7 Steps to a Clean Home with the Help of Joyful Children (One Method of Teaching Responsibility While Growing Closer as a Family)

I truly feel this entire concept was inspired by the Holy Spirit, or maybe even Mother Mary whispering wisdom into my ear.  Whatever the case, one moment I was standing in the kitchen calling my children to attention (with frustration and despair bogging down my mind) and the next moment, four of my children (ages 10, 8, 7 and 6) were happily and busily cleaning the entire house without one grumble or complaint!  Follow these simple steps to get similar results in your home.

Step 1:  Breathe.  Remember that they are children and children will make messes, explore and be creative.  Remember that they are capable of amazing things and allow them the room to show you their strengths.  Don’t expect perfection.

Step 2:  Divide the main areas of your house into Zones.  Don’t include bathrooms, bedrooms, or other “private” areas in your Zones.  Try to create one Zone per person.

Step 3:  Let the kids pick their cleaning Zone.  So far, I have had not arguments over who gets which Zone.  If a disagreement should happen then come up with a fair way of choosing: have them draw straws, roll dice, go from youngest to oldest, etc.

Step 4:  Explain the scoring system to the kids and put it up on a chart or white board as you explain.  Stay with me here as this is where it can get complicated.  Maybe say something along these lines:

     Your Zone will be scored on the following points: cleanliness (how well you do in picking up toys, trash and other misplaced items and putting them in their proper place); speed (how quickly you get the job done WELL; not just hurry up, but diligently work on your task to do the job well and completely–think perseverance and diligence); and attitude (Are you joyful or grumpy?).  These will be scored on a scale from 0-5, with 5 being the best possible score.  These scores will be added together to get your subtotal.  Everyone with me? [demonstrate on the white board].

Then say, “Now, you are all different ages and have different abilities.  To account for this, I will assign a Degree of Difficulty to your Zone based on your age and ability AND the extent to which you clean the room.”  A Degree of Difficulty of “1” is the basic pickup of the floor and flat surfaces; but a “5” would be if you cleaned under the sofa, organized the book shelf, vacuumed the floor, mopped the tile, etc.  The more you do, the higher the Degree of Difficulty becomes.  The reason why this is important is because your subtotal will be MULTIPLIED by your Degree of Difficulty to get your final score. [Demonstrate on the board how 15  x 1 is 15, but 15 x 5 is 75]  Let them give you different scores to see how it affects the total. [Bonus math lesson here ;-)]

zones

Step 5.  When the children complete their zone to their satisfaction, have them come to you and let you know that they are ready for scoring.  Then, with your full attention go into the room and inspect their job.  Be sure to give lots of positive feedback on the work they did well.  Don’t be afraid to make suggestions of where it could be improved, or hints about items that were overlooked.  Be generous, but honest with your score.  If my kids worked hard and gave it their all, I rarely score less than a 5.  In the above example, Zone 4 got a “4” in cleanliness because there was still quite a bit of trash on the floor and items on flat surfaces.  The Degree of Difficulty is the clincher here.  How much were they willing to put into their efforts?  My Zone 1 in the above example was the kitchen.  The 12 year old chose it with vigor and she delved into organizing cabinets and drawers, in addition to counters, floors and hand washing that her brother overlooked that morning.  That kind of effort deserved a perfect score for sure!  The Degree of Difficulty of 3 in the above example was the oldest child who chose to do the minimum effort.  He still had a great attitude and the room was picked up and vacuumed, so I explained that he could have earned a higher Degree of Difficulty by going under the furniture and straightening the bookshelves.  He did a great job, but it wasn’t going to be enough to win the contest.

Step 6.  Reward the top score with a prize.  I give 1st place 5 cents per point, 2nd place 1 cent per point and everyone else a quarter.  My children are still young at ages 6 to 13, so the prize is minimal.  If you have older children, then you might consider a higher payout–how much is a clean house worth after all?   The prize doesn’t have to be elaborate, but just a well-deserved reward for their effort.  At the end of this contest, your entire house will be picked up, vacuumed, spot mopped, and better organized than when you started.  Allow the reward to lift EVERYONE up, but still make the winner feel special for his/her effort.  Bask in their incredible efforts and boast on how enjoyable the home is when it is tidy and everyone works together well.  Sometimes we play a game, go swimming, or the kids watch a movie following the clean up—an activity to enjoy a job well done.

Step 7.  Repeat as needed to maintain the orderliness of the home, but not more frequently than once per week.  We decided to do “Zones” on Friday afternoons so we can enjoy a movie night and focus on family projects or outings on Saturdays.  This week my kids decided to do it on Thursday because the house had become quite messy and even they wanted the order back!  Hey, I’ll take it any day.

I would love to hear your feedback on how this works in your home, what changes you made, and what rewards were given.  I pray that you have as much success with it as I have had.  Truth be told the greatest reward for me has been the feeling of connection, that we really work well as a team, the Domestic Church’s version of the Body of Christ in action.

Edit:  I am usually working on my paying job while they are cleaning.  Sometimes, I clean an area as well, but don’t get scored in the contest.  Yesterday, they actually did all of the cleaning while I was gone for an appointment.  It was especially rewarding to come home to a clean house and to know the kids had matured to this level of responsibility without my direct oversight!  My goal here is not the clean house.  That is just a side benefit.  My goal is to grow relationships with my children as they learn to be responsible and independent members of our family and community.

Brave New World

Seven weeks into the new school year a new groove has formed.  Life follows this new path revealing once unseen landscapes and vastly different views.  Yet, I can’t help but seek out the old and familiar sights.  Longing for the companionship of other adult women and seeking for social outlets for my remaining lone-homeschooled child, the Bible Study sounded like a perfect blend of opportunities for us. “Bring along your children, your Bible, your journal and pens,” the Facebook post beckoned to me.  It sounded like the superb opportunity beginning with the Holy Mass, ending in fellowship centered on the Word of God, and coming to a church in my neighborhood this Friday.

Daniel ran fever all day on Thursday, which meant no school on Friday and my plans for Bible Study seemed lost.  I crawled out of bed earlier than usual this Friday morning at 7:45.  Angela met me in the hall with bright eyes and excitement.  “Sorry,” I said, “we can’t go because Daniel is sick.”  She quickly offered a rebuttal that Dad was working from home today.  We could still make it if we hurried.  I glanced at the clock and dismissed morning Mass quickly.  I was barely out of bed and my regular routine takes 40 minutes.  But, I conceded that we could still make it to the Bible Study for 9:30.

We arrived to the welcoming greeting of one mother with her lively three boys and waited for the others.  After some time, we discovered that we were in the wrong room and a group of women and children could be found down the hall, already finished with the kids’ craft and Bible story.  Beautiful women, beautiful children and such a great opportunity being offered; yet, as I sat there I could hardly contain the anxiety welling up within me.  My own two children were calm and at ease with the coloring pages, but the activity in the room was proving too much for me to handle.  I tried to listen as one mother explained the hope for what the new group could become.  Something about rotating responsibility for overseeing the children while the other mothers met for discussion in an adjacent room.  All I could think was (and pardon my expression), “hell no!”  My energy was completely drained in a matter of minutes from the simple, normal activity of young children.  I attempted  to explain why I couldn’t/wouldn’t be able to oversee the children, but just felt completely awful about not being able to take a shift every other month.  After all, we only would be meeting every two weeks.  I politely thanked them all and truly enjoyed making their company, but I desperately needed to head home.  By the time I walked out of the room, I could barely walk.  This was not where I needed to be.  Not any more.

God has a way of stripping away our false identity in order to reveal our true selves–the self He created and wills.  My identity has been so closely tied to young children and mothering for so many years and now it is not.  I have a heart for mothers with young children because I know the struggles and joys so well.  But, for some reason God is blocking this path at this time in my life.  He seems to continue to refocus my energy to self awareness, self love and self care.  He knows that if I am in a room where others are struggling or children are in need, that I will pour my energy out to them and leave nothing for myself.  I know it too.  That is why my energy drained so quickly.  My body sensed it, and like a frustrated spouse throwing up his arms in exasperation, my body let the energy drain from itself as if to say, “Your going to give it away anyway, so what’s the point?”  But, I’m not.  I won’t be going back.  I will pray for the success of the group for the other mothers and their children.  It is a beautiful apostolate and truly needed, especially for homeschooling mothers.  I will, however, continue this journey of self discovery and for the opportunity for Angela to socialize while her siblings are at school.  While I will fondly remember the beautiful landscape of roads once traveled, I will try to embrace the ever changing landscape before me in each and every moment.  Part of me grieves for my old, familiar self: always a baby in the arms or a toddler on the hip (or both).  But, I know that I am called to serve another purpose now, to serve in a different capacity for the sake of God.  In the proper time, He will show it to me.

Ego vs. Spirit

Much of my healing journey has been about acknowledging my emotions instead of shoving them ever deeper into my subconscious mind.  This has been the most difficult aspect of my healing by far.  To face my emotions is to face the naked truth of myself.  It is to strip away the facades that I have created in order to be presentable to others.  It is the lie of the deceiver that starts very young: you have to change who you are in order to be loved.  In fact, God loves me and sees me as I truly am and He is the only one I should be concerned with pleasing.

I have always been a pleaser: the good little girl who played quietly and stayed out of the way of adults, or the entertaining story teller when others wanted to be entertained, the quintessential teacher’s pet, the one who got along with anyone and everyone, the peace-keeper.  It is true that is the personality that God gave me, but it is also true that He didn’t intend it to keep me from living out His Holy will; an excuse from becoming the woman He created me to be.  I have always searched for outside affirmation for my words and actions.  The slightest judgment or criticism set me awhirl of distress and my joy was quickly lost.  As I started to recognize the gifts within myself to intuitively make decisions, I recognized that my intuitions were “right”, while others’ opinions of what decision should be made were often “wrong.”  At first, this new experience of recognizing truth within myself was manifested as a feeling of pride–my ego–saying, “See, I was right!”  I quickly realized that this satisfaction was misplaced; that the “right” I recognized was God’s truth manifested within me.

So much of our human disagreements and division are grounded in this very same experience of the human ego vs. Truth.  Because we feel so strongly about this issue or that one, we come to trust that instinct within us that we must be right.  The error comes about when we do not center our truth or filter it through God, through the Holy Spirit.  We either distrust the Holy Spirit whispering within us and search for human affirmation, or we trust our own ego so much that we overpower and block the Holy Spirit from directing us.  To find love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (the fruits of the Holy Spirit) we must be willing to put our own ego aside AND listen intently for the whispers of direction.

I know that I am not saying anything new.  I have heard it all before many, many times myself.  But, for some reason my journey to fully grasp this concept has taken me 46 years.  It is always simple, but rarely easy.  May the Holy Spirit dwell within each of us, may we let our egos submit to His Holiness, and may we have the grace and courage to follow where He leads us.

Enjoy one of my favorite new songs.  “…sometimes I gotta stop and remember that you’re God and I am not…”

Off to School we Go!

God always, ALWAYS, is with us.  He provided me an opportunity to go on a private retreat the first weekend of August.  At this point, only Benjamin was accepted into school.  The others were on the waitlist in positions ranging from 10-27, which didn’t look too hopeful.  I struggled with grabbing back the familiar and the control.  It’s my default move to just take it all back and not trust in the bigger plan.  But, God patiently and lovingly spoke to me: to my heart in adoration and through the books I read.  I called Patrick and was so confident in God’s will for us that I was able to speak my need clearly and succinctly.  We had to enroll the kids in school and UME was the right school for us.  If they didn’t get in at first, then Patrick agreed to oversee the daily checklist and grading the Math and I would oversee the school during the day.  Our intermediate plan was to homeschool until they were accepted.  The next week a friend alerted me that the kids may not be listed as Benjamin’s siblings, which would affect the waitlist status.  Sure enough, when I called the school we discovered that a change in the computer system had left them detached from Benjamin.  When this error was corrected all the kids were moved up to positions ranging from 1 to 10.  It was a little sliver of hope and encouragement.

Benjamin started school on August 17.  I took all six kids with me to the Open House, so that in the event they were admitted they would be familiar with the school and some of the teachers.  Patrick was supposed to go with us, but his dentist appointment ran long and he could no longer meet up with us.  This event alone would have put me into a full panic attack just a mere 6 months ago.  But, God equips us to do His will.  There was no anxiety within me.  We saw a few families that we knew, but mostly it felt as if we just floated from room to room in a bubble, met the teachers we needed to meet and I left feeling excited and at peace about the new possibilities.  This is God’s grace in action.

By Friday, Daniel, Samuel and Sophia were enrolled.  One week later Joshua began his first day of 7th grade.  It only took 10 days for five of the six kids to be fully enrolled!  While I was on retreat, it looked like it could be the next semester or not at all; but, God was just giving me the opportunity to put my trust in Him.  He is such a loving, gentle and patient teacher.

So, we happily pack our lunches and backpacks, the kids cheerily skip off to school each morning and I sit drinking my coffee and lay by the pool soaking in the quiet.  Not a all.  The early mornings are a definite struggle.  Patrick oversees breakfast, getting the kids awake and dressed, and takes them to Shelly’s. (We carpool with a friend, but our car is the only one big enough to carry everyone, so it’s quite the system of exchanging vehicles in order to get the kids from point A to point B; but, it is also quite a blessing).  I haven’t slept well since school started, so my rising and my movement is very slow and limited.  I manage to get a few tasks accomplished and then I go to pick the kids up.  It is a 25 minute drive one direction.  We arrive home and dig into homework, which leads directly into dinner preparation and clean up, family reading time, prayers and bedtime.  This six-hour period of constant activity leaves me feeling like a wrung out washrag.  At the same time, Patrick is finishing a fourteen-hour work day and isn’t in much better shape.  After a week, the kids excitement and fascination with going to school has worn off and it takes a little more effort to get everyone motivated and moving.  Homeschooling was actually much easier and more efficient.  I won’t lie, I’ve already thought about throwing in the towel.

I was actually contemplating if we had made a huge mistake by putting them in school when I saw a video that my doctor posted on Facebook.  He spoke about walking through the fire.  He said things like “we always have something to learn” and “maybe it’s not about us, but about what other people see in our journey.” BAM!  God lead us to this path.  We are here at this moment, in this place for a reason.  It is hard, brutally difficult and challenging.  It is especially a struggle because I know that the hardships we are facing to make this school thing happen can be relieved by just going back to homeschooling.  But, I can not–must not–look back.  No, comparison and “what ifs” are the handy  work of the enemy.  God is calling us to go forward, to trust in Him completely.  He has a plan for us and the lesson in it is not only for me.  God wants to use our family and our story to show His goodness.  I will not stand in His way.

I beg your prayers for us during this time of transition.  We really are feeling the physical effects of this effort.  Pray for strength for us, for perseverance for all, and for all to learn the lesson that God is teaching us through the experience.  Thank you for journeying with me.

UPDATE:  In the midst of this transition, we have a new granddaughter!  Savannah Grace made her appearance at 5 am this morning.  And this Saturday we will gain a son when our daughter, Lauren celebrates the Sacrament of Matrimony with Matthew Perrier.  Such blessings in our lives!!  All Praise and Glory to God be given.

To School or Not to School

That is the question. I’m still waiting for God’s answer, but I am finding more peace with the unknown as each day passes. So much has changed since last August. I thought that with my regained health that homeschooling would be a shoe in, but I’m finding that it is not the case.

When I lost my regular helpers in January, I urged my husband to look at our traditional school options. We applied to a Charter school that has been the new option for several of our Catholic homeschooling friends over the past year or so. Our youngest made it in, but the rest are still on the waiting list.

For most of the Spring, I thought that I would still homeschool in the Fall. Surely, God was still calling us to it. That Sunday was the Gospel reading where the risen Christ asks Peter, “Peter, do you love me?” three times. And three times Peter responds, “Yes, Lord.” It was so moving for me that tears were streaming down my face as the Gospel was read. When Father read the words of Christ’s reply, “Then feed my sheep.” I thought, “That’s it. You want me to homeschool.” Then Fr. Luke gave the homily and it shook me to the core.

Father said that when we aren’t sure what we should do, then we should do nothing. He used the analogy of weddings at church. During the rehearsal he advises the wedding party to look to him, the priest, for direction during the ceremony. He counsels them that if they are uncertain of what they should be doing, to do nothing and wait for his direction. He said that it was his job to make sure that everyone knew what to do and when and that it was their job to wait and follow the direction. “Okay,” I thought, “I will wait for direction before I homeschool…” and then father continued speaking. He said, the human response to confusion is one of three things: 1. Do nothing 2. Do what is comfortable or 3… well, I can’t remember exactly; but the point he was making is that we often choose what is comfortable because it is familiar and we know how to do it, even though it may not be what God wants us to do. God asked Peter to walk on the water with Him, to step out of the boat and into the storm. It was this moment where I finally let go of the comfortable, known option of homeschooling as the only option and opened my heart and mind to the possibility of stepping out into the storm, the unknown. And because I am still uncertain of what we should do, I’m doing nothing. Oh, I have lesson plans written should we continue to homeschool; but I also filled out the paperwork for Ben to start in August at the Charter school. Now, I just stay here until the High Priest gives me my directions. I do still worry from time to time, but I realize quickly that I don’t have to do anything right now. It is His job to give the directions and my job to follow them. I’ll be sure to give y’all an update when I find out where we are going.

The Tiny Parade

For years, dating back to when my mother-in-law was a young girl, the extended family went camping for the Fourth of July weekend.  It became one of the highlights of my year after my husband and I were married.  As the grandparents aged and the family continued to extend, it became more and more difficult to continue the tradition.  We moved the camping trip to April or early May–which is much more comfortable considering Texas weather.  The result became spending Independence Day at home and wanting a tradition of our own.  So, beginning about 12 years ago, Lauren and Allison asked the kids from down the street and the neighbors next door to do a parade.  Some of the other neighbors came and sat on their front lawns and we all watched as they rode bikes, lawnmowers and pulled wagons up and down the street several times.

We haven’t been home for the parade every year, but it has continued and has become our neighborhood tradition.  The kids worked hard decorating their “floats” this morning.  They were lined up and ready to go 15 minutes ahead of schedule.  The parade itself only lasted 10 minutes.  It brings joy to my heart to see everyone enjoying the celebration.  Such a simple thing to bring a community together.  One neighbor even commented that it was “better than the Arlington parade” noting that Arlington boasts of the largest parade in the state, but it also lacked excitement.  I guess bigger is not always better, even in Texas.

From our neighborhood to yours:

VIDEO

Happy Birthday, America!

The Brave New World: Living Gluten Free

Gluten was one of the first things to be eliminated from my diet when I started working with my Nutritional Therapy Practitioner.  I have a nephew with Celiac, so I was not foreign to the concept; but, that does not make it less difficult either.  In fact, I gave up gluten, soy, dairy, corn and beef.  What does that leave me to eat?  That was the same question I had! It turned out that I had plenty of edible choices.  It’s just that none of those included anything that came in a box, carton or package.  And it definitely meant that my shopping had to expand beyond the Neighborhood Walmart store.  The change was a challenge, but the results were apparent as well.  I took an 80/20- Better-Than attitude (eating clean and sticking to the restrictions at least 80% of the time and choosing options that were “better than” other options).  I plowed forward with my new lifestyle dragging my family with me.  I had the idea that I could still have gluten or corn or dairy sometimes as long as I didn’t eat it too often.

Eventually, I came to understand that gluten had a bigger impact on my body than I first thought.  Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis was showing up in my bloodwork and gluten is believed to trigger the autoimmune response similar to Celiac Disease, but the body attacks the thyroid gland vs. the digestive system.  So, I doubled down and began to really focus on removing all gluten from my diet.  I didn’t realize how critical this was until I caved in a moment of hurry and hunger and the overwhelming desire for a hamburger.  A few hours later my heart was racing, my anxiety spiked, and I was more irritable than a swarm of wasps knocked from their nest.   It took me three days to recover.  It was at that moment I truly understood food allergies and the severity.  I began to ask waiters about gluten in meals and having them double check with the chef.  I became that annoying person with the food sensitivity that we laugh at in YouTube videos (which I find more humorous now than ever before).  My mistake now was trusting the servers.

Even when the server says that a meal is “gluten free” or “gluten sensitive”, when the menu has those cute little “gf” indicators next to the items, it is still not a guarantee that it is not contaminated with gluten.  There are a couple of places that I have learned to trust in my experience: El Chico and Spring Creek BBQ–minus the hot bread ;-(.  But, eating the same thing every time we go out can be pretty boring, so occasionally we will try out a new place.  So far, I’m batting 1000 at new places claiming gf options and finding out the hard way that their claims were false.  Last week I had the worst reaction so far.   We tried a new Mexican restaurant and both the server and the manager assured me that I could eat the enchiladas espinaca.  At 2am they were proved wrong.  I didn’t sleep for the next 36 hours.  When I finally did sleep for four hours I woke up unable to move, my limbs feeling like they were filled with cement.  My sweet Angela became my nurse and gave me the supplements I needed to support my body through the reaction.  What started as a wonderful date on Thursday evening, would lead to the next 5 days in bed.

I am not happy about it.  Eating out and getting the break from planning and cooking a meal is a huge treat form me.  At the same time, playing Russian Roulette with my body is just not worth the risk.  So, I face another change of attitude.  It is a new reality that when I travel I will have to prepare my own food in advance for the length of my trip.  I will probably be packing my griddle and Instant Pot to cook in the hotel room.  And family gatherings will not mean a day of munchies and treats that I didn’t have to prepare.  It will mean extra preparation and planning to make sure that I have food to eat that is safe for me.  But, I’m no different than anyone else with special needs.  It is part of the reality and the struggle.  I’m puttin’ on my big girl pants and taking this challenge head on.  Last night we had our first date night since the incident.  I planned the meal, my kids cooked it and served my husband and I in our bedroom.  We ate at a card table with a candle.  The kids kept popping in out of newfound curiosity.  It was such a great learning opportunity for them.  It is important for kids to see their parents in love and on dates.  It was an opportunity for us to receive their service of love as well.  After dinner, we snuck out the back door and went for a swim undetected by the kids.  It was refreshing and relaxing and the first swim in years where kids weren’t on top of me in the pool.  I guess that is exactly what it means to make lemonade out of lemons.  And I’m happy to do just that.  After all, lemons are naturally gluten free.