You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave

Vacationing once you have kids is nothing like it was pre-parenthood. First of all, if you work a 9-5, you probably only have a couple of weeks of vacation per year. You’ll spend at least half of that sitting at home being puked on by other people, sitting in a waiting room at a doctor’s office/dentist’s office, attending a parent-teacher conference listening to what a terror your child is, etc. Not my idea of a great vacation. So you might be left with one week for an actual “vacation.”

My idea of a vacation is a beach, all-inclusive alcohol delivered to me (at the beach) until I pass out in my chair, getting all dressed up for a dinner where they serve a bunch of crap I won’t eat (lobster, fatty steak, things I can’t pronounce), a comfortable suite with a balcony overlooking the ocean, mirrors on the ceiling, pink champagne on ice…you get the point. That’s what a vacation should be.

The vacation I’m on now is a little less of all of that and a little more chasing kids around a huge, probably urine-filled, water structure; almost losing my lunch on a three story water slide, which I have to go on because my kids are only 42″ tall (6″ shy of being able to ride alone); screaming kids accompanied by even louder screaming parents; and a family suite adorned with wolves, timber, and other forest-themed ornamentation. The one redeeming quality of this room is that it has two queen-sized beds and a pull-out couch to accommodate our entire family. If you’re smart parents, like us, you talk up the pull-out couch:

Oh my gosh, look kids! This is a couch and a bed! Coolest thing ever! Almost like a transformer!

Then have all of them sleep on it together so you and The Husband each get your own queen-sized bed. I know, easy on the romance, there are children present.

Moving on.

The other problem about vacationing, besides the vacation itself, is getting there. The Husband refuses to fly.

Swans are flightless birds, he says. What he actually means is: I’m a control freak and I don’t trust a pilot who has been through extensive training to learn how to safely get me to my destination; I don’t believe the mathematical truth that a car crash is far more likely than a plane crash; and I’m a coward. 

So even if we weren’t too cheap to spend hundreds of dollars on plane tickets for our whole brood, we couldn’t unless we left The Husband behind (which I actually did when we went to Disney World – he says it was one of the best weeks of his life).

I’m not even going to get into the laundry list of issues of riding in the car with kids. That’s something that deserves its own post. One of my biggest annoyances during a road trip is The Husband. There are two main things he does that make me want to prove to him that the danger of an irritated wife in a car is actually more concerning than a plane crash and a car crash combined:

First of all, he always decides to do extensive car maintenance before we leave. Not a few days before we leave, but RIGHT BEFORE we leave. As in, we’re in the car waiting and he’s under the hood changing the oil. On the way to Tennessee, he actually stopped at an Auto Zone along the way to purchase items to do some sort of routine maintenance. Yesterday, we were a mile down the road when he decided to turn around for something of that nature. It’s as if we just woke up that day and decided to leave and he had no warning and no time to do these things in advance.

Second of all, similar to the way he doesn’t trust pilots, he doesn’t trust GPS. So he uses an Atlas like he is freaking Christopher Columbus in uncharted territory:

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As you can see, the atlas takes up the entire car. Every time he’s done consulting it, he tosses it in my lap and I have to try to shove it between the seats and it flops over on my lap and I have to wrestle it into submission. I can’t put it on the floor because he may need me to hand it to him quickly if he has a question. He can’t have me find the answer for him because 1) I get carsick 2) Why the hell would I know how to read a map? and 3) I refuse. Use a GPS like every other person in the world.

The atlas is sure to get us lost at some point because he’s been using the same one since we’ve been married, which I believe was handed down by his father (and I’m pretty sure they stopped making these things hundreds of years ago) so there is no way it’s up to date.

Anyway, vacation is great. Family time, togetherness, etc. I’m so confident in our ability to enjoy each other’s company that I had a small glass (or two) of wine yesterday at 6:30 a.m. while I was waiting on the car maintenance to be completed. Don’t judge. I’m on vacation.

Twenty-nine and life to go

My mom is my best friend, but we have vastly different ideas of fun. She always wants to go on these grand family outings (theme parks, bowling, movies), and I prefer not to take my children in public because there are three of them and it always turns out to be a stress fest. And yes, I said “fest” instead of “test.” Because if it were a test, I would fail every time. I inevitably end up irritated beyond measure, struggling to keep myself from breaking into tears and/or spontaneously cussing at a children’s museum or miniature golf course or similar venue inappropriate for mental breakdowns and cussing. I prefer to call it a stress fest. It makes it sounds less stressful. Almost fun.

Anyway, today her grand idea is to go to the zoo. I almost broke out in hives just thinking about it, so I managed to par it down to lunch at my house and a trip to the ice cream store. I should have known that mom’s idea of a trip to the ice cream store would involve going to a special, world-renowned ice cream store more than a half-hour away that people flock to in order to try every one of their 100 types of sundaes. It’s apparently a destination ice cream store. Guess what. That was everyone else’s idea too.

We waited in line for a life sentence. Without parole. Waiting in line forever with kids always sucks for the usual reasons, but it was especially bad at this particular place because, as I mentioned, they have 100 types of sundaes. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried to get a seven-year-old to decide between vanilla, chocolate, or chocolate swirl, but even that decision is a whole process. This was that scenario times 33 1/3, for over an hour before we finally made it to the register. They changed their minds thousands of times, and the only thing  that Boy One knew for sure that he wanted was a banana split, which only came in a size bigger than his head and I would have had to sell one of the other children to purchase it. I refused at first, but after standing in line for most of my adult life, I decided I no longer wanted ice cream so I bought him the stupid banana split with the money I saved.

By the time I finally placed our order, Mom could tell I was getting stressed so she told me to go wait outside and she would bring the ice cream out.

Thank you. Since it’s your fault we’re in this mess.

The boys and I went outside to wait and I realized that it wasn’t just me. The fellow ice cream masochists seemed to be on edge and very touchy. If you bumped into someone, they glared at you. No one returned a friendly smile if you made eye contact. Boy Two was jumping up around near a parked car and I reminded him to be careful not to touch others’ cars. Then a nearby man snarled and pressed the lock button on his key fob to “re-lock” his car, causing it to honk.

“This ice cream hell is really doing a number on everyone’s nerves,” I thought to myself.  “I’m right there with ya, folks.”

Our group enjoyed the ice cream and we headed home. It wasn’t until later that I learned that the others at the store were not actually on edge because of the chaotic atmosphere, like I was. They were angry because we had apparently accidentally cut in front of an entire loop of the waiting line. It really wasn’t marked very well. I had no idea, and I felt bad when Mom told me…..but, really though, thank God we did or I wouldn’t be writing this post right now because I would be in a padded cell and straight jacket waiting for the Ativan to kick in.

So if you are one of the people we cut in front of at the ice cream store today (and there’s bound to be at least one of them reading this since everyone in Indiana was there), I’m sorry, but you did a great service by allowing me to preserve one small shred of my sanity.

Mama, I’m coming home

So my grandma passed away a month ago. Today, we attended a memorial event at the cemetery that included a balloon release. I’d never been to a memorial balloon release. In case you haven’t either, this is how it’s supposed to go:

  1. Distribute one balloon per each loved one being memorialized.
  2. The family of the loved one writes a heartfelt message on the balloon.
  3. The crowd stands silently as each name is read and they release their balloon when the name of their loved one is read.

A balloon release is always a risky place to take children because, to a child, losing a balloon can be a traumatizing event, often resulting in tears and devastation. A memorial balloon release has all of that with the added expectation that the child stand quietly and respectfully.

There were a number of issues at the memorial balloon release. Since our group was only memorializing one loved one, we only got one balloon to split between three children. I managed to find an empty balloon string on the ground, which satisfied The Girl, but I still needed an additional balloon. I had two options:

  1. Kill a member of our group so we could get an additional balloon, or
  2. Dishonestly obtain a second balloon for our group.

I went with the less radical option – lying at a memorial service. Now that everyone had balloons (or balloon strings) in hand, we were back on track, and the boys wrote their notes on their balloons.

Boy One wrote a sweet note about how much we miss Nana:

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Boy Two, on the other hand:

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Yes, you read that correctly. “I love mom.” Other attendees looked on with pity at this poor, sweet boy who had apparently lost his mother. I felt like I should correct them, but who am I to say anything? I just lied five minutes ago to get the stupid balloon for him. Also, it doesn’t actually say his mother is deceased and it’s not really his fault if  others read between the lines. And finally, maybe he knew something I didn’t? The day isn’t over yet.

In the end, his fraudulent balloon message ended up being a blessing and here is why:

As the event wore on, the boys became more and more restless. As boys typically do, they started a game of hitting each other in the head with their balloons, which I was powerless to stop without reverting to Option 1 above. This resulted in Boy Two’s special balloon memorializing his mother coming undone and being released. You will recall that he had firmly decided that he would not be releasing his balloon so this was an issue. Luckily, a kindhearted stranger with a soft spot for orphans offered her balloon to him, but her balloon was red, not white. This was another issue. He proceeded to cry. Red-faced, gigantic tears crying.  I was mortified. This grieving woman gave up her balloon memorializing her loved one (who most likely is legitimately dead) and he’s crying like a spoiled brat because it is the wrong color. I managed to look up through my embarrassment and when I did, I found misty-eyed, sympathetic faces looking back. Then I saw what they were seeing: an innocent boy who had already endured the loss of his loving mother (probably untimely cancer or maybe a tragic car accident). Now he has lost the only thing he had to memorialize her. His whole life is just loss and grief. How much pain can one little boy endure?

Shamefully, I just went with it, although I did stop short of referring to myself as “Auntie” while comforting him and reminding him of what a wonderful person his mother was.

Don’t give me no lines and keep your hands to yourself

So we raise chickens. Well, that’s not completely accurate. We just purchased chickens a couple of months ago. It’s yet to be seen if we can actually raise them. We just had our first death today. Boy two came in to announce the death. He was somewhat cryptic about the circumstances of the death, so he was actually my primary suspect. He said he discovered the body in the coop, but when The Husband went to investigate, it was actually in the field. He had to elaborate on his story to explain this inconsistency:

I found it in the coop, picked it up by the leg, and threw it in the field. That’s why it’s in the field. 

First of all, gross.
Second of all, haven’t you ever watched CSI? You never tamper with the crime scene.
Third of all, gross, go wash your hands.

He comes back from the bathroom two seconds later with “clean hands.” Yeah right.

You did not wash your hands.
Yes I did.
No you didn’t. Let me smell them.

I lean in for the smell test. I had just enough time to determine that no soap had been used when he reached up and grabbed my face with his dead chicken hands. Are you kidding me?

I’m not sure what killed the chicken, but now I’m kind of hoping it was just blunt force trauma at the hands of Boy Two. At least that can’t be transmitted by skin to skin contact.

Anything you can do, I can do better…almost

We’re going to a water park next week.  I hate water parks for a number of reasons too extensive to list in this post, but the top of the list is that they require wearing a swimsuit. This year, however, I’m changing my attitude on swimsuits.  Read on.

Did anyone else feel like a Victoria’s Secret model immediately after giving birth? Yes, you read that correctly.  I’m not talking about the dark, depressing weeks that follow birth where you grow to hate every aspect of your ruined body (engorgement, stretch marks, excess skin, dark circles, poor bladder control). I’m talking about the first time you stood up after giving birth when everything shifted and you suddenly realized you were no longer carrying eight pounds of baby and a million tons of amniotic fluid, placenta and other miscellaneous rubbish. I felt fantastic after Boy One was born. My mom warned me:

Now, don’t expect your tummy to just go right back down.  You’re still going to look about six months pregnant after you have him.

Wrong! I looked great and I told her so.

Look at me! I’m practically back to normal already!

She just raised her eyebrows, looked up and down at the pile of fat and skin that used to be my body, and gave me the silent nod and fake smile.  I was right about one thing: The fact that she was wrong.  She said I would look six months pregnant and it was probably closer to eight. I may have felt light and airy like a pixie, but I was not. I realized this a few days later when I got out my pre-pregnancy jeans that I was sure would fit. And then the tears came. I cried and cried. This was not postpartum depression. It was just devastation that this was the body I now had to live in. Forever.  And also devastation that I was wrong. I hate being wrong.

Anyway, that reality check stayed with me for eight years, through a second pregnancy, and while I’m still largely put off by most aspects of my body, I’m pleased to report that this year I will be donning a two-piece swimsuit for the first time post-pregnancy.  This is because I have worked so very hard, exercising 10 times per week, cutting out all alcohol and sweets, eating only nuts and berries….

Ok, ok….I credit my decision completely to the condescending, self-righteous attitude that can only come from eight grueling years of parenting. Eight years ago, I would have looked at a tan, tight little 19-year-old in a bikini and felt sad and inadequate.  Now I just feel superior.

Sure, you can put on a minuscule amount of cloth and look fantastic and my husband is going to ogle you in a way that’s slightly more than extremely creepy – kind of similar to the way he looks at those gigantic steaks they keep behind the glass counter at Texas Roadhouse.  You got me there. But I’m willing to bet that there are a number of things that I could do better than you:

Can you go for eight years on less than five hours of sleep per night?

Can you get yourself and three other people dressed, fed, and out the door in 30 minutes flat?

Can you live covered in puke and poop for years at a time?

Can you carry a purse, a diaper bag, $75 worth of groceries, and a baby up a stairway, in the rain (without dropping any of them) while talking on your cell phone and barking orders at two other unruly, disobedient people?

Can you even say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you could keep three irresponsible, clumsy, accident-prone people alive for eight years?

Oh, girly, you have no idea the terrible things that are going to befall you over the next 20 years.  I haven’t seen it all yet, but I hear that it gets worse. Enjoy that meat-ogling gaze while you still can.  I’ll be over here shoving this pale, Play-doh-esque body into a two-piece swimsuit and the creepy, pudgy dads at this hot miserable hell of a water park can look in awe, curiosity, horror…and I can honestly say that I don’t care one bit.

Make the right choice

What to do when you drop your birth control pill, it rolls behind the toilet, and you have to make the determination of which is worse: eating something that’s been behind the toilet (and you know when the last time that floor was mopped – or maybe you don’t, which is the problem) or running the risk of having a fourth child.

This is one of the few decisions in life that is best made quickly and without much thought.  Just make the right choice.

Stand by me

Every mom blog has at least one post about the horrible experience of shopping with kids so I’m just going to get that out of the way right now:

The 18 Minute Rule: I have exactly 18 minutes, seat belt to seat belt, before my kids start acting like complete idiots on a shopping trip. I work with this by creating a carefully thought-out list, which is organized according to the layout of the store, so that I don’t have to think about the items I need, search for them, or backtrack to retrieve a forgotten item.  There’s no time for any of that. All energy must be focused on maintaining control to ensure we make it the full 18 minutes.

Over the weekend, I decided I wanted to purchase four ferns and one flat of flowers. There were a few things in my favor on this particular trip: 1) My items were in the outdoor garden area, which eliminated the time it would have taken to actually enter the store, and 2) Shopping outside makes the kids seem less loud and abrasive to other shoppers. Plus, who doesn’t love the sight of the sun shining on a beautiful child’s smiling face against a backdrop of colorful flowers? This should have been an easy trip, but I went ahead and did my usual pre-shopping pep talk, just for good measure:

Don’t make me look like an idiot in this store or I will *insert whatever random creative threat seems most terrifying at the time*

I even embellished it a little bit since it was Mother’s Day weekend:

Seriously guys, please be good. Do it for me because it’s Mother’s Day weekend.  

They nodded their heads and pledged to be on their best behavior. For me, because it’s Mother’s Day weekend. But then……

As soon as I get The Girl situated in the cart, Boy Two decides he wants to ride as well. I try to explain that he’s too heavy and I can’t maneuver the cart with him in it. I’m sure he just didn’t hear me because he went ahead and started climbing over the side despite having just promised to behave less than two minutes before. I decide to pick my battles and let that one go. Fine. Ride in the cart.

So now, because the entire cart is filled with Boy Two, we have to get a wagon to load the ferns and flowers. Boy One is charged with the coveted responsibility of pulling the awkward wagon through the poorly arranged, crowded greenhouse area. I apologized to the first two people he ran over. After that, I just acted like I didn’t notice. I had bigger things to worry about at this point. Boy Two decided he wanted to forfeit his spot in the cart to pull the wagon. Yes, that would be the cart I told him to stay out of in the first damn place. I refused to let him out. He got in the cart against my wishes, so I am not letting him out of the cart. I don’t care if I have to install bars over the top of the cart to keep him in. He’s staying in the cart. Because that’s what he wanted two minutes ago.

He continues arguing with me, gradually becoming louder and more insistent, and Boy One continues running over people with the wagon. I haphazardly select some droopy, brown ferns and the first flat of flowers I can grab. I’m starting to get flustered because my 18 minutes of shopping are apparently more like 5 minutes today. Even though it’s Mother’s Day weekend.

I’m still holding Boy Two captive in the cart and it’s a test of wills at this point. He wants out of the cart. He will not stop arguing with me about it. I want him to shut up. I kind of need him out of the cart because I have nowhere to put two of my ferns. I try to hang them on the handle of the cart, but then they are touching The Girl’s legs and that is completely unacceptable to her and she starts shrieking. It’s causing a scene and I could end it all by letting Boy Two out of the cart and putting the two ferns in his place, but I am not letting that kid out of that cart. Plus, that would open up a new conflict over which boy is going to pull the wagon. He’s staying in the cart and we are making a quick exit.

Then, along comes a well-meaning stranger. She asks me if my kids saw the bird’s nest that is apparently in the corner of the greenhouse.

“It has real birds in it.”

I smile and tell her we will check it out then turn around to continue trying to maneuver the two ferns to a position that allows me to push the cart while not touching The Girl’s legs, all while keeping my captive restricted to the cart.  While I’m doing this, Stranger continues the bird conversation with Boy Two. The next thing I know, he is climbing over the side of the cart and following her over to the bird’s nest. I literally growl at him.

“GET BACK IN THE CART.”

My voice sounds like Cruella de Vil’s evil sister who makes coats out of the skin of little boys instead of dalmatian puppies. Boy Two puts on his sad blue eyes and sweet voice.

“We’re just looking at the bird’s nest, Mom.”

Stranger looks on with wide eyes probably wondering why I have such an issue with him getting out of the cart when he is clearly too old to be in the cart to begin with. Because I don’t want her to think I’m a complete psychopath, we follow her over to look at the stupid nest. She can see I’m still struggling to carry the ferns so she holds her hand out as if to help me. For a brief second, I feel guilty for letting her see my Cruella side. Then she takes the ferns and hangs one of them on the cart, right on The Girl’s leg. The Girl gives her a death stare. I quickly snatch the fern off of the cart to prevent what I know is about to happen as the stranger tries to hang the other fern.

“Oh, here, your hands are full. These will just hang right on the cart.”

The shrieking starts and I’ve finally had it. Time is up and I really just want to pay for my items and leave yet here I am, messing around with this bird enthusiast, trying to present myself as a kind and sane mother as my children use her as a pawn to defy me.

“I CAN’T HANG THE FERN ON THE CART. SHE DOESN’T WANT IT TOUCHING HER. Thanks.”

And I turn to leave. Of course the check-out line is a million miles long. Why wouldn’t it be? Now that Boy Two is out of the cart, the fight over who will pull the wagon has broke out and quickly escalated to the level of physical violence. Now all of the people that Boy One accidentally ran over with the wagon are watching him purposely ram it into Boy Two’s shins. The Girl never recovered from the second fern assault so she’s screaming. I have at least 10 more minutes in line and we’re quickly heading toward a physical injury with this wagon, so I get my Cruella voice back out and lean over to whisper at the boys.

“If you guys do not stop this, I will cancel the Mother’s Day cookout, take your tablet, and you will spend the rest of this weekend in your rooms. Be quiet and stand by me.”

I straighten up and put a smile on for the benefit of the other shoppers as if I was just whispering a secret to the kids, perhaps about a surprise ice cream treat or something. I’m sure they couldn’t hear my threats or see my crazy eyes. The boys start up a few more small arguments and I just calmly and firmly repeat, “Stand by me.” It presents an illusion of control to the other shoppers and my theory is that, by using that catchphrase, it will refresh their memory of all the things I just threatened.

It doesn’t work.

These jerks continue fighting all the way to the car. And actually even all the way home in the car. On Mother’s Day weekend.