Twelve Annoying Things (My) Kids Do

October 20, 2011
  1. Walk one centimeter behind me.
  2. Use markers in a manner which is potentially harmful to the walls and furniture.
  3. Fake cry. They think it’s hilarious.
  4. “Help” by “refolding” the laundry. I let this one go because I feel like one day it will turn into actual helping by actually folding the laundry, but I can barely breathe I’m so stressed out while the unfolding/bad refolding is going on in its current incarnation.
  5. If everything is going well, someone seems to hurt themselves in a random, self-inflicted way (e.g., whipping around a rope, which then whips the whipper in the eye), which leads to the need for five minutes of patting and soothing.
  6. Climb into my lap while I am trying to type.
  7. While I am cleaning up one room, they are making a mess in another room.
  8. Wake me up in the middle of the night to tell me they just peed in the toilet.
  9. Ask me, at 6:55 a.m., “What’s for dinner tonight?”
  10. If I am thinking adult thoughts for the first time all day, all four will suddenly want me to make them food.
  11. Make a mess, and then when I ask them to clean it up, say, “It wasn’t only me! They helped too! It’s not fair! I’m not gonna clean it up all by myself!” and then sit down and read a book.
  12. Say “Help me with this! I need help!” and then as I stop what I’m doing and am 6 inches from them, say, “Oh! I got it! Never mind.”

And still, I love them, and think they are super cute and fun and funny.

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CATEGORIES: Bad Kids, Julie, Parenting

Too Much Choclate Chips

September 6, 2011

I’m really trying to work on getting the kids to let me talk on the phone. I know, to them, it’s completely perplexing for me to walk around with a plastic thing held up to my face, shushing them. Still. It’s amazing how they’ll all be completely fine and then the minute I pick up the phone, they all start screaming and crying. I don’t even say, “Hello?” anymore, but just let the collective kid wail indicate that yes, I am here, and you can start talking, but I probably won’t be able to hear you. It’s amusing to the people I talk to on the phone the most (my mom and Dave), but not so much people calling to confirm dental appointments.

So, Henry, being the oldest, mostly understands what he’s supposed to do if I’m on the phone. But sometimes he feels like he really has an urgent message to convey, so he’ll bring me a note. This one is my favorite, not only for the content, but also for the fact that he clearly first just wrote “Eli’s eating chocolate chips” and then decided to make it more important by adding in “too much.”

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CATEGORIES: Henry

What Happened When My Computer Caught a Virus (or, a Pioneer Life Thrust Upon Me)

April 29, 2010

My computer caught a virus a few weeks ago – a nasty one that pretended to be antivirus software, continually opened windows and pop-ups, and which directed any web browsing to discount Taiwanese shopping sites. I turned the computer off once it started loaded some kind of porn onto my desktop.

When I took it in to be fixed, the computer guy asked if there were any files I needed them to get me right away. There weren’t. If this had happened at a different time – if I was still in school, or if I hadn’t done our taxes – I would have been much more panicky. But, as Dave pointed out, the more you do on a computer, the more trouble it can cause you. I think I was ready for a break.

The virus had also corrupted my operating system, and so a week without a computer stretched into two. And I have to say, other than being out of the loop with all the people I only communicate with by email, it was great. Also at this same time one of our cars needed a bunch of work done to pass inspection, so while that was in the shop, Dave took the other car to work and I had no car and no computer. I felt like I should make my own bayberry candles and put up preserves. My world shrank around me, and rather than being claustrophobic, it was freeing.

On one of the first computer- and car-free days, I was making dinner early while Zuzu napped. I felt an incredible urge to call someone – anyone – to have someone jabbering in my ear while I peeled potatoes. I didn’t, though, and let my mind wander while I cooked. How much time do I spend surfing the internet to avoid thinking about my life? A lot.

Even on days where I didn’t get much done, I got a lot done. When there’s no internet to run to every 20 minutes, you can fold laundry, wipe down the bathroom, and make dinner early. You can clean your desk, on which you’ll find all manner of important buried paperwork.

When there’s no internet, you can also look your child in the eye. How long have I been talking to the kids while staring at a monitor? Eli, our spirited boy, was noticeably calmer. And, really, so was I. Having no computer meant that a huge chunk of my day – let’s be honest: hours of my day – was suddenly free. So I did the housework and the meals and everything else, but with that much more time to do it, I wasn’t rushed. So when Eli needed something, I could help him. Or I could get him to help me. He can help me cook and clean, but he can’t really help me cruise the internet.

I can’t believe that it’s taken me this long to realize it: being on the internet is not “me” time. It’s time spent in a mildly frantic state searching for me time, but mostly just reading other peoples’ writing. Which is good a lot of the time, and interesting sometimes, but not particularly vital. I can read other peoples’ writing with those books and magazines and newspapers I have. And I could have more time to do writing of my own.

So, friends, I’m stepping back (you knew it was coming, didn’t you?). I’m soon to have a fourth baby, and while I need to focus on her, and the others, I also need to focus on me, and on Dave, and on grown-up, non-kid things. Idle surfing is focusing on other people, not on me. I also have gotten all in a tizzy with the idea of supplementarily homeschooling Henry and the others (that is, keeping him in public school, but adding to it more formally at home). There are so many subjects he wants to know more about that he’s not going to learn anytime soon at school, like biology, and Latin, and ancient history (and ok, yes, I was inspired by a blog, In Need of Chocolate, to do this, but still). So I’m excited to do the formal teaching and to really work on creating this little 4-pack of eggheads.

I’ve always wanted to meditate. I know it would be good for scattered, unfocused me. But I’ve never been able to make it work. There are just too many people and distractions in my house. The two weeks without a computer, though, I got a lot closer to meditative chunks of time, suddenly able to catch snippets of calm while doing dishes or folding laundry, or just sitting outside while the kids played in the yard. I was also able to let my mind wander in a way that makes me consider my life a lot more. This is something that doesn’t happen when the magnet pull of the computer calls me back every 20 minutes to see if anyone has emailed more, or if a new post has shown up on one of the many blogs I plugged into Google Reader.

My plan is to find a sweet spot during the day of uninterrupted time – a half hour or 45 minutes – when I turn the computer on, check email, do online banking, and buy anything I need to get (because what would I do without internet shopping? most of the time I really cannot be bothered to load everyone in the car and take them to a store). And then I’m going to turn the computer off. This will mean, clearly, a lot less blogging, if at all. Sorry. But I owe it to myself, my family, and my children, to be a responsible, calm, happy grownup. I realize this is all possible because I am lucky enough to be a stay-at-home mom, and that I was already somewhat disconnected electronically (I don’t have a cell phone, I don’t use Twitter…). But I do know that I wasted a lot of time maintaining a false connection to the outside world through this electronic computer box, and it’s time I maintained a real connection to my own self, for one.

CATEGORIES: Julie

On putting myself closer to the top of the list

March 19, 2010

So, yesterday you may have noticed Eli’s nice little cozy bed. It’s in what is currently our newly-redone attic. Dave spent months finishing our attic (best part: super-insulating the roof-line, which made such an enormous difference I can’t even tell you). This room is a masterpiece. It’s gorgeous (for some reason I can’t find a “before” picture, but you can get a small idea by looking at the top photo in my cardboard stool post). It’s such a lovely retreat. And I lobbied — hard — for putting the kids up there.

My reasoning was that I really want them all to sleep in the same room, and that putting everyone in the attic would free up two rooms on the second floor, and how magical would it be to have two rooms that have no specific purpose? We could have a craft room! Or…or… a meditation room! (Um, not that we ever meditate.) Or a reading nook!

Dave lobbied for the attic to be our room, on the basis of needing our own sanctuary. Everyone else pretty much argued in favor of this as well. Sometimes (a lot of the time) if everyone is arguing for the thing I’m arguing against, I just dig in my heels and argue harder. To my credit, I do think putting the kids in the attic has merit. Dave agreed, at some point, and when the room was done (beginning of February), we moved them in.

Half the room is for their beds, the other half is a toy/play area. It works great. Until midnight. Then Zuzu wakes up and yells, “Ma! Ma!” and I run upstairs and sleep with her. At 3:00 I go back downstairs. At 3:20 she yells for me again. At 5:00 Eli wakes up to pee, goes down to the second floor bathroom, and slams the door. Then he goes upstairs and yells for someone to cuddle with him. When we refuse, he stomps around. And then we’re all up. Every night we tell him he has to sleep in after he gets up to pee, and every morning he stomps around angrily (which is crazy loud from the second floor).

Two weeks ago Dave and I talked about switching the rooms (so that we would go in the attic), so at least Eli’s stomping wouldn’t be so loud. I still wasn’t totally on board, and the work involved in switching the rooms kept us at the status quo. Then, last Saturday, as I lay there in Zuzu’s bed angrily whispering to Eli that he needed to get the hell back in bed, the whole Thing of the situation finally sunk in.

I wanted the kids to have the awesome room. They weren’t sleeping, and they had already started their customary practice of trashing the room itself (a particularly gruesome block-throwing incident stands out). Why couldn’t I have the awesome room? We’re the grownups — we should have the best room, right? I mean, yeah, there are logistical reasons why having the children all in the big attic room might make sense, but they failed the trial period. Suddenly, I wanted the room. A lot. I wanted the sanctuary. The adult space.

Of course now there are about 17 steps that need to happen before we can move them downstairs (getting them all in one room so we can paint and finish the trim-that-never-happened in our current bedroom), but we’re moving ahead with it. I ordered them some super cute quilts which will hopefully make the transition less traumatic to them. The plan is to put Henry, Eli, and Zuzu in Dave and our current bedroom, and to make the boys’ old bedroom into a playroom. I hope we can get it all done before the baby is born (9.5 more weeks!). But having an adult sanctuary space will be a whole, new thing for me, and hopefully signals a New Era of not waiting on the royalty hand and foot and getting them to polish my crown every once in a while (suddenly I have a massive fear that “polish my crown” is some kind of dirty euphemism).

Am I articulating this properly? For six-and-a-half years I’ve been trying to figure this all out, and have been falling heavily on the path of doing whatever my kids want. The result is happy kids and total household chaos. We’re about to add a fourth kid to this, and it has. to. stop. Dave and I need to be the alpha dogs. I have really been working on child self sufficiency (“You can get a glass of milk yourself”). The next big (BIG) step is child self entertainment. Sometimes it works, but with Eli and Zuzu it’s a lot harder (Henry thrives on it, most of the time). But situations where I am telling Eli I need to do the taxes, and he is shouting, ” No! No! No!” right in my ear have to stop.

Do any of you have a situation where you tell your kids to do (or not do) something, and for the most part they listen? How do you balance kid freedom with parental freedom?

I have been giving my life away to the children, and that’s not helping any of us. I’m ready to take it back.

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CATEGORIES: Julie, Parenting

My secret agreement with the UPS man

November 11, 2009

So this is the kind of parent I’ve become: I notice that the giant box of diapers has come from Diapers.com, and I carefully herd the children upstairs to bed so that they don’t see it. Then I fall asleep while putting Zuzu to bed, but manage to drag myself up so that I can open the giant box, put all the diapers away, and put the giant box into the recycling. Because heaven forbid they should play with a box.

Listen, they play with the box, and they have a great time. But they become attached to it, and it sits right in the middle of our not-very-big living room. And at some point someone starts stabbing at it with scissors to make “windows” and then there are little bits of cardboard everywhere. Also they like to use the diaper packages as giant building blocks, and at some point the packages get ripped open and there are diapers everywhere. So I am always very motivated to get that diaper box squared away before anyone knows it existed. I am the Diaper Box Fairy.

I totally thought I’d be the kind of parent who would say, “Oh, kids! A giant box! What fun! Here are some markers! Would you like some cotton balls and glue?” Instead I’m hiding markers and boxes and getting mad because they don’t bus their plates.

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CATEGORIES: clutter, Parenting

What I Did on My Summer Break

September 8, 2009

And here’s what I learned on my self-imposed break from blogging, Facebooking, and mindless internetting:

Surprisingly, not being on the internet is just as addictive as being on it. Very quickly I began to love the days when I didn’t turn my computer on. I loved doing a 30-second scan of unread posts in Google Reader, and then clicking “Mark All As Read.” I read email, and then didn’t bother to reply. I did laundry, exercised, wiped down the kitchen counter more than once a day, and went on walks in the woods with my kids.

The thing is, though, that even with the computer turned off, there aren’t nearly enough hours in the day to get everything done. We’re really struggling, here, to live a full life that honors each of us and isn’t focused on any one thing, on just the kids, for instance. I don’t think we’re being unreasonable. But there is no way we can get it all done. It feels pretty screwed.

And the other thing is just my continuing realization that I’m never, ever alone. A lot of the time the children are quite literally dragging me down. Most of the time two of them are in the same room that I am, and often it’s all three. And they are all talking at once, or crying. So I’m faced with trying to figure out how to get all those things done, the things that I’m hoping will ensure, quite frankly, that I won’t regret my life, and while I’m doing it there are people talking at me. I’m not exaggerating about this. The time I get in a room all by myself each day is approximately one minute. I never get time in my house with no one else in it. Never.* There’s just too many of us.

And so I’ll continue to blog, and to read other people’s writings, because I need an adult perspective during the day, and, mostly, an escape. A week or so ago I got a new computer, and I haven’t installed the camera software yet. When I do, there’ll be lots to show you.

So the break was nice, and necessary, but not quite the cure-all elixir I’d hoped for.

*I really hesitated to put this bit in here because I worried it would make Dave look bad, like he’s not “giving me” time to myself, but please know that he’s the hardest working person on the planet and never rests and has even less time than I do.

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CATEGORIES: Julie

All this work and the tips are lousy

April 10, 2009

It has been a week of me feeling majorly resentful of my children. They are just so needy and that neediness is often accompanied by full-pitch whininess, and I’m sorry, how many years do you have to spend saying, “I can’t understand you when you whine” for them to stop whining? Because really, it’s been years at this point. I feel like I spend all day as this gravelly-voiced waitress doing my best New Jersey accent saying, “Oh, what’s that, honey? You didn’t want sauce on your meatballs? Let me rinse them off for you!” Though I don’t actually do the cigarette voice and the accent; things might be a bit more fun here if I did.

It seems like the way to effectively parent is to give your children nothing, to let them get all their own meals, dress themselves, and learn to read on their own because you’re not going to read to them. Because it’s like they remember that time, that one time last week when I got them lunch and dressed them and read them a book and now I swear they won’t leave me alone. I mean, come on! I made you food last Wednesday!

I really do want to strike a balance between Mommy and Julie, because I will just go walk right off a cliff if I’m only Mommy. Plus I want my kids to see me as Julie, not as their housemaid and nanny. But just as soon as I start to try to do something exciting for myself, like, you know, taxes or something, they start crawling up my nose and bringing One Morning in Maine with them.

Advice is appreciated.

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CATEGORIES: Parenting

Fun Mom Makes a Rare Appearance

March 5, 2009

I find that kids think it’s hilarious if you act like an idiot. The other day I was in a pretty good mood, and the boys were on the kitchen counter and wanted cinnamon milk. Cinnamon milk is a drinkable concoction they created that contains — are you ready? — cinnamon and milk. It’s their version of chocolate milk, I guess. So I poured out the milk, and then suddenly decided to be a fun mom.

“What do I add next?” I asked. They told me to add cinnamon. I took out the baking powder. “Cinnamon!” I announced. “Nooooo!” they screamed. I took out the corn starch, the cumin, the salt, the vanilla, and they laughed harder each time, as I continued to act like a cinnamon-stupid buffoon. I finally brought out the cinnamon, and then pretended I didn’t know how to open it, tapping it against the counter like an egg, trying to shake it into the glasses without taking the top off. They were literally shrieking with laughter and I felt like a rock star.

Finally, cinnamon milk was made, and I started to do the dishes. “You were being funny!” Henry said with appreciation. “I know,” I said. Then, in perfect unison, they both said, “Why were you being funny?” The unspoken context was totally, “Because usually you’re a top-notch bitchqueen.” Sigh.

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CATEGORIES: Parenting

More mess, piles of messes, big messes, little messes. Make it stop!

January 22, 2009

You know it’s bad when you have the urge to stop in the middle of dealing with your children, say, “Wait right here!” and go consult all your parenting self-help books. What exactly was I supposed to do? I hadn’t slept at all the night before, between teething Zuzu and continues-to-scream-out-for-me-every-night Eli. The boys were playing together fairly well, but their playing seemed to consist of making a giant mess and then moving on to trash the next room. I suddenly felt like (once again) we had way too much Stuff, and it just got thrown around everywhere, and all the kids do all day is make demands on me and Dave and then whine if they don’t get their way (Henry actually said, at one point, “I command you to read me a book!”).

So then they totally deconstructed their bed, unmaking the whole thing, including pulling off the very-heavy memory foam mattress pad. And they upended the rocking chair for good rock star measure. And I completely lost it. It was so much the last straw, and I was so tired, but you know? Even if I wasn’t tired, it was still totally not ok to just trash a room so much that you can’t even open the door, and then leave.

I made some fairly unintelligible squawking burbles, and then just righted the rocking chair, sat down, closed my eyes, and sat (mostly because I didn’t feel like struggling again to open the door so I could go downstairs to all the parenting books). I breathed. I could think of two options. One was to take away some toys (just because this is my default). The other made more sense: make them clean up their mess.

So I called them back in and told them they’d have to clean it all up, to remake the bed. It took them three hours. Sometimes I’d sit with them and talk them through it, other times I’d have to leave because I felt like my head was about to explode. Three times I got so annoyed by their lack of motivation and seeming lack of caring that I got a plastic bag and filled it with toys (saying something about “if you won’t respect my things, I won’t respect yours”). Which seems heartlessly cruel now, but at the time seemed like I was letting them off easy (like my only other choice was to sell them on the street corner). (Ok, and in my defense, most of the toys I got rid of were baby toys that we would be getting rid of soon anyway, but I also included this horrible noisy fire station and a Popeye lunchbox which serves no purpose in my mind, though Eli does like to put things in it sometimes. We’ll see if I take out the fire station before I unload these toys.)

Three hours. They were literally in the room the whole time, alternately whining and rolling around in the comforter and just chatting with each other. What kills me is I’m not even sure if I made an impression with any of this. It’s highly possible that they could repeat the entire episode today.

And part of me knows they were just playing around, and having a good time together, but my current rant is something about “there are five people in this family, and I have enough to do taking care of my own stuff, I can’t do everyone else’s too!” I know they say that kids have to try a new food 15 times before they like it; how many times do you have to ask them to clear their dinner dishes or put their pajamas in the hamper before they actually start doing it? I don’t expect them to do it after one time, but it’s been years at this point. Figuring in a margin of error surrounding being too young to comprehend what I’m saying, this gets them cleaning up after themselves in…what?…2018?

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CATEGORIES: Parenting

That's a big bowl of oatmeal, son

January 2, 2009

So sometimes your kid comes up to you with a ridiculous request, like, “I want oatmeal in the biggest bowl we have!” And sometimes you are feeling snippy and you sigh and sort of pretend you didn’t hear and give him oatmeal in a regular bowl. But then sometimes you slept a little more than usual and so you think, “Why not?” and you give him oatmeal in the biggest bowl you have. And yeah, he sort of thought you were going to fill the bowl, but he was so delighted that you actually gave him this giant bowl, that he didn’t even complain about the fact that there was the normal amount of oatmeal in there.

It just goes to show you: if you’re a cranky mom 95% of the time, your kids are totally psyched when you are a normal, pleasant person.

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