PSA: There are Some Problems Even Mama Can’t Solve

garden

The cry comes in the middle of the night, in the deepest part of my rare third trimester pregnancy sleep (as it always does). Groggy and slightly irritated, I zombie walk into the kids’ room, not knowing which kid is upset. Owen is sound asleep; I cover him with his blanket on my way to Addie. I sit on the edge of her bed, move the pillow covering most of her head, and push a chunk of sweaty hair out of her face.

She rolls toward me, eyes barely open, and reveals her sorrows in wails. Awakened from a dream, she mourns the loss of a ladybug once grasped in her little palm.

“I’ll never find a ladybug again!”

The source of the dream: an afternoon spent digging in the backyard garden bed, recently abandoned until next spring, and hunting under rocks for bugs. My irritation fades and my heart clicks with the genuine sorrow in hers.  I search for a way to tell her she is just reliving her day without diminishing the real weight of her emotions.

“Your beautiful imagination gives you such big dreams. It’s hard to have a bad dream when it feels so real.”

I help her get comfortable again; what a disaster she is in sleep. Most nights I find her hanging off the edge of the bed, with blankets and pillows in mounds. Her stuffed animals are tossed aside in favor of armfuls of Kleenex and the nighttime water bottle that lives on the shelf above her head. I reposition limbs, blankets, garbage, and loveys.  Since she was a newborn, she has slept with arms and legs outstretched – body and heart open to the world. No wonder she feels so much hurt when her dream ladybug disappears.

After a moment, she opens her eyes and I hand her a stuffed ladybug: “Look, you found one already!” Skeptical, she holds it for less than a second before chucking it. My first attempt at righting the wrongs of dreamland has failed.

I try again, stroking her hair softly: “Close your eyes and think about ladybugs flying around you, red ladybugs crawling on the green grass, sweet ladybugs landing in your hands.”

She turns back to me, locks my eyes in hers, and exorcist style grunts. “I want to smash the ladybugs”. Then she rolls away from me again, and drops back into solid sleep.

Bewildered and slightly concerned about the real ladybugs in her future, I leave the room. I have dug deep on this one (for the middle of the night, especially) and come up without a fix or an understanding of what she wants.

•••••

It happens on occasion – usually when I’m feeling a little overconfident in my maternal capability – that an issue arises for which I have no immediate or ongoing solution. No matter how deep I dig into my Mary Poppins carpetbag full of parental tricks, I come up short. There are some problems that even moms can’t solve.

I can’t fix it if the kids each insist on singing different versions of The Wheels on the Bus simultaneously, but fuss about the other one singing.

Repairing broken granola bars is out of my wheelhouse. (“If you eat both pieces, they will go back together in your tummy!” is a common phrase in our house).

I can’t get Owen five hours away to visit Grammy, even when he spends a full twelve hours in a meltdown over wanting to, out of nowhere.

When too much glue leads to a rip in the construction paper jack o’ lantern face, I can suggest covering it with the mouth. I can offer empathy, or a do over. But I cannot bend the laws of physics and unrip the paper.

When Owen refuses to participate in an obstacle course at soccer, no matter how cool he thinks it is, and then cries that he missed out, I don’t have a fix. I can only offer a consoling snuggle as we watch from the bench.

 When Addie still hasn’t put on her underwear after half an hour of warnings that the pizza will be delivered soon, and then cannot be the one to answer the door (because c’mon – we have some decency left), I can’t solve the problem she has created. I can’t deescalate her meltdown or keep it from spiraling into ruining the whole evening, no matter how many ways I suggest to move on.

As much as I want them to believe in the all-powerful nature of their Mama, I cannot literally make the sun rise or the rain stop falling to suit our desires.  

•••••

The reality is some things are beyond the scope of my control. And isn’t there a lesson in that somewhere? It hurts me when they hurt, but accepting the flow of the universe is a must for survival and happiness. Things will come up when we are apart; unexpected transitions at school will throw Addie, and Owen may need something only I understand when he is at Mimi’s house. ALL of the issues created out of their own willingness to participate or cooperate are sometimes better left as teachable moments (right???).

As they grow older, and life changes, we all have to reconcile new challenges. Hopefully this Mama’s continued snuggles, love, and middle of the night presence will solve some of the problems – ladybug dreams and beyond.

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Fallish

The change in season is palpable from my chair in the front yard. The heat of late summer is (mostly) behind us, the endlessly lit evenings have passed, and daylight savings ends in a few short weeks. Fall is here, and my whole body relaxes into it, while the kids soak up the last of the sunny, late afternoons.

It is still warm enough that the kids are in tee shirts. Owen is practicing soccer: kicking the ball into the goal, rolling it back and forth under his five inch foot, and throwing it up as high as he can into the sky (“Now clap!”). That last move may not be part of the World Cup practice drills, but it is helping to release his restless energy.

Addie looks wild, in unicorn pants that would stay up better if not for the too small, star “leg warmers” bunched around her ankles. We have yet another talk about the leg warmers (which are sized for babies but have been unsuccessfully removed from her drawer countless times since she, in fact, stopped being a baby). I remind her how tight they are, that we should find her new leg warmers and pass those down to baby sister. The kid fears change though, so a meltdown begins, and I let it go again. Who has the energy to provoke a preschooler at five pm? It’s never worth it.

I sip on iced tea (one of the few beverages that doesn’t give me debilitating heartburn), but in a month or less it will be replaced by a hot beverage. A little warmth of the day lingers in the air. Not the blazing summer heat but a gentle glow that never gets oppressive, loses its luster in the slightest of shade or breeze, and dies out with sunset. I breathe in the mild air and sigh it out of my cramped-by-baby lungs.

The kids start a new project: something involving piles of wood and gravel leftover from the summer’s yard remodel. I sit in a broken glider chair, recently relocated outside to make room for its replacement. I find it hard to let go of this chair – a gift from my grandmother during my first pregnancy. I nursed each of my babies in it (the spit up stains deep in the crevices serve as a reminder). In the last year, they have flung it wildly backward to the point where it no longer sits straight, and bent an arm so far to the side that it’s roomy enough for us all now. The glide has been replaced by broken clunks, and the footstool died months ago. Not everything can last through all three babies, I guess, but I’ll cling to this one until the rains hit.

Rousing myself from memories, I realize evening is almost upon us and this late afternoon peace is fading. The light shifts to an impending sunset. The breeze picks up to a cool, fall pace. The kids shift into witching hour mode and there are all the fires to put out: fights over bubbles, dog toys, chalk, and space. Issues over a bike not to ride on the new lawn, a piece of wood unsafe to fling around in battle, and flowers not to be picked, push us toward the warm living room. I have skinned knees to kiss, dinner in the oven to check, big feelings and problems to talk through, and I need to pee (obviously).

The moment was nice to savor, though – taking notice of fall finally feeling like it. Some days are so full of heavy, serious issues. Busy, mundane weeks can fly by without the time to contemplate the way I feel about anything, in any moment. I often have no energy for reflection, passing out from exhaustion the second the kids fall asleep.

Amidst all the hustle and bustle, the focus on kids, pregnancy, and the daily grind, I’ll take a little gratitude in something so simple as the time passing into my favorite season.

 

 

It’s Owen’s Turn

When it’s pancake breakfast day at the 4 year old’s preschool, there is no getting around taking the 2 year old out for a pancake breakfast of his own. And who am I really kidding: I am not one to turn down second breakfast (or any other meal). So along with the hullabaloo of Addie going to school in pajamas, with her teddy bear, to eat pancakes with her school friends, Owen and I had to plan our own brunch date.

It was the last thing they both talked about the night before, and the first thing that morning. While the excitement was not quite enough to curb the getting ready for the day fussfest, it eased it a bit. After Addie was settled at school, Owen and I started off on our morning: soccer, pancakes, and then a run to Trader Joe’s.

It was all talk of pancakes for the first hour or so, and airplanes, since our favorite breakfast spot (Two Niner Diner) is by the airport. Somehwere along the way, the Trader Joe’s stop began to compete for his enthusiasm. Over SOCCER and PANCAKES.

His reasoning: “It’s my turn.” With the boss big sis at school, it was finally his turn to push the pint-sized, kids’ shopping cart. It sums up his whole attitude about this phase of daily life; it’s Owen’s turn. These days are (finally and temporarily) the days of Owen and Mama. And they are amazing.

Owen 4

My little shadow runs rights along next to me as we get things done, sits with a little hand on my leg at doctor’s appointments, helps with Penny Dog at the vet, and thanks me for taking him to the library for toddler story time. When he wakes from nap he runs out of his room to be greeted by me and only me. We take all the time we want to snuggle, build block towers, read books, and talk. I honestly don’t know which of us is enjoying it more. He is fully embracing the attention and freedom, while I am luxuriating in this one and only chunk of time with just one kid (basically a vacation).

Owen 3

Every moment is beautiful and magical … except the ones that are not at all.

At two and a half, Owen now spends large amounts of the day throwing himself screaming to the ground. He whines a lot. I mean, a lot. He pushes, hits, and throws things. He protests, and insists on independence in the most inconvenient of times. Some days I drown in a barrage of needs, inconsolable moods, and tantrums.

Some of his meltdowns, so far from anything rational, are surely a joke – a parody of himself. We decide one day on a lunch stop for bagels (I seriously never turn down food), and he asks, “is there milk at bagel shop?” My answer, while seemingly reasonable, was clearly not. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen milk there, bud.”

He catches and clings to the tiny, semantic, implication in that “pretty sure”. “I want milk with bagel! Bagel shop don’t have milks!!!” Throughout the entire drive across town he wails, mourning the milk that he has convinced himself he will not get. No matter how many times I reassure him that they will have it, he can’t let it go.

When we get to the bagel shop, of course, there is milk, but the little stinker steals my orange juice instead. His big feelings of grief are suddenly replaced by joy and mischief.

Owen 1

As taxing as it all is, I’m glad to have this one on one time to help him through the perils of being two. I can protect our future emotional selves by getting down to his level, helping him name his big feelings, offering some empathy, and taking as long as he needs to get to a solution/distraction/reconciliation.

Most days are on the sunny and fun side, despite being filled with huge struggles and/or overwhelming joy. We have plenty of minor issues and blissful connection through simple grins, giggles, and snuggles. We have daily battles over holding hands in the parking lot, me being allowed to go use a bathroom (all the time, thanks third pregnancy), or wear a hair tie. We have glorious bike rides, read endless Curious George stories, and bond over building “big, huge [Lego] trucks”.

Most importantly, I have a stellar eating buddy (until this baby gets so big that I have no room for food any more).

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Is It Bedtime Yet?

“Life is filled with sunshine and rain. Some days are fancy and others are plain.” – Remember Forever, Rainstorm Publishing

And some days – like Tuesdays – are very, very long. With a mix of sunshiny joy, rainy tears, stormy tantrums, bright blue skies and eyes, foggy pregnancy brain, and everything in between.

Tuesdays are my least and most favorite days right now. Addie is home from preschool. Kevin is gone from long before the kids wake up to after they go to bed. It’s just the three of us (and Penny Dog) to fill the day which, right now, takes every minute of my focus and energy. We have little independent play, frequent cries of boredom, and much fighting. It’s utterly exhausting.

At the same time, I am relishing my two big kids before baby sister arrives, enjoying how capable and fun they are, and being constantly wowed by their interests and achievements. By this time next year, Addie will be in full time school, Owen in preschool, and I will be back to baby business.

I try to cherish every moment, like I am supposed to be doing, but in reality I’ll settle for enjoying some and surviving others. Here is how we fill an average Tuesday.

 

First thing: scooter ride, dog walk, Mama-sore-hips-stretching walk, playground. Exercise and fresh air for all.

Cheese Meltdown

Back at home, we had a string of five back to back meltdowns within the span of ten minutes. A fight over who got to sweep which outdoor table; a little brother destroying preschool artwork (fixable); tears over sweatshirts; screams for treats; a piece of cheese that broke and will never be whole again. Tragedies, all of them, resulting in tears (from all of us).

 

Luckily, I had some preplanned activities for the day/week (a must right now, although they sometimes fail to even launch). After everyone recovered and snacked, a little structured creativity was a good breather. This one was a hit: Disappearing Letters.*

11 am when we wrapped up  – only 7.5 hours until bedtime. They begged to watch their current favorite movie, Sing, so we made it special by eating lunch in the living room (a rare treat from this clean freak Mama). Anything different from routine can go two ways: total disaster or fresh and exciting. Maybe because food and screen time were combined, maybe they were getting tired, or maybe I just got lucky, but this was a solid hour and a half of quiet time. Plus Owen was fed and sleepy at nap time on the dot.

 

Lunch.jpg

While the young monster napped, the older beast had be restrained for quiet time. Since dropping her nap over the summer, this is often a battle. But some golden days – like this one – it becomes an opportunity for sweet together time, side by side downtime, or a combination of the two. **

By the after nap portion of these kinds of days (okay, of every day) I am seriously wiped out. Today required an afternoon outing, somewhere that the kids could run wild and I could sit and watch, conserving energy for the evening hustle, intervening only when needed. One of our new favorite spots for this is an indoor kids’ play space in town, called Time Out.*** After a hour and a half here, they were sufficiently beat, and it was technically late enough to start dinner.

Dinner … I have learned my lesson about making a “real” dinner on the nights that Kevin is not home to eat with us. It’s kid food all the way. For a final, fun, activity, I put them to work on their own mini pizzas on english muffins. Classic kid dinner.

Dinner

Eyelids and spirits were drooping fast at the dinner table. Tuesdays are a firm no bath night. Neither kid had the energy to protest getting wiped down, putting on pajamas, and only getting one book each before lights out.

At the end of it all, I am about to fall over from exhaustion – physical, mental, and emotional. My back is shot, my belly has been one solid Braxton Hicks contraction since 2 pm, I am craving silence and stillness, and have no energy to face the regular chores. But, while brushing her teeth, Addie reached out to give me a hug, saying “Thanks for the nice day, Mama”. And, on his eighth time out of bed to go pee, Owen said “That was fun make pizza, Mom, and watch Sing, and go Time Out, and scooter ride.” Their little faces and words of gratitude make it all worth it.

Signing off now for a giant piece of pie and the season premiere of This Is Us (if I can stay awake for it). Nighty fucking night. May everyone stay in their own beds until sunrise.

*https://www.notimeforflashcards.com/2012/11/disappearing-letters-alphabet-for-starters-activity.html

** Fall counting worksheet and matching/memory games from: https://www.giftofcuriosity.com. This site is awesome – tons of free printable and activities, and a $10 credit to buy others when you subscribe by email. They’re not paying me to say this or anything, I just love when I come across a good resource for keeping the mini beasts entertained and learning.

*** http://timeoutnplay.com I promise, they’re not paying me either. No one is paying me, actually. No one at all.

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The Only Things to Hold Onto at the End of the Day

Friday afternoon, 4 pm, at my house is predictably chaotic. This has been a particularly brutal week, and it’s still a long-ass time until dinner. It is my last day of babysitting, and Addie has just gotten home from school, so everyone is underfoot. One kid is overtired and on day five of the constant unhappiness in the life of a four year old (“I don’t like how my life has turned out!”). The other kid, lacking in physical activity for the day, is running wild laps and jumping off the couch (standard issue two year old crazies). I am getting worn out from the baby’s game of pulling up to stand on my legs, swaying unsteadily with wild eyes and arms for 1-2 minutes, and then crashing into my massively pregnant belly, laughing like a tiny psycho. Addie and Owen are making up for the time they spent apart by cramming all of the screaming and hitting they can into each second.

I am suddenly saved by my handsome husband getting home from work. He is exhausted –meetings and back to school night this week have left him fried. Maybe it’s because of this that Owen quickly talks him into a scooter ride. With the dog.

So that’s one tiny human and a dog occupied, out of my line of sight.

My little sprite, Addie, needs some downtime to unwind from the work of preschool and gear up for the evening (including having family friends over for a pizza party). I toss out my first suggestion for a quiet activity, bracing for the usual battle: me offering six to ten choices, her screaming at the ludicrousness of each one, and then an argument in which she says “I never have anything to do. Life is so boring.” and I say “We can throw out all the toys then! You can just sit in silence.”

This day, though, the occasionally reasonable side she has developed since turning four kicks in, and the fight never happens. I say “Sweetie, why don’t you take some time to relax in your room. Please go sit down quietly and read all of your new library books.” She says (drumroll please) “Okay Mommy”. What just happened? Never mind, don’t question it.

And then she does it; she walks into her room without whining, growling, or stomping, and is silent (save for a little rustling of paper).

That makes two small people, and the dog, out of my personal space.

Post 2

Jacob gets a bottle and a snuggle. I get as deep of a breath as the baby pushing on my diaphragm from the inside will allow. We may survive the witching hour.

My amazing little book lover stays in her room quietly for a full twenty minutes. She emerges with calm, renewed energy that shows in her smile and lack of screaming or flailing. She sits next to me on the floor and hugs Jacob, asking again “Is this our last day babysitting? Will we still get to see him?” Yes it is, but of course we will. Answers which previously caused her to melt down in tears and anger make her hug him a little tighter, telling him what a sweet and clever baby he is.

I ask how quiet reading time was and she says (I don’t even need to embellish here – I swear – because the phrases are now engrained in my memory forever): “Mommy, there are two books that you picked that we read before, and I love them so much. Thank you Mommy, for picking such good books. You’re the best Mommy.”

It’s a fleeting moment of peace, wrapped in a feeling of relief, and rolled into a four year old who is turning out to be more perfect all the time.

I offer to read her the two she loves so much, and she leaps at the chance. She snuggles next to me on the floor, with her funny way of wrapping her little arm around my shoulders, as though she is the adult. We read Poppleton in Fall, and PJ FunnyBunny Camps Out. Jacob starts his wild standing and flopping game again, and we laugh. The guys and the pup get home.

Chaos resumes and grows as our friends arrive. The house is full of wild kid noises, pizza and countless interrupted adult conversations until the evening ends and we ruin the tiny humans’ lives by making them say goodbye to each other. Kevin and I have a quick bedtime strategy conference: definitely no baths, just wipe them down; which one do you want?; what kind of bribe can we offer for cooperation?  We do the bare minimum, roll them into bed, make the rare decision to leave the house messy, and drag our tired old selves to the TV.

These are the things (the only things) to hold onto from today. The beauty in all that chaos; the fact that we survived another week; that calm moment when I soaked in my girl with pride; the last day with Jacob going smoothly and culminating in a perfectly crazy dinner with both of our families; the quiet after the storm and the short chunk of time with my husband before another wild day begins.

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Rylant, Cynthis. Poppleton in Fall. The Blue Sky Press, 1999.

Sadler, Marilyn. P.J. Funnybunny Camps Out. Random House, 1993.

You Can Mom Your Own Way*

A stranger, a checker, eyes my belly and says “I’m guessing you’re 8 months?” He smiles kindly enough as he bags my kids’ cold medicine and disinfecting wipes. I have an impulse to correct him (more like 6) and offer an explanation (it’s my third). Instead I give a raised eyebrow and tight-lipped smile, waiting until I walk away to roll my eyes.

I mean, it’s only the tenth time this week, only the thousandth time since my first pregnancy, that someone has interjected an assumption, a misjudgment, or personal inquiry. Why did this stranger, and so many others, feel entitled to information about my life? Only in pregnancy, and parenting, is this paradigm so widely accepted.

Why is it that pregnancy and parenting seem to be public business? Is it human nature? Caring interest? Some instinctual curiosity to compare lives, reminisce, or project onto our own? My size during pregnancy (and everything I ingest, take part in or sit out, and my general attitude) is only the beginning.  I know people mean well (and if they don’t I pretend it, to curb my anger). Either way, it isn’t the nosiness that I mind.

My problem is with the widespread, mistaken belief that personal parenting choices are up for public debate. I take issue with the follow-ups to innocent questions that convey: you should never; I always; you have no idea what you’re doing, so let me tell you, as an expert on your life, stranger.

Without realizing it, I fell a few times into the trap of buying that bullshit. Giving out answers I didn’t really want to discuss, listening to advice I didn’t ask for, and questioning my decisions based on someone else’s ideas.

Although I have never cared much what others think (no secret where Addie gets it), I sometimes get caught off guard by a judgmental busybody. The trick for me is to remember that I can only Mom the way I Mom, to my actual children I. If I got sucked into worry over everything anyone may think I’m doing wrong … well, I would never have time to do any actual parenting. I would be forever in the corner banging my head against the wall.

I couldn’t please everyone even if I wanted to try, and the issues up for debate are endless. In my effort to remain uneffected by outside opinions, I have also learned that I am pretty neutral to how anyone else parents.

Please, by all means, you do you, and let me do the same.

I had one baby with an epidural and one without. I strongly preferred the birth without it, but I have zero preference on how any other baby comes into the world.

Both of my babies breastfed, but I was never in love with it and stopped right at one year. When I see older babies nursing, it looks beautiful. When I see a baby chugging a bottle: adorable. When I see a baby who looks hungry and a mom who looks flustered, I don’t pretend to know all of what’s going on in their moment.

Ideals change along the way too – I have found myself on the flip side of my own philosophies a few times.

I’m strict about sleep habits, family dinners, clean hands and feet, manners, and a tidy house. I’m probably a little too loose about sugar, screen time, and a clothing optional home life.

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One in pants, one in a shirt … at least they have a full outfit between them.

Pre-motherhood, I never thought I would buy  “kid” foods, like GoGurts (not that I thought about it much), but they are in my refrigerator at this moment. I also make homemade yogurt, but sometimes it’s GoGurts. So let me be the first to say: I don’t care what kind of yogurt you feed your kids, or if you do at all. I don’t actually care what or how you feed your kids.

I no longer scold my children in public; all it accomplishes is riling all of us up further. That’s not to say I don’t work on behavior, I just try alternatives: discussing it privately later, and lots of preplanning (bribes) for when beasts appear in place of my humans. But public threats, strained reprimands, issuing of consequences … they don’t work for us. It was when I realized I was scolding mainly to please onlookers, in defense of my parenting and in attempt to show faux control, that I let that shit go.

This is all different than giving zero fucks about anyone else or their choices. It fascinates me – the variants, options, and wide-open spaces that allow so many ways to parent. I give all the fucks about it.

I just respect and assume that everyone chooses what works best for the actual humans they raise, and for themselves.

It used to get under my skin, the unnecessary and unhelpful judgment. Okay it still does at times, because I’m so irritable and easily set off. But I smile and nod, shrug it off. And I hope to remember not to do the same when I get past these wild years and feel the urge to pass my reflections on to strangers in parking lots.

For now, I will do my best to Mom my own way, and remember that my fellow parents are doing the same. All the kids will be screwed up anyway (half-kidding).

*Or Dad your own way. Or grandparent, or foster; there are a million wonderful people who raise beastly little children in a million ways. I just happen to be a Mom, so I write as one.

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ALL the Drama

Addie emerges from the kids’ bedroom, where she has been cooling off from a howling, sobbing tantrum over my “ruining her life” by not letting her run into traffic when we left the park. I catch a glimpse of her creeping silently (should have been a clue) down the hallway into the kitchen. The next thing I know, she and Owen are laughing maniacally as they spit milk into a metal colander. Turns out Addie has been doing this in her room, and then trying to lap up the milk like a cat, as evidenced by the giant milk puddle on her chair and the trail of droplets on the carpet.

The spitting out of beverages into bowls has been a separate, ongoing issue (gross little humans) so they are given immediate consequences (time out for O, cleaning up the mess for A). Owen, only a minor accomplice, recovers quickly. But Addie, whose master plan has been thwarted by her stick-in-the-mud parents, launches into a full meltdown. Eventually she stops shrieking long enough to reveal her explanation.

One hand raised, moving up and down for emphasis on every other word, face blotchy and red with tears and voice shaky, she offers up the following. “But MOM, when I was in your TUMMY, I SHOULD have been born a KITTEN!”

I mean, how can I really dish out a punishment for that flawless logic? If you were meant to be born a cat, you must lap up milk with your ill-equipped human tongue; even better if it has been spit from your mouth into a leaking vessel.

Meanwhile, back in the land of the 2 year old, I hear for the millionth time, “MOMMY! Fix this.” Owen holds up a piece of his garbage truck that has broken off, been glued back and breaks off again on the daily. With every second it takes me to assure that his sister and my babysitting charge are both out of imminent danger and walk toward him to “fix” it, his wailing frustration builds. If the garbage truck is not put back together in whatever he deems an acceptable amount of time, he is full blown kicking, screaming, and crying on the floor. Only to tear the damn piece off again minutes later.

This is what we are dealing with over here, folks: ALL the drama.

We have 2-year old drama, 4-year old drama, and pregnancy drama.

Our trinity of tempers creates daily clashes of moods and hormones. Combined, we have ALL the overreacting.

Addie throws herself on the ground upon being told to wait just a minute before I can turn on an episode of Super Why. “I will NEVER do anything else and I will NEVER be happy!”

I lose my patience with Owen when he refuses to try to get himself down from the toilet or pull up his own pants. It hurts my back and crunches my pregnant belly to bend, squat, or reach down to do it all day long, but only one of us can act like a stubborn toddler (me: it should clearly be me).

One kid demands PB&J, the other cream cheese and salami, for lunch. I demand to only make one sandwich a day, considering I spend an absurd amount of time making food. The result is that every lunch is a battle and at least two of the three of us (always including me) loses.

Not a one of us knows what to do with the afternoons. No one has the same energy level, no one wants to be bored or entertain themselves or others, and we just cannot see eye to eye on park or no park, art project or play outside or any other question that leads us toward survival until Kevin gets home.

Addie wakes up in the middle of the night, comes charging into our room, flings herself on the bed, and wails: “my voice doesn’t sound like it usually does”. How do I begin to unpack that one? I have zero ideas what the actual fuck she is crying about. And then I cry a little, because it’s the tenth time one of them has woken me up on this particular night, and I have a cold. Waaaahhhh.

We are a trifecta of tantrums, a family of fussiness, a collective hot mess of meltdowns.

As much as we sometimes fuel each other’s fires, going through these dramatic phases together has some advantages (poor Kevin, though). It forces us all to have a little more empathy and go easy on each other, to spend quality time being grumpy together, and to get a bunch of issues out of the way simultaneously. Just like when a cold passes though the household: it seems harder for everyone to get it at once, but can actually be worse when we get it one at a time and end up with at least one person suffering for weeks.

Until it all passes, my solution to the daily triple breakdowns is the same as it has been since having a second kid: whoever is the most upset gets comforted first. These days, that is true even if I take a moment to console myself with a mental reminder that fleeing my house and hopping on a plane to anywhere-but-here is not a realistic option. Not today, at least.

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