Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mamas Tell All: Making Time for Mama [a linkup]

Based on my own unprofessional, unofficial observations, mom burnout is very common. However, it has a simple remedy, and we all know what it is: taking some time for ourselves. This is not profound. It's not news. And yet, for some reason we often feel we have to be busy 100% of the time. Taking care of our kids is immeasurably important. Taking care of our homes is an endlessly repetitive to-do list. And then all of the other things we do...well, we wouldn't be doing them if they weren't important. Can we justify taking time for ourselves?

Jesus himself sets an example of going away to rest. He is God. And he needed time to rest. His work on the earth was infinitely more important than anything we could do. And he took time away from it.

We need to refresh our bodies and minds. Jesus did. He told his disciples to rest with him, depsite the very important and urgent things they had on their to-do lists. We are no different. Next question: How?

Really, how do I take time for this?  How can I work it into my day? It is a discipline, and I have to be intentional about it.

I rely very much on my husband's help for this. My kids aren't old enough to fend for themselves. If I'm going to have time to myself (more than a few minutes), he has to be with the kids. There are a few ways I try to work this in.

5 minute pick-me-up

If Rodgers is not home and I really need some time, I turn on the TV and/or give the boys a snack. I tell them that I need to take a break and go to my room. They understand by now what this means. I may read or just zone out. I introvert for 5 minutes. It's a similar concept to a power nap. The boys can handle being alone for that amount of time. And it helps me keep going.

30 minutes to an hour break

If I need more than just a few minutes, I tell Rodgers, "I'm taking a break," almost as soon as he walks in the door. This is hard in practice because after a few minutes, the boys still come to me asking for things. We both have to constantly remind them that Rodgers knows how to fix snacks, help with toileting, or put superhero capes on, and I need to be left alone during my break time.

A day off

Rodgers is very understanding of my need for time to myself, and he can even recognize the signs that it's time! Every now and then (maybe 4 times per year) he will take the boys on a guys' outing, leaving me home alone for up to 8 hours. It is glorious. I am always so refreshed and energized when they get home! 

How do you make time to rest?

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mamas Tell All: Never would I ever... [a linkup]

Nate doing his favorite exercise
I learned my lesson with this early in life. Don't say "I'll never..." because that is exactly what you're going to end up doing! I was never going to be or marry a missionary or someone going into vocational ministry. Look where I ended up.

I try not to say/think/feel "I'll never" as a parent, too. Not all people, families, or situations are the same. You never know what's going to work this time with this kid. Rodgers and I try to be open minded and creative in problem solving with our kids. We experiment, we change things up, we try something new. We end up doing things that I never thought about doing, not because I didn't want to do those things, I just never considered them.

We recently started trying something new, which I initiated on a whim. It seemed to work, so we stuck with it. I noticed that often, when I have to repeat instructions, it's because the boys are too active, too distracted, and too energized to even hear the instructions, let alone stop what they're doing to follow said instructions. I try to be realistic in my expectations of them. They should be able to be still and listen for short periods of time, even at their ages. But they have all of this crazy energy, and they need to do something with it so that their ears and minds can work.

Therefore now, if they don't listen and follow instructions, they have to do burpees or jumping jacks (their choice).

It is so much less frustrating for me to say "do 5 burpees or jumping jacks for not listening" and give the instruction to listening ears, than to repeat myself and keep being ignored. The boys like it better, too. They think burpees are fun, and they don't feel like they're in trouble because I'm not cross.

This has also been successful (or even more successful) when I use it preemptively. When the boys are especially wild and we're getting ready to do something quiet, they have to do 5-10 reps, depending on their level of energy. It helps get the wiggles out so that they are capable of being still for a few minutes.

See what other moms said they'd never do. Visit the linkup:

Also, find more tricks for dealing with high energy kids in this post. These are more "day long" solutions while the exercise trick is a quick fix.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

last minute

That's a matatu, not a bus,
but I took this pic while sitting on a bus...
A little disclaimer first: I am not writing this in any kind of judgement, it's just an observation.

The phrase "last minute culture" is used frequently in Kenya - by Kenyans - to describe Kenyan culture. For example, (1) when there were new laws passed requiring public transport vehicles to have speed governors installed (again), those who work in the industry asked for more time to comply, suggesting a new deadline, and it was granted. The new deadline came, but it wasn't until the next morning (after another suggested deadline was denied) that owners of the vehicles started trying to get the speed governors installed. They were out of stock for weeks after that because of the rush, and many vehicles were parked for those weeks. (2) There have recently been new requirements for those who are licensed to officiate weddings. Only a fraction of officiants have gotten the new licensing, and the deadline is fast approaching. No one really expects the rest of them to work on the new license until the deadline arrives. (3) We know countless people who have the money to pay their bills, but they don't actually pay the electric bill until they are being disconnected. They don't actually pay their kids' school fees until the kid is sent home from school for failure to pay fees. They don't want to pay until they absolutely must.

They say, "This is last minute culture."

One experience I had on my first trip to Kenya illustrated this even better. Rodgers and I were traveling from Malindi to Mombasa. He had no car, and we hadn't borrowed one (which we did on our next trip to Kenya), so we were at the mercy of public transportation. We got on a bus. It was to leave in 20 minutes, and there were already a few other people seated.

After we took our seats, Rodgers told me to look out the window. There were tons of people standing near the buses.

He said, "They are all going to Mombasa today."

I asked why they weren't getting on a bus yet - there were 2 currently loading passengers.

"They will only get on when the bus is leaving."

So I watched, expecting them to line up and get on board in 20 minutes. They did not.

We did not leave at the scheduled departure time because the bus wasn't full. There were enough people waiting for the bus that we could have left on time if they would have gotten on board.

It's a stalemate: The bus won't leave until it's full. The driver's "last minute" is when the last seat is occupied. The people won't get on until the bus is leaving. Their "last minute" is the bus pulling out of the parking lot. But it won't pull out of the parking lot because they aren't on board. But they won't get on board.

When we should have been leaving for Mombasa, the driver simply rolled forward about 10 feet, then stopped when a wave of people rushed to board. The bus was not yet full, thus we still did not leave. The bus driver plays this game every single day, and wins. He has to bluff and trick the passengers into thinking that he is leaving so that they will think it's the "last minute" and get on board. But some of them are not fooled by the first, second, third, or fourth bluffs. We did the roll-forward-and-stop-for-passengers bit several times, reached the end of the parking lot, backed up and started again.

Eventually the last seat was filled. I think we ended up leaving close to an hour late. I would not be a good bus driver. I have no patience for that kind of game; I would have left with a half-empty bus.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Mamas Tell All: Making Motherhood Work [a linkup]

This week's prompt is: Are you a working mom, a stay at home mom or something else entirely, and how do you make that role work for your family?

What WFHMWOC looks like.
I type a few lines, I look up
to see his new trick. And repeat.
When Nate was born, I was the breadwinner for our family (a working outside the home mom - WOHM). Rodgers had just graduated from college and was looking for a full-time job, while working part-time. (I used to do a blog linkup in those days called "Working Mommy Wednesday." Remembering this got me sucked into a vortex of reading those past posts. That was some fun stuff!) I have also done a few stints as a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), which I have to say: I loved.

Now I guess I'm a work-from-home mom without childcare (WFHMWOC) because I do some work for Maisha Kamili, which I talked about in a previous MTA, but most of my time is occupied with keeping house and taking care of my kids. The oldest is in school all day, 5 days a week, and the youngest will join him in January, which will turn me into a standard WFHM.

How does it work for us? Scheduled flexibility. Or flexible scheduling.

I schedule housework and laundry weekly and try (this part is harder) to get daily tasks done in specific time frames. I try to do most of the housework while Rodgers and Nate are gone during the day so that we can all relax in the evenings.

However, having Ben still at home, I get a lot of interruptions. I don't mind them so much. I love that I get to hang out with him one-on-one until he starts school. I discipline myself to stick to the schedule, as in not wasting time or procrastinating, but I am flexible when it comes to Ben's interruptions, which include making many snacks, extended lunch breaks, fort building, holding paper for him to practice cutting, writing and coloring together, snuggling, looking at stuff outside, and sometimes even playing with toys.

Check out how their many roles work for other moms at the linkup:

Friday, October 10, 2014

a year reading aloud to little boys

Last year, during Christmas holidays, Nate and I started reading A Christmas Carol. Most of it was over his head, though he liked the fact that it was a ghost story. We didn't make it to the end of the book, but it got me thinking about beginning to read chapter books aloud to the boys. I always loved having chapter books read aloud to me as a kid. The earliest I remember were the Little House books and The Chronicles of Narnia. Some of my favorites were my teacher reading The Great Brain series to us in 4th grade and my 5th grade teacher reading various Gary Paulsen books after lunch.

(As a sidenote, I am rarely sad that I have only boys, but I will miss having a girl to share my love of Madeline L'Engle. I read those on my own and loved every single one of them. They are just so female-centric, except perhaps A Wrinkle in Time, which is the best one, and which I will encourage my boys to read. But, I can't wait for them to be old enough to read Paulsen's Hatchet and Woodsong.)

I started a bookshelf on Goodreads for books I have read, am currently reading, or am planning to read to the boys. The ones we have finished are reviewed!

I mostly read books in the public domain, free downloads for the Kindle, and that's where I started with the boys. We worked it into our bedtime routine. We still read picture books (fewer than we used to) and a Bible story every night, then I read our chapter book.

We have read 6 and a half books so far this year and are planning to read 2 more by the end of the year. Here's our reading list:

  • The Wind in the Willows. It was a bit too much for a 2 and a half year old, but ok for a just-turned 4 year old.
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Great for the 4 year old, ok for the 2 year old (or maybe he was getting used to chapter books?). Perfect chapter length for us. Good action!
  • Black Beauty. It was easy to read aloud, and a good reading (listening) level for their age.
  • Rikki Tikki Tavi. Very short (it's one ~30 minute chapter from The Jungle Book). The 4 year old and almost 3 year old both loved it.
  • Captain's Courageous. The boys seemed to like it (though the 3 year old kept asking if we could read Rikki Tikki Tavi again), but I don't know how much of the plot they got. This one would be better around age 8.
  • Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. For Ben's birthday, his uncle sent him these on the Kindle! They are perfect for this age group (3 and 4 year olds). The chapters are short, interesting, funny, and there is even a picture every so often. 

After The House at Pooh Corner, we will probably read The Jungle Book. Then, it should be time to try A Christmas Carol again. I love that one myself and want to start a family tradition of reading it every year. Charlotte's Web, The Borrowers, and Stuart Little are also on my list for the future, but none of them are public domain.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Mamas Tell All: The Happiest and Crappiest of Motherhood [a linkup]

The Crappiest

We're going to start with this one so we can end on a good note. I don't share this to complain or bring everyone down. I share this to stand in solidarity with other moms having bad days. We've all been there! Try to salvage the day if possible, otherwise, just survive, get the kids to bed, and breathe.

Juggling an infant and a 2-year old after moving to a new country was the toughest part of motherhood for me. There were good days and bad days, like always, but the bad days were exceptionally bad.

There were a few months when Rodgers had to be at church all day on Sundays. We all went to the English worship service, where Rodgers was spontaneously asked to preach (but we expected it because it happened every week). I was holding infant Ben, feeding him, then putting him to sleep for his morning nap, and simultaneously trying to keep 2-year old Nate under control. It was stressful and exhausting. I hated going to church those days. It's not like I was able to participate in any part of the service - I was busy with my kids the entire time. We went home while Rodgers stayed for meetings upon meetings at church. Being off our schedule, both kids were insane. I was already exhausted and short-tempered. Nate always threw one of his 45-minute screaming fits. Ben was hungry but not ready to eat, tired but not ready to sleep - a schedule baby off his schedule is such a mess! Rodgers eventually came home from the meetings, sometimes in time for supper, but sometimes after the boys were already in bed for the night. He was totally frustrated by the meetings and needed to unload some of that, but I had nothing left for him.

Those were the crappiest days of motherhood. Those were the days that I wasn't sure we would all survive, and surviving the day and getting the kids to bed was my one and only goal. That was when I often thought maybe I don't have what it takes to be a mom. But those days passed! We did survive! Thank God!

The Happiest

A picture is worth 1000 words, right? A quick flip through my Instagram pictures and previous FB profile pics resulted in almost 50 pictures of My Happiest Motherhood Moments. Here are my favorites:

playing on the floor with
baby Nate before work
bouncing baby Nate to sleep
at Cat's wedding in England
Nate, after falling asleep
on me in church
Just getting a hug from Natebaby Ben snuggling while
drinking his bedtime milk
Ben giving me a biiiiiiiiiig kiss
Swinging with Bentalking to baby Ben, nose to nosehugging both of my boys
reading storiesWearing one, holding the
other, as you do
cuddle time on the couch
with my cuddly guys

Visit the linkup for more:

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mamas Tell All: Choosing Your Family Size [a linkup]

Our family of 4 in 2012, with the Indian Ocean behind us.
The question for this week's linkup is: How did you choose the size of your family?

What a question!

We were actively trying to avoid pregnancy when I got pregnant with Nate. We had talked about adoption. We had talked about waiting for a couple of years, then trying to get pregnant. We had not yet totally decided to have kids, how many, or how they would join our family.

I was sick the entire pregnancy, had a physically traumatic and damaging delivery, and had many horrible months postpartum, trying to heal. I was not eager to repeat the experience, and Rodgers was dead set against it. We talked more about adopting the rest of our family, but we were starting to plan moving to Kenya, where we would start an orphan ministry (which we did - Maisha Kamili and Facebook link). How would we choose one or two to adopt and not the rest?

With the prospect of moving overseas, and with Nate already a biracial, bi-cultural, dual citizen kid (my husband is Kenyan, and I am American), I started really, really wanting him to have a biological sibling. We would be bouncing between the US and Kenya. Nate would be part of both cultures, and yet be an outsider in both cultures. Wouldn't it be best for him to have a sibling to experience all that with him? Rodgers was not on board. But he did get on board with not trying to avoid pregnancy, and if God gave us another kid, so be it! Ben was born 9 months later (scheduled c-section, much nicer delivery, and much, much easier recovery, but pregnancy is still my enemy).

Some of the MKKs
With a biological sibling for Nate, I was content, at peace. Rodgers was way past done. We won't have any more biological children (unless God surprises us again). Is our family complete? Not really.

There are 35 kids in Kenya, some single orphans (have lost their fathers), some double orphans (have lost both parents). Most of them live with their relatives, but 4 (ages 18 and older) live in a duplex right next to our house, and some other 18+ year olds live in rooms we rent for them near their schools. We help them with school fees, buying books and uniforms, medical care, and even groceries, where necessary. These are also our kids!

Some of them have exited Maisha Kamili's sponsorship for various reasons (finished school, got a job, found alternate means of support), but we still count them as MKKs (Maisha Kamili Kids).

People have asked us how many we plan to help. The duplex can fit 8, and we can handle 30 sponsored kids at a time, but as they grow up, finish school, and get jobs, we can take on more. Children's homes for those who have no relatives to live with are also in our future. That will increase our capacity over 30, also, as new staff will be hired as house parents. There is no limit but what God has planned!

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Find more family stories at the linkup: