Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Don't let the door hit you on the way in!!

Don't let the door hit you on the way in!

O.K., I don't have the quote in exactly the right context, but this is my new version. My new chant. My new refrain. As I shout TIME OUT once again for the 999th time today, well maybe only the ....30th. Seems like the 999th time I've sent Boy into time out in his room. Girl, too. She doesn't want to be left out of the action. Ohhhh... and they think it is all a ... laugh riot. So, I can tell the positive discipline is hard at work here. I'm attempting major mouth clean-up. You know... those cute phrases that have been picked up on vacation from sources that won't/can't be revealed. And not just by the kids. The parents aren't talking either. No one wants to admit that their little darlings have been the instigators. Can we blame the Grandparents for You are a stinky butt! Probably not.
Parenting is great. I've seen my children for a total of about 30 minutes today. The rest of the time they've been sent to their room. I recommend it to everyone. I'm ready for Mommy's TIME OUT. I'm heading for Hawaii. I'll send a postcard: Greetings from Paradise. Wish you weren't here. Love, Mommy.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Boy returns to school and Girl doling out table manners

We were all up at 5am this morning. That was doable. The kids seem to be getting back on this time zone faster than me. It's 8pm, I'm whipped and they're in their room - supposedly going to sleep and Girl keeps yelling at the top of her lungs to Boy: You're waking me up!!

Time outs were de rigueur today.

You're a POOP POOP!
You're a DINK DINK!...whatever that means.
Stinky BUTT!
Boy: Mommy, we're fighting! Me: Do, I care?

Boy was so excited to be back at school this morning. I wasn't sure how he was going to be as he hasn't been in school for 4 weeks. But, he was ready. No hesitation. In fact, he ran in his classroom, spotted one of his pals and sat down and started playing - pausing only to give one of his teachers a big hug. It is summer water play now, so when I picked him up he was covered in happy dirt, racing up and down the school yard with his two pals who were pushing dump trucks. Dirt, dump trucks, running... can't get much better than that.

I was called into the playroom this morning by Girl who had a meal prepared for me at her little table. Wielding a spatula and wearing a pink checked apron she whipped up a delicious concoction at her toy kitchen. I was served a hamburger, wedge of cheese and an orange with hot tea and chocolate milk. Best meal I ever had. She showed me where I could empty my plate into the garbage when I was done and how to put my dishes in the sink. She also reminds me not to talk with my mouth full at the dinner table. How lovely to be be taught table manners. At least I'm learning something.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

We are home!...despite questionable edible spreadable airplane food

We are home! Up at 4am and out of my sister's house by 5am, onto the 1st plane to Atlanta by 7:15am, caught another plane out of Atlanta at 10am and arrived back in California before 12noon. No in-air major incidents other than Girl deliberately pouring water on her clothes in the seat. Both napped an hour on the longer flight. A miracle! No lost bags, but bad taste of airplane food in mouth... if you can call some kind of processed pureed cheese spread that might as well be sprayed out of a can and stale crackers ... FOOD? Pulled into the driveway around 2:30pm. Good to be home again. Animals euphoric. Kids made a beeline to their toys and tricycles. A friend dropped by some staples and a pizza. Great to be home! I fixed dinner at 4pm and Boy could barely stay awake to nibble a few bites. I was mean and forced them to stay awake until 5:30pm. I figure they owe me. Both comatose within 10 minutes. Pleeeaaase....let them sleep past 4am....

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Lingering images of our week at the beach

This is the last morning that I will awaken to the crash of the waves outside the house.

Images that will stay with me: Boy in his red life vest, Girl sitting on the pink beach chair squinting into the sun, my two nieces holding hands with my brother walking out into the surf, my nephew on surfboard and skim board- making it look easy, my long haired nieces coming out of the waves like mermaids - their hair decorated with tiny shells, finding the shark's tooth, my niece swimming back and forth between her parents - without her life vest, my niece running on the sandbar and jumping in the wake - with Boy never far behind, my sister loving her husband- my brother-n-law loving my sister, the newest Harry Potter book being devoured in 24hrs or less, the scent of sunblock, E digging in the sand with the kids, many dolphins and one that put on a diving show for Girl, multi-colored beach towels lining the rail from one end of the deck to the other, my sister-n-law reading in the midst of noisy chaos -how does she do that?, my dad body surfing at 70, getting lost trying to find the grocery store with my dad's wife -stopping off at Starbuck's for solace and directions, my brother screening The Planet Earth to all and sundry, Crocs strewn on the sand at the bottom of the steps leading to the beach, 8 kids squeezed onto one couch watching a movie, popsicles on the deck dripping down chins and this moment... the quiet before anyone stirs, the crash of the waves below and the lightening of the sky....

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Ending the week with Karaoke, a dance show and champagne

Tonight we ended the week with Karaoke, a dance recital/gymnastic show by 3 nieces and toasting the week with a bottle of champagne. Boy enjoyed grabbing the microphone and saying various things into it. He also sang a song. We don't know what song it was, but he did. Girl kept to the sidelines for the most part, but would extend her leg into a performance now and then. It was a great finish to the week. Thanks for bringing us all together, Dad.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

We're beginning to look like beach bums

We're beginning to look like beach bums. Even Girl has a tinge of brown from the sun. Boy looks like a surfer dude. This morning we spent our usual 3 hours down on the beach. There was another tidal pool in front of the sand bar and Boy and Girl would run off the end and jump into the water, staying afloat with their life vests. Then they would get up and do it again and again and again...

This afternoon we went into St. Augustine. They have an old fashioned Carousel and Boy and Girl sat side-by-side on their horses, loving the up and down movement. We walked around the quaint town shops, popping into a surfing shop; boy tried on a skate board, viewed the historic Catholic cathedral, and while the girls checked out a children's clothing boutique where Girl whipped off her shoes like an expert and checked out various adorned flip-flops, the boys played hacky sack in the alley. All were happy.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A sunrise and Girl a bobbing cork in the ocean

I was up before sunrise this morning. A brief period of quiet before everyone is up and about. I sat on the deck with my tea and watched the sunrise over the ocean. There was a large cloud mass on the horizon and the sun rose directly in front of me. It made for a dramatic start to the day.

My back was pummeled last night by Boy. He seems to think that my back and legs are open game for his kicks. I feel like a human soccer ball. He has had trouble staying in his bed this entire week and has moved into our bed around 2am each night. I try once or twice to get him to move back to his little toddler bed, but I'm just too tired to battle it out with him and am conscious of not wanting to wake up the household. We do that anyway every morning. Boy, our little Rooster.

This morning was a perfect day at the beach. Girl has become a little bobbing cork in her life jacket. The set-up was perfect. The water current had carved out a sand bar and in front of it a canal. The kids could float down the current in their life jackets, buffeted along by the waves. Boy ran along the sand bar and leaped into the waves, laughing as the water splashed his face. He and his cousin were like 2 peas in a pod, both couldn't get enough. Girl's comfort level is now such that she can float on her back in her life jacket and also ventured out beyond the wave break with both E and me.

The kids are having a great time with all of their cousins. Boy is still following his big cousin J around; basically hero worship is going on. J has been incredibly patient with Boy, especially considering the age difference. They are the only two boys and are quite outnumbered by the other girls, 6 sandwiched between them and then Girl the youngest.

Girl is learning to appreciate all the various flip flops and shoes belonging to her cousins. She is also discovering Barbie dolls, something she hasn't shown an interest in until now.

Tomorrow we're hoping to venture into St. Augustine to check out the old town. It is hard to believe that our week here is half-way over, but it will be great to be back home again. The beach has been such a magical place for us over the last 3 weeks. But, as Dorothy says...there is no place like home.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

We don't say "Shut-Up!" and the discovery of a shark's tooth

We don't say shut-up! This uttered by Girl today.
We DON'T SAY SHUT-UP! I guess ignoring her was not working.
Girl, where did you hear that from?
My friends say it, she says.
What friends? ....silence...
What friends say it, Girl? ...more silence...
Why do I always feel like a parrot when I'm asking my children something they don't want to answer? Repeat, repeat, repeat the question. It doesn't help. How many friends can an almost 3 year old girl have anyway? That's what I want to know. Obviously we're going to have to do major mouth clean-up when we get home.

Tonight after dinner we went shelling on the beach. Boy was very eager to add to his collection. It was a beautiful evening - warm, but a light breeze off the water. Shells are everywhere. In all different hues. Boy would race ahead to a pile, grab a few and run back to put them in the bag I was carrying. We found lots of crabs, an intact purple starfish, and assorted shells. Pelicans flew overhead and the tiny sand pipers followed us along the water's edge. As I was walking down the beach, I noticed something very black within a cluster of shells. I reached down and picked up a shark's tooth! It is the color of black ivory and the point has been dulled a bit over time. Completely intact, it is really something. About an inch in length, it is not huge, but large enough to imagine a mouthful ... It looks very old. Everyone was impressed. Except Boy. Boy was more interested in finding crab holes and the possibility of discovering something still alive.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Boy and Girl WHINGING it

The waves are still unbelievably rough today. Boy is having a blast in the shallow water letting the waves push him along. Girl is so comfortable now that she sits and lets the water rush over her legs. They spent a long time with E and their cousins building a sand castle and adorning it with shells and sticks.

I tried riding a few waves, as I love to body surf, but the waves are so fierce that I ended up swallowing at least one wave and being mashed into what seemed like the spin cycle of a washing machine. Better luck tomorrow!

Boy and Girl seem to think that peeing outside is a great thing. Boy can't wait to pull his bathing suit off so that he can whing into the shrubbery off the deck. We've obviously let him do the nature call a bit too frequently as now instead of it being an "emergency" it has become a routine. Dropped shorts means pee is sure to follow. Girl, always up for a copycat opportunity, is following suit. Bathing suit off... Can I go PEE-PEE? CAN I? You'd think she was asking for dessert. Of course, I have to say yes. I'm trying to raise them as equals, aren't I? She seems to have no problem whinging it either. I can't wait until we return home. I'm sure they'll have a whole host of fun and exciting ideas to threaten us with.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Ferocious waves and a meddlesome woman

After much discussion over who would ride in what car, we arrived at the beach rental house near St. Augustine. There are 18 of us. Two grandparents, 7 parents and 9 children from my nephew 13 to Girl almost 3. A brave undertaking. Especially for my dad and his wife, who is still getting to know us. It is always a wonderful idea to get together - all of us. Yet, what is it about siblings - grown adults who suddenly become children again around each other? It is an interesting phenomenom. One which I don't wish to ponder overmuch.

The beach house is great. Long deck off the back of the house overlooking the ocean, which here is a grey blue. Lots of comfortable chairs lining the deck. Shells scattered across the beach stretching for miles. The waves are tremendous. My nephew is in heaven for a while, but the waves are so ferocious that he is told to come in. There is a strong current going south, and waves tumble one right after the other. And from multiple directions. The kids are all at the shoreline in life jackets and the strength of the waves even at the edge of the water is a force to be reckoned with.

I had just gotten Girl down to the beach, set us up in chairs and a woman from the rental house next door came rushing over bearing a large, dead CRAB! Her companion accompanied her wielding a camcorder. The woman got about 2 feet from us, her arm outstretched, the dead crab's claws dangling and I wanted to STRANGLE her. Instead, I loudly stated that we had an issue with that particular object and that we were not interested. The woman, at first taken aback by my abruptness, then proceeds to gasp and stammer and before retreating says...Oh, I was just bitten in the ocean myself!! At which point I wanted to scream and throttle her, but serenity seemed in order. Girl seemed to take it in stride and it seems we have put the crab incident behind us. I still haven't figured out exactly what the woman was trying to do. Was she trying to see if she could scare a little girl? Get it on videotape? Capture a mother's nervous breakdown? I'm sure I will never know. It seems that Girl is destined to have crabs in her life and both of us to suffer fools.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

The arrival of E and being flat out tired...

Last night E arrived close to midnight at the Jacksonville airport. I enjoyed showing him the spot where Boy & Girl had heaved their backpacks into the air in front of the rental kiosk, as well as the luggage beltway that Boy rode on.

It is great to have him back with us! Boy woke up again during the night, crying and fairly hysterical. So, we brought him in to sleep with us which calmed him immediately. I'm hoping he will be more relaxed at dad's beach house rental. He and Girl will be in a toddler bed and a in little cot in our room. He was so thrilled to see his Daddy, even as sleepy as he was. This morning when Girl woke up she wanted to see Daddy right away and gave him a silent hug that lasted 5 minutes. I counted. They have missed him so. I don't know if it is because E is here and now I can let my guard down a little, but suddenly I feel bone weary and the 17 days of being on my own with the kids - even with family helping, are hitting me ...HARD. I could sleep for DAYS!

We head to dad's beach house this afternoon. The cool thing is that it is about 20 minutes from here, so it will be the quickest trip we've had. I'm sure the "getting ready" will not be quick, but doable.

Mom just left to head back to the island. We really had a wonderful visit and the kids had a blast. I'm sure her car ride will be deliciously void of farting noises and inane, insanity provoking tunes. You've been a trooper, Mom!

This morning Boy is happily finding worms and little frogs after the summer rain storm and Girl is trying on her older cousins' clothes. Each in their little corner of heaven.

I finally got the kids to sleep last night by 8pm - a first since we left home. As I was trying to get Boy to go to sleep he looked at the glow-in-the-dark stars on the playroom wall and said with wonder, "It's a miracle!" Looking down at Boy and Girl in the darkened room last night with E, I saw them through his fresh eyes. Our little miracles...

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Friday, July 20, 2007

A day to chill

Motherscribe is taking a well needed day to chill. Check back soon.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Arrived intact of person perhaps not of mind...

We arrived somewhat intact, perhaps not completely of mind, and diminished spirits. 7 of us squashed like sardines in a Dodge Caravan mini-van. I don't recommend it. 98 degree sweltering heat. Total driving time just over 6 hours. 6 loooong hours. 1 teenager issuing multiple explosive fart sounds via mouth and arm - explosions being copied by younger siblings, echoing throughout the car. For at least 1 hour. Boy and Girl screaming YOU WILL DIE FOREVER! Mom and I finally caved and laughed until tears came. Boy napped for 2 hours despite the din...of course sleeping late and waking up at 6:15pm ready to party. Girl in bed by 10pm, Boy asleep by 12midnight.

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A last sunrise here in the Gulf

I was on the beach for the sunrise this morning. Just me, and the deep gray-green ocean slipping over my toes. As I waited for the sun to rise, I saw two dolphins gliding by and a lone crab playing tag with the tide. The sun rose quickly, passing the clouds on the horizon, hovering just over the water. The giant mother leatherback turtle's mark upon the sand is still there. This is a most beautiful place. Especially at dawn before anyone is around. I feel blessed.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Boy's been a Mosquito Happy Meal Target

Boy has mosquito bites. Big mosquito bites. It looks like he's been a Mosquito Happy Meal target. One of the bites is on the center of his chest and is very red and inflamed and looks like it has a red ring around it. Spider bite? Maybe he's just been really scratching it? His skin is very sensitive. I tell my mom my concerns.

It could be impetigo, she says. IMPETIGO! For God's sakes!

I don't think it is impetigo, Mom.

Well, you know impetigo can get in the bloodstream and spread and...and..., she says.

I tend to be a worrier. I worry. That's my job. I DON'T NEED TO BE WORRYING THAT MY SON HAS IMPETIGO! I'm just not going to worry about this. It is ridiculous. He will be fine. OK, let's see what the online dictionary says about impetigo...

Noun 1. impetigo - a very contagious infection of the skin; common in children; localized redness develops into small blisters that gradually crust and erode


n. pl. im·pe·ti·gos
A contagious bacterial skin infection, usually of children, that is characterized by the eruption of superficial pustules and the formation of thick yellow crusts, commonly on the face.

Greeaaat...just GREAT! Now, I'm friggin' worrying about impetigo. Let's get real. He doesn't have any blisters and it's not on his face. It is also not blistered. Although there is a small yellow dot...Could that be a pustule!! Maybe I can look at some online pictures ...STOP! Just STOP! This is just insane. He has an allergic reaction to a mosquito bite. I'll go with that... I'm ready for E to arrive. He can deal with friggin' impetigo, for God's sakes!

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Another leatherback sea turtle nest and Girl embraces the ocean!

I knew it was going to be a special day when my mom came and told me that there was a new leatherback sea turtle nest in front of the beach house. And not just a new nest, but the tracks of the giant mother turtle coming out of the ocean, walking across the sand, laying her eggs and then evidence of her laboring retreat back to the ocean. This makes the third sea turtle nest in front of the house. Makings for some good Karma.

We are now down to myself and my mom, my obviously bordering on 14 year old nephew (who has actually been incredibly patient with his much younger cousins), my 7 year old and 5 year old nieces, Boy & Girl. Pops is away on a business trip. I'm sure a well needed respite from the sonic booms of all of the children.

It was time to head to the ocean! The exquisite ocean lying just footsteps away. The ocean that we've been avoiding due to random jellyfish who seem to aim for grandmothers and children and the ocean that is on Girl's HIT LIST OF TERROR. Girl actually seemed quite relaxed with the idea of going to the beach. She was thrilled about seeing the sea turtle nest, had suited up and was ready to go. We slathered and lathered on the sunblock, gathered hats and headed out to THE BEACH.

From the top of the steps we could see the perfect V of the mama turtle's huge footprints. It was an awesome sight. I actually think that Girl sashayed onto the beach. Perhaps it was a saunter. In any case, she was a little girl with a mission and her mission was to move toward the water. I carried a chair for her and we moved within 10 feet of the ocean. A first! She then stated, I want the ocean to tickle my toes. Her tiny hand in mine, we walked to the edge of the shoreline and as the water swooshed around her ankles she giggled and laughed and beamed. It was worth the wait. We sat in the wet sand, scooped up shells, and let the warm water roll up our legs. It was blissful. To see the gradual progress of my Girl who was terrified to even get off the steps and step on the sand the first day to two weeks later... her sitting in the sand with the water covering her legs and laughing... definitely worth every frustrating moment. Well, maybe not the 2,999th moment, but almost every moment!

We were at the beach a long time. Mom made all of us sandwiches and we sat under the large tarp shade and devoured the food. The kids ate watermelon slices, the red juices turning Girl's chin a bright red. Boy, to his credit, tried a bite but shuddered and said it gave him "the heebie jeebies."

The nephew was out on his surfboard. Mom has had a joke with him that he "can pretend he doesn't know us," and he does seem to take extra steps to keep us barely in view. Is he a teenager?

This afternoon we had the recurring theme of NO NAPS for either of them. So we decided to drive over the bridge to the little town nearby and hit the playground to blow off some steam and the gourmet chocolate shop for my chocolate fix. It's been two weeks since I've had chocolate and I'm feeling it...suffering... must get it. As far as I'm concerned, the playground is just a diversion from the goal.

Due to car seats, we always have to take two vehicles. The nephew rides with me and the two hooligans as the car I'm driving has satellite radio. He cranks the radio up blasting some group that I'm absolutely delighted that I've never heard of. I'm getting old. As the music thrums through the car, Boy and Girl pass out within 7 minutes of our leaving the house. It is now 4:15pm. What has been a glorious day now has an OMEN quality of hellishness. Late naps = late bedtime = ME LOSING MY MIND.

Unfortunately, my prediction proved true. After much leaping from bed to bed, screeching and laughing Boy and Girl fell asleep around 10:00PM. The house is now quiet and my nerves are SHOT. But, GIRL LOVED THE BEACH! Life is good.....

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Monday, July 16, 2007

If I had kids I would put them in front of the TV and tell them I'm going to go take a nap

I don't know how you do it. If I had kids I would put them in front of the TV and tell them I'm going to go take a nap.
My almost 14 year old nephew was talking to me. Boy and Girl were pinging in and out of their car seats while said Nephew was trying to help me strap them in and contain them. We were attempting another journey, this time to a "local" (read, 45 minutes to an hour drive) small research aquarium.

We reached the aquarium in Panacea with weakened ear drums from the frequent yelling in the back seat, but without any bathroom stops! It was amazing.

As soon as we entered the facility, I knew we had scored. It was a place run by people who love sea creatures and enjoy having children visit. The biggest attractions were the touching tanks. We spent a long time with our hands in shallow pools filled with ocean critters. A child friendly place, there were milk crates for the children to sit or stand on that could be dragged from place to place. Boy and Girl stayed forever in front of a tank that held small starfish, hermit crabs, and sand dollars. The tiny creatures fit perfectly in their little hands. Girl loved holding the starfish, watching the legs bend and curl. Boy took great delight in lifting the hermit crabs and watching their heads and claws dart out and back in again to the comfort of their shells. When placed back in the shallows, both starfish and hermit crabs would then race away across the sandy bottom.

My favorite was the seahorse tank. Seahorses wrapping their tails around a nail, several clustered on a pole, and their graceful drifting movements as they swam across the front of the tank. Varying colors of brown and also vivid orange.

The kids also enjoyed seeing giant lobsters, a couple of sand sharks, skates, rays, and an octopus who entertained by scooting around the glass tank seeming to watch us.

I was so relieved that Girl loved the aquarium. Although she didn't pick up any crabs, and screeched a bit when Boy picked some up - fearing that he would be bitten, she wasn't overly cautious or uncomfortable. We're making progress...

We leave this beautiful island in 3 days. Viewing the sunrise over the ocean is something that everyone should experience. Our two weeks have flown by. We head across Florida to another beach for time with more family and hopefully no crabs...

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

We miss Daddy

GIRL'S Story:
I miss Daddy
, said woefully.

I want my DaDa!!!
, shrieked amidst a terrible tantrum.

Daily recitation: Daddy will come and we can go to Grandpa's beach house, Daddy and Mommy and Boy and Girl. And I can show Daddy ...and Daddy can do ...and Daddy will ... and Daddy, and Daddy, and Daddy...

BOY'S Story:

I miss Daddy...said with a soft whisper from the back seat.

I WANT to talk to DADDY!
- demanding to speak on the phone.

I'm going to tell on YOU, Mommy!
- someone who has had quite enough of No Daddy.

Only 4 days until we see Daddy!
Daddy loves you and misses you very, very much.

Daddy will not be pleased with this behavior!
I miss Daddy, too!


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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Playing along the shoreline and a NAP STRIKE

This afternoon Boy and I went down to the beach and played for a while along the shoreline. We had a great time sitting in the sand and watching the little Coquina "Butterfly" shells dig themselves back into the wet sand. There were hundreds of them in varying hues - yellows, pinks, lavenders, blues, stripes and soft patterns. We scooped them up into our hands and put them back, watching them burrow under the sand. Just me and Boy on the sand, under a wide blue sky and an endless ocean.

Girl is on a nap strike. She seems to delight in torturing me. I think at this point, I'm needing a nap more than her! The torture occurs when I try to doze in the same room and am just drifting off ... when I am jerked awake by the sound of cupboard doors being opened, pillows pinging around the room and (my!) paperwork flying mid-air. Not all at once, mind you, but in installments. Slow, repetitive torture... I don't remember signing up for a sleep interruption study, but obviously I'm enrolled.

Best Spoken Words today:

I have a mustache like Daddy! - Boy, smiling after giving himself a milk mustache.

In dirty minutes we're going to the pool. - Girl

You will DIE FOREVER! - Boy - yet another phrase he has picked up. Where? I have no idea.

Is this a good smell? Girl - said to Ma'Mai (her grandmother) as Girl was putting cabbage into a bowl for making slaw.

Mommy you'll get lost! - Boy- watching me from shore as I was in the ocean.

I saw 3 or 5 pelicans. - Girl

I'll take care of you, Mommy. - Boy, as I held him in the waves.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

My GOD it was a red ant FIESTA

Fire ants are not my friend. In fact, any substance/creature that tends to cause burning and itching seems to find me and dig in. Ants, poison oak, poison ivy, add to the list what you will. Our visit to Wakulla Springs was apparently a bit more lively than originally planned. Upon arrival to the park, after the cars had finished disgorging all of us and there was much milling around, my mom decided that it would be a prime time to take a group picture. Although a fine idea, by this time I had noticed red ants everywhere. We were surrounded so to speak. Red ants in the grass, red ants on the weather beaten picnic tables, red ants climbing, circling, leering. My God it was a red ant fiesta.

So, while mom sashayed over to any stranger that looked friendly enough to take our picture, I navigated the field, discreetly trying not to scream, small gasps escaping my lungs. We were all wearing flip flops and sandals - practically an engraved invitation for the RED ARMY. I picked Girl up and prayed that Boy would not decide to stick his foot in a red ant nest. Mom managed to corner a very amenable young father and amateur photographer when what we really needed was a rough and tumble outback bush photographer. But, let's not be picky.

So....the 20 of us assembled into a gathering of sorts whilst I muttered something about watch out for the red ant mutiny. By this time I had noticed there were hordes of ants on the picnic tables. Not a strategic place to sit and pose. My feet had assumed a stomping dance, which instead of keeping the ants away seemed to be a drum call luring them to my toes. As we "cheesed" for the camera, I felt a ripple of multiple stings. Let's just say it hurts. Since I had Girl in my arms and didn't want to add ants to her lengthy, indexed catalogue of FEARS, I bravely sucked it up.

The stinging sensation lasted only a short time. It is the annoying fiery itching lasting several days that has me crazed. And it seems to get worse at night. Right when I'm climbing into bed it starts. Dammit! So, I've been downing Children's Grape flavored chewable Benadryl. By the handful. My teeth are now a slight shade of purple. But...Girl was saved. And Boy was spared. I am a true parent. I sacrificed my toes for God's sake.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Rain at dawn and a view from the deck...being in the moment

A sunrise here this week...

This morning I set my cell phone alarm to wake up at 6am. The idea was to get the advance on Boy who is always an early riser. As the phone's buzzing woke me, I became aware of the onslaught of rain hitting the roof and windows. It took me a minute to figure out what it was; it's been sooo long since I've heard the sound of rain. I lay in bed just listening to the thrum of raindrops outside and pulled the covers back over my head and went back to sleep. An hour later (Whoohoo!! 7AM! Sleeping in!) I awoke to the drumbeat of Boy's footsteps above me in the kitchen. So much for getting the advance on Boy. He always has the advance on me anyway. I might as well be walking backwards.

We went into town again (over the big bridge to the mainland, down a road or two and over another bridge) with the intention of seeing an estuary. When we arrived, the place was clearly closed due to some immediate crisis in the building's structure. Workmen were everywhere and the sign said the estuary was closed indefinitely. By this time, of course, Boy had fallen asleep in the car. So.... we decided that we had worked up sufficient appetite over this 25 minute drive to be ready for lunch and made our way into a Mexican restaurant in town. The meal was fairly uneventful. I only had to take Girl out of the restaurant once, legs flailing and hurling shrieks at me and the other diners, as a consequence of her kicking her feet into the wooden booth over and over again which caused a ricochet of phenomenal tremors practically into the next building. Maybe further.

Then over a bridge, down two roads and over the big bridge back to the island and back to the house. While the kids watched a movie, I sat on the deck overlooking the ocean and took in the breeze and extraordinary view of turquoise sea and snowy sand dunes. I don't know why it has taken me over a week to sit alone on the deck and just breathe... It felt good.

In the late afternoon we headed to the pool and spent time playing in the water. Despite having to wear a life vest, Girl discovered floating on her back; her hair fanning out around her and bliss etched on her small glowing face. Boy, also equipped with a life vest - Spiderman, took great joy in maneuvering himself all over the pool with his legs and arms and going up and down the ladder. And up and down the ladder. And up and down the ladder.

I will remember these moments forever.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Children's Property Laws

What my children are discovering....

Children's Property Laws

  1. If I like it, it's mine.
  2. If I can take it from you, it's mine.
  3. If I had it a little while ago, it's mine.
  4. If it's mine, it must never appear to be yours in any way.
  5. If it looks like mine, it's mine.
  6. If it's yours and I steal it, it's mine.
  7. If I think it's mine, it's mine.
  8. If it's broken, it's yours.

What I'm discovering....

The moment you have children, you forgive your parents.... everything.

Where I hope to be....

Blessed is the parent who expects no gratitude. For he shall not be disapointed.

Quotes from Jane Seabrook's Furry Logic

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A visit to Wakulla Springs and a dance recital

A view of the beach and dunes from the house.

Today we went to an amazing place called Wakulla Springs. It is a natural spring and the water is crystal clear and so fresh,clean and cool it feels like you are swimming in Evian water. When we first got there, we all went out on a boat tour and saw lots of alligators, turtles and Blue Herons. The boat had an electric motor to be both environmentally friendly and quiet, which really enabled us to sneak up on the wildlife. The swimming hole was incredibly refreshing after the boat ride and the cool water did nothing to stop Boy from plunging in to his neck. He and his cousins had a blast frolicking in the water and were in it for a long time. Girl let me dip her toe in and then decided the temperature was not exactly Girl friendly and was more comfortable watching from a distance.

No naps were had until 5pm on the way home, which created major meltdowns due to discombobulation at our 7pm arrival back at the beach house. Both of them shrieking at once, their wails echoing throughout the house sending Pops into hibernation in his bedroom. After a little redirection into reading a book, they both settled down and were able to eat a bit of dinner and of course have a hearty appetite for dessert.

The evening finished with a dance recital/skit directed by my 7 year old niece. Boy chose not to take to the stage, but was Stage Manager from the kitchen - stage left. Three ballerinas aged 7, 5 1/2 and 5 flitted and twirled around with occasional entrances by Girl randomly entering both stage right and stage left, who danced with her sippy cup of milk. At each crescendo of music she would throw the cup to the ground dramatically, trailing little droplets of milk across the floor. A very fierce dragon, my almost 3 year old nephew, did an outstanding job of roaring despite a cumbersome tail.

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Monday, July 9, 2007

No Stinky Butts, a few jellyfish and beauty thy name is swimming pool

We have a new phrase. Stinky Butt. As in... you are a STINKY BUTT followed by gales of laughter. None of us, excepting the small persons who are uttering it, know where the phrase has come from and it is doubtful that the source will be revealed. It seems to be a handy phrase flung out during dinner, afternoon snack time and upon awakening. It also serves as an angry retort when affronted by someone snatching your favored toy. STINKY BUTT, obviously a classic. I'm sure it will go home with us.

Yesterday's jaunt into the ocean proved to be a risky venture in who could get nailed by a jellyfish. From Girl's perspective, children were falling like flies, crying and fleeing past her back to the beach house in search of meat tenderizer and safety as she was perhaps ...mid-step on the sand. I tried to play off the dramatic exits by telling her they must have had a "bad owwie." She just wasn't buying it. Yet another addition to her tally of why it makes no sense at all to go to the beach!

So, today's outing to the pool nearby was a raging success for all. Most especially for Girl who sat back in the shade at first, perched on a poolside chair. She ventured over with encouragement and went from sitting on the top step of the pool to launching herself into my arms from the side of the pool within minutes. A glorious sight of sparkling eyes, wet curls and laughter never far from her lips, she was back to being the GIRL that I recognized. Not as fearful, and once the confidence was achieved there was no ending the jumps into the pool. Let's do it again, Mommy. Let's do it AGAIN! She is the one to look out for. She gets herself worked up into such a state of euphoria, she would be the one to jump into the pool unattended. She couldn't get enough of the clear, cool water and was heard to say with wonder, there are no crabs and no sand in this water, beaming with self-satisfaction. It was reassuring to see that she is not afraid of water in general, but that it is specific to the ocean. I'm hoping that the trip to the pool will provide a bridge to venturing down to the ocean. Maybe. Maybe NOT.

I think yesterday was the all-time staircase challenge. After hearing excessive bellowing from the 4th level playroom, and determining it was my children, I raced upstairs to find Boy and Girl in the bathroom -both trying to set their bottoms on the toilet at the same time, both screeching: I've GOT TO POOP!! I placed Boy on the toilet, grabbed Girl and flew downstairs with Girl on my hip and placed her fanny on the toilet one floor below. I then left her there and raced back upstairs again to arrive in time to do the requisite butt wipe assistance needed for Boy. After helping him wash hands and pull up his shorts, I again sprinted down the stairs, arms flailing, back to Girl in time to assist her in the again [haven't I just done this!], requisite butt wipe and washing of hands. Whewww! Poops made it in the toilet! I am KING, no make that QUEEN of the awesome butt wiping MAMAS! We have NO Stinky Butts! I deserved a medal, but settled for a Crown Royal and Coke a few hours later. Thank YOU brother-n-law by marriage.

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Sunday, July 8, 2007

Venturing off the island with 11 children, an adventure

Exotic grasshoppers we found in the grass.

I don't know if I can take much more of what truly seems like dragging Girl to the beach. I can see the wheels turning in her head and am imagining her in the therapist's chair years from now saying, Well the earliest thing I can remember is when I was almost three and my mother (the use of mommy long gone) forced me to walk across the sand and all of those things were there: dried sea weed, SAND, and sea shells ...(shudder, shudder.) I am going to try a new strategy. Have her stay back at the house with someone fun and maybe, just maybe she'll see that everyone else is at the beach and want to be there. NOT likely. But, worth a try...

Boy is ready to swim to Cuba. Except he can't swim. Yet. He is busy chasing little fish, watching dolphins and pelicans and if he could set up a tent and sleep on the beach, that would be fine by him.

Today we decided to leave the island to go over to this cool little town across the bay. Among other things, it has a playground with shade. We had 1 thirteen year old boy, 1 ten year old, and in descending order a 7 year old, 2 five year olds, two 3 1/2 year olds, and 3 almost 3 year olds. That should add up to 10 kids and 1 teenager. If not, we forgot one. So...we decided to venture out. One grandmother, 3 moms and 1 dad. Hopefully it doesn't take a village, because clearly we were outnumbered. We began to assemble by the vehicles. Three hours later we were off (only a slight exaggeration), with one pit stop at the Dollar Store for a case of water. The playground felt cool initially, but after much swinging, climbing, and exotic grasshopper discoveries (of which we did not tell Girl) we decided it was definitely lunch time. After circling through town and pulling up to two restaurants that were closed, we ventured back out on route 98 and headed East (I believe, although I have NO sense of direction and have already gotten lost here just on the island! [stop laughing, E!]) We arrived at a little Mexican restaurant, which was open and were seated with food in front of us within 15 minutes, maybe. The only fast thing that has happened so far involving children. It squelched the hungry wails immediately and for about five minutes we actually had a quiet group, contentedly eating.

In summary: it took over an hour to load up the car to go to the park, 30 minutes to get there, we stayed for 45 minutes, took us 30 minutes to find a place for lunch, we stayed 40 minutes, took us 25 minutes to get back home. In all, a very normal day with children.

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Saturday, July 7, 2007

You can run, but you cannot hide...

Boy likes to run, inhale food and talks quickly with few words.

Girl likes to saunter, savor every bite and talk and talk and talk and talk at length...

I've never really felt the contrasts so extremely until now. Now, when we are in a 4 story house and suddenly Boy has to poop in the bathroom on the 4th floor and needs immediate assistance. Immediate. Meanwhile Girl is shrieking because her shirt is not going over her head or her pants are inside out and she is frustrated and on the 2nd floor and she needs me and only me NOW. I won't have to worry about getting enough exercise. I'm probably doing at least 900 million flights of stairs a day. It is a 4 story house and the playroom is on the 4th floor. The 2nd day my calves were burning! Today is the 3rd day and I have calves of steel. Am hoping for the buns of steel side effect by morning.

Boy loves mysterious creatures from the sea. Girl freaks. Tonight all the kids are out hunting ghost crabs by flashlight on the beach. Except girl. I told her that it is boys and daddy time and Girl and Mommy time. She thinks just a couple of the boys are out with their daddy. She hasn't put it together that her brother, Boy, is out there with everyone except SHE WHO FEARS CRABS. She thinks they have "gone hunting." She hasn't asked for what. Does she even know what hunting is? The time putting her to bed is perfect. It is quiet. The other 9 children are outside. As I sit reading her stories, I notice the way the curls swirl around her cheek, the ruby red of her lips and the soft curl of her eyelashes. It is just Girl and Mommy time.

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Friday, July 6, 2007

Best quotes

If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.
~C.G. Jung, Integration of the Personality, 1939

"You are a STUPID Mommy." Morning endearment by BOY, rotten personality at 7:30am, 2007.

"Are those your breasts? Are THOSE your BREASTS? ARE those your breasts?" Monotonous questions by GIRL, 2007.

"Mommy is brilliant and at least these breasts are real." Things I wanted to say to my children, one summer day 2007.

I love to play hide and seek with my kid, but some days my goal is to find a hiding place where he can't find me until after high school.

~Author Unknown

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Thursday, July 5, 2007

A Kamikaze Crab Beatin' Mommy

My first day to wake up by the ocean. It is quite extraordinary to sit here and look out the window at the sugar white beach, hilly dunes and sea grass waving in the breeze. The water is that amazing blue-green of dreams. The drive out yesterday went well. Only 2 or 3 bathroom stops. The kids had a great nap on the drive and that was much preferable to a late afternoon melt-down.

Boy couldn't wait to get in the ocean. He lives for water. He was in it within seconds of his flying feet hitting the beach. He went out into the ocean with his grandfather, who told me later that Boy said Pops, I'm soooo happy! Boy is very upfront about his feelings. He is also known to say I'm soooo mad at 'choo, Mommy, sooo mad at 'choo!

Girl was petrified. As soon as she saw the sand from the walkway, she wanted to go back to the house. She wouldn't even let me walk down the steps to the sand. We finally made it down the steps after tons of reassurances, but as soon as I tried to put her down on the sand, she started wailing and clinging to me like a little monkey. We walked back up the steps and took a pause to look out at everyone below. When she still wasn't comfortable, we went back up to the house. Of course, I was really frustrated as I wanted nothing more than a dip in the ocean which is warm...like bath water. And of course, I had to take the time for her because girl is a person of gradual adjustments to new things. And pushing her to do something she doesn't want to do or something that scares her is just not the way to go. Not if we both want to get through it and arrive intact on the other side. So.....I took some deep breaths and really started to talk to her and figure out what she was so frightened of. At first I thought it was the ocean itself. But, that wasn't it. She was afraid of CRABS! I can only blame myself and of course, her mind which is like an elephant and seems to never forget. I blame myself because.... the tale of Boy being bitten by a crab last summer has become something we talk about fairly frequently and although Boy has put it behind him and moved on... obviously Girl has not.

So, I have one child who lives for the beach and one child who thinks it is a treacherous land of wild crabs lusting for children's fingers and toes. Polar Opposites!! GREAT.... We are gone for over 3 weeks and where are we??? At the BEACH! There goes the vacation! God, I miss E... Daddy would make it all better in a minute. Daddy is the hero. He can fix anything a little girl or boy is afraid of...anything. And that is how it should be.

That was yesterday.

So, today is a new day!We talked a lot and I told her that all the crabs have run away to another beach. They are scared of people and especially scared of her cousin's surfboard. No crabs. Anywhere. I have lied blatantly to my daughter. If I see a crab, or worse if she sees one....Well, I will just have to become a KAMIKAZE crab beatin' mommy.

Something worked. My lies or her sheer determination. Probably more of the latter. This morning Girl was able to go with me down the walkway, down the steps out onto the beach and sit in a chair about 20 feet from the ocean. PROGRESS! It was very hard for her. She did it though. She stayed under the sun tarp for quite a while. She didn't want me to venture far. Most of the time I sat beside her. She watched all the kids playing in the ocean, and digging in the sand. From time to time one of them would come over and check on her, ask her to join them. She wanted to, but she just wasn't there yet. Boy came over to her, You don't have to be afwaid, Girl. They're no crabbies. She looked like she was going to buy it for a minute, but NO... Then she was ready to go back inside. She didn't like the sand on her skin and wanted to rinse off. Rinsing off in the ocean was not an option. Hey, I'll take it. We're moving forward. Today the sand chair, maybe soon a toe in the ocean. I told her as we were walking back up to the house how proud I was of her going out with me onto the sand.

None of this could be managed without the many willing hands who are here. There are so many kids! Lucky for us, wonderful family by marriage. So many new cousins. 8 kids 5 and under and a few older. It's good to be a kid. And it's great to be a big kid.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2007

We made it. Barely...

We survived. Barely. I won't tell you about all the trips to the bathroom mid-air, or the small cup of milk spilt in the aisle (Boy's), the half cup of coffee spilt in the seat (my BAD), or the laps around the plane, or even life after 120 snacks brought by me and then they offer my children Oreos. Aaahhh yes, Oreos. Nothing wrong with them. They're just full of PEP and help create LOUD children. Actually, overall the plane ride went well. I had brought a change of clothes for both Boy & Girl. We used them.

The planes were on time. People were genuinely pleased that Boy & Girl were not nightmares on the flight. The best part was on our way out of the first leg. We stopped to say good-bye to the pilot and he invited us into the cockpit. And...BOY got to sit in the pilot's seat. It was WAY COOL! Of course they gave me a hard time because I didn't have a digital camera. Wish I had.... Of course, Boy will remember this forever!

No, really the only tough part was arriving in Jacksonville. Airport is fine - at first... We walk a pretty long way after many hours of travel. By this time, my rewarding them with praise and kudos for being such good sports and well behaved children is pretty much streeetched to the limit. We are somewhat pushed for time as the Enterprise Rental car agency closes at midnight and it is now 11:40pm. So, I rush the kids (as fast as you can rush two small children with backpacks) through the airport and to the Enterprise desk. Everything is fine. They have my reservation. She asks for my driver's license and my credit card. I tell her that I am paying with a debit card and she tells me I can't. Whooaa Nelly, I tell her...I spoke at length with at least 3 people at Enterprise in making this reservation and everyone told me as long as I arrived via a plane, I could use my debit card. I don't have a credit card. She says she is very sorry, but that is against their policy for a one way rental and she has worked there for 4 years. I demand to speak to a manager. At this point - close to midnight in Florida, 9pm our time, the kids begin to lose it. Of course. Just as the woman hands me the telephone to speak with her manager, Boy & Girl start flinging their backpacks as high as they can into the air and letting them fall willy-nilly. I get on the phone with the manager. She basically tells me she is sorry for the incovenience and they have their policies and I tell her this: I have just flown all the way from California by myself with two children under 4, WHO AT THIS VERY MOMENT ARE FLINGING THEIR BACKPACKS INTO THE AIR! I NEED YOU TO HELP ME OUT HERE AND MAKE AN EXCEPTION!! There was a looong pause after which the manager told me that they don't usually do this, but they will make an exception in my case. HOORAY!

Now, if she could just corral my children who are now doing 50 yard dashes around me and avoiding my grasp! Just in time, my sister the Goddess Auntie arrives. She immediately engages the children and I finish the paperwork. We will be following her to her house to spend the night before venturing out to my mom's beach house. We have 15 minutes to collect baggage and 2 car seats from the carousel and get the car, before the rental garage closes. My sister steers us over to the carousel and we await the luggage. Luckily all three bags (I vowed I'd pack light...) and the two car seats arrive. I sprint over to get the final bag and as I throw it on our luggage cart, we notice Boy is now riding on the conveyor belt a good 10 feet away from us and continuing to go away from us... as if it is the latest way to travel. He is between someone's suitcases and is going at a pretty good clip. HUGE smile on his face. Practically waving he is SO proud of himself. A nearby man plucks him from the conveyor belt and I swoop him up, only to see my sister choking back laughter and uttering a very weak...sorry, it really is pretty funny.

And so we make it out of the airport. On the drive, even in the dark, I sense the quiet amidst the crickets and take in that wonderful swamp-like smell that is soulful, and the humidity which people complain about, but it immediately plumps up your skin and takes 10 years off your age. Easy. Well, maybe 8. We arrive at my sister's. An oasis with the breeze stirring the wind chimes and bright light shining out into the darkness welcoming us. We made it.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The countdown for vacation...

We leave in 5 hours. Am I ready? Will I ever be ready? Well.... I just have to take a deep breath and hope for the best. It did not help yesterday when I discovered that the portable DVD player is now broken. I am hoping that it is not an omen. Or that our flights will be out of THE OMEN.

I got up this morning at 4:15am, hoping to have a bit of calming, quiet time to think through all that must be done. I started the preparations 3 days ago, but there is still stuff to be done. On Sunday I performed the Preparation of Trevor's food. Trevor is our cat. He has allergies and I must cook him ground turkey meat. Not kidding. He can no longer eat the Veterinary special recipe cat allergy food. So...on Sunday I cooked 12lbs of ground turkey meat. Yes, 12lbs.

The children and I will be gone for almost a month. E, bless him, is being very brave. He will join us in 17 days. A lifetime to be away from his children. A long time to be away from his wife. Maybe a good thing to be away from his wife. In any case, I will miss him terribly and look forward to him joining us in 17 days. Yes, I am counting. I can count early in the morning. Something not well managed in just a few hours...

Boy & Girl are terribly excited about riding an airplane today. We are flying to Florida to visit their grandparents and to spend time with many, many cousins on the beach, chasing sea gulls, floating in the ocean and picking up shells. Wedged in there will be wonderful meals, quality time spent with family and hopefully a few naps and infrequent tantrums.

They will each have their own backpack containing a few toys of their choice (for Boy, at least several Thomas the Tank Engine Trains and for Girl a dozen books), and a snack. The first flight is 4 hours. Pray for us. Of course that is the actual time in the air. There is always the time the airlines make you wait in the plane, always blaming traffic on the runway or the air traffic controllers. Boy and Girl are hoping to "meet the pilot." I don't know if you can do that anymore. It would definitely be a highlight.

My backpack will contain all the essentials: potty seat covers, anti-bacterial wipes, emergency snacks (that's when we break out the unhealthy stuff), special books - one of which should be labeled "A Smart Mommy's Guide to flying solo with 2 hooligans, trying to remain sane, and how not to check yourself into Rehab for Mothers by the end of the flight."

It is now time to go finish packing and doing the endless tasks. Think well of us. Have a great 4th and I'll be blogging from the beach. WhAAAHOOO! Just got to get there....Just got to get there....Just got to get there...

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Monday, July 2, 2007

A Quote from Anna Quindlen

Some days of being a parent are harder than others. On those days I take reassurance from one of my favorite columnists and authors:

From Loud and Clear by Anna Quindlen
(Picture courtesy of Indiana University)

If not for the photographs I might have a hard time believing they ever existed. The pensive infant with the swipe of dark bangs and the black button eyes of a Raggedy Andy doll. The placid baby with the yellow ringlets and the high piping voice. The sturdy toddler with the lower lip that curled into an apostrophe above her chin.

All my babies are gone now. I say this not in sorrow but in disbelief. I take great satisfaction in what I have today: three almost adults, two taller than me, one closing in fast. Three people who read the same books I do and have learned not to be afraid of disagreeing with me in their opinion of them, who sometimes tell vulgar jokes that make me laugh until I choke and cry, who need razor blades and shower gel and privacy, who want to keep their doors closed more than I like. Who, miraculously, go to the bathroom, zip up their jackets, and move food from plate to mouth all by themselves. Like the trick soap I bought for the bathroom with a rubber ducky at its center, the baby is buried deep within each, barely discernible except through the unreliable haze of the past.

Everything in all the books I once pored over is finished for me now. Penelope Leach. Berry Brazelton. Dr. Spock. The ones on sibling rivalry and sleeping through the night and early childhood education, all grown obsolete. Along with Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are, they are battered, spotted, well used. But I suspect that if you flipped the pages, dust would rise like memories.

What those books taught me, finally, and what the women on the playground taught me, and the well-meaning relations and the older parents at cocktail parties—what they taught me was that they couldn't really teach me very much at all. Raising children is presented at first as a true-false test, then becomes multiple choice, until finally, far along, you realize that it is an endless essay. No one knows anything. One child responds well to positive reinforcement, another can only be managed with a stern voice and a time-out. One boy is toilet trained at three, his brother at two. When my first child was born, parents were told to put baby to bed on his belly so that he would not choke on his own spit-up. By the time my last arrived, babies were put down on their backs because of research on sudden infant death syndrome.

As a new parent this ever-shifting certainty is terrifying, and then soothing. Eventually you must learn to trust yourself. Eventually the research will follow. First science told us they were insensate blobs. But we thought they were looking, and watching, and learning, even when they spent so much time hitting themselves in the face. And eventually science said that we were right, that important cognitive function began in early babyhood. First science said they should be put on a feeding schedule. But sometimes they seemed hungry in two hours, sometimes three, sometimes all the time, so that we never even bothered to button up. And eventually science said that that was right, and that they would be best fed on demand. First science said environment was the great shaper of human nature. But it certainly seemed as though those babies had distinct personalities, some contemplative, some gregarious, some crabby. And eventually science said that was right, too, and that they were hardwired exactly as we had suspected.

Still, the temptation to defer to the experts was huge. The literate parent, who approaches everything—cooking, decorating, life—as though there was a paper due or an exam scheduled is in particular peril when the kids arrive. How silly it all seems now, obsessing about language acquisition and physical milestones, riding the waves of normal, gifted, hyperactive, all those labels that reduced individuality to a series of cubbyholes. But I could not help myself. I had watched my mother casually raise five children born over ten years, but by watching her I intuitively knew that I was engaged in the greatest—and potentially most catastrophic— task of my life. I knew that there were mothers who had worried with good reason, that there were children who would have great challenges to meet. We were lucky; ours were not among them. Nothing horrible or astonishing happened: There was hernia surgery, some stitches, a broken arm and a fuchsia cast to go with it.

Mostly ours were the ordinary everyday terrors and miracles of raisinga child, and our children's challenges the old familiar ones of learning to live as themselves in the world. The trick was to get past my fears, my ego, and my inadequacies to help them do that. During my first pregnancy I picked up a set of lovely old clothbound books at a flea market. Published in 1933, they were called Mother'sEncyclopedia, and one volume described what a mother needs to be: "psychologically good: sound, wholesome, healthy, unafraid, able to deal with the world and to live in this particular age, an integrated personality, an adjusted person." In a word, yow.

It is good that we know so much more now, know that mothers need not be perfect to be successful. But some of what we learn is as pernicious as that daunting description, calculated to make us feel like failures every single day. I remember fifteen years ago poring over one of Dr. Brazelton's wonderful books on child development, in which he describes three different sorts of infants: average, quiet,and active. I was looking for a sub-quiet codicil (see: slug) for an eighteen-month- old who did not walk. Was there something wrong with his fat little legs? Was there something wrong with his tiny little mind? Was he developmentally delayed, physically challenged? Was I insane? Last year he went to China. Next year he goes to college. He can walk just fine. He can walk too well. Every part of raising children at some point comes down to this: Be careful what you wish for.

Every part of raising children is humbling, too. Believe me, mistakes were made. They have all been enshrined in the "Remember When Mom Did" Hall of Fame. The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the bad language—mine, not theirs. The times the baby fell off the bed. The times I arrived late for preschool pickup. The nightmare sleepover.The horrible summer camp. The day when the youngest came barreling out of the classroom with a 98 on her geography test, and I responded, "What did you get wrong?" (She insisted I include that.) The time I ordered food at the McDonald's drive-through speaker and then drove away without picking it up from the window. (They all insisted I include that.) I did not allow them to watch The Simpsons for the first two seasons. What was I thinking?

But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages six, four, and one. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing:dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.

Even today I'm not sure what worked and what didn't, what was me and what was simply life. How much influence did I really have over the personality of the former baby who cried only when we gave parties and who today, as a teenager, still dislikes socializing and crowds? When they were very small I suppose I thought someday they would become who they were because of what I'd done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be.

There was babbling I forgot to do, stimulation they never got, foods I meant to introduce and never got around to introducing. If a black-and-white mobile really increases depth perception and early exposure to classical music increases the likelihood of perfect pitch, I blew it. The books said to be relaxed and I was often tense, matter-of-fact, and I was sometimes over-the-top. And look how it all turned out. I wound up with the three people I like best in the world, who have done more than anyone to excavate my essential humanity. That's what the books never told me. I was bound and determined to learn from the experts. It just took me a while to figure out who the experts were.

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Sunday, July 1, 2007

Gratitude this weekend

Things I'm grateful for today....

Seeing Boy & Girl, their little faces upturned in awe playing with their Daddy.

Boy running, a solid little body of muscle and energy, full force through the water hose....laughing.

The look on E's face as he watched our children.

The feeling that gave me deep in my belly.

Watching Girl wrap her little arms around Boy and give him a bear hug...that was hugely returned.

Being invited to witness a beautiful baby boy being baptised and remembering my children's baptism.

That Boy only tried to flip my dress over his head twice while I was shooting pictures at the church yesterday. Of this I'm most profoundly grateful.

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