Tag Archives: Cleaning

my day…on the half hour

I don’t have the energy to comment on my day, so I’ll just give you the “on the half hour” recap and let you interpret for yourself.  Here it goes…

12:30am…I’ve slept two hours straight…could be a good night…

1:30am…uh oh…awake, achy, sore & feeling fluish…I know this drill…Mastitis

2:30am…still awake, still feeling icky & now feeding a hungry H

3:30am…too uncomfortable to sleep… decide if I’m up, I should be productive so I start doing the dinner dishes  I had abandoned on the kitchen counter

4:30am…a break from dishes to change T’s diaper after a middle of the night poop and a half hour to get him back to sleep

5:30am…I fall asleep

6:30am…husband , H and I all awakened by E coming into the room; time to get the day started; hey, at least the kitchen is clean

7:30am…E is dressed, fed, her lunch has been packed, her coat and backpack are ready and she is headed out the door with dad who will drop her at school; I need to get the rest of the kids and myself ready because we leave in 20 minutes for my 8am dentist appt.

8:30am…I am at the dentist office, midway through my appointment.  Our babysitter is in the next room/lobby with three of the kids since that was the only way our timing/sitter logistics could work out today.  I am concerned she may begin screening my calls, since I can hear H screaming while she tries to help T change pants (because, of course, this was the day he wanted to wear big boy underpants for the first time ever…grand scheme-this is a good thing – HOORAY, T!!! – but my poor saint-of-a-sitter…I lugged a portable potty around all day, by the way…), while S is announcing over the din that the water won’t stop coming out of the water cooler and is that why T filled 4 cups of water without drinking any??? because she didn’t think we were allowed to do that…  I eventually left the chair and went to the lobby to help.  Dental bibs make pretty good nursing wraps, by the way…

9:30am…ignoring my cell phone ring as I drop S off to preschool half-an-hour late, then checking this voicemail in the parking lot, “Mrs. S?  This is X from the dentist office.  I believe you might have left a small toilet in our lobby.  Would you mind coming back to pick that up?  I’m so sorry we didn’t notice it before you pulled out of the parking lot.”

I’ll bet.

10:30am…at our weekly Wednesday playgroup,with our potty in tow.  T is ecstatic because playgroup is at the library’s storytime session, the book theme for the day is “dinosaurs” and – coincidentally – he has a dinosaur on his shirt.  (He did have dinosaurs on his pants too, but we left that pair at the dentist office)

11:30am…at the doctors, where I am officially diagnosed with Mastitis

(by the way, has anyone reading this post noticed that it’s only 11:30am at this point?!?!  I just had to highlight that for a second…I’ll get back on track now…)

12:30pm…at the pharmacy, picking up meds, which I realize I can’t take yet because I just had lunch they must be taken 2-3 hours after eating.  whoops.

1:30pm…arriving home after picking up S from preschool and realizing that I haven’t changed H’s diaper since we left the house at 7:45am this morning.  As luck would have it, I was unable to locate any diapers this morning other than T’s, so 4 month old H was wearing a diaper designed for a 2 year old.  Worked like a charm (though after almost 6 hours, I’m not sure which weighed more, H or the diaper he was wearing…)

2:30pm…helping everyone into coats in preparation for walking out to pick up E from the bus stop and finally getting to take my first dose of medicine, which will hopefully cure the Mastitis and all the flulike symptoms it has bestowed on me today…chills, aches, fatigue, the works!

3:30pm…snacks and stories with the kids after school…today’s picks: Little House on the Prairie (E),  Dr. Seuss (S) and Mo Willems (T) for mom to read, and a Magic Treehouse book that E reads to us as part of her homework each day

4:30pm…laundry during the kids’ “quiet time”, because we’re on our 4th pair of big boy pants already…

5:30pm…baths for everyone, because I was too tired yesterday (and the day before)

6:30pm…made and served dinner for everyone (except me, since it’s time for more medicine, which means I can’t eat for an hour).  Did I mention that I’m supposed to take these pills 4 times a day, always on an empty stomach, while nursing a newborn?!

7:30…big kids in bed, sort of…dinner for me…

8:30…E re-emerges; T starts hollering through his monitor that he needs a tissue, and H is ready for his dinner

9:30…blog post, then bed, because tomorrow there are 2 teacher conferences, a birthday party, choir practice, E’s weekly homework completion deadline, and Science night at her school…

Maybe they have a scientific sleep-study in need of participants!

Or maybe someone wants to research the societal reaction to the random scattering of small toilets throughout the community on a given day!

Either way, I’m in.

Updates and photos from last month (part 1!)

So I’ve been AWOL (life has been busy!) and have been promising an update…

Here’s the short version: we’ve been having fun, which has involved a spring break “staycation”, a week recovering from that staycation (hello, laundry), a wonderful Easter, and then a great visit from Nana!

And here’s the longer version: updates and photos from our last month (part 1)…

Each girl got to pick one special “must do” for the week of spring break.  To my surprise (why did I think they would stay in my comfort zone?) E picked “make a dress for our dolls” and S picked “plant a garden”.  Holy moly.  I have no experience in either of those things.  (It did make me glad I asked however, since there is no way I would have put either one on a list of plans, and obviously they are unexplored areas of interest!)  Anyway, here we are at the fabric store…

fuzzy cell phone photo

After a “looking loop” around the store, each girl was allowed to pick out one yard of any fabric they wanted, and one foot of any ribbon they wanted.  E & S surprised me by both selecting the same fabric and ribbons.  (They wanted their dolls to match, I guess!)  T got a piece of fabric with cars on it that I hoped would become his new lovey, but alas that role was filled by the racecar and Toby train the Easter Bunny brought him.  Not conducive to sleeping – rolling over onto those loveys (especially Toby, who says “full steam ahead!” everytime T bumps him in the crib).  Oh well.  He loves them!

Anyway, here’s the dolls in their dresses.  Since I don’t know how to sew, these are more like glittery sackcloths, but they made the girls happy!

E said, “Her dress looks a little like a bathrobe, but I like it!”

Thanks to Nana who did an actual sewing lesson with the girls when she visited a few weeks after this (with a real sewing machine).  I keep a few cloths around the house for various things, and one now has random, festive stitches all over it.  An easy way to have the kids feel like they were “really sewing important things” (at least until the machine stopped working…anyone have a spare manual for a JC Penney sewing machine purchased in the mid 1980s?)  Here’s one of my new decorative cloths below.

Just look at that stitching! She’s a natural, I say! : )

We’re hoping to complete the set after (1) we figure out what’s going on with the sewing machine, and (2) Nana comes back to teach me how to thread and use it.

S’ project was the garden.  I am not a gardener, but we headed over to Home Depot (with their optimistic “You can do it.  We can help.” motto).  S & E picked out three things to plant (1) marigolds: the only flowers the deer won’t eat, (2) carrots: the only vegetable S will eat, and (3) basil: because the man who helped us said there was almost no way I could mess it up.

After hours and hours of shoveling, weeding, removing rocks, adding topsoil, planting, and lots of muddy shoes and jeans piling up on the porch, we have the smallest garden ever.  It is impressive only to me and the children.  (I promise, we truly have spent countless hours on it, but it is really only a 4 x 6 patch of ground with 12 flowers and some tiny sprouts that are either carrots or weeds…I honestly don’t know how to tell them apart, so I have no idea if I’m weeding, or ruining our only crop.  I am not kidding about this.)

The two big rocks on the left that we used to mark the rows of carrots and basil kind of look like gravemarkers for our struggling-to-survive garden. Seriously, is anything going to grow in that red clay? We added two huge bags of topsoil, but honestly, I have no idea what I’m doing.

And in the interest of internet input, can someone please click on this photo to enlarge it and tell me if any of the green things sticking out of the ground look like the beginning of a carrot-top?

OK, so if you can fight the impulse to tell me we should have added more topsoil and removed more rocks (I promise, we were removing rocks for hours…), tell me instead which of these green leaves is a carrot sprouting, and which is a weed. Carrot at the top of the photo? Weed at the bottom? All weeds? Egads. I think I’m going to go to the grocery store, buy a bunch of fully grown carrots and plant them one night after the kids go to bed and then take everybody outside to harvest them the next morning. In case you think I’m kidding with this plan, I have already done my research. Apparently, they sell carrots at Whole Foods that still have the green leafy parts on top. Score!

Anyway, the kids love watering the flowers; it has been a fun adventure, and I give us an “A” for effort.  My grandma J, who – God rest her soul – (1) won all sorts of yard and neighborhood beautification awards, (2) was in charge of all the flowers for our church for decades and (3) grew the rose petals that lined the aisle of my wedding, would applaud our efforts too.  She would appreciate that at this stage of life, we are certainly process (as opposed to product) oriented!

My grandmother would also likely laugh at the fact that the flowers we are trying to grow are in a battle to survive, while the part of our yard that received no TLC and is “supposed” to be grassy is covered in the most lush display of flowery “weeds” you can imagine.  I mean, check out the photo below.

Yes, I love them. But honestly, “My kingdom for a carrot!”

The brick wall marks the property line between our house and the neighbors.  It’s like the weeds magically stop there (much to the delight of the girls, and to the dismay of my husband).

It is uncanny. I will say that these flowers provide hours of entertainment for the children, because they are determined that none of them be chopped by the lawn mower. Every time my husband says he’s going to mow the lawn, they sprint outside to pick all the flowers and cover my kitchen in bouquets. I will miss this stage so much when they grow out of it…sigh…at least then I will know that I really did try to enjoy it all in the moment.  Bring on the bouquets, girls!

Finally, since I mentioned the racecar and train that appeared in T’s Easter basket, let me include a few photos of the holiday.  We tried to capture the meaning of the season – telling the kids an age-appropriate version of the crucifixion and resurrection (when S heard Jesus died and came back to life, she said, “Hmm.  I think that’s what I’ll do too”, then let out that little breath that almost made it sound like “Well then, that’s one less thing to worry about.  What’s for dinner?”  It was a good opportunity to tell her we can all come back to life, and live forever in heaven.  (Happy belated Easter, everyone!)

Then there were the secular celebrations.  Here we are dyeing Easter eggs

T got a plastic egg and a cup of water, and was absolutely a part of it at the age of 1!

I know you can see the plastic egg in the photo…can you also see the clear plastic cup of water he dunked this egg into for half an hour? He kept yelling out random colors while he did it, mimicking the words his sisters were saying as they dyed their eggs. I remember taking this photo. He shoved the egg right at the camera and yelled “purple!” So we have the spirit of the activity covered…we’ll work on colors next year : )

S at our church egg hunt

Hunting eggs in our house Easter morning

E & S hunting eggs on Easter morning. Note that it is still pitch black outside the windows. The kids were so excited that they woke up insanely early. Also…note to self: ask the Easter Bunny to make a quick list of where the eggs are hidden. There was one we couldn’t find for a few days, and of course it was one of the real, hard boiled eggs. Fortunately, we did find it before the smell found us! I was like Kirk in that episode of Gilmore Girls, looking for the egg…anyone else remember that episode?!

We also enjoyed spending part of the weekend with cousins and the other part with friends.  Beautiful company, beautiful weather, beautiful time.  Love all y’all!

In the “less than beautiful” category…My deviled eggs didn’t turn out exactly right…

I had promised deviled eggs, then learned that I couldn’t use the boiled Easter eggs that were hidden overnight at room temperature (health risk, apparently), so I only had the two eggs left in the fridge to work with. Me in the kitchen + no spare ingredients = no room for error/recipe for disaster. My mother-in-law gave me this awesome tray to hold deviled eggs in, and I am embarrassed to say that these eggs were so misshapen they wouldn’t even fit in the tray. Oh well. This is why no one complains when I bring pre-packaged cookies to potluck gatherings.

Between the flowers and the eggs, my grandmother would finally have to admit that I inherited absolutely none of her talents…but my admiration for those talents is ever increasing grandma!  This gardening and cooking is tricky stuff!

More updates on S’ new obsession with cooking in the next post…  Here’s hoping she has inherited my grandma’s skill as well as her interest, and that she can take over the kitchen soon!  S is actually so into cooking right now that I’m thinking of arranging an apprenticeship with my Mother-in-law, who is an amazing cook and maybe planning to visit soon.  Are you up for it Grammy?!

I’ll leave you with a photo of the laundry that accumulated while we were doing all this other stuff.  The laundry problem was exacerbated by the fact that the week after spring break was unseasonably cold, which meant I could just shove all the dirty warm weather stuff deeper into the hamper and pull out all the winter things I had just put away.  End result?  Well, check out laundry day…

There are no people in the photo because we were all basically walking around in towels by this point.

My husband, never one to complain, actually looked at the growing pile shortly after spring break, sighed, and went out and bought himself new boxers.  True story.

(And lest that be misinterpreted, know that he is actually great about helping out with the laundry and everything else around the house, but in his infinite marital wisdom realized that buying a few new boxers was probably the best investment in overall domestic contentment.  And his wife says, “amen to that”.  I don’t need a six-week retreat in Fiji.  But occasionally, I do need a week of blissfully ignoring the laundry : )

So that’s part I of our update…to be continued with part II later.  Hope everyone else is enjoying spring too!

The Kids-eye View

What most of us see:

a pile of weeds just removed from our overgrown flower bed

From a child’s perspective (E):

the perfect ingredients to make a giant bird’s nest (E's vision, but S helped and is pictured here as the bird)



What most of us see:

A hole in the yard, created with plastic shovels, made muddy with a cup of water, and likely to cause a twisted ankle next time we’re playing out back.

From a child’s perspective (S):

a pool for the caterpillars, (this time it was S' vision, but E helped, and the pool included small leaf boats in case any caterpillars didn't want to get wet



What most of us see:

a tree at the playground (stock photo, because I didn't have my camera at the park yesterday, but this is exactly what the base of the tree looked like)

From a child’s perspective (T):

a tunnel for a choo choo train (T doesn’t know that many words at this point, but “tunnel” and “choo choo” are among them…credit to my friend A who saw him all excited about the discovery of this particular tree at the park and called me over to provide T-to-English translation and enjoy the moment. T just kept saying, in his 1 year old dialect, "Tunnel! Tunnel, for choo choo!")



What most of us see:

my messy kitchen after snack time

What I hope my family sees & remembers:

a mama who took them outside to play instead of cleaning up! (what?!? some mothers do both?!? don't tell my husband...)

Yellow and Blue Make Green!

Yellow and blue make green!

I added an exclamation to that sentence because my kids are all excited about that fact this week.

Want to know why?

Well, this week I finally got around to cleaning one of the bathrooms, which involved squirting that blue soap stuff in the toilet, and one of the kids asked me what would happen if they peed on it.  It turns out that – even in toilets – yellow and blue make green.

I post this just in case you were wondering what we do around our house for entertainment and in the name of scientific discovery.

And to prove again my point that cleaning the house is pretty much pointless when you have young children: one step forward (a pristine toilet!), then two (green!) giant steps back.

The merits of saying nothing…

I was cleaning up the kitchen, so I told the kids to play anything they wanted, as long as it didn’t require my assistance, and I mentally committed to letting them figure things out on their own for half-an-hour.  Still, I could hear snippets of their conversations and couldn’t resist peeking in at the process.

So when E pulled her top sheet off her bed and downstairs I thought, “that sheet is going to get so dirty down here”, but said nothing.

When S helped her spread it out on the living room’s hardwood floor I thought, “last time they did this with a blanket, with no rug pad, and it made such a slippery surface that someone fell”, but I said nothing.

When they dumped the whole box of lego duplos out on the floor and began separating the connected pieces and spreading them out on the sheet, I thought, “S is not wearing shoes!  She is going to step on a lego and hurt her foot!”, but I said nothing.

When they left the whole crazy mess to go color, I thought “they can’t just leave all of that there!”, but they were playing independently – just like I’d asked them to – so I said nothing.

When E asked me how to spell “botanical”, I said something – for the first time –  “B-O-T-A-N-I-C-A-L”

I also said something when they asked me to come look at what they had created.  I think my exact word was, “WOW!”

Check out what the kids can do when I step back, say nothing, and just let them go:  a botanical garden, made of lego-flowers, complete with signs welcoming bees and birds to come over and check it all out.

(I think I am wanting credit for showing restraint now, and for recognizing the merits of sometimes saying nothing, because when they are teenagers I am going to be all up in their business.)

God, as I raise these children, please help me know when to intervene, and when to bite my tongue and let my kids go & do & independently figure things out.

In the meantime, I think that’s a pretty great botanical garden!  (If you want to see the details they drew in the pictures, you can click on the photo to enlarge.)

Lots of Birds (and two chick-flicks)

Note to self and husband: Do not park under the tree at the northeast corner of the church parking lot.

If you can't see the image clearly, know that the car is covered in approximately 5 billion bird turds.

I decided to torture you with a close-up.

Additional note to self and husband: Next time, if the car looks like the pictures above, one of us should keep the children at a safe distance while the other moves the car to a safer space to load all the kids.  (Dibs on staying with the children, by the way.)

Note to dry cleaner: Our apologies.  Clearly, these were not healthy birds.

Note to Birds:  I believe my husband is in danger of going all “Steel Magnolias” on your tail feathers, should you leave the sanctuary of the church parking lot.

And a final note, to readers (because I can’t resist): When I asked my husband if he felt “going all ‘Steel Magnolia’ ” on the birds was too feminine a reference for his intended actions (despite the guns and firecrackers involved in that scene of the film), he said, “Isn’t ‘Steel Magnolias’ a movie?  The only part I’ve ever watched is the scene where Kathy Bates rams that convertible over and over again in the parking lot.  I didn’t even know about the birds.”  (Extra point to anyone who can name that non-Steel Magnolias movie!)

Clearly I can use whatever reference I like, as this man is in absolutely no danger of being too closely associated with chick-flicks.

These birds, on the other hand, are in more danger than they know.

Laundry Day

Here are some photos of S & T “helping” me on laundry day.

Seriously, there is no point in sorting when receiving this type of "assistance" from the children.

This is the point when a better mother would probably have put the camera away and corralled the children.

T looks more comfortable there in the laundry basket than he ever does in his crib, by the way. And very few toys inspire the kind of glee S is exhibiting.

I will let you decide for yourself whether you think they are playing in the clean laundry we’ll all be wearing tomorrow or the dirty laundry we wore yesterday.

Choose whichever option you think is least disgusting.

The Big Picture

Great coloring T!

Impressive, right? I mean, a few months ago, we were eating the crayons!

Oh, wait…

"The Big Picture" doesn't always necessarily bring a desirable perspective. (Side note: I love that having a blog totally justifies the fact that when I saw this, I grabbed the camera instead of a sponge or a towel ! )

What we’ve been up to

I was AWOL for a few days recently.  Here’s what I’ve been up to…

(1) Surviving (and recovering from) my husband’s 5 day work trip last week…we are so happy to have you back!  Thanks for working so hard for our family.

(2) E was bumblebee of the week at school this week!  Everyone in her class gets a turn, and she loved hers.  Every day there was something special (her favorite toys to school one day, her favorite outfit the next, etc.) that we were able to help her prepare.  One day she was encouraged to invite her whole family into the classroom to share a family tradition.  While our favorite family tradition (making a gingerbread house) was a little too complicated for our half hour slot, we had a great time showing a picture of E with a past house and helping the kids make the faces of gingerbread men on big round cookies.  Cue the icing and the facial features made out of m&m’s!  (Nothing like getting the whole class on a sugar high then saying goodbye and wishing the teachers good luck :  )  Thanks to E’s teachers for making her feel so special this week and for letting all of us visit. And thanks to dad, S & T for helping share our family tradition with the class!

(3)  Helping S through a tough week.  Though S had plenty of special stuff going on this week and I promise you we have had lots of fun (her regular preschool one day, attending the “grand opening” of a kid’s playplace with all of us – dressed in our dress up finest – another day, hosting playgroup at our house another day…), it can still be hard when your sibling is having such a special week at school.  We are working hard to teach celebrating others (I struggle with when it is the right time to make the spotlight equal and when to help the girls take turns having their special moments…more on this later)  But this week for E – with a new report on how they made her special that day at school each afternoon – was a little hard on S, despite my determination to give S a special thing each day to report too…

Anyway, S is such a wonderful, wonderful sister, and the reality is that she just wanted to be in Kindergarten with E this week with all those special things going on at school.  We figured it out when an initially cute moment for S during E’s special day at school turned sad.  The story: S was there to help us share our family tradition.  At the beginning of the activity, the Kindergarten teacher told each child to sit on the mat while we gave our talk/demonstration and to stay there until their name was called to go sit at the table and begin work on their cookie.  This rule didn’t apply to E or to S, who were both a part of the demonstration.  Well, after the last name was called, we realized there was one patient little person still sitting on the mat.  It was S (who – again – had been part of the demonstration, but apparently plopped down as soon as we were done with that because she remembered the teacher saying that kids would be called from a seat on the mat to go make their cookies)  Anyway, when we saw S, my husband immediately told her, “You can go make your cookie!  There’s a chair for you at E’s table!  E is already there.”  S replied, “Ms. H told everyone NOT to move from the mat until she called their name, dad!”  We actually had to get Ms. H to come over and officially release S to go to her chair.  The sad end to the story is that we later realized that three year old S was actually trying to demonstrate that she was ready for Kindergarten too…there were lots of tears from her when our activity ended (almost an hour of tears in the school hallway, the parking lot, the car and then at home…they started the moment she realized she was leaving with us instead of staying with E at school.  So sorry, S!  We love you, and if it makes you feel better, you will be in Kindergarten before you know it.  You are such a great kid and such a wonderful sister and we did our very best to give you an extra special week at home, which you did love, by the way :  ).

Then, later in the week, S got sick.  I will spare you the details, and just say, “poor S!”  She has received lots of TLC and been made to feel very special on her own.  Now we are simply at the point of being grateful that she is feeling better (and that overall, our family is very healthy…thank you God).

(4)  Marking milestones for T.  He has learned to say the word “no!”, heaven help me.  Also, just yesterday, when S had the blocks out, T walked over and used three of them to build a tower.  He pointed at it, laughed, then promptly kicked it down.  We did that for about half an hour yesterday afternoon!  T made a gingerbread face at school too, by the way :  )

(5)  Creating a cleaning schedule for our house.  I pride myself on being a “homemaker” for the family, but I might be the worst “housekeeper” in the universe.  I finally made a schedule for getting things done (i.e. designating times during the day for basic stuff (e.g. created a revised chore chart – our last one was too complicated – and setting a daily time to review it), designating a day each week for larger stuff (e.g. putting laundry away), and creating a 5 week rotation for things I just haven’t been doing (e.g. vacuuming the whole upstairs one week, cleaning porch toys another week, etc.).  I know the schedule is not completely realistic (and that the chore chart is going to be the death of me…more on this later too…are the ages of 5 & 3 too young for this?), but it at least gives me something to shoot for.

(6)  Prepping for Thanksgiving: a poster of things we are thankful for is growing on our wall, our grocery list is being made (all those family favorites, mmmmmm….) , and family is preparing to visit.  Thanksgiving might be my favorite holiday : )

(7)  Christmas shopping!  We are *trying* to get an early start on our holiday “to do” list this year so we can focus more on Christ, family and friends during the wonderful season.  More Christmas details coming later!

I woke up early today and have been typing in a quiet house.  But it’s 6:30, which means the kids will be up any minute (I can’t believe T is still asleep…maybe he’s tired from our 4:30am playdate, which is why I was up so early today…love you T!).  Anyway, I’m off to start our day!

“Making it perfect vs. being nice” (alternate title: teachable moments and lessons I need to re-learn)

A few weeks ago, the girls pulled the comforter off mom and dad’s bed and used it to play “jump on something squishy” for about half-an-hour.  I have no issue with that.  Actually, I was thrilled they had discovered a fun way to get some energy out on an indoor afternoon.

When they were done jumping, I asked them to put the comforter back on the bed.

Approximately 5 minutes later, from the other room, I heard a genuinely upset E telling S to “stop doing that!”

I walked into the room to see what was going on and realized quickly that both girls were upset.

It turns out that they were both in tears after S had tried to help make the bed, and E had clearly communicated that those efforts were not up to standard.  E was very intent upon having the top comforter lay very smoothly across the mattress.  S was trying to help, but in the process of “helping” had wrinkled a section of the bed E had already fixed.

Bottom line: both girls were doing the job the best way they knew how.  E, at the age of 5, knew how to make it more “perfect” and was insisting that they best way S could help would be to “stop helping”.  S, at the age of 3, was doing the best she could to follow mom’s instructions and was confused and disappointed when her efforts were found lacking by her big sister.

Honestly, it broke my heart:  both my girls doing their best to help me and ending up at odds with each other.  There are about 100 ways I could go with this post from here, but instead of taking those roads, I’ll tell you that I was able to “fix” the immediate situation by praising them both and declaring “clean-up time” over.  S immediately ran off to play.

But as E looked back at the bed, she became upset again.  She had worked hard, and it didn’t look the way she really wanted it to.  (This is the kid who, when asked to clean her room, ignores the piles of papers and dolls on the floor, and begins categorizing her books by type…she is, at this stage of life, very detail oriented…)

So I asked her what I thought was a leading question with an obvious answer:   “E, which do you think is more important, making something perfect or being nice?”

E, without hesitation and with the absolute innocence and honesty of a five year old replied, “making it perfect”.

Her answer initially surprised me (and made me very glad that I had asked the question so we could discuss it), but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the answer to my question is in no way obvious – to E as a 5 year old, and to most of us (myself included) as an adult.  A discussion about this could get complicated:  I want the person who designs my car’s safety features focused on perfection (but also want that person including as many minds as possible in its development, which requires working well with others); I want my kids to set standards and work toward them, but not at the expense of simply being nice.

I write this from the perspective of someone who struggles with perfectionism but places extreme value on just being nice, and (in a long ago life) found a solution in working and living alone.  But, it turns out, I like being around people, so the struggle continued, and looking back over my own life, I am embarrassed at how many times I have probably chosen getting something “perfect” (according to my definition) instead of including others in a way that would have been nicer for them.  I was worse about this before having children.  (I am eternally grateful that my current instincts lead me toward letting them almost do everything, even though it means our brownies are full of eggshells, etc.)  But in spite of that shift brought about by some part of my personality that kicked in when I became a mother (or was beaten out of me by the realities of parenthood!), I have to occasionally have to remind myself that it is more important to include and celebrate people’s contributions than to have things be “perfect”. (Prime example:  I recently insisted that we lay the Halloween lights on top of the bushes so people driving by the house could see them at night, instead of allowing E to push them inside the bush like she wanted, so that they would be in the dark shade that makes their light visible when E peers into the bushes at them in the middle of the bright, sunny day… Well, several days later I had to admit to E that I had made a mistake when I imposed my own idea on what I had identified as “our project” and encouraged her to share her vision again.  Then I helped her push them all back into the bush so we could admire them at midday in their shady surroundings.  Honestly – they are pumpkin lights, and the kids are the one we bought them for anyway; not the random people who drive down our street at 9pm!)

Anyway, back to the original story . . .  in that moment, as E and I looked at the bedspread, I had to tell her that my question (“perfect or nice”) was a hard one, but that – most of the time –  the right answer is that is much more important to be nice than make something “perfect”.

I also had to tell her something that I have had to learn the hard way: that most things are never going to be completely perfect anyway.  We do the best we can, and then we have to let it go.

I don’t think E understood at first, as she kept insisting that she was trying to make the bed perfect, for me.  She was trying to do something nice, for me.  So I told her I didn’t need her, or the bed, to be perfect.  But our whole family needed her to be nice.  This included being nice to herself…giving herself credit for good efforts even when things didn’t turn out exactly right.

At that point, I showed her something that I had initially hesitated to mention.  The comforter of the bed was completely smooth, but unwittingly, she had put it on sideways.  I told her that even though I noticed that earlier, I hadn’t planned to say anything about it because I was so proud of her “happy helper” attitude and her “best efforts”, that it didn’t matter to me that the bedspread was sideways.  I had made the decision to be nice – to celebrate her efforts and make sure she felt good about her contribution, instead of shifting the bedspread around to make it “perfect”.

I asked her how she would have felt if – after all of her hard work – I had come in and told her she needed to stop helping because she couldn’t do it exactly right.

She told me that she would have been upset, so I immediately reminded her that I had not done that.  I had hugged her for a job well done.  In our house, if you do your best while being nice and having a good attitude, then you’ve done the job right.

I’m not sure how much of the conversation she’ll remember, but at least it has given us a foundation and the language to address issues if they continue to arise.  It is probably more controversial than I even realize (I took a break from a writing a few moments ago to flip through a magazine, and the first article I read referenced the value of high standards as its very successful businessman/author unabashedly revealed he had learned that he needed to be a “perfectionist” to succeed.   Despite that perspective, we are choosing a different path.  I know my daughter – sweet, loving, eternally nice E, who has a tendency to want to do things “right”, benefits from hearing me say that (1) things don’t need to perfect, especially if getting them way creates internal or external angst, (2) that she is “right” with me, no matter what.

So in our house, we are delivering the following message: (a) do your best, (b) decide to be happy in the midst of imperfections, and (c) prioritize being nice.

P.S.  I am getting another chance to practice this tomorrow, as we are collecting leaves to wax and hang up as decorations in our house, and I am taking the advice of this author to keep my mouth shut as the kids collect the leaves, even if it means my house is covered in waxy dried up brown leaves for the next two weeks!  (Her words as she gives instructions for the activity: “go on a nature walk, find the most beautiful, colorful, perfect leaves. OR just zip your mouth, let the kids pick up the ones they want, no matter what they look like…there is no better way to ruin a creative endeavor with your kids than by being bossy and controlling!”)  Amen, mama!  and thank you for the reminder as we go into what should be a very fun day waxing leaves!

P.P.S. In case this post leaves anyone thinking otherwise, I want to emphasize that E might be the most joyful, nicest, most pure of heart kid that I know.  Her intuitive, sensitive, and loving nature also make her one of the best big sisters in the world.  She only struggles with “nice” when it comes into conflict with her people-pleasing nature (i.e. seeing someone wrinkle the bed that mom asked her to make).  And yes, I do realize that having a kid like that makes me about the most lucky, blessed mother in the world.  E, if you read this someday, I hope the idea that your mama wants you to be nice to yourself (by letting go of some perfectionist angst while still holding onto whatever standards you set for yourself) brings you comfort and peace.  You’ve already got love in spades!

P.P.P.S.  So that people don’t think I am the “Keeper of the Perfect Bedspread” that E picked up on somehow, can I say that (for whatever reason and much to the chagrin of my husband) my perfectionism has never taken the form of needing to keep a perfect house.  The bed I referenced might actually be made 1 out of every 3 days, and our house is in general disarray.  For better or worse, my perfectionist nature tends to pop up when I am asked to submit something professionally or when I am attempting to accomplish certain types of tasks.  For an example, you can click here.  (Note: my favorite part of that post is the mention of how having kids made me “change my definition of perfect”…)

P.P.P.P.S.  I think this absolutely varies according to kid.  The lesson was important for E, but other kids might need the opposite lesson (i.e. encouraged to pay more attention to detail).  E works very hard to get things “right” and can be devastated when it doesn’t turn out that way.  At this age, she needs to hear that fun, nice processes are more important than perfection.

P.P.P.P.P.S.  Only a perfectionist would have this many post-scripts.  I promise I’m done now, but can you tell I am anxious about this particular post?!