Saturday, July 31, 2010

Washington D.C., Part One.

Our family summer vacation is officially in the books.

Washington D.C., baby.

I have so much to say, and so much to tell you, but before I start babbling incoherent nonsense, let me just start with one thing.

Our vacation to D.C. can be summed up in one word: Metro.

If you ask my kids what they loved the most about this family vacation, they will just smile, start salivating, and say, "Metro". In their minds, it is a five-letter word for pure awesomeness.

What Disney World? All this fun can be had for mere dollars, people.

As I was preparing for our trip a few months ago and researching where we would stay, and what we would see, several people told me to make sure we stayed near a Washington Metro train station, because driving in D.C. is a big no-no. "Don't even try it," they would say, and then they would regale me with tales of horrible traffic and lack of parking. But in my smug, know-it-all brain, I would think, "Heh. What do they know? We lived in the city of Chicago for 3 years, and in the Chicago suburbs for 7, so we know traffic, and we know how to drive in city traffic. Surely we can handle D.C., and their supposed little traffic problem."

Stupid me. Stupid, stupid, me.

You are more than welcome to try it for yourself, and prove me wrong, but take my advice. Do not make the mistake we made on the first full day in town. If you value your sanity, your marriage, and you would very much NOT like your heart to spasm wildly and explode in your chest as a result of pure terror and panic, then DO NOT drive in downtown D.C. Just. don't. do. it.

The District of Columbia doesn't mess around with their traffic. They mean it. For realsies.

I'll just sum up that story by saying that while stupidly driving in the heart of downtown D.C. on a Sunday afternoon, it took us TWO HOURS to get to a parking garage to park our minivan. What should have been a 15-minute drive, but actually took TWO HOURS (did you get that part?) resulted in hungry, crying children, and desperation so great that I had fantasies of ditching our minivan on the side of a road, and running to the nearest Subway to feed my children and myself. Furthermore, in the process of this...ahem...leisurely Sunday drive, I may or may not have called my dear husband a "poop head", and screamed "We're gonna die!!!" as an enormous tour bus decided that it would like to occupy the lane in which we were driving, regardless of the fact that our family of six had dibsies on said lane.

Temporary insanity. What can I say? It happens.

So the Metro. Yeah. It's where it's at.

When I lived in Chicago, I rode the El every day back and forth from my job, and I loved it. However, that was pre-four kids. Now, the thought of standing on a crowded train platform with four sometimes-rambunctious children filled me with a sense of paranoia, and visions of children falling to the tracks. I got over the paranoia rather quickly, once I realized that because of the aforementioned traffic, the Metro was going to be my "boo" over the next few days. Soon, my kids were train-riding champs, and we navigated the escalators, train platforms and transfers with ease.


Our hotel was in the gorgeous town of Alexandria, Virginia, about 8 miles from downtown D.C. (also the home of George Washington's Mount Vernon) near the historic Old Town Alexandria, and luckily, there were at least three nearby Metro stations.



Need I mention how much kids heart riding trains? It was the big hit of our trip. Forget the T-Rex at the Smithsonian. "The Metro was the funnest," declared my 5-year old son.

More tomorrow.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"Pop!" goes the weasel in my yard.

It is 9:20 a.m. as I write this, and it has already been one of those mornings. In one of those weeks.

Bill called me soon after leaving for work and said, "Something smells, Clare. Check it out."

So what else is new? Something smells around here. And the sky is blue. And my name is Clare.

Duh. to the Uh.

"No, for real. It smells like gas."

Duh. Again. We have three boys and one girl. These things happen.

"Go outside and smell it yourself and make sure the inside of the house doesn't smell. Call the gas company."

Dang. All four of my kids are still peacefully sleeping, and I don't. want. to. move.

But I'm not really interested in being skyrocketed to the moon if my house blows up. I don't have time for such things. My list of errands for the day is a long one and I have no time for tedious little things like house explosions. Besides, I am quite looking forward to going to Target this afternoon because I haven't been there in over 3 weeks. THREE WEEKS, people. Target is going to put an APB out on me if I don't cross the threshold of the big red bulls-eye soon. Reunited and it feels so good, Tar-jhay.

So I called the gas company and told them I smelled a sulphur-like smell outside of my house, but not inside. If you've never had the pleasure of calling the gas company at 7:00 a.m., then try it, because you are missing out. There's nothing like your friendly customer service agent scaring the bejeez out of you this early in the morning, and basically inferring that you and your brood are going to die of a gas explosion if you so much as make one little spark of static electricity as you shuffle across your carpet. I woke all of my peacefully sleeping children and put them on alert because she advised me that we might have to GET. THE. HECK. OUTTA. DODGE. if the house starts to smell of gas. Even though my house didn't smell like gas yet.

I should have waited to wake them up, because only idiots wake up peacefully sleeping children, when their front yard smells like gas, but the inside of their house does not. Clearly, I don't do my best thinking at 7:15 a.m.

Mr. Gas Man showed up at about 7:35 a.m. sporting the sweetest Fu Manchu mustache I have ever seen on a person. He was quite tall, looked like a wrestler for the WWE, and he was way too chipper for the hour and the situation.

"Hey darlin'!" he practically shouted in my face when I opened the door. His southern accent compelled him to continue by calling me "Sweetie". "Sweetie,  I heard y'all are having some gas problems 'round here?"

Must. Not. Make. A. Joke. About. My. Boys. And. Their. Flatulence.

"Well, my husband and I both smelled something funny outside this morning, and I just wanted to be sure it wasn't natural gas."

"Yup, Yup! That's smart, girl! Smart! Y'all cain't mess around with gas. You just cain't never be too careful!" he said as he sniffed the air. "Yup. I smell sumpin. I smell sumpin funny. I'm gonna check it out."

This man's smile and attitude was infectious. For someone that deals with gas all day, and is this chipper at 7:35 a.m., I was impressed. After all, I could learn something about having a positive attitude from him, because we have something in common. You know, since we both...ahem...work in the gas industry.

He ran some tests and then rang the doorbell again. "Well, it's not gas. I can tell ya that fer sure. Ya know what I think it is? I think it's a pole cat. Yup. I think it's a pole cat."

A pole cat. Never heard of one, but it sounds fierce. And scary. Is a pole cat like a bobcat? Or a cougar? Or a mountain lion? Here in lil' ol' suburban Ohio?

Must. Google. Now.

I thanked him and wished him a nice day, and then ran to my computer. I typed the words, "pole cat" into the search bar, but google scolded me and by telling me that it is actually spelled, "polecat". Sorry, Google. You are the all-knowing. I am just a scared housewife who has convinced herself that a cougar who enjoys feasting on small children has taken up residence in my garage. You know, no bigs.

Unfortunately, a polecat is way less exciting than that. A polecat is a weasel, you guys. As in Pop Goes The.

See?



He'd actually be kind of cute if he wasn't so malodorous and skunk-like. Also, there's the small little detail that I don't dig varmints of any kind. Or weasels. Or rodents.

Nature scares me sometimes, as my DNA contains 87.3% wimp, and only 12.7% badass. I'll be sure to keep you updated if I have an actual run-in with Pop, my alleged weasel friend. There might be a slight delay in the sighting of the animal, and the actual blog posting, however, what with me having to scrape myself off the ground and issue smelling salts to myself after I pass out from fright. I'll also let you know if it's even possible to issue smelling salts to wake yourself up after you pass out from fright. My guess is probably not.

My kids better not find him first and start feeding him Goldfish crackers, because then he will never leave, and he will invite his polecat friends to our house for a polecat party, where they will feast on our garbage, and do whatever it is that polecats do. Pole dance? Who knows, really?

I said, "No" to a dog for now, but knowing my children, they'll try to find a loophole, and argue that I never said no to polecats, and, "Can't we pleeeeeassseee have a pet weasel, Mommy, PLEEEEAAAASEEE?" No matter that I had never heard the word, "polecat" before 7:45 a.m. on July 22, 2010, and therefore could never properly issue a "NO POLECATS" decree.

And there's the small detail that polecats are dirty, disgusting rodents who smell of sulphur.

Yuck.

Never a boring day.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A foodie he is not. Sigh.

He's totally going to win "Top Chef" someday.

I just know it.

Just because I can't get him to eat anything besides peanut butter and jelly, chicken nuggets, waffles, and cheese pizza doesn't mean that he's not going to be a future foodie. I have visions of me sitting in the audience at the Bravo studios when they announce the winner, and I jump out of my seat and clap proudly as I hear the host call my boy's name. The judges, all past James Beard Award winners, and successful chefs in their own right, were won over by his stuffed quail, his seared scallops in a balsamic reduction, and his version of a quince tarte tatin. The host will shove a microphone in my face and say, "So, Mom, you always knew this day would come, right? You must have raised your boy to eat this way! To cook this way! He is a genius with food unlike no other! He is now the most famous chef in the world!"

As if.

I am failing this boy's stomach. Miserably.

He is my third-born son, and he is my most laid-back, easygoing child. Of course, I say this without favoritism, as I am just stating the facts. He goes with the flow.

Usually.

Unless there is food involved, then he wants the standards. The go-to favorites. If I allowed him, he would eat chicken nuggets and GoGurt for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Yuck.

I'm a big fan of meal planning, and I decide what I will be preparing for the week in advance. It works for our busy family, and it makes a trip to the grocery store much less stressful, as I don't find myself wandering the aisles looking confused about what to buy this week.

There are certain meals I keep in the monthly rotation, because they are family favorites; however, I subscribe to a few cooking magazines, and I love trying out new recipes. Some recipes are a mouthwatering huge hit, and others are a big, fat FAIL. But still, I try. I am always looking for yet another way to sneak vegetables into their little stomachs without having to resort to bribery. Bribery, as in, "If you eat those steamed carrots, there are two Oreos in the cupboard with your name on them."

Bribery makes me feel so cheap. So used. So weak.

That said, however, I use it all the time. I just call it, "offering incentives". Doesn't that sound much better?

My three other children love salad, tacos, pasta, pork tenderloin, green beans, asparagus, chicken, beef, and various other dishes. And even if they don't love them, per se, I can at least get them to try new foods. And trying the food, as you may know, is half the battle. But not my third son. My third son has perfected the I'm-going-to-barf-right-here-and-right-now fake gag. It's quite stunning. Oscar-worthy some venture to say.

Wait. Check that. My boy ate pork tenderloin one evening, but only after I lied to his cute little face and told him it was chicken.

"But why is the chicken in that log shape, Mommy?"

"Just because." was all that came out of my mouth.

Look at me with the brilliant answers and such. I'm so profound.

Furthermore, I may or may not have seen him eating a booger recently. Yet, the scrumptious teriyaki chicken burger, complete with a grilled pineapple ring on top, and a side of sweet potato fries sat on his plate untouched.

Boogers. That's what he thinks of my cooking.

He'd rather eat his boogers.

I am a woman defeated.

But I won't cry "uncle" just yet. I am holding out hope that I will crack this boy. I am waiting for the day when he looks over and sees me writing out my meal plan for the week and says, "Mom, I noticed the lobster is on sale. Do you think you could pair that with a nice filet mignon, and a side of brussel sprouts? Because my mouth waters at the thought. Pleeeeaaassse, Mom?"

This could totally happen.

Right?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Guilt and parenting go hand-in-hand.

There are times when I am overwhelmed by it.

Then there are times that it makes me shrug my shoulders, offer up a simple, "Meh. Whatevs," and move on.

It is guilt, a five letter word for an emotion I can't escape.

All parents, at some point, feel a sense of guilt.

At least the good parents do.

A sense of remorse is what makes us human. It is what makes us reevaluate, learn, and grow. Without guilt or remorse, how would we gain a sense of perspective? What would force us to turn the mirror on ourselves and think, "You can do better. You can be better."

I try to live a good life. I try to be a good person. I wouldn't say that I have any major things to feel guilty about; however, I am not immune to guilt.

I feel guilty that I snapped at my husband this morning when he was just trying to be helpful.

I feel guilty that my son got a horrible sunburn two weeks ago, and couldn't even wear a shirt for a day, because I never called him into the house to reapply his sunscreen.

I feel guilty that I don't cook enough meals from scratch.

I feel guilty that we live three hours away from both sets of grandparents; yet I love where we live and we have no plans to move.

I feel guilty when I sign my kids up for too many activities.

I feel guilty when I don't sign my kids up for enough activities.

I feel guilty because I haven't reviewed math facts with the kids this summer like I promised I would.

I feel guilty because I have broken my pledge with the kids to not talk on my cell phone in the car while driving. Fortunately for me, it has only been about ten times, but my sons have reminded me of my pledge each time. I have lied to them with, "But this is a very important phone call, and mommy has to take it." I guess if you consider casually shooting the breeze with one of my sisters "very important", then it's not a lie. But mostly it is.

I feel guilty because I was at my wit's end the other afternoon, and my kids would JUST. NOT. STOP. THE CHAOS. Out of frustration I yelled, "Would you just sit down and be quiet?!? You all sound like a bunch of screaming idiots!!!"

Ouch.

I feel guilty that although I apologized to my children for using these words, I didn't apologize immediately, while the words still stung. It was the next day, when the words had already sat in their sweet little brains for 24 hours.

I feel guilty that I don't have enough individual time with each of my four children, because together they are awesome, but as individuals, they are even more amazing. I feel guilty that I don't carve out more one-on-one time.

I feel guilty that I'm blogging when my kitchen is a mess and there are four baskets of laundry waiting to be washed.

No I don't. I just said that because it sounds like something a good mom would say.

I feel guilty because my kids only bathed a couple times last week because we swam so often in the pool. Every mom knows that the pool can sometimes count for bath night. Right? RIGHT?

I feel guilty because I saw an acquaintance at the pool the other day, and rather than waving and saying, "Hello," I pretended I didn't see her because I pretended I was too busy with my children to notice her. This woman is very nice and I want to get to know her better, but I just didn't feel like talking to anyone at that moment, nice or not. My kids were overtired, getting rowdier by the second, and I had to get home to start dinner. At least that is how I justified the rudeness in my mind.

I feel guilty because I got sucked into a marathon of "The City" on MTV the other day while my kids were watching a movie down the basement. I probably should have watched their movie with them, and snuggled up on the couch in the cool air-conditioning of the basement, but this particular movie is mind-numbingly boring, as most of their favorite movies are. I feel guilty that I won't just suck it up and watch the mind-numbingly boring movies with them more often. I do, but just not enough.

I feel guilty because I got sucked into a marathon of "The City" on MTV the other day, and I fantasized what my life would have been like if I would have chucked it all after college, moved to NYC and pursued a career in the fashion industry. I imagined a life of parties, dry-clean only clothing, cocktails and city living. I imagined hob-nobbing with the fashion elite and having conversations that didn't involve poop or potty talk or Goldfish crackers. I imagined styling celebrities for photo shoots with $1,000 pants, and $2,500 dresses instead of styling four shorties with pants and shirts purchased from Gymboree with Gymbucks. Or Gap. Or Old Navy. Or my beloved Target.

I feel guilty for having such fleeting fantasies, because I love my life, and I wouldn't change it for anything. I always wanted to be a mom. But I can't help think of the flip-side. The what-ifs.

I'm only human that way.

Despite these fantasies, I know I am exactly where I am meant to be at this exact moment. That thought dispels the guilt.

I try not to let "mom guilt" or guilt in general consume me, because it will, if you let it.

I try to put it in perspective.

I try not to beat myself up or obsess.

I try very hard to shrug my shoulders, and say to myself, "Meh. Move on Clare. Move on."

I try not to let the guilt weigh me down.

I try, because life is just too good.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A surefire way to tell that one little girl has three older brothers.

They got to her.

The Brothers.

They got to her.

My girl adores this trio of little men in her life, this trio that she has simply and appropriately dubbed, "The Brothers". In her 3-year old speak, however, it sounds more like, "The Bruvvers".

She is all girl. All pink and frilly and a princess wannabe. She cannot have too many hair bows, too many accessories, too many frills. She begs me weekly to paint her toes another bright color, and her favorite aisles at Target are "the pink and purple rows", the aisles that house dolls and Barbies and anything girlie.

However, she is no shrinking violet. No priss. No wuss. This girl can hang with the boys. She can walk up to any of The Brothers' friends, no matter how much older they are than she is, and strike up a conversation without fear. She can dig in the dirt and look for worms and splash in the mud, sometimes while wearing a pretty sundress and hair bow. For added panache, of course.

I wish I was more like my daughter. I wish I had some of her moxie. Her fearlessness.

But these boys finally got to her, and it all has to do with, once again, their...ahem...protective cups.

What? You're not sick of this topic yet?

I didn't think so.

I promise this is the last time I will speak of the humble and oh-so-useful protective cup.

This week.

If you read my entry from a few weeks ago, I enlightened you on my boys' inability to put their stuff away where it belongs, specifically their cups. If you haven't read it yet, click here.

Back to my girl, and how these boys corrupted her.

A recent morning, I was rushing around in my usual morning way, getting breakfast on the table, and nagging oh-so-lovingly telling one of my sons to move it, or we were going to be late for his golf lessons. My daughter, ready for the day in a pair of pink, green and yellow plaid bermuda shorts and matching bright yellow tank top was frustrated. Sprouting off her back was her favorite set of fairy wings.

"I can't find my Crocs, Mooommmm," she wailed.

It's not like we have a basket in our mudroom specifically designated only for Crocs or anything. It's not like it's big and wide, and fits the Crocs perfectly, making said Croc retrieval easy. No matter, the Crocs rarely end up in this basket, because as you know, these children o' mine struggle with the theory that, "There's a place for everything, and everything in its place."

Just like they think the perfect place for a protective cup is on the kitchen table. Or the couch. Or the pantry. Or my nightstand. Yes, my nightstand. Don't ask.

I digress. Back to my frustrated daughter.

"I'll help you find them in a second. Just let me finish this," I said, as her whining increased in volume, and she was oblivious to my requests. Somebody woke up on the wrong side of her "big girl" bed that morning, and it wasn't me.

Not wanting to listen to the whines of a toddler, I picked her up, and rested her on my hip while I finished up my morning kitchen chores.

It was at that moment, as I placed her on my hip, that I felt a hard plastic thump on my hip bone.

The cup.

My sweet, little wannabe princess, wearing fairy wings and pink plaid shorts, was also wearing a cup belonging to one of The Brothers.

This is a new one. Even for me.

"Sweetie, what are you wearing?!?" I managed to ask through my laughter, even thought I knew exactly what she was wearing. I just wanted to hear it out of her mouth.

She looked at me, and said with total confidence, as if it's perfectly normal for a 3-year old girl in pink plaid shorts and sparkly fairy wings to being wearing protective gear for boy body parts that she does not have, "It's The Bruvver's cup."

Oh.

As she saw me laughing, and she realized that what she had done was funny, she giggled as she held the cup up to me and said, "See?" Then, without skipping a beat she said, "It hurts," and threw it down on the ground with a decisive thump.

Well, duh, my daughter. Duh.

I guess she can check that off her list of mysterious things that The Brothers do in which she will no longer want to participate.

Boys, listen up. This is what happens when your leave your stuff lying around.

Little sisters find it.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Is it the weekend yet?

Thursday is totally the new Friday.

Let it be written. Because I say so.

I am more than ready for the weekend, because it has just been one of those weeks. Not in a bad way exactly, but in a my-brain-is-fried-and-I'm-surprised-I-can-still-come-up-with-any-coherent-thoughts kind of way. As with any week, there were many bright spots and hilarious moments. But as usual, I had moments that made me go, "Hmmm?"

This week started off with the discovery that my children fart in British. But it's not like they are bilingual, because as you know, the Brits do speak English, so really, my children just fart with an accent.

Enough of my bragging. I'll let you know when they fart in Spanish. Or Farsi.

Minivan cleaning day was this week as well, and as you may have seen on my Facebook page, I found unspeakable things underneath the seats. The kids helped, and surprised me with their mad minivan-cleaning skills, but there is no earthly reason that cleaning out our car should have taken the three solid hours that it did. But alas, it did, because we are car slobs. Every time we clean out the van, we resolve to change our ways, but all it takes is one stray granola bar wrapper, or a package of fruit snacks, and we slide back down the slippery slope into car slob-dom. It is now Day 3 of a clean car, and I am happy to report that so far so good.

I am a changed woman. I have resolved to keep my car clean at all times.

If I write that, does it make it true?

I didn't think so.

There was an "incident" today at swim lessons, which left me feeling frazzled, to say the least. But I'm not ready to talk about it yet, because I'm still processing. I will write about it when my brain is much less the consistency of Jell-o, which is what it feels like at the moment. Don't worry, none of my children almost drowned. Thankfully, it wasn't quite that dramatic.

I was reminded today that although I have my occasional shards of brilliance, I also have shards of stupidity. For example, what brilliant woman takes four children bathing suit shopping for herself?

Trick question. Only stupid women do that.

It's not like I planned on taking them bathing suit shopping for me. We actually went shopping for a present for my Dad, whose birthday is next week, and we successfully went to a few stores until we finally settled on a gift for him. But do you remember that episode of "Seinfeld" when Kramer and Newman decided to drive a car while the yellow light on "E" is flashing, indicating that the car was just about out of gas? The two friends kept driving and driving, and living on the edge, never knowing when or where the car was going to sputter out and die. Today, I was that episode of "Seinfeld" personified. My kids were the yellow light on "E", and I was the dumbass driving the metaphorical car.

I just never know when to stop. I should always quit while I'm ahead.

But in my defense, as I said, my children were behaving wonderfully as I dragged them from store to store, looking for a gift for my father, their grandfather. However, I soon spied, with my little eye, a sign in a window that said something to the effect of, "All swimsuits and separates 50% off!"

Have I mentioned that I am a sucker for a sale?

Have I also mentioned that I need yet another bathing suit like I need a hole in my head?

But I haven't bought a new swimsuit in over a year, and mama gets bored at looking at the same old stuff. And these suits were on sale. My kids get new bathing suits yearly, and it was my turn to buy something fun for myself.

I said to my kids, "Come on. I just want to look in this store really quickly. The bathing suits are on sale."

Famous last words. There is no "really quickly" anything with four hungry, tired, over-stimulated children, who, although they might have been displaying angelic behavior at the time, clearly had cranky simmering invisibly underneath their calm surfaces.

I'm not a fan of cranky. Cranky and I are not copacetic.

I grabbed a few tops, and a few bottoms, barely checking the sizes, and dragged my brood to the largest dressing room in the store.

I locked the door and said, mostly for the benefit of my three sons, "Alright. Everyone turn around. I need my privacy."

Oh, the sweet irony. Shouldn't I have thought of that before I decided to drag my 9-year old, 8-year old, and 5-year old sons, along with my 3-year old daughter BATHING SUIT SHOPPING, which is the least discreet form of shopping there is?

See? Shards of stupidity. I told you.

All 3 boys politely obliged, with a "Sure, Mom," and turned around, letting me have my privacy. But since they were stuck in a small, confined space, only able to stare at one plain, white wall for 15-plus minutes, they soon became bored and started fighting with each other in the dressing room.

Can I get a what-what for "Duh"? How could I have not seen this coming?

As I continued to try on more suits, I started hissing out threats of punishment to the backs of their heads. One boy pinched his brother in the arm. That brother pinched back. One told the other he was going to steal all his video games when we returned home. One boy started wailing, and my daughter joined in.

Surely, at any moment, the entire store was going to start assembling outside the dressing room door, just to gawk at the train wreck commotion brewing.

Feeling completely exasperated and defeated, as I stood in a dressing room half-naked with four young, impatient children, I whined, "You guys! Stop it! Can I just go swimsuit shopping without you fighting with each other?!?!"

Then it hit me. No, Clare, you cannot go swimsuit shopping without these children getting antsy, because only stupid people take four young children, three of them little boys, swimsuit shopping. It is just way too much to expect out of a shorty.

And lordy knows I have me some shorty expectations. But really, this should not be one of them.

I was blessed with four great kids, who are mostly well-mannered, and mostly well-behaved. Shame on me for expecting them to fall in love with the idea of hanging out in a dressing room with me as I tried on bathing suit after bathing suit. Kids have their limits, and my chidren were done with a capital "D".

It's all about setting reasonable expectations, and there is nothing reasonable about swimsuit shopping with four kids. Nothing.

Nada.

Lesson learned.