Thursday, December 11, 2014

If you give Noah a Noel...

Last weekend, Mattias and Fritz took off for ski lessons on the mountain while Noah, Trixie and I decorated for Christmas. In this house, Noah is the leading contestant for the role of The Mouse in the book "If you Give a Mouse a Cookie." Trying to do something that requires a little bit of extra organization and focus (like decorating) with my Mouse and my Toddler made for, well, madness.

Here's an example: When you give Noah some stockings to hang, he'll hang some blankets and umbrellas to make a fort.

How about another? If you ask Noah to decorate, he'll decorate a table with some blue tape and call it a boat.

And this: If you ask him to use the blue tape responsibly, he'll make a door and window. For the boat.

Right. So as you can see, decorating kind of goes sideways (or backwards) here at the Wyse home.

Other highlights of the weekend included:
  • Cookies that melted in the oven because I wasn't paying attention to ingredients or Noah. Take your pick. 
  • A walkie-talkie that stole a ride to our house buried inside the Christmas tree. It was still jabbering away when we got home, "Attention associates! <garble garble garble>!" 
  • A half decorated Christmas tree that fell over on Noah. He's fine.
  • A broken "Pregnant Angel" tree topper, given to us by my aunt. Oh well, I decided, we're done with pregnancy around here, and I swept the angel into the trash. "We need to give her a proper burial!" proclaimed my aunt, a tear in her eye. 
  • Christmas strings of lights that had to be untangled and placed on the tree TWICE. Gah! Is it time to get a fake tree yet? "No!" answers Fritz, who was skiing while I wrangled the mess into decoration.
  • A non-sleeping toddler. She's teething. Or has a cold. Or is freaked out by all the changes around the house. Hmmm...maybe all three.
We're still a little sleep deprived and messy around here.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Mudroom/Storage Room

We've been testing out the new, improved mudroom this week.

AFTER - Fritz and Mattias changing shoes on Friday.
BEFORE - when we moved in four years ago.
When we moved in, we bought a 1x5 Expedit from Ikea to use as an impromptu bench. We thought maybe, someday, the bench would be like the window bench upstairs.  (Good thing we purchased it when we did, because the Expedit has since been replaced by the Kallax series which doesn't offer a 1x5 version. And we need 5 cubbies for five people!) Back in the day, we hung up some hooks for coats. We bought some plastic shelves from Home Depot to hold stuff on the other side of the room. But we still weren't quite sure what we wanted from this room, so it sat in an unfinished, messy state (frequently piles of coats) for the last four years.

Ikea planner. Oh, fancy. (And a little temperamental.)

It's a small room, about 7' x 8'. It lies between the garage and a hallway that leads to the kitchen. The original plan had a washer and dryer in this room. We moved the washer and dryer to basement when we moved in, because we felt like a small room on the first floor by the garage was the wrong place for our family.

In the last few months, we finally settled on a list of what we wanted from the mudroom:
  • A place to sit down and put on/ take off outdoor clothes and shoes.
  • A place for the small countertop appliances that were taking over the kitchen counter.
  • A place to throw mail and receipts when we came in from the car. Basically, a drop pad or drop zone.
  • Recycling and Trash so the junk doesn't make it very far into the house.
  • A place to hang coats which are being used. (There is a coat closet in the hall, but it doesn't work particularly well with the children, who can't seem to either 1) use hangers and 2) open and close doors without injuring each other.)
  • Storage for cleaning supplies.
We thought maybe we wanted a sink in this room. The hookup for the washer and dryer was still there, making it possible. But we weren't sure; a half bath is located just 3 feet down the hall. And there's a sink in the kitchen, another 14ish feet away. We eventually decided to kill the sink.

We were motivated to finally finish this project because Ikea is discontinuing their Akurum line of cabinets. We've used the Akurum line before and we knew we would be happy using them in the mudroom. And secondly, with our pending major renovation projects, it seemed like a wise idea to get this room organized. It was a place of constant disorganization!

Here's what we ended up with:

Counter side
Bench side
I've been on a real white-walls kick for the last few years. And I still really like white walls. But we thought we'd have some fun in the mudroom. Fritz and I took about 15 seconds to pick out this paint color from an itty bitty sample in the paint aisle at Home Depot. Exactly how you are NOT supposed to pick out paint. (One should always be able to thumb one's nose at conventional wisdom.) For now, I'm quite happy with it. We'll see how I feel in a few years.

It took me some time to let go of the idea that this room should be a locker room, where everybody had their own cubbies, their own hook, their own sitting space on the bench. But I wanted to put so many other kinds of storage into this space! Finally, I decided that the locker room style wasn't the best use of the space. I still haven't figured out how to get all three kids to sit down and do the same thing at the same time, anyway. We kept the 5-shoe-cubbies-one-for-each-person because that aspect of the room was working out well. But overall, I decided that a shorter bench and less coat hanging space could be almost as helpful as a long bench and more coat hooks.

Bench cubbies, in their final position, not touching the back wall.
We made the bench a counter depth (about 25" versus 15-18"), even though that meant adding some structural support and pulling the Expedit away from the wall. It created some dead space behind the Expedit that you can see in the photo below. Maybe we'll hide our secret treasure there! The depth of the bench is working out great, even if it looks kind of cluttered; the kids are so much more reliable about using the basket for accessories and stacking their backpacks on the bench because the surface is at a kid-friendly height.

Dead space behind the cubbies. Not ideal, but, oh, well.
The deeper bench also allowed us to set a full size cabinet on top of it. This configuration was definitely not in the Ikea manual. Let's hope the Expedit is strong enough. So far, so good.

Is all the green giving you a headache yet?

On the counter side, we improvised a little bit as well. The Akurum cabinet with three drawers wasn't available at our Ikea. Lucky for us, we figured out how to convert a sink unit into three drawer unit by rotating the doors and attaching them to Rationel drawers. Gotta love a good modular system. A clever person might notice the drawer panel reveals are rotated the wrong way relative to the door panel reveals. But. It's a mudroom. Mudroom. Mudroom, right?

There's no sink in the sink unit, because we temporarily nixed that part of the project. Also, no handles, because we're not there yet.

You know how when you go to Ikea, you get sucked into it, and pretty soon you think everything Ikea is GREAT? That's how the individual coat and hat hooks got replaced with the Gundtal rail below. The hooks are removable and slide along the rail. The jury is still out on whether or not the rail is a good idea. I will say that it's kind of nice to be able to shove the coats around, cramming more coats on the rail or off the rail, depending on the flux of people in the house:

Friday, November 28, 2014

Brunch and Dunch

We had a mostly quiet Thanksgiving on Thursday. Contrary to what I posted, we actually did make a Thanksgiving meal, not peanut butter and jelly.

My mother always made "Sticky Rolls" on the Holidays when we were kids. Sometimes I make the less sugary version, cinnamon rolls, for my own kids. This year, I made them proper, gooey sticky rolls. My mother woke up at some ungodly hour so that we could eat them for breakfast. I woke up at the normal time and we had them for brunch.

Fritz used some about-to-expire airline miles to get us a subscription to Southern Living magazine. Sort of strange, since neither of us is Southern. (He mumbled something about trying to throw off the data collectors when our first issue arrived this summer.) We decided to cook Thanksgiving dinner from their recipes. Why not, right?

It was fun. We didn't really have anything invested in whether or not the recipes turned out well. Also, no guests, no timelines, no expectations, just some ingredients and us.

Alright, southern friends, what are hearts of palms? This green bean dish was good. But I might skip the hearts of palms next time.

Predictably, the kids were not all into green beans with hearts of palms. In fact, they weren't really into any of the food. They sat at the table for all of 2 minutes (whining about the food) before they started asking to be excused. Eventually, I gave up and just took photos of their untouched, but messy, empty place settings. THIS is eating with little kids in the Wyse home, by the way.

Maybe it would have gone better if I had set the table more beautifully? Or dressed them in nicer clothes?

Even Fritz sort of gave up in the fashion department, while they climbed all over him.

Finally, we just asked them to go upstairs and leave us alone so we could eat.
Five minutes later they returned, hungry.

When are we having dinner? they asked.

Wait a minute, observed Noah, Did we have lunch?

You had dunch. We told them. It's between lunch and dinner and it's called Thanksgiving IF you eat it.

Mattias eyed the pie on the counter. Can we eat THAT?

No, I told them. You need grow food. I'm pretty sure the tortilla chips that followed do not, for one second, count as grow food. But they ate them quietly at their own improvised table for 15 minutes.

Then we had pie.

It didn't go quite as well as the chips.

Later, I took a photo of Mattias' plate while I was cleaning up. See how I dissected the pie into little piles for him? Crust, Apple and Pear, Cranberries, Whipped Cream. Yup. He only ate the whipped cream.

There you have it. We didn't eat peanut butter and jelly. We ate some other stuff. And most of us ate tortilla chips and whipped cream.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

In a typical year, we have about 6 weeks of houseguests. This year, we have had about 10 weeks of houseguests.

Given that we have so many houseguests, it is a little odd that we find ourselves without any guests at all over Thanksgiving this year. But that is okay! The kids are out of school all week. Without anyone else to entertain and nowhere we have to be, we are wearing pajamas, reading books and eating in front of the television. Just a bit. A simple PB&J for Thanksgiving? Maybe...

May your Thanksgiving week be everything that you need as well.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Becoming a Family of Five

I've wanted to post on this topic for a while. After Mattias was born, I did a similar post, about becoming a family of four. Somehow, the jump to five people (3 kids) has been a lot more difficult than the jump to four (2 kids). I've needed more time to truly process the change and not simply spew out my frustration.

Trixie reached 18 months earlier this month. I still believe Mean Jean's Theory of 18 months has validity; that is, it take 18 months to really adapt to major life changes. So, instead of writing a post at twelve months, I waited. It is tempting to constantly write posts under the topic of How I Overcame Something Difficult For Me. Maybe 18 months will be magic, I thought. Eventually, I had to admit to myself that if I kept waiting for that kind of closure, I might never post this.

SO. Without further ado, here are the changes I've noticed in our new, larger family:

There's no hiding for either parent. Funny, how Fritz used to go out to the garage to change a flat tire on his bike and emerge 4 hours later, having swept the garage and rearranged the scrap wood and labeled the tool drawers, all while I took care of the kids. Nope, doesn't happen like that anymore. If you are on our property, it is pretty much impossible not to be with the children/a child at all times. If Fritz disappears into the garage, it only takes about 10 minutes before the boys head out to see what he's doing. Before you know it, they're scootering in circles around the dust piles.  I think a portion of this intense togetherness is their ages, but a portion of it is the fact that they outnumber us, and they're mobile, so it feels like they're everywhere.

The burden falls more often at Fritz's feet than ever before (when he's home). I've nursed all three kids. In the first six month, all that nursing can really start to feel like a ball and chain. Fritz has never experienced this, and many times, I've felt envious of his freedom from nursing. But this is less the case with each successive child. There were times with Trixie when I was happy to disappear quietly into the bedroom, while leaving Fritz to referee the boys' disagreement over – I don't know – a straw wrapper. Nighttime parenting has seen a similar trend. Fritz tends to the boys (who need him less often) while I tend to Trixie. Trixie still wakes up more often but still shares a room with us; The boys wake up less often, but there are two of them and tending to them requires walking down the hallway. And if the two boys are sick, well, it definitely feels like I have the better deal.

BUT I still carry most of the unpleasant parts of parenting. Like triage. Oh, so much triage. Some people like to refer to three-plus-child-parenting as running a zonal defense versus a one-on-one defense. Maybe I'm too harsh, but I think of it as doing triage. When all three kids are crying at once, over different things (happens!), you have to decide which child to leave behind on the Battlefield of Childhood Woes. You have only two hands and some of them take up so much physical space. It's just not possible to comfort all of them at once. So you pick. This sucks. It sucks hard. In the early days of three kids, I was exhausted from constantly making the decision of which-kid-to-ignore and handling the consequences of my choice. Eventually I toughened up and making the choice cost me less. I even learned to have conversations with myself over screaming from the backseat while driving. But you know what? I don't think the toughness has made me a better parent. I think it's made me a worse parent. More insensitive. Less attentive. More sarcastic. Less charmed. More impatient. Less kind.

On practical level, with two hands occupied, I find myself telling the kids what to do more than ever. That would be the diplomatic way of saying barking orders at them or yelling or snapping. No matter how you phrase it, I rely on my voice more than I did before. I used to be much more action/modeling/showing as a parenting technique. But it just isn't as effective when you've got three kids. Sad. I liked the action/modeling/showing approach better.

Family-ness. Our family gained a certain gravitas when the second child was born. With the third child, I feel like our family is spinning even faster. Before we had a spin that created gravity, now we're more like a spinning tornado. Watch out for the centripetal force! Our chaos spin off us and slams into those around us! Words and phrases that come to mind to describe our interactions with others: Tentative. At arms length. Under conditions. Limited. Not that I blame anyone for keeping their distance from us. Do the kids run the show around here? Um, yes. This morning we went for a walk and we had to stop three times in the first block to address somebody's breakdown.

On the positive side, as a family unit we can be more efficient than ever before. Certainly our Costco receipts would lead you to believe the Wyses are running a mini-compound. It's kind of cool: we really do eat ALL of the bulk produce we buy before it goes bad. Ten pounds of carrots? NO PROBLEM. We also have the eating power to constantly have a more diverse amount of food in the fridge. For example, we never used to have all the ingredients for my favorite Brasil Club on hand at one time, unless I made a special shopping trip. Now, we almost always have all the ingredients.

Oh, and you know that thing where the older kids take care of the younger kids and it's SO DAMN CUTE? Yup, we got it. Book reading, carrying, giggling, handholding all over the place. Nonstop cuteness.

Friends. By choice or by necessity, some of my friendships have faded since Trixie was born. I think it's a special frame of mind that you live in when you have a baby. Once out of it, I think we forget what it's like. It's been more difficult than ever to relate to people who are not carrying a kid on their hip. I think of parenting three children like this: I'm treading water as fast as I can. I'm not even swimming. My eyes are just BARELY over the water. I can see a distance of three feet, at most. Can you talk to me about what's within my three foot range? No? Okay, sorry, can't talk, got to focus on my treading.

Additionally, the number of people who can understand the stresses of three kids are a smaller group. I find myself seeking out new friends with three or more children for commiseration. Sometimes I have to restrain myself from grabbing their hand and asking them how they're doing it.

You know: for years I was lonely because we were always moving to a new place. When we settled in here, it was such a relief to know that we were staying; and then to be thrust back into the isolation of having a baby and finding some new friends.... I guess it doesn't take a move to be lonely. SIGH. It's working out, but it's slow-going.

Diversity. I loved how two kids brought diversity and balance to our home. Three kids is even more diversity! That's nice. Sometimes, though, it feel like a little too much. Mostly, it's a challenge to address all the different needs of kids who span 6 years in age. Some of the young (childless) nannies I see at preschool drop off love to talk with me about age spacing of children. They all seem to think it's best to push kids out as fast as possible. They're planning it for their own futures. I'm not sure I agree, but the last 18 months has left me feeling that I'm not giving any of my three kids what they need in an age-appropriate way. Maybe it would be easier if they were closer together in age? Or maybe it would just be more chaotic.... With two children, I felt like there was more time to cultivate an individual relationship with both of them. I'm still not able to do that very well with three children, although I maintain hope.

All this said, holy shit, three kids has stretched us THIN. Frtiz and I are more grouchy, more argumentative and more stressed than we have ever been in our marriage. I really feel like all our various types of resources are scarcer than ever before. And there's not much we can do about it.

For what it's worth, the process of being stretched thin by children hasn't been linear: we were generally happier after Mattias (the 2nd) was born. But both Noah (the 1st) and Trixie (the 3rd) have been had steep learning curves associated with their arrival. I live on the hope that's getting easier – it will be easier – it is already easier – it IS A Learning Curve, so it's not permanent. I hope. After all, I did have the time to type this up, right?

Things that help (What? didn't I mention that it's hard for me not to write self-help posts???): Wine. Occasionally letting the television babysit. iPad Apps. Not mentioning that we've become a cliche. Reminding Fritz that he thought 2 children was spie├čig (translated form German: anal, middle-class in a derogatory way) and three kids was preferable when he complains about the endless chaos.

Also, if you are considering three kids, I think it's best to be really sure you want another child. Walking into the third child as a surprise or half-decision was an additional layer of difficulty.

Oomph. That was all fun to confess.