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.

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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.

Car Travel with Kids

Mr. BLD and I are so blessed to have family just a five-hour car ride away. We try to get home every other month with a long trip for me and the kids in the summer. I often go alone, as Andy’s work schedule limits the days he can take off for some reason…so unfair.

This weekend we got to travel home to be a part of a special day for the most beautiful little girl, and Cal’s only same-aged, girl cousin. It was worth the drive!

So, I’m going to tell you our secrets for travelling with 4 kids ages 1-6 and a dog and car-sick cat. First off, I’m not going to feed you the “too late” garbage that starts with “well, we just started when they were young!” because what that really means is: I am a parenting genius and you missed the boat. Enjoy life on the island!

Uncool.

Here, I offer you, free of charge, the most important things to do to make the car ride from h-ll doable. And, did I mention, we don’t have a DVD player?

All is well.

1) I clean the dang car. I mean, bare bones, spotless, even though I’m a messy messy person. I think JC said something about new wine and old wineskins…he was talking about my car. In fact, Jesus was in the front of my mind when I vacuumed out Svetlana (our 2010 Suburban), as I contemplated the story of the loaves and fishes, and mentally calculated what 11 baskets of crumbs would look like scattered in my backseat. I think I had 12.

2) I pack each non-babykid’s bag separately, and put it under their feet as a footrest so their legs don’t go numb.

3) Every kid that can possibly wear diapers or a pull-up MUST wear diapers or a pull-up. I go disposable. Don’t tell.

4) I bring high-value junk-food snacks in small quantities. I pack each into a pre-measured bag. I give each kid a sippy cup of water.

5) No matter how long the trip, we leave a half hour before dinnertime. That way, the anticipation of getting dinner burns the first 30 minutes. The eating of dinner burns 30 minutes. Before we can blink, we’re one-hour in! No entertainment is provided until all dinner wrappers are passed up.

6) I buckle the kids in the car and THEN load the dog and luggage. You would be amazed at how many bladders only activate with being strapped into a car seat.

7) Each kid gets their own bag of magical activities. All 4 bags must take me less than 5 minutes to pack total. More on this here.

8) I use the word “bummer” to respond when they start to go into every detail of their backseat Battle of the Somme. (hehe, history link!) This word is my go-to parenting genius tool. It portrays concern, and is also incredibly neutral. Plus, it keeps me from feeling like I have to follow the logical points in each argument and work the problem out for them. Win-win.

Poor JR didn’t want to read his book to himself.

9) I choose a family song and play it loudly over and over while the kids learn the lyrics. It’s adorable and kills time, and entertains that rear-facing baby. Most recently, my kids have been mastering the rap from Sister Act II’s “Joyful, Joyful”

It helps that I sound so much like Lauryn Hill. (cough)

10) Choose your seating arrangement wisely. The seat behind me is what I like to call the lynchpin. I put my oldest there, with the baby in the middle (say it with me: BENCH SEAT…not as cool, but I cannot stop every time the baby is grumpy). Cal fills the gap, and gets a grown-up responsibility pat on the back. Her jobs include keeping track of Hoss’s binky and passing things back to the kids in the backseat. JR, 5, is in the navigator position in the 3rd row driver’s side, because he can see what everyone is doing. He also hands things to Lumpy in steerage.

11) No matter how long the trip, we leave the bulk of travelling for when the kids don’t pay for it. That means we leave about 2 hours before their normal bedtime. I am a grown-up, the trip was my idea, the kids might be excited, but the privilege of childhood is sleeping your way through travel. I’ll skip the sleep to make it easier on them. I understand this might put me on the road late at night. But, we have roadside assistance. Is pulling off the side of the road any more or less safe during the daylight? Maybe. We’d be snookered either way.

12) If we get a flat tire, we drive on it until we are at a safe place. The $250 tire rim is worth replacing. If the car won’t drive (only happened once, and NO, I didn’t realize the low fuel light was only a four mile warning!…old car, though), without exception, I unload the whole family from the car and walk up to a safe distance so that if our car gets rammed at 75 MPH, we won’t get hurt. Even if it’s snowing. Even if it’s raining. I had to make it a rule, because staying in the car instinctively feels like a very good idea to me. It’s not.

13) No matter what mapquest or my GPS says, I tell people our trip takes an hour long than what it is. That way, I won’t be depressed that we’re still on the road 6 hours into a 4 hour drive.

14) I expect the kids to zone out. If they are quiet, I don’t engage them. This is their time to sit with their thoughts, watching cars with strange dogs and weirder people pass by. This is their time to think with no expectation of expressing what’s going on in their brains. Same goes for the dog.

15) Bribery works. Frosties are won or lost in the battle for patient behavior.

16) When the kids are asleep, we stop for nothing but gas. The miles are free when the kids are unconscious.

Cruisin.’

17) Keep family on the west coast who would love a bedtime phone call set to speed dial.

18) Pass the kids off to your waiting family and don’t yell when Amma decides 1AM is a good time to start an I love Lucy marathon. This is what memories are made of.

There will be a good time.

Last night I walked away from the most fulfilling thing I do for myself all week. I quit the community performance choir (auditions required, albeit gentle ones at that) I joined at the end of the summer. A dear friend, and mother of three herself, had asked me if I wanted to try it with her, and let me tell you, it was great. I found that not only did I retain some skills from long ago in high school music, I had maintained my modest mezzo range after 4 kids and singing along to the radio exclusively for the interim twelve years.

From 7 to 9 PM on Monday, it was worth it.

But, 4 to 6:45 PM was a different story.

In order to go to rehearsal, starting in October, Andy had to take over teaching catechism for me from 6:15-7:30 at our church, a 30 minute drive. That required two different babysitters. One for the middles, one for baby Hoss. Two generous neighbors helped on both fronts. That meant Hoss would only have to go 75 minutes without one of us (Andy could pick him up by 8 most nights). Hey, who ever said this would be easy?

Well, no one. And it wasn’t. Hoss did miserably all two times we left him with our wonderful neighbor (mother of 5, grandma of 5 jillion). Andy travelled on of the other weeks, and I had to take over his class, all 3 too-little kiddos in tow (Cal was attending her own class).  Mondays are tough.

But, yesterday, despite all my best efforts, crock-pot heroics, schedule manipulations, marathon nursing, and last-minute cleaning, all I could come up with was misery. And yelling. A lot of yelling. And the second frigging out-of-print Scholastic book I have to replace (Really, Amazon Associates, cancelling the order again?! Who cares about Clifford’s flippin’ Stormy Day Rescue is in “very good” condition if what you meant to say was “non-existent” condition!?! Not that I’m angry.)

And that did it. The three oldest were at each other’s throats. I literally roared at my children. Cal and Lumpy started crying. I asked if they liked the yelling house where the only way mommy can get anyone to obey is by screaming at them. They said no. Ihad to hug kids and make them feel better before I could even talk about what went wrong.

I learned, yet one more, horrible, frigging time, that MY children are not goal-oriented or driven by results. They have absolutely no focus or sense of cooperation for our family, BECAUSE THEY ARE 2, 4, AND 6 YEARS OLD. NOT because they have no discipline or I have been lax in gently parenting their little hearts to get them to follow my own desires. WELL FRIGGIN’ POOP ON A STICK.

My husband came home. We ate a rushed dinner. My husband took Cal to catechism. Hoss fell asleep. The babysitter came over and played with Lump and JR in the basement. It was 6:30. And that was it.

I called up my mommy buddy who was going to give watching Hoss a try and cancelled. I loaded Hoss into the car and my uniform and my music book. We drove to the dress rehearsal, walked in together, and turned my stuff in. I told our incredibly understanding and almost magically skilled director sorry, but there will be a good time someday. And I’ll be back when that day comes. I left a voicemail for Andy telling him what I did. Hoss and I went to the grocery store, and he rode in the cart for the first time:

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There will be a good time for singing someday. Really. For Andy and I as parents, there is so much power in the few words that cement our faith in the promise of delayed gratification. (Four years ago I would have been wrestling with the perception of not letting parenting change me, but that’s simply a base discussion this late in the game.)

All this headache? For my stuff? Whew. I’m not worth it. My fleeting two hours of happiness, that is. Not worth subsidizing my experience with the peace of four young children and the $10 for our extremely reasonable teenage babysitter. I won’t be cruel to myself and say I couldn’t handle it. The endless emails and arrangements. Rushing Cal through her homework without my help. Expecting non-destructive behavior and quiet play from the littles during their witching hour.

No. It’s not me.  I did the work, I was diligent, focused, and prepared.

But they weren’t.  They couldn’t be.  Because it’s just not the right time.

Yet.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens

-Ecclesiastes 3:1

Fake Fun

Today I did something dumb.  It’s garage sale Thursday, but it’s also the middle of October and it was raining.  There are no garage sales, and we couldn’t go somewhere, but I didn’t want a normal day at home.  Thursday should be better than that.

I asked the middles if they wanted to go splash in the backyard, come in and have a bath, then snuggle up and watch a movie and have soup for lunch.  “Tomato soup?!” asked JR.  Yes, my son.  Real tomato soup from a can.  He was in.  Lumpy?  “I have hot chockwet?”  Yes, my daughter.  Real hot chocolate from the powder in the cabinet.  There would soon be coffee in my pot, and we had made a rare run to the bagel shop–and it was $0.49 bagel day!  Rainy day blues?  Pshaw.

Who wouldn’t want to be my child at 9:08 this morning?

At approximately 9:40, I had put my husband’s socks on both kids, squashed JR into last year’s rainboots (Cal had swiped the big pair to wear to school–we stock them His, Mine, and Ours style), and even tracked down the incredible piece of engineering JR was dying to try: a glorified garbage bag the rest of the world knows as a poncho.  Lumpy’s ensemble was no less work…tracking down a pair of pants that almost fit, grabbing an extra shirt, hat, and, of course, dad’s socks.  And, at 9:50 I triumphantly sent them out to dig up adventure, my kitchen spoons in hand, coffee brewing, curtains opened, screen door closed, baby settling in to nurse.

Then, Lumpy broke down.  You see, the child who believes all waste material should be manually inspected, suddenly realized she had dirt on her hand.  “Mommy, my hawnds aruh dirty!”  Let me  get out my microscope.  Hoss unlatched (thank goodness for the privacy fence) I scrounged a nearby washcloth and restored order.  As she was walking back outside, the hydro-phobic dog decided it was the ideal to burst through the door to the fun going on in the mudpit that used to be the home of our blow-up pool (the one that the baby was NOT born  in…we’re saving that one for next year).  Lumpy down.  JR has scratched his best friend’s name in the mud.  4 letters during this whole fiasco.  JR says he’s all done.

A frustration-filled 5 minutes later, the middles are in the tub.  Back on track!  We were just a few pumps of soap from movies and tomato soup.  Then the whining started.  Then the ceiling-drenching splashing followed.  Then the fluffy cloth diaper was far too ouchy for a sensitive little bum, then we couldn’t get dressed.  Needless to say, the late morning snuggles and fun turned into a bare basics “please just put your clothes on, no a spoon of peanut butter is not lunch” scramble to preschool time.

As the kids were eating bagels in the car (yes, for the second meal of the day), I vowed to never plan anything fun AGAIN!  My new in-town buddy commented that anything that seems fun in commercials is just fake fun.  The mom of a friend said Disney World was built entirely on this principle–just sit around the lobby of a Disney hotel for a few minutes.  We’ll probably still try it again, but really, it just makes good pictures, and garbage fun.

There wasn’t even time to grab a camera.  And the kids didn’t seem all that cute just then, anyway.

Real fun happens when you most need it, not when you just want it.  Next Thursday, who’s up for a trip to the grocery store?