The Outhouse Incident

My brother and his family are up visiting from Michigan. It’s been nice. He and his wife and five of their six kids snuggled into our cabin with the five of us and our mom. Lots of beds and zero working bathrooms. The outhouse has been busy.

My husband and I are constantly messing with visitors regarding the outhouse.

“Did you remember to flush?”

“Who clogged the toilet?!”

Things along those lines. In our outhouse, we have a slew of hand sanitizers, feminine products and toilet paper rolls, which we jokingly store on the handle of a plunger. We also have one more item, an item my brother discovered on the second day of his visit.

He had been outside with his daughter. She had complained it was kinda stinky in the outhouse. (Hey, you have 13 people using one outhouse for a few days, it’s bound to be a bit ripe.) So, my big brother thought he’d be helpful and spray some air freshener he saw on the shelf next to the hand sanitizer. (The can on the far left.)

He tried pushing the nozzle to spray it, but it wouldn’t budge. He tried again, pushing the handle even harder. This time, a safety clip came shooting off and the can began forcefully spraying all over the outhouse. About the moment the safety clip shot off was when my brother discovered his mistake. This was not air freshener.

It was – as you may have already guessed – bear spray. And it was everywhere. All over the walls. On the toilet seat. In his coffee cup he had been holding at the time. And, of course, in the air.

He came inside for help. After a long bout of laughter and our mother immediately posting the above photo on Facebook with a remark about how he grew up here and should know better, my brother and I proceeded to use a mix of paper towels, snow, wet wipes and some 409 to scrub the surfaces. And we coughed. And coughed some more. At no point in this scrub-down did either of us think to put on gloves or, perhaps, a face mask. Nope. We just scrubbed away. It took a while – and we had to work in shifts so neither of us would be overcome by the fumes – but we eventually cleaned it all up.

When we went inside, we did what you do after cleaning up a big mess. We washed our hands and faces. I cannot tell you how wrong wrong WRONG of a move this was. You see, what we didn’t know is that bear spray is made with an oil base that – for a lack of a better word – reignites the fire of the spray on every surface it touches. Our faces. Our hands. Every surface turned red. Angry red. Our faces looked like opposite Santas with skin of white and beards of red. And it burned. It burned. The teenagers began googling what to do. Advice number one – don’t try to wash it off with water. Oops. It said to wash with milk or oil and definitely don’t even think about putting lotion on. Oops again.

Imagine – if you will – slicing an onion. You tear up. Your eyes burn. You have to walk out of the room for a minute. Now imagine that happening. All over your eyes, your face, and your hands. And you can’t walk away. The sting follows you. Oh – and hey – even if washing it with water would help – we’re in a dry cabin so there’s no escape.

After the burning finally went away, we realized someone would have to make the inaugural run to the outhouse… post incident, that is. Remember that scene with the onions in your eyes? Now imagine your sensitive tush pressed against the toilet seat with remnants of pepper spray on it. Yeah. It was, um, a warming experience. Not to mention it wasn’t until a few hours later that we remembered we should probably change the toilet paper rolls…

We thought the pain had passed. Until the next day. Turns out, even if you soak in milk, the fire reignites with every wash. Even your hands sweating is enough to light the flesh flame. You know what else it doesn’t wash off of easily? My brother’s coffee cup. I was drinking from it the next day, trying to figure out why my throat was suddenly burning so much. Yeah… I got a new cup.

To bring this story to its close, I have to share one more fun fact. At the State Fair this fall, my mom bought my brother a gift we thought he’d like. She finally was able to give it to him yesterday. The timing was perfect.

I’m fairly certain my brother will not be forgetting this vacation any time soon. And surely, he’ll be the butt of all pepper spray jokes for some time to come.


Are You Happy?

I heard an interesting story this morning on NPR. It was basically refuting a decade-old study that found parenting leads to unhappiness. New research suggests it is the mundane daily tasks that make us unhappy – not the overall parenting. For example, changing a diaper may not peak your happiness scale – but spending quality time with your baby will.

That story got me thinking about the last four days I have spent with my kids. They didn’t have school Friday or Monday, so we took off from work and headed out to the cabin. Our family was joined by my best friend, her husband and their four kids. Collectively, that meant seven kids running around at all times.

The weekend was – in a word – great. It made me happy. But, if I go back and think about the 47 times my toddler threw a fit that he didn’t get to ride the snowmachine or the times my older kids were arguing over petty little things – I might be drawn to say I was unhappy in those moments. However, overall, the trip was fun. A lot of fun. The kids had a blast and made a lot of memories.

My own favorite childhood memories mostly involve camping in our trailer in Ninilchik. We’d go fishing, clamming or just play. It was a blast. I want my kids to have cherished memories like that. Our cabin offers that – a respite away from the day-to-day stuff. All we do is play, eat and sleep. Yes, all those things make me happy.

Are you happy? What leads to your happiness? What have you done today that has made you happy?


The Vacation Chronicles: We’re Back….

Oh boy. Where do I even begin? Lets see, when we spoke last I was holding an empty Starbucks cup in my hand while my five-year old peed in it as we drove down the interstate to the Chicago O’Hare airport. Memories… (He filled up a grande, by the way. And we managed not to spill!)

As if I thought the two-hour drive to the airport was adventure enough, boy I was wrong. The fun just kept coming. And by fun, I mean standing in not one, not two, but three lines to check in. I think it may have been a social experiment to see just how much one mom traveling alone with three kids could take. By the time we made it to the front of the third line, our flight was supposed to already be boarding. We hadn’t even made it through security yet. And, somehow, my kids had to pee. Again. Minutes ticked away as I watched the time, fearing we’d miss our flight. But, we made it through security without my nine-year old being flagged again. Now, it was time to rush, no, run, to our gate. And, as it always seems to happen, as we screeched to a halt in front of the gate, they announced it  was delayed. It was only a 20 minute delay, but this had me worried about our connecting flight. On the way to Chicago, we were scheduled to have just over an hour layover in Seattle. We literally sprinted to make our connection. At one point, I pushed the baby in the stroller, had my five-year old on my back (while he made pre-vomit gagging noises) and booked it, as fast as I could, across the many, many concourses. I think we were in Concourse Z. I’m not kidding. So, now, fearing the same tight time schedule, I worried with 20 minutes less time to catch our connecting flight, they’d already be boarding in Seattle when our wheels hit the ground.

The flight from Chicago to Seattle was relatively uneventful. Thank you Lord! The baby screamed for a while, despite the half dose of Benadryl I begrudgingly gave him. A kind woman sitting next to us gave him a bag of grapes, which he promptly wolfed down. Is it just me, or do your kids act like they’ve never been fed before in their lives, when a stranger offers them food?

As we landed in Seattle, the flight attendant told those of us flying on to Anchorage to see the gate attendant. My children and I rushed off the plane and were met by an airline employee who led us, and a handful of other people, back down onto the runway. We loaded in a van. My five-year old asks in his stage whisper “Mom, is he going to drive us to Alaska?” The van drives us not to the Last Frontier, but to a plane in an opposite concourse. We never would have made it on foot.

My children had grandiose plans of playing video games on the plane, ordering food and other general mischief. But, their little eyes were closed before we could even take off. And no, there was no Benadryl involved. We landed in Anchorage and took our time getting off the plane. We stumbled off the Red Eye and down to baggage. Our bags were there in seconds. Again, thank you Lord! We met our ride and began the long drive home.

Our dog met us at the door. She was happy to see us, but even happier for a potty break. As I walked into the house and looked around, I made the vow to myself: the same promise I make every time I go out of state. Next time, next time I will clean my house before I leave!

The next morning, my kids, still stuck on Eastern time, woke by 5:30. I made a bee line to the coffee pot. And, of all days, it didn’t work. This morning, it’s still not working. I’ve done the maintenance. In fine print, it says I have to wait four hours. Four hours…. Ugh.

Even without coffee, it’s good to be home.

The Vacation Chronicles: Mommy, Mommy!!!

I’m in the back seat of the car. The baby is screaming. My five year old just peed in a cup in a moving vehicle while I held it. And my nine year old keeps calling me “Mother.” They all keep saying “Mommy!”
We are headed to the airport to fly back to Alaska. I have 12 hours of this ahead of me. Dear Lord help me.
When we left my brother’s house, my sister in law handed me three doses of Benadryl. I’m tempted to take them myself!!!!

The Vacation Chronicles: Someone Needs a Nap

Someone needs a nap and I think it might be me.

I’ve noticed the first day I get my kids back after they spend time with their dad is the hardest day for all of us. Slightly different parenting styles and rules is one thing. But, I think the big difference is going from alone time with no real parental responsibilities, to full on Mom of three kids in about three seconds flat.

Within minutes of the swap of children today, the baby was screaming at the top of his lungs, the five-year old was hollering in a panicked voice about how he “really had to go” and my nine-year old just desperately wanted to show me the new cheerleading moves she learned while watching her cousin practice. On their own, I could handle each and every solitary problem. Combined, I was feeling a tad overwhelmed. I tried to return to my happy place two nights before, when I sat with a margarita in hand, watching the sun set on Lake Michigan. I tried to recall strolling through Chicago without having to worry about a child of mine darting into rush hour traffic. I even tried to think back about being able to sleep in, without nursing a baby multiple times in the night. Instead, all I could feel was stress.

The kids were up early this morning. That never helps matters. My five-year old has already been in time out. Multiple times. I believe, this last time, I told him to “quit the shit.” Classic parenting skills, right? This was about the time I realized maybe it’s mommy who needs a time out, too.

So, ladies and gents: what kind of suggestions can you offer for the transition period? Even if you are happily married and have your kids full-time, you still deal with the transition periods when you get the occasional night away from the kids. So, what do you do to ease back into things without becoming the Super Bitch Mom?

The Vacation Chronicles: Jesus Loves The Little Children…

Sing it with me now: Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world…

Okay, that’s enough. I kinda know the words after that, but not enough. That’s not really the point though.

I’ve stolen away a few minutes, here and there, this vacation to read the book “Heaven is for Real” by Todd Burpo. It’s a great, short read. Perfect when you are surrounded by kids all day. I mean, come on, tell me the truth. When was the last time you got to read a book start to finish? “The Little Engine That Could” doesn’t count. Anyway, this book is all about four-year old Colton Burpo. He becomes deathly ill and when he recovers, tells his parents all about Heaven. He knows details about what happened when he was sick that there’s no way he could know. And, he knows details about Heaven there’s no way any of us could know, details that jive with Scripture. Colton tells his Dad about meeting Jesus and how He has beautiful eyes. One of the things he really wants people to know is that Jesus loves the children. How easily we forget that.

Children have such an innocent way, Burpo describes, of knowing God. They talk to him as a friend, the way we all should. They don’t try to dress their prayers up and make them fancy. They just talk. I’ve seen that here at bedtime when we say prayers with the kids. They all get a chance (youngest to oldest) to thank God for something and pray for something they want His help working on. It’s adorable to hear them thank God for the sunshine so they could play outside and then pray for Him to help them not want to beat up their sister. Sometimes we have to help with the wording so it’s not so much “Help my sister not be so annoying” to “Help me be more patient with my sister.”

Being patient with children, as we all know, is an ongoing battle. If it were easy, there wouldn’t be nine million parenting blogs out there. I pray for patience every day. But, as you know if you’ve seen the movie “Evan Almighty,” you don’t just get patience. You have to work for it. Hence the saying “Be careful what you wish for.” When those trying times happen, I’d love to say I’m patient and kind. Sometimes, the first time of the day I’m called to be patient, I am. It’s just the second, third, fourth, fifth and 26th time a day that I’m not. I may snap back with “What?!” Which is more of a growl than a question.

Last night, we took the children (all nine of them) to Chilis. My brother’s wife is out of town, so it was my brother, my mother, myself and nine kids. Nine kids. Did I mention there were nine kids?! In an ironic twist of fate, the only room for a group that big at that time of night was in the bar. Well, if you insist.

When we filed in to sit down, we were placed directly next to a man in his late 40s. I was about to apologize in advance for the noise level, but then I saw the comically large beer in his hand and decided he had this under control. We sat down and began the deciding of who was going to eat what. My daughter asks me “What goes well with rice?” like she was asking if she should have Merlot or a Cab with her steak. She finally landed on mashed potatoes and mac n’ cheese. It’s vacation. I’m choosing not to explain the intricacies of carbs to her at this point.

First things first, my brother and I ordered Presidente Margaritas. (I checked first with my mom to make sure she’d drive home. Yes, yes. I was responsible.) We also ordered appetizers. When you travel with hordes of children, you must be prepared to throw some sort of sacrifice their way or you will regret it. While our server (who we did apologize to in advance) began to take our order, we attempted to keep the kids happy, in line, and from touching each other. I noticed another 40s something man sit down with the other man at the table behind us. They looked our way, not in horror or annoyance, but more like an exhibit in the Zoo. It was wonder in their eyes.

After only about three trips to the bathroom and one mild incident (one child refused to move to accommodate two other children sharing a plate), it was time to go. As we piled out the door, one of my nieces grabbed my arm and said ‘Those two men were talking about us.” I said “Really? What did they say?” She responds “He said ‘Wow. They’ve got it rough!'” All I could do was laugh. Hysterically. With nine kids around, it’s hard to do much else. During the ride home, all I could think about was what those men said and what little Colton said about meeting our Lord. He said He really loves the children. So do I.  


The Vacation Chronicles: Discipline and Death

We are on vacation in Michigan, visiting my brother. If you’ve read any of my posts the last few days, you’ve learned my three kids are having a blast playing with their six cousins. Yes, that means nine kids are under one roof. Along with four adults. Good thing it’s a big house!

With so many kids around, things like discipline, order and feeding all take on a new form. It can be maddening telling a child to do something and then realizing you have to say it again and then again. And when you do finally snap because some child is doing what you told them not  to do (and you will eventually snap) you get a sudden pang of guilt when it occurs to you that you’ve snapped at the wrong kid. Heck, I have trouble keeping my own three kids straight, let alone six more!

Keeping order in a house with so many kids requires order. Lots of order. We’re not at Super Nanny status yet, but there are some strict rules:  No playing in the bedrooms, no shoes in the house, no drinks outside of the kitchen. The no playing in the bedrooms rule didn’t make any sense to me, at first. Now, I get it. Nine kids. Nine tons of toys. Think about the Army: the base keeps its munitions in set areas. So does my brother and his wife. Keep the toys and the playing in the designated toy area. This simple rule keeps their bedrooms looking like the ones you see in magazines and angrily shake your head thinking “No way that’s real.”

Feeding time is somewhat chaotic. It’s the same in my house. Something about the physical act of preparing food sets my youngest into a Spawn of Satan spiral. We’re talking just short of head spinning, pea soup spitting. I tend to throw snacks his way, bits of fruits, vegetables, bread, meat, candy, human sacrifices, whatever it takes so I can actually finish cooking. Here, with nine kids, we have to deal with logistics. We have more mouths to feed, more demands and more picky preferences. In my house, I’m able to remember that my daughter hates peanut butter and my five-year old son won’t eat fish. Here, my oldest niece doesn’t eat meat. Another niece won’t eat noodles if sauce is anywhere in the vicinity and one kid always wants milk, not juice. The list goes on and on. And the demands?! The demand to be fed is bad in my house. With nine kids, you can have a mutiny on your hands in a matter of seconds. While at the pool yesterday, a friend of the family showed up with a pizza. It was like a slab of meat being tossed into the water with a frenzy of piranhas. You could see the fear in his eyes as we attempted to pull the children off of him. Remember “Children of the Corn?” Yeah. Like that. Another logistical issue is where to put all these people at meal time. There are a total of ten seats in the kitchen and dining area. There are nine kids and four adults. We have to eat in shifts. We feed the violent little beasts first. Then, it’s our turn. Last night, we went with the pizza theme. They gorged on slice after slice. When they were done, we ate steak and vegetables. And wine. Oh yes, there was wine. Delicious. And, we only had to send the kids away from the table about seven times.

Having this many kids in the house can be crazy. It can be loud. But, it can also be very sweet. Yesterday, the father of a friend of the family died suddenly. My sister-in-law rushed to her friend’s house to be with her. The kids, of course, wanted to know all the details. How did he die? Where is his body now? What happened? Can we go over to their house too? Kids are so matter of fact about things like death. They don’t know how to hold their punches. It’s like when they see someone in a wheelchair and they go right up to the person and say “What’s wrong with you?!” They have no filter. After church today, on the way home, the kids started talking about death. That blunt honesty came out again. “I think he died because God wanted him to be up in Heaven,” one of the kids said. We talked about why God takes some people sooner than others. They were so loving in the way they described loss. It was heartening and endearing and uplifting.

Kids learn a lot from every vacation you take them on. Often, it’s not what you expect. You think they’ll walk away remembering the beach and the sand, instead they tell stories of finding half a turtle in the backyard. I’m hoping this vacation they won’t remember the many times they were put in time out, but the treasured time they spent with their cousins. And, I know for sure my daughter will have one memory that sticks with her. Unfortunately, it’s from the category of “Please, please forget about it already!” You may have read my post about the restaurant, the high chair full of poop and the untimely visit by Aunt Flo.  Well, Aunt Flo just doesn’t get the hint that it’s time to leave.  After our day on the boat, my daughter walked into the laundry room where I was washing out my bikini bottoms and shorts in the utility sink. She looked in horror at what appeared to be a scene from Shark Week in the sink. She gasps: “Mommy! Are you bleeding?!” And then we got to have the talk. The abbreviated version. Ugh. Memories…

We have one week left here in Michigan. So far, sanity is intact. Well, okay. Kind of.

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