Thursday, October 29, 2009

Financial Peace University

If you had asked me two months ago, I would have told you that there's very little that I dislike talking about more than money/paying bills/my credit card usage/etc. In fact, I believe I said something very similar to my previous statement in response to my husband's invitation to join him for a class called Financial Peace University being offered through our church. He said it would be a beneficial thing for both of us to go through, plus it would be some time for us each week to do something baby-free together. As always (no sarcasm intended!), he was right.

Financial Peace University is a program designed by financial guru Dave Ramsey ( who, after making millions in real estate, lost everything and had to rebuild his life from scratch. And rebuild he has! He lives debt free and has made millions by educating people around the country on how to regain (or simply GAIN) control of their finances.

"Bah! We don't have financial problems," I thought as I started the class. "Who wants to spend two hours listening to some guy talk about money?" Turns out that we DID and I DO! Dave lays out a very simple plan to follow in order to eliminate debt, live only on the money you have coming in each month and, even better, he does this in such a way that you're laughing for a good majority of the class. I (gasp!) look forward to budget meetings with the hubby each month because budget has now become "structure" rather than "restriction" for us. And it's almost become a game for me to see where I can make cutbacks in order to pay off some of our debts more quickly. $300 per month for groceries? Ha! You're eating nothing but beans and rice. I can do groceries this month for $100. How do you feel about training Anna to pee on newspapers? What? It's OK for puppies but not our kid? That's discrimination.

We've done the math and by sticking to the principles we've learned so far from FPU, we will be debt free, with the exception of our house, within 2 1/2 years. And better than that, we've learned exactly what to do in order to build sustainable retirement and college funds. We haven't used our credit cards in 2 months now and have no plans to ever go back to using them. We spend 30-45 minutes a few times a month to tell our money where to go rather than looking back at the end of the month wondering where it all went. And best of all, we've done all of this with open and kind communication - no fights!

I just wanted to share this with any readers who might benefit. Doesn't matter your age - we have everyone from newlyweds to retired couples and singles in our class, all of whom are equally benefited by the class. If you live in the Milwaukee area, our church has another session starting after the holidays (and it's a non-denominational class, so you don't have to be Lutheran to attend). If you don't, ask around! FPU is big and I bet you can find a class meeting near you.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Picking My Battles

This was a weekend of picking my battles. I'm starting to become a practiced expert at asking "Is she hurting anyone? Is she endangering herself? Us? The cats? Are we going to be late because of what she's doing? Bah, I'll clean it up later." I'm also becoming a master of asking questions that I don't really want to know the answers to, such as:

"Did you just shove that entire pretzel up your nose?"
"Aww, did you just wipe your own nose? WITH THE KLEENEX YOU ARE NOW EATING?!?!"
"Why is my hair/my face/the couch/the cat/the floor sticky?"
"Why did it suddenly get so quiet in there?"
"What in God's name did she throw down the laundry chute THIS time?!"
"How can you possibly want MORE applesauce? You just ate 3 bowls!"

Most of these questions are met with a devilish grin and baby feet pounding the floor in whatever direction will get her away from me the fastest. Some of them are met with sass-back of teenage proportions. And some are met with a wide-eyed, "what you talkin' 'bout, mama?" face that makes me laugh, even when I don't want to laugh. (By the way, I actually DID ask all of these questions this weekend. I sometimes wish my life was videotaped so I could offer playback on this blog to prove to you that I am living as weird/amusing of a life as portrayed in my posts.)

A coworker (a childless coworker) asked me earlier this week "why do parents let their kids get so messy when they eat?" to which I responded, "what's the harm? Stopping them is harder than it looks and at worse she needs a bath and a change of clothes when she's done." Sometimes it's just easier to deal with the consequences of letting her explore her independence. Plus she does usually learn something in the process of creating the mess(like "mommy thinks it's funny when I blow raspberries after taking a big bite of applesauce").

Anna went outside with her dad yesterday to play in the yard while he raked leaves. I decided since it was nearing 3:00pm that I should probably change out of my PJs and brush my teeth (we had a lazy weekend) and go out to enjoy the weather a bit myself. I went out and poor little Anna was trying with all her might to climb into her wagon (Cadillac of wagons - thanks, Grandma Hootie!). I, without thinking, picked her up, strapped her into the wagon and headed the 7 blocks to the park near our house. Without telling Andy where we were going, or even checking to see that he had seen me grab her. She and I continued to the park and had a grand old time, climbing the steps, going down slides, reading some really lame grafiti (really, "" qualifies as graffiti? Lame, teenage delinquents, lame) and swinging.

Finally she decided she was finished and we went to get loaded up in the wagon. But no. "I'm walking, mom, and I'll scream as if you are abusing me if you try to put me in that seat." Right. So we began our 7-block trek back from the park with Anna pushing the wagon while I pulled. Letting a toddler walk 7 blocks is a PAINFULLY SLOW process and definitely exercised my patience more than little, but she was bound and determined to keep going. Finally when we got about 4 blocks of the way home, and she was wandering yet again toward some stick or mud puddle that looked interesting to her, I told her it was time to ride. She protested a bit, but eventually gave in and enjoyed riding in style the rest of the way home.

As we approached the house, Andy was in the front yard raking leaves into the street. I apologized up and down about taking her and not telling him where we were going, but was met only with a blank stare and a "no problem" from him. He said he saw me put her in the wagon and figured we were heading someplace to get out the way of leaf raking. I was strangely disappointed that he hadn't called in the national guard, but felt better when I took Anna out of the wagon and we pitched her into the leaf pile.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Adventures in Parenting

This past weekend, I exercised my "I'm a strong mom and am going to do a weekend away with the kiddo on my own" muscles and spent the weekend at my mom's in Illinois. Hubby has a ton of projects all hitting at once so I offered to give him some quiet time at home to catch up. On Friday afternoon after work, Anna and I loaded up the car with enough stuff to last us for two weeks at least, and headed south.

I may have mentioned previously that Anna HATES being cooped up in her car seat. Maybe? Small mention? Well she must have heard me tell you that. And she LOVES to make a liar out of me. She was a perfect angel in the car all weekend. I thought maybe I had packed up the wrong child. She spent quite a lot of time "singing" along to her CDs that I brought along for the ride. Then talked on her pretend cell phone and snoozed the rest of the way.

Yes, you did read that right. Anna, 15 months old, talks on her pretend cell phone. She will be walking around, or in this case, sitting in the car, and will suddenly stop, put her hand up to the side of her face (or hold whatever object she's been playing with up as if it's a telephone) and say "ah? Ah-da? Da. Ya. Ah-ya." In her phone voice. I can actually tell when I'm driving when she's "talking on the phone" because her voice changes. It's ADORABLE.

Lately I've really been struck by what a performer Anna is becoming. She loves to get a laugh out of people, especially me. And she has no problem laughing at her own jokes. She waddles and toddles all over the house chuckling to herself about some baby joke that I am not in on, but her chuckling is infectious and she knows it. She knows it so well that she tries to use it now to get out of trouble. She'll look me dead in the eye with a big smile on her face as she stands up on her rocking chair. She'll chuckle at me as she squats down, not sits down like I've asked her to, and continue to look at me with a face that says "Come on, mom, it's funny! You said to sit, but look what I'm doing right here. It's not sitting!!" Obviously I have to enforce the rules, but there are times that it's really hard not to just say "You're right, Anna, that is pretty funny" and just laugh along with her. Like when she dumps her dinner on the floor so she can wear the bowl it was in as a hat. Those are the times I have to leave the room to laugh so that my reaction doesn't reinforce her behavior.

She's keeping me on my toes. Constantly surprising me with some new trick or suddenly being content with something that used to enrage her (like the carseat). It's such a blessing that toddlerhood has so many fun moments because it certainly has a fair number of frustrations too. Thankfully, so far, the fun has outweighed the frustration.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Parental Fears

As a new parent, countless people told me (much to my irritation), "relax, this is the easiest you'll ever have it!" You know, I can't think of a more disrespectful thing a person could say to an overwhelmed, overtired, inexperienced parent trying to figure things out for the very first time. And it took all my willpower not to say so to the people who said this to me - if you were one of them, fear not, I have long since forgiven you! I've forgiven you because I realized, after I got some sleep and a few diaper changes under my belt, that you weren't wrong!

In the beginning with Anna I was so afraid to set her down, let her cry for more than a millisecond, under-dress her, overdress her, take her anywhere in public where she might cry, nurse in public, you name it, I was scared of it. And I know it was all because I had never done any of these things before. Not only had I never dealt with such a little human for more than an hour or two at a time, but I had never gone on such little sleep, and there were days that I truly felt like I was losing my mind. I've made a mental list of things that I will do differently with any future babies and number one on that list is RELAX! Also, pretty much everyone on earth, including my pastor has now seen the "ladies" so I'm pretty sure nursing in public won't be such an issue next go-round either. Ahh, modesty, motherhood has destroyed you so.

Now I look at that early stage of Anna's life and think, man, that was a piece of cake and I had no idea (Mommy Amnesia, probably!)! I'm sure in 5 years I'll look back at the stage she's in now and think "wish I would have relaxed and enjoyed the toddler years, they were so easy compared to now!" I'm really trying to get past the worrying and frustrations and just enjoy where I am now as a parent. Trying to make myself believe that this parenting thing is not as difficult as my mind wants me to believe it is. There are days that this is easier than others.

As a parent of a toddler I fear her running into the street, getting nipped by the neighbor's dog, knocking out a tooth on a particularly bad fall, amputating a fingertip when slamming a door, drowning in the toilet during an explorer mission gone horribly awry...and the list goes on. What I'm trying to convince myself of is that I had irrational, overly worried fears like these was she was a newborn too and now wish I would have just relaxed and gone with the flow a little more. So I should focus now on trying to relax and just enjoy Anna for the inquisitive, funny little monkey that she is and stop worrying (within reason, I still won't let her slam doors or play in traffic or the toilet without SOME supervision...).

This is sort of a rambly post, but my point is this - being a first-time parent is confusing and frequently overwhelming. It's easy for me to look back at Anna's infant days now and think of how easy that was. I'm sure with baby #2 in the future it will seem somewhat easier because I will know better what to expect. I'm sure all of these stages will feel at least a bit more familiar. So I'm going to try now to relax and take in as much as I can and enjoy as much as I can of Anna because she is growing up way too fast.


Totally unrelated to this post - Anna's favorite thing to do in the mornings now after she gets changed and dressed is to go find the kitties. She makes a beeline for the door as soon as I put her on her feet. I always know when she finds them because you hear the most joyful "HI!!!" from the other room. She is genuinely, purely happy to see those cats. Unfortunately her exuberance usually comes across as scary godzilla noises to them so they scurry for high ground. But she doesn't care because she got to see her furry friends and that makes her happy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Yes, No, Read My Mind!

Up until recently, Anna has nodded "yes" to every question asked of her. Even when the answer was not yes. So I've gotten into the habit of only asking her questions that I know the answer will be yes to - keeps me from feeling so confused. But ever the saucy little minx, Anna has changed up the game and learned how to shake her head "no," though I don't think she entirely understands what "no" means (judging from her tendency to continue an activity after I say no several times...).

A quick bit of backstory - Anna HATES having her diaper and clothes changed. Diaper changes are cleverly disguised as wrestling matches that include butt wiping in our household. Once in a great while I can hand her a toy or some new object to play with and keep her happy for a few seconds, but a majority of our time at the changing table is spent trying to keep Anna from clawing her way up the wall and off the table. Spider monkey.

However, I've discovered a tactic that seemed to be working. Anna LOVES putting on her shoes. In a really short span of time we went from having a child who had never worn more than socks on her feet and hated the restricting feeling of shoes to "gotta have 'em, even during my nap!" So upon prying her off of my hip and doing my best to lay her on the changing table I start talking to her about her shoes. Do you want to wear the pink ones with the doggies on them today? Oh, wait, don't cry, see? Look! Shoes! Shoes? Please?

Yesterday morning I tried this tactic again, as the back arching and dog-whistle-pitch screeching started as soon as she saw where we were headed. She laid on the changing table and I said, "Anna, do you want to wear put your shoes on?" And she shook her head no. Oh crap! But then she handed me her shoe and grunted at me until I put it on her foot. When I asked if she wanted her other shoe, she nodded yes. As if I'm not already confused enough!

In addition to Yes and No, she does this bobble-head-maneuver that I'm not entirely sure what the meaning of it is. I imagine as she continues to grow that she'll come up with more and more strange gestures that I'll need to decipher - hopefully she'll start using yes and no consistently so I know that when she says no, she actually means no.