Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Elephant in the Family Room

I am reveling in the afterglow of a perfectly lovely downtown birthday getaway with my sweetheart.

It sure was nice to kiss the boys, leave them with a sitter, and dash away to a) our favorite delectable urban bistro, b) the art house cinema for a British comedy, and c) a quiet hotel room.

I’m savoring the memory of the cinnamon French toast topped with berries, whipped cream, and honey-laced syrup I had for breakfast, as well as the bit ‘o shopping I indulged in before we caught a haunting foreign film set in post-war Germany.

It was perfect. Thank you, Jeff, for having a birthday!

In the twenty-four hours I spent away from my home and four little bear cubs, I experienced enough of a respite that I was able to use the physical and emotional distance from my mom-life to think a few clear thoughts about parenting.

Among other things, I decided to reinstate my regular date nights with my eldest son and to look for opportunities to do fun, lighthearted things with my third son (the boy enigma who currently inspires a great deal of stress in my life).

Earth-shatteringly, I gave myself permission to remind myself and the world that three of my four children still are actually not potty-trained, two of those three are performing below the level of their peers, and the sum total of three boys who are behaviorally under the age of three makes daily life…interesting.

I decided to be honest about the facts and to stop brushing it aside like it makes no difference in how my family functions.

I suppose the whole three-of-my-kids-are-either-cognitively-emotionally-or-chronologically-toddlers thing is the elephant in the room around which I have been sweeping, cooking, moving laundry, supervising homework, and volunteering for school and church assignments.

Jeff and I spend a considerable amount of energy on making the facade of our family life appear fairly normal so that we may better blend with coworkers, neighborly interactions, family events, and church-attendance. A dear friend of mine recently suggested, via long-distance cell conversation, that this tendency is possibly working to our detriment.

She may be onto something. If we work really hard at appearing to be humming along swimmingly, people probably assume that things indeed are that way. I wish it were so, but in reality we struggle with lots of poop and social anxiety and communication delays and pants-wetting and just getting to church at all. My children may look big, but they are little at heart.

After our delightful escape to the city, I am rather inclined to approach the elephant in the room, affectionately pat her on her wrinkly rump, and introduce her to any visitors who come our way.

There she is folks: our elephant houseguest, surrounded by my big little boys.

By a Thread

I’ve been a bit of an emotional spaz over the past several weeks. The combination of multiple factors relating to children and other pressing responsibilities layered themselves heavily on my heart and my back and left me frustrated and out of sorts.

It wasn’t the kind of rotten mood where I wanted to curl up and nap away my troubles. It was more of a constant latent-desire-to-scream-things-at-people kind of a frustration. My brain felt jangly. There was no peace.

An innocent conversation with me was a crap shoot. Would I freak out? Would I lay the snark on really, really thick? Would I start ugly crying (let’s not ask my young women about this, okeydoke?) Would I be gentle and sweet as a peach? Honestly, who’s to say.

The upshot of this whacked out state of mind I have been experiencing is that it gave me an uncomfortable space in which to grow. And grow I certainly did, if only to escape the jangly mind-discomfort.

Now that my mental state is less turbid, I can reasonably state that I have been kind of an angry train-wreck for the better part of a month, but that I (thankfully) got it together. For the most part.

One of the issues which was chafing me so much has been the problem of having having too much to do and too little time or energy with which to do it, as well as too many pants-pooping boys stinking up the place in which I am to do it all.

All that “potty training” we have slaved away at so fervently these many years? It’s become an emotional weapon wielded by two young fellows in my house who are playing cruel mind games with the very woman who gave them life and raised them lovingly to this point in time.

Anyhoo, I don’t really want to talk about the poop conundrum which seems to be the fixed point around which all life in my home circumnavigates. I’d rather share a thought I once read in a column by Ann Cannon. In her article, which was a laundry list of things she learned in the various decades of her life, she said, “Everyone in their thirties is barely hanging on.”

This bit of wisdom has been lurking in my mind these recent unstable weeks. It has been a kind of beacon in the fog. Do I feel happy thinking that my thirty-something child-rearing peers are similarly, feverishly slogging through great difficulties?

The answer: yeah, sort of.

The realization that life with small children (and sometimes large children who are acting small) is so painfully grueling at times that you are completely strung out on parenting, is pretty much a universal, I’m gathering.

I somehow feel better thinking that my intense battle with poop and small, obstinate people is not completely strange and isolated, but that it is simply a normal function of being smack in the middle of my thirties with a young, atypical, demanding, unique family.

I’m sorry if this offends you. But I truly do possess a calm thread of hope knowing that in the insanity of parenthood, we are all barely hanging on together.

Hey Neighbor

Nearly eight years ago on the second weekend in September, our next door neighbors moved into their house on the corner as we were moving into ours. We introduced ourselves as they pulled weeds  and we carried furniture from our garage into our house.

From that temperate fall weekend until the present, the family next door has felt a little like an extension of my own little nuclear family. Our children have constantly played together both indoors and out. Between our two families, there are boys aplenty (seven, to be sure), and one lovely and caring girl who is really just one of the guys.

We have shared eggs and sugar, tortillas and Coca-cola, spaghetti and hornet spray. We have seamlessly babysat each other’s little ones trillions of times. We have whined about our troubles while sitting on the lawn as our kids played. We have laughed about random things while walking with our brood to the park or the gas station for sodas.

In eight years time, the comings and goings of my family and the family next door have been so closely aligned, I sometimes wondered HOW we were so lucky to live next door to the kindest, funniest, greatest neighbors on the planet.

The mom next door (let’s call her B Doozy, just for kicks) is one of a handful of people who really, truly knows the ins and outs of my life with Jack. And with Charlie. And with the other children who I’m raising while I handle the craziness of just Jack’s boyhood alone.

B gets it. She has helped me clean up poo. She’s held my baby while I carried a melting Jack to a time-out spot where he can’t throw things at anyone. She picked up Henry from kindergarten regularly for an entire year while I was picking up Jack from his private autism preschool 40 minutes away. She babysits Jack in her own house–welcomes him there, with trains and vacuums, and isn’t one bit worried about how he might destroy something. She once sent her husband over to lift Jack into the car when he wouldn’t get in and kept biting me, and we needed to be at the doctor’s appointment NOW. She has brought me dinners when I’ve had babies, and once after a difficult diagnosis for one of my sons she brought me a raspberry chipotle salad for lunch just because I was sad and she was thinking of me.

My neighbor B is that rare type of angelic person who sees the world with pure compassion. She doesn’t tell you to buck up and try a little harder. She doesn’t gossip about my troubles or judge my really atypical family dynamic. She just listens. And she genuinely cares.

My neighbor B has helped me better understand what it means to have charity.

The bad news is that B and her family are moving 3000 miles away this week. The good news: she can’t get rid of me. We will always be friends.

She has told me before that her family felt guided to this neighborhood and this house in particular, though she wasn’t sure why. I’ve told her I am unequivocally positive that God made her my neighbor  because He loves me. I’m pretty sure that He knows just exactly how kind-hearted and sincere B Doozy is, and He knew just exactly how she would bless my life with her friendship.

I’m so truly grateful that our paths crossed, that our friendship will last, and that for eight years of our lives, we got to be best next-door neighbors.

Stim City

Jack and the baby were both sick for much of this week, which means that my house looks like the swath of a tornado’s aftermath. It also means that my arms are weary of holding a 15-month-old crabby patty and my brain has dialed down to survival mode where I mostly think about muddling
through the next 30 minutes of my day. Incremental victories.

A sick week for Jack means that he spent less time at school and in therapy, and more time shredding the garage, and also the cold storage room. These two spots are a gold mine for items which capture Jack’s fancy and provide hours of stimming fun.

Author’s aside: The term “stimming” is an abbreviation for “self-stimulatory behavior,” and refers to specific repetitive behaviors of a person with autism, including such things as spinning or flapping, and which in our home often involve pushing around things with wheels. Or pulling things around by their cords.

The following is a list of items which Jack retrieved from the nether parts of our house this week and put to good stimming use:

Rubber gloves
Band-aids
Scotch tape
Cinnamon flavored dental floss
A measuring tape
A solar camping shower
A backpacking frame pack
Vacuums (duh)
Photographs
A paper American flag made by Charlie at preschool
A portable fan
An oversized cooler on wheels
A toy camping lantern with howling and frog sound effects
Foam camping pads
A baby bath seat
A Boppy newborn lounger pillow
A strappy baby front-pack carrier
A baby Bumbo seat
A hand-held electric sander
A cordless drill
A level
Henry’s laundry hamper
Mom’s new spring flats, which she has yet to wear
Jeff’s laptop mouse
Shout! stain remover
The broom
The dustpan
The pack of Extra winter fresh gum from mom’s bag
The bag of cinnamon bears from mom’s secret stash

This list probably isn’t complete, but these are the things that I remember putting away after tripping over them repeatedly, or whose untimely demise I grieved. The list is un-embellished.

So long, cinnamon bears.

White Carpet

Jeff spent the weekend ripping out carpet and installing indestructible flooring in the upstairs hallway. It is a corridor that has seen a ridiculous amount of poop and vomit. It’s also seen far too much red punch, blue Sharpie, green playdoh, caramel-colored Coca-cola, white shaving cream, and pink shampoo.

Welcome to mi casa.

While the top layer of that once-white carpet (we didn’t choose it) was a depressing amalgamation of stains, the underbelly was truly a nauseating sight. It needed to go a long time ago.

It’s denouement has blessedly begun..

The replacement flooring is so seriously durable, so easily cleanable, so totally unaffected by standing water and intense scrubbing and objects crashing into it that I want to gaze lovingly on it and sing it’s praises while I caress it with my mop.

It’s difficult to overestimate just how much the poo-packed carpet of Jack’s early childhood was sucking my soul away, Dementor-like. I certainly wanted to shriek like a Dementor when I looked at it, and walked on it, and, heaven forbid, tried to clean a smashed-in deuce off of it.

Well expecto patronum to you, nasty cow pie carpet. We are finished with your disturbing tendency to crunch beneath our feet. We reject your dark high-traffic-spot trails made by the dirt of a thousand footsteps. We are finished with you. You have no more power to depress the heck out of me now that you are lying in a heap on the garage floor.

Who knows how many evenings and weekends of DIY demolition and installation it will take until the old and trashed “white” floor covering yields completely to the man-made wonder-stuff of today. This evening when one boy pooped on the floor and the other in his pants, I dreamed of a speedy timeframe to our ongoing project, even as I recalled a line from the movie Life of Pi.

It’s a moment when the grown-up Pi Patel is recounting his harrowing shipwreck experience in the Pacific Ocean, in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger as his companion. The young writer who listens to his tale of survival ponders it and says, “I’m trying to make sense of what it all means,” to which Pi replies, “It happened. I suffered. Why does it have to mean anything?”

How refreshing the notion that just because something difficult happened, we do not necessarily need to assign a great deal of meaning to it. Crap happens, simply and predictably. It happened to our floor covering. We suffered at the sight of it. Why does it have to mean anything?

It doesn’t mean a thing except that my metaphorical days on a raft adrift on an ocean of filthy carpet with two poopy tigers actually happened.