Thursday, December 8, 2016

Fear and Loathing in The Burbs!

This morning, I walked into Andy's bathroom to find him brushing his teeth while wedged into a corner, facing out semi-bravely while scanning the tiny room and both doorways to check for predators.  "What's going on in here?"  I asked, strolling in and still managing to startle my six year old despite his stature of high alert.  "Are you... are you scared?"

"You know I don't like being up here by myself," he replied, dislodging the glob of toothpaste that had become stuck fearfully in his throat.  It's true that Andy has developed a fear of being upstairs alone.  Emily, however, at 18 months, relishes the thought of getting upstairs alone, as she will clamber up the stairs, into the boys' bedroom, and straight up the bunk bed ladder onto the top bunk at the very first opportunity of parental neglect.  Alex, he's always been pretty fearless, but I guess I can understand how Andy feels, since my heart pounds at the thought of going down into the basement alone ever since I found a fricking chipmunk down there.  Chip.  Munk.  Aw.  Ful.

Despite the lack of visible wild life upstairs, Andy doesn't even like sleeping in his room, and he will burrow himself deep under his comforter in order to feel safe.  This is despite Alex's reassuring snores from the lower bunk.  After Andy gets out of the bath, he doesn't like me to leave him alone to get dressed- he hurries so that he can hold my hand to go downstairs for stories and nighttime iPadding.  In the morning, after breakfast during our third (of five) ten minute segment- in which I am usually mopping up spilled milk on Emily's high chair tray or arguing about crust on toast with Alex or looking at Andy's poorly composed lunch of cheese sandwich, yogurt, and chocolate milk and wondering if I'm maybe missing a food group or two- Andy usually insists that I go upstairs with him while he gets dressed.  This morning, we were running out of ten minute segments, and since I knew we'd eat up at least half of one putting on all of our winter gear, I snapped at Andy to just go upstairs by himself.

I've been snapping a lot lately.  I snap because the boys are constantly running around or fighting or breaking things or talking about private parts.  I snap because Andy was whipping around headphones and tore a hole into the screen of our year old TV and because Alex threw the tablet at the wall and put a dent in it.  I snap because I don't want a six year old hitting me on the butt when I bend over, and because Alex's constant snacking after not eating any actual meals means the pantry door is always open and yesterday Emily consumed eight bags of fruit snacks because she's always in there now, too.  I snap because what starts as a well meaning game of ring around the rosy between siblings ends with Emily's head getting bashed into the coffee table.  I snap because I can't have nice things, because I can't hear myself think, because you give them an inch and they take a mile, and every other mom cliche there is.  I recently became friends with another mom who is a counselor, and she started talking about her patients with anxiety.  Trying to keep it cool and suppress my excitement at some potentially free therapy, I casually asked what she tells the mom patients who are always snapping and getting mad.  "We talk about expectations," she replied.  I guess what she's saying is that you have to expect a shit show.  This sounds like disappointing advice, to be honest with you, and I'm not sure I want to continue this friendship.

We were at Hobby Lobby last week, me and the three kids, which I should have expected not to go well according to my new friend/ free therapist.  Emily was satisfied with sitting in the cart for exactly the length of time it takes to consume one fruit snack bag, and then she was out with the boys, free in the world and ready to cause havoc.  Alex got excited about glitter glue and ran off to find some before I could stop him.  Andy immediately asked for ten different art project sets, and Emily looked up, calculated the directions that everyone else was heading, and promptly hauled ass to the opposite end of the store.  While I tried to quickly pick out the things I needed while attempting to rein in the kids, Alex managed to snap an arm off of a $20 Nutcracker, which I chose to ignore in favor of resigning myself to buying the pack of Sour Patch Kids Emily had torn into.  By the end of our shopping trip, I was teetering on the brink of sanity, barking at the boys to stay next to me and stuffing Emily under my arm like some kind of Sour Patch Kids chomping football.

On the way home, I gave them the talk.  The talk about staying next to Mommy at the store and behaving because sometimes bad things happen.  Kids get kidnapped, which sounds ludicrous even to my own ears. Who wants to kidnap somebody else's kids?  Don't they realize how much it costs to feed these buggers?  "That's why we stay together at Hobby Lobby," I finished up.  "Because you might get kidnapped."

"Mommy, did you ever know anyone who got kidnapped?" Andy asked soberly.

"Yes, as a matter of fact," I replied, and then I launched into the Jaclyn Dowaliby story.  "She was another Jaclyn JUST LIKE ME and she lived IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD when I was a kid.  She was kidnapped and they still don't know who did it!  Thirty years later!  Do you believe that?"

"Was she taken at Hobby Lobby?"  Alex asked.

"Nope, she was kidnapped out of her bedroom while she was sleeping," I nonchalantly replied before realizing my critical mistake.  Oh crap.  Oh man.  I looked into the rear view mirror in time to see Andy's face go white.

"But actually, that was a very special case and most kids aren't taken from their house," I back pedaled, feeling the quick sand pulling me down as I pictured a decade of hand-holding Andy around the upstairs of our house, of standing over him while he brushed his teeth as a fifteen year old trembling about cold case kidnappings.

Andy had a hard time going to sleep that night, shockingly.  He told me that I had really scared him, and even though he managed to let me tuck him into his bed and leave the room, he was thoroughly cocooned in his blankets when I checked on him an hour later, balled up tensely with his head touching his knees.  I'm such a bad mom, I thought to myself.  Then- this will teach 'em.  Maybe they'll stay closer to me next time we shop.  Maybe this crippling fear will somehow translate into less rowdiness around the house.

No such luck, of course.  They are wild children through and through, which I have to accept (and expect).  Yet the fear is still there in Andy, upstairs alone, standing in the corner listening to his heart beating frantically in the quiet while he thinks of strangers popping into the window to take him.  I forget about it sometimes in all my snapping, in my parental anger of broken things and crying babies and wasted dinners.  They are still little kids even if they seem part animal.  They are scared of things and need reassurances and to feel safe.  But really, boys, Mommy would be much better at that part of mothering if only I wasn't so busy spackling the living room wall and watching my shows around the TV's broken white spot.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Strange November!

The Cubs won the World Series.  Donald Trump is our president-elect.  I keep waiting to hear the sound of snorts and fluttering pig wings go past my open window.  Or at least the galloping hooves of the four horses of the apocalypse.

My kids (at least the ones that can talk) were pretty interested in both events.  I'll start with the presidential election and just get that out of the way since it's an ugly topic even in civil conversation. If you voted for him, I totally respect that.  It's the beauty of democracy, et cetera, et cetera.  I, however, did not vote for him.  Not only did I not vote for him, but I spoke about him to my six year with the kind of candor and confidence of one who fully believes the accuracy of polling data and the correctness of my own convictions.  And now this guy- the one who I basically told my six year old to fear, the one that I said is an asshat, is mean to girls, disrespectful to people of different cultures, and will likely cause World War 3- well, we woke up today, and now he's the president elect and I had to tell my six year old that he'd won.  "This will be very bad!" Andy replied in horror.  To which my first thought was not, "Hell yeah it will" but "My bad."  Because now I have him believing that the world is suddenly on a collision course to nuclear war and that the men we believe to be bullies are the ones who will triumph over (the perception of) good.  These are appropriate feelings for a grown up perhaps, but not a child.  I'm reminded of a joke by Mike Birbiglia, one that begins with "What I should have said was nothing."  But because I did say something instead of nothing, now Andy is all worried about something that really and truly has no bearing on his life.  Again.  My bad.

But I tried to apply damage control.  Those who voted for him believe that he is best for the job. Many, many people believed this. So hopefully he is an effective, wise, and strong leader and never again logs onto Twitter or gives dating advice to Billy Bush.  We really want him to be a great president.  Now who wants Pop Tarts!?

Definitely the year for something.
Shall we talk about the Cubs now?

At least there was some joy in this household over events that we ultimately do not control and/or people that we do not personally know.  I mean, not from me specifically, since I don't give a shit about major league sports and I spent most of my formative years in a White Sox stronghold. Hashtag southsider4life.   But yeah, I was happy when the fireworks in my neighborhood woke me up from my slumber after game 7, indicating that either the Cubs had won or World War 3 was starting a couple weeks early.  That morning, I had great news for Andy, who did not make it to the end of the game either.  The Cubs are the World Champions!  First time in 108 years!  Of course, this was bad news for Alex, who had decided to root for the Indians, taking after his father perhaps not in team choice but at least in being contrary for the sake of being contrary.  The boys put on their Cubbie blue, sang a couple of bars of Go Cubs Go, and off they went into a beautiful Chicago day.

I learned a lot about Andy for the couple weeks that Chris let him stay up late to watch the games. First of all, he knows a lot more about baseball than I thought.  I'm going to be honest, I really did not think he was absorbing anything out there on his Little League field, other than running when someone yelled at him to run and how to avoid getting stung by bees 9 out of 10 times.  But, watching him watch the games, listening to him call out strikes and balls and fouls- holy cow.  This kid really knows about baseball!  I also learned that Andy IS interested in baseball.  He would watch the games without flipping on his iPad or wandering away or losing interest.  He would just sit and watch, which is something that I do not see too often in this rowdy household of running feet and wiggling bodies and damaging drywall.  Finally, I saw how he bonded with Chris over the excitement of the games.  There it was, the real reason people like sports.  Hanging out with dad.  Uniting over a common goal.  Oh yeah, and staying up late.

Had the Indians won, Alex may have had his half-hearted, preschool style moment of joy, but Andy would have been crushed.  He put a lot of his heart into rooting for the team, much like I put a lot of his same little heart into rooting for Clinton.  Here I see both the joys and flaws of parenting.  Going forward, perhaps it's best to instill more interior, personal goals into the souls and minds of my young children.  Win YOUR baseball game.  Be the best person YOU can be.  Root for your team, vote for your candidate, but in the end, just be proud of what you personally can do.  There's only so much we can control and my children should not have to worry about anything beyond this household and the feather-like weight of their own small decisions.  So again.  My bad.  But yeah. Go Cubs Go.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Emily's One Thing!

"But I hate story time," Alex declared as we backed out of the driveway.  "Let's just go to Wal-Mart instead and buy three toys.  Three isn't a big number, right, Mommy?"

"We're going to story time," I replied.  "It's Emily's story time.  It's literally the only thing that Emily has just for her.  Andy has school and baseball.  You have preschool and trips to the Dollar Store.  All Emily has is a lousy half hour story time once a week.  That's it!  That's all she has."

A lie, of course, since Emily has everything.  Emily's world, although filled with activities primarily for her brothers, is rich in secondary events that she finds just as thrilling, if not more so.  She loves waiting at the bus stop!  She relishes in banging her feet on the bleachers at baseball games.  She ADORES trying to rip off the preschool art hanging in the common area outside Alex's class.  I often look at Emily and think, "Well, this one's got it pretty good."  I yell at Andy for grumbling through his homework, unfairly barking at him, "These math problems are your JOB.  If Daddy complained this much while doing HIS work, he would be FIRED and we'd be HOMELESS but we all wouldn't fit in the BOX so you'd probably have to sleep on a CURB."  I ignore Alex's babbling sometimes completely, every once in a while murmuring a, "That's right, Alex," whenever I feel like he's waiting for a reply.  But Emily?  She doesn't get yelled at.  She captures all of our complete attention whenever she wants it.  And if I hear her start to whine, I call out, "Just give her what she wants!"

"But she wants my lollipop!"  Alex might complain back.

"It's hers now, Alex!  Hand it over.  Andy, give her that dollar in your pocket.  NOW!"

Emily taking the maraca seriously
at story time.
Alex has to sit with us in story time, too, and he's never too thrilled about it.  Alex simply isn't a fan of story time, much preferring activities that don't involve an authoritative adult but instead a mini-figure of some sort.  So Alex lounges lazily next to me and Emily while we win at story time.  That's right, we win at it. Of course, story time is not a competitive sport, but parenting as a whole can be depending on the type of friends you have.  I kid, of course, but Emily really loves story time.  She dances, she claps her hands, and when she sees them pull out the felt board, she walks confidently up there, puts her finger on it, turns around, looks back at me, and seems to say, "When do I get to stick something on this?"  Last week, they did bubbles at the end, and Emily practically lost her mind.  She squealed in delight and shoved her way right up to the front to get as close to the bubbles as possible. I love her age.  It's hard, and she's trying, but I love watching her enjoy the world as fiercely as she does.

And Emily knows that she's part of our world and that she deserves just as much as the boys seem to get.  She is part of the team, and if I pour a little ranch onto Andy's chicken nugget plate, Emily is quick to yell out, "HEY!" and point where she wants HER ranch.  The other night, I gave Emily a bath while Chris took the boys out to the front yard to play.  While getting dressed in her bedroom, she heard their voices float up into her window.  She ran over to it, looked out, and saw them.  Immediately, her little feet started stamping, her finger pointed, and she looked at me, betrayed.  "HEY!  Outside!  Out-side!  Out-SIDE!"  We dressed as quickly as possible and I set her loose through the garage door, where she ran out into sunshine and fun and brothers yelling,  "YAY!"

Don't tell Alex that I've lied to him, that story time isn't the only thing that Emily has.  It's one of the countless things, but it's fun and free and part of the toddler landscape.  Plus they have a felt board.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Sep 12, 2008

It wasn’t long before they decided to close the mall. We’d been listening to the radio since we’d arrived- the little, plastic radio normally reserved for Sunday football games and FM rock. In the laboratory where we made the glasses, we all hunched around the tinny speakers, and nobody but Margie, the eighty year old part- time optician, had anything to say. We were all in shock, each of us having found out in our own separate flashbulb moments. There was talk that the terrorists might target Chicago next, and the gorgeously ethereal skyscrapers were in the midst of emergency evacuations, their well-dressed occupants running out in the streets with cell phones attached to their face. That the Metra trains had abandoned their schedules and were all running out, not in, at top capacity. “Chicago,” Margie had murmured in her shaky, old lady voice. “That’s not far from here!” And it was funny, hearing her say this about the city that was the nucleus to our suburban atom, and we all laughed a bit too loudly.
The morning that would scorch itself into all of our memories started, for me, with dismissal. I had awoken to an alarm clock that rang with news of a plane having hit a building in New York, and as I climbed into the shower and thought about the things that I would do that day, this news slipped away from me like the water on my skin. Accidents happened all the time, and, after work today, I would maybe see if Gail wanted to go grab a drink at the bar. Classes were starting up again soon at my college; I only had precious few days of freedom left.
After stepping out of the tub and lazily brushing my teeth, I’d turned on the living room television for company. There it was, the hiss and sizzle of a burn. I stood in the living room in a grey towel, holding a comb to my tangled, rapidly drying hair, and I couldn’t walk away or sit down or breathe. I watched as the towers crumbled into ground, a mighty ocean of grey smoke rolling into the sky. The news reporter was at a loss for words, and for what seemed like an eternity, there was only silence. And then he managed to choke out something about not knowing what to say. There go the towers. That’s it, gone.
What a beautiful, sunny morning it was- a solitary vision of perfection if not for the deserted streets and the deathly quiet and the cop cars perched on corners, their lights flashing a helpless red and blue. I drove to the mall in a daze, wondering why I was bothering and what was going to happen next. The country suddenly seemed so small to me as I made the usual turns and stops. New York, DC, Chicago, LA, Seattle- I could be in any of those places in under a minute, if I really tried. I could be there right now if I just swerved right instead of left; I could be standing in New York covered with the remains of buildings and bodies and fire if I just closed my eyes and opened the door.
Our only customer of the day walked in just as we’d received the instructions to shut down and close. Businesses and lives and high finance had all screeched to a halt. Airplanes were grounded, doors were being locked, and anyone who could go home was already on their way. Nobody was thinking about acting normal or going about their business or whether or not they would make their appointments or have a pot roast for dinner in the evening. I will never forget the one customer who walked into our optical at eleven o’clock on that Tuesday in September, the one and only non-employee any of us had seen at the mall during our hour of remaining open. She wore a blue T-shirt, jeans, white sneakers, and gold-rimmed glasses. She had dull red hair cut into a bob, with wispy bangs. She was in her early forties, with rough skin and a thin, pale mouth, and she had a voice that might have been comforting during any other moment, a voice that I might have otherwise liked.
“I’m here for my appointment,” she told me, checking her watch. She was here to see the eye doctor, to sit in the doctor’s chair and choose between lenses one and two for clarity and crispness. To discuss the differences between bifocal and progressive multi-focals, to pick out new frames and have her glasses delivered and fitted within an hour, as promised. She was here to do this perfectly normal, everyday activity right now while the world was ending and while thousands of people lay dead underneath so much rubble and ash. She was going to speak calmly of not being able to read street signs in the same morning that desperate office workers had chosen to jump to their death rather than go down with a fiery building. After four planes full of people had been violently wrecked by terrorists , after everything we thought we knew was turned upside down and emptied out, she might decide to purchase sun glasses, just for fun.
The news reporters were saying that America was under attack, and this lady had driven here for her eleven o’clock appointment, checking her watch to make sure that she wasn’t late.
But that wasn’t what did it for me. I might have been able to forget this woman had she simply turned around and left after I managed to tell her that, due to what had happened today, and due to what might happen, we were being instructed to close up and go home. I might never have involuntarily memorized her face and her body and her clothes and her voice if she had just turned around and left while murmuring that she understood. Instead, she spat a reply into my face, throwing her arms up in the air in a gesture of great frustration. She said to me, “I can’t believe this. Every time I try to get stuff down, something like THIS happens.” Her day was ruined. She was pissed. And not because her husband had been in the World Trade Center or her daughter had been on a plane that crashed into the Pentagon or that no one knew what still lay ahead for the day. But because she’d have to reschedule her eye appointment. And, clearly, that was going to be a gigantic, almost unbearable, pain in the ass for this horrible woman.
After she left, we left, turning the locks behind us and mumbling that we’d probably see each other tomorrow. Our manager gave Margie a ride home; the old optician normally took the bus, but today was no day for sitting on a bench, waiting and craning a neck down the street. Everybody was so nice to each other that month. For the rest of September, and maybe part of October, we were all so kind and giving. We loved and wanted to protect our neighbors. We wrote checks and donated blood and waved American flags and volunteered and sent our fire fighters up east. We called everybody we knew. We hugged and kissed and held hands.
The following weekend, I drove into Chicago with two friends, Rob and Gail. I was thinking about my father as we headed up I-94 into the city that popped up like a cardboard cut-out. My father and I had gone for a walk around our sleepy suburban neighborhood on Tuesday night, and I’d told him how I was afraid for the future, how I couldn’t comprehend why this had happened. I looked up at the sky as we walked, and I had never seen it that way before- cloudless and blue and incomprehensively still. Word for word, I couldn’t remember exactly what my father had said to me as we cut through an empty park, but I found myself wearing the sentiment like a gown. Tragedies and attacks and disasters and secondhand losses and heartaches- these events that truly affected us only in the most peripheral of ways were the events that could change our lives, if we let them. For better, for worse, for simply taking and moving ahead.
Rob drove the car into a city that could be destroyed seemingly on a whim, that night or any other night. Gail and I were still talking about Tuesday. There was a good chance that we'd talk about Tuesday forever, about what we had seen and heard on the news. There was the newly minted widow in her twenties whose husband had sweetly looked at her on Monday night and told her that he loved her, less than twelve hours before he was gone forever. There were the images fed into unsteady, handheld camcorders, the screams in the background, the running, the wreckage, and the hazardous dust that refused to settle. And while Gail and I talked, Rob issued a harrumph, the first casually apathetic noise I’d heard in days. “Stuff like this happens all the time in other countries,” Rob had said, rolling his eyes as he pressed on the pedal. “And people think about it for about a minute and then just finish what they were doing. It’s not a big deal. Shit happens all the time.”
We drank in the city, holding our beers and staring out the windows at the buildings dressed in red, white, and blue. Gail and I were on high alert, ready to jump up and run at the first visible threat. We knew we were likely being absurd, but we’d been shaken all week, and aside from Rob and a few other blissfully unencumbered patrons, the other drinkers seemed apprehensive as well. And so much nicer than usual. There were so many more smiles and handshakes and lingering touches on shoulders and arms, and I wondered when things would get back to normal and people would start being assholes again. It wouldn’t take long, of course. Rob belched when he was ready to go, and instead of fiddling with the radio on the ride home, he slid in a CD and asked if we wanted to stop for hamburgers.
It’s been seven years. I didn’t remember that today was the day until the radio announcer on my ride to work accidentally talked through what was to be a moment of silence, of remembrance. I found myself thinking of how the path of my life didn’t really change after that day seven years ago, how my experiences and memories of the attacks are completely internal and so physically removed from my personal reality that it might very well have been a movie for me. I still did everything I would likely have done anyway- finished college, got a job, married, moved, furnished a house. I didn’t lose anything, and in the events and years that followed, I haven’t been close to anyone who went to Iraq or had an anthrax scare or had known somebody who had died that day. It was all just news and talk and fear and pictures; it was all just other people.
And yet, I couldn’t sleep that Tuesday night, or the nights that followed. I looked up at the sky for no good reason on too many beautiful blue days afterward, and sometimes when I saw a recycled image of the towers on television, I looked down thinking I might be in a towel holding a comb, my skin grown cold and my legs made of stone. I visited Ground Zero a year after the attacks, and it was terrible and actually real and made me feel ashamed because my connection to the spot was so thinly tenuous that it was, in all practicality, nonexistent. A few times in these past seven years, I thought I saw that lady whose eye appointment was frustratingly canceled due to what Rob might have called “some bad shit happening out east.” And every time I thought I saw her- two years later, four years later, six years later- I wanted to slap her across the face and say, “How could you be so awful?”
But then she might reply, “How could you?”
I might tell her that my dad was right, and that it is the events that we aren’t actually a part of that have an unimaginable power to quietly change us. A bridge collapsing in Minneapolis, a tsunami in the Indian Ocean, a mass shooting at a Virginia Tech. They are absorbed by the observers, and we hold them and hide them somewhere inside us for reference and for feeling human and for better or for worse, for taking and moving ahead.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Ball In The Toilet!

"Daddy, I dropped a ball into the toilet and then flushed it, and now the toilet's broken, so we can't use it anymore, okay?"

At least Andy had the sense to tell a grown up what he had done.  You'll notice that the grown up was laid-back Daddy, not HOW MUCH IS THIS GOING TO COST ME Mommy.  The answer to that question was $93.  The ball "fell" into the toilet, Andy decided to flush it (WHY!??), and the water came up and swirled around like it was waiting for Noah's ark.  Since we couldn't plunge the ball out, we figured some guy would have to come over, detach the toilet, flip it upside down, and pluck the ball out like a cherry from a kiddie cocktail.  Turns out, the guy comes over with his super plunger / snaking tool (three hours late) and just shoves it further down into the house pipes.  I fully expect to see that ball float up to my drain during a future shower.  Followed by an explosion for some reason.

Andy "broke" the toilet the week we decided to start giving him an allowance.  He gets up to $3 per week, and he earns his $3 by doing his homework and reading without complaint and helping with the occasional chore, such as table setting, playroom cleaning, or laundry folding.  Although it pains me to watch him fold the laundry.  It's a two hour process involving slow, careful folding of underwear and individual socks, and I have to physically restrain myself from jumping in and just taking the thirty seconds to just finish up.

Alex was pretty ticked off about Andy getting an allowance, especially because he loves money. Specifically, he loves the things that money can buy, and he's extremely annoyed by the first item that Andy has so sweetly chosen to save up for:  a doll for his little sister.  Emily is lacking in girl toys, and my little fifteen month old is reduced to babbling along to Batman figures and creepy looking dinosaurs.  However, if you've seen the disaster that is our playroom, crammed full of crap and always in disarray, you will understand that I am actively seeking to get rid of toys, not gain more toys, gender orientation be damned.  Emily will have to learn to cope with the glut of boy toys and the one girl toy she does have, a pink picnic basket (because men hate picnics).  I fully expect her Barbie (the one that Andy has committed to buying her) to slut it up with a bevy of superhero men.  She may be the luckiest Barbie in town, actually.  She'll be thrilled to date Batman, Superman, and Iron Man.  The only amazing thing Ken ever did was to buy a lifelong supply of flesh colored briefs.

Alex, the consumer of the family and the one voted most likely to file for chapter 13 bankruptcy, constantly rattles off lists of toys he wants to acquire.  As he spends about a quarter of his day glued to toy demonstrations on You-Tube, he's kept current in the latest toy fads.  His speech also reflects this devotion to toy videos.  "Check out the features of my Bat-Cave," he said to me last week.  "Would you like to see how many power discs it has?"  Mumbling to himself one day while setting up the car race track, I heard him say, "Actually, this is a pretty deluxe set."  He will also tell me the recommended target age for various toys.  "I'd like the Bat-Cycle, with two power discs.  Don't worry, it's ages four and up!"

When he's not scouting out new items to purchase, Alex is pretty content to just sit and set up his superhero sets, mumbling little conversations to them.  Emily is good at this, too.  She'll grab a Spiderman and start talking to it in that sing-song way of hers, bobbing her head up and down in agreement.  Emily, at fifteen months, likes toys.  She likes her pink teddy bear.  She loves to sing along to Baa Baa Black Sheep.  She adores Andy, annoys Alex.  She is quick to anger and is the queen of temper tantrums, but she is also a champion snuggler, hooking that little thumb of hers into her mouth and hugging in close.  She loves shoes, hates hats.  And she's probably the most amazing dancer in the family.  She shimmies, she shakes, she nods to the music.  She's so perfectly adorable, it's easy to see why Andy wants to buy her that doll.

This is a standard plunger.  Worthless.
But, of course, Andy broke the toilet, and now that we're giving him his own money, it's only fair that some of that money be withheld to help cover the cost of child-induced household repairs.  I threatened to keep his allowance every week until the plumber was fully paid off, but that would be 31 weeks, and even I don't have the heart to do that.  "I'm keeping your allowance this one week to help pay for the plumber," I finally decided, aloud, after the plumber had left, merrily swinging his super plunger/snaking tool and patting his fat wallet.  "I hope you learned a lesson."

"I did," Andy said morosely.  "I really, really learned a lesson."

And, of course he did.  So, ultimately, payday rolled around two days later, and I approached him with a single dollar bill in my hand.  A little something since we all make mistakes and he was an exceptional kid otherwise.  A little something since his teacher emailed me to tell me how wonderful he is. Since he jumps in to help without being prodded.  A little something since I spent half my childhood avoiding my uncle after accidentally breaking the door to his laundry room. We have to get past our mistakes.  Unless that ball comes to haunt me during a shower, it's over, and I'll let it go.

Alex watched very carefully as Andy tucked his dollar bill into the tupperware container he's using as his money bank.  We all trust Alex not to steal, and in my heart of hearts I don't think he would.  But if you see him rolling around town with a new deluxe Imaginext toy set
featuring power discs, then you might want to ask if Emily ever got her doll.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Tooth, The Whole Tooth, And Nothing But The Tooth!

Right before kindergarten ended, Andy's front tooth got wobbly.  "He's going to lose it today or tomorrow!" I whisper-yelled on the phone to Chris.  "Print out this official tooth fairy certificate I'm sending you. How many singles do you have in your wallet?  I've heard that some parents use glitter.  Crap!  We're out of glitter!  Do you think it would be weird to use elbow macaroni instead?"

Flash forward to today, Andy's first day of first grade.  He flashed a winning smile on this day for his First Day of School picture, and the smile contained all of his teeth.  Honestly, it looked like he might have even grown an extra baby tooth or two in the last twelve weeks.  He certainly didn't loose that one tooth that is still hanging in there.  Today, I came across the wrinkled up tooth fairy certificate in my desk and just threw it away.  I've watched Andy carefully bite into sandwiches without using that one wiggly tooth.  I've seen him sip neatly through straws on the side of his mouth. That tooth ain't going nowhere.

He gets that from me, you know.  The fear of losing a tooth.  One evening, when the boys were feeling especially rude and interested in hurting my feelings, they peered at my face in what seemed like a mixture of disgust and confusion.  "Why is that one tooth a little whiter and bigger?"  Andy asked, pointing out my Tragic Flaw #63.  "What's the deal with that?"

I told them the long horrid story, the one that spawns eras.  The diving board accident as a pre-teen that chipped my tooth, resulting in a most unattractive cap.  Then, years later, the careless bite into my favorite sandwich that resulted in the losing of said cap and feelings of gross betrayal by something I'd considered so perfect, beautiful, delicious, cheesy, meaty.  The month long root canal five years later that finally resulted in the third, whiter, bigger cap. Today, things are starting to feel unpleasant around that tooth again.  So I have made it my mission to keep Sensodyning that thing to numbness and, much like Andy, figure out ways to eat AROUND the offending tooth.  I can still lead a quality life this way.  I can.  This is what I am thinking, and I can tell that this is what Andy is thinking.  He is apprehensive about the loss of his little tooth and what may or may not grow in afterwards.  He is my son, through and through.

Alex, however, did almost lose his tooth this summer.  I have commanded him not to wiggle it, to try to wiggle it, to even go near it with the slightest of wiggling intentions.  He is too young to lose a tooth.  We had been at Great America one day and Alex, blue arm cast glinting in the sun, accidentally ran into some horror-stricken lady, who watched as Alex crashed to the solid black pavement, breaking his fall with an already broken arm (sigh) and then his front little tooth (super sigh) which was stained black and super wiggly for a couple days afterwards. "The tooth will tighten back up," Chris told me calmly when I started freaking out.  I'm fairly certain he had no idea whether or not this was, in fact, true.  But it's six weeks later, and Alex's tooth is still stuck in his face, even as he chomps down into things Andy and I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole.  Whole apples.  Hard lollipops.  Big delicious crusty sandwiches.

Emily's teeth have grown in nicely.  A little crooked, maybe, but if teeth can tighten in gums, then perhaps they can straighten themselves out as well.  I have already lined all three children up and given them the cold hard truth.  We can only afford braces for one child.  Whoever has the worst teeth or perhaps the most potential to become a face model will get the braces. The other two are looking at living the life I still live.  Smiling only guardedly and in certain dim lights.  Mild depression over a weak jaw line.  A cloud of disdain forever directed at my oblivious parents.  Et cetera.

I don't know how many teeth Emily currently has.  I've never been the kind of parent who counts teeth or anticipates or discusses teething or really gives any kind of thought to anything that goes on in there.  One day, your baby shall have teeth.  You will probably notice them after they are huge and fully grown and slightly crooked.  Only after they potentially get knocked out on the pavement of an amusement park do you really start to care about said teeth.  This was once my fortune cookie fortune.

The worst part is that I don't even really brush Emily's teeth.  Oh sure, sometimes I steel myself up for some screaming, crying, tantrum throwing, and all out thrashing and I try to take a couple swipes at it with her toothbrush.  Sure, I have those nights when I'm feeling up for it.  But, mostly, I let her chew on Alex's toothbrush whenever he's not looking (she prefers his), and just keep my fingers crossed that everything's going to work out fine, dentally.

But I am a tooth brushing soldier in the war against cavities with Andy and Alex.  I hope we are winning.  This morning, we scrubbed those teeth hard and then took Andy's first day of first grade picture.  The summer did not go by particularly fast or slow.  I am not shocked one way or another that he's entering first grade.  Today felt perfectly normal.  Perhaps it was that tooth that helped.  If that one tiny tooth can hang on in suspended childhood for a little bit longer- well, maybe we can too.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Twenty-eighth Percentile!

I took Andy and Alex in for their annual physicals last week.  This is one of those times when I have to huddle all three kids together and explain how very important good behavior is.  "Pediatricians and DCFS are tight, like this," I say, illustrating with my crossed fingers.  "So best behavior so Mommy doesn't get sweaty and screamy."

"But, Alex bit my finger," Andy replied, referencing the current reason why everybody was exhibiting not-so-good behavior.

"Did you stick your finger in his mouth?"

No reply.

"Okay, let's roll then.  Game faces!"

I exaggerate a little, of course.  I haven't had the DCFS talk in at least a month!  The thing about our behavior, collectively, is that it hasn't been all that bad.  Alex breaking his arm may have been the very best thing for the boys, as it seemed to scare them straight.  Emily is still very much a wild card, but she is agreeable, as she answers a very sweet "Yeah" to every question that we ask her.  Also, she's a thumb sucker, which gives her that innocent, sleepy look, the one that has elderly strangers eating right out of the palm of her hand.  It's all part of her diabolical plan to eventually take over the world.  First she will master the stairs.  Then, the rest of North America.

The doctor's visit went well.  The reason for Alex's snoring, it turns out, is that he has huge tonsils.  If you have ever shared a bed with Alex, it is much like sharing a bed with Alex's father, except somehow more infuriating because you wouldn't expect someone so young and cute to be so disruptive. Chris, you kind of figure the snoring would just come with the territory.  "An ENT doctor will be happy to remove these tonsils for you," the doctor told me.  "Or you could just wait and see if his overall head continues to get bigger."  Silence as we all looked at Alex's already massively oversized noggin.

The boys were weighed and measured, and before I knew it, we were back in the car chomping on the lollipops they offered us on the way out, once they were sure the co-pay had cleared.  It was there that I checked out the stats of the boys on the papers the nurse had handed me.  Seems that Andy and Alex are only two inches apart in height... and Andy is in the 28th percentile for height.  Twenty-eighth!  That's so low!

This mouse is actually the size
of a real mouse.  It's my kid that's freakishly small.
Now, I had recently begun to notice that Andy was literally half or a full head shorter than literally every single one of his friends.  But here it was, irrefutable proof.  Andy has gone from measuring off the charts as a baby to... not growing at all in the past year.

Immediately, I was flooded with all sorts of paranoid fears, from Andy suffering from some sort of Benjamin Button disease except growth is totally paused instead of backwards (and without the epic love story part, poor kid) to fearing that Andy will spend all of elementary school as not only the youngest kid in his grade (except for the handful of August kids that *weren't* held back a year) but also the shortest.  The youngest, the shortest, the least athletic, and the only boy who proudly declares love of the color pink and Sofia the First episodes.  Oh man, for a suburban boy, this is all bad news.

Of course, there were the reassurances.  Chris was short for many years until he hit a growth spurt. Andy is smart and friendly and funny, who cares if he's the youngest and perhaps kind of awful of sports?  And as for the pink and the princesses?  Hey man.  Whatever.  What...ever.  I just want the best for these kids.  I don't want them to ever suffer from the harsh words of other horrible children.  The kind of young people I'm NOT allowed to get all screamy and sweaty at.

Here's the thing about Andy, this great little boy of mine who just recently turned six (despite having the height of a much younger five year old).  He's happy.  He's fun to be around.  He's having the best summer ever with his little brother and sister.  He's still in that incredible phase of childhood where he's not too cool for anything, where he fully and completely embraces life with unhindered joy and excitement.  I don't know what percentile he is on *that* particular scale, but it has to be higher than the height one.  I just have to be careful not to wreck that with words like "short," "younger," and "pink."   That's what this blog is for.  So I can type them, not say them aloud.

We go back to the doctor next month, for Emily's 15 month check up.  I will only have 2/3 of the kids with me, as Andy will be back in school, a full-fledged first grader.  I hope that Andy approaches first grade with as much untainted eagerness as he's had until now.  I hope he stays happy in what can be a rough childhood.  And, yeah, I hope he grows a little taller this year.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The One Armed Boy Is Turning Four!

Alex is turning four in less than a week!  He will accomplish this task with the use of only one arm and hand as he has broken his left elbow and will need to spend the first half of the summer in a heavy blue cast.

Of course it's Alex who is the first to break a bone.  This is the kid who is perpetually covered in bumps, scabs, and band-aids, the only one to ever be rushed to the ER due to a bleeding head wound, and the only one to ever undergo surgery (granted, the anal fistula wasn't really his fault- or was it?). It is Alex, the one Chris and I are constantly telling to "Stop bumbling around!"  He is so clumsy, so stupidly fearless, so full of tangible mischief that manifests into injury and/or broken items.

I hate that I have issued a warning to these boys for the past three years that has now come true.  "Stop fooling around because if you break your arm you'll have the worst summer ever!  No swimming, no bike riding, no JOY."  And now we are living that prophecy, and I fear part of it might be my own self-fulfilling fault.

Actually, no.  It's Alex's fault.  How did he break his arm you ask?  Let me relay this conversation that he had with a girl at Andy's baseball game.

Ava:  How did you break your arm?

Alex:  Well, I did a super jump off a chair and I fell and I broke my arm.

Ava:  That's what happened to my grandma!

Alex:  Your grandma did a super jump?

Ava:  No, she didn't do the super jump.  But she fell and broke her arm.

No more super jumps are allowed in this house, ever.  Of course, Chris and I weren't around for the super jump, and I have the firm belief that the idiotic exuberance that went into this showy super jump would not have occurred had the baby-sitter not been here.  The boys were excited that she was here, showing off for her while Chris and I were away and- whoops.  Broken elbow.

Chris had to take Alex to the ER (along with Andy and Emily) when he got home from work.  I was at my own part-part-part time job, and when Chris finally called me (after an admittedly long stretch of hemming and hawing and packing the diaper bag and figuring out the car seat situation in his car that does not actually accommodate all of our children and then waiting out a freight train on the way to the ER), there was calm resignation to his voice.  Still, it was not a good call to get at work.  "We are on our way to the emergency room."  Ugh.

Is it wrong that my first reaction to the news was undeniably anger?  God dammit, Alex.  If you guys weren't constantly screwing around, this would never have happened.  What the hell is wrong with you?  You are not allowed to jump off of furniture!  You have ruined the summer.  Why aren't you capable of just SITTING STILL?

That reaction softened considerably when I finally got home and looked down at the face of my youngest son, which was so defeated and miserable.  It was the saddest I had ever seen Alex.  He was in pain and he understood the horrible consequences.  I never want to see that look again.  Alex is usually so full of happiness and laughter- it killed me a little to see him so downtrodden and sorrowful.

Chris seems to think that Alex, upon hearing the doctor pronounce his arm broken, truly believed that he was being told his arm was permanently broken- that it would never work again.  That it was like that remote control car that I tossed into the trash after deeming it beyond repair.  Yep, this is your arm.  It's broken now.  We're tripling up on your screen time since that's basically all you can do now, for the rest of your life.

I have, actually, underestimated how little Alex can do beyond the basic fun, playing stuff.  The other night, I handed him a fun size Snickers bar for dessert and walked away.  After about three minutes of silence, he finally whimpered, "Mommy?  Can you unwrap my candy bar?"  Oops.  Yeah, sure can.  I have two working hands, let me do that for you.  Yesterday, he wanted to work on an art project.  I watched him drag out some paper one-handed and then try to shake the glue stick hard enough to pop off the cap.  Oh, Alex.  Let me help.  Or turn on the TV.  Your choice.

He can't dress himself, use the bathroom alone, and do any number of other tasks.  Bathing is another issue.  After triple bagging his arm, rubber banding the top, and screaming at him not to pour water on it, I've come to the conclusion that Alex is simply getting wiped with a wet wash cloth for the next three to four weeks.  I'm not about to deal with what to do if his cast gets wet.  The doctor told me I can try to dry it with a blow-dryer should he get water in it, but I am certainly not qualified to be reshaping a cast on my own.  Just check out the shoddily patched walls in my bathroom.  I am not a DIYer.

Oh, Alex.  I am sorry that you are in a cast as you approach your fourth birthday.  I am sorry that your birthday present is Batman legos that you will not really be able to play with.  But I want you to know how much I love you, how much you make me smile and laugh, how incredibly unique and lovable you are.  Sure, you infuriate me.  Let's just get that out there.  Sure, I wanted to shake you when I heard about the super jump.  But Alex, you are an amazing kid, and you're so very special. But if I ever see you gear up to do another super jump- we're going to have a problem.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Andy the Baseball Player!

I was in softball when I was a kid.  It didn't go well.  I am sure this memory isn't accurate- at least I hope this memory isn't accurate- but when the coach (ie, unqualified parent volunteer) handed out awards at the end of the season (six random weeks), I strongly recall my award saying "Nice Try."  Like, at least you showed up.  Congratulations for not being late to the games.  You suck, though. Seriously.  Don't darken this field with your clumsy hands again.

There's some mumbling about Chris having played baseball as a kid.  I think he may have hated it.  Or loved it but wasn't good.  Or was really good but got atomic wedgies while waiting for his at bat.  Something about his baseball career wasn't illustrious, I just can't remember what.  But baseball (or softball), it's just one of those rites of passage in the childhood tunnel to early adulthood.  It's between getting told there are starving children in Africa and going on a ferris wheel.

Andy is almost done with his first season (eight random weeks) of baseball.  The whole thing is quite adorable.  There are three innings.  Every child bats and runs to first base, and nobody wins or loses. The coach throws about five pitches and then they bring out a tee if needed. They play on a miniature field and get to be on teams with a color in its name.  Blue Lake Monsters! Tan Tigers!  Red Knee Scabs!  Green With Envy!  You know, that sort of thing.  I have to bring up the color because so much of our first week was wondering if we'd received the right color uniform on pick-up day.  In fact, much of my own parental stress has been related to the uniform.  Andy kept losing his hat.  I wondered aloud why so many kids were wearing their uniforms to practice.  And then when Andy wore his uniform to practice and nobody else did, I wondered the reverse aloud.  I had to google what "cleats" were.  And I asked Chris, "Do you think he needs a... cup?"  I asked this while making a cupping motion with my right hand, classy-like.

While I've been obsessed with uniform issues, Andy's mostly concerned about the food aspect. Being introduced to Gatorade has changed his life.  Alex's too, really.  They are obsessed with it, with the colors that are available and just how damn delicious it is.  I personally didn't realize Gatorade was a "sports" drink, I always thought it was just a "stomach flu" drink.  Again, back to the Nice Try world of sporting activity.  I overhear Andy on the bench discussing what color/flavor of Gatorade everyone has today.  I nervously watch Alex, who hangs around nearby (not in cleats, a uniform, or any kind of cup) as he glugs his weight in red liquid.  It's a big thing, this Gatorade stuff.  But then, at the end of the game- there's a SNACK.  It's not nutritious.  In fact, one day it was Laffy Taffy. LAFFY TAFFY! As a snack!  After a sport!  Who are these slacking mothers?  When it was my turn to bring snack, I brought protein bars and orange slices!  Oh wait, no I didn't.  It was cookies.  I gave in, I got cookies.

The best thing about snack is Alex, who is not on the team but has the uncanny ability to hear a parent crinkling open a bag of snacks from about thirty yards away.  Alex comes running as fast as he can at the first notion of snack, sneaking his way into line and getting himself a free, undeserved snack every single time.  I would make more of an effort to stop him if I didn't already feel bad for him.  Andy gets to be in baseball.  Alex gets to just stand around.  

So how is Andy at baseball?  Well, I'll be honest.  I think he might be up for the Nice Try award.  The problem is that his little heart just doesn't seem to be in it.  He always looks on the brink of tears when he's up to bat.  I think the pressure might be getting to him, even though the pressure is zero to none.  He is much better out in the field, where he will dash clear across the field to try and catch the ball, all but tackling the other children for the chance just to touch it.  So, he's a hustler.  Chris and I ask him to practice batting at home, but his interests lie elsewhere.  As in, anywhere but there.  One day I gave him the choice between practicing batting for ten minutes or doing fifteen minutes of math.  Cut to the next scene, where he's hunched over two pages of subtraction problems.  He does not like to practice ball.  Part of him (perhaps most of him) has already written this whole thing off.

But I haven't.  I think we should stay the course.  He should proudly see it through this season and hopefully sign up next season, when cups might actually be required.  I make this commitment even though the league made us buy candy bars and sell them, which infuriated me beyond belief.  I do not like the thought of my children being little salesmen.  I don't like duping friends and family for cash. This is why we just paid for the bars and then spent the month of May slowly eating them all. Chris gained ten pounds.  I still look fabulous.

Play ball, Andy.  Play ball, and have fun. Put a smile on your face. And, yes, I will get some yellow Gatorade tomorrow before the game.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Emily is Turning One!

Emily is turning one on Friday!  This is where I lament the speedy passing of time, as I utter aloud a disbelief in the time space continuum.  Her birthday follows Andy's last day of kindergarten and Alex's last day of three year old preschool.  It's going to be an emotional 48 hours (followed by a long summer of splitting up fighting children).

Who is this Emily girl at twelve months old?  Well, her likes include Italian food, wood chips, banging at my computer keyboard, patty-cake, and waving hello and good-bye backwards. She walked earlier than her two brothers, starting off her 11 month birthday by taking a few tentative steps and almost running just under a month later.  She is attracted to danger and will eagerly climb the stairs and express an ill-placed confidence in being able to navigate going down the stairs (or up the bunk bed ladder).

Emily adores her big brothers.  She is perfectly content just to be near them, and she seems to save her biggest smiles just for them.  When Andy gets off the bus at the end of the day, she squeals in delight and initiates the backwards hello wave.  Whatever they are doing, she wants to be part of it. She digs eagerly in the sand next to them at the park and hovers around them in the family room when they're getting in their screen time.  She giggles at pretty much everything they do and gets upset when they leave the room.  At night, when I give her a bottle, she cranes her neck to look back towards the door, and I know she is wondering what they are up to, where they have been, if there's maybe another little baby in their life that she needs to be concerned about.

Emily is emotional.  Perhaps that's the girl baby part that I didn't get with the boys, but she cries so much more easily and seems to take things more personally than the boys ever did as babies.  If you raise your voice, she cries.  If she needs you and you do not come quickly, the cry is a soulful song of loss and sorrow.  Her face wrinkles up into sadness very quickly if things do not go her away.  If she had the language and physical capability to pen deep dark poetry, I believe she would.  It definitely would not rhyme.

Emily is beautiful.  Perhaps I am biased.  Unfortunately, we've spent half the year battling an unsightly eczema patch on her cheek, for which the doctor half-heartedly prescribed time and some lotion.  Of course, even with her little strawberry kiss of irritation, she is gorgeous, with hazel eyes, wheat colored hair, an infectious smile, and perfectly proportioned features.  If she does not pursue the writing of deep dark poetry, perhaps she can take up modeling.  I don't think one usually does both.

Emily completes this family, filling in the puzzle as a piece that we didn't know was missing.  Of course, I had an inkling that we weren't yet a finished picture, which is why she's ultimately here.  But, truly, she provides balance to this family and is the perfect little sister to two big brothers who need her.  She is every beautiful cliche of a baby girl.  Daddy's little princess.  Mommy's little sweetheart.  The pink- tinted shadow that follows around the boys.  I love you so much, Emily, and while I'm so profoundly sad that my last baby is turning one, my heart is so full with the happiness you've given me.  Happy birthday, sweet girl.  I apologize in advance that the gift I bought you was five dollars at Dollar General.  I promise this is not the beginning of you always getting short-changed.  I hope.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

When He's Wiggling!

"When I'm wiggling, I'm happy."  If Alex had a car, this would be his bumper sticker.  He'd probably have a lot of bumper stickers, actually, all carefully but crookedly affixed.  "I Brake For Egg Videos," perhaps.  "My Monkey Is On The Honor Roll at Bunk Bed University."  "Honk If You Love Fruit Snacks."  And then "John Kerry For President" because obviously Alex couldn't afford a brand new car. We're not made of money over here.

But what does "When I'm wiggling, I'm happy" mean?  Well, that's Alex's go to reply when I see him writhing and shaking and jumping and squirming all over the place.  These jerky motions are a clear indication to the casual observer that Alex desperately needs to pee.  That his bladder has gone past the point of being comfortably full and is now completely stretched out like a water balloon ready to explode and soak everything within a five yard radius.  Grab your umbrella.  Most people, when they get to this point, make it a priority to get to a bathroom for some relief. Yet both of my boys- especially Alex these days- act like stopping to pee means that they have failed.  Like at some point in the near future, somebody's going to be handing out marshmallows and Iron Man toys but only to the boys that were able to hold their pee for no less than twelve episodes of Caillou, including the Caillou Christmas special, which I believe was subtitled "Parents, Don't Make The Mistake of DVRing This."

So, here's how it goes.

Intense wriggling, movement, a little boy twisting all over the couch, clearly in agony.

Me:  Alex, go pee.

Alex (by way of excuse and explanation):  I don't need to go pee!  When I'm wiggling, I'm happy!

Me:  So you don't have to pee.  You're just displaying your joy by wiggling all around like a lunatic?

Alex:  Correct.

There's a lot of back and forth about Alex having to pee.  There's the complete and outright denial, the sentiment of just being happy and wiggling, and then, ultimately, I start begging.  Please go pee. For me.  I simply cannot rest until your bladder has been emptied.  Cut to Alex in the bathroom and it's like the Tom Hanks urinal scene in "A League of Their Own," except louder and longer.

Lately, I've been making an effort to nag my children less. Of course, all mothers can attest that most of mothering is just bossing a small, incompetent person around.  They have no idea what they are doing, how to do it, and the urgency with which it needs to be done.  They play too rough, too hard, too outdoorsy when indoors, too much in the sand and deep into raccoon and tick infested bushes when outdoors.  They eat, say, touch the wrong things. Every action is a potential disruption of the very universe, and it's my job as a mother to make sure that these children are as perfect, efficient, pleasant, attentive, and neat as possible.

Which is impossible.

I try to remind myself to lay off a little, that all of my relentless nagging is tearing holes into the fabric of their happy childhood.  Back off, Jackie, I whisper to myself when the eighth sentence out of my mouth is a stern directive or a mean what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you type statement.  Back off.  Two more hours and you can drink an entire bottle of wine and relax with a stressful time management food game on the iPad.

The other day, I told myself to back off right before I noticed Alex starting to do the pee pee wiggle. He was all over the couch, rolling and clenching and shaking and in obvious, deep discomfort. Whatever.  This kid clearly knows he has to pee.  Why go through the whole back and forth rigmarole?  I bit my tongue, and watched.  After a few minutes, the gears, already turning in his bladder, started turning in his brain.  He was having a conversation with himself, but the other voice in his mind was me.  And, aloud, he finally said, "I'm wiggling because I'm happy!  Okay, I'll go pee for you, Mommy!"  And he was off like a race horse.  Into the bathroom... like a race horse.

He'd self-nagged himself into the bathroom.  I hadn't had to say a word.  Our pee conversation was embedded in him.  All of my nagging, I realized- the kids already knew.  I've nagged a Mom-shaped hole into each of them- even if I don't boss them around aloud, they can have our whole conversation by themselves, alone.

My work here, as a mother, is mostly done.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Water Park!

I was flying down the water slide in a double inner tube, holding tenuously on to Alex with my feet. "Hang on, Alex!" I yelled as we rushed into a pitch black tunnel, rocking and slipping forward, left, right.  Frankly, I was mildly terrified.  I couldn't see anything, we were going fast, I had very little faith in Alex not flopping out of his half of the inner tube, and water was getting in my eyes.  I hate water in my eyes.  Alas, we splashed down somewhat safely into the awaiting pool at the water slide's conclusion.  "Can we go again?"  Alex squealed instantly, before I had a chance to blink my contact lenses back into place.  Stupid water in the eyes.  How come grown-ups wear goggles to go scuba diving but not to play in some slide sprinklers and four feet of water?  The struggle is still real no matter what the depth.

Alex and I (and Andy and I) hit the mildly terrifying water slides over a dozen times.  Andy, strapped snug into his life jacket, was also able to go by himself, which he did over and over and over and over again, taking breaks only when we made him eat and also to pee (at least once) in the bathroom.  Our first day at the resort, we probably spent about three hours at the water park.  Emily loved sitting in the baby pool with the water sprinklers bubbling at her feet but would immediately leap into my lap every five minutes when the nearby pirate ship full of one thousand gallons of water would come loudly splashing down, much to the delight of older children and the confusion of guests like me who wondered why housekeeping left notes about not wanting to wash my bath towels every day and yet here they tossed down one thousand gallons of water every five minutes seemingly just to frighten my daughter.  "It's different," Chris replied to this query of mine.  "The water in the water park is recycled, and the detergent water blah blah blah blah."  Whatever.

The second day, the boys spent no less than NINE HOURS in the water park.  Chris and I mercifully switched off going back to the hotel room whenever Emily needed a nap, grateful, not for the first time, that there was a third child to excuse us from possible overexertion with our two rowdy boys. By the end of the second day, the boys were pruney and purple-lipped and just completely water-logged. I could practically see fish swimming behind their eyeballs.

This was our spring break vacation.  Three days, two nights in Sheboygan Wisconsin, where- just so you know- the famous space museum is basically now just a bouncy house. No learning on floor number one.  The curator didn't even bother to show up today.  Take the elevator up to floor number two to play on inflatables.  Twenty-three dollars, please.  Did you remember socks?

A water park wasn't originally the plan.  Maybe we'd go to a hotel with a pool and then hit some museums, maybe a botanical garden, perhaps take in a show.  Then we looked around.  A three year old, a five year old, a crawling baby.  We needed something more... fun.  More... water centric. More... contained.  Resort with a water park it was.  The boys lost their minds with excitement when we told them where we were going.  Emily waved enthusiastically in our directions, also eager to show that she was possibly pleased. All in all, it was a great mini-vacation.  Except for the second night.  The second night was awful.

Alex wanted to sleep with me, so Andy and Chris took one bed, Alex and I took another, and Emily got her own pack and play in the darkest corner of the room, oblivious to just how good she had it. Alex fell asleep pretty easily, even while I basically turned the hotel room upside down looking for my very expensive glasses, which, I'm stating for the record, I'm pretty sure were stolen by the hotel housekeeping staff.  If I ever get around to writing a Yelp review, this theft will be duly noted. Finally, I settled in next to Alex, who started wiggling pretty badly after an hour or two.  "Alex!" I hissed. "Stop moving!"  I turned around at one point to see his dark, shadowy figure just sitting there, looking down at me.  "LAY DOWN," I hissed.  He obeyed, and I tried to get back to sleep, except something was bothering me.  A smell.  A disgusting smell.  I rolled over to check on Alex only to land in a small puddle of vomit.  "I puked," Alex whimpered.  I switched on the bedside lamp only to confirm that vomit was, indeed, everywhere.  "Chris!" I called out. "Alex puked!  I can't see because my glasses are gone!  Help!!"

We stripped some of the bed, turned some pillows around, and basically tried to just mask the vomit.  Alex threw up some more in the toilet, his insides no doubt sick with nine hours of chlorine plus a dozen corn dogs.  Who let him eat all those corn dogs?  We got him settled on the hotel room's pull out couch and then turned the lights out.  Fifteen minutes later, his little figure came bobbing into view.  "I puked again!" he declared.  Sure enough, the linens on the pull out couch were covered in vomit.  We bagged those up, and now, almost out of options, we settled Alex BACK into bed with me (lucky me) on a nest of hotel bath towels (which had not been washed that day due to the hotel's friendly saving water note).  Chris tucked a waste basket between me and Alex, which Alex did use once or twice.  I tried my best to go back to sleep, the putrid smell of vomit tickling my nostrils.  But of course, sleep was not to be had.  Alex threw up a couple times.  Chris' phone rang at one in the morning.  The baby woke up at two in the morning.  Again at four.  And we were all up for good before six.

Most.  Sleepless.  Night.  Ever.  And I've had three newborns.

But, it was the tail end of an otherwise fun family trip.  These are the trips you take with little kids, trips that send you into a fairy land of water slides, pirate ships, pools, and sprinklers.  And corn dogs. Andy and Alex keep asking us about that big family trip in the best version of our future, the one that involves a mouse and rhymes with Bizney Twirled.  It's our plan to take them one day, and we've basically promised it.  But man oh man.  How much does it cost to go to Disney?  A plane ride for five? Tickets for five?  Lodging for five?  Meals for five?  I hope that we will really do this for these kids one day, that we can afford such a trip.  I have a mental list of things we need to buy and pay for- mini-van, house repairs, dental work for a little girl who's shaping up to be an enthusiastic thumb sucker.  Hopefully the money will be there.  And hopefully we can afford TWO rooms at that Disney resort, because I don't think I ever want to share a bed with a child again.  #sleepinginvomit

Last week's trip reminded me of a similar one we took three years ago.  Time goes by too fast.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


Emily has grown distrustful of me, bursting into tears when I set her on the floor of the playroom and begin to tiptoe out the door backwards.   Just like Andy has FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) whenever he gets on that bus to go to school and Alex and I set off on whatever adventure I have planned for the day (Library!  Target!  A day of indoor yelling and spankings!), Emily has her own version of FOMO. Fear of Mommy OUT.  Surely, this is partly developmental separation anxiety, but this is also, I'm sure, partly because sometimes when I do leave the room... I truly don't show up again until the next morning.  Her fears are not unfounded baby fears. She is not an idiot.  Mommy regularly goes missing for entire days or evenings.

Ah, the guilt-ridden life of the ever-so-blessed part-time working mother.  Actually, I lie- I'm barely guilt-ridden at all, except when I see a Dr. Sears post on my Facebook page suggesting that I'm doing irreversible psychological damage to my child by not keeping her strapped to me every waking and sleeping moment, like I'm a sherpa headed up the mountain.  That I'm destroying her ability to love and have faith in the human race by not rushing into her bedroom whenever I hear the beginnings of a whimper at night.  It's Dr. Sears and the occasional article that make my heart twist just a little.  Of course, that is what the Unfollow button is for.  Good-bye, Dr. Sears.  See you in Hell,

Where you going, Mom?
Despite my daughter's Fear of Mommy Out, despite her heart-breaking sob when I place her on the floor and take that first step backwards, I think she's an essentially happy little baby.  This coincides with it happening, that second level of falling in love that occurs when the baby starts to truly *earn* parental love. Sure, I loved all of my babies fiercely that second they were born (slightly less fiercely when they were balls of squirming in my lower gut), but then when they started moving and giggling and playing and showing who they might become- that's when I fall in love all over again, harder.  And Emily knows I'm in the second level of smitten-ness.  We have our own private jokes, songs, looks. We clap together and giggle about things falling down or Alex being Alex.  We share a deep and tenacious love for snacking.  She's happy because she's in a family in which she's unconditionally adored by her mother, her father, and two proud older brothers.

(Perhaps there are a few conditions.  But I'll start laying those out when she reaches the preschool years and I've advance into the third level of intolerance, which is like the second level of falling in love except slightly more violent.)

Even if I disappear sometimes, Emily never seems surprised that I've returned.  Of course I've returned!  How could I leave her?  And all of my things?  Home is where my family is, and also the place where I know the wi-fi password.


On another note, we recently had one of those moments that would be just right for a four panel comic strip if only I had my own weekly comic strip (I would name it Peanuts.  The other Peanuts did so well.)  I don't want to forget.  Adult Andy might one day think this is as hilarious as I do.  I walked into the playroom where he was wrestling Alex, who was yelling out for him to stop.  "Andy!"  I cried.  "What are you doing??"

"I'm doing the Golden Rule."

"What? What do you think the Golden Rule is?"

"Treat others how they want to treat you."

Long pause while I look at Alex and think about that.

"Andy, that's not the Golden Rule.  It's Treat others how you want to be treated."

Andy, mildly sheepish.  "Oh.  Nuts."

Too bad.  The kid had almost found a loophole.

Join us next week on Peanuts when Emily gets left behind waiting for the Great Pumpkin.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Difference A Year Makes!

The boys went to Monster Jam today.  I remember last year when they went to Monster Jam, or at least when Andy went and little Alex got a conciliatory ice cream cone.  I remember this day, specifically, because we had been house hunting that morning, in a tailspin to figure out where we were going to live as we were shockingly under contract to sell our home.  The very last house we looked at that day, a couple hours before Monster Jam would start, was the house that I sit in now.  I am typing three feet away from where Chris, our realtor (whose catch phrase seemed to be "Just relax."), and myself agreed that this was the house for us.  This house.  The one tucked into the tree lined cul-de-sac one block from the playground, the one with five perfect bedrooms plus a playroom plus a dream kitchen out of a design magazine, plus four bathrooms, a sprawling family room, and a lovely living room and dining room.  That house sounds perfect, don't you agree?  Wonderful!  On paper, that house has it all!  Are you guys rich?  you must be wondering.  How are the schools?  Is it convenient to the expressway?

We sold our other house and moved into this one after the most grueling six weeks of my life.  These are things that I do not recommend doing.  Moving an entire household while six months pregnant with two little boys who try to pack full cups of water.  Making extremely important life and financial decisions while overwhelmed with pregnancy emotions and an almost insurmountable appraisal issue.  Oh, and putting regular dish soap into the dishwasher instead of dishwasher detergent.  It makes a huge, foamy mess that oozes out the sides of the dishwasher and basically floods your kitchen.  Not recommended.

Oh yeah, this house has a weird Tuscan mural, too. We haven't
had the heart to paint over it.  Yet.

Anyway, we moved into this house and immediately twelve things broke.  The downspout detached from the back of the siding.  The garage door broke.  I discovered that literally nothing was attached properly to the wall- the towel hooks, the toilet paper roll holders, the curtain tie backs. The poop vent in the downstairs bathroom detached and hung from an open square in the drywall.  The dishwasher didn't seem to work properly.  The boys' bath faucet had a corroded diverter.  The foggy windows (which we did get a credit for at closing) seemed a million times worse once we moved in. We found a mouse in the basement, basically killing all the joy I'd once had at the aspect of actually having a basement.  We found holes in doors and in walls, cracks in ceilings, crumbled grout.  The dark, murky paint colors the previous owner must have picked during a deep depression start to wear at my soul.  And then the carpeting.  Looked fine walking through the house a few times, but then we moved in... and walking barefoot.. and it was so stiff and flat and worn thin and full of stains that magically didn't seem to show before.  It's like the seller's realtor had sprayed some potion on the carpet to hide the stains during showings.  She was good! And suddenly, we were all moved in and I hated this house.

Emily and mural.
Of course, here it is a year after first seeing this house.  Love's a strong word, but it's probably the right one. We reattached things that were loose, painted over walls, fixed items that were broken.  I even did some grouting, although just so you know, I will never be a professional grouter.  I mean, maybe I might be if I find the right union.  This morning, we ordered new carpet, and today, a fiscal year so to speak of when we first stepped into what would be the (hopefully) forever home for our young family- today the transformation to completion is within reach.  But, of course, we have done more in this year than just move into this house and make it ours.  We welcomed Emily, the beautiful almost nine month old daughter who came home here.  We celebrated the boys turning three and five (and me thirty-five, oddly enough a mash up of their ages).  The boys have filled this house with their various items and joyous smirks and an assortment of semi-funny fart jokes.  Emily has added baby cuteness and some nighttime crying.  Andy started kindergarten this past year, Alex started surprise egg videos, and Emily started crawling.  We've had countless wonderful family moments (and of course many, many moments in which my screaming at the boys would not be suitable blog material for fear of being reported to DCFS.)  Here.  We've lived our lives here.

And now, this year, Alex is old enough to go to Monster Jam.  I have the sinking feeling he will get Monster Jam in addition to ice cream.  And Emily and I are at home, giggling and snacking and marveling on the difference a year makes.  A year, a screwdriver, and some bright yellow paint.

She's mostly giggling and snacking.  I'm marveling.  Everyday, I'm marveling.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Food Man!

The PTO at Andy's school sends a new fundraiser item home nearly every day.  The PTO, or "Parents Tapped Out," as I believe the acronym stands for, is trying to bleed us moms and dads dry- but for a very good reason.  Our schools need money!  Especially Andy's school, which I believe has a bit of a cash flow problem.  It's the MC Hammer of Lake County elementaries.  And so of course I support the PTO, believing that my extra dollars here and there will perhaps help magically boost its average state rating.  "We bumped up from "okay" to "awesome" overnight," I imagine the president of the PTO saying at next year's Back To School night.  "Thanks in part to Mrs. Berger, who diligently purchased only from Smile.Amazon.Com and, without fail, bought into every half-cockneyed money grab we could throw at her!  Also, she paid close to $9,000 in property taxes.  But she also bought tickets to dances and pencils for Valentine's Day, and that's what REALLY pushed us up over the edge!"

The thing is, I really like Andy's school, and most of the PTO events have been fun.  Yet I cringe every time a new flyer falls out of his blue folder at the end of the school day.  I write a check to the PTO every week in one form or another,  At this point, I believe they have my routing and account number on auto-fill at the secretary's office.  The secretary really should act more excited to see me on the occasions that I stop by Andy's class.

There was a food delivery fundraiser around Thanksgiving that I of course took part in.  The food on the company's website looked pretty delicious, and a rather large portion of my purchase would benefit the PTO.  What a no brainer!  I ordered the following items.  A five cheese pizza.  A bag of mozzarella sticks.  Two mushroom and cheese flatbreads.  Frozen philly steak meat.  Four crab cakes. Actually, what I ordered is irrelevant.   So, as I was saying, I placed an order, whispered a "You're welcome, PTO," to my computer screen, and waited the seven days for my foodstuffs to arrive.

The day before Thanksgiving, the food delivery/sales man rolled up to my house in his magical, refrigerated truck.  I met him at the door, where he introduced himself (Nice to meet you, Scott.) and went into a long spiel about all of the delicious food type stuff he has in his truck and what to do if I'm not home during my *next* delivery (As if.  But thanks for the freezer bags, Scott.) and about four different scenarios involving what I could do when/if I needed more crab cakes or was even mildly dissatisfied with my mozzarella sticks.  The man was thorough, to say the least.  Before finally leaving me with my bag of food, he explained that he was in my area every two weeks and he'd see me again soon.  (Wait, what, Scott?)  A little confused, but thinking our transaction was basically complete (The PTO did get paid, right, Scott?), I closed the door behind him and tried to get on with my life, first throwing out the wrapped up poopy diaper I'd been holding the whole time.

And so my life continued its whirlwind of PTO donations, overbuying perishables, television binge watching, and fishing miniature superhero figures out of my baby's mouth.  Then one overcast afternoon, the doorbell rang.  Alex jumped up off the couch, hoping against hope that it was the package man with a bubble-wrapped package for him. Alas, it was just Scott, having returned as vaguely promised to stand on my doorstep and launch into his sales pitch about coupon codes and turkey drumsticks.

"No, we're good, don't need to buy anything else," I told him after politely and patiently listening.  "And you don't need to stop by again.  I'll just order online if I want something."

"Oh, I'm in the neighborhood every two weeks, so I'll just come by.  See you soon!"  And off that man ran before I could further protest.

"Mommy, where's my package?"  Alex asked.  "What, no package?  I'm just so.... angry!"

Another two weeks went by.  We had an exciting Christmas and a New Year's Eve in which I reveled in having a young baby and being able to go to sleep no later than 11, just how I like it.  Then one morning, I woke up and I knew it my gut what day it was.  Crap.  The food man was going to come. I'd been meaning to find a way to go online and figure out how to cancel his appearances, but time gets away from you when you're yelling at young children and explaining why your son's shoddily crafted Lego tower is a piece of architectural garbage and will always fall down, every single time.

"Listen," I told the boys that afternoon, huddling them together in the darkest corner of our kitchen.  Andy was home from school early, and it was me and my young children versus the impending visit of the food man.  "If the doorbell rings, I'm not going to answer it.  So don't make any noise or go running to it.  Okay?"

"Why not?"  they asked, mystified that we even had the option not to open our door to its ringing bell.

"Well, it's the food man.  I don't want to buy his food.  I told him to stop coming and he keeps showing up.  He's kind of a weird guy, honestly.  He talks too much.  I'm just not in the mood today.  Besides, the mushroom flatbread was not delicious and had an odd smokey undertone.

"Okay," they agreed solemnly.  Then Andy whispered, "Is he here yet?"

The next hour went by with the boys stealthily peeking out the front window and tiptoeing around as if the food man could sense movement from his traveling refrigerated food mobile.  Suddenly, after Alex, Emily, and I had started to relax in the playroom with ten twenty-four piece puzzles, the doorbell rang, its ding ominously asking, "For whom does the bell toll?"  Andy let out a little shriek from the kitchen, where he'd been playing on the lap top, and immediately dropped to his knees and army crawled his way over to the rest of us.  "The food man is here!" he hissed.  Alex's face transformed into a mask of sheer panic, and he quickly found a blanket for us to hide beneath while Andy rolled into a corner and tucked himself in behind a box of toys.

It was like there was a crazed murderer after us instead of a talkative older gentleman who was knowledgeable about frozen meats.

We waited a minute or two longer, and then the doorbell rang again, insistently.  I half expected to hear his voice waft through the vents:  I know you're in there.  Alex trembled next to me, and Andy whispered, "Let's go look to see if he's gone yet."  I agreed, scooping Emily into my arms (who had been obliviously sucking on a baby wipe), and we crept down the hall as to peek around the corner at the front door.  Crap!  There was Scott the food man STILL STANDING THERE on the porch, just patiently waiting like a freak.  We turned around and went back to the playroom, where Alex was now standing behind a tower of diaper boxes.  "I'm just hiding from the food man!" he whispered.

Another minute went by, and we ventured out again.  Scott was gone from the porch but had gotten back into his truck and driven around the cul-de-sac only to park across the street from us.  "What is he doing there?"  Andy asked from his hiding spot off to the side of the window.  "Is he... waiting for us?"

"Sure kind of looks that way," I replied.  "Don't worry, he'll go away soon."  And eventually he did.  When I looked out the front door five minutes later, there was a cheerful, but persistent little post it note attached to the glass.  "Sorry I missed you!"  it said.  "I'll be in the neighborhood until 5:00! JUST CALL ME IF YOU NEED ANYTHING."

"I will make it top priority to call the food company and get this guy to stop coming," I promised myself.  "This is ridiculous.  No more hiding like war criminals."  Of course, I promptly forgot, and two weeks later, the doorbell rang.  Alex, who was sitting next to me on the couch, hopped up in fear and cried, "Is it the food man?  Do we need to hide?  OH NO!"

"Oh my God, it is probably the food man!"  My heart sank into my stomach, weighed down by fear and regret.  "But the garage door is open.  He knows we're home.  I have to answer."

Slowly, I plodded to the front door and cracked it open.  "Hi there!" Scott called out.  "Do you need anything?  We're having an amazing sale on chicken breasts!  Lightly breaded!"

"Nope, we're good!"  I replied back, trying to match his sing-song tone.  "Listen, there's no need to stop by.  It's so nice of you, but I'll just order online.  Okay?"

"Oh, okay, but it's really no bother," Scott replied.  "Listen.  There's this email that you should get with a coupon code good through Monday.  Watch for that email.  Or if you want to go grab a pen-"

"I'll check my email, thanks so much, Scott!"  I interrupted brightly, watching Alex crawl under the dining room table from the corner of my eye.  "Have a great day!"

Did I manage to get rid of Scott?  I wondered, closing the door and double locking it while he went off to his truck.  I would find out in two weeks.  Time passed again, uneventfully.  Emily got a tooth and became more mobile.  Andy got another Book-It pizza coupon.  Alex convinced me to have the package man deliver a Thor action figure.  And then it was Wednesday again, and I pulled the boys close to me.

"Listen.  I'm not sure if the food man is coming today or not.  But if the door bell rings, it's probably him."

"So we have to hide," Andy finished for me.

Alex had questions this time.  "Is the food man bad?  Is he going to hurt us?"

"Of course not!"  I answered confidently, although I wasn't quite sure myself.  "But listen.  I just don't want to deal with him."

"Let's yell at him," Alex suggested.  He demonstratively balled up his fists and yelled so hard that his face began to shake.  "GO AWAY, FOOD MAN!  WE DON'T WANT YOUR FOOD!  YOU'RE BAD AND STUPID!  STOP COMING HERE!"

"Or," Andy offered, "We could just tell him politely that we're not interested."

"Both of you are wrong," I said.  "We're just going to do the reasonable thing and hide."

I was in the living room a little while later when I glimpsed the green and orange refrigerated van pull up to my curb.  "OH CRAP," I called out, somersaulting out of the room like a ninja.  "It's the food man!  Everybody down!"

But.  The doorbell didn't ring, and after a few moments, through the silent air in which the boys and the baby and I did our best to not even breathe into, I could hear the food truck starting up again and pulling away from the curb.  He had come to our house.  He had looked at it.  But he hadn't rung the bell.

Weird.  Creepy.  But at least I hadn't had to talk to him.

Will the food man return?  Will I finally just call the company directly to ensure that he doesn't?  Will Alex yell at him that he's dumb and we don't want his food?  Will Andy have a calm conversation with him about not ever returning?  Will he stake out our house from across the street and just do random drive bys?  Will the PTO set up a fundraiser through another food delivery company that simply stuffs its meats and cheeses into my mailbox without sending out a talkative delivery man who will give me and my children no other option but to hide under a blanket while we wait him out?  It's all to be continued.... If I am unable to continue blogging, then let's just put it out there for the record.  It was Scott.  The food man.  On the front porch.  With a ham steak.