped through the drive through, bought a couple of Happy Meals and headed to a park. Living in a planned community means that there are hundreds of parks around. Oliver thinks its great fun to explore the "new" parks, so we found one that we'd driven past a thousand times but never visited.

They ate their food and then ran off to play, and all I had to do was sit there and watch. The boys seem to be playing more and more together, and I still can't believe it's really happening. I'm always afraid to interrupt them, lest I break the fragile spell and they realize that they actually like spending time together.

Colin takes eating very seriously. There was definitely not going to be any playing until all of the food was completely gone. Even if that means eating your brother's left over food.

With the food gone, swinging is top on the list.

Colin has his own less-than-conventional ways of climbing.
Tire swing. Great fun for all involved! Only minor injuries!

Oliver pushing Colin on the tire swing. I see no way this could end badly.

Oliver, swinging at Colin's request.

This is actually a steep grade for a two year old, and he did get stuck more than once. This did not faze him.
Oliver watching Colin try to get out of the tricky tunnel.

When we got home, Colin asked to sit on my lap and by some miracle he fell asleep in my arms. I can't remember the last time I held him while he slept. It must have been more than a year ago. He's always such an active kid that he never has time for things like hugging and cuddling. I didn't want to put him into bed, so I let him stay with me on the couch.

Then Oliver came over and asked if I wanted to look at his school work. Some of it I'd seen before, but I know how proud he is and how hard he worked so I always say yes. Some of the things that we looked at today were year-long projects, and I could see how much he has improved. In just this school year alone he has really come a long way in writing not just his first name, but also his last name and other words too. He has even starting sounding out his own words to write his own notes.

Self-attempted spelling of evergreen (avrgrn), accompanied by an evergreen bush with "little blue berry thingies" on it and some colorful circles "for decoration" purposes.

"Evergreen trees are all green, but the one in our yard turned orange and pieces died during the winter so I drew it like that."

"Some trees have little tiny leaves but some have no leaves still. And those are the roots. They are underground and you can't see them."

"I saw a feather and a sheep. But the feather didn't come from the sheep. The sheep had wool not feathers."
With Colin asleep in my lap and Oliver sitting right beside me with his school work, I was overwhelmed with a sense of accomplishment. I'm so fortunate to have all of the pieces of my life just the way they are. Everything is going so much better than I'd ever thought it would 4.5 years ago when Oliver was born. As we looked through page after page of drawings and misspelled words, I just barely managed to keep myself together until we came to this:

At that point, I started to cry. Oliver asked me why.

"Because I'm happy. Sometimes you can cry when you're happy. Your art work made me happy."
"That is so weird, Mom. I smile when I'm happy. You should do that instead."