Thursday, December 22, 2011

'Tis the season for cracking up

I'm not as wound up about the holidays as I've been in years past. I'm more wound up about my kids behavior and my complete inability to roll with it lately. Earlier this week I had a conversation with my 5 year old son that I can just hear him recalling to his therapist in 20 years. He learned the definition of a mental institution.

Now I realize that it is a few days till Christmas, but batshit crazy can strike at any time when you have three kids under the age of five or just kids of any age apparently. Batshit crazy does not care that a major holiday is coming. I don't want to bring anyone's spirits down, which is why I included a nice Christmas-y photo of the kids for you. But if you're on a polly anna Christmas high, you may want to skip this post. It's about to get really dark in here.

Currently, my three children are each in their own special little place. It's a loud, volatile, dramatic place where a slight scratch on the leg is the end of the world, being given a fork instead of a spoon justifies red-faced, tearful hysterics and being told not to throw food results in a plate being thrown across the kitchen. Anyone hear eggshells cracking? It's not the sound of mommy walking on eggshells around these maniacs to avoid any of these scenarios; it's mommy cracking up.

My husband came home from work to find me in tears at the kitchen table, head in hands and muttering, "I can't. I just can't. I can't. I can't. I can't." A few minutes earlier, I had scooped my screaming 5 year old up from a pile of leaves he had just crashed his bike into and brought him into the kitchen to survey the so-called damage. A scratch. A small scratch on his leg. And over this he was screaming in the front yard for all the neighbors to hear, screaming so loud that it hurt my ears, cursing the ground and the leaves and his bike and the universe for his misfortune.

This happens at least twice a day on top of the other two children's drama. It was that very last straw. Every meal with Owen ends or sometimes begins with food or plate or cup thrown across the table. Tell him no or don't pay him enough attention and toys come crashing down from shelves. Nearly every interaction with Fiona ends with her telling me "I don't want to" or clenching her fists and screaming at me.

After determining that we had just a little scratch and getting some magic goo on it, I explained to Danny that his reaction was disproportionate to reality. Now, I know that children need validation and that, yes, this seemed like a big deal to him. However, it's time for him to start learning how to react appropriately to the severity of the situation else no one would believe him when it really mattered. I remember being a playground screamer when I was a child. The teacher told me that if I kept it up, my recess would be over. That day I screamed because I hurt my finger and she followed through on her promise, even though I tried to explain that my finger was hurt. I never forgot it. It was an introduction to the concept of self-control and the notion that perhaps I should save the screaming for true emergencies.

I told Danny that it was very hard for me to be a good mommy when he and his siblings scream and misbehave so often. Then I asked him if I could go away to a mental institute for a while. 

What's a menfal (sic) institute? he asked.

Well, it's a place where crazy people go to get away from the things that are making them crazy. And it's quiet there, too, I told him.

You can't go to a menfal institute. You need to be our mommy.

But why?

You need to take care of us, he said, with his lip quivering slightly.

The truth is, I didn't feel bad about saying this to him; I only felt bad because I believe that other mothers would never, ever say such things to their children. I could tell he felt sad. And that might just be the first time I've ever seen genuine sadness coming from him. Notice I didn't sense genuine concern for me, just worry over who would take care of him. On the bright side, at least he realizes that he's taken care of, because some days I wonder if I even do that well enough for him to notice.

Today and yesterday the kids were much better, and not because my threat to run away to the mental institute scared them straight. Yesterday afternoon while the older kids watched Sesame Street, I sat down and made a schedule for the next day. I've somehow gotten out of the habit of loosely planning out our week. And I've always had a let's see what the day brings approach, which works really well when the weather is nice, but not so well when it's rainy and cold. I could blame the aimless nature of my parenting lately on the absence of preschool to give a little structure to our lives, but the real reason is the unpredictability of the children coupled with the seasonal resurgence of my depression.

Depression really sucks. Mine manifests as anger first and then when the anger wears me out, I wind up like my husband found me on Tuesday. If you share this condition, you know what I'm talking about. The normal, everyday things that most people handle with aplomb, I handle with angry, mostly internal f-bombs and an intense but forbidden love affair with sleep. Even medicated, it's a challenge, especially in the wintertime. 
 
And if you've read all this, thank you. And Merry Christmas. I'm sure it will be a good one here. My expectations are low, not because I'm depressed actually, but because I know that keeping things light and fluid with small children during the holidays is the best way to make it merry.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Overheard

I'm losing my edge. I can't even meet my own Friday deadline for this column. I can't imagine why. But for it being the weekend before Christmas, it's surprisingly serene and laid back around here. Christmas shopping mostly done. Nothing wrapped, of course, but it'll get done. Lots of cookies in the house thanks to two cookie exchanges (If you've never done this, I highly recommend accepting an invitation to one or organizing one. It's well worth the investment!)

I the bestest cooker in the whole world, Danny says as we're baking cookies one afternoon. Cookie baking this year was a lot more fun with slave labor, I mean, kitchen helpers.

I've not purchased our Christmas meat or made the menu yet, but I'm really okay with it. Whatever gets done, gets done. Whatever doesn't get done probably wasn't that important in the first place.

As for the kids, we'll start with Owen, who is in the suicidal billy goat phase of toddlerhood. Good thing the Christmas tree is elevated this year atop the kids' train table. He is stubborn, strong and will eat anything. His favorite food? It's a tossup between apples, toilet paper and toddler trail mix, the day-old mixture of food in the high chair that the dog hasn't gotten to yet.

He has a complete inability to predict the consequences of his actions, which, while completely normal, is no less frightening the third time around. Case in point, he is trying to learn how to go down stairs like the big kids. He likes to bump down the stairs on his bum. He also likes to lean way over while sitting on the stairs. Gravity hasn't won yet, but will soon.

Owen also likes to throw things and clear shelves when he's angry. He curls his lip, looks right at you and swipes toys off a shelf or throws a toy down. It's so pathetic it's funny, but still quite frowned upon. And we got our first sentence out of him.

Put me down, he said. My pleasure, velcro boy.


Hungry, hungry, hungry, Owen wails while waiving a cup at me. I can't get him to say "thirsty" yet.


Danny is still obsessed with cars. Every conversation ends with NASCAR.


NASCARS are a satellite, Danny exclaimed after his aunt explained that a satellite goes in a circle around a planet. You know, he's got a point.

You're all set. You've got your light and your books and your guys, Jim tells Danny at bedtime.
And I have my Dodge Ram, he replies as he pats his beloved truck.

And he's talking about God:

God is in my heart and underground. He tells me about everything like not hitting my sister, Danny randomly asserts to me one day after his nap. That must have been some nap, kid.

And he's a big potty talker right now.


I'm playing a game called poop in your butt, he tells his sister over breakfast. And while girls probably aren't naturally into potty talk, they certainly will be if they have an older brother. Her response?

You're a butthead. 

He comes by it honestly, though.
What's that, dad? Danny asks as Jim walks by on his way outside with a poopy diaper on a paper plate. 
It's a poo poo platter.

I've been having a lot of conversations like this one with Miss Fiona:


Mommy, I want MY DRINK. 
It's on the table in the kitchen. 
I want you to get it. 
Um, no. Five minutes later, we happen to both be in the kitchen and I hand her the drink she'd been pining for.
NO. I WANT TO DO IT. And she took the water bottle and put it back where I'd gotten it so she could do it herself.

My nerves are so shot right now.

We also have 100 decibel, 60-second "I want to do it" fits. Jim noticed one day that her voice was raspy.

She's raspy. Is she getting sick, Jim wondered.
Nope. She's just been screaming all day long. The fits start as soon as she wakes up with unintelligible squeals of discontent and end long after bedtime with shrieks for extra bedtime kisses, which is the very last thing I want to do. The terrible threes have begun.

But at least she cleans up after herself.

I have to put these in the hamper, she announces as she walks by with her pants in her hand.
Is there pee pee on the bathroom floor?
I wiped it up.
With what?
Danny's jacket. Sigh. The jacket was not in her hand. I sent her back for it.

What is it, Fi? I ask after she crept up on me, wide eyed with an impish grin.
My nose is not on you. Aw. Thanks. A few minutes earlier, I had just begged Owen to stop putting his nose on me.

Danny's going to jail, Fiona tells her aunt while I speak to Danny about some infraction.
  
I want, I want, I want, I want, I want [pause] lotion, Fiona chants after bedtime in a little game I like to call Wheel of I Want.

And lastly ...
SOCIALLY UNACCEPTABLE, Jim barks at Owen, who is yelping and trying to climb on the dinner table. You've got to be louder than them to get their attention sometimes.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Diary of an Omniturnal Mom

The Great Toy Purge and Near Nervous Breakdown of 2011


Sunday afternoon

It's cold, the adults are pre-occupied with Christmas projects and the kids are climbing the walls. Mommy is in the kitchen when she hears a ruckus in the TV room. She figures that the kids are just blowing off steam.

Then she hears her husband say to the kids, "You tore them off the walls?"

And mommy's heart sinks, six feet underground. The only thing he could possibly be talking about is the 5 year old's brand new birthday present: Hot Wheels Wall Tracks. She and her husband rarely buy new, expensive toys for the kids, but this was different. Tracks mounted on the wall with 3M Command Strips that theoretically should peel off the wall clean. Cars propelled with the help of gravity! No tracks cluttering the floor! What could be better? The tracks have been here for a little over a week and have already provided hours of entertainment -- for kids and adults alike.

She surveys the scene from the door. Wall tracks on the floor, ripped off the wall, leaving large holes in the paint on the blackboard wall. Mommy wants to cry tears of discouragement and frustration born of weeks, months, years of toys scattered about and broken from misuse and carelessness and exuberance.

The boy is unfazed by mommy's expression and subsequent tirade.

"The wall tracks are going away," she explains in a shaky voice as she gathers the pieces from the floor. She further explains her disappointment that he has chosen to abuse his toys.

He mutters, "Okay" and continues to watch the football game on the TV.

She is gathering up the tracks when she realizes that she is so angry that she's shaking.

"Not another thing," she yells in her husband's direction. "Don't you buy them another thing for Christmas."

Danny jerks up at this statement. "But Santa will bring it."

"Oh no, dear. Santa doesn't bring toys to children who won't take care of them."

He says nothing and returns to watching football.

Mommy just snaps and begins emptying packing boxes of Christmas toys from Kohl's. It's the only way to avoid a nervous breakdown at this point. She removes the packing bubbles and the bags filled with air and throws them down in the TV room.

Mommy is just on auto-mutter as she drags boxes into the play room and unceremoniously dumps entire baskets of toys into the boxes. She's flinging phrases such as "I've had it with these children" and "They don't even play with these things, they just throw them on the floor and walk away" and "All they do is break things and walk away."

The older two wander up curiously, still uncomprehending the serious mental state they just hurled  their mother into, and ask about the boxes. She gives it to them straight, "I'm giving these away to children who will take care of their toys."

She fields a minimum of grousing before the two of them return to their former activity: Jumping of the sofa to pop the bags of air and bubble wrap. Most kids pop bubbles with their fingers; hers prefer jumping.

That's right; while mommy was throwing away their toys, they were jumping on bags of air. They obviously don't need toys. Mommy takes it as a sign that she's doing the right thing. No guilt, no fear.

While the kids napped, mommy grinch slunk off to the thrift shop to donate their toys.

Monday morning

"Here mom, you forgot to put this track with the wall tracks," he says.

And later ...

"Mom, where are the toy boxes?"

"What toy boxes?"

"The ones that were in the play room yestertime. "

"They went away."

"Oh."

And, 24 hours post-purge, that is all mommy has heard about the missing toys. They spent the morning playing with what was left and after a trip to Sam's Club, they set up a picnic lunch on the carpet. Mommy happily provided the lunch and, when they were done, called in the dog for cleanup.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Behind the Photo: A new Christmas tradition

It's hard to start holiday traditions when kids are small. A tradition carries with it the steep expectation  that things should go a certain way and I've found that high expectations and children just don't mix. Until now, we've not really had any Christmas traditions with the kids. For one, they've been barely cognizant of what's going on and I'm not one to fill their head with ideas especially when I'm still (yes, still) struggling with how to explain all this to my children and steer them away from the crass consumerism that so disgusts me.

Over the past five years, I've either been pregnant or had a newborn or a newly mobile infant on my hands. Church services, live nativity scenes or other Christmas shows, visits with Santa Claus or parties, among other things, have been out of the question. I've not been able to predict with any  certainty whether my children will be in the mood for these activities, let alone whether I'd be semi-conscious at the time.

Right now, the kids are a whiny bunch of billy goats that we loathe to take out in public. Fiona is in the "I do it" stage. Owen has turned into a raging lunatic toddler who throws things. Danny is five, but still somewhat cranky and loud. They've not had much exercise lately because of the temperature and it gets dark before dinner. Recipe for chaos, I tell you.

We've been desperately trying to find ways to entertain them which do not involve taking them out in public. Our solution? Bundle 'em up, strap in the van and search for Christmas lights. It's not without it's unpleasantness, but at least they can't physically reach us.

We hear this a lot from the back seat:

"TURN THE SONG ON."(Fiona)

"STOP THE CAR." (Danny)

"BACK UP, BACK UP." (Owen)

But it's worth it. We found the holy grail of Christmas front-yard scenes:

Christmas lights, Griswold style

Fiona calls out from the back seat continuously, "OOOOOOOOOOOO, CHRISTMAS LIGHTS." It's only cute the first 10 times; after that, I kick myself for not bringing ear plugs. And when we found Santa the other night, Fiona darted around me, out of the van and nearly ran out in front of the only car we'd seen in a while. Terrifying.

This man, I mean, Santa, sits in his yard which is decked out with Christmas lights and dinosaurs (he runs a reptile rescue).  He hands out candy canes, lets you take photos of him with your kids and actually chats with the kids for a while. We gave him a small donation for his rescue operation. It sounds creepy, I know. But he's a nice guy and we'll likely skip the crowded mall and go see him again next year.  

Danny was delighted.

Danny told him that he wanted a fast car. And when Santa asked him if his sister had been good, he told him, "Yes, but sometimes she's bad." I bit my tongue, because, you know, he hadn't asked me if my son had been good. I was totally in the mood to rat his little butt out, too. Fiona stood in front of him and whined, "I want a new puzzle." Then when we got back to the van, she cried that she hadn't gotten a new puzzle. So sad (and one of the reasons I don't like this time of year with small children: they live in the moment. If they say they want a new puzzle, they mean that they want it now.) They conned us into letting them eat their candy canes on the ride home, too, so you can imagine how bedtime went that night.

We've done this a few times this past week. It started as a desperate attempt to occupy the children between dinner and bedtime. It's turned out to be the only Christmas related activity we can get them to sit still for; mostly because we've strapped them in.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Free U: Half and Double

Danny is obsessed with counting. He doesn't always do it in order, but who cares. He's recognizing numbers, even if he sometimes declares that the 24 on our advent calendar is a 42 and then tries to count to that number. He's also obsessed with the number 45, which he sees on speed limit signs and believes must be super fast. (I'll let him believe that one. Forever.)

This morning, he was flashing his five fingers at me, because, you know, he's now five. I'm afraid someone is going to think he's flashing gang signals. So I took advantage of this display to talk about half and double. He's been figuring that one out on his own lately, so I thought I'd build on that.

I told him to put up both hands and count his fingers. 

Then I told him to put one hand behind his back and said, "Half."

Okay, now bring your other hand back; that's double, I told him.

He then put his hand behind his back, then back out front and then behind again, dancing and chanting, "Half, double, butt. Half, double, butt."

Clearly, this is five year old humor.

And that concludes our lesson in math and fractions that I'm pretty sure would end in an automatic time out or stern look in school for potty talk.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Overheard

Geez. I can't even remember how to start writing anymore. Has it really been two weeks since I last wrote? The funk continues, but I'm starting to pull out of it.

We've had a wonderful few weeks here with the weather, the cousins, the family in town, a birthday and finally ... a NEW DOG. (I just said that in my head like Rod Roddy from the Price is Right, just so you know. Is he even still on that air?)
Molly in action

So let's start with Danny. He turned 5 on Thursday and grew some facial hair (just kidding. it's chocolate cake batter.)
He got Hot Wheels wall tracks for his birthday and spent all day Thursday playing with them. He barely ate.


Danny, do you want a snack? 
No, I have wall tracks.

And he barely went outside.

I'll go out for five minutes to get my five energy out. Gotcha.

Five minutes later. ...

Okay, I'm back. I got my sugar off. (He'd been licking chocolate cake batter off the beaters.) 


Later that evening ... 

I'm in charge of NASCAR hats, Danny declares. Jim brought him back a NASCAR hat from his business trip to Charlotte this week.


And there was 10 days of cousins, too.

Don't say bad words to your cousins. Do you know what the bad words are?
Yeah. Shit and bitch.
And don't say shut up either.
Ok. I won't.

And they came bearing hand-me-downs. Yay!


Here's a red barrette for Danny, Fiona squeals as we sort through the barrettes from her cousin. She trotted off, saying, Danny, red is your favorite color, isn't it? Danny wore the red barrette for the rest of the evening.

Fiona is a hot mess these days. She's dramatic and talkative and quirky and adorable.
Danny took this photo.

Good morning, Fiona.
NO. Sick. And she pulled the covers back over her head. Well, then.


You're my grandmother, Fiona says. Huh?

I smiled in your coffee, Fiona chirps. And it tasted so much better after that.

Mooommmmyyyyy. I'm having a problem, Fiona wails. She couldn't get her tights on. Most of the hilarity in this statement is contained in her whiny, dramatic tone.

Danny's going to glue me, Fiona says. But I don't want to be glued. Danny explained that he was just pretending.

It's a surprise. We don't know what it is, Fiona says at the table with that slight head tilt that makes it all the more adorable. Well, thank you Mrs. Webster.

Go sit in the pink chair, I tell Fiona as I banish her to time out for pushing her brother.
The pink one? she squealed happily. Oh, brother. On second thought, go sit in the blue one.

What is is that you do all day? Fiona asks.

We're girls; we clean up, Fiona tells me. I made a point of telling her that boys clean up, too.

And Owen has found himself a new toy and it's in his diaper. Unfortunately, playing with this new toy has resulted in urine-soaked clothes. So now we have to put onesies on under all his clothes and two-piece jammies are out of the question. As a result, we now have to give him a little extra, um, time with his toy during diaper change time.
   
Bye bye menis, Owen said as I put his diaper back on. That's his word for penis.
He got up here by himself. Yep. Scary.

He's also giving us two word phrases.

Hold this, Owen says as he hands me his puppy. Great. He's picking up bad habits from the other kids.

Where's dada? Owen asks one morning after checking for him in the TV room.

Home, Owen says excitedly as he pats his dad's leg. Jim had just come home from a business trip.

And I'll leave you with this gem, overheard by my dear neighbor ...

Sometimes when I'm not wearing a pull up, I sleep naked, Danny informs his friend.
Really? 
Yeah, I sleep naked like my mom and dad. 
They sleep that way?
Yep.
Every night?
Yep. 


And this explains how we had three kids in four years.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reading the wrong manual

It's been almost three months since our beloved dog Bob died. We've missed him. A few weeks ago, we had the chance to dog sit for my sister's dog Nigel, who is similar in size, fuzziness and temperment to our Bob.

The kids loved having him here.


Clearly. And so did I. I didn't realize how much I missed having a four-legged vacuum, foot warmer and fan club. Our floors were much cleaner, my feet were warmer and I had another warm body to snuggle.

I began to realize just how much dogs resemble toddlers, though. For instance, neither mind eating off the floor. In fact, they both come running when I get out the broom. They regard it as some magic food-finding instrument.

They're both always under your feet.

They both beg for attention.

They both fight any and all grooming measures.

They both want whatever is in your hand, even if they have no idea what it is.

They like to wipe their faces on you.

And the messes. Sometimes they poop on the floor. Sometimes they have a party. When our Bob was still young and puppyish, we would return home to find slippers and newspapers and trash strewn about.

These days, we find similar scenes after the wrecking crew has blown through the room.

Short commands work best. Long lectures don't. All they really hear and understand are their names and the words "No" and "Outside" and "Walk."

They'll run if you chase them, but chase you if you run. Important to know if you ever need them to come.

Sometimes they nip at you. (Oh yes, I've had a kid or two bite me.)

Sometimes they jump up on you or try to knock you over. (My 18 month old actually tackles my legs from behind and I have almost fallen over. I'm not even kidding.)

If you ever can't find them, simply open a crinkly bag of snacks. In 30 seconds or less, they will appear. 

When you turn your back, they steal food off of countertops.

They often try to escape cage-like enclosures such as pens, fenced yards or cribs.

Clearly, I should have been reading dog training manuals or at least taking my cues from dog behavior all these years. Anyone have a dog training manual they'd recommend?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Real mom tips #1 & #2

Don't sweep right after a meal. Wait until the end of the day. Why? By then the mushy stuff, such as Cheerios and pasta, will be solid. Sweeping up wet noodles is like trying to corral worms. And in the case of Cheerios, sweeping them only makes a bigger mess as they leave a trail that will dry into an impossibly tenacious blob. Use the blunt end of the broom to dislodge recalcitrant Cheerios and any other difficult debris. Then just sweep it away. I actually find it amusing to watch the stuck Cheerios launch across the floor when I apply the broom tip to them. 

And speaking of Cheerios, should you ever find yourself out of glue or paste at craft time (which, of course, happens every day, right?), just smash a handful of Cheerios into a little bit of water or milk and brush it on like a paste. I'm pretty sure it will stick to the paper until your child is 50.

You're welcome.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Overheard

I've been really lax on this column lately. I've been in a bit of a fog (see previous post for details). And I'm not totally convinced that anyone really misses my writing, so I currently have half a dozen unfinished drafts laying around. I don't say this to prompt a chorus of affirmations; that's just an indicator of my current level of apathy. 


But for anyone who misses laughing at my funny little family, here you go. Enjoy ...

That's not poop; that's a slug. Poop don't move, Jim tells Fiona. And for that, we are so very grateful.

Oh my God, I'm going to turn off the water and electricity to the upstairs, Jim says one night. Danny had been "getting a drink of water" for five minutes.

Owie, go put this magnet back in the closet. He trots off and then comes back.
Door closed, he tells me. This totally shocked me.

Later I told Jim: I was just shocked.
SHOCKED, Owen parroted back. More shock.

Owen has POOP, Fiona said as she grabbed the back of his pants.
How do you know? I asked. He had a onesie on, so she couldn't peek in his diaper.
I'm a girl, she responded.


Poop, Fiona declared as she grabbed the back of Danny's underwear.

Dan? I ask after popping my head into his room. There was a pile of comforters on the floor.
I'm hiding, he says. See? Then he wiggled his little fingers out of from under the comforter.
 
I'm walking up the window, Fiona giggles. I turn to find her with her hands on the table and her feet up the window. Seconds later, her brother wants to do it, too, of course.
No, Danny. She shouldn't have done that and neither can you. There are perfectly good walls you can climb up. 

Fi, put this laundry away before we go downstairs. 
No, I don't want to. You do it. Deep breath. At least it's better than my response to my mother when I was 6 years old. I asked her when she was going to do any work around here.


Where's the green flashlight?
Fiona broke it this morning.
So I'm going to fix the printer with a broke flashlight. You kids are one step ahead of me. 


Okay, Danny, take a deep breath, Jim says. No, no, don't hold your breath. Breath.


What is it? Danny asks of dinner. 
It's chicken gumbo. 
Oh, it has gum in it. 

This just in. I found FiFi climbing up to the top bunk and she lost her footing but caught herself. She said "That was scary," Jim says.

Oh wow. Something finally scared her. 
She was being sarcastic. I can't imagine where she gets that. Me, neither, dear. Me neither.


I'm feeding Owen, Fiona says as she pulls her brother into her chest for what appeared to be a hug. This poor boy is going to have issues.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Taking back the reins ... sort of

When it's been a while since I've written, it's usually because things feel unresolved around here. Right now, I'm waiting to learn my lesson. Waiting impatiently. I feel heavy and discouraged.  This may come out Virginia Woolf style, so try to keep up.

I've been trying too hard to make paid editing work appear out of thin air. And even as I write, I'm thinking that I should continue to beat that apparently dead horse instead of sitting here writing for nothing.

I've been trying too hard to calm my oldest's passionate outbursts. And by that, I mean I've been spending way too much time stewing about how wrong he is and how right I am.

I've been trying too hard to bend my oldest's will to mine. And he fights so hard that it makes me question whether my will is even reasonable.

I've been discouraged lately at the mess and the destruction and the crayon writing on the walls and the howling and the whining and the demanding and the meltdowns. And I've been looking at my children with resentment and thinking "Why are they such little jerks sometimes?" Then I try to ignore the small voice in my head that answers, "Maybe it's you that's being a jerk."

In the time I've been away from here, though, some wonderful things have happened. Danny learned to ride a two-wheeler. Fiona started riding her training wheel bike. Owen started talking more. Jim and I went on a two-day mini vacation alone.

Jim and I went to Ocean Isle Beach and stayed at an oceanfront hotel with an indoor pool and jacuzzi. The weather was perfect, the view spectacular and the time alone was just what we needed. We rode bikes, took walks, looked for shells, fished, waded into the ocean, swam, relaxed in the hot tub, ate without anyone screaming at us and rested. We even did a little Christmas shopping at the thrift shops ...  yes, we found thrift shops at the beach. It's going beyond the shop local drumbeat of this holiday season. Gifts don't have to be brand new. So, just a heads up, if you're getting a gift from us this year, you may be getting one that helps both the environment (it's recycled!) and a charity. You're welcome.

We discovered, too, while we were there that this spot could very well be our family vacation destination for years to come. The pier, the slushie shop, two arcades, several restaurants and mini golf are all within walking and biking distance. From time to time, one of us would say "The kids would love all these shells (or tide pools or the slushie shop)" or "We could all ride bikes around here eventually." 

The kids with Nigel the dog.
It's easy to say those things about your children when they are three hours away terrorizing some other adults.

The important thing, though, is that we got away. We stopped living three inches from our face and starting seeing the big picture. And we realized that there is a light at the end of the tunnel of early childhood and it's not an oncoming train. For the first time, we could envision a family vacation. The idea of a vacation used to exhaust me. Now, I can see that by next fall we can take a short beach trip with the children and not come back completely gray and twitching. The kids may even all be riding bikes by then. They may all be able to ride go carts or play mini golf or swim independently. They may even go to bed in a strange place without having to be drugged (just kidding). Maybe they won't be fighting as much. (Hey, let me have my fantasy, people.)

And then we came home to our actual children. While we are pretty sure they will be vacation ready by next fall, the question remains whether we want to take these obnoxious little maniacs anywhere.

This week has been a bit of a reality check. I have an almost 5 year old whose favorite sports are arguing and melting down to the ground. He has ideas and they are never, ever exactly in line with or even close to what I have told him to do. And when he doesn't get his way, he screams and cries loudly like a 2 year old for several minutes. Well, that's not true. Even his sister doesn't scream and carry on like he does. I'm worried.

Yesterday morning, he had a meltdown because his father told him he couldn't just have the money in the water cooler. He did not take it well. Later that day, he and I talked about money and made a list of chores he could do around the house for money. It felt like a productive encounter.

This evening, however, he had a fit in Wal-Mart because we wouldn't buy him anything. Twice. My worst nightmare, actually, is to have the kind of kid that other parents look at and say, "At least my kid isn't doing that." Jim marched him out of the store both times. On the way home, he said his belly hurt. No doubt from all the belly aching he did in the store. 

When these meltdowns happen, every muscle in my body tenses for battle. I had to walk away tonight and let my husband deal with him. On the way home, I thought out loud, "Either we've done something seriously wrong or there is something seriously wrong with him." And I feel so guilty that it's come to this, that I think these things of my own child. I am even convinced that we're going to land in the shrink's office with him. Soon.

I heard someone share this week that he could not calmly respond to other people's emotional turmoil.

Right now, I have a complete inability to respond calmly to a raging bonfire. My instinct is to put out the flames, but in this instance, my involvement, however reasonable and justified it seems to me, is just gasoline fueling the flames.

This man went on to say that later, when that person was calmer, in a different frame of mind, that is when constructive criticism or advice or guidance can be offered to some effect.

Ah. Timing is everything, isn't it? I've been convinced that I need to change his mind and his mood before we can move on. No wonder I feel so stuck. I've been convinced that a child's memory is not sufficient enough to wait until later. But not everything has to be resolved in the moment. This feels like a breakthrough, but not enough of a resolution for me to feel comfortable.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Overheard

The first truly cold week of the fall and we've already got snot and coughing and wheezing. And it rained on Halloween. Only Danny went out trick or treating. Fiona and Owen stayed in and "helped" me give out candy.

It's been a big week here for gross motor skills, though. Fiona finally got on her training wheeled bike and began pedaling. She careens down the driveway and yells, "Wipe OUT." She hasn't figured out the brakes yet. As for Danny, he's learning to ride without the training wheels. I hang onto his seat and let go once he gets situated on the pedals. He's taken a few spills, but has also pedaled on his own for 20 feet at the most and started using his brakes to stop instead of crashing.

Meanwhile, Owen has joined the "beat you" chorus, so now it's a three-way race. He says it at the top of the stairs every morning now. He's quite adorable these days. He actually plays with cars for long periods, pushing them around with sound effects and making parking lots.

Have you seen this? I ask Jim one night in the kitchen.
Uh huh. 
Look at him. 
I try not to because then he'll come over here. 
Aw, but he's so cute. 
Because he's over there. 

The phrase you don't want to hear after bedtime, or ever actually: There's poop on my foot.  (I liked it better when they just cried; now I go up and know exactly what I'm in for. )


Can I have some sugar? Fiona just comes out and asks. Um, no.

I'm hungry, Fiona wails after bedtime.
There's a piece of [fake] cantalope on your floor. Eat that, Jim told her. (Just so you don't think we're starving our kid, she'd just had molasses milk, a fig newton and an apple. She wasn't hungry; she was stalling.) In fact, you have a kitchen in here. Fix yourself something to eat. And she did.

I'm a girl, Fiona says.
Yes, you are.
And I don't have a penis but Danny has a penis and Daddy has a penis.
That's right.
Can you make me a penis? Um, no.

You're tired, sweetie, I tell Fiona, who is sick and has bags under her eyes.
I'm not tired. I'm a girl!


Is it 2 o'clock yet? We were going to a birthday party at 2 o'clock.

No.
Just turn the clock to 2 o'clock, mom.

Dad, look, there's pork in this lollipop, Danny says. He had gotten to the center of a blow pop.

Watch out for the midget, Danny, Jim says after Owen tries to swipe his brother's lollipop.

Does your plate look like Danny's plate? I ask Fiona who still had some sandwich left on her plate. She then pulled the sandwich off the plate and presented it to me. Perhaps I should have been more specific.

No, no, no, don't close my [bedroom] door, Danny.  I had taken up my quiet time perch in the recliner with a clear view of the hallway.
I don't want you to see the mess we're making. Heavy sigh.

It's a light saber, I tell Danny as he's questioning me about the Star Wars section of the toy catalog.
Oh, it saves energy, he replies. He's never seen Star Wars. His innocence is just charming.

BULL CHIPS, Fiona is fond of saying.

Fiona is saying bitch, mommy, Danny reports. I found her wearing the witch hat and a huge grin saying, I'm a bwitch.

Please get my little spoon off my plate, Danny says. Huh? Who am I? Your freaking breakfast butler? Are you hands broken? I am always amazed at what he asks me to do for him.  

Owen is uncleaning, Danny squeals. 

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Boo Humbug!

It feels safe to come out of my Halloween-hating closet now.  I really don't like to rain on anyone's parade, especially since this year it actually did rain on our Halloween, which made it more miserable than usual. And besides, by next Halloween, you'll forget all about my little rant.

Once a year I'm expected to hand out free candy for people who do nothing but dress up, walk around and ring doorbells. Heck, some of them don't even walk, but are chauffeured from neighborhood to neighborhood for handouts.

Every year, these things happen, without fail:

I buy candy too early, run out by Halloween and gain 10 pounds and a half dozen new pimples.

We scrounge around for costumes for boy wonder who comes up with a character not represented by any cheap, made-in-China costume for $9.99 at Target. Last year, he was a helicopter pilot and this year, a NASCAR driver.

My husband gets grand ideas for said costumes and spends ridiculous amounts of time trying to turn the wagon into a helicopter or decorating a jacket with race car stickers and reflective tape while I man the kid rodeo and he snaps impatiently at the kids. Last year, as I pondered how exactly the kids were supposed to get out of, let alone see anything, from a covered wagon he was trying to turn into a helicopter, he curtly replied, "Yeah, I'm just doing this so that no one has any fun." Right.

I unleash my fury on robocalling politicians who call back to back to back as my doorbell is ringing back to back to back. Yep, I scream at recordings. 

My husband tries to pump terrifying "music" (think chainsaws and bloodcurdling screams) into the yard while I remind him that he's going to give kids nightmares.

I rail at the lack of manners among trick or treaters, the pushing and shoving at the door, the expectant stares from these kids when I fork over merely two pieces of candy, the fact that people literally unload a dozen children from neighborhoods across town and the intimidating teens who show up after 8:00.

Someone rings the doorbell at 8:30, despite the fact that all the outdoor lights are off, and disturbs the later than usual bedtime routine, which is further exacerbated by sugared up children.

All this and trying to fit a holiday around the unpredictable whims of young children make this my least favorite holiday.

So boo humbug. As soon as my kids are old enough for me to ban trick or treating, I'm shutting off the porch lights, barricading the driveway and keeping the candy -- both bags of them.

The only fall holiday that is truly stress free for me is Thanksgiving. Christmas is stressful, for obvious reasons and New Year's depresses me. Thanksgiving is just about food, family, friends and football for me. No one expects gifts. I don't have to dress up. I don't have to come up with some way to improve myself over the next year. I can wear stretchy, comfy clothes, stuff my face from morning till night, nap, lounge by the fire, play football in the yard, take long or not so long walks and just be grateful for it all. Heaven on earth, I tell you.

November is about gratitude for me. I'm just grateful, for starters, that Halloween is over.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Overheard

It seems that I'm on a bi-weekly schedule with this column lately.

We've been busy soaking up the very last days of tolerable weather here in North Carolina. Except for one day last week when it rained all day and I had a mini panic attack as I realized that I'd soon be forced indoors with these hoodlums. I've been kicking the kids out of the house as much as possible, though. There've been long days in the yard, bike rides in the neighborhood and on the Tobacco Trail, trips to the park. And yet I'm still sweeping floors about a half dozen times a day and every night, I'm picking up toys and laundry and shoes scatter far and wide. I have no idea how this happens.

I am feeling a little like Lucy in the chocolate factory, though, in that I just can't keep up with their antics. For instance, I awoke one morning to  Danny and Fiona having a conversation about bridges in his bedroom. How nice, I thought, they're playing together; maybe they're building with the TRIO blocks. I peeked in on them and saw Fiona on the top bunk with her arms reaching across to the bookshelf and Danny marching his stuffed animals over her back. The next day, I came in on Fiona climbing up the bunk bed on the desk end, despite there being a perfectly good ladder 3 feet away. They know they're not supposed to play on the top bunk, too. Sometimes I find all three of them up there.

Hey, mom, there's three of us. 1-2-3, Danny says with a huge grin. Clearly, he's trying to distract me with cuteness and his academic skills.


Owen surprises me daily with his language skills. For instance, he tells me when he's hungry by  pointing to my chest and saying Hungry. Charming.

Fiona seems quite enamored with the fact that she's a girl.

I was a baby and now I'm a girl, she tells me about 10 times a day. And sometimes she just randomly blurts out, I'm a girl, and then giggles with glee.

And Danny and Fiona seem to fight all the time.

DANNY PUSHED ME, Fiona cried.
Hey, hey, hey, how about this? Jim said. How would you two like to live in an orphanage?


Mom, why is she wearing dance clothes? Danny asks of a woman wearing a flowy skirt and scarf at the park.

HEY, her hair is red, Danny says as he notices a woman with an obvious dye job.
She probably dyed it that way, I told him.
Or maybe it's a wig, he says. Thank God we were in the van when he saw this woman.

When I get my NASCAR, I'm going to go speedy and go bump, bump, bump over the grass to get there, Danny informs us.
And I'm going to take your keys, Jim replies. We have 12 years until he gets his license. And by then, he'll surely know how to drive. He's already a back seat driver.

Mom, you forgot to use your turn signal, he tells me every time I forget.

When I'm a daddy, you can go away and I'll take care of the kids, Danny tells us at dinner one night. Excellent.

A few minutes later ...

Hey, I can get my own house, he realizes. Even more excellent.

What's a cape, mom? Danny asks as he was putting on his Cape Cod T-shirt.
It's a piece of land that juts way out into the water. There's water on three sides of the land.
No, no, he says, it's something you wear around your neck, like my blanket.

Okay, Danny, what do we need to do to not have a meltdown over this? I ask him. He was about to go ballistic because his best buddy was having a camp out with his parents that night. I'm trying to teach him some skills to deal with his disappointments.
Have a camp out. Okay, other than have a camp out, which is just not going to happen.

Have a great weekend.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The redeeming half hour

I come here to catalog the craziness but often just privately savor the blissful days. I'd like to promise that I'll focus more on those times, but I can't even promise to clean a bathroom these days. And really, words don't often do justice to the times when things flow somewhat smoothly and when moments with the kids are filled with joy and meaning (and I just gagged a little when I wrote that. I am so not a sentimental person.) 

Today seemed like it was going to be one of those crazy days. I often just led the kids lead the activities of the day, partly because I'm too lazy to plan anything. But I'd like to think it's because I'm smart enough to know better by now. Kids tend to poop all over your plans, sometimes literally.

After breakfast, Danny and Fiona wanted to do art. Owen wanted to continue throwing whatever he could get his hands on. I pulled out some Cars posters and a small set of poster paints from my secret stash of busywork, taped newspaper to the dining room table and let them go at it. They did for at least a half hour. Owen howled his discontent at being left out of this activity, so I set him up to the table with Aquadoodle. All he wanted to do was suck the water from the water pen and the wet paint brush. I gave him crayons; he tried to eat those, too. Then he threw them. Then  he wanted to take them out and put them back into the container. Then he did some more gravity experiments.

So we took a little trip to Michael's for more art supplies because mommy needed to strap them down somewhere and regroup while she drank a Diet Coke and ate her Luna Bar.
When Owen finally went down for his nap, we got to do this:
"We're artisting, mom."

Fiona decorates the driveway.
"I need more red, mom."
He ended up painting cars, rocks and acorns.

Truth be told, the blissful "artisting" session lasted only about a half hour. That doesn't seem like a long time for an adult, especially when that time frame was once a too-short meal break at a job. But to a kid, it's a long time.

In fact, Danny kept telling me as he happily painted, "This is too slow. It's not too fast." And while this sounds like a cry of boredom, in his little mind, it means "This is taking a long time, but I'm having fun." I know this because he spent at least another 10 minutes intently painting before we went up for quiet time.

I read them one book which was frequently interrupted by the 2 year old who insisted on sitting in Danny's chair and doing other things just to annoy her brother. It's her job to be contrary these days. I took lots of deep breaths and remembered to speak quietly in short sentences.

We all napped. With the windows open. It was delicious. These are the days when I feel a little guilty that I get to be home with the kids while my husband goes to work to deal with grown up children.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Overheard

So I took another week off from my little Friday column. I can't even tell you why. The best I excuse I can come up with is that we've been adjusting to my husband's new job and new schedule. For the first time since we've had kids, I am sometimes alone with the kids during that dreaded period from after nap/quiet time to dinnertime.

That's new for me. I have a new sympathy for those who weather that daily storm. Luckily, there are a lot of kids in our neighborhood.

Sometimes Jim is home in the morning, too, which means for the first time in almost five years, I'm not the only adult in the house when the kids wake up. That's new and it totally rocks. And, for the first time in their lives, the kids get to see him leave for work. So they've been giving daddy some special instructions before he leaves for the day.



Don't bite or run at work, Fiona tells Daddy.
Yeah, and don't do anything wrong, Danny says. Danny has also told him to punch anyone.

We heard a police siren and daddy said that he was chasing you, Danny reports. Oh, really. (Daddy is so busted.) I managed to get a continuance on my speeding tickets contingent on my driving record.

Gorilla, Fiona said when she saw a photo of her cousin's hairy back.

Did you have fun with your cousins today? I ask Danny.
Yeah, I didn't say bitch or shut up this time. This is the definition of a successful outing these days.

I went to the bathroom and then I told myself to get my shoes on, Danny reports. Fascinating. I just had no idea that he was having an internal dialogue.

I can't get THIS in HERE, Danny whines while I'm driving.
What is this?
THIS. IN HERE.
I can't see what this and here is. You'll have to use other words.
I can't get THIS in HERE. Okay, mommy's getting off this merry-go-round now.

Bunny is in time out for pushing me, Fiona says. Bunny is a 6 inch tall beanie baby.

This is interested, Danny says to his father as they are fixing up the bikes. Saturday morning, the boys had just as much fun fixing bikes as they did riding.

Well, the spinal cord is your backbone, I tell Danny. He was asking about the parts of the skeleton hanging on the front door. There is a cord that comes from your brain and sends messages to the rest of your body.
Oh, it can call everybody, he says. So maybe next time he hits his sister, I'll tell him that his brain needs to call his hand and tell it not to hit.

Oh, wait, I've got to go back [to the table], Danny says. Excuse me, can I get up now? he asks.
Where did you learn to say "Excuse me"?
From you, he says. Um, I don't even remember teaching him this.

Stuck, Owen whimpers as he stands behind a border of monkey grass he'd crawled over. And I thought he was the smart one.

I'm happy, Fiona chirps.
Oh, yeah? What makes you happy?
Baby wipes.

The happy girl is also getting a handle on what exactly is and is not sanctioned behavior around here.

Owen is making a mess and it's not OKAY, Fiona says.

FiFi, is there water on the floor, I ask when I notice her shuffling slowly in the bathroom and looking at the floor.
No, there's pee pee on the floor, she says. And that's not OKAY. No, it's most definitely not okay, but at least she cleans up after herself. And she is self-correcting at the tender age of almost 3. This is more than I can say for my son.

I jumped on Danny and that's not OKAY, Fiona says.

As for Jim and I, we've been indulging in a guilty pleasure: s'mores around our new firepit on the patio. We don't intend to tell the kids about it anytime soon.

If the kids ask why we smell like smoke, we'll just have to tell them we started smoking, Jim says.

Have a great weekend.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Diary of an Omniturnal Mom

Omniturnal mom has taken a little break since baby number three started sleeping through the night. Of course, every once in a while, her day starts literally when the new day starts. And those are always the days where there is some etched-in-stone appointment first thing in the morning. They know. They just know. Even when mommy doesn't say anything. It's like the little buggers are clairvoyant.

Monday, 12 a.m.

Mommy has been asleep for at least an hour when she hears wailing that seems to be coming from the older son's room. It's hard to tell, though, since the past few nights she's also been woken by an owl hooting in the backyard. (Asshole.)

It's Danny. He's just yelling in his sleep for no apparent reason.

2 a.m. 

Danny wails again. Mommy goes in to find him bolt upright in bed, wide awake, saying, "I'm hungry." Seriously? A bowl of chili, corn chips, two glasses of milk, an apple scone and an apple were not enough for this 40 pound pipsqueak? Mommy does a quick calculation and determines that giving the malcontent a cheese stick would be quickest route back to bed. She can't believe this is and always has been her best idea, from infancy and booby juice right up on up to shoving a cheese stick in the 4 year old's face at 2 a.m.

2:20 a.m.

Mommy is snuggled back in bed. She hears wailing again. It's the girlchild. Mommy prays that girlchild didn't hear or sense that her brother is munching on a cheese stick in his bedroom. She does not want to have to go downstairs again. Mommy goes to check on her and finds her in the hallway on the way to the bathroom, crying, "I've got to go pee pee."

Well, hallelujah. At least one child gets up to pee in the middle of the night. But there's no need to wake the hole house, okay cupcake?

6:30 a.m.

The baby, who is actually a toddler now, is up for his morning feeding. He squawks a bit when she puts him back down, but mommy manages to get in another hour of sleep, which is better than sex and chocolate combined at this point.

7:30 a.m.

All the kids are up. Mommy is dissatisfied with the state of her hair that she just washed the night before. She looks kind of like Phil Specter on what he thinks is a good day. She considers taking another shower. Two showers in 12 hours? She can't remember the last time that happened. 

But she is quickly sidetracked by the act in ring number two, a k a the kids' bathroom.

"Mommy, Owen is splashing in the toilet," Fiona says. Mommy remembers that Danny just went to the bathroom and thinks, "Well, might as well clean him up and take that shower."

She cleans up the mess and the baby and puts more clothes on him and flushes the toilet. Then she hops in the shower. Her last words were a reminder to her daughter to flush the toilet and put the seat down and close the bathroom door.

Perhaps that was too many instructions in a row for a 2 year old.

Perhaps mommy was being overly optimistic.

Perhaps mommy just desperately wanted to leave the house for a doctor's appointment that morning without feeling as though she just returned from a wilderness camping trip.

She returned from her shower to find a bathroom massacre involving baby wipes and more toilet bowl splashing. And, no, Fiona hadn't flushed the toilet. Or put the seat down. Or closed the door.

Pee-pee water all over the floor, the step stool, the toilet, the baby and his clothes, the girl and her clothes and now mommy's freshly showered feet. Baby wipes in the toilet. The baby squeezing a wad of baby wipes sopping wet from pee pee toilet water.  

It seems the past 8 hours have been a perfect reminder of why mommy does not want any more children. (And, yes, the shower was totally worth it.)

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Free U: Stone Soup Day

As I was writing the menu for the next few weeks, I consulted Danny about what we should put on the menu. You see, it's fall now and in my anal retentive menu plan, we just can't have tacos on Tuesday when it's under 70 degrees outside. So when I got to Tuesday on the menu, I needed some ideas. I was hoping that Danny's recommendation would not include the words poop or the garbage can, because, you know, he's four and everything revolves around poop and the garbage can.

His answer?

Stone Soup.

We've read this story a lot over the years, though not so much lately. We even have it on CD with Pete Seeger retelling the story and singing. For those who don't know the story, it's about a stranger who convinces wary villagers to add ingredients to a pot of boiling water with a large stone in it. Each time a character adds something to the pot, the refrain is the same:

Stone Soup is what you need/When you have some friends to feed

It's a classic fable about cooperation amidst scarcity. By the end of the story, the villagers and the strangers all enjoy a hearty soup. I never knew how much he got out of it until he suggested that we make Tuesday our Stone Soup day.

So this Tuesday, on our first Stone Soup day, we were having split pea and ham soup. As we put it together in the crockpot, I tried to convince him that the ham bone was our stone. It does rhyme with bone, after all.

No deal. Our soup apparently had to have an actual stone in it, according to Danny.

He ran off to get a stone from the backyard. We chose a smooth rock from our "river bed" that has some Appalachian river rocks in it that we picked up on a trip to Boone last fall. I cleaned it up, soaking it in boiling water with some dish soap for a bit and scrubbing it for a little longer.

Then we put it in the crockpot with the rest of the ingredients. Really. (Obviously, we are not germaphobic in this household.)

It simmered all day amidst the potatoes, peas, carrots and ham bone. Later on in the afternoon, he and his buddy next door picked some sage and asked to drop it in the soup.

As we ate dinner that evening, Danny insisted on having the stone in his soup for a while.

"Look, mom, I'm buttering the stone," he said as he smeared pea soup on it with his spoon.

I know. We're weird. But at least now I have something to plug into the menu once a week.

And the soup stone is still in the kitchen, ready for next week.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Get to know me

(Please tell me you get the Jon Lovitz reference here. I always loved that SNL skit. Unfortunately, SNL is pretty tight with their content and no YouTube reference has been found yet.)

This is blatant self-promotion. And I hate promoting myself, which is why I don't have a book deal yet. At least this is what I tell myself. (Ugh. There were way too many first person pronouns in just the past two sentences.) The truth is that I do want people to notice me; I just don't want to be the one drawing attention to myself. I think that I just want to be discovered and then sit there shyly, saying, "Who me? You want to give me a $250,000 advance on a book? Oh, alright."

I get jealous when I hear of other bloggers who get book deals and get angry at women who are able to put together book proposals with an infant and several small children in the house. (You know that you hate them, too.) Yet, I do believe that I've been given a gift for humor and honesty, which most of the time are the same thing. At least they are for me. It helps me take life a lot less seriously. And since I believe gifts are God-given, I feel an obligation to share my talents whether it be with a handful of people or thousands.

I always think of that parable in the New Testament about the three slaves who were given bags of money commensurate with their abilities. The two with the most bags of money multiplied it. The third man was given one bag of money and he buried it, figuring he didn't have enough money to do anything worthwhile. The master was not pleased with number three. Sometimes I'm afraid I'm burying my talents. Other times I'm afraid that any attempt to showcase my talent will be excessively narcissistic. I either fantasize about being at the top of the heap or am busy burying myself beneath the heap.

Humility is a balancing act and I have horrible balance.

All these mental gymnastics are just to let you know that a friend and former colleague of mine recently asked if I would write a get-to-know-the-blogger type article for a local parents website. I know it ain't Oprah or anything, but I agreed. I love to write and it gave me a chance to distill just what my family and I are all about and why I write on a regular basis.

So, basically, I'm sharing with you a link on my blog to an article about ... my blog. I realize this is a little circular. Enjoy the ride.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Overheard

What I love about North Carolina is that you can swim right up until the end of September if you're so inclined. This week, we took advantage of pool access at my parents' house a few more times before the cold sets in. The slide is finally in and it's a hit with all the kids, even my fearless 17 month old (wow, that's the first time I've said that. is that even possible??). We ended the summer with Danny swimming on one wing and Owen ditching the bubble suit and just going with the wings. Fiona is still in two wings, but tries one wing from time to time.

Patiently taking turns on the slide has been a challenge for my almost 5 year old (what???); though, after several poolside time outs, I think he finally got it. 

I'm waiting patiently. I'm waiting patiently. I'm waiting patiently, Danny chattered under his breath while in line for the slide.

The other most frequently broken pool rule is the "No screaming" rule.

Why are you in time out? I asked.
I did this: AAAAAHHHHHHH. Thanks, Dan. Now I can't hear out of that ear.

As for Owen, we just can't watch him eat anymore. It's too disgusting and bizarre. He actually takes his food from his plate and puts it down in his high chair seat. WHY???

Owen is throwing his food, mom, Danny reported while we're having a discussion about manners.
Yeah, pretty much anything Owen does at the table is bad manners.

On the bright side, it was Danny who started talking about table manners. Danny is also starting to say weird things, such as:

I like broccoli now. It's healthy for my body. Awesome.

and ...

I can make healthy choices. A pear is a healthy choice. More awesome. What a great kid.

These days, though, we can't even remember what dinner was like before kids.

A long time ago, it was just me and daddy, I told Danny.
We call those the good old days, Jim said.
Now it's the poop days, Danny giggled. Oh, how right he is.

And speaking of poop ...
I just checked Owen's diaper and he doesn't have poop, declares Fiona, my personal poop assistant. She literally gets a hold of the back of Owen's diaper, pulls it out and checks for poop. It cracks me up every time.

Did you get the mail? Jim asked.
No.
YES. I get to get out of the house. Boy, we need to get out more.

Newscaster: It appears a large satellite is hurtling toward earth.
Jim, squirming in his seat: Oh, damn, I don't know where to sit.

[Insert random Danny explanation of the world here]
Yeah, mommy, Fiona tells me, wide eyed.

Do you have a mouth in your face? Danny asked. Clearly, he's running out questions

Is he bleeding? I called to Jim as he scooped Captain Klutz from the driveway. 
Probably, Jim replied calmly. Upon inspection: Hey, he bleeds peanut butter. (I can't catch Owen to clean him up most days.)

Is it okay to get out of time out? Danny asked
No, you can't get out of TIME OUT, Fiona replied. (Mommy snickered in the kitchen.)

I don't like this project, mom.
It's not a project, dear. It's cleanup time.

Two minutes later ...
I'm tired. Fifi can clean it up. Um, no. I suggested that he go to bed if he was tired. He started cleaning up pretty darn quickly after that.

Where's the bridge [train track] piece? I asked Danny while we were putting together a track.
I don't know. It might have walked away. It might have legs. Um, I wonder if this is a stab at sarcasm? If so, momma is just so proud!

I want to do art in the bum bum, mommy, Fiona says often. Now, the "bum bum" is what our kids call the Bumbo seat, which has made an excellent booster seat. But that doesn't keep me from snickering every time one of them says it.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Overheard

I'm pretty sure there's a rotting apple core somewhere in the TV room. I just don't have the energy to track it down right now.  It's been that kind of week. Again.

The kind of week where the kids go through about 15 cups a day. (Why do I even have this many cups for them?)

The kind of week where the kids are like marauding pirates pilfering the fridge several times a day. This is why there is a rotting apple core somewhere in my house.

The kind of week where the kids flit from one activity to the next before I can stop them. This is why there is glitter stuck to a grape juice stain on the floor. I've decided to just keep it there to add a little color to the kitchen. Incidentally, my son has taken to painting his cars with water colors, dot-dot markers and glitter.

Look, mom. It's a NASCAR sparkly.

The kind of week where everything I try to do with the older kids is disrupted by Owen, the 16-month-old gorilla, who gleefully scatters papers, eats crayons and slaps his siblings around.

The kind of week where my husband is greeted with what looks like a massacre on the patio: an upturned doll carriage, a baby doll face down and a kid's picnic table on its side. If I were him, I'd be afraid to walk in the house.

The kind of week where I dread feeding the baby because he makes such a mess. My daughter and I have this conversation several times a day now:

Mommy, Owen's making a mess.
Honey, Owen's always making a mess. 

It's like having a monkey at the table. He throws food, smashes it in his palms, smears it on the table, shakes his sippy cup onto his food. It's so disgusting.

And Danny continues to give me the third degree at the rate of about 30 questions per hour.

[Insert random Danny question here.]
I don't know, Danny.
No, no, TELL ME.
Do you know what "I don't know" means? It means the answer is not in my head and I can't make it come out of my mouth. 'kay?


This is now one of my standard responses. The other?

Asked and answered. Next. 

Fiona has a lot of trouble with following directions these days.

Geez. What part of "stay in bed" does she not understand? 
The stay in bed part. Oh. Thanks for clearing that up, dear.

In fact, once she just blatantly refused to obey.

Fiona, get out of the curtains. 
No. Oh, hell no she didn't. She was sent to her room.

Good night. Clean my room, Fiona tells me. What a little bitchooger.

Look, when I do this [lowers his head and crosses his eyes] there's two Josees. Huh? Since when does he call me Josee?

WE'RE ON THE HIGHWAY, Fiona screams. Every time we get on the highway. Every. Time.

WE'RE OFF THE HIGHWAY. Yep. Fiona, again. It's more than a little jarring.

Go put your cups in the kitchen. Fiona hands me her cup.
I am not the kitchen. Go put your cups in the kitchen.

I read words now, Danny squealed after I talked him through reading the words on his fruit snack bag.

Have a great weekend, everybody.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Overheard

This week's column is a little thin on content. Most of what I've heard this week falls into two categories: the pterodactyl shrieks of a frustrated 2 year old and the endless chatter and questions of a 4 year old. Who knew that 4 year olds talked so much? And why the heck didn't anyone tell me about this?
 
I'm just brain numb this week. I can't keep up with them. I can't wear them out. I can no longer predict what they're going to do next.

Case in point ...

I came into Danny's room after "quiet time" and caught my 4 year old with one leg over the side of his bunk bed.

Whatcha doing, Danny? I ask casually.
I'm climbing over the railing and hanging by my hands and jumping. 


See, that's what I like about boys. They'll tell you exactly what they're doing because they honestly don't think they're doing anything wrong. My daughter, on the other hand, just stares at me and refuses to tell me. And, no, I don't think it's because she's only two.


My husband later told me when I related this story: Well, that is the safest way to jump. Only a Meehan who had jumped that way from a second story window when he was 10 years old would say such a thing. They did not get this from my side of the family. 

I then decided that I should go take a shower while the baby was still napping. I mean, what's the worst that can happen, right? I'd already made it clear that jumping from the top bunk is now banned.

I come out to find boy wonder standing on his upturned hamper trying to start the washing machine. He had wet his sheets and was putting his stuff in the wash. This kind of makes up for the whole jumping off the top bunk thing.

Later that night, Jim came down and informed me that the two older kids had torn off pieces of Owen's crib mattress that was under Danny's loft. We'd put it there for when Owen moves in. Now it is ruined. They're in the hole once again.

And all this after a day when I tried mightily to wear their little butts out with a walk and bike ride on the Tobacco Trail, lunch out and swimming. Good thing my kids don't eat a lot of sugar.

Enjoy ...

What is that? Jim asks of the piece of asphalt that Danny is holding.
It's asphalt. He likes to carry it around.

Ten minutes later at home:

You can't bring that in the house. It was born in the outdoors and it will stay out there. It's wild asphalt, Danny, Jim says. Danny was not happy about this.

I pooped on top of my underwear, Fiona informs me. Oh. (Not really, though.)

So I put ice cubes in the cup and we'll come back later and see how much water the melted ice cubes added to the cup, I explained to Danny. He had wanted to know if the ice in his cup would overflow when it melted. (It didn't.)
Okay, let's go hide, he replied. Um, that's hole other game, dear.

Danny, maybe Owen could go in your hideout with you, I told him.  Owen was screaming indignantly at being excluded.
No, no, I can't. It's too good.


I want to sit on the red seat. I want to sit on the red seat. I want to sit on the red seat, Danny whined. Then ... he hears his buddy next door outside. I want to play with Josh. Short attention span strikes again.


Danny, please just stop talking. 
No, I need to talk. 
Why? 
Because I have a mouth. 

What comes after five, Fiona? I asked her as I held up a thumb on my left hand while holding up five fingers on my right.
Thumb, Fiona said. I honestly didn't know the child could count to five.


He's about to eat the paper. Does he know he's about to eat the paper? my mom asks as Owen is eating an ice cream cone.
It's okay, mom. The kid eats toilet paper. I'm not to worried about it. 

Have a great weekend. Enjoy the cooler weather! I know I will.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

AiS: PB&J Bread Pudding

I've never been one to cut the crusts off of sandwiches for my kids. I actually never let them think they could have it any other way. Of course, their plates are always filled with munched-on scraps of sandwich when they're "done" anyway. Try as I may to relax about the food waste, it bugs me.

It's not like I can do anything with the drool-soaked scraps other than toss them. And this has been where I've missed our dog the most lately. So the other day I figured why not just cut the crusts off before putting the sammie on their plate and bake something with the crusts. I offered them PB&J cut into stars. The actually at all of it.

So with the unblemished scraps, I made bread pudding. It rocked. 

Here's how I did it:
PB&J scraps from three sandwiches
1/2 cup of milk
1 tablespoon of Splenda
Squirt of vanilla
1 egg
Cooking spray
Ramekin(s)

I cut up the scraps of three PB&Js into bite-size pieces and put them in a medium-size ramekin coated with cooking spray. I whisked together the egg, milk, Splenda and vanilla together and poured it over the bread pieces. Then I baked it in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes or so or until the egg mixture sets.

And they ate it for breakfast the next morning, because, by God, they will eat that food eventually.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Behind the photo

Sometimes I look at my friends' photos on Facebook which show clean, well-mannered kids happily frolicking in the sand or the waves or the woods or wherever and I suddenly think my kids are impossible. Because there is no way they would look that happy or play that well together or frolic for 10 consecutive minutes without screaming or fighting or melting down. (Okay, I'm exaggerating. They can't go 5 minutes without incident.)

Once I saw my sister's photos of a lovely sunrise picnic at the beach in Okinawa. It really doesn't get more idyllic than that. And at the time, I was in daily survival mode, living on Diet Coke, Luna Bars and three hours of sleep at a stretch. I mentioned how jealous I was of the whole scene. And how hopeless I felt at that moment.

She let me in on a little secret. It wasn't quite as idyllic as it looked. Between shots of the kids frolicking in the surf against the rising sun, there were fights and she wasn't feeling well and everyone had to get up way too early. (In my blinding jealousy and discontent, it never occurred to me that they got up before sunrise for this.)

It was then I realized that behind every photo is a story. Photos stand still. But time marches on. And with those marching orders comes conflict and unpredictability, which is why I savor the times when my kids are sleeping or gone or frozen in photos. It's peaceful and predictable.

So I've decided to add a running feature to the blog called Behind the Photo. I post lots of photos on Facebook. And in viewing them, I see the happy moments, the memories we made, the fun we had.
I also fear that some mom somewhere who is having a rough time will feel the same hopeless discouragement I felt over my sister's photos. But my husband and I are the only one who knows the real story behind the photos. For instance, only I know that 20 seconds after this beautiful sandbox shot, Danny dumped sand on his sister's head for no apparent reason. (And now you know, too. You're welcome.)



I don't think this is a negative exercise, though. It's about honesty. Sometimes moms focus so much on the positive that we think other children are perfect. And then we end up hating other moms and ourselves because we're comparing our insides to your outsides. That's just too much hating. We all need to know about each other's insides if we're going to survive parenthood with our sanity intact.

Here's our first entry.
Jim flying a kite in a hurricane

How does this thing work, Danny?
On a Friday night in August as Hurricane Irene's outer bands buffeted our area, we decided to test out a family joke. My husband loves kites. He brings them with us every time we go to the lake and tries to fly them, wind or no wind. Actually, the wind almost immediately stops when he tries to put a kite in the air. I've long told him that he couldn't fly a kite in a hurricane.

I brought the camera, of course, because he would want irrefutable proof that he could indeed fly a kite in a hurricane.

What really happened: Jim got the kite up in the air several times. Jim impatiently tried to get Danny set up with a kite. I followed behind with the two younger ones, continually untangling them from trailing kite strings. Owen freaked out and cried each time he got tangled up. Fiona obliviously walked through the kite strings. Jim barked. I sighed. I tracked down Fiona and Owen's shoes in a large field. Then I got bit on the foot by a chigger (?). It hurt. Bad.

Time spent: about an hour, maybe 10 minutes of which the kite was in the air.

Time to go? Danny pitched the kind of fit that makes us wonder whether such family outings are worth the effort. Which, of course, they are because we accept (eventually or at least before the next outing) the fact that fun is frequently punctuated by unpleasantness with little kids.

P.S. Yeah, it was pretty fun. And, yes, my husband can fly a kite in a hurricane. Indeed, that may be the only time he can fly a kite.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Overheard

We had a pretty wild week here.

Monday we got the vet bill for our dog Bob's final expenses. And it was like reopening a fresh wound.

Tuesday we spent some time in the hall closet as a tornado hurtled toward us and then broke up before reaching us. Boy am I glad my husband built that pantry closet under the stairs. It's safe, entertaining and there's food in there. The kids and I played with magnetic letters on the freezer and ate goldfish crackers until the storm passed.

Wednesday I got my second speeding ticket in six weeks. By this time, I was feeling a little sorry for myself, which is actually unusual for me. Doing the math on two speeding tickets, a possible insurance hike and a large vet bill got me down. Math is just so depressing.

But Wednesday evening, as I drove home from a meeting, I saw a mom and two small children waiting for the city bus at 8 o'clock at night. And it hit me. We can pay our bills, even the unexpected ones, and still put food on the table, have cars in the driveway and a roof over our head. Things could be worse. 

Thursday was better. I took the kids on a two-mile hike down the Tobacco Trail near our house in the gorgeous fall weather.

Anyhow, enjoy ...

He's not a bad cop, mom. You were going too speedy.

I know that I never said [standing Owen's pack and play on end] is not allowed, but let's not do it again. And now I will go add that to the list of rules I never knew needed to exist.

What's this song about? "Tainted Love" was playing on the car radio.
Um, potato love. It's about a guy who loves potatoes.
Or someone who has a love-hate relationship with potatoes?

ARGH. Why are we waiting here? I got stuck at a stop light at a crosswalk with NO ONE in it.
Green light, Danny replies matter of factly. Great. I have a traffic cop sitting behind me.

Please don't turn out the light, Danny. 
No, no, your computer might glow [with the light out]. He likes to see the little apple glow on my Macbook.
Yeah, and my head might just explode if you turn out that light. In my defense, it had been a long day and I was just trying to get some work done on the laptop

You did not put that toy away; you just moved it to another spot. Cleanup time was not going so well that night.

Those guys are stupid, mommy, Fiona tells me while we were watching some dogs singing in "All Dogs Go to Heaven."

I like that girl, mommy.
Why?
Because she's singing. Oh, so singing girls are good. Singing dogs, not so much.

What's the problem here, guys? Fiona was wailing in the bathroom just as Owen was leaving with a plastic knife in his hand.
Owen put a knife in the toilet, she wailed. And apparently, this was utterly tragic for her.

... it's raining now and the house is in the car wash, Danny says. And this is at the tail end of a diatribe about getting the tires rotated on the van. Not sure how we got from rotating tires to the house in a car wash.

Excuse me, Danny, Fiona says.
Good job saying excuse me, Danny responds.

Sometimes I say excuse me, and sometimes I don't. Then I wait for you to move, he tells his sister. Mommy thinks she may be dreaming at this point.

Here, Fi Fi, I want you to enjoy this, Danny says. He had given her a piece of his pasta. Who is this child?

I want to do that, mommy, Fiona says as she watches older girls flip off a vault into a foam pit at gymnastics. Of course you do, baby. (Lord help us. I just hope she doesn't try to do it at home.)

I saw some plastic containers like ours at the thrift shop, but they had no lids. I thought about getting them just to drive you crazy, Jim says. Aw. Isn't that sweet?

He even used his sirens this time, I told Jim about the cop who pulled me over.
Of course he did. You're a known felon.

Have a great weekend. And drive carefully. I know I will now.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Overheard

My head hurts this week. Bad. I fear that my eardrums will burst. The noise and fighting among the older two has reached a fever pitch.

It all started when Jim began using "races" to motivate the kids.

Need them to get their shoes? Make it a race.

Need the kids to head up the stairs for bed? Let's see who can get there first.

Need to motivate Danny to go potty? Race him to the bathroom.

So my smart, observant little Fiona has figured out this week just how to needle her brother Danny. Here's a conversation that I hear about 20 times a day. (I'm not even exaggerating.)

I beat you, Danny, Fiona says and then cackles.
YOU GO BACK UP THOSE STAIRS. I WANT TO BEAT YOU. 

Danny really is so loud that I need to use a different font size to express it. Meanwhile, mommy is in the kitchen eating strawberry cheesecake bars straight out of the pan. 

He has at least figured out that he can beat her to the bathroom. He gets his pants down and hops on the pot before she even knows what hit her. 

And then there's more screaming.
 
She also comes out with this winner of a statement at least once a day:

Don't beat me, mommy. 


Oh, honey. I won't beat you. I might beat my head against the wall. I do pray that she never says this in public.

Stop eating those, Danny admonished me while I was driving. I was eating jelly beans.
Why?
You can save them for breakfast. Um, okay.

Five minutes later.
Oh, you got to stop eating those. You got to listen to what your told to do.  Oh yeah, you told me  to save those jelly beans for breakfast, right?


In other news, we weathered a mild, slightly overhyped hurricane last weekend. Danny was fascinated, especially since the power went out and we got to see the downed tree that caused it.

We got to get in the house before the hurricane comes and sucks us all up. Okay, so maybe he was a little confused about what a hurricane actually does.



Here's the deal: In 15 minutes, you guys go up, go potty, get your pullups on and go to bed. You're old enough to do this yourself, Jim says as he watches football. Um, good luck with that one, buddy.

Okay ... it actually worked.

We should change the bedtime mantra to 'Potty, pull up and shut up,' Jim tells me. Ah. There's our book idea.

Did it go down the wrong pipe? I ask Danny who was sputtering at the table.
Yeah, it went down the cough pipe. 

Quick, Danny, she's coming, Jim tells Danny as they ate dessert in the dining room. So Danny closed his eyes.

I love you, Nana tells Fiona.
Yeah, she says. I pity this girl's future boyfriends.


What do you know about this wad of toilet paper I found in Owen's crib?
Oh, it's my race track, Danny replies.
Okay. Deep breath. Toilet paper is not a race track. If you had told me that one day I would utter that phrase, I would not have believed you.

Bye, Dan. I'm going to a meeting, Jim tells Danny.
Don't punch anyone, he replies. Good advice for everyone, actually.

Have a good weekend and don't punch anyone.