Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tinkering Towards Utopia

Wow! This back-to-school stuff has sure given me a run for my money!

Our second week back in school has proven to be harder than the first. The novelty has worn off and the kids are sure struggling with getting to bed on time and getting up on time so our evenings and mornings aren't all that peaceful and orderly around here. Plus Ashton's started early-morning Seminary (a religion class offered by our church) before school so I need to get kids out the door at two different times and that's pretty tricky. 

We've had talks about how to make things work better and I've tried everything from getting new alarm clocks for kids to fining kids $5 for getting to the breakfast table later than 7:10 and thus making us all late. It's a work in progress. And there's more rushing and yelling going on that any of us like.

But my 15 years as a mom has taught me that I don't need to throw up my hands in dismay and despair of ever getting things right when I'm in a tough patch. Tough patches and trial and error are just normal parts of motherhood and as we keep tinkering and tweaking, we get things sort of right and things get better. Then other things get worse. Then we do some more tinkering and tweaking and talking to make those things a bit better. Deliberate motherhood is all about getting some things wrong, learning from mistakes, making changes, forgiving ourselves and trying again as we move towards our beautiful visions of what family life can be. 

I read a book called "Tinkering Towards Utopia" for an Education class once. I can't really remember what it was about. But the title stuck with me. I think it describes very well what motherhood is all about - tweaking and trying and making mistakes and trying again as we strive towards the ideal. And then a couple weeks ago, I made this podcast with a friend and she talked about the importance of "tinkering" in parenting - so the concept has resurfaced in my mind.

Here are a few things we're working on right now:

The twins are obsessed with legos and with the book series, Mysterious Benedict Society. When they have legos or a book in front of them, they are in a different world and cannot seem to hear me at all. They're generally pretty obedient but lately I have to call for them for scripture time or homework time or dinner time again and again (sometimes with threats) and ultimately I have to go all the way upstairs (they're on the third floor) and hold their faces in my hands to get them to listen. I love legos. I love books. But we've got to figure out a happy medium here.

Isaac has been super lethargic and came home from school sick yesterday because he was so tired and groggy and dizzy that he couldn't focus on school at all. Plus he had a weird swollen bump on his foot that was making him limp. I asked whether something was worrying him about school. Nope. He loves school and has remarkably few worries. I looked up everything about infections and bug bites and ultimately we decided the bump on the foot wasn't related to the tiredness, I gave him a big lunch and put him to bed for the afternoon. He slept for about 3 hours. Then he seems totally happy and fine this morning. Another thing I've learned this past 15 years as a mom - most of children's maladies go away with some extra rest, extra water to drink, and extra TLC.  

It's so hard to get kids to bed at a good hour when it's light outside and the evenings are so pleasant. Everyone wants to be out on the trampoline and playing around with neighborhood kids. It's hard for me to get into the routine of dinner at 6 so we can get kids to bed on time. It's hard getting up in the morning so early when I'm just so tired. It's hard fitting in everything that needs to happen while the kids are at school so I can be fully present for them when they get home - especially on days when unexpected needs of friends or church callings or our kids or neighbors or extended family members come up (which is quite often).

The kids want to take home lunch every day this year and I'm theoretically great with that but it involves a thought and time that we haven't built in very much. I'm trying to get them to put together their lunches the night before but we aren't into a good routine there yet. And wow, there's a lot of paraphenalia the kids need to take to school this year - our evenings and mornings are full of finding and packing up running clothes and shoes, volley ball clothes, Ashton's guitar, signing kids planners, checking to see if homework made it into backpacks, etc. There are just so many THINGS to keep track of around here!

I was also really strugging with how many times we needed to drive kids to or from the school each day. Ashton needs to be there at 7am. The rest of the kids need to be there at 8am. Regular pick up is at 3pm. Eliza and Isaac need to be picked up from cross country practice at 4pm. Ashton finishes volley ball practice at 5pm. That's five trips to and from the school each day! Each round trip is about 20 minutes so that's over an hour and a half of time in the car each day. So we did some tinkering and now my friend and I are trading off on who does the 3pm pick-up and who does the 4pm pick-up (her daughter's also doing cross country) and I had a good talk with Ashton last night about the big picture of all these trips to and from school and he came around to seeing that if he rides his bike to school, he can get there almost as fast as we can drive there (there's a nice bike path that avoids lots of stop lights) and he can save us 2 round trips of driving (40 minutes of driving!). So now, at least while the weather is good and Ashton can bike, I'm down to just two round-trips a day!

On a more positive note:

Ashton has become a remarkably more pleasant and fun kid to have around. A summer full of positive affirmation from all the relatives we spent time with sure seems to have helped. He was so amazingly helpful with all the little cousins we spent time with and was always quick to help when anyone asked. And the more praise he received, the more praiseworthy he became. Watching this process made me realize more fully that this wonderful boy of mine needs to know that we think he's wonderful in a more pro-active and constant way. 

Plus he's developed some serious skills that give him lots of confidence. He learned to slalom ski like a pro. He learned to drive the beach car at Bear Lake. He found a real passion for guitar (he's practiced hours a day and has a reperatoire of over 70 songs now, many of them really tricky - plus he's become a super singer with his beautiful new low voice). And he just made the volley ball team at school. 

And he's just plain matured and so have I. I've learned to pick my battles and to give him a lot more freedom. I've learned to really seek out and listen to his ideas and concerns. I've learned to not react in an overboard way to overboard statements from him but instead to find the truth in whatever he says, agree with what is indeed true, and work with him towards solutions we both feel good about.

Sure, grumpy and moody Ashton still escapes once in a while. But we're in a much, much better place now.

And the kids just really like school and are involved in activities they're really excited about. They never complain about going to school. They sometimes wish it wasn't so early. But that's about it.

I realize this is a huge blessing. I remember struggling with anxiety as a kid - going to sleep with a stomach ache as I worried about the next day of school - had I finished all my homework? Who would I sit by at lunch? Would there be a test I'd forgotten about? Who would I play with at recess? When I was in third grade, I called home sick all the time because I was so stressed out at school that I really was sick (I had a particularly difficult teacher that year who was a real screamer). Because of my experiences, I was geared up to deal with some worries and anxieties in my own children as they went to school. I resolvied long ago to pull my kids out of school and find them a better option be that a new school or homeschooling if they really weren't enjoying school. But so far, nothing. Nada.

So anyway, I'll keep you posted on my tinkering as I move forward. Every family is a work in progress. No matter how perfectly wonderful a family might look from the outside, I guarantee that there is a lot of trial and error and tinkering going on in that home. And that's OK. That's how we learn and grow. That's life.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Back to School - 2014

I dropped off al the kids at school this morning.

A 9th grader, an 8th grader, a 6th grader and two 4th graders.

Seems like just yesterday they looked like this:
Ashton starting 1st grade, Isaac starting Kindergarten

Eliza starting Kindergarten, Ashton 3rd, Isaac 2nd

Oliver and Silas starting Kindergarten, Ashton in 5th, Isaac 4th, Eliza 2nd
And now we're here:
Eliza in 6th, Isaac in 8th, Ollie and Si in 4th, Ashton in 9th
I'm sort of crying a little bit as I look at these old photos and write this. The first day of school each year is such a mixture of emotions for me.

I love the prospect of having a more predictable schedule and being able to have some uninterrupted time each day when I can get my Power of Moms work done. I'm excited to have the house stay a little cleaner and be able to get errands done more quickly without bringing any kids with me. And I love seeing the kids' joyful anticipation as they see friends again and look forward to new classes and teachers.

But I really like my kids. I like having them around. I love having a relaxed schedule. I love not being so tied down. I love staying up later and getting up later and not having to be worried about bedtimes so much. I love going on field trips together and listening to books on tape together and taking individual kids off on little "dates" and getting things done in a less pressured and systematic way.

And I miss my babies. I wish I could go back and snuggle their squishy little bodies for a minute here and there or hear their baby voices calling me "mama." I wish I could go back and read them a favorite story again, little people overflowing off my lap, wiggling until the story fully caught their attention and made them still. I wish I could see the look of delight again on their little faces when I'd go to get them up after a nap - they'd be jumping up and down, holding onto the crib rail.

I also miss my preschoolers. I miss taking Oliver and Silas and Eliza on our regular trips to Costco, the one place that had carts with two seat-belted seats so I could shop with the twins neatly contained and Eliza, the one child who'd ever contently stay by my side, dutifully holding onto the side of shopping cart. It was our little tradition to get here - the twins sharing a hotdog all cut up and fed to them bite by bite by me and Eliza who shared a chicken bake. I miss teaching Joy School to each of my kids and their little friends and seeing their faces light up as they learned new things while also seeing

I miss my little school-age kids. I miss walking into their classrooms to volunteer and seeing their eyes light up and having them pop out of their seats to give me a hug. I miss walking through the school halls and having most every little kid smile at me and say hi since I was in the school a lot volunteering in all my kids' classrooms. I miss being the all-knowing mom who was a great homework helper and had a solution to every issue that came up in their lives (now I have to have them wait for their dad to get home when they need help with math and somehow, my older kids no longer think I know all that much about all that many things!)

But I love these beautiful, strong, confident people that my children are becoming. And I love that we all have our own separate lives as well as the family life we share. I love hearing about their joys and worries. I love helping them figure out what they want and what they need. I love that Ashton helps me figure out my phone and my computer so adeptly. I love that Isaac makes me laugh and helps me keep things in perspective with his easy-going nature. I love that Eliza wants to talk to me about everything. I love that Oliver and Silas still give me tons of hugs and think I'm all-knowing and tell me that I'm the best mom ever so often (especially on days when they can tell that I'm struggling to be a decent mom!). It's such a privilege to be their mother and to watch them grow and develop and come into their own more and more each year.

So there it is. The first day of school. With all its mixed emotions and memories and excitement.

And here are a few snapshots as I dropped kids off at school this morning:

Ashton with his guitar - he's taking guitar this year. He's so grown up it's killing me! I got him to give me hug and it's so weird that he's taller and bigger than me now.

Eliza just got new glasses - took ages for her to pick just the frames she wanted but she finally found just the thing. She had an idea for a perfect first-day-of-school hair style and wanted my help but I guess I wasn't quite getting the same vision she had so things were a bit rocky there - but we figured out something that would work OK and she put a smile on her face and looked just lovely! (and she just lost a tooth yesterday - a baby tooth that had been hanging in there for far too long . . .)

Oliver and Silas will have different teachers and classrooms for the first time this year. We thought it would be a good idea to try this out and they were all for it. It'll be interesting to see how it goes! They have lots of friends other than each other and usually sit at different tables and play with different kids at school so I don't think it'll be too much of an adjustment. Their main concern was simply whether one or the other of them would have a better teacher. But both teachers seem great and they smiled big as I dropped them off at their classroom doors (which they were glad to see were right next door to each other). I was glad they wanted me to walk them in. It's nice to still be needed.

Here's Oliver:

And here's Silas:

I think they'll be just fine.

Somehow I didn't get a photo of Isaac. But he did consent to giving me a nice big hug in the parking lot. I don't think Ashton would have gone for that. So luckily for him, Jared took him to school early for his first day of Seminary so he got to have his hug from me here at home before he took off.

OK, I'd better get some work done before it's time to pick the kids up and hear all about their first day of school!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Full Eyre Reunion Info - 2014

I was the Instagram queen of the reunion and Bear Lake this year. I captured several great moments every day and got them right on Instagram. (You can see them all here - just scroll down a bit to get the the Bear Lake stuff or use #eyrealm2014 to find them).) But I love how Shawni  covered the whole reunion so beautifully in her recent post - she explained details of all the major parts of the reunion - the relay, Fear Factor, how we do food, everything.

Here are a few favorite snippets from her post along with some of my commentary and some of my photos - and you can see the whole wonderful thing she wrote with all her excellent photos here.

Each year we start the reunion in grand style to get everyone excited about what's coming up.
(I was instagramming)

They "unveiled" the t-shirts that were centered around my parent's 45th anniversary coming up at the end of July.

Then they "unveiled" the schedule.

They introduced a new addition this year: 


To handcuff my mom to her chair once in a while so she will quit working so hard and just enjoy.
They totally worked when Eli remembered to cuff her :)


Jobs are always a big deal at the Lake because if we don't have a system in place, it could get ugly.  Each year some new twist is put on the kids' jobs to make them fun and exciting (because jobs ARE totally fun and exciting, right?)  This year when Eli and Julie set the ground rules they let each "group" get together (more about "groups" at the end of this post back HERE), and decide what they would want their "reward" to be if they happen to win the doing-jobs-exceptionally-well contest.
They took this task very seriously as you can see by Lucy's face:

After they decided on their desired reward (some chose a trip to get milkshakes on the other side of the lake, others chose a sleepover on the tennis court, etc.), then one representative from each group picked a paper out of a hat with their "zone" for the week on it. 
Then they got all pumped up to actually do those jobs. 

There were random checks each day to see which zone would get a checkmark for being in order so us parents reminded them here and there that they better check those zones of theirs.  Here's the chart Eli used to mark who was doing well:

It was fun watching them get to work with smiles stretched across their faces.
These girls actually ended up winning, and had a great whiz-bang sleepover with their favorite Aunt Charity at the end.

Ok, jobs are all fine and good but let's get on with the reunion here.

Every year we have a bonfire on the first night and we play the favorite songs everyone turned in.  Everyone guesses who turned in which song. 
The kids think this is the greatest thing ever. 

And it was even cooler this year because E & J gave everyone glow sticks to snap on when their song came on.

We had a spontaneous dance party at the end of the bonfire this year - cool sand underfoot, bright stars overhead, great music, everyone trying out everyone else's moves...

It was a hit last year (back HERE) so E & J decided to do it again this year.

Here's the warm-up:

This year they instigated a few team photo requirements:
Each team got their different-color headbands (a new idea this year) and the cars lined up.

Here's Eliza's team (she ran SO FAST and SO FAR for her team - excited to be on the cross-country team at school this year!)

Dave did everything in his power to make his team come in first (some might say there was a little cheating going on . . .):

But in the end it was totally the blue team who came through victorious for the win. Yeah Jared!!! And Oliver!!!

But really, everyone's a winner in this race :)
Ian (the soon-to-be newest member of the family in October) ran pretty much the whole way trying to cheer on the little kids on our team.  He was a little pooped out after that.

My team - team green was AWESOME!

We celebrated with some raspberry shakes (mmmm) and some tater tots (hmmmm). 

We saw the most gorgeous field of purple flowers along the route and figured that would be a perfect spot for our family picture this year.

All sweaty and nasty, but since there are so many of us you can't tell, right? 

I wish I had more pictures of the food, because it was fabulous. 

Each family takes a meal (and we all pitch in to help) and when I say they "take" a meal, they take that meal of theirs seriously. 

We eat well at the lake.

Charity did this super good mango quinoa salad with shish kabobs (recipe for the salad on Charity's blog here.):

Shawni and Dave did bruschetta:
With pesto chicken salad.

(third annual)
(Mostly my - Saren's - photos and commentary in this section.)

This became a big hit a few years ago. 

It is funny that it is a "favorite" among the kids when we get faces like this:
 ...and this:
 ...and this:

There's always Lyla who will eat anything with a smile. Including crispy bugs:

Here's a close-up - crunchy little worms with seasoning on them:

Eliza is pretty darn good she is with some yummy bugs:
and fish paste:

 Ashton enjoying toasted cockroaches:

Silas trying to brave some mushrooms (proved to be about the hardest thing for the kids - way harder than the bugs or rattlesnake!)

And one round involved everyone tasting the rattle snake they found near the house and killed and grilled up. The kids actually thought it was quite tasty and no one got out on that round (yes, that really is a rattle snake on the grill):

Here are the winners! McKay came in first, Eliza came in second (she was a bit slower than McKay in eating the final challenge which was a repeat of whichever food had been hardest for each kid), Lyla came in third, and Silas came in fourth (the mushrooms did him in). Ashton was done in by the "near beer" stuff he just couldn't stand to drink - all the kids really hated that stuff and become all the more resolved never to drink alcohol!

We had one special night set aside to have my parents tell their whole love story since their 45th anniversary was coming right up on the 30th of July.  I wish I had a picture going the other direction because those kids were mesmerized I tell you!
We had texas sheet cake to celebrate because we kind of like that stuff.

Oh, how I love my family! (And thanks, Shawni, for capturing so much so beautifully!)


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