I was talking with a group of friends the other day about the latest stitches incident in our house. I believe it was the gushing head wound that was the result of one son throwing a train track piece at his brother. Someone mentioned that she was impressed that I was telling the story so calmly since it was so horrible. I told my friend (with girls) that this is my life and I have just figured out how to plod through and save up my hysteria for the really, really bad things if they happen.
Fast forward to last Friday. I was busy trying to get ready for a food and wine show. I was loading up the van with crates of clothing to sell as my kids wandered around somewhat aimlessly. Ethan was around the side of the house with Mason (or so I thought) and Nate was standing on the driver's seat turning absolutely every single lever on that he possibly could.
I had one eyeball on the driveway and one eyeball on the back of the van. I looked up to glare at a loud truck barreling down the road above the unenforceable 20 mile per hour speed limit sign on our dead end residential street. He wasn't going much faster but I have grown weary of diving into ditches off the street on walks down our usually deserted street.
Thirty seconds later I heard a yell on the street.
"Hey, buddy, STOP!"
I turned around in horror to see fifteen-month-old Mason standing at the top of the driveway in the street. He laughed and ran toward my neighbor. He was around the side of the house seconds before with his brother and then he was in the street. I ran up the driveway and snatched Mason from my neighbor's arms. I scolded him and turn to apologize to my neighbor.
"You shouldn't be sorry. You should be terrified."
Well, that's one way to tell me. I mumbled thanks and walked back down the hill. I looked at Ethan and he looked back at me. He's five. It's not really his job to watch his baby brother and for me to expect him to watch Mason is really not acceptable. I had done the math and decided I had three choices. I could strap him in his car seat (in 92 degrees), I could leave him in the house unattended until I finished or I could let Ethan watch him. Clearly I made the wrong choice.
The thing is, while I'm sure my neighbor was just as upset as I was, his judgment of my outward emotions was incorrect and completely wrong. If I freaked out every single time something horrible possibly could have happened to my children, I would have to be committed. I'm sorry I didn't SAY I was terrified and I'm sorry I didn't collapse in a puddle of tears like he thought I should. From here on out, Mason gets strapped into the car seat. Life is full of "but-for" lessons and I learned mine. That's enough emotion for me.
My neighbor would have been mortified to see all the bare feet in my back yard yesterday. The woman is afraid of nothing other than copperheads. We have a LOT of copperhead snakes in our neighborhood. People tell stories of year-long recoveries from snake bites the way those people who get Lyme disease talk about recovery.
You go to the local zoo and there is the CAUTION: POISONOUS sign overhead. Ethan says, "Enough with the poisonous copperheads already. We KNOW they are poisonous." Nathan pipes up with "I KNOW they are red. Stop telling me that."
The neighbor graciously reminds us that the huge pile of sticks over there? Great place for baby copperheads to hide out. She's right. And she's not even trying to tell me in a way that know-it-all-ish. She just doesn't want to have to do babysitting duty for the ER visit that is related to a snake bite in lieu of the usual stitches run. She's not exaggerating either. Last year I killed two copperheads on the front walk. Nate called out to warn me about the one but then he lost it because he saw a daddy long legger.
He was freaking out. Losing it.
K: Nate, what's wrong? Are you okay?
Nathan: MOM!!! I was telling yout there is a copperhead but then I saw a 'PIDER. A 'PIDER!!!!
K: Nathan, please move away from that snake.
Nathan: I CAN'T (wailing and pointing to the harmless spider between him and the door).
I snatched him up and put him in the house. There was no use trying to reason with the child about a poisonous snake at his feet when clearly the harmless spider had emotionally crippled him. I went back outside and beheaded the snake with a shovel (which is as fun as it sounds). Nate jumped over the spider and came to stand beside the writhing body of the now headless snake.
Nathan: MOM!!! You have to kill the spider.
I didn't. I have a LOT of atoning to do in my lifetime for the amount of legs I have pulled off of spiders in my childhood so I'm just going to leave well enough alone. We have snakes to cause concern. They are far more interesting.
I know that other than cleaning out my entire back yard of all yard debris, the next best way to stay safe is for everyone to wear shoes. But the wearing of shoes is a losing battle in my house. I started to chew everyone out today about safety since 4 out of 5 family members had shoes strewn across the lawn rather than on their feet when someone brought it to my attention that I wasn't wearing shoes. It's kind of awkward to be the parent who tries to pitch the "parents are allowed to do things kids aren't allowed to do" when really you are just a big fat hypocrite.
My children don't buy the hypocrisy. It was worth a try though.
You would think from this picture that I could also take a little time to be worried about the wooden stakes, the leftover piece of sharp gutter cover, the potting soil around his mouth or even the plastic cup that is most likely a #3. But I don't want to get ahead of myself...
He's at that age. You know the one. One, actually. The age where you turn your head for just a second and all of the contents of your lower cabinets are in a pile on the kitchen floor. Someone forgets to close the bathroom door and you either hear the splashing that sounds like a 200-pound man doing a cannon ball into a pool or worse, you find all manner of objects floating in the toilet because they just wouldn't flush.
When Ethan was this age, we put on a toilet lock. Sure he was able to figure out how to undo the latch when he was 14 months old. It made us feel better for a little while, so that's all that matters. Now we just regulate the door being closed. Or I regulate the door being closed. If I can make it a day without finding a baby trying to swim in the toilet, it's a good day.
Then there is the laundry. Just the other day I walked around the corner to find the baby flinging neatly folded clothing over his head as fast as he could. When he saw me coming, he stepped up his speed and laughed with glee. I snapped at him and gave him my meanest look. He gave me a great belly laugh and moved even faster. I lunged for the basket and put it out of his reach. He sighed and toddled around the corner to see if one of his brothers had forgotten to close the bathroom door.
There is a gate at the bottom of the stairs and a gate at the top of the stairs. Cut off from taking his show on the road to a different floor of the house, the baby (can I still call him that?) now tries to get his brothers to open the front door or back door for him so he can escape. I hear him yelling to Ethan and banging on the front door. Ethan patiently explains to him that we all have to go out together if we are going to go out. Mason moves on to to trying to convince Nathan to open a door. Nathan just bowls him over and suddenly they are rolling on the floor.
Nathan has forgotten the purpose of their conversation but Mason has the mind of a steel trap. He climbs out from under the pinning and smacks on the door with his hand. Nate shrugs his shoulders and leaves.
The baby wanders off again to check the bathroom door. You just never know.
He walked past me with green sprinkles mashed to the sides of his mouth.
Ethan: Hi, Mom.
K: What's going on?
Ethan: Well, I was playing my game a few minutes ago.
K: Uh, huh. I have a question for you.
Ethan: Okay, Mom. What's your question?
K: Did you get into your brother's birthday cake?
K: Did you eat the cake? I told you we are going to eat it in an hour.
Ethan: Nate got into it.
I walked over to find no less than 4 finger holes in my buttercream frosting. The boys had decorated Mason's birthday cake with blueberries (Mason's favorite) and green sparkles. I decided to save the big fish for later and to start with the fish in the barrel. I yelled to Nate.
K: Did you get into this CAKE, NATE?!?!?!
Nate: Mom, you said 'no cake."
K: I KNOW. That's why I asked if you got into it. It has these holes in the frosting.
Nate: I don't know.
K: What do you mean, "I don't know?"
K: Let me smell your breath.
Nathan opened his mouth and sucked in in a manner that would have made every underage drinker proud who has ever gotten caught by a parent. And like I imagine every parent checking their errant child's breath for proof, intake of air makes no difference. I could smell the organic evaporated cane sugar on his breath.
Nathan: (laughing) I'm sorry, MOM.
I turned back to Ethan.
K: Did you get in the cake?
K: Eat. Let's just cut to the chase. You have green sprinkles on your face. I know you got in the cake.
Ethan: Mom. Nathan MADE me do it.
Ethan: HE made me.
K: Eat, how did he manage to make you get into the cake that is sitting over there in the middle of the table, away from everything.
Ethan: I was over there and I had my finger just like this (pointing) and then he pushed my finger in the cake. So then I had to eat it because I had frosting on my finger.
K: Normally I would be asking WHY you were up on the table, pointing at the cake so close that your brother was able to shove your finger in but I'm not going to do it.
Ethan: Really, Mom. It was like this (making pointing and poking motions in the air animatedly).
I sent them both to timeout and then made them hide their wicked ways with strategically placed blueberries.
After dinner when Derek was in the kitchen doing dishes, I found Nate perched on a chair with his head completely in the mixing bowl, licking buttercream off the side of the bowl. Derek and Nathan were standing so close together, they could have touched. I looked in complete disbelief.
D: I told him to ask your permission. He didn't?
K: He needed to ask my permission to stick his head in a bowl to eat a cup of sugar, a pound of butter and egg whites? Seriously?
D: So he didn't ask...
K: No. No, he didn't ask.
D: So I should stop him?
K: I don't think we could.
Nate's head popped out of the bowl and he grinned at me.
Happy Birthday, Mason. I'm so glad we have nearly 11 more months before we are making a cake with frosting again for any birthdays.
"Oh, look," she said, pointing to his bare feet. "That's how you know spring is coming. I can't wait until I'm not adjusting the car seats every single day from Jacket Straps to No Jacket Straps to Jacket Straps again." I gave my half-smile to the Good Mom Clerk at the supermarket and hurried away as quickly as possible.
The best thing about spring is that I am less inclined to receive the frightened looks from parents, grandparents, non-parents or pretty much anyone because The Baby never wears shoes.
This is the time of the year when we make those fatal errors associating sunlight with warmth. Just the other day I took the boys out for a walk and because the sun was out for the first time in seemingly weeks, I just handed them thin jackets. We were gone all of ten minutes when that fickle sun disappeared behind what appeared to be not just a cloud but an entire army of clouds as far as the eye could see.
Nate was cold. Nate is ALWAYS cold. Nate is also stubborn. He only wants to wear THIS jacket. "But you'll be cold," is my familiar (and somewhat useless) refrain. Sure I am the mom and sure I should just make him wear a heavy coat but I don't (cue the "then it's YOUR fault"). This time it was my fault. Just because the sun is out and the snow is finally melting does not mean that it is warm. Sure it is 50 degrees but 50 degrees is no 70 degrees.
It is moments like this that I often run into my older, responsible neighbor as I am on my way across the house carrying the baby who is wearing a onesie and a pair of sweats. My responsible neighbor is wearing a snorkel parka, a wool hat and I'm pretty sure her face is hidden back there behind that incredibly long scarf wrapped repeatedly around her head.
She didn't gasp but she did pull her coat closer to her chest. I didn't even remember the baby was wearing practically nothing because I had him strapped to my back. We were crossing the street. He'll be FINE.
"He is SO cute. Look at him."
The only part I can see of him when he is back there is his feet. His little bare feet. His feet that have no socks or shoes protecting him from this 50 degree weather. I stammered my excuse and The Baby started heckling her. I like to think it was because he wanted her to know he didn't want shoes but it was probably because she hadn't spoken directly to him yet.
I started with my long-winded explanation of how he rubs his feet together to get socks off but she doesn't seem to care. We comment about how lovely it is that spring is finally coming and isn't it great to see the sun again. I'm started to get a little cold because I was only planning on this being a 30 second run across the street and I begin to look longingly at her winter coat. My children run past me with red cheeks.
I tell myself yet again. "Just because the sun is out does NOT mean it is warm."
But spring is coming. And when winter goes, I'm hoping the chilly "you're a bad mother" looks go with them. We'll see.
The Olympics makes me crazy. Exactly how many winter sports exceed speeds of 75 miles an hour? I'm sure Cousin Ellen could tell me but I'm loathe to ask.
The Olympics makes me crazy because it opens my children's eyes to an entire new world of dangerous sports. Someone recorded a few nights of coverage and the boys began to watch them the way they obsess about a favorite cartoon. There was a ridiculous amount of half pipe snowboarding. At one point on Twitter I openly wondered if a practice foam half pipe was cheaper that a couple of college educations.
There were all manner of questions about the luge and then questions about the horrific crash of Nodar Kumaritashvili (thanks for no warning on that one, NBC and then for replaying it excessively and unexpectedly before children's bed times). You can only change the channel so many times before you just call it a day and send the kids to bed early.
Bobsledding was perhaps the trickiest.
Ethan: Mom (pointing to the bobsledding icon on the television). Is that bumper cars for snow?
K: Nope. It's called bobsledding.
K: A little bit like your sled except they go really, really fast.
Ethan: How fast?
K; 100 miles an hour. Faster than most cars.
He did a triple take. Literally. It was the funniest thing I have ever seen. The light bulb went on and he began to plot his own personal bobsledding adventures. For years I have had a dream to put a water slide in the ravine by my house but with all this snow, the kids instantly thought a bobsledding track would be a good idea. Luckily we sent them to bed before the succession of bobsleds flipped over and only the parents had to look on in horror as the helmeted heads bounced against the ice.
With that we move on to hockey and the kids crept down the stairs to watch from behind the wall, hoping we didn't notice. We busted them and they begged for hockey to be recorded. Then it's curling. Derek starts to explain curling to them in their hiding place and we all laugh because he doesn't know what he is talking about and clearly he never read wikipedia. He claims to have watched curling 20 years ago but I don't believe it. I tell the boys that they can take up curling ANY day. Oops, hockey is back up and there are long discussions about high sticks and fights.
We haven't slept in over two weeks and the only thing saving me is that we live in the mid-Atlantic and despite the winter of lots of snow, it will all be gone in a couple of days. Like the ending of the Winter Olympics, the dreams of traveling 100 miles an hour will be a distant memory. Or so a mom can hope.
I pulled out the fluffy pajamas for him to wear to the Super Bowl party last night. His face lit up and then it fell.
K: What's wrong? These are your favorite pajamas that Marmie gave you for Christmas.
E: I know, Mom. But those are for babies (pointing to the movie-themed character that had sustained him and frankly, me, for at least two years).
K: What are you talking about? You LOVE these pajamas and you love this movie.
E: I know, Mom. But my friend says that this movie is for BABIES. Like Mason.
I always wondered how this would go down. I vaguely remember an incident or two when I was really young and someone told me I was "too old" for something. That's the part I remember. I don't remember if I abandoned the toy to my baby sisters or if I continued to play.
K: So what if he thinks it's for babies? Do you like it?
E: (sighing) I do.
K: Then that's all that matters.
E: No, it's not.
K: Ethan, I like that movie. Does that make me a baby?
E: (laughing) NO, MOM!
K: Then why would you liking it make you a baby?
E: Because my friend says it's for babies.
K: Well, I guess you had better go in and tell Dad that HE is a baby because he likes that movie and he LOVES those pajamas of yours. In fact, we discussed how we wished we had such comfy pajamas in our sizes.
E: I'm not going to tell Dad that he is a baby.
K: That's probably a good idea. His feelings would be hurt.
It is at moments like this that I'm glad I am dealing with this now rather than when I was twenty-something. The twenty-something in me would want him to take a stand. Be a CHAMPION FOR THE MOVIE CHARACTER!!! Draw your sword and fall on it for the movie character! The twenty-something in me would would want him to hold onto whatever he loves for as long as he possibly can and at any cost.
The thirty-something in me now realizes that there is something to the adage "pick your battles." And by that statement, I mean myself as well as him. It is okay for him to move beyond the movie as long as he decides that is what he wants to do. It is okay to be too big for something. It is not okay for him to belittle his brother for liking something however. That's the battle I chose to fight. Hopefully I have picked the right battle.
In our family we have several people that are well known for their inability to sit still for long periods of time. Those several people include adults that have been known to build major structures while on vacation because they cannot sit still. For those of us in the family who could sit still for about five days before the thought would even cross our minds to lift a finger, this industriousness is inspiring and exhausting.
Ethan is one of the industrious members of the family. I was reminded of this today when he sighed as he looked out the window.
K: What's wrong?
E: Nothing. I just see that it snowed a LOT.
K: That's good, right?
E: It IS good. It's just that I have a LOT of work to do now.
K: You do?
E: Has anyone seen my shovel?
K: What are you going to do?
E: Mom. Mom. I have a lot of shoveling to do today. Look at all that snow that came in the middle of the night.
K: Um, okay.
E: Who has seen the shovel? Dad?
D: (coming down the stairs) I don't know. I guess it's on the other porch. Why do you need it?
E: I have to shovel the walk. And maybe the driveway. And I have to clean off the cars.
D: (looking at me) Um, okay.
He then proceeded to put three layers of clothes on by himself, found his gloves and put his hat on. Out the door he walked.
K: Did that just happen?
D: I think so. How funny is he?
I looked out the window two minutes later to see how his progress was going. He is almost five, not fifteen. I breathed a sigh of relief at he made a path through the front flower bed instead of the front walk. He saw me and threw a shovel full of snow at the window. His baby brother wandered over to the window and began heckling him. More snow slammed against the window. We laughed and ducked.
It wasn't long before he was conducting experiments to determine which sled provided the fastest ride down the hill of the driveway without hitting either of the cars. He appeared to have an elaborate scoring system. There were sleds, disks and a toboggan. Two minutes later he was shoveling a path again but it appeared to be a trail to nowhere.
His intent might have been to be the grownup in the family and get his "work done." But it was nice to see the nearly five-year-old took over. No use growing up too fast.
"You're down, you're down!" Sam yelled as I rounded the dining room corner. I apparently had accidentally walked into an all out play war. Lego guns and zoob bombs had been constructed and of course, the tiny space gun Jack got the last time we went to Chuck E. Cheese when Aunt Katie was visiting.
It was a playdate, two pairs of brothers and the violent play was pretty intense. They mapped out hiding places and had strategies. Four school age boys running around in our tiny house made it crazy enough, but what about this particular play? Kids have been playing cops and robbers, even the very old cowboys and indians for years but I have to say, violent play has always bothered me.
We have had a pretty strict "no gun" rule in our house, real or toy, up until the space gun. The boys received some wooden swords and shields years ago that seemed okay and gave an outlet for the play. The next christmas they got marshmallow shooters which were actually fun, but other than that we have managed to keep them at bay. Even with all the gun prohibition, lately they just started making their own. I discovered how wildly creative you can be with some cardboard and black electrical tape. Do boys just crave violence?
For whatever reason, I totally surrendered to the play this day, I even pretented to die when I was shot in the hallway and made a joke to please spare the baby. They giggled and ran away, it looked like they were having the time of their lives.
With our recent school troubles and the fact that I grew up in a house of four girls, I wondered if I'm just missing some things about boys. The Raising Boys section turned out to be crazily informative. I found this to be pretty interesting:
"Mothers are always saying to me, 'Why is my son racing around, not talking, and not listening? Why is he obsessed with playing war and shooting? What's happened to my sweet, vulnerable little boy who used to cuddle with me?'" says Michael Thompson, Ph.D. host of the documentary RAISING CAIN and co-author of the book of the same name. "This is a valid question, because no one wants their son to grow up to be violent. But interpreting play as an early indicator of violence is a misunderstanding both of the nature of boy activity and the real journey to violence that some boys undergo."
So now I am off to watch Raising Cain to quiet my mother heart. I'm still not sure about the toy gun issue. What do you think? Do you allow play weapons at your house? What are the rules when it comes to violent play? Share your thoughts about raising boys in the comments.
This weekend I was in Boston for work. Since Mason is by far the best date ever, I took him with me. That and I am nursing him still so it's not like I could leave him for four days.
The weekend was nearly all work but there were a few moments away from the hustle and bustle.
Early Sunday morning I met Derek's cousin Peggy, her husband Duane and their brilliant son Will for breakfast. I think I only spoke five words for the first five minutes in the restaurant because I was so incredibly tired. Work was stressful and Mason had gotten up twice during the night. It took two cups of coffee before I was even a semblance of my chatty self.
We had such a delightful time catching up over breakfast. Peggy held Mason across the table from me and as he systematically threw everything onto the floor, I offered to take him back. I looked under the table and the chunks of bread were piling up on the floor. I sighed as I thought about cleaning up under yet another table. She chided me slightly and said she was having a ball. I guess when your youngest is 17, you once again find baby antics at public restaurants to be cute.
We laughed and talked and Peggy told stories about her boys growing up. She told me about trips they took hiking and camping. I told her all my obsessions with safety and danger, which seem to always shock everyone. I asked her if parenting teenagers was really ten times more difficult that parenting preschoolers. Peggy reminded me that every stage of mothering has its unique difficulties and stresses, but she also reminded me that each stage has its unique joys and happy moments.
It made me laugh. It doesn't matter where you are in your parenting, it always seems that people are quick to tell you how easy you have it if they are struggling with children at some other age or stage. It was nice to be reminded that you are where you are and now is the time to enjoy these moments. It was nice to hear stories from someone who had grown up with my husband and who could remind me that the apple does not fall far from the tree when it comes to my children being adventurous.
As I sat across from a very grown up college freshman Will, I saw for the first time in my five years as a mother that it might just be okay. I realized that while every day today seems like a constant balance between taming the wild beasts and keeping them from jumping too high or too far or frankly, too loudly, there are so many firsts that are happening now that bring me such joy and happiness. I realized that no two days are the same. Isn't that what keeps parenting interesting?