The Joke’s on the Jack-o-lantern

It was a long weekend. Fun for the most part, but Sunday was the longest day I’ve had in a while.

We’d gone out to our cabin for the weekend. Fresh air. Fun. Manual labor. It’s typically a good time had by all. Saturday, my youngest son and I were outside, dragging downed trees from the woods to use in a bonfire. Amazing what kind of manual labor children (okay, adults too) will volunteer for when there’s even the slightest chance of smores on the horizon. After we’d pulled a few trees around, my little guy asked if he could go inside and lay down. Yep, that would be your first red flag.

My husband and I and our 9-year-old finished up outside as the other kids played a vicious game of Alaska Edition Monopoly inside. After a while, it was time to walk two houses down to our neighbors’ house for dinner. My daughter said, “Mom, he’s not feeling good. He’s breathing really fast and he feels warm.” Red flag #2. We thought maybe he was just warm from his nap. We went to our friends’ place for dinner. He didn’t want to eat. He said his stomach hurt. Red flag #3. He laid down on the couch and watched a movie. He did eat an otter pop and later, after seeing his brother and sister enjoying one, requested an ice cream sandwich. At this point, it appeared he was on the mend.  We went home and tucked the kids into bed. I tried to simultaneously sleep with one eye open and get as much good sleep as I could get in, knowing we were headed for a long night.

Hours later, I heard him coughing and then crying for me. I scooped him up and carried him downstairs. He felt hot and he was very tired. We tried to go back to sleep. Tried. Little moans would sneak out of him as he snuggled into my chest. His little 4-year-old body was working hard to fend off whatever nasty bugs were inside him. His sister, armed with a comic book and a headlamp, sat next to us on the couch, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

When it was finally morning, we attempted to cat-nap on the couch while everyone else got on with the day. Our neighbor offered a thermometer and after seeing the reading – 103 – we decided to pack up early and head home.

All the kids were excited to go to the Harvest Festival at our church. They’d been looking forward to costumes and candy all week long. My husband and the two big kids got ready while our youngest slept on the couch. They were about to leave without us when he suddenly woke up. (Suddenly = big brother and sister loudly getting ready while complaining to me that not waking him and telling him where they were going was equal to lying to him and then, using our own mantra against us, saying, “we don’t lie in this house.”) He wanted to know what was happening and he said he really wanted to go. We decided we’d drive there, grab him some candy and then go home.

We loaded up into the car and were on the exit ramp to the church when, “Mommy, my tummy hurts!” suddenly changed to a splashing sound, followed by the “EWWW!!!” of his 12-year-old sister, who was sitting next to him, squarely in the splash zone. I’d been talking on the phone with my dad at that exact moment, so I’m pretty sure the end of the conversation sounded a lot like this, “Honey, it’s okay. OH! Um, Dad? Dad! I gotta go. Oh, honey…”

Now let me pause for a moment to better describe this scene to you. My husband was at the wheel of what I jokingly refer to as his “creeper van.” (It has tinted windows and you probably wouldn’t be surprised at all if he rolled down his window and offered you candy…) We are dressed as a couple of hippies. No, really. Rose colored glasses and everything. I had a bandana on, clip-on peace symbol earings and a peace necklace. The kids were holding their jack-o-lanterns in their laps, ready to get their costumes on and get some candy. As I spun around to check on my preschooler and contain the damage, I had a flash of realization as to what this might look like for anyone driving by at that exact moment, especially if it were a police officer.

jackolantern barf

When I had turned around in my seat, leaning over the headrest to tend to him, I saw he’d already covered his coat, pajama pants and boots. I grabbed the first thing I could reach – my husband’s fleece – and shoved it under his target. (Sorry, honey.) When I realized that wasn’t going to contain it (it’s amazing how much can come up considering the small size and his stomach and the little he’d actually eaten), I grabbed the jack-o-lantern candy pail from his hands and placed it under his mouth. This was definitely more trick than treat.

At this point, we turned the van around and started to head home. Our 12 and 9-year-old instantly started getting upset, not because they were near a small vomiting child or because they were concerned for his wellbeing. No, they were mad they wouldn’t be attending the Harvest Festival. My daughter, being the oldest of the three, took it better than the 9-year-old. I imagine it’s because after many years of being the big sister, she’s used to some calamity bringing an end to the planned-for-fun. But, the 9-year-old… for him this was heartbreaking. We started giving him the speech about having some compassion for his little brother and then I stopped mid-sentence, picked up the phone and called grandma. She came to the house, picked up the two big kids and saved the day. She even delivered dinner later.

At bed time last night, my daughter turned to me and said she was sorry I didn’t get to volunteer at the church. It was very sweet.  Moments after that very kind exchange, I crawled directly into bed, waking just a few hours later to repeat the prior night all over again. His temp was back to 103. I tried giving him something to bring the fever down, which he instantly threw back up. It was another long night.

Now he sleeps. So far, his fever is somewhat down. We have a doctor’s appointment in just shy of two hours. He’ll probably be running through the pediatrician’s office, acting like nothing’s wrong with him. And that will be just fine by me. Considering he’s moaning again on the couch. Gotta run and find my jack-o-lantern…

 

 

 

Death, Kissing and Parent Teacher Conferences

My kids say a lot of weird stuff. So much so, I have an entire category dedicated to it on my blog. So, by now, it really shouldn’t surprise me when they come out with something completely off the wall. And yet…

Here are the prize winners from this week alone:

“I don’t want to go to death!”

My 9-year-old son was reading aloud a section of the bible that talked about how kids should be respectful to their parents, or they would be put to death. (Matthew 15:4) It really struck him as important, so he told his brother and sister to listen up, as he repeated the passage. “For instance, God says ‘honor your father and mother’ and ‘anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father and mother must be put to death.'” Upon hearing this, our 4-year-old says, “But, I don’t wanna go to death!” Later that night, he brought it up again after supper, when the other kids had left the table.

“I don’t want to go to death. I’ll hide. I’ll hide in the refrigerator! He can’t get me in the closet, right? When?! When am I going to death?”

“Spin the bottle? I love that game!”

The award for the most alarming statement goes to my 12-year-old daughter who, seemingly out of nowhere announced in the car, “Spin the bottle? I love that game!” Turns out, she was reading her comic book and saw the game being played, which reminded her that she loves it so much. Thinking (and praying and hoping) that maybe she innocently had it confused with another game, where maybe you just spin the bottle and nothing nefarious happens, you know, like kick the can, I asked her, “Honey, what happens in spin the bottle?” “Oh, you spin the bottle and whoever it lands on you have to kiss.” Panic. Slight panic rising up. Yes, yes, I know she’s getting older and she’s going to experiment with things and I should get used to change and she’s growing up and does anyone have a paper bag I can breathe into? “So, sweetie, have you ever played spin the bottle?” “No, but my friend has at a party and she told me about it.” Insert conversation about not doing things we’re not comfortable with and how we can always say no and get out of situations like that…

“What? They’re going to put me to death?!”

After parent teacher conferences tonight, I arrived home armed with notes from my 6th and 3rd grader’s teachers. My son asked if he could see his report card. I said sure, having forgotten about the fact that I put a sticky note on it, with my reminder note to write a post about my preschooler’s thought that he could hide from death. My 3rd grader stared at his report card, without even opening it, and quietly read the words, “‘I don’t want to go to death?’ MOM, what did you and my teacher talk about?!”

Oh yes, raising kids is certainly interesting. I just wish I had a hidden microphone to catch all the other crazy stuff they say. You know, the stuff I forget to write down. What crazy things do your kids come up with?

The Quitter’s Curse

I remember distinctly my senior year in high school.  The stress. The classes. The homework. The internship. The paying job. The homework. The college application essays. The scholarship applications. The little sleep. And with all the stress and the attempts to keep my grades up, I was eager to sign up for the easy elective. The slight glimmer of hope in my otherwise busy and stress-filled senior schedule. It was the equivalent of underwater basket weaving. It should have been cake. It was pottery.

Those first few classes seemed easy enough. We sat around the wheels as they spun. Our wet hands clasped around mounds of clay. Forming the grey mess, pulling it higher, slowly, and digging our fingers into the top, stretching out, carefully some piece of art to take form. A vase. A plate. A bowl. A cup. Something beautiful would emerge. Those first few days, we watched as our instructor so gracefully drew his hands up around the wet clay, a masterpiece emerging. Then, mimicking his moves, we tried this ourselves. Small, nervous giggles turned to outright laughter as several of us lost control of the wet canvas, the clay becoming quickly lopsided and flinging violently off our wheels. It was funny. At first.

Soon, the rest of my class was excelling, surpassing my still limited skills. Pottery did not come easy for me. I needed easy. While others finished project after project, lining up their As in the shelves for the kiln, where after they’d color them with beautiful designs, my projects had yet to leave the wheel. Not one.

As the stresses of my senior year weighed me down, the nagging applications constantly whispering a reminder of their incomplete state, I found myself more and more frustrated with the demands of what should have been my Easy A. Pottery was supposed to be my outlet. Something to take away the stresses of my daily life. And yet, here it was, reminding me of everything I couldn’t be. Everything I was not.

Maybe it was a rash decision. Maybe I’d thought it through the way a 17-year-old does. I walked down to the office and demanded to speak to my counselor. I’d never sought him out before, seeing him only in passing in the halls and on the days he’d sign off on my schedule for the semester. But now, here I was in front of him, asking, pleading, demanding that I be transferred out of pottery. I didn’t care what class he transferred me into, I only knew I didn’t want to be in this one for one second longer.

What he said at first surprised me. Like pottery I thought, this too, would be easy. Getting out of a class, something I’d heard of but never tried for my self, seemed like it should be a simple matter of paperwork and my life would get easier before I’d even left his office. But, it wasn’t going to be that easy. “Why?” he’d asked. Why did I want out of the seemingly easiest class the school offered? My response started with logic and soon let way to tears. I couldn’t take it. He gave me the speech I’m sure he’d given hundreds of students before me, the “don’t be a quitter” speech. He told me how quitting was a slippery slope, a dangerous path to allow myself down. He said if it started with pottery, where would it end? What if I quit every time something got hard? This logic only enraged me. I was not a quitter. I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing and I just needed to make this one really hard thing go away. After a few more canned speeches, he saw the twitch in my eye – the one that was birthed by late nights, little sleep and a pottery wheel that spun out of control in a way that summed up my teenage existence – he finally conceded. I managed an even easier class – late arrival, followed by helping out in the cleanup of a coffee machine. It was bliss.

Years later, at any given hardship in life – be it work related or a chore I really would rather not do, or even a diet, I would recall his words to me. About how becoming a quitter is a curse you set upon yourself. Tonight, I found myself the one handing out the canned speeches, the monologue of “what kind of life will you lead if you quit everything?” This speech is directed at my 6th grade daughter. Her spinning wheel is sports. She thought they’d be easy. She thought they’d be fun. And now, well, now she wants out.

How easily she must forget, it was just two weeks ago, she begged to quit basketball, just as her team was in the final week of the season. Now, she’s berating me with tales of how boring and hard wrestling is. Wrestling, the sport she begged to join. Just a week into practice, she says it’s too hard. Her coach is too stern. She’s not having fun. “But you made a commitment to your teammates,” I tell her. It is to no avail. She doesn’t care. She just wants to quit.

Speech after speech, question after question, she just pulled the covers higher over her shoulder, and rolled in bed away from me. I wasn’t giving her what she wanted. I told her to think about and I left her room.

I see now what my counselor was warning me about – a life filled with the easy way out. The road most traveled. He didn’t want that for me. And I certainly don’t want that for my daughter.

So, now what? What do I do? Let her quit? Let the quitter’s curse take root in her? I tell her about the scripture I have printed out and taped to my desk, “Do everything you do as if you were doing it for the Lord and not the people.” It has no impact on her. She can see no way of honoring God with her wrestling, just as I could find no way of honoring him with pottery, especially given the amount of profanities that typically streamed from my mouth as the unruly clay would fling off my wheel.

Molding another person’s character is a very difficult task. Lots of people quit that, too. But this is a responsibility that I will not falter on. Of this I am sure. What I don’t know, is what to say or do to convince my daughter that quitting is not an option.

My Life as a Taxi Cab Driver

No, I’m not adding a new line to my resume – but I might as well!

My two oldest school aged children have joined sports teams. “Ah, how cute!” you say. “Add that to their college applications,” you suggest. Yeah – it’s great. Until you look at my new schedule on paper.

Next week, for example, my daughter has a game in one town at 3:30 and my son’s game is at 5, in another town, 45 minutes away. Did I mention I don’t get off work until 5 – in yet another town? GAH!

How are you supposed to make it all work?

My girlfriend and I were just discussing scheduling this morning. It seems there’s always something. Every night, an activity. And at some point, you have to fit in homework and other little things like eating and sleeping and actually interacting with your child in a more meaningful way than just barking out the commands, “Get in the car! We’re late!”

Has life always been this stressful for every generation? I swear, as a kid, I went to school, did my homework, did the chores, played Barbies and maybe – just maybe – watched a half hour of TV on one of the five available channels. When did things get so complicated?

What’s your solution to life in overload? How do you get around without changing your title to Taxi Cab Driver?

 

 

The Ick Factor

Okay, we’re parents. We’ve seen gross things. Barf. Poop. Barf and poop at the same time. Getting spit up on. Getting spit up in your own mouth. Yep, we’ve all been there. But, sometimes, the ick factor is really taken to its limits.

Enter my preschooler.

Today, he fell down on the playground. They said there was a lot of blood, but that the cut itself wasn’t too bad. They were more worried about getting the wound cleaned out – there were a lot of little rocks in there. So, we took him to the doctor. No stitches, but they were going to have to get to those rocks.

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They put the numbing cream on. (That’s the white stuff on his knee.) Then, we waited. He’d just about calmed down again when the doctor came back in the room and said the words my 4-year-old certainly didn’t want to hear, “We’re going to have to cut that flap of skin to get the rocks out.”

“Cut the flap? CUT THE FLAP?!” my 4-year-old repeated, alarmed.

It took two nurses and my ex husband to hold his legs while I held his hands so the doctor could cut. I tried my best to whisper positive things into my baby boy’s ear, while tears wet his cheeks. But, at some point, I realized I was no longer talking. Instead, I was praying it would be over quickly, all while realizing I was starting to feel a little light-headed.

No, I didn’t pass out. No, my little one didn’t pass out. In fact, he was good as new (except for the massive bandage) once he got a popsicle. But, I certainly felt that if I had to look into that patch of freshly cut flesh anymore, that I’d soon hit the ground.

So, my question to you seasoned veterans of parenting is, what’s your breaking point? When does the ick factor enter in for you?

The Girlfriend’s Guide to Back to School Shopping

I’ve done back to school shopping a few times. Several times. Okay – 10, to be exact – not including shopping for myself. 10 times makes me a seasoned expert, right? Let’s go with that.

My friend has a soon-to-be kindergartener on her hands. She’s feeling a tad overwhelmed by the whole prospect of school supply shopping. Sure, she’s shopped for preschool, but kindergarten? That’s the big leagues. They’re not just eating glue anymore. My friend will assuredly have this under control – but there are things we learn only from experience – knowledge I can impart on her as to what is a necessity and what is not.

First things first – the backpack. “Do you get the nice, sturdy kind that will last a few years or the fun one she wants?” my friend asked. “The fun one,” I replied instantly. Now, those who know me may be surprised by this response. Typically, I am much more in the camp of “function over fashion.” However, I’m also a mother of three kids under the age of 12 and I know when to pick my battles. A fun backpack serves dual purposes: it gets your kid off your back, because, believe you me, they will want every cool school supply on the planet – you know, the ones that cost at least 10 times more than the perfectly good plain one – and this is one big area you can let them make their own statement, and, despite the fact that the fun backpacks are typically pieces of junk you will end up having to replace mid-year (especially when your kids drag them across the freaking playground!) they serve as great memory keepers. Your kiddo will bring home dozens of pieces of cherished artwork and assignments and projects that he/she can’t ever part with. And you’ll need a place to store all those memories. Insert now-trashed well-loved backpack.  Fill it at the end of each school year. This will be your storing-house for all those mementos. Each year, you get a new backpack for a year’s worth of memories. It’s actually very sweet.

Next, we move onto the rest of the supplies. Here’s an average kindergarten supply list:

Kindergarten Class:

___ Pencil/school supply box for desk

___  Sharp, pointed school scissors

___ 6 – No. 2 pencils w/pink erasers

___ Crayons, 2 boxes of 8 basic colors (for math)

___ Crayons, 1 box for art

___ Wide point washable markers (8 basic colors, only)

___ Small 8-10 watercolor paint set with brush

___ Change of clothes

 

As I mentioned before, there will be varying levels of each item. Lets take the pencil box, for example. One year, on a shoestring budget, I found the $.33 version. It was yellow. Basic. Plastic. It worked. My daughter, however, found the $14 Hannah Montana version. It was essentially the same product, but with Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus (pre-twerking days) face plastered all over it, and an accompanying 42 times increase in price. Get the cheap yellow box. Or, get the fashionable one. But, this is where you need to take your stand. Let your child choose one fancy item and stick with that. Otherwise, what could be a $20 shopping trip will turn into an excursion equivalent to a car payment.

Scissors, pencils, erasers, watercolors – go cheap. Crayons/markers – look through your stuff at home. Did Grandma give you multiple boxes over the last few years? Take those. Save yourself some money, now. You have years of this ahead of you. The same applies for older kids. Make them take an inventory of the supplies they still have from last year before you do any shopping. And, keep in mind, if you find great stuff on sale – think of the kids that don’t have any supplies. There are always donation boxes at stores and churches.

Parents of school age kids – what other advice would you give to the first-timers?

 

 

 

 

Being Left Out Sucks

Waiting in line for a ride – and just as you reach the front, they put up the rope and tell you you’ll have to wait until next time.

The team captains are choosing players in kick ball and you’re the last person chosen out of the whole gym class.

They’re handing out Drumsticks and you’re the only one left not holding an ice cream cone.

Being left out sucks.

My kids are learning the hard way lately how being left out is lame. My 12-year-old daughter was crying the other night that (and stop me if you’ve heard this from a pre-teen before) “all my friends are going on field trips and I’m not and I feel really left out!” My 8-year-old son had a similar experience when his friends “fired him” from his club he and his buddies started at their day camp. And my 4-year-old complained about being the only kid not to get to have a friend over after school. Everyone is being left out one way or another.

All of us at some point have been left out. It sucks. And yet, it’s a lesson we all have to learn. Yeah, yeah, got that. But, how do you explain that to your kids? You just want to nuzzle them and hold them close and secretly call their so-called friends “jerks” in your head. But, how do you help your child through it?

What do you tell your children when they complain of being left out?

 

 

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