Friday, January 23, 2009

Rude Awakenings

I blame it on the NyQuil.

If I hadn't choked down that sleep-inducing, cherry-flavored sludge last night, I never would have overslept this morning. I certainly can't blame it on the fact that I forgot to set my alarm clock, or that I rolled over and ignored three pairs of slippered feet storming up and down my hall for nearly an hour. No, it was definitely the NyQuil that made us late for school today. And as any good, over-sleeping mom knows: when you're running late for school, everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

By the time I finally managed to pry my eyes open and acknowledge the time, it was 7:56. We leave for pre-school at 8:15; and preferably my kids are dressed and fed when we walk out the door. I pulled on a sweatshirt and a pair of socks, and dashed to the playroom with a pile of clothes.

"Girls, come on! We're late! We're late! We're late!" I shouted.

"We want to watch a show!" Ella shouted back, just as Emily and Evie started whining in unison, "We want cereal!"

The battle to dress three non compliant children began. I grabbed the closest kid and stripped off her jammies, then turned to fish a clean pair of panties out of my pile. I turned back around just in time to see her bare bottom prancing off to the bathroom as she sang, "I have to go potty!" Since there was no use in chasing her, I grabbed the next closest kid and stripped her down. But as soon as she was absent the diaper, she too dashed off for a potty break. I just sighed, and tackled number three as she ran by me with a basket full of crayons. By the time I got her dressed - and the crayons picked back up - the other two were done with their business and busy flooding the bathroom sink.

"What are you doing, girls? We're late!"

"We want to give our duckies a bath!"

"Your duckies can have a bath later. We have to get dressed!"

I wrestled them into matching outfits, all the while wondering if I would be judged for leaving their hair a tangled mess. In the end I opted to fix it, and lost another five minutes chasing each girl around with a hairbrush and spray bottle. One squirt of water landed perilously close to Emily's face; she fell to the ground screaming, "My eye! My eye!" I didn't waste time with concern, however, since this is the child who stubs her toe and screams, "My eye! My eye!" She's very protective of her eyes.

Once Emily recovered from her trauma, and I had everybody dressed, shoed and styled, Emily began a new mantra in the whining voice she has truly perfected. (Think Jim Carey in Dumb and Dumber when he introduced "the most annoying sound in the world.") "IwantcerealIwantcerealIwantcerealIwantcerealIwantcerealIwantcereal..." Seriously, it is SO much worse than fingernails on a chalkboard, but you can imagine her noise in the background as I continued my morning:


"Hold on Emily. Mommy needs to get Ty up and change his diaper."

"Hold on Emily. Mommy needs to get the school bags together."

"Hold on Emily. Mommy's getting the cereal down now."

"Hold on Emily. Mommy's pouring the cereal into baggies so you can eat it in the car."

"Hold on Emily. Mommy needs to buckle everybody in their seats first."

"Hold on Emily. Mommy is physically holding the cereal in her hand and will give it to you as soon as she gets Ty buckled... Wait a minute. Where is Ty? Ty? TY? Have you girls seen Ty?!?"

I tossed the bags of cereal to the girls, and dashed back into the house in search of my baby - who is surprisingly easy to lose. I eventually found him trapped behind the one door I couldn't open. Apparently he'd crawled into the bathroom, closed the door, and then opened the drawer directly adjacent to said door. The sounds I heard coming from the other side indicated he was having a grand time emptying the drawer, and the cabinets, of all their contents.

Why didn't I baby proof those??? I thought, as I slid down against the door for a good cry. But before I could really get going, Ty got bored and closed the drawer. I wiped my eyes, flung the door open, and knocked him over. "We're late!" I shouted, as I scooped up the crying child and headed for the car.

We were on our way to pre-school when I finally had the nerve to check the clock. Oh, we're going to be REALLY late, I thought. It's already 8:35. I'm going to have to walk the girls to class. I glanced down to see if what I was wearing was presentable and groaned. I was still dressed in my pajamas, a sweatshirt, and socks. Perfect.

By the grace of God, there was a teacher running late drop-off when I got to the school. It was the first thing that went right all morning. She walked the kids to class, and I avoided the walk of shame - this time, anyway. But the rest of my day is going to be a busy one. I have to pour a bottle of NyQuil down the drain, buy a second alarm clock, baby proof the bathroom... and find some cuter sleepwear.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Unsolicited Advice

In case you haven't noticed, I've been very hesitant to use this blog as an advice column. Using it to offer observations about my kids? Absolutely. Observations about other people's kids? Not a problem... so long as I don't name names. But trying to tell other people what to do when I myself have absolutely NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING? Feels misleading.

Truth be told, I have no insight to offer anyone on how to be a better wife, mother, daughter, or follower of Christ, despite the fact these are my current roles in life. I am, however, an obsessively organized person, and it occurs to me that some of you might be interested in an organizational tip or two. Besides, the kids haven't done anything particularly funny in the last 48 hours and I need to earn my gold star. So here goes...

Three of My Most Useful - Albeit Bootlegged - Organizational Tools

1. I HATE having papers scattered all over my house. Drives me slap crazy. The problem is, I have a husband, four kids, and a postal service agent (yes, mailman) who all bring papers into my house faster than I can file, shred, hang, or toss them. After nine years of pulling my hair out, I've finally come up with some solutions that work for me.

The first solution I stole from a friend of a friend when the girls started pre-school. Three days a week I was inundated with stacks of the cutest little art projects you ever did see. But I have low tolerance for clutter, not to mention a tiny fridge that can't possibly display our vast collection of art. The answer was to find unused wall space - our garage - and create an art gallery.

I strung three rows of clothesline along our garage wall, and used clothespins to hang up the girls' art work. It's pretty cool, because each girl has her own row, and can see the work she's been doing at school each time we pull in the garage. When the row gets filled up, I choose two or three of my favorites to keep in the girls' memory boxes, and then (gasp) toss the rest. It's been a fun use of an otherwise boring space, and hopefully it's special to the girls.

Of course, there are plenty of other papers to contend with in addition to schoolwork: mail, fliers, coupons, shopping lists, appointment reminders, pictures, and the wadded up receipts my husband discards daily on my clean and tidy counter top. (Slap crazy, people. Slap crazy.) The only solution I've been able to come up with in that case is a small file station located in husband's dumping ground, otherwise known as my kitchen counter. I have files for everything in that station - from medical receipts and coupons to "papers I don't know what to do with." Every time I find a stack of papers sitting on the counter, I sort through and do one of three things: 1) trash it; 2) file it; or 3) dump it on a tray hidden in my husband's office that I've designated as the new dumping ground. Now he can deal with it at his leisure, and I don't have to look at it.

2. The second organizational tool that has made the clutter in my life bearable once again is something I call my "Laundry Basket System." Again, I totally stole this idea from someone else, because I'm not really one for original thoughts. This little tip was actually passed on to me by the nurse who cared for my twins when they were first born. I was lamenting to her the fact that my house looks like a 24-hour day care center, and her solution was this: Keep a stack of laundry baskets handy!

I keep one at the top of the stairs and one at the bottom of the stairs throughout the day. When I'm cleaning up the toys upstairs, I toss everything that needs to get hauled back downstairs into a basket. I then do the same when I'm cleaning up the downstairs. The benefits are twofold: 1) I don't have to run up and down the stairs 1800 times a day and 2) if company or my husband show up unexpectedly, I can shove my baskets into the laundry room and have the house looking deceptively tidy. If I'm not worried about hiding a mess from someone, then twice a day, I haul the baskets to their respective levels and put everything away. I know it doesn't seem that revolutionary, but it has seriously made clean-up time a whole lot easier for me.

Ironically, the laundry basket system has spilled over into my errands as well. I usually lug Tyler's shirts to the cleaners in a basket and then reload it with my groceries when I finish shopping. Carrying one heavy basket into the house is a lot easier than making 6 trips out the car. Plus, my groceries aren't scattered all over the back of my trunk when I get home.

3. If you're not an organized person, and you could care less about being organized because there is, after all, a life beyond clutter obsession, you're probably going to slap me for this last piece of advice. In fact, don't even read it. I don't want to irritate you. But for those of us who do find it unbearable to live in chaos, you probably already know my motto: "A place for everything and everything in it's place."

I've spent countless hours of my life coming up with a place for everything. A memory box for each child. A storage container for out-grown clothes. A playroom organized into creative stations. Before you call my therapist and ask her to up my meds, you need to understand this: my husband and I can pick up our house in 15 minutes or less, no matter how big the mess. And that is a big deal to us, because it's only once the kids are in bed and the house is picked up that we actually get to do whatever we want to do! You'd better believe we work fast.

Of course, the side benefit to having a spot for everything is that our kids know where it all goes as well. They are slowly but surely (emphasis on slowly) learning how to put things back where they belong. In fact Ella - who, I admit, is a girl after my own heart - is obsessed with keeping her room clean. Of course, so long as her room is clean, she could care less about the rest of the house. During her daily quiet time, she routinely opens her door, throws something out into the hall, and screams, "THAT DOES NOT LIVE IN MY ROOM!" There's usually quite a pile stacked up by the end of her quiet time (a misnomer if ever there was one); I dump it in my laundry basket and haul it downstairs to figure out where it does "live".

And so there you have it - my first and probably only advice column ever. Take it or leave it; makes no difference to me. Just please don't come over to my house for the next few hours. It's a mess. And if you do happen to show up, DON'T OPEN THE LAUNDRY ROOM DOOR.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

My Poor, Neglected Number 4

We took my baby boy in to get his first haircut today. It seemed like a pretty good idea, since most of the comments I've received of late have been something to the effect of "Awwww... You have four of the prettiest little girls!" But it was still heartbreaking to watch the barber shore off his sweet baby curls. Even more heartbreaking was when my husband whipped out his camera to capture the moment and announced, "Oooops. The battery's dead."

That figures. I have no before and after pictures of Ty's first haircut to place in his less-than-complete baby book. Ella's first haircut, on the other hand, is documented by 15 minutes of video and some 20+ pictures. Her baby book is splitting at the seams with keepsake paraphernalia from all of her "firsts." But as most parents - and frankly any last-born child - out there can attest, it's all downhill after the first kid.

It's true. I was the best mom ever when Ella was born. Or at least, I was the most super organized mom ever. I had not one, but three completely stocked diaper bags accessible to me at all times. And when I say stocked, I mean the we're-packing-for-this-trip-to-the-mall-like-we're-traveling-to-South-America-because-you-just-never-know-what-might-happen-along-the-way kind of stocked. I had one bag that I used during the week, one bag stashed in my trunk for emergencies, and one bag for church...because if she spit up on her adorable pink church dress, I was darn sure going to have another adorable pink church dress there for back-up.

Ty, on the other hand, doesn't even have a diaper bag. Oh, he started out with a bag. It was one of those black vinyl things from Similac that the OB-GYN nurse hands you at your 28-week visit. But other than a too-small diaper and some melted crayons, there was never anything useful in it, so I finally gave up the pretense of carrying around. Now I just put a diaper in my purse with Ty's name written on it in magic marker. When we drop him off at church and the nursery volunteer asks for his bag, I whip it out and hand it off with a smile: "Here you go!"

Sadly, though, Ty's neglect occasionally goes beyond the lack of pictures and well-stocked bag. A few weeks ago, as my husband and I were making the pilgrimage to Brownsbridge, I turned to him and asked, "You fed the baby, right?" To which he turned to me and replied, "No, I thought you did." Great.
I wasn't sure what to do. After all, there were four kids dressed for church and strapped into the back of our minivan. We were almost there anyway, and with my husband there is no going back, no matter what the circumstances. But there was also no emergency diaper bag in the trunk, and a quick survey of the back seat revealed only a small handful of discarded Cheerios. Why did I have to vacuum the car this week? I thought.
We walked into church, and handed Ty and his diaper off to the nursery worker. Not wanting to reveal too much, I said as nonchalantly as possible, "Ummm, he seems a little hungrier than usual today. Do you happen to have any snacks on hand?" The worker assured me she'd find something if he got a little fussy. Which apparently she did. Because apparently he did.
"Boy, you were right!" she told me when I picked him up. "He really is hungry today. I think he ate half a box of Cheerios!"
Poor kid. I try to make up for it. I'll remember on occasion to pull out the camera, and snap 50 pictures or so - all of him in the same outfit, mind you. I also do make a point to feed him - most days anyway. Knowing that he's a boy who's going to be a man someday, I doubt he's even going to care if he has a baby book. I just hope he's able to look back and know - without a hint of doubt - how much his mother loves him. Because I really do.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Earning Gold Stars

Okay, time to 'fess up. I am officially intimidated by blog world. I don't know what I was thinking when I signed on for this task, but clearly I didn't do my homework.

See, I love to journal. Before I had kids, I filled pages and pages of pretty blank books with random thoughts and prayers and story ideas. After Ella was born, though, I lost my energy for writing. Then the twins came, and I lost my time for it, too. By the time Ty was born, there wasn't a reason for me to even buy a journal. I was never going to fill it; it was just going to sit on my nightstand and remind me of a time when I had... well, energy and time.

Last spring, however, I was sitting in church and ignoring for what seemed like the hundredth time an overwhelming desire write. I was ignoring it, because there didn't seem to be much point in my desire. I was a mom with four kids under four - still with no energy, and no time, and now, no journal. But as I wrestled with my frustration, inspiration struck. I know what I need, I thought. Accountability! Of course I'm not motivated to write, because I have nobody keeping me accountable to the task. After all, why would I write, when I can sleep?

I brainstormed awhile more, and decided that the best approach to creating accountability would be a weekly e-mail to family and friends. Just a little blurb about my days at home with the kids; something to help me hone my skills through consistent practice. Up until that point, I'd never even heard of blogging - except in the form of professional journalists writing on important topics such as last week's American Idol performances. But when I got home from church, there was an e-mail waiting for me in my inbox from the dear friend you all know as Mom2Drew; she was "outting" herself to family and friends as a blogger.

Blogging? I didn't even know that could be used as a verb! But Mom2Drew seemed to offer a solution to my problem of accountability. If she can put herself out there like this, then so can I, right? Over the next two weeks, I wrote a few practice blogs, worked up some confidence, and e-mailed my friend for her blessing - which she gave, since clearly I was clueless as to just how many people are out there doing this blogging thing!

And now here I am, completely intimidated by the world I've been writing in for the last eight months, because I had no idea until recently how big blog world really is. And how pretty every body's blog backgrounds are. And how many pictures can be posted on a blog. And how creative everybody is, reminding me that I don't really have anything new to offer to a world that obviously has is all.


Isn't that just like the enemy? I mean, God didn't speak from a burning bush and tell me to write. But He did give me a passion and a desire to write. Yet for years I've avoided doing the very thing I love because I didn't feel I had the time or because, more recently, the confidence. The enemy gave me plenty of excuses, and I've been using them all.

The truth is, I really don't have anything new to offer blog world. Even Solomon, arguably the wisest man to ever live, said, "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecc. 1:9). Obviously, I'm not the first mom to have four children in four years. For crying out loud, TLC has an entire program dedicated to a mom who had eight children in four years! So my thoughts and advice aren't going to be original. But I'm going to put them out there anyway. I just need the right motivation: accountability.

When I was a kid, I loved gold stars. It didn't matter that all I got was a gold star; I worked hard for that sticker. But occasionally, I got to cash in my gold stars for a bigger prize. So I'm thinking, why not make myself a gold star chart? I have ten weeks until my 33rd birthday. I'm going to commit to blogging something twice a week for the next ten weeks. Every blog = 1 gold star. And when I get twenty gold stars, I'm going to cash them in for.................. drum roll please................ a blog makeover! (Because how cool is Mom2Drew's new blog? You've got to check it out.)

Unfortunately, I don't know how to make a cyber- gold star chart, so you're going to have to trust me on this - or start counting my bogs. (Because you don't have a life, right?) Unfortunately, you're also going to have to read my blogs on this depressingly bland page, because I'm going to use it to motivate me. However, I will, as per my mother's request, try to start adding more pictures. Because my kids - however insane they make me - are pretty darn cute. I'll even include one now:

See? Adorable.

OK, so wish me luck, and keep checking back. Hopefully the kids will give me some material to work with - and leave a portion of my mind intact - so that I can write some moderately entertaining blogs for all of you out there in blog world.

Ooops, gotta run. American Idol just started.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Stockings Were Hung...

It's hard to believe it, but Christmas is over. Again. And although I dread this process every year, I know it's time. Time to pack up the ornaments, the tree, the dishes, and all the other vestiges of our wonderful family Christmas in preparation for a new year. But as I was taking down our family Christmas stockings - hung by the chimney only a few short weeks ago - I couldn't help but be reminded of a conversation from three Christmases past.

It was the first Christmas in our new home, and the first time I'd hung those family stockings. The kids' grandmothers and I had worked hard to get them beaded and sequined and stitched in time for the holidays. I was excited about showing them off, and my dear friend Cristie had stopped by to admire them. She was sweet enough to "oooo and ahhh" over them for a few minutes before we sat down on the couch for a chat. But as we made ourselves comfortable, she glanced over towards the mantel and said, "It must be so neat to look up there and see that row of stockings. I don't know how many stockings we'll eventually have, but just think - that's your whole family up there. It's complete!"

She was right, of course. My family was complete. After all, Cristie knew the hell of my last pregnancy, and she knew that the doctors and my family were firm in telling me, "No more babies!" She also knew that I'd finally decided to go through with a tubal ligation to ensure that there were, indeed, no more babies. So her comment should have encouraged me with the lighthearted spirit in which it was given: Your family is complete. No more pregnancy complications, no more hospitals, no more home medical equipment. You can move forward in your identity as the mother of three daughters.

But for some reason, I felt my spirit sink at her words. But she's right, I told myself. Our family is complete. I know it's complete. It has to be complete...

Why doesn't it feel complete?

I was totally aggravated with myself for allowing the thought to even enter my mind, much less to fixate on it. But for the next three months, as I waited for my scheduled surgery date, I wrestled with feeling that something was missing in our home. Maybe we just need to get a dog, I thought, as I squelched my longing for just one more baby.

Then, a few short days before the surgery, my friend Rachel asked me how I was feeling about getting my tubes tied. We were with the kids at the zoo, so I figured she was looking for the short answer. I gave her my patented, "Great! It'll be so nice when I don't have to worry about getting pregnant again. I mean, I just don't think I'd survive another 9 months. Besides, I think it's so neat that God has blessed me with three children, since you know I lost three before I had Ella..." I trailed off. Everything I'd just said was true, but it wasn't the whole truth. And suddenly, I just wanted to tell someone the whole truth.
Standing next to the kangaroo habitat, I shared it all: how I felt about being "sterilized" after suffering infertility; how I felt about potentially closing the door on God's blessings; how I sensed that my family just wasn't finished. I ended by telling her, "I know this is for the best. I've prayed about it. I've sought wise counsel, and I know my husband wants me to do this. So I'm trying to be at peace. Besides, I certainly have enough faith to know that if God wants to expand our family, He will. Who knows? Maybe we are meant to adopt."

Two days later, I was staring down at the bright blue plus sign on my ClearBlue Easy.

It's funny how God stretches our faith. Sure, I believed that He could expand our family. I even had a list of appropriate means by which He could accomplish the task. But another pregnancy was not on the list. I was scared to death when I saw that positive test. I just kept thinking, Four children. Four children in four years. How are we going to do this???

Were my faith bigger, I would have trusted that God had everything in hand. That He was blessing us with a sweet-natured, happy son who delights us everyday. That He was arranging not only help for me, but a great new friendship in the form of my next-door neighbor, Jackie. That He was ready to give me the grace I'd need for each new day as the mother of four precious children. And that He wanted me to look up at my mantel this Christmas and see a row of not five stockings, but six: my complete family.