Saturday, July 26, 2008

Waiting on the World to Change

Ella celebrated her fourth birthday this month. She's been talking about "The Big 4" since January, so despite my disdain for large children's parties (because I host one every day), I sent out a few invitations and planned a little gathering of family and friends. Of course, as is the nature of motherhood, things did not go according to plan. In the end, the entire family and a bucket-load of friends commemorated my daughter's birth during a two-day extravaganza that included a princess-themed birthday party, lunch at Chick-fil-a, a trip to Monkey Joes, a pink pinata, a gigantic pile of presents, and approximately 58 cupcakes.

The magnitude of the celebration, however, didn't diminish the significance of the event: Ella is four years old. My mother reminds me all the time that "the days are long, but the years are short;" but somehow I find myself shocked to realize that my baby girl is four! How did I move so quickly from two pink lines on a home pregnancy test to the pile of pink clothes now heaped on my laundry room floor?

The irony, of course, is that my mother is right, and that the days really are long. It's hard for me to take pleasure the swiftly-passing years when I drag myself through each day, up to my eyeballs in dirty diapers, dishes, clothes, and kids. But those early days, when I was newly pregnant and dog-sick, passed just as slowly. And suddenly, here I am on the other side of 27 months of pregnancy, a mother four times over, wishing for one of those quieter moments when all I was doing was waiting.

Of course, it's human nature to be consumed with anticipation. My little sister is in the final throes of planning her August 1 wedding. My sister-in-law is likewise consumed with the August 1 birth of her second child. (Are there two bigger events in the life of a family? A few, perhaps, but I would argue that a wedding and a birth are definitely in the Top 5; and Tyler and I get to experience both in one day!) I'm not the bride or the new mom, but even I'm sleepless with anticipation.

But seeing Ella turn four last week, and realizing how right my mom really is, I also find myself savoring these last few days. One sister will never be single again and one sister will never be pregnant again - and even though it's time for them to move on to the next stage, I want them to enjoy the last few days leading up! Marriage and motherhood are wonderful. But so are those moments in the days before, when you're sitting on the sofa, dreaming of the future with your husband-to-be, or when you're curled up in bed and feeling your baby kick and squirm. Those are the "waiting moments." They don't last long, because all of a sudden, the waiting ends and the world changes: two become one, a new life is born, and the waiting moments are memories swept up by the years.

I suppose I'm in one of those moments now, and that I'll eventually miss the chorus of little voices arguing over princess dresses and baseball bats. The days feel so long, but I know that the waiting will end, the world will change, and my babies will no longer be babies. They will be children, and pre-teens, and teens, and then grads. And I'm bracing myself, because I have a feeling that cupcakes and pinatas just don't cut it at graduation parties.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Are You Smarter Than a 4-Year Old?

First-born children are bossy, controlling, picky and perfectionistic. Also, they are never wrong. I can actually say this with a degree of certainty, because I am the oldest of three children, and I am bossy, controlling, picky and perfectionistic. (You can ask my husband. I'm pretty sure he'll back me up.) The problem with being a first-born mother with these qualities, however, is that I often butt heads with my own first-born, Ella - who is all of those things I just listed. And like any number of eldest children, she is also never wrong.

The secret to never being wrong, by the way, is recognizing that it's more important to use the right tactic than to actually be right. For many first-borns, this means confronting disagreeable truths with a loud voice. Ella is VERY LOUD.

Ella actually "found her voice" (which is her Nana's generous term) when she was only four months old. I have the first scream on video tape, because she introduced it at her baby dedication in front of 40 guests. Don't blow me off, by the way, because I am well aware that most babies scream. But this scream was so ear-piercingly high-pitched that it could shatter glass. And she would do it over and over and over and over again, for hours on end. Most of the time she did it to show displeasure, but sometimes she did it when she was happy. And sometimes she did it just because she could. As a result, I couldn't take my otherwise portable baby anywhere. I certainly didn't risk walking through the china department at Macy's. (Think of the carnage!) Of course, I was also afraid that I was going to lose my mind. I asked everybody I could find for a solution: my mother, other mothers, grandmothers, neighbors, nurses, pediatricians, pastors, and even a family therapist.

Despite the blank stares I got from most of these child-rearing professionals, Ella did eventually outgrow The Scream. What she didn't outgrow was her need to be heard. I remember a day just this last fall, when Ella was being exceptionally loud and domineering. My mother was in the car with me, and we were on our way home from picking Ella up at pre-school. It turns out that listening and sharing can be pretty exhausting for a child who is used to being in control, so the drive home from pre-school is always packed with drama. Whether it's screaming for her Veggie Tales CD, snatching books away from her sisters, or kicking her chair, it's always a grueling ride. On this particular day, my mom was trying to distract Ella with all the points of interest we were passing, but my daughter would have none of it:

“Look, Ella! There’s a horse!”

“NO, MIMI!" Ella shouted back. THAT'S A COW! I WANT MY CD!”

“Oh." Then pointing to a fire truck, Mimi called out, "Ella, here comes a fire truck!”


We actually did pass a school bus a few minutes later, and, trying to be amenable, Mimi called out, "Look Ella! That must be a fire truck!"


Realizing at this point that she'd lost the distraction game, Mom sighed and flipped on the CD we can both sing in our sleep. The rest of the drive home was silent, save the harmonious vocal blending of a cucumber and a tomato singing "If You're Happy and You Know It."

Ella turned four last week, and nearly a year has passed since that memorable ride home. Ella is still loud, and strongly opinionated, but I've noticed that the passage of time is making her smarter. Last fall, she knew how to get a point across, but she wasn't always right. (The subtle distinctions between cows and horses, fire trucks and school buses escaped her.) This year, however, she is loud and accurate.

I came to this realization at the pool a few nights ago when I overheard Ella telling her sisters to "SWIM LIKE BIRDIES! COM'ON GIRLS, LET'S SWIM IN THE WATER LIKE BIRDIES."

"Ella," I said, "I think you mean fish. 'Let's swim in the water like fish.' Birds don't really swim."


Hmmmm. The kid's right. Time to back off on the Baby Einstein DVD's.

A similar situation occurred recently in the parking lot of a medical center, where I was yelling at Ella. "Let's hurry up, girl! We're in the middle of the street. Ella. Ella! There's a car coming! Get moving!"


I was totally exasperated. "Yes, Ella, we are in the middle of the street. I think I know what a street is. Now move!!!"


Huh. Right again.

Now I'm starting to wonder if our intellect peaks at four and then begins the slow descent into stupidity. I remember a time back when, like Ella, I knew it all. But it seems the older I get, the less I know. I should be smart enough not to engage my child in these ridiculous exchanges, but I just can't help it. I'm a first-born. I am never wrong.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Just Say No

Sometimes I think I must look one of those characters on Bugs Bunny. I suppose I'm addressing a specific audience here, but if you're a Loony Tunes fan, you'll know what I'm talking about. I think salespeople look at me and see a giant "Sucker" where my head should be. That, or they see me hauling my four kids from one place to the next and think, "Here is a woman who needs my product! Look at that dull skin!" Or, "Look at her rough and uneven nails!" Or "She looks like a candidate for the latest in-home water filtration system!"

OK, maybe I'm not a sucker. I've only purchased one skin care system, three nail care sets (they were made out of products from the Dead Sea!), and - hooray for me - I do not currently own a $6,000 water filtration system (although now I drink my tap water with a certain level of informed concern). I do, however, possess what those in the home sales business call a "yes face." I can say this with confidence, since I have made two forays into the home sales business myself - once as a beauty consultant and once as a jeweler. (By the way, please call me if you are interested in purchasing a ten-year old make-up kit or $300 worth of discontinued jewelry.)

A "yes face" is that one person in the crowd who makes eye contact with, and smiles at a sales person - which is apparently something I do when I'm walking by the Dead Sea kiosk on my way to the Food Court. I also do this when I answer my front door, because I just can't say no to the earnest appeals of small children selling wrapping paper for choir, or high school kids selling magazines to pay for football camp. Or to the vacuum guy who is trying to win a week-long, all-expense paid trip for himself and one guest to New Orleans.

This latest seller showed up on my doorstep recently to offer a free carpet cleaning of any room in the house. It was 6:00 in the evening, Tyler had just walked in the door, the baby was still in his carseat, and the kids were starving. "Perfect," I said, as two of the girls wrestled over a toy behind me. "One of the twins took her diaper off during nap time and got poop on the floor. Won't you please come in?" Somehow he got a glimpse of my yes face, because he wasted no time lugging his enormous vacuum cleaner and a box of cleaning supplies into my living room.

As the girls battled over which episode of Clifford they wanted to watch, and Tyler tried to figure out how to boil a pot of water for spaghetti, Joe* set up his machine and jumped right into his spiel. Five minutes in, I could tell it was going to be a long spiel. This vacuum doesn't just suck dirt out of the carpet; it inflates pool floats, cleans lampshades, mattresses, and walls, shampoos carpet, and details your car. I asked Joe if it could fold laundry and babysit, but he was staring at Evie sitting on the chair behind me.

"Um, I think she just had an accident."

Sure enough, there was Evie, sitting in a puddle on my upholstered chair.

I tried to be nonchalant, but it took an effort to mask my horror. "Why don't we test out how good that machine really is, Joe?"

While he went to work on the puddle, I took Evie to the bathroom and changed her clothes. Being that we're in the midst of her potty training, I slipped her into a fresh set of panties and shorts and reminded her that "Pee-pee goes in the potty, not in your pants." Meanwhile, Joe had decided that his vacuum cleaner probably wasn't as effective as a good old-fashioned washing machine, so I came back, stripped the cover off the chair, and plopped Evie down. "Where were we?" I asked.

Just then, Emily strolled into the room sans panties and shorts. It seems that Evie had inspired a demonstration. But Emily, having properly completed her toilet duties, couldn't figure out how to put her pants back on. Not to be left out, Ella then pulled her pants off and ran into the bathroom.

"Um, I'll be right back," I said. "I think the girls need a little help getting their clothes back on."

While I was standing in the bathroom, trying my best to explain inappropriate nudity to my daughters, I heard Joe call from the living room. "Ma'am, I think she just had another accident!"

Sure enough, Evie - whose bladder can apparently more liquid than a small horse - had once again gone pee-pee on the chair. And on the ottoman. And on the hardwood floor. At this point, unable to hide my horror, I actually screamed. Not words - just one really loud, frustrated scream. Unfortunately, the noise woke up Ty, who had been dozing in the Pack 'n Play during the chaos of Joe's increasingly lengthy presentation. I sent Evie with Tyler to get cleaned up (again), and picked up Ty to comfort him. Of course, he was not to be outdone by his sisters, and immediately unloaded a better portion of his dinner bottle onto the rug.

"Do you think we can get that spot out, too?" I asked Joe, as two naked children streaked by.

"I can try," he replied.

While he went to work on the spots and Tyler and the kids ate dinner, I tried to push this now excruciatingly slow demonstration along. But Joe was not about to lose a sale. (And really, who could blame him at this point? He was still stuck with cleaning the girls' poop-stained floor.) He pulled out all the stops and did a side-by-side comparison of his vacuum to my newly-acquired (and very expensive) machine. Tyler just gave me "the look", and headed out for his tennis workout. Since we've been married for eight years, I recognized "the look" to mean: DO NOT SPEND ANY MONEY. I knew I was now set on a collision course with Joe's hard sell.

I have to give the man credit. He asked all the right questions, pushed all the right emotional buttons, and wheeled and dealed with his "non-negotiable" - but really negotiable - price. He kept reminding me of how much easier his machine would make my life. (Had he really been in my house for the last 2 hours???) I could hear my "no, thank you" getting fainter as he pushed harder. I knew that I was a desperate woman when I considered compromising my marriage, and handing him $1600 to leave. But once again, we were interrupted by my children.

The sound of breaking glass shattered any prospect Joe had of selling me a vacuum cleaner. As I shot up the stairs, I knew exactly what had happened - the heavy mirror over the girls' dresser had fallen off the wall and crashed to the floor. Even as I ran my sub-par vacuum cleaner over the mess of wood and glass, Joe packed up his box and headed for the door. (But not before he graciously helped me move the broken frame to the garage.) Call it gratitude, but I told him that my neighbor was in the market for a vacuum and sent him next door with renewed hope for a profitable night.

When Tyler came home from tennis, we had a brief chat about inviting sales people into our home. We've probably had this conversation before, but I'm pretty sure that this time it's going to stick. The next time someone shows up on my front porch with something to sell, my face is going to have "no" written all over it. Unless of course they have a machine that folds laundry and babysits.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Laughter in Life

I laugh every day. My husband doesn't actually believe this, but that's only because he comes home during the infamous "witching hour" - a three hour block of time spanning the end of naps, dinner, and bath time during which one would rather put a fork in one's eye than be the mother of those three little hooligans doing battle over a naked baby doll. But I really do laugh in some form or another every single day, even if it's just the hysteria-tinged laughter that one might hear coming from a mental patient staring at the blank wall of her padded room.

Of all the kids, my youngest daughter Evie makes me laugh the most. Whatever she does, she does it at full throttle and with wild abandon. As a toddler, she loved to run. She always reminded me of a baby bird making that first attempt at flight - she'd throw her arms back and take off running as fast as she could to wherever she was heading. Unfortunately she didn't have the sharpest maneuvers, so she frequently took her corners too wide and ended up plowing into the adjacent walls. She never learned to put those arms in front of her, either, so she usually smashed into the walls head-first. We could always distinguish Evie from her twin by checking their heads for bruises.

Needless to say, at two and a half Evie frequently finds herself in a pickle. Truth be told, I think that Emily is the strategist of the two, and that Evie just goes along with whatever her sister suggests. In the future, I suspect that Evie will spend a great deal of time grounded because her twin said, "Hey Evie, I have an idea..."

Of course, Evie is just as capable of creating trouble on her own as she is with her sister. Last week I sat outside the twins' bedroom door in an attempt to get them to stay in bed, which is not an easy task. My idea was to watch for one head or another to pop up, and then say in my sternest teacher voice, "Lay down!". Evie kept standing up to cram her two teddy bears Hot Tub and Beer between the wall and headboard of her bed. (The bears are actually called "Buttercup" and "Bear", but Evie has a tongue thrust that recently created far more interesting names for them.) Despite my continued reprimands, Evie kept popping up.

Finally, I went in and threatened serious punishment if she stood up again. But Evie just couldn't help herself. She must have thought her bears were having a grand time smushed up against the wall, because she stood up again and, before I could act on my threat, she wiggled her own body between the wall and headboard. Evie is stuffed a bit thicker than her bears, though, and as I walked into the room she looked up at me in distress and said, "Stuck!". And stuck she was. One leg dangled in the air behind her bed, and the other was wedged tightly into the decorative cut of her headboard. It took five minutes and the tub of Crisco to get her "unstuck."

But despite Evie's growing reputation as the "adventurous one", she is also the tender-hearted one of the group. While washing the dishes not long ago, I watched her walk upstairs to her room and reappear moments later holding Hot Tub. She carried him downstairs and walked purposefully into the playroom. A few minutes later, she repeated this same purposeful task with Beer. For the the next half-hour, she walked up and down the stairs, carrying various animals and baby dolls into the playroom. When the dishes where done and my curiosity was at its peak, I stole a glance into the playroom where Evie was lining up the last stuffed animal. Each of them was laying face down on a pillow. As I watched, Evie dug around in the toy box and pulled out a collection of baby blankets. One by one, she covered her animals with a blanket and said, "Night, night!". When she turned around and spotted me, she put her finger to her lips and and said, "Shhhhhhhhh." Then she sang what I think was "Jesus Loves Me" - the song I sing to her every night - walked over to the door, and pulled it shut behind her. "Shhhhhhh," she said again. "They sleeping!"

Since that day, Evie's sweet-spirited playacting has continued in various forms. I often catch her rocking in her pint-sized chair with a teddy or two planted in her lap, singing songs that only the experienced can interpret. When I walk into the playroom in search of missing sofa cushions, I find it's usually littered with blanket-covered playthings laid out on pillows resembling a teddy-bear ICU. And just before nap time today, I noticed every that door in the house was shut; in each room, I found a Piglet, baby doll, or teddy passed out in the corner and covered in a blanket. Of course, I had to laugh.

I didn't know that Evie was going to bring me such laughter three years ago. At that time, I was 16 weeks pregnant and hospitalized with hyperemesis. The doctor's prognosis was that I was the sickest I could possibly be in a twin pregnancy, because I was carrying two girls. My husband I were shocked and overwhelmed at the thought of raising three daughters so close together, but we were determined to name and bond with our babies as quickly as possible. We already had Ella, who was 13 months old at the time, and the name Emily was next on our list of baby names. After that, we were tapped out; it never occurred to us that we would have to come up with a third girl name!

Tyler liked the name Lauren, and for awhile that's what we called Baby "B". But in my starved and hormonal state, I became convinced that we needed another "E" name. (As one of three girls myself, I know how easy it is to find a reason to feel left out.) Tyler suggested the name Evie, but now I was torn between that and my bond with the original name Lauren.

I spent weeks going back and forth between the two names, driving my husband and everyone else around me crazy. Finally, I turned to the baby name book for help; I looked up the meaning of both names and discovered that the name Evie means "life." In that moment, it felt like God was giving us this name for our little girl. Looking back, I realize that God knew Evie was going bring great life, her vivacious spirit, and a bit of hilarity into our home. I didn't even know her name, but the One Who was knitting her together in my womb knew exactly who she was and what He was creating her to be (Psalm 139)!

God also knew that I was going to need a sense of humor to survive these early years of motherhood. It's true that I could cry when I see the mass of destruction consuming my twins' bedroom every morning - and sometimes I do. But in His mercy, God is teaching me to look beyond the housekeeping and see the great joy of raising these four sweet and hilarious children. My prayer is that He will give me the strength to laugh my way through the days and the years to come with Evie and her siblings, and be allowed to bear witness to His continued good work in the lives of these happy kids.