Sunday, June 23, 2019

The not so life changing magic of tidying up: How minimalism is just crash dieting for your house

I hosted both my children's birthday parties this month, one a simple afternoon party with cake and games, the second a small slumber party with a spa theme. There was nothing pinterest worthy about either, yet they managed to completely deplete me.

For each party I took the Friday off work and spent the entire day cleaning my house, and by cleaning I mean frantically gathering the children's clutter and finding places to put it so I could accomplish the quick task of sweeping and vacuuming my floors. After the parties were over I had a trashed house to contend with and spent another entire day cleaning, so when it was all over I felt sad, resentful and empty. Why had I even done all this? Not the party in itself, but the frantic tidying? I hadn't done it because I enjoy cleaning, or because it would have made the parties better in any way. I did it for the perceived judgement of the other mothers standing in our front entrance for a brief moment to drop off their kids. I did it because as a woman and mother, a tidy house is expected of me, because our living spaces are just as scrutinized and judged as our faces and bodies.

I started to notice it around the time my second child learned to walk. Until then I was mercilessly unaware of my surroundings beyond the the basics of dishes, laundry and basic cleaning. But a second child brought more chaos, more belongings and less free time. Things started to pile up faster than I could deal with them, not dirty things, but little islands of papers and toys and trinkets that needed sorting and returning to designated spaces that only I seemed capable of seeing. Our daughter started having friends over, people outside our super tight knit circle of trust, and I started to really see what our home might look like to others and panic about how to keep it looking better. I internalized something that had never before been my problem, but suddenly loomed large in everything I did.

Wondering if the struggle was universal, I went to one of my online mom groups looking for solidarity, and posted some clutter filled photos in hopes of encouragement. Earlier in the week some women had posted photos of their postpartum bodies looking for sympathy, and were given the same sort of understanding I was looking for here. Instead I was met with shaming, with retorts that they could never stand such a mess, with photos of immaculate kitchens and living rooms. I wondered how I would have been received if I had responded to their body posts with photos of myself in skinny jeans six weeks after giving birth, but apparently while struggling with your weight after baby is okay, struggling with the state of your house was not. I learned that I was right to worry, that everything I was grappling with was definitely a failing of character and definitely my fault.

After that I became even more attuned to the whispered judgments and expectations, as well as the so called solutions. Like those who follow the wave of crash diets, hoping for something that finally sticks, I started trying all the 'methods'. The fly lady and her thousands of emails, toy rotation, simplicity parenting, the organized mum, and the mother of all hopes and dreams: Konmari.

With her cute little best selling books and Netflix series, Marie Kondo promises that using her method will change your life forever. If you go through all the categories in order, your life and living space will forever more be simple and effortless and you'll finally be swimming in free time to actually spend with your children and even your own abandoned hobbies. I really did hope. I used my birthday gift cards to buy her books and my free time to sort not just through toys and clothes, but every last damn screw in our family's toolbox. Did it help? Briefly. Did it change my life forever? Not really.

What happened was my husband would take the children out for a fun day that we all used to embark on, and I would spend the entire day at home sorting through things to get rid of, make the arrangements to get them out of the house and hope that it would be worth it. But the kids would come home laden with more stuff. Gifts from their grandma, trinkets from festivals, freebies from the mall. I would be defeated and angry and sad that I missed out on all the fun, and for what amounted to almost zero progress.

For years I kept trying though. I joined the online Konmari groups looking for inspiration. I tried policing the amount of stuff coming into my home. I tried to get my husband to purge things too. I tried getting the kids involved with chore charts and routines and rewards, but it what it led to was me still constantly spending my weekends trying to rid my house of the excess while everyone else had a good time.

I started becoming aware of certain things in the group. Like myself, the same members sticking around for years. Claiming they needed another round because the first (second, third, etc. hadn't worked). Complaining about parents and in-laws showering their children with gifts they didn't want or ask for. Wondering when they were to find the time to keep doing this between child care and jobs and life in general. Then I wondered 'where are all the men?' I started asking questions that were unsettling to others. Because we all claimed that our husbands 'helped' with things. But why weren't they asking the questions? Why weren't they setting this in motion? Why didn't they feel like this was their problem? Because it's not.

No matter how evolved and helpful a man is, no matter how often he performs daily chores like dishes and sweeping, if your house is a cluttered mess, the judgement still falls to you. As I made close mom friends who let me into their inner spaces without filters, as I met those I could freely text trashed living room photos for a laugh rather than a rebuke, I saw that somehow it was always our problem. I watched friends use their vacation days to clean houses for visiting in-laws, because they would be the ones feeling the shame from his family, despite the house and children being an equally shared venture. It's not that men are inherently lazy, it's that they still carrying our child free and carefree basic expectations of cleanliness that we can no longer afford to live with. They aren't groomed and attuned to the obvious and underlying expectations of our living spaces in the same ways we are. It's why they can calmly sit down and watch a show after dinner without the nagging guilt and anxiety of everything left undone, and why they spend so many more weekends out having fun with the children while we toil at home. They're not the ones asking us to organize our homes at the expense of fun, we are.

A few weeks ago I went to meet some friends for lunch when I saw several young families with babies out strolling in the sunshine on their carefree weekend outings together and I was floored with a sense of loss for those middle years. Despite all those lost days of sorting and culling, despite the books, the groups, the systems and the sheer amount of head space and time, my house is still a constant struggle. We live in a time of excess not just in food, but in possessions, and despite our best efforts, and no system or sense of vigilance can fully change that. We're inundated daily not just with photos of perfect bodies, but with the stark and beautiful photos of other people's curated homes that are far more expected of us than thigh gaps and stick legs ever were. We're told that if we just try this new way of living that these scenes of aspiration and tranquility will finally be ours. Instead we waste our days digging through piles of plastic and papers, missing out on those fleeting years of their childhoods, and everything that really truly matters.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Decorating trends with young children

I swear our house was nice when we bought it. Nothing fancy, but it was a pretty nice place and we were proud of our first home. In the past decade we have made many upgrades, but we have also had two children and they have had some decorating ideas of their own. I thought I would give you a tour of some of the fabulous additions that they have brought to our decor.

One of the biggest trends we have embraced have been natural wall embellishments. Notice the fabulous chips in the paint of our living room wall, accented by Sharpie marker and a hint of crayon. Notice the red paint in the shade of 'zombie appocalypse'. This was a decorating trend for about 5 minutes when the previous owners lived here but we have been hesitant to let it go because new paint would be colored on 5 minutes later and also we're just too tired to even think of moving all our shit out of the way to repaint.

In the dining room we have featured a lovely scratch that spans the entire back wall where the chairs have been dragged repeatedly across the wall. We also showcase a random hole where a child has crashed into the wall at high speeds, probably on a plasma car.

Our real pride and joy is our dining room table, where people leave a gorgeous assortment of random shit for me to spend mind boggling amounts of time putting away on a daily basis. The beauty of it is that it's always changing. One day you might find a cutlass and a party hat, the next some Halloween bug antenna and an old kleenex box that has been converted into some sort of 'craft'. Also, no dining room table is complete without a wet balled up swim towel, which really ties the room together.

Here is a feature we are constantly adding on to. Stickers go with everything, from the dusty baseboards leading up the stairs to every piece of furniture in our house. Any time the girls get a pack of stickers they are diligent in sticking every single one on a window, wall or piece of wooden furniture. There is no doubting their dedication.

Along with stickers, you just can't go wrong with things scotched taped to every surface. If it can be scotch taped to the wall, it has.

While our bathroom may or may not boast globs of toothpaste in the sink and splattered on the mirror, we always feature a broken toilet paper dispenser. What makes this feature so versatile is that now the children can rip open the entire package of toilet paper and partially use every roll so we can have an assortment of different sized rolls peppered throughout the bathroom.

The bathroom also lacks any towel racks. There are some remaining holes in the wall to remind us of where they were before the children swung from them, but without them they are free to throw their towels on the floor every time they use one and can often manage to get 15 on the floor after washing their hands before my husband and I notice.

Directly under our bathroom we have several prominent water stains on the ceiling from all of the times the children have flooded the bathroom by stopping the sink and walking away with it running or trying to make ocean waves in our bathtub.

Our house always hosts an assortment of flies and other bugs. We managed this by having both the front and back screen doors ripped out by constant slamming and overuse. The empty hinges add a nice accent to our otherwise understated front door.

Our living room follows not only the latest loot bag sticker trends, but also accent pieces that change daily. Today we have various bits of rice on and under the coffee table, a piece of trash with a dirty sock on top and what room would be complete without a random plastic IKEA plate left on the floor for no reason.

This week we have the added bonus of play dough which was a recent birthday gift. Notice how every single tub and accessory have been dumped on the floor and the tiny bits of dried play dough surrounding it. It's an added bonus that they actually put the lids back on and haven't ground any bits into the floor yet for me to spend hours of fun scrubbing out. Give it time.

Here we have a custom hole on our staircase where the banister has been ripped out of the wall. I really enjoy this feature because it has removed the need to nag the children every 10 seconds to stop swinging from this particular banister before they rip it out of the wall. I do still get the opportunity to nag about the one on the lower half of the stairs which still remains attached (although just barely).

In the kitchen we have an impressive collection of clean dishes that nobody has had time to put away yet. Soon they will be replaced with dirty dishes, once the children are home for summer vacation and demanding snacks every few seconds. Notice the 12 pounds of cherries in our fridge, which I purchased because every time I went to eat some they would all be gone. This guarantees that my children will no longer like cherries and I will become sick from trying to eat all 12 pounds of them myself.

Here we have the latest in top of the fridge and pantry looks with a random assortment of contraband items that the children have been fighting over or are itching to break and tantrum inducing candy that other parents feel the need to send home with them from every birthday party they go to immediately after eating cake with frosting. This collection piles up until it all comes crashing down, then items are redistributed as needed.

Some of my favorites in furniture include mysterious upholstery punctures with gaping stuffing and cracked lamps that have been knocked over multiple times by yanking on the cords for reasons unknown. I am always amazed every time I pick up a lamp and it still works.

The piece de resistance in our home has definitely become the children's rooms themselves. While once considered 'the nursery' and done in a minimalist and careful style, the children have adopted a style more aptly named 'piles of shit everywhere' and 'I couldn't find it so I dumped out my entire dresser and all my shelves'. A very popular choice these days in children's decor when mothers realize their kids should be picking up after themselves already but don't have the energy to fully nag it through.

I hope you have enjoyed the tour of our home and look forward to hearing your own decorating tips. Also feel free to pipe up about your children who have never destroyed anything and were ironing their own socks by age 2. My friends and I can never get enough of sanctimonious comments of perfect parenting and are looking forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Master of None: The Laments of a Part Time Working Mother.

I grew up a girl child in the 80's, both parents working full time and the expectation that I would do the same. Like most Xennials, I also came of age with a highly specialized degree in a collapsing and uncertain job market. I was forced to work thousands of miles from home just to pay off my student loans. By my late 20's I had admitted defeat, returned to school and switched to a career that my heart wasn't in but provided better job prospects. After graduating from university a second time even the market for stable jobs had collapsed, forcing me into random temp jobs just to get by. I was depressed by the expectation of where I would be by a certain age and how far I actually was from that point.

In my 30's the babies came.

We were poor and we were exhausted but oh, I was all in. My days were rich and full and without any expectation beyond the moment. There was still time I figured, to work more often, to earn more money, to travel. Everything would change when the kids were both in school, but for that incredibly short yet long stretch of years I threw myself into stay at home parenting, only working often enough at my substitute teaching job to keep my job security waiting for me. It was a choice where there was no contest.

I'm in my 40's now and for the past year and a half, both kids have been in full time school. We're free from the prohibitive daycare costs that made it senseless for me to work. And still? The far off future never looks the same up close.

Children aren't really in school all that much when you factor in all the holidays, PD days, snow days, illnesses and appointments. I know that double income families deal with this using holiday camps, extended day care, and juggling their paid leave, but in my case if my kids aren't at school, I don't work and I don't get paid. We're not paying child care costs anymore, but as those have disappeared, the kids have become more expensive. They do more sports and activities and need more equipment, footwear and clothing purchased new, as the well of hand me downs tends to dry up as they get older. So despite being here in the anticipated future, the money still really isn't here and won't be until they are old enough to be much more independent.

So what do I do all day while my children aren't here and I'm not working? I take the car in for repairs. I buy the groceries and prep the meals. I bake the stereotypical cookies for my kids lunches. I pull our daughter with autism out of school for therapy and mental health days. I take the kids to the dentist and doctor and the cat to the vet and load and unload the dishwasher 8 billion times. I do our taxes and pay our bills and email our children's teachers and buy gifts and food for all the holidays. I do all of the things that any parent with children has to do anyway if they are working or not, but I make sure I do most of them while everyone else is gone. Our evenings, weekends and holidays are free to spend on outings with the children, their sports or just playing with them. We don't need to run around during peak hours, stay up late or use up my husband's vacation time to get any of it done. His job pays in money, what I do buys us time.

The days I do work are shitty for everyone, because none of us are used to it. The night before I'm moody and anxious and stressed out, and in the morning the children have to be woken up an hour early and taken to the babysitter if I'm to work a full day. I have to do this disrupted routine by myself because my husband is already gone to work and then we come home to the leftover mess from breakfast and nothing even remotely ready for dinner, hangry and frustrated because we're used to eating soon after everyone gets home. It's even worse if my daughter has a swim practice the same evening. If you do it every day, or even on set days it becomes a routine. When it's sporadic it's jarring and mentally draining.

I work with children, so it's not a 'nice change' for me. The other teachers recognize my face and name but don't really know me because I'm not at either school often enough to form any sort of relationships the way you do working together daily. Sometimes it's interesting, sometimes it's really really hard and I mostly just go in, keep my head down and get the hell out in time to pick up my kids afterwards. It pays really well for the amount of time I'm there, so there is that.

Aside from freeing up family time, there are definitely perks to this way of life. I have friends who also stay home and we try to combine errands so we can spend time together and grab coffee or lunch while we're out. I consider these people my true colleagues, and they add so much joy to my life. We have a pool membership and I manage to fit in some lap swimming a few days a week, although I often feel strange to be the only able bodied adult there who is under the age of 70. It's a time of day when everyone else my age is generally at work or tending to small children, trying to fit exercise in before dawn or after dark (if at all), neither of which work for me.

My husband has recently advanced in his career. After years of slogging it out, he was promoted to do something he actually went to school for, and not even something that promised a plethora of secure jobs, but something that's his life passion. He is now an artist with a dental plan. His job is harder, and busier and more stressful, but it also pays more and offers more satisfaction.

What I do? Not so much. My paying job offers no advancement, no recognition, no pension, and no pay raises beyond basic inflation. The work I do at home, despite the ways that it vastly improves the lives of every member of our family, often feels embarrassing and empty. I've learned to bake really well. I've taught my kids to swim. I earn enough extra money that we can buy our kids better Christmas gifts or maybe even go on vacation, but not enough that our life has improved significantly. I'm in this strange limbo between those with full time careers and those who have accepted that they are just going to have a large family and stay home, surrounded by a boisterous and ever growing brood of chaos. I worry that I'm setting a bad example for our daughters, yet loving all the time we both get to spend with them making memories because I free up the time to do so. I wish I had the financial option of staying home fully, without the stress of trying to do both, without the constant mental budget calculations that keep us afloat, but I also like being able to tell both strangers and my own children that I do in fact have a paying job.

Over the years friends have claimed that I have the best of both worlds by working part time, but it feels more like a small sampling of each. These days I just feel jealous of those who live at either extreme without apology.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The storage tote on my porch: A Buy Nothing Project story

I passed a woman on the street this morning, each of us carrying random items in old grocery bags, our names written on them in sharpie. I had never met her, but we gave each other a friendly look and nod, knowing we were both up to the same thing. We had just taken something off of someone's porch, someone we quite possibly had never laid eyes on.

Two and a half years ago a friend sent me an invitation to a local Facebook group called Buy Nothing (our neighborhood name) and while I belonged to several local buy/sell groups, I had never heard of this before. The premise is that you post your unwanted items for offer to other neighbors in the group, people comment on them if they want them, and then you pick a recipient. You can also ask for items that you want, and if someone has one they don't need, they might offer it to you. After that, arrangements are made to pick up the item, either face to face, or often from a bin on their porch.

I was already several months into an ongoing massive purge of our belongings, in order to avoid the expensive prospect of upgrading to a larger house. I started posting items to give almost right away, and commenting on things I needed.

The group quickly spread like wildfire, everyone in love with the idea. While my basement slowly emptied of dusty items we hadn't touched in years, finding new love in other homes, I was being given countless items we wanted or needed without having to spend a cent. With me working part time our budget is always tight, but after joining Buy Nothing it started to seem a little less imposing, with so many items suddenly falling into our hands for free. Hand me down clothing and shoes for our children, partially finished bags of pull ups, excess garden produce, bedding, ice skates, soccer cleats, toys and books were available from sources reaching much farther than our inner circle. The more I received from Buy Nothing, the more money it left in our budget for the other things we needed to purchase.

Some of the most amazing things we have been given over the past years have been a wooden doll house, a private swimming lesson, a bicycle, a new mailbox, an IKEA loft bed, a dresser, fresh baked goods and fudge, an 18 inch doll, a hair cut, a Keurig machine, a children's gift basket full of treasures, and basement shelving. Half the toys under our Christmas tree this year came from the group, most of them still new in the package, and twice when families have moved to another city we have received the entire contents of their fridges, freezers and pantries, saving us money for months. Any time I need something, I know I just need to ask and 90% of the time, it will likely appear. Just this week when my fitbit band broke, I put up a request in the group. Within 5 minutes I had an offer for 2 new ones, just a few blocks away.

Knowing such generosity is available to me, it makes it really easy to give as well, and keep this house free of clutter. As soon as my youngest outgrows anything, out the door it goes without the time consuming hassle trying to nickle and dime some money back through consignment stores, selling sites or yard sales. I also don't need to deal with the guilty feeling about how much money might have been spent on it. I'm giving back to a giant communal pot of hand me downs, knowing that whatever I put in will come back to me in some way, and sentimental items are easier to part with knowing that another, younger child will love it the same way my children love the items that are passed to them, and another mom will feel the same ease in her budget when she doesn't need to pay for it.

But really, the very best part of the group have been the amazing friends I've made. When the Konmari method swept through the group (and with it the hilarious volume of clothing and books suddenly being offered) a little group of 6 of us formed to chat privately about it and have since become a tight knit group that talks multiple times a day. Another group formed to work on sewing projects together twice a month, where I work on a quilt made of old pajama scraps and eat treats at a friend's house. One summer we even formed a park tour, where members would meet up at a different local park for a play date each day, until we had visited every park in the entire area. There have been adult coloring nights, crafting nights, pot lucks and outings. One woman opens her house to members every Thursday morning to drop in for coffee, a chat and fresh baked cookies.

There is a dark side as well. I've lent out items that haven't been returned. I've had items sitting on my tiny porch getting destroyed by the rain when people don't show up to pick up, and food rotting and attracting bees when people haven't come to get it. There are people who comment on nearly every single item posted, either hoarding items or selling them for profit. There are people who ask and ask for things but never give back. There are people who dramatically overshare their every woe. There are rules that stifle people, like not being able to give advice, tell people where to find an item for sale cheaply, or banter about something without an admin deleting their comments or giving them a stern talking to.

Over time though you learn who to trust, to lend only what's replaceable, and who is reliable and punctual when it comes to pick things up. I have a long list of people I will no longer give things to, and an even longer list of people who I know will be there within hours of having their name picked. While some people prefer to give their most sought after items through a random number generator, I pick those who I know are going to come quickly. Most times I don't even need to post items anymore, but give them directly to people with daughters just a little younger than mine, the same way another woman gives bags of clothing directly for my oldest now, and another gives my children all her happy meal toys for their collections. We've developed a sort of efficiency for keeping our houses free of clutter, and a cunning at keeping our children provided for at very little cost.

Whenever the group reaches 1000 members, it needs to 'sprout' into two or more groups. The first time it happened, my friends and I were devastated. It was like being put in separate classes! There was a lot of drama and unrest in the group that led to online fighting, unfriending, and even a renegade spin-off group, of which I am still an admin. The group recently sprouted again with little fanfare, because what we learned the first time was that any friends we had already made were ours to keep, and there was still plenty available being given, it was just much easier to pick up now that the geographical boundaries were smaller.

I wish this had been around when my children were first born. While I was lucky to have been given so many hand me downs from my sister in law, many times I would run out to buy an item only to find out a friend or neighbor had just recently donated the same thing and vice versa. Had we been in the group, they would have known I needed it, or I would have known they were getting rid of exactly what I needed. My web was small back then, and now it's very large, and continues to grow.

If you don't already belong to a Buy Nothing group, I would highly advise that you do. You can find yours by typing Buy Nothing (your neighborhood name) in the search bar on Facebook, and most likely one will come up. Some groups are more active than others, but you can expand the membership by inviting nearby friends, the way my friend did years ago with me. Years later I'm still a proud member with a telltale storage tote on my porch to prove it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Joining the cult: How Fitbit changed my life in unexpected ways.

I used to laugh at people in the FitBit cult.

I belong to a group of friends that is absolutely obsessed and constantly competing with each other. They jog on the spot at birthday parties, dance while they're cooking, walk to places any sane person will drive to and watch their stats all day long. My friend Nicole will run next to her bed until midnight to beat someone in a challenge, and Julia blindly does laps around the main floor of her house while her kids are in bed, texting us the entire time.

I laughed at them, but I never wanted a FitBit for fitness sake. I've always been an active person, with long distance running and gymnastics as a child and teen morphing into walking, biking and swimming as an adult. I like to move, and that is motivation enough. But I was curious for other reasons, because it seemed like the mere act of looking after my children was taking an awfully large number of steps. Sometimes I would count them in my head for short periods to get a general idea. I considered asking one of my friends to tear themselves away from a single challenge to borrow one and see.

One day a few months ago Julia showed up at my door (walking of course. The round trip between our houses is 7,000 steps). I was blown away by her incredibly kind gesture of buying me a FitBit so I could finally be included in the madness. She rushed it over so I could get it set up and compete in the Weekend Warrior starting the next morning. I stared at that thing for hours as it charged up, mentally willing that 5th dot to appear. The second I fastened it up, I was a changed woman.

There were some technical difficulties at first. There were some frantic calls and emails to their support team, some lamenting over lost steps and some friendly taunting about the whole thing before I was up and running.

Me before FitBit: I don't really care about competing. I just want to see how many steps I get naturally.

Me after FitBit: Galloping around my mother in law's tiny apartment during Easter dinner so I didn't fall behind the others.

It's never just about exercise. Sure that jog or walk will get you some steps, but in the grand scheme of things, even if you're training for a marathon, if you've got a desk job you're no match for a stay at home mom who walks her kids to school and back every day. A step is a step is a step and they add up around the clock. Everything counts, from that trip to the bathroom at 3 a.m. to loading your dishwasher before bed.

Right away I was hyper aware of my every movement, checking my stats every time I walked past my computer. I was always just ahead of or just behind someone, so I was extremely selective about when I sat down. FitBit graphs out your day in 15 minute increments, and it was rare during waking hours to ever see even one little block of time blank. I consciously chose my sitting time only when I deemed it worth it so that when I saw blank spaces I felt only joy at the memory of sitting and visiting with friends, rather than guilt at time wasted with mindless internet surfing.

Nothing seemed to beat a good solid walk, so I started walking multiple times a day. I would make plans with friends that required me to walk to their houses and back, and would take another long walk every evening when my husband got home from work. I started running errands on foot like I used to back when I had just one child. I noticed I was sleeping deeper at night, my sleep stats showing long patches of solid blue.

In the evenings, when it was too dark to walk and competition was close, I refused to waste precious energy jogging next to my bed or doing laps of my house. Instead, I got those extra steps in by frantically cleaning my house.

I've always been a terrible housekeeper, because there is just always something more worthwhile in my eyes than the never ending battle of trying to keep my house clean. In the past if I ever had a spare minute I would have rather spent it doing anything else in the world. But suddenly I was being compensated for this thankless and endless work. Running up and down stairs to put things back in their proper places, pacing back and forth across the room to put away laundry, bustling around sweeping? It suddenly counted for more than just simple adulting. Every time I picked up a broom or hung up a jacket, my steps went up, and unlike the chore, which would very soon be undone and forgotten, those steps were something I got to keep forever. My house got cleaner, yes. But what really improved was my attitude.

It's tiring to chase after children and it's depressing to be on your feet all day yet feel like you accomplish nothing. After Seven years in this parenting rodeo, I was starting to run on fumes, and earning steps for each ridiculous endeavor put new wind in my sails. Suddenly it was less soul crushing to jump up to clean the spilled milk or run up the stairs to grab a forgotten library book when in the back of my mind was always the thought 'this will give me extra steps'. I stopped cringing at the sound of random cries and demands and simply jumping up to deal with it because it no longer felt quite like drudgery.

My daughter thought it was hilarious that all us mothers were galloping around our houses frantically trying to win a digital trophy every week, but she was also strangely proud when I was winning.

Aside from all these wonderful perks of improved fitness, sleep and attitude, for me the best part of FitBit is the camaraderie. Even when we can't be there in person, my friends are there to cheer each other on, to jokingly curse when someone takes a really long walk, to worry when someone hasn't synced or taken their usual number of steps. It's a constant daily narrative that encourages us all to strive for better health, attitude and connection. So maybe I'm brainwashed now like the rest of them (even if I refuse to jog on the spot), but I can honestly say my life is much richer for admission into this twisted and fabulous cult.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Reversing the fairy tale

The other day when my daughter told me that we live in a great big house I was a little shocked.

"We do?" I asked.

Then I thought about it for a minute and realized the right thing was to agree with her, because what we've unknowingly been trying to instill in her is actually working.

Back before we had children, I went through a rough time. I was nearing 30, and despite my education I was still just getting by on temp jobs in the struggling economy. I lived in a nice apartment with my now husband and we had a lovely life together, but I just couldn't let go of the bitterness and disappointment about where I 'should' be financially at that point in my life. I had envisioned a house, a car, a cottage, and fancy vacations. What I had was an apartment, camping and public transit.

Then one bitterly cold January night we met some friends downtown for dinner after work. Leaving the warm restaurant into the horrible cold we braced ourselves and ran to the bus shelter, cursing and laughing and picturing the relief that was soon coming. As we sprinted into the wind one of my friends suddenly said:

"It would be terrible to be homeless on a night like tonight."

Moments later we were sitting comfortably on a warm bus, heading toward our respective warm apartments. With a belly full of delicious food, I crawled under a warm duvet in a soft bed beside the man I loved. I had never felt more rich.

The next year our job situation had improved and we were on our honeymoon, cruising through Italy, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and Egypt. On a tour bus heading to Cairo it wasn't the pyramids that blew us away, but the living conditions we saw out the window. Countless families living on the side of the road, toddlers playing in piles of garbage next to the on ramp, the mud huts that people called their homes. After seeing that I could never go back to complaining about how 'poor' we were.

Nine months later our daughter was born, and without really meaning to we filled her head not with stories of princesses in castles full of riches we will never know, but a reverse sort of fairy tale of the millions of people around the world living without houses, food or indoor plumbing. 'Aren't we lucky?' we tell her, 'that we have a house with TWO toilets? A fridge full of food? A bed to sleep in? Toys to play with?' We've let her know from the start that WE are the rich ones. Comparison can steal so much joy, but done right, it can also bring gratitude, and a desire to help others. There are always those who will have more, and if you focus on that you'll always be miserable, but when you have all you truly need, you have to realize that you really are wealthy in the grand scheme of things.

As our girls get older, I know they will encounter friends who appear to have more and feel a little envious. Perhaps they will realize that our little semi detached is not the castle they originally saw it as. When that happens I hope to be able to give them the same reality check that I was given- through travel, volunteer work or just frank discussion. Until then we remain happy in our 'great big house' full of food, warm beds and love.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

7 reasons why women with young children are pissed off at their husbands

I saw a lot of disgruntled and disappointed day-after-mother's-day posts in my Facebook feed yesterday. Women who were just hoping for a little break, some hard earned recognition or for just one day to have their wishes come before the matriarch who just won't step down. I wasn't one of these women yesterday, but I still understand what they were feeling.

Husband bashing is a common sport among women with young children. It ranges from harmless joking between close friends to venomous public shaming over social media. These women feel frustrated and unheard and need to get it off their chest somewhere. When it falls on deaf ears at home it's going to come out elsewhere, depending on the severity of the situation.

Most of these women aren't even married to useless, deadbeat fathers. Their husbands are loving men who work hard at their jobs, spend time with their kids and at least attempt to pull their weight in household duties. Then why is it such a problem?

1. Men put on their oxygen masks first before assisting others.

Most fathers seem to have no trouble meeting the basic needs of life, even when they have young children. They manage to eat, sleep, dress, use the washroom and groom themselves on a regular basis. Unless it's a life threatening situation, they will tend to these things when needed and don't understand the big deal their wives make when they try to. Men are surprised when met with dirty looks when they attempt to make their 3rd trip to the bathroom in one morning or take their second shower in one day.

Meanwhile many women hold their pee for hours, miss meals, only poop in the middle of the night and forget the last time they washed their hair because they only make it priority to meet these needs when everyone else is fed and dry and clean and happy. Which rarely happens all at once.

It would be better for everyone involved if women acted more like men in this regard. I know it seems like a great decadence to spend 5 minutes sitting down to eat your breakfast or to empty your bursting bladder BEFORE tending to a crying child, but we're of more use when we're physically comfortable and certainly have a better attitude, which children pick up on.

2. Men are blind to the minutia

When it comes to the basic details our husbands generally get it. The kids need to eat, bathe, wear clean clothes and go to the doctor when they get sick. They either help with, or are at least AWARE that these things need to be done. But what about the rest? Do they buy a birthday present and card to bring to the party their child is invited to? Do they dig out the clothes from storage when the seasons change or a size is outgrown to swap them out? Do they fill out the forms that come home from school and send money for special events? Do they book dentist appointments or return library books or mend torn clothing? Not usually. Do they even have any idea that their wife is doing these 85 extra child related tasks per week on TOP of all the other basic duties that they are also sharing? Not likely.

Women tend to keep track of and deal with a whole host of tiny details that while invisible to the naked eye are essential to things running smoothly for the children. It's not even that we expect or even want our husbands to deal with these things (because our multitasking minds have it all covered), it's that want want them to NOTICE that we're doing them.

I remember one Saturday long ago when my husband was complaining that he had SO MUCH to get done one weekend. I asked him to write down everything he had to do and I would do the same. He had 3 items. I had 17. He was a little shocked.

3. Women want it done THEIR way.

We really wouldn't have to much to do if we learned to delegate and trust a little more. It drives me nuts when my husband just throws all the cutlery in the drawer willy nilly, but the fact that he's washing and putting away the dishes still saves me a lot of time and effort. I trust him to safely parent both our children so I've learned to just back off and let him do his thing. I let him dress the kids in whatever mismatched combinations he comes up with and feed them whatever random stuff he can find in the fridge for lunch and save my effort for the things that I just can't let go of (like the laundry, due to all the gorgeous outfits that have been ruined from his complete disregard for stain remover).

4. They seem to have all the fun and take all the glory.

After spending a long day putting out fires and trying but failing to get 'anything done' your husband finally gets home and takes them off your hands so you can just freaking cook dinner in peace. After a few minutes you hear hysterical laughter coming from the next room and your heart both glows and sinks at the same time as you realize that you've been with your children the entire day and not once did you hear them laugh like that. Suddenly you feel like Cinderella slaving over a hot stove with a scowl on your face while he gets to swoop in and be the 'fun' parent.

I only work part time, so I'm home with the kids most of the time, yet I often feel like I spend less time actually WITH them than he does. When you're the stay at home parent responsible for most of the housework it's easy to get caught up in the endless battle of what needs to get done and lose sight of what matters. I now prioritize my 'to-do list' to include 'enjoy my children' up at the very top above everything else. I find when I'm more flexible that so many wonderful, fun moments with my children creep into our day in between all the grunt work. When I've already shared a lot of laughs with my kids I no longer feel regret and resentment when it's 'his turn', I only feel happy that they have such a wonderful bond with their father.

5. We make them incompetent right from the start.

When a new baby is born it's such an exhilarating feeling that we throw ourselves into that mother baby cocoon without a complaint. When my girls were very little I couldn't stand to be apart with them at all, so I pretty much took over everything and fought when he tried to take them away to 'give me a break'. When I was their only food source something deep inside me couldn't be apart from them longer than it took to run to the store, and my husband got used to that. Eventually his cure for everything became 'she needs a boob', even long after this was no longer true. As time went on and I really did need a break it had already become the norm for me to be the 'default' parent in everything.

What changed things is the fact that he took paternity leave when our second daughter was born so I could continue to work part time. When he became the 'default parent' to our oldest daughter and in charge of both the few times I went to work he learned to master the tiny details that alluded him when we only had one child. He used to sit around or play guitar while I got her ready to go out, which drove me insane. Now when we have to go somewhere it's unspoken that he gets our oldest daughter dressed and packed while I do the same for the younger one and nobody but the cat sits around being useless.

6. We're jealous of them.

When the going gets rough, the grass gets greener. When you're sleep deprived and touched out, what's on their plate looks oh so tempting. We picture the luxury of sleeping all night, of sitting down and eating a sandwich all in one go, of peeing without anyone screaming and of listening to the radio all the way to work! Oh the decadence! They never have to suffer through morning sickness or painful contractions or tearing. Their bodies remain unmarked and unchanged and while they get to enjoy the love and joy and fun of being a parent, their lives are much less changed than ours are.

What helps is looking carefully at what's on my own side of the fence. I think of the things I would never trade in a million years. The feeling of a little person wiggling and kicking inside me, pressing her tiny feet up against the inside of my tummy. The blissful feeling of a milk drugged infant curled at your breast, filling your body with endorphins and your heart with peace. The times I get to take a nap in the early afternoon when the baby is sleeping, or the sunny days I'm at the pool with the kids instead of in a cubicle. We pay different dues and get different rewards, but it all evens out in the wash. I would never, ever actually want to trade places.

7. Women complain and men take.

The peak of marital discord occurred in our house when our oldest daughter was about a year and a half. For months she had been getting up for the day at 430 am, which meant that I was getting up for the day at 430 am and was a ragged mess of sleep deprivation and bitterness. One Saturday morning my husband sauntered out of bed at 9 am, went for a leisurely jog, took a long shower and then wanted to sit downstairs and eat a relaxing breakfast in front of the tv, making him 'available for duty' right in time for our daughter's nap. I detonated like a nuclear missile and while it got ugly for a minute there, it cleared the air in a remarkable way.

When you're exhausted from motherhood and left with nothing for yourself, you start to keep score of everything. The extra sleep he's getting, the exercise, the time for hobbies or outings with his friends. I remember him proudly showing me his latest painting and being unable to compliment it because I was so bitter that he had time to paint in the first place. The problem is, we don't know what to DO about it except complain about it, and men hate to listen to complaining.

After that day when I lost my shit, I learned to stop complaining and take action. I scheduled time with my friends to shop or go out to eat. I started going swimming or to movies by myself, taking long walks alone or asking him to take them out for a few hours so I could just have some quiet time at home. When I stopped complaining about all HE got to do and started explaining what I WANTED to do instead he was very happy to oblige. Men respond well to specific requests if they know it will make us happy. Now we discuss and divy free time depending on what we both want to do without ever having to fight about it.

Most of our husbands are good men. They want to help out. They want to make us happy. They want us to just stop complaining and tell them exactly what we want. We just need to figure out exactly what that is and how to say it and then everything is great.

(PS the reason my mother's day wasn't a let down is I told him exactly what to buy me and what I wanted to do. And guess what? It happened).