Monday, November 23, 2009

Calling Poison Control: The Evolution of Motherhood

Want to know where you are on the evolutionary chain of motherhood?* Read the following descriptions, and choose the one that best describes you as a mother. Then, leave a comment and let me know, "Which mom are you?"

Early Neanderthal Mom: (The evolutionary process has barely even begun.)

You're a first-time mom, and your brand-new bundle of joy knocks over an open container of baby powder. Powder goes flying towards your baby's open mouth and you go into full-on mom panic mode. You grab the baby, the powder, and the portable phone and run to the kitchen, where the Poison Control number is taped to your refrigerator. Hearing the hysteria in your first-time mother's voice, the Poison Control operator quickly assures you that the 1/8 tsp. of cornstarch-based powder that your baby just licked off her lips will not adversely affect her in any way.

Still Neanderthal Mom: (You haven't learned much, but there's hope for you yet.)

You're still a first-time mom, and your newly-mobile 7-month old discovers the kitty's cat food. She dumps it out, stirs it around, and then places the food piece by piece back into the bowl... until she gets hungry and decides to help herself to a snack. You pick up the little darling a few minutes later, smell the faint scent of tuna on her breath, and freak out. You run to the junk drawer and frantically dig out the list of emergency numbers. A Poison Control operator soon assures you that food considered safe for kitty consumption is likewise safe for small children (although it is not recommended by the FDA).

Cromagnon Mom: (A big evolutionary leap, but you've still got a ways to go.)

You're suddenly the overworked, under rested mother of four children 3 and under. The bigger house you were forced to upgrade into is mostly baby-proofed, but lately you're noticing a few places that you overlooked - like the kids' changing table. You walk into the bathroom after nursing Baby #4 and see your other three children brushing their teeth. This is not completely traumatic until you realize that they mistook the diaper rash cream for toothpaste. You race downstairs to find a phone, then dial 4-1-1 to get the Poison Control number. The Poison Control operator asks you a series of questions that make you feel increasingly like a bad mother, and then determines that while the zinc oxide might make them a bit nauseous, your children will be generally unharmed by their oral hygiene experiment.

Early Modern Mom: (You're almost there!)

Baby #4 is now walking, and loves to open all of the drawers in your bathroom. Although technically "baby-proofed," most of the cheap plastic child locks have broken off your cabinets and your adventurous baby is having a free-for-all. He locates a bottle of Dramamine in one of the drawers and quickly dispenses with the child-proof cap. You walk in just in time to find him on the floor surrounded by an empty bottle and seven pills. According to the label, the bottle holds eight. You can't remember if you took a pill on your last cruise or not. The boat was a little rocky, but you can't specifically recall any sea-sickness. You wait 15 minutes until the mother-guilt piles up, then walk downstairs and dig through the pantry for last year's phone book. You finally find the number for Poison Control, answer a series of questions that once again remind you what a lousy parent you are, and listen while the operator instructs you to watch for signs of sleepiness. You are just wrapping up the call when Baby #4 goes sprinting by in a monkey mask, with his three sisters in hot pursuit. You remember now that you probably were a tad sea sick during that last cruise, and decide to ignore the operator's advice about waking up Baby #4 every hour or so through the night.

Modern Mom: (Congratulations... I think.)

You have officially given up on the child-proof locks, and now keep cleaning chemicals like Febreeze out in the open and close on hand - because the smell of your kid's dirty diaper is far more deadly than a whiff of "Clean Scent." Unfortunately, Baby #4 is a climber and can usually get at whatever he wants. Plus, he loves to know how things work. You see it coming, but as fast as you sprint up those stairs, he still manages to shoot himself in the face with air freshener. At this point, you're pretty sure that Big Brother has you on a list somewhere, and that yet another call to Poison Control will result in a visit from DFACS. You read the warning labels on the back of the Febreeze canister, acknowledge that perhaps those warning labels really are there to serve an actual purpose, and dunk your kid in the bathtub to both "flush out the affected eye" and rinse the scent of air freshener from his hair. Then you put him to bed, confident that despite your lack of medical knowledge, his vision will not be affected by this little incident.

So tell me, "Which mom are you?"

*The evolutionary chain of motherhood is actually a hoax. In truth, mothers are created by God. And it is only by His grace that my children remained healthy through all five of the above scenarios...

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Headless Sprinting Chicken

Anybody else out there reading Deadly Viper: Character Assassins byMike Foster and Jud Wilhite?

Anybody out there want to slap me right now for admitting I have time to read?

Well before you hurt me, I should let you know two things:

1. Deadly Viper: Character Assassins is essentially a "bathroom read." You can pick it up during your 30 seconds or so of time in the loo, and get a good couple of pages read. If you have earplugs, you might even get a full minute of privacy - so long as you can't hear the children knocking on the door asking, "Mo-ommy! What are you do-oing?!?" (Or am I just projecting my own experiences?)

2. I've only read two of the six chapters, and the ones I read were in the middle of the book. Yeah, that's just how I roll.

Anyway, one of the two brilliant chapters I had "time" to read a few weeks ago is called The Assassin of the Headless Sprinting Chicken. It's all about how the concept of "balance" is essentially bunk; that we will never be able to have a morning quiet time every morning, eat everything just right, exercise everyday, drink 64 oz. of water before bedtime, create perfectly happy and well-behaved children, and still slip into bed at night looking like a Victoria's Secret model.

OK I took a few liberties with my synopsis, but you get the point: Balance is bunk. Instead of being a healthy - albeit flawed - person who can roll with life's punches, I'm more like a headless sprinting chicken running around trying to achieve perfection through the illusion of a balanced life.

And yes - that about sums up my experiences of late. I have been absolutely CLOBBERED by the Assassin of the Headless Sprinting Chicken. In trying to be all things by doing all things for all of the people around me, I have failed myself miserably. I'm living off daily drive-thru Cokes and the occasional pack of chicken nuggets, but I can't tell you the last time I sat down to eat. I get out of breath cleaning my house, because it seems like every time I turn around all of the stuff that is supposed to be upstairs is downstairs, and all of the stuff that is supposed to be downstairs is upstairs. My 5-year old's pre-K homework has been late for two weeks in a row. (And come to think of it, so has she.) I can't remember the last time I prayed for myself, my husband, or my children. And to save my life, I can't seem to swallow the happy pill we all know I need.

The plane is going down, and every one's wearing an oxygen mask but me.

So what's the answer? According to the Deadly Viper authors, "LEAD YOURSELF. NO ONE ELSE WILL" (93).

Wilhite goes on to spell it out on p. 94: "I am responsible to lead myself, to ensure that I'm resting, learning, growing, and bringing my very best self to the job every day. I'm the only one who knows what my emotional, physical, and spiritual gauges are telling me and I've got to listen to them. I am responsible for my own self-care, growth, and development."

Ouch.

Basically, everybody else is wearing their oxygen mask because I've placed it on them. But the instruction we've heard the flight attendant give a thousand times before is to place the mask on ourselves first. I realized last week that I'm no good to my family right now, because I've been so busy caring for them that I've forgotten to give any thought to myself. All I'm really doing is running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

Of course, I'm writing all of this down "pre-solution." I really don't know what I'm going to do to start taking better care of myself. I know that writing is somehow therapeutic for me, so I suppose this post is a step in the right direction. I'm hoping that the bowl of cereal I'm going to go eat in a second isn't too bad either. Perhaps I'll even get out of the house for a bit on this beautiful day, and just take a few minutes to enjoy the time before it passes me by.

On that note, let me share one final bit of encouragement I heard last night. It's a daily devotional that was once kept in the wallet of a famous Alabama coach that my husband is NOT going to let me mention. So forget I said it, and just read the words:

This is the beginning of a new day.
God has given me this day to use as I will.
I can waste it or use it for good.
What I do today is very important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it.
When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever, leaving something in its place I have traded for it.
I want it to be a gain, not loss - good, not evil.
Success, not failure in order that I shall not forget the price I paid for it.
Blessings to all of you mommies out there today. Make it a good one!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Excuses, Excuses

I know it's been awhile since I've posted anything new, but I have a few good excuses:

1) I'm in the middle of re-modeling the twins' room. Fresh paint, new furniture, etc. It's really coming together, and the girls are loving their new bunk beds. (Fodder for future blogs, I'm sure.) I'll post some before and after pictures soon - for those of you blog-stalkers who enjoy a good make-over!

2) My sister is getting married in less than 2 weeks!!!! Honestly, I think I'm as excited about her wedding as I was about mine. She's waited so long for this day, and we can't wait to share it with her and our soon-to-be new brother / uncle. Plus, my girls are going to be just about the darn cutest flower girls you've ever seen. (Please, God - no fodder there...)

3) Finally, don't hate me, but I just got back yesterday from a week at the beach. (Never mind, I even hate me.) It's a wonderful annual trip we take with my husband's family to Hilton Head every October, and it really is a treat. I am truly blessed that family time - grand kids included - is so important to my in-laws.

And since I'm always getting flack for too many words and not enough pictures, here are just a few snapshots from our time on the South Carolina coast:


Ty (a.k.a. Tommy Bahama) strolling up the beach house. He's a wanderer; he strolled all the way up to this point without ever once looking back. He finally turned around when I said, "Ty, do you want a cookie?" That's my boy.



Ella, we fear, is the whole package. Beautiful, smart, and athletic. That girl never sits down. Here she playing paddle ball on the beach with her daddy.

And here she is - the future cheerleader? - stunting with her Uncle Mac. I don't know whether to say "Bring it on, girl" or "Yikes"!




Emily and Evie really enjoyed the sand and the water. I can't really call them bathing beauties here, but at least they are having fun. They built a giant "drip" castle for Cinderella on our last day at the beach. Poor Cinderelly...



Ty wasn't quite as taken with the ocean as the girls were, so Papa dug a little baby pool for him in the sand, and the girls took turns hauling up water for him. His favorite thing to do was jump in bottom-first. I guess those swim diapers are more padded than I thought.




Evie - my little clown. I'm counting on Nana to have some better pictures of her an her sisters at the beach. I was too busy laughing.




You have NO IDEA what it took to get this photograph. I can't believe all 6 of us made it into one picture and every body's looking happily into the general vicinity of the camera. Whew!
Well, that's all I've got for now. There's a whole list of post ideas sitting on my desk right now, and one of these days I'll start writing. In the meantime, I just heard a crash upstairs. Hope those bunk beds are still intact...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

But I'm Not On My Horse!

There's a new Sarah Jessica Parker movie coming out. I don't know when exactly, and I can't look it up because I don't remember what it's called. I also can't recall the name of the lead actor to save my life. In truth, I'm just proud of myself for going to a movie last night, and for making it in time to even see the previews - though sadly not to enjoy the tub of popcorn or giant box of Goobers. But despite my mommy-induced short-term memory loss, I think I want to see this movie... if for nothing else than the scene I saw last night. It's one of those comic distance shots that shows a horse galloping across the screen. Seconds later the camera catches SJP running behind it screaming, "But I'm not on my horse!"

Oh Sarah Jessica, I feel your pain. I don't know why you aren't on your horse; I'll have to pay $10.00 sometime this fall? (winter?) to find out why. But pre-school started a couple of weeks ago in our house, and these days I feel like shouting to anyone who will listen - especially the teachers at carpool - "Just give me a minute! Please! I'm not on my horse!"

Specifically, I'm not on the Young 5's horse. See, Ella - being a July baby and therefore a "young 5" - had the option of going to Kindergarten this year. Which seemed like a bad idea at the time and seems like a worse one now. Thankfully, the church pre-school she's attends offers a special program for kids like her, who are of age but aren't quite ready for the realities of public Kindergarten. (i.e. - listening to and obeying the teacher all day) It's kind of like boot camp for these kids, who are about to enter 18 years of military academic service. At least, that's what I thought the program was all about.

Until Curriculum Night...

"OK parents, we're getting these kids ready for Kindergarten next year, so school begins promptly at 8:30 every morning. We'll be marking tardies, so make sure your little ones aren't late. Also, please don't let them bring their breakfast to class. If they're eating their breakfast, everybody will want a breakfast. And as far as homework is concerned, we will be sending home an assignment every night. It shouldn't take long to complete, but please make sure that your child is the one completing the work."

Oh sweet Lord. This isn't Young 5's Boot Camp. This is Mommy Boot Camp!!! I mean, we're never on time to school. That's why I count on late drop-off! And how else am I going to feed my child breakfast if she's not allowed to bring her baggie of Honey Nut Cheerios to class? And HOMEWORK? What does she mean 'homework'???

Needless to say, I saw my horse galloping off without me. And for two weeks I've been chasing it across the movie screen of my life screaming, "Wait! I'm not on my horse!"

Ella was late to her first 3 days of school.

She hasn't taken her breakfast to class, but I suspect she was hungry more than one morning.

As for homework? Well, all I can tell you is that being a former high school teacher doesn't help when your student is a HARD-HEADED FIVE YEAR OLD. I may need an extra happy pill just to carry me through handwriting practice.

But God bless her, it turns out my daughter loves school. Who knew, after last year's tumult? My little girl actually loves school.

Last weekend, Ella brought home a book report assignment. Her job was to listen to a book, choose her favorite part, and draw a picture of it in her journal. True to the nature of my life, I remembered her book report at 8:00 on Sunday night.

"Oh my goodness Ella, we have to do your book report!"

"No Mommy, I already did it."

"You did? Really? Um, how about you show me."

Ella returned a moment later with her journal, and I flipped it open to the first page. Sure enough, there was a picture there.

"Ella, what book did you do?"

"Cinderella. I read it all by myself and then I drew this picture. See? There's Cinderella and there's the Fairy Godmother."

It was a pretty remarkable resemblance for my artistically-challenged tomboy.

"But what's this red squiggly line around them?" I asked.

"Oh Mommy," Ella replied. "That's the magic."

Oh. The magic. I LOVE the magic. It makes me tear up just thinking about it.

Except that it's Sunday night again, and Ella has another book report due. I don't think the magic is going to help me this time. Page 2 of her journal is blank.

Heaven help me, I've got to catch that horse...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

There Once Was a Girl

There once was a girl who had a curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good, she was very, very good.
But when she was bad, she was horrid.

I don't know who wrote this four-line description of my eldest, but I certainly can't take credit for the author's brilliant insight. I suspect it's taken from a children's book though, since both my sister-in-law and my mother-in-law - who are teachers - quote it all the time. Usually while watching Ella doing something naughty.

Not that she's naughty all the time. She's not. Sometimes she's good; indeed "very, very good." And sometimes she just takes after her daddy, who's doesn't score real high on the compassion scale. No, compassion isn't really wired into Ella's personality.

I saw this particular side of her nature revealed last week when my parents came over to give me a hand in the yard. I don't usually mind yard work; it's the landscaping that gives me fits. Mom and Dad graciously offered several hours of manual labor and landscaping insight, and I was pleasantly surprised when they arrived and Darcy bounded out of the truck ahead of them.

Darcy is my sister's sweet-natured, fuzzy black mutt. Practically a daughter, granddaughter, niece, and cousin to our family. She also does phenomenal clean-up work in my car and on my kitchen floor - which were particularly gross that day - so I was very happy to see her.

Darcy was an angel all day long, despite spending much of her time "training" in the front yard. She was tested several times throughout the day by the various dogs who strolled by - and one particularly big dog who lives across the street. But she did great, and by the end of the day none of us were paying much attention to her as she laid resting in the grass.

Then a neighbor came over to say a quick hello, and when she left Darcy was gone. I mean gone. She was absolutely nowhere to be found. The yard work was suspended as three adults and four children embarked on a mission to find my sister's AWOL dog. Nearly an hour in, with Ella sitting in the front seat on her Mimi's lap, my daughter sighed sadly and said, "I sure hope we find Darcy soon."

"Oh honey," I replied, "we'll find her. She's going to be okay."

"That's good," said Ella. "Because I'm getting hungry!"

Oh. "Well, I know we'll find her soon."

But we didn't find her, and soon my mother was in tears. As I threw a quick batch of pancakes together - with Ella looking on - Mom cried on my shoulder: "I just love that dog so much! What if we don't find her? This is all my fault; I shouldn't have brought her over here."

"Mom, it's not your fault," I tried to comfort her. "I mean, really it's all our faults. We were all responsible for watching her."

"It's not my fault," Ella piped up. "I didn't bring her over here!"

Well, so much for comfort.

But as it turns out, we didn't need the comfort. While fixing "dinner," Mom and I started piecing a few clues together and realized that Darcy had probably followed my neighbor home and been accidentally shut into her garage. Sure enough, I went up to the garage door and put my ear near the crack at the bottom. The muffled bark I heard was perfect confirmation, since I know for certain my neighbor does not own a dog. An hour later - once my neighbor returned home - Darcy was safe and sound back at our house.

I don't think Ella noticed. She'd gotten tired of waiting and went to bed.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

School Days???

I've been counting down the days until the first day of school since the last day of school last year. No kidding. If you're friends with me on Facebook, you've seen my desperation-tinged status updates: "Only 136 days until the first day of pre-school. Yipee!"

So how, pray tell, did I manage to blow the first day of school?

Well, obviously it didn't sneak up on me. I mean, two weeks ago I was the totally sane and organized mother of three soon-to-be-pre-school students. For two nights in a row I showed up to attend Curriculum Night for all three girls. I met the teachers. I took copious notes. I signed up to help with the Christmas and Easter parties, and volunteered away my entire month of January to help out at the school. I labeled and filed the class lists so I would know just where to find little Susie's mother's phone number when my girls requested a playdate. I took the girls to meet their teachers two days later, and when I did, I arrived laden with every school supply on the list, plus a few extras "just in case."

So what happened? Where did that sane and organized mother go? Apparently, she was replaced by the crazy lady who - at 10 o'clock the night before school started - realized her twins were supposed to turn in their "All About Me" projects in just a few short hours.

What is the "All About Me" project, you ask? Well back when Ella was in this class, I wrongfully assumed that it was a piece of paper she could color, decorate, and paste pictures on to help tell the class all about herself. But it turns out that the "All About Me" project is actually a piece of brightly-colored cardstock that scrapbooking-crazed pre-school mothers use to show off their mad artistic skills, and photographs of their expensive family vacations to Disney World and Hawaii. Needless to say, my husband walked into the bedroom at 11 o'clock, looked at the pile of discarded family photos, gluesticks, markers, and stickers, and asked, "Um, should I sleep on the couch?"

Being the loving wife that I am, I of course responded, "I'M TRYING TO FINISH MY HOMEWORK! JEEZ, I'LL BE DONE IN A MINUTE!"

"Shouldn't the girls be doing their own homework?"

"You would think so, wouldn't you? But I'll let them put some stickers on in the morning."

I really planned to let them do so, but they kept sticking them on crooked. Plus, it turns out that in my rush to finish the "All About Me" projects, I failed to note the lack of clean clothing in our drawers. The first morning of school, I pulled off the girls' wet Pull-Ups, threw on some pants, and hoped the T-shirts they'd slept in didn't look too wrinkled. They didn't.

I'd show you proof, but I forgot to take the obligatory first day of school picture. Since I slept through my alarm clock that morning, I didn't have time to snap that enduring photo. I was too busy with four kids - getting their clothes on, their shoes on, their hair fixed, their teeth brushed, their tummies fed and their seat belts buckled. And yes, we were tardy.

Over a hundred days of counting down... and I still managed to be late.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Watch For Falling Inanimate Objects

My kids love assigning human characteristics to all things inanimate. Ella started the trend a few years ago with a little game I like to think of as "What Lives Where." The rules are simple, really. Whatever Ella finds out of place in her room - stuffed animals, hair bows, carpet fuzz - she throws out in the hallway and shouts, "This does not live here, Mommy!" Likewise, library books "live" at the library, chicken nuggets "live" at McDonald's, and Miss Kathy "lives" at the pool. Granted, Miss Kathy is a swimming teacher, not an inanimate object, but you get the picture.

Of course, we're way beyond "What Lives Where" now. These days my kids think of inanimate objects as a cross between the Brave Little Toaster and the Velveteen Rabbit: everything in our house has feelings and perhaps, with enough love, the potential to be real. Emily is particularly obsessed with her cat and her dog - a pair of stuffed animals who are rather opinionated creatures. I find myself walking on eggshells around my first twin, who is liable to scream out of the seeming blue: "My cat says you have to be quiet, Mommy!" or "You're making my dog mad!" or "My cat and my dog say we have to have ice cream RIGHT NOW!" Frankly, I'd like to see her cat and dog take a hike - especially now that Emily has seen Cinderella. Anyone who asks what her cat's name is gives me a dirty look when she replies "Lucifer."

Trying to play into my kids' imaginations has backfired on me, too, though. Emily's not particularly impressed when I tell her that her cat and her dog want her to eat all her broccoli or clean her room. "NO THEY DON'T, MOMMY! MY CAT AND MY DOG DON'T LIKE BROCCOLI!" Evie's not particularly impressed by my little game either. At the doctor's office, I told her to leave her very special - and somewhat emotional - "Blankie" in the car.

"I don't want Blankie to get sick, honey," I said, thinking of all the germs we were about to encounter.

"Mommy," Evie replied. "My Blankie don't have a mouth. It can't get sick."

There's only one thing stronger than a three-year old's passion for inanimate objects: the promise of treats.

"Evie, if you leave Blankie in the car and you behave at the doctor's office, then I will get you a treat when we're done."

"OK, Mommy. Can Blankie have one, too?"

I guess Blankie doesn't require a mouth for treats. Or maybe Evie imagines Blankie grows a mouth - a la Brave Little Toaster - when we all leave the room. Or perhaps my kids are just smarter than I realize ... and I'm jumping through a whole lot of imaginary hoops.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Not Me! Monday... er, Tuesday


Hey, I'm not late posting my "Not Me! Monday" post. Nope, not me. I'm never late.

That certainly wasn't me at the grocery store last week, buying fresh donuts at the bakery counter. I'm watching my weight, so I don't need to buy donuts. I prefer carob-chip cookies and sugar free ice cream. So obviously, that wasn't me you saw in the produce section reach into the donut bag and wipe out two chocolate-frosted delights. First of all, that would be a disgusting lack of self-control. And secondly, it would be embarrassing for me to have to pay the lady at the checkout counter for an empty bakery bag. She'd probably give me an odd look and shake her head. So I'm glad I didn't do anything like that.

For sure, I would never take my children to a free summer kids show like "Bee Movie" and cry at the end when, you know, Barry the Bee unites the bees of Manhattan to re-pollinate all the flowers in the city. It would be ridiculous to need a Kleenex for something as cheesy and predictable as that. Of course, it would also be ridiculous for me to spoil the end of the show for everybody who hasn't seen "Bee Movie" yet.

So glad I didn't do that.

You know that wasn't me at the park on Saturday with my four kids, either. I don't lie around on a picnic blanket and block out my kids' screaming by staring blankly up at the clouds. I certainly didn't tell Emily to drop trow and go pee-pee behind a tree because I didn't want to have to pack up and go find a bathroom. That would irresponsible and unsanitary.

And thank heavens I would never, ever rip my shirt off and run around topless in my backyard. What an embarrassing situation that could be for my father-in-law if he was, say, working in the side yard and saw me. After all, I've seen "Bee Movie." I know that when a bee flies down my shirt, it doesn't mean any harm. Stinging a person - even when angry - shows the rest of the bee world an embarrassing lack of self-control. So it's a good thing that bee didn't sting me and I didn't have to streak my neighbors.

It's nice to know that bees and I have that it common: a sense of decency and self-control. It's not helpful for writing humorous blog posts, but it sure makes me feel good. I think I'll go reward myself with a nice big glass of rice milk...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Perfect Parent

Ty knocked himself out last week.

Knocked. Himself. OUT.

And shaved a good two years off my life.

Of course I was only standing about 10 feet away when he did it, which proves that the concept of "keeping an eye on the kids" is totally overrated. Ty was pushing a truck on the hardwood floor with his foot when the truck rolled forward and he flipped back. And knocked himself out.

I have to give myself credit for not freaking out. He came around after only an eternity a few seconds and started crying, which I took as a good sign. 9-1-1 was already punched in, but I hung up and speed-dialed the Children's Hospital nurse hot line instead. I don't know why, but I like that they know me by name over there. Anyway, Nurse Janet sent me packing to the nearest emergency room, which received us in record time. One lengthy exam, one CT scan, and three packages of graham crackers later, Ty was discharged home under a clean bill of health. Praise God.

It seems His angels are putting in some overtime around our house these days. I have to tell you that the week before Ty's frightening fall, we had an even more terrifying incident occur. Before I share though, you have to know that I NEVER move a car without all of my children accounted for - either in the house or buckled into their seats. It's a good rule anyway, but the accident that killed Steven Curtis Chapman's daughter last year in her own driveway has given me a healthy sense of paranoia. So I NEVER move a car when my children are outside. And isn't that the way all accident stories begin?

A few weeks ago, it was pretty clear that something was going on with the transmission in the minivan. I was not in a good mood, since we don't exactly have the money to fix a car that should run just fine. Instead of pulling the van all the way into the garage like I usually do, I pulled in only part way so I could check the transmission fluid. By the time that job was done, our neighbors, their son, my husband, and our four kids were all out in the driveway talking and playing. Around here, three adults to five kids is a pretty good ratio. So I counted all the kids, made sure every child was accounted for, and walked back into the garage to pull the van forward the last three feet. And then muttered a few inappropriate words under my breath when I couldn't find the keys.

That figures. Nothing's ever just easy. Can't even pull my car in the garage without it being a production...

I got out of the car, slammed the door, and stormed towards the kitchen to find my keys.

Just as Ty toddled around the front bumper of my car.

I am not exaggerating this at all. If my keys had been in the ignition where I was sure I'd left them, I would have pulled that car forward three feet and crushed my son. Our garage is a very tight space, and the car would have either rolled over him or pinned him to the wall.

I snatched Ty up and about hugged the breath out of him, while getting on my knees and thanking God that He is a better parent to my children than I am. Not just in terms of their safety - because clearly I can't keep them safe even when I am watching them - but in terms of their complete and total well-being.

I regularly beat myself up for all the ways I've failed as a parent. And I am terrified that my kids are going to grow up, move out, and never speak to me again, because I consistently fail to meet all of their needs.

When did I start thinking I was God?

I can't meet all of my children's needs. I will never be able to meet all of my children's needs. I succeed in keeping them from physical harm well enough, but not perfectly - as the bumps and bruises on their elbows and knees will attest. I try to keep them happy, but not all that effectively - which is clear to the public at large every time I take them grocery shopping. I hug them and kiss them and love on them every day - but I still manage to yell at them several times a day, too. I am so not a perfect parent.

But thank God He is.

He loves my own children even more than I do. Infinitely more so, because He was willing to sacrifice His own Son for a relationship with them. He is capable of giving my children more joy in their lives than I can because of the relationship they can have with Him. And He is even more capable than me at keeping them from physical harm; clearly so, because Ty is safe and healthy and with us today.

And I am so grateful for that.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dear Doctor

Thank you for sending home an informational pamphlet in preparation for Ella's tonsillectomy. It's always helpful to have a sheet of bright orange paper to reference when one's child undergoes surgery. Unfortunately, I find that it isn't as thorough as some parents might prefer. I'm writing to suggest some changes you may wish to make on future pamphlets.

First of all, I'd like to recommend you add a paragraph to your pamphlet that informs parents how their child is to dress the morning of surgery. In our case, I suggested that Ella wear her pajamas in order to feel comfortable during her post-op stay. She disagreed - as I'm sure you noticed, since she accessorized her jammies with a tiara, tutu, and ballet slippers. Did this distract you at all during surgery? If not I'm glad, since dancing down the hospital corridors provided such a nice diversion for our daughter prior to her procedure. If it was a problem however, I would encourage you to be more specific about hospital dress code in the future.

As far as post-operative concerns, I find your pamphlet only moderately informative. For example, the section labeled "Diet" suggests that tonsillectomy patients should drink 4oz. of liquid every hour and includes a handy little sticker chart to help motivate the patient to drink. Are you aware, sir, that some children do not like sticker charts? That some children will, in fact, refuse to do anything asked of them, regardless of bribery and rewards? To make matters worse, you advise patients to stay away from milk the first few days after surgery. How exactly are parents like us supposed to get our child to drink anything? Ella doesn't drink anything but white milk, even when she's healthy! It's not like we can take her to Sonic, which boasts hundreds of drink combinations, and expect her to find one single drink she might enjoy. She won't. Granted, you allow Popsicles to count towards liquid intake. Unfortunately, Ella does not particularly care for Popsicles, as she considers them "too cold." Frankly, we could have used a little more direction from you in this area.

In fact, the entire "Diet" section should be re-written, as what you suggest conflicts entirely with what my daughter requests. You seem to think that jello, pudding, and ice cream are well-tolerated and even enjoyed by 5-year tonsillectomy patients. I am sorry to inform you that this is indeed NOT the case. My child would prefer to eat M&M's and pretzels - foods you specifically deny her, according to your pamphlet. Perhaps you would like to come over and prepare Ella's meals and snacks for the next two weeks?

Which, incidentally, is the amount of time your pamphlet directs us to moderate Ella's play. NO "vigorous activity?" NO running or biking? NO SWIMMING? My daughter came home from the hospital and immediately requested we walk the 1/2 mile to our neighborhood playground. As I write, she's pumping herself on the swing so high she can "touch the sky." Yet your pamphlet offers no alternative suggestions for activities. Nor does it indicate if I can tie her to a chair or bed without being questioned by the Department of Child and Family Services. Again, this would be helpful information to have.

Finally, your pamphlet references a post-operative condition known as hypernasality. According to the information provided, "it is normal for your child to have a higher voice...immediately after surgery." What it does not tell me it this: Are my ears supposed to be bleeding? It seems possible - indeed, probable - that my daughter's voice has ruptured my ear drums. Therefore, I suggest that if you decide to respond in some way to this letter that you do NOT pick up the phone to call me. A letter of apology will be sufficient.

I hope that you are not offended by the tone of my letter. I simply want to help you do a better job in the future of preparing parents. Hopefully you will find my suggestions useful.

Sincerely,

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Stages

It's been one of those weeks this week.

OK, it's one of those weeks every week.

But this week seems particularly insane, despite the regular help I'm getting from Miss Amanda, my summer sitter. (Although around here she's "Miss A-Panda." Cute, right?) We love our Miss A-Panda. Well, except for when we're hitting her. Or locking her in a room, as the case may be.

Wait, though. Don't call the cops on me yet. These abuses are all courtesy of my almost 5-year old, Ella. For reasons I still haven't figured out, she decided to beat up on sweet Miss A-Panda - and lock her in a room - while I was out running errands with my mom the other day. Miss A-Panda, being the smart girl that she is, quickly popped the lock and picked up the phone to call the woman with the naughty stick Ella's mom.

Fortunately, I was almost home. Fortunately, too, I had a few minutes to vent to my mom about Ella's bad attitude, because she was able to calm me down and gently remind me that I've been through A LOT of stages with these kiddos. This is just one more stage, she told me. And she's right. Although the Hitting and Being a General Pill Stage? I'm over it. I can't wait for it to go the way of these other annoying stages that, praise God, eventually passed:

1. Worst Morning Sickness EVER Stage

I know, I know. You probably think that you had the worst morning sickness ever, and you're probably right - because morning sickness is THE MOST MISERABLE FEELING IN THE WORLD, regardless of your personal sickness level. But even my OB agrees that my level was off the charts: like a 19 out of a possible 10. During the course of my three (successful) pregnancies, I was hospitalized 14 times for excessive vomiting. During the twins' pregnancy, which very nearly killed me, I lost weight faster than my babies could gain; I looked like an orange stuck on toothpicks. Those times when I was temporarily discharged from the hospital, I had a home nurse monitoring me, a Zofran pump pumping anti-nausea medicine into my leg, and a PICC line in my arm delivering fluids and TPN. It was not my favorite stage ever.

I have plenty of gross / disgusting / kinda funny stories about my 25+ months' experience with hyperemesis (i.e. morning sickness on crack), which I'll probably write about at some point; but my point in writing about it now is simply to say: I didn't die. I thought at times I was going to, but I didn't. I survived, it's over, and I have four healthy and surprising chubby children to show for it. We made it.

2. Now My Baby Is Throwing Up Stage

The irony is that the next stage still had everything to do with digestive functions... just not my own. The Now My Baby Is Throwing Up Stage (better known within the medical community as acid reflux) was a different experience with each child. Emily and Evie had it, but I didn't really notice because I was too busy feeding, burping, bathing, changing, swaddling, and rocking them to really care about the spit-up all over my clothes. Ty had it as well, but he was what the pediatrician called a "happy spitter." In other words, I was covered in baby goo but Ty never fussed. Go figure.

Then there was Ella.

Ella was NOT a happy spitter. She was not a happy baby. In fact, members of my family can testify that Ella didn't stop crying for three months after we brought her home. My hubby's grandmother called it colic. I called it pure agony.

Even once the crying stopped diminished, the projectile vomiting continued for another three months. Plenty of people, who got used to seeing me regularly in semi-soggy clothes, asked why I didn't just use a burp cloth. At which point I'd pull three or more mushy, sodden burp clothes out of my diaper bag and ask, "Why?" It eventually got to the point where my sister could find me in a store simply by following the trail of baby vomit. How's that for birth control?

3. Make The Screaming Stop Stage

Ella made such a quick transition from spitting to screaming that I never really had a chance to celebrate the end of the Now My Baby Is Throwing Up Stage. We jumped right in, feet first, to the Make The Screaming Stop Stage.

Now again, I'm sure you think that your kid gets pretty loud. And he or she probably does pull off a good scream now and again. But Ella could shatter glass with her scream. No kidding, we could've taken out the whole crystal section at Macy's with one blood-curdling yell. It got to the point where I couldn't leave the house because she screamed ALL THE TIME.

Eventually, I got so desperate that I called a world-renowned counseling center, held the phone up to Ella, and after a few screams begged the man on the other end to tell me what I could do to make her stop. He told me to buy ear plugs and wait for the stage to pass. Easy for him to say, but in reality I had no choice... so that's what I did. And praise God, it finally passed - just about the time we found out I was pregnant with twins.

4. Diaper Removal Stage

The twins, of course, brought with them their own unique stages. What I had learned from parenting Ella was inadequate when I tackled their new, double-your-trouble phases. Like the Diaper Removal Stage.

This stage started shortly before Ty was born, and continued for a good six months. At first I wasn't too concerned, since the girls were still in their cribs and the damage was contained. I just put onesies on over their diapers and assumed that the problem was solved. And it was until they moved into their big girl beds - at which point they teamed up to unsnap one another's onesies, rip off their diapers and leave poopy-butt imprints on every piece of furniture, bedding, and window pane in the room.

It wasn't a pretty stage. I would've been well-served to strip the carpet and bedding from their rooms, paint the walls chocolate brown, and call it a day. But I persisted in fighting the battle, even wrapping their diapers in strapping tape before bedtime. Did you know that a child's tummy shrinks during the night, and that come day the taped-up diapers can just slide right off? If you do, you're smarter than I was because strapping tape did not exactly solve our problem. Nothing did. Eventually, I think the girls just got tired of painting the windows and walls with their poo and moved on to another stage, because it too has passed.

For now, anyway - since Ty is starting to get more curious about the mechanical workings of his disposable diaper. I'll have to cross my fingers and buy some onesies. But even if he does hit the Diaper Removal Stage, I know that it too will pass. As will - God willing - the Picky Eater Stage, the Arguing With Every Word That Comes From Mommy's Mouth Stage, and the Still Going Pee-pee In My Night-time Diaper Stage. And of course the Hitting and General Pill Stage. Surely it too will pass. Right?

Lord, I hope so.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Five Minutes on 285

There are two things you need to know as you read the following conversation:

1) 285 is a twelve-lane interstate of terror that goes around the city of Atlanta. I HATE driving on this road even at the calmest of times.

2) Even though I have four children in my mini-van at any given time, Ella is the dominant voice I hear - because the twins are usually playing quietly in the back and because Ty is - well, Ty.

*************************************

"OK, guys. We have a long drive home, and it's rush hour traffic. I need everybody to be sweet and quiet so Mommy can concentrate. OK, Ella?"

"OK Mommy, we will... Mommy what is traffic?"

"Um, traffic just means that there are lots of cars all going the same way, really slow."

"Oh."

"Mommy you're driving too fast."

"No, I'm not. It's fine"

"Holy cow, Mommy! Watch out for that car!"

"Honey, it's fine. This is just traffic."

"What's traffic, Mommy?"

"I told you: Lots of cars, going really slow."

"Oh. Mommy, how did Nana give me this puzzle?"

"Huh? Oh, I don't know how. Didn't she just hand it to you?"

"Oh. Yeah. But WHY did she give me this puzzle?"

"I guess she thought you'd like it."

"Oh. I do like this puz... AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

"What's wrong?!?"

"I...dropped...my...PUZZLE PIECE!!!!!!!!! Stop the car, Mommy!!! STOP!!!!!!"

"I can't, Ella. I'm driving!"

"I... WANT... MY... PUZZLE... PIECE...! MY... PUZZLE... PI... oh, I found it, Mommy! It was under my leg. Hee, hee. Isn't that silly, Mommy?"

"Hilarious, Ella. Now just work on your puzzle. I'm trying to drive, and there's a lot of traffic."

"OK, Mommy. What's traffic?"

"Lots of cars. Driving slow."

"Are you going slow?"

"Yes."

"You're not going too fast?"

"No."

"Is the policeman going to get you?"

"No."

"Because you're not driving too fast?"

"Correct."

"Why is your car beep-beeping?"

"Because that car almost hit us."

"Is that car going too fast?"

"No."

"Is the policeman going to take him away? Mom? Mommy? MOMMY!?!"

"What?!"

"Can I listen to my CD?"

"You can listen to Bob and Larry's Backyard Party, since it's already in the CD player."

"NOOOOOOOOO!!! I don't like that CD!!! I want a different CD, Mommy!!!"

"I can't reach another CD, Ella. I'm driving."

"But... I... want... my... blue... Veggie... Tales... C... D............."

"Wahhhhhh!!!"

"Emily, what's wrong?! Ella, stop crying so I can hear Emily!"

"I the baby, Mommy. I pretend the baby."

"Oh, are you and Evie playing Mommy - Baby?"

"Yes. But I want you to be the Mommy and I'll get in your tummy again and then I'll come out."

"Oh honey, I can't play Mommy - Baby right now. Besides, I don't think I can get you back in my tummy, Emily."

"But I was in your tummy first, Mommy. Wasn't I in your tummy first?"

"Yes, Ella. You were in my tummy first."

"How did I get in your tummy, Mommy?"

"Um, God put you there."

"HOW did God put me in your tummy?"

"Hey Ella, do you want to listen to your blue Veggie Tales CD?"

"No, I want to sing."

"Oh, OK. That sounds like a great idea."

"Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree. How lovely have you been..."

"Ella, do you want to sing a different song?"

"No. OH CHRISTMAS TREE, OH CHRISTMAS TREE. HOW LOVELY HAVE YOU BEEN..."

"Ella, maybe you could sing a little quieter. Mommy's trying to concentrate."

"Because there's traffic?"

"Yes."

"Oh. Mommy, what's traffic?"

"Just keep singing, Ella."

"OK, Mommy."

Sunday, June 7, 2009

It' Party Time!

Three days and counting before the official first birthday!


Were you around for that first tentative blog post? Probably not. I was so afraid of "putting myself out there" that I didn't even tell my husband what I was doing until I'd written several posts. Even then, it was my sister-in-law who kicked my blogging butt out of the closet when she outed me to the world on her blog. If it wasn't for her, I'd probably still be blogging in secret.

Wow. Aren't you lucky?

Of course, the birthday isn't until June 10. Yes, I rolled out my birthday gift / blog makeover a little early. And then I left town. And left you with nothing to read.

Oooops.

I suppose I should feel bad, but I don't. I'm back now. And before I get into my little party contest, I have to tell you that the kids and I had a great week at the beach - as evidenced by the amazing pictures Andrea shot (with comments by me):



Here's a shot all three girls on the beach, about 1.2 seconds before that wave out there washed up to their knees. No, we didn't take the "during" shot - we were all too busy running. Then we were drying eyes. And Emily's panties...


Here's Ella. She's beautiful, isn't she? My hubby can't even look at this picture. Of course, what he doesn't know is that Andrea shot 45 pictures prior to this. My big girl CANNOT hold still to save her life. She yells "cheese" as she's running away, "cheese" as she's squinting into the sun, and "cheese" as she's bending over to pick sand out of her toes. The only reason we managed to get this shot is because I was standing behind the camera saying, "DON'T smile, Ella. Whatever you do, DON'T look at me and smile." Funny how my oldest child can't help but disobey...





Then there's Emily. Thinking I'd learned my lesson with Ella, I told her the same thing: "DON'T smile, whatever you do." You know what she did? She obeyed! We have a whole selection of pictures of her staring blankly at the camera. It turns out it works better for Miss Emily if I just say, "OK, look at the camera and smile pretty!" And then just walk away.





Here's Evie. My happy girl always smiles, but for some reason this is my favorite shot of her. It's a more classic "Emily look" (and if the pictures weren't labeled, I'd probably get them mixed up), but here Evie is looking at her reflection in the lens. Precious...




And then there's "Ty-Ty, Sugar Pie," as big sister Ella calls him. No, Andrea didn't have any difficulty getting this shot. Nope. No story here. Just my sweet, happy boy.

*******************************

Well enough about our trip to the beach, which - did I mention? - was glorious. I've got a party to prepare. And you've got some work to do.


Hopefully you noticed that the name of my blog is no longer "Surviving 4." Put Me in the Zoo, by Robert Lopshire, is one of my kids' favorite books. When I was trying to come up with a new blog name, it was the first idea I came up with. Because, well, I live with five monkeys. (C'mon - of course I'm going to count my husband!) Plus, it was a lot easier to come up with a blog design in a zoo theme.


In honor of the birthday and the name change, I'm giving away a copy of Lopshire's Put Me in the Zoo.



And in case you already have the book, you don't have kids, or you're still waiting for grand kids, I'm also throwing in a $10 gift certificate to Ella's favorite store.

Target!!!
(Actually no. Her favorite store is the Home Depot. So it's really her second-favorite store.)

All you have to do is leave a comment at the end of this blog, telling me the name of your favorite children's book. That's it! On Wednesday, I'll pick a name (randomly, I promise) from the list and announce the winner on my blog. (Note: If you leave an anonymous comment, make sure you write your name in the actual comment somewhere, so I know who you are!)

Have fun and good luck!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Surprise!

Welcome to my new blog! It got finished earlier than I was expecting, so I'm a little late on the official kick-off and a little early for June 10th's birthday party. But welcome anyway! I hope you love the new look and the updated pictures as much as I do.

Things are still a bit under construction, but I wanted you to notice a couple of things: 1) I'll be advertising for Andrea Ward Studios on this blog, so all of the sidebar pictures are courtesy of Andrea! There will be a button up soon that you can click on. It will take you directly to her site, where you can view some great samples of her photography, as well as her brilliant fine art. She is worth every penny in either medium, so I hope you'll stop by to check out her work.

2) I added a section in the sidebar that takes you to some of my favorite posts from the last year. If you haven't been following me for long, I hope you'll go back and check these out. They might be good for a laugh or two. (And be sure to check out my most recent post - yesterday was a doozie of a day.)

Don't forget to check back in for details on my upcoming birthday party. I'll be conducting my first giveaway, and you might win the birthday present.

Can't wait to hear what you all think about the new look!

So You've Had a Bad Day...

Have you ever had one of those days?

You know what I’m talking about. If you’re anything like me, it’s starts with a scenario similar to this:

You’re totally late…

The kids are being less-than-cooperative...

And your cell phone is nowhere to be found.

You waste precious minutes frantically searching, and then give up, dial your own cell number, and follow the ring.

Is that my butt ringing?

Yup. There’s your cell phone… in your pocket.

I had one of those days yesterday. It wasn’t necessarily a bad day. It was just an exercise in frustration that left me wondering if everyone (myself included) is completely incompetent.

Now granted, I kind of set myself up from the get-go by planning a full morning of errands with four small kids. And since the first stop was Goodwill, and I had a rather sizable donation of stuff-the-needy-will-no-doubt-appreciate, it took me awhile to pack the kids into my crammed van. Eventually, I took out a seat, lined the three girls along the back, and put Ty behind me. The problem was, I soon realized, that I also needed to make room for the two tires I was supposed to have a mechanic install on my car (Stop #2). I wrestled the tires out to the driveway, then went to work shoving stuff around to make room for the tires.

Which were, in the meantime, rolling down the street.

Guess I should have paid more attention to that slight slope we live on. But after chasing my two tires to the end of the road – and finally catching them – I loaded them into the van and headed off to run my errands, a bit sweaty but no worse for wear.

Goodwill was a quick stop. (And I’m confident that my stuff was greatly appreciated.) The mechanic wasn’t too bad either. My kids got a kick out of watching the van get new “shoes,” and I finally had a few free minutes to feed Ty his breakfast. Poor kid. He was very grateful for the attention. But then things got a little hairy when I heard my cell phone beeping out its last gasps for breath.

Oooops. Forgot to charge the phone. That’s okay, I’ll stop by the pharmacy for my prescription, swing by home to pick up the charger, and give it some juice during my doctor’s appointment. Oh, and I need to dig my debit card out of the laundry so I can buy the kids some lunch. And I’ll put the other seat back in, in case we need to pick up Ella’s friend after the doctor.

Unfazed, I packed the kids back up into our newly-shod van and headed for the pharmacy. Where I was informed I no longer have a prescription. Indeed, I transferred it to Target last month, when I found a coupon for a $10 gift card – with prescription transfer. Totally out of my way, mind you, but who passes up ten bucks at Target?

Hmmm. I think I have an old script written out at home. I’ll just pick that up while I’m at home and then swing back over here before my appointment.

I ran home, grabbed my phone charger, flipped through my medical file for the old prescription, dug my debit card out of the laundry hamper, wrestled the extra seat into my car, and headed back to the pharmacy where a very nice technician - who sadly knows me by name - filled the prescription while I waited.

Good. I think I can still make my appointment on time. You know, all things considered, this day is going pretty smooth.

Of course, I didn’t count on my chiropractor running 55 minutes behind. I should have, but I didn’t...

The first twenty minutes weren’t too bad, but then the potty breaks started. Emily kicked it off – because if there is a potty within a half mile of her tush, she’s got to go! And thanks to the power of suggestion, Ella and Evie were soon in need of a break as well. Then it was Emily’s turn again. (I’m telling you, she just really loves potty time.) She didn’t produce anything, but Ty did – as evidenced by the whiff of him I got as he toddled by.

Oh no. Please don’t tell me I left the diaper bag at home.

I did.

I ran out to the car and frantically searched every seat pocket, nook, and cranny for a spare diaper, but no luck. After a few more minutes, the smell was so strong that I had to whisk him off to the bathroom (with Evie in tow for a second round) and clean him up as best I could. At first my plan was to let him go commando and risk an accident. But even I’m not that inconsiderate. Instead I checked the wait time (one more ahead of me) and tossed the kids back in the car. I figured I had 10 minutes to locate a diaper for Commando Boy, and pick up some lunch for my now cranky, hungry girls.

My first stop was another drug store. I confess, there was no way I was going to unload my kids just for a quickie diaper purchase. On the flip side, I once got in trouble with the county sheriff for leaving my children in an unattended car for 2 minutes. (A story for another time.) I was stuck with option 3: the drive thru.

“Hi. I’m sorry, but is there ANY way I could just get a package of Huggies Size 4?”

She looks confused.

"I know this isn't standard operating procedure, but I really need a diaper and I promise you don't want my children in your store right now."

“Um, do you want regular or supreme?”

“Hmmmm. You know? I honestly don’t care.”

God bless that sweet girl in the pharmacy department for picking out the smallest, cheapest package she could find. I paid for my purchase, pulled into a parking space, and diapered a suspiciously damp bottom.

Nothing like closing the barn door after the horse gets out.

My next stop was Burger King. It took some creative maneuvering through the lunch traffic, but I eventually got my sack of chicken nuggets and French fries. Except that somebody forgot stick the fries in the bag.

(I admit at this point that I yelled something to the effect of "ARE YOU EVEN KIDDING ME?!?!)

Too bad I was already back in traffic. More creative maneuvering ensued and I was eventually back in the drive thru line. I had to cut in front of a lady who was having difficulty locating exact change, but at least I got my fries.

A few minutes later, I was back at the doctor’s office with four kids, a sack of fast food, a stroller, bottled water, and a picnic blanket. (Because at this point, I figured we'd just make ourselves at home.) As I finished getting lunch laid out, the doctor called my name.

Evie jumped up and yelled, "I have to go potty!"

"NO, you don't. Now sit down and eat!"

“You know,” the doctor said, as we walked into her office, and she closed the door behind her. “I wouldn’t be you for all the money in the world.”

Really? Because it's only noon...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Changes in the Air...

"Wait. Am I on the right page? When did we go back to plain white Minima? And isn't the name different? When did the name change? I SO need to check this blog more often..."

Yup, you're just in time. There are big changes brewing here at Put Me in the Zoo (formerly Surviving 4). For one thing, there's a birthday coming up. On June 10, this blog will celebrate it's first - but hopefully not it's last - birthday! In honor of a milestone I thought I'd never reach, I'm giving my blog a full makeover, complete with name change and face lift. By the first week of June, you should be able to see new pictures of all four monkeys, courtesy of Andrea Ward Studios, as well as a brand-new blog template from Danielle, The Design Girl.

Of course no party is complete without presents, so be sure to check back in time to participate in my first blog giveaway. I'll do my best to make it a good one.

In the meantime, I'm going to finish my INSANE Spring Cleaning project, which is officially entering it's third week. Heaven help me. What was I thinking? Hopefully just a few more days...

******************

TDT #2 (The Darndest Things: funny comments my kids make that can't be turned into an actual post)

Evie crawled into bed with me a few mornings ago, looking for a snuggle. What she got was a nose-full of morning breath when I rolled over and said, "Good morning, Sweetie."

She slapped her hands over her nose and mouth and said something I couldn't make out.

"What did you say, Evie?"

She pulled her hands back and shouted, "Mommy, you are stinky in my nose!" Then she rolled off the bed and ran away.

Think I'll be adding Listerine to my grocery list this week...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Feeding the Hungry

It's four o'clock in the afternoon and heaven help me, it's the witching hour.

If you are the mother of any child under the age of 5, you know exactly what I mean.

If your children are in school full time - elementary school, college, whatever - you used to know what I mean, but you've probably suppressed the memory of late afternoons spent in the company of pre-schoolers. I think doctors refer to it as post-traumatic stress syndrome. Regardless, get ready for some regressive therapy because I'm about to dig up your buried past:

Four o'clock is the witching hour because the pre-schoolers are up too early from the naps they took too late, they are bored with every activity that occupied them throughout the morning, and they are hungry, even though it's way too soon for dinner. Unfortunately, you - the mom who needs a nap more than anybody in the house and who can't come up with a single "fun" activity to do - has to figure out what to feed the little vultures.

I don't know how four o'clock always manages to sneak up on me. I mean, it comes around at the exact same time everyday. But for some reason, I'm always caught off guard when my kids come marching downstairs to demand food and I realize that I have no idea what to feed them. Obviously I know I'm supposed to give them something healthy, like rice cakes smeared with peanut butter and sprinkled with twigs and berries. But I don't really have it in me to listen to their whining for the next hour, when a big bowl of ice cream makes them so blissfully quiet.

However, I stumbled onto an idea recently that actually seems to be working for my kids. I can't claim credit for this brilliant plan, since my mom says she's the one who told me about it - and it turns out that a lot of parenting magazines also suggest this approach. But in case you're living under a rock like me, I'm going to tell you about our Snack Tray Technique. ("Technique" is probably overstating a simple plan, but whatever...) The idea is to give kids an option about what and how much they eat by offering them not one, but several snacks.

It's really not as overwhelming as it sounds. I found these great plastic, divided trays at the grocery store for a little over a dollar apiece. Of course, if you have loads of money, you can also purchase the same thing at Pottery Barn for 20 times that amount. If you're feeling thrifty, a muffin tin works from your cabinet works just as well. The point is to have something divided that can be filled with an assortment of snacks, like this:




The picture doesn't show it very well, but this snack tray has 3 slices of cheese, a handful of sunflower seeds, a few chocolate chips, 3 crackers, and some grapes. I usually try to have enough of a selection so the kids have the option of protein, dairy, carbs, fruit, etc. And sugar. I don't know if it's scientific, but as a kid I was never allowed to eat chocolate on a regular basis; now, as adult, I will eat it by the pound. So my thinking is that maybe if the kids can enjoy it in moderation, they won't crave it so much.

The other nice thing about the tray is that the kids can eat as little or as much as they want. If the kids aren't that hungry, there are only a few things they will eat purely for the taste - and the portions are small. If they're starving, they can eat everything on the tray, but I can be confident that they satisfied their hunger with nutrition as well as treats. Of course, I don't do any refills on the tray. Our rule around here is, "You eat what you get and you don't pitch a fit."

Of course, our little snack tray system isn't foolproof. For one thing, my kids like to eat different things, so as soon as those trays hit the table, the bartering begins. Emily usually gives all her fruit to Evie and her sunflower seeds to Ella. Evie gives her crackers to Emily and collects all the cheese. Nobody gives up the chocolate.

Speaking of chocolate, I've had to learn to be careful about where I stash my chocolate chips. A few days into our snack tray program, I was on the phone with mom2drew, raving about my snack tray success. After I hung up the phone, I walked into the family room and saw three chocolate-smeared, near-comatose faces gazing blankly at the television. I knew there was no way that 10 chocolate chips could have created that mess. Then I noticed the completely empty, 12-oz. bag lying on the floor. The same bag I'd just opened - brand new - 30 minutes ago.

I guess my kids can eat it by the pound, too.

I've also had to be on the ball about preparing snack trays. One afternoon I was upstairs with Ty, and didn't get down quick enough to put the trays together. I came into the kitchen to find Ella and her sisters on the floor fixing up their own snack trays. It wasn't too bad, actually. Ella picked some pretty good snacks out of the pantry, and I couldn't fault in her portion control. But yes, those are scissors on the floor next to her.



New rule: Only Mommy makes snack trays.

Which means that I'd better get going in the kitchen. It's 4:15 in the afternoon and heaven help me, I'm late with the snacks. Maybe the witching hour will pass quickly today.

Or not...

****************

Author's Note: You asked for it! More of my unsolicited advice, that is. If you're looking for some, and you missed my posting earlier in the year, click here.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Little Miss Quite Contrary, How Does Your Garden Grow?

Ella has been dying to plant a garden for months now. I have no idea where she came up with the idea, but every day this past winter she carried her little green garden shovel out back to dig in the dirt patch next to our patio. So far she's planted everything from loose pocket change to a handful of dry-roasted sunflower seeds she found in my pantry. She is NOT pleased with the results. But rather than explain to her that money doesn't actually grow in gardens (or on trees, for that matter), I decided that maybe it's time to try vegetables.

Now, don't worry - I know you're thinking that I don't have the time to keep up with a garden, and I totally agree. I'm not at all optimistic about this endeavor. Generally speaking, my house is where plants go to die, as many a green-thumbed family member can attest. I've killed virtually every un-killable plant out there without so much as lifting a finger. Or a watering can, as the case may be. (Although I won't take responsibility for the pansies - the bunnies got those.) But a garden seems so important to my sweet girl. Plus, it occurs to me that she might actually eat a vegetable or two if it comes from her own backyard.

Or not.

Regardless, after much deliberation and many, many, many hours spent in the Home Depot Landscaping department, Ella and I finally planted a real garden. As expected, my little girl got pretty into it. She took one look at my gardening hat and gloves, and raced off to find her own set of accessories:



(Something got lost in translation... Yes, that is a winter hat and gloves. And yes, it was HOT.)

But somehow - after several hours of burying an assortment of teeny, tiny little seeds that I may very well never see again - we got our vegetable garden planted. And watered. Ella was so excited. In fact, she couldn't wait to get home from school the next day.

"Mommy, Mommy, I want to go see my garden! Can I? Can I?!?"

We walked to the backyard to gaze out over the little plot of land which, to my untrained eye, looked fine. Ella disagreed. She put a hand on her hip, shook her little head, and sighed.

"It doesn't look good, Mom."

"Oh Sweetie! Sure it does! It's going to take some time, you know, but pretty soon we're going to have lots of yummy tomatoes and zucchini and green beans to eat." We just have to remember to water them...

Ella sighed again and replied, in her most earnest tone, "I sure wish we could plant cookies instead."

That girl is a kid after my own heart. I bet you don't even have to water a cookie garden. Just a little milk now and then, and you've got yourself a bountiful harvest.

But no, we had to plant vegetables. And darned if I don't have to go water them. AGAIN.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

April Showers

I started locking my bathroom door this week in what turned out to be a failed attempt at modesty. True, I'm accustomed to the applause of my children ("Good job, Mommy. You washed your hair!"). But the girls are getting older now, and after four years of showering with an audience, I thought it was time to shut the theater doors. Ella, ever her independant and opinionated self, disagreed. When the phone rang that first private morning, she picked the lock on the bathroom door, and marched in, telephone in hand.

"Mommy, are you washing your hair?"

"Ella, how did you get in here?!?!"

"Daddy's on the phone. Are you washing your hair?"

"YES! Now give Mommy the phone and go back outside!"

"Why?"

"Because I'm trying to be modest."

"Why?"

"Because showers are supposed to be private."

"Why?"

"JUST GIVE ME THE PHONE AND GO BACK OUTSIDE!"

She passed me the phone, and strolled slowly out the door just as Ty toddled in. Great. I gave the hubby a quick, "I'm-in-the-shower-I'll-call-you-back!" and tossed the phone on the floor. Meanwhile, Ty entertained himself with his second-favorite bathroom game: turning the bathtub knobs. He loves to turn them back and forth because he gets a kick out of learning how things work - and I get a kick out of surviving the intermittent flow of scalding hot and freezing cold water. He quit after a couple of minutes (but left the hot water running full blast, ensuring a VERY cold shower) and crawled over to play his first-favorite bathroom game: open the box and chew on a tampon.

Yep. You read that right. My kid is going to be in therapy for years. And not because he once chewed on a tampon like it was a cigar, but because I LET him chew on it... every morning.

Luckily, Evie walked in just as I was finishing up and took the offending feminine product away from my baby boy. Emily, right behind her, handed me a towel as I stepped out of the shower.

"You all done in the shower, Mommy? You all clean? Good job, Mommy!"

Well, I always did enjoy an audience.

Monday, April 20, 2009

My Very First Not-Me! Monday





I know, I know. I am SO behind the times. I mean, everybody in blog land knows about Not Me! Monday, and yet here I am posting only my first Not-Me! Monday confession. I'd like to say that it's because I've had nothing to confess prior to today, but let's face it - I don't want to be struck down by lightening. So instead I'll just say "better late than never," and "here goes." (And by the way, in case you've been living under a blog rock and you have no clue what I'm talking about, just read on. You'll get the gist!)

Here it is - my very first Not-Me! Monday confession:


I did not scratch my eyeball at the doctor's office today while playing Peek-a-Boo with my 16 month old son. I am thirty-three years old, for crying out loud! No thirty-three year old woman is so athletically challenged as to poke her own eye while shouting "peek-a-boo" in the middle of a crowded waiting room. No, that definitely wasn't me sitting in a chair with tears streaming down my face while my son turned away in embarrassment.



I did not collect all of the DVD's in my children's movie collection, and throw them into a big, plastic garbage bag while the kids looked on in horror. I would never threaten to throw away their beloved videos, even if they were throwing the fit of the century over which Baby Einstein video to watch this afternoon. That would just be traumatic... and result in years of expensive therapy.

I did not allow my children to put on their galoshes and go splash in the back-yard puddles after a rainstorm because they were driving me slap crazy. And I did not laugh when Evie did a "Slip 'n Slide" move down a particularly slippery patch of lawn. And I would certainly never run and get my camera in order to snap off a picture of my daughter, who was clearly devastated by her fall. That would just be mean.





I did not give my son a handful of Teddy Grahams that I found on the floor of my car today. Who knows how old those things are? That would be so disgusting. Good thing I just let him cry it out.

I do not have FOUR unfinished blog posts sitting in my in-box, just waiting to be completed. I do not have writer's block, despite the daily inspiration I get from my children. I am choosing, instead, to use my valuable time for other things - like mopping my kitchen floor. And that being said, I did not drop an entire tray of food all over that clean kitchen floor mere hours after scrubbing it. That would just be maddening. It might even take a person to the brink of insanity. Good thing that didn't happen to me!

******************

All kidding aside, though, I wanted to post this blog as a tribute to MckMamma and Stellan, the original Not Me! Monday blogger and her sweet baby boy whose picture you'll find on the right side of my blog. Little Stellan will be having heart surgery at a Boston hospital tomorrow (Tuesday)at 8:30 in the morning. Please join me in praying for this child, his parents, and his extended family, as well as for the doctors who will be working on little Stellan's heart.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Housekeeping

I HATE housekeeping. Even as I'm writing the words, I feel compelled to confess that it is 4:00 in the afternoon, my hubby will be home soon, two of the four children are screaming in the play room, and our breakfast dishes are still on the table. That being said, this is a "housekeeping blog": I'm cleaning up the mess I've made, and I'm adding a few new elements!

First of all, for those you keeping track I did not make my goal of posting blogs twice a week until my birthday. I'm afraid that day has come and gone, and I've only managed the occasional weekly posting. Oh well, what can I say? I can't even get the breakfast dishes off my table, so I probably shouldn't have set my expectations so high. (More about that later...) But my plain white "Minima" template was depressing, so as a compromise I downloaded a free Cutest Blog on the Block background. Hope you like it! The jury is still out for me, but I figure it's a start in the right direction.

Second, you probably noticed the Praying for Stellan button I added on the right side of this page. I'm sure that most of you are already familiar with this sweet child's story, but for those of you who aren't, I want you take a moment to meet 5 month old Stellan. I have been reading his mother's blog for months at mycharmingkids.net (which you'll notice I just added to my reading list on the right). She is also a mother of four young children, so I feel a special bond with this mom, whose youngest child Stellan was recently hospitalized for a very serious heart condition. If you feel so led, please check out her site and say a prayer for this little guy. I know his mom would appreciate it.

Third, in answer to the high demand following my last post, here are a couple of before and after pics from last weekend's hair massacre:



This is a picture of Emily just prior to her professional cut. You can't really tell how bad it is from the picture, but essentially the whole left, front side of her hair is gone. Miss Kim couldn't do much with that side. Even with her new haircut, it will take a few months for both sides to be even. But hey, the asymmetrical thing is back, right?


And here's a picture of the twins at today's pre-school Easter party. Short hair wasn't a part of my summer plans, but I think it turned out really cute! (See what I mean about Emily's hair being shorter on the left, though?) A friend advised me to stick a big bow on each of their heads and go for it - and I think I will!

Finally, I have to tell you that I've spent the last month gathering PLENTY of blog material. (Translation: Wow, my kids have been bad lately.) I'm dying to get it all down in writing: 1) because I really need the practice, and 2) because I want to have something to show for all those bad days! However, I'm doing calligraphy on 140 wedding invitations, and I owe a friend the four drapery panels I've been promising her for months. I hoping to be around, but if I'm not, I just wanted you all to know that I still love writing and will continue to plug along as time (hahahahahahahahaha) permits.

In the meantime, if you need a good laugh, this is how Emily looked when we went shopping for shoes yesterday:


Thanks for reading!!!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

You'd Think I'd Know These Things By Now...

I've got four children under the age of five. You'd think I'd of learned a lot of things about pre-school kids by now. You'd think that I'd be one of those moms who is well-qualified to give advice to other young mothers knee-deep in the trenches of child rearing. Unfortunately, you'd be wrong. Apparently, I was not aware of the following:

1. Hard to believe it, but young children and scissors don't mix.

Ella is a smart, athletic little girl. She's just not very good at cutting with scissors. I learned this last year when she came home from pre-school with her first report card. Next to "Cuts with scissors" was a big, red "NI" and a note scrawled out by her teacher: "Please be sure to work on this skill with Ella at home."

Of course, I was mortified. I'd just assumed that my talented little three-year old would come home with a report card full of "S's". I dashed to the store that afternoon, and purchased a pair of red-handled, blunt-tipped scissors for my little dunce to practice with. And I was relieved when, days later, she'd covered the play room floor with confetti. Eventually, she even learned how to cut along a straight, jagged line. Since then, cutting up paper has remained a part of her daily routine; it never occurred to me to keep those dull little scissors anyplace other than her room.

Until this morning.

When Ella's imagination blossomed.

And she imagined herself as a stylist in her own hair salon.

You know where this is going...

I could have dealt with the two scalped Barbie dolls lying face-down on the floor. I probably could have even dealt with the bangs Ella cut for herself. But the giant chunks of hair sliced from Evie's scalp was more than I could bear. And the pony tail severed from Emily's finally-full head of hair? Well, that just sent me right over the edge. Especially since my mom and I just taught ourselves how to make hair-bows, and have invested a hefty bit of capital into clips, wire, ribbons, and glue.

What am I going to do with 200 yards of pink grosgrain ribbon?

2. Toddlers can access child-proofed cabinets. But their job is so much easier when mom forgets to attach those annoying little plastic latches.

Latching my cabinets has been on my list of things to do since...well, since before Ty was born. But a few weeks ago, he took advantage of my negligence when he found the only two cabinets in my kitchen that aren't currently "baby-proofed". (Which, by the way, is a misnomer if ever there was one!) The first place he discovered was my Pyrex cabinet. He managed to break 3 of my 4 blue glass mixing bowls. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but he didn't break all three on the same day. Shame on me, I suppose, for thinking a 14-month old can learn from his mistakes. And praise God for saving my baby's precious little mouth, from which I pried one very large piece of broken Pyrex.

For some reason it didn't occur to me that I'd left a second cabinet unprotected, but Ty discovered the kitchen garbage can only a few days later. Luckily, it wasn't glass I had to pry from his mouth this time. It was a stale, week-old brownie. Gag.

This, by the way, from a child who won't eat table food. Go figure.

3. Home decor stores are not conducive to groups of young children.

Last month the winter blahs kicked in, and I took it out on the house. I tried to change things around myself, but I eventually gave up and dragged my talented neighbor/decorator over for a "designer remix" session. She had some awesome ideas, but as we rearranged my stuff, it soon became clear than I needed more... well, stuff. I was really in the groove and didn't want to stop short on my little home makeover, so I suggested we toss my four kids and her one baby into the mini-van for my bi-weekly Hobby Lobby pilgrimage.

I can't even claim that it seemed like a good idea at the time. It didn't. I was just really determined.

Actually, things weren't too bad at first. We walked into the store with two fully-loaded carts, and handed each kid a butterfly wand from a handy display to look at - which they enjoyed until Ella figured out it could be used as a weapon. The butterflies were quietly confiscated, and things improved for a few minutes... until I pulled an urn down from a high shelf and flipped it over to check the price. The top of the urn went flying and shattered on the tile floor right next to the check-out line.

Who puts a price tag on the bottom of a two-piece ceramic urn?

The sound of breaking pottery rang out like the shot of a starting pistol. Within moments, it was pure chaos. The twins started bickering over a box of colored tape measures, while Ella took off with her little basket to collect items from the candy shelf. While we were breaking up the fight and chasing Ella, one of the babies dumped his container of Veggie Puffs on the floor. We put the twins to work picking up the puffy snack just as Ella ripped open a bag of M&M's. The candy went flying. Emily and Evie abandoned their clean-up duty and started wrestling each other for the chocolate treats, while Ella cried and shouted, "Those are miiiiiiiinnne!" Jackie and I looked at the shards of broken pottery, the strewn Veggie Puffs, the colored candy, and the crying kids, and decided it was time to abort. I quickly paid for the few items I'd gathered, including an urn, and ran to the car. I can't be certain, but I'm pretty sure I heard a few people say, "Thank God!" as we headed out.

Sigh.

Why can't people be more patient with me? It's not like I know better. I'm too busy making hairbows.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Torture

I'm not really into politics. I should be, because I care deeply about my community and nation. But the way I see it, my husband is politically active enough for both of us. Considering how wound up [i.e. - LOUD] he gets after watching the first five minutes of The O'Reilly Factor each night, I just don't think our house can handle another vocal activist.


I'm not completely out of the loop, though. We obviously have Internet access, so I get a good 30-45 seconds a day to skim the Yahoo! headlines while waiting for my e-mail account to pop up. This seems to be all the time I need, because I know enough to give you the name of our new president, and tell you that yes, we are still involved in a war on terror. I also picked up something the other day about shutting down Gitmo, but I didn't catch all the details. Ann Taylor Loft was having a sale.


I wish I had read up on the story, though, because it occurred to me later that I might actually have a solution to that whole Guantanamo Bay situation: draft the mothers of small children. Only we mothers of small children know how to torture people without leaving a mark. We do it every time we take our small children out in public. The military could refer to us as MSC's and let us wear uniforms of... oh, I don't know... Army-issued camo sweat pants and baggy, over sized t-shirts. The MSC's could handle torturing - er, soliciting information from - suspected terrorists. I'm betting that with our interrogation tactics, the war would be over in no time.


Personally, I'm surprised that I haven't been called into duty yet. After all, I not only take my children out in public regularly, but I'm apparently quite effective at torturing my own four pre-schoolers. My children are constantly shrieking about the various methods I use. After observing their reactions during the past few days, I've actually come up with a list of five particularly effective techniques that I'm thinking the military may want to consider implementing:


1. Turn the water on


No, I'm not talking about water boarding. I'm talking about running water somewhere in the vicinity of hydro-phobic children. This makes the greatest impression on my youngest daughter Evie, who is terrified of running water. Not standing water, mind you. Bath tubs, swimming pools, muddy puddles, and murky ponds are all great fun. But put her in the bathroom while actually filling the tub? Better have your ear plugs ready. These days, in the interest of her security and my ear drums, I pre-fill the bathtub while she is tucked safely away in her bedroom.

2. Use "germy juice"

I didn't realize before last week that the use antibacterial gel (otherwise known as "germy juice") could produce such a catastrophic response in small children. It can. And it did. I won't be able to show my face at the park again for a long, long time.

3. Play the wrong CD

Nothing freaks my kids out more than when they ask me to play a CD, and I inadvertently play the wrong one. Granted, their requests are specific: "Play the blue one." "Play Emily's CD." "Put the Veggie Tales music on." I suppose I should be able to get it right, but it's confusing for a distracted MSC like me, considering we now own 6 Veggie Tales CD's. But trust me - unless you're trying to get the kids' attention, listen carefully and get it right the first time.


4. Let them ride on the carousel and then say "no" to ice cream


OK, this probably seems pretty specific. I'm not really sure how it would translate for a group of suspected terrorists, but I can assure you that it works on my kids. Yesterday, I took all four to the mall in cruel attempt to have fun. After devouring a lunch of all french fries and no chicken or fruit, the girls took turns alternately begging to ride on the merry-go-round and stop by the cookie stand. It seemed like a good idea at the time: I asked them to choose one or the other. The carousel won out. Six dollars and 25 dizzying turns later, we stumbled our way out of the Food Court only to pass a cleverly located ice cream stand. My girls are smart. They had agreed to surrender their cookies in exchange for a ride. But I never said they couldn't have ice cream. It took 20 minutes and two adults to drag four screaming children out to the car. Yes, it was torture. I'm just not sure who suffered more...


5. Leave the room

It's the classic method that all MSC's learn early in training: Walk out of the room - whether for 5 seconds or 5 hours - and your child will scream loud and long. Pure torture for them and for any unfortunate soul stuck in the room with your screaming kid. But not for you, because you're not in the room. I like this method best.

In fact, it occurs to me that #5 is the only technique in which the MSC actually comes out of the interrogation unscathed. I should remember this in the event I ever get called into service by my country: Bring the kids. Leave the room. The Army will get its information in no time.