Proof of Good Parenting.

So many nights I feel like I’ve had the crap kicked out of me. Some nights I feel like that because I’m so physically exhausted that even the thought of getting up off the couch to get myself to bed is just too much. Sometimes I feel like that because I have actually been kicked, hit, elbowed and/or body-slammed, intentionally or not by my kids. And sometimes my mental (and physical) exhaustion is actually about getting crap out, just not out of me.

The other night it was the double whammy of kiddie constipation plus kiddie ninja warrior injuries.  As my mouth filled with blood, I thought I smelled poop.  I smiled, looking  like a sated extra from True Blood, and then laughed quietly thinking about what my life had become.  I also thought: Man, I am a damn good parent.

I’ll let that image linger while I backtrack a bit… Continue reading

Old Yeller.

We rescued a dog this weekend from the shelter–our own.  She got out and was picked up by the po-po, then taken to the animal shelter.  This sweet dog had not been boarded in all her 13 years.  Her first ever night in a kennel, she was surrounded by incessantly barking biters and without the benefit of her old lady-pup meds to dull the pain.  When we went to pick her up, the kids thought we were walking in to a scene from Lady and the Tramp.  They were chatting about the cute doggies they’d be able to see until the shelter director said that there were “no other animals fit for interaction with children.”  I lied about the inevitable fate of those animals as we drove home.  Fail.

The dog likely went for her walk-about Friday night when I decided approximately 10 minutes before bedtime that a little Fro Yo would be a good way to end the week.  (I left the garage open.)  As I put the 2 year old into his car seat he gave me a grimace that said, I’m about to Poop with capital P.  I ignored it because the Fro Yo joint is just a couple minutes away and our minivan is a survivalist’s dream.  There are diapers, wipes, water, blankets and boxes of unrefrigerated (!?) organic milk with an inexplicably long shelf life. And if you’re feeling the need for a little vacation, at any time of year, the back row has a tropical beachy theme with floaties, sun hats and floor mats covered in a beautiful layer of Cheerio and cookie crumbs, resembling the fine sand and rock mixture of my beloved Hawaii.

Well, the bloom was off the tuberose ’cause there were actually no flippin’ diapers in the minivan on Friday.  When he exited the car, the poor kid’s diaper was so full his center of gravity was off.  He was crying (mostly from his own stench…”I so stinky!”) as we detoured into a drug store to pick up the necessary supplies to dislodge the growth from his rear, before we finally made it to the Fro Yo shop.  It was one of those pour your own and apply your choice of a million gross toppings places and I permitted each of the three angels to pile on as much artificially colored candy as they wanted to their previously, marginally healthy treats.  Three outfits were ruined and there were three sugar-coated melt-downs as I tucked them in and silently wished their beds came with restraints–but the minivan is restocked with wipes and dipes.  On balance, fail.

Around 10 pm that night we got a call from the shelter to say they had our dog. She was picked up at the midway point between the yogurt shop and our house. It was not until they called that I realized I hadn’t seen her in 3 hours.  It was too late for us to pick her up so she’d have to spend the night.  She was adopted from a shelter and survived the first weeks of her life alone on the quaint-but-mean streets of Long Island.  She’ll be fine, I just kept telling myself.  She’s a survivor, she’s a survivor, she’s effing Gloria Gaynor and Beyonce rolled into one fabulous dog form.  It didn’t make me feel better–but I’ve been singing Destiny’s Child songs for days.  Dog owner/parent/music lover fail.

In order to bust the dog from her cell, I had to promise the shelter warden that her one-month-ago-expired Rabies vaccine would be updated that day and I’d call later with the license number.  I did not take care of that until Monday morning.  I had a million other things to do on Saturday and had already spent an hour at a pet store getting a shiny new legible tag, guiltily buying toys for the other shelter dogs, telling the kids that maybe someday when they saved enough money they could choose between buying a hamster and going to college (the price tag may say $2.79 but that’s just for the hamster–everything else you need, cage, water bottle, wheel etc., costs $400,000) and otherwise whiling away the hours until the shelter would open at 11:00 am.  I hope the shelter lady who told me she “trusted me” when she let us go without following the proper protocol hasn’t lost her job and/or her faith in humankind.  What am I saying? She works at an animal shelter.  Her faith in humankind likely flew the coop her first day there.  (Update: I called to check in and apologize, she’s still employed and was genuinely happy to note that the vaccine was up to date. She and the others who do her job are amazing.)

You know what I left out from this weekend recap?  The yelling.  I woke up this Monday morning with a throat almost as sore as my heart from yelling for what feels like two straight days.  (The likely cause of sore throat is a late summer cold, but it in my pre-dawn haze I was sure it was the yelling.) We did a ton of fun things this weekend–parks, nature trails, a Halloween in August party for Saturday’s dinner, a trip down evolution lane at the natural history museum on Sunday, that Fro Yo thing…but it was the regular stuff that led to the yelling.  Grocery shopping with three kids, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, toy throwing, sibling sucker punching, teeth brushing, wound cleansing (the oldest took a header while walking our newly freed pup and split her knee open–unfortunately it looks like the inexorable scar will resemble Charles Manson’s forehead, but I kept that thought to myself).

I wasn’t all Joan Crawford or anything, but I yelled a handful of times.  “Come ON!” and “You have GOT to be kidding me!”  were my most frequent amplified phrases.  But I hate yelling.  I hate it (and myself) even as I hear the voice coming out of me.  I’ve read books instructing parents to whisper instead of yell.  I’ve read post after post on FB, HuffPost articles, Buzzfeed lists and Medline studies about yelling and its harmful effects.  But I’m human.  I was tired.  Sometimes it’s so loud between them and the dog that I have to yell to hear myself. (Ugh. That’s a stupid excuse.) I apologized to them and we talked about how moms make mistakes too…but still.  Parenting fail.

But this morning before work, my oldest was fashioning a cane from paper towel rolls and my middle was coloring at the table.  The 2 year old was running circles for no (apparent to us) reason around the kitchen.  I kissed their heads and said, I love you and goodbye.  The youngest stopped running and bowed before me.  Silently, he kissed my feet…straight up, Passion of the Christ style.  The middle ran over and gave me the heart she was coloring, “so you remember I love you today.”  The oldest waved her bedazzled new cane and wished me luck at work.

Okay, I thought.  They’re fine.  My oldest is earnest, helpful and crafty.  My middle is a dramatic little love bug with a mean right hook.  My youngest is a stark raving lunatic who loves his mama.

They’re fine.  Maybe I’ve barked them into submission and psuedo-religious expressions of love, but I don’t think so…. The good outweighs the bad and I (probably like you) need to cut myself some slack.  My kids are fine, better than fine.  They’re survivors…just like their pup.  And they all know how much I love them, whether I whisper or yell it.

Thumbs up.  You're doing fine, Mom.

Thumbs up. You’re doing fine, Mom.

The Last Day.

My children are 6 and a half, almost 5 and 2. They are not babies anymore.  I know, I know…it goes so fast.  Kids grow up.  From the time you are first visibly pregnant, strangers tell you to enjoy it. They grow up so fast.  They are right, of course, though the topic of unsolicited and largely unwelcome parenting advice is for another time (as is the topic of people asking if you are pregnant).   It does go fast–sometimes. Other times the clock feels like it is moving about half as fast as a century-old turtle in molasses.  The sleep-little nights stack up to a mountain of exhaustion and you feel like it is never going to end.

I have wished out loud more than a few times for time to speed up.  I’ve longed for the end of sore nipples and for the diaper deliveries to cease. For the irrational “no” to stop being the most common word that escapes my 2 year old’s mouth.  For meals in public and adult conversations that are not cut short by the behavior of tiny-tot tyrants. For a time when I no longer have to brush 3 sets of teeth before I brush my own in the morning.  I know I shouldn’t wish for these days to end.  Each day is a gift and [insert another e-card inspirational quote and/or phrase here].  There are truly so many wonderful things about babies and small children, but for every delicious first giggle there is a brutal first fit of inconsolable crying.  This parenting thing is wonderful, and it’s excruciating.

But the days inevitably go by without our prompting, and babies–they stop being babies.  A few days ago, my 2 year old chose to use a potty.  We’d placed the green plastic seat in his room weeks ago and I half-heartedly planned for a weekend of potty training that would take place later, when I was ready for it.  He had his own ideas though and didn’t wait for me to be ready.  I was changing him for bed and he said, “I use da potty.”  I smiled and plopped him down, and he immediately employed the receptacle as it was intended.  We high-fived and cheered. He shrieked, “I deed it! I deed it!”, while his sisters danced a happy potty dance around him (think the classic sprinkler move…with an imaginary toilet, and the arms are not spraying water…well, you get it).   The entire surface of his face was painted with joy.  I was watching him watch his sisters and committing his triumphant, scrunched-nose smile to memory, when it hit me.  He’s not a baby.  I don’t have babies anymore.

This thing that I had wished for in so many low moments had happened.  Time was speeding by and it was as bittersweet as the chocolate I used to console myself after they were all in bed that night.

If we are lucky, our kids grow up.  We get to see them change and learn new things about the world and themselves.  We get to sit across the table from them and hear their thoughts on caterpillars, friendship and why ancient cultures no longer exist.  We get to see glimpses of the kind and funny, sarcastic and athletic, cunning and creative adults they will be.  And, if we are very lucky, we get to see them actually become those adults.

It was his last day as a baby, but I wished for more.  More days with my babies in all of their post-diaper glory, dancing awkwardly in celebration of passing milestones.  More time with them not yet embarrassed by my hugs and kisses and still craving bedtime stories.  And more days spent enjoying the moment we are in rather than wishing for the clock to speed up.


Me and first baby.

In Familiar Country.

I drove across the panhandle of Florida, heading toward a hotel that I had never been to before.  It was a chain that I’ve stayed in more times than I’d like to count, and could navigate blindfolded if necessary because they are all exactly the same.  The location of the front desk ahead and to the left. Tepid coffee and water for late night arrivals about 10 steps in and 3 toward the right.  I’d never been to this city before yet I knew that so much of it would look like so many other cities I’d been to. Miles and miles of trees, or corn fields, or desert, or mountains, then suddenly an oasis of chain steak houses, fast food, big box retail and those hotels that I know so well.  I don’t like to think about it too much because it’s depressing as hell.  Then again, the optimist in me thinks: Well, at least the kids who grow up here won’t be crippled at the thought of moving away for college or jobs or whatever, because wherever they go–it will be familiar.  Then I think: Nope, still depressing.

I’m a sucker for those airport and hotel displays of brochures from local tourist traps.  Without them, I’d just be stuck with trip after trip of the same hotel, same bed, same rental car smell and same steak house salad, and my head just might explode.  I was thinking about the kinds of unique visitor experiences this place might have to offer–would it be another handful of places designated as purveyors of the best bbq ever or, if I was lucky, some historical sites with on-site, costumed reenactors–when I called my dad.  I told him where I was headed and he laughed.  I know that place.  I was near there for training before going overseas and that’s the town we used to sneak off to.  He said “overseas” instead of Vietnam.

I’m not sure why it struck me the way it did.  I’ve lived in a lot of places and my parents (and their parents) lived in a lot of places before I came along.  There always seems to be some familial connection to any place I go to and, frankly, I don’t usually think much of it.  This time was different though.  I wanted to see this place my dad had been.

The sun felt like it was sitting on top of the car and the air conditioner was working hard.  I was looking at the low, dense pine trees as I drove. They seemed short to me, as if the weight of the place’s humidity kept them from reaching a full height.  I saw enormous dragonflies, the size of small birds.  I saw the landscape through the eyes of my 18 year old dad, far away from the urban environment he grew up in and not far from being sent to war.

Maybe it was my own fatigue and homesickness at work, but my sense was that this place, so hot and foreign, probably made my dad feel very alone.  In fatigues and homesick, staring down insects that could carry a small dog away from its yard, I imagined that he felt lost.  I didn’t and haven’t asked him about any of this and I don’t plan to (unless you read this, Dad, and want to chat, xo).  It was a lifetime ago for him.

Another 50 miles down the road and my mind was on the hundreds of children arriving at our southern border each day and how fatigued and homesick they must be.  The radio voices were assigning blame for the crisis and generally calling for them to be sent back to wherever they came from.  [As an aside and without an opinion about what should or needs to be done about the situation, I wonder how those words would feel coming out of the radio mouths if they were forced to use the word “children” instead of “them”…but I digress.]  These children come from places where people don’t have the luxury to ponder why the pine trees are short because they are too worried about whether their kids will survive.  I turned off the radio, rolled down the windows and listened to the voiceless air instead.

I am (along with so many others in this country) so unbelievably lucky to live in a place where I have the luxury to think about trees.  To live in a place where I, as a woman, can have a career that provides for my family and the ability to travel to strange and beautiful places within our own borders, largely without fear.  To live in a place and time where I am pretty darn confident that my children will not fall victim to a war, and will not have to fight a war unless they choose to do so for their country.  To live in a place that so many others see as a promised land.

I drove by the military base that my dad was at so long ago.  There were just enough chain restaurants that it probably feels familiar to anyone stationed there now.  I optimistically thought about how a foot-long sub from a familiar restaurant might make a city kid far from the subway feel at home, at least for a little while.

I didn’t get the chance to see any other local sites.  I chose a late night flight back so I could see my girls, my very lucky girls, off to camp in the morning.