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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Triumphant Chidren and their Patient Parents

My sweet Little Leo is such a little pain in the ass lately. And it's a different pain in the ass than he was a couple of months ago. He is better behaved, but he is suddenly helpless. Every single sentence that I begin with "Leo can you please..." is answered with "can you please help me?" Somehow, my proud, independent boy suddenly decided that he cannot get himself dressed, put on his shoes, brush his teeth, or find ANYTHING himself. It breaks his little heart when I ask do something all while I am doing those very things for his little brother and sister. I must not love him anymore if I don't want to do every single thing in the whole wide world for him for the rest of his life.

But we are getting past this. I am constantly reminding him that there are still millions and millions of things that I have to do, want to do, or am legally obligated to do every single day for many, many years to come, so if he could be a big boy once or twice a day, I would consider it a favor and love him even more, and maybe even give him some candy.

One of my first born's first sentences was "I can do it myself". It made me so proud. I was raising an independent child. A girl no less; a strong, self reliant little woman. Just what the world needs more of. Four kids later, and I can say with decent certainty that this is a phase most kids inevitably go through. The key is to make it stick.

And because I have four children, I take this responsibility VERY seriously. My life depends on it. It is just not humanly possible to do EVERYTHING for EVERYONE ALL THE TIME! I CANNOT even answer to EVERY "MOMMY" that they bombard me with daily...minutely...secondly. It would destroy me. I'm only hanging on by a thread as it is. I can't imagine how insane I would be if I answered the 50%-70% (probably more) that I ignore.

So, the second that I start to see them attempting to exert some independence, I run with it. If my 13 month old reaches for the baby wipe in my hand while I'm changing her, I don't logically assume that she just wants to eat it, I'm optimistically thinking that maybe she wants to wipe her own poop off her own butt, and I'm willing to let her try. And she may try, and THEN she will attempt to eat it. And it was still worth a try.

Their early attempts at emancipation almost always end in disaster. And they will absolutely ALWAYS create more work for me. It takes a very patient parent to foster and encourage the autonomy of a toddler. Before I had kids, I was the most patient person I knew. Now I just feel a little less crazy than one or two other really crazy people I know. But I still try to let them try most of the time.

I clean up a lot of spilled juice because I have heard the question "mommy can I please have some juice" one too many times, and now, sometimes I just flat out refuse out of protest. So they have no choice but to try and get it themselves. And I'm really ok with having to clean up the mess, as long as it means I didn't have to get the damn juice!

I frequently go out in public with at least one child who has his/her shoes on the wrong feet, because at least they did it by themselves and shaved a good thirty seconds of off the 45 minutes it takes me to get us all out of the house.

I have cleaned my share of potty training incidents because, as long as it meant that we were working towards the goal of me changing a few less diapers in a day, I was perfectly willing to give them some "privacy" on the training pottty, only to come back and find a successful attempt to poop on the potty, a very proud two year old, and a celebratory smearing of the poop all over the bathroom afterwards.

I am in a constant wardrobe war with my children's clothes because I insist some of them get themselves dressed in the morning, which for some reason seems to translate to "pull out every piece of clothing that you own and throw it on your floor and then pick out the same two pieces of clothes you wear every single day". So it's ok that I'll have to re-fold all those clothes that it took me four days to get to folding in the first place. It's ok that I'll have to sniff through all of them to sort out which ones are clean and which ones smell like my funky kids. It's ok that Leo goes to preschool in ripped pants. It's not the end of the world that Madeline went to school two days in a row in the exact same pants and sweatshirt,looking like she slept in those clothes. "It's fine Mommy, I changed my under ware." And it doesn't bother me at all that they both, frequently, wear two different socks, or that my otherwise intelligent and articulate 8 year old daughter, occasionally still puts her jeans on backwards and walks out the door (yes, I know, she sounds just like her mother). The point is, it is two less people that I have to dress every day.

On the occasionally rough morning, I applaud any child that climbed up onto the kitchen counter and snuck into the cookie jar to steal a cookie, because at least they took the initiative to get themselves breakfast without pestering me before I had ample amounts of coffee.

I have eaten many a shard of egg shell because Lennox wants to help me cook, and I've sacrificed many a beautiful flower or plant in my garden because Leo wants to help me "pull the weeds". They want to HELP ME. I would be a fool not to encourage that behavior.

I suppose if I only had one or two kids, it would be fun and cute and special to dote over them and wish for them to need me for the rest of their lives. But around here, there is simply no time for that. In this house, we are all learning survival skills. If we are going to thrive as a family, we are all going to have to learn to function as individuals, and leave Mommy the hell alone sometimes!

These are the milestones that I look forward to. I still get a huge kick out of first steps and first words. But the first time one of my kids wipes their own butt really brings a proud and thankful tear to my eye. My kids will always need me, not to do things for them, but perhaps to remind them that they can do it themselves; to tell them that they are capable and wonderful, and to smother them in hugs and kisses and love whenever I please. Otherwise, they're screwed.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Page 1

Dear Madeline, Leo, Lennox and Ginger,

Hello my muses. Now that you are all here, and I've gotten to know each of you inside and out, I'm sitting down to write you about why I write all of these stories about you.

Someday you may come looking for your baby book. You may want to know about your first word, sentence or step. And you may be heartbroken (and pissed) to find out that I never got around to some of your baby books (my poor third child is going to hate me). But then one day, when I think that you are old enough to handle the mild vulgarity and plain hard truths about my parenting and your upbringing, I will show you this collection of our journey together.

While it's true that we may never know the exact date and time that you first said "mama", we will know that you all abused the word "mommy" so much so that it made me consider not teaching it to your baby sister. We will know all about the first time one of you left my laptop outside in the rain, or the first (and hopefully only) time one of you was a bully and made a classmate cry and I then I made you cry in the middle of your softball game when I found out about it, or the first time that the fairies stole your secret candy stash because you wouldn't share, or the first time I let you use the Easy-bake-oven all by yourself.

You'll read all about how I was so determined to teach you to be independent,like trying to teach some of you to change your own diapers at 4 months old, and how that devastated you because you thought that I wanted you to do things for yourself because I didn't love you anymore. If I wanted you to learn to get yourself a snack or juice, it meant that I didn't care if you ate or not and I must have wanted you to starve or die of thirst. If I wanted you to learn how to put your own boots on, it meant that I didn't care if you got frost bite on your feet and they fell right off! But you will be proud to know that you learned very early how to do some great things (survival skills) like feed yourselves and buckle your own seat belt. I never underestimated you, not just because there were so many of you and I simply COULD NOT DO EVERY SINGLE THING FOR EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU EVERY SINGLE SECOND OF THE DAY (although that is the biggest reason), but also because I wanted you to know what you were capable of if you really tried.

You'll hear about how Daddy and I never got married (or divorced) like all the other mommies and daddies, and you will certainly read about how very much we love each other.

You will know that we are all pretty funny. You're going laugh, even at yourselves, like when you hear about the time I asked Leo why he was smelling the television screen and he said "because I'm watching Strawberry Shortcake". And you'll probably think it pretty funny to read about the time I ran, psychotically screaming through our neighborhood, looking for one of you who was not answering when I called for you and hiding somewhere in the house, chuckling your little ass off.

You will surely get a chuckle reading about all of the times that I begged and pleaded with all of you to PLEASE help keep me sane, and how you would whole heartedly promise to try your best, and then seemingly forget all about it 5 minutes later. So you will hear A LOT about how insane you made me for many, many years (God willing). You will understand that those millions and millions of miles that I racked up "going for a run" probably saved your lives. It was not just an attempt to get back my 27 year old body (which you all stole from me by the way). Spending that one hour a day running away from you and hearing myself think is what kept me from strangling you some days. And it only took that hour to convince myself you really weren't so bad.

You'll find out some of my parenting secrets that I'm not so proud of, like how I potty trained some of you with threats of Santa Claus not bringing toys to little boys and girls who poop in their pants. You MAY discover that there were times when I considered selling one or two of you just for a moment of peace and quite,which hasn't happened yet but I feel like I've gotten close and can't make any promises.

You will know my darkest parenting moments, like when little Leo turned two and I missed it because my mother had died 6 days earlier. I was there, of course, I just wasn't there. I can't tell you anything about it, but that picture of you riding your new John Deere tractor with me standing right there watching you does vaguely ring a bell. I think I remember smiling through the tears knowing how happy that present made you.

You will hear how we made it through the rough times, like the terrible two's (and three's and four's...) and pregnancy #4 (you all barely got out of that one alive) and the teen years (which we are still a few years away from but have already started prepping for- see "Ungrateful Little Bitch"). Perhaps when we travel those rough waters together, you can write your own stories to illustrate the journey, and we can add them to mine. I want you to know that I will listen to you and that your perspective is important too. And hopefully, if you actually have to write down and document all the stupid things you do as a teenager, you won't do so many stupid things. You will also learn in these stories, that I too once thought that I knew everything and my mother knew nothing. And now I know better.

It will be painfully obvious that I was not nearly as flawless as you may have thought I was when you were 5, (although I do appreciate the pedestal), or that you were not nearly as smart as you thought you were when you were 15. But with any luck, you will know that I had all of the very best intentions, and made my very best efforts; to give you a magical childhood, to see us through it all, to love you unconditionally even through the teen years (again, God willing), to admit my mistakes and to help you learn from yours, and to always keep OUR sense of humor.

You will learn about my inner most thoughts and feelings about you; that you ARE my heart and soul...and every other fiber of my being; that this family makes me happier than anything else in the whole wide world, and is the one thing that can make me want to lock myself in the bathroom and cry a puddle of self loathing. And while you may be insulted from time to time, you are going to learn that I love you, and that every move that I have made since the moment you were born is for our family, even if that move is to get away from you for a moment.

So in reading our stories, I hope that you can forgive me for not having any sort of documentation of how much you weighed on you 3 month Dr. visit, and I hope that you enjoy the story about your first curse words at age 2, or about the "Christmas that almost wasn't" for one of you one year because that year you...sucked, or the many stories about the crazy fat bitch who was your pregnant mother. I really hope that we can all look back on her and laugh and that I haven't left you permanently scarred.

Those baby books are filled with "firsts". Our book will be filled with everything else. It will tell us where we have been, where I hoped and prayed we would all go, and how we got where we are now, today, as you begin to read our story. You are my muses. And this is our creation.