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


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."


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:


"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


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.
Yeah, I sleep naked like my mom and dad. 
They sleep that way?
Every night?

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