How to Keep Your Marriage Alive in a Den Full of Chaos

There are some of you reading this who make me nervous as I write this. I wish you would just stop reading it.

It’s you guys: married with children, young ones, but somehow never miss your Friday date night... You text all day long – silly jokes, sweet nothings, prayer requests… except when you don’t have to, when you’re on your once-a-month overnight getaways. That’s when you discuss your answers to the marriage self-help book you’ve been reading in your spare time.

Congratulations, Romeo and Juliet. I don’t know how you do it.

Don’t get me wrong. We were you. We used to be really romantic. The first night Todd and I started dating (on New Year’s Eve, 2006) we talked for three hours on the phone, then cuddled and told shared our deepest dreams as watched the sun come up over the lake.

skating

just another crazy date

We were such a cute little dating couple. We saw each other every night, rehashing every wonderful little detail about our days apart. (“Honey, did you have turkey or ham today? You never told me!!”)

A year after we were married, I was pregnant.

While I wouldn’t trade this stage for anything, and there is no one I would rather raise my boys with than Todd…WOW. Have things changed.

so in love...so clueless

so in love…so clueless

I had a scary realization the other night. The boys had gone to bed. Todd and I were sitting in a completely silent room. He was reading some NASCAR blog on his phone. I was mindlessly checking Facebook. I think it had been an hour since we put the boys to bed, and neither of us had spoken a word.

And it hit me.

I like this.

I have not spoken to my husband all day long, and I am fine with that. I am so tired, I could go to bed right this instant and not bat an eye.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

I would have never, ever in a million years guessed myself susceptible to the “leave-me-alone” housewife gig. I love talking. Quality time is my love language. I’ve read all the marriage books and gone to all the seminars. I know all the quotes and must-dos.

The only explanation I can think of is something I think our pastor showed us in premarital counseling. He put his hands flat together. This is you, now. Together. Then, slowly, he drew his hands apart. Here is the natural progression from here on out, unless you work and fight it.

I think I remember casting Todd a cute little smirk. Not us, you hottie. *wink.*

Welp, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.

Once it hit me I was indeed becoming a statistic, I did what I always do when I’m worried. I nag. It’s a very enduring quality, one of Todd’s favorites about me. After a few days of getting him good and nagged, I finally implemented the much-wiser “Esther” treatment of husbands. Over fast food and beer, I told him I thought we should spend more quality time together.

Turns out he’s not the devil after all and he agrees wholeheartedly.

As we’ve been working on this, a few brief things are worth nothing:

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  • I really actually enjoy my husband, beyond the feelings of gratitude I have when he brings me the box of baby wipes.
  • After four straight years of working on allergy cooking, sleep-training, house-cleaning, potty training, child-rearing, baby nurturing, green living, and money budgeting, I am giving myself permission to spend some time working on my marriage. It feels like eating the last delicious french fry to do something so self-gratifying, but marriage is important, too.
  • Make date nights important. Blah, blah, blah is what I used to think. Date night schmate nights. We are plenty in love. Well, possibly. But we have been shocked at how enjoyable it is to simply cover the floor with a blanket, sprawl out with some take-out, put on Pandora and a few candles, and have an uninterrupted conversation. It feels like heaven. No, I’m wrong. If we were at Ruth’s Chris, that would feel like heaven.
  • I hate to sound like a modern-day prophet when I know I’m not one. But I think God blesses the time that exhausted, frazzled couples with snotty, needy little ones spend together. I know He has blessed ours. The time, he multiples. He gives you insights about your goals, your kids, your faith. He fills you with joy and draws you together.

Over the next few posts I’ll be sharing some of these insights we’ve had. Which makes me realize…January and February were months of dismal exhaustion, and March is the month for insights and goals. I guess all those hibernating naps in winter did something.

What about you? Is it harder to stay connected post-kids? What helps?

my crazy homeschooling ideas

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I recently found a blog I loved. It was called “weird, unsocialized homeschoolers.” I actually don’t even remember much that was on the blog, but I just thought that was a brilliant title.

Because it’s just better to get it all out on the table.

I’m considering homeschooling. AKA: I’m weird/unnaturally attached to my kids/scared of the real world/just plain nutso.

Maybe one day I’ll get better at saying, “Actually, I’m thinking I’d maybe like to try homeschooling,” without looking sheepish and scared and like I’ve killed someone and hidden them under my couch cushions.

The truth is, I’d like to homeschool. (Always have, since Sam was the size of a cantaloupe in my belly and I was trying to get my husband to help me decide on a curriculum. He wanted to wait…weirdo.) But at the same time, I am tentative about these plans.

None of my close friends currently homeschool. Very few are considering it. It scares me that so many people I respect choose private, or public, or charter school. I don’t want to be the dumb one, to do the wrong thing.

I don’t want my kids to be awkward, or disrespectful, or…behind?

I don’t want to homeschool out of weakness, but out of strengthNot because I’m scared of residual peanut butter (although I am, to death) or because I can’t bear to imagine eight hours in a row without my boys (although I can’t) or because I just want my kids to be my kids forever (although I do).

I’m sort of rambling. Underneath all these (bad) reasons, there are good ones.

  • I was a teacher, and I know how much wasted time there was in school.
  • It excites me to think of all the fun things I could do with my kids.
  • I know that boys need to move, to build, to run, to take breaks…I’m excited about being in charge of our days and meshing schoolwork and life.

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There is this vision in my head of our days – building things, doing experiments, reading, making friends, exercising, discussing, traveling…I see how it might be and I’m so curious to try it.

But just so you know, I do realize that there’s a good change on day three I’ll be back here, bemoaning how I’m sick of my kids and I’ve made a terrible mistake.

We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’m slowly formulating a plan for Sam’s kindergarten year. Here it is so far:

  • Math: Math U See curriculum. Each day is a 10-minute video explaining the day’s concepts, in ways that, apparently, enlighten most moms for the first time. What’s not to like about that??
  • Utilize Classical Conversations to help Sam memorize facts in history, Latin, English grammar, geography, math, science, and history timeline.
  • Reading: Teach Sam to read using Rod and Staff Grade 1 Reading Booklets. (It says “grade 1,” but Sam will do the 4-5 kindergarten next year, for his pre-K year.) I also plan to use the “Bob” books, which you can purchase on Amazon, or check out at the library. Or borrow from your sister when she buys them. :)
  • Writing: Use Handwriting Without Tears for Letter Practice.
  • Bible: I don’t know. I think we’ll do some Bible memory work. I don’t know what else. Suggestions anyone?
  • Science: If Sam attends a local Classical Conversations class, he will do a science experiment each week. In addition, I think I’ll just make up a list of interesting science topics and we’ll get books from the library and watch youtube videos on that subject. Does that sound horrible? :)
  • History: In addition to the history facts he’ll memorize in Classical Conversations, we’ll read “The Story of the World” book one. I just love reading those. They are great!
  • Geography: I’ve heard good things about “Legends and Leagues” curriculum.
  • Music. Todd is going to teach Sam guitar. I think it will require more patience than either of them has ever needed in his life.

And now, for the most important question: How am I going to get my kid socialized?

I loved this article I recently read (“Why My Kids Will Never Be Socialized” – but it’s not what you think) on socialization and homeschooling.

In all seriousness, though, it is a concern of mine. I think it’s the biggest obstacle I see so far. Not insurmountable, but definitely an issue to address. Here are my plans to provide social activities for Sam:

  • Have him playing at least two, maybe three, community sports each year.
  • Make attending Sunday School and Children’s Church a priority, and to participate as much as he can in church kids’ stuff.
  • Do Boy Scouts as soon as he can.
  • Attend a co-op with kids that he likes. If not Classical Conversations, then I’ll find another one. If I can’t find another one, I’ll start one. :)
  • Together, interact with those we meet in our daily lives. Chat with the librarian, the guy fixing the fence, our neighbors, the lady at the store, blah blah blah.

So there you have it. I’m sure if you’ve homeschooled for millions of years you are laughing at my perfectly laid plans and thinking I’m in for quite the shock. :) And you’re probably right.

Have you ever tried or considered homeschooling?

when the real world smacks you in the face (and a mom’s favorite verse)

Less than a week ago, I was cruising down the highway, kid-less, Chick-fil-a salad on my lap, all dolled up, headed for a fun and relaxing mom’s getaway weekend.

It was awesome. I learned so much. I ate two whole servings of hotel hash browns for breakfast (and a cup of steaming coffee) without being interrupted by anyone a) asking me for my food or b) pooping their pants. I sat still in a chair all day long, scheming about how to be a better mom. I had adult conversations, and ate Dove chocolates anytime I wanted.

I left feeling so rejuvenated to be the world’s. best. mom when I came back. And for 24 hours, I was close to it. I guess it was about day three when the poop really hit the fan smeared on my jeans while Ty wrangled and cried like I was giving him 23 vaccines. Real life, in other worlds, smacked me in the face.

Today, if you saw me right now, you would think I have been in solitary confinement and torture for the prior week, not rejuvenated from a better-mom conference. Honest to goodness. It’s rough.

Here I am. Aren't I awesome? You're welcome for putting this really icky picture up so you feel better about yourself.

Here I am. Aren’t I awesome? You’re welcome, for me putting this really icky picture up so you feel better about yourself.

Also, Sam must have had a sixth sense that my heart has been softened about discipline. He’s responded by shouting, “No, Mommy” in my face at the top of his lungs, poking his brother with forks, and telling me, “You’re so naughty. You’re a naughty Mommy” over and over, in the front yard, while throwing buckets and shovels.

Ty, similarly, must have picked up that I’m trying to be more patient, and wanted to help me practice those skills by using only a whine tone for the hours of 7am-6:30pm. And also, this morning at 5:00am, for about forty minutes. He is giving me so much practice.

I had also resolved to get up earlier and pray and read my Bible, and shower. I did it for two days. Then, the boys got up crazy early and I didn’t have time. And last night Sam slept in our bed with an asthma flare-up, so I was exhausted and skipped it.

I’m just a big, fat failure of a mom.

And the only thing worse than being a big fat failure of a mom, is doing that after such wonderfully high hopes.

SIGH.

This afternoon as I was hanging up the laundry, I remembered a blog I wrote awhile ago. It’s called “In Defense of Calvinism.” Last time I checked it’s not one of my most popular posts, but I just love it.

And I also remembered this verse:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;[a]
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-22, italics mine)

I have always loved that God gives us new mercies in the morning, but I think I got the ending mixed up. I’d always think of it like, every day, God gives me a fresh chance to be good.

No.

In the morning, it’s GOD that is faithful, not me.

I am so thankful for fresh starts. And conferences that make me want to be better. And conversations with friends that put things in perspective. And girls’ nights out. And date nights. And nap times. I need breaks.

But thank you God, that you’re going to be faithful even if I’m not.

“Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you” (Psalm 116:7).

 

 

 

 

 

 

I went to a mom conference! (my new convictions on discipline, texting, and joy at home)

My cousin and I somehow escaped the madness love and community of our families to attend the Mom Heart Conference 2013: “I Take Hope: Moving from Desperate to Destiny” with Sally Clarkson. We both read Sally’s Mission of Motherhood, and really loved it. The conference was amazing. Close second was the breakfast buffet at the hotel.

Here we are at the conference:

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A few general notes:

  1. I love that somehow I look as pregnant as Kelly does in this picture. (She is like 28 weeks).
  2. I did actually have on makeup at some point in this day, and it did actually look good.
  3. There were actually other people at this conference.

400 women, to be exact. All moms, some with little nursing babies, and also, in the same hotel, an “auto parts dealers conference.” It was an interesting dichotomy of attendants. Safe to say I don’t think anyone accidentally ended up in the wrong session for too long.

I learned so much, and am trying hard to avoid being the cliche “mountain-top experience” of people who go to conferences and are changed for about 3 1/2 days and then go back to being their same old mean-mom yelling selves. You know those types.

So, I wanted to try to verbalize what I learned. Once I put something on my blog, it’s like real-life, ya’ll. I never backslide. (Or something.)

The most powerful things I left with were stories, which is interesting because it was a story that brought me to the conference.

In Mission of Motherhood, Sally shared that her youngest daughter, Joy, had asthma. Joy would wake up violently coughing every night at two am, for months on end when she was about two. The only thing that helped was to put her in a steaming shower…So, Sally would sit there with her, and tell her stories. “Joy stories,” of crazy adventures the little girl would grow up to have. Her daughter told her once, “Mommy, when I was a little baby in your tummy, I wished and wished that I’d have a Mommy to tell me ‘Joy’ stories when I was sick.”

I cried because I love that picture of being a mom. I love how hard it is, and how scary, and how amazingly rewarding. And how her little heart was so happy with her mommy, like I know sometimes Sam is that I am his.

As I listened to her stories (her kids are now grown), I made a list of the things I wanted to change in my life. You know what’s funny? They were all things that I’ve kind of been thinking for a while I wanted to change. It’s odd…Almost as if God doesn’t need a mom conference to speak to you. Crazy.

Here are the things I become convinced of:

  • I think God is telling me to re-evalute my discipline policy. For one thing, my spanking policy. I’ve felt for a while that that is just not the most effective way to produce real change in Sam. I’m not saying I’m against spanking now or anything. But I don’t think it will/should be my primary go-to correction method. I don’t have points 1-10 of this lecture worked all out yet. It’s the beginning, but I know that I want less anger, more sympathy, and clearer expectations in the relationships we have with our children.
  • I need some specific “rules” in my life for technology. I want a break from the ties of texting and mindless internet browsing in my life. I do these things because I am bored, and fried. I want to substitute something else as my “go-to” so I can really, really be present, for long stretches of time, with my kids. I’m not sure yet how I will lock-and-key my iphone and computer for three hours at a time, or how people can really reach me if there is an emergency, or what else I will fill my time with when I am just needing a “decompress moment.” But I can tell you this. Today, I didn’t text much all day, and haven’t cracked the computer once. Can I even tell you how free I felt as a person? I felt like I enjoyed my moments. Of course, I had my husband home all day, and my bucket full from this nice little conference. I’m brainstorming how I’ll manage when my flesh is weak on a Thursday afternoon at 3:33pm. Suggestions welcome. But however it happens, I feel a new leaf is turned, and I am fervent in my desire to live a more undistracted life.
  • I want to teach Sam Bible verses. Little kids are just sponges at this age. I feel so guilty that he has so many useless books memorized and not enough Scripture. I’m not sure how exactly I will accomplish this. But again, it’s on the blog, so it’s good as fact now. :)
  • Finally, I want to strive to bring joy and beauty into my kids’ lives. Practical ways that this can happen, off the top of my head: pancake and donut parties. (Don’t we all need more of those?) More tickling. Put up more pictures. Play more music. Did I already say the one about pancakes? That was a good one. I’m praying that the Lord fills in the blanks here, but the vision is clear in my head.

Kelly, if you’re reading this, thank you for coming along with me! I would have never gone myself. And if I did, I would have gotten lost irreversibly on the streets of Durham, and have had much less fun.

In case you’re curious, Sally has a new book out called Desperate, Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe.

image from amazon.com

image from amazon.com

I love the idea of this book. I skimmed it at the conference, and actually feel like I prefer the one I read, Mission of Motherhood. Granted, I was skimming, but I am a good skimmer :). Either way, I absolutely recommend her writings. For a less expensive option, you can browse her blog, I Take Joy, here.

 

 

what to do when you wash a disposable diaper in the washing machine for the second time in a month

  1. Cry.
  2. Curse yourself (again) for being Eco-unconscious, and hate Mother Nature for such cruel, cruel punishment.
  3. Fish out the clothes, piece by piece, and drop them in a laundry basket, trying somewhat not to scatter the exploded cancer-causing chlorine crystals all over the floor.
  4. Once the clothes are out (including every toddler sock your family has ever owned), stick your hand down in the washing machine and make a swipe around the tub to get confirmation on how many inches-thick the crystallized goop is inside the washer.
  5. Get really, really annoyed and stressed inside.
  6. Spend a brief moment figuring out how this could be your husband’s fault.
  7. Remember there are two young boys loose in the house. Put on a “Bob the Builder” DVD, and defy anyone to argue that this is not a perfect use of 21st-century technology in parenting.
  8. Go back to the washing machine. First, scrunch a glob of the crystal goop up in your hands.
  9. Realize this is more awful than fishing out soggy noodles from the sink strainer, and go get some paper towels for assistance.
  10. Scoop as you can with the paper towels and then fetch the vacuum cleaner, mentally ignoring the echoes of your husband warning of mold in the vacuum if you vacuum up wet things.
  11. Realize you don’t have the right attachment for the vacuum, and decide you need a scoop of peanut butter if you’re going to finish this job before dinner. And a glass of wine.
  12. Then, crane the vacuum into the machine and suck up all those crystals. Take your time, now. Point that nozzle in every little dot and crevice in there. Those crystals are everywhere.
  13. Finish, and take a deep, satisfying breath. Turn around and realize you still have an entire load of wet pajamas with diaper insides all over them, and that essentially your job is about 12% completed.
  14. Cry again.
  15. Lug the laundry basket of contaminated pajamas on the back porch.
  16. Proceed to pick up each and every item in turn, untwist it, shake it out briskly in front of you, and smack it like it’s demon possessed against the porch rails.
  17. Look around and see if any neighbors are watching, and decide it’s just going to have to be okay that they think you are spanking your laundry piece by piece in the broad daylight.
  18. As the toxic diaper snow covers the shrubbery, start to feel really guilty about all the crimes you’re committing against mother earth today, and the little birdies that might try to eat the diaper stuffing.
  19. Remember that video you saw recently about first-world problems and third-world people, and feel both guilty at being such a spoiled brat, and simultaneously annoyed at the crystals sticking to your eyelids.
  20. Move “shower” from the “Maybe” to the “Definite” list for today’s nap time.
  21. Realize the job of shaking out every speck of junk from off of these minuscule socks and pajamas is definitely going to take upwards of an hour. Sing to yourself, “I think I can, I think I can,” for motivation.
  22. Take a brief “break” to make the boys lunch, and feed them while you continue the job.
  23. Worry a little bit that they seem completely unfazed by their mother standing on the porch, covered in messy white mess, waving all of their clothes to the wind.
  24. When their interest is finally piqued, threaten Sam with his life if he steps outside in the hazardous mess.
  25. Realize as he’s standing next to you that you should have picked a more reasonable punishment.
  26. While beating a pair of fleece pajamas, scream and yell at him to get back inside, further solidifying “crazy” status by any curious neighbors.
  27. When the basket is completed, rewash the clothes.
  28. Take an advil, and a nap.

a budget that finally worked for us (the “crazy budget post”)

Yup, it’s the crazy budget post. Intrigued? Every once in a while I get a great idea in one area or another. And just to be clear, I am aware that a good portion of readers think my “great idea” is weird.

There have been a few…You might remember the crazy diet post, the crazy emergency post, the crazy “green” post, or the crazy germ post. I know 75% of the people who read these posts think, “That’s weird/stupid/pointless. Back to my awesome life.”

But, I write for the other 25%. Isn’t that sweet of me. I look out for the little guy.

Cause right now in someone’s living room, a person somewhere is reading this with an antsy feeling in his/her gut – about money...someone who needs a budget, lacks a budget, forgot about their budget, has never even made a budget…etc. etc. etc.

So here I am to the rescue, with a (incredibly simple and childish) budget that has actually worked for us. Yeah, we are on month three of a working, sticking-to-it, real, live budget. (And now I’ve jinxed us.) But here are the steps. I’m starting from the very, very beginning. This is “budgeting for dummies.”

SIMPLE STEPS TO A SIMPLE BUDGET

  1. First, figure out how much you make in a month. Obvious, right. Actually this might be easy, or it might be hard. For us it was slightly tricky. Todd gets paid every two weeks, so I had to add all the weeks up and divide by twelve to get an exact amount. Also, he gets a once a month stipend for health care, so then I had to add that in. Then, there are bonuses. I chose to not include Todd’s bonuses in our income. If you want to include your bonuses/commission in your income, I’d recommend choosing the absolute minimum you know you will make. Be very, very conservative.  Total monthly income:  __________________________

    Roby Mikic

    image by Roby Mikic

  2. Next. Make a list of everything you spend money on regularly in a month. If you have monthly credit card loans or medical bills, be sure it’s on there. Also, be sure “savings” is one item on the list. Even if you can only save a small, small amount each month, be sure to do that. Here is a sample list, in case you’re from Mars and have never seen a list of things people spend money on.

    Item

    Gas – car
    Gas – home
    Electric, water – home
    Mortgage
    HOA
    Health Insurance
    Cell phone
    groceries
    Church
    Compassion
    Life Insurance
    Car Insurance
    Disability Insurance
    $ to put in savings
    Prescriptions
    Netflix
    Eating out
    Internet
    Medical Bill
    Credit Card
    Car Payment
    miscellaneous expenses
  3. Now, some of these things are going to be the same amount every month. Fill those in.
  4. Now, estimate the remaining categories. You could just pick a number that sounds good, but I recommend against that. The best thing is to round up all your paper credit card statements (while you’re listening to music on your boombox, right? Check that…just go online :) and add up everything you spent in that category for the last three months, then divide by three. Or simply even the last month. The point is to get a realistic picture of what you spend. At first, I fill in the boxes with what I’m actually spending. You can always lower your budget later.
  5. The next step seems really obvious, and if you’re one of those really crazy budget people who itemize your excel sheets in mint/quicken/budget apps I know nothing about, then go ahead and make fun of how simplistic this is. (Confession: I actually do not know how to use Excel. Cue the scoffing laughs in the background. I know, I know. It’s awful.) I’m off-topic, though. The next step is to add up all of your monthly expenses. Don’t freak out because categories are missing, like people’s birthday presents or trips to the dentist. We’ll get there. Total regular monthly expenses: ________________
  6. Now, find that number again for total monthly income. Subtract the income from the expenses. Take that number, and put it in the chart at the “miscellaneous expenses” category.
  7. See, here’s how your budget works: Each month, you have that amount to spend on anything else not on the sheet: presents, doctor visits, random kid items, conferences, etc. etc. (About once a week I’ll update that item in my chart and see how I’m doing.)

WHY THIS WORKS

There are a bazillion other budgets that I have tried. All of them are more complicated. They have more charts, more categories, blahblahblah. I like this because it is simple. How much do we make each month? And, how much are we spending?

A few other tips:

  • car gas: I set my budget for $100 a month and I fill up my car for $50 each time. This makes it easy. And ps, if I’m running low, I don’t go anywhere. It makes me feel really, really frugal.
  • groceries: I take out cash for the month. I can’t even stress what a difference this makes. I divide it up into weeks, and I can see and know exactly how much I’ve spent and how much I have left.
  • Each month I keep track of our total cash position. (Savings: ___________ Checking: ____________ Other accounts: _________________.) That gives me an overall picture of where we are.

Here (Blog Budget) is my actual budget in Word if you’d like the format (don’t rush to open it and spy on our bills…I left the numbers off. Haha!). And ps, if you are in fourth grade or higher, you can make this document in your sleep. So again, don’t kill me with mockery for being so kind as to share my simplistic budget. Please. Have mercy.

ONE FINAL IMPORTANT NOTE:

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). I think budgets are important. Without a plan, you perish, right? Isn’t that a verse, too?? But also, sometimes I feel like God is sort of laughing a little bit when I scrape together my plans and figures. He is the Lord who takes care of us. When my numbers don’t add up and my plans fall flat, God always shows up. He has been such a loving Father.

Do you live by a budget? What’s the best budgeting advice you’ve ever received?

Additional Resources:

Dave Ramsey’s Free Budget Guide

“Budget – It’s not a curse word” -