Monday, April 16, 2018

My Strategy for Thriving at Home with Kids

Watching them play from the confines of my warm home. The grill and stroller look really neglected out there!

Here I am, almost halfway through my maternity leave, getting adjusted to the challenges of being home with the four kids five and under…
and then BAM Winter Storm Evelyn hits. In a matter of a couple days Queen Elsa's evil sister Evelyn dumped us with 30+” of snow, the highest producing Wisconsin snowstorm since 1888. (The competitive side of me needs to point out that the area between Marion and Tigerton was declared to have the MOST snowfall! That's right where we are!) Plow trucks got stuck, barn roofs caved in, taverns and churches closed down. In April. It was epic.
With the exception of Monday, Nate had been away every night this week, so we were already getting a little stir crazy. He was at beer school (yes, there is such a thing) when the storm started, and ended up stranded in Chippewa Falls. 

Our ominous text thread about the week

So it was just me and the kids. On a weekend after an already challenging week. Stuck as shut-ins. In April.

Needless to say, I had a lot of time to think. And because this is how my brain works, I came up with my strategy for how to stay sane happy while home with the kids.
1. Know my definition of “success”
In the past, when I’ve had seasons of trying my hand as a SAHM, I’ve mistakenly considered meticulous housekeeping to be my definition of success. Let me tell you, I’m a terrible housekeeper. I’m horribly unorganized, blind to dust, and just generally don’t give a crap. (confession: I don’t sort my laundry. I also don’t fold the kids’ laundry. Sue me.) Since a perfectly neat home just isn’t that important to me, the closer I got to my “ideal,” the more miserable I became.
This time around, a successful day is defined according to my priorities. For us, that looks something like a.) little to no screen time, b.) kids are served fruits and veggies (whether they eat them or shove them up their noses seems beside the point, doesn’t it?) c.) consistent discipline (no empty threats, no flying off the handle) d.) as much as possible staying “present.”
I’ve also let go of the idea of a successful day meaning that everyone was happy, harmonious and well-behaved. Unless I allow unlimited treats and follow them around to solve every problem, it’s just not gonna happen. And it shouldn't. Discipline is a part of every day, and while sometimes stressful, it’s my job.
2. Encourage independent play
Another confession: I hate playing with kids. I have played Barbies with Louisa exactly one time, and I wanted to pull my hair out. Luckily, because I’ve basically always been allergic to playing, my kids are pretty darn good at entertaining themselves. And we’ve discovered that if we keep making more of them, there are more combinations of playmates!

I do genuinely enjoy watching my kids play, especially when they seem to come up with crazy imaginative ideas out of the blue that don’t even have anything to do with the heaping pile of toys that have overtaken the second story of the house. Beach day, cardboard box rocket ships, gym class, international bank heist. Who knows what they’ll come up with next!
3. Do something productive or creative
Since naps are nonnegotiable for the three boys, I usually have a solid two hours in the afternoon when I can ignore the dirty dishes in the sink and sit down with my computer to do something that has nothing to do with kids or housekeeping. Lately I’ve been rotating between working on getting a CASA program established in our area, making profit and loss projections for Pigeon River, writing, and making Otto’s baby book (ok, so that one doesn’t qualify as not having to do with the kids, but I figured I should get around to it since he’s not even the baby anymore!).

Sure, I could use that time to clean or cook or binge watch Netflix or try to nap (ie: lay anxiously on the couch trying to will myself to sleep while hearing phantom cries), but focusing on productive efforts gives me a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day that’s more long-lasting than the approximately five minutes I could take pride in a freshly swept floor.
4. Make weekends different
Usually that means getting the hell out of dodge for some much-needed socialization on Saturday. Sundays are spent at church and with family, avoiding the soul-sucking housework that I do all week.
That wasn’t an option this weekend, though, so I tried to think of a few novel activities that would make our snowmagedon experience more fun. We did shaving cream bath paint, had a living room picnic, baked cookies, sprayed colors at the snow, and organized a couple rooms in the house that I don’t get around to in the course of a normal week. We were still stuck at home, but it helped. At the end of the first day as I set my beer down to climb into a bubble bath, I thought to myself, This is so fun! We should have a bunch more kids! (My attitude went downhill in subsequent days, but we don’t have to dwell on that…!)
5. Avoid isolation
This is a biggie. I’m an introvert, but you’d have to be a bonafide hobbit to thrive under the conditions of most modern SAHMs. It’s just not natural. Throughout history women have raised their children in villages where they can send the herd of kids on a fishing expedition while they spend the day with other women weaving baskets, foraging berries, and picking lice out of each other’s hair. Isn’t that what we all want?
Our family is fortunate to have a strong village of extended family and friends who know they are always welcome to come visit (especially when they bring Culvers on the evening we couldn’t cook for lack of propane!) Once Winter Storm Evelyn unleashed her fury, even that was impossible, though. Instead, I clung to my IPhone as a tether to the outside world via social media and phone calls. Say what you want about the evils of social media, but I felt a sisterhood with those moms who shared ideas and erred grievances.
Here are a few pictures of our snowstorm fun. In April.
(Apparently I didn't take any pictures of Baby August this weekend...? He had a yucky boogery eye and in general bathing the baby should have been on our list of "activities." Sorry, little dude!)
Teaching the kids "Go Fish"

See that drift behind our van? That used to be the road!

My arms aren't long enough for this

Shaving cream mixed with watercolors. Fun!


Food coloring and water in spray bottles to color the snow. Lou rightfully pointed out that we shouldn't use yellow because it might look like pee!

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