Monday, July 12, 2010

a letter to all those "it must be nice" people...

Why is it so hard for other people to understand and/or accept that I might just be that organized. Don't get me wrong, I am no Martha Stewart. My living room currently has a cat, a toy stethoscope, a bag full of our swimming stuff from Saturday, a baseball hat, yesterday's newspaper, a large train track, about 20 matchbox cars, and a large penguin strewn from the fireplace to the kitchen. There are dirty lunch dishes in the sink because they didn't all fit in the dishwasher. The ice tea pitcher is sweating on the counter because there is no room in the refrigerator. There are a few articles of clothing resting casually on my bedroom floor and the new toilet paper roll is sitting on the sink in the downstairs bathroom while the empty roll still sits on the holder. Perfect is far from organized.

So I am no different than anyone else. Which is why I get so tired of hearing that "it must be nice". As in it must be nice that you have the time to make home made macaroni salad at the last minute. It must be nice that you have the time to stop at a park on the way home from the day care pick up. It must be nice that you can get to the gym to workout.  It must be nice that you can find the time to make home made granola and cook dinner for your family most nights. Yes, it is nice. Quite nice. But here is what I don't understand. Why is it so unobtainable for my "it must be nice" accuser?

I have offered to share my organization secrets but have been denied. I think that some people just like to complain. But here is what I don't get. If you don't like your situation and you wish you had more time to spend with your family or more money to do fun things, or you wished you could prepare more whole foods meals, or whatever it is that you want to do, then change it. Change it! And if someone close to you is offering advice on how to go about making that change, listen! And if you don't want to make these changes in the first place, if you truly just want to complain, then go right ahead. But don't make me feel bad for managing to figure out a few simple ways to make my family's life a little better.

I firmly believe that the first step to a simple life is learning how to let go. I can't do it all. There was a time that I felt that I had to, a time that I felt that I had to live up to how well I thought all those other moms were doing. I didn't know how to do it, but I felt that when my home wasn't tidy, when my son wasn't behaving, when my family wasn't eating delicious dinners I slaved over a hot stove to create, then I wasn't living up to who everyone expected me to be. And that is way too much pressure to put on yourself. I would imagine that every woman goes through this difficult time. Some may have a valid reason to desire this perfection; in-laws or a fussy husband, or maybe overbearing friends. I had none of that. My husband is supportive. I believe that he enjoys the occasional moments of serenity my organizational skills provide in our lives, and I know he appreciates it when I make the beds in the morning or pick up a favorite snack while doing the shopping. But he doesn't get upset when those things don't happen.  No, I didn't have any external forces making me feel as though I should be this perfect wife and mother. I was doing it to myself. So one day I decided to let it go. And believe me, it wasn't easy.

After I took charge of these feelings, as the weeks marched ahead I noticed my stress level decreasing. In turn, I noticed the feeling of the entire house changing. Suddenly it was a little quieter. Suddenly it was easier to take the time needed each weekend to prepare for the coming week. My husband began to unknowingly help me to protect this much needed time to plan and think by playing games with our son or suggesting I head over to Starbucks. Taking the time each weekend to plan our meals for the next week forced me to review our calendars, which forced us to discuss day care drop off and pick up for each day, upcoming doctor's appointments and music classes, and even which clothes really needed to be taken to the cleaners and which could wait because they wouldn't be needed anytime soon. Soon I found myself looking forward to sitting down with a few cookbooks, my grocery list, my planner and our family calendar. I realized that I truly enjoy planning, shopping for, and preparing meals for my family. I don't mind running errands because I know on Sunday which errands will be completed on which day and I know that I have assigned each errand to a day that can accommodate a little extra stop here and there. And let me tell you a little secret. Knowing what we are eating each night of the week has so many hidden benefits. I didn't know that my husband was even aware that I had tacked the weekly menu to the fridge until one day he mentioned that he was looking forward to having meatloaf for dinner  that night. "Where did you get that idea?" I asked him, as I was defrosting chicken, not ground beef. When he said that he had read it on the menu posted on the side of the fridge I smiled. He may have been disappointed at not having meatloaf that evening, but I was thrilled. He was reading our menus! OK, so it was the menu from the week before that I had forgotten to throw away, but it was a work in progress.

Planning our menus a week at a time has also saved on the grocery budget. By shopping once a week and only buying what is needed for that week's dinners and school/work lunches we are no longer throwing food away that has gone bad before we have had a chance to eat it. And if I have forgotten something or if we run out of something earlier than expected we can easily live without it, knowing that I will be back at the store at the end of the week. Since I began taking the time to really plan our meals like this I have not had to make a single "emergency" run to the grocery store. Imagine the time that alone has saved! Plus, there is no more of that end of the day panic around what to serve for dinner. Which means that those food prep shortcuts are no longer needed. And we all know that many of those quick and easy to prepare foods are just not healthy - I am no longer worried about what my family is eating because I know exactly what is on their plate. No more wishing that I could be that family. With a little planning and a lot of letting go I have helped my family to be our own version of that family.

So to my it must be nice accuser, I say this. Yes, it is nice. I am thrilled that more days than not I manage to make the beds and clean up the kitchen after breakfast. I manage to pay my mother's bills and still have time to visit her a few times a week. I have the time to attend board meetings of our Families With Children From China group, and I managed to start up a play group within this organization for families with children my son's age. I have been able to experiment with feeding my family whole food meals and I no longer feel guilty when I spend time throwing baseballs to my little hitter. (there is guilt if you don't clean up right after dinner that you aren't providing for your family. there is guilt if you do clean up that you aren't spending enough quality time with your kids. everyone has this guilt, I know. but it is magnified if your family was brought together via adoption. but more on that another day.)

 I have this time because I have been able to let a few things go. I have enlisted help with the housecleaning. While I started the play group I then turned over the day to day management of it to another mom. I now ask my husband for help more often and I take him up on his offers of more alone time so I can plan and think. I even went out and bought more underwear for my son so that I was not always on the hunt for a clean pair. I use a card delivery service for birthday and other occasional cards. I have been a little more forceful with the associates at my mother's assisted living, asking them to do a little more reminding in an effort to cut down on the many telephone calls from Mom. I also learned to say no. No, I will not be directing the pre-school children's Christmas musical this year. No, I will not be preparing a donation for the Kidney Foundation every time they call. Even though I know there are items we could donate I also know that I can't always make the time to sort through closets and drawers. And you know what? When done correctly, it feels good to say "no". My stress level is so much lower without all of these unnecessary commitments hanging over my head.

I refuse to feel guilty because I enjoy planning and organizing for my family. After all, because I enjoy organizing and planning for my family, I also enjoy, well, my family!

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