Reflections on Two Lives

Twice today I received news of death.

The first was my uncle who passed away early this morning. I love this man. He was an amazing pianist who could improvise in a way I have long admired.

I remember on the rare occasions he came to town, if we were anywhere that had a piano he would sit at that piano and, without a single sheet of music since he couldn’t read music, play and play and play. No pauses, no changing of pieces, just from one musical idea to the next. He mostly played Boogie Woogie and the rhythms and melodies that man would play moved my soul to overwhelming cheer every time.

I looked up to him and as a budding musician I remember admiring his ability to get lost in his own music; to be so enthralled in what he was doing that it became his whole world for those moments he was at the piano.

During those times I heard him play, the music would eventually come to a somewhat abrupt end, silence would fill the room and he’d shut the piano. He’d get a look about him as if he was giving this musical world he had just created one last look. Then he’d stand up and walk away.

Not once did I ever see him sit down and play again when people asked him to keep going. When he was done, he was done.

As an adult I think I admired him even more. Not in the start struck way a child admires but in a respectful, understanding way. My uncle was by no means a perfect man and had many a trouble throughout his life, though I’m not sure what else you’d expect from someone who escaped out a window and ran away from home at the age of about three.

He spoke loudly, often rudely and knew just how to get people riled up. In fact, I was pretty terrified of him as a young child. But, he had an artist’s soul and I think he saw the beauty in things that others maybe passed by.  He saw potential in me and somehow was able to let me know that despite the fact we only saw each other or spoke every several years.

I think as he grew older his heart softened about things. The last time we talked he spoke of his admiration for me as a music teacher and it wasn’t until just now that I can see how things have come full circle between us.

The second time I received news of someone’s death today was of a dear friend of mine’s daughter who had died of cancer. She lived in another state than her mother and they were not on good terms and hadn’t been for a long time.

Horrible things happened to this daughter long ago and I know that her mother has been suffering for many years knowing what her daughter went through and not having her daughter in her life any more.

When I heard this second news I immediately thought of the coincidence that these two people had died on the same day. They lived in different states, lived very different lives and died from different causes. Yet, they were welcomed to their next home the same day.

I know that they are now both freed from the pain they suffered from in this life and have found happy reunions with those who have gone before them. I know my grandma, grandpa and uncle are, right now, laughing together.

Though these two souls are in the same situation now, I can’t help but reflect on how different the affects and situations are that they have left behind.

My uncle lived a long and good life. He has family that knew him and visited him and deeply cared for him. We can find peace and comfort in these things.

My friend’s daughter however, did not get to live a long life and, from what her mother has shared with me, it was a hard, rough life. Those close family bonds were missing and I can’t help but wonder if she felt alone. The grief that is left to this family seems a much more difficult one to bear.

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Wanted: One Stay at Home Mother of 3

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve posted an entry and, ironically, today I’m posting a journal entry I wrote a year ago. Details have changed a bit in a year, but for the most part this still resonates with me and as I was rereading it I thought it might resonate with some of you. 

March 19, 2015

I realized today that I never fully understood the statement, “being a stay at home mom is my job”. Yes, it’s a full time job, more hours even. Yes, it’s hard work, yes it’s just as important if not more so than having a career. I get all that, always have. What I never got before though was that, like a full time job, being a stay at home mom creates limitations on what I can do. 

I mean, I always recognized the obvious limitations like not having the time to develop a career, not being able to put your own desires ahead of your kids’ needs (although that’s all parents, not just the stay at home ones). The limitations I am talking about are things that I feel should fall under a homemaker’s duties anyway. 

For example, we have been rearranging our living room and I’m trying to find a new place for some pictures and albums. This seems like something I should have on my list of things to do since I’m home all day. I’m constantly in the living room and I don’t have to leave the house to get it done so why should I not expect to find a place for these things?  

Another example, our master closet is disastrous. I need to sort some things and rearrange. It’s a mess but a completely cleanable mess. Again, I’m at our house everyday, I know what needs to be done and yet, no clean closet. 

It makes it even the more frustrating because I like rearranging pictures and organizing closets. Why have I not done these things?! Every time I see the undoneness I feel guilty and criticize myself and all sorts of negative self talk arises. I would never berate myself for not pursuing a Masters degree while I have three young children at home but it seems getting a closet organized should be not only doable but a duty. 

Then it hit me, the idea that being a stay at home mom is truly a full time job. As such, there is a job description that accompanies my days; duties that are a requirement. Given the day is finite there has to be a finite amount of duties that are required. Right now, my daily requirements fill up the allotted time (allotted time being 24 hours). So, it follows that I can not consider every task that needs to be done at home as one of my duties. In other words, because of my job there are some things, like cleaning out a closet, that I just can’t get to. I find this so obvious and completely acceptable for people who have a career outside of the home and yet for some reason I never connected it with what I do as a stay at home mom. 

It feels weird to look at something that needs to be done at home and be able to honestly and correctly say, “that’s not my job”. Perhaps I had unknowingly fallen into the subconscious belief that if I’m home all day and did not get something done then it must have been because I was lazy, didn’t plan well enough or forgot. I have always resented the notion that choosing to be a stay at home mom is the easy way out of working and a ticket to eating bon bons while watching TV on the couch all day. Yet, it seems that I somehow took that notion and turned it into the idea that the only way to not make this a ticket to bon bon city is if I do everything that needs to be done at home. Not so. 

Another realization that came along with this was that just as people who go to work outside the home everyday, there will be days when I don’t want to do my job and would rather be doing other important things. I really wanted to get the living room all arranged today. That’s an important worthwhile task. But when I realized that I can’t do that because it’s not my job my world somehow got a little smaller. Just as someone who works a nine to five job can’t just decide to stay home and play with their kids because that’s what they’d rather do that day, I can’t decide I’d rather clean out my closet instead of feeding my kids. This is not a bad thing, just something I had to realize. 

The thing with the job description and duties of a stay at home mom is that they are largely self defined. What exactly do I want to have happen in my home with my children each day? What do I feel is critical for them to have, to experience and so on? This opens up an entire, potentially overwhelming, world of possibilities. 

When I defined what I want to have happen in my home with my children on a daily basis then I essentially put a cork in the endless possibility bottle and created requirements that I know I need to fulfill. 

Perhaps it sounds contrary to say that my job has defined duties and therefor restrictions when I am the one who sets the duties. I don’t think it is. If the most important thing for me to accomplish as a mother is to raise healthy, joyful children with the foundation in place for a strong testimony of Christ and for a successful life then I need to decide how I’m going to accomplish that. At least for me, that leads to specific things that need to be done on a daily basis. In other words, duties or my job description. 
I have not overlooked those sad situations where children’s parents really don’t care or have a goal for their parenting. Perhaps things like addiction or abuse prevent this. What I’m talking about is deliberate parents who are trying to raise their kids in the best way possible.

So, this got me to thinking. What are my daily duties as a stay at home mother of a 5 year old home schooled boy, and a 3 year old and a 1 year old girl that I have created for myself? If I were creating a job description for what I think my job must entail I think it’d be this:

Plan and prepare three meals a day plus at least one snack that takes into consideration keeping sugar levels and processed food intake low while being something the kids will actually eat. 

Clean up after each meal just enough so clean up won’t be necessary in order to make the next meal. 
Give individual time to each child through play. 

Plan, enforce and carry out an age appropriate and interesting violin practice session for the older two children. 

Create, enforce and assist daily with an age appropriate chore system that will teach the children responsibility, contributing to a family and the concept of working hard to earn money. 

Keep cash on hand for above mentioned chore system and pay children on a regular basis. 

Initiate scripture study and attempt a discussion on the scripture passage at an age appropriate level. 

Remind children to be kind to each other and possibly design and implement a reward system for keeping the family rules, one of which is to be kind. 

Assist all three children in getting dressed, brushing teeth and saying morning prayers. This includes having clean laundry as well as physically helping the younger ones get their pjs off and clothes on. 

Change the 1 year old’s diaper as needed throughout the day. 

Clean up any accidents the 3 year old or, let’s be honest, the 5 year old may have and assist them into clean clothes. 

Rock 1 year old to sleep for at least one nap a day. 

Read a children’s book here and there as requested. 

Break up any fights that look like they may turn violent. 

Home School: research and gather material needed for homeschooling. Set aside time each day for homeschooling and after tidying up home school area, present content to the two older children. Assist them in any assignments given. 

Assist 1-2 of the children (dad’s usually home for this part) in brushing teeth, saying nightly prayers, changing from clothes to pjs and getting to sleep. 

Help any child that may wake up during the night in any way needed. 

Keep track of needed doctor and dentist checkups and take children to those scheduled appointments as well as any other appointments needed. 

These, of course, don’t mention other tasks that I find to be very important and do on a daily or weekly basis. Things like preparing a lesson plan for a class I teach on Saturdays, accomplishing tasks for my duties at church, attending to small things like emails and phone calls that may or may not apply to the kids, trying to cultivate the part of me that’s not mom with things like reading my own books, having my own scripture study and prayers, exercising, working on my own projects and connecting with friends. Nor does this list include things to help develop the relationship my husband and I have. Just like someone with a full time job outside of the home, all these things have to be found time for during non working hours. 
So, the next time I feel guilty about not having the pictures arranged and the closet clean, I will refer to my job description and remind myself, “that’s not my job.”

“Mind Organization for Moms” Review and a Free Giveaway

As a mother of young children I have often struggled with the question of how much of my time belongs to me and how much of it belongs to them. Over the past 5 years I’ve tried many different approaches in hopes of finding that magic medium that gives me and my children just what we need to be happy and fulfilled. I’ve ranged from focusing 100% on my children during the days to setting aside only a small portion of my time to give them my full attention.

As with most things in my life balance has seemed to work best. Right now we usually have time set aside in the day for them to play on their own while I work on my things and some time to play together, all mixed into our homeschooling day.

I find, however, that when it comes time for me to give them my full attention, whether it’s playing a game, reading them books or watching them jump on the trampoline I still struggle with mentally focusing on them. In other words, my mind wanders and usually it’s wandering down the path of “what was it I needed to be sure to do today?” There have been countless times I’ve spaced out and missed something my children have done only to be brought back to the present with the familiar cry, “MOOOOOOM! YOU WEREN’T WATCHIIIIING!!”

I’ve been working on this for years now and the harder I try and focus on my kids, the more distracted I get. Resolving to put my iPad away helps enormously because there is nothing that can drag my attention away quicker than the sound of a text coming in or the ease with which I can “look up something real fast.”

Still, even without my devices, my mind races with tasks and other information that I want to be sure to remember.

Here’s where the Mind Organization for Moms (M.O.M.) program has helped. M.O.M. is an eCourse developed by the cofounder of Power of Moms, April Perry. (Never heard of Power of Moms? Click here for an awesome website dedicated to helping mothers do their best.) The program is based off of David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done and provides an extremely in depth organizational system that is specifically aimed at parents. Really though, the tools used in this system are applicable to anyone who has many tasks to accomplish, events or activities to keep track of, projects to get done and/or tons of paperwork to handle. The main goal of M.O.M. is to eliminate the stress that comes with staying on top of things so that your mind is free to focus on the right thing at the right time.

Translation: I can finally sit and play with my kids without trying to remember the next 4 things I need to do before dinner… or by Sunday… or in the next 5 years.

This program is INCREDIBLY thorough. It delved into every aspect of my life, pulled out all the information associated with each of those aspects and taught me how to sort it so I will never again be worried that I have forgotten something important or have let something slip thorough the cracks.

Through the use of files, lists and a calendar, M.O.M. walked me through setting up what is called  my “machine”. This is basically the hardware (think file boxes, cubbies and list making apps) that houses my paperwork, ideas, goals and tasks. Now that my machine is set up I have an organized, clearly labeled and easily reviewable place for everything in my life that now or at some point need my attention.

M.O.M. has a ton of information in it. Every step of setting this system up is very clearly spelled out with detailed instructions and multiple examples. The material is provided in several formats including PDF’s, videos, podcasts, printable worksheets, pictures and text. There is an option to follow a two week start up format that breaks down the entire system into 8 assignments that will be emailed to you one assignment at a time. I found these 8 assignments to be the easiest and most direct way to get going.

I appreciate that this system takes into account things that are obviously pressing in my life as well as the little things that I have on my mind but often dismiss as unnecessary.

I’ll give an example. I often get ideas about things I’d like to do for my children when they are grown and out of the house. These ideas come to me at various times and when they do I usually think to myself, “Oh man, I hope I remember that when the time comes”.

Remembering something for 18 plus years can be a long, stressful time. Every so often, though, my brain would give me a little reminder about these ideas, often at very inconvenient times. I’d be in the middle of making dinner (which I had forgotten to buy the main ingredient for) while my two youngest children were fighting over a book and my oldest was yelling from the other room that the vital piece of his current lego masterpiece had gone missing and I needed to help him find it NOW.

So, when my brain sent that little random pop up reminder window that says, “Hey, don’t forget you want to be sure to send surprise care packages to your future grown daughters when they have young children”, instead of feeling excited and like I’m an awesome mother, I felt stressed and upset because how can I possibly remember to do that when I can’t even get dinner made?

No more, my friends. Now that sweet idea goes into my “Someday Folder”, one of several files that’s part of the M.O.M. machine. The idea is that it holds all of your ideas, projects and tasks that you want to address someday. Even if the time for those things are years and years away. Combine that with a regular weekly review of this and other folders in the machine and bam! I can rest easy that I will remember and have access to my awesome idea and now my brain can stop sending me little reminders at inopportune times. And, if it does still bring up the topic on occasion I don’t have to stress that I still have over 18 years to try and keep that thought in my head (or keep track of the paper I wrote it down on).

Another component to the program I found helpful was the mind sweep. Basically, I wrote down or collected the corresponding paperwork for every single thing I have had on my mind at some point. I didn’t realize how much stuff I had been trying to keep track of in my head. Things like what I wanted to change in our home, things to buy or sell, letters to send, events to plan, routines to implement, papers to file, new ways to interact with my children, people to pray for, long term goals for my personal development, things to discuss with my husband, books to read, blog posts to write, research to do, new recipes and exercises to try. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  I seriously had sheets of paper covered front and back with lists as well as a whole pad of sticky notes I scribbled on. No wonder I couldn’t focus on my kids.

All of those things have now been sorted into their appropriate spots and what a relief to know they will be gotten to in their own due time.

Other aspects of the program I found helpful were:

  • Identifying and prioritizing the most important next step of any task I am currently working on.
  • Setting up my daily calendar so it’s actually useful instead of a stressor. (I tended to write everything I thought I might get to that day on my calendar and then I’d feel quite guilty when I didn’t get to half of it.)
  • The ability to easily see absolutely everything on my plate so I can know what new projects may or may not be a good idea to take on.
  • Providing a system that insures when those barely-keeping-my-head-above-water days come due to illness or other unforeseen events, I won’t loose track of things.

Would I recommend this program? Absolutely, with two additional thoughts.

One: Setting up this system is very time intensive. All together I spent approximately 19 hours over five weeks going through the course. At times I was overwhelmed with the amount of information I was receiving as well as processing. I really had to take it one step at a time and not get ahead of myself.

Personally though, I feel those were 19 hours well spent. The woman who created this program set up her machine nine years ago and with about 20 minutes a week to maintain it, she has never had to build it again.

Two: I have always been a list maker, sometimes to my detriment but usually to my benefit. M.O.M. is based on list making so it was a pretty natural process for me. Honestly, I’m not really sure how you would organize at this level without lists, but that’s probably because I find them to be such a useful tool. If you have some strong issues with lists, this may be a difficult system for you to use.

The full M.O.M. eCourse costs $75 with the option to upgrade to a Premium Version for $247.

A disclosure note here. I was not paid to write this review though I did receive a free copy of the $75 version from Power of Moms for the purpose of reviewing the course. I have not experienced the Premium Version.

Having gone through the course, I feel that it is worth $75. The Power of Moms website also has a free eCourse called Master the Whirlwind that teaches certain components of the M.O.M. program as well as other free or less expensive organizational tools and help.

If you’d like to enter a giveaway for a free copy of the $75 version of M.O.M. from Power of Moms then leave a comment below stating what aspect of your life (kids, house, small business, whatever) you think would most benefit from some in depth organization. The winner will be randomly chosen on Saturday, May 9th.

A note for those reading this on Facebook. In order to be entered into the giveaway your comment must be posted on my actual blog, not Facebook. Just click the link you’re reading and it should take you right there.

Here’s to a focused mind… and remembering to buy the right ingredients for dinner.

“That’s Awesome! LET IT GO.”

5,260,000. That’s approximately how many results come up when you google “Disneyland with young children.” Assuming only 1/1000 of those are legitimate, doable ideas that’s 5,260 more good ideas I have the option of putting in my brain. Ridiculous. 

While doing some trip research one night I got so distracted with sorting through posts and websites and articles about how to make your trip amazing, I completely forgot what it was I was originally looking for. This was not an uncommon occurrence. 

Sometimes it seems that I have access to so much information that I have no time or brain space for relevant knowledge. Relevant knowledge can, of course, differ from individual to individual so I’m not knocking the amount of accessible information but rather I’m concerned with my reaction to it. Let’s just say that Pinterest is often my worst enemy. 

I believe it’s important for people to improve themselves and their situation. As a mother of young children I think it’s extremely useful to have access to other mothers’ ideas and methods. It’s true that sometimes I just can’t figure out how I want my picture frames arranged on the wall and seeing examples on an interior design site actually does spark an idea. There are times when “10 tasty crock pot meals under 400 calories” actually come in handy. The problem comes when I take every suggestion to heart and decide that in order for my family/life/cat to be better, I MUST incorporate them. The bigger problem comes when I somehow delude myself into thinking that I can incorporate them into my life all at once. 

The world is over flowing with ideas about everything. Many of those ideas truly are awesome and worthy and good. For example, making sure all our snacks are homemade? Awesome! Writing in my journal every single night? Awesome! Three days of cardio a week and two of strength training? Awesome! Planning the Sunday School lessons I teach weeks in advance and making wonderful visuals? Awesome! Having a family cleaning time every day where we deep clean one part of the house together? Awesome! Having a vegetable dish and salad with dinner every night? Awesome! Taking daily nature walks with my kids? Awesome! Nearly constantly feeling stress, disappointment and failure because I haven’t accomplished everything I “should” have? NOT awesome. 

So, as I sat scrolling through endless pages of tips for going to Disneyland, I was hit by a bit of inspiration. So hard actually, that I’ve made it my motto for the past 4 months: “That’s awesome! Let it go.”

Are all of these ideas indeed awesome? Yes. Do I need them in my life now? No. Somehow, by acknowledging that many of the ideas I see and hear are good but then giving myself permission to let them pass by me without an obligation to remember them has brought me more peace on this subject than I’ve felt in a long while. To everything there is a season and I am learning that this is not the season of my life for so, so many things. 

There have been many times since I’ve adopted this new motto that I will read or hear a new idea and for a split second that familiar feeling of “I need to implement this” will start to spark. When I stop and say (usually out loud) “That’s awesome! Let it go,” it’s like my mind opens up and gets a big breath of fresh air. 

There is a scripture that reads, “And verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better.” Amen to that. This world is full of good things but I don’t want to be so distracted with the good that I miss the better. 

Of Valkyries and Confidence

Valkyrie: in Norse mythology, one of a host of female figures who chooses who lives and who dies on the battlefield. The word translates into “chooser of the slain”.

When I first learned about Valkyries I was intrigued. What power and authority these mythical creatures must hold. It seemed appropriate that independence and great confidence be added to their character traits. And of course, all the cooler that they are female. That fact was probably what intrigued me the most. It’s not too often that a title like “chooser of the slain” is associated with females. For that matter it may not be often enough that words like power and authority are immediately tied to females.

Enter Valkyrie Initiative. A non profit organization dedicated to teaching women self defense. The other night, for our church’s women’s activity we were given part one of a two part course that Valkyrie Initiative offers.

It was very useful information, poignant and actually quite thought provoking.

One of the topics discussed was how a “bad guy” selects his or her target. Things like your awareness, apparent confidence level, type of dress and physical ability can play a part in determining if you are a worthy target for said bad guy.

When the presenter mentioned confidence I immediately thought of the mythical Valkyries, whom the organization is named for, and how they might deal with a panhandler turned violent or other attackers.

Somehow having this odd juxtaposition of a grandiose Norse female character with a modern day hoodlum made the feeling of womanly self confidence surge. I recalled the words “chooser of the slain” and then my mind translated the concept of “will I allow this soldier to live or die today” into a modern introspection of “will I allow my rights as a woman, as a human being to be violated without a fight or will I vehemently stand up for myself and my family?”

And then, my inner Valkyrie wannabe was crushed by fear; a fear stemming from the sudden realization that I had absolutely no idea what I would do if a panhandler got aggressive. No way to handle an attacker or sexual predator. I’ve been known to almost cry when I think someone *may* have *thought* something negative about me. If I actually came face to face with someone who was truly trying to inflict physical harm on me I had no idea how I would react. I was betting, though, that it was not going to be with Valkyrien confidence.

Thankfully, after the two hour course my mindset was changed a bit. I now did have some tools to handle these kinds of situations. I was taught strategies that can keep me from getting into these situations in many cases. By the end I was ready to sign up for part two of the course which addresses actual fighting techniques. It apparently also has people playing the role of the bad guy confronting you. The idea scares me, a lot actually. But, I’m hoping it will give me more confidence so I can, if necessary, be the chooser of my own fate and not a victim of fear.

If you’d like more info on the Valkyrie Initiative courses you can click here.

The Dropbox

The other night I learned about a new documentary called “The Dropbox”. It’s about a pastor in South Korea with a disabled son who spent 14 years in a hospital. Through this trial he developed great love for those with disabilities.
Sadly, in South Korea (and other places in the world) there is a growing problem with mothers abandoning their newborns in the streets for various reasons, one being if the child is disabled.
Pastor Lee Jong-rak saw this problem first hand and wanted to do something to help. He installed a “baby box” in the wall of his home to give mothers an alternative to leaving their babies in the streets. It has a door on both sides of the wall and inside are warmers and a blanket. When a baby is put in from the outside a bell rings on the inside and the pastor comes to take the baby out of the box. Most drop-offs are anonymous.
This man and his wife currently have nearly fifteen children in their home. It is an orphanage but the difference is that these kids have a mom and dad. He and his wife have adopted many of them and care for them as their own.
When watching just a snippet from the trailer my heart broke for these little abandoned babies, the mothers and the people who are trying to make a difference. I cried. A lot.
Later I told my husband about it and cried again, but we had a really good discussion about helping others and how we should find ways to serve that utilize the talents we have been given.
I have always had this fear in the back of my mind that I am supposed to someday serve in an extremely emotionally difficult place, like an orphanage in a third world country or helping kids who have been abused.
It terrified me because, when I hear of things like abuse, neglect, torture and hatred, I have such gut wrenching reactions. I feel physically sick to my stomach and have an urge to run away from whatever it is.
Thinking about this documentary has helped to ease both my fear and my reaction to such situations.
In fact, I want to see it.
Before, I couldn’t even bring myself to watch the trailer. Now I have seen it and I want to see the film. Mainly because of this: when I saw a short clip of a little baby not much younger than my own trying his best to crawl but unable to lift his misshapen head off the floor my heart broke and I couldn’t think beyond that moment. Then I realized that little boy is older now, his life has gone on, he deals with it.
It calms my initial flight response when I see that there is more, that life goes beyond that crisis moment of being diagnosed, abused or abandoned. Yes, there is a severe aftermath, trials and effects from these horrendous events. But morning always comes. It may not be a morning free of pain and grief – at least not in this life – but things do go on. Solutions are sought. People cope. And as for those sweet little ones who do not survive the night, they truly wake to a glorious morning with an assured place with our Savior and Father in Heaven, never to be hurt again.

It is these thoughts, these realizations that help me not be so afraid to learn more about people in need… and to not be afraid to help when and where I can.

“The Dropbox” will be in select theaters March 3-5. Kindred Image is an organization started by the creators of the documentary in order to help Pastor Lee’s ministry and their website is a helpful place to learn more.