Wednesday, June 22, 2016

On the Hard Days

There sometimes come along days that are so miserable, so full of fighting and hitting and spitting on the floor, and broken dishes and ugly words and ruined meals and frustrating mishaps, that I put the kids to sleep at the end of the day and think, "I don't want to do this again tomorrow." Today was one of those days.

The morning started fine, everyone was happy, but everyone was running at 10 on the Spastic Scale. It was some stuffed animal's birthday and they wanted a cake. It was only 9:30 in the morning, so baking a cake was not exactly on my radar for the day. Then it was such-and-such other stuffed animal's birthday as well, and before I knew it, there was a whole crew of stuffies lined up at the table, eagerly awaiting their birthday cake. How do I get into these sorts of things? So there we were at ten in the morning, baking a chocolate cake. (Thankfully, the girls weren't so much into "helping" aside from stirring, so it was relatively quick and mess-free.) To be fair, it turned out to be the most amazingly delicious chocolate cake I've ever made in my life, but STILL. We sang happy birthday, we made cards for Lion and Elephant and the panda named Unicorn and the Unicorn named Heart and the other unicorn named Mellow Flellow and still yet another unicorn named.... I don't know, white-white or something. Lots of singing, and then singing again when Ingrid decided to join us from having been in the next room looking at books. It was busy. And then there was cleanup.

In any case, things were about that intense for the entire day, except that as the day progresses, the happiness tends to fade. So by noon, we were still running at the top of the Spastic Scale but spirits were on the decline. By 2:00 in the afternoon after having cake for breakfast, you can imagine how things were going. The afternoon was filled with so much crying and fighting and needing. Elka in particular was really having a rough afternoon, but she gets so violent and takes it out on everyone. She'll come up beside you and just pinch you really hard. Or scratch. She knows it's not ok. But she gets so worked up that she just comes up to someone and hurts them, then laughs, then her laughter dissolves into tearful hysteria. Put that story on repeat and you have my afternoon.

So, by evening she was a wreck. I put Ingrid to bed at the regular bedtime but when it was Elka's turn, I noticed she was filthy. She already wasn't cooperating in life, so I knew that a bath would be a struggle, but I mean, she was FILTHY. A bath was necessary. I washed her legs but she wouldn't let me rinse, she kept climbing out of the tub. Then something needed to come out of the oven and while I was getting it out, she came running in sobbing that her legs were itchy (because they were covered in un-rinsed soap) but she wouldn't get back in the tub. I tried ignoring, I tried imploring, I tried everything, meanwhile attempting to calm the situation and distract her by fixing a pot of coffee (a nice, calming, routine-type activity in our kitchen.)

Imagine what could happen when making coffee that you absolutely would NOT want to happen when you're dealing with an already hysterical four year old.

That's right. The old coffee filter ripping open en route to the trash and all the soggy, cold coffee grounds falling on top of the four year old's head is what you don't want to happen.

It was just so horrible, I couldn't stop laughing. Martin and I both, we just looked at each other and laughed while poor Elka's screaming took on a whole new level. (The poor neighbors.)

Well, at least that got her into the bathtub without a fight. And the bonus was that her hair got washed!

Now the littles are snuggled up in bed and Anja and Greta are having their bedtime story and then heading to bed as well. And then I get to collapse for a little while. And I DO have to do it all again tomorrow but I'm really, really hoping that the moods are better and the intensity is less. In any case... the day ended humorously. Whew. I'm glad today is over--cheers to tomorrow!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Parent Blaming, Parent Shaming

I can't get Lane's family out of my mind.

On Thanksgiving Day last year, when Ingrid was about 18 months old, we were at my parents' house to celebrate. My parents have a playroom above their garage, a really nice space, and leading you up there from the garage is a long, straight, green, wooden staircase. Pretty long, pretty straight, and uncarpeted. On that day, as we waited for dinner to be ready and other family members to arrive, Ingrid and I were sitting at the top of the stairs together. We weren't exactly playing, we were just kind of being together there, talking, laughing, being silly. I was at the very top and she was on the step below me, and I had this flash of thought, something like, this isn't right, she could fall backwards, and almost immediately, that is what happened. She was laughing, she tipped back, and I couldn't catch her; she tumbled, end-over-end from the top of the stairs to the bottom, right in front of me.

She was fine—thankfully-- but she could have been seriously, seriously hurt. An accident that ended up resulting in some bumps to the head and an afternoon of being especially clingy and shaken up (she and I both,) could have easily broken her neck. Or given her a fatal head injury. You hear so often of little kids bumping their heads and never waking up. It's a terrifying thought!

I think of that incident all the time, mostly because I was right there with her, undistracted, and just couldn't catch her. Even though everything turned out fine, I still feel so much guilt over it. I felt like such a terrible mother. To be actively engaged with my child, and still allow her to fall all the way down an entire flight of stairs. What kind of useless, rotten, unloving mother allows that to happen? I imagine what the headlines would say if it had turned out differently, and unfortunately, I also think about what people would say after reading such a headline. “Unfit to parent”... “negligent” “Stupid” “How about a Parenting 101 Class” …

Those are direct quotes from comments I've read following the two recent events involving toddlers and wild animals. And things like that just make me boil.

One comment I read stated that the mother of the child who fell into the gorilla enclosure was on her phone, and that to be on the phone while with your child is negligence.

Um... pardon?

For anyone who is a parent and has dealt harsh words toward the families directly involved in these incidences, shame on you. SHAME ON YOU. If you are a parent, you ought to know better than to judge and attack another parent publicly, plain and simple. These stories aren't dealing with awful actions of awful people, they are dealing with accidents. Accidents that could have happened to anyone.

And for the people without children who feel the need to comment on the parenting styles and actions of others, let me just say this: please stop. I understand that everything seems crystal clear from an objective view. I can see that looking at a situation in which you think a parent has acted wrongly, you want to give your own two cents worth of advice and promise yourself that you won't do that when you're a parent. I understand this because I was once (just like everyone else in the world) not a parent. It wasn't even very long ago that I was not a parent. But until you are a parent, you can't understand what it's like to be a parent, and that is the truth. You just can't.

I also understand (like, really understand—it was my favorite pre-mommy role!) the whole aunt thing. I have been there! You love your nieces/nephews as if they were your own, you would give your life for them, you watch them as closely as you would your own children, your heart bursts with pride and love for them. You feel a love for them that is so intense you think this must be what it's like to love your own child. And from a love perspective, yes. I do think it's possible to love other children just as much as your own. I absolutely think that's true. But that still doesn't make you a parent.

A parent can be walking with a child and be fully engrossed in that moment, completely focused on her child and the time they are having together. But it's likely that the parent has other parental things distracting her at the same time. You look down at your child's chubby hand in yours and think, “I have to remember to cut his fingernails tonight.” You see his feet walking along and think, “those shoes aren't going to last a few more months, I'd better write a pair into the budget.” And then you might start wondering about the fit of the shoes on your other children's feet. They smile at you and you calculate when your last dentist visit was. They brush the hair away from their eyes and you mentally schedule a haircut. They turn up their nose at cottage cheese, their previously noted “favorite food” and in your brain write a grocery list that has “NO COTTAGE CHEESE” with stars by it, for the next time you go to the grocery. They ask if you'll go swimming tomorrow and you think, “shoot! I forgot to wash the sandy swimsuits!” And those are just surface-level distractions. Then there are deeper ones such as “how are current situations in our family affecting my children” and “is my child being bullied/a bully at school,” or “were those hives after that peanut butter sandwich a warning sign of a life-threatening allergy, or just a fluke?” and the type of thoughts and worries that consume you. Any time a parent is with her children, it's so much more than just that moment. They have a zillion different thoughts racing through their head at once, and that is only one tiny piece of the complicated puzzle of parenthood.

When parenting a toddler or preschooler, almost every action can turn into a battle of wills. You must tread carefully if you want to live your day with the fewest tears possible. This is not a reflection of parent or child on a personal level, it's just wiring. You might move to put shoes on your two year old, only to discover that the toddler had wanted to be independent in that moment and has extremely strong feelings about putting those shoes on herself. You are in a hurry. Do you shove the shoes on her feet and endure the screaming during the car ride? Or do you swallow the few agonizing minutes that it takes her to do it herself and promise yourself to leave more wiggle room in the schedule next time? You are walking along a shallow edge of a lagoon at a family resort in the Happiest Place on Earth and your toddler wants to walk in the water instead of on the sand. Do you make him avoid the water, or do you assume that his shoes will be dry by morning and it's no big deal? Your toddler has been strapped in a stroller for hours upon hours as you navigate through huge, energetic crowds and now he wants to stretch his legs before bedtime and for just awhile not be holding your hand and as it's finally cleared out enough that you can walk near enough to see him and know he's not lost, you give him that little bit of space, therefore honoring his emerging independence.

Another comment I read was, “I know they must be traumatized, but...”

Stop right there.

Do you think they're traumatized? Maybe just a little? Maybe they've had one or two bad dreams since this happened a few days ago. Maybe they are feeling a little low. Their fancy vacay got spoiled. Gosh. But if they had only paid attention to those NO SWIMMING signs, like GOOD PARENTS would have, their son would still be alive, right? It's THEIR FAULT because they didn't have him on a tight enough leash, they were being NEGLIGENT in letting him be a few feet away from them. Right? 

When you say things like, “I know they must be traumatized, but...” you are essentially saying, “too bad for them, they deserved it.” And when I see something like that, I have no words.

I couldn't believe it when I started reading negative, shaming comments about the parents of Lane. I just couldn't believe it. A family watches its baby get killed by an alligator AT FREAKING DISNEY WORLD and people are like, “well, there were posted “no swimming” signs, what did you expect? Maybe you should consider having the snip-snip, you are CLEARLY not fit to be parents.” What kind of humans are we!?? How can we be so filled with such hatred toward the parents of our world?!? People who are doing the best they can, who are walking an extremely difficult, thin line between give and take, all day every day, balancing multiple lives on one hand, and when an accident happens that results in earth shattering tragedy we point fingers and say, “your fault.”

Anyone reading this who has directed unkind words toward parents who have experienced tragedy, I hope you'll think twice the next time a story like this comes up in the news. I hope you'll try to see the flip side of the coin with more compassion and understanding. I hope that you won't be so quick to blame, because you don't know the details—none of us anonymous internet names know the intimate details of the lives of those immediately affected—and if you are not a parent yet, or never were a parent, it can be difficult to understand what goes into being a parent.

And if you are reading this and you ARE a parent and have directed unkind words toward fellow parents who have experienced a tragedy that you have not, I beg you to put yourself in their shoes. No childhood is exempt from accident. Think of times you have experienced an accident in your family and how much worse it could have been, should fate have decided it to be. Imagine a time when you were not as attentive as you could have been, and something happened, or didn't happen, but could have.

Just yesterday, we went swimming. As we were walking across the parking lot and around the side of the bathhouse building to the pool entrance, I was holding my 8 year old's hand and listening to her tell me about something. Without realizing, we had started walking faster and suddenly, my two year old was no longer beside me. I panicked-- “Where's Ingrid?!” Turning around, I saw that she was just a few feet behind us, plodding along slowly, singing a little song. (Very Winnie-the-Pooh-ish.) But my heart was racing. She could have been snatched! She could have turned around and walked back to the busy parking lot! She could have gotten lost or hurt! She didn't. Thank goodness. Was I being a bad parent? Was I being stupid? Was I being negligent? No. I was dividing my attention between duties, which is what moms do constantly, and I just accidentally started walking too fast. For parents, every moment of every day is a balancing act of living, breathing obligations and all the non-living obligations that go with them. It's Crazytown! Whether you have one child, or twelve, you never seem to have enough hands, eyes, organized thought channels. It's very difficult.

And when something really terrible happens to a child--to a family--out of the blue, and faceless, cowardly people criticize and spew hatred from behind their computers screens.... what good could that possibly do? Change the past? Change the future? Those comments change nothing. They just hurt.

If you are a person who has made unkind remarks about parents who have experienced a tragedy, just keep this in mind: That family has to go home. They have to see the little car shaped toddler bed. They have to put away the toy Thomas trains that had been left out. They have to wash the sippy cups that came home from vacation without their owners. They have to stare into a closet full of size 2T clothes and wonder what ever to do with them. They have to look at all the little stuffed animal friends lined up on the empty bed, the blankets, the favorite storybooks, the tiny shoes, the sticker chart on the refrigerator with his name written hopefully at the top. All this they have to see, without their baby.

Please. Before you speak, think about that.  

(Ingrid, age 2)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

More Changes

We've recently gone through some employment changes in our family and I thought I'd post about them. Martin got a new job last winter, and over the past year it hasn't seemed to be as perfect a fit as we'd thought going in. He likes the job itself, it's just the structure (pay) that has been a little hard to deal with. There were frustrations all around and eventually it's turned out that he's staying with that company as a financial planner, but is an hourly worker for his previous “partner” in the business. This has allowed him much more freedom to have other forms of income on the side (which, previously he'd not been allowed to do) and, jumping into that opportunity, he's put the wheels on the ground for something he's been wanting to do for years.

Strange Possum School of Outdoor Living was something he dreamed up a few years back when we lived at our first homestead—Possum Cottage. He's so interested and knowledgable about bushcraft, outdoor skills, primitive skills, etc., he just needed a push (like quitting his zero-income job, haha.) He's just getting his website up and running at and it looks pretty good! There's even a picture of Greta on the bow drill! His classes are all about interesting skills that would be useful basically only if you were lost in the woods, but also are fun to know. Fire building, fire starting, knife use, shelter building, foraging natural materials and food.... stuff like that. The plan is to have a variety of classes for adults, children and families. (I think.)

Anyway, I'm just kind of introducing this now, even though it's just getting off the ground. He started hosting classes informally last fall when he officially got his LLC and was kind of testing the waters. He's also in the process of becoming a dealer of bushcraft style knives and fire-starting kits. It's an exciting new avenue for him and for us! And let me tell you, it's such a relief to see the person you live with being so happy with the way he is spending his time, even if it means a lower income. It's a tradeoff that is absolutely worth it.

So if you're interested in something like this, check in on his website (and keep checking back as it gets tweaked in the coming days and weeks.)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Days Go By // A Boring Summertime Post

Wasn't that the name of a soap opera in the 90's? Well, it fits my life. I can't even tell you the joy I feel every Monday morning when I wake up and the first thing I do is start thinking out my day and the timeline of our obligations, and then realize, "Nope! It's summer vacation!" 

It's amazing. AMAZING. 

We've been spending our days outside. We had been spraying each other with the hose nonstop for the past couple of weeks, but the girls started screaming at each other more often, so we put the hose away and bought a cheap box of sidewalk chalk. That was a big win. Then somebody found a snail, and now that is the new obsession alongside roly poly bugs. We have a coffee can full of snails and bugs and sometimes when it gets to be lunch time they have to eat lunch with us and it's gross. I really, really like snails, but I don't care to dine with them. 

And speaking of dining, Ingrid is nasty. Yesterday we had our dinner outside. Ingie had a piece of bread and when I walked outside, she was standing next to a tricycle, dipping her bread into the puddle on the seat and eating it. Yuck! I took the bread and gave her a cookie. THEN, only about ten minutes later, Martin brought her inside, her face all covered with dirt, and told me she'd been dipping her cookie in the dirt and eating it. What the heck, Ing!? 

But look at how poetically beautiful she seems here:

You would never guess her taste for mud.

Here's a picture of my bedroom:

Our bedroom is roughly the size of the cabin. Can you believe that? Which makes sense. This past weekend it was raining a lot and we found a leak. Upon investigation in the attic, we discovered that our bedroom (and the girls, which is kind of a cornered-off room of our bedroom, along with the mudroom across from it) looks to have been a garage at one time. Or something. It's sided in the attic, with the same aluminum siding as is on the rest of the house. I don't understand it. I don't understand this house. It's so strange.

Here's our neighbors' house. We will have new neighbors this month and I'm looking forward to meeting them, but I think they might be in for a shock with the level of noise and nudity coming from their neighbors to the east.

Can you see that ladder? It's filled with potted plants and herbs. You can see the tripods down the way too, for peas, beans and cucumber to climb up. I'm so excited about my garden!!!!!!!!!! Things are GROWING. I've already been eating all the herbs and spinach. We've had one banana pepper. I'm so glad it's summer. 

There have been changes to our family regarding jobs. More on that in a next post. Stay tuned! 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

childhood vs. childhood

When I was a kid, Summer had a distinct smell, feel, taste and sound. Riding bikes outside until sweat beaded along foreheads and knees inevitably ended up scraped concluded with walking into a wall of air conditioning in a pristine kitchen, and helping myself to a cup of cold orange juice, lemonade or limeade. Sometimes there would be in the fridge the makings of “suicide” drinks—cranberry juice, Sunny Delight, and sprite. When I fixed myself a drink, I didn't have to move dishes away from my workspace or papers off the countertop. I just chose a clean glass from the cupboard, fixed my drink, and put the glass in the sink or the dishwasher, where it would magically disappear when I wasn't looking and somehow, through some wizardly process I never saw (or was even aware of,) it would end up back in the cupboard, all shiny and clean, ready for another fill of lemonade.

During the summer, the bedrooms in the upstairs of our old house got pretty hot. Not unbearable—just warmer than the downstairs. But if you were really roasting, you could go to the basement with its oatmeal colored carpet, squishy couch and television and you could sit down there in the frigid temperatures and watch The Brady Bunch reruns on channel 4 (TBS! Remember the deodorant commercial for that station?) to your heart's content. And once you were bored with the TV, you could go back outside to play or ride bikes some more, or you could call your cousins in the next neighborhood over and invite yourselves to go swimming in their most-sparkling-clean-swimming pool-you-can-imagine, until dinnertime.

Dinner at our house was always fixed hot and served hot, out of serving bowls on the table and empty plates in front of your chair, at 5:00 sharp. If it got to be 5:30 and we hadn't eaten yet, that was weird. Any later than that was unheard of. There were always enough forks, knives, plates to go around—even if we had a guest-- and each person had a paper napkin folded like a triangle underneath their fork. Dinners were delicious, typically a meat-and-potatoes style, home cooked meal. Kids drank milk for dinner, parents had iced tea. Nothing else was an option.

If my grandparents were coming for dinner, we'd sit in the formal dining room with a table cloth and water cups on the table and and there would definitely be desert (usually cake) with decaf coffee after. I would struggle through that time, hating the smell of the coffee, until my mom would finally let me leave the table, after reciting, “May I please be excused?” which was actually not something we had to say any time other than when my grandparents were there. (Tee hee!) My grandparents only lived down the street, so they came for dinner somewhat frequently.

Ok, so now let's talk about the summer/childhood/savage upbringing my kids are having. And how there are always papers and dirty dishes and general crap all over the countertops and tables. Oh, you want a drink of water? Hang on while I wash three dishes before I can even find a dirty glass to wash for you. Oh, the rest of you want water too? Just go stick your mouths under the bathroom faucet. While I don't remember there ever being more than one iced tea glass in the sink at my parents' house growing up, I can't do the dishes fast enough to keep up here in my home. I literally wash dishes from one meal to the next, use and repeat. And while we're on the subject of dishes: we don't have enough to go around! There are six of us. When we moved here we bought a set of six bowls and six plates, along with a set of 8 forks, 8 spoons and 4 or 6 knives from Ikea. Plates and bowls keep breaking and silverware keeps getting run down the garbage disposal and has to be thrown out. Sometimes I eat my dinner out of a mug.

Dinner is chaos at my house now. Absolute chaos. Every evening, with high expectations, I begin dinner. Every night, cursing as I go, I dish up plates straight from the pot on the stove, carefully avoiding giving any of the scorched sections to the kids, and if there are “side dishes” those are either cold by the time the main meal is finished, or I go ahead and serve the main meal and the side dishes are finished just in time for everyone to be leaving the table. This often leaves my family having a nice steak and potato meal at the table while I eat an entire potful of peas by myself near the stove.

Napkins? NAPKINS?! Show me a dinner mess at my house small enough for a napkin and I'll show you.... well, that's just absurd! We put out multiple rolls of paper towels on the table. But only after the first spill.

All of this dinner talk is even assuming I have my act together enough to make dinner at an acceptable dinnertime. Sometimes I'll be cooking and realize it's almost 8:00 and nobody has eaten and it's an hour past bedtime and oh, forget it! Have a spoonful of peanut butter and chocolate milk.

It's funny that memories of my grandparents coming for dinner are so vivid and lovely in my mind. So elegant and like a fancy special occasion. Around here, IF we have people over for dinner (which happens very, very rarely, and it's never my parents,) …............hang on, I'm trying to think of how we'd do this. We don't have enough places at the table (or chairs.) We don't have enough plates or forks. We had two extra people for dinner once this spring and we ate hamburgers outside/standing up.

We do always have coffee though!

As for the air conditioning/television/basement.... No/No/Dirt-floor Cellar.

We do have a window air conditioning unit that we put in the girls' bedroom. It's made a huge difference for the entire back section of the house. And at night with the windows open, the most wonderful breeze comes into our room and the honeysuckle smells amazing. I love, love, love my bedroom.

Of all the differences between my childhood and the way my kids are growing up, the biggest difference is the state of the house. My parents' house was comfortable and homey, and immaculately clean. There wasn't clutter or junk or origami cranes all over the place. Neither were there plants everywhere. Or tons of stuff on the walls. Every room was decorated in a tastefully sparse and well thought-out way. My mom would have gotten a tattoo of Our Lady of Guadalupe on her back before she'd take a paintbrush and write on her walls just because she found a poem she liked about cats. (P.S. My mom is not the tattoo type.)

I didn't know that the space on the floor between the back of the toilet and wall could be such a frightening place. Growing up, it was always clean. Same with the narrow space behind the kitchen faucet where the backsplash is. Then I moved out on my own and places like that suddenly became really scary.

Sometimes I wonder what kind of keepers of their homes my girls will be. Will they be total slobs? (judging by their current lack of picking up after themselves, yes) or will they be Tidy with Whimsy (which is what I hope I am, except I know I veer dangerously near Slobville)? OR, will they be total neat freaks, deep cleaning on a strict schedule and having a perfectly kept home? It doesn't matter, I'll win no matter what! I like clean homes. I like sloppy homes, as long as they feel cozy. Somewhere in the middle is very nice. Whatever kind of home-keepers they turn into, I hope that they have good memories of the summers of their childhood.... even without the air conditioning and Brady Bunch reruns.