Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Breaking Free from the Funk

I’d like to say that every day as a stay at home mom is filled with wonder and joy.  From the outside it may look that way sometimes.  A friend told me today that I’ve got it all figured out but the truth is on most days I feel like my britches are tied to a hot air balloon as I try to run a marathon on the ground.  That image of the 1960s  housewife adorning a cocktail dress, heels, and a smile as she serves her admiring family a flawless feast in their spotless dinning room is unrealistic most days if not flat out impossible.  I’ve accomplished this utopian state of stay-at-home-ness only a handful of times in the past 8 months, usually without the admiration of my three year old (she’s mad at me at least four times a day) and never in heels.

Before the new year we sold our second car to make ends meet and lower our insurance payments. Mike works only 8 minutes from home so dropping him off and picking him up wasn’t a problem and on other days he simply road his bike (which was great for the environment, our pocketbook, and his waistline all in one). Living with one car wasn’t really a problem until conferences came.  Because Mike works as a teacher for a division of the Economic Opportunities Council he has to do all 18 conferences at the students’ homes spread all over the county. 

For two weeks I was stranded without a vehicle.  I hated being trapped in our house, not able to visit family, take the girls to the library, our usual park, or run errands. But at least I had the blessing of the computer to keep me connected to the outside world, friends, and current events.  That is until it crashed in the same week.  No Facebook, no email, no ABC mouse, no PBS kids, and no stress relieving blog.  With each passing day Jenna and I both became stir crazy, my nerves quickly became raw, and gradually I felt my spirit sinking.  

I kept reminding myself that I was blessed to have the privilege to be at home.  After all wasn’t this what I had longed for? I should be overwhelmed with ecstatic joy to be with my kids 24 hours a day, to minister to my family, and make our home a well run place of comfort. But as Jenna stood there chucking mega blocks at my head (because I wouldn’t let her cut her hair with her new safety scissors) I found myself questioning my decision to leave work. Was I making that much of a difference being home? I drug my protesting three year old to the time out chair and surveyed the toys scattered on the floor, the dirty dishes in the sink, the piles of clean laundry in mountains on the couch waiting yet another day to be folded and put away. 

For a while I assured myself it was the missing computer and car that had resulted in my down slide. But even after conferences were over and the computer was repaired I found that my depression lingered. I felt overwhelming shame and guilt because of it.  Every part of my day took such extreme amounts of effort, each task consuming me until I felt like I was gasping for breath. When I showered Jenna was there running in and out of the bathroom.  When I ate, someone always wanted a bite or a sip. I wasn’t sleeping at night because Naomi was teething and waking up every couple hours and every time I tried to write someone woke up early from their nap or fell down or wanted a drink or a snack or was lonely or needed my attention or their butt wiped.   I couldn’t even get a break in the bathroom because I always ended up with an audience.  

By staying home I had lost adult conversation with friends at work, time to myself (even if it was just the moments during my classroom planning period) and self identity beyond mother and wife. My days were so filled with meeting the needs of everyone around me that I was forgetting to take care of myself.  Michael grew more and more concerned about me and by the fourth week of living in my funk of self pity I realized that if I didn’t do something to help myself I was going to have a serious problem on my hands.  It took every ounce of my being to force myself to remember anything, no matter how tiny, that used to make me happy.  

The first was basic. I went to the store and splurged on two containers of So Delicious Coconut Milk Ice Cream and spent a couple minutes each day hiding behind a cabinet in the kitchen until I had finished both containers all by myself.  Then I explained to Mike that unless he wanted to see his wife committed I was going to need some time by myself.  I stayed home from church and took a nap with Naomi; I visited my mom for an hour after the kids were asleep.  I started reading and was surprised at how much I missed it.  I finished the last installment of the Hunger Games and The Help in two weeks.

I did some research and found that exercise, sunshine, and fresh air help to fight the blues so each morning I strapped the kids in the double stroller and set out for a tour of the neighborhood or for a trip to the local park. We got in the habit of walking about a mile a day and I started to appreciate a morning filled with sounds of birds chirping and happy baby/ little girl chatter. When my energy returned I stopped putting off Jenna’s play date with her friend and found myself happily talking away with another mom enjoying my first lengthy non family adult conversation in months. Another mom who I could share my confessions of frustration, laugh with, and explore topics beyond Sesame Street and Strawberry Shortcake. It was wonderful. I found myself looking forward to our weekly play dates just as much as (if not more than) Jenna.

Finally Mike and I discovered something magical.  Because Jenna was fighting me on naps each day I decided to keep her up and do a serious stretch of playtime at the park instead.  We did early dinner and baths and put the kids in their car seats in their pajamas.  Then we drove along the river.  Our kids were both restrained and safe from danger or injury (especially from each other). In 5 minutes time both kids were sound asleep and Mike and I were free to reconnect 100% interruption free.

Like a fog gradually dissipates with the rising of the sun, my depression slowly subsided. The beat in my step returned until I felt like the well oiled machine I was months ago. I can’t say that every day is all rays of sunshine and rainbows. There are still moments when I feel like pulling my hair out but in the end I am happier that I am home with my girls than not.  When I had first contemplated the decision to take this year off of work a wise women told me that the very best gift I could give to my children was myself.  I just have to make sure that the self I give them is well cared for too.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cash Cows and Toileting Triumphs

When Jenna negotiated with the mall Santa Clause for not one but 5 candy canes so she would smile for the camera I knew my child was…ambitious.  Behind those bouncy blond pigtails and that sweet toothy grin lies the heart of a shrewd businesswoman. 

When Naomi was born and potty training progress took a major nose dive, I decided to take a friends advice and lay off for a while.  As mentioned in a previous blog (Potty Wars) nothing was working and I thought the only thing Jenna needed was more adjustment time.  We put away the potty charts and stopped the 30 minute reminders to try and go pee pee.  When Jenna’s third birthday approached at the end of January, I forced myself not to feel guilty that she would be attending her park party in pull ups and not big girl panties like all of her friends. 

Even though I wasn’t pushing the potty thing I still tried planting little seeds of interest here and there. When Jenna would point to a school yard full of children playing and ask if she could go to school too, I’d respond, “Oh, honey I wish you could, but only children that go pee pee and poopy on the potty get to go to school.” “If you use the potty like a big girl you can go to school someday too.” Jenna would just shrug and casually say, “Well I just won’t go to school then.”

Or when Jenna would bring up going to the playground with one of her friends I would toss in, “That would be fun.” “Maybe we can call and make a play date with Taylor.” “Did you know that Taylor wears big girl panties?” I could tell Jenna was not impressed with my information. She’d simply frown at me and then immediately request that especially annoying Wiggles song that I hate.

When Jenna turned three I was down to my last pack of size 2T pull-ups. (For the last two months Jenna had refused to keep her cloth diapers on, which were growing too small, and I refused to invest in the next size up).   I had originally vowed to be patient but come on, how much money can a person stand to throw away-LITERALLY? So I stuck Jenna in panties during the day to try and stretch the pull up diapers as long as possible. We have tile throughout the house, so what harm could it do?

Four days later I had made little progress.  I did my best to encourage big girl behavior, pointing out that Naomi was a baby and too small to help me bake, set the table, and water the garden like Jenna could. Jenna was thrilled at the constant special privileges and reminders that she could do a lot of things that Naomi wasn’t allowed to yet. Then one night I asked Jenna to help me harvest some mushrooms from our growing kit for dinner.  I used the knife to cut bunches of brown oyster mushrooms free and then Jenna placed them into the bowl.  Jenna had wanted to use the knife to cut the mushrooms herself but I had explained that it was too dangerous and that she could use a knife when she was older. 

Jenna grumbled something about a “very bad mama” placed the bowl on the floor and then trudged into the living room.  Two seconds later she happily announced, “Mommy, come look!” Her voice sounded abnormally cheery so I darted around the corner expecting trouble.  There she stood in a puddle, right beside her potty chair, a huge grin on her tiny face, “I pee peed on the floor like a dog.” And then she added gleefully, “Are you mad?”

What the heck? She had woken up dry from her nap & peed on the potty all day. In an instant my mind bounced back over Jenna’s so called “accidents” the last couple days: Right after she got into trouble for trying to ride Naomi like a horse and after I told her that Ice cream wasn’t a breakfast food and that she had to wait until after lunch to have some….  It hit me like a train. Aside from poopy (Which she had a genuine fear of) and naps/nighttime, the little stinker was peeing in her pants on purpose to get back at me!!!!ARGGGGHHHHH!!! Instead of morphing into an Incredible Hulk like creature I decided to remain calm, grabbed a roll of paper towels, and much to Jenna’s surprise she got to clean up her own mess.

For a whole week it was a battle of wills.  After a while Jenna grew tired of cleaning up her own pee, the constant changing of clothes, and the waste down spray downs in the tub.  Exasperated, I talked it over with Mike one night, “I just can’t believe how strong willed that child is!”

 “If I were you I’d just buy another pack of diapers.” He told me.

“Over my dead body!” I said, “I don’t care if I have to do five loads of laundry a day!”

“You will care when our electric bill goes up.” Mike sighed.

The electric bill went up nearly 20 dollars that billing period but eventually I got smart about it.  I started putting Jenna in a dress every day and gave up changing sheets, letting her sleep on a plastic mattress cover instead that I would wipe down in the event of an accident.

Two weeks into my no diaper vow I knew I needed to find something, ANYTHING that Jenna truly wanted that I could use as motivation to seal the panty deal.  For weeks the diaper solution was staring me in face as I vacuumed out couch cushions and emptied out jean pockets.  But I don’t think the true power of what I was holding occurred to me until Jenna found a quarter on the ground at Publix one day.

“Mommy, look, I found a circle.” She had proudly showed me.

“Oh!” “Good Job Jenna!” I said as I swiped my debit card and smiled at her, “You’re right it is a circle.”  “That is a special circle called a quarter.”

“What’s a quarter?” Jenna asked wrinkling her nose and forehead.

“It’s a piece of money worth 25 cents.” I told her.

Jenna’s eyes lit up and she quickly followed with, “To buy things at the store?”

“Yep that’s right.” I thanked the cashier for my receipt, returned Naomi’s gummy grin with a smile of my own and then turned to push my grocery filled cart toward the exit.

“Come on Jenna, we’ve gotta go now.” But there Jenna stood, the quarter pressed in the palm of her tiny left hand while her right forefinger traced its outline.  Suddenly images of Gollum shot into my mind and I swear I heard the words “my precious” whispered in a high pitched three year old voice.  Jenna clamped her hand around the coin, shot me a wide eyed grin, and skipped happily to my side. 

This was it! This was her motivation! We raced home and I quickly emptied my change drawer into a little Tupperware container and opened Jenna’s new cow bank she got for her birthday.   “Jenna, come look at what Mommy has for you!” Jenna raced into the bathroom and excitedly eyed the plastic bovine on the counter.  “See this cow, Jenna?” “He is very special for big girls.” I pressed the on button.

“MMMMOOOOOO!” “Hi There!” I’m the cash cow!” “I’m hungry for some money!” The recorded voice rang out.  Jenna was entranced.

 “Do you see this container of money, Jenna?” “Each time you go pee or poop on the potty we can feed your cow a coin.” Jenna tried to take a coin from the box but I pulled it back. “You can have a coin and feed the cow after you go on the potty.”

 Jenna smiled, “Can I go pee pee right now?”

“Sure you can, go ahead!” I was so excited I nearly floated into the air with happy thoughts of Tinkerbell panties in Jenna’s future. Just like that Jenna hopped onto her potty, went, wiped, washed, and then darted to the bank. 

MMMMMMM!” “That’s a penny.” “A penny is worth one cent.” The cow announced.  Jenna squealed with delight and then the cow, she, and I did a joy filled jig around the bathroom.

We had three instant dry days after that. But the biggest victory came when Jenna finally went #2 with the bargain price promise of 5 coins. Once she realized there was nothing scary about pooping on the potty she did it all the time.  It’s been three weeks since then and we have had only two accidents.  She even stays dry throughout naps and nighttime and has earned herself $9.88.  Sure she’s been requesting a lot more juice and water than usual, but for every penny we feed Jenna’s cow bank I save approximately 29 cents a diaper.  Some may say that money is the root of all evil but if it means one less poopy diaper to change then I say it’s worth every cent. So bring it on cash cow-you’ve saved my wallet (and my sanity) more than you could ever know!!!