The trials and tribulations of Kate, mother

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Golden Hour Swing

Don’t let those innocent faces fool you. I’m on to them.

In the past week, a couple things have happened in my world.

First, we learned that our 5 1/2-year-old needs a nap after school. Luckily, it only took us two days to realize what was going on. Unluckily, we haven’t figured out how to make it really work yet, so sometimes it happens, and sometimes…it doesn’t.

Second, I’d had it up to HERE (envision the hand at the hairline) with being ignored. For example: that blasted black sock was STILL sitting on the living room floor THREE DAYS and FIVE REMINDERS after first being pointed out/instructed to put it away.

I was not happy. Not happy at all.

Saturday morning, I cornered the kids in the van, where they were all seatbelted in and couldn’t get away, and I announced (calmly) (mostly) a change in procedures in our house. From now on, I will give an instruction one time. If I have to give it again, the consequence will be an extra chore. Two reminders = two extra chores. Three strikes and you’ve lost your screen time for the day.

That was 9:30 a.m. By lunchtime, Michael had lost his screen time.

On Sunday, Nicholas made it to two strikes. Even though we had a conversation about it while he was doing the job I’d given him.

(What kind of conversation, you say? I’m so glad you asked. Here’s a strong-willed child insight: “So,” he says, as he’s sllllooooowwwwwwllly doing what I told him and getting his a) loose change, b) wallet, c) ear buds, d) book off the table so I can set for dinner. “So…do we get three strikes every day? Or do they just add up till we hit three?” Would you like to know where I found all that stuff? On the stairs. Still not put away. Envision me pounding my head against the nearest hard surface.)

But wait! There’s more! Sign up today and for absolutely free (oh wait, this isn’t an infomercial? my bad) you’ll get Miss Julianna on Sunday afternoon, trying to sneak extra iPad time by closing the door to the boys’ room so I wouldn’t hear it talking to her.

And that night, in what is becoming almost a nightly pattern, we came upstairs to go to bed and found Nicholas and Michael having a sleepover on their floor.

As my husband is known to say, when told of his children’s latest and greatest exploits:

“Awesome.”

Photo Friday Funnies

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If you’re on Facebook, you already saw these, but it’s worth preserving in our family history this way, too. Two nights in a row, this week, we went upstairs to go to bed, checked on the kids, and discovered this:

Boys sleeping_opt

By morning, it looked more like this:

Morning Butts

Happy Friday!

Glimpsing The Future

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Alex with Michael newborn

Older images, same sentiment

Two sixth graders in black T-shirts, in a garage on a warm, windy Sunday afternoon. Their friends and their mothers (except for me, because every time I sit up I feel like throwing up) are out in the driveway, cutting and Gorilla gluing and holding pieces of cardboard together until the glue sets, to make a boat for the Food Bank race in two weeks.

 

But these two boys, in their slim black jeans and their black t-shirts advertising basketball and Marvel heroes, the utterly ordinary stuff that preoccupies preteens, have been called into the shady, cool garage by a single noise from the 6-month-old baby sister of Alex’s friend. She’s in a bouncer amusing herself while the crowd works.

Alex goes down on his knees and starts going, “Hi! Hi!” with a big smile. The baby stares at him–let’s face it, probably his glasses. Alex glances up as his friend comes in and tries to wave him off. “I got this,” he says.

“No you don’t!” says Big Brother. “I’ve been dealing with this for, like, ten months!” And because unlike Alex, he has no fear of looking like a fool, he makes truly crazy faces and noises, and thus wins the Make The Baby Smile Challenge.

Two preteen boys, on their hands and knees on a concrete floor, utterly powerless against the charms of a baby.

Alex with Michael changing table

Despite my general not-feeling-good, I enjoy a private chuckle and a big warm fuzzy, and I think, I am glimpsing the distant future.

And it is beautiful.

How To Make A Snow Day, According to Kindergarten and Second Grade

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Photo by kylesteed, via Flickr

“Mrs. Basi!” yells Kindergarten Carpool child, upon leaping into the van after school. “Do you want to have a SNOW DAY tomorrow???!!!!”

“No, I do not,” I reply.

Undeterred, he shouts, “You have to put an ICE CUBE in the TOILET and let it melt! And then you flush it!”

“Uh….okay.”

Nicholas leaps into the van, spread-eagled with enthusiasm. “Mom, mom, you know how to make a snow day??????????????!!!!!!!!!!!”

“Nope, how?”

“You put your TOOTHBRUSH under your PILLOW!”

“No, you don’t, you put your SPOON under your pillow!” shouts Kindergarten Carpool.

“My teacher told me TOOTHBRUSH!” yells Nicholas.

“Well, the REAL way is a SPOON. And you know what else? You put an ice cube in the toilet and wait for it to melt! And then you flush it. But if you don’t flush it, your toilet will overflow!”

“So if we want a BIG snow day, we should dump our whole BUCKET of ice from the freezer in the toilet!”Nicholas is problem-solving hard now. “Mom, can we put our whole bucket in? We can always make more!”

Methinks the elementary teachers are having fun with the kidlets. 🙂 As I’m going to have fun with you now, because seriously, a photo like this has to be used, even if it has nothing to do with, well, anything at all.

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“These are not the solutions you are…” oh, never mind.

 

Friday Funnies, 2nd ed.

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CAPTION CONTEST!

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I don’t know what this is. But it’s hysterical.

computer-notes

For three days, I forgot to pay the monthly rental for Alex’s horn. I told him to stick his horn case on the computer chair so I wouldn’t forget again. He did this, too. Oh, wait, do you need a closeup?

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michael-lego-heads

I don’t know what this is, either. Is there something wired wrong in there, I wonder? 😉

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In Which I Win “THE VOICE”: Van edition (and other Friday Funnies)

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fridayfunniesMichael, holding a paper back mouse with whiskers on one side:

“I’m naming my mouse ABCMouse.com!”

Me: “I’m definitely raising 21st century children.”

Julianna, holding a baby doll:

“Mom, my baby name, is, Dzustin…Bieber!”

Me: speechless.

Nicholas, at prayer time following an ice storm:

“I pray for good roads and a lot of snow.”

Me: “You do realize those two prayers are completely at odds with each other.”

Alex: “No they aren’t! I don’t want ice, I just want a lot of…well…I don’t care if it’s on the SIDEWALKS, I just want it not on the STREET!”

Christian: “Alex wants twenty inches of snow to fall only on the yard.”

Our Advent season car soundtrack:

Michael: “BLAH BLAH BLAH BLEE BLEE BLEE!”

Nicholas and Julianna: “You’re a grand old flag! If you like to talk to tomatoes….Veggie ta-a-ales, veggie ta-a-ales, there’s never ever ever ever (ever ever…ever…ever) been a show like…”

Alex: “NO, NOT AGAIN!

Nicholas and Julianna: “Fine. O SAY CAN YOU SEE?”

Alex: “Aaagh!”

Me: “Alex, you should start singing the theme to the Flash. You’ve got to fight back!”

Alex: “But they LIKE the theme to the flash.”

Me: “You’re thinking about this all wrong. You’re not trying to find something they don’t like. You’re trying to find something YOU DO. Like…like this.”

Me:

In the car:

Dead silence.

Ha-ha! I won!

 

What An Ice “Storm” Reminded Me About Family

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Photo by Lina, via Flickr

Photo by Lina, via Flickr

This past Friday, it rained some trace amount that couldn’t be measured, and my entire city went berserk.

All weekend, the weather, the accidents, and how long it took to get home were the only topics of conversation. Hours. We spent hours talking about it.

It caught everybody off guard. See, it was supposed to warm up Friday afternoon and melt everything before school let out, but it didn’t. So as the day went on the chorus of “oh crap, the world is a sheet of ice!” grew steadily more pervasive until all else in my Facebook feed disappeared entirely. Teachers and administrators stayed at schools until seven, eight, nine at night, waiting for busses to arrive. One principal got on the last bus of the night, to make sure the kids got home safely. Some kids didn’t make it home until one in the morning. Around town, busses were crashing into mailboxes and Jeeps. Cars were crashing into each other. A pileup shut down the interstate, and in town a drive of twenty minutes took three hours. I heard that Carl Edwards brought out his tractor and started pulling people out of ditches, trying to clear the road so people could get home.

I was supposed to have carpool duty on Friday. But the other mother was already on that side of town, and she said, “It doesn’t make sense for us both to be out. Do you mind if I pick up your kids early?” I opened up Google maps and ran the routes for her to figure out the best path home.

I didn’t know Google maps had a “burgundy.” But there it was, interspersed with bright red, right along the route from school to home.

It took them well over an hour to make a drive that usually takes 8 minutes. And then we began waiting for Julianna’s bus.

And we waited…and waited…and waited.

An hour after dismissal time, I managed to get hold of to the school. Only one bus had arrived yet. “Oh!” I said. “I’ll come over and get Julianna, then.” I mean, it’s only about a mile and a quarter from our house.

Well…a mile and a quarter that includes a steep dip into a ravine and back up the far side. We live at the bottom of a much more gradual hill, and by the time the van and I had slipped and slid past about six houses, I knew I wasn’t going anywhere.

I went back home and called the school back.

Between then and 5:45, when Julianna got home, I spent a lot of time fretting and anxious. It’s bad enough to have your kids caught out in bad weather. It’s worse when you aren’t with them and you realize you have absolutely zero control over their safety.

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get people to leave me alone. I can’t work when it’s noisy. I can’t think. And this year, with Michael home in the mornings and bored out of his ever-loving skull, I am really, really short on work time. I dream of the day they all go to school all day.

And yet every so often…like, when my daughter’s safety is outside my control…I find myself imagining a world in which they don’t exist at all. A world in which I am alone—a situation one of my short story characters found herself in. (As a matter of fact, it’s the situation faced by my newest novel character, too.)

Whenever I contemplate this world, I think of the freedom I would have, the luxury of spending as much time devoted to work as I wanted, the ability to go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted—and I shudder. I shudder deeply and shut my brain off, because the emptiness of that world is more than I can bear to think about. What would be the point of all that freedom and potential for productivity, if I didn’t have this gang of destructicons? Even an introvert draws her strength from the presence of those she loves.

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A good realization to ponder on the cusp of Christmas break.

A Random Sampling of the Wanton Destruction Unleashed by Boys

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Kids make messes. They destroy things. I know this. I’ve been around the parenting block a few times now.

But sometimes, when I look around my house, I still don’t understand the sheer destructive power.

How, for instance, is it possible to crack a countertop using only a TOOTHBRUSH?

cracked-counter

How can the need to move fast and hard be so overwhelming that you RIP THE FRONT OFF A DRAWER?

broken-drawer

Why is there this inborn need to bang forks on the table, leaving hundreds of dents in the extremely high-quality oak table we invested in to accommodate large gatherings?

Why is it that after being told sixty-five times, “Put your shoes in the cubbies!” and getting in trouble seventy-three more because you can’t find the shoes you *didn’t put in the cubbies, you STILL TAKE THEM OFF AND DROP THEM WHEREVER YOU ARE?

And what in the name of all that is holy is the deal with ripping holes in knees??????????

(Why, yes, in fact I do consider the multiple punctuation justified.)

Bleach spots on the wall!

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Sharpie on the kitchen table!

Marker on my computer chair!

Marker on the basement carpet!

Paint on the basement carpet!

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DVDs snapped in half! (Have you ever *tried to break a DVD? It’s next to impossible!

Chips in the piano keys!

chipped-keys

Drumsticks. That’s how.

Pee everywhere EXCEPT in the toilet bowl!

Clothing that has a food stain on it five minutes—literally—after it gets put on the body!

The same food smudge across the right cheek that has been there for FOUR YEARS!

Yeah. What dirt.

Yeah. What dirt.

I do not understand this. I know I’m a girl and all, and that I grew up in a house full of girls, but we were not particularly girly girls. I mean, we played on tractors and jumped off hay bales, and we *still didn’t get as dirty and break as many things as my boys do on a regular basis.

Most of the time I am pretty philosophical about it all, but every once in a while it occurs to me that it would be nice to have a house that looked, you know…nice. And it’s an almost daily occurrence for me to send my kids out into the world with a mental groan, thinking of all those parents who manage to get their kids to school with their backpacks neat, their clothes intact, and no black jelly smudges across their right cheek.

It must be my fault, because I’m the mom. And I routinely (read that: virtually always) forget the a) canned good for charity, b) dress-down day, c) stuffed animal for school reward day, d) pajama day.

But I am not, nor do I have any interest in being, a helicopter parent. I’m pretty sure when I was a kid, I was expected to be on top of my own special-dress days. And of course, we didn’t have things like stuffed animal parties and pajama days at all.

And so I continue to navigate an uneasy truce between taking care of my kids and expecting them to take responsibility for themselves.

Besides, I figure I can always pull the “I have kids in three different schools” card. And I do so without apology. Regularly.

Kid Moments, To Brighten Your Day

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Pinkeye, Xbox remote, blue-blooded ghost, and Tinker Bell

Alex, 11, as we pull in the driveway after school: “You guys used 30 pronouns in the time between the stop sign by the pool and here.”

Me: “Were you counting?”

Alex: “Yes, and that was another one.”

**

Julianna, 9, in the van, listening to Puff the Magic Dragon on the beat-up Peter, Paul & Mommy CD: “…AND FOCKUS IN DEE AUTUMN MIST…”

Me, because there are way too many words that, in the mouth of a child with speech problems, turn into the F-bomb: “Julianna. Frrrrrrrrrollllllllicked.”

Julianna: “Frrrrrrooooccc—frrrrroolllllllick.”

Me: “That’s it! Good!”

Julianna: “PUFF THE MADZIC DRAGON LIVE BY DA SEA AND FOCKUS IN DEE AUTUMN MIST…”

Me: (Face palm.)

**

Nicholas, 7, making his breakfast the day after throwing up.

Me: “Nicholas, have you had any funny moments lately?”

Nicholas: “No.”

Well, there you go.

**

Michael, 4 11/12, on Halloween, wearing a sloppily-cut sheet spattered with blue paint, made by Mom, who is not the whiz of Halloween costuming in the house. He is tripping over his hem, and the sheet keeps getting pulled sideways, so the eye holes are nowhere near his eyes.

Michael: “It’s HARD to be a ghost!”

And finally…this year, it’s official: We’ve had Christmas carols for 12 months straight. They never stopped singing them the entire year.

Parenthood. A nonstop adventure.

Notes from The War Zone

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That's my candy pumpkin! No, I had it first! You've had three already! MOOOOOOOMMMMMMMM!!!!! (The LEGO storm troopers never disappoint. Image by DuckBrown, via Flickr)

That’s my candy pumpkin! No, I had it first! You’ve had three already! MOOOOOOOMMMMMMMM!!!!! (The LEGO storm troopers never disappoint. Image by DuckBrown, via Flickr)

A lot of days, I feel like I live in a war zone. And a lot of days, I just want to throw in the towel. Like yesterday, for instance. We let the kids sleep in, let them wake up slowly, gave them no responsibility whatsoever. Just a nice, relaxing morning, in advance of a once-a-year treat: a baseball game.

By nine-thirty a.m., there had been three major fights, at least one of them taking place outside for the edification of the entire world.

Every so often I ask adults how they got along with their siblings when they were kids, and how they get along now. Christian likes to say that his brothers beat each other up, but then it was done—and nobody, but nobody, outside the family had better mess with them. And now, generally, they get along great.

A lot of other people tell me, “Sure, we fought some, but mostly we were really close. We were best friends.”

When I hear things like that, I can’t help feeling like a complete failure as a parent. Because surely it’s our fault—and really, mine, because I’m the primary caregiver—that my kids haven’t learned how to deal with each other with some slight measure of tolerance. That they get in each other’s business to the point where the fighting sometimes seems nonstop. I get so tired of being asked to arbitrate “he hit/kicked/pinched me” or “he won’t give me the fill-in-the-blank.” Because a hit was almost always provoked by the victim at the end of a long escalation, and you can never tell who actually fired the first shot. And there’s virtually no way to get a straight answer about which kid actually had dibs on the toy (or book, or article of clothing) in question. Sometimes I just take it away from them both, because it’s easier.

Not that long ago, I told them I refused to arbitrate, because they were asking me to play favorites, and that wasn’t fair to me.

We try to teach conflict resolution in love. We require apologies—often from both parties, because so few conflicts are one-sided—and we require the words “I forgive you” (NOT “It’s okay,” because that’s flatly untrue; it’s NOT okay; if it was, there wouldn’t be a need for an apology in the first place) and a hug. Which is the hardest part, by the way. Words are easy. Actions make it real. We talk about Jesus, we talk about love and kindness and the importance of family–that someday, when we’re gone, all they’ll have is each other.

I don’t use the word “mercy” with the kids, because it’s taking me so long to wrap my head and heart around it. But mercy is what I’m trying to teach. They’re very aware when I’m having to take deep breaths and self-regulate my own reactions. I don’t try to hide it. And I’m pretty open about apologizing when I don’t succeed.

Some days I think this is all part and parcel of the learning process. I can take it philosophically.

Other days, I just feel frustrated.

(Can you guess which is true today?)

Recently I wrote an essay for Columbia Magazine called “Mercy Begins in the Home.”. My kids opened my eyes to that reality, but there’s a vast chasm between recognizing something to be true and teaching them to choose mercy themselves.

Of course, choosing mercy is a tall order for children at ages almost-5, 7, 9, and 11. But if we don’t expect it now, how can we expect it from them ever?

Empathy and “here’s what works for us” would be welcome.

For posts containing more actual “mercy,” click here.

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