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?