I’m Still Here – Kinda, Sorta

Well, hello there, blog readers. I did not fall off the face of the internet entirely. I’ve started typing a few new posts, thought about even more in my head and have been reading along with some of you even though I’m not commenting like normal.

Last month the kids and I moved into a new townhouse about 25 miles away from the house I shared with Zachary. They still split their time 50/50 between the two of us, and I’m driving them to and from school in the “old” town each day they are with me.

The new place is quite a bit smaller than the house the kids still share with Zachary. No basement, either. As I think about the boxes still left at Zachary’s (how weird to call it his house instead of our house) that I need to bring here I freak out a bit wondering where those holiday decorations and old family memorabilia will go. I look forward to summer but question how the kids will fare without a huge yard to run in when they are with me.

The thing about a divorce is that nothing else in life slows down so that you can deal with it. It just runs right alongside you, laughing the whole time, “You thought you were busy before? Let’s throw some legal hassles at ya now and see how ya do!” I may need to pack and move and unpack and research new insurance policies and help my lawyer draft responses and figure out how to get the kids enrolled in a new school district and and and and and… but my kids still need their mother, my business still needs to run, I have the part time job I still work. I’m also interviewing for a new part time job at another restaurant since I don’t get enough hours at the first one.

Here are a few random facts I’ve learned this past month:

1. I have a ton of books. Like, a billion. Or maybe just hundreds. But it’s a lot and about half of them were in boxes in my basement I hadn’t touched in more than six years. College textbooks on literary theory, short story anthologies, poetry books written by my professors. And I can’t bear to part with any of them. Except The Help, Under the Dome and the Sookie Stackhouse series, among a few others. Those are definitely going.

2. I love 30 Rock. How have I lived my life without seeing this show? I’ve been watching it while I exercise or when I work at home and it’s awesome. In fact, after I hit publish on this I think I’ll help myself to a glass of wine and watch another episode. Long live Netflix!

3. I am still not good at dancing or Zumba. Still putting in the effort, though! You’d think after all this time tagging along with friends to the gym or to go out salsa dancing I’d have the moves down, but I may have to accept that I have no grace or rhythm. At all.

4. Budgeting when you don’t know what your expenses will be is hard. I don’t know how much to budget for gas because my driving patterns have totally changed. I don’t know how much to budget for groceries because I’ve never had my kids just 50% of the time before. I don’t know how much my utilities will be each month. I’m going to make sure I don’t gain a single pound because I don’t want to have to buy any new clothes unless necessary. I went thrifting and bought a bag full of (necessary) clothes for me and the kids for less than, I admit, I have spent on just one new shirt at the mall.  It’s going to take a few months in this new place with the new job to figure out my financial groove.

5. This winter is endless and that makes even die-hard winter fans grouchy. I do not love snow or cold, so you can imagine how absolutely blah this dreary weather makes me feel. Seriously, we just had record snowfall last Friday that canceled my kids’ field trips. It’s madness, and it needs to stop because I’m in need of some sunshine and the option to wear footwear that does not require socks.

6. Cooking for one is kind of a waste of time. When I don’t have the kids I usually eat oatmeal, eggs or a sandwich for dinner. Actually, I eat one of those for almost every meal when I’m alone. Anything that takes more than five minutes to prepare seems like overkill.

7. I have an odd compulsion to sign up for 5Ks. I think I’m up to four or five for this year. Never mind that I’ve never participated in an actual 5K before. As far as mid-life crises go, jogging slowly with throngs of others seems pretty tame.

So, there you have it.

Sanity-Saving Responsibility Chart for Kids

If you have children over the age of two, this might sound familiar. If you have younger kids, just you wait.

Mom: Okay, guys, it’s 7:30, you’ve got 30 minutes before the bus comes!

Kids: Ok! We’re ready!

Mom: Grant! You’re still wearing your pajamas, go get dressed!

Grant: Fine!

Mom: Isla, your lunch box is still on the counter, put it in your backpack.

Isla: I will!

Mom: Grant, it’s 7:43, go get dressed!

Grant: FINE!

Mom: Miles, why is your homework still on the table? Put it in the folder.

Miles: Got it.

Mom: Grant, it’s winter, you need socks. Go get socks!

Grant: But WHY?

Mom: Grant, seriously, you’ve got five minutes to get ready, go find some socks.

Grant: Geez, okay, I will.

Mom: Why are there still lunch boxes on the floor? Put them in your backpacks! Isla, you didn’t brush your hair. Miles, did you brush your teeth? Let me smell your breath. You didn’t brush them. Go swish some toothpaste around in your mouth and get back down here and put on your coat. Grant, you need TWO socks. One for each foot. Isla, the brush is right here. Okay, it’s 8:01, go go go! I love you guys! See you after school!

And… cue dramatic flop on the couch.

Every time we needed to leave the house at a specific time, I found myself stressing over remembering which kid still needed to do what, the kids were flustered because I was barking orders and we continually felt rushed no matter how far in advance we started to get ready.

So I made this chart. It’s not a chore chart and it’s not linked to money at all – it’s a responsibility chart with sticks for each kid describing one thing they need to do in the morning, after school and by bed time.

responsibility chore chart for kids children morning library cards popsicle sticks

I bought a large cork board and used up some of the scrapbook paper that’s been sitting unused in my office for years because I won’t have time to scrapbook until I’m 70 years old. Googled “library pocket template” and found one I liked, then Isla and I set about tracing, cutting and folding.

I made six pockets for each kid – Morning Done, Day Done, Night Done, Morning T0-Do, Day To-Do and Night To-Do. Super fancy. In each “To-Do” pocket are hand-written sticks with one task each, tailored for the particular child. For example, Isla and Miles have just “Get dressed,” as part of their morning reminders, but Grant always forgets socks so he has an additional “Put on socks” one. Jonah can’t read so only has one stick right now so he feels included.

Not enough time has passed yet to say whether this is a smashing success or not, but I can tell you this – it is a huge relief for me AND the kids if I simply refer to the chart when they look like they’re dawdling at any point. Miles turns on the TV? I ask him if he’s done everything on his list. This has helped Grant, in particular, because he seems to do well with routines and having clear expectations laid out for him.

I am planning to add a few more soon (we ran out of sticks, oops) but so far I can say this has made for much more relaxing mornings and outings.

What do you do to keep your kids on task? Or are they just naturally good at remembering what needs to be done?

New Olympic Sport Suggestions

The news that wrestling will be cut from the summer 2020 Olympics has people reeling across the globe. I’m not one of those people, as I know nothing about wrestling (except that wrestlers wear outfits that look like they were vaguely modeled after old fashioned male bathing suits), but I imagine that for those who’ve made wrestling at the Olympics a life-long goal, this can be upsetting.

With this gaping hole left in the Olympic line-up, I’d like to add some options for the Olympic committee to consider when thinking about which new sport should be represented.

1. Cart Pushing. This would be more dramatic in the winter games, because if pushing a cart full of warehouse store goodies with four kids in tow is a workout, doing the same thing through six inches of salty slush surely requires near-Herculean strength and stamina. I envision this event will be as suspenseful as my old favorite TV show, Supermarket Sweep.

2. Seat Belt Buckling, Toddler Style. Have you ever had to buckle a 30 pound, screaming, bucking child into a convertible booster? It requires agility and poise, and being heavier than the child only gives a slight advantage to the buckler. Competition will be more authentic if held in a public place, like a Target parking lot, so passerby can cast judgmental glances at the athletes.

3. All Day Laundry Marathons. Anyone can run 26 miles with empty arms. Come on. But try going up and down the stairs with baskets full of smelly clothes, dodging Legos that might cripple you, 1,567 times in one day as you locate, sort, wash, fold, and put away clothes and linens for a house full of people.

4. Seal Liner Removal. You know those discs of thick paper that cover, say, a jar of peanut butter or a new bottle of ketchup? They have either microscopic tabs along the edges or a pull-up half-circle that lead a person to believe access to the food within will be simple. I’d like this sport to be added just so I can see if other people really can remove those seals without harming themselves or without the seals ending up in 203 small pieces. Because I can’t.

What would you like to see at the 2020 Summer Olympics?

Good Question, Child

A few days before New Year’s Eve I thought to myself maybe the kids and I could toast to the new year at midnight. I’d get some bubbly Prosecco and they’d have their sparkling grape juice.  In the end I never opened my bottle at all; it’s still in the fridge, waiting for some time in the future when I might share it with friends. The kids sipped their juice and did a better job at staying awake than I.

Aside from entertaining, I don’t usually have alcohol in the house. I will drink wine when I go to dinner with other adults sometimes, but it’s not something I think about at home for some reason. The kids are aware of alcohol, in that if they know they aren’t supposed to taste it, and have been around my family when beer and wine have been served, but until recently our conversations about alcohol mainly revolved around making sure they understood they weren’t to touch or drink any until they were grown ups.

As we headed into the liquor section at Costco to find the Prosecco before New Year’s Isla asked me, “Remind me again why kids can’t have alcohol?”

So I went into what alcohol does to a person – explained it can make people feel very sick if they drink too much, make them walk and talk funny, cause them to have trouble making the right choices. I told them that only adults were able to understand when they’d had too much to drink, and it was important for grown ups to be aware of that because it was dangerous and illegal to drive a car if they became intoxicated. I said that in extreme cases people died because too much alcohol in their systems was like poison and could kill.

“Wow,” Isla said, her eyes wide. “I wonder why they even make products like that?

Superheroes Make Everything Better

Last Saturday morning I awoke with a fog in my head. Jonah had been up the night before with a croupy cough, alternating between desperately needing me and then desperately needing Zachary. Eventually he fell into a snotty, coughing sleep in our bed and kicked me until early morning. I knew he slept better with me nearby, though, and snuggling a sick kid may not be as nice as snuggling a healthy kid, but it’s still comforting.

Zachary went off to work before everyone was dressed and I scrambled around the kitchen making shopping lists and looking for my checkbook so I could scribble out the one check I need to write each month.

“Grant, where are your shoes?” I asked as I spied his bare feet. We had two minutes to leave the house to bring the boys to their sports practice.

“I have no idea!” he answered. We have 429 pairs of shoes in this house but no one can ever find the pair they need when it’s time to leave.

“Jonah, did you go to the bathroom?” I yelled into the play room.

“Yes! I goed potty!” he called back. He popped into the kitchen and I saw he was still wearing his beloved new Spiderman costume.

“Jonah, buddy, we need to go. I need you to take off the costume and get your shoes on.” I scanned the counters for my keys. Where were the keys? One minute to leave.

“No! I want to be Spiderman!” Jonah said. He crossed his arms and stuck out his lower lip. Typical strategy.

“Fine, fine. You can wear it IF you get your shoes on right now,” I said. “Isla! Miles! Get in the car!”

“Mom, they are already in the car,” Grant said. Ah, perfect. Time to go.

We dropped the older two boys off at their destination and Isla and Jonah and I took off to squeeze as many errands as possible into our hour before swinging back to get Grant and Miles. First stop – the gas station. The minivan’s “you are almost out of gas, you slacker,” light had come on, and I was in desperate need of a caffeinated beverage.

Jonah was determined to open the door of the store for me, and he used all of his super hero might to push it. A twenty-something man paying for a donut at the checkout got a huge grin on his face and said, “Way to go, Spiderman!” Jonah was mostly oblivious to the attention there, but everyone who saw him smiled.

From there we ventured to the post office. The lone employee at the window gushed all over Jonah and his costume. He was starting to catch on to the effect he was having on strangers and gamely smiled and put his hands on his hips in a display of strength and power before saying “Bye bye!” in his pseudo-booming voice.

Up next was the local farmer’s market. As we passed through a long line of people waiting for somewhat famous pastries, the whispers began.

“Oh my goodness, look at that little boy!”

“He is so cute, what a cute mask.”

Isla helped me pick out a butternut squash while the folks at the farm stand complimented her pretty dress and asked Jonah questions about his costume. The he turned around and faced everyone in line and gestured like Spiderman about to shoot a web from his wrists and someone in the crowd said, “Look! He’s posing!” I felt like we were in our own little parade, with Jonah as grandmaster. His get-up left little rays of sunshine every where we went.

With Isla carrying our squash, leeks and garlic and me carrying Jonah (who can resist a 30-pound hero who asks, “Mama, will you carry you?”), we walked to our final destination – the bank. Normally this is where Jonah melts down. Jumping on the chairs as I fill out the deposit slip, trying ot make a break for the doors, begging for suckers – you name it.

This time, in his disguise, he beguiled the staff and sat and talked for a good ten minutes with a banker. Even took his shoes off to get more comfortable. I think he was trying to get a loan to help support his good-deed lifestyle, but was ultimately denied due to lack of verifiable income. Spiderman doesn’t get regular paychecks, you see.

We had such a stress-free, smile-filled morning while we ran errands, I’m tempted to purposely put him in costumes every time we walk out the door now.

Frozen Frozen Waffles for Breakfast – Strange Food Kids Eat

My kids love frozen waffles. We buy them in packs of 60 at the warehouse store and go through about six million boxes per month. I should probably buy another freezer just so I have room for more waffles.

Nothing strange about waffles, right? Well, some of my kids eat them straight from the freezer. It began when our oldest, Miles, was a toddler. He was teething and crying because he wanted food NOW and so I handed him a waffle that hadn’t been toasted and let him have at it, expecting to find it on the floor, discarded, within thirty seconds. But no, he gobbled it up and asked for more. I can only imagine it felt soothing to his poor, swollen gums. Zachary and I found it a little weird, but, hey, what do we know about the culinary tastes of the under-two set?

This frozen frozen waffle habit has been passed down to all the children, to varying degrees. While the older three eventually learned that warm waffles with some melted buttery spread and a thin layer of honey could be delicious, our youngest, who is almost three, insists on eating his cold all the time.

“What do you want for breakfast, Jonah?” I ask each morning, though I already know the answer.

“Ummmm,” he says, pretending to consider his options. We’ve got our routine down.

“Waffles. Not hot waffles. COLD waffles. With butter and honey.” Yes, Jonah has taken his love for cold waffles one step further than the other kids did and prefers his with butter and honey. I don’t even try to understand this, but I don’t see the harm, so cold waffles he gets. Perhaps when it is six degrees below zero this coming January he’ll change his mind.

This bizarre morning choice makes me think of my youngest brother who put sandwiches of peanut butter and Velveeta in the microwave so that the two flavors would warm and meld together. Doesn’t that sound simply delectable? Yeah, it doesn’t sound very good to me, either. He admitted, years later, that he didn’t even like that sandwich, but, as the baby of the family, he loved the reaction it got from the rest of us who gagged theatrically when he took his first bites.

Another story from Miles’ toddlerhood involved an entire 1/4 of a cup of raw, white onion. I was making tacos, he was begging me for a piece of the onion as I sliced it and wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I thought, “Fine, I’ll give him a taste and we’ll see how much he likes it. ” Did he spit it out? No, I gave him a piece of onion and he asked for more. And more. And more. Until he’d finished that entire quarter cup. You can imagine the kisses I got from him later. Ooh, boy.

As the kids get older and bigger, I imagine what will strike me the most is the amount of food they eat, not necessarily what they eat. I have three younger brothers and a slew of male cousins; I know how they can pack away food, and I’m scared.

Until then, I stock up on frozen waffles and shake my head and chuckle each morning as my baby eats his frozen, frozen waffles. I can’t judge, I drink diet soda for breakfast most mornings, and for snacks in high school I’d slather a slice of bread with Italian dressing and eat it up. Really great cuisine, there.

What unusual-sounding foods do your kids eat?

The Advance

Big changes in the last two weeks here. My babies astound me with their capacity to learn and just go and get more grown up.

Most monumental – Jonah is potty trained. This, people, is a shocker. Both Miles and Grant were nearly four by the time they ditched the diapers, and it was with great struggle that they weren’t older than four.

Jonah is totally into super heroes. On a whim I bought him some underwear with Iron Man and Wolverine and The Hulk. He wrinkled his nose into his cutest, most endearing quizzical face. “‘I’m going to wear UNDERWEARS?” he asked, laughing.

He immediately put them on. Peed in them about fifteen minutes later.

“It’s okay. I have more,” he announced. He marched up to his room to choose a new pair. Peed in those about two hours later.

Within a week he was staying totally dry, day and night. Jonah turns three this fall. This is astounding.

Of course, last night he had an accident at the baseball field, and then two overnight, but, still, for the first time in over nine years, I don’t have to buy diapers. I’ll mop up a little pee here and there for that milestone.

And then – Miles and Isla learned to ride their bikes without training wheels. Yes, Miles is 9 and many children his age have been wheeling around their driveways without support for years by this point. But Miles is a cautious and somewhat shy child. He did not want the older neighbor boys to see him practicing (and falling) on our street. Zachary took all the kids to the park last weekend determined to get Miles up on just two wheels. After a fall and short-lived refusal to get back up in the saddle, Miles was tooling on the bike path all on his own. When Zachary texted me the news, I nearly cried.

Today I’ve been working. Jonah and Grant are at daycare but Miles and Isla wanted to ride bikes. Miles assured me he could take Isla’s training wheels off, and they disappeared into the front yard, all giggles and plans.

“Mom!” Isla squealed as she ran into the house later. “I fell down and scraped my knee, but it’s okay! I can ride my bike! I rode all the way down the street and back without falling!” My girl, following right behind her big brother, up on two wheels now, as well. They can be partners in crime now, as they’ve always been, cruising down the street in their helmets.

And then – Grant learned how to tie his shoes. I can take no credit for this. Zachary has some masterful skill to teach kids to do this in one day, and we decided it was time for Grant to do this before he entered first grade in the fall. The same day Miles rode his bike solo for the first time, Grant ditched the Velcro sneakers.

My babies haven’t been babies for a while, but this week they are proving this with a fast and sharp ferocity. I want to catch them and hold them and marvel at their learning and also whisper, “Slow down, slow down, come back.”

Written to participate in Just Write, a weekly exercise in free writing.

Don’t Complain, Lest Someone Assume You Hate Your Children

This week I encountered two situations in which it was implied that I am a horrible person if I do not adore every loud, raucous moment with my children.

In one scenario, mothers who work outside of the home wrote on a message board that stay at home moms who complain about anything related to their children should not have had kids at all. The assumption was that stay at home moms have such luxurious, stress-free lives that any of them who could claim they were worn out, or tired of the screaming going on 16 hours a day, were too selfish to have procreated in the first place. The attitude was, “If you’re going to complain about your life, you shouldn’t have chosen to stay home with your kids.”

The second occurrence was more personal. I received a comment on my last blog post which made it clear the commenter thought I found my children’s lives trivial since I dared try to joke about an evening that was so full of mishaps I had to laugh or I might have cried. Her words stung – she implied I would rather spend time on Pinterest than go to my son’s baseball game. I think most people can read the humor and intent into my post, but for those who also misinterpreted my words, let me clarify for you – I want to be at my son’s games. I love him and am proud of him and wish I could cheer every single move he makes. My blog post was about being unable to cheer every move because I was busy chasing other children. It’s about the difficulties I had one night because my younger children didn’t listen to my pleas that they stay in my sight. I was at the game, but my poor Miles would barely have known it. I was too busy locating and disciplining runaway kids. That does not mean I hate going to baseball games, or that I’m going to stop going to baseball games. It means baseball games, when I’m the only parent keeping track of my four, are stressful.

Moms of any variety work hard, and I’m not going to get into who has it harder, because it’s not a contest. This isn’t about The Mommy Wars. But while it’s acceptable for moms who work outside of the home to complain about the stresses of their office jobs, or the difficulties in parenting while working those jobs, it is apparently completely abhorrent for a stay at home mom (ahem, work at home mom) to utter a single negative word about the stresses of entertaining, feeding, protecting and cleaning up after children all day, every day.

I love my children, but there is nothing easy about this gig. Just because most of the time I enjoy spending time with them and feel fortunate to be able to do so as much as I do, it doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to need breaks, or that I don’t have bad days, or that certain moments make me want to scream in frustration, like any other person in the working world.

When I raise my voice to tell a story about how my energetic toddler ran through the home improvement store and I couldn’t get my shopping done, it’s like the waitress complaining to her friends that a kid ran circles around her tables during her lunch shift and she had a hard time getting to her customers. When I write about feeling exasperated when the kids turn up their noses at the dinner I spent an hour making, it’s like the communications coordinator saying she wanted to cry when she was told to go back to the drawing board after her boss dissed the copy in her newsletter article. When I whine that I had to pick up 723 pieces of toy food for the sixth time in two hours while also doing laundry and trying to help another kid with homework, it’s like the nurse who tells her husband at night about the patient who clicked the call button 723 times while she was trying to help other patients at the same time.  My children are precious to me, but it doesn’t mean their behavior is precious 100% of the time. I don’t adore my children any less just because I sometimes need to be alone, or want to get out of the house with people who aren’t going to wipe their snot on my pants. If there are women out there who think it’s fun to clean up after poop accidents, or enjoy it when their young children dash off in crowded places, or are happy to scrape congealed cereal off of hardwood floors for the ninth day in a row, I might suspect they are taking illegal levels of mood-altering drugs.

I love my children. They are, hands down, the most important people in my life, and my work as their mother is the most important work I will ever do. Being a mother rewards me in ways no other job beforehand did – the kids draw me pictures with hearts and families holding hands and fantastical creatures and guns (that’s the boys for you), they tell me I’m the best cooker ever when I make meals they like, and I get an ample amount of hugs and kisses each day. No one ever hugged me when I worked at Express in the mall, I can tell you that.

I get to watch my kids grow, miraculously, day after day and year after year, into incredible people with their own separate personalities and dreams and strengths. Mundane things that adults no longer find magical become amazing again when I get to see them through the eyes of my children – like puddles and daddy long legs and puppets. But I also have challenges unlike any other I found in jobs that earned paychecks. And I sometimes need to complain about those challenges so that someone can tell me everything will be okay, or laugh with me at the absurdity of it all, or just to say, “Girl, I’ve been there, sorry you had a bad day.”

This post was written to participate in Just Write, a free writing exercise put on my The Extraordinary Ordinary.

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