grabbing focus

My nephew turned eleven this week. I can remember all too clearly when he was born, what he looked like as a baby, and how loud he could cry about nothing in particular. I remember his biting phase, the potty training nightmare that I watched from the sidelines via the telephone, and how seriously adorable his not-so-little round head was when he was four.

Then I took a good look at my nearly niner, Harrison, and had to go have a Diet Coke (significant since I’m off caffeine).

It was one more gong to my rather hollow head that it’s a darn good thing I’ve made this move and rearranged my life around what really matters right now.

Frankly, moving to Germany has changed me deeply.

Don’t get me wrong, my vanity remains securely intact along with a penchant for inappropriate shoes and too many leggings. If it doesn’t stretch I don’t wear it. Some mothers wear yoga pants and flip flops, I wear leggings and heels. Either way there’s no button to deal with and isn’t that what really counts?

We’ve been here since last July and I had no idea that I wasn’t just entering a new country, I was entering a new era of my life. The last four years have been busy with baby steps; both ┬áhaving and feeding and changing and clothing them. With four little children I was both caught up in the physical maintenance of mothering while simultaneously routinely disconnected from the insanity. I had my social life and personal interests, just enough to keep me on the phone with family and friends during most key hours of the day.

Essentially, I was mothering on auto-pilot. And considering how crazy four full time kids can get I am mostly okay with that.

But it feels like jumping the pond was a time warp. Gone are the carefree days of chicken nuggets and onesies (although there’s still way too many of both around here). During the past eight months I’ve found myself dealing with serious mothering crap. It has changed every other aspect of my life.

But my biggest discover came last week. I learned the secret to being a successful stay at home mom. Are you ready for it? Stay at home. It’s amazing how easy it is to stay out of money trouble with the man when I never leave the house to spend anything. I’m shocked at how happy, yes happy, my children are to stay home doing…stuff. Who knew pointless errands were so expensive, and why didn’t I realize that my kids weren’t bad, they just weren’t designed for riding around in car seats and shopping carts all day.

I don’t know if I’ve found the right balance yet but things are starting to feel good. Granted, a nice fat wave could come along at any moment and knock me off my relatively clean desk (please don’t ask about the kitchen floor or that stuff on the brown chair because I don’t have an answer).

When it comes down to it, I only want to do one thing right these days: Not Screw Up My Kids. That does not mean I think I have control over their personal screwed up potential. We all know the best parenting has nothing to do with personal agency. My kids will make their own choices to own and sleep with.

But it does mean that I hope to look back on this time and not wish I’d put down my phone/book/computer more and paid attention when someone wanted me to read them a book or help make Baby Parrot “an ‘elicopter.”

My sister, Kerry, told me the other day to read to my kids all the time right now. “By the time they’re twelve,” she said, “Your chances are gone. Get in every book you want them to hear right now while they’ll still listen. After that there’s no guarantee…”

There’s no guarantee anyway, but I’ll take that advice. Its suddenly going so fast.



  1. Thank you for this. I have three children, the youngest is 3 months, and we’ll probably have more. I’ve been coming to this same conclusion. I’m sure glad that my kids came one at a time so I that could get used to it by degrees. I’m trying hard to not run on just auto pilot. Coincidently, my husband just bought me an iPhone . . . Yeah I haven’t really been “present” the last couple of days .

  2. Hmm, there is such a small window between “when they’ll actually listen to book”s (age6 for us) until Aunt Kerry says they’ll stop (12). I don’t know what’s on your list, but kendra and I simultaneously keep reading our kids the same books without even knowing it!! Beezus and Ramona, Bruno and Boots, Little House on the Prairie, Grandfather Frog is next on my list-got the whole series of Thornton Burgess. Oh and took your advice on the bible book. My kids have never hopped in bed faster and with more energy. We are on story 4. They LOVE it.

    It is going too fast. Brody will be 9 in September. In the last few months I definitely have had the aha clarity you describe in this post. i can’t stop picturing them older, boys going on missions, college and such. It’s coming too fast.

  3. Oh Annie…you are a better mother then you give yourself credit for!!
    a stay at home mom…STAY AT HOME…very profound. Don’t complicate a kids life by running them all over creation, and then getting MAD at them cause they aren’t “co-operating and getting cranky”. They didn’t want to do IT in the first place.
    I loved the saying of …”the best parenting has nothing to do with personal agency”
    Whew….I guess that struck a chord with me. NO PARENT wants to fail their children. I still “punish myself” over and over for the death of my son.
    when HIS choices were ultimately his own.
    but hey…as a mom……we will ALWAYS wonder what we could have dont differently that may have made a difference. I DON’T care what people say, it’s what moms do.
    So…I guess I am wondering “how could I have helped him develop BETTER choices”???????
    so keep on doing what you are doing…………..
    changes come to us in the strangest of ways sometimes.

  4. Thank you Annie, your insight is always both honest and helpful. I think so many of us are in your same boat (the motherhood boat that is, most of your readers are probably still here across the pond) that not only can we relate, we need to hear it from someone else who’s in the thick of it.

  5. Oh, this is my life. I am ALWAYS at home. I am something of a hermit. I have used it as an excuse to be on the dang computer/phone (facebook, blogging, Games with Friends (and family) etc. ) and I know I need to be HERE more. But I do appreciate the quiet of my life and the many opportunities for teaching my kids because we’re just home, just living together. I’m glad you are having this experience.

  6. Staying at home is the secret. That’s one of the best things about living in my little valley – besides groceries, there’s not much to leave home for. And we like it this way. ­čÖé
    You’re good, my friend.

  7. Well said, my friend. I knew a girl in PR who was so “busy” she would drag her poor kids all over the island in a crappy van with no air conditioning. Despite living on a military base with a lot of other SAHMs who would happily have traded child care with her, she insisted that her four children be with her all the time. Finally, I told her straight up that I thought her behavior was abusive. I know. What are friends for?