The Momming Journey

Don’t make me get my duffel bag!

Parenting Hack Number 1: There are no hacks.  This is your life now.  These kids don’t listen. 

They say I’m a bit of a control freak. 

I’m not really sure who they are.  And not sure how I feel about that name per say, but if I’m being honest with myself, which I try to do at least 80.2% of the time, they are right.

I can’t help it.  I’m a Virgo through and through.  I like routines.  I like schedules.  I love planners and to-do lists.  And I absolutely am obsessed with putting and keeping things in their place.

giphy.com, www.peacocktv.com/

I’m not sure when I became such a stickler for giving homes to stuff.  Certainly, my mother would tell you that I couldn’t keep my room clean to save my life.  As far as I was concerned, my closet and my secretary desk were just additional hiding places for all my crap.  I had an annoying habit of keeping every little thing because what if one day I needed it?  Like sure, this Lip Smackers is just about gone and what’s left is just a melted glop of goop.  But you never know when you may be stuck out here in these Jersey winters and be like “oh snap thank God I have this nasty ass chap stick here to save the day!”  Or my favorite was the fact that I needed to keep just about every piece of school work I ever did.  My desk drawers were filled to the brim with Lisa Frank folders busting at the seams with paragraphs and short stories about lions and dogs.  Who’s to say that when I get to high school or college, I won’t need to use this informational text as a reference for a research paper or thesis.  

But then I became not only an adult, but a married mom, and suddenly there was this need to keep order. The very sight of something out of place produces so much anxiety which, as I write this, I realize sounds absolutely mad.  But I can’t help it.  I spent a significant amount of time as a stay at home mom and when the children were at school, I spent time keeping the home.  I organized, cleaned, did laundry, cooked, and maintained the upkeep of our home.  Time that I was supposed to be dedicating to building a career was spent inside a military house trying my best to make it, and keep it, looking like the homes on HGTV.  I mean the kids weren’t home so what else was I to do?  

And I was proud of myself for some reason.  I found a way to turn a bland boring basic ass house into a home, someplace our nomad family could find solace and security among the insecurity and ever changing lifestyle that the Army gave us.  Home was a place that no matter where we were was the constant in our lives.  And I’ll be damned if I allow it to get torn up.  Not on my watch.

P/C- giphy.com, teamcoco.com/gifs

But see there’s something else to understand very clearly.  These kids don’t care.  And I don’t say that to mean they don’t care about anything.  They care about eating eleventy times per day.  They care about getting their allowance or reward if one was promised but they haven’t done their part of the deal.  They care about catching their show every week.  They care about having access to their phone or tablet so they can watch YouTube all day and play Roblox all night.  They care about asking you a million times while in Target if they can have a cake pop and then spend an hour looking at toys they don’t need.  They care about wearing the same shoes to school everyday even when it’s gym day and boots are not appropriate for running around a field playing flag football. And they certainly care about what their siblings are doing and then telling them about themselves.  

What they don’t care about, however, is doing their own chores, keeping their stuff straight, and just all around listening to you.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my children.  They are a part of me and I cannot describe the pure awe I have when I look at them.  Nothing will ever change that.  But, like Abe, I must be honest.  I cannot stand the choices they make like 80 percent of the time.  And the thing that grinds my gears the most is their utter refusal to keep their rooms clean.  Of course, there is an easy solution to getting over this.  I mean, I could just close the door to their rooms, right?  That would make so much sense.  

But I only said I am a Virgo… not that all of the thoughts in my head were completely logical, which I guess goes against Virgo logic but that’s neither here nor there.  Point is, I like things in their place and although there is an easier solution to not seeing the mess, ie: closing the door and act like it doesn’t exist, I know it still does, door closed or not, and it drives me crazy.  

Believe me, I’ve done everything I thought would work.  I created a reward chart, a goal chart, promised prizes, bought organizing cubbies and storage bins, labeled said storage bins with a fancy schmancy label maker, paired down on stuff a million times, and even got down on my hands and knees and helped these kids with handling the task at hand.  And there are times where they clean their rooms and it looks so good… for like a day, maybe two.  Then during the week when they aren’t home, their rooms just mysteriously get destroyed again.  It’s as if we have ghosts in the house or something… wait a minute…

giphy.com, cbs.com/

But it doesn’t stop there.  The kiddos have this thing about taking things out of their  place, using it, and just leaving it there.  Same is true with meals.  In my current position, I work until about dinner time.  By the time I’m done and sign off for the day, I head straight to the kitchen where my wonderful husband is finishing up dinner for the family.  And mostly the table  has been set, but the placings are set around homework and folders and glue sticks and pencils… ALL THE PENCILS.  Seriously after this pandemic, I need to seriously evaluate the option of investing in Ticonderoga because those jawns are always laying around the house like by the hundreds.  Must be.  I’m always stepping on them, and I’m about sick of it.  These kids are trolling me with the pencils, you guys.  But I digress.

So here we are at dinner and I’m once again telling the kids pick up the dang pencils, put the art box away, put up your folders and homework so you don’t forget them when you go to school tomorrow.  Same old same old.  And then dinner ends and the kids just get up and go off to do wherever they do after dinner, and once again, I’m having to remind them.  Clean up your place-mat, wash your dish off, put it in the dishwasher, sweep the floors.  I’m telling you, most days it feels like I’m living the movie “Groundhog Day.”  And it’s just not cute.  

I always thought I’d be the cool mom you know.  The one who didn’t nag her kids.  The one who understood and just “got it.”  I certainly wasn’t trying to be like the mom from the great Will Smith’s “Parents Just Don’t Understand” who made her poor poor son go to school dressed like Jay Jay from Good Times.  And I figured that my kids would be just like me.  Afraid to get in trouble.  Afraid of losing privileges.  Afraid of losing things.

Oh yes, I was a scaredy cat as a kid.  I hated consequences.  I hated disappointing my parents, mostly my mom, and getting yelled at.  I hated losing my things.  And I hated the idea of having to quit basketball or softball because I couldn’t get it together.  It was my motivation for minding my ps and qs and doing what I was supposed to do, even if I had to fake it.  Remember that secretary desk full of crap?  It wasn’t clean but at least it looked the part, and kept me on that court.  Point is, I did what I was told because I didn’t want to get in trouble.  It was just easier that way.

But my kids aren’t me.  They have minds of their own and personalities that make them their own unique selves.  They have their own interests and their minds process ideas and the things they see around them differently.  This is a good thing.  And I love watching them grow into their own person.  

Except here’s the thing tho…

They just don’t listen!  It’s insane!  I mean I get it.  I’m not fun to hear over and over and over again, especially when it seems like I’m barking orders.  But man, I just think “if these kids would just listen the first time and do what they are supposed to do, it would just be so much easier for everyone.” I know they are tired of hearing my voice too.  Shit, I’m tired of hearing my own voice.  

Kids are just different these days, I guess.  And I think that bit falls on us.  We had certain expectations of what we were supposed to and not allowed to do.  We had real threats of punishments- the dreaded spanking, the fearsome loss of privilege, the infamous grounding with no phone calls and no TV.  It was the worse.  I think the reason for that lies in the fact that we didn’t have as much as kids have today.  This is true with each previous generation, though, isn’t it?  When I was coming up (which is code for I’m old.  I mean I can’t believe I’m at the age where that comes out of my mouth so frequently.  Yet here I am, becoming the old and crotchety person I was always meant to be and I think I’m here for it?  Not sure yet…moving on.), I had expectations of what my responsibilities were in my family.  From the itty bitty age of four, I was expected to fold and hang up my clothes and set the table for dinner, which are all very reasonable asks, I think.  It then grew into making my own lunch for school, ironing my uniform for the week every Sunday, cutting out coupons for grocery shopping and filing them accordingly, cleaning my bathroom once a week, walking the dog, dusting the downstairs once a week while doing my school work and practicing my three point shot.  So for me, chores were just something to do, and I never really fought it I don’t think.  Sure, there were times that I didn’t want to do it.  Those times were probably every time, but still I did it.  It was just easier to simply do what i was expected to do then not to and risk getting in trouble.  And it wasn’t like I wasn’t compensated for it either.  I grew up with the notion that everything in life should be earned and my parents rewarded me with allowance and other privileges when I did what I was told.  It was reinforcing and kept the peace, at least for me.  

But these kids here?!  Girl!  I can’t begin to tell you how many times a day I have to tell them to do the same damn thing.  Everyday there are pencils everywhere, food crumbs left on the table, used plates sitting next to the sink (it literally takes seconds to just put it IN the sink, y’all!) opened snacks sitting on the counter top or the table, used napkins on the table or in a chair, games and toys pulled out and just left about the house, art supplies left on the floor, trash literally on the carpet when the garbage can is RIGHT THERE, shoes left on the steps or in the middle of the front door when there is clearly a hall tree right next to the door with room for shoes at the bottom.  They will throw trash everywhere but in the bathroom trash can and I’m not even sure why there is so much toilet paper just languishing about the floor to begin with.  Lord knows we don’t have a big house and spaces are bound to get cluttered super quick. Every time I walk up my stairs or leave my bedroom there are just countless toys and shit just everywhere.  And every night ends with the same threat:

“Don’t make me get my duffel bag!”

These very words strike some sort of something in my kids because as soon as that trusty Victoria Secret weekender that I must’ve gotten with some kind of Black Friday promotion jawn, the little and not so little feet get to scurrying.  Suddenly the mess that they claimed wasn’t there is now something to be moved to a more appropriate place, I suppose.  And for a time, there is some resemblance of order.  Just like that, my magical Mary Poppins wannabe bag just magically transformed my kids into little Marie Kondos who now want to organize every part of their lives, getting rid of anything that does not inspire joy?  

Sadly, mes amies, this bag does not come equip with any magical spell to get these kids to listen. 

giphy.com,

Every time they DO manage to clean up beautifully, it takes about 12-24 hours before the room is jacked up again.  I’m not even kidding, you guys.  And most of the time it happens when they aren’t even here.  I’m like “how dafuq do y’all find ways to tear up your resting place when you are not even here!  Like how?  What foul deal with the devil hath provoked such a power?” #ObligatoryGhostsReference. I mean are there ghosts in our house?  I remember just the other day I asked my middle how her room got torn up so quickly and she said I don’t know.  And I said “well we must have ghosts in here cuz I’m not sure who else would be up in your home when you are not here.” And this lil girl had the audacity to reply, “yep we got ghosts.”  GURFRIEND!!! What???  We gonna just start blaming trapped, earth-bound spirits on your tom foolery?  To that I said, “well jokes on you because ghosts can’t pick up shit!  You know that’s the main ghost rule. Well except if you are Trevor or Julian but then it takes so much effort just to move something even the slightest bit. By the time all your books were on the ground, they’d be so exhausted, they’d have no time to get to the toy cubbies or the desk or the closet to destroy those too.   I mean if you gonna watch the show, at least learn something!   I was pretty proud of myself.  She, however, was unfazed.  

Listen, I know it’s our job as parents to train our children in the ways in which they should go.  I also realize that my kids aren’t me and that I shouldn’t expect them to be.  And furthermore, my kids  have learning differences which makes the way they process information different from myself as well as each other.  So I can’t exactly expect them to respond to consequences or promises of the former as I did when I was a kid.  But it still would help out soooo much!  These kids right here. Man, they could care less about consequences.  I mean, don’t get me wrong!  They don’t like them when they are first being handed down.  I’ve never seen someone lose it so quickly when they have to give up the phone and the laptop.  I have to make sure the windows are close, otherwise I’d be concerned someone was gonna call CPS on us.  But once the overall meltdown subsides, they are just as over it as the Golden State Bridge.  And it’s back to the shade. 

So what’s a mom to do?  I don’t like spanking my kids and the older they get, the more difficult that gets.  And that’s because my kids are their own people.  They function differently, respond differently, are motivated differently.  I have found that my desire to try to control the dynamic in my home is put in check.  My kids have found a way to help me parent more creatively.  The stuff that worked on me doesn’t really work on them and that’s probably a good thing, right?  I mean while I don’t enjoy repeating myself over and over and plaguing myself with anxiety when I look at a messy room, I have begun to rethink some things.  My kids are healthy and overall they behave themselves.  Sure, they don’t always listen but they are kids.  These kids don’t listen.  None of them.  I don’t care if you think your kid is the most perfect creature to grace God’s green earth, they don’t listen.  They may hear you but at the end of the day, they are bound to make their own choices, something that at some point they will be their own to do.  So why shouldn’t they start now?  Right?

This is where parenting gets tricky.  At least for me.  How do you set the expectations and guidelines without becoming overbearing and naggy?  How do you successfully give your kids choices without letting them fully lose their minds?  And how do you adjust all this as kids age?  What worked for a kid at 6 won’t work for them at 12.  So what’s a mom to do?  This job was never meant to be easy. Let’s face it, it’s not for everybody, even those who are already knee deep.  And when you add another kid or 3, things get even more complicated because they like snowflakes,are all different and special.  It makes me wonder… who would want this job?  I mean the pay is crap, there are no breaks, no sick days, and any vacation you take you have to pay for and most likely take your “work” with you. #IsAFamilyVacationReallyAVacationTho?  From the outside in, it seems like mission impossible.  

So when I say that I’ve been making this stuff up as I go along, I’m not even playing.  Half the time, I’m doing the best I can to keep myself afloat and  my anxiety at bay.  Having kids has made me ever more aware of my anxieties and my own insecurities, even adding onto them.  I mean what mom doesn’t worry for her children and do whatever she can to try to steer them away from making potentially bad choices because of what might happen.  We just want the best for them.  So take the issue I have with the fact that my kids seem unfazed by surrounding themselves in utter chaos.  I tried something different at the height of the pandemic (although aren’t we still at the height, right?  I mean I don’t think we are ever gonna see an end to this thing so lets just call say at the height of 2020.)  Anyway, I had been working with the same therapist for going on a year at that point and I had spoke often of my frustrations with the house always being a mess and the stress i was experiencing from constantly having to repeat myself.  I almost felt like I was speaking another language. So my therapist encouraged me to just ignore it.  I also laughed out loud when he suggested it.  

“No I’m serious,” he said.  “Just ignore it, at least for a week. Close the door or just find a way to look past it.  If your child is in the room, focus on him or her, not on what’s on the floor.” 

So I did just that.  For one week, I just ignored the mess.  While I did remind kiddos to help with maintaining the downstairs since that was a shared space, I allowed them to do whatever they wanted in their own rooms, except bringing snacks in there of course.  I wasn’t about to have rats and roaches just moving on in.  Nope.  So what happened, you might be wondering.

Nothing really.  I didn’t panic.  I didn’t have to repeat myself.  And overall, I felt a little less stressed.  This wasn’t the case for the kids however.  It was only a matter of time until one of them lost something, or another one broke something.  Of course, this led to yelling and tears from one kid or another.  And to this, my simple answer was:

“Did you put it away?” Or “Was it on the floor?  Was that why it broke?” 

giphy.com, GIPHY news

And while I feigned apathy for their unfortunate situation, I was sad it came to this.  I didn’t want to act like I didn’t care.  I wanted to help them find their toy or replace what was broken.  But I fought it and instead decided to have a conversation with them, highlighting that this was the reason why our things deserve our respect and deserve a safe place where they can go when they aren’t in used.  I wanted them to learn from their own choices, make their own mistakes, hoping they might learn a little easier that way.  

Sometimes, it works and other times, it makes very little difference.  Shoes will find their way outside the closet, LOL dolls will lose their heads, Legos will continue to slowly kill my feet, backpacks won’t get hung back up, homework will stay on the table past bedtime, and dishes will pile in the sink.  And once again, I’ll be weighing whether to ignore or to once again remind, remind, and remind some more.

In any case, my duffel bag is on stand by.

“If I don’t do nothing I’mma ball, I’m counting all day like the clock on the wall…” If you know the words, sing along!

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