I know I said I'd post Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and then I skipped last Friday. I had to. Last Friday was AWFUL. The kids were terrorizing me and each other, and I responded by being a short-tempered, harsh mama for most of the afternoon and evening. They went to bed just fine, but I cried myself to sleep feeling awful and guilty. This parenting gig (especially single parenting) is not for wimps. The good news is I vowed not to let any other day be like that, and it hasn't been. We enjoyed a fantastic weekend together. I know they felt happy and loved, and so did I. This is just a case of really bad timing. Markus is away for longer than he's ever been away just after some pretty big changes (which always throw them for a loop) AND it's the last week of school term (which always makes Ellie's behavior a nightmare). It's hard for me because I never sleep well in Markus's absence (true even before we had children), and sleep deprivation compounds the challenge. BUT. It's hard for them too, and I'm working very vigilantly to be mindful of that.
I did spoil them quite a bit over the weekend. Yesterday, we drove out to the "bunny farm" so they could enjoy the springtime baby animals. Stephanie was thrilled to take a pony ride. Ellie was thrilled to cuddle the baby animals, particularly the tiny rabbit babies. We ate a big picnic lunch in the back of the car and then continued at the bunny farm for another half hour or so after that, making it our longest visit yet. They loved it! When we came home, we made cookies together and then took them across the street to enjoy afternoon tea and a play with our kind neighbors. Thank you again, Rosemarie, for inviting us over when you already have three boy mayhem of your own to manage! We appreciate it! And that glass of wine Alan offered me after the tea was well-received too.
One of the best things that has evolved in Markus's absence is a big scale-back on sugar consumption. While we are pretty good at not letting them overindulge on a grand scale, adding up little bits here and there throughout the day (Nutella with peanut butter or almond spread on bread, chocolate sprinkles in the natural plain yogurt, one big sugar snack in the afternoon...) was resulting in a fairly hefty sugar intake. I realized that I was far more vigilant about making sure they had balanced diets when they were infants than I have been doing in the past year or so. I guess all the mealtime battles had worn me down so much that I didn't even know how lax I'd gotten. Since I'm the only one doling out food right now, I have been able to take total command of consumption and greatly reduce their sugar intake. AND HERE'S THE AMAZING PART: Ellie is eating more! I always suspected (and have even outright said more than once) that she is waiting out our healthy food options and holding out for sweets. She rejects food and rejects food until we finally give up and offer her something we see as a compromise, like a bowl of yogurt with strawberries and sprinkles. This week, I've ensured they've only had sugar access ONCE per day and I've even kept that minimal, and it is already showing a pay-off. The most obvious to me example was tonight for dinner. The afternoon was very hard (Ellie started whining at high pitch the second I picked her up from school, typical of the last week of term), we stayed out too long and I ran out of time to make dinner. I put on peas and corn on the cob, and then I picked up cheese pizza from down the street. We have often resorted to pizza dinners in a pinch, but then we haven't required anything other than pizza be eaten. Tonight, I told them firmly that they could have the pizza if they ate their veggies too, and Ellie cleaned her plate! I could hardly believe it! Two slices of pizza, a whole corn on the cob, a big bowl of peas, and two glasses of milk! Wow. I can't remember the last time she ate that much dinner, and I certainly can't remember her eating that much without complaining. And yesterday afternoon, she made her own snack, something we call a "roly sandwich" (tortilla with peanut butter and a small amount of Nutella), which Stephanie could happily eat daily but Ellie has never before eaten voluntarily. All I did was open the jars and offer her the knife to do it herself, and off she went! Holy cats.
The other big change I've implemented has been chores. While I've always believed in fostering their independence, I haven't required much contribution around the house. I've been reading a (great!) new parenting book, and one of the many assertions in that is kids need chores (without compensation) to feel that they are valued and valuable members of the household. If you do everything for them, they are not needed, which isn't a nice feeling for anyone. I haven't implemented chores military-style or anything. I've put it to them (particularly Ellie) in terms of needing help. I need your help. We can't eat if the table is covered in drawings and toys. Please work together to clear the table and set it for dinner. I've talked them through the steps (first we put the toys and whatnot away where it belongs, no not there please but where it belongs...now we need placemats, napkins, plates...) Although it took ages longer than it would have if I'd just done it, it was a good process for all of us and in the end, Ellie was spotting what was needed without my prompting. By the time I was serving dinner, she had independently fetched the milk from the fridge and carefully poured for herself and Stephanie. Amazing.
I have been completely drained at the end of each and every day of Markus's trip. The girls really struggle at bedtime, when our normal routine is one parent per child. Stephanie takes ages to settle. I don't get dinner until the whole process is over. It's quite exhausting. I feel like he's been gone for over a month rather than a week. The days are hard, but we are all doing as well as we can be. And I'm really proud of these girls.
I'll take and post some new pictures soon, but in case you haven't already visited there, I uploaded a lot of recent pics to our flickr pool. I haven't made the time to comment on them yet, but they are all there if you'd like to see the girls in recent action.