Sunday, January 21, 2018

Cleaning for Fun and Satisfaction

This is a photo of my children cleaning the bathroom windowsill. They saw that it was dirty and decided to do something about it. Then they noticed some other problem areas in the bathroom, and they cleaned those, too. Sometimes they clean and organize their room for fun, and other times they pretend our house is an inn, and they clean the whole thing aside from dusting (because they never remember that dusting is a thing people do*) for fun. Z also has discovered the joy of organizing her space so she can find things. I rarely ask my children to clean anymore, because they do it willingly.

I am a lucky, lucky woman.

But I also did some things to encourage this behavior, and so I'm going to tell you what I've done in case you want to give it a go and see if it works for you.

The main thing that works in my favor is that I have made it clear to my children that they are not required to clean. It is optional. They can always choose not to do it. They have to have all their things put away if they want screen time, but they can choose not to have screen time. For our weekly Minecraft night, they've got to have all their things put away plus clean the bathroom, but it's still optional. They can choose to skip the work and the Minecraft. Sometimes they have. I offer sympathy when cleaning is the last thing they'd like to do, or if they made the choice to clean too late and can't get it done in time to get what they want, but I don't make a huge deal about it.

I've also told them that, aside from the times that they are earning screen or Minecraft time, they can keep their room as messy as they wish. This is their space, and I won't interfere. Sometimes, the entire floor is covered with toys and books, and once there were ants coming in through the window because Z forgot that she'd left a muffin in a bag that she'd set on the windowsill. I say nothing negative about it unless someone gets a little aggressive with their request for me to help find something that is lost in there, and then it's just a firm reminder that I am not the one who put the room into a state that made it easy to lose things. The ants provided a handy lesson on their own, because both my kids are afraid of insects, and I didn't do the ant removal process without some words about how this would be the only time I'd complete that task for free, given the same circumstances leading to ant invasion. My kids really don't want to pay me to be their personal exterminator. (I'll work for free if they come in at random.)

When we are not in the middle of a lost toy crisis or ant invation, I talk about how I used to let my things get very messy, and how it helps me now to have things be organized a bit better so that it's quick to clean up. I mention how it's easier to get something fully clean in a short amount of time if it gets cleaned on a regular basis. I mention the benefits without being pushy, and I also point out that sometimes rest is more important than cleaning, and it's okay for things to get messy until I have time and energy to do the job without a lot of stress.

I've also mentioned how satisfying it is to see improvement in something. I love clearing clogged drains and have not been shy about sharing my joy at having cleared out the drain with my own two hands (and some tools) (and sometimes gloves). I sometimes clap my hands when I've organized my desk. And when I notice my children doing things that improve a room, I offer praise for the effort and note how much better things look. Z will sometimes exclaim, "Can you believe how nice our room looks?" I respond, "Yes! Because you have gotten quite good at organizing! It looks amazing! You worked hard!" E is happy to join in these cleaning exploits, and bask in the praise for her own efforts.

And that's it. That's all I do. Mostly, I think that they have come to see for themselves that cleaning can be rewarding for its own sake. They like it. They love seeing the results of their labors. They are happy to do it, and I am happy, too.

*I will admit that I often don't see the point in regular dusting, so I don't model good dusting behaviors. I dust when I notice that the dust is getting pretty thick, and then I forget about it until I notice again. Dusting was my chore when I was a kid, and it's also possible that I still can't stand it for that reason. Or maybe it really is just a waste of time to do it frequently; I've met some people who agree with me on this point, so surely there's something to it. It's not unsanitary like if you fail to clean your kitchen sink or your toilets, you know?

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Word, Some Goals, the Promise of the Future

I know a lot of people who choose a word for the year. I've not done this in the past, because it just didn't resonate with me. I have almost always had some things in mind at the beginning of the calendar year, some goals and plans and such. Some years there has just been one thing that was my focus for the year. In 2012, it was adding a second child to our family. Despite common sense dictating that there would be no way we would bring home a child with us in 2012, I felt instinctively that this would happen, and it did. Other years I have felt that the task for the year was to connect my children to their history, and in 2014 my focus was on moving to London (also something which defied logic at the beginning of that year but did indeed come to pass). So it's not that I've not had a focus, it's just never been connected to a word.

But this year, I've found that there's a word that describes what my work is for this year. The word is foundations. This year, we do not have any big tasks to do as a family, and I personally do not have one big task. But there have been some little things that have emerged that require attention and effort. This year, when we do not have a big task which looms in all our minds, there is time and space for attending to the little things.

First, I am attending to a habit which is not in and of itself bad, but certainly not productive. I like to buy clothes for myself. There is nothing wrong with this, and most things I purchase do not cost much, as I prefer to purchase mostly secondhand items. However, I have plenty of clothes, particularly of the pretty, exciting type. Loads of dresses, lots of shirts, a few very cute skirts. I don't need any more of these things, so I am not going to buy any. If I need any of the foundation garments which make wearing other clothes comfortably possible, then those are the things that I will buy. I need a good pair of shoes that can be repaired, so I'll save the little bits I'd spend on a cheap dress or a clearance top, and put that together to get something that will last. And I will wear every single thing in my wardrobe. If I don't wear it during the year, or if I wear it and realize it's really not working for me, then I will donate it. At the end of the year, I hope to have a solid foundation of clothing and shoes that will be usable for the long term, and I will have broken the habit of letting a pretty dress catch my eye and carry me away in visions of how wonderful it would be to wear it.

Second, I am going to attempt to drastically reduce the amount of single use plastics and other assorted single use items that we purchase and use. I've gotten a resuable coffee cup that is lightweight and easy to pop in my bag when I go out. I've put various reusable household items on my Amazon shopping list and will purchase those gradually throughout the year. Before our children joined our family, I had gotten quite good at using various bags and boxes and jars to avoid excess packaging at the store, and I am hoping to return to those habits this year.

Third, I am going to develop better budgeting habits. We've done okay and always had enough money when we needed it, but with many unexpected expenses over the course of the past several years, I feel like I'm always playing catch up with our budget. I began in 2017 tracking down all the little (and sometimes medium-to-large) recurring expenses that we have throughout the year, and I am organizing our budget differently now to be able to accommodate all of those expenses without stress. I am also checking our accounts every day. This is a simple thing that was suggested to me when I took an online financial improvement course, and it is already proving to be helpful. I feel much more confident in the decisions I make regarding how to spend money and when. Even when we are low on funds, I feel a lot less stress about it, because I know exactly what is coming in and going out of our accounts every single day. Perhaps this will sound silly, but in times of financial stress in the past I've sometimes avoided looking at our accounts due to my own sense of fear of what I'd see. Now I am not afraid of seeing a low balance in an account, because I've seen that before, and I've handled it. 2018 will be my year of handling things well every month, of coming to our finances from a place of confidence and not fear.

I'm not sure what future years will hold, but there are some big things I am wishing for, and I know that building a solid foundation under my castles in the air is a fitting thing to do. I am excited for the future. I am looking forward to the work I have to do. It is good work, worthy work. I am glad to do it.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Our Blessed Home

Yesterday we hosted children's vespers at our home, and because it was also Genna (Ethiopian Christmas), and because we are in a new home that hasn't been blessed yet, we decided to combine everything. We sang the Nativity troparion for vespers, and then our priest said the words of blessing over our home and blessed each room with holy water. This is the first time we have had a group of substantial size with us for our house blessing, and it was really beautiful, everyone following the priest around our house and singing the Theophany troparion. This house already felt like home, but somehow the house blessing made it feel fuller, more so.

I had no idea when we became part of the Orthodox Church that these traditions would mean so much to me. I arrived at the decision to learn more about a church that was different than what I'd been raised in because I had questions that weren't being answered in a way that satisfied my heartfelt desire to understand who God is within the context of a world where suffering is more common than ease. I felt like there was something deeper missing, that the answers I was given were too easy when things were unspeakably hard. I felt this complication within my life of faith, that things were glossed over instead of wrestled with. "God is good! All the time! He must have a reason! Trust the Lord!" These were things that didn't answer what I saw in the world, in my own life but also in the lives of those who were facing true brutality, need, and desperation. I had questions about hell, about war, about the death of children and the suffering of all innocents. I haven't found all the answers, but I've found what is, to me, a way to wrestle with these things in the presence of God.

These traditions such as house blessing, then, are sort of a bonus. And yet they are also an integral part of our spiritual life as a family. I had no idea just what I was missing, but I was missing something sweet and good. I'm sure I'm missing other things that I've yet to learn about and understand. For now, I recognize this particular tradition as the gift that it is. Our house is blessed. It is safe and warm, and by all these people who came to celebrate the holiday with us and be part of the house blessing, I know that we four who live in this house are loved. And thus not only is our house blessed - so are we.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Resume the Usual

Today I dragged us back into the routine of regular education. We needed it, all three of us. My oldest had taken to remaining in her bed until noon over the holiday break, then being unable to go to sleep at a reasonable hour at night, and my youngest was suffering from lack of a predictable routine and had become somewhat combative when things weren't going her way. So we had a reading lesson, plus history and literature. Everyone was eager to get started, and I think we all felt better about ourselves afterwards.

Next week the children will be back to their usual extracurricular lessons, I will resume organizing a fortnightly home education meet up, and life will be back to our version of normal. While I've got some goals and plans for 2018 that I'm excited about, mostly what I like about the new year is getting back to the same old things. It feels good to get back down to the business of home educating life. Comfortable. Familiar. Good.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

See You Next Year, Christmas

This Christmas season was a hard one for me. I tried my best to focus on the positives and enjoy it, but sometimes the best thing to do in order to move forward is just to admit the truth. This was hard, and it wasn't my favorite Christmas season ever. The timing of Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve meant that we had a full liturgy on days when I would normally spend most of the day preparing for the special events of the evening and the next day, and I drastically underestimated how much harder this would make my preparations. I felt like I never really got to leave behind that hurried pace that usually ends on Christmas Eve. As a person who prefers a slower pace overall, this was taxing for me.

Christmas is also a time when all the complexities of household work sharing become more of a burden than ever. One of the hardest things about being the household manager/primary caregiver/educator while my other half is in paid work is that the line between what is my duty and what should be a shared duty (or someone else's duty) is blurred. That old line, "If you need help, just ask" invites me to fall into a pit of resentment and self pity, and I'll admit that sometimes I lean pretty far over the edge of that chasm. Maybe I'd like to dive in head first sometimes, when I wake up to most of the Christmas dinner dishes staring at me. I don't want to ask. I want someone to notice how hard I've been working already to make these holiday traditions happen and just help out, without me giving a little speech about how cleaning up the house is a family job, and anyone can do these things, not just me. When I give that speech, I am rolling my eyes at myself. But somehow I can't help giving it.

To add insult to injury, I lost a dear old friend between Christmas and New Year's. She was 97, so it's not like it was entirely unexpected, but I am grieving the loss of her presence on this earth nevertheless. I had hoped to see her again next fall, when we'll be near enough to where she was living to visit. In my mind, I pictured her living to 100. I was sure she would do it, having beat a lot of odds already. But she didn't. And I am sad. I am sad while my child complains about not getting to watch the movie she wanted to watch. I am sad when my other child is angry at me for not having her preferred breakfast food available. I am sad when I am cleaning up more of the Christmas mess.

So I find I am happy to move forward out of the Christmas season. We've got one more holiday, Genna, to account for, but there is a light at the end of these weeks of extra work, and I am glad. For the most part, 2018 appears that it will be less stressful than 2017. I've got some projects I'm working on that will hopefully improve my Scrooge-y mood and our family life overall. I'm feeling hopeful about the midterm elections in the US. I think 2018 is going to be okay. I'm ready for it.