Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Ritual

Originally posted in October of 2009, but still very true.

There is a ritual that happens every school morning in our house. There is also routine, but the meaning of the ritual is more significant to me. The routine is the pre-show to the ritual.

Graham gets up first and drags himself into the living room where I let him sit at the coffee table to eat his cereal while he watches cartoons. We have a few moments of snuggling and lamenting about how we wish we could go back to bed. That is followed by me kicking him out of the chair, convincing him that he’s not sick and no I won’t homeschool him. Then finally I wake Rachel up. Her eyes are bleary and she walks into the living room like a zombie with hair every which way. I repeat the routine with her with a bowl of cereal and cartoons. In the meantime, Graham is dressed and ready to go out the door. After Rachel finishes her breakfast, she finally emerges from her room a completely different person than the one she entered as, looking as if she’s stepped right out of a Neutrogena ad.

Graham sometimes rides his skateboard, but half of the time I drive him. I come home from dropping him off only to load Rachel up and begin the trek to the middle school. Sometimes the routine is interrupted by turning around because of a forgotten lunch box, signed form, or homework assignment. But finally each child is where they’re supposed to be and on time.

This is when the ritual begins.

When I walk back in the door, my house is lit up like a Christmas tree. I’m sure you can see it from space. I begin with the hall light next to the kitchen, then the laundry room light, then the kitchen. I fold up cereal boxes and rinse out bowls that should have already been rinsed out. I tie up loaves of bread and 409 the milk that was sloshed on the floor, otherwise it’ll be sticky. I make my way to the kids’ rooms and turn off each of their lights- lamps and overhead lights- and their bathroom light. Then finally the hall light.

The house is quiet and empty, but each room tells a story of what happened that morning. In Rachel’s room, there are books stacked everywhere and clean clothes strewn across the floor because she couldn’t decide what to wear. There are papers with cartoons drawn on them carefully scattered next to her bed. There’s a pencil lying on top of the paper where she dropped it from falling asleep the night before.

In Graham’s room, it’s not much different. Of course there’s laundry everywhere because it takes way too much effort to pick it up and walk the 2 feet to their laundry basket. In one corner there’s soccer gear. In the other corner is skateboard gear. And all over the bed are chord charts for his guitar. There is a phenomenon, however, in Graham’s room. Do you remember in the movie Signs that Abigail Breslyn always left glasses of water everywhere? Graham does that. I don’t know why he can’t finish one before he gets another. Sometimes it’s cups of milk, but he naturally learned his lesson after finding out the science behind it being unrefrigerated.

I will rant and rave about the virtues of keeping things straight…a place for everything and everything in it’s place. There will be no skateboarding or computer until your room is straight. Why is this basket right here? It’s for your backpack to go in, not beside. Don’t you know that corn flakes will dry up and stick to the side of this bowl and it will take a blow torch to get it off?

I sometimes feel like the Army- I do more before 7am than most people do all day. My house and I just roll our eyes and shake our heads and snicker at the mass chaos each morning.

But I will take a deep breath, realize the President isn’t going to visit today, and be thankful to the Lord that the house is full of people that I like.

That’s part of the ritual too.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

What Works For Us- It Keeps Getting Better

In honor of our anniversary today, I asked Randy 10 questions about what makes our marriage tick.

What's the best thing about being married (in general, not just to me)?

Knowing that I always have a friend to share life with. Someone whom I can take care of, and who will take care of me when things are tough. Knowing that there's always someone to listen to my trivial stories, to acknowledge my bad jokes, to surprise with news of new movies and shows, and in general just to share life with--that's awesome.

What's the worst?

As close as we are, knowing how often I disappoint you and let you down. You see me at all my worst times, and after 17 years, you know most of my mistakes even before I make them.

What's the biggest challenge?

Answering 17th Anniversary Surveys.

What do you think makes our marriage work so well?

God. Seriously, I believe the fact that we both respect and seek God, and our commitment to Him...that keeps drawing our commitment to one another closer together.

When you leave your clothes on the floor in the bedroom...actually that's not a question. It's more of an observation. Care to comment?

It's Feng Shui. It balances out the shopping bags and empty Diet Coke cans.

Touché. We've been married for 17 years. Any regrets?

I regret that it's gone by so fast.

Name one all-time favorite memory of being married to me.

That's like saying name your favorite meal. I might be able to narrow down to a favorite food or restauraunt, but the great experiences are too numerous to say just one. The memory that always goes to the front of my mind is just our evenings together, talking and watching TV, or just talking. Hearing you laugh when I pretend the dog is talking.
Oh. Maybe the cookie dance.

Ah, the cookie dance. If you could give one piece of advice to a couple of newlyweds, what would it be?

Find something you love together and do it at least once a week. Other than sex, I mean. Go to a movie. Paint a picture. Do a puzzle. Play a game. Watch a show. Spend your life planting opportunities to interact. As you grow closer together, deepen them.

Why do you think men are so romantically challenged when they know it would go a really long way with their wives? (No, this is not a set-up.)

If I could answer that, I wouldn't be romantically challenged. :) We all see the world through our own eyes, and map our wants, likes, and dislikes to other people. We each assume that our mate works just like we do. A lot of marriage is spent correcting that notion.

With the above in mind, define "romantic". For women, I think it's typically things that require planning and forethought--you want to know that your guy is connecting with you emotionally, and that you are on his mind. It might be as simple as agreeing with something you say, or something as elaborate as leaving a trail of roses through the house.

For guys, "romance" is when you are engaged with him in an activity he loves--and no, I don't just mean physically. I remember those times in our marriage when we've read the same book at the same time, or played a game together. Those moments of selflessness on Carrie's part--sharing experiences, but outside her first preference, that's incredible.

So, when it comes down to it, I think both men and women are romantically challenged. Just like every human on the planet is service-challenged. We are all fairly selfish. Romance--and love--come in to play when we give up some of our time or thought or plans to make someone else feel special.

Wow, you really thought that one through. What are you most looking forward to in the next 17 years of marriage?

Comfort. Not as in luxury, but as in relationship. I think we're just starting to get a lot of life figured out. There is a security in knowing someone so well. There's also a challenge; that we can find a way to keep surprising each other. I'm looking forward to that too.

Monday, August 8, 2011

What's Worked for Us- Rules for Living...or at least getting you through WalMart

When our kids were babies, Randy and I were taught that kids crave discipline. They thrive on order and that if there are no expectations their world can seem insecure.

I was determined that both of my kids were going to behave when we went out in public, and quickly learned that it was a lot harder work for me than it was for them. Inconvenient even. But this was my goal and I would not be defeated.

So a simple, but effective, method I used was telling them what the rules were. I know, I know. You're stunned. But I surprised myself at how often I expected perfect behavior when I didn't communicate to them what perfect behavior looked like. See if this scenario sounds familiar.

You're in Wal-Mart, one kid in the shopping cart and one kid hanging on to the side. From the moment you hit the door they begin with the only thing in their repertoire, the "Can I have that?" song. It's a song that is sung the entire time you're there and no matter how many times you say "no," they're holding out for that brief moment of insanity when you say "yes."

When stopping to find the ripest bunch of bananas, you turn around only to see precious toddler talking with produce man and the produce man is picking up the apples that precious toddler just knocked all over the floor. Sweet toddler in the buggy begins to wail because precious toddler is now taking bite after bite of the apple and now sweet toddler has to have one.

After another 30 minutes of trying to appease the crying toddler, avoiding a near fatal cart turn-over because of a cookie grab from toddler in buggy, putting back the second row of bread that was obliterated in one foul swoop, and apologizing (again) to the store employee for the broken jar of jelly on the floor because of an over-helpful precious toddler, you swear as God as your witness, that you will only ever do your grocery shopping at midnight. When it's quiet. And all toddlers will be in bed asleep at home with their father. You avoid eye contact with any elderly ladies because you know that look on their face is begging to say "Back in my day..."

We've all been there and these are those moments that make us all laugh when we talk about them, but rarely do we find the humor when we're in the midst of it. So here are a few things that really helped me. Disclaimer: These are not instant fixes. They take work and discipline and time.

1. Simply explain the rules when you pull into the parking lot. I would put the car in park, turn the radio off, make them look me in the eyes and repeat everything I said.

2. Keep the rules simple. Some examples are-
• Do not ask for anything. This was always our number one rule because it was the most annoying to me and the most abused by them.
• Always stay with Mommy. Sometimes they think that staying with Mommy just means that you can "see" Mommy. They always need to be right at your side. Don't expect them to do this unless you're specific about what "stay with Mommy" means. Rachel had it in her mind that just because she could see me, I could see her.
• Do not talk to strangers.
• Do not touch unless Mommy gives you permission. If I had a dime for everything that wound up in my cart at checkout that I had no idea how it got in there...

Tailor your rules to your kids. These were just a few that my kids needed.

3. As I mentioned before, be specific! You can't just say "obey me" and expect them to obey. Give them specific rules. And then be specific about the rules. If one of your rules is "Don't touch," be specific about what not to touch. Give examples and past situations (e.g. "Remember when you stuck your hands in the grapes and squished them in your fingers?")

4. Consequences! This was my son's first word. I'm not kidding. And it is a whole other blog post, but I can't talk about rules and expectations without talking a little about consequences. They are what make a kid's world go round. Just as it's crucial to good behavior to clearly communicate the rules, it's as equally important to explain the consequences of behavior- good or bad. "If you break any of these rules, then you will (fill in the blank)."

5. When you pull into the parking lot, make them tell you what the rules are first.

Mom: Hey, what are the rules we need to remember?
Kid: No asking for stuff.
Mom: Yes! Great job! What else?

And so on. Something fun I used to do is have them throw one or two rules in there that they make up. For instance, "No talking to the bananas" or "Touch your nose on aisle 7." They loved it and every now and then they found a really helpful rule that I didn't think of before.

6. Usually I'm not big on rewards for every good behavior because behaving well is expected. But if they don't expect the reward, then I will reward away! This is still a huge pleasure for Randy and me to do for our kids. I tried not to make it candy, but maybe a bottle of bubbles or some sugarless gum.

7. Go over the rules every time. Again and again and again. And again. I believe you'll be pleasantly surprised at how much better behaved kids are when they know what to expect going in to a situation. Maybe not right at first, but if you follow through with the consequences of breaking the rules no matter how minor the offense was, you'll have a well-behaved child and relative peace during your shopping (or wherever public place you are).

God wants us to obey Him, but doesn't expect us to do things we don't know how to do.

"His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." 2 Peter 1:3

It is up to us as parents to shepherd our children towards a Godly life. This means teaching them self-control and to always "in humility, consider others better than ourselves." Philippians 2:3

If my kids are ever having problems behaving, even still, we know we have one of two problems. 1. They don't know or understand the rules, or 2. We haven't been enforcing the consequences.

The payoff for teaching this to my children, the highest compliment, was when I had both of my toddlers in the store, listening along with everyone else to another toddler on the other side of the store having a major meltdown, and an elderly lady put her hand on my arm, looked me in the eyes and said, "Thank you."

And because I had done all this work partly for her I said, "You're welcome."