Monday, June 28, 2010

Live like a toddler

My childhood pediatrician used to tell my mother, "You girls stop having babies just as you start to get good at it." His words ring true with me once I get past the fact that he referred to grown women as girls (huge pet peeve of mine). It was the 70s, after all. I wonder, though, if we had stopped at two children whether I would feel nearly as competent as I do now in the midst of this three ring circus. Would I always wonder whether we could have handled one or two more? Or would I rest on my laurels and feel certain that two kids were enough?

I always wanted at least three kids. Two kids seemed like it would be boring. Three kids under the age of four is anything but. That fact is never more apparent than when all five of us are crammed in the kids bathroom for bathtime; two splashing in the tub, the baby hanging out on the changing table talking to himself in the mirror and the two of us watching the kids and shuffling mountains of laundry around. I should have been more specific with God about the timing of these children, shouldn't I have?

My husband and I both come from large families; each of us is one of four children. Some in his extended family have had as many as seven children. Having three children is a novelty among our friends, however. Many of them think we must be exhausted (we are). Many can't believe we even attempt outings like going to the lake or the grocery store with all three in tow (we can't either). I've been to the library, the lake, the pool, several parks and the Sam's Club with all three and it hasn't been a disaster. Of course, I've had help from friends, family and a mother's helper who comes twice a week.

Beyond the assistance, though, here's what I think the secret is: don't slow down or stop moving. If you slow down, the full and painful implications of your situation hits you. If you stop moving, you fall asleep (probably for the next 5 years if I'm lucky).

Toddlers seem to know this little secret. And the more toddlers I add to my brood, the more I learn. They move nonstop until you physically incapicitate them in a crib or car seat. It's then they realize that they're tired or that their teeth hurt or that eating more than two bites of oatmeal at breakfast might have been a good idea. And they often move so fast that they have little time to dwell on past indignities such as the snack they were denied or the whack they received from an older sibling.

If I routinely lived like this, I'd probably lose all of my baby weight and be a lot less annoyed by the daily chaos. Actually, I have to live this way just to survive here. Most mornings I hit the ground running. I don't remember the last time I brushed my teeth. I get a shower on Wednesdays and Saturdays (don't ask me why those days seem to work better than the others). When I stop for too long, I fall asleep. When I dwell on the past (and by past I mean whatever tantrum, mess or heinous incident happened two minutes prior), the resentment affects my dealings with the children until I let it go. When I skip activities, errands and invites, I actually become more overwhelmed by the children. Besides, the best thing about outings is the car ride when my kids are physically unable to approach me. I can ignore their wails as long as they can't come near me.

It's really just easier to keep going. And if nothing else works, I follow the advice my husband heard from his mother whenever he wanted to stay home from school or football practice: "Take a shower. You'll feel better."

It must not be that bad around here after all. I get by just fine on two showers a week.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Purge

We have too much stuff. Too many toys. Too much clothing. Too many shoes. Too much food. Just too much. I feel smothered under the weight of it all.

The maintenance of all this stuff isn't just in the preparing and cleaning and organizing, though. I spend much of my day begging the kids to play with their toys instead of getting under my feet while I do chores or hanging and climbing on me while I nurse the baby. I spend too much time trying to keep clothes available and folded for children who either wear the same handful of outfits over and over or routinely strip themselves. Too much space in my home is given to clothes that my children don't wear or will likely wear only once and promptly destroy and permanently stain. I spend too much time corralling shoes that my children take off as soon as they get outside. I spend too much time making meals for children who barely eat or get more food on the floor than in their mouths. So much energy. So much wasted breath. So much irritation.

This occurred to us last night as we sat wearily watching our children not play with toys scattered so wide and deep that neither of them could move too far. The girl child squealed her displeasure as she was pinned between the toy barn and the bookshelf. The boy child winced in pain as he stepped on toys.

We talked about purging the area of all toys with more pieces than we care to keep track of and any toy that the kids don't use for its intended purpose.

Soon after they went to bed, I set to work clearing the shelves of toys in an effort to make the daily toy soup look less like gumbo and more like, let's say, chicken noodle soup. Just fewer, simpler, more useful ingredients. I have little patience or energy for much else right now.

Homeless, jobless Little People (the Fisher Price variety, not dwarfs)? Gone. What's left? The farm and the firehouse and their respective employees and supplies. And we're not hiring any more workers.

The ball towers that clatter and shatter to the ground daily at the hands of Fiona? Gone. In the attic until they're old enough to actually play with them.

The accompanying balls? Gone. Nothing worse than chasing down little balls night after night.

The miles of race tracks that become guns and swords with which boy child tries to "get" his sister? May soon be gone or put away.

The blocks that are dumped and ignored and stepped on 20 times a day? In a sealed container on the shelf. They must ask to play with them.

Train tracks? In the closet. They must ask to play with them.

The baby toys in baskets for when Owen is ready play with them? Gone. In the attic and may be leaving for good. Fiona just dumps and ignores them. Owen probably will, too.

Puzzles and games? Up high, out of reach. Danny must ask to play with them.

Electronic educational toys? Up high, out of reach. Danny must ask to play with them. 

The Leap Frog cash register and grocery cart? Soon to be gone. In the attic or out the door. I can do without these battery-sucking educational toys that mimic real life. My kids simply run each other down with the grocery cart and the girl child tries to eat the coins. Danny is more interested in going to the real grocery store and probably learns more there, too.

I went through their rooms this morning, too. More ball towers, broken toys, toys with missing pieces.
What's left? A few cars and trucks, some of which belonged to my younger brothers. The older a toy is, the longer my kids will pay attention to it, oddly enough. A kitchen set in Fiona's room with dishes and cookware. Baby dolls. Books. A few rattles and baby toys. And that's it.

So what do my kids play with? Balls and cars. Musical instruments. A container full of McDonald's Happy Meal toys. The farm and the firehouse and the Little People zoo. Sometimes blocks and train tracks. Books.

And, of course, whatever is not a toy is infinitely more fun than any toy on the shelf. They stand on tables and chairs, rifle through the silverware draw and scatter spoons and forks, drum on my pots and pans instead of the drum set we have, swat each other with bar rags, run the loop downstairs, turn lights on and off, climb the stairs and the bookshelves, hide in the curtains, cram their little bodies into small baskets that they just dumped their toys from, "help" us cook and work on the cars, "help" us work in the garden, and on and on.

Right now, my husband is unloading a few bags of toys at the thrift shop and has been instructed to not come home with any new ones. The river of plastic and stuffed crap from China can just keep moving past our door.

I've had enough. I already feel ten pounds lighter. I may put a moratorium on thrift shopping indefinitely. The kids are just as happy playing with dirt, sticks and stones and the handful of toys that I've left them. They are just as happy playing hide and seek and Simon Says and even making up their own games instead of games with too many pieces and rules. They are obviously more interested in real life than toys. And that's as it should be.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mommy No No

Fiona's recent word acquisitions are a pretty good indication of how well things have been going here lately. She totters around yelling "Stop. Stop. Stop." and "Out. Out. Out." because, for some reason, I repeat these things three times before any child even flinches no matter how loud I am. My favorite, though, is this game: She reaches for something that she knows is forbidden, purses her little lips and sternly says, "Mommy No No." That's apparently my new nickname. It's shorter and much less annoying that Danny's new way of calling me, "Mommy, mommy, mommy, mom, mom, mama." And I swear Owen says "Maaaamaaa" when he's crying.

Some days I forget my real name.

When Danny first entered toddlerhood, I would redirect or correct him by saying sweetly "Not for Dan" and then patiently show him what was "for Dan." Fast forward two years and the only word I use more than my children's names is the very word I never wanted to hear coming from the lips of defiant little children: NO. And I'm usually growling or yelling it to prevent one of them from injuring themselves. Keeping them alive or at least not seriously injured is about the best I can do while I spend what seems like hours nursing and carrying around an infant, chasing a toddler and entertaining a 3 year old.

This week has been a bit rough with multiple bruise-making injuries and traumas. Danny has walked into the door frame a few times. Fiona randomly fell into the wall while she was drawing at the chalkboard.  The other day, my father walked in on a familiar scene:  Fiona standing on the office chair and Danny spinning it around. A second later, the chair and Fiona came crashing down. All parties involved came away with black eyes and lots of tears. At least once a day, I hurl the office chair out the side door in utter frustration.

Danny and Fiona conspire like wicked monkeys. They are into everything. They can now both open doors. Danny has gone out the front door a few times. Fiona has let herself into the kitchen. Danny goes around locking doors in the house. Consequently, I now walk around the house with a wooden skewer, a k a the universal key, tucked in my hair. One day, I fear he will lock me in his room since the door locks from the outside. (You know, as long as the baby is with me, that might not be a bad thing.)

They can now both reach and clear countertops and even Fiona can move a rather heavy chair over to the counter to reach whatever she wants. I may have to hang the knife block from the ceiling soon. Danny opens the fridge; Fiona hears it and comes running like Pavlov's dog. Today, Danny decided he was going to "work" in the kitchen while I sat and nursed Owen. A few minutes later I hear the whir of the blender (the base, not the actual blender, is on the counter) and a ear-piercing screams. Danny had turned it on and freaked himself out. Once we established that he was okay physically, I tried not to laugh. Really.

And it gets worse ... one hot day this week, I set up the pool in the backyard. Kids play happily and I feel like a somewhat competent and fun mom. An hour later, as Danny removes his swim suit in the living room, I spot what looks like poop and ask suspiciously "What is that, Danny?"
"It's leaves, it's just leaves," he says in a panic.

It was NOT leaves. It was poop. And I spent the next 10 minutes or so picking up bits of poop with by bare hands.

That is all.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Here we go again

Owen's sleep personality is emerging. He woke up from his newborn haze and decided that sleeping anywhere but pressed against human flesh is completely unacceptable. Obviously, he prefers my flesh and specifically my chest where he nuzzles in at night whether he's going to eat or not. In fact, if he's not close enough, he'll inch and grunt his way over. He does seem to like the crook of Jim's elbow, too.

Over the years, much has been written about each of my children's unique sleep personalities. The older two each had specific ways in which they would fall asleep and specific places where they'd stay asleep. We have several photos of each them in their preferred sleeping arrangement.

For the first six months of Danny's life, the only way he would fall asleep was nestled next to Jim in the recliner, rocking back and forth, until he was unconscious enough to transfer to his bed. They'd usually rock away in front of the television to the din of home improvement shows.

Fiona would fall asleep in her car seat and did not take kindly to be transferred from that throne. And there she stayed, throne placed in crib, asleep for the six to eight hours. That all stopped when one morning she somehow hurled herself from the car seat and into her crib.

Owen likes to fall asleep with his head in the crook of Jim's or my elbow, head hanging backwards. And you have to stay that way for a super long time before transferring him to a bed or bouncy seat. He'll wake up immediately if you transfer him too soon. Hence, he is often carried around the house looking like a rag doll in our arms.

These days, Danny and Fiona both sleep like champs in their own beds without any of the sleep crutches their desperately exhausted parents used in their babyhood. Danny no longer falls asleep in a recliner nor does Fiona need her throne, I mean, car seat. They have evolved into children who simply sleep when they're tired. One day, Owen the rag doll will no longer need the crook of our elbows or my chest as a his pillow. One day, Owen will sleep on the bottom bunk while Danny sleeps on the top -- Danny's grand plan that he shares often with a wide-eyed Owen.

That's why I believe that the sleep books are useful only as a guide, a source of ideas when my exhausted mommy brain can't come up with anything else. No one book holds the secret to getting my babies to sleep. Babies need comfort, not strict routines and rules written by people who don't know them. Of course, knowing this won't prevent me in the next few months from frantically scouring the few books I've kept. I'll be looking for that one sleep clue that I must have missed. Ultimately, I will learn anew that each kid writes his own book.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

I'm back ... sort of.

The baby is finally sleeping and even let me put him down, the girlchild is sleeping and the boychild is not napping but happily hanging out in his Diego undies in the playroom. It's been a rough couple of weeks here during which Owen "woke up" from his newborn haze, had his first growth spurt and began spewing more gas than the hot springs at Yellowstone National Park.

As for me, I finally gave up the fight in a few losing battles and won the prize of some serenity and a little extra sleep. And with a little extra rest comes some discernment in picking which battles to fight and fewer curse words. I keep telling myself that whatever I focus my energy on gets bigger. Right this moment, I'm thinking that none of my so-called battles are worth fighting.

The potty battle with a regressing 3 year old? Not worth it. At least he doesn't poop his pants anymore or scream and carry on when we suggest that he make an offering to the potty gods. And he just goes and changes himself when he pees his pants. Last week, he pulled the stunt of going to the bathroom and peeing his pants while he was in there ... a foot from the potty ... really. What can you do about that? Anyone?

The girlchild standing on chairs and in the bathtub, pulling out all the silverware, grabbing at everyone else's food and beverages? If you pay any attention to her in the midst of these feats, it makes it worse. She knows that she's bugging you and keeps doing it even after told to stop. Furthermore, we've learned that this is one instance where praising a child for good behavior actually backfires. Miss Fiona will repeat the unwanted behavior followed by the correct behavior to gain another round of applause. At this point, it's all about playful diversion and strong intervention if life and limb are really seriously in danger. It's a high threshold. I remember this phase with Danny - quick, filthy and bruised. We can't catch her, clean her or keep her 100 percent safe. Oh well. The more we let her climb and explore, the more she learns and the less she falls. We're just going to be under siege for the next six months or so and that's going to have to be okay.

The baby won't sleep anywhere but my arms or curled up next to me in bed? Forget about it. Owen finally got the hang of nursing lying down. I had been taking him to the rocking chair to nurse and either going back to bed with him or trying to get him in his crib. By the way, the crib is in our walk-in bedroom closet. He doesn't sleep well unless he's right next to me or far from me. I haven't figured out the actual distance he needs to be from me for successful sleep to happen. Last night, he wouldn't settle down in his crib after several failed attempts. Finally, I just took him to bed with me around 10:30. I just left the buffet open and he may or may not have eaten between then and 6:30 a.m. Today I carried and nursed him for hours while getting the kids' lunch, getting Fiona down for a nap and reading to and playing with Danny. He finally settled completely when I swaddled and held him for about 20 more minutes. I can't worry that I'm "spoiling him by doing any of this. My other two were held a lot, too, and even slept in our bed for a time. Neither of them continue to need these things. I firmly believe that you have to give a child what he needs until he doesn't need it anymore. Only my child can decide when he's ready to move on and, in my experience, that happens a lot quicker when you continue to accommodate his needs - experts be damned (that's a whole other post right there. I'll save that one for when I've had even more sleep!).

Some other battles I'm working on not fighting? Drink spilling (at least the floor is bathed in water once a day, right?), food throwing and dropping, not eating the food served at each meal (Danny ate his oatmeal for lunch along with his peanut butter sandwich), the indignant shrieks from a redirected girlchild, the ever expanding reach of the children's toys and I could go on.

I'd rather not yell or spend energy over these things. There'll be a time for cleaner kitchen floors, better manners and fewer pee stained clothes. For now, though, my sanity is just more important.

(By the way, cut me some slack if there are misspelled words, misplaced punctuation and poor grammer. I know that I'm an editor by trade but, seriously people, even feeding myself and personal hygiene is a challenge these days.)