Thursday, June 30, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and Mommy Brain

As a mother of five small children, only one of my body parts has taken more abuse than my shredded abdominal muscles: my mind. The hormonal fluctuations that accompany each pregnancy, the sleep deprivation, the constant inane background chatter; it’s enough to sap the sanity from even the most evolved brain, rendering it a twitching, traumatized blob of grey matter. Formerly focused, capable women are left to become frazzled, emotional messes tweaked up on caffeine and stumbling through life in a fog of diapers and Disney characters. As if that isn’t humbling enough, there always seems to be someone waiting nearby to point and laugh at your loss of mental faculties.  

For instance: it was a typical morning of running errands with my children—grocery shopping, bill paying, gas station potty breaks. I'm driving toward town juggling my focus between a conversation with my 4-year-old about Santa Claus (after all, there are only six months left until Christmas) and navigating a road construction detour when I notice my Suburban making an unhealthy sound. So of course I pull over, pop the hood and take a look… Ha! Right. Have you seen the size of a Suburban’s hood? I’d need a step stool and the muscle mass of Madonna to pry that sucker open. In reality, I whipped out my cell phone, interrupted my husband at work and whined that the car was making a rattling sound and I was near certain that my carburetor muffler gauge was going to overheat and cause a fiery crash.

After 10 years of wedded bliss, my husband, Brian, was unaffected by my dramatics and began the usual run-down of Mr. Fix-it questions:

"What kind of sound is it?"

"Rattle-y... and muffled... like a vibrating tire that’s about to fly off while I drive."

"Is it constant? Do you hear it now?"

"Um... yes. No, it stopped.... wait, there it goes again... no wait, that one was quick."

"Well when does it make the sound? Try your brakes."

I spent a few minutes driving like a crazy person down a back road trying various maneuvers to see if I could cause this mystery sound to begin again. But to no avail; it occurred completely at random.

"Well where is the sound coming from?"

"The CAR!" I say, disgusted.

"What PART of the car, the front? The rear?" he replies, equally disgusted

"I don't know! Hold on let me try to get a better listen..."

So I turn down the radio and toss my purse into the back seat to halt my daughter’s ramblings for a nanosecond so that I can listen for the sound.


"Uhh... never mind. It's fine. I'll see you when you get home."

"Wait, what happened?"

"I found the sound."

"Well what was it? Where is it coming from?"

"Uhhh... Lacey was in the backseat blowing raspberries."

To avoid any unnecessary embarrassment for the rest of you moms out there, heed my warning: the muffled sound of a baby blowing raspberries in the third row of a Suburban full of toddler-chatter sounds a great deal like an impending car explosion. No need to call your husband.

Instead of being annoyed with me like you might imagine, I think Brian actually enjoys these little lapses of brain function on my part. It gives him further ammunition to add to his arsenal of material to tease me about. Not that he's ever at a loss, unfortunately.
My friends and family have a great deal of fun at my expense, and I can take the ribbing. But when it comes right down to it, how on earth could any mother—particularly of more than one child—still have their marbles?

First, there are the endless toddler conversations. Actually, "conversation" might not even be a good choice of words since that would insinuate that your input is valued. All that a 3- or 4-year-old child is concerned with is that they are speaking and you are listening to no one but them. To achieve this, they feel the need to interject "Mommy" before every single sentence, to which you must reply "What honey?" or else face a battery of insistent pleas for undivided attention. However, with preschoolers, getting too deep into a discussion with them feels like settling into a chair at the Mad Hatter’s tea party.

"Look Mommy a cow!"

"Yes, I see the cow."

"A cow say ‘baa.’"

"No, a sheep says ‘baa.’"

"Where a sheep, Mommy?"

"No, I don't see a sheep. I see a cow."

"A cow no say ‘baa,’ Mommy. A cow say ‘moo.’"

"I know! That’s what I said!"

"No, Mommy say ‘baa.’" (Other toddler nods in agreement.)

By the time I'm done second guessing my farm animal voices, the girls have already launched into a carefully scripted scene from Dora the Explorer in which they both seem to know exactly what to say next while I am hopelessly irritating when I try to jump in with the wrong words.

Then you have the tantrums. Toddler tantrums never seem to make any sense to the audience; however, to the tantrum-thrower, solving their problem is of the utmost priority. Therefore it's a mommy's job to decipher the fit and rectify whatever perceived wrongdoing has occurred.

Imagine coming upon an inconsolable 2-year-old in full blown hysterics. She is screaming "My tup!" and reaching for a sippy cup on the table. You revert back to pre-child days and attempt to solve this problem rationally. You hand the toddler the cup. She recoils in horror and her shrieks intensify. To undo this obvious error on your part, you put said cup back onto the table. Wails of "Nooooooo!" begin and tears flow harder. At this point, being a firm disciplinarian and ignoring the tantrum is no longer an option as your eyeballs are now pulsating in your ears. You scramble to grab a new cup out of the cupboard to appease the tyrant, only to have it whipped back at you incredulously. By now you are so desperate and disoriented that you begin thinking like a mom. You grab the original cup, unscrew the lid, shake it, show it to her, and then screw it back on and place it on the floor. Toddler tears cease immediately and you are rewarded with a cheerful "Tank you" before the child skips off to resume playing.

No, I have no idea what just happened.

Last but not least, in the quest to make moms certifiably insane; children’s entertainment. In this category you have two important sub-topics: preschooler television shows and toys.

Any television producer will tell you the key to a successful children’s show is repetitiveness. What they neglect to mention is the immense mental trauma that such repetition will inflict on the average adult. Watch the Wiggles enough times and you will dream of Captain Feathersword (a side effect that, I’ll admit, I don’t totally hate). Endure enough hours of Blue's Clues, you will instinctively get excited when you find wet paw prints tracked across the tile by your muddy dog. As you teeter on the edge of the Cliff of Sanity, Dora urging your children to "say it louder... louder... LOUDER!" is undoubtedly enough to push you over the edge.

Even when you manage to turn off the television, the toys are no better. Studies show that shrill, repetitive noises are an effective means of torture in times of war, so whose bright idea was it to equip children with such devices? The sirens, the beeps, the buzzes, the whistles, all of which only add to the already cacophonous sounds of toddler mayhem. Even in those glorious evening hours when the children are all asleep, you still can't escape the toys. Checking on a sleeping baby is like tiptoeing through a minefield. The slightest movement can set off an explosive jingle that cannot be turned off until it has run its course. Let's not forget getting woken up at 3 a.m. by the growling moan of a toy with failing batteries.

Add to all of this the tight schedule of extracurricular activities, physical exhaustion, and the emotional roller coaster associated with motherhood, and you really cannot, in good conscience, make fun of us poor befuddled mommies. So the next time you meet a mother who, like me, has melted her remote controls in the oven while her dinner rolls sat atop the television set, give her a break and pretend you didn't see anything.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Survival Moments...

When speaking to a three-year-old, "Make sure you wear your rain boots" is not nearly specific enough.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and Chuck-E-Cheese

More likely than not, anyone who enjoyed childhood sometime in the past 30 years has fond memories of spending an afternoon at Chuck-E-Cheese’s. For some it may have been a rare special treat; for others a more regular occurrence. But one thing I think is universal: your parents didn't enjoy it nearly as much as you did.

A couple times a year I work up the nerve to take my crew to Chuck-E-Cheese’s for some quality-time over pizza and games, usually when the weather is poor and staying in the house all day would likely result in fatalities. Never have I been so bold as to attempt this outing on my own (I simply refuse) so I coerce my husband or mother into going along for the "fun." While I believe my mother truly enjoys these excursions with the grandchildren (a possible sign of impending senility), I think my husband is in it for personal gain. Only men with small children have a good excuse for running around in their socks playing skee ball.

Upon entering the building, everyone in your group is immediately issued matching hand stamps of the high-tech variety, visible only under special black light fixtures near the exits. In order to leave the building your blurry faded hand stamp must marginally match whichever screaming kid you are dragging out the door. I assume this shtick is intended to relax parents, allowing them to focus on the other tasks at hand (like spending money). However, I've never been fooled by these so-called safety measures. The master plan is ingenious, sure, but it is enforced by pimple-faced high school students and far-sighted senior citizens; the chances of flawless execution are slim. I think I'll keep my kids within sight for now.

The first order of business is purchasing your food. After standing in a long line of customers, all oddly eager to drop 30 bucks for a plain cheese pizza and four small fountain drinks, the irony of it all becomes apparent: you are in the world’s first mouse-operated human trap. But don't put that wallet away just yet, Mom and Dad—you still need to purchase tokens! Lucky you.

A bitter but chatty Chuck-E-employee once explained to me that the tokens that customers purchase cost 25 cents apiece while the tickets that we spend all afternoon struggling to get out of the machine are valued at a whopping penny each. Brilliant. Big Chuck isn't surviving on church-mouse rations, I can tell you that much. By the time all is said and done, even the most frugal parent has doled out a good 50 bucks to leave with nothing but heartburn and one yo-yo for all the kids to share.

Yes, that would be my husband
For a while I was able to stay one step ahead of The Rat. From my very first visit with the kids I simply never bought any tokens. That may qualify me as a "mean mommy," but what they didn't know didn't hurt them. My little ones were content to meander through those tubes and slides forever. Long gone are the ball-pit glory days, but there was still plenty of free fun to be had. Then my husband tagged along one day. After climbing through the tunnels a few times himself (you know, "for the kids’ sake") he got bored and fed his first $10 bill into the token machine. He stood in a zombie-like trance feeding coins into a video game while the kids nabbed tokens out of his ridiculous cartoon cup.

Tony assumed a spot at the machine next to Dad, his tongue poked out in concentration. But the girls’ excitement began and ended with merely inserting the coin into the machine. The games were too complicated and the rides too dull, so they entertained themselves by dropping our hard-earned money into random machines as they ran past. By the time Brian returned to the table, the poor schmuck couldn't figure out how he had blown through $30 worth of tokens in 10 minutes. I confiscated his wallet and sentenced him to baby-duty for the remainder of the night.

Right about now is when the Big Cheese himself makes an appearance. Even when the dining room is especially crowded you can always pinpoint Chuck E. by the location of the screams. Half the children are squealing with delight at seeing a furry, life-sized cartoon character walking amongst them; the other half, the smart ones, are recoiling in horror at the very same thing. My kids are oddly unaffected, as if hugging this motley mouse-man with an oversized head is not worth the time it takes to get out of line. Perhaps seeing Daddy every morning has left them unimpressed by large hairy creatures lumbering around a slew of children.

By the time the kids’ energy finally depletes to a faint buzz, it's time to pack up the troops and head home. Sometimes the ritual of putting on shoes and coats is met with resistance, but more often than not they are too pooped to pout. For the younger ones there is a small window of opportunity between “tired enough to be done” and “over-tired enough to have a meltdown of epic proportions.” Not timing our exit correctly results in embarrassing screams of protest so desperate, the underpaid exit guards double check our hand stamps as we file through the doors. My husband and I always swear to each other that we're never returning to that overcrowded money pit. But like hoards of other parents desperate to provide indoor entertainment to snowed-in children over the past 30 years, we always come back for more.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and The Grocery Store

We have a family of seven-to-ten, depending on whether my step kids are visiting; as you might imagine, we consume a tremendous amount of food. You may be thinking that our children are too small to do much damage to the pantry, but you would be wrong. These kids are born eaters, gobbling up copious amounts of grub, which gives them fuel to rush around in frenzied play burning it off just in time for the next meal. The problem with a large family eating a lot of food is that it requires many trips to the grocery store (or at least a couple very long trips), often which includes bringing the large family’s worth of children with me. It’s a vicious cycle that can be stopped only by cutting off their food supply or buying a self-sustaining farm.

Whenever possible, I schedule the shopping trips while my husband is home, but this isn’t always possible with his long, erratic work hours. Often I am left with no choice but to bring the kids with me or concoct a dinner recipe using baking soda, soy sauce and stale Doritos. Aside from being a chaotic way to shop, my five little tagalongs turn a simple run to the market into an all-day excursion.

First there is the preparation. If I had one child I probably wouldn’t think twice about tossing them in the car bedraggled and mismatching; after all, it’s a toddler in the grocery store, who cares right? But a little-known rule of the large family is that we absolutely must keep our children looking a notch above the rest, at least while in public. From the moment you decide to have more than three children, you volunteer yourself up for constant public scrutiny. A single child with bedhead and dirty knees from a morning at the playground is “adorable”; however when they have four siblings with them it is seen as “neglect at the hands of a mother who couldn’t possibly have enough time to take care of them all.”

After a round of showers, wardrobe changes and enough hair styling to qualify me for beauty school, the children look presentable and I look… well, like I had just spent two hours wrestling five kids in and out of the shower. My uniform tends to consist of an oversized t-shirt and yoga pants with flip flops. My hair gets shoved back into a messy bun, unbrushed, and my only makeup is a pair of oversized sunglasses to hide the fact that I’m wearing no makeup. But in the eyes of the judgmental outsider, my embarrassment is a far more acceptable alternative.  

I load the kids into my ancient Suburban, a feat far easier now that we are down to two carseats and three boosters. I buckle the baby in while Tony & Brileigh help the preschoolers and off we go. Long gone are the days of carrying each of them out of the house one by one and hurrying to strap them into five-point harnesses while the remainders run amok unsupervised inside. In a few short years everyone will be able to get in and out all alone, which might even leave me enough time to brush my teeth.

Before I can even back out of the driveway the barrage of questions begin;
“Where are we going?”
“The store.”

            “Which store? ToysRUs?” (I have never in my life been stupid enough to take all five children into a toy store, but they never stop asking.)
“The grocery store”

The resulting cheer is possibly more enthusiastic than if I had been on my way to buy toys; after all, they can’t eat toys. Menu requests ranging from apples to gum rang out from both rows of bench seats behind me. I absent-mindedly satiated them with mumbled answers as I focused on maneuvering my massive vehicle through the parking lot without getting a “smart car” stuck in the tread of my tire.

I find my usual parking spot next to the cart corral in the outer reaches of the lot. This is a prime large-family spot. Close enough to grab a cart to load the babies into, far enough away that innocent bystanders won’t get dented by distracted kids rushing to be the first ones out of the car. I load the baby in the front seat of the cart and Ainsley and Delaney into the basket area. Tony and Brileigh each mechanically take their place at either side of the cart and hold on, a habit that has been engrained in them from the time the younger kids came along, promoting them to walkers.

As we make our way through the aisles wedging only the barest necessities into the cart around the children, people stop us every ten feet to comment. Some are good natured and deliver the universal large-family greetings: “Boy, you have your hands full!” (yes, but at the moment it’s just my cart that’s full, and my 3 year-old is getting frost bite from the frozen pizza that is smashed against her leg, so I really must be going) and “Are they all yours?”(no, of course not, I just get bored shopping alone so I kidnapped them in the parking lot). I smile and answer politely as I squeeze a jar of peanut butter under Ainsley’s elbow.

Other more outgoing people, usually men over 60, like to crack the same tired jokes I hear every day as if they were the brilliant minds who originated such witty lines as “Haven’t you figured out what causes that yet?” (yes, yes I have, and I see you have no children; I’m not shocked) and “Boy, you guys should try getting a TV!” (nah, who needs TV when you can have sex all day long?). I’m not sure exactly how these comments became socially acceptable, considering you never see anyone going up to someone with one child and tell them they need to get laid more often. But it’s obvious that these crass one-liners are meant in good fun, so I laugh as if charmed by their wit, and balance a third box of cereal on Delaney’s lap.

But what truly astounds me is the number of people who seem to take personal offense to my cartful of children. Not because they are being loud or crying, not because they have said anything obnoxious or bratty, but simply because there are so many of them. The era of large families is decidedly over and going against the modern family mold has left me vulnerable to such nosy comments as “Lemmie guess, you have a welfare check in your pocket?” and “How many different Dads are there?” I often wish I had the personality type to stand up against such rudeness, but I’m usually left dumbstruck and embarrassed until 10 pm, at which point a brilliant retort pops into my head while lying in bed.

By the time I load my sixth gallon of milk under the cart, I have run out of time. Lacey starts dropping food over the side and kicking the bread, Delaney (or at least it sounds like Delaney) starts wailing from under a mountain of produce, and I discover that Ainsley has ripped open a box of goldfish crackers and is treating herself to an afternoon snack.

We stand in line for what seems like forever while the kids chat with anyone within ear shot until we get up to the conveyor belt where I can finally unbury my preschoolers and save my eggs from Lacey’s path of destruction. The bag boy looks at me hesitantly as I start piling the grocery bags back atop of my poor kids but I pretend not to notice, the same way I pretended not to notice the people in line behind inspecting my purchases to see what exactly I have time to cook.

Back at the car, which is undoubtedly now sandwiched between two vehicles despite the rows and rows of empty spaces all around, I fill up my spacious trunk area and load my babies back into their seats. Two hours were spent in the store and we only were able to fit enough food in the cart to get us through a couple days, but at least it would last us until I could go alone and do a full excursion at the wholesale club.

At home, my kids set to work unloading the groceries and carrying them into the house, Tony showing off his strength by carrying the heavy stuff and even little Lacey pitching in one can at a time. I can’t help but wonder what anyone could dislike about a family full of children. These children are taught that life isn’t always going to center around them; that sometimes they will have to spend a few hours sitting on a head of lettuce if they want to eat dinner. These children grow up learning that no matter how much of a hurry you are in, you need to stop and laugh at a lame joke to brighten an old man’s day. My grocery trips might take all day, but having a full family around the table makes it all worth it.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Survival Moments...

When Tony came into the house and said "Hey mom, come see my new trick and bring your camera" I certainly wasn't expecting this (Yes, he was riding full speed down the sidewalk while this photo was taken). I informed him that from now on, all new "tricks" must be performed with a helmet and bubble wrap.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and a Husband

Imagine for a moment that you are the parent of a 19-year-old girl. She had recently moved several states away from home, where she was working through her first year of college. She’s bright, fairly level-headed, and has never given you much cause for alarm. Now imagine a phone call from your daughter. She’s in love. She has met the man of her dreams and she thinks things are getting serious. Now, reaching into the creative depths of your imagination, conjure up an image of your worst possible nightmare of what this new boyfriend might be like.

What would he look like? Several tattoos? A few piercings? A surly scowl and a leather jacket? How old would he be—five, maybe even ten years older than your baby girl? How about you throw in three children from a failed marriage, a lengthy criminal record, and a budding alcohol addiction for good measure? Ah yes, you can picture it now can’t you?

Well, what if I tell you this is a true story, that the 19-year-old girl was me, and that the scary boyfriend is now my husband, Brian? What if I also told you that, ten years later, we are still married, still in love, and that meeting him was the greatest thing that has ever happened in my life? Not the outcome you were expecting? Well, you’re not alone; my marriage is highly ranked on the “It’ll Never Last” list, despite the fact that it’s growing stronger every day.

As you might assume, given the above description, the waters have not always been so smooth. In fact, many years were quite turbulent while the typhoon of addiction tore through our family, crumbling us, leaving us to try to sift through the remains and decide if the scraps were even worth rebuilding. A large portion of our early marriage was difficult, unstable, even unhealthy, and there were many times that I laid awake at night, crying and wondering where I went wrong, how I ended up in a life like this while my husband was out at a bar, asking himself the same thing.

Even after Brian found the strength to confront his addiction and sober up, it took several years to still the ripples that had spread into every facet of our relationship. But through those years of hell, something held us together—something indescribable that made us both keep pushing against the storm even though we couldn’t come up with a rational reason why anything could be worth that much effort.

But it was.

After a brutal first decade together we have broke through the storm and are enjoying the type of marriage that can only be earned by first suffering through heartache and turmoil together. My husband is sober, not only by absence of drinking but by the years of maturing he did after he set down the bottle. He reset his priorities, tore down the wall he had built around himself, and trained himself to stand up to his problems without the crutch of alcohol. We achieved this together, he by facing his demons and me by keeping foolish faith that he would.

Our biggest blessing is that we managed to stabilize ourselves before any of our children became old enough to reach awareness. Their worlds were never touched by our friction; the only parents they know are the happy, content, and in-love ones that they see before them today. And watching my husband with our kids reminds me of what I saw in him back when it was hard to see anything other than red flags. He is the father that I hand-picked to give to my future children, one of the most important decisions I will ever make for them; and through the ups and downs I have never regretted my choice.

While his demeanor is not quite as rough as it once was, Brian’s presence is still intimidating to those who don’t know his kind nature. He’s quiet and his dark features are somber, a result of debilitating shyness that often comes across as hostility rather than anxiety. His smile is rare but it softens his face, giving a glimpse of the person underneath. His body is weathered with scars, the remnants of his adventurous past, and his hands are calloused from years of hard labor. He smells of a mixture of leather, cigarettes, and motor oil, odors that would revolt me individually, yet somehow meld together to become the smell of comfort. His masculinity and ruggedness is undeniable, and it seems as though nothing could pierce through his hard shell. Until you see him with his children.

The moment his rusty work truck pulls into the driveway the kids all erupt into cheers; Tony runs out to help carry tools and the girls scream and jump up and down as if Justin Beiber himself was in that old Ford. Before he can make it all the way through the door the girls are leaping into his arms and latching around his legs. His face lights up in a way that few have the privilege to witness, and even with his muscles still aching from a long day’s work, he doesn’t hesitate to scoop them up into each arm for hugs and kisses that seem to revive him from his weariness. As he relaxes on the couch, buried in little bodies chattering to him about their day, his intensity melts away and I can see the love I feel for my children reflected in the face of the only man who could possibly love them as effortlessly as I do.

Brian’s long work hours leave most of the daily child-rearing to me, but there are still many areas of parenting in which Daddy excels. Ironically, they tend to be the things that require the gentlest touch. Fresh out of the shower, the girls wouldn’t dream of letting me brush out their hair if Daddy is available because he can detangle without causing tears. Splinters stay embedded until he gets home from work to dig them out with his pocket knife. And given the option, the girls always prefer their nail polish to be applied by Daddy’s steady hand.

The risky spirit that spurred Brian’s rebellious years bears a striking contrast to my cautious nature, but neither seem to extend to how we raise our children. I tend to be less strict, while he is the more over-protective parent: hovering over bassinettes in the middle of the night, mincing up food to prevent choking, and watching closely through the windows as they play outside. Perhaps he is just a typical paranoid parent—but his caution comes from first-hand knowledge as to what the world can be like.

With his strict rules comes strict discipline. Brian can strike fear in the kids’ hearts with his looming presence and deep voice alone. Rarely does he need to punish or yell; one disapproving sigh from Daddy is all it takes to quiet even the most outlandish behavior when my own irate rants have failed. He can walk into a roaring rumble of sibling rivalry and quiet the chaos immediately with a single sharp word of warning. After a long day of being pushed to the brink of sanity by the kids antics, when I feel like I could wrap them into pretzels with my bare hands, their only concern is “Are you going to call Daddy?”

Yet somehow he balances his rigid authority with spontaneous humor that often makes him little more than another kid underfoot. At the end of a long day when the kids are still bursting with energy he is far more likely than I to take a moment to run around and play. He has even been known to start a few food fights, jump on the furniture, and unload a Super Soaker or two in the living room, all in the name of shocking the children and making me laugh with frustration. His quick wit and ornery charm is what made me fall in love with him ten years ago, and what keeps me from wringing his neck today. He knows that he can make me laugh in spite of myself, no matter how angry or upset I may be, and I am thankful that he has that ability. Because I know that whatever problems we face, no matter how old we get, so long as we’re together we’ll at least be able to laugh.

While it took a few years for Brian to become a stable husband, his love for his kids was instant. Today he is exactly the man that I knew was hiding under all of the damage and dysfunction of his youth. My illogical choice of spouse was never a mistake or an accident; I just had to wait a little longer for the man I love to love himself. All of the time and effort was well worth it, though, because Brian has become the backbone of our family—the husband I can be proud of and the father that I’ve always wanted for my children.   

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Survival Moments...

Poor Tony, he might have had better luck if he would have hung this on my uterus while he was in there.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and a Job

*Featured in the June 2011 issue of The Kids Directory of Long Island*

I've recently entered the working world as an "Independent Distributor for Mary Kay, Inc.", which sounds so much better than “lipstick pusher.” My reasons for signing up are rather typical: I like the stuff, I want a discount on the stuff, and I have five kids wanting me to drop hundreds of dollars a month on extracurricular activities. The lure of an unachievable pink Cadillac doesn't hurt either, although I think I would need to request a pink 12-seater minibus, which loses a little appeal.

I've only been in "the biz" for about a week now, which means I've done pretty much nothing except organize and reorganize my various order forms and pester my friends to death. But the kids have already begun to notice the subtle changes in our household dynamic. As I left for my first training meeting I took the opportunity to try out the phrase "Mommy is going to work!" It felt great... until the tears began.

     "Who's going to feed us?"

     "I need help with my homework!"

     "Will you be home in time to tuck me in?"

I tried to calm all of their concerns by saying "Don't worry guys, Daddy's home!" But judging by their blank stares, they didn't see how that bit of information answered any of their life-or-death questions.

My husband isn't quite used to the new routine yet either. It's not unusual for me to leave the house but my outings usually begin after the kids have been fed and put to bed. The first night that I walked out the door during dinner rush, leaving him holding the pan so to speak, I think it sunk in that having a second income wasn't going to be all fun and games. When I came home later that evening dishes, clothes and papers were scattered around the house, the baby was still awake and sitting in the middle of the dining room table, and my husband had the oh-so-familiar look on his face that suggested things hadn't gone smoothly. Good thing I don't have a job that requires me to be gone longer than an hour.

Recently it occurred to me that I might need to brush up on my makeup techniques. Not to say that I never wear makeup anymore, but... well... I never wear makeup anymore. Since this was supposed to be my new area of expertise, I figured I better get used to it. My 3-year-old sat down, watching me intently.

     "Where is you going?"


     "Den why is you doing you makeups?"

     "Oh, I'm just putting some makeup on."

     "Where is you going?"


     "Who is staying with us?"

     "No one."

     "I wait here by myself?" (I swear this has never actually happened. Not on purpose anyway)

     "No, you're not staying by yourself!"

     "I go with you?"

I tried to muster up some indignation to this exchange, but the sad reality is that she was right. If I take the time to do my hair, put on makeup, or even change out of my pajamas, it is almost always because we were going somewhere important. This job would benefit me in ways I hadn't even considered, like giving me an excuse to exercise basic human grooming practices on a daily basis. I haven't always been this way—I used to be quite high maintenance—but once my life got to the point where I had to choose between doing my hair or peeing in the morning, my hair always went up in a ponytail.

More than just applying eye shadow daily, my line of work relies heavily on verbal advertising (a.k.a. alienating every person you come in contact with), which requires a fair amount of devoted time each day. The constant presence of children means phone calls are out of the question (imagine trying to make a professional business call in a room full of rabid apes in heat), so I've been restricted to Facebook stalking and texts. My afternoon routine has been fairly consistent; I sit down at the computer, the sound of my clicking keyboard traveling through the house lures each child over like the Pied Piper of Internet Sales, and within 10 minutes, I'm surrounded on five sides as the prospect of getting anything achieved dwindles with each inevitable 

     "Whatcha doin?"

     "Mommy is working guys, time to go play!"

     "You're not working, you’re playing Farmville."

     "No, I'm not."

     "Yes, you are."

     "Well, okay, I was. But that was just for a minute. I need to do my work now."

     "Selling makeup?"


     "To people on your computer?"

     "Sigh… Sort of."

     "Have you sold a lot?"

     "No, not a lot."

     "How much?"

     "Just... not a lot."

     "So, like, none?"

     "Yes, none. Can you be quiet please so I can work?"

Before any potential clients even have time to reject me, the chatter starts back up again. They want a drink, they want a snack, the 4-year-old wants help buttoning her pants, the 2-year-old wants to sit on my lap and poke toys up my nose. The distractions are endless and all hope of a productive day is lost, so I give up and start cooking dinner. Once I'm preoccupied with preparing my spaghetti sauce (sometimes the lid on the Ragu is on really tight), the baby seizes her opportunity to ransack my work bag, the 3-year-old draws all over my catalogs and the 4-year-old squirts a $40 tube of moisturizer on the dog to make him "pretty," taking my overall profit to -$57. Who knew getting a job could be so expensive?

Being a mother to five kids is a full-time job, but it feels nice being part of the working world as well, successful or not. It's so easy to lose your identity in the daily chaos of being "mommy" and it's nice to have goals larger than "two loads before lunch." I never regret bypassing a career in favor of a large family, and my children will always be my first priority, but it's important to never underestimate the value of being needed outside the home too.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and Fundraisers

Hello there, would you like to buy a $3 candy bar? How about seven pounds of frozen cookie dough? Not much of a sweet tooth, huh? That’s okay, how about a pepperoni roll, tickets to the pancake breakfast—or maybe the spaghetti dinner? Oh. You’re on a diet. I understand—I would be, too, if I didn’t have kids.  Maybe you would be more interested in a magazine subscription? Or a high-fragrance, flameless, candle substitute? Maybe a discount card that offers insignificant savings from places you rarely visit? Ooh, better yet, forget the card; I’m selling a whole discount book. Where are you going? Wait! Don’t forget to swing by the carwash so kids who have never washed a vehicle in their lives can scratch up yours! Just drop your spare change in the can on your way out!

Most of us would never dream of asking our coworkers for money and are naturally averse to peddling subpar ware to our friends and loved ones. But, as always, our children can lead us to do crazy things. As soon as those babies are born, you find yourself abandoning civilized banter around the water cooler in favor of pressuring everyone to buy Bingo cards for basketball, coffee mugs for Cub Scouts, and potted plants for PTA.  

My children and their non-stop roster of activities have turned me into a one-woman mini-mall of useless, overpriced purchasing opportunities. Not only do the kids bring them home from school, fundraising is a part of every sports team, club, and organization that they join. Some are optional, some are mandatory, but all come with a healthy dose of guilt to show your support by sacrificing your friends. I used to try to participate in every fundraiser that my children were asked to join, but it didn’t take long to realize that not only was this an impossible task, it was also the quickest way to alienate my entire peer group. I needed to choose my sales carefully.

School fundraisers are sneaky. They claim to be optional, which leads me to chuck them out, along with all of the fliers, advertisements, and other folder spam that seems to come home with my children every week. But, without fail, within a few days, the kids begin to ask how much “we’ve” sold so far, and I’m stuck like a deer in the headlights. Telling them that “we” aren’t participating leads to whining and fear that they are going to be the only children in the school who won’t win a fluorescent plastic yoyo boomerang for every hundred dollars’ worth of coffee they sell.

I was once suckered into a school fundraiser that “just” required me to fill in the names and addresses of 15 innocent friends and family members so that the company could hound them mercilessly (but with no obligation!).My son begged me to participate; he had already been primed at school that he would get a prize just for turning in those addresses, and he couldn’t bear to miss out on a prize. So I gleaned names from my rolodex and solicited for contact information on Facebook, pointing out to friends that my sweet little boy would win just through their cooperation. I compiled the list, sent it off to school with my son, and waited anxiously to see what kind of little trinket he would score from my hard work.

He walked through the door that afternoon with a huge smile on his face. Oh boy! He dug through his book bag for his prize and proudly pulled out… a piece of butterscotch candy. And they didn’t even spring for the Werther’s Originals.! It was just a tiny, generic piece of hard candy wrapped in clear cellophane, as though the Fundraising Gods had fished it out of the pocket of their grandmother’s sweater, blew the lint off, and dangled it in front of my child like a carrot.

I was later guilted into participating in the schools annual candy bar sale. Once committed to selling a box, if you couldn’t peddle all $50 worth of the chocolate, you were obligated to foot the remainder of the bill yourself. But the box featured name-brand candy bars of a decent size, so I figured we could probably manage to sell a box to put a smile on the kids’ faces. But what we didn’t take into account was the fact that every child in a 20-mile radius would also be selling the exact same thing. Our student-saturated neighborhood became a ridiculous display of children nagging their parents for money and selling candy bars to each other, all happy to have not only sold their entire box, but to have purchased a pile of candy in the process. Never again.

Sports teams and dance classes, however—now those are fundraisers I will sell my soul (and dignity) for. These sales don’t earn my kids plastic knick-knacks that I’ll step on in the middle of the night. Instead, the sales’ profits chisel away at the mountainous accumulation of tuitions, fees, and uniform purchases that threaten to bury my family and move us into a luxury refrigerator box downtown. Every nickel or dime I can squeeze from my loved ones is less dough that I have to shell out to every extracurricular institution in the tri-county area.

So the next time you see your friend coming toward you with a guilty grin, trying to interest you in some lollipops for Little League or raffle tickets for racquetball, pull out your wallet and contribute what you can. Putting out a few bucks not only helps a friend in need, but when the time comes for your child to bring home a catalog of wrapping paper and stationary to sell, you will have a list of people who are already indebted to your cause. 

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and a Massage

OK, that's not me. But lets pretend it is, shall we?
Recently, I was given a gift certificate to a ritzy spa for my thirtieth birthday. For the past two months, I’ve held on to that little card with its elaborate curlicues, both enthralled and petrified by the idea of using it. As with many large families, our scarce resources are reserved for necessities, and with anything that is left over, manicures and massages will always take a back seat to youth sports and science camp. So to indulge in such pampering was something I have never done… until today.

First I had to decide on the best way to spend my gift. As I scanned the extensive online menu of spa services, I decided to choose something that I had never experienced before, something so frivolous that I would never spend my own money on it. Maybe a massage? I have heard wonderful stories about how fantastic you feel after a massage, and I realized I’m probably the only adult woman left on the planet who has yet to partake. Excellent, that’s settled—er, wait, not so fast; I also had to pick from an impressive sublist of various types of massages. Wow, okay. Well my chakras didn’t feel particularly off balance, and I was pretty sure that anything involving warm lava stones would make me burst into giggles at the absurdity. A basic relaxation massage seemed the most fitting.

Oh, now I choose the length: 30 minutes, 60 minutes, or 90 minutes. Ninety minutes?! Is this for real? Who has an hour and a half to devote to lying on a table while a stranger gives their naked body a rubdown? Do they stop for snack and potty breaks or what? I also had to consider my need for personal space. I don’t mean to be standoffish—my heart wants to give the world a hug (and a coke)—but when a stranger accidentally brushes my elbow in the grocery store, I’m the weirdo who involuntarily leaps back and makes the poor soul feel like they’ve offended me. So the 90-minute massage-a-thon was out for sure. I opted for the half hour treatment—long enough to try it out, but not so long that I’d need to have my mail forwarded.

I arrived at my destination with a knot in my stomach and was relieved to see that it looked like a fairly normal, albeit extremely fragrant, hair salon. Okay, I can do this. I checked in at the front desk and the young attendant, who had probably been out at a kegger the night before with the rest of the college kids, suddenly morphed into a blonde pixie version of Lurch from the Addams Family. Please follow me ma’am. Right this way to… the spaaa. She opened a set of unassuming double doors to reveal a parallel universe of earth tones and multiple dribbling fountains that made me fear I was going to lose bladder control on the spot.

Pixie Lurch led me back to my changing room where she instructed me to change into a deceptively heavy robe and slippers. Wearing the oversized spa apparel did nothing to make me feel less like a child at a party for grown-ups. I sat in the large, richly upholstered chair resisting the urge to swing my feet as another woman prepared a foot soak “for my enjoyment.” Yeah right, lady, my enjoyment has far less to do with it than your desire to avoid massaging nasty, stinky feet. As I tried to blend in to my lavish surroundings, I became keenly aware that I was chewing gum, which felt very out of place all of a sudden. A quick scan of the room did not reveal any gum-friendly receptacles so, doing what any posh socialite would do, I swallowed it.

Foot lady reappeared and poured me a glass of berry-infused water from a crystal pitcher. She knelt down in front of me with a towel and looked up expectantly. What? Oh wait, she wants to, like, dry my feet for me? Wow, that’s awkward. Okay. I don’t do well with silence anyway, but lack of conversation is particularly uncomfortable when the other person is rubbing a towel between each of your piggies. When I couldn’t stand it any longer I abruptly blurted out my go-to conversation starter: I have five kids. My newfound servant lady looked a little startled, but I’m not sure if that was because I had spoken to her on such a conversational level or because that’s how people usually react when they hear of my brood. She mumbled a polite response before scurrying off to buff the next set of bunions.

Okay, clearly this was not the type of place where nervous, nonsensical chatter was commonplace. I vowed to conduct myself with a bit more civility from this point forward. I would pretend that I was… an investment banker. Nah, too stuffy. Maybe a writer? Yeah, that’s good! Oh wait. I am a writer! Score! Okay, so from this point forward I will sit in unimpressed nonchalance and exude soulful silent writer-ness.

My masseur (apparently a male is a masseur, not a masseuse; who knew? Well, the French, I guess.) appeared and introduced himself as Robert. He was indeed a “Robert”— certainly not a “Robby” or even a “Bob.” I tried to conjure up an image of Robert in his natural environment, maybe drinking a Bud Light on his sofa in front of Monday Night Football, but I couldn’t get past images of grand pianos, tiny puffy dogs and pinot grigio. He led me to a tiny room that could have been the torture chamber of a psychopath with a taste for high-end decor. Several large shower heads hung down from the ceiling, as well as various other apparatuses that were, I assume, chakra-related. After brief instruction, he left me to disrobe and lay under a sheet. Hmm, why wasn’t I more weirded out that my massage therapist was a guy? At that point I realized that Robert had somehow successfully presented himself as utterly androgynous, a skill that he undoubtedly cultivated to ward off the advances of lonely old ladies in their fanciest granny-panties.

Robert came back and began to prepare his various oils and towels as I lay on the table in utter stone-cold silence. Excruciating. So… I have five kids. Robert smiled and politely shushed me, instructing me to become one with the table. Hmm… okay. I was unaware of my jittery leg until he wedged a pillow under it and asked me to let the tension out of my body. I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate on forcing my muscles into a state of relaxation. Relax. Relax. Grr, relax, damnit!

“You’re still tense,” Robert chided. “Just clear your mind and focus on a feeling of weightlessness.”

Okay, weightlessness, floating, feathers, balloons, it’s really weird to have someone touching my face—oops, air mattress, astronauts. Umm… what else?

“Relax your jaw please, just relax, deep breaths…”

Ugh, okay. Breathe in… oh God, he’s massaging my chin. Don’t laugh, don’t laugh, don’t… pffft. The Law of Embarrassment dictates that the single quickest way to make yourself laugh is to desperately want to not laugh. I prayed silently to let it end at a single sputter and not become one of my infamous the-more-I-try-to-stop-the-more-I-can’t giggle fits.

I regained my composure as Robert flipped me over to begin on my back. As I stared at Robert’s loafers through a hole in the table, I realized what an awesome blog post this would be. The miniature writer who nests in my brain immediately set to work composing paragraphs that would later become what you are reading right now.

           “Try not to tense your muscles, just relax.”

Dude, did you not hear me say I have five kids? This is seriously the most relaxed you will ever get me. The kids have me torqued into a permanent state of anxiety that will not go away until they graduate. From college.

He set to work kneading his overly-soft hands into the chain of kinks that is my back as my mind clicked away like a typewriter, churning out the first page of “Surviving a Massage.” Just when I finally started to relax and enjoy myself he took his thumb, weaved it under a mass of tendons, pressed it into some unseen pressure point and left it there—for a randomly long time. Hmm… am I supposed to do something here? Do I need to insert another quarter or what? Just as I was on the verge of lifting my head to see if he had fallen asleep, he resumed his handiwork and began attacking other problem areas.

Suddenly, my luxury massage ended; it was over almost as soon as it began. As I reluctantly shook Robert’s greasy hand farewell, I remembered the lengthy 90 minutes in heaven that seemed so absurd earlier that day. My half hour of relaxation had only begun to break apart the knots in my head, shoulders and upper back, while my poor hips, legs and feet that had carried the brunt of abuse during my 50 months of pregnancy were left untouched. I was surprised to realize that I hoped to come back again in the future for another rubdown from Robert. I briefly considered the chances of convincing my husband that we should set aside an exorbitant amount of money so a strange man could rub oil all over his wife’s naked body. Mmm, outlook not so good. While I am thrilled to now be counted among the ranks of women who have enjoyed a massage, I am oddly proud that it will remain a rare and special treat in my world filled with soccer practices, football drills, and Girl Scouts.   

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Survival Moments...

Tony's math assignment required him to draw four pans. I'm not sure if these are artistic renditions of cookware or if he simply read the word "pans" too quickly. But either way this worksheet shall hang on my fridge until the day he graduates.

PS: I am sure that "Dan" was thrilled that he inherited the family medical oddity from "Dad".

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Surviving Lacey

By the time you have four children, the decision to have a fifth is surprisingly natural. While the planning for our first child consisted of months of asking “what if” and “should we,” the decision to have No. 5 was more along the lines of “Hey, wanna have another baby?” Outsiders reacted anticlimactically as well; there were no pregnancy announcements, no squeals of surprise or shocked congratulations. We were met instead with eye-rolls, laughter, and even an “Oh, I thought you were still pregnant with the last one.” But we were determined not to let our baby get lost in the monotony of my serial pregnancies. Her birth deserved to be as cherished and celebrated as her siblings’.

I do not claim to have enjoyed pregnancy (and I am jealous of those who do), but I was not immune to the precious feeling of those tiny kicks and the anticipation of meeting the little person destined to be such a large part of our life. It’s a joyous process, if not a pleasant one. At the start of each pregnancy, I vowed to not complain about my aching ribs, squished lungs, and overworked veins, but being the huge pansy that I am, I always failed miserably at my resolution. However, with this particular pregnancy, I discovered quite early on that every annoying symptom was magnified by ten, and just when I thought it couldn’t get any more painful—it did. My hips frequently popped out of joint mid-stride, my fatigue was insurmountable, and even the skin that stretched over my belly was sore to the touch. My heart longed for more children, but my body made it abundantly clear that my baby factory was condemned. I had no desire to put my health at risk by struggling through another pregnancy, so we decided with mixed emotions that this would be our last child.    

Lacey Brianne joined our family on July 10, exactly 18 months after Delaney. She was our only summer baby after a slew of winter births and weighed in at 7 pounds, 9 ounces…

OK, I made that up, I have no idea what her exact measurements are. I even had to double check her birth date before I wrote this. But c’mon, she was my fifth kid in five years, I’m amazed I remember her name most of the time! But one thing I will never forget is the first moment we met. She had the largest eyeballs I’ve ever seen on a baby: huge, round, curious eyes that cried real tears. Fat crocodile drops rolled down her cheeks from her very first wail, unlike the pitiful, dry shows put on by my other babies. With her large eyes, straight little nose, and prominent upper lip, she immediately struck me as looking like an adorable version of a tiny, featherless emu, an animal I am only familiar with due to years of wanton Wiggles watching.  

When it came time to name our little bundle of joy, we had run out of family members to pay tribute to and exhausted our list of potential girl names long ago. This is how our last child came to be the namesake of a lead character from an animated movie. With my penchant for large families, Barbie and the Twelve Dancing Princesses was my favorite installment of the made-for-DVD Barbie series which followed the well-racked blonde through various adventures while she defended the world in high heels and a smile. Perhaps it was because the movie played 12 times daily during my entire 9-month pregnancy and my tired, hormone-infused brain could no longer conjure up other options. But at any rate the character “Lacey” stood out in my mind as being apt as she was the youngest princess of their large family, too. My husband also loved the name (for very different reasons, I’m sure), so it stuck. Luckily, I still have a few years to create a cover story so that my daughter doesn’t have to know she was named after a Mattel marketing venture.

If you should ever be forced to acquire four siblings, and you have the option to choose age placement (it could happen, right?), I suggest you choose the bottom of the totem pole. You might think that being the oldest would be the sweet seat in the house, but from what I’ve observed, the youngest enjoys the real power. Lacey was brought home to three baby-lusting little girls and one tender-hearted boy, all of whom were instantly obsessed and enthralled by every aspect of her 20-something inch body. The kids fawned over each yawn, giggle, and grunt; they rushed a bottle to her before she could think to cry for it; they shook toys in front of her face, providing endless hours of effortless (for me) entertainment. And the novelty of their new baby sister never seemed to wear off. Even once she started to walk (a milestone delayed significantly by the fact that she had four servants waiting on her hand and foot) and began snatching toys, they just hand over whatever she wants with a smile. If any of the other kids had even attempted such a bold move, it would have been akin to declaring war. But all rules were bent for “the baaaaby.”

I can certainly understand their fascination with her. She is a stunning child, inside and out. Her body lacks the luscious fat rolls that characterized her siblings’ early years, but her delicate stature makes her every bit as delicious. Her huge honey-colored eyes and blonde ringlets give her the cover of an angel while her devilish wit reveals a superior understanding of humor despite her young age. Not even two years old, she already knows how to tease, taunt, and mock playfully, and then how to win your affections back with her self-satisfied grin. Nearly ten pounds lighter than the other children were at her age, I’ve discovered how fun it is to be able to toss her light little body up in the air, flip her upside-down, and sling her over my shoulder—and how intoxicating her resulting giggles are. She learned quickly how to push her gorgeous pouty lips into an exaggerated comical pucker to earn a kiss from any intended target, which leads us to ask her for kisses no less than a dozen times a day. She’s irresistible and she knows it.

My husband and I were concerned how Delaney would handle having a little sister. We hadn’t yet encountered new-baby jealousy, perhaps because they were all so young at the time the next baby was born that they didn’t even know they should be upset. But it was no secret that Delaney cherished her title of “baby,” and it didn’t seem likely that she would give up her spot on my lap without a fight. As fate would have it, however, Lacey was born with the same adventurous nature as her three oldest siblings and she had little desire to battle over Mommy when there were so many more appealing things within reach. Besides, who needs a mother when you have three older sisters eager to meet your every hearts desire without dispute? Lacey learned quickly that Mommy and Daddy were good for food and diaper changes, but for everything else—go to Brileigh. With all threats of displacement removed, Delaney learned to cater to “beebee Ceecee” as comprehensively as the older children.

Her early years spent basking in the glory of such an enthusiastic cheering section have instilled in her a sense of self confidence that I wouldn’t trade for all the humility in the world. She is fearless in her approach to life, unaware that she is able to fail at anything, and she has no problem attacking the world and taking what she wants by force. She has already mastered the valuable art of charm, which I venture to say is a skill that can get a person further in life than any other. While many assume that life with so many older siblings would be a hardship, I know that Lacey has benefited greatly from their lives, their lessons and their love.

I appreciate the adoration that my children have for their littlest sister; it shows their maturity and their love of babies that surely must be encoded in their DNA. However, I worry that they are molding her in ways that could lead to damage that they can’t yet understand. Little Lacey is spoiled, and I worry that she may be on a fast track to becoming an award-winning brat of a caliber usually reserved for celebrities and guests on Dr. Phil. Wherever we go she walks around like she owns the place, sporting the natural scowl that she inherited from her father, which is far cuter on her cherubic face. She squawks demands and stomps her tiny feet if she isn’t instantly obliged, smiling only when she has done something ornery and needs to save her skin. She tortures her siblings with playful malice, knowing that they will never so much as raise their voice to her.

For now her obvious innocence makes her antics adorable. But at some point in the not-so-distant future, she may become “that child,” the one that causes people—even strangers—to cringe. And the finger of blame will undoubtedly point to me as the source of over-indulgence, when in fact I am the only one who doesn’t bend to Hurricane Ceecee. With any luck, I will be able to temper her spoiled streak before she has a chance to become a creature that is hazardous to herself and society, and hopefully before she comes to that inevitable realization that not everyone in the entire world will marvel over her every utterance the way her siblings do.

But for now, I try not to worry too much about the future and just enjoy my last years with a baby in the house. Knowing that she is my last chance grants me patience with her that I didn’t possess with the others. Watching my children grow so quickly has taught me to enjoy Lacey’s sweet simplicity while I still can; to carry her in my arms for no reason,  to play peekaboo an extra ten times, to let her linger in the bath tub even after I become bored by it. Once she is grown I won’t have anymore fresh baby necks to smell. There will be no more dimpled hands to hold and the sounds of unabashed belly laughs will be replaced by self-controlled pleasantries. Lacey is the last leg of my child-rearing marathon, and I intend to enjoy every glorious moment with her.

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Friday, June 3, 2011

Survival Moments...

I retrieved this large foreign object from my 3 year olds tiny little schnoz. It's a piece from a broken toy and something about it's four sharp plastic corners inspired her to shove it all the way up into her sinus cavity where she let it fester for several hours until she decided that the pain was overshadowing the fun at which point she alerted me of her predicament. I thought this was going to require medical intervention for sure, but never underestimate the power of a mom faced with the prospect of taking five kids to the doctors office.

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