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What I Learned Over Spring Break

Last week was our spring break. It was the first spring break in about five years that we haven’t had major money problems.

Where we weren’t in danger of losing our house, where the Man from CL&P wasn’t coming to knock on our door on an almost monthly basis, where we weren’t on food stamps, where we didn’t have to return cans and bottles or hold a tag sale in order to pay for groceries.

We aren’t anywhere near rolling around in bags of money. We aren’t in the position to do whatever we want whenever we want. We are nowhere near that. We still have to be frugal and cut the fat wherever we can.

But we aren’t destitute.

Being in a terrible financial black hole for years had put me into the mindset that I couldn’t relax. That I had to spend just about every second of every day working or trying to find ways to make money. And so for the past four of five spring breaks and Christmas vacations and summer vacations, I have basically ignored the kids.

Going away anywhere was clearly not an option. But I had also convinced myself that taking time to do just about anything with them wasn’t possible. Or allowed.

It’s hard to get out of that mindset.

For me, anyway.

So this spring break, I made the conscious decision to be much more available to the kids.

I did this for a number of reasons.

First, Number 7 is five years old.

Five years old!!!

How did that happen so fast?

There are phases of life that have passed us for good.

We are done with diapers and highchairs and strollers and carrying kids. I find myself feeling nostalgic for some of these things that are long gone sometimes.

Although I appreciate where we are now. I am enjoying the kids having more independence. I am enjoying relating to them on a different level.

But damn is it going by fast!!!

I definitely have regrets. And I’ll see an occasional video show up on Facebook from five years ago and it’s scary how quickly I forget. I forget what the kids looked like and what they smelled like and what they sounded like. I know that happens.  But has it happened more for me because I’ve been letting so many opportunities with the kids pass me by?

I spend a lot of time with my kids. I mean, I’m the one who is usually home with them.

But I feel like I’ve been absent for a lot of that time.

I’m in the same place as them, but I’m not really present.

You know, like the stereotypical husband sitting across the table from the wife, reading the newspaper, and not listening to a thing she ways and just uh-huh-ing her without even looking up from the paper or actually listening to a word she says.

So there was that realization.

Then there is the fact that some of the kids are having issues with behavior. They happen to be the kids I spend the least amount of time with.

Maybe it’s just coincidental, but I don’t think so.

I am certain there is a direct correlation between kids behavior and the amount of or quality of interaction between them and their parents.

My kids need my attention. My focused, undivided attention. They don’t necessarily need hours and hours of it.

But they sure as shit need more than they’ve been getting.

So for the first time in years, I made the conscious decision to spend a significant amount of quality time with my kids while they were home last week.

And something ironic happened.

I didn’t get sick of them. I didn’t find myself getting pissed and annoyed and short on patience.

Don’t get me wrong. They did stupid and infuriating stuff. They still tried to annoy the shit out of each other and me. The are kids. That’s what they do sometimes.

But they started doing it less and less.

I spent more quality time with the kids than I have in a long, long time. And instead of me getting to the end of our vacation and feeling exhausted and exasperated and desperate for a break, I felt kind of sad that the break was over. I could have used a couple more days.

What the fuck?

I have never, ever felt that way.

I have spent every vacation for the last couple years desperate for the kids to go back to school so I could have a break.

And the kids (who are usually at least a little bit excited to go back to school and see their friends) were bummed, too.

Number 4 had no desire to go back to school. That’s never happened before.

At least ten times last week, she just looked at me — not in response to going on one of our adventures or in an effort to get something but just out of the blue — and she said, I love you, Mom.

Whoa.

I guess I am having one of Oprah’s proverbial light bulb moments.

I’m not going to stop working, drop everything I want to do, start homeschooling and construct a huge family bed.

But it’s clear that my priorities need to shift. Or at least the way I structure my time does.

Last week the kids and I had one of the best weeks we’ve ever had together. Possibly, the best week we’ve ever had.

I know we did some fun things. But it wasn’t really the fun things that made the break so great.

It was the fact that we did them together.

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5 Strategies For Stay At Home Moms Who Feel Like They Are Sucking In The Time Management Department

So this was the year I was going to get tons of shit done, right?

All the kids were finally going to be in school full-time, and I was going to be more efficient than ever.

My house would be clean, everything would be organized, meals would be planned, and the laundry would never pile up.

I’d be a productivity machine.

Um….

Things have not panned out that way.

What I have learned is that I suck at managing huge, uninterrupted blocks of time.

I became so used to functioning under extreme conditions that when there is no pressure on me, I’m basically useless.

The last two kids get on the bus around 8:15 every morning. I have until almost 3:00 before the younger ones start coming home.

And I can’t tell you how many days 2:00 rolls around, and I have done close to nothing.

How the hell can six hours go by so quickly, and how the hell can I manage to do so little in that time?

Ugh.

I’m not surprised. I have always functioned better under pressure. I’ll probably never do anything way ahead of time.

But things were getting to be a little bit ridiculous.

So I started making some changes that have really helped me.

And if you have found yourself accomplishing almost nothing and are running around like a lunatic twenty minutes before the bus comes every afternoon, these might help you, too:

1. Determine what your time suckers are.

I didn’t have to  spend much time figuring this out. I kind of knew what was using up massive amounts of time for me.

First, (still) not being organized was having a domino effect. It doesn’t matter if all the kids are off to school if I am spending 10 minutes looking for my iPod (and then realizing it’s not charged), then another five minutes remembering where I put my phone and then another five minutes looking for that paper I was supposed to sign and then…

Searching for stuff is probably taking up at least 30 minutes of my day. That’s a lot of time! If I invested five minutes every day to take the time to put everything back in its designated spot, I would save myself  25 minutes on the back end!

The next massive time waster, and easily the biggest one, is my damn phone. I waste so much time on it. And this ties into the third huge time sucker. Social media/email/and the internet in general.

I am constantly checking my phone.  As soon as I hear a beep or a buzz or a ding or a dong, I’m checking to see what it is. Before you know it, I have gone from checking a text message to reading about Brangelina on Yahoo “News”, looking at Chrissy Teigen’s stretch marks on Instagram, getting sucked into ten different click bait articles on Facebook, and checking out every trending hashtag on Twitter.

So being aware of these things, I did the next two things…

2. Use a timer.

This has been so effective for me!

I have started breaking the hours up into fifteen minute segments, and setting a timer.

This has helped in a couple of ways.

First, I find myself challenging myself to see how much I can get done before the timer goes off. I load the dishwasher more quickly. I get food prepped more quickly. I do everything more quickly.

Today, for the first fifteen minutes of each hour, at 9:00, 10:00, 11:00 and 1:00 ( I was at the grocery store at 12:00) I spend the first fifteen minutes doing cleaning up stuff. Breaking it up like that made it more bearable for me (because I hate to clean), and  having only fifteen minutes at a shot really helped me to get as much done in those fifteen minutes as I could.

I probably got as much done in one hour, breaking things up that way, as I normally would in a one hour, uninterrupted chunk of time.

Of course, I’m not always completely on task.

But that’s where the timer has helped in another way. If I do veer off track, the timer goes off before I’ve been able to waste more than fifteen minutes. No more hours going by without getting a single thing done! If I get sidetracked, the timer goes off and I’m able to quickly redirect and refocus myself.

3. Set designated times to check email and social media.

I know this. I know this from my teaching days. I know this just from having half a brain.

You can’t be efficient if you are checking your email every ten minutes.  And another problem caused by constantly checking my email and texts is that I read them, but I don’t always reply to them. And then thirty minutes after reading them, I’ve forgotten about half the things I need to reply to, and I forget to get back to people.

So just as I have built fifteen minute cleaning blocks into each hour, I’ve built email checking blocks into the day also. Not every hour, but once in the morning and once in the afternoon for email.

To help keep me from checking Facebook constantly, I have made sure I only keep one open tab on my computer when I’m using it. That way I don’t see any notifications and I’m not tempted.

4. Keep the phone in another room.

Out of sight, out of mind. Plus, I can’t hear the vibrations that way, even when all the other notifications are turned off.

Since my cell phone is the only way the school can contact me if there is an issue with the kids (because we don’t have a landline at home), I don’t want to turn it off.

Sometimes if I’m really tempted, I put it out in the car.

But not having it in the same room as me has really made a big difference in my level of productivity!

5. Give yourself a break!

Most work places give employees breaks (and if they don’t, they should). So don’t think you have to be going non-stop all day long and just because you are not in an actual that you aren’t doing work and you don’t deserve some down time!

You do!

This is another area where the timer helps. When you stay on task for a couple hours and are getting stuff done, giving yourself thirty minutes to sit down and read or eat or do something kind to yourself feels good. And you feel like you’ve earned that reward. You don’t feel guilt for checking Facebook for a half hour. You’ve earned a break!

If you’ve been feeling inefficient and unproductive, give some of these a try for the next week. See what happens.

I bet you’ll see a change (and then you’ll be ready for more strategies I’ll have for you next week).

Now step away from the computer, put the phone down, and go find yourself a timer.

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