Posts

If Music Be the Food of Love: Managing the Mundane

It’s been a month since school began, and the family continues to both embrace and resist the structure and schedule in a kind of awkward dance.  (Everyone but David, of course, who only embraces it.)    I have decided to stay at the school while the children are there four days a week–helping to correct papers and cover incidental needs, subbing as needed.  School is only 8-12 and runs very conservatively on staff and budget, so they need the help.  I also watch a little six-week old boy while his mother does a fantastic job of teaching math and science to the upper grades. They have helped our family so much, I’m glad to be useful for once.

But on a more selfish note, it has forced more structure into my own life.  I can bring my computer in, write, deal with family business, and take care of things in between the times I’m needed.  That keeps me off the computer in the after-school hours where my attention really needs to be on house and home and parenting. 
That is the rough part, when the structure ends.  That daily grind where roses are supposed to be blooming beneath my feet with all that love at home.  However, I too often fail to see any. 
The past several weeks have led me to much thinking about how to manage the mundane–the stuff that 99.9% of life is made of.  I have spent so much energy trying to avoid it, by living in the future (or the past, or on the internet) distracting myself with other possibilities that would surely be much more interesting.  The perennial motherly temptations of something more meaningful or important–which of course do not exist. Conference was such a blessing, and as I listened with these things in mind, I heard a lot about simplicity and how to find joy in the everyday.  I’ve been really struggling to bring the promptings and inspiration I received in those two days into the reality of my post-conference life.
But even before conference, I had consciously come to (what seems now) an obvious conclusion.  I struggled with the same questions many do: How would I survive the crushing weight of my own thoughts when life would now be comprised almost entirely of menial tasks?  How would I stay engaged and not allow myself to be distracted or discontent with my terribly uncool reality?

Easy–I just needed a cooler soundtrack. 

The obvious next step was with Pandora–in my mind, the greatest invention the world has ever known.  Constant, free, almost ad-free internet radio completely customized to myself?  Yes, please.  Bored with the endless cycle of dishes?  The Postal Service station is the answer–because now I’m a sassy indie hipster finding only slightly pretentious beauty in the everyday things.  Feeling a little blue and don’t want to be cheered up?  Definitely the Patty Griffin station–where the despair can become accepting and transcendent instead of dragging me into a dark place.  Chores with the kids?  Twist and Shout radio seems to get them going pretty well.
Generally, I don’t use music to feel better when I’m down or to change how I’m feeling, but to help me feel how I’m feeling in a more beautiful way. Whatever the emotion, however uncomfortable or painful–music seems to color it in a way that enhances the inherent value of the human experience.
Making music, for me, is even more powerful.  I was so grateful recently to get into the Utah Chamber Artists, who are argued by many musicians to be one of the finest vocal groups in the state.  I am overwhelmed by my emotional response to creating this music.  I guess I’m just a rookie, but I’m still having to hide tears during rehearsals just from the beauty of it all.  
And, instead of just carelessly pounding my way through primary like a muppet (I’m the pianist), the upcoming program (and lots of fancy piano arrangements) are requiring me to practice every day–and I am noticing that practicing time resets my emotions in a very positive way (often needed after helping my own children practice their piano).
On that topic, I feel the same effect on my children.  At the risk of overscheduling them, I have just given in to their requests to join a children’s choir–and my generally whiny, negative, squabbling older children turn into happy, laughing buddies for hours after coming home (plus this great choir often gets to sing for amazing people like the Dalai Lama, visiting dignitaries, church leaders, etc.)  They are playing the piano in their free time and finding joy in what they can do now (thanks to the most amazing piano teacher–ask me if you need one!)  They come to my concerts and actually enjoy them–not openly weeping like their sissy mother, though, not yet anyway.
So, whatever other things I need to understand to enjoy the practice of daily living, music, for now, is making all the difference.  It doesn’t make me a better parent, but it is just a bit harder to yell at them over Pandora.

If Music Be the Food of Love: Managing the Mundane

It’s been a month since school began, and the family continues to both embrace and resist the structure and schedule in a kind of awkward dance.  (Everyone but David, of course, who only embraces it.)    I have decided to stay at the school while the children are there four days a week–helping to correct papers and cover incidental needs, subbing as needed.  School is only 8-12 and runs very conservatively on staff and budget, so they need the help.  I also watch a little six-week old boy while his mother does a fantastic job of teaching math and science to the upper grades. They have helped our family so much, I’m glad to be useful for once.

But on a more selfish note, it has forced more structure into my own life.  I can bring my computer in, write, deal with family business, and take care of things in between the times I’m needed.  That keeps me off the computer in the after-school hours where my attention really needs to be on house and home and parenting. 
That is the rough part, when the structure ends.  That daily grind where roses are supposed to be blooming beneath my feet with all that love at home.  However, I too often fail to see any. 
The past several weeks have led me to much thinking about how to manage the mundane–the stuff that 99.9% of life is made of.  I have spent so much energy trying to avoid it, by living in the future (or the past, or on the internet) distracting myself with other possibilities that would surely be much more interesting.  The perennial motherly temptations of something more meaningful or important–which of course do not exist. Conference was such a blessing, and as I listened with these things in mind, I heard a lot about simplicity and how to find joy in the everyday.  I’ve been really struggling to bring the promptings and inspiration I received in those two days into the reality of my post-conference life.
But even before conference, I had consciously come to (what seems now) an obvious conclusion.  I struggled with the same questions many do: How would I survive the crushing weight of my own thoughts when life would now be comprised almost entirely of menial tasks?  How would I stay engaged and not allow myself to be distracted or discontent with my terribly uncool reality?

Easy–I just needed a cooler soundtrack. 

The obvious next step was with Pandora–in my mind, the greatest invention the world has ever known.  Constant, free, almost ad-free internet radio completely customized to myself?  Yes, please.  Bored with the endless cycle of dishes?  The Postal Service station is the answer–because now I’m a sassy indie hipster finding only slightly pretentious beauty in the everyday things.  Feeling a little blue and don’t want to be cheered up?  Definitely the Patty Griffin station–where the despair can become accepting and transcendent instead of dragging me into a dark place.  Chores with the kids?  Twist and Shout radio seems to get them going pretty well.
Generally, I don’t use music to feel better when I’m down or to change how I’m feeling, but to help me feel how I’m feeling in a more beautiful way. Whatever the emotion, however uncomfortable or painful–music seems to color it in a way that enhances the inherent value of the human experience.
Making music, for me, is even more powerful.  I was so grateful recently to get into the Utah Chamber Artists, who are argued by many musicians to be one of the finest vocal groups in the state.  I am overwhelmed by my emotional response to creating this music.  I guess I’m just a rookie, but I’m still having to hide tears during rehearsals just from the beauty of it all.  
And, instead of just carelessly pounding my way through primary like a muppet (I’m the pianist), the upcoming program (and lots of fancy piano arrangements) are requiring me to practice every day–and I am noticing that practicing time resets my emotions in a very positive way (often needed after helping my own children practice their piano).
On that topic, I feel the same effect on my children.  At the risk of overscheduling them, I have just given in to their requests to join a children’s choir–and my generally whiny, negative, squabbling older children turn into happy, laughing buddies for hours after coming home (plus this great choir often gets to sing for amazing people like the Dalai Lama, visiting dignitaries, church leaders, etc.)  They are playing the piano in their free time and finding joy in what they can do now (thanks to the most amazing piano teacher–ask me if you need one!)  They come to my concerts and actually enjoy them–not openly weeping like their sissy mother, though, not yet anyway.
So, whatever other things I need to understand to enjoy the practice of daily living, music, for now, is making all the difference.  It doesn’t make me a better parent, but it is just a bit harder to yell at them over Pandora.

Goodbye, Aunt Val

Of course the summer was fun.  How could it not be, jam-packed with field trips, hikes, camp outs and road trips galore, all in the name of “wholesome family recreation.”  But some honest introspection as August rolled inevitably on revealed (again) the true motive behind all my MEPAF, POCHAF, “everybody-in-the-car” tendencies–good old fashioned avoidance of my parental responsibilities.

Because when we’re out entertaining ourselves, mom Val gives way to fun, carefree Aunt Val–the one that spoils you and takes you cool places and buys (and eats) too many treats and is SO much nicer than that scary, screaming lady back at home.  And why shouldn’t she be nice?  There are no dishes to wash, no food to prepare, thanks to the food that so easily flows through the window of the car.  No chore enforcement, no refereeing the constant fights that blow up between under-occupied children.

And you can tell me that’s what summer is for, but it all points to something much deeper, because as nights get crisper and schedules and budgets tighten for fall, I feel like cattle out to pasture slowly being nipped, whipped and “Ki-yayed” back into the corral.  And, instead of longing for the comforts of home, I find myself absent-mindedly browsing for jobs (against my own very recent advice).

But no, I really do know better, deep down, and firmly renewed my focus running up to school starting this week.

I prayed, I pondered, I rededicated myself to scripture study, and tried to seek guidance as I prepared the schedule and figured out how to focus myself.  Life presents so many things to do, so many things I want to try and be and see and learn.  And, just a couple years away from completing four decades, I’m only now realizing I won’t, can’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t try/be/see/learn it all.  (For years I’ve resented the sentiment terribly when the kids listen to Lion King and she sings, “There’s more to see than can ever be seen, More to do than can ever be done.” Oh, shut up–I CAN have it all!)

And of course, half the time all I want to do is nothing anyway, so that really cuts into my options, too.

In the end (still cringing about it) I’m going to end up doing much less than I wanted/planned/hoped, or probably even should, do.

In determining a plan, I finally came to terms with the fact that I’m useless at night and must quit scheduling tasks, especially work and writing, after the kids go down.  The only time I can pull off anything worth reading  that late is when money and a potentially PO’d boss is in the picture.  I am not a morning person, but I also believe that’s no reason not to get up early, it just needs to be done.  So there’s that.

The strongest, most surprising impression I received in putting together simplified the whole process greatly–and the message was this: ONLY home and family from after school until the kids are in bed.  No multitasking, no computer (except bills and family management–accomplishing things, not browsing or dreaming or house hunting), no outlining work projects in my head, no distractions or preoccupations.  I can run errands, clean, plan, help with homework, piano practice, have the chats that never happen when I’m holed up in my “office” (bed) with my secret crush (laptop).  The people in my house come first.

The fabulous article on slowing down in the Ensign in June 2010 helped inspire this, and I got a great blessing along with the kids right before school started which has helped as well.

So, we’re finishing up day two of this concept, and wow, it is a lot easier in many ways.  With all those hours, the house is cleaner, the busywork life management checklist is much slimmed down, everyone is fed regularly and more healthfully, fights are stopped before they start, chores are done right and more quickly (who knew just a little supervision would do so much!), kids are guardedly excited about the actual parenting they are receiving, David is more productive in his work, there is time for the scriptures, prayers, etc., and honestly, everything that matters is getting done like never before.

But more importantly, and surprisingly, my life is easier than it was.  I sit down more.  I look out the windows sometimes.  Before, when I let the hours between 12-8 be a free-for-all, I mainly just ran in a circle, not knowing where to start, but resenting anything and everyone that kept me from doing anything and everything else.  Resenting that I was always being pulled away from something, not sure what it was, but sure it was “important.”

I don’t feel like I’m failing for the first time in what seems like forever.

Granted, it’s the end of day two, I’m very tired adjusting to the new wake up time, but I have yet to see a downside (that will probably come when I put in my almost non-existent hours this next pay period).  What a novel idea to actually just attend to my home and family for the majority of my day.

I know to many of my friends this is an absurd discovery, and you’ve been doing it forever, but sympathize with a slow learner, will you?   It takes me time to realize, accept, and then relearn that my primary role is not a nanny, a marketer, an observer, living like that “I’m a waiter but really I’m an actor” cliche character in the movies: “I’m a mother but really I’m a moneymaker/writer/diva whatever.”  And I may never be rich or thin, and maybe when I’m old I’ll resent having spent so much of my life “kicking against the pricks” on those two time hogs.

It’s time to say goodbye to Aunt Val, slow down, and be just a mother.

Goodbye, Aunt Val

Of course the summer was fun.  How could it not be, jam-packed with field trips, hikes, camp outs and road trips galore, all in the name of “wholesome family recreation.”  But some honest introspection as August rolled inevitably on revealed (again) the true motive behind all my MEPAF, POCHAF, “everybody-in-the-car” tendencies–good old fashioned avoidance of my parental responsibilities.

Because when we’re out entertaining ourselves, mom Val gives way to fun, carefree Aunt Val–the one that spoils you and takes you cool places and buys (and eats) too many treats and is SO much nicer than that scary, screaming lady back at home.  And why shouldn’t she be nice?  There are no dishes to wash, no food to prepare, thanks to the food that so easily flows through the window of the car.  No chore enforcement, no refereeing the constant fights that blow up between under-occupied children.

And you can tell me that’s what summer is for, but it all points to something much deeper, because as nights get crisper and schedules and budgets tighten for fall, I feel like cattle out to pasture slowly being nipped, whipped and “Ki-yayed” back into the corral.  And, instead of longing for the comforts of home, I find myself absent-mindedly browsing for jobs (against my own very recent advice).

But no, I really do know better, deep down, and firmly renewed my focus running up to school starting this week.

I prayed, I pondered, I rededicated myself to scripture study, and tried to seek guidance as I prepared the schedule and figured out how to focus myself.  Life presents so many things to do, so many things I want to try and be and see and learn.  And, just a couple years away from completing four decades, I’m only now realizing I won’t, can’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t try/be/see/learn it all.  (For years I’ve resented the sentiment terribly when the kids listen to Lion King and she sings, “There’s more to see than can ever be seen, More to do than can ever be done.” Oh, shut up–I CAN have it all!)

And of course, half the time all I want to do is nothing anyway, so that really cuts into my options, too.

In the end (still cringing about it) I’m going to end up doing much less than I wanted/planned/hoped, or probably even should, do.

In determining a plan, I finally came to terms with the fact that I’m useless at night and must quit scheduling tasks, especially work and writing, after the kids go down.  The only time I can pull off anything worth reading  that late is when money and a potentially PO’d boss is in the picture.  I am not a morning person, but I also believe that’s no reason not to get up early, it just needs to be done.  So there’s that.

The strongest, most surprising impression I received in putting together simplified the whole process greatly–and the message was this: ONLY home and family from after school until the kids are in bed.  No multitasking, no computer (except bills and family management–accomplishing things, not browsing or dreaming or house hunting), no outlining work projects in my head, no distractions or preoccupations.  I can run errands, clean, plan, help with homework, piano practice, have the chats that never happen when I’m holed up in my “office” (bed) with my secret crush (laptop).  The people in my house come first.

The fabulous article on slowing down in the Ensign in June 2010 helped inspire this, and I got a great blessing along with the kids right before school started which has helped as well.

So, we’re finishing up day two of this concept, and wow, it is a lot easier in many ways.  With all those hours, the house is cleaner, the busywork life management checklist is much slimmed down, everyone is fed regularly and more healthfully, fights are stopped before they start, chores are done right and more quickly (who knew just a little supervision would do so much!), kids are guardedly excited about the actual parenting they are receiving, David is more productive in his work, there is time for the scriptures, prayers, etc., and honestly, everything that matters is getting done like never before.

But more importantly, and surprisingly, my life is easier than it was.  I sit down more.  I look out the windows sometimes.  Before, when I let the hours between 12-8 be a free-for-all, I mainly just ran in a circle, not knowing where to start, but resenting anything and everyone that kept me from doing anything and everything else.  Resenting that I was always being pulled away from something, not sure what it was, but sure it was “important.”

I don’t feel like I’m failing for the first time in what seems like forever.

Granted, it’s the end of day two, I’m very tired adjusting to the new wake up time, but I have yet to see a downside (that will probably come when I put in my almost non-existent hours this next pay period).  What a novel idea to actually just attend to my home and family for the majority of my day.

I know to many of my friends this is an absurd discovery, and you’ve been doing it forever, but sympathize with a slow learner, will you?   It takes me time to realize, accept, and then relearn that my primary role is not a nanny, a marketer, an observer, living like that “I’m a waiter but really I’m an actor” cliche character in the movies: “I’m a mother but really I’m a moneymaker/writer/diva whatever.”  And I may never be rich or thin, and maybe when I’m old I’ll resent having spent so much of my life “kicking against the pricks” on those two time hogs.

It’s time to say goodbye to Aunt Val, slow down, and be just a mother.

September!

Sophie & Ella: The Girl Band to Watch in ’07

[This was really written on September 30: I’ll be writing something, even if it is just a few sentences, each Sunday, so Mondays should be a good day to check in. ]
So, in September, school started and Sophie turned six! That’s the short version.
Ben’s teacher, Ms. Ribero (Portugese, pronounced Hi-bay-doo) is a first-year teacher. She seems reserved with parents, but confident with the kids. Ben likes her and is very attached—he gets upset when there is a substitute, which he has already had twice. He stays on green most days (on their behavior code of green, yellow and red), some yellow days. We didn’t give her any information up front, but gave them a chance to get to know each other. Unfortunately, other kids don’t enjoy his company and make it very clear to him, and each day he has to listen to the kickball team captains fight over how he’s NOT on their team. It breaks my heart.
That said, Ben’s behavior in general has been really quite good, and as a result, family life has improved quite a bit. He seems to have grown up a bit and understands more clearly the results of his actions and how they effect others. It is interesting to have a front row seat to watching this little boy grow up—and it’s an education. Sophie also likes school a lot and has two friends from our ward in her class, and many others from last year. She seems happy and is having fun, although her teacher, Ms. Tschopp, comes across as a total crab to me, Sophie says she’s not as nice as Ms. White, but she is still a nice teacher. She is given daily, rather than weekly homework, which is a pain. I feel good about the class in general, though.
Sophie turned 6 on Thursday, and we had a big fun Rock-n-roll party at the church park with dad’s mix tape, blow-up guitars and microphones, sunglasses, balloons and crafts. We went to dinner at Souplantation afterward. She had a great day, we all did. I really feel lucky to be her mom, she is really a sweet beautiful girl, and I love watching her grow up.

Sophie and Autumn getting ready to rock!

Noah’s too cool for you.

Ben with rock-n-roll hair due to rock-n-roll hyperness

Noah started at the preschool at Sierra Madre Elementary also, but has since dropped out because he wasn’t fully potty trained. They were willing to be flexible and work with us, but we felt like he was having more problems there because he is just a little guy, probably too little to being starting 5-day preschool. I realized I never would have wanted Ben gone from me every morning at that age, and that I really was doing it out of being tired, but I really enjoy being with Noah and having special activities I do with him and Lucy during the mornings, like I used to with Ben and Sophie. So we’ve started a music class and a PCC Mommy & Me preschool-type class for families with more than one child on Thursday.

It is a drastic difference between all I was able to accomplish in the week Noah was in school and after he came back home—he is definitely at a very time-consuming age, that is, if I want to keep him and Lucy alive and keep my house from being trashed. He’s lucky he has that sweet face or I would have to lock him up all day. He is excited about turning three this month.

Noah looks square, but he’s trouble.

Lucy is doing great, although she now has the virus we’ve all been passing around, and stayed home from church today with a fever. She’s still wearing 3-6 month clothes, but has these long legs poking out. She is starting to use a push-toy extensively, proudly giggling as she toddles behind it. At 16 months (on the 10th) she still nurses 5x a day, although she eats table food pretty well. I’m just doing all I can to try to get her to grow. I sense she still may have a belly problem, I’m just trying to work with it. She is very sweet and cuddly, I’ve really enjoyed this extended babyhood, although sometimes she still gets up in the night, which is not so much fun.

David and I are fine, just working on callings and trying to determine a good long-term plan for our lives. We do feel like the LA area is home and are trying to navigate how we can have a normal future in this town. We’re just trusting the Lord will provide a way if he wants us here.

I did take a short mental-health break with to Utah two weekends ago, which was totally great. My mom had me stay with her and she pampered me with a quiet house, a cozy bed, wonderful healthy food, a foot rub from my aunt and mom gave me a great salt rub mixture for the bath. We had a really nice time together. I also got to spend a day with the Christensens and see my new nephew Cooper, Karen’s son. Their church meetings were so great and I just came back so relaxed and spiritually fed. That lasted until about the time the kids came home, but it was great while it lasted.

Also, I have been doing tons of genealogy and the family history bug has really bitten me. I submitted 40 names to the temple yesterday for youth baptisms, including two third-great grandmas (one mine, one David’s) and an 8th great grand uncle from 1698. For my readers who don’t know why I’m doing proxy baptisms for my ancestors, check out Paul’s words on the subject: 1 Cor 15:29 and http://www.lds.org/temples/purpose/0,11298,1897-1,00.html

Wish me luck as I try to blog weekly for real!