Archive | May 2014

6 Motherhood Lessons Learned from a Grape Tomato Plant

A couple of summers ago, I planted some grape tomato plants in my garden as I usually do.  I decided this particular year that I would stake them up with very strong and thick stakes, instead of previously tried (and untrue) methods to keep them up off the ground.  I also decided for some reason to plant four of them in a square pattern rather than in a traditional row.

In the beginning, everything was fine.  I tied each plant to its stake as it grew.  But then our family went out of town for a week.  The week before the trip I was preparing to go, so I did not go into the garden much, and of course the week we were gone I did not go at all.  So you can imagine that when I returned I found that my tomato plants had grown quite a bit, and that the main stems were very thick and no longer pliable like they had previously been.

I so badly wanted the main stems to go up the stake that I began pulling on them to see if I could still make it happen.  I was semi-successful with one plant, but another one started to break as I pulled on it.  I decided at this point that my original goal was not worth it, and instead got out more stakes and sticks to hold up the main stems, as well as any additional shoots that were growing.  It was a mess — with stems everywhere!  It was especially crowded and tangled in the middle of these four plants.

Over the course of the summer I found myself grumbling often at myself for not doing a better job of training the plant properly when it was young.  Whenever I would go into the garden to add more stakes to it, I would find myself thinking that this was such a great analogy for the often quoted Bible verse to “train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

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Fast forward two years later to the present time, and I no longer want to use that analogy – because my own children are not so young any more.  In some ways I feel like they (at least my oldest two) are like this plant.  There are things where I can see that I neglected to “train” them on when they were very young, and I honestly feel that I have lost some golden opportunities.  Trying to train them now often feels like I’m trying to pull on a mostly grown plant — there is so much more resistance, and if I pull too hard I fear “breaking the stem.”  And so I find myself with similar (though much deeper) feelings of regret to those I felt with my plant.

With this perspective in mind, here are a few things I am learning:

1.  Live in the present.  With my plant I had a terrible habit of always thinking of either the past (“Why didn’t I do this differently when the plant was small?”) or the future (“next year I’m going to do this better for sure!”).  Those thoughts were certainly OK to have once, but every time??  President Monson said once “learn from the past, prepare for the future, and live in the present.”  It would have been much better to simply write down my improvement plan for the next year in a place where I could use it when the time came, then let it go, and focus in a more positive way on the situation that was right in front of me.

It’s the same with my kids.  Instead of focusing on my past mistakes, it is better to see the situation as it is right now, and think about “what does my child need from me right now, in this moment?”  In the same talk, President Monson also said,

Sometimes we let our thoughts of tomorrow take up too much of today. Daydreaming of the past and longing for the future may provide comfort but will not take the place of living in the present. This is the day of our opportunity, and we must grasp it.”

2.  Pay attention.  I spent quite a bit of time with my tomato plants because they had so many stems that needed to be staked off the ground.  This was good in a way, because it forced me to pay closer attention to them, which helped me to spot trouble before it got out of hand.  I pulled off lots of little caterpillars and several of the big green horn worms.  I also found what I later learned to be blister beetles, and was able to take care of them before they became totally out of control.

With my kids, it’s easy to get distracted by the day to day stuff that demands my attention and forget to really pay attention to some of the less obvious details in their lives.  One example I will share is books.  I’m fortunate to have two super-fast readers, and their teachers are thrilled by this and definitely encourage them to read as much as possible.  But the “problem” is that they read so fast that it’s difficult for me to keep track of what they are reading, and I’m pretty particular about what types of books I do and do not want them to read!  So, I went for a time where I wasn’t paying much attention to what they were reading, but recently I’ve realized the need to observe more closely and have asked them to always show me new books they are reading.  It doesn’t undo all of the books they’ve read that I’m not familiar with or unsure about, but it does make for better decision-making going forward.  And, of course “paying attention” applies to so many other aspects of parenting as well!

3.  Sometimes “pruning” is necessary.  It took me a long to time to admit it, but I finally realized that I was going to need to prune these plants.   Because they were planted in a square, the middle was a tangled mess, and a lot of tomatoes were going to waste in there.  That’s not to mention that it was a great hiding place for all of the pests because I couldn’t see clearly enough to get them.  So I finally trimmed some stems and even pulled up one whole plant to make it so I could get to them.  It was hard for me to be willing to do, but the situation was so much better after I did!

This would obviously be analogous to reducing certain things in my children’s lives that don’t accomplish what I know is needful for them.  Maybe some activities outside the home, or screen time, or even stuff that they own.  But I think it could also be applied to any of the difficult or painful rules or consequences that we as parents have to enforce.  I think of the story “The Currant Bush” (I love this story!!!) where the bush seems to be upset because it was growing so tall and thought it was going to be grand like the fruit trees around it.  But the gardener knew that in order to produce its fruit, it needed to be cut back.  Later, it is quoted (and I wonder if my children will ever say to me), “Thank you for loving me enough to cut me down.”  Even if they don’t ever say it, I can remember in my own heart that sometimes a little “pruning” is exactly what is needed.

4.  Notice the good they do and give plenty of praise.  I was so frustrated by the problems I felt my plant had that I must admit I forgot to be grateful for the good job it was doing producing tomatoes for us.  But not my husband….he was always so happy anytime anything was brought in from the garden.  Last year, he was the one who planted and took care of the garden (I felt that I needed a break from it).  His wasn’t any more perfect than mine, but when I asked him if he was frustrated by it, he responded by saying, “all I care about is that I get food from it.”  Then he proudly showed me all of the food he had just harvested.

About six months ago I came across a blog article titled “how to fix your child’s attitude.”  It’s an awesome, uplifting article (in my opinion) about positive changes us moms can make that will in turn influence our children’s attitudes.  One thing that she suggested was that if we are frustrated with our children a lot, to write down 3 things daily (or twice a day if needed!) that we like about them.  I just loved this advice when I read it, but I’m sorry to say that I’ve only done it once or twice.  I know this is something that I can do and also make a point to tell them some of the things I notice when the time is appropriate.

I also read this article recently about praising the child instead of just the behavior, as in “you are a helpful person” rather than “that was a helpful thing to do.”  It’s an interesting article that suggests that children will repeat good behavior more often when their character is praised.

5.  Stay focused on the main goal.

The most important job of a tomato plant is to produce tomatoes.  Other things, like whether it is staked up perfectly straight, are secondary to this main objective.  Likewise, with children the most important objective is teaching them what they need to know and do to return to live with our Heavenly Father.

My older children both learned to ride a bike later than most, and this was a source of embarrassment for me for a long time.  When we finally got them started on learning, my daughter picked it up right away.  But it was harder for my mathematically-minded son, and I didn’t know what to do to help him.  I felt a lot of anxiety and guilt about this.  So, I was praying about this one day, asking what I should do, and I received a very clear prompting that I should have him read the Book of Mormon.  I thought to myself, “Huh?  That doesn’t match my concern at all!”  But I understood, and I immediately told him that I wanted him to set this as a goal and start reading it every night.

That afternoon, when my husband went outside to mow the lawn, I heard him say to my son, “Go get your shoes on and come ride your bike.”  I hadn’t told him anything that I was feeling or about my prayer.  When I looked out the window a little while later he was riding it all by himself!

So I try to remind myself when I get worried about my kids, that the most important thing is to stay focused on those things that will help them build their testimonies and eventually be able to live with their Heavenly Father again.  Even when they make choices that pull them away from this, I can stay focused on it and use this focus to help me know what to do to help them make better choices.

6.  Rely on the Atonement.  And finally, it is good to recognize the need for and appreciate the Atonement.  The reality is that my tomato plant was not trained upwards as well as it could have been.  On the other hand, I have a friend who trains her plants beautifully!  She attaches them to large squares of vinyl netting, and consistently prunes them and guides them upwards so that no stems cross over each other.  This particular summer, when she went out of town for a couple of weeks she asked me if I would water her garden and pick any ripe produce in it.  I was amazed at how easy (and joyful!) it was to pick her tomatoes – especially compared to the challenges I was facing with my own plants.  But, the reality is that if I had taken the time in the beginning to do what she had done, mine would have been just as nice.

The same definitely applies to me as a mother.  Although there are many things that I’ve done well when it comes to being a mom, I know of some specific things that would have resulted in different (better) outcomes right now if I had approached them differently when my children were small.  Nice people may tell me to focus on the things I’ve done right and not worry about the other.  Or they may simply tell me that I’m doing the best that I can, and I should be content with that.  But I receive the most comfort by acknowledging my mistakes and seeking for the peace that only the Atonement can bring.  One thing that I’ve learned in life is that the Atonement does not erase all of the consequences of our actions, but when we make the effort to repent and improve ourselves, we can trust that the Lord will help us be able to handle whatever we need to face as a result of our previous actions.

These are six things that I have learned from those super-sweet grape tomato plants.  It’s easy when we are first starting out with something, whether it is our garden or just beginning our family, or anything else, to want everything to be perfect (including ourselves).  But the reality is that there are a lot of obstacles to overcome, and in the midst of those obstacles we do not always make the perfect choice.  The main thing to remember is to keep trying and to never lose sight of the final goal.

What life lessons have you learned from growing a garden or other plants?

 

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Simple Changes: Get a Load of Laundry Ready at Night

This is Part Two of my “simple changes” series.  Last week I wrote about how I started exercising in the morning.  Shortly after putting that in place I read a blog post on andreadekker.com which triggered the idea of getting a load of laundry in the washing machine at night, but waiting until the morning to actually start it.  I never thought of this before!  It’s a very small detail, but I realized as soon as I read her post that it could be the perfect laundry solution for me.

I have tried so many different laundry routines over the years.  When I first got married, I was working full time so I did all (two or three loads) of our laundry at once in the laundry room of our apartments on Saturdays.  Later, after moving into a house and starting our family, I set up Monday as “Laundry Day.”  With each child the laundry grew, but I was still able to get it mostly done in that one day.

For some reason after moving into the house that we live in now, “Monday Laundry Day” completely fell apart.  I’m not sure if it’s because I lost my laundry room (it wasn’t perfect because we had to walk through it to go out our back door, but at least it was a room rather than a closet like I have now) or, if it’s just because my kids were growing and we were generating more clothes that needed to be washed.  I really don’t know.  But ever since we have lived here I have been completely unsuccessful at completing the laundry all in one day.

So, after accepting the fact that I needed to change the system, I started doing a load every day.  It was very similar to what I’m doing now, except that I was gathering the laundry and loading the washer in the morning.  It worked OK, but the problem was, that unless I woke up earlier, I could not start until after everyone had left the house.  This made it pretty late in the morning when the laundry was ready to be put away, and often at that point I had already moved onto other things, which led to me waiting until later to put it away.  And, once it gets put off for a little while, it is amazing how easy it is to put it off even more! 🙂

After that I decided that I would do it in the early afternoon/evening.  The idea was that I would fold it while watching the news with my husband.  I really thought this would be great, but it wasn’t.  I was good about getting it into the washer, but pulling it out was just too difficult with everything else going on at that time of day.

My new plan combines the best of both of these ideas.  I can gather it and load it anytime in the evening that seems right; then I can start the washer as soon as I wake up rather than waiting until everyone leaves.  This means my laundry is ready to put away an entire hour earlier making it possible to get it done before I have to start doing too many other things.

The best part is that it’s a forgiving system.  Laundry is like the dishes in that I can only procrastinate so long before it becomes a crisis.  So, even if I get behind (due to being super-busy, or super-tired, or just plain rebellious), I will spend the time necessary to catch up.  But the advantage of having a working system is that by pushing it to the ends of the day I free my precious day-time hours up for other things that I need/want to do.

Here is how my morning looks currently with my 2 “simple changes” that I’ve made so far.  Of course, it’s not perfect every day, but this is the general idea:

  • Wake up
  • Push “start” on washing machine
  • Wake up kids, fix breakfast, pack lunches, family prayer, etc.
  • Say goodbye to my family
  • Change laundry from washer to dryer
  • Eat a light snack (not too much since I’m exercising)
  • Exercise
  • Shower/get dressed
  • Eat breakfast (occasionally I’ll eat before showering instead of after)
  • Fold and put away laundry
  • Now I’m ready for the day!

What is your preferred system for doing the laundry?

 

Simple Changes: Exercise First Thing in the Morning

Recently I have been making very simple changes in the way I approach my day.  I haven’t been actively trying to do this, but the time just seems to be right for it.  First I discovered one thing I could do differently, then another and another.  I feel like I’m on a role!  Yea!  The original plan was to write one post briefly describing them all; but I like to explain details so much that I decided a post on each one would be better.  So be on the look-out over the next few weeks for my “Simple Changes” series!  

The first change I’ve made is to exercise first thing in the morning after my family leaves for school and work.  I know that this seems like an obvious time to choose exercise, but for me the choice has not always been so clear.  Those first moments of the day are “prime real estate” for me in the context of time.  My energy is up, my motivation is at it’s best, and anything that I assign to this spot is very likely to get done.  As the day progresses, however, my energy starts to drop, I start getting pulled into various directions making it harder to focus on one task, and it can be difficult to stay internally motivated as well.  The challenge for me has always been that there are so many things that practically beg to be placed in that prime spot of “first thing in the morning.”  You may remember my efforts to do the dishes first a few months ago – that’s only one example, and I could easily think of at least 10 more.

But for now, exercise has won that spot – and it has been great!  Here are the benefits:

1.  It actually happens.  One thing that I’ve noticed with many of my chores that “should” be done early, is that I will still get them done sometime even if I put them off a bit.  For example, the kitchen — If I don’t clean the kitchen early, then eventually I will start running out of clean dishes to use and space to prepare food.  The pressure of this will demand that I get the kitchen cleaned before too much time goes by.  Maybe the kitchen isn’t as neat and clutter-free throughout the day as it could be, but days and weeks will not pass without it happening at all.  Exercise, on the other hand is one thing that does not have such an immediate and stressful consequence if it doesn’t happen.  If I put if off, then I can easily go days and weeks without doing it.  So a big advantage to scheduling it first in the day is that I make sure that it happens.

2.  I get to start my day with something I like to do.  I actually enjoy exercising, which is why it’s so crazy that I haven’t been doing it consistently.  After spending an hour packing lunches (which I don’t enjoy), and putting out fires (i.e. “Mom, I can’t find my library book!”), and otherwise making sure the kids are ready to catch the bus on time — it’s nice to do something that is not only productive, but enjoyable too.

Actually, the “exercise instructors” on my DVD’s say it much better than I can.  For example, Chrissy Carter will say, “It’s hard to think about your ‘To Do’ list when you are balancing on one leg.”  And Leslie Sansone will say, “Don’t worry about the dishes in the sink!  You know what I always say, just ‘walk away’ from those dishes in the sink!”  It makes me smile to hear things like this when I’m exercising, because they are both so right!  It is a good thing to take a break from the demands of every day chores in order to take better care of my own health.

I’m glad to be exercising consistently again.  It feels good to move, stretch, and to get stronger!  Summer is quickly approaching, which means my family will be taking trips that will most likely require a fair amount of walking.  I’ll certainly be glad then for the time I’m spending now!

When is your best time of day to exercise?

 

My Daughter’s Clay Iguana

My 10-yr old daughter made a poster for school for her “research project.”  The topic she chose to research was “iguanas.”  So, as part of the project she made an iguana, and also an iguana skeleton, out of clay.  She made them both flat so that she could attach them to her poster.  I was super impressed at her detail, and so naturally wanted to share her work!

Iguana from clay

The iguana – I love how she added so much detail!

Iguana skeleton from clay

The skeleton – she used yellow clay and painted it white. This was because she did not have white clay, but I like it because I think it gives the skeleton an aged look.

 

Poster of Iguanas

Here is the full poster. She printed out pictures of iguanas to add to it from the internet. Her report is taped to the back of the poster.

 

What are some of your favorite art projects created by your kids (or created by you when you were a kid?)

 

Temple Flowers

Temple flowers collage

Today is “Thankful Thursday!”  And I’m thankful for the pretty flowers at the temple!  Our family went to the Washington D.C. Temple a few weeks ago.  Our youth had a temple trip, and my 12 year old son was able to participate for the first time!  My husband was also going along to help out, and so we decided to make a family trip out of it, with our 2 girls and me staying in the Visitor’s Center.  Knowing how nice they always keep the grounds, I brought my camera along so I could “play photographer” while we were there.  And I wasn’t disappointed!  They had planted some really beautiful flowers.

I love being at the temple!  There is such a peace there, even outside, and I think my whole family noticed it on this day.  My son was so excited for his first “youth temple trip.”  He asked so many questions about what it looks like inside the temple!  I mean, he wanted me to describe everything from the front door all the way to the baptismal font* (and since this is a big temple, there actually is quite a bit to describe!).  I did my best, but in the end he just had to see for himself.  Afterwards it was his turn to describe to his sisters.  I was so glad that he had such a good experience, and it was a nice day for us all.

*note – when I was a youth, we entered the baptismal font through a door leading directly to it in the back of the Washington D.C. Temple, but apparently now they walk through the front door and walk through the temple hallways to the baptismal font.  This is why there was so much for my son to see, and I think he really enjoyed that. 

What about you?  Do you have a favorite experience of visiting the Temple with your family?