Doing Chores with Three Toddlers Underfoot

image What is it like doing chores with three toddlers underfoot? You’ve heard it before: It’s like herding cats. It’s like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos.

I wake up in the morning with a head full of ideas. I am ready to conquer the day! I am ready to not feel so crazy! I am ready to take control! I set the bar really low – don’t get me wrong. I am Okayest Mom, after all. But I do have ideas of what I would like to accomplish in a day, on top of the usual changing-eight-poops and making-and-cleaning-meals-three-times. Today, for example, I thought it would be a good day to change my own sheets and my own towels. Sounds doable, right? Sounds like a good goal for an Okayest Mom, right? Wrong.

As the day progresses, every little thing stretches into bigger things. Each thing that happens is like a hammer onto the side of my head, smashing down any hope I had of accomplishing anything beyond the bare minimum again.

I have three levels of work in this house:

1) “Needs That Are Immediate, Pressing, Non-Negotiable, and Never-Changing”:

    • poops
    • meals
    • laundry
    • keeping kids on schedule
    • hugging/holding/touching
    • reading to the kids
    • getting the kids fresh air
    • not losing my mind
    • connecting with my husband

2) “Needs That Can Usually Wait But Are Very Important and Must Be Smooshed in Somehow”:

    • baths
    • vacuuming
    • changing sheets and towels
    • getting myself dressed
    • cleaning
    • shopping
    • playing with the kids
    • blogging a little of the things that are in my head (so my head doesn’t explode)

3) “Wants”:

    • doing my hair
    • organizing the toys
    • making those cool file folder games for keeping the kids quiet in church
    • uploading photos to Shutterfly
    • messaging a friend
    • cleaning the stainless steel appliances
    •  a haircut
    • blogging all the things that are in my head

I’m thinking I will get to the “wants” category when the twins enter kindergarten. No, wait, I will have to sleep for a year when the twins enter kindergarten. So, hmmm, maybe I will get to the “wants” when the twins enter first grade.

 

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This post was originally published on Beyond Infertility as members-only content. I am a regular contributor to their website.

Maybe I Can Raise a Jack White or Two

At a Jack White concert

At a Jack White concert

Sometimes, when I feel guilty that my children aren’t getting enough attention, I just remind myself that maybe that will make them turn out as cool as Jack White.

Mr. Okayest and I recently attended an incredible Jack White concert. Best date night ever. I’m still there in my head.

Jack White, founder of The White Stripes/ Raconteurs/ The Dead Weather / solo stuff/ Third Man Records, is one of my favorite guitarists. Even if you don’t care for his music, you may have to agree with me someday that he is ground-breaking and influential. (He already ranks on Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Guitarists of all time list, and he’s still in his thirties!) In this digital world, Jack White is into preserving the analog sound. (Did you know he is on the board of Library of Congress’ National Recording Preservation Foundation? Me neither.) He built a plywood/ Coke bottle ELECTRIC guitar in five minutes on the documentary “It Might Get Loud” and then wrote a song in less than ten minutes. I’m no musician, but I love his sound AND I love his minimalist style.

He was the youngest of ten kids. Maybe he became such a free-thinker because he didn’t get enough attention. Benign neglect.

He says,

“I never wanted to play guitar. Ever. Everyone plays guitar. What’s the point? I’m the youngest of ten kids. There was just always stuff around- a microscope, a power tool. When you’re in a family of ten kids, it’s just a given that you’re going to be sharing all day long – you get hand-me-down clothes, hand-me-down-toys. Different interests and everyone’s in and out all the time. Some people are walking to work; some people are taking the bus. Competition, fighting for food, you push each other over, you muscle your way into situations. My brothers, a bunch of them were musicians – bass, keyboards, played guitar. I got really into drumming, playing along with the records. Those rhythms got into me early. I had a bedroom that was about 7×7 feet. Really small. I had two drum sets in there, a guitar, an amplifier, a reel-to-reel, and no bed. I took the bed out. I slept on a piece of foam, on an angle by the door.”

He muscled his way into things that he liked, and he had free time to be passionate about the things that he liked. There was just… stuff… lying around, begging for him to get all creative on it.

Would I let the my kids play with power tools? Would I let them throw out their beds to make room for drums? Would I ignore them enough that they had time to build a Coke bottle guitar?

I bet Jack White’s mom didn’t worry about that stuff.

From It Might Get Loud, the 2008 documentary by Davis Guggenheim, starring Jack White, The Edge, and Jimmy Page (my three favorite guitarists all together!)

It’s Time to Eat My Words: My Son is Going to Preschool

Yes, the mom who got her fifteen minutes of fame one year ago from an article she wrote entitled “Benign Neglect: A Case Against Preschool” is now sending her son to preschool.

Yes, I changed my mind.

I don’t often change my mind about anything. But it’s time to eat my words… a little bit. Time to shove that blog post partially in my mouth and partially chew it.

I wrote that blog post in August of 2013. It was selected by wordpress.com to be featured on their home page as a “freshly pressed” blog post. Suddenly, I had hundreds of likes and followers. Suddenly, a whole lot of people were listening to me – when I was simply trying to document my crazy parenting for my three small sons.

I stand by what I wrote. I still believe that parents and teachers should not push children too quickly. I still believe that play is serious and important work for toddlers and preschoolers. I still believe that memorization is not learning. I still believe in the necessity of free time for children. I still believe in ending the competition and the Mommy Wars. (I even started a Facebook group for like-minded mommas.) I have nothing to prove, and neither do my children.

However, I have decided to send my son to (a play-based and non-pushy) preschool for several mornings per week this year. Why? I said I didn’t quit my teaching career so that someone else could teach my son, and I meant it. But I also said that the only thing that would convince me to change my mind would be the twins coming up behind him.

three on fenceThe twins prevent us from having a normal life. It has become clear to me that my son needs something of his own. He needs time away from the babies. He has plenty of socialization with kids his age – playgroups, walking groups, swim lessons – but he needs time away from the world of the babies. He needs time away from the baby gates that hamper his independence. He needs time away from the twin fights.

I can’t give him everything that he needs right now. So much of our day-to-day life is consumed with surviving: meals, clean-up, poops, repeat. I am not finding time to teach him the things that I wanted to teach him. I am just not able to live up to the dreams I had in my head. I am a professional: I am trained specifically for his four-to-six year old age bracket… and yet, my teaching skills seem to be on a shelf that is just too high for me to reach right now. It breaks my heart.

I know this is the right thing for him. I still practice “benign neglect”, but now I have a case in favor of preschool. I’ll have to be “okayest” with that.

Pioneer Women Probably Didn’t Wonder About That: A Hierarchy of Needs

Sometimes I feel like I’m gonna cry because I didn’t do that homemade play-doh project I was going to do. Or because my kid doesn’t know how to play hide-and-seek or climb a tree. Or because I haven’t played any classical music for them in a long time. Or because I haven’t made sure they know who Bambi is. Or because I haven’t made that blueberry smoothie in the blender yet.

You know what? All those sentences have “I” in them. If I were a pioneer woman, like my ancestors, I think I would be so consumed with hard work all day long that there would be no “I” in any of my sentences about my children. I would be working to make sure they were fed, clothed, and (sometimes) clean. Well, guess what? That IS what I do all day long.

Despite the fact that this modern life provides so much mothering help –like washing machines, dishwashers, DVD players, and baby swings (wow, how did they survive without those?) – my mothering life is still about the fulfilling the basic needs: feeding, clothing, and cleaning my children. I spend as much time preparing a meal as I do feeding it to them as I do cleaning it up. Three (four) small children make an enormous mess as they are learning to eat. I have to clean every surface of the dining room after they eat. Then I have to clean the kitchen.

Do you think this leaves much time for me to worry about whether or not they are being mentally stimulated? I practice “benign neglect”, partially out of necessity and partially out of choice. My pioneer ancestors, and every other kind of ancestor, probably practiced benign neglect because they were busy surviving. If that pioneer mother had to knit every sock by hand, do you think she had time to worry if her kid mispronounced his “f’s”? If that pioneer mother had to haul water from a stream, do you think she had time to worry if her kid ate enough vegetables that day? If that pioneer mother had to keep a fire burning all day, do you think she had time to worry if her kid doesn’t know what sound an elephant makes? (What does it make?)

Do you think that pioneer mother loved her children any less?

My psychology degree comes in handy sometimes. I often think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which states that physiological needs have to be met first – before any higher needs can be met. If our needs are a pyramid, then bodily needs are the base. Water, food, and sleep are basic human functions that have to happen. Next up the pyramid comes “safety”, where a person feels secure and safe in his body, home, and family. In the middle of the pyramid, there are “love/belonging” and “esteem”. Not until the very top of the pyramid do we see “self-actualization”, which covers creativity, learning, and even acceptance of facts. In my education classes, we were taught that our students could not learn if they were hungry. I have fed children in the back of my classroom from my own pocket.

As for my own children, I often think about how Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs applies. I am busy all day long, just meeting the base of the pyramid for the kids: basic human needs like food, water, sleep, and oh, poop. (No kidding: “excretion” is on there.) And between those chores and emergencies and necessities, I squeeze in as much of the “love/belonging” and “esteem” as I can. We are hugging and kissing and touching. I make time at every diaper change to poke their bellies, kiss their lips, look into their eyes, see how much their eyelashes grew that day. It is shamefully easy never even to make eye contact with a baby (two babies) during a diaper change. I can be up to my elbows in poop and forget that there is someone attached to that bum. Mothers of multiples – or maybe all mothers – have to work hard to slip in those moments that make a child feel special as often as possible. I put my hand under their shirts and stroke their backs whenever I can, just so they can feel my skin, if only for a second. I am constantly trying to find ways to meet their “love/belonging” needs and their “esteem” needs.

But what about their higher needs? What about the self-actualization? What about that project I never got to start with them? What about that game I never played with them? Well, unless it’s reading a book or going outside (I almost never say “no” to those two things), they’re going to have to figure it out themselves.

I trust that by leaving my children alone while I tend to basic needs, that they will naturally gain the higher thinking processes on the Hierarchy of Needs. They are learning about give-and-take while they negotiate toys with each other. They are learning about space and time and pain and risk as they scale and descend from the couch. They are learning fine motor skills and sharing as each twin slides one rainboot on his foot.

I provide the base. They’re going to climb to the top. Maybe literally.