Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Travel Diaries, Part 2: The Drive

The rest of this series can be viewed by clicking here (#1), here (#3), and here (#4).

Well. Holy shit. Here we are, four hours into the trip, and we are just now making our first stop. FIRST stop! This is amazing; we've basically blown through most of California already (thanks to Nate's slightly excessive speed but whatever) and we are just now stopping. Amazing. Ethan and Connor have been watching movies and playing games, and Brandon, the 14-month-old, only spent 25 minutes fussing before falling asleep for 30 minutes (whoopie) and now we are getting the boys out of the car for some running, food, and bathroom breaks. 

We are at a McDonald's that is so clean that there are only about 6 flies buzzing around our table, scaring the bejeezus out of Connor for some reason. We eat, treat the boys to some soda as a reward for being good in the car, and head back out to the parking lot to let them run around some more. I KNOW, what great parents... we let our kids play in the parking lot! To clarify, we are parked at the far end and there is no one else around us. Or maybe there is some subconscious activity at play here, who really knows. Anyway, Brandon graciously takes a dump at this time, instead of 15 minutes after we get back on the road, somewhat making up for the fact that he cried for 25 minutes earlier in the trip. 

After a bit, we load back up and hit the road. Now, because things have gone so well, I am smart enough to know that this means that it's all downhill from here. It sucks that I'm not enjoying the fact that it's going well because at any second, I know disaster is going to strike. About an hour after getting back on the road, it does. Brandon, who usually has absolutely no problem falling asleep in the car is, of course, incapable of it today. He's tired and bored as hell but is NOT going to sleep. Instead, he's crying. For two hours, this kid cries. And cries, and cries. I can hold him off here and there with food, a bottle or a sippy cup, but he's basically not happy. Not happy at all. And therefore, neither are we.

Finally, we decide that it's time to feed them dinner and get them out of the car. Clearly, the baby isn't going to sleep. This stop is what I'd like to call the highlight of our trip. We're in Oregon and stop at a Kentucky Fried Chicken. I tell Nate that I'll take the boys in and order them some food while he goes to get gas. My mistake. 

I troop them in and tell them to sit at a booth, don't move, I'll be right back. I walk up to the counter. The boys are directly behind me, and have stood up on the booth seat and faced backwards to watch me. Each older boy is flanking Brandon, so he's basically in no danger of falling. I'm looking at the menu and one of the weirdest people I have ever met is behind the counter. He's standing as far back from the counter as he possibly can, has his arms crossed over his chest, and is looking down at the floor. Occasionally he looks up at me, then shakes his head, whispers to himself, and looks back down - so far down that I can see the top of his head. I'm standing there for several minutes, waiting for someone who's capable of taking an order to come help me. During this time, Ethan jumps down from the seat and I hiss at him to get back on the seat and keep his brother from falling. Finally, the strange dude looks up for the 27th time, and decides to walk up to the counter and ask me what I want. Great, this is who is going to be helping me. But whatever, he's the conduit to some food. 

I tell him what I want, and he begins to speak and make absolutely no sense. He doesn't have a speech deficiency; he's just a Really Strange Person. He's asking what should be very simple questions about what type of chicken I want in my order and I'm giving him answers, but each answer I give him is somehow the wrong one. I'm getting pretty flustered. Suddenly, I hear a SPLAT. I whip around, and see Brandon splayed out on one of the dirtiest floors I have ever seen, his mouth open and in full contact with said floor. I run over and pick him up, he's wailing, and I'm pissed. I stare at Ethan, who is OFF the seat, and start yelling at him for getting off the seat. He tells me that Connor pushed Brandon off the seat, and I'm like, no shit, because YOU got off, in spite of being told not to, and therefore was not able to keep Brandon in place. I tell him to get back on the seat, do not get off, and I go back to the counter to deal with the freak. I look at him and say, "You know what? How about you just pick whatever is supposed to go in there and we'll be good, okay?" I hand him some cash, and he nods his head and starts typing in my order, but then he starts shaking his head and whispering to himself while doing weird flourishing movements over the register with his hands. I'm just staring at him, holding my crying baby, and then shake my own head and walk back to the boys. 

I get them off the seat and tell them to go to the bathroom. I'm acutely aware of the other tables, full of old people, who are giving us the hairy eyeball and whispering amongst themselves while shaking their heads. Not that I actually care what people that I am never going to see again really think about me, but this just completes the scene. I mean, for one, the place couldn't have been empty for our little spectacle, like every other time I've been in a KFC, and two, since when do old people eat dinner at 7:30 at night? I thought they'd be in bed by now, after eating dinner at 4:30.

By now, Nate has come back (good for him; I'd probably have driven off and not returned) and I tell him that the plan of eating inside has been aborted. We're now going to eat outside, in the car, in the parking lot, in the 36-degree weather. He knows me well enough by now and can tell by the look on my face and the giant bump and bruise on Brandon's forehead that he's better off not arguing.  

We pile into the car, eat, and head back out. At this point, we only have a couple of hours left, the boys are getting tired and falling asleep (finally) and I'm thinking we're good. Well, no. We get stuck behind one of those vehicles that sprays the stuff on the road to keep it from getting too icy later in the night. For twenty-five minutes, we get to travel at about 40 miles per hour behind this behemoth of a vehicle that takes up both lanes of I-5. I am fuming, furious! I want to pass it on the shoulder, but Nate keeps me in check. What's even worse is that we were the second car behind it, meaning that we had just missed being in front of it. MOTHER bleeper.

Finally, the thing exits the freeway and away we go. We pull into my mom's driveway at 9:30 p.m., a mere 11.5 hours after leaving, and with only 2 stops. That, in my book, is a successful trip, in spite of the drawbacks. No accidents, no car troubles, we all arrived safely. Now, we just have to get through the week and the return trip. 

**I don't apologize for the excessively long post, but the 5 minutes you spent reading this post and laughing at my misery is a walk in the park compared to the hours of hell I enjoyed in a car with 3 small kids. Plus, how could I possibly condense all that fun any further?

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Monday, November 28, 2011

The Travel Diaries, Part 1: The Preparations

The rest of this series can be viewed by clicking here (#2), here (#3), and here (#4).

Since I'm not a fan of posting my vacation plans to the world, as an invitation for my house to be burglarized, I'm posting this after the fact, when we've returned.

So, for Thanksgiving week, the boys and I are heading out of state to see my family. We're driving approximately 689 miles. That rounds out to about 11 hours of driving time, but that average is for people who maybe have to only make a quick stop or two. Let me remind you that we are doing this with a 14-month-old, a 3-year-old, and a 5-year-old. So, in other words, we're going to have to make 14 stops, and it's going to take about 16 hours, if we're lucky. It's going to be fun. And by fun, I mean miserable, and by miserable, I mean an absolute nightmare. I'm sure I'm going to want to slam the car into the freeway center divider at a high speed a time or six just to put us all out of our misery. But, since I'm a fan of thinking positive, I'm going to turn this frown upside down and begin a little mantra of: This is going to be GREAT! Smoooooth sailing! All the way! 

Now, I'm not actually thinking "positive", per se, I am merely accepting with a giant, mental-illness-induced smile on my face that the drive is going to bring about pure and utter horror. 

In typical trip preparation fashion, I pack. The boys are easy to pack for; the jeans and t-shirts they wear require zero outfit coordination (thank God for boys). I pack about 32 pounds of food for the drive, because I know that if the kids have food in their mouths, then they are less likely to talk, scream, cry, and fight. I pack a "go bag" to have in the front seat with us; basically a bag of easily-accessible items that we can throw at the baby in desperation, because there is nothing more agonizing than spending 12 minutes painfully contorting yourself in the car, looking for and putting together a bottle or toy or something while the kid is screaming his face off 16 inches from your ear. By the way, GREAT TIP HERE, even though he's a couple months past the formula-drinking age, I had a few leftover ready-to-feed bottles. I throw those in the go bag with a disposable nipple, and bottle prep takes about 9 seconds. You should totally have those for any kind of long trip with a baby. You will thank yourself for it. Promise.

The day before we leave, I run a thousand and one errands. The main errand is to the dollar store to stock up on cheap, new things for the boys to occupy themselves with in the car. The key word here is "new". So then, instead of starting out bored with the toy we throw at them because they've been playing with it for the last several months, now it will take them approximately four minutes to become bored with it. Four minutes can buy a lot when you're desperate. I also buy some bribery ammunition - a giant box of Mike and Ikes.

In anticipation of the nightmare that the drive is going to be, my stress level is high, and the closer we get to the witching hour, otherwise known as the time we leave our driveway, it just keeps climbing. As extra special contributers to my stress level, the night before we leave, I realize that I forgot to drop my little African dwarf frogs off at my brother's house for him to feed (they live in a tiny cubed tank), and sometime during the day, Connor had turned on an interior light in the car without my noticing, and it was left on all day and into the evening. Thankfully, Nate's mom notices that it's on when she leaves our house that night, therefore sparing us the tragedy of a dead car battery in the morning when we're trying to get this show on the road. Now I don't know for sure if the battery would have been drained from a dome light being left on for 22 hours or not, but to say that I don't really want to find out the second we're trying to leave on a major road trip is an understatement. The kid is lucky his Nana discovered the light, that's all I'm going to say....

The night before we leave, after the kids are in bed, Nate and I hang out on the couch and watch some t.v. My mind is going a thousand miles an hour, trying to figure out what all I have forgotten and whether or not I have it in me to handle the nightmare that the next day is going to be. In an effort to dispel some of my tension, I punch Nate several times in his leg (I have a tendency to be overly affectionate) and tell him how "psyched" I am to drive almost 700 miles with our small children. I remind him over and over what a nightmare it's going to be, just in case he's developing any hopes that perhaps the trip might go well. I figure, the lower our expectations are, the better off we'll be. Anything bad that happens, we'll be expecting to have happen, and therefore, it'll just be a drop in the bucket. On the flip side, anything pleasant that happens will be of lottery-winning proportions. 

I'm psyched.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Unconventional ways to entertain your child(ren).

Sometimes, the television or the toys just aren't living up to their entertainment value with the little ones, so I've had to come up with some "outside of the box" ideas to get the kids out of my hair when I just need a dang minute to get something done or think a simple thought. In my quest to help, I'll share with you some of the ones that won't get CPS called on me. ;)

*I use the term "them" because I've not known what it's like to only have a single child for 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days (oh wow, funny... all the threes).

  • Send them on a mission you know they'll never accomplish. I'll have them look for a toy or some object that I know is hidden or doesn't exist. A determined child can be entertained for hours, or at the very least, several minutes. Once they give up, or if they start becoming too frustrated, I'll send them on a consolation mission that they'll easily accomplish and feel good about themselves for completing.

  • Strap them into their car seats as if you are going somewhere, but remain in the driveway. I get into the driver's seat and nap, read, go over the mail, work on the laptop; whatever. I give the kids something to entertain themselves: a portable DVD player, a handheld game system, and some snacks, and most of the time, they don't even notice that we haven't actually gone anywhere. This is an excellent option if you need the kids to stay in one place. My favorite part of doing this is when the oldest starts asking questions, like, "Mom, why haven't we gone anywhere?" and I get to be like, "What are you talking about? We totally just drove halfway across the county! You were too busy playing your game to notice!" *An alternative to this is to not strap them in and just let them play in the car. My oldest has spent hours simply exploring the interiors of our cars, crawling over the seats, opening compartments, and pushing buttons while I spaced out in the driver's seat. 

  • Give them a very desirable packaged treat, but don't open it for them. Tell them if they can get it open themselves, it's all theirs. This obviously only works for the younger ones who are not yet proficient at opening packages. Just don't use this one on an easily frustrated child; no need for them to stroke out while trying to open a fun-sized Snickers bar. A couple of bonuses to this one: watching them can provide serious entertainment for the parents, and the kids learn creative ways to open packages! No scissors? No problem!

  • Take the plug out of the bottom of their piggy banks, teach them how to shake the money out, and set the banks on the floor. Have them put the coins back in the slot, shake them back out, and repeat. This has entertained my boys for 30 minutes or more. I don't use it often, so it's a novelty for them, which is key. And the best part is that you get to psych them up about how much money they have at the end - it's like they forget or don't realize that it was the same coins they were putting in their banks over and over again. They don't know any better, and they're super happy! Just don't forget to wash their stinking, grimy hands afterwards! Not that the smell won't remind you... you'll see. Or should I say, you'll smell?

I hope you can use a couple of these and get some stuff done while doing so. And, I would love to read what unconventional methods you employ with your kid(s)!

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Swearing and kids: A helpful tip

I swear like a trucker. I don't know why, but I like to drop the f-bomb, the s-bomb, the m-f-bomb, and anything else you can think of on a pretty regular basis. By regular, I mean daily. My partner in crime, Nate, is no stranger to the curse words, either, although he is significantly better than me about not using them so often. Either way, this, obviously, doesn't exactly create the best auditory environment for kids, especially those that are learning how to speak. So, once our first kid reached that age, I tampered down, as best as I could, the swearing, but have not been able to give it up entirely. 

So I put some thought into this, and somewhere along the way, I had an epiphany: Just because I stop (I use the word "stop" loosely) swearing in front of my kids, that doesn't mean the rest of the world will, too. The kids are still going to hear it, and they're still going to repeat it, like the time Connor, at the ripe old age of 2, told Nate, "you're fucking hurting me" when Nate was helping him put on his shirt. 

Once I realized this critical point, the solution was pretty clear to me. It's really very simple: Teach your kids that there are "adult" or "big people" words, and then there are "kid" words. They don't get to say the "big people" words until they are big. If they say the "big people" words, they get in trouble. When, in the process of them learning this rule, they hear a swear word, remind them that that's a big person word and they don't get to say it. So far, it has worked very well with our kids, and I know we're not that lucky; it's just a good tactic. Kids just get it, for some reason. We still have to tell ours not to jump on the couch 95 times a day, but they know not to say a "big person" word. 

And I don't have to cringe, or even notice anymore, when others swear in front of my kids! 

In closing, a funny story (to me, at least): When Ethan was barely 4, if not younger, we were in the car and I had my iPod on shuffle. A rap song that has "motherfucker" rapped about every five words came on, and while I changed it pretty quickly, Ethan got an earful. He put his hand over his mouth and started giggling. I asked him what he was laughing at, and he said, "that song." I just rolled my eyes. A few minutes later I pulled into the driveway and was getting Ethan out of the car when he started giggling again and, in a way that suggested he thought he was going to be getting away with something really big, announced "Mom, I'm going to say that word in my bed!"  
Knock yourself out, kid.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

I can laugh about it now....

There is a sweet woman who lives down the street. I'll refer to her as "Neighbor," since I don't know her name. She's in a wheelchair, she LOVES, I mean seriously LOVES kids, and she appears to have had a stroke or something. Her mouth is kind of frozen open and she doesn't speak very well at all - hence the reason I don't know her name; I'm terrified of asking her and not understanding her, then having to say "what" over and over, embarrassing us both. 

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I made the mistake of taking all three boys to the grocery store, and by myself to boot. Everyone and their mother also decided to go there at that time, so to state the obvious, it was extremely busy. The boys were in top form, meaning hyped up on little kid energy and driving me nuts. 

Well, we encountered Neighbor. I was heading for the checkout, mentally and emotionally gearing up to wait in line for at least 15 minutes with about 50 other people and my strung-out kids when I spotted her through the sea of bodies. As soon as I saw her, my instinct was to turn around and find some other way to go. It's kind of hard to explain all of the reasons I normally choose to avoid her without looking like a total asshole, so just go with it, okay? Anyway, against my better judgment, I made the snap decision to keep pushing the cart forward and just get my kids the fuckity fuck out of the store. 

Of course, she spots us and "beelines" directly to the boys. Did I mention that she LOVES kids? The two older boys see her and start screaming "Aunt Jackie" at her (thanks, "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel"), she starts trying to say "Hi guys!" over and over to them, only she sounds exactly like Warren from "There's Something About Mary," and she's yelling it, too. This alone was enough to attract the attention of the 50 other people around the checkout stands, but in case it wasn't, the boys then started playing a game with her. 

It went like this: they run up and poke her, she pretends to scare them, and they scream and run away. Then they start all over again. 

So basically, two of my kids were running up to what appears to be a handicapped retarded woman, poking her, then screaming and running away. Adding to the picture, while pretending to scare them, she was shaking her head back and forth, her frozen-open mouth allowing slobber to splash across her cheeks, and making these loud "uuugghhhnnnn" noises. She was also leaning forward, pretending to "get" them, and a couple of times nearly fell out of her chair. 

I was dying. I swear to God, if somebody had asked me if those were my kids, I would have said no. Not because my boys were being jerks, but because it looked like they were. Now, while I am not personally acquainted with this woman, I know enough about her to know that she was having a BLAST with them - as they were with her. 

I considered putting a stop to the situation, but who am I to take away the fun of three people just to spare myself some embarrassment? Besides, I just wanted to get the groceries loaded onto the belt, keep Brandon seated in the front of the cart (he has a tendency to stand up) and get the eff outta there. So instead, I mentally thanked Neighbor for entertaining my boys long enough for me to get my groceries checked out, even though it came at the cost of my dignity. 

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Working from home: Not such a great idea after all.

So yesterday I attempted to work from home. For most people, this is a dream come true; what's not to like about setting your own schedule, working in your pjs or birthday suit or whatever works for you, hell, you can even drink and who's to know any better? But it's not all it's cracked up to be for some people, namely those who have small children at home.  Like me. 

Yesterday, while the 5-year-old was in school, and my hubby was sleeping (he works nights), it was me against the 14-month-old and 3-year-old. They teamed up to make the most noise possible, the biggest messes possible, and get into as many forbidden things as possible. No amount of television, snacks, or bribes were going to work; they were hell-bent on complete and total destruction. It was incredibly fun, if you call wanting to shoot yourself in the face "fun". Here are some highlights from my day:

  • The baby, Brandon, got a hold of Dad's cell phone while Connor (you guessed it - the 3-year-old) looked on and didn't say anything. While the ensuing quiet SHOULD have clued me in (it's not like I'm new to this mom thing), I only became aware that he had the phone when I heard someone saying "Hello?" through the speakerphone. I shot off my ass faster than you can say "oh shit" and darted towards the phone, yelling something along the lines of "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, my son got a hold of the phone". I was so distressed that I didn't even recognize the voice as that of my mother.

  • Connor pulled his penis out of the top of his pants and was wagging it at Brandon. (For those of you who have known him all his life, it's not exactly new for him to pull out his weenie, but wagging it at the baby is a little much.)

  • Connor left the bathroom door open, the toilet lid up, and his pee in the bowl. Brandon wandered in and found the toilet. 'Nuff said.

  • Brandon fell into a couple of diaper cakes that I had made and stupidly had sitting on the floor of my home office, waiting to have the gift tags attached. Fortunately, I make them sturdy enough that they survived his clumsy tumble, but the sound of the cellophane crumpling and the sight of his little body slamming into them and potentially destroying hours of work was enough to shave several hours off my life. 

  • I was late picking up my son from kindergarten due to all the chaos. Normally, this wouldn't be a big deal as several parents and kids hang out on the playground outside of the classroom for 10 or 15 minutes after school so it's not as noticeable if a kid hasn't been claimed. However, it was the last day of school before a 3-day weekend, and the parents and kids had cleared out. So of course, the one time I am late, everyone is gone and my son is the lone ranger, the forgotten, running around the playground by himself. It felt really good.

All this happened in between the near-constant screaming (I HATE screaming), miscellaneous minor injuries, constant questions and interruptions, diaper changes/butt wipings, fights, and keeping random disgusting items (like shoes and old pieces of food) out of Brandon's mouth. And all after only getting about 6 hours of broken sleep, thanks to Connor waking up at 3 a.m. from a bad dream or whatever little 3-year-olds have happen in their sleep. 

The end result: It took me about 4 hours to do work that should have taken about a half an hour, my blood pressure hung out at around 190/120, my husband got some pretty crappy sleep (not good in his line of work), and I lost not only some of my hearing but also some pieces from the remaining shreds of sanity that I possess. It was definitely a "good thing they are cute" day. And I will definitely think twice about when and where to work.

For those of you who work at home with small kids, do you have any tips? Besides hiring a babysitter or daycare....

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Why am I doing this?

I don't even know where to begin in answering my own question. Sweet!

Basically, because I can tell that I am slowly getting crazier, one kid and day at a time. And for some reason, I am feeling compelled to detail how. 

Because, sometimes motherhood (and fatherhood) ain't all it's cracked up to be, and I know for a fact that I am not the only one who feels that way. Like the premise for therapy, it is cathartic to share your struggles, hear that others feel the same way, and be given ideas to combat whatever your problem may be at any given moment. So, here I go. 

Since becoming a mother, I have learned ALL KINDS of things about myself; some good, some not so much. Another critical thing I have learned is that there are lots of other parents out there who don't wake up every day before dawn to a screaming child, super excited that they get to start their day at what used to be the middle of the night. There are lots of other parents who would rather shoot themselves in the face than hear their kid scream one more time, listen to another episode of Dora, break up another fight over a toy, or answer one more inane question. To sum up, I know I am not the only one who finds parenting to be an utter drag AND an utter joy, (especially after a couple of glasses of wine) all at the same time. 

Dramatics aside, I have also had too many conversations to count in which I was able to share some helpful tips and pick up some for myself. I love that! I've also noticed that there are lots of things that happen, both physically and emotionally, during pregnancy and throughout motherhood that nobody talks about. So guess what? I'm going to talk about them! For those of you who know me, that will come as no surprise, as I am the one you can count on to over share, and be frank, honest, and tell it like it is. While I strive to be respectful and considerate, I am also blunt, sarcastic, and very tongue-in-cheek. I use humor to have fun in life, I love funny people, I try not to take a lot of stuff too seriously, and I will make fun of myself just as quickly as I will make fun of you. 

So with that being said, a little tip: If you are a sensitive person that is not prone to understanding sarcasm or reading the cold hard truth, then this isn't the place for you! 

If you're still with me, my goal is to have this blog be an outlet for me (read: vent my frustrations), and a humorous, genuine, helpful forum that we can all use to relate and cope with what I consider to be the biggest challenge I have faced: parenthood. I welcome comments (especially ones that agree with me, ha), questions, and your helpful hints. Let's keep it fun and respectful, and recognize that we all have different styles, beliefs, and personalities. And please share this with other parents or parents-to-be that you think would like this! Now, it's time for me to stop neglecting my kids long enough to make them some lunch. I'm super excited about that.

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