Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Keeper of Bad Days

{I have very limited internet access for the next several days so I am unable to do a lot of posting or commenting on your posts.  I will be back soon, but until then, I hope you enjoy one of my older posts.  It helps explain why we need a vacation!}

It’s getting late and I am tired. My husband’s shift in the Emergency Department ended a couple hours ago and I expected him long before now. A day off school means the children have had all day to chip away at my patience and sanity; I’ve counted down for the moment I get a break, or at least acknowledgment from someone who doesn’t call me Mom. Frustration builds as minutes multiply and by the time the front door opens, I’ve had the argument a thousand times in my mind: “What have you been doing?” or perhaps “You knew the kids were home today, how could you be so inconsiderate?“ maybe even a “Don’t you even care how difficult my days can be?”

But as he walks in, I see his troubled face and I swallow the angry words already half formed in my mouth. Instead I replace them with, “How was your day?” The world has weighed so heavily on him today, I worry the couch frame may break as he collapses into it. As the children crawl and chatter over him, he tells me about his day. There was an attempted suicide and his failed effort to reverse what was done. Followed by another attempt, half successful, leaving a body alive, a brain dead and a face half missing. He must call far away relatives to offer terrible choices: permanent life support or organ donation. Finally he sees an irritated family waiting for simple test results for their mildly ill child.

“They had waited a long time and I didn’t want them to be lost in the shift change, so I stayed till the results came back. By that time the hospital was nearly ready to take the man up for organ harvest so I stayed with him and, as I was leaving, his grieving sister called desperate she had made the wrong choice. I comforted her the best I could.”

As I listen to his day I remember something his colleague once told me, “I never say I’m having a bad day. I’ve seen thousands of truly bad days and to call mine bad would be disrespectful.” I see a glimpse of those bad days now reflected in my husband’s tired eyes. I can’t even begin to understand the memories my husband owns: the child he spent a fruitless extra hour trying to revive only to face notifying her still hopeful mother, telling a young father of three his wife’s stroke has left him a widow, child abuse leading to 3rd degree burns.

My husband sees bad days every day. He sees some of the worst humanity has to offer: suicides, assaults, attempted murders, child abuse. He also sees everyone’s worst nightmares: severed limbs, car accidents, strokes, psychological breaks, sudden and unexpected deaths mixed with long mourned ones. All this is a part of my husband’s existence.

I can imagine him, despite a long and difficult day, consoling a stranger over the phone, with the image of her brother’s wounds still fresh in his mind. I see him reluctant to leave that man alone his last minutes of life. Still willing to go the extra mile for a family visibly frustrated with their long wait and unaware its unfortunate reason. I see him hugging our children tighter and longer than normal, patient despite his exhaustion. He tells me he is sorry to come home so late, but I know that’s a lie. He doesn’t regret his actions today. As I see him, compassionate and kind despite the constant barrage of tragedy, I suddenly realize I’m not sorry for it either.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

I Learn the Truth about the Extent of Male Conversations

I was teasing my husband the other day for his choice in television stations. In a huge deviation from normal, he wasn't watching news, business, sports, or HGTV. (Don't tell him I included that last one!) Instead I kept finding the station turned to Current TV.

He explained that their Rotten Tomatoes Show is too entertaining to miss. "After all that's all men really  talk about when they get together is movies."

I, of course, balked. "All you ever talk about? Let's be real."

He insisted that the majority of male conversations revolve around laughing at movies, quoting movies, describing parts of movies, etc. He even, when I pointed out that they must talk about hot girls sometimes, counterpointed that they talked about hot girls from the movies.

I rolled my eyes and added this to the list of Things-That-Show-My-Husband-Is-Full-Of-It and continued on my day.

It was, after all, an eventful day. We were throwing Ryan's birthday party and, since he turned twelve and in keeping with tradition, he was having a friend party. Later that evening we found ourselves packed in the Suburban with seven boys, ranging from 9 to 14, headed to Monster Minigolf. Over pizza later in the party, I was discussing the dynamics of the boys (who all knew Ryan but didn't necessarily know each other) and how much easier it was than a group of girls in the same situation.

"I mean 20 minutes in the car there and 20 minutes back and all they did was tell Yo' Momma jokes* and quoted..."

{Que goofy I-told-you-so smile from husband}

"...oh, I see. You mean you weren't kidding with the whole extent of male conversations thing."


I hate it when he's right and I'm wrong.  It throws the world out of balance.

* First of all, there was a rule that anyone telling a Yo' Momma joke to Ryan would be thrown from the car while it was still moving.

* Secondly, yo' momma's so dumb she told a Yo' Momma joke to her son.  (That one is my personal favorite.)

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A 12-year-old Boy's Birthday Party

Throwing a twelve-year-old's party is not the same as an eight-year-old's. Especially when that twelve-year-old is a boy. For some reason the thought of pin the tale on anything wasn't appealing to him. I didn't even try suggesting crafts.

After weeks of prodding and disappointment over a *slight* overestimating of my cake making abilities (a stand up 3D version of Super Smash Brothers is not something I could do), he finally decided on a golf cake.  Well, he wanted the clubs and the ball and it was the least I could do after denying him his first option.

Instead of a big couple hour party, he opted for a sleep over with just a few friends.

We started the night with Monster Mingolf. I think we hit a record for most balls hit out of play in one round.

Then it was home for pizza and beach. They would have stayed out in the water longer, if they didn't have to share the water with jellyfish.

And then video games and more video games and finally threats if they didn't stop playing video games and go to bed.

Most of the evening we had the cake out and ready, but only a couple boys ate a piece. When I woke up the next morning, however, the entire thing was GONE. As was most of the 4 large pizzas. Sleep was no match for the bottomless stomachs of boys!

They interrupted their morning playing of games long enough to scarf down some pancakes and then the party was over.

I'm pretty sure they all had fun. Repeated calls of "That game is sick!" is a good sign, right?

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

I mistook my boys for mops

A few months back, I convinced my boys they wanted to grow their hair a little longer.  If you ask me why, I'll tell you it's because all the tween boys are wearing it like that nowadays and I wanted them to fit in, but in reality it had more to do with the lack of desire to drag them to the barbers.

Unfortunately there was a slight flaw in my plan: longer hair requires some necessities, if it isn't to to look like it's sprouting from a parentless urchin.  Things like washing it more than once a quarter, being willing to brush it, and not minding hair product.  Do you know how many of those things these lovely boys of mine were willing to do?  None. Zero.  Nadda.

I bought them gel and showed them how to put it in, three weeks later they were willing to swear they had never heard of gel, didn't know what it looked like, and couldn't tell me where it had disappeared.  Careless, awesome curls were a rarity and always the result of embarrassing Mom-can-still-tackle-me episodes. Instead my boys sprouted fluffy, bulbous knobs around their heads.

Basically, I had two tweenagers with mops as heads.

Did I tell you about the time I noticed one of them had enough grease in his hair to cook some fries?  When I asked how this was possible (he had come down from his shower with wet hair every morning), he replied he had not been using shampoo.  For over a month ... maybe even two months!  Why would you wet down your hair every day without washing it?  Unless a shrug and shake of the head is some deep answer that went over my head, there was no good answer to that question.

Basically, I had two tweenagers with dirty mops as heads.

What about the time (or times) I looked over at church and realized neither boy had even tried to brush their hair in the morning and both sported bed heads, complete with flattened down parts and peaks on the other side?

Basically, I had two tweenagers with dirty, tangled mops as heads.

And that is why, when one mentioned he wanted a shorter hair cut for summer and his brother showed similar interest, I practically killed myself running for the razor.  Their hair was so bad I was willing to risk cutting it myself before they changed their minds.

My boys have normal looking human heads again. But I suppose I will have to find the real mop again the next time I need to clean up a spill.

Someday they will actually care about how they look, right? Right?!?

(I don't have good before/after pictures so I'm posting some of all the kids.  Without too much effort I'm sure you'll be able to pick out the two that went from dirty, tangled mops to normal.)

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

My Evil Plan is Working -or- Children's Summer Rewards Plan


What?  You can't tell my you don't spend hours in the shower coming up with schemes to trick your kids into being perfect angels?  I mean, of course, hours cumulatively accrued over several days of showers.  Even I have not found a way to hide in the bathroom for hours at a time.

Surely you too sit up in bed, wide awake, when new evil plans strike?  Jump with joy at the excuse to use spreadsheets?  Just know that this time you've discovered the holy grail of reward systems that will make the kids beg you to do their chores, never think of fighting, and keep a spotless room.

It can't be just me, because that would make me odd.  Almost as odd as falling in love with a laminator or keeping stacks of failed job charts lying around to remember all your other brilliant ideas that were really more like semi-burned out ones.  But let's not go there.

So anyway, I've been trying to perfect my *Put Beads in a Jar as a Source of Rewards* technique since I introduced it- and shortly thereafter abandoned it- almost a year ago.  Mixing in an idea spurred from the ever brilliant Momza, I think I may have finally succeeded.  (The post I am referring to seems to have disappeared or I would link to it- *updated- Momza found the post for me- I told you she is brilliant- so now it is all properly linked)

How can I be so sure it is working you ask?  Let me show you how I measure my success thus far:
  •  My children were fighting today over who "got" to take out the garbage.
  • Kids are begging me to assign them chores in the morning 
  • The mention of special, extra chores are met with cheers.  
  • I went several days without the kids asking to use the TV or computer 
  • I have yet to hear, "I'm bored." 


    So anyway, that's how I've spent my first week and a half of summer.  I'll see you later.





    You want to know what I've done?  Oh, all right. Just because I love you.

    The Actual Plan

    I printed out a couple pages of requirements with assigned value.  For instance, getting chore and bedroom finished before breakfast are each worth a certain amount (3 and 2 marbles respectively).  Reading a book to Matthew is worth a marble (max of 2/day).  Brushing teeth, sorting socks, unloading dishwasher- all assigned value.

    Then there is the list of Costs.  These are things I don't want to happen and cost them marbles.  Things like yelling(-2), not completing chores(-5), leaving our shoes(-1), etc.

    Finally there is the list of Options, or things for which they can exchange their marbles and are working toward.

    Each child has a jar with their own color of marbles.

    More on How Well it is Working:

    I'm telling you it is the best plan EVER.  Some kids watch TV or eat snacks every day.  Others are super savers, waiting for the money.  They all only lose marbles a couple times before they really start trying to remember the rules.  They are learning about budgeting and moderation, that work equals pay, that delayed gratification is worth waiting for.

    This morning we decided to get the ice cream treat they'd saved for, only one child (the one who had a couple fits yesterday and lost too many marbles) was short SIX marbles.  He never did a chore so quickly.  Not to mention the joy at being offered an extra chore for the lacking numbers.

    I repeat, JOY for GETTING to do an EXTRA chore.

    Also, Matthew has been read a dozen books a day.  The girls room is working on a record for number of days clean.  The TV is staying off most of the time without any complaints.  I'm hoping I can keep it up, because I'm liking my summer plan so far.

    Here is a list of my current award chart, although remember it is still a work in progress.

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    Tuesday, July 6, 2010

    Help Me I'm Melting

    I would like to apologize to the East Coast.  Apparently Mother Nature did not appreciate my post about perfect New England summers.  Between writing and publishing my last post, I have simultaneously melted, roasted, and had my hair expand to the size of Pluto's moon.  New England has disguised itself temporarily (I hope) as North Carolina.

    Only in North Carolina I had central air conditioning.  Here I have a teeny tiny window unit that I've never turned on and looks weak enough to only cool off a closet.

    I had been bragging about not using air conditioning for my third straight summer, but that streak is over!  Today we hung sheets up in the house to limit the square footage that poor air conditioner must cool off and flipped it on.  It has dropped the temperature in the living room from "I've died and ended up in hell" to "I've died and been reincarnated as a turkey in the oven."  We're hoping to hit "Maybe I still do want to live" by the end of the night.

    Now we are all sitting in the living room wearing various degrees of clothing.  That is all you need, or should want, to know on that matter.  But, because I never know when to stop, at least 7/8 of us are in underwear only. 

    So if you're looking for a good sweat lodge, come on over.  Just bring a towel to mop up the 8 puddles of family members you'll find inside.

    If it doesn't drop down away from 100 degrees soon (that is 37 degrees for you Celsius people) I'm might consider moving to Antarctica.  Or trying to fit my bed inside our stand up freezer.  Or consider an all popsicle diet.  Or try to stop rambling (but I can't because it is too HOT to think coherently).
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    Sunday, July 4, 2010

    A Summer Evening at our House

    New England may freeze you in the winter and procrastinate spring longer than necessary, but every summer I realize why people live here.

    Oh, the summers!

    One evening last week all eight of us seemed unwilling to abandon the late afternoon sunlight for its artificial replacement. After dining on Dad grilled burgers on our picnic table and inaugurating our new fire pit appropriately with s’mores, we all lingered in the backyard. Sitting in the rocking chair enjoying a book, I paused to check on the family.

    My oldest daughter relaxed in the hammock, her teenage limbs stretching comfortably, and my youngest child snuggled next to her as they giggling their way through a picture book. My other daughter practiced her golf swing with occasional direction from her father. He watched her as he sat in my neighboring rocking chair, the three other boys piled on his lap showing him the intricacies of their newest favorite game on my phone.

    The weather hovered in the mid seventies, the lingering smell of slowly dying fire permeated the yard, and the ever faithful ocean breeze, carrying the gentle sounds of waves, left a slight taste of salt as I breathed it. As the light waned, I flipped on the balcony lights to augment the light of bug-preventing candles distributed through the yard, and continued listening to the joyful murmur of my family as I read my book.




    Oh, the summers!

    When I think of my happy place, it's filled with memories like these. There is swimming in North Carolina and catching fire flies in Missouri; summer evenings spread over the years. The situations change and the children grow, but the feeling builds on itself. The joy now mixes with the joy of yesteryear and I keep them all to ponder in my heart.

    Oh, the summers!

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    If you don’t see much of me in the next couple months, I’d like for you to think of me experiencing memories like these. But, if it makes you feel better, you can picture me taking all the kids grocery shopping and then hiding in the closet with a jumbo sized bag of chocolate candy (because that is also a part of my summer experience)!

    Thursday, July 1, 2010

    Plan to Distract Kids as Chronicled by my Phone's Camera

    Back in the depths of winter when I was wracking my brain for the perfect Christmas present for my husband, the greatest idea came to me.  Every summer a PGA golf tournament plays not far from us; why not buy tickets for it?  In the process of buying tickets, I found out children under 15 are free.

    So finally the weekend arrived and Peter had to choose who was going.  Would it be the whole family?  One choice child?  After explaining that I wouldn't chose for him, he made the wise (and brave) choice of taking the oldest 4 kids, who all happen to currently be taking golf lessons.  That was great, but left me with the job of making sure the two little ones didn't feel left out.    How, you may ask, does one distract an almost 6 and 4 year old from noticing their siblings aren't around? Project Fun Day with Just Mom was born.  I present to you the PLAN as chronicled by my iPhone.

    #1- Breakfast out.
    Include donuts and hot chocolate in neighboring tourist town.  Also include son pointing out loudly and excitedly that the family the next table over has TWO DADDIES, which must not have been too offensive as one of the daddies later helped out when other son spilled his hot chocolate on way out the door.

    #2- Stop at small theater while strolling between donut store and book store to get picture with their favorite local whale.

    #3- Spend way too much time at the Best Used Book Store on the Planet.
    Seriously, you should be so lucky as to have this book store near you (which is big enough to actually be several buildings on an old farm outside of town AND two satellite stores in already mentioned touristy town)

    #4- Leave first tourist town for other tourist town to visit other favorite store, a.k.a. Consignment-store-where-people-who-have-one-child-while-in-their-late-thirties-bring-their-barely-used-name-brand-clothing Store.  Now THAT is some name, huh?

    Spend under $150 to outfit all the kids for summer.

    Wonder why you would think driving to the two biggest tourist towns on a Saturday in the summer was a good idea.

    #5- Have compassion on kids and let them take a break for lunch.  With only the smallest kids with me, there was no Playland angst involved.

    #6- Drive home.  Enjoy naps, reading, and Netflix streaming of Karate Kid on laptop.

    #7- Head back out and let the kids spend their allowance money for the toy they've been saving up a month for.

    #8- Just as day is ending, get call from husband's counselor in Youth Program (Young Mens) asking why Peter isn't answering his phone as there was a glitch in rides home from Youth Conference and 4 kids need ride from drop off spot over an hour away.  Need someone there in 45 minutes.  Hop in car and enjoy 3 hour detour in plan.

    Joseph asked only once where the other kids where.  When I explained they were (quietly) watching other people play golf all day, he was completely satisfied with our alternate choice of entertainment. So was I.

    Peter and the kids, however, had a blast and it was totally a fantastic Christmas present for him.

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