Hard Eight

We had a very rough night last night, as parents. All of our kids had trouble sleeping and every 45 minutes or so, we were trying to soothe the one with the teething issues, or trying to ease the hacking cough of the one with the cold, or trying to find something that would calm down the one with the night terrors. It seemed as soon as we got one of them to stop screaming, another one would start up. I can’t remember a night since the Little Miss was weaned with so much disruption, crying, and general horror.

Sir Monkeypants was even harder hit as he also has the cold, and he felt crappy before the night even started. Still, he was a total trooper and got up with me (and even before me) every time one of our kids called. I don’t know what I would have done without him, as he’s much better than I am at dealing with the night terror thing. And also the cold thing. And the teething thing, now that I think about it.

Some good friends of ours are getting a divorce and it’s really, really sad. Naturally being this close to the situation has both of us imagining what would happen if we were to split up, and I think it’s safe to say that we are totally horrified at the idea. We just both rely on each other so much, neither of us have any idea how we would ever survive as a single parent.

Like, if Sir Monkeypants didn’t live here any more, I’d never have made it through last night. I don’t know what I’d do to stop the night terrors. And within three days of his leaving, the internet would be totally busted and I’d have no idea how to fix all the little bleep-bloop-light machines. And who would dangle the kids upside down and chase them around the house and make them eat their vegetables? Who would shovel the snow and change the snow tires on the cars and hold the kids when they need to get a shot?

And if I were to move out, who would cut the kids’ nails? Who would work the washing machine? Who would make sure the sheets and towels got washed on occasion, and who would plan the meals? Who would clean the fish tank and label all our photos? Who would teach the kids to read and work on their handwriting and take them to gymnastics?

When one of us is exhausted, the other finds the energy to take the kids for their baths. When one of us is hungry or tired and getting too snappish with the kids, the other one gently takes over. When one of us is too angry, the other is there to mediate and step in.

It’s just overwhelming to imagine learning all the things you’d need to learn if your spouse was suddenly not around. It’s crazy to think of all the work involved in doing EVERYTHING, all by yourself. It’s madness to think of the emotional stress, all day, every day, with no break.

I swear I don’t know how single parents survive. They have to do it all, and hold down a JOB at the same time. That’s madness.

And it makes me extra sad for our friends.

We’re Not Leaving The House Until You Pee

The other day I was talking to MyFriendJen about how weird it is that one of our parental responsibilities is to figure out when our kids are hungry, tired, or need to use the bathroom. It seems so obvious to us as adults — “Hey, my tummy is grumbling, my mouth is salivating, and I really want to just stand in front the fridge staring endlessly at it! What could this mean?” Yet, our children have no idea what their physical needs are. Their lack of self-awareness is dazzling. As a result, I spend a large part of my day keeping track of when everyone last ate, and slept, and peed. I know them better than they know themselves.

Whenever one of my kids is cranky, the answer is almost always that they are hungry or tired. They never believe me when I tell them that, though. Yesterday Captain Jelly Belly was having a complete meltdown/freak out here at home and I suddenly realized that it was an hour past his usual lunchtime and he hadn’t eaten anything yet, so Bingo! I knew what was wrong. But when I told him he really, really needed to just sit down and EAT THE SANDWICH, he swore up and down he did not feel like eating.

Eventually I had to threaten him with being sent to his room unless he ate, so he choose to sit and eat (sniffling and declaring me a Bad Mommy the whole time), until eventually he finished his sandwich, and voila! Totally new person. Magically transformed into happy, cheerful Captain.

I still think he has no idea what happened there, though. I’m sure he thinks it’s purely a coincidence that being force-fed a sandwich happened at the exact same time as the disappearance of all his personal crises.

We’re having a very small sixth birthday celebration for the Captain next weekend. He wanted to do all the same stuff as last year — namely, go to the KidsZone, which is an indoor playplace near us. However, we told him we couldn’t do it this year because trying to organize rides for all the kids to the Zone and back was too complex (we have to come back home to eat, as the KidsZone doesn’t allow outside food, and all the inside food isn’t safe for the Captain). He really, really wanted to do it, though, so eventually we told him we could manage it if he only invited ONE kid. He chose this really nice girl in his class, Lady G. They are best friends and play together every day, and it is strictly platonic — both of them would totally barf if you suggested otherwise.

Anyway, yesterday Lady G asked the Captain what he would like for his birthday. And of course the Captain says, “I don’t know.” Then Lady G says, “My mommy told me to ask you what kinds of things you play with at home.”

And the Captain, who spends 100% of his time talking about Star Wars, or playing Star Wars action figures, or playing Star Wars lego, or playing Star Wars video game, or drawing pictures of Star Wars characters, or reading books about Star Wars, says this:

“I usually just spend my time wandering around looking at stuff and trying to think of what to play with.”

Now that is a guy in touch with his wants and needs. Memo to his future wife: Yes, he was always like that.

I think I finally understand why my mother was still calling me in university to tell me to remember to eat. Apparently, a parent can never, ever assume any degree of self-awareness in their kids.

The Dying Of The Light

My Nana, my last remaining grandparent, is quite ill and is in the hospital. She’s been a very active grandparent to me and my sisters. She lived in the same city as us, growing up, and was never more than a ten minute drive away. She and her husband, my Papa, took us on trips and took us for sleepovers and took us out for McDonalds — a very special treat — after church every once in a while. They helped my mom through her divorce and were especially close to my younger two sisters, becoming like another set of parents to them.

Lately, Sir Monkeypants and I have both been thinking about the active role my Nana and Papa played in my life, and how we would like to use that as a model for ourselves as grandparents. We hope to live close to our kids, to visit often, and to really know our grandchildren as people, not just as cuties in photos. We hope to travel with them and care for them and slip them treats as often as possible.

But when my mom had my older sister — SocialButterfly was the first grandchild — my Nana was only 47 years old, my Papa 52. It was just a different time, when people got married young and then had kids right away, so both my Nana and my mom had been in their early 20s when they first gave birth. Forty-seven! These days, half the actresses in Hollywood are still having babies of their own at that age. It’s easy to see how you can be an energetic, fun-loving, travel-filled Nana and Papa when you’re barely out of the baby-having years yourself.

Like most people of our generation, we waited until we were done university, established in our careers, and settled in a home before having any kids. When I had my first baby, I was the same age that my mother was when she had the last of her four children. When Sir Monkeypants and I first got together, he described his parents as being “older than most,” and indeed they are older than most of our friends’ parents…yet still, Sir Monkeypants’ mother was 32 when she had him, the same age I was when I had the Captain. And Sir Monkeypants is her youngest. Someday, Sir Monkeypants and I are going to be those “older parents.”

Assuming our kids follow a similar child-having pattern, we could easily wait until we are past retirement age to become grandparents. I was 36 when I had Little Miss Sunshine; if she has a child at 36 as well, I’ll be 72 then. Seventy-two! It’s hard to imagine having the energy to take the baby for a weekend when you’re 72 years old, or take them to Disneyworld for the first time when they’re six and you’re 78.

I just really want the chance to get to know my grandkids. I want to see what kind of people they are and see what kind of choices they make. I really, really want to see all three of my own kids become parents — to see the dawning realization in them that we were right all along. I want to see them discovering all the joys and sorrows of parenthood that we are experiencing now, and to have the memory of these beautiful, wonderful, crazy times come flooding back.

Then I expect to laugh knowingly and go back to playing online bridge with a cup of Darjeeling.

I don’t regret waiting until later in life to have kids…I don’t feel like I was ready any earlier for the challenges. I like feeling like I’ve experienced the world out there, and I choose to be here at home instead. It doesn’t feel like I’m missing out on something; it feels like I’m moving on to something even better. That makes me a better mother, I think.

And I really, really do not wish for any teenaged mothers or fathers in this house, just so I can become an early grandmother, thank you very much.

Still…it gives me pause to think that I might not get a chance to really know my grandkids, to be a part of the passing of generational knowledge, to catch a small glimpse of how the love in this family will only continue to grow in the future. I plan to fight to be a part of this world until the bitter end, no matter what.

Huh.

A week or so ago I discovered quite by accident that Gal Smiley has a new bus buddy. His name is Big A and he’s in Captain Jelly Belly’s class, so he’s at least a year older than the Gal. I found out that they were bus friends when I picked the kids up from school one day, and I heard him yelling at Gal Smiley on the way to the bus that he wanted to sit with her.

So nice, I thought.

Then this evening, I was chatting at bedtime with Gal Smiley, and Big A came up, and she said that it’s weird how he is always kissing her.

RED FLAG.

I kept it cool, though, because I’m a cool-headed mom like that.

“Oh, really? Where is he kissing you?”

“On the cheek or on the nose, and one time on my eyeball but that was an accident.”

“And does this happen every day? Or just one or two times?”

“Oh, every day, he is ALWAYS kissing me.”

HUH.

I didn’t say anything about it because I wanted to get Sir Monkeypants’ read on the situation first. We both think this is something that makes us feel awkward and unhappy. On the one hand, Gal Smiley does say that she “LOOOOOVES IT” when Big A kisses her. But on the other hand, when she is sitting on the bus with him (she sits wedged into a seat, between him on the aisle and his friend on the window side)…she probably feels like she’s supposed to be having fun. That these are her friends, and that’s what friends do. Right?

I don’t know. Do you think I should freak out? Or should I let it slide? Is it innocent fun that means nothing, or should I defend my daughter against peer pressure to do something that maybe makes her uncomfortable?

Should I take her word for it that it doesn’t bother her, or should I try to put an end to it, no matter what?

It’s a grey area, that’s for sure.

I think we are leaning towards asking her to sit either with her brother or with a girl on the bus, and no more sitting with Big A. But the bus is a huge, lawless environment where anything can happen — the boy who lives across the street from us is having his own bully issues with another boy on the bus right now — and having peeps, friendly faces to sit with every day, means a lot. I’m not sure Gal Smiley is strong enough to say no, and there’s no one on the bus to enforce it for her.

(Captain Jelly Belly is a strict stay-out-of-it-lay-low-and-hope-no-one-sees-you kind of guy.)

I don’t know, I’m probably overreacting, right? I’m thinking I just might pick them up more often, though.

Mr. and Mrs. Turtlehead

When we were kids, all of my parents’ friends were “Mister” and “Missus” to us. When I hit adulthood, many of them asked me to start calling them by their first names, but there was no way I could do that. They were “Mr. Smith” and “Mrs. Jones” to me, and always would be.

In university, I met many of my friends’ parents, and they usually introduced themselves by their first names. I couldn’t do that, either, though. It just seemed unnatural. I either called them “Mister and Missus,” or, for a few parental sets that I came to know very well, I’d call them “Mom Williams” or “Dad Goodfellow.” I hope they took it in the spirit of respect that I meant it — the parents of my friends seemed to require some sort of title, and I just coudn’t go any more casual than that.

When we had kids we decided that we’d like them to call our friends by Mister and Missus, too. It was very, very strange, at first, to be referring to people we’ve seen drunk and people we’ve seen stick pennies up their nose as “Mr. Sagan.” However, we felt it was the right thing to do. Both Sir Monkeypants and I liked the idea of our kids respecting their elders — in Sir Monkeypants’ culture, it is especially important. So we forced ourselves to use the new names.

It was harder for our kids to learn, I think; Captain Jelly Belly is well entrenched in the idea now, but Gal Smiley is still getting the hang of it. Still, I think it was worthwhile; we like hearing our kids treat our friends politely, and I think it does help them to listen to other adults.

In fact, I’m so used to it now, that when friends of my kids call me “Lynn,” I find it weird. It’s not like I would correct them or anything, but it just creates an odd moment with my own kids. I can tell they are thinking, “Hm, I don’t get to call my mom Lynn.” And “Why do I have to call her mommy Mrs. Jolie, but she gets to call my mommy Lynn?”

I don’t know why, but when my own kid is screaming, “MOMMY, can I have a juice?” I can handle it so much easier than when a playdate friend screams, “LYNN, can I have a juice?” I don’t know, using my first name seems to put me at a disadvantage somehow. Like, instead of being the one in charge, I’m now just the humble serving wench. Leave your tips on the table.

I can see some reasons why using first names for other adults is just easier. If you’re meeting a bunch of new adults all at once, learning the Mister and Missus versions of their names does seem to be harder for the kids. If it’s a bunch of adults you don’t know yourself — like other parents dropping off their kids at school — maybe you don’t know their last names yourself. And very young kids — less than three — often don’t understand why one person could have more than one name.

Still.

I would say that our use of Mister and Missus puts us in a minority, but we’re definitely sticking with it. They call me Mrs. Turtlehead!

Best Buds

All summer long we tried hard to turn Gal Smiley and Princess Charming, who lives in the house behind us, into best friends. Gal Smiley is not comfortable in large groups; she retreats to stand at the wall and sulk. She needs an outgoing best friend to always reach for her, to pull her in to activities. Meanwhile, Princess Charming is a little nervous in new situations and likes to have a friend there to cling to.

Since they were going to be in the same class at school, it seemed like an ideal match. And it was — they love each other.

But now I have a new problem. Two girls + one boy = some hurt feelings.

Princess Charming is at home all day, and we even went so far as to install a gate between the fence that separates our yard, so our kids can roam freely back and forth. That means we see Princess Charming almost every day, which is a-okay with me, because she is, after all, charming. She’s well behaved and she and Gal Smiley play together really well and we’re happy Gal Smiley has such a nice friend.

But Princess Charming and Captain Jelly Belly do NOT get along. They are both first-borns who are very used to getting their own way, to controlling the flow of play and deciding what will happen next. When the three of them play together, the Captain and the Princess butt heads continually, and it’s a stream of arguing and shoving and kicking and crying, with Gal Smiley caught in the middle between the two people she loves most in the world.

Not good.

For a while there, we were banning the Captain from the girls’ playtime, because we wanted Gal Smiley and Princess Charming to bond, and we were afraid that the Princess’ parents would never let her play over here again if we didn’t take the Captain out of the equation. But when we tell the Captain he can’t play with them, and must find something of his own to do, he’s sad and lost. He just misses Gal Smiley so much. And now that we’re seeing Princess Charming almost every day, the poor Captain is really feeling alone and left out. It breaks my heart.

Plus, on a more selfish front, I’m really used to having the Captain and the Gal totally occupied with each other all afternoon, leaving me free to watch over the hurricane that is Little Miss Sunshine. It’s almost impossible to find an activity for both the Captain and Little Miss Sunshine, so one of them ends up getting my attention while the other one sits in a corner feeling sad, or empties every garbage can in the house (you decide which is which).

So. I’m not sure how to handle this parenting crisis. Time for a poll!

When Princess Charming comes to my house to play, I should:

  • force the girls to include the Captain in their play (with close supervision to diffuse any conflicts)
  • let the girls play on their own and find another activity for the Captain
  • find a group activity, such as playing outside on the swingset or going to the park, for everyone to do together

When Gal Smiley is invited over to Princess Charming’s house to play, I should:

  • say no
  • say no, if Gal Smiley and Captain Jelly Belly are busy with a game of their own, but invite Princess Charming to come over and join us instead
  • let the Gal go over by herself, and find another activity for Captain Jelly Belly
  • let Gal Smiley go over only if we can all come (a little presumptuous!), so the Captain doesn’t feel left out, but I can keep an eye on possible conflicts
  • let Gal Smiley go only if the Captain is invited too (again, presumptuous much?)

Do you think I should limit the number of days per week that Gal Smiley and Princess Charming are allowed to play together?

Do you think it’s important to arrange one-on-one playdates for the Captain (i.e. not letting the Gal tag along when the Captain visits the boys next door, as she usually does)?

Advice away!

Croc Family

I feel like this should be the mantra of all parents: We said we’d never do it, and now here we are.

In our case, we have given in to peer pressure, we have embraced commercialism, we have become those parents.

Parents of kids with Crocs.

It started with Gal Smiley. She needed new sandals this summer. We couldn’t find any we liked. Friends of hers at preschool all had Crocs. Gal Smiley really, really wanted Crocs, too. She asked for them every day.

We tried to buy her some cheapy knock-offs at Zellers. But they didn’t have any small enough to fit her petite feet.

Finally we caved. We justified the $30 by buying a too-big size (which we probably could have gotten at Zellers, naturally), so she can wear them all this coming year. They’ll be her “at school” shoes when she enters JK in the fall.

So Gal Smiley had Crocs. Pretty pale green Crocs.

Captain Jelly Belly wanted Crocs.

At first we said, no way. You have a perfectly good pair of sandals, we said. They have Hot Wheels on them, for heaven’s sake. They’re cool.

But every time Gal Smiley joyfully donned her Crocs, the Captain made that little sad face.

So we tried to buy him some Crocs. But we couldn’t find his size anywhere.

But at Zellers, they got a new shipment in of the knock-offs, and the new shipment included some very, very tiny sizes.

Like these adorable yellow fake-Croc babies. Size 2.

I could eat these with a spoon.

Naturally I had to get them for Little Miss Sunshine. They were too adorable, and only $8. I’m not made of stone, people. And I must say, Little Miss Sunshine adores her fake-Crocs. She runs to get them when we are going out, then blushes with pride as she compares her little feet to Gal Smiley’s.

Also, she is killing it at the mall and grocery store. Like, if I didn’t keep an eye on her and her itty bitty Crocs every single second, at least a dozen little old ladies would try to carry her off. Or maybe just nibble a bit on her cute cute Croc-clad toes.

Today at the mall they were having a sidewalk sale, and know what was out on a table in the mall, for just $20? A lovely pair of blue Crocs in Captain Jelly Belly’s size.

So of course we had to have them. And now our set is complete.

Also on sale at the mall were Jibbitz, which are these little plastic things that you can push into the holes of the Crocs and that are a major fad. Like, ALL the cool kids have them. They were only $1, so I bought a crocodile for the Captain, and a butterfly for Gal Smiley.

On the way home from the mall, they checked them out.

Captain: I love my alligator!

Sir Monkeypants: Actually, it’s a crocodile. Because they are Crocs, get it?

Captain: Know what I’m going to name my alligator? Allie.

Me: How nice. Gal Smiley, would you like to name your butterfly?

Gal Smiley: I don’t know what to call her.

Me: How about Bea?

Gal Smiley: No.

Me: Princess?

Gal Smiley: No.

Me: Tiny Dancer?

Sir Monkeypants: That’s a STUPID name.

Me: Oh yeah? Then how about STINKY? STINKY THE BUTTERFLY?

Gal Smiley: I LOVE IT.

So now the Captain has a crocodile called Allie, short for alligator. Gal Smiley has a butterfly called Stinky.

And the Crocs rule the roost.

Croc Family.

Playtime

I don’t usually get a lot of time during the day to just sit and play with the kids. There’s always work to be done around the house — make the lunch, empty the dishwasher, get a load of laundry in, feed the baby, change a diaper.

I know this makes them sad. In particular, Gal Smiley is always asking me to play a game with her or make the voice for her baby doll. I try to hang out with them when I can, but there always seems to be something else to do. I almost feel like my role is more to facilitate the fun, than to take part in it. It’s my job to put out the paints and clean up afterwards. It’s my job to take them to the park or the museum. It’s my job to work the TV remote.

Stuff like wrestling on the floor or pretending to be dogs or having a water gun fight…that’s more Sir Monkeypants’ kind of thing. He’s the fun one.

This morning I was taking a very rare moment to play Stacking Cups with Little Miss Sunshine on the floor after breakfast. Lately I’ve been trying to give her a lot of personal attention because she’s on the cusp of learning to walk and talk, so she needs me to walk with her and talk with her and help her development. Gal Smiley was pretty upset, though, that I was playing with the Little Miss. Gal Smiley was NOT INTERESTED in playing cups with us. She wanted me to come and play Blue’s Clues game with her, and leave Little Miss Sunshine in a closet somewhere.

Then Captain Jelly Belly came over and told Gal Smiley, “Mommy doesn’t play with us anymore. She only plays with Little Miss Sunshine.”

Oh man, that was a hard one. I almost cried.

There’s no question that it is very hard to find a way to spread my limited playtime evenly between the three kids. Gal Smiley and Captain Jelly Belly play very well together, and adding me into the mix is actually a problem — they go from playing nicely together to vying for my attention, and suddenly it’s Sibling Rivalry 101. The kids get fussy, I get frustrated, and then we all stomp off in a huff. So in general the house just runs better when I leave the older two to do their thing, if they are in a happy play place, and just spend my free time working with the Little Miss.

But now I’m all sad and afraid that I am breaking my older two kids’ hearts.

In just a few short years, they’ll prefer to play with their friends. They’ll be upstairs playing Nintendo or over at a friend’s house playing hide-and-seek. They’ll drop in for meals and to ask for a ride to the mall. They won’t remember the days I did or didn’t play restaurant or car races with them. They won’t remember all the hours I pushed them on the swings or the times I helped them make sand castles at the park. So maybe it all doesn’t matter, anyway.

But I don’t really believe that.

At the very least I think these early years give me a chance to create a general impression, a general memory, of who their mom is and what their home is like. It’s a chance for me to make them feel happy and warm and bonded. And also to think that their mom is pretty cool. Almost as cool as their dad.

It’s a hard one, that’s for sure. There’s already a lot of pressure to do everything, to be everything, to be perfect. But clearly I need to try just a little bit harder.