Sunday, January 10, 2016

Mom Advice #1: Expectations

            Alright now!  So, here I am - a mother of three young boys.  (Update: When I first wrote this I had three; now I have four.  Oh, and this series is from my other blog, chapter 7 and 8 in the Child of Mine posts.)  I never did go back to work as the counselor that I went to school to become.  (Yet, I have done nothing but work since they arrived.)  Instead, I enlisted.  I enlisted in the ranks of the sleep-deprived; the worn, ragged souls serving at the front lines of the battle.  God bless them!  I am neck deep in Motherhood.   And the battle rages on, as it does in many homes around the world, between mother and child.  Who will dominate?  Who will rule?  Sometimes the battle is too close to tell. 

            There have been many lessons over the years as my kids have gotten older.  Oh, yes, they have taught me well!  And if I had to share with a new mom what I have learned, I would start with Lesson #1:  If you want to maintain your sanity, let go of your expectations for yourself.

            When you enlist as a mom, there are many things you can’t expect to have anymore: sleep, time, energy, brain cells, freedom, shaved legs, etc.  Those are the obvious ones.  But there are less obvious ones.  And for me, I’ve learned that I need to let go of crazy expectations - like being able to go to the bathroom in peace.  Oh, yes!  Those days are gone! 
            One day, I decided to take twenty seconds to run - literally run - to the bathroom while the kids played out in the front of the house.  (I’m not kidding.  Literally, twenty seconds.  Twice the length typically allowed for moms.)  Now, I never leave them out front unsupervised.  But I had been with them for about an hour-and-a-half, and everything was going smoothly.  Twenty seconds, though.  I could manage that! 
            Within five seconds of my being in the bathroom, wouldn’t you know it, I heard screaming from outside.  My oldest, Kody, fell and hurt his knee.  Worst part was that I knew that it would happen, too.  As I ran to the bathroom, jumping over toys along the way, I mumbled to myself something about how someone will get hurt . . . just watch and see.  (I think it is worse when you predict something is going to happen and then it actually does.  It just makes you mad.) 
            It wasn’t a bad hurt, just a scraped knee.  But it never ceases to amaze me how things can go wonky the minute I do something for myself.  And most moms I know will agree.  I think it’s to keep a mom from getting too comfortable and falling asleep on the job.  You know the saying: “Expect the Unexpected.”
            I cause more problems for myself by expecting that something will go the way that I think it should.  If I expect the baby to sleep for thirty minutes so I can do dishes, I get angry when he wakes up after ten.  If I expect to be able to sit down and rest my eyes while the kids play outside, I get really frustrated that they pop their heads in every three minutes to complain about something. 
            I’ve learned (and my husband continues to advise me) to lower my expectations so that I won’t get so bothered when it doesn’t go as I had hoped.  That’s a hard thing to do, though, especially when you don’t feel that you are asking for that much to begin with.  Who can fault you for just wanting to eat one meal without something getting spilled?  Or for wanting to get dressed in private and maintain a sense of dignity?  Something I desire, but never seem to get to do.  
            As an example, there was one time that I told myself (out loud), “Yippee, I get to go upstairs and change my clothes by myself.  No kids hanging around and jumping on the bed because they are all downstairs playing!”  (I think I really did say yippee, too.)  And call me crazy, but I like to get dressed in private.  It was going to take me seconds to pull off my shirt and put another one on.  So I didn’t bother to lock the door when I shut it.  As soon as I took my shirt off, though, my second son, Hunter, saunters in and says, “I really wish I could have some yogurt and blueberries!”  How do they do that? 
            And then another time, I decided to take a shower.  The kids were busy watching TV or playing games.  And on the way up the stairs, I told my husband, “I get to go take a shower by myself.  No kids barging in because they are all busy.”  (The house we rented was really old and the bathroom door wouldn’t stay shut unless we wedged a towel in it.)  And so, of course, as I am standing there in the bathroom - naked - waiting for the water to warm up, the door flies open and Kody jumps out and yells, “BOO!  I bet you didn’t see me coming up the stairs!”  
            YA THINK!?! 
            Why does it always seem to be when I’m in the bathroom or naked?   I think I should just stop saying things out loud.  I have to wonder if there are bored demons floating around just waiting for people to say “Oh, look!  I get to . . .”  So then they know how they can stir up a little mischief.  
            If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself saying something like this from time to time: “Is it too much to ask to just be left alone for two minutes so I can change my clothes or close my eyes and rest?  I mean, I cooked dinner and you got dessert.  And all I ask is for one minute without someone coming in here and looking for me?”
            And speaking of irrational expectations!  I’ve also had to let go of the ridiculous notion that I’ll ever get to eat a snack in private again . . . ever!  At least, not till I’m old and gray and have to find my teeth before I can chew.  Ok, I am already gray . . . uh-hmm . . . silver.  But at least I still have my teeth.  (Oh, and according to Proverbs 16:31, “Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life.”  I’m not bragging or anything; I’m just sayin’.)     
            Now, don’t get me wrong, I love being with my children and providing for them.  But, truthfully, sometimes I just want nothing more than to eat a treat by myself without little, gaping, baby-bird mouths on anxious bobble-heads clamoring for a bite. 
            There is just something about a clandestine bowl of ice cream or a brownie that draws kids in from another room for no particular reason, where they have been happily playing for thirty minutes.  The minute the coveted food hits your lips, they sense it.  And they wander in merely to check on you because (as my husband paraphrases a line from Star Wars) “They sense a disturbance in the force.”  (He also says that they can sense fear, and so they can tell when I’m afraid that they’re going to ruin my snack or my peaceful moment.) 
            The minute you are unseen for a few seconds, their little brains send up a red flag:  Uh, oh!  Mom is about to enjoy something that she is hiding from us.  I have spent many moments – when my children popped into the kitchen “just because” - ducking behind a cereal box on the kitchen table, jamming otherwise-enjoyable bites of food into my face, and smiling as though there was no chocolate of any kind in my mouth.  I have even tried to hide grapefruit (if you can believe it) and have been caught, and then had to share because their incessant begging or big doe-eyes and tears would ruin my nice, quiet moment anyway. 
            This happens with other things, too.  Just try picking up a book and looking content.   It really doesn’t matter what it is.  Getting on the phone, doing bills, resting your eyes.  As long as you are doing something for yourself or your attention is removed momentarily from the children, they will gather the troops and retaliate. 
            That is why I give in sometimes.  Not so much because I am a pushover (Um, ok . . . Yes, I am!), but because I value the quiet and peace so much that I grudgingly let go of my expectations.  I give in so that they won’t start whining and crying.  That way, it will, at the very least, still be relatively quiet.  One of us has to give in, and kids have far more stamina than parents. 
            And I can’t take the noise.  The loud, incessant noise.  I want to literally crawl out of my skin when there are too many noises at once: the radio, my husband talking, the kids fighting, and one child climbing up my leg, calling, “Mom . . . Mom . . . Mom!”  (How funny, then, that God would give me all boys.  Girls seem so much more dainty and quiet.  I’ve seen their little tea parties and heard their tiny, little conversations.  It’s a whole different world.)  And so, I give in . . . or give up . . . or whatever. 
            Plus, I’m learning to save my energy for the battles that matter most.  Case in point, about snacking in private:  Just after typing this, I was in the kitchen while the boys were wrestling with Daddy in the living room.  The very second that I scooped a bit of chocolate pudding into a bowl, Hunter came walking in completely unexpected, looking for a drink of water.  There was no time to hide it.  Thankfully, he had already had a treat, so I could deny him without guilt. 
            And a few days later (the day after a birthday party for one of the boys), I woke up, the sun was shining, and the kids were quiet and restful.  And I decided to get myself a nice, quiet breakfast and enjoy the peaceful morning.  There was one piece of homemade chocolate cake with chocolate frosting left.  One piece!  And I was going to have it with my coffee and savor every bite.  Oh, what a great way to start the day!  (We really don’t eat that many sweets, which is probably why I try to savor them so much.) 
            Ahhh!  I really needed this moment for myself.  It had been a busy weekend.  But, of course, as I began to take the first few bites, my two-year-old, Ryder, walks in “just to check on me.”  He had been completely zombied out on a movie in the other room, but he sensed “chocolate energy” coming from the kitchen.  Or maybe he has a really keen sense of smell.  I tried to shield it with my hands, hoping he wouldn’t notice it.  But even a toddler knows what that means, and the begging began. 
            My moment was slipping away . . . fast!  But I was determined!  So I did what any reasonable mother would do.  I smiled at him, shared a few tiny bites with him.  And then I said, “Hey, what’s that over there?”  The second he turned his head, I shoved the whole piece of cake into my mouth.  When he looked back at me, I mumbled, “All gone!” through a mouthful of chocolate.  I didn’t get to savor it with my coffee as I choked on it, trying to chew it all at once.  But no way was I gonna share it all!
            Maybe you’ve had to give up on the dream that you’ll read a book under a tree on a nice sunny day.  Instead, you’ve learned that your job now is to dress the kids in their swimsuits, turn on the sprinkler, get them a towel, get them a drink of water, turn off the sprinkler, and get them some dry clothes when they decide - after three minutes - that the sprinkler is too cold and they don’t really want to play in it, after all. 
            Or maybe you wanted to cook that humblest (and cheapest) of meals – spaghetti - in what little time you had.  But in that time, the kids spilled a glass of juice, they needed to be separated because they were fighting like ravenous wolves, the baby needed to be nursed, the phone rang (stinkin’ telemarketers), and you dropped the dry spaghetti out the wrong end of the box all over the floor.  Ever happen to you?  Or is it just me? 
            Or maybe you’ve had a day like this . . .
            This day wasn’t particularly rough or anything.  It was the day after Thanksgiving and we were still cleaning up after company.  We had decided to do our grocery shopping and ended up going to two stores and, of course, spending more than we should have.  Even though we bought nothing frivolous, except for a carton of egg-nog. 
            I got home, put away the groceries and quickly threw in a frozen pizza that we bought for dinner.  (The kids’ favorite meal!  I usually make ours from scratch.  Not their favorite!  But it was getting late and we were hungry.)  And then we all kinda loafed around a bit.  My husband played video games and the boys were watching TV or playing with their toys, while I tried to sit and read. 
            Mark my words, it is the law of nature that the minute a mom sits down and looks comfortable or dares to close her eyes, the children must begin an endless litany of requests.  “Mom, look at this.”  “Mom, wipe my butt.”  “Mom, look what I built . . . can I have a snack . . . he won’t give it back . . . I can’t get up from the side of the couch where I fell head-first trying to hang off the edge, even though I’m not supposed to hang off the arm of the couch.” 
            The funny thing is, though, they never ask Dad.  (Can you tell who the softie is in my house?)  If Mom and Dad are in the same room, I’m the one who ends up answering the little requests.  It’s like being on-call all the time for little things.  And that can be more exhausting than cooking the meal and doing the dishes afterward.  Being called to do something little every minute when you are trying to take a mere moment to rest is exasperating.  And this was one of those nights. 
            Between cooking the Thanksgiving dinner the day before (for his family), putting groceries away, changing diapers, wiping noses, looking up every few moments to look at the newest, cool thing that the kids wanted to show me, and then finally getting up to do the rest of the holiday dishes, I was eager to just sit and read.  Uninterrupted.   (Ha-ha-ha-ha.  That’s a good joke!  Wait, let me wipe my tears!)  
            Anyway, I just finished the Thanksgiving dishes and flopped down in our hand-me-down reclining chair when Ryder came over and asked for yogurt and blueberries.  Now, he did not eat a lot for dinner, but just munched on some veggies.  (Veggies over pizza!?!  Unnatural, but true!)  We were going to bed soon, so I figured that he should have this last healthy snack before bed or he would really be hungry.  He’s only two, after all . . . and extremely persistent, so I wouldn’t win this one peacefully anyway.  May as well just get it for him. 
            “Honnneeeyyyy?” I whined to my hubby, who was lying on the floor where he had been for hours now, playing video games while I was putting away groceries and doing dishes.  “You wouldn’t want to give Ryder some yogurt and blueberries, would you?”  (Men, when your wives ask you something like this, it’s really NOT a question!)  He looked up at me with that Are-you-kidding-me? look.  And I could hear him thinking, Look how comfortable I am here on the floor.
            “Just tell him ‘no’,” he said. 
            I give up!!!!  I’ll do it myself!!!!  Especially since it wouldn’t be Dad that Ryder would pester until he gets what he wants.  It would be me! 
            Boy, did that one get to me!  I slammed a few things around the kitchen (hoping my husband would hear) while muttering under my breath about how I wish I could take up video games and veg in the other room for hours.  And I gave Ryder his snack which he happily began inhaling.
            When he finished, I told him to go in the other room.  Then I decided to make myself the same snack and enjoy it in peace in the kitchen by myself, since reading was out of the question.  Sometimes, if you just stay out of the room where the kids are, they don’t seem to ask for things as much. 
            As I returned the blueberries to the freezer and picked up my spoon, in walked Hunter . . . “What did Ryder just have for a snack?” 
            I couldn’t fight it.  I was too tired and discouraged to answer.  I walked over by him, dropped my snack on the table in front of him, and walked out.  And he happily began devouring my snack in peace in the kitchen by himself, while I went back to the couch and glared at the back of my husband’s head, who was now laying on the floor with his eyes closed in restful slumber.
            Like I said, let go of the expectations that you have for yourself and just go with it sometimes.  Do the work that needs to get done as it comes up, one step at a time, knowing that it’s where God has you now.  And it will be a little emotionally easier to handle.  (I said “a little!”)