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.

 

Junkies

EandJMy daughter is stealing toilet paper. It started innocently at first. A roll here and there. I barely noticed. I’m absent minded. Thinking that I replaced the toilet paper in the bathroom and then discovering that I actually did not is something that is so common in my life that I don’t even question it.

This is how she was able to ferret away seven rolls of toilet paper under her bed without detection, until one day, Dave, stranded on the toilet yelled, “WHO KEEPS TAKING THE TOILET PAPER AND CAN SOMEONE BRING ME SOME?”

I stood up to go rescue him, but E was already up the stairs. “Oh dad, I have some under my bed.”

I followed her upstairs and watched her reach under her bed, grab a roll and hand it to Dave through the bathroom door. “Here you go dad.”

I crouched down next to her. “Honey, why are you taking the toilet paper?”

She smiled. “My baby chickies need it for their butts.”

The baby chickies in question are three to five imaginary chickens that follow my daughter around. She has had them as constant companions since she was two. Yesterday, I gave her an old digital camera to play with and she took a picture of the empty floor. “Look mom, all my baby chickies look so cute in dis picture!”

“Baby chickies poop on the potty,” I told her. “So leave the toilet paper there.”

I thought this would be the end of it, but the thievery only continued. The next time I caught her she wailed, “The monsters need it for there butts! THEY DO! THEY DO!”

The third time I caught her, she snarled her little lips, “I take it because you never buy me any toilet paper ever!”

So, that next Sunday, I took her grocery shopping and bought her a four-pack of one-ply toilet paper. She hugged it like it was the toddler Holy Grail. “OH FANK YOU! IT’S MY DREAM!”

She carried the toilet paper with her in her backpack to school, in my bag to dance class and in a plastic Target bag to ride bikes at a gym. One of my friends, a mother of three, asked E what was in her bag. E held out a little ball of paper. “Oh, it’s toilet paper, you need some for your nose?”

For the next two hours, she rode her bike and passed out little bits of toilet paper to the kids. When JQ spilled his drink she sped over and waved her toilet paper like a one-ply superhero. “Mom, I will wipe it up!”

And she did.

Part of me was seriously worried about her love for toilet paper. But then I remembered how when I was about the same age, I thought my baby doll’s bloomers were Cinderella’s cleaning cap. There are multiple pictures of me at four and five, asleep in only my underwear wearing baby bloomers on my head. Maybe she comes by this crazy honestly.  I told Dave this story of my childhood and martyred myself on the cross of genetic weirdness and that’s where we were, until a few days ago.

A light burnt out in the kitchen and I had to venture into the basement where Dave keeps his stash of bulbs. Out of protest against the new compact florescent light bulbs, Dave has been accumulating a vast horde of incandescents. There is a whole shelf of them in the basement, where he has stacked them. He often tells people how to score incandescents and he once scolded me for wasting them. “The next bulbs I buy will have to be from the internet,” he huffed. “This pile won’t last forever.”

I thought of his protests when that night, I heard E beg him for “Just a widdle more toilet paper, please? Just a widdle more?”

Goldfish In Bra AKA Roadtrips With Kids

We traveled to Colorado for Christmas. It is February and I can finally talk about it.

kidsathotel

Taking a road trip with your children across the country should be punishment for stealing. I have met some people who really enjoy long car rides with their children, but I’ve also met people who think that jumping off a cliff with only a rope tied to your ankle is a good idea.

Over the holidays, my husband and I decided to drive with our two children to Colorado to visit my family. Which was akin to deciding to journey through the depths of Hell to spend some days staying with Satan himself and eating his pot roast. I have a large family—seven siblings—the majority of whom would be at my parents’ house along with their children and partners. My family is a lot like the Waltons, if the Waltons liked to yell, criticize each other’s hair, drink a lot of wine and play really tense card games late into the night.  So, nothing like the Waltons.

But it’s family and it’s the holidays. And one day science will find a direct link to eating too many cookies and forgetting that your family is insane and wanting to go visit them, but this is not that day. So, we left at two in the morning the day after Christmas.

Leaving early was my husband’s idea. At some point in the parenting process, my husband became a dad, a real dad, with tools and ideas about how money should be saved and travel should be undertaken. Many of these dad ideas coincide with frugality and “beating the crowd”, which are also true Midwestern values. And in accordance to those values, my husband likes to urge me to leave halfway through the Fourth of July fireworks because we need to “beat the crowds” and he cautions me against buying off-brand shampoo when I could just add water to the dregs of my Suave body wash and use that for my hair.

So, it should come as no shock that he planned on leaving at two in the morning, so we could save money by doing the trip to Colorado in one day and “beat the crowds.” Although, unless he meant cattle or the smell of cow farts, these “crowds” never did materialize.

It was just us and our kids at two in the morning pulling out of Cedar Rapids, miserable and tired. The plan was that our children would sleep for the first leg of the trip. This did not happen. Instead, they both screamed for an hour and a half, just long enough to give me a migraine. When they did sleep, they slept for another hour and a half and then they were up.

The number one way to get your kid to sleep in the car is to not want them to. I desperately wanted my  children to sleep, so they stayed awake engaging in activities like crying, demanding snacks, dumping snacks on the floor, demanding that I pick up the snacks from the floor, crying when I explained that mommy’s body doesn’t bend that way and no, she can’t get that goldfish in the wheel well.

Like all modern parents, we had gadgets and videos to lull our children into technology induced comas. But the baby wasn’t buying it and my three year old did not appreciate the fact that “bubba” was “frowing all his trucks” at her.

I began the trip totally against the idea of drugging my children with Tylenol to make them sleep. But by the time we stopped for lunch, I bought Tylenol and extra strength migraine medicine for me. “They have headaches, right?” I asked my husband.

“Sure,” he nodded.

That was all I needed.

By the time we got to my parents’ house, all nerves had been soothed by an elixir of drugs, candy and brand new snacks.

“How was the trip?” My mom asked.

“Just perfect,” I said pulling a goldfish cracker out of my hair. “Where is the wine?”

On the way home, we did the trip in two stages, neither beating any crowds or saving any money. But it was worth it.

The Pacifier Remains

I wrote this for my newspaper parenting column back in May of 2014, when E was a newly minted three and still had a pacifier. Two months later, we lured her away from the pacifier by having her exchange it for a tea set and a lot of fancy fans.  But the ending still seems relevant, because that’s the thing with parenting. You conquer one mountain only to face the next. Right now the mountain we are climbing is how not to call people “Mean cricket faces” and steal all the toilet paper.

Eshopping

I often lie to myself often as a parent. Tomorrow, I will start teaching my daughter her letters. Tomorrow, I will take away the pacifier. Tomorrow, I won’t get frustrated during the tenth round of Princess Memory and walk away from the game while she is acting out scenes from movies with the cards. Tomorrow, I will finally stop getting up with the baby when he cries at three in the morning. Tomorrow, I will stop using crackers to make him sit in his car seat without screaming and arching his back. Tomorrow.

The lies are little ones; harmless really. Or, so I tell myself.  I tell myself these lies because they help me cope with the daily reality that I am not, nor will I ever, be the parent I thought I would be. I thought I would be fun, yet respected. Firm, but always imaginative. My children would have their early years spent in nature, wandering in naturalist Utopia, where they would learn as Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote, from “no book but the world.” They most certainly, would not spend most mornings slurping their daily allotment of milk from a bowl dotted with fruit loops. They most certainly would not they learn their colors from “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” or their alphabet from a computer game. Rousseau would not approve of that.

I lie because it helps me save face to my biggest critic: myself. No one feels the shame of my lost moments of grace, my shouted commands, or my impatient urging more than me. So, I promise myself I’ll do better. I’ll make that craft I saw on the internet. We’ll all learn fractions from baking cupcakes. And really, I really will take away that pacifier. But the next day, I wake up after a long night because the baby learned to stand in his crib and the toddler insists that wolves do live in Cedar Rapids, right next to Wal-Mart, she just “knowed it.” Then, I don’t shower because I’d rather sleep. I don’t put on make-up because I’d rather drink another cup of coffee. I sit and watch my daughter slurp her milk from a fruit-loop dotted bowl, because she insists that’s how unicorns eat. The pacifier remains.

In the past three years of parenting, all I’ve managed to learn is how to unlearn—how to disentangle myself from my own unreachable expectations. My children don’t need me to be perfect. They need me to be present. They don’t need lofty ideals, they need a band-aid, a butt wipe, another reading of Fancy Nancy and five hundred kisses before bed. That, I don’t need to wait until tomorrow for, that I can do today.

So, tomorrow, instead of lying to myself, I will extend the same grace I give to my children and accept me not as the parent I imagine, but as the parent I am. Tomorrow, I will also eat like a unicorn. Tomorrow, I will fight the wolves instead of my daughter. Tomorrow, I will stop insisting that I can be perfect. Tomorrow, I will forgive myself the hundred little errors, the missteps and mistakes. Tomorrow.

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