Sunday, July 26, 2009

How to make rain...

Step One: Beg your husband to sand and stain the decks. Offer to take the boys somewhere out of town for the entire day, so they won't be in the way, saying, "Daddy, Daddy. Whatcha doing? Can I help? Huh? Can I help? What's that for? What's that? Can I help? Hey, Daddy. Oooohhh, that looks sharp. Can I touch it? Huh? Can I? Can I help? If I drink this brown stuff, will I get sick? It's poison, huh? Cool! We should put a Mr. Yuck sticker on it. Can I touch it? How about that? Can I touch that? Can I help?" etc., etc...

(This step, all by itself, often results in a light sprinkle or maybe extra-heavy dew accumulation overnight. It's not usually enough to ensure a real downpour. So, move on to Step Two.)

Step Two: When your beloved hubby has sanded and stained the decks, and they now need 24-36 hours to dry, take your children and dogs outside via the garage (since there's no other way to exit the house without walking on one of the freshly-stained decks), and loop around the path to the backyard, so the kids and dogs can frolic in the back. While you're there, decide that it would be a good idea to water the poor, dehydrated plants which you've been pretty much ignoring all summer. Really, really give them a thorough watering, because rain isn't in the forecast for quite some time. While you're at it, let your little boys strip naked and run through the sprinkler. The giggles, alone, are priceless, let alone the sight of two skinny, naked little boys sprinting around the yard and leaping over the sprinkler heads yelling, "Woohoo!" at the top of their lungs.

(In case Step One and Step Two do not result in the promised rain, move on to Step Three. It's guaranteed.)

Step Three: As you watch your little ones frolicking in the yard, think to yourself, "Wouldn't it be fun to try camping in the backyard tonight? After all, it's a hot day, and it would feel good to sleep outside. The boys would love it. I wonder if I can put up that huge family tent all by myself? I bet I can. How hard can it be? I'm gonna do it!" Then, you enter the garage and spend half an hour looking for all of the tent stuff that's buried behind Christmas decorations, that box of macaroni and cheese you bought at Costco 6 months ago and forgot all about, multiple pairs of snow boots, and miscellaneous other stuff. You drag it all back out through the garage, down the path at the side of the house, and into the back yard ('cuz you can't walk on the #@!!*&# decks yet), spread everything out, and open the instruction manual to figure out where to start on this humongous tent, which you've never put together without your hubby there to help. It even says right there on the directions that you need two people to put up the tent. Bah! Who am I to pay attention to that? I can be a Super-Mom, right? I can do anything I set my mind to, right? Right? SIGH. So, we continue with Step Three... Spend the next hour wrestling with tent poles, tarps, and that flappy thingie that goes over the top of the tent and attaches with, like, twenty-five ropes and hooks and such. Do all of this while the boys dance around you, picking up pieces you need, "fighting bad guys" with the tent pegs, and chattering nonstop: "Mommy. Hey Mommy. Putting up the tent, huh? We're gonna camp today. We're gonna camp today. What's this? What's that thing? Can I help? Can I help? Woohoo, we're gonna camp today. Can I go inside now? Why not? Why? How come? Now? Can I go inside now? How about now? Why? Mommmmyyyyyyy....Why? What's this for? Ooh, there's a squished bug in the tent. Cool!" etc., etc. (The exact reason I took the kids out-of-town while Daddy worked on the decks. SIGH AGAIN.) When the tent is finally up (Yes, I DID IT!!!), wipe away the sweat that is pouring down your face and enlist the kids to help you bring blankets, pillows, sleeping bags, stuffed animals, and storybooks from the house to the tent. Spend another half hour setting everything up, pour yourself a drink, then sit back to enjoy watching your excited little boys run around the tent, zip and unzip the windows, jump in and out of their sleeping bags, talk to their stuffed animals about camping, pretend to make a campfire out of sticks in the yard, etc., etc...

Now that you have completed all three steps...Wait for the skies to darken and the thunder to begin. Oh, yes. Not just rain. Thunder and lightning. It shouldn't take long. It only took about 45 minutes yesterday. Then, be ready to pull out the popcorn and a Disney move, because your kids will be completely devastated that they can't camp overnight in a raging thunderstorm, and your terrified dogs will literally be climbing into your lap for comfort. But, don't feel too bad. After all, your decks will dry out eventually, and they'll look fabulous. You managed to put up the family tent all alone, so now you know you can do it if you have to. And, you did something good for the environment by making it rain. Cheers!

Friday, July 24, 2009

And the victor is...the squirrel.

OK, here's a funny little snapshot from this morning's playground trip with my guys. So, picture a triangle. Directly in the center of this imaginary triangle is the main play structure with the slides and monkey bars and such. The top point is the swingset, where I am pushing Spence "To the sky, Mommy, to the sky!" Directly opposite that point, on the other side of the play structure, is a park bench, upon which sits our little cooler next to two open juice boxes and about a quarter of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (which Foster has already announced through uncontrollable giggles is actually a "peanut butter and belly sandwich".Ya gotta love 3-year-old humor, right?). One of the side points of this invisible triangle is an open area, which becomes a sprinkler park every late afternoon in the summer. (I'm not sure this triangle thing is helping anybody, but what the heck. Work with me here.) Anyway, that's where Fos is running around, hopping from sprinkler head to sprinkler head, alternating between pretending to be a monster and singing to himself. (In case anybody cares, the final point of this imaginary triangle is the parking lot. I promise I won't do this triangle-visualizing thing ever, ever again! I'm even confusing myself, and I was there.) So, there I am, pushing away, chanting my swing mantra, "Kick 'em out, tuck 'em under, kick 'em out, tuck 'em under..." (My ongoing attempt to teach my little guys to swing their feet out and back, so that I can finally become one of those enviable playground Mommies who can actually read a book and sip a coffee on a bench at the playground, while their children swing themselves.), and I look up from pushing Spence to see a skinny, bedraggled-looking black squirrel hopping up onto the back of the picnic bench and eyeing Foster's unfinished lunch. Since my little guy is a lot closer to the bench than I am, I yell, "Fos, a squirrel is about to get your sandwich!" The rest of the scene plays out as if in slow motion, with all of the playground parents' eyes glued to the unfolding drama. Foster hollers "MY SANDWICH!" and takes off running toward the bench at top speed, stocky little legs pumping, fists clenched, arms waving, screaming something that sounds a lot like, "Yeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!" The squirrel freezes halfway down the back of the picnic bench, staring at this rapidly approaching tornado of little boy fury and clearly weighing its options. When Foster is about 10 feet away, the squirrel leaps onto the top of the cooler, snatches the sandwich, launches itself off the back of the bench, and starts bounding for the trees with the sandwich hanging from its mouth and Foster in hot pursuit. Now, from the title of this post, you already know who wins this particular battle: Squirrel - 1, Foster - 0. As I approach, I can see my little guy standing on the grass, staring up at the tree, and it looks like he's shaking with anger or frustration or something along those lines, so I am anticipating a pretty ugly scene over the loss of his lunch. But, when I get there, he's shaking with laughter - just giggling away like a crazy person. "Mommy, that squirrel got my sandwich," he laughs. "I bet she's taking it home to feed her babies. They're gonna have peanut butter and belly sandwiches for lunch." And away he runs, to jump once more from sprinkler head to sprinkler head, singing his little song. Another entertaining moment from life with my little boys. Cheers!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

What is it about the potty?

Ahhhh, the potty. Also known in various circles as the toilet, the commode, the latrine, the lavatory, the privy, the porcelain god, the can, and more... That's a lot of names for something that's basically used to, y'know, collect and dispose of our bodily waste, don't you think? It's pretty intriguing, if you think about it. Are humans potty-obsessed? Watching my boys' growing fascination with all things having to do with the potty makes me wonder if it's some sort of instinctual thing that goes back to the days of the Cavepeople. It stands to reason that, back in the day, our earliest ancestors had to worry about whether their droppings would attract predators or spread disease, and so there was a lot of interest in you-know-what as well as where it needed to go. Maybe that interest just continued throughout history. I mean, think about it...As soon as we have babies, what do we start to focus on, endlessly talk about (much to the dismay of our childless friends), and "ooh" and "aah" over? Poop! You know I'm right, so don't roll your eyes. When the little ones are in diapers, it's all about what's going on in the diaper. Then, it's on to potty training, and the pee and poop obsession continues...The potty songs, the potty stories, the sticker charts, the cookies and other forms of bribery (as in "You can have a cookie if you go pee-pee in the potty, sweetie!"), or, somewhat embarrassingly, the potty dance. (Yes, I admit it. We did the potty dance in my house. It involved a lot of arm waving, clapping, and crazy foot movements. Not pretty.) Anyway, my just-turned-5-year-old has become completely enamored with the potty and everything having to do with it. He will cheerfully holler, "I'm going potty!" and then disappear for ages. Warning: This next part may just qualify as "Too Much Information". Inevitably, we find him sitting on the potty, completely naked, (for some reason, he likes to take off every stitch of clothing when he poops -- I'm thinking we should probably work on that before he starts kindergarten...), singing a song to himself, and occasionally looking down with fascination at whatever he has produced. We'll tell him he needs to finish up, and he leaps off the potty, very, very thoroughly utilizes the toilet paper, and then the "Ritual of Flushing" begins. It goes something like this: "Mom, Mom, c'mere and see this! Moooommmmmmmyyyyyyyy......OK, lookit this, Mom. Lookit! I did a HUMONGOUS poop. (giggle, giggle) OK, OK, I'm gonna flush. Keep watching. Keep watching. OK, it's gonna go down the vortex. LOOK AT THE VORTEX! Oh man, it's so cool. (more giggles) Are you watching, Mom? Mom? Cool, huh?" Flushing his poop seriously makes his day. Then, he washes his hands, puts his clothes back on, and practically skips out of the bathroom. At least once during the day, he'll suddenly gasp and say, "Remember that HUGE poop I flushed today? Cool!" We went to the Science Center in Seattle last week, and do you know what his favorite thing was? The lifesized animatronic dinosaurs? Nope. The touch tank with the live hermit crabs that would crawl on your hands? No way. The incredibly disgusting and fascinating giant bug display? Negative. How about the telescope that went way, way up out of the Science Center so you could look all around Seattle. Uh-uh. You know what it was. Oh, yes. The toilet that was cut in half, so that you could see the inner workings and what happens when you flush. He must have flushed that thing at least 20 times, and it was just as exciting for him every single time. And, let me tell you, it takes a while for a toilet to fill back up again, just so it can be flushed one more time. And one more time after that. And one more time after that. And one more time after that...SIGH. But, it made his day. In fact, when I tucked him into bed last night, the last thing he said as I was heading out the door was, "Pssst. Mommy. Remember that totally cool potty at the Science Center? That was too much fun, Mommy. I loved it!"

Man, I love my kids. Poop and all. And, maybe we'll end up with a plumber in the family. That wouldn't be a bad thing at all. Cheers!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Kid for a Day. (Dedicated to Elizabeth, who thinks she loves the zoo as much as me. Not!)

This blog could also be titled "Kids, when we're at the zoo, Daddy is the only grown-up in our family." Why? Well, when we take our annual (or sometimes bi-annual ) trip down to Seattle to go to the Woodland Park Zoo, I start out as a responsible adult. When we're still at home getting ready, that is. I arrange for someone to take care of our dogs in the evening. I pack our backpacks with all of the essentials, including extra sunscreen, snacks that won't melt in the sun, bandaids of every shape and size, kleenex, water bottles, hand sanitizer, little toys for when the boys start to lose interest in the animals, etc. I make a big picnic lunch for the family, and I ice up the cooler. I charge the camera batteries, pack a change of clothes and extra shoes for each little boy ('cuz you just never know when you're going to need those dry, clean clothes, do you?), and throw an extra hat in one of the backpacks, just in case my hubby decides, after 3 hours of walking around in the sun scorching his forehead and the back of his neck, that he'd like to wear one, afterall. I get everybody up, dressed, fed, pottied, and in the car first thing in the morning. And, for about the first hour-and-a-half of the trip, I can carry on an adult conversation with my husband, meet whatever kid need arises in the car, and basically continue to function as a mother and as a grown-up. However, when we start to approach Seattle, I begin to age backwards. It's like "The Curious Case of Beth Bacon at the Zoo", only I don't lose my wrinkles, cellulite, or aches and pains. I get to keep all of that and just become emotionally immature. I become distracted, giggly, and excited. I tend to clap my hands together rapidly A LOT as I envision all of the great things I'm going to see (my favorites being the elephants, the gorillas, the orangutans, and the brown bears -- in that exact order). I can barely contain myself once we're parked and approaching the entrance. I have actually been known to skip through the gate, greatly ahead of my husband and sons. Sons? What sons? Oh, I have sons? They'll be fine...I'm off to see the elephants! OK, it's not that bad, but it's not far from it. I do strive to share and nurture zoo excitement with my little guys, but they're just not at my level. Their favorite things are the butterflies (yawn), the bug house (gross), the Family Farm (OK, I admit I like to pet the goats and the bunnies, too), and the habitat playground (which doesn't even have animals in it!). The other issue is that I am the type of zoo visitor who likes to race to the animals of my choice, and then spend ages just watching every little thing they do. (Seriously, my husband has to pretty much physically DRAG me away from the elephants and gorillas. It's not pretty. If I was two, I'd be kicking and screaming the entire time.) But, when you have boys who are just-turned-five and about-to-be-four, that particular zoo-visiting style couldn't be less successful. When I want to race to a location to see one of my favorites -- my boys want to meander, stopping to view every rock, twig, squirrel, or bug on the way. When I get to my destination and want to take my time observing the animals and marveling over their wonderfulness (I know it's not a word, but it should be, don't you think? Did you know an elephant's trunk has 100,000 muscles, and it can use it to pick up a single blade of grass?!!! Now, that is "wonderfulness"!), my boys are ready to move on to the next thing within about 2 minutes. So, when I was enthralled by the huge brown bears who were at eye level RIGHT ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PLEXIGLASS (OMIGOD!) fishing for trout in their pool, I didn't even notice my littlest guy wandering out of the viewing area and heading for the bald eagles. All alone. With no adult. Just wandering away in his little "Groovy" shirt and bright green baseball hat. With my eyes glued to those magnificent beasts, my nose practically flattened against the glass, my heart thumping, and a huge grin on my face, I had no idea my child had decided to move on to the next thing. (In my defense, my husband, who is not nearly as easily enthralled as myself, didn't see him walk away either. But he was the first parent to notice that he was missing. Just one more big, fat, steaming helping of Mommy Guilt to deal with....) Anyway, one adrenaline-fueled race down the pathway later, the entire family was once more reunited and on to the next fascinating zoo exhibit. And, I have to admit, once my heart had stopped racing from the fright of losing my little guy for a minute, I reverted to childhood and was just as excited as ever to go see the orangutans. But, this time, I raced down the path with my youngest son on my shoulders. Now, THAT'S the way to do it! Cheers!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

On losing it...

So, yesterday, I whined passionately and in great detail about the difficulties of raising little boys. Threw myself a full-on pity party, as a matter of fact. And, to be honest, I felt a lot better afterwards, which is a big part of what this whole blogging thing is all about for me. (That, and being able to go back years from now and read what I was thinking, feeling, and experiencing when my boys were little.) But, what could have inspired me toward such a bitter diatribe, anyway? I know that raising little girls presents its own unique challenges. I know that there is no sound as piercing as the scream of an angry little girl. And, I know, from my years of working with pre-teens and teenagers that I may be paying a price now, but mothers-of-daughters pay their own price later. But, I guess yesterday's rant was the result of the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back". While I am an exhausted and often frazzled person, I am also typically optimistic, positive, and very much in love with my two little bundles of boyhood, even with all of the challenges they present on a daily basis. However, prior to last night's venting session, I had yet another, in a long line of, interactions that left me feeling as though I had been judged incompetent as a mother by those who can't possibly understand, and it sent me over the edge. Here's what happened: Two young mothers who had obviously showered, dressed nicely, and even put on make-up (???), sat at the grocery store tables sipping lattes while their adorable little girls sat side-by-side eating their free grocery store cookies, giggling, whispering to each other, and then began to fold their napkins into little shapes. Together. Cooperatively. Peacefully. SIGH. A sweet, idyllic scene, by all accounts. Enter Beth and the Bacon Bits, with their free cookies. Having neither the disposable income nor the time to have a latte, myself, I sat at the table with the boys while they ate their cookies. My dialogue went something like this: "Spence, please get back on your chair. Thank you for listening, honey. No, Foster, Spencer did not get a bigger cookie than you did. Just enjoy it. It's a nice treat. Spencer, bottom on your chair, please. Thanks, little man. Fos, please pick up your napkin. It's not polite to throw things on the floor. Spence, you have cookie crumbs all over your face. Wipe your face please. Because I said so, that's why. Thanks, buddy. Bottom on your chair please, Fos., etc., etc." The boys weren't even really being bad or disruptive -- they were just being wiggly, messy, and competitive. In short, they were being themselves. Then, two things happened that spurred me to last night's rant: One of the pretty young mothers leaned in to her friend and said, loudly and pointedly, "I'm SO glad that WE have taught our children to sit quietly and demonstrate good behavior." No, I am not kidding. And, the thing is, I have heard those sorts of comments -- or seen the eye rolls and raised eyebrows -- on numerous occasions over the last few years (though never from a mother with a son). Anyway, I left, shortly thereafter and went to do the shopping, which is when the whole poke-your-brother-in-the-eye incident (from yesterday's blog) happened in line. I actually think I managed to handle it all fairly well, putting one boy in time out, comforting the other, and still managing to get my groceries onto the conveyor belt. But, there was a woman two people behind me who had two young girls with her. One was sitting quietly in the cart, the other was holding on to the side and just standing there, calmly. The woman caught my eye and actually "tsk'd" at me. I'm pretty sure I've never actually heard anyone make that sound, but she did. "Tsk. Tsk." Twice. I wanted to cry. That's when the woman directly behind me threw me a lifeline by leaning forward and letting me know her boys had driven her nuts when they were little as well. Thank you, thank you, and thank you again, oh wonderful mystery woman from the grocery store check out line!

I don't know why I felt it was important to write more about my ranting last night. Perhaps I feel guilty for expressing my frustration so strongly. Perhaps it's because I want to make sure to honor all of the truly lovely mothers-of-daughters who show empathy and encouragement to mothers-of-sons and vice versa. Perhaps it's because I feel it's crucial to acknowledge once more that raising children -- whether they are boys or girls -- is incredibly challenging and frustrating and rewarding and wonderful and indescribable. Or, perhaps it's because Spencer threw his arms around my neck today (leaving muddy fingerprints all over me in the process), looked into my eyes, and said, "Mommy, I love you waaaaaayyyyy more than you love me. When I grow up, I'm going to marry you." At which point Foster came running up yelling, "I love Mommy more than you love Mommy, Spence!" and showered me with peanut-buttery kisses. This scenario reminding me, once more, that the good always, always, outweighs the bad, and that my messy, loud, slobbery, wiggly, dirty little boys are the two best things that have ever happened in my life. Cheers!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Those without sons, judge ye not!

I guess this vent could also be called, "All well-meaning mothers of little girls, please take your mumbled comments, your eye-rolls, your advice, and your never-ending judgments, and shove them in a place where the sun doesn't shine! Thanks so much." You can see where I'm going with this one, right? We can debate Nature vs. Nurture for hours and hours, and, no matter which side you fall on, the truth is that boys are different than girls. (Admittedly, my boys are also only 12 months and 2 weeks apart in age, so I think I've got kind of a double-whammy of boy behavior here.) But, I was skeptical about the whole "boys will be boys" thing. I definitely leaned more toward the importance of Nurture over Nature. Truly, I am one of those Moms who has bought my little boys dolls and stuffed animals and worked hard to nurture kindness and cooperation and gentleness since the moment each of my little treasures was born. I am consistent in my reinforcement and in my consequences. I encourage my little guys to play both independently and cooperatively, and I strive daily to help them develop interests in things that don't have engines or involve some sort of battle. I work hard to model the sort of behavior and values I seek to teach (with occasional instances in which I can't take it anymore and "lose it", scream at the boys for their bad behavior, give myself a time-out in my room, and then bawl on my bed, feeling like a useless disaster of a mother). I spend endless hours helping my boys learn to "use your words, not your hands" and solve problems without resorting to hitting, pushing, or calling someone a "stinky poopy head". I do everything I can to burn off their endless energy and address their constant need for movement by taking them on at least two daily adventures (one every a.m., one every p.m.) to playgrounds, parks, the beach, the tubes at McDonalds, bike rides, etc. In short, I work my ass off every single day to ensure that my boys are as well-mannered, kind, gentle, well-adjusted, and happy as possible. I am so tired that I am literally incapable of functioning by the end of the day, I can barely rally to have a half-mumbled conversation with my husband when he gets home, and I am always, always, on the verge of bursting into tears from exhaustion. And, you know what? In spite of my efforts, my little darlings would rather hit each other than use their words. They would still rather pick up a stick and battle each other than color or bake cookies. They compete over every toy, every second of parental attention, every last Cheetoh. They are loud and dirty, when they could just as easily be quiet and clean. They appear to be biologically drawn toward anything slimy or smelly, remotely violent, or involving some sort of wheeled or flying vehicle. They can get completely distracted just walking 10 feet down the hallway to go brush their teeth and end up playing airplane pilot on their bunk beds instead, with no idea what they were actually supposed to be doing. And, they are apparently incapable of walking side-by-side down a hallway or street or stairwell without poking, pushing, or insulting one another. They are boys. So, Mothers-Of-Sweet-Little-Daughters -- The next time you find yourself sneering in righteous judgment at the exhausted-looking Mom in line at the grocery store, trying to put one little boy in time-out for poking his brother in the eye, while comforting the wailing injured brother and simultaneously juggling a cart full of groceries and a purse that won't stay on her shoulder, all while trying desperately to remain calm and to not burst into hysterical sobbing -- please remember this: You have NO IDEA what raising little boys is like. I promise you, from the bottom of my tired little heart, no matter how challenging your little girls may be at times, you don't have a clue what boys are like, until you are raising one yourself. So, please be kind. Please give a smile or a wink or a thumbs-up to that Mom in the store. Reach out in friendship, rather than in judgment. We Moms have to stick together and cut each other a little slack, eh? After all, being a Mom is the hardest job in the world, and we need each other to stay sane. And, thank you so much to the woman at the grocery store who put her hand on my shoulder and said, "Honey, it's not you. They're just being boys. When my boys were little, they made me feel like I was losing my mind most days. You hang in there." I cannot express how much your understanding and encouraging words helped me on that day. A special toast for you, for me, and for all frazzled mothers-of-sons out there: Here's to just a few moments in each day when something isn't being broken, nobody is pushing anybody else's buttons, nobody is tracking mud throughout the house, and we can experience a little peace and quiet before the next onslaught begins. Cheers!