With Friends Like That…

So I’m driving around my regular kids’ shuttle service the other afternoon and I start listening to Kid E in the back seat.  This is what I heard:

“I will punch you in the face.”

“Then I will punch you harder right in the middle of your face.”

“Then I will knock down a tree and make it fall on your head.”

“Then I will hit you so hard with that tree that it makes your head fall off.”

I asked him who in the world he was talking to back there.  He replied, “Oh, just my friend.”

Dude, I don’t think I wanna be your friend.

Rant #1

Let me just warn you all right now.  The tally on this tangent could get pretty high.  I certainly have more peeves than I have nuggets of advice.  My tombstone will probably be inscribed with, “You know what REALLY pisses me off?” (of course my answer in that case would be dying, but I digress).  I have some pretty strong opinions on just about everything.  Lucky for you I like to share.  So, you’re welcome.

Rant #1 – Complainers

Look, I know that it is a contradiction for me to list complainers as my number one complaint, but I am running this show so I get to make up and break up the rules as we go along.  I also am not referring to complainers in general.  Where would we be today if everyone just sat around complacent all the time (we’d still be back in England under Her Majesty’s rule and we’d be able to watch the Royal Wedding at a decent hour – not 4 AM – for goodness’ sake)?  The malcontents who complain to raise consciousness in order to affect change are super stars in my opinion.  My gripe is with anyone who says they don’t like something but they don’t do anything about it.  Complaining just for complaining’s sake is lazy and annoying.  What other purpose does it serve but to put icky vibes out in the world?

You have such sick thoughts. That is a clam.

You know that those icky vibes just float around until they land on some unsuspecting, random person, right?  That is my theory as to why you’re just sitting on the beach and a bird might poop on you.  Or you get a flat tire.  Or you are about to host twenty kids for a birthday party at your house and the kitchen sink clogs and your kid throws up and your spouse announces that he has to go out of town for three days next week, leaving you to single parent while he is gone.  It has nothing to do with merit.  I just think that’s how stuff goes around.  It also helps me understand how bad things happen to good people.

Here’s the thing.  You should be allowed to complain about something, but only once.  It is good to evaluate the problem and state it aloud in order to identify it.  But then you should be required to do something about it.  No, you can’t fix every problem yourself.  There are practicalities like money (you need it) and biology (you can’t really change it) that sometimes can not be circumvented.  Be practical and get creative.  You hate your thighs?  Eat better and work out more.  You hate being short?  Wear high heels.  Your spouse doesn’t help out enough around the house?  First, ask for his help (nobody is a mind reader), then print out a To-Do list that you can tackle together.  Your kids don’t listen?  Discipline them.  All the time, not just when it is easy or convenient.

Life can be really hard sometimes.  Some people just get a really bad deal, but most people are pretty lucky.  You can be in control of your own life.  You have the power to make it different if you are unhappy.  It probably won’t be easy or pretty or fun, especially if you’re thinking about a massive change.  But you will be taking charge of your life and living it the way you want to live it.  Keep your hands on the plow and your eye on the prize.

Once upon a time Sheepdog and I were completely unhappy and on the verge of divorce.  We lived in a house that was too expensive for us and we both worked all the time in order to pay for it (barely).  I was going through the motions of being a wife/ mother/ daughter/ sister/ friend/ employee/ homemaker, but I pretty much sucked at all of it.  I was miserable.  Sheepdog was miserable.  I was the “yelling mom” so I’m sure the girls were miserable.  We complained all the time.  Then one day we just realized that we had the ability to change things if we wanted to.  So we sold our house and moved down South, where real estate was more reasonably priced.  Sheepdog got a new job that enabled me to stay at home full-time.  It was scary and insane and the best thing that could have ever happened to our family.

So suck it up, people.  Stop complaining unless you’re going to do something about it.  Teach your children how to do it.  Lead by example and enlighten your friends.  Empowerment is contagious!  But so is a throwing up kid, so please stop your complaining.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

If You Have to Poop, Go Home

I met a new friend a few months ago. Her son was playing mixed doubles tennis with Kid C.  Kid C just took up tennis for the first time this winter. She’s playing well, but she just does not have much experience and she is still pretty timid with the ball.  Plus, there was something shiny up in the sky that probably distracted her.  Her partner was not at all thrilled with her level of play, but fortunately not much fazes Kid C.  They lost the match even though it was pretty close.  Kid C even commented in the car on the way home, “Today was really a great day, mom!”  You’ve got to love that kind of enthusiasm and positivity.

Even though the other kid was John McEnroe competitive, his mom was great.  We talked on the bench while the match was going on and I learned that she was living in a house on the corner that I admire every time I pass by.  There is a big black lab in the front yard who takes his guard duties very seriously.  There are always great seasonal decorations throughout the year.  It just looks like a really fun house to live in.  But most importantly, there is always a football game going on in their front yard.  The boys are in the eight to ten-year old range (I’m guessing) and they are always out there playing. My oldest son (Kid D) is only six and is more of a baseball kid.  I always say that I’m just going to send him on down to that house to toughen up and learn to play some real sports.

So when I tell the football house mom this, she proceeds to tell me that she has become somewhat of a tough cookie when it comes to playing at her house.  This is obviously not her first rodeo. Here are the rules for playing at  her house:

  1. If you are a cry baby, don’t even show up.
  2. If they’re playing tackle and somebody gets hurt or maimed, it is an automatic switch to flag.
  3. This isn’t a restaurant, so don’t expect food or drinks.
  4. If you have to pee, go outside.
  5. If you have to poop, go home.

I am guessing that she has had to learn some lessons the hard way.  Despite these rules, and her unrelenting enforcement of them, her yard is always full of kids (and oftentimes dads too).  They are always running and playing and yelling.  It makes me smile every time I pass by.  There is something to be said for letting people know your rules.

Try to make a short list of your own house rules.  Write them down and display them where everybody can see them.  That way there is no question when it comes to your expectations.  You can make them about anything.  Try starting with things you find yourself saying over a hundred times per day.  No hitting.  No whining.  No jumping on the furniture.  Speak kindly to one another.  Do your chores without being asked.  No cursing before lunchtime.  No entertaining guests in your bedroom.  And, of course, if you have to poop, go home.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Wrangling the Entropy, Tip #1

Farmers sure know how to fight the entropy

As I have mentioned before, Sheepdog has a degree in chemical engineering.  He is also a very smart lawyer and he is very mechanically inclined.  Basically he’s an all-around smarty pants.  Over the years I have picked up a science geek word or two from him.  Very few of those words work seamlessly into the daily conversations of a stay-at-home mom, but I keep coming back to one word in particular that I feel applies so completely to my daily life – entropy.  As simply as I can put it, entropy is the tendency of things to go from order to disorder over a period of time.  It is the natural progression of things towards chaos.  And it is the bane of my existence.

The very first time Sheepdog introduced me to the concept of this Second Law of Thermodynamics, we were driving from New Jersey to West Virginia on the highway.  He pointed out a cluster of pine trees growing in the wild along a mountainside.  At the top of the mountain the trees grew uniformly in rows, separate from each other.  Let’s keep our tree limbs to ourselves, people.  Nice and orderly.  But as the trees grew farther down the hillside they started to cluster together, here and there, almost too close for sustainable growth.  They were randomly growing all over the place – wherever the wind had blown them.  It was bedlam!  That mountainside forest was exactly how I first pictured entropy in my mind, and for some reason I never forgot it.  Little did I know that it was incredibly accurate foreshadowing of my daily life as a wife and mom.

Every time I walk into a room and see all of the game pieces from every one of the board games we own strewn upon the floor, I think of entropy.  Every time I wash dishes or clothes or my truck, I am reminded of entropy.  Don’t even get me started on the accumulation of dust on my black (what was I thinking?) bedroom furniture – more entropy.  Bedrooms and playrooms are breeding grounds for it.  It is the natural tendency of things to head straight towards a mess.  But there is hope!

Since I am partial to all good cowboy metaphors, I will call this the Wrangling the Entropy advice section of my blog.  I will share with you all little tricks I have picked up on over the years and hope that they can help you to contain your own life’s crazy.  Most things are common sense, some are tedious, some are fun.  Most of them I have read about in magazines or seen on television or learned from the experts.  These are the things that work for me and my family.  Use what works for you, tweak it to make it better, pass it on.

Tip #1 – Bins and Baskets and Buckets

First, I’d like to tell you to just throw it out.  Recycle it, donate it, consign it, or sell it for 25 cents at a garage sale.  I don’t even care what “it” is.  Don’t bring it into your house.  You probably don’t even need it.  Follow the one-in-one-out rule.  If you must have something new, then get rid of something old.  There is too much unnecessary stuff in your house right now.  Get rid of it.  Your soul will thank you.  Clear your closet, clear your mind.  Now take a deep breath, because if you have kids or a husband or a shopping addiction then you are still going to have too much stuff.

If Heaven even has an identifiable description, my guess is that it would look something like The Container Store or the Expedit section of the Ikea catalog.  If cleanliness truly is next to Godliness then there must be a place for everything and everything in its place.  I don’t care if you are a complete slob and think you are happy about it, you can not deny how much calmer it feels to be in a room that is free of clutter.  I don’t think that there is one room in our house that does not have some kind of catch-all container for all of the stuff that just sort of shows up.  Make it easy for your one-year-old (YES, even a baby can do it!) to throw her toys into a bin so she learns how to clean up after herself.  Make her do it every time she makes a mess.  Every time.  Eventually, she will start to do it without even being told.

Kid C is a dreamer.  She is constantly making things and building things and I can only display so much of it.  I certainly do not want her to stop dreaming or creating, so I had to come up with something.  Kid C knows that if she wants to keep it, then it has to fit in her trundle.  For her, it was a giant drawer under her bed that helped to wrangle the entropy.

Kid A is a collector and a saver.  Mostly she saves papers and notes and school projects.  I got her some under-the-bed containers on wheels and she wrangles her own entropy there.

Kids D and E are little boys.  They have trains, cars, legos, trucks, balls, marbles, plastic dinosaurs, wooden blocks and more legos.  For this entropy I had to dedicate an entire wall to shelving for bins that can hold anything and everything.  They carry their bins around the house, wherever they are going to play, and they put them back on the shelf when they are done.  Entropy wrangled.

Kid B doesn’t keep anything.  She doesn’t even have doors on her closet and it always looks organized.  She is my hero.

Sheepdog has an entire workshop filled with his bike stuff.  I just don’t go in there.

Ninety percent of a messy house is the clutter.  Keep it at bay and you’ll fool most people into thinking that your house is spotless.  Have a bin for sports equipment in your garage.  Hang an organizer on the inside of the vacuum closet door and keep sunscreen and thread and bug spray in there.  Keep a shoe basket by the door.  Keep a container for kid snacks in the pantry.  Keep a sorting bin for dirty clothes in the laundry room.  Make it so easy to keep things picked up and organized that it just becomes second nature.  Then when people drop by unannounced and ask, “How do you keep your house so clean with all of these kids running around?” you can just smile while you tip your cowgirl hat and say, “Aw shucks, I’m just an entropy wrangler.”

You’re Not Ugly

Some of my kids I worry about, but not so much Kid E.  What is one of the most critical things to master in the grown-up world?  People Skills.  You won’t get anywhere if you don’t know how to deal with people.  And the best of the best always seem to leave us wanting more.  That’s why I think Kid E is on his way to having it all figured out.  Seriously.  But did I mention that he is three?

He goes to pre-school a few mornings a week.  Pre-school in a strip mall.  I learned years ago that the best pre-schools are not the pretty new buildings with the high-tech computer rooms for babies and the young, sexy teachers (Sheepdog was sad, sad, sad when I figured that out), but the best places to send your kids are the ones that sometimes smell just faintly of pee and have women running the show in sweatpants and ball caps.  Some of the best pre-school teachers and day care providers I have met have been the ones who work in older facilities that have been around for ages and put more money into macaroni and glitter than any of that other unnecessary stuff.  These are the women who usually have kids of their own and they have been through all of it and yet they still choose to work in a place filled with other people’s snotty, whiny children all day long.  They actually like what they do and they care about my kids.  These are the women I want running my pre-school show.

Anyway, Kid E goes to school and he loves it.  He learns letters and shapes and colors and songs.  He ends his days with a sticker and a stamp.  It doesn’t get much better than that for him.  He really loves his teacher.  She came in mid-year and replaced another teacher who he couldn’t get enough of, yet apparently he loves the new one more.  Do you want to know how I know?  He paid her his highest compliment.  He totally grabbed both of her cheeks with both of his sweaty little hands and looked her straight in the eyes and said with all the seriousness he could muster, “You’re.  Not.  Ugly.”  And, just like that (snap!), she was putty in his hands.

It is true because shortly after he buttered her up they had a conflict regarding the overuse of hand soap in the bathroom.  She was (rightfully) telling him not to do something and he got mad at her.  She stuck to her guns and he shut her out the rest of the day.  He wasn’t disrespectful (not allowed), but he withheld hugs and would not even say goodbye when we left.  I could see the pain in her eyes as he left her.  I think that she probably cried herself to sleep that night.  I told her that she should be ashamed for allowing a little kid to outsmart her.  He was becoming a master puppeteer already.  We are in for some serious manipulation, folks.

Think about the genius of it for a moment.  We all love to have compliments paid to us.  Don’t you get a little extra bounce in your walk if somebody notices a new haircut or mentions how cute your outfit is on any regular day?  Of course you do.  And it is hard to deny the drawing power of someone who plays hard to get.  That unreachable, untouchable, unattainable something or someone can be like crack if you get it in your head deep enough.  Somehow, with three simple words this kid managed to combine the two.  It’s not really a compliment, yet it makes you feel like you are special.  It is actually just a negated insult presented as kudos.  Unbelievable.

So my little Pre-School Playa continued to woo the masses.  He sensed the power and started to dole out variations like, “You’re not scary” and “You don’t smell bad.”  People would eat it up.  They think he is charming.  He was starting to get comfortable and I was momentarily a little worried that he might grow up to be one of those jerks who only gave out backhand compliments as some sort of control move.  This was the kind of boy that I didn’t ever want coming near my daughters.  What if I became the Mother of one?  I had to stop this behavior immediately, no matter how cute it was coming from a toddler.  Then one day out of the blue he grabbed both of my cheeks with both of his sweaty little hands, looked me straight in the eyes and said with all the sincerity in the world, “You.  Are.  Cute.”  My heart swelled with joy as I replied, “and You’re.  Not.  Stupid.”

Nope, I really don’t worry so much about that kid.

Guess Who’s Pregnant!

I honestly can not tell you how many times I have uttered those words in my lifetime.  I have been pregnant a half-dozen times myself and every time Sheepdog and I have told our kids we have announced it at dinner.  I mean, it got to be so common that every time I said, “We have some great news,” the kids rolled their eyes and thought either that I was knocked up or we were going to move again (and we’ve only lived in like five houses since we started having kids, so… give me a break).  Plus, I have three younger sisters, all of whom have three kids of their own – that’s fourteen announcements all together.  We are a fertile bunch.  My grandmother (we called her “Kettle”) named us the Rabbit Family.  My mom brags that she was so fertile that contraception didn’t even stop her from making babies.  Each of us are identified by our own failed method that granted us life on this earth (I think I was the failed Pill, Sister B was a failed IUD, Sister C was a failed condom, etc.).  With that kind of track record you would think she would begin to examine her own user error, but I’m certainly not complaining.  None of us would be here if it were not for my mom’s lack of ability, so we’re all good.

Big Family does not even begin to describe us.  We are not Duggar Family big, but that’s just silly.  Kettle was the oldest of five kids.  My mom is the oldest of four, as am I.  My dad is one of six.  When we get together for birthdays and the holidays there is not just a kids’ table, we actually have to build a new dining wing.  It sounds like a good plan to go to Wednesday Night Suppers at local churches just to get tips on how to serve the masses.  Anyone who also comes from a large family knows exactly what I mean.  The panic always comes from those who don’t.  Sheepdog is one of only two kids.  And his sister is seven years younger than him, so they might as well have been only children.  I’m sure you can imagine how scared Sheepdog was when this new girl he was dating announced that she wanted to have five kids (and had already named them L, M, N, O and P – just listen as it rolls off the tongue!).  Needless to say, I have had to bribe him each and every time I was ready for us to add another baby to this crazy family.  I can’t tell you how much I struggled with the decision to stop getting pregnant all the time.

I was thirty-six years old when I delivered Kid E.  Do you know that the experts call that “of an advanced maternal age?”  I think that is a horribly offensive slur, but I can be logical so I do understand that certain medical risks start to go up as you get older.  Plus, I had had four Cesarian sections by the end.  A c-section is major surgery and recovery from it can be a bitch.  Pregnancy was mostly enjoyable for me (Sheepdog again claims I have revisionist history on this point) but no one can challenge that I truly loved feeling a baby flutter inside of me.  Growing a human being from scratch gave me an awesome sense of control, even though I know it really had nothing to do with me.  We were just extremely lucky that we could make healthy babies.  And Oh, how I love the babies.

It just made sense to Sheepdog (and to that damn logical part of my brain) for me to have my tubes tied after Kid E was delivered.  I was already in the operating room and having even one more kid after him would mean either tying a kid or two to the roof or getting a family vehicle bigger than the one we have with an XL at the end of its name.  Sheepdog was in the O.R. when the doctor did it and he (1) watched very closely to make sure he did a good job and (2) asked him to cut out just a little more because he had read something about spontaneous regeneration and knew that something like that could and probably would totally happen to me.  So now Sheepdog can brag forever more that he will NOT be married to a pregnant woman ever again.

Fast forward a couple of years and even though my egg chutes have been cut and cauterized and forever banned from hosting an egg and sperm cocktail, I would swear that I am once again in the family way.  I know all of the feelings and signs and symptoms.  I have them all plus I am late.  Sheepdog is in a complete panic, although I can see that he believes that he would totally be The Man if his boys made it through the wilderness and found something to fertilize despite the fact that I was supposedly rendered unable to conceive.  So we stop to buy a pregnancy test (always buy the box with two… just in case) and wait in a crazed panic like teenagers for the results on a stick.  I am dumbfounded when I see with my own eyes that…

Let's see how high we can count!

The Original Six Pack

I am not pregnant.  Duh.  Seriously, I mean of course I am not pregnant because I had my tubes tied.  The chances of me conceiving naturally now are less than 1%.  Seeing a negative pregnancy test made me a little sad for what could have been, but it also gave me a renewed sense that our family is what it is supposed to be – Me and Sheepdog and our five chickens.  It makes me really happy and extremely satisfied.  I continue to be a very lucky girl.

Oh, and wish me luck for tomorrow…