Thursday, December 23, 2010

Open letter to overwrought parents

Bringing your perfectly healthy child to the doctor's office this morning was absolutely the right thing to do. What a great example of proactive parenting to believe that a "preventative" visit to the doctor will assure you a healthy holiday. I know this is what you did because the nurse shared with me your conscientious plan. Because she knows me so well after four years and three children, she felt comfortable sharing this with harried exasperation.

Maybe if I had thought of that brilliant plan, I wouldn't be waiting for 40 minutes past my appointment time with a croupy, wheezing, squirmy infant. I wouldn't dare put him down to explore the germ-laden waiting room that your perfectly healthy child wandered around.

Maybe if I had been bringing my child, sick or not, to the doctor once a month, the front desk staff would have known who I was and rushed me back. Instead, I languished in the waiting room for nearly an hour and witnessed the arrival of a sick child whose symptoms were so alarming that she was rushed back to be seen right away. Hopefully, the very air she breathed was not contagious.

Maybe if you had just stayed home with your healthy kid, my doctor's office wouldn't be solidly booked two days before Christmas and they could actually treat sick children in a timely manner. When kids are sick, time is of the essence, as you probably know. I'm sure when your kids actually are sick you do everything short of call an ambulance, right?

I'm sure you left feeling good about yourself and your child. After all, the doctor must have allayed your fears about the miniscule risk of illness that you surely increased tenfold by bringing your perfectly healthy child in at the height of cold and flu season.

I, on the other hand, left the doctor's office an hour and a half after arriving with the knowledge that my son had a 101 degree fever and a virus and that we would be spending the holidays with a nebulizer and a humidifer and even less sleep than normal. But that's okay. At least, we'll know what's important this year--our health. And we'll slow down, enjoy ourselves and each other as much as possible and do only what our sick child can bear and nothing more.

(Oh, and by the way, I may have let your child play with a used boogie wipe from my purse.)

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Just do the opposite

Life with small children is full of paradoxes.

I'm finding that, in some cases, doing the opposite of what I want to do or think I should do is actually working out quite well. When I can remember to do this, things are a little easier around here.

Faced with a defiant kid? Don't try to be firm, stand your ground or teach them a lesson. Tickle them. (This has just defused so many situations lately.)

The kids won't eat? Don't become a short-order cook, offer lots of little snacks or insist that they eat just two more bites. Starve them. (My kids eat more dinner when they haven't been snacking all day or been forced to eat when they're not hungry.)

One of them won't stop arguing with you? Don't try to get the last word, just realize that it takes two to argue and walk away. He doesn't really think that he's right if he gets the last word. Really.

The kid who knows better becomes demanding? Don't remind him to use manners, just ignore him until he does.

And the biggest paradox of all stems from the most frequent comment I get from other moms when they find out how many and how old our kids number: "Oh, I'd never leave the house."

I quickly found that not leaving the house is the worst thing you can do with three kids under the age of four. Even if it means dressing and shoeing three kids, packing three bags, buckling three kids in the car. (I love the buckling part. It means they can't reach me to wipe their little noses on me.) 

Yesterday morning, the kids were bonkers. Danny woke up mad at the world. Fiona was actually fine until Danny woke up and started agitating everyone, though I was not pleased to find her sitting on the floor scooping ice cream out of the box with her fingers at 8:30. I thought that I had Owen settled down for a morning nap and did a craft with the kids only to learn that he was hollering in his crib, possibly for a while, probably plotting his 3 a.m. revenge on me. I did have a plan to wrap up some errands this morning on a multi-stop tour with three kids in tow. That was a bad idea that I promptly abandoned given the circumstances.

A better idea, however, was to just take all of themthe cranky, the agitated and the naplessto Sam's Club for shopping and a hot dog.

And therein lies the paradox.

My kids are actually better behaved in public than at home. Unless we're in the library. They're always utter heathens in the library. But my assumption was that kids would try to get away with murder in public. Maybe they felt safer in their mischief since mom knew others were watching her every move. Apparently, only mom cares or imagines that others seem to be watching and judging.

That said, our trip to Sam's Club was a rousing success despite one rude shopper who berated me for holding up foot traffic while my son put coins in the Salvation Army kettle. Bravo, lady. Coal for you or better yet, flaming dog poop.

The kids happily ate their hot dogs, shared a bottle of water and took great delight, as usual, in walking over to the trash can to deposit their trash. They never wander off while eating, unlike at home where they are completely incapable of sitting down to eat. (You'd think the seats were lined with hot coals or something.)

Owie watched us from his perch in the cart as he chewed on a plastic straw (don't worry, it was a completely sanitary, individually wrapped straw and he's smart enough not to gag himself). He's never this calm at home while we're eating.

The kids even got a little lesson in using a plastic knife. The kids took turns using it to cut hot dog bun. Danny cut up pieces of the bun and divvied them out. He never shares like this at home.

He even stuck with us, helped put stuff in the cart and didn't ask for too many things. Though, I had to laugh at his response when I said we couldn't buy the kids' playhouse he wanted because it wouldn't fit in the van.

"Wait a second," he says, finger in the air and eyes wide, "We can put it on top of the van."

I love the way he thinks.  He took it pretty well when I gently refused. He also never takes rejection of his ideas that well at home.

So if I ever need some proof that my kids are not monsters, I just take them out in public. Seems like a bad idea, but it's actually makes me feel somewhat successful and gives them a chance to behave well for a change. And I really need that from time to time.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


"I am Fiona ... hear me roar."
It's the week before Christmas, but I guess you all know that. I just find it so hard to believe. The Christmas hype, which I try so hard not to participate in, seems to be seeping into my children's subconscious. They've been cranky and rather bonkers the past two weeks, which is why I skipped last week's edition of "Overheard." I just know you all noticed and your lives were incomplete.

So let's see. What's new? Owen is crawling, full speed on hands and knees. And he's pulling up and cruising. He's 7.5 months old. My mother keeps asking what the heck I'm breeding over here. I told her that I must have steroids in my breast milk. At least he started waking only once after midnight instead of twice recently. I feel like a new woman.

Not really.

Though it has given me just enough energy to do some holiday baking, which is good because I would totally resent this child if I didn't get to make my old favorites—cocoa candy crinkles and sausage bread—and indulge in some new recipes—sugared almonds and white chocolate cranberry fudge.

Fiona is well on her way to being mostly potty trained before she turns 2 at the end of January. I know that I'm a fool for even putting this in writing. One night this week as I explained to her that poop belongs in the potty, not on the floor or the fridge (yes, she actually smeared poop on my fridge), I looked at my husband and said, "Do you get the feeling that she's actually comprehending this?" And he said, incredulously, "Yes, I do."  This morning, I found her at the potty trying to take her diaper off to put her poop in the potty. She's smart, this one. I fully expect that to bite us in the ass. Soon.

And last week, Danny had his four year old check up with our beloved Dr. Greene. He aced the eye exam (knew all his letters and complied with Nurse Wanda's requests, too) and his hearing exam and got a few shots. Danny had quite a bit to say about the shots:

She can't do that. That's not capprofriate. Um, that would be "appropriate." We've been getting a lot of that lately. Apparently, we live in a very inappropriate house these days.

And this ...

That's not a nice, good idea, Danny says to Nurse Wanda, who graciously tried to keep a straight face.

You know, you can go poop at preschool, Danny. 
I can't. The potty is little. [The poop] will stick out.

I can't wait till you go to bed, kid, I say to a fussy Owie at dinnertime.
Why? He does the same thing at night, Jim points out.
Oh, yeah, I forgot. There is no escape.

Danny, your nose is runny. You need to rest, I tell him one morning.
No, no, I can do this, he says as he wipes his nose on his arm. Yuck.

Don't say that, mommy, unless you're in the car, Danny tells me after he hears me say "Son of a bitch."

Sharing: It's the use of one product by two people without screaming, kicking or biting. Jim's definition of sharing. This never happens here.

Use a word, Fiona. I'm trying to cut down on the full body hyper-whine she's got going on. 
Word, she says.

No, me cup, don't, she tells me one morning after I take a sip of her juice. See? She knows words.

Can you say yes? we ask her.
No, she says. Sigh. At least she's not screaming "No" a hundred times a day anymore.

Danny, use the hamper for it's intended purpose, Jim says.
Yes, for my head, Danny replies and runs off naked with a mesh hamper over his head. I wonder if he knows that he's being a smart ass.

Have a great weekend, all.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Screaming uncle

If my life had a theme song these days, it would be that one from the Benny Hill show. (I had wanted to somehow embed that song to go with this post, but, well, I don't have that much time on my hands.)

I envy my husband. At least he knows when his "day" starts by when the alarm clock goes off. I don't even know where one day starts and another ends around here. Is it when the baby wakes up wet and hungry at 2 a.m. or when he wakes up at 6:30 and I throw some toys in his crib so I can try to catch a half hour more sleep? I just don't know.

By 9:30 this morning, I was on my knees in my kitchen, banging my head against the floor and crying, "I can't do this, I can't do this, I can't do this." I reached for the phone to call my best friend who was on her way over to drop something off. I saw that she had called, hit redial and walked toward the dining room to find her at the front door. Never before have I been so glad to see another adult.

Just minutes earlier, I had released myself and two children from my son's bedroom. Have I ever mentioned that I'm claustrophobic and my worst fear is being stuck in an elevator with kids? Well, this was actually worse. I was upstairs changing sheets and trying to locate a pair of pants my son had pooped in when Fiona sprinted into the room and closed the door.

It's locked.

Utter. Panic.

Last I saw the baby, he was standing by the (empty) tub. Did I remember to close the gate at the top of the stairs? Yes, yes. Okay. Next thought: Where is that plastic fork I used to release myself the last time this happened? (Yes, there was a "last time." Don't judge.) Oh, dear God, I couldn't find it. I scoured the room, trying to conceal my panic as Fiona and Danny followed me around the room saying something. Really, all I could hear was screaming inside my head. I glanced out the window at the Hispanic workers on my neighbor's roof and wondered if a woman screaming from an upstairs window would transcend the language barrier. You know, a kind of universal S.O.S.? Would they get it? Would they call 911? I tried to open the window and found that it had been SCREWED SHUT to keep Danny from opening the window.

(My husband later laughed at me and asked how I thought that someone from the outside could get us out any better than I could. Shut. Up.)

Double, triple panic. I could feel myself beginning to hyperventilate. Breath, you can do this. Think. What would MacGyver do? You need something thin and rigid to pop the lock. Meanwhile, I heard a small thud followed by Owen crying in the bathroom. The boy can pull up, but he's not so graceful about getting down just yet.

I finally found a wire coat hanger, straightened it out and popped the lock. I'm free after the longest three minutes of my life.

And that, dear friends, is how I wound up completely unglued by 9:30 this morning. Actually, that was the last straw.

After my 6:30 a.m. ritual of throwing toys in Owie's crib, I heard Fiona stirring and remembered that she was wearing only a diaper and pajama shirt which made the odds of a diaper removal rather high. I also calculated the odds of that diaper having poop in it and those odds, too, are rather high. Unfortunately, I was right on both counts. And she put the, um, package behind her door.

Okay, next adventure ... while I was cleaning up that mess, I lost track of Owen. (It's a wonder this kid is still alive.) Then I heard running water. He's learned how to turn the bathtub faucet on in our bedroom. By the time I arrived, there was an inch of water in the tub, a mile-wide grin on his face and a wicked twinkle in his little Irish eyes. And he's poopy, of course.

Next, Danny is up. I hear this charming diatribe from his room, "You get out. No, Fi Fi. ARGH." And he's sick. He'd been coughing all night long. Then, shortly after coming downstairs, he decided to do a little Christmas decorating—I found him in the dining room plugging in electric candles and setting them up on the window sill. After breakfast, he coughed so hard that he threw up on the floor. It's 8 a.m. and I've already dealt with two poops and one pile of vomit. So what's one more poop incident, right? By around 9:30, I noticed that Danny has changed his pants. Which means he's had an "accident." And it is while I am hunting down the poopy pants and anything else that he may have soiled that I was trapped in the room.

Honestly, some days it's a miracle that the kids are alive by the end of the day. A few weeks ago, when my best friend and her family were over for dinner, they witnessed no less than three incidents in the space of two hours that could have lead to semi-serious injury. We'd like to thank them now for not reporting us to social services.

Oh, and to make matters worse, the baby refused to take a nap this morning. This put a serious crimp in my plans for synchronizing naps. By 11 a.m., I started making lunch, knowing that Owie would last until about noon and if I fed the older two and got them upstairs, I might still be able to pull off plan A. I did (and managed to get some rest for myself) with a little help from Benadryl, which is a slightly more humane coping mechanism than that of the old woman who lived in a shoe. If you recall, she whipped her children soundly and put them to bed. Let the record show that I did not do that, okay?

I write this all down so I can embarrass my children later with tales of their early exploits. Hopefully, I'm not providing evidence for my involuntary commitment hearing. I'm also hoping that if I can make you laugh, maybe I will soon start laughing. Which I do when and only when these incidents run through my head to the tune of the Benny Hill show theme song. It's a start.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Breath of heaven

One morning this week, as our infant son wailed in his "room" (our walk-in closet) from his "bed" (a pack and play), I nudged my husband and asked "Are you awake?" He grunted. I took it as a maybe.

He later told me that he heard a small voice asking him if he was awake, and while he was indeed awake, he couldn't muster the strength to form any words.

That's how I've felt lately about, well, everything. I'm awake, but I can't really speak or think too clearly. It's been about 10 days since I've posted anything in this place. It's December. We've celebrated Danny's birthday. We've decorated for Christmas, mostly outside because our children would destroy whatever we put up. We've gotten a tree which will stay outdoors until a day or so before Christmas. It's even snowed, a lovely, soft snow.

But life goes on. We're in survival mode. I have seven-month-old who is doing this:

I have a little girl who is almost two and trying to potty train herself. (It's not as serendipitous as it sounds. So far this weekend she's peed on the floor and wiped poop on the fridge but at least gone potty a few times on her own.)

I have a four year old who is, well, now that I think of it, actually quite pleasant and fun right now despite the fits of willfulness.

The laundry is backed up. I literally cried when Fiona knocked over my pile of folded laundry. After that, I stopped folding and just stuffed all my clothes in my drawers. (This hurts, people. I used to fold and organize my shirts by color.)

I have three parties this week, one involves a cookie exchange (yeah!!) and the others involve bringing some type of food. And I've scheduled our first attempt at family portrait session, or, as I will likely refer to it for years to come, the holiday suicide mission.

My first attempt at a Christmas calendar was so badly botched by the drug store that I abandoned the entire project and started over with a different store. So much for quick, easy and convenient. On my way home from the store, feeling defeated and stressed, I heard a Christmas song with this charming line, "There's something about Christmas time, makes you wish it was Christmas every day."

Um, really?

I wanted to punch the radio. Better yet, I'd like to hunt down that Bryan Adams and punch his silly Canadian face. (No offense to my French Canadian relatives, of course.)

Christmas is hard enough for me without all this going on. Every year I am dismayed by the excess and the lack of authenticity surrounding celebrations and depictions of Christmas. Every year I struggle with how to connect the dots for myself and my children from the gift giving we do for each other to the gift of the baby Jesus, because, really, a new cell phone or a remote control car or even a real car pales in comparison to that gift. Let's face it, I'm not going to out-give Jesus.

Every year I struggle to explain to a child and myself why we put plastic wreaths and garland and lights up in our house and decorate a live Christmas tree. I mean, it can't just be that we like all the extra vacuuming that comes with these things. I awkwardly explained to Danny the other night that we'd celebrate Jesus' birth soon by bringing our tree in the house. Jim then summed up my confusion nicely, surmising what Jesus may actually think of our charade down here.

"You cut down a live tree and wrapped it with electric lights and put what under it to celebrate my birthday?"

Yeah, what he said. But I would add, "And you spent how much time and energy and money on this?"

Every year I spend at least the first two weeks of December stressed about what to buy for whom and how what I buy will compare to what I receive and whether any of it will be good enough or thoughtful enough. I even feel slightly stressed that while I'm thinking of all these things, the true story of Christmas is not weighing sufficiently enough on my heart. See, guilt is so second nature to me; I was just born to be Catholic.

And, speaking of Catholic, someone showed me to this the other day:
Mary. Doing to Jesus what every mother on earth does to her baby. Hold them close and kiss them. A lot. And I imagine, too, that she's feeling the breath of her son, that breath of heaven, soft and ticklish on her cheek. (I suspect that she's also whispering in his ear that he really should sleep more and let her get some rest.)

My grandmother was Catholic. Much of my father's family is Catholic. I was not raised Catholic, though I chose Catholicism as an adult. Growing up, I never understood my grandmother's love for Mary. It seemed like an obsession, beyond understanding. The year that I played Mary in our church's live nativity scene was a proud year for her. Photos of me dressed as Mary adorned her apartment for years. She once, to my mother's great distress and horror, put a string of rosary beads around my neck when I was a toddler. I'm not sure if it was the Catholic-ness of the beads or the strangulation risk that upset her.

Friday morning, I worked at my Parents Morning Out program at our church. Around 9:30 or so, I sat in the darkened back portion of the church to nurse Owen before his nap. A group was up front saying the rosary. I sat silently and listened.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art though amongst women and blessed is the fruit of they womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

And I finally felt a little peace about the season. I felt that breath of heaven as I sat with my son, who was breathing steadily in my arms.

Now that I'm a mother, I understand Mary, perhaps better than I understand Jesus, and I understand his love for me. I understand selfless, imperfect love, the kind that would lay down its life for the same child that you want to strangle when they smear poop on the refrigerator door. I understand being afraid of the task I've been charged with. I understand feeling blessed yet unprepared to raise these children. I understand doubt, I understand fear because never before has so much been at stake.

I believe there's a little bit of Mary in all mothers. Esteemed, shown a divine mercy, uncertain but hopeful. The image of Mary and her son is the picture of Christmas to me, not the lights or the decorations or the gifts or the songs or even the food that I love to cook. It's the familiar feeling I get at the sight of her nuzzling that baby in her arms. Because I know what that kind of love feels like. I get to feel it whenever I choose to, not just in December or during the entire Advent season.

And I get to remember that I, too, am loved that way.

Friday, December 03, 2010


Some weeks, it's like Animal House around here.

One morning this week, I woke to a half-naked Fiona peering into Owen's crib, saying, "Owen. Owen. Owen" and Owen clapping his hands and laughing. My morning prayer was, "Please God, don't let there be poop on the floor." That's a good prayer for every morning, you know?

One day this week, I looked around and saw three shoes with their match nowhere in sight, several pairs of socks, a pile of discarded and soiled clothes and several utensils on the kitchen and living room floors. My prayer was for the laundry fairy to come to at least collect it all in one place so I wouldn't find dirty underwear under the steps when company is over.

Most days this week, I've had to wipe my feet on the back door mat after walking through my kitchen. My prayer was "Please God don't let my 7 month old eat anything off the floor." I had already spotted a piece of a paper wrapper and an apple seed in his diaper this week.

Another day this week, I very carefully plucked a half-naked Fiona from the recliner with a piece of poop hanging from her bum. Bum over head, I carried her to the bathroom, plunked her on the pot and shook her a bit to loosen the, ahem, dingleberry. Technically, it was her first poop in the potty. So hooray for that. A few hours later, however, I was scooping stray pieces of poop of our bedroom floor. My prayer was "I guess that's a 'Not today' on the poop on the floor request?"

Yet another day this week, I returned to the kitchen after putting Owie down for a nap to find two kids throwing potatoes. There were milk-soaked Cheerios all over the floor. Danny's response as he's about to hurl a potato across the kitchen?

I'm cleaning up. Oh, you will be, my child, you will be.

Later that day ...
Ouch. I just stubbed my toe on a Cheerios.  As it turns out, when wet Cheerios dry up, they stick to the floor (and the cabinets and the wall.) And, daggone, it actually hurt!

And speaking of daggone ...

My daddy says daggone it, Danny informed the mother of one of his classmates as we were walking into preschool the other day. Boy, did we luck out. He could have told her what mommy says.

Damn, Danny says.
Danny, that's not a word we should say. 
I'm talking about a beaver dam. That's right, he says.

You can open one present on your birthday, Danny.
What is it?
It's a surprise.
Is it gum?

You'll be okay, Owie. There's a whole in [the Cheerios], Jim says. Owie was coughing up a Cheerios. Poor third child ... next we'll teach him how to heimlech himself.

No, Owie, stop that, Fiona tells him after he pulls her hair from behind in the bathtub.

Owie's pulling up on things now, I tell my sister.

 I reject your reality and substitute my own, my incredulous sister replies.
Oh, can we really do that? In that case, my new reality is the one where I get plenty of sleep and a pedicure once a week. Instead, my reality is a 7 month old who is trying to climb stairs. Crap.

I pretty much think any singer who's had panties thrown on stage at them should not be singing Christmas songs, I tell Jim, who had just described hearing Neil Diamond singing Away in a Manger. 
 Not songs about baby Jesus anyway, he said.

Danny, Santa is the only person in the world who it's okay to ask for something when you first meet them, Jim tells Danny. We had just talked to Santa Claus on our Santa Train ride. 

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Mother's and father's day

Each child's birthday is special to us, no doubt. But today is not just our son's fourth birthday. It's the day my husband and I became parents for the very first time. I now understand my mother's annual threat to call me on my birthday at the exact time I was born, which was 4:29 a.m. It's an anniversary for us, too. It's our own personal mother's and father's day.
Every mom I know has a shot like this ...

Four years ago, after our third trip to the birth center in 40 hours of labor, Daniel James was born. I arrived in nothing but a bathrobe and some slip on shoes on an unseasonably warm night and birthed our son, who promptly pooped on my leg, at 9:01 p.m. His labor was one wild  ride and so it has been ever since.

Birthdays give me the chance to look at the whole of my son instead of the daily, often exasperating snapshots of the willful child he's become.

A lot has happened in four short years.

He's learned to walk and talk, feed and dress himself, and use the bathroom (most of the time).

He's become a big brother. Twice.

He's made friends quickly and easily. He's collected and lost more Matchbox cars than I can count. He's driven his dump truck about a hundred miles through yard. He's eaten an orchard full of apples, his favorite food, most likely because it is his favorite color, red. He's gone off to preschool and learned how to negotiate his new world without his mommy. He has a large family of stuffed animals that he cares for with the gentleness and consideration that I wish he would show his little sister.

I'm starting to see his personality emerge. He's actually quite a bit like his father. He notices right away when something is broken or not level or is just not quite right and insists that it be fixed. He questions everything, has his own ideas about how to do things and is persistent. All qualities that will serve him well in life but drive his parents crazy.

The weather yesterday and today is strikingly similar to that day and night and day and night four years ago when I was in labor with him. Our neighbors in the cul-de-sac across the street have their kitschy, plastic lighted manger outthe same one we passed on our walks while I was in labor. That day four years ago, I remember sitting on a  hammock, feet on the ground, rocking through the early contractions which my brother Timmy helped time. Yesterday afternoon, Danny and I hung out in that hammock, in that same position, rocking back and forth and flipping ourselves into the leaves. He dissolved into hysterical giggles as he sunk beneath the leaves.

Happy Birthday, Danny boy.