Monday, July 27, 2009

Imperfect.

I know my children can hear the sound of it a full mile away. They hear it, drop whatever they are doing and start fighting, yelling or acting up. And demanding my attention, of course.

What is the sound, you ask?

It’s the sound of me dialing a telephone.

This morning I had to call Verizon because we are having trouble getting a dial tone on our land line, and I needed to talk to someone in repairs and customer service. Customer service calls are the bane of my very existence. I hate the automated aspect of it all, and I have no extra time or patience to sit there and wait until an operator can help me. My children were all happily playing nicely together in the playroom, a full level away from where I was dialing the phone, so I decided it was the perfect time to make such a call.

Wrong.

I wasn’t even on my cell phone a full minute before a heard a distant wailing, and then feet running up the steps, frantic to find me.

Oh crap. It’s another Attack of the Tattle-Tales.

Despite the fact that I have repeatedly told my children: a.) don’t interrupt Mommy when she’s on the phone unless you are bleeding, throwing up, or are seriously injured, and b.) tattle-taling is strictly prohibited unless someone has made you bleed, about to make you bleed, or is about to do something dangerous or destructive to him/herself or others; my kids choose to ignore these rules and bother me when I am on the phone anyway.

Expectations a little high, Clare?

So I did what any self-respecting mother would do: I quickly ran to our office and shut and the doors. I had to finish the phone call, and the sounds of the cries were more whiny than injured, ruling out the presence of bleeding children. I made the decision to hide, at least for a few minutes until I could finish my phone call. Is that too much to ask for?

Apparently it is, because they were banging on the office doors, screaming at each other, name-calling, and just being plain, old obnoxious. The customer service rep could even hear it and said, “Oh, do you have kids? Four of them?!? Wow! You sure have your hands full!”

Understatement of the year.

Just as the agent was describing what I needed to do to determine the problem and set up a repair, I heard a noise that sounded like a body-slam (or two) and yelling that was getting persistently louder. I abruptly said to the customer service rep, “I gotta go. I’ll call back later,” and slammed my cell phone shut.

To say that I was steamed is yet another understatement.

I threw open the doors of the office and screamed, “SHUT UP! EVERYBODY JUST SHUT UP! CAN’T YOU SEE THAT I WAS ON THE PHONE?!? YOU ARE DRIVING ME CRAZY TODAY!!!”

Whoops. So much for composure.

I hate it when I lose it like that. I regretted the words the instant they left my throat. Bill and I do not believe in spanking our children, so that’s never been a problem, and name-calling falls under the same category of spanking and something else we just don’t do, but yelling? Well, you got me there. Push me far enough and I have been known to yell about it a time or two. Or twelve. Or twenty five. But really, who's keeping track here?

Why am I telling you this? I don’t know. Maybe I just need to vent. Maybe I just need to confess this so I feel better. Maybe I just need to know that I’m not the only mom out there that occasionally goes all loudmouth on my kids. Right? Right???

Bill is as cool-as-a-cucumber, even when he’s really mad, but I just can’t help it sometimes. Being the mother of four kids, it takes a lot to push me to the edge. I'm used to the verbal sparring they occasionally have with each other, especially Henry and George, who act like an old married couple on the verge of a bitter divorce. (I didn't say I like it, but I am used to dealing with it on a frequent basis.) But when I am absolutely fed up, the yelling just comes out of my mouth like high-volume verbal diarrhea.

But “shut up”? Ugh. Put those two words together in our house, and you’ve got a swear word. That’s how much we are not allowed to say those two words in succession. And I’m the adult here, so I should be in control of my emotions at all times, right? So telling the kids they “are driving me crazy” is just a little immature, don’t you think? Ironically, I am constantly telling them not to scream and yell at each other, but there I was, screaming and yelling at them. I guess I must have figured, when in Rome....but it doesn’t make it right.

Seriously, I’m so disappointed in myself.

Deep down I know I’m a good mom. It’s not that. I know that because occasionally I get overwhelmed and yell at my kids, it doesn’t make me a bad person. I am not perfect, (shocker, I know) and I don’t strive to be. But I sometimes feel so guilty, like today, after a diatribe, that THOSE kinds of moments will be the ones that my kids will remember when they look back at their childhood. I worry that THAT will take precedence over the fun dance parties in the kitchen, the little adventures we take together, the fun days playing outside or at the pool, the times I let them help me cook a meal, and all the other great, memorable moments. I worry that they when they look back on their childhood, all they will remember is screaming Mommy the Shrew.

Maybe that’s totally dramatic of me, but if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I tend to lean toward the dramatic. This is the most important job a person can do. I get one shot at it, and if I screw it up, it’s not like I can just say, “Eh. I gave that the old college-try, and it didn’t work out, but oh well!”

This job entails helping to mold and shape people here, not painting a room or baking a cake.

I am beyond lucky to be the mother of these children, and I know it. I make sure they know it too, and I never shy away from the opportunity to tell them how much I love them and how special they are to me. It already feels like time is flying by way too quickly, and I went from being pregnant with my first child to HOW THE HECK DO I HAVE AN EIGHT YEAR OLD AND THREE OTHER KIDS NOW? I never, ever want to take these kids or this moment in time for granted. So is it worth it to scare them and set a bad example because of a phone call to Verizon gone awry? Most definitely not.

But that’s the crazy part about being human and all. Humans make mistakes.

And this Mom made a doozy of a mistake. I’m sure it won’t be the last time, either.

At least I’m woman enough to own up to it. I apologized, of course, for my childish behavior and for yelling. I reminded them how much it hurts me to hear them call each other names. They weren’t totally off the hook, however, and they still got punishments for their bad behavior.

I’m not that big of a guilt-ridden sucker.

Tonight I was snuggling in George’s bed with him and hunting for objects in his “I Spy” book. All traces of the morning madhouse around here were long forgotten, except in my own guilty mind. As we were looking for the picture of the yellow school bus, George leaned over, kissed me on the cheek and said, “I love you Mommy. You’re the bestest mommy ever.”

Guilt be gone. I'm guess it's time to take myself off the hook now.

As cliché as it sounds, I take great comfort in the fact that tomorrow is a brand new day.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Arachnophobia and chivalry go hand in hand.

There are five things that I know about myself for sure.

1.) Spiders scare the ever-living crap out of me.

Whoops. I probably didn’t want to lead with that. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Okay. Let’s start over.

1.) My name is Clare.
2.) I am married to Bill.
3.) I am the mother of four children: Charlie, Henry, George and Annabel.
4.) I live in a house that I love.
5.) Aaaand…spiders scare the ever-living crap out of me.

I hate that spiders scare the ever-living crap out of me. I hate that I look like Alice from one of the old “Brady Bunch” episodes when she would get scared of something. She was the typical hysterical female. You know, when she would see a spider, (although Alice used to scream for mice, so just substitute spiders for mice in this scenario) she would shriek, jump up on the counter, and swing her broom until Sam the Butcher saved her sorry self from something that was about the size of a quarter.

I am embarrassed to admit that occasionally I am hysterical Alice, and Bill is my Sam the Butcher. Only he’s much hunkier. And he’s about 30 pounds lighter. And he doesn’t wear a meat-stained apron. But he’s like Sam with his spider-killing abilities.

Did I lose you yet?

Back to spiders and me being afraid of them. Actually, I’m not afraid of all spiders. I’m not really afraid of those hair-like pieces-of-dust spiders that one finds throughout the house, and are quickly snuffed out with a paper towel. Of course, I’m also afraid of rats and mice and other vermin, but they don’t live in my house, (yet, God forbid) so those are out of sight, out of mind.

However, I am afraid of the spiders that live in my garage. Although I’m not sure I can legally call them “spiders” because I don’t think they actually belong in the arachnid family. I think they belong in the small dog family. Or the rodent family. They are big and hairy, and totally unafraid of humans. Yes, I swear I overheard one of them barking like a dog and then using my phone to call the spa for a bikini wax. Did you read the part where I said they are hairy? Did you get that? They have actual perms on their heads. And apparently they don’t read “In Style” magazine because the perm is SO last millennium.

Enough of my rambling. My house is only a year old, but I’m convinced that it was built on top of a portal to large-spider hell.

We live in the midwest, and our last house had the same spider-in-the-garage problem, even though it is two states away. So maybe it’s not the houses. Maybe it’s me. Maybe they know I hate their guts so much that they followed me. They hid inside the moving boxes and said, “This lady is so terrified of us that we are going to exist only to continually scare the crap out of her.” And then they all high-fived with their hairy spider legs that have actual paws on the end of them.

I have tried so hard to be tough about it, especially in front of the kids. I never want to pass any of my fears on to any of them. I’ve tried being nonchalant, like, “Oh, hey, there’s that cool spider hanging out by my garage door opener that I have to touch in about two seconds. That’s cool. I’ll just shoo it away. No problemo.” But it’s no use. Everytime I see one, I scream and do this uncontrollable “dance” that involves me bouncing up and down on my tiptoes, pulling my arms up close to my body and flapping them around like I’m a T-Rex.

Seriously. I’m such a total wuss. And I’m not proud of it. I didn’t even scream or get this upset during childbirth.

I pride myself on my composure. I try to be that mom that doesn’t lose it in public, even though one of my kids just threw up in the parking lot. Even when my kids were babies and they had a “blowout” of yellow mustard poop up the back of their onesie while sitting in their carseat, I was just like, “It’s all good. I can handle this.”

But a spider? A spider is what shreds my composure?

We moved into this house last June, and for the first month, I saw no sign of the scary spiders that existed like they did in our last garage. Phew. Until one day I spotted them coming out of the woodwork. No really. They live in the wood in our garage. And we now have a 3-car garage at this house. So do the math. Bigger garage means more wood, and more wood equals more spiders. Bigger isn’t always better, people.

I googled “big spider in my garage in the midwest” (only the most sophisticated scientific terms for this gal) and then I saw it on the screen: a wolf spider. Doesn’t the name imply enough?

As I mentioned earlier, these spiders are not afraid of humans. That’s why I think they scare me so much. How am I supposed to smash it with a paper towel, when in all likelihood it will use its super-spidey strength and probably rip right through the paper towel and lunge for my face, bite me, and then I'll accidentally swallow it while I'm screaming? That could totally happen too. I also do not relish the potential big “crunch” sound and feel that it would make between my fingers.

In addition to their huge-ness and hairy-ness, they don’t respond at all to spider spray. I can almost hear them barking, "Bring it on, lady. Bring it on." I once used up half a bottle just spraying and spraying a little bugger who would not die.

Sorry, PETA.

We are Catholic, so I strive to teach my kids the differences between wrong and right, and good and evil and I tell them that they should always treat all living things with respect. But that doesn’t always mesh with the sight of me wielding a bottle of spider killer and screaming, “DIE!” to something the size of my thumb (okay, maybe I exaggerated about their size earlier for a little dramatic flourish) that just happened to take up residence on a slab of drywall in my garage.

It’s a good thing they only live in my garage, huh? I don’t sleep or live in my garage, so I can easily avoid encounters with said spiders, right? WRONG-O.

I had a false sense of security a few months ago thinking that these suckers were safely snuggled away in my garage, living in mini apartments, setting up little stores and playing poker with each other. That’s why I was so shocked when I got out of the shower one morning last fall. My towel was hanging over the bathtub, which is next to the shower. I was getting out of the shower and I reached over and picked up my towel. As I was about to wrap the towel around my body, one of THOSE spiders fell out of the towel and dropped down to the bathroom floor.

Sorry, my heart just stopped there for a minute as I was recalling this.

It was 6:00 in the morning and I screamed and then screamed again, children sleeping be damned. Bill burst through the bathroom door, groggily awoken from his peaceful slumber, and found me hysterically screaming and standing on top of the tile surround of our bathtub, totally naked. (And not a good naked either. Let’s just say the “T-Rex Spider Dance” would not work as a dance of seduction.)

Sex-ay.

He was simultaneously cracking up and telling me to calm down. As far as I’m concerned, however, there is no calming down as long as those spiders are in my house. They invaded my sanctuary. Yes, that would be my spider-free sanctuary. Those suckers infiltrated my plumbing system, and probably came up through a drain.

I’m convinced they have it in for me.

Okay, okay. We get it. Clare is afraid of big spiders. Yadda yadda yadda. Where is she going with this?

Well something I’ve learned through my fear of these creatures is that I think Bill actually likes “disposing” of the spiders for me. (Alright, “dispose” is just a nice way to say crush them to death, but I don’t want PETA on my back, people. I’m trying to be PC in my blog.) We women are so self-sufficient nowadays aren’t we? I have painted rooms, hung pictures, fixed the garbage disposal, repaired the washing machine, and installed a new flush valve on the toilet, among many other things. So I don’t necessarily need a man to always rescue me. But don’t you think spider-killing speaks to mens’ innate need to protect and save the damsel in distress? They get to flex their muscles for once and be that guy who gets to slay the dragon for the fair lady.

And I was the fair lady in this scenario, in case you were wondering. Yes, the unclothed, bathtub-climbing, T-Rex dancing, fair lady. With a flair for the dramatic.

Now that I have children, and especially three young boys, my goal has been to teach them from a young age to always treat everyone, and especially women, with the utmost respect. Call me old-fashioned, but I want them to hold open doors, pull out chairs, let women enter rooms first, be good listeners, shake hands firmly, speak decisively, and in general just be polite. Of course, I know I can kill my own spiders, (only if absolutely necessary though) pull out my own chair and open my own doors, but who wants to believe that chivalry is dead? I don’t. Women deserve to be treated like ladies, and I’m going to raise my boys to think so too.

And it doesn't mean that women are the weaker sex if we occasionally let a man rescue us. My little guys know I'm a strong woman, even if Daddy is the resident Spider Slayer.

I was outside with the kids the other day and Charlie said, “Mom, Henry and I just shooed away one of those spiders you hate. We shooed it out of the garage.”

“You did?” (Shocked but pleased that they "shooed" instead of "killed." Unlike their mom would have.)

“Yeah, I didn’t want you to see it and be scared.”

Aww...heartstrings, tug tug.

I praised them and said they were “my heroes.”

They were beaming, and I was so proud of them for feeling like they wanted to protect me.

Who says men don’t like their ego stroked a little bit? Even if the “men” in question are only 7 and 8-years old? Everyone was happy.

But there's one more thing that occurred to me: how the heck am I going to explain "Charlotte's Web" (one of my favorite childhood books) to them some day?

Now that should be an interesting conversation.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Do you believe in miracles?

I believe in miracles.

In fact, I have four little miracles snuggled away in their beds right now.

Perhaps you remember me writing about a friend, Pam Lucken. Pam is a wife, mother of 3, and courageous breast cancer survivor all at the young at the age of 35. Thankfully, Pam is healthy and doing well, and has one of the most positive attitudes I've ever seen on another person. I have previously written about her in my blog. Click here to refresh your memory.

I enjoy reading the blogs of other strong, funny women and mothers, and Pam is definitely one of them.

I wanted to share her blog today so you can ask yourself if you believe in miracles.

I know I do.

Click here for an uplifting read.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Out of context.

Since my favorite genre of television lately seems to be reality, I have wondered what my life would be like as a reality show. Not that I have any desire to be on a reality show, but I just let my brain wander there from time to time. (And let's just get it in writing that if ANY of my kids show up on "Rock of Love" or anything like it in the future, I will have failed. That's it. Sayonara and hasta la vista Clare.)

Our show probably wouldn’t be that exciting, and I’m sure the ratings would be low. After all, who really wants to tune in to see me fill and empty the dishwasher 800 times a day? (I know my life is much more than this, but some days it feels like this is all I do. Over and over and over again. Until I could scream. Which I sometimes do, because I just cannot STAND that little bit of Elmers Glue-like sauce that will not wash off that ceramic bowl NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES YOU WASH IT. Not that it bothers me much, right?) But I would love to see how the producers would edit my family to make our lives seem more titillating to the average audience.

Of course, everyone that is on a reality show complains that they were edited poorly, or the things they said were taken out of context. But the words came out of their mouths, so they did say them at some point, didn’t they?

Today Charlie, Henry, and George were riding their bikes up and down our block singing very loudly, “I like ‘em big! I like ‘em juicy! I like ‘em big! I like ‘em plumpy!”

You know, just your ordinary children’s song.

No, my children do not have an inappropriate fetish. They are just singing a version of a song from “Madagascar 2”. Totally innocent and harmless. But see how that can be taken out of context?

Yesterday they were setting the table for dinner, and they must have been hopped up on something because they were more hyper than usual.

Someone suggested a butt-sniffing contest.

Ugh. The brain of a boy.

I'll say it again. You cannot make this stuff up.

I swiftly intervened and yelled, (with all the windows open on a particularly breezy and cool Sunday afternoon) “Nobody is going to sniff anybody’s butt in this house!!! NO butt-sniffing!!!”

Is that TMI enough for you?

What must my neighbors think?

I'm sure if there was a camera on me, they’d replay that single butt-sniffing line repeatedly and show me yelling it with a snarl on my face. But they wouldn’t show the whole family in a fit of laughter about two seconds later as we all realized what I just said and how hilarious it was.

Yet another reason to never do a reality show.

Not that we have any offers. Or any interest.

I’m just sayin’.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tales of a Would-Be Pooper.

I swear when I was in the hospital having my fourth child, Annabel, that I got a coupon that said something like, “Potty train 3 children, get the 4th one free!” But I must have misplaced it because I can’t find it anywhere.

Oh yeah. That’s because it doesn’t exist.

Wishful thinking will get you nowhere.

I am proud to say that I have successfully potty-trained three children. Well, I've been mostly successful. Henry, 7, and George, 4, have been potty-trained for years, but they still occasionally need to wear Pull-Ups at night. We can’t break the bed-wetting habit with those two. But that’s another topic and blog entry entirely.

I always laugh when people say things like, “You must be an old pro at this potty-training thing by now with all those kids!” Yeah, that’s me, a regular old pro. Hall of Fame Potty-Trainer am I.

With a daughter who poops the carpet.

Annabel has been very interested in doing her business on the potty since before she turned two. She is now two and a half. It’s all fun and games in the beginning, isn’t it? She would go pee-pee on the potty, we’d all clap and dance and have a huge party and praise her for the amazing feat of getting that trickle of urine into that large bowl. But the bloom is now off that rose for her. Now it’s like, eh, I peed on the potty and no one claps anymore. Maybe I’ll pee on the carpet instead. Look how excited Mommy gets when I pee on the carpet! Oh wait, is that excitement in Mommy’s eyes or am I in trouble?

In her defense, Annabel has only peed on the carpet a couple times, and that was probably because Dora and Boots were doing something so terribly exciting and suspenseful that she could barely tear her eyes away from the television, let alone drag her little booty to the toilet and sit there. I don’t blame her. If it wasn’t for the “pause” button on my DVR receiver, I would have a hard time tearing myself away from the latest episode of “the Real Housewives” to do my business. But I digress.

The best way to potty-train, I have found, is to go cold turkey. Just put the child in underwear and brace for the accidents to come. And the accidents will come. But eventually the child will learn the cause and effect of it all, and something will click in their little brain.

Annabel is now doing great wearing underwear around the house, with minimal accidents, so yesterday we decided to venture out in public with her wearing her "big girl" underpants. (Well, underneath her clothing of course.) The destination was a family trip to Costco on a Saturday morning, and I was prepared with backup clothing and underwear. I must have asked her about 27 times on the 15 minute drive if she had to go pee pee or poo poo. After answering “No Mommy,” about 27 times, Annabel just gave me a look, sighed, and impatiently reminded me, “I’m listening to my body mom.”

That’s what I was hoping, Annabel.

Costco was a great success. She stayed dry, went pee on a public toilet (yay!), and made it all the way back home with no accidents. Phew. But as parents, Bill and I are sometimes overconfident, cocky, buffoons; therefore, we decided to push the envelope a little bit. We decided to go to 4:30 mass on Saturday, and take her to church with underpants on underneath her little dress.

What a mistake.

She had to go pee about 3 times during the mass, which was fine, and we praised her for that. But just as we were singing the closing hymn, I looked down and saw her standing with her legs apart, slightly lifting up her sundress. She said to me (a little too loudly for churchspeak), “Mommy, I’m peeing.”

And like a racehorse too. Seriously, what kind of bladder does this kid have?

There was a huge puddle on the ground at her feet. But that was not the mortifying part. It was at that moment that I noticed that the church floors are on a slight incline, presumably to allow the people in the back of the church to have a better view of the altar. And we usually sit at the back of the church. In fact, we were in the fifth or six row from the back.

And I guess I don’t need to explain what pee does at the top of an incline.

I sopped up the puddle on the ceramic tile by our kneeler the best that I could by opening up a diaper (they are super absorbent) and using it like an old dishrag. But I stared in horror at the pee making its way down towards the front of the church. I don’t know where it finally stopped, but I could still see it on the ground about six rows ahead, slithering forward like a shiny, yellow snake. Bill had long since grabbed Annabel to clean her up and change her clothes, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the pee. I was terrified that an elderly person would slip and fall. Or any person for that matter. I could just imagine the crowds gathering as someone fell, hit their head and everyone pondered loudly, "What did he fall on?!? Why is the floor all wet?!?" and then all eyes pointed to me and my crazy family, ready to run us out of the church.

Fortunately, I was in the right place for prayers to be answered, because no one did fall. But the prim and proper older lady sitting next to us in the pew harrumphed a few times and acted like she had never seen anything so disgusting in her life. I offered up apologies to her and explained that my daughter is potty training, but she barely cracked a smile, and mumbled something I couldn’t quite hear.

I'm sure she mumbled something very prim and proper and cranky old-lady-ish like, “Well, I never!” or “Parents these days!” but I don't know.

Hey, we take our kids to church every Sunday. They’re not perfect, but we try. What else can I say? I think I’ll leave a bigger donation in the basket next week.

As if the peeing isn't bad enough, please don’t get me started on poop.

Annabel has pooped on the potty before, way back in the beginning when it was still a novelty to her, so I know she can do it. But one day the fear kicked in. I know I am not alone in having a child who is afraid to poop on the potty. It happened with my boys, and my friends and family report it happening with their children.

Every day like clockwork, I put Annabel down for her nap in a Pull-Up, and every day she wakes up with a fresh little nugget in there for me to change.

Ugh.

Too graphic for ya? Well that’s how this job is. I speak the truth. If you can’t handle it, go read that blog about rainbows and unicorns and how life is always clean and fresh-smelling.

Because it’s not.

I have offered Annabel lollipops, candy, popsicles, and stickers to poop on the potty. But she couldn't care any less about these things. She sits there and cries, afraid to poop. Bill even volunteered to be her "poop coach" this weekend, and he sits on the floor of the bathroom with her while she tries to go, but as of the time of this blog posting, to no avail.

Back to pooping on the carpet.

Recently, when Annabel finally chose not to poop in her Pull-Up, she decided the family room carpet was the perfect place to do it. The toilet bowl must have been too cold, harsh and unwelcoming. I guess the plush family room carpet was oh-so-welcoming and inviting?

Thank goodness for my Resolve carpet cleaner spray.

I know I had this same problem with the boys when they were younger, but I struggle to remember how I solved it. That’s the thing about motherhood. You’re so involved in these issues and problems at one moment, then you solve it and you move on to the next one. It flies out of your brain as fast as it came in. With everything else to remember, there’s only so much room in there.

Of course, I know what I have to do. I have to cut her off cold turkey. Take the Disney Princess Pull-Ups away at nap time, and brace for the worst. Potential pooping in the crib. Tough love ain’t easy.

The great thing that I’ve learned about parenting is that these kinds of problems are not insurmountable. Usually it’s just a phase, and then it’s on to the next thing. I’m sure in a month from now she’ll be walking around full-time in her underwear, proud as a peacock and doing her business where it belongs.

At least I hope.

Sidenote: At what point in my life did it suddenly become appropriate to talk about poop so casually? I just woke up one day to find myself talking about poop with as much nonchalance as the next person discusses the weather or the new restaurant in town. Has anybody seen my dignity? I’d like it back now.

Friday, July 17, 2009

An insult wrapped in a compliment.

This morning I woke up to a rainy day, so instead of listening to the kids whine about how boring it is to be stuck in the house, I decided to take them to our local science center.

Seriously. I can't handle the whining these days.

It’s always a huge production to take all four of them to a place like this, because I have to make sure I have provisions, (i.e. snacks, extra diapers, wipies, Purell, etc.) and well-rested children. The kids are usually very cooperative in these instances because they like going places. It also helps that I threaten them by saying if they don’t behave, I won’t take them anywhere fun or exciting anymore.

One misstep and the fun train returns to the station.

Well, maybe I don’t say it exactly like that, but that’s the message I try to convey.

I never said that I’m above bribery and subtle threats.

Anyway, we were having a great time in the ocean exhibit, my kids were being very good, and the boys were waiting in line to get into the simulated submarine. I was standing by the stroller holding Annabel’s hand. Another man was standing beside me holding his baby daughter. He looked at me and then he looked at my kids. Then he looked at me and then he looked back at my kids.

He finally said, “You have four kids?”

“Yes.” I replied.

“Wow. You look surprisingly sane for having four kids.”

Ummmm…..thanks?

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that, so I just said, “Thank you,” and smiled. I usually get, “Wow, you have your hands full!” or “Boy, those kids must keep you busy!”

But to compliment my mental health? That’s a new one.

I guess 1-3 kids is okay. But to have a fourth kid (or more) must mean you have a screw loose somewhere. There are many families out there that have 5+ kids. This guy must think they’re certifiable.

What should a mom of four look like? Should my hair stand up on its ends? Should I have a permanent frown from all the yelling I should be doing? Should I be drooling and muttering to myself because my kids have taken control of my brain?

Surprisingly sane indeed.

He meant it as a compliment, so I’ll let him off the hook. But he gave me my chuckle for the day.

Is this how the Octo-Mom feels?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

First-time mothers, I speak the truth to you.

One of my younger sisters, Colette, is due with her first baby in November. I couldn’t be happier for her, and I am ecstatic to meet my newest little nephew in a few short months. I'm looking forward to sniffing a baby head once again, but without actually having to deliver said baby myself.

As I have previously mentioned, I have five sisters. I am the second oldest, and I was the first of my sisters to have children. Colette is number four in the sister line-up, and her baby will be the ninth grandchild in our family. Of course, the other sisters and I are throwing a baby shower for her soon, which has been on my mind a lot lately.

I love baby showers. It’s like an initiation into this new club called Motherhood. And first-time mothers are great. I love to hear how they have every little detail planned, from the nursery to the actual delivery. They’re happy, excited, and glowing.

And so very, very delusional.

Before the first-time mothers reading this get offended, please hear me out. Every one of us mothers was a first-time mother at some point, so we were all just as delusional as you are. And some day, after you give birth, and start raising that baby (or babies) and you are fully ensconced in motherhood, then you too will have the pleasure of sitting on your haughty little mommy throne and chuckling to yourself as you think, “She has NO idea what the hell she’s getting into. Just wait.”

When I was pregnant with Charlie, my first child, I would say things like, “Yeah, I think I’m going to try labor drug-free. I don’t think I want the epidural. I don’t want to harm my baby.”

You know, crazy talk like that.

Or I would think delirious thoughts like how I was going to fit back into my pre-pregnancy jeans at about 6 weeks postpartum. The celebrities do it, so I could too, right?

I gave birth to Charlie two months after I turned 26 years old, and Bill and I were the first of our close friends and siblings to have a baby. During my whole pregnancy I worried about the birth. That’s what it’s all about in the movies, isn’t it? The birth? The woman gets a cramp, grabs her belly and yelps, “Oh honey! It's time! Let’s go to the hospital!” After what seems like 10 minutes of labor, screaming, and profuse sweating, she pushes out a baby that looks like a 3-month old, chubby and with a full head of hair.

Just like real life, right?

Riiiiiiight.

Our mothers' generation never really talks about the details of before and after their childbirths. But baby showers always bring out birth stories. They are womens' versions of war stories. At my own baby shower, my mom and aunts told me that childbirth would hurt. (Duh, as if I couldn’t figure out that pushing something the size of a watermelon out of my lady parts might sting just a little bit. And by “sting” I mean hurt like the bejesus.) They also lamented about the lack of drugs during childbirth, and how "lucky" we moms are today. But no one, and I mean NO ONE, ever talked to me about what happens AFTER you have a baby.

I was stunned after I had Charlie. Totally gobsmacked.

Yes, childbirth hurt. But they have drugs for that. Which I happily took, thank you very much. And I didn’t feel an ounce of guilt for doing so. Not an ounce.

After I delivered Charlie and my beautiful boy was laying on my chest, I had a moment when I thought, “Phew. Good thing that’s all over. Back to normal.”

See how delusional I was?

Now if you’re reading this and you’ve never had a baby, then my intention is not to turn you off from doing so. It’s a wonderful, beautiful thing. But let’s get real here.

For the men reading this, the ones who got us into this situation in the first place, I can almost feel you starting to get nervous and sweating a little bit. (Ahem…Bill.) You’re wondering to yourself, “Is she going to go THERE?”

Yes, I am going to go THERE. Well, maybe not all the way THERE. But I’ll go THERE in a somewhat tasteful way. I’ll skate around the edge of THERE without actually explicitly going THERE.

Sound good?

Okay. Back to being gobsmacked after the birth of Charlie. (I can thank our British friends for this wonderfully descriptive word.)

Since I was so stunned at the things that had happened and were happening to my body because of childbirth, I thought I was a freak. After all, nobody warned me about these things, so I must have been different. I must have been that one freakish woman in the history of the universe that had a childbirth and postpartum experience like THAT.

So I asked around. Slowly, I discovered that yeah, it’s totally normal to feel like complete and total crap after having a baby. It’s totally normal for those "things" on your chest to be rock hard and feel like they are on FIRE. It’s totally normal to not want to hold your precious baby every second of every day because you would rather sleep. It’s totally normal to be overjoyed at the sight of stool softeners and Tucks pads. It’s totally normal to not want your husband to touch you at all in the first few weeks because you’ve had about as much bodily contact as you can stand with a 10 pound human being attached to your chest for the better part of the day. It’s totally normal to cry during those first few weeks and think, “What did I do? Where did my life go?” and then feel horribly guilty about it a few moments later when your baby smiles and gurgles at you with that sweet little face.

And then I went from gobsmacked to mad. Why did no one warn me about this? Isn’t this what we women do for each other? Where’s the sisterhood now? Why did they leave out such important details?

I am not a huge fan of surprises, and this is one surprise I could have done without.
So I made it my personal mission to shout this information from the rooftops, so no one would have to go through what I did.

Well, I wouldn’t exactly say I shouted it from the rooftops. But I told my sisters everything in gory detail. My youngest sister Bernadette was about 15 at the time, and in retrospect, I apologize for freaking her out at such a young age. But she will thank me some day.

I told my close girlfriends too. It basically went something like, “You are never going to believe this…”

My sisters still laugh about it to this day. But I know they appreciated it. And it’s not like I would walk up to any old pregnant woman and say, “Hey, congrats on the new baby! And by the way, your lady parts are going to feel like they went through a meat grinder. And your boobs are going to leak. But good luck with that!” (Although I do think at some point I used the words “ground chuck” in reference to the aforementioned lady parts.) But when someone would ask me what it was really like, I would be honest and tell them. Without being totally crude, of course. What kind of girl do you think I am?

I am nothing if not a truth-teller. And darn proud of it.

But there are certain things you can’t tell other women. There are things that they just have to find out for themselves. You can’t explain what it’s like to love another little person so much that you would jump in front of a bus for them. Or how your heart breaks when your child is hurt or sick, and how you wish you could make their pain your own. Or the pride you feel when your little one does something very simple like crawl, or walk, or point to the butterfly and say something that sounds like "Buh." Or what it’s like to fiercely worry about someone ever bringing harm to your child. Or how much more you fall in love with your husband as he sings your baby to sleep to the tune of “Old McDonald Had a Farm”.

No, there are no words for these things.

Those are things every new mother has to find out for herself.

Niiiiiice date night.

This past weekend didn’t exactly turn out as planned.

Since I had a less than stellar Friday afternoon in the emergency room with the kids getting stitches on Annabel's eyebrow, I had much higher hopes for Saturday. After all, Charlie was chosen by his coach to play in the All Star baseball games. We’re so proud of him, and we really enjoy watching his baseball games on Saturday afternoons in the summer. To top off the perfect summer baseball afternoon, Bill and I also scheduled babysitting for the kids in the evening. We planned on going downtown to eat, preferably to a restaurant with an outdoor patio so we could enjoy each other’s company, alfresco and child-free. Baseball during the day, and cocktails and dinner (that I didn't have to cook) with the man that I love in the evening? Can you think of a more perfect day?

We loaded up the whole family and one very nervous ballplayer, and headed to the fields, despite the fact that the sky was looking rather gray and ominous. Charlie was scheduled to play three games on Saturday and he would be done around 3 or 4 p.m. His first game was finished by 10:30 a.m., and then the skies opened up. And I mean opened. up. There was thunder, lightning, winds, and torrential downpours of rain.

Of course, we left the fields (along with about the other 300 people assembled there) and headed back home to wait out the storm. Charlie, being the baseball devotee that he is, started crying, “I WANT TO PLAY BASEBALLLLLLLLL!!! THIS ISN’T FAIR! I’LL PLAY IT IN THE RAIN! I DON’T CARE IF THE FIELDS ARE SLIPPERY AND MUDDY!”

Eight-year old boys don’t care about silly little inconveniences like potentially getting struck by lightning as they swing a metal bat in a big open field. They just care about doing what they want to do when they want to do it. So Bill and I just ignored his whining as we waited at home for the skies to clear and the coach to call and give us the thumbs up that it was okay to return.

Finally, we got the call and we trudged the whole family back to the muddy fields, once again carrying our chairs, bags, and other accoutrement. (i.e. loads of unnecessary crap) At this point, it was already 3:00, and he was scheduled to play at 3:30 and again at 5:30. My heart sunk a little bit as I realized that the romantic date Bill and I had planned for the evening probably was not going to happen. I had to call and cancel our plans.

I needed this date with my husband. Date nights are few and far between around our house since we have very busy weekends. We have to make out-of-town trips on the occasional weekend to visit family, and of course, there’s the trouble it takes to find a good, reliable babysitter for four children. Being at home all day with the four of them in the summer makes me crave this alone time with Bill even more.

Date night is that shot-in-the-arm of our marriage that keeps it strong. It helps us reconnect and have fun with each other. I love when I have those moments that I remember why I chose this man to spend my life with. He’s a handsome, funny and charming guy, but that can get lost in all the carpooling, bathtime and minutiae of the chores and duties that running this family of ours entails.

Bill and I have gotten creative over the years and when we can’t go out on the town for an actual date, we make date nights happen at home by cooking a dinner later in the evening with each other after the kids go to bed. Or we just drink a bottle of wine together and talk. Last weekend we watched “Superbad” and drank a bottle of Pinot Grigio. (Raunchy but totally hilarious movie, by the way.) Sounds exciting, huh? I thought it was. It’s funny what you find romantic when you have four kids. You catch moments together when you can.

In other words, “romantic” takes on a whole new meaning.

Don’t get me wrong. Bill and I are closer and more connected now than when we first got married. Having kids took us from being a couple, to being a team. We’re no longer the self-absorbed twentysomethings whose biggest decision was what restaurant we were going to go to on a Saturday night. (Although I kinda miss those twentysomethings sometimes.) Now we’re financially responsible thirtysomethings who always have to think of the big picture. And when we go out together sans children, it must be planned days and sometimes weeks in advance.

I didn’t have much time to think about being disappointed in the date-night-that-wasn’t-to-be, however.

After the rainy baseball games on Saturday, we were wearing water-logged, muddy clothing, we were tired and everyone was hungry at the same time. We ate a mish-mash dinner of whatever we could find in the fridge, wrangled each child to the shower or the tub, and then popped “Night at the Museum” into the DVD player for an impromptu family movie night. The whole family piled into our bedroom to watch the show.

That wasn’t exactly the bedroom action I was hoping for. And the only panties on the floor that night were George’s “Yoda, Jedi-Master” underpants that he dropped by the side of our bed as he changed into his Pull-Up for the night.

It was about 9:00 p.m. when we got the last child off to their bed. I tried to strike up a conversation with Bill in our bed, but he was so tired that he was half snoring and protesting, “Yeah…I’m…(snore)…still…awake…” and “yes…(snore)…I’m…still…listening….to…. you…”

The next thing I remember was the sun assaulting my eyelids to tell me that it was morning.

Niiiiice date night.

I felt like crying. I wanted to have an honest-to-goodness temper tantrum. I was angry at the stupid weather. If it hadn’t rained all day, Charlie would have had his games at the right time, and the schedule wouldn’t have been interrupted. Selfishly, I really wanted to go out the night before, instead of passing out at 9:15 p.m. I had a cute outfit picked out, and I wanted an excuse to do my hair and put more makeup on than my usual daily Chapstick.

But silly me, haven’t I done this parenting thing long enough (almost 9 years now) to know that things rarely go off exactly as planned?

I pouted for about 5 minutes (there’s not much time for these things with kids) and I finally stopped feeling sorry for myself. We had a great Saturday anyway, I reminded myself, and Charlie was happy to play his baseball game. We were happy to cheer him on. And my husband is still very much in love with me, and I with him. And “Night at the Museum” was pretty funny.

So I’ll stop my complaining now.

We’ll just have to try again another night.

I keep telling myself to enjoy these moments with the kids while they’re young. All too soon we’ll have date nights any old time we want to.

After all, they grow up too darn fast, and I know I’ll miss this one day.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Thank God It's Friday? Maybe not...

What a crazy, crazy Friday.

It was about noon last Friday when Annabel banged her head on a table, split her skin at the brow bone and was profusely bleeding. And screaming like there was no tomorrow. That gal’s got some pipes. The nurse at our pediatrician’s office advised that I take her alllllll the way downtown to Children’s Hospital for stitches (about a half hour away). She said that because the injury was on the face, I should take her to a place where they specialize in children, to prevent scarring in the future. But “Whatever you want to do,” the nurse said. "It's up to you."

I hate those kinds of statements. “Whatever?” Just tell me what to do. It’s 90 degrees outside, I have a toddler with a split eye who WILL NOT STOP SCREAMING FOR PETE’S SAKE EVEN THOUGH SHE STOPPED BLEEDING 20 MINUTES AGO and I have three boys who are hungry, cranky and generally just pissed off that they can’t go to the swimming pool like I promised them about 15 minutes before their sister inconveniently cracked her eye open. I literally sat at the stop light and vacillated between taking her to the perfectly good hospital emergency room about 10 minutes away from our house, or to the downtown Children’s Hospital a half hour away. Did I mention that it was about 1:00 on a Friday afternoon? And the freeway is ripped up and currently features a plethora of lovely orange barrels? Oh, and my blood sugar was quite low, considering that I hadn’t eaten a single thing since 8:00 a.m.? Luckily my purse is atrociously messy once again, and I found a Quaker chocolate chip Chewy granola bar in the bottom of it. God bless my messy little heart. It does come to the rescue once in awhile.

Mommy Guilt won out and I decided to take her to Children’s. God forbid I take her to the other hospital and they stitch her face up wrong. Then I have to listen to Annabel whine when she’s 16 that I’m such a mean mommy for allowing her to get stitched up by some hack at our perfectly good local hospital emergency room because she now has a permanent scar on her brow bone. And that’s why that boy won’t ask her out. Because of me. Although I’m sure I’ll get blamed for this stuff when she’s older anyway.

It was fortunate that there seemed to be only one other patient in the emergency room besides us. That kid had a broken leg too, so I immediately stopped feeling sorry for myself. I would much rather deal with a toddler getting stitches, than a 8-year old in a hot cast for the rest of the summer.

I’m not a panicky mother when these things happen. I don’t tend to lose it at the sight of blood and freak out. However, when Bill’s not with us in these situations, I question if I’ve made the right decisions. It’s always great to have his second opinion. Also, there’s the logistics of taking four kids anywhere unexpectedly that leaves me a bit cranky, to say the least. But I’ve learned to deal with it much better over the years. I always try to calm down by telling myself it could be much worse. And when I saw that cute little boy getting a cast on his leg in the middle of July, I realized that it could be worse. And I hope his mother comforted herself by thinking that her situation could have been much worse than just a cast.

Despite the fact that the emergency room was virtually empty, the whole process took about 3 hours. In that time, we had about 3 doctors and 4 residents look at her face. I’m not sure why so many people needed to check her out. Maybe they were all just bored that day. But they all said the same thing that I hear on almost a daily basis whenever I take my bunch ‘o kids anywhere: “Wow. Four kids! You sure have your hands full!” Yeah, you think so, M.D.? Did ya learn that little gem in medical school? Perhaps as you see me struggling here to entertain four kids in a small emergency room cubby for THREE hours and you hear me repeat to them over and over and over, “Stop touching that! Don’t push that red button! Don’t pull that string!” that you could possibly speed up this process a little bit? I know the numbing cream that they put over her eye took 20-30 minutes to kick in, but why THREE hours?

My favorite part of emergency room visits is this: just when you think you’re at the end, and you’ve reached the finish line, they say to you, “Okay, well that’s it! Now just wait right here and we’ll be back in just a minute with your discharge papers.” Ha. I’ve learned over the years that this is just a huge lie. Discharge papers usually take about 20-30 minutes for some totally unknown reason. A few years ago when we were visiting my parents out of state and we had to take Charlie to the emergency room, the discharge papers took an hour and a half. AN HOUR AND A HALF. On top of the 2 hours we spent seeing the doctor and getting Charlie treatment.

Just a minute? Ha.

If there are any hospital administrators reading my blog, I plead with you. Computers are quick these days. Surely you can speed up the discharge papers? This mom is begging you.

When we were finally done and out the door, we walked all the way through the hot parking lot to the even hotter car. I made sure all four kids were buckled up, and I drove to the exit, only to find out that I was supposed to buy a parking token at the front desk of the hospital. Needless to say, I was hot, hungry (the effects of my Chewy granola bar had long since worn off) and uber-frustrated at this point. I slammed my hands on the steering wheel and all that came out of my mouth was, “F**K! An effin’ token?!? I have to buy an effin’ token? F**K!”

I’m not proud of it. But a gal reaches her limits sometimes, and unfortunately, little innocent ears are the victims. (We had a talk about this moment later, and I apologized. And basically told them not to talk like Mommy.)

The kids just kind of sat there not knowing what to do, until Charlie said, “Mom, yeah. You were supposed to buy a token before we left. Didn’t you see that big sign at the exit?”

No, I did not see that sign. I was too busy making sure one of my kids didn’t get run over by an incoming ambulance as they burst out of the ER into sunlight and freedom.

So I unloaded all the kids, walked all the way through the parking lot, walked back up to the desk, bought the token, walked all the way back through the parking lot again, did a seat buckle check, and was ready to pull out of my parking spot. But I couldn’t find the token. NO. FREAKING. TOKEN. I just put my head down on the steering wheel and cried big, fat tears of exasperation.

Hey, it’s better than swearing, isn’t it?

I love how a woman’s tears can spur men to action. The boys jumped up and helped me scour the car for the missing token. I finally found it under Annabel’s butt. I must’ve dropped it in her car seat as I was putting her in it.

It was a happy moment. I think they all knew that if I had to unload everyone again and buy another token, I was going to lose it. And Psycho Mommy ain't fun.

Once I got on the freeway (during Friday rush hour no less), I called Bill and said, “It’s not a pretty sight. I was crying like a baby on the steering wheel, dropping f-bombs and about ready to bite the heads off of small children.”

To which my wonderful husband said, “So, you want me to pack it up and come home now so I can take the boys to the pool after dinner?”

Music to my ears. Sometimes he just gets it exactly right. Who needs flowers and poetry when my guy says something that wonderful to me?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Oh, it's a turkey baster by the toilet.



I found my turkey baster on the floor of our powder room today.

Yet another sentence that I never thought I’d say.

There I was, just having to pee and then it's like, oh, the turkey baster's by the toilet. That's cool.

This job is so incredibly random at times. For instance, when my keys are missing, I don’t look it the usual places. I just assume that they’ve been hijacked by a toddler and I look in the cupboard of the play kitchen. Or the toy box. Or the bathtub.

Good thing it’s not Thanksgiving because I would be scratching my head and yelling throughout my house, “HAS ANYBODY SEEN MOMMY’S TURKEY BASTER?”

“OH! IT’S IN THE BATHROOM? RIGHT NEXT TO THE TOILET? OKAY! GOT IT! THANKS!”

Disgusting.

I don’t even want to know who put the turkey baster in the powder room. I don’t want to know why. It’s just one of those things that is. And I don’t really have the energy to get to the bottom of this mystery.

But I did take a picture of it exactly as I found it. Perhaps you can relate.

It might not be a turkey baster for you. It might be “Thomas the Tank Engine” underwear in the pantry. Or Legos in the flour jar. Or your brand new bottle of hand lotion in the toy basket.

I don’t want to know what needed basting in the bathroom. The baster is wet, so I am just going to assume that one of my kids wanted to suck the water up in the bulbous red ball at the top, and squirt it out again. And again. And again.

So I just picked it up off the floor, sighed, and continued on my day.

What other job is this interesting?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Back to normal.

Order has once again been restored to our household. Well, not really order per se, but at least a sense of normalcy. Complete and total order is probably a little too much to ask for.

Don’t you love how you lower your standards when you have children?

Normal around our house is loud voices. Normal is doors opening and closing with kids going outside and then back in again a few minutes later and then back out again. Normal is “I’m hungry,” about five minutes after a meal is finished. Normal is smells I can't identify.

Normal is chaos. And I’m okay with a little chaos.

Charlie and Henry returned yesterday from having spent the long, 3-day Fourth of July weekend at my parent’s house 200 miles away. I’ve never been away from any of our kids for more than 24 hours, so I was a little nervous that I would miss them so terribly that I would find myself in a catatonic stupor of depression and worry so deep that I wouldn’t emerge from it until they came back home.

Okay, well maybe that’s a little dramatic. But I do miss my guys sometimes.

Fortunately for Bill, George and Annabel, I was okay. In fact, it was allllll good around here this weekend. All good.

I forgot how easy it is to do things and go places with just two kids. There’s two of us and two of them. We went out to eat a few times, ran errands, and just hung out around the house with minimal stress. I was able to relax without having to feel like a constant referee. George and Annabel liked having us to themselves for a few days and I think that was important.

Charlie and Henry also felt like big guys, off on their own adventure. They bragged of going for ice cream twice in one day, staying up late, and generally being spoiled by their grandparents.

But now they are back home, and it’s back to reality.

I gotta say, I like reality. I like, no I love, having four kids. I don't crave a sensible, orderly, unchaotic existence. I mean, what kind of boring day is it unless I have to plunge a huge poo or a toy truck out of the toilet? Or to yell at the kids to stay by my shopping cart as we wander the aisles of the grocery store? Or to feel like my ears are actually going to start bleeding from the noise level in our house? Or to wonder how the heck I'm going to get that unidentified food stain out of the carpet? What kind of day is that? A boring day, indeed.

Charlie and Henry came through the front door yesterday afternoon bursting with energy and hugs and kisses for us. Absence made their hearts grow fonder. Of Bill and I.

In true form, within twenty minutes, my kids were complaining of hunger and boredom.

Aaaaaaand we’re back to normal.

All is right with the world.