Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Things I Don't Regret


My E is growing tall, all arms and legs and sudden grace as she grows into them. I watch with wonder, remembering the past, remembering carrying her through an enormous airport in my arms, so light I never had to shift her position to be able to carry her more easily, though we walked and walked and walked. She is no longer small. She has grown, healed, made her way in this life in ways that have surprised everyone. She is a wonder, through and through.

As my own children grow, I find myself reminiscing about our first days as family to each of them, sometimes prompted by observing lives of others who are welcoming children into their families in the same way we welcomed our children into ours. Older toddlers will always remind me of my Z and the joy of getting to know her. Any child who joins a new family and ends up in a hospital fairly soon thereafter reminds me of E and all those hospital days.

I have been watching one such story unfold. I have debated about whether to speak up or not. I'm not interested in naming or shaming a family who may be doing the best they can. But this is also a high profile case, and I know that some people may feel inspired by this family to explore adoption as an option for adding to their family. I think that the impressions I get from watching this family (and not knowing everything) may be impressions that others are taking away as well, and I feel that in this light, it is important to speak up about best practice for newly adopted kids with complex medical needs.

I am not a perfect parent. I have made loads of mistakes and will likely make loads more. But there are some things that I do not regret. One of those things is always putting our most vulnerable family member first in line to get needs met. In E's case in particular, this meant having a parent available to stay with her when she was in the hospital, every time she was in the hospital, for as long as she needed to be there. We wanted to set the precedent that we would always be there for her, especially in her most challenging and painful moments. No matter what. We wanted to show Z that this is how we do things as a family - everyone's needs get met, and we all work together to meet the needs of our most vulnerable member. She experienced this in her own story; we made big adjustments due to her needs when she was in a vulnerable position.

And Z's needs did get met, too. Was her life different than normal while E was hospitalized? Of course it was. She knew it would be, and she accepted this with grace. She was a key part of our family team, and her presence at the hospital was a delight to E. She is still E's favorite person to hang out with, nearly seven years later. Z stayed with someone else during the weekdays (usually a family member), but she could come to the hospital anytime she wanted to see E and me. We all met up at the hospital for dinner each evening. Then J would stay with E while I went home with Z and put her to bed. I'd shower, return to the hospital, and J would go home to sleep and attend to any needs Z had in the night or in the morning before he left for work. On the weekends, we'd switch, and I'd be with Z all day.

It worked. It was hard, but it worked. And I believe that it contributed in significant ways to E's healing, but also to her budding attachment to us. Even now, when she is feeling insecure, we can tell the story of her life, and how we did not leave her side when she needed us most. Hospitals are hard places to be. Imagine being a child, in a new country, in a new family, and having to contend with hospital life. It made sense to us to be there with her, for however long it took. We were lucky, because none of our hospital stays extended beyond four weeks. But if it had taken longer than that, we were committed for the long haul.

Would this have been nearly impossible if both J and I had needed to work away from home? Yes. Absolutely. I recognize that privilege. I recognize the work it took on the part of our extended family, who often flew in from thousands of miles away, and our friends, who were on call for us when we needed them. There were a lot of people in place in our lives that made this happen. We did not do it alone. I am not going to pretend that we did. But I am also not going to pretend that we didn't make sacrifices as a family to make this happen, or that we didn't prepare for and consider the practical implications of her level of medical need before we brought her home with us. That was an essential part of the process. We knew that because I was home with Z already, we were afforded flexibility that would make medical care easier to accommodate.

This is what I want people to be prepared for if they choose to adopt a child with complex medical needs. Your child will likely need to spend more time in a hospital than you ever dreamed they would. Please, please, please, for the sake of the child who may join your family, be honest with yourself about if it is possible for you to meet the child's needs with the resources you have available. Do not look at the selective things that people share on Instagram and think that is all that will be required of you. There will be more, so much more.

It will take a toll on you. It will take a toll on other members of your family. Can you handle that? Can your other children handle it? Be ridiculously practical about this, before you commit your heart. All these sacrifices will be worth it - we have no regrets about all that hospital time and what it took to be there - but it will be work. If you cannot do that work, that's ok. It is better to admit that it is not going to work well than to find yourself in a situation in which your most vulnerable family member cannot be cared for as they deserve to be cared for.

And an aside, for those who are of the Christian persuasion (as I am myself): you will hear a lot of people talk about the healing of a child as being glory to God and talk as if adopting a child is being part of their physical healing and even their salvation. I don't like this sort of talk at all; I think it leaves out a lot of the conversations we need to be having about adoption ethics and good practice in adoption and family preservation. I will tell you honestly that I believe that the help I received from God and the saints when I called out for it has helped both of my children immeasurably (as it has helped me as well). But God responding to my cries for help for my children does not absolve me of my own responsibility to them. I cannot say, "God's got this!" and then make choices that will leave my child in a vulnerable position.

Our kids are only kids for a short time. There will be other things which clamor for our attention during their childhoods, which may seem important, but please consider this. You cannot get those early days, weeks, months, and years of pursuing attachment  and trust back if they are used up on other things. There will always be other things, worthy things even, to demand your attention. But your child will only be a child for a little while. The window of opportunity for your influence in their life will narrow more quickly than you imagine. It will go by in a blink. If you are not prepared to use the time that you have to attend to their needs, if you feel that there is something else that you must do that will prevent you from being the best possible choice for their future, then don't move forward.

I know this may seem overly forthright. I do not mean to shame anyone, and I am not pronouncing judgment on the choices of the family I have recently observed. That is not the point of this post; the point is to protect and care for children by giving others the information they need to make an informed choice. I believe that there remains a big gap in education about adoption of children with complex medical needs, and that agencies are not doing their due diligence in many cases to ensure that families know best practice and can follow it. We cannot know everything by looking into the window that social media provides to a family's life. So do your own due diligence. Be informed. Make the choice that is best for the child.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Let Us Not Plant Sorrow



When I woke up this morning, I read of the terror attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and I felt deeply grieved. We have many mosques in our community, and many Muslims are our friends and neighbors. I believe that I have not spoken out enough about respecting and protecting them. It should not take a tragedy of this magnitude for me to remedy this. But here I am.

I have come here today to address my fellow Christians in particular. Of course you are welcome to read along if you are not a Christian. But this is a message that I believe that Christians need to hear. Because we have been the ones who have helped to create this problem.

I grew up being taught that anyone who did not accept Jesus into their heart was destined for hell. Various religions were mentioned, and Islam sometimes singled out. I was told things that were incorrect about what Muslims believe. Seeds were planted that would lead me to think of others as lesser, as wrong in the worst way possible. Friends, it is not a long walk between telling people that God is sending others to hell and deciding it's okay to send them there yourself. If we believe otherwise, we are fooling ourselves and creating a world full of sorrow and pain. Small seeds can grow into giant plants.

The honest truth is that none of us know for sure what happens on the other side of death. This is why it is called faith. But the Bible is clear, has always been clear, that judgment is reserved for God alone, and we are not to engage in it ourselves. And so, fellow Christians, we need to stop doing this. We need to stop planting seeds of judgment in our hearts and the hearts of others. Look what these seeds have grown into! Oh, what sorrow have we wrought for others?

I believe that God weeps for these people who were killed today when they came to worship, to pray. The people who were slain this morning seek to worship the God of Abraham; we too seek to worship the God of Abraham*. Muslims are not the enemy; we have this common goal of worship. We have differences in beliefs, yes, significant ones. But the fact remains that not only are we instructed not to judge, but we are told to love our neighbors.

I Corinthians 13 has been the gold standard within Christianity to explain the importance of love. I think we would do well to read this and meditate upon what it means to truly love our neighbors. We can refer to the story of the Good Samaritan. Let us protect and care for our neighbors, whoever they are and whatever they believe. Let us rip out by the root these evil plants that we have unwittingly grown, and pray that God has mercy on us to help us never to plant them again in the future.




*J has pointed out to me that the official Orthodox Christian view of whether we and those who follow Islam worship the same God differs from mine. Referring to I Corinthians 13, we understand that we "know in part," so I will say that I absolutely do not know what is exactly correct. But we do know that we are to abstain from judgment and to love our neighbors, so I'm going to do that and encourage others to do that. If we err, let it be on the side of love.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

My Life is Not a Trampoline


Hello! As you can see, we are back to cat photos. But that's not my cat - that is my cuddliest client. I must say, if you have to work following a very stressful neighbor caring situation, while you are feeling under the weather, I highly recommend a situation in which someone warm and fluffy comes to sit on your lap and purr approvingly. This cat is so soft. He helped me feel better when I felt like absolute crap.

(In case you are concerned about me going to others' homes and leaving a dreadful virus behind, rest assured that the virus itself was along the lines of a common cold. A person who was not caring for an ailing neighbor with no resources may not even catch it at all, even sitting right next to me. I did wash my hands diligently and did not sneeze or cough directly on anyone's furnishings.)

It's been a week since I handed care of my neighbor back to the person it belongs to, and I am still trying to recover. I did not bounce back. This is partly due to the fact that I had seven days of cat care for two different clients lined up directly after the whole debacle, and one of those involved some early mornings, but mostly due to the fact that - news flash! - people are not naturally bouncy. No really. We can plyometric ourselves to death, but we still won't actually bounce.

It turns out I hate that term, bounce back. It makes it seem like it happens so easily and naturally, but in my experience as of late, there is nothing easy about it. It requires intention, planning, acceptance. It's that last bit I'm struggling with. One week out, and I am still tired all day, even with the help of my good friend coffee. There is no bounce. There is just steady, incredibly slow progress.

Before this happened, I was on a roll. I think this is why I am struggling so much with acceptance now - I had worked my way into a rhythm in which most things got done well in advance. For the homeschool meet up I facilitate, I was working a week in advance. We have that meet up again tomorrow, and I am not done with all the prep yet. And then there's my kitchen that I was keeping mostly clean - it is not, in fact, mostly clean. Or partly clean. It's "a tip," as they say here.

I know it will get better. I need a few days during which I have little of consequence to do, and that is coming this weekend.  For now though, just a few words in case you find yourself in this same situation. It's okay if you don't bounce back. It's okay if a hard thing, no matter how brief, makes things hard for a little while, or for a long while. You don't have to be a super hero. Rest. Let some things go. Pay attention to what your body wants. My body wanted a certain type of pastry, so I bought a package of them and hid them in my wardrobe so I would have to share. My body wanted to take the escalator, not the stairs. So that's what I did.

It's okay to do that, you know. In a culture that is obsessed with wellness and fitness, it's okay to  acknowledge that what will possibly make you most well is to listen to your own body. It's more than okay. (And I will certainly have more to say about that later.) It's good. Right now, my body is saying that it's still tired. It still needs more time, more rest, less stress. So I'm going to listen. And eventually, I will be back to my normal, no bouncing required.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

All is Well, Because It Ended Well


I've switched from cat photos to photos of things I'm chopping in my kitchen. I hope you are not disappointed. I took this photo with the intention of using it for a very different kind of post, but I never got time to write it. Sometimes life gets tricky.

On Thursday I stood in my kitchen chopping chocolate, enjoying the quiet joy of working in the kitchen alone, thinking about the weekend ahead and the work that needed to be done to make it go smoothly and peacefully. It was our turn to host children's vespers, and I had lists made so that each thing would get done in turn, with the effort spread out from Thursday to Saturday. I smiled to myself with satisfaction. The weekend was going to be easy, thanks to my careful planning and the work I'd done in advance.

Well.

Ahem.

Best-laid plans and whatnot.

Earlier in the week, our neighbour's son had asked us to let people in to care for his mother while he was away on a business trip. She has dementia and struggles to open the door to people, so I said sure, no problem. We'd be around, and we were also planning on visiting her every day to make sure she was okay and cheer her up a bit anyway. Her son lives with her, but he travels for work a lot, and as her dementia has gotten worse, it has gotten more distressing for her when he goes. It felt like no big deal to commit to seeing her more often and coordinating our daily visits with the professionals that came for her care.

On Friday, she seemed quite unwell, so I notified her son, and a nurse visited and agreed that further action needed to be taken. I was told the GP would be in touch with me to let him in to examine her that evening, and then he would decide what course of action to take next. It was an extra visit to her house, which meant I needed to juggle errands a bit, but still, no big deal. Until the GP didn't show up.

I alerted her son, who left a message for her case manager. There was no response. What followed was 36 hours of her condition steadily worsening, with me as the only person who was there to attempt to assist her, while I was also dashing back to my house to prepare for and host children's vespers. It was unclear whether she was unwell enough to necessitate dialing 999 and sending her to the hospital. I wasn't comfortable making a medical decision for her, especially as she was expressing quite strongly that she did not want to go anywhere but to her bed.

What I remember about children's vespers is that everyone loved the barbecued pork, and I was very happy about this, because I had made the barbecue sauce myself but couldn't taste it because the stress of neighbor's situation was making my chronic heartburn flare up. Saturday, the day which was supposed to go off without a hitch thanks to my lists and planning ahead, was the worst day I'd had so far in 2019. I was in charge of a woman who likely had an infection in addition to her usual dementia struggles, and I had no idea how to get her the help she needed. I tucked her in as well as I could that night, then came home to my own bed and mostly did not sleep.

I got up on Sunday angry - that my neighbor had been let down, and that no one seemed to think it was important enough to follow up and get her the care she clearly needed. I ceased to care about the line I'd drawn to keep from invading her privacy too much, and I walked into her house determined to read every piece of medical paperwork I could find until I located a phone number to call to get help. If no one could help, then that would be my confirmation that dialing 999 was the right choice.

Providentially, a relative of hers who had seen her on Friday and knew she was unwell showed up shortly after I did. She took charge of the practicalities of clothes and bedding changes, and I started rifling through paperwork and dialing numbers that I found. Eventually, I was given the social care emergency number. The person I spoke to took my details and said someone would be in touch. I waited. Someone else called and said they'd see what they could do. I waited some more. I was promised help from a nurse. I waited for the nurse. At no point in time was I given a number to call if someone did not show up. If anything went awry, I would have to call the social care emergency line again and start the process over. I was caught between being responsible for someone's health and safety and having no real power to do much of anything about it.

Finally, I received a call that a nurse had been assigned to help with food and bathing Sunday night and Monday morning. Her care team would be back in the office on Monday morning, and her son promised to be on the phone with them first thing. From there it was all a blur of letting various people in, trying to get my neighbor to eat or drink something with nutritional value, texting her son, doing laundry, taking calls from various professionals who were back in the office, and getting supplies that were needed. The GP made a house call and diagnosed an infection, after which I was put in charge of making sure she took antibiotics. When pressed, the care team agreed to send a nurse to administer the medication and possibly help with clothing and bedding changes, but the nurse wasn't told what she had to do before she showed up. I was, in effect, the nurse's supervisor. Monday night, I tucked my neighbor in for one last night on her own and prayed that she would be okay until morning. She was. The nurse came again, meds went down the hatch, I could see that she was improving.

By the time her son came home yesterday afternoon, my neighbor was feeling well enough to be stand on her own and attempt to get dressed. The dire situation of the weekend was starting to fade. My work was done. I went home, feeling sick. There's nothing like extra stress to make one more susceptible to a virus. I laid down on my bed, exhausted and with a headache that seemed to encompass my whole body.

Today I have spent the day in bed. I had a cat job this evening, so I did that. There were a few things at home that couldn't be left undone, so I did those things. I've started to feel better. Rest helps, and so does peace of mind. I know that my neighbor is back in the hands of the people who can get her what she needs now and for the long term. I was there when she needed me, but I don't need to do anything else. I can go back to being her friend who visits twice a week to chat with her.

In the middle of the weekend, I felt angry. I wanted to blame someone for what happened, and I was upset to be thrown in the middle of it with few resources to get anything done. But looking back on it now, I see that I had what was necessary to help my neighbor. It wasn't ideal, and mistakes were indeed made, but we did okay. We survived! On the other side of this awful weekend, there is a sense of urgency for her care that didn't exist before, and ultimately, that is a good thing. I love my neighbor, and I am happy that she will get what she needs. I am happy, too, that I was there to give her what she needed when no one else was. It could have ended badly. It didn't. All is well.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

If I Can Do It, Then...


Lately I've been managing to do a lot of things that have seemed impossible for quite some time, some of them for as long as I've been a parent. I think part of it is down to the lengthening days, and part of it is down to the lightening of some other loads, mental and otherwise. Many of them are basic home maintenance type of things, like washing the bed linen on a regular basis and wiping down the counters more frequently. These seem like small things, but they honestly were just too much for me some days. Which makes me think of this statement which I hear and read a lot. If I can do it, then anyone can do it.

Frankly, I don't know of any case in which that statement is true. Not one. There will always be someone for whom what you are doing is impossible or would take more effort than it is worth making.

When we make statements like that, we do not allow for others to have a different experience than we are having. It also sets us up to have expectations which others may or may not be able to meet. We make judgment calls about others which may or may not be correct. And often, those judgment calls are unkind.

So I will let you in on a little secret. Most people do not broadcast their troubles. A lot of the things which have taken my time, energy, and mental capacity during the past nine years in particular are not mine to share. I might allude to some things, but very few people outside our immediate family will know the extent of it. When it comes down to it, I would like to be given the benefit of the doubt. If I say I cannot do something - or if I simply don't do something which seems like it should be done - I would like people to assume that there is a good reason that I am not doing it. So I think a lot about giving others the benefit of the doubt as well. What I desire from others, I must be willing to give. I'm not immune to judging others. I do it. But I could do it less, and this is something I am working on.

Let's be gentle with each other. Let's let go of the idea that anything is easy for everybody. Let's approach each other with compassion and empathy. If we each take less time to judge and more time to be understanding, we will create a better life not just for the person we are not judging, but for ourselves as well. There is peace in allowing others to be human. I think we could all do with a little more peace.

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Perfect Job


I spent part of the weekend working - for pay, and also not for pay. The for-pay part was actually way easier than the not-for-pay part. I continue to look after other people's cats as a side job. It doesn't pay loads, but it's something, and considering the fact that I accidentally for sure bought a new pair of shoes as opposed to maybe keeping the pair of shoes I'd bought on a whim, something is better than nothing. It's also a good fit for me, since I love cats and also love being alone. This job provides both! Amaaaaaazing! The only part I don't love is having to get up early for it sometimes, but I can live with that because: cats! silence! money to pay for the shoes I have most definitely bought!

The not-for-pay part of the weekend was drudgery, but drudgery that I am happy to do for the good of the collective. As a bonus, it helps me keep up marketable skills which are not related to cats and may someday offer more lucrative career opportunities. I've got no designs on trying to do anything other than sporadic part time work right now, but someday I will find myself with more time than I have now, and it would be wise to add a little money to the family retirement coffers once I am able. So I converted eleventy squajillion pages of meeting notes into two pages of meeting minutes, to be printed on a single piece of paper, front and back. As much as it was incredibly tedious and annoying, I find that I am pleased with my work. So I guess that's a win as well.

I do wonder sometimes just what kind of job I'll have someday. My current work experience is so varied that I wouldn't know where to start. So mostly I don't think about it. I take the opportunities that I have in front of me, and I do my best to do my work well. I get up early some mornings and walk through the fog to a little kitty who is lonely because her people are away for the weekend. I coordinate groups, invent craft projects, take notes using a very specific type of pen that no, you may not borrow. I work out curriculum for two very different learners. I figure out what to do with the unfamiliar veg in the veg box. I keep the budget. I have no idea what these skills will add up to in the future. But right now? I suppose they all add up to the perfect job for me.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A Place for Everything, But Not Every Thing in Its Place


Here we have yet another photo of our nervous little cat not exactly sitting on the table. I mean, not directly. Her tail is clearly out of bounds, but thanks to Z leaving all her drawing things out, kitty has a nice little spot to occupy without being scolded. I did tell her to get down. She did...you know, later. When she felt like it. It's just that I feel very sorry for this cat, because she is so very nervous about everything. I imagine it's not very comfortable being her, so if she wants to sit on things which are set on the table, I am just not going to stop her. (Unless it's someone's plate.) Here I imagine that she is contemplate taking up figure drawing to calm her nerves.

Right. That's not what I came here to write about tonight. It's related though, as I am providing an example of one of the many little messes around our house. Behind the cat is our overflowing treat basket. I'm not sure why the leftover crackers from E's party are in there, but I'm just rolling with it, and with a lot of the other little messes that are everywhere at the moment. I put some things away, but I can't put everything away for all four of us, so I've ceased trying. It is also a bit onerous to try to get anyone else to put things away if I don't have a good reason for it, so I've given up.

This is not a bad thing. I've gotten things organized well enough that when there is a good reason to ask my family to put things away, it's not hard to do. Even if not everything is in its place, there is now a place for each thing to go, and it's fairly straightforward to just take things there. Things can get out of hand to the point that the quantity of things to be put away is overwhelming, but we've had a party recently enough that we're nowhere near Situation Critical. We are hosting children's vespers in a week and a half, and I am not concerned. We can get things put away quickly, everyone we know is used to the lack of attention to dusting in our house, and I am making the main dish in my crockpot, so even the food is sorted. Easy peasy.

Plus, I think there's a good argument to be made for leaving some things out. It's comfortable. I know that some people feel most at peace when everything is put away, neat as a pin, but for our family, having a few things out here and there makes it feel like we live here. Knowing that we can leave things out sometimes makes this feel like home instead of just a place to entertain the guests that only show up sporadically throughout the year. This is where we can relax. This is where we can be ourselves, not just the most polished versions of ourselves. So we've got some snacks stashed in weird places. There's a doll wearing sunglasses at the top of the stairs. I've got books tucked just under my side of the bed. There are shoes scattered throughout the whole house. This is home. So we let it be.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Emerging Into the Light


I spent the weekend and today doing everything and nothing. Resting but accomplishing things. It has been absolutely lovely. It occurred to me today that since September, I've had something major for which I was responsible on the horizon constantly. Sometimes the responsibility was shared in some way, but as the family planner and the organizer for some other things, quite a lot of responsibility for making sure things happen rests on my shoulders. So we went on vacation, we went to the US, we had a lot going on up to Christmas, we had Genna, it was E's birthday, there were some parish council meetings thrown in, a few other important church things, plus the usual demands of home education, the homeschool group I facilitate, etc. It was all overlapping.

And now, with E's big party done and the work of this past week done, there is nothing big looming on my schedules. I've even done the necessary work to file our taxes! I can relax, knowing that nothing urgent is going undone. There is time again. Time to rest, time to do things, time to leave things undone if I want. And there is also light. I can't deny that this helps as well. The sun is up around 7am now, so I'm not fighting with the dark to be out of bed by 8:30. (Yes, I do realize that it is a luxury to have my goal for getting out of bed be 8:30. It is a full on gift to this night owl, and I am aware of my good fortune in this.) I don't feel at 4pm that it is already night. I can see to get dinner started without turning on the kitchen light. It's feels amazing! One of the gifts of the shorter days is that the lighter ones feel like a miracle.

Also in the category of "feels like a miracle" are some little, silly things. I have found sneakers that I truly love which fit me well and were on sale to boot. We started getting a local veg box, and my kids are excited to see what is in it each week and even to try new things. I got my grocery vouchers from the loyalty scheme, and friends! I am going to save so much money on my groceries this month! It feels good, all of it.

So, so good.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Let the Mess Rest


In my last post, I said that I'd come back and let you know if Friday's activities included pajamas. I am sad to report that the answer is mostly no, as we did end up leaving the house today. We are checking in on our neighbor every day for a little while, as her son is out of town for work, and she needs both extra company and a bit of help sometimes. I'm sure she would've just thought it was funny if I showed up in pajamas, but I decided that the rest of the neighbors might make other judgments.

On the upside, because I was getting dressed anyway, the opportunity presented itself to wear some things I hadn't worn in awhile and see if they were still workable for me. Because my wardrobe space is small, sometimes things get pushed to the back of a compartment or get otherwise lost in between other garments. I had a pair of jeans and a top that I'd forgotten about entirely. I'm pleased to report that both still fit fine, have not developed any new moth holes or become otherwise disfigured, and will be back in rotation now that I've remembered they exist.

Besides visiting our neighbor, there were a few other things I needed to do today, but I decided that on the whole the day should be one of relaxation. The house is a mess, and so this was a bit hard for me. Every room I went into, I saw things that needed to be tidied. But I think we all know that I'm no Marie Kondo, and I made a conscious decision to let the mess rest, and let myself rest as well. All the cats got lap naps. The kids had the read aloud portion of their schoolwork attended to. And I got what was necessary done, but I got to be still a lot, too. It was what I needed today.

These last three or so weeks have been solidly busy. Last night's meeting had me out until nearly 11pm, and I had a hard time turning my brain off afterwards. It was lovely getting into bed knowing that today I would have a bit more space in my life today to do things a bit more slowly, and to ignore some things altogether. The weekend will hold errands, but also time at home, during which I can catch up on the things that got neglected today. It's all about the balance, really. I'm happy that today worked out the way that it did.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Randomness on a Wednesday


Oh, hi. Here is a picture of a cat in a large ceramic bowl. Yes, that is a blanket in the bowl, meant to lure the cat in. No, the cat is not sitting on the table, where she is not allowed to sit. I mean, isn't that obvious? She is sitting in a bowl. Yes, the bowl is on the table. But the cat is not directly on the table, so...it's fine?

Z got that bowl at the church social and sale on Sunday. She likes anything that's "olden-day-ish" and was thrilled when no one had bought this by the end, so it was marked down to a price she could afford. She's not sure what she's going to do with it long term, so for now it's a cat bed. We did move it off the table, though. And also I closed that drawer in the yellow cupboard properly, because I am the only one who can do it. I mean, I think I am, because no one else ever does. I am going to assume they are all incapable in order to not foster resentment. Closing the yellow cupboard drawer is officially my job.

We are in the middle of a busy week after a busy weekend, and I am going a little bit nuts. (Perhaps you noticed?) I have gotten some things done, though, and for that I feel quite pleased with myself. Aside from the confetti-filled balloons that are still lingering all over the house, all the party things have been put away. I led our Wednesday homeschool group this afternoon, so that's done. The laundry all got washed and dried. Fabulous, yes? Yes.

But there's still more to come, as always - the clean, dry laundry hasn't managed to fold itself, and I have a parish council meeting tomorrow. I'm the parish council secretary, so I must attend and takes notes that I can turn into minutes. We also need to visit our neighbor. And then it will be Friday, and I have no idea what is happening Friday. I hope it mostly involves pajamas. I'll check back in here then and let you know.


Monday, February 11, 2019

E at Seven


Today our E turned seven years old. Seven! So big and yet still pretty small. The outfit she is wearing in the photo above really encapsulates who she is at this age. All sparkle and stripes and color and still little enough to want to hold our hands. Seven means that she can walk or scooter pretty much anywhere we need to go, but she still asks to be carried when she is tired. (We mostly comply with this request. I know how quickly a child goes from being small enough to carry to being altogether too big for it.) She likes to sit on my lap after dinner, and she sometimes appears in our bed in the middle of the night. She has about five different names for J, which she uses with affection. She loves her sister fiercely and also gets upset with her using that same fierceness.

She likes to sing the songs from Hamilton, and she knows which words she is not allowed to sing at all, and which ones she can only sing at home, when it's just us. Thanks to our neighborly visits, she has discovered both James Bond and Friends, and she likes both. She can be talked into doing a reading lesson with the offer of an episode of Friends, but otherwise she feels it is a boring waste of time. She is clever and kind. She has an endless number of friends of all ages. She makes people smile regularly, even when she is being cheeky. She has an iron will that she is learning to wield to her advantage. She is an absolute delight, and we are lucky to know her.

Friday, February 8, 2019

For the Love of My Little Extrovert


I've spent the past two weeks planning and preparing for a big event tomorrow. This big event is set to be the big event of 2019. There will be no other time that we will invite so many people to our home for a celebration. This is because only one of us is an extrovert. I told E that she could invite whomever she chose to her birthday party, and she chose, well, pretty much everyone she knows. We invited thirty children to our home to watch Muppets Most Wanted. Twenty-two said yes. Many of their parents will attend with them.

I see some of you introverts are needing to take a break. Please take your time and come back when you are ready. I understand if you are never ready.

All joking aside, a party of this size in a house of the size we live in is a challenge no matter how you slice it. But a girl only turns seven once, and I was the dummy who told her she could invite as many children as she wanted. We now have a variety of cinema type snacks to suit the various dietary needs of our guests. We have a big cake which is full of butter and eggs, and we have two dozen cupcakes which are vegan. We have food for the adults to eat, which I hope the children won't pilfer, because there is not enough for everyone. (Just eat the popcorn and sweets, kids. I beg you, please.) There are juice boxes for the kids, tea and coffee for the adults, and if I've forgotten anything, that's too bad. I can't do another thing for this Muppets Most Wanted extravaganza.

The only thing I can do now is get into bed early, and wake up ready to set everything up and make it a special day for E. I may complain a bit (or a lot), but in the end, this is about celebrating her. And she is an extrovert who loves her friends. All of them. It's going to be good.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Finishing Friday's Writing on a Tuesday


I am very popular lately. Did you know this? It's true. Mostly just with my own kids, but still. It's enough popularity to last me a lifetime, I think. I am very rarely alone, and there is often someone touching me. This makes it very hard to concentrate, and if the person is hanging on my arm as if I am a climbing frame, it also makes it quite hard to type. So I have not been doing much typing that is unnecessary. I started this post with the photo of golden winter light last Friday night, when I thought I'd have an hour alone to concentrate, and then I didn't. I haven't been alone since then except to power nap for fifteen minutes on Saturday. This is my last ditch effort to write something to go with this photo. (Which is not to say that this post actually goes with this photo. But I will proceed anyway.)

I am very cognizant of the fact that my children will not be children forever, and I will not be home educating them forever either. Z already has plans to ditch me in favor of a theater program when she is fourteen. Neither of my kids will need me so much in the future, and so I am doing my best to be patient with what seem like ever-present needs, wants, and demands. Someday they will be out of the house more than they are in, and I will miss them. There is so much to love about their presence here.

But at the same time, I don't think it does anyone any favors to be dishonest about what parenthood is actually like. No one has ever said, "Have kids! They're terribly convenient!" Being a parent is to submit oneself to years of inconvenience, and at times a good deal of heartache, in the name of love. But still we do it, because the good does outweigh the bad in most cases. I suppose if we inadvertently end up raising a megalomaniac, I might change my mind about that, but I don't foresee that happening.

But what will happen is that sometimes I will make plans for myself that are impossible due to my kids' needs. I will put up with a thousand discomforts. More than that. I'll be asked hundreds of questions every day. I'll sit in front of my computer screen, and my children will ask me to turn on the Mary Poppins Returns soundtrack again, and I won't be able to think, because my computer is also the source of music when the kids want to listen, and "A Cover is Not the Book" will cause my mind to seize up. I will not finish a blog post once, twice, three times. The fourth time will be the charm (this time). And it will be fine. Because I'd rather they want to be with me than want to be as far away as possible. I'd rather have them here, now, than lose the chance. I wished to be a mother, and now I am one, and I would be a fool to resent the inconveniences that come along with a wish come true.

People ask me sometimes what I will do when my children are grown and gone. They mean to ask what I will do for work, but I don't really know about that. I have some ideas, but it's far enough out that I don't feel I need to think too hard about it. I hope instead that what I will do is to be grateful for the state I find myself in then. After all these years of wishing the house were just a bit more quiet, I hope I won't resent getting exactly what I wished for.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

On Helping Myself Feel Productive



It's cold here - not as cold as some places where we've got friends and family, but still cold. E has reached the stage where she can go almost anywhere by walking or on her scooter, but she's still prone to dillydallying, lollygagging, whatever antiquated word you want to throw at it. Which basically means that she will go very slowly and sometimes stop, for whatever reason makes sense to her at the moment, but which is not seen by the rest of us as a good reason to stand around in freezing temperatures. Regardless of my best efforts to make everything go smoothly when we go out, there's a 98% chance that one or more of us will be uncomfortable (and complain about it) for at least 50% of the journey. At least. So we don't go out if we don't need to, is what I'm getting at.

Normally when we have a day at home, I get through a lot of tasks. I get the kids' school readings done, grab a second cup of coffee, and go for it. At the end of those days, I feel like I have conquered the world. It feels great. I go to bed happy and at peace. But right now it is cold. We are in a winter slump. I can't seem to power through a lot of tasks in an afternoon at home. I lack the power. So instead, I am choosing to focus on a more limited number of tasks that will do two things: 1. Make things easier in the long term, and 2. Make me feel as if I have accomplished something with my time. Even when I am embracing the chance to have a bit of a rest, I want to feel productive.

Today I chose to do a task I'd been putting off for months. I knew that if I did it, I would feel like the day wasn't a total waste. I didn't want to do it, but it would fulfill the two requirements listed above. So, I organized E's shelf in our craft cupboard. It was daunting, but I did it. One garbage each of rubbish and recycling later, it was done. It didn't take long, but it made a noticeable difference. I can now go to bed in peace.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Luckiest Introvert Mama


Today we had our Wednesday homeschool group. I can't remember how much I've said about this group in the past, so to recap what I may or may not have said, this group is one that I plan and facilitate. We have a really amazing location with both indoor and outdoor space to use, and each week we have a theme for which the children can prepare a presentation if they like, and I come up with a craft to go along with the theme. We meet fortnightly, which works out well for me. I wouldn't say that it's loads of work, but it's enough that I wouldn't want to have to do it weekly. In addition to planning the craft and gathering all the necessary materials, I also haul everything we need in out and of the venue each time. So it requires a fair bit of exertion just on that score.

And then there's the other aspect, which is that I am an introvert, and it's become a very well attended group. This makes me happy, because I know that means that I must be doing my job as planner/facilitator reasonably well. But it also makes me exhausted. Everything that involves being with lots of people does, and when I'm in charge, it's even more intense. So after it's over, I need a little time just to myself.

I'm feeling very fortunate today that this is something my children have come to understand and accept about me, and aside from times when their own needs loom large, they give me the space I need. This wasn't always the case. But today they made a quick visit into the living room when they were discussing what they'd do for the rest of the afternoon, and then they left me alone. And then - then! - they cleaned. The only thing better than being left alone when I need space is having someone do the work that is often left to me.

There have been some aspects of parenting that have been a big challenge the last couple of weeks, and sometimes I've been left wondering if I'm doing much of anything right. So much of what I thought was going well started going wrong. It was incredibly discouraging. But today my children listened to what I needed, didn't question it or complain about it, and then did something kind for me. I won't give myself full credit for any of this, but I think that maybe, possibly, I'm not doing everything wrong after all.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Winter Slump


Try as we might, we can't seem to get back into our normal homeschool routine. Or maybe it's try as I might, because my young pupils aren't very keen on trying. Even the cat is disinterested. (See above.) We're not doing nothing, but some lessons have been outright refused. We have a system in which the kids can only have screen time and other special activities if they've done their school lessons, and one of my children is like, meh, not worth it. Which is her choice to make, but ugh. She sure is making it more times in a row than I am comfortable with.

This is the inconvenience of raising kids to make their own choices and learn to live with the consequences. Sometimes they choose the consequences. I think that right now, we are all tired, and we've been doing a whole lot of stuff, and it's cold, and nothing seems worth it. Who cares about screen time or a special activity if it requires effort to get it? Not my school lesson avoiding child. And the truth is that there are some fun things I'd like to do right now, but the effort it would take to do them is more than I'm willing to exert. I get it. I'm not judging my kids for doing what I myself do sometimes.

Some people would likely advise that I do something to force her to do her schoolwork. I understand the logic of this. Many people see schoolwork as a child's job. But I see it as one responsibility among many, and if she is making progress in other areas, then I can let her make this decision for herself right now. Eventually, she will decide to do her schoolwork again. I know she will. This has happened before, and I know the drill. I'm not worried. If only I could get her to sound a bit less delighted when she shouts "NOTHING!" to queries about what she learned that day, I'd be all set.

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Myth of "Just Five Minutes"


Monday continues to be a real humdinger of a day. For my health, I start my day slowly. Yes, really - for my health. I do better with a slow start. But once I've had my morning bit of quiet, all bets are off for just what I'll get done for the day. There's always so much to cram in.

As it is still January, and people are still committed to beginning the year with new habits and goals, I've been seeing/hearing/reading a whole lot about prioritizing time and giving just five or ten or twenty minutes to some worthy endeavor. This is often followed by the phrase "no excuses," as if we can all find that much time to devote to something similar.

Well.

I hate to burst the bubble of all those people who are encouraging me to  better myself, but sometimes I do not have five minutes. Or ten minutes. Or twenty minutes. Some days, like today, it's 11pm, and I have had no free time in my day since I ditched the coffee cup and started in on my list. I thought I would have time, but I didn't. My kids needed things that took time and lap space. Sometimes my whole body is involved in parenting, and there is nothing else I can do at all. Today, I got the necessary things done, but nothing extra.

So I'm not really interested in adding any other commitments to my days. It's never just five minutes, and even if it were, there are only so many five minute intervals of time within a day. It seems like there would be an endless amount, but alas, no. All those small blocks of time add up, and I don't have enough of them as it is. When I do have more time than I anticipate having, I like to be able to decide then and there how I will use it. I don't want life to be so full that every day is like today, with nothing leftover at the end of it.

Despite all the talk of self care that's floating around these days, leaving time unaccounted for in the day is still often frowned upon. I know this. It is a powerful thing to have other people displaying their very good habits and encouraging others to do the same. It can feel like I am not doing enough, not making enough effort. But feelings are not facts, and we must each determine what actually works in our own lives. For me, what works is accepting that I don't have any unused bits of time to give right now. If you have five minutes (or more - lucky you!) each day for something new, go for it! But if, like me, you have a greater need for margins on the page of your life than you do for more to write into the story, that's ok, too. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Catching Up


Today I organized our kitchen food cupboard so I could better see what is in it. It's not very big, and after a season of rushing around to get dinner on the table quite a lot, it was in a state of utter disarray. I kept buying tubes of tomato puree, only to unearth one when digging for pasta or rice. I bought herbs that we had multiple extra jars of. And then I couldn't fit in the things we actually needed that I bought. It was time. So I did it.

And with that, the organizing tasks I had set for myself were done. I'm not done so much as I'm at a place that it makes sense to pause. Further organizing must take place in the laundry room, where it is too cold to work comfortably right now. As those organizational tasks will take a good deal of time and effort, I'd rather wait until it is warm, when I am not holding my body curled in on itself for warmth as I try to work. It will be quicker to do it in the spring.

I don't think I've been this caught up on organizing since before I became a mother. The frenzied sorting and packing I did before we moved to London doesn't really count. I did put things away in a somewhat organized fashion once we arrived, but there were pockets of resistance from the beginning. Which isn't to say there aren't any now (there's always something), but they are either reserved for spring work or are no longer my responsibility. Amazing!

Next thing I know, I'll be able to have - dare I say it? - a hobby. I know. It's a big step, but I think I'm ready. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Kinds of Things I Keep


I'm pretty sure we still have that toddler hat that E is wearing in this picture. It's not something we've kept on purpose as much as it keeps escaping my child wardrobe culling by not being where we normally keep hats. But some things escape because of the memories I associate with them. I've squirreled away more clothing items than I'd like to admit to Marie Kondo. But she's not coming to my house, and I'll admit it to you.

I keep things that mean something to me. I keep clothes that may never be worn again. I have the shirt I was wearing when I met both of my children, which is now too threadbare to wear again, as well as the one that I wore when a judge declared I was their mother, which I still put on from time to time. I have clothes that each of my children wore when they were small, and I have some things that both of them wore, which no longer will fit either one of them. These clothes jog my memory, and they bring back the feelings I felt when they were being worn. They are precious to me.

This week I have been working on sorting through the photos on my computer, getting rid of the ones we really don't need in anticipation of transferring everything to a new machine. I had to pause when I found photos of medical procedures. For example, one of my children had a medical procedure for which a nurse came and did a dressing change every few days, and I was to take a photo of the wound to send to the doctor so he could see the changes. I've got photos that show medical equipment in use. It seems in some ways unnecessary to keep these, but I found I couldn't delete them. These photos tell the story of our lives just as much as the other ones do. So I'm keeping them.

This is what it boils down to, really, that I am telling a story. I am using these things, whether they be photos or clothes or other objects, to remember all the important parts of the story. So much happened in so little time that all four of us have forgotten parts of it. I know that many people would think I am foolish for the things I keep. That's okay. Let them think I'm a fool. There's a story that needs to be told, and with these things, I can keep telling it.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Sometimes the Hard Times Are the Best Times


My kids have been driving me crazy. I'm going to go ahead and blame the super blood wolf moon (not sure I got the order of the descriptors right, but let's go with it). We didn't get up to see it, because I was not interested in getting myself and my children up in the middle of the night after one had tested the limits of some very important boundaries at dinnertime and the other had shown up after midnight to sit on me and communicate with the man inside her finger. (If you've seen Muppet Treasure Island, that might make sense to you. If not, just suffice it to say that she was being super weird.)

Parenting is a joy and it is also stupid hard sometimes. Sometimes it's stupid hard at the same time that it's a joy. I mean, having my child keep me from sleeping in order to communicate with her finger is pretty hilarious as well as annoying. But beyond that, some of the hardest times that I've worked through with my children have led to some of the sweetest revelations. I wouldn't have one without the other. The hard and the good come together.

This is what I am making note of in this season of parenting. Yes, we have some times that are only wonderful. We have some times that are only terrible. But mostly, it's a mix, and I have a choice in how I respond. I can get annoyed and stay annoyed, or I can recognize that annoyance is part of the deal and move on. I can think of all the jokes we have that came out of poor choices that each of us has made and how my kids forgive me for the annoying things that I do, too.

I am doing my best to reframe things to recognize the good in every situation. For the situations that are only terrible, those are allowed to simply be terrible. I'm not going to try to get blood from a turnip. But in most cases, I can find something good, and that's what I'm aiming for.

Friday, January 18, 2019

What Feels Like Home


Once we lived on the top floor of a house in San Francisco where I could see the ocean from my bed. With the windows open, I could hear it at night. It was deeply soothing, and it was very much what I needed at that time in my life. We had moved across the country with Z, and six months later we'd bring E home with us, to a life full of medical appointments and hospital stays, which wouldn't end until shortly before we moved away two years later.

It was the perfect place for us. It was full of light, and the floor plan allowed us to be near to one another no matter what room we were in, which helped us immensely in attending to the needs of both of our children. I knew walking in to view it the first time that I loved the light, and I loved the ocean view, and I could see our family living there. It was in my favorite neighborhood in San Francisco, which at the time was considered utterly uncool.

Mostly, though, the house just seemed like home. That's what I felt, more than anything, when I first walked up the stairs and into the sunlit rooms. Home. I am easily creeped out, and yet I never felt scared in that house; it reminded me an awful lot of the apartment I'd lived in when I was in Kansas City, which gifted me six and a half years of comfort as a single woman living alone. It was really nothing like the Kansas City place aside from that feeling. It felt right to me, like I belonged there, that was all.

Similarly, the house we find ourselves in now is nothing like my old place in Kansas City or the one in San Francisco. But it has that same feeling. It feels good to me, like home. And this makes me utterly delighted to be living here. The first house we were in here was a good house, but it didn't feel good to me the way this one does.

I am hoping that for the long term we will have a place of our own, a place that will feel like home that we won't have to leave after a few years. But for now, this place is good. I am grateful, every time I walk through our front door into the that feeling of belonging here, of home.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Focus, Please


Tonight I did something absolutely magical. It involved:

1. Eating free sandwiches and drinking free herbal tea.
2. Giving my opinions, of which I have a lot to give.
3. Being done with the whole thing in 90 minutes.
4. Receiving £40 before I walked out the door.

If you hadn't guessed by now (and I think you probably have), I participated in a focus group this evening. I've never been part of one, so I didn't know just what to expect, but this was a very good experience. I was told ahead of time that it would be regarding the local area and community, so that gave me a positive impression. (Though for the record, I would have a positive impression of giving my opinion about carpet lint if they were offering me free food and cash.)

I was in a group of nine people who are all residents of the borough we live in, and it was an excellent representation of the diversity of the population. We were asked questions about our community and how we feel about it, then about airports. The facilitator made a joke about making us work for our "pocket money," but it was honestly a very easy and gratifying experience.

I loved hearing everyone's responses and learning more about the different areas of our borough and the people who live here. I was pleased to hear that, like me, the others love living here, too. People used words like open and welcoming and kind to describe the people who live here. We all agreed that the diversity of race and culture is part of what makes us happy with where we live. I absolutely love this. I walked out of the room £40 richer, but also with a renewed sense of gratitude for my community and for the privilege of living where I do.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Solutions to My First World Problems


Some months ago, we had quite a crowd over for dinner. We couldn't all fit around our table, so a few people opted to wait and eat when everyone else was done. Meanwhile, everyone was having tea and coffee, and I ended up running out of good cups and having to serve someone coffee in a cup that was fairly badly stained. I know - the horror. I don't think the person minded, but I did, and so I started purchasing one nice mug per month, in order to have mugs suitable for guests. First world problem of potentially being embarrassed about a stained cup: SOLVED.

I do love those new mugs. They're Orla Kiely ones and very pretty. But were they actually necessary? Well, probably not. I could've picked up a few mugs at a charity shop and called it done. But I didn't. And I don't know how I feel about that, about so many things in my house which are nice to have, but which I could certainly do without. Sometimes I read the words of St Basil, and I think, oh dear. He says,
"The bread  which you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear moldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. The silver that you keep hidden in a safe place belongs to the one in need. Thus, however many are those whom you could have provided for, so many are those whom you wrong."
And yet here I sit, still contemplating solutions to some of my very privileged problems. And I am not quite sure how to find the balance between making sure I do not hoard too much for myself and having things which are useful.

At the moment, I have it in my mind that it would be very helpful to have an upright freezer. I can cook more than I can store in my current freezer, and batch cooking is both more economical and more nourshing than what I resort to when I am too busy to make things homemade. I looked at a freezer last Saturday which I could easily fill with a few days of cooking and baking. Then, in a pinch, there would always be something for my family to eat, even if I didn't have the time to cook. But would it actually be a good idea to get a freezer? Where is the line between practicality for my own family and being able to give more? I don't know the answer to that. But I am going to keep asking this question of myself, until I do.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Hope Deferred


I've started thinking about this place again. Ethiopia. And of the city we were in when this photo was taken in particular. It's not been far from my mind since the last time we were there; I am always thinking of where my daughters come from and how and when we will manage to go back. Always. It is important; my children need to be in the place where they come from. They need to go home sometimes.

My goal has been to travel to Ethiopia every two years. This hasn't worked out, really. My goals don't always align with our financial realities, or with instances of civil unrest, or many other factors. In April, it will have been two years since we went, and we do not have another trip planned at this time. Neither of my kids had expressed a need to go, so I was relaxing a little about this reality. But that changed this week. One of my kids need to go home.

I have no idea how I will make this happen. Absolutely none. But one of my words for 2019 is optimism. So I'm going to trust that there's a way, and if there's not a way, that this hope deferred until later will not make us heartsick.

If you're the praying sort, pray for us.

(Or else tell us how to increase the odds that we'll win the lotto.)

Friday, January 11, 2019

Peace, But Later


Today was a tough one. One of my kids - I won't say which one - did her level best to check the boundaries of her life. The boundaries are still firm. The day ended with heartfelt apologies to everyone whose efforts at just living normally she'd disrupted, including one of the cats. This is how I know that the apologies are sincere; she will seek out everyone she knows she has wronged and apologize for what she did to them specifically. And she will whisper it, because apologies can feel a little embarrassing. I am doing my best to make sure she knows that we all make mistakes like this. We hurt each other sometimes. We should try not to, but when we fail, the important part is that we make it right.

I think it is pretty normal for kids to check the boundaries, but it doesn't make it pleasant for anyone when they do. Some kids just do gentle checks, and if you have one of those kids, please say a prayer of gratitude tonight for your good fortune. Other kids really want to test the outer limits of edge of reason, and possibly their parents' sanity. (Ahem.) I happen to have two children whose strength of will is unmatched by 90% of the population, and while I see this overall as a good thing, what is true of most strengths is true in this case. This strength can cause a whole lot of trouble when used unwisely.

I see it as my job as a parent to help my children harness their strengths for good. With two extra strong girls in my care, during the majority of my waking hours (thanks, homeschooling), this job can sometimes be staggeringly difficult. But I would rather they do these hard, persistent checks of boundaries with me and find those boundaries firm than to find the boundaries lacking and then be surprised at the boundaries that exist in life outside our family and home. And I would rather accept that my days will occasionally be hard than to lose the benefits of homeschooling.

So today was hard. But not every day is, and I know that. I have been doing this for long enough that I know that peaceful days will come. The issue that set everything off today had to do with a normal part of education work, and so we will have to wait and see if everything has been put right on Monday. I hope that is the case. I will be okay if it is not, and so will my children. Because we always work through these rough patches, and then? There is peace.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

To Do or Not To Do


Did you know that Swan Lake is three hours long? Probably you did, but I didn't...until today, when I saw it. I've been to the ballet before, but never to see Swan Lake, so when it came up as an option on one of the home ed groups last spring, I booked it, even though it was months away. E loves ballet, and I thought Z would like it as well. I was correct about this, and it was not a mistake to book it. But I think I must've become too influenced by modern life; three hours of dancing with no dialogue was a bit much for me.

But at least it was the only thing we had to do today. My goal has always been to only do one big thing each day, and have days off in between big things. That hasn't been happening as often lately as I would prefer, but now that it's January, I'm recommitted to this. Not because of a New Year's resolution, but because I am tired. I'd prefer to feel well rested. I also held to my commitment to forego our usual school stuff if we have a big event. Six hours total out of the house qualified this as a big event. We skipped our lessons, and I spent that time caramelizing onions instead. I have no regrets about this.

Despite my own difficulty enjoying three hours of ballet, it was an excellent production (Swan Lake, it's not you, it's me), and we didn't have to leave the house until after noon. Coming home during rush hour wasn't the most fun ever, but we made it without too much discomfort and even got seats on the Tube for part of our journey. While I can't say I'd do it again, I would say that if I had a time machine and could go back to last spring and tell myself whether or not to book these tickets, I would say yes. Swan Lake is legendary, and I had always wanted to see it and give the girls a chance to see it. They came home inspired. I'm glad I made this happen for them, and for me as well.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Everyone Organizes in January


I kicked off the organizing season by organizing these two shelves. I'm no Marie Kondo (she would've thrown out all this stuff, as none of it sparks joy), but with limited supplies, I believe I've done good work. Good enough for us, anyway. I didn't want to have to buy any new containers, and I didn't want to spend all day on it. I had other things to do. A balance must be struck. So there it is.

I think that organizing is the natural response to the excesses of Christmas, and that's why so many people do it in January. As long as I'm finding space for new things, I might as well keep going and get everything into good order. It's not like I've got a lot of other things that I want to be doing at this point in the winter, or at least not things that I can do while my kids are at home with me. I may as well do this.

I have other reasons for organizing, of course. It's not just because I want everything clean and neat after the chaos of Christmas. Sometimes I get these ideas into my head about our family life and what I want for us as the kids grow up, and these things seem impossible, but I still prepare for them as if they might happen. Later this year, we will be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain, and I have it in mind that at some point it would also be nice to have a bit more permanence in our housing situation. In the interest of pointing my feet in the direction I hope to travel, I am getting things organized, so that should a miracle occur and a house of our own become a real possibility, moving will not be a total pain in the posterior.

Of course, we could end up staying in this house for quite some time. Logically, this seems the most likely thing to occur. I love this house and all that it has given us. A dishwasher! A bigger fridge! A second toilet! I feel spoiled by this house. It is a gift, living here, and I will not be disappointed if we stay for many years.

I don't know what the future holds. I try to hold these things - both the gifts I'm enjoying and the things I hope for - lightly in my hands and my heart, because I know how fleeting it all can be. I know how lucky we are to have what we have. Who could want for more? We have everything we want. I just need to organize it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

And Now, Back to Normal


Today, we put away the Christmas decorations. Everyone helped a little, which was absolutely lovely, and the storage area under the stairs is more organized than it's been since we moved in (this was a solo effort, but I'm not mad about it), so that made it doubly nice. The house feels less cluttered, and I am satisfied.

We are now trying to get back into our usual routine for schoolwork. It is strange how hard this is. We only had two weeks off, and yet it feels like a lot longer. Two weeks of plenty of things to do, and my kids have forgotten how to entertain themselves. I keep reminding them that they have new toys and books that they got for Christmas, and while I am working with someone else on schoolwork is exactly the right time to bust those things out and put them to good use. Today I had to threaten consequences if there were more interruptions. I am not a consequences kind of person - I prefer for my kids to understand why I am asking them to do something and then to agree to do it. This actually does happen sometimes, just not today. Threats were made. There may have been a little shouting. We will live.

The part about normal life that no one has trouble resuming is making little messes everywhere. Christmas messes are bigger messes, but I can write them off as temporary. These little messes that I'm talking about are part of the permanent state of affairs. I also have no trouble resuming getting behind on laundry and then rushing to get it all folded and put away because it is driving me crazy. The photo above illustrates our normal setting pretty well. You can see the clean, unfolded laundry lurking behind the door, and E has left two containers of breakfast foods lying haphazardly on my bed, along with the pajamas she was wearing. I said above that the house feels less cluttered, and it does. But "less cluttered" does not mean "not cluttered at all" and that just is what it is.

Truth be told, we make way bigger messes than what is pictured, and we do it regularly. We can't seem to help it. I have plans to get things more organized in the house over the next month or two, but I am not sure it will help that much. But at least if the shelves and cupboards are organized, when the rest of it goes to Hades in a handbasket, I can go look at my well organized spaces and know that order is possible - just not everywhere, all at once. And that's normal. Order or lack thereof, being back to normal feels good.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Genna! And the End of the Holiday Season


Our small celebration of Genna (Ethiopian Christmas) was just perfect for this year. We celebrated one day early, as it suited us better to celebrate on a weekend. I made mostly mild food instead of spicy, for the sake of E, who does not like spicy things just yet. There is so much that is not meant for her, or that she has to wait for while everyone else enjoys it, since she is the youngest. I remember this feeling, of always coming last in some way, and so I am trying to do more things that include everyone. We all like the mild wots, so I made mild wots. Doro alicha, atiklett, gomen, and shiro that was just a tiny bit spicy, in case she wanted to give it a go. (She did not.) It tasted good. Our guest hadn't had Ethiopian food before and loved it. Z put extra berbere on some things for herself and was satisfied. It was just right.

Today we got back to our normal. We did school lessons, we visited our neighbor, we took E to ballet. With two activities after lessons, there wasn't time to take down the Christmas tree or pack away the other decorations, so that will have to wait until tomorrow. But overall, we had a normal day, and that felt like a relief. While we didn't get to the point of forgetting what day of the week it was over the Christmas season, by the end everything felt a bit disjointed. Now we will settle down to the business of getting on with life and figuring out where to put all the Christmas presents. It's going to be good.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Last of the In Between Days


I feel like the Christmas season is lasting forever. Initially it seemed that it went by quickly, but now things are in slow motion, and we have one more holiday - Genna (Ethiopian Christmas) - before we take down the tree and get back to normal. As it usually happens, I am feeling ready to wrap things up. In the beginning of the season, I look forward to the differences in our routine, to the time we spend together as a family and the traditions that we have. But now I am tired of wrestling with the extra recycling and keeping track of where we are going and when. The Christmas decorations have stopped looking charming and started just looking like additional clutter. I have been jealous of people whose in between days were done when the new year hit. But I will have my day of packing it all away, and soon. I won't be jealous for long.

We have had a good time this season. Nothing remarkable occurred, really, but we did all right. We engaged in some of our favorite traditions and jettisoned one. We got and gave some good gifts, we saw and will see some good friends, and on Sunday we will wrap things up with our Genna meal, for which we are having just one guest this year. (I can only make it a big event every other year, and I am doing my best to embrace my limits as opposed to feeling sad that I can't manage it annually.) I am ready for this. And I am ready for our usual routine to resume as well.

Monday E will go back to ballet, and the Saturday following that both kids will be back in their Saturday theatre classes. The following week, it will be all systems go with all the activities in which we usually engage. These in between days have been good, but they also serve to remind me how nice it is to do the same thing week in and week out. Lack of routine can be nice for a short while, but we all do better when we relax into a rhythm that's familiar. We will enjoy these last few days of freedom, and then we will breathe a sigh of relief as we slip back into our normal life.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Thoughts on 2018, Words for 2019


Well, here we are. It is the first day of 2019. I meant to write two separate posts between yesterday and today, but I ended up being too busy yesterday. I got it into my head that what would feel best would be if all the mending I'd been putting off would be done before the end of the year. So I spent part of Sunday afternoon and evening and most of yesterday taking care of that. Holes were sewn up, and there was quite a lot of hemming. When you buy your clothing secondhand, sometimes the hems are wrong, or they fall out quite soon after purchase. Also, in my case at least, sometimes something that was purchased as a dress really wants to be a shirt instead. It can't be helped.

By the time I was done with all the mending, my computer had been moved into the girls' room for New Year's Eve - last year we decided it would be fun to watch movies and eat a dinner made up mostly of snack foods in their room, and it was, and so we decided to do it again this year. It's really a wonderful thing to ring in the New Year whilst wearing pajamas. I highly recommend it.

So, I did those things instead of writing a post about 2018. I am not sure there is a lot to say about 2018 that won't cross some boundaries I set for myself in my writing here, but I can say that it was both good and awful, and it was at times very, very hard. I hesitate to say this because I recognize the privilege of this life we have. It could always be worse. But I don't think it does anyone any favors to deny that things are hard sometimes. 2018 was a hard year in a lot of ways. When I set out my plan and goals around the word foundations, I had no idea how appropriate that word would be. Reading my post about it now, I realize that I had a lot of things wrong about the year. But the word was right. We have needed to build some new foundations. We have needed to tear things down to foundations that were good but had the wrong things built on top of them. And so we have done this work, and it has been hard.

Heading into 2019, the two words that resonate with me are optimism and permanence. I am not going to venture to set out certain goals related to those words here, or in general in my life. I have some guesses at some things that need to happen and may happen, and some things on my to do list which certainly will get done, but mostly I am open to how 2019 will unfold, and how we will move forward to build on the foundations that we uncovered and established in 2018.

Today what I felt would be fitting to start the year in the direction I mean to go was to attend to two tasks which I hope will give me some momentum to continue on with some other things on my list. I hemmed and repaired our living room curtains, which have been in need of this for more than a year, and I made a little curtain for our bathroom, for which I've had the fabric for at least a year. It feels good to move forward into the year with some old things repaired and a new thing complete. I hope to do more of the same, in various ways, as the year progresses.

Welcome, 2019. Please be good to us.