DTUs

I am going to introduce my family to a concept that I have finally shaped in my mind called “Discrete Time Units,” or DTUs. So often I am asked to find out about a possible activity or set up an activity or assist with some project that will require a CHUNK OF TIME, or DTU. To truly understand how a scooter is to be put together, I will need to be given time and space to study the directions (many times) and mess around with the device without interruption. Some things just warrant that kind of dedicated attention. We got an ice cream maker for a birthday present for the twins, and everyone is desperate to make ice cream. Well, I need some time to wash all the parts, plan re the ingredients, and read the directions. If you want to know if you can have some violin lessons, then I will need some time to do some research on that. Do you see? In the ever-swirling chaos that is summer vacation, nothing is going to get done — including the dishes and the laundry, let alone the bills and the shopping and the cooking — without some DTUs for Mommy.

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Blues

Every time I have to teach a child about colors, I cringe inside. It is one of many things I feel I am forced to lie about as a parent. There are so many shades and degrees and characters to any given color that I feel downright guilty declaring chartreuse and emerald to both be “green.”

This came into sharp relief the other day when Tim was wearing a dark navy blue shirt while riding an electric blue scooter and looking at a pale blue sky that were all declared by me to be the same color. How is a child supposed to process that information and get any sense of the color blue? Whitewashing (or “bluewashing”) the facts would seem to serve only to confuse the matter and delay progress.

The miracle is, of course, that they all figure it out somehow from this faulty and misleading mish-mosh of information, but I still can’t help feeling that there is a better way. Don’t know what it is, but still.

This is analogous to teaching our children about religion very early on, and finding ourselves hard-pressed to find a Bible story that is even fit for young ears! Noah’s Ark is the closest we come, but that only works if no one asks you, “But why did God make it rain for 40 days and 40 nights?”

Forget how much laundry I do and how many dishes I wash; this is the stuff that really gets to me.

Trying

I have encountered advice almost daily about pausing before reacting in exasperating moments with children. There was a point in my life as a parent when my automatic reaction was no longer to be charmed or filled with wonder at the things a child said, but overwhelmed by the sheer volume and quantity of the things coming out of four different little mouths. I could feel myself making the choice to be annoyed, all the time. I slowly shifted toward viewing everyone as getting in the way of my goals, which usually involved getting through four loads of laundry or a bunch of dishes in the sink, or a whole host of other, legitimate tasks. While I could still appreciate them as cute, clever, amusing, and all of that, I wasn’t enjoying them anymore. Luckily, my slow-to-learn mind eventually caught on that this was a losing proposition, as (a) they were never going to stop doing what they do such that I would no longer be bombarded with “input,” (b) I was never going to stop having a long to-do list, and (c) my consistently negative reactions were making everyone miserable.

Luckily, this has been a relatively short-lived part of our lives together, but I do so regret now how I got lost in that wrong mindset. Since I had my little epiphany, I have made a very simple and deliberate decision in (at least 80 percent of) all instances to react with kindness, to listen, to “be with,” and to laugh with my sweet babies. They have noticed the difference. Today we made cookies together, and baking with all four is very easily seen as a project to avoid at all costs, but with the new mindset, it’s just a thing we’re doing together. The goals and expectations are left behind and only the simple pleasure of being together remains. I used to know that, and I’m so happy to have found my way back again.

Real and Imagined

Emma has lately come to the horrible and, for her, devastating realization that Narnia is not real. Twin Lily soon joined her in bombarding me with questions: “Are the princesses at Disneyworld real or just people in costumes?” “Are all the Santas we see the real one or just people dressed up as Santa?” “Is Aslan real?” The problem is that I don’t even really know the answer. Narnia is perfectly real in one sense; the characters are real too. As a literature junkie, I’m not sure I even make the distinction anymore. But this was about them and their surprise that a place they love so dearly and which seems so real to them is not somewhere they can ever physically go. In just a few minutes, they seemed to see the whole disappointing truth about storytelling and imagination.

In what seems like unrelated news, they are both obsessed with death, and keep asking if various people are still alive. These questions often take me to the limit of my comfort zone, especially when they start asking about their own deaths. As it happens, I am living in my own imaginary world where none of my children will die, and I don’t want to leave that world anymore than they want to leave Narnia.

I have been trying to interest them in the life of C.S. Lewis and his mental world, so that they can see where Narnia really is, in a sense. They are not interested. He is an ordinary man to them (since they can’t yet appreciate his brilliance), and an ordinary child. He does not himself enter a magical world where he becomes royalty, and so their fascination with him ends. I am hoping that once they are finished accepting that all of these wonderful places and people are real only in a sense, they will re-encounter them just as innocently as I do now. C.S. Lewis covered this point perfectly in his dedication to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe:

My Dear Lucy, I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather.

Simplicity Parenting and Henry Huggins

My children are in love with all the Beverly Cleary novels about Beezus and Ramona, and their friend Henry Huggins. There are about 10 books in all to enjoy about all these characters who live on Klickitat Street, and we are listening to all of them, sometimes several times over, on our drives various places throughout the week. I am continually amazed that my children have the patience for these ponderous, hum-drum stories about very ordinary childhood adventures, but the performances by the readers really are pretty engaging. Anyway, I am finding some surprising things about these books as I listen helplessly to all of them:

1. The first was written in 1950 and the last was written in 2000. That is 50 years of writing about these people and, while the world that the children are living in changes drastically, they themselves age only a few years over the span of the books. The bulk of them take place before the dawn of the computer age, so the setting of nearly all of them is either unfamiliar or only dimly familiar from my own childhood. Henry Huggins’ first book takes place in a time when raccoon caps were THE thing, and all of the other things boys care about in 1950 are similarly foreign. In the second book, written in 1952, bubble gum chewing features prominently as an activity.

2. The value system in all the books is rooted in frugality, simplicity, and taking responsibility for oneself. It floors me how unfamiliar the concepts are, like Henry not getting to have a bike because his parents can’t afford it. Henry has to earn his own money to care for his dog. The Quimbys, Beezus and Ramona, learn to sew with their mother, who makes most of their clothes. Their father gives them ERASERS as a back-to-school present because that’s all they can afford. There is nothing for kids to do but play chess, read, or run around outside, because rowdy play inside, video gaming, or TV watching (except in one of the later books) would never be an option. I didn’t realize just how far afield we had gone from those simple times. My husband and I thought we were pretty radical not having any gaming systems in our house, but we have a long way to go to reach the goal of true simplicity.

Truly, I cannot quite imagine getting to a point where we could live like this, only because it turns out my own default value system is so much more “modern” than I thought. I mentioned recently waking up out of my fog of self-delusion and attempting to accept that I am as materialistic as everyone else in my own way, and I am trying to figure out exactly how to change my whole mindset about possessions. It turns out that my materialism has about 100 roots firmly planted in my brain structure, so digging it out is challenging. I’m working on it, of course, and have changed my reading regimen to fit the new goals, but I can see how many steps away from simplicity I am as a parent as well as a person. I wish I’d gone on this journey a lot sooner, so I could have started with my children as I mean to go on.

Right Brain/Left Brain

I have been developing a theory — again, as part of my “no holds barred” look at things in 2012 — that I am actually not an organized person. More accurately, I am a person for whom being organized does not come easily or naturally, but because I have an over-the-top work ethic, I have compensated for it until recently, when the sheer volume of work has made victory impossible. It is my current theory that I have been operating much like someone who has had a stroke — learning to use a different part of my brain to do what another part had previously done. Based on any test I have ever taken or any book on brain halves I have ever read, I am a radically right-brained person, and the right side of the brain should not be running the show when it comes to organizing a household. However, I am thinking that I have channeled a combination of creativity and holistic thinking, coupled with manic levels of perseverance, into a semblance of productivity. That worked for me before I had four children (or, really, just before the one first came on the scene), because I compensated for lack of efficiency with time. Now I see why I had to stay up till 3 and 4 in the morning as a teacher — because that’s how long it takes to get stuff done when you have no left brain! I am exaggerating, of course, and this is ultimately only a hypothesis, but it sure does explain why someone else can walk into a room and see what it takes to get it tidy and I can’t for the life of me see the steps involved. I see chaos and unmanageable amounts of things out of place and that is where I stop. The only way I can attack such a room is to take of my dysfunctional approaches, like working spatially, which kind of moves the mess toward one end of the room, or by putting like things with like things, but there is no overall plan, and there needs to be. The solution? Right-brainers always think there are solutions! I am going to read a book on right-brained organizing that my younger, prescient self bought at some point and leverage my weakness into strength. I’m going to win this thing!!

Treasure

19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This particular passage struck me in the heart-stopping way that the right words can at the right time. Lately, I have been digging deep down to look certain facts in the face, and I have been sorely disappointed by my lack of real frugality, a quality I had always thought I possessed. True frugality is an ever-vigilant awareness of consumption and waste, and, while I am the Queen of the Bargain Hunters and Coupon Clippers, I am still consuming way too much. WAY too much. My coupon clipping has just ensured that I can have just as much stuff at a reduced price. 2012 has been unofficially declared my year for taking a hard look at things and trying, without anxiety and judgment, to see exactly what’s going on. The results have consistently thrown me for a loop. So now the project is not how to save more, although that’s always good to know, but how to CONSUME LESS in every sense — fewer free library books, fewer catalogs from which I don’t buy anything, fewer junk foods that my skinny children can live without. In other words, while these things are not directly or obviously causing harm, they are still unnecessary time and space stealers, and just represent too much-ness, and too-muchness of the wrong things that are, fundamentally, distractions. This whole concept is new to me, but it seems to me that it is a deep, spiritual issue more than anything else. Far away is the real treasure I have lost sight of, which I should have been seeking with far more diligence than the latest bargain.

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