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


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


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.

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.