What Happens When You Die?

Growing up we ate a family dinner. Every night. Mom, Dad, older brother, yours truly and little sister. We ate in the kitchen. Together at the table. We held hands and said grace before anyone touched the food. We made eye contact as we prayed. We blew kisses to one another after saying “Amen”. We smiled and shared food graciously. We were the picture of domestic perfection gathered around the table for the quintessential family dinner.

Except for the TV.

There was (and still is) a TV in my parents’ kitchen. Tuned into ABC news. Always. Inevitably, the moment after we so graciously shared food with one another, Dad silenced us.

Dad: “Shh. Shhh. Let’s hear what Jim O’Brien has to say..”

Me: Whispering to little sister, “I changed the name on my cabbage patch doll’s adoption papers to Amelita Cassie. Do you like it? She looks like an Amelita, don’t you think? I mean, I’ve never known an Amelita, but I think she looks like an Amelita would. If I knew one.”

Little Sister: Eyes wide with excitement, “I LOVE it! Amelita! It’s beautiful!”

Dad: “Shhhhhh! I’m trying to hear Jim O’Brien, girls. We’ve got the 5 day forecast coming up. Then you can talk.”

We eat in silence for 1 minute…1 minute, 30 seconds…older brother is going to town on the olive tray.

Yuck. Olives. He can have them all.

Little Sister: Whispering loudly, “I am going to ask for a cabbage patch preemie for Christmas! They smell like real babies!”

Me: “Christmas? But it’s May. What if you write it down, then forget where you put your list? Maybe you should write it in your diary. Then you’ll remember.”

Little Sister: Forgetting to whisper: “YES! My diary!”

Dad’s neck veins begin bulging.

Mom: Whispering, “Girls, eat your meatloaf. Your brother is eating all of his meatloaf.”

We glare at him. He grins at Mom. Looks at us. Points to himself and mouths, “I’m #1” to us.

Brown noser.

Little Sister: Forgetting to whisper again, “I don’t like meatloaf. It’s gross.”

Me: Whispering, “I don’t really like meatloaf either. Can I have something else? Cereal?”

Dad: “Goddammit, girls! I am trying to hear the weather! Can you wait to talk until the commercial?!”

Me: “But, Dad, the weather’s over.”

Dad: “Shhh. Shh. I want to hear the sports. Bethany, what did our boy Mo Cheeks do last night?”

He had me there. I always wanted to hear what Mo had done.

We wound up eating our dinner in virtual silence every night. And, Mom, before you get sensitive and think I’m making fun of you and Dad…I’m not. I personally think silence at the dinner table is a stroke of genius.

Allow me to illustrate why…

The Interrogator was obsessed with death for a brief time last year. One of his friends at school had mentioned something in morning circle about someone dying. That’s all it took for the avalanche of questions to commence.

Me: “Boys, please get your drinks and sit down at the dinner table.”

Everyone sits down and begins eating (oops, no grace before meals at our house).

Me: “So, Interrogator, tell me about your day. What was the best part?”

Interrogator: “Mom, I don’t know what the best part was.”

Me: Animated, “Think about it. Think about all you did today at school with your teachers and your friends. And everything you learned. What did you like best?”

Interrogator: “Mom, I like now best. Mom, I need to tell you something.”

Me: “What do you need to tell me, buddy?”

Interrogator: “Mom, it’s OK when I die because I will be alive again on Easter! And then they will hang me up on the cross.”

Well now. This is really something else. Definitely not what I’d expected to hear.

Interrogator: “So, don’t be sad, Mom.”

Waldorf: “Interrogator, what in God’s name are you talking about?”

Kenyan: “Interrogator, you have no idea what you’re saying.”

Verb: “I’ll be sad when you die, Interrogator.”

Interrogator: “Thanks, Verb. But I’ll be back. Don’t worry. On Easter day.  Then I’ll die on the cross. Then, I…um…oh. What happens then, Mom?”

Uh-oh. He expects me to answer. I’m the Mom. I’m supposed to have the answers.

B&B: “Interrogator, I’ll tell you what happens when you die.”

Me: “Oh, sweet Jesus, please do not. Don’t scare these children. Not at the dinner table.”

B&B: “Scare them? You mean tell them the truth?”

B&B is an atheist. Which does not make him a devil worshipper. It makes him a non-believer. A lover of science. A man who requires proof. And please don’t feel badly for him. He is completely at peace with his faithless existence. And please don’t pray for me that he finds Jesus. I don’t need him to find Jesus. I need him to hit the toilet when he pees instead of my white bathroom floor. If you’re going to pray for anything, please pray for better aim.

Waldorf: Proudly, “I’m not scared of anything. What are you going to tell us?”

Kenyan: Unsure, “Wait, is it really scary? Because I don’t like really scary things. I like things that are a tiny bit scary, but not a lot scary. Is it a lot scary? Because I don’t want to know.”

Interrogator: Concerned, “Mom, after they hang me on the cross, what happens next?”

Me: “No one is going to hang you on a cross, sweetheart. That happened to someone a long time ago.”

Interrogator: “So, what happens when I die?”

B&B: “Let’s talk about what we do know. Let’s talk about what happens to your body after you die.”

So much for talking about the best part of everyone’s day…

Interrogator: “Well, I want Mom to have it.”

B&B: “Nope. Mom can’t have it. It will smell bad.”

Interrogator: Wrinkling his nose, “Bad like poopy?”

Verb: “HEY! No potty talk at the table!”

B&B: “Interrogator, after you die, your body will be buried underground.”

Oh, Christ, here he goes…

Interrogator:  Troubled, “Huh? But I can’t breathe under there! And there are spiders. You know I don’t like spiders! I’m afraid of them!”

Kenyan: “Or you could be burned…what’s that called…incensed?”

Me: “Kenyan, incensed is what I’m going to be with Daddy if he doesn’t choose his words carefully. And homicidal is what I’ll be when he sleeps through some inevitable nightmares that one or both of your brothers will have. But, to answer your question, the word you’re looking for is cremated.”

Kenyan: “Oh, yeah, cremated. They burn your body, then it becomes dust. And Mom can save your dust. Or let it blow away.”

Interrogator: Horrified, “WHAT? MOM DON’T LET THEM BURN ME! I DON’T WANT TO BE DUST! I WANT TO BE ME! I WANT TO STAY WITH YOU!”

I look at B&B.

Nice work. I mean, truly, really very nice work.

B&B looks at me.

I pick up my phone. Text him these words…

“I will fucking kill you if u use the words ‘worms will eat u’ in a conversation with the Interrogator. U dig?”

He texts me back…

“It’s true. After u die, and your body is buried, eventually, worms eat ur lifeless body. I will not lie to him.”

I text him…

“Oh, U WILL LIE. This is ur child, and u will lie. U will lie or the worms will be eating UR BODY. Very soon.”

science

The Interrogator is in a full panic at this point. Crying. Hyperventilating. Head in his hands.

Interrogator: Pleading with the Verb, “Don’t let them burn me, Verb. Don’t let them do it.”

Verb: Standing on his chair like a knight in shining armor, yells, “I’ll per-tect you, Interrogator!” *(per-tect=protect)

Waldorf and the Kenyan are delighted by this spectacle. Pandemonium at the dinner table is good stuff for them.

B&B and I put our phones down.

I get up to hug the Interrogator. That’s not enough for him. He follows me back to my chair and climbs onto my lap. Which means the Verb feels the need to climb onto my lap as well. They elbow each other (and me) as they settle in against me.

Looks like I’ll be eating a cold dinner tonight.

Just when I think the conversation is over…

B&B: Entirely too excited, “Boys, do you know what Daddy wants done to his body after he dies?”

I am giving him the angriest of my angry eyes, but he can’t see my face. I am buried under his two youngest children.

Waldorf: Like an eager student, “Oh, I know! I know! You want to donate it!”

Kenyan: “Donate it where? To a museum?”

B&B: Pleased with his pupils, “You are correct, Waldorf. I want my body donated. Not to a museum, Kenyan. To science. SCIENCE!”

*B&B never speaks the word “science”. He yells it. I don’t know whether it’s an outburst of affection for the subject or a shout-out to the old Thomas Dolby song She Blinded me with Science. Maybe it’s both.

Kenyan: “What happens to your body when it’s donated to science, Daddy?”

I reach around the Interrogator, desperately feeling on the table for my phone in order to send threatening texts to B&B. But, my God, the Interrogator is heavy. I can barely move my arm under his weight.

B&B: “Oh, it’s amazing what is done with your body when it’s donated. Medical students get to study it. And learn from it. They use it to learn how to operate on living bodies once they become real doctors.”

Kenyan: Visualizing, “Wait, so they cut you? Like they cut your dead body?”

B&B: Grinning, “Yes! Yes, they will cut my body open!”

Waldorf: “I bet it smells bad. No offense, Daddy.”

B&B: Grinning and nodding, “It will smell horrible, Waldorf! Imagine the worst smell you’ve ever smelled….my dead body will smell worse than that.”

The three of them are completely engaged with one another. Loving this conversation.

My arms are going numb holding these two kids.

Me: “OK, I think we probably should change the subject right now. I’ve got 2 kids with definite n-i-g-h-t-m-a-r-e potential whose appetites have already been ruined.”

Waldorf and the Kenyan voice their protest in unison: ”Come on! Let Daddy finish! We want to hear it!”

B&B: Urgently, “Oh, wait, you know what’s important? Beth, you can’t forget to tell them about my eyes.”

Me: “Tell whom? And what about your eyes?”

B&B: Eyes wide, “About my Lasik surgery.”

Me: Nodding, “Should I just slap a sticky note to your corpse? ‘To whom it may concern: study his eyeballs. He had horrible vision that was fixed by the Lasik procedure. But then his vision started to go bad again 10 years later. That really pissed him off by the way.’? How’s that? Good plan?”

Now my legs are going numb under the weight of these kids.

B&B: Completely unaffected by my sarcasm,“Good question. I’ll have to look into that.”

B&B will have to look into it…

Kenyan: Growing pale,“Wait, wait, wait. Did you say eyeballs?”

B&B: “Yes. They will probably remove most of my organs. And they should definitely study my eyeballs.  Because I had an operation to fix my vision. This is really interesting, guys. They cut a flap off the surface of my eyeball. Then they peeled the flap back. Then they lasered off the appropriate amount of cells underneath. Then they replaced the flap!”

Kenyan: White as a sheet, “Oh, wow, Mommy, I don’t feel very good. I don’t feel very good at all. This eyeball talk makes me feel not very good.”

He leaves the table and walks slowly upstairs to the bathroom.

Me: “B&B, I have two emotional basketcases on my lap. And a possible puker in the bathroom. Now’s the perfect time to take what remains of your audience elsewhere to continue this enlightening conversation.”

B&B: Agreeably, “Sure, Waldorf, let’s go downstairs where your brothers can’t hear us.”

I groan with effort as I rise from my chair, still holding the Interrogator and the Verb. I sit them on the counter and scribble a note for myself.

“Best use of tax return money: TV for the kitchen”

I’m telling you, my parents were geniuses.

YOU are my Favorite. Shhhh…

Every parent has a favorite child. Oh, it’s true. You know it’s true. My favorite changes. Sometimes my favorite is the least needy of my group. Because his absence makes my heart grow fonder. Sometimes my favorite is the hardest working. Because, what he wasn’t born with in the brains department, he more than makes up for with his effort. There are times my favorite stays my favorite for a few months’ span. Sometimes it changes in an hour. But I always have a favorite…

My nuclear family (the one I was born into) is a family of five. Husband, wife, son, daughter, daughter. I am first daughter, middle child. Keeper of the peace. Growing up, I was also my Dad’s favorite. How do I know this? Because he told me. Every day. When he tucked me into bed at night, he would say, “Bethany, you can be whatever you want to be in this world. I know you’ll be a shining star.” Then, in a conspiratorial whisper, he’d add, “You know you’re my favorite. The only one with my blue eyes.” I bought it. Hook, line, and sinker.

When Dad introduced me to people, it was as, “my Bethany, my older daughter and the only one with my blue eyes.” Wink.

And his favorite, clearly, that’s why he’s winking. He can’t say it aloud, my brother and sister might hear him. Secret’s safe with me, Dad.

I was a straight A student (check). I never got caught having a party at my parents’ house like my sister did (check). I didn’t reside in a very dangerous neighborhood during my college years like my brother did, which freaked my parents out daily (check). 3 more marks in the favorite child column for Bethany.

I happily chugged through life as my Dad’s favorite until June of 2002. My sister’s wedding. I was already married and had given birth to Waldorf. My brother had already married as well. Little sister’s wedding fell on one of the two days that I was no longer breastfeeding Waldorf, yet hadn’t yet gotten pregnant with the Kenyan. We danced, we sang, we drank, we laughed. It was an epic party.

My Dad grabs the microphone amidst the 200 guests and stands for a toast. Thanks everyone for coming. What a beautiful bride his baby is. What a wonderful partner she’s chosen in flyboy (her husband). She may have had some bumps in her journey, but she’s straightened herself out.

Everyone is touched. We laugh in the right spots. We “awe” at the heartfelt compliments.

As Dad’s wrapping up his toast, he says, “And you know, on your wedding day, I’ll tell you what I’ve always told you…you, my dear, have always been my favorite.”

Clapping.

Wait a minute. Dad just told everyone at my sister’s wedding that I am his favorite. And he made a mistake and called it MY wedding day. Oh, God. I hope he’s not losing it. How old is he? Wait, is he drinking gin? Maybe it’s the gin. I know it’s 5:00 somewhere, but it’s not far past high noon here.

I look over to see my little sister smiling at my Dad. Not at all surprised by his confession that I am his favorite. And his mixup with whose wedding we were attending.

WTH? She’s drunk already too? Bunch of lushes…

I make eye contact with my brother. Uh-oh. He’s fuming. He looks like he’s going for the microphone. Or for Dad’s throat. He yanks the microphone from Dad’s hands and, clearly agitated, spits out, “I thought I was your favorite!”

That’s funny. That’s really funny. He’s quick.

Wait a minute…wait…just…one…minute….Whoa!!!

I speak up. No need for the microphone, my anger fuels the volume of my voice so all 200 guests can hear it.

“Hey, Dad, I thought I was your favorite! Remember, the only one with your blue eyes?”

Dad’s looking to make a quick exit to extricate himself from the mess in which he’s just stepped. The crowd loves us. People are rolling with laughter. Clapping, pointing, laughing, slapping one another’s backs.

Little sister grabs the microphone and starts chanting, “Favorite child! Suck it, you suckers! Yeah! Favorite child!” I believe she did the moonwalk in her wedding gown while heckling us. Or maybe she just mooned us in her wedding gown. Frankly, I’m too traumatized to remember.

Shh

Fast forward to my married family. Husband, wife, penis, penis, penis, penis.  B&B broaches the topic with me one day. It’s still a sore subject, I’m not going to lie.

B&B: “Remember how your Dad told all 3 of you idiots that you were his favorite when you were little?”

Me: “You mean that gentleman whose blue eyes I have, who hoodwinked me my entire childhood, then broke my heart at my sister’s wedding? Yes, I vaguely remember.”

B&B: “I think he’s a genius. I’m going to start doing that with our kids.”

Me: “You’re going to lie to them, then rip the rug out from under them in front of all of their friends and family? Awesome plan. I look forward to picking up the pieces of our children’s shattered psyches.”

B&B: “Think about it. You really believe in yourself. You have confidence. Maybe it comes from growing up believing that you were your Dad’s favorite. Maybe your Dad stumbled across something that we can use to help our kids grow up with confidence too.”

Me: “Listen, I was a food marketing major. I don’t have a clue what Freud would make of my Dad’s philosophy. But those moron kids of ours can’t keep a secret. They will tell one another. Then you’ll be exposed for the fraud that you are.”

B&B: “Good point. Too risky.”

Case closed, right?

So, one evening when the moon is at its fullest and the kids are at their most outrageous (no coincidence…this is another thing all parents know…that their kids’ moods are directly affected by the cycles of the moon), my Gemini husband goes a little batshit crazy on the kids. He indulges in some yelling and sends all of them to bed early.

Bad cop.

I give them a few minutes in their rooms to let B&B’s temper tantrum, I mean extremely effective mode of discipline when used sparingly, marinate in their juvenile little minds. Then I proceed to their rooms to reinforce (in my more quiet manner) B&B’s valid points.

Good cop.

Me: (Quietly to Waldorf while the Kenyan was brushing his teeth) “You know Daddy and I love you very much. We give you boys a great deal of freedom. We ask, in return, that you respect us by listening when we do ask something of you. So, let’s work on that, OK? Doing something the first time Mommy or Daddy asks?”

Waldorf: “OK, Mommy. I know Daddy yelled, but it didn’t hurt my feelings.”

Me: “Good, honey, he yelled because he was frustrated. He would never try to hurt your feelings.”

Waldorf: “Yes. I know that. I’m his favorite. He tells me that. But don’t tell the Kenyan, because his feelings would get hurt.” He’s beaming with pride.

Hmmm.

Me: “Sure thing, big guy.” I put my finger in the cleft of his chin and kiss the top of his head.

2 minutes later, while Waldorf is brushing his teeth, I lay down next to the Kenyan…

Me: “So, buddy, do you understand why you guys got into trouble?”

Kenyan: “Yes, Mommy. Because we weren’t listening when we should have listened.”

Me: “That’s right. It’s a shame you guys have to go to bed early, but it’s important that you learn there are consequences to your actions. Let’s try for better listening ears next time, ok?”

Kenyan: “OK, Mommy. Oh, and Mommy,” (the Kenyan looks left, then looks right, then lowers his voice to a whisper), “If you’re wondering why I’m not crying because of the yelling, it’s because I think Daddy wasn’t yelling at me. I think he was really yelling at all of my brothers.”

Me: “Really?” I start belting out Billy Joel’s Innocent Man, “I AMMMMMMM an Innocent Man, Oh, yes, I am…”

Kenyan: “Mommy, don’t be ridiculous. Daddy told me like a million times that I am his favorite. But I don’t think you should tell Waldorf because his feelings would probably just get hurt.” He also is beaming with pride.

Ahem…I’m beginning to see a pattern here.

Me: “Oh, I wouldn’t dream of it, sweetheart.” I kiss his perfectly smooth little animated face.

2 minutes later, after Waldorf and the Kenyan have been tucked in, I climb into the top bunk with the Interrogator.

Me: “So, what happened downstairs?”

Interrogator: Master of the obvious, “Dad yelled.”

Me: “Yes, why do you think Dad yelled?”

Interrogator: “Because he got mad.”

Me: “Yes, why do you think Dad got mad?”

Interrogator: Really pondering, “Um, I think probably he didn’t get to be the wine weader (translation…line leader) today at work. And maybe his feelings were hurt. So he yelled. Here. In the night time.”

Me: Trying to suppress my smile, “That’s an excellent guess. And you may be right that he wasn’t line leader today. But I have a feeling he yelled because you boys weren’t listening. And that made him frustrated. Because grownups get frustrated just like 5 year old boys do.”

Interrogator: Matter-of-factly, “Mom, Dad doesn’t like to yell at me.”

Me: “No, he doesn’t. He doesn’t like to yell at any of you guys. But sometimes, when you’re making so much noise, he yells in order for you to hear him.”

Interrogator: “Mom, I know Dad doesn’t like to yell at me because….psst…can you keep a secret?” He’s grinning now, and the Interrogator’s grin spreads warmth through my veins the way champagne goes right to my toes. I find his happiness impossible not to share.

Me: (grinning and whispering) “Of course I can keep a secret.”

Three guesses what he’s going to say…

Interrogator: “It’s a good one, so don’t tell. Dad says I’m his favorite boy! But, guess what? You’re my favorite! Not Dad! But don’t tell him, OK?” My beautiful boy #3, just like his two older brothers, beams with pride.

Me: “Never! I’ll never tell!” I shower his adorableness with kisses as we both laugh over our shared secret.

The Verb needs no reinforcement. He’s already asleep, mouth wide open, sweaty curls tumbling across his pillow. And I know that he is in fact B&B’s favorite. At least today.

Because we all have our favorites.

By the time I get downstairs, B&B has regained his composure.

B&B: “I probably shouldn’t have yelled.”

Me: “Eh. Don’t worry about it. They were acting like animals.”

B&B: “They need to respect our authority. I will not compromise on that.”

Me: “No doubt.”

Silence.

B&B: “You’re awfully quiet for you. What did good cop say to the boys?”

Me: “Good cop was more a detective tonight. Call me Andy Sipowitz. I got 3 confessions from those punks.”

B&B: Amused, “Uh-oh. What did they confess to?”

I turn to see his blue eyes, looking at me, waiting on my answer.

Waldorf and the Verb have B&B’s eyes. Same color. Denim blue. The Kenyan and the Interrogator have my eyes. My shape, my color. Bluish-gray. Just like I have my Dad’s eyes.

In that moment, I remember the little girl I was, tucked safely under my covers every night. And how special it made me feel to believe that I was my Dad’s shining star. Maybe it is part of what helped me grow into the confident woman I am today. Maybe Dad was onto something. Maybe this game of “you’re my favorite” could go on a little longer. Maybe even indefinitely.

Me: Smiling, “Some secrets between Moms and boys are meant to be kept.”

And, for now, this will remain one of them.

P.S. To my Big Brother and my Little Sister, I may not be Dad’s favorite. But I am still the only one with his blue eyes.

Nanny nanny poo poo.

Switch Up!

Our kids love their school. They’re jazzed about an occasional snow day; but they never give us lip about going to school. Even on their crankiest mornings. B&B and I also love their school. It’s single sex, which is nice for them. Boys and girls learn differently. It’s non-denominational, which B&B loves. Since he’s, uh, not the most religious guy. The President of the school is also dreamy. This is not a selling point, but it’s a nice bonus. And the President’s wife is equally dreamy, which pleases B&B. 5 minutes after we found out we were expecting the Verb, we attended a party that Mr. and Mrs. Dreamy also attended. B&B and I need to divide and conquer at a party. We are two strong personalities who both enjoy holding court. If we don’t split up during a party, we’ll argue, which is amusing for the guests, but not so for B&B who likes, once we get home, to close out the evening with some extra-curricular activities. Like hand holding and cuddling. He’s such a softie, my B&B.

After this particular party, during which I pose as the responsible driver since we’re not yet ready to announce this 4th pregnancy, we are walking to our car.

Me: “That Emily is such a sweetheart. I really like her. So, who did you talk to?”

B&B: Starry-eyed, “I talked to Mrs. Dreamy.”

Me: “She’s nice, isn’t she? I haven’t really spoken with her, but I’ve heard she’s nice.”

B&B: Still starry, “Yes. She’s nice.”

We walk in silence for another minute.

B&B: “I told her.”

Me: “You told who? What did you tell?”

B&B: Hesitantly, “I told Mrs. Dreamy. About you.”

Me: “What did you tell Mrs. Dreamy about me?”

B&B: Pausing, “About the baby. I told her you’re pregnant.”

Me: Incredulous, “WTF? I am like 10 minutes pregnant! Have we even told your parents?! Jesus, B&B!”

B&B: Apologetically, “I couldn’t help it. She’s so pretty, I want to tell her all my secrets.”

switchup

B&B is not a caveman. Well, maybe he’s a little bit of a caveman. But, Mrs. Dreamy really is that pretty.

So, this past year, one of the school administrators began a book club. All parents are welcome. We meet monthly and discuss 1-2 chapters at a time. The head of the boys lower school and the school psychologist participate. Several of the parents who attend are child psychologists as well.  So we have some expert perspectives. It’s always a conversation to which I look forward.

One night, I am reading the book in bed. Taking pertinent discussion notes on my phone.

Oh, God. I knew it. I just knew it. It’s exactly as I’d feared. Why couldn’t this goddamn book have been published 11 years ago? We’re screwed.

I shake B&B, who’s sleeping soundly next to me.

B&B: “Hmm, what, hmm, what’s wrong? Did one of the kids puke?”

Me: “No. No one puked, knock on wood. We’re doing it wrong.”

B&B: “We’re doing what wrong?”

Me: Exasperated, “EVERYTHING! We are doing it all wrong!”

B&B: “OK, we’ll talk about it tomorrow.”

He rolls over.

He can sleep through anything, this one..

Me: Relentlessly, “The KIDS! We are doing it wrong with the kids!”

B&B: Half asleep already, “Huh? How so?”

Me: “You know how we always say, ‘you’re so smart’, thinking we’ll convince them that they’re smart? Then hoping that will inspire confidence, translate into a good work ethic, which eventually helps them succeed in their careers and move out of our house?”

Snoring…

Good Grief. Is there a human being on the planet who can fall asleep as quickly as B&B? I think not.

Me: Jabbing B&B and pounding the pages of the book, “WAKE UP! We’re doing it ALL WRONG! Instead of telling them how smart they are, we have to reward their efforts!!! When you reward their efforts, they will continue to give good effort because they are always looking for validation. They won’t skate through school thinking they’re smart, and not working to their true potential. They’ll pride themselves in being hard workers when we reward them for working hard! It all makes sense! I am changing my tune tomorrow! Make sure you’re on board.”

B&B is dead asleep. And, truly, his role is primarily as Fun Dad, with an occasional cameo as Bad Cop. He realizes I am only half the nutcase that most moms are, so he trusts me to do minimal damage (fingers crossed) with his offspring. Because there are sometimes days that go by that he doesn’t see anything of them but their angelic faces sacked out on their pillows.

With my current parenting style, I’ve done 10 solid years of damage with Waldorf. He may be broken beyond fixing. But I’ll try. The Kenyan has 8 years of damage done. Possibly reversible. The Interrogator? I’ve got a good chance with him. He glazes over regularly when I talk to him, so I doubt he’s heard 50% of the conversations we’ve had. The Verb stands to gain the most from this parenting philosophy switch up. He’s my guinea pig. If, in 30 years, he is confident, hardworking and has moved out of our house, I’ll know that this was a solid move.

Now, where can I write this down…there is no shot I’ll remember this shit in 30 years.

The next day I take my new attitude to the playground. The Interrogator is playing after school with some of his kindergarten cohorts.

Nice Kindergarten Mom: To the Interrogator, “Interrogator, you’re a great climber!” then to me, “He really is a good climber. He is making me nervous up there.”

Me: “Please don’t say that.”

Nice Kindergarten Mom: “What, that he’s making me nervous? I’m sorry.”

Me: “No, please don’t tell him he’s a good climber. If he thinks he’s a good climber, he’ll only ever want to climb, then he’ll never do well in school, he’ll never get a job, and he’ll never move out of my house.”

Nice Kindergarten Mom: Perplexed, “Um, I’m afraid I don’t follow.”

Me: “Sorry, it’s this new book I’m reading for school book club. Nurture Shock. Evidently, we’re doing it wrong. B&B and I. We always tell the kids they’re smart, hoping they’ll feel smart and do smart things.”

Nice Kindergarten Mom: Agreeing, “Sure, that’s what we do too! Is that wrong?”

Me: “Totally wrong. Evidently, we have to reward the effort, not the achievement. For instance, if the Kenyan gets a perfect score on his Spelling test, typically I’d say, ‘Great job, perfect score, I’m so proud of you!’ But that’s all wrong. What I’m supposed to say, according to this book is,’Kenyan, I’m so proud of how hard you studied for this test. And look at that wonderful outcome. A perfect score is proof of all your hard work studying. Well done, my boy.’ Does this make sense?”

Nice Kindergarten Mom: “Yes, it does. This is going to take some getting used to.”

Me: “Tell me about it.”

As we are deep in discussion, the Interrogator rappels the side of the climbing apparatus he’s mounted, finds a tree, drops trough, relieves himself on said tree, then runs back over to climb again. I am completely unaffected by this, by the way. My sons peeing on trees. It may be slightly crass, but it beats schlepping all 4 of them off the playground and to the bathroom.

Don’t judge.

The Interrogator reaches the top with ease. Nice Kindergarten Mom and I look at each other, and stutter, struggling for words of reinforcement to shout to him.

Nice Kindergarten Mom: Looking at me, “Nice climbing? Strong grip?”

Me: Looking at her, “Valiant effort? Good balance?”

Interrogator: “Mom! Hey, Mom! Mom! I’m at the top, look at me, I did a great job climbing to the top! Look at me, Mom, look, I’m taller than you!”

Me: To the Interrogator, “Yes, you are, buddy, you’re tall!” To nice Kindergarten Mom, “WTF am I supposed to say to him?! Help me! I am damaging him with each passing second of silence!”

Nice Kindergarten Mom: “I know, I KNOW! OK, how about, ‘I love how hard you worked to get to the top’?”

Me: Desperate, “OK, yeah, good, I’ll go with that…”

Me: To the Interrogator, “I love how….”

Me: To Nice Kindergarten Mom: “SHIT, what was it again? I love how strong? I love how fast? I love how what??!?”

Nice Kindergarten Mom: Whispering to me,“I love how hard you worked to get to the top!”

Interrogator: “What, Mom? You loved what? What did you love? I can’t hear you Mom. You said you love something. What do you love, Mom?”

Me: “I..I LOVE HOW HARD YOU WORKED TO GET TO THE TOP!”

Interrogator: Smiling, “Thanks, Mom!”

Me: To Nice Kindergarten Mom, “Thanks, I’m exhausted.”

Nice Kindergarten Mom: “I need a drink after that.”

Me: “This new parenting philosophy is going to be harder than I thought.”

So this new parenting philosophy of praising the effort is taking some getting used to. But we’ve worked it into our repertoire.

Meanwhile, we continue to meet monthly to discuss the other chapters. And, really, it’s been a fairly equal mix of enlightening and agita-inducing. Kids need sleep. Not only does lack of sleep negatively impact a child’s academic performance and behavior (particularly impulse control) in school. But it also allows kids to draw more easily on memories associated with negative emotions.  So sleep deprived kids may experience symptoms of depression because it’s more difficult for them to access memories that are associated with positive emotions.

B&B and I are notoriously known as the Sleep Nazis. Dare I say the reason we have such a large family is the result of putting our kids to bed so early. There’s not much to do between 6:30PM and must see TV. We do a nice job getting the kids to bed early/on time. It works for us because then we have some time  together. Now, Waldorf and the Kenyan share a room. And the Interrogator and the Verb share a room. So, once they are in bed, it’s not uncommon for the shenanigans to commence. But that’s almost a rite of passage. They’re not fighting, they’re bonding. Some of my own best talks with my sister occurred in our shared bedroom, long after Mom and Dad had hollered “lights out!”

Another nugget we’ve learned is that a child’s relationship with his best friend is a good indicator of how his future relationships will be with his younger siblings.

Hmm, maybe we should have at least waited until Waldorf’s 1st birthday before getting pregnant with the Kenyan.

Finally, in our most recent meeting, we uncover why teens lie to their parents. I don’t have teens yet. I just hung up the diapers. Yet, Waldorf is going to be there in a blink.

I watch the faces of the parents around me go pale, then red, then pale. We listen, spellbound. I am almost ready to ask if someone will please open that window a little more, when it hits me…

I have nothing to worry about.

Now, I am no fool. But I know I can enter my kids’ teenage years with some confidence. Because I think I’m a good Mom? Negative. Because I think my kids will behave? Wrong again. I am fully aware that they will lie. I am fully aware that they will be around alcohol and girls, and that odds are they will fool around some with both. I am cringing as I type this. I am not in denial. But I have something these other parents don’t have. I have the secret weapon.

I have B&B.

A dear friend of ours who passed away in 2010 was the mother to 5 boys. She used to say to us, “Among the 5 of them, they’ve done everything but rob a bank and commit murder.” I can safely say the same about the one and only B&B. The mischief of 5 boys all rolled into one. He has done it all and then some. He has done things our kids wouldn’t dream of doing.

He’s notorious in the neighborhood for camouflaging himself on Halloween. Hiding in piles of leaves. In our yard. Then scaring the bejesus out of the trick-or-treaters as they innocently amble down the street. He claims it’s all in an effort to keep him sharp for the future. When our boys are teenagers.

My idea of a nice Saturday night once the kids are older is to go out to dinner, come home, and relax. B&B’s idea of a nice Saturday night is very similar. Nice dinner. Come home. But there is no relaxing for B&B.

A real live game of Manhunt. That’s his nightcap.

Will he be orchestrating a game of manhunt with his teenage sons? Certainly not. He will be playing. And they will be playing. They just won’t know it.

Our sons will go out with their friends. And B&B has grand plans to follow them. All of them. Clad in dark clothing. Wielding surveillance equipment if the situation calls for it.

With the speed of a gazelle and the silence of a deadly ninja, he intends to scale walls and cross rooftops to see with his own eyes that our sons are indeed where they’ve claimed they would be. If the boys have been truthful? B&B will return home, remove all traces of his black face, and relax with me.

If the boys are caught lying? Well, now, I’ll leave that up to B&B. Good luck to those boys, though, because B&B hates being lied to more than anything. I have complete confidence in his tracking abilities. And his agility and strength. If one of my kids is at a party he’s not supposed to be attending, and he hears footsteps on the roof of the party house? He should run. Fast. Straight for home. Same with my kids’ friends. Run, boys.  Like an assassin, B&B will hunt you down. And he will catch you. And over power you. And hand you over to your parents. Or he will challenge you to a quick basketball game of one on one, and loser gets to tell your parents. And then you’ll have some explaining to do.  Because he will beat your ass at one on one. He will embarrass you in front of your friends, then make you tell your parents you’ve lied to them.

It has the makings of some great blog entries. But, for fuck’s sake, I hope I’m writing some books by then.

So, while I revamp my parenting philosophy in an attempt to raise hard workers, B&B giddily compiles a binder of maps of our kids’ friends’ homes. Familiarizing himself with the cartography, so he’s ready to hit the ground running once those teenage years get here. They’ll be here in a blink.

Me: To B&B, “I love the effort you’re putting into the future stalking of our sons.”

B&B: Face lighting up from my compliment, “Thanks! They will rue the day they lie to us.” He points to a spot on his map, “You know who lives here? The creek runs right behind their house.  I could make good use of that.   If I climb that tree over there, then drop myself into the creek, no one will hear me coming.”

Back to my book.

Chapter 8. Can Self Control be Taught?

I need this chapter 4 times over.

I sneak a peek at B&B…

Well, maybe 5 times over. 

In Limbo with All of These Kids

Most couples we know have 2 kids. 2 kids is nice. You can sit in a booth at a restaurant. You can drive a sedan, fit your entire family into it, and no one’s limbs are touching. You can simultaneously hold hands with all of your offspring because you were born with the same number of arms as children you have. You’ve provided your firstborn with a sibling, but no one is the odd man (or woman) out, which so often happens once you add a 3rd child to the mix. 2 kids is good.

4 kids is a shit show. Once we leave the security of our home, I spend the entire time we’re away counting heads. And finding trees for my sons to urinate on so that I don’t have to leave 2 boys alone while I take 2 to the bathroom…or worse, take all 4 to the bathroom.  My time is split fairly equally among my laundry room, the kitchen, the Acme, and my filthy 8 year old minivan (please let us squeak 2 more years out of it). I also dabble in buying gift cards for my older sons’ friends’ birthdays and declining the invitations of my younger sons’ friends’ birthday parties. If we said yes to every party invitation the kids received, we’d spend every single Saturday and Sunday of the entire school year at Chuck E. Cheese, Bounce U or Dave & Buster’s. And I appreciate their being included in these parties. It’s a wonderful thing to see our kids develop friendships. But my sanity is equally important, which is why I can’t spend every weekend in an arcade or a bouncy castle.

limbo

Sometimes, having this many kids makes me feel like I am in limbo with my friends. Few of them have as many kids as we do. The ones who do have big families are looking and feeling very drained and haggard (like we are), shuffling their kids back and forth to extra-curricular activities, refereeing arguments. While the couples with 2 kids appear energized, well rested and refreshed, and are going snow boarding and going to Hershey Park and going to the movies. And taking their kids to dinner and sitting in a booth.  None of these ideas appeals to me at this point. Not with all 4 kids. I would do all of it with Waldorf and the Kenyan. To lug the Interrogator and the Verb along to any of these venues? Would be to let my kids watch my sanity (and all the money in my wallet) slip through my fingers right before their naïve little eyes. No fun whatsoever. The little guys are still too little. My older guys haven’t gotten to do many of the things their peers have done because we can’t schlep the younger ones along. Similarly, the younger guys have missed out on some of the things we did with the older guys because we were a manageable family of 4 when their brothers were their ages.

This is my limbo. I try not to dwell on it because it brings me feelings of guilt. But sometimes, I’m reminded of that guilt….

One day, the Verb and I drop some overdue books at the local library. It’s noisier than usual. I look to my right and immediately locate the source.

Oh crap. I hope the Verb doesn’t see what’s going on over there. I don’t have time for this today. I still have to go to the Acme, Target and be back at school in 90 minutes.

Verb: “Huh? Mom! Mom! MOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!”

SHIT.

Me: “What’s up, bud? Come on, I’ll race you to the car! Winner gets a donut!”

Verb: Grabbing my pant leg and digging his little claws into my flesh, “Mom, what are those kids doing?”

Try to distract him. Focus on the donut.

Me: “Um, it looks like they’re reading, buddy. Come on…show me how fast you can run! This way…out the door!”

Of all my kids, the Verb is the most street smart. B&B has said since he was an infant, “This kid gets it”. He does. He gets it. This comes in handy when I ask him to bring me a Gatorade from the refrigerator in the laundry room. No problem. When I am trying to convince him that what I want him to do is more exciting than what he wants to do? Big problem.

The Verb plants his feet. Looks at me, looks back at the group of kids with their books, then looks back at me.

Verb: “Nope. I want to go there, Mom. Come on.”

And off he walks toward the chatter. I sigh audibly.

Mother humper. I can take all 4 of those animals with me to the Acme and to Target after school. I would rather lick the week-old pee off my bathroom floor than be subjected to that, but I’ll do it. For my Verb. Independent little shit.

Storytime at the local  library. 

I used to love storytime. I was there with Waldorf. 30 minutes early. Every week. It was our one outing of the day. And we’d nap together in the afternoon from the sheer exhaustion of the entire experience. I was there with the Kenyan as well. Sometimes he was strapped to the front of me and I’d rock while Waldorf listened to the story. Then we’d all go home, tuckered out, and fall asleep after lunch. The Interrogator made it to storytime twice in his life. The Verb? He is a storytime virgin.

The Verb is wearing sweatpants and a long sleeved t shirt. He is in desperate need of a haircut. There is syrup on his face from this morning’s pancakes. And marker on his hands from sometime yesterday. As usual, I haven’t showered yet.  And I’ve had two very hard workouts since that last shower. There is a cloud of funk surrounding me. I am wearing running tights, no makeup, and a fleece pullover.  I carry my keys and my library card. Together, we walk into the lion’s den.

We navigate the sea of first time Mom’s. All of them showered. All wearing makeup. All of them with designer handbags. All of them with monogrammed diaper bags. All of them wearing designer jeans. None of them dressed in running tights. None of their children dressed in sweatpants. I don’t spy one pair of sneakers in the bunch.

Me: Smiling, “Excuse me, oh, pardon me, let me just step over you here, thanks, no, I’m good, excuse me. Sorry we’re a little late.”

The Verb and I are equal parts ignored and looked at with obvious disgust.

Me: Whispering, “Sit down, buddy, let’s listen to the story.”

The Verb doesn’t want to sit with me. He’s a social little man. He wants to sit with the other kids. All of the other kids are first born children. Therefore, they are sitting next to their perfectly coiffed Moms. He tries to rally the troops.

Verb: “Come on, guys, sit here! Sit with me. Up front. Come on, it’s fun!”

Less ignoring now, but the disgusted looks turn quizzical. No one moves. Heads turn to look at the Verb, then at me.

Me: “Uh, sorry, he’s my 4th, so he is used to being in a group.”

The record scratches. The mood of the room shifts.

Happens every time.

I may stink. And my kid needs a haircut. And I am traveling light. But these broads have just realized that I am a jackpot of information for them.

3, 2, 1, and…come to Mama, ladies….

“Wow, did you say 4th? As in 4 kids?”, “What do you have? Boys, girls, or both?” “My husband and I are going to have 4 too! This is our first, but we’re having 4. I told him we’re having 4, so we’re definitely having 4.””Do you just love being a Mom? Isn’t it the greatest?” “Did you breastfeed your kids? Isn’t it the most beautiful experience ever? Oh, I miss it, I miss breastfeeding. We are trying for a 2nd and I am so excited to breastfeed again!”

I would rather lick the week-old pee off the floor of my bathroom than take all of my kids to the Acme and to Target this afternoon. But, believe me when I tell you, I would rather lick the toilet bowl clean than field these questions at this point in my life. At this hour of the day. Wearing these swamp ass tights. Smelling the way I smell. With all of these things on my to-do list.

The Verb had better enjoy every last second of this Storytime hell.

Luckily, the librarian picks this time to begin reading. I pick this time to begin my mental list of what I need to accomplish.

Dammit. I can’t remember anything unless I chant it and/or write it down. I guess I should be nice and try to make conversation.

Me: Whispering to random Mom on my right, “Did you see Curb your Enthusiasm last night?”

Random Mom: “Is that a show? Uh, no, I was reading last night.”

Me: “Oh, what are you reading? My girlfriends keep telling me that 50 Shades of Grey is like housewife porn. I haven’t read it yet though.”

Random Mom: Unable to hide the look of horror on her heavily made-up face, “I am reading 1-2-3-Magic. Written by a pediatrician. My Hunter has been very difficult since he turned 3 in October.”

Me: “Oh, yeah, that’s a great book. We still use his philosophy. Even on our 10 year old. No need to raise your voice…just dole out the punishment if he doesn’t listen.”

Random Mom: Warming, “Oh, I’m so glad you’ve had success! We’ve been so worried about him.”

Me: “Well he’s 3, so he’s inherently an asshole.”

Crickets.

Bethany, you moron. Know your audience! This is her first child!

Me: “Allow me to clarify. It has been my experience with my own 4 kids, all of whom wield penises, that, from the day they turn 3 until the day they turn 4, they go out of their 3 year old way to make my life 365 straight days of misery. And this year, I have the bonus of the leap year. There is no such thing as the terrible 2’s for boys. It’s the terrible 3’s. But then they’re fun again. And you stop hating them. Well, until they reach 10. That’s when they start to get lippy.”

Random Mom looks as though she’s been slapped across the face. She grabs her monogrammed diaper bag, her Gucci handbag, Hunter’s hand, and runs from the library.

Oops.

No time to dwell on that. The very loud “NO!” of a little girl’s voice redirects my attention to the Verb.

I look over to see my Verb sitting in front of an adorable little girl his age, decked out in her Lilly Pulitzer dress. Giving him the hairy eyeball.

Me: “Verb, what’s up, buddy?”

Verb: “This pink girl has fishies. Can I have 3 fishies cuz I’m 3, Mom?” (Pink girl is Verb speak for girl in the pink dress.)

Me: “Well, let’s ask this little girl and her Mommy if that’s OK.”

Verb: Speaking to the pink girl, “Hi, I have 3 brothers. They’re at school. We build forts. And we like to play Legos. The Interrogator is mine best friend. He’s 5. What’s your name? Can I have 3 of your fishies please?”

Pink Girl: “NO! You’re yucky! Don’t talk to me, yucky boy!”

Hey, pink girl’s Mom, your kid’s obnoxious.

Verb: “Huh? Mom, I asked. That pink girl said no!”

Pink Girl’s Mom intercedes, “Ellie, let’s be nice. Let’s be a good sharer. Please give the little boy 3 fishies.”

Pink Girl begrudgingly opens her hermetically sealed container of whole grain goldfish. The Verb reaches in gently to extract 3 goldfish.

Pink Girl’s Mom: “Oh, wait, wait, wait, little boy. Let’s Purell your hands before you touch Ellie’s goldfish.”

Oy vey, lady.

Me: “No need for the Purell, but thanks. Verb, be patient, buddy. Let Ellie count them out and give them to you.”

Ellie counts out 3 goldfish and hands them to the Verb.

Verb: “Thanks, Ellie! You’re mine friend! Thanks for mine goldfish!”

He dances around to show his delight. He drops one of the three goldfish. He bends down, picks it up, eats it, then continues his dance.

I smile because he’s a sweetheart. I am proud to be his Mom. Moment of happiness.

Pink Girl’s Mom: Gasps, “Ellie, did you see what that little boy just did? Never EVER eat food that’s been on the floor. Especially this floor. You could get very sick from that. His Mommy should know better.”

Me: Speaking to Ellie now, because I won’t engage with her nutty Mom, “This isn’t my first rodeo, Ellie. I bet he survives.” I wink and turn away.

BTW, Ellie, your Mom has you a little overdressed for the library.

The Verb is not quite ready to go. He wants to participate in the craft, which involves googly eyes. My guys love googly eyes. 7 more minutes of this nonsense, then we’re home free.

I overhear one Mom talking to another, “So I buy them organic. Naturally. I’d never buy something that’s not organic. Then I bring them home and puree them. Then I fill the little glass jars, freeze them, and we have our own homemade organic baby food!”

My eyes roll back in my head.

*As an aside…I would love to buy strictly organic for my kids. But there are 4 of them. 4 children. All boys. And they eat the house down. And, it feels in my house like we’re still in a recession. My food bill is an easy $1500/month as it is. I haven’t had my hair cut in over a year. I haven’t earned a pay check in over 10 years. And I have duct tape on my yoga mat. So, we have to dabble in products inorganic.

6 minutes and 15 seconds more…

“Have you been to the new Mexican place? I hear it’s delicious!”

Hey, a conversation I’m capable of having..

Me: to Random Mom, “My husband and I have been there. The food is delicious. It’s more Mexican cuisine than your typical “every dish is smothered in cheese” Mexican restaurant. The margaritas are really good.”

Random Mom: “Oh, I’m not drinking. I’m pregnant.”

Me: Smiling, “Oh, congratulations! When are you due?”

Random Mom: “In May. I’m delivering at the local hospital.”

Me: Nodding, “I delivered all of my kids there. The nurses are terrific.”

Random Mom: “They have a new rule now. No babies in the nursery at night.”

Me: “Ouch. That’s a nut punch.”

Random Mom: Puzzled, “I would never put my newborn in the nursery. I want to soak up every minute with this new baby. The baby doesn’t recognize the strangers in the nursery.”

Me: “Kinda sweet to get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep though.”

Random Mom: Clearly angry with me, “I can sleep once my kids are in college. I can never get this time back with my newborn.”

Me: “Well, what did you do with your first baby? Nursery or no nursery?”

Random Mom: Pointing to her stomach, “This is my first baby.”

Roll ‘em up. I’ve officially offended every mother in this place. I think my work here is done.

I take the Verb’s hand and his googly eyed snowman, and we walk to our car. I drive straight to Dunkin’ Donuts drive thru.

DD loudspeaker: “The regular, ma’am?”

Me: “Yes, please. And a donut for the little man, please.”

I collect my coffee and the Verb’s donut (I can’t be sure, but I don’t think it’s organic), and drive towards home.

Me: “Verb, did you like Storytime?”

Verb: “Um, I liked making mine googly eyed snowman.”

Me: “I’m glad. I like the carrot nose you drew on your snowman.”

Verb: “Me too. I like the Acme better than Storytime, Mom.”

Me: “I do too, buddy.”

I need to get this off my chest…

Me: “Verb, I make a lot of mistakes as a parent. And I do a lot of things right as a parent. I hope I get the big things right. I don’t know if Storytime is the place for you and me. I’m not above it; I’m just beyond it. It’s like a language I learned when I was really little, but can’t recall as an adult. It was a moment in time for me, and that moment has passed. See, most of the Moms there are trying to do everything perfectly. Mommy did that too, when Waldorf was really little. But I am too tired to do that now. And I know it’s not reality. My worries and my reality have changed.”

Verb: “Mm hmm”

Me: “I mean, let’s cut the crap. I don’t care if someone breastfeeds or bottle feeds. Organic baby food or not. Feed the baby, love the baby, get some sleep, and avoid shaking the baby to death. That’s what’s important. Do you hear what I’m saying, buddy?”

Verb: “Sure, Mom.”

He definitely gets it. The conversation I’ve just had with him is completely inappropriate, but he gets it.

A car suddenly pulls out in front of us, forcing me to brake hard.

Me: To the idiot driver, “OPEN YOUR EYES!”

Verb: To the idiot driver, “YOU JACKASS!” then to me, “Right, Mom?”

Me: “That’s right, buddy.”

Limbo? Not such a bad place to be when I’m with my little Verb. 

My Finicky Valentine

The topic of serious debate

Does this dog look like a male or a female? This is an important question that sparked some very serious debate in my home the morning of Valentine’s Day.

A couple years ago, I started getting the tiniest of gifts for my boys for Valentine’s Day. A little bit of candy, for instance. But, we’ve dropped  the mother lode at the dentist in the past year, and I am on a serious no-candy tear.

Me: Proudly, to the dental hygienist, “I don’t let the boys eat those gummy vitamins. I know they are the work of the devil. Huge cavity starters.”

Dental Hygienist: Looking at my kids’ x rays. “Mm hmm. Do you let them eat fruit snacks?”

Me: “Sure. But only for dessert.” Again, proud of myself.

See? I set boundaries in my house. I take care of my kids.

Dental Hygienist: “Giving them fruit snacks is just like giving them gummy vitamins. Except you’re giving them 16 gummy vitamins instead of 1.”

Mother Humper.

So, my gifts of candy to my children have morphed into little stuffed animals. I realize I have 4 boys. And one might assume that boys aren’t interested in stuffed animals. Particularly 10 year old and 8 year old boys. In our case, you’d be assuming incorrectly.

The first year or two that I had little Valentine’s Day gifts for them, they were surprised and thrilled.

Boys: “Mommy! Thank you so much! This is my favorite stuffed animal ever! Happy Valentine’s Day, Mommy! I love you!”

Me: “Aw, shucks, guys. I love you too.”

This past year, things have abruptly taken a turn. For the worse. The Kenyan approached me about two weeks ago, while I was either doing dishes, packing school lunches, or doing laundry.

Kenyan: “Hi, Mommy!”

Me: “Hi, Sweetheart! How’s your cartoon coming?”

The Kenyan writes and illustrates his own cartoons these days. His protagonist is Block Man, an ordinary shape who saves other good shapes from the more menacing shapes. Like the rhombus. The rhombus is a menacing shape in the Kenyan’s stories.

Kenyan: “Oh, it’s good, Mommy. I’m editing my most recent story now. Almost done.”

I love this child. This creative little child.

Kenyan: “Mommy, I wanted to show you something.” He whips out a piece of paper and begins reading from it, “The Lego Ninjago Tornado of Creation Spinner blah blah blah blahbity blah blah blah.”

Me: “Sounds cool, buddy.”

Kenyan: “Yes, it’s very cool. And I want it.”

Me: “Well, your birthday is still a couple of months away, but let’s start making a wish list.”

Kenyan: “No, Mommy, I want it sooner than that.”

Me: “No can do, buddy. You know the drill. Birthdays and Christmas we get presents. The rest of the year, we enjoy our presents. And make lists of all the presents we hope for in the future. And practice exemplary behavior to prove we deserve those presents.”

A little brainwashing never hurt anyone.

Kenyan: “Mommy, that’s not true. You get us presents for Valentine’s Day. I want this for Valentine’s Day. Instead of a cute stuffed animal. Please.”

You cannot be serious. This kid has some nerve.

Me: “Go away from me. And take your paper. Before I get very angry.”

The Kenyan walks away, sulking.

Me: “And you’d better not be sulking, I know it’s only February, but Santa is watching.”

valentine

Things are bad if I’m already playing this card.

That night, after the kids are in bed, I relay the story to B&B.

Me: “The Kenyan really pissed me off today.”

B&B: “Really? That’s not typical for him.”

Me: “I know. Which makes it even more irritating to me. You know how I always get them something small for Valentine’s Day?”

B&B: “Yes, which you know I think is stupid and a waste of money for a bullshit holiday. Why would you designate a day to tell people that you love them? Why don’t you just tell them if you love them? Or just bring home flowers because it’s a nice thing to do? You know I don’t bring you flowers much now because the cats eat them, right?”

Me: “Yes, I know how you feel about Valentine’s Day. And I know the cats eat the flowers, which is why you don’t bring them home. That’s fine. But, that’s not my point. You know I get the kids something small for Valentine’s Day…right?”

B&B: “Yes. I said yes.”

Me: “You said more than yes, so I want to make sure we get back on point.”

B&B: “We’re on point. We never got off point. This entire time we’ve been talking about Valentine’s Day, haven’t we? Well, and the cats eating the flowers. “

Please let the world end now. Right this minute.

Me: “Stop talking please. I am going to tell a story. You be my audience. How about that? Wait, don’t answer. Just be the audience. The quiet audience.”

B&B: “This isn’t fair. I don’t do this to you. And your stories are very long.”

Me: “My stories are long because you interrupt me. I am going to begin now.”

And maybe my stories are the tiniest bit long.

I have a feeling my audience is not so enamored with me, but I forge ahead…

Me: “So, for Valentine’s Day, I typically buy the kids a cute little random stuffed animal from Target. And they are always appreciative. They name their animals. Sleep with their animals. Play with their animals. It’s $20 total, and it’s well spent in my mind. Not something I do frequently for them. And they go bananas for it. And they play nicely together and leave me alone for a little while. We both know you can’t put a pricetag on that.”

B&B is about to agree.

Me: “Wait, don’t talk, I’m not finished yet.”

He is clearly irritated again. Still, I trudge on…

Me: “So, today the Kenyan comes to me. With a request. He wants me to buy all 4 of them Legos for Valentine’s Day instead of stuffed animals. WTF is that?! This is not a drive-thru service! Now they are expecting a gift instead of appreciating a small token? And since when is Valentine’s Day about Legos? It’s about candy, which I refuse to give them after all of their cumulative cavities, and cute stuffed animals. And overpriced flowers that I will kill you if you try to buy for me. That’s what Valentine’s Day is about.”

B&B is quiet.

Me: “My story is over. You may now resume your role as my husband and no longer play the role of quiet audience.”

B&B: “Thank you.”

Me: “You’re welcome.”

B&B: “No, thank you for keeping it short, not for granting me permission to speak.”

Wait a minute, that’s not funny.

B&B: “I can see why you were irritated at the Kenyan’s approaching you about the gift. It was assuming. And the type of behavior we expect from a spoiled brat. Which we are trying desperately not to raise.”

Me: “Yes!!”

B&B: “I say you get them nothing this year. F them. Then they’ll appreciate it next year if they are lucky enough to see a Hershey’s kiss in front of their obnoxious little faces.”

Hmm. I don’t think I can do that. I like to be good cop. But I do feel better that B&B has validated my feelings of frustration.  

The day before Valentine’s Day, I hit Target in a panic. In my anger at the Kenyan’s gift request, the day had managed to sneak up on me.

I’m lying. I’ve been writing nonstop, and am less on top of things than usual as a result.

I head straight for the seasonal aisle while the Verb is in preschool. It’s a complete traffic jam. 2 broads are yapping it up right in the middle of the aisle. Blocking my path to the cute little stuffed animals that are in my price range.

Come on, ladies, move your carts to the end caps, please. We are all giving you angry eyes, can’t you feel them?

I tap my foot a tiny bit to alert them to my presence. Nothing.

Hey, gals, take this chat to Starbucks please, the rest of us are on a schedule here.

I move a little closer. I wreak. I know I wreak. I’ve just come from a workout. I can smell myself. I will use this to my advantage.

Hey, do you smell that funk? Are you trapped in my green mist? It’s nasty, isn’t it? Move your cart out of my path before I rub my stink on your designer handbag.

Still nothing.

Me: Very politely. Slightly sing-songy, “Excuse me. I’m just trying to reach around you here to the stuffed animals. Sorry if you smell something bad. It’s just my sweat.”

Now I am getting the angry eyes. I don’t like the angry eyes, so I grab 4 different stuffed animals and dash off to pay.

That night, before going to bed, I take a look at the stuffed animals. There is one owl with a chalkboard and conversation hearts. I bury those hearts in the trashcan beneath the coffee grounds so that they will not defile my children’s teeth any further.

The owl is for the Kenyan, my little artist.

There is one teddy bear. No frills. Very cute. Small. Soft.

This is for my sweet little Verb.

There is one gorilla. He has the design of lips that have kissed him on his brown cheek.

This is for my Waldorf, who still lets me kiss him goodbye in the mornings. But only on the cheek. And only when he thinks none of his friends can see.

Finally, there is one dog. With a Cupid headband. The cutest of the four stuffed animals. The biggest. The softest.

This is for the Interrogator, currently my favorite, I mean the one who loves dogs the most.

I lay the stuffed animals at the boys’ breakfast spots, smile contentedly, then head to bed.

B&B: “The Interrogator is really pumped for Valentine’s Day. He would not stop talking about it before bed. He is wired.”

Me: “Good! He’ll be so excited when he sees the stuffed dog I bought for him. Every time we see someone with a dog he asks, ‘excuse me, are you the owner? Can I pet your dog?’ I think he’s going to love it!”

The next morning I awake at 5:00AM. The Verb has just climbed into bed with me.

I am so tired, but he is complete deliciousness.

For the next hour, I attempt desperately to catch my sleep again. But it’s impossible with his scratchy little voice breaking the peace every 3 minutes as he rattles off the time.

Verb: “Huh? What time is it? That say’s 5..2..E. What’s 5 2 E? Huh? Mom, what’s 5 2 E?”

Me: “Um….I don’t know honey, why don’t you ask Daddy?”

The Verb begins poking B&B.

Verb: “Daddy, Dad, Dad, Daddy, Dad, Dad, DAAAAAAAD!”

Nothing.

Verb: “Mom, Dad’s not waking up. What’s 5 2 E, Mommy? Oh, wait, now it’s 5…2…4!

The E must have been a backwards 3 in his mind. OMG. Please just be quiet, child.

Me: “Very good, buddy. Now let’s close our eyes until 6…0…0.”

Sleep is pulling me back in. I am almost there.

Verb: “Mom! Mom, it’s 5..2..B! Huh? What’s 5..2..B?

5:26. Forget it. I’ll just get up.

The Verb runs back into his room. He is the noisiest of our kids, so he easily wakes the Interrogator.

Bonus.

I know I’m going to be assaulted with breakfast requests and meaningless questions for the next 75 minutes before the rest of the crowd has to be shaken awake.

Wait, it’s Valentine’s Day! They will be so happy to see their stuffed animals!

Me: “Happy Valentine’s Day, my sweet boys! Give Mommy a big hug and a kiss. I love you so much!”

They give me hugs and kisses and race downstairs to see if I’ve planted something at their designated spots.

Verb: “Oh, a bear! Look, Interrogator, a bear! For me? I’ve always wanted a bear! I love mine bear!”

He hugs the bear and runs over to hug me.

Interrogator: “What the…what?! Huh? I’ll check downstairs.”

He races past me to the family room. I follow him.

Me: “Buddy, you missed your present. It’s sitting at your spot. Go up and see it.”

What is he doing? Is he hiding? Why is he hiding?

Me: “Interrogator? What’s wrong? Are you ok?”

Interrogator: “Don’t talk to me! Don’t look at me! I don’t want you to look at me!”

Me: “Are you sick, honey? What’s wrong?”

Interrogator: “I don’t like it! I don’t like it one bit!”

Me: “You don’t like what, honey?”

Interrogator, finally looking at me, very angrily, “I don’t like that….that GIRL dog!”

He hides his face again.

WTH is he talking about? It’s a boy dog. With a Valentine’s Day decorative headband. Girl dogs are pink. This is brown and white. It’s clearly a boy dog.

Me: “Interrogator, that’s not something a good citizen says to his Mommy. When someone gives you a gift, you say ‘thank you’. You don’t run and hide and cry about it. Please come here and let’s talk about it.”

Interrogator: “I won’t, Mom. I won’t come over. I’m leaving. You gave me a girl dog, and I’m leaving.”

This is a true test of your resolve, Bethany. DO not laugh. Do NOT laugh. Do not LAUGH. Don’t do it.

I go upstairs and look at the Verb. If any of my kids will give me an honest answer, it’s this one.

Me: “Verb, is this dog a girl dog or a boy dog? It’s a boy dog, right?”

Verb: “Nope. That’s a girl dog, Mommy. See? It has a headband. Girls wear headbands. The Interrogator’s dog is a girl dog.”

Oh, shit.

A new round of muffled crying comes from the family room after the Verb’s declaration.

I spend the next hour finishing the lunches, feeding the Verb, and attempting to coax the Interrogator out from behind the sofa cushions. He is acting as though I’ve arranged a marriage for him and he’s discovered his bride looks like Jabba the Hut.

B&B was right. He will love my telling him that. We spent two hours affixing candy boxes to 100 Valentine’s Day cards last night for all of their classmates. F these kids. Next year, these kids get nothing for this ridiculous holiday.

The older two finally join us. They are thrilled with their owl and gorilla. They quickly hug me, flash satisfied grins, admire each other’s animals, name them, and immediately begin battling their stuffed animals, right at the breakfast table.

Well, now I feel a little redeemed. The Kenyan isn’t even carrying on about the fact that there are no Legos.

Waldorf: “Interrogator, what did you get?”

Interrogator: Really braving his sorrow, sighs deeply and attempts a smile, “I got a soft doggy.”

Waldorf: “Oh, you love dogs! You are always asking to pet dogs. Can I see it?”

The Interrogator looks pleased with his brother’s attention, yet worried about the reveal. He lifts the dog from under his blanket and shows it to Waldorf.

Waldorf: “That’s a girl dog.”

Fuck.

The Interrogator’s face collapses. First he wears a look of horror. Then sadness. He looks at me, devastated at my deplorable choice in Valentine’s Day gifts. My heart breaks.

Kenyan: “It looks like a girl reindeer. It doesn’t even really look like a dog. It’s definitely a girl.”

I cannot laugh. I cannot laugh. I will not laugh. 

B&B enters the room. The Interrogator has again hidden himself under the sofa cushions.

B&B: “What’s up with him?”

Waldorf: “He’s mad about his present.”

Kenyan: “Yeah, his reindeer. Or his dog.”

B&B: “What do you mean he’s mad about it? How could he be mad about a present? It’s a present.”

The Verb runs up to B&B, showing him the evidence.

B&B: Glances at the dog, then at me, “Is he mad because it’s a girl?”

Good grief.

Me: “It’s NOT a girl dog!! It’s a boy dog! Girl dogs are pink! This dog is brown and white!”

Kenyan: “I’ve never seen a pink dog. What are you talking about?”

Waldorf: “Mommy, there are no such things as pink dogs. A girl dog is just a dog with no penis.”

Verb: “Waldorf! Hey! No potty talk! I telled him no potty talk, Mom.”

B&B: “This dog is wearing a headband. It’s clearly a girl. You gave him a girl dog. No wonder he’s pissed. This present is junk.”

The Interrogator continues to wail in the background.

We have 3 happy kids and 1 shattered soul. I am a terrible gift giver. And it’s not even 7AM yet.

Goddamn this holiday.

I take the kids to school, help distribute their Valentine’s Day cards, hit the gym with the Verb, then we rush to Costco to pick up a cake (to deliver back to school for a lunch celebration). Racing down the aisles of Costco toward the bakery, I see something that brings me to a screeching halt.

It’s the smaller version of the giant teddybears I have already given both to Waldorf and to the Kenyan for their birthdays. Their bears are over 5’ tall, and they are obsessed with them. This bear is an exact replica, only he’s 3’ tall. And $8.99. A bargain for certain. And I do love a good bargain.

This bear is the perfect bear for the Interrogator. If those yappy chicks at Target hadn’t been blocking my path, I’d have made a more well informed choice yesterday. And I would have realized that dog I’d picked for my Interrogator was a dud. 

I toss the bear into the cart next to the Verb.

Verb: “Oh, hey. Nice to meet you, bear. My name’s Verb. What’s your name? Oh, it’s bear? That’s a nice name! Hi.”

Deliciousness.

I grab the cake and bust out of there.

I am excited about the bear.

I call B&B from the parking lot.

Me: “I bought a bear for the Interrogator. It was only $9, and it’s really cute.”

B&B: “Did you check between the bear’s legs to make sure he has a penis?”

Me: “Yes. I mean no. I mean it doesn’t have a penis, but it’s not a girl bear. There are no accessories. I certainly don’t want to reward the outburst he had this morning; but I do want to offer this as a bit of an apology for not realizing that dog was a girl. Even though I think girl dogs are pink.”

B&B: “Girl dogs probably are pink. But boy dogs don’t wear headbands. So that was a girl dog you bought.”

Me: “Actually, no dogs wear headbands. Ever.”

B&B: “True. When are you going to give him the bear?”

Me: “After school.”

So, I pick the kids up at dismissal. We linger so they can enjoy the nice weather on the playground with their friends. I am excited because I know the Interrogator will be thrilled with his bear. An exact replica of his older brothers’ bears, only a little smaller.

Once we get home, the boys scatter throughout the house. The Interrogator is looking for his blue ninja.

Me: “Interrogator, can you come into my room for a minute? Mommy wants to talk to you.”

Interrogator: “Aw, Mom! I can’t find my blue ninja! Do you know where he is? Where could he be? Is he in the car? Oh, no. If he’s in the car, can you go get him? Please? I can’t find him.”

Me: “We’ll discuss your blue ninja in a moment. I wanted to talk to you about the dog I gave you.”

Interrogator: “I don’t want to talk about the dog until I find my ninja.”

Me: “I don’t want to talk about the ninja until we discuss the dog.”

Interrogator: “Grrr. Fine.”

Me: “So, now that some time has gone by, what do you think of your dog?”

Interrogator: “Mom, I don’t know, Mom. I just want to play with my ninja.”

I am going to set that ninja on fire.

Me: “OK, we’ll talk later.”

Interrogator: “Fine! He’s fine! My dog is fine, OK? Grrr.”

He’ll stop growling momentarily. This I know for certain.

Me: “Well, do you think your dog would like someone to play with him?”

Interrogator: “Like my blue ninja? Yes! My dog wants to play with my blue ninja, so I need to find him, Mom, I really need to find him.”

Foiled!

Me: “Actually, what I want to say is this…Interrogator, I am so proud of you. You are such a sweet boy. I am sorry that you were so upset this morning about the dog I gave you. Maybe you will feel better if I give you this?”

With that, I thrust the bear out toward my Interrogator!

Voila!

Interrogator: Backing away, frowning, “What’s this?”

Me: Beaming, shaking the bear at him,“It’s your bear! He’s for you! Do you like him? I bought him for you!”

Interrogator: Backing away more, “I don’t want this bear! He’s too…..too small! He’s not big like me! He’s not big enough! He’s a small bear! I don’t want a small bear!”

And he runs from the room, hysterically crying.

What the hell is going on around here?! Too small? This bear is too small? This bear is 2/3 the Interrogator’s size! Goddamn this bloody holiday!!!!!

I follow him, out of patience at this point. I fling the bear into his bedroom with him. He is crying and refusing to look at me.

Me: “Listen to me, Interrogator. I am upset with your choices today. I have given you two gifts and you have not thanked me! Gifts are a token of appreciation and love. I love you, that’s why I gave them to you. The kind thing to do is thank me for giving them to you.”

Interrogator: “I don’t want them. I don’t like them. You hurt my feelings.”

Oh, yeah? Well, you’re officially not my favorite anymore. How do you like them apples?

Me: “I am going to leave you in your room by yourself for a little bit. You need some time to think about how your words have hurt my feelings.”

Did I completely screw that up? He’s 5…was that the right approach for the 5 year old? Or is that more the speech for the 8 year old?

It’s like I need cheat sheets in my pockets at all times with all of these kids.

Waldorf intercepts me in the hallway. He lingers. And eavesdrops.

Waldorf: “I heard that. In there. I heard what happened.”

Me: “Unbelievable. I don’t know what’s gotten into the Interrogator today. He’s usually thrilled to receive a gift. I’m not batting 1000 with him today.”

Waldorf: “Hmm..nice idiom. Well, ahem, if he doesn’t want the bear, I’ll certainly take the bear. He would be a welcome addition to my collection.”

Collection of shit. This kid keeps everything. I’ve thrown away tin foil hotdog wrappers that he’s smuggled home and hidden for safekeeping in his closet.

Me: “Actually, Waldorf, if he doesn’t change his tune, I’m going to return both the dog and the bear. The Interrogator might need some more serious consequences after these outbursts.”

Waldorf’s eyes grow wide in panic. He’s already envisioned himself adopting the bear. The emotional attachment has already begun for him.

The Verb walks past us and stops outside his bedroom door (which is also the Interrogator’s bedroom door). The door is open. The Verb glances in.

Verb, “Hey! Mine bear! It’s mine bear! You found mine bear!”

He runs into the room and scoops up the $9 bear I’d just given to his ungrateful older brother.

Interrogator: Suddenly protective of the bear, “It’s NOT your bear! It’s MY bear! It’s MINE! Don’t touch him! You’re going to rip him! YOU’RE GOING TO RIP MY NEW BEAR AND HE’S MINE! AND HE’S NEW! AND I WON’T BE YOUR FRIEND ANYMORE!”

The Verb backs down to no one. Toe to toe, he will stand and holler at anyone foolish enough to challenge him.

Verb: Up in his brother’s grill, “IT IS NOT YOUR BEAR! IT IS MINE BEAR! HIS NAME IS BEAR! MOMMY BUYED HIM FOR ME! NOT YOU! I GOT HIM FIRST! I GOT HIM AT COSTCO WITH MOMMY! HE’S MINE! GIVE HIM TO ME!”

The Interrogator and the Verb have the bear trapped in a dangerous game of tug of bear. I don’t know how much longer he’ll hold up. But he’s from Costco, so he’s good quality.

Holy shit. I am not even going to intercede quite yet. This is almost comical.

Waldorf leans over to me and says, “You realize any second now the Verb is going to hit or spit on the Interrogator, right?”

I look at him to nod my agreement and I hear the loud SLAP of the Verb’s hand hitting the Interrogator.

Party’s over.

I separate the boys and take turns comforting both of them. Because they are boys, they are over it immediately. And, suddenly the Interrogator can’t part with his bear. Or his dog. He drags both to the dinner table. Snuggles up to me with both of them for his book before bed. And insists on sleeping with both of them.

As I tuck him into bed, I give him a big hug and kiss.

Interrogator: “Mom? I love my dog, Mom. I think it’s a boy dog. And, Mom? I really love my bear, Mom.”

Me: “I’m so glad, buddy. Your dog and your bear are lucky to be loved by a boy as sweet as you.”

Interrogator: “Mom? I love you the most, Mom. Let’s sing the National Anthem together, Mom. Oh, say can you see…”

Guess who’s my favorite again?

And guess who’s going to buy Legos for Valentine’s Day next year?

Little Boy Blue. Navy Blue.

This is the tale I swore I’d never tell. The story I promised I’d take to the grave. But…it…just…keeps…begging…to…be…told. Like a bad case of poison ivy demanding to be scratched. This is why I absolutely must tell it. And huge props go to my Waldorf, who is allowing me to tell it.

Extra dessert tonight, big guy

My Waldorf is such a private young man. We’ve had some serious talks with him in recent months. Dispelling myths about a certain heavyset individual who dresses in a red suit and squeezes down chimneys bearing gifts. That was a big shocker for Waldorf. He slapped his little forehead and exclaimed, “My God, I’ve been such a fool!” Even more recently we’ve discussed S-E-X and how babies are made. The look of horror on that poor child’s face is burned on my brain. His reply to that talk was absolutely priceless. But I will omit it from this very public blog. There is only so much therapy we’ll be in a position to afford. And it will need to be spread among 4 individuals.  But we recognized it was time to have these chats with Waldorf. Because, in addition to being private, Waldorf does not like to be the last one to learn anything. His friends are discussing the obese gentleman with the white beard and S-E-X (although hopefully not in the same conversation). So, we wanted to clarify a few things for him, open up the lines of communication. And avoid his feeling like a fool if everyone knows something he does not know.

So, Waldorf is private. And he sings. And he has a nice singing voice. Allegedly. I say allegedly because I haven’t heard him sing in years. I probably haven’t heard him sing in 2 or 3 kids. And it’s not because I’m not listening. It’s because Waldorf is so private that he will not sing when there are blood relatives within a 50 foot radius.

Waldorf and his set of pipes are in the boy choir at his school. I am told by parents, faculty, and the choir director himself that this is a coveted position. Boy choir has mandatory tryouts and is by invitation only. Last spring, Waldorf had to audition. Waldorf was irritated that he had to audition. Nevertheless, Waldorf auditioned well.  He scored a spot.

Me: “Waldorf!! I received an email from school with wonderful news! You made boy choir?! That’s fabulous, sweetheart! Daddy and I are so proud of you!”

Waldorf: “Oh. Yeah. That. I’m not doing it.”

Oh, we’ll see about that…

Me: “Well, let’s talk about it later when Daddy gets home.”

What to bribe him with…chocolate raspberry flan? He loves that dessert. Yes. Chocolate raspberry flan. I’ll start crushing the Oreos now.

Waldorf: “There’s nothing to talk about. I am telling you I’m not doing it.”

Shit. I need more than the flan. Goddamn this kid and his negotiations. He is going to be fit for a muzzle when he’s a teenager.

Me: “Let’s not close the door on any opportunities so quickly. Let’s look at the information, discuss the pros and cons, then we’ll all weigh in. The final decision is yours though.”

Well played. That last little bit about the decision being his? Stroke of genius if I do say so myself…

Waldorf: “Yes. And I’ve made my decision. My decision is that I’m not going to do boy choir. Ever.”

Me: Kissing his forehead, “We’ll talk about it later, sweetheart. Go ahead and get your homework started.”

Relentless, closed-minded little shit.

We eventually, very calmly, reach a nice compromise about boy choir. In exchange for giving boy choir a try, Waldorf chooses a brand new DS game he feels he can’t live without, and we buy it for him. And we agree to let him play it once a week during the school year. This is a coup in our house. We had remained an electronics free household during the week up until this point. But he’s a tough negotiator. We bribed him. And he thinks he played us. But it remains a win-win in our minds.

This school year rolls around, and he’s on board with boy choir. Begrudgingly at first. But the eye rolling eventually wears off by October. He refuses to sing for us or around us, but he no longer complains.

One of the requirements of participating in boy choir is performing a winter concert in an historic church in late December. The boys need to wear gray slacks, white shirts, school ties, dress shoes, and navy blazers. In early December, Waldorf had none of the above items in his closet. So I go out in search of the required winter concert boy choir uniform.  I land the gray slacks, white shirt, school tie and dress shoes fairly easily.The navy blazer is a slightly more difficult find.

Because I refuse to buy something unless it’s on sale. This is a trait I’ve inherited from my Mom. I refuse to pay full price for anything except for Jiff peanut butter and Bounty paper towels.

I don’t screw around when it comes to peanut butter. Or paper towels.

littleboyblue

The sale blazer I finally track down has navy buttons on it. Awesome. Except, I prefer gold buttons on a navy blazer. Another trait I’ve inherited from Mom is the inability to sew. Or maybe it’s a complete lack of interest in learning to sew. Regardless, I’ve never sewn a goddamn thing in my life. Now, I know I can take the blazer to the cleaners and have them do the buttons for me. But no. I’ve decided it’s time to begin my sewing career. This is my first born child. This is his first navy blazer. For his first boy choir concert. I will sew these gold buttons onto this blazer for this child for this concert. Mom finds a (much too large for Waldorf) men’s navy blazer for $1 at a thrift store. And it has gold buttons. I will remove those buttons and sew them onto Waldorf’s blazer.

It takes me 3 hours to sew 4 buttons on his right cuff. And they are crooked. I suck. B&B laughs and points at me.

B&B: “Were you drinking when you did that?”

Me: “F you. I was not. This was a labor of love for me. I am proud of my work. Waldorf fidgets a lot, no one will notice the buttons on his cuff are crooked.”

B&B: “Sure they won’t. How far away does the audience sit? Maybe we’ll be lucky and he stands in the back row.”

Dammit, I know he’s right. I choke the words out.

Me: “You are right. This is not my wheelhouse.”

But I have to finish what I’ve started.

Well, maybe I’ll finish what I’ve started tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow.

Tomorrow rolls around, and we parents have to be at school to watch our 4th grade sons’ homemade volcanoes erupt. Totally awesome day. I have one hour between the volcanic eruption and the class party to commemorate the volcanic eruption. I could sew buttons in my car. Or I could browse the school’s consignment shop for some slightly worn, bargain-priced, much needed pants for the Kenyan, who continues to come home with holes in the knees of his pants.

Tomorrow. I’ll do the buttons tomorrow.

I walk into the store. Walk over to the boys’ section. And there, on the rack, it hangs.

A navy blue blazer. With gold buttons. With the original tags still attached. Mint in the box.

Shut up right now. Will you look at my good luck? Tell me it’s a size 10…

I flip the tag, my hands shaking in anticipation…

Size 10

Me: “HA HA!!! HA HA!!! YES! GOLD BUTTONS!!!!!!!! WOOHOOO!!!”

Naturally, I accompany this outburst with a dance, which I abruptly stop once I remember that I am indeed shopping without a companion.

I wonder how much it costs…

Hands still shaking, I flip the tag once again…

$10

Mother of all that is good and pure…

Me: “A HA HA HA HA HA!!! YES!!!! YES!!! YES!!! SOLD!!! HA HA HA HA!!! AND HA!”

Clearly, I’m a dancing fool at this point. I’m able to retire my sewing needle. Waldorf will look so handsome in his pristine navy blazer with ruler straight gold buttons. And, shut UP with the $10.

Mom will be so proud

The day of the concert rolls around. We attend as a family. This means we sit in the back with 3 of our 4 kids and shell out snacks, DS’s, the iPad…and threats.

Me: Whispering to B&B, “They sound amazing, don’t they? And look at Waldorf!! He’s getting so BIG! And so handsome! I’m so proud of him! He’s singing! I see his mouth moving! Our oldest son is actually singing in front of all of these people!”

It’s difficult to relax and really enjoy the concert when the Interrogator and the Verb are in attendance. The Kenyan is easy.  The other two? It’s anybody’s guess whether one or both of them will embarrass themselves and us. But they knock it out of the park. Great behavior. No meltdowns. Minimal crumbs. A lucky afternoon indeed.

The following day, boy choir has an evening performance. B&B and I both want to go. We have a thumb war, which I win. One on one time with any of our kids is extremely rare. So I am thrilled.

Me: “Waldorf, I’m so excited for tonight’s performance! I can sit up front and really enjoy it!”

Waldorf: “Can we get ice cream afterwards?”

Always negotiating for the dessert..

Me: “That sounds like a great idea!”

Waldorf: “Can I play my DS on the way to the concert?”

Or the electronics…Jesus, Mary and Joseph…

Me: “Don’t push your luck, honey. Oh, before I forget, most of the boys had the top buttons of their blazers buttoned at yesterday’s concert. When we get out of the car, let’s do that for you too. It looks really nice.”

We arrive. Skate across the ice on our way into the church. Button his top blazer button, and I land my seat. Right in the front row.

Now this is what I’m talking about..

It’s a freezing cold night. Most of my holiday shopping is complete. I am sitting, showered and childless (a rare combo), among friends in a beautiful old church. I am wearing winter white slacks that are not too tight (holla!) and the chances are very slim that I will end the night with a small boy’s chocolate handprints on them. I am waiting for my oldest son to stand in front of this crowd and sing with his classmates and friends. And, he thinks it’s cool. And he is proud of himself. And I couldn’t be more proud of my first baby boy.

This is a moment. One of those moments of pure happiness. Remember it, Bethany.

The boys come into the church and assemble a stone’s throw from my seat. Waldorf is right up front. They begin singing.

OMG, it’s so beautiful. Don’t cry, don’t cry, DO NOT CRY, Bethany. Do NOT embarrass him like that.

Fa la la la la la la la la…

I am so proud of him. God, he looks so much like B&B. I am so glad we got his hair cut the other day. It looks so nice when it’s freshly cut. OK, I’m not crying, that’s good. Good job. Stay the course. No tears.

Fa la la la la la la la la…

I hope his shoes aren’t too tight. They fit him 2 weeks ago, but his feet are growing so quickly. He needs new sneakers every 3 weeks. Luckily he’s wearing the thin socks. I wonder if he’ll need deodorant soon. Some of his friends are wearing it. I bet the Kenyan will be ready for it before Waldorf. The Kenyan was such a clammy baby. Oh….OMG! Mom sang this song!! The year Waldorf was born! He was just a baby! I LOVE this song! Ah, think of something else, don’t cry, DON’T cry, DO NOT CRY!

Fa la la la la la la la la…

I am breathing deeply…

OK, keep it together! For the love of God, woman, keep it together. Good job remembering to tell him about the top button. It looks so polished. Every one of the boys has his top button buttoned.

Fa la la la la la la la la…

Hmmm. That’s weird….

Fa la la la la la la la la…

Waldorf’s blazer is twisted up a little in the front. How did he manage that?

Fa la la la la la la la la…

Now I can’t stop looking at his blazer. How did he twist it like that? It’s as though he buttoned it backwards…wtf?

Fa la la la la la la la la…

Oh dear God. Sweet Jesus Almighty, say it isn’t so.

Fa la la la la la la la la…

I am a horrible Mother. I am the worst kind of Mother. I should have my children taken away from me for this act of horror against my child.

My first born son, a painfully private child, is standing in front of 100 people, singing unabashedly, looking unbelievably handsome.

WEARING A GIRLS NAVY BLUE BLAZER.

Size 10. Never before worn. $10. Girls blazer.

I bought him a goddamn girls’ blazer. Jesus Christ Algoddammighty.

I must confess I spend the rest of the concert alternating between hoping no one else noticed (for Waldorf’s sake) and trying not to pee my pants laughing (also for Waldorf’s sake).

After the longest (yet beautifully melodic) hour of my life ends, they sing their final song. The audience stands and applauds heartily. Speeches are made, flowers are presented, and the boys are dismissed. I cover and contain Waldorf in his coat as though I am Spiderman catching a villain in his web.

Waldorf: “Whoa! I can put my coat on myself! You don’t have to be so rough, Mom!”

Me: “Sorry, sweetheart, it’s just so cold outside. I…I don’t want you to get cold.”

We get our ice cream. Waldorf chats happily. We finally arrive home. He gets ready to go to bed.

Me: “Waldorf, I am so proud of you. Boy choir was not something you wanted to do. We made a deal and you gave it a chance. You’ve worked hard and remained open-minded. Daddy and I could ask for nothing more. You are such a good boy. Be proud of yourself. I love you.”

Waldorf: “Boy choir is fine. Goodnight.”

Fine is like the greatest endorsement Waldorf is capable of giving. So this brings a smile to my face.

Me: “Goodnight.”

B&B is getting ready to walk Waldorf upstairs and tuck him in.

Me: “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

B&B: “Sure. How was it?”

Me: “It was amazing. They sounded wonderful. Even better than yesterday. I still can’t believe he stood up there and sang like that!”

B&B: “Yeah, me neither!”

Me: “Yeah, and you know what else?”

B&B: “What’s that?”

Me: Whispering, “Your son stood up there singing his heart out while he was wearing a fucking girls blazer.”

B&B: “SHUTUP.”

Me: “I kid you not. Girls. Navy. Blazer. Buttons on the wrong side. Completely my fault.”

*I do feel the need to embarrass myself further at this point by admitting that my summer job throughout high school and college was working in a fine clothing store. Men’s fine clothing. Whose owner dubbed my husband with his nickname Big&Black (after I’d described him as tall, dark and handsome). I shudder to think what type of abuse I’ll be taking from that crowd for the foreseeable future.

B&B is literally on the ground, laughing. Wheezing. Tears are rolling down his face. He’ll be there for awhile.

I grab a bottle of red wine and a glass, and I step over him. Walk downstairs into the family room, get comfortable on the sofa, and bust out my recently retired sewing kit. And his original navy blazer. I double check the buttons, just to be sure.

Yep, boys navy blazer.

I’ve got some work to do.

Maybe the wine will make me sew the buttons less crooked.

My moral of this story? Always finish what you start

Waldorf’s moral (which he insisted I include on this post)? There’s nothing wrong with blue buttons.

**My sweet Waldorf deserves a medal of courage for allowing his big mouth Mom to tell this story. I asked him, and he turned me down. A week later, he came to me with a proposition…

Waldorf: “So, I’ve been thinking about the..um..girls blazer thing.”

Me: “Uh huh.”

Waldorf: “And, I think you’re a good story teller.”

Me: “Thanks, buddy.”

Waldorf: “So, I think you can tell that story. If I can read it first.”

Me: “I would only allow you to read it first. And I would only post it if you are OK with it.”

Waldorf: “That’s not all. I think you might get money for writing someday. Because people like your stories.”

Me: “Well, that would be totally awesome, Waldorf. Completely and totally awesome.”

Waldorf: “So, if I let you write that girls blazer story , and you do get paid for writing someday, I think it’s only fair if you would….buy me a cell phone. Please.”

Me: “If I get published, a cell phone you shall have, Waldorf.”

And we shake on it.

My little negotiator.

So, for the record, there happens to be one individual who hopes I become a real author even more than I hope for it.

 

Why Start Now What I Can Put Off Until Tomorrow?

I lost my shit on Waldorf. I am not proud of it. It doesn’t happen frequently. But there is one thing that makes me insane. And Waldorf is a prime time offender.

Procrastination

I was Little Miss Academic in school. I’m fairly sure I never got a B in grade school or high school. Only A’s. I have a brain, yes, but I earned those grades because I worked my goody-two-shoes tail off. I studied until I knew everything by rote. Not the most effective of the study skills, but the outcome was certainly to my liking. And to my parents’ liking. Dad’s only gripe with me? My high school boyfriend.

Dad: “So, you’re going out with the basketball player again tonight?”

Me: “Yes, Dad. He’s my boyfriend.”

Dad: “Why do you have to have only one boyfriend? You’ve been dating the same guy for 4 years! Why don’t you play the field a little?”

Me: Exasperated, “Dad, I’m wearing his jacket. Isn’t it obvious that we’re in love?”

Ah, to be so hopelessly and ignorantly enamored. Oops, I mean it’s exactly how I feel after almost 18 years with B&B.

It’s been…how shall I say…an adjustment bearing witness to the study habits and absentmindedness of my sons.  Actually, that’s putting it too delicately. It’s been a goddamn nightmare.

Me: “Kenyan, I am signing your homework notebook, but I don’t see your minute math.”

Kenyan: “Oops.”

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph this kid with his forgetfulness

Me: “Define ‘oops’. Please. Because I don’t understand ‘oops’.”

Kenyan: “Um, oops. I forgot it.”

Waldorf: “I never forgot my minute math.”

Me: “I don’t remember inviting you to join this powwow, Waldorf. Zip it please. Back to your own homework. Thank you.”

Is that a twitch? Under my eye? Dammit. They are doing it to me again. These kids are giving me twitches.

Me: “Yes, I realize that, but precisely how did you manage to forget it? You read your teacher’s instructions. You copied her instructions into your notebook. You gathered the materials you needed for homework. Yet you didn’t double check to make sure you had your minute math?”

Kenyan: “I guess not.”

Control the flaring of your nostrils, Bethany. He’s not crying yet. Don’t make him cry. Back away from the minute math argument. Encourage him, he needs encouragement…this is boy#2, remember? Positive reinforcement with him.

Part of the reason I’m so frustrated is that he is a repeat offender of forgetting his minute math. To the tune that B&B actually made up a dance to help jog the Kenyan’s memory.

B&B: “Kenyan, I’ve come up with a plan. To help you never to forget your minute math again. Now watch this.”

B&B then performed a most hideous act. I can only describe it as his interpretation of an ancient tribal dance.

B&B is very tall. And has very long arms. And extremely long legs. He is uninhibited with his dancing. Yet, his body awareness isn’t spot on. By that, I mean he doesn’t know where he is in relation to inanimate objects. He passed this trait along to my sweet little Kenyan. Between the two of them, they are constantly banging into counters and door frames, and tripping over items lying on the floor. Like their own shoes. Out of which they’ve just stepped. To see B&B do that dance was equal parts entertaining and frightening. To watch the Kenyan repeat the dance back to him was absolutely hilarious. The Kenyan is an exceptional mimic. Voices, faces and mannerisms…the Kenyan picks them up and regurgitates them perfectly. These two fools danced around my living room, banging into sofas, knocking pictures off walls, and bruising their shins in tribal delight.

B&B: “Now, Kenyan, every time you write the words “Minute Math” in your homework notebook, I want you to remember this dance.”

Kenyan: Hiccuping from laughter, “OK, Daddy. I will. Wait, why?”

B&B: “Because when you remember this dance, you’ll remember we’ve created this dance to trigger in your memory that you have to do something. Do you know what you have to do?”

Kenyan: “Um….hiccup….uh….hiccup”

Jesus Christ and all the saints. There’s my eye twitching again.

B&B: “You have to remember to put your minute math into your homework folder!”

Kenyan: “Oh, right, hiccup, right! I’ll never forget! Hiccup!”

They danced up the stairs, laughter trailing behind them.

Me: To the empty room, whose pictures are crooked and whose furniture is overturned “Or you could just remember the minute math because you’ve already written it down.”

That dance ritual took place a solid 3 months ago. And, while I wish I could forget the visual, it seems that my Kenyan has had no trouble erasing it from his own memory. Poof! As though it never existed.

So, back to my present day conversation with the Kenyan…

Me: Remembering to be positive, “Kenyan, it’s OK. I know you work very hard and you do your best at school. And I know it’s a long day for you. I guess Daddy’s dance, which remains singed on my brain, hasn’t helped you to remember your minute math. And that sign your teacher placed on your classroom door hasn’t helped you remember your minute math. Maybe you could just try to take your time, even though you’re tired, and read what you’ve written. Then, make sure you have everything you need before you put your coat on for dismissal. What do you think?”

Kenyan: “OK, Mom.”

Great, now both of my eyes are twitching.

So, the Kenyan is forgetful. But my Waldorf is a procrastinator. And it brings out the crazy in me. Because I can’t fathom leaving things until the 11th hour. And it doesn’t seem to faze my children in the least. Which makes me even crazier.

Me: “Waldorf, I’m reading an email from your teacher about a story that’s due tomorrow. What story?”

Waldorf: Putting his hands on his hips, and lifting his eyes to the ceiling, “Oh, oops. Yeah. Right. That.”

OMG. It’s 8PM. Is he…Is he sitting down to do homework? That he’s had all weekend to do? I am going to lose my wig.

I follow Waldorf to the dining room table. He is showered, in his pajamas, laying out his books. My arms are folded. He ignores me and acts very studious and diligent. I stand there glowering for a minute. Then leave the room to find B&B.

Me: “Did you hear that?”

B&B: “What? That whistling noise? That’s just the Kenyan, I keep telling him to stop whistling. He’s a good whistler though.”

Me: “No, not the whistling! Although, the Kenyan’is pretty good. I feel like my grandfather is walking through the house with all that whistling he’s doing. What was I saying? Oh, Waldorf didn’t finish his homework! He totally forgot! Until I reminded him. That’s not my job. That’s his job. I went to school. I did my homework. My parents never had to remind me to do my homework. This is ridiculous.”

B&B: “Well, let’s be honest. You were a total nerd. I mean, I’ve seen the pictures. You had a stretch of some very awkward years there. “

Me: “Oh, really, Mr. Sergio Valente size 14 slim jeans? You can’t be serious. Because your pictures are entirely worse than mine are. And that’s a fact.”

procrastination

B&B: “Oh, I beg to differ. The fluorescent socks with the sequins sweatshirt? And the striped corduroys? Now, that was an awkward time for you.”

Me: “Yes, it was, but those socks were very cutting edge back then. Stop changing the subject! Waldorf is a procrastinator! I don’t want him to be! He’s the oldest! He is supposed to worry about things! What does this mean for the rest of them? I will be like Former Chief Inspector Dreyfus by the time the Verb has homework! Twitching and threatening to kill everyone!”

B&B: “Hey, Former Chief Inspector Dreyfus, in honor of you, let’s watch one of the Pink Panther movies tonight!”

Me: “You’re no help. None whatsoever.”

B&B: To my back, as I retreat, in his best Former Chief Inspector Dreyfus impression, “But I want to kill him!”

That was actually a good impression.

I walk back towards the dining room table, only to find it filled with books, yet empty of their owner.

WTF?

I look into the living room. I see the sofa cushions and pillows fashioned into a makeshift fort. From the fort, I spy one of Waldorf’s long legs and I hear meowing.

I run towards the sofa and leap into the air, opening into a Jimmy Superfly Snuka. Wrecking the fort with my throwback WWF move.  Luckily, the cat hears me coming and darts from the sofa at the last second. Waldorf is pinned under the cushions.

Waldorf: “Um, excuse me, Mommy, but you’re squashing me.”

Me: “Listen to me and listen good. Because I’ll only say it once. This is the last time you leave homework until a Sunday night. You’ve had an entire weekend of fun. But you neglected to get your work done until I reminded you. This is unacceptable. It is your job to remember. Not mine. I do many things for you boys, but thinking for you is not one of them. You must be accountable for your work. And PLEASE STOP GETTING DISTRACTED!”

Waldorf: “OK. I, uh, can’t really breathe with you lying on top of these cushions that are on top of me. Can you get up now?”

Me: Hissing, “Yes. Now, Back. To. Work.”

I leave the room to attend to the Interrogator and the Verb, who are in the bathtub.

Interrogator: “Mom, the Verb called me a stupie poopie!”

Me: “Verb, please don’t call anyone that. It’s not nice.”

Interrogator: “That’s right, Verb. You’re not being a good citizen when you call me that. You’re being a bad citizen!”

Verb: Getting concerned, “But I want to be a good citizen.”

Me: “Well, good citizens don’t say ‘stupie poopie’. So you can be a good citizen by speaking kindly.”

I realize this good citizen talk sounds ridiculous. It sounds absurd to me as well. But it’s the one thing that resonates with the Interrogator. He has learned that good citizens don’t spit, don’t bite, and they certainly don’t lick their younger brothers’ faces. Because, naturally, he’s done all of these things. The good citizen chat usually helps to keep him in line. I guess he’s a country first kind of guy.

Me: “You boys have 3 more minutes in the bath. Please keep as much water in the tub as possible.”

Fat chance.

I go back downstairs to check on Waldorf’s progress.

ZZZZhhh. ZZZZZZHHHHHH.

WTH? What’s that noise? I hope it’s not the dishwasher; I have a full load in there.

I feel the smack of a flying helicopter against the right side of my head.  And then I hear the muffled laughter of my 10 year old. I find him lying on his stomach on the bench, attempting unsuccessfully to put some distance between himself and the helicopter remote control.

Click. There goes my crazy button.

Me: “WALDORF!!!! THERE WILL BE NO ELECTRONICS! AND THERE WILL BE NO DESSERT! THERE WILL BE NO ELECTRONICS AND NO DESSERT UNTIL JUNE IF YOU DON’T FINISH THAT HOMEWORK IN THE NEXT 20 MINUTES! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?!?! AM I MAKING MYSELF CLEAR TO YOU?”

Waldorf: Averting his eyes from the hot mess who vaguely resembles his Mom, “Yes, Mommy.”

I leave the room to get myself under control. I hear Waldorf’s pencil scratching and know he’s finally focusing on his work.

B&B is sitting in the family room, grinning at me.

B&B: “So, Former Chief Inspector, no electronics AND no dessert? You really meant business up there, didn’t you?”

Me: “I know. I sounded like a buffoon. I know. Clearly it’s neither a timely nor an effective punishment, but I had to threaten something. They were the first things that came to mind.”

B&B: “What about wire hangers? Are you going to threaten to take those too? Until June? No wire hangers until June?”

Funny guy. So funny. Oh, what a laugh riot.

He’s given me no choice.

I begin running, and then leap into the air. Crushing B&B with my best WWF Jimmy Superfly Snuka.

I now have two twitching eyes. And one pulled hamstring.

The Time I Chanted “Poop on the Sink”

I talk to myself. All the time. Out loud. I am sure it is a result of having at least one child with me basically every waking (and often sleeping) moment for the better part of a decade. Sometimes I hear myself and realize I’m not merely talking to myself…I’m talking to another person who isn’t even there. I am having a teaching moment with no student.

Me: “Now I’m going to buy the red peppers. I like the red peppers. Not because they are red, like my favorite apples, but because they are the sweetest of the peppers. Peppers also come in orange, yellow and green. Green are the least sweet. Mommy doesn’t like the green.”

Why are people looking at me funny? Oh, dammit! I’m doing it again. I am in the Acme, buying peppers, talking to a child who is in fact in pre-school this morning.

I was talking to myself one day last week, while I was walking from the kitchen to the laundry room. I have to repeat, mantra-style, my purpose for leaving one room to go to another. Otherwise, I’ll forget by the time I get there.

Me: “Paper towels, paper towels, paper towels, paper towels”

I really have to pee.

Me: “paper towels, paper towels, paper towels”

Stupid bladder. Fine, I’ll pee, but I better repeat my mantra while I’m relieving myself.

The powder room is connected to the laundry room, so the paper towels are in plain sight from the commode.

Me: “paper towels, paper towels, paper towels”

Also in plain sight is the powder room’s white sink. With a large, dark brown streak on the outside of its bowl.

What the?

Me: “Paper towels…Paper…towels…”

What is that? What is all over the side of the sink?

Me: “P..a…p…e…r….”

Oh, for the love of God. Seriously?!  Which one of those boys wiped their poop on the side of my sink? Disgusting creatures. Hmm. Let me think….

Because the powder room is connected to the laundry room, it’s freezing in there. All year long. That’s a bonus during the summer months. When the A/C is running, it’s a refrigerator in there. We are tripping over one another to use the powder room. But the other 9 months of the year? Most of the kids will wait for the full bathroom upstairs.

The Interrogator always asks permission before going #2. He gets very close to me, looks left and right and whispers, “Mom, I have to ask you something…can I…” He looks left, right…left…right, “Can I go poop?” Sometimes he’ll get to the coveted bathroom to find the Kenyan or Waldorf in the same situation.

Interrogator: “Who’s in there? I have to…” looking left, right, left, and lowering his voice to a whisper, “I have to poop.”

The Kenyan: Behind the closed bathroom door, “Interrogator, I’m in here. Use the downstairs bathroom.”

Interrogator: Speaking to the closed bathroom door, “Awwwww! I don’t like the downstairs bathroom. It’s cold. I like this bathroom. I have to go, are you almost done?”

The Kenyan: “No! Don’t rush me! You’re going to have to go downstairs!”

The Interrogator typically dances around in circles in his bedroom, getting increasingly paler in pallor with each passing second, waiting for the throne of his choice. Sometimes he absolutely has to resort to the cold bathroom.

So I know he’s a suspect.

Hmmm. Waldorf hasn’t used the powder room since 2005. He refuses. It’s too cold for him 12 months of the year. The Kenyan hasn’t used the powder room since August. He will use it seasonally, like a summer suit. Which leaves the Interrogator and the Verb.

The Verb is potty trained. Our little Verb is very independent. This is good, because we, as parents, are very tired. He was going to have to raise himself whether or not he was independent. So, it’s fortunate that he is. He doesn’t ask permission to open the refrigerator or the pantry or to use the bathroom. He just does it. And this independence actually helps me most of the time. So, when he does his business in the bathroom, he likes privacy. Finally, a kid who’s speaking my language. But, like a ninja, he’ll creep up on me while I am washing dishes or putting away groceries. I’ll turn to find him standing there with his back to me, naked from the waist down, bent over and grabbing his ankles. And he says, “Mom, I go’d poop. Now you can wipe mine heiney.”

Excellent.

Me: “You are such a big boy. Great job, off you go. Don’t sit down at the table until you put your pants back on please.”

So, it’s not the Verb. The Interrogator. It’s definitely the Interrogator.

By this time my inner monologue has completely overpowered my chanting, so I’ve no recollection of why I’d left the kitchen in the first place.

What did I need again? Damn these kids. Well, the Interrogator is going to have a little tutorial in bathroom cleaning when he gets home from kindergarten today. I better write this down before I forget…

Me: heading back to the kitchen, “Poop on the sink, poop on the sink, poop on the sink”

I grab a paper and pencil.

Me: “Poop on the sink, poop on the sink, poop on the sink..”

No point on the pencil.

Ahhh. Do they ever sharpen the pencils? I have 7 sharpeners in this drawer! And 42 pencils! Would it kill them to sharpen the freaking pencils? Wait, why do I need a pencil? Ahhh!

Finally, I find a pencil with a point. I scrawl, “Interrogator gets his first lesson in sink cleaning,” and put the note on the center of the counter where I’ll be sure to see it in a few hours.

Now I know what most of you are thinking.

How could this woman, this filthy woman, possibly find feces on the sink and walk away?

First of all, it was on the side of the sink. Not in the sink. Don’t judge. This would never have happened 1, 2, even 3 kids ago. Is it gross? Definitely. Is it unsanitary? Clearly. Is it a teaching moment? Without a doubt. And the professor is in. I smile, and head back downstairs to the laundry room.

Me: “Rubber gloves, rubber gloves, rubber gloves”

I grab the rubber gloves, and then place them ever so gingerly next to the note.

Fast forward. Several hours later, I pick the boys up from school. They are all sitting in the car, buckled, making a mess of the snack I’d brought for them.

The rapid fire questions begin…

“Will Dad be home for dinner? Can I PLEASE play electronics tonight? Why do we have to have homework? I don’t like this snack, didn’t you bring something else that I really like? Can we have dessert first tonight? Can you tell him to stop breathing on me? Who stepped on my paper airplane? Where is my Ninja’s spinner?”

I haven’t even taken the car out of park yet.

Me: “Gentlemen, you’ve just had a nice time playing on the playground. When we get home, I am going to start making dinner, and you, Waldorf and you, Kenyan, will start your homework. Without complaining.”

Groans.

Interrogator: “What about me, Mom? Can I watch Ninjago on the iPad? Please? Can I? You know I love Ninjago. It’s my favorite, Mom. Especially Jay. Because…you know why, Mom? Because he’s blue. And blue’s my favorite, Mom. It’s your favorite too, right, Mom? Even though you’re a girl and girls should like pink, you like blue most, right Mom? I know you like blue. You’re not going to make me eat big chicken tonight are you, Mom? I don’t like big chicken. I like little chicken. I only like little chicken. I don’t like big chicken. It makes me sad when you want me to eat big chicken. It makes me choke. I don’t like to choke, Mom. Don’t make me do it. Are you going to make me do it? Eat the big chicken?”

Yes, this is what life is like with the Interrogator. Eardrum exhaustion. And big chicken, by definition, is any chicken that is not chicken nuggets, which obviously, is little chicken.

At this point I make angry eyes at Waldorf and the Kenyan, whose ears are both bleeding, and who are clearly reaching out simultaneously to choke the Interrogator.

Me: “Oh, my sweet little Interrogator, I have such a treat for you at home!”

Interrogator: “Aha!! I know it! It’s dessert! It’s chocolate berry flan! My most favorite dessert! And NINJAGO ON THE IPAD!!! I just know it is!”

Me: “Not quite, buddy. Remember the other day when the Kenyan was in the upstairs bathroom and you had to use the downstairs bathroom?”

Interrogator: Whispering, looking left..right…left.. “When I had to go poop?”

Waldorf: “We can hear you, Interrogator! When you whisper, we can hear you!”

I shoot my angry eyes at Waldorf again to silence him.

Me: “Yes, Interrogator. When you went #2. Did you forget to tell me something? About the sink? About something you put on the sink?”

The Kenyan: “What? What did he put on the sink? It better not be one of my Legos!”

Waldorf: “What did he put on the sink? It better not be something of mine, or….”

Interrogator: “Oh. Right. Yeah. Poop, Mom?”

Waldorf and the Kenyan are outraged and disgusted. The Verb hears their dissent and joins in.

The Kenyan: “Oh my…Interrogator! That’s disgusting! What the…the poop goes in the potty, not in the sink!”

papertowels

Waldorf: “This is, I have to say, totally disgusting. This may be the most disgusting thing I’ve heard from these kids. And that, well that is saying something.”

The Verb: “Interrogator? You go’d poop in the sink? Aw…that’s yucky.”

Interrogator: “No, no, no! I went in the potty. Then, it got on my hand. And I wiped it on the sink. Sorry, Mom. Sorry for doing that. Sorry for wiping it on the sink.”

Me: “Thank you, Interrogator. You get the treat of helping me clean the sink when we get home.”

Interrogator: Incredulous, “Oh, man!”

Waldorf: “That’s only fair! You made me clean the toilet when I peed all over the back of it.”

Me: “Indeed I did, Waldorf. And you’ve managed to perfect your aim since then, haven’t you?”

Waldorf: “Uh, yes. Because I do NOT like those rubber gloves.”

As soon as we pull into the driveway, Waldorf, the Kenyan and the Verb jump from the car and race to the powder room to investigate the crime scene. The Interrogator walks as slowly as possible, looking at me with his best angry face.

I strip off his coat and prep him for surgery. Rubber gloves, check. Open window for ventilation, check. Clorox wipes, check.

He’s still wearing his angry face. Which makes it increasingly difficult for me to suppress my laughter.

Interrogator: “Sorry, Mom. And, you’re beautiful, Mom. And I love you. Can you please clean the sink? Poop is yuck. I don’t want to do it.”

Me: “I love you too, bud. And thank you for your sweet words. And I will not clean the sink. Because I didn’t dirty the sink. You did. Which is why you will clean it.”

Interrogator: “Grrrrr.”

He places the wipe against the sink as though he’s Bob Ross on PBS on a Saturday afternoon, mixing titanium white with just a touch of red to paint happy little clouds.

Interrogator: “There. Done.”

I raise my eyebrows.

Interrogator: “Grrrr! Yuck. I don’t like it! Fine!” scrubbing harder now, “Ugh, yuck. Ugh! Why do you make me do this? Ugh.” Gagging now. Scrubbing more slowly and gagging a great deal.

Oh, shit! Truly, shit! He’s gonna puke! Where’s the bucket?

Me: “Bucket, bucket, bucket, bucket”

I look frantically around the laundry room, only to find the bucket hanging right next to the…

Me: “PAPER TOWELS! YES!!! HA HA!!!!”

Friday Night Lights (the bright ones you find in the hospital)

I try to be a fun Mom. I almost have to tell myself out loud at times, “Stop washing the dishes and play Candyland with the Interrogator and the Verb.” Truth be told, there are days when I prefer the dishes to Candyland. That’s a lie. I prefer the dishes to Chutes and Ladders. And I prefer labor without an epidural to Monopoly. I loathe that never-ending game.

fridaynightlights

To that end, I planned an evening of sledding for B&B, Waldorf, the Kenyan and Fun Mom. (Clearly this took place last year since Jack Frost has yet to pay a visit this winter). Here is how it went down…

It is a Friday night, and my kids are on winter break. I call the babysitter, put the Interrogator and the Verb to bed early, and we are off.

The Kenyan: “So this is what it’s like not to have those noisy little guys in the car with us!”

Me: “Kinda quiet, isn’t it? So, Daddy, where should we go for our very exciting night time sledding excursion?”

B&B: “Oh, don’t you worry, I have just the spot.”

He pulls into the parking lot of the brand new public elementary school and shines the high beams of his truck onto the monstrosity of a hill that butts up against the blacktop.

Me: “That’s the K12, Daddy-oh. The double black diamond of sledding hills. Too steep, let’s find another spot.”

B&B: Turns the ignition off, leaving the high beams on “Hey, guys, Mommy’s scared of the hill. She thinks it’s too steep for us.”

Obligatory siding with B&B from the two buffoons in the back…

Me: “OK, try to keep up, ladies.”

All 4 of us grab sleds and run for the hill. B&B, propelled by his long legs and powered by those bloody Lance Armstrong lungs, reaches the top first.

I look up at B&B, then down at the bottom of the hill. It is a crazy windy night, so the snow is already icing over. The parking lot had been plowed, and all of the snow from the blacktop had been pushed into high, now very icy, piles at the bottom of the hill we’ve just scaled.

I’d better tell Waldorf and the Kenyan to turn their sleds before they get to the bottom of the hill. If they faceplant into those icy piles, it won’t be pretty.

Me: Yelling to be heard over the wind, “Hey, guys, listen…”

My warning is cut off short by the Tarzan-like yelling from B&B.

B&B: “WOOOOHOOOOOO! HERE I GOOOOOOOO!!!”

He takes a running start, then flies down the hill and whizzes past me, hollering and whooping the entire way. Excited, I turn my back before he reaches the bottom in order to continue my own climb.

Once I get ¾’s of the way up the hill, I turn to start my descent. I’m Fun Mom, but I’m not Death Wish Mom. Waldorf and the Kenyan are still climbing.

Where’s B&B? Ah, there he is.

B&B had not made it all the way down the hill. He is lying on his sled, stopped just short of the bottom.

Look at that. He’s winded. Trying to rest for a minute because he’s all tuckered out from sprinting up the hill to impress the rest of us.

Me: “Guys, watch me!!! Woohoo!!”

I cruise down the icy hill at a ridiculous speed, and turn my sled at the bottom before slamming into the plowed snow.

Holy crap, that was fun. The boys are going to love it. I’m going all the way to the top next time.

Me: “Guys, did you see how I turned at the bottom? Make sure you do that too…otherwise we’re looking at a broken bone, and it’s a bad night to go to the hospital!”

I hear muffled cries of acknowledgment from Waldorf and the Kenyan, who continue to climb Mt. Everest.

Where is B&B? Oh, there he is…

B&B is pacing around the parking lot. With the intensity of a family member awaiting news of a loved one’s fate outside the operating room. Smiling, I jog over to him.

Me: “You were right, this hill is no joke. I’ll race your ass up there.”

B&B: “We’ve got problems.”

Pacing, pacing, pacing.

Me: “What do you mean?”

Pacing, pacing, pacing.

B&B: “I mean we’ve got BIG problems.”

Pacing, pacing, pacing.

Me: “Can you maybe stop pacing and elaborate?”

B&B: Clearly exasperated by my request, finally he stands still. “I’m talking broken shoulder problems.”

Me: “Well, fine, let’s find a different hill. I don’t want the kids to break a shoulder.”

B&B: “Bethany, you’re not hearing me.”

Me: “Well, maybe because you’re speaking in code.”

B&B: He takes a deep, frustrated breath…accompanied by a wince of pain and a look of agony on his face “Bethany, I broke my shoulder. I need you to take me to the hospital. Right. Now.”

Luckily, I remain calm during crisis. Well, except for that one time when the 2 year old Interrogator deposited a dime into the Verb’s 5 week old mouth as though it were a slot machine.  And the Verb stopped breathing until we shook him upside down as though he were a piggy bank. I hit the panic button then. But I blame the post-partum hormones for that hysteria.

Me: “Oh boy. OK. I’ll get the boys.”

Mother humper. The Kenyan is going to give birth to a cow when we pull him off that hill.

Waldorf and the Kenyan are just finishing their first runs of the night. They are exhilarated and eager for more.

Me: “Guys, come over here for a minute. Daddy hurt his shoulder. So, we need to make sure we get it looked at in case it’s broken.”

Waldorf and the Kenyan look at me with wide eyes and open mouths.

Waldorf: “How did he hurt it?”

Good question, Waldorf, I didn’t even ask.

Me: “Let’s ask him, but be nice because he is in pain.”

They approach B&B, who’s still pacing in the parking lot. Breathing deeply and muttering curses under his breath. Well, not exactly under his breath.

Waldorf: “Daddy, how did you get hurt?”

B&B: “I sledded into a tree, buddy, I’m sorry we have to leave. But Daddy’s hurt.”

Waldorf, the Kenyan, and Fun Mom simultaneously look at the hill we’ve just conquered.

No trees. Hmm. That’s a little detail we can address after the hospital. I know better than to..

The Kenyan: “What tree? There are no trees on this hill.”

Oh boy. Master of the obvious just couldn’t let his Daddy slide.

B&B: (Wincing as he lifts the arm connected to what I assume is his good shoulder and pointing) “Yes, Kenyan, there is a tree on this hill. It’s right there.”

Waldorf, the Kenyan and Fun Mom all squint and look in the direction B&B’s pointing.

The Kenyan: Voice escalating “There IS no tree on this hill!”

It’s clear we are 45 seconds from a serious temper tantrum. Whether it comes from the Kenyan, B&B or both, still remains a mystery.

Waldorf: Always quick to come to his hero’s rescue “Oh, there it is, I see it. See? It’s really small, but it’s right there.”

The Kenyan: Squinting, “You mean that Charlie Brown tree? You could run that tree over, Daddy.”

B&B is fuming. He marches purposefully toward the plant we have yet to confirm is a tree.

B&B: “Follow me right now. All of you.”

We obey, Waldorf and I making eyes at each other, both of us fully aware that the Kenyan and B&B are about to throw down. And that we are powerless to stop it. The Kenyan begins to cry as he lugs his boot-clad feet up the hill. My poor heartbroken Kenyan.

B&B wraps his fingers around what I hesitate to label as the trunk of a tree. Picture a bamboo stick coming out of the ground.

B&B: “I banged right into this tree with my shoulder. It stopped me cold. It’s a good thing it wasn’t my neck, or I’d be paralyzed right now. And you sledded right past me on your merry way down the hill when I was laying here in agony.”

He looks at me accusingly.

Oh boy, crazy’s loose.

Me: “What? I…I thought you were resting. You know, fatigued from running up the hill.”

B&B: “I was slammed up against this tree!”

The Kenyan: “That’s not a tree! It’s like a baby stick! I want to stay here! I am going to go sledding! We are SUPPOSED to be SLEDDING!”

Oh no. The other crazy’s loose.

The Kenyan grabs his sled and starts hauling it back up the hill.

I usher Waldorf quietly towards the escape vehicle, then double time it back up the hill to attempt to reason with the Kenyan.

Me: “Buddy, listen, I know this is a huge bummer. But, if one of you were in pain, we’d do the same for you. Let’s get into the truck, and we’ll go sledding tomorrow. I promise.”

The Kenyan: “IT’S NOT FAIR! WE WERE SUPPOSED TO HAVE FUN! THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN! LEAVING IS NOT FUN! I WANT TO GO SLEDDING!”

The Kenyan is actually our easiest kid. He goes with the flow. He plays by himself. He plays well with his brothers. He gobbles up books. Draws his own cartoons. Tries his best at school.  He eats what we put on his plate and doesn’t accuse me of poisoning him. This temper tantrum is atypical behavior for him. Which is why I didn’t grab him by his boots and drag him back down the hill to the car. Because that’s what I would have done with any of the other three if they had pulled this crap.

Me: “I want to go sledding too. It stinks, doesn’t it? This hill is awesome! I think you were faster than Waldorf.”

The Kenyan: Sniffling “I know. I was. And IT’S NOT FAIR!”

I usher him slowly towards the car. B&B is still pacing. The Kenyan, while our easiest in most ways, does have a tendency to sulk. So his head is hanging low. And he is walking slowly to illustrate his distaste with this unexpected (yet almost comical) turn of events.

B&B: “Kenyan, I’m really sorry. I didn’t do this on purpose. But we need to get to the hospital, so please walk a little more quickly. Because I hurt.”

3, 2, 1 and cue the crying

The Kenyan is flat out bawling. As though he’s the one with the alleged broken shoulder.

We all get into the truck. I drive. B&B in the passenger seat, wincing in pain with each bump. Waldorf’s quiet in the back. And the Kenyan is sniffling the entire way, with his Perry the Platypus hat pulled completely down over his eyes.

We drop off the boys at home, make the icy drive to my parents’ house, bundle my Mom up and drive her to our house. She kindly relieves the babysitter, while I drive B&B to the hospital.

We debate going to a different hospital. We’ve had a slew of recent visits to the ER for the kids, and I am slightly nervous that, upon check in, someone may take note of our frequent flier miles and start accusing us of something ludicrous. But, in the end, we go to our old reliable hospital. Evidently, B&B is getting his sense of humor back.

Nurse: “How did this happen?”

B&B: Glances nervously at me, then refuses to make eye contact with the nurse. He whispers, “Do I have to answer with her right next to me?”

I immediately laugh. A nice, big belly laugh. Did I mention in my description of B&B that he’s funny? He’s funny.

The nurse looks at him, then at me, then at him. She’s not laughing.

Nurse: “Do you feel like you’re…in danger?”

B&B glances at me again, then leans toward the nurse and whispers, “Yes. She scares me.”

Me: “OK, enough, funny guy. Tell her. Tell her about the tree. Well, about the bamboo stick, tell her about the bamboo stick.”

B&B: “Wait, what was the story again? You hit me right here with the bamboo stick? Oops, I mean I sledded into a tree that looked like a bamboo stick.”

Sidenote. We have not been drinking. Or partaking in any recreational drugs. This is just typical behavior from B&B. He sleds into a tree, then thinks it’s funny to act like he’s the victim of domestic violence. Now, had he been sledding down that hill and crashed into that sorry excuse for a tree with one of our children on his back? He would certainly have been the victim of domestic violence.

The nurse is not at all amused. She doesn’t know us. She doesn’t appreciate the side show. It is an icy, cold Friday night, the car accident victims are starting to pile up in the waiting room, and we two fools are wasting her time.

B&B puts his serious face on, and she gets rid of us as quickly as humanly possible. As we walk away from her, I put my arm gently around B&B and he says, just loudly enough for the nurse to hear, “She’s doing it again. Ow, please stop squeezing me like that. I promise I’ll be better.”

Me: “You have serious psychological problems.”

But he is funny.

Turns out the broken shoulder is actually a broken collarbone. No way to cast it. No surgery needed. Bullet dodged.

As we sit in triage, waiting for B&B’s release instructions, he looks at me.

B&B: “You’re dying to post this on Facebook, aren’t you?”

Me: Feigning hurt and surprise, “No WAY. Absolutely not. I wouldn’t do that to you.”

Dammit. Foiled. I could really turn this into a funny post.

B&B: “Thanks. I know you could make a funny post out of it, but I’m feeling a little sensitive about this.”

Me: “No Facebook post. I promise.”

No Facebook post could do this circus act justice. This is the perfect story for a blog.

Shhh…don’t tell B&B.

Feets don’t fail me now

It’s 3:31AM and I awake with a start. Adrenaline is pumping, heart is racing. There. I hear it, “MOMMY!” I sit straight up in bed. Whose voice was that? Upstairs? One door over?” “MOMMY!” Next door over.

I am up and out the bedroom door in a flash…please no puke, please no puke, please no puke…

I open the bedroom door belonging to the owner of the distress call. The Interrogator is sitting straight up on the top bunk.

Me: (whispering), “What’s wrong, sweetheart? Tell me in a whisper, your brother needs to grow, so let’s let him sleep.” (The Verb sleeps on the bottom bunk. If he wakes up too, there will be demands for a quick game of Zingo and a square dance in the family room before I get back to bed.)

Interrogator: “It’s my feet.” He’s not whispering.

Me: “What’s the matter with your feet?”

Interrogator: In a loud, pained voice, “They’re HOT, Mom. I have hot feet.” He’s crying now.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Is this a freaking joke?

Me: “Ahem. I don’t understand, honey. What do you mean they’re hot? Do you have pins and needles? Take off your footy pj’s and that will help.”

Interrogator: (yelling now, hiccup cries, snot mixing with tears and running down face) “OH FOR GOODNESS SAKE! (Yes, he uses this expression regularly and appropriately) I AM NOT WEARING FOOTY PJ’S! FEEL THEM! FEEL MY FEET! MY FEET ARE HOT! THEY ARE TOO HOT! I NEED MY SLIPPERS!”

During my parenting years, I’ve awoken to puking, coughing, fevers, the seal-like barking of croup, night terrors, bed wetting, calls for water, lost woobies, lost band-aids, and booty calls (not from the children). These people are just inventing things to ruin my sleep.  WTF is this kid talking about? It’s happening, isn’t it? I’m being punked. I better not lose my shit on him, just in case Ashton jumps out of the closet with his camera.

Me: (whispering angrily) “We wear slippers when our feet are cold, bud, not when they are hot. No slippers.”

Interrogator: “Well, then I need medicine.”

Me: “No medicine for hot feet. I’ll get you a drink of water.”

hotfeet

Interrogator: “What for?”

To soak your hot feet, isn’t it obvious, dumbass?

Me: “It will help you feel better.”

I deliver the water, give him a kiss, tuck him in and, as patiently as I can at 3:37AM, explain that his feet are OUT of the covers and can now cool down a bit.

I tiptoe back to bed. B&B has slept through the entire debacle. This is not unusual. I close my eyes. Nothing. I am too irritated to settle back into sleep. Wide awake. Hot feet? Really? Who wakes in the night with complaints of hot feet?

I angrily ponder that thought for 5 minutes. What was that? Is that…whimpering? Is he crying about the feet now? OMFG…

I shake B&B from a sound sleep. It’s for his own son’s safety. I am going to scar the Interrogator if I go back in there for the hot feet talk again.

Me: “I’m sorry to wake you, but can you please in the most patient, understanding voice you can muster, go in and deal with the Interrogator?”

B&B: “What’s wrong with him? Is he sick?” (sidebar, B&B is PHENOMENAL when it comes to puke duty. Buckets appear, linens are stripped and washed, baths are drawn, children are stripped and washed, teeth are brushed, and I can quietly rub the puker’s back and chant, “it’s alright, honey, good job, you’re doing great, I know it’s awful, good job.”   

Me: “Um, no, he…ugh….he…well, he is complaining of hot feet.”

Silence.

Me: “Are you asleep?”

B&B: “I must be. I know this is a dream. Because you could not have woken me to tell me that our 5 year old is crying over…what did you say? Hot feet?”

Me: “Yes, that’s exactly what I said! And I feel like a bad Mom because I am going to yell at him if I go in there right now! So, please can you patiently and nicely try to make him feel better and go back to sleep?”

B&B: “Yep.”

Thank freaking God. Jesus, Mary and Joseph and all the saints, it will take me an hour to get back to sleep.

B&B is gone for all of 90 seconds.

Me: “What did you say?”

B&B: “Don’t talk to me right now.” Snoring within 88 seconds.

Well, excuse me for asking.

Luckily, that was the last we heard from the Interrogator, so whatever B&B had said, it had done the trick.

Too few hours later, B&B had already left for work before the rest of us were up. I texted him to apologize for waking him.

My text: Thanks for helping with the Interrogator last night. That interrupted sleep kills me.

His text: Sorry I was a jerk when you asked about what I said to calm him down.

My text: Who, good old hot feet? What did you say to him?

His text: He was complaining to me, “now I have one hot foot and one cold foot!”

My text: Moron. So, what did you tell him?

His text: I said, “If you don’t go to sleep, I will take your Legos and give them to the first boy I find who sleeps through the night without yelling and waking his parents at 3:30AM.” Do you think I gave him the cold foot? I mean the cold shoulder?

Note to self…in the future, wake B&B for puke duty only.