Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Week Off Toast: November 16, 2014

Good morning!  Thanks to all those who read my last post (definitely a record!) and said a few prayers for me.  If ever there was a mom who truly needed Clarence the Angel to show up and give her a George Bailey moment, it was me last week.  

Come to think of it, It's A Wonderful Life probably isn't a movie I should watch right now.  I get to the scene where Mary Bailey is doing something to the house (painting, putting up wallpaper, what was it exactly?) while her passel of very littles play passively and quietly at her feet and I wonder what I'm doing wrong.  My last hour involved a sprint around the house collecting baskets of very stinky laundry as Craig stood guard over the girls having Mowwker Time at the dinnertable (I LOVE how Melina says 'markers') and Devon stood by eviscerating an entire roll of scotch tape because Carrie's paper had a tiny rip.  Craig got up to carry a basket and I snapped "Don't move!" because if he had somebody would've been hitting someone and then comes the running with uncapped markers and, yes, then the screaming. 
 So, yeah, we're coping.  Some days better than others.  Devon's sleep issues that started with time change have smoothed out a bit, but not much.  He's still getting a good hour or two less a night than we think he needs, especially for a preschooler.  Putting him to bed early just confines the shenanigans to one room of the house.  Forty-five seconds of lying still and he'd be out, but instead he's changing his pajamas two or three times, rearranging his bed, or driving cars up and down the wedge pillows he's pilfered from Mommy and Daddy's room.

Devon: (forty-five minutes after bedtime) STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!
Mommy: Devon?  Is that you?  What is going on up there?
Devon: It's just me.  I'm marching around in circles.
Mommy: Why?
Devon: Because I have to!
Mommy: Why? (listening)
CD Player: The ants go marching one-by-one Hurrah! Hurrah!....
Mommy: Devon, GO TO BED!

 We've been very concerned about how this bender would affect his school behavior.  It's occasionally caused some pretty intense spells of wakeup and dropoff crankiness.  On the evening of the worst morning on record, the one where Daddy was a half hour late to work because it took two adults with advanced degrees forty-five minutes to double-team a four-year-old into putting on his socks, we got a kind email from his teacher stating that he had a wonderful day. 
To preserve our sanity we're picking our battles in a big way.  This week Mommy decided that she needed a week off toast, as serving it creates a million crumbs that get everywhere.  Nobody's really minded that we eat pancakes instead, and no twenty-five minute sweeping sessions because crumbs are Mommy's kryptonite.  

This would be right about where I should chime in with a reminder to disregard the mess and fully embrace the chaos of the small-kids-at-home years, but I'm not going to do that.  Keeping up with the housework takes all day anyway.  Failing to finish just means everything is disorganized and my job gets even harder and MORE frustrating.  I cope by knowing what I can reasonably accomplish in the time I choose to devote to housework and refusing to take anything on that will be more than that and therefore not get done.  My laundry isn't folded but at least it's in the drawer.  Dinner was canned soup but at least the dishes went right in the dishwasher.  And yes, I didn't serve bread with dinner because who needs it anyway? My time is at such a premium now, and if I devote any time to extras I miss the things I'd like to keep non-negotiable, like nightly book time.  

Devon: (pointing) Are those the green eggs, Mommy?
Mommy: Yes, they are.
Devon: But the ham is green too, Mommy!
Mommy: Yes, it is!
Devon: GRRRRR.  They should call this book Green Eggs and GREEN Ham.

Mommy: Big P, little p, what begins with p? Painting some pajamas pink, P...p...p.
Devon: Mommy, that is making an awful mess!  He should NOT paint his pajamas pink.  He should leave them the color that God made them!
Mommy: Yes, Devon, sounds good to me.
Devon: He is NOT following God's commandments.  I command him to STOP! 

I am so, so thankful for Devon's Sunday School teacher, who is the Anne Sullivan to my son's Helen Keller.  Devon is ready to have conversations about heaven, sin, and a relationship with Jesus.  It's such a blessing to have him blurt out things he knows that we haven't gotten around to teaching him yet. 
I am so, so thankful for church right now.  Don't the girls look big!  No matter what kind of morning it's been, just walking through the doors makes me feel like I've been granted asylum.  Even if it's only 8 in the morning and I'm so worn thin and ready to weep with discouragement, I'm not going to stay home.  If you're going to be a hot mess, I tell myself, go and be one in the house of the Lord.  He understands. 

Melina: Are you sad, Mommy?
Mommy: No, Melina, I'm happy.
Melina: Are you exhausted?
Mommy: Ummm...

It's a difficult thing for me right now.  I'm struggling with how to make my children feel cherished and not a burden when managing them for so many hours a day seven days a week pushes the limits of my physical and emotional breaking points.  I feel that lying to them and telling them I'm fine when really I'm wrecked harms their understanding of human weakness and our need for physical and mental rest.  So I usually confess to them that I'm really tired and need Jesus to speak to my heart and give me more energy because I am not feeling good.

Mommy: What's the matter, Melina?
Melina: (crying at bedtime) I just want to go to Chick-fil-A, Mommy.  But I'm exhausted!

At least they're learning the limits of their own strength by seeing that my strength has limits.  Sometimes, endearingly, they pray for me.  Other times, they are quiet in the car so I can listen to a song that makes me feel better.  Devon has even started singing songs from "song time", what he calls the part of the service that the kids attend before being dismissed to children's church:

Oh, God, you are my God,
and I will ever praise you....

Hearing those words come so sweetly from his mouth makes the rather gymnastic task of wrestling all three in half the service worth it. 

I look forward to the day when my kids will be able to show me compassion and amuse themselves during these times so I can take a nap.  Those days are not here, though.  Devon, especially, takes any moment of unsupervision as an opportunity for mischief.  Most recently, he waits for us to go hide during hide-and-go-seek and then opens the pantry door, climbs on the step stool, and eats marshmallows.  Just last week he outsmarted the safety locks on the windows and I'm constantly feeling a draft in our expensively propane-heated house and having to go lecture him. 
I'm so thankful for MOPS providing structured outings that give my kids opportunities for social interaction.  Here they are after the tour of the nearby Herr's Potato Chip Factory. 
Carrie's language skills have been the most fun of all three lately.

Mommy: Carrie, could you stop kicking the back of my chair?
Carrie: I'm not kicking, Mommy.  Your chair is stopping my foot.

Carrie:(on Facetime) Hello, Grammy, just what have you been up to lately?

Mommy: Do you want to go to the park?
Carrie: No, I'm not really up to it right now.

Carrie: I'm going up to the third floor, and Jesus is going with me.

Carrie borrows a lot of her language patterns and inflections from Mommy.  No pressure, haha!

Carrie: I am just DONE playing markers.  Done, done, done, done DONE!  Don't ask me to play markers ever again!  I am going to SpiderMan Park RIGHT NOW!  Get in the car and take me there!
One of our lifelines in the constant struggle to manage our exhaustion as parents are mornings or afternoons at the YMCA.  Without their drop-in childcare I'd never get in my ambitious but necessary five-days-a-week workout schedule.  I desperately need the endorphins and the ability to cancel out at least one of every day's multiple dietary indiscretions.  The kids also benefit greatly from one-on-one time with Mommy, an impossibility any other way.  This week we set a record and were there four times!  I don't know what else to do to give the kids enough exercise when preschool ends at 3 and it's dark before 5. 
We received the unexpected blessing of a CharlieBelle Box a few weeks ago.  One of Craig's aunts occasionally surprises us with a huge box of eclectic gifts that come in the mail and delight our unsuspecting children. 
 It's 3:48 in the afternoon and I'm trying to resign myself to Ally Kitty being the only member of our family to get a nap this afternoon.  This stage of the girls giving up naps is rooooooough.  Truly sorry to complain, and well aware that a toddler mom talking about being exhausted is just about the most unoriginal thing ever.  I look at the clock and mourn naps anew about two hundred times every afternoon.  Then I tell myself to stop beating a dead horse!

Ahem.... I am well aware that the horse is dead.  And that I'm still expecting it to take me somewhere.  And that it's yet another opportunity to depend on God and not outward circumstances for my very sanity.

I echo the words of Tim Keller quoting I'm-too-tired-to-remember-whom: Everything that God gives is necessary, and everything that he withholds is unnecessary.  If I can't get a nap, I guess I didn't need one.  So far it's been a constant struggle to not be so much in survival mode that I toss some very good things out of the lifeboat.  Like letting Busy Boy get out of bed and experience the first snowfall of the season, even though it would take us forty-five minutes to get him back into bed. 
Two nights ago was also a big night for our family, as we officially became an entirely diaper-free household.  I was about to open another case of nighttime diapers.  We decided that they were getting too big for 4's, so I counted off how many days until I could exchange them for a larger size.  Then we thought for a minute and realized what a huge hassle it was becoming to even have diapers still in our lives.  The girls were taking them off in the mornings and hiding them in obscure trash cans all around the house instead of putting them in the diaper genie.  We were forever unspooling them from pj pants in the hamper, picking them up off the girls' floor, or stepping in one while getting them dressed.  It also seemed like they weren't getting much nighttime action.  So far, the girls are doing pretty well with the transition, although time will tell.  The case of diapers is going back to Costco on Tuesday, and I'll spend the money on special new pj's and maybe something to eat in the food court.  Those of you who read my last post just paused to say another prayer for me.  Haha.  Thanks.

We leave for vacation on Thursday evening and will arrive in Nashville on Friday night.  We're hoping to take advantage of ten days at Mama and Papa's house and let Mommy and Daddy have some occasional rests.  Then Grammy and Grandpa will spend half of December with us, so rest and recovery are on the horizon...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

WORST Parenting Day on Record: November 7, 2014

Everyone has bad days.  Even the song says Mama said there'd be days like this.  Why is Mom the bringer of this news?  I'm sure it's probably because any mom can dig not-so-deeply in her memory and lay hold of some days that were truly, awfully miserable from wakeup till bedtime.  And now I have to go no further back from this week, because Tuesday took the win, the recount, and the trophy in parenting awfulness and I can't imagine any day touching it for a long, long time.  

5:45 am wakeup.  Devon is crawling into bed next to me.  This should be adorable, but it was a late, late evening last night, full of fights over trivial things.  Which pajamas.  How to put them on: facing me or facing away.  Where to brush teeth.  Window blinds: up or down.  Things I'm past caring about but I'm holding the line in how he treats us during these struggles to get his way because he needs to learn kindness, or at least that people are disinclined to accommodate him if he acts rudely.  It's a chess game I played perfectly (at least last night) but still long and frustrating and so incredibly wearying.  

Dobson's matter-of-fact analogy is that parents of especially spirited children are like night watchman, making the rounds and making sure all the doors are locked.  Children run around turning doorknobs, and if they see an opportunity they take it.  Establishing boundaries early on lays a foundation for good behavior.  Some days, even when I'm doing my job well, I feel exhausted and discouraged because the world is just so big and there are so many doors and so many grabby hands to reach for them.  Bedtime comes too late and when they're finally asleep I fall into my bed and begin the next day what feels like a moment later with the fug of last night's mood heavy in my head and thick on my tongue.  

6:00 am breakfast.  Devon and I are in the kitchen.  He's in Happy to Help mode, the idea of which is encouraging and endearing but the execution is terrifying.  I've just started the coffeepot and it's evidently plugged because scalding hot water and coffee grounds are leaking out the filter door and puddling on the counter.

Devon: Oh no! What do you need, Mommy?  I'm happy to help!
Mommy: Get me a towel from the pantry, Devon!
Devon: (returning with a kleenex) Here you go!  This is better, use this!
Mommy: No, Devon, I need a towel, hurry!
Devon: No, you don't!
Mommy: Yes, I do!
Devon: Here.  I'll get you another!
Mommy: Devon, listen to your mommy!  I need a towel!

Checkmate.  If I go around him and reach for the towel myself, he'll burn himself mopping up the water with the kleenex.  If I stand here convincing him that I do need a towel, water and coffee grounds will overflow the counter puddle and drip down the cabinets and onto the floor. My mood isn't helping.

Mommy: Devon. Get. Me. A. Towel. From. The. Pantry. Now. Please. Now.
Devon: Happy to help, Mom!

So a real towel that can do the job finally materializes next to me just as Starbucks Niagara overflows the counter and starts splattering on the floor.  I grab for the towel and Devon sidesteps me and makes to wipe it up himself.  I'm calmly and quietly explaining to him that this is hot and it will hurt and there are some jobs that are Mommy jobs and he needs to trust me and let me do them.  Words don't work.  I'm bodyblocking him to keep him away from the hot water and wrestling him for the towel and somehow he gets around me anyway.  Down goes the towel into the huge puddle on the counter.  He swipes and hot water and coffee grounds go all over me.  All over him.  All over everything.  

Staccato Mom isn't working for me anymore.  In volume sufficient to wake my sleeping husband a half hour before his alarm, I ask Devon the question that boils bitterly to the surface in our daily struggles.

Mommy: Devon, why won't you listen?  Why do you do things like this?  Why? Why? Why? Why?

I grab him and pull off his pajamas, dropping them on the floor in the middle of the mess, then hold him with the other arm as I rip off my soaked and messy bathrobe and drop it to the floor as well.  The rough clumsiness of my touch does what the hot water did not.  It makes him cry.  We go upstairs, him tugging on my arm like a feral cat.  I dress him, leave him up there, and listen to him cry as I clean up the mess downstairs.

As I do, the waves of frustration radiate off my shoulders.  I worry that this is the mom he will remember from his childhood.  The one who's already been through the wringer and had enough by 6:42 am and is wondering desperately how she's going to make it to preschool dropoff at 8:15.  Not gentleness.  Not patience.  I can hear the girls up and ready for interaction but I can't dress them and bring them down because that would be three morning personalities and I can't manage just one right now.

After I'm dressed and the mess is cleaned up, I go back up to his room and apologize for yelling.  I could really use an apology for the disobedience and the not listening and the thousand other things that make me feel entitled to sympathy, but I've been reading Give them Grace and I worry that too many prompted apologies will turn off his conscience and he'll never learn to feel true remorse and repentance.

Devon: I forgive you and I love you, Mommy.

8:15 am dropoff.  Devon has made his lunch.  The girls are buckled in after a long struggle to get them out of the clothes they chose and into a mom-approved outfit.  I'm so over worrying about the bizarre but I draw the line at weather inappropriate.  As far as clothes go, the Florida Triplets would go everywhere in mismatched socks and bathing suits if I let them.  The verbal and physical battle to get them dressed and buckled into the car left no time for breakfast, but I have a plan.  Starbucks is ten minutes north of school in West Grove and we'll hole up there with their packed breakfast and my treat mocha until it is time to pick up a friend and go to storytime at 9:30.

We're winding around the bends and we've just prayed for Devon's school day to go well.  The kids' VBS CD is exhorting us peppily to have the Fruit of the Spirit, and that's why we've been listening to the same six songs over and over for the past nine months:

It's easy to get mad
when things don't go your way
It's easy to complain
when you're having a bad day...

My first indication that something is different is in the school parking lot.  The dropoff cones are missing.  A tent is erected on the lawn and people are standing under it, checking in to vote.  Election signs line the driveway as I circle the driveway and pretend to park.  These two things I know: east coast schools close on election days.  Today is an election day.  My blood runs cold as I complete the syllogism.  

Therefore, there is no school today.

There was probably a reminder sent home, but I left Devon's craft of a decorated pumpkin in his backpack overnight and it rotted in the dryer-warmed mud room.  The washing and Febreezing of his backpack (ho stink!!!!) took precedence over deciphering what else was in there.  

Devon is in the back seat waiting to be dropped off at school.  The five good minutes he had all morning were packing his lunch and talking excitedly about lunch bunch.  I have to tell my not-at-all-resilient one that his day is not going to go like he expects it, and then deal with the fallout.  All. Day. Long.  

A million inspirational quotes on the importance of my attitude flood my mind.  God grant me the serenity..... I've found that life is 10% circumstances and 90% my reaction to them.... Stop viewing life's mishaps as interruptions to real life because they ARE your real life....  I am determined.  First, to not let on that I am more dismayed by this turn of events than I know he will be in a moment.  Second, to make it a good day.  

Mommy:  Oops, Devon!  It looks like Mommy goofed!  Today is NOT a school day.  What was I thinking?  That is just nonsense!  Girlies, guess what?  We get to hang out with Devon ALL DAY LONG!!!  Let's all go get a donut to celebrate!  Who wants a donut?

Devon: NOOOOOO!!!!!!

By the time we're through the Starbucks drive thru and parked at the Giant in West Grove, I've talked Devon down from his distress at being deprived of lunch bunch and promised him an activity packed day with lots of opportunities to have fun.  I let him choose a race car cart with me and ride in the top where he likes.  The girls clamor into the bottom and my hand curls around the warmth of my coffee cup.  As I push the cart into the store, my mind breaks the task of getting a donut into all its component parts so I can narrate them to my children and then follow through on each step.  This is necessary because I'm just one person and there are three of them.  They have to know what is expected of them and that Mommy will follow up on each step or there will be no promised donut.  

The delighted squeals from our cart make passersby smile as we pull up in front of the glass.  This makes my heart glad, as I so badly want my kids to bless others.  Be givers and not just takers.  They are all allowed to get out of the cart and point through the glass at their choice of a treat.  I let them have fun, occasionally reminding them of store outing rules.

Point to what you see.
Tell me what you like about it.
Do not grab.

In order for me to get the promised treats into a box, everyone has to get back in the cart and wait there.  I can't keep tabs on where everyone is running and what everyone is touching while I do something.  Anything.  So I give a light and low command and the girls run back to the race car and climb in.  I lift Devon back up to the cart and he protests and climbs out.  I explain the situation to him.  No cart, no treat.  I lift him again.  He climbs out again.  I lift him up again.  As he makes for a third escape, I hold his arm with one hand and we turn around and leave the store.  Devon is screaming.  I'm holding him down to  keep him from levitating yet again.  My coffee is in my other hand.  I'm pushing the cart with my elbow.  The girls, also being denied a donut, are crying.  

9:15 now what?  I'm sitting in the front seat of the car and the waves of sound and rage coming from all three are unbelievable.  I'm sipping my coffee and waiting for the storm to pass.  Four hundred liquid calories are not what I need if I am going to lose the toddler weight.  Serves me right for smugly zipping up my pre-pregnancy jeans a mere six months after having twins, and then having to buy smaller ones two months later.  Nobody told me at the time that moms of toddlers are surrounded by food all day long and the sound of a meltdown on the ears of a mom who desperately needs a nap and knows she won't get one today triggers a deep body hunger.  Whether I ate five minutes ago or six hours ago, I'm starving.

I salivate like one of Pavlov's dogs and take another sip. I remind myself that I am the adult in this situation and therefore the only one who is expected to act like it.  I let go of the idea that the donut will be our reset button and try to think what it will be.  Since they're obviously not ready to reset, I start with myself.  

I look down at my coffee.   

Today I am happy and grateful that my husband never, ever questions the little luxuries I allow myself during the day.  He is at work and part of me feels guilty for that.  If he ever acted annoyed that I bought myself a five dollar coffee or fed the kids at Chick-fil-A when it would be cheaper but so much more work to just take them home and cook them lunch then I wouldn't do either. 

Today I am happy and grateful that I can stay home with my kids.   I think of close friends of mine currently at work who would love to be in my shoes.  To be the one to sit calmly by their kids as they melt down for the third time that morning.  I don't even have the distraction of working at home to take me mentally away from raising my kids for hours a week.  That's the paradox of this phase of life right now (I don't use the word "season" as in It's only a... because I get a little sick of hearing that over and over).  I'm miserable some days, but I'm also living the dream.  I'm doing exactly what I would've chosen to do if you asked me about it at fifteen, or twenty, or even patting my first pregnant stomach at thirty.  I can't think of a single person on earth I'd trade places with, even the ones that are doing the same job as me and look like they've got it easier and are doing a much better job.  If I was a teacher, a writer, or even a barista I'd still have the occasional miserable day.  Everyone does. 

Today I am happy and grateful for Pandora.  The kids occasionally reset their moods with music, and although they're not feeling it this morning it's working for me.

Your love never fails
It never gives up
It never runs out on me.....

I pray to the God who gave me these kids at this time.  Exactly as he would have chosen to do because he always gets his way.  I trust him to heal the damage caused by my mistakes and glorify himself in the eyes of my children each time I do succeed in some small way.

Today I am happy and grateful that my slowly expanding rear end was never profaned by tattoos that would no doubt be pulling and stretching in a thousand hideous ways.  I always try to end my gratitude sessions with a silly one, ala Rhoda Janzen.  The unsuspecting reader would probably think I got my gratitude idea from the ubiquitous Ann Voskamp and her One Thousand Gifts, but she's just not gritty enough for me.  When we'd just moved to Maryland and life was lonely and felt like running and sounded like one big tantrum it hurt too much some days to read "Just Ann, without the fanciful 'e'".  She seemed much too calm and upbeat.  At the same time, Craig discovered that his freshman composition teacher from his days at Fresno Pacific University had written a New York Times bestseller Mennonite in a Little Black Dress and was about to follow it up with a sequel Does this Church Make Me Look Fat?  How often do you get to read a nationally renowned book written by someone you actually KNOW? Rhoda's improbable gratitude statements got her through a difficult battle with breast cancer and the sometimes biting wit of her prose made me feel like I had a friend.

The kids are quiet now, so I start the car, throw it into reverse, and almost back over the Giant race car cart.  It's been parked behind me this whole time with the girls' shoes still in the basket.  They pitched them during loading time to show their displeasure.  Today I am happy and grateful for backup cameras.

10:15 am mall.  I can see my forearms trembling with fatigue but we're still in the game.  The tantrum finally abated.  I gave the post game commentary, insisted on the apologies, and coached them on how the rest of the day was going to go.  Quietly.  Orderly.  With everyone minding manners.  We picked up our friend and her baby, which was the original game plan for the day and still seemed like a good idea.  Devon is such a social personality.  He self-regulates his mood so much better in public.  I nixxed the idea of herding all three kids through the mall on foot to storytime and settled on circling Target to let the girls (finally!) finish their breakfast and then letting them play in the mall play area.

11:00 am playplace.  After forty-five minutes of standing at the entrance repeating No, you do not leave without Mommy, Mommy is ready to leave the playplace.  I give the light and low command to put on shoes and socks and it takes seventeen minutes to get all six on at once.  We hit five several times, and then someone decides they've had enough and takes theirs off and tries to head away.  Finally we are leaving and the kids all pile into one of the quarters required cars across the way.  I decide that they deserve a reward because for the first time ever I stood there and made them all put on their own shoes without my help.  So I change a dollar, hand Devon the quarters, and enjoy his delight as he puts them in the slot.  As soon as the car starts to move, all three kids climb out of the car, take their places on the three other quarters required vehicles, and whine for more quarters to start them up too.  I stand there next to the empty moving ride and stare numbly.  As I make to grab the girls' hands, they squirm away and run in opposite directions.  I chase them and we leave as other children climb into the moving car and get a free ride.  My ribs hurt from pulling one and then the other along by the time we get to Target, only a hundred feet away.  I see other moms striding disinterestedly along, diddling on their phones as three or four tiny children fall in line behind them and follow like ducklings.  It's something I've never been able to do.  Ever.  I wonder if I will ever be able to walk anywhere without frantically darting my eyes around as my children careen, leaping like the proverbial twelve lords. 

11:30 am Target.   I've texted my friend to meet us in the car to hop over to Costco for lunch and a shopping list of five items.  We're passing the toy aisle and Devon wants to stop and shop and I know it's not a good idea.  I'm talking him slowly away and taking pictures of one or two of the items he likes and reminding him to ask for them to be on his Christmas List instead of insisting I buy them.

He makes to run down an aisle and I tell him to come back.  His little back disappears down the other end of the aisle and if I leave my cart Melina and Carrie will climb out and who knows where all three will be in thirty seconds.  Even with all the chaos of three small mobile children I've never had to call a Code Adam and I have no desire to make this morning my first.  I blow a loud kiss, give him a loud and theatrical goodbye, and tell him that I hope he finds another family as nice as ours and if he gets really, really lucky maybe they will take him to Target and let him play in the playplace.  This brings him back, but just close enough for him to insist that he is not leaving the toy aisle.  I insist back that indeed, we are.  As he defies me for the third time and reaches for another toy I grab him, fix his hands to the cart handle, cover them with mine, and we head off towards the exit.  If I maintain a certain speed he can't turn around and kick me, but he's making a noise reminiscent of an 80's dot matrix printer and it's loud and people are staring.  We cruise through the automatic doors and find our car in the parking lot.  I'm already feeling the push to get everyone buckled and safe before someone tries to run away.  When Devon twists to get away from me again, I lift him in a safe hold and carry him.  At this point, with the adrenaline rush I could probably pick up both girls and the cart if I had an extra three fingers free.

11:45 am Minivan.  I pitch Devon in the open side door and get the girls in so fast they don't have time to start climbing out themselves.  As I finish buckling one girl, I realize my mistake.  I always load the kids from the passenger side. The driver's side safety lock stays permanently engaged so nobody can make to leave out the other side when I'm getting everyone buckled.  In my haste I opened the driver's side instead.  As I grab the second girl and buckle her in, Devon opens the door.  His eyes meet mine and he's backing up and I know what he plans to do: jump out the side and run as fast as he can to get away from me.

Mommy has had enough.

My grab for him gets a handful of shirt instead of limb but it keeps him here.  The car I see circling behind us would hurt him worse.  My elbow in his groin bends his body to allow it to be buckled in.  He's making an awful noise again and I hold his arms down so he'll stop hitting me.  With my face just inches from his I tell him in a volume audible to passersby, mall security, and probably airplane passengers that have just reached cruising altitude after taking off in nearby Philly that the reason you don't run away from Mommy in a parking lot is that cars can hit you and you can DDDDDDIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!

I love you so much and I don't want you to DDDDIIIIIIIEEEEEEE!
Why do you try to run away? Do you want to DDDDDIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!

My face is red and I am shrill and crying and now he's crying too.  Again.  I go out the side of the car, sit numbly in the passenger seat, and the car is relatively silent as tears leak out from underneath the bottom of my driving glasses.  Devon is crying in the back seat.  The girls sit wide-eyed and very quiet.

All the ways that this moment feels so cathartic and yet is so, so wrong leap into my mind.  I gave my kids the example of my own bad behavior and then said that the fact that I love them makes it all okay.  I worry that rough touches and car seat wrestling will be their earliest touch memories of mommy, and not the gentle way I smooth their hair from their little faces or the playful way we tickle each other at naptime.  When I can speak again, I apologize for yelling and for not being gentle.

Devon: I forgive you and I love you, Mommy.

My friend arrives at the car, buckling in her baby as I give her an update on the mood in the car and ask her what to do next.  At this point, there's nothing I'd like to do more than just go home, but it's twenty-five minutes away and it's lunchtime. If I was thinking clearly at this point I'd remember that in the car with us is Devon's packed lunch complete with juice box and water bottle.  I'd feed it to the kids even though the reference to missed lunch bunch would probably mean more tears and screams from Devon.  Then we'd go home for more food and some (not) quiet time.  I'm thinking I've already blown through my day's worth of packed snacks and that doesn't even begin to solve the bathroom problem and the fact that my friend and her baby are also ready to eat.  Or what to do with three overhungry, cranky kids until Daddy gets home at 5.  Or what to feed everyone when Daddy does get home if we don't get to Costco to pick up a Rotisserie chicken. 

12:15 pm Costco.  We order a pizza and get our five items as it cooks.  At this point, the kids have reset and are super exuberant.  I have the companionship of a friend to give me a sympathetic ear and keep me on my best behavior.  Devon was told to carry my empty coffee cup in and look for a trash can and he is, of course, Happy to Help.  The girls are impressed by the various samples, and they too are also looking for places to throw their papers.  Every time we pass one all three shout TRASH CANNNNNNNNN! and dissolve in fits of giggles.

I try to relax and enjoy the moment, but I can't.  I'm just so tired and so tense.  I'm glad they're happy, but that can turn on a dime and this day has stretched me past my threshold of positive thinking.  I can't turn off the voice in my head that is telling me how tired and hungry and starved for quiet and recreation I am and have been for weeks.  Sometimes that's the worst part of parenting.  Having to spend all day, every day with someone that is whiny, demanding, and difficult.  Myself.

We complete our short list and breeze through the checkout line.  The cashier makes two snippy comments about having to add the pizza to our tab, then flashes Melina a look of annoyance and grabs a separator from her hand.  "Your daughter hit me," she complains. 

"I'm so sorry your day isn't going well.  I hope it gets better,"  I say, Bambi-eyed and bright.  This usually works to make adults reset.  To admit you're having a bad day is to be vulnerable.  People usually snap back to their best behavior rather than admitting weakness to strangers.  Sure enough, her smile is bright and fake as mine.  She accepts the apology I coach Melina through and we take ten steps away to stand in the pizza line.

We find the only empty table in the food court, leaving our cart two tables away because there's no room to get through.  We fill cups of water and set them in front of the kids.  Everyone's too hungry and the kids are grabbing for the pizza.  The first cup of water is overturned by a little elbow and my lap is cold with ice water.  I send Devon six steps away for a napkin and he comes back with one.  As I send him back the second cup goes over.

I'm frantically trying to clean up, but that doesn't keep me from hearing that an older couple behind us is openly discussing our group's behavior.  Everything they say is accurate and maybe not unkindly meant but I'm so rubbed raw at this point that if Barney the purple dinosaur looked at me I'd probably think he was giving me the stink eye. I can hardly expect that we're inconspicuous, but to be pointed out hurts.  I give them a glance and will them to mind their own business.

Devon gets enthusiastic praise for returning with a fistful of napkins and we mop up.  I balance the pizza box on the table I don't remember being so tiny and deal out three slices of pizza on plates, announcing names as I pass.  Just as I hand a fourth slice to my friend, Devon yells that he wants to sit by Mommy instead and dives between Melina and her pizza.  As she arches her back to shriek and I catch her to keep her from falling off the back of the bench, his elbow hits the pizza box.  I grab helplessly for the box and miss as it flips, opens, and dumps 3/4 of a combination pizza on the floor of Costco.

All three kids start to whine.  I pitch the ruined pizza back into the box and perch it on top of our cart. My friend, discreetly nursing, gives a sympathetic glance and encourages me to get something else to eat.  I feel in my purse for the protein bar I always keep there and remember I ate it three days ago and didn't replace it.  I assure her that the last few hours have rendered me incapable of eating a bite.

Just then a plate with three slices of pepperoni pizza appears before me.  I look up to see a stranger assure me that they, too, have a whole pizza they aren't going to finish, God bless us, and return quickly to her three teenagers.  They sit quietly between us and the rest of the food court, giving us the space to reestablish what little control we had before.  I don't stammer an apology and promise to pay it forward.  I don't smile back and assure her that we are doing fine.  What would be the point? 

Not all people are kind, though.  As we eat our single slices I hear more comments coming from behind me.

Don't look now, honey.  She's brrrrreastfeeding her baby!  Here!

Oh, is that cart in your way?  Sorreeeee!  It's not ours.  It's theirs!!

I glance back and the older couple is finishing their hot dogs and making to leave.  I can feel myself preparing to say something.  Out come the Bambi eyes.

"Hello.  Do you have grandchildren?" I ask brightly.

"Why yes, we have seven," the lady returns.

"Well," I say in a trembling voice, "I hope that the people around them show them more kindness than you have shown us today."

"I didn't say anything to you!" she returns.

"And yet we have ears.  We can hear," I shoot back.  Then I turn around and face my children, who are watching intently.  No matter what the couple says, I will not turn around again.  I've just confronted a perfect stranger in Costco on an election day, which tends to bring out the worst in people.  I'd better make sure there are plenty of witnesses when we walk back to the car.

Unsurprisingly, the couple is not amused by my rebuke.  They get up and loudly tell my back that I have a problem and it's not them.  Then they find a Costco employee to tell them they want to lodge a complaint against me.  I take advantage of the clear path to the cart and start loading the kids.  The girls are not ready, and even though I let them take their pizza to go they are not going to make this easy.

"You're DEAD!" screams Melina in volume that rival's Mommy's example in the worst moments of today.  "You're DEAD! You're DEAD! You're DEAD!"

It's the thing they say in their worst moments, because it's the worst word in their young vocabularies.  Devon learned it in Sunday School at 3 when he grasped the concept of Jesus dying on the cross, expertly deducing that the part about being dead was not good and therefore something he could say to hurt someone.  I shudder as I assume that everyone in the room assumes that they learned this from me.  Maybe they imagine I speak to them like that all the time.  No wonder they're so badly behaved.

Finish your eggs or You're DEAD!

Quiet down or You're DEAD!

Get in the car or You're DEAD!

Don't jump out of a parked car and run into moving traffic or..... 



We are loaded in the cart, Devon helpfully pushing alongside me as I bear hug the girls as one screams and one cries.  I can see the humor in making a comment about hoping that everyone enjoyed the provided entertainment, but I keep my big mouth shut.  Self-deprecating humor is by definition making light of oneself only.  I'm not going to make anything easier by shaming my children.

1:00 pm minivan.  The girls are safely buckled and Devon is Happy to Help us load the groceries and my friend's stroller.  I praise him for being my Number One Son and keeping a level head when the girls were not acting very kindly and needed his help.

"Yeah," he says quietly.  "They sure were screaming, weren't they, Mommy?"

Yes they were, buddy.  We stop for gas on the way home and my friend buys me a Coke.  Again I don't insist that I'm doing fine.  I receive the kindness of a friend.  We say goodbye to her and baby and drive the two blocks home.  I turn around to see the girls finally passed out in the car seats, taking the afternoon nap they still need but won't take most days no matter how hard I work to make the conditions favorable.

2:30 pm doorstep.  It's a nice fall day, warm and breezy enough for Devon and I to sneak out of the van and sit in companionable silence on the side steps as the girls finish their nap in the open garage.  A paper plate with two slices of pepperoni pizza sits between us.  I let him choose a slice and take the other one.  We eat, the cold and greasy food a benediction, given to us by people who kept no record of our wrongs. 

I unscrew my Coke and take another sip.  Devon asks for some.  I am so, so, SO past caring about sugar and caffeine and sodium, sitting here drinking my second sugary beverage of the day.  I don't want to say no and add hypocrite to my list of sins.  Oops, I've already done that by protecting my children from the unkindness of others and then failing to be kind to them myself.  I draw the line at passing the bottle and letting Devon backwash.  I get a small plastic cup from inside and pour him some. He sits up a little straighter as he accepts the unheard of gift and sips it slowly.

2:45 pm driveway.   The girls are awake.  As they play in the sunshine, I capture the moment and fervently hope that they remember this moment most about today.  I'm afraid that any movement on my part will break the tranquility so I sit on the step watching them like a wildlife biologist.

Today I am happy and grateful for life.  As a wise fictional character once said: "Life is pain, highness.  Everyone who tells you different is selling something."  I remind myself that it's okay to admit that life hurts on days like these, and there have been many of them lately.  If my children fuss all day, that means that they've probably noticed that life is painful, too.  They'll learn to cope and they, too, will be okay.

Today I am happy and grateful for health.  I thank God for six perfect little feet to run away from me.  Six little fists to take a swing at me.  Six strong legs to kick the back of my chair.  Three sets of lungs to scream at me.  Three healthy minds to outsmart me.  I thank God that my body has, so far, been equal to the task of keeping up with them.  I pray for more strength because they keep getting bigger and seem to need more of me all the time.

Today I am happy and grateful for shopping.  Figuring out how to get all the things we need for the week and bring them back home does cause me some stress.  I could never complain about it, though, because needing to shop means we have things we need and money to pay for them.  

Today I am happy and grateful that my lips have never touched liquor, because if they had I'd drink myself under the table tonight.  I'm not opposed to alcohol and have no problem with people who drink it.  I just know my limitations.  The amount of coffee I've been drinking lately and the rapidly disappearing bag of chocolates in the pantry suggest I have enough vices.

5:00 pm kitchen.  Toddler schedules are no respecters of time change.  The kids ate dinner at 4:30, ran to the curb to get the mail, and jumped in the ditch full of icy water.  Craig gets home to find them playing in their after dinner bath.  As I heat up his coffee, I tell him about my day, sparing no detail.  When I describe the Target extraction, I burst into tears.  I'm sobbing when I get to the couple at Costco.  He's such a serene personality and I brace myself for a reminder that it's better not to confront in situations like these.  No, he's taking my side and telling me that election days always bring out the meanness in people and he can't imagine what those idiots were trying to get accomplished by finding an employee to complain about me. 

6:00 pm den.  We're all in our pajamas already, sitting around watching a new music video from OK/GO, one of our very favorite bands.  It's stunning and cool, but not as much fun as Devon's favorite, the Rube Goldberg.  He asks to watch it next and we start the video.  The song plays and the kids laugh as the toy truck hits the first dominoes and they start falling, setting off the boot that kicks the bucket and the mallet that smashes the TV and finally the paint that spatters the jumpsuited band members at the end.

Let it go
this too shall pass
Let it go
this too shall pass...

Craig is rubbing my shoulders and his hands are hitting all the places that have been abused by the lifting and shoving and grabbing and running that living this day entailed.  We're laughing together and it's binding up our wounds.  Yes, even the ones we have inflicted deep into each other today. 

8:30 pm Devon's bed.  This week he gets up so, so early and is asleep so, so late.  It's all I can do to outlast him.  He's squirming as I lay sleepily beside him and I kiss his head.

Mommy: Kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss.  There!  Now you can't wipe that off!
Devon: I wiped it off, Mommy!
Mommy: Kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss.  There!  Now you can't wipe that off!
Devon: I wiped it off, Mommy!
Mommy: Kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss.  There!  Now you can't wipe that off!
Devon: I wiped it off, Mommy!
Mommy: Kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss.  There!  Now you can't wipe that off!
Devon: I wiped it off, Mommy! (pause) Mommy?  I really like this game.
Can we play it all the nights?
Mommy: Yes, Devon. 

Life is loud right now.  Really, really loud.

Why do I put this out there?

I'm a pretty what-you-see-is-what-you-get person.  If I look tired, I probably am.  If I look sad, I'm probably having a day where I'm finding it hard to take all the negativity that is innocently thrown at me and keep things light and positive.  If my eyes are red, I'm not going to tell you I have allergies.  I've been crying.  I'm not fooling anyone, so y'all might as well know what's going on with me. 

I also blog my memories, the ones people tell me will blur so quickly in just a few years.  Some days I think that would be a kindness.  Someday I will look back on these years and know that they were worth it.  I crave the peace and perspective that the physical and emotional distance will bring, but I don't want it at the expense of truth.  I'm a sinner given three more to raise.  I want to remember what that was like.  Every gritty detail.  All the worst moments and the best moments.  All the successes and the failures.

My fondest wish is to be the one in the food court at Costco again, sitting there serenely with my three teenagers.  They will be tall and strong and beautiful if current looks are any indication.  And if they've learned anything from today, they'll understand compassion.  Maybe my being so weak and vulnerable as to need so much of it myself will awaken in them a love for helping and a desire to see people in their suffering and make it better.  I imagine them getting up from their meal to grab a fistful of napkins for a stressed momma one table over, or even seeing someone having a hard day and suggesting we buy them a pizza.

Most of all, they can read this someday.  I want them to know the truth.  On another day in another Costco cart I witnessed this smug exchange between a mom and her son:

Son: (pointing to Devon, 2 at the time, arching his back and whining) Mom, I never acted that badly, did I?

 Mom: (completely devoid of irony) No. You didn't.

Yeah right, Mom.  Sorry if I don't believe you.  And way to throw a fellow soldier under the bus.  I rewrite the exchange in my mind for my children someday, especially my son.  Maybe my future words will also reach the ears of a mom who's pushing her own loud cart, desperately trying to hold onto hope in a day full of screaming.

Devon: (pointing) Mom, we never acted that badly, did we?

Mom: No, Devon.  At that age?  You three were WORSE.  You spent your days perfecting the fine, fine art of the tantrum.  When you turned four the girls turned three and started having them too.  Only you hadn't decided to leave off yet so we had three tantrumming children in the same house.  Sometimes your moods fed off each other and you dragged each other down.  Sometimes you screamed at the same time, sometimes just tag teaming with one of you picking up where the other one left off.  All day long.

Your father and I stayed the course.  We spent every moment we weren't parenting you reading books and listening to podcasts to learn how to handle your behavior.  We never gave in and let your tantrums get you what you wanted.  Even so, disciplining you correctly was so time consuming and difficult that some days it made me feel like a hostage in my own house.  On those days, we packed up and actually took our particular brand of craziness out in public.  I don't know if I was desperate or just plain crazy in those moments, but when I'd tried everything I could think of and nothing would make you guys reset it seemed like the right thing to do.

We didn't have any family close by.  There were no lunch breaks, no coffee moments, no weekends or holidays off.  This was seven days a week.  All day long for Mommy and every minute Daddy wasn't at work.  There was no such thing as rest in our house.

Some days you screamed so long and so loud I wondered how much permanent hearing damage I'd have when you all kicked the habit.  Or if you'd ever.  Or if we'd ever get a cartful of groceries, our car safely loaded, or all three of you dressed in the morning without a decibel level that OSHA would deem inappropriate for working conditions.

Guys, I say this not to shame you.  Maybe you remember being little and having a tantrum and how I responded sometimes on days I'd had enough.   I know I said earlier that there were three tantrumming people in our house back then, but that's not true.  There were four.  I can't fault you for sinning because I sinned too during those times.  I was supposed to lead you with my example, and I didn't always act like the adult in the situation.  I let you guys down.  I wanted to show you that my love was strong enough to outlast any ugliness you could throw at me, but sometimes it wasn't.  But that was okay, because Jesus loved all four of us.  He showed us all perfect love.  Even on our worst days he never gave up on us.  He led us by example.  He poured his love into our hearts when we needed it most, and that gave us the strength we needed to show that love to each other.  And slowly we all got better.

Hopefully, you guys look back on your early childhood and think it was mostly happy.  You turned out well, and that makes my heart so glad.  I'm blessed and feel grateful, but I'm not bursting with pride.  God in his infinite kindness spared me the ability to cling to the delusion that I led you by my shining example to be the wonderful people that you are.  It was all accomplished by his grace.  You don't have to rise up to call me blessed.  Really, honestly, I'd rather you didn't.

Devon: Mom, I remember.  You were a hot mess most of the time.

Mommy: Yes, Devon, I was.  But God was good, and his love never gave up on us.

Devon: Yeah, Mom.