Friday, June 24, 2011

Realistic Expectations: Day One

Day One of my "realistic expectations" makeover couldn't have started at a worse time. I didn't get in bed until 3:00 this morning because poor Amelia cut two (possibly three) teeth last night. We both slept in super late this morning and then spent the time before her nap just playing and singing. Usually this results in my brain going into crazytown hyperdrive:

"You've already slept half the morning and now you're playing in the floor! Don't even THINK about sitting down during Amelia's nap. You have to make up for lost time. This house is a mess, you have neighborhood work to tend to, and Amelia's birthday party isn't going to plan itself. You're going to pay for this lazy morning, Missy."

When I got up this morning, though, I told myself, Today will be different.

As I said, I spent the morning playing with Peanut. After a couple of hours, I put her down for a nap. Typically, the moment I close her bedroom door, I go into "mission mode." Today, however, I went room to room looking at what needed to be done--not what I perceive needs to be done, but what a normal human being would deem necessary.

Our bathroom needs picking up, but it can wait. I decided to just gather all the dirty clothes and towels and take them to the laundry room.

The laundry room, on the other hand, has been ignored way too long. I'm proud to say MOST of the clothes in there are clean, but they are piled so high in baskets that we can't open the dryer.

Task #1: Fold the clothes

Then I thought, Wait, this is something I can do while Amelia eats her snack and watches her afternoon episode of Yo Gabba Gabba. Sweet, I can multi-task without taking away from time with Amelia.

Then I went back to our bedroom to check it out. I'm embarrassed to say that the dog hair is starting to pile up since the dogs hang out in there so much. But Amelia doesn't go in there, so it can wait until the weekend when John can help me move the furniture.

I went back into the living room. Not as much dog hair as the bedroom but a nice little layer forming on the floor. Plus, the couch has formula stains, the front door's glass is gross and there are toys everywhere. The toys are a moot point since as soon as she's awake, Amelia will go all Godzilla again. The formula stains aren't that noticeable and they aren't going to be any more ingrained in the fabric tomorrow. The front doors have been dirty for a month. Another day or four won't hurt. The floor is an issue, though, since Amelia is crawling. When I changed her diaper earlier, her knees and legs looked like she had a mild case of hursutism. Now, here's where I'm challenged: do I just sweep the floor or do I go all out and move the furniture, sweep, vacuum, mop and polish.  Hmm... it's so hard for me not to do it all at once.  You know, though, I'm tired.  Let's just focus on the hair.

Task #2:  Sweep the floor and vacuum up the hair

I got the hair up, though it just about killed me not to move all the furniture.  I at least ran the hose under things.  I also ran the brush over the furniture to pull up the dust and hair (but I didn't polish anything--another small victory). 
With that done, I moved on to the kitchen.  I figured I already had the vacuum out so I'd just run it over the tile to pick up any crumbs that Amelia might be tempted to eat (plus the hair--always the hair).   The kitchen is always my downfall because it's the one room in the house that I feel should be clean.  It's where we eat, where we keep our food.  I can spend hours on the kitchen when I get on one of my tangents.  I decided to only address what is actually dirty and could start to smell from last night. 

Task #3:  Unload dishwasher, load dirty dishes. 
This is multi-tasking gone horribly wrong.
I noticed that I'm almost out of clean bottles and remembered that Amelia is on her last pacifier, so I decided to soak all of her "dishes" and come back to them later in the day.

At this point, I stopped and evaluated what I had done.   Did I see other things that bothered me?    Of course.  But I honestly couldn't say that there was anything that couldn't wait.  So here I am, drinking a glass of tea, eating a quick lunch, and writing a blog.  It's almost time for Amelia to get up.  I'm struggling just a little that I didn't do more while she slept, but I can admit that I was productive--without overdoing it or stressing.  So now it's time to play some more and let Amelia "help" me fold the clothes. 

Baby steps, my friends, baby steps.  It's a long way back from Crazy Town.

(I'm sure some of you will say, "WHY DIDN'T YOU NAP?"  Well, two reasons:  (1) Amelia is spending some time with her grandparents this weekend, so I'd rather do a few things now and actually RELAX while she's gone; and (2) napping is hard when I'm taking phentermine.  It doesn't "amp" me up, but I am not sleeping until it wears off unless I take something)

Retiring the Duct Tape

I've been meeting on Wednesday night's with a group of women as we work through the book "Me, Myself and Lies."  In a nutshell, it's about the lies we tell ourselves ABOUT ourselves--how we tear ourselves down and become our own worst enemy.  This is most definitely something that I struggle with on a daily basis.  I'm willing to say that a good 85-90% of my problems stem from my own insecurities, hangups and unrealistic expectations.  I convince myself that I have to do it ALL--and then turn right around and tell myself that I lack the ability to do anything right.  I run (and often crawl) in an endless circle of of guilt, anxiety and self-loathing.  A peek inside my head on any given day might look like this:

1% of my brain:  "Wow, the kitchen and living room floors are clean, the laundry is folded and dinner is cooking! Go me!"
Remaining 99% of my brain:  "You didn't clean the toilet, you loser.  You're a shitty wife and mom."

Now, I am the first to admit that when I look at that in writing, I think I should smack myself.  That's crazy-people talk, right?  Right?  But the truth is that I give myself the "SWAM" trophy over and over each day.  My emotional mantle is full of these ugly little awards. 

This way of thinking seems to be the rut into which I've fallen and wallowed for about ten years now.  I've always struggled with that nagging feeling that I'm "not good enough," but once I got married and started teaching (within a two-week span!), that nagging feeling turned into a dead, rotting slab of  hopelessness that I dragged around behind me wherever I went. 

For some reason, I've never been able to find balance in my life.   I want to be good at everything I do.  No, scratch that, I want to be great.   I am in a constant state of attempting to be perfect in everything I do.  So when I throw myself into something I love or am passionate about, I end up neglecting other parts of my life. Trying to balance being a newlywed and a first year high-school teacher was one of the biggest challenges of my life.    In order to get my papers graded, I didn't do the grocery shopping.  In order to get my grades averages and submitted, I didn't do the laundry.  In order to plan my lessons for three different preps, I didn't clean the house.  I was always tired and stressed and frustrated.   Every time I'd try to keep up with the housework and my "wifely" duties, I would fall further behind at work.  Every time I'd get to a point at work that I felt I had it under control, my house would literally be falling down around my ears.  I always felt like a failure in at least one area of my life--most of the time both since I could always find some area in which I could improve.  Unfortunately, it didn't really get much easier as the years went on.  As we moved into the era of NCLB, it seemed like my responsibilities at work gradually increased--as did the amount of information we were required to teach. 

"Here you go!  Teach ALL of this to ALL of your students.  It doesn't matter that half of them aren't reading on grade level and some of them can't write a complete sentence.  There's no time to  reteach what they should have learned years ago!  Now, you're going to have 30 kids in each class.  You'll see them 50 minutes a day for ten months (or 90 for five), not counting holidays, breaks, snow days, etc.   Some of them will have IEPs.  Some of them will NEED an IEP.  Some of them will need medication or a kick in the ass (but don't even JOKE about doing that!)  Don't forget to throw in as many stupid little games and activities as possible because we have to trick them into thinking they're having fun.  When it's all said and done, they'll take a multiple choice test that we'll use to decide if you're a good teacher or a total failure.  Uh-oh, there's the first bell!  It will ring again soon.  It will dictate when you start teaching and stop teaching, as well as when you eat and pee.  Don't forget there will be a two-hour faculty meeting this afternoon during which we'll give you a massive stack of papers to fill out.  These papers won't be used in any way that benefits you or your students, but dammit they'll look good sitting in that file!"

How can anyone be successful when you're set up to fail from the start?  Any sane person would hear that and say, "You're just going to have to accept what I am able to do.  I'm not a miracle worker."  My mind hears that and says, "Work harder, loser!  Stop whining and do what they say!"

As the years passed and I gained more experience in teaching, I learned to juggle the responsibilities of school, though they didn't become any less stressful.  Meanwhile, my home life, my marriage and my mental health were a mess.   Remember that little 1% of my brain I told you about?  At some point the other 99% smothered it while it slept.  There was no little voice saying, "Way to go, Amber!"  I somehow lost all ability to truly embrace my accomplishments or successes because projecting onto the back wall of my mind was a constant reel-to-reel of all the things I had neglected to do.  Every victory was cloaked in a dirty robe of all the things I had to ignore in my life to get there:  my husband, my family, my friends, my home, myself. 

It wasn't until last May, as I packed up my classroom and moved everything home, that I realized just how polluted my attitude toward myself had become.  I remember thinking, This is a new start for me.  I don't have to juggle anymore.  I can be a mom and wife now. I can focus on my home and my family.   Don't get me wrong, it's not that I thought it would be easy; I just thought it would be more manageable. 

Yet here I am again.  It's been a little over a year and I find myself back in that proverbial rut, peeking over the edge.  I look around and think, How did I get back here?  

It's because I duct tape my life together.

The most recent chapter of the book we are studying on Wednesday nights deals with "labels"--both the labels we give ourselves and the ones that are given to us (mother, widowed, cancer).  As I try to nail down my own labels so that I can assess them, I keep coming back to the word "fixer." 

Though I can't sew a button on correctly or use any type of tool without nearly maiming myself, I'm a fixer.  I want to fix people's problems.  Hell, I want to fix people.  And in my own life, I want to fix everything.  And.  I.  Don't.  Want.  Any.  Help.  I struggle with asking for help.  Often it is because I don't want to burden anyone.  Often it is because I'm too proud to admit I need help.  But most of the time, it's because I have this jacked up idea that everything is my responsibility and that asking for help is admitting that I can't handle my responsibilities.

There's no way I can do everything, so I'm constantly screwing up which means I'm constantly fixing, doing whatever I can to make the problem better.  The problem is I use duct tape.  I get to a problem and I say, "I can fix that!"  I grab my big roll of industrial duct tape and I go to work.  Pretty soon, the problem is patched up.  But that's just it--it's only a patch.  I haven't fixed the problem, I've only managed to patch up the result of the real problem.  I'm so intent on a solution and on moving forward, that I never stop, look back and say, "How did this happen?"

Which brings me back to the rut.
Here I am, sitting in my rut playing McGyver with my duct tape, trying to figure out how to make a ladder or a catapult or something to get me out of here again. 

If I just keep the house cleaner...
If I just do more laundry...
If I just stop and count to ten...
If I just sleep less...
If I just manage my time better...
I... I... I...

It's time I put down the duct tape. 

It's time to admit that I just can't do all of these things I tell myself I have to do. 

It's time I ask for help. 

It's time that filled in this rut so that I can't fall back into it again and again. 

I'm so tired of being tired all the time, of spending every waking moment making lists in my head and chastising myself over all the things I didn't get done.   I'm sick of criticizing everything I do to the point that I don't feel anything I do is ever enough.  I'm through with feeling I have to juggle everything at once so that nothing in my life ever gets my full attention.

See, this is the part where I'd normally make some declaration about how I'm going to change.  But I feel to do so just sets me up to fail.  The first time I criticize myself, I'll remind myself about my "declaration."  Instead of stopping and correcting myself, though, it will just reinforce my feelings of inadequacy.  One of my biggest problems is that I have unrealistic expectations.  I set the bar so high that the best I can hope for is to limbo underneath it. 

I'm going to start small and work my way up.  Instead of a patch or quick fix, I'm going to address the real problem.  To get me started, I'm giving myself a few (doable) challenges, and I'm sharing them with all of you so that you can hold me accountable.  I may not do them all at once, but I want to work toward it.

1.  I'm going to keep a journal of the things I've DONE each day, both large and small.  Whether I swept the floors or read a book to Amelia, if it's something constructive I did or finished, I'm going to acknowledge it in writing.

2.  I can't always control what pops in my head, but I will not criticize or "bash" myself out loud, especially to anyone else.

3.  I will ask for help, even if it means relinquishing a responsibility to someone else. 

4.  If I have more than one task in front of me, I'll choose the one that's more important and save the other one for when I have time.  I won't try to do both at once and make a mess out of them. 

I so desperately want to be happy and healthy, for my sake and the sake of my family.  I don't want Amelia to grow up like me, constantly criticizing herself and pushing herself to the point of mental and physical exhaustion.  I don't want her to ever be too proud to ask me for help.  And I never want her to perceive me as too busy or too stressed to help her when she needs me.  There is no test that will determine if I'm a success or failure--only how well my daughter turns out.   I want my husband to have a happy wife and for our marraige to be a source of strength and joy, not stress or contention.  How can I be there for him when I'm not there for him--if I'm constantly "doing" or my mind is focused on my neverending list of tasks?  Why will he look forward to coming home in the evening if I'm anxious and angry all the time? 

I must slow down.  Our lives are not dictated by bells.  I am in a perpetual rush for no reason besides it makes me feel more productive.  How many precious moments and opportunities am I missing while I run back and forth?

So I'm using the duct tape one more time:  I'm slapping a piece over that little voice that keeps telling me that nothing I do is enough. I'm getting out of this rut... and I need a hand. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Shopping Trip

I am still couponing but haven't had the time to go and "sniff out" the bargains quite so often.  The bigger Amelia gets, the more challenging trips to the store are--especially when I try to go to multiple stores in one trip.   I've still been saving anywhere from 10-20% on my weekly shopping trips, though, spending only about $400 each month on food, household goods (cleaners, toilet paper, etc.), diapers, wipes, formula, toiletries, cosmetics, etc.  As I've said before, I'm not out to get everything for free or to buy anything I'm not going to use (even if it costs pennies).  I just want to save money on what I need and normally buy. 

Tonight I went to Walgreens and Kroger.  I keep KICKING myself for not getting to WAGS earlier in the week.  I try to go Sunday or Monday at the latest, but it doesn't always work out.  Since I didn't make it this time until Thursday, I didn't get my NEGATIVE eleven cents aluminum foil, but I did come out pretty well. (Sorry no pictures this time... it was hard enough to just get stuff put up with Amelia digging in the bags).   I bought foundation, powder (the cosmetic type, not baby), bobby pins, a large tub of Similac, and four bottles of Gillette body wash.  My grand total before coupons was 58.42 plus tax.  After coupons and a formula voucher from Similac, my total with tax was 35.50.  And I got a $2 Register Reward back.  Counting my RR, I saved $24.92.   I had promised I wouldn't buy any more body wash or deodorant for John (his bathroom drawer is starting to look like an episode of Hoarders), but when I can buy $4-5 body wash for a $1 each, I just can't turn it down. 

I've done better  at Kroger than I did tonight, but I still stayed under budget and that was after a couple of splurges for myself, some diapers and wipes that weren't on my list, and a toy for Amelia (it was TOTALLY necessary for my sanity).   Kroger just didn't have much on sale this week that I wanted to buy and my stockpile is starting to dwindle.  On top of that, the coupons in Sunday's paper SUCKED.  However, I managed to put together some meals that were mostly based on what I have in the pantry, what's on sale, and the coupons I have. 

My shopping bags included:

1 lb. Sara Lee smoked turkey from the deli
Parkay "squeezee" margarine
4 large tubs sour cream (I freeze them to use in casseroles and other dishes)
2 packages shredded mozzarella cheese
1 package shredded casserole cheese
Laughing Cow cheese wedges (my treat!)
1 package frozen green beans
3 packages frozen corn
1 package frozen peas and carrots
2 cans crescent rolls
1  250-count napkins
1/2 dozen eggs
2 packs of "puffs" (Amelia's snacks)
2 boxes of Emerald Breakfast Mix (these are a huge splurge but I am ADDICTED)
1 package dish washer "pacs" (SO excited that Kroger makes their own version now that's $2 less!)
2 boxes baby wipes
1 pack of nighttime diapers
Baby toy/appeaser (ha ha)
8 jars mixed fruit baby food
Spaghetti noodles
2 bottles BBQ sauce
2 packs lean ground turkey
1 box Special K cereal
1 box Cheerios
1 box Frosted Flakes
4 cans spaghetti sauce
1 jar tomato paste
1 can cream of chicken soup
Two  1/2 gallons of milk
1/2 gallon chocolate milk

My grand total after coupons and tax was $94.58.  If I subtract Amelia's toy, that brings me down to $89.59.  I didn't plan to get the overnight diapers or two boxes of wipes (and don't really need them at the moment) but I got them for 7.72 after coupons (.02 for each wipe!)

I have to admit that even when it's stressful (Amelia snatching my coupons or screaming, rude checkout people, realizing that I have $6 of expired Register Rewards), I'm really enjoying this.  Compared to a lot of people, I'm not saving that much but 10, 15, 20 a week adds up over time. 

Hopefully next week's trip will be a little more productive.  Amelia will be with her Nana and Grampaw on Sunday, so I plan on hitting Walgreens that afternoon before the truly crazy coupon people clean out their stock. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Happy Father's Day

Amelia asked if I would help her write a blog about her daddy since this is his very first Father's Day.  We worked very hard on this and hope he enjoys reading it (as well as all of you).

My Daddy & Me

This is the first picture of Daddy and me together.   I wish I knew why he was crying.  I only cry when I'm sad or mad or if I'm getting a new tooth.  Mommy says he's crying because he's so happy and that someday I'll understand.  She also said that this is her very favorite picture and that it will be my favorite picture in the world when I'm a big girl. 

Now THIS looks more like the Daddy I know.  He sure does smile a lot when we're hanging out.  He looks like he's having fun here, but I can't imagine why.  I'm just lying there like a lump.  Mommy says that it makes Daddy happy when he holds me.  I guess so, but I personally think I'm a lot more fun now that I'm crawling and pilfering all the time.  Who wants to hold a little bitty baby when they can chase me all over the house?  It's not rocket science.   Anyway, I sure am glad to see him smiling!

This was my first birthday with Daddy (he turned 30) AND it was my first UT game. I'm even wearing orange like Daddy!  Mommy tells me that it doesn't matter how I look in orange that I have to wear it anyway because the Vols are Daddy's favorite team.  I have no idea what a "Vol" is yet but Daddy sure does get excited when he watches them.  He yells a lot and jumps up and down (Pappy does, too!)  Mommy said he used to be louder but he's learned to be quieter since I have little ears.
When I'm older, Mommy said Daddy will teach me all about football and I can be his little cheerleader.  And Mommy is going to teach me all the verses to "Rocky Top."  I don't know what all this means yet, but I know it will be fun if I'm getting to spend time with Daddy.

Sometimes Mommy and I go to see Daddy at lunch.  It is so much better than sitting at home and watching Mommy eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (especially since she won't share!)   Mommy says that Daddy works hard so that she can stay home and take care of me.  I like having Mommy at home, but I miss Daddy while he's at work.  Sometimes he has to work late and we don't get to play as much when he gets home, so it's nice when we can go and visit him at lunch.  He's always so excited to see me and it makes me so happy!  He gives me lots of kisses and loves on me.  I wish lunch time with Daddy could last aaaaaallllll day!

This is Daddy and me on my very first Thanksgiving.  It was kind of a bust since I couldn't eat any of the yummy food everyone cooked.  Mommy says Thanksgiving is when we think about all the things God has given us.  I think Thanksgiving should be every day because I'm always thankful for my Daddy.  Even if he's tired when he comes home from work, he always plays with me.  He helps Mommy at bedtime by running my bath or making me a bottle or putting my pajamas on me.  Life sure is easier with Daddy around.  And it's lots of fun, too!  Daddy makes funny faces and noises at me to make me laugh--and it works!  Mommy said Daddy makes her laugh, too, and that's one of the reasons she fell in love with him.

Christmas is awesome.   Not as awesome as my Daddy, but it was pretty cool.  Everywhere I went, people gave me colorful paper and tissue to rip apart and chew on.  It was glorious.  (There was also some stuff in the paper, I think.)       This is a picture of Daddy helping me open a present from somebody named Santa.  I kept insisting that I could do it by myself, but Daddy helped because that's what Daddy does.  He helps me all the time.  I don't know what I would do without him.  Sometimes he looks kind of sad when I do things by myself, but I hope he knows that there will always be something I need him to teach me or help me do.  Mommy says I'll never outgrow Daddy, no matter how big or smart I get.  She said Daddy will always be here to help me.  Daddy must really love me!

Mommy says this was my first snow.  She says that someday I'll get really excited about snow because I won't have to go to school (I have no idea what any of that means yet).  I also don't know why I'm dressed like a polar bear.  Mommy says the snow is really cold and that's why Daddy is holding me so close.  He wants to keep me warm and cozy.  Mommy says Daddy would do anything to keep me warm and cozy and safe and happy.  She says that I'm very lucky to have a Daddy who cares for me so much because some babies don't have a Daddy who wants them to be warm and cozy and safe and happy.  I feel sad for those babies.  I wish I could share my Daddy with them.  He's the best Daddy.


Look at how happy we are!  Daddy and I have so much fun when we're together.  I love him soooo much!

I love going new places with Daddy.  It's always an adventure.  This was our first trip to the park.  It was a little chilly, but Daddy made sure my ears stayed covered under my hat.  Even going old places is fun with Daddy.  I like when he goes to the grocery store with Mommy and me.  Mommy is no fun.  She won't let me play with her coupons or eat her grocery list.  It's much better when Daddy goes because he can talk to me and entertain me while Mommy shops.  Mommy said she's happier when Daddy goes, too, because he can "look after the billy goat."  I hope I get to see the goat next time we're at Kroger!

Mommy says I look like my Daddy.  She says our eyes squinch up the same way when we smile and that we when we laugh, it takes over our whole body.  She says we both scrunch up our eyebrows the same way when we're mad or irritated.  She says she hopes I have Daddy's red hair.  She also hopes that I'm smart like my Daddy.  Mommy says he is very, very smart.  She says he's also very kind and has a big heart.   Mommy sure does love Daddy, and she talks about him all the time.  She says I'm a little piece of him and that makes me even sweeter.   As much as I love Daddy, I think Mommy loves him more.  She sure is crazy about him.  Daddy calls us "his girls" and that's what we are!

One time, it had been stormy for days. We had to go to the storm shelter every night.  It had been very stressful, especially for Mommy.  Daddy decided we needed some family time together in the SUNSHINE!  He took off work and took Mommy and me to the zoo!  It was so much fun! Daddy made sure I saw all of the animals and helped me ride the panda on the carousel.  My Daddy has the best ideas!   

I'm not really supposed to play with that plastic thing on the orange rope, but sometimes Daddy lets me.  Mommy says it's because it makes him happy when I smile.   Daddy makes me smile all the time so he must be really happy!

I've only known my Daddy for a little over ten months, but I already love him with all my heart!  Mommy says I am a lucky little girl because I have such a wonderful Daddy.  But she tells me that there will be times when I'm older that I will get mad at him because he will not let me do something I want to do. She said that everything he does will be because he loves me, though, and he wants me to stay safe and grow up strong and healthy and happy.  She says that I must always remember that my Daddy loves me--even if he doesn't let me have my way.  She says that being a Daddy is wonderful but it can be hard sometimes.  I just don't believe that, though, because my Daddy makes it look so easy!  I just can't imagine ever being upset with Daddy.  He is my hero!  He takes care of me and he plays with me and he loves me so much.  

Mommy says that we are celebrating Father's Day.  She says it's Daddy's special day.   She helped me write this blog to tell Daddy how special he is and how much I love him.  But you know what?  I think my Daddy is special every day.  And I hope that he knows that I am so blessed to call him my Daddy.  

I love you, Daddy.  Thank you for all you do for me and Mommy.  Happy Father's Day!