Friday, December 12, 2008

Raindrops on Roses....

These are a few of my favorite things!
Pardon my "Julie Andrews Moment", but I was just thinking about why I don't feel like it's Christmastime, yet.
Yup, I do not feel like the Season of Christ's Birth is upon us. It doesn't matter that my tree is trimmed, my nativity set is up, my stockings are hung, my gifts are bought, AND there is a couple of inches of snow on the ground. I'm doing all the things I've done to prepare every year since I was a child, but I still don't feel "Christmas-y".

So, after complaining to my dear husband about this odd feeling (and receiving only odd looks in response), I began to review EVERYTHING.

Am I depressed? Nope. There are no terrible worries tugging at my heart, or true sadness to be kept at bay.

Am I observing all the little traditions that have added to the holiday merriment over the years? Let's see: we light the Advent Wreath each Sunday night, we read from the Advent Book, we have made our special donations (monetary, materially, and spiritually) already, the baking has begun. So, yes, I'm "doing" all of it.

Also, I have been playing Christmas carols non-stop since November 1st (just ask my kids!), so it can't be that, either.

So, what the heck is wrong with me?

And, then it dawned on me: I have been battling a nasty head/chest cold for nearly 3 weeks now. Hence, I cannot smell anything! Not the lovely pine odor from our tree, not the heavenly aroma of the cookies baking, not even the comforting cinnamon candles!
There I was sitting on our couch trying to catch a whiff of our newly-chopped-down Christmas tree, and I couldn't smell anything! As odd as it sounds, it's a smell that I love to inhale every morning when I walk into our living room. It's the beginning of knowing that it's Christmas time, family time, a "love-ly" time.

When I discovered that I couldn't smell the tree, I began walking around the house, sniffing like a Bloodhound hot on the trail of a criminal.
Candles? The label says "Cinnamon-Apple", but I'm smelling dust.
The peppermint patties for a special cookie recipe? Not a hint of minty aroma.

Now, does this make me feel any better? Well, I don't feel like I'm losing my mind anymore, so that's a good thing.
But, I still can't "smell Christmas"!

Isn't it funny how you begin to realize that you experience life, memories, and nostalgia through more than just one or two of your 5 senses?
Irrational as it may seem, I know that whenever I hear a John Mayer song playing I immediately experience a powerful wave of nausea. Why? Because, when I was in my 1st trimester with my 4th child, Mayer's career was taking off and every radio station played his songs all day long. So, my brain associates the horrible morning sickness I was feeling with John Mayer (sorry John!).
So, while I was decorating and commemorating Christmas the way I always have done, one of my senses was being "left out", so my brain (maybe my psyche?) was not catching the full effect. Not only do my eyes, ears, and tongue tell me it's the holiday season.... so, does my nose!

So, I have 2 questions for you:
1) What are some of your favorite things at the holidays (any winter holiday will do!)?
2) Have you ever had a similar experience, where your *6th* sense told you that something
"off" with one of your other senses?

I can't wait to hear!

Oh, and have a very blessed and joyful holiday season!!

Monday, December 1, 2008

"Don't Sweat The Small Stuff!"

Recently, I was asked what I would entitle a reality show based on my family's day-to-day life and, immediately, this phrase came to mind: "Don't Sweat The Small Stuff!"
But, I'll come back to that later.

What prompted that question was another, even more interesting question: What do I think of reality shows about large families?
Hey, like a lot of moms out there, I am addicted to most of TLC's programming: Jon and Kate Plus 8, 17 Kids and Counting, etc. It's difficult not to get hooked!

To begin with, I believe these shows came about for the same reason Barnum & Bailey trotted out the Bearded Lady at every stop: Morbid Curiosity.
After all, in the last 20 years, larger (more than 4 children) families have become increasingly rare. People are curious as to the "how's" and "why's" of the large-family-dynamic. I, myself, like to see how other larger-than-average families handle daily life.

Shows like "Jon and Kate...", while fascinating, bother me, though. While I applaud Jon and Kate for accepting two groups of multiples (twins and sextuplets) into their lives, I disagree with many of they ways they choose to handle their marriage and their family.
For example, as much as Jon and Kate say that other couples speak to each other the way they do (i.e. RUDELY), it's unhealthy; it is disrespectful to your spouse and it sets a very bad example for your children. If you watch the show, then you know that they have at least one child who speaks to them like she owns them. They excuse/explain this behavior by attributing it to her personality. Really? Well, who has a major impact on the formation of personality? I'll tell you who: parents.
Also, while they qualify as a large family due to the sheer number of people, Jon and Kate readily admit that it was never their intention to have as many kids as they do. In fact, I have seen several episodes in which they are practically apologizing to their twins because they have six other siblings; (I'm paraphrasing here) "The older girls get frustrated by the little kids. It's not fair that they have to deal with them running around all the time".
Both parents seem constantly bothered and conflicted about how to parent their brood. Their attitude reflects the feeling that because there are "so many" kids, that each child is some how deprived of the material things that "normal" kids have.
They are trying to parent many kids as if they have only one or two kids. I'm going to go out on a limb and state that this approach won't work.
And, I haven't even touched on Kate's severe control issues (good luck with hormonal teens!) or Jon's tendency to sulk and mutter insults.
It probably sounds like I don't like Jon and Kate as people, let alone as a TV show. But, I DO think that if they were my neighbors, I'd have a good time chatting and visiting with them. I like watching their TV show and seeing the cute things the kids do and say. And, I realize that these episodes are brief, edited snapshots of their lives, not the complete picture. So, maybe I'm not being fair.

So, to keep things even, back to my still-in-the-works reality show...

What would viewers see every week?
More than a few messes, lots of laundry, sometimes Mom yelling, barking dog, kids fighting, kids playing, kids play-fighting, singing, eating, driving, sometimes Dad giving stern looks, laughing, and lots of love.

A house with two adults, five kids, and one dog can be hectic and crazy. In fact, it almost always is a little nuts around here!
But, it can also be very peaceful, soothing, and cheerful. And, that happens at least once a day, some days even more than once!

Because, over the years, and with the addition of each child, my husband and I have learned not to sweat the small stuff.
And, for us, it really was a learned behavior.
I had to learn to accept the fact that kids aren't mini-adults and almost always behave like children. I had to learn that I wouldn't be able to attend every social function to which I was invited. My husband had to learn that it's OK to leave a basket of laundry un-folded for more than 3 minutes. He had to learn that, in order to facilitate his children's friendships, he had to extend himself socially every once in a while.

In the grand scheme of things, these are just small things. They don't really amount to much when compared to the larger things in life, such as teaching children to be polite and loving to each other, making it to church every week, eating dinner together every night, grieving together openly when one member has passed on, and rejoicing together in one member's good fortune.

Hey, unlike Kate, I don't really care if my daughter gets her dress dirty as long as she was kind to her brother while she played with him. And, when my husband comes home from work and has to navigate his way through toys and books on the floor, he only sees the happy faces who are excitedly greeting him.

Now that I think of it, I don't really want all those cameras blocking my view of my flawed, but very loving family. So, all you TLC producers can just knock on another family's door!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Who's Your Baby-Mama?

Bet you thought I was talking about Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
Maybe Jerry Springer or Maury?
Wrong again!

Lately, when I hear the words, "baby-mama", a much different thought pops into my head. My nearly-16 month-old son has a fairly good vocabulary (doesn't walk yet, but he sure can tell us what he wants!). For the past couple weeks I have been enjoying his efforts to repeat the words he hears: "Nuh-Nana" for Banana, "Ming" for Swimming, "Mo-Uck" for his combination of a loud motor and a truck, "Hi Baby!" (this one is really clear and totally hilarious when he says it to strangers!).
He's getting to the point where he's willing to try more difficult sounds and even some short sentences, so yesterday I thought I'd try something sweet and meaningful: "I Love You".

Mom: "Hey, Buddy.... I LOVE YOU."

Baby Boy, nestling his head on my shoulder: "Baby-Mama."

Mom, a little more pointedly: "Sweetie, I LOVE YOU."

Baby Boy: "Baby-Mama!"

Mom: "I LOVE YOU. Now YOU say it!"

Baby Boy, snuggling close and smiling: "BABY-MAMA!"

And, then something clicked. Not for my son, but for me: "Baby-Mama" is the absolute best way he can think of to express what love means to him.

"Mama" was the first "home" that "Baby" was ever aware of, his safe nest. "Mama" was "Baby's" source of warmth, nourishment, and comfort before he was born and even now.

"Mama's" eyes are the eyes that "Baby" gazes into while he nurses.

"Mama's" hands are the hands that give "Baby" his favorite snacks and toys.

"Mama's" voice sings "Baby's" favorite song, "Baby Beluga", when he is tired or bored.

"Mama's" arms cuddle "Baby" to sleep at night.

Without words, from the time my son was aware of his existence, he learned what love meant from his mother. We all did.

What an awesome compliment my small child paid me yesterday. What a tremendously joyful obligation, as well.

What better way for my son to tell me he loved me, how much he loved me by saying these two simple words together: Baby-Mama.

So, why don't you call your Mama, and tell her, in your very special way: "Baby-Mama". She'll know just what you mean!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"Stop Yelling!", I yelled.


I can't stand it!

Especially when I'm trapped in a small area with the decibels reaching eardrum-rupturing levels.

For example, the other night our entire family (even our dog) were safely buckled into our SUV, on our way to our lake house. It's a two-and-a-half hour drive, but we hadn't even made it out of our village's borders when I had a Mommy Meltdown. It was big. It was bad. It was ugly. It was caused by....


It probably didn't help that I had spent the entire day doing laundry, cleaning the house, and packing up food and clothes for our weekend getaway. All these chores were "extra"; they were in addition to my regular chores of shuttling the 4 oldest kids to/from school, "regular" cleaning, and chasing a very active toddler.
It also didn't help that the dog picked that day to eat from the garbage can, and vomit her "plunder" all over the kitchen floor.
And, I wasn't overly-pleased that the afore-mentioned toddler learned how to open the lid on the toilet that day and give himself a lovely hair washing.

The cherry on the sundae was the fact that 3 members of the family were still recovering from a bad stomach flu, and my husband was showing all the signs of coming down with the same virus.

Still, we (stupidly) soldiered on and packed up the car.

Everybody was crabby, and I was no exception. At that point, I was probably fueling the fire.

"The DVD player isn't ready to go with a movie already playing? WHO screwed THAT up?!?"

"Where's the dog's leash? Why isn't it in the back of the car?"

"Did you turn off the basement lights? NO??? DO I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING???"

Yeah. I wouldn't have wanted to get into the car with me, either.

Cue the baby's non-stop screaming. That's his latest trick. While he has a pretty good vocabulary for a 15-month-old, he has only grasped about a dozen words that convey his wants/needs. So, he screams. High-pitched. Over and over. It reverberates really nicely in a car.

In situations like these, I've lost all control over my emotions. And, NOISE, any NOISE, makes me want to crawl out of my own skin. So, try to imagine how far my eyes bugged out of my head when my 10-year-old, 8-year-old, and 5-year-old started arguing over who had more of the blanket they were sharing. GAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!

"It's not covering my feet!"
"You are hogging it!"
(Series of loud screams from Baby Brother)
"She keeps trying to put her legs on top of the blanket!"

Mommy Dearest: "THAT'S IT! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!"

I warned you it was ugly.

It was at this point that my darling husband informed me that he had no desire to ride with me any further, let alone spend a weekend with me in this emotional state, and he would happily turn the car around and go home. How DOES he stay so calm when he says those things? And, why doesn't all that NOISE bother him, at all?

I'll tell you why: over the years there have been a few studies done on noise and it's effects on stress-levels and blood pressure. Some studies were even gender-related. These studies found that women were noticeably affected by noise, even more so than were men.
It's also a long-held scientific belief that primitive woman was wired to be more sensitive to her offspring's sounds. After all, back in the good ol' Cave Days, if your children were screaming, it was a good bet that it was because they were being eaten by a wild animal. Sound triggered Mama's adrenaline, and she would run to save her babies.

I am very happy to report that in modern-day America, we aren't under the constant threat of our children being eaten alive in some faraway field. However, our children are still equipped with their "alarm system" and women are instinctively listening for these screams.
But, when our kids are screaming out of frustration, and both they and Mama are strapped into our seats, AND Mama's intellect tells her that there is no danger, that dang adrenaline still kicks in! Therefore, it has no outlet other than inappropriate emotional outbursts.

This is no excuse for my behavior. I am a rational adult who should always have control over her emotions.
This is an explanation of why I (sometimes) appear to be a raving lunatic. For me, my children's whining, screaming, and other annoying sounds are worse that nails on a chalkboard. And, when these NOISES are coupled with seven (8, counting the pooch) bodies crammed into a small metal container on wheels, it's unbearable.

Don't worry.
I've assured my husband that I will purchase some heavy-duty earplugs before our next car trip. Since I can't temporarily remove my kids' vocal chords, it seems to be the only way to cure my problem!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Join the club!

I haven't had a good night's sleep since September of 1994 (I became pregnant with my first child that month!). Mothers of grown children tell me that you don't get a solid and peaceful six hours of rest until your youngest is four. Upon further reflection, I decided that once you have become a mother, you will never *really* get true peace... awake or asleep.
I imagine this holds true whether you have one child or ten.

Oh sure, the reasons for and types of unrest change over the years:
-newborns keep you physically exhausted.
-toddlers and grade-schoolers keep you awake when they are sick or in pain (physical or
-teenagers disturb your rest by breaking curfews.
-adult children may not be physically *there*, but all their issues will keep a mom
tossing and turning until the wee hours.

My revelation brought on a new epiphany: THIS is why death is known as "eternal rest"!

But, until we move onto Paradise, how are we supposed to handle all this exhaustion?

Some tried-and-true "quick-fixes" are lots of caffeine and a few cat-naps. I, myself, can drink a full pot of coffee every day and take an afternoon nap with the baby. But, by 9 o'clock in the evening, I'm ready for bed. Let me qualify the above statements by saying that, prior to having children, I was Ms. Night Owl; I could easily make it on 4-5 hours of sleep and any caffeinated beverage consumed after 2 PM would keep me awake all night.

It was probably Kid #2 that brought me to my knees.
I can remember many nights spent begging a 2-month-old for "just 45 minutes of sleep, PLEASE!". My husband even wondered allowed if there was such a thing as a safe, herbal sedative for babies. How about ether?

Since my sixth baby was born just 15 months ago, I've had a slight change of perspective, though.

In April of 2006, our 2nd daughter (5th baby) was stillborn on her due date. Extreme grief can make a few months of sleep deprivation look like a walk in the park. In truth, I promised God any sacrifice if only he would give me another baby to hold.
So, when our son was born (screaming his little lungs out! Hallelujah!) in July of 2007, I can honestly say it was the joy of my existence (and my husband's) to stay awake holding this sweet, breathing baby. Although it may sound unbelievable, on some nights it felt like an honor to have this new life who needed to be nursed, swaddled, and walked.

My mother has prepared/assured me that sometimes a teenager coming home after curfew, may just be looking for Mom/Dad to give some uninterrupted time and/or help with a problem. (How did she figure that one out?!)

As an adult offspring, I have found some of my most rewarding conversations with my parents have come about at inopportune moments in the middle of the night (i.e. returning from an ER run with a sick child).

And, while I hope none of you ever has to experience something as heartbreaking as losing a child, I do hope you can benefit from my experience in this area and the way it changed my outlook.

"This too shall pass" is an all-encompassing phrase that is applicable to every situation.
Grief will subside, colicky babies will mature, the flu will go away, teenagers will stop rebelling...

And, sleepless nights may become your most cherished moments with your children.

Friday, October 24, 2008

High School Looming...

I will be the very first person to admit that I am no sentimentalist.
Never have been.
And, while you could never accuse me of being emotionally "cold", I'm not a "hugger-type". I guess, "reserved" and/or "guarded" would be better adjectives used to describe my "emotional climate", along with a "loud" and "sarcastic".

That is why I was so taken aback by my reaction at the prospect of my oldest child starting high school next year. It was the first time, ever, in my history of parenting that I felt like yelling, "STOP! Slow down! Don't grow so fast!". I feel like, all of a sudden, I can't catch my breath. I am watching my oldest child take his first real wading steps into adulthood, and I'm (for once!) speechless as to how we got here so quickly. I am becoming (gasp!) nostalgic!

Maybe it's because I can clearly remember his birth, his first year of life, his first loose tooth, his first encounter with a bully, his first time holding his new baby brother. Truly, the quote from the Gospel of St. Luke, "His Mother kept all these things in her heart...", speaks to me with an even more bittersweet tone lately.

Because, that's what we mothers do: we mentally record every special moment in each of our child's lives and then carefully etch it into our hearts. We can't help it, it happens automatically. It's as if the day we became a mother to each of our children, along with gaining a bigger heart we also gained a whole new set of tools to make this child a permanent part of our lives, our "makeup". Sometimes it feels as though the transfer of DNA went both ways.

And, now I find myself realizing how many things from my son's first thirteen years are now a part of me, of who I am:
He holds the distinction of being the child who "created" my motherhood.
Through his very steady newborn gaze and innocent, toothless grin, I caught a breathtaking glimpse of the purity of God's love for us.
When he had a particularly difficult day (or year!) at school, I learned how to use his inborn strengths to buoy him and how to change his weaknesses in to learned strengths that made him special. What was left of my selfishness from my "pre-kids" days was replaced with a new selfless maturity.
As he grows more independent, I learn how truly strong he is, and how he can surprise me with his level-headed maturity.

As my son and I continue to grow and mature together, I am beginning to feel slightly more confident that we are both ready for his high school years. In all the big and small things he does, I can see his self-confidence increasing exponentially. On some days, his maturity floors me. I'm sure the stubborn vestiges of nervousness that I feel stem from the fact that I can clearly remember my own high school years, and I worry that my husband and I have not prepared my son enough.

Will my son make mistakes? Stumble along the way? I am sure he will.
So, too, will I err and lose my footing.
Hopefully, these will become opportunities for both of us to grow as individuals, to grow as a "consultant-client" team (replacing the "manager-employee" model), and grow closer to God.

For the most part, I have truly enjoyed this journey of motherhood. It's the education I never expected (and without a paper degree!). It comes at an enormous "price" (some years are more "costly" than others), but the rewards are (hopefully!) eternal. My "major" always remains the same, the courses are constantly changing, but only as I need to learn new things. So, high school doesn't really scare me; I may just need to sit in on a few "labs".

Oh, and the professors at my University of Motherhood? They are absolutely DARLING!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Costume Crazy

OK, I'm going to use one of those phrases that, as children, we swore we'd never utter: "In MY day...".

In MY day (that didn't hurt too badly!), my parents didn't buy our Halloween costumes, we made them!
Now, some mothers of my childhood friends could actually sew, and these kids sported some pretty nifty costumes every October 31st.
My mother (God bless her) thought "darning" socks meant that you took the hole-y sock and yelled, "Darn you!" at it before you threw it in the trash. (Trade-off is that my mom can cook/bake better than Paula Deen's and Jacques Pepin's love child!)

But, my mom was (still is!) a pretty inventive lady, so she came up with some pretty great no-sew costumes:
-a smocked peasant-style blouse, red handkerchief, all my mom's necklaces, and lots of her
blush, and Voila! I was a gypsy!
-4 yards of blue satin, a strip of sequined-elastic, poster board wings, and a dime-store wand
and she turned me into the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio!
-my dad's gorilla mask, gorilla hand, gorilla feet, my mom's red velvet cocktail dress, and
rhinestone jewelry and I was a "lady-gorilla on-the-town"! (Won a prize, too!)
-wore a black sweatsuit and tied a white pillow to my head, and I instantly became a Toasted

Every year, my 4 siblings and I would present my ingenious mother with many ideas, and every year she would help us create some of the best costumes on our block. As we got older and more self-sufficient, we would take on more and more of the "workload", thereby taking on more of the creativity and ownership of our creations. It was a really fun way to challenge our imaginations and ingenuities. And, what fun stories we have to tell our own kids!

By the time I became a mother, stores had listened to the complaints of many busy parents across the country (and listened to the marketing departments of Hollywood studios), and offered an overwhelming array of ready-made costumes for the young and old, alike.
For the first few years of my oldest child's life, he was happy to have me "make" (I don't sew, either!) his costumes: a jack-o-lantern, a puppy, The Crocodile Hunter (his baby brother was the Croc!).
Then, his dad got him hooked on Star Wars!
On a trip to the local drugstore, my son saw a Darth Vader costume, and it was all over. He needed that costume! I offered to buy a mask (we already owned several lightsabers!) and then create a black-robed costume. He wasn't taking the bait.
I showed him how cheaply made and ill-fitted the store-bought costume was, and promised him a better, more tailor-made costume. Still didn't bite.
Long story, short: we returned to the store and bought the costume.

Instead of beating myself up about it, I renewed my commitment to creativity. I started showing my kids pictures of my childhood costumes.
My husband and told them stories about our halloweens growing up with homemade costumes.
And, I began talking about their ideas for their costumes before the stores wheeled out their Halloween displays (it's always great to watch fireworks on the 4th of July and talk about witches and vampires!).

None of this is to say that some years I don't buy costumes for my kids, because I sure do! (Hey, it's hard to make a convincing-looking Buzz Lightyear out of cardboard and a dryer vent!) I certainly don't beat myself up for "cheating", or think that other people aren't trying hard enough when they buy their kids' costumes. It's just a silly holiday, after all; I try not to sweat the small stuff.

I believe the point I am trying to make is this:
As it always seems to be the truth in Life, when you try to create "something" out of "nothing" with someone that you love, it's in the "trying", the "brainstorming", the "collective effort" that beautiful memories are made. The cooperative spirit builds something that no "quick trip" to the store ever could. The satisfaction and the pride that your children take in wearing something that they themselves made can't be purchased at any price.

And, you always have the added "perk" of not having the same costume as anyone else.
Who else is going to be a Toasted marshmallow?
Am I right?


Thursday, October 16, 2008


Does anyone out there remember that Milton-Bradley game, Perfection, from the 1970s and 1980s?
It was a plastic rectangular box, which housed a spring-loaded board which was filled with many small openings for geometric shapes. At the top of the box was a timer-dial and a toggle-switch. The game also included the small plastic geometric shapes (circle, star, hexagon, crescent, etc) which corresponded (or were supposed to, anyway!) to the openings in the board. The player was supposed to pile up all the pieces next to the outside of this plastic box, press down the spring-loaded board, turn the dial all the way, then press the switch to "ON". When this happened, the game would begin making a mechanical ticking sound, and the player was supposed to begin placing all the jumbled up pieces into the correct holes before the dial returned to its starting place.
If the player placed all pieces correctly, she could hit the switch and stop the game. WINNER!
If she failed, the board would spring up violently, shaking any correctly placed pieces out of their openings. AAAHHH!

As a child, I begged my parents in the weeks leading up to Christmas for Perfection. Like other kids, I wanted to be the "perfect" child from the TV commercial who beat the timer and won the game. I was positive I could do it, too. Positive. In fact this was a key selling point when I made my case to my parents.
You can imagine my devastation (and my parents' amusement) when, on Christmas morning, I tore open my new game of Perfection, set it all up, and proceeded to lose every time I played. Yup.
Perspiration. Hair-pulling. Gritting of teeth. Perfection being smashed into my bedroom wall. Talk about stress!

Why did I just go to all the trouble of explaining a retro (humor me) children's board game? Because the feelings it conjures up (besides nostalgia) accurately describe how I feel when I take all five of my children out in public.

Please do not misunderstand me. My children are usually remarkably well-behaved when they are out in public; especially, by today's standards. In fact, almost every time we venture out as a group, my husband and/or I receive more than one compliment on how courteous, how well-mannered, how quiet our kids are. And, we proudly acknowledge these facts.

However, these comments are almost always accompanied by the givers' astonished and incredulous expressions. It truly amazes most people that a family of such "enormous" size ("Enormous"? PUH-LEASE!) can behave in such a genteel manner.
So, of course, my neurotic personality interprets this to mean that my family and I are under a public microscope and should ALWAYS behave accordingly.
My perfectionist tendencies (I'm a first-born, after all!) will not accept failure. My family is representing large families everywhere. No one in MY family had better give "enormous" families a bad name!

Here's where I start having Perfection flashbacks...

"You can't wear that to church! You wore it LAST week!" (Like a 3-month-old knows what "week" means!)

"Shhh! Talk quietly. Everyone is staring at us."

"Now, guys, before we go into the store, let's review the rules: no yelling, no running, one hand on the shopping cart at all times."

Also, the perspiration, hair-pulling, and teeth-gritting come into play before we even leave the house. My kids should be grateful that I stopped throwing things into my bedroom wall when I was 15. At least, I stopped throwing living things.

Now, I know most good moms out there will tell me that even parents of one child have these kinds of feelings. Heck, I had these feelings when my oldest was an "only"! But, no one can deny that our culture has stereotyped larger families, and this stereotype is foremost in peoples' minds when they encounter more than 3 kids in a family. Why do you think I hate the remake of "Yours, Mine, and Ours" so much?

So, yes, I am probably unfairly placing a huge and unnecessary obligation on my kids' shoulders when I expect them to behave like mini-adults. I'm working on it.

But, if all 5 of my kids had a "bad behavior day" on the same day, at the same time, in the same PUBLIC place.... Well, what do you think people would think or say? It's very different than just one child publicly freaking out. That's bad enough.

So, you'll forgive me if I try to get my (sometimes) jumbled up "pieces" quickly into their "correct places" before the whole game explodes.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Important and Informative!

***Please take a few moments to visit The Demographic Winter (click the link to the right--->) and watch the trailer for this fascinating documentary. I feel the some of the cable and public television stations would benefit from adding this to their line-ups, as this is also an epidemic of grave concern. Very, very thought-provoking, if nothing else.***
(Thanks to Becca for passing it on to me!)

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Are You Done Yet?!?"

If you have more than one child, than you almost certainly have been asked if you are "done" having children, or if you are going to have any more. And, after you've produced Child #4, the question is asked with more incredulity, sometimes even outrage.

My more sarcastic self would like to say (and has said on occasion), "I don't know. But, while we're on the subject of asking personal questions, how much money do you make every year?". Because, let's be honest, it is nobody's business how many children I have. (A few other sarcastic favorites are listed at the bottom of this page, under "My Least Favorite Comments & Questions".)

That's why I continue to live in this country where we are guaranteed certain freedoms. I have the freedom to choose the size of my family. Or, to choose who plans my family. I have the freedom (along with my husband) to choose how I take care of this family. And, as Spiderman has taught us, with these freedoms/powers, comes responsibility, which I exhaustively addressed in a previous post (

And, I'm sure some people would argue that they have the freedom to ask me such a personal question. Yup, they sure do. As much freedom as I have to answer, "That's none of your business.". But, most of us (especially women; myself included) have been conditioned by society to give explanations for just about everything.

So, ladies, this post's for you!

I concede that while a sarcastic answer is momentarily satisfying, it certainly eliminates the opportunity to educate the person asking the question. But, the "education issue" also raises the dilemma of how to educate a stranger (usually) during a 90-second conversation. So, over the years I've developed and/or borrowed a few "educational sound bytes" that usually work...

"I'm not sure, but you could try asking God. That's what I do."

"We never refuse a Gift."

"I sure hope I have more!" (say it with a genuine smile!)

"I'm interested in knowing why you want to know?"

"I am interested in keeping my heart healthy, and my heart grows bigger and stronger with each child."

I know many large families who have lots of other quick answers to the "done yet" question, some answers which are similar to mine and some which are very different. (See "You May Want to Check Out..." at the top of this page for a GREAT website!)

My point is this: in large part, how you answer is dependent on who you are.
What are your beliefs, feelings, personality traits? All of these things directly influence your answers.

There are (at least) two lessons that can be learned from all of this:

1) Be careful what questions you ask other people. Just as most people think your fertility and intimate relations are up for discussion, so you may also inadvertently ask a deeply personal question of them. (i.e. "You're pregnant? Are you having a boy or a girl?") Just as you think you are expressing genuine interest in their lives, so do some people asking you a personal question.

2) A little English 101 lesson: Cakes are done, my friends. People are finished. (Just something that bugs me!)

Here's a little bit of a cautionary note: Some people are not interested in being educated, and these are usually the people who persist in asking rude, personal questions no matter how politely you answer. For these poor souls, I am giving you permission to use any of my sarcastic answers (or develop one of your own!), followed by a quick, "I'll remember to ask my many children to pray for you." (And, DO remember to pray!).

It is hard to resist turning around and laughing at their eyes bugging out of their heads....

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Do Debates Stress You Out?

Well, DO they?

Watching the Presidential Debate last night, I realized how tense I was. Not because I was upset over what I was/wasn't hearing. Not because I haven't made a decision on whom to vote for (I have.). Nope.

I was sitting on the edge of my seat, shoulders hunched, and a wrinkled brow because I hate the actual act of conflict of any kind. I cringe at the thought of people arguing and/or raising their voices. I actually feel relief when two opposing parties find anything on which they can agree.

My husband laughed at me when I confessed this realization. I can't blame him. It's weird, I know. Especially if you know me, at all.

I am certainly not a shrinking violet. I have been known to raise my voice at family members and friends every so often. I have even been heard arguing with the occasional stranger. BUT, only when truly upset and provoked. It takes quite a lot for me to pipe up and initiate any kind of debate with people with whom I'm really not familiar.
Usually what "does it" for me is something that involves one of my kids.
The old "mother lioness" phenomenon, I guess. Then, there's NO holding me back. I'm a virtual maniac. You moms out there are probably familiar with this feeling.

Other than that, I really can't stomach conflict, no matter how small it may be. Even witnessing someone else's conflicts causes me to feel physically ill: stomach hurts, face burns, fists clench, shoulders hunch. I try to get away from the source of conflict as quickly as possible.

So, watching last night's debate was a physically and emotionally grueling task for me. Really. Don't laugh. OK, at least don't grin too widely.

I really felt it was part of my duty as a registered voter and citizen of the United States to watch the entire debate, paying close attention to the candidates' answers. It was my thirst to stay informed (and opinionated!) that quelled most of my fears of watching the debate.
And, I made it through to the end.
I am glad I did, too.

I'm sure that a someone trained in the psychiatric area would have a field-day with my admission. Probably, this professional could trace my weird problem to my childhood. Hey, even I could do that! But, what good would that really do now?

What concerns me is not my inability to watch two politicians debate national and international issues. I'm not even concerned that I find myself looking for the nearest emergency exit when the shopper ahead of me in the checkout line begins an argument with the cashier.

What truly concerns me is that when "push comes to shove", I get shoved... a lot.
All because I don't want to "make waves" and start a shouting match.

I want to be able to firmly stick to my guns when the chauvinistic Karate club owner insists that I don't deserve a refund for 8 of the 10 classes I paid for (but my kids didn't attend), even though the class didn't follow any karate training known to mankind and the instructor was verbally abusive to the kids. I couldn't even get the owner to apologize to me! Granted this guy is probably an enormous jerk to everyone, but even after arguing with him for 20 minutes, I still came away with only a panic attack. (By the way, avoid enrolling your kids in anything named the Kids Karate Club!)

I want to tell the mail carrier that when I tell her that the person to whom she's delivering some mail to has not lived at my address in nine years, she is obligated to take the mail back to the post office and inform the postmaster. She should not hand it back to me, shrug and walk away. Am I supposed to chase this woman down and place the erroneously addressed mail in her cart? How about when I complain to the postmaster and get the phone-equivalent of the same shrug the mail carrier gave me? I spend the rest of my day feeling impotent anger that eats away at me.

OK, go ahead. Call me overly sensitive. Ask me why other people can debate effectively and get what they want. Or, debate effectively, still not get what they want, but walk away without it ever bothering them again.

Or, better yet, tell me how you feel about debates, whether you are part of them, or just witnessing one.

Do you ever feel like I do? Does it bother you to see two people engaged in a verbal confrontation? Do you ever feel like you get taken advantage of because you cannot stand the idea of confrontation?

Do you have the opposite reaction to mine? How do you feel when you see a debate? How do you empower yourself to achieve what you desire, no matter how trivial? How do you walk away from a confrontation and not let it eat away at you?

Let me know, before I have to come over there and kick some.......

Thursday, October 2, 2008

How Do I Re-Gain My Sanity?

Good question!
You may think that because of the title of this blog, that my sanity is long gone, never to return. And, you may be correct in that assumption.

But, don't let yourself be duped into thinking that I don't, occasionally, try to get some semblance of sanity back. Because, I DO. I try.

And, not all of my methods include alcohol.

Sometimes, after a particularly rough day, I hand over all parental responsibility to my wonderful husband and escape to our (blessedly) soundproof bathroom in the basement. I run the bathwater as hot as I can stand it, add any available bubbles (baby shampoo will do), light a couple of candles, and sink slowly into muscle-relaxing bliss.

Too "Calgon, Take Me Away" for you?

Mid-day stress? I put that baby in his stroller, and head out for a very brisk walk. I'll do this in most kinds of weather, but if it's too nasty out, a shopping mall is another alternative. I always bring my iPod along, and listen with only one earbud so I can hear the baby. Something about breathing fresh (or, RETAIL!) air, clears my mind and gives me a fresh perspective.

OK, so you're not a walker... Or, your baby loathes the stroller....

When I feel like the voices in my house (and in my head!) are driving me to complete nuttiness and I have to run a ton of errands, I get in my car and, on my way to my next chore, I take the emptiest street I can find. Once I'm pretty sure that the area is deserted, I roll down all the windows and scream the worst cuss word I can think of, as loud and long as I can.
I wouldn't recommend doing this with kids in the car, though. You do not want to take that phone call from a teacher.

So, you're feeling crazy and a little blue? Here's a quick sanity-saving pick-me-up:
Watch any of the Lifetime Channel's original movies. You will see your life in a much, much better light. Your husband/children/boss/dog will automatically look like living saints, and you will probably have gotten a very cathartic (albeit, cheesy) cry out of the whole experience.

And, all kidding aside, you are not an alcoholic if you and your husband (or, a friend) like to relax with a glass of wine/beer after the kiddies go to bed. In moderation, it can have a very soothing effect and it "takes the edge off" of a bad day. Life was meant to be enjoyed, so have a little two-person celebration!

For the sake of argument, I would like to raise the point that, sometimes, insanity is a nice place to live. Taking a break from reality can be a cheap and fun vacation. It lends itself to some creative thinking and keeps you from getting too serious about life. Heck, my kids love it when my trips to the Land of Insanity end up with me dancing to the Cha-cha Slide and serving ice cream for dinner. When I let go, I let it all go.

Don't forget: the psychiatric hospitals serve three square meals every day, cable TV, and patients have no responsibilities.
How bad could it be?

Monday, September 29, 2008

"Your kids are nice to have for a visit, but I wouldn't want to raise them!"

Ever felt like saying that to the parents of your children's friends?
The problem is that while you can choose your own friends, your children will become old enough to choose their own friends.
And, all kids go through a phase where their choices are completely indiscriminate. Ah, the innocence of childhood! At least, the innocence of your child's childhood.

What prompted this particular subject today? Another one of my readers' suggestions: "Do you dare discipline the neighbor's child? How about offering discipline advice to the kid's parents? Do you let them know their child is bad influence on your kid? Should I just pack up and move?"

And, although I haven't had this exact experience (our neighbor's kids who are playmates to my kids are wonderful!), I can imagine the situation becomes even more sticky with a neighbor.
Probably due to the fact that you can't hide from your neighbors, and you can't distract your kids' from asking to play with kids whom they see all the time.
How do you use the "usual" excuse of "oh, we're busy", or "we'll be out of town", or "my family is coming over", when it would be blatantly obvious to them that you are sitting home alone?
My thoughts exactly.

So, because you can't put a cloak of invisibility over your house, let's address the first question: "Do you dare discipline the neighbor's child?".
In a word, "yes".
Then again, I dare to do a lot of things that most people wouldn't. (Tongue-in-cheek, people!)
The way that I look at it:
My kids are not always perfect little angels, even when they are in someone else's home. At certain points, they are going to misbehave while they're on a play date. I'm not going to be there to discipline them, so it's going to have to fall to the adult that is there. I hope that adult treats my child with firm kindness, and I'll try to do the same for her child.
Here's how I try to handle things:
If it's a small infraction (i.e. burping the alphabet), it's totally appropriate for the adult present to say, "Wow, Freddy, that was really rude. In our house, we always try to be polite. Can you say, 'excuse me'?".
If it's a mid-sized infraction (i.e. calling another child a "dummy-jerk" and taking a toy away), an explanation similar to the one above, along with the reminder that the play date will be over immediately if it happens again is usually sufficient.
Now, for my favorite: a BIG offense! Let's see.... a good example would be something like an unprovoked violent physical act. That is an automatic "game over". Child goes home immediately. Let the child know that, in your home, this kind of behavior is completely unacceptable. When he goes home, give his parent a very brief, unapologetic explanation and let it fall to the child to give the details.
This accomplishes two things:
1) It lets the child know that while he may or may not be able to act like this at home, that
kind of behavior will never be tolerated in your home.
2) It sends an virtually unspoken message to the child's parents which says, "Kids will be kids,
but I will not allow any child under my care to be harmed; even if it's your child."

So, I guess that answers part 2 of my reader's question: "Should you offer discipline advice to the neighbor's child?"
I've noticed that setting the tone in your own home from the beginning, lets the child know what is acceptable behavior, and he, in turn, communicates this to his parents. Also, most people tend to observe you more closely when they see that your kids are (mostly) behaving well. They even ask questions sometimes!

Always, always encourage the good things that those parents are doing. Believe me, you can almost always find a positive trait ("I love the way you encourage Sally's creativity!") with which to begin a conversation. My grandmother always said, "you catch more flies with honey, than you do with vinegar!", and it's true. Buttering people up works.
Another great "trick" is to use personal examples.
"I remember when my Larry was younger and he had such a hard time controlling his temper. It could be so frustrating and embarrassing for me. One of the things that helped us both avoid scenes was remembering that he needed to eat a protein-filled snack every 2-3 hours. Made a huge difference."
This lets the other parent know that you and your kids have had your bad moments, and that you learned from them. Hey, nobody is perfect.

And, always try to remember that your children go out into the world, into other people's homes. You hope that they behave, and represent your child-rearing techniques well. But, they're not perfect, either, so prepare to be disappointed once in a while. And, hope that the parent in charge handles your child the way you'd want him to be handled. It's much easier to be the injured party than it is to be the party doing the injuring. The bully's mother has a much more difficult time holding her head up, than does the mother of the victim.
One day you may be the mother of the bully. It happens to the best of us. Call it "karma" or "Murphy's Law" or "God's revenge", but it happens.

So, please don't pack up and move. Situations are sometimes resolved more simply than you think. And, despite what you do think, you can take a little break from your neighbor's children. It's perfectly honest and acceptable to say to your neighbor, "My kids are really feeling overwhelmed with school and extra-curricular activities, so I'm trying to limit their other activities for a few weeks.".

And, just remember this: when you feel like strangling someone else's child, go and hug your own child.
There's nothing like other people's kids to make you appreciate your own even more!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Oh, Their Aching Heads!

***Before I begin, let me profusely apologize for the long time in between posts! I have spent some time trying to help my wonderful husband recuperate from a back injury. Thankfully, he's on the mend and has left me with some "blogging time" on my hands! Thanks, Honey! I love you!***

I would like to thank everyone who posted or emailed suggestions for future posts; what GREAT ideas!! And, I am going to try to address each one in the order that I received them. So, here's the first one (just for you, Cyndi!)!

Idea: "How about addressing the issue of sick sick is too sick to go to school? what are the acceptable degrees of a running nose to take your child out in public? why can't all the kids get sick at the same time? why must I spend the next 21 days at home taking care of one sick kid after another?"

My Opinion: Maybe a better question is, "how badly do you need your child to go to school?".
I jest. Sort of.
Serious answer?
Well, it depends on the symptoms (and each school varies slightly in which symptoms are "not acceptable"): is a fever present, bad cough, constantly runny nose, vomiting? Those are all pretty obvious reasons to keep your child home; for the safety of the other children and because your child's weakened immune system can't fight off any new germs.
Also, age is a factor.
What do I mean?
Well, a 5-year-old with a persistent (and noticeable) cough and a runny nose is probably too sick for a day at school, but a 13-year-old with the same symptoms can probably take some cold medicine (I am not giving medical advice!!!!) and get through the day fairly normally.
Only YOU know how your child is, so your opinion counts for the most.

As for going out in public, well..... Again, I wouldn't want to take a vomiting child out in public; too much risk of gross embarrassment! But, sometimes you absolutely have to make a quick trip to the store (as in, you need more decongestant and tissues!), and running a sick kid in and out of a smallish store is perfectly OK. Now, if we're talking a lengthy trip to the library followed by a romp at the McDonald's playland.... Uh, no way. And, for those of you who regularly do that sort of thing: thanks for getting my kids sick!

Why can't all your kids get sick at the same time? Well, they CAN! But, that stinks, too! There are only so many "puke bowls" (my kids' term for vomit buckets) in one house, and only one Mama to get them under the right chin at the right time!
Passing a flu-bug from kid to kid is no picnic, either, I know. And, whether it's scientific fact or not, the bug seems to worsen with each kid! With five kids, I have indeed spent the better part of many "Octobers through Aprils" locked in my home.

Two things to look forward to? These "bad years" seem to go in cycles, and the more germs the older kids bring home the sooner the younger ones build up a formidable immune system. Also, starting at 2nd grade, it seems that kids just get sick less often; probably due to the fact that their immune systems have now been exposed to most things and because they have grown out of the disgusting lick-their-hands-and-everything-else phase.

Tired of seeing the same four walls for two straight seasons in a row? Me too! Cheer up, here are some nifty things to do with all that time:

- decorate/personalize each child's "puke bowl". Makes the whole experience more fun!

- Begin, or add on to, your husband's HoneyDo List.

- Scan the travel websites for the cheapest airfare to Marco Island.

- On the coldest day of winter, open all your windows and bleach EVERYTHING in your
home to kill all the germs (and to give your kids something new to complain about!).

- Match up all the socks in your sock basket. Don't look at me like that! We ALL have a
family sock basket.

- Start a running "illness" tab for each child. Include every dollar spent on medicines,
tissues, thermometers, Vick's VapoRub, etc. As soon as each child is hired for his/her first
post-college job, present him/her with a bill. (This is a fun AND practical idea!)

I'm sure I've only given you more grist for your mill with these opinions and ideas, but at least you are now aware that you are not alone!

With the virtual world becoming more normal and more available to Americans, I can honestly suggest that someone should start a Webcam Playgroup for Moms Stuck At Home With Sick Kids (WPMSAHWSK is not the coolest acronym, but whatever.).
It would be nice to see and hear (most of the time, anyway!) that other moms are losing their minds trying to cope with their sick kids, wouldn't it?

At the very least, you can always check back here and re-read this post, if only for ideas on how to make the most of your "sick days"!

Friday, September 12, 2008


OK, I'll admit that Zumba class was actually a lot of fun. Painful, but fun.
So, while I'm recovering from my "healthy lifestyle", I thought I'd ask you, my dear readers, for ideas for future postings.

What would you like me to blog about?

Any burning questions you need answered?

Any hot topics that I haven't commented on yet?

Want my favorite meatloaf recipe?

Post a comment to this blog and let me know!

Also, click on the "Faithful Friends" link to the right...... I'm feeling neglected.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

THIS is Healthy?!?

So, I'm taking a couple of exercise classes at our village's recreation center this Fall. Namely, a muscle conditioning class and a Zumba class. Sounds fun, right? That's what I thought when I signed up for them.
I also was under the (still-to-be-proven) impression that by taking these classes, I would be improving my health.

Weight loss? Good thing.

Improved cardiovascular system? Wonderful thing.

Muscles turned into a painful kind of cement? Bad, bad thing.

My first class, muscle conditioning, was last night. I followed all the regulations stated in the class's description: gym shoes, comfortable clothes, exercise mat, and 5 pound hand weights. (Side note: are you aware how heavy ten pounds in a gym bag can be?) So, I felt pretty proud of myself when I arrived at the class with everything I needed. I huddled in a back corner of the gym with the other newcomers, as the instructor shimmied over.

"Hi, I'm Rosemary. You guys are new to the class? Do you have mats? What size weights did you bring?"

When I smugly answered that I brought 5-pounders, she quickly replied, "OK, that's not gonna be enough weight."

Me: "Uh, yeah, that is gonna be enough weight. One, because that's what was in the course description, and, two, because I've never done this before."

Rosemary: "OK, well, you're still gonna hafta go buy some bigger weights."

You want to see bigger weights, Rosemary? Right now, I'm using a permanent marker to turn the "5" on my weights, into an "8". Voila! Bigger weights

A little background on Rosemary, solely based on my observations and assumptions:
--middle-aged woman who "doesn't need a man" because they "are all scum who treat you
--teaches several different kinds of exercise classes, so she can "help" (punish) other
middle-age women learn their "self-worth" (learn their tolerance for pain), and take
out her anger at all the men who have ever wronged her.
--is an "expert" on everything, just like my 10-year-old son.

OK, back to class...

Along with my fellow newbies, I remain in the back of the gym so I won't look like a completely uncoordinated idiot. Warm-ups begin at an alarming pace. I immediately fall off my "step", which ends up being a good thing because my momentum knocks me into the lady next to me and prevents her from falling on her bottom.

The pace and intensity increases and I begin to get the swing of things. Oh, wait, I'm forgetting to breathe.

When we break at the 1/2-hour point (yep, it's a one hour class!), I am beginning to hate all the men who ever wronged Rosemary almost as much as she does. The lady behind me is packing up her gym bag, because she thinks we're all done. When I tell her it's just a break, she looks longingly at her pack of cigarettes and a tear rolls down her cheek. Minus the cigarettes, I know how she feels. If I hadn't just sweat out all the liquid from my body, I'd cry too.

Rosemary: "Ready to get serious, Ladies? How're we feeling?" Um, dead, Rosemary. Feeling dead.

The second half of class passed by in a blur, mostly because the sweat was stinging my eyes. There was something about keeping our stomachs in (if I could do that, Rosemary, I wouldn't be here), using our "tension tubes" (I used the yellow ones for senior citizens), and "cooling down" (must've missed that part).

Then, the lovely Rosemary (now glistening) set us free. I almost asked her if I could just leave my weights there until next class, because I was certain I could not carry them to the car. Whatever.

As I passed Rosemary on my way out, she cheerily informed me, "Wednesday's Zumba class will give you an even better workout! See you then." It took every ounce of self-control I possess not to say, "Shut up, Rosemary."

So, here I am. Typing with the one finger that isn't completely crippled by last night's body-into-pretzel class. Looking forward to tomorrow's Zumba class, if I can find a physician to prescribe ibuprofen-1000s for me.

So, if you don't see a posting here for a while, it was the Zumba that did me in.

Remind me again... how is all of this good for my body??

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The More We Get Together...

...the happier we'll be?????

I guess it depends on who is getting together, where they are congregating, and for how long.

What do I mean? Please, let me tell you!

As my family has grown over the years, I have seen a shift in my own feelings on this subject. Whether that shift was a natural evolution, a conscious choice, or a little bit of both those things, I am not sure.

What I am sure of is this: I can only congregate with a large group of people for so long, before I lose my grip on my emotions and my sanity.

You would like some specific examples? Geez....

Let me ask you a question: remember family vacations when you were a child? The anticipation, the packing, the day of travel, the arrival? You thought your head would explode with the sheer excitement of it all! You probably have many happy memories of the actual vacation, as well. And, you have relegated the aggravating moments to funny family stories shared at Thanksgiving. A neat little package, tied with a bow.

Here is a follow-up question: in your adulthood, have you ever vacationed with your parents and siblings? Have you taken it a step further and added your own children and spouse? Less excitement, more aggravating moments that are not really referred to during Thanksgiving dinner (unless someone has had too much wine!).

A little-talked-about "trick" to living in a big family (and an even bigger extended family), is taking everyone and everything in small doses. Family weddings are great examples of this (and I'm not just saying this because we have one coming up in my family!). The actual day of the wedding is usually a complete blast; good food, great friends and family members, lots of love. The lead-up to the Big Day is generally not-so-much fun; too many parties, too much money spent, stressed out bridal couple. Have you ever noticed that the more time you spend beforehand with the people who you will be whooping-it-up with at the actual wedding, the less fun you have with them? Do you find yourself shopping for clothes to wear to one or more of the nuptial events, all the time muttering, "I hope no one else in this family gets married for a long time."? It's not that you aren't happy for the bride and groom or that you aren't excited to be a part of it all, it's just that you can't keep up that level of excitement and adrenaline for months on end.

Let's admit it... it takes a lot of patience and energy to deal with the people you love. That's why as wonderful as it is to welcome a new baby into your family, all members are emotionally and physically drained during those first few months. It's not "wrong", it's just the way it is.

As a married couple, my husband and I have learned (the hard way!) that in order to be functioning parents, we have to re-charge ourselves as a couple and as individuals. We have to take 5 to 10 minutes before dinner to go into our room, shut the door (get your mind out of the gutter!) and discuss the days events without little ears listening/little mouths interrupting. As individuals, we have to take 10-20 minutes every few days to go for a solitary walk, soak in a bath, or go for a run. It's not a huge amount of time spent away from the family, it's just enough to breathe and re-group. No need for an annual vacation to the Bahamas, although it would be nice.

As a household, we enjoy spending time with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. But there are certain times of the year when all this togetherness makes for crabby kids and grumpy parents. Time for a break! It's really nice to have a few family dinners at our own table. It's even better to take a weekend away together as a family.

The above-mentioned "alone" times allow individuals and families to become grounded again. Grounded in what's important to them, grounded in who they are, grounded in love (for themselves and others). It teaches us all to re-define the reasons that we do get together, in the first place!

So, take it from me: take your necessary medicine and vitamins in small, healthy doses!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Sarah Palin Question

Last Friday, John McCain announced Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his choice for his vice presidential running mate. Old news today, right?
A good friend of mine asked me, as a mother to five rambunctious children, what I thought of another mother of five in the role of (possible) Vice President.
Very interesting question, I thought to myself.

A small disclaimer should be included at this point: I know as much about Sarah Palin as the next average American does. Which is, to say, not very much at all. (Although the last 24 hours has proved to be very eye-opening, indeed.) So, my answer to my friend's question is based solely on my experiences and observations, and not on Mrs. Palin's qualifications.

First off, it has long been my opinion that if I were in charge of the Free World, it would be a much quieter and lovelier place to live. Don't we all think that... at least, all of us women?

In all seriousness, I have done more (way more!) than my fair share of volunteer work over the years, and have come to the unscientific conclusion that mothers of large families are better at organizing, um, everything. By "everything", I mean that one mother may be excellent at organizing a school office in record time, while another mother may be a superior fundraiser chairperson. Very few women are good at all things, but most are really great at one or two things, in particular.
And, it is a learned skill. I know that from personal experience.
It's called "on-the-job-training".

What do I mean? Here is a personal example:
Before I had children I was organized... an "organized mess". If there were 72 stacks of my college papers in my room and I needed the syllabus for my English class, I could go exactly to the correct stack of papers, and pull out my English class syllabus. And, that was the extent of my organizational skills. I couldn't remember when half of my exams were, and I frequently forgot to mail my student credit card payment. And, those were my only responsibilities. Ah...the good ol' days!
Fast forward a few years to when I had a mere three kids. There were (almost) no paper stacks of any kind in my home, because they were had to be safely stored where toddlers could not shred them. I had learned of a magical item called a "dry-erase board", which enabled me to coordinate bill payments, doctors' appointments, school meetings, and soccer games in one swift movement. I had an entire cookbook's worth of recipes stored in my head, along with birthdates, and birth weights/heights and current weights/heights of all my children. That was only the tip of the iceberg.

Who taught me all of these skills? My kids taught me. Oh, and I made LOTS and LOTS of mistakes along the way.

Secondly, motherhood has taught me humility and compassion, tempered by firmness of conviction. Characteristics which are sorely lacking in government today.
I learned early on, that as soon as I pointed out a flaw in someone else's child's behavior, karma would administer a huge dose of humility by causing my child to exhibit the same behavior, only on a much larger scale.

My experiences with birth, illness, and death have given me a much deeper understanding of other people's personality quirks and the reasons behind those quirks. I try to adopt an attitude of discernment, rather than judgement, when it comes to others. ("Try" being the operative word.)

When I become too empathetic, especially with regards to my children, I have learned to pull back and ask myself if my actions, based in empathy, are within my moral framework. By doing that, I avoid making too many bad decisions out of "mommy guilt".

I know, I know... You are now screaming in fury and frustration at your computer screen: "These are all traits that come with maturity and life experiences in every one's life!".
I do not disagree with you.

However, with more children comes even more opportunities to learn and practice these skills. My and my husband's openness to children and God's plan for us, has "forced" us to be open to different ways of doing things, "forced" us to slow down and listen, "forced" us to recognize and choose those things that are the most important for us. Lack of "luxury" has led us to have a very "luxurious" life, indeed! What some call "tunnel vision", I prefer to call "clarity"!

Thirdly... HELLO MULTI-TASKING! What mother of a large family does NOT use this skill on a daily basis? Most of the time, without realizing it.
I know I am not alone in the ability to hold a baby on my hip, while stirring a pot of spaghetti sauce, and re-scheduling the Brownie troop's meeting via speakerphone. These kind of things occur multiple times each day, 365 days a year. I'm pretty sure this kind of constant multi-layered use of my brain will ward off any hint of Alzheimer's disease in my senior years.

Of course, I know that there are exceptions to the above generalizations. Certainly, there are mothers of small families who are organizational whizzes, oozing sympathy, while running the parish rummage sale. Just as there are mothers of large families, who cannot organize their flatware, let alone their households. But, that's what "generalizations" are....
Generally, I have seen most of my anecdotal evidence prove itself over and over.

So, what do I think of Sarah Palin as the United States' Vice President, being "just a heartbeat away from the Presidency"?

Well.... I have just one question regarding qualifications for Mrs. Palin:

"Do you have a dry-erase board?"

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Retinas of an 85-year-old.....

How about that for a compliment? In the words of my ophthalmologist, I have the "retinas of an eighty-five-year-old". Of course, he followed that by saying that my retinas were in the body of a 35-year-old who looks like a 25-year-old, so that softened the blow a bit!

That's what I did with my day yesterday. I went to the eye doctor's office to have pictures taken of my retinas. And, for this photo shoot, I didn't even have to wear make-up! Take that, Tyra!

Let me give you a bit of background before I explain what my modeling session entailed:
Even though I have 20/20 vision, that is "98%" (???), I have major macular degeneration. I have no symptoms; I don't even wear glasses. The kind doctor called me a "conundrum" who "stymied" himself and his colleagues.
I feel like I'm one big head-bump away from total blindness.

Back to the eye doctor's...

I arrived breathless with anticipation (or, fear. Call it what you wish.), they asked me if I had a person to drive me home, had me sign a release form, and seated me in the waiting room with other people "preening" for their photo shoots. Suddenly, the tech walked up and put some dilating drops in my eyes, and informed me that she would return to put in even more drops. Yes, folks, as if normal dilation of the pupils wasn't enough, they were going to "hyper-dilate" my eyes! Neat-O!
As I've stated before, relaxation is a luxury in my line of work, so I thought that I could try to read a little of my new library book before the drops kicked in fully. I made it to page 3.

About the same time, I noticed that my fellow "models" were acting a little odd.
When their names were called, one of two things happened:

1) Some people had to be led by the person accompanying them


2) Some people walked alone, looking confused while bumping into things.

I decided that since Option #1 wasn't a possibility for me (my husband had dropped me off, taken the kids, and promised to pick me up), that I was going to make sure that Option #2 was a little more dignified that it had been for other people.
I moved to the very front of the waiting room before those drops took their full effect. I was practically sitting in the receptionist's lap.

After a few more applications of the eye-drops, a LOT playing "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" on my air-piano (why hadn't I brought my iPod?), and one bathroom trip (to test my "sea legs"), the doctor called my name.

Here is where is gets really fun! I was led (my prep-work was for naught) into a room which looked just like any other eye doctor's examining room, asked to sit on the stool, and prop my chin on the chin-rest. You have to remember that, at this point, I was pretty much blinded by any normal light. And, for some reason, this temporary blindness makes you very dependent on other people and likely to do exactly as you're told to do.
It also makes you very fearful. So, when the tech asked me if I had any questions, my only query was, "Does it hurt?". His answer, "Not at all. Well, only the injection hurts.".
I honestly thought the man was joking. More on this later.

So, I stared (kind of) into this little red light while the tech placed a bigger, brighter light very close to my eyes. Not gonna lie... Kinda hurts. He turned the room lights off.
Then... BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! Who the H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks let the paparazzi in the room?!?
Still reeling from the onslaught of light-flashes, I'm told to "keep my eyes wide open" and keep looking at the light. Which ONE?
Eyes watering, breath held, a zillion more flashes follow. Yeah. No pain involved here. He told me this was the easy part.

The eye doctor came in and asked me which arm has "better veins". The bewildered look on my face made him laugh. As I said before, I thought the tech was joking about the injection. No one had ever informed me. Smooth.

"Um, my left arm is better."

Needle goes in, dye goes in. No problem. Then....

Lights go off again.

BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! More flashes.

Lights on. "Can I leave now?" "Not quite yet."

Five minutes later.... Lights off. BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!

Congratulations! I am now fully blind!

"OK, you can call your husband to pick you up."
In all truthfulness, I had to have the receptionist dial the number for me.

I spent the rest of the day with a killer headache and (in the spirit of true journalism) neon orange urine. Also things they don't tell you.

The good news? I get the results in 7 to 14 days.

The GREAT news? I get to do it all over again next year!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Who Needs The Valium More?

I will be the very first person to admit that I absolutely love being a mother. I love my kids, in all their ages and stages.
I savor long, warm hours spent holding the cuddly newborns.
I cannot wait to see my babies take their first, cautious steps.
I feel all fuzzy inside when my toddlers repeat funny phrases in their little chipmunk voices.
I enjoy hearing my grade-schoolers talking about their escapades with friends at school.
I feel proud when I see my teens helping out younger siblings with more tenderness than I thought possible.

But, there are days, my friends. There are days.....

Currently, I am caught between a rock (my very intense 5-year-old) and a hard place (my very active 13-month-old). Both are very labor-intensive, demanding, and, seemingly, without consciences. At least when it comes to their mother's feelings.

Mr. Rock is going through a difficult phase right now which has it's legitimate causes, but this does not make it any easier when he has attached himself to a clothes-rack in the girl's section of Target and he's "informing" me that he will not go any further unless I buy him a plastic sword. A sword that Target hasn't carried in two years. A sword that he does not deserve and will not receive, especially due to the above-mentioned behavior. A sword that, at this point, I wish was a real sword, so that I could wave it menacingly at the group of old ladies who has gathered to watch our "show".

When we get home from our fruitful trip to Target, Mr. Hard-Place decides that now is the time to try to learn to crawl up the stairs by himself, for the first time. Being 13-months-old, he has failed to inform me of this new goal, and I proceed to (foolishly) turn my back on him and put away my purchases. One heart attack later, I am running up the stairs to catch Mr. H-P, as he sits on the top stair smiling his big, goofy grin at me.

Now, I realize that for you moms reading that this is normal, everyday action. Me too. Everyday. For 13 years, so far.

At this point, I figure I should weigh a svelte 102 pounds, and have biceps and quads that would make an Olympic bodybuilder drool with envy.
Oddly, I don't.

I do know that I am tired. Not a droopy-eyelid sort of tired, but a weary-in-my-bones kind of tired. The kind of tired where you sit on the couch with a kooky half-smile on your face, staring off into space, while your 8-year-old informs you that your bed just crashed to the floor because she and her brother jumped onto it at the same time.
It's not that I don't care, kids, it's just easier to fall asleep here, than it is to fix the bed. Again. For the 187TH time in 13 years.

So, this brings me to the question: who needs the Valium more? Me or my kids?

On the one hand, I could fall asleep at the drop of a hat, but it wouldn't be a deep and regenerating sleep. Valium would give me that.

On the other hand, my kids would receive the same kind of deep and uninterrupted sleep.

Kind of quandry, isn't it?

Ok, I jest. I would never take a Valium (and believe me, my resolve on this has been tested thoroughly), nor would I ever dream of actually giving one to my kids. No matter how tempting. Really. Whimper. Really.

Instead, I'll just continue this little stormy time sitting on the couch, smiling my beatific (in my minds-eye, anyway) smile, seeming calm. At least, when my children are adults they will be able to blog about how their mother was a true saint during all of the chaos, never knowing that, all the while, I was really praying that I could find the strength to wipe the tomato sauce off the kitchen ceiling. Again.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Food Fight!!!!

The other day, I found myself wondering why there seems to be so much confusion within the general population regarding large families. I grew up as the oldest of five children and I am married to a man who is one of twelve children, so we have both fielded more than our fair share of "big family" questions before we started our own "big" family.
So, we were certainly used to hearing things such as, "What's dinner like at your house? Do you fight over food?", by the time we were expecting our 5th child.

You may laugh at the above question; you may have even asked it a time or two... but, if you really think about it's meaning, maybe you can begin to see why a member of a large family might be slightly offended by it?

Sure, I have many friends who grew up in large families, and when we get together we joke about the various things people say to us when they discover we are members of a larger-than-average-family, or when strangers see a larger-than-average-family in public.

"Did your parents want to start a baseball team?"

"Are you a nursery school?"

"Didn't your parents EVER hear of birth control?"

"HOW many of you ARE there?"

"Are they ALL yours?"

"Your kids are so well-behaved!"
(this one said with disbelief)

"I'm glad it's you, and not me!"

And, that's just for starters! I have many quick answers to all of these questions, and I've heard a lot of other people's answers, as well. Just run a quick search on "large families", and you will find many, many sites devoted entirely to answering these rude (yes, they ARE rude!) questions.

Now, I am completely aware that our society has stopped reading Emily Post's book on etiquette, and I know that most of you have probably been offended by a really inappropriate comment/question a time or two. But, truly, large family-bashing seems to be the last "acceptable" form of discrimination.

And what is discrimination rooted in?

So, let me gently enlighten all those who really don't understand.
I mean it, I really do. I think that a little "education" goes a long way.
So, let's open our minds and our hearts...

1) I certainly do know what "causes" this many children to be born (I'm very good at it!), and I
don't feel that a large family is a "bad" thing or and "accident".
a) I am PROUD of being one of five children.
b) I am PROUD of being the mother of six children.
c) That said, my fertility is private and not up for discussion. And, NEVER in front of my
children. (Did you enjoy listening to your parent's sex life being discussed?)

2) As I mentioned in my first post, God is a necessity in my life. Not just because I am
the mother of six, but because I am a mother. Period.
a) So, yes, we let God "plan" our family. Sometimes, He plans to let us keep and raise a child,
and sometimes He plans to let one of our children bless us from Heaven.
b) This doesn't make me an uneducated doormat.
c) This helps me to realize that any one's "control" over any thing is an illusion, and if I
am to stay sane at all, I'd better let the Guy who is in control take over.

3) We did not win the lottery, and we are not "wealthy" by any definition of the word.
Conversely, we are not on Welfare.
a) If my decision to have even my first child, was financially based, I wouldn't be a mother.
b) Our children have all their "needs", and most of their "wants". If I had one or two kids, I
still wouldn't give them all their "wants".

4) We are very happy. All of us. 'Nuff said!

And, listen, EVERYBODY......
Big family or small, please think before you speak! It's a good rule for all of us. A little bit of politeness goes a very long way, and our world could use a few more polite people in it.

Hey, don't get me wrong! I love talking about my kids! I just don't think their creation is an appropriate (or practical) topic of conversation for the check-out lane at the grocery store. And, I am certainly not asking anyone why they aren't interested in having more kids. Whatever happened to "live and let live"?

Oh, and, no, we do not fight over the food at the dinner table...
My cooking just isn't worth the trouble.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Filling Out Your Pre-Schooler's Resume

One of the comments made about my previous post, included a question about how to fill out your pre-school's forms. And, given the fact that my brain has been (maybe permanently) sunburned by too many hours at the local pool this summer to think of another subject, I will indulge my dear reader's curiosity.

Well, as many of us are learning, many schools are taking a very serious approach to education; at least, the education of their student's parents. It is no longer sufficient to only fill out lengthy health, dental, and vision forms. Nope. We are also required to fill in the EXACT SAME information on emergency cards and the dreaded Child History Form. Which is the topic of my post today.

Interestingly enough, I discovered that for some schools, this "tradition" has been occurring for several decades already. In fact, in the 1970s my own mother was required to fill out these forms for myself and my siblings when we enrolled in our Montessori school. AND, it is still a point of contention for one of my brothers.
My mother, being a well-trained schoolteacher, kept copies of all the forms she filled out and "filed" them in our baby books: her first mistake. My brother recently discovered his child history form that was filled out when he was three.
And I quote: "Mike is very unreliable.".
In my mother's defense she claims that this was meant to be a response to the toilet-training question (i.e. "Mike is very unreliable at remembering to go to the bathroom"), but she "accidentally" wrote it in the "your child's personality" section. Hmmmm.
Coincidentally, this comment is right next to a photo of a three-year-old Mike shoveling our front walk after a snowstorm; a VERY reliable thing for a three-year-old to be doing!
Needless to say, Mike is still highly offended.

But, I digress.....

It's this very same "personality question" which gives most parents some pause. What do they mean? What do they want to know? What do they really WANT you to say? And, your secret fear: Is this a personality test for me and my parenting skills?
Admit it.
You HAVE gone that far in your mental wanderings/wonderings.

At the Montessori school my children attend, parents are required to fill out this form only once, upon your child's enrollment. Since my children begin attending school (2 mornings a week) at age two, this makes this form even more difficult to answer. After all, how much "history" does a two-year-old have? Hey, I'm still getting to know this kid, and he's still getting to know me!
And, what is his personality? Come ON! He's TWO!
Do you know how many different personalities even one of my two-year-olds has had on any given day?
For my daughter, I was tempted to just say, "Have you seen 'The Three Faces of Eve'?"

In my many coffee-breaks, playgroups, and margarita-sessions (kidding! sort-of.) with other parents, I have heard answers to the Personality Question that have run the gamut from apologetic to humorous to outraged.
Here are some of my favorite examples (some I may even be able to take credit for!):

"She's like every other two-year-old."

"House-Angel, Street-Devil."

"I try to encourage his free-spirit, but his father encourages
his neuroses."

"Why do you need to know this? Aren't you, as the teacher,
supposed to figure her out and then deal with her?"

You identify with all these answers, don't you?
I thought so.
So do I.

It's not that I don't sympathize with these schools and teachers. I very much do understand that they are acquiring an unknown entity in accepting each child. But, what do they really expect to gain from the answers that parents provide?

How truthful will any parent be, for better or worse, about their own child? Right?

Which leads me to believe that the sneaking suspicion I've harbored all these years is true: they don't really want to know about your child... they want to know about YOU. Which is even more frightening, when you think about it. A toddler can be excused from almost any behavior, but an adult? Forget it.

The accepted (unwritten) cultural belief is this: if you were foolish enough to enter into parenthood without having a "plan" for how to handle these small beings, you are a failure....and, (the most important part!) don't let anyone else know it!

Because, as we all know, in our society you have to have all the right answers before the questions even come up.
You didn't know that two siblings could be so completely different from one another, and you can't discipline #2 with the same techniques that worked for #1? Too bad. You should have known about this before you ever conceived any children. You get an "F" in parenting.

I'm joking, but only mostly.
Isn't that how it feels sometimes?
And, doesn't that feeling really come into play when you are asked to write it all down on a form that goes into your child's PERMANENT FILE?

So, that's what I've finally decided is the answer. The next time I am faced with one of these forms (another year, or so!), I'm only going to write down those things that would please my child when he is an adult. Wouldn't you love to dig into your FILE and see that your mother thought you were "a joyous and cheer-filled child, who is kind to others"? I would, and I bet my kids would, too.

Don't believe me? Ask my brother Mike.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Why the title?

As a mother of 6 children (5 on Earth, 1 in Heaven), I often get asked, "HOW many kids do you have? Are you CRAZY?".
Duh. Isn't the answer obvious?
I'd HAVE to be a little insane in order to become a mother at all.

For me, being pregnant means 12 weeks of nausea and vomiting, hibernation due to extreme exhaustion, mood swings like you wouldn't believe, and (my personal favorite) weight gain. Who in their right minds would sign on for this, even ONCE?!?

And then, there is labor and birth. My first child was a 57-hour labor during which I pushed for the last 7 hours (yes, you read that correctly), and still ended up with a c-section. Note to newly pregnant women: do NOT think that peanut butter on everything will EVER result in a small baby. And still, I proceeded to welcome more children into my life.

Still think any woman who has even 1 child is sane? Need more convincing? Read on...

By most people's standards, I've been very lucky with my newborns. Only one baby has ever been colicky. Of course, he re-defined the word "colic", but still...
Even a good baby requires many diaper changes, many hours spent breastfeeding (if you breastfeed), and miles of walking, bouncing, and swaying. Oh wait... did I mention laundry? Apparently, newborns and Dreft have a standard agreement in which the newborns promise to soil as many clothes and linens as is humanly possible, in exchange for their own laundry detergent which costs more than regular laundry detergent.

Toddlers. Gotta love 'em. No, I mean it. You are literally REQUIRED to love them so that you won't harm them out of frustration. Hence, the chubby cheeks and little lisps. And, I DO love them.. generally, while they are sweetly sleeping in my arms.
Relax! I'm kidding!
But, the little stinkers are very labor-intensive. Chasing them, potty-training (a whole separate post!), feeding them umpteen times each day, playing the same games over and over (ditto on books. songs, etc), having them hang off your legs while you cook. The list is endless.

Got the straight-jacket ready yet? No? Let me try to sum up the rest ASAP.

Preschoolers: they are craft-crazy. They seem to crave playdoh, crayons, paints, etc. Basically, anything that prevents cleanliness.
Of course, by this age they have learned how to press more than the buttons on the TV and your cell-phone; they have learned how to press all of your "buttons". There is nothing like a 4-year-old who purposely hides your car keys every morning just to see you spin out of control. Precious.

School-age: "Mom, where do we keep the milk?" "Mom, Janie-Sue* is eating old cereal she found in the couch, and she won't give me ANY!" "Why can't I vacuum the dog's fur right off her body? That way I won't have to sweep." That's just the tip of the iceberg, my friends.
I haven't even mentioned explaining the birds and the bees (especially fun when they bring their friends along!), last-minute bake sale requests, begging/threatening them to clean up guinea pig cages/dog poop, and mediating disputes over dirty socks. (My father was right! Kids really will argue over spit on a doorknob!)

Now, my experience goes as far as a thirteen-year-old son, so I cannot (yet) speak to dating, high school drama, helping with calculus homework, or (cringe) driving. But, I'm sure it can't help restore any sanity that I might have once possessed.

So, here we are. I MUST be crazy because I signed on for this challenge/honor more than once, right?
But, it's a craziness that breeds warmth, love, compassion, humility, laughter, funny stories, and a deeper connection with my husband and God (a real necessity in my profession!). In what other capacity can you obtain all of these attributes on any given day?

Of course, I'm crazy, so what do I know? I guess I'll have to plead "guilty by reason of insanity"... GLADLY!

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.