How To Survive Your Children Hating Everything You Do For Them

This was printed in The Cedar Rapids Gazette as part of my Pants-free Parenting Column. It was printed in February right after a particularly brutal snowstorm. But imagining sweet, sweet, revenge, that’s still a thing.boydcrowder

 

I wasn’t adequately prepared for the snow storm. The Midwest has been my home for 16 years now and I rarely get worried about warnings of a blizzard. Blizzard predictions are usually all sound and no flurries. Except last Sunday when 10 inches of snow dumped on us and I was trapped in the house with two children and my husband, all demanding food. Also, the dishwasher was broken.

Feeling generous and bored, I spent the whole day baking. I made cinnamon rolls for breakfast, hot ham sandwiches for lunch and for dinner, I roasted a chicken, made garlic mashed potatoes, cranberry-walnut salad and biscuits. The meal was delicious, except I couldn’t enjoy it from all the shrieking.

My children took one look at the food and began wailing as if I had served them the severed limbs of their grandparents. My husband and I chewed in silence while my daughter sobbed into her hands: “I hate this food ten much!” and the baby kicked the table, tears streaming down his face.

This has happened before. And by before, I mean this scene is repeated five week nights out of seven. In fact, a few nights prior when my husband was working late, I had burned dinner while breaking up a fight over who could play with the remote-controlled train. Out of desperation, I feed them garbage—crackers, apple sauce, Jello, cheese sticks. My daughter had declared it “The best night ever.” So, their response shouldn’t have shocked me. But for some reason, this hurt. Maybe it was my raw hands from all the dishwashing. Maybe it was all the time I could have spent reading a book about blood spatter forensics instead of roasting a chicken. I was angry.

Instead of taking my anger out on my children or by taking the chocolate cake I had made for dessert and throwing it into a snow bank, I began to meditate on revenge.

I do this meditating practice often. When my children throw fits because they can’t have popsicles for dinner or ice cream at three am, I imagine them as adults sneaking into their house at two in the morning and screaming in their ears for a sandwich. When they make me that sandwich, I’ll throw it on the floor and declare it, “too yucky!”

When my baby yells “cookie” and tries to kamikaze out of the grocery cart while we are in the checkout aisle. I envision him as a teenager on a date and me walking up to him and yelling “cookie” over and over.

Mostly, these meditation practices are just fiction. I have no real intention of exacting revenge on them for the pain they caused me as children. That’s what grandchildren are for, sweet little, chubby balls of karma. But I remember when I was 15, my mom telling me a story about her friend who disguised herself as an old woman and followed her sons at a 4-H dance, sitting on the sidelines, spying on them. Then, when they came home, she questioned them about their behavior, which had been not up to her standards. The story seemed creepy then and is still creepy now. But I understand the smile my mom had when she told me about it. The story flirts with the idea of revenge. The justice all of us parents imagine as we sit at the table, while bits of our carefully prepared food is chucked at our heads.

That night, as I chewed my savory mashed potatoes, I imagined them coming home from college begging me to make them food. I imagined picking up a box of macaroni and cheese and tossing it at their feet. “Make your own food,” I would yell. “I’m going out with my friends!”

That image kept me sane as I put away the food and gave them a bath and put them to bed. Then, I stopped meditating and ate three pieces of chocolate cake.

Settle In

springmelt

The baby will be two in four months and I need to stop calling him a baby. He refers to himself as a baby in pictures. He points and says, “Baby! Dat Baby!” He points to my phone and asks for, “Bibeos baby.” So, I show him a video of him singing “Happy Birthday” and we laugh because that baby is cute, he is silly, he is outlandish and outsized in his big reactions and his small body.

I’ve been thinking a lot about his babyhood. His real babyhood. That first year when he was red, wrinkled skin and fists that barely reached his head. Before he could yell, “Mo candy!” or make the sound of a fox: “Ring ding! Cha! Cha!”

I didn’t handle the transition from one to two kids very well. I’ve been trying to figure out why. Maybe it was just more overwhelming than I was prepared for. Maybe I needed more Zoloft than I was willing to admit. Maybe I was too rigid in my expectations. Maybe all of this has made me softer and more willing to bob along in the chaos.

I hated who I was then. I cried a lot. I yelled even more. I wasn’t kind to Dave. I wasn’t kind to my daughter, who was just 2 and understood nothing. I remember once, in a fit of desperation, after she had pooped on the floor and refused to nap, I took away her blankie as a punishment. Blankie is her favorite comfort object, she’s been snuggling him since she was 9 months.

She sobbed, “But dat too special! But blankie too special!” I felt like a monster. More than yelling. More than screaming, taking blankie away made me hate the parent I was in that moment. All the advice says that when disciplining children you need to be firm and consistent. I caved. I gave blankie back. The next day, we were back there again. Poop on the floor. No nap. I didn’t take away blankie, but I did just shut myself in my room and cry, while she cried and then the baby cried.

I remember thinking, things will be better when he is six months old. Things will be better when he is 9 months old. Now, he is 20 months old and his baby book is incomplete and I look back on that mom and I wish she hadn’t wasted all that time. I wish she would have just learned to bob and weave earlier. I wish she would have stopped scrubbing the floors at midnight. I wish she would have just given the 2 year old the iPad and napped next to her.

Lately, the words I’ve been repeating to myself are “Settle in.” It’s not about leaning in or trying harder. It’s not about leaning back and finding reprieve. It’s about settling into what I have. It’s about realizing that this is a long haul. It used to be my mantra when training for half-marathons. I’d say to myself, “You have 10 miles left, Lenz, settle in and don’t get antsy.” I’m not a fast runner, but I enjoy the challenge of long distances. I like it when my body finally stops leaning forward with the eagerness of the start or desperation of the finish, and settles in for the long haul of the middle. My shoulders settle back, my pace becomes more even.

Right now, I say that to myself about my writing. “Settle in.” Writing is a long slog. You edit. You edit. You edit some more. You submit. You are rejected. You do it again. Let your shoulders go back. Let your pace become more even. Take a breath, settle in.

I am finally beginning to feel this way about parenting. I understand now that once one thing is conquered the next thing arises. I’m always being warned about 10, or 12 or god forbid 16 year olds. I tell people, I’ll worry about it when I get there. But first, I have to get there.

And I won’t get there if I keep feeling like I did when the baby was little. Like I’m always peeking around the next corner.

One time, when I was ten, my sister threw me into a lake. We were having fun. She had been throwing us all in and we would laugh, bob up and ask her to do it again. But when I opened my eyes in the dirty water, I panicked. I didn’t know which way was up. I didn’t know where to swim and I didn’t know if I could hold my breath long enough for me to find out. It must have only been a few moments, but I thrashed and kicked, scream pushing against my closed lips, until I found the light and the air again.

That’s what it feels like sometimes.

I told someone that story once and she said, this is how people drown, by fighting it. You just have to relax and let yourself float up. Of course. I remember someone else telling me that it’s not the water that drowns people, it’s the panic. I should have just relaxed into it. Settled in. Floated up.

This morning, I woke up throwing up from a migraine. The kids are on Spring Break and I have deadlines and I haven’t been able to find the help I need for this week, so I have to scramble through and then throw a birthday party and in the meantime, people need to be fed and cared for and provided with a warm loving family environment.

It’s nothing dire, but I still sometimes feel like I can’t find which way is up. But this time, I turned on the TV, made macaroni and cheese for lunch. This time, I floated.

It’s not without it’s risks. I worry my kids will feel the neglect of these days more than the relaxed fun. I worry whether I should have given them juice. Maybe I should go take the iPad away from my oldest. But then again, I remember, I can’t worry too much about things before I get there. Big breath. Settle in. Float up.

Almost Four

holdinghands

Earlier this week, when my daughter was sick, I tried explaining to her what antibiotics were.

“Anti-bi-what?” She said. She is almost four, almost four and a century old.

“Anti-bi-otics,” I said.

“Antibi-leaf?”

“Antibiotics.”

“Antibi-mirror?”

“Antibiotics.”

“Antibi-horse?”

“Come on now,” I said. Her face didn’t crack a smile. She just shrugged. “Guess I don’t know it.” Then, she walked away.

It is a bizarre feeling, when the human you created, the one you wrenched forth from your innermost being, turns on you. You don’t even know it. You give them the benefit of the doubt. There is this a whiff of that new parent in you. The one so in love with your baby that you won’t admit they are killing you. “No, he’s the perfect baby,” you insist to strangers, who can see the bags under your eyes and hear the exhaustion buzz from your skin. “He’s so perfect.”

This never really leaves you. This is why it’s easy to make the mom the butt of a joke. She’s so insistent on your perfection, she never sees it coming. And I didn’t. I didn’t see it coming. I just assumed she didn’t know how to say antibiotic (which is ridiculous, because she could say provalone at 11 months old.)

A few hours later, I overheard her talking to her baby brother. “Bubs, can you say antibiotic? I can.”

Straight up trolled by my almost four year old.

Only the day before, I had been holding her in my lap, catching the vomit from her as she cried that her throat hurt like “lots of mean guys were in it.” That day, when I strode into the room and said, “Hey, you can say antibiotics.” She put her hand on her hip, cocked her head to one side and said very slowly, “So what.”

It wasn’t a question.

I don’t know how someone can be so old and so young at the same time. Having children has made time manifest. Before it was a concept that dictated the places I should be. Now, it stands before me, hand on hip, blonde hair in eyes, eyes that say, “What’s it to you?” With a mouth, still so small and pink, that says, “So what.” Time wears a shirt with glitter butterflies. Time tells me that I am a cricket face. Time wakes me up at three in the morning to tell me that she had a scary dream and just wants her mommy.

I feel this way about the baby too. Who really isn’t a baby. I think when a person wakes you up at four in the morning screaming for waffles, they aren’t really a baby. They are a toddler. He is so small. He doesn’t eat much any more. Meal times are violent rebellions. He often takes one look at his food and if it’s chicken he screams, “NONONONONONONO!” And tries to claw his way out of his seat. But he’s buckled in. So he pulls the top of the chair and lifts the seat and tips the chair. And it defies physics, but it seems like he’s lifting himself, chair, booster and all, off the ground and into the air. That’s strong for someone who doesn’t eat chicken. He’s not very chubby, not like his sister was, all rolls and curls. His pants slide down, I roll them at the waist and he has diaper butt. He’s been in a size 18 month, for months. Then, today, I saw that his footie pajamas were too small, stretching between his shoulders and feet.

Here is how he grows. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Everything.

He did that with words too. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Now, everything. Waffles. Time out. Candy. Zuchinni.

I watch them playing in the tent. He is the baby dragon and she is the princess. They have to fight, she explains. He laughs and roars. I wonder how they can be so small and so big at the same time. I sometimes think I will drown in that thought. But then, someone is crying. Someone’s hair is pulled. Someone’s feelings are hurt. Someone wants a snack. Someone needs a tissue. And now someone smells like poop. These little tiny things save me from wondering too much about time.

My first job was as a nurses aid in an assisted living center. I didn’t last long because everyone kept dying and I couldn’t handle it. The first woman who died while I was there was married to another resident. They had been married seven years. They met in the center. They were both each other’s second spouse. Their first marriages had lasted four decades each.

I was cleaning up after lunch and her husband, now a widower twice, sat on the couch. “I want to tell you about my wife,” he said. So, I sat next to him. He didn’t look at me. He didn’t seem to look at anything. “It better be more than angels and worship up there past those pearly gates,” he said. “Otherwise, she’s gonna be angry.”

I laughed. I didn’t know which wife he meant. I tried to look at him in the eyes and tell him something profound or at least kind. But looking in his eyes, was like looking at the ocean and not knowing anything about fathoms. I knew there was more than what I was seeing, but I didn’t know what or how much. I just knew, I didn’t want to jump in.

I opened my mouth, but then another aide walked by with a vacuum and I was saved. I jumped up and cleared the table asking the man if they had gone on any dates. I don’t remember his answer, but I do know he laughed. Three weeks later, he was the second person who died.

Sometimes I think poop is that vacuum sound. It jolts me from jumping into waters I know nothing about. There is time enough to learn. Watching my kids, I feel like I’m not at part of time. I’m just the hand that give the snacks to time, when time is hungry. But I also feel like time is running through my fingers, wriggling from my grasp when I say, “Mommy needs kisses. Please.”

Or when I completely miss out on a joke that has been made at my expense. “No, you can’t do that,” I want to say. “I do that. I do that to my mom. I am the joker and not the joked.”

But it’s too late. And she is only almost four.

On Public Meltdowns

Whenever my husband and I take our children out to a friend’s house or, should we feel saucy, to a restaurant, events begin well. The baby will laugh and crawl around, our daughter will dash off to play, and lulled by the façade of peace we will sit down with a drink and begin a conversation.  But of course, this is really only a false front disguising the storm brewing inside my children.

Often, what’s brewing inside my children is poop. I don’t know why, but they instinctively know to hold on to any bowel movements until we are in the most rural part of our road trip or at someone else’s’ house.  I’m no novice. I now carry back up diapers, wipes and clothing in the car. This has led to the baby wearing a shirt declaring him a Princess and my daughter waddling around with a size two diaper on her three-year-old bum, but poop we can handle.

It’s the other storm that worries me. The one that begins with whimpering and a quiet hysteria that I can see rising in the baby’s eyes. We know what’s coming: the meltdown. The full-on public meltdown. Children don’t meltdown quietly. They aren’t masters of the graceful exit. Instead, they are Biblical in their wrath and grief. Clothing is torn. Teeth are gnashed. Hellfire comes spewing forth from that cute little mouth that you kiss at night. And my children always seem to meltdown when my husband and I dare to take them out in the evening.

We never learn. I don’t know if that is the sleep deprivation or the fact that we are eternal optimist. Maybe this time our kids won’t scream in Red Robin! Maybe this time my daughter won’t decide that the marching band in the parade is going to crush her and start sobbing. Maybe this time, the baby won’t grab my plate of ribs, while I look away to take a drink, and toss my whole meal on the floor. Maybe this time we can all eat hamburgers happily as a family as God intended. But inevitably, the whimpers begin, the pupils dilate, teeth start grinding, and it becomes evident that we need to leave. Of course, we never do leave on time. We always push the boundaries just a little further than we intend to. Goodbyes take a little longer than we expect and the waitress is never around with the check. (Which surprises me, because if I were a restaurant, I would want me out of there too.)

So, if you see a frazzled woman and a disgruntled man hauling a sobbing little girl in a princess dress and a pantsless, screaming baby to the car, that’s us. Say, “hi!” The meltdown has already come, what’s a little more parking lot hysterics in the grand scheme of things?

Inevitably, we will be back at it again next week. Hoping against hope that this, this will be the time we can take our kids in public successfully. Forget college. Forget being a doctor, I just want to enjoy a nice meal out without my kids crying because the French fries are to “French fryie.” But that’s parenting: The eternal hope that one day your kid can function in public without you or someone else getting arrested or breaking down into tears. Wish us luck.

kidscrazymouthThis originally appeared in the Cedar Rapids Gazette as part of my Pants-Free Parenting column.

 

Cut! Cut! Cut!

As we were leaving a friend’s house the other night, JQ walked up to me and handled me a long metal pin. “Oh man!” He said and walked away.

It was the pin for the door hinge.

JQ is only 19 months old.

Send help. Send the National Guard. Dear Lord, save me. I am going to die.

This is of course in conjunction with all his other activities, like two months ago when he ripped a door off the cabinet. Or just a week ago, when he scooted a chair over to the counter, climbed on it, climbed onto the counter, grabbed a knife from the magnet strip, and started stabbing his snack cup yelling, “CUT! CUT! CUT!”

But on the bright side, he’s turning into a great talker. He knows how to say all the important words like, “Sweet roll,” “candy” and “time out.” He’s also recently started trying to potty train himself.

After potty training E, I decided I would never potty train another child again. They could wear diapers until someone made them ashamed in first grade, I don’t care. But E told her brother that if he peed on the potty he could get candy. So, he started running around yelling, “Poddy! Candy!” I completely ignored him for the first week.

Then, like a chump, I said, “Fine, you want candy, sit on the potty and pee.” Then, I put him down on the Elmo potty seat. He stared at me with a look that was more of a glare. It’s this look he get’s when he’s about to run away or stab a snack cup with a knife. A look that says, “Listen up, you are going to freak the hell out in about two seconds, so gird your loins!”

He looked at me and peed. Then, held out his hands and said, “CANDY!”

Ever since then, he will come up to me and say, “Poddy! Candy!” I put him on the potty and he pees. He did this 5x in one day once. More often it’s just once a day in the morning while we are trying to get out the door. I don’t think this is potty training. I think this is using urine as an act of aggression.

The other night, Dave and I lay in bed and he said, “That baby is going to be a handful. He’s too smart.”

I snorted. “Going to be?” Then, I laughed so hard I started to cry.

JQ

It has been quite on this blog because I have been working a lot on some different writing projects, which I hope will go live soon. I know I don’t always do the best job of keeping people informed of where I’ve been writing, so I made a page here to keep better track of my clips and also, I do my best to spam the hell out of people who are my Facebook fans. Sometimes I regret having that page, but one of those marketing people who follow me on twitter told me, IT’S ALL ABOUT BRAND! Right before I blocked them.

Some links:

I wrote about Sulfates and Triclosan for Jane Marie’s beauty site, The Milli, which is awesome, you should read it.

I also wrote about evil mothers for Jezebel.

And why I’m afraid of people calling CPS on me.

Also, advice for what you should do when your baby threatens you with a knife.

 

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