Responsibility & Love. What’s a mother to do?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYesterday, I got into a row with my older daughter, the 11- almost 12-year old.  It left me feeling torn between teaching a child to take responsibility and helping her be happy and successful. I realized that I might not be doing a good job of taking care of her heart.

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She had a school band concert last night, for which she must wear the requisite performance clothing. That is, black and white. My daughter does not like to wear anything remotely “dressy”, and so, over the years we’ve worked out a quirky combination of “performance clothes” that she can live with — black culottes, white flowy blouse that’s too big, white camisole (stretchy), and then black knee-high socks and black shoes.

Since this is the second band concert of the year, I didn’t worry about the wardrobe, because we’d worked all that out for the first concert. And since she never wears any of those clothes at any other time, I didn’t even have it in my mind that there would be a problem.

Yesterday, I was tired. I took a 20-minute nap sitting up in a chair after the kids came home from school. I did this, knowing that when I woke up I’d have to whip up a quick dinner for my saxophone player, make myself presentable, and then dash off with younger daughter to swimming lessons.  During this nap and before, she was busy playing on her ipod.

About 20  minutes before departure  time, Olivia remembers she has to dress for the concert.

Total panic ensues.  Her first instinct is to ask me where her clothes are.

But I am fixing dinner now, and I have seen the state of affairs in her closet, which means, the burden should be on her to find them.  Which I suggest as calmly as possible.  This sets off the atti-tude.  She marches upstairs and returns 2 minutes later declaring they are “not there. I don’t know where any of it is”.  I ask what she is looking for.  She replies “I don’t even know what I wore last time!” And so we go a round on trying to remember what that was.  I suggest she look again, that I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the blouse in the closet.  She returns. No, not there.  “you must have put it in your closet”.  Ahh, the ole “it’s not my problem” tone.

At this point, I’m getting a little peeved that she is not really trying.

This is not new. I suspect it is classic 11-year old stuff. I hope it is. It is definitely classic for my eldest.   I have this mantra I repeat to her whenever she gets into the “I can’t find it” panic. Which is surprisingly often.  The mantra is,

“You have to believe, first”

because then you have a reason to keep looking.  It has rung true every single time.  Other examples: looking in the refrigerator for the ____; looking in the hockey bag for the missing ____; looking in the laundry basket for the favorite pair of pants I know I just washed; etc.  If you believe what you are looking for, then you will keep looking and find it.

So, I peddled out “you know what I’m going to say…”you have to believe it is there”.  But we’re tight on time. So, I snippily add, “I will go look for it, but if I find it, there will be a consequence…I will take something away!”

The ipod, and she knows it.

I march upstairs and find without much effort, buried in her pants drawer, the black culottes. Next up was the blouse. It took a bit more work, but it was hanging in her closet. There were only FOUR other items hanging in the closet, but the blouse was hung on a hangar with another shirt she never wears.  I’m 2-2! Feeling rather victorious!

Next, she says, through a red blotchy face, “What about socks? I don’t know where any socks are!”

Oh, my.  That one did me in.  The back story here, is that she never puts her socks away. I find them all over the house. Next to the couch, under the bathroom cabinet, below the breakfast bar, in the basement, scattered about the floor. The pairs are often separated.  I have a large sock ‘orphanage’ where I keep socks missing their mates until they come through the laundry. 90% of the socks in there belong to my oldest.

At this point, I completely lose it. I tell her, “I had things-to-do-before-leaving-myself-that-I-am-not-getting-done-because-you-have-waited-until-the-last-minute-and-if-you-gave-a-rat’s-ass-about-your-socks-you-would-do-a-better-job-putting-them-in-the-laundry-basket-every-day-I-just-washed-a-black-pair-of-yours-had-you-put-your-clean-clothes-away-properly-you-could-find-them-right-now”  I did say “rat’s ass”, darn-it-all.

I pull out a pair of mine for her.

And for the final say, I add “and what about your hair? Now we don’t have time to fix your braids!”

She goes downstairs, sheepishly, and comes back to tell me that she turned off the burner on the quesadillas for me, and that they’re not too-too-burned.

I mutter a “thank you”.

And then I left to take my younger daughter to swimming lessons.

I was ticked.

I was ticked that she waited until the last minute.

But I was also ticked at myself for forgetting to anticipate this likely scenario.

I do hate that she leaves her socks all over the house. It drives me crazy that her clothes are all over her bedroom, clean and dirty alike. I try not to micromanage that stuff, but when push comes to shove, it really gets under my skin.

The look on her face, after the crisis had been averted, was one of shame and disappointment. I believe she felt like she had disappointed her mother. Again.

I know that look. I wore it often growing up.  I fought the feeling of disappointing my mother throughout my teens and young-adulthood.  I could never-ever do enough to please my mother.  I heard my mother’s disapproving voice in my head long after living on my own in my 20’s.

I so don’t want to do that to my daughter.

She is my eldest.  I have high standards. I want her to try hard. To do her best. To be herself. To be happy. To be polite. To be comfortable to be herself. To make mistakes and be able to learn from them.  To be free to laugh. To be able to laugh at herself.  I want this for both daughters, to be clear, but I think it’s hardest on the oldest.

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Scenes like this one last night tell me I might be doing something wrong. Where is that line between teaching a child to take responsibility and giving them that responsibility? She seemed too young to not help out.  Truth is, I wished I had just gotten everything ready for her because she would really have appreciated it.  Should I have set out her clothes? Would I have done that if her room wasn’t such a mess? I do not like going in her room because it makes me unhappy. I wish she were neater. Or do I wish I required her to be neater?

More than anything, I want her to feel loved.  Not pushed.

But I want her to take responsibility.

Must they be mutually exclusive?

The Happiness of Having Enough

toothpaste

In “The Happiness Project” which I read a few weeks ago, one of the concepts that most resonated with me was the concept of “underbuying”.  That is, not buying enough of something at one time. I am not a minimalist, but I have always under bought.  I have begun to see the many ways this makes my life harder and more frustrating and ultimately feeds my unhappiness and discontent.

I can remember being a young adult — probably 23 — and finding a pair of shoes I really liked and thought were comfortable (I have struggled with finding the right shoes pretty much my whole life — but that’s another entry) and my mother was around and she remarked, “why don’t you buy several pairs of them if you like them so much”.  That concept was foreign to me. It still is.  Why would I have EXTRA of something?

I never do.  I usually have just run out of something. That is my m.o.

As a newly married woman, I remember my husband noticing that I was always needing to run to the bank machine and he would go once a week.  I would get $20.00 from the bank machine; He would get $200.  It honestly NEVER crossed my mind before then to get even $50 at once, let alone $100.  Now, as a wife, mother and two children and the person almost exclusively responsible for the purchase of everything in the house, I still only get $100 from the bank machine, and that is usually every two weeks or so.  My husband kindly asks me in between, “how much money can I give you today”.  I don’t want him to give me money; its all the same money anyway.  Hard as I try, I still rarely get alot of cash from the bank machine.  When I do have it, I don’t spend more, but I do feel better reaching into my wallet and not stressing that I might have to use my credit card for the $3 in cookies I needed for the hockey carpool.  And no, I don’t use a debit card. I’m old fashioned in that way.  Or masochistic.  Definitely masochistic.

So, I under-bank.

I also underbuy at the grocery store.  I make a menu plan and a grocery list to support it every Monday. I go to the grocery store and buy what I need for M-F usually; the weekends are often so mixed up I don’t bother. Plus, I loathe this task, and I secretly hope my husband will rescue me from the daily dinner grind on Sat-Sun; he usually does, but not without some price to be paid for his “creativity” in the kitchen.  I’ve actually been pretty proud of my organized method.  I buy what I need for the week and that’s it. I don’t spend more money than necessary. Pretty practical stuff, eh?

But that leaves me little wiggle room for change and unexpected events.  What about the fact that my children are very active and sometimes very hungry?  My 9-year old swimmer likes to eat a snack after school, then a little mini dinner before swimming and a mini-dinner after school.  My 11-year old hockey player, is ravenous after practice.  What if the weather is just right and we all head out for an afteroon of skiing? My organized “meal plan” doesn’t well account for this.  My “snack” supplies are gone before Thursday and the options up to then are paltry.

Recently, on a crazy whim, I purchased a box of 72 bagel-bites from Costco.  Yes, the underbuyer shops at Costco. Kind of confounding, no?  I remember hesitating about buying 72 bagel bites at one time. “I don’t buy them often…what if the kids don’t really like them…they’ll take up alot of freezer space…maybe for a long time”…but I did it.  They were gone in a week!  My kids loved having them, and they loved being able to say to their visiting friends, “hey, we have bagel bites, do you want them?!”  I liked having something other than the proceeds of the typical cupboard scrounge to offer.  I felt happy to be able to be generous.

I underbuy toiletries.  How many times am I squeezing out the last of the toothpaste desperately before bedtime.  Or scrounging the bathroom cabinets for the dentist provided trial size that I don’t really like but I saved for just this occasion?  Or how many times have my children come to me, “we’re out of conditioner, mom” and I show them how to eek out the last bit by adding water to it and hoping that the watered down goo will spread over their head?  How often do I end up skipping conditioner myself because I’m out and I’ve been out.  I think I learned this kind of super-economy from my mother.  She taught me the water-it-down trick. I use it often for dish soap and kitchen cleaners, too.

For the record, I’m a big believer in eeking out the last bit of a product from its container. It feels different to do that because you’re being thrifty as opposed to eeking out the last bit desperately because you don’t have any more of it.

Actually, two trips ago to Costco, I purchased a large shampoo & conditioner that I thought my kids and I could both like.  We did.  And then every time they showered, they trucked into my bathroom to “borrow” the shampoo & conditioner and every time I showered I trucked on in to their bathroom to “borrow it back”.  I did this for three weeks.  And then, while reading The Happiness Project, I thought, “Aha! I could buy another bottle each of Shampoo & Conditioner and then they could have their own set and I could have mine.  Amazing!  A simple purchase of $12 solved an annoying nightly/morning ritual for three people.

I do live in a retail-challenged area. There is no “Target” in the entire state of Vermont.  I refuse to shop at Wal-Mart.  I do shop  Costco and the grocery store, and then sometimes Bed Bath & Beyond and CVS, but these are in four different towns.  It’s a pain in the ass to hit them all in one day.  One would think that this would be motivation enough to buy an abundant supply when I do go.   There’s that masochism again.

I am also an Amazon Prime shopper — you know, I paid $79 for free shipping on almost everything I want to buy. I shop this site, and others, put things in my shopping cart, and then abandon it.  Because…well, lots of reasons, usually that I don’t want to buy something I don’t need.  Or buy something I might have to ship back at my own expense if it doesn’t work out.  I offer this up as further evidence that I don’t like shopping, even online.

I’m not a shopper. I am an underbuyer.  How nice it would be to have enough of things in the house.  Enough food for the ability to whip up cookies or scones for the school PTO event, the new neighbors who moved in, for the children and their friends after school, for those apres-ski/ride Sundays when everyone is too tired to think about dinner, let alone buy it.   How nice would it be to have plenty of shampoo and conditioner and razors and toothpaste. It’s not like we’re never going to need any of those things?!

So, as with most things, awareness is step one.  I need to work on decluttering the freezer — to make room for more food, and decluttering the linen closet to make room for more toiletries.  I have access to Costco and the cash flow to buy extras of things we use.  It’s not natural, but now I have a new reason to fight the underbuying tendancy:

the happiness of having enough of what we need, and to be generous and to feel like I have fulfilled my family’s needs!

 

 

Working at Happiness

happinessAfter turning down my recent job offer and deciding that I need to make my happiness, or rather, the discovery of what really makes me happy, my priority, I’ve found quite a few stumbling blocks on my way.  Naturally, at first I was quite energized. I bought myself a copy of “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin, which I’m almost embarrassed to share. After all, do I really need a book to guide me through what makes me happy?  Apparently.  And I’m not alone. It was a New York Times bestseller after all.  And I read it completely through. And since the book is no longer new, the author has since taken down her online tool website, so I’ll have to find my way on my own.  Which really, I needed to do anyway.

I’ve been thinking about the things that make me  happy. Sometimes I’ve been thinking about the things that make me unhappy, or “blah”. The “blahs” are the corrosive agent on happiness for me.  I mean, when I’m really unhappy, which isn’t often, I’m usually mad or seriously boo-hoo unhappy. Or PMS unhappy. Those, kinds of unhappy are pretty easy to identify the root causes.  I am truly thankful that I’m not an unhappy person.  I’m not depressed. I have many great things happening in my life.

But I am a stay at home mother. And that’s just not a very exciting life, truth be told.  My best days are when I’m super busy.  My worst days are when I’m isolated, when I haven’t had any kind of face-to-face interaction with another adult;  on some days, not even a phone call with another.  Those are the days, when I meet another parent outside school at the end of the day and they ask, “what’s new?” and I have nothing to say. I feel blah and boring and dull.  So, I’ve started there.

Here are a few things I have come up with so far:

– See people every day. Actively work to make a connection with others.

– Do small gestures to let people know you are thinking of them (acts of kindness)

– Be more accessible to friends and be more open to attending outings with others

– Work twice a week as substitute teacher

– Create a group of my own to meet regularly

 

I’ve been feeling pretty good about this.  I asked a friend if she would like to work on the happiness project with me. She said yes. She’s catching up on the book now.  I have yet to set a date/time to meet, but that I identified someone to start meeting with and asked her is a start.  We will look for another to join us.  I don’t want to lose momentum.

I called, well…texted, a friend to go to breakfast last week. We went.  It was good to just step outside of my painfully shy self and be the one to initiate that, rather than just wait and wait for one of my friends to organize coffee/breakfast.  That friend also gave me a ride home as my car was in the shop.  She asked me to feed her fish while she was away and I of course said yes.  Well, I totally forgot. I feel terrible.  The fish lived, but honestly, I feel so bad about myself.  It was a human mistake, but as my 11-year old artfully pointed out, “you broke her trust, Mom”. Ouch!  This small gestures thing is hard!

My cell phone stopped working this week. It’s been on the fritz for awhile.  Yesterday, I had planned to be home in the morning so I could wait to hear from my sister who was getting her medical test results back from a series of MRIs, ultrasounds, and blood tests. She was terribly anxious and I wanted to be here for her.  My cell phone just quit. I had a land line, but after several hours, I had things to get done. So I left. I missed her call. Twice.  And then when she called, I was having lunch with my husband, so I couldn’t talk long.  So, on the one hand, I was having lunch with my husband, which met my goal of making contact, but I was so not the sister I wanted to be.  I did get a new phone.

And about the phone. Despite the fact that I spent 30 minutes on the phone with Verizon about 3 months ago because my backup assistant wasn’t working and I lost all my contacts, after I purchased the new phone, I learned that AGAIN my backup assistant was not working and I’ve lost all my contacts.  So, it is now harder to reach out and text someone or call them.

In fact, I want to see if anyone wants to go XC skiing this morning, and I don’t have the text numbers to make that call.

A month ago, a friend moved into my neighborhood and I’ve been meaning to make something and bring it over as a welcome gesture. Then I got the flu and I was out for two weeks.  So Wednesday I had decided was the day. All the things I thought I might make required eggs, of which, turns out I had no more.  So I found a recipe for scones that I had never tried so I made them. Along the way, I discovered I was missing the walnuts for the Maple Walnut Scones recipe, but I proceded anyway.  I tried one when they were finished and decided they were tasteless so I did not give them away.  My family, however, devoured them and wanted more.  Harumph. Maybe I could have given them away after all!  Had I done that, I’d be feeling happier that I had reached out to a friend.  Now, I’m feeling like I should bake again. And I’m not feeling very happy about it.  I’m unhappy with myself.

AHA! That is a huge source of my unhappiness. Disappointing myself makes me unhappy.

I will have to think on that one.  It feels heavy.

With that, I will bake some scones, and trudge through the snow to drop them off and that should make me happy!