Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Find That Smell

There's a little game we like to play in our family called "Find That Smell." Maybe you've played it before. If you haven't, the rules are pretty straightforward: When something stinks, start sniffing. Whoever discovers The Source of the smell first is declared the Winner and gets to dispose of The Source. It's not really a game you want to win.

In our house, the game can start at anytime. Often it begins when my husband comes home from work and asks, "What stinks?" I consider this a head-start for him, since clearly he can smell something that my nose is already accustomed to. That's good, I suppose, since I want him to win. But still, the game is on and we head off to sniff the most obvious sources: the kitchen garbage, the upstairs diaper genie, and our children. Personally, I like to save the children for last, since they are the most frequent Sources.

The thing about Find That Smell is that it's a versatile game that can be played at home, at school, and even in the car. However, it may take weeks to find the source of that particular smell, since "car stink" tends to be very gradual. Several weeks ago, I got in my car and took a good whiff. Ugh! What is that smell? Since I was running late and needed to drop the girls off at pre-school, I only had time for a preliminary search. I found a few suspects -two sippy cups of solidified milk and three dirty socks - and removed them from the car. However, rather than dissipate, the smell only intensified as the day went on. That evening, I rolled the windows down to let the car air out, and did a second check. No luck.

The smell was even worse the next day. Tyler got in the car and groaned. "Ugh! What is that smell?!?"

"I don't know," I replied. "I checked the car twice yesterday and didn't find anything... Wanna play now?"

We got out of our seats for a round of Find That Smell. Still nothing, though I suspect neither of us looked that hard. Fortunately, it was a short drive and a nice day, so we just drove to the store with all our windows down.

By evening, the smell was so bad that I considered calling in a Haz-Mat team. But I decided to do one final check of my own before calling in the authorities. The smell had to be coming from somewhere, and I actually found myself determined to find The Source. I checked the grill of my car, under the hood, in the trunk, and under the seats. And then I found IT. Where is Tyler??? I thought, gagging. I ran into the house for a trash bag and rubber gloves, and then came back to remove a Tupperware full of moldy mac and cheese. When did we have mac and cheese in the car? I wondered. Tyler and the kids are claiming innocence; I confess I still have no idea.

Believe it or not, however, the absolute worst game of Find That Smell I've ever played was not the moldy mac and cheese round. Although it was a car stink that, surprising, we could not link to our children. A few years ago I came in the house and announced, "Something has died in my car! It smells horrible!!!" I was trying to be dramatic, but after a few days of suffering through a stench that permeated not only the car and garage, but the entire house, Tyler discovered The Source: something had indeed died in my car. A dead bird was wedged in the grill of the mini-van; at least, we assume it was a dead bird, since all we could see were a bunch of feathers and a beak. Since Tyler was the Winner, he went out with a garbage bag and shovel to remove the remains, while I hid in the house and retched.

I feel bad that he got stuck with such an awful job, since I was probably the one who hit the bird in the first place. But those are the rules of the game. Whoever finds The Source of the smell has to dispose of it. I don't always love that rule, but I'm getting older and I think my sense of smell is starting to go. Maybe it will be completely gone by tonight. There's a two-week old jack 'o lantern rotting on my front porch that I'm hoping not to find.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Naughty Sticks

With three little girls experiencing the "terrible twos" roughly all at the same time, my husband and I have experimented with a lot of different forms of discipline. We've tried room time. We've tried the time out chair. We've tried the nose in the corner. We've tried the ticket system, going to bed without dinner, and the wooden spoon. All of these strategies work to varying degrees, but we've yet to find one technique that just really succeeds. So today, we tested another one. It's called the "naughty stick."

The naughty stick isn't actually a new idea, although I suspect the politically correct will find it horrifying. (My general experience is that the "politically correct" aren't usually parents yet.) Nonetheless, the naughty stick was recommended by a friend who tried it out after a counselor recommended it to her. The basic concept is this: Put a paint stir stick in every room of the house. When the child disobeys, give him or her a swat on the bottom with the naughty stick. In other words, give that disobedient kid a spanking!

Of course as I was picking up a load of stir sticks at the hardware store this morning, it occurred to me that the sticks by themselves didn't look particularly threatening. I thought they needed some motivational "embellishments," so I ran next door to the craft store and picked up some additional supplies, including black paint and stickers. By the time I went to pick up the girls from pre-school, there was a black stir stick hanging on the doorknob of every room in the house. Each one was decorated with the scariest stickers I could find, which weren't all that scary since all I could find was a collection of smiling bugs, spiders, and bees. But white letters spelled out the ominous words NAUGHTY STICK, and looked very threatening to me.

When we got home from school, I introduced my kids to the naughty stick: "Girls, this is a naughty stick. There's one in each of your rooms. If you disobey mommy or daddy, or if you yell "NO", you will get a spanking with the naughty stick." Ella was thrilled.

"Mommy, will you use the naughty stick on Emily if she says 'no'? And on Evie if she says 'no'? Can I put a naughty stick in their room? Don't worry, Mommy. I'll put mine in their room too!"

The twins, however, were not so enamoured with - or threatened by, it seems - the naughty stick. Within minutes of nap time starting, they were out of their beds and battling over a Barbie doll. I walked in and picked up the naughty stick. "Do I need to use this girls?" They both screamed "No!" and ran for their beds - one with the Barbie and one with her leg. I confiscated the maimed doll, tucked them in bed, and walked out into the hall. Ella was peeking out her door.

"Did you use the naughty stick on Emily and Evie?"

"No, Ella. Close your door and get in bed, or I'll use it on you, though."

"Okay, Mommy." SLAM.

Moments later, I heard a second crash. Emily and Evie were out of bed again. I sighed; it was time to make good on my threat. They each got a firm swat on their diapered bottoms. "Go to sleep!" I said in my sternest Mommy voice.

But it wasn't to be. I walked in and spanked them three more times before they finally got wise to me. Oh no, they didn't go to sleep. They hid the naughty stick. I eventually found it this evening when I was digging through a drawer for clean jammies. Sure enough, there was my naughty stick, crammed in the back of their underwear drawer.

My kids aren't dumb. They may grow up to be sleep-deprived hellions, but they aren't dumb. I guess I'm going to have to find a higher place to hang my naughty sticks. But I'm determined. I am going to make this work!

There Once Was a Woman Who Lived in a Shoe...

I was three months old when my grandmother passed away, so I've always regretted not getting to know her. Like me, she was the mother of two singletons and a set of twins - the same ironic combination of four children in three years. I've always craved her company and a good long chat, but probably now more than ever. If God ever allows us an afternoon together, we'll find a quiet corner and sip on some tea, and she'll answer the burning question, "How did you do it???"

I mean, I never aspired to be like Grandma. Even as a child I recognized the huge responsibility she bore as the mother of four young kids. It was actually kind of a joke the day my husband and I announced we were pregnant for a second time (just 9 months after Ella's birth); Dad laughed and said, "You know, my mother had four kids in three years."

"Yes, well your mom was a saint as far as I'm concerned. I'm NOT trying to fill her shoes!"

The next day, I called my dad. "Uh, Dad. You know how Tyler's always wanted two kids and I've always wanted three? Well, I win."

There was a moment of silence and then, "What? Noooo... You're carrying two?"

The ultrasound that morning had confirmed it; I was pregnant with twins. I suddenly envisioned my feet getting a little bigger than planned. But I still wasn't about to fill Grandma's shoes. After all, four kids in three years is just crazy! So a year after the birth of our twin girls, I asked the doctor about tubal ligation. He sent me to his surgery scheduler, who in turn informed me that I would have to wait at least three months before she could fit me in. No worries, I thought. There's no WAY I'm getting pregnant again.

Of course, two days before the scheduled procedure I was staring down at a giant plus sign on my ClearBlue Easy. In shock, I wasted no time spreading the news. My mom nearly drove off the road when I called, crying hysterically and screaming, "I'm...PREGNANT!" Tyler didn't handle the news much better; he wasn't driving and I don't think he actually cried, but there was definitely a manly whimper or two. Finally, though, I accepted the truth: I was stepping into my grandmother's enormous shoes. They have to be big, I thought at one point, because isn't that how the nursery rhyme goes? "There once was a lady who lived in a shoe. She had so many children, she didn't know what to do." Well, I sure don't know what to do!

People who heard about my situation didn't really seem to know what I should do either, because almost overnight I became "The Story". You know - the story that everyone tells their friends in order to make them feel better: "Oh, you're having triplets? Well, don't feel bad, because I have a friend who knows this girl who heard about this mom who was having her tubes tied when found out she was pregnant with her fourth kid in three years!"

Of course, nothing is worse than when someone tries to tell you "the story" and it turns out to be YOUR story. This actually happened to me shortly before Ty's birth. I was shopping - alone, amazingly - in a local boutique and the shop owner asked me about my pregnancy.

"Is this your first?"

I sighed. "No, this is number four."

"Wow! Well, don't feel bad. I heard about this girl who was going to get her tubes tied and found out she was pregnant with her fourth kid. She's going to have four kids under the age of four!"

"Yeah, uh, that was me. You probably don't recognize me with make-up, but I was in here a few weeks ago..."

Of course, once people find out that you're "the story", the inevitable question gets asked. And it's the same question I want so badly to ask Grandma: "How do you do it?" More and more often though, my answer is, "By the grace of God."

Don't misread this. If you've ever truly experienced the grace of God, you know that there is nothing pat or cliche about God's grace. And if you have ever truly experienced His grace in your life, you also know this: God doesn't give it ahead of time. If I'd known from the start what motherhood was going to be for me, I'm not sure I would have started the journey. Instead, God revealed His plan just a little at a time. Three miscarriages. Severe hyperemesis. Multiple hospital stays. Drugs, tubes, and machines. Surgery. And four of the most precious and amazing gifts I've ever received: my children. God extended His grace to me in each of those circumstances, day by day, sometimes even moment by moment. He didn't pour it out ahead of time; I wouldn't have needed it or appreciated it anyway. But step-by-step He gave me - and continues to give me - what I need for each part of this journey as a mother of four.

So I'm trusting Him to provide. Even if what I need is a giant shoe...