Thursday, May 10, 2012

On not being enough

It has been a tough week.

I've felt like I'm constantly running from one thing to another, trying to cram as much as possible into every minute to be sure I'm getting it all done. Yet whenever I pause to catch my breath, I just see all the things that are still waiting to be done, to be taken care of, to be attended to, to be accomplished.

Meanwhile, my children need me. My house needs cleaning. I need to put food in the crockpot for dinner.

Last night, I felt so anxious I had trouble falling asleep (which is rare, considering we're still a little sleep deprived with night-waking, teething twins around here).

What is wrong with me?
I have a classic case of just not being enough.
There is not enough of me to stretch to cover all that I need to do.

When I think back on the week so far (and how is it possible that this is only Thursday??), I did so much. How can I possibly feel bad for what I left undone? But I do.

A quick rundown, for my own perspective:

A lovely feast for Sts. Phillip and James, last Thursday...complete with lilacs from our front yard, stuffed shells, and chocolate cupcakes from scratch at my son's request. And a new table runner and napkins, because I thought we needed some springy table linens and I felt like sewing. (And because I obviously don't have enough other things to do.)
The Bug, getting stronger every day, and making great strides toward sitting independently. I have been there to play with her every day and watch her get excited about her new perspective on the world.
Blondies, made from Auntie Belinda's recipe for The Boy's teachers. It's Teacher Appreciation Week. We appreciate The Boy's preschool and want the staff to feel I told myself I had to bake something for them in spite of how hectic things felt. (They probably would have been happy with a note, right?)
The Boy, involved from start to finish in the baking project. He watched the blondies for 30 minutes in the oven while testing various surfaces to see if magnetic letters would stick to them. It was driving me crazy, but I bit my tongue and kept quiet.
The Belle, testing out the toy piano on her own for the first time. She's gotten really good at sitting on her own. I've been in awe of how fast she's growing and changing (and grateful that I'm here to hang out with her while she does it).
The babies, big enough for a hip carry now...and two slings criss-crossed so I can wear two fussy babies at once. And The Boy, who has to be part of the action at every minute. Seriously, shouldn't this one photo of this one moment say enough about my life right now that I don't need to DO so much other stuff? I just noticed there's no hand towel on the ring by the sink.
The Boy, whose hair I cut myself during the sisters' nap time to save a trip to the salon. It saved money, too, but the logistics of getting everyone to the salon (or finding someone to watch the babies while I take him) are complicated, and the sanity I saved is really worth more than the money. 

Throw in some meals, a couple of runs (which I greatly needed and very much enjoyed), some outside play time, six loads of laundry, line drying the cloth diapers (and running out to rescue them before the rain came in yesterday), and working with The Boy yesterday to make Venus out of a styrofoam ball ("No, Mama, that isn't the right kind of orange, that's too red like Mars. You have to add more yellow paint! Now, it needs more swirly clouds...") - it has really been a full week.

Although I'm practicing gratitude for this season of all that is involved in being "at home" instead of "at work," I've realized that it is even more tempting now to fill every moment with something I think I should be doing. I have always been this way, but I think it's even worse now that I'm not working outside my home...I feel like I have to be busy with something all of the time.

It's wearing me out.

This morning, I checked e-mail briefly and found this post from my friend Linda over at burlap+blue. We were college roommates, and I love reading her perspectives on things. Seems like today we were thinking on a similar wavelength. Her post brought tears to my eyes as I suddenly realized how tired I felt.

I'm doing so much. I'm working so hard. And sometimes, I feel like what I'm doing is constantly undone...the dishes, the laundry, the various errands and chores that make up domestic life.

Yesterday, The Boy had out some paper and crayons while I was cleaning the kitchen. He came and asked for a pen to write with. ("You don't write with crayons," he said, "you color with them. I need to write.") I asked him about his work, and he said, "I'm making a list of all the things I need to get done today."

It was one of those parenting moments when I realized how I might appear to him, when I thought about what he might think of what I spend my time doing. Why wasn't I sitting with him while he colored? Because he was occupied. Therefore, I was cleaning the sink.

The thing is, our worth doesn’t come from how much we get done, and when we are constantly DOING things, we sometimes miss just BEING. 

I don't have a classic case of not being enough. I have a classic case of trying to do too much!

I have high standards. I inherited them from my father, a US Air Force major who held himself to an exceptional standard in every area and expected everyone else to do the same. I inherited them from my mom, who taught me that it isn't enough for the counter to look clean - it has to feel clean when you run your hand over it. My dad died at a young age, so if he had any flaws, no one remembers them...but my mom still holds herself to a standard of perfectionism that sometimes keeps her from being able to move forward with things (just ask her, she'll be the first to tell you!).

I expect a lot from other people, but I have an easier time forgiving them for their inevitable shortcomings than I do forgiving myself for mine. When I don't get everything done (and done pretty close to perfectly, if we're being honest), I feel guilty, like I'm letting people down.

I think this is unhealthy, and I want it to change. I don't want my children to learn this from me.

So, for a few days, I'm going to try easier instead of harder.
I'm going to stop adding things to my "to do" list.
I'm going to sit more and do less.
I'm going to quit checking my phone to see if there's something that someone else needs from me.
I'm going to let "good enough" be just that...good enough.

Dishes will probably accumulate in the sink. There might be towels left on the floor for a little longer than usual. Someone will leave toys out, clothes might go unfolded, and things might get messy. Some phone calls and texts might not get returned right away, or maybe not at all. I might miss something.

But maybe I will be able to breathe more deeply and feel less like Silly Putty that's being stretched to the breaking point. Maybe I'll smile more at my family instead of sighing exasperatedly. Maybe my son will get an extra few books read to him. Maybe my daughters will get to swing longer outside. Maybe we'll all just sit in the yard and look at what's in front of us.

Maybe I'll just wait around a bit and see what happens instead of running headlong at my life and trying to make it all happen at once.

Maybe you should try it, too. I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

First time: Flying a kite

Last week, we flew a kite in our backyard. Sam had never flown one before, and it was a perfect day to do it. (It was also a perfect day for line-drying diapers- I think ideal conditions for these things are similar.)

We pulled my old delta kite (the one I got on vacation at Kitty Hawk Kites when I was 12) out of the coat closet and carried it outside. Sam was so excited he was jumping up and down. I barely had to run at all to get the kite up - it jumped up into the air, and we started letting out the string. As it went higher and higher, I remembered.

I don't like flying kites.

The string flipped past my fingers, unwrapping itself from the handle faster and faster as the kite climbed. I watched it nervously and remembered that I don't choose do this activity often for a reason.

I have control issues.

Sam kept urging me to let out more string, to let the kite go higher and higher. The wind was strong, and the kite was tugging hard at the string no matter how fast I let it out. I looked down at the yellow plastic string holding thingy and noted that I had let out more string than ever before.

I had to take a deep breath.

I remembered the summer I had bought the kite (with my own money, carefully saved up for that purpose), remembered my siblings all with their own kites. I remembered my brother, he had cut his foot wide open on a shell the first afternoon we were at the beach in his reckless dash into the water as soon as we arrived. He had to get stitches. He couldn't swim at all for the rest of the week. Our parents got him a stunt kite to fly while he was watching the rest of us play in the ocean.

It was a really cool kite - it had two handles, and it did flips and all kinds of tricks. He always let the string out all the way so it would fly as high as possible. He was that kind of kid. He is that kind of guy.

I never, ever did that.

I had a personal rule about the string - it needed to be covering the yellow plastic. If yellow plastic was showing with no layer of string on top of it, that was too far.

My kites have always been frustrated with me.

I don't want my children to be frustrated for the same reason. As you might imagine, I have other little rules about things. Most of them keep things orderly, keep things safe, and help our (often chaotic) life feel manageable.

Some of them, though, are probably just arbitrary.

So on this day, with Sam in the backyard, I decided to let go.

What was the worst that would happen? We'd lose the kite? Kites can be replaced. Time flying the kite with your little one cannot. I thought about how Sam was already 3 1/2, about how quickly the first 7 months of the twins' babyhood had passed by. The afternoon sun suddenly felt like it was sinking fast, and the crazy joy on Sam's chubby face seemed fleeting.

I took another breath, let him hold the string, and we let it all the way out. My kite, which I've had for 20 years, has never flown that high. Sam squealed with delight, loving it. My hands were sweaty, and I didn't love it, and I constantly fought the impulse to put my hand over his on the handle in case he let go...but I did it anyway.

Nothing is quite like confronting your own issues while trying not to pass them on to your child, and kite flying is a lot cheaper than therapy.

We flew the kite at its maximum height until it was time to go in, when we slowly dragged it back to earth, looping the string over and over across the yellow handle while the kite struggled against us, trying with all its might to stay aloft. When it was finally grounded, we took the dowel rod out of its pockets, carefully folded in its wings, and put it back in the closet.

Every day since, Sam has asked if it's a kite flying day.

I'm working up to it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

TWD: Baking with Julia- Hungarian Shortbread

Hooray for Tuesday, especially a baking Tuesday. Today's recipe: Hungarian Shortbread...which is really not like English shortbread at all. (Sorry, Kristin.)

It was also a teething Tuesday for The Belle, a tired Tuesday for me (as it came on the heels of teething Sunday and Monday and Monday night), and a tantrum Tuesday for The Boy.

There was a period of time this afternoon when all three little ones were sleeping, and although I wanted to collapse, I baked instead.

The results were delicious. Really, really yummy. Of course, there is a pound of butter in there, and nearly 2 cups of sugar (I used a little less than the recipe called for), and 2 jars of homemade apricot jam from my grandmother. How could it not be good?

The preparation of this shortbread is unusual, I think...the dough came together easily in the stand mixer (which is not consistent with my previous experiences of shortbread dough but was a welcome blessing). The dough is then divided into two balls and put into the freezer for 30 minutes. One ball of chilled dough is grated with a box grater into a 9x13 pan, topped with the filling, and then the second ball of dough is grated on top. The whole thing bakes for 40 minutes and is then topped with confectioner's sugar.

Based on the experiences of some of the other bakers (who reported the shortbread was doughy and undercooked using this method), I prebaked the bottom layer for 10 minutes before adding the filling and the top layer. It was a good decision - it all came out very well. Nicely golden brown on top, baked all the way through. Topped with powdered sugar. Cooled to room temperature.

(Oh, who am I kidding? We cut into it while it was still warm. It was 10 pm- we couldn't wait any more.)

The only trouble I had with this recipe is that the finished product looks a little like lemon bars. So much like lemon bars, in fact, that I keep expecting them to taste like lemon bars. Had I not been eating the leftover lemon curd from the last TWD recipe by the spoonful, I might have had enough to use that for the filling. Then they would have really been lemon bars...and they would have been truly awesome.

Even so, they are very tasty with the apricot jam. Below, please enjoy some hastily taken pictures.

(Other items on the table include 2 1/2 sippy cups (what happened to the lid?), a teething ring, a baby doll that was being used as a teething ring, 2 recently pink napkins (formerly white, but accidentally washed last week with the red tablecloth), tissue paper roses left from last Monday's St George's Day feast, a bottle of caffeine free Diet Coke, and a stack of catalogs with some partially filled-out forms on top and a thank-you note to my Aunt Carolyn with pictures of the children that needs a stamp before I can mail it.)

It has just been that kind of day, so I'm going to call it over and done with now.

Check out our hosts' beautiful shortbread at 1 Small Kitchen and the not so exciting adventures of a dabbler.

If you're local, come sample the shortbread. There's a lot of it. I'm happy to share. Any time after 12 on Wednesday is fine!