Reading Between the Lines

I like to make lists.  I’m not as serious about it as my father who keeps a scrap of paper in his shirt pocket next to a golf pencil, but I like making lists.  I like making lists that contain tasks I’ve already completed and tasks yet to be accomplished.  I’m unsure why this is so fun for me.  Perhaps it’s a comfort knowing that I won’t forget something I once thought of?  Or perhaps it’s just that my brain has, as a dear friend related, reached critical mass and when new things come in, old things get pushed out.  “Honey, don’t forget to get milk on the way home” can quickly be replaced by a fleeting thought.  Sorta reminds me of Dori in Finding Nemo.  Squirrel!

I defend myself by saying that my forgetfulness has more to do with things on my mind than being the youngest person in history to have Alzheimer’s.  Lists help me remember and give the appearance that I have my shit together.  It works for me.  Until recently.

One of my favorite places to keep lists is in my phone.  The Notes app has been my savior replacing the need to remember anything from where I parked my car at the Zoo (I have zero recollection for numbers), to recipes that I want to have with me no matter where I am.  I also keep a pretty impressive list of books I would like to read.  And the book list is pretty long.  When I come across a book that sounds interesting, I keep the author and title in a note on my phone for easy access should I find myself in the library.

But let’s be honest, with young kids at home and working full time, time to sit and read a book is non-existent.  I barely take the time to read a magazine much less an entire book.  When I do read a book, I get so irritated with being interrupted while reading (“Mom? He’s picking on me!”  “MOOOOMMMMMM? Can I have a snaaaack?”) that it’s better for everyone if I wait to resume my love of reading books when my kids are grown.  And out of the house.  Don’t assume I’m wishing the youth of my children away, but I have goals, people!  I love to read but once I get started I find it hard to stop.  On a recent family vacation, I started and finished The Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell.  For those of you who have read that book, you’ll understand that it gets rather intense.  Being interrupted while my mind was racing in Afghanistan was a bit unnerving.  It would probably have been best to read that another time.  But that doesn’t stop me from adding books to my list.

Suggestions for good books by my favorite magazine has increased my book list into the hundreds.  Years of reading.  I would add to the list and never scroll down to see what was below.  I took great joy in documenting what was next, but great pain in knowing “next” would be more than a decade away.

Until last week.

I woke up in the early in the morning and as usual I checked my phone.  It isn’t uncommon for me to check out one of my notes and tidy them up.  My kids are famous for hijacking my phone and leaving me “notes”.  Some I keep, others are deleted (how many notes does one person need that say “I NEED TO POOP”).  My kids left me a note that wasn’t necessary anymore so I got rid of it.

And that’s when IT happened.

I deleted the wrong note.

I wasn’t awake

I wasn’t thinking

Poof.  It was my book list.  Gone.  The whole list.  I sprang out of bed to grab my iPad hoping the syncing hadn’t caught up yet but I was too late.  It was gone.  Years of building the list of books I was going to read – someday.

I shuffled into the shower I began to think about what this meant.  And if there was any way to recover my list (there probably was – it was in the cloud after all).  But I was feeling something strange.  I felt relief.

Years of list making were gone in a snap.

Years of things I should be doing but wasn’t.  Gone.

I decided I wasn’t going to try to recover my list and that I was going to be okay with losing it.  That it was OK and perhaps this was a sign.  Reading between the lines of my long gone list was the word “guilt”.  Forgetting about it seems much easier.  And I have to say that feels pretty good.

I haven’t created a new list.  Doing so seems like I’d be cheating on the old list.  Instead, I’ll just search for books when the time is right.

I think we might have accidentally moved into a frat house

The week after we brought our first child home from the hospital, my husband and I had no preset delusions on how the division of labor in our house would work.  There was no discussion about him ‘bringing the baby to me to nurse in the night so he could be a part of bonding with our newborn’.  There was no discussion about who would do what in our house.  We were confident that we each would bond with our first born in our own ways and settle into a new routine.  On one particular night, I returned to bed after multiple attempts to calm baby down and sighed.

Mike asked  “is there something I can do to help?”

I said “I dunno”

Mike said “Should I try something”

Me:  “I dunno”

He hopped out of bed and into the next room and began to teach me my first lessons of marriage and parenting.

Minutes passed.  I laid there in bed in the next room and wondered what was going on in there?  What could be taking so long?  More minutes passed – why hasn’t baby stopped crying?

Finally I couldn’t take it anymore.  I didn’t hear any sounds of progress and assumed that baby wanted something only I could provide.  I shoved off the covers and marched back into baby’s room (aka the milking room) to find Mike standing there over a still crying baby.  The light was dim and he was hunched over our short antique changing table.  On the floor next to the changing table were three perfectly clean infant diapers that had once been on our son.  It turned out that Mike can’t see very well without his glasses (this was not news to me), was freezing in his skivvies (it was November and our house was over a 100 years old) and he didn’t know what to do.  Hence, the repeated diaper changing.

The lesson I learned that day is that Mike was a great daytime parent, but I needed to be the nighttime parent.  We have actually discussed and laughed about this admitting our strengths in parenting.  His brain doesn’t completely wake up at night and his troubleshooting skills suffer.  Mine brain, on the other hand, has not gone to sleep since we’ve had kids.  I’m the nighttime person for falling out of bed drama, bad dreams, storms, coughing, medicine dispensing and helping our son, now 7, who on occasion would come in and whisper shout “Mom, I’m really sweaty!” translation: Mom, I wet the bed.  This is better for everyone.  I am better at the middle of the night disasters.  Mike barely wakes up during such events now which is both frustrating and welcomed all at the same time.

This division of labor has worked out rather well over the past 7 years.  We know what we are good at.  I’m on nighttime patrol and Dad is the daytime guy.  He does most of the cooking and dishes and is our bonafide garbageman and bill payer.  We share laundry, grocery shopping, kid shuffling, and argue over who has to clean the bathrooms.  Really, the bathroom cleaning argument never happens but is more a function of who can hold out the longest on the filth that overcomes the bathrooms.  Blue sludge from multiple teeth brushing?  Nah, look the other way.  Ring around the tub?  Whatever.  What is that smell?  There has never, I repeat never been a rock, paper, scissors battle over who has to clean the bathrooms.

The one task that neither of us has figured out how to maintain is keeping our house in some semblance of order.  It seems like there are little gremlins who make messes in one room while we are cleaning up another room.  Oh wait.  That’s right, we have kids.  Asking the kids to help out is a rather futile effort.  Energy spent nagging should be conserved into cleaning or throwing out clutter.

The one task I have begrudgingly taken on is sifting through all the papers that come home from school with the kids and promptly placing pertinent items onto the calendar.  We had a system, once, but now the paper is just everywhere.  And when I say everywhere, I mean ev.ery.where.  See?

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Papers on the counter.  The most important ones go here.  I think.  Right next to the expired coupons and case of beer.  Wait, we have beer?


This is the stack of papers that came home from school at the end of the year.  Although school hasn’t been out for long, the piles are still there.  Waiting. For what?  Hey! there is a garbage can in that photo! (hint)

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This basket is where the papers are SUPPOSED to go – in this basket for me to sort someday – preferably while we have a fire in the fireplace.

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This pile is supposed to be the pile that gets taken into another room.  Under all of it are some….you guessed it, PAPERS!

This past week I started joking to friends and coworkers that my house is starting to look like a frat house.  I’ve never been to a frat house, but if I had, this is what I imagined it would look like and suffice to say I’ve already survived pledge week.  Dirty socks all over, bags full of items from an adventure x days ago hanging around, piles of games and toys, dirty bathrooms, etc.  Mike keeps wandering around threatening to toss our oldest’s socks out if he doesn’t pick them up.

Each night we have some sort of kid activity going on.  As we shuffle out the door to the next best thing, I look around and say to myself “we are living in the moment, this is OK, I will get to it tonight but for now we will have fun”.  Fast forward to “tonight” when I thought I would get to it and instead you’ll find me in bed pretending to read a book with my mouth agape snoring.  Really, I don’t snore but I fall asleep really well!

We hired a nanny this summer to hang out at home with our kids with strict instructions to make sure the kids have the best summer ever and not to worry about picking up any mess that was there when she came for the day.  Although I am reconsidering paying her an additional fee to be a housekeeper, I am realizing that the benefit we had with the kids in school has now ended.  While we are slaving away at work, they are at home making more of a mess!  D’oh!  Fail.

While I procrastinate cleaning my frat house further by writing this blog post, somewhere in our house are two little gremlins and one furry animal making messes.  This time, they are rather quiet so I am sure the mess will be epic.

As I struggle to figure out how to clean up the clutter, stress over the messes, and wonder what will happen if we need to get into the basement for a storm (not sure the door will open?) I try to focus on the fact that we ARE having fun.  And if you visit our house sometime this summer, please don’t comment on that smell.  I know it is there and am not sure where it’s coming from.

Signing off from Pi Krappa!

There’s always time for respect

Our seven year old has reached a point in his life where he is starting to question everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything. He is not questioning the logical things to question like “why is the sky blue?”. Don’t get me wrong, he does question big things like this. The questioning he has been doing lately could also be described as challenging. Both in that he is challenging a request AND my patience. The questions or challenges go something like this:

Me: “Hey Buddy? Please bring your dirty laundry downstairs and put it in the washer”
You might be thinking this “is a reasonable request of a 7 yr old?” Our kids have been doing their own laundry for years. They bring down the dirty, load the washer (yes, this does mean we do not sort the laundry anymore – paging Martha!), I put the soap in, they start the washer, transfer their stuff to the dryer and put it away when done. Although I’m getting off on a tangent a bit, it has helped them resist running to get a clean pair of socks when they can’t seem to remember where the pair they just took off ended up. But I digress….

Buddy: “but whyyyyy, mom?”
Me: “we’ll, do you want clean clothes for school next week?”
Buddy: “but moooooommmmmm, whhhhhyyyyy? I’m busy!”
Me: “okay Bud, so here’s the deal, we only have the next two hours to get all of this done before the next xyz event soooo, it’s now or never.”
Buddy:  “But moooooommmmmmm”

Then I foolishly walk away before receiving my next challenge praying that the laundry will get downstairs.

Of course 10 minutes later we are back at it with the same conversation. It is not uncommon to have the same conversation three times before I start to feel the “energy drain” we were so wonderfully taught about in Love and Logic class…

My husband and I have always struggled to find incentives for our kids when they don’t follow directions…..honestly, when I say incentives, I mean things to take away when they are being naughty. They just don’t have anything that means so much to them that they would correct their behavior to keep it. This is something we are both proud of, but perplexed by.  Some nights, we’ll fall asleep trying to think of things that they love so much that they will do anything to keep. We were successful at taking away biking time from Buddy once but this seemed so dumb. Biking is what kept him occupied….so why would we take that away?  But he loved it so so much… was all we had. They don’t have “lovies” or movies or TV or video games that they are obsessed with.  The only weak recourse we had was to say “well, I was going to let you play the Wii but since you haven’t picked up your room, I guess you don’t get to play”.  Right, so we were going to take away something from them that they didn’t know they were getting?  Weak!

We tried a silly band incentive where every time they were caught doing something good or helpful, we would give them a silly band. At the end of each day, we would count their silly bands and they would pick slip of paper out of a bag that corresponded to the number of silly bands they had accumulated. For example, picking out of the 3 silly band baggie might get you a “read a bedtime story in a funny location” privilege. The number of times I read stories in the bathtub, car, etc. is humorous.

Our "Silly Band Incentive Program"

Our “Silly Band Incentive Program” from baggie #3

The notes read:

  1. You may get your back/tummy scratched first tonight
  2. You may pick again OR you may keep all your bracelets until tomorrow night
  3. You can have storytime by flashlight
  4. You may pick a silly place to read stories tonight

But now, the silly band incentives aren’t as exciting as they once were and quite frankly, my expectations are different for our 7 yr old vs. the 4 yr old. I am growing tired of making the same requests over and over. Buddy hates it when I nag, and so do I. So, what to do to maintain my sanity and not get us all stressed out at the same time?

This morning, I came up with my latest brainstorm involving post it notes, a marker and a chunk of cardboard.  I started with the post it notes by writing the time that Buddy would normally go to bed.  I went back to the 7 o’clock hour just to prove a point.  His normal lights out time is 8:15 PM.  In bed time is 8:00.  He is allowed (and LOVES to) read for 15 minutes or so before lights out.  Then I used the second set of post it notes for the tens digit with the final for the minutes.  We sat down this AM and I told him about this addition to our kitchen wall.  The rules for this particular incentive are as follows:

1.  If I ask you to do something and you do it without me having to ask again, you gain a minute of reading time.

2. If I ask you to do something and you don’t, for every reminder you need, I take a minute away.  I will also take minutes away when you don’t listen to others (like his little sister begging him to “STOP PULLING ON MY SHIRT!”


A few post it notes and a chunk of cardboard - a quick an easy behavior modification program!

A few post it notes and a chunk of cardboard – a quick an easy behavior modification program!

We will see how this works out.  Our kids were up late last night so this was a sort of preemptive attempt to make sure I don’t spend the day nagging. I know they will be tired…..any guesses???

The art of gifting

I can remember as a kid thumbing through the JCPenny’s catalogs folding the corners on the pages full of things I’d like to have. These were things I’d like to have, but that I would likely never get. I was raised in a family where you saved your allowance if you wanted something. I was raised in a family of privilege, as I’m later finding out – but try convincing me of that when I was 11.

As time has gone on, I’ve become more and more anxious around gift giving seasons. My children have birthdays that sandwich Christmas, almost perfectly. For three straight months, they are opening gifts. The last few years, I’ve gotten a bit more creative with the requests for gift ideas from our loving family. They want to spoil our kids – I get that. They want our kids to have many many things – I get that, too. Sadly, however, they are not the ones to step on these toys with bare feet or agonize about how to put everything away. My favorite toy was one that began singing when a huge crack of thunder boomed one night. It belted “MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB” underneath my daughters sleeping head.

I have compiled a list to help the gift givers in our family do what they want (give gifts) but help us get what we want out of gift giving season (more time with our kids, not cleaning up) to achieve the balance we crave. Of course kids want stuff…and there never is a shortage of it! These ideas are “non-stuff” things. I’ve shared my ideas and suggestions with others as years have gone on but finally have decided to put it all in one place. I’ll update this list as I think of others and encourage you to share ideas, too!

Here they are in no particular order. Modify as you see fit and substitute “money towards” for any of the items below that are on the pricey side. A lot of these ideas are things found in our city or nearby Minneapolis.

  1. Membership for the local YMCA or athletic club
  2. Gift Certificates for the local YMCA for swim lessons or a class.
  3. Coupons/gift certificates to a local movie theatre with a few bucks for snacks
  4. Gift certificate for a local museum (children’s museum, aquarium, science museum)
  5. Coupon to take a kid bowling for an afternoon
  6. Gift certificate to go rollerskating at the local roller rink.
  7. Membership to a local wildlife museum (Beaver Creek Reserve)
  8. Gift certificate for lunch out with a friend
  9. Outing to a local play that the children’s theatre is putting on
  10. A “coupon” for a loved one to take a kid on an outing (bike ride, park, ice cream)
  11. Gift certificate to a local bookstore
  12. A “coupon” for a tour of as many playgrounds you can get to in one day
  13. Gift certificate for a family trip to a local water park or to WI dells
  14. Gift card to a local sporting event
  15. Gift certificate sending a kiddo to camp
  16. Arrange to donate money to a local cause in the name of a child in lieu of gifts
  17. Gift card to a local amusement park (action city)
  18. Gift certificate for mini golfing
  19. Gift certificate to a nearby downhill ski/tube hill
  20. Send the family to family camp! (Camp manitou is our local camp)
  21. Gift certificate for yoga (parent/kid yoga?)

Package ideas:

  1. Dinner and a movie! Pick up a gift certificate for a pizza place or your favorite takeout. Then, pick up a gift certificate for Redbox online. Have a few friends over for a movie and some food! ( for my 4 yr old, I put up one of our tents in the family room and we watch movies from the tent!)
  2. combine any of the aforementioned items into a “packaged deal”