Some things worth checking twice

Author: natalie  //  Category: Life with children

Are your summers busy, or carefree?  Everyone I talk to is busy, busy, busy. We’ve been pretty busy being carefree at the Whatley residence. Make no mistake; we’re completely occupying our time. It feels carefree because we have great latitude in choosing how to fill the hours. It’s a lifestyle that suits us well for now, but I know in a few weeks I’ll be ready for some order in our lives.

Between August and May, projects big and small are placed on the back burner. School, homework, extracurricular schedules, and that repulsive practice of getting up before sunrise pretty much relegates our existence to maintaining the status quo. Now that I’m free from that, I can tackle all the things that have resided on my mental to-do list for months. (That list causes me untold stress – I need to find it a home outside my noggin.)

First on the list were dental procedures requiring days of recovery and a soft diet. Check.  

My younger children’s rooms had become cluttered, and were in serious need of a “mom” cleaning – you know, large trash bags, moving furniture to vacuum, locating articles of clothing that were MIA, and removing all the outgrown stuff.  This job is a real treat. (Yes, that’s sarcasm you’re detecting.) Wouldn’t it be quicker to put dirty clothes in the hamper instead of wasting creative energy in finding some off-the-wall spot when asked to clean your room?  And trash…I’ll never stop if I start on that one.

Enroll children in summer course: Uses of trash receptacles 101. Check.  

My middle child, who is entering junior high this fall, surprised me by filling two large boxes full of toys he’d like to be rid of.  New-found floor space shows the gaping hole where childhood once stood.  Like males are known to do, he kept a stiff upper lip. Days later, he asked if I’d taken all the boxes away. Having traveled this road before, I had put them in an easily accessible place. Who doesn’t relate to the bittersweet tug of growing up, countered by the joys of being a kid?  The stiff upper lip curled and exposed his metal-studded smile when I granted permission to visit the boxes whenever he chooses.

Next on the list is getting the oldest through the parent-taught driver’s education course. What were we thinking?  There are driving schools willing to take money in exchange for working with a teenager who figures out the gas pedal more easily than the brake. I’ve learned my voice has an octave never used before, and that it negatively affects his driving and my blood pressure.

Enroll oldest in summer courses: You don’t know it all 101, 201, and 301. Check.

Take time to enjoy the little “angels” because they’re growing up fast. Check. Check.

Be a kid again. Make a mess with the earnest belief that someone else will come behind me and tidy up. Check.

In between all of the above, I managed to tackle one particularly large personal project. It’s been an adventure to say the least. I’ll fill you in next week. I’ll probably even invite you over to see what I’ve been up to. Always keep them guessing. Check.

© 2008 Natalie Whatley

Still working…

Author: natalie  //  Category: From me to you

As you can see, I’m working on getting 6 months of articles on here, so bear with me as I do that. Tried a larger font on the last one, and think I like that better – seems easier to read. I plan on having them all on here no later than July 5th. Thanks for stopping by!  Have a GREAT day!

Picture this

Author: natalie  //  Category: Life with children

There’s photographic evidence that I recently attended what has become an annual event for our family. I’ve blocked the memory from my stream of consciousness because my psyche needed time to heal.

Each June I have three days that are far more stressful in my imagination than the actual happenings, but I’m fairly certain the dread alone conjures up a case of post-traumatic-stress disorder. The nightmares of seeing red lipstick smeared on an expensive white costume are starting to decrease, and I’m hoping for a full recovery.

For those wondering what could possibly be so awful, I offer two words: dance recital. I know it sounds like fun, and I’m certain if you’re a member of the audience it’s a sight to behold. What’s not to love about tiny little dancers wearing tutus, and the deer-in-the-headlights look they get when executing that very first performance?

Because I’ve now attended for the fifth year, I know the dancers, instructors, and stage crew work very hard over many months to make it all come together.  I’ve also learned that chaos, in the form of bouncy little girls, can be organized, but I’m exhausted after doing it.  My involvement is actually pretty small when looking at the big picture, but rehearsal days followed by the real deal threaten my sanity each and every year.

A portion of the stress derives from the fact that it’s a special day in my daughter’s life, and I feel a need to adhere to some standard of dress decorum. More plainly put, I want to look nice too, and it’s no small feat while preparing a young dancer for the rigors of the stage lights. On a really good day, I can leave the house looking semi put-together, with hair done and make-up to boot – not so easily achieved when I have another female to gussy.  

When I look back at photos from the day, I’m not sure why I didn’t just get out of bed and go, because that’s exactly how I look at the end of the day. The black eyes have dual origins – I’ve not had much sleep, and my daughter elbowed me in the face as we attempted to put tights on sweaty legs.

One great thing about recital is the camaraderie amongst all the moms in the dressing area. Need a bobby pin, fake eyelash glue, steady hand who can put red lipstick on tiny lips?  There’s someone within reach who’s willing to help, or just has a bag of “stuff” that was brought “just in case”.

The best part is when it’s all over. At that point I’m running on sheer adrenalin and a stick of sugar-free gum, but the after-glow is unmistakable.  It’s a great moment, as I’m as far away from the next one as I can be. A sizeable smile replaces my haggard look.   

I don’t mean to complain, and of course I know how incredibly blessed I am to have a healthy little girl up on the stage. I hope she has a daughter some day, and I get to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. I’ll be there to provide the photographic evidence that she did indeed attend her daughter’s recital.

© 2008 Natalie Whatley

Dedicated, Abiding & Dutiful…DAD

Author: natalie  //  Category: Holidays, Life with children, National

This Father’s Day, I’ve got to give today’s generation of fathers a big round of applause. (Picture me giving a standing ovation.)

                Over the past 40 years, fatherhood has changed a great deal. Some would say for the better, others for the worse.  The fact remains that while the lines of “tradition” have blurred, guys have done a fabulous job of evolving – far better than this female counterpart. I’m stubborn that way, and have not embraced cross-training in the male realm.

I was growing up while women were flocking to the workforce in droves. Some were forced there by economic circumstances, while others desired more than running a household to occupy their minds. (One has to learn some tricks to keep tedium fascinating, and I believe I’ve mastered it.) The family dynamic was forever changed, and a new creature was forged. 

As women began crashing through glass ceilings, men stepped up to the plate and hit the ball out of the park.  They had to figure it all out, or go around hungry and naked.  The transformation didn’t occur without some struggle, and a fair amount of strife, but they did it. Many of them had working mothers, and watched as their own father stumbled about trying to gain his footing.  He was the pioneer, and the two of you learned together. Today’s father is the result.   

I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for over a decade, and I’ve noticed the shift-working fathers out and about with the kids. They’re in the grocery store, pre-schoolers in tow, and for the most part have a couple of well-rounded meals in the cart.  They’re at the doctor’s office, diaper bag slung over their shoulder, baby in one arm, lop-sided-pig-tailed little girl (because Daddy fixed her hair), wearing mismatched clothes (because Daddy let her dress herself) hanging on to a pant pocket while they sign in….it’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen.

I can tell you’ve done it all before, and you’re not nearly as rattled as I was when my kids were younger.  Dads just have a way of not getting hung up in all that doesn’t matter (clothes & hair), and having a good time…no matter the place.

On the flip side, I’ve clung to the traditional role even though I’ve spent various points during my life out in the working world.  I’m very trainable, but truth be told, I really don’t want to know how to replace the brake pads, unstop the toilet, or fix the roof “thingy” after a squirrel chewed it and caused a leak. (I know I’ve just told on myself, but I suspect the man in my life knows this.)

The men fathering children at this point in our history are a truly remarkable group.  I realize mankind has been forced to adapt throughout time, but I find the current crop pretty amazing. They diaper, fix the lawn mower, bathe squirming babies, replace flat tires on bicycles, feed messy toddlers, provide….heck, they do it all.  

I’ve decided it’s quite alright for them to leave the toilet seat up. They’ve more than earned it. Happy Father’s Day, guys!  You’re the best.

© 2008 Natalie Whatley

I’m questioning my intelligence

Author: natalie  //  Category: From me to you

To my faithful fans…(I think I have six now, parents & Jeff included) to whom I promised I would post all my articles for your perusal…I’m NOT enough of a computer nerd, nor do I have the time/inclination to learn the computer code required for changing the date to “back blog”. So, I will post the original article that started me down this path today, and once or twice a week, I’ll add in the others until I’m “caught up”. After that, I’ll publish my weekly installment on Sundays.

Enjoy….and if you don’t, let me know that too! Writers need to know if they’re hitting the target. Thanks in advance, and have a GREAT day! :)

Me and you and a bin that’s blue

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

With the arrival of my bright blue recycling bin (thank you, Bayer), I became a recycling fiend. The milk jugs alone had the bin full in a few days. I know how many gallons a week Elsie produces for my clan, but the visual of them all in one place at the same time was an eye-opener. Now, I have the satisfaction of serving milk and knowing the landfill won’t be eating the jug.

As I use up anything contained in plastic, it’s already become habit to check the little triangle on the bottom. I’ve been amazed at how many items were encased in the 1 and 2 plastic – it goes beyond what you may think. Take a peek at shampoo bottles, the little scoop that comes in powdered laundry detergent, and the container holding liquid dishwasher detergent.    

                What really sparked my interest was when I started seeing 5’s and 7’s inside the triangle. Curiosity got the best of me.  As I suspected, the materials used to produce those containers were different, and used for different packaging applications.  If you’d like to add a little spice to your life, see what all the different plastics are, what they are used for, and what type of recycled products are made from them, you can visit www.ides.com/resources/plastic-recycling-codes.asp .

Since our bin was overflowing with plastic, we’ll continue our ten-year practice of crushing and taking in our aluminum cans. The kids didn’t want to give up that income source anyway.

One thing that does have me a little perplexed is all the rinsing. I’m no greenie, but I do know that water conservation is a large part of taking care of our resources. I’ve tumbled that about in my head a bit, and I’m hoping the space saved in the landfill outweighs the use of extra water.

My first pick-up day was this past Thursday. As luck would have it, we were under a wind advisory and I chased milk jugs stacked on my overflowing bin several times before I secured them in a large paper bag. By afternoon, long after my regular trash pick up, I had almost given up on being rid of the plastic. Then, I heard the truck round the corner. It was a very exciting moment, prompting me to get to a window in order to bid my collection adieu.  

Unfortunately, my excitement turned to major disappointment as I watched my neighbors’ bins emptied and tossed back into their yards, while mine was skipped. I stood shouting from my kitchen window as if they could hear me. It had to be a cruel joke.  

Annoyed, I bolted out of the door and chased my jugs (in the paper bag) down the street again. As I hit my “runner’s high”, I realized a phone call to the city was in order.

 Sure enough that quick phone call did the trick. Thanks to modern technology, the men on the truck were alerted to having skipped my house.

The blue bin brought with it more than just a chance to lessen the contents of the landfill. You’ll all be entertained, and I’ll become more physically fit. What else could we possibly ask for? 

© 2008 Natalie Whatley

Summer survival

Author: natalie  //  Category: Life with children

I breathed a huge sigh of relief on Friday, just before sheer panic set in. Summer is here, and the kids are out of school.  The shackles made up of tight schedules and homework have been removed, but there’s a dark side to this freedom. I’ll have no more than a total of three minutes daytime peace until late August. Do the math. It works out to mere seconds per day. Calgon’s not strong enough to take me away.  I may need pharmaceutical help to get through.

                Although I spend much of May dreaming of days not filled with endless to-do lists, I’m reminded each summer that in my world, inactivity breeds much discontent. That’s where the Whatley Entertainment Committee comes in. There are three sitting members:  Chairman, me; vice-chairman, myself; and secretary, I. Honestly, the meetings are a waste of time, and I frequently get the feeling I’m talking to myself. The committee is considering dissolution since pleasing  a 9, 11, and 15 year-old, even part of the time, has become a monumental task.  The members have grown weary from trying, but I’ll share some of what has worked in the past.   

Phase one: If you’re a stay-at-home mom, the absolute first thing you must do each day, is get out of bed before the kids. You need a few quiet moments to plot and plan… sanity is not maintained while flying by the seat of one’s pants. Choose some goals for the day, and prioritize. Have some breakfast, and even take a shower before donning the referee shirt and whistle. Years of in-the-lab scientific study have shown this improves outlook and bickering stamina by a whopping 98.6%. This strategy alone has kept me from being a resident of the psych ward.  

Phase two: Allow the kids to sleep until at least ten. (Sometimes later, depending on mood, and state of mental health on the given day) This approach works well, and removes some of the time potentially spent entertaining. Have them eat a hearty breakfast when they arise as this will aid in executing phase three.

                Phase three: Set up some summertime fun in the backyard with a bucket full of water balloons, water guns, paint, chalk, or whatever your little ones enjoy. If you have a wooden fence, provide buckets of water and paintbrushes so they can “paint” the fence. Slather on the sunscreen, and get them all set- up outside.  Don’t forget a cooler with drinks and snacks.  Create a “dry” zone for towels and a change of clothes. Hang around for a few minutes and appear to involve yourself in the frivolities. Then, quietly slip back inside for a “potty break”, absent-mindedly lock the doors (out of habit, of course), and find some earphones. Be sure the volume is louder than the sound of knocks on the door.  

 Get going immediately. Paint your toe-nails, finish that book or one of my personal favorites, just sit and stare at a wall. Be strong, and stay focused on the task at hand. Resist the urge to look outside.

All kidding aside, summer is great for spending quality time with children.  I have three I’ll loan out if anyone needs proof.

© 2008 Natalie Whatley