Thursday, March 3, 2016

In a (not so) Sentimental Mood

What am I going to do with a gun rack?

The state of affairs around our house have been a little chaotic over the last month.  Let me rephrase that, a little more chaotic than average.  Hence the reason this post is a few weeks overdue.  We've been attempting to tackle some lingering minor projects that always seem to turn into major undertakings when you add children to the mix.  When the to-do list is long, and your kids have a way of adding to it faster than you can cross things out, it can really start to get out of hand.

This particular bout of excessive chaos started with a bunk bed.  The girls got one from Santa for Christmas - handcrafted by the Elves using the sturdiest North Pole timber.  Or, manufactured in China using the cheapest particle board possible.  The girls were sharing a full size bed which they were starting to outgrow, as we had them sleep the short way because Havi liked to commandeer most of the mattress space.  Isla's feet were getting pretty close to the edge, and I was pretty much over the lower half of my legs dangling to the ground when one of them needed an adult presence to expedite their journey to dreamland.  We aggressively suggested that they should ask for a bunk bed from Santa Claus, and apparently they made the nice list.  

What this ultimately meant though was that we were going to have to switch bedrooms with the girls, since we were pretty certain a twin over full bunk bed would take up about 75% of the floor space in their current room.  I didn't protest too much, considering all I really do in my bedroom is occasionally sleep.  We figured we could get by in the smaller room and giving the girls the larger room would allow more space for some of their toys - like the three story dollhouse they also got for Christmas that required a Master's Degree in Engineering to assemble.  Of course we also had to assemble the actual bunk bed, as the Elves packaged it nicely into two excessively cumbersome boxes for easier shipping (via China, of course).  I'm happy to announce that it is still intact.

After switching rooms, this sign quickly showed up on the girl's bedroom door.
Five-teen & three-teen....

If you thought the process would be as easy as moving our bed and wardrobe into the girls' room, assembling the bunk bed and moving their stuff into our old room, you would of course be grossly mistaken.  Before you switch rooms naturally their is the obligatory re-painting of the room, which itself involves at least four separate parts - deciding on a general hue/color scheme, painting samples of different paints that essentially look identical to the untrained eye, finalizing the paint choice (which someone in the family will ultimately regret once the room is completely painted), and applying the actual coats of paint.  This process can take at least 4-6 weeks, more if you attempt to involve your kids in the color decision process and/or painting application.

While we had most things moved out of the room to paint, we also figured that we should probably give the room its first thorough cleaning since, well before we moved in.  This pushed the project completion date back at least a week or two.  It doesn't help that your typical window of opportunity to try and get things like this done is the 45 minutes from when the kids finally fall asleep to when you're ready to pack it in for the night as well.  There were a couple of days when Gus watched me, stuck in his crib for much longer than he wanted to be after waking up from his nap, hurriedly try to finish some painting or cleaning.  I didn't want to risk non-removable light green footprints traipsed throughout our second level.  I made it clear to my wife that I loved the color of the room we were moving into (a pale salmon), and wouldn't change it for the world.

Once the room was painted and the bunk bed assembled, something we were able to do in relative peace as our gracious neighbor had the girls over for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, all that was left was to put the rooms themselves together - moving dressers, clothes, corresponding wall art and floor rugs that cover most of the wood floors we paid to have refinished, etc.  Again, should be a fairly straightforward task, except that if your going to be moving clothes from one room to another, it seems like a good time to go through those clothes and remove any items that no longer fit or won't be worn by your children, you know, "just because".  I don't know how kids have a tendency to amass so many articles of clothing, especially given how few things they will actually let you put on them when they reach a certain age.  We recently parted with three 20 gallon storage bins of baby clothes that ranged from 0-12 months.  Three full bins of the smallest clothes a child will ever wear.  We even left out the ones permi-stained from spit-up and bowel movements, of which there were many.  

Clothes are one of many things that small children have a propensity to accumulate.  Between the toys, games, books (thanks Dolly Parton*), craft projects, personal care items, etc. I'm amazed at the amount of shit, er, I mean stuff, that seems to magically appear in your house when kids come along.  And I say "magically" appear because I have no recollection on how a vast majority came to be indefinitely strewn about the floors of our house.  While we attempt to keep things organized, being home with the kids all day tends to making any sort of cleaning up of children's things an exercise in sheer futility.  We unsuccessfully try to re-implement the "toys need to be put away before we play with a new one" rule about every 2 hours.  Thankfully, with our sleeping arrangement adjustments, we have made a conscious effort at some spring cleaning to meagerly pare down the kids items we have.

The children's book collection, post pare down.

While we are by no means hoarders, it can become easy to feel like one as I look around our house.  I am really one who dislikes clutter and like things to be organized, have a place and be used.  The simple side of me knows that we have too much, but it's not always as easy as tossing everything that seems excessive in the trash.  The practical side of me dislikes tossing things because I hate throwing things away that conceivably I could come up with a way to re-purpose.  Presumably into a fun and crafty project for the kids that I could put on Pinterest to make it seem like I'm so creative and make every other parent feel incompetent.  At the moment our "craft box" is overflowing with supplies and best intentions.  If you're looking for something, let me know as I'll probably be tossing its contents at the end of the week.  We also have a massive amount of tissue paper and gift bags - Christmas, Birthday, Baby, all occasion, you name it, we've got it.  If you're in the market for any of those items, let me know.  I'll give you a great deal.  

It can also be hard to get rid of the kid's stuff because there tends to be some sentimental value tied to it.  Even more when it comes to things that are crafted by your children, especially for you.  If you have kids in daycare or school, odds are they occasionally (or often) come home with little projects that they have been working on - a handprint turkey cut-out around Thanksgiving, a painted flower pot for Mother's Day, you know what I'm talking about.  This stuff is great, and when they show it to you, beaming with pride, your reaction is always the same - "oh, that's great honey!"  But what do you do with it?  Probably put it on the fridge for a few weeks and then stick it in a bin somewhere.  In her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, Amy Chua recounts a time she refused to accept a homemade birthday card from one of her daughters because she thought her daughter had not but much effort into it.

I absolutely love watching my kids be creative, especially when they are at home and take the initiative to make something themselves.  This year for Christmas, Isla made Jess and I a photo collage of landscapes she had cut-out of magazines and calendars.  She glued them on to some red fabric she had found in our "craft box" and wrote Mom & Dad on it.  She worked on it all by herself for multiple days and wouldn't let us see what she was doing.  She even wrapped it up, put it under the Christmas tree and made us open it early.  It was fucking adorable, and to see the excitement on her face as we opened it made my heart melt.  But honestly, what are we going to do with this thing?  I've currently put it on display in our basement stairwell art gallery; a cavernous and dimly lit space where we've begun to hang most everything our kids draw, paint, color, or scribble.

Merry Christmas!
Sometimes on a really stressful day I'll just spend
some time staring at the soothing landscapes.

It creates an interesting conundrum, finding a balance of holding on to certain keepsakes for your kids, encouraging them to be creative, and not depriving them of a somewhat of typical childhood, while also ensuring that your sanity and ability to navigate the walkways of your home remain intact.  Beyond our basement stairwell art gallery, we've tried to incorporate our kid's "art" into our home decor when possible.  Despite taking Art History in college, I am no art aficionado, and feel like displaying our kids' creations provides a better backstory than "we bought it at Ikea".  I'm also somewhat ashamed to say that I've recently realized that grandparents (especially great ones) can make a good repository for excessive kid's art projects.  They absolutely love that stuff, and it can be a solid return on investment for the supplies and postage.  Mail a few paintings or drawings from your little ones off to grandma and grandpa and you've easily increased your piece of the inheritance.  It can also serve as a way to say "thank you" for hanging on to all of those baby items from 25 years ago that had to be passed down to the grandchildren.

Homemade outfits circa the early 80s.
I've also realized that sometimes you just have to take advantage of those times when you're likely feeling a little overwhelmed by the inevitable clutter that has taken control of your house, toss sentiment by the wayside and start pitching stuff at will.  You might have some hesitation to start, but those feelings tend to dissipate quickly when you need to address the next kid related crisis.  Sure your five year-old's masterpiece of your stick-figure family drawn in their favorite colors standing underneath a rainbow can be hard to let go of, but when you have multiple copies (one for every time the three year old changed her favorite color) you can probably part with a few.  You may be forced to address the question of what happened to the toilet paper roll dinosaur they created, but that gives you prime opportunity to hone your parental ambiguous answer skills.  "You know, honey, I'm not exactly sure what happened to that creative project you worked so hard on."  This is not a blatant lie, because while you know it ended up in the trash because you put it there, you're not exactly sure what garbage truck picked it up or what landfill was its final destination.

Often I can get frustrated with how frustrated I get (not a typo) with the clutter and the chaos of child-rearing, even though I'm well aware that it will always be there in some form.  As someone who likes things orderly and organized, and someone who spends an exorbitant amount of time at home with my kids, I can be easily overwhelmed by how messy things can get in what I'll call the "parental periphery" - where accessories (or "excessive-ries") can often be conflated with necessities.  The bunk bed situation is a classic example.  I felt that once it was assembled we could relocate some of the kid's toys to their room, get their closet under control, pare down our children's book collection and hold them accountable for keeping their new room semi-clean.  We'd have that taken care of, things would be perfectly in place, and we could go along humming about normal daily routine.  Shockingly, the bunk bed hasn't been a silver bullet.  It hasn't really even served its purpose because Isla has just taken to sleeping with Havi on the bottom bunk anyway.  There are still clothes on the floor and books not reshelved.  The wall art hasn't been hung and who knows when it ever will.

But I know that's missing the point, and we should all know that's missing the point.  We just always seem to need occasional reminders of that.  And when I do, I like to revisit the musings of one of my favorite late 20th Century philosophers.  Now off to throw the duvet on the floor so I can actually sleep in the bed.^

*No seriously, thank you Dolly.  The Imagination Library is an amazing philanthropic organization.  I just wish the books all came in the same size so they would fit better on the bookshelf we had to buy to hold all of the books you sent us.

^Who am I kidding, the duvet is already on the floor.  Just like it always is.