Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What I'm Up Against

Note to self: Every Saturday around two o'clock, take the little people and go somewhere. It doesn't matter where. Just go somewhere. Just go.

The park or the Greenway. Our favorite secondhand book store or the swamp. If it's raining or boiling hot, try the library . . . on the far side of town. The McDonald's play-land will do in a pinch.

Coolest ever four part fort.
Here is the thing: Everyone can't stay inside all day. It never goes well.


Oh, it always looks like it's going well. I thinks it's going well. And then, about four in the afternoon, things fall apart.

When we have a Saturday at home, we typically pass the day full-steam-ahead in project and cleaning mode. Bushes and shaggy hair get trimmed. Lawns get mowed. Pictures hung. Homework completed.

John added a window.
John and Ainsley don't play a huge role in these endeavors. Oh, they like to rake leaves, and they're the only Dolins we can lift into the cans to smush the leaves we've already loaded. And they do other things around the house. Mostly, though, they spend uneventful Saturdays with Legos and forts, Rescue Heroes and, their latest favorite, playing spy.

Eventually, though, they get bored. Their boredom seems to coincide with my peak efficiency. I am making progress, and suddenly and with little warning, they're reversing my progress.

So Ainsley added one, too.
You know, in theory, I am all about one toy/game/project at a time. Really, I am. The problem, as I see it, is that I don't notice when a child is moving from one mess to the next without any "clean up, clean up, everybody do their share" in between. And, actually, it should be "everybody do her share" because a) that's grammatically correct and b) my sweet yellow-haired angel is far and away the biggest culprit.

Seriously, the girl is positively unstoppable. These days it's art, art, and more art. And is this a bad thing? Of course not. But by the eighth hour of the day, when I have tripped over seven crayons, put away the markers three times, searched the entire length of the house for the tape that has gone missing, and spied those horrible little scraps of paper leftover by pages torn out of a notebook, well, I no longer see the developmental benefits of art of any kind. She might as well be spray painting the walls.

I begin formulating household management principles in my mind and even try to communicate a few on the fly.Things like:

A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place.

If You Open it, You Close It.

If You Spill It, You Clean It Up.

And here is the thing: These are good and valuable lessons that I should (and do!) work on everyday. But the best time to make progress is not when Mom is tired and irritable. A friend of mine recently wrote an insightful article about self-control. We need self-control when we encounter out-of-control drivers on a crowded freeway, when we deal with acerbic customs officials at the tail end of a long trip, when we spend five hours waiting in the emergency room.

But my friend added a brilliant piece of advice: The best practice in self-control comes when we're not  in a crisis. We can practice self-control when we're not late for a doctor's appointment, rushing to catch a flight, urgently trying to meet a deadline.

Self-control is a virtue we can grow in the mundane dealings of life so that it's waiting there in times of crisis.

So back to last Saturday. Progress on several fronts! But then I'm tripping over more markers and trying to dodge princess dolls and puzzle pieces. And replacing pillows that have migrated to the floor. And picking up stray playing cards and Silly Putty and a yo-yo and a magnifying glass.

This is the point at which I should have regrouped, loaded up the troops, and headed across town.

Discretion, I hear, is the better part of valor. Because this post simply demands an adage, I think I can throw that one in here. The best strategy in a moment of frustration in the midst of what was (mostly) a highly productive day would have  been a simple one: Change the scenery. While the little people clamored around the McDonald's play-land, I could have sipped a mocha frappe and brainstormed brilliant, creative ways to work on those habits and routines that could use a little attention.

But I'm no quitter.

I spied John swiping the stapler.

I remember years ago Danielle Bean wrote a funny, funny post about her dear dad -- the father of nine, if memory serves -- who chained a pair of scissors to the kitchen counter.

Where, exactly, can I buy one of these chains? Because I am totally in the market for one . . .  or twenty. We could anchor the living room throw pillows, the toothpaste, Dad's favorite flashlight, the remote, the good scissors.

But back to John who was about to abscond with the stapler. See, he had been hard at work at the dining room table making a book about wepens (sic). Now isn't that special? He was making a book about wepens (sic)! And, of course, he wanted to bind his book.  And that, too, should be special, but, really, I was just miffed. The stapler was leaving the room, and, rest assured, it would not return anytime soon. I'd find it on the bathroom sink or in the silverware drawer or next to John's pillow. And this was only a big deal because it was the 86th item I had put back in about 90 minutes. Seems I have a limited capacity for stuff out of place, and that limit happens to be 86 plus a stapler.

"Don't take the stapler out of the room," I told John, perhaps a bit gruffly."Bring your book to the stapler."

John shot me a look of shock and incredulity. Bring the book to the stapler????? His eyes were wide; his jaw was slack. I began to lament that my deepest fears were true, that I have, in fact, taught these kids precisely nothing.

But then he said, "Mom, there's peanut butter all over the stapler."

And that, friends, is what I'm up against.


Kris said...

The only comment I have is "I feel you, sister!"

Kelly Dolin said...

Thanks, Kris!