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Monday, March 30, 2009

The Continuing Saga of Audrey and Ben

The Tomato Drill goes like this: One of the kids shouts, "Tomato Drill!" That outburst spawns another, "Tomato Drill!" Then all the kids jump around chanting, "Tomato Drill. Tomato Drill."

Which prompts me to say, "OK, maybe later."

But they protest, "NO! NOW!"

Until I give in and we have yet ANOTHER tomato drill. By law I am supposed to have them once a month, but I obviously make them too much fun. 

You probably figured out by now that I'm not talking about vegetable tools; I'm talking about tornado drills.

We sit in the hallway between the back three bedrooms and the bathroom. We close all the doors and tell scary stores. Or maybe we tell funny stories. Sometimes I tell all the stories and sometimes the kids take turns telling stories. 

Until today, nobody really knew how to pronounce tornado drills. Audrey, in her attempt to say it correctly, asked today if we could have a t-o-r-m-a-d-o drill, at which time Ben corrected her, speaking slowly while enunciating each syllable to make his point. "Audrey, you said a letter wrong. It's t-o-r-n-a-t-o drill."

It reminds me of the story my mom told my sisters and me about my pompous attitude. My little sister Cindy ran into the house, ecstatically exclaiming, "I found a pillicater! I found a pillicater." 

I, the oldest sister, was mortified that my little sister would embarrass herself, not to mention me, in front of all my mom's friends. Eyes rolling – to show my mother and her friends that I knew my sister had stupidly mispronounced the word – I corrected her by proclaiming, "Tsk, Cindy, it's NOT a pillicater. It's a patakiller!"

That was over 50 years ago. It's nice to know that some things never change.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Finding Time

One of the hardest adjustments single parents have to make is finding time for anything other than caring for their children. As a daycare provider, I'm still finding it difficult to carve minutes out of my day to cater to my "me" time. 

Coordinating "quiet time" with five to six children under the age of five is sometimes impossible. But also possible. As in now (ahh, quiet time). What I have learned to do is abide by the "Law of the Youngest." Older children are more adaptable and less likely to balk if they are made to wait an extra half hour for lunch. Babies will not tolerate having to wait for anything.

So, baby wins. Do not confuse "baby wins" with "baby runs house." NOT the same. I guide baby gently into the rhythms of the house.  For instance, quiet time follows lunch time. But if baby needs a morning nap the minute he arrives, lunch is served earlier than usual. 

Same thing follows if baby's morning nap occurs just before lunch. Lunch will be served at the regular time. But we adjust afternoon quiet time for later in the afternoon when baby becomes tired again. Why? BECAUSE I NEED SOME PEACE AND QUIET!

Did I exclaim that loudly enough?

And yet, because of my job, I know that sometimes, I will have to forfeit quiet time, my ONLY time to write. It's all about adaptation and knowing that "this too shall pass," something everyone learns eventually. When you realize that nothing lasts forever, including your children's youth, you become more appreciative of the time you have with them. 

As a daycare provider who is also a writer trying to eventually make a living with my writing, carving minutes here and there means leaving tiny notebooks EVERYWHERE – in the bathrooms, in the kitchen, by my bed, near my computer, in my car, everywhere a thought, a well-turned phrase, or an idea might occur.

Finding time to be alone is sometimes impossible, especially when you have young children who follow you into the bathroom and hang onto your leg as you drag them around the house. Maybe what you need to do is exchange baby sitting with another single parent who would love, as much as you would, some alone time.

One day, they will run into the house, drop their book bags, head outside to play with their friends, and attempt to come home only to eat and sleep. Then YOU will be finding time to BE with them.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Favorite time of day

The kids in my daycare LOVE "tickle time". 

The BEG me, "Is it tickle time yet?"

This is how we play it - 

First my fingers start moving as if they have a mind of their own. I look at my fingers and gasp, "Oh NO! It must be tickle time!"

They all run away from my tickle fingers, but if they miss the tickle, they stand still long enough for me to tickle them, then they run and hide, though in places I can easily find them...

UNTIL I can't do it anymore. I'm wiped out.

So in addition to our quiet time (their least favorite) and lunch time and snack time and school time, their other favorite time is tornado drill time, because we all sit in the darkened area between three bedrooms and a bathroom next to a closet filled with pillows and blankets and we tell stories about castles and dragons and the children who save princes and princesses from ghosts and monsters.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Answers Come In Dreams

Believe it or not, when I've been beaten up emotionally, when the answers to all my prayers feel so far away they seem unreachable, I send myself to bed with a command to dream the answers.

Before I got divorced, for example, I asked for a dream to tell me if I should get divorced. I did everything imaginable to prepare myself for making an informed decision. One dream indicated that I should divorce my (now ex) husband, but I couldn't rely on just one dream. I visited a priest, I read the Bible cover to cover, hoping that something or somebody would enlighten me with ANSWERS. I went to Alanon demanding them. Was I making a mistake by staying with an alcoholic? How would my children survive after living in such chaos? Or would they build "character" if I stayed with him?

Of course, nobody would tell me what to do. I had to figure it out on my own. So I asked for another dream. That one too, indicated divorce, but I couldn't rely on just dreams, right?

So I bought books on divorce and how it affected children, I read about how, if I divorced him, I should move close to him so he could visit every night if he wanted to, but months later, I still didn't know what to do. So I said, "God, you know me. I need things spelled out in black and white. Please give me a dream that tells me exactly what I should do."

A couple of nights later I dreamed that my husband handed me a document. The black words across the top of the legal-sized white paper read, "Decree of Divorce."

I didn't need anyone to analyze that dream. I knew what it meant because I had asked for it. If you are having difficulty understanding your dreams and you want them analyzed for free, read my article, "Have Your Dreams Analyzed FREE During National Dream Weekend."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Day the Hearth Stood Still – Mom Goes On Strike

Who used that bowl and didn't wash it?


Nobody lived in my home from the time my kids became teenagers until the time they moved out. And, as you might have guessed, nobody used anything that required washing. As a result I thought NOBODY would mind me throwing everything in the shed, since NOBODY was using anything anyway.

Every day I watched the sink pile up with dishes that nobody used – interestingly, in direct correlation to dinnerware disappearing from my drawers and cabinets. Though I couldn't recall naming any of my children, "Nobody," he or she was obviously the culprit since nobody took responsibility for using anything.

Tired of washing a thousand dishes a week, because we had no dishwasher, and even if we had, I'm sure NOBODY would have emptied or filled it, I decided to hide every cup, glass, dish, bowl, spoon, fork, and knife in the shed. I did, however, purchase one of each, color-coded for each child with instructions: if you want to use it, clean it.

I hadn't foreseen the impending problem – that they would blame their sister/brother for using THEIR plates so they wouldn't have to wash them.

Dr. Phil's, "So how's that working for you?" comes to mind. Answer? – Not at all. The dishes continued to pile up in the sink, because nobody used them.

I was also tired of the accumulation of garbage. How hard is it to throw a plastic bag in the receptacle outside? Garbage was everywhere. Instead of making sure the trashcans in their rooms were empty or even that they had enough space to accept more garbage, the kids threw wads of gum wrapped in paper, along with tissues, cans, ruled paper, and candy wrappers in the general vicinity of the can. Sometimes I couldn't even find the bin, because it would be so overflowing with trash, the only thing I could see in a five-foot square radius was garbage.

And then I came up with an idea (actually I think I learned it from one of Oprah Winfrey's programs back in the 80's or 90's). While I was the designated driver to all school functions, parties, friends' homes, and special events, because only one other parent volunteered to help with all the driving, it occurred to me that NOT driving them ANYWHERE until AFTER they cleaned their rooms might work.

I learned one thing, though. I learned NOT to start my sentences with, "If you don't do (whatever), we're not (whatever)." – So negative. – I learned to say, "After you finish (whatever), I'll take you (wherever) or let you borrow the car." 

That worked. No threats, just a decision that when they finished cleaning their plates and emptying their garbage, then – and only then – would I grant their wishes.

Fast forward to now: They are living with their own families or alone, and they are all surprisingly neat and clean. 

I have a sinister desire to grab their trash, empty it into the corners of their rooms, dirty every dish in their cabinets, and throw them into the sink before I jump into my space ship and head back home.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Youshoulds and the Knowitalls

You've met them, some well intentioned, some not. They probably raised children half a century ago, or maybe they don't have any children at all. But they know how to raise yours. And whatever you are doing is definitely not at all the way you are supposed to be raising your children.

From how to dress them to how to prepare them for the world, the youshoulds and the knowitalls have all the answers to all of your problems – surprisingly, even when you aren't aware that you have any problems.

My first introduction to those people came before I gave birth. I saw the disgust in their faces. They looked first at me and then at my belly. Their chins raised a little, their lips gnarled in disgust, and they either shook their heads or muttered such nonsensical utterances as, "You'll never carry that baby to term – your hips are too small."

Because I was not yet eighteen – and also rebellious – I took their advice venomously. I wanted to attack them.

Had I not been so young my perspective would have been more mature. I might have recognized the youshoulds and the knowitalls for what they were, intrusive. Even good advice gets lost in the quagmire of youshoulds: You should have a hat on that child. You should NOT have that child out in this weather (even if you've just returned from the doctor's office and are standing at the prescription counter).

Recognizing that some people cannot help themselves puts the whole "you should" into perspective. One woman I knew consistently told me to either put a sweater on the baby or take the sweater off the baby. I paid attention to the weather, and on days when the weather was the same as it was the last time we met, whatever I did, she told me "you should" do the opposite.

Some people just like to be heard. They just want attention. They want you to know how intelligent they are. And some people just want you to know they care. If it truly does take a village to raise a child, some kindhearted people are just trying to join your village. Ignore the ones whose sole intention is to make you feel bad about yourself and welcome the ones who are truly trying to help. 

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Interruptions in the Pursuit of a Goal

I had dreams – when I was a child – of becoming a writer. My first memory of a Christmas present that excited me, other than the dolls I loved, was a typewriter (yes, I'm that old). I immediately put paper into it and wrote story after story.

And then the ribbon ran out and my parents refused to replace it. So I manipulated it back to the beginning by rewinding it with my already ink-laden fingers and began again. Eventually, the ink completely dried out and I went back to using paper and pencil. But I never gave up writing and I never gave up my dream.

Though I had four children, I carried the dream of one day sitting on the shores of a lake, pencil and paper in hand, writing. My dream house had a back porch that faced the lake and it was screened in so the bugs wouldn't bother me. 

I thought, when I got older, I would find more time to pursue my dream, to buy that home on a lake, but it hasn't happened yet. My children are now grown, and while I would love to write for a living, and while I do write (but not yet for a living), my day job consists of caring for two of my grandchildren and two other children Monday through Friday. 

Every day the phone rings. Somebody wants to talk to me about one thing or other: my mom, my kids, my grandkids, my friends.

I'm always being interrupted. Just now, for example, my pen pal from England (I wrote to her when I was a teenager) interrupted me on facebook (where we reconnected). I'm so excited about this interruption – it's the first time we actually spoke in years. The last time we talked, sometime around the time John Lennon died, was on the telephone, when all we said to each other was, "OH MY GOD! I can't believe we're actually talking to each other." We started doing that again. We couldn't help ourselves.

Sadly, we haven't even met yet. 

Look what I'm doing – I'm interrupting myself!

And you know what? I have learned to love interruptions! I love when my kids or grandkids call me on the phone. I love talking to my parents, my sisters, and my friends.

And I also love to write. This week I wrote an article for Associated Content, entitled, "Writers Block – The Key to Unlocking The Block" – it took me days to write it because of all the interruptions! And the reason it took me forever to write is because the day I started writing it, March 3rd, up until the day I posted it (today), every single minute of every single hour of every single day was interrupted by tiny little voices, phone calls, diapers needing to be changed, meals to be prepared and fed, and a multitude of other interruptions.

I love to write and I will continue to write. I vow to never use the interruptions as an excuse for not writing. And I will savor all of the interruptions, because they come from people I love and care about. If nobody interrupts me, I miss opportunities to share time with the people I love.

George Eliot once wrote that "it is never too late to be what you might have been." So savor your interruptions, especially when they come from people you love.

It's time to interrupt myself again. The mention of meals above made me hungry.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The "Be Me" Game

When the kids were little, we had to wait until somebody gave us money at birthdays and Christmases before we could afford to do anything "big." I also saved our change so we could go to restaurants – usually fast food – just to escape our usual routine. 

I use the word "routine" loosely – we really had no routine, other than their father picking them up every other weekend. The older the kids got, the less time we spent together, because the second they ran in the house after spending most of the weekend at their dad's, they dropped their overnight and book bags, then ran outside to spend time with their friends. 

So I worked very hard to make the times we had together special. From picnics on the floor to made-up games, quality time became memorable time.

The "Say Something Nice About Your Sister/Brother" game was my way of getting the kids to recognize that they really did care about each other. I didn't expect though that the game would be so difficult for my only son. It was nearly torturous waiting for him to come up with SOMETHING. In exasperation, after running through his repertoire of memories concerning one of his sisters, he finally came up with, "I like the birthmark on Brittney's butt." Well done! At least he came up with something.

One game in particular brought waves of laughter when our imitation of each other surprised everybody. I dubbed the game the "Be Me" game, because in essence that is exactly what we did. When my son became me, he raised his eyebrows, tilted his head back, and pretended to apply mascara, then scolded everybody in the room for not being nice. When the kids became each other, they exaggerated movements and voice inflections to act out their sibling's character.

Every defense from, "I don't act that way!" to "I don't talk like that" to everybody nodding that yes, they did, was so much fun, we were all nearly doubled over in laughter.

Finding fun with no money can sometimes be a challenge, but it can be done. One word of warning: If you play the "Be Me" game, be prepared for unexpected surprises.

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