How NOT To Prepare Young Children For Big Changes

Scene: The family station wagon, 9:15(ish)am, sunny fall day in Poland

Adorable Child One: “Mommy? Can we paint our room when we move to Texas?”

Hot Mommy: “Sure. I mean, well, actually, the worker guys who build our house will paint the whole thing.”

Adorable Child Two: (trembling lip, teary eyes) “Daddy said we could paint it ourselves with brushes and pick out the color and everything.”

HM: (cursing Daddy in her mind) “Well, sure, we can do that. We’ll let the workers do the whole house and then paint your room just before we move furniture in.”

ACT: “And we can do it too? Not just you?”

HM: “Sure. That won’t be a disaster at all.”

ACO: “When we move to Texas, we’ll stay with Nana and Grandpa at first.”

HM: (excited to steer the Texas talk to less messy endeavors) “Yes! We will. We’ll stay there for a couple of weeks and then move into an apartment. While we are in our apartment, we will have a new house built. The new house will be super close to your big boy school where you will go to kindergarten. It’s a lot different than your school now; it’s not a Montessori.”

ACO: “At school, the teachers don’t tell us stuff, they let us do it ourselves.”

HM: (stunned that her boys have so easily grasped the ideals of Montessori) “Yeah, well, public school won’t be like that. There will be more time doing what everyone else does. You’ll have to do all the activities, not just the ones you like. But you’ll meet lots of new friends too.”

ACT: “But I like my Poland friends.”

HM: (startled but not deterred from selling the Texas life) “Well, we still have 77 days with them. Well, not that many actually, because you won’t go to school the last couple of weeks before we leave. You’ll need new friends since we won’t have any way to keep in touch with your Poland friends.”

Silence.

HM: “Anyway, along with your new school, Mommy will have a job! I’ll be teaching again, so I’ll be in school too! Mommy hasn’t had a full-time job since you were born.”

ACO: “And Nana and Grandpa will watch us.”

HM: “Maybe. But you’ll be at school the same days and times as Mommy is at work, so they may just pick you up and bring you to my school. Or you may stay at school until I get you. You’ll be in school 5 days then. It’s the whole week, so it’s more days then now. Plus the days are longer. But that’s not until next August, so I wouldn’t worry about it now.”

Silence.

HM: “Here we are at school! Why are you looking so serious? Well, have a fun day and relax!”

The End.

Mommy, be still while I check your vitals. It appears you’ve got talking-without-stopping-and-thinking-itis.

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The Five Stages of Family Vacationing

This article appeared on Aiming Low, which, like visiting Disney, was a dream come true.

My husband, twin four-year-old sons, and I just returned from Disneyland Paris, and I’m happy to report we are still married and still claiming the children.

All families who visit Disneyland are contractually obligated to take a picture like this.

Though this was not our first family vacation, I was still rocked by the stress of it. I foolishly believed we had finally figured out how to enjoy vacation time as a family and would be creating wonderful memories whilst also mocking the other parents who were doing it wrong. Unfortunately, I had forgotten the Five Stages of Family Vacationing that we all must go through, novices and experts alike.

Stage One: Happy, Happy! Joy, Joy!

Your bags are packed! The sun is shining! Your children wake up with a smile! This is when you believe you are about to have a great time and maybe even reduce stress.

This is going to be so fun!

Stage Two: Tired, But Still Optimistic

You arrive at your destination. Maybe there were some hiccups to the travel process, evidenced by the poopy underpants you are carrying in a baggie in your purse, but you know a quick rest will set you on the right track. Possibly a child gets ill. That’s okay though; they will be better with a little dinner and some hotel bed jumping. It’s possible the crabby feelings and maybe some food strikes last into your first full day. But it’s okay! You have time to adjust.

Stage Three: What Have We Done?

You realize you are raising ungrateful, screaming lunatics who are pleased only when Mommy and Daddy are yell-whispering threats. Suddenly the children are scared of animatronic figures and fake rain. All the pizza places are closed though that’s the meal you’ve promised. In short, this has all gone to pot, and you vow to never vacation as a family again.

Exhibit A: Child will eat none of that food in front of him nor will he be seated in this restaurant due to evil Disney characters lurking all around.

Stage Four: Parents, Banded Together in Defeat

We eventually gave up on seeing Paris and just toured the twins’ favorite Disney sites. We started to laugh at the remarkable tantrums erupting all around us. One father literally just had a seat as his daughter flailed on the concrete. At this stage, you forget about what you wanted to do and just make the best of what you are doing. And you use sarcasm to cope. So much sarcasm.

The closest we came to the Eiffel Tower.

Stage Five: Where To Next?

You arrive home safe and sound with a pocket full of new experiences (like having a hotel doctor come to your room at 3am) and happy memories. Your kids hoot and holler as you pull souvenirs out of suitcases. Then your husband sends you a link to Legoland in Florida saying it looks fun.  You promise yourself the next vacation will be the easiest one yet.

Bad Apples

I refuse to eat brown apples. Or apples that have the potential to turn brown. Or with any indentations or imperfections of any kind.

AND he didn’t wash it or check for bruises. Dumb ass.

I am a Fruit Snob.

The good news is that this affliction does not seem to be genetic. Mostly. One twin will eat any apple you put before him, and the other needs only a few modifications (flappy skin parts cut off, brown edges removed). There was that weird time when they loved eating a whole apple with no help at all and then all of a sudden wanted cut-up apples with no skin. But, they got over that and are pretty good about either eating a whole apple or a cut-up one covered in skin.
It boggles my mind and very sensitive palate.

What’s even more strange is that they don’t smoother it with peanut butter or pair it with cheese to get through the whole thing. It’s like I’m raising aliens.

You should see how I butcher any strawberries I give them. If they had their way, I’d just wash them and hand them over without even checking for mushy places! Or, dear Lord, making sure it was the right shade of red. Thankfully, I am the master of the fruit and am able to quickly ‘pretty up’ the strawberries before consumption. I’m kind of a fruit beautification bad-ass.

I love you perfect strawberry.

My son Jack loves blueberries in his morning cereal. I have to stop my gag reflex when I watch him eat that mess. I cannot stand the thought of the texture of them, let alone eat them raw. I like my blueberries in a nice, crumble-topped muffin, just as God intended. I have no idea how both boys came to love fresh blackberries either. It was not something they learned from me. Sure, I buy them, but I don’t partake. I just watch and shake my head.

I’ve given up on my boys. This is just one character flaw I can’t fight. So go ahead, give them an orange slice with slimy, stringy things hanging off it. They’ll eat it up.  I’ll just be over here eating my ‘orange’ Fruit Roll-up and drinking a grape soda trying not to watch.

Don’t care if this lime is not perfect. I can’t be uptight all the time.

The Garage of Suffering

Did I ever tell you about the time I locked my kids in the car in the garage in the dark?

Picture it, Sicily….1927….(Golden Girls reference….What’s up 1987?)

No wait, it was Poland.  Last year.  It was Good Friday, and we were running late on our way to school.  Obviously.  When we got there, I rang the bell and waited for the buzzer to unlock the entry gate.  I didn’t see any kids in the window.  It was a fairly pretty day, chilly but sunny, but I did not hear anyone playing in the garden.  The boys looked for rocks as I grew tense.  I rang the bell again.  And again.

The boys said, “Mommy, maybe no one is here.”

“No, they have to be here.  It’s Friday.  You go to school on Fridays.”  And I have things to do, like not be in charge of you for just a little bit.

They weren’t there.

So, I decided to make the best of it because I am a great mom and was not at all sad to spend a pretty day with my sons instead of going to the mall.  I asked the boys if they wanted to go to the beach. They did! Huzzah!

First we had to go home and retrieve the gear.  The boys were still in diapers, and I was still a beach rookie, so I needed to gather a ton of it.  I had a brilliant idea to save time though; I would run upstairs and get the beach stuff and diapers and sunscreen and hats and maybe a blanket and some money oh! and some water.

The boys were keen on my plan and happily stayed in the car while I ran upstairs to complete my mission.  It was going to be just a minute.  And it was.  In ADD time.  So, maybe it was really like 10 minutes.  As I trotted back down the stairs I heard a noise.  Crying?  Weird, no other families with small kids live here.  The boys were fine when I left.

As I went further down the stairs, it became obvious that the sound was indeed crying.  And it was for real.  Someone was very sad and/or scared.  Oh shit!  It’s the boys.

As I got into the garage, the lights came on.  You know, the lights that are on a timer and only come on with motion?  Which the boys would not be making inside the car.  The car that had no lights on inside.  So, two sweet boys awaiting a lovely day at the beach with their benevolent mommy were sitting in the pitch black strapped into their car seats for an unknown amount of Stephanie time.

I cannot overstate the real and utter desperation and sadness on their faces.  They were terrified.  Tears were streaming down their red faces.  I felt worse than I did when I got annoyed that they didn’t have school that day.  That’s pretty bad.  I cried too actually.

Y’all, that lemon ice cream is good. Take-away-the-terror-of-the-dark good.

In the end, ice cream was eaten and broken hearts were mended. The playground at the beach was a land of yes.  Dangerous climbing structures for everyone!

And, no, they will never again agree to wait for me in the car in the garage.

Tune in next time to “Did I Ever Tell You?”, when I tell you about a mix-up at the swimsuit store.

Keeping Me On My Toes

I swear my kids are trying to kill me with mental exhaustion and confusion.  How do I know?  This just happened:

Alex: “Jack, it’s not fair that you have all the stuff that goes with the Lego guys.”

Mommy: “Jack, you need to share that stuff with brother; you’ve had it for over a week.”

Jack: “I DO NOT WANT TO TALK ABOUT THIS! I’M NOT LISTENING TO ALL THIS!”

Mommy rifles through the hoarder’s Lego loot and starts taking out Alex’s things.

Alex: “I don’t want to play with that right now.”

Mommy leaves the room to look for a dull knife to put in her eye.

(Bellowed from the other room) Jack: “Now it’s broken! You broke it ALEX! And I don’t know how to fix it.”

Alex: “It’s my toy! I don’t want to play with you anymore!”

Mommy comes back to Lego hell and picks up the broken ambulance.

Jack: “I can do it myself! You don’t know how to do it.”

Mommy retreats to the quiet of putting away clean laundry and humming soothing sounds to herself.

Jack: “I can’t fix this. I need Daddy.”

Mommy: “Well, I offered, but what do I know? I’m just your mother. Daddy won’t be home for a long time.”

Jack: “I’ll just wait for Daddy.”

Alex: “Jack? Will you help me build a boat like yours?”

Jack: “Sure! That will be great.”

Time Troubles

Our house, though full of nerds and future nerds, seems to have some trouble with the concept of time.  We desperately need some tutoring.  Where is Stephen Hawking when you need him? Oh no, Stephen, just…….no.

Let’s move on, shall we?

The boys are just learning about days and weeks and months.  To them, last night is still any time in the past though.  It is very cute to hear them use it.  It is not cute that they think all time is to be compacted in this manner.  For example, later means never.  As in, “You can have some chips later; 7am is not a good time for that kind of snack.” This translates to, “You will never have chips ever, and I’m never buying anymore ever again.”  Then there is crying.

They have this great clock that tells them the time via color change.  I am about to throw it into the Baltic Sea.  Blue means sleep, and yellow means you CAN be awake, though you are welcome to sleep much longer.  Alex loves to come into my room and ask me when the clock will be yellow thus defeating the need for my involvement in wake-time-appropriateness.  Also, now that they know their numbers and are such smarties, when I tell them the clock will be yellow in 10 minutes, they say, “Okay, I’ll wait until it gets to the 10.”  Then I have to go into the whole spiel about how that’s not really what that means.  Then I’m teaching them to tell time, and I don’t want to do any teaching before breakfast.

Well, it's yellow now, so please, let's run around until someone falls.

We have never been on time to school.  I have no idea how long it takes to get us dressed and ready it seems.  Or, more likely, time likes to mess with me and skip ahead when I’m not looking.

Another problem is the concept of ‘in a minute’.  I take full responsibility for this being wacky.  See, I tell them ‘in a minute’ about 132 times a day.  I generally mean, “Leave me alone.  I’ll deal with your petty problems when there’s blood involved.”  Or, “Play Matchbox cars with you? Um, why don’t you start playing without me in hopes that you’ll forget you asked me?” And often, “I’ll help you/clean you up/find your blue Lego piece/play car wash with you in a minute.”  I intend to be good to my word.  Then, my ADD happens.  Or something explodes.  Or my presence is required in the bathroom.  (Only 1 person in this house can use the toilet without me.  Thankfully, that’s my husband, Michael.)

And finally, we wrestle with the concept of patience.  I’d like my boys to respect my time by having more.  I tell them that being patient means waiting without complaining or crying or asking me 1089 times when I will be in your room to see the coolest wooden block structure ever.  You’d think that since they have always had a sibling, they’d know about waiting.  That would be a no.  A huge no.  Their wee little brains just get an idea and keep at it.  I have no idea where they get this single-minded excitement.  Ahem…

On the other hand, I expect them to do what I ask or tell them to do RIGHT NOW.  No, you may not finish taping together pieces of shredded paper before you go potty.  I’m ready now!  And dear Lord, please hurry up brushing your teeth so I can put you to bed and watch Survivor.  So, um, yeah, a bit of hypocrisy.  My time is sometimes more important than theirs.  Right?

I mean, if we don’t hurry, how will we make it to school on time?  Seriously, we’re gonna do it tomorrow.

Waking Kids To Put Them To Bed

Last night I continued my Herculean ( I can use this adjective because I have almost no help here, and my kids have not been to school due to illness.) task of solo-parenting the boys while my husband is in Israel for 12 days.  We don’t say ‘single parent’ because this makes the real single parents annoyed.  See, I have the support of my spouse even though it is long distance. This support includes Facebook pictures of the beer he drinks every night as well as sweet phrases like, “I’m sorry the children seem to have the plague, but I gotta go to bed so I can tour Jerusalem tomorrow.”*

Anyway, last night was night 6 of putting the boys to bed by myself. It kind of ends the day on a rough note. I mean rough for the kids because I tend to yell when they are not following directions and are thus delaying my precious alone time.  By night 2, I was already planning to drop a few steps the next night. I was sure I’d end up with my kids just crashing on the floor whenever they ran out of batteries instead of any formal getting-ready-for-bed shenanigans.

So, last night around 7:30, I started the routine.  (The routine is super cool when Daddy is gone because it involves medicine! Some of which we spit out!)  Both boys need drops in their ears and have to lay still for 10 minutes on each side.  We did the first side and made it through the almost second by second cries of, “Am I done yet?”  Then, I put them on the other side and ran away went to do chores.  I came back 10 minutes later to this:

It seems I made them a little too comfortable.

So, I have 2 kids who have been attached to me like barnacles for 5 days finally asleep and peaceful.  But, I can’t leave them that way of course; that would be too easy.  Small children cannot crash on the couch all night. Right?  Right.

I begin the process of waking them to put on pajamas, finish medicine, and hopefully go to bed without reading books because I really want to pretend I’m going to stay up and watch TV but really fall asleep with my Kindle in my hand.  I gently say sweet mother things and caress their angel cheeks.  Nothing.  Louder, more insistent cajoling follows and is also ignored.  I take flash photography.  Still nothing.

I Tweet my predicament because that always helps nothing, and then decide to do the tough way.  I will dress them while they sleep.  I have abandoned hope of administering medicine as it is now 8:15, and I have grown happy with the quiet.  Jack is first and turns out to be pretty easy.  He seems awake and amenable to getting dressed and properly put to bed.  I get his pajamas on him, and he immediately flops over to the other side and resumes deep sleep.

Jammies? What jammies? I know nothing of the events that lead to jammies.

I assume (incorrectly) that my success with Jack will be repeated with Alex.  It is not.  I start taking his pants off, and he resists, as naturally you would if you were sound asleep and someone came after your clothes.  He is very strong for his size.  I am very weak for mine.  He wins and gets some super helpful sarcasm about how I’m trying to help him.  I tell him we must get into bed.  He demands books.  I have decided to die on the no-books-tonight hill and tell him, “No!”  He bursts into tears and begins his death cough.  This is the worst coughing fit he has had all day.  He can barely breathe.  It is very sad.  I resume kind mommy voice and calm him down.

My next hurdle is getting them to go to the bathroom without waking them up so much that the book fuss begins again.  I carry Alex to the bathroom and ask him to do his business.  He says he’d rather do books first.  I resume battle stance and make him cry again.  Then I tell him his crying is why he’s coughing, and he answers like a teenager with, “I know that!”

So, I leave him to compose himself and get the sack o’ Jack.  Once in the bathroom, I prop him up, take down his pants, and aim him.  He does as instructed with nary a word or fluttered eye.  I carry him to bed and tuck him in.  He meekly asks about stories, but I stay strong.

By this time, Alex is calm and too tired to fight.  I get him to use the toilet and get tucked into bed.  I sing.  I leave.  I fall asleep the second my butt hits my bed.

Moral of the story?  I’m crabby as a solo parent.  Also?  Let sleeping kids lie.

*My husband is actually very worried about me and the boys, especially since they are sick.  He really wishes he could be here, but it is a good thing that he gets this opportunity for work.  I do not want him sitting in the hotel being sad; I’m glad he gets to eat out for dinner and tour a little bit.  Mostly.

If you’d like to read more about a woman trying to parent alone when clearly a partner is needed, my friend Vikki over at Up Popped A Fox was also solo these past 2 weeks and hilarity and abandoning grocery shopping due to rudeness ensued.