Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Surviving Ainsley

When the line turned blue on my home pregnancy test only six months after bringing our second child home from the hospital, I was not as thrilled as I had been the previous two times. To say I was a “little overwhelmed” with two children under two would be like saying Elmo is a “little annoying” or Caillou is a “little creepy.” My body was still exhausted from pregnancy, there were nights where I didn’t think I would ever sleep again, and my nerves had barely calmed from three excruciating months of colic. Another pregnancy so quickly was a mixed reality that I was not prepared to face. I trudged through my first few weeks of pregnancy with an unsettled mind, wondering how we could handle another child—both emotionally and financially.

But when my first ultrasound showed that my unexpected baby had “ceased to thrive” at 12 weeks gestation, I knew instantly that there was nothing in the world I wanted more than that child. I went through the D&C procedure with a heavy heart, mourning the loss of my pregnancy and chiding myself for not appreciating the gift I was given while it lasted. The sleepless nights would end, the finances would work themselves out; there was nothing that should have clouded the joy of anticipating another child. We had a beautiful little family, one boy and one girl. Our minds told us that should be enough but our hearts knew that our family wasn’t yet complete. Soon after our loss, we decided to quit worrying about the “shoulds” and the “what ifs” and follow our hearts; and I can’t imagine what our lives would be like had not chosen to do so. Within 6 months I was given another chance and I knew, despite all of the odds against us that it was meant to be.

Ainsley Quinn was born on January 13, 2007, via Caesarian section. She arrived just two weeks shy of Brileigh’s second birthday. She weighed 8 pounds, 11 ounces, and was 21 inches long with thick black curls, chubby cheeks, and a tiny heart-shaped mouth dotted above her chin. With her arrival came the amazing realization that she blended effortlessly into our hectic home, causing only slightly more work than a goldfish. She never cried and never fussed; she ate like a champ and slept like an angel. Finally! After two high-maintenance babies, the Newborn Gods awarded me an easy one. But the bliss was short lived. We coasted through her infancy, scrambling through our busy days while she played contently on her own between naps.

And then… she turned one.

I’m still not entirely sure that some foreign substance wasn’t slipped into her first birthday cake, because my sweet, docile baby changed into a toddler terror overnight. Whatever caused this transformation, my life has never been the same since. Stubborn, strong-willed, and fiercely independent, Ainsley wanted to discover the world on her own terms and was determined to mow over anyone who stood in her way. She wasn’t disobedient in the way that many small children are; she didn’t seek attention for her fits or go out of her way to butt heads. On the contrary, she preferred to stay under the radar like a ninja looking for the path of least resistance. While the other children got in my face to beg for a cookie and argue with my answer, Ainsley simply slipped behind the crowd and took one under the cover of their frenzy. She knew she could have three of them fully digested by the time the others ever stopped whining. Ainsley just wants to go about her life doing what she wants to do, and anyone who stands in her way (that would be me) must be obliterated. It’s nothing personal—I and the other obstructions are just necessary casualties of war as she climbs her way to the top.

Even as a young child, she has little patience for weakness or fear. When Tony drove his remote-controlled car through the house to terrorize his sisters, the other girls ran away shrieking and climbed onto chairs. Ainsley? She calmly walked up to the vehicle and punted it across the room. There, problem solved. Once, we were given a stash of commercial Halloween decorations, and we were concerned about what to do with the six-foot-tall, extremely realistic vampire. Surely we couldn’t keep it—it would be far too frightening for children. But when 2 year old Ainsley spotted it looming in the corner of our dark basement, she squealed with delight, named it “Richard,” and visited him daily for chats about unicorns and birthday cake.

Disciplining such a little ball of fire has proven more difficult than I had expected. Whining and tantrums I can handle; calm and calculated revenge plots I cannot. From the outset, I realized the key to handling Ainsley was to never let her win a battle of the wills. When I was wrong I acknowledged it, but when I was right I had to resist the temptation to give in. It was difficult, but when she pushed, I knew I needed to push back harder or she would ultimately mop the floor with me. Passive by nature, I was forced to become a little more stubborn to match the determination of my two-year-old tyrant in a tiara.

One afternoon, as nap time rolled around, Ainsley decided that she wouldn’t be observing the napping ritual that day. Each time I put her to her bed, she hopped up and walked right back out again. No tears, no yelling; just a glare with a hint of indignation. Determined to stand by my rules, I set up a baby gate across her door, one tall enough and complex enough that she couldn’t knock it down or scale it to freedom. At first it worked; Ainsley was shook enough that she let down her cool facade and threw the mother of all tantrums. Once the rages from her room grew silent, I was confident that I had won the battle and danced into the kitchen to make myself a victory lunch. There at the table sat Ainsley, patiently waiting and dangling her legs off the chair with a cup of water in her hand. Once assured that I was adequately astonished, she stood up and sauntered calmly back toward her bedroom. “I just needed a drink of water,” she said before she climbed back up the exit ramp of clothes, blankets, and pillows she had piled against the gate. Then, having made her point abundantly clear, she climbed into her bed and went to sleep.     

Just when you think you have Ainsley figured out, she shows another side to her personality. This fierce, no-nonsense hellcat is also the sweetest, girliest, most imaginative child I have ever encountered. She is forever running through the house shrieking that a villain of some sort is hot on her heels. Then, just when you think she’s a gonner, she turns and defeats her pursuer (sans knight in shining armor) with nothing more than some melodramatic declaration of freedom—most often a quote from the newest Barbie movie. She emerges from her room several times a day dressed in a new and outrageous concoction of an outfit, colorful, sparkly and glamorous (that she picked out of course) stopping to pose and admire herself in the full length mirror before twirling around and announcing to everyone how pretty she is.

But the most glorious aspect of Ainsley’s personality is her infectious enthusiasm. When something makes her happy, no one in a ten block radius is left unaware of her delight. Her face lights up and she squeals and shrieks and shakes from head to toe, displaying appreciation so thick that it makes you want to give her everything you own. Her laughter is loud and sincere with a slightly insane trill that causes total strangers to stop and smile along with her, unsure whether they should be alarmed. She dances around and trembles like a puppy under her mop of curls, allowing herself to experience joy with an unapologetic freedom that adults can only wish for.

With Ainsley there are no secrets; she bravely wears her heart on her sleeve and the opinion of others are of little importance. When she is upset, she makes you pay dearly for your misdeeds; when she is happy, she lifts up anyone near her; and when she loves you, she reaches in and touches your soul. I accept that I must take a backseat to Ainsley’s will while she grows and evolves. But I never fear for her future because, while I am resigned to the fact that she will probably never do what I want her to do, I know that she will fight to the death for what she wants, stand firm for what she believes, and  will never stop dreaming of what could be. With tenacity of heart and soul like that, I know she will never go wrong. 

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day!

Happy Memorial Day! Enjoy your picnics, vacations and fun but don't forget to a take a moment to thank a solider for protecting our freedom and remember those who gave their lives to keep this country great. God Bless America!

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Surviving Brileigh

By the time Tony was four months old, our life with a new child finally began settling into a comfortable routine. He was sleeping through the night, his cries were more purposeful, and our valiant parenting efforts were getting rewarded with big, drooly grins of recognition. We had been dropped in the middle of the new-baby ocean for months, knocked around by waves of sleep deprivation and gripped by the fear of the unknown. Then just when our family of three found our sea legs and I realized we had a good chance of keeping this little being alive for the next 18 years, something earth shattering occurred that dragged us back into uncharted waters once again: the birth of our second child.

Born on January 25th, exactly 13 months after her brother, our baby girl weighed in at a whopping 9 lbs and 3oz. She emerged from the womb already covered in fat rolls, despite stretching to over 22 inches long. She was a large baby by most standards, but a huge birthing accomplishment for someone with a smaller-than-average body frame. When they handed my daughter to me for the first time, she was covered in blue and purple bruises from head to toe; all of the blood vessels were broken in both of her eyes and her little head was so pointy it looked as if you could juice an orange on it. I’d like to say she was the most beautiful thing I had ever laid eyes on, but in reality, I was a little concerned that they had swaddled the placenta by mistake. However within weeks, the birthing battle wounds faded to reveal a gorgeous baby girl that I would love, cherish and dress in obscene amounts of pink. We named her Brileigh (Bry-lee) Nicole, a combination of my husbands name (Brian) with mine. Many loved our creativity though most of our friends and family took awhile to warm up to our unique choice. Looking back I can’t imagine her with any other name.

From her first months of life onward, Brileigh was a high maintenance child. At around three weeks old she developed colic. Not the type of colic that mommies at the playground complain about when their infant squawks more than twice an hour. I’m talking real colic—true colic, the type of colic for which surviving mothers should be awarded restitution pay. My now-darling daughter would begin to scream every afternoon at the stroke of 5 pm. Not ten ‘til, not five after, but exactly 5 o’clock sharp. The screaming would commence on schedule, last for exactly four hours, and then halt as abruptly as it began. During those four hours there was nothing that could ebb her siren. I tried rocking, rolling, bouncing, singing, wrapping, unwrapping, feeding, changing, and at one point even pleading. Nothing stopped the possessed little creature, I could only let the fit run its course while I struggled to maintain my sanity. By the time I was on the verge of contacting whatever gypsies my grandparents always threatened to sell me to, the colic finally stopped. The fog lifted from our home and our nerves finally settled back into our skin. I could finally begin enjoying my baby girl.

After such a rocky start, I worried that Tony and his new little sister would never bond. He didn’t seem to mind the new bundle of joy however, after a few curious glances in the beginning, he seemed to decide that she was utterly disenchanting and ceased to acknowledge her existence at all until she began to toddle around the house stealing his toys. Once she made her presence known, I anticipated friction, jealousy, and sibling rivalry. But to my surprise, by the time Brileigh turned one, she and Tony were inseparable friends.

Aside from being convenient playmates, Tony and Brileigh formed a bond that surpassed that of normal siblings. Tony’s delayed speech left him with an alien-like gibberish that was indecipherable to most, but not only did Brileigh understand him, she learned his special little language and they communicated with each other as no one else could. Babbled conversations and belly laughs became the soundtrack of our car rides as they shared jokes and thoughts that I wasn’t privy to. When Tony’s speech finally developed, he passed that skill along to Brileigh, along with everything else that life taught him. When Tony potty trained, Brileigh did too. When Tony learned to ride a bike, his little sister rode right behind him. They formed a special connection that has only become stronger over the years, and as much as they love their other siblings, Tony and Brileigh are a separate unit all of their own.

I nicknamed Brileigh “Bug” early on because she was my first little ladybug. But I had no idea how fitting the name would become. She is always a “lady”, prissy and feminine, soft and gentle by nature, even when she is running the bases at baseball or digging for worms in the backyard. Also, thanks to her love of idle chatter and her incessant needling push for attention, she is able to “bug” the living crap out of me like no other child I’ve ever met before.

As Brileigh’s personality developed, it became apparent that we would forever butt heads. Our relationship is both helped and hindered by the fact that she is exactly like me. Awkward and attention-starved, she is a culmination of all of my most irritating and endearing traits reflected back to me through a face identical to my mothers. She has a knack for crawling under my skin and pecking at my brain until I am ready to snap, yet she does it in such a charming way that all I can do is hug her tightly and laugh with a somewhat maniacal edge.

Brileigh loves to talk, so much so that when she runs out of things to say she starts inventing subject matter to keep the conversation afloat. She rattles on while I am fighting traffic (“What if you turned down the wrong road and we kept driving forever and ever?”), cooking dinner (“What would happen if the house caught on fire but we were out of water and we couldn’t put it out?”) or watching a movie (“What would you do if your movie started talking in Chinese and you couldn’t understand it?”). And if she feels like she is being tuned out, she just turns up her volume and tries again.

But none of her petty faults can hold a candle to her beautiful heart. She is brimming with a level of compassion and generosity that most adults don’t possess, and her only desire in the world is to help people. She is a miniature mommy by nature, constantly fussing over everyone, trying to protect and comfort them, even when they are years older than she. She insists on setting an alarm to wake up earlier than everyone else so that she can assume the responsibility of waking us all up with a firm reminder that we don’t want to be late. She voluntarily takes on the task of mothering her younger sisters, if only so she can throw herself into a chair and complain about how much work it is. As cute as this all may seem, I’m constantly amazed at how well she “manages” our large family at the age of six. She is a natural-born caregiver and organizer, and I can’t wait to see how that skill unfolds throughout the course of her life.

My Bug is a beautiful child, inside and out. Despite the drama that accompanies having a daughter of any age, she is destined to be my biggest challenge and then my best friend. I worry about her tendency to be easily influenced by her peers but celebrate her unique ability to put the needs of others before her own at an age when selfishness is a natural inclination. Raising my first born daughter is paving a path for the three little sisters who are following close behind, with a mixture of trepidation about the difficult years of hormones and heartbreaks and anticipation for the amazing end result that is sure to come. 

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Survival Moments...

The moral of this story: Never let a three year old dress themselves to go outside and play without checking them before they walk out the door.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Surviving Tony

On Christmas Day seven years ago, I received the ultimate gift. It was handmade, priceless, one of a kind, and with proper care, it could last 100 years: my son, Anthony Jared.

Tony, as he’s better known, was born in the afternoon on December 25th. He spent his first days swaddled in a Christmas stocking screaming like a baby jaguar, which revealed a bright red birthmark in the shape of a perfect heart between his eyes. At 7 pounds 11 ounces and a mere 20 inches long, he was the most terrifying thing I have ever seen in my entire life. I was consumed both by the desire to hold him close and never let him go and the urge to give him away to the nearest nurse, as she could surely provide a better life for him than I could. At that point, I had no experience with children; I was fascinated by them, adored them, but had no clue how to raise them.

As an only child, I grew up with no younger siblings to mind while my mom was busy and no care of another baby to observe from a disdainful distance. I never even babysat, never, not once. How could the hospital agree to send a newborn baby home with me? What had I gotten myself into? Lucky for me, I had a secret weapon that many new mothers do not: a husband who actually knew what he was doing. Not only was he raised with a slew of younger sisters, he also had three children from a previous marriage. Watching him handle our son with such expertise in those first few weeks taught me more than any hospital’s new-mommy class ever could. But even for those with a bit of childcare experience, every new baby hurls its own unique surprises at you, along with its midnight feeding.

Little Tony’s secret weapon was belly problems—awful belly problems. He would eat, and eat, and eat to the point where I sobbed every time he needed to nurse, knowing I’d have to attach the little Hoover to my aching bleeding udders for another hour of slow death. But when he wasn’t nursing, it was he who sobbed uncontrollably. We tried everything: I changed my diet, tested every formula on the market, gave him gas drops, tried special bottles, administered massage techniques, but nothing stopped the relentless screaming… Until one day, after careful examination, the doctor casually informed us that our baby didn’t “know how to poop yet.” Come again? Apparently little Tony had not yet developed the coordination to use the muscles needed to produce a bowel movement, and therefore he was in pain until we helped things along.

And that’s how, armed with a Q-tip and Vaseline, we reluctantly assumed a lead role in our child’s endeavor to poop. Several times a day, we enjoyed a crash course on both human anatomy and extreme parenting. Every mommy wants to believe that they birthed the next Albert Einstein, and while I know you should never compare your child to their peers, I have to admit that I was a little concerned by the fact that this child we created lacked the skill base needed to fill a diaper. Lucky for us all, he was able to master the fine art of pooping within a week or two and went on to excel in the field.

The months became years, and Tony’s neediness waned as his independence and curiosity grew. Like many little boys, he was fascinated by trains. At the tender age of one he developed an obsession with Thomas the Tank Engine that stayed with him through kindergarten. By the time his speech finally developed, he was so immersed in the make-believe world that he spoke with an impressive British accent and speckled daily conversation with words like “quarrelsome” and “indeed.” Thomas DVD’s played on a continuous loop in our house; he carried his favorite trains everywhere he went in a tin Thomas lunch box; and his Christmases consisted of a sea of blue and yellow packaging. He knew the minute differences between a steam engine and a diesel and didn’t hesitate to tell me about all of the characters on the Island of Sodor in tiresome detail every moment of every day. His obsession was of epic proportion; but just when I thought I would lose my mind if I heard one more word about Sir Topham Hat… it all stopped. Tony declared that trains were for babies and his beloved die-cast friends were stowed away in favor of Bakugan and baseball cards. The soothing sounds of the British narrator was replaced by barking sports announcers, and the trademark Thomas jingle that annoyed me for so many years is now only heard when my cell phone rings, which makes Tony roll his eyes and brings tears to mine.

Sports are Tony’s life now, along with any other activities that involve sweat, dirt, or copious amounts of testosterone. In our home he is surrounded by girls, forcing him and my husband to form a bond of unified manliness. Together, they seek out all things tough, rugged, and loud.  But no matter how macho he strives to be, he can not hide the sweet, compassionate heart that leaves him slightly vulnerable and immature compared to most other boys his age. His innocence is a trait that I adore and that will keep him safe when his boundless energy and thrill-seeking drive attempt to lead him astray. He loves his sisters immensely even though they are cootie-ridden girls, and he has a tenderness towards them that directly contradicts his rough and tumble nature.

As much as I miss my baby boy, I also love watching Tony become a little man. His chubby cheeks have become a bit chiseled but remain baby soft; his stocky little arms and legs are now long, lean, knobby, and marred by scars and bruises from never-ending rambunctious play. His precious fat baby feet that I kissed every morning have morphed into mini-man feet and possess a funk that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, let alone smoosh against my lips. But those bright blue eyes are the same ones that stared up at me the first day that we met, and the red birthmark still appears on his forehead whenever he is embarrassed or upset, a reminder of the gentle heart that still beats inside his tough little exterior. The journey from childhood to manhood has only just begun for him, but from choo-choo trains to video games, he will always be my Tony.

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Survival Moments...

I found this concoction hanging on the girls bedroom door. Do I congratulate my 4 year old on her masterpiece or ask for the remote back?

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and Dieting

Six months ago, I convinced my husband to single handedly lug my very old, very heavy treadmill from the basement to a prominent spot in the living room. My reasoning? No way could I exercise in our dark dungeon of a basement because I wouldn't hear the kids if they needed me. He protested that it would look tacky, take up too much valuable room, and go unused anyway. Unused?! Oh the indignation! I assured him that with the treadmill so readily accessible, I’d be back to the size that I was when we got married in no time. I would simply work out every day during nap time while the children slept. And I that’s precisely what I did—for about a week-and-a-half.

Today, I hung my head in shame and, with my tail between my plump thighs, watched as my husband dusted off the treadmill and hauled it back down to its final resting place in the basement without so much as an “I told you so.”

In my defense, not much in life can utterly obliterate your body from the inside out like pregnancy. Much attention is paid to how your body changes during pregnancy, but no one cares to warn you that you will look like a deflated balloon after the miniature human is expelled from your abdominal cavity. My body has been kind to me considering it weathered the storms of pregnancy five times. Sure, I pee a little when I sneeze, cough, or blink with vigor; but I escaped stretch marks and returned to an acceptable human-like shape through four births, even managing to wear a bikini in public without anyone shrieking in horror or attempting to roll me back into the ocean. Perhaps this streak of good fortune left me feeling invincible, but I dared to press my luck one more time with a fifth baby. It appears my luck ran out.

I’m not “fat”; by most accounts I’m probably not even “chubby.” But it’s been nearly two years since the birth of my last child, and I now weigh more than I did when I delivered any of my babies. An extra layer of blubber covers my body, and no matter how svelte I feel in the morning, by mid-afternoon my tummy pokes out as if I’m approaching my third trimester. It's not my imagination, I'm not an obsessive gym-bunny lured into self-loathing by supermodels in airbrushed magazine ads; the scale proves I am toting around an extra 35 pounds. My biggest clothes no longer fit, my wedding ring doesn’t fit, my underwear doesn’t fit —another year like this and my hats probably won’t even fit. Something clearly must be done before I'm forced to name my muffin top and carry around a fake ultrasound picture to mask my shame.

Eating healthy is difficult under the best of circumstances, especially when you have a serious will power deficiency. But my house happens to be fully stocked with irresistible, calorie-laden kid staples: hot dogs, chicken nuggets, ice cream, potato chips. Some are treats for my youngsters’ occasional indulgence, but most are for my husband because, well, he snacks like a frat boy with the munchies. A proud few can convince themselves that they are enjoying their carrot sticks while their spouse sits next to them on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and a Big Gulp. But try as I might I can't lay all of the blame on him... it's the kids fault too. My children won't eat the bland, healthy, diet-friendly recipes I stalk on the internet, and I gain 4 pounds just looking at the crap they eat.  Rushing them to their sporting events and practices every night doesn't leave much time to prepare one wholesome dinner, let alone two. (Yes, I have a crockpot, shut up.) 

Last year I figured that if I couldn't decrease my calorie intake, the next logical action would be to increase my calorie output. I decided to join the YMCA because it is the only gym in my area that has childcare available. Not only was it exorbitantly priced (when did THAT happen, anyway? Didn't the Y start out for homeless people?), but by the time I fed, bathed and dressed all five kids, loaded them into the car, ushered them all into the building, facilitated potty breaks and got them checked into the child room, sitting in the lobby with a venti caramel macchiato and an issue of Vogue became far preferable to embarrassing myself on the elliptical.

I now attend the cheapy gym; no childcare available, but it's only 10 bucks a month and open 24 hours. My plan is that I'll wait until my husband is home from work and the kids are asleep and then go at night. My first night is tomorrow and I'm already exhausted at the thought of it. By the time my last kid’s head hits the pillow, all I want to do is assume a vegetative state on my couch with a bowl of ice cream while watching The Biggest Loser, and feeling like one.

Motivation might play a minor role in my lack of weight loss success. It's not that I don't want to be skinny and hot; I just don't want to have to work for it. There exists very little outside pressure to improve myself considering my husband loves me just the way I am and, in fact, enjoys having a couch-potato bride to snack with while watching movies before bed. My kids certainly don't mind; they are pre-programmed to think I'm beautiful. Plus, they love to sit on my lap and squish their fingers into my belly fat and jiggle the loose skin under my arms. A size-2 mommy isn't nearly as much gelatinous fun.

Nope. I am the only one who is unhappy with the way I look, and it's mommy nature to ignore my own wants and needs—especially when they require that I break a sweat. But with summer ahead and the threat of shorts and tank tops looming over my doughy shoulders, I am forced to get serious. No more procrastination, no more excuses.

Tomorrow morning will start a new day, I will nourish my body with only the freshest and healthiest of foods and hydrate with only the purest of water. My meals will consist solely of lean meats and fish, whole grains, and an endless array of colorful vegetables. My desserts will be nothing more than fresh fruit and yogurt, and I will quiet my sweet tooth with promises of more energy and a trimmer waistline. I will force myself to exercise, learn to enjoy the burn in my muscles and the sweat on my back, and use cardio to melt away my extra fat and weight machines to tone the muscle revealed underneath.

Unless, of course, I wake up tomorrow and still have five children, in which case I will prepare myself a large coffee and spend my time cleaning and refereeing fights until the sweet release of noon when I can eat some leftover pizza and take a nap.      

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and Volunteering

If there is one trait I want to instill firmly into my children by the time they are adults, it is to never look down on others unless you are helping them up. No matter how successful or talented my kids may become, I never want them to feel they are better than anyone else. I want them to always remember that everyone has a story and things aren’t always as they may seem. So when the opportunity arose to volunteer at the Salvation Army feeding the less fortunate, I knew it was something we needed to do.

When I saw that our church was scheduled to participate in “Kingdom Meal” on October 31, Halloween evening, I assumed that we would have to pitch in at a later date. I want my children to help others, but at their young age, I didn’t expect them to give up trick-or-treating to do it. To my surprise, my kids were more than enthusiastic to volunteer their time. We took them to a Halloween parade at the mall earlier in the day, and let them collect candy from the stores. Then we dropped the three littlest kids off with my mother and took our 6- and 7-year-old, still in costume, to the grocery store to pick out some fun treats to pass out at the meal.

As we waited for the doors of the Salvation Army to open, I felt a twinge of nervousness and began to second guess my actions. What type of people might I be exposing my children to at such a young age? Could some of them be dangerous? Will they say or do something that my kids will be too young to understand? Will their torn clothes and frail frames be scary in their eyes? I tried to prepare them as best as I could for the things they might see and hear, and then stepped back to let them experience a little bit of reality that they never knew existed.

As people from all walks of life filed in to the building, I kept my eyes locked on my son and daughter, watching them take in the unfamiliar sights. One man walked in preaching loudly to no one in particular, carrying on an occasional conversation with unseen friends. Some hobbled and wheeled themselves straight to the boxes of donations and picked through the clothing for choice items. Most settled in at the many tables, eager for the warm meal that would soon be served. My family was put in charge of drinks, and I allowed my kids to carry the pitchers of punch around to each table with me, greeting the guests and filling their paper cups. Eyes lit up all around at the sight of the children in their Halloween costumes; my son was dressed as Iron Man and my daughter as some sort of pink sparkling Barbie creature a slight variation of every costume she has worn in the years before. Many complimented them and asked them questions about school and friends as they gulped down several cups of juice and water.

Soon dinners were served and the room fell silent as mouths were filled with what was, for some, the only meal of the day. My children could barely contain their excitement to pass out the treats they brought, so we walked around putting handfuls of suckers, M&Ms, and mini candy bars on every table. We were all touched by the enthusiasm and gratitude with which the people gathered the candy. Some filled their pockets, eager to take Halloween treats to their children; others devoured it hungrily, obviously relishing their first sweet indulgences in quite some time.

Each collection of people moved us in different ways: the elderly with no one to care for them; the middle-aged with families to support who fell short this month, for one reason or another; the physically and mentally disabled who manage on their own with all of their belongings on their back. But the presence of needy children hit us the hardest, and there were plenty of them in attendance: teens, babies, and youth, many of them around the same age as my own, all waiting eagerly for a meal on Halloween night instead of dressing up in fun costumes and gorging themselves on junk like their peers. That Halloween night, we found it far more rewarding to give these children special treats than it would have been to wander around our neighborhood filling our own pillowcases with candy.

As the evening came to an end, the room slowly emptied; some returned home, while many had no home to return to. The volunteers made our way around the room discarding garbage, wiping down tables, and stacking chairs as the people around us said their goodbyes. As I stooped down to clean up a spill, a friendly man approached me and began making small talk. You know, common chit-chat like you might have in any grocery store line, such as: “Do you like squirrels?”

Having never been specifically asked that question I didn’t exactly have an answer prepared but “Umm… yeah?” seemed to work. As his eyes shifted around the room and he reached under his coat, I began wishing I could take back my response. He pulled out a rolled up grocery bag and I recognized the contents before he even pulled back the plastic. The room spun around me and my pulse quickened as I tried to make sense of how I came to be staring, nose to snout, at a dead squirrel.

The man chuckled and glanced over at his friends huddled in the corner and I realized at once that this was some sort of initiation. Being the new volunteer in the group left me open to some playful hazing. I knew that if allowed my gut reaction to take over (screaming like a girl, bursting into tears, and/or running outside and locking myself in my car), I would never win their respect. I knew I needed to maintain a stiff constitution, or at least appear that way, to earn their trust. So I regained my composure and answered “Aww, he’s so cute!” as sweetly as if he was showing me a photo of his grandchild frolicking with a puppy in a field of wildflowers. The man’s disappointment at my lack of reaction was quickly replaced by pride as he showed off his treasure. One eye was missing, the other caked shut with dried blood; its tiny, furry body was stiff but not yet bloated. Its lower extremities, still mostly concealed in the bag, were quite obviously the portion of the body with the most damage.
            “Yeah! He’s good looking”
            “Where’d you find him?”
            “Ahh, he’s roadkill.”
            “Oh, okay. Cool.”       
“Dinner for tomorrow, I think,” he said, as he stole one more glance my direction, hoping for at least glimmer of distaste.

As I was mentally priding myself on my good show, he upped the ante once more and trumped my best efforts: he called my daughter over to see tomorrow’s supper. Yes, this man called my very prissy, very squeamish, very melodramatic baby girl over to see his very bloody, very dead squirrel. The world went in slow motion as I watched each step she took in our direction. I weighed my options: shield and tackle her, a la a Schwarzenegger movie, or throw a chair to create a diversion. But before I had a chance to move, her eyes locked on the bag full of death and grew into saucers. Before she could react, I ran up to her excitedly and said “LOOK baby! Isn’t that so CUTE?” This was no longer a matter of earning anyone’s respect; it had become an issue of keeping my daughter from incurring life-long mental trauma. I knew she would follow whatever cues I initiated, so if I spoke up early enough, I could have her convinced it was the coolest thing she’d ever seen before she could realize that it really, really was not. Sure enough, she looked at me like I had lost my mind, managed a weary smile, and walked away from the incident unscathed. As my reward, the squirrel man shoved his furry buffet back into my line of sight one last time and then put it back inside his coat, the image burned into my mind for all of eternity.

Later that evening, as my family snuggled together in our warm home with our bellies full, we discussed the events of the day. We talked to our kids about how different people live and how some people have more than others—and some have nothing at all. They asked a few questions but for the most part remained quiet and reflective. We talked about the different ways that we can help others and why we need to spend our time doing so. Then we tucked our kids into bed, telling them how very proud of them we are. My daughter hugged me tightly with tears in her eyes and told me “Mommy, my heart beeps when I think of people sleeping outside with no food. I want to help them again” and I knew that our message had hit home.

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and the Hospital

My seven-year-old son recently underwent his very first surgical procedure, going under general anesthesia to have his tonsils and adenoids removed and his right ear drained of built up fluid. This is something that nearly half of all humans go through at some point in their lives, but this time was different—this time it was my baby boy going under the knife. If you have a child there is a good chance you’ve been to the emergency room with them once or twice. With five, I’m at the hospital so often that they know all of my children by name (a feat even I can’t execute at times).

I’ll never forget my first rushed trip to the ER. My son was nine months old and just beginning to walk, and, with one awkward stagger, he dove head first into the ceramic tile. Had he been my third or fourth child, I probably would have asked him to pick up all the stray Cheerios while he was down there. But one look at the large, purple goose egg growing from my first-born’s forehead and I scooped him up and fled to the hospital in a frenzy. He was crying, I was crying—but the triage nurse was not nearly as horrified as the situation warranted. This was massive blunt-force trauma to the head of an infant, for crying out loud! He and I sat in the waiting room for two hours, by which point my son had happily forgotten that anything had even happened and was intently playing with his sock. His bulbous boo-boo now looked more like a mosquito bite, and if I didn’t know better, I’d swear the attending doctor was annoyed that I’d taken his precious time.

As the years went on and more children burst forth from my loins, there were fewer frivolous jaunts to the ER as the rate of realistic emergencies increased. At age two, my son fractured his elbow while wrestling on his bed. He stood like a brave little man for his x-ray in the tiniest hospital gown I had ever seen and left with an ace bandage and a sling for his troubles. Years later, while having my infant daughter examined for a persistent cough, my pediatrician turned to me and ordered me to take her to the emergency room—right away. She ended up spending the night at the hospital in a cage-like metal crib while they administered breathing treatments for what turned out to be advanced croup.

The tumbles, bumps, and illnesses are difficult for moms to watch, but the fear they invoke is nothing compared to threat of a REAL emergency. When he was only three years old, my son strolled into the kitchen and informed me: “I ate a bat-rey.” With his adorably delayed speech, it was not unusual for me to misunderstand his words and for him to misunderstand my questions.

“What baby, what did you eat?”
“A bat-rey”
“A battery?”
“What did you do with the battery?”
“I ate it.”
“You ATE it? What do you mean you ate it?”

He opened his mouth and pointed down his throat, a bit annoyed by how I could be so baffled by such a simple statement. Still not convinced that I understood him correctly, I instructed him to “show me.” He led me into his bedroom where I found a remote control with the back pulled off; one battery was locked into place alongside an empty space where the other should have been. By this point my pulse had quickened, and a desperate search of the room confirmed that the battery was indeed missing. My stomach clenched into a rock and my body went ice cold as I accepted that there was an acid-filled capsule in my toddler’s tummy.

I raced out of the house, both of us a disheveled mess, calling my husband and my mother to meet us at the ER. I flew through traffic, probably putting us at a greater risk than any battery ever could, and made it to the hospital in record time.

“I think my son swallowed a battery?”
“OK, what kind of battery was it? A watch battery?” asked the ER receptionist.
“No, a double-A.”

I was furious when the administrator began to laugh. By the time three other nurses were called over to join in the chuckling, however, I began to sense that maybe Duracell consumption was not as dire as I had previously assumed. They assured me that it was highly unlikely that a three-year-old could swallow such a large battery, and then took us back to the doctors personally so they could relay the story face-to-face. By the time his x-rays and tests were reviewed and quite conclusively indicated that there was no “bat-rey” anywhere in his tiny little body, half the staff on duty visited us to ask my son what happened, merely for their own entertainment.  Several days later the rogue battery turned up behind his dresser with teeth marks where he had apparently taste-tested but failed to ingest it. I couldn’t decide whether to laugh, cry, or wring his neck. 

Until yesterday, however, he had escaped large-scale medical intervention—which is shocking, considering his track record. In the weeks leading up to the surgery, my thinly-veiled apprehension did nothing to damper his excitement, as my son is thoroughly enthralled by all medical procedures, painful or otherwise. He is the only child I’ve ever witnessed who asks to get a shot at his yearly checkup. I like to think that it means he will be a doctor when he grows up, but realistically I’m aware that hypochondriac is a more likely route.

My mother, husband, and I arrived at outpatient registration yesterday accompanied by a far-too-eager little boy. We dressed him in his little hospital jammies, signed a pile of paperwork, and joked with the wonderful staff for a while. But then they locked his bed rails in place and wheeled my heart away, while the rest of me was left to pace the waiting room. It was hours (ok, 20 minutes, tops) before the doctor finally emerged without the slightest hint of worry in his eyes. I was instantly reassured that my son was alive—no complications with anesthesia, no bleeding problems, no remnants of old toys leftover from his nose-stuffing days discovered in his nasal cavity.

Aside from some pain and a vomiting episode that sent me fleeing for my life, his recovery was swift, and by early afternoon, my boy was home taunting his sisters with his endless supply of popsicles. My persistent fear of medical mishaps will probably never wane—that is my job as a mother, and I am an over-achiever in that regard. But I am grateful that a tonsillectomy is the worst scare I have been dealt by my kids up to this point. My stepson has severe cerebral palsy and has consequently endured countless life-threatening surgeries in his 17 years. Our family is no stranger to the children’s ICU, and the sights and stories there are every mother’s worst nightmare. After today, my hat is off to the parents who live much of their lives in hospital rooms watching helplessly as their children battle unfathomable circumstances. May we all pray for continued hospital runs that end up requiring nothing more than an ice pack, a couple of stitches, and a healing kiss.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and a Camera

I consider myself a bit of a photo freak. From the time I was 10 years old and finally deemed responsible enough to take care of my own camera, I have religiously documented my daily happenings. Nothing brings back a memory faster than seeing it in a photograph, and I want to be sure not to forget a moment of the things I love most. Now, looking back on my many albums and megabytes of photographs, it’s fascinating to see who and what I took pictures of at the various stages of my life. My most cherished possessions and relationships are marked by what showed up most frequently in my photos. My family and the belongings contained in my home were all I knew or cared about when I was young—a stark contrast to the busy adventures reflected in the photographs of my teen years. Now, the cycle has come around full circle, and I have been fervently capturing the next generation in a home of my own. 

The pictures from my childhood were awkward and blurry, kind of like my memories themselves: my mom with her Dorothy Hamel bob haircut smiling down at me while she cooked dinner; my cat Tinkerbelle glaring at me, unamused, from the windowsill; my stuffed Pound Puppies and Popples in various formations across my bed. By the time I was a teenager, I could have fronted my entire college tuition with the money spent on prints of my best friends and boyfriends. I captured every dramatic pose and awesome outfit from 27 different angles at every prom, football game, homecoming dance, birthday party, and road trip that defined my four years of high school. I made sure to include myself in every shot, something I rarely do now. I was, perhaps, a bit vain back then—what teen isn’t?—but I am now incredibly glad that there is photographic evidence that I once walked this earth with a tiny waist, a tight butt, and breasts that couldn’t be tucked into my belt.

Once I had children, though, they became the only things in the world important enough to immortalize. I have no interest in gorgeous, artsy shots of sunsets, tulips, or architecture; I use my camera as another mode of fawning over my offspring’s every grin, grimace, and growth spurt.

A few months after our first child was born, I received a digital camera for Mother’s Day. I was so impressed that I could take a gazillion photos without having to pay for developing them that the new camera, combined with the thrill of creating such a perfect little human being, transformed me into the Mommy Paparazzi. I dressed that poor baby up in bear-eared bonnets, argyle sweaters, duck-themed atrocities, and any other ridiculous outfit I could find, knowing full well that that he didn’t have the linguistic ability protest. I laid him down, propped him up, flipped him over, and snapped shots from every angle while he stared, bug-eyed, at the flash and drooled from the corner of what was, I convinced myself, a smile. By the time he developed the coordination to run away from my ever-present lens, I had popped out my next victim—a daughter this time. My photo shoots escalated into full-blown fashion shows, complete with enough dresses, bows, and shoes to make Paris Hilton envious.

Once all five of my children became toddlers, they presented new and creative challenges to my inner photographer. Over half the pictures I have of the kids at this age consist of them either running away from or reaching for my camera. Not long after that, they seemingly caught on to the game and learned to purposefully ruin the shot by closing their eyes or cramming their finger up their nose at the last minute. Then they laugh (establishing what a fantastic picture it could have been) and take off. Somewhere around age three they become fascinated with the sight of themselves and start hogging the lens every chance they get, striking poses, making faces, running up to review the photo and marvel over themselves between every shot. It isn’t until around kindergarten that halfway-decent pictures become possible again—that is, if I ignore the fact that half their teeth are missing and that they insist on throwing up peace signs and pursing their lips, emulating every Disney Channel Diva they see on TV.

Photographing each child individually is hard enough, but my chance of scoring a good shot decreases exponentially with every kid added to the mix. The family portrait is a staple of household mantles across America: the father, stern and dignified; the mother, graceful and well-kept; two or three children perched in their laps, smiling sweetly for the camera. Yeah, that’s not us. With five children, our family photos look more like two zombies holding an armful of octopi. Getting five children to simultaneously look and/or smile at the camera is a nearly impossible task, and by the time this feat is achieved, both parents are visibly verging on a mental breakdown. And for good reason. It’s as if the kids intentionally take turns looking away, blinking their eyes, sneezing, crying, wiggling, and squirming. In fact, they do so with such fine-tuned precision, we wonder if they had been practicing the routine for weeks.

Eventually I gave up trying to achieve picture perfect and started getting real. I like to photograph sweet, smiling faces when given the opportunity, but I’m finding that it’s just as important to get the crying and the fighting, the dirty faces and the bedraggled hair. In the middle of my most frustrating days, I often pull out my camera and photograph my little darlings in the middle of tantrums, meltdowns, and pouts. When they destroy the house, dust the carpet with my makeup, dress up in my best clothing, and drag all of the pots and pans out of the cupboards—right when I want to strangle every one of them, I swallow my anger and, instead of yelling, grab my camera and document the drama for posterity. Someday the dust will settle and my children will be grown and gone. When that day comes, I want to be able to remember every moment of this time in our lives: the good, the bad, and the crazy.  

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and Their Imagination

When talking with any sane adult, one can reasonably expect a conversation consisting of a chain of statements stemming from a comparatively small bank of possibilities. One might not know, for example, exactly how one’s colleague will respond to a business proposal, but rest assured he most likely will not burst into song, answer in dog barks, claim to be George Washington, or begin spontaneously counting by 10s. One cannot make such presumptions, however, when speaking with a child. With their fascinating imaginations, literally anything could pop out of their mouths at any point, no matter how tenuous the connection to the conversation at hand.

Child-chatter is difficult enough for people who understand this phenomenon and have experience with it, but for people who maintain a fairly childless existence, it can be a little confusing. The bagboy at the grocery store, for example, had no idea what kind of conversation he had wandered into when he simple made eye contact with my four-year-old daughter and said:
“I’m a big girl, I bend backwards.” (A reference to her latest gymnastics class achievement.)
“Uh… yeah?”
“Yes, and I’m going to the dance party when I get my wings.” (A reference to the most recently watched Barbie movie.)
“A dance party?”
“They will be rainbow colored and sparkly. You can have wings too, green ones with stripes.” (She hates green; this is false kindness.)
“And we’ll have CAKE because today is my birthday!” (No, it’s not.)
“Oh cool, happy birthday.”
“And I have a dog. His name is Ozzy. He’s blue.” (Nope.)
“And my mommy’s name is Mommy! Her hair is pink.” (Yep.)
“My sister Laney eats her boogers.” (OK, time to go.)
Children never think their own conversations are strange. To them, a train of thought that jumps the rails is the most normal thing in the world. They are so hyper-focused on the wonderful words coming out of their own mouths that they never pay much mind to what the other person is saying anyway. (Some of us never grow out of that.) Consequently, six wildly different topics of conversation can occur simultaneously without any of them noticing. I enjoy sitting back and watching their sober-faced repartee. If I couldn’t hear their words, I’d swear they were a bunch of tiny adults discussing politics or sports, but in reality it is more an absurd combination of random truths like “I don’t like bees” and “If I stare at you long enough it looks like you have one eye.” The listener nods in agreement and leans forward, interested to hear more of this wisdom. Should I dare to release a hint of laughter, they look at me like I am the one who is off my rocker.

Their imaginations color not only the way they talk, but also the way they choose to play together. Once put in a room together, two children who have never met before can fall effortlessly into an elaborate game of make-believe. No need to plan out a script. No need to rehearse. They just instinctively know what is expected of them and are more than willing to oblige. Trouble only occurs when two or more Alpha-children are playing together and an agreement cannot be reached concerning the plot. At that point, things can get messy because, as imaginative as children can be, their beautiful minds simply cannot accept someone else’s twisted concept of how a tea party attended by pirates, astronauts, and ballerina guinea pigs should play out. In their world, dogs and cats can give birth to baby humans, but under absolutely NO circumstances can there be two “best” super heroes or two “most-gorgeous” princesses living within a 20-mile radius of each other.

There are some days—many days, in fact—when I am home alone with the children for endless hours at a time and I begin to feel like the sole sane person in a psychiatric facility. Other times, when they are all immersed in play, I feel like the lone nut. Why am I the only one who can’t see the angry crocodiles swimming around the couch? But as appealing as it might seem to jump in and play along with your children, don’t even try it. No matter how creative you think you might be, or how loose the rules of play may seem, you probably won’t make the cut. My children once made up a pointless, yet long-lasting, game during a long car ride that seemed to consist merely of saying “poopoo” at the end of every sentence. Simple, right?
“I’m sitting next to Tony… POOPOO.”  (Laughter.)
“I’m thirsty… POOPOO” (Uproar.)
“We just passed a semi-truck… POOPOO” (Nearly convulsive hysteria.)
With not much else to occupy my time and a sudden awareness of feeling very left out, I presumed I could best them at their own game. I considered my options for a few moments, mentally trying out various phrases that could get the best laugh, before finally piping up: “Hey guys, we’re almost to a rest stop in case anyone needs to go… POOPOO!!”

Ha! I rock!

Ten eyes stared blankly back at me without so much as a pity grin. I finally turned up my music and let them get back to their game.

As silly as their play may seem, it has often saved my sanity. One winter, on a particularly long and tedious day, my kids decided that the only thing in the entire world they wanted to do was to go swimming. They also seemed to decide that they were going to pluck out my last nerve, dash it to the ground, and dance on it until I found some way to make this happen. As our suburban Ohio home is seriously lacking in indoor pools, I resorted to laying out a large blue blanket on my living room floor, cranking up the heat, dressing everyone in swimsuits and water wings, and letting them dive right in. I wasn’t totally convinced that this would satisfy them, but, to my surprise, they “swam” for literally hours, complete with cannon balls, back strokes, and a few fake drownings. It became their favorite game that season, and it spared me an endless number of boredom-induced brawls.

It is strange to me that, in adulthood, having a child-like imagination has become such a foreign concept. At one time or another, all of us were jumping from chair to chair to avoid the hot lava swirling around our dining room table. At what point in life do we stop being able to create a fantasy world out of an old towel and a clothes pin and act out our dreams with reckless abandon? When and why did we ever begin meeting “strangers” on the street rather than potential playmates, and who decided that we can no longer pretend to be movie stars or submarine captains. Those who made it to adulthood with their youthful imaginations still intact are among our most successful and eccentric peers. They are the premiere authors, actors, entrepreneurs, directors, and toy manufacturers, and without them—had they not remembered how to think and play like children—there would be no Harry Potter, Supersoakers, Disneyland or video games. I can only hope that as my children move through life establishing careers and raising families, they never forget how to be a child.  

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Survival Moments...

It was harmless enough when the baby busied herself  by throwing shoes and toys over the baby gate to topple down the steps. But when she finished things off with a pound of sugar, it put a serious cramp in my day. The sugar has proved nearly impossible to clean up completely, but on the bright side, the granules in your shoes makes a great foot exfoliant.

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Monday, May 2, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and Misbehavior

For the most part, I am lucky in that I ended up with five fairly well-behaved children. In fact, compared to some of the little darlings I see wailing at WalMart and tantrumming in Toys-R-Us, my children have nearly acquired sainthood. But a child is still a child, and behind every angelic face lurks a little devil waiting to escape at the most inopportune times to raise your blood pressure, damage your belongings, and test the depths of your patience.

My children are what I refer to as “Mommy-Monsters.” They are the type who are generally well behaved any time that they are outside of their comfort zone, whether it be in school, church or any other public venue. However, once safely at home again with the ones who created them, they exhale all of the pent-up energy, attitude, and whininess that had accumulated and festered throughout the day. Mothers of Mommy-Monsters find themselves in the unique situation of having to convince others that their obedient little sweethearts really are difficult at home. We find ourselves saying things like “Really, they can be terrible. You should hear the way they talk to me. No, I’m serious, they aren’t always like this,” only to be met by rolling eyes and guffaws from mothers whose own toddlers are laying on the ground, gnawing on their shoes, and bleating like farm animals.     

While I appreciate that my children usually wait to unleash their obnoxious behavior behind closed doors, it doesn’t make maintaining my own sanity any easier. There are days when I feel more like a correctional officer than a mommy—breaking up fights, checking pockets for contraband, and separating rival siblings at the first sign of impending war. Handling one or two tiny trouble makers is taxing enough, but I am unfortunate enough to have a sampling of several different age-influenced phases of insubordinate behavior under one roof, each requiring its own unique method of recourse.

The most frustrating, yet endearing, phase is the young toddler. My almost-two-year-old can throw a nerve-rattling tantrum over absolutely nothing, as merely an excuse to hone her new verbal skills. After screaming, thrashing and wailing for 20 minutes, she stops abruptly and runs off to play, apparently forgetting whatever it was that caused her so much grief. She is at the stage where she likes to destroy things just for the intrinsic pleasure of it; she dumps out drawers, topples trash cans and walks around wreaking havoc with a business-like air, as if she has a quota of destruction to reach by dinner. She stomps her fat little foot and yells “no” with such immense pride in herself that neither she nor I can help but smile. At this age, punishment is as simple as scooping up my tiny dictator and putting her to bed for a nap. By the time she wakes up, all is forgiven, and the cycle of harm and charm can begin again.

As the years pass, the sweet impishness of their misbehavior declines, making way for far more irritating offenses. My three- and four-year-old daughters are in the stage where they are still young enough to throw a fit, yet old enough to annoy the crap out of me while they do it. They get outraged by such indiscretions as Mommy giving them a red cup instead of a blue one, or Daddy turning on the TV when they wanted to do it themselves. Seemingly minuscule mistakes can cause them to summon the fury of hell from the depths of their pudgy little three-foot-tall bodies and unleash it on us in the form of a two-hour tirade, complete with screaming, sobbing, growling and snot—lots of snot. Punishment is swiftly enforced, but for the most part utterly useless. Yes, they dislike the time-out chair, but it is usually a small price to pay for the joy of watching Daddy’s face turn purple and Mommy’s eyes twitch. There is no reasoning with them at this age, no sitting down over lattes to discuss differing opinions and hash out a possible compromise, so the only line of defense against such intense rage is to do something ridiculous and unexpected. I recommend breaking into hysterical sobs along with them (which is quite easy to do by that point). Yes, you will spend a few minutes trying to outcry each other, but soon, once you become obnoxious enough, they will get distracted by your sobs and lose track of which cup they wanted in the first place.

The school-aged kids, however, are not so easy to distract. My six- and seven-year-olds have significantly more substantial grievances than their younger siblings and a fairly decent ability to reason, but these factors are overshadowed by the natural strength of childhood stubbornness and a teenage-like attitude that occasionally rears its ugly head long before its time. Therefore, our battles may be fewer but are more severe than the ones that took place in their younger years. Catching them in an act of disobedience can prove more complicated than before because, by this age, they have learned to lie when necessary, and to do so with enough convincing bravado that I have to carefully consider which stories I believe and which are fabrications designed to save themselves from my certain wrath. Punishments are far easier to formulate now that they have cherished belonging to confiscate and freedoms to revoke. But the backlash is harsher as they are more inclined to hold a grudge and complain about me to each other behind my back (which can be thoroughly entertaining if I have the opportunity to eavesdrop).

It is a rare occurrence for all five children to give me grief at the same time. On the contrary, when one child decides to raise their flag in declaration of war, it is amusing  how quickly their siblings will jump ship and swim to my side of the battle. The worse one child behaves, the more angelic the others become, always careful to point out how fantastic they are being in contrast to the other. They lay it on quite thick at times, sighing and shaking their heads at the deviant, as if they have never driven me to the brink of insanity themselves—as if, in fact, they had not been collaborating with enemy that very morning.

I have the foresight to know that, no matter how difficult our battles are now, I should cherish these years. One day our home will be filled with hormone-enraged teenagers banding together to outsmart us and overthrow our “unreasonable” restrictions (i.e. no facial tattoos, no dating ex-cons, and no running for political office). When that day comes, I know I will look back and long for the tired tantrums and white lies of innocent children, and I will be thankful that they provided such thorough practice in parenting while still young enough to crawl into my lap for a hug after the dust settles.

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