Resolved: That on January 1st, 2009, I will look like Liv Tyler, housekeep like FlyLady, and motivate like Mary Poppins

I recently found my list of goals for the year 2003. Hoo-boy! was it old news: Lose 20 pounds, be more patient, organize the finances, meal planning, and laundry, pray with greater intent, write something.

DANG am I glad I reached those goals and can now focus on planting a garden, finishing my basement single-handedly (because I don’t like to use my left hand for construction projects), and learning Farsi for the Foreign Service.

Everybody is resolution writing and year in review-ing. I’m scared to check if I posted my goals last January. And despite often thinking that my latest post is the best thing I’ve written up until five minutes after I hit publish, I won’t be listing my favorite posts of the year. Because six minutes after I hit publish, I want to go snivel in bed, covers pulled tight over the lower half of my face.

Two of my favorite bloggers, one as secular and brazenly-career-minded as possible and the other as devoutly on fire as only the recently-converted can be have led me to think on my resolutions in new ways.

Surprisingly, what Penelope Trunk and Jennifer at Conversion Diary have to say about goals and potential is compatible enough to convince me:

Penelope says:

Living up to your potential is not crossing off everything on your to do list on time, under budget. Or canonizing your ideas in a book deal. Really, no one cares. You are not on this earth to do that. Trust me. No one is. You are on this earth to be kind. That is your only potential.

Jennifer says:

Any list of New Year’s resolutions should having growing closer to God as the ultimate goal. I need to remember this and ask myself with each one, “Is my true desire with this goal to better conform myself to Christ?” This is true not only of the goal itself but the way I approach it (e.g. you could approach a budgeting goal in a God-centered way or a greed-centered way).

I do have goals for this year. I’d like to lose 20 pounds, be more patient, organize the finances, meal planning, and laundry, pray with greater intent, write something. Oh, and plant a garden.

But I want to chose one overall goal, one goal that’ll bring me closer to God and bless my children. One goal that has a hundred applications every day and would correct something that I have rationalized and defended as my right as an overwhelmed mother.

I want to go an entire year without yelling.

Probably I am delirious about the possibility of even approaching this, but I want it. I want it so bad I can taste it. I want to believe in the grace of Christ, the tender mercies of our Lord, that if I try really, really hard, and pray really hard, I can change what is all too often the fundamental dynamic of my interaction with my children.

I would never yell at a friend the way I do my four year old when she won’t put her boots back on. Right. Now.

I would never yell at my boss the way I do my seven-year old when she touches something I’ve told her thirteen times not to touch. (If I had a boss.)

I would never yell at my two-year old in front of my Savior. (I think.) (Unless I somehow forgot He was standing there.) (Like, say, if my two-year old threw her syrup-drenched pancake squares on the floor. Repeatedly.)

So that’s it. The goal I am going to resolute over all others:

No Yelling.

Can I do it?

Yes and no.

Beth at Blog O’Beth has a family tradition of writing predictions rather than resolutions. This makes a lot of sense to me. I could predict, for example, that I will lose 20 pounds but gain back 15 or that I will organize the finances only to give up on meal planning altogether. But I’m too young for that sort of realism.

Instead, I predict that:

1) My kids will disobey, and annoy, and irritate beyond all hope of bearing.

2) I’ll backslide on the yelling. In fact, one day in early February, I will snap in the middle of a crowded grocery store and implore at the top of my lungs “Why, oh everything holy in heaven and in earth, WHY?”

3) I’ll feel bad about this yelling, which means that my goal is working. Because:

4) I’ll learn for sure that it is possible to interact with minors who share my DNA without resorting to threats of violence, and:

5) Just the act of trying, really, really hard, and praying, really hard, will improve the spirit of our home.

Jane

What do you predict or resolute?

Am expecting call from Who’s Who any minute

Normally I’d blush before drawing attention to my intimidating array of accomplishments, but this one happens to be the culmination of eight years of near-constant slogging, tearful patience on the part of my dear husband and long-suffering children, and really, the first time since I saw The Sound of Music as a child that I have burst into a refrain of I Have Con-fi-dence in Con-fi-dence A-lone without the express purpose of irritating my kids.

You see. Yesterday? The entire day from sunup to bedtime?

I went an entire day without yelling. At anyone. Not Sally, not Susan, not Spot. Not even Dick.

I know what you’re thinking:

Jane, it was Sunday. Who yells on Sunday?

or

Jane, it’s the holidays. A time of cheer and peace and adoration of the sweet baby Jesus. Who yells during Christmas?

or

Jane, your kids were all sick, vomiting and lethargic on the couch. Who yells at sick kids? Even Andrea Yates took the day off on the Sunday after Christmas.

But what you don’t realize (or what you might realize if you have children of your own and you are the kind of person who has two arms, two legs, and a healthy fear of the IRS — Not that people without arms and legs wouldn’t realize this too) is that Sunday is usually the worst offender when it comes to the aggravated provocation of mother-yelling. And that the Christmas holidays, when children have multiple days off of school and there are (heaven forbid) parties and shopping and general merriment are an even worse agent provocateur of the dreaded mean voice. And that Andrea Yates probably went crazy precisely because she worked so hard to never yell at her kids. It just ain’t natural, friends.

But I did it.

And NOTHING can ever take that away from me. No matter what the future holds, I’ll always have December twenty-eighth, in the year of our Lord 2008, as a great, shining monument to the power of clean living, a positive outlook, and medicinal quantities of jet-puffed marshmallow creme.

Who knows what I might accomplish next?

Peace in the Middle East?

Stabilization of the world financial markets?

Kicking of the Mountain Dew dependence once and for all?

Now wait.

Let’s not get carried away here.

Jane

My advice to mothers everywhere

Don’t get sick. Ever, but especially during the Christmas holidays, and especially when first one, then another, and finally the last of your children gets sick too. Just don’t. Because if Momma can’t take care of herself because she feels like lying down and dying, it’s a fair bet that she won’t feel like taking care of the projectile vomiters around her. (And the soiled bedding and jammies and carpet and car.)

If you do have to get sick, make sure you have a supportive, understanding extended family, who won’t hate you (at least to your face) for spreading germs instead of holiday cheer, and a husband who can be prodded into duty.

I think we’re finally on the mend, and no one has ended up in the ER on IV fluids like Sally did four Christmases ago.

It’s incredible how good it is to feel almost-normal after feeling like death. I feel so ding-dang human after a couple days of gatorade and saltines, and just now a bath, that I’m actually excited to start cleaning up the holiday haul. Also, if there was any uncertainty as to whether I need to lose some weight, the fact that my clothes are fitting better around the waist after just 48 hours of the Mary-Kate diet is enough to convince me.

I meant to post our Year in Twitter a couple days ago. You know how they say that you won’t wish, on your deathbed, that you’d spent more time at the office? Well, if you Twitter, you’ll find, at the end of the year, that you don’t wish you’d Twittered more about the office. A lot of this web 2.0 and social media crap is of debatable value (my mother would say it’s not even very debatable, I think), but it prompts me to record some of the {amazingly precocious} things my children say. I mean, my kids are well above-average, I think you’ll agree:

Dick & Jane Year in Tweets

3 April. Putting in my contacts. Hear a slurping sound. Spot is drinking out of my contact case.

10 April. Took phone apart to see battery model number. Ran to help Spot in the tub. Susan brings phone parts to me and says “Spot broke your phone.”

17 April. Sally: “My forehead feels like cheese when you rub it like this.”

19 May. Sally (brandishing a screwdriver): “Abracadabra.” Susan: “That’s not a wand, that’s a TOOL.”

26 May. Dick is ‘off chocolate.’ We drive past Wendy’s. Me: “Let’s get Frosties. Oh, I forgot.” Tom: “No, let’s stop – I’m only off hard chocolate.”

7 June. Dick doesn’t know why the kids are bothering him so this evening. I don’t either. That’s how they always act.

18 June. Turn around to see Spot whaling on Grandma’s dog. Spot quickly smiles and puts her arm around the dog. Right.

27 June. Told girls to get their tookeys to the table. Now they’re walking backwards with bums up, saying, “My tookey’s dragging me to the table.”

8 Jul. Took kids to Grandma’s for a couple days. Unfortunately, I have to stay here with them.

9 Jul. Susan can swim 15 feet! Face IN the water. Oh, and use a diving stick as a microphone.

13 Sept. Susan and Spot singing a number song in the back of the minivan. Sally: “It’s fun to hear Susan and Spot learning together.”

15 Oct. Telling girls about a party at Aunt Marcy’s house. Susan: “A party with LOTS OF FOOD?”

4 Dec. Sally swept the kitchen floor today. “I want to be a good girl.” Aww. “I want Santa to bring me lots of presents.” Points for honesty.

I hope your Christmas was cheery and healthy!

Jane

“My whole soul burns most ardently after it”

Through a series of serendipitous events, Dick and I went to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Ring Christmas Bells concert last weekend. It was being filmed for PBS, and it was the fanciest performance I’ve been to in a long time. Perhaps ever.

But as I watched the dancers, in odd (but modest!) angel-nun costumes, and the high school bell choirs, in odd marching band-liturgical robes, swarm the stage in front of the choir, behind the orchestra and the elaborate Victorian Christmas decorations, all I could think of was the long rehearsals. The rushed dinners, the set-building and instrument tuning, the costume-sewing and voice exercises, the light checks and sound checks, and the driving and planning and parking and waiting and the taking-it-again-from-the-top.

Despite all the spectacle and the moments of great theater, it just wasn’t spectacular enough to transport me to that place where you forget everything going on behind the scenes.

Or maybe I’m getting old, and tired. When I read a good post lately, I think of the blogger hacking away at her computer, trying to tune out the kids or the husband or the shrieking mounds of laundry. As I eat a delicious meal, I think of the pots and pans stacked in the sink, and the garlic chopping and potato dicing.

At the Mo-Tab, I got goose bumps during the a capella sections of Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, and we laughed delightedly at The Friendly Beasts. But several of the songs were a bit blah, despite the star-worthy voice and presence of Brian Stokes Mitchell and the moving dramatic reading of Christmas with the Longfellows by Edward Herrmann.

(Edward Herrmann was great, by the way; knowing that he played Goldie Hawn’s loser husband in Overboard only added to his performance.)

We were late picking up our kids. The show was longer than I expected, the underground parking garage was stuffed with concert-goers, and the roads were icy. We grabbed a snack at Carl’s Jr, and I had Dick put on coconut verbena lotion afterwards so our friends wouldn’t smell the hamburgers and fries on us and know that we hadn’t hurried home quite as fast as we could have.

It was all so exhausting. The dressing-up, the babysitter-arranging (including reciprocation), the smiling at our seatmates, the standing for Handel’s Hallelujah chorus, the sucking of seventeen cough drops and the fretting over driving in a blizzard and the pressing question of exactly who chose those bizarre habits for the angel-nun dancers.

We wondered if the evening was worth our effort. I wondered if it was worth the efforts of the hundreds of performers. How many moments must be sublime for a performance to be worth it? How many images in a post or bites in a meal?

Usually I find that if I’ve forgotten for even a second the toys scattered on the floor and the errands to be run, then a story or an idea or a prayer has been worth the time.

As her teacher Mr. Carpenter reminds Emily in L.M.Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon, the Lord would have spared Sodom and Gommorah if ten righteous people had been found there. That’s after he’s looked through her reams of poetry and found only a dozen lines worth keeping.

There are so many hands to be washed and lessons to be taught. So many dinners to be cooked and books to be read.

Will it be worth it to work at creating my own art?

I don’t know.

But it was worth it for Longfellow, who wrote I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day a couple years after losing his wife in a fire that burned him badly trying to save her. His son had been crippled in the continuing Civil War. He said “How inexpressibly sad are all the holidays” the year after Fanny’s death. And the year after that he wrote this:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Seperate but equal? Talk to your father, babe

The girls and I spend most Tuesday and Thursday mornings with Chrysanthemum and her kids. Chrysanthemum is lucky enough to have one of each, a girl and an alien being from the planet Jane, How does this work?

Rachel is the same age as my Susan (4) and Jacob is the same age as my Spot (2). Rachel is the most placid kid I’ve ever met. Even in the minivan, where she’s exiled to the lonely middle seat while the others ride in the back and watch the movie, Rachel is content.

But Jacob is another story. That boy is not quiet or incurious or eagerly agreeable, if you know what I’m saying.

Things are fine on Tuesdays and Thursday mornings though, when Sally is busy negotiating the social structures of the second grade.

On a fine Saturday morning, however, when we are babysitting while Chrysanthemum and her husband dress rehearse for the church Christmas program, it’s a whole new dynamic.

(And it’s almost enough to make me wish I were at bit more musically inclined.)

Sally is used to being the leader of the little people. She objects to being lumped in with “the kids,” but she condescends to being known as the leader of the little people, despite my sweet mother-in-law’s objection that this might be offensive to the persons in TLC’s Little People, Big World reality TV show.

(I think if you’re willing to be filmed for a reality TV show, you probably won’t get your knickers in a twist over a seven-year old calling her sisters “little people”). (Because reality show stars are big-hearted like that).

This morning Susan shared her paints with Jacob, who refreshed his muddy water at a rate consistent with his fascination for the water that comes out of the door of the fridge. Spot did some hard time in the laundry room after slapping Rachel for breathing on her dolly stroller, and Sally decided, after repeatedly expressing her gratitude, loudly, for not having any brothers, that the fort in the loft is now a Girls Club.

Dick objected.

Dick is, after all, male. Also, his ears were being pierced by the screams emitting from the other male person in the room.

Sally said she would make a separate Boys Club for whenever Jacob is over to play.

This satisfied no one but Sally, Susan, Spot, Rachel, and me. Which is to say that it satisfied everyone but the two male persons who found that to be rather discriminatory. Or, in other words, the screaming from the short male person was not stopped by Sally’s campaign promises of equal facilities and equal opportunities for hiding from the grown-ups.

And I guess I can’t blame Jacob. It probably wouldn’t be any fun to hide out in a Boys Club by yourself. For one thing, one of the main components of a club is the other members, so how could a club of one be even remotely equal to a club of four?

I thought about taking Sally aside for a quick rundown on Civil Rights, beginning with the War Between the States and Brown v. Board of Education and continuing on to Rosa Parks and Caroline Kennedy, who deserves that senate seat even if her husband didn’t cheat on her because DANG she wears pearls well.

But by the time I had prepared to fight this threat to justice everywhere, Jacob had agreed to Sally’s suggestion that they go string bracelets from the plastic bead collection.

Because, you see, there are no girl toys and boy toys, no Girls Club and Boys Club. Only love and harmony and SHARING, at our house.

Don’t call me mother. Not fit to — The letter kept will remind me.

I have the body of a mother. The belly that has swollen and teamed with life three times, that now furrows over the waist of my not-so-skinny jeans. The breasts that sag like a misfired whoopee cushion. The scar (I imagine) from the 27 stitches that put my womanly bits back together again after the birth of the great conehead.

The fading stretchmarks on my calves from the first-pregnancy Entenmann cheese bun cravings.

I have the heart that melts, the lips that yell when my oldest tries to help but is doing it wrong. I have the eyes that tear-up at the intolerable cuteness, the hands that yank hair when a two-year old cannot stand still for five seconds for ponytails so we can see your pretty eyes.

I have the heartbreak for the baby who never swelled and teemed. The regret for the swearing and the yelling and the times I wished they’d just GO AWAY for two minutes. I have the arms that comfort and the lap that is spreading to accommodate my ever-taller almost-eight-year old.

I have the ears that hear phantom crying and panic whenever the snurgling baby suddenly starts breathing quietly. I have the dry, cracked skin from washing endless milk cups and water cups and juice cups and sippy cups.

I have the feet that stomp on the gas as we rush to be on time for school. I have the nose that cringes from smelling another pair of panties, and the miserly practicallity that cannot even consider JUST WASHING a pair that might be clean.

I have the neck my youngest now considers her personal handwarmer and the patience (laziness) to count to three five times before employing a humane time-out. I have the featherbrain that forgets early-out day at school and the knees that remember to pray with the kids, even when I forget to pray by myself.

I have the hormones that insisted at 22 that I have a baby RIGHT NOW, instead of going to graduate school, and the neural-synapse-thingies to wonder if that was a smart choice.

I have the sing-song voice that can cajole and the imagination to make them want to want what I want them to want. And the impatience often to wish that they’d simply do it because I said so.

I have the hopes and the dreams and the remorse and anxiety and fear and the certainties and the what-ifs and the could-have-beens and thank-God-it’s-nots and the thank-God-it-ises.

I have the wisdom to realize, and gratitude to be thankful, that most of what I am today is shaped by being a mother. And the selfishness to resent that three small beings dictate and describe and delineate me.

And I have the desire of a mother to see my three girls become mothers themselves. Because then they’ll know, and they’ll forgive, and they’ll get what’s coming to them, and they’ll love as fiercely and as imperfectly as I do, and they’ll wish I lived close enough to babysit, but I won’t, because I’ll be on a trip around the world.

Until I come home to smell the baby smell, and cuddle the baby warmth close to my mother’s body, and then hand that baby back at the first sign of action in the lower abdominal region.

Jane

I wrote this as part of the Mother Letter Project. I had mixed thoughts on the MLP, ranging from “gimmick” to “how sweet” to “how come Dick couldn’t think up something like this for me?” And then I read that you could purchase, for the low, low price of FORTY-TWO DOLLARS, your very own WOMB (fabric bag) to hold your copy of the Mother Letter Project, and I barfed a little bit in my mouth, even though I hate that phrase, but that’s really what happened.

Then I remembered when I first became a mother, when we lived in the bottom floor of a little A-frame Archie Bunker house in The Bronx and I had no mother friends (22, remember? in NYC?) and my own mother lived two thousand miles away in Utah. And she asked a couple of her young mother friends to write to me and tell me I’d survive. My mother admitted that she’d been out of the trenches long enough to forget how stinky and deep and dark they are. So these wonderful women emailed me, and I printed out their letters and read and re-read them. And I SURVIVED. (so far). And so will you. (I think).

(Back to the Bloggy Giveaways Post)

The mom who killed Christmas (almost)

I heard on NPR today that Charles Dickens was the man who invented Christmas after A Christmas Carol encouraged people to celebrate with family and goodwill and Rizzo the Rat. Apparently the Puritans and Protestant Reformerators had banned Christmas celebrations in both England and the U.S. at various times because it was too commercial. (and hedonistic and pagan and such, but still! How materialistic can you be without indoor plumbing?)

I love Christmas. The lights, the smells, the excitement in my children’s faces. Susan(4) is hoping for a lot of candy in her stocking (Halloween made a big impression this year). Sally(7) has asked for a stuffed animal now that Flower, her favorite purple bunny, has been loved into an early Velveteen grave. Spot(2) hasn’t asked for anything yet, but she has learned to shout a defensive “mine!” whenever Susan eyes her favorite pony.

When we lived in Cairo, our Christmases were sweet and simple. There were no extended family dinners or office parties or lights on the house or presents to ship. Our trees were bushy juniper shrubs. Our nativity sets were made of clay or wood by native Coptic Christians. Celebrating Christmas seemed like a deliberate choice. A Christian commemoration in a Muslim country that signified our belief, our hope in Christ.

The second year we were in Egypt I miscarried on December 23rd. It was an even quieter Christmas.

Every year since then, I’ve wished that our Christmas could be simpler, quieter. Of course, when we were in Cairo I wished for a large Noble Fir, and a ham for Christmas dinner, and I longed to see my own parents and eat rot kohl with my sisters and brothers. We only had one child in Cairo, so of course it was quieter, and simpler.

Now we have three kids, and I’m glad for the family parties and the friendly neighbors who bring treats. And the lights that deck the houses we drive by and the carols on the radio and the big tree that stands in the corner.

I even like the Christmas cards that I swore this year I wouldn’t do.

I think the problem is that I do honestly want a smaller Christmas, a Christmas on the inside, so I say, This year I won’t buy ANY presents or do any sort of craft or send any kind of card. I won’t go to any parties or decorate the house or bake the Allen’s special almond pastry. And then I get a little bit stressed as I add all these things back in, one by one, a month too late, where a little bit stressed means I yell and say the f-word during our family activity EVEN THOUGH I’ve realized I LIKE cards, and crafts (easy ones), and little teacher presents that the kids can wrap, and decorations, and I ESPECIALLY LIKE the special almond pastry, even if it does take two pounds of butter and four hours to make.

There must be a way to reconcile the simple Christ-full Christmas on the inside with all the little family traditions that do make the season sweeter. And I think a big part of that will be making plans starting in October April?

Tonight we delivered Christmas Clementines to our neighbors. I’d found cute Chinese-takeout-style treat cartons at Costco and Dick looked online for a suitably-cheesy tagline (Orange you glad it’s Christmas?). Susan wore her Rambo headband and Spot refused to wear her coat. Sally herded her sisters from van to doorstep. Dick and I giggled like teenagers as the girls clomped along in their snowboots.

I think I better figure out the Christmas of details and presents and church parties and ornaments. The Christmas of stockings and family dinners and advent calendars and tinsel — without all the yelling.

Unless we move to India.

Jane

What works for you for simplifying the holidays while keeping all your favorite traditions?

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