Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Sitting on a throne of lies

My family didn't do Santa Claus when I was growing up. My mom took a lot of flack from other people for that, but I never felt deprived. My parents had their own way of making Christmas special with the three gift rule symbolizing the three gifts the Magi gave baby Jesus.

Because I don't know the narrative of Santa Claus, I often feel as if I'm making this whole thing up as I go along. That's right. I'm making up lies about what is essentially a lie. Most people would call this "story telling" but we are just not story telling people around here. Did I ever mention that I don't often read fiction because I cannot seem to suspend disbelief enough to get into a story? This is why I have never read a Harry Potter novel. Child wizards are about as far from reality as it gets. Kind of like Santa Claus is to me.

Yet my children ask whether Santa eats noodles and if he really comes down the chimney and won't he get dirty doing that and what's his address. They have gotten to the age where they ask Santa for items that mom and dad refuse to let them have. Clearly I have license to create the narrative for them. So I have.

Here are a few of the lies I've told my children:

Santa won't come if our house is a mess. This is a great way to get the kids to help clean the house.

Santa won't leave any new toys if he sees too many toys out. He'll think you have enough and move on. This works much better than my threats to throw out or banish toys they neglect to clean up.

Santa has to clear present choices with mom and dad.

Santa has a budget.

Santa doesn't deliver live animals.

I don't, however, tell them to be "good" for Santa. I don't believe that kids are good or bad, well or ill behaved. They're just human beings learning how to adult, which is something that I am still doing some days. For us, Christmas is about grace. And you don't have to earn grace.

Friday, November 20, 2015


We're well into the second quarter of school here. The kids are doing well. I'm busy volunteering and working on some freelance editing and writing as well as training as a swim instructor. I'm at a loss for words tonight, so I'll just let the kids do the talking:

Can my name be Buster [from the Arthur cartoons] because he's always hungry? Owen asks.

A few days later, as we're eating burgers:
Can my middle name be Burger Smash? Owen asks.
So you want your name to be Buster Burger Smash? I ask. Seems totally appropriate.

Owen, what are you looking for? I ask.
Have you seen my taxi?
he asks.
No, but I'm sure it's not in that bucket of candy [that you're rifling through].

Please take this out to the compost.
[Insert long explanation by Owen how it's Fiona's turn to do it and finally grudging acceptance of the task.] But I'm going to be grumpy when I get back, Owen says.

They have police dogs, but why don't they have police cats? Yeah, they can chase bad guys that go up trees, Owen says.

Fiona is a hot mess as usual.

Fiona, please clean up whatever pee is on the bathroom floor.
It wasn't me who peed there!
Do you know how much pee I clean up that is not mine?
[Blank stare from Fiona]
How do you know when you'll have a baby? Fiona asks.
Well, when you move into a house with more bedrooms than people, then you know, Jim answered.

Mom, is Santa real or do you and dad buy the gifts and stomp your feet on the doorstep so we can hear Santa? Fiona asks. Um, how did we get here so quickly? For crying out loud, she's SIX. I simply asked her "What do you think?" She gave me a wicked smirk. She totally knows.

A few recent arguments that I've refereed:
Mom, Fiona is kicking me, Danny calls up the stairs.
Stay away from her feet, I called down.

Mom, I was just standing in the TV room doing nothing and Owen kicked me, Fiona wails.
Stand somewhere else, I told her.

Mom, Danny kicked me in the belly.
Danny's explanation? I was trying to help him get his sweatshirt on.

Fiona comes up and informs me that Danny was lying down on her. Upon further investigation, I learn this from Danny:
Did you lie down on your sister?
Mom, I wanted to lie down. I didn't want to lie down on Fiona. 

Right. My children are masters at martyrdom.

Words I never thought I'd utter:
Ketchup is not soap. Fiona was rubbing ketchup into her hands, claiming it was soap.
Stop painting with ketchup. Owen informed me that he was finger painting with ketchup, other wise known as making a mess.
Please don't lick me. Owen had just informed that he was hungry and then licked me.
Stop following me around the kitchen with that butter, I told Owen who was trying to "help" me cook dinner.
Stop parachuting down the stairs, I told Danny who nearly jumped on me while holding plastic grocery bags above his head.

Till next time. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Grace and Gratitude

I woke this morning with a plan. A complicated, multi-pronged plan for getting kids and parents three different places at all different times at opposite ends of town. Both parents scheduled to work at overlapping times, one kid who needed to be one place with a parent, the other two left as loose ends to be tied somewhere and no plan for contingencies.

One phone call and all plans were out the window. The husband had to cover someone else's shift at the last minute. As the default, on-duty parent this morning, I did the only thing that made sense. I called out of work myself and took over. In the end, it was a simpler morning that kept all five us relaxed, happy and on the same side of town.

Today was the kind of day I dread. Our family tends to avoid these weekend rodeos. As a majority introvert family, we prefer to pace ourselves with carefully selected (and free) activities that fit into our family. These years with them come only once and we'd rather not spend them in a flurry of activity with little time for all of us to reflect on who we are and who or what we belong to.

Today was also an anniversary for me. Sixteen years ago today I began learning and reflecting on who I am and who I belong to. I slowed down. I put the cap on the bottle of booze. I listened. I cried. A lot. I raged. I accepted that broken part of myself and I began recovering.

Sixteen years ago today, I walked into a room full of strangers and was offered a cup of coffee by a kind woman who asked me when I last drank. Noticing my shaking hands, she handed me half a cup. I tried hard not to spill it. We talked. She told me her story. She stayed with me all day long, helped me empty bottles of wine, and took me to her house where I cried on her sofa for hours. Janice, who is among many women who helped save my life, died this year.

On that day, I also briefly shook hands with the man who is now my husband. I was surrounded by women at that moment and he thought it best to leave me alone for a while. After all, he thought, that woman is a mess. (I'm sure he still thinks this some days.)

And this week, I could have easily melted into that mess of a woman with a wine glass. I didn't, though I really wanted to. It would have been much easier than dealing with the barrage of monkey wrenches thrown into an overfull schedule.

You see, my son was suspended from school this week. On the evening of his unplanned day off, he and I attended a workshop for his First Reconciliation process. Today there was a retreat for his class to which I planned on sending him with his father. Someone knew that I needed to be there with him.  Reconciliation is about forgiveness and we both needed that reminder this week.

So instead of executing the complicated and stressful Plan A, I spent the morning talking about forgiveness and conscience with fellow Catholics and participating in a meal-packaging service activity with my son and daughter.

Then I went home, introverted pretty hard, and took a nap. I can't think of a better way to celebrate 16 years of grace and gratitude.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Top 5 Reasons Gravity is a Bi#$%

My children sincerely believe that the laws of physics do not apply to them. Water spilling, objects rolling off tables, falling from chairs - all totally unacceptable to them. It's not their fault, you see. That chair was being mean and somehow ejected them. The book bag is stupid for jumping off the chair. They need to sleep on the edge of their bed, you see, to make room for their 50 stuffed animals and a 2-foot long submarine. Sigh. Here's why gravity just should not be trusted:

1. Water flows down. My children like to put their water bottles into their backpack upside down and then wonder why their backpack is wet.
2. Book bags that are half set upon a chair fall off. The concept that the items in the bag fall to the bottom of the bag and will hence slide right off a chair if set on the edge is lost on them.
3. Tacos and burritos just simply will not cooperate. Why can't you eat a taco upside down without falling out?
4. Sleeping on the very edge of the bed lands them on the floor. Every. Time. And it so unfair.
5. Chairs. Oh my word, chairs. They each tumble out of one at least once a day. Even getting into a chair is challenging for them. I've seen my children tumble headfirst over the back of a chair and land on the floor. One of my children likes to run headlong into the seat of the chair, his feet flipping up. When I wind up in the ER with one of them, all I'll have to say is "Chair" and they will instantly understand.

That is all. 

Thursday, October 08, 2015


The kids have been home for intersession break this week and it's not nearly as trying as I thought it would be. It seems that a few months of kindergarten for my youngest has changed the dynamic dramatically around here. He's learned some social and negotiating skills. Some days, I just ignored the kids. The younger two play together all morning with only a few scuffles and my oldest reads  for hours at a time.

Fiona and Owen, in particular, are thick as thieves. They make up all kinds of games that I wind up refereeing. One day, Fiona and Owen both came down wailing.

Well, what happened? I asked. Fiona breathlessly and dramatically explained. 
Well, I was practicing riding a dog [Owen] because I'm going to be a cowgirl for Halloween and I'm going to ride Molly and Owen kept falling down and dogs don't fall down.

I couldn't keep my composure long enough to explain that 1.) Owen wasn't doing it on purpose and 2.) she is not riding Molly for Halloween.

The kids also did a triathlon in September. This year, even Owen participated.
So Owen, what did you do [Sunday]?
He shrugs.
What did you do at the YMCA?
Oh, his eyes lit up. I had a snack. That's what he remembers. The snack. He did two legs of a triathlon. He swam and ran, but is still not riding a two wheeled bike.

Mom, when do we get our boobs? Fiona asked before the triathlon.
Your boobs?
Yeah, you know, the thing that goes [on your shirt]?
OOOHHH. That's called a bib, sweetheart. I thought it was a little early for her to be pining for boobs.

I would like some spaghetti with butter, Owen says, batting his eyes dolefully and sticking his lip out. Fiona, eating the last bit of spaghetti, considered it thoughtfully for a moment and said You can have some next week on pasta night.
He just ran through the TV room with seashells in his hat, Jim says. The hat was on his head. Nothing surprises us anymore. 

Thunderbirds are a go for a drop. Thunderbirds are a go for a drop. 
Are you pooping, Owen? Jim asks.

And speaking of the bathroom, Owen fixed the overflowing toilet the other day.
Dad, the toilet water was coming up and up but it's okay because I closed the lid and locked the door.

Fiona has lost her two front teeth. Her father teases her.
What do Fiona and hockey players have in common?
Neither of them have front teeth.

Stop hitting the window, Owen.
I'm pretending to throw pumpkins. Of course.

It's good to be tall like Mommy so you can reach the cotton candy [atop the refrigerator], Fiona declares. Or so you can reach the secret chocolate stash.

Do you want to know the a-word? Fiona asks.
Honey, I know all the bad words. 
Well, do you know the C-word? Um, yeah, I know a couple. She's talking about "crap."

Mom, it's national candy month, Danny declares.
Oh, who told you that?
No one. I made it up. Because of Halloween. 

We have 20-some days till Halloween. It's going to be a long month.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Overheard: Beach edition

My sister's family and ours took a vacation together for the first time ever -- four adults, two dogs, and six kids ranging in age from 5 to 15. Despite rain and storms, we did managed to get out to the beach four out of the six days we were there. There were days when we headed to the beach and it started raining on the way. One day, a thunder clap sent all six kids sprinting back to the house squealing and laughing. We even got to catch the full lunar eclipse on a night that was supposed to be overcast. We certainly made the best of our time together before packing up a day early to escape the island ahead of predicted coastal flooding. The morning we left, this was happening:

And directly behind us was a lightning show and a double rainbow. Seriously.

The best part was that the kids played together all week while my sister and I read, knit, chatted, did puzzles and asked each other repeatedly where each other's husbands were. And we overheard some fantastically funny episodes from our six children. First up, here's how you play chess with a 5 year old, as told by my sister's oldest child:

"Start by calling everything what it actually looks like, not what it's actually called. Put all pieces in battle formation. It's OK to put your king and queen off the board so they can't be captured. "Guys" (pawns) can ride "horses" (knights). And the final most important rule is Owen always wins.

"Whether he had to call imaginary snipers or start throwing dynamite."

My nephew is incredibly patient and endlessly amused by my kids. 

My other nephew is known as the kid whisperer. He created a role playing game that the kids played over several days called Super Heroes and Super Villens. Fiona's character, Fishgirl, could throw sharks at people. Danny's character, Portal, just went around creating doors, basically putting holes in walls. And Owen chose to be Catman. When any of them didn't follow the rules, they were barred from the game and given options for reentry. Upon hearing four of those options, Fiona declared a fifth option: 

Fifth option: Shut up!

Despite the distraction of cousins, Owen was his usual hungry self the entire week. He marched into the kitchen one evening and announced Feed me before I eat my tongue. 

And the poor thing was devastated when we packed up the kitchen on the last day. He came to me, lower lip quivering, to tell me:

There's only one thing left in the fridge and it's for baking. 

All in all, we had a great week. The planning my sister and I did paid off ... a week's worth of menus, breakdown of costs, and lists of supplies neatly laid out in spreadsheets. Next spreadsheet is for Thanksgiving dinner!