When I hired my morning sitter to manage the boys before school, I lost touch with my children. The full impact of that really hit home this morning when my sitter had to cancel. She called me at 6am. Her car wouldn’t start. I said ok, no problem, I got it from here.
I hung up and suddenly realized I had no clue. What time should I wake them up? When does school start? Oh jeez, does Calvin have his reading class this morning? What do they eat? What about lunches? Do they take their tennis racquets to school? Is today the tutor?
And I quickly became an anxious wreck. I was convinced at 6:05am I was running late when I was almost certain school didn’t start until some time after 8, or maybe 8:30. The next two hours were hell.
I did everything wrong. I woke them up too early. It was too cold for cold breakfast. They no longer eat oatmeal. They were suppose to have hot chocolate waiting for them on the table. “Elizabeth doesn’t fix it this way. Where’s my marshmallow?”
Jack insisted on waffles. “Mom, I eat three, not two, I’m not a little kid any more.” He grabbed the plate from me and lifted it just high enough to dunk my just washed hair in the syrup. They fought over toothpaste and who got to walk out the front door first.
Finally we load up and hit the road. I turn the first corner and Sam knocked my coffee over, the whole cup into the driver seat where I was sitting in my go to work clothes. Of course there is no towel in the car. That would make too much sense. “Mom, you shouldn’t have put your coffee there. Elizabeth doesn’t drink coffee. Why do you drink coffee?”
It’s a bittersweet thing, losing control. I mean I feel like it should be a bittersweet thing. It’s anything but. I blew kisses to them as they walked away like I did when I was a stay at home mom. Then I sped away as fast as the school zone allowed.
Calvin and I are walking down the street. We are headed toward his speech therapist’s office. It was about 5 o’clock and there was a lot of traffic. I instinctively moved Calvin to the inside of the sidewalk so I would walk closest to the passing cars.
Calvin: “Why did you push me over Mommy?”
Me: “Well, if a car jumps the curb, I want it to hit me, not you.”
Calvin: “No! You might die!”
Me: “That’s right, which is why you need to be over there and I need to be over here.”
Calvin: “But if you die, who will take care of my brothers? I need to die. My brothers need a mommy.”
Where does that come from? Calvin and his beautiful brain.
Target, the parking lot. Me and my troops.
“OK,” I say generously, evenly, not betraying my entire lack of confidence in what I’m about to say. “We are going inside Target. We are going to do this fast. I have a headache. We are late. You have been awful for the last hour and it ends now or no movie, no pizza, no fun. We will leave. Understand?”
Three heads bob in affirmation from the backseat.
“OK, hit it.”
We are out of the car and walking with purpose. First stop: Alleve. I really do have a headache. While I am calculating cost per pill for the economy size, they start in. Sam has decided to push over all the pill boxes. Calvin decided to discipline him. I grab the largest box imaginable and escape to the pizze aisle. Cost to keep Calvin from corporally punishing Sam: $15.75.
Here things got weird. All three boys want a different four cheese pizza. Like the difference is nuanced and discernible to a boy who picks his nose. A small skirmish breaks out and Calvin says if we don’t get his pizza he’s not going to eat – ever. Jack says he must have rising crust because the other is flat like cardboard. Sam says he must have the thin smear of tomato sauce between the cheese topping and the crust just like in the picture or he’ll throw up. I can’t take it. All three pizzas go in. Cost to avert vomit: $18.00.
Off to dvds in spite of my threats. This is only because we are going to the Boyfriend Candidate’s house and if the kids don’t have something kid-like to do they will act like themselves and I can’t have that. All the moveis stink and we already have every other G/PG film out there. We end up with two B level movies. Why? Because they are fighting about it, playing two against one games. “We want the owl movie, and two against one. We win.” The older boys taunting the baby. I got both movies. Cost to avoid years of therapy for Sam: $45.
At this point, I want out. I need to get these belligerent, ill-behaved, disrespectful, spiteful angels over to the BC’s house where he’s likely to take one look at all of the chaos and reconsider his relationship with me. The evening has taken a turn for the crazy and it hasn’t started yet.
Going into Target I thought we’d do a quick driveby. $30 and done. Nope. Keeping the peace cost right under $100. A babysitter would have been a helluva lot cheaper. And I might have maintained my sanity.
I never did figure out how to celebrate this holiday. So I’m making the regular activities of the day fit a theme. It’s backwards, but dammit, I have a New Year’s Resolution to keep!
So I’m sorting Legos. I’m sure I’ll write more about Legos at some point. I love them. Obsess about them. They teach me and inspire me. I’m serious.
But the sorting is a chore. I have a system: small Legos, large Legos, flat Legos, and then obscure and large sized ones. Most colors have four boxes each which are divided in this way. About the size of a shoe box so you can tell right off I have thousands of Legos.
Unfortunately this is a bit backwards for the holiday because I am segregating the Legos. Right now I have three bowls of integrated Legos and I can’t have that. They must be separated – then further separated by size. So since I’m backwards on this holiday any way, I guess it’s ok to not let the red and gray Legos mingle. We will have none of that! Separate but equal in the Land of Legos.
My goal with this particular sort is to get through the whites and reds because I want to make two Star Wars X-Wing ships. I’ve been going through my favorite projects. I’m particularly interested to know whether or not I still have all the pieces.
Once the kids get their hands on my Legos there is no telling where the pieces go. They actually play with them. It drives me crazy.
This Christmas I decided to give my children my office. I’m completely redecorating with desks and bookshelves, lots of space for school projects and floor to ceiling whiteboards. It’s costing more money than I have , but it really has to be done. My kids are struggling at school.
I openly stressed about the money and the transition to my mother over the holidays. She completely missed my bigger issues which makes sense because she is a woman of another generation. My open stressing rendered no support, instead some small condemnation.
My mother suggested I was redecorating because I like to do that sort of thing. She suggested that I not make financial expenditures which could deprive my children. This was merely a luxury I should forego.
She was missing big points and I couldn’t convince her otherwise. She was a stay at home mom most of her life. She married my dad when she was 21 and raising children was all she ever knew.
My kids have me for only a couple of hours every night – for homework, dinner, chat and cuddling. They are now at an age where they need space to open books and make projects. The three of them share a single, small bedroom. They need my office space more than I do. My single, imposing desk which accommodates one will not help the four of us muddle through the three Rs. No question: they need a functioning room and the expense is just one of those things I’m going to have to shoulder.
But the bigger heartache in all this is losing my office. I had an occupation and a profession which gave me satisfaction and independence. I had barely begun marketing myself and enjoying the thrill that comes with building a business. I’m turning my back on that, giving it away to the three people I love the most who depend on me for everything. . . and it hurts. It hurts to realize I’m not that zippy independent professional I once thought I could be. Calling the shots from my seat of power, making things happen and influencing the world. I’m simply not important in that way and handing off my office seals that fate and acknowledges my own impotence in the adult world of movers and shakers. It’s really quite sad. I could feel like a failure except that I see this step as one toward creating success in other areas, other more important areas, like the development of children.
This really is their time. I suspect my time is over, my arc has ended. Whatever chances I had to “be something” have now dissolved except in ways that pertain to or at least include consideration of the kids. I’m really ok with that. It’s an adjustment period certainly, but I feel triumphant in that it was a hard decision. . . and I only hesitated about two days to make it.
Christmas light update: they are still working. I think we have a truce.
My youngest son, when he was about a year old, was going up the bunk bed ladder and fell down. His mouth took the brunt of the fall and probably hit more than a couple steps on the way down. By the time I got to his screaming little self there was blood gushing from his mouth. I could see his top front teeth positioned in completely unnatural ways. I had visions of the ER and a long night with a suffering baby.
I paged the pediatric dentist. She called me back right away even though she was at a cocktail party. She told me just to move the teeth back where they belonged. I was stunned. I was actually driving the car around in circles not knowing if I needed to meet her at her office or go to the hospital. Instead she sent me home.
I did as I was told and it worked. I put the teeth back. Got a cold compress and saved his teeth. For about two years. Then he came home from daycare, smiled and his upper teeth were gone. They had broken at the gum line. No one saw how or when it happened. He didn’t have an accident. I can only assume they were fractured from the long ago fall and that was the day they decided to fall out.
The roots of those teeth had to be removed. The broken bits were sharp. Which Sam misunderstood to mean “shark” like he had “shark teeth” which wasn’t an entirely bad description. We were at a maxillofacial surgeon’s office to get that done. They don’t like using general anesthesia on babies so they used all locals to remove the teeth. Sam takes after me in that he does not respond to painkillers. The meds didn’t really work. He didn’t dose off and he screamed like murder during the procedure. The roots of these baby teeth were half an inch long. The doctors had to physically pull me from the room while I was screaming I had a right to be with my minor son.
My now ex-husband told me I needed to mind the doctors. I was disruptive, a distraction. I should have divorced him then.
When my son was in recovery I went in. He was literally like a caged feral animal. He hissed at me. The nurses told me not to worry because the meds caused a type of amnesia. He wouldn’t remember a thing. But I would. I toss an imaginary grenade every time I drive by that office.
All of this is to explain why my son doesn’t speak well: he has no upper teeth. And because of that he says the cutest things. He can’t say “you’re welcome” for instance. It comes out “I’m Malcolm.”
“Thank you Sam!”
“I’m Malcolm Mama!”
I just love that. That’s really all I wanted to say.
At our slumber party last weekend one of the boys came to me at 1:30am and said he was sick. He was crying, and I was quick to dismiss it as homesick or fear of a dark, strange house. I really did not want to call his parents in the middle of the night. They had a kid-free evening and were probably swinging from the chandeliers or playing naked Twister. Of course, if they were anything like me, they may have been so excited to be allowed their exhaustion, they smiled at each other before the sun set and fell asleep.
Naturally, the boy had a temp and was mortified that he might throw up in front of all his friends. We made the call. No answer. Visions of two middle-aged people bitterly wiping off whipped cream, cursing the whole time, danced through my head.
It took about twenty minutes for one of them to pick up the phone. The boy spoke to his mom. He was really crying hard. Still, just like me, he had to sell her on the idea that he was sick. About forty minutes later, his dad shows up at our house. You could tell by the way he slammed the car door he was not happy. But I opened the front door and his sick little cherub limped out, now hysterical upon seeing his father, and dad’s angry melted. It was heartbreaking.
I promised right then I would never doubt my kids when they called at an inconvenient time to tell me they needed me. Naked Twister be damned!
My oath lasted all of four days. My oldest called from school. He thought he broke his thumb and wanted me to take him to the hospital. If this was true, I reasoned, the school would have called an ambulance. I told my darling, brave, crying child that unless there was blood or bone I wasn’t leaving the office. I wasn’t even torn; there was no way I was leaving work.
Like most parents, I live for my children. Unless, of course, it’s inconvenient.
My son turns twelve today. As I type have ten boys running unrestrained and untethered in my house, junked up on caffeine, chocolate and the adrenaline of a post-Nerf war victory. I’d be lying if I said there was anything unusual about that. My three boys all by themselves can create quite a lot of noise and mayhem.
It is time for reflection. Twelve years. What the hell? I’ve never had anything for twelve years. Not a plant, a dog, even my husband, one could argue, punched out long before we got to twelve years. Of all things I might imagine myelf to have for twelve years – a car for instance, maybe a mattress – I would never have imagined a human being. And my son seems happy to have me. Of course I gave him a PS3 with ensures (and insures!) his devotion so I can’t be sure how sincere his undying affection is, but I really don’t care. I have it.
So tonight, I’ll listen to him and his friends scream like girls, echoing down the streets of the neighborhood. In a year or two they won’t sound like little girls any more so I’m going to enjoy this before they get neck deep in testosterone. They are a great group of boys. I’m not concerned about a single one of them. We’re really fortunate. I have a beautiful boy who made me a grateful mom. I love him in ways that can’t be expressed.
A year or two ago, I was really worried about his life and how it might turn out. Not any more. I’ve got it covered. And for those times when I’m not there, his trusted friends and their families will be. All things considered, it’s good to turn twelve.
Calvin at 7.
So Calvin says to me tonight, “Mom, you’re really clever, even though you’re old.”
He almost had me. It was so close. But he followed it up with this beauty:
“You have so many things in your head. I don’t have as many things in my head. Not yet. As you get old, you get more knowledge and it all fits in your head. So a person’s head always fits their knowledge.”
My Calvin with his unique and wonderful brain can come up with things that give me pause. How does it all fit in there? I don’t know. Our feet grow, but our heads don’t. Weird, right? You’d think if anything would grow it would be your head to accommodate the wealth of information, the daily memories being saved for later use, the sounds and textures and smells of a lifetime. It’s such a cool observation. Cool and twisted.
I’m divorced. At the time of the Great Divide, I was a stay-at-home, home schooling mom to my three sons – one of them with entry level autism. I hadn’t worked in years. Divorce was a big thing that changed my life. I still grapple with the meaning of it. My kids are back in brick and mortar school. I’m back at work after 8 months of bitter unemployment. I’m raising three boys to be men without a male presence. I yell a lot.
What I never anticipated was our ability to adapt and the beauty of the unexpected simple solution. The little things. I have a day job, but as soon as I get home, I’m in the home office doing my part time work. There are never-ending interruptions from the boys which always makes teleconferencing a challenge. Most of my clients are resigned to the screaming in the background or the occasional “Mommy I have to poop. Will you wipe my bottom?” Right now they are in my office arguing over boiled eggs. They don’t even like boiled eggs. I repeat myself with withering conviction throughout the day. “Get out of my office!” “Let me finish my work!” and my favorite “I’ll be there in a minute!” This is a good one: “Stop touching your brother!” That one works 24/7.
Anything I can do to reduce the stress I’m game for. TV, for which I have a love-hate relationship, is a big trigger for tension because the boys only have a love relationship with it. When it’s time for bed, it becomes all out war. They’ve developed effective strategies. The ear piercing whine is fairly reliable. But a couple of weeks ago they did something exceptional. They turned the volume down so I would think they had turned it off. They faked me out. Now I have to stop what I’m doing to get a visual on what they are up to. I cannot trust my ears which for a mom is a really big loss.
Last night a little thing changed my life. The guy I’m dating, the Boyfriend Candidate, is a problem solving junkie. He must look at my house with the same glee as a mosquito in a blood bank. He gave to me a most powerful weapon: a remote control power switch I can use on the TV’s outlet. From my office, without warning, I can turn the TV off at its power source. They cannot turn it back on. They may yet find a go around; they could outsmart me. They are younger and more flexible. But for now, I’ll take the peaceful resignation of “What happened? Why isn’t the TV working? Barnacles.”
Adaptation is a small and beautiful thing.