Dove, You’re the Only One Who Understands Me

The moment I stepped into the kitchen at the ungodly hour of 6:30 this morning, I knew it was going to be a bad day. I’d had the children from 6am to 6pm for the past three days. My mother visited last night and decided to lighten the load somewhat by taking Matthew overnight, so he was not here.

Matthew is rarely a problem, though. Maggie is generally the problem. All the time. Some days, I wonder why we didn’t name her Shiva or Medusa or The Kraken. I’ve even considered legally changing it.

She’s always had a bit of an issue in the listening department, which I blame on her thick head,  but, luckily for me, once she hit two, the problem amplified. The word ‘no’ falls on completely deaf ears nine times out of ten. Where my sons will flinch and back away, she forges ahead with the heartiness of a viking.

She’s been climbing over the child gates since she was about fourteen months old. She’s since graduated to opening the gate, leaving the family room, and closing it behind her. There is no man-made device that can contain her.

It goes without saying that when Maggie’s home, I’m stressed. My limit of whole days I can spend alone with the kids is usually three. On average, it takes me three days to become a frightening combination of homicidal and suicidal. And most of my family knows this.

When Maggie started hurdle practice, at 6:48am, I knew I was in trouble – physically, mentally, and emotionally.

As I attempted to prepare breakfast and found none of the babies’ cups or trays washed, lying dirty, smelling like chow mein noodles, in the dishwasher, I realized today was going to be rough.

Now, before you go emailing Supernanny, we generally have the rest of the house under some semblance of control. We have two Time Out spots in the kitchen, and a special Naughty Spot for Maggie. Each child gets a Time Out in length appropriate to his or her age, and we do a lot of praising desirable behaviors and ignoring negative ones. That said, my sons are so good. They caught on quickly: Don’t piss Mommy off, a lesson one should learn early on. Matthew tests, but, with some prodding, eventually heeds our directives.

Maggie – dear, sweet, wretched Maggie – never got the memo. So much so that I question whether there’s some sort of disconnect occurring in her synapses. Professionals tell me how bright and normal and personable she is, though. So, I stand alone, much as The Cheese stands alone. I am the cheese.

My mother, I suspect, volunteered yesterday to host Matthew out of fear of having to take Maggie instead. Maggie runs everyone ragged – ragged, threadbare, and searching for an illicit substance to ingest. Most can only take her in small doses.

“But she’s so cute…” strangers say.

Whatever.

I spent the greater part of today relocating her, returning her from whence she came, and removing her from dangerous circumstances, to the detriment of cooking, cleaning, and showering. By naptime, I was more than ready to go to commercial break. When I put them down at eleven, I thought it would take the obligatory fifteen minutes to settle down until I would be able to bathe, and, perhaps, think. I was wrong.

After a two-and-a-half hour battle, Michael emerged with barely an hour’s nap and Maggie had not slept for one single, solitary second.

After the nap from hell (during which I showered anyway, because I had to), I called my mother, tried to reason with her.

“Can I trade with you? I’ll take Matthew and you take Maggie? I’ll drop her off and pick him up,” I pleaded.

“Don’t do that to me,” she said.

After a few choice words, some of which may have been said out loud, I resigned myself to the fact that I would be stuck, for the third set of twelve hours, once again.

I texted my husband, warning that this had become one of the more difficult days in recent memory, that I hadn’t even begun to think about dinner, and I suggested strongly that he leave work on time.

Several more hours dragged by, and I noticed it was five o’clock. I called my husband. His shift ended at four. No answer. That’s the tell he’s still at work. He called me back a minute later, when, with a heavy sigh, I purged all my emotions from the day.

“Well, I just have to transfer this lady…” he said, sheepishly.

“What?! You haven’t left work yet?! Are you kidding me?! I told you hours ago I was having one of the worst days I’ve had with these kids, and you’re still at work?? Fine! Have a nice day,” I spat and hung up.

He texted about five minutes later to tell me he was leaving.

I put dinner together for the kids and myself, and brought them to the table. We had Chinese takeout the night before, and about half of the kids’ lo mein was left over. I chopped the noodles into manageable bits and filled their bowls.

About five minutes into dinner, the twins started grabbing and squeezing handfuls of noodles, in a manner not so different from the Play-Doh hair salon. Good, I thought to myself, yuk it up. Daddy’s on his way.

They ate, or some permutation thereof, until I heard the garage door opening.

“Daddy!” yelled the twins.

He walked in, keys in hand. I rose from my chair slowly and said, “I’m going to sit outside, right there, by myself,” pointing to the front of the house, “and then I’m going in there to write something. Have fun.” And I walked away. Maggie had a shred of cabbage hanging from her ear, Michael had julienned carrot sitting pristinely atop his head, and the floor – well, I should have taken a picture of the floor.

Dove Promises me things

I caught a few minutes of sanity outside before returning to the house, into the office, but not before stopping in the kitchen for two dark chocolate Dove Promises.

“After they go to bed, I have some paperwork to finish,” my husband began.

“I don’t care,” I said, as I walked away.

About five minutes later, he moseyed on into the office to regale me with an always-hilarious anecdote from work.

“Want to hear about why…” he started, dish towel in his hand.

“No,” I said, looking down at the keyboard.

And he started his story.

“I said no. Didn’t you hear me? I don’t want to hear it.”

“Yeah, but, this is funny,” he continued.

“No,” I repeated. “I don’t want to hear your story.”

I wasn’t mad at him. I was just mad. Like a kettle about to whistle. Like a pressure cooker over a high flame. I needed away. From everyone.

Disheartened, he walked out.

I unwrapped one of my Doves, and looked down at the inside of the wrapper.

‘Take a moment for yourself’, it whispered.

Why, thank you, Dove. Don’t mind if I do.

Think I’ll take a few.

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The Times, They Are a-Changin’

Before you get too excited, I’m not a Dylan fan. I just need to throw that out there before the Official Bob Dylan Fan Club starts emailing me. In all honestly, I liken his voice to what I imagine a possum would sound like after it’s been hit and run by a car.

That said, our lives sure have been changing.

Matthew is rolling right along with his potty training, collecting stickers and praise from everyone in his life. I am pleased.

I looked into a preschool for him, at the recommendation of a very old (and very good) friend, and, I’m embarrassed to say I think I like it. When and if I pull the trigger, he’ll start in the fall. With this (potential) decision will come logistical issues we’ll need to work out, and a figurative, if not literal, leap of faith by Yours Truly.

The school is very parent participation-oriented, an aspect about which I may be both excited and terrified. Among the activities in which parents are expected to participate is Snack. So I’d be the Snack Mom every so often, which conjures images of frantic trips to the 24-hour Wal*Mart to find gluten-, nut-, dairy-,  and shellfish-free snacks. I’d be lying if I said I was looking forward to that.

The school also provides field trips and welcomes special guests, two activities for which I imagine Matthew would be absolutely out of his mind. I don’t enjoy the potential complications for me, but I also feel I can’t rob him of what I assume would be really great times for him. Hmph. Parenthood.

The most significant change that’s taken place, however, over the past month or so, has been that my daughter has begun sleeping alone and through the night. I knew it would only take a few years.

After a few miserable, sleepless nights, and a few naptimes during which either my husband or I was entrusted with the duty of  ‘standing guard’, we finally and permanently got the job done. The large-scale implication of my daughter sleeping like a normal person is that we get more sleep, and, in turn have more time (and energy).

And the large-scale implication of that is my husband and I have been able to accomplish a lot more at home.

And the large-scale implication of that… I’m just kidding. I just wanted to feel what it’s like to be a Russian Nesting doll.

Never mind that.

My husband and I have graduated to Phase II of the Deluxe DIY Home Renovation, which is proceeding decidedly more smoothly than Phase I. We’ve replaced a few appliances (one out of necessity, the other out of being disgusting), painted a few rooms, and have a few more items to tackle. In the process, we’ve made it our mission to wipe away all of the builder-grade beige from this house. How do you live in a house for twelve years and never change the wall color? Or anything? But, I digress.

Another favorable side effect of the more sleep/less chaos scenario is the fact that I’ve been able to shop for clothes, paint my nails (can you believe it?!), and care for my skin.

My new 47-step beauty routine seems to be working quite well. I haven’t had skin this blemish-free and even since high school. Which is fantastic, because I’ll be just in time for wrinkles. This little issue only took me sixteen years to resolve. I’m not bitter.

My husband and I have been out to dinner three times in two months, which is big. I am consistently able to maintain a moderate level of cleanliness in the house, and able to retreat in the evening without fearing cracking my knuckles or sighing too loudly. Good deal.

With all this overwhelmingly positive news, you may fear I’d gloss over the negative, but you know me, I’d never do that.

The negative? It feels like I just got my kids sleeping through the night (see what I did there?), and now we’re planning for one to go off to Big Boy School. And you know, they’re just going to go down like dominoes. One will be potty trained, and then the next two will be trained in rapid succession (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since we’ve spent roughly the GDP of Estonia on diapers), and when the twins see Matthew at school, of course they will want to attend as well.

When they say raising kids goes by fast, I didn’t realize they meant this fast. We’ll tackle this issue in a future therapy session.

So, though I may have a few pouty, pensive, whiny moments over this spring and summer, I’m looking forward to what fall has in store for us. And what the store will have for me in the fall.

True life is lived when tiny changes occur.
― Leo Tolstoy

Two and Three (and You and Me)

Matthew turned three last month. Since the very day he turned three, he’s been a little snot. Yep, I said it. A snot.

He now demonstrates defiance with a smirk and this blinking thing, that, without mincing words, drives me insane.

He’s also begun an all-out strike against sleeping in his room, or, more accurately, sleeping in general.

Naptime, when he doesn’t fall asleep, is difficult at best. He opens his bedroom door, his closet doors, and his blinds, bends down the adjustable lights on his lamp, and drags his heavy, wooden puzzle stool onto his bed. Oh, and then runs back and forth.

Michael, across the hall, has apparently caught the bug, too. He spends his naptime driving imaginary toy cars up and down the inside of his bedroom door. When I finally give in and open the door, he waves, “Hi, Mommy,” from the floor.

And Maggie? How do I say this? Maggie’s the only one taking a nap.

If you know Maggie at all, you know how bizarre that is. But if you really know Maggie, it makes perfect sense.  The nap gives her the extra edge to goad us to the border of psychosis in the middle of the night.

Mealtimes are festivals of flinging, diaper changes are Greco-Roman wrestling exhibitions, and buckling anyone into anything is damn near impossible.

The twins, painfully aware of one another’s existences now, are in perpetual battle for supremacy. If one hugs me, the other hugs me tighter. If one whines, “Mom,” the other whines, “Mommyyyyyyy,” longer and louder. If one kisses me, the other gives more tongue.

And when you throw the three-year-old into the mix, what with all his new food, beverage, and clothing aversions, you’ve got one hell of a party.

The previously complicit children are budding Hellions, and the original Hellion (that’s Maggie) toes the line between (almost) sweet kid and demon seed.  I said almost.

My mother, on the phone the other day, ever-helpful about all things parenting offered, “I read this article the other day. Kids change.”

Thanks, Ma. That’s a timely and useful piece of information. It’s a wonder I’m alive.

We’ve been playing red-headed stepchild with Maggie, too. I’m not proud of it, but the thought of bringing her out in public right now gives me hives. Since we don’t know whether we’re going to get Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde, we opt out of the game altogether. Plus, we only have enough arms for two violent tantrums.

I know it’s just a phase and it will pass, but any other time I thought I was being given a run for my money looks like a joke now.

They liked pizza yesterday, but it’s all over the floor today. Matthew’s previously ‘favorite’ juice, has just been slid slyly off the table, and the blue socks simply won’t do anymore. And what are you talking about chicken? hate chicken.

My poor husband’s taken to naming every meal we cook, just so it won’t end up on the floor. So far, he’s created Spiderman Sandwiches, Cowboy Breakfast, Superhero Rice, and Batman something. I can’t keep track.

Yesterday morning, he made the mistake of enthusiastically asking Matthew if he was ready for some “huevos with fromage”.  Of course, Matthew flipped out. When we were finally able to calm him down, and explain to him that ‘fromage’ was actually cheese, he decided he didn’t like cheese anymore.

So, yeah. This is pretty much the way it is right now. Chaos.

If you think you’re about to do something right, don’t worry, you won’t.

You’re a parent of two-year-old twins and a three-year-old boy and you suck.

Am I Really Enough?

“Mommy? You come sit with us? You come sit with me and Michael and Maggie on couch in the living room?” Matthew asked me a few nights ago.

His tiny voice hit me like a freight train. I looked down at the floor beneath the table, covered quite liberally with leftover birthday cake crumbs. Where are you, Mom? Why aren’t you with us?

“In a minute, honey. I’ll be right there, Love. Just finishing up cleaning the kitchen,” I said, hastily sweeping the crumbs into a pile.

I felt awful. That was the first time he had ever requested my presence in the living room, but not the first time I noticed I wasn’t there.

“You comin’, Mommy? You comin’ sit with us in the living room?” he persisted.

“Yes, Love. Mom’s just got to give fresh water to the cats, and take out this trash bag. I’ll be there in just a minute.” My heart hurt. I was cleaning. I put cleaning above my kids. But could I put my kids above cleaning? Could I have left that entire mess on the floor? And for how long?

I finished my housekeeping tasks for the evening and joined the children on the couch. They piled on top of me like a stack of fresh pancakes. I was happy. They were happy.

I’ve spent a lot of time rolling those moments around in my head over the past few days. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering if he’s wanted to ask me to sit with them for a long time. I spent a lot of time wondering if the time I share (or don’t share) with them is making a difference in their lives.

I grew up in a house where everyone was home, but no one was ever together. Quiet time was spent arguing about the volume of television, the temperature of the room, the show being watched, and the amount of cigarette smoke hanging in the air.

I didn’t often hear, “Come sit with me.” And that realization sent me down a rabbit hole, one I’ve blindly jumped into before, of whether I have enough, whether I am or can be enough for my children.

When I learned during my first pregnancy that I was having a son, I had what could only be described as a pregnant-lady breakdown. I cried, banged my fists, and burrowed into the covers and wouldn’t come out. I had wanted a girl. I was convinced we would do better for the world with a girl. 

And four months later, I gave birth to a beautiful, mild-mannered angel of a son, and was instantly ashamed of my hormone-induced fit.

I calculated each day how to keep him (and subsequent children) on the straight and narrow, and how to instill into him confidence, pride, and self-respect. And I carefully consider the extent to which sitting at a keyboard, cooking, or making the clothes clean, is stealing time from my children.

I wonder about their fates, whether or not they’re predetermined. Have I really any control over the adults they will turn out to be? Is there a secret to well-adjusted, responsible, mature, contributing members of society? And am I even considered one of them, to teach others to become the same? Sometimes, I can’t answer that.

My husband doesn’t worry as much as I, however understands the concern. Will it matter what school they attend? Will it matter with whom they associate? And do I even trust myself to create a decent little person? Will I make some inadvertent wrong move at age two, age six, age fourteen, that will irrevocably alter the course of one (or all) of their lives? Will my lack of patience with Maggie’s antics turn her against us, against herself? Will all the ‘in a minute’s finally add up? Am I doing this all wrong?

And then I justify my actions. Well, someone needs to cook, right? Who’ll feed them? I’ve got to wash their clothes. I’ve got to make their beds. I’ve got to this and that… And I feel better for a few minutes. Until I walk through the living room to turn up the thermostat, or close the blinds, and Michael clings the leg of my pants, crying, trying to keep me inside.

This conflict brews continually inside me. Be there for my children or be there for my children. Feed, clothe, and bathe them, or cuddle, love, and laugh with them? And, unfortunately, most days, I don’t have enough to cover both. Am I confident that the amount of time and quality of interaction I give them is enough? No. Will I ever know if it is?

Did I put one in Time Out too often? One not enough? Do these type of issues have a way of evening out in the end? Will a rollicking game of Freeze Tag cancel out three nights I was stuck cleaning the kitchen until 8pm? These effects remain to be seen.

Will I wake up ten years from now and realize that I should have hugged them more, or let the crusty pans sit in the sink overnight, or skipped the grocery store just a few more times? I must provide for their bodies and souls. And I’m not always confident I have what it takes be successful with a home and three, essentially, same-aged children.

But I can promise to try my level best, keep the faith, hug as often as possible, manage a smile when I’m ready to give up and cry, and spend a bit more time enjoying these moments, which are slipping by almost too quickly, in my best attempt to create good people.

That’s all I can do.

I only wish I could do more.

Am I doing the best I can?

Growing My Own

I spent most of my life with my wheels spinning, running on angst, pride, and selfishness. I was looking for the next best thing, new jobs, promotions, graduate schools, a good hairdresser. I devoted a considerable amount of time to lovingly pruning grocery-store bouquets, dusting, and straightening the art on the walls. I was young. I was, for a large portion of that time, single, and I was a very vocal product of the Me Generation and an only child.

I knew who I was, what I wanted, and where I was going. I knew what I was cooking that night. I knew I could work on my project on Tuesday, and that I would hop on the elliptical, using Program 4 for thirty minutes, before showering and leaving the house for groceries on Saturday afternoon. I knew. I knew everything.

And then, as you’ve no doubt heard before, children arrived and changed our lives forever.

Once our lives had changed so, circumstances begin popping up, rather randomly, to serve as reminders of what I’ve left behind, either by choice or by chance.

My reminders usually arrive in the form of houseguests and visitors. I sit back, silently, as they cloy at my children for affection, gather and relocate the toys in the living room for ‘safety’, and otherwise try to affect the situation into which they’ve been unwittingly placed. They do things like make sure both socks are on each child (and are not twisted), that no item of food touches the floor, and that everyone is smiling.

And I sit. And I watch. And I intermittently provide commentary that may or may not assist them in making further decisions.

And as I observe, I am repeatedly reminded that the decisions being made before me are, in fact, not for the well-being of my children, but for the sanity of the visitor. To make everything right with one’s world. To reduce the obvious measure of anxiety that accompanies caring for three toddlers.

“Well, what should we do?” they ask me, using the royal ‘we’.

“Whatever you think,” I respond. Stymied, they continue on their ways, fumbling blindly through a world dominated by that which they cannot control.

And I remember the grocery-store bouquets. And I remember the Christmas lights I wound, perfectly symmetrically, around the columns of my porch. And I remember taking the dog out to pee at 5:30 every night. I remember when my world made sense.

And I stifle the urge to chuckle when socks go flying over the couch, or two of the kids run into one another and then fall down, or someone gets ‘caught’ pushing a shade up and down. And they look at me. And I shrug.

And I know fully well that behind their eyes swirls a disquieting combination of frustration and confusion, at things not going as planned, at my letting things be, at my standing back, at my apparent neglect. And they fumble, and sigh, and continue to carefully reconstruct a house of cards in gale-force winds, surrounded by whirling dervishes with unpredictable orbits. And I leave them be, not out of cruelty or facetiousness, but because I know they’ll be okay. All of them. And they always are.

And I am at peace because in their desperate eyes, I see myself.  I see myself planning and scheduling and whipping myself into a meringue making my life perfect, making myself comfortable, surrounding myself with desirable aromas, bright colors, and favorable light. And realize that I’m just as happy, if not more now, perpetually assaulted by chaos and not knowing what to do.

And I relish the fact that my son still smells delicious with a sweaty head. And one sock on. And his juice cup on the floor. And that I love my daughter just as much with that chunk of waffle stuck in her hair with syrup. And the toys are strewn everywhere, because, hey, that’s where they like them, and that I’m no worse of a parent because of any of it. And I’m not always clean. And my clothes are not always ironed. And I may or may not know what’s for dinner tonight.

But at the end of the day, we’ll snuggle on the couch, and I’ll kiss a head, or rub a foot, or tickle a thigh, and where the toys currently rest does not cross my mind. Small, warm lips will meet my cheek and impress it with a kiss. Hair will be soft, eyes will shine, and we may sing a song or two.

And when I lie in bed, I will think not about whether six socks are on six feet, or what residue lurks beneath the kitchen table. I will (if I’m not too exhausted to think, of course) think about the fact that my kids went to bed happy, under warm blankets, and are getting the rest that they need.

And think about just how far I’ve come, how much I’ve grown since becoming a parent.

Someday, there may be grocery-store bouquets again. But, for now, I’m growing my own.

Bokeh - Flowers - Forget-me-nots

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