Hey, I’ll Give You a Sticker!

So, we’ve enacted Reward Chart Protocol at Camp Bernaba. We were giving out stickers before, but found the preferred place to stick them turned out to be the bag of wipes, where they were quickly forgotten, and then thrown away.

I’ve offered every child in this house stickers, for doing everything from helping mommy to using the potty. I picked up construction-equipment stickers, 3D Cars stickers, Mickey stickers, Minnie stickers, ‘Great Job!” stickers, and silver-foiled monster truck stickers.

You’d think, with the preponderance of good behavior and the obvious surplus of stickers here, that our house would be plastered floor-to-ceiling, and my children would be making their own beds, sweeping the floors, and cooking their own meals by now.

Alas, this is not the case.

I created our first sticker charts on Sunday. As yet, Matthew’s has five stickers on it: two for brushing teeth, one for using the potty, and two for helping Mommy prepare breakfast. Not bad. Unless you start counting the five I owe him from last week, the two I promised Maggie for “being a good girl and playing with your brothers”, and the one Michael is owed for using the potty last week.

I’m bad at stickers and they’re bad at both guaranteeing themselves stickers and holding me to my lavish and empty sticker promises.

Sure, I’ve made offers. They’ve accepted. And I’ve tried my hardest to remember to hand out stickers in a timely and appropriate manner. They’ve also accepted and not come through, accepted and only partially completed the required task, and accepted, but completed a completely different tasks. So, who’s the slouch here?

I’m going to break it down for you, kids. Bribery doesn’t work. This is something I’ve known, but I needed  a way to manage three growing, independent little people, and decided to give this route a shot.

And we were holding this ship together quite well until I brought Matthew to check out the preschool. We came home. We talked about it. He was very excited about attending. Yet, he’s irresistibly fought me on most responsibilities since that very day.  Is it too much pressure? Is he not ready? I haven’t gotten to the bottom of that yet. But every victory is hard-won, and my teeth and nails have seen better days.

Sure, he enjoys receiving and placing the stickers, but this protocol does not appear to be guiding his behavior in any meaningful way. Is this working for Matthew? I honestly don’t know.

What I do know is this bloody house should be literally covered in stickers by now, but it’s not. They behave as much as one would reasonably expect a three-year-old and two two-year-olds to behave. They’re quick. They’ve found ways to help Mom and Dad. But I need to encourage this behavior to continue. And flourish.

Do I continue along this imperceptibly successful road hoping the practice gets permanent traction? Do I give up on the stickers entirely and move on to something else? Do I focus on modeling, so they can simply follow along?

Stick around.

Hopefully, I’ll find the answer.

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Dove, You’re the Only One Who Understands Me

The moment I stepped into the kitchen at the ungodly hour of 6:30 this morning, I knew it was going to be a bad day. I’d had the children from 6am to 6pm for the past three days. My mother visited last night and decided to lighten the load somewhat by taking Matthew overnight, so he was not here.

Matthew is rarely a problem, though. Maggie is generally the problem. All the time. Some days, I wonder why we didn’t name her Shiva or Medusa or The Kraken. I’ve even considered legally changing it.

She’s always had a bit of an issue in the listening department, which I blame on her thick head,  but, luckily for me, once she hit two, the problem amplified. The word ‘no’ falls on completely deaf ears nine times out of ten. Where my sons will flinch and back away, she forges ahead with the heartiness of a viking.

She’s been climbing over the child gates since she was about fourteen months old. She’s since graduated to opening the gate, leaving the family room, and closing it behind her. There is no man-made device that can contain her.

It goes without saying that when Maggie’s home, I’m stressed. My limit of whole days I can spend alone with the kids is usually three. On average, it takes me three days to become a frightening combination of homicidal and suicidal. And most of my family knows this.

When Maggie started hurdle practice, at 6:48am, I knew I was in trouble – physically, mentally, and emotionally.

As I attempted to prepare breakfast and found none of the babies’ cups or trays washed, lying dirty, smelling like chow mein noodles, in the dishwasher, I realized today was going to be rough.

Now, before you go emailing Supernanny, we generally have the rest of the house under some semblance of control. We have two Time Out spots in the kitchen, and a special Naughty Spot for Maggie. Each child gets a Time Out in length appropriate to his or her age, and we do a lot of praising desirable behaviors and ignoring negative ones. That said, my sons are so good. They caught on quickly: Don’t piss Mommy off, a lesson one should learn early on. Matthew tests, but, with some prodding, eventually heeds our directives.

Maggie – dear, sweet, wretched Maggie – never got the memo. So much so that I question whether there’s some sort of disconnect occurring in her synapses. Professionals tell me how bright and normal and personable she is, though. So, I stand alone, much as The Cheese stands alone. I am the cheese.

My mother, I suspect, volunteered yesterday to host Matthew out of fear of having to take Maggie instead. Maggie runs everyone ragged – ragged, threadbare, and searching for an illicit substance to ingest. Most can only take her in small doses.

“But she’s so cute…” strangers say.

Whatever.

I spent the greater part of today relocating her, returning her from whence she came, and removing her from dangerous circumstances, to the detriment of cooking, cleaning, and showering. By naptime, I was more than ready to go to commercial break. When I put them down at eleven, I thought it would take the obligatory fifteen minutes to settle down until I would be able to bathe, and, perhaps, think. I was wrong.

After a two-and-a-half hour battle, Michael emerged with barely an hour’s nap and Maggie had not slept for one single, solitary second.

After the nap from hell (during which I showered anyway, because I had to), I called my mother, tried to reason with her.

“Can I trade with you? I’ll take Matthew and you take Maggie? I’ll drop her off and pick him up,” I pleaded.

“Don’t do that to me,” she said.

After a few choice words, some of which may have been said out loud, I resigned myself to the fact that I would be stuck, for the third set of twelve hours, once again.

I texted my husband, warning that this had become one of the more difficult days in recent memory, that I hadn’t even begun to think about dinner, and I suggested strongly that he leave work on time.

Several more hours dragged by, and I noticed it was five o’clock. I called my husband. His shift ended at four. No answer. That’s the tell he’s still at work. He called me back a minute later, when, with a heavy sigh, I purged all my emotions from the day.

“Well, I just have to transfer this lady…” he said, sheepishly.

“What?! You haven’t left work yet?! Are you kidding me?! I told you hours ago I was having one of the worst days I’ve had with these kids, and you’re still at work?? Fine! Have a nice day,” I spat and hung up.

He texted about five minutes later to tell me he was leaving.

I put dinner together for the kids and myself, and brought them to the table. We had Chinese takeout the night before, and about half of the kids’ lo mein was left over. I chopped the noodles into manageable bits and filled their bowls.

About five minutes into dinner, the twins started grabbing and squeezing handfuls of noodles, in a manner not so different from the Play-Doh hair salon. Good, I thought to myself, yuk it up. Daddy’s on his way.

They ate, or some permutation thereof, until I heard the garage door opening.

“Daddy!” yelled the twins.

He walked in, keys in hand. I rose from my chair slowly and said, “I’m going to sit outside, right there, by myself,” pointing to the front of the house, “and then I’m going in there to write something. Have fun.” And I walked away. Maggie had a shred of cabbage hanging from her ear, Michael had julienned carrot sitting pristinely atop his head, and the floor – well, I should have taken a picture of the floor.

Dove Promises me things

I caught a few minutes of sanity outside before returning to the house, into the office, but not before stopping in the kitchen for two dark chocolate Dove Promises.

“After they go to bed, I have some paperwork to finish,” my husband began.

“I don’t care,” I said, as I walked away.

About five minutes later, he moseyed on into the office to regale me with an always-hilarious anecdote from work.

“Want to hear about why…” he started, dish towel in his hand.

“No,” I said, looking down at the keyboard.

And he started his story.

“I said no. Didn’t you hear me? I don’t want to hear it.”

“Yeah, but, this is funny,” he continued.

“No,” I repeated. “I don’t want to hear your story.”

I wasn’t mad at him. I was just mad. Like a kettle about to whistle. Like a pressure cooker over a high flame. I needed away. From everyone.

Disheartened, he walked out.

I unwrapped one of my Doves, and looked down at the inside of the wrapper.

‘Take a moment for yourself’, it whispered.

Why, thank you, Dove. Don’t mind if I do.

Think I’ll take a few.

The Times, They Are a-Changin’

Before you get too excited, I’m not a Dylan fan. I just need to throw that out there before the Official Bob Dylan Fan Club starts emailing me. In all honestly, I liken his voice to what I imagine a possum would sound like after it’s been hit and run by a car.

That said, our lives sure have been changing.

Matthew is rolling right along with his potty training, collecting stickers and praise from everyone in his life. I am pleased.

I looked into a preschool for him, at the recommendation of a very old (and very good) friend, and, I’m embarrassed to say I think I like it. When and if I pull the trigger, he’ll start in the fall. With this (potential) decision will come logistical issues we’ll need to work out, and a figurative, if not literal, leap of faith by Yours Truly.

The school is very parent participation-oriented, an aspect about which I may be both excited and terrified. Among the activities in which parents are expected to participate is Snack. So I’d be the Snack Mom every so often, which conjures images of frantic trips to the 24-hour Wal*Mart to find gluten-, nut-, dairy-,  and shellfish-free snacks. I’d be lying if I said I was looking forward to that.

The school also provides field trips and welcomes special guests, two activities for which I imagine Matthew would be absolutely out of his mind. I don’t enjoy the potential complications for me, but I also feel I can’t rob him of what I assume would be really great times for him. Hmph. Parenthood.

The most significant change that’s taken place, however, over the past month or so, has been that my daughter has begun sleeping alone and through the night. I knew it would only take a few years.

After a few miserable, sleepless nights, and a few naptimes during which either my husband or I was entrusted with the duty of  ‘standing guard’, we finally and permanently got the job done. The large-scale implication of my daughter sleeping like a normal person is that we get more sleep, and, in turn have more time (and energy).

And the large-scale implication of that is my husband and I have been able to accomplish a lot more at home.

And the large-scale implication of that… I’m just kidding. I just wanted to feel what it’s like to be a Russian Nesting doll.

Never mind that.

My husband and I have graduated to Phase II of the Deluxe DIY Home Renovation, which is proceeding decidedly more smoothly than Phase I. We’ve replaced a few appliances (one out of necessity, the other out of being disgusting), painted a few rooms, and have a few more items to tackle. In the process, we’ve made it our mission to wipe away all of the builder-grade beige from this house. How do you live in a house for twelve years and never change the wall color? Or anything? But, I digress.

Another favorable side effect of the more sleep/less chaos scenario is the fact that I’ve been able to shop for clothes, paint my nails (can you believe it?!), and care for my skin.

My new 47-step beauty routine seems to be working quite well. I haven’t had skin this blemish-free and even since high school. Which is fantastic, because I’ll be just in time for wrinkles. This little issue only took me sixteen years to resolve. I’m not bitter.

My husband and I have been out to dinner three times in two months, which is big. I am consistently able to maintain a moderate level of cleanliness in the house, and able to retreat in the evening without fearing cracking my knuckles or sighing too loudly. Good deal.

With all this overwhelmingly positive news, you may fear I’d gloss over the negative, but you know me, I’d never do that.

The negative? It feels like I just got my kids sleeping through the night (see what I did there?), and now we’re planning for one to go off to Big Boy School. And you know, they’re just going to go down like dominoes. One will be potty trained, and then the next two will be trained in rapid succession (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since we’ve spent roughly the GDP of Estonia on diapers), and when the twins see Matthew at school, of course they will want to attend as well.

When they say raising kids goes by fast, I didn’t realize they meant this fast. We’ll tackle this issue in a future therapy session.

So, though I may have a few pouty, pensive, whiny moments over this spring and summer, I’m looking forward to what fall has in store for us. And what the store will have for me in the fall.

True life is lived when tiny changes occur.
― Leo Tolstoy

Two and Three (and You and Me)

Matthew turned three last month. Since the very day he turned three, he’s been a little snot. Yep, I said it. A snot.

He now demonstrates defiance with a smirk and this blinking thing, that, without mincing words, drives me insane.

He’s also begun an all-out strike against sleeping in his room, or, more accurately, sleeping in general.

Naptime, when he doesn’t fall asleep, is difficult at best. He opens his bedroom door, his closet doors, and his blinds, bends down the adjustable lights on his lamp, and drags his heavy, wooden puzzle stool onto his bed. Oh, and then runs back and forth.

Michael, across the hall, has apparently caught the bug, too. He spends his naptime driving imaginary toy cars up and down the inside of his bedroom door. When I finally give in and open the door, he waves, “Hi, Mommy,” from the floor.

And Maggie? How do I say this? Maggie’s the only one taking a nap.

If you know Maggie at all, you know how bizarre that is. But if you really know Maggie, it makes perfect sense.  The nap gives her the extra edge to goad us to the border of psychosis in the middle of the night.

Mealtimes are festivals of flinging, diaper changes are Greco-Roman wrestling exhibitions, and buckling anyone into anything is damn near impossible.

The twins, painfully aware of one another’s existences now, are in perpetual battle for supremacy. If one hugs me, the other hugs me tighter. If one whines, “Mom,” the other whines, “Mommyyyyyyy,” longer and louder. If one kisses me, the other gives more tongue.

And when you throw the three-year-old into the mix, what with all his new food, beverage, and clothing aversions, you’ve got one hell of a party.

The previously complicit children are budding Hellions, and the original Hellion (that’s Maggie) toes the line between (almost) sweet kid and demon seed.  I said almost.

My mother, on the phone the other day, ever-helpful about all things parenting offered, “I read this article the other day. Kids change.”

Thanks, Ma. That’s a timely and useful piece of information. It’s a wonder I’m alive.

We’ve been playing red-headed stepchild with Maggie, too. I’m not proud of it, but the thought of bringing her out in public right now gives me hives. Since we don’t know whether we’re going to get Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde, we opt out of the game altogether. Plus, we only have enough arms for two violent tantrums.

I know it’s just a phase and it will pass, but any other time I thought I was being given a run for my money looks like a joke now.

They liked pizza yesterday, but it’s all over the floor today. Matthew’s previously ‘favorite’ juice, has just been slid slyly off the table, and the blue socks simply won’t do anymore. And what are you talking about chicken? hate chicken.

My poor husband’s taken to naming every meal we cook, just so it won’t end up on the floor. So far, he’s created Spiderman Sandwiches, Cowboy Breakfast, Superhero Rice, and Batman something. I can’t keep track.

Yesterday morning, he made the mistake of enthusiastically asking Matthew if he was ready for some “huevos with fromage”.  Of course, Matthew flipped out. When we were finally able to calm him down, and explain to him that ‘fromage’ was actually cheese, he decided he didn’t like cheese anymore.

So, yeah. This is pretty much the way it is right now. Chaos.

If you think you’re about to do something right, don’t worry, you won’t.

You’re a parent of two-year-old twins and a three-year-old boy and you suck.

Am I Really Enough?

“Mommy? You come sit with us? You come sit with me and Michael and Maggie on couch in the living room?” Matthew asked me a few nights ago.

His tiny voice hit me like a freight train. I looked down at the floor beneath the table, covered quite liberally with leftover birthday cake crumbs. Where are you, Mom? Why aren’t you with us?

“In a minute, honey. I’ll be right there, Love. Just finishing up cleaning the kitchen,” I said, hastily sweeping the crumbs into a pile.

I felt awful. That was the first time he had ever requested my presence in the living room, but not the first time I noticed I wasn’t there.

“You comin’, Mommy? You comin’ sit with us in the living room?” he persisted.

“Yes, Love. Mom’s just got to give fresh water to the cats, and take out this trash bag. I’ll be there in just a minute.” My heart hurt. I was cleaning. I put cleaning above my kids. But could I put my kids above cleaning? Could I have left that entire mess on the floor? And for how long?

I finished my housekeeping tasks for the evening and joined the children on the couch. They piled on top of me like a stack of fresh pancakes. I was happy. They were happy.

I’ve spent a lot of time rolling those moments around in my head over the past few days. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering if he’s wanted to ask me to sit with them for a long time. I spent a lot of time wondering if the time I share (or don’t share) with them is making a difference in their lives.

I grew up in a house where everyone was home, but no one was ever together. Quiet time was spent arguing about the volume of television, the temperature of the room, the show being watched, and the amount of cigarette smoke hanging in the air.

I didn’t often hear, “Come sit with me.” And that realization sent me down a rabbit hole, one I’ve blindly jumped into before, of whether I have enough, whether I am or can be enough for my children.

When I learned during my first pregnancy that I was having a son, I had what could only be described as a pregnant-lady breakdown. I cried, banged my fists, and burrowed into the covers and wouldn’t come out. I had wanted a girl. I was convinced we would do better for the world with a girl. 

And four months later, I gave birth to a beautiful, mild-mannered angel of a son, and was instantly ashamed of my hormone-induced fit.

I calculated each day how to keep him (and subsequent children) on the straight and narrow, and how to instill into him confidence, pride, and self-respect. And I carefully consider the extent to which sitting at a keyboard, cooking, or making the clothes clean, is stealing time from my children.

I wonder about their fates, whether or not they’re predetermined. Have I really any control over the adults they will turn out to be? Is there a secret to well-adjusted, responsible, mature, contributing members of society? And am I even considered one of them, to teach others to become the same? Sometimes, I can’t answer that.

My husband doesn’t worry as much as I, however understands the concern. Will it matter what school they attend? Will it matter with whom they associate? And do I even trust myself to create a decent little person? Will I make some inadvertent wrong move at age two, age six, age fourteen, that will irrevocably alter the course of one (or all) of their lives? Will my lack of patience with Maggie’s antics turn her against us, against herself? Will all the ‘in a minute’s finally add up? Am I doing this all wrong?

And then I justify my actions. Well, someone needs to cook, right? Who’ll feed them? I’ve got to wash their clothes. I’ve got to make their beds. I’ve got to this and that… And I feel better for a few minutes. Until I walk through the living room to turn up the thermostat, or close the blinds, and Michael clings the leg of my pants, crying, trying to keep me inside.

This conflict brews continually inside me. Be there for my children or be there for my children. Feed, clothe, and bathe them, or cuddle, love, and laugh with them? And, unfortunately, most days, I don’t have enough to cover both. Am I confident that the amount of time and quality of interaction I give them is enough? No. Will I ever know if it is?

Did I put one in Time Out too often? One not enough? Do these type of issues have a way of evening out in the end? Will a rollicking game of Freeze Tag cancel out three nights I was stuck cleaning the kitchen until 8pm? These effects remain to be seen.

Will I wake up ten years from now and realize that I should have hugged them more, or let the crusty pans sit in the sink overnight, or skipped the grocery store just a few more times? I must provide for their bodies and souls. And I’m not always confident I have what it takes be successful with a home and three, essentially, same-aged children.

But I can promise to try my level best, keep the faith, hug as often as possible, manage a smile when I’m ready to give up and cry, and spend a bit more time enjoying these moments, which are slipping by almost too quickly, in my best attempt to create good people.

That’s all I can do.

I only wish I could do more.

Am I doing the best I can?

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