“Will you snuggle with me, Mommy?” His sweet six-year-old voice asks. Yes, of course I will. I’m tired; he’s tired, but I can’t resist that beautiful face and soul. For a brief moment, at the end of an exhausting day/week/year, it feels tedious to delay my own bedtime, but I concede knowing snuggles heal.
I lie down next to him in his bed and see a familiar view of the glowing hall light from the corner of his room. The corner where, though a twin bed is now positioned, I have spent many a moments in the rocker when he couldn’t sleep. Patting his squishy bum when he couldn’t sleep. Nursing him when he was hungry, and also couldn’t sleep. Giving him breathing treatments when, again, he couldn’t sleep. Rock, nurse, pat. Rock, nurse, pat.
And the occasional hum of a nebulizer for my baby boy.
So many restless moments in the corner of his room as he grew stronger and stronger. He is a healthy boy, but prone to the occasional – at times quite serious – respiratory virus. And yet we are some of the lucky ones. As we drift off, I can’t help but worry. About him, for sure, but also all the others in my life who may not have the same kind of luck…
His Godmother, going through chemotherapy for what seems like the millionth time on her third bout with cancer at the age of 37. A friend’s nephew who is one of less than a dozen kids in the world with his affliction and has worn a mask since, well, forever (spoiler alert: the mask has worked). Another friend with a compromised immune system. Another friend who gave birth to a little gal who seems to be the world’s strongest preemie, but needs us all to work together to give her a fair chance. Another friend who will be welcoming her second child soon. Another friend and another friend and another friend going through chemo.
And I’ll be damned if COVID-19 gets to them. At the end of this, should a moment come and some “magical wormhole” open up and reveal that all the precautions were fruitless and stupid, I shall still place my head on the pillow at night knowing that I did what I knew to be best.
That magical moment won’t come, of course. Science is real. History is watching. Both are harshly judging.
Do the things. Take the precautions. A mere inconvenience for you could mean the world to another. 🙏🏼❤️
Tonight, while the children are nestled all snug in their beds, some of us will be swearing and sweating as we assemble the various plastic pieces of the things our kids just HAD to have. It’s basically a tradition and is probably why most parents of young kids are zombies on Christmas Day. Hey kid, you like that tower heap of battery powered crap that will never biodegrade? I can tell. You played with it for all of 10 minutes. Great ROI on that time spent in the wee hours of the night.
But, I digress, as this is not an airing of my grievances, but rather a tale of a 1980’s West Virginia family, whose parents gifted their two young kids with a magical small scale model of Disney World’s Main Street. Projected assembly time? Two hours.
Actual assembly time? Eight hours. I called my mom because this village springs to mind every now and then, and I wanted to reminisce.
“Where did you guys get that Disney Village?”
“Hell.” – My Dad
“I’m not sure whatever happened to it, but I think your dad took it out back and burned it in effigy.” – My Mom
The buildings themselves were heavy duty pressed cardboard of some sort, and while they had seams, you still had to bend them into the shapes of the buildings. Then, using these little tiny rubbery plugs, you anchored the sides of the pieces together so they held their shape.
It was 4×4…. feet. Yes, you read that right. Sixteen heavenly square feet of Disney’s charming Main Street at Christmas time. At one point, my mom and brother and I left the house to run and errand (and give my dad some space) and when we got home, I remember thinking he really hadn’t made that much progress. Hahaha! Poor Dad.
It escalated quickly. We got a large piece of plywood to use for the base due to its size. The actual “streets” and layout of the scene were on a mat that you had to lay on top of said plywood. This little holiday joy was quickly morphing into a family nightmare. Where are we going to keep it? How are we going to move it? “You kids better play with this damn thing!”
So we got the mat down and kept plugging away (literally) at the buildings. Well, Dad did. I don’t remember my brother and I being all that helpful. In fact, I remember waffling between impatient and bored. They said it wouldn’t take long to assemble! They lied. We were 6 hours into a 2-hour project. Wtf, Sears?! (Because it was the 80’s and of course it came from Sears, right?)
Then, the coup de grace: The lighting. It came with a bunch of little street lamps all linked together by wiring, and apparently they should have gone on the base BEFORE the mat so that the wiring was hidden. No way in hell was that happening. Half the damn buildings were already down and I’d learned some new swear words from my dad.
The little plugs left marks on our thumbs, and they kind of hurt! Some went in better than others; some required serious force. Dad required many beers.
This was 30 years ago, and to this day at the mere mention of “The Disney Village,” my dad groans and we all laugh at his expense. But the funny thing is, I have such a vivid memory of this event, and now that I’m a parent, I truly get it. My brother and I had a magical childhood, complete with a massive replica of Disney’s Main Street at Christmastime. My mom bought it for us, and my dad spent an entire day assembling it for us.
We played with it for a while, if memory serves me right. As it started to fall apart, we would take pieces from it and use them elsewhere. In the clutter of our toys, you’d stumble across one of the wayward street lamps or a tiny park bench.
So over the next couple days as we parents sit and grumble as we assemble and put God knows how many stickers on things, please keep this one thing in mind: They are lying about the assembly time. Triple it, at least.
*In honor of my parents, who would have given my brother and I the moon when we were kids. Thanks for a Magical childhood. ❤️
I think I’m a pretty traditional person in the sense of my parenting. I believe in strict bedtimes, hug them whenever I can, and sometimes feed them fast food. I also believe in, and encourage, hard work; nothing is guaranteed in life and there is no substitute for hard work. In our house, we value education and experiences, but occasionally have mismatched socks and forget to brush the back of our hair (looking at you, 6-year-old girl). It’s a delicate balance, this game of parenting.
Where I think I probably diverge a little is my reaction to what comes out of my kids’ mouths. First of all, I have an incredibly weak laugh reflex to little kids swearing. Lord forgive me, but when my daughter said “dammit boys!” at her daycare at the age of 3, I snickered uncontrollably and had to compose myself before we talked about appropriate language. #momfail
What I do NOT laugh at, however, is when the words that come out of them are disrespectful to another human being or perpetuate any kind of hate. In fact, “hate” is a bad word in our house, as are “stupid” and “shut up” (those are the real S-Words to me).
I honestly don’t care if one of them drops something on their toe and says “shit.” Of course I don’t let them know it’s OK, and I admonish the language and tell them it’s a “bad word,” but 1) I’m usually trying to stifle laughter and 2) they usually nailed the usage. Who doesn’t say that word when they stub their toe or smash their finger?
Name-calling, disrespect, and any kind of hatred or intolerance of any kind are NOT welcome, however. No, you don’t HATE carrots, you dislike them. No, you don’t HATE going to the dentist, you strongly dislike it (P.S. Wait until you’re older and stuff starts malfunctioning and falling apart and aching for no reason. Dentist trips with your baby teeth = a walk in the park).
The goal is to eliminate hateful words from their language at a young age, even when referring to something as silly as carrots, because I don’t want these ugly words to come easy to them as they get older.
I was raised similarly I think. I remember not being allowed to watch Nickelodeon’s You Can’t Do That on Television because the characters were routinely obnoxious and rude and disrespectful to each other. And, as they usually say one will utter later in life, my parents were right! (Yes, Mom & Dad… it is now in print for the world to see: You were right.) That show was a No-Go in the House of Smith, and I really don’t feel like I missed out on anything. Fun fact: I have literally met ONE other person whose parents also did not allow this show. He is married to a great college friend of mine, and he is a solid dude.
I can’t help but wonder: What are we teaching our kids when we tell them a gross word for “poop” is on par with or worse than saying “I hate that person?”
Please don’t interpret this as my house being a pirate ship full of drunken sailors (I definitely do not encourage or condone swearing), but rather as a step back to look at the meanings of the words we use.
We sometimes talk about the meaning of “hate” and “intolerance” in our house, and that conversation came up again recently during a movie night. We chose the modern-day version of Horton Hears a Who, and amidst the fast-paced humor and fun characters there are lessons buried about humanity, love for one another (no matter who you are), and maybe even some hints of faith and bullying. In light of recent world events, the movie really struck a chord and my mind started churning, so I decided to do a little research on the movie.
Turns out, Dr. Seuss actually wrote Horton after a realization and complete turnaround he had about his own beliefs. Dr. Seuss had a history of putting out some pretty racist and inappropriate stuff back in the day, but after the US bombed Japan during WWII (and he had published a pretty nasty cartoon about the Japanese), he took a visit to the country as part of some research he was doing and talked to school children there. These interactions and experiences lead to a pretty drastic change of heart regarding his intolerant views of others. This is actually when he came up with Horton’s most profound line,
“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
I have always loved the movie, but now I love it even more because of the valuable lessons and teachable moments it provided for my kids. [You can read more fun facts about Horton Hears a Whohere from Mental Floss.]
My thoughts and beliefs on parenting are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. I’m sure that somewhere while reading this, pearls were clutched over the fact that I don’t immediately shove a bar of soap in my kids’ mouths for uttering a curse word, but I’m more focused on the meaning behind the words and making sure they understand how those words can be damaging. Why aren’t they as kids allowed to say the “Bad Words of Society?” Well, because those words are gross and/or rude and inappropriate, and they are reserved for adults in special situations (i.e. I burned the Mac & Cheese. Again.) Why aren’t we as a family allowed to say “I hate _____” (or “Stupid” or “Shut-up”)? Because they are devaluing to another person and perpetuate intolerance. We don’t have to sit around hugging everyone, but we do have to listen to opinions, have conversations, and learn to appreciate what every person on this planet has to offer.
Smash your finger/toes and say “shit”? Can’t blame ya.
One of the hardest things about parenting for me is coming up with good explanations and “Momisms” on the spot. It doesn’t help that I am living with a 6-year-old Lawyer in Training either. She does NOT take my first answer as solid. She continues to question and reason and inquire and investigate and OMG . . . . it can be just exhausting sometimes. I love her curiosity, but geez kid.
I like to think I’m a pretty smooth operator and think quickly on my feet, but when it comes to the hard-hitting issues of parenthood, I sometimes fall short and find myself stammering through what feels like an interrogation by a smaller version of myself.
Case in point: A poor unfortunate forest creature on a recent weekend trip. We had hopped on some golf carts and were taking a wonderfully serene tour through a resort golf course in the mountain lake region here in our beautiful state of West Virginia, and Little Princess and I were sharing a cart. We were having so much fun! Singing, chit-chatting, and just enjoying our surroundings.
We continued this little journey as the golf course path wove through the hills and into the forest. The lush greenery of it all nearly took my breath away. It really felt like a little enchanted forest.
Until it wasn’t.
I slowed our cart as we realized that something seemed to be scurrying across our path. Upon further investigation, I quickly (but not soon enough to dodge the bullet I’m about to share with you) realized it was a chipmunk in the THROES of death. I am not even exaggerating. It looked like a dramatic western death scene acted out by forest rodentia. I couldn’t swerve around him (her?) because he was convulsing all over the path and I was afraid I would squash him, further scarring my daughter for life as “The Mommy Who Smashed a Chipmunk.”
I had no other course of action than to wait for him to finally stop seizing and go around cautiously. After what felt like hours of the two of us watching in horror (it was seconds), I was able to slowly navigate the cart around his lifeless body. He was on my side of the cart, but 6-year-olds are curious and we are all crippled by our inability to look away from a train crash, so we both got a clear visual of the blood that was coming out of his little mouth profusely.
I have no clue how this happened. We didn’t run over him; I was pretty sure the cart in front of us was too far ahead of us to have hit him.
Can chipmunks fall out of trees to their death?!?
No, seriously, I’m asking because that is the exact explanation I gave my daughter.
She was quiet for a little while and I said to her, “I’m sorry we had to see that. It was sad. Do you have any questions?” (Silently applauding myself for such an amazing reaction to the situation and rethinking writing a book on stellar parenting.)
Not so fast, Holls.
Cue 6-year-old rage and dramatics.
“WHY DIDN’T YOU STOP???? WHY DIDN’T YOU HELP HIM! WE COULD HAVE TAKEN HIM TO A VET! THAT’S WHAT VETS DO! THEY HELP ANIMALS!”
I held her as she cried and I tried to navigate a golf cart on a narrow path and attempted to explain to her that there wasn’t a Chipmunk Vet (“YES THERE IS!”), and that there wasn’t anything that could be done to save him due to the severe head trauma sustained from his fall. “WE SHOULD HAVE PICKED HIM UP AND HELPED HIM!” More tears.
Look, I get it. I’m a sympathetic soul, too, and it hurt my heart to watch the poor little guy die. But I want to really emphasize to anyone who is reading this and thinks my daughter has a point and that I should have done something that this thing was undeniably and reliably D-E-A-D. Watching it flop all over the trail was terrible.
She continued to cry. I continued to silently curse the heavens above for making us witness something so yucky, thereby also forcing me to have this somber discussion on what is supposed to be a relaxing weekend vacation. I started to feel emotional because I couldn’t take away my baby’s sadness and it hurt my heart to see her so upset. I empathized with her hopelessness toward the chipmunk, as I felt helpless as to what to say to comfort her. I also couldn’t stop picturing all the Chipmunk Greats: Alvin, Simon, Theodore, Chip, and Dale.
I had exhausted all the right things to say, which wasn’t much. That parenting book of mine will probably be more of a pamphlet than anything, really, so I whipped out the last trick up my sleeve: Chipmunk Prayer Vigil. I pulled the golf cart over and turned it off, and we said a prayer for the little fella.
We bowed our heads and asked Jesus to open up his pearly gates and welcome Mr. Chipmunk in with an abundance of nuts and other chipmunk friends.*
*Seriously. I said all those things. I was grasping for straws here, people.
We eventually made it back to the clubhouse and I shared with the other adults in our golf cart caravan the traumatic events of the last 15 minutes or so. (Actually, what I think I said was, “ok, which one of you ***********ers hit the **** chipmunk?!?”) None of them did; after all they really were too far ahead of us. But I really have no idea what happened to that thing! I’m sticking with it lost its footing and fell from high branch.
As children tend to do, Little Princess rebounded nicely and soon forgot about the critter and his untimely demise. I think I’m more scarred over the whole debacle, partially because I wonder if I handled it correctly. Death is a difficult topic with kids, and it is hard to explain a situation that is truly hopeless. Mr. Chipmunk went to heaven. There was nothing we could do. And we got to watch (UGH!).
Later that evening at dinner, we were all enjoying dining al fresca, and the whole chipmunk fiasco of 2018 seemed to have passed us. We had moved on to the acceptance stage of grief and were at peace. #amen
And then, I sh!t you not, at that very moment a freaking bird flew across the terrace and smacked RIGHT INTO the glass window next to our table and dropped like a rock to the ground in front of God and everyone (including the kids).
I’m going to take us back to the OG topic of this blog, “worrying,” as this time of year and the busy-ness that is school and activities tends to stir me up a little. It’s always an adjustment, going back to school. For us, it almost seems like relief because we can re-establish a solid routine, and of course who doesn’t just LOVE Fall!? Getting back into said routine can be tricky, and there are just so many boxes to check off at the beginning of the school year. It feels like a sprint, but once we are back into the swing of things, I can unclench a tad.
But at the same time, for some reason, this time of year can trigger some anxiety. It sneaks up on me like a ninja in the night. Sometimes I think it’s because school used to once be a completely safe space, and now that guarantee isn’t necessarily there; but Fall also represents a chaotic and action (and excitement) filled time. School starts, sports and activities pick up, and the running around commences. So many things, positive or negative, can cause our souls to churn a little, seemingly out of nowhere.
I think every Mom carries with her a varying degree of anxiety or worry, specifically when it comes to our kids. When you become a parent, there is something so very, very powerful ignited inside you that it can be overwhelming at times; maybe even take your breath away. It has had me sometimes contemplating putting my kids in bubble where nobody and nothing can ever hurt them. It is a severely protective instinct, commonly known as the “Mama Bear” instinct.
And then there are times we parents can cross the line in the sand to what we lovingly refer to as “Psycho Mom.” I, myself, have a few legendary stories about Holly the Psycho Mom, and I will share one of those with you now…
After one particularly rough day at work, I was driving to pick up my kids at their daycare. As I approached the turn to take me to the center’s parking lot, I noticed a police car pulled off the side of the road with the lights on, the road was blockaded, and there was a law-enforcement officer directing traffic around the school as if to make people avoid the area.
Sadly, in today’s world, and having already been on edge from a stressful day, I immediately assumed the absolute worst possible scenarios. I first looked for flames and smoke shooting out of the building, and when I didn’t see that my mind went to another grim scenario: There must have been an act of violence.
My stomach immediately dropped and I felt the feeling leave my arms and face, and then I felt an internal swelling of emotions (that I guess must have been adrenaline) kick in. I did what any mama bear would do: I whipped my Pimp Ass Mom Van out of the lane of traffic (nearly onto the sidewalk) and pulled up right next to the officer and basically screamed,
“MY KIDS ARE IN THAT BUILDING!”
The kind officer looked at me puzzled, and right about that moment a beautiful red convertible with a lovely princess in a tiara and sash sitting on top of the backseat passed by, and I realized that all of this hullabaloo was because it was time for a parade. Nothing was wrong other than a small road block that caused me to have to go down 1/2 of a block further to access the daycare center parking lot.
A FREAKING PARADE.
We are all laughing now, right? This little event happened a couple years ago and I still tell people this tale of total overreacting by Yours Truly. (It was the Marshall Homecoming parade, in case you were wondering. Ah, Fall. Such a lovely time.)
But then again, did you get a little uncomfortable or anxious for me before you saw what REALLY happened? Can you relate? Maybe you would have done the same thing? (Maybe not? LOL!) Every parent is different. Every situation is different. And I have learned the reaction absolutely depends upon your disposition heading into said situation. I was already in a bad mood. If I hadn’t been, maybe I wouldn’t have had such a strong reaction.
I will never forget that initial feeling when I thought something was wrong and my sweet babies were in harm’s way. I blame that Mama Bear instinct. One moment you are a totally rational person, and the next you are invoking the guy from Mortal Kombat who rips a guys head off and throws it at his body. #FINISHHIM
These emotions are powerful, and I think it is present in all of us to varying degrees.
And that brings me to my point (I hope)…. Where’s the boundary between reasonable protective instinct and total Psycho Parade Jamming Holly? It’s often at the root of Mommy Shaming. We have all been guilty of it, referring to someone as a “helicopter parent” or, on the flip side, a “free-range hippie.” We think to ourselves, “OMG, what a Psycho Mom,” or “OMG, I would NEVER let my kid do that!” (Parental Note: Invariably, if you say your kid will NEVER do something, I guaran-damn-tee they absolutely will do that thing you said they would NEVER do.)
There are days when I feel pretty reasonable about gradually extending my kids’ metaphorical leashes, feeling free to let us all go out and experience everything life and this beautiful world has to offer. And then there are days when I want to become a “Dooms Day Prepper” and secure us all in a padded safe house deep in the wilderness away from all the negativity the world also has to offer. I’m on a quest to find the middle ground between those two extremes amidst the worry and the need to protect my babies no matter what.
Where is the boundary between reasonably protecting your child and stifling their growth through experiences? They have to learn to take care of themselves eventually, so how do we meter raising well-balanced kids and creating everything-phobes who can’t tie their own shoes or use a can-opener when they get to college? How can we parents sleep well at night (like, ever) when the world can be so scary sometimes?
Back in the day, I traveled a lot for work. Leaving the kids for days in a row was excruciating, and I was convinced that by leaving them I was doing permanent damage and certainly my plane would go down in flames leaving them motherless. (I know, morbid, right? But that’s the mind of this Weekend Worrier.) I was in an airport gift shop once and found a book called Psalm 91 for Mothers. For those of you unfamiliar with Psalm 91, it is commonly known as the Psalm of Protection. It is a favorite in my family, and while I often refer to myself as a “very flawed Catholic,” I find profound comfort in this verse.
Being a parent is so hard; the world is scary. Even if I don’t have something specific to worry or ruminate about, my kids are always at the forefront of my mind. I’m not alone, right? I guess the best thing we all can do is our very best, and even some days get by with good enough.
I don’t have all the answers. But, Dear Lord, I wish I did. Mother Theresa once said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”
Some days, that’s all we can do, and most days, it’s all we need to do.
Our Little Princess is just like me; she likes a good project. So when it became a sensation to make your own bath bombs at home, I rationalized it a couple ways:
Cheaper than those dang LOL balls (which we ended up buying anyways)
I can benefit from these decadent bath time goodies myself (albeit with interruptions and/or an audience)
I was avoiding the slime craze at all costs (didn’t work; we got there eventually)
I started researching for the best and easiest recipes for these little fizzy orbs of delight, and was quickly sucked in by the Lush-like colors scents. Truth be told, I would love to run my own up-scale bath products shop, but I don’t think that is in the cards. (A girl can dream, though!) So many different beautiful colors and scents and bubbles! Oh my!
So, we set up the “Bubble Lab,” complete with all the things to run a successful small business out of our basement. My main goal: Recoup my initial investment as we had several epic fails. It worked, too! Bath bombs are huge right now, and we even figured out how to shove a little dinosaur into an egg mold for a fun little bath-time discovery. We had a lot of mommy/daughter fun with these little creations.
It is also a great learning activity as well since the kids are learning about chemical reactions and recipes, some basic business/econ skills and following directions (Haha! Even I laughed at that last one.)
Buying bath bombs outright can add up quickly, and the fun only last for moments, so without further ado, I give to you the recipe and process that we found worked the best for us in order to enjoy both the process of making them and using them.
food coloring (a few to several drops depending upon what shade you want)
essential oils (20-30 drops total of the scents you like)
water (3 teaspoons)
*This makes about 6 of the medium size bath bomb molds in the link above. Size of bomb obviously affects how many you get. Feel free to double the recipe to make more!
Mix up the dry ingredients first in a large bowl, and the wet ingredients separately. SLOWLY pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix with a gloved hand. If you pour the wet stuff in too fast, it will cause the chemical reaction that makes the bomb fizz when put in water, so you want to avoid that as much as possible. The mixture/dough/whatever you want to call it should be the consistency of fresh snow – the kind that makes a perfect snowball. It shouldn’t be too wet, and if it is powder-like, it might be too dry. This is the part that is tricky – finding the perfect consistency. I won’t lie… it was kind of frustrating. But, keep in mind, even disintegrated bath bombs will fizz and smell good, so you can always decide that they are “bath salts” if you feel the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.
You can add in more scent or coloring if you want. If you’re feeling super adventurous, you can divide the mixture in half before you put the coloring in and then make the bombs multi-colored. The world is your oyster. Kick up your heels and go crazy with your creativity. Some people add things like lavender or sea kelp to theirs. I don’t because something touching my foot in the tub elicits fear; not relaxation. But, to each her own I suppose.
Once the mixture is ready, pack both halves of a bath bomb mold (slightly over-packed). Press the halves together and then carefully pull them apart to reveal a perfectly round, colorful and fragrant bath bomb. Place it gently on a not-too-hard surface to “cure” for 24 hours at least (I used a hand towel with wax paper on it to cushion the bombs as pictured here).
After the 24 hours is up, if you don’t use them right away, be sure to put them in a plastic bag to preserve the scent. I bought some favor baggies on Amazon and tied them with a ribbon, but I think separating them in sandwich baggies would be fine as well. Store them in a dry and non-humid environment so they don’t disintegrate before use. You also want to watch where you’re making them and letting them cure as they are affected by humidity easily. We experimented with a de-humidifier (this project really snowballed quickly, can ya tell?), but really if you make them somewhere dry, you’ll be fine.
For kids, I love the cotton candy scented oil, and my own personal favorite to add to different bombs is Vetiver. I tried some skin safe vegan dyes that worked well, but food coloring will work too (I had zero issues with staining). My favorite essential oils came from P&J Trading. Once they have set for 24 hours, feel free to plop them into the tub! Be careful … they can make your tub/shower slick!
Total investment: ~$100
Bath bombs made: A Shit Ton
This really is a fun little activity to do, and as adults we can reap the benefits of them as well for a relaxing little spa experience. After all, it is just as easy to yell at the kids from the tub than anywhere else.
If you have a house with a playroom or designated play area for your little ones, then you will understand why I was absolutely putting this one off as long as I could. It took the kids staying at Grandma’s & Pap’s, a motivated husband, and a little bit of wine to attempt to summit my own personal Everest.
Behold…. the Before:
I mean, who lives here?!?! Tarzan and Mowgli? Clearly not civilized children.
We went in without holding back. It was a highly tactical mission. I had a few boxes and a few large utility trash bags, and we just started throwing stuff out. It was easy at first: little broken pieces or random cards from God-only-knows-which-game went right out the door. Once we got the first layer down, we started working on the various “zones” of the playroom:
The Barbie Boneyard
Youth Hostel for Babies
Train Set Junction
The Creation Station
The Parking Garage
The Barbie Boneyard and the Youth Hostel for Babies were pretty simple. We just got rid of broken and headless dolls and organized the good stuff into its own tote. I do wish to say there is a special place in Hell for whoever thought that silverware for Barbie dolls was a necessary item. Barbie doesn’t even have separate fingers. Nice going, Mattel®.
My husband tackled Train Set Junction. No one really needs 5-6 train sets, right? We managed to narrow it down to two sets only. Hollywood = costumes, accessories and anything a kid needs to have a blast getting all dolled (or ninja’d) up to play and perform. We just removed anything torn or too small, and threw out some broken stuff. Some things that we had outgrown went to littler cousins.
The Creation Station was majorly pared down. This is where we keep all the “arts and crafts” crap that the kids use to glue things to our wall that they shouldn’t; it’s why we can’t have nice things. All things glitter-related were banished and are never to be seen again. That stuff is insidious. #dieglitterdie
The Parking Garage is where a large portion of my son’s little cars (aka Feet Killers) went, as well as any large vehicle that a child can push around, such as a fire truck or Belle’s tea cart, complete with Mrs. Potts, Chip, and “Be Our Guest” on loop. What the heck was Santa thinking on that one?!?!
We were able to empty out and remove one whole bookcase/toybox combo that was falling apart, most likely due to having to contain about a metric ton of toys and other plastic crap. As we moved it up the stairs together and tried to pivot it around the door frame, you guessed it! PIVOT!!!!
One of the more enjoyable aspects of this adventure is that I’ve seized the opportunity to use one of my favorite “Friends” references, PIVOT! It never gets old (to me, anyways. The Huz might have a differing opinion on that).
I’m also intrigued by why little girls are so “into” super-duper-tiny-little-miniature things. We have Hatchimals and LOL dolls and their various accouterments, but why on God’s green Earth does something such as this even have to exist…
It’s a miniature perfume bottle, in case you’re wondering.
I definitely broke a sweat on this one, and I was worried for the next day when we revealed to the children their newly organized play area. I felt CERTAIN that they would take immediate visual inventory and know what was missing and completely fall apart and we would have to make an urgent appointment with an interventionist. Not the case.
In fact, they were astounded by how clean and pretty it looked, and played with things they really had not played with much recently. Could this be because they were now able to see the forest for the trees? Without all the clutter and junk in the way, were they able to find joy in things from the past?
See? Still gadgets and gizmos a-plenty. Who-zits and whats-its galore. (Sorry if you have that song in your head now.)
As we organized, we were able to fill three utility sized trash bags to toss. We gathered three large boxes worth of items for donation or to give away. We gave everything a designated space throughout the process, and set the clear expectation with the kids that once you were done playing with a toy, you put it back before you moved on to something else. Realistic? Probably not, but it made me feel like a good parent for a fleeting moment.
They played for HOURS in the playroom that day; longer than I can remember in recent past. And not once did they ask for anything that they felt was missing.
This process in the playroom is perpetual. As they continue to age and grow out of things, and gather new things throughout the year, we will have to keep on top of it. But knowing that we took a pretty huge chunk out of it was extremely cathartic. I slept like a baby that night.
So, here are some tips for tackling that playroom:
Go in with bags and boxes, and maybe a face mask. Gloves. Oxygen tank. (Your call.)
Take some wine, too, while you’re at it.
Wear shoes. Legos suck.
Don’t let the kids help. They aren’t helpful.
Get rid of the first layer: “trash” and broken/misfit toys. They have their own island, after all.
Tackle it by “zones” so that you have distinct areas for certain kinds of toys. This will make it easier for the kiddos to clean up after themselves.
If you’ve been following along, by this time you know that clutter makes me very anxious. In fact, the various shapes of plastic that are kids toys kind of make me want to scream, so when we were shopping for the house we currently live in, one of the selling factors was a finished lower level with what would make the PERFECT playroom. Thanks to this playroom, the mess would be confined to this one room and I wouldn’t have to look at piles of toys and junk and pieces and sticker books and dolls and trucks and train tracks in the other areas of my house.
Aaaaaaaand cue the LOL heard ‘round the world.
That is not what happens. Much like a colorful fungus, the toys and costumes and pretend kitchen items and craft stuff (#glitter; #cringe) have spread to all areas of the house. Creativity and play abounds!
And yet, much like the saying goes, they have really enjoyed just “playing with the box.” We apparently purchased something that came in a massive box, and now the pretend shopping mart that it has been shaped into is my kids’ prized play thing. Looking at it makes my stomach turn, but I’m trying to see it through their eyes. They envisioned it and created it, and made it into their own and actually play with it. So who am I to judge? (Ugh. It’s just so displeasing to my eyes and hurts my soul.)
I think that playrooms fall subject to unrealistic expectations and what parents envision versus what actually facilitates healthy and stimulating play for children.
Furniture stores, such as Pottery Barn (oh how I looooooove me some PB!) and Ikea would have you believe that kids’ playrooms are always neat and organized with little pods of tidy learning and play. Those of us who are parenting from the trenches of this War on Excess, however, know that these images are clearly the calm before the storm and that clearly no child has come in contact with these “play rooms.” Like, ever.
I have not actually tackled the playroom. In fact, past attempts at minimizing it have only slightly delayed the total bursting of the seams, which is about where we are now. The other night, I was working on the garage (a whale I am eating one bite at a time) and Little Princess came out to “help,” only to find baggies of toys that I had sorted and earmarked for donation. She claimed to have been “looking for those forever” and immediately reclaimed them. They were scattered over her bedroom floor within minutes.
The girl . . . she emotionally attaches to things. I get it; I have a tendency to overthink my connection to “things” as well. I think that shows she is empathetic; she feels as though her things can feel, and opens her heart. The boy . . . he does not really care. He is still pretty concrete and out of sight = out of mind for him. But the fact remains that the playroom and other nooks and crannies in our house are filled with broken and fragmented items, things that have been long outgrown, and duplicates. These are what I am going to address first with the playroom and toy situation, as the kids are still young and I don’t want to scar them. (I can envision them telling a therapist that things were going well in life until their mom threw out all their stuff in a fit of minimalistic rage.)
I want this to be a positive experience for my kids.
I want them to understand the value of things and what we can do with things we don’t use or are too grown-up for. This has led to some deep-ish conversations with the kids (ages 6 & 3) about how fortunate we are and how others do not have as much as we do, and if they no longer play with a toy, how wonderful would it be for them to show love to another child by giving it to them to play with.
I’m kidding. That was a hard sell and immediately aroused suspicion in the ranks. It’s like the scene in Toy Story when the all band together to make sure none of them get tossed. And in a way, the Toy Story saga shows a great evolution of the problem we are dealing with here: How do we hold onto what we love? And once we have no use for it anymore (such as a toy we played with as a young child), what is the point of holding onto it? SPOILER ALERT COMING – IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN TOY STORY 3, AVERT YOUR EYES… Just as Andy does, he realizes that he loves his toys and wants them to continue to be loved and therefore hands them down to his little neighbor.
I love that concept: Sharing and passing on the love of special items. It’s hard to get rid of things sometimes because a memory is attached to it. But just because the item is no longer with you, that doesn’t mean the memory disappears.
I read a trick once where if someone had a hard time parting with something “special” but knew it just served no purpose any longer, she would snap a picture of it so she always had that visual reminder of the memory and could do away with the tangible item.
So back to the Kids’ Playroom…. I’m going to tackle it little by little. It will be more organizing and sorting than removing, I am sure, but I know I will focus on eliminating (as much as possible) these things:
Toys & items that are no longer age appropriate
Things that have been broken or are mismatched/missing pieces
Exceptions to this will be:
Removing of anything that causes the kids emotional angst*
*That exception might not seem very “minimalistic” or make me sound like a softy, but as my mom always says, one day they will be completely grown-up and moved out, and that will give you a really sad reason to get rid of all of it. I will not miss stepping on a Lego, but I will miss the happy colors and sounds and joyous faces of play.
The playroom is a big project that must be tackled, but it is not a huge priority at this point. I just want it done before Christmas, giving Woody and Buzz time to strategize on what to do when the new toys arrive.
There will be more to come on the status of the playroom. I know so many people with kids who are overwhelmed by all the play “stuff,” and when kids are involved, it isn’t as easy as just bagging it up and tossing it. It’s a journey for them, too, and should be a gentle and positive one.
*Note: The featured/cover image for this post is NOT my bathroom. If it was, you would have to sedate me heavily and/or burn it down. I simply used it for dramatic effect.
*Sub-note: If this DOES look like your bathroom, no judgement. To each her own.
Ah, the bathroom.
This one was both easy and hard for me. On one hand, I just LOVE getting little samples of products and trying new things when it comes to my face, skin, and hair. On the other hand, there’s just so damn much of it.
All my life, I have been in search of that perfect shampoo, conditioner, and styling product that will give me movie star hair, as well as any stuff I can slather on my face that will give me the tan, dewy look of J.Lo.
Well, guess what, such things don’t exist. I rotate shampoo and conditioner now because Shampoo Fatigue is a real thing, and I am of Scott-Irish/German descent – ain’t nothin’ going to make me look tan (or like J.Lo). I turn red. Best for me to focus on sunscreen.
I have been the grateful recipient of those little sample goody boxes many times in the past. Oh, how I love them. They’re wrapped so pretty and cute! And there’s just something so fun and gratifying about trying stuff for cheap or free in conjunction with the miniature size.
Give me allllllll the perfume samples ya got. Trial size = My size. Hand it over. Hotel toiletries = squeeeeeeeeeal with delight! Especially when I get my hands on some that you won’t find in your everyday Hampton Inn; those gems go into my permanent collection. #FRIENDSreference (only die hard fans will get that reference)
All of it. It has to go.
So, I put on my elbow-length gloves and oxygen mask and dove into the abyss that is the underbelly of my sink. (Ok I’m exaggerating. I went in with a couple old grocery sacks. Trying to paint a picture here.) With much strength and delight, I managed to fill three Target grocery bags. Two of them were complete and utter garbage; the other bag was filled with unused toiletries that I promptly dropped off at my local Ronald McDonald House. (Many places will happily take these unused mini-sized hygiene products off your hands! Check with schools and shelters around you, and always consider Ronald McDonald House as well.) Get real with yourself: So long as you are buying regular sized shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc., you are never going to use these bite-size versions.
I found nail polishes that had completely separated and solidified (out they went!). I found enough bobby pins and hair ties to last my daughter and I a lifetime. I got rid of attachments to styling tools that I don’t even own anymore and never worked right anyways, and threw out the duds and the crud.
Once finished, I managed to liberate SIX small storage bins and TWO cosmetic bags from their useless contents, and now my bathroom vanity looks uncluttered and refreshed, and opening the drawers and doors no longer feels like a fossil excavation.
No shame; no pride. It’s just all gone and I feel happy. I kept exactly what I need or use daily; nothing more, nothing less. I even tossed some nearly full bottles of some not-so-cheap products because, let’s be honest, IF WE HAVEN’T USED IT YET, WE AREN’T GOING TO USE IT.
It hurt to feel like I was being so wasteful, but instead of admonishing myself for waste, I embraced that icky feeling that came with throwing out money and realized that I didn’t want to feel it anymore. Lesson learned! I only have to touch the hot furnace once to know it’s hot. I’ll use what I use and use what I have, and if it runs out I will replace it.
In this journey to prioritize, minimize, and organize, I have found it both overwhelming and cleansing. I have done so much already… kitchen drink ware, junk drawer(s), linen closet, my bathroom, my dresser, and even my husband has done his part of the dresser AND closet (my closet = my Everest). We are making so much progress!
But to think that I still have to tackle my closet AND the kids’ playroom makes my stomach turn. Then there’s the garage and other random places we have shoved stuff over the years just knowing that we would use it (sarcasm).
So, if anyone is thinking of following me down this road to less stuff, I would recommend making a list of different segmented projects to tackle. To help boost your confidence and motivate you, pick a smaller and more manageable project first. Remember that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step! And any other cliche’ sayings you can come up with about taking on a project.
I am the “NO RED DOTS” kinda gal. I hate to see those pesky little things. When I look down at my phone and see a Red Dot of Shame, I instantly feel compelled to address it. I’m sure that says a lot about my personality, but for the purpose of minimizing, it was something that I knew I simply had to address as they represent clutter to me. A task undone or something that needs put behind me so I can relax.
So, I spent an hour or so cleaning up my phone. I deleted apps that I rarely or never use. I left unecessary group messages and Facebook groups. I even removed some people from my social media accounts (gasp!). It felt good to clear the virtual clutter. Probably the biggest source of the red dots that drives me nuts are the emails. I have three email accounts linked to my phone, and I truly do use all three of them. One gets maybe 2-3 emails a week (totally manageable). The other is for work, so those emails are necessary. The other account is my main “personal” account, and it is OUT OF CONTROL. Of course, it is the one I used to sign up for accounts to buy things or sign up for stuff or get on a mailing list. Basically, it is where marketing and promos come to die. It’s a black hole, and I’m constantly hitting delete, delete, delete.
I wonder how many of these emails are things I actually need? Which of them adds value to my day or life? Certainly not the multitudes of notifications about sales and discounts. The goal here is de-cluttering, right? Not buying more crap. Bottom line: This inbox is a challenge.
Well, CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. I decided to go one week without deleting the red dots in this particular inbox to see how many I received versus how many actually contained valuable info.
I made it one day. I just hate those dots so bad!
So in this first day of what was supposed to be a week of ignoring the Red Dots of Shame on my email, I had over 100 emails come in. Of those 100+ emails, ONE of them was worth my time in opening (it was from The Skimm, in case you’re curious).
The rest were notifications of notifications from Twitter and Facebook (who needs an email when you have the red dots staring you in the face on the app itself), sales from Zulily, Dick’s, Nordstrom, J.Crew, Gymboree, Pottery Barn, Oriental Trading, eBates, eBay, Shutterfly, Old Navy, Draper James (Dear Lord, I’m as basic as they come, aren’t I?)… and a couple other stupid things I have signed up for along the way in the hunt for retail therapy. I also get some political emails and such from “causes” or organizations wanting donations or support of some kind. I thought long and hard about getting rid of those because I don’t just want to cease being involved, but these emails are not what makes me “give” to things that are important to me or wanting to be involved. I get these emails because I did make a donation or gave support in some shape or form at some point in time, and if I want to give or support them more in the future, I know where to find them. Therefore, they’re gone from the inbox.
Well… NO MORE! I saved these emails for another reason: At the bottom of alllllll these emails is the option to Unsubscribe, which is what I will spend some time doing until my inbox is back under my control. I did the same for ads and groups on social media, getting rid of what isn’t contributing positively or adding distraction.
It is also worth noting that, sure, I could maybe try to change my thinking on the red dots. Maybe the emails/group messages/app notifications can wait and I don’t need to be so uptight about them. But that’s not my goal here. I am prioritizing, organizing, and minimizing. If it isn’t adding value to my life, then it is going away. I’m not going to change who I am or how I feel (can’t teach an old dog new tricks, amiright?), instead I am going to change the circumstances and conquer The Great Red Dot Reduction of 2018 with joy. I also know that you can disable notifications within apps, but that doesn’t help the amount of crap flowing into the app and therefore jumping into your face when you open said app or inbox. This is a reduction act, not a disabling act.
In my research and self-reflection for this piece, I came across an article about young folks/millennials who are using flip phones instead of smart phones. It’s a little bit about cost and durability, but it is also about their realization that life exists outside of their device. From a more “minimalistic” standpoint, that completely makes sense! (Remember…. I bought something with my FACE! Which means that the phone is quite often pointed at my face.) Much of this journey toward less means getting more out of life, and I don’t know that we can do that with a phone scanning our face all day long.
To be clear, and to avoid any accusations of hypocrisy or being preachy, I am not going to give up my phone, nor do I think that anyone should give up their phone. Like I have said before, I don’t think that I will ever be a true Minimalist in every sense of the word. This is more about the journey to realize what brings value to our lives, hence the removal of the DRD’s (Damn Red Dots), unnecessary apps, and people on social media who I wouldn’t say “hi” to if they passed me on the street.
That was my litmus test, by the way. As I went through Facebook for example, I asked myself,
“if this person were to pass you on the street, would you say hi?”
If the answer to that question was no, off they went. It’s a friends list, after all. Wouldn’t you say hi to a friend you passed? And would you want people who you don’t really feel comfortable saying “hi” to seeing pictures of you, your family, and things going on in your life? I’m a very social person; I always say hi (thanks for that life skill, Mom), so this was a pretty good test as I am not a shy person. More reserved folks might not find this a good way to weed out unnecessary floating heads on your page, but it sure worked like a charm for me!
Minimalism. It’s not just about tamping down the “stuff” in our houses or literal junk surrounding us. It’s about slowing down a little bit and realizing what is necessary and valuable to us in our lives. I, like many, feel as though I look at my phone too much. Part of that was because of those damn red dots. What an epiphany it was to realize that I have major control over these little phone pimples that draw me in and away from the real world.