Sunday, January 31, 2010

To Mom or Not to Mom

Sorry about the slow posts lately. As I mentioned before, I have been a bit under the weather and I am still trying to get back on track.

Anyway, this weekend, since DH is out playing Boy Scout, the girls and I are left alone to our own devices, mostly. Last night I let them all "slumber party" in the living room together and I stayed up way too late, myself, just being silly. (Alright, I have become addicted to online jigsaw puzzles. I'm working on finding an online crisis center, right after I finish this last one...) I slept in a little bit late and the girls thankfully didn't bother me until they got really bored with the morning cartoons. They did make biscuits and gravy for breakfast (on their own) and they did wait to wake me up until AFTER they brewed a fresh pot of coffee, so I really didn't mind the wake up call, too much. (Yeah, my kids rock. I know.)

The dilemma I have been having is what level of "Mom-ness" I should be enforcing on these weekend days. Part of me wants to keep a schedule and make sure that we don't lay around and waste time doing senseless things when there is a To Do list to tackle. But, the kid in me remembers (quite fondly, I might add) spending entire Saturdays doing absolutely nothing. I really kind of wish I could be that way again. As a parent, though, I really should do something with the kids on the weekend, shouldn't I? I can't just let them run around all day in a pink tutu and galoshes in January. That wouldn't be responsible of me. But, do I really HAVE to be responsible? Do I? (Please don't answer that...I am in my happy bubble right now and I would hate for you to burst it.)

By tradition, Daddy being away means the girls get a little more freedom around the house - partly because it keeps them out of my hair and partly because I am more likely to be Good Role Model when there are other adults around to see it, but not so much when I am the only grown-up and I get to deal with our little horde as see I fit.  Also, letting them paint their nails (only in the bathroom I said!) and letting them build forts in the living room (those were my good sheets...) keeps them from asking to get out of the house. Leaving the house for anything other than a minor errand is a three-ring-circus I would just as soon avoid. Legally, I can leave them alone if  I need to grab a gallon of milk or refill my Xanax, but any longer than 30 minutes or so, and I am asking for trouble Unfortunately, trying to get these three ragamuffins dressed (in something appropriate for public) with BOTH shoes on their feet and hair styled in some other way than the "rats nest look" is usually a three hour process that is guaranteed to crank my irritation level up at least a notch or two. Once we get out of the house, it just gets worse. Mommy can we go to the mall? No. Mommy can I have McDonalds? No. Mommy can we get a new puppy? No. Mommy can I got to the bathroom in every gas station in the three mile radius of our house? NO. In order to preserve my sanity and the lives of these precious darlings, I try not to venture any farther than the mailbox without at least one other adult for back up support.

So, we spend these One Parent Weekends at home, mostly. The girls have Free Time and barricade my bedroom door and count down the hours until Daddy gets home and I can hand the whole mess to him for awhile. My girls are getting really good at taking full advantage of the  Free Time thing. They like the amount of independence I give them (in comparison to the school week) and I like the time to unplug and relax a little. They don't really need me for a whole lot, anyway. They all know how to use the microwave without blowing the kitchen up and LH can even use the stove for Ramen Noodles or Macaroni and Cheese. There are tons of things that they are allowed to do only on the weekend (like watch TV, for instance) that they don't strictly need my permission for. They manage to keep themselves occupied for the most part. Unless they are really sleep deprived or there really isn't anything to eat in the house, they seem to get along amazingly well. When they all get bored of Hannah Montana re-runs and games, TD and EG will come up with some sort of game involving the Polly House and they take turns being in charge of who orders the other one around. LH usually just plugs into a video game or grabs a book, and everything runs nice and smooth.

Over the past few years I have been sick and out of commission for the vast majority of the time, and that has only enforced their ability to take care of themselves. They normally don't make a fuss about anything unless it is an emergency (And by emergency, I mean blood, fire, or the sinister confiscation of someone's beloved Polly.) They also seem revert to a Lord of the Flies type of existence in an effort to find pattern in the mass of chaos. If I am not in the actively up and bustling around, the chances are very good that they will all be in their PJ's from dawn 'till dusk, they will live off breakfast cereal and PB&J sandwiches, the TV will be going, full blast, all day long, and they  might possibly be roasting the mailman on a spit over a fire behind the couch . (Charges were dropped by the US Postal Service, so we are in the clear for now. I'm not saying anything but EG had a quiet talk with the judge after the last incident and we have had midnight mail delivery ever since.) 

The problem arises when stuff needs to get done that no one wants to do. As long as I don't put my spoon in the mix everything would be peachy keen from Friday afternoon until Sunday night, but I just can't leave well enough alone. I feel the need to get all bossy and make them stop having fun to take care of "business." I don't usually ask them to do anything major, jut the normal house-stuff that always needs to be done - pickup the coats from the entryway, load the dishwasher, find the living room floor, that sort of thing. Truth be told, I don't want to do this stuff either, but I feel the need to be somewhat productive, and as I also said before, I hate for DH to walk into a mess-jungle after being gone all weekend.

Unfortunately, they are so used to fending for themselves these days, that they tend to get pretty uppity about me telling them what to do. One the one hand, I can't blame them. Usually they are right in the middle of "The Most Fun Game EVAR" and no one likes to be interrupted like that, do they? On the other, I can't just sit around and stare at the three levels of psycho that they have left in the kitchen from each of their meals, snacks, and grazing attempts.

So then, I have to stand up and be a Parent and tell them to Clean Up This Mess Right Now or So Help Me... First comes the Blank Stare as if to say "Who is this woman giving us orders and why does she look vaguely familiar." Then, I get the Mommy Face going, and they casually, ever so slowly, detach themselves from whatever distraction they are engaged in and make a pitiful motion towards where ever I just yelled at them to go. But, it looks a whole lot like "I am only doing this because I am getting bored of losing at Solitare and I was going to getup and get another glass of milk anyway." This sort of passive-aggressive beauty really gets me riled up and so I start The Counting (don't you just LOVE the counting...oh so effective.) I start at "five" and by "three" there are no children in sight, just the faint impression of a blond ponytail streaking across my vision. That doesn't mean, of course, that they are actually accomplishing anything other than just running around and screaming "Mommy is going to kill us!" at the top of their lungs. Usually it takes at least three more attempts at "guidance" and several more threats to inflict serious bodily harm before they really decide it's time to listen. By the time ANYTHING is accomplished (or let alone, started) I have already worn myself out and I am ready to call it a day. And that's all BEFORE noon.

If it was up to me, I would just as soon eat Pop Tarts and watch a Myth Busters marathon all weekend. The girls seem to do just fine without my interference. Besides, being a kid these days it tough. All week long they have to work and learn at school and keep a schedule and eat yucky cafeteria food and do their homework. Why shouldn't they be allowed to run a little loose for a day or two  every now and then? Grown-ups need a break, and kids do too. If we are lucky enough to be able to have a whole day (or more) without any appointments to be at, why should I FIND more uncomfortable things for them to to fill the hours. On the whole they are good kids and a few unsupervised hours at home shouldn't cause too much harm. But, I get the feeling that I should give them a little more...well, parenting than that. Thus, the yelling and screaming and aforementioned threats of breaking of limbs.

In my own defense, I do try to be nice about asking them to get off their fannies for a few minutes. I even smile and say "Please" at least three times before putting on my "mad face." I give my best shot at getting stuff maintained during the week so we don't have to spend all weekend on extra chores. I also attempt to balance fun stuff (like making snowflakes out of coffee filters, in July) with the not-so-fun stuff (like searching for the floor beneath their week's worth of school uniforms and every stuffed animal they own.) Sometimes, I know I get a little enthusiastic when it comes to taking care of the not-so-fun stuff and I have to remind myself that there can be a bridge between work and play. But, I feel like I am cheating to let them enjoy themselves during their chores. Really, though, wouldn't YOU rather giggle and goof around and act like a nut if you had to do something as unpleasant and boring as cleaning your room?

Today I reigned in the Mom a bit and let the kids run a little loose, and it turned out ok. Even though I was awake and alert and all, I tried not to be on their case too much. I let the silliness slide a little and let everyone off the hook when it came to completing things in any sort of a timely manner. When TD and EG were asked to bring their dirty clothes into the laundry room from their bedroom, they actually found a long belt and strung the clothes on it and carried it from their room across the house like they were Amazons transporting their latest prisoner to be tortured. (It was something else to hear their hup-hup-hup sounds as they were trekking down the path.) I remember doing similar things when I was younger and I just couldn't bear to shatter the moment by telling at them to Get Back to Work and Stop Messing Around. It took much longer than necessary, but most of the job got done...eventually.

After that, I decided to set up a new place to keep the ever expanding collection of artwork and papers that accumulate from day to day. I asked LH to help me clean and empty a set of toy drawers to do that and to relocate the toys to an appropriate place. It was a simple task and I didn't think it would lake very long or be too difficult. After about an hour, I hadn't heard anything from her, so I went to find out what had distracted her her so completely. She was sitting in front of the toy chest I had asked her to clean out for me, but instead of just emptying it, she was sorting and organizing all the toys as she pulled them out. In spite of the fact that I knew it was a complete waste of time and that she was using up a vast number of sandwich baggies sorting out all the cards and checker pieces individually, I kept quiet and let her have her moment. Sure, the little pieces will probably be emptied out by noon tomorrow and they will most likely never find their way back into their little plastic compartments, but LH seemed to be enjoying herself in the whole process so I chose to leave her be.I could tell that the organizing and sorting seemed to have a calming effect on her and I chose not disturb the rare moment of peace with my 12 year old.

By the time it was dinner hour around here, very little had actually been accomplished. WP came back this evening and if it weren't for him reheating leftover chicken stew (that he had made in the first place) it would  have been cereal and sandwiches for dinner as well as lunch. He also helped the girls by loading the dishwasher for them and made sure that they cleaned up their own messes in the bathroom and in the kitchen. So really, I didn't do much in the way of parenting other than being awake and (usually) in the same room as them all day. In spite of the relative calm of the day, though, I feel guilty for not being more of a Mom. I let them play around and be goofy instead of cracking down and making them work-work-work, all day. But, in the other hand, I didn't have to break up one argument all day. Maybe it was a freak coincidence. Maybe they were having so much fun because I didn't get in their way that they forgot to fight and argue. Who knows? So should I keep letting them run wild as long as they don't draw blood or set things on fire? Or should I strive for a more structured weekend to make sure our "days off" are as productive as possible?

Me? I think I would rather forgo productivity if it means my girls get to know each other as sisters, and explore their minds because they are pushed past boredom into creativity, and even learn how to get along without my intervention all the time (that's good isn't it?) 
Screw the To Do list. I'm going to go make a fort in the living room.

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