I Don’t Know How To Do ANYTHING!

Kid E came home from school in early October and unloaded his backpack.  Inside his folder was a piece of paper.  He happily announced in my direction, “This is for you.  From my teacher.  I will put it in your bin.”

I was excited that he had already mastered my rules established to conquer school-related entropy (for a quick ENTROPY primer, click here) by unpacking and sorting immediately upon entry.  I like to train them young around here.  Early independence of my kids is always a long-term goal.

So I let him do his jobs… his shoes get put in the shoe basket, his lunchbox gets emptied of any trash and leftovers and put on the kitchen table, important papers go in the bin on my desk.  He is always so proud when he completes these simple tasks.  And then he inevitably asks if he can watch videos.

Meanwhile, this kid has been glued to electronics since birth.  My bad.  I wish I was exaggerating, but I am not.  I have been such a slacker parent with him.  I always say yes when he asks if he can watch the video/ play the game/ download the app.  I get more done that way.  I mean, he’s my FIFTH kid.  But I think I am wrecking him.  He talks in a language I partly do not understand (“Mom, can you type in ‘skylanders swap force girl and boy super evil chaos?'”) and I partly am super worried about (see previous example).  In the beginning, I would always say things like, “Apple products are truly user-friendly!  Even my baby can use this iMac, and he can’t even sit up!”  I guess we’ll just see how my little experiment turns out.  Here’s hoping for the best.

Anyway, he gave me the paper from his kindergarten teacher and went off to watch YouTube videos of other people playing video games (I know, I know… Mother of the Year over here.  But he knows to turn it off if there are curse words worse than what I drop on the daily).  About a half hour later, I got around to browsing through my in-bin.

Kid E had been given a project.  Dun-dun-dun.  Well, crap.

The October kindergarten project (Man, I really hope this is not setting some sort of precedent for a new project each month, because that would be some bullshit.  It’s kindergarten, not grad school.) was to find a book that you liked, write some things about the main character and a short summary of what they did in the book, and then decorate a small pumpkin to resemble that character.  He had to bring it all in by Monday, October 28th.

OK, we had some time.  And the assignment wasn’t overwhelming or impossible or even that much of a pain in the ass.  So I presented the project to Kid E with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.

“Hey, buddy?  Can you take off the headphones and press pause for a sec (and, yes, I made the universal gesture for taking off headphones).  This paper you said was from your teacher for me… actually, it is a fun project for you!”  I went on to explain the assignment with gusto.  But the kid was not buying it.  He was not excited.  He was not even happy.  He started to cry uncontrollably.

“But, MOM!  It is supposed to be for YOU, not ME!  What am I gonna do?  How am I gonna do it?  I can’t do it.  I don’t know how to do ANYTHING!”

I gave him a big, fat hug and helped him to bring it down a notch.  I explained that he most certainly knew how to do lots of things… like putting his shoes in the bin, and emptying his lunchbox and backpack, and putting important papers on my desk.  I reminded him that he also dressed and undressed himself, put his clothes in the hamper, and put the silverware and napkins on the table for dinner.  I pointed out that he can read now, and his writing was getting really good, and he knew how to do math problems.  Kid D heard the commotion at this point and (helpfully?) added that Kid E also cleaned up his toys, but only when I made him.  He also suggested a book for the project, The Runaway Bunny.  That part was actually pretty helpful.

“Perfect, ” I said.  “You like that book.  You can write about the little bunny and all of his shenanigans when he tries to run away from his mother.  And we could buy a pet-sized bunny costume and glue the ears on your tiny pumpkin!”  I continued to reassure him. “You know how to do lots of things.  Don’t you worry about a thing.  We’ve got this.”  Kid E stopped crying.

Then he asked if he could go back to watching the YouTube.  Of course I let him.  I had stuff to do.

I glued the ears, nose and tail on (yes, I own a glue gun!), and Kid E drew the eyes and mouth.  Plus, he wrote out the book report all on his own (I helped him construct some of the sentences).  He did so well that he's on his own from now on...

I glued the ears, nose and tail on (yes, I own a glue gun, smartasses), but Kid E drew the eyes and mouth. Plus, he wrote out the book report all on his own (even though I helped him construct one or two of the sentences).                              He did so well that next time, he’s on his own.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful

It is Wednesday again and yes, I am still slacking off one day a week.  And yes, I am still on my family trip and the kids and I are still having fun.  I am even unexpectedly extending the trip by a few more days in order to drive all of them home, instead of having the girls fly back with my parents.  Twenty five days of being away from home is a long time.  Kids D and E do not remember where we actually live.  They keep asking what our “old” house looks like.  Sheepdog had to go back because he has a J.O.B.  I do not like when the chickens are scattered about, so I’ll be happiest next week when we are all back together again.

Today, however, the boys and I are going to the beach.  The girls are headed to Hershey Park with my parents for a little side trip down Nostalgia Lane (my parents used to take them there when they were little bitties), which should be interesting because my dad is scheduled for knee surgery next Monday morning (which facilitated the change in plans that extended our trip) and is having a hard time walking around.

So my honorary guest post writer today is another sister (I have lots of them), Sister C.  She is beautiful, in her mid-thirties, married to Handsome Rob (formerly Cute Robbie), has three gorgeous kids and is currently pregnant with Number Four.  She is pretty and skinny (despite her diet of candy, gum and Cool Ranch Doritos) and a former Miss New Jersey Teen USA and Miss New Jersey USA contestant (yes, there is a difference and yes, I can explain it so yes, that makes me a pageant dork).  She still does some modeling and acting work.  It is really cool to see her in a television commercial every once in a while (“You’re gonna LOVE it!”).

People often think that girls like Sister C are stuck-up or bitchy or full of themselves.  In fact, Sister C is a great example of things being the complete opposite of what you think they are.  She is quiet and shy, especially in new situations.  She is not very good at small talk or cocktail parties because they make her anxious.  She tends to focus on her own physical flaws that no one else even notices.  Yet she is hysterically funny and uniquely weird (she and a college roommate created their own language – totally bizarre but really funny to hear them use it) around people she feels comfortable with.

She works to make herself a better person – a better wife, mother, sister, friend.  She struggles with the big and little stuff that comes along with marriage and kids and work (she works part-time from home).  She is very much like you and me, except that she is beautiful and wears a size zero.  Now we could all hate her for that, or we could stop being jealous and remember that everybody has their issues and everybody struggles with something.  This bitch just gets to do it in skinny jeans.

So now I proudly present to you Sister C’s post…


Wrangling the Entropy, Tip #5 by honorary guest writer, Sister C

I have three kids (7, 5 and 2) and one more bun in the oven (no, I’m not as crazy as Stacy with five…but, just one behind).  Someone is getting the old snipperoo after this one pops out, but I’m not naming names.  Life with kids (especially little ones) is crazy and you can get bogged down with the day-to-day and lose the big picture of things very easily, even more so if you are a stay-at-home mom.  I certainly don’t have all the answers, but have found that focusing on three main things helps me to keep looking at the big picture of life.  In no particular order, here they are (and don’t go judging me for not putting God as number one…He kind of ties everything together and will go last):

1. Make time for yourself.  Find an activity that you really enjoy.  For me, it’s tennis.  I took a few lessons as a kid, but never really played until a few years ago.  I joined an ALTA team in Sister B’s neighborhood and immediately loved it.  I don’t think I have missed a season yet (except maybe to have Kid Crazy, #3) and I think I will be playing until I can’t move anymore.  While the season is going on we practice one night a week and have a match every Sunday.  It is a great group of fun girls, who have become really great friends too!  It’s a great escape for me to hang out with friends and to burn off some steam.  I loved tennis so much that I finally convinced my husband (let’s just call him House Captain) that he she should start playing too.  He did and loves it just as much as I do.  We even have played a couple of seasons of mixed doubles and played as partners.  We consider it a date and get a sitter…it has been really fun for us to be a “team” on and off the court.  In addition to tennis, I enjoy jogging, yoga and pilates…sweating for me is the best way to burn off some stress and I try to fit some of that stuff in whenever I can.

Rest is another important “me” activity.  I actually think I have a disorder that I need to sleep so much.  I take a nap pretty much everyday.  That helps recharge me and helps me to not fall asleep by 6:00 pm.

2.  Make time for your spouse.  This can be one of the hardest ones.  You work all day (or watch the kids all day), have dinner, clean up, bathe kids, put them to bed…then the day is almost over and you are exhausted.  Last thing I feel like doing is having anyone else touch me or even talk to me for that matter…I need my decompression time.  But, I have heard way too many stories of middle-aged couples getting divorced because they lost each other along the way of raising their kids.  Then, all the kids leave the house and they don’t know each other anymore.  Not for me, pal.  I have zero interest in starting all over again in the dating arena 20 years from now.  And it ain’t like I’m getting any cuter, less wrinkly or less squishy in areas.

Your marriage is the foundation of your whole family…the rock from which everything else stems.  House Captain and I are lucky enough to travel together quite a bit.  We take a number of trips per year (most years) and that always seems to recharge us.  We also try to do date nights every so often.  About a year or so ago, I made House Captain take this quiz in the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.  It basically tells you what makes you feel the most loved…words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, or physical touch.  Once you know what your spouse’s “love language” is, you can try to cater to that.  You may think that your wife would love it if you brought her home a gift one day, but if her “love language” is physical touch she would probably much rather like a giant hug.  I feel like knowing each other’s language has really caused us to focus more on meeting those needs for each other.

Communication is also huge here…we have to sit down and have heart-to-hearts from time to time to work through something.  House Captain actually remembered a technique that was taught to us in pre-marriage counseling, where you go off separately and write down your feelings about something first, then come together to discuss it.  This prevents things from being said that either one of you might regret (When he brought that up recently, I was like, “lame…I just want to yell at you instead.”  But I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked.).  Marriage is a lot harder than I ever thought…you have to constantly work at it for it to work right.  You can’t just forget about that part, though, because one day it will just fall apart if you do.

3.  Find a higher power to inspire you.  For me and House Captain, that’s the big guy, God.  I don’t want to come across as a holy roller or anything, but I believe that there has to be a higher power from which you derive faith and strength.  Our marriage, how we raise our children, and how we go about our daily lives revolve around God.  We found our church (shoutout to North Point Community Church) a number of years ago and it took me a really long time to get used to the giant-ness, lack of pews and hymnals, and broadway show-like production of it all.  I generally hate change and this couldn’t have been farther from the church I grew up in.  When I finally opened up a bit I realized that this was just the format to actually make me interested in going to church every week.  I ended up loving the music and the weekly messages are just what I need to keep everything in check…they are constant reminders of how I can be a better person, spouse and parent.  They also have an excellent children’s program and the kids enjoy going.  It can’t hurt for the lessons we are teaching them to be reiterated either…kids need all the positive guidance they can get.

I have learned that it helps for me to hand things over to a higher power.  I can’t carry the burden of everything on my own shoulders.  I have peace in my heart knowing that things happen in life for a reason and I need to trust in that.  Most importantly, I am learning more and more each day that I cannot control or plan everything (hello, baby #4).  Trust me, this is a hard thing for all the Paarz sisters to grasp.

Sister C says, "I love Cool Ranch Doritos almost as much as I love House Captain"

Wrangling the Entropy, Tip #3

Science geeks and Stetson-wearers rejoice!  Let’s get busy wrangling some entropy and saving ourselves from the inevitable chaos of family paperwork.

Tip #3 – In and Out (no this is not a sex tip, you pervs)

  1. Designate Your “In” Bin.  Mine is a simple 2-tiered letter sized sorting bin on the desk in our family office.  If you come to my house and you need to me to do, see, approve or pay anything, then your best bet is to put it in my “In” bin.  Permission slips, report cards, party invitations, bills, notes, etc. all go in there and I review them and then take the appropriate action.  Usually I review the “in” bin on Sunday afternoons (for the surprise “I need it on Monday” stuff) and most weekdays so I won’t overlook something important.  Make your “in” bin easily accessible and make sure everyone knows where it is.
  2. Give Everyone Else an “Out” Bin.  This part is derived from Newton’s Second Law of Motion.  What goes in must come out.  When you have done, seen, signed, approved or paid the things that others dropped into your “in” bin, you then must hand off to the appropriate party by putting into their “out” bin.  They can then take these things back to school or sports or wherever they need to go.  Make sure to teach them to look in their “out” bin every day as well, so nothing gets left behind.
Equal and opposite reaction feels pretty good, right? 

Wrangling the Entropy, Tip #2

I’m back today with another post on the laws-of-science-and-cowboy-metaphor-heavy installment, “Wrangling the Entropy.” I have been trying to organize a ton of crap and needing to rely on this stuff a lot lately, so I am totally going cheerleader for it today.  Ready? OK…

Tip #2 – Charts, Forms and Calendars

Today’s tip to Wrangle the Entropy has to do with one of my favorite things… visually appealing organizational tools.  I like color, I like art, I like pretty things that draw the eye, but most of all I like to kiss (keep it simple, stupid).  So I use all of these things to centralize and organize all of the things that I have to deal with to take care of my family business.  There are lots of very expensive software programs and products out there that claim to help you organize your life, but very few of them will actually do it.  Don’t waste your money.  There are many inexpensive and even free (gasp!) things that you can use to keep up with your Kardashians.

Charts are extremely helpful, especially for the little kids. With this kind of visual reminder, you will encourage them to be more independent and prepare for the events of the day. Use a magnetic dry erase board in their room with a 7-day format (you can buy them pre-printed or make a grid yourself). You can find pictures online and print them out on your home printer onto magnetic sheets (available at office supply stores) and use those to let them know what is happening on each day, even before they are able to read! For example, use a picture of a school bus on the days that they have school, or take a digital picture of their teacher and turn that into a magnet. A picture of a tooth or a stethoscope (or a syringe, depending on how much you want to scare them) can let them know they have an appointment coming up, and a cake or balloons can alert them to a celebration. Depending on the kid and their level of independence and ability to follow directions (yes, I’m talking about Kid C getting lost in the hallway between her bedroom and the bathroom), you may want to make a chart to remind them what to do each day when getting ready (clothes, cereal bowl, toothbrush, backpack, coat – whatever you want the routine to be).

Behavior charts are also useful for many families with young kids. These should be posted centrally so that you and the kids are reminded regularly to reward positive behavior.  My sister posts hers right outside of the playroom.  Use stars or stickers or whatever is handy (the price bar codes off of fruit work great too).  When Kid D Was three years old I found that a sticker for each good behavior (eating what we ate without complaints, staying in bed through the night, etc.) did the trick, especially when he could trade in five stickers for a new Thomas train.  Now we have about two hundred fifty of those die-cast metal trains in a drawer somewhere.  I should have charged him ten stickers a piece.  I am such a pushover.

I don’t eat this well. Only the Kids do.

Forms are also helpful for the repetitive, mundane stuff that comes up regularly.  My most used forms are simple word documents that I keep on my computer desktop.  The “Lunch Log” is printed out each Sunday and the kids fill it out to their liking.  The rule is that they have to check the fridge and/ or pantry to make sure that we have what they are writing down.  If we don’t, they are supposed the add the missing item to the grocery list.  It encourages them to have a balanced lunch, help with grocery inventory, and anyone can pick it up and prepare lunches from it for the next day.  This is most helpful when the kids scatter after school to their various sports and activities, and no one gets to complain that their lunch isn’t what they asked for.

I recently got a message from a middle school teacher that I was “the most organized parent” after using this form. So maybe I encrypt a little voodoo in there. I’ll never tell.

Another really helpful form that I use all the time is the “Reach the Teacher.”  I got the idea from a magazine years ago and I tweaked it to fit my needs.  You just set it up with your contact information and update it every new school year with their new teachers, schools and grades.  When you need to send a note to school, you just check the appropriate boxes and send it in.  It covers all your bases and is almost doofus-proof.

Calendars can get a little more tricky.  I am an Apple girl myself, so I keep my calendar on my desktop computer using the iCal program.  It allows me to link up with any of my mobile devices and they are automatically updated, no matter where I make a change.  I also notify Sheepdog of the things he is needed for by adding him as an invitee.  I recently looked into Google Docs and you can do the same thing with their calendar program for free.  I use color coding to differentiate between different kinds of events (medical, school, sports, travel, parties & play dates, etc.) so I can identify things at a glance.  The one redundant thing I do each month is to recreate the family calendar on a giant white board in my office.  I use the same color coding system on this and anyone can come see what is happening on any given day (they don’t have to be on my computer, which I am very protective of).

Yes, I blurred out all of our activities. I don’t want you all showing up for my annual pap smear, now do I?

On an end note… despite all of my charts, forms and calendars, I managed to completely miss Kid B’s once-every-twelve-weeks orthodontist appointment this morning.  Yes, even after a reminder email and a phone call from their office.  It was on my computer (laptop, iPad and iPhone too) and hand-written by me on the big wall calendar.  So, nevermind.  Don’t listen to me.  Apparently this stuff doesn’t work at all.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Wrangling the Entropy, Tip #1

Farmers sure know how to fight the entropy

As I have mentioned before, Sheepdog has a degree in chemical engineering.  He is also a very smart lawyer and he is very mechanically inclined.  Basically he’s an all-around smarty pants.  Over the years I have picked up a science geek word or two from him.  Very few of those words work seamlessly into the daily conversations of a stay-at-home mom, but I keep coming back to one word in particular that I feel applies so completely to my daily life – entropy.  As simply as I can put it, entropy is the tendency of things to go from order to disorder over a period of time.  It is the natural progression of things towards chaos.  And it is the bane of my existence.

The very first time Sheepdog introduced me to the concept of this Second Law of Thermodynamics, we were driving from New Jersey to West Virginia on the highway.  He pointed out a cluster of pine trees growing in the wild along a mountainside.  At the top of the mountain the trees grew uniformly in rows, separate from each other.  Let’s keep our tree limbs to ourselves, people.  Nice and orderly.  But as the trees grew farther down the hillside they started to cluster together, here and there, almost too close for sustainable growth.  They were randomly growing all over the place – wherever the wind had blown them.  It was bedlam!  That mountainside forest was exactly how I first pictured entropy in my mind, and for some reason I never forgot it.  Little did I know that it was incredibly accurate foreshadowing of my daily life as a wife and mom.

Every time I walk into a room and see all of the game pieces from every one of the board games we own strewn upon the floor, I think of entropy.  Every time I wash dishes or clothes or my truck, I am reminded of entropy.  Don’t even get me started on the accumulation of dust on my black (what was I thinking?) bedroom furniture – more entropy.  Bedrooms and playrooms are breeding grounds for it.  It is the natural tendency of things to head straight towards a mess.  But there is hope!

Since I am partial to all good cowboy metaphors, I will call this the Wrangling the Entropy advice section of my blog.  I will share with you all little tricks I have picked up on over the years and hope that they can help you to contain your own life’s crazy.  Most things are common sense, some are tedious, some are fun.  Most of them I have read about in magazines or seen on television or learned from the experts.  These are the things that work for me and my family.  Use what works for you, tweak it to make it better, pass it on.

Tip #1 – Bins and Baskets and Buckets

First, I’d like to tell you to just throw it out.  Recycle it, donate it, consign it, or sell it for 25 cents at a garage sale.  I don’t even care what “it” is.  Don’t bring it into your house.  You probably don’t even need it.  Follow the one-in-one-out rule.  If you must have something new, then get rid of something old.  There is too much unnecessary stuff in your house right now.  Get rid of it.  Your soul will thank you.  Clear your closet, clear your mind.  Now take a deep breath, because if you have kids or a husband or a shopping addiction then you are still going to have too much stuff.

If Heaven even has an identifiable description, my guess is that it would look something like The Container Store or the Expedit section of the Ikea catalog.  If cleanliness truly is next to Godliness then there must be a place for everything and everything in its place.  I don’t care if you are a complete slob and think you are happy about it, you can not deny how much calmer it feels to be in a room that is free of clutter.  I don’t think that there is one room in our house that does not have some kind of catch-all container for all of the stuff that just sort of shows up.  Make it easy for your one-year-old (YES, even a baby can do it!) to throw her toys into a bin so she learns how to clean up after herself.  Make her do it every time she makes a mess.  Every time.  Eventually, she will start to do it without even being told.

Kid C is a dreamer.  She is constantly making things and building things and I can only display so much of it.  I certainly do not want her to stop dreaming or creating, so I had to come up with something.  Kid C knows that if she wants to keep it, then it has to fit in her trundle.  For her, it was a giant drawer under her bed that helped to wrangle the entropy.

Kid A is a collector and a saver.  Mostly she saves papers and notes and school projects.  I got her some under-the-bed containers on wheels and she wrangles her own entropy there.

Kids D and E are little boys.  They have trains, cars, legos, trucks, balls, marbles, plastic dinosaurs, wooden blocks and more legos.  For this entropy I had to dedicate an entire wall to shelving for bins that can hold anything and everything.  They carry their bins around the house, wherever they are going to play, and they put them back on the shelf when they are done.  Entropy wrangled.

Kid B doesn’t keep anything.  She doesn’t even have doors on her closet and it always looks organized.  She is my hero.

Sheepdog has an entire workshop filled with his bike stuff.  I just don’t go in there.

Ninety percent of a messy house is the clutter.  Keep it at bay and you’ll fool most people into thinking that your house is spotless.  Have a bin for sports equipment in your garage.  Hang an organizer on the inside of the vacuum closet door and keep sunscreen and thread and bug spray in there.  Keep a shoe basket by the door.  Keep a container for kid snacks in the pantry.  Keep a sorting bin for dirty clothes in the laundry room.  Make it so easy to keep things picked up and organized that it just becomes second nature.  Then when people drop by unannounced and ask, “How do you keep your house so clean with all of these kids running around?” you can just smile while you tip your cowgirl hat and say, “Aw shucks, I’m just an entropy wrangler.”