3/5

Originally, Kid A was planning to take a nanny job with three little kids in a nearby neighborhood for the summer.  But then she was offered a summer internship at my dad’s law firm in southern New Jersey.  She weighed her options: Babies or the beach?  Wearing t-shirts covered in finger paints and spit up or dressing up for an office job every day?  Living at home with your parents who are always complaining about money or staying with grandparents who basically buy you whatever you ask for?  Kid A is smart, has always been independent, and has had one foot out our door since she went to Spanish immersion camp the summer between her sophomore and junior years of high school.  Obviously she chose the internship.  She has been gone (with the exception of a long weekend when she came back to GA for college orientation) since the beginning of June.

Kid A and I texting a few short weeks after she left

Kid A and I texting a few short weeks after she left

Kid B was relied upon heavily during the house selling and buying phase of the summer.  Basically, she raised the other kids for us.  Well, she did along with all of the video game systems we have in the house.  Do you know what happens when you leave a 15-year-old in charge?  I’m talking no bathing until the weird smells start to offend, cereal/ peanut butter sandwiches/ frozen chicken nuggets as the “fancy” meals, and a glazed look in everyone’s eyes as a result of 8 – 10 hours a day of electronics exposure.  I wasn’t paying attention to how bad it had gotten until one morning, after dropping Kid B at the soccer field for training, Kid E and I were having a nice car conversation.  Then he asked me if I knew what a K/D spread was.  I did not, but said I could look it up when we got home.  Imagine my horror when I learned it was short for Kill/Death ratio (basically, how many kills you achieved before your character was in turn killed), tracked in Halo, a military science fiction video game.  Parenting Fail #1,024 for the summer.

Me:  Um, you know that this is a video game and you NEVER, EVER shoot anyone in real life, right?  Because when you die in real life, you don’t get more lives.

Kid E: Yeah.  Yes.  Of course, mom.  I know.  Everybody knows that.

Eh, they’ll survive.

Fortunately for everyone, I was quickly jolted back into a lead parenting role as Kid B had a trip of her own planned this summer.  She went to Europe to guest play with a team from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina in an international soccer tournament.  She was gone for almost two weeks.  She traveled to several cities in Spain (including Barcelona, San Sebastian, and Madrid) as well as the beach in Biarritz, France.  She had the trip of a lifetime and didn’t miss home very much at all.  As a matter of fact, she admitted to crying on the plane ride home because she couldn’t stay there for the rest of the summer.

For me, the time with both Kid A and Kid B gone was amazing.  Don’t get me wrong… I enjoy both of them tremendously and love that they are my children.  But let’s be honest about the Catch-22 situation involved in raising independent, strong-willed, powerful women (which is my end game in successful parenting Kids A, B, and C, by the by).  There is the occasional tension and butting of heads between teenage girls and their mothers.  And I’m saying that in the nicest way possible.  Add in PMS, some OCD, the DMV, a deficit in R-E-S-P-E-C-T, plus a pinch of sarcasm, and you likely get one or more parties CRBT (crying real big tears).  I already knew it, but while they were gone I was hit once again by the fact that raising teenagers is really hard.  I’ve stopped counting all of my parenting fails with them.

Eh, they’ll survive.

But will I?

Oh, of course I will.  I used their time away to thoroughly enjoy the three littles (well, Kid C is not so little anymore, but you know what I mean).  We went to the movies and the pool and we played games and stayed up too late and went out to dinner (it’s much more affordable with less people!).  It was relaxing and light and fun.  No matter how many kids you start out with, it turns out having fewer is kind of a vacation.

But when it was time to pick Kid B up from the airport, we were all excited and ready for her to be home again.  Especially the ‘kids’ that she raised for us.

Kid B airport pickup

Now we are back to 4/5.  And even though it is only for a little while, I can’t wait for all of my chickens to be home.  Having Kid A go off to college in August will definitely be interesting.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

 

 

Braden’s Memorial – Part Two

I spent all last week thinking about what I would say at Braden’s memorial service.  Interspersed with my bouts of crying, I would have thoughts pop into my head… memories I wanted to share or things that I felt would be important to say.  It was meant to be a celebration of his life, so it was not supposed to be all sad and weepy.  But I couldn’t get up there and recite dirty limericks either.  I was struggling to find a balance.  Plus, I had written a blog post on Tuesday called Remembering Braden that several people had already read, and I felt it was important to say something new.

I am most comfortable writing here on WordPress, so that is what I decided to do.  On Friday night I forced myself to sit down and write a “post” about Braden.  I figured that I could practice speaking it, but I could always fall back on reading it if I got too choked up at any point.  Plus, Kid A would be up there with me and she could always help me out if I needed it.  Unless she started cursing again.  Jeez.  I wonder where she gets that from?

So, here is the gist of what I said at Braden’s memorial last Saturday…

I remember the first time that Kid A mentioned Braden to me… we were driving in the car.  It was Summer 2011, and she started telling a story about some friends from Chattahoochee… Emily, (who had just graduated) and her boyfriend, Jared, and another boy who was his best friend.  And the way she told the story, I just knew that she liked this other boy.  So I paid attention.  She told me a little bit about him… that he was smart and funny and good looking and he had a job and he was on the cross country team and he was the oldest of six kids (Is his mom out of her mind?) and (she hesitated)… he was almost 18 and going to be a senior.  Keep in mind… Kid A was just 15 years old at the time.
 
Shortly after that was the very first time that I met Braden… it was still summertime and I was down in our basement playing video games with my boys.  Donkey Kong had just died somewhere on the eighth level and I may have yelled out a curse word at the television.  No sooner had I done that, then Kid A came walking down with Braden trailing behind her.
 
Braden spent a lot of time with our family.  I kind of insisted on it because he was this almost 18-year-old boy dating my baby girl.  Sheepdog cleaned his guns a lot more often when Braden was over, but quickly we came to see that he was a very respectful young man who cleared his plate after dinner and played with our other kids and doted on Kid A.  But then my Mom Radar was up and flashing because I figured he was just putting on a show so we didn’t send him packing (or shoot him, in Sheepdog’s case).
 
As time went by, we got to know the real Braden. It turned out that he was a pretty awesome kid. He knew good music.  He got a lot of movie references that Sheepdog and I made.  He read books and was actually interesting to talk to.  And even though Braden eventually stopped clearing his plate from the dinner table (don’t worry – I always made him go back and do it), I was happy that Kid A chose such a good egg to be her boyfriend.
 
Soon we met Stacy (Braden’s mom) when the kids went to Homecoming and then Steve and Heidi (Braden’s dad and his fiancée) when Braden played the Chief in Cuckoo’s Nest, and we met his sisters and brothers too.  Braden loved to tell funny stories about all of the wild adventures of his big, crazy family, and it was nice to put faces to the names.  He regaled us with tales of family and friends from all over… Pennsylvania and Nebraska and Georgia and Florida and DC.  So, yes… I know all of your dirty, little secrets, friends!  I actually think that is why he fit in so well with our family… we are big and crazy too.  Family was so important to Braden.  We talked about it often… how much he wanted to have a big, crazy family of his own one day.
 
Over time, Braden’s passion for everything became more and more evident.  Football season got into full swing and he was excitable, to say the least.  Our second oldest daughter, Kid B, was very much into soccer and she and Braden started watching European league games together.  I never realized that there was anybody louder and more fanatic than football fans, but I was wrong!   And do not get Braden started on politics or social issues.  Sometimes he would get so wound up about an issue, I would take an opposing stance just to see how fired up he could actually get.  It was kind of fun.
 
But Braden wasn’t perfect.  He was sometimes sullen and sarcastic and moody… because he was a teenager.  And then he got his first car… The maroon BMW.  Oh, how he loved that car.  And then he crashed that car and he got sullen and moody again.  Teenagers.
 
Then came that awful day… March 2, 2012.  I had gone to get my hair done… I have a lot of gray hair from an 18-year old dating my baby girl, so I was in the chair for a couple of hours.  When I got done, I checked my phone.  It had blown up… I had a bunch of texts and phone messages from Braden and his dad and his mom.  I knew that Braden had been feeling really sick and his grandfather, Walt, was going to take him to see a doctor.  When Stacy told me the news, I was in shock.  I remember emailing my dad, who was out of the country at the time, “How in the world do I tell Kid A that her boyfriend has leukemia?”
 
I will tell you, after those first few days of haze and confusion and denial, after reality started to set in, everybody rallied.  Stacy and Steve, friends, family, people in the community… it was an amazing thing to see.  And there was Braden, this 18-year-old kid who had just been told he had cancer and that his white blood cell count was so high that he should not have even survived the night, and he was still really positive.  He was passionate that he would beat the leukemia and that he would go to college and eventually get married and have a family, just like he had always planned.  And with so many people supporting him and a great team of doctors and nurses in his corner, we all believed he had a really great shot.
 
The next fourteen and a half months had many ups and downs… the roller coaster ride of cancer.  Hospital rooms and tests and procedures and more tests and doctors and then the bone marrow transplant from his very brave sister, Maddie.  And then good numbers from tests and every time he got sprung from that dreaded 4th floor, it was such a celebration!  It was joyful!  Oh, how I hope I never have to smell that awful hospital soap again.
 
But after the summer ended and most of Braden’s classmates went off to college, I saw things get harder for him.  He struggled with staying positive.  His body had been beaten up by the cancer and also the medicines that are supposed to knock the cancer out, but his mind started to get tired too.  Don’t get me wrong… he was still passionate.  Did anybody get on Facebook during the presidential election?  Am I right?  He always had something to say about something, and I loved that about him, even when he voted for Obama.
 
But by his 19th birthday, I saw less of a light in his eyes.  He felt it coming.  He told me after he blew out the candles on his cake that he knew it would be the very last birthday he celebrated.
 
IMG_0167
 
Braden changed then.  He became much more contemplative.  He had a lot of time to sit and think and he didn’t waste it.  He thought about what he wanted after he was gone.  We talked about things at length over the last few weeks… about hopes and dreams and fears and regrets and wishes for the future.  He became much wiser than any teenager.  He kept saying, “This is what I want for my dying wish…” and I was like, “How many dying wishes do you think you get, pal?” 
 
His answer was always, “Unlimited.”
 
So, I give to you now the things that Braden wished for…
 
He wished for his sisters and brothers to go to school and to try hard and do well – because you are all smart and super talented.  Specifically, he wanted Cameron to take all of those AP classes.  No excuses.
 
He wanted his mom and dad to find happiness within themselves and the strength to help the family move on.  He wanted you to continue to create family memories, both together and separately.  
 
He wanted the family to tell Eric about him as he grows up.  As a matter of fact, he wanted us to talk to everybody about him all the time, so no one would forget him.  
 
He wished for Kid A to go off to college and get married and have that big, crazy family of her own some day.  
 
He wished that the rest of his family and all of his friends will go on to live happy, healthy and productive lives.
 
He wished that Jared and Emily would just go to Europe and shut up about it.  
 
He wanted us to look out for each other because he knew we’d all be sad after he was gone.  He wished for us to accept that some things we have control over and some things we just don’t.  He wished that we would live up to our potential and make the most of every day we have in this life.  
 
Do big things and do them with passion.
 
Do them for Braden… to honor his memory and to celebrate his life that came to an end much too soon.
 
Braden memory card

The Time Suck

You may have noticed my (complete) lack of blogs lately.  That is because I have been very, very lazy busy lately.  I do have a house to run and five children plus one husband to corral, clothe and feed on a regular basis.  And the Fall season of sports and activities has already revved up to max Q.  But that’s not why I didn’t write during the past week.  I just wasn’t feeling it.  Plus I had very important business.  Donkey Kong Country Returns business on the Wii, to be specific.  And those eight magical orbs are NOT going to find themselves, you know.

Last week was an off week for Kid E.  He had two weeks of camp that coincided with the others starting public school but his first day of preschool isn’t actually until tomorrow.  In the meantime, we have been just hanging out doing not much of anything together.  We have had a blast.  We went to Target a couple of times and did some birthday wish list browsing (I swear the kid headed straight for the Nerf guns and the Thor pointy helmet every time!) and we have played endless hours of Legos, Batman, Mom-Always-Said-Don’t-Play-Ball-in-the-House, and – of course – video games.

It all started with the Atari 2600...

Kid E loves to watch me play video games.  I don’t mean to brag, but I am exceedingly good at them.  I have been playing basically my whole life, at least since 1982 when they got a Q*bert at the Wawa near my house.  I can play for hours at a time too.  It drives Sheepdog nuts.  Especially when I play instead of write.  Or make dinner.  Or talk to him.  But especially instead of writing.  That drives him a special kind of crazy.  Heh heh.  Little does he know that I am so late in posting today because Kid E and I have played no less than an hour and a half of DKCR and Super Mario Bros.  I have all 3 star coins on seven of the eight levels on World 9… those last two star coins for the total 9-7 win are just so darned elusive!!!

Now, I only play the kid-friendly games.  I have never gotten into Halo or Grand Theft Auto or any of the other blood and guts and breaking of the seven deadly sins-type video games.  I guess I want to defend myself by clarifying that I am not sitting in my basement donning a headset, connected to the internet, living in the same clothes for five days at a time, all while siting in a pile of Cheetos dust.  I just play a little Wii Fit Plus now and again.  And some Wii tennis, baseball and bowling.  And some Harry Potter Years 1 – 4.  And some Lego Star Wars.

I know that playing these video games is completely unproductive and I’m probably giving myself ADD or ADHD, but I do enjoy the mindless entertainment of it all every now and again.  And the Wii Fit games get everybody up and moving.  Not as much as the real thing, but it is a great alternative for the times when it is crazy hot or raining outside.  My thinking is that it is better than television, at least, because video games develop hand-eye coordination and sharp reflexes.  At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

So tomorrow I will send my baby off to preschool and things will get back to normal and I will start acting more mom-like on a regular basis.  You’ll probably see more weekday posts from me then.  And I’ll go back to making real dinners and conversing with Sheepdog and throwing a football in the yard with my kids.

But you shouldn’t be totally surprised if one day you see somebody with the handle “FiveBabyMama” online tearing it up on some video game.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Tales from the Trip – Part One

First things first… I realize that I forgot to make a Harry Potter reference in Friday’s post.  I will make up for that by doing two today.  My only excuse is that I have a horrible short-term memory.  Seriously, you could tell me something today and I might forget by tonight (unless it is good gossip).  I can re-watch movies and re-read books and I get excited about the endings because I have forgotten what they are.  I am just special that way. 

So I was all mixed up about what day it was from being on vacation and the trip back and I almost posted yesterday.  Then I remembered that there is no post on Sundays.  BAM!

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I survived packing day on Friday.  More importantly, everyone else survived the Master Packer and all the craziness that surrounds me.  My mother-in-law lovingly said I was actually more of a “Mother Packer,” which I thought was kind of sweet.  Either way… I got everything washed, gathered, packed and loaded just as a mega-storm bore down upon the eastern seaboard.

Rewind three hours.  Kid E decided to have a meltdown over nothing/ everything and no one but his Mommy could soothe him.  Unfortunately, my attention needed to be elsewhere.  So the background soundtrack for the Pack was a whiny and crying Kid E as a very sweet and helpful (although sadly ineffective) Kid B held him and tried to calm him down.  This as a news alert flashed across the television screen for a tornado warning in Atlantic County, which we get all the time in Georgia but they rarely see at the beach.  Next thing I realize, Kid D was crying inconsolably.  I went to him to see how I could shut him up calm him down and he explained through heaving chest and jagged sobs that “(he didn’t) want to die in a tornado.”   Me neither, pal.  So you gotta buck up and let mommy do her job.  I can barely do it with one kid’s screams echoing through the house, let alone two.  So, I refocus Kid D with a video game, reassure him that we will go down to the lower level of the house if a tornado does indeed come through and I plow ahead.

I had to load the truck in stages.  First, earlier in the day I attached the cargo roof bag and put all of the beach gear inside.  This had been done prior to the trip up by Sheepdog (who is at least five or even six inches taller than me – P.S. I think I am shrinking) and I had a hard time reaching the roof to put stuff in.  Sheepdog also had a helper (Kid A) and I was in the house taking care of the other kids.  I had no assistants (the girls were driving back from Hershey Park with my mom and dad), it was raining, and the boys yelled off of the deck that they “needed me for an emergency” about 14 times in a half-hour period.  But I got it done.  Check.

Then we had to load the way back of the truck with all of our stuff.  This took most of the day as I had to wash some stuff, direct the girls to pack their things, presume that Kid C would forget most of hers and compensate for that, pack all of the boys’ stuff and my own as well, plus all of the extras.  The storm started up again around dinnertime, so my dad suggested that I back the truck into the garage instead of loading it outside in a rainstorm.  I had to leave it sticking out about two feet so I would have room to attach the bike rack.  The rain kept coming and my dad started pacing in front of the truck because the crazy rain was coming down sideways (of course it was!) and all of his tools were getting wet.  He kept assuring me that it was “not a problem,” yet he was standing in front of the shelves trying to block the weather the entire time.  Then he hung up a towel.  And we still have Kid E throwing a tantrum-to-end-all-tantrums from above.  Awesome, right?  But I got it done.  And loaded.  And we didn’t have to leave anything behind (well, I almost had to leave Kid A’s guitar there – yes, she brought her guitar – but I was able to shift things around and make it all fit.  Check.

Those bikes did not stand a chance against my mad mexican wrestling skills

Finally I was putting the bike rack onto the trailer hitch.  But I couldn’t find the stupid effing cotter pin (it wasn’t actually an “effing” cotter pin until it started hiding from me, so once I found it in the glove box – smart planning on my part, right?  that’s how I compensate for the whole short-term memory loss thing –  the cotter pin and I became friends again).  I made my dad go upstairs because he was just stressing me out.  I wrestled (literally – at one point I was straddled on the bumper doing some Lucha libre moves in order to get the three bikes onto the rack).  But I got them on, strapped them in, and this job was done.  Check.

I was a sweaty mess.  My dad directed me as I backed the truck up so that he could shut the garage door for the night.  It fit by mere millimeters.  Good thing because I didn’t really want to leave the roof bag and the bikes out in a tornado and I don’t know if I could have watched while my dad nailed a tarp to the garage opening.  And trust me, this was surely his next step.

So I went in to diffuse Kid E’s meltdown (yes, he was still actively having one – he is quite tenacious), shower and go to bed.  I set the alarm for 3 a.m. and crashed.  Hard.

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I will continue with part two of this story in tomorrow’s post.  And, yes, I realize that I only included one Harry Potter reference today.  I got to writing and I forgot about it.  And I wasn’t about to rework the whole story.  Lesson of the Day:  If you drink too much in college you will forget stuff when you are old.