Tuesday, September 8, 2015

You just need a system

I really, really hate chaos.  I think humans are programmed to want some kind of order in their world, but some of us take it to another level and break out in hives when whoever emptied the dishwasher just threw all the tupperware on the shelf willy-nilly instead of stacked and sorted like God intended.  Some of us break out in hives at just the mention of tupperware, because it is a disaster waiting to happen, kind of like the Trump Administration or any cover of any U2 song, ever.  It's kind of weird that I can't stand chaos, since I grew up in Africa, where chaos reigns supreme.  I'm actually more relaxed when I'm there, because I think it's so far gone, I don't even try to care.  Just ride the wave, man.  If you die, you die.

Here in America, I can only take so much.  There's an expectation that you can and should control your own chaos by going to the Container Store.  I'm much better than I used to be--in college, I spent every single Saturday morning scrubbing my entire house.  It may have had something to do with the fact that I was married to someone I didn't want living there. Maybe I figured if my house was super clean, I wouldn't notice him standing over there in the corner?  That actually makes no sense, as it's easier to hide a person in a bunch of filth.  I bet the hoarders have multiple spouses living in there.  When they couldn't find one, they just married another one.  Then one day, someone relocates a pizza box and it's like, Oh My Word, there's my 2nd husband.  In any case, divorcing him helped cure me of that level of OCD, as did graduate school, which overwhelmed me with so much work, I really couldn't be on top of anything.  There's no better cure for perfectionism than just a firehose of stuff to perfect.  It's lower your standards or go into a catatonic seizure.

My precious Kevin also helped cure me with his...flexibility.  Yeah.  That's all I'll say about that, because I am not allowed to talk about him on here.
Then I had kids.  Kids are CHAOS.  Unlike Africa, though, there is an expectation there that I, as their mother, am supposed to do something about them.  So I can't just pass out in the back seat and leave my fate in the hand of my maker they way I deal with Kenyan roads, for instance.  I am driving this matatu (Kenyan bus for the uninitiated), and the road is just a horror show of potholes, crazy bus drivers, unroadworthy vehicles, corrupt cops, and dudes working under hoods while the vehicles they are working on are actually moving down the road (I saw that once, for real. Then I went back to sleep in the back seat).  Also, I might be a little drunk (kidding! Sort of. But I am on medication, as I have mentioned).  Yeah, so I am in the driver's seat, and it scares the living crap right out of me.  I'll be doing fine, then I'll see Lawson dump a huge bin of legos in the middle of the living room or worse, mix the legos and the Lincoln Logs Nooooooo!!!!!!, and it's like Sigourney Weaver in Ghostbusters when she gets possessed by Zuel.  Likewise when I realize my children have had nothing to eat but chicken nuggets and ice cream for a week.  Or haven't had a bath in 2 weeks.  Or have no clothes to wear.   Or are still running crazily through the house ignoring my entreaties to go to bed at 9 pm.  Or have just queued up their third movie while I haven't been paying attention.  Or have dressed the dog up as a pirate.  Or, my absolute favorite, when they take all of my 25 pairs of shoes out of my closet and model them all over the house.  I know I have too many pairs of shoes, but Lord have mercy, that one sends me into hysterics.  Or....anything indicating that I have been unsuccessful in controlling my world/taking care of my AOR/being a decent parent.  I wish I could be all, hey man, whatever, it's all good.  Or I wish I could be all,  I am Super Mom, and I have a schedule for every chore (I know of woman who had such a thing.  Fridays were for changing and laundering sheets, something I haven't done in....I think a Bush was president, not sure which one...), a system for every organizational challenge, a strategy for every behavior problem.   Instead I'm somewhere in the middle, not relaxed enough to co-exist with the chaos and not energetic enough to stay on top of it.  I think that is the very definition of neurosis.  Whatever it is, it's a deranged and disturbed existence.
I need to just give up and accept the fact that I am no match here.  I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of girl, a do-what-you-need-to-survive-in-the moment kind of person.  But no, I just can't accept it, and I keep coming up with new ways I am going to finally triumph over the chaos.  There are remnants of these systems all over my house.  I'm sure in a thousand years when someone unearths my home, they will find evidence of what they will mistakenly believe indicates that an organized, systematic person lived here.  They would be wrong.  Here are a few of the failures.

1) The 8-week meal schedule.  So my absolute least favorite thing in all of human existence is meal planning.  I dislike cooking, true, but I feel that I might not mind it if someone else decided what to cook and went and got all the ingredients for that.  I still might not cook it, but the chances would be better.  Anyway.  I decided I would invest some time and pain up front and make an 8-week meal schedule that I could just repeat ad nauseum (and with my cooking, that is a literal thing).  That way I wouldn't have to think, I would just do, and better yet, when someone around here asked that most awful of questions, "What is for dinner?" (seriously, it's like Do you believe the earth is round back when they drew and quartered folks) I would be able to shut that down with a quick, "Eggplant parmesan, people! Now shut up!"  So the ridiculous thing about me is I ACTUALLY DID THIS.  I made the meal plan. It took me hours and hours.  And then--I DID NOT USE IT.  I would look at Monday where it said I was going to cook pepper steak, and I would be all like, yeah, I'm not really feeling pepper steak.  Frozen pizza it is.  Or, even more ridiculous, I would scramble around all stressed looking for a new recipe on the internet and make that.  There's just no help for me.

2) The chore chart.  I decided when Charlotte was about 4 that she needed to start earning her keep around here.  So I bought this cute little chore and behavior chart, one of those adorable wooden Melissa and Doug deals.  I don't know who Melissa and Doug are, but I'm guessing they are sunbathing on their private island in the Pacific right about now after convincing all American parents that wooden toys that require no batteries will solve all their parenting dilemmas.  Yep, that's what's wrong with kids these days--plastic toys with batteries. A total gateway drug kind of thing. Anyway, their chore chart is SO convincing! They have tiles you can add with suggested chores, then there are blank ones so you can personalize it.  It has little pictures so pre-literate kids can still do their chores.  When I bought it, I had this vision of Charlotte happily checking off all her chores at the end of the day, chores which she had done without any prodding/nagging/demonic shrieks from me but rather for the pure joy and excitement of applying the little Melissa and Doug magnetic smiley faces to the board.  What child wouldn't get a thrill from that.  Well, I'll tell you.  Any child would indeed get a thrill from that. For exactly one day.  Then that child will lose interest and eventually start World War III with their mother if she insists we continue this absurd exercise.  Then sometimes she would want to do the chart, only to discover at the late hour of 8 or 9 pm that she had done exactly none of the chores that day, necessitating she do them RIGHT NOW in lieu of going to bed.  Then her mommy is put in the uncomfortable position of talking her out of doing her chores.  Well played, child, well played.

3) The star system.  No, this is not some kind of astrophysics tutorial.  This is where the children get stars on a blackboard for good behavior and lose them for bad behavior.  I got this from my sister, who is a missionary, so I figure it is good stuff.  Pretty motivating for awhile.  Until they realized that you can't take little chalk stars on a board to the bank or otherwise do anything with them, except show them off when friends come over (kind of like that collection of decorative spoons from around the world) So I had to up the ante with...

4) The star basket.  This brilliant scheme began when my kids became obsessed with Thomas the Train and decided they wanted every single engine ever made, which is like 539 now...make that 540, Fisher Price just rolled out Hercules as I was typing this.  This was the first time that the kids really, really wanted something, so I knew I had to exploit the heck of out it.  I bought a bunch of used engines and put them in a basket, and I told the kids they could pick one when they got 10 stars.  Oh, friends, those were halcyon days.  Days of honey and wine and roses and dancing. Those little engines made me an all-powerful dictator over my people,  just like Swiss bank accounts have done for so many African presidents.  I had those kids where I wanted them.  Until they could have cared less.  Then I was abruptly left with no power and a glut of classic, handpainted wooden train engines for my children to cherish for a lifetime.  The engines were replaced by spiderman crap, then books of various kinds....then the whole thing just came apart.  No one cared about stars anymore.  NASA was defunded, the dictator was overthrown, and the people ran amok in the streets.  Until Lawson's teacher suggested...

5) The family star system.  This was pretty much doomed from the start, I don't know why I bothered except for pure desperation.  Instead of the kids earning individual star tallies, we as a family would work together and earn them collectively by accomplishing goals we set for ourselves.  Then, when we reached our family goal, we got to do something fun for everyone (which honestly does not exist with kids. Let's be honest, it's fun for the kids, and with any luck, the parents will not be driven to drink).  The whole thing was a mini-demonstration of why socialism doesn't work, as if history hasn't already proven that a million times.  No one did their part, basically hoping to coast off others' achievements.  And when there were no achievements of any kind to coast off of, no one really cared any way, since the pay off wasn't that amazing, as it had to be shared.  And that is why you could not buy a damn thing in Tanzania in the 1980s.

6) Bribery, pure and simple.  Unfortunately, this means nothing to my kids because they don't know how much awesome Chinese crap there is to buy out there.  We rarely go in a store since I buy everything online, and they never see commercials, since they watch only on demand/Netflix.  I never thought I would want greedy kids that wanted a bunch of stuff.  Turns out kids who want nothing are far, far worse.  One time I offered Charlotte a dollar if she would go pick up all the dog poop in the yard.  She actually said to me, "Why would I want a dollar?"

7) The written down schedule.  Given that I was not having any luck incentivizing anything, I decided that what we really needed was more structure.  The kids have that in school, their choices are few, they know what's coming next, and everyone does fine.  So I wrote down the rules.  Hey, it worked for the United States.  English Common law is a chaotic mess, but the US Constitution fixes everything.  You just write it down.  Oh, but then you have to actually enforce it.  The schedule stood taped to the kitchen cabinet mocking me for several weeks before I finally took it down and shredded it.

8) Rotating toys.  I have this friend who is an early childhood expert with a blog, and she has this whole toy rotation system, where you bin up toys in carefully selected groupings to maximize brain development, and then you give the kids one bin at a time (yes, I know).  I could care less about brain development, but what I do care about is ORDER, and this sounded like a plan to me.  So I got some bins, I organized the toys in them (all the legos together, all the duplos together, all the dinosaurs together, etc) and I rearranged the bookshelves so i could put them out of reach.  The plan was I would get down a couple of bins at a time, and if a child wanted another one, they would have to clean up one they had out first.  How could this fail??  Fast forward to me on the phone with the cable company (no, we don't have a picture of any kind.  yes, I'm pretty sure I know the difference between a daytime talk show and a black screen), and Lawson screaming at me that he wants another bin!!!!  No, not that one!!! Not that one either!!!!!  the one with the RED car!!!! No No NOOOOO that one has the BLUE CAR!!!!! And me furiously dumping every toy we have out into a Mount Everest of toys as if someone is shooting rockets over my head.  Repeat this scenario with slight variations, and you have the brutal death of yet another system.

9) Just scream at everyone like a banshee until they get themselves together, which will never happen, pop a Zoloft, say some mantras ("The toys cannot hurt me.  No one will die from chicken nugget overdose.  CPS will not investigate infrequent bathing unless there is a flea infestation) and call it a day.




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