Friday, June 24, 2011

Can't we all just get along?

There is always an adjustment period.

Always.

At the start of every long break or vacation from school, when my shorties are once again all up in each other's grills 24/7, there is always an adjustment period. A fighting-for-space-and-attention-and-getting-to-know-you-again period if you will.

To put it nicely.

Read: They fight like cats and dogs on and off for about the first week. They fight over what they're going to do, and who's going to decide. They fight over Wii controllers. They fight over basketballs. They fight over pool toys. They fight over sharing the same air.

Trust me. It's buckets o' fun.

Buckets.

I'm not saying they fight every gosh darn, cotton pickin', ever-lovin' second. No. There are many moments of peace and happiness and unity in that first week, and I think the storm has passed and the adjustment period is over.

Right up until one shortie calls the other shortie a, "poopy farty fathead" for allegedly stealing his protective cup that he is unable to find right before a baseball game.

Because, you know. Protective cups are a hot commodity, and ripe to be burgled. And there's not a chance in the world that the protective cup was just misplaced, (ahem...thrown carelessly under the kitchen table...ahem) and not, in fact, stolen and sold on the black market.

Because there's totally a black market for protective cups. Just ask my kids.

Summer Vacation 2011 started on Tuesday, June 7, and I braced myself for the inevitable storm on Wednesday, June 8.

It never arrived.

The storm did not arrive that Thursday, or Friday, or the weekend. The following week began, and 3 out of my 4 shorties were in various sport camps every day, and the storm never arrived for that whole week.

I patted myself on the back for my overall awesomeness as a parent. These children get it! They are getting along, and I am taking all the credit! I have managed to avoid the storm of all storms! I should rename myself Peacekeeper Mama Extraordinaire! That's how much Peace I have kept!

Until.

This week.

Foiled again.

Perhaps I can blame it on the weather, which has been less than stellar this week, with storms brewing almost every day. But that is all just one big excuse.

I have spent the majority of this week negotiating peace treaties and handing out punishments and time-outs like they are Tic-Tacs.

Not fun.

Yesterday morning I began the day by telling the kids that if they were good, I would take them downtown to the Science Center to see the exhibits AND an IMAX movie. My proclamation was followed by a chorus of shortie cheers. I also said that afterward, we would hit a favorite downtown cupcake bakery. More cheers erupted.

I had this in the bag. There was no way my shorties were going to have anything less than perfect behavior, knowing the fun that awaited them in just a few short hours.

Until.

It started at lunch. The fighting began over a chair. We have a total of 9 chairs (6 at the table and 3 at the bar) in our kitchen. Yet for some unknown reason, sometimes the only desirable chair just happens to be the exact one your brother or sister is sitting in at that very moment.

Naturally.

I warned the children involved and negotiated a peace treaty over said chair.

Really, people. I missed my calling. United Nations? Call me. I specialize in Peace Treaties among warring parties.

Anyway. I thought I put out the fire, but it continued moments later over something insignificant. Within moments, all four children were involved. I warned. I threatened to take away the field trip.

As we moved to the mudroom to put on our shoes, my patience was wearing thin as the battles raged on. They volleyed insults back and forth to each other. Time-outs were issued. When it came time to put on shoes, one shortie whined, "Mommmmmm! I can't find my tennis shoes!"

A shortie responded, "Yeah. Well that's because they're up your butt with a rubber nut."

To which the insulted shortie responded, "Yeah, well your tennis shoes took one look at your ugly face and ran and hid."

These words, by the way, my friends? Are SO NOT OKAY in my house. At all.

I was done. D-to-the-O-to-the-N-to-the-E. Kaputski. Over. Stick a fork in me. Done and done.

I threw my purse to the ground and yelled said, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? IF YOU THINK FOR ONE, HOT SECOND THAT I AM GOING TO DRIVE ALLLLLLL THE WAY DOWNTOWN TO TAKE YOU TO THE SCIENCE CENTER, AFTER THE WAY YOU HAVE BEEN BEHAVING, THEN YOU HAVE ANOTHER THINK COMING! NO! WAY! YOU CAN'T EVEN BE NICE TO EACH OTHER FOR A FEW HOURS?!? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?"

By the way, I have no idea what a hot second is. It just sounded fierce at the time.

One of my sons was indignant as he said, "You can't do this!"

To which I responded, "Watch me. I just did."

I shut. it. down. I was drunk with power.

You PROMISED us you'd take us to the Science Center! You PROMISED! And you can't break a PROMISE!"

Which is laughable on many, many levels.

First of all, I am no fool. I never, ever, use the word, "promise" in this house unless I mean it. There are only a few things a mother can ultimately promise her children, and they are: to love, cherish, nurture, guide, and provide food and shelter for her children. Going to the science center? I cannot promise that.

Immediately following my tirade speech, I kicked my sandals off, plopped down on the couch, picked up my copy of Jen Lancaster's latest novel, "If You Were Here", and started reading.

Promptly, all four shorties collapsed to the floor in crying fits.

Which I ignored.

Ignoring crying shorties...Ha, ha! Jen Lancaster is soooo funny! I love this book!...ignoring crying shorties...

The shorties continued the dramatic scene by blaming each other. "It's all your fault!" "No! It's all your fault!" "No! It's all your fault!"

They begged me. One shortie even said through his tears, and I quote, "Mom! I was totally going to be good once we got in the car! Please give me a chanccccccce!"

Really? That's the best you got?

Ignoring crying shorties...


Finally my oldest child, with his 10 years of...ahem...wisdom..., spoke. He said, "You guys? Mom is not listening to us. She is mad because we were bad."

You think? What tipped you off? Was it the ignoring part? Was it me sitting on the couch reading a hilarious book instead of driving you to the Science Center?

Within moments, all four shorties fell silent, and all I could hear was the sound of ragged breathing and whimpers. About five, silent minutes passed and one of my sons spoke, "Mom? What can we do to fix this?"

With as much dramatic pause that I could muster, I waited at least a minute before responding and said, "Until you can be kind to each other and get along, and stop using those horrible words, then we are not going anywhere."

Silence.

About 20 minutes passed, and two children retreated to a bedroom to play Lego together, one picked up a book and read, and the other child just stared at the ceiling.

An hour passed without a single fight or unkind word.

I know what you're thinking. An hour, Clare? An hour? That's a big deal? But over the last week, in my world, it is.

After that hour, I rounded up my troops for an impromptu family meeting, but I let them do most of the talking. My hands circled the air in their direction as I started off the meeting with, "This behavior over the last week? Is not okay. What are you going to do to fix it?"

We talked about ways to be better. Expectations that Bill and I have for them. Promises were made. Apologies were said. Hugs were had.

And off to the Science Center and cupcake bakery we went.

Uneventfully.

Thankfully.

It is hard for six people with wonderfully strong personalities to live in one house and always get along famously. But we try. And then we have a setback. And then we try again.

Because there is love. So much love. And laughter. And fun. And moments that have been sealed in my heart and my memory.


Today is a new day, and I am telling myself that the adjustment period is over.

I hope.

A girl can dream, can't she?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The shoes.

It has been exactly one week since summer vacation began for my children, and already, we are off to a great start.

The lunchboxes have been wiped clean and are sitting on the bottom shelf in the pantry. The school uniforms are folded and stored in the closet, waiting to be donned again in August. The backpacks have been emptied of their stray bits of paper, crayon and pencil stubs and old notebooks. But, the other day, as I went about organizing the closet by the mudroom, I came across the shoes.

It has only been a week, and I almost forgot about the shoes.

The white tennis shoes, a required part of the school uniform, have seen better days.

In fact, they saw every single day of the school year.

The good days and the bad ones.

Here they are on the first day, white and shiny and full of promise and enthusiasm.


And here they are on the last day, well-traveled and full of a year's worth of experience.


Just like my children.

The large Puma shoes all the way to the left finished fourth grade this year. They tapped the ground while the wearer was deep in thought over solving a long division problem. They ran the mile in gym class. They stood flat and facing forward during the 4th grade recorder concert in March. They walked patiently and excitedly through the cafeteria hot food line every Friday for pizza day.

The Nike shoes in the middle finished third grade this year. They walked reverently down the church aisle on a cold winter Wednesday morning to present the gifts at Mass during the offertory. They marched into school on a weekday morning, convinced that whatever happened the previous day didn't matter because every day is a new day to start fresh. They tapped the floor nervously during standardized testing in October. They schlepped to and fro as their wearer told a funny story to make his friends laugh. They strode confidently up to the front of the classroom to deliver a speech about The Great Ohio Flood.

The Wilson shoes all the way to the right finished Kindergarten this year. They rambled hesitatingly into the classroom on a warm day in late August, unsure of what to expect at, "The Big School". They jumped up and down while singing a song. They sat quietly in a, "criss-cross-applesauce" position. They traipsed and dragged a heavy bag of 100 metal Matchbox cars for the 100th day of school. They paraded out of school proudly while their owner proclaimed, "I'm a first grader now!"

These shoes have lived well. They have served their purpose. It is time for them to retire.

But oh, the stories they could tell.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Yum. Driveway Cookies.

It is the first official day of summer vacation, and with temperatures forecasted in the 90s with heat indexes in the 100s, baby it's hot outside.

Really hot.

Not that I'm complaining.

Whenever I start to sweat or overheat, and I think, "Ugh. I just can't deal," I remind myself that less than a month ago I was wearing a sweater and jeans, and shivering and cursing Mother Nature for the diva that she is.

Because I loves me some summer something fierce.

The lazy days stretch before us, sunny, warm and seemingly endless, beckoning us with possibilities of fun to be had.

Endless possibilities.

Here it is, not even lunchtime on the first day, and I have yet to hear one of my shorties complain that he or she is bored.

As Martha would say, that's a good thing.

My oldest child had his braces removed from his teeth this morning, and his fondest desire is a piece of corn on the cob, followed by a huge piece of Hubba Bubba, which have both been off limits to him for the better part of a year.

Yes, friends, the possibilities are endless.

Just when I think that I am one step ahead of my shorties, and I am onto all of their tricks, they remind me which one of us is the chump. Because I walked out my door this morning, ready for the orthodontist appointment, loaded the kids into the minivan, opened the garage door, and saw this.


Earlier this morning, my boys smeared the remnants of a carton of Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream onto the hot, black, asphalt that is our driveway just to see if they could bake up a batch of yummy goodness.

Because it's so hot today that why shouldn't we smear cookie dough all over the driveway just to see whether or not it will bake and become something that is somewhat edible?

My best guess is N-to-the-O.

But I am not a shortie. I am a jaded adult who just thinks, "Gross. Cookie dough on the driveway. And not just any old cookie dough. Expensive, don't-be-wasting-it, cookie dough."

I ask, "Why?" and my shorties ask, "Why not?"

Schooled again.

Mrs. Fields? You best be running scared right about now.

Summer is off to a great start. Phineas and Ferb would be proud.

Monday, June 6, 2011

An Open Letter to Teachers.

Dear Teachers,

Tomorrow is the last day of school 'round these parts.

It has been another great school year for my children.

Of course, this is due in large part to you and your awesomeness.

Because teachers just like you? Rock. Hardcore.

As I may have mentioned once or twice, I used to be an elementary school teacher before I was a mom. I know the joys you experience in a classroom. I know the frustrations. I know the challenges. I know the long days that don't end at 3:00 when the bell rings. I know the moments of triumph. I know the rewards you reap that have nothing to do with money.

I know what it's like to be you, and I am in awe of you who do it well and do it right.

You know who I'm talking about.

I'd like to think and hope that I am a better school parent that can support you because of my behind-the-scenes knowledge.

I hope that I always have your back in the best way possible. I hope that you appreciate that I have never once just bought any of you a tacky ceramic apple or a mug that says, "World's Greatest Teacher" on the side, and instead gave you gift certificate or a class gift with the other parents that we knew you would truly enjoy. It's not that I don't think you are the World's Greatest Teacher. You most definitely are. But you deserve so much more than a cheap mug, and I know that a gift, even if it is only a small one, is greatly appreciated for a person who imparts valuable knowledge to my child for the majority of the days out of a given year.

More than the gifts, however, I know that the thing a teacher appreciates the most from a parent or a student is a simple, handwritten thank you note. I know that you love to hear that we, as parents, think you are talented and creative and caring. I know that it warms your heart when we notice how you just seem to "get" our child. Because so many of you do.

You "get" our kids and you reach them where they are.

You are patient.

You know that every student learns differently.

You help our children reach their full potential academically.

You don't give up on a child or label him, "bad" just because he has a behavioral misstep. You forgive and encourage and expect better the next time.

You let a student know that whatever happened the day before doesn't matter. She knows that every day is a new day to start fresh.

You sing songs or dress up or find new and innovative ways to make the most boring of topics fun.

You wipe noses and mend friendships.

You protect your students and encourage a culture of acceptance in your classroom.

You are awesome, and as a parent, I am blessed that you have been a snapshot in time in my child's life.

You have helped to shape my child, and he has a special place in his heart for you. When he looks back on his childhood, I hope that one of the things he remembers is you.

Thank you, and I wish you nothing but the most relaxing of summers.

Sincerely,

A Grateful Mom