(A) or (B)?

Your kid texts you shortly after leaving for middle school in the morning, “Mom I left my project on the bus what can I do?”

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Do you (A) give him some tough love and reinforce his independence by telling him to go to the front office and ask for help, and when they are not able to offer anything other than “you’ll just have to wait until you ride the bus home after school” you explain that he has to be responsible for his mistakes (although everybody is human and everybody makes them); or

(B) call the county school bus company, get transferred to dispatch, explain the situation, hold while he radios the bus driver on the walkie-talkie, says she looked but found nothing, text your kid back with the bad news, talk your kid off the ledge because he worked on the project for days and will get a late grade if he doesn’t turn it in today, continue periodically trying to calm him down via text, an hour later decide to call the county school bus company again (wonder should you disguise your voice this time… but decide no, that’s weird and not believable because your British accent tends to fall off mid-sentence) and ask if you can personally locate and search the bus because the kid knows down to the row, seat, and exact coordinates where he left it, profess your undying love for the understanding dispatcher who goes out to the bus, looks for and locates the project himself, drive to the bus depot two towns over (thus missing the last group workout of the morning and you know you’re not going to the afternoon one now) to pick up the project, drive it to your kid’s school, and text him to let him know it is there for pick up, then come home and take a nap?

Yeah, me too.  I went with (A).  I definitely went with that one.  Oh, who am I kidding?  That nap was awesome.

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And he had a quiz in the middle of all of this!  You know it’s serious when juvenile humor doesn’t get a smile out of him.  Try saying ‘Boobie Washington’ a few times without giggling.  You can’t.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

How To Communicate With Your College Freshman During Finals Week

All across these United States, college students are fah-reak-ing out over finals.  The Stacks are full and their Starbuck’s accounts are almost empty.  Just hang on, kids.  It’s almost winter break.

I need to talk to Kid A about all kinds of things… money, schedules, where she plans to live next year, her grandiose plans for spring break vs. what’s really going to go down, etc.  But finals week is not the time to bring up such serious buzz kill topics.  This is the time to send love notes, supportive messages, and comfort food.

And fun text messages:

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Please wish Kid A luck on her finals…

Traditionally Speaking

The question has always stumped me.  I have never come up with a really good answer.  My whole life, I have always been flummoxed when someone puts me to the task of explaining my family traditions or heritage-related stuff.  I guess it is because I wasn’t really raised in any kind of specific, culturally rich atmosphere.

We only spoke one language in my house.  I didn’t have a crazy grandmother always yelling things in Greek or Italian or Chinese at me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I definitely had a crazy grandmother.  It’s just that she yelled, “Dammit!  Who hid my cigarettes again?” and “Don’t be a beer counter, you little jerk!” in English.  Nobody came to America on a boat or was smuggled in a truck (or even flew here on a plane for that matter) for at least a few generations back.  We definitely didn’t celebrate any holidays that weren’t pre-marked in red or depicted in the monthly picture on the linen hand towel calendar in the kitchen.

If Snoopy wasn't drinking a margarita, how were we supposed to know to celebrate Cinco de Mayo?

If Snoopy and Woodstock were slinging back sunflowers instead of margaritas, how were we supposed to know to celebrate Cinco de Mayo?

There was always talk that my father’s side of the family was German along with some other Western European sprinkles (French, English) and my mother’s side was similar, minus the German, and somehow plus some Native American.  I think that my ancestors have lived on American soil for a really long time, but honestly I’ve never actually entered my credit card information on ancestry.com to confirm or find out otherwise.  I don’t know what is true and what is made up.  I have always just considered myself kind of a cultural mutt.  And I am okay with that.

Until Thanksgiving, that is.

‘Tis the season for unveiling your cultural relevance and family traditions.  The friends with whom we will be celebrating Thanksgiving asked how we could incorporate ours with theirs.  This year my parents and two of my sisters and their families are going on a cruise in the Carribbean.  I was just going to watch football and make stuffing from the box, so… um, just run with yours.  Most of my kids are working on homework assignments and projects that involve where they came from and how we as a family celebrate that.  I think that the kids are as frustrated about the family void when it comes to this subject as I was, so they are finally employing some creative license to get the job done.

Kid B was given the assignment by her Spanish teacher to make and explain a traditional, cultural recipe as it applies to her family.  She asked if she could instead make an old, family dessert recipe* that would represent our heritage, even though it had nothing to do with us maybe being slightly German-English-French-1/16th Cherokee.  The teacher said go for it.

So Kid B went to the grocery store and got the ingredients for cookie dough, a box of Oreos, and a brownie kit.  She mixed them individually, layered the cookie dough on the bottom, covered it with the Oreos, and then spread the brownie mix on top.  And, voila… a batch of “slutty brownies” was made.  Yes, that’s really what they are called due to the wicked threesome of ingredients.

According to family lore, you can make them even sluttier by adding a layer of dulce de lece before the brownies.

According to ancient family lore, you can make them even sluttier by adding a layer of dulce de lece before the brownies.

So now I guess, traditionally speaking, I can finally say we have a cultural identity.  And I am okay with that, although I do hope it translates to something a little nicer in Spanish.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

*Slutty brownies are not, in fact, any kind of old, family recipe.  I have never made them in my life.  As far as I know, they started going around the internet a few years ago.  They are both easy to make and sinfully delicious.  Kid B was just looking for an excuse to make them.

Who Is In Control Here?

Tuesday ended up being one of those days.  It started off per usual (fighting with Kid E over wearing a winter coat as he headed out the door into, um… what’s that word… WINTER!) and then I did a deceptive little workout called “Isometrix” (I felt almost nothing while I was doing it.  I didn’t even break a sweat, really.  Then, throughout the day and night, I started to totally feel very painful things in places that I forgot I had…).  By midday, I had done my chores, my workout, and I even showered and ran an errand.  I was just about to wonder “What will I do,” when I got an email regarding an urgent request to completely redo the program for a ballet that Kid A and Kid C are performing in this weekend.

It was just me and another mom who make up the Program Committee, so I spent the next few hours mocking up a new one, and then I edited and sent it out for review.  It was a crazy afternoon of paying attention to small details of the program, all while fielding questions about homework, whether so-and-so could come over to play or Kid D could go to his house, responding to requests to make snacks and what was for dinner, as well as getting Kid C to focus and get ready for ballet class on time (Kid A was driving her right after she got home from her tutoring job), and then driving Kid B to her boyfriend’s basketball game before picking Kid D up from his playdate (on time, because last time I almost left him over there…seriously).  Oh, and we were out of milk and stupid Aunt Flo just knocked on my door three days early.

When Sheepdog got home that night, my head was spinning.  He could tell just by looking at me.  I was speaking at high volume and with excessive speed.  I moved about the kitchen like I had eight arms.  I was still doing too many things at one time, mostly because I couldn’t figure out how to gear down.  I even predicted the full moon before the sun went down.  So Sheepdog reminded me to take some deep breaths… like a million of them.  I did, and I felt better.  The wine helped too.

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I had prepared a delicious dinner with my octopus arms and everybody who was home sat down to eat together.  During dinner I announced to everyone  – despite the craziness of the day – I felt like I passed the test.  It had been hard, and my body and mind ached all over, but I had kicked one of those days in its bootie.  Yay, me!  I won this day!  Yesterday was not so good, and who knows about tomorrow, but I felt like I won this day!  On this day, I was in control.

I woke up Wednesday morning feeling really strong after a great night’s sleep.  I got in another fantastic workout (this one was not sneaky at all… it was quite forthright in its delivery of pain and sweat), showered, and went over to my neighbor’s house to hear about her new business.  I met some interesting women over there, and I ended up having a really good time.  I came home, ate a healthy lunch, and soon the boys were bounding off of the school bus and into the house.

Kid D was sitting at the kitchen table doing homework, and Kid E was eating (something other than a peanut butter sandwich… Hallelujah! for another small victory in the food wars) when my cell phone rang.  Caller ID said it was one of my friends from the neighborhood.  Our daughters play soccer on the same team and we do a ton of carpooling and soccer travel together.

As soon as I answered I heard the fear and panic and tears in her voice.  She was driving home from work early because her house was on fire.  She had no idea what would be waiting for her when she arrived.  None of the people in her family were home at the time, but she didn’t think that they were able to get her two dogs out in time.

Oh my goodness.  What can I do?  What can I do?  What can I do?

I was scheduled to pick up the girls after high school soccer conditioning later that afternoon.  She asked me to give her some warning when we were on our way so she could prepare her teenage daughter for the devastating news.  Her boyfriend ended up coming to get her before practice ended because word of the fire had started to spread on social media and they didn’t want her to find out that way, but I, like so many people in our neighborhood and the surrounding communities, have spent the time since I heard the news praying for the family and wondering “what if…”

My head had gone right back to spinning.

Fully aware of my life-long fear about house fires, Sheepdog texted me the next morning and asked how well I had slept.

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That Sheepdog sure is a smart one.

So I’m taking deep breaths, and praying for my friends and about my fears, and I am (trying to) let it go.  And tonight at dinner – despite the craziness of the day or not – I am going to announce to everyone at the table that I am not in control, and that’s even better than what I said before.

Our amazing neighborhood has put together several ways to help our friends in their time of need.  Please pray for them, but you can also help in other ways if you are so inclined.  Email me for further information at tihidiblog@gmail.com.  Rest in peace Layla and Bella.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Shut The Front (Garage) Door!

What the hell is going on lately?  I know that it is a full moon, but it seems like more than that.  The planets must be aligned in some extra kooky way because my kids are over the top bonkers right now.

Everybody is nursing a cold, so there’s that.  We finally ran out of Halloween candy, so maybe they are lamenting the loss.  Then there is general PMS-iness that seems to lurk in all of the teenage (and pre-menopausal, as I have been oft-reminded) cracks and corners of our household.  There are always tears coming from somebody… morning, noon, and night.  And it’s not about anything horrible or crazy or life-changing either.  It’s just stupid stuff.

Yesterday morning the bus stop tears stemmed from the weather, short-sleeved t-shirts, and fear of a new bus driver (but I’ll give them the last one… the new dude is O.L.D. and change is scary).  The other night’s dinnertime tears were about sweet potatoes (even though they taste like the recently departed HALLOWEEN CANDY, for cripes sake), and yesterday morning’s meltdown was over me not being able to come to school during the class’ allotted 6 minutes of book fair time.  Oh, and did I remember that I was late arriving last year too?  More tears.  More crazy.

Kid C hasn’t been crying so much, but she has been totally “off” for the past few weeks.  She is unfocused, scatter-brained, and ditzy.  That’s on a good day.  She is the last one to leave the house for school in the morning.  By the time she heads out the door, I am already upstairs doing chores and starting my day.  She leaves through the garage and she forgets to close the door every single time.  I have tried reminding her nicely.  I have tried threatening her.  I took away her phone for a week.  I took away television as well.  I have pleaded, coaxed, and cajoled.  I even said “pretty please.”  Nothing works.  I said I would ban the use of the door and she’d have to find another point of egress.  That didn’t work either.

Then one day I very calmly said, “Do you know that 117% of home invasions happen through open garage doors?  Do you want some criminal to walk into this house and shoot me dead while I am folding your mismatched socks and tiny bras?  Do you?  I could be lying in a pool of my own blood on the floor and it would be your fault because you couldn’t be bothered to close the door on your way to the bus stop.  Could you live with that responsibility?”  With wide, blue eyes, she shook her head no.

Yes, I said that to my overly-anxious, wildly imaginative, twelve year-old daughter, who is already scared of everything right now.  She doesn’t like to be home alone.  She won’t go down into the basement unless every single one of the lights are on.  Oh, and I said it whilst her little brothers were within earshot.  Not my shiniest parenting moment, I admit.  But at least she was on track to shut the stupid door now.

Or not.  It was totally wide open when I came downstairs yesterday morning.

I do not think that Kid C knows how the internet works.

I do not think that Kid C actually knows how the internet works

The other side of the coin with Kid C is that she is super creative lately.  She has been rocking her assignments in school, especially the ones that require something “extra.”  She made a very extensive booklet on cell biology for her science class.  She has been killing math, where they are studying linear, quadratic, and exponential functions.  She had a value drawing due for a Visual Arts class she is taking and it was really, really good.  Value drawing is all about light and shadows and shading, which creates depth and can bring a drawing to life.  She drew a guy lying in a pool of his own blood on a deserted island, along with a shark swimming menacingly nearby.  There is so much going on in the picture and she shaded it all beautifully… the sand, the setting sun in the sky, the water, a lone palm tree.  Then, on the back of the drawing she wrote “He wasn’t killed by the shark.”  And, if you examine the drawing closely, you will see the slightest shadow and the hint of a man hiding behind the palm tree, which isn’t really noticeable at first.  It was awesome!

But I’ll bet somebody left the garage door open at their house too.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

11/22/2013 Update: Guess who remembered to bring home her value drawing so her mother could scan and upload it to her blog?  It has changed a little since I saw it last, and the scan quality makes it look a bit different than it does in person, but you can definitely get the gist of it.  Enjoy!

"It wasn't the shark that killed him." - Kid C

“It wasn’t the shark that killed him.” – Kid C

I Don’t Know How To Do ANYTHING!

Kid E came home from school in early October and unloaded his backpack.  Inside his folder was a piece of paper.  He happily announced in my direction, “This is for you.  From my teacher.  I will put it in your bin.”

I was excited that he had already mastered my rules established to conquer school-related entropy (for a quick ENTROPY primer, click here) by unpacking and sorting immediately upon entry.  I like to train them young around here.  Early independence of my kids is always a long-term goal.

So I let him do his jobs… his shoes get put in the shoe basket, his lunchbox gets emptied of any trash and leftovers and put on the kitchen table, important papers go in the bin on my desk.  He is always so proud when he completes these simple tasks.  And then he inevitably asks if he can watch videos.

Meanwhile, this kid has been glued to electronics since birth.  My bad.  I wish I was exaggerating, but I am not.  I have been such a slacker parent with him.  I always say yes when he asks if he can watch the video/ play the game/ download the app.  I get more done that way.  I mean, he’s my FIFTH kid.  But I think I am wrecking him.  He talks in a language I partly do not understand (“Mom, can you type in ‘skylanders swap force girl and boy super evil chaos?'”) and I partly am super worried about (see previous example).  In the beginning, I would always say things like, “Apple products are truly user-friendly!  Even my baby can use this iMac, and he can’t even sit up!”  I guess we’ll just see how my little experiment turns out.  Here’s hoping for the best.

Anyway, he gave me the paper from his kindergarten teacher and went off to watch YouTube videos of other people playing video games (I know, I know… Mother of the Year over here.  But he knows to turn it off if there are curse words worse than what I drop on the daily).  About a half hour later, I got around to browsing through my in-bin.

Kid E had been given a project.  Dun-dun-dun.  Well, crap.

The October kindergarten project (Man, I really hope this is not setting some sort of precedent for a new project each month, because that would be some bullshit.  It’s kindergarten, not grad school.) was to find a book that you liked, write some things about the main character and a short summary of what they did in the book, and then decorate a small pumpkin to resemble that character.  He had to bring it all in by Monday, October 28th.

OK, we had some time.  And the assignment wasn’t overwhelming or impossible or even that much of a pain in the ass.  So I presented the project to Kid E with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.

“Hey, buddy?  Can you take off the headphones and press pause for a sec (and, yes, I made the universal gesture for taking off headphones).  This paper you said was from your teacher for me… actually, it is a fun project for you!”  I went on to explain the assignment with gusto.  But the kid was not buying it.  He was not excited.  He was not even happy.  He started to cry uncontrollably.

“But, MOM!  It is supposed to be for YOU, not ME!  What am I gonna do?  How am I gonna do it?  I can’t do it.  I don’t know how to do ANYTHING!”

I gave him a big, fat hug and helped him to bring it down a notch.  I explained that he most certainly knew how to do lots of things… like putting his shoes in the bin, and emptying his lunchbox and backpack, and putting important papers on my desk.  I reminded him that he also dressed and undressed himself, put his clothes in the hamper, and put the silverware and napkins on the table for dinner.  I pointed out that he can read now, and his writing was getting really good, and he knew how to do math problems.  Kid D heard the commotion at this point and (helpfully?) added that Kid E also cleaned up his toys, but only when I made him.  He also suggested a book for the project, The Runaway Bunny.  That part was actually pretty helpful.

“Perfect, ” I said.  “You like that book.  You can write about the little bunny and all of his shenanigans when he tries to run away from his mother.  And we could buy a pet-sized bunny costume and glue the ears on your tiny pumpkin!”  I continued to reassure him. “You know how to do lots of things.  Don’t you worry about a thing.  We’ve got this.”  Kid E stopped crying.

Then he asked if he could go back to watching the YouTube.  Of course I let him.  I had stuff to do.

I glued the ears, nose and tail on (yes, I own a glue gun!), and Kid E drew the eyes and mouth.  Plus, he wrote out the book report all on his own (I helped him construct some of the sentences).  He did so well that he's on his own from now on...

I glued the ears, nose and tail on (yes, I own a glue gun, smartasses), but Kid E drew the eyes and mouth. Plus, he wrote out the book report all on his own (even though I helped him construct one or two of the sentences).                              He did so well that next time, he’s on his own.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Crash and Burn Upon Reentry

I am officially back, both in the real world and here in This Is How I Do It-world.  Great trip.  Fun times.  Incredible experiences that gave me a little of the travel bug.  But for now there will be no more exciting travel-around-the-globe stories that are posted two weeks out because I didn’t have internet (gasp!) when they occurred.  I am back to real-time, this-crazy-shit-happened-yesterday posts.

It is very easy for me to leave behind my roles as  Mrs. Sheepdog/ Five Baby Mama any time I go on a trip like I just did.  Right up until the moment I walk out the door, I am making schedules and washing laundry and planning meals and rides and doctor’s appointments.  But the second I pull out of my driveway, I let go.  I figure that I have done my best at preparing for coverage in my absence, and at that point I no longer have control over what happens.  I just let it all go and really enjoy every second of being away.

It’s the reentry that is usually so much harder.

The other day Sheepdog and I were in the kitchen discussing the kids (ours) and the state of the union (also ours).

Sheepdog confessed, “I don’t like where we are right now.”

Ugh.  You’re killing me, husband.

Sheepdog and I are fine.  We really and truly are.  Even he admitted it later.  I promise that I’m not ignoring any problems or issues so that Sheepdog is going to turn to a sympathetic boob-job at his office for comfort.  It is simply that he is not getting enough of my time right now.  It’s also likely that I’m not giving him enough of my vagina right now (I am hormonal and tired, people; I’m not a sex machine), but mostly he just wants my undivided attention.

But these pesky kids are demanding my attention even more loudly.

How in the world did two weeks away lead to so much craziness?

I won’t bore you with the details, but every single one of our kids has something happening in their lives right this moment that requires my immediate attention.  Nobody is sick or in a major crisis or anything, but there are things happening that I need to deal with, or they could get out of control.  It’s pre-crisis management time.

And I’m doing my job as best I can.  But it is definitely stressing me out.  And making me a little snippy.

To make things worse, my home phone rings about six times a day.  Every single call begins with a pause… and then comes the “exciting news” about a painter/ home improvement/ security company that will be in my neighborhood and would like to tell me all about what they can do to make my life better.  I’ve started to ask them point-blank if they can cure teenage depression, or stop a 3rd grader from calling my kid a “fucker” during playground kickball, or cure cancer… easy stuff like that.  Usually they hang up on me.

One day last week I was wound way up in the throes of crazy.  It was after school and I was emailing a teacher, making dinner, supervising homework, and trying to get somebody dressed and ready for baseball.  We had to be out the door in less than ten minutes and I had at least thirty minutes left of shit to do.

Kid A came home from 121 Reach (high schoolers tutoring middle schoolers) to pick up Kid C because both of them have ballet at the same time.  Even though I told her to be ready by 5PM, she wasn’t.  I was standing half in the kitchen/ half in the garage yelling at her for being inconsiderate, holding a spoon covered in red sauce (I was making lasagna).  Kid A had gone back to her car in a teenage huff because she was definitely going to be late now.  Another sales call came through on the house phone.  The boys were running around the yard throwing a football, but nobody had their shoes on or put their gear in the car, like I asked them to do.  Kid B was moping around the house in the middle of it all.

Next thing I know, an inconspicuous white minivan pulls up to my driveway.  I don’t recognize the car or the driver.  I automatically presume that it is a cleaning service or a painter about to put rocks or tape on my newly painted mailbox and I scream at her from the garage, “DO NOT PUT ANYTHING IN THAT MAILBOX!” in an admittedly scary, I-am-so-about-to-lose-it-on-you tone.

The woman looks at me quizzically.  Then she says innocently and apologetically, “I was just dropping off an invitation for my daughter’s birthday…”

Well, didn’t I feel like a complete and absolute jackass?

I dismissed the tardy Kid C to Kid A’s car, shook my head and took a very deep breath.  I apologized as best I could to the innocent bystander.  “I’m sure you’re going to totally want to have my kid come to your party now!”  She laughed nervously, said, “No worries” and waved goodbye.

Turns out, I agree with Sheepdog.  “I don’t like where we are right now.”

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Wish me luck for tomorrow…