I get asked this question a lot. I hear comments such as “I don’t know how you do it” and “I can’t even imagine” on an almost daily basis. My typical retort is something along the lines of “I don’t do it very well”.
Here’s the thing. In a million years, I never would have pictured myself in this situation. If you had told me a year ago that I would be HERE..NOW…I would have landed in the looney bin from thinking I could never do it–never handle it. However, shit happens in life and people discover that they adapt and just keep on moving. During my last run up the HILL FROM HELL, I thought a lot about how I actually manage being a grieving, widow with four small children.
Loads and loads and loads of help. I do not do this alone. I am so blessed to have family, friends, neighbors, and even acquaintances that I feel comfortable calling on a moment’s notice and asking for help and knowing they do not expect me to reciprocate. I wasn’t a person who liked to ask for help before. Now, I have no choice. I’ve become accustomed to it. In answer to the question “How do you do it?” I would say–“I don’t do it. We do it”.
Is this a big deal? I let a lot of stuff go. A lot. Things that would I freak out about in the BEFORE with my kids–in the AFTER, I just let it go. If my 3 1/2 year old son wants to go to school in a tutu and pink beach hat-fine with me. When my 10-year-old son has started experimenting with hair gel and ends up resembling a hedgehog, but he’s happy with it–I let it go. When I see my 5-year-old daughter’s white hiney all the way from across the baseball field as she pees on the playground–I think to myself “That’s not my kid”. When my 7-year-old has had enough of another kid bugging him and turns around and bops him in the face–well, is that so bad? I try to ignore as much as I can. When my kids wrestle, scream, tantrum-I do my best to stay calm and walk away. Sometimes I lock myself in the bathroom for extra long periods of time. My parents think I don’t “punish” my kids enough. I don’t know if that’s the right or wrong answer. I just know that for me–“time outs” take a lot more effort and energy than I have to give, and most of the time there are natural consequences to their actions. So I ask myself, “Is this a big deal?” and most of the time, the answer is “no”.
Yell a lot. Despite what I’ve written above, I yell a lot. I need to yell in order to be heard in this house of chaos and craziness. Anyway, it works in the military, right? Sometimes I just imagine I’m a drill sergeant. Shower/bath nights are when my neighbors are most likely to hear my voice up and down the street. Shower/bath night is akin to herding and bathing cats. I dread it. Also, when I first walk in the door from work and am still holding all my shit and haven’t taken off my coat and I see the littlest one running around the backyard buck naked and there’s a chorus of “mom mom mom mom mom mom mom” (like the seagulls from Finding Nemo) and the dog starts barking for no apparent reason and the Mormons who think I need saving start ringing the doorbell to read me bible passages–you might hear me yell. The scene I just described is a daily occurrence. So yes–I yell a lot.
Electronics are my friends. Say what you will-I don’t actually care what anyone has to say about this. Video games, computers, TV–best things ever. I get regular lectures from my pediatrician about how kids these days have “Nature Deficit Disorder” because of all the electronics. I used to freak out and spend a few weeks after a well child check up banning electronics. But you know what? Doing that makes my life harder. My kids play sports and spend time outdoors. Jake and I used to take them “hiking” on the weekends, but that required two of us. One to stay with the bigger kids who want to run through the forest and one (usually me) to stay with the littlest who stops to point out every stick and rock on the ground. I can’t do that alone. I have a big backyard so they can go out there and shoot hoops, ride bikes, and examine slugs. They get exposed to nature on the walk from my car into their classrooms. I do take away electronics when they start to cry or throw tantrums out of frustration with the game. “If it’s not fun anymore–we don’t play it”. But otherwise, electronics and I–BFFs. So now when the pediatrician starts lecturing me about too much exposure to electronics, I zone out, nod, and go to a happy place in my head.
Fantasize about fleeing. I hesitate to write about this in case I ever really give in to the urge to run away from home 😉 But I have elaborate fantasies about changing my identity and running away from home. Where I go and what I do in my fantasies varies all the time. Sometimes I flee to Europe and sit on patios drinking coffee and doing yoga in nature everyday (despite the fact that I hate yoga). Sometimes I disappear into the woods to live “On Walden Pond” like Henry David Thoreau. Sometimes I flee to L.A. where I end up running into Matt Damon and we fall madly in love and go travel Europe or live “On Walden Pond” together. My fantasies get me through the really hard times (refer to daily occurrences in Yell a lot section).
Beating myself up. I don’t do this anymore. At least I try not to. I am not the mother I always pictured I would be before I had kids. My life didn’t turn out the way I expected. Sometimes I feed my kids Gogurt and Teddy Grahams for dinner. I don’t force them to eat vegetables. I leave my kids in the car when I have to run into a store quickly (WHAT?!?! Gasp in shock! I’ll probably end up on the news someday). I set my expectations for myself as a mom pretty low now, so I never beat myself up over what a failure I am as a parent. Let other people talk. “There go the Milnes’ kids screaming through Safeway” (or peeing on the baseball field). I don’t care. My kids know I love them. That’s what matters.
Keep it simple. As much as I would love for my kids to be involved in every activity they want to be, I just can’t do it-financially or practically. The kids need to prioritize and I keep it as simple as I can possibly can with four different kids. I don’t volunteer to be class mom or attend PTA meetings. I don’t chaperone field trips. Meals are simple. I don’t try to conceal pureed veggies in their macaroni and cheese. I no longer refer to Parent Map for activities for the kids to do on the weekends. I don’t plan big adventures (or even small ones). I am not a bad mom because I don’t do these things. I personally think I am a smart mom-because I know my limits and my priorities.
Selfish. I am selfish. I make sure I don’t miss my workouts or runs. I try to get out on the weekends if I can. I try to go to the grocery store by myself. I tell my kids what I need. When I sit down for dinner, I’m not getting up until I’m ready, so if you want anything, you either tell me now or you’ll wait. If I do get a spare few minutes in a day where there are no kids around and I am home–I do not utilize that time to get laundry done. I climb into my bed and cuddle under the covers and treasure being in my bed alone, warm, safe, and without kids climbing all over me. I let my kids know I need to sleep/eat/run/ etc. I don’t know if this is teaching them to be selfish, or compassionate about the needs of others. But I wouldn’t survive if I spent all my days and nights sacrificing everything that is Kristen for my kids.
Run, run, run. I don’t run for vanity purposes. At my pace and mileage logged each week, I am not going to get skinny or develop gorgeous runners’ legs like the girls have on the cover of the running magazines that I get but never read. I run for my brain and to fight my family history of heart disease. But mostly I run for my brain. Running and working out are better for my brain than any drug could ever be. Maybe it’s just because it is time away from my kids. I don’t know–but it does something to my brain that helps me get through the rest of my day and onto my next run or workout. My playlist has songs with a lot of swear words. That helps too.
So there it is. I’m not the Supermom I imagined I would be. I don’t even always put forth the best effort. So, in case you’re wondering–that’s how I do it.