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.

 

Sam and Me

samandme

I am a lover of words. I love to speak them. I love to read them. I love to write them.

Words have power. Words…spoken, read, and written…make an impact. The right words possess the power to brighten someone’s day. The wrong words will do the exact opposite.

Finding the right words is my job. When I write, words are my tools to communicate a story. I choose them with care, willing my voice to leap off the page for the reader.

As a parent, I feel the weight of my responsibility to choose my words wisely. My word is law. Even when they become teenagers, much to their dismay. Every conversation becomes a teaching moment. And I don’t always get it right.

Sometimes I model words that aren’t meant for little mouths to repeat…

Me: “Verb, put your sneakers on…we don’t want to be late for school.”

Verb: Struggling, “I’m trying!”

Me: “Do you need help?”

Verb: “Son of a bitch! Yes! I need help!”

Interrogator: “Verb, you don’t say ‘son of a bitch’ when you’re putting on your shoes!”

Verb: “Sorry!”

Interrogator: “You say ‘goddamnit’.”

Verb: “Oh. Thanks.”

Oops.

Sometimes I miss the boat…

Me, speaking to the nice girl at the Acme, who’s bagging my groceries: “Thank you for bagging.”

Nice girl, to me: “You’re welcome,” turning to the Verb, “How old are you?”

Verb: “I’m 3. What’s wrong with your eyes? They’re weird.”

Aw, Christ.

Me: “Uh, her eyes aren’t weird, Verb. She is blind. She can’t see. Tell her you’re sorry.”

Waldorf: “Verb, you don’t call someone’s eyes ‘weird’! You call them ‘interesting’.”

Verb, to the nice girl: “Sorry. Your eyes are…in-ter-es-ting,” proudly to me, “See Mom? Even though her eyes are weird, I told her they were in-ter-es-ting! That was good, right?”

Ooof.

Over the summer, I read an article in The Huffington Post written by Kristen Howerton. Kristen has 4 kids…some biological and others adopted. The title of her article is “Parents, Please Educate Your Kids About Adoption So Mine Don’t Have to”.  Kristen has an interracial family. It’s not uncommon for children she’s never met to ask whether she is her adopted kids’ “real” Mom. In her article, she makes a plea to parents to discuss adoption with their children. Kristen’s point is a valid one. It’s not her job to educate my children about adoption. It’s my job to educate my children about adoption. It’s my responsibility to find the right words to do so…through a book, through a movie, through a conversation at my dinner table.

3 years ago, I took a walk with a friend…

***

I have a mustache of sweat and damp pits, and I struggle to push my double jogging stroller…a Target hand-me-down from another Mom…along the rocks of Forbidden Drive, the trail that borders the Wissahickon. The Interrogator and the Verb are my passengers, and I keep them entertained by throwing goldfish and raisins at them. I silently curse the extra pounds that are hanging on for dear life after my fourth and final pregnancy. It’s going to take months of Weight Watchers and miles of trail runs to get back to my fighting weight once again.

I walk alongside a Mom from school. Her name is Dorothy. She is beautiful, smart, and kind, and she has a smile that illuminates her entire face and every room into which she walks. She pushes her youngest son in the coolest stroller I’ve ever seen. It has this fancy swivel seat so he can face her or face forward. They don’t sell this stroller at Target.

You know when you walk into a meeting and you peruse the audience? When you see that person who loves to hear herself talk. She’s the broad who raises her hand under the guise of posing a question, but takes that opportunity to spout off her resume. You see her and immediately think, “Son of a bitch, now I have to listen to her crap this entire meeting.” Well, Dorothy is the antithesis of her. When I walk into a meeting, I look for Dorothy. She always asks solid questions…she’s not afraid to ask the hard questions…but she does it articulately and always with regard for the feelings of others.

I walk alongside this friend on a cool morning, willing some of the post-baby weight off my thighs.

“So I’ve written a book.”

Her statement interrupts my preoccupation with my chafing thighs.

I turn to look at her, wiping the sweat from my upper lip, “You what?”

She turns to meet my eye and dazzles me with her megawatt smile. I notice there is no sweat on her upper lip. “ I’ve written a book. A children’s book.”

“Seriously? That’s amazing! Wait, don’t you have a real job? When did you find the time to write a book?”

“Well, it was hard to find time, but this was important to me. Really important.”

I already knew Dorothy’s talent. Our oldest sons had been in the same pre-k class, and she’d written and illustrated a book for their class. I smile with the flash of a sweet memory. The memory of sitting on the Kenyan’s bottom bunk while he and Waldorf snuggle on either side of me. I kiss the tops of their heads, intoxicated by the smell of their hair, still wet from the tub, and the lavender scent of their baby lotion. I read Dorothy’s story aloud to them, and they giggle at the words that rhyme and the image of her hand-drawn frog.

“I am so impressed! What’s the book about?”

“We have a friend who has a child on the spectrum, and my son is beginning to ask questions.”

“Wow.”

Totally unexpected.

“I don’t feel like there is anything out there for kids. To talk to them on their level in words they understand. My kids are not on the spectrum. But we know kids who are. And stories are a great way to connect with kids…to get them to open up and ask questions and start a dialogue. So that’s what I hope this book will do.”

She is amazing.

“You are amazing. I’m glad you’re my friend.”

“Oh, stop it. I wrote it. But it hasn’t been published yet.”

***

It’s now 2012, and Dorothy’s book is a reality. It’s titled Sam and Me. And it’s quickly become a favorite in our home.

Sam and Me is the story of a family with two sons, Alex and Sam. Sam has special needs. Alex doesn’t understand why Sam acts certain ways…Sam doesn’t talk much…he wants to play on the swings all the time…sometimes Sam is inconsolable. It’s up to his parents to find the right words to communicate with Alex just what’s going on with his younger brother. And they do it, just as Dorothy does, articulately and with regard for the feelings of others.

Dorothy’s done something very special. She’s written and illustrated a book that meets a need. She recognized the need first in her home…then in our immediate community…and eventually in society at large. In the same way Kristen encourages parents to educate their children about adoption, Dorothy’s book provides a springboard for discussion about children with special needs. She encourages parents to take ownership of educating our children about a subject that’s both prevalent and sensitive. Sam and Me tells a story in words that kids relate to and understand. Words like mad, happy, smiles, falling, sorry, freak out, safe. She doesn’t use labels. You won’t read words like autism, spectrum, sensory issues, or special needs in this book. Her book is a safe starting point for parents to begin a dialogue. She gives us a prompt.

Not all boys and girls think, talk, and act the same. As a parent, it’s my responsibility to teach my kids that everyone is unique, and some families face different challenges than others. Sam and Me helps make that part of my job a little bit easier. And I’m on board with anything that makes my job a little bit easier.

Dorothy is an enormous talent with a great message. She’s put her talent to use. And she is giving back. She is donating her share of profits from the sales of Sam and Me to organizations that support children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families. Yep, she is amazing. Her work on this book…and her dedication to seeing it come to fruition…are a shining example of precisely what we’re striving to teach our kids everyday…both in and out of the classroom…believe in yourself, be kind, capitalize on your talents, find a creative outlet, show resilience, educate yourself, be happy, give back. 

I am a lover of words. Thank you, Dorothy, for choosing yours so brilliantly.

 

For local folks, Dorothy Potash will be reading Sam and Me during an educational forum at Barnes and Noble in Jenkintown, PA, on October 15th at 7PM. She’s scheduled for a reading and signing at O’Doodles in Chestnut Hill, PA, from 1-3PM on October 20th. Sam and Me is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

50 Shades…10 Years Later

50 Shades

I’m late to the party with 50 Shades of Grey. Unfashionably late. Back in May, when I wrote 50 Shades of Motherhood, I had yet to read the trilogy. I knew it only by reputation. I know it more intimately now. I read all three books from cover to cover in five days. No, the kids aren’t back in school. Admitted child neglect. But it rained a bit those days, so it’s not really child neglect.

After reading, I felt compelled to write a letter to Anastasia. You know, enlightening her about how her marriage will look a decade after the trilogy ends.

Dear Ana,

You and Christian have been the topic of discussion among housewives for the better part of a year. It’s true! Your story arouses interest. I’m writing to give some insight into a day in your life with Christian and your children in 10 years’ time. Take a peek into my crystal ball, Ana…

It’s 5:30AM and you awake with a start. Through a sleepy fog, you make out the sound of little feet running around in the bedroom next door. Little feet belonging to a boy who woke you three times last night because he couldn’t find the Lego he fell asleep with on his pillow pet. So you got out of bed to look for it. Every time. Dizzy from the light of that piece of crap Dream Lite the kids had to have, you found the Lego on the floor next to his bed. All three times. You were so fired up after returning to bed for the third time that it took you an hour to fall back to sleep. You sat up in bed and stared at Edward Christian, willing him to wake up. Wake up, jackass. Next time you’re going in to find the Lego. When I asked you to kiss him goodnight, did I not tell you no toys in bed? Douche.  You stared at him, radiating anger, for minutes. There’s no denying, he’s still uber hot. Super duper sexy hot. Except for the unfortunate ear hair. You read that right. Ear. Hair. It grows in tufts. Like a goddamn Chia Pet sprouting from his ears. It lowers his sexy factor considerably.

You got a cumulative 4 hours of sleep, and now the little one is prancing around in his room…the room he shares with his older brother. It’s only a matter of time before they’re both awake. Cranky. Demanding chocolate chip muffin tops before you’ve had a sip of coffee.

Christian. Maybe he’ll get up and tell the youngest one to go back to bed. You stretch, rub your eyes,  turn your head to ask him to intervene…only to find his side of the bed empty. Son of a bitch and his stupid triathlon training. He’s in the pool. Or on the bike. Or out for a run. You hope he’s in the pool because that’s one less pair of sweaty socks you’ll have to extract from the laundry basket and turn right side in (cringe) before washing. Is it too much to ask that he take them off and turn them right side in himself?

You sigh and tiptoe out of bed. You turn the bedroom doorknob slowly, and open the door a fraction at a time, hoping to creep downstairs and have one glorious moment of solitude before the kids discover you’re in the kitchen. CREEEEAAAAKKKK. Mother humper. Sounds like Christian never oiled the squeaky bedroom door with the WD40 you left on the counter for him. Add it to the list of grievances, Ana.

The door to the bedroom next to yours flies open.

Last Born: “Mommy! You’re awake! Can I have muffin tops?”

His brother shoves him aside and places himself directly in front of you.

Second to Last Born: “I want muffin tops too! And I want them first!” turning to his brother, “You got them first yesterday, so I want them first today!’

Last Born: “I want them first! I asked first, so I get them first!”

Second to Last Born: Screaming, “I do!”

Last Born: Screaming, “I do!”

You’re missing Mrs. Jones more than ever, Ana. Where is she, you wonder? You had to let her go. Shhh. Shhh. There, there. You had to. And the security team. You had to let them go too. The helicopter? Gone. Property in Aspen? Gone. Sweet little Audi R8? You sold it on Craigslist, girlfriend. You had to. Christian took that can’t lose attitude of his to Vegas…and lost something fierce. He lost the mother lode. Piece by piece over the course of 4 years. He’s no longer a big business mogul. No longer CEO of Grey Enterprises. I shit you not. He’s the manager of the local Circuit City. He couldn’t even land the gig at Best Buy. He was too domineering in the interview. Heehee. Get it? Domineering? You still have the house overlooking the Sound. And it’s still beautiful. Can’t beat that view, right? But the A/C is on the fritz, and the water heater is on its last legs. You fantasize about using the money you get from your tax return to finish the basement, but you know that money is better spent paying down that nasty credit card balance. All those trips to Target add up, Ana. $237 spent on a cart full of paper towels, fruit snacks, and who the hell knows what else. I’ve been there, sister.

You kiss your copper haired little boys on the tops of their heads and ask them to lower their voices before they wake their 3 older siblings. That’s right, Ana. You and Christian have 5 kids. 5! Boy, girl, girl, boy, boy. You started early. You had so much money. You were so in love. So full of hope. You had 5 babies in 6 years. And it has taken its toll. Your stomach has so many creases it looks like the origami set you gave Theo for his last birthday. And those boobs that Christian couldn’t get enough of? Deflated water balloons. Filled with kitty litter. Breastfeeding 5 kids will do that to a girl. And there is no hope for a boob job and tummy tuck in the near future. Not with the kids needing braces. Another sad reality, Ana. Christian’s baby Daddy must have had an awful set of chiclets. It skipped a generation, so Christian’s dazzling smile was spared, but it attacked your kids with a vengeance.

You usher the younger ones into the kitchen with you. Turn on the coffee and whip up some scrambled eggs for the three of you. Ana, I’m so thrilled to report that you finally have a healthy relationship with food. No more…let’s just call it what it is…eating disorder! You are a female.  By definition, a female doesn’t “just forget to eat”. Never. Never, ever, ever does a female “forget to eat”. You finally stopped that charade after the last baby and got yourself into therapy. Bravo, Ana. And, you look amazing! In clothes and with the right bra, that is. You know, because of the origami stomach and the boobs that resemble deflated water balloons. You can even pull off a bikini. But only if you’re standing up perfectly straight and taking shallow breaths. This never happens because you have 5 kids, a jealous husband, and no help. That jealous husband is prone to pouting, so you shoulder the weight of the kids most of the time. If for no other reason than to avoid Christian’s bullshit. And the good Dr. Flynn is WAY out of Mr. Circuit City’s price range, so now he grudgingly attends weekly anger management courses in the church basement.

Over the next hour, the older three kids traipse down the steps into the kitchen and greet you with half smiles, grunts, and nods. Just like every morning, you play the role of short order cook. Filling juice glasses, flipping pancakes, adding blueberries to some and chocolate chips to others. You’re just rinsing syrup off the last plate when Mr. Wonderful, home from his workout, bursts through the front door.

Christian, “There she is! My beautiful wife. Good morning, Mrs. Grey.”

Christian wraps his arms around you from behind. And, here it comes in 3, 2, 1….And gives you a boner to the back.  Never fails.

He looks out the window through the glass wall while you endure his, ahem, muscle flexing.

Christian: “Remember the picnics we used to have in that meadow, baby? Remember what we used to do on that blanket?” He pushes harder against your back. For Pete’s sake, man, give it a rest!

Ana: Smiling sweetly, “Maybe you should mount that lawnmower of yours and cut the grass in that meadow.” And, while you’re at it, take a weed wacker to that ear hair.

Christian: Wounded, “That’s our meadow, baby. Yours and mine. I don’t want to change a thing about it.” His eyes grow dark.

Oopsy daisy. Tread lightly, Ana.

Ana: “Oh, Christian, I love our meadow just as much as you do. But the kids are covered in mosquito bites and poison ivy. It’s not fair to them.”

His smoldering eyes turn accusatory, “You always choose them over me. You love them more. I knew this would happen.”

Blah, blah, and blahbitty blah blah. You knew this would happen. He warned you himself. You spend the better part of the next hour convincing him that you still love him unconditionally (which is total bullshit, by the way…you didn’t know unconditional love until you had kids, Ana), and pleading with him to get to work on time so they don’t dock his hourly pay.

When he finally leaves for work, you walk into your closet. Gone are the garter belts and thigh highs. And thank God for that, Ana. A garter belt’s worst enemy is a woman with a muffin top…and Claude’s not around for private training sessions anymore, so your muffin top is substantial. Don’t worry, you hide it well in sports bras, yoga pants, and layered long sleeve t-shirts. You grab your favorite yoga pants, which are on the floor in a ball from yesterday’s wearing. You struggle to pull on a sports bra, layer a few t-shirts, brush your teeth, pull your hair back with a scrunchy, and you’re set.

You round up the kids and pile them into the minivan. Yes, minivan. You can try to look hot behind the wheel of that pig, and you do try, Ana, you do. But it’s no use. It’s the least sexy vehicle on the planet. But it’s the only thing big enough to transport all those babies you crazy kids had. And its safety ratings are higher than the SUVs. You know what a stickler Christian is for safety ratings.

In an effort to drown out the sound of the kids bickering with one another in the two rows of seats behind you, you turn up the volume on the newest Justin Bieber song. Yep, he’s still around. And your daughters have mad crushes on him. You sit at a red light, staring blankly ahead, when a flash of white catches your eye. A girl pulls up alongside you in an Audi R8. A white one, just like the one Edward Christian bought for your 22nd birthday. She‘s beautiful. She has dark hair and appears not to be wearing yoga pants, a staple in your daily uniform. Sigh. She reminds me of me. You turn down the volume as you roll down your window.

Ana: Smiling, “Excuse me! I LOVE your car! I used to have the exact same one before I had kids!” More smiling.

Unimpressed, she rolls her eyes and goes straight for the jugular, “What are you, like…45?”

Why, you little…

Ana: Scowling, “Let me guess…Did your Daddy buy that car for you?”

Girl: “Whatever. Grandma.”

Just then, the light turns green. The spoiled brat in the white Audi peels out. I wish you wouldn’t, Ana, but you do it. You try to race her. Despite the fact that it takes you 3 solid minutes to get from 0 to 60 and you spend 2 of those minutes checking your rearview mirror for your transmission…still, you try to catch her. Oh, Ana, I do so admire your spunk. When you lose sight of her tail lights, you drive straight to the closest McDonald’s. You’re pissed. You’re frustrated. You hit that box of wine pretty hard last night, and you read on Pinterest that McDonald’s fries are the best cure for a hangover. And they are.

**Ana, my dear,  this is a glimpse of what your morning looks like a decade from now. You’re probably more shocked by this snapshot of your future than you were upon first entry into Christian’s red room of pain.  I know. You didn’t envision all of….this in your happily ever after. I’ll spare you the details of the rest of your day. Oh, except for one small nugget about dinner…

That macaroni and cheese that you made from scratch does not go over well with the kids. None of them appreciates the time you took to hand grate those four different cheeses. All five of them complain. One of them refuses to eat entirely. Two of them moan as they choke down a handful of bites. One gags. And one vomits. Right there at the dinner table. Not Phoebe. The younger daughter. She’s the middle child, but she is a drama queen, Ana. Dinnertime is a bitch. That’s just a daily fact of life with kids. You had visions of your kids praising that mac and cheese the way the Barefoot Contessa’s gay friends praise hers. Doesn’t happen, sweetheart. Valiant effort though, Ana! Keep fighting the good fight! They’ll be extra hungry for breakfast tomorrow, right? Oh, and one more teeny tiny detail…Christian is still sulking about the meadow conversation, so he purposely farts around at work. By the time he arrives home, the crunchy stuffing on top of his mac and cheese has gone stale. Ungrateful bastard.

Let’s fast forward through bedtime. Trust me, you’re not ready for a glimpse of that shit show.

It’s the end of the evening. The kids are in bed. Finally. Christian is still jealous. He’s still controlling. He’s insecure. He’s the neediest one in the house. He’s moody. The man needs a boatload of therapy, Ana. In spite of all that, you still love him. And you can’t stay mad at him for long. Even now, after so many years.

After putting your 16 hour day with the kids, you climb into bed next to him. In an effort to reconnect, and to assure him he’s loved, you initiate sex. You’re speaking his language so, naturally, he responds. Please can this be a quickie, please just a quickie, I think at least one of the kids is still awake, please a quickie.

He leans back, searching your face. The anger has left his eyes. Christian is back. You’re forgiven. He moves in to kiss you again.

Wait a minute, am I snack mom tomorrow? I swore it was next week, but it might be tomorrow! And I promised Theo I’d make homemade cookies. He told me 4 times that Jack’s Mom always sends in homemade cookies for snack. That overachieving bitch.

Christian: “Baby, I have a surprise for you…”

Oh, shit. No quickie. How the hell long will this take? I hope I don’t forget about the cookies.

Ana: “Oh, a surprise?”

Cookies, cookies, cookies, cookies…

Christian nods and pulls an array of sex toys out from under his pillow.

Son of a bitch, I hid that shit in trouser socks! Then I put the socks in the foot of my Christmas stocking. Then I put my Christmas stocking in a vacuum sealed plastic bin in the attic. Then I stacked 5 bins on top of that bin. Then I hid the key to the attic and threw out the spare key. Can I get nothing past this man?!

Christian: “Naughty girl hid the toys. She needs a spanking.”

Aw, fuck. Goodnight.

Yep, Christian is back. He’s still hot. Even with the ear hair. You love him. You always will. You love your family.

Embrace your minivan, Ana. Rock your yoga pants. Keep making those dinners from scratch. Continue your healthy relationship with food. Push Christian to cut that lawn in the meadow. Insist he give up that spanking bullshit. Maybe start a book club. Join Facebook. Get on Twitter. Drink margaritas with your girlfriends. Delight in the smell of your kids every night when you go into their rooms to kiss them goodnight. Don’t sweat the small stuff, Ana. This is real life. It’s hard. It’s often monotonous, occasionally punctuated by moments of pure magic. You’ve got a good thing. Hang onto it.

Oh, and first thing tomorrow morning, bury those toys in the garbage can. Under a week’s worth of coffee grinds.

You’re welcome:)

This piece appeared in the Parents section of the Huffington Post on August 22, 2012. 

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”