Few realizations have been more eye-opening than finally figuring out that I can't just juggle my family and my home in my head now that we're almost six people. I really did feel like I could do it before. Remembering who had what toy first and for how long. Remembering who had had screen time and when they had started using pbskids.org. Remembering that poor kid I put in time out.
Those days are gone. A few weeks ago I realized that when my kids were on the computer, I started racing around and doing all the chores around the house that did not require "help." You know what kind of help I'm talking about. It's the kind that involves a 1 year old playing with a toilet brush and waving it through the air. A couple days ago, I figured out that my kids were super fidgety in time out because heaven only knows when Mommy will remember that she put them in time out and needs to have a conversation with them. And, oh the frustration, I have no idea how long anyone has had any toy in my house. I try not to favor the squeaky wheel who whines about his property all the time or the little girl who steals toys and then shrieks when her brothers try to take them back, but OH MY WORD... the whining, the tattling, the screaming!! It grates on my last nerve, making my want to send everyone to Australia so I can pretend like adults don't whine and complain just as much (been to Walmart lately, anyone?).
My solution: the timer. I haven't used it consistently before. It was always too bothersome to get up and actually set it, but I find that it's no longer optional. It's not like I'll just magically remember when 30 minutes is up. Time just flies around here! So here are some strategies that are working to save me stress.
When a child starts asking for screen time, I give them a time (normally 2 hours or so in the future) when they can have some computer or Amazon Prime time. This forces them to find something else to do to entertain themselves, but keeps me from having to hear, "Can I play PBS Kids now?" 100 times in a 60 second period. I'm telling you... It would try the patience of a saint. I set a timer so I don't forget my agreement and point the child to the timer if the question does arise. If the question is asked too often, I set the timer for longer. So far, so good. When the timer does ring, I set it again for the amount of screen time that that particular child can handle before becoming an emotional zombie. You know what I'm talking about. You know you do. This keeps me from starting a project upstairs and coming down to find that my child has been on the computer so long that his hand is permanently fused to the mouse. And our children are justice-minded enough to think that if one has had that much time, then all should. Tell me this is not just our house.
Toys and timers have revolutionized the sharing process. I remember watching one of my friends do this with her daughter and thinking she was a genius. She is, but, shockingly, her method even worked for me and my kiddos. When one child doesn't want to share a toy, I ask them how many minutes they need with that toy (a million is not a reasonable answer). We set a timer for that amount of time, and the other child has to wait for the toy until the timer rings and then gets said toy for the same amount as the first child had it. It works like a dream! Normally it takes no more than 2 rounds with a timer for them to just start passing the toy back and forth nicely. Phew. No more tattling or brawling. So nice. So worth getting off my tail to set the timer and helping them work it out together.
Lastly, time out. Some times we have multiple children in time out. I know. It's unimaginable that my children would need significant time away to cool off and be ready to talk about better choices, especially with such an even-keeled mother. HA. At this point, I just set a timer for the youngest offender. After talking to that child and resolving their offenses, I move on to the next oldest until everyone has been freed. If a child is not ready to talk, I skip them. They know this only prolongs their own time in purgatory so normally they are ready to talk turkey as soon as I am. But occasionally someone gets stubborn. Clearly they get that from Teacher Man. (Insert giant laugh here.)
Otherwise, I have bad news. I forget putting people in time out and never get to deal with the heart of the matter. I get frustrated with people not sharing and raise my voice, never giving any strategies for coping, so the problems just keep coming back. And I just let the screen time take over our day to the point where I don't even remember what we did with all our time.
The timers aren't for the kids. They're for me. Because I've come to the end of myself and realized that I'm just not enough. I'm gonna need some extra help. And if that help just happens to be free and to teach my children some concept of time, then so much the better. But continue to pray for me. At this rate of mental disintegration, I will soon have timers ringing and have no clue why I set them. Don't judge. We all have issues.
Saturday, November 1, 2014
I've had brief glimpses of my former life this month, remembering back to when I was responsible for only one little boy. Recalling our peaceful trips to the library. Reminiscing about the little activities and projects we used to do together and the hours that we spent cuddled up on the couch reading. Fast-forward to today, only five years later...
As I sit here typing, I can look down and see my ever-growing belly, a good sign that the little life within continues to thrive. I can hear a four year old playing in his bunk bed when he should be napping. I hear the heavy breathing of my one year old daughter as she refuels her energy tank for a romping afternoon. And I know that that little boy I used to spend hours/days/weeks snuggling with on the couch is reading to himself while I spend a few minutes recharging my own batteries. Life is full. And while some moments fly by, others are so decadently rich with precious moments that my mind and soul can't take it all in.
I'm a multi-mom. I have more children than I have hands. I can compare and contrast each of their birth stories in mind-numbing detail. At times, I glory in seeing the unique personalities each of them has been given, and at other times I wish they would cooperate better as a team. We've reached a new season. It's no longer about him or him or her or me. It's about us, living life, loving God, and enjoying the ride... because it is a ride. If you try to get off, you will be run over. I know. I've tried. Ouch. But I've also had to intentionally hit the brakes to at least slow things down because I realized that I was missing all the gourmet moments while being so frantically busy trying to make the daily happen.
More of them. Less of me. Something had to give. So here's what a did: I prayed. And I talked to Teacher Man, who LAUGHED out loud. He had the gall to laugh to my face when I asked him if he thought I was involved in too many things. Apparently, I'm just super slow at recognizing what the people around me can see after 30 seconds in my presence. And God did a work in my heart and my mind, cutting things away and even adding a few in.
God was faithful. A week after I begged the Lord to show me how I was supposed to get to the grocery store in our schedule, a college student asked if she could serve our family with childcare. A few days after I told Teacher Man I was going to scream if I had to keep cooking allergy-friendly meals every night, a woman from church offered to make me an egg-free, dairy-free meal on occasion. And at one point when I thought I was going crazy, God ordained a coffee date with a woman I've only met a few times, and I discovered a kindred spirit.
It wasn't easy. I miss a lot of the things I cut out. So. much. But I think I would feel worse about scurrying my way through Laura's second year of life and Ben's first year of preschool at home. About the feelings of anger as I watched more problems arise than I had the free time to work on. About missing all of Caleb's crazy stories from kindergarten because I am still processing my frantic schedule. About not slowing enough to talk to the little life growing inside me.
I was struck this morning as I watched all three of my children jumping and laughing in the family room that, while I will not miss diapers and shoe-tying, I will indeed miss having preschoolers in the house. Their unrestrained hugs. The thump of little feet running through the house. Their inability to hold words back... every honest, sweet, stinking, hilarious thing they feel like saying comes out. Even at their most excited, I highly doubt all three of my oldest children will jump and laugh and tumble around the family room like clumsy gymnasts once they've reached the teen years. Bummer. Although that's probably best for the safety of the furniture.
There's also more scary to come. With new little person's arrival in April, I'm realizing that even the things that God is allowing me to keep right now, He could very well ask me to give up in the spring. Ouch. Pain, but in a good way. I'd rather have a few deep commitments than a bunch of momentary appearances. Though it's nice to keep up with everyone, my soul revels in a small circle who can be honest, extend forgiveness, and love richly. And even though I may refer to my kids as our "crew," my deepest desire is to know their hearts individually and to mother each of them uniquely. Because even though I'm a multi-mom, my deepest desire to to be Caleb's mom, Ben's mom, Laura's mom, and ???'s mom. To teach them to live and love together as a family but to pursue the individual callings that the Lord has placed on each of their lives.
To those of you who are enjoying life with one child, bless you. It's hard. And scary. And so very overwhelming. And to those of you with your hands full of little hands, bless you. It's hard. And scary. And so very overwhelming. My hats off to each of you for embracing the life God has called you to live today. May you do it well by the strength and grace that God has given you for this moment!