Friday, July 27, 2012

The first week

Four and a half years ago on my son's first birthday, I remarked in a blog post about my oddly unemotional state over that milestone. My son started kindergarten last week and not a tear was shed until at least the fifth day of school.

Part of this, I think, is that I never thought he'd actually go to school. Oh, sure, we applied to a few charter and Montessori schools where they literally pull your name from a hat to determine who gets in. We're not that lucky, we told ourselves. I mean, we rarely even win so much as $2 in the Powerball. So we just assumed we'd homeschool. Until three months ago. We got a call from a school. It was the last lottery we were waiting on. It was THE school. Child-centered, project based, integrated arts. It was the one that fit our philosophy and we felt would be best for him. And he got in as did his siblings by extension. His name was the fifth pulled.

"I feel like I just won the lottery," I told the woman from the school, as my 2 year old was screaming in the background, because, as usual, he hurt himself just as soon as the phone rang. I imagined that  the woman on the other end was mentally cringing and wondering just what had the school gotten itself into if such bedlam exists in this woman's house.

I was in such shock that I worried: Maybe I misunderstand the woman on the phone? After all, it was chaotic when she called. Maybe we're just on the waiting list? For the next week, I anxiously awaited a letter in the mail that the school told us to expect with some further instructions. I held my breath and waited. When the letter came, I breathed again and it began to slowly sink in that we'll have school children and school nights and packed lunches and carpools and field trips. (But no homework and no grades because that's not how this school rolls. Sweet!)

So, you see, I've had only three months to fret over him going off to school. I've felt neither eager to unload his sassy little self on a kindergarten teacher nor excessive trepidation about his prospects. I've not spent the past five years getting him ready for school as if it were some kind of deadline, though. We've read no books on what our child needs to know before he goes to kindergarten or how to get him ready for his new envirnoment. Sure, I've had the occasional foray down the what-if rabbit hole. A few times in my head I've had him kicked out of school for his borderline ADHD behavior hence ruining his siblings' chances to attend.  Really, with no information to back up this prediction, that voice just needed to be thanked kindly and told to go sit down. 

As the first day approached, I looked at the 10-day weather forecast. I took stock of what he'd need: backpack, lunch bag/box, towel (because, you know, it is the most massively useful thing one can have), reusable sandwich and snack bags. (This school encourages parents to send lunches in reusable containers as they are trying to cut down on trash. How awesome is that?)  

The first day of school went well. There was no drop off drama. He had his trusty map and he walked us in taking the route of his choosing. It was only a half day and only half the class was scheduled to be there that day. His only complaints was a passing mention that the day was too long. When I went to get him, several people commented that he was quite attached to his map and they dubbed him "map boy." It all sounded pretty promising.

We're settling into a routine. He gets up and dressed, eats breakfast and feeds the dog. I make his lunch and then he and I got on a short bike ride together.  That's right. At 7 a.m., he and I are biking down the street. We've gotten some what-are-those-Meehans-up-to-now looks from neighbors. It's a good way to get some of his energy out before he goes to school and spend a little one on one time with him.

By the fourth day, his first full day, he was getting out of the car himself in the carpool line and walking to his classroom alone. His teacher emailed us on Monday and Tuesday evening, but we did not get the emails until Tuesday evening. When I saw the sender and subject line, my stomach turned.

And it confirmed my worst fears. Spitting, personal space invasions, hair tousling, generally pestering others in an attempt to get their attention. Classic ADHD impulse control issues.

I won't lie. There was a lot of deep ragged breaths and self-flagellation and crying, no, sobbing.

Why can't my kid be normal? Why can't he just behave himself? What did I do wrong that my kid acts this way? What are the other mothers going to think of me? What if the kids ostracize him? What if he gets kicked out and ruins for his siblings?

There's been a lot of discouragement this week. But I've also found a lot to be grateful for.

His teacher made it clear up front that she is opposed to using medication. She also was a special education teacher for 10 years. Thank God his teacher is on the same page with us.

We've been seeing a therapist since March with Danny, before we even knew we'd be at school. He's made great progress in several areas at home. And all I had to do is sign a release form to allow the teacher and the therapist to talk. Imagine if I'd second guessed myself or given in to my cynicism about therapy and stopped going altogether. Where would we be now?

I've listened to other mothers whose kids are having their own troubles at school this week. On Wednesday, I went to pick him up alone. I stood in the front lobby and overheard another mom of a kindergartener talking about her son. Apparently, he'd had a rough few days at school, too. And the next day, another mom shared that her son had had a few rough days, also. I felt less alone and more grateful for my own problems.

I had assumed that the standard for his behavior was near perfection from day one. That leaves little room for improvement and growth for both of us, now doesn't it?

And I see the evidence of growth every day now, because I'm looking for and expecting it. Not only that, I'm growing along with him. I'm realizing that the same simple tools that I use to calm and control my actions and thoughts are just as relevant to him.

Just this morning, on our bike ride, Danny was also talking to the voices in his head. After he had yelled at me for not responding to him within a half second of his request, I told him that he needed to count to 10 before he expected someone to respond to him. I told him to be sure he has my attention,  say something and then count to 10 in his head. Then, from behind me, I hear "Oh, it's the bad voice. You go sit down. Mom, I put the bad voice in time out."

There's hope for him and me yet as long as we keep talking to the voices in our head.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

And it continues ...

"It" is the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. It's been quite a while since mommy has had consecutive days that strike fear and panic into her heart.

Mommy feels completely helpless to stop the onslaught of escapes, pilfered food and malicious woundings among siblings. Every one of them has scars from sibling inflicted wounds. Bite marks, bruises from pushes and shoves, cuts on their feet from being run over by a Big Wheel, half peeled off fingernails from door injuries. If pulled hair left marks, Fiona would be sporting wounds. Mommy feels as though she's toting a band of wounded criminals with her everywhere she goes. Mommy senses that her oldest's impending first day of school and the ridiculous July heat is affecting everyone's psyche.

Mommy's day starts at 2 a.m. when she hears Owen "reading" books in the hallway. Reading, good. 2 a.m., not so good. By 4 a.m., she had shooed him back to his room three more times. Fiona even joined him once.

But by 6:30 a.m., the really scary part began. Her husband bolts back into the bedroom and says, "Fiona's not in her bed and she's not downstairs." Mommy frantically gets dressed. She peers out the windows in her bedroom trying to spot the child. As scary as it sounds, mommy knows in the back of her head that Foudini (one of many nicknames for Fiona) probably didn't get far. Still, that doesn't stop her from imagining the worst.

Mommy can see the 6:00 news now. Preschooler catches school bus to local high school, mother charged with child endangerment.

As it turns out, she had climbed the baby gate, pulled an ottoman to the door, unlatched the chain and let herself out. When asked how long she had been outside, she gave a wicked look and said, "Five minutes." What's so frightening is all the obstacles she overcame to get herself outside. Mommy wonders how many more obstacles she'll have to build into the Foudini containment system just so she can close her eyes at night.

Next disaster involves Owen who is like a drunken billy goat on a suicide mission. He literally hurls himself into walls. It's like he has no sense of how his body works in space. He was pulling these stunts on the stairs and he fell. Backwards. Mommy is standing right behind him, watching as he falls on his head and neck.

Okay. That's over. Next up, mommy needs a shower. The kids know the drill. They stay upstairs and play while mommy takes a quick shower. Five minutes tops. How much trouble can they cause in five minutes?

Post shower, mommy finds Fiona in the hallway leading the 2 year old around with a belt around his neck. And it's not loosely around his neck, either. Mommy starts to shake inside. This is beyond horrifying.

Next mommy finds that Fiona has climbed up on the chest freezer to pilfer granola bars from the top shelf.  Later that same day, her and Owen got into a container of brownies that Nana thought she had put far out of reach. There apparently is no such thing as out of reach for Fiona.
Oh, and it gets worse. At the park, Fiona follows a group of girls walking to the bathroom. At least there is an adult with them and it happens to be a friend of mine. I spotted her across the parking lot and thought, "Okay. At least she's with an adult I know." Is it bad that mommy is equally concerned about what her acquaintances at the park must think of a woman who can't keep tabs on her own kids?

Mommy is exhausted. She locks Fiona in her room for quiet time. Don't judge. Mommy is out of options. She hopes that once the first day of school comes and goes, things will start to calm down here. She suspects that the anticipation of it has been hovering above the kids and making them crazy.

Stay tuned for photos and stories from Danny's first day of school which is tomorrow. I'll write. I promise.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mommy and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

Mommy really thought it would be a good morning. She had a plan: Blueberry picking. Church office for a 10 minute task. Library. Sam's Club. It felt like a good kid-to-adult activity ratio.

She had snacks packed, water bottles filled and kitchen cleaned up. She had library books ready to go back. On time, no less. The diaper bag was restocked and the blueberry picking buckets were in the van. The kids were dressed, shoes were on or at least in hand.

She was just about to strap Owen into his car seat when the familiar aroma of poop rises from one toddler derriere.

It must have been an omen.

After a pit stop for cash and Diet Coke, they head to the blueberry patch only to find it closed. 

Okay. Mommy can roll with this. They head to the church office.

"I have to go to the bathroom," Danny moans on the way. Of course, you do.

Mommy is a bit flustered already and begins to panic. She can't let him pee his pants; there's no change of clothes for him.  She decides to call her husband and see if they can stop by his office for a pee break on the way to the church. No dice. He's not answering the phone. They pulled up to the church office, which wasn't yet open. Mommy instructs the boy to pee on a tree. Yes, at church. She didn't think God would mind.

The kids play hide and seek in the trees and begin climbing a few of them. Danny breaks a low-hanging limb off the Magnolia tree. Mommy thought God would mind that, so she told him to leave the tree alone. He argues. He heads back toward the tree defiantly. Mommy feels the panic that rises in her chest when her son escalates his defiance. He finally relents. Meanwhile, Owen and Fiona are hanging on and climbing everything they can. Clearly, the kids are in no mood to wait around for the church office to open. And even if she could wait around, they would be too ill behaved for mommy to get a simple 10 minute task taken care of before they destroyed the church's volunteer office.

So they leave. Mommy is 2 for 2 right now. Two tasks undone.

PANIC. Deep breath. Mommy gets twitchy when so many plans fall through. How can these hoodlums not be trusted to behave for 10 minutes?

Just keep moving, she reminds herself. Next stop? The library. Mommy unloads the stroller, the bags of books and the kids. The 2 year old takes one look at the stroller and whines indignantly, "NO."

Great. The last thing mommy needs is to be chasing a 2 year old through the library. After about 10 minutes of chasing, she finally confines him kicking and screaming while they head for the checkout. She reaches into the library bag to find the card.

It's not there. Nor does she have her wallet with her. She leaves the books, trudges back to the car with three kids in tow and trudges back in to have the librarian look up her card with her driver's license.

Okay. Something finally got done. But the kids are melting faster than a Popsicle in Hell and there's still one more stop. Can't skip this one. There is no laundry detergent in the house and sure, mommy could get it at a less inconvenient store, but damned if she'll let the kids keep her from completing her mission. Really, how dare they balk at a morning full of errands when she took them the museum and swimming yesterday. The ingrates.

Mommy is officially pissed. She calls her mother, flustered and not even sure what she wants her mother to do.

They arrive at Sam's Club. Mommy can't find her card. Seriously. But she can't stop now. She just can't.

On the way home from Sam's Club, mommy calls her mother back and she agrees to come watch the little boogers for an hour. Probably to prevent mommy from eating them. 

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Lies I can't get away with much longer

My kids seem to ask questions from dawn till dusk. By midday, I'm ready to throw in the towel and tell them that I'm not taking any more questions or offering any more explanations about anything. I usually can hold out until their father gets home. Then I'm on break.  

And no question freezes me in my tracks and causes a mini panic attack like "What's in your mouth?" Here are a few of the answers that they are not buying:

I'm just chewing my tongue. 

No, it's not a piece of candy. 

Really, there's nothing in my mouth. 

I'm not eating anything. I SWEAR!

They're not buying it. Any of it.

Also, in an effort to have a clean kitchen at the end of the day, I tell them this: 

The kitchen is closed. My mother used to tell us this. I get it now. Totally. What she really meant was "The kitchen is closed for sticky fingered, crumb shedding urchins like yourself." But for mom and dad? Kitchen is open since we can now eat whatever we want without facing an army of beggars.

Other popular half-truths:

I'm not speeding. Okay. I kind of am speeding. But cops don't usually ticket for 5 miles over, now do they?

That's not a word you should use. At least not in public. Please. Who am I kidding? There are times when that word is totally warranted, like when you accidentally spill a full dustpan after the eighth sweeping of the day, right?

I have eyes in the back of my head. My oldest still believes this. He calls them my back eyes. One day, he sifted through my hair to find them. I told him he couldn't see them because they were closed at the time.

We don't eat before dinner. Translation: You don't eat before dinner. Mommy? She has a secret stash of jelly beans she sneaks while making dinner.

That song? It's about saving energy and keeping your doors locked. I told my kids this when they asked about the lyrics "Baby lock the door and turn the lights down low." I'm getting good at reinterpretting songs.

Do you mind? I'm using the bathroom. I'm not really. I'm reading. And eating a piece of chocolate to avoid the "What's in your mouth?" question.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012


It's been quite hot here, with several days in a row of 100 plus degree temperatures. I can't keep the kids in their clothes and yet I still have mountains of laundry. Could someone please explain to me how this works? The hot weather also means it's potty training season.

Oh, yeah, it's outdoor peeing weather this week, Jim said last week. Owen is of age. I think that we can start training him now.

So far, he's peed in his little potty twice and pooped in the yard once. Let me explain. 

Lately, the kids have been playing well together. I have been able to trust Danny more with following and enforcing the rules (without wrestling them to the ground) instead of instigating mischief.

Just last week, I let them loose in the backyard after a little pool time so I could start dinner. I shut the gate and told them to stay in the backyard. Oh, and I let them hang out naked, or as Fiona calls it naken. No biggie. For me, there's nothing cuter and more natural than looking out the window and seeing three kids playing naked. They're so devoid of self-consciousness.

A few minutes later, Fiona comes in and says: I have some poop on my foot. 

That's mud, not poop.
I thought it was dog poop. Turns out, it was Owen poop. I peered out the window and saw Danny and Owen stooped over digging in the dirt contentedly, as if nothing had happened. I inquired about the location of the poop.

We scooped it up. It's in the wheel barrel, Fiona informs me. They have a kid-size wheel barrel. 

Fiona has surprised us lately with her knowledge of letters. I've not been able to teach her directly as much as I did with Danny. But one day, she blurted out:

P is for purple. Huh? I didn't know she knew that. And she's been writing letters. Numbers, though, are a different story. She knows them, but it sounds like she's calling audibles in a football game. 

4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 11, 4, 5, 12. And Danny flips out because she's not saying the numbers in order.

She also has lots of opinions. 

I like this song, mom, Fiona chirped from the back seat. Bryan Adams "Everything I Do" was on the radio. It's about looking into my eyes. I like looking into my eyes. Well, this is different, a kid telling me what a song is about. Danny, on the other hand, constantly asks what each song is about.

How can you breathe through your eyeballs, dad?
Well, I guess if you held your breath it might come out your eyeballs, Jim tells him. A few days later I realized that he asked that question because when I take my contacts out and wear eyeglasses, I tell him it's because my eyes need to breathe.

Let's play the quiet game, Danny says.
QUIET GAME, Owen screams. My kids suck at this game.

Danny played a game with me the other day, I tell Aunt Jackie. What game was it, Danny?
Yahtzee. Ooooh. I like gumballs. (He had spotted a gumball machine.) Yes, he really did say all of this in the same breath. Ironically, I had mentioned the game playing to show her that his attention span was improving.

And now you know the purpose of basements, Danny, his cousin Mia says as she wraps up her 5 minute dissertation.
What? Danny says with the same blank stare he'd been giving her for the past five minutes as she explained basements.
Mia, he doesn't know what purpose means, another cousin chimes in.

Don't drink the bathwater, Fiona. Your brothers probably peed in it, I tell her.
I didn't pee, Danny replies. I farted in it. Ewwwww.

I don't know what happened, I bemoan to my sister. The two of them were playing so nicely for a few minutes. They were listening to each other's elbows [with a toy stethoscope]. Next thing I know, Fiona whacks him and he tackles her to the ground. 
It's a bipolar match, she replies. Ah, yes. That explains everything.

When Nana sets her house on fire, we can come rescue her, Danny tells his sister.
Yeah, because I'm going to be a firefighter! Wait, what? Nana is going to set her house on fire??

Hey, I can put the plate on top of the pumpkin [it was actually a watermelon]. It can balance, Danny says. Five year olds havew such great ideas.

Can this plum pit grow? Danny asks. 
Sure, but I think it has to be planted somewhere warmer, like California.
Where's California? 
On the other side of the country. 
Can we go there tomorrow?

Why do we have mouths? Danny asks after a five minute series of questions about something completely unrelated. It's at this point that I want to bang my head against the wall. Hard.

Are there a lot of mosquitoes in the world? Danny asks. 

I'm closing my eyes so you can't see me, Danny says to his Nana Meehan. Right. If that worked, I'd be eating chocolate with eyes closed in front of the kids nonstop. 

Mom, I passed gas upstairs. It was a fart gas. Can you smell it? Danny says from the top of the stairs.  

Ew, did you pass gas, Danny?
No, Fiona might have done and it came all the way in here. Sure, that's plausible.

Why did Nana's [bike] tire get flat?
Maybe it got a hole in it. 
Maybe there was too much weight on it and it went down. Nana loved that explanation.

Now, you need to behave at the gym this morning, Danny. 
Because when you don't behave, it doesn't make mommy want to do nice things for you. 
You want to do bad things to us?

Got poop, Owen tells his father. Check it out. 

Look, dog, Owen says pointing out a picture of a dog to our dog Molly. I love how kids just think of the dog as just a furry human.

What is that noise, Owen? I ask him as he whines at me.
Me, he says. Smart ass.

Watch out. He charges, Jim warns someone as Owen hurtles toward them.

Owen. Patrick. Meehan. Come here, I say.
MEEHAN COMING, he replies as he charges toward me. This kid has linebacker written all over him.

Do babies climb walls, mom?
No, I reply.
Do they have suction cups on their hands and feet?
No. Where are you getting all this?
Dad said that babies have suction cups on their hands. Oh dear.

Found penis, Owen informs me when I come get him after his nap.
You found your penis, huh?
Penis down there, he replies. Sigh. The ladies are going to love this one.

Mom, let's go bike riding. We can scare them with our face paint power. They had just finished painting each other's faces with water colors.

Have a happy and safe 4th of July!