Monday, August 8, 2016

Mission: Bedtime

The art of bedtime as told by a tired ass Mom.

Every night I enter the bewitching hour of 8 PM with a guilty excitement that the kids are going to bed - followed by dread of how the process will unfold. I have not always been the best at keeping routines or doing the same thing every day. Example - remembering to take a damn pill at the same time every day was too much to handle since I ended up with three surprise pregnancies. (that's 25% planned/75% unplanned) I have always struggled with organization and routine. My right brain is too powerful and I live in a world of chaos and (gasp) sporadic bed times.

After Cece was born, bedtime became a series of hopes and guesses. I hope she goes to bed before midnight. I guess Jackson is tired. There was even a few weeks where the bedtime routine was: Get in car. Drive until kid falls asleep. I was getting desperate. After a long day at the office followed by toddlering all evening- I needed a few hours  to do what moms across the globe do when their kids go to bed: wear fat pants; sit in my chair; drink wine and glue myself to social media then TV. I craved those times. I have mom friends who would tell tales of a mystical 8PM bedtime and my head would spin with delight of all the possibilities that an evening that began at 8PM would hold. I could watch TV. I could knit a blanket. I could blog again, or read again, I could finish the many activities. Tell me more about this 8 PM bedtime, I ask. Tell me about this unicorn. Then there it was. That word again. Routine. (making Daniel Tiger face) routine. Yes, a routine: a timeline that would occur at the same exact time every night, routine.

So here goes. 8PM was unrealistic- we were trending around 11PM -so 9PM was the goal. When we crossed the Colorado boarder from Kansas, I expected the scenery to magically change into a mountainous paradise. It didn’t happen right away, but we drove on and finally scenery exploded with beauty. This was the same for bedtime. It didn’t happen the first or the second or the third night but dammit I was committed. I made up a song. Bath time. Brush Teeth. Bottle. Bed. 

Judgment moment: My son is two and a half and still has a bottle at bed. Ok its out
there. I know it is bad, but getting my son off the bottle is on my long
list of things to do behind clean garage, pay off credit cards, removing
chipped toenail polish and oil change. I accept it as his security blanket and
know that one day that phase will be over.

The seven thirty alarm sounds off in my head. They are happily playing and I step outside for a mental pep rally. Breathe in and out. I am ready. Preparing for the after bath squirm fest, I set out pajamas and diapers. Cece likes to curl up like a potato bug at the site of a fresh diaper and Jackson  runs around the house naked (or air-drying).

8PM. Bath. They love bath time. Jackson methodically runs his cars along the side of the tub and Cece licks the walls and eats the bubbles. Three nights in a row, bath time is interrupted by floating turds. “Cece poop!” Jackson yells and we immediately abort the bath. I try to remove kids and poop in a rush of towels and toilet paper. (note to self: buy fishnet) I dry and dress Cece first. She fights me  then becomes fascinated by sticking her finger in her belly button so I am able to slip on her diaper and pajamas. "Jackson’s turn!” I say. “Brush teeth?” he reminds me. How dare we leave the bathroom before this step is done. He points to the Elmo toothpaste. I squeeze it on his toothbrush knowing he will never forget the time I accidentally used the Crest. “Mama brush teeth” he says. (My evening dental hygiene has vastly improved since we began this routine.) Once we are done, I wrangle him into his room and attempt to get his pajamas on. He does this rolling bended leg move that makes it impossible enough to get pants on that he is able to jump up and go running. This begins a chase followed by a tackle and lots of giggles.

I let them run off bath energy while I prepare the bottles and make a lame attempt at cleaning. I repeat the little chant so they know that we are still on a mission. Bath time, brush teeth, bottle, bed. Jackson laughs. “Bottle!” he repeats. We are back on track. He runs to the kitchen to watch me pour the milk into their bottles. I set the lid on the counter, playfully close to the edge. He grabs it. “Oh no!” yell, familiar with this daily banter. “give me that lid, Mister!” He takes a mad dash into the living room and throws it behind the reclining chairs. I know exactly where it is because he does this every night.

The three of us march into their bedroom for bottle/book time. I shut the door. Blackout curtains have helped create the illusion of nighttime when the sun is still setting.  Jackson picks out the same four books every night. Three by his favorite author Sandra Boynton and Good Night Blue. They know each page by heart but are still excited. Three singing pigs say, LaLaLa. No!No! you say. that isn’t right. The pigs go OINK all day and all night. They crack up. As  I finish a book, Jackson says “another one”. We are all out of books now so I quickly turn off the light. They fuss a but are comforted as I crawl in bed between the two of them.

Final step - Getting them to actually fall asleep. The three of us lay there-In total darkness and total silence. I have tried nightlights, star projectors and music machines and learned that sleep and distraction don’t mix. Jackson cuddles into my side and I stroke his hair. Cece is more like a fish, flailing on my other side. She starts to burrow, then sits “Hi!” She laughs. “Shhh,” I whisper, “bedtime” She flails away.  I can feel Jackson's breath getting deeper, he is starting to drift off. I cuddle him close and start kissing his head. His puts his leg on mine. I sigh. Still awake. Cece stands up. “No Cece.” I say. I gently place her back to the sleeping position while maintaining the hair stroke that I hope will coax Jackson to sleep. She plops her thumb into her mouth. I slow my breath to releive a bit of tension. I imagine I am just finishing a perfect yoga class and am laying in coupse pose; deep inhale deep exhale. Kids can sense tension and if I start to let my anxiety take over they will never fall asleep. They can sense my weakness. Jackson is lightly snoring next to me. I roll toward Cece, still holding on to him for comfort. She is quietly sucking her thumb. She doesn’t like too much cuddling when she is tired so I rub her back. The flailing has stopped and I can tell she has drifted off as well. Time to make the escape. I wiggle my arm from under Jackson and roll Cece away so I can get out of the bed. I have to maneuver over the safety rail and find my way through the darkness, to the door, praying for no stray blocks or trucks along the way. The floors squeak under me and look at them one more time as I open the door. One turn of the knob and I am out of their room. Freedom! The mystical unicorn does exist. I am enjoying it right now.


Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Answer is in the Dunes

The days after my trip have left me with a mess of maps, notebooks, pictures and memories. As I arrange myself back into everyday, real, adult life, I hold onto a longing for the freedom that is the open road and no plan. My vacation was completely immature; an itch to satisfy curiosity and wake up every day to an adventure. I took my baby,my toddler and two teenage girls away from their comfort zones. I risked tantrums and eye rolls and bickering about who has to lean over the seat to grab the truck Jackson has thrown for the twentieth time. We ran out of everything, diapers, milk, cell phone data, patience, money, batteries, tolerance for camping and even sunny days.
Being back to adult life now, I can only relive the journey by writing about it. There are so many pictures and moments and stories that I am excited to share. We did it. We drove six thousand miles in two weeks with four kids. We are better people because of it. The best place to start? right in the middle.

July 14,2016

We are driving somewhere through Idaho. Potatoes, Napoleon Dynamite. Why do I keep saying Iowa? What do I expect? Even now, I can’t fully describe Idaho. It was everything. Farmlands sprinkled with mountains and corn and windmills. Lava rocks, desert, sand dunes. The landscape has more colors then Sherwin Williams and every hue glows. It was surreal, like the way Dorthy must have felt when she walked out of her house to a world suddenly filled with color.

I looked over my shoulder and the babies were peacefully asleep. Tired out from a morning of swimming and another day of new experiences.  They were snuggled into their car seats in the midst of a snoring contest. The girls are in the way back. Like typical teenagers they have headphones permanently attached to their ears and some electronic attached to their hands. Their faces are fixated on the window. The miracle of Idaho. More wondrous then the appeal of YouTube. More interesting then the feed of Instagram. They stopped to stare. We all did. We couldn’t stop looking. The radio was singing Band of Horses to us.

"But no one is ever gonna love you more than I do. No one's gonna love you more than I do”

I looked over at Josh driving and held his hand. We were all here, in this moment in complete awe. I knew it was coming. I felt the urge in the back of my throat. Tears. I don’t even know why. The sky, the water, the mountains, the music, my family, the moment. It all hit me. And for the first time in a while, I cried over something good.

“Where are you going on vacation?” random person asks.
“We are going to Oregon. Driving from Ohio. For two weeks.”
The reactions were priceless. Some were more polite (while inner questioning of my sanity)
Driving? Yes. With four kids? Yes. 39 Hours. Each way. Six thousand miles, in two weeks. Where are you going to stay? With friends some nights and some nights we will camp. Some are perplexed. Some are vocal. Some are in awe and some tell me they took a road trip as a kid and it was their most memorable vacation. I hear the voices, and the doubtful ones are the loudest. What were we thinking?

The truth is, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Josh and I had one of those nights where we probably drank too much wine and started fantasizing about this magical family road trip. I became Clark Griswold and started thinking about this adventure to Wally World. (Or in our case Oregon). The writer in me took over. It became this Kerouac meets Hunter S.Thompson meets Harry Potter dream world I cooked up in my head. I don’t know what we were supposed to find driving for days and exploring the Northwestern part of the United States. I knew it was missing. It became boggled up in the stress of our life. For me, the stress has become cumbersome. The kids felt it, and Josh felt it. I could no longer function as adult. I needed a break.

Today, we have comfortable settled into our nomadic, gypsy life. We faced uncertainty and found the flaw in our lax attitude toward planning. We had our Wally World moment (that’s for a whole other story). Today, I found the point of this trip - the journey, the adventure, started to reveal itself.  As I actually see “purple mountains and amber waves of grain” I know that my soul feels this. It is happy to the point of tears and every day we are out on the road is another  brilliant  fucking adventure.

We arrived at Bruneau Dunes State park. It was in the middle of vast farmland and we had been the only car on the road for miles. The landscape opened up and there they were: Sand dunes. I had never seen such massive sand dunes before. There were maybe thirty campsite and enough people there that it wasn’t creepy but not too much for over crowding. The sites were shaded under trees in an otherwise desert area. The dunes outlined the landscape like they were looking over the sites and the land ensuring this was a safe place to be. There was no attendee just a card we filled out that claimed site 21 just for us. As we unloaded our tents, I made a pact that I could run to the top of a dune. no problem. (easier said than done). Olivia was anxious to swim. (her goal everyday). We found a lake and it was what exactly we needed. This was our greatest camping experience. It was the reason we took this trip. After our nightly ritual of cooking hot dogs on a fire followed by S’mores, the girls took Jackson in the tent and he fell asleep nestled between them watching the Lego Movie for the millionth time. (next road trip note: have more than two movies downloaded to tablet). Cece was snuggled in my arms asleep with her thumb in her mouth. I didn’t want to go to bed because it would mean the day was over. Josh and I sat there in our American flag camping chairs with our wine under a clear sky sprinkled with stars and the sound of a coyote howling in the distance. We are halfway between Denver CO and Eugene OR and miles away from everything else we know.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


Toddler menstrual symptom. The prolonged tantrum. Is it possible that toddlers experience this drop in sanity that we women know as PMS? As many of my friends and family have attested, I get downright nasty. I have a sort of PMS disgust face that usually lasts a few days. It is accompanied by extreme anxiety (meltdown), imposed sadness (must watch: The Notebook), and hyper sensitive taste to all things sweet and salty (fries dipped in Frosty). Every month, I am reminded that Layla has now developed her own version. It usually starts with persistently asking about ice cream and extra eye rolls. Lately, I noticed that Jackson's inner teenage girl has come out in full force. His tantrums have become more intense and involved. He becomes possessed with anger and rage over the strangest things. 

It started when I changed his diaper- he was wet and gross, but didn’t want to sit still. pinched his butt which made him stop screaming and flailing and manage a slight smile. Then he got all weepy. "Bottle. Bottle” He whimpered. "Milk? Milk?” I asked. We are trying to wean him off the bottle completely and have caved on one in the evening. I wasn't ready for this fight. It is like being extra menstrual and allowing myself ice cream because i am "dieting". I was hoping chocolate milk would be an acceptable compromise. (like frozen yogurt). "Chocolate milk ?" I asked, taking the yellow Nestle container out of the pantry. He looked up from his mellow dramatic tantrum and came running toward me. I set the mix on the stove and grabbed one of his cups. As I spooned the mix into the cup, he looked disgustedly at the cup and pointed to the mix. "Yes. Chocolate milk" I say, trying to break the language barrier between mom and toddler. "We need milk," I pour milk into his cup, put on the lid and shake it. He is still pointing at the yellow container. I hand him the cup and he yells "NO!". What? It's chocolate. He is screaming and pointing at the yellow container. His hand is thrusting so rapidly toward the container that I wander if he is trying to activate some sort of arm extension release. (Go go gadget arm!) Mainly, for educationally reasons, I hand him the container. The crying comes to an immediate halt. He runs it into the living room and sets it on the coffee table, takes off the lid and sticks his hand right in running chocolate powder through his fingers. Gross! I snatch the container back away and the screaming returns - with a vengeance. We play a power tug of war for a few more rounds before i get another educational musing. "Help mommy.” I offer. "Let's make chocolate milk." I have the container and his cup and he seems to be intrigued as I grab a spoon and set it down. I hand him the spoon and point to his cup. He scoops some powder into the cup and smiles at me. He gets it. Progress. He scoops another little bit. Remember from chapter 1 of this saga- that cup was previously rejected, and already full of chocolate milk. We add a little more mix to the  chocolate milk. He smiles. Then spoons in more mix. Mix. smile. Mix. smile. As he scooped in round four I said "OK-that's enough". We took his cup and put a bit more milk. He looked it and our gaze met as I was putting the lid back on the container. A flash of betrayal hit him as he started at the tin and exploded in tears. “No!"He said. He growled (actually, not figuratively) at the cup of milk and threw himself down. Time to abandon this failed experiment. I picked him up and put him on the couch. Sit! I command. He doesn't physically try to fight but his verbal aggression is in over drive. He is laying on the ground screaming, and kicking his legs in an almost animated tantrum. I stare him down with my best "don't fuck with mom" look. He is still crying but it is toning down. He climbs off the couch and just as I am about to scold him, he crawls into my lap and nestles his head between my shoulder and ear. The opposite hand slides to the back of my neck and his fingers are tapping my hair. I hug him back an sneak kisses to his cheek and the top of his head. His eyes close and he drifts off into a ten minute snuggle nap. When he wakes up, he smiles at me. "Hi mom" he says as he crawls off my lap, grabs the chocolate milk cup and drinks half of it in one gulp.

There are days when I watch him launch himself onto the floor in a fit of tears and screaming and wonder if he is going to explode with rage. He goes through “tossing process” where he grabs anything nearby and tosses it into the abyss that exists between our chair and side table. This collection of items that make him angry, from a car that won’t fit inside a bus to a non working remote, represent his daily struggles to cope with the hardships toddler life can bring. He hasn’t quite accepted that things won’t go his way and has trouble distinguishing between what is worth crying about (mom won’t give me a bottle) and what is impossible (dogs can’t brush their own teeth). Some days the struggle is just too much for him to handle and he spontaneously combusted into tantrum and rage, TMS. I am ready for him to be off his “cycle” and get back to normal toddlering.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Steps to the Steps

Stairs. Every parent's nightmare. Living in a cape code style home we have been able to shut the stairs away ignoring the danger they hold if discovered. Lately Jackson has become determined to venuture into the world of things we hide from him. Grown up stuff, dangerous stuff, small stuff, un-babyproofed stuff, and a giant fluffy bed to jump on. It is a toddler dream world and our nightmare. I watched as he used his sweet little sister's newfound playtime in a saucer to maneuver himself into the stairs. He has finally mastered opening the door and is racing up and down the steps faster than we can say "ER trip". The deconstructing of the stairs happened in a calculated and methodical way. 

Step 1: discover that Cece's saucer is on wheels and moves. Wheel her from the kitchen where Mom is trying to make something that resembles dinner. The saucer is now perfectly placed in front of the upstairs door. 


Step 2: Climb on saucer. Carefully avoid stepping on little sister so she won't cry and alert Mom to plan. Success: little sister is still cooing and smiling. Turn door knob, triggering clicking sound indicating door is now un latched. Try to open door. Oops, the saucer is blocking the entry way. 


Step 3: Climb down from saucer. Door is still open. Roll saucer away from door. Sister is still smiling and Mom is still attempting to adult in the kitchen. Open door. Look at Mom. Cue shit grin. 


Step 4: Eye contact made: Mom is on to the plan. Squeel with delight and run like hell up the stairs so she has to give into the chase. Repeat plan over and over and over again. 


Saturday, September 26, 2015

This is Actually Happening

This is actually happening.  I mutter to myself yet again today. Jackson takes his pants off and is running. We are in midst of a no-pants rebellion: diaper optional. I watch him climb on the couch-with his “diaper that probably needed changed an hour ago” sag, look at me and fall forward. I have no choice but to jump out of my seat and catch him.  What are you thinking?!  I yell as if that will make him stop. Clearly, it has now become a game. As I play the “jump out of my seat and catch floppy toddler” game over, and over, and over, and over, and over again I start to realize my life has become a series of “this is actually happening” moments. Like a surreal dream; when the hell did I end up here?

Josh: Whats wrong?
Me: (sobbing) I’m pregnant
Josh: That’s awesome!
Me: seriously? Awesome? Four kids. What is wrong with us?

I sat in the all too familiar OBGYN chair. Naked from the waist down with the giant paper towel wrapped around my bottom so that half my unshaven leg is hanging out. I take one look at my stomach, still mushy from having Jackson and think “who the hell would ever want to have sex with this”.  Doctor Amber comes in the room and starts going over the standard pregnancy protocol. Blah, blah, blah- heard it. I think still wondering how I ended up back in this chair. When its time for my ultrasound I wait for her to tell me some reason in which she was mistaken and I wasn’t pregnant. She takes out the giant blue dildo thingy. (sorry that is the only way I can think to describe the ultra sound machine they use in the first few months). I laugh at how Josh and I didn’t realize how exactly it worked after I got pregnant with Jackson. We started making super immature jokes about it and were completely mortified when the doctor gave me the extra invasive ultrasound. Josh isn’t there for this one. We have a one year old at home..and we both somehow didn’t think this pregnancy was real. I look at the monitor and I am confused. “Are those arms? And legs?” I ask Dr. Amber. I remember my first ultrasound from Jackson. He was a blob that we were hoping had a heartbeat. But this was a blob with a head, and appendages. “Yes they are.” She says. “How far along am I?” I ask, not even feeling the slightest bit irresponsible. “About twelve weeks.” She smiles. “This is happening.” I say.  This is actually happening.

Fast forward nine months. I am still living that episode called “greatest moments in disbeleif”. I just step back and watch the chaos unfold. I did the solo parent challenge: taking all four kids somewhere without the help of the other parent. Josh was working and Liv wanted to go to open gym to practice her routine. One hour: I can do this”. I try to convince myself. Two teens, two babies and 1 Mom. May the odds be ever in my favor. I was concerned since Jackson was asleep in the stroller. It was 7 on a Friday night and this 9-5er was exhausted. If he slept too long, it could be a Oh-Toodles at midnight kinda evening followed by Oh-Toodles with the sunrise kinda Saturday morning. Halfway through Liv’s class he was still asleep.

Me: I am going to wake him for a bit. Maybe he can run around this building for a bit
Layla: Don’t do it. he is so bad
Me: But I really want him to sleep later
Layla: It’s a bad idea. I am warning you.
Me: I know. I know. I am going to regret this.

The idea of him sleeping later was worth the risk of letting him out to roam free in a rec center. Right? I handed Cece to Layla. She was mostly asleep. “Hey Buddy.” I say in Jackson’s ear. He smiles and opens his eyes. It took a few minutes to take in all the toddlering that can go on in this building. He eyes the gym mats and yells to be taken out of his stroller. I have now caught the attention of all the other parents. While made of the best intentions and adoration, I often get the “you are so brave; I am so glad I don’t have four kids” smile from other parents. I let him out and let him climb on the gym mats while the instructor isn’t looking. Then she looks over and I flash the “oops..toddler. haha” smile and scoop him up. The rec center has lots of hallways for him to run in. Having middle schoolers around, I have come to be well acquainted with the magical union of toddler and school hallway. Its a living maze and his little legs can’t navigate it fast enough. I direct him toward the hallway. There is a detour I wasn’t expecting: elevator. Why are the buttons so low??? I ask to the air.  He hits the button and the door immediately opens. “Crap!” I say to Layla and run after him. I slide onto the elevator like I am stealing a base. He is really proud of himself now as the door closes. He hits the alarm button. No!! I yell. I hear dispatch interference and dispatch voices. I hear important words like “fire station” “alarm button hit” “I am yelling, “No. I am so sorry. No emergency.” Finally someone addresses me. “hello. What is  your emergency?” the elevator asks me. “I am so sorry, so sorry, no emergency. My son. toddler. Mistake.” I can hear the elevator sign in annoyance as it opens the doors and I get off.  This actually happening. This just happened. I stepped off the elevator as if it didn’t happen.  Jackson started running down the hallway and found an empty basket ball court. I grabbed a ball and started dribbling around him. I even impressed him by (almost) making a free throw. We spent the rest of the time playing chase, dribble, catch and run in the gym.  It was a sweet moment I got to have with him. Mom and son, its so new to me. I have three daughters. One sister. My mom has two sisters and my dad has five…so yeah, lots of girls. Sometimes I wonder if I am bit ill prepared to mother a son. Then we have these organic little moments and I start to understand the dynamic.  Me: Figuring out how to mother a son: this is actually happening.