Addressing the “State of the Marriage”

During the holidays, most communication in our home went something like this:

“Can you pick up Mike from the airport?”

“Matt is driving home sometime today; is his car going to make it?”

“Mom, there’s no food”

“Mike needs a car to get to a job. Can you drive the kids to school and I’ll pick them up?”

“WHERE ARE THE CAR KEYS????”

“There’s a choir concert on Tuesday night. Abby needs to go to the doctor for a sinus infection and Peter lost his dress shoes.”

“Mom, the zipper broke on my dress and I need to leave in five minutes”

“Mom, there’s no food”

“Dad, my car is making a really weird noise”

“Can the guys come over tonight?”

“Mom, there’s no food.”

“Can Katie and I make Christmas cookies? Do we have any baking stuff?”

“Who made this mess???”

“Why does he have to leave his gross boxers in the bathroom?”

“Mom, there’s no food.”

“Her gross stuff is all over the bathroom and it’s covered in hairspray”

“Why is the dog in the neighbor’s yard?”

“Mom, there’s no food.”

For the last 24 years, my husband and I have been feeding kids, clothing kids, cleaning up after kids, shuttling kids around, watching kids perform, helping kids with insane school assignments, feeding kids, clothing kids, cleaning up after….

In the crush of years and kid-directed activity, I occasionally catch a glimpse of my husband/college sweetheart and think,

“Who is this guy?”

The School of Raising Children transformed two crazy-in-love kids into unrecognizable working drones, living in the same dorm.

This year, my dashing husband took charge. Instead of spending the last week of the year wallowing on the couch in a pile of Christmas cookies and wrapping paper, he booked a hotel room in the city. We packed our bags, donned some stylish clothes and abandoned the whole sorry mess.  With this act alone, he earned a hero’s cape, but he wasn’t finished.  As we sipped trendy cocktails in a restaurant devoid of college and high school kids, he whipped out a list of very purposeful questions.  They were as follows:

What is going well for us?

What three things can WE do better?

What three things can I do better?

What would we like to see happen for the kids in 2013?

How do we go about participating in this?

Where do we see God leading us in 2013?

And that folks, is why I married this guy. We spent the next two days evaluating, planning and talking. We also laughed, tried new restaurants and enjoyed each other’s company.  Instead of starting this year with tired resolutions, we have a written plan of action for 2013.  We will take some time in the summer and evaluate our progress.

The annual “State of the Marriage” address is our new holiday tradition.

champagne flutes touching

Five Times My Kids Made Me Cry…Incident #3

For those dear souls in the throes of potty training, or for those who are still traumatized by it.

It was the perfect storm – lack of brain cells due to child-birth, talking on the phone to my mother and attempting to home school the children –  all coming together in one fateful morning to create a playroom disaster of epic proportions.

After breakfast, I brought my little guy downstairs to watch Sesame Street .  He was proudly sporting a pair of “big boy pants.”  I pulled out the potty chair and placed it in front of the TV.  I instructed him on what to do if he had to go potty.  We even practiced a few times for good measure.  With a (false) sense of security, I went back upstairs to feed the baby and get the older two kids started on their lessons.

With the baby fed and down for a nap and older kids working quietly, I decided (recklessly) it was a good time to call my mother.  I (responsibly) forgot about the time and didn’t notice the older kids abandoning their school books and wandering downstairs.  Then the words no mother ever wants to hear:

“Mom?….MOM!!!!!”

Phone still in hand, I rushed down the stairs.  Horror.

The two older ones were standing there pinching their noses.  There stood the little guy –  naked.  He’d had an accident – #2 variety, not solid.  He had taken off his big boy pants (trying to be helpful?) and had tossed them on the carpet beside his potty seat. His subsequent activities were clearly marked.

He had slid down the plastic slide and scooted in and out of all the little plastic holes on the play structure.  He had built a beautiful Lego house, while sitting in the Lego box. He had somersaulted across the carpet and ridden the spring horse. Ride ’em cowboy!

I think I blacked out.  I don’t remember hanging up on my mother.  I vaguely remember spending the day with a bucket of bleach water but I’m not sure about that.

I do know we took an afternoon trip to the store to buy a truckload of diapers.

Five Times My Kids Made Me Cry…Incident #1

The perpetrators in these stories will remain nameless.

I had almost finished loading the car for a two week vacation in California.  We were flying instead of driving so timing was important.  My husband was at the office handling some last minute details while I packed for him and the five kids, loaded the car, made sandwiches, checked-in for our flights, made sure every one had something to entertain themselves, arranged for the pets and the yard and cleaned the house. Get the picture? We had five minutes before we needed be in the car and make the one hour drive to the airport. The kids were wild so I banned them to the back yard and and told them not to show their faces until Dad was in the driveway.  Mother of the year.

Hubby screeched in with three minutes to spare.  I greeted him in the driveway.  We locked eyes.  I think I saw him shudder as he pulled past me and parked his car in the garage.

I fumed by the car as he rushed in to change his clothes. It was then that I heard the pandemonium erupt in the backyard.

Four kids barreled around the side of the house, a churning mass of shouts and pointing fingers.  A fifth child came more slowly, dripping, shoes squishing, hair sopping, algae clinging to his clothes.  His older sibling had shoved him headlong into the pond.  We had one minute.

After a moment of stunned shock, I sprung to action. My husband herded the dry kids into the car while I stripped the wet one.  I bagged his shoes, wiped the pond scum off his head and hung over the back seat, digging for some dry clothes as we rocketed down the highway.  We made it.  Barely.  Frazzled mothers should be upgraded to first-class and given complimentary cocktails.  I also recommend a special section in the back, by the bathrooms, for procrastinating fathers and unruly children. Just sayin’.

The perp in this case just got married.  I’m still not over it.

Don’t be so pushy, he’s just shy

Here he is on top of Half Dome in Yosemite

Really?

I have a kid who was born with a natural inclination to hide.  I first noticed this trait when he was eight months old. A friend entered our apartment and Michael planted his baby face in the rug. When I peeled him off the carpet he clamped his hands firmly over his eyes and let out a howl.   As he grew, my little guy struggled to enter groups, either clinging to me or hanging in the back. For a while, he kept a hat on his head, low over his eyes so he didn’t have to look at anyone.  The opposite was true at home.  With us, he was delightful and out-going. Always imaginative and intelligent, he led his siblings in their games.  When we were away from the safety of our home, he seemed miserable.  He refused to do simple tasks that other children were doing willingly.  When I expressed concern, well-meaning parents said, “Oh, he’s just shy” and “Don’t worry, he’ll grow out of it.”  I remained unconvinced.   To me, Michael seemed to be a kid trapped inside himself by his fear of new people and situations.

One day at a park, I noticed him hanging back and watching the other kids going down a medium-sized slide.  His little brother was gleefully climbing up the ladder and sliding down.  I could tell he wanted to go down the slide, because he kept putting one foot on the ladder and then backing away. I don’t know what possessed me, but I went over and said “Come on Son, were going down”  I dragged him screaming and clawing up the five foot ladder, plopped him at the top and gave him a little push. As the other mothers glared, I waited at the top to see what he would do.  At the bottom of the slide, he leaped up, turned around, and yelled “That was FUN!” His face beamed as he dashed around and bounded up the ladder.  That moment was my epiphany – this kid needed a push.

Pushy parents have gotten some bad press lately and rightfully so.  We should never live out desires for stardom, athletic prowess or beauty through our children. With five kids who are either two or three sport athletes and involved in a multitude of artistic pursuits, I’ve attended A LOT of youth sporting  and performance events.  Sadly, I’ve seen some really out-of-control parents bringing shame on their families.   I have personally experienced a parent celebrating over my son’s injury, because his son stood a better chance of getting some playing time.  We’ve all seen Toddlers and Tiaras – where pathetic, and I believe abusive parents are displayed to the world. (I hope those people are not making any money for being on that show, but they probably are)  But when you see that your child is so afraid and/or stubborn that he or she refuses to learn a skill or participate in a worthwhile activity,  your child’s behavior has moved from a temperament issue to a behavioral issue.  To develop a positive character trait in our son, we decided to gently and firmly help him overcome his fears and behave correctly in situations where he is afraid.  Pushing a kid to be the BEST HE CAN BE – not necessarily THE BEST, is an act of love.  With that in mind, I guess you can call me pushy.

Here's my sweety kicking some butt in boxing for CAL

We decided not to accept that our son was a fearful person with a natural lack of social skills. We refused to give him the label of “shy”.  As Michael grew, we insisted that he look people in the eye and give appropriate responses.  In the car, before we entered any social situation, I coached him on different scenarios, saying things like  “If Mr. Smith says ‘Hi’ to you, what are you going to say?” It was embarrassing at times, but we kept at it. There were times when other parents talked behind our backs and even openly scolded us.  That was hard.  But my job was to raise our son, not to be popular with the Mommy and Me playgroup, so we persisted.   We signed him up for a lot of different activities and required him to fully participate. At one point, I even paid him $50 to be in the choir. Bribery has it place, people!

Here he is timidly jumping onto an ice flow

You may be wondering if all that pushing and prodding damaged my son’s tender soul. It took a while, but by the time he was 13, he started to shine.  In eighth grade, he acted in a community theater production and received fan mail.  In high school, he joined many clubs and sports teams. He mastered public speaking and for four years, spoke to elementary school groups about the danger of drug and alcohol abuse. He performed in musicals, MC’d events and was the lead singer in a rock band.  As a Senior, he was elected student body president and selected as homecoming royalty. A four year choir member, he sang the national anthem with a quartet and was elected choir president.  He was a National Honor Society officer, captain of the cross country team and the recipient of numerous scholarships for his community involvement and leadership. Though he was popular and had a close group of friends, each day at lunch, he found a student eating alone and sat with them.  He was voted by his senior class to be “Everyone’s Friend”.  He delivered the commencement address at his senior graduation and now attends one of the top schools in the nation, the University of California, Berkeley.

He overcame his fear of heights

Children come with all sorts of temperaments, strengths and weaknesses.  Our job, as parents, is to do what it takes for our individual children so that they will grow to be well-rounded, hard working, healthy adults. With adulthood as the goal, some kids, like our Michael, need a little prodding for them to share themselves with the world.  Some kids need more boundaries so that they will share less of themselves with the world. (I have one of those, too – more on him later) My son, Michael, is exceptional by anyone’s standard but I am convinced that if we had let him be “shy” he wouldn’t be the person he is today.

I KNOW it’s Cherry Blossom Fesitval

Cherry Blossoms & Washington Monument

Cherry Blossoms & Washington Monument

Our Nation’s Capitol  – The Finale

At a gas station outside of Gettysburg, PA, I got out my map to estimate the drive time to Stafford, VA where Grandpa had booked us a hotel.  He got a new GPS for Christmas and had used it to find a town close to Washington DC, where we could catch the Metrorail subway system into the city.  I know that everyone has a GPS now days and people love them; more accurate; so convenient; blah blah blah. I am well aware that this statement makes me a dinosaur and older than my father, but I like old-fashioned, paper maps.  I like to pull over to the side of the road and unfold them across the dashboard, absorbing the grand scope of the U.S.A.  I like to see all the cities along my route at once and not just a small screen showing the next ten miles down the highway.   By using the space between the knuckles on my index finger, I like estimating my drive times.   I even know how to fold up the maps after I use them.  So, according to my knuckle test, there was no way on God’s green earth we were going to mobilize 9 people every morning in time to drive from Stafford, VA to the nearest Metro station, where we would then ride a train into Washington DC to arrive in time to take all the 9:00am tours that I had set up SIX MONTHS IN ADVANCE!! (notice the growing hysteria?).

Hyperventilating, I dug out my trusty AAA  guidebook and started systematically calling every hotel in the Washington DC area.  I got the same response “Sorry Ma’am, It’s Cherry Blossom Festival, we’re booked.” In desperation, I called the front desk at the Stafford, VA Comfort Inn & Suites to see if it was just my imagination that they were as far as I thought they were from Washington DC.   I found out that not only were they that far, but with commute traffic, it was more like 2 hours to a Metro station that would eventually take us into the city.  And that was when I lost it – I blubbered out my whole story to this guy; the drive; the grandparents; the kids; Gettysburg – poor guy, I think he was scared.

He said, ” Ma’am, can I put you on hold?”

“Sure, why not?” I responded.

My head pressed to the steering wheel, I listened to the numbing elevator music as the usual pandemonium clamored around me – kids sliding back and forth over the seats in the car; kids dodging around in the parking lot throwing things at each other; kids schmoozing Nana for candy money, etc.  Grandpa felt bad and was trying to find a new town on his GPS.

Then, my therapist/front desk attendant got back on the line to say some of the most beautiful words I have ever heard. I still consider this a minor miracle. It would be perfectly appropriate to add heavenly choir music as a backdrop to:

“Ma’am, I’ve got something for you.  There is a new Country Inn close to Washington DC and within walking distance of a Metro station.  They just opened up yesterday and are completely empty – do you want me to transfer you to their front desk?”

So, our vacation was saved by God and a guy named Nick. We got three rooms in a brand new hotel, with easy access to the Metrorail system in Washington DC, during the National Cherry Blossom Festival! Our week was amazing.  We did it all; the museums, the tours; the monuments.  Grandpa proved to be a wizard at getting us on and off the Metro trains and we wrapped up the week with a drive to Charlottesville, VA to tour Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello.

After lunch, we kissed Nana, Grandpa and cousin Megan goodbye and I again donned my long-haul trucker hat to begin what became a 25 hour trip home to Minnesota. Which brings us full circle to “Mom’s gonna kill you.”  We all agreed that it would be great to make it home in time to celebrate Easter dinner with Dad. Unfortunately, because of weather, mountain roads and traffic, it took us 16 hours to make our goal of Louisville, KY on Saturday night.  I don’t recommend driving 16 hours in one day, in fact, it’s not even legal for truckers.  After dozing briefly at a hotel, we got up @ 4:00am, shared a classy sunrise Easter breakfast at a roadside Waffle House, and hit the highway.

Somewhere in Wisconsin, about 4 hours from home, I desperately needed a nap.  The road was long and straight and I figured my spectacle-less son could handle an hour behind the wheel so I could get some sleep.  I gassed up, switched over to the passenger side and closed my eyes.  That’s when, in the back seat, my son Peter decided to conduct a science experiment with some diet coke and mentos candy in his mouth.  For those of you who don’t know the outcome of this chemical reaction – try it…outside.

So the moral of my story?  Road trips are worth it.  They are grueling, grimy and sometimes embarrassing.  But, your family will bond together in ways that you just can’t accomplish on a 3 hour plane flight. Our road trips are some of our best memories; my grown kids love recalling our many adventures.   If you are parenting alone, or your spouse can’t go with you for whatever reason – be brave and go anyway.  The trade-off for lost sleep, nation-wide embarrassment and hair-loss is a stronger character, life-long memories and a closer family.

Shock and Awe in Gettysburg

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry at Gett...

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry at Gettysburg

Our Nation’s Capitol   Part 2

I have loved Civil War History since I was a girl.  Every summer, as soon as school let out, I read Gone with the Wind.  Nerd you say?  Perhaps.  But, Scarlett and Rhett are the best and I will be the first in line should hoop skirts be brought back in fashion – just sayin’.  As an adult, I am awed by the terrible brutality of the Civil War and the way it shaped our nation.

I am particularly intrigued by the National Civil War Battlefields. Standing on the place where so many men fought and died is very humbling and it’s something I wanted my children to understand.  So, now that I’m in charge, I drag them through as many of these famous sites as I want. The kids roll their eyes as I mull over the museums, watch the films in the interpretive center and buy souvenirs.  They don’t put up much of a fight because I have the car keys.  Gettysburg was at the top of my list.

We arrived at the visitor center and decided to buy the guided auto tour CD.  As the desk volunteer scribbled a few arrows on a map, she explained how easy it was to follow and pointed us toward the door.  Nana and Grandpa said they would bring up the rear but got a late start out of the parking lot and we lost them on the first turn.  We circled back, came up behind him and tried to pass amid honks and glares from other auto tour patrons.  We got our vehicles back in line and made it to the first stop, which happened to be the only stop we followed in the order of the CD all day.

We were not the only vehicles having trouble navigating the tour.  On every street, cars driven by wide-eyed tourists were creeping along, driving on curbs, making abrupt stops and blocking traffic with three-point turns. People leaned and squinted out windows trying to read street signs. Most of Gettysburg’s homes had huge signs in their yards reading PRIVATE PROPERTY – NO TRESPASSING; definitely a wise move.

After listening to dramatized reenactments at the wrong sites, we eventually gave up on the CD and started pulling over wherever we saw groups of cars.  After questioning the other drivers about what they were looking at, we got back into our cars and listened to the corresponding audio track.  On a few stops we overheard tidbits from guided tours. That’s how we unintentionally found out that we were standing on the place where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address – kinda cool; the kids were impressed.

We happened upon an observation deck, about 2 stories tall. I thought maybe from up there, we could figure out our map.  Nana doesn’t like heights so she and Grandpa stayed in the car.  The kids and I clambered up the stairway and joined a group of onlookers. Surveying the land, I was swept up in my grand love of Civil War history and forgot that I was traveling with 4 teenagers and an eleven-year old.  At the rail, I started saying something profound about the pivotal importance of the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War, when I heard my 13-year old gearing up to hawk a loogy off the deck.   In one of those moments that seemed to move to slow-motion, I heard myself saying “Nooooo Peterrrrrr….”   Too late – he launched the monster of all loogies.  This thing was huge and had a life of its own.  We watched in horror as it sailed out, was caught by a stiff back wind and returned, undulating and twisting, in our direction.  His older brothers ducked as it sailed over their heads for a direct hit on the shirt of the guy behind them. A stunned silence settled over the observation deck.  A woman awkwardly fumbled in her purse for a tissue. I broke the spell by lunging for the ear of the offender as the other kids sneaked toward the stairs.  I dragged the culprit over to make a shame-faced apology.  To glares and shaking heads, I backed my way off the deck nudging the spitter behind me.  We joined the other kids in their full-out sprint to the car, signaling Grandpa to start ‘er up. For once in their lives, my family entered a vehicle without a fight and we squealed away. The Loogy Guy wasn’t at our next stop – our disordered touring method turned out to be our salvation.

After conducting Loogy Guy surveillance, we hit a few more stops.  It happened to be Living History Day and we were treated with a blast from a real cannon, along with some amazing stories about the bravery of the 1st Minnesota Infantry. We sat on the top of Little Big Top and gazed down at the the Devils Den, listening to a tour guide describe the horror of the battle.  The kids were properly awed and I slowly recovered a few shreds of dignity.  With no further Loogy Guy sightings, we wrapped up a great day and set off for Washington D.C.  He’s probably written a blog about how some lousy kid ruined his day at Gettysburg.

Next up – “It’s Cherry Blossom Festival???”

Take a shower and other motherly advice

I’ve often been asked to write down my experiences while raising my five children. One of the best compliments I ever received was from a high school friend who commented to another friend that my family likes to be together.  That comment brings tears to my eyes because I have fought long and hard, striving for that goal.

I made a lot of choices that are not typical starting with homeschooling the children for their elementary years.  Before you start calling me a saint or any other glowing term, I want to dispel any illusions that I am in anyway more patient, kind or sympathetic than the average woman.  I’m not. I’m also not organic; I don’t wear jumpers (add silent scream here) and I don’t bake bread.  Even though I live in the Midwest, I was raised in California, and I don’t have an accent.  I like fashion, laying in the sun, and eating in restaurants.  My children’s pants cover their ankles.

I wanted my children to see, learn and experience life first hand so that they would be well-rounded, open-minded, clear-thinking, interesting adults.  I also get bored easily so I’ve done a lot of things and gone a lot of places with my children in tow. The kids are mostly grown now.  I have a college graduate, a college senior, a college sophomore and two high school students.  People seem to like them at least that’s what they tell me.

“Take a shower” will be a series of life experiences and lessons I learned while nurturing/molding/prodding/dragging my often kicking and screaming little people into adulthood.  Why “Take a Shower” you ask?  If you ask my kids what is my first response for almost any problem they will say, “Take a shower!”  I still think it’s excellent advice. Think about it – a shower makes almost anything better. It gives you a new perspective; time to think; it clears your sinuses; cleans your wounds; removes unwanted debris…so many things with such a simple act.

So my first series will be the “Our Nation’s Capital” Fasten your seat belts…