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Join me there from now and on!

-Rozanne

missing.

(My post, The Last Week: Part Two, will be up by the end of this week to sum up some overall thoughts and decisions I’ve made.  The following post describes what’s going on in our household at the moment…)

I miss my oldest child.

I really miss her.

Last Sunday, we dropped her off at a camp 3.5 hours away and by “we” I mean all 7 of us drove a total of 7 hours in one day just to drop #1 off at camp.  The drive was full of various incidences of tomfoolery which I will describe another day.  This is the longest span of time where I have had no contact with her.  It’s tougher than I anticipated.  She’s been away from us before: overnight school trips since Grade 1, staying over at the grandparents, and when she was 3, Ever-Patient and I had gone away on a vacation.  The difference is the length of time (1 week) and the fact that we can’t call her to see how she’s doing.

It’s been tough on all of us.  We are a close-knit family.  The 7 of us love being together.  #1 slept in the same room as her younger sisters for 1 week before she left.  Ever-Patient and I encourage the siblings to spend a lot of time bonding so much so that I’ve restricted social contact with friends this summer so that they become even closer.  There probably isn’t much that makes me happier than to see them taking care of each other.

As we said good-bye to her at camp, we all hugged her tight but #2 had to turn away to hold back the tears.  As soon as we all hopped in the van for the drive home, there was a chorus of “I miss her!” already being shouted.  #2 sat in #1’s spot and when we got home, she went to #1’s room and grabbed one of #1’s favourite necklaces and wore it.  The next day, #2 used #1’s world atlas placemat and sat in #1’s spot.  She never said a word about how much she missed her sister but it had become quite obvious.

#3 was setting the table for dinner that night and placed a setting where #1 sits.  I said, “Honey, she’s away remember?”  And #3 replied, “I know Mom.  But it makes me feel like she’s here.”  For the last couple of nights, #3 has cried at bedtime because she misses her sister.

As #2 and #3 moped around the house only 2 days after their big sister had gone off to camp and talked about what she would have eaten for breakfast had she been home, #4 looked up from her book, glanced around, and as if to only notice said, “Oh! Where is she?”  Of course, she was referring to her biggest sister and we had to remind her that she hadn’t actually been home since Sunday.

#1 was so excited for this trip.  She is incredibly independent and self-sufficient and the type to always go-with-the-flow, adapting to any surrounding.  She packed all by herself and had no anxiety about being away from home.  I just couldn’t believe that this time had already come.  This time that I had always foreseen in the back of my head but never wanted to really face.  This time that I thought would only happen when she went off to college/to travel/to work.  It was time to let go.  I realize the flaw in my previous thought that letting go would only happen when she left home for good.  Letting go happens slowly with small baby steps.  Unlike a mama bird who pushes her baby bird right out of the nest to teach how to fly, we as humans (most of us anyway) extend the boundaries bit by bit until they dissolve completely.  We extend the perimeter further just like when we removed the baby gates or let our children walk a bit ahead of us as they are learning to walk.  At some point, we trust them and we trust in how we raised them to venture farther, beyond our reach, beyond our safety nets, beyond our capacity to catch them.

Although sending her off to camp may seem like a first step in letting go, there were many little steps before it:  her first sleepover with the grandparents, her first sleepover with friends, biking to school, playdates without me at a friend’s house, walking home from school, letting her decide how she wants to use her time, letting her decide how she wants to spend her money, respecting her need for solitude and her need for support, giving her a grocery list and money (while I wait in the car with sleeping children), and more.

Having children in multiple developmental stages, I must admit that there is nothing more difficult than the stage she is in right now where there is the constant challenge of assessing her level of maturity and readiness for various responsibilities – basically, when to let go and in what circumstance.  Sometimes I hold on too tight and I only realize it when she struggles vehemently to break free of my grasp.  Other times I let go a little too soon and using non-verbal cues, she pleads for my guidance and for my arms to curl up in.  At times, it’s a delicate game of balance, intuition, and observation.  Most times, it’s guess-and-test.

More often than not, with her youthful optimism and exuberance, she is ready for more: more independence, more responsibility, and more freedom.  I am not.  I am not ready at all.  I know intellectually that change is the only constant and growth is inevitable.  I know that I should just enjoy each moment and be proud of the young lady in front of me.  I know that ironically, if I hold on too tight or for too long, I will end up pushing her away.  But I’m human and sometimes yearn to re-live moments, to re-visit the past if only for an instant, to stall the passing of time.

#1 @ 9 years old.

I miss her.

I miss her 2 year old self who loved chupa chups lollipops and loved it when I sang “Can’t take my eyes off you” to put her to sleep.  I miss her 5 year old self who loved to make potions at restaurants and who loved Avril Lavigne so much she wanted to wear trucker hats in kindergarten.  I miss her 9 year old self who started to love baking and was addicted to all things High School Musical.

I miss her presence.  I take her for granted and how much she helps me in little ways like when I’m cooking and holding the baby at the same time, she notices and will always take the baby and play with him.  She packs all the lunches and snacks when we have an outdoor excursion.  She takes #4 to the washroom and applauds accordingly.  She builds forts for the little ones and plays hide-and-seek upstairs so I can clean downstairs or vice versa.  She writes down the grocery list as I dictate it to her in the car.  She is a pure source of goodness in her house and cracks jokes at the perfect times.

As I lay in bed with the 3 little girls, we talked about how much we missed her:

#4:  “I miss the way she sits beside me when no one else will.”  (Then she glanced over at her other sisters with a look that could kill.)

#3:  “I miss her helping me with my soccer shoes and my Converse.  Mom, I think I’m going to cry because I miss her….No, I think I’m ok.”

#2:  “I miss how she tells me what words mean when I read to her and when she shows me cool stuff in her room.”

#3:  “Oh, yeah!  I miss her reading to us at night! And I miss her sleeping with us.”

#4: “I miss how she used to help me brush my teeth when no one else will.”  (Cue the scathing look at her sisters again.)

#2:  “I miss how you (mama) and her joke around like that time she won a volleyball game at the beach and you jumped on top of her and kissed her and she was so embarrassed and she ran away from you and you chased her and climbed on her back!  That was sooooo funny!”

#3:  “Or that time she told you a knock-knock joke about farting!”

Me:  “She never told me a knock-knock joke about farting.”

#3:  “Oh yeah, that was me.  But wasn’t that funny?”

They went on to discuss how they love it when she helps them make stuff, teaches them things like tying their shoes and reading books, and when she helps them with the dishwasher.  They REALLY miss her helping with the dishwasher.

And the conversation ended like this:

#2:  “I bet she has a lot of good stories about camp.  I can’t wait to hear about it!!”

#3:  “Can we call her tomorrow Mama?”

Me:  “No, sweetie.  You know we can’t call her.  Let’s just send her all our good thoughts and wishes so that she knows how much we miss her.”

#3:  “Ok. Now I’m going to cry…I can feel it in my nose.”

Cue lots of group hugs and kisses.

When we pick her up on Saturday, I will hug her and hold on tight enough for her to know how much I missed her and just loose enough to know it’s ok for her to start walking a little bit further ahead of me….I just hope she looks back once in awhile.

The Last Week…part one.

Next week is “The Last Week.”

The Last Week before summer comes to an end in our household.  The Last Week before I have to say goodbye to my oldest 3 kids as they begin a new school year.  The Last Week of lazy mornings and unplanned days.  The Last Week of staying up late talking, laughing, and making one more hot chocolate and one more batch of popcorn.  The Last Week before the transporting and chauffeuring.  The Last Week before bedtime (and morning-time) anxieties.  The Last Week before packed lunches, packed bags, and packed schedules.  The Last Week of freedom to choose between quiet stay-at-home days or wild and crazy outdoor days.  The Last Week before routines:  morning routines, afternoon routines, evening routines, meal routines, homework routines, after-school routines, and even weekend routines.  The Last Week before the kids and I have to remember what day of the week it is.  The Last Week before the beginning of another long 10-month journey.

For the last 3 years, since #4 was born, I have fought a deep and unsettling pull.  I would always feel this unease around this time of year prior to #4’s birth and could never verbalize or pinpoint the source.  I always assumed that it was because I couldn’t let go of summer or because I dreaded the stress of all the scheduling the begins in September or because I was going to just miss the kids.  Then one day, the summer #4 was born, I was in a bookstore and happened (or sometimes it feels like I was drawn rather than just stumbled upon it purely by happenstance) to come across the book “The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and How Schools Should Teach” by Howard Gardner (I also highly recommend his other books especially this one and this one.)  And coincidentally (if one believes in coincidences which I don’t), I found it during The Last Week before school just as I was starting to feel that unnamed general malaise.  The pieces all started coming together as I started to examine more closely my thoughts on the institution of “school” and my definition of an education.

I never before questioned the authority or framework of “school” as the institution and I certainly never thought about how my children actually learn and if in fact these two things are compatible.  It has always been a given.  All children go to school.  I went to school.  A large percentage of children go to school.  I took it for granted.  Most of us take it for granted.  The questions of “Why do they go to school?” and “What are they really learning?” never crossed my mind until I began observing them more and digging deeper into my own schooling past and reading more books by John Holt and John Taylor Gatto that gave a different perspective on education, the school system, and the intellectual and physical development of the mind of a child.

There isn’t a parent out there that doesn’t want the best education for their child.  I just never considered to challenge the basic assumption that this education is found in school.  I was so concerned with finding the best school – Montessori, private, alternative, French Immersion, Waldorf, a public school with well-rounded teaching and extra-curriculars – that I never stopped to think if school itself could best prepare my children for adulthood.

I then took another step back and asked myself an even more basic question that I never thought to ask:  What kind of life do I want for my children?  For myself, school was a means to an end.  You attend elementary school and then high school where you strive to get grades that will allow you to continue your schooling into college or university and the natural progression of education should lead you to a “successful” career (then of course, this “conventional” and “normal” life leads to marriage, a house, children, more work, and so on and of course, in that particular order.)  Stability and financial security are paramount.  In this particular flowchart, “success” is defined by monetary wealth.  If you can be honest with yourself, as I was when I was thinking about my motivations in school, having more is the underlying, almost subcutaneous in nature, driving force behind school.  Do I want that life for my children?  Or do I want them to define “success” differently?

I am a product of “the system.”  I defined success in the most conventional terms like most people.  My aim was to make money and help give my daughter (only #1 at the time) the best life possible.  Cue the more is more philosophy.  After years of chasing the carrot and believing if I just make a little more money, we’d be happier, I stopped.  I’d be lying if I told you that the thought of working full-time again and making more money has never crossed my mind since then.  It does when I fall into the trap of living in the future tense – if I just had…if we just could pay off this…if I had money for…then I realize that even though we’ve had a few stressful financial situations, I still am more happy now living with less than I have ever been.  Success for me is feeling satisfied with a sense of abundance and being passionate about what I do – which right now is all about raising my family.

In my situation, I excelled in school but looking closely, I actually cheated myself out of a true education.  Where I may have began curious and a risk-taker, I ended my schooling career mastering the system by doing the minimum requirement to get an ‘A’, cramming for tests the night before taking full advantage of my photographic memory but never really learning anything, and following a path that would in the end make me money so I can achieve the “North American Dream.”

This is what I learned in school:

  • I hated math.
  • If you don’t make eye contact with the teacher and slouch behind the person in front of you, you won’t be called on.
  • Being popular made school a lot more enjoyable.
  • Kids can be very mean.
  • I could get an A by giving the teacher exactly what they wanted and discovering each teacher’s nuances and preferences each year became a skill unto itself.
  • I just wanted to fit in and belong.  Being different was not an option.
  • Being smart and not being smart made you a target for teasing – it was best to be neither and stay below the radar.
  • I could be smart only if I was popular otherwise being smart was not an option.
  • Good grades will help me make money as an adult.
  • Everything in school is taught out of context so I remember nothing of what any teacher has taught me with respect to curriculum.
  • I learned to follow instructions very well, to the point where I had to learn free and critical thinking skills from my “Intro to Political and Social Thought” and “Modes of Reasoning” professors in University (yes, I took a course on reasoning since it wasn’t a skill I picked up in grade school).  This was a difficult task still since grades were still an important motivator.
  • There is only one way to learn.
  • I learned that not getting in trouble, not being teased, being liked, and finding approval were more important than questioning something or being creative.
  • I learned that my friends’ opinions outweighed my parents’ opinions.
  • A university degree solves everything and is the golden ticket to instant happiness.
  • I learned to be a jack of all trades and a master of none.

You get the gist.

I challenge you to delve into your childhood experiences with school.  Speaking with a friend recently, she remembered the day her creativity was killed.  I remember not wanting to show my perfect test score to anyone and lying and saying I didn’t do well just to fit in.

This year #3 came home with her first report card which described her as an extremely quiet child who needs to come out of her shell more and participate in the circle time group discussions.  #3!  The one who sparks up random conversations with strangers needs to come out of her shell.  We were having fun being crazy together and I told her, “You are being so silly!” and her smile disappeared and she became worried.  I asked her what was wrong and she replied, “I don’t want to be silly.  I promise I’ll never be silly again.”  I was baffled.  After some probing and one-on-one time, she expressed that in school, kids got in trouble for being ‘silly.’  She began to associate that word with a negative consequence.  I tried to explain to her that sometimes we can’t be silly if other people are trying to speak or it’s time to be quiet.  Then I thought to myself, “She’s only 4.  Can she really distinguish levels of ‘silliness’ and situational ‘silliness’?  Of course not.  She recognizes the disapproval of an authority figure and simply will not take a risk at all in causing such disapproval.

Bear with me as I try to re-direct myself from this tangent.

Back to “The Last Week” unease.  I have seen my oldest change because of school.  I have watched it unconsciously and only more recently, have I become more conscious of it.  Last week we had a heated conversation.  A little background:  #1 is not musically inclined.  I’ve often suggested various music lessons which she has not been remotely interested in.  She does not enjoy music class because she sings songs that don’t speak to her and she learns music theory in a way that is not conducive to her particular way of learning – again, I recommend this book for more on that.  She still ends up with a B+ or A- but I really don’t care anyhow because she’s not into it.  Last week, out of the blue, she came downstairs and asked me to test her on her knowledge of musical theory.  She had been in her room for an hour studying what she had learned last year.  It is two weeks before the beginning of school and the girl is studying a topic that she loathes.  What??  I ask her the reason by this sudden cramming session and she tells me that she wants to be ready for Gr. 7 music since she’ll be playing an instrument and she wants to make sure that she gets a good mark.  Completely surprised, I tell her that I didn’t know she was now interested in music.  She tells me that she still isn’t but she doesn’t want to be the only one who doesn’t know what she’s doing and wants to get a good mark.  I ask, “So you’re not excited about learning music for the sake of learning music?  You just want a good grade and not look stupid?”  She says yes and I ask, “Let’s put aside the fact that your daddy and I try to teach you to not care what other people think and most of the time they themselves are busy thinking about how not to look stupid themselves than care if you are stupid.  Why do you need a good grade in music?”  She couldn’t answer me.  She didn’t answer me.  Ever-Patient and I tell the kids over and over again how their grades do not matter.  In fact, there are no grades given at #2 and #3’s school.  What we care about is learning skills – analytical, critical, creative, and even learning to love learning for the sake of learning can be a skill.  I want them to learn respect for hard work and to have a compassionate soul.  I want them to learn that time is finite and to use it well.  If I were grading #1’s use of time as she studied a subject which she absolutely had no interest in for the sake of a future and let’s face it, arbitrary, grade, I would have flunked her.

I have put a face to that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach in The Last Week.  It is school.

But now what?

The Toilet Chronicles.

Warning:  The following post contains many potty trip descriptions and an obscene amount of references to “pee” and “poo.”

Last Monday we decided to begin toilet training #4 officially.

I say “officially” because for the last few months we have gently inquired as to whether or not she would like to use the potty.  The handful of times she has been so inclined to use said facilities, we have again ‘gently’ encouraged subsequent uses.  We marveled at our own patience with this process but also chastised ourselves for not just making the complete switch over to underwear rather than do the safe route and continue to use diapers/pull-ups (which are just fancier diapers with perfectly coiffed princesses parading all over them).

Each child prior to #4 was trained by age 2.5.  No one used pull-ups and were all trained within a month.  This was normally due to an upcoming preschool/daycare/program start date that required the child to be completely toilet trained.  Serious pressure and tons of anxiety accompanied the process.

#4 is a different child.  She has flat out refused to wear underwear or partake in any toilet shenanigans.  In the morning, she would lie down beside her brother, hold his hand, and they both smiled at me as I changed their diapers one after the other.  She was not so keen on giving up this brother-sister bonding time.  I would ask her to go pee and she would look me in the face and after a long pause (and a shiver), she would say, “I just did” then smile and go on her merry way.  She had no problem having a BM in the toilet but peeing in it was just not her thing.

Enough is enough.  Without consulting Ever-Patient, I made the switch.  I’m not sure what made me ask her that morning or what made her final accept underwear.  It could be that a shuddering statistic flitted across my mind:  I have been changing diapers for the last 7 years (and nursing but that’s another post entitled “The Girl Who Missed Wine and the Occasional Shot of Tequila”).  It could be that I had the ridiculous thought that if she wasn’t going to be trained now, she’d never be trained and possible have to wear those adult diapers for the rest of her life.  It could be that I figured summer was almost over and training is so much easier in the summer that I can’t let this moment slip by when she can just wear summer dresses everyday which would make accident clean-up that much easier.  It could be that I just had the mother’s instinct that she was ready.  (I’m finding that instinct pops up a lot now with 5 kids).  I’m pretty sure she decided to make the big girl switch because we had just bought this underwear from Target in NYC which happened to be covered in hundreds of Little Mermaids.

She went downstairs and announced to her father that she is a “Panty-Girl!”  He gave me a look that said, “Really?”  To which I shrugged my shoulders as if to say, “We’ll see how this goes.”  #4 proceeded to lift up her dress to show her sisters her new underwear with pride.  They all complimented her and gave her words of encouragement.

Throughout breakfast, I probably asked her about a million times whether or not she had to pee.  She’d roll her eyes and say no each time.  I’m already not liking this whole situation.  I’m tense.  I’m hyper-aware that she may pee any minute as she forgets she’s in underwear.  I take her to the washroom about 15 times in the span of an hour hoping she’ll just pee for goodness sake so I can have some peace of mind for another couple of hours.  Each time I get her to sit on the toilet, she stares at me and says, “It’s not coming out.” Another hour passes and she still hasn’t pee.  Now I’m completely neglecting my other 4 children and hoping Ever-Patient is tending to the rest of them as I hover over #4 asking her again and again if she has to pee.  Still no pee after we try to sit on the toilet a few more times.  I go to nurse #5 literally 5 minutes after taking #4 to the washroom and I hear, “Mama, I promise to pee in the toilet next time!”

Dear God.  I can’t do this.

I’m of course second guessing my ‘amazing intuition’ and tell myself she’s not ready.  I fight every anxious bone in my body that wants to run to get a diaper to put back on her.  I tell myself this is just one accident and that I should know that this is bound to happen a few times before she gets the hang of it.  Ever-Patient cleans her up and she runs to get another underwear.  If she’s still up for this, then so am I.

Day 1 ends with a total of 2 accidents and we just won’t talk about the second accident.  Day 2 is spent at home again with a couple more accidents.  After 2 days, she has been able to go to the toilet and pee with Dad and with #1.  Each time I take her, nothing.  Total stage fright.  I think she can hear the voice in my head begging her, “Please. Please. Just pee. Pleeeeaaaase!” and is so irritated with the subconscious pressure I am placing on her that she is just refusing to do it in front of me.

Day 3  – I’m in the middle of toilet training my toddler AND she is having a couple of accidents a day AND she won’t pee with me.  What should we do today?  Of course!  Let’s go to the zoo where the distances between washrooms span continents (fake zoo continents but still a great distance nonetheless).  Just me and the kids.  What!?  Really? Why do I do this to myself?  I pack a change of clothes and #4 sits on a plastic bag in the car and in the umbrella stroller.  Now I feel like my mind is going to turn to mush and ooze out of my ear as I am thinking a hundred thoughts a minute:  Where is the nearest washroom?  When’s the last time she went?  When do we stop for snack?  How much water should I give her?  Do we do the zoomobile later right after her next pee or now?  Are all my kids here?

After walking around the zoo for a bit, I take her to the washroom where she pees for the first time with me.  I breathe a sigh of relief.  That just bought me a couple of worry-free hours (besides the usual headcount every 90 seconds and trying to brace my abs as I carry around an 18 lb baby in a wrap for 5 hours at the zoo).  I relaxed a bit and would only ask her about going to the washroom every 15 minutes instead every 5 minutes.

A couple of hours go by and the kids want to go on the zoomobile which is about a 45 minute ride on a tram around the entire zoo.  I tell them that we will go after #4 has her next pee.  We stop at one washroom on the way to the zoomobile station and she doesn’t go.  We stop at another one and she still doesn’t go.  We are at the zoomobile station and I am faced with one of those tough parenting decisions:  The kids are dying to go on the zoomobile right now but #4 hasn’t peed in 3 hours.  If she has the urge to go, I have an extremely small window to get her to a toilet before she bursts.  Do we wait by the washroom here at the station until she has to go?  Or do we take a chance and hop onto the zoomobile to appease all the kids?

We went with option #1.  Going to the zoo on Day 3 of toilet training may lead you to believe that I enjoy talking a walk on the wild side (excuse the corny zoo humour) when in fact I fairly risk averse when it comes to training accidents.  Within the span of half an hour, I took her to the washroom 4 times.  No pee and the natives were getting restless.  Finally, I ask #1 to take her in because this was the scenario each time I took #4 to the washroom:

#4 is on the toilet in a stall in the women’s washroom.  I am standing in front of her with #5 in the wrap:

Me begging #4 (and losing some self-respect in the process):  “Just try.  Please.  Come on.  You can do it.  Please, just try.”

#4:  “I don’t have to Mom.”

Me, more begging, and even less self-respect, and a little sweat dripping from my brow:  “Please.  We’ll just sit here for a little while longer.  You can do it!  Please, just pee!”

#4 (with her head now in her hands):  “Mom, it’s just not working!  It’s not, Mom.  I don’t know what to do.  It won’t work here!”

Me (just realizing I have #5 in front of me who is now touching gross public washroom surfaces and then sucking on his fingers):  “Stop touching!  Stop!  Come on guys, let’s go.  We’ll try again in 10 minutes.”

#1 took #4 in and they were out in 2 minutes with #4 running out yelling, “It worked!  I did it!  I peed in the toilet!!!”  The cheers and celebration that ensued between the kids and myself can really only be compared to the reaction of winning the lottery.  I can only imagine what people thought as I was close to tears and hugging her tightly, as tight as one could hug with a baby strapped in front.  The girls gave her hi-fives and grateful embraces and we all ran to the zoomobile for a ride.  Halfway into the zoomobile ride, I start to sweat and panic again.  This can’t be happening.  I have to pee.  Badly. Karma is such a bitch.

At the conclusion of Day 3, I was happy to report to Ever-Patient that there were zero accidents.  I felt so confident that we decided to go to Ontario Place on Day 4, again just me and the kids.  After the whole zoo pressure cooker-fiasco, I eased up on her and trusted her more.  I wasn’t giving her the credit she deserved and decided to let her be aware of her own bodily functions.  She had a few false alarms.  We would go to the washroom only for her to say, “Pee!  Come out!  I don’t know why it’s not coming, Mom.  I thought it wanted to come out.  Maybe not.”  At the end of the day, we were happy to report another accident-free day.

As I laid down beside her that night, she said to me, “Mom, are you so proud of me that I peed in the toilet?”  I looked at her and I just wanted to hold her tight and say that she doesn’t need to seek my approval and that her alone is enough.  I said, “I am proud of you even if you don’t make it to the toilet…but peeing in the toilet is nice.”

***

It’s been about a week and a half and I now ask hourly if she has to pee.  She has been excellent at telling me when she has to go and every time she does she announces to anyone who will listen, “I peed in the toilet!”  or “I pooed in toilet!” or “I peed and pooed in the toilet!”  She has had only one accident since Day 2 which was with my dad although he tells me that she did indicate she had to go but they couldn’t get to the washroom fast enough.  I love how she is learning to pay close attention to her body.  For example, she went to pee at my mom’s house and as she peed in the toilet, she marveled, “It even works at Lola’s house!”  She loves to choose her underwear and is not interested in being a baby anymore.

4 for 4.  1 to go.  I think of all the money we’ll save on diapers now.  I think of the ease of taking her to washroom versus changing her toddler-size diaper.  But I also think of how they’re all growing up.  I think of how the transition to underwear is a major milestone out of babyhood.  A graduation of sorts into the school of independence.

My last baby girl is growing up…at least she still likes to fall asleep in my arms.

on goal setting.

After publishing yesterday’s post, I broke into a sweat almost immediately.  What did I just do?  How am I going to even accomplish these “simple” goals when I forget to eat breakfast and lunch most days?  Why did I have to publicize them and put unnecessary added pressure on myself?  I have a little over 4 months to achieve these goals…am I crazy?

As sheer panic and self-doubt set in, I came across this article.  Instead of focusing what I still had to accomplish this year, I started to reflect on what I actually have achieved this year and began listing my own set of personal mountains I have conquered so far in 2010:

  • Not only have I adjusted to 5 children, I have thoroughly enjoyed finding a new family rhythm.  Because of this, I have been increasingly comfortable taking the kids out on all-day excursions on my own.
  • I fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes (yay!) and feel stronger and more energetic than I have felt in the last 2 years.  Though I am proud that I have lost almost 30lbs this year through hard work, I am happy that I have embraced the exercise and moderate eating habits as a lifestyle – no crash dieting or extreme workouts.
  • Ever-Patient and I celebrated 10 years of marriage and did so in the most wonderfully understated manner:  we took a 3 hour bike ride together – this is something we’ve never done together and something I personally haven’t done in a long time.
  • We have purged about 25% of our belongings and are still in the process of getting rid of more – we are hoping to be living with 50% less by the end of the year.
  • I have managed to spend one on one time with each of the kids at least once a month since the beginning of the year.
  • With the exception of a few weeks here and there, I have kept up with blogging and documenting the events (and non-events) in our lives.
  • I was able to plan and execute 3 birthday parties with school friends this year – a first!
  • We introduced family challenges for 5 months.  My favourites included “Vegetarian Month” and “One Bowl Challenge.”  Each of these will be repeated in the future.
  • After only a week, #4 is fully toilet trained.  It was a bit of an adventure but we did it!  (Rest assure that there is going to be a full post on this soon.)
  • I have managed to take all of the kids to the following places multiple times on my own:  the Zoo, Ontario Place, the Beach, and all during the first week of #4’s toilet training and still live to talk about it.
  • We finally have some Lopez Family of 7 pictures! More on that soon.
  • I have conquered laundry.  There really hasn’t been a pile up since this post.
  • With the help from a friend (who happens to be a landscaper) and his wife, we finally did something with our lawn after years of it being disheveled and unkempt – basically, it looked like the back of #3 and #4’s head after getting out of bed.

I’m sure there are few molehills that I’ve been able to hurdle over that are missing from this list.  I love how that article was able to remind me that I had already rose to the occasion when confronted with everyday life’s challenges.

Setting goals can sometimes backfire and just bring feelings of inadequacy and self-defeat to the surface when its initial intent was to motivate and spur action.  This is what happened last night.  The optimism and associated euphoria I felt after creating the goals quickly dissipated as all the other things on my to-do lists began to amass in my mind.  How was I going to accomplish these goals in addition to my already expanding list of responsibilities?

From the article, this is one of the tidbits that really put things in perspective: “You won’t summit every one you come across, but you will become a better person with each attempt.”  There will undoubtedly be many mountains that will conquer me and goals that will be left unfulfilled…for now.  But at least I am making an attempt.  I am making an effort at becoming better, becoming more, at…becoming.  Each goal I set illustrates my quest to just be more than I am, to grow as a human being, and to demonstrate the belief that I can be more.  Isn’t that what this journey, this life is all about?  Pushing ourselves past the perceived limits.  Pushing ourselves to a realized potential.  Pushing ourselves to test our strengths.  Pushing ourselves in order to know failure and how to rise above it.

With this new-found love of goal setting, I am going to institute a new tradition in our household.  On each birthday, the celebrant must write 5 goals they would like to accomplish that year…big or small.  (I’m wondering if I can get this going for this year even though most of our birthdays have past already.)

If we consistently set goals, we shouldn’t view it as such a Sisyphean effort.  There will always be the next mountain to climb and the next peak to reach or almost reach.  But isn’t that the true goal in life?  To find happiness in the knowledge that when we start our descent from the mountain, there is another one waiting around the corner.

4 simple goals.

I love this challenge.

I have decided to dive into it for a couple of reasons:

1) By posting my goals here, I will be accountable.

2) I like crossing things off a short list.

There is still time before 2011 to accomplish a few things so here goes…

Goal #1:  Create beautiful bedroom spaces for my family.

We have lived in our current house for almost 4 years and we are STILL trying to finish decorating the kids’ rooms and the master bedroom.  It’s always the same excuses: time, money, and general indecision.

Enough is enough.  I have decided to officially become accountable by confessing all of this here and now and by making a public promise to finish the rooms before the new year.  We’ve taken baby steps this summer.  For #2 and #3’s room (and technically #4’s room although she refuses to accept that fact and thinks her room is mom and dad’s room), we added a dresser which we inherited from some good friends.  Living in an older house means living with itty bitty closets so the dresser was  a much-needed piece.

Here is the before pic:

A solid piece of furniture.

And now it looks like this:

Love it.

It’s a bright fire engine red with coral-like knobs from here….though #3 argues that they look like mini antlers.

The kids also wanted to work on some type of decorative element to hang across their rooms.  They were inspired by this and decided to make their own circle-dot banner out of paper:

#1's room - she's going for a gray and orange palette.

The little ones decided they liked the look of floating confetti instead.

Like I said, baby steps.

Corresponding reward:  A guilt-free order from this catalogue.

Goal #2:  Sew and knit something.

I have recently acquired a sewing machine from a wonderful friend and have started knitting here and there.

I’d just like to actually finish a project.

Corresponding reward:  This workshop.

Goal #3:  Organize and print pictures to update the kids’ scrapbooks.

Looking at the kids’ scrapbooks, I have noticed that there are some holes that need to be filled and many moments I would love to include in their scrapbooks.  It’s important for me to record all the stories visually since they love spending time looking at their books and having me talk about what happened, how I felt, and what they said.

Corresponding reward:  This print and a subscription to this.

Goal #4:  Write every day until December 31, 2010.

Whether it be one sentence or 10 pages, I want to write every day.  I need to write every day.  I’ve lagged a bit since #5 has been born and I’ve been noticing how my thoughts have truly overwhelmed me on occasion.  I miss writing gratitude lists and general observations.  I’d say that this one is a biggie for me and will take some major discipline on my part with life being the way it is of course.

Some strategies to accomplish this:

1.  Carry a pen everywhere.  (I can always write on my hand if I need to!)

2.  Keep various notebooks/journals in the house, baby bag, and in the car.

3.  Blog, blog, and blog some more.

4.  Just WSD.  (Write Sh*t Down…even if I have to drop everything – except the baby – when something comes to mind).

Corresponding reward:  A GREAT BIG HUGE book purchase.

That’s it.

Want to join me on this little challenge?

(Oh and remember our family monthly challenges?  Well, we’ve put that on hold for the summer…but we will definitely be continuing them in the fall!)

scrapbook pages.

Some journalling still needed…It’s a layout about #3’s dancing, twirling, and musical inclinations.

A closer look.

A layout about #2, #3, and #4's love of climbing, balancing, and exploring.

A closer look.

Have a great weekend!