Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Organizing chaos

What started as a few house projects turned into a transformation of our family life.  In June, I was at the beginning of my first summer off in 3 years.  The Wild One visited for dinner one night.  I asked for his help moving an old tv and entertainment center out of the house.  He agreed, but as he searched for tools he ran into one mess after another. First, the back porch was pretty much a fire hazard of art supplies and garden supplies piled up so high I couldn't reach things any longer.  Then he went into the basement playroom and that was a heaping mass of toys and books.  Finally, he headed to the garage to try to find a screwdriver and only found more mess and piles.  That was when he started to think perhaps I was a hoarder. He may have been joking a little, but deep down I think he was worried. It was the first time since I had met him that I felt truly vulnerable.  Prior to that I usually saw him at his house or out.  He had been to my house, but we didn't really hang out there.  It is easy to seem a little bit more like you have your shit together when you are not in your own mess. To get dressed up to go out for a few hours can be fun and I can leave the chaos and stress behind.  But, having someone in my home it was more obvious that I didn't have a handle on things.  I was struggling with working 50 hours a week, taking care of 3 kids primarily on my own and trying to keep up a house that I had put little or no effort into since being on my own of the past 3 years.

I was so used to my Dad doing everything that I needed around the house, when he got sick I started to hire people to help with years projects etc.  But, he still did all of my laundry and my mom did the ironing and they had us at their house for dinner 3-4 times a week. SO I rarely grocery shopped or cooked.

This past year without my Dad, I struggled. I was barely making it at work, missing deadlines, having trouble managing it all.  But, with the help of an amazing friend I got organized at work.  My friend Danielle came in with a truck load of plastic bins and labels and put my classroom together and helped me tweak my schedule.  It made all the difference!! Thanks to a great snowy winter we had a ton of snow days so I got caught up on lesson planning.

But, I never quite got caught up at home. I had been paying someone for the last 2 months of the school year to clean every week.  I could just barely catch my breath and felt like I was drowning in laundry. So help cleaning was a life preserver.  But, it wasn't enough to jus upkeep. I need to make changes.

That first week home it really hit me.  I was a mess! My life felt out of control.

The Wild One realized that I was overwhelmed and that joking about it was just sending me over the edge.  Luckily, he switched tactics and instead helped me write a list of priorities.  And he brought over GIANT garbage bags.  Once I had a plan for where to start, I began taking small steps each day.  Starting with the playroom, then back porch, then the garage, the living room, the kitchen cabinets and eventually the kids' bedroom, I systematically worked my way through the entire house over the summer. Organizing and dumping or donating things we no longer needed.

I even managed to get some outdoor work started, but there is still more to do.

As I started making changes and getting chaos organized, it became VERY obvious that the kids needed to get on board or I would be back to drowning fast!  As quickly as I cleaned messes they made more.  So I started to insist they pitch in.  I was met with resistance to say the least.  SO MUCH WHINING!! It was easier to do it myself.

But, the Wild One was doing a lot of the projects with me and pointed out that we had 3 able bodied helpers sitting watching us.  At one point, Vincenzo said, "I like watching him. He knows how to do everything. He is better than TV."  Hmmmm….it made me realize that when my Dad was alive he had the boys helping him and that was how they learned.  Now that they didn't have a man around to show them how to do things, they were stuck with me and I just didn't know.  I did a lot of watching too and let my Dad do everything. I didn't bother learning.  I don't want that to happen with my kids. SO all 3 of them were encouraged to help.  Isabella ended up being the strongest helper. Lifting small tree branches didn't make her bat an eyelash! Her brothers whined and cried and acted crazy.
At one point, Vincenzo told the Wild One he should just "go die!"

Umm..yeah.  It's hard to come back from that moment.

When we were chatting that evening, the Wild One said a few things that were hard to hear, but made so much sense.  Having spent more time with the kids and seeing a bigger picture he was able to give valuable input.  He noted that Vincenzo was maybe acting out because he does the brunt of the work.  He suggested maybe it was time for my "Little Bear" to help out more.  Also, he suggested figuring out a way for each of the kids to have their alone time with me or Oz so they could feel special and then maybe that would open communication and cut down on the whining and complaining

 I knew the inmates were running my asylum.  Things had to change.  I spoke with Oz and luckily he agreed with all of the suggestions and jumped on board 100%.  We began setting times for each kid to have time alone for a few hours with me, Oz or my mom each week.  They LOVED it!! So did I.  I forgot how cute they are and how smart!

Also, I had to get control of the house back, reset the rules, give everyone chores, expect more as they are growing up.  Oz got on board with that too.  He spends time at my house each week with the kids so it was essential that he enforce the rules and chore schedule too and he did.

Weekly chores were assigned for Laundry, Garbage, and Dishes.  Each child gets one of those chores to be responsible for the week. They must do one load of laundry each day, one load of dishes each day and take out one bag of garbage each day.  At the end of the week they can pick out of the prize box. They can also earn extra prizes for volunteering to help siblings with their chores without complaining.

We just finished week 5 of this new system.  I cannot believe the difference!  The first 2 weeks were tough because Vincenzo was the only that knew how to do all 3 chores, so the others needed to be taught. Also, Luccio screamed and cried and loudly protested having to lift "heavy" bags of garbage and touch "disgusting" dishes.  Since his tiny, 5 year old sister did each chore without problems and actually enjoyed those same chores, I knew he was not only physically capable but also possibly going to be on Broadway someday! His acting skills are stellar!  Once everyone realized these are not negotiable they started to keep up with them and it is now a daily habit.

Special time with the kids did improve their moods, rewards for doing chores helped with morale.
We ended up having a great summer and the house looks so much better. I even managed to grocery shop and cook some meals and we all ate at the table on several occasions. Back talk and whining lessened, I have started to hear more I love yous again!!

It has changed my life! Now that I am back at work, I realize how important it was to assign chores.  I made it thorough my first week back and was able to enjoy the weekend without laundry, garbage and dishes piled up and suffocating me!

It's better! Although I must admit there have been some funny moments.  Like when I opened the cabinets and saw how Luccio stacked the bowls and dishes together instead of separating things. Or when I notice Isabella's system for putting away glasses and mugs on the same shelf. And someone rearranged the silverware so I now have to look before I grab a fork.  I have learned to let go of thinking there is one "right way" to do things.  Now I am just happy things are cleaned and put away.

I was able to have company this summer without stressing!
The day that stands out the most is when Oz brought his girlfriend here for the first time and the kids were so excited to show Dorothy the house that they even opened kitchen cabinets so she could see our dishes.  I was certainly glad that day that we had gotten our shit together around here!

The one last place left to organize is my bedroom.  It still looks like a disaster of laundry baskets.  I am still a work in progress...