Before, Before, Before…

Before the foyer was a mess of cleats and library books,

Before Axe deodorant established residence in the bathroom,

Before I began tilting my chin up instead of down to look him in the eye,

Before the kitchen counter became a catchall for birthday invitations and permission slips,

Before entire sofas were buried under clean laundry needing folding,

Before he cared what brand of sneakers he wore,

Before cool was on his radar,

Before play-dates became hangouts,

Before he asked me to stop singing his lullaby,

Before every inch of the house became littered with Legos,

Before I realized he didn’t inherit my straight teeth,

Before the invention of Minecraft–which, for the record, I still don’t understand,

Before running out to Target for poster board the night before a project is due,

Before I swore no child of mine would ever be medicated,

Before Little League games that went into extra innings but only on school nights,

Before piano lessons and all the complaining that accompanied his practicing,

Before he grew too big to carry,

Before I became selective about sharing the babysitter’s name for fear someone else might snatch her away,

Before the first visit from the tooth fairy,

Before the months of fretting over which school was right,

Before the wall needed repainting because those were permanent markers,

Before the first little lies he told, which were eventually followed by bigger ones,

Before time-outs on the step,

Before story time at the library,

Before swim lessons,

Before the panic of having lost him for two very long minutes in Kohl’s,

Before the discovery that Baby Einstein offered thirteen consecutive minutes of peace during which I could inhale dinner,

Before I could make everything better by pulling him onto my lap for a hug,

Before the torture that is sleep deprivation,

Before the exceedingly slow drive home from the hospital because we had a “Baby on board”,

Before I knew to trust my instincts because they’re actually pretty good,

Before I understood that this is harder than anything,

Before. Before. Before.

I held a baby.

Moments after he drew his first breath.

I had dreamed of him for as long as I could remember.

The love was there…fierce and primal and expected.

Even bigger than the love was the hope. So enormous and undeniably present that I could just about reach out and touch it. No dream was too big for this perfect little bundle who had his entire life before him.

Who will he be?

***

He’ll be as tall as his father. He’ll need braces. He’ll be exceedingly guarded, but never after 10PM. He’ll have a quiet confidence. He’ll have a good voice, but he won’t like to sing. He’ll be outstanding with numbers, but struggle with words. He’ll hate mornings. He’ll love hijinx. He’ll be resistant to change. He’ll be a brother again, and again, and again.

He’ll have someone whose love remains fierce and primal. And whose hope for him will always be big enough to reach out and touch.

He’ll call her Mom.

Well, hello

Well, hello

To all who stumble through this journey the way I do..

Vessels of hope…

Believers in dreams…

Folders of laundry…

Happy Mother’s Day.

 

I Should Have Gone to Five Guys…

“You know when it’s been so long since you’ve exercised that you’ll make every excuse not to? And all you can think about is a burger from 5 Guys? Yep. That.”

I posted that on my Facebook page last Saturday morning. And I meant every word.

We are deep into M-A-Y. Growing up, it was my favorite month. The azaleas bloom hot pink, the bedroom windows stay open all night, we are a handful of days away from summer vacation, and my birthday kicks off the month in celebratory fashion.

Now that I’m a parent, I recognize May for what it is. The month of allergies, field trips, party planning, permission slips, and track meets that overlap with lacrosse games.

5guys

In May, I did this…

3rd grade mother/son overnight camping trip

3rd grade mother/son overnight camping trip

this…

5th Grade Reading Olympics Competition

5th Grade Reading Olympics Competition

this…

Boychoir Rumpelstiltskin performance. Unfortunately, yes, the ax is ours.

Boy choir Rumpelstiltskin performance. Unfortunately, yes, the ax is ours.

this…

Mother's Day Tea

Mother’s Day Tea

this…

Ringing Rocks field trip. Boys + Hammers + Boulders = Perfection

Ringing Rocks field trip. Boys + Hammers + Boulders = Perfection

this…

Meet Chuck, our newest family member. Acquired Family Night at the Book Fair.

Meet Chuck, our newest family member. Acquired Family Night at the Book Fair.

this…

Our 4th and final Pre-K Ocean Show

Our 4th and final Pre-K Ocean Show

I also made it to the school’s Imagineering Lab to see the Kenyan’s robotics project. And I enjoyed both performances of the 2nd and 3rd grade chorus. I have no photographic evidence of these events. But I was present.

Every single ounce of it was awesome. I cried happy tears like a gazillion times. I cried right smack in the middle of the 3rd grade campfire in front of the Kenyan, his hunky teacher, his entire class, and their Moms. So that wasn’t embarrassing at all.

But, so help me Jesus, the May calendar with children makes it near impossible to sleep, shower, or exercise.

Which is how I found myself fantasizing about a burger from 5 Guys at 10AM on Saturday morning.

But I’m a clever girl.

I realize 5 Guys doesn’t sell burgers until 11AM.

I have time to spare.

I may as well do a kettlebell workout.

B&B is with the Kenyan at a track meet. Waldorf relaxes on the sofa with Minecraft. The Interrogator and the Verb are engaged in Lego play. So, I set myself up in my home gym. Which is code for my family room. Where Waldorf is chillaxin and the younger two are throwing Legos. I shove puzzle pieces and toys under the sofa. Then push the four laundry baskets containing clean, folded clothes against the wall. Pop in a kettlebell DVD. And put on my iPod.

The first song is a Rihanna tune. I skip to the next song. Also a Rihanna song. Skip ahead again. Rihanna once more.

Mother of pearl.

B&B has been using my iPod again.

I suffer through 40 minutes of kettlebells. Which, though challenging, is easier to endure than 40 minutes of Rihanna.

I should go directly upstairs to shower. But I know we have that new jump rope out back, and maybe I’ll give it a whirl while I’m warmed up. And by jump rope, I mean nautical rope that is both heavy enough and thick enough to secure a cruise ship to a port of call.

B&B is in the throes of a gardening project and, for some ungodly reason, a giant, clear, plastic tarp hangs from the ceiling of our covered patio. I sigh and drag the heavy rope to a spot that I hope is clear of the plastic sheeting. Fingers crossed.

And ONE ROTATION,

OOOOOF!

And TWO ROTATIONS,

This mother fucker is HEAVY!

And THREE ROTATIONS,

OW, my wrists!

And FOUR ROTATIONS,

CAN’T BREATHE!

And FIVE ROTATIONS,

FUCK THIS.

And SIX ROTATIONS,

I’M BAILING!

My right foot lands on the rope…which is the approximate width of an elephant’s thigh…and my ankle rolls. I gasp in pain and land in a heap on the ground. Tangled in B&B’s plastic garden sheeting.

So I am on crutches for the rest of this bastard month.

I can’t say I’m  enjoying my new status as a You Tube phenom.

My video debut

I should have gone to Five Guys.

Snapshots of Summer, Halfway Through

4 kids + Camp Mom = 87 long days of summer. We’ve officially reached the halfway point. No broken bones. Only one sunburn incident (the children were spared). A few minor cuts. Minimal mosquito bites.  Most importantly, my sanity remains intact.  I’ve learned a few things in the past six weeks.

The Little Lessons

I love having no schedule.

I hate having no schedule.

The minute a stranger tells you, “Your children are so well behaved,” is the instant they show their true colors and make a liar out of that stranger.

When I take the kids to Walmart, they will play hide-n-seek.

If there is a knock on the door, it only comes when I’m not wearing a bra.

When I take the kids to Costco, they will play hide-n-seek.

Legos are dangerous. They should be played with in a home where shoes are mandatory.

When I take the kids to the Acme, they will play hide-n-seek.

Neil Diamond is better in concert at 71 than he was at 51.

When I take the kids to Target, they will play hide-n-seek.

Making recipes I’ve pinned to Pinterest is a pipe dream.

summersnapshots

There is absolutely no reason to consume ice cream every night. Which is precisely why I eat it for lunch some days. You know, to mix things up.

When there is a glass of liquid on a flat surface in my house, my 3 year old’s elbow will be drawn to it like a moth to a flame. My reaction:

Week 1: “That’s OK, sweetheart, it was an accident!”

Week 3: Sigh. “Here’s a towel. Please wipe it up.”

Week 6: “Again?! From now on, if you’re thirsty, drink straight from the goddamn faucet!”

A 9 year old boy can thrive on a breakfast of 2 waffles with Nutella and sliced strawberries for 45 straight days. On the 46th day, he will eat 3 waffles with Nutella and sliced strawberries.

There is nothing wrong with splitting an entire bag of Sun Chips with 4 children and considering it a healthy lunch for the 5 of you.

A fedora can stay on my 6 year old’s head while he does flips in a pool. Underwater. It’s no wonder that the fedora is Indiana Jones’ hat of choice.

When my husband and I are spitting distance from the Phillies dugout, and 2 females wearing infants stroll down the stadium steps, they will inevitably sit in the empty seats directly in front of us. And obstruct our view by bouncing said children on their laps the entire night. And ask my husband to take pictures of them with their babies. Every inning. And shriek repeatedly, “Aren’t they the cutest babies you’ve ever seen?” And we’ll agree. Until the 7th inning, when my husband finally answers, “Actually, they’re not nearly as cute as the 4 kids we left at home. Where they belong.”  Never prouder, I will turn to him and announce, “Honey, you’re getting lucky tonight.”

Down in front, baby!

A chipmunk can play dead convincingly enough that my cat buys it. That same chipmunk can wait until the cat turns his back, then wink at me to let me know he’s still, in fact, very much alive.

When my husband announces to me on a Monday morning, “Oops, I forgot, I have a golf outing today. I probably won’t be home until after 10PM,” I’m going to need some time to digest that information. I’ll probably need to sit in a corner, hug my knees, and quietly sob. Don’t judge.

I don’t really like crab fries. Unless they are dipped in cheese. This is a discovery I didn’t need to make.

Parents whose kids are attending sleep away camp are easy to identify. They are either the adults who look tan, well-rested, and supremely happy…or they are the adults who see me with my 4 kids and proceed to laugh and point at me. I wish each of them a peaceful summer. And the pointers…I wish an unplanned pregnancy. May you be blessed with twins.

Perler beads…like pine needles from a Christmas tree…can be found months after cleaning them up.

Boot camp on the beach sounds great in theory. It’s a nut punch in reality. A sweaty, sandy nut punch. And I’ll still eat the donut that’s waiting for me on the kitchen counter when I get home. How could I not? It’s still warm. For. The. Love. Of. God.

The $1 movie at Regal Cinemas on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings is the best deal out there. When there are 3 busloads of camp kids in line ahead of me, I grab my youngest child and urgently yell, “He has to poop! We need to get to the bathroom…he has to poop!” I cover his mouth with my hand before he rats me out. Race to the front of the line. Then sneak into the theater first. For 5 glorious minutes, my kids tell me I’m as cool as their Daddy. Totally worth the scene I made in the lobby.

When the guys fishing on the beach pull 4 foot sharks out of the ocean, one after another, for over an hour, there’s no need to avoid swimming. Even when you have your period. Don’t ask. Just trust me. It’s perfectly safe to go into those shark infested waters.

A cat is able to launch its body at a closed, locked bedroom door so violently that the door swings open. It sounds very much like a cannon firing from the hallway into your bedroom. And it only happens at 5AM.

When I take the kids to the mall, and Party Rock Anthem begins playing over the speaker system, they will immediately form a straight line and bust out the moves to  Dance Party 3 in perfect synchronicity. Strangers will mistake this for a flash mob and snap pictures with their iPhones and post them to FB and Twitter.

When I clap my hands and relay the news, “Guys, Mommy’s piece made the Huffington Post!” like I did here, here, and here, 4 sets of eyeballs will stare at me blankly. Then one of them will pass gas, and a game of “who farted?” will ensue.

The library shouldn’t put out games for small children. Because my 3 year old will play the game, then fist pump and yell, “YES! I WINNED!!!” Forcing my 10 year old to yell, “BE QUIET!” To which the 3 year old replies, “YOU BE QUIET! YOU’RE NOT THE POLICE OF MINE EYEBALLS!” So my 6 year old chimes in with, “BOTH OF YOU, STOP FIGHTING!” The 3 year old and 10 year old then take it to the ABC rug in the children’s section. Naturally, the 6 year old screams, “STOP FIGHTING! MOM! THEY’RE FIGHTING!” My 9 year old will continue to read his chapter book like an angel play his DS as though he were in a trance. And my attempt to hide behind the reference books until the entire thing blows over will prove unsuccessful when the 6 year old finds me and inquires, “Mom, are you hiding on that bookshelf?”

If you take 4 kids to a self serve frozen yogurt store, even after you say, “do NOT touch ANYTHING,” not once, not twice, but three times, the oldest will think he’s “helping” by serving himself. He will in fact over serve himself, and his yogurt will cost $9. Not to be outdone, his 9 year old brother will serve himself while I am chastising the 10 year old. His yogurt will cost $9.15. And when the 9 year old discovers he’s chosen original tart flavor instead of snickerdoodle, his punishment will be to eat all $9.15 worth of it. And he will man up and do it. And I will swallow back tears of pride and think, “Well, now. That’s my boy.”

The Big Lessons

There’s nothing like spending a hazy afternoon at a friend’s pool with my kids. 11 kids, 6 on giant rafts, laughing, swimming, splashing…the quintessential summer pool party. We parents marvel at how our children are growing…not yet teenagers, but no longer our little boys. We take time to swallow over the lumps in our throats and tell one another how lucky we feel that our kids are friends. And that we, in turn, have become friends.  I go home on a day like that feeling like life is good.

I wake up the next morning to the news that an armed man has walked into a movie theater in Colorado and opened fire on the audience. People are dead. More people are injured. Witnesses are traumatized. The country is in shock. I am tasked with telling my older children. My job is to find the right words. Words that will educate them. That will instill just enough fear to be cautious. That will provide just enough comfort to feel protected. Words that, once spoken, will hinder their belief that the world they live in is a safe place. I go to bed after a day like that feeling like life is not always so good.

I spend the first half of the summer hoping that the men in power surrounding Jerry Sandusky didn’t really know. Sandusky is sick. He’s broken. But the men in power around him…none of those men was sick. I spend the first half of summer hoping that, had they known, they’d have put the welfare of innocent children above everything. Innocent children. And my heart breaks just a little bit upon hearing that they knew enough. Yet they failed to act. And again, it’s my job to tell my older kids. To find the right words to warn them that monsters like Sandusky exist. To encourage them to trust their instincts when something or someone doesn’t feel right. To expect them to comprehend that the men surrounding this monster had an opportunity to be better men…but didn’t take it. To remind them that these men have families who are now devastated and suffering. And to teach them that these families deserve sympathy…understanding…privacy…peace.

Summer is half over. The little lessons I’ve learned have become memories. Snapshots in my head of perfect moments with my kids. Still young…and beautiful…and unaffected…and innocent. The big lessons I’ve learned have been sobering. Gut wrenching. They’ve been the catalyst for whispered conversations with my husband late into the night…Do we tell them? How do we tell them? When do we tell them? What do we tell them? They’ve been the topic of texts and poolside conversations with friends who care just as much as we do about keeping the lines of communication open between parents and children. Did you tell them? How did you tell them? When did you tell them? What did you tell them? What did they say? The big lessons have left me wishing I could keep my children blissfully ignorant. Sheltered. Protected. Do we really have to tell them? The answer for me is yes. We have to tell them. These things happened. The children…at least my older children…will find out. Best they hear it from the people they trust most in the world…the people who will tell them only what they need to hear. And answer their questions. And offer hugs. And suggest hope. Hope that no more big lessons like these need teaching…at least for the rest of the summer.

May the last of our summer be filled with little lessons. Snapshots in our heads of perfect moments with our children.

*An abridged version of this piece appeared in the July 24th edition of the Huffington Post. It ran in the Parents section under the title “Snapshots of Summer, Halfway Through”

A Sneak Peek

Verb: “I don’t want to wear mine raincoat! I want to take off mine shirt!”

Me: “Yes, you do, and no, you don’t.”

Interrogator: “I’m not going to eat breakfast right now. I’m going to play.”

Me: “Yes, you are, and no, you’re not.”

Kenyan: “My legs hurt. And I don’t like my haircut.”

Me: “No they don’t, and yes, you do.”

Waldorf: “Everything hurts. I can’t walk.”

Me: “No it doesn’t, and yes, you can.”

All this in a span of 3 minutes. While herding them to the car to drive to school.

We walk to the car. I open the doors. They pile in.

Me, with exaggerated calm: “Verb, get into your car seat. Verb, turn around and sit properly in your car seat. Verb, hand me your Legos or I will turn you around in your car seat. And I won’t do it gently. Verb, that’s 1. Verb, that’s 2. Verb, that’s..”

A split second before I drop the hammer, he turns around, sits properly and smiles.

3 year old boys aren’t any easier the 4th time around.

Verb: “I love you Mommy. Forever and ever. Ahhhh-men.”

This is his newest thing. After he tells me he loves me, he adds “forever and ever. Amen.” And he draws out the Amen. Most recently, he’s been hitting me with this gem when he’s on the toilet.  Right after he requests I wipe him.

It’s not so cute anymore.

I pull out of the driveway. Begin our 14 minute drive to school. I’m lost in thought when the Kenyan interrupts my reverie…

Kenyan: “Mommy, Beauregard’s parents aren’t married.”

Me: “I know.”

Kenyan, eyes wide: “They never were married.”

Me, nodding: “I know.”

Kenyan: “Well, how can they have a baby if they were not married?”

Me: “You don’t have to be married to have a baby.”

Waldorf, resident expert on every topic, chimes in: “Yes, you do.”

Me: “No, you don’t.”

Waldorf: “Yes, you do.”

I’m ignoring Waldorf now.

Kenyan: “I’m never getting married. I don’t want all these kids.”

This is not the first time I’ve heard him say this. In contrast to the Verb’s “forever and ever, Amen”, I find it thoroughly amusing. Every time I hear it. I should probably be insulted, but I’m too amused to be insulted.

Me: “You don’t have to have kids if you’re married.”

Waldorf: “But you do have to be married to have a baby.”

Some days I think he was put on this earth to make my life a living hell challenge me at every turn.

Me: “No, you don’t.”

Kenyan: “How does that work?”

I glance in the mirror. Eight blue eyeballs are trained on me.

I haven’t even had my coffee yet.

Me: “It works in a way that not everyone in this car is ready to hear about. It works in a way that I’m happy to explain to you at home.”

Waldorf: “You do have to be married to have kids.”

Oh, for fuck’s sake…

Me: “You DO NOT. Remember that talk Dad and I had with you about how babies are made?!”

I raise my eyebrows and make what I hope is meaningful eye contact with Waldorf in the rearview mirror. Then I swerve the wheel to compensate for the 6 seconds spent focused on the mirror.

Waldorf, suddenly disgusted, looks away: “Ugh, yes, I don’t really want to talk about that.”

Me: “I don’t either, but that’s what I’m referring to.”

Waldorf: “You mean about the no pants?”

Oh, brilliant.

I raise my eyebrows higher, make even more meaningful eye contact, swerve the wheel again.

Me: “Shhhh. Yes.”

Kenyan: “No pants? What the…”

Interrogator: “No pants? Who has no pants?! That’s inappropriate, Mom!”

Me: “Yes, it’s inappropriate.”

Waldorf: “Dad has no pants sometimes.”

sneakpeek

Ever the instigator…

Me: “OK, enough, thank you. That’s good.”

Verb, shrieking with disbelief: “Dad has no pants? Interrogator, YOU had no pants last year! Remember, you go’d pee pee on the potty, then you came outside with no pants?” He kicks his bare feet in sheer joy.

Interrogator, laughing, “I remember, that was fun, wasn’t it, Verb? Except it wasn’t last year, it was yesterday. It was fun and funny. But Mom didn’t like it.”

Me: “I remember that you lost dessert for that stunt, Interrogator. Pants are mandatory outside.”

Waldorf: “But not when making babies.”

Angry Eyes in the rearview mirror.

Swerve.

It promises to be a mind numbing a relaxing 87 Days of Summer