The Balancing Act

Being a stay at home mom, I feel like I really should have it together all the time. But I don’t. It’s not even close. As a matter of fact, I am a mess. Everything is a mess.

We moved into our home last August. It happens to be literally three times the size of our old place, so obviously it has taken me some time to get used to all the space, and all the cleaning. There was an initial overwhelming feeling about it all, but I’ve settled in and it is getting easier. It started with a frantic unpacking of things and once that was done, it was the organization of things. And now it’s down to cleaning.

Oh, God. The cleaning. Four bathrooms. Four toilets to clean. Think about that people. It’s like I’m spending half my day with a scrub brush and some Lysol in hand. I’m not saying that this house is palatial or anything, but it is a big adjustment to what we were in. And also, I don’t want to hear you say how lucky I am to have this great house, because I KNOW that. This is not about me whining that I have such a difficult life. I don’t, I know that. My demons are all living inside my head and I’m trying to find my way out. Except for the demons who constantly spill the cheerios and add to the laundry pile. Those demons are here to stay.

I finally got around to making a daily checklist of things that I need to do on a very regular basis to maintain this place and my sanity. I also made weekly and monthly lists. I color coded them. I printed them on pretty paper. I am SO good at making lists, and PRETTY good at following them. I really thought that this would be the solution to the anxiety I feel, and the despair that what I do doesn’t make a difference. I thought that a checklist would give me a sense of accomplishment, and I’d feel great at the end of the day looking at all I had done.

But I don’t. I am in this rut where I am completely sad. I walk around the (clean) house and I don’t feel like I’ve done anything. I look at my children, and if I have time to ponder for a moment before they’re whining for snacks or coloring the furniture with a red sharpie, I think about how the hugs I give are somehow never long enough and the activities we do are never fun enough. They’re just like the house: when they were infants, it was the frantic survival mode, then it was figuring out a routine, and now it’s a lot easier, but I struggle to maintain a consistent balance with them. Or at least I think I do. I’m always wondering if they’re watching too much TV (they are), or eating enough vegetables (they’re not). And even if I have a great day where I think I’ve got it all figured out, there’s still some sadness.

If you’ve read this far, you’re going to want to tell me to take care of myself and I’ll feel better. I agree with you. I’ve been doing that-I got the highlights I’ve wanted for years. But did you know that you still have to wash and style your hair even after it is the right color?! Exhausting. I also exercise. But I just found out in a “helpful” book that if I want to count my walking as exercise I need to do it for 90 minutes. Even with back to back episodes of Pretty Little Liars, I can’t handle 90 minutes. But this is ridiculous. It seems that no matter how much I try, I can’t find that balance that I am seeking. My skin can’t even find it. Somehow, at 34, I’m breaking out and getting wrinkles. Bring on the Clearasil, friends.

As I write, I know there are more of you out there who are unbalanced like me. As a writer, I’m encouraged to find purpose in the words I put on paper. I’m hoping we can help each other. I am hoping we can find balance together, whether it be within our homes, in raising our children, or in our skin care regimen. I truly believe balance is out there and I will continue to search for it.944304_10151708788956383_976372895_n

Moving On Up, or Growing On Up…

It all comes down to phases. I overheard a new mom talking in the coffee shop today. Someone in line asked her about her baby. The mom stated that sometimes her little girl is sweet as pie, and sometimes she’s a nightmare. I smiled to myself because I remember that phase, the one where you never know what the next minute is going to bring. We just passed one of our own phases at the Clark household and I can’t say I didn’t see it coming.

Ella has been climbing out of her crib for a while now at naps. It’s not an every day thing, but once in a while she won’t be feeling the quiet rest time and she’ll let herself out of bed, open her door, and I’ll hear her little feet covered in cotton tights padding down the stairs. She likes to greet me by saying, “Well, hello!”, acting all surprised that I am downstairs, as if I am the one who is causing mischief.

We knew it would happen sooner or later. She’s our adventurer. She’s our risk taker. And so last night, we weren’t surprised (annoyed, yes, but surprised, no) when Ella got out of her bed about seven times in a row. I looked at Justin, and we knew it was time. Although we were unprepared, and hadn’t purchased a big girl bed yet, we took her mattress out of the crib and set it on the floor. We knew that she’d get a huge kick out of all the new freedom, but eventually she would fall asleep, and we were right.

That’s the thing about your second kid. You know it’s eventually going to work out, and they’ll eventually stop crying, or eventually go to sleep. With your first, you really don’t know. And I guess, with your second, you don’t know anything for sure either, but there’s a newfound comfort that it will all be ok and that everything is a phase. These things no longer put me in a frenzy of worry, wondering if we’ll ever overcome them.

For example, Harrison eventually stopped needing to be swaddled. Ella eventually stopped needing a pacifier. We finally were able to rid our house (and grocery bill) of baby formula. But when you are in the thick of things, you think that it’s going to go on forever, just the way it is.

Some phases I really miss, like the baby wearing phase. I suppose I could still wear Ella around if I wanted to, but I’m not a very big person and my back would eventually give out. Justin and I mourned the loss of our couch snuggles with Harrison before bed; one day he just toddled to his room, blanket in tow, and told us he was ready to go to sleep.

I don’t miss the constant wails in the back seat from an infant who happened to be unhappy about being restrained in a moving vehicle. I don’t miss looking around frantically for a pacifier before bedtime. I don’t miss the spit up. GOD, do I NOT miss the spit up.

Now, our family is entering this next phase. The crib-less phase. My babies are still with me, and yet they are not. They are morphing and changing, like the furniture in their bedrooms. A bed still sits where Harrison’s crib once was, however it is not the same. They are still the same children, and at the same time, they are completely different people from the ones who I held in my arms a couple of years ago. I miss my infants, my tiny babies. But now I have these incredible little people swarming around me and I remember: I just need to look in their eyes, their eyes that search my eyes for comfort and love, and find it so easily. Right then, I can see those babies of mine again.

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Ella’s First Night Out of the Crib

Stop and Hold on Tight

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“I’ll do better tomorrow, Mama.”

Those were the words that came from my three year old’s mouth this morning as I pulled out of the driveway. Do you know what he said he plans to do better tomorrow? Put his shoes on. The kid knew he took forever to put his shoes on, and within minutes he has resolved to better next time.

There have been LOTS of mornings when he’s made me angry, but today wasn’t one of them. It went something like this:

“Mom, Ella keeps shutting the closet door on me.”

“Well, perhaps if you didn’t sit inside the closet to put on your shoes, she wouldn’t do that.”

(Five minutes pass)

“Mom, Ella keeps shutting the closet door on me.”

“Well, perhaps if you didn’t sit inside the closet to put on your shoes, she wouldn’t do that.”

(Five more minutes.)

“Mom, Ella keeps shutting the closet door on me.”

“Well, perha-“

Anyway, you get the idea. There have been mornings where I wasn’t so complacent about the snail’s pace at which my children choose to move before. There have been mornings where I have screamed, “GET IN THE CAR NOW” in a guttural and frightening tone. Today wasn’t one of them.

On those angry mornings, the ones where I’m at the end of my rope before we’re even out of our pajamas, I can see why he might tell me that he’s going to do a better job getting out the door another day. He’s so sensitive and intuitive and he knows he CAN do better.He WANTS to do better. And, you know what? He always does. We all have back slides, though. We all have rough mornings. Today was definitely none of those. And yet, my son saw his behavior as inadequate.

As I drove to his daycare, I searched for the reason. Why did he think he hadn’t tried hard enough? Did I snap at him at some point and not even realize it? And then none of the causes mattered-it was just the effect that lingered in my mind-he thought he hadn’t done well enough.

“I’ll do better tomorrow, Mama.”

Although I absolutely refuse to stop the car to pick up dropped snacks, or to find the toy that slipped behind the car seat, or to pour some water into a sippy cup, I stopped today. I stopped and looked back at my little boy and said what he NEEDED to hear.

“You don’t need to do better tomorrow buddy. You did great today.”

I listed all the fantastic things he did before we left the house today: He ate his entire breakfast. He put his dishes away. He picked out his own outfit and put it on by himself. He brushed his teeth and put on his coat. He strapped himself in the car.

After I went through the list, he giddily smiled and wriggled his nose the same way he does whenever he’s proud of himself or especially excited. I don’t know what I did wrong to make him think he didn’t make the cut this morning. But I did know what I had to do right to make him feel better.

Sometimes, you just need to stop the car.

After picking the kids up later in the day, I strapped them into their seats and got into mine. I reached my hand back and searched for it-my little boy’s welcoming hand. He held on tight the entire ride home. It was my silent way of telling him that he IS good, he’s done GOOD. He didn’t ask why, he just continued to hold on tight.

I don’t have a lot of parenting advice: I’m learning as I go. But, try it. Try stopping and then hold on tight. I’m pretty sure it’s the right thing to do in a lot of situations.