Thursday, July 28, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and Summer Vacation

The asphalt is beginning to steam, pools are opening up, lawn mowers are chugging to life—summer is finally here! When I was a kid, the anticipation of summer vacation was almost as excruciating as the countdown to Christmas. I couldn’t wait for end-to-end days of playing outside, running through sprinklers in my bare feet, and eating salted watermelon. However, now that my children are the ones looking forward to endless summer days, I must admit that my feelings aren’t quite the same. While I love the idea of more quality time with my school-aged kids, realistically, 87 days without reprieve from five bored children is a sentence more painful than natural childbirth… to a colicky newborn… while being forced to watch a Calliou marathon.

Their summer days will mostly consist of running wildly through neighboring yards with a slew of other kids, diving down Slip-n-Slides, playing kickball, and adorning the driveways with elaborate chalk art. Hard life, no? Still—as entertaining as all that may seem, neighborhood kids who spend too much time together eventually end up at each other’s throats like siblings. Soon, they begin haggling over “who’s it” and maliciously excluding poor little Susie from their club, leaving her to run home in tears and start her own club in which she is the only member… Oh wait, sorry, that was 1986 and little Susie was me. Moving on.

I find that my children simply cannot handle idle time: they pace, they whine, they sigh, they fight. It’s like being surrounded by caged tigers circling their prey—eventually, they attack with a boredom tantrum so powerful, neighbors shut their windows in 90 degree heat just to block out the sound of my five belly-achin’ children. To limit their outdoor drama and in-house sulking, I have thrown in enough structured activities to break up the monotony of summer and give the kids something specific to focus on. Little League, football practice, dance classes, cheer practice; throw in a weekly trip to Grandma’s house, a few romps around the park, and two hours of mandatory naptime each day, our summer vacation can remain fairly balanced and tolerable.

That is, until the Bells of Hell come ting-tangling down the street.

The day usually starts off innocently enough. I might be outside sitting on the porch or loading up the car while the kids are playing all around me. Then, all of the sudden, I find myself humming “Do your ears hang low… do they wobble to and fro...” Why on earth do I have that song stuck in my head? Wait! Oh no! It’s not in my head. Up and down the street I see adults poking their heads up like prairie dogs from their gardening and car washing. The weed whackers go silent, the dogs stop barking. It’s utterly still for a moment while our brains simultaneously register the sound: the ice-cream truck is coming. Everyone leaps into action at once, ushering our children inside with lures of snack time or trips to Disney World. But it’s too late. The kids’ ears have perked up and rotated 30 degrees to zero in on the source of the melody while a huge smile stretches across their face and their eyes swirl around in a cartoon-like trance. Then the frantic pleas ring out from every yard: “CAN I HAVE SOME MONEEEEEY?”

As parents try to weasel out of paying $4 for a fudgesicle, the older children start yanking at their loose teeth in hopes of securing collateral for a Tooth Fairy loan. Meanwhile, the little ones resort to the only method of reasoning they’ve yet mastered: throwing themselves to the sidewalk screeching “I screeeeeeeeam!” Or maybe it’s “ice cream”; whatever, at this point the wails are equally heinous. Half-hearted offers of popsicles from the freezer fall on deaf ears because, as we all know from our own childhoods, freezer popsicles pale in comparison to Big White Truck popsicles. The weakest parent breaks first, shelling over a few bucks to each of their kids and the rest of us groan knowing that the battle cannot be won now that one soldier has fallen from the ranks.  

I often wonder how the first ice-cream truck pioneer felt when he veered off his usual route to explore our street and discovered the freakishly fertile breeding ground that we call home. I bet he began planning for a Florida retirement as he watched an endless stream of children flood out of every home, clutching dollar bills and swarming his truck in a high-fructose corn syrup feeding frenzy. He probably kept this Land That Birth Control Forgot a secret as long as possible, but the other drivers must have noticed the subtle changes in our pioneer as he pimped out his truck with gold rims and donned a new white uniform from Gucci’s Italian Ice Vendors line.

Whatever the tipoff, a turf battle surely began the day the others followed him to the Street Paved in Spare Change. With tensions running high, vendors began waking up next to tiny ice-cream horse heads melting on the pillow next to them, a silent warning to stick to their own route. The ice-cream don who was able to secure control of our neighborhood went on to develop his own frozen dessert empire while the others can now be found driving rusty trucks through the rougher parts of town trying to peddle push-up pops for a buck…

Okay, so maybe my Sopranos obsession has tainted my daydreams. But our neighborhood is a veritable gold mine for our real life ice-cream vendor, who looks less like a Good Humor Gangster and more like an off-season school bus driver. While I resent him for cashing in on my children’s ice cream addiction, his treats do cool down a hot summer day and reunite the neighborhood children like nothing else can.

Sure, the dog days of summer usher in their share of boredom and over-priced ice cream; but summer children, with their little sweat curls framing sun-kissed faces and their legs so worn with play that it cant be determined where the bruises stop and the dirt begins, make it all worth it. For the next twelve weeks, my kids will be making memories they will carry into adulthood, and when it’s their turn to grill the hotdogs and monitor the trampoline traffic, they will reflect back to the simpler days in my yard. And as I watch my kids lounging lazily in the shade of my front porch, licking the melted popsicle from their chubby fingers, I have to admit—an overpriced ice pop every once in a while just might be worth the memories.

For more hilarious comics by J-Sto, please visit

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Survival Flashback: Beating the Clock

** I recently came across a forgotten old blogging attempt of mine, written back in 2007 when we "only" had three children and one on the way. It was pretty fun to read this glimpse into the past; two toddlers and an infant (ages; 3,2 and 6 months at the time) kept me hopping and being  pregnant drastically add to my fatigue. So I've decided to share a few of them with you in the form of "Survival Flashbacks", look for more in the coming weeks. - Leigh Ann**

Mornings at our house seldom run like a well-oiled machine, but some have a higher chaos factor than others, and this morning ranked about a 9 on a 10-point scale. I try to account for unexpected events when I plan my day, but sometimes, despite my best efforts, the clock gets the best of me.

Tony only has preschool two mornings each week, but those two days are always high-anxiety. I've made a promise to myself to never be that mom who sports pajamas and snow boots when she takes her kids into school, at least not until they start embarrassing me first. So in addition to getting Tony ready, I must also allow time to make myself half-way presentable, as well as Brileigh and Ainsley who are along for the ride. On this particular morning, looking acceptable was of a particularly high priority since I had to take the girls to a pediatrician appointment immediately following the drop-off.

The first hour and a half of our day contained the same frantic vibe that any other morning does. Trying to direct small children to achieve a common goal is like trying to stuff an octopus into a sack: as soon as you get one tentacle into the bag, another pops out the other side. Just as I finished tying Tony's shoes, Brileigh stripped down to use the potty and Ainsley spilled milk down the front of her shirt.

As I rushed to fill bottles and grab snacks for the diaper bag my eyes landed on the calendar that was intentionally hung in a prominent spot on the refrigerator. Keeping a weekly calendar is my ambitious attempt at being an organized mother. Each month I carefully print out four weeks’ worth of blank pages, the goal being that I actually remember to write down all upcoming events and refer to it on a daily basis. Realistically, I manage to scribble down approximately 60 percent of my appointments, often with the wrong times, not that it matters anyway since I rarely remember to look at the darn thing. But right there on the agenda for today was a monkey wrench in my schedule: "BRING A PUMPKIN TO SCHOOL TODAY."

Oh NO! Where the heck am I going to get a pumpkin right now? I checked the clock which only confirmed that I was running every bit as late as I usually am. Tony would not be a happy camper if he was the only child in class without a pumpkin. I have to admit, I even toyed with the idea of giving up and keeping him home from school, but the prospect of taking an extra kid to the doctor’s appointment brought me back to reality.

Ok, I can do this.

I kicked into overdrive and started yanking jackets out of the closet in a frenzy and urging everyone to "Hurry, hurry, hurry!" FYI, while this does nothing to increase the speed with which toddlers dress themselves, it does get them screaming and bouncing around much faster. If I was going to make it to the grocery store before school then we needed to leave right at that moment. Just as I was dragging the last child through the door, the unthinkable occurs, an event so heinous and unforeseeable that even the best planner could never have anticipated such a thing, the ultimate demise of a mother in a battle against time: a stray kitten wandered onto our porch.

For those of you who do not have small children living in your home, allow me to put this into perspective. Imagine that you live in a random small town in the middle of nowhere. One morning you open your door to find Elvis, Queen Elizabeth, and Brad Pitt presenting you with an oversized check from Publishers Clearing House. That would still pale in comparison to the riot a mere stray kitty can incite in a couple of toddlers.

My porch was filled with squeals, shrieks, and applause as the cat showboated around, sopping up the attention. It took nearly ten full minutes to physically pry each child off the steps and strap them into their car seat. By the time the last baby was loaded up, the trio of wails was deafening. Fat tears rolled down their chubby faces and their little arms were outstretched for the kitty as if I had just ripped them away from a long lost love.

Much to my dismay, when I finally started the engine to leave the cat didn't run from the sound as most would; instead, it simply rubbed it's head back and forth against the side of my tire. Seriously? Aside from being an avid cat-lover myself, the heavy fiscal burden associated with the years of child therapy that would be required after mommy squished a kitty in the driveway prompted me to get back out of the car and clear the path.

Once we were finally on the road I became fixated on making up for lost time. It wasn't until I heard little voices in the back yelling "Wheeeee!" every time I turned a corner that I realized I probably needed to slow down. Tony has also become quite a pint-sized backseat driver since learning what the various lights of a traffic signal mean. Perched in his big-boy car seat, he’ll shout out commands: "It's green, Mommy! Green means go! Go, go, go!"; "Uh-oh, stop Mom, red! Look reeeed!"; "It's yellow Mommy, step on it!" (as you may have guessed, I have my dear husband to thank for that last one).

I flew into a parking spot at the surprisingly busy grocery store. (Who grocery shops at 8 a.m.? Uh, besides moms buying last minute pumpkins, of course…) I would have jumped out of the car and run inside, but with three little ones in tow, it's certainly not as easy as that. Instead, I went around the vehicle, methodically sliding open doors and extracting each child one-by-one.

Surprisingly the first door I open is the trunk hatch. Ainsley's car seat is rear-facing in the far back row of my Caravan and thanks to my ginormous, eight-month pregnant belly, squeezing back there to unbuckle her is no longer an option. I now have to resort to pulling her out over the back row of seats, however this is not as simple as it may sound. First I must climb up into the rear of the van (contorting into several unflattering positions to hoist myself up) then I shimmy forward on my knees over hard plastic (ouch) and wedge myself between the stroller and travel play-yard (yes, wedge). Once I am close enough to reach the baby over my stomach, I can hang over the seat and unfasten the 5-point harness. Now comes the tricky part, using only the strength of my forearms I lift her fat little 24 pound body out of the car seat, tip her sideways and roll her down the length of my arms over the seat back (Ta-da!). All that is left now is to wiggle backwards out of the van and climb back down into the parking lot. By this point I'm sweaty, winded and not at all oblivious to the chuckles and stares around me.

The clock continued to tick by as I fussed with the diaper bag and a lost shoe. As we raced into the store, attention from other shoppers was inevitable. It could have been the cart full of kids, it could have been the ridiculous maternity overalls billowing out around me like a circus tent, or it could have been the red lollipop stuck to my butt. All I know is that it was annoying.

The public gawking is not always unsolicited. I think my children have come to enjoy being in the limelight. Brileigh, being more gregarious than her brother, is usually the first to snag a passer-by. I swear her eyelashes grow a good half-inch when it comes time to bat them at an appealing stranger. She usually opens with something offbeat such as "Hiiii! I’m Brileigh, I have a belly button". Once she warms up the crowd, Tony will jump on the bandwagon and recite his ABC's. Even little Ainsley throws out a few well-times squeals and waves her pudgy hand as if she's riding on a parade float. On this day, the sight of my two cherub-faced toddlers spontaneously hugging each other in the produce section resulted in an elderly gentleman stooping us to dig through his pocket for change.

As soon as I could escape our adoring crowd I grabbed the first small pumpkin within reach, swung our convoy around, and headed for the express lane. The cashier mistakenly charged me $3.00 for an $0.89 pumpkin, but there was no way I had time to dispute it. I forked over the dough and took off out the door, waddling behind a buggy full of babies with a pumpkin tucked under my arm. Back at the car I reloaded the children, which is the same process as unloading them but in-reverse and twice as time consuming.

Amazingly we arrived at the school less than 10 minutes late, which I consider to be a success. We followed Tony to his classroom with his little sisters shouting his name and grappling for one last hug like a entourage of Toterazzi. My heart was still pounding with adrenaline when I snapped the girls back into their car seats, but the morning was far from over. I had just enough time to hit up a drive-thru for some much needed coffee on our way to the pediatrician’s office.

We arrived and signed in with plenty of time to spare before our 9:30 appointment. I must admit, by this point I was feeling like quite the mommy-of-the-year. I mean come on, look how perfectly I scheduled this visit. "Mommy is good," I brag to Brileigh, as I planned out the rest of our day. "After this we'll go home and watch Beauty and the Beast, and by the time that’s over, it will be time to go pick Tony up!"

I should have known better. Despite being called back at 9:45, it was nearly eleven before the doctor ever graced us with his presence. By that time we were all cranky, miserable, and tired of being held hostage in the tiny exam room. He finished his job quickly and breezed back out the door with the over-the-shoulder promise that a nurse would be in soon to give administer the shots.

By 11:15 I was feeling the old familiar time crunch again—Tony needed to be picked up across town at 11:30. I shyly poked my head out the door and asked if I could please reschedule the shots, explaining that I absolutely had to leave to pick up my son from school. The surprisingly rude nurse informed me that I "couldn't do that,” I had to wait, and she was coming in “right now.” Being passive to a fault, I did as she instructed and waited in a panic until she finally came in five minutes later. All previous notions of being a meticulous planner were dashed as I found myself racing through town in a frenzy only to be the last mom at pick-up, as usual.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and a Social Life

Four years and two children ago, I was fortunate enough to move into a neighborhood saturated with stay-at-home moms like myself. As my family grew to freak show proportions, so too did the houses around me grow fuller. Once our children became old enough to venture outside, they quickly formed a posse of neighborhood playmates and the number of little heads running past my window each day grew exponentially. With all of the children on the street indiscriminately swarming from house to house, it was impossible not to become friendly with the neighbors -- no better time to introduce yourself than when little Johnny scrapes his knee off in your driveway. Initially strangers, our small plots of land and extroverted offspring threw us all together, and as a bunch of lonely housewives, we reveled in the opportunity for friendship.

Like most people, my high school years represented the peak of social interaction: I spent all day surrounded by friends; I sat in a classroom with peers, most of whom were friends of varying intensity, when the bell rang, I moved to a different classroom with a different batch of friends and visited with them for awhile. I did this for six hours straight, with a brief intermission to enjoy lunch—with other friends. It was like the BFF version of speed dating. After the “torture” of the school day was over, I attended an array of extracurricular activities (with my friends), drove home (with my friends), and spent the evening talking on the phone (the 90’s equivalent of texting) with my friends. As the weekend rolled around, I’d give a dramatic sigh of relief that I finally have some time to… hang out with my friends. 

For many, the colleges years were conducted in roughly the same manner, only then we actually got to live with our friends (if the friendship survived arguments over how to load the dishwasher and who drank the last of the milk without replacing it) and witness them perform keg stands in drag.

However, like most people, once I hit about twenty-five, I looked around to discover that my friends were gone. The ones who remained local were technically accessible, but most had become immersed in careers and budding families. Even among the few I kept in contact with during this period, no one could really hang out because they have to be at work in the morning or the baby is sick—not that it really matters, their husband is kind of a jerk anyway. Most of my graduating class packed up and dispersed all over the globe, motivated by various life pursuits. Sure, social networking websites have made it easier for us to keep in touch than the far-flung friends of previous generations. I can keep tabs on who had a baby, got a promotion, or finally came waltzing out of the closet, but it’s not quite the same as going out for dinner and drinks.

The social habits of a typical adult, particularly those with children, are in stark contrast with those of teens and early twenty-somethingers. After a decade of heavily emphasizing social connections, you suddenly find yourself left sitting alone on the living room floor every day watching your three-year-old child pick his nose. It’s no wonder that mommies (especially those who stay home) sometimes turn into lonely, self-conscious hermits who are desperate to make a friend but unsure of how to do so. We encounter adults everyday but lack real opportunities to form friendships. Walking up to a woman in the produce department and inviting her over to watch Yo Gabba Gabba with you and your two-year-old usually results in a startled reaction and a possible police escort off the premises.

Once my children reached the age where they began playing sports and joining clubs I was sure that a whole new wealth of opportunities for friendship would emerge. Sitting on the side of a field for two hours each week turns even the shyest violet into a conversationalist. But making the leap from discussing soccer goals to discussing life goals is a difficult maneuver. After the playoffs, friendships formed between sports moms are sidelined until next season or, at best, become another barn to raise on Farmville.

The few remaining friend options I encounter are usually scared away by my ever-growing clan of children: inviting one child over for a play date is appealing; inviting five is not. So moving onto our street, an unofficial refuse for large families, was the answer to all of my prayers. Only a few houses down from my family of seven live two different families of six. Our children, whose ages line up perfectly, formed fast, undoubtedly life-long connections. As if by fate, the adults clicked as well, resulting in a large family trifecta of friendship.

A couple times a week, whether through rain or snow or scorching sun, my friends and I take turns trudging our troops the fifty feet down the sidewalk for “coffee morning,” which is less about consumption of caffeine (though still a key element) and more an excuse to get together for adult conversation while our thirteen children tear the house down around us. Most days we can barely piece together a thought between interruptions, but suffering through chaos together is better than suffering through it alone.

We attempt to discuss world events while seven little girls dressed in princess garb fight over a coveted crown. We sip homemade cinnamon lattes as the eight boys upstairs shake the light fixtures loose. We ignore any crashes not followed by real tears and kiss whatever booboo is shoved in our face whether it is attached to our own child or not. We hold each other’s babies, loan each other books, and band together at morning’s end to help locate our children’s shoes, jackets and sippy cups.   

Occasionally we attempt a mass lunch service, a fun treat for the children and a great way to extend our visit a little longer. With an entire loaf of bread spread across the table, we assemble PB&J sandwiches, factory line style, and toss a string cheese, a fruit snack, and a juice box to everyone in the crowd. The living room becomes a make-shift picnic area as the kids camp out in front of whatever movie the crowd can agree upon. Meanwhile, we revel in our fifteen minutes of peace, which falls apart faster than a toy from the dollar store when one kid decides to steal a Spongebob-shaped fruit treat from someone else’s plate and all hell breaks loose.

About once a month, we leave the kids with our husbands and get together outside of the house. Mostly we sit and enjoy dessert, coffee, and uninterrupted chick-chat. But occasionally we get together with other friends, also mothers of small children, and make up some off-the-wall excursion with which to amuse ourselves. One of our favorite games is to visit the local thrift store and assemble atrocious (yet dirt cheap) outfits, which we then force one another to wear to dinner in public. The ensuing laughter rivals even that of our children.

It’s important to teach our children how to make friends and how to be a good friend to the ones they have. I think, however, that we often forget that the best way to do this is model the behavior ourselves. Parents are notorious for getting so swept up in work, family, and household tasks that they forget the importance of taking a moment to sit and enjoy friendships of their own. Nothing will ever be quite like high school—and with all the heartbreak and drama of that era, that may not necessarily be a bad thing. But my current life is now a healthier balance of work, family and friends, all vital to me in different ways and all utterly irreplaceable.
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Monday, July 18, 2011

Survival Flashback: Dinner for Three

** I recently came across a forgotten old blogging attempt of mine, written back in 2007 when we "only" had three children and one on the way. It was pretty fun to read this glimpse into the past; two toddlers and an infant (ages; 3,2 and 6 months at the time) kept me hopping and being  pregnant drastically add to my fatigue. So I've decided to share a few of them with you in the form of "Survival Flashbacks", look for more in the coming weeks. - Leigh Ann**

The proverbial dinner bell in our home is more like the bell used to commence a boxing match. The visions I once enjoyed of a lovely family meal with everyone gathered around the table over plates of well-balanced home-cooked goodness have unfortunately been replaced by the circus that real life children produce.

The first dilemma: what to cook. Preschoolers are notoriously picky eaters and mine are no exception. Breakfast foods go over fairly well; rarely is there a battle of wills in the morning. Like Pavlov's dog, this pleasant mealtime experience has left me inclined to cook these things quite frequently. Eggs, waffles, and oatmeal have made their way into the regular rotation for lunch and dinner as well, but breakfast fodder can only stretch so far. Eventually I must explore other culinary options.

I long ago abandoned the notion of serving my children fresh vegetables with every meal and exotic entrees to “introduce their palate to a vast expanse of tastes and textures.” The baby books claim it can be done, and I’ve even witnessed it at restaurants once or twice, but my children firmly insist upon meals involving additives and preservatives with unpronounceable names. If there is any hope of a meal making it near their mouths, the main course must consists of a processed meat-like substances, accompanied by a starch covered in sodium sauce, and served with a side of fruit (hey, at least we have fruit).

Although I’ve resigned myself to my tots’ rejection of tofu, the gastro-headaches persist: one likes creamy macaroni-and-cheese, one likes the powdered version; one likes pepperoni pizza, one likes plain. Efforts to appease the masses by finding something everyone loves usually fall flat, so now I just avoid anything I know everyone hates and make them deal with the rest.

Lunch is particularly stressful time of day. Much needed naps are on the horizon and the morning routine has usually robbed me of all my energy. High noon is when I am most likely to give in to the demands of tiny tyrants, and they know this. Frozen chicken nuggets consumed picnic-style on a blanket in front of the television has become embarrassingly common. A squirt of ketchup, most often treated like a side dish and eaten plain with a spoon, rounds out this pseudo-meal and keeps the toddlers quiet and happy while I feed Ainsley her Gerber slop. I've managed to convince myself that ketchup can be counted as a serving of vegetables and that the protein from the chicken will dissolve the grease. However, the poor eating habits established by this ritual stirs up enough guilt that I strive to prepare a proper evening meal.

Dinner is a war zone. Refusing to prepare a special meal to please the little warriors leaves bargaining tactics and bribery as my only lines of defense. Already clearly irritated about having been dragged away from valuable playtime, my tikes march to the table armed for verbal warfare. They waste no time in presenting their first demand.

"I wanna picnic."

"No. No picnic, this is dinner, we eat at the table."

"PICNIIIIIC!" one screams as their cohorts chime in with "Yeah! Picnic! Picnic and watch Dora!"

"No picnic. No TV. You can sit at the table with mommy and daddy or you can sit at your Pooh table"

After deliberating in, Toddlereese, their native tongue, the troops stand down and set up camp at their child-sized Winnie the Pooh table.

With the food warming on the stove, I set to work stripping down the kids. As uncouth as it may be for them to dine in their underpants, it saves me from having to purchase Spray-n-Wash by the vat. At three-years-old, Tony's mess stems from clumsiness he inherited from me: spilled cups, shirt sleeves dunked in sauces, little "oopsies" that he will likely never grow out of. Two-year-old Brileigh, however, takes sloppy to impressive levels.

Something as simple as a Flintstone vitamin, for example, leaves Brileigh in need of a full hose down. It’s an intriguing sight to witness. First she clutches it in her hand for just a little too long while deciding which character it is, leaving a pinkish tinge on her fingers. She then rolls the vitamin around her in mouth for a while until her teeth turn bright red; she pulls it out of her mouth periodically to check on its progress, causing a glob of colored spit to run down her chin that she wipes away with her shirtsleeve. She brushes her perpetually messy hair out of her face with one gooey hand while tugging at a wedgie with her other. Pretty soon she is streaked from head to toe in red spit while rolling around on the couch, obliviously leaving a stain in her wake.

After chopping up their food into bite-sized pieces, I present the dinner offering to Tony and Brileigh and wait nervously for their verdict. Pork chops, mashed potatoes, and green beans—nothing too objectionable to the average person, but then again I wasn't dealing with average people. The green beans were immediately vetoed, as I predicted they would be. Tony meticulously piled each offending bean on the table next to his plate while Brileigh opted to squash them into mush with her fingers. The potatoes were also rejected despite my pleas to "just try a bite." For a moment I thought that Brileigh might commit toddler mutiny and taste them, but after a stern "Eww, yucky" decision from her brother, she fell back into step with Major Paininthebutt. They eyed the meat for awhile, poking at it with their tiny forks.

"Chicken?" one asks.

"Umm... yes. It can be chicken if you want it to be."


Ok, fair enough. I agree to the compromise and they finally begin to eat. I settled baby Ainsley into her high chair and place miniscule shreds of pork and veggies in front of her before fixing myself a plate. With my first bite comes the first request: "More juice please, Mommy." A sucker for good manners, I get back up and refill the cup. Of course, as soon as the task is completed and I settle back into my chair, another little voice pipes up "More juice too please," and I have to start all over again. I finally return to my cold meal and enjoy a few more bites before the pleas for more chicken begin. When Tony completes his second helping and tries for a third, I offer him the remainder of Brileigh’s abandoned plate. "Eww... dats Bileigh's, dats gross mommy." Really? Rather ironic coming from the kids who I once caught spitting into one another’s mouths.

After dinner comes the final battle: dessert. Dessert becoming a battle was the direct result of past bribery attempts on my part. "Loooook Mommy! All gone! Tony get a cookie now." Luckily I have since devised a plan to counteract this self-inflicted headache. I explain that the cookies are all gone and offer "cake" instead, then sit back in satisfaction as they happily gobble up low-fat zucchini bread laced with shredded carrots and applesauce. After all, all’s fair in love and dinner.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Survival Moments...

Fighting over a shoe is understandable and even good practice for future sales at Bloomys, but the fact that they are fighting over a Croc makes me realize how much I've failed to teach them.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Surviving Eight

Including me and my husband, there are seven of us living under one roof. We fill up every seat in our enormous SUV, we use up every inch of our dining room table at dinner, and the lengthy line for the bathroom keeps everyone doing the pee-pee dance in the mornings. Our home is brimming with enough children to inaugurate our own basketball team. What’s even more impressive, however, is that the other half of our family is in a house across town.

I was only 19 years old when I began dating my now-husband, Brian. It seemed like a disaster waiting to happen when I fell head-over-heels for a 28-year-old divorcee and father of three. Everyone around me who possessed an ounce of common sense warned me to stay away from such a complex relationship, and I can certainly understand why. But I didn’t heed their advice. The fact that he had kids from a previous marriage simultaneously scared me and drew me to him. I had barely left my own parents’ house when I moved into his little apartment and was catapulted into the role of pseudo-parent every other weekend.

I was a bundle of nerves on the way to meet my new boyfriend’s kids and pick them up for our first weekend visitation. I had very little experience with children—I was hardly more than a child myself. Having heard all the stories of evil offspring resenting the new woman for stealing their Daddy away, I was in no hurry to affix a wart to my nose and become a wicked stepmother.

Walking into his ex-wife’s home to pick up the kids was a supremely uncomfortable experience. I felt like I was the twerpy babysitter putting moves on the man of the house, even though they had been divorced for many years. I’m not sure what kind of Jerry Springer-esque encounter I was expecting, but luckily she was kind to me and didn’t seem fazed by us dating.

Brian’s almost-ten-year-old daughter, Harley, greeted us first. The awkward realization that there was almost the same age difference between me and my boyfriend as there was between me and his daughter left me unsure whether I should stand by his side or skip off with her to play Barbies in her bedroom. By contrast, Harley seemed perfectly at ease, a stark reminder that I was far from being Brian’s first post-divorce girlfriend. She probably didn’t expect to see me around by the following weekend, even though boxes of my belongings were already unpacked at her father’s house. She was a sweet little girl with long blonde hair, tan skin, and huge exotic eyes. Though I didn’t know it at the time, she was my first glimpse at the genetics that would come into play with my own future children.  

A few minutes later Brian’s eight-year-old son Julian was wheeled out and my heart began to thump in my chest. Shortly after Julian’s extremely premature birth he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, which caused an abundance of health problems that left him confined to a wheelchair and unable to communicate. His condition terrified me. I didn’t know what to do or how to act, what to say to him or whether I was supposed to say anything at all. My exposure to children may have been limited, but my experience with special needs children was downright nonexistent.

As we began to gather the necessary bags and supplies for a weekend with the kids, a tiny red-headed blur of energy ran from the back bedroom and flung herself into Brian’s arms, wrapping her itty-bitty arms and legs around him and shrieking “Daddyyyyyyyy!”

“Can I come too? Please, please, please?” she asked as she positively gushed over Brian’s face, smooshing his cheeks and rubbing his beard affectionately.

This must be Karen. Although she wasn’t Brian’s biological daughter, he had raised her as such for several years. They had become extremely close, though she was also close to her biological father who lived nearby. Brian had previously explained to me that he lets Karen determine the boundaries of their relationship and the labels they use. Sometimes she visited, sometimes she didn’t; sometimes he was “Dad,” sometimes he was “Brian”; but he made it clear that she was always one of his kids.

He sent a silently questioning glance my direction to which I nodded emphatically, eager to get to know the little girl better. She was a doll. At nearly six years old, she was roughly the size of a four-year-old peanut. She had long auburn hair and adorable spattering of freckles across her devilish little face.

We piled the three kids into the car and headed home to begin our first official visitation as a couple. We unloaded everyone’s overnight bags, Julian’s extensive supplies, and the wheelchair from the trunk and dragged everything into our tiny basement-level apartment. Our space felt cramped with everyone in it, but, strangely, so much better—more complete.

Whatever hesitations I may have felt quickly dissolved during my first hour with the kids. Both girls were affectionate, and it wasn’t long before we became comfortable enough with one another to cuddle on the couch and laugh like old friends. Harley talked nonstop about anything she could think of and when she ran out of things to say she talked about having nothing to talk about. She had a mature air about her that hinted that she was wise beyond her years. Karen was a whirlwind of imagination; she played elaborate games complete with dramatic voices and belted out songs that she created off the top of her head. By the end of the first day it was clear to me that, genetics be damned, Brian did indeed have three children. To this day I often forget that Karen isn’t related by blood. The initial awkwardness was ebbing and I was starting to think that maybe my new station in life might not be so bad.
Then it was time for Julian to eat and Brian asked me “Want to learn how to do it?” Oh boy. Due to extreme reflux and choking issues, Julian takes a liquid diet through a g-tube, which is basically just a long clear tube that plugs into his tummy through a “button” on his side that looks exactly like the valve of an inflatable inner-tube. Although I had witnessed his feedings earlier in the day, I felt nowhere near prepared to undertake such a task. Yet somehow I found myself holding the tube with little Harley by my side, expertly directing me. She walked me through the steps with calm authority and I was immediately enamored with her obvious sense of responsibility.

I plugged in the tube with shaking hands, too scared to push it in far enough without Harley’s help, and started to slowly pour the Pediasure into the syringe at the top. Julian stared up at me with curiosity while I looked down at him without a clue in the world what to say. I had no idea how much he could understand, if anything at all. How was I ever going to be able to connect with Brian’s son? Was it even possible under the circumstances?

I exhaled in relief as I filled the tube to the top, draining the last of the can; my job was almost done. Just then, Julian took in a deep breath and let out a sharp yell that sent the Pediasure shooting out of the tube without warning, dousing my lap and spraying me square in the face. I was near tears and calling for help, unsure of what I had done wrong or how to fix it, when I realized that everyone else was laughing. Harley playfully scolded Julian as she pinched the tube closed and Brian was clearly amused as well. But it was Julian who was laughing the hardest, obviously quite pleased with himself. He did it on purpose! He looked at me again with his playful, challenging eyes—identical to his Daddy’s—and gave me the most terrific smile I have ever seen. I melted into a puddle and had no choice but to fall head over heels in love with him on the spot. Though he lacked control over his body, this little boy had clearly inherited his father’s personality, right down to his ornery sense of humor and wit. He had no trouble finding ways to tease me, just like his old man. Seeing this young version of Brian in all of his innocence and vulnerability, created the connection I had been searching for.

Ten years later these three little kids have grown into fantastic young adults. My children idolize their older siblings as if they were celebrities, mimicking their style and desperate for their approval. Harley is now the age that I was when we first met and it amazes me to look at it from my current perspective and see how young I was—and what a difficult and mature role I chose to adopt. Julian is now an adult, thriving and as ornery as ever, and Karen is still the dramatic, eccentric little peanut she was when we met. Their extensive teenage social lives keep them busy and it’s rare to get us all under one roof. But when we are all together, our family feels whole and our home gets the same feeling of completion that our little basement apartment did so many years ago.

It is an unusual feeling to love children who aren’t really mine to love. These kids carry my husband’s DNA intermingled with that of another woman, a constant reminder that I wasn’t his first love. Yet they entered into my life in the form of irresistible children with little personalities and quirks that captured my heart and triggered my earliest flickers of maternal love. The role I play in the lives of my stepchildren has evolved over the years. I continue to struggle to find the balance between remaining detached enough to respect their mother’s territory but involved enough for them to know how much I love them. Being a stepparent is a hard job with indefinable boundaries, one that carries with it many uncertainties and some heartache. But in the end, however I fit into their world, I’m just happy to be a part of it.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Survival Moments...

Despite his urgent reminders, Tony's Earth Day project slipped under the sofa cushions of my mind for two whole weeks, leading me to wake up at 5am on the day it was due. Before my fine motors skills were even awake, I had to pre-assemble a pile of garbage into something useful so that when my son finally rolled out of bed two hours later he could quickly construct it and take it onto the bus to be destroyed before ever making it to class. A plastic spoon wind chime; one man's trash is another man's Etsy fodder.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Survival Flashback: A Night with No Children

** I recently came across a forgotten old blogging attempt of mine, written back in 2007 when we "only" had three children and one on the way. It was pretty fun to read this glimpse into the past; two toddlers and an infant (ages; 3,2 and 6 months at the time) kept me hopping and being  pregnant drastically add to my fatigue. So I've decided to share a few of them with you in the form of "Survival Flashbacks", look for more in the coming weeks. - Leigh Ann**

Every once in a great while, I stumble upon a brave soul willing to pledge the ultimate gift to a tired, stay-at-home mom: a few hours of babysitting. This is quite rare however, as it seems the more children you have, the more friends and family invest in caller ID. Hunting down a sitter, even a paid one, often feels more like an elaborate scam than a job offer. No, they really aren't that hard to watch at all! They go to bed early, will eat anything you feed them and will not under any circumstances try to escape out the back door, I swear!

Hey, ya gotta do whatcha gotta do.

Unfortunately, any reputable sitter with a few years’ experience under their belt would notice the bags under my eyes and desperation in my voice and run like the wind. So as our toddler tally rises, we are left to prey on the guilt of family members. After surviving nearly a year without an evening to ourselves my husband, Brian, and I were pretty desperate for a couple of hours to ourselves. But a well-timed "I miss you" call from the little ones to Grandma scored a far more significant booty. Buckling to the pressure of teary voices (my own included), my mother finally agreed to keep all three children… overnight.

Twenty-four hours! Twenty-four silent, self-absorbed, sane hours. I could barely contain my excitement. Such an occasion even warranted a mid-day phone call to my working husband, whose comparative lack of enthusiasm confirmed my suspicion that he has not endured nearly enough Barney-filled childrearing hours.

When the big day arrived I was surprised at what a complicated process it is to pack up three small children for an overnight trip. They needed changes of clothes for the various activities that were planned, toothbrushes, soaps, creams, diapers, wipes, and bottles, all of which were piled in along side the Pack-n-Play, Exersaucer and bikes. By the time we wedged the kids in amongst their must-have toys and set off on the hour drive to my mother’s house, I began to wonder if it was even worth it. It wasn't until we purged the van and kissed the kids goodbye that blissful reality sank in: we were alone.

Our night of freedom commenced by ejecting our worn copy of "Kid Songs,” chucking it into our now-empty backseat, and replacing it with the first uncensored CD we could grab out of our dusty collection. We enjoyed Kid Rock's foul mouth for the whole return trip without worrying whether it would be parroted back to us in the middle of the grocery store. Our seats were not kicked, no hair was pulled in the backseat, no empty sippy cups were thrown at my head; this was heaven.

Once home, I hopped out of the car and walked straight into the house. Amazing. No wrestling with car seat straps, no dragging weepy toddlers into the house; I got myself from point A to point B and my job was done. I opened all the baby gates and marveled at how fun it was to walk freely from room to room. I turned the TV to a program that featured adults speaking to other adults, without a single colorful puppet in sight and then for my grand finale, I peed—all by myself! The silence was foreign to me and while it was a pleasant change, the house felt empty—a little too empty, the way a house feels right before you move into it. I don’t think I could stand the lack of chaos for long, but my rendezvous with sanity was quite refreshing.

I spent two glorious hours primping for our evening out. I lingered in the bathtub, amazed at how much more relaxing it is when you don't have a young audience beaming you with tub toys and poking at your pregnant belly. Of course, now my mini-spectators are replaced by a husband who is seated a few feet away with the newspaper urging me to hurry up and get out while I still can. I should have had my mother keep him too.

I leisurely applied my make-up, doing my best to hide the pregnancy acne and bags under my eyes. Then I selected my hottest outfit, assuming of course that an outfit containing an expandable belly panel and leak resistant breast pads could be hot. Determined to feel sexy again for just one night, I dug out my high heeled boots and begged Brian to help me reach my swollen sausage feet. Oh yeah, baby, they even zipped up over my cankles. I was totally rockin’.

Once dressed, we breezed out the door and were headed down the road in a minute flat. This was the life. Let our wild, carefree night begin! We had nothing holding us back, we could go anywhere we pleased and do anything we wanted. It was just like our early dating days all over again (well, except for the fact that I had a small human camped out in my rib cage and I had to pee every 10 minutes). 

We arrived at the restaurant a little before the Saturday night rush. Well, okay, more like we got the jump on the 60-year-old early-birders. But that’s alright, no wait-time is a good thing. We were seated and placed our order with an eccentric waitress that prompted a hushed discussion about exactly what we'd do if one of our daughters tried to come home looking like that. Halfway through the appetizer we had pretty much worked our way through every bit of interesting conversation we could think of and started on the old stand-by: "So when exact is the new yellow Wiggle supposed to start?"

After dinner we found ourselves seated back in the car again, engine idling beneath us, waiting to dash off on our next adventure. "Okay! What next? Where do you wanna go?" After spending the next two hours wandering around Target, Wal-Mart and Shoe Carnival (to buy comfy shoes to replace the death heels which I will be promptly throwing away), we concluded beyond a shadow of a doubt that we no longer have any redeeming social value whatsoever. At 26 and 34 years of age, we are far from old; however, constantly immersing yourself in a slew of pre-school-aged children really seems to take its toll.

With our pride dented, we decided to go to the local sports bar to watch a much-anticipated boxing match that was due to start soon. Yeah, that's it! We'll gather together a big group of people and go to the bar! Shooting pool, throwing darts, big screen TV’s on every wall. The perfect environment to get back in touch with our adult life. "So who all should we call to meet us there?"

An hour later we sat, defeated, sucking down Pepsis in a loud, overcrowded bar& grille all alone. One little known fact about parenthood: it's lonely at the top. Our party-hardy pre-child friends long ago deleted our numbers from their speed dial, and our fellow child-laden friends were all sitting at home watching Law & Order. Now I understand why. We were bored, we were tired, and we were feeling a wee bit pathetic. Once the jovial (read: drunk) crowd around us became more than we could bear, we gave up and returned home to our PJs and a movie rental.

The return of our children the next morning was bittersweet. Our alone time was over and the pandemonium began again instantly, but it was nice to be back to our familiar niche. An occasional break is important for parents not only because it gives you time to recharge your batteries, but also because it reminds us why we chose this child-centric life in the first place.

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Survival Moments...

At this rate my kids are on the fast track to developing high cholesterol by the age of five. The thing that I don't get-- there is more than one bite mark. Which means that they took a bite, tasted it, and went back for more?

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and Germs

Please be advised, the content of this post is not for those with weak stomachs, germaphobia, hypochondria, or those who are generally uptight about the grosser side of life. If terms such as "booger," "poop," or "snot" offend you, then I suggest you sit this one out. You should also probably avoid all contact with small children because behind those chubby cheeks and toothy grins... kids are gross.

I was fully prepared for bodily fluids when I had my first child; everyone knows that parents must change diapers and wipe spit-up drool. But those cutesy newborn guidebooks conveniently fail to mention that you will spend your first several sleepless weeks bathed in a sticky mixture of pee and spit-up with a never ending stream of breast milk rolling down your stomach. They also neglect to prepare you for the all-encompassing level of disgust you will reach the first time you look down to see a glob of poo on your bare hand (or, even worse, the fact that a month or two later that same glob of poo will barely phase you).

So let me break it to you now: over the course of the first year of parenthood, you will be assaulted with projectile pee, poop, snot, vomit, and drool. In case you ever wondered, urine does burn your eyes and regurgitated infant formula tastes exactly as vile as it sounds. After surviving a few babies, I was sure that I had graduated from Body Fluid Boot Camp and that I had built up a sufficient immunity to all things foul. But amazingly, the ick factor only got worse as the children grew bigger.

I could have endured 20 infants’ worth of goo and still never been prepared for my first Toddler Tea Party. Tony and Brileigh were only two- and three-year-olds at the time, so you can only imagine how adorable it was when they donned dress up clothes and invited me in their room for tea and plastic cake. They seated me amongst various stuffed guests and served me water in tiny cups from their teapot. How adorable!

It wasn't until they left for a refill that it occurred to me to question where they got the water from. Not yet tall enough to reach the sink and with no chairs in sight, I followed the sounds of the chatter into the bathroom. To my horror, I walked in to find them innocently fetching water from the big white porcelain well. I reacted quite how you might imagine (dry heaving and scrubbing our mouths with Listerine), but no amount of disinfectant could ever comfort me to the fact that I drank "pot-tea," and I will spend the next 15 years devising a plan to repay my little darlings.

I regret to say it has only gotten worse. I am far from a germaphobe, but when forced to take my children into a public restroom, I strive to keep the experience as sanitary as possible. I explain that the bathrooms are "yucky" and urge them not to touch anything, but as usual my warnings seem to fall on deaf ears. My whole body cringed the day that Delaney ran into the stall ahead of me and grabbed the seat with both hands to climb up on the throne. But I became downright faint a few minutes later when I caught her staring off into space and absent-mindedly dragging her tongue up and down each of her fingers. (No, I have no clue why she would do this. After years of observing these creatures, I have learned that a toddler’s decision to lick their own body parts is based purely on primitive urge. It need not be warranted or justified with rational explanation; in fact questioning such an act (i.e., "Why are you licking your foot?!”) will be met with confusion. They assume that anything that shouldn't be licked has been biologically placed out of reach and that the rest of their body is fair game.)

While I encourage my children to explore their creative side, diaper-diving for finger paints is a form of artistic expression that I most certainly don’t appreciate. Shortly after Tony’s first birthday, back when I was still na├»ve to the gruesome potential of tots, I swung open his bedroom door one morning only to be bowled over by a smell so putrid it  rendered me blind for a moment. Unfortunately, that moment ended and I found myself face-to-face with a scene that warranted a dramatic musical score by Hans Zimmer.

Brown sludge streaked the wall next to his crib as high as his little pudgy hands could reach and was caked into every crevice of every crib rail, smashed between the sheet and the mattress, and flung onto the carpet in an impressive three-foot radius. If only that was as bad as it got—the bedroom could be repaired by a crew of Hazmat workers or perhaps a carefully contained mercy burn. But there in the middle of the fecal funhouse my precious boy sat smiling up at me, smeared from head to toe with baby bum blowout. There was poo in his ears, between his toes, in his hair (forming the world’s most disturbing Mohawk); no inch of his precious body was left unscathed. Had I not become particularly attached to him during that first year, it may have been easier to just start all over again with a different kid. But my revulsion deferred to my pesky maternal instinct and I reluctantly began the longest, grossest bathing process I have ever experienced. It wasn’t until I endured two more toddler Poocaso’s that I discovered the wonder of a well-placed piece of duct tape around every diaper.

Surprisingly, the children have seemingly thrived undaunted by any as the years march on, marked by innocent daily antics such as sucking on a public water fountain, poking at chewed-up gum on the sidewalk, and clamoring to drink the remains of a random abandoned juice box at the park. My nausea and outrage are always met with confusion because, to a toddler, there is no such thing as "gross.” To them, the whole world is there to be touched and tasted. Licking a rock might be repulsive to an adult, but to a child it's the obvious thing to do.

Defeated and disgusted, I have been resigned to choosing my battles ("Yes, you may eat the Cheerio you found under the couch"; "No, you may not pick my nose."). I figure I should save my energy for combating the potentially deadly situations and chalk the rest up to building an army of children with incredibly healthy immune systems.
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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and Independence Day

The Fourth of July is a joyful American holiday as families all across our great nation come together for food, fireworks, and fun in celebration of our freedom and in appreciation of our forefathers and the current members of the military who made it possible. But as beautiful as the holiday’s underlying message is, as a mother of five, I have to admit the traditions associated with Independence Day are less than festive for me.

Forget sleeping in to soak up some holiday Zs; preparation for the day requires my family to wake up bright and early. If showers for all seven of us aren’t completed by 9 a.m., all hope is lost of making it to the parade in time. Truth be told, the whole process could be significantly expedited if I was willing to toss some clothes on and go, but having a good excuse to color-coordinate our clothing triggers an OCD flare up that I simply can’t ignore. Dressing my crew in festive red-white-and-blue right down to the girls’ nail polish and earrings thrills me so deeply that it’s worth a few lost hours of sleep.

I’ve learned to snap photos of the kids immediately upon dressing them because Parental Law states that children wearing white will inevitably fall in the grass, spill a grape-flavored drink on themselves, or hug a dirty car tire within 20 minutes or less. Once I have obtained copious amounts of photographic evidence detailing my hard work, we feed our children to our beast of a vehicle and head in to town.

As if my gaggle of matching patriotic ducklings were not conspicuous enough, my family celebrates Independence Day, as well as most other holidays, at the local funeral home. Yes, the funeral home. The kind with dead people. My husband’s parents own and operate the establishment and in fact live there (which is standard practice if you are not up to speed on funeral home policy). With such large gathering rooms and limitless parking, it became a natural solution to the dilemma of where to hold our very large family parties, including the most fantastic Halloween bash you could ever imagine.

Lest you envision us sitting around wearing black and somberly nodding greetings to one another, I should probably point out that undertakers in general are a kooky bunch, and my in-laws are no exception. With a profession as emotionally draining as funeral service, those in the field, as well as their families, must adopt a somewhat morbid sense of humor or else they would break under the pressure. So while your family might be gathered around the latest and greatest in natural gas grills, my family is roasting our burgers and hotdogs over a real charcoal-filled casket. Ahh, the memories my children will have.

We arrive at our destination with only moments to regroup before the town parade comes marching past. Us old folk set up our chairs out front while the kids squat restlessly on the curb, armed with plastic bags, waiting for the first handful of candy to get tossed off the back of a float. Parades in general make me nervous; something about trails of candy luring children out into a road filled with distracted old men driving antique cars and three-ton fire trucks just doesn’t sit well with me. But chasing candy out into the street is still preferable to having a team of Little Leaguers chucking Starlight Mints at us, fast pitch style, from the back of a pick-up truck. The little shits nail me in the head every year. Every. Single. Year. Then at the end of the hopelessly long parade, right when your children are getting sweaty and cranky, every emergency vehicle in the district roll out simultaneously with sirens wailing and horns blaring, which enthralls my son but leaves my girls trembling in a puddle of their own urine.

Once we survive the parade, confiscate the candy, and peel the traumatized baby off of my head, the picnic can begin. The food selection at our family gatherings is vast, which is fantastic for 99 percent of the guests in attendance; I alone make up the other 1 percent. An endless table of edible choices only means that it will take me twice as long to set my children up for their meals. Teetering two plastic plates in each hand and one on my knee, I make my way down the table trying to recall who likes pickles and who hates the Jello mold (not that it even really matters because after two or three rushed bites the kids will all run off to play again). By the time I feed and water my offspring, the options left for my dining enjoyment consist of soured macaroni salad and a dried-up burger with a fly stuck in the cheese.

The real draw to our Fourth celebration is neither the parade of candy nor the food served straight from a box of death, but rather the fireworks. Armed with a commercial license and a man-driven need to out-do himself every year, my father-in-law provides the city with the most astounding fireworks display in the tri-county area, right in his own back yard. A display of such proportion is not technically legal on private property, but considering the local law enforcement is busy claiming a front row seat for the show, it never seems to be a problem. The blasts are set to patriotic music, which blares from an impressive sound system set up in the garage next to the hearse. From what I’ve heard it is quite an amazing sight, but I’ve yet to actually witness much of the firework display myself. Instead, every year I end up sitting in an empty viewing room with at least half of my children sobbing hysterically and covering their ears despite the fact that they are the same children who sobbed equally as hard at the option of staying home.

The final hoorah to our evening involves passing out sticks of fire to each child in attendance and instructing them to gather in a group and swing their arms around in circles. Sound like a bad idea? Don’t blame me; track down the moron who invented sparklers. The entire process scares me so badly that it all becomes a blur of long hair, lighters, and pointy metal rods. At this juncture in our “celebration,” my nerves are fried and the prospect of a trip to the ER to sit in a packed waiting room with drunken partiers who have blown off various body parts with bottle rockets is too much for me to bear. My kids barely get a chance to burn down their first stick before I can’t take it any longer and start herding them to the car.

The protests don’t last long; by the time we make our extensive farewell tour of great aunts and third cousins and get our little ones buckled into their seats, eyelids have already begun to droop closed above dirty cheeks and Kool-Aid stained lips. The day exhausts me, too, but despite this, I can’t help but look at my sleeping angels and thank God that we were born in a country where they will have freedom, choices, and opportunity at their finger tips. For now, the day is about fun for them; but as they grow and build families of their own they will understand that Independence Day means so much more. 

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