Monday, August 29, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and the Long Car Ride

This weekend my husband, Brian, and I went to Columbus Zoo, which involved a seven-hour round-trip journey that marked our first long car ride with all five of our children in tow. Before this trip the longest my crew had ever been confined to a car was the hour-long ride to Grandma’s house. The zoo trip required us to pile into our old Suburban together for hours on end, elbow-to-elbow and head-to-head. I was apprehensive to say the least, anticipating numerous potty breaks, backseat fighting, and boredom. But we were long overdue for a family vacation, so we were getting to zoo even if it killed us—and at times I thought it very well might.

We had planned for an early start to our day, hoping to have already arrived when the zoo gates opened at nine. However, by the time everyone was dressed and packed into the car along with an adequate supply of snacks, pillows and games, it was already nearly 9:30. Oh well, this was supposed to be a day a leisure; no use stressing over the clock.

I would like to say that I spent our hours in the car entertaining my children by playing mind-stimulating word games or singing old-fashioned campfire songs. Alas, it was the fully charged hand-held video games that kept my car silent for the majority of the trip. Yeah, maybe the previous generations used long car rides for quality family time, but they had no choice—MarioKart hadn’t been invented yet. Given the opportunity to shut up their young fry during the trip out west, I’m pretty sure our pioneering forefathers would have gladly stocked their carriages with overpriced Nintendo products too, and the song “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” would have never been penned. 

Approximately five minutes into our journey, Brileigh leaned forward and uttered the phrase that was surely ringing out from the back seat of every car on the freeway with us- “Are we almost there?” I sighed and explained once again that it was going to be a very, very long ride and that we wouldn’t be at the zoo until the nine on the clock turned into a twelve—about three hours. Tony chimed in “How many seconds is that?”

“I don’t know, a lot, why?”

“I want to know how high I have to count until we get there.”

“Uh… 10,800.” (Yes, I most definitely used a calculator.)

Brileigh began staring intently at the clock as if she was going to miss the big moment and Tony began a loud, monotonous countdown that only lasted until about 32 (God bless his ADHD).

I passed out baggies full of Cheerios, which the children happily munched on and flicked at each other over the seats, while Lacey kept herself occupied by sticking her hand through the loop of her shoelace and screaming for help... over and over and over again. I ignored her request after the second round, but Brileigh indulged her fake pleas long past the point of reasonable sanity. Her unebbing attention is why all of the youngest kids prefer her over me, which is fine because someday, long after her little sisters have exhausted the last of her patience, she will have children of her own that cant stand her and I’ll be the cool grandma that doles out lots of candy and indulges every tedious, repetitive game. 

A wave of nostalgia washed over me as I watched the semi-trucks pass by, which led me to show my children how to pump their arms up and down at the drivers. As soon as the first semi responded with a blast of their air horn my kids were hooked and my legacy was firmly passed on to the next generation. There, quality time achieved. For the next 90 miles we were serenaded by semis in 30-second intervals as my car shook back and forth from my five fervent fist pumpers. Nerve-rattling, no doubt, but it kept them nicely occupied, and I was willing to endure nearly anything to avoid hearing them bicker in close quarters.

And yet, I suppose it was inevitable.

It’s no surprise that Ainsley was the first to resort to torturing her siblings to keep herself entertained. After the last semi disappeared from view, Ainsley turned to Brileigh and continued to pump her fist up and down. So what, right? No one was being injured; no annoying sound was being made. No big deal. Um, no, evidently this is a very big deal. The familiar screech of “Ainsleyyy-uh, stop iiit-uhhhh” rang out moments later. For those unfamiliar with petty sibling squabbling, a child’s level of annoyance is directly proportionate to how long they draw out the whiney “uhhh” at the end of their words. On this particular occasion Brileigh’s “uh” went up an octave or two, indicting that she was about to deck someone, which only served to visibly delight Ainsley and fuel her psychological assault. Twenty-five minutes later Ainsley was still hard at work pumping her arm; her face was red, she had a hint of sweat on her brow, her little arm was trembling from exhaustion, but the tears forming in her sister’s eyes helped her push through the pain. It wasn’t until Brileigh sneered at her and said “Your arm is going to fall off if you don’t stop” that Ainsley finally relented and moved on to her next victim.

Moments later I heard an animalistic growl from my son in the back seat and I turned to see Ainsley sweetly hugging Tony who was seated next to her.

“Get offff of meeee-uhhhh.”
“Ainsley, stop hugging Tony” I sighed

“But I loooove him,” she sang out sarcastically, a ornery smile spread across her face.

“No she doesn’t! She’s doing it on purpose!” Tony protested

“Aww, be nice, she just wants to give you a hug,” I said as I whipped out my camera—hey, I need a little entertainment too.

After pouring a venti coffee into my grande bladder, I initiated the first potty break. We pulled into a Burger King and I took our entourage of girls into the women’s restroom while Brian and Tony strolled into the men’s room. The gender imbalance of our family always leaves me with the lion’s share of the work during bathroom visits. Stupid abundance of X chromosomes. The very first thing Delaney did when we walked into the restroom was to bend over and touch the floor. With her bare hand.  Yes, the tile was interesting, but did it really require a touch? I guess so. I ushered the three oldest girls into each stall and jumped around awaiting my turn praying that my pregnancy-ravaged bladder wall would hold.

Suddenly the unexpected sound of the automatic flusher sent Ainsley bursting out of the stall with her pants still around her ankles. I had to grab her before she ran right out the door into the restaurant in a streak of bright white bare bum. As Delaney finished and stood up, the second flush resonated through the room and another round of screams ensued as she frantically tried to open the locked door with all of her three-year-old might, shaking the entire wall of stall doors. Just as I was resigned to the fact that I might have to crawl under the door to free her from her chamber of terror, she flung it open and jumped into my arms, her eyes as big as saucers and her little heart racing against my chest. More and more time passed as we waited for Brileigh to come out. Finally I called out to her to see if she was alright.

“Yeah, I’m okay. I just, um, don’t want to stand up”


“I don’t want the toilet to flush with me still inside,” she whimpered desperately on the verge of a full blown wail.

Once she managed to unlock the door without removing her butt from the seat I went inside and found her sitting perfectly still on the commode as if perched atop an active landmine. I covered the sensor and she pulled her pants up and exited to safety before the ferocious flush. (McGyver has nothing on a mom.) I came out just in time to catch Lacey playing with the garbage can flap and yanking dirty paper towels out like confetti. I cleaned up her mess, washed all of our hands, and dragged everyone back to the car before Hazmat could arrive to isolate anyone. Then I ran back in to relieve myself in peace, unsure if I was ever going to go back out to join my family. At this point spending the remainder of eternity in a fast food john sounded like a reasonable option.

Once on the road again I doled out another round of snacks and watched happily as Lacey’s eyes fluttered shut and one by one each little head nodded to the side as they rested up for the long day that was still ahead of us. The remainder of our trip was silent, save for the faint jingle of a video game left on in the backseat. As we pulled into the vast zoo parking lot we looked at each other, took a deep breath, and woke our sleeping beasts.

***Be sure to check back on Thursday to hear all about our exciting day at the Columbus Zoo!***   

To see more hilarious comics by J-Sto, please visit

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and a Pool

Swimming in a pool is a rare and coveted treat for my household. Periodically, I ponder the idea of getting our own pool but a few things have stopped me: (1) they cost money and time, of which we have neither—if the state of our fish tank is indicative of anything, we would be swimming amongst lily pads and cattails within weeks; (2) our back yard is marginally larger than a postage stamp, so installing a pool would require us to train our Shepard to use a litter box; and (3) the mere thought of all eleventy-billion neighborhood children simultaneously cannon-balling into the pool makes me want to drink—a lot—which negates my life-guarding abilities considerably.

Definitely no pool, end of discussion.

Instead we’re left to swim the old fashioned way: by imposing on our friends and relatives. However, by the time we have a free day in our summer schedule, locate a willing pool-haver, and track down another able-bodied adult to assist in ensuring that all five little heads are bobbing above water at all times—well, we go swimming about once or twice a year.

Our serious lack of pool time has resulted in serious lack of swimming skills among my children. This is compounded by the fact that I, myself, do not know how to swim. There I said it. Go ahead, point and laugh. Everyone have a good old chortle at the expense of the thirty-year-old woman in a swimsuit with a mom-skirt who sinks like a rock while flailing her arms wildly and aspirating chlorine in three feet of water.

I’ll wait.

Done? OK, good. Moving on.

Due to our collective less-than-stellar pool proficiency, any children who are not tall enough to touch at the deepest point must be wrapped in enough inflatable plastic to keep them bobbing above the water like buoys. By the time I suit up my three youngest children in their life-vests and inflatable arm bands they are cushioned by so much air they can barely get wet, let alone drown. I also make sure they are wearing goggles, and not because they need to see underwater; heck, they can’t even get their faces to the water. No, I just really like to laugh at their little eyeballs bulging out beneath multicolored lenses. Once we finish safeguarding the toddlers, basting everyone in sunscreen and blowing up enough rafts, balls and rings to leave us lightheaded for the remainder of the day, it’s finally time to actually get in the pool.

Tony always dives in with reckless abandon without giving a second thought to the fact that he doesn’t know what to do once he’s underwater. After the first few sputters and gasps he manages to figure it out all on his own and proceeds to swim like a fish for the rest of the day, mocking me with water tricks I couldn’t complete even with full scuba gear on. Brileigh spends the first 45 minutes dipping her toe in the water and shrieking—dip, shriek; dip, shriek; dip, shriek—until Tony is annoyed enough to sneak up behind her and douse her with a bucket of water and I’m annoyed enough to let him. Delaney hangs out on the steps for awhile until she gets acclimated enough to swim off in pursuit of a pool noodle. It doesn’t take Ainsley long to work up the nerve to attempt jumping in like her big brother. Despite the array of flotation devices strapped on to her, she manages to bob under water for a moment. However she is so thrilled with the experience that she starts smiling and giggling before she even emerges from the water, leaving her to cough and sputter the whole way back up the steps to try again. Lacey is the simplest of them all. I leisurely carry her through the water until I need a free hand at which point I flip her onto her back and send her floating away like a little beach ball, squealing and splashing the water happily.

Without fail, after only moments in the water the first child has to go potty. Out of all the children in the world, why is it that my three-year old is the one who doesn’t just leave a warm jet stream in her wake? Oh no, my three year old has to get out of the water, teeth chattering, fully disrobe and dry off her slippery bum so she can go traipsing through the house to sit on an actual toilet. And as every parent knows, having to pee is contagious, so the rest of my afternoon is spent directing bathroom traffic instead of catching some rays on a raft.  

Nine games of Marco Polo later, my kids are purple-lipped and prune-fingered but resisting my every attempt to entice them out of their watery wonderland. In the end it takes an offer of ice cream to lure them to dry land peacefully. Before we can even get out of the driveway, though, every single one of them were fast asleep, still wrapped in towels with wet hair matted to their heads and their sweet bare feet dangling over the edge of their seats.  Hmm… maybe a pool wouldn’t be so bad after all.

**No illustration this week, our J-Sto is on vacation this week, but don't fear, she'll be back next week with more awesome comics for us! In the meantime catch up some of her other work at

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Surviving the Audition

As a teenager and young adult my entire world revolved around the theater. It was my passion, my talent, and my career goal at one time. I only spent about four years involved in the performing arts, but that was enough for me to realize that performing just felt right to me. I felt at home on the stage; I loved the rush of a live performance and the power of a room full of eyes waiting for my next words and the heat of the spotlight (both literally and figuratively). It forced me to use multiple facets of my brain, to memorize lines, control my voice, and coordinate my body with motions that were sometimes awkward. When a show went poorly it was the ultimate humiliation, but when it was a success there was no feeling like it in the world. Once I left the theater and abandoned my less-than-stable career aspirations I lost a piece of myself that proved to be a larger than I realized. Now, more than a decade later, I have reclaimed a place on stage and rediscovered a part of myself that I thought was gone forever.

“Actor” was the first definition of myself that I ever claimed. It was my niche in school and I reveled in the comfort of it. I auditioned for every show available. I took every class that my high school offered, both on stage and behind the scenes. I watched others perform, I read about the history of the art, I visited theaters around the state, and I absorbed the tradition that was still held in the old elegant walls. Every aspect of theater was beautiful to me. I entered college confident that performing would always be a part of my life.

However plans change. Before I knew it, I was a wife and a mother and the closest I ever got to a stage was front row at Sesame Street Live. I knew that I missed performing but as time passed I convinced myself that it was just a phase of my life from which I had moved on. I occasionally entertained the idea of auditioning for a community theater show, but by this point I was certain that I didn’t have it in me anymore. I used every argument to talk myself out of it: “I’m not as attractive as I was in high school, and not skilled enough to make up for it”; “I don’t have the confidence to speak in front of an audience anymore”; “It would take away too much time from my children.” I mourned for the person I used to be, the person who got up on stage and felt fabulous whether she was the best actor on stage or not, the person who auditioned without fear and performed without doubt. But I felt that I was no longer that person—that too much had changed and it was too late to go back.

Then last year I participated in the Vacation Bible School offered through my church and ended up performing in front of a hand full of children. It was a small, insignificant piece performed before a crowd that picks their nose and wets their pants, but it was enough to reignite a spark and remind me of what I was missing. This year I performed again, this time in front of the church congregation that just so happened to include a director from a local community theater group. After the service he approached me and asked if I would be interested in filling in for a role that had been abandoned. It was only for a short skit, but I was delirious with a rush of nerves and excitement. I agreed, making plans to show up that weekend for the first rehearsal to read through the script and see if I’d be a good fit for the role.

On my way to the theater that Saturday my stomach was knotted up and I replayed all of the reasons I had given myself for not auditioning sooner. I was certain I was going to be out of place; as soon as I read the part they would surely realize that they had made a mistake. I walked into the small prep room filled with actors of every age and listened quietly as they read through their scripts one by one, in strong professional voices. Then it was my turn. My role opened with a monologue that I read through with such speed that the MicroMachine guy from the 80’s would have been jealous. The more nervous I am, the faster I talk—and boy was I nervous. My voice cracked awkwardly and the required pauses between lines felt like gaping wounds that I desperately wanted to fill. The director stopped me and kindly asked me to slow down and start over. So I did, trying hard to drag out my words between my rapid breaths. My co-star was a terrific talent which helped me pace myself, and by the second run-through I felt a little more in control of my voice. Amazingly they accepted me for the role, and everything felt right in the world once again.

At the end of our rehearsal the director reminded everyone that auditions for the next show were to take place the next day. It was a full-length dramatic play requiring four women actors in my age range. Dare I press my luck? It was one thing to end up with a role they were desperate to fill, but was I ready for a real audition?       

The battle continued in my head even as I drove to the theater the next night and shyly walked into the main theater. I filled out my paperwork and looked around me at the other performers, all of whom had far more recent experience than me. Luckily I was one of the first ones called to read or I may have slipped out the back door. I took a copy of the script and climbed the steps to the stage. Wow, a stage! The hollow floor beneath me felt fantastically familiar and the lighting that beat down on me stirred up emotions that I had long forgotten.

Was it the performance of my life? Definitely not. My voice was not nearly as strong as it used to be, my motions were not as certain, but I felt more like myself than I had in years. Maybe I didn’t have the inflated teenage ego that I possessed in high school, but I now had a deeper, more sincere sense of self-confidence that can only come with age. I was content with my audition and left with an adrenaline high that left me unable to sleep.

The next several days were excruciating. For an audition that I almost didn’t even show up for, this play had become the thing I wanted most. Not because the theater was especially large or the show was particularly famous—on the contrary, its small-town stature was perfect for me—but because I needed this for myself. I needed to find that person that I lost at graduation.

Nearly two weeks later, after a second round of auditions that I stammered through with lackluster show, the final casting was completed. It popped up in my e-mail box and my heart started pounding. I had promised myself on my thirtieth birthday that I would blow away the cloud of mommy-hood and rediscover myself, and I knew this was a vital step in doing so. I opened the e-mail and saw my name at the top of the list. I got a part! Not just any part, I got the part, the female lead, the one I had set my sights on and wanted from the moment I read it. Now it was mine! I did it!

I did it.

Now that the scary part is over the real work begins. There are many, many lines for me to memorize between the two shows I am now doing and my mind is hardly the steel trap it used to be. In fact, after a decade of child-rearing it is now more like a wet paper bag. I do battle with guilt over missing a few of my children’s extracurricular activities and not being home to tuck them in every night.  My hours are limited, my schedule is tight, but escaping to the theater for a few nights a week is more rewarding and invigorating to me than a trip to the spa ever could be. Not only because I am out of the house without my tribe of children, but because I’m spending time with an old friend that I’ve sorely missed: myself. 

**No illustration this week, our J-Sto is on vacation this week, but don't fear, she'll be back next week with more awesome comics for us! In the meantime catch up some of her other work at

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Surviving Brian and High Cholesterol

Recently my husband, Brian, was diagnosed with high cholesterol—so high, in fact, that the doctor said that he has the cholesterol of a man twice his age. The news was upsetting to me but not surprising; Brian’s eating habits are horrendous and he’s a smoker. Under the circumstances, I’m just glad cholesterol is the worst we’re dealing with. I’m shocked that Brian allowed his blood to be drawn in the first place. My big tough guy readily admits that he is terrified of needles, though I’m fairly certain that the ink covering his arms and back was not injected with silly straws. I’m even more shocked that he fessed up about his condition to his overbearing nurse-maid (that would be me). Being a typical wife, I have now assumed the role of preventing my husband’s heart from exploding into gravy-coated bacon bits. And, being a typical husband, he has resisted my concerned needling with the veracity of a toddler avoiding nap time.

The obvious first step is to stomp out his smoking addiction. It’s no secret that cigarettes are unhealthy for numerous reasons, and they most definitely are contributing to his cholesterol levels and potential heart problems. When we first began dating Brian smoked two packs a day. Everyday. Yes, your math is correct, that is 40 cigarettes in a 24 hour span of time. I’m not sure how it is even physically possible, but early in our relationship he was never without a cigarette hanging from his lips, even waking several times a night to take a few dreamy drags. It wasn’t long before he dropped down to a mere pack a day, but it has been an endless battle ever since to whittle it down any more than that.

I’ve never been a smoker, and I can’t claim to understand the difficulty of quitting such a severe addiction. I do know that my husband, who has been able to control his alcoholism for more than four years now, says that kicking the cancer sticks is ten times harder than losing the booze. I also know that his past attempts at quitting have resulted in him wood- chucking through a box of toothpicks a day, transforming into a moody ass-hat, and packing on an extra 20 pounds of spare tire around his mid-section. So we decided to work on the smoking aspect later.

Maybe we just need to overhaul his diet. Brian has always been able to eat massive quantities of junk food without gaining a pound. But as he ages his body isn’t processing it as well as it used to, as evidenced by the pot belly beginning to poke out from his shirt and a cholesterol level that rivals the national debt. This change in diet coincided perfectly with my desire to lose weight, so I eagerly went to the grocery store and stocked up on enough fish, fruits, and vegetables to explore a wide variety of exciting new dishes. Fun right?

As I prepared dinner (salmon with brown rice and broccoli florets) the first night of our diet, Brian stood near the kitchen, watching me with dread in his eye.

“Am I eating that stuff too?”

“Yep! It’s very healthy!”

“Well you aren’t making enough salmon filets to feed both of us.”

“I have more. How many do you want?”

“I don’t know, put in five or six for me.”

After I explained that consuming 36 oz of salmon would contradict his diet at best and lead to some scary digestive issues at worst, he rolled his eyes and went back into the living room. It was not uncommon for him to inhale eight hotdogs or half a dozen scrambled eggs in a sitting along with a box of macaroni and cheese and some potato chips, so I compromised by preparing three salmon fillets for him. This was going to have to be a gradual process.

I fed the children pizza and sent them to bed in time for us to enjoy our dinner in peace. Brian eyed his plate and agreed that it didn’t look too terrible, but after a couple bites he took his plate into the kitchen and returned with a large lump of butter on his rice and broccoli. As I tried to scold him for greasing up his otherwise healthy meal he triumphantly pointed to the “Heart Healthy” tub of margarine that I had purchased and stuck his tongue out at me before devouring his massive plate in less than five minutes.

Within an hour he was splayed out on the couch clutching his stomach and complaining of hunger pains.

“I don’t think you’re saving my life, I think you’re trying to speed things up by starving me to death!”

I informed him that there was melon salad in the fridge if he felt that he needed some dessert. He huffed into the kitchen and a few moments later I heard the familiar sound of aerosol spray. “Ugh, Brian! Please tell me that’s not what I think it is!” Brian returned with a large bowl of fruit piled sky high with whipped cream “Don’t say a word or I’ll go back in for the chocolate syrup. You know I’ll do it!” I relented and grumbled under my breath while he grinned like a bratty kid, licking his spoon clean.

Later in the evening as we cuddled up watching a movie, Brian slinked off to the kitchen again and came back in crunching quietly.


“What? They’re Sunchips!” he mumbled through his full mouth “They’re good for you! I didn’t get the Doritos, see, I’m doing good!”

Moments later a belch erupted from my oh-so-refined spouse that shook the couch and startled the dog. I gasped and smacked him on his arm.

“You drank a Pepsi didn’t you??”

“I had to, my stomach was getting upset from all this healthy crap you’re making me eat.”

After an exasperating first day of battling my husband’s impending doom, I was near tears by the time I explained to him that although there are times that I’d like to strangle him with my bare hands, more often than not I would prefer that he not die. I reminded him how much the children and I love and depend on him and how important it is for him to stay healthy, both for himself and for us. Brian sheepishly nodded, hugged me, and promised to try harder to get healthy.

And he stayed true to his word. In the days that followed Brian kept his portion sizes moderate and ate healthier choices, with a few treats here and there of course. He even managed to stretch his pack a Marlboros to last him two days instead of one, a great first step of the many that I hope to come.

Brian has proven his inner strength to me countless times before and I have faith that he will continue to make me proud. He knows deep in his butter-filled heart that he needs to make changes to keep himself alive and healthy so that he can watch his children grow up and so that he can continue to battle me until a ripe old age. I know that I can’t force these changes on him—his life is his own to journey to navigate—but I will be there alongside him to hold his hand for the ride and cheer on his successes.  

To see more hilarious comics by J-Sto, please visit

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and the Beach

Nothing says summer like a day at the beach. After living in Florida for many years, the rocky patches of sand around the lakes of Ohio do not quite meet my definition of “beach,” but I’ve learned to make due with what is available. Plus, the kids don’t know any better and think the lake shores are a veritable tropic paradise. However, my days of lounging lazily in the sun are long gone: with five kids in tow, a trip to the beach is anything but relaxing.

I make a point to never tell my children we’re going to the beach until it’s time to leave; revealing such exciting information too soon renders them unable to locate sunglasses, pack bags, or do anything other that squeal and run around in circles. So I wake up early and tiptoe around, stowing sun block, beach towels and other telltale items away in the car before anyone is awake to witness it. Then I fill our cooler with snacks and drinks, silently placing small handfuls of ice in one at a time to avoid making too much noise, and hoist it into the back of the Suburban. By the time my first child awakes all beach paraphernalia has been hidden from sight and I am sitting on the edge of the bathtub shaving my legs.

My six year old daughter, Brileigh, stumbles sleepily into the bathroom to see what I’m doing and her face lights up as she spots my razor in hand.

“Wake up! Mommy’s shaving her legs! We’re going to the beeeeeeach!!!!”

So much for discretion. I guess the key to keeping our destination a secret is to retain my wooly mammoth status at all costs.

The rest of the crew wakes up with start and there is a whirlwind of shedded pull-ups and pajamas as everyone clamors to change into their swimsuits and hop into the car. Forget breakfast, forget cartoons, it’s beach time. After a rushed last minute attempt at locating last season’s plastic buckets, shovels and sand toys in our black hole of a basement, we abandoned the search in favor at stopping at Wal-Mart along the way.

I ran into the crowded superstore and headed straight for the seasonal department only to discover that there wasn’t a summer item left in sight. Rows and rows of notebooks, pens and loose leaf paper stocked the shelves along with book bags, pencil boxes and—ya gotta be kidding me—Halloween candy? I located an employee, certain that I had overlooked something, but he assured me that summer toys were long gone in preparation for Back to School. It was the first week of July! I hadn’t even finished unpacking their bookbags from their last day of school yet!

Five eager children were waiting for me back at the car and I knew that returning empty handed would result in those children being “bored” at the beach, which would undoubtedly become my problem. Thinking quickly I bought a large box of generic Tupperware containers of all different shapes and sizes, as well as a bundle of plastic cooking utensils to use as shovels and sifters. I received a few strange looks when I returned to the car, but our unorthodox sand toys ended up creating some of the coolest sand creations ever.

Upon arriving at the beach all five children immediately ran for the edge of the water assuming (correctly) that their belongings would be unpacked and neatly laid out for them when they returned. They collected shells and ran from the surf as my husband and I lugged coolers, laid out blankets and located all ten flip-flops that led haphazardly down to the waters edge.

When I couldn’t put it off any longer I sighed and dug the large bottle of sunscreen out of my bag. Grabbing the first kid that vaguely resembled me, I held him in a leg lock while I slathered white sticky cream all over his wiggly body. All the sand in a six foot radius seemed to lift from the ground and seek out my child’s arms and legs before he ever stepped foot off of the blanket. Within minutes he looked like human sandpaper and I had to wonder whether it was the sunscreen that really prevented sunburn or the layer of rock and debris stuck to him that was blocking the rays. By the time I repeated the process four more times my own shoulders were burned to a crisp and the kids were making their first pleas of hunger.

Despite the fact I wiped off their hands before passing out the PB&Js, the crunch of sand being mashed into little teeth could be heard all around. The baby entertained herself by dipping her banana into the sand and taking a bite before we could wrestle it off of her. I watched as she chewed it with a puzzled expression, swallowed and reached over to attempt this crunchy treat again.

After lunch my husband took the older kids into the water while I played in the sand with the little ones. For a moment I admired how precious their little fat rolls looked bulging out under their bathing suits; then I realized with dismay that I was sporting a similar look without nearly such desirable results.

My family and I spent the remainder of the afternoon building elaborate sand creations for our children to crash through, watching the baby chase seagulls, and laughing as the older kids attempted and failed at a game of hide-and-go-seek on the flat expanse of beach. Once the sun began to melt into the horizon and the breeze took on a cooler edge, we packed up our sandy blankets and our sun-kissed babies and began the long drive home again with enough memories (and enough sand) to last us until next summer.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and Vacation Bible School

At the risk of losing my membership to the “Large Family Club,” I must admit that I am not especially religious. I wish I could claim that the Lord led me to be fruitful and multiply like my more notable large family counterparts, but in reality my plentiful offspring are more attributable to our love of children combined with shoddy birth control practices and cheap wine.

This certainly is not to say that I don’t believe in God. I do. I believe in a God and I believe that we are supposed to be good, honest loving people. I’m just a little fuzzy on the technicalities of it all. I’m doing my best to start my children off with a firm religious foundation so that if they grow up to become cynical adults, they will at least know what they are skeptical of. My master plan is to start them off with good old mainstream Christianity and then encourage them to study a variety of Eastern and Western religious as they get older so that they can make their own decision about how to worship and why.

But for now, while they are in their tender Bible-story loving years, we have settled into an extremely relaxed, extremely accepting Nazarene church that suits us quite well. I’d like to say that we are in our seats every Sunday but, realistically, our attendance waxes and wanes depending on what activities we’re involved in, how much snow is on the ground or how comfy our beds are on Sunday morning. However there is one activity that we look forward to and participate in every year without fail: Vacation Bible School.

Unlike many churches, our vacation bible school takes place in the middle of a neighborhood—my neighborhood to be exact, in the adjoining backyards of my two best friends. While many of our fellow parishioners drive their children over to participate in the fun, the majority of our 50 or so attendees come from within our own neighborhood. Most do not attend our church, or any church for that matter, they are just the friends and neighbors that play on our streets every day. These kids come from various backgrounds, economic conditions and lifestyles, and this unbiased outreach is what makes our VBS the most beautiful thing I’ve ever witnessed.

Our neighborhood is already a tight knit community. We know each other and the abundance of kids who frequent our porches and form kickball games in our yards, so our annual VBS is simply a natural extension of that. Many families who would not normally participate in a church activity feel comfortable enough with us and the surroundings to send their children over to join in the fun. After all, it’s the same yards they would be congregating in anyway. The children enjoy getting together for some structured play time and the moms enjoy a few hours to themselves each morning. What’s not to love?

For those of us who participate behind the scenes the ambiance is slightly more frenzied. My love of theatrics (otherwise known as my penchant for melodrama) landed me in charge of the daily skit. Two fifteen-minute skits each day for five days is a surprising amount of work for my rusty old brain. Not that I’m complaining—playing the zany characters in front of my children and their friends is the highlight of my year. The children are mesmerized, they receive a great lesson on being good people, and it strengthens our relationship as neighbors. A child who remembers seeing me play a befuddled detective or a super-powered mechanic now might be comfortable enough to come to my home in times of need as a teenager.

The fun doesn’t end at the acting. The children spend the rest of the morning moving from station to station to make crafts, hear stories and eat snacks, with each station being manned by a different adult from their own community who they see everyday. We sing songs, dance, play games and end each year with an enormous slip n’ slide free-for-all. Nothing pleases a crowd of 3-to-12-year-old children more than seeing their friends’ mom or dad catapult down the slip n’ slide fully clothed.

It’s bittersweet when our week of festivities finally ends. While the preparation and time commitment is exhausting for the adults, it’s an enjoyable experience and extremely rewarding to connect with our children and their peers. After a day or two of recuperating, we find ourselves missing the fun and fellowship that VBS provides.

It’s a tremendous amount of work to put together such a large organized production in a couple of small backyards and garages but the fruits of our labor are apparent in the weeks and months that follow. Our week spent together influences the neighborhood children to play a little more kindly with each other, to treat the adults with a little more respect and to seek out ways to help in the community. We hear the kids still singing the well-known VBS songs all through the winter and kids from several streets away light up when they recognize the mom who helped them make their craft or the dad who organized the balloon relay.

Our simple little VBS strengthens our community in ways that branch out to affect all of us, regardless of religious background or lack thereof. It strengthens our friendships with our neighbors, which makes our streets safer for our kids to play. It teaches compassion, empathy, and love to the children, some of whom may live in environments devoid of those lessons. If our activities keep them out of trouble even just for those five mornings, then it’s worth the effort. But I know it’s more than that. It also instills a sense of community in all of our children so that hopefully someday, when then are grown and scattered throughout neighborhoods of their own, they will think back fondly to these summers and want to reach out in their own backyards. When all is said and done, when you take away the symbols, and the rituals, I think reaching out to others in love is the essence of what any religion is about.

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Monday, August 8, 2011

Surviving Brileigh and The Song

Today my 6-year-old daughter Brileigh approached me with a request that I write down a song she created. I’m not entirely certain why she needed me to write it down considering that she already had it memorized (since, essentially she was making it up off the top of her head) never mind the fact that she doesn’t know how to read yet anyway. But I did my duty, carefully transcribing each heartfelt word onto the paper, making sure to take it all as seriously as she obviously did, even when she belted out such gems as: “When you sing, very just like you, just like you.” From what I’ve gathered, the foundation of any good love song penned by a 6-year-old is to use the word “love” as frequently as possible, talk about eyes in every line, and repeat verses often to allow for soulful bellowing. She then thought for a moment before carefully choosing the title "Songs Very Much". Perfect. 

After I was done she grabbed the lyrics and intently stared at the paper as she sang the song back to me, slightly different than the first time and not at all what was written in front of her. She was so moved by her own melodramatic words that by the time she finished her voice was cracking and she had tears in her eyes. (Have I mentioned recently how much I’m dreading her teenage years?)

Clutching the next Billboard hit in her tiny hand, she anxiously ran towards the door claiming she wanted to sing it to Tony and his friends, who were playing—er, *ahem* “hanging out” on the porch.


“Tony and his friends” consisted of about a dozen 6-12 year old neighborhood kids. All boys. All crass, macho, immature boys who may have secretly enjoyed the song one-on-one but in a furor of pack mentality, they would undoubtedly point and laugh as heartily as if someone ripped one in the lunch room. Sending my poor girl into the testosterone-infused crosshairs of a gang of prepubescent boys to bear her little emotional soul was not a good idea. Luckily I was able to convince her that a bunch of stinky boys couldn’t possibly be ready for such an inspirational outpouring of true love. After pondering it for a moment, she agreed and instead asked me to record her singing it and upload it to Facebook so she could have a real music video.   

With a strong desire to show my friends the hilarity that I’d been subjected to I eagerly obliged her request. I grabbed my camera and we shut ourselves into Brileigh’s bedroom in an attempt to block out the never ending ruckus that is my home. However, the instant we shut the door the baby threw a fit that she wasn’t a part of our little powwow. On top of that, once Brileigh began to sing the dog started barking frantically at what he surely thought was the sound of a small animal being tortured. But my girl sang her heart out over the cacophonous background singers, maintaining the somber dignity that the song deserved.

Once we finished filming and I began the long process of uploading a video clip to my Facebook page, Brileigh ran out of the house to begin networking like a pro. She ran up and down the street, visiting our neighbor friends and informing them that her song would be up any minute and she hoped they would check it out. A few times she even sang a snippet to bait them and leave them wanting more. That’s my girl! You’ve gotta love her entrepreneurial spirit.

She came home as it finished processing, eager to watch her big internet debut. I hesitated for a moment, wondering what she would think once she heard her recorded voice. While it was most certainly melodic perfection in her head, the tone was a little rougher once it came out of her mouth. But I played the minute-long clip and she watched herself, riveted, with a smile spread across her face. Once it was over she took in a deep melodramatic sigh, closed her eyes, declared that it was “beautiful,” and ran off to play.

Sometimes I’m not sure what to make of my eldest daughter. Even at her young age her emotions run so deep. It’s almost impossible not to laugh at her histrionic displays, but to do so would crumple her fragile vulnerability that I love so much, so I do my best to take her seriously. I can’t imagine what the next decade will hold once hormones enter the picture to enflame her emotions and create a perfect storm of teenage angst. I’m glad to have the video clip we created today to remind me of a time in her life when her self confidence led her to sing with reckless abandon in front of an endless crowd and her precious innocence was strong enough to let her know it was the most beautiful sound in the word. 

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and Football

Around this time last year I signed up my 6-year-old son, Tony, for his first year of tackle football. I gripped the pen and hesitated before submitting the papers and forking over a painful amount of money. It felt as if I was sending my boy away to boot camp or prison, not peewee football. All summer I had second guessed my decision to let him play; I feared for his safety, I worried that my baby would be scared out of the field with those big tough 7- and 8-year-olds running after him, but most of all I was worried that I’d cry and charge the field the first time he got knocked over. Which was exactly why I needed to let him do it.

The burly coach addressed the parents at orientation and described the practice schedule; four nights a week, two hours per night, plus games. Are you kidding me?  After a couple seasons of Little League, practicing an hour a week, this seemed absurd. But this isn’t Little League. He explained the types of pads, mouth guards and protective gear they would need: thigh pads, hip pads, butt pads, knee pads. What exactly were they going to do to my boy? The whole way home in the car Tony was smiling ear to ear and I was on the verge of tears.

The first day of practice the new football mommies hovered around our baby boys nervously until we were banished to the sidelines and instructed to stay off the field and away from the boys. Oh God, this was worse than his first day of school! We parked our folding chairs alongside the veteran parents and watched helplessly as our boys were turned into little men before our very eyes. They worked those boys hard. Up and down the hill in the summer sun, pushups, sit ups, drills, drills, and more drills. If they messed up, they ran laps; if they were late, they ran laps; if they talked with their buddies while the coach was talking, they got a stern reprimand and then ran laps. The coaches didn’t sound like the Mr. Rogers-type coaches of soccer season—they yelled, they growled, they pushed, they barked—they got results.

And then… equipment came in. The first time I suited my son up in his bulging shoulder pads and helmet, a lump formed in my throat. It was precious, hilarious, and terrifying all at the same time. Only identifiable by his chicken-like legs poking out of his knee-length jersey, my little boy instantly transformed into a fun-size NFL linebacker. Our newly padded up guys took to the practice field and within moments the first crack of a tackle resonated around the sidelines, sending chills up my spin in an oddly thrilling way. One by one the players took their first turn trying out a tackle, with my 45-pound son making his way closer and closer to the front. When Tony’s turn came I watched through squinted eyes as my precious first born child and only son got splattered across the grass in one swift elegant pummel. I held my breath for what help like ages until he hopped to his feet and flashed me a smile visible from across the field. He gave me a quick thumbs up, undoubtedly knowing how upset I would be, and ran to the back of the line to anxiously await his next turn. He survived, I survived. Game on.

Practice continued nightly, through scorching heat waves and torrential downpours. The only way Mother Nature could stop these boys from playing was with lightning, which rarely happened. Each evening our boys were returned to us sweaty, covered in mud and on an adrenaline high that kept them riled up long past bedtime. With each week of practice I grew more familiar with the unique ways of the youth football world. It was unlike any other youth sport that we had participated in; it was more work, more money and way, way more excitement. By day we were telling our boys to settle down and be good, by night we were screaming at them to hustle hard and bust some heads. As our players became more agile and adept athletes, we began to feel that we were watching a legitimate adult team—at least until a player broke from the pack to come have his mommy help untie his pants so he could go potty. Their chants started to come from deeper voices, they stood a little taller and their eyes stared a little more intently through their helmets, contemplating the complexities of the play rather than watching cartoons like many of their friends.

Our first Game Day arrived and was played at a real high school football stadium. Parents filled the stands wearing their sons’ jersey number, hot dogs were roasting at the concession stand and play-by-plays were announced over the loud speaker amid music to rile up an already excited crowd. Our formerly hyperactive puppy-boys solemnly took the field with focused, menacing chants and puffed up chests. There was anxiety but no fear, energy but no silliness. The formerly timid boys now embodied the Spartans that were emblazoned on the jerseys that they wore with pride.

I don’t really remember who won or lost that first game, and it hardly matters; once each game ended the boys were far more interested in their free slice of pizza than the scoreboard. In their minds, they came and they conquered every time. Over the course of the season our peewee boys did well, making it all the way to the last round of playoffs before the insanely adorable “Superbowl.” But more importantly than the scores, our boys grew in ways that we hadn’t anticipated. They learned to give their all physically and mentally, to respect authority, and to problem solve on the fly. They bonded with their teammates a manner that is only achievable by going through the rigors of conditioning together, and they adored their coaches—the ones who had pushed, guided and supported them through the toughest times—with a reverence that many of the most unruly boys didn’t have for their own parents.

When football season began again two weeks ago, the thrill was already in the air. The parents reunited with shrieks and hugs, connected by a bond that cemented friendships in even the most unlikely pairings. I sat back on the sidelines watching the new first year moms circle their sons nervously on the field, and I understood exactly what they were feeling. But I also knew that the next few months would mold and grow their children in ways that nothing else could. The boys huddled together and greeted each other with macho fists bumps and high fives. Many were meeting back up with their closest friends, despite the fact that they only know each other by last name. They wrestled around and playfully insulted each other before donning their helmets and taking a knee before the coach.  They are our little boys; they are budding athletes; they are the Boys of Fall.

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and a Walk in the Park

After a particularly frenzied week, my husband and I decided that we needed a relaxing activity to soothe our fried nerves, reunite our family from the pulls of multiple activities and exercise our poor stir-crazy dog, Ozzy. A simple Sunday afternoon walk in the park seemed to fit the bill; what better way to get unplugged, in touch with nature and refreshed?

We piled the kids in the car and then whistled for our six-month-old Shepard/Akita puppy to join us. Car rides are a rare treat for Ozzy, and he leapt into the back of our Suburban with a big sloppy happy-puppy grin on his face. We grabbed the leash, a couple of poo bags and several bottles of water to combat the 90 degree heat and we were on our way.

By the end of our street it became apparent that Ozzy had grown considerably since his last car ride, and he was now able to easily jump over the back row of seats into our seating area. It didn’t take long for him to realize that for once we were the ones who were restrained while he got to walk around freely. Every dog’s dream, I’m sure. He excitedly paced back and forth over the kids’ laps, squishing them beneath his massive paws and whacking their faces with his tail, stopping only to take advantage of the opportunity to slurp the baby’s face while she couldn’t get away. Eventually he climbed his way to the front of the car, spun around in a circle and plopped his fifty pounds of hair and slobber directly onto my lap. Did I mention it was 90 degrees? How about the fact that we have no air conditioning in the car? Feel bad for me yet?

With my arms pinned under Ozzy’s weight, his doggy drool was free to stream down my legs un-wiped and his thick fur flew around the car, sticking to my sweaty face. While the car wove up and down the roads, luckily Ozzy was able to steady himself by digging his claws into my skin and bracing his fuzzy butt up against my neck. Good thing, too. I sure wouldn’t want him to be uncomfortable.

We arrived at the park relatively unscathed, strapped the baby into her stroller and set off down the paved trail. The thick trees formed a canopy above us, blocking out much of the sun and dropping the temperature considerably. The slight breeze, chirping birds and babbling stream running along side us made for a picture perfect afternoon and lifted all of our spirits immediately.

The children stayed a few paces ahead, holding hands while they skipped and giggled, pointing out birds and chasing butterflies. Ozzy marched proudly beside Brian while I pushed Lacey in her stroller. Delaney waved at every passerby with a witty greeting and strangers stopped to compliment us on our impeccable family. At one point rainbows sprung out from behind the trees while doves serenaded us and fish splashed us with cool refreshing water. OK, maybe not, but it was an utterly perfect moment.

As we passed each quarter-mile marker Brian asked if I was ready to turn around and head back yet. No way! This was too perfect, everyone was so happy and relaxed there was no way I wanted to go back to that hot box of a car yet. So we continued on.

About a mile into our walk I heard the first “I’m tiiiiiired, my feet don’t want to walk anymore!” and decided that it was probably time to turn around before we got too far away with fussy kids. Too late. The complaints caught on like wild fire and soon even Lacey, who was riding leisurely in her stroller, cool drink in hand, was yelling “Tired! Tired!” along with her cohorts.  “I’m hungry! Did we bring snacks?” “I’m out of water!” “I have to go potty!” “I think I lost my shoe awhile back.” We walked faster and faster to get back to the car, which only enflamed the complaints.

In an effort to accommodate the smaller children we traded tasks, leaving me walking the dog, Brileigh pushing the stroller and Brian carrying a pouty Delaney on his shoulders. At that moment Ozzy, who had remained quiet and polite until then, decided that he really needed to run over and visit the extremely large Rottweiler walking in the opposite direction. The unexpected jolt sent me flying off my feet behind my pup with only my slippery flip-flops to stall him. Brian grabbed Ozzy right before he became an appetizer to Cujo and demoted me back to baby-carrier.

In all of the commotion it took a moment for me to notice that Ainsley was a few steps behind munching on a Ritz cracker. When I questioned her about the snack that seemed to materialize out of thin air she replied “Don’t worry mommy, I found it on the road.” Oh good, cause I was worried it would be something gross.

Tony took the edge off his boredom by torturing Brileigh, who in turn screeched like, well, a six-year old girl being tortured by her brother. Ainsley was pouting over the cracker I had wrestled out of her hand and my back was straining under the weight of Delaney, who struggled to climb higher and higher around my neck.

By the time the car came into our view, three of us were in full blown tears. (I’ll spare my husband the embarrassment of naming names.)  The walk that had started out so fabulously had quickly unraveled into exactly the kind of catastrophe that we were trying to get a break from.  I was frustrated that we couldn’t get through a single family activity without complaints, I was angry that the kids were misbehaving, and I was annoyed at the discovery that I can no longer walk without getting a friction burn from my thighs rubbing together.

As I was packing the stroller back into the trunk a woman approached me, stating that she had been walking behind us for some time now. I felt my face flush, sure that she was going to have some comment about the spectacle that our outing had turned into. Instead she informed me, with tears in her eyes, that she has a family much like ours, with a son and five daughters all close in age. She introduced me to one of her daughters, now grown, and thanked me for letting her relive the “good times” for a little bit. She reminded me that it goes fast and to enjoy every minute before disappearing to her own car.

It’s amazing to me how messages can come from unexpected places exactly when we need them most. Whether delivered by coincidence, fate, or a higher power, the end result is the same. I climbed back into my car with my crying children, nestled our slobbery beast back into my lap, and smiled at our wonderful afternoon. 

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