X – [e]xtreme

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

balanceI have a tendency to take things to extremes. I think maybe it’s because I’m a perfectionist. When I realize something is good and I decide I’m going to do it, I do it the very best I am able. But a lot of times that lands me in extreme territory. My husband is always reminding me, “Life is about balance, not extremes.” He’s so right.

At the risk of sounding extreme, I’m going to say that taking anything to its extreme is not a good thing. Good things, when pushed to their extreme, aren’t so good anymore. Healthy dichotomies (work and play; fast and slow; exciting and boring) are what makes life full and balanced and enjoyable. For example, in my world, chocolate is a good thing. A pound of chocolate in one sitting probably isn’t a good thing. A smaller serving of chocolate that just happens to be coating pretzels is a very good thing. Sweet and salty. It’s fuller. (more full?) Balanced. More enjoyable.

In all seriousness, sometimes I do a great injustice to the good things in my life by trying to take them to extremes. For example, I’m a neat person, but when I miss out on play time with my kiddos because I’m trying to make the house sparkle, I’ve gone to an extreme. A sparkling house isn’t a bad thing, but the extreme that caused me to miss out on something else good (playing with my kids) is. In the context of better managing my time, it is good for me to do volunteer work, but, when I volunteer to the point that I’m stressed out and running around like a chicken with my head cut off, it’s no longer a good for me or for my family. Whatever volunteer effort I’m engaged in is still a good thing with good results, but, when taken to an extreme, it’s no longer a good thing for me or my family.

My first priority has to be me, my marriage, and my children. Saying that sounds selfish to me, but it’s not because that is my vocation at this point in my life. When I overly extend myself in other directions, I am doing a disservice to my primary vocation. At the same time, when I become so obsessed with mothering and housekeeping and whatnot that I don’t take time for myself, I’m also doing a disservice to my vocation. (I have to take care of myself to be able to serve my family well.) Both scenarios cause stress. I’m going to have to start checking myself for balance, making sure my stress isn’t flowing from some good things taken to a not-so-good extreme. I’m not very good at that, but, luckily I have my husband to help me out in this area.

Undecided

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

2014-08-26 19.24.05I’m a really terrible decision maker. I’m way too analytical, I’m a perfectionist, and I don’t like to have to do things over. All this combined means that I spend way too much time pondering every possible outcome of every choice I might make. I’m not just talking about major life decisions either. Major life decisions probably should be given this kind of thought. I’m talking about decisions like what I want to order for dinner, or even where to go to dinner in the first place. I’m a weirdo.

In all seriousness, this inability to make decisions often causes me a lot of stress. Spending all that time trying to decipher the potential implications of innocuous choices is maddening.

I’ve always known I’m a really poor decision maker, but I’ve just recently realized that it causes me stress. They say that admitting you have a problem is the first step. I’m going to have to hope they’re right. And, perhaps, buy a Magic 8 Ball to help me with my decision making in the meantime.

S, T, U – Surrender to the Unexpected

All April long, I’m blogging alphabetically about Adjusting to Life to Life with Baby Number 5. Click here to see all the posts in this series.

expect the unexpected

Surrender to the unexpected.

This is a lesson the control freak in me really needs to learn. It’s a good life lesson in general, but with 5 kids, it’s unavoidable. Something unplanned, unexpected, or inconvenient happens nearly every day. Sometimes multiple times a day.

In my head I’m the kind of person who rolls with the punches. I’m flexible, up for anything, and can easily change plans. I’m spontaneous, unpredictable, and a lot of fun.

In reality I’m not really like that at all.

To keep my household, which includes our homeschool, running smoothly, I have to be fairly organized and on a schedule. I’m not the type to write out a schedule in 15 minute increments, but I have a pretty clear idea about what we need to accomplish and the time frame we need to accomplish it in.

But life often gets in the way. Spills happen. Someone gets a booboo. Art projects take longer than expected. Little boys paint mattresses with toothpaste.

A lot of times these kind of things freak me out. The more I can see our schedule melting into oblivion, the more stressed out I become.

But that’s not how I want to be.

I want to be more like the person I imagine myself to be. I want to surrender to the unexpected, go with the flow, and readjust as needed. Most importantly I want to do that without my stress level going through the roof.

Because the truth of the matter is that all that unplanned, unexpected stuff is what life is made of. If I keep trying to avoid it all, I could be missing out on some of the best life has to offer.

K is for Keeping up Appearances

All April long, I’m blogging alphabetically about Adjusting to Life to Life with Baby Number 5. Click here to see all the posts in this series.

50s familyI recently took dinner to a friend from church. She just had her 5th baby and 5th c-section. She answered the door and she looked FABULOUS. She was dressed cute, had makeup on, her hair was curled…the works.

I complimented her appearance and she said something like, “Well, we had our two week checkup today. I couldn’t take all the kids to the pediatrician looking run-down and haggard.”

I knew exactly what she meant.

Every time I take my family anywhere I put so much pressure on them and myself.

I fix my hair and put on makeup. I frantically try to find something to wear that is cute, clean, somewhat stylish, happens to fit my postpartum body, and also provides easy access for nursing.

As for the kids, I ensure they’re clean and well-dressed before we leave the house. Then, on the way to wherever we’re going, I spend several minutes reviewing appropriate behavior for whatever setting we will be in.

When we get back in the car from wherever we’ve been, I review every detail of their performance that could have been better. I even include my poor husband in the review.

It’s insane. (The above description of my behavior really doesn’t do it justice. That’s the sugar-coated version. I’m really kind of a lunatic.)

Because we have a somewhat large family, people often say ugly things to us in public. Over the years, I’ve worked really hard to try to eliminate everything that strangers can possibly critique or use as ammunition against us when we’re out an about. I guess I figured that if we appeared perfect, they wouldn’t be able to say anything ugly.

But the truth is, it hasn’t worked. Even when my kids are looking pristine and on their very best behavior, people still say ugly things.

So I quit.

Or at least I’m trying to.

I’m really trying to quit putting on a show for everyone. I’m really trying to just be us, for better or for worse. I’m really trying to stop making myself and my family crazy.

I certainly still expect my kids to behave appropriately, but I’m shifting my focus. I’m teaching them to behave appropriately because it’s the right thing to do, not because I’m worried about what some stranger might think or say.

I’m done keeping up appearances for the sake of my family.

…And because I’ve finally realized that I can’t control what other people think, say, or do anyway…no matter how hard I try.

 

 

 

SST # 2: The Organization Edition

Small-Success-Thursday-550x330I am so, so excited about all we have accomplished this week! You may argue that these feats aren’t small successes, but I don’t see any reason not to rejoice in them simply because of that. I know that it’s always easier to enjoy the big successes and overlook the small, daily successes, but these projects are such a big deal to me that I literally get butterflies in my stomach each time I open a door and see them in all of their neat, orderly glory. (Yes, that really is what it’s like to experience life from the perspective of a neat-freak who gets hard core nesting impulses [which go above and beyond those impulses driven by my normal perfectionist tendencies] all throughout pregnancy.) As such, they have made a tremendous impact on my week in so many more ways than just the mere fact that the task was accomplished. So, without further ado, I give you this week’s “small” successes.

2014-02-07 14.17.201. Garage Organized. I have been trying to get our garage organized since we moved into this house almost 4 years ago. Every time we came or went or opened the garage to let the kiddos ride their bikes, the chaos in that garage induced anxiety, guilt, and frustration. Not to mention the sheer embarrassment of knowing the neighbors were able to see that pigsty. (Again, yes, this is really what happens in my brain. I don’t pretend to be normal. I’m just me.) Anyway, as of Monday, my garage is immaculate! It is certainly still full of garage type things. And there’s still only room for one car in there. (Although, I suspect, that if we really tried, we could get them both in now. I just don’t have any interest in really trying.) But, now, it’s organized and neat and lovely.

Last night, Josh got home from work and the garage was standing open, something which he’s never witnessed before. It was the first thing he commented on when he walked through the door. It was actually a very charming moment, as it gave me the opportunity to express, and him the opportunity to understand, just how grateful I was for all the hard work he put in to help me get that garage in order. If garage organization is too big to qualify for a small success, that moment 2014-02-07 16.46.11between us certainly was not. It was somewhat fleeting, but it was ever so lovely to see him really experience my gratitude. How funny is it that the simple act of leaving the garage door open (an act which I didn’t think through in advance) was all it took for him to get how truly grateful I am for the massive change that has taken place out there.

2. Toy closet organized. While the tools were out and things were being organized, Josh also tackled the toy closet. We have this fabulous closet in our foyer, which makes it ever so easy to have toys accessible for playing in the living room, but stored completely out of sight. It’s a fairly large closet, which makes it all the more fabulous. I really wish I would have taken a proper “before” picture, so you could understand just how awful the closet was. All the practicality of having the toys so easily accessible had been lost in the chaos that hid behind that door. There was no way the kids could ever find anything in there. Everything was just thrown in. We cleaned it out regularly, but, because there wasn’t any real organization in place, just numerous buckets stacked on top of each other on the floor, the clean never lasted very long. It was usually only a matter of days before everything was dumped back out into one massive sea of toys. Once that happened, it was only a matter of time before the kids would start complaining that they had “nothing 2014-02-13 14.43.39to do,” mostly because they didn’t know where anything was. Anyway, all we did was hang the bottom two selves. No big deal at all. But it’s made a world of difference in the way that closet functions. It still looks as good as it did on the day we organized it, and the kids know where all their stuff is. Despite the simplicity of the project, it is such a major success for the smooth functioning of our household.

3. Girls’ closet organized. Our little one is moving in soon, but I wasn’t sure what to do about her clothes. We looked at dressers, but it just seemed silly to buy a dresser that was going to have to live in the closet due to lack of space in the bedroom. In our room Josh is currently using a hand-me-down chest of drawers that gets the job done, but definitely isn’t my taste. Since we’re in the very slow process of redecorating the master bedroom one small piece at a time, it seemed wiser to buy Josh a new dresser and move his current chest into the girls closet. I like that plan, but I never found anything that was the right mix of price and style. As such, I came up with this much simpler and oh-so-easy solution. I just grabbed a few stacking shelves from Lowes, cleaned out the mess that was previously living in Leila’s closet, and, now, it’s ever so functional for both my little girls. The tall shelf on the right is our little one’s dresser for the time being. I think it cost a whopping $12 and it is so easily accessible for all the infant wardrobe changes that have to take place during the day. I couldn’t be happier with this budget-friendly solution!

2014-02-11 09.01.414. Stuff to Community Storehouse. In the process of all this closet and garage cleaning, we were able to put together a pretty big pile of stuff to send the the Community Storehouse, which is one of my favorite local charities. Among other things, they run a resale shop, so we sent some of our gently used, space hogging items off with them to find a new home. It makes all of this organizational success even better to know that someone besides me may benefit from the new-found neatness hiding behind the closet doors in my home!

(Super exciting side note: That’s our double stroller in the bottom right corner. With two little girls 16 months apart, we’re obviously still going to need a double stroller. We’ve had the one pictured since 2006 and I’ve always hated it. [That’s probably why it’s still in such good condition!] I could hardly push it in a straight line, but you can forget about me turning it. If Josh wasn’t available to push the stroller, I didn’t use it. BUT, it turns out Josh hates that stroller too. While we were putting together the pile for Community Storehouse, Josh suggested we put the stroller in the pile, which means….WE’RE GETTING A NEW STROLLER!! Woo hoo! What a very exciting baby gift for me! I can’t wait!)

So what about you? What were your small (or not so small) successes this week? Join the link up at CatholicMom.com!

Thanksgiving and High Expectations

Thanksgiving2Recently, thanks to the encouragement of my sweet hubby, I’ve been working really hard at setting realistic expectations. See, I’m a perfectionist, I have a very active imagination, and I put great importance on creating wonderful family memories. These three combined often make for highly fantastic fantasies and deadly disappointing realities, especially related to holidays, vacations, and any other large family events.

Moments ago, I was entering an amazing giveaway over at the Pioneer Woman’s website. (Oh, how I love her!!) Realistically, I have no chance of winning, as there were nearly 14,000 entries when I left my comment and only 3 available prize packages, but the prize was too amazing not to give it a shot. But I digress…

Back to my point.

To enter the giveaway, I had to leave a comment with my Thanksgiving plans. I started to write something about how we were going to my parent’s house this year, but I always come away disappointed, so we’ll likely have another Thanksgiving at our house on Saturday and invite some friends or whatever family wants to come so that I’ll have the opportunity to do it right. But that just seemed to negative to leave on the fabulous Ree Drummond’s site. So I sat for a moment and thought about what I could type that was both honest and uplifting. Suddenly, I had a beautiful moment of clarity. The truth, just as it is, is beautiful and uplifting. It’s only my bad attitudes and unmet expectations that spoil the beauty of the day. I wrote:

“We’re taking our four kids and joining my three siblings and their kids at my parents’ house. My mom does the turkey and the pies and we all bring the sides. I’m hungry just thinking about it!”

It’s simple. It’s true. And it provides all of the makings for my wildly fantastic holiday fantasies.

So why am I dreading it?

As I’ve already given away, the problem is me and my expectations.

While it’s true that my mother will likely do something (or lots of things) that annoy me, and my brother and his girlfriend will likely get in a “disagreement” at some point, and my kids will likely get in trouble for something that’s not really their fault, and my kids will likely do something horrific that is their fault, and my sister will try to disappear to sulk about some comment my mother makes to her…. (Sadly, I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you.)  None of this really matters. If I could just let that stuff roll off, it wouldn’t define the day.

But, unfortunately, I do the same thing every time. I arrive hoping for the best but expecting the worst, and right away I start keeping score. Each time something less than ideal happens, it impacts my hopes for the whole day. Usually, after I’ve been there for about 30 minutes, I’ve gathered enough evidence to decide that, once again, my holiday is going to be ruined.

And, if that weren’t bad enough, I walk in the door loaded down with all of the baggage from past ruined events. This means that I view little things as catastrophic because in my heart and mind I’ve combined their minuscule hurt with all the hurt experienced in the past. Suddenly, and before I’ve even had time to realize what happened, I’ve got a mountain where there was really only a molehill.

I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you how horrified I am to realize that I am the source of most of my holiday pain and frustration. But, more than that, I’m grateful. Relieved. Liberated. Hopeful. Maybe, now that I’ve gained some much-needed perspective, I can actually get around to creating some of the wonderful family memories I long for instead of grieving for unfulfilled fantasies and aching over wounds from the past.

This year is going to be different. This year is going to be wonderful. And it’s all going to start with me and my newfound realistic expectations.

(Is it just me or is this a great time to cue up some Michael Jackson??)

It’s a Brand New Day

new-dayI’ve spent my whole life keeping most of my thoughts and feelings tucked deep inside, fearing that their escape would cause others to dislike me. I’ve avoided much needed confrontations, missed many opportunities to share my thoughts, and allowed others to make false assumptions about me. I’ve spent my whole life trying to be whatever it was that I thought everyone else thought I should be.

While I accept full responsibility for all of the things I did and didn’t do, I attribute the cause to my childhood. In my house, we were taught that we were always being watched and judged by others. We were taught that our opinions were only right if they were the same as our mother’s. We were taught that voicing our own opinions was actually attacking the opinions of those around us.

I’ve come to realize that none of that is true. People are supposed to be different. We are all individuals, including me. I don’t have to agree with someone in order to have a meaningful relationship with them, and the same is true in reverse. It is ok not to agree. It is ok to say something that might upset someone else. It is ok to be who I am.

I fear that I actually don’t know who I am at this point. I have been too busy trying to be what I thought I should be instead of discovering who I am. I fully intend to change that.

My first step in that direction is to be honest, both with myself and those I care about. Hopefully, I won’t loose anyone I love in the process. If I do, I will know that they didn’t actually love me but the person I allowed them to think I was.

My current goal in life is to detox all the false assumptions I’ve been living under. My new battle cry shall be: OUT WITH THE FAKE AND ACCEPT WHAT’S REAL! Perfect doesn’t exist, therefore I will no longer measure myself against an unattainable standard.