Can’t Do It All

I had an epiphany last night. One of those earth-shattering ones, that makes you take stock of what you’re doing with your life. Let me back up though, because what happened before my aha moment is as important.

Pudge has eczema. The rash started on her cheeks and then spread down to her arms, and despite my best efforts, it wasn’t clearing up. Yesterday she was uncomfortable, unable to sleep for much more than half an hour, cranky, and clingy. I was running on all of 4 hours of sleep.

It was dinner time, and I spent the better part of an hour trying to cook a full meal, keep Sprout occupied, and keep Pudge happy. I failed at all 3, nearly burnt the house down, and finally exploded. In a fit of yelling, I voiced my stress and unhappiness with the situation. I didn’t yell at the girls, but around them, at the adults in my life. It was ugly. By the end, I was emotionally worn out, and embarrassed, and exhausted.

I also couldn’t sleep.

It dawned on me, while I was tossing and turning, desperately seeking the cool spot in the sheets, that I am driving myself crazy. I should have laid out the stuff for sandwiches, opened a bag of chips, and had a serve-yourself dinner night. I should have snuggled on the couch with my cranky Pudge, or laid in the tub with her propped on my chest, letting warm water and oatmeal soothe her skin. I should have not worried about whether the carpet was clean, not stressed about the dirty dishes piled in the sink, and not cared about the laundry piling up. It would all have been there when I was ready to tackle it. In trying to do it all, I was doing nothing.

Instead, I tried to do it all, and nothing was done right. Too many irons in the fire and I got burned. Everyone got burned.

So today, I changed things around. We did the normal routine of pre-K, and I did not bother to spotlessly clean the school corner when we were done. I still haven’t run the vacuum, and it’s taken all day to do two loads of laundry.

We wandered around Wally World, buying play jewelry for Sprout, and onesies for Pudge, after school, and had quiet time when we came back. I took a much needed nap instead of cleaning. We had left-overs for dinner, and everyone fixed their own plates. I still haven’t finished laundry. We’ve had candy and chocolate and soda, because in the words of Sprout, “Candy fixes everything.”

There was no yelling, no stress, no tension headache that has me eating Advil like it’s candy.

Without the storm of “MUST DO IT”, I took the time to notice how nice it was today, opened up the house to get some air, and played with my girls.

I have decided something… my house isn’t going to be perfect. If you randomly show up and ring my door bell, there are probably going to be toys scattered around, dishes in the sink, and do me a favor and don’t open the door to the girl’s room. I have small children, and rather than worry about what anyone would think, I’m spending time with them. I have all the time in the world, after they’re grown, to have that house from Home and Garden magazine. But my girls will be this age for a moment, and I cannot lose the opportunity to spend time with them.

We’re banishing the perfect, and with it the insanity, and instead just enjoying the chaos.

~Jennifer

Themes

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. Not because I am too cool for them, but because, in my natural state, I just don’t get them done.

The resolution to not curse for a year? Gave up on that one in a week.

The resolution to work out and lose weight? Made it a whole month.

And then there is the resolution to keep my house clean. I went out and bought a store’s worth of cleaning products, organizational stuff, and spent several days working on my house. By spring, the house was back to its usual state, just barely contained clutter, and I was exhausted from working so hard just to remember to take the trash out. That was the year I gave up on resolutions.

But the idea of a theme for the year appeals to me. Something to overlay over the entire year, or a background against which my life will play out. There have been several themes; Newly Wed Meets Deployment, Motherhood Changes Everything, The Year of Grieving. And no matter what else happened, that theme touched on every single aspect of my life for that entire year, and sometimes beyond it.

So I have been trying to find this year’s theme. And I’m a little behind, it is the middle of February as I write this, not the first of the year. The first of the year I was in the final week of a long, eventful, stressful pregnancy, and busy preparing for my baby. After that, I was trying to recover from delivery, and get used to having two babies, instead of one.

But tonight, as I tucked Sprout into bed, this year’s theme hit me.

Making Cupcakes.

For the first time in a long time, this is the year we will have Hubs with us, all year long. There won’t be training missions and schooling, there isn’t a deployment looming ahead of us. There isn’t that much to stress over, we’ve transitioned out of the Army, Hubs has a stable job, we have a nice home, and the baby is here. There isn’t any more waiting on anything, orders to PCS, packers, movers, or a baby. We’ve finally pulled our life together.

So this year’s theme is Making Cupcakes. I am going to do my level best to have a cupcake moment every day. Tucking Sprout into bed, and smelling clean hair while we talk about our plans for tomorrow, waking up to a sunrise with Pudge, and watching the burst of color top the trees. A slushie and candy date night with Hubs. A family outing to somewhere new, breaking the rules and having ice cream before dinner. Late night popcorn and candy nights where we all fall asleep on the floor.

We spent so much of last year in a state of limbo, not knowing when or if the Army was going to let the Hubs out, if he stayed in where would we be moving to, if he got out where we would be moving to, what was going to happen and when. Before that, we spent so much of our time as family staring down a deployment to some war zone on the far side of the world. We haven’t had much time to be in the moment, to make that moment better. My awareness of how precious the good moments are comes from how few and far between they have been for us.

This is the first year we’ve had nothing but time stretching before us, nothing to do or not do, no one asking something or another, no packing or unpacking to do. Just us, with time for all the lopsided cupcakes in the world.

~Jennifer

Valentine’s Week!!

I have been home schooling my oldest, Sprout, for a year. Before that it was more of a turn the tv off and play type thing, but this time last year we made the decision to home school, and I started lesson planning, working on creating a space to teach in, and getting serious about things.

The one area I am horrible with is themes. I do them as little as possible; they are difficult to pull together, and I hate having to buy something I am going to use just one only to either toss it or pack it away and never use it again. But I got serious about organizing my teacher stuff, and found I had just enough space to pull together themed units. Especially if I use more printed materials for the theme than anything else.

To test run my new-found love of all things themes, I pulled together Valentine’s Week. Hubs has a solid week off every other months, and this week was it for us, so I knew in advance we would be doing some family outings as well. In general I keep school fairly light, Sprout is not quite 4 and does not need a heavy day of lessons, but especially with Hubs home this week, I did not turn myself into knots to plan a big huge themed week.

Today was the first day we have done everything I had planned on, if Sprout does not want to do something, or wants to skip an activity, we skip it. I never force her to sit through a lesson or activity, she’s not old enough, and it is just not fair to do that to her. This morning everything came together though, and I grabbed my camera just in time.

First we did Happy Heart People. I do a version of these at every holiday, it’s very easy. For this one I cut out hearts on construction paper, let Sprout decorate them however she wished; then we added eyes and pipe cleaner arms and legs. For Halloween and Christmas, I used a circle template, and we made Happy Pumpkin People, and then Happy Christmas Ornament People, respectively. I did use purple construction paper, and different colors/lengths of pipe cleaners for the arms and legs. While she was putting them together, we talked about how everyone is different colors, and not just like red paper hearts, and how some of us have different shaped arms and legs.

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Adding googly eyes.

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Working on those glue bottle skills. She is finally at the point where she does not use half the bottle for each project.

The next two projects include printables I found at prekinders.com. Everything on that site is free to download and print off; it has become one of my favorite websites for resources.

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We also got a visit from Pudge this morning, who was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. For a few minutes at least.

Since Sprout is working on her reading skills, I thought she would like the heart match game. Each page has pictures, she had to match the starting letting of the word represented by the picture to a heart with a letter on it. The hearts are colored in groups, to give her a little boost, if she needed it. After doing a couple she was off and running.

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I colored these with markers after printing off a blank template. The blue ones (you can not see them here), were dark enough I needed to go over the letters with black marker.

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The original directions called for using small wooden hearts, instead of the paper hearts. However, I just colored in the heart template, matching to the picture pages, and used those. The hearts are small enough to work on fine motor skills too, and I love any activity where I can get two or more things out of it.

We also did candy heart patterns. I’ve used these pattern pages with buttons, rhinestones, unifix cubes, Skittles and M&Ms. Today we used conversation hearts; we did have to substitute the pink hearts for the red dots on the pattern pages.

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Getting some fine motor skills in too.

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This is the first time she has used the double pattern cards, which include two spots she has to fill in, I was very happy to see she caught onto it quickly.

Our newest toy for school is Brain Flakes. I found them on sale at Amazon, and they came last night. Sprout loves these, and in addition to working on spatial awareness and her building skills, they fit tighter than her Duplo blocks, so her little fingers got a work out. The best part about these, they’re flat, no pain if you step on one.

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When it was all said and done, she checked on her baby sister, who had fallen asleep by this time.

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Nobody loves you like your sister does.

All in all, we had a good morning, and it took us maybe 2 hours to do everything, including a break for juice and a snack. Tomorrow, of course, nothing will go right, and I will be pulling my hair out by noon.

~Jennifer

Making Cupcakes

I learned a lot during my time as an Army Wife. The knowledge I have runs the gamut from how to put patches on a uniform, to how to navigate the military healthcare, to the right clothes to wear to any sort of Army function.

But the most important lesson I learned is perhaps the one I turn to the most.

It’s about the quality of time, versus the quantity. My husband was gone for approximately half of the first four years of our marriage. That means that for Sprout, my oldest, he was gone for half of her life as well. He was gone more than he was here.

We learned to treasure the time he was here, to make the most of each day that we could. If it was nothing more than coloring on the sidewalk and painting on my kitchen walls, we tried to pack as much fun into it as we could. We made messes (get a good vacuum is another piece of Army-learned wisdom), we skinned knees and got blisters and sunburns; but we made so many memories. It was the good memories, blowing bubbles in the grass during the evening, turning bath time into a water fight, decorating the Christmas tree pink, watching Saturday morning cartoons and eating waffles, that got us through the bad times.

So in the spirit of Make Today Good, the Sprout and I set out to make cupcakes. With frosting and sprinkles, per her request. And they aren’t perfect, the frosting job is lopsided, some have too many sprinkles and some have too few. But the point was not to make perfect cupcakes. The point was to have fun, to take an ordinary afternoon, and make it into something just a little more special. Not a huge production, just add a little fun.

In the same spirit, Hubs took Sprout with him while he washed our cars. The job is longer with her in tow, and generally you have to go back over what she does, and you have to make sure she uses the Armor All wipes on the dashboard and not the windows.  But perfection is not the point here. The point is just to take a regular moment, and make a memory of it.

The effort we put into it, has brought us together, bonded us more tightly. Sprout will talk about making cupcakes for days. And she will explain, in intricate detail, how you clean Daddy’s car. But making as many good memories as we can has also done more, it has carried us through the worst of times. In the dark of deployment, it was those good memories, and the promise of more, that got us through.  While I struggled with grief over the loss of my siblings, I tried to remember to keep the tradition going, to keep making a part of each day, as much of each day as I could, better. And that helped heal the wounds of grief and loss for me.

We have done this so much, tried to pull the quality away from the quantity, that after a rough day, Sprout will ask to do something. She will get out colors, or ask to paint, or ask to put a movie on and snuggle. She has learned to take even a few seconds, wrap herself around me in a hug, and make that moment as good as she can.

So that is my challenge to everyone, to do something more with their day tomorrow. Not more in the sense of more paperwork, or housework, but more in that intangible sense. Make a quality moment tomorrow, to cement into memory.

Make lopsided cupcakes. With sprinkles and frosting.

~Jennifer

How Did I Get Here??

It’s been a meandering path to California. Born and bred in Texas, a few lost years in Missouri, back to Texas, followed a soldier to Georgia, and then followed that soldier back to his home, California.

I have always been a wanderer. It was nothing for me to take off for a weekend, on my own, and to show up when I felt like it. It’s part of who I am. So it makes perfect sense, to me at least, to have ended up across the country from where I grew up.

I grew up in suburban Texas, graduated high school, and found myself, on one of those meandering trips, in Missouri. The relationship that brought me there did not last, and I came back home to my family. And while there I went to college, worked, and swore off men.

Then I rethought the swearing off of men, and decided I just needed to be more selective. Look for a man, and not a boy, I told myself. Someone who can clean, and cook, and iron clothes, in addition to fixing cars and taking out the trash. Someone you can lean on.

Life dropped a soldier into my lap, and he does all of those things. And does them well. I spent some time running from him, convinced I would not have the strength to stand in his life, back him up, and carry on for both of us, when I needed to. Walking away from the soldier meant walking away from my heart, and I just could not bring myself to do it.

I found myself married, facing down a deployment, and pregnant before I had chances to even breathe properly. My oldest is one of the few things in my life I have done right. I found myself entirely changed, and not just the stretch-marks. Life has calmed, and the searching for something feeling, that drove me on all of those meandering trips and to wander through new places, is gone.

And now, 4 years, two deployments, and countless training missions later, my soldier is now a civilian. I will not lie and say that my time as a military wife made me any wiser; I am still hot-headed and stubborn, too outspoken and opinionated on the best of days. On the worst of days, it does not shock me to hear down-right bitchy aimed in my direction.

A cross-country move while pregnant with my second little girl brought me to the high desert. Where now I am raising my girls, trying to keep my house together, and remembering to take a shower. Sometimes not all on the same day.

Welcome to Flowers in the Desert.

~Jennifer