All The Things I’m Going To Do With My Free Time When School Starts

Free Time

School starts in two weeks and both kids will be going two days a week. That’s right, the baby and the three-year-old will be out of the house and with others two days a week for four hours each day. That means I will have eight hours a week all to myself. And I know, right? Eight hours. Eight whole hours. That’s like almost a full work day, but divided into two days.

I bumped into someone at the park last week, who was all, “Wow, all that time, what will you do?”

At first I thought she was kidding, so I blinked, but no, that wide-eyed expectant stare stayed on her face. Bless her heart, she thought I was going to answer. I just smiled, “I’ll think of something.”

She laughed. “Maybe you could nap.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Too bad Oprah’s off the air. Now what will I watch while I eat my bonbons?”

“Maybe The View?”

That’s when I was sure she was trolling me, but in real life.

Since then, a lot of people have been asking me what I am going to do with this glut of free time. You know, those eight hours. Which are actually more like six because of pick up and drop off time, but six. I mean, that’s a lot. So, I thought I would just answer right here, right now, here are 18 things that stay-at-home moms do with all their free time when school starts. But this is by no means a comprehensive list.

1. Sit down and eat a meal where no one is screaming at me or asking me how many bites until ice cream.

2. Cure cancer.

3. Read the news.

4.  I don’t know, maybe do the work that I normally do late in the night, so I can go to sleep before 11.

5. Get a job that somehow lets me work only eight hours a week and make a ton of money, because you know, the economy is super great and very accommodating to working women with children. Yay, America!

6. Start an online petition to bring back Oprah.

7.  Take a shower.

8. Single-handedly stop the Ebola outbreak and then go grocery shopping.

9. Take the Iron Throne.

10. Find Sasquatch.

11.  Cry.

12. LOL. I don’t know. Maybe I should have another baby because I have a lot of free time now.

13. Clean the house, I guess that’s my job because I have a vagina and so much free time.

14. Finally get that perfect Instagram of my feet. It’s like the holy grail of social media, amirite?

15. Solve crime while sipping tea and fulfill my dream of becoming the Agatha Christie of Iowa.

16.  Take boxing lessons.

17. Build a time machine.

18. Go back in time and punch you in the face for asking that question to any mother getting her kids ready for back to school.

How To Be A Perfect Mother

SOblessed

In order to be the perfect mother,* you must do absolutely everything you can for your child. But not everything because if you do, then you are setting them up for failure in life and ruining the future of America. Of course, if you don’t do everything for them, you are completely selfish. You must also cherish your children completely and always, but don’t be smug about it, okay. You must never complain about your child, but if you only say good things, you are not being honest and you are fake. So be honest, but why are you complaining? At least  you have kids! You chose to have them, so stop your bitching. But moms these days are so fake on social media, never being honest about how hard it is to be a parent, so don’t do that.

The perfect mother always looks nice and isn’t a slob. She takes care of herself. But it’s important for mothers to know that they need to stop being so vain and only thinking about themselves. You must dedicate your life to your children, but also have your own sense of self, because what are you? Co-dependent? Work out and be healthy, but don’t workout too hard because why would you prioritize that over your own children? So, be careful that you don’t get too fat, because you are making America obese and your kids will be fat like you and then, probably, Armageddon.  On that note, don’t wear a bikini, because only slutty moms do that. But also, model healthy body image to your children, or you are the reason they will fail at life.

You should breastfeed, but only if you can do it in a room quietly and away from everyone. Breast is best, but seriously, no one wants to see your boobs. Only selfish moms use formula, but you should probably just go ahead and use it and stop complaining about breastfeeding. No one wants to talk about your boobs.

Working mothers are wonderful examples of modern womanhood, but they are also incredibly selfish to be putting a career before their children. A good mother never puts her career before her children, she also doesn’t ever slack at work. Stay-at-home moms are wonderful and sacrificial, but honestly, get a job lady, because what do you do all day? So, definitely get a job, but honestly, why aren’t you watching your own children? Using childcare is wonderful, after all, it takes a village, but why are you outsourcing your motherhood? Why did you even have children in the first place?

A good mother always puts her partner first, except when she values her children above everything.  A good mother also advocates for her child, and is never sanctimonious and pushy. Trust your mom instincts, except that you are completely hormonal and irrational and you need medicine.

So, mothers watch over your children and constantly shield them from the big bad world. Also, never be enabling helicopter parents, who do everything for their children and shield them from the world. Never let your kid quit anything, they must learn perseverance, but you should empower them to make their own choices. Children ought to be allowed to choose what to wear, but if your kids aren’t wearing perfectly matching Tea Collection outfits, you are a terrible parent. The Tea Collection is ridiculously overpriced. But cheap clothing with characters on it makes your kids a walking  billboard for consumerism. Good mothers discipline their children. Spanking is barbaric, time out is ineffective and I’m calling CPS. Good mothers never yell or get mad. Good mother’s show their children that it’s okay to yell and get mad sometimes.

Perfect mothers understand how privileged they are to be parenting in America. But the French are doing everything better. So, mothers, be confident in your choices, because you are probably doing everything wrong.

 

*I would just like to say from the start, that I understand many of these things hold true for fathers as well. I’m not trying to say moms have it worse than fathers, or anyone at all.  Also, yes this is similar to something I wrote before. Feel free to sue me for plagiarism.

Mutually Assured Destruction

Halfway through our vacation, my husband and I lay awake in our hotel room, listening to the sounds of the rowdy 10 year old boys down the hall. It was 10 and we had been on the cusp of sleep for the past 40 minutes, always yanked back to consciousness by a loud crash or the muffled voice of a tired parent telling everyone to just “Be still for godsakes!” I sighed and Dave said, “You can’t say anything.”

“I know, I know.”

“Because our kid will just be up at five.”

“And he will be screaming. I know. I’m not mad at them. I’m just so tired.”

“No doubt they are too,” said Dave.  Somehow we fell asleep, only to wake up a few hours later to our own screaming son.

This is the mutually assured destruction of parenthood. Should we throw the bomb of complaining about someone else’s kids, they could just throw it right back at us. And we’d all be annihilated. The nuclear bomb of shared guilt. And in the world of parenting, every nation is a nuclear one.

At the water park, the very next day a little girl came up to Jude and gave him a shove. The mom, mortified, said, “I’m so sorry, we are working on it!”

“It’s okay,” I said. “The moment you fix it, you’ll be onto the next. Plus, this guy bites me, so he has it coming.”

The poor woman looked exhausted. Her baby must have been barely two and she was pregnant with her second. She shook her head. “They just don’t do what you want them to.”

I wanted to take her aside and pour her some whiskey. I wouldn’t tell her it gets worse, I wouldn’t tell her it gets better. I would just pour her some whiskey and say, “I know, right? Who knew this would be 18 years of obsessing over someone else’s fecal matter and explaining why we don’t poke our friends with forks?”

Sometimes I feel like I’m united to every parent every where by the pain our children inflict on others.  Even if my kids have a good day and we go out to eat and the three-year-old eats all her food and colors patiently while the check comes and the baby only throws a few things on the ground and uses his hands to wave adorably at old people instead of pounding knives on the table, I know it’s just a fleeting vision. The next time we go out, the three-year-old will throw her dress over her head and scream that the grilled cheese she asked for IS SO BERRY YUCKY! And the baby will try to plunge head first out of his high chair while screaming. And Dave and I will frantically shove food down our throats, while exchanging the universal parent look for, “THEY SHOOT HORSES DON’T THEY?”

It’s in those moments when I want to just hit an eject button and parachute the hell out of there. Once, at a McDonald’s, when my nephew was little, he threw a fit about his Happy Meal. His mom took him aside for a talk and his screams from the bathroom reverberated throughout the restaurant. “WHO’S KID IS THAT?” My brother-in-law said loudly. “THEY SHOULD CONTROL HIM!”

I thought about that moment on vacation, when I kindly asked my daughter to put down her skirt and eat one bite of grilled cheese and she hauled off and smacked my arm. “No way!” She said. “Princesses just don’t like yucky grilled cheese.” The restaurant was small and filled with old people. I felt the room wait with baited breath. I mean, most likely no one actually cared about the drama at the table in the corner, but when it’s you facing down fancy pants the mom hitter, you feel all eyes on you. You think everyone is wondering: What will this mom do in the face of such panty-showing impertinence? I leaned in close to my daughter’s ear so no one could hear. “Princesses who hit their queens become normal girls with no fancy things.”

Commence wailing. Wailing that lasted the next three hours as we hauled her back to the hotel and unceremoniously stripped her of her princess regalia and made her wear shorts and a coordinating t-shirt. The horror.

I used to think that you could just “control your children.” Now, I know otherwise. When the three-year-old turned two, or as I liked to call it, signed a pact with Satan to dedicate a year of her life destroying me, I scrambled through a pile of parenting books looking for advice on how to fightback against the raging, pink, princess-clad menace that screamed and kicked the walls every night. Most books, which had been so helpful in providing sleeping tips for infants and breastfeeding advice, suddenly got vague. “Shoot for 60% compliance” one book suggested. “And may God have mercy on your soul,” I read between the lines.

My mom likes to tell a story, about how she raised all eight of us children to be good little Evangelicals and court instead of date. When we grew up we did nothing of the sort. One of my mom’s friends who was also raising a quiverfull of Evangelicals, noted with surprise that one of us was dating. “You let your children date?” She said to my mom.

“No,” my mom said, “they just do.”

So, back at the hotel. Dave and I get the sleep we can until the morning comes all too soon and we take alternate mornings hauling our baby out to the beach to yell and eat sand at 5am, while the rest of the hotel sleeps. Out there we find a community of parents with similarly evil children and old people walking by and nodding, “I remember those days.”

On the beach

About A Birthday

JQbirthday

This weekend we celebrating JQ’s birthday. We themed the party with his favorite things–BBQ ribs, dirt and bouncing. I even got a little bounce house and my friends all told me, very kindly, but firmly that I had become that person. That person who goes over the top for birthdays. I know this is true. I can’t help it. We all have our crazy. Mine is a birthday. When Ellis turned one, I spent the week prior, planning the perfect balloon arch and mapping out how I wanted the tables laid out in the church. It had to be the church, I’d invited too many people for our house.  When she turned two, I spent the week prior creating the perfect Curious George-themed labels for the the water bottles. I’ve learned a few things about birthdays–No one cares about labels. Make sure the kids can go crazy.

Kids did go crazy. The pool outside got filled with mud several times. At one point, a little boy walked over and flipped off the switch to the bounce house while four kids where inside, prompting me to scream out his name and for him to stare at me in fear and immediately flip the switch back on.

Celebrating little JQ has been so special this year in a different way than it was with Ellis. Not because we love them any differently, but because of what a year it has been. Only a month after JQ was born, I saw a lovely woman lose her newborn son. In February, another friend of mine lost hers 11 month old son. Right now, someone I know is gearing up to fight for her own son, a fight that seems life and death, but is taking place in a courtroom and not a hospital.  In February, on a particularly brutal day, as I recounted to my dad all the heartache that I’ve felt this year, I suddenly realized how much more they had endured. They’ve had friends lose children as well this past year, tragically and senselessly. They too have been to funerals. They have watched their own children experience pain unending. “Why children?” I asked. “It’s all such heartbreak.”

He just hugged me. It’s no sort of answer, but every sort of assurance.

I never really planned on having children. When I married Dave I told him he had to be okay with the possibility of never having children. He said he was, although, I’m sure he knew better. He claims he doesn’t remember this. But I have it documented in a journal. Anyway, he’s always been more level-headed. I think, in some way, children for me have been an unexpected adventure. They were never something I envisioned for my life and nothing I ever felt really prepared for. So, I often find myself at the end of everyday thinking, how am I here? How am I in this moment of Cheerios on my feet and a three-year-old shouting at the top of the stairs that “creepy aliens” are coming in through the windows?

Sometimes, I mean those questions in a kind of terrified way. But more often than not, I mean them in an amazed sort of way. I remember hearing an interview with David Rakoff (who was dying of cancer), where he quoted another writer, Melissa Bank: “‘The only proper answer to ‘Why me?’ is ‘Why not you?’…You can’t win all the contests and then lose at one contest and say, ‘Why am I not winning this contest as well?’ It’s random. So truthfully, again, do I wish it weren’t me? Absolutely. I still can’t make that logistic jump to thinking there’s a reason why it shouldn’t be me.”

And this seemed like a reasonable sort of logic. So, whenever I see myself in place of good or ill, I always ask “Why?” but then, I ask, “Why not?” Why not a blessing? Why not pain? Why not this little person, with a wide grin toothy grin and hands that want the world?  Why not this curve of a pink cheek? Why not this mashed banana on my floor and a little girl in a princess dress shaking her booty to the fox song? Why not this breaking heart?

I think I feel all of this so much more acutely because I had a miscarriage right before I had JQ. I always feel like I need to apologize for saying that. Because I wouldn’t have even known I was pregnant if I hadn’t felt weird while running one day and peed on a stick. And I was pregnant and then I wasn’t. And then, I was again. And it was such a weird yo-yo. But it’s the contrast to this bright, active little life I’m now raising. I don’t think about it always. But then again, there will always be that part of me there flushing away blood.

Sometimes, I feel like life is just breaking yourself into pieces. There are parts of me that have been broken off and left behind always in those moment of greatest joy and greatest pain. I will always be in that moment of a cold November night, when Dave spun me around underneath the stars and asked me to marry him. I’m also always in that dorm room, holding the phone, trying not to smash it against the wall, hearing what that man did to my sister. So much of life is just breaking and leaving pieces of you behind in your wake. But maybe it’s also finding parts of you. There is this legend found in Jewish mysticism that I’ve always loved. I forget how it goes precisely, but the gist is this: In the beginning, God’s light was shattered into an infinite number of pieces and spread all over the world. It is our job to gather the fallen sparks, the little trails of God that we see everywhere. I used to think that gathering the light meant doing BIG things. Digging a well. Saving a life. But lately, I feel like the pieces of God in my life are small. Very small. They are lying on the floor while Ellis builds a castle around me. They are my 5am’s with JQ, while he whisper’s “Dadada” and falls asleep. It’s Dave making a ridiculous joke and then waiting for me to laugh with his eyebrows raised.

So, this year has been one of breaking and putting back together. Of course, that’s dramatic to say, when all I’ve been actually doing, is not sleeping, writing for the internet, trying to figure out if that spot is poop or dried banana, and wiping dirt out of my baby’s mouth.  But maybe that’s why I like birthdays. I can indulge the drama in me a little and drape the house in tulle for my princess and get a bounce house for my crazy baby. We can eat cake and mark the passing of another year of breaking and another year of finding light.

And I really love cake.

And so does my baby. Especially dirt cake, which I made for him, because obviously.dirtcake

So, we celebrated a little life this weekend. A little life that is so insatiable. His hands are always reaching. His fingers always pointing. He is always needing–to be picked up, to eat, to sleep, to have precisely what his sister has, to bite an electrical cord, to climb into a dishwasher, to open the fridge, to cry when he shuts the fridge on himself. His needs exhaust me. His needs break me apart and put me back together. So, we celebrated that, but mostly we just bounced and ate ribs and cleaned dirt out of everything.

 

 

Doing Things With Kids

crazy Doing things with kids is the worst. Not all the time, of course, I really like taking my kids to carnivals and filling them up with funnel cake and then watching them puke it all out on the carousel. I also, really loooove hauling them to the pool only to have them beg to sit in the chairs and eat snacks for the next two hours. But, somehow, no matter how hard or how well I plan, something always happens that turns a simple run  to the grocery store into Mutiny on the Bounty. I run out to the store for just a gallon of milk and the baby poops on the cart and my daughter begins sobbing in the cheese aisle.

Here are some examples of what I mean.

Signing Up for a Race Without Kids: I sign up online. I run the race.

Signing Up for a Race With Kids: For some reason the online form isn’t working. Email and call the race organizers and reach no one. Decide to sign up at the packet pick-up the day before the race. Bring both kids with me downtown. It takes ten minutes to find a parking spot three blocks away. Get out of the car and realize the stroller isn’t in the back. Carry the baby and pull Ellis along two blocks* in 90 degree heat and up three flights of stairs to the packet pick up. Wait in line for the form. Sit at the table to fill out the form. The baby immediately crawls away into a display of shoes. Ellis begins crying because of the mess. Pick up baby, let him crew on my credit card while filling out the form. Almost finished filling out the form, when a sharp pain shoots through my leg. Look down, the baby is no longer chewing on the credit card and is chewing on me. Also, I just swore in front of 50 strangers.

Pick up the baby and wrangle Ellis to the line again. Get to the front and are told, no credit cards. Cash or Check. I have neither. Give the woman a desperate look. Take both kids out of the building, down the block to the nearest bank. Enter the bank only to be told their ATM isn’t working. Hustle both kids back outside. To another bank, farther away. Get money. Walk back to the packet pick up. On the way back, Ellis notices a feather in the street and becomes so overcome with fear that the “magical feather” will get hit by a car, that she throws herself to the sidewalk in anguish. Try to pull her up. Realize that the baby has dumped the entire contents of my wallet on the sidewalk. Pick up wallet contents. Drag Ellis who is crying because the feather was hit by a car. The baby begins crying too, because why the hell not?

Get back to packet pick up. Shove the money at the lady, who hands me the packet with a look of irritation in her eyes that SHE HAS NOT EARNED. Walk over to the T-shirt lady, who insists on trying to talk me into a Medium shirt, rather than a small. Because she just thinks I will be happier with it. She can’t see this, but the hand that is holding the baby is giving her the finger. I get the small. Ellis is now twirling in the middle of the room and will only come to me if I address her as “Your royal highness, get over here now!”

Get home. Tell the story to The Dave, who immediately gets upset about the ATM fee I incurred. Speak to no one for the next 15 hours.

Going to the Store Without Kids: Walk into the store, pick up milk. Purchase milk. Walk out of the store.

Going to the Store With Kids: Walk into the store, strap both kids into the shopping cart. Ellis begins fussing because she wants to sit in the giant cart that looks like the Titanic and boasts of the same steering capacity. The baby is crying because he likes being strapped down for NOTHING.  Promise them both cookies if they just shut up and focus. All we need is milk. Begin walking back to the dairy section. Notice that bananas are on sale, pick up bananas. Remember there is no thawed meat for dinner, pick up some chicken. Notice the baby licking a snot bubble and recall that I need tissues and veer into the tissue aisle. The citizens begin their coup. The baby is reaching out to grab everything off the shelves. Ellis is asking me WHY IS THAT LADY LOOKING SO ANGWY? WHY DO I HAFTA BE QUIET? IS THAT LADY MEAN? IS SHE NAUGHTY?”

See the dairy section and remember that The Dave had said he was out of yogurt. Get yogurt. Ellis is now demanding her cookie and the baby has a leg up through the arm strap. Go to the cookie aisle, grab some Oreos. Open the package and feed my children sugar so they shut the hell up. Remember we need wipes, hand soap and band aids. Grab all of those things while the kids are drooling chocolate down their faces. Rush to the check out aisle, just as the meltdown begins. The baby is in full on riot mode, twisting and shrieking and arching his back to get out of the straps. Ellis is crying because “Bubby is not doing da right fing!” Bubby don’t care. Bubby will tear everything off of the shelves until I relent and pick him up. With a tear in her eye, Ellis is picking up gum packages off the floor. The high school-age cashier asks me how my day is in a really happy voice. She can’t see it, but the hand that is holding the baby is giving her the finger.

I get home and realize I forgot the milk.

Taking a Walk Around the Block Without Kids: Walk around the block? Please, I either run five miles or I sit on my Adirondack chairs and read a book. It’s a lovely day, after all. Walk around the block? What am I? An old lady? LOL.

Taking a Walk Around the Block With Kids: It is a lovely day and we still have an hour to burn before nap time. I put the baby into his Little Tikes Cozy Coup and get out Ellis’ tricycle and take them around the block. We get ten feet out of our door, before Ellis is screaming that she doesn’t have her helmet and it is not safe. “DIS IS NOT SAFE!” I curse The Dave under my breath, run inside and grab the helmet, and hope that in those five seconds the neighbors don’t see my kids unattended on the front lawn and call CPS.

Run back outside. Try to put the helmet on Ellis, but I’m told, “PRINCESSES JUST ONLY DO FINGS DEMSELVES!” Let the Princess do the fing her ownselves. Ellis riding her bike and me pushing the baby in the Cozy Coup, we begin the the trek around the block. Ellis hits a crack in the sidewalk.

“OH NO! I STUCK! I STUCK!” She begins to wail and her body hangs limp over her handlebars. “I SO BERRY STUCK!” I kick her over the hump.

“Oh, wank you berry much!” She says. We continue on. Halfway up the block the baby begins throwing his body out of the Cozy Coup. I offer him a stick to chew on. He throws it out and tries to climb out the back. I catch his head before it hits the sidewalk. I pick him up and try to continue boldly forward, but it’s apparent now that the baby really wants to eat cement. I don’t mean this metaphorically. I set him on the ground and he licks the sidewalk. Ellis has decided that she is too “hot and ‘weaty” to continue.

“Fine, let’s go back!”

“‘Fere, hold my bike,” Ellis says getting off her tricycle. I insist she rides it back. She insists on crying. The baby is arching his back and wailing. I may or may not yell something along the lines of, “GET ON YOUR BIKE AND QUIT TALKING TO ME!”

I hope the neighbors haven’t called CPS. I lead my sad, wailing band toward home, like a pudgy, white lady Moses. I can feel the seed of a migraine plant itself in the base of my skull. A neighbor without kids walks by, “Well, that was a short walk,” he says with a smile.

“Yeah, right?” I say.

He can’t see it, but the hand holding the baby is giving him the finger.

 

*If you live in a real city, two blocks isn’t daunting. But I don’t live in a real city. I live in Cedar Rapids. Our city blocks are abnormally large and my Iowa kids don’t understand the concept of walking places

Evidence

Last week, we came home from vacation, which really, with two kids and 8 in-laws isn’t much of a vacation, it’s just eating hot dish in close proximity to a lake. But Ellis had so much fun fishing, riding a horse, making fart noises with her cousins and seeing a rainbow right over an ice cream shop, I thought maybe we had all died and gone to her heaven. JQ, of course, choose that week to bust out tooth number seven. His heaven, as it turns out, is snuggling in bed with an exhausted mom. His hell? Sleeping in a pack and play.  Which would have been fine, but snuggling with a baby in bed only sounds good in theory. In actuality, he was up every couple of hours, pulling my hair and trying to shove his pacifier in my mouth.

And in those groggy early hours, I both absolutely loved that he was up, smiling his crooked grin, whispering, “dadadada” and trying to shove a pacifier in my mouth. And I also hated it, because I was so tired. Lay down baby, enough with the shenanigans.

So often, I’m absolutely torn between bone aching weariness and frustration and absolute contentment. A few nights ago, JQ was up at three, I went to pick him up and he fell asleep in my arms. As he slept he waved his hand and whispered, “ayyyyyeeeee.” I thought I might never leave that little moment. I thought I might die if I didn’t get some sleep.

JQ and sand

The day we came home from vacation, we had water in our basement from all the rain and five loads of laundry to do, not to mention the bags and boxes and soggy cooler to sort out. So, Dave put the kids to bed. I poured a glass of wine and I leaned the hell into that mess. By the time everything was cleaned and put away, I was on a bit of a roll. So, I poured another glass, filled a giant bucket with Murphy’s Oil and hot soapy water and just went to town on my floors.

This is what I do when I feel exhausted and like everything is overwhelming, I clean. This may shock you if you’ve ever been to my house, which is decidedly not that clean. But I do my best. And sometimes, when life is out of control, I think, I may not be able to make my baby stop screaming at 2am, but this sink will sparkle like a mother freaking diamond. This is not the confession of a healthy mind.

As I scrubbed the floors, I noticed the first five inches of the walls had tiny smear marks, like  infant cave drawings in banana and Cheerio and God only knows what else. Little clods of dirt tracked away from the planters.  I could see little dig marks in the soil. Under the couch was a piece of pop tart that looked like it had been sat on. Then there was a small blue plastic ball that felt sticky. Little cardboard books goobered up and smelling faintly of diaper, were under the table. I found tiny bite marks on a chair leg.

Under the TV was a princess wand and small pink purse filled with plastic food, an empty glue bottle and six quarters. A purple high heeled shoe, bedazzled with rhinestones was lined neatly alongside my running shoes. There were plastic beaded necklaces in the baby’s play car. A stuffed snake wore a feather boa.

I wasn’t there when all of these things happened. Or maybe I was and I was just too busy with another mess somewhere else.  Or maybe I was making dinner or maybe I was sitting on the couch drinking coffee and staring out the window until someone’s screaming brought me back to where I was.

But as I cleaned everything and set it back into it’s place, I mourned it. It was like setting things to right was destroying the evidence of whatever small magic had happened. What if it never happened again? JQ loved to play with this rattle from the first time he could grasp up until a week ago. Now, he won’t touch the thing. He woke up and decided never again. But I also hated cleaning it all up. Because, it really is so futile.  The next morning, I set JQ down on the floor and he crawled right to the planter and shoved a fistful of dirt in his mouth.

I don’t know why I bother.

I don’t know why I don’t clean every night.

 

Sweet Justice

Age of JQ when he first got into the trash: 9 months.

Age of Ellis when she first got into the trash: 2 years old and she was just throwing something away for me. The only time, she’s had unauthorized trash access was when she discovered a broken wand I tried to throw away and retrieved it, telling me she was very, ‘issapointed in me.

Age of Ellis when she first started crawling: 12 months.

Age of JQ: Nine months if you don’t count the previous month where he spent most of the time flipping backward and rolling.

Age of Ellis when she first self injured: 20 months. It was a small scrape on her knee.

Age of JQ: 10 months. He was trying to climb our trampoline and flipped over, hit his chin on the hard wood floor. When he finished sobbing and bleeding, he went back to trying to climb it again.

Age of Ellis when she learned to talk: 9 months old, she could say “Hi, dada!” Followed quickly, by “Bottle” and “bye-bye.” By 12 months she could say, “More,” “mama,” and “doggy” and “provolone.” She could also make most animal sounds.

Age of JQ: 10 months, he squeals, “DADADADADADA!” when he sees Dave. Other than that, he just yells at us. It usually means, “FOOOOOOD!”

Age of Ellis when she began sleeping 12 hours at night: 8 weeks.

Age of JQ: I’ll let you know when it happens.

Monster Baby

It’s hard not to compare my kids. I don’t do this because I value one over the other, but because going from one child to the next has given me whiplash. Parenting JQ has been so radically different than Ellis that somewhere around 6 months, I just quit trying to rely on my past experience and embraced my status as new parent all over again. Except, this time, instead of researching and freaking out (well, I freaked out when he wouldn’t take a bottle), I just roll with the punches.

For example, he does this thing where he just looks at me and shrieks with all his might. He does this to no one else. Just me. He doesn’t want anything. He doesn’t need anything. He just screams. If this were Ellis, I would be crowd-sourcing for help and advice and scanning the books. But this is my second child, so I just scream back, “I DON’T KNOW WHY YOU THINK IT IS APPROPRIATE TO YELL!”

Then, I hand him off to DADADADADADA! and go drink some wine.

I love the balance this kid brings into our home. When E was little and we sleep trained her so early and she’d sit happily and drool on herself when we went out to eat or to people’s houses, we often got nasty stares from other parents who demanded to know why our kid wasn’t flipping out because she couldn’t drink bleach. Dave and I would shrug. But we may have gone home and high-fived each other for producing such admirable offspring. Then, she turned two and we had another baby. And the universe punched us in the face for all those smug high fives.

Looking back, I can’t believe we choose to have two kids so close together. What were we thinking? I blame Ellis. If she had been a harder baby, we might have waited longer. But she saved her crazy until I was six months pregnant with her brother and then hell rained down from above and instead of smug high-fives, Dave and I began to give one another consoling back pats.

This is all to say, JQ isn’t some crazy, nutso baby. He’s just normal. I remember when Ellis was 15 months old and refusing to walk, I took her to the doctor. In order to entice Ellis to stand, the doctor opened a cabinet revealing a supply of bandages and q-tips–Toddler heaven. Ellis scooted over to the cabinet and shut the door and wagged her finger at the doctor, “No!”

Yesterday, JQ fished trash out of the cabinet and ate it. And when I say yesterday, I mean he’s done this almost everyday since becoming mobile.

He is the child we need. The yin to the yang.  I alternate between losing my mind and loving him for every clod of dirt he quickly shoves down his little throat. Last year, I bought a double stroller. I chose one that was side by side so that my kids could see one another. It was a sentimental gesture on my part. Why wouldn’t they love to see the world, hand-in-hand? Last week on a walk, JQ spent the whole hour stretching out his body so he could kick Ellis.

She leaned over to ask him to stop and he pulled her hair.

“AH! Mooooom, bubby kicking me!”

“Can you get out of his way?”

She scooted and he stretched.

“He still getting me!”

“Well, he’s a baby. Maybe you can walk?”

She started sobbing. JQ kept kicking.

“Oh bubby,” she cried, “I so ‘issapointed in you!”

He laughed.

In that moment, I was both exasperated with him and really proud. Because, honestly, baby, knock it off. But also, that’s some true dedication to sister annoyance.  I texted my brother Zach to tell him about JQ’s commitment to destroying his sister. Zach reminded me of how he would stand behind me and flick my hair until I flipped out. He would also scratch the ceiling of the car* with his fingernails until I cried. Or just standing there flicking the air, not touching me, but not leaving me alone either, until driven insane I would just punch him in the gut. Then, he’d start crying and I would get punished. Just thinking about it now makes me want to drive four hours to Minneapolis and fart in his face. But he has a baby of his own now. An adorable little girl that is ruining him. So, perhaps the earth is balancing itself out always.

 

*Have you heard that sound? I think the CIA uses it as an enhanced interrogation technique. Even the thought of that sound makes me want to curl up into the fetal position and weep.

I don’t know anything about rainbows

For a long time now, Ellis has wanted to see a rainbow. Whenever she is in trouble, she will wail from time out, “Now, I will never see a wainbow!”

She has begged us to take her to see a rainbow. And told us stories about magical ponies that will take her up to heaven to see God and rainbows and lots of rainbow cupcakes. She even spent the better part of bed time last week, crying because she couldn’t sleep, because her bed wasn’t a magical rainbow bed. I finally calmed her when I spread my arms wide and said, “Hocus pocus! Your bed is now a magical rainbow!”

“Mom, don’t say hocus pocus, say ‘woil-a!’”

So, I waved my arms in the air. “VOILA!”

“Oh wank you, my queen!” And then she fell asleep.

I have learned not to ask where she gets this from. Because I’m sure it’s all that godless TV and pop music I let her listen to, not to mention the Fancy Nancy we read until our eyeballs bleed, but when I say, “Where did this come from?”  She just smiles and just points to herself. Three year olds are a trip.

A week ago, we were outside doing yard work when it started to rain. The sun was still peeking through the clouds and Dave (who randomly knows a lot about the weather and all the names for clouds and stars, he’s our guide to the sky, that guy), grabbed Ellis and rushed her over to the Boulevard on our street. There he pointed out a very faint rainbow, visible through the neighborhood trees. Ellis shook her head. “No, dat not a wainbow.”

She wasn’t disappointed as much as she was just convinced we were wrong. I tried explaining to her about how rainbows don’t just happen, how sometimes they are hard to see, how you have to look, how life isn’t always like a cartoon, I felt like I was imparting some greater meaning, some deeper message. Ellis was having none of it. “No,” she said calmly. “It not a wainbow.”

Get used to disappointment. I wanted to say. Okay, maybe I mumbled it under my breath.

On Sunday, Dave dragged us to Palisades State park, which is right on the Cedar River. I say dragged, because I had been up since 5am, taken the kids to church and grocery shopped. Then, I had to make a picnic and pack us all up for some mandatory family fun. I love how much Dave loves to spend time with us, but I also love naps. Today, Dave won. But it wasn’t boding well. Ellis was still tired from a full day before and the baby, well he was fine. He’s always up for an adventure, which to him translates as eating dirt in new locales. But Ellis isn’t so into nature. The last time we went on a little hike at a local park she spent the entire time tell us we were “Wost! So berry wost!” And that someone should have brought a map. Do you have a map? Did mommy have a map? Maybe we needed Jesus to come from heaven to bring us a map? She was a little hysterical. It might have been made worse because Dave and I spent the whole time discussing how we needed to learn how to build a home in the forest since we were so lost we’d never get out. “Do you have a knife to fight the wolves?” I yelled.

“No,” Dave shook his head. “Buddy, do you have a knife?” The baby laughed, dirt on his chin. Ellis wailed.

Our trip to Pallisades was going just about the same way. After some digging in the dirt on the beach, we took a walk to see the dam. The whole time, Ellis told us she was too hot, too sweaty and we might be “WOST!” There was a time out. And another time out, because we don’t pick flowers in time out. We got back to the picnic table and ate. Dave and I negotiated how to shoo away a bee under our breath without alerting the three-year-old to the fact that there was a bee, because oh my god could we handle the terror that would rain down upon us if she saw?

She didn’t see.

Then, we went to splash in the shallow part of the river. This went a little better. We found shells. The baby ate some river sediment. And then, we heard thunder and saw a wall of rain heading toward us. As we packed up, we could see the rain turning in another direction. It was only a hundred yards away from us. We could hear the rain drops splashing in the river upstream. Dave and I looked at each other with the same wonder and confusion we’d had when we dealt with the bee, here was a thing we were having to handle, but we couldn’t really say, “Huge storm! Run!” to our three-year-old who had only just fifteen minutes ago stopped sobbing because there was mud in the river.

“Maybe we should head back,” Dave said.

As we herded Ellis back toward the shore, I looked up. “Ellis!” I yelled and pointed.

She looked up. Her mouth dropped. “Oh,” she breathed, “it what I always wanted.”

Rainbow

There in the sky was one of the brightest rainbows I’ve ever seen. We stood and just marveled at it, ignoring the thunder behind us. Then, Ellis looked down and saw the reflection of the rainbow in the river. ““Wook! All fings are beautiful for me!” 

We stayed as long as we could until Dave saw some lightening and gently urged us to come into the car. By that time the rainbow was disappearing and Ellis began to sob, “It melting! It melllllting!”

I thought about telling her that rainbows don’t just happen. That they come and they go. That the things we most want, the things we dream of and crave in our innermost hearts, come buffeted by storms, muddy feet, and are gone too soon. But I remembered the last lecture I tried to give her about rainbows and what the hell did I know anyway? Instead, I just let her cry. Part of me wanted to cry with her.

Last week, I learned that my friend is divorcing a husband who has never been kind. It’s no small thing to say he’s ruined many lives. So, this is what I’ve always wanted. I know it’s awful to say, but it’s true. I know that makes a lot of people mad, but it doesn’t stop it from being true. I’ve wanted this for 12 years and it’s here. It’s here. But it’s not bringing the peace I’d hoped. It’s not returning my life to the place I wish we could be. Instead, it’s just showing me that that place that I want to go back to? That didn’t exist. And those people, those dear ones on the other side of that rainbow? I don’t know who they are anymore.

So, really. What do I know about rainbows?

That night, when I tucked her in again, because she was in her doorway, singing a song about rainbows, she told me, “I knowed da wainbow will come back for me.”

And I just said, “If I were a rainbow, I would always come back for you.” Because at least I know that is true.

Ellis Rainbow

If The Red Woman Had A Mom Blog

Basically, if you watch Game of Thrones (and I do), you’ve realized it’s just one big giant lesson in parenting. Like if you don’t want to raise a sadistic killer, maybe don’t have him be the spoiled offspring of incest. My friend Tom noted that if Catelyn Stark had a parenting book it would be Battle Hymn of a Direwolf Mother.

I proposed that Cersi’s manifesto would be What to Expect When You’re Expecting Your Brother’s Baby and Lysa Aryn’s would be The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding Until He’s 15. At this point, Tom stopped talking to me and blocked me on Twitter.

But no one encompasses motherhood in the way that The Red Woman, Melisandre, does.

game-of-thrones-melisandre-releases-new-song-particle-of-light

I mean, she gave birth med-free in a tunnel. I bet she totally shops at Whole Foods too. Anyway, I figured she has a parenting blog titled Raising Ghost Demons, and here are some titles of her last few posts.

-The Night is Dark and Full of Terror: How I Sleep-Trained My Ghost Demon

-I Gave Birth Med-Free In a Tunnel and You Can Too

-How to Use Fire to Potty Train

-Breast is Best: Why I Breastfed My Ghost Demon Until the Age of 5

-Why is Everyone Stealing My Ghost Demon Name?

-What Do You Do When Your Ghost Demon Commits Regicide?

-Are Toy Swords Ever Okay?

-How to Apply Leaches in 10 Easy Steps

-How to Get Your Body Back After Birthing a Ghost Demon

-What Happened When I Let My Ghost Demon Wear a Pink Headband at Wal-Mart

-An Open Letter to the Mom Who Judged My Ghost Demon at the Grocery Store for Assassinating the Cashier

Scenes from a Life With Two Children

When JQ first joined the family it was like being hit by a linebacker. Not because he is anything less than the best little cheeky guy ever, but because it pushed me to my physical limits. I have two arms, two ears, two eyes, two legs, one heart and all of those faculties have been employed in the wrangling and preservation of my children for the past 10 months.

Back when JQ was first born, I was holding him and I invited Ellis to sit with us. “There no room,” she said.

“I have two legs, one for each kid,” I said.

“You have two eyes too! One for me, one for bubba!”

“Yep.”

She frowned as I held out an arm to welcome her into my lap. “Well, I fink you need more hands.”

E and JQ

Going from no children to one child was stunning in it’s all encompassing exhaustion. Even after she was sleeping through the night, I was tired all the time. Probably because I was constantly worrying about when she was going to eat, whether she needed a new diaper, did she eat beans yesterday for lunch? Could I feed them to her again? Would she be damaged if I let her watch the Today Show for an hour while I drooled on the couch?

But with JQ I don’t worry about those things so much. Not because they aren’t worth worrying over, but because I know he will eventually get food. He will get his diaper changed (at some point). Children are hard to break. No baby became a serial killer from watching a little “Strawberry Shortcake” with his sister. I worry less because I have more to worry about. It’s system overload. And it’s a blessing a little bit to realize your limits. To say, here is where I end and here is where grace and life and the goodness of family and friends and a little bit of luck take over.

10 months in and I think we have a rhythm. Bubs is making his place here in the family, with his mischievous nature and good heart. He loves to hold out toys and then whisk them away when you reach out to get them. He likes to put his pacifier in my mouth and laugh when I say, “Ew gross baby spit!” He covers one eye with his chubby hand and giggle when you say, “Where did my baby go?”

He doesn’t crawl much, except when he wants into a lap. Then, he turns around and hands and knees head first into you. He dives into snuggles and hugs. Then wiggles free. Then, comes back. Then, wiggles free. My two arms ache from the pick-up-put-down dance. I could use some more arms.

Scenes from my life with two children

*

I put Ellis in time out for putting her snacks on JQ’s head, after I told her not to put snacks on JQ’s head. She yelled, “My mommy doesn’t love me or take care of me! She is not my queen. Only my daddy loves me. He is my king. My mommy needs to go to jail! She is impossible to me!”

Meanwhile, JQ and I picked snacks off of his head and ate them.

*

Ellis built a block tower and JQ knocked it over. I helped her move the rubble out of his reach and we rebuilt. As we stacked blocks, JQ stretched and stretched to reach the tower. His little arms reached over his head, his shirt lifted up and showed his belly, he tipped face first on the wood floor, but he didn’t cry. He just kept reaching until he could touch a small corner of the nearest block and then he pushed with all his might. The tower tipped over. Ellis cried. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

*

I was in the bathroom. JQ was playing with toys in the hall. I heard Ellis approach and say: “Hi little buddy, where is your mommy? She not here? I will play wif you so you won’t have to be alone.” So, I stayed in the bathroom just a little longer and put on some eyeliner.

*

On Wednesday night, after the kids were bathed and put to bed, I sat down to write. Just then, Ellis called from her room that she was worried about wolves. So, I went in to reassure her. I came back to the office to write, when JQ started crying–his foot was stuck in the crib slats. Baby soothed and back to sleep. I went back to the office, Ellis was sitting in the desk chair, her eyes were red from crying. “Mommy, what do you do without me when I sleep?”

*

A wad of receipts in my purse reveal individual purchases for bubbles, wipes, coffee, more coffee, cheese sticks, peanut butter, a trip to the trampoline park and a Target trip where I bought Children’s Benedryl, Jack Daniel’s Honey Whiskey, kleenex, Excedrine for Migraines, and a 12-pack of Coke Zero. I don’t remember any of these purchases.

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