UpsideDownside

Every year, the end of November hits and the holidays officially begin. I usually power through Thanksgiving, since all it seems to entail is my kids refusing to eat the cornucopia of delicious traditional foods of our forefathers. After my kids’ dinner of Snickers salad and cranberry sauce, I start humming Christmas carols with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head (what are those, anyway?!)

I set my sights high. We are going to make so many fantastic memories! It will be such a joyful season filled with anticipation and tradition. Without fail, by the first week in December, I’m filled with tempered expectations and soul crushing self doubt. There is no way I will do all the things on my Christmas list.

We try to make Christmas cookies and someone drops eggs in the floor. (It wasn’t me.) We cut down a lovely Christmas tree for our living room…that I can’t wait to take down since my children un-decorate it multiple times throughout the day. There. Are. Needles. Everywhere. We buy Christmas presents for the kids who have loads of toys, but still manage to fight over who gets to play with the bathroom hand towels. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? I really do want to make it special for my kids, but so often the joy is stripped away by the rigors of having young children. In my quest to remain an optimistic pessimist, I’ve created a list of all the glorious Holiday festivities and both their upsides and downsides. You’re welcome.

To avoid confusion, and due to a lack of creativity, we’ll call this game “upsidedownside.” Let’s begin.

Christmas decorations
Upside: I love decorating for Christmas. How great to be able to share in this with my kids! We get to cut down a tree together, hang the stockings, and put up wreaths.
Downside: Everyone’s feet are cold while we are at the tree farm. My kids are regularly covered in sap due to their inability to STOP TOUCHING THE TREE. The stockings, while hung by the chimney with care, are pulled down at least a dozen times. Now my tree is gated off and my decor is themed “Christmas in Alcatraz.”

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New presents
Upside: (temporarily) happy children who play for (brief) periods of time without requiring parental intervention.
Downside: finding places for all the new toys to be stored. Or not, since you’re the only one who picks them up anyway. and when you don’t, you step on them in the middle of the night. So, basically, you just bought yourself a bunch of new booby traps and ankle sprains.

Holiday Treats
Upside: You’re creating memories and traditions. How exciting is it to see your children’s faces when they try fudge for the first time, letting them savor a chocolate Santa, or giving them a candy cane to enjoy?! If you’re extra brave, you might be making and eating gingerbread houses with your littles. It all sounds like a spread in Martha Stewart Living.
Downside: This is a long list. First on the list is, of course, the fact that you’ve just given your kids treats. You enjoy that for the next hour, while they run around like hyenas. Then, when the inevitable crash happens, you get you clean up the sobbing, wailing, inconsolable puddles of children writhing around on your floor. Second, is stickiness. You can only barely convince your guests that all the spots, smears and handprints of various colored sugars covering your walls and furniture are actually abstract art. I’ll spare you the rest of this exhaustive list of downsides related to funneling sugar into your kids, but one of them rhymes with “diabetes.”

Family time
Upside: Often the only time elderly family members or relatives who live far away get to traveling is over the holidays. It’s great to spend quality time with those close to you.
Downside: Between my sisters and myself we have eight kids. The oldest is four, and the noise level is deafening. My ears ring for days after we are all “reunited.” Also, when it comes to some family members there is only so much “togetherness” one can take. AmIRight?!

We all survived. We’re riding the Christmas “upsides” and brushing over the “downsides.” We didn’t make and decorate cut outs and I had to vacuum the living room twice daily. There’s always next year, right?

My Kids Aren’t Usually This Bad…

Have you ever found yourself telling people, “my kids aren’t usually this bad!” It always feels like lying, even if you’re not. That’s because if you ever find yourself saying those embarrassing words, you can pretty much assume that whoever is on the receiving end doesn’t believe you.

I’ve uttered that phrase once; it was the honest truth, and I’m 99.9% sure the person on the receiving end thought I was full of it. I can’t be certain though, because this person never spoke to me again. Yeah, it was that bad.

I was in search of a babysitter. If you have ever attempted to summit this impossible mountain, ya feel me. We don’t have friends with teenagers who might be available, and I was in need of a sitter during weekday hours so that ruled out the cheap high school labor.This meant weeding through a sea of strangers, mostly on the internet, in an attempt to find someone kind, honest and patient enough to entrust with my little angels.

After sending messages to at least ten different people, I finally got one response. HALLELUJAH! I mean, not that I was willing to leave my kids with just anyone, but I was determined to make this work. Dumping another $29.99 into a site that had yielded me one person wasn’t exactly selling itself for another month. It was like torture…photos and profiles of all the wonderful babysitters you can’t have!

I set up a time to meet with her at my house. Not just because this was more convenient for me, but I also like to see how they interact with my kids. While interviewing nannies when my twins were infants, we asked an applicant her best strategy for soothing a crying baby. Her answer?

“I’d probably read them a book.”

<silence.>

I don’t know about you, but my infants weren’t real keen on books. Lesson learned: Make sure your sitter has met a baby.

I thought ahead. I cleaned up all the cars and animals and little people scattered across my floor. I set the twins up with play dough in the kitchen. I figured, worst case scenario, I ended up wrangling little dude while we tried to chat. That was doable because he doesn’t interrupt me every 10 seconds like two other little people I know. Nothing makes you more of a rookie parent than assuming you can predict worst case scenario.

About five seconds into the interview, my typically shy, “don’t-make-eye-contact-with-new-people” toddlers were bouncing off the walls, demanding my attention, competing with this new person who had my concentration. I started off with awkward attempts to try and divert them.

“Go back and play with your play dough please, Mommy is talking.”

“Why don’t you go color? That sounds fun! Mommy can come see what you color in a minute!”

“Heh, heh…Sorry, hang on. Landon, get out of the pantry please.”

Nothing worked. It was a giant collage of distraction failures. At that moment, my kids were interested in nothing other than sabotaging my life and making me look like an awful mother. I don’t really remember any of the babysitter’s answers, but I do remember my daughter pulling her pants down to her ankles and streaking through the living room like a drunk collage freshman on a dare.

I hurled myself off the couch and yanked her pants up. Unfortunately, she had decided this was hilarious and promptly pulled her pants down again, zigging and zagging through the living room with remarkable evasiveness. I threatened a time out. To someone determined to enjoy the cool breeze on their behind in front of a complete stranger, this was hardly a disincentive. Before I could take further action, her twin brother decided that the best way to deal with this manic chaos, was to pull his pants down.

You now have two three-year-olds running around with their pants around their ankles in front of a horrified potential babysitter. How do you neutralize the situation? You don’t. You say a desperate prayer, put them in their room, and plead with them to be good until the sitter is gone, or else they are both getting very long time-outs. Like, until they are eighteen.

I often say that my little dude is always “assessing the perimeter for weakness.” He figured out our gates promptly after he learned to crawl, and he quickly ascertained that bringing a stool around with him allowed him access to fun things like knives, pens, sharpies, and other items Mom puts up on the counter, theoretically out of reach for 15 month-olds. All of this to tell you that while I was dealing with the gloriously nude twin-nado twisting and tearing through my living room, Nolan was capitalizing on the unsupervised opportunity for shenanigans.

The twins were semi-calm in their room. I took a deep breath and returned to the living room. I chuckled awkwardly, then red-faced said,

“I’m so sorry. I promise my kids aren’t usually this bad!”

I could have given further explanation, like, how I gave them a snack right before she came, or how I had just come home from work and they were starved for Mom attention. Both were true, but somehow I thought talking more about it would just make it worse. I tried to move on and redirect our conversation, when little dude rounded the corner carrying something he had obtained after figuring out that he could still pull things through the small opening in the baby-proofed bathroom cabinets. Being a polite and friendly fellow, he handed it to the babysitter.

A tampon. He handed this young woman who had been in our house less than ten minutes, a tampon. There was no coming back from this. We were a house full of hyperactive nudist freaks with copious amounts of feminine hygiene products littered everywhere. It was time to call it a day. I tried to finish up politely, tell her that it was nice meeting her and that I hoped we would speak again. Buuuuuuuuut I kind of knew we wouldn’t.

My kids have never pulled this kind of mischief before. Seriously. They haven’t since, either. Seriously. It was a colossal catastrophe at the least convenient moment. That’s the thing about kids. They have a very special and humbling way of reminding you to be grateful that they “aren’t usually that bad.”

 

Nighty Night, Squirrels

My kids are squirrels. Every night before bed, they create giant mountains in their beds, stockpiles of toys and stuffed animals and blankets. They are preparing for the apocalypse, which, for a three year old, is bedtime.

At bedtime, they are simply expected to be tired, lay their precious little heads on their pillows, and drift off into dream land. It sounds nice, right? To a parent, “go to bed” sounds like “your obligations for the day are done! You made it! Close your eyes quickly, because you have to wake up in 3 hours when someone falls out of bed!” To a toddler, “go to bed” sounds like “you cannot leave this prison and now you must miss out on everything fun in the whole wide world!” Due to such impending doom and torture, my kids have taken to gathering any valuable belongings and placing them in their beds to soften the blow of their twelve hour purgatory.

“I can’t LIVE without this pair of slippers for the next 12 hours! This is my favorite book EVER and I NEED it with me! How can I sleep without 67 stuffed animals? No, this metal truck won’t dig into my body after I fall asleep on top of it! Yes I NEED four blankets; they each have different colors!”

You have to pick your battles. Generally speaking, if it’s not a choking hazard or a perishable food item, they can keep it in their beds. I’ve also learned (the hard ways) the importance of doing a “hand check” before tucking in, unless you want to spend 20 minutes picking a hardened gummy vitamin off the side of someone’s bed because they fell asleep while they were “saving it for later.” SQUIRRELS!

Allowing an unnatural amount of toys and co-inhabitants in their beds does have a parental advantage. It tends to decrease the amount of bedtime stalling. There are less last minute sobs for food or water. There are fewer pleas to use the bathroom 10 minutes after they last used the bathroom. On the other hand, the loud thump of books slamming into the ground at 1am is a less than ideal way to be woken up.

You’d think that these bite-sized people who can’t remember where they leave anything and require a full on “mommy search party” to find the many things they misplace, wouldn’t notice the absence of one of the 67 stuffed animals they keep in their beds. You’d be wrong. They can spot that in a hot second. Unfortunately, much like real squirrels, they often bury items and then forget where they were buried. Cue the inevitable bedtime “mommy search party” to find whatever unlucky soul may have been placed in the play kitchen microwave, in Daddy’s work boot, or buried under clothes in a laundry basket. It does not matter if this is their least favorite toy. If it is missing at bedtime, the squirrels go crazy.

I’ve become quite skilled in making mental notes as to the locations of toys during the day, in order to avoid the frantic bedtime search and rescue missions. I’ve stopped questioning whether there will actually be room for a human toddler amongst all their stuffed roommates. imageIt works for us. The squirrels gather their stockpiles for the dreaded bedtime, and I let them, because those glorious dooms-day piles get me one step closer to crawling into my own soft, comfortable, toy-free bed.

Dinner time Drama

I am so over cooking “kid-friendly” meals. Who even invented that phrase? It’s not “kid-friendly,” it’s actually “parent-friendly” because it means there is a (only slightly) higher chance that your kids will actually eat the meal you’ve slaved over. More aptly titled, they should be called “you-won’t-need-to-stab-your-eyes-out-with-a-fork-because-your-kid-is-refusing-to-eat-something-they-loved-last-week” meals. Or in our house, these are known simply as “Mac-n-cheese.”

My kids have started to add rules to their eating. I suppose it’s not completely fair to call them rules, since most rules exist for a reason. These are really just over-generalized and illogical statements they make in an attempt to get out of eating something delicious that I have made. “I don’t like anything round.” “I only eat white things.” There is no rhyme or reason to these statements, so it’s futile to try and cook within the confines of their ridiculous sweeping statements. They are moving targets and will suck you into a black hole where your sanity goes to die.

“I don’t like this. I only eat soft things.”

“You only eat soft things? Ok, how about some mashed potatoes?”

“I don’t like them because they are too squishy.”

“That works out perfectly! You can eat the original ‘crunchy’ dinner I prepared for you that initiated your statement about only eating soft things.”

“But it’s red.”

“What’s wrong with red? It’s marinara.”

“I don’t like mar-nin-area.”

“Yes you do.”

“No I don’t, because it’s red!”

“So you probably don’t want to eat strawberries anymore, since they’re red.”

“No, I like strawberries.”

This is the part of the discussion where my brain jumps ship, leaps out of my ear and runs away in horror.

Don’t. Engage. You will lose. You’re playing by different rules. See, as an adult, you are bound to the confines of logic and reason. A three-year-old knows nothing of these limitations, so the whole world is their proverbial illogical play place. Plus, odds are good they are hungry, since they haven’t eaten anything you’ve made them in three days. So you’ve just found yourself arguing with a real hungry, human form of Siri. (Who honestly never knows what I’m asking about and has zero helpful suggestions. I said “Panera,” Siri!! Not “Riviera!!” I just want a sandwich not an all inclusive vacation!!)

When it comes to arguing with a toddler, you’d be better off spouting crazy talk and non-topical blatherings, for that, friends, is the language of their people. Have you ever heard a conversation between two three-year-olds? It’s the sound track of my life, and it ain’t pretty.

I have very vivid dreams about the day that maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to enjoy sautéed onions again, some red pepper flakes and perhaps, even mushrooms! Will my kids ever eat any vegetable that isn’t puréed into an unrecognizable form and discretely mixed in with their food (that they probably won’t eat anyway)? Will dinner ever be a pleasant time where we all sit and talk about something other than how gross the dinner I made tastes? I won’t hold my breath, but until that day comes, I will hold the onions.

Bye, Bye Mickey

We had a mouse in our house. After discussing this with numerous people, ends up this is pretty common. I should mention that the “discussion” was more like a complete level 10 freak-out. I should also take this time to publicly apologize to the numerous people I subjected to my level 10 freak-out. So, now that we have the apologies out of the way, let’s get down to business.

My husband didn’t believe me. I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye one night when we were watching TV in bed. At this point I wasn’t sure what I had seen, I told him I thought I saw something, and he looked at me like I was insane. To be fair, all I said was “I think I saw something. It was a dark flash! It was under the door. It just shot in and shot out! Go check. Go!” Naturally, there was nothing in the hallway by the time he finally got up to check. Sneaky fast little sucker.

About a week later, the little scoundrel made a second appearance. I came upstairs and before I could turn the lights on, I saw the squeaky jerk dart across my floor, seeking shelter under my stove. The humanity! I felt so violated! How dare he eat the mountains of crumbs my children drop on the floor! He’s feasting on the delicious morsels rejected by my extremely picky baby! In that moment, I realized there was enough rudely discarded food tucked into nooks and crannies in my kitchen to feed a large mouse village. Oh.My. Gosh. My kids have been feeding about 100 mice that were living in our house. So, maybe I’m a catastrophic thinker.

I very calmly, gently and quietly woke my husband, who was “watching TV” on the couch.

“THERE’S A MOUSE! I SAW HIM! I KNEW IT! YOU THOUGHT I WAS CRAZY! HE’S UNDER THE STOVE! GO GET HIM!!” Like most husbands who are woken up from a dead sleep, he was so happy to be woken up and was super helpful and willing to assist me.

“What do you want me to do? I can’t smash him. It’ll get all over the floor.” It was a good point. And honestly, I didn’t necessarily want him dead. I just didn’t need him creeping around my house. I would pardon him, allow him to live out his days outside, as long as he would come out with his hands up. He did not. So I set my husband up as a sentry by the stove and sped my minivan around screeching turns in search of mouse traps at 10:45 pm.

i could feel the impending freak-out flooding my veins. I called my mom. It’s appropriate to document most of this conversation in all caps, not because I was yelling (but for much of it, I’m sure I was) but because I was rambling like a crazy person.

“OMG THERE IS A MOUSE IN MY HOUSE. I SAW HIM! HOW LONG HAS HE BEEN HERE?! ARE THERE MORE? THERE’S MORE. OMG I HAVE TO BURN THE HOUSE DOWN. WHAT DO I DO?! IS HE CHEWING ON MY KIDS FACES WHILE THEY SLEEP?!”

It wasn’t a completely logical conversation. Then she says to me, “Get some traps, it happens. Mice get into the house. Set a few traps though, because where there is one, there are usually more.”

“WHY WOULD YOU SAY THAT TO ME?!?!” I don’t care if it was a logical and practical thing to say. I don’t care if it is true in most cases. You don’t tell a crazy person that.

I bought about 9,000 traps. Not the cheap ones, either. I bought the fancy spinner ones, the flip up ones, the ones where you don’t have to see the mouse corpse once he’s had his last fix of peanut butter.  This sucker was going down, and so was the harem he brought with him.

The worst part about mice is that they can live under your nose, without you knowing, for a long time. My paranoia was now refocused. How could I not know that he was skittering around in my house, enjoying the warmth, peeking into my bedroom, watching me shower?! Ok, maybe not that last one, but paranoia isn’t logical.

Thankfully, it only took a night (a long night where I barely slept, and woke about 35 times to check all 9,000 traps) and that fuzzy little disease carrier was toast. My sweet husband took the trap and dug a small shallow unmarked grave for him (not really). Thankfully, none of the other traps yielded any additional rodents in search of free room and board; it was just the one cunning creeper who must have snuck in during any number of instances where my attentive and responsible three-year-olds left the patio door open.

I’ve had some time to reflect on the situation and I have to tell you, I think I might have overreacted. I’m just not ok with anything living in my house that I didn’t marry or birth. I’ve also established a second rule for all living things under my roof: no one is allowed to have more than two legs. I know, it sounds anti-animal. I love animals…Just not in my house.

Now, if I were the arguing type (I am) and if I were willing to argue with myself (I am) I could argue (I will) that perhaps my “no animal policy” is a little harsh, and perhaps having a four legged pet may have assisted in the prevention or apprehension of the mouse invader. Touché, self. Touché.

More important than my desire to avoid pulling pet hair out of my kid’s mouths,  It’s vital that we address the severely misleading information regarding rodents in children’s literature. I’m talking to you, “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie,” “Stuart Little” and Mickey Mouse. One should never “give a mouse a cookie,” or any baked goods, for that matter. Providing rodents with baked goods implies a level of proximity that I’m just completely uncomfortable with. Regardless of where you stand on the “vaccine debate,” I think we can all agree it’s just good health advice to avoid any and all interactions with rodents. I would like to recommend some more appropriate children’s book titles that would better prepare our youth for their adult encounters with unruly rodent squatters. “If A Mouse Gives YOU Diptheria,” “Happy Birthday Disgusting Parasite” or “Good Night Rat” might better equip tomorrow’s leaders. Let’s not lie to our kids, folks.

I’m pleased to report that my house has been free of mice for a month now. I mean, I think it is.