Saturday, August 22, 2015
We started back to school this week. Our house is a flutter with fresh notebooks, pencil shavings, and Handwriting Without Tears'® Mat Men™. Tuesday, the big boys created their own Mat Men™ using the wooden pieces and mats that they will typically use to build the letters they're learning to write. This exercise soon translated into drawing their own versions of Mat Men™ using crayons and paper.
The boys began giggling. "Mom, my Mat Man™ is peeing a rainbow!"
Sure enough, Nathan had drawn a picture of a Mat Man™ taking a rainbow whiz. I may have briefly imagined my delinquent children being paraded through the neighborhood as other, more sound mothers shook their heads and breathed sighs of relief, while ushering their children onto the school bus and away from my homeschooled flock. Then, I realized that my kindergartner had drawn his stream of colors in the correct order of the color spectrum. I'm calling it a win.
Life is like this with a bundle of boys and one outnumbered little girl. It's not mornings of French-braiding each others' hair while singing songs about world peace. It's much more colorful. It's peeing rainbows.
It's also moments like these:
Jason had returned from a business trip. He told Jack that he had missed him and asked Nathan to tell Jack what "missed" meant.
Nate: It's the water that comes out of the hose.
Jason was eating peaches at lunch and talking about how much he would like a peach tree if we had a bigger yard. The kids began talking about wanting trees to climb.
Audrey: You know I'm a tree girl.
Nathan: I'm a tree boy.
Jack: I'm a ground boy.
The boys woke up. I heard them shuffle to the bathroom.
Jack: I don't want to pee at the same time.
Nate: Then, I'm peeing first.
Jack: (muffled whining)
Nate: Fine, you pee first.
Jack: Don't pee on top of mine! I DON'T WANT YOU TO PEE ON TOP OF MINE!
In the kitchen.
Nathan: That's my cup. I had it the other day.
Jack: I have it this day.
At dinner, Jason turned to ask if I wanted to watch a television show we'd been catching up on.
Jason: "What About a Boy" tonight?
Audrey (terrified): You're having another boy tonight!?
Nathan was eating a bagel under a blanket in an attempt to hide it from his little brother. Apparently, the blanket looked like a barn to Jack.
Jack: Nate, we can't eat in a barn. That's the rules.
Nate: We can if we own the barn.
We were traveling in the car and Jason and I both said, "Just Jack!" mid-conversation (me with jazz hands à la Sean Hayes).
Jack: I'm not a song. I'm a person.
During Audrey's first drama class, the teacher asked, "What's drama?"
Audrey answered, "When someone throws a fit."
Me to Jack: Guess what?
Me: I love you.
Jack: Guess what?
Jack: I love you. (Pause.) Guess what else?
Jack: I'm hungry.
Jack saw a diaper box with a picture of a baby on the front. "Is that our baby," he asked.
"That's not our baby, but it's a baby," I said.
"His name starts with 'A'?"
Audrey: Did you know Laura Ingalls liked wolves better than cattle?
Me: I didn't know that.
Audrey: I guess she really didn't like cattle.
Audrey to Nathan: You don't have to be so bossy like that. You're not Dad.
Jack was telling me a story about a bear chasing rabbits and planning to eat them.
Jack: What should the rabbits do?
Me: Run away?
Jack: Yell, "Eat more chicken!"
Nathan told Audrey that he wants to have ten babies when he's a dad. Audrey told Nathan that this kind of thinking is ridiculous, since even if he was holding five babies, there would still be five that his wife would have to hold. (Somehow, it must have been implied that all ten were babies at the same time.)
Audrey went on to tell him that all ten babies would cry at the same time. He replied that he would give them pacifiers. She insisted that not all babies will take pacifiers. "Besides," she said," your wife will be worn out. Mom's already had four." (Clearly, I wasn't a bundle of pep after four babies.)
Nathan woke up and came into my bedroom, followed by Jack.
Nathan: I want to go downstairs.
Jack: I want all the things Nate wants.
I had asked Audrey to get dressed while I put Ethan down for a nap. I came downstairs to find a half-changed, half-pajama-clad Audrey.
Me: I thought you were going to get dressed.
Audrey: Oh yeah. I forgot because I thought of something awesome!
Audrey brought me a drawing with three rows of straight lines. "This is what I want to do with my closet," she said, pointing at the lines. "Shelves, shelves, shelves, ad nauseam."
"Did you just say 'ad nauseam'?"
Nathan asked if he could have a treat after eating breakfast. "No, you're not getting a treat right after breakfast," I said.
After lunch, Nate again asked if he could have a treat. "Why don't you get dressed first," I said.
"Why don't I hug mom first?" he said.
When Audrey began brushing her teeth, I came up with a little toothbrushing song. I set it to the music of "Shake Your Groove Thing" by Peaches and Herb. (I'm not sure why I feel the need to set made-up children's songs to disco. Some things are a sickness that cannot be helped.) This song has been used in an attempt to encourage proper toothbrushing from each subsequent child. On this particular morning, I was singing it to Jack. He stopped me cold.
"No, mom. I want "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
Jason was off playing a computer game called Civilization. I was looking for him.
"What is Dad doing?"
(Boy's voice from another room) "Playing Civil-a-Jason."
Jack asked me how to spell his name. I told him and he repeated it. Then he yelled proudly to his sister, "Audrey, I spelled myself!"
The boys pointed out to Audrey that Jason had installed a baby gate in front of the stairs.
Audrey: You guys don't have to tell me how to climb the gates. I've been through it all. I've been climbing these gates since you were babies.
Jack: Stop, Ethan! My eyeballs are not toys!
Jason: You're my favorite Nathan. (As in, his favorite person in the world named Nathan.)
Nathan: You're my favorite dad that I know right now.
Audrey was singing a made-up song to Ethan.
Audrey: I love you, my stinky Valentine. You are my brother, so we love each other. I'm glad you'll always be mine.
Jack: Until one of you die.
Jack was misbehaving at the table. He had asked for toast, which I had made him. I told him if he didn't listen, I'd never make him toast again (because, apparently, I believe in threats I can't possibly keep).
Nathan: Don't worry. I'll make you toast.
Nathan: Do we go to church today?
Nathan: So the mail comes today. I was wondering that.
Jason: Wonder no more.
Nathan: I can still wonder things!
Our three big kids had been playing at a neighbor's house. Jack had walked back early. The neighbor walked Nathan home later. As they walked, she asked if he was sure that Jack had already come home. Nate said, "I think he went home, because Dad is working in the backyard and Dad is his favorite, and he's not even the one who gives us the food!"
We had chicken noodle soup for dinner. Jack didn't want to eat his and asked if he could go out and play.
Me: You won't get ice cream.
Jack: I know.
Me: You won't get anything else to eat tonight. No more food tonight.
Jack: But I'll get some tomorrow, because if I don't, I'll die.
Audrey: I just think it would be funny if you got a gift from someone and it wasn't even close to a natural holiday.
Me: Do you mean national holiday?
We were eating picnic-style at Vacation Bible School. Jack looked up at me and said, "Even sitting down, you're bigger."
"For now. Someday, you'll be bigger."
"When I'm ninety-two, I'll be bigger. By then, you'll be dead."
Jason: I love you.
Jack: No, I love you.
Jason: I love you more.
Jack: I love you more.
Jason: No, I love you more.
Jack: Dad, stop arguing.
That's life with a bundle of boys and one outnumbered little girl. It's figuring out what the world, and words, mean. It's finding out what you, and possibly your brother, want. It's about squeezing the most out of your days, because, as one four-year-old keeps reminding us, we're all going to die one day. It's about loving, and arguing, and arguing about love. It's about appreciating the rainbows. Where ever you may find them.
Saturday, June 20, 2015
I might have been eight when the foundation was poured for the property that became the gray house on the perfect-for-pencil-rolls hill. One of my early memories is of "camping out" in sleeping bags on the would-be dining room's subfloor when the house was still raw and open to her bones. That first night she was hard to the touch and smelled of dust. She felt like a mystery: able to splinter or become something else.
My father and a crew began to fill in her empty spaces while I (and sometimes my sisters) conquered the mud mountain the excavators had left behind in our new backyard. I shaped the mud into the faces of animals (mostly pigs). He shaped the house. Dad covered her bare places with dry wall, tar paper, and shingles. Where she lacked shape, he added rectangles and squares with oak. When he had finished, he turned her over to all of us.
We grew - a house of three little girls, each amazed at the thought of possessing a room of her own (and her own phone jack). We left hand prints on the windows and smudges on the fresh paint. We scuffed the floors and scattered our shoes among the rooms. As our parents found them, they'd place them on the bottom steps to be carried up to our rooms later. We found spaces, like the handcrafted dollhouse or sandbox (both built by Dad), in which to play together, and other times, we came apart. Sometimes, we abused the wooden steps and slammed our bedroom doors. Dad, steady as the house, taught us that some things can take a few smudges and still come out clean, while other things, if disrespected, will come apart. He rarely raised his voice, but I am sure there were times my father found us to be a mystery: able to splinter or become something else.
The hand prints on the windows grew larger and the shoes on the bottom steps grew in size. In the summers, rounds of "I Think We're Alone Now" or "olly olly oxen free" rang from the bricked front porch, which doubled as stage and home base. When I craved solitude, I climbed the block shelves of my closet until I reached the top, where a pillow, pile of books, and flashlight were stashed. When I needed solace, I stepped onto my window seat, popped the screen from my window, and climbed out onto the roof. Sitting on the rough shingles, I'd tuck my knees to my chest and hide inside a cloak of darkened hickories and oaks, a thousand chirping crickets, and a million burning stars. One small girl rambling to one big God.
The roof. The window seat. The porch. The top shelf. My father built them all. They built me. They became the building blocks on which I played and fell and healed and grew. Dad drew the first set of blueprints, outlining what a life should look like - that you should build something for someone else. He sat across from the girl he had built and told her that she could do great things, and the only person who could stop her was her. He played catch with her in the backyard, and ran next to her while cheering, and whispered in her ear on the dance floor at her wedding that she was dazzling and people watched her wherever she went. And, the little girl knew that she would not splinter. She would become something else.
A man's blueprints and hours of manual labor built a house. The man he was, built a home.
Thanks for the house, Dad. Thanks for filling her with all the right nooks and crannies. But most of all, thanks for filling her with love and pieces of you.
Happy Father's Day.
Friday, January 16, 2015
I am a researcher by nature. I make decisions slowly (or not at all). I like to have all the facts before I act. So, when I began contemplating a fourth baby, I went to the experts. I asked my mother-of-four-still-small-children friends what to expect. "What is it like?" I asked. "Not taking into account how wonderful your individual children are, or which one you would be getting rid of if you down-sized, would you do it again?"
Their answers were all similar. It's crazy. You should totally do it.
We did. We're only seven months into this family-of-six venture, but I've realized they were right. I've also realized something else: I should have asked for more specifics.
So, if you're contemplating the jump from three to four, here are some of our more specific experiences - A Mother's Guide to Bringing Home Your Fourth Baby: The Cliffs Notes version, if you will.
1. Everyone becomes an expert on (or worrier about) logistics.
We were due to give birth to our fourth during our older two kids' spring soccer season. Nathan was excited to be welcoming another younger brother, just as long as that brother didn't interfere with the game schedule. "Mom, what will happen if you have the baby while driving to soccer?" (The kids began asking their father to drive them to the majority of their practices after this question was posed.)
Luckily, Ethan arrived on a day that worked with everyone's schedule. Now, the children are worried about a different sort of logistics. They've taken to packing their own bags for events. They no longer trust their mother's brain to remember it all (possibly, because it doesn't). The eight-year-old has taken to packing bags of snacks and tossing in a few extra diapers, just in case. Last Monday, the three-year-old packed himself a bag of toys to take to a two-hour meeting I had at the library. Unfortunately, he forgot to carry the bag into the library once we got there. His mother didn't remember the bag, either.
2. Suddenly, everyone has a job. You might be given the job of an asparagus.
The more children we have, the more we find ourselves taking the divide-and-conquer approach to events. Most soccer nights, one parent would take Audrey to practice while the other fed the boys and readied them for bed at home. Audrey requested that her father take her to as many practices as possible. One night, en route, she explained, "You know when you go to the grocery store and there's the part where you get the vegetables and the part where you get the treats?"
"Well, mom is like the vegetables, and you're like the treats. You know the vegetables are better for you, but what you really want are the treats."
3. It's a little exhausting. For everyone.
Children, who claim to have outgrown naps, and adults (who would pay for naps) have been known, post-baby, to conk out suddenly, anywhere. Even standing up.
4. Chances are, you'll lose your short-term memory. Your children will notice.
Jack: Mommy, by the way, our dad is Jason.
You will notice, too. Unfortunately, it will be too late to be helpful.
You know those morning routine charts? Parents make them for their children to check off the boxes of get dressed, eat breakfast, and brush teeth, hoping that with a wing and a prayer and some smiley face stickers, they'll all make it to the bus stop on time. I made one of those. For myself.
Just kidding. I don't have the brainpower required to remember to make one for myself. But, I need one. Because, some mornings, I know that I've brushed at least three sets of teeth. I just can't remember if any of them were mine. Most mornings, this realization hits en route to an activity, like library class. Luckily, this only happened once. Twice. Okay, three times. It happened three times. If you see me around town, just don't stand too close.
5. You might feel tempted during those first late night feedings, to watch an episode of the Duggar's 19 Kids and Counting, thinking you might glean some pointers on how to handle the demands of a larger household. Don't.
This will only make you feel more inept than anyone on a two-hour sleep/feeding rotation schedule has the emotional capacity to feel. Michelle Duggar is well on her way to whisper-talking herself into world domination and you can't even remember to brush your teeth. Do yourself a favor and change the channel, maybe to Bravo's reality TV selections, instead. You'll feel better, at least about yourself.
6. Everyone has an opinion.
Complete strangers will feel compelled to tell you their thoughts about the size of your family (as you try to corral four children and a cart of food down the grocery aisle). I don't take this personally. I understand that the size of my family can momentarily stun innocent bystanders. In fact, grown men have been known to forget everything they've ever learned about sports at the sight of us.
Innocent male bystander who passed us on the sidewalk in downtown Indianapolis: You almost have enough for a baseball team.
But don't worry, with a family of six, there is no reason to consult an outsider for an opinion. There are enough floating around under your roof to keep you occupied.
Jason (to Audrey): What do you think of Ethan's name?
Audrey: Well, it's not the sharpest name in the box. (She had told us a few months earlier that she thought Nolan was a nice name, and asked that we please choose something like that. Nathan was hoping for Bob. Jack preferred Sunrise.)
7. You're not going to please everyone.
There's a chance that not everyone will be happy with the way things come out in the wash. Namely, if you have one daughter with three younger brothers and a houseful of Ninja Turtles and superhero action figures, she might feel a little slighted by the odds. You're going to hear about it.
This summer while playing at the park, we saw a family with seven boys and one girl. I pointed them out to Audrey and told her that perhaps, having only three brothers wasn't so bad.
"That would probably be me in another life," she said.
You might also end up explaining probabilities and what you can remember from high school genetics a lot earlier than you anticipated.
Experiencing a bout of morning sickness during my pregnancy with Ethan, I took the easy way out and turned on the TV to keep the kids busy for a few minutes. I tuned it to the Food Network during a Chopped episode, thinking I'd chosen an option that would bring my day less grief. I was wrong.
One of the chefs was a transgendered man who began to tell his story of never feeling right in the female body into which he was born. I looked to Audrey. Her face was that of someone putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. "So, there's a chance that my baby brother could turn into a sister?"
It doesn't matter how many times you go over the rules of statistics and laws of genetics with your child. Second graders have their own ideas about probabilities.
Audrey and I were driving home from a mother/daughter bingo night with her girl scout troop. She was lamenting about her lack of a sister. Again.
"Mom, surely God wouldn't give you four boys in a row. I think it's time you and Daddy have another baby."
"Yes, honey, I'm pretty sure He would, and Daddy and I are still getting used to the baby we have."
"Mom! He's been here a long time!" (Ethan was six-months old.)
(She still calls Ethan the best baby in the world, even though he's not a sister.)
8. The best toys are the baby's toys (except to the baby).
(They told me they were playing zoo animals.)
Having already had three babies, we assumed we already had everything we needed to welcome a fourth. We were wrong. It turns out that baby toys look a whole lot like playground equipment to preschool-aged boys. I pulled the baby bouncer and swing out of storage while still pregnant. I never caught the perpetrator, but the bouncer was broken before Ethan was ever born. I did catch the older boys pushing each other on the swing several times after we brought Ethan home (and no number of timeouts could convince them that there might be a better use of their time). The swing lasted two months before I found it cracked down the side. I'm an
9. Your nighttime routine might grow exponentially longer.
Our children used to go to bed with a simple routine of prayers, a hug, and a kiss goodnight. Now, each older child has to rub and kiss the top of the baby's head multiple times, as if I've just given birth to a living Blarney Stone.
10. Things go "bump" in the night.
You work hard all day. Night is a time for rest, at least that's what we keep telling the children. Small noises seem to pervade our nights. A door is opened, a toilet lid clinked, a faucet turned on (a light left on for me to get up and turn off because the kids are afraid of the dark). Bigger noises also pervade our nights, most times in the form of crying. But, Saturday night, at 4 a.m., we were awaken by the sound of steady hammering. Jason got up to investigate. He assumed it was one of the older boys. It wasn't. It was Ethan, wide awake, banging his pacifier against the wooden slats of his crib like an inmate. Jason brought him into our bed, where he played a riveting game of Grope Your Mother, yodeled a few love songs, and finally fell asleep. On my face. Luckily, his slumber only lasted four minutes. Apparently, my nose is very uncomfortable.
11. Several couples remodel or readjust how they use their living spaces as their family grows. You might, too.
Jason (upon coming home from work): Where's Ethan?
Me: In the closet.
Before Ethan was born, we moved the older boys into the same bedroom, so Ethan could have the smallest bedroom to himself as the nursery. It seemed like a foolproof plan. Apparently, we're not your average fools. I tried to let Ethan use his room like any respectable baby would. I rocked him to sleep in the afternoon, gently put him in his crib (holding my breath as to not wake him), tiptoed out of the room, and quietly closed the door behind me. I came downstairs to do the dishes. Twenty minutes later, I would hear crying, find Ethan's door wide open, and the perpetrator in hiding. Threats ("Anyone who wakes up the baby during naptime will not get to hold him when it's their turn.") worked, sometimes. But, something a little more drastic seemed necessary. We enrolled Ethan in the Infant Naptime Protection Program. I would rock him to sleep. I would tuck him into his car seat. I would hide the car seat somewhere his siblings would never suspect, rotating on a sporadic schedule. Ethan took naps hidden to the side of my bed, behind the printer in the office, nestled to the side of the buffet in the dining room, and (most often) hidden behind the closed door of the master bedroom closet.
The Infant Naptime Protection Program worked while we waited for the novelty of the baby to wear off. It also led to a couple of interesting moments when friends or relatives would come to visit and offer to go get the baby from his nap, instinctively heading toward the nursery as I darted up the stairs ahead of them toward my closed bedroom door yelling, "You could try, but you'd never find him."
12. They eat. Like Hobbits.
The unfortunate thing about realizing that you're now living with the cast of Lord of the Rings, is that you're delegated to the duties of Craft Services. You may have just fed your cast and crew at eight o' clock. But, they are children. They believe anything is possible. Even second breakfast. At nine o' clock.
13. Some days, it's a bit like Animal House.
Especially, if there's a big sister on the loose who feels that depantsing her younger brother, sticking a visitor's badge to his underwear, and shoving a stuffed animal up his shirt while he sleeps might tilt the injustice of a male-dominated household a little closer to her favor, even if only until he wakes up. (I actually have a picture of this incident - because I believe in reprimanding my children for their unkind behavior and then confusing them by documenting it with my camera, so I can laugh at it over and over again. I chose not to post it for the sake of the child who fell victim to the prank, just in case he ever decides to run for political office, or tries to find a girlfriend.)
My little sister called me shortly after I became a mother of four. She asked what I had asked several mothers before me, "What is it like with four?"
"It's the circus you expect it to be," I said. "Someone is crying or screaming every thirty minutes. The trick, is to make sure the one crying isn't you."
Our circus is one of many rings. Every day holds a little tightrope walking, some lion taming, and lots of clowning around. Mostly, it holds wonder, magic, and the excitement in knowing that absolutely anything can happen, and probably will.
It's crazy. You should totally do it.
Thursday, January 8, 2015
You were born in May, with 7 pounds, 12 ounces and 21.25 inches to your name, which we had yet to choose. You were born wearing the wrinkled face of an old man, dimpled at the cheeks, with a tempest of dark hair swirling at your temples. You had sideburns. Had you been sporting a patch of throat-beard hair and a #12 jersey, you might have passed for the love child of Andrew Luck. (You're not. We're sorry.) One of the recovery nurses suggested we name you Gus. We did not. (You're welcome.)
For twenty-four hours we stared at your face (smitten) and refused to fill out any legal paperwork, because you didn't look like any of the names on our list. Finally, we chose Ethan. We said you'd grow into it (because we believe in giving newborns jobs). In the meantime, you spent your first days mewing like a cat rather than crying, and I found myself comforting you, whispering, "It's alright, Jags," (short for Jaguar.) (Yes, I nicknamed the nickname. It happens around here. Children also tend to get tagged with nicknames twice the size of their actual names around here. Just ask your brother, Jackaroo Roo Roo Ka Choo.) Jags fit your soft wrinkly skin, the zigs and zags of your wild hair, and those deep brown eyes, saturated with secrets. We wondered if your eyes would change. They did, as did you.
Today, your eyes are blue and your still-wild hair resembles the blond fly-away faux-hawk your father sported in his toddler years, when his family called him Woodstock. You no longer clutch a fistful in your palm, screaming because you can't figure out what's causing the pain, as you refuse to let go (you did this at least once a day as an infant). Today, you like to clutch my neck, instead, trying to pull yourself as close to me (or far away from others) as possible.
I can't imagine the shock of discovering you're a fourth-born. I like to tell myself that surely all the yelling you heard in utero, or the constant interruptions and prodding from doctors in the recovery wing prepared you for what awaited you at home. But really, what can prepare a baby for the kind of three-fold sibling love that requires daily reminders that they not ride the back of the baby walker like a scooter while you're in it?
I'm sorry if you were hoping for less: this family and its members come as a packaged deal. I'm sorry if you were hoping for more: these arms, this lap, this love, gets passed around to everyone in turn (and occasionally, all at once). Some days, I envision you in nineteen years, hanging out in your college dorm room and telling your roommates in your best stand-up voice, "One day, I asked my mother about the day I was born, and she said, 'Baby, you were born. Just like everyone else.'"
And, it's true. You were born, just like everyone else. But, you were born to me, and I will love you - every jagged little part - until long after I cease to be.
I've never won an award for organization, or preparedness, or stellar packing. I am the girl who decides to head out for one more beach run on her last day of vacation and stumbles, camera-less, upon the sunset of a lifetime.
Ethan, there will never be enough photos of your childhood, enough keepsakes, enough love letters. Most days, my hands will seem too full and the hours too short. But everyday, I will call you a blessing and happily call you mine. Thank you for being my sunset.
P.s. Your dad thinks this letter makes it sound like you were an accident. You were not. Not that we're ones to find fault with happy accidents. After all, Daddy and I are just a couple of happy accidents living a life full of intention.