Friday, May 26, 2017

Of Stress, Mess, and Not Much Else

This week has been absolutely mad. I was working on a job-related paper every single night. The girls have not been sleeping well. I've been doing the absolute minimum with the family. Forget quality time and relaxed conversations. It's been a rush of getting ready, fixing suppers, packing lunches, cleaning dishes, hurrying out the door, working until midnight, reading until midnight.

I have a tendency to procrastinate that escalates horribly when I have a project that is uninteresting. This paper I was writing - 100% uninteresting. It got done, eventually - but the price is sleep deprivation, neglected kids, 3 fun books that I read instead of working (because anything, anything is more fun than that), messy house, and grumpy husband. Because when I get stressed out (due to procrastination and that awful paper over my head), I tend to withdraw from life, people, and have a strong aversion to any conversations or cuddles. Especially cuddles - I'd much rather have a fight. Now it's turned in and I am working on a project that's even worse. A nightmare project. If I didn't just get a raise (and a nice salary increase! so exciting to be making more money!) I would be tempted to think about quitting.

The school  year is wrapping up... kids are counting days until  the summer break. My mother is coming to stay with us for 2 weeks, and then it will be summer camp for the rest of summer.

My parents are still looking for a house... last week's offer didn't work out. Someone outbid them. They made an offer on a different house this week, but that's not working out, either. The seller is not willing to come down in price and my parents aren't willing to pay more than what they think is house worth (I agree with my parents, that house is overpriced).

Our strawberries are coming in. The wilds ones would be delicious if the kids were patient and would actually let them ripen. Instead, they taste almost bitter... but the kids have a blast picking them. Ah well, they'll figure it out. The Mulberry tree is forgotten for now - and I hope that those berries will have a chance to turn black and sweet before our kids descend on them (actually, I should say, raise their heads, take notice, and pick the tree clean). Peas have flowers. Blackberries have flowers. Backyard is awesome. House - not so much... needs to be organized (go-through-stuff-and-throw-everything-out).

Out for now.

Friday, May 19, 2017

House-Hunting for my Parents

My parents are looking to move to our area. Currently, they live across the country, in the Pacific NW.  They came a couple of months ago and stayed for a couple of weeks with us, hoping to find a house they liked for a price the were willing to pay. It didn't work out. My parents have some savings and they have paid off their current home, but they are  not the Rothschilds. They are reluctant to spend all their savings on a new house. They also want an all-on-one-level living situation, privacy, garage, quiet street, newer construction and open-floor plan, not too much yard, enough space for mom's full-size grand-piano, but not a huge house (because too expensive to heat and cool).

I went with their agent to look at a place that's less than 15 minute drive from our house. It's nice, cozy, all-on-one level (including a washer/dryer)... but no garage and the price is about 100,000 more than their ideal price. I told them my husband and I would be more than happy to chip in. Really - thank G-d, we can afford it. They need to decide quickly, because this house will be snatched up in no time. The hardest part is - they have to make a decision without even seeing the house!

After months, and months, and months... i just want them to find something that hits if not all the marks, then most of them. This house definitely does! The house-hunting has been driving them crazy. I just want them to start driving each other crazy about something else - packing up and moving their stuff, for example. Deciding on paint colors for the rooms. How to position furniture in their new place. Who gets which bedroom.

This house - it's small-ish, but not tiny. There is a separate room, with a separate entrance, that could work for the grand piano and mom's students. The yard is not huge but has enough space for grand kids to run around, and there is a patio with a roof where one could put a table and chairs. It's in a very nice neighborhood. They could walk to a small park. They could walk to a bus stop and take the bus to a train station if they wanted to go into the city. The could take the bus to the mall. There are grocery stores and Lowes within a close drive. It is only 15 minutes from our house!!!

I hope it works out. I hope they make an offer. I hope they don't totally hate it when they see it for the first time!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Relaxing with children

One thing I have been an absolute failure at -

Being relaxed and calm, enjoying life at its fullest.

Being relaxed and calm can be extraordinarily hard when little ones are running around, always demanding things.

They are hungry, thirsty, have a belly-ache, all 3 want to tell me things right now at the same time, they need to go potty, they need a tissue, oops they spilled milk, they want to go outside, they want to go inside, and please mommy can they have candy, and no, they don't want to practice piano/violin, do homework, chores, get dressed or brush their teeth.

I am glad I did not know how hard the parenting thing was going to be before I had any kids. I wouldn't have understood, anyway. Now, to be honest - my kids are pretty easy-going, without major behavioral problems. So this is more of my own problem - I find parenting so hard because I kind of suck as a parent. I loose patience. I yell. I get mad.

One thing I've started noticing - the kids, when they talk to each other, they get mad and start yelling because they are mimicking my husband and me. My husband yells, too.

No, I don't yell all the time - I am a sweet and quiet person, about 70% of the time. If I don't get enough food or sleep, I am a sweet and quiet person about 20% of the time. Most of the yelling is the "Son! Come down for dinner!!! Can you hear me????" "We are late!!! Get your shoes on!!!" type of yelling. Yelling to get the attention, because the kids are in a middle of a game, or far away, or not responding after 5 times of normal-voice calling. Occasionally, it is the super-angry "How could you do this? What were you thinking? I am so mad and disappointed!!!" And then there is the ugly full-fury screaming, which happens rarely, but freaks everyone out (including myself).

So what are need are coping methods to substitute the yelling. Coping methods to deal with kids who often are not listening, coping methods to deal with anger that stems  from being exhausted and hungry, coping methods that help me reduce yelling (clean up your toys! put away your laundry!) and still get the kids to do the chores.

And oh, their messy rooms, dirty socks lying all over the house, and food squirreled away in a closet - that's a definite trigger for yelling.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Of "Little House" and Survival Mode

The kids and I are reading "On the Banks of Plum Creek" by Laura Ingalls Wilder - one of the books in her "Little House" series. I love sharing this book with them - laughing, and crying, and feeling like a part of Laura's family. My older kids definitely identify with Laura and Mary, and their younger sister is just about the same age as Laura and Mary's younger sister. There are uncanny parallels in personalities: the quiet and cautious oldest child, the observant, caring, and a bit wild middle child, and the cute toddler who is growing up fast and is able to do more every day. I love that chores and schoolwork are mentioned in almost every chapter. I love the description of their leisure time: telling stories, listening to Pa's fiddle, and playing games.

This book has reminded me to be more patient with the kids, to see the world through their eyes, to allow myself the sense of wonder in all the little things around me: the wind, the snow, the sun, the birds, the flowers.

I told the kids today - Laura and her family did not have TV, tablets, or computers. Imagine, how did they spend their time? Then I thought - they didn't have many books, either. Then I thought some more...  Laura's family had a minimal amount of possessions. Keeping things clean, neat, and organized must have been straight-forward. Yes, they had to do laundry by hand, but they only had -what - 2 dresses each? Same goes for doing dishes and dusting ...  They worked very hard (farming, taking care of farm animals, sewing and mending their own clothing). We work hard, too, just in a different way. However, many of our "hardships" are self-inflicted. My husband and I always moan about doing kid laundry - but it was our choice to have so much clothing for our 3 kids. We could ask kids to wear the same outfit a few times... but we don't, and we complain about yet another giant load that needs to go into the wash (if we had to do laundry by  hand, I guarantee we would not have as much stuff).

Laura's parents were in a survival mode. Sometimes, survival mode can be the best medicine against fatigue, procrastination, and the like - things must be done because our survival depends on it, so things get done. Whatever is not essential to survival can be dropped.

As I walk through our gigantic (warm) house, with our dishwasher, washer and dryer, indoor plumbing, and a thousand-and-one kitchen and dining things (how many bowls/spoons/pots did Laura and her family have?) - and let's not mention the toys and books - I complain about feeling overwhelmed, disconnected, trapped, in-need of a vacation from everyone and everything. Perhaps what I need is a little bit of a survival mode. Oy vey, first-world problems...

What puts you in a survival mode?
For me, it's the first 7-8 months after a birth of a child (especially 2nd and 3rd child....).

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Long Weekend Report

All 3 kids had a long weekend. My husband took a day off on Friday and took them all to the zoo. From what I hear, they had a blast (even though there was some unauthorized running off). When they got back, my husband felt exhausted and fell asleep during our youngest daughter's nap. I came home to find everyone in a sensory overload grumpy mode. Too  much fun at the zoo :)

On Saturday, we had a make-up party for our youngest daughter's 3rd birthday (she was sick the first time around). Family came to visit and we had a wonderful time. The weather was unseasonably warm and we had pizza outside, kids got to play with their cousins, the birthday girl had another chance to blow out the candles (couldn't do it 2 weeks ago, but this time she performed with gusto! The older siblings were slightly saddened by this because they were looking forward to "helping" her blow out the candles).

The cake turned out decently (if I may say so myself) and the birthday girl seemed to like it (she refused to eat cupcakes with purple icing during our family mini-party 2 weeks ago... I suspect the flavour of the icing wasn't quite to her liking - I sort of threw a bunch of things together hoping for the best). When we were making the cake, C picked out purple and orange as the colors for the two layers, and these turned out just right! I made the tried-and-true Babushka's sour-cream cream for the icing and our older daughter decorated the cake with candles and little purple flowers I bought in the baking section of a grocery store. She did a beautiful job (and she is only 6)!!! Wish I took pictures... But as it often happens, I was too busy enjoying the moment to take any pictures :) The birthday girl soaked up everyone's attention. Then all the little girls got their nails painted. I am not a huge fun of painted nails on kids (just a personal quirk), but the kids were serious about it and so into the process - before I knew it, I was doing everyone's nails and having a good time :)

Speaking of nails... our youngest is a thumb-sucker. After painting her nails, I've been telling her: "C, got to stop sucking that thumbkin, or the nail polish will come off!" At first, she would get the thumb out of her mouth with a startled and worried expression, examining her nails. Next day she came up to me and said she did not want to paint her nails any more, because she wanted to keep sucking her thumb.

The kids were supposed to have Hebrew school on Sunday, but when we got there, the parking lot was empty. Turned out, the front door got damaged by the wind a few days ago, so the crew was there to fix it and everything was cancelled. Somehow, I missed the memo. So we went to a playground, instead. It was sunny and warm - the kids had a blast and I was able to talk to my parents on the phone while the kids were going up and down slides.

We spent the rest of Sunday doing some yard work, playing, reading books, and, generally, taking it easy. My husband and I walked around our yard trying to figure out where we want to put fruit trees. We've been talking about planting apple and pear (and possibly plum and peach) trees since we moved to this house 3 years ago. Maybe this year will be the year we finally do it!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

President's Day

I took a day off to be home with our 3 kids this President's Day. I thought about taking them to a museum, a special event in the city, or a movie. I thought about the best ways to keep them busy, but not too busy (overtired = trouble). In the end, I asked the kids what they wanted to do. They wanted to go to a nearby park and to bake carrot muffins. And to have ants-on-the-log for lunch. And to do a science experiment. So that's what we did - except that science experiment. We never got to it. It was a wonderful day - a bit chaotic, but mostly peaceful and pleasantly low-key. It reminded me of the times when kids were younger (3 years ago) and I was staying home with them, and we did everything together. I feel I should take advantage of these school-free days more often, just enjoying being with kids, being a family.

There is a large park just a 5 minute drive from our house. It is mostly open meadows and hills, with lots of space to run around. There is also an open theater stage there (free summer concerts!) that was our destination on Monday.

My son brought a couple of Frisbee and small balls - while the girls were snacking (my older daughter insisted on packing snacks), my son and I threw Frisbee to each other and showed off our ball-catching skills. He is getting so good at this, I thought. I love just watching him do these sports-y things: throwing, kicking, catching, running. It always catches me off guard - how is this possible, when did he learn all this? We played for a while, until I was out of breath - he was unstoppable.

The kids then went on running up and down the nearby hill: first would come my son, running like the wind, then my older daughter, waving her arms around, and finally, the youngest, a grin on her face, screaming "Watch, mommy! Watch!" And I did watch. And they did it over and over again, not wanting to stop - ever. I even had a chance to sit down and read my book while they climbed the hill (big sister helping the little sister) and organized themselves for the next run-down-the-hill.

And then they decided to put on a dancing show. This involved a lot of whispering and giggling behind the stage (I read my book). Then my older daughter came out in a ballet mode, doing graceful pirouettes. Then the youngest would toddle out ("No, not yet! Wait! you are ruining it!") and repeat everything her sister was doing (with a solemn grace of a 3-year old). Then my son would jump from behind the stage "Ghost! Ghost!" making a scary face and the girls would scream and run off.

It was very warm, even though it was February, so the kids kept taking layers of clothing off, until they were down to t-shirts. An older couple came came to join us with their 3 granddaughters and I felt a mix of  guilt and amusement. The girls were dressed in winter jackets, hats, and mittens (although the older one threw off a couple of layers). The girls were nice and my kids liked them right away, so the kids went on to chase each other and play together. I thought "my parents would over-dress their grandkids, too, if they were watching them for the day". And then I thought "my parents would be horrified to see kids dressed in t-shirts in the middle of February... and they would be horrified at their dirty faces with drippy noses". Why is it that I never remember to bring tissues with me? Oh, but I do hate chasing them with tissues and begging them to let me wipe their noses. I really resented my mom doing that when I was a kid! And then I thought "Who cares!!!  We are having a good time!!!"

Many people come to that park to walk their dogs - sometimes without a leash. Usually, this is not a problem. I love dogs. My kids love dogs. The older kids are cautious enough around strange dogs and look to me for clues about how to react. If a friendly-looking dog drops by to say "hi", I have no problem with petting, hugging, and licking that ensues. My youngest daughter, however, will chase everything in sight to pet it, give it a hug (and a squeeze around the neck), and pull on its tail. No fear, no remorse. So our last 5 minutes in the park were marked by me running after her, screaming "gentle hands" and "no, not the tail!!!" as she went after a dog that was clearly not looking for affection. The dog was off the leash and was running around looking for food and marking territory. The owner was also nearby, with a stroller, and assured me that the dog was friendly and used to toddlers (obviously). Still, I was apprehensive. Finally, the owner put the dog on a leash and I  managed to grab my child. Clearly, I should have just grabbed her in the beginning instead of letting her chase that stupid dog. Clearly, I also need to work on getting the youngest kid to listen and respond (to commands).... preferably, immediately.

The rest of the day was mellow. My older daughter made ants-on-the-log for herself and her little sister. My son and I had sandwiches. We made carrot muffins with the older kids while the 3-year old took her nap. I took a nap while the big kids played and the youngest napped (she must have been tired after all that running in the park). Everyone played peacefully while I was making supper. Then the squabbles started, but I was ready (and rested after the nap) - so I played with the 3-year old while the 6-year old was practicing piano and the 8-year old was reading. We read, we colored, we played with blocks.

We were hoping to get some soil ready in pots and plant some seeds indoors (beans, lettuce, sunflower), but never got around to it. Next weekend!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Refugee in America. Part IV. Culture Shock.

Here is a list of things that culture-shocked us after we settled down in a small city in the Pacific Northwest. 

1. Cars stopping and waiting for you to cross. Even though you are not crossing at an intersection.

2. Highways (specifically, the interchanges) - it is easy to take for granted how well these are designed and maintained.

3. No pedestrians in the streets.

4. Everyone drives (usually, one person per car).

5. Buses are never crowded.

6. Where are the sky scrapers? In fact that is the first thing my grandmother asked: where are all the sky scrapers? We were surrounded by one- and two-story buildings.

7. Car phones (this was back in the 90's).

8. Hot dogs. Really? People eat dogs here?

9. Wonder Bread. Inedible, as we soon discovered.

10. Tomatoes that have no flavor.

11. Strangers smiling at you and saying hello. Creepy!!!

12. In school, test results are not announced by the teacher in front of the whole class. In fact, tests are placed face down on your desk, so that no one can see the grade.

13. Most teachers do not call on students during class. No one gets spontaneously called up to stand in front of the class, unless it's some sort of presentation that students had time to prepare for.

14. Pregnant girls in school. Girls bringing their kids to school picnic. (I thought they were younger siblings).

15. If you do't like your purchase, you can return it.

16. Vegetables and fruits are available at the supermarket all  year round. They don't always taste the way the are supposed to.

17. When you want to buy salt, or sugar, or flour - you are faced with choices of multiple brands. Too  many choices!!!

18. Salted cucumbers are called pickles.

19. Toasters. Why toast the heart and soul out of good, fresh bread?

20. Refrigerating and/or freezing bread. Now those toasters make a little more sense.

21. While we are on the subject of bread: most of inexpensive pre-cut, pre-packaged bread tastes like cardboard. Finding good-quality, tasty, fresh bread is still a challenge (and I've been here for more than 20 years).

22. Shopping in bulk.

23. Schools closed when an inch of snow fell.

24. Temperature and measurements - Fahrenheit! Feet! Miles! I knew that US had its own measurement units, but it still took years to get used to it.

26. Everyone wearing sneakers. All the time. Even with skirts. (I know it's not true - but it just looked that way).

27. Many women do not wear make-up.

28. Most women do not wear heels.

29. People wear weird stuff when they go grocery shopping (like pajamas...  or lounge pants).

30. Doughnuts, sodas, marshmallows = yuck.* Even though everyone claims these things are amazing.

30. But the biggest culture shock of all was moving to Chicago after 6 years in the Pacific Northwest. 

*That might be just a personal quirk - most of my extended family enjoys both doughnuts and soda drinks. Not sure about marshmallows.