am i the only woman in america who does strange and desperate things when we are due at the dentist for our six month cleaning? we had appointments for everyone later that day and i did what any madcap mother would do: i brought floss in the car. that morning, while driving the children to school i reminded them of their afternoon appointments and then i promptly proceeded to pass around the small, white container of dental floss. "it's my new idea, kids," i explained. "it's how we will make sure to remember this very important hygenic step in our oral care. we will floss every morning together on the way to school. collectively." i don't have to tell you, but they all [collectively] rolled their eyes while working the shiny waxed thread through their breakfast coated teeth.
"it's my new idea, kids."
i don't know about you, but i am full of them: new ideas. new procedures. new systems. new routines. new ways. i guess in the business world these are called "best practices." but in my house we call them mom's-crazy-going-to-try-to-fix-everything-again-ideas. i'm famous for them. and they are, indeed, best practices. because we are, very much, in the business of running a busy home and, more importantly, we are in the business of raising some children. of course, these best practices are more like best attempts or even, at times, just flat out weak attempts...but we try to do our best. yes, we try.
you name it, i've addressed it: chore charts and summer reading spread sheets ...vocabulary building banks and kind word awards...memory verses and color coded calendars. labeled bins and boxes and baskets everywhere. we've considered it all and we've covered most of it. with seven of us sharing space, i am always looking for ways to do things better. faster. cheaper. smarter. or at least i think i am. though my husband would probably argue my suggestion of "cheaper," the truth is, we are often desperate for systems and short cuts. we have to be. there are too many of us for me to just handle it all quietly and efficiently on my own. i cannot possibly remind each of my children to floss each of their teeth each morning and each night of each week in each year. if that's all i had to do, i could. i really could be a ferocious flossing mama. but i have a few other things on the list which also need some attention beside the running of wax between their bicuspids. thus, my constant proposal of "new ideas."
i've been in the business of best practices for years now. one of my favorites was the "i'm bored bag." it hung, thumb tacked to a bulletin board in our laundry room up until the time we moved two months ago. you've heard the saying, "necessity is the mother of all invention." well, i consider my sanity to be somewhat necessary and so, on occasion,this mother is forced to invent something new and improved. this "bored bag" idea was born from a time when the children were all little and clamoring (and on summer vacation). you know what i'm talking about. the time when they would, one by one, wander into my kitchen and announce "there's nothing to do, mom. i'm bored." oh my. that just about made me crazy. i mean it: cra-z-eee. and so, finally, after one of those wildly desperate days, i spent a summer evening writing out little slips of paper with an assortment of horrible, terrible, blood-curdling chores. i carefully folded each lime green slip of paper before placing it in a bag labeled, "the i'm bored bag." the next day, when the first small child collapsed listlessly across my countertop and made their dreadful announcement, they were immediately directed to the laundry room and this bag of green slips. i had them slightly fooled at first. when they saw the title, they thought they would be drawing a creative, exciting, summer adventure. like, "let's go get a triple scoop of chocolate ice cream and then buy a puppy!" but oh no. it is never a best practice to reward boredom. they instead held in their small hand a piece of paper directing them to clean the dust bunnies from underneath the beds, to scrub the stained grout on the bathroom floor or to gather pine cones and small twigs in the july heat of our backyard. let me tell you, it worked like a charm. i am pretty sure since that summer many years ago, i have hardly heard them use the "i'm bored" phrase in my presence again. this mother's sanity was absolutely the invention of that necessity. or something like that...
but not every new idea works so well. you know that. there's all kinds of things which we try in our homes which never really work. things which seem like a good idea for a moment. things which capture our best intentions, but quickly fall apart...fail...are forgotten. like the floss. yep, did that for one day. one day last week. tuesday. that's it. truly pathetic, huh? only the day we were heading to the dentist did i even attempt to implement this practice...this new, great idea. but as soon as we cleared several children with a "no cavities" report, i threw that container of floss right back into the kitchen junk drawer. that's the way it goes sometimes. i guess group flossing in public wasn't exactly a best practice anyway.
last weekend i hit another low point in my domestic duties. laundry. you've heard of the "laundry list." well i made one. ten typed tenets i shared with my family. at sunday evening's family meeting they each received their own copy. even the littlest girl got one. we took turns reading the bullet points out loud. point by point by point. even the husband was in need of that list. i have been doing the laundry of my family for 22 years, and i had a few things to say. the mcnatt family had some room for improvement. here's what i gave them:
mom’s laundry list
as your mother and wife, i am happy to do your laundry. really, i am. in fact, i find it relaxing and an opportunity to bless you. sometimes, while folding your clothes i even pray for you. yes, i do. i count it a privilege to wash what you wear...
BUT, loved ones, we CAN do better.
please consider the following items - (they are not suggestions):
1. turn your socks right side out
2. turn your shirts and pants right side out
3. there is no need to wash sweaters or pants or jackets every time they are worn
4. take your underthings out of your spandex, shorts and pants. always. enough said.
5. ask yourself...is the shirt REALLY dirty or is it that you just don’t feel like taking the time to put it back on a hanger?
6. if there is a stain -- tell me before i wash it.
7. if it is an item which needs to be dry cleaned -- do not put it in your laundry basket.
8. take your belt out of the loops and everything out of your pockets -- especially tissues and chap stick!
9. towels: you should only need ONE towel per week. not three. not four. but one. just one. hang it up each and every time you use it. if you do this ONE simple thing with your ONE towel...(miraculously) your ONE towel will remain dry and clean and your mother/wife will remain sane. ( well, sort of).
10. the clean clothes in your room belong folded in drawers, hung in a closet or on your body...nowhere else. not on the floor. not under the bed. not in a corner. it IS possible to keep your clothes tidy. this is a matter of stewardship. God has provided clothing for your body ... your responsibility is to take good care of it.
“to whom much is given, much is required...” luke 12:48
maybe to some of you these things seem minor. and i agree, they are minor. digging my fingers into the sweaty, dampness of a balled up sock before throwing it into the washing machine is incredibly gross, but it's minor. there's no way i am going to try to persuade you otherwise. it is a little thing, but it is also time consuming when you multiply that by seven and then multiply it again by two (we all have two feet). it's time consuming and it's gross and we can all un-ball our own sweaty, stinky socks before placing them in our laundry hampers. yes, we can. we can peel out our own underthings from our shorts or pants or volleyball spandex. we can take off our t-shirts and not turn them inside out. we can remove our belts and our chapstick from pockets. and we can, by all means, remember that throwing perfectly clean laundry back into the hamper (because it is easier than hanging it up) is an offense punishable by a cruel and unusual death -- something to do with dental floss. i realize that my laundry list isn't going to win me a proverbs 31 award or anything. maybe that perfect proverbs woman didn't fuss at her family about their dirty socks, but she did dress them all in the same color. "when it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet." (proverbs 31:21) i think she, too, was sort of tired of figuring out who wore what. she was smart enough to buy bolts of one color and clothe them all in it. brilliant! that woman had a few best practices up her scarlet sleeve as well. i'm sure of it. maybe when it begins to snow here in minnesota (next week?), i'll be shopping for some serious scarlet myself.
the point of this piece? i'm writing today for no other reason than to encourage you to keep up the good fight. to keep working with what God has given you. don't give up in the training and the teaching and even in the occasional need for a tirade. it isn't a final destination, this motherhood thing is a journey. piece by piece. best practice by best practice. don't be afraid to try something new. don't be afraid to do it differently. even if it feels a little desperate. of course it does! we are all a little desperate now and then. but that's not all bad, it keeps us kind of motivated.
now, i know that the charts and chores and checklists aren't nearly as important as the state of my child's heart. of course, more than anything, i want that to be in order. that's the major in this post of many minors. but nowhere are we told that these things are mutually exclusive. we can focus on the heart and the home. i think that's pretty clear in God's word. when i begin to feel like a nag or nuisance, i am encouraged to remember, God is absolutely a God of order. He was the great designer of our universe and the creative developer of all systems. so, yes, there are times when we just have to throw the floss back into the junk drawer, but don't give up in this business of raising our kids...it does, indeed, take a lot of practice... but it is absolutely the best practice ever.
"train up a child in the way he should go;
and even when he is old, he will not depart from it."
~ proverbs 22:6