What Kind of Party is Five?

When I found out I was unexpectedly expecting Baby #3, part of me began mourning the loss of the family of four. We had just reached "the sweet spot" with the big kids – everyone was using the toilet on their own, everyone was sleeping through the night, R and I were beginning to remember what we were like as people independent of "Mumma" and "Dadda." It was finally getting easier.

And then, just like that, we were starting over.

It goes without saying that we love the "bonus baby" and I am willing to bet that my biggest regret as a family of four would have been that we never had a third baby. We were meant to be a party of five, although I'm going to go ahead and put "party" in air quotes until further notice.

Because the stage we are in now is decidedly NOT the sweet spot. Whatever the opposite of the sweet spot is, that is where you will find us. I'm going to go ahead and set up camp here, because we may be here awhile. And this is what it looks like:

No One Gets Along with Everyone. Oldest and youngest are in a semi-permanent state of mutual admiration. Middle is sometimes granted a temporary pass, but rarely from both at the same time. I have a better chance of winning the lottery than I do of all three of my children getting along.

No One is on the Same Page. At the amusement park, the oldest can ride adult rides but not kiddie rides. The middle can ride kiddie rides only. The youngest cannot ride any of the rides, but rather than sitting in her stroller she'd prefer to push it into the back of my legs repeatedly while she waits, athankyouverymuch. Even if oldest and middle could hypothetically ride the same ride, the oldest refuses to ride with the middle. This is one example. I could give you six dozen more, but I won't. You get the idea. It's like those horrible word problems I vaguely remember from math class, except then at least I always had the option to leave it blank and go on to the next.

No One Hears My Voice Until it Reaches THIS VOLUME. Sometimes I look at R and say, "can you hear me? You can? Am I speaking English? Oh, I am? You're sure? Just checking. BECAUSE THE KIDS ONLY HEAR ME WHEN I'M THIS LOUD." And then it's "geez Mum, why are you always yelling at us?"

No One Gets What They Want When They Want It. My catch phrase is "give me a minute." (Spoiler alert! It's actually somewhere between five minutes and never.) If one child is getting something, it is most likely because one or more someone elses is going without. I've never worked in the medical profession but I imagine this is what triage is like – no one gets what they want but hopefully everyone gets what they need. Eventually.

This is why, if you'd asked me, I would have talked myself into the family of four and out of the party of five. Because I like to feel like I'm in control and I do not like to be outnumbered and overwhelmed. But here I am – with one big, one middle and one little – learning to let go of the little things and trying to keep track of the big things.

The day will come where we are once again in "the sweet spot." And it will be even sweeter, because now we have a whole extra person to love.

I’m Not Ready

My biggest little girl is starting kindergarten this week. All summer, people have been asking if we're ready, and all summer we have answered the same way. A says "I'm so excited!", and I say "She's so ready." What I do not say is "I'm not ready." I was not ready to send T, but I thought it would be different – I thought I would be different – with A. It is not. 

What will be easier is sending her to a teacher I know, in a class filled with children we know the majority of. I know so much more now than I knew two years ago. It should be easier. It is not.

A is my sweet, sensitive one. She does everything big – high highs and low lows, often within moments of each other, all day long. I worry about A being stuck in the middle, always tagging along with the older or the younger, rarely getting her own thing. As a result, she is the easy one in many ways but she's also the one who ends up just going along. I sometimes tease that she is the one who would go with a stranger who offered her a lollipop – because A is sweet, and trusting, and used to going along. I fear that in school A may not listen to herself because the voices of others are so often louder.

Mostly I am afraid of sending my girl out into a world I have not prepared her for. I have her things ready to go – her supplies are in her classroom, her backpack and coordinating lunchbox hanging on her hook, her new clothes washed and put away and I even sewed her a new dress. I think I am hoping that if I do these things – if she has all the things she needs – she will feel how much I love her and how I am probably thinking of her at that very moment.

But those are just things. I am scared of the things she cannot see but will certainly feel. What if I have not done enough, said enough, taught her enough to prepare her for the hard things that are surely coming her way?

BeautyI said to my sister once that having a daughter ruins you, even if in the best possible way. I fear for my girls in ways that I do not fear for their brother. The responsibility of raising women weighs heavy on my heart and mind. I spent so much time choosing her things for school because it will matter. I have spent five years explaining what it means to be brave and kind, and how sometimes other people will not be either of those things but she will have to be anyway. I have spent five years telling her she can so that maybe she will not believe it when she starts hearing she cannot. I have spent five years – her whole entire life – building her up in anticipation of a world that will try to tear her down in ways that her brother will never experience.

I hope kindergarten will not ruin my daughter. I hope she is as brave and as kind as she knows how to be. I hope that when kids are mean, when she feels sad or when someone says she can't, it is my voice she hears louder than anyone – "you are brave, you are kind, you can do and be anything. You are perfect just the way you are."



Trust Me, I Am an Expert (But I Wish I Wasn’t)

There are a lot of things I know a lot about, and even more things I know a little about and pretend to know a lot about. But in the past year, there is one thing that I, sadly, would consider myself an expert on. It is not a thing I openly talk about – especially with new people – but since you people are my people, here goes. 

It's head lice. Yep. HEAD LICE. I know all about how to treat head lice. (I am killing it with hair emergencies.)

Because one lovely morning when I was cuddling A on the couch, I discovered a bug in her hair. And then more than one. And then…well, let's just say it turned out I also had it and it was gross. (Is your head itching yet?!)

So after my initial tearful "butimthirtysomethingandiveneverhadliceuntilnow" fit – which my mom promptly ended by saying "of course you've had lice, you just don't remember" – I set about solving the problem. So here's the deal, in case the lice fairy ever visits your house: 

Step 1: Quarantine and Treatment – Kid with lice is separated from kid without lice, temporarily, to apply lice treatment. Because I was scared out of my mind, I immediately treated both A and I with Rid or something equally toxic, but if I had it to do over, here is what I would recommend for treatment:

  • how to treat head liceOlive Oil: The theory is that it suffocates the lice. I think mayonaise is supposed to accomplish the same goal. Ditto baby oil or Vaseline. But if you heat the olive oil up before application, it's like a ghetto hot oil treatment.
  • Lice Free Spray: There are a couple of natural lice sprays on the market that are relatively non-toxic. My favorite part about this product is that you can use it as many times as you want, unlike Rid, which is so toxic that you can only use it once every 7-10 days. I have since used it as a preventative method before t-ball and when there was a lice scare at the kids school a month or so ago.
  • Styling Tools: I used the blow drier and flat iron on both A and I repeatedly. I got this tip from my friend Deanna, who also saved the day during the red hair debacle. She is like my hair savior, I swear. Apparently the heat kills the nits. (Ew, it's even a gross word.)
  • Coconut Oil & Shampoo: I immediately purchased the Organix brand of coconut milk shampoo, conditioner and coconut oil to wash A's hair. I continue to wash her hair with it. Apparently lice do not like essential oils like coconut, mint, or tea tree. 

Step 2: Cleaning – While A and I were having our "hot oil treatments", I was frantically stripping beds, vacuuming furniture and putting everything else into trash bags for the recommended two week incubation period. Everything that could be dried went into the dryer for a minimum of 30 minutes: pillows, stuffed animals, hats, clothes, bedding…you get the idea. My washer/dryer has never worked so hard. Also – don't forget about carseats and strollers. Vaccum them. Repeatedly.

Step 3: Combing – This is the nastiest and most tedious step. It is the step that I would imagine most people either do inadequately or skip over entirely, which is why lice are often recurring. It almost makes you wish the lice would just eat your brain, because that would likely be easier. It involves sectioning off the hair and going through it, literally, with a fine tooth comb. And the stuff that comes off the comb…well…yuck. But it has to be done. More than once. I recommend a show that you never let your kid watch normally and an unhealthy amount of fruit snacks while they sit, captive, in a chair. Note: if you are unlucky enough to also have lice, do not ask your husband to do this for you. Call your mother or your best friend. Promise that you will leave wine, rubber gloves and a shower cap on the doorstep if they come. Trust me on this. 

Step 4: Full Disclosure – I was not thrilled that we had lice, but I would not wish lice on my worst enemy. Well…okay, maybe my worst enemy. But that's it. So I had to get on the phone and notify school, the gym, music class, story time (you get the picture) that we had lice. Which is awesome, in case you were wondering. 

Step 5: Repeat, Repeat, Repeat – I think this is the most important step. You have to continue everything ad nauseum. Particularly the vacuuming and the cleaning. Of everything their heads touch in the course of a day. And the combing. Ad nauseum. I think it was an entire month before I stopped vacuuming daily, drying our pillows and A's buddies each morning after sleeping on them, and picking through her hair like a monkey does to its offspring. I still haven't gotten over my head itching or stopped examining each flake of dandruff carefully to make sure that is what it is.

Step 6: Recovery and Prevention – A is no longer allowed to go to school or activities with her hair down. I continue to wash her hair with the coconut shampoo and spray both kids with Lice Free in high-risk lice situations. (No, I am not joking. Have you not seen a public indoor play space?) Am I crazy? Possibly. But I want to do everything I can to avoid becoming any more of an expert on this particular topic.


I Can’t Be Good at Everything

I have been doing kids' activities for over five years now. First, there was baby yoga. Not mommy and baby yoga, where you integrate your baby into the poses, or mommy yoga where everyone totes a sleeping baby in a bucket seat into the studio and lines them up along the wall while they work out. This was yoga for the baby. (Are you imagining about a dozen new moms, equal parts awed and shellshocked by their teeny tiny humans, totally DYING for adult interaction? If so, you nailed it.) I, obviously, wore my yoga pants anyway, in solidarity with the baby.

Then we did Music Together. We still do Music Together. I have been to so many sessions of Music Together that I have long since memorized every song in every collection. When our music teacher tries to hand me the new music and CD at the beginning of each new semester, I stare at her with dead eyes and say "Really? Do I have to take another copy?" This usually gets a few gasps or dirty looks out of the newbies in class. Soon enough, ladies, you'll feel my pain. My "JohnTheRabbitPlayingInTheKitchenSheSellsSeashells" for the millionth time on repeat pain.

We briefly did gymnastics. T was "that kid" in class – he didn't listen, he had to pee six times during the 45 minute class, he distracted the other kids. So the day another kid jumped directly on top of his head in the ball pit, I figured that was as close to a neck/spinal cord injury as we needed to get and left in the middle of class. Never to return again. I think I heard cheering from inside as we made our exit into the parking lot, but I can't be sure. 

And not to be outdone by T the gymnast, A became a tiny dancer this year. We got to class more weeks than not, not always on time but always appropriately attired – hair up and everything. After enduring several months of ballet with about a dozen other 2-4 year olds, we were "rewarded" with a ballet recital that was equal parts adorable and disturbing.  

Most recently, Ry and I were so convinced of our proficience at kids' activities that we I volunteered us to coach t-ball. While that could be, and likely will be, a post all its own, it is worth noting that everyone had "fun" and no one ended up in the ER. So there.

Anyway. The point is – I am not new at kids' activities. This is not my first time. Obviously, I can take on another activity – a two on one activity, even. Which is how I found myself with two children enrolled in kinderswim. How hard could it be? You show up, hand the kids off to the swim instructor and Instagram observe them for half an hour. Then you collect them, dry them, and go home. Right? RIGHT?!

WRONG. You have NO IDEA how wrong.

For some reason, I am physically unable to do the following seemingly simple things:

  • Arrive On Time. It is summer in Maine. What does that mean? Road construction. Where does it mean that? EVERYWHERE. A drive that should take 15 minutes can easily take 45. You know what happens in that magical 30 minute fluctuation? YOUR KIDS MISS SWIM CLASS. 
  • Dress Appropriately. It is "summer" in  Maine. What does that mean? That it is still, on most days, jeans and long sleeved shirt weather. Except inside the pool area, which is a balmy 140 degrees Celsius. Okay, not really, because I think that is biologically impossible but it's really freaking hot. It's like a sweat lodge. 
  • Dress and Undress Them Appropriately. Usually, we arrive with tiny humans already in swimsuits. Half the battle, right? Absolutely not. Trying to corral two children out of the pool area, into the shower (without them streaking across the locker room), into a dressing room, and into clothing and shoes is im-freaking-possible. You have NO IDEA. I know the parent to child ratio is only 1:2, but with all the changing into clothes while mostly still wet and trying not to flash all the other kids and parents and whathaveyou, it feels like 1:20. It's like I'm Michelle Duggar all of a sudden. And because of all the sweating (see above) my hair kind of looks like hers.
  • Keep My Cool. The sweating (me). The orders (me). The ignoring (them). The threatening (me). The crying (everyone). It is wicked, wicked stressful. By the time we make it to the parking lot (a full 15-20 minutes after the other students and parents), I fully expect a police officer or someone from DHS to be waiting to take the kids away from me. "No way you are the mother, ma'am. This is clearly your first day with these people. They don't even look like you."

But the worst part about it? In all those other activities, I may not be doing the best job but I am never doing the worst job. I always have it a little more together than someone. In swim class, I am the worst by a wiiiiiiddddeeee margin. And it is not. Getting. Easier.

Don't worry. I have a plan. And no, it doesn't involve drills where we practice showering and dressing and not flashing people in a timely fashion, gracefully and without perspiring. Next semester, I am going to sign them up for the late afternoon session. So when I get home, I can cool myself off with a nice cold adult beverage. I totally earn it.


Yelling Hangover

This morning could have – and should have – gone better. Everyone was up, dressed and ready to leave for school early. Everyone got enough sleep and no one is sick. We were set up, it seemed, for a brilliant start to the week.

Until I was halfway out the door. Literally – one foot on each side of the threshold. 

T: "I want to bring my iPad." (Which is not an iPad, but a VTech VReader, FYI.)
Me: "No. Put it down please." 
T: "But I want it."
Me: "Put it down."
T: "No."
Me: "Put it DOWN. NOW."
T: "NO!"
(Repeat previous exchange fourteen times. Because that's not insanity.)
Me: "PUT. IT. DOWN. NOW!" (Yelling. Super loud yelling. Meanest, loudest mommy voice.)
T: Now crying.

There was more yelling, followed by more crying, followed by door slamming. A text from R asking if I had lost my mind screaming that loud when he was on a work call. A profanity-laced return text. Deep breath. Sip of coffee. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

The rest of the way to school, the kids and I discussed using their listening ears and mommy not yelling so much. Apologies and promises to do better all around. But still. 

I am at a loss. I do not want to be a mom who screams at her kids all the time. I do not want us to start our days like that. But I don't know how else to express my frustration or get my point across sometimes. We are not people who spank our kids – I am not judging you if you do, but it is not for us. T has been spanked maybe twice in his life and it made me feel so horrible, particularly the last time, that I never did it again. I also know myself – I have a nasty temper. And if I give myself license to hit my children when I am angry, it is possible that I will hurt them. Slippery slope. No thanks.

So I yell. Loudly. With the intent to scare them. Cue the yelling hangover that I am going through now.

Tomorrow is another day. I will do better. Breathe deeper. Count to 10…20…125… Walk away. Other things. There have got to be other things. Right? Because this doesn't work for any of us.


Birthday Traditions

We don't really "do" kid birthday parties. We have birthday traditions, but in recent years they don't include a huge birthday party. For T's first two birthdays, we did the big family party – aunts, uncles, cousins, the whole nine. Just like everything with the first child – we did it BIG. And it was a lot of fun, but it also felt like too much. Too much planning, too much food, too many presents. And while it was lovely to have so many people and so much adoration for our little guy in the same place at the same time, it didn't feel like it was for him. It felt like it was for us. 

By the time A's first birthday arrived, our house was on the market – and possibly under contract. I didn't have it in me to do the big party. We did a joint birthday brunch with just the kids' grandparents, aunts and cousin. It seemed like a great idea – the people our kids loved the best and a smaller, more manageable celebration. And then my dad, sister and nephew all got sick and cancelled. So our already small scale celebration became even smaller. And thus began the birthday tradition of mommy scrambling to create small celebrations to make up for the lack of the one big party.

Over the years this has included trips to Friendly's, visits to the toy store to pick their own gifts, and sleepovers with my best girlfriends and their kiddos. And since the kids' birthdays are within a few weeks of each other, often they get joint birthday traditions. I think it is fun because it stretches the birthday fun out to a month or so instead of just one day. 

Until now. T is five now. He has his own friends and some pretty specific birthday expectations. So we made a list and sent out an Evite for fifteen kids and their parents. I bought party favors and created a board on Pinterest. The weekend of the party, my best girlfriend arrived with her husband and two kiddos in tow. I felt like we could do this – the big party.

And then there was a cough. Followed by a runny nose. Followed by a fever. Times two kiddos. Of course. We postponed the party, and we did cupcakes and presents just us. We let T pick out his own gifts from Target. Which I know, at this point, feels normal to him. But I feel like I failed.

So stay tuned, because T is going to get the big friend party this year. Even if it doesn't happen until May. 

Girls Being Girls

I was watching A in her ballet class last week, and the way she interacts with the teacher and her friends. We were a little bit late, so her arrival was a little disruptive. Mostly because she ran into the middle of the floor yelling, "HIIIIIIII!" As if they had all been waiting for her arrival at that very moment.

The ballet class is for the littlest ballerinas – 2-3 year olds – and every week I love to watch the little girls being little girls. Their teacher is amazing, and has the patience and grace of a saint. 

This week, I noticed A when she walked up to one of the girls and said "do you like my dress? Isn't it beautiful?" And the other little girl said "ooooh, it is beautiful. I like the sparkles." Then they kept dancing – girls being girls.

That little moment took my breath away, because in that moment, A asked for exactly the result she wanted. She wanted someone to notice her beautiful tutu, and when no one did she asked. 

How old are we when we stop asking our people for what we need from them? 

I cannot even count the number of times I have gone out of my way to do something special and the person I was making the effort for did not notice. Instead of calling their attention to it, I let my feelings get hurt and then I feel bad for being so silly.

I wonder how it would feel if I just said "hey honey, did you notice that I xyz for you this morning?" Maybe I would feel like I was fishing for a compliment, but at least I wouldn't feel like the effort was wasted. And maybe the next time, that person would realize that I was looking for acknowledgement and give it right away. Mission accomplished.

I love A's confidence and her little voice and actions saying "pay attention to me, I am a really big deal." I want to encourage her to keep that going for as long as I can, because I think a lot of us lose that ability, and ourselves, along the way. Somewhere between three and thirtysomething, we lose it and stop asking for what we need.

Keep up the good work, little girl. I will always think you are the biggest deal. 


Play Rooms (Gratitude – Day Ten)

On the 10th day, I am grateful for play rooms – and that our basement playroom is finally finished! I am not sure who is more excited – the tiny humans or me. 

I think play rooms are important for kids, and important for moms and dads, too. Here's why: 

  • Organized Disorder: When I was little, my parents rarely made me clean my room. They were great that way. But if they were trying to use reverse psychology or use immersion therapy or something, figuring "eventually she will gross herself out and clean her room already," they were so wrong. My room was a pit. I think my kids deserve the same freedom somewhere in their world.
  • Be Creative: I think the kids need a space where they can play with all their toys at once if they want to. Building block castles while dressed as superheroes and taking breaks to play musical instruments or whip up something in the play kitchen? Play room perfection. 
  • Teeny Tiny Library: Long ago, my kids lost privileges to having access to all their books at the same time. Usually because they ended up in a giant pile that resembled what I imagine a book-burning looks like. So we put them in a book shelf – a "novel" idea, I know – and put them in a different room. When they want to read a book, they ask to visit the "library" and take out a book. Until now. Now that they have a play room, there will be a "book nook" with baskets of their favorite books and comfy chairs to read in. Stay tuned for how well that works out. But I do think it is worth a try. Kids need to read. 
  • Keep it Contained: Play rooms need doors. To keep parents out and toys in. The end.

I appreciate the hard work my husband put in the finishing the basement and helping me create a play room for the tiny humans. Here's hoping the play room makes the tiny humans a little less stir crazy this winter – which is supposed to be on the long and snowy side this year. 

Brothers and Sisters OR The Bounce Zone (Gratitude – Day Nine)

Today, I am grateful for brothers and sisters. And the Bounce Zone. Both. Equally. Because "with their powers combined" (Captain Planet? Anyone? Anyone? Alrighty then.) those two things made for a happy and easy Friday morning for this mama. 

I grabbed a large coffee, a couple Groupon passes to the Bounce Zone and prepared for the worst. Why? Because our Bounce Zone experience in the past has included:

  • Weird Smells – Indoor play place for tiny humans. Need I say more?
  • Weird Air – Some of the equipment has previously been in questionable condition, so there are holes, and air from the compressor just pours out. Like weird subway air in the city.
  • Big Kids – I hate kids who are bigger than mine. Their parents don't watch them because they're all "my kids don't need me to supervise." Okay, maybe your kids don't need you, but I could use a little help when your kid is using my kids' heads as stepping stones to the top of the big slide. Yes, you with the iPhone, I am talking to you. Jerk.
  • Power Struggle – My kids rarely, if ever, leave the bounce zone nicely. And it's a loooong way to the parking lot. It is a miracle no one has called social services as I drag my kids out of their by their arms. Well…maybe not. They're too busy with their iPhones.

Also, T and A have been going through this phase where they are the stereotypical brother and sister. "Stop touching me. OW. Moooooommmmmm." Multiplied by a GAGILLION times every day. So today I was dreading the Bounce Zone visit, but I sort of thought about it out loud in front of the tiny humans and then I was stuck. I was prepared for the worst. Instead, it. Was. AWESOME.

It was as if they declared a ceasefire. For one moment in time – or, more accurately, 90 minutes in time – they ran around the bounce zone like BFFs. I think there was even hand holding. It was weird. And awesome. 

And as I sat in the middle of the Bounce Zone floor with my iPhone (don't judge me, there was no one else there so my kids were NOT bullying other kids) I thought to myself, "I am so happy they have each other. Otherwise, they might expect me to climb in that weird smelling slide, like last time."

So tonight I raise a glass to brothers and sisters and the Bounce Zone. We really desperately needed a morning like this morning. Cheers!

Figuring Out How to Keep Kids Rooms Clean (Gratitude – Day Four)

Gratitude, Day Four aka figuring out how to keep the kids' rooms clean. Why today? Because today we "fell back" with Daylight Savings. And we all know that on a day that we have an entire extra hour with our tiny humans (some of us the day after trick or treating, thanks to Sandy) gratitude is not the first word many of us are using.

how to keep kids rooms cleanSo I took the extra hour and took out every single toy my kids own and put in in the middle of their bedroom floors. They were in heaven, and it never occurred to them that I was also working toward accomplishing the ever-present "decluttering your life" goal by weeding out the toys as they played. With two tiny humans, 2 and 4, it seems like figuring out how to keep the kids' rooms clean is a lofty goal. But here are the things I know work for our family of four:

  • Everything In Its Place: Everything has to have a home. Even better if everything has a label, so the kids know where everything goes. Ditto for sitters, grandparents, Dad, etc.
  • Storage, Storage and More Storage: While a toy box is a quick and easy fix, it is disorganized and our toys have a way of getting lost and broken in toy boxes. I much prefer bookcase-style cubes with fabric boxes in them. They are cheap, easy to assemble, durable and replaceable.
  • One Thing At A Time: My kids are much better behaved when they are focused on one activity at a time. On the rare occasion I let them take out multiple things (today), they get overwhelmed and quickly abandon the clutter for another area of the house, trailing toys behind them as they go. To ensure that my tiny humans comply with the "one thing at a time" rule, they each have childproof locks on the closets where their toys are kept. That way they have to clean up what they were playing with before I open the closet to take something else out.
  • Set Expiration Dates: I don't have a schedule for when I go through the kids toys. Mostly I do what I did today – get bored or overwhelmed to the point where I just can't stand it anymore and tackle it. But at least twice a year – usually with the kids input – we do go through everything they own and either keep it, donate it, sell it or toss it. I would like to do it more frequently, but life gets away from me sometimes.

I know that decluttering your life is not a goal you achieve as much as it is a constant state of upkeep. But the above tips, when I stick to them, seem to be the key to how to keep my kids' rooms clean.

So after a loooong day (it feels like we fell back at least two or three hours, not just one) I am grateful to have had the opportunity and energy to tackle the kids rooms. Mostly I am grateful that it is done. And that when I finally wrestle them into bed tonight I expect they will be so tired from staying up an extra hour after playing with every single toy they own, it will be one of the easiest bedtimes in recent history. I am grateful for that, too.