Monday, December 21, 2009

And, She's DONE!!

Amazingly, last Saturday, a full 6 days before Christmas, I finished Christmas shopping for my family of. . . oh, about 100. Okay, so it's only the 8 kids, one d-i-law, two of the older kids longtime boyfriend/girlfriend, two nieces, and two parents. But, still. Got'er done!

Typically I'm still shopping on Christmas Eve -- or at last our Christmas Eve which is always December 23rd. Then I'm up till 3 a.m. on the 24th -- our Christmas Day -- wrapping. Seeing as how the kids wake at 5 a.m. and then I make a huge breakfast including snowflake and reindeer shaped pancakes, I was typically a zombie on Christmas. And slightly grumpy. And not at all in the Christmas spirit.

This year I'm hoping it'll be different. Because I started wrapping yesterday (got 70 gifts wrapped so far!!) it's looking good. Might even be able to spend Christmas Eve making cookies and watching movies with the kids, instead of being locked in my bedroom, hunched over paper and tape.

Looking forward to a relaxing day!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Making it a meal

When Gramma makes it her mission to train the next generation to offer to bring something to a family meal? It means the mother gets to make five things to bring. Because, really? Only the 12 year old is anywhere NEAR being independent in the kitchen. 10 y.o., 9 y.o. and 6 y.o. basically get to help.

Which is why I'm bringing cheese and crackers (and not even cheese I have to cut!) as my contribution. Because I'm tired of cooking for my kids.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

In which a mommy goes mini-van shopping

I went car shopping tonight. It was an interesting experience. For both me and for the sales staff.

We're hoping to get a new mini-van. Right now I drive, primarily, a temperamental 15 passenger van with 175,000 miles on it. Truth is, I love my van. But I also hate it. I hate that every time it makes a new sound, a new smell, or runs 'differently' my heart drops into my stomach and I get an adrenaline rush wondering if we'll finally be stranded by the side of the road.

What we'd really like to do is sell it for $2500 and buy a friend's high-mileage, but wonderfully maintained, mini-van to get us through another few years. The reality is, we probably won't be able to get what we want for our van and will have to take out a loan on a used one from a dealer. Ugh, right? But that's what we get for not being more financially responsible.

While parked at a McDonald's tonight I spotted several mini-vans in the used lot next door. Unloaded Little Louie and proceeded to hop down the retaining wall to take a look. My six year old son and I studied exteriors and computer printouts in the windows for a good 10 minutes without contact from sales staff, so I figured they were closed. No big deal. We head back to our car.

Then someone pulls another minivan to the front of the line -- we get out of our car, hop down the retaining wall, and walk right past this employee. We again examine the minivans, in full view of TWO employees now. I notice the hours. They're still open. Huh. So I call hubby, give him the vin numbers, he looks them up. Still no salesperson. One standing outside, one surfing the web inside and neither of them come to see if the mom looking at the mini-van has any questions.

Finally, after about 15 minutes more I get pissed. I stalk into the dealership and wait patiently for someone to notice my presence.

After a full 60 seconds, slimy father-figure stands up and asks, "Can I help you with something?"

Me: "Sure. Do you sell to women?"

S.F.F.: (jovially) "Why sure we do!" (The "Little Lady" was implied.)

Me: "Interesting. Because I've been out there for a half-hour and no one came to see if I had questions."

S.F.F.: "A half hour! Well, we were JUST out there!"

Me: "Exactly. You walked right by me."

S.F.F.: {{{silence}}}

Me: "Just so you know, I was pretty interested in the Pontiac. But there's no way on this earth I'd ever buy from this dealership. You've just successfully lost a sale."

S.F.F.: {{{silence}}} (He was probably thinking, "BITCH!" Hope that thought tastes good with your smaller commission check!)

Anyway, I felt much better after taking advantage of that little teaching moment. I hope it sticks with those jack-asses. Think it might, because as Little Louie and I made our way across the lot to our car, the three employees were lined up at the window watching our money walk away.

I guess it just pisses me off because I KNOW it was due to the fact that I didn't have a man along with me. But, not that this would make it right, but it wasn't like I was looking at a Porche or a Miata with my six-year-old in tow. I can see how they'd figure I was just window shopping or whatever. But I was looking at a FREAKING MINI-VAN. A used one. Don't know many women who go window shopping for a used mini-van. Usually, if we're looking at something like that, we are looking to buy. Turn on the charm, treat us like human beings, and SELL us a car!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Come home!

Hubby being out of town for three days doesn't seem like that long on paper. Even if it is twice a month. But, for all that is holy -- it is a FREAKING long time with five kids, migraines, ballet classes, rehearsals, and making drums. And when the Bear doesn't stop talking the ENTIRE day. . . Aaaarrgghhh! (Yes, dear, for the record I'm glad you talk as well as you do. Just hush once in a while so mommy can enjoy when you DO talk.)

It's a beautiful day in the 'hood -- sort of.

We live in the 'hood. Not necessarily like you see in LA or New York or Chicago. No where near that. But, for the city we live in, even though it's not the worst part of the city, it can qualify as being the 'hood. We have break-ins. Stolen cars. And occasionally, even, a shooting. Thank God we've never been broken into. But we've had cars stolen. Actually -- minivans. Three in one summer. Craziness.

We even have a crazy lady down the street who's tried to kidnap one of my kids. Who actually did barge her way into our house one day. And, because of other things she did after the judge ordered no contact with us, she spent 6 months in jail and we got her to plead to a felony charge. We now have a five-year restraining order on her that, amazingly, she is abiding by.

We also have sex offenders in the general vicinity. Because we live close to a school, they're not right next door or even on our street. But they're there. And so we watch our kids like hawks, they watch each other, and we have safety rules.

All that being said, I love our neighborhood. I love the people who live around us. The people on our two blocks have lived here for decades. Many of them have birthed children, raised children, grown old and died here. The ones who are still alive have children who are moving back into the neighborhood to be close to parents and to take advantage of the relative safety of our pocket of the city. They move back in because of the amazing real estate prices. You can get a whole LOTTA house for your money in my neighborhood. Yeah, the homes need work -- like ours needs a ton -- but they have character. We have young families who are in ministry and plan to have lots of children who are moving in because they know they can afford what they want in our neighborhood. These young moms can home school because the house payment (including insurance and taxes) runs around $500 or $600/ month. I KNOW! Craziness, once again.

Despite all the bad in our neighborhood I listed above, there is one thing that I despise above all others about my neighborhood and that's the stray or loose dogs and cats. And the fact that every other person who walks through our neighborhood has a pitbull. And sometimes, these pits are loose and chase children. I'm more concerned about my child be mauled by a pitbull than I am about the crazy lady down the street or the sex offender three blocks away.

For the record, I know pitbulls can be nice dogs. My cousin has one and the kids love him. Nice dog. Wouldn't trust him around the kids alone, just in case, but no problems yet. But the pits in our neighborhood are not like Stryder. They're abused, neglected, and trained to fight. So when one gets loose, in my mind it's like firing a gun. Trained, fighting pitbulls are weapons. They can damage and kill just as easily as a gun. So when our dog warden kills pits that come into his facility without a waiting period -- puppies and all -- I'm okay with that. Because otherwise it's like leaving loaded guns lying around; you never know who might pick one up and fire. With a badly trained or abused pitbull, you never know when one will go off.

So, GOOD JOB! dog warden! I know you're catching flack for your policy but I, and many other parents of the city thank you!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bittersweet moments

My littlest, the Bear, and I were laying on the bed the other day, me leaning over him kissing and stroking his large forehead. He was drowsy but not ready to give up the fight and drift off to sleep. Instead he began exploring my face and in little, sleepy strokes began tracing my features, whispering, "I like yours nose. I like yours eyebwows. I like yours fo-head. I like yours cheeks." One by one, naming off my parts and pieces and loving on his momma. It was so sweet I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. All I could think is, "How can this child, this sweet little boy, grow up and one day cause me pain and worry? I can't fathom worrying about drugs and drinking, sex and peer-pressure, and the other ways kids jump off the deep end. He's going to stay this sweet forever, right? Please tell me he will!"

I know deep down he won't. That he'll be a teenager. But I just hope I can remember that moment when I was his whole world and he was mine.

His whole first year, from the moment labor began with my husband 2 1/2 hours away through to the end of month 10 were fraught with anxiety. Actually, it hasn't stopped because now they want to test him for hydrocephalus, but I think the thing that hurts the most is that he couldn't nurse. To so many women that's not a big deal but for me, it was huge and devastating. Little Louie had nursing issues for three months after birth because he'd been sick from a UTI and too weak to nurse effectively. So he'd starved until day 10 and that starvation at the breast caused him to refuse to nurse out of anxiety. He finally went back to the breast at 3 months and things were fine. But with the Bear I'd really looked forward to a great nursing experience. To nursing my last child until we were both good and done. From start to finish.

Life can be so cruel. Because he got his big ole noggin stuck on my pubic bone he ended up with damage to the nerves leading to his tongue. We didn't know this, but he did keep loosing weight and was eventually hospitalized for jaundice. It was during that time that the lactation consultant worked with him and discovered his problem. We tried everything. Every position, every tool, every single trick of the trade. Bottles were the only thing keeping him alive and because he couldn't actually suck, but bit the nipple instead to get milk to flow, that was only barely. Two ounces of breast milk would take two hours to ingest. He'd sleep for an hour and we'd start the feeding again. The Bear was one tired little guy.

We took him to a speech therapist who had a great reputation for getting non-nursers to the breast. I took him in, confident that I'd walk out with a nursing baby. So excited. Instead, after a lengthy consult and exam her words were, "I'm sorry. So sorry. But, if they start talking feeding tube you come to me before you let them put one in."

WHAT? A feeding tube? It was that bad. He was that exhausted from bottle feeding his couple ounces at a time that she predicted there might come a day when he would fall into the failure to thrive category.

So I resigned myself to pumping. I'd pump one side and nuzzle him to the other side, trying to help him attach, encourage him to try. To my great disappointment, for both of us, it never worked.

Pumping became an obsession. A burden, a chore, exhausting and emotional. But I persisted for 10 months, bought 18 glass bottles to store my milk and feed him to avoid BPA's, and obsessed about the quantity I achieved at each session. Always helping for another drop, another drip, that last tiny bit of nutrition for my precious little monkey.

Bottle feeding doesn't seem to have hurt him in the least. He's still a little boy obsessed with Momma's 'jurgies', poking them and squealing, "Squishy Tushy!" But for momma, my failure, the thought of what we both missed still has me mourning. Wishing, longing that something could've been different.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bit of This and That

Helpful monkey (The Bear) decided he was done with the banana he was eating in the car. So, "I thwo-ed it away momma!" Into the open diaper bag at his feet. Where it squished as the bag overturned getting off the freeway. Yummy.


BillyBob is having adjustment issues at school. His grades are fine. He has friends. He's made the leap from home schooled kid to changing classes middle schooler pretty well. He is tired and stressed and being so stinking busy with dance doesn't help. But the big problem is the kid has Guilt. About any and all minor infractions he commits. He has guilt about a misunderstanding with a friend's mom from 4 years ago. (Sorry, again, Mrs. Weidmann that he was on a different wavelength about whether or not Sunny D was pop.) And the newest thing to add to his guilt, and stress, is that he forgot to put our extra cell phone in his locker. AND he forgot to turn it off.

And so a friend texted him while in school. A home schooled friend, who marches to the beat of her own dramatic drummer, who wants to go to school, and who talks about school obsessively with BillyBob. This friend, and her older freshman-in-h.s. sister, both have been caught by me using a cell phone inappropriately (at CHURCH) by making prank calls to friends.

Teenyboppers using cells to prank call people make me so angry. It shows immaturity AND lack of respect for the person paying for the victim-of-the-prank-call's cell phone bill. A lot of parents I know provide a cell phone for their children for emergencies, but the plan for that phone has basically no minutes. It's for, "Mom! I forgot my lunch!" or, "Did you forget I get out of school early today?" types of calls. So when you have some kidlings with unsupervised access to a cell phone, you have a kidling with the ability to run someone else's finances out of control.

So when this child sent my son three texts during school hours, I responded with a strongly worded text telling the child that my son's phone is for emergencies ONLY and that she wasn't to text or call on that line. I also informed her that her actions had aided in getting my son in trouble which has increased his school stress/guilt level. Fantastic.

So . . . if you were that child's parent, and a parent sent a text correcting your child (with no profanity, mind you) what would you do? Would you say, "Naughty child of mine! You need to learn some respect and self-control!" I would. Well, not this parent. This parent is diminishing his child's actions ("She forgot he was no longer home schooled") and demands that I apologize to his child for my 'heavy-handed' remarks.

I refuse to apologize to a child for chastising them for their bad behavior. And I will go to the mat on this one if I have to. My belief is that children must deal with the results of their actions. My son forgot to put his phone in his locker, it rang, he got embarrassed and it got removed, AND he's getting a disciplinary notice in his school file. I'm not upset about his action, but he is and he has to deal with it. This child, the friend who texted and prank calls him, got verbally spanked by me for her actions' impact on my son and on our cell phone bill. If she is 'hurt' or 'embarrassed' by it, she needs to deal with it. I believe a child who is considered old enough to have unsupervised access to a cell phone must be old enough to deal with the consequences when they misbehave and anger a friend's parent.

Am I off base here?

Also, expecting an adult to apologize to a child for correcting them for wrong behavior? VERY bad parenting technique! Setting yourself up for a lifetime of trouble with that child, in my opinion.


And countdown to Nutcracker! This weekend my daughter gets to dress in the Clara dress and go to the town library to hand out fliers advertising the ballet. She might also get to light the town's Christmas tree. How cool would that be for a 10-year-old?!?! Brothers get to go along, too. BillyBob will be dressed as the Nutcracker Prince, and Gil will be in a Spanish costume. On Sunday they'll be in the Holiday parade.

You know what this means? Ringlet curls. For the 5th season in a row I'll have to curl my daughter's hair in ringlets. Two years as an angel with another ballet company, three years in party scene/as Clara with this company. And, being petite, there's always the chance that she'll be cast in party scene or as Clara in coming years and I'll have to do ringlets again in the future. I will be the Ringlet Goddess by the time her dance career is over.

This also means I have to cut about six inches off her hair so the curls won't look like snakes. Anyone want to volunteer to help hold her down?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Turkey Crazy

Went grocery shopping today. Nothing new, right? Except in the fall they put turkeys on sale. Like, $.19/lb. on sale. Sometimes free if you buy $50.00 worth of groceries. And for us that's simple. How can they expect me to pass up on that family feeding deal?

But now, every time I walk into the house with a frozen turkey my husband snickers. I have a bad track record with turkeys. I get obsessive about turkeys. I HAVE to buy turkeys. And about 10 years ago, my obsession got out of control.

And we ended up with about a dozen turkeys in our deep freeze that's hidden deep in the dark, cobwebby, recesses of our basement.

A dozen turkeys. Turkeys that, it turns out, died for no good reason. Because when faced with a turkey, and two little children, a pregnant tummy and homeschooling my three step children, I was overwhelmed. I just didn't know where to start. The thought of cleaning out my fridge enough to make room to defrost a turkey made me tired. The thought of defrosting it in my always filled kitchen sink made me tired. And the thought of thawing it on the counter scared me to pieces as I imagined my children in the hospital with food-bourne illness.

So the turkeys sat in the freezer. For two years. Until we were gifted a side of beef for Christmas and my husband dumped them to make room.

So when I came home with a frozen turkey today, my husband snickered remembering the 12 sacrificed turkeys. And rightfully so. I defensively tossed out, "We're eating that THIS weekend. And I'll only buy 2. I PROMISE." He just grinned at me. (Thanks, honey for putting up with my antics!)

He knows me and yet he love me. And when I tell him, "I had to buy them! They were practically FREE!" he accepts that as part of my crazy.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Watching them learn

As I contemplated my third post (out of ideas already?! It can't be!) my husband called me into the living room to check out The Bear. Dressed in a one piece, blue striped outfit and looking a bit like a jailbird, he had his back to me, facing an old rocking chair. As I watched he smacked the rocking chair with both hands then just watched it bounce/rock. Surprisingly, instead of pounding on it over and over and just being a typical, wound-up little boy, he waited until it was nearly motionless before smacking it again. Over and over I watched my Bear conduct his experiment, hit, rock, wait. Hit, rock, wait. I don't know what information he was gathering or what synapses were developing but it was obvious that he was learning. It struck me, too, that that was so HIM: methodical and curious.

I always find it amazing watching my children learn. As a homeschooling mom it's been painful at times, though. Especially since several of my children have been 'blessed' with, as some circles call it, the Gift of Dyslexia. When you're a mom watching your child struggle, without the resources to spring for the outrageously expensive tutoring, and the virtual academy/charter school wants to 'track' your child for yet ANOTHER year but is reluctant to do testing and intervention it doesn't seem like much of a gift.

In the midst of struggling to find a way to teach, find a way for that light bulb to finally turn on in their brains I've come to appreciate my children for their strengths. When reading, and therefore so much basic schoolwork, is nearly torture they need the encouragement of knowing they have a strength. Belle has a fabulous memory and comprehension, especially if things are read to her. Gil quickly memorized most of his math facts, without the usual flashcards. Just knew 'em. Pixie-girl, though her learning issue is more centered around ADHD which has led to memory and comprehension difficulties, has the higher-level thinking skills of an adult. She can't remember that Paris is a city in France and France is a country on the continent of Europe (truly! You have no idea how frustrating that is for her!) but she can theorize and philosophise with just about anyone.

For me, having children with learning difficulties has been challenging. I love to read, love learning and school was easy for me. I tested well. So I figured my kids would excel academically. They're my kids, right? They're all very bright. But, turns out, that's not always what counts. I've learned a lot about my children along the way and I've had to accept some things I really struggled against. It's been difficult to accept that some of my children might not graduate from college. Heck, they may not even GO to college. Many of my children will never find joy in curling up with a good book. Their daddy sure doesn't. I've come to realize many of these things are not what's most important. The college degree doesn't make someone a better or smarter person. Your reading list doesn't mean you'll be good company. Completing a degree at a four-year institution far from guarantees success on the job.

What is most important, I firmly believe, is simply learning. And the continual willingness to learn. Whether it's through observation, experimentation or reading. Whether it's in a lecture hall, a forest, or your own home. All around you, every day, every single person has the chance to learn something new. To file away some new observation. To ask a question, look up a topic, or work in some way to increase your knowledge. This is now what I hope and wish for my children. That, despite their difficulties, they spend every day of their life doing what The Bear did this evening: filing away new information in their big, beautiful noggins.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Dancing Feet

My kids are dancers. At least, my bio-babies are dancers. Billy-Bob, Belle, Gil, and Little-Louie all take ballet. Three of the four take tap and two take jazz. All four are were in The Nutcracker this past December and they will all be in Cinderella this spring.

I know. We're not normal. The dance school is not teaming with boys, although there are a few more signing up since they met my boys and saw that they're 'normal.' (Boy, do we have them fooled!!) Billy-Bob, at 11, is the one who's had most opportunity to face down mean comments. Surprisingly, he's handled them with ease. "Hey, I'm the only boy in a room full of beautiful girls in leotards and tights. And, I'll get to put my hands on them eventually. Momma didn't raise no fool!" He said that at 10. Or maybe even 9. Been keeping my eye on him since that remark. But he's found that that's logic most boys won't argue with.

When we started B.B. and Gil in ballet, it was with a purpose. B.B. has mild Asperger's and was both uncoordinated and had a hard time controlling his actions in public. We hoped ballet would give him some coordination and self-control. No way did we actually expect him to be good at it. Coordination and self-control. That was it. But, turns out, the kid has some talent. And some God-given physical attributes that many ballerinas would gladly kill for. B.B. has perfect turn-out and Gil has near perfect. Little Louie, it looks like, has been blessed with the same. B.B. and Gil are both nice and lean, have beautiful feet and nice hands. No awkward clumping around for my boys. Rhythm, not so much. Definitely got dad's side of the genes there. But they're getting there. Because they want it. A life of activity, being treated like you're made of gold and surrounding yourself with cute little ballerinas ain't a bad deal and they're realizing that.

Will the boys keep on dancing? I'm asked that question all the time. All. The. Time. Most often by my very concerned, clueless father-in-law. He thinks taking ballet will make them gay. He was reassured when B.B. invited his 'girlfriend' to his 11th birthday. I honestly don't know if they'll keep dancing. I ask them regularly if they want to continue. So far they do. Although Gil, when he's having a prickly fit, will say he wants to quit Right Now. But they all enjoy it so far and it's giving them the ability to carry themselves like royalty, something that will help them as adults. Would you rather hire the guy who holds his head up and looks confident or the guy who slouches into the office and trips over the chair? We'll take it one year at a time, one show at a time. And we'll see. But for now, I'm super proud of my boys and their dancing feet!

Well, why not?

So everyone else is doing it, right? Have to go with the crowd. (And hush up out there with your, "If your friends jumped off a bridge," comments. No, I wouldn't. Jumping off a bridge is dumb. And scary. This, not so much.) But, like the other cool kids on the internet, I figure I have a bunch of cute, crazy kidlings who will give me much fodder. And, who knows, maybe someday they'll thank me for documenting their childhood. (Older children of mine, sorry 'bout your luck. I'll try to post a few cute memories.)

Guess I should introduce you to the crew. To make the story short, I met my husband at 22 and married him after 10 weeks of dating. In our Associate Pastor's living room. On a Tuesday. Very romantic. Highly recommend it, actually. The honeymoon got off to a chilly start when I found myself, the very next morning standing on a slab of ice, in the dark with my two new stepsons, awaiting their schoolbus. Yep. Turns out no one thought to offer to take his (our) three children overnight on the night we got married. They were all that shocked. (For the record, less than a year later the Associate Pastor's wife said to me, "This has turned out better than anyone thought it would!" Then she realized what she'd said and looked HORRIFIED. I just laughed. Still makes me chuckle.)

I was 23 when I became a wife and stepmom to "Football", "Photo", and "Pixie-girl." And also 23 when, 40 and 1/2 weeks after the wedding, I gave birth to my first son. (We'll call him Billy-Bob.) 15 months after B.B. 'Belle' arrived (and the "Now you have a boy and a girl and you can stop" comments began. Yeah, because that's 'perfect' right? And that's what I'm going for, perfection. Um, no, not so much.) 17 months later, another son joined the pack, "Gil." And my thyroid died. Gil was followed by "Little-Louie" 2 1/2 years later and finally "The Bear." The Bear is now 19 months old and my husband says he's done. And, actually, so am I. A little. Some days. {{sigh}} Is it possible to be addicted to new babies? Because I might be. But not as much as the Duggers. The crew currently range in age from 21 y.o. to 19 months.

This past December (take note, don't let your children get married in December. First of all, it blows a family's budget all to heck. Second of all, it's cold and gets dark too quickly to get outdoor pictures) our family added another child when "Football" married a sweet, adorable girl. "Little Red-Haired Girl" is only 18. And, yes, they've heard the statistics. And, yes, they know they're really young. And so do I. But they are a level-headed, future-thinking pair. In fact, the pastor who married them mentioned their maturity during the ceremony. So now the pair is living cozily in our guest room while home loan matters get worked out. Yeah. But I actually enjoy having them here. Really. And when they move out, though I'll be happy they're finally going to have their own home, I will miss them.

Anyhow, welcome to my crazy world! I hope you find a bit of humor in my life. I sure do. It's either that or a straitjacket.