Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Waterboarding and other common punishments

I really hate it when I am interrupted during an interrogation.
The other day, for example, I was alone with my suspect. I had confronted him. I had presented irrefutable evidence. Despite his attempts at creating reasonable doubt and offering up other suspects, I had him softened almost to the breaking point, about to confess. I had crushed his alibi. I had presented compelling evidence as to why the other suspects were innocent... and then "good cop" had to come in and ruin everything.
All he did was stick his head in the door and ask what was going on. I described the nature of the crime. The suspect turned to him with a sad, pleading face. Good cop crumbled. He offered the same excuses as the suspect! Offered the same alternative suspects even! What he did, in short, was to destroy my entire case. I glared at him.
"Never mind," I sighed.
I grudgingly dismissed the suspect with a small chore as punishment and good cop came into the room, closing the door behind him.
"I almost had him, you know." I huffed.
"Do you want me to get you your own little room with a table and a bright light?"
Yes, as a matter of fact, I would like that very much. Especially if there was a panel of 2-way glass, and a lock on the door so that 'good cop' couldn't come bursting in and take the side of the suspect!

As a general rule, I tend to be pretty lenient with my kids and their punishments. But there are times when something they do pushes my buttons and I am forced to react with aggressive punishments.

When my oldest daughter was 6, she decided that sleeves were uncomfortable. She took a pair of scissors (not her first incident with that particular weapon... she was forever hacking off part of her hair with unpleasing results) to her closet and proceeded to remove the sleeves from every shirt she owned. When she had finished destroying the shirts, she moved right on to removing the legs from all of the pants. She was on her fourth pair when I found her, sitting on the floor of her room, surrounded by mangled sleeves and pant legs, looking up at me innocently.
Without saying a word (very rare for me in situations of high stress), I removed the surviving clothes from her drawer and closet and put them in protective custody. (Locked in my room)
I returned and confiscated the weapon and proceeded to explain, very calmly, that clothes cost money, and cannot be destroyed on a whim.
She was well acquainted with the value of money, having run a successful embezzlement scheme the previous fall. I would give her lunch money every morning. She would get to school and tell the teacher that she wanted to buy her lunch, but that she had lost her money or left it at home. The teacher would tell the lunch lady, who would then allow my daughter to 'charge' her lunch expenses to an account. At the end of the first week, she had made a nice $10 profit. She simply took the "money owed" notice and threw it in the trash. She repeated the scam the following week, resulting in another $10 profit. This time, she forgot to throw away the notice, however, and when I went through her school papers I discovered that she owed over $15 in the cafeteria. I sent her to school the next Monday with a home made lunch and called her teacher, asking to see a detail of the report so I could find out how she owed so much money. When the report failed to ring any bells about days I may have forgotten to give her money, I called her teacher. We were finally able to put two and two together and realize that we were being scammed by a kindergartner. The money was already gone, of course. She spent it on pencils and stickers and a random folder or two from the school store. But I digress.

Knowing that my daughter understood the value of money, I was able to exact an appropriate punishment for the mutillation of her wardrobe. I gave her one outfit that had been unharmed by the violent cutting rampage. I gave her a list of extra jobs that she could perform at the pay rate of 50 cents per job, and told her that additional outfits could be purchased for $1 each.

Initially, she rebelled. She didn't like that the punishment fit the crime, and she refused to do any additional jobs. That was fine with me. She went to school in the same clothes for three days straight before she finally crumbled (probably due to peer pressure), and started slowly earning back her unharmed clothes. There wasn't much left, but she eventually earned back the rest of her clothes. The replacement clothes were a little more expensive, $2 per outfit (which was still a steal for her), but she did eventually earn enough to look respectable at school again.

I also believe in dual punishment. When the oldest two kids butted heads a little too often and pushed me to the edge of my patience, I tied their legs together (3-legged-race style) and sent them into the back yard to do some chores. I told them they could come in when the work was done. If they had immediately gotten to it, the job would have taken them about 30 minutes. Which, admittedly, is a long time to have your leg tied to someone else's. As it was, however, they fought and bickered and refused to get along, and an hour later were begging to be released. I came out and explained to them that they had to work together and get along and that if they didn't, I was going to leave them tied together overnight and they would have to sleep outside on the trampoline. Thirty minutes later the job was done.

I have endless stories of forcing a child to complete a sibling's chores, or mine, when they have damaged property or made unkind comments. And, much to the chagrin of children everywhere, I have instituted the practice of assigning them a job (without extra pay) whenever they complain of being bored. Other mothers I know have picked up the same practice, thus the chagrin.

I don't really do water boarding, but I do believe in the practice of putting screaming kids in a cold shower, fully clothed, to quell their tantrums (special thanks to my sister).

What? It works! Trust me, try it. The next time your toddler is throwing a temper tantrum and refuses to calm down, put them in the shower and offer one last chance before you turn the water on. If they insist on continuing their detestable boo-hooing, turn on the cold water until they stop making noise. After that, all it will take is a threat. Just be prepared to follow through. They will test the fences on this one.
It's a good punishment for three reasons. One: it doesn't hurt the child. Two: it's unpleasant for them, therefore, they will not want to repeat the behavior. Three: It's unexpected the first time you do it, so it's likely to leave an impression on them. If only the grocery store had a shower. Actually, at that age, you can tell them the grocery store has a shower and they won't know the difference. Just kidding, you should never mislead your kids that way. Eventually they will call you on it.

Childhood is really just a series of boundary testing. It goes like this: They test the boundary, you set a limit. As long as you stick to your guns, they will eventually stop trying to test that particular fence. They will get comfortable for awhile, and then they will test something else. The real melt downs only happen when you give in "just this once" or are inconsistent with your punishments.

And that's about all I have learned in my 15 years of being a parent. Now if I could just figure out an appropriate punishment for a three-year-old who threw a rock through my sister's van window...

But that's a blog for another time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Phone technology

Today I am grateful for the hold button. And the mute button, equally. Both enable me to conduct the business of running my household while the customer service agent on the other end is oblivious to what is really going on in my house.

And believe me, they are better off.

Today, for example, I talked with a CS rep about my phone while helping the toddler on the potty. I will spare you the details, just suffice it to say that if he knew what was really going on while I held the phone with my shoulder, he would hang up and pretend there was a malfunction of some kind.

I also sent the same toddler to his room a few minutes later for dumping half a container of yogurt on the carpet, cleaned up the yogurt, and rinsed the towel with which I cleaned up the yogurt, all while he was checking the model number on my phone to be sure he had the right customer file.

Then, while he changed the file so that the customer information actually matched my personal information, I helped my middle daughter sort through her drawers and get rid of some clothes that didn't fit. I was glad that he couldn't hear our conversation about why it's unacceptable to wear pajama bottoms with a giant hole in the butt, even though they're just pajamas and nobody but your sisters is ever going to see them.

I am also glad that people on the other end of the phone can't see or smell anything on my end. Again, details are not necessary. But I'm sure you can imagine that a mother of 5 has occasion to conduct all sorts of phone calls while tending to other business. Whether it involves my role as a waste management expert, or clothing police, or overseeing various unappealing chores, I am sure that no one to whom I am speaking would be better off for knowing what is happening while the conversation is going on.

My only complaint is that in this age of vast technology, (and since I have the most technologically advanced phone on the planet... which is definitely another blog entirely) I actually have to remove the phone from the side of my head and press a button in order to mute it. This annoyance, however, could be considered a blessing in disguise; as it means that I have to inhale for a moment before I unleash my verbal wrath on whichever child happens to be sitting on his or her sibling.

Another modern phone feature without which I could not possibly live is caller ID. I used to pay extra for this feature. I would probably still pay extra for it (but don't tell AT$T that... and the dollar sign is not a typo... they charge me enough as it is). But it enables me to make intelligent decisions about whether it is worth it to press the button and answer the call, or whether my valuable time would be better spent doing something important, like finishing my ice cream sandwich.

Voicemail is my best friend. It has saved me from so many unpleasant conversations. I enjoy having conversations entirely through voicemail. Lest you think me unsocial, it's simply more efficient than carrying on an entire conversation.

Which bring me to my favorite modern medium of all: Text. Genius! Amazing! Superlative! Even better than voicemail, because it requires even less time and effort! (Unless you are technology deficient and can't figure out the predictive text feature on your phone. If you are, I certainly don't fault you. Some people just aren't wired that way. Besides, it IS a tad confusing when you're trying to type potluck and the suggestion that pops up is pork. I had the worst time convincing my phone that I really did mean to type Cassie and not cassis. But I digress.)

What I love about text is that it eliminates all of the time-wasting conversational mush and gets right to the point. No "hi, how are you? I'm fine! Obligatory heath and/or family inquiry, sometimes leading to comments about the weather, or drivers, if your conversation partner happens to be driving..." Just straight to the point.

Pick up milk

out of bread

free at 7?

movie starting

which theater?

car trouble

can't talk, call later

i'm hungry

And, if you're terribly hip and modern... there's always crackberry. The new version of cavespeak. We have officially regressed the English language back to grunts and woefully incomplete sentences.


r u going?

lol no

y not?

last time i found a bug in my soup

As a medium of communication, text is suited to tween speak and grammar-philes alike. One could be as brief or as grammarian as one pleases. Crackberry can be pretty annoying, but I have to say I am awed by the efficiency behind it (to quote Cary Grant). In fact, to sway those of you who are against any brevity of speech, I have decided to show you just how much easier it can be. Oscar Wilde is one of my favorite writers. I am endlessly in awe of the way he could construct a sentence. Here is a favorite exchange, in both languages.


John: You don't suppose Gwendolyn will become like her mother in about 150 years?

Algernon: My dear fellow, all women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That is his.

John: Is that meant to be clever?

Algernon: It is perfectly phrased! and quite as true as any observation in civilized life should be.


JW: spose GB'll b like her mom smday?

AM: bud, all girls r like that. guys r not tho


AM: lol Well s'true

Now, see how much more efficient that was? All that hard work speaking replaced by a few well chosen letters.

What I love best about texting is that when you aren't in a position to have a verbal conversation, you can still communicate. I'm all about efficiency. If I can be sitting in a meeting and still find out the time and location of my next child pickup before I even leave, so much the better for me. Texting is all about convenience and saving time.

I do know people, however, who refuse to text. My brother is one of them. This is endlessly annoying when trying to schedule play dates and meeting times with the cousins. It would be SO much easier if we could text, but he insists on having actual conversations every 3 minutes instead as plans change and are adjusted.

Come over to the quick side people, it's not all that hard to learn! If you need further persuading, or even a little crackberry vocabulary lesson, lmk... i'd be happy to help. Anything I can to do convert the hopelessly conversation-bound to a life of ease and thumb exercising.

idk if u no r not, but u can't escape progress :)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Something everyone who has ever known a pregnant person should read

When you are pregnant, you are the target of advice, commentary, stares and occasionally unwanted physical contact from almost every person in the general populace. This has often been a source of annoyance for me. I don't know if I am just particularly more sensitive when I am pregnant, or whether the overload of extra attention sends me over the edge of the precipice I am already on: lack of patience for the less educated and socially uncouth of my fellowmen.

I'm sure my husband would say that I am just too sensitive, and that I just need to give people the benefit of the doubt and concede that they are well-meaning and just trying to be friendly. I, however, continue to simmer when people try my patience with their prying and inappropriately familiar questions.

I'm not talking about harmless, polite inquiries like asking when I'm due or if it's my first baby (yes, I still get this question even though I'm almost 35 and I have 5 children, but how are they to know that after all?), or even asking the sex of the baby. There are, however, some questions that should just not be asked from one stranger to another. I really don't care if they're well meaning or just trying to be nice. Some questions and comments are just plain rude and intrusive. I will give you my favorite examples. If you see a pregnant woman on the street and simply can't stop yourself from commenting or asking a question, please refrain from anything resembling the following:

Are you going to have any more?
Now, this question is pretty harmless on the surface; and it's one of those that my husband would probably say I am being too sensitive about answering. But frankly, if you are not a friend of mine and we have not discussed family sizes or anything related to it in the past, it's probably none of your business and your mother should have taught you not to ask rude questions. I just get the feeling that people ask this question to make themselves feel better about whatever their family size choices are. If they have fewer children than you, they want to be shocked and aghast that anyone could consider having that many children. If they have more children than you they want to console themselves that some people just cant handle a large family. Besides, no one should ever ask a pregnant person, or a person who has just given birth, if they are planning to repeat this ordeal any time soon. Except maybe her doctor.

Have you had a lot of morning sickness?
Again, here, the argument could be made that people are just trying to be polite and ask about your health. Which, if history has taught us anything, it's that people's health is a safe and polite topic of conversation. However, it is my firm belief that when Mrs. Higgins advised her son Henry to "Stick to two topics: the weather, and every body's health," she did not mean for him to ask specific medical questions, but general inquiries. Why? Because nobody wants the real answer to that question! Does anyone really want to know about the size, color, and frequency of my bouts with nausea? That's a question I don't even want the answer to! If I answered that question honestly I would probably give myself and the person asking a stomachache. "Yes, in fact I couldn't keep my breakfast down for weeks! Didn't matter what I ate; eggs, cereal, toast, it would all just come right back up again!"

Was this pregnancy planned?
Now come on. Really? Do you really want to know the answer to that question or can you just not think of anything else to say? I can understand people being curious about this particular topic, but there are some things about which we are curious, and about which we should keep our curiosity to ourselves! Examples: How did you lose your hand? Why do you wear a helmet? What is that rash, where did it come from, and is it contagious?
When people ask me if my pregnancy was planned, I am tempted to answer thus: "Well, I knew that sex caused pregnancy, and I thought I was using adequate protection. But I've never wanted children AT ALL. So you can imagine how horrified I was when I started puking every morning, gaining weight and missing my period. By now I guess there's not much I can do about it. Maybe I'll put an ad in the paper and see if anyone wants a baby. Or Ebay..."
At least if I answered that way the person asking would think very seriously about ever asking that question again.

This is just a small sampling of the ridiculous things I have been asked in my 51 months of pregnancy. Following are some of my favorites of the comments people have made.

"Wow, you sure are going to have your hands full." (my sister and I often lament that this is the most creative thing people can think to say when confronted with the sight of a mother of 3 or more young children who is also pregnant. We could write a whole book about it. Maybe we will.)

"This is your 5th!? Haven't you ever heard of birth control?" (At which point I turned to the man with a confused look and asked: "What's that?")

"WOW!" (looking at my 7-months-pregnant belly) "I just talked to my sister who's pregnant and she's only a couple of months along and then I look at you and... talk about PREGNANT!"

"Oh my goodness, are you having TWINS!?"

"Gee, you sure are getting big!"

"So, when does this one hatch?" (trying to be clever, but really just coming off obnoxious)

And my hands-down, all-time favorite:
Walking into a restaurant, the 20-something host takes one look at my belly and asks: "Would you like a table, or can you fit in to a booth?"

I also need to add the following anecdote, provided by a dear friend. I will paraphrase.
This friend of mine had trouble conceiving and had adopted a baby boy. Shortly after, she had the opportunity to adopt a set of twins who were in a bad situation and needed a home immediately. As sometimes happens after an adoption, soon after she adopted the twins, she became pregnant on her own. Near the end of the pregnancy, she was walking through the park, her very young toddler son holding on to the double stroller which held the infant twins and very near delivery; and she passed a man sitting on a bench. This man was either homeless, or had decided of his own free will never to use the shower in his house. He was very overweight, probably around 300 pounds, and the shirt and shorts he was wearing were meant for a much smaller person; so his dirty, hairy belly was exposed. His hair was dirty and unkempt and his mouth was hanging open. As my friend walked past with her small children the man exclaimed, "That is the most disgusting thing I have EVER seen!" Likewise.

My sister, who had twins last year contributed these favorites:

"Wow, you're actually waddling now."

"My sister had twins, and she got really huge. It was even kind of un-natural looking. You're going to be soooo biiiiig."

I would like to take this opportunity to counsel that no one, under any circumstances, should ever comment on a woman's size. Even if you think she looks smaller than usual, and you tell her that, she will just think you thought she was big before. It can't possibly be taken as a compliment. Pregnant women are painfully aware that they are big. Even the ones who claim that they love their pregnant body and enjoy being pregnant, have, at some point, gone into their closet to find clothes and ended up crying. Pregnant women are also prone to emotional highs and lows, which are unpredictable, meaning that, YES, pregnant women are emotionally unstable. There I said it. So why, in the name of all that is holy, would you EVER consider commenting on the size of an emotionally unstable person?!!?

Now, having ranted endlessly for several paragraphs, I must offer some qualification. If you are immediately related to someone who is pregnant, or if you are CLOSE friends with someone who is pregnant, or if you have previously had detailed and personal conversations with someone who is pregnant, it is perfectly acceptable for you to ask questions about health, well being, family planning, etc... but ONLY if your previous relationship would indicate such familiarity. Just because someone is pregnant does not mean that she is an open book and that anyone anywhere is entitled to ask her any question or make any comment that pops into their pea-sized head!

AND UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES WHATSOEVER SHOULD ANY PERSON ON THE PLANET TOUCH ANOTHER PERSON'S STOMACH, or any other part of their body for that matter, UNINVITED! If you are prone to impulses of touching a pregnant belly, please STOP, consider what you are doing, and ask permission! IF you are too embarrassed to ask, THAT SHOULD BE A CLUE THAT IT'S NOT OK!!!

See, I told you pregnant women were unstable. When they get passionate about a cause they tend to get a little rowdy.

If you happen to be a friend of mine, and you are reading this, please don't worry that you have asked me a rude question and that I have been offended by it. People at church, friends on Facebook, and people with whom I regularly communicate do not fall into the category of the general public. I am not as easily offended as my husband seems to think, and I very rarely over-react. But let this be a lesson to you, a guide if you will. And "If you have been warned, warn your neighbor" that when you see a pregnant woman on the street who you don't know... act appropriately. If you are one of those people who can't stop themselves from saying something, let it be congratulations of some kind; or encouragement. If you see a pregnant woman who is also struggling with small children, say: "What a beautiful family," instead of commenting on how tired and frustrated she may be by saying that her hands are full. And above all, keep your hands and your opinions to yourself.

Opinions on child rearing... now that's another blog entirely.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Harry Potter is the great equalizer in our house. Kind of sad really, but there it is.

My kids are aged from 14 (about to be 35) to 3, and with 3 girls and 2 boys it's difficult to find any one activity that pleases everybody. Harry Potter pleases everybody.

When the first book came out, my kids were too young to care. In 1997, I had a 3 year old, a 2 year old, and a newborn baby. Harry Potter was a swirl of a rumor that I read about from time to time in a magazine. I remember a very heated discussion between moms on a scrapbooking forum about how the books were evil and whispered of the occult and they would not let it in to their homes. I'm not one to take the evils of the world lightly, there are a lot of them out there. But as for as a book about a young wizard was concerned, I really had no interest either way. I chuckled to myself a little at the alarmist nature of mothers on Internet discussion forums (as I still do whenever I stumble across them) and went on my way.

By the time the books had become a worldwide phenomenon, and the frenzy had started to spread to the movie theaters, I was having another baby. I remember the alarmist mothers being in the back of my mind, but by the time the first movie was out on dvd I was ready to give it my own unbiased review.

It was then that I fell in love with the world of Harry Potter. The first movie is still my favorite. There is something, if you'll forgive the expression, magical about that first innocent voyage into the wizarding world . The colors are crisp and clean, the characters bright and complicated and Daniel Radcliff is innocence itself in a coming of age tale that is often imitated, but never duplicated. How's that for a movie review? I loved the music as well. To this day, all I have to do is hum a few bars of the Voldemort theme and it freaks out my oldest daughter. She won't admit that it still freaks her out, but she always loudly protests whenever I hum it and rolls her eyes pretending to be annoyed. I can tell she's still scared.

Having seen the first movie, there was really no reason to read the book (I thought), but by this time the second movie was ready for release and my older two kids were in love as well, so off to the theater we went. With each movie a little scarier than the last, I was afraid they wouldn't like it as much, but my son loved the huge snake and thus we were all hooked. During the following summer I decided to paint my great room using 3 different colors of paint in a faux finish, all 600 -ish square feet of it. How did I keep my kids out the paint? Nap time for the younger two, and Harry Potter on DVD for the older two. I can still smell latex paint whenever we watch the Chamber of Secrets.

By the time the next book was ready for release I had fallen in with the herds and the masses and I had to know what came next. Luckily my oldest daughter had become a great reader and when she asked for the third book at the school library, they told her they didn't carry it because it was too advanced for elementary school. Naturally, we started our own collection, and we made reading the books together a family affair. All who would listen could gather around and I would read to the younger ones. When they lost interest, my oldest daughter and I would pass the books back and forth, three chapters at a time. When we got to the end we would read the last three or four chapters out loud together so that no one would get to finish before the other.

Each time the movies came out, we made sure to be first in line. Sometimes I would even take the kids out of school early to get to a showing before the masses. We were far from Harry Potter freaks. None of us has ever dressed up as an HP Character (with the exception of the year they gave out glasses with the books and we all had a turn wearing them). And I think my mother may have taken my oldest to the bookstore at midnight on one of the release dates.

When the 5th movie's release date and the last book's release date coincided, we were on vacation together and it was always part of our plan to forgo other activities to make sure we could take advantage of both. My daughter finished the last book on the drive back home, less than 48 hours after I bought it for her.

Even now, when we travel long distances or even just out to the country, Harry Potter is in the DVD player or being read aloud. Every summer we have a HP marathon (although it's getting increasingly harder as the number of movies increase)

So, of course, on July 14th my oldest daughter was begging me to take her to the midnight showing of movie #6. We had gone to the midnight showing of Twilight during the previous year, and she was hoping for a repeat performance on my part. I honestly would have done it if I hadn't had a church appointment at 9 the next morning. She was VERY much disappointed, but really I was secretly glad that the tradition of all of us seeing it for the first time together would be repeated.

All of us girls stuffed out purses with snacks and even the 3 year old came with us, insisting that he LOVES Harry Potter. As we were all sitting there together I was enjoying the moment of being united over something so silly. I loved laughing with them and invited my 7-year old to sit on my lap when I knew it was about to get scary. (Luckily the 3 year old fell asleep about an hour in) When we got home, I was locking up the car and checking the mail so I was behind the kids by a couple of minutes. By the time I got inside, they were all gathered around my husband's desk talking about their favorite parts and quoting their favorite lines. It was very cute and endearing.

Normally this is the kind of thing I would complain about: single families dumping hundreds of dollars annually into an over publicized, highly commercialized piece of literary fluff. But I can't help being pleased about anything that brings the whole family together. Especially when it requires such minimal effort on my part.

Now if only I could get my son to read Jane Austen...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What do you do in the summertime?

There's a lovely song from my childhood that starts out "Oh, What do you do in the summertime, when all the world is green?"...

Well, in South Texas in July, all the world is brown. At least, most of it. Especially during stage 2 water restrictions. I don't know exactly how many days it's been since we've had measurable rain fall, because I don't watch the news. I personally don't think that shootings, car accidents and heroic pets count as "news" but I'm sure I'm in the minority on that one since the local news stations seem to be faring quite well. Regardless of how long it's been, most of the grass in my neighborhood is brown. Although there are a few industrious retirees who refuse to give up because growing grass in impossible conditions is their hobby.

Who's idea was it to have lawns in South Texas? People here spend an appalling amount of money every year trying to defy nature by growing grass in a desert-like climate. They buy sod, install sprinkler systems, plant shade trees (which consume huge amounts of water themselves) fertilize, and then spend hours upon hours with a garden hose in their hand trying to make something grow that was never meant to grow here. The smart people do something called xeriscaping (although my husband calls it zero-scaping because of his adorable miss-use of certain words, but I digress). It's basically getting rid of the impossible-to-grow grass and planting native, low water shrubs and flowering plants surrounded by mulch or ground cover of some kind. Much more sensible. What a novel idea! Planting things that were meant to grow in this climate! Now it's not ideal for spreading out a blanket and having a picnic, but it's too hot here for picnics anyway. Which brings me back to my original topic.

What do you do in the summertime when it reaches 100 degrees before 11:30 and then stays over 100 long after the sun has gone down? Especially when you have 5 kids to entertain. All the things that we would do in a normal climate suddenly become vastly shorter activities at best, and perilous at worst. I don't do well in the heat. When I'm pregnant, the danger of my spontaneously passing out increases exponentially. So why, you may ask, did I choose to live here? Well that's a very long and not very interesting story. Suffice it to say that I met my husband here, whose mother lives here; all of our children have been born here, and since my parents are nearby the prospect of our moving is not anywhere in the near future. Although every year around this time, usually on a day when it's 105 in the shade, we talk about how nice it would be to live in a place with four seasons again, or at least to spend our summers somewhere cooler. Whenever we have this discussion I imagine Suze Orman hearing it and laughing hysterically. Oh yeah, I could practically write a whole book about her.

So picnics are out. Unless you are one of those moms who gets up early even in the summer and is capable of putting together a lunch for 6 that is more exciting than PB&J and a juice box, loads the kids in the car by 9:30 and gets out of the sun before 11:30. And I'm not one of those moms. Besides, if you have a picnic before noon in the summer you might as well just count that as breakfast. Because by the time everyone sleeps in (including mom) and eats around 10, PB&J at 11 is about the most unappealing thing ever. Add in to the mix that the older kids think the park is boring unless there's food involved and the park becomes a non-option. Especially since I hate taking them to the "good" park with the sand box because of, well, the sandbox. Last time I took them there, the three year old got no less than an inch of sand caked into the inside of his crocks and then left them in the suburban. I forgot about them until Sunday morning so... he wore socks only to church that week.

Yes, my 3 year old wears crocs to church. Unless they're caked with sand, and then he wears socks only. I'm not the kind of mom who would search high and low to find church shoes that fit his gargantuan feet after having no luck at Marshall's and Target. His feet are simply too thick to fit into normal shoes. And two stops is about my limit for finding anything. If we don't find it in two stores, we go without. At least until I happen to be in a third store.

There's always the library. But there again, out of necessity, it needs to be a very brief activity. Luckily the branch of the library we visit is very small. I can basically keep the entire kid's section in view from one or two vantage points. As soon as we're through the automatic doors, each kid bolts in his or her own direction. I usually follow the three year old because I figure he's the most likely to tear all the pages out of a book before I catch up. I spend the next 10-15 minutes multi-tasking. Saying yes to this book, no to that one, trying not to lose my temper as I explain for the twentieth time that the princess diary books are, unfortunately, inappropriate for anyone under 18 no matter how cute the movies were; while simultaneously trying to find a few books that will entertain the three year old long enough for me to check out books for the other 3 who insist on having their own cards but are incapable of keeping track of said cards on their own. The good thing about the library visit is that when we do finally get home with no less than 25 books (5 per kid is the limit), usually they are content to read for about an hour before they start using the B word again (b-o-r-e-d). That word is off-limits in our house.

I'm the kind of mom who threatens her kids with classic mom lines that are now considered by many 'experts' to be detrimental to children's growth and development. One of these is "if you are bored, I will be happy to find you something to do...". This line gets spit out in varying degrees of length and tone of voice depending on how long a day it's been and how many times I've heard it that day. The least sugar coated version is "Go find something to do or I'll find you something to do!" I imagine that these 'experts' of whom I speak are sort of like Palaeontologists. They study scientific theories and come up with a science fiction version of what works based on what they have read without ever actually having seen a real-live child. They're like those people who stop you in the grocery store and tell you how to keep your kid quiet when the only contact they've had with kids is to judgementaly observe the sub-standard parenting skills of the neighbors across the street without actually talking to them.

My only saving graces in the summertime are the pool and the free movie. Although these, too, have their pitfalls.

The local theater offers a "Summer Family Film Festival" (although I'm sure my aspiring-director of a brother would make impolite gagging noises at any of the 2 hour potty joke fests they call 'films'). There are two movies per week, one rated G and one rated PG. Usually one or the other of them is tolerable. Although this week the choices are Space Chimps or Hotel for Dogs. I'm not kidding. Those of you without children will probably laugh and think I am making those titles up. I'm not. The sad thing about these movies is that someone wrote those scripts, and then someone ELSE read them and thought they were great! And then someone ELSE read them and decided to actually fund the production! And then someone ELSE read them and said, "Yes, it would be an excellent career move for me to star in this!" And then thousands of people saw the ads on TV or the previews at the theater and said "Well, if John Smith of Entertainment Weekly says it's going to be 'Delightfully Entertaining' that's good enough for me! Let's go spend $10 on a ticket and $20 on a small popcorn and drink!" And then they leave the theater buzzed on caffeine and clogged with artificial butter and tell all their friends it was 'pretty good' for a kid's movie and the cycle perpetuates itself. And that, ladies and gentlemen is why we get so many ridiculously mediocre movies year after year. But again, I digress.

To enjoy the free movie in the summer, you just need to remember two things. One, get there early enough to get a seat somewhere in the middle. Otherwise you will be climbed over by nose picking daycare kids wearing matching T-shirts with their phone numbers sharpied onto the back. Two, it's only free if you BYOSnacks. I carry a small backpack purse. It leaves my hands free for grabbing escaping toddlers and smacking wayward hands while balancing gallons of milk and keys and door handles. It's not a large bag, because I don't believe in large purses, but that's another blog. It is, however, big enough to fit 5 juice boxes, 5 fruit snacks, and 5 baggies full of microwave popcorn. Sometimes there's room for me to squeeze in a real soda for myself. But since the movie starts at 10am, I'm usually still waking up and digesting breakfast and movie treats are the last thing I want to eat. Which is my other complaint with the free movie. I know, they want the hoards of daycare children out of the theater before the paying customers arrive, but I would be so much happier if it was in the middle of the day when the sun is strongest and the only other entertainment option is the pool.

Which brings me to the only other summertime saving grace. The neighborhood pool. For $250 a year I can get a key and go whenever I want. Except Monday, which is 'chlorine day'. It's the best money I spend all year. It's open from May to October. There are no crowds to contend with, there are no treats for the kids to beg me to buy, there are no lines; and when we are there alone (which is most of the time) there is no one to tell me that making the 12 year old sit in the sun for 15 minutes for stealing his sister's goggles is cruel. It's simplicity itself. Cold water, pennies to dive for, and when I want some quiet I can just stick my head under the water. The only time we have ever disliked the pool is when the occasional 'neighbor' makes it unpleasant by telling my kids they can't swim in her "lane". There are no lanes. The are no lines. There are no lane lines in our pool. But this woman (typical of the retirees who live in our neighborhood) acts like it's life and death for her to be able to swim endless laps in our little pool. She even told them one time "I have to swim my laps! I just have to! I have no choice but to swim these laps!"

But the retirees in my neighborhood are a blog for another time.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Texas in July

It's July 15th. It's 104 degrees outside. I'm hot, I'm tired, and the last thing I feel like doing is 'blogging'. But here I am.

We have enjoyed 27 straight days of 100 degree weather here in beautiful south Texas. My 5 kids are home from school for their annual 11-week summer vacation. How do I know it's 11 weeks? I know for two reasons. First, I have 5 kids. Anyone with more than two knows exactly how long the summer vacation is. Second, summer vacation used to be 10 weeks. How did this extra week happen? I don't exactly know. I just know that somewhere between the summers of 2006 and 2009 it turned from 10 to 11 weeks. I remember that one of those summers, I was pretty sure of the date the kids would return to school, and found out to my horror that they had a week longer than I thought. Somehow, the school system is out to destroy everything mothers hold dear.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love my kids. I love them fiercely. Sometimes I wish I could gather all 5 into my arms and never let them go. But, let's be reasonable here. We all have our limits.

Which brings me to the title of my blog. You will not find mushy gushy stories of sickening cuteness on this blog. I'm not that kind of mom. I don't carry band-aids and aspirin in my purse. I don't kiss boo-boo's (usually) or live with delusions that my kids are the brightest, sweetest little angels on the planet. Oh, I know they can be. I just don't gush about it or brag to other moms about it. What you will read here is down to earth, real mother stuff. I don't sugar coat, and I don't skip the parts where I lock myself in the closet because it's the only quiet 20 square feet in the house.

Speaking of being in the closet, I have found myself there a few times recently. Not in the post-20th-century-I'm-confused-about-my preferences way, although I'm sure that it would amuse some of my gay friends to think so. More in the: I-have-5-bored-kids-at-home-and-I'm-pregnant-with-the-sixth way. If there was a graphic illustration that would accurately depict this feeling, I would post it. But instead, I will blog about it and try to give you, the reader, some inkling of a glimpse of how it feels. It will take a long time. And you may never understand. But as families are becoming increasingly smaller these days, and there are fewer and fewer of my species (mothers of 6 kids... born one at a time thank you, and not stolen/adopted out from under their 3rd world family) out there, I feel somehow bound to represent those of us who are not the artsy, crafty, cookie baking (although I do love to bake cookies, mostly because I love to eat them) hem-sewing, blankie-knitting, frilly dress wearing type.

What I hope to accomplish with this attempt at blogging is first, to give myself an outlet for the broad spectrum of my interests and emotions; and, second, to occupy the spare 5 minutes I have where if I don't do something I will go insane. If by chance, some mom out there stumbles onto this blog and realizes that it's OK to lock yourself in a closet every once in awhile and that some mothers make their kids forage for their own food, so much the better. If other people find it interesting I will be surprised, but not ungrateful. Sometimes I think this world needs a very healthy dose of real un-Hollywooded reality. But that's a blog for another day.