At the end of the day

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So done.  I am almost ready to read a parenting book.  I have nothing left.  My children are behaving like they are on a sitcom.  Walk-ons in a sitcom where naughty children who are too bad to find endearing bring a rain of destructiveness and meanness down on the maligned main character.  Somebody please take over.

Loving them when I can’t like them

I have been trying for the past three days to dig out from the laundry and destruction they have created, and if anyone so much as breathes a sigh that sounds like “make them help you clean it up” I will Chuck Norris roundhouse you through this computer screen.  When the only good part of your day was Facebook, you know it was a complete waste.  And that’s even with my “super-homeschool mom” trip to a country park to walk the trails to find different kinds of leaves for our leaf book.  J and L wouldn’t hear of it and said “I’ll just see them on the ground.”  I don’t even have a picture to show you because it was so obnoxious that even the dog ran away.  (She did come back, covered in rank duckweed and slime.)

The coup de gras (which as a Spanish student, loosely translates to me as “top of fat”) was the complete sham of a bedtime routine we just pulled together that spanned the ranks from JR putting his pull-up on upside down in bed with his feet banging the wall during prayers to Lumpy having a complete fit about using the potty.  It was a battle I wasn’t about to lose, after spending each morning clogging up the washer for the first three loads of the day with tinkle duty since Friday.  Growth spurts hit this family hard.  As I was reduced to yelling at Lumpy to get her pull-up on, I realized that there was no parenting happening.  Just a full-on fight.  Parents versus kids.  Her only need was to say no to me.  My only need was to get her to comply.

You’re expecting me to say something like “and that’s when I took a deep breath and realized…”  But no.  Heck-freakin’ no.  All day long that little girl pushed me and disobeyed me and taunted me.  This garbage has to end.  I gave her space.  I let her twist her actions into compromises.  I was firm.  I put her in time out.  But at the end of the day, there was nothing left to teach.  Unlike JR, she never tantrumed and raged uncontrollably.  She fought tenaciously.  I got the pull-up on her, but I can’t say that I won.  I set her, screaming, in the bed and walked away, disgusted with it all.

Fine, laugh at me, but I really am trying my best, and don’t know why my kids don’t appreciate it.  But, I’m not supposed to say that, because that’s the kind of weakness older people see as an excuse to make a condescending comment about.  And I would tell someone this: Kids aren’t ever going to appreciate anything, because they are inherently selfish, as they were made to be.  Yes, I know that.  But what it feels like is that I must have done something wrong.  I must have ruined the day and spoiled my kids.

But in the middle of this lump of poop day, JR wrote down his own song today called “I love God.”  Cal pushed Hoss on the swing while I took Lumpy to the Port-a-Potty.  And Lumpy stopped pulling Hoss’ arm out of the socket when he screamed and bent down really low and asked “Hey, Hoss, do you want to be the princess now?”  And, I got Lumpy back and sweet again in time for a good night kiss.

At the end of the day, when all of my efforts were for nothing, sometimes all I get is a small reminder that I can try again tomorrow.

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The Perfect Day

I always seem to know when I’m having a bad day.  Because it deviates from my perfect day.  So what is my perfect day?  I honestly don’t know.  I’ve never written it down before, but I do know that other people seem to have them as their “normal days,” with the “tough days” occurring at the frequency of “some,” as in “some days are like that.”  Well, my “less than perfect” days are the standard, if I’m honest here.  So, to have a frame of reference, I think it would be good if I actually wrote down what this mythical perfect day actually looks like.

7 AM: Wake naturally from the sense that it is morning and I own this day. Next to me is my husband, who is holding the baby/toddler who wandered in last night and wanted him, not me. I get dressed, make the bed, and have coffee brewing. I eat a bagel before going back upstairs to brush my teeth. Check facebook and email and only encouragement is waiting for me there.
8 AM: Children wander downstairs already dressed. They sit at the table and respectfully ask for cereal and juice and say “how’d you sleep mom? I dreamed I was a tiger!” Husband leaves for work and has lunch in hand that I thoughtfully individually proportioned for him while putting away dinner last night.
8:45 AM: Children have placed own bowls in sink and dog has not finished anyone’s cereal from off the dining room carpet. Everyone has used the potty without me telling them to.
9 Am: Children sit around table for morning routine (we read the Message Bible for like a minute and a half–the word devotional is ridiculous) and children seem to listen and don’t need scolding to sit still. Baby plays independently and doesn’t climb up sister’s and brother’s backs in his pursuit to ascend the table.
10 AM: We have gotten through two homeschool lessons with each child working with minimal assistance outside of instruction. All pieces of whatever I slaved over laminating are back in their bag. No one has a crayola mustache.
10:30 AM: We have snacks and the children actually go outside when I tell them to. I somehow discover the inner desire to wash the windows and vacuum our barely messy living room that only requires two minutes to pick up toys (which I will sigh messily over, thinking how wonderful I am for allowing the children to be children). I don’t need to bring out the carpet cleaner to suck up orange juice that isn’t allowed in the living room anyways. I don’t have to extract tape from every soft and hard surface a 4-foot reach from the ground.
11 AM: After the children don’t bring anything living or sand-based back from their outdoor adventures, we all go down to the basement and clean up together. I get a brilliant idea for lunch, and they continue cleaning and start an impromptu play while I go and fix a lunch that doesn’t involve a packet of cheese powder.
Noon: Children eat meals without crying. Hoss and Lumpy go down for nap at same time.
1 PM: Cal and JR and I bring out the microscope and investigate small creatures and household dust.
1:30 PM: We all sit down in the clean house and I fold a load of laundry while they watch and educational program. I finish folding and lay down next to them for a 30 minute power nap.
2:30 PM: Littles wake up and we all go play outside. Hoss doesn’t attempt to eat anything made of earth.
6:30 PM: Dinner is ready and made and I’m not exhausted.
7:30 PM: We play a family game. No one walks away crying.
8 PM: Bedtime routine.
8:30 PM: Kids in bed.
9 PM: Kids asleep. Pops does dishes while I write pithy blog post that receives 400 hits and adulation.
10 PM: We feel no guilt from avoiding doing something today.
11 PM: We head to bed and read for half an hour, until Hoss has his nightly wake-up, from which he will let me set him back down in his crib in peaceful rest.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask. Actually, it’s kind of boring. It’s not even that funny what the children aren’t doing. My perfect day is kind of…pathetic.

I don’t know what that means, but I have to say I still want it. Even when I’m typing here at 9:25 AM while the kids are still watching TV in their jammies, unfed, un-diapered, and I think I have a tinkle bed to change upstairs. Maybe we still have a chance at our perfect day, but I doubt it. Is it my fault? Probably? But, are we all going to be here, a day older and crayola-covered by the time it’s night again? God-willing. Most days we just get through it. But even when the perfect days are few and far between, we seem to fake it with moments of perfection.

Cal writing a book for her brother while I’m rocking the miserable baby Hoss to sleep for 45 minutes.
Lumpy laying herself down for a nap when she feels tired.
JR getting himself dressed and throwing his tape leftovers in the trash instead of in the couch cushions.
Hoss bopping to a song playing on Pandora while I try to come up with something for dinner at 6:25 PM.

Maybe the moments are all we can hope for. But I’ll always compare the bad days to the perfect ones that never seem to happen.

The Evolution of Snacktime

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When you put 3,000 miles on the car in 7 days with four small children in tow, there comes a point when a parent must scream: “Enough! We are officially Missourians because I cannot drive for another mile!”

For us, 3 weeks ago, it was Branson.

Yes, the butt of all “giving up on exciting vacations, going to Branson” jokes.  But that afternoon, it was an oasis.

We found a great deal online, and booked 3 nights of staying in one place, because we honestly had no choice.  We were all out of gas.  We bought tickets to 2 days in Silver Dollar City for less than the cost of one day in Disney World for one adult, and found a little banjo-picking amusement park with shade and wholesome family fun galore.

After spending an hour in an air-compressor-fueled, nerf-ball laced, 4 storey shooting gallery, we took our first break of the day.  Fortunately we were permitted to bring a small cooler in, so we did.     And there we witnessed the evolution of snacktime.  Rarely captured on film.

It is a gem I share with you now.  Think of it as a comic strip come to life.

I’m holding the bag, that means it’s mine.

Whatever.

If I can just lean back like this…

You see what she’s doing, right?

Do I look like a child?

You can’t see me.

Oh man…

Mom wouldn’t have let me hold the bag if she wanted you to have any.

Or maybe you’re just not sharing.

Your faulty logic leaves me reeling.

Allow me to clarify. Missouri civil code 163.7 clearly states that pursuant to…

I am living with baboons.

Shut Your Mouth

Why are people so obsessed with criticizing a big family?  Want to know a little secret?  Not every family of two is that way by choice.  They might be on our side.  And yes, I do mean side.

There is an assault on large families that is being propagated in nasty little side comments from patrons in grocery stores.

From Sunday school teachers.

From family members.

(Yes, yes, insert nasty comebacks to mean comments here.)

But here’s what is remaining unsaid.

When people make comments like this, they are really telling me I am at war over what my family should look like; they are saying I need to defend myself.

That means when I have a bad day, I am careful about what I tell people.

That means when our adoption is facing a roadbump, I cannot tell people about it.

That means when homeschooling is challenging, I turn to anonymous internet groups to ease my fears.

That means when I struggle with answering God’s call for my husband and me to remain open to life, I can’t ask for advice.

Because the answer to all of these problems is immediately: Maybe that’s God’s way of telling you that your family is big enough.

Maybe.

But, wouldn’t the evil one’s response be the same?

When the answer to every challenge we face is seen as an opportunity to advance a more acceptable agenda.

This is how people drift apart.

When we act like adults, and we say nothing at all.

I am incapable of changing anyone’s mind when I ask for just what I need

and so instead I just shut my mouth.

Messy Woman’s Guide to a Clean House

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It’s no secret that I hate cleaning. Every part, from the tidying to the scrubbing, to the dusting. The only household task I enjoy is baking, and that makes messes. I am, without a doubt, a messy woman.

But, when I clean, I like to do it perfectly. I don’t just clean the counters, I clear them off, scrub them, rinse them, dry them, dust appliances, and replace. When I clean the bathroom, I dust the fixtures, organize the medicine cabinet, wipe the mirror, organize the toiletries, dishwasher the toothbrushes, and hand wash the floor.

But, once I start, I cannot be interrupted. It makes me grumpy. I also expect adulation for my Irish-washerwoman worthy performance. Most days, though, I hang out my “No Irish Need Apply” sign on my own house. It just doesn’t bother me that much if the place is a wreck between a good monthly straightening.

So, just like losing weight without hating yourself, I am faced with the oxymoron of cleaning: I hate to clean, and am not bothered by mess, but I also want a clean house when friends come over.

And so, I present for you, the twisted logic of my house cleaning, so that some other woman not yet at peace with her messiness can learn from the shining example of the fearless Mrs. BLD:

1) I don’t plan cleaning, I plan messes. Today I gave the middles a bowl of water for their pet dolphin to swim in on the kitchen floor. Hoss made sure there was a healthy mess to clean by the time they were done. Instead of mopping up just the mess, I grabbed my (dang it) new hand towels and proceeded to wipe up the whole kitchen floor by hand. It took five minutes, and my knees are wet, but hey, it’s done.

2) I never let a crisis pass me by. As my dear fellow blogger at The Mother-Flippin’ says, don’t be sad when your son vomits all over the kitchen floor. You might never have cleaned that floor again otherwise.

JR broke this cookie jar while I was typing this post. So, I swept the whole floor. Yes, after I scrubbed it by hand. Sue me.

3) Cleaning binges. If I’m getting the vacuum out to suck the glitter off the dining room rug, I may as well go ahead and vacuum the living room, too.

4) The domino effect works. If I want to vacuum the living room (see number 3), I am going to have to pick up the stuff. If all I have is a toddler, I simply make her pick up all the stuff and put it on the couch. At least I can pick through it at eye level this way.

5) I give the kids grocery bags and tell them to pick up all the garbage pieces, as I dramatically build the tension by subtly threatening to vacuum their little feet up if they don’t hurry. Traumatizing? Maybe. Effective? Definitely.

6) If there’s stuff I don’t know what to do with, I follow these steps:

  • Feel really sorry for yourself. No human being should ever have to decide if they should save all the rogue v-tech cartridges when you definitely garage sale’d that thing last week.
  • If the kids aren’t looking, throw it out.
  • Clothes?  Skip the smell test…straight to the dirties.
  • Dishes?…see above.
  • Stick all money and hair clips in your pocket. I don’t even know where these things live in my house anyways, so I procrastinate until I have to pull them out of the dryer screen.

7) I invite a friend over and tell her it’s Becky home-ecy day, and she’s Becky. I give her a visit-time like 2:30PM, so I’ll scramble around picking things up while trying to meet the imaginary deadline. That way if she comes over and I’m still sweeping, she won’t think I’m being rude. Even though I am.

8) I lie to myself. Like, a lot. I tell myself I’m just switching the laundry before going to bed, when I know for a fact I am going to clean the laundry room down to brass tacks. When I’m feeling daring, I dupe my husband into cleaning out the junk drawer, taking out the garbage, and organizing the kids’ shoes at 11:45 at night. This works especially well if it’s his family that is coming for a visit.

9) No matter what, I never jam stuff in drawers and closets (except Andy’s junk drawer, see number 8). A laundry basket full of stuff I don’t sort for two months is better than every drawer hiding garbage I’ll never find again.

10) I compensate for remaining messes by being the in-control, laid-back mom. “Oh, don’t mind the playroom/children’s bedroom/garage,” I say good-naturedly. “We let the kids be in charge of cleaning that room, and they actually do a pretty good job considering little Hoss is only 13 months!” People love this kind of thing. True, I may have literally dumped a laundry basket full of toys on the ground just minutes before the guests arrived, but these kids need to earn their keep around here. Responsibility, yes, that’s my point. I might actually mean it.

20120517-144138.jpg

The Children do a wonderful job, considering, don’t they?

11) No matter what, when guests come, DO NOT apologize for the clean parts that aren’t sparkling from baseboards to ceiling. This just draws their eye, like those tooth whitener commercials. They don’t know what dirty looks like until you point it out. Work what you got, and choose to laugh at the messes and treat the clean stuff like it’s your normal. Who knows, someday that might be true.

If all else fails, I encourage you to follow the advice of the big green “How to Clean Your House and Have a Miserable Life” books my mom had by the shelf-full growing up:

There is a multitude of cleaning ills that clean countertops and made beds can fix.

Aim low.  You might just land amongst the dust bunnies.  You’ll be in good company.

Smell the Rhodies

Today the kids and I went to the local, stunning, reasonably priced exhibition garden. Through some big money grants in the 50’s, the city now boasts a gardener’s paradise using native species and highlighting strange 50’s-era post-modern architecture.  It’s weird, but it fits.

The purpose of our visit today was to kick off the summer with the implementation of Field Trip Tuesdays.  Our mission: to see my closest Auntie Jay’s beloved rhododendrons in bloom.  We probably won’t be going out to the west coast soon (cheapest airfare for a family of 6, free lap baby, was $2800), and I want to encourage the kids’ connections to her.  So, we looked up some rhododendron facts–some species can make honey poisonous to humans, or kill a horse in a few hours!

But, the most important thing to Cal is that we all call them “rhodies,” like Auntie Jay does.  So we do.

Cal and the first rhodie in sight.

As we walked along, Cal captured a few more pictures for her field journal, and logged the best names on construction paper and a clipboard she put together before we left.

JR and Lumpy raced up and down a stairway of concrete circles, and for a moment, I lamented that my only camera was on my iPhone.  The letters “SLR” flashed past my eyes.  I could really see this one, caught with a hummingbird’s heartbeat shutter speed.  Then I looked at the stroller, overflowing with baby carrier, lunch, blanket, sunhats, and baby.  I snapped this subpar shot and called it good:

Run, boy, run!

We walked past the azalea archipelago, we turned down rhododendron trail to find a shady spot for lunch.  As I attempted to keep up with Hoss’ chronic demands for more go-gurts (I’m weak) and Lumpy’s obsessive shoe removal, a mom, dad, and two small kids walked by.

The little girl couldn’t have been more than 18 months, but her parents were pleading with her to smell the flower, as Mom stood with her camera ready.  “Sissy, smell the flower,” begged Mom.  “Smell the flower,” Dad chimed in instantly afterward.  Her refusal was met with “Ok, I’ll just get a picture of Daddy smelling the flower, then.”

None of this was said in a harsh way, or was actually anything out of the ordinary.  It has become the norm in our society to stop everything for the perfect staged candid shot.  Aren’t those the ones that make us gasp at the beauty of childhood?

Now, here’s the deal.  Most of those incredible shots are real moments.  Really real.  What makes them special is that they were captured moments.  Not created ones.  It takes luck, skill, and often, a pretty swank camera to pull this feat off.

It seems like every outing with our children should turn into an adventure for them to learn, not an opportunity to compose a beautiful photo for our scrapbooks, emails, and Facebook friends.  A swank SLR camera is a tool, not a license to turn children into models, who are only experiencing their childhoods as one photoshoot after another.

Now, I have no problem with a good staged “cheese” photo, don’t get me wrong:

Parmesan, traditional.

But, I wish more parents would stop to take a photo class if their desire to be a great photographer is brimming over. Pictures capture moments, they don’t create them, and certainly don’t stage them.

That being said, I am no great phtographer. I don’t have a swank camera. but my kids do have moments. Lots of them. And if my iPhone is handy, and luck and lighting are on my side, I sometimes catch a memory in the making. That’s what matters to me.

Hoss checks in.

Teamwork

Pants really just hold you back.

Now that I have set the guidelines, I feel quite confident an SLR camera will not be a hindrance to my children’s childhood. Oh yes, very confident.