Scarlett @ Six Months

A half a year!!  And it’s hard to remember life before Scarlett.

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Was there a time when this sweet little face wasn’t a part of our family?

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At six months, Scarlett rolls quite a bit (in fact, she took her first . . . and second . . . tumbles from our bed.  Which means, she’s been duly initiated), and she babbles “mamamamamama” all the live long day.  She also blows raspberries and is generous with her baby slobber.  She’s working on a couple of teeth, I think, but none have made an appearance yet.

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I can’t resist her.  She’s temperamental and demanding, but she has my heart on a string, this girl.  She exhausts me, and yet, I miss her when I’m away from her for more than a couple of hours.  Motherlove is a curious thing; it’s strange to think that the shock of my pregnancy with her was so upsetting to me, and it’s resulted in this little person who fills my heart.

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It’s hard to believe that in the next month or two, she’s likely to start sitting up by herself, and then crawling, and eating food that doesn’t come from me.  Sometimes I wish I could stop time and keep her a little baby.  This time is so fleeting.

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Techno Kid

Finn plays with the iPad a lot.  So much so, in fact, that we actually invested in a second iPad (for me) because he and I were basically, well, fighting over it.  I’d be reading a book on it, and he’d be raising hell because he wanted to play on it.  Although we’re certainly not parents who give in to their kids’ every demand or buy all the latest gadgets their kids want (we’re one of the only families I know that doesn’t have a Wii, or even a flat-screen TV), the iPad is a different story.  More and more, it’s being utilized in classrooms, and even Finn’s speech therapist sometimes uses one with him and her other students.  It engages him, it’s interactive (rather than passive, like watching television), and he’s learning from it.  More so, in fact, than I realized.

I was shocked to discover recently that he recognizes most of his letters.  I did not teach him this – I’ve never been a flashcard-wielding parent with any of my kids, it’s just not me.  And he’s not learning this in preschool, either – the preschool he attends is not academic, but rather, developmental.

Do you know what this means?  If he can learn his letters, he can eventually learn to read.  And before you say, “Of course he’ll learn to read,” let me just say that while many, many kids with Down syndrome do learn to read nowadays, some do not.  I try to maintain reasonable and healthy levels of optimism and realism with regard to Finn’s capabilities.  Even so, I was surprised at how much this surprised me.  Maybe because it happened without any person’s intervention – it was just him and the iPad.

But wait, there’s more!

Not only can he identify letters, he can match those letters up with words that begin with letters he is presented with!  I won’t go so far as to say that this is reading or even pre-reading, but it’s certainly a step towards pre-reading.

I’m suddenly feeling very, very fortunate that Finn was born when he was.  There is so much educational technology now, it’s relatively easy to access, and the benefits are undeniable.  It’s hard to say what studies will show in ten or twenty years, looking back and comparing the educating of kids with intellectual disabilities in this age of technology versus educating them just a half a generation prior, before the technology explosion, but I imagine there will be notable differences.

Here are some of Finn’s favorite iPad apps:

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iTot Alphabet (this is the app he’s using in the first clip above)

 

 

 

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National Geographic Look and Learn Animals (this is the app he’s using in the second clip above)

 

 

 

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iTot Counting

 

 

 

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iTot Flashcards

 

 

 

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ABA Receptive Identification

 

 

 

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Alphabets in the Zoo

 

 

 

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Music Sparkles

 

 

 

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Preschool Farm Animals by Photo Touch

 

 

 

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Soundtouch

 

 

 

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My Playhome

 

 

 

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First Words – Toddler Touch and Say

 

 

 

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Color SlapPs

 

 

 

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Music Keys

 

 

 

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Starfall ABCs

 

 

 

Let me know if you have any apps you’d like to suggest!

Another Gun Story

I recently wrote about how, many years ago, my dad taught me how to shoot a gun.  It was a heartwarming story, and I very much remember it as a time when the hard-won bond between me and my dad was cemented a little more.

Now I’ll tell you another gun story.  It’s not too long.

One night when I was about 10, I woke up to the familiar sounds of my parents fighting.  It was another doozy – my father’s drunken shouting, my mother’s shrill screaming, things going bump and bang as my father, I imagined from my bedroom, staggered around, and the sounds of slapping and hitting as the fight escalated.  Alone in my room, I buried my head under my pillow, trying to block out the sounds.  I lay there, rigid with fear, waiting for them to stop.

At some point, my mother began screaming, “KIDS!  CALL THE COPS!  HE HAS A GUN! gun CALL THE COPS!”

I was frozen in terror, afraid to move a muscle.  A gun?  I couldn’t get out of bed and call the police!  I was just a little kid!  My two brothers were in their room next to mine, and I imagine they were just as terrified as I was.

In a short time, the police did arrive.  I don’t know if it was my mother who called them or a neighbor.  They took my father away, though.  I remember that I spent the rest of the night in my mother’s room, and that she cried all night.

They took my dad to what we called then “the funny farm.”  He was pointing the gun at himself, apparently, threatening to shoot himself.  I don’t remember how long he was in the psychiatric unit of the hospital – a day or two – but that night left a lasting impression on me.  If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can call it up like it was last week.

As I said in my recent post, my dad always had guns, for as long as I could remember.  They were not locked up – they were stored under his bed and in his closet.  We were never taught gun safety.  We never talked about his guns at all as far as I remember; they were just part of the background at home, something I don’t think my brothers or I ever thought much about.  I don’t even know why my dad had guns – he didn’t hunt, and he didn’t hang out at a firing range.  Did he inherit them?  Did he buy them himself?  I have no idea.

Looking back, I feel extremely fortunate that nobody got hurt that night (at least not with a gun).  Or any other time, really.  My dad was often drunk and often volatile.  My older brother was troubled and often violent as well.  It makes me shudder to think how easily something truly horrible could have happened.

There’s no point to this story, really, except that guns are bad.  Especially when in the wrong hands at the wrong time.  And there’s really no way to predict when or if someone with access to a gun might snap.  My dad had a history of alcoholism and violence, but there are plenty of seemingly rational, “normal” people who go off the deep end for one reason or another.  And you know what?  You never hear stories about people with guns saving other people, despite gun proponents’ insistence that bearing arms promotes safety; you hear about people with guns hurting other people.

Horror, Sorrow, and Anger

Up until a few days ago, I had never heard of Sandy Hook Elementary School.   Now, like just about everyone else in the world who has access to the news, I’ve become intimately familiar with the name.  I don’t know what to say about the massacre; the horror and sorrow I’m feeling – the sadness I can’t seem to shake – isn’t unique.  Anyone with a child – or a heart – is reeling.

flag_half_staffI have not talked to my kids about what happened, with the exception of Kevin, and to him only briefly.  On Friday, I lowered the flag in our front yard to half staff, and when the kids got home from school, they wanted to know why it was lowered.  I told them that we do that to honor people who have died, and they wanted to know who had died.  “Some people far away in a different state,” I told them.  How can I tell my kids that someone went into an elementary school and gunned down teachers and little children?  At almost 16, Kevin wasn’t satisfied with that explanation, so I told him briefly what happened in Connecticut, but I couldn’t even finish without having to swallow back tears.

I have refused to read any articles or watch any news segments about it – what’s the point?  Nevertheless, it’s impossible to sign online without seeing headlines: “NEW CHILLING DETAILS EMERGE” and “VICTIMS’ FAMILIES REACT” and “PROFILE OF A KILLER” and “FUNERALS SET FOR THREE OF THE VICTIMS.”  Words like “pimp” and “ratings” come to mind.

We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who
Comes on at five
She can tell you ’bout the plane crash with a gleam
In her eye
It’s interesting when people die-
Give us dirty laundry

- Dirty Laundry, Don Henley

I don’t want to know the details.  I don’t want to see the photos of the sweet, smiling faces of those little boys and girls whose lives were so ruthlessly cut short.  And I’ll tell you: if I were any of their parents, I think having the details and photos splashed relentlessly across every news outlet would be the last thing I would want.  Even reading the headlines makes me feel like a voyeur.  Is the media just filling a demand?  Are we the people just feeding the media machine with our morbid curiosity?  If all the coverage promotes meaningful discussion about the underlying issues and encourages people to lobby for change with regard to gun control and how we approach mental illness, then perhaps it will have been a positive force.

We let those teachers and kids down.  We as a nation value our personal freedoms more than we value other people’s very lives.  We are a nation in shock and mourning now after Friday’s horror, but it wasn’t the first school shooting here in the US – although it perhaps claimed the youngest victims.  Mall shootings and school shootings seem to be gaining popularity – and this kind of thing doesn’t happen in other civilized countries.  How many mall shootings, how many school shootings, how many people have to be senselessly murdered before we take a good hard look at the way we do things here and make meaningful changes?

“Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?”

- President Obama

The religious rhetoric is everywhere.  I understand that people take comfort where they can, and it’s in the face of tragedy like this that, I suppose, the appeal and attraction of God and religion are at their most powerful, but if we lull ourselves with dreamy images of children running to Jesus and playing in paradise forevermore, we are doing nothing but living with our heads in the clouds, and effectively trivializing what happened.  In effect, these fairy tales justify what happened, and they don’t encourage meaningful dialogue about important issues.

It’s starting to feel dangerous just to be alive.  I don’t want to live in fear, but it’s hard to not walk around without at least a vague sense of apprehension.  I deeply hope that this latest tragedy brings about meaningful change; if it doesn’t, then all those little lives cut short will really have been for nothing at all.

Disillusioned

Yesterday Michael came home from work and started telling me about this case he’s handling at work, and how the Ninth Circuit granted his (client’s) petition for rehearing, which means he gets to go up to San Francisco and argue before eleven judges.  Very exciting stuff.  Then he asked me about my day.  “Oh, I had a very productive day,” I said.  “I did three loads of laundry, took Finn to speech therapy, baked some Christmas cookies, gave the baby a bath . . .”

More and more lately, the shape of my days – the monotony of them, the veritable triviality of them, the drudgery of them – is getting me down.  I know I’m not supposed to say these things, right?  As a stay-at-home mom, the proper thing to do is to sing from the rooftops in exaltation about how wonderful and magical my life is as a housewife, and as a “mommy blogger” (if that’s even what I am; I’m not sure), I should be honing my photography skills so as to document for all the world just how wonderful and magical my life is.

The reality is, however, that I’ve been spending an awful lot of time lately feeling like not much more than a servant.  Everybody in this house wants something from me all the time, and most of them complain about what they get from me.  I am here to do for, to serve, and to listen to (not be listened to).  I am a pair of hands and a pair of ears.

Do I sound bitter?  I guess I am.

On the one hand, I do feel extremely fortunate to be able to stay home to raise my kids.  I know that not everyone can do that, and there was a time when I couldn’t financially do it either.  On the other hand, lately I can’t help but question the choices I’ve made.  I don’t think they’ve been the wisest choices.

I read this book recently, Why Have Kids by Jessica Valenti.  I couldn’t put it down, and it left me feeling angry and depressed.  The premise of the book is, first and foremost, that motherhood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Can I get an Hallelujah?  It’s not.  I’ve known that for a long time.  It is a lot of monotony and drudgery.  There are, without a doubt, moments of bliss, of transcendence, but those moments are fairly rare – rare enough to be noteworthy, certainly.  It’s mostly a thankless undertaking.  I guess the rewards come later, when the kids are all grown up, and they turn out to be decent, productive members of society.  Then we can sit back and say, “I guess I did a pretty good job.”  (In truth, though, so much of how they turn out is out of our hands; if they turn out to be assholes, do we take the blame for that?  I guess in that case, the whole endeavor will have turned out to be a complete failure.)

Valenti also posits in her book that, basically, we mothers have been duped into believing that motherhood is the most important job in the world by a paternalistic society that really, even in this progressive, enlightened age, wants to keep women at home where they belong and let men continue to run the world.  Even the push to breastfeed, she asserts, is a way to keep women tied to the home and the children, and to limit their choices.  I can see truth in this: while I’ve always been rather militant about breastfeeding, it can’t be denied that formula was created in the first place as part of Women’s Lib – a way to open up women’s options.  And while we as a society push breastfeeding, we certainly don’t make it extremely easy to breastfeed out in the world – especially in the working world.

Is motherhood really the most important job in the world?  That’s like saying, “Maintaining this house that I built, that nobody asked me to build, is the most important job in the world.”  I’m only raising the kids that I chose to have – I’m not doing society any favors.  Perhaps one of my kids will grow up and contribute something truly amazing to society – and in that way, it will be a blessing to humanity that I bore and raised that child.  But it’s not likely.  Let’s be honest: the vast majority of our kids will live average lives and will not leave a lasting mark outside of their own families.

vintage+housewifeAnd really, is doing laundry the best I can do?  Am I dazzling anyone with my baby-bathing skills?

Motherhood certainly doesn’t utilize my best talents, and in fact, it probably, more than anything, exposes my failings and shortfalls.

The truth is, I’ve been turning these thoughts over and over in my head for a while.  It’s hard to write this stuff and not come across as ungrateful, and even unloving.  I love my kids, okay?  I do.  They are my whole world.  I guess that’s what’s getting me down.  They are my world.

What happened to me along the way?  Who am I?  I had no idea when I took on this gig that my entire identity would be subsumed by my kids.  I am a mother.  I am a mom.  Outside of that, I don’t know anymore.

I think I should have had fewer kids.  I think I should have kept working outside the home – at least part-time.  Not only have I lost myself, I’ve made myself completely financially dependent on my husband (which I swore I would never do after my first husband died and I sold our house, paid off all our debts, bought a smaller house for me and Kevin, and started over fresh).  I’ve sacrificed my earning power.  I’ve been out of the workforce for ten years now, and it will be at least several more years before Scarlett is in school and I can possibly find part-time work.  By then I’ll be in my fifties (!!!), and I won’t be qualified to do anything that will earn as much as I earned before when I worked.  It’s frightening when I think about all the what-ifs.

And it’s not just about money.  What am I teaching my own daughters about independence?  I’ve started to think that maybe I’m not such a hot role model for them.  And maybe everyone in this house would appreciate me a little more if I weren’t here at everyone’s beck and call all the time.

But for the time being, I’m stuck.  I feel stuck, anyway.

And that’s the thing: it’s a goddamn myth that women can have it all, do it all.  No, we can’t.  If you want to stay home to raise your kids, you sacrifice independence, earning power, and possibly your sense of self.  If you work outside the home after having kids, you’re engaged in a constant, never-ending, exhausting juggling act, and it’s likely that you won’t get the kind of practical support you need at home or in the workplace to feel like you’re giving your best self to either.

I don’t have a tidy wrap-up for this particular post.  So, that’s it I guess.

Down Syndrome Awareness: Guest Post by Emily

I know that Down Syndrome Awareness Month is long behind us, but it’s never a bad time to raise awareness.  The following was recently sent to me by a fellow mom of a child with Down syndrome.  She first got in touch with me when her son was a little babe, and we’ve since become better acquainted via Facebook.  The online community of parents of kids with Ds is amazing, and I am truly grateful to be a part of it.

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In August of 2011, our son Jacob was born.  We had the “surprise” diagnosis. We live in a rural area with very limited resources. That is why searching the Internet seemed to be my only option.  We had so little knowledge of what Down syndrome was all about.  Therapy for babies? I had never heard of such a thing. We do not have those resources in this immediate area.  No doctor or specialist offered much information at all.  As a matter of fact, a doctor told me to not read the internet at all for any information, because most of it was outdated and inaccurate. When they did try and share information it all seemed so impersonal and generic, since they had not been through it themselves.  I figured that no one would be more help to our family than the up close and personal from another family.  That is when we found Lisa and Finn.

SEARCH:  “Down Syndrome”,  “New mothers with babies with Down syndrome”, “Children with Down syndrome”, “Life with a child with Down syndrome”, etc, etc,…then I was introduced to   “Life As I Know It” by Lisa Morguess.   I immediately felt a connection when I saw that she was close to my age and I saw how many children she already had.  I was wondering what is was like for the older children to have a sibling with Ds.  I had never even read a blog before Jacob was born.

And so began my quest for information on what it was like to be a mother of a baby with Down syndrome. I knew no one at that time who had been down this path.  I longed for that connection, for someone to tell me what this  was going to be like.

I thought Finn was the most beautiful boy!  I looked over all of Lisa’s pictures carefully and just cried like never before.  Tears of joy that is! This is how Down syndrome really is! No institutions, no grim outlook at all, this really did not seem any different than raising any other typical child.  I combed the blog pages looking for insight, and I got that.  A very honest depiction of their life raising Finn.  Also seeing another outlook on therapy was quite reassuring after feeling so much urgency and pressure from other parents in the Ds community.  Another thing most people do not know is the raw grief and emotion involved when things are not quite as expected with your new born baby.  I also learned this is part of the process and that it is okay.  I saw how much Finn’s brothers and sisters adored him and looked after him.  I loved to see how his sisters took care of him and let him play dress up with them.  I soon developed an excitement about the future in days to come.  I knew my daughter was also simply loving her brother for being Jacob. That is the beauty of children, they love completely and don’t even care about Down syndrome.  A lesson all adults could really learn from.

I quickly learned how politically incorrect medical professionals are as a whole.  Through the pages of the blog I was introduced to a more progressive way of thinking, as well as a more articulate way of speaking in a language that showed respect for all individuals living with a condition called “Down syndrome”.  I have started encountering a lot of individuals who still have so many of the same old tired images of people with Down syndrome. The ” I am sorry’s”, the long face they reveal after showing them a picture of my son. I just had an elderly man tell me that he used to know “some of those”. It broke my heart, but it was then that I realized how important it is that we continue to educate the public and get rid of these old outdated images and feelings some people still have.

I no longer felt like the only woman in the world with this new path before me.  I emailed Lisa with countless questions and she would always get right back to me.  I soon had my friends and family read her blog so they could better understand.  I became inspired, motivated and confident that we would be “okay”. I can always count on well researched topics from Lisa and value her opinions, whether I agree or not.

I have made many more connections since our journey began.  However, I will never forget the day that young Finn popped up on my laptop screen and showed us all how beautiful life is.

Thank you Lisa and family for taking the time to advocate, research and educate our public on the truth and facts regarding Down syndrome.  You have a strong voice and I hope you continue to be a presence in our community.

~ Emily

My Dad

When I was somewhere in my mid-twenties, my dad invited me up to his place for a weekend. We had managed to forge a positive relationship in my adulthood after many tumultuous years while I was growing up. At this point, he lived with his second wife in a house up in the mountains near the coast of Central California. I had been up to visit before, but this time it would be different: his wife would be gone for the weekend, and I would be going up alone, without my husband. It would be the very first time in all my life that I would spend an extended period of time alone with my dad, with nobody else acting as

The family, 1976.  I was 8 here, my dad 28.

The family, 1976. I was 8 here, my dad 28.

buffers. I was thrilled and anxious; all my life I had craved a close relationship with my dad, and for most of my life that was made impossible by my parents’ divorce and ongoing melodrama, and his alcoholism and penchant for violence towards my mother and me and my brothers. What would we talk about? What would we do for two whole days? Would it be weird and awkward?

As it turned out, we had a grand time, the two of us. I flew up, and he picked me up at the airport and drove me back to his house in the woods. We spent the weekend eating food home-cooked by him (he loved to cook and was wonderful at it), watching old Laurel and Hardy movies, smoking in the house (not allowed by his wife), even drinking together. My clearest memory of that weekend, though, is of my dad teaching me how to shoot a gun. He always had guns – for as long as I could remember. That weekend he decided he was going to show me how to shoot. So he took a paper grocery bag and drew a target on it with black Sharpie, and hung it on the fence in the paddock. At the other end of the paddock – several dozen yards away – we stood, fortified by alcohol. He put a pistol into my hands and explained the mechanics of it to me, and then showed me how to shoot it. It was thrilling and terrifying. I can still remember the force of the recoil, and my ears rang for days afterward. We stood out there shooting for quite a while, and

My dad's truck, "Old Blue."  He was always a Ford man; might have something to do with my being partial to Ford.

My dad’s truck, “Old Blue.” He was always a Ford man; might have something to do with my being partial to Ford.

somewhere, I still have that hand-drawn target on a paper bag, riddled with bullet holes, each of which he initialed with his or my initials, depending on whose bullet hole it was.

***

A couple years ago, my mother attempted to reestablish contact with me. When I rejected her advances, she sent me a scathing letter – 6 pages of single-spaced typed vitriol, recounting every perceived crime I’ve ever committed from birth on. In the letter, she also told me that any belief on my part that my dad and I had had any semblance of a positive relationship in my adulthood was a mistaken belief because, she said, it is impossible to have a healthy relationship with an alcoholic. I don’t know why a mother would feel the need to try to rob her child of positive, loving feelings.

He walked me down the aisle the first time I got married in 1987.

He walked me down the aisle the first time I got married in 1987.

It’s true that he remained a drinking alcoholic until his death, and it’s probably true that over the years since his death, my memories of him have attained a certain sheen that might not be completely reflective of reality; we do tend to glorify those whom we love and lose. All I know is that at some point, my dad changed. He continued to wrestle with his demons until he died, he continued to drink, but he seemed to reach a state of reflection. He looked back on his transgressions as a father to me and my brothers as we were growing up, and he realized that he fucked up, and he was full of remorse over it. And he was sorry without ever demanding that I also be sorry (which is what my mother has done). In my adulthood, he was kind to me, he encouraged me, he was supportive. He seemed to be able to see me as a person in my own DSC_0001right, a person with value, a person deserving of respect.

My dad’s been gone fourteen years today. I miss him more than ever. I can hardly imagine what he would think of my life as it is now – all these kids! I wish they all could have known him.

Managing a Large Family

A reader asked me a while back about managing so many kids as far as morning and evening routines (sorry it’s taken me this long to remember to get to this, Amy!).  It isn’t easy!

First, I will say that I’m a stickler for routine.  Being the type-A personality that I am, organization is a must.  That is not to say that I run things around here with military precision (if only!), or that things even tend to run very smoothly (they usually don’t), but in order to have some small modicum of orderliness, we try to stick to a general routine:

On school days, I set my alarm for 6:15.  Kevin has zero period, so he starts school at 7:00 a.m.  He was walking to school until I realized, before we changed the clocks recently at the end of Daylight Savings Time, that it was still dark when he left the house at 6:20.  Call me an overprotective, paranoid mom, but I suddenly began having visions of  – well, let’s just say horrible visions, even though he’s almost 16.  So I started driving him to school, intending to have him start walking again with the time change.  However, of course, my driving him has stuck, so, yeah, I drive him to school.

The other kids start school at 8:40.  The girls – Annabelle, Daisy, and Lilah, that is (who share a room) – get up around 6:00 a.m. no matter if it’s a school day or not, regardless of what time they go to bed.  So on school days, I don’t have to get them up, because chances are, they’re up already.  The rule is, if Daddy or I aren’t up already and it’s a school day, they are to stay in their room quietly until we get up.  However, it’s not uncommon for the three of them to be in their room raising hell at 5:30 a.m.

If Michael isn’t in a rush to get to work, he’ll get the kids their cereal in the morning.  Sometimes I do it when I get back from taking Kevin to school.  They’re getting better about getting it themselves, but in all honesty, I’d rather Michael or I do it so as to control the portions and the mess.  The girls and Joey, of course, get themselves dressed, etc. (although they apparently need twenty reminders every single day).  I let Scarlett lay in our bed after I get up for as long as she’s willing to; first thing in the morning seems to be her most content part of the day, and she will often lay in our bed amusing herself by staring at her hands or chewing on the covers for an hour.  I get Finn up around 7:00, and I try to spend some quiet time with him, sitting in the rocking chair in his room.  Then he and I have a quick breakfast together.  I make the kids’ sandwiches the night before, and they finish up making their lunches for school after they get dressed in the morning.  After they’re all dressed, teeth are brushed, lunches are made, etc., they’re allowed to watch TV until it’s time to go.  Meanwhile, I clean up the kitchen, make the beds (I know it’s ridiculous, but I cannot leave the house in the morning with unmade beds), and I might throw a load of laundry in the washing machine.  We leave the house at about 8:25 to head to school; in good weather and if I’m feeling ambitious, I walk the kids to school.  If I’m feeling lazy and/or on days Finn has preschool, I drive them to school.

The kids get out of school at 3:00 p.m. (except Wednesdays, with the exception of Kevin, they get out at 1:00ish).  When we get home, they have snacks and then do their homework.

Have I mentioned how much I hate elementary school homework?  In case I haven’t, let me just say it: I HATE HOMEWORK.  You can make all the arguments in favor of it that you want, but you will not sell me on the idea that homework in the primary grades does anything except rob kids of free time (which they should have after spending 6+ hours of their day at school), rob families of family time, create tension between kids and parents, and foster resentment – not love – of schoolwork.

So they spend their afternoon doing homework.  It usually involves much whining, or at the very least, stalling.  The teachers say that a first grader (Lilah) should be spending no more than 20 minutes on her homework, plus 20 minutes of mandatory reading, and third graders (Annabelle and Daisy) should be spending no more than about 40 minutes a day on homework (plus mandatory reading).  It never works out that way – ever.  It always takes at least twice as long as the prescribed time, no matter what threats, bargaining tools, reasoning, or rewards I offer.

When they do finally complete their homework (and I’m mainly talking about the three girls; Joey and Kevin, thank goodness, are both pretty self-directed as far as homework goes), it’s 4:30 – 5:00.  No time to go play outside.  I have the three girls take their showers before dinner because with this many kids, we’d be up until midnight having them all take their showers after dinner.  Kevin and Joey shower after dinner.  Bath time for Finn and Scarlett is much more lax, as I can bathe them during the day when everyone else is at school, and neither of them even require daily baths yet; I bathe them about every other day.

I try to get dinner started by 5:00 – 5:30, with the hope of having dinner on the table by 6:00 – 6:30 (which is roughly when Michael usually gets home from work).  Michael and I share kitchen clean-up duties, and then we divide and conquer to get the kids to bed.  We try to have Finn and the girls in bed by 7:30 (that’s right!).  Kevin and Joey are allowed to stay up until 8:30, and then they can read in bed until 9:00, and then lights out.  Yes, my teenager has a 9:00 bedtime.  He needs the sleep – and I need the sanity of having them all in bed at a decent time.  Right now, Scarlett is usually a wreck by early evening due to the fact that she’s kind of a horrible napper, so I wrap her up tight, nurse her to sleep and put her in her swing around the time we’re sitting down to dinner, and if things go well, she’ll stay there until I’m ready to go to bed around 10:00 – 10:30.  Then I put her in bed with me – not so much because I’m a big believer in co-sleeping (whatever works for you, I say), but because it’s the only way I can get a decent night’s sleep.  If my husband doesn’t keep me awake with his snoring, that is . . . but that’s a topic for a different day.

So there you have it: semi-sanity, summed up.

Bad Elf

Two years ago I bought into the whole Elf on the Shelf phenom.  It seemed like every family I knew suddenly had one, and not wanting to be the bad mom and cheat my kids, I succumbed.  At first blush, it seemed like a fun tradition to start, and the bonus would be motivating my kids to toe the line – at least during the holiday season, right?  Santa’s little narc, right here in our very own home.

Well, the experience didn’t go so well.  My kids were terrified of the thing (come walk down Memory Lane with me, won’t you?).  Plus, I quickly realized that “tradition” translates to “giant pain in the ass.”  Mom’s ass, to be specific, because it ain’t Dad thinking up creative places to place the Elf, and remembering to do it every damn night.

(Really, this is just another sadistic twist in the competitive game of Motherhood, isn’t it?  The good moms not only remember to move the Elf, and find super fun things for the Elf to do in order to amuse their kids and keep the holiday magic alive, but they take photos of their Elves and post them to Facebook so that we slacker moms can feel like the losers we are.)

Well, after that scarring experience two years ago, I said “no more!” and stuffed the blasted Elf into a drawer where it’s remained, forgotten about, all this time.

Forgotten about until a couple of days ago, that is.  Suddenly Annabelle (the child who was most terrified of it a couple years ago) got it in her head that the Elf must return, post haste! “Call Santa, Mommy, and tell him to send the Elf back!  I’m not afraid anymore!”  She said.  “Mommy, did you call Santa yet?”  “No.”  “Mommy, will you call Santa tonight and tell him to send the Elf back to our house?”  “Mommy, did you call Santa?”  “Mommy, when will you call Santa?!?!”

Great balls of fire!

So, against my better judgment, I dug the Elf out last night and put him up on the top of the mirror in our dining room.  The kids were thrilled to see him up there this morning.

Now, let me just stop for a second and wonder aloud how it is that Joey, age 10, no longer believes in the Halloween Ghost (an apparition who appears on Halloween night after the kids have gone to sleep and exchanges most of their candy haul for a toy or book; I made this up when Kevin was a tyke in order to convince him to willingly part with most of the crap he got trick-or-treating), but does still believe not only in Santa, but that this stupid, fake-looking Elf doll is a real elf.  Go figure.

Then the questions start:

“Mommy, when did he get here?”

“Did you see him come in?”

“How did he get in the house?”

“Does he fly?”

“Does he talk?”

“Why does he look like a doll?”

“Will he talk to you while we’re at school?”

“Will he still be here when we get home from school?”

My favorite: “Mommy, I saw a bunch of boxes at Target that said ‘The Elf on the Shelf’ on them.  What are those for?”

And leave it to Annabelle to climb up onto a chair to get a closer look.  “Mommy, why does it look like he’s taped to the wall?  I can see tape behind him.  How come there’s tape on him?”

Listen, kid.  If you keep up with the questions, your pal the Elf is going to take a header into the nearest garbage can.

I’m just not good at making up lies on the spot.  I need time to weave my lies to make them more believable, so if my kids are expecting wise, magical answers from me, I’m sure they’re sorely disappointed.  I give my standard answer to all of their questions pertaining to the Elf: “I.  Don’t.  Know.”

In any event, it does seem that our Elf is quite the rascal.

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There he is, up on the dining room mirror (pretend you don’t see the dust up there).  Oh my goodness, what in the world . . . ??

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Well, I never!

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Hey!  That’s my vodka!!

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Elf, you dawg!  You da man!

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Oh look!  He shits mini chocolate chips!  Isn’t it precious?

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Happy freakin’ holidays!

Faith Doesn’t Work For Everyone

In the wake of a local teen’s sudden death last week, there has been much talk in the community about faith.  We live in an especially conservative, predominantly Christian part of California, so it’s not all that surprising that most of the people impacted by this tragedy, directly or indirectly, are Christians, or that they are turning to their faith to cope.

A few days after he died, I ran into a friend at the store.  She and I have forged a somewhat tentative friendship – tentative because her Christian faith is so much a part of her, and my unbelief flies in the face of that.  It’s hard to find common ground when one of us knows the other is praying for her soul, and the other knows that the beliefs she holds dear are thought of as delusional.  We’re both moms, so that’s our common ground, but even in that there are wide differences in how we each approach it based on our spiritual status.

Anyway, she is close friends with the mother of the boy who died.  When we ran into each other at the store, she said that the family is coping as well as could be expected, and are definitely being buoyed by their faith.  She then relayed to me how – understanding that I don’t believe – faith has carried her through some very difficult times in her life.  She told me how there have been some particular instances during which she was filled with peace when she didn’t think she should have had peace, and that was evidence to her of God’s presence, and it affirmed her faith.

As she was telling me this, I was reminded of another friend of mine whose little boy died in a tragic accident a number of years ago.  She was a devout Christian, and she counted on one of the promises of Christian faith that God would walk with her through the difficult times and offer her comfort and peace – only to find that in her darkest hours, she didn’t feel the comfort or peace of God’s presence at all.  She wrote about it here.

I think back on my own life and the many dark times I’ve gone through – times of loss, of suffering.  I was a believer through most of it – it’s only been the last five or six years that I’ve let go of the faith I carried around with me from the time I was a child.  My faith never lent me peace or comfort.  In my darkest hours, I didn’t feel God’s presence – I felt utterly alone.  In my darkest hours, my faith led to more tormented thoughts than anything (Why was God allowing a man to beat the crap out of me and emotionally torture me?  Could my dad possibly go to heaven if he wasn’t a believer?)

So how do the believers reconcile this?  Why do some believers feel God’s presence and the peace and comfort that goes with that, and other believers – just as pure (or unpure) of heart and soul – don’t when they should?  Are they doing faith wrong?  Are they just not as favored by God?

I can’t deny that the peace and comfort that those select believers feel when they need to feel it is very real to them.  But it also can’t be denied that not everyone – not even every faithful person – enjoys that benefit of faith.

These are just some of the reasons I don’t believe.

 

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