Ripple

Ripple

Even a pebble makes ripples, Dad says.  But I didn’t drop a pebble in the pond, did I, Dad? It wasn’t a pebble. 

It was a boulder, wasn’t it? It was two boulders, maybe. It was…a landslide. And the water may never be still again. 

Our life was a series of pedestals, and we tiptoed around on them. I guess I never did belong up there, trying hard to balance precariously alongside people who proudly live on pedestals, who look down at people below who never deserved to be up there. 

Who is a good person? Who? Who has a good heart? The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it? Only God. Not any person on any worldly pedestal. 

We were kids, 17 and 16. I remember well. Funny, smart, hardworking kids. Making bagels. Scrimping. Making plans. Listening to Radiohead. Thought we had the bull by the horns, maybe we did for a while, but no. I guess we caught the tiger by the tail instead.

People like wrapping loss up in little justification packages–

The problem is…I married an asshole. The problem is…she turned out to be crazy. We just, we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into…

Bullshit. 

You know it is, and I know it is. 

There was love. There was more than one betrayal from both of us. There was forgiveness. There were hurts. There was a lot of interference from people who didn’t belong between us. People I let in; people you let in.  There was apathy. There was triumph. There were so many laughs. There were cries. Sure. 

Every marriage is two sinners who buckle down and refuse to give up on each other, against whatever odds they have both brought to the table. And we did that. For 15 years, we did that. 

I cannot tell you how many inaccurate, blatantly ignorant comments have been made to me over the years by so-called friends regarding my first marriage. 

“I think maybe you just never loved him.” “I didn’t know your marriage was a facade.” “Don’t say hi to me in public, Emily, because I’m not ready for that; I know what’s really going on.”

Oh do you? You all knew the intimate intricacies of my own marriage better than I did? Interesting. 

Where were you when we decorated our first apartment? Where were you when we took care of each other when we were sick? Where were you when I cried about his betrayals? Where were you when we held hands as I pushed our daughters into the world? Where were you when he forgave me for my betrayals? Because I don’t remember any of you being there for any of it. So you go ahead and believe your shallow lies. 

We became the ending only.

If every marriage is a refusal to give up, then every divorce is…giving up on each other. We did that, too. And none of you were a part of any of it. 

 “I will kill every feeling I have for you. You will mean nothing to me. Nothing.” You said it. And you meant it. And you live it. Fifteen years of mostly good memories, but none of it will matter. 

Used to was: I could do no wrong in your eyes, even at times when I knew I was so wrong.

“Emily, I’ve always been on your side. Even when no one else was. It was me. I was. You know that’s true. Even when we separated, people would tell me how it looked, what you were probably up to…and that’s never how I saw it. Not my Emily. No. ” He loosened his tie and unbuttoned his collar. Choked it back. Not one to cry.

But now. It seems I can’t do anything right. Every way that I handle things, you have a judgment, a criticism, a remark, a request. You see me through crap-tinted glasses. Everything about me is shit now. Okay.

I became the ending. The fleeting backstage deceit made the spotlight years a lie to you. My name becomes a knell that few dare to toll in your presence. Or maybe a joke…Yeah, probably a joke. 

I did do lots of wrong. And I’m sorry. Do you even know that I’m so sorry? I’ve said it, but you aren’t one to acknowledge any emotion. I remember your brother sobbing at your grandfather’s funeral. And you leaned over to him, “You don’t have to think about anything sad, and then you won’t cry.” Your solutions. 

Would it make me a better person to pretend my heart never loved you before? I don’t really trust people who do that. To turn every speck of love into loathing? Erase every photo. Block every memory. Never happened.

Should I pretend we don’t know each other? Maybe we don’t anymore. But we did. 

Tell it however you want to. No, you will choose to say nothing. You do that. I will keep the photos and memories and stories.

If I die first, don’t worry, no one expects you to cry. But when you die, I will quietly sit on a back row at your funeral. And I will cry. I’ll remember the full story. And I will cry.

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Two minutes with a Toddler: Chocolate Milk, Anatomy of a Tantrum (with video)

Two minutes with a Toddler: Chocolate Milk, Anatomy of a Tantrum (with video)

She’s sweet, she’s sour. This is the full tantrum (video at bottom of blog). She’s gotten faster at getting back on track. She’s even had a few that were much faster than this one. And she has DEFINITELY had longer tantrums. 

Toddler wants chocolate milk: let’s break it down. Every tantrum, every fight at our house can be divided into these same parts–unacceptable behavior, gentle chance, a firm and predictable punishment, an apology, forgiveness, makeup. 

That’s it. It can be over that easily. You know…in theory. 

Part one–Unacceptable Behavior I didn’t get it all on video. She just woke from a nap and demanded chocolate milk in the her whiniest voice ever. No. Not a chance that I will reward that. 

Part two–Gentle Chance I explain how she’s acting and give her a chance to change her mind quickly. Sometimes it’s over RIGHT then, and we skip part three. Other times, part three is the longest step…her choice. 

Part three–Clear Punishment (or Consequences) If she chooses not to change her behavior, she will be punished–go sit on the couch. She tested me because I was filming, and she will usually test me if someone else is here as her audience…or if we are in public. 

Ideally, and theoretically, she gets ONE chance to obey. And if her mouth or body language “tell me no,” then I will go pick her up and put her on the couch. That’s “yes.” 

(But to be honest, I don’t always get up when she doesn’t obey the first time…as you see in the video. But if I’m making eye contact and I’ve told her TWICE, and she disobeys a second time…I will get up. Trust me. 

I have had to place her on the couch many times. I’ve had to catch her trying to run off as many as 12…possibly 20 times in a row, and I sit her back down, and back down, and back down…until she stays. 

Part four–An Apology She knows when she can get up. All she has to do is say, “I’m sorry.” This particular time, she chose to say it quickly. Cool. Fine by me. 

I have done things like set a timer for 5 minutes and ignore her until it goes off, and then give her the opportunity to apologize or sit longer. 

Clara is 2 years and 9 months now. She doesn’t usually need a full 5 minutes to change her behavior. Sometimes she chooses to take that long, but not often anymore. 

I learned a long time ago with toddlers–give them a choice, and make sure YOU are fine with either option. Example–Get yourself dressed in the next 5 minutes…or wear your pajamas to the store. It won’t embarrass me. 

Apologize…or sit there. Either way, I’m fine. 

Part five–Forgiveness I have a long list of personal habits that I hope my daughters don’t remember or learn. If they only remember one thing about growing up with me, I hope they remember my capacity to forgive. 

For practice with my toddlers and children, this is an unskippable step. And under my rule, unforgiveness will often get a punishment. 

Definitely at least a lecture–unforgiveness is your biggest character flaw, _______ (insert name). You need to learn not to do that, especially to your sisters. 

Part five–Makeup Remember it enough to learn from it, forget it enough to move on.  Making up usually looks like a hug at my house.

Forgiveness can be that quick with adults, too, but usually isn’t. 

As adults, we often get hurt by grudges, judgment, moral superiority, scoffs, repeated mistakes, jabs, criticism, gossip. But to be hurt, we have to consent to allow any of those reactions to hurt us, which has been an incredibly liberating realization for me. We don’t have to be hurt. 

Probably why I get along better with kids, and probably always will. I prefer their simplicity. 

Church shoes 

Church shoes 

“Dad. Dad.” I bug out my eyes and lean my head to the side a few times, toward the little girl who has become my shadow at Creekmore Park. She smiles at my dad. 

“Oh did you make a new friend?” Dad doesn’t see well. Are you kidding me? 

“We go to school together.” She makes the announcement proudly. 

She has a buzz haircut. Even as a second grader, I know this means she has lice that they couldn’t get rid of. Dust defines the creases in her elbows and knees. This is not my definition of friend. 

She’s wearing an oversized Rheem tshirt. We get these free from school; Rheem, an air conditioning company in town, is our school’s partner in education. No one wears the free tshirts they give to every student. Maybe as a night shirt. 

She followed me over to my dad, and she’s just standing here, waiting for me to go back to the playground equipment. No chance, Crystalina. Yeah…that’s her name. See what I mean?

Just because we ended up in the same class in public school, you think that means we are friends if I accidentally see you in public? This is also not my definition of friend. 

She rocks back on the heels of her pale pink Easter-dress church shoes, loses her balance a little, stumbles a few steps backward; her shoes tap and scrape loudly on the sidewalk pavement. 

“Do you want to go on the swings, Emily?” She’s scratching some mosquito bites on her ankle, forcing me to examine the condition of her fingernails. 

I feel my face expressing my heart. I don’t try to stop myself. She pulls up her dingy ankle sock out of her church shoe to tuck in the bloody mosquito bites. 

“No thanks. I think we are about to go.” I’m crossing my arms and looking at my dad, still bug-eyed. I’m not being subtle, and the clues are just bouncing off his skull. 

“Nah, we don’t have to go yet. Go play with your friend, Emmy.” Dad settles onto a shaded park bench, crosses one ankle onto his opposite knee. Nicknames are for the house; we’ve been over this. I will have to get Mom to explain it again. 

Crystalina twists her long red and white gingham cotton skirt around, lining up the seams. I’m not certain, but it looks like someone made it for her from a picnic tablecloth. 

“You go ahead, Crystalina. I’ll be over there in a minute.” I know tricks. I get on the bench with my dad.

Crystalina beams. She shuffles across the pavement, slides through the dewy grass, crashes into the pebbles, slams onto a swing. 

“Dad. Let’s go. She’s not my friend. She just goes to my school, and she’s really annoying.” I have to spell it out for him. 

“What’s annoying? Is she mean?She likes you and wants to play. She seems nice to me.” Dad is thumbing through his Bible. Maybe he can’t hear well either. I get the feeling that possibly…I’m already smarter than him, at least socially, for sure. 

“Well…no, she’s not mean. But like…she’s gross. Did you see her sock with the dried blood on the inside from her mosquito bites? Her clothes are always dirty, and like…” I feel like I’m being so obvious. Why isn’t he getting this?

“None of that is her fault. You never know what someone’s home life is like. You don’t know if she has running water or electricity. You don’t know any of that. You have to look at someone’s heart.” Maybe he did see well. 

“Some people don’t have water at their house? Every house I’ve ever been to has a kitchen and a bathroom.” Yep. What house, Dad? You’re making it up. 

“Emily. You have to pay for water. It doesn’t just flow from any sink.” His voice is gentle; he briefly looks up from his Bible at me. 

“Oh.” I remember lots of moments when I learned something that I never knew before. 

Dad never makes me feel stupid  when he teaches me things. I don’t like when someone acts like I should already know something. 

I sat for a while, swinging my feet slowly, letting love melt ice. 

“People are attracted to the Christ in you. You have to look past a lot of worldly values, and always try to see people how God sees them. The world might tell you who is annoying or gross or unworthy, but don’t listen. Get really quiet and listen to what God tells you about them.” Maybe Dad could hear. 

I felt ashamed. I played with the strings of my braided friendship bracelets; I must have had about 40 of them on one wrist. I felt tears well up in my eyes. I wasn’t trying to be mean. I mean…I don’t want to be mean. 

An idea. 

I wiped away my tears very quickly. I picked my favorite green and yellow friendship bracelet, and freed it from the others, wriggled it off my wrist. 

I hopped up and ran to the swings. As she swung, Crystalina had been holding the chain of an empty swing next to her, saving it for me.  She dragged her feet through the pebbles to stop herself quickly. 

“Thanks for saving me a swing. Here.” I handed her the friendship bracelet. It was a wide one, the kind I didn’t know how to make. 

“Thank you!!! This is my first one.” Crystalina eagerly put it on her wrist. 

Listen to your dad. Just…listen. 

Hoard

Hoard

My garage. It was the grossest space in this old house, and that was a hard trophy to win. 

All cabinets were seafoam green, with work surfaces of grimy retro linoleum peeling up in every countertop corner. 

There was dust crusted onto everything, not dry and loose–crusted, 40 years thick. Not “flutter the feather duster over it  in my maid costume” dust, but “powerwash it, scrub with bristley brushes, ruin your jeans, ruin your hair; find out what you’re made of” dust. That kind. 

My dryer vented into the garage, regularly keeping the air steamy, and I imagine…remoistening new dust layers day after day after month after year after decade. Dust, moistened dust, dried dust, new layer dust, moisten, crust over…

I don’t know the exact nuances of making a 40-year thick crusting of dust. I only know the state of my garage when  I moved in. I only know how much scrubbing and scraping it took. 

The rickety garage door, also seafoam green, was not well insulated, was not properly sealed at the bottom. It was freezing in there unless the dryer was steaming it up, or the tiny hazardous gas heater was on. Flames shot out of it several inches high, more than once I saw dry leaves meet their demise to that fiery little beast. 

This is probably dangerous, I would think as I rubbed my cold, bony fingers together in front of flames. When did my knuckles get so wrinkly? I can pinch the skin of a cold knuckle and it will stay pinched…then slooowly, lazily melt back into place. 

The weather-stripping on the bottom of the garage door was flapping off and severely gapping in many spots. They say to build your house on a hill, to sit there majestic and wise. People can lean back and look up to admire it. A shining example on display, make it glass even. What’s there to hide?

My house was built at the bottom of a hill. My driveway serves as a slide for rainwater, nothing to slow its flow toward the busted weather-stripping. 

Muddy rainwater never flooded the garage the 4 years I’ve owned the house, but it would seep in and settle…dry slowly, leaving behind only the dirt residue. Charm…adds a bit of charm, an optimist might say. Dirt is character? Yes. Sometimes. 

I walk into the garage. I feel the weight of this project grip me, pull me under water. 

I need this crusty garage to be usable space. Dear God…where do I start…I look around for a welcoming place. I don’t find one. 

November is too cold. I was born in Wisconsin, lived there til I was 4. No, Arkansas November isn’t as bad as Wisconsin. Think positive, brain, and stop singing “November Rain” by Guns N Roses. 

So I pull everything out of it and onto the driveway. Every cabinet, every rusty paint can, every gritty ziploc bag filled with every jingle of unorganized nail and bolt and crazy unknown bits of metal. Keep these? I should keep all these, right…? I will need these old nails one day…

I try not to think of the old man who lived here before me. He and his wife were the only owners, from 1972 when the house was built until 2012 when I bought it. 

I know he was 86 when he passed. I found his obituary. His daughter gave me the keys to the house at the closing; the keychain has some small, clear plastic prism hanging from a short, beaded metal chain with a cylinder clasp. I don’t know what you call it. You place the last bead of the chain into the opening on the cylinder and press. I should keep this keychain in his honor. 

I shiver. November chill? Or thoughts of which room did he die in? Was it in here? A hospital? What’s with all the plant hooks on the ceilings? Why did one have a thin leather dog collar hanging on it? What is this blackish-brown smear on the textured paint of the wall right next to the basement toilet…? 

I enlist help to clean the garage–to power wash, to scrub, to paint. My nephew and my three oldest daughters spend hours on it with me. I buy wafer board and have it cut to size for new countertops. My dad screws them onto the old wobbly cabinets for me. 

And I don’t care how the paint job looks, anything will be an improvement. I do not care, just get it covered. We use the leftover paint that I already have.  

I have my girls slop espresso-bean colored paint on every cabinet and countertop. The cabinets are sitting on visqueen in my driveway. The paint glues the plastic to the bottom of the cabinets. I have to hold the visqueen down with my old cheerleading Asics and lift to peel the cabinets free. Obviously, I never got rid of these Asics from twenty years ago because obviously I am going to be working on my toe-touches and herkies some day soon. Any day now. 

My nephew and I paint all walls gray–two dark gray and one light gray. Maybe it looks artistically chosen. Ah, my accent wall…yes. And here we have one set of 2×4 shelves nailed together shoddily, we chose to paint these a bright Caribbean blue. It’s beautiful…it was meticulously planned and designed. It was…what we had. 

Nick (nephew) brought his music, and I bumped that shit. I made up my own lyrics and would not be dissuaded. I forget the band name; it was a bunch of letters, like SKBRTKB…you should get their album. I especially enjoyed their song that goes–“My girl’s gonna sit in the mud! My girl’s gonna sit in the mud!” 

Now, Nick who could barely breathe during his explanation, he wanted me to believe they said–“My girl’s got a city to run!” But shhh, shh…shush, Nick. Don’t ruin my moment. I dropped it low and sang along. Me in my old Asics, dropping my ass into piles of dust around the garage–“My girl’s gonna sit in the mud!”

I still got it. Maybe I can do a toe-touch in these jeggings? Hang on. Kick this leg up, then kick that leg up. Okay, they wouldn’t bust. Hop a little…eh…it’s too slanted out here. Otherwise, I’d kill it. 

I leave all the cabinets and crap on my driveway overnight. You don’t really have to be in a hurry to move stuff until you get a notice from the city. Shockingly, no one stole any of it over the two nights it sat out there. 

It was November 2014, and I didn’t sleep a lot most nights since the end of September, when Demetrius left. Might as well get up super early and buy garage floor paint. I got a midnight blue, and some paint flecks to sprinkle on top like Christmas cookies–a variety of grays. 

Nothing like good honest work to occupy a mind in the middle of a divorce, to tire an already tired body and soul. The high-gloss topcoat is moodier than I am. It only wants certain temperatures. But…I don’t have time to wait til Spring. And I suppose this is why it dried cloudy. Good enough. Better than it was. The clouds add some depth, an unexplored galaxy of paint specks. What new adventures are in store for the garage’s next 40 years…

I order a $2700 new garage door. It is so ridiculously out of place on this house. I don’t give a crap. To my credit, I have great credit. If I say I will pay you, you will be paid. I don’t care if my choices make no sense to someone.

A jewel in a pig’s snout: my lovely new well-insulated garage door, I will pay it off before the accrued interest ever hits. There are worse choices to be made in life. I’ve made plenty of them before, and now I’ll leave those worse ones for someone else. 

I put everything back into the garage very neatly. I had a lot of extra furniture, a big tv, all our bikes, bookshelves and books and books and books, sports equipment, lawn mower and crap, paint and hardware. 

Demetrius messages me some days later that he’s going to bring over the last of my boxes. What’s even left of mine there? A truckload. What’s in the boxes, I can’t even imagine or care. He piles them into my newly cleaned, freshly painted, just organized garage. 

Holiday decorations, photo albums, candles, picture frames, the weird platters and dishes, electrical chargers and cords that go to…who knows what… 

Piles and piles of crap. And my irrational attachment to them. NO! I’m going to use that one day! Won’t I? Does this have a good sentimental value to me? 

I can’t do this yet. I can’t look through it.  I just leave it all in there. I know I will hang on to things I need to get rid of. Unopened boxes of memory in my garage, in my heart. I thought I cleaned this place…

______________________

“Emily?? What’s wrong? What is it?” Keith approaches me in my garage. It is March 2015. We just met February 16. 

“This shit is breaking me. I don’t know what to keep, what to burn, what to sell, what to do with any of it.” It is too early in our relationship for a breakdown, but I am who I am, and I feel what I feel. 

He wraps his arms around me, pinning my arms to my sides with an upward, lifting force. I sink onto him. 

“I had to do this, too. It’s hard to go through everything, but you will be glad when it’s all done.” He rubs my back. We don’t hide from each other. 

“I don’t want you to see me like this, but I can’t go through all this stuff and not cry. I know I won’t be able to.” Phony is not my forte, maybe at times in my past, it was. But not now. 

“Well…do you want to be alone while you go through it all? I can go somewhere.” He releases his hold and backs away some to see my face. 

“No. I don’t want do this alone. I need help deciding what I should keep. But I will need you to be understanding, too. I will explain exactly what’s going on in my head or heart, and I will need you to understand and not be upset.” I look at him. My eyes say–I don’t want to go through it alone. And also…I don’t want to go through it alone. 

“Okay. I can do that.” Keith takes me back into his hug. 

He is going to keep me off the show Hoarders when my kids move out. He is better at explaining what needs to go. I trust him. I don’t always listen, but he is right. 

I watch episodes of that show Hoarders, and yeah, these people are extreme cases, but their words don’t always sound crazy to me. Most people who watch are probably like–whoa, they’re insane!

But I have to admit that…their logic often makes sense to me. And when people go through so much emotional trauma in their lives, I can understand that they might revolt in these sad, severe ways. 

We watched an episode recently of this old guy living in his yard instead of his house. He had piles of clothes; he slept on a pile of blankets with a tarp covering him. He was a tough veteran, and I could see myself getting along fine with him over a cup of coffee…in some place other than his home. 

Prideful, stubborn, unconventional, thrifty, resourceful, unconcerned with pleasing society, lovers of personal freedom. I do relate to some personality traits of some of these people on SOME levels. I’m not saying these feelings are all GOOD; I’m just saying I can empathize. 

Bugs, rodents, unworking plumbing, no livable spaces, room upon room of no walking room …now I can’t get on board with any of THAT

My dad always said to us–the order of your bedroom is a reflection of the order of your mind. I think about that a lot, especially when I am holding something, looking at it, deciding if I should get rid of it. 

Keith rallies for me to let go of things. He’s right. Will I ever watch these VHS movies? I mean seriously. 

Keith arrived in my life during a transition period. I guess I could’ve pretended that I had been healed for months, but that’s not how I am. 

A wound doesn’t heal completely when you keep ripping it open together. And that’s exactly what Demetrius and I did September through January, kept it all ripped open. 

Ripped open through his cheating, through my obsessing, through the separation, through the sleepless nights, through the move, through him pushing me away, through me pushing him away, through him clinging o me…trying to keep hold of some part of me, through me clinging to him…trying to keep hold of some part of him. 

Hard to heal with that much overlap of big life events; it takes a lot of honesty. 

February wasn’t long after all of this. I had been slowly facing the truth, but that doesn’t mean Keith entered my life when I was healed. 

I wasn’t entirely healed, but I wasn’t a broken half-person, desperately looking for someone to fill a void either. I was a complete person in my relationship with God, but still a very hurt person. 

I needed a strong man, who has a kind and understanding heart. Someone I could be completely honest with. 

Someone who could help me understand what to hold onto in my life, and what to let go. 

Balance

Balance

So I saw a friend’s Facebook status yesterday about how she had a seat on an airplane next to a baby and a toddler. And she referred to this as her personal hell.

We talked a little, and she mentioned that she feels anxious around kids. And she also mentioned that she has been told by parents that she “doesn’t understand” things because she doesn’t have kids. 

So I took all that in, and I truly feel that I understand every feeling she said she has regarding kids. That is, I understand as best as I can…as a stay-at-home mom who rarely flies anywhere, who only leaves the house weekly to teach six 45-min fitness classes, who mostly only has to interact with her own kids. 

But I think I “get” both sides. I do. 

As a parent of 5 daughters, I cannot tell you how much anxiety I have felt and do feel when I know I am going to have to be in an unavoidable situation when my babies and/or toddlers might do and say…only God knows what.

GOOD MOODS

Clara is 2yrs and 8months. I don’t accept that “terrible twos” is some unavoidable certain misery.  Kids understand way more than we give them credit for. And Clara and I figure it out together. 

At her young age, she understands the difference in using rude words and polite words. She knows how I expect her to talk to me AND TO ANYONE. She understands this 100%…I promise you.

Not every child grasps that, and I understand not every kid will understand that at the same time. But I hold her to a high standard of obedience and polite behavior because she DOES KNOW. At my house, she will behave, or she will not get what she wants from me.

We talk a lot about expectations when she is in a good mood. Not when she’s hungry, not when she’s tired…those aren’t the role-playing moments, those are the “let’s use what we learned moments.”

Sometimes the lesson works in the naughty moment…not always. 

PRIVATE BATTLES

Does she ever throw a toy at my head and scream, “I hate my nice words!!!!!”

Yes. 

And I scoop her up, put her butt in bed, and we can talk after your nap, Clara. Thank you. 

Do I ever give in? Do we ever negotiate? Does she ever flat out “win” our battles of will? Yes. And yes. And yes. 

But I am pretty firm and pretty stubborn, in a calm and quiet way. 

Sometimes, Clara and I make deals. She wants a red Popsicle; I ask her to eat a banana (or some turkey) first and then she can have one. 

She likes to watch the same shows over and over and over…and over. Sometimes I just let her. And sometimes I make her try something new. Negotiate.

Theory and practice…and utter exhaustion–hers and/or mine.

There are times I let go of my rules completely. I have let her climb into my bed in the middle of the night, and I just hold her. Even though I’ve asked her to please stay in her own bed and to go back to sleep on her own. It’s just…

I don’t pressure her to potty-train. I don’t and I won’t. She will let me know. I don’t believe she will be in diapers in kindergarten. 

I let her have a pacifier, and I don’t care…like even a little bit. I don’t care. If a stranger asks her/me–“Uh! When is she going to stop using that pacifier?!”

I just say–“Maybe never? Is that hard on you? Does it affect your life?” And eye contact is my favorite. People usually forget what else they want to say.

MORE PRIVATE BATTLES

It is a battle of wills, and I’ve found that the best approach is very calm, but very firm and very persistent. 

Watch any episode of Super Nanny to see it in action. I don’t think the parent should yell or spank hard. The key is control. Showing self control by example. 

You can’t do this every time, but I have had to do it at least once with every daughter–stay at it until you break them. Like a wild horse. 

“Your behavior is unacceptable; sit in that chair until I tell you that you can get up.”

And then–ignore. Go about your day happily. Talk to her siblings, talk aloud about everything you are doing, calmly and happily. 


If the child gets up, you say–sit down. If she doesn’t or if she screams no…you go get her and put her back down. That’s yes.

Repeat 1000 times. 

That’s it. Until the child apologizes or changes her attitude. That’s it. We can do this all day. You will not break Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller. 

It’s amazing what level of shrill scream and kicking that I have and can ignore. The rest of us can all play cards or watch a movie…and the “chair kid” is welcome to join us as soon as her attitude changes…or not. Her choice.

PUBLIC BATTLES

So when a child or baby is throwing a fit in public, it’s the parents’ fault 97% of the time. Usually some basic need (nap, meal, etc) has been ignored…sometimes it’s beyond the parent’s control. And sometimes the parent is shopping and ignoring.

But if every need is met, and the kid is just testing his limits. Let him know the limits, especially in public. People say–pick your battles. A public battle is a yes, every time. 

How the fit is handled is 100% within the parent’s control. I can understand a warning, maybe even a few…but after that, it’s “remove the child from public” time. 

I remember clearly a day in the store when Audrey was about 3 years old. She taught me a very important lesson, and I’ve used it since that day. 

I was in a hurry, grabbing this, grabbing that, and Audrey was sitting in the big part of the cart. Every time I stopped the cart to look for or grab something, she would stand up and act goofy. I don’t remember exactly what she was doing or saying, but it was funny and entertaining to everyone else in the store…except me, her mom in a hurry. 

I chuckled it off the first few times, and then I said–“Audrey, I want you to stay seated.” And I held the “I’m serious” eye contact for a few seconds. Audrey is hilarious, and sometimes she’s so funny that nothing penetrates her thick layer of natural comedy, nothing can extinguish her mischievous eye twinkle, and you have no idea what she will say or do next. 

So I stop the cart again, and sure enough…Audrey stands up and does a goofy dance or whatever she had been doing. I get her attention with a swat on the rear, “Audrey. Sit. Down.” Not a hard swat, I barely make pat-contact. It’s the act, not the force. An attention-getter. 

Audrey was mortified. When the other person on the aisle left, she asked me incredulously, “Why did you spank me?”

“Audrey…because you didn’t obey me.” Disobedience isn’t cute. 

“Well, that embarrassed me. And it hurt my feelings.” I can’t remember my oldest two daughters ever telling me they were embarrassed.

“Well…it embarrassed me that my daughter didn’t obey. Then people will think–oh she lets her kids do whatever they want.”

“You don’t have to spank me. Then everyone knows I’m in trouble.” She was truly hurt, sulking in the cart with her little arms folded. 

“What do you think I should do?” Kids have really, really good ideas. Ask them sometimes. 

“Just whisper to me and say I am embarrassing you.” Brilliant. 

And to this day, her brilliant 3-year-old brain idea has worked with 100% success (with my daughters 2.5 years and older). All I have ever had to do in public, is motion for them to come over to me, and lean in–

“I want you to stop behaving this way. You are embarrassing me. This is your private warning. Do you want me to embarrass you?” And they know they have a choice. You can see wheels turn, smell smoke. 

Kids have pride too. And they are brilliant. I have found that their punishment ideas are especially appropriate.

MORE PUBLIC BATTLES

I remember one time Margaret was maybe 18-20 months old. I was pregnant with Hazel. And who knows what went wrong but she started throwing a fit in public. 

Threw herself of the filthy mall floor, kicking and screaming. What to do?? I didn’t have our “timeout chair” with me! Plus…all these people were around to watch all this. 

A bribe?? Promise her chocolate? Um…heck no. A reward for this insane behavior? NO. But it crossed my mind, sure. 

I picked her up and put her on the mall bench, and I sat on the other end of the bench. Here? Now? This battle? Yes. 

It was an eternity before she stopped. Probably 5-7 minutes. She flipped herself over to her belly and attempted to flee at least  7 times. Nope. Even pregnant I could catch her, snag her back up, sit her back down. And wait. 

It’s tiring. But it’s worth it. 

CURIOUS BREED 

Kids are a curious breed…
Not exactly like a pet (well trained or poorly trained). But a lot like a pet.

Not exactly like an adult–they have no filter or need for social pleasantries. But in many ways, they are like adults.

For good or bad, I’ve always kept a good portion of my dialogue to kids as “adult words” (not cuss words, I mean not baby talk). A respectful conversation between equals.

…and a good portion of my interaction with kids involve “adult expectations.” Kids usually  understand way more than adults give them credit for, more than adults give them access to.

And within reason regarding their ages, they will behave and perform to whatever standard you hold them to. That’s the damn truth.

They have basic needs that require regular attendance… that’s the big one that parents try to stretch to limits. A toddler should not be expected to shop for 3-4 hours during his lunch and nap time; it’s going to be bad for all involved. 

That sounds a lot like humans of all ages. It is. 

Things Moms Carry

Things Moms Carry

“Nooooo!!! I yant CHEETOS!!” They aren’t Cheetos, but there are no battles of logic with a 20-month-old. They are the grossest bag of generic weirdo-brand bacon cheddar hot fries that I’ve ever seen. 

“Let’s get…these chips…” I try quiet horse-whisper-bribery, which angers her further. 

“Nooooooo!” She squeezes the bag so hard with passionate angry-love, I do think the cellophane seal might pop. 

“Okay okay…release!” I finangle the bag from her grip. Her moist hands streak across the bag producing the syncopated stuttering of poorly strung bow. 

So we carry Tito’s acid-burp bacon chem-fries around the store. I say “we,” but I mean *I* carry them and I carry…Clara because she insisted on walking instead of riding in a cart but then got tired…and Clara’s giant baby doll because she couldn’t possibly leave her in the van…

Oh annnd…the other 7 items I collect while Keith waits with our cart on 8 deli employees to take 20-min to slice him 1-lb of roast beef…alternately speaking to each other about their break times, avoiding direct eye contact with customers, occasionally asking him if someone helped him, and forgetting what thickness he wanted. Holding up pieces of meat…this? Like this? How’s this slice? …and this one?

My bra is too tight, it is about 7:45pm, I am thinking–why did we wait so long before having supper? I am thinking–the minivan ride home is going to be horrendous with the defiant mood Clara is in. I am thinking–how am I going to sneak these laxative Cheetos out of her sight? I am thinking–what if we have to buy them and she eats them…and then digests them and then…!? I was thinking–Calgon!

I am thinking–

“You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.” (On the Waterfront) <back of hand to forehead in dramatic pose> 

Then as I feel my bicep slowly sinking into the abyss of defeat, I feel Clara’s arms wrap around my head…she kisses my cheek a couple of times without me asking, “Love you…Mommy.”

Strength returns to my arm, to my heart. A life of purpose. 

Worth it. It’s all worth it.

…I didn’t buy them, and deep down I know she appreciates it. 

Cool like that

Cool like that

“Mom! Do we have to keep your bra on the kitchen counter?”

“Yes.” Where would Princess like it to be? Too bad. 

Do not give me ammo, child. Have you learned nothing as my disciple? Never give me ammo.

Filing this away…

_______________________
I teach fitness dance classes. I love jamming out to cool new songs and making up dances. 

My older three girls used to stare at me during class and try to dance just like me. 

And now…I turn on “Wild Things” by Alessia Cara, and why the heck do I ask for their input…

Me–Does this move look cool for the chorus?

<me dancing, dancing>

Audrey–Ummm…it looks like you think you’re cool…

Close enough. 

And I will get you back. 

_____________________

I see Audrey sitting on the couch Facetiming her friend. My eyes narrow, joyous mischief ignites my soul. 

“AUDREY ARE YOU DONE POOPING YET?!! AUDREY!!”

She fumbles around almost dropping her phone and “accidentally” hangs up on her friend.

Maybe you should ask Santa for a new mom. 

Now who’s cool? Right.