Friday, December 30, 2011

Challenge Accepted

Wednesday night I tried an exercise class as a method of cross-training for my second half marathon coming up in February. I'm sure many of you are familiar with Spin classes. Some of you shudder at the very mention of the name as you see a brief flash of yourself sweating, gasping for breath, and fighting the urge to throw up---much like the image I see in my own head of myself as I attempted to make it through an hour of pedaling against burning muscles.

If I didn't know the instructor is such a godly woman, I'd swear she was a devil on a Spin bike pedaling furiously to the backdrop of heavy metal debauchery. And yes, I do believe that was a wicked smile on her lips as she bellowed at all of her sweaty subjects to turn it to a 7. What?! Seven?! I'm dying here on a 5, woman! At first I at least went through the motions of pretending to turn the evil little tension knob, but as the class progressed, I shamelessly abandoned my quest of maintaining appearances.

Instead, I concentrated on the sweat that plastered my hair to my face and ran down the length of my back and wondered why there was no trash can in the room in case I lost my battle with cycling-induced nausea.

See, here's the deal. I'll be back at that class every week until I can make it a minute and fifty-eight seconds while pedaling at 100% capacity on a 10. As Barney Stinson would say, "challenge accepted." (How I Met Your Mother fans, I salute you.) That Spin bike will not get the best of me. I will not go down without a fight. I'll be there sweating and hyperventilating each week because that sweat reminds me that I'm strong. It reminds me that my body was made to accomplish things other than having four kids. It reminds me that God put a fire in all of us that is meant to burn bright in many different areas of life once it's lit.

So, I'll be back. I just may bring a trash can with me next time.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Doody! Doody!

Okay, I could spend my energy writing about our holiday trip to Carrollton, which was simultaneously a huge blessing and a huge source of stress, but instead I'm opting to start the post Christmas blogging season with a funny little glimpse into the mind of a 22-month-old kid just trying to figure things out.

Before you read on, here is my disclaimer. IF YOU DO NOT HAVE CHILDREN OR ARE EASILY GROSSED OUT BY DISCUSSIONS OF BODILY FUNCTIONS (I'm talking to you, Meghan), STOP READING NOW. If you like a good laugh or a frank discussion on the challenges of potty training, read on. Please forgive my Caddyshack reference in the title, too. I couldn't resist.



A few weeks ago, our daughter pooped on her little tiny toilet thanks to the bribe  promise of chocolate. What Jason and I were unprepared for was her reaction--sheer terror and horror when she saw her deposit (see, I can discuss this without being terribly crass). We've been trying to figure out the problem since and have tossed around numerous theories that include everything from her being afraid of a frog shaped tiny toilet to deeper Freudian musings on the anal stage of development.

We see that she's getting ready to potty train. She loathes being wet and as a result is constantly taking off her Pull Up and leaving it in random places. Who doesn't like a good scavenger hunt for a Pull Up with an occasional bonus of stepping in a puddle of pee? She also informs us when a number two is brewing and frets about it until she completes the job. (Who does number two work for?) What puzzles us is her absolute refusal to set foot near her potty to do any business other than reading a good book or taking a load off after playing.

This morning I think I found my answer. My daughter is scared of turds. I don't know how else to say it. She told me it was coming, so I hurried to bathe her. I left the room to go grab her potty, and I heard a whine that led to a shriek of terror. I dashed back into the room to see her scrambling from one end of the tub to the next trying to escape the floater that was chasing her. I pulled the drain and snatched a towel from under the sink while trying to reassure her that all was well.

"It's just poopy, sweetheart. Everyone poops--it's okay."

She was not buying it. As I reached to scoop her up, she backed away one more time with wide-eyed worry as the object of her anxiety inched its way near her. When she was safely nestled in my arms, she looked down at the tub and said "Bye, poopy." I guess every bathtub turd is less frightening when the two of you are not occupying the same space.

So there you have it. My daughter is scared of turds, and I'm at a loss as to how to handle this problem as we get ready to move on to the next stage of her development. Do we personify the little guys and try to make them seem more friendly to her? This method might get confusing once we tell her to wash the poop germs off her hands when she's done. Do we come up with a little story about how all turds are just looking for a drain to make it back to the ocean/sewer? She is a big fan of Finding Nemo.

We could go very technical and explain the digestive process. This route is what we took with the boys, who in turn made me read the part about how excess food turns into poopy and is pushed out through the rectum OVER and OVER and OVER. I'm sure it will come to us, and I'll be a bit saddened to put potty training behind us for the last time, hopefully without completely traumatizing our daughter. These are the days.

P.S. Honey, I swear one day I'll make a decent living at this writing gig, and all of your shame and embarrassment will be worth it. Don't stop believing, dude.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Here Ya' Go, Santa! Have My Entire Paycheck

I have sticker shock from the layaway receipt at Walmart. Rollback, my tail. Sure, clearly Walmart usually has the lowest prices, but isn't there anyone who can help a gal with four little kids who are still mastering the concept of greed versus humility? My seven-year-old is really starting to grasp the art of giving, but the other three are still little capitalists.

If we were better planners or had extra income we could tuck away each month, we wouldn't be caught looking like deer in headlights the second week of December. Huh? What? Christmas came again this year? What a surprise! I did not see that one coming. Yep, that's me. To borrow a favorite line from Elf, "That's shocking."

Jason and I are still not completely sure of the details of Santa's spread. Gone are the days when we can lay out an arsenal of inexpensive little gifts and see their eyes light up. I'm relishing this Christmas with Scout because it's only a matter of time till she puts "iPad" down on her wish list (which, by the way, I had a pre-k student do). The boys did beg me to select a child from the Angel Tree at the Y, so deep down, I know the lessons life has taught us since we moved here are not completely lost. Good luck shopping, all you fellow Christmas elves! May the force (and a good deal) be with you.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Kid Can Get Your Kid to Pee on Furniture...and My Other Kid Will Tattle on Him

Last Saturday, my rockstar friend Cindy invited me and three out of my four kids to eat dinner at her house. The plan was to let the kids play and to enjoy some much needed and hard to come by time hanging out with a good girlfriend. God bless her husband, who not only cooked burgers and hotdogs, but also endured a noisy dinner that involved getting up multiple times and chewing our food to the backdrop of fart jokes and fake burps.

After dinner we migrated to the backyard, where a fire pit sat popping and waiting for eager little ones to roast marshmallows. When the kids emptied the first bag and retreated inside to play, the grown ups broke out a second bag along with a pack of graham crackers and the largest chocolate bar I've ever laid eyes upon. I was bulldozing my way through my third s'more when Lawson burst through the screen door and declared his friend had peed on the couch.

What?! As the Pre-K teacher of Cindy's son, this little story seemed highly unlikely. Cindy's husband went upstairs to investigate, and I warily did a mental checklist of which Jones boy might have inspired this new development. When her husband returned, he detailed pee puddles on their couch and chair upstairs. When we asked in shocked voices (well, mine was really mock shock because I had already braced myself for what was coming) why he did it, the explanation was simple: Hudson and Lawson told me to do it.

I took the march of shame into the house to call down my little instigators. When I posed the question, "did you tell you friend to pee on the couch?" Lawson looked me squarely in the eyes and said no. Hudson, on the other hand, looked squarely at the spot on the wall above my right shoulder and answered the same way as his brother. Seeing an opening, I admonished Lawson for telling his friend to do such a thing, to which Hudson adamantly responded, "Lawson didn't say anything!"

Lawson was off the hook, so I posed the same question to Hudson. With wide-eyed indignation and a firm hold on his innocence, he declared, "I didn't tell him to pee on the couch! I told him to pee on the stairs!"

Sigh. Not only did my second born child inspire his buddy to do something totally out of character (which by the way is also totally out of character for Hudson), my third son felt it was his civic duty to march downstairs and totally rat him out. Their buddy got a time-out, and my little man will be working on an apology note to his friend this week. I can't help but find humor in the situation, but I know I do so at the risk of undermining the hilarious inappropriate nature of the offense. Needless to say, I will host the next gathering so that any errant urination is at my expense. It's the least I can do.

Monday, December 5, 2011

It's Just Life, and It's a Good One

The holidays so far have been a hodge podge of meaningful moments, stressful disagreements, and sometimes hilarious plans gone awry. We decided to decorate our Christmas tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but a delay meant that my blaring of holiday music and menagerie of Christmas ornaments directly conflicted with the Georgia game. The perfect, poignant family afternoon I envisioned in my mind was tarnished by my husband's diverted attention, and after my complaints started escalating toward an argument, our decorating was delayed half an hour as a compromise. He finished the game, I turned the cheesy Christmas music back on, and decorating (translation: my favorite annual walk down Memory Lane) resumed.

I'd like to say from the outside looking in that it was a Norman Rockwell painting waiting to happen, but in all actuality, ornaments were broken, Scout wandered off to roll her baby stroller through the house instead of admiring the tree, and I glued two of my fingers to Camden's favorite homemade ornament in an attempt to salvage it after I dropped and broke it. The chaos was ultimately what gave the day its poignancy, and for a moment, I tried to memorize every detail of the excitement on the boys' faces, the concentration in my husband's eyes as he worked to repair his Lincoln Memorial ornament, and the swelling love I felt in my heart for my little zoo crew.


Yesterday we set out to see Santa at Bass Pro Shop, but we were once again delayed by a football game (in his defense, he missed the game the weekend before to watch the parade of boats down River Street). We rolled out of the driveway at 4:20 in an attempt to make it to the south side by 5:00. Seriously, we never stood a chance, but we had to show the kids we tried. My gas light came on before we even made it off the island, but I was determined not to stop. At 5:03, we rolled into the parking lot at Bass Pro Shop with only one, very unhappy kid awake.

We formed a plan to see Santa next weekend and compromised by agreeing to take them to Toys R Us. At that point, gas was a critical factor in the equation, so I found the nearest Parker's. Tension was running high, and as the hubs stood waiting at the pump, I frantically dug for my wallet--which of course was sitting on the kitchen counter back on Wilmington Island. Jason, who almost never leaves home without his wallet and his keys, managed to pull out pocket lint when he reached for his.

So, we sat at the gas station coming up with a third plan with our new goal being simply to find a way out of the south side (no offense, Georgetown friends) and back onto the comforts of our island. Publix! I had a checkbook! As I got out of the car in the Publix parking lot with my checkbook in hand, it suddenly dawned on my I had no I.D. After digging through the car hoping ten bucks would magically materialize from under the seats, I marched determinedly into the store and told a haphazard, funny tale to the kind gentleman behind the counter, who promptly laughed, took pity on me, and let me cash a check for twenty bucks.

As I pulled out of the parking lot in triumph and prepared to head back to the gas station, I hit the cart return with my van. I could only dissolve into giggles at that point, though Jason found it far less entertaining. The one thing I've learned in five years of driving a mama mobile is to let the vanity fly out the window. It's a kid carting machine, and it serves its purpose well. That cart return never stood a chance against my old girl, and she emerged with nary a scratch.

Our life is a series of perfect mishaps and unexpectedly touching moments of chaos. I often wonder if Jason and I will be bored when our tenure bringing up such extraordinary little creatures is complete and our house is quiet. This blog has given me an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a family and realize that when you're in it for the long haul, there is no such thing as a wrong turn--just opportunities to learn and grow and laugh at yourselves. This Christmas, the imperfection of my life is what makes it the best kind of life to have.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ode to Mom Guilt

Ah, Mommy Guilt, the most plaguing and underestimated of all the guilts. It starts as a nagging undercurrent of panic and self-doubt the moment the nurse leaves you on the curb with your wrinkled, helpless newborn in your arms as you wait for your husband to bring the car around to go home. The entire ride home from the hospital may as well be the first time you've been a passenger in a car and looked out the window at your surroundings. The whole world looks completely different, and the perspective through which that familiar drive home is filtered has now been forever altered.

You're a mom. You are half of the responsible party for creating life, you've spent forty weeks growing a person, and now you've got to figure out how to raise a tiny human without completely damaging your child's capacity for happiness and self-worth. No pressure.

If I've learned anything in my seven years as a mother, it's that Mom Guilt never disappears. Rather, it undergoes its own unique metamorphosis that parallels every stage of my children's development. When Camden was two weeks old, I felt guilty because I couldn't get him to latch and traded water blisters and tears for baby formula. Now that he's seven and a headstrong, dramatic, hilarious individual, I feel guilty because I get frustrated with his histrionics more quickly than I should. I worry I'm not promoting his self-worth enough because sometimes I'm just so exhausted from fighting the battle that comes with bringing up a strong-willed child.

With Hudson I feel guilty because he's the middle child, and I don't always know the right ways to boost his self-esteem. I worry Lawson will get lost in the shuffle of four children because he is the most laid back and accommodating of all of our children. Surprisingly, I feel pretty confident in my abilities to handle Scout right now, though I know my fair share of juicy, guilty morsels of sleepless nights lie ahead.

I can't completely bash my friend Mom Guilt, though. It's the voice in my head that tells me to take a step back when I need to or the overpowering urge to hug my children out of the blue. It is part of my motivation to pray with my children on the way to school each morning after an inevitable WWF smack down just to get everyone in the car. It's why I roll my window down to call after them that I love them once they pile out of the van each day just so I know they heard at least one positive word from me to take with them. It's behind every napkin note in their lunch boxes and every "I'm sorry" I utter to them when I lose my temper and handle myself in a disappointing fashion.

Mom Guilt is a double-edged sword of inadequacy and accountability. Every mom has experienced it in some fashion, and every mom has considered how to incorporate it into her daily life without feeling consumed by it. Just in case no one reminds you today (because motherhood is by nature a job without immediate positive feedback), know that what you do is important and of great value. To borrow my favorite tag line from Nick Jr. (a very reputable source), "We're not perfect. We're parents."

 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Stink I Need A Wubbing Tag

Tonight I took a big step in letting go. I emailed Lawson's teacher about having him evaluated for speech. He's my baby boy, and he has the sweetest, wee voice and mischievous smile. His challenges with certain sounds have never phased him, and when we repeat something especially cute that he says, he smiles a sly smile and basks in the attention. I know it's time, though. His vocabulary is growing, and sometimes his words contain more than one sound that he struggles with. There are many occasions I have to ask him to repeat himself and then listen closely because I didn't catch what he said the first time. He needs to work on his "s" sounds, "r" sounds, "j" sounds, "th" sounds, and "l" sounds. It seems like a long list, yet I'm sad about the thought of his losing his sweet little pronunciations.

I've spent the past few years hiding a smile every time he told me something he "stinks" (thinks). He always asks me not to get hand sanitizer on the "stumb" (thumb) he sucks because it tastes so bad. (Clearly he doesn't grasp the way germs work since the thumb he puts in his mouth is the one that needs the most sanitizer.) He loves double looped tags that he can rub together when he's sleepy, and even Jason and I catch ourselves calling it his "wubbing tag."

It feels like if Lawson learns to correct all of his language quirks, he'll seem like more of a big boy to me than my little man. Already it's hard to imagine that Camden was ever as small as Lawson is when he was in pre-k, though pictures from two years ago clearly demonstrate he was. For some reason unknown to me, I have developed a natural inclination to treat Lawson like the baby because he was my baby for so long. He's still my youngest boy, and watching him and Hudson, for that matter, grow in independence this year has been exciting and sad all at the same time.

Bringing up a strong, independent old soul like Camden, our oldest, has made the path somewhat easier, but I feel much more protective of his younger siblings for some reason. Camden came out ready to greet the world and eager to engage in every aspect of life. Hudson has carefully tested the waters of every situation he's been placed in and proceeded with caution and sensitivity at every turn. Lawson is my go-with-the-flow guy, and I worry sometimes he may have gotten lost in the shuffle because he is so laid back. He's in elementary school now, and I see the amount of knowledge he's gaining increasing tremendously each day. His confidence is growing, too, and every week he comes home talking about a new friend. I looked at him today and realized--despite how hard it will be for me-- I need to let him be a big kid.

I shouldn't be afraid of watching my kids grow older (even though sometimes I am), but I know how much I'll miss his little Boston accent r's when they're gone. Maybe Scout will have her own funny little word sounds for me to enjoy for a few short years.    

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Onomatopoeia--BLAM!

Somewhere out there I hope there are fellow writers, English nerds, former students, and gatherers of trivial knowledge who appreciate the blog title. It's one of my favorite words to say, and I recently taught it to my kids. Onomatopoeia is a word that imitates the sound it describes, like BAM! and POP! So far the kids just like to say it five times fast and laugh over how funny it comes out when it's strung together, but I couldn't resist defining it for them when we came across it in their children's stories. 

In what I thought was a cute and clever move, I bought plates and napkins for Camden's birthday party that were covered in onomatopoeia words. See, look how appealing and fun:



But, POW! My plan backfired, and I was faced with a crying, disappointed seven-year-old who had his heart set on Pokemon party napkins and plates. I truly underestimated my nerdy mom appeal because I am apparently the only one who thought these were cool. Seriously. I tried telling some of the moms I didn't know yesterday (because making new friends is my favorite) about my funny little conundrum, and you know what I heard in response? Crickets.

To further burst my bubble, Byrd's Karate actually provided me with plates, napkins, and tablecloths, which was in fact a pretty awesome and unexpected surprise that relegated my purchase unnecessary. But you know what? I'm still going to tuck my little plates and napkins away and smile with smug pride at my find because I believe hiding within every mom and dad is a secret nerd gem that should be nurtured.

You may be nerdy about the law (ahem, Jason) or nerdy about grammar (guilty) or nerdy about cooking, scrapbooking, hair products, sports, makeup, bug species, or the proper way to fold a crease in pants (Jason again--he's pretty much a rare hybrid nerd species). Whatever you're nerdy about, embrace it and be proud and passionate about it. It makes you unique, and it will give your kids great stories to laugh about when they roast you at family get-togethers years from now.

Recognize and support your little one's nerdy passions, too, despite the fact they may be as fleeting as the seasons. Right now, my kids are nerdy about Pokemon and bugs (Camden), assembling ANYTHING from puzzles to Bionicles (Hudson), drawing and coloring (Lawson), and garnering as much positive attention as possible through undeniable cuteness (Scout). We try to learn about their interests when we can, even when Hudson shakes his head in disgust at my inability to read the Lego instructions properly. I get to be part of their little worlds, and I get to let them into my dorky little world, too. I already garner eye rolls from them, so I shudder to think of all the ways I will embarrass them during their teenage years. Hopefully I'm cultivating something strong enough to fight the sour attitude of puberty.  

Ultimately, I will probably return the plates and napkins to Wal Mart and get my ten bucks back, but I like to believe I'll think of them fondly every time I see BLAM! written somewhere. Carpe diem, my nerdy friends!    

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Beauty and Blessing of Grandparents

A few months ago I was suddenly struck by the memory of my Granny Jean singing next to me in church with her soft, sweet voice. I had spent years of my childhood at her house, spending every New Year's Eve with her and, once my parents divorced, every third weekend (the weekend my dad had to work his shift at Georgia Power). As an anxious kid, I never made it through the night in her dark, creepy den on the pullout sofa with my brother. I somehow always migrated to her bed and eventually quit trying to sleep anywhere else.

After my parents' divorce, Granny Jean bore a large brunt of the anger I felt. She was always patient with me, letting me skulk through her house with a surly look on my face or mumble incoherent answers to her questions. She let me sleep late on Saturday mornings and always had buttered wheat toast with grape jelly waiting for me once I dragged myself out of bed. Sometimes we could convince her to take us to Hardee's and then to the playground at Bowdon Elementary School. I wonder if these long afternoons with us were tedious or tiring to her after she had paid her dues bringing up four boys.

On Sundays skipping out on church was not an option. Though I'm glad for her determination now, those Sundays at Bowdon Baptist were torture for me. There was a street sign posted adjacent to the parking lot that read "Slow...Church," and I remember thinking the sign was there to warn us the service was boring. To make matters worse, I was an angry, confused girl in the throes of puberty who was being brought up primarily by her dad. He tried really hard during those dark times, but for a few years, my hair was a disaster, I had huge pink plastic glasses, and my self-esteem and confidence levels were extremely low. I felt like an outsider in Sunday school because I was the only one who didn't go to Bowdon, and my pain each time I was there was even more marked than usual.

Granny Jean rarely lost her temper with me. She somehow just knew I was hurting and tried her best to help by giving me unconditional love and stability. She told stories of how excited my Papa Hal was that I was a little girl, and often reminded me of her favorite "Molly story" involving my deep love for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. One of the few high points of sitting next to her in church was listening to her sing the hymns. Her voice was soft but strong and rich with conviction.

When I was old enough to stay at home alone on Daddy's work weekends, I felt free of Sunday church service, but I always looked forward to Sunday nights at Granny Jean's house. She cooked a delicious meal complete with homemade sourdough bread and the best buttermilk pound cake I've ever tasted. She would reminisce about my dad's and uncles' childhoods and tell stories of my Papa Hal. She would rattle off the list of friends she visited or took to the doctor that week. She took piano lessons and was a member of the Canasta Club. She never remarried once my Papa Hal passed away in 1986, and I often wondered if she was lonely. I admired her independence, and her sweet smile always comforted me.

In 1997, I returned to Bowdon Baptist to attend church with my college sweetheart, and my relationship with Granny Jean flourished. She was disappointed when my boyfriend and I broke up after four years, but Jason's charm and love for me and our kids have long eased her disappointment.  We were at her house to celebrate my 26th birthday the night we broke the news to my family that we were expecting our first baby. Interacting with her after I became a wife and mother further deepened my connection to her.

In the past few years, she has developed memory problems, and her degeneration has been heartbreaking for me to witness. In August 2010, my parents brought her to Savannah, and we spent a day pushing her in a wheelchair her through the city, often with Scout sitting in her lap. The last night she was here, she suddenly got up, gathered her things, took her keys out of her purse, and said she better get home before it got too late. When Dad and Cathy gently tried to explain to here where she was, she didn't remember how she got to my house or that I had even moved a few months prior. I sobbed once they left to go back to the hotel.

Old age is certainly not for sissies, and my Granny Jean has never been one to fall into the sissy category. She is firm and stubborn with a kindness that simply radiates from her. Last May she moved to an assisted living facility into the room across the hall from her childhood friend. She has good days and bad days, but right now she remembers me. Her musical voice is quick to ask about "the children" every time we talk, which I'm sad to say isn't as much as it should be. My heart hurts after each conversation, and I sometimes wish such distance wasn't between us.

A few weeks ago, Jason and I joined Granny Jean and my aunt and uncle at Bowdon Baptist's homecoming celebration. As soon as the pianist struck the first keys to the hymn, Granny Jean's voice rang out strong and clear. I was moved to tears at such a personally poignant moment, and I reached over to hold her hand for a moment.

How blessed I have been for her play such a strong role in my life. She had a profound influence on the determination I found to overcome the pain of my childhood and a diagnosis of clinical depression when I was twenty. She helped make me the mother I am today, and her enduring love for my grandfather is inspirational. Our third son is named Lawson Charlie in honor of her father (Charlie Aubrey Kidd), her (Charlie Jean Kidd Steed), and my father (Charlie Aubrey Steed). Our kids will carry with them the joy of knowing her and experiencing her love and kindness. I treasure every moment I've shared with her, and I will continue to admire her spunk and beautiful spirit even after she forgets my name and beyond.    

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

And So It Begins

When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I was so excited. I felt as if I had officially ushered myself right into adulthood simply by choosing to procreate. Jason and I had only been married for six months, and we found ourselves in a dual alternate universe of newlyweds and expectant parents. I was a cow by the time our first anniversary rolled around, which helped me feel a lot less guilty about indulging in our frozen wedding cake.

When I checked into the hospital for an induction with Camden, I was stoked instead of scared. I have never been one to back down from a challenge, and at the end of this challenge, I got to hold my son. What could be better? HA! I really should have brushed up on my details of what degrading smaller events within the big event come with delivering a baby, particularly your first baby. After a very effective enema, twenty hours of laboring sans epidural, an impatient jackass anesthesiologist when I caved and got the epidural, four hours of resting, an hour of puking, three hours of pushing, and lots and lots of stitches, my work was done. The reward was still spectacularly grand, even after the loss of my dignity and my modesty. I was holding a nine pound little miracle.

Camden Henry Jones was sunshine incarnate right from the start. We had a mild setback around three weeks thanks to colic, but $9 cans of formula saved the day (and broke our budget). His spit-up smelled even more revolting than average spit-up, but he was all smiles once again. He never wanted to be little. He smiled on command at three weeks, rolled over at five weeks, and carried on full cooing conversations by six weeks. He was walking like a champ by the time he was ten months old, and before he was a year old, he could rattle off sounds for a dozen different animals and speak in full sentences.

I was in love with my son. When I sent him home with my parents the night before my induction with Hudson, I cried bittersweet tears because I realized it would never again be just me and my little buddy at home. Of course, the trade-off for that loss has been an incredibly adventurous gain, and through the years, Camden has proven to be an engaging, energetic, enigma of a kid (okay, so I went a little crazy with the alliteration. Just roll with it).

Once Hudson arrived, and especially after Lawson arrived, Camden naturally settled into his role as big brother and oldest child. Being the oldest implies a certain right to bossiness and a tendency to push the little guys around. It was when these things started happening that I recognized I was dealing with a strong-willed child. Don't get me wrong--he is still sunshine, but now there is a very challenging side to his personality that I've had to learn to navigate along with the sunny sides. In short, he is like a carbon copy of me, only much more confident than I was at his age.

He gives everything he does 100% and seethes when he doesn't come out on top. He's very articulate but knows few boundaries in terms of conversational topics. The first time he met my friend Margie, he introduced himself and declared, "I'm home from school today because I have red poop. But we think it might have just been the spaghetti." His teachers tell me he is an angel at school. Like me, he is always eager to please and receive praise (his love language).

He is also extremely empathetic and sensitive, and things that upset him stay with him for inordinate lengths of time. He worries about the day our animals will go to heaven because he'll miss them so much, and he frets when he feels his brothers are leaving him out. He is an active participant in the world around him. He navigates life with a deep connection to and awareness of his feelings about subjects as trivial as how much he loves climbing trees or as heavy as how sad he felt when a peer was bullied at school.

On Monday, he turned seven years old. I can't believe it's been so long since I checked into the hospital with such a bold naivete of how much he would change my life. It's amazing to me what capacity parents have to love their children and how interesting it is to learn and understand each of their different personalities. I know Camden will bring me incredible joy in the coming years, and I also suspect I will fight many battles with my headstrong, independent, quirky little soul. My tenure as a mom began with him, and it has been a beautiful journey so far.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tales of a Nutbag Working Mom

Three weeks ago I made a difficult choice to go back to work. I've worked sporadically as a freelance writer since we moved here, and while it's been a fantastic job, it's not always the most reliable income. In an effort to have the best of both worlds, I took a position as a part-time Pre-K teacher at the wonderful school Hudson and Lawson attended last year (the best of both worlds part being that it's part-time and allows me to drop off and pick up the boys and still have some time to spend with Scouty P).

Let me first say the job is a huge blessing on multiple levels (some more reliable income, great faculty and staff, awesome little dudes and dudettes). Let me then say the job is a huge adjustment. As a former middle school and high school teacher, I was a little awestruck by the preparation and pre-planning that goes into walking a group of fourteen four-year-olds through the construction of a paper bag frog puppet. I am in week two of my new gig, and every day is a bit of a learning experience.

For example, do not let four-year-olds use green tempura paint to turn a brown paper bag into a green paper bag, which will later serve as the body of a frog puppet. The result is a gloppy, torn mess that is too glued together to allow little hands to open the bag and animate their puppets. Epic fail for Mrs. Jones. Now, on a positive note, the little ones seem to find my dorky personality pretty funny. Score one for Mrs. Jones. Finally an audience who appreciates my childish sense of humor and willingness to humiliate myself in front of crowds.

The ultimate lesson I'm learning is that transitions are hard for preschoolers. Whether it's moving from a coloring center to a cutting and gluing center or giving up a favorite toy once I start belting out the cleanup song, four-year-olds don't like to transition. In many ways I sympathize. Sometimes grownups don't like to transition either, despite how necessary the change may be.

I hope my four kids aren't too greatly damaged psychologically by the frantic mess their mommy has been the past few weeks, and I hope the guilt I feel for being tired or frustrated with them eases once I really get in a groove and better master the art of balancing work and motherhood. They're going through big changes, too. As a first grader, Camden has homework every night. Hudson is adjusting to being at school for kindergarten every day for seven hours a day, and Lawson is preparing to start Pre-k at his big brother's school in exactly one week. Scout is going with the flow as the fourth child always finds a way to do.

They are the core of my heart, and I pray each day they'll eventually learn to shake their heads knowingly, roll their eyes, and say "Watch out, everyone. Mom is just being a little bit of nutbag right now." And then maybe give me their ultimate best behavior until the nutbag moments pass. Hey, a mom can dream, right?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Scouty P Strikes Again

My daughter is an interesting creature. Not only does she entertain us with the daily influx of knowledge she displays, but she is also a strange mixture of femininity and tomboy. She is on one hand a cuddle bug, and on the other hand prepared to straight up cut someone who tries to mess with her Pooh bear (security!). In fact, her second full sentence was spoken last week. It was "those are my Pooh bears."

Scout has what I like to call a multi-faceted personality. She twirls adorably to music, tries on clothes and shoes when she is supposed to be napping, and squeals out a girly "no" like it was a six syllable word. Then there is street punk Scout who bit a chunk out of Lawson's back for no apparent reason a few days ago, bitch slapped another baby girl at a recent photo shoot, and head butted me tonight in a toddler wrestling move gone wrong. Maybe I can start calling her Diamond Dallas Scout.

The tomboy side of her is probably inevitable considering we humans are in some part who we are because of the environment in which we are reared. (Anyone up for a spirited nature versus nurture debate will find a boring adversary in me as I put great stock in both sides of the coin.) While many of my friends' daughters comb my house looking for baby dolls and strollers when they visit, Scout loves to sit and play with monster trucks or the boys' toy race track. This week I found her holding two giant plastic insects and reenacting an epic bug battle. Not long ago Jason bought her little fairy dolls with brushes and combs, but they were quickly tossed aside for a GI doll.

God bless the boy who tries to date her one day. She is one tough, loud, cute, and spoiled little cookie. She is also the sun around which four planets in this house revolve. They're called Planet Daddy and Planet Big Brothers 1 through 3. I foresee some melodramatic scene playing out in fifteen years or so that involves a justifiably frustrated Scout standing on the front porch fuming and gesticulating wildly because the Jones men have driven away yet another school chum she would like to call her boyfriend. In the meantime I will try my hardest to instill in her boundless love and some sense of awareness that she is not, in fact, the center of the universe. Yeah, I know. Good luck with that.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Survival Rules for Moms of Boys

Rule #1

The grown-up bathroom should be a kid-free zone. Otherwise a mom like myself seeking just one fleeting moment of privacy to do her business won't be caught off-guard when she sits down in a puddle of little boy sprinkle and slides unexpectedly to the back of the seat. This toilet seat should be the one place in the house a mom can plant her booty without fear.

Rule #2

Be prepared to spend significant amounts of your budget on kids' shoes. God apparently instilled little men with some sort of mutated Sasquatch gene that leads their feet to grow ONE AND A HALF sizes in just six months' time.

Rule #3

Be prepared to take drastic measures to deal with the crippling mom guilt associated with letting your kids walk around in shoes that are one and a half sizes too small. These methods include but are not limited to: Prozac, counseling, vodka, long jags of crying to your girlfriends over coffee, and/or frivolous purchasing of random toys to make up for the injury to little toes.

Rule #4

Don't fight the inevitable "trickle down" effect of boy habits upon female siblings. My 18-month-old daughter is already walking around peeing on trees and crashing monster trucks.

Rule #5

Lower your standards when it comes to the levels of "appropriateness" on conversational topics about poop, pee, itchy "nuts, privates, or weiners," butt cracks, and burping and farting. Or in the alternative, prepare yourself to fight a really disgusting uphill battle.

Rule #6

Add "What the hell is that smell?" to your everyday mommy vernacular. Trust me, it will come in handy.

Rule #7

Expand your understanding of the laws of physics. A little boy's inertia, velocity, and gravitational potential energy defy the traditional framework which you have up to this point been taught.

Rule #8

Allow embarrassment to wash over you at every opportunity so that eventually, you are virtually immune to the effects of tantrums in department stores, your friends seeing your living room littered with tampons because the boys were sword fighting and/or singing into a teeny, tiny microphones, your son announcing you "pee out your booty" when he is in the bathroom stall with you, and his verbatim repetition to the neighbors of the questionable conversation you and your husband had when you thought little ears were otherwise engaged.

Rule #9

Have a frank (pun intended--you'll see), honest answer ready when your son panics and asks you why his private parts are "tall." In fact, before you reach that point, get over your reluctance to discuss the male anatomy altogether. He will discover it around three months of age and be fascinated with it the rest of his life, so you better get used to it and teach him to be comfortable with his own body. But not too comfortable, mind you. You don't want a seven-year-old who watches TV like Al Bundy or unabashedly "adjusts" himself in front of random strangers.

Rule #10

Give and receive love from your little boys freely and abundantly. The bond between mother and son is special and should be nurtured and appreciated. It should also grow and change as your son grows and changes. Remember, no one wants to have their kid referred to as a "titty baby" when he is in the horrific throes of puberty. And we women of course do not wish to be referred to as a "monster-in-law" one day when our sons are married because we had difficulty recognizing boundaries and cutting the apron strings when the time was right.

Bonus Rule

Clean a boys' bathroom at least every two days. The whole once a week thing won't cut it--unless you plan on sharing your findings with highly specialized scientists seeking to discover new species of bacteria.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Have Kids, Will Travel

My parents are headed to Savannah with my niece and nephew in tow, and I feel my anxiety level building by the minute. With four kids in five years, my life is inevitably really loud and fairly chaotic. I mean, I'm no Octomom or anything, but you can imagine three boys wrestling while an 18-month-old tries to get in an ankle bite is a tad stressful. Thankfully I can bear fun-filled chaos and really only start to feel my sanity slip away when whining and fighting dominate the day's background noise.

My parents, on the other hand, rather enjoy their quiet, wrestle-free existence, and I can't say I blame them. My dad more than paid his dues when he raised a son and a headstrong daughter who spent the first nine years following her parents' divorce being pissed off at the world, and I can vouch for the fact that my stepmom brought up two quiet, calm kids. My stepbrother isn't afraid to speak his mind but does so in a very level-headed, diplomatic kind of way, and my stepsister is a soft-spoken mom balancing a nursing job with raising two very cute kids. Her kids, however, tip the scales of calmness in a decidely different direction than my zoo crew.    

So needless to say, I'm anxious to see how this whole scenario pans out. I will relish having a house full of noise, but my parents may have to hide out on my back porch in order to stave off anything from migraines to panic attacks. I really hope my stepmom is bringing some bourbon in case of emergencies. I've always said there really is no way to explain the phenomenon of three boys in three years to an outsider, but I truly hope that in staying with us, my parents get to see the fun nuances of our lives. Each of my kids is such a beautiful little enigma, and I want now more than ever for all of their grandparents to appreciate that in them. Living far away from family means that there is less time for them to absorb all of the joy that comes from watching my kids grow. I really hope the noise doesn't drown out the unique splendor of living in a house full of aspiring greatness. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sleep? Is That Like a Necessary Thing?

Coffee has been a truly essential part of my life since 2004. Before I graduated to the hard stuff, I recall choking back gas station cappuccino in college and thinking I had a pretty hard lot life because I had to stay up three nights in a row every time midterms or finals rolled around.

 
Little did I know that true sleep deprivation takes place slowly over time. It's not a three day caffeine bender followed by two days of sleeping till noon and then partying like a rock star to celebrate the end of the semester. It's a tedious chipping away of your sanity. It's kid puke in the middle of the night. It's a toddler in tears at four a.m. because she peed out of her diaper and woke up cold and cranky. It's bad dreams, requests for water, and cries of I'm hot! I'm cold! It's dark! I'm scared!

For the past three nights, it's been an 18-inch sliver of space for my slumber. I use the term slumber very loosely. Picture me teetering on the edge of one side of the mattress with a hot, restless (albeit cuddly) little monkey glued to my back. Picture a beautiful but inaccessible oasis of space in the middle of the bed and then a five-year-old just beyond that area who is determined to shove my husband off the other side of the bed.

We decided long ago to let our kids into our bed if they ever wandered in because Jason wanted them to feel like they could come to us for comfort when they needed it. I don't disagree with that sentiment to this day, but I don't think we knew we would have four kids when we made that call. We certainly never anticipated we would have two in the bed more than one or two nights in a row. In fact, it's actually unusual for us to have that situation for three nights straight.

Maybe this is my grown-up version of midterms (except now I chug Maxwell House Columbian roast in the mornings instead of gas station French vanilla cappuccino in the middle of the night). Maybe there is a celebration of some sort looming aroud the corner. Only instead of celebrating the end of the semester, we're celebrating a good night's sleep (which these days falls under the "at least five hours" category). Instead of sleeping till noon, we'll let the kids play computer games when they wake up, and we'll sleep till 8:00 a.m. (True rebellion for thirty-something parents.) Rather than partying like rock stars with kegs at the nearest frat house, we'll party like rock stars with movie night and Diet Dr. Pepper. It will be epic. Trust me, the world isn't ready for that level of debauchery.   

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Why? Why? Why?

I am working hard to get into the minds of my children as they plague me with a variety of the persistent questions beginning with the word "why?" I welcome the word when it is followed by innocent, inquisitive words like "did The Fresh Beat Band get a new Marina?" But as they get older their questions get harder. I had to explain cancer last week, and their devoted prayers to baby Wynn McBrayer have opened up a great deal of questions about life and death and why God just won't make that sweet boy's arteries grow. Some questions I don't have answers for, but I always try to be honest and admit when I don't know.

Some days the "why" is an endless, annoying, whiny, high-pitched tirade of "why does he get more computer time? Why does he get juice first? Why does Scout get to stay up while we're resting? Why are boogers sometimes brown?" Sometimes when I offer them bonus points for picking up toys, I'm presented with the question, "Why does he get to pick up more toys than me?" Seriously? Five seconds ago you were throwing a tantrum because I asked you to pick up any toys, and now you want to file a complaint about being denied the right to pick up more?

My solution is usually to usher them off to their beds for some much needed rest and regrouping while I tend to Scout or relish in the all-too-short moments of quiet. As I sit here, I have my own list of "whys" I would present to the world if it was still permissable and socially acceptable for me to adopt a childish disposition. Assuming you'll play along with me and indulge me to pretend such is the case, here is a list of my questions. Imagine them spoken in a frustrated tone that fully conveys the injustice I feel.

1. Why do I provide my daughter with a delicious lunch followed by S'mores Goldfish only to have her methodically feed them one by one to the dog?

2. Why did God choose to give me such a big mouth that all too often has one or more of my feet shoved into it?

3. Why didn't my husband and I come up with the solution of a secret signal when my filter starts to fail years ago? I could have been spared so much embarrassment. (I can't reveal our new trick for fear you guys will catch on while we're in the middle of a conversation.)

4. Why does my husband have better hair (and eyelashes) than I do? Such a waste. I mean, he can't even put mascara on. Well, I guess he could if it was Halloween or he was living a double life as a tranny. Maybe I can convince him to try it out just one time to satisfy my envious curiosity.

5. Why can't someone invent some kind of cream or non-invasive procedure that restores pre-pregnancy boobs? I'm just saying. Potential millions to be made, people.

6. Why do I always, always, always have some disgusting, sticky, unidentifiable food substance in my hair at all times? Seriously, I've ceased to be embarrassed about it when people point it out. Maa...that's just ravioli again.

7. Why can't it be automatic for mommies to accept playdate invitations to the pool or beach with a "Yes, I'm attending, and I'll be wearing a modest tank suit today." This declaration could spare mommies who dared to bare the shameful title of Hooker Mom in a Bikini. Thank goodness my closest friends and I have developed a rapport that warrants this information essential and provides it without fail or judgment. I have gladly donned my two-piece in order to save a friend's dignity when she found herself swimming in a pool full of tank suits AND one full coverage surf suit.

Tomorrow will bring on another onslaught of whys from my little ones, and I'll tell you I'm secretly glad to be able to respond. What a joy it is for me to have their trust and desire for my opinion. I hope my relationships with them remain strong and honest as they grow because I know their questions for me (and my questions for myself) will only get harder as the years progress. What is your "why" question today? I would love for you to share.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Huh. So That's What That Looks Like.

Today I saw what every mom dreads. My kid was standing on the back patio scratching his head like crazy. I've been waiting for my turn to roll around since Wilmington Island seems to be experiencing a lice epidemic. I'm so thankful the moms who have been through it before me have been willing to share tips on what to look for and how to treat it; otherwise I may have assumed my little Pigpen just needed a bath.

I thought I would probably wretch or at least get a massive case of the heebies jeebies if it happened to us, but the first thing I thought when I saw the dreaded nits was, "Sh*@. There goes my run at the Y today." This thought was immediately followed by dollar signs flipping around in my brain as I tried to wrap my head around the cost of treatment, detergent, and new hairbrushes for all. I very nearly short-circuited once I imagined the energy required to physically hold down four children and treat them with foul smelling chemicals and then envisioned the endless piles of laundry.

My afternoon sucked a big fat one. There was one highlight where an angel in blue scrubs at the Walgreen's drive through pharmacy went and got lice spray for me to purchase through the window, which meant I didn't have to wake Scout up and haul her inside with her three extremely cranky brothers. All three boys have been given crew cuts at Mom's Salon. I am now well versed on what a lice bug looks like (something I have always wondered). I can't open the door to the laundry room because I am in the process of washing everything my kids' heads have ever touched (and basically everything else I own). 

I'm sure during the course of reading this you've wondered why the hell I would blog about my kids having lice. Believe me, my husband already walked into the office and said, "Please tell me you're not blogging about this." But the fact of the matter is every other mom I know who has dealt with it in the past few months is a clean, normal mom just like me (yeah, I consider myself clean but the normal part may be stretching it), and I'm hoping the stigma of lice equalling dirty kids is lifting. Do I really need to worry you guys might think we're nasty because my kid had head lice? I certainly hope not because if I've learned anything from today, it's that no one is immune to the pesky little critters. Well, and that my son was WAY too attached to his hair.

My oldest has been growing his hair out for a year in order to have "surfer hair," and he was way more devastated by the haircut than he was by the fact he had freaking LICE. He cried hysterically for over an hour, gave himself a migraine, and puked all over my kitchen floor. This, my friends, was the icing on today's cake.

I hope my Savannah friends won't start avoiding my calls or act like they don't see me when we happen to be at the Whitemarsh Island Wal Mart at the same time. I plan to carry around my lice spray for the next two weeks in order to calm my frazzled nerves and ward off any lice bug that dares to cross my very pissed off path. Be sure not to sneak up behind me because I'm so jumpy I just might spray you by accident.   

Monday, June 27, 2011

Media Relations

One of the biggest conflicts plaguing me as a mom today revolves around the media available to my kids. We have a DVD player in the car, three computers in the house, and a Wii. Experts will tell you these "luxuries" can eat away at the family dynamic and lead to attention problems in children. I say the lack of these items can eat away at my sanity and lead to a rather lethal form of PMS called Pissy Mom Syndrome.

The truth is I don't often abuse the engaging lure of disney.com or pbskids.org. I try to limit each child to half hour morning and afternoon sessions of computer time because some of the games they play are actually educational. The DVD player in the car is normally reserved for car trips above and beyond 30 minutes. The television is turned on for downtime or as a special treat before bed. There are certain circumstances, however, that warrant exception. These are including but not limited to:

1.) I waited till the last minute to clean the house for a play date and now need to frantically vacuum and hide the unfolded laundry to preserve at least a shred of dignity that will later be ripped from me when one of my kids screams at their friends or throws a punch over a toy disagreement.

2.) Hudson is so irritated with the world that he's declared he hates the planet and hisses like a cat at anyone who comes close. (This may also be an indication of hunger induced devil possession.)

3.) Hudson and Lawson are kicking and punching each other across the space between their car seats and no amount of my threatening their lives from the driver's seat reduces their animosity. 

4.) Camden has torn through the house clapping his hands like a circus monkey screaming "Politoed" for the hundredth time and looked at me with a challenging gleam in his eye and whispered "Pikachu!" when I reprimanded him. (All of you Pokemon virgins who don't know what the heck I'm talking about may breathe a sigh of relief and count yourselves blessed.) 

5.) Scout has climbed on top of the table and spilled whatever liquid she finds up there. Again.

6.) Daddy has been left in charge. 

I completely agree there are times when I should shove my kids out the door to be "real boys" (like they're  Pinocchio or something). But there are also times when it's hot as balls outside and I'm on the brink of heatstroke trying to play with them in the cul de sac in order to feel like a good mom. Yes, we all benefit from my neglecting my appearance and risking a backne breakout from sweating when I'm pitching the ball to my little sluggers. I love it, and it makes me feel happy and connected to them. They love it because Mommy is trying to hang with them on their level. But if the house is an abomination, and I've made them turn their underwear inside out in order to avoid washing their clothes, they need other outlets for entertainment while I get my act together. Legos and Trio blocks are saving graces for us, but don't think I'm afraid to mix a little Mario Cart into the repertoire.

You, my dear readers, may loathe the computer and Wii. You may be shaking your head in indignation and condemning me for using them to my advantage. These are just possibilities I'm going to have to learn to live with if I want to restore order to a crazy day or to give myself a break from all of the noise (and wrestling) in my life. Don't worry--the mom guilt will plague me as my penance, and I'll spend some time today studying up on Pokemon abilities and moves with Camden, building marshmallow toothpick animals with Hudson, letting Lawson explain the proper rubbing tag qualities to me, and reading Dora Goes to the Beach to Scout over and over. When they lay their sleepy little heads down on their pillows, I'll remind myself it's not a bad gig.

   

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Double Sided Tape of Genetics

Anyone who has ever wondered where I get my candor and inappropriate sense of humor should look no further than my Grandmama. She is one of the most influential people in my life. She has been the one I look to for guidance on how to most effectively embrace a zeal for life, how to better love your spouse unconditionally (sometimes by shaking your head in silent laughter at all of his little quirks), and best of all, how to turn a cartwheel, hula hoop, and burp like a trucker.

This morning I listened to a voice mail she left me wishing me Happy Anniversary. I'm always thankful to miss her call on these days because the messages she leaves are priceless and worth re-saving every sixteen days just to listen to and laugh at when I need to be reminded of home. Last year she called and sang a little ditty she made up that boasted a melody somewhere between Happy Birthday and Yankee Doodle Dandy. This year was no disappointment.

She started out innocently enough by telling me she loves me and wants to tell me Happy Anniversary. She then goes on to say how she wanted us to have a good time. The gist of the rest is an absolutely hilarious stream of consciousness that runs something along the lines of "Well, I guess you've already had a good time on other anniversaries because you have four kids, not necessarily on your anniversary but at some point in time." She not only started my day with a laugh, but she reminded me that my lack of pretense (and my slow internal filter) comes from good stock.

Grandmama is one of a kind. She has impeccable hair from weekly trips to her longtime stylist (don't ever expect to catch her at home on Thursday mornings), a fabulous suntan from working in her garden with my Grandpapa, and an enviable shoe collection. I feel more comfortable at her house and in her presence than I do most any place in the world, and Sunday lunches with my family are very near the top of the list of what I miss most about Carrollton. Lunch is never short on grousing from Grandpapa because we're five minutes late, flavorful southern cooking complete with fresh veggies from the garden, and unforgettable belly laughs. No subject is ever too taboo for discussion, and no one can ever show up to her table in a bad mood and leave it still grumpy. My friends love her as much as I do, and she rewards their love by spoiling them with dirt pie, which unfortunately is usually eaten by me before it makes it to them.

We all have positive and negative attributes we inherit from our families. My mother has the same goofy sense of humor as Grandmama and thankfully passed it on to me. My grandpapa and my mom are talented writers, and I like to think a sliver of their talent runs through my veins. My dad is very practical and level headed, and....well, clearly I wish I had inherited a little more of that. My kids have a conglomeration of chromosomes (uh huh, you like that alliteration, don't you?) that make them the intricately designed little creatures they are. I hope I can do the genes I contributed justice by teaching them to love themselves and to love where they come from. Both sides of the genetic gene pool are sticky, but they are purposeful and valuable. Thanks, Grandmama, for adding color to my day and inspiring me to laugh at myself and to try a little harder to be the best mom I can.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Eight Years and Counting

Jason and I will celebrate our eighth anniversary on Tuesday, June 21. I love thinking about our wedding because it was a GREAT day. The weather was absolutely perfect, and all the people I loved were gathered in one place to watch me marry a man who made me feel honored to be his blushing bride.


I was his pregnant bride for anniversaries one, two, and three. I had a LARGE glass of wine on anniversaries four and five to commemorate the fact that I wasn't pregnant, and I was still shaking my head in wonder over a fourth pregnancy when number six rolled around. Our seventh anniversary came on the heels of the upheaval of moving to Savannah, and we celebrated with dinner at Tubby's with all four kids. Yeah, imagine the raised eyebrows and turned heads when we inadvertently walked our kids through the bar at happy hour instead of coming through the door to the dining room. A dinner with tantrums and greasy chicken fingers wasn't exactly romantic, but it was quite fitting for the hilarious challenges we face as parents.

I attended a Bible study this past week that dealt with God choosing to lead us through the wilderness rather than illuminating the easy road as a way to reveal undiscovered potential within ourselves. When the only door that opened after Jason's firm dissolved was in Savannah (at the time a metaphorical wilderness to me), I felt angry and grateful all at the same time. But over the past year, I have discovered a strength, confidence, and sense of independence (and thankfully a better sense of direction) I've never before experienced. When my dad visited in March, he was delighted to see I now even know how to parallel park.

Through everything my husband has been the one I lean on for familiarity and stability. He is a determined, studious kind of guy who balances out my balls to the wall approach to life. He never backs away from the challenge of bringing up four kids, and he is involved with them (and the housework) in a way for which I'm extremely thankful. I know I got lucky with him.

As much as it pains me to admit, I'm not perfect. To add insult to injury, my imperfections heighten Jason's and vice versa. I like to deal with conflict right away--never backing down from the challenge of confrontation. Jason likes to have time to process his feelings and evaluate the conflict without interference from me. I tend to share way too much with people (hence the blog that continually embarrasses my man), and Jason is a very private person. Balance for us on these issues is sometimes a struggle, but we continue to talk and put in the effort to grow in our marriage. Yes, we have a plan for achieving a lifetime together--work at it and laugh at ourselves whenever possible.

Anyone who thinks marriage won't be hard is in for a bumpy road. It's work every day. Hopefully you married someone you really like and who you count as your best friend. Finding that person extraordinarily attractive doesn't hurt either, but do be prepared for the possibility of four children if this is a factor in your marriage (another statement that will embarrass the mister, but he knows I'm right). I can honestly say after eight years, I not only find Mr. Jones delicious, I also count him as my best and most loyal friend. He pisses me off faster than any other person on the planet, but even when he drives me nuts, I still look forward to the moment we apologize and move on about our business of building our beautiful life. To my husband I say a sincere thank you for the best eight years of my life and for the promise of joy and laughter to come. Even in the wilderness, I am blessed to have your hand to hold.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Out of the Mouths of Boys

I wanted to do a blog to put down on paper (er, computer screen) the funny things my little dudes say. Sometimes I feel like I have so many that I can't always dedicate my blogs to them equally.


Camden
Camden is a very bright, inquisitive, articulate kid with the nice added bonus of being all boy--athletic, messy, and endlessly energetic. He's always thinking (and talking but I'm not sure where he got that from). Sometimes when he declares things, he does it so matter-of-factly that I forget he's only six. He is quite obsessive with nature and God's creatures right now. Last month he collected several "pet" ladybugs, which I ultimately convinced him would fare better outside. As we were walking back in, he looked at me and said, "You know what they say, Mom. If you love something, you set it free." Really?! Has he been watching chick flicks or reading chick lit to learn that mantra?

I also had to inform him that his elementary school principal will be moving to a new school next year. He thoughtfully replied, "Well, being a principal is like presidents. You can only serve a certain amount of years." I'm thankful he made this connection and took the transition so well.

He does, however, remain very distressed that I don't know more about Pokemon. Pokemon is his new obsession, and I'm completely lost when he says things about Ash and Water Type Pokemon (what?). Lately he has been frustrated with my ignorance, so he keeps telling me, "You really need to brush up on your Pokemon skills, Mom." Touche.

Hudson
Hudson is quiet, sweet, thoughtful, intelligent, studious, and socially reclusive at times. He also has a nice little silly streak and is a master at putting puzzles and Kung Zhu fighting rings together. I imagine his being the middle child is more difficult than he is able to express as he is constantly trying to assert his place among his siblings. (I never get to be first! Lawson got out before me! Camden has toys and I don't!)

As of yet he hasn't caught on to the fact that we find every opportunity we can to get him to say the word "caterpillar." He reverses the sounds so that it comes out like "cal-uh-pitter," which is one of my favorite funny words right now. He understands the life cycle of the "calepittar" very well, so he never minds explaining it to me. Eventually he'll realize what I'm doing and self-correct (like he did when I made him say "thirty" over and over because he used a Boston accent). What a sad day that will be.

Yesterday he scared the life out of me by jumping off the side of the Y pool while I had my back turned putting Lawson's life jacket on (Hudson was next in line). The lifeguard was quick and pulled him out, and when his shaken up mommy asked him why he did it, he simply replied, "Dodge said he could do it, and I just wanted to be brave like him." Sweet boy. He perked up two seconds later and said, "Mom! I've never been saved by a lifeguard before!" At least he had an easier time seeing the positive in the situation than I did.

Lawson
Oh, there are so many things I can say about our youngest boy. He's devilishly, mischievously handsome. He has the absolute cutest little speech patterns EVER (chair is "shair" and "thirsty" sounds something like "stirsty". Oh, and "I think" is "I stink"). Overall he's just an easygoing little dude. He's quiet until he can assess a situation, so you may seem him sucking his thumb and rubbing his "wubbing tag" while he draws his conclusions. He's also very funny without really trying to be. His constant attempts to aggravate his brothers drive me absolutely insane, but he always says something hilarious or flashes his toothy grin to get out of trouble.

I did manage to document one particularly indignant exchange he had with Hudson last month. While climbing up on his stool to brush his teeth, he slipped and borrowed a line from Tangled. "Mommy, my smolder's broken!" Hearing him, Hudson said out of the blue, "You're never going to fall in love with anyone!" Lawson didn't miss a beat in stomping his foot and saying, "Yeah-huh! With Mommy!" How could I not smile about that?

Last week he asked me where God lived. When I pointed up to the sky, he scrunched his face up and asked, "In the clouds?" "Sort of," I replied. He thought for a few seconds and then inquired very directly, "Which cloud is it?" It appears I'm going to have to expand my explanation a bit.

I promise to detail Scout's vocabulary at a later time. This blog is already so long that you guys will take one look at it and decide you don't have time to read it right now. Plus she's not really saying much other than Mom, uh-oh, and Dora, Dora. Wait, I take that back. She does converse fluently in her own little Scout language. I'll try and capture it on video for you.

  

Monday, June 6, 2011

School Daze

This morning I attended the second graduation ceremony of the season for my little dudes. Two weeks ago Hudson and his pre-k class matriculated in high style for five-year-olds, and this morning I watched Camden trot proudly across the stage to receive his kindergarten diploma. Every ounce of frustration I've felt with my kids the past few days disappeared in those minutes, and I found myself teary-eyed at the warp speed time travels. The past six and a half years have gone by in a blink, and the times I feel flustered, I try to remind myself they're only mine to nurture and love within my own home for a short time.




At both ceremonies all the children sang songs and posed for pictures with proud smiles on their faces. I sat wondering how each little spirit would grow and speculating on what marks they'll make on this world as they navigate life's challenges. Their innocence is amazing to me, but even more amazing to me is the individuality God grants each of us even from such a young age. My boys' classmates and friends have endearing, quirky qualities that are each their own, and learning their personalities and appreciating them the way I try to in my own kids has been a fun challenge for me as a mom to school-aged kids. I've found myself praying lately that each of my four kids learns to love and accept others no matter what challenges or personalities their peers may have and hoping God gives me the strength and wisdom to instill this quality.

I am a proud mommy who will hopefully draw calming patience from the reserve of deep emotions I experienced watching my babies go through one of life's rites of passage. In reality I know it will only be a matter of time before I'm fighting the urge to put my head in my hands because Camden is telling me the same story for the fifth time in a forty-five second time period. Hudson will inevitably push me to the brink of tolerance with his emotional outbursts. Lawson will start a fight by elbowing his brother on the fly and playing the victim when his brother ultimately retaliates. And my sweet Scout will crawl out of her new big girl bed and into the kitchen five times before finally giving in to exhaustion.

All of these stresses are part of my daily routine, but there is also great joy in knowing I'm privileged to watch them grow, to appreciate their individuality, to hold them in my arms when they slow down enough to let me, and to cheer loudly and embarrassingly when they graduate from any grade. I hope I remember every day that their "school days" go by in a "school daze" and take a moment to regroup enough to soak up as much time as I can.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How Many More Days Till August 22nd?

It's official. Two of our three "school age" kids are out for the summer, and the debauchery is already in full swing. Finding the motivation to get up and get going the past two mornings has proved challenging, but we still have a kindergartner in school well into the month of June. Breakfasts have been a hodge podge of items, and this morning's spread consisted of bagels, scrambled eggs, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Gogurt, and applesauce. Hudson, Lawson, and Scout were loaded in the van in PJs and allowed to rock some nasty morning breath. Poor Cam was decked out in his school uniform, wearing tied shoes and buckled belt, and sporting a mouth full of freshly scrubbed pearly whites.

After dropping a slightly dejected Camden off at school, the rest of the Jones family slackers skulked back home to see what we could accomplish. So far our list of accomplishments is depressingly short. Well, let me clarify that statement. My list of accomplishments is short. So far I have managed to put Scout down for a nap, drink a cup of coffee, and talk myself out a Mommy Hulk moment. Several Mommy Hulk moments.

Now, Hudson and Lawson's accomplishments are quite noteworthy. So far they have wrestled, run through the house yelling, convinced me to let them watch Spider Man 2 instead of Dinosaur Train, and last but not least, DESTROYED my bed. My comforter and arsenal of pillows are on the floor in a pile, and they have occupied themselves for the last hour by alternating trying to suffocate each other and seeing who can stick the landing of their acrobatic jumps off my bed. My blood pressure and anxiety levels are up, and to prevent a serious case of PMS (Pissy Mom Syndrome), I finally decided to walk out of the room and shut the door.

Scout's low-grade fever and hacking cough will prevent me from escaping to my exercise class today (how do moms with no stress outlet survive?), but the guilt I feel from looking at four loads of unfolded clean laundry would have kept me in the house if Scout hadn't given me a better excuse. It's time to rally and at least pretend to live up to the title of "domestic goddess" (though most days I think "domestic disaster" is more appropriate) no matter how tempting it is to lock myself in a closet and count off the days until school is back in session.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Yes I Can! Yes I Can!

Anyone who knows me well knows I LOVE The Nutty Professor. I work a Nutty Professor quote into casual conversation whenever possible. When my bestie Amy was in labor with her first little dude, I tried to make her laugh between contractions by doing my best Sherman Klump/Buddy Love impersonation and pulling out the most crass tidbits I could call to memory (I'll stick this in the crack o' yo' ass!). Of course I'm fairly certain I mainly succeeded in offending her mom (I love you, Ms. Pat) and causing her dad to snicker in silence and shake his head at his daughter's inappropriate friend. But hey, I gave myself a good laugh, and that always counts for something.

Now, when the average viewer watches The Nutty Professor, he or she may find it to be your stereotypical slapstick Eddie Murphy classic. But as Rafiki from The Lion King says, "look harder." The Nutty Professor has tons of heart beneath all of its hilarious, timeless fart jokes. Its message to persevere despite the most overwhelming of challenges gets me every time. In fact, the blog title is inspired by one of the pep talks Sherman Klump gives himself about battling the bulge. I've been giving myself similar pep talks about a variety of things for many years.

Jason and I have decided to try and run Savannah's Rock and Roll Half Marathon in November. I think I must be crazy. I have degenerative disc disease, arthritis in my hips and feet, four kids, and the lack of bladder control to prove it. Yep, I'm owning that one all you fellow mommies, despite the embarrassment it takes to admit it. Yet for some reason I hear Sherman Klump's voice in my head saying, "yes, you can, Molly. Yes, you can."

I started training two weeks ago and ran my first mile. Ever. Since then I've sweated my ass off five days a week stepping, running, jumping rope, jumping jacks, and praying to God in heaven I don't throw my back out, pee on the floor, or lose my motivation to achieve my goal. The other two days of the week I'm in a two hour yoga class stretching and strengthening my core in an effort to combat the shin splints I already feel coming and to make sure my abs are strong enough to hold me in place when my feet go numb halfway through my cross-training class. I am determined to do something amazing for myself.

At one point while I was trying to bring Scout into the world, I remember thinking I was just going to quit. I wondered what would happen if I just stopped. Stopped trying to push through the indescribably painful contractions that two failed epidurals couldn't prevent, stopped listening to my friends urging me on, stopped trying to obey the nurse's order to quit screaming and use my energy to push, stopped looking at Spaceballs playing on the TV every time I lifted my body to curl around my gigantic planet of a belly. I don't really know what happens when laboring, exhausted moms refuse to cooperate, but I do know my beautiful little Scout was so worth every ounce of commitment I put into getting her here. After I held her for the first time, I remember thinking, "I'm kind of a bad ass. I just had a nine pound baby with no epidural."

So I can't give up. Because when I finish 13.1 miles in November, I want to be able to say "I'm kind of a bad ass" one more time. I'm going to attempt to run three miles this Saturday, and that's something I never thought I would be able to even consider doing. I'll need all the support and encouragement anyone can offer because I know I'll want to quit when it's 100 degrees outside and the gnats are setting up shop in my hair and ears. Sherman Klump will be in the back of my head the whole way, and just when I think I can't run another step, I hope I'll picture his momma clapping her hands and saying "Hercules! Hercules!"

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hot Mess Moms

My friend Tara and I were talking yesterday, and she expressed frustration over her new found Mommy Brain and why it won't just go back to normal. She recently had her first baby, and I've been so excited to get to know her as a mom after eleven years of friendship and countless shared experiences. She specifically mentioned her inability to focus on just one room while cleaning, and if I could have come through the phone to hug her, I would have. She validated six years of personal frustration in one single sentence.

How many of you moms have noticed you can't remember ANYTHING anymore? Not even what room you were cleaning before you walked into another room to put something away. I'll start in the kitchen, which unfortunately is where all of our random crap goes to hang out and socialize. In an effort to put things in their places, I'll walk to my bedroom to put away one shoe that has lost its way en route to the closet, and suddenly I'm completely overwhelmed and distracted by the state of affairs in my closet. Cue frantic and compulsive attempts to organize said closet until I'm suddenly interrupted by a crying baby or a raucous fight between two or more Jones boys. As official baby whisperer and head referee of the home, I soothe crying baby and/or establish peace between sparring brothers only to look down in horror at the state of the playroom.

The playroom is frantically picked up (which is really so pointless until bedtime), and by the time I've moved on to putting away laundry, someone is screeching about being hungry and has taken it upon himself to hijack the bag of Goldfish and tear their way through it on the carpet of the playroom. Call in the dog to eat the crumbs and then break out the vacuum cleaner to suck up the ensuing tumbleweeds of dog hair. Back to laundry until the alarm sounds to remind me it's time to pick Camden up from school. Sit in the carpool line for half an hour and wait for the real fun to begin (which it does the second the oldest joins the mayhem). By the end of the day, no one room in the house is completely clean, I'm a frazzled mess without a firm sense of accomplishment, AND I'm out of Goldfish. And I've got to get up tomorrow and do it all over again.

Today one of my friend's Facebook status updates is "sometimes laughing at yourself is the best option." Perfect. I would only go so far as to say that laughing at yourself is always the best option. Jason may not find it quite as amusing as I do that I forgot to load the clothes in the dryer (especially when he reaches into the drawer to pull out clean underoos and finds none), but hey, it's life. It's messier than I thought it would be, but just for clarification, I can always find a pair of clean undies for him hiding somewhere. (I would hate for you guys to feel like I've got him creeping around in dirty drawers.)

There is color and humor all around, even when Mommy Brain threatens to turn everything disconcerting shades of gray or brown. Even when you can only see the humor after the kids are asleep and you've had a glass of wine or two. Laugh. At yourself, at your friends, at your kids (well, sometimes it's best to do this in private in an effort to preserve their little self-esteems), at your husband when he's flustered, sometimes at the ridiculous and seemingly insurmountable state of affairs in your life. I'm often surprised to find it's possible to laugh your way right out of a bad mood or to help someone else do the same. When the laughter won't come, let the tears do their job. They're pretty close relatives when you think about it, and both are incredible gifts from God to give us ways of expressing our joy or pain when words just can't do the trick.

Today I charge you to do what a great mommy friend charged me to do just this morning. Admit being a hot mess mom and love yourself for it. Maybe Mommy Brain is meant to distract us from the mundane tasks of organizing closets and encourage us to embrace something as simple as trying to follow the hilarious conversations of our kids. That's better than vacuuming any day!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Owning Your Mommy Mess-ups

This morning I sat in a room with MOPS mommies I didn't know at all when I walked into my first meeting last summer unsure what to expect. More than providing a ministry that reaches out to moms, MOPS has provided a forum for women to open their eyes to the fact that the "perfect mom" is an illusion.

This principle is applicable not just at my MOPS group, but in the community of moms at large. In getting to know the women on this island, I've received the gift of their insight on so many things. I've also been able to listen to their perceptions of me as a mom even before they knew me on a personal level. Our community is small, so many of the moms I now call friends were in the backdrop of my life at the YMCA pool, the soccer field, or the grocery store. My friend Meghan recalls thinking I was a patient mom as she watched me attempt to manage three boys in the same swim lessons class while juggling six-month-old Scout last summer. This six day period of torture was probably one of the least fun things I did last year, and I remember thinking I was an epic failure at the swim lessons gig. It's so funny to hear her perception of me when my perception of myself was so negative.

We're hardest on ourselves for so many reasons--fear of making the same mistakes our parents made, fear of alienating our children, fear of damaging their self-esteems. But here's the thing. Every mom feels this way. Every. Single. One. We all worry we're not good enough for our kids, and we all make some super duper stupid blunders as we navigate the bumpy terrain of parenthood. Would you like to hear some of my own slip-ups? They're classic and guaranteed to make you feel better about yourselves.

  • Six months ago Lawson climbed onto a shelf in a store to hide when my back was turned, and we had to endure a Code Adam while they locked everything down to find him.
  • Three out of four of my children have rolled off my bed--some more than once.
  • I once got so pissed at Camden for screaming at his brothers that I told him to shut up. 
  •  Lawson tumbled down a flight of stairs when he was eighteen months old because Jason and I didn't effectively communicate who was watching him.
  • I can't remember Hudson's first words because I was too busy trying to take care of a toddler while pregnant with my third baby in three years.
  • We once had two boys get CT scans for falls within three days of each other. (I braced myself for the DFACS visit that never came when that happened.)
  • Sometimes I have to tell Camden to stop talking so much in order to preserve my sanity.
  • I once fed the kids cookies for breakfast and Goldfish for lunch (on the same day) to avoid taking all four to the grocery store.
  • I don't know how to appropriately communicate to Lawson that he has to stop touching my boobs.
  • Hudson's incessant emotional outbursts drive me so close to the brink of lunacy that I'm practically incapable of responding positively when they occur.
Aanndddd......breathe. Ah. It feels good to get that off my chest. Believe me, the list goes on and on and on. We try our best, but no one is capable of being at their 100% best every single waking moment of the day. Mistakes are inevitable. We have to own them, sometimes laugh at them, learn from them, and share them with other moms who feel they're sucking up the one job they want to be the best at. Knowing I'm not alone is essential for me to grow from my mistakes and sometimes even to understand that what I perceive to be mistakes are just every day normal life events. Loving your kids and communicating your love as much as possible is essential, and my guess is we all give this goal our best shot 24/7 even when we feel like we fall short in other areas.

Perfect mommies? Overrated. Every kid will need some parental shortcoming to discuss with their therapists later in life. I've started admitting to my kids when I make a mistake and apologizing when I feel like an "I'm sorry" is warranted. I figure they'll either appreciate my honesty and toss out their own ideas of perfection, or they'll worry over my apparent incompetence and use my blunders as ammunition against me when they're surly, rebellious teenagers. Let's hope it's the former.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Loving Ourselves is the Hard Part

Why is it that we as parents often take care of ourselves last? Why can't we be smart enough to remember happy parents equal happy kids? Instead we throw our energy into brushing little teeth, packing lunches, chaperoning field trips, and chauffeuring to baseball practice, telling ourselves all the while the money for our much-needed haircut is better spent on the kids or the few extra minutes in our day have to be spent folding laundry in order for the world to continue spinning on its axis.

My last haircut was at MOPS Spa Day last October. It was free and fabulous, but since then I've neglected to budget the time or money to have my split ends shaped up. And believe me they're screaming for help. I convinced Jason several months ago (after many years of pleading) to grow out his beautiful, dark, wavy hair. He's got that great McDreamy hair, and I've loved running my fingers through it since he agreed to "just say no" to scissors and clippers. However, he has risen the past few mornings looking more Chia Pet than Patrick Dempsey and as a result, I finally concurred he at least needs a shape-up. I'm thinking it's time I made the effort to schedule my own haircut because I seem to remember even the slightest of trims does a lot to boost self-esteem and keep away bad hair days. We women understand the irrational turmoil and havoc a bad hair day can wreak even when our men puzzle and scratch their heads over our tearful meltdowns and dodge the hairbrushes we toss away in frustration.

I digress, but my point is loving ourselves is hard. More than just finding time for yoga or budgeting money for the the good face moisturizer, committing to the relationships we have with ourselves can feel far more daunting than loving the people in our lives unconditionally. When I was twenty years old, I suffered a debilitating bout of depression that left me a shell of myself. It was not the first time in my life I had suffered such overwhelming emptiness, but this time I lost twenty pounds and any desire for happiness or pleasure at a time when I should have been discovering who I was and who I wanted to become. My dad and friends pushed me to seek help, and I fought them with every ounce of what little energy I had. I knew I wanted a different kind of life for myself, but I was so afraid to revisit the pain of my childhood. It was hard to look inside myself because I knew there was a very strong possibility I wasn't going to like who I saw. My pain was what I built my sense of self around for many years, and without it, I feared I'd be lost. Who would I be if I wasn't the girl who felt abandoned and angry over the hand I was dealt? How would I make my way in the world without my self-destructive and self-induced chaos? Was forgiveness really liberating?

Looking back, I was so incredibly lucky to have a father who understood I needed help and somehow managed to make sure I got it without ever making me feel weak. After a diagnosis of clinical depression and two years of sometimes grueling, sometimes uplifting talk therapy, I emerged from darkness a whole new person. There is a Christian song on the radio entitled "I'm Not Who I Was," and I smile in understanding every time I hear it. The woman I am today was buried somewhere beneath layers of hurt and fear, and I fought hard to peel it away and discover how to love myself. My counselor saved my life, and I feel gratitude for her validation every time I look at my beautiful family, talk to my dad on the phone, read my mother's loving words of encouragement on my blog, or simply catch a glimpse of myself (whole and happy) in the mirror.

I often wonder what path my life would have taken if I'd never taken the step to focus on myself and make it a priority to understand I was worthy of love and deserving of a new life. Clinical depression is a lifelong diagnosis, and there are times I've had to take action when signs of of my illness creep up on me. There are also still painful aspects of our childhoods both Jason and I have brought to our marriage, but understanding why we think, love, or disagree the ways we do makes the journey of marriage more fulfilling. Self-awareness and self-love are incredible gifts to give yourself, and it's never too late to find the time to work through whatever holds you back from embracing both.

I know my husband and kids deserve to have the best version of me I can offer, too. I hope something as simple as Jason's heading OI (what my family endearingly calls going off the island) and letting a real stylist shape up his luscious locks brightens his day and his confidence level. I hope I can stop feeling guilty over purchasing $12 shorts for myself instead of buying clothes for the kids and rock my new khakis at the grocery store come Monday. When I gather round the table with my Savannah ya-yas this week for coffee and mindless chit-chat, I hope I remember it's as important to nurture my own spirit as it is for me to nurture my four little doorsteps. In fact, it's not just important to love ourselves to be better parents and partners---it's absolutely essential.