Liquid Paper and Solo Parenting: A PSA

I used to write about my kids and their fiascos all the time. There was the Habitot catastrophe, the Lutheran calamity, and the swim class crisis, to name just a few. But lately, there hasn’t been that much to write about. Well, there was the alter-altercation, in which the kids began slapping each other around in front of the whole congregation during the children’s sermon… That resulted in Andy walking to the front of the church, picking Rachel up (not that she was the most culpable, it was just who he chose) and moving her to the other side of the pastor and gaggle of well-behaved kids. She immediately stood up and moved right back to where she was before—sitting by and hitting Aaron—which all but about two people (guess who?) in the entire church found hilarious.Children's Sermon

Anyway, the fiascos are of a more ongoing type these days, and mainly consist of the kids hitting, pushing, and yelling at one another. And even that has almost stopped thanks to our new parenting method, which involves so much talking through things and compromising that I’m usually hoarse by 10am.

But today… today was a fiasco the likes of which I haven’t seen in I don’t know… two months, maybe?

I showered. That was my first mistake. We don’t have any real plans today, and I’m flying solo while Andy gets to do fun things like enjoy the all-you-can-eat dining hall at Wheaton. But Rachel was sewing and Aaron was watching Trotro and I promised myself I’d hurry. Giving in to my I-want-to-feel-human self, I took a shower.

About 1 minute before I would be all done and head downstairs to check on the kids, Rachel came running in.

“Mama! Mama! You know the stuff, the mistake stuff? Aaron has it! And he painted my hands with it and it’s everywhere!”

I, of course, had no idea what she was talking about and also couldn’t see her hands see because I wasn’t wearing my glasses.

“What are you talking about? Where is your sewing needle? Your scissors? We need to get downstairs immediately!”

She thrust her hands in front of my face.

“No! The white stuff you use if you make a mistake… the stuff we aren’t supposed to touch!”

I saw the white on her hands, now only an inch from my eyeballs. Crap. He had the Liquid Paper. “It’s everywhere,” she had said. My wool rugs, newish-couches, the dog’s fur… all sorts of visions went through my head.

So we ran. Ran pell-mell through the bedroom and hall, down the steps and into the kitchen, where I found an entire bottle of Liquid Paper dumped on the floor, and white kid-size-11 footprints trailing from the kitchen to the living room, while the culprit stood in the middle of the sticky, rapidly drying puddle, clearly happy with himself.

After wiping both kids’ feet, I assessed the damage and found, thankfully, that other than a few white streaks on the couch (it’s under warranty!), the bulk of damage was only on the wood floor. Bullet dodged, or so I thought.

Liquid Paper 1

After about 30 minutes of scrubbing the worst spot.

People, Liquid Paper is some serious business. If I ever want to keep a secret from the NSA, I now know exactly how to do it. Almost NOTHING can get through well-placed white out. Trust me, I know.

I tried hot water, a plastic knife, my fingernails, 409, Goo Gone (I thought I had a winner there, but nope. It just made white swirls on the floor), hardwood cleaner, a mop, a rag, a bigger rag, and Rachel’s fingernails (hey, she offered!). All this gave me was a bunch of dirty laundry, a back- and elbow ache, broken nails, and a floor covered in swishy stuff. So I did what all good moms do when faced with a housekeeping stumper: I Googled it.

Liquid Paper 2

She wanted to help!

It’s Google, so the answer came up within nanoseconds. I didn’t even click any of the links, but just read the little snippets to find my salvation: WD-40, baby. That’s the only thing that’ll cut right through the atrocity that is Liquid Paper.

Liquid Paper 3

After 409, Goo Gone, fingernails, a mop, and one round of WD-40.

So, WD-40 it was. It stank, it still took an additional hour or more to clean (took about 2.5 hours total), and, as you may have guessed by now, it made my floors about as safe as speed walking in flip flops on straight up ice.

“Don’t walk on it, guys. It’s slick.”

Despite having used my serious voice, with three minutes they had both forgotten, and Rachel shot right across the worse patch to get a pony off the steps (of course). That resulted in a bruised tailbone and lots of tears, as well as a little brother who thought that he’d just witnessed the coolest thing ever. I could see him planning his Tom-Cruise-sock-slide even as Rachel howled in pain.

So I got super hot water from the on-demand tap and began to scrub.

It didn’t help.

At this point my house shoes may as well have been slathered in Crisco, so I took them off. This, of course, turned my “special” socks into a greasy mess, so I took them off, too. Prior to this my back had ached and elbows throbbed, while my hands cracked and nails split in two. Now I had the added benefit of aching feet and swollen legs. I was not a pretty sight, and if things didn’t change, I’d be cleaning the floor right through ‘til bedtime.

“Kids,” I said. “I have no other choice. I’ll have to tea-kettle it.”

Tea-kettling is a trick I use for things like Popsicle drips all over the deck, pee on the front steps, or cleaning off the remnants of dead birds that show up at the back door. Rather than drag out the hose, I boil a kettle full of water then dump it right on the offending substance. Boiling water is the only thing that will cut through ant-attracting sugar, take the wafting odor from stinky things, and undo the slick from a floor ravaged by kids and saved only through the use of harsh and oily chemicals.

“Stand back, kids. This is going to be hot.”

Aaron moves closer.

“Aaron, it’ll splash. Move back!”

He takes maybe half a step back and does his shivery little thing he does when he’s trying to pretend he’s nervous.

Kids safely enough away, I pour the steaming water on the slickest, still white-speckled spot. I stand on a towel and began to move my feet around to wipe the mess.

“Hot! Hot!” The boiling water, of course, seeps right through the towel and onto my now-bare feet. The kids are both worried and amused by this.

I shuffle down the hall, pouring boiling water onto the hardwood floor then sashaying over it with a towel, until I get all the way to the last little kid-sized-11 footprint. Pour, slide. Pour, slide. Then I do it all over again in the opposite direction. Pour, slide. Pour, slide. I do this again and again until finally the floor is only moderately dangerous. There’s only so much one person can do.

During all this, one child was asking for cheese toast, the other for chocolate milk. Somehow the dog’s food ended up in his water bowl, and cracker crumbs found their way into just-vacuumed couch cushions. Ponies were stolen, fought over and reclaimed, clothes that were once on a child’s body somehow didn’t remain that way.

When it was all said and done, I decided I would eat chocolate at some point today, despite having had a slice of chocolate mouse cheesecake with double whipped cream from The Cheesecake Factory yesterday. Maybe I’d even make some decaf and make the kids go somewhere—anywhere—else so I could write this and recuperate.

While I haven’t had my chocolate or coffee quite yet, this PSA has been written. The morals of this story are many: sometimes, on those days when you feel in your gut it probably isn’t a good idea, skip the shower. If you shower anyway, make it a 3-minute-or-less one. And when Liquid Paper gets on your porous hardwood floors, go straight for the WD-40 and Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups. You’re going to need them.

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Loving Hard: In Memory of Gideon Bruce

In many ways it made perfect sense that I would call her at 7:30am, blurry eyed and frogged-voiced, having just rolled out of bed, bone-weary. It was the day after Christmas. All six of us were sick—whooping cough, we’d later find—and exhausted from both the fun and the coughing.

After I received her text—stilted, formal, apologetic for its intrusion—I called every hospital in the area, finally finding her where two of my own four were born.

Her husband answered, his voice making clear his surprise. After all, who calls the hospital phone these days? But I didn’t want to call her cell. At least I was awake enough to think of that.

“She’s with a nurse right now. She’ll call you back.”

Of course, she didn’t. And who can blame her.

She’d been at my house just four days prior, shuffling from one foot to the other the way pregnant women do. Her daughter ate a cupcake. They left within moments—I’m sure she was tired.

He was born a trimester too early, weighing barely one pound. Placental failure. Not insufficiency, but failure. I cried all day.

One hundred and ten days later—on her birthday, no less—he came home. Still tiny, still feeding through a tube, still too cold for his own good.

I finally met him at five and a half months, found him not yet the weight of my second the day he was born.

“Are you kidding, he’s huge!” His mother protested.

I was embarrassed at my gaffe.

“Yes, yes! He is. Of course.”

He was beautiful. I held him as long as I could, only putting him down when I ate my burger. So warm… he had finally learned the trick of self-regulating his temperature and he performed it masterfully.

He was beautiful.

A mere three weeks later, I cried again. This time the news came by mass email, one I read at least three times before feeling it settle, hard, between the shoulder blades, the eyes, the heart: “Almost zero chance of normalcy… Leave us alone. We’ll let you know. We don’t need anything. Just… let us be.”

“Should I come home?” A text from my husband.

“No. It’s fine. I’m praying.”

I’m praying.

I prayed to God, to Google, searching every avenue for an answer, but finding none.

I emailed a client—world-renowned pediatrician, a fellow congregant at my church. He would know.

“This will be difficult. No matter what, this will be difficult.”

The next day a follow up: “Be patient and hope that some sort of answer will come in the years that follow.”

And the next day: “Do they go to our church?”

No.

When I lost my son, eight months old, flaming hair, world’s most gummy smile, I thought those answers would never come. No years would follow—the earth stilled, and with it, my heart.

I know her days are frozen—she’s said as much. Each day she lifts him, tries to gauge if he’s gained an ounce. Half-an-ounce. A stack of envelopes in one hand, a baby in the other. How do they compare? Which fatigues her muscles more?

She looks at his head. Measures it’s circumference. Eyes it against her daughter’s .50 cent bouncy ball—the kind on end caps at grocery stores, drawing the sticky eyes of children, begging meter money from purse bottoms. She’s refined the skill—can tell you the weight and width of a fly these days. She and her husband take bets; they’re experts now.

I pray.

Google frustrates me with its ambivalence, God tries my patience. I keep living. Cooking, cleaning, writing. My daughter hits her first single. My oldest lands an internship and the youngest just won’t quit climbing the stove. We are living.

She’s living too. Living in fear, in doubt, in the hollow place between inhale and exhale. She watches him breathe. Smooth, warm, the way he should. Air fills small lungs, routes oxygen to all the necessary places. Escapes in sighs so sweet a flower bears its name.

But his name is not sweet. His name is that of a warrior who dared ask God for more. More miracles, God, and I will do your bidding. Do not be angry, God, but I simply must have more. God relented and the trumpets blew and the idols fell. And when that warrior died, years later, the alters were resurrected and the false Gods rose.

Let him live, God.

Full and healthy, conqueror of enemies. Bearer of swords and trumpets and weighty things of glory. An unlikely warrior, God. Let him live.

**********

I wrote this prayer in July of 2014. Four months later, on November 28, 2014, Gideon passed from this world and into the next. He was not quite one year old.

Today, on this one-year-anniversary, my household is where it should be: in a time of board games and late nights, of midnight pie with cream, and just one more game of pool before heading off to bed. We’re enjoying the smell of simmering soup while the just-put-up tree glitters with fresh-bought lights and tip-top star, and the littles dance to a singing snowman we plot to sneak away as soon as their heads are turned.

We are living life as it should be lived. As Gideon’s mom would say, we are loving hard.

I can think of no greater tribute to a boy so loved and missed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Like Heaven

The body is an amazing thing.

Yesterday I had a full-on bedtime mommy meltdown. Now granted, I was the only adult around and Aaron had ripped off his diaper not once, not twice, but THREE times so he could pee on the floor and play in it. After the last time, when he was still naked and dripping with not-water, and while I was trying to clean the mess off of the floor, he jumped onto my back, grabbed two fistfuls of my hair, and pretended I was one of those quarter-fed mechanical bulls you see in movies but never in real life. Also, he didn’t give me a quarter.

While Aaron was giddy-upping, Rachel was screaming incoherently about why she couldn’t use her bathroom—too dirty she said, and she was probably right—and that she couldn’t use the hall bathroom until I moved something for her (I found out later there was a rubber shark in the sink. She apparently doesn’t like rubber sharks). Somewhere in the middle of all this I started a volume-increasing chant of “AraronstopJustgivemeaminuteRachelgopottynow,” until finally that came out just a teech too loud for the neighbors one block over.

Eventually the kids went to bed, but I stayed up well past my bedtime for an extra-long victory lap during which I felt not at all the victor.

This morning it started all over again: The kids’ developmentally normal behavior and my (fairly rare) inability to process it without losing my temper. I snapped at my mom, at myself, at the kids, and likely the dog, too, but I don’t remember. After I dropped the kids at preschool, I sat at the kitchen table and struggled to figure out what was wrong with me. True, Andy is on one of his “50%-away-from-home” trips, and yes, we have a lot of remodeling going on, but those things didn’t really explain the depths of my I-need-a-Klonopin-NOW type of mood.

I got on my computer to work and the day’s date jumped out at me from the corner of my Mac: May 22, 2014: He died 19 years ago today. He would have been 20 this October.

Every year for as far back as I can remember, this has happened. Yes, I knew it was May. Yes, I knew the day was near. But I had no idea it was The Day.

Or so I thought.

My body—my forever-his-mom heart—somehow just knew. We are amazing creatures, humans.

Tonight during bedtime Rachel wanted to talk about Heaven. Some of her ruminations were hilarious:

“Mom, are there computers and cell phones in Heaven?”

“No, Honey, I don’t think so.”

“Well then how do people know what they’re supposed to do? Does God just tell them? Wouldn’t He need to leave a voicemail?”

Others were heartbreaking and beyond her years:

“Sometimes people go to Heaven even though it’s not their time to die.”

I held her tight.

“I don’t know why, but I’m crying a little,” she said, but she didn’t need to tell me: I already knew.

She has no idea. But her body, too, must just know. Sixteen years apart, having never met and, indeed, not even knowing of his existence, she knew. She’d had a bad day, she said. Things felt rough, her body was tired.

I know what she means.

These days are hard… the anniversaries, the birthdays… they come, like clockwork, yet I am always, always, taken by surprise.

 

 

 

 

Lying Fallow in the Middle Years

The other day I read a lovely blog post one of my friends posted on Facebook. It was about how a mom should just… be. Live fully in mom-hood, love it, bear it, and own it for all that it is, and even all that it isn’t.

This post made me feel really good. My family comes before all else, and I do want to own my motherhood. In fact, I think I do own my motherhood. I started to share the post on Facebook, knowing it would reach my mom friends who, like me, often need encouragement to slug through the haze and daze of these middle years.

But then I didn’t.

I certainly realize how beautiful the haze and daze really are if we just allow them to be, but I can’t get rid of the nagging thought behind that realization: even if one loves and adores the 24/7 reality of staying home, paycheck free, that doesn’t negate the internal desire to create. It doesn’t take away the gifts we’ve been given. The God-given desire to “stop evil,” that my friend Bronwyn has felt for 20 years, or the desire to teach that my friend Aleah has burning a hole in her heart, or the words that pour from my friend Lesley, even if she can’t stay awake long enough to put them to paper.

The choice of work-at-home vs. stay-at-home vs. pulling the double shift five (or more) days a week is not the whole picture of what women face. More often than not, what keeps many moms awake at night is figuring out how to fulfill a true passion for motherhood—stay-at-home or not—with the need for well-rounded personhood. And then, perhaps, feeling guilty and selfish for needing something else, or actually pursuing something else, when those activities mean dinner comes from a box, or there’s a bit too much screen time a few days a week. Or maybe that date night gets put off a few too many times.

Bible studies, moms’ groups, potlucks, and the like are fabulous and fulfilling. Volunteering at food banks, shelters, and low-income schools impact lives in incalculable ways. But sometimes there’s a need for something else. To not just do good, but to stop bad. To fulfill political aspirations, teach from a position of leadership, see one’s name shining, preferably on hardback, on the rack at Barnes and Noble.

Acting on these desires when the kids are little and the nights are sleepless, when daycare is expensive and families live hours apart, when friends are too overwhelmed with their own children to watch someone else’s, is a near impossibility.

I’ve thought and thought about what the solution is to this. Patience? Yes, that helps. But that doesn’t solve the nagging—and sometimes overwhelming—dissatisfaction that might negatively influence parenting, and at the very least makes life much less enjoyable. Is there a policy we can implement? Free, 10-hour a week in-home childcare for those with pre-school aged kids? A lovely idea, but it isn’t likely to happen.

I’ve also wondered if perhaps we shouldn’t find a solution. Negative things stem from selfishness. But is acting on the gifts God’s given us a selfish thing? If so, why do we have the gifts? Is it a lesson in patience?

Perhaps.

To be sure, this is a luxurious kind of problem to have. It isn’t about food scarcity, or having the gas shut off for non-payment, or homelessness, or the millions of other possible life issues millions face daily. But it is nonetheless a problem, and not just for those who feel like less of a person when gifts lie fallow. It’s a problem for those who could be touched, served, and changed by having another person in the world doing good or stopping bad.

Perhaps the best way to do good and stop bad is by throwing all we have into our families, making our crafts and changing thousands of diapers, or by earning our paychecks and then coming home and barely managing to keep our eyes open during tuck-in time. But I wonder if throwing all we have into our families doesn’t include feeling like a whole person and setting the example of going where we’re called, even if that means feeding our families frozen pizza yet again, or having the kids watch just one more episode of Dora.

A Mom’s Truth About Wrapping Presents

Yes, it’s true that on occasion you will wrap gifts while listening to Christmas carols, or perhaps watching Hallmark movies, sipping hot cocoa and wearing fleece pajamas. It’s been known to happen, and it’s lovely.

But more often than not, you will end up hastily wrapping presents while hiding out in your (relatively) cold basement, listening to your husband play with the kids upstairs, holding your breath every time it sounds like the peace may not last much longer. Your beautifully set-up wrapping station—you know, the one you put together so lovingly in July—has now become home to your work, and you will have to contend with losing the scissors among legal files, household budgets, editing projects, and things you need to (someday) scrapbook. As you dig trough last year’s Trader Joe’s bags chock full of crumpled ribbon, you will laugh at the memory of your plan to carefully roll the fabric- and wire ribbon on the closet rod that hangs above your head, so you can easily pick a matching color and whip it into a fluffy and glittery bow.

Your back will hurt from bending over the rolls of wrapping paper and always-lost packages of tape, and you will curse the fact that someday soon your back will hurt even more from assembling a something-or-other that I won’t mention, just in case some cruel person decides to spoil the surprise. In between the curses, you will hear, in stereo sound, your mother’s imagined-but-sure-to-happen admonishments that you should have put the princess dresses in a BOX, instead of lazily wrapping them in their sort of hard plastic covers. But hey, your back hurts and you know she won’t do her wrapping until Christmas Eve, at which point you will feel like the superior mama for being on top of things, otherwise known as working yourself into a tizzy for no apparent reason other than to please children who are happy with an empty box.

You will struggle to remember why in the world you bought your 4-year-old and your fourteen-month-old the joint gift of Hungry Hippo, seeing as how your little guy will simply eat all the marbles. You’ll stress over the fact that your teenager only wants the kind of gift that comes inside an envelope, greatly reducing his unwrapping joy come Christmas Day, and you’ll wonder if anyone will notice that the only gifts shoved inside gift bags with hastily arranged tissue paper belong to out-of-state family members.

And in the midst of all this, you might even write a blog post about your Christmas wrapping, because really, it’s important for everyone to know that they are not alone. I stand in solidarity with you and your fight to create beautiful Christmas memories that will be ripped to shreds and discarded, maybe in the recycling bin, but maybe in the trash, because you can’t really remember if the shiny kind of paper is compostable or not.

Merry Christmas, and happy wrapping!

This is a Day For

knee-falling, anything-pleading, pressure-relieving.

intercession, supplication, massage, and Tylenol.

good quietly appearing, a breadcrumb trail for morning, when heading home becomes all
you’ve got.

cheap pizza, letting your three-year-old paint your face, hoping your rain jacket catches
the drips.

finding your just-clothed baby, puddle-naked, pride-giggling

and happy.

watching her bent head analyze the paint, realizing how the spot between her hairline and her eyebrows is exactly right, and just how much she has your hair

and that your oldest needs you, even more than he knows.

breaking the rule
you created yesterday
about how much TV the kids can watch.

meeting a long blond woman gone platinum. Ankle-length skirt—denim—gold cross, and orthopedics, who asks you, unbidden,

if all four of yours are living,
because hers are not. And before you can answer, she says she can tell just by looking
that they are, and judging by the one at her feet,
that they are all
doing well.

realizing it’s all a metaphor, but refusing
to point it out.