Rebel Hearts and House Rules
Yesterday was a bright and sunny English day that almost fooled us into believing that it was spring. Our landlord came out to survey the yard, meet with our gardening crew and talk with us about house plans. If you recall, back when we moved into the cottage there was some work to be done. The gardens on the property are expansive and in the very back is a trickling pond and a large deck overlooking the house. Zac has tended to the pond since the second we moved in. It has become his new found hobby to check PH levels and add in things to keep our newest family member, "Larry Jr. Rainbow-Heart-Dinasour", amused. The kids named the fish, obviously. Rest in peach Larry The First, you were a good lizard, until you were squashed in an unfortunate rock slide. You will live on in the form of a large goldfish. The pond looks about one thousand times better after Zac took out every rock, cleaned it and reshaped the flow of the water from the top to the bottom. Now, the deck above it that was a decrypted rotting mess, looks about one thousand times WORSE. The "Ugly Friend Effect" is a real thing. When our land lord came out to see all the work that had been done, he offered to rebuild the deck with the help of Zac's engineer mind and my creative skill at making things more difficult. Think hot tub and market lighting people. I'm about to "American-ize" the hell out of this quaint little cottage. We talked timelines and supplies, with the hope of completing it for us, and hopefully our guests, to enjoy by summer. After a lot of serious talk, we shifted to small talk. Our landlord is a pretty unique individual, and I quite enjoy his recollection of times spent traveling the world. If he wrote a book, I would read it cover to cover. He's been very good at helping us along our path to finding a place here. Our conversation with him is what triggered this post. After talking over the vaccine roll out, he jokingly mentioned the British propensity to make and follow rules. He said, "We will queue a line even if there isn't one, we are rule followers." He's right. Spot on. Zac and I have been sort of amazed and intrigued at how orderly everyone is. Countless times I have seen someone come up to check out, not realizing a line has formed behind them. Most time someone calls out, "hey mate, there is a queue." The unknown offender just turns around, gives a very British-like apology, and gets in the back of the line. It's all very copasetic. It makes me wonder...
I'm an American. In America, we don't hesitate to question a rule. Hell, that IS America. We are quick to invoke an amendment if we feel our rights are being denied. Did our history of questioning rules, breaking with the establishment and forming our own rules, produce inner rebels in us all? Do we have a deep desire to fight rules just because that is what we know? What are the rules we always follow, without question? Pouring a cocktail, this got deep.
I'm taken back to when we first moved into the cottage. It was recycling pick up the next day and so Zac and I dug out the pamphlets and calendars to see what where the rules. Three hours later, we were washing out sandwich meat containers and compressing them all into clear bags. I swear, I will add an image as evidence, but you need a masters degree to understand the flow-chart that is the trash schedule here. Now, we can almost instantly tell you an item's recycling plastic resin identification code after that stressful experience. I'm considering making a jingle so my kids will stop throwing polypropylene products, otherwise known as yogurt tubs, in the rubbish container. Waste is a very big deal here. One time, while riding on the tube, a gentleman got up and absentmindedly left his empty coffee cup on the seat. Another gentlemen quickly pointed out that he needed to throw it away to keep the tube clean for everyone. No fight ensued. Just a quick apology as he picked it up to exit the train. Get this. Even the gas stations here operate on an honor system. There are no card machines at the pump, you pump your gas, then go inside to pay. I have yet to see a gas station without a "pay inside" pump. This culture change leaves me so fearful I will forget to pay out of habit and be arrested in front of my kids.
Now, I am not inferring that everyone is a saint and rule follower here, but it is interesting to see the differences. Back home, if I thought a rule was dumb, or not very intentional, I usually fought it, or at the very least, ignored it and asked for forgiveness if I got caught. Like those labels on mattresses: "Do not remove under penalty of law." Nope, I'm ripping that sucker right off because I'll be damned if I put my freshly ironed sheets over a crumply old tag that will make an unnecessary crease. I bet you every bed in the UK has that tag intact. It's great, and I'd put money on it. If I get arrested at customs when we move back, you know why! Or, what about those warnings on fireworks, flammable pajamas and hairspray? They are all just suggestions right? Because I have totally put on some questionable pajamas, teased and sprayed my hair with cheap hairspray and lit candles like I'm about to call on the dead. What can I say? I have the American Rebel Heart.
I slept on this conversation, as I always do, and the next morning I saw that I had written on my handy dandy notepad, "house rules." I believe I had written this down as a reminder to brush up on some of our house rules with the kids. But it was interesting that as I was basking in my rebellious streak with the outside world, I was also reigning in some behavior that didn't work for the balance of our home. How many times in my life had I had conversations with other wives and mothers on rules that were followed in their home? How many times had my mind been blown at some of the rules that I thought were genius, and so I copied, or laughed off, because I thought the rule would be as successful as a fart in church. Let's talk personal rules. I think it says so much about two things: the rule, and the rule maker.
I'm going to use myself and my household as example because, that is what I can attest to. Almost all the rules in my house are designed to keep peace, establish a boundary, define priorities, create stability or just help me run the house and not run myself into the ground. These are the top ones:
No phones at the dinner table. This is a "no-brainer" but dinner time is sacred at my house. We all have our job when setting up the table. Everyone in my house knows that nothing hurts my feelings more than someone showing up late to a hot meal. It crushes me. While we eat, we play games, practice manners and talk about our day. This is always our time to reconnect and check ourselves into the family fold and out of the world away.
No kids in Mom and Dad's bed. I know this sounds harsh, and I know "family bedding" works for a lot of people. It has never worked for us, because no one ends up getting sleep. Our bed is made for two things, and one of those things will scar the kids for life. Between our three kids and I don't think they have ever slept in my bed all night. Quite possibly they may have if I was nursing and fell asleep, but even when they have been sick at night, we go to them. Our kids don't even fight to get in our bed, because they don't know any different. (And they love their beds.) When we made this rule, we hoped this would make secure kids who weren't afraid to be alone. I don't know if that is true, we just know this just works for us.
If you can't share it, you shouldn't own it. That's right, if you value something over someone, we have a problem. Now that is not to say we go around taking new toys and everyone gets a turn, there is some common sense principles in there, but generally if an object is being disputed we take this approach.
When Dad gets home, everything stops. Okay, so this started as a marriage principle for me. Since the day we got married, if I heard Zac come in, I dropped whatever I was doing to greet him. I wanted him to know he was the shift in my day and that he was my priority. He could leave work at the door, he was just Zac again. When we had kids, and he joined the military, he wasn't home all that much, and often when he did come home, it was pretty late. However my kids, I believe from seeing me do it for years, would drop everything to meet him at the door too. As a parent, I didn't realize how powerful examples were until I put the two and two together. Every time he comes through the door, the noise level increases about 10 decibels and everyone just knows our day has shifted. In hindsight, I wish I would have also made this a custom for me as I will call out with bags full of groceries and I am usually greeted by Nola.
Potty mouth is for the potty. We actually just discussed this over dinner. We were talking about foul language and Arden pipped up to say, "I only say bad words in my head." I was intrigued. "Um Arden, what bad words do you say?" She responds with an unsure and guilty grin, "the medium bad ones." Wait, there are levels. Oh shit. What level is "shit" because I would call that a level one. She says, "You know, like stu- stu- stu...." I say, "Stupid?" She buries her head in her chubby little girl hands and giggles. I think, Gosh if "stupid" is medium, "shit" must have a prison sentence. I say, "Honey, stupid isn't a curse word it's just an ugly word that we don't use to describe people because it is unkind." She looks at me square in the face, what about "shu shu shu..." I think she is going to call me out for my use of the word shit. Then I realize who I am dealing with, "Shut up? Is that your question?" She slaps her hands to her face like by saying it out loud, I have gone too far. I say, "Again, it is unkind, you're not allowed to say it to your siblings, but there are also better ways to ask someone to be quiet. In total, if it's unkind, rude or unbecoming we want you to try to pick different words." They enjoy a good bodily function word like, "fart" and "butt" just like the rest of them, but we try to tell them that they aren't necessary to be funny. When I say "we" in this story, I mean Zac. I love bad words.
Manners say everything and nothing. This is my soap box, if I had one. One time, when I was young my mother brought me to her friends very fancy home, and before we walked in she said, "Now, Baileigh, mind your manners." On the drive home that night I asked her, "Momma, why do we even have manners." She said, "Manners are a way to make everyone feel comfortable and respected. They say everything about you without saying a word." It's true. If a kid comes to my house and is polite I always make it a point to say something to the parents because I appreciate the effort to teach those things that are kind of subjective and hard. My goal has always been that I want people to come in our home and really enjoy our kids. I enjoy them, but I birthed them so I have to. This is different, I am talking about the kind of enjoyment that happens because my kids don't act like the world revolves around them. They are aware of others. I am hoping by repeatedly touching on manners, our kids will be able to navigate social situations and connect with others easily because they recognize the importance of respect. Can you tell I'm pretty passionate about this? I don't always get it right, but I do go all in.
If you can't play nice with your sibling, then you cant play with anyone at all. This one sucks but it has worked for us. I am THAT mom. If my kids are ugly to one another while they have friends over, I have been known to load them up and bring those friends home. I don't tolerate any sort of ganging up, poking fun or putting down. Nope. You'll be by yourself if you can't be nice. What has happened out of this principle is that my kids have sort of banded together and now they are often hard to peel apart when necessary. On numerous occasions, I have had to tell Avah that Arden is not allowed to go with her to every party and sleep over because she is three years younger AND she can't just invite herself. I have also seen Arden go to blows for Avah when someone was mean to her, even though that kid out-weighed her and out-ranked her... To be honest, I'd rather have that than kids that cut each other down or leave each other out. Some of my friends who know me well are currently laughing while reading this because they have bared witness to my "ragin-cajun-mom-spree."
You make a mess, you clean it. You live here, you help here. This one is a fight every day. If you make a mess you clean it, just like you found it. This is often debatable as Zac can't remember how he found it, but he makes me a cocktail and then I forget how I left it. I try to remind everyone that running a house and sharing a space with people means you have to think of others. It also requires you to pitch in so that the house is a pleasant place for everyone to be. Furthermore, I try to drive home the example. "Momma gets to sit and relax and read with you if she doesn't have to spend hours picking up and putting back the things you left out." This always seems to make more sense to them because it is actual cause and effect. I have no qualms delegating tasks because I think it makes them all much more aware the effort that goes into their lifestyle.
This leads to my final thought. While we covered the rules themselves, what about the rule maker? As an official rule maker in my home, what does it say about me that these are the principles most applied under my roof? Well, I hope it says, "I'm trying." I am. I am really trying to make good humans. Writing this post, and writing our rules down really helped me to latch on to those invisible threads that have created the atmosphere of our home. I recognize the rules I am enforcing are sending constant messages to my children on what kind of standard I will accept, and what I find most valuable. Hint: It is them! They are almost always at the center for my reasoning. Seeing my rules in black and white, and being able to trace them back makes me appreciate that it is all an evolution. In the game of "house rules": I am the creator, enforcer and receiver. Think on that for a moment.
So, as I find myself questioning the origin of rules, navigating the differences of rules in our new country I want to take a moment and recognize the glorious opportunity we have to create our own little worlds, with our own little rules. I kind of love that my rules may sound bat-shit crazy, sorry Arden, but they work for us. I love that what works for me, may not work for you and vice versa. I am empowered by the fact that we can all go back to the drawing board and say, "Okay, we gotta try something else." There is some freedom for everyone when we find the right rules.
So, here is my call to action if you are into that sort of thing. Take 5 minutes and write down the spoken and unspoken rules of your home. Where did they come from? Are they still effective? Or do they need some revamping or amendments to better work for growing kids and shifting circumstances? I can already tell you, I know we need some fine tuning on a few of ours. What are the places in your home that need more refining and how can a new practice get you there? If you asked your kids, what would they say your rules are? And why would they say they have that rule? We are so far past the days of "because I said so," it seems to be more like"because you need this boundary to live kid."
They say, "Some rules are meant to be broken", I say, "A broken rule deserves a second look, and sometimes a factory reset." I am enjoying the chance to reassess my relationship to rules while in the UK. Let me know what YOU find. I always love to hear and connect with you.
Love From London,
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Arden and Rules.