The Stress of Going Back to School

So that’s it. Gone are the days of elementary school conferences and cookie dough fundraisers. I’m officially the mom of a middle school, a high school and a college student. Boy #3 turned 13 a few weeks ago, so I’m a full-fledged mom of teens — until January when I then graduate to “mom of a-20-year-old” status. (When in the heck did THIS happen, by the way?)

Back-to-school time is always crazy busy for our family. Having two teachers in the family means double-whammy beginning-of-the-year stress, and even though you’ll probably find this incredibly hard to believe, I don’t handle stress so well. This is evidenced by my “back-to-school acne” that has arrived, right on cue. Because nothing makes a 45-year-old woman feel better about herself than a mutinous bout of cystic acne.

And you know what has not helped my stress level this year? My newest teenager. I love the kid, but if I’m being honest (And when aren’t I?), he’s making me a little bit crazy right now. (And when I say “a little bit crazy,” what I really mean is “total batshit crazy.”) And we’ve only had five days of school.

Last year, he rode the bus to school and, being in 6th grade, was able to get himself out the door and to the bus stop on his own so I could head to school early, about 7 a.m., to get some things done before the halls filled up with Axe Body Spray and teenage angst. This year, however, he is riding to school with me, which means that even though I get up at the same time and am ready to head out the door at the same time, I am a full 20-30 minutes later getting to school.

Why is this, you may ask? Is it because Boy #3 and I are bonding over a home-cooked breakfast before we start our day? That’s a big “nope.” I’m not that good of a mom. It’s because no matter how much I prod and push, he cannot seem to run in any gear but slower-than-molasses, or sometimes even reverse. It LITERALLY takes him 10 minutes to put on his socks and shoes. And that’s when he can even find both of his shoes. He also never manages to remember to tell me anything that needs to be done until I have one foot out the door. Let’s take this morning for example. I had loaded myself up with my computer bag, purse and lunch and was walking past the kitchen table when I spotted his football mouthguard — still in the plastic bag. “Do you need this?” I asked naively, to which he spewed in panic, “I HAVE TO HAVE THIS MOLDED FOR MY TEETH THIS AFTERNOON OR I CAN’T PRACTICE!” Now, if you haven’t had the pleasure of helping a child, or a stranger for that matter, mold a mouthguard, please realize that in order to do this, you have to put it in boiling water. And the saying “A watched pot never boils” could NOT be more true. I had to put down my bags, put water in a pot on the stove and wait for it to boil before going to school. Now, you’re probably thinking, “Great life lesson here! He forgot to do it, so he doesn’t get to practice. Natural consequences, baby!” And don’t get me wrong, you’re absolutely right, but here’s the deal: Sometimes I’m just too tired to be a good mom and stand my ground, and unfortunately this morning was one of those sometimes.

But clearly, I’m going to have to nip this irresponsibility in the bud. For heaven’s sake, by last Friday night we had had three days of school, two of which were early outs, and he had already lost his bag and cleats TWICE. On the first day of school, he apparently left it outside on the front lawn of the school before the doors opened in the morning. Luckily, someone turned it in to the office and he got it the next day, so we didn’t have to buy him new shoes and he learned a lesson about holding on to his stuff. Bet he won’t do that again, right? Wrong. After the football game Friday night, another middle school teacher found his backpack, with his cleats inside, under the bleachers. Fortunately, the teacher had seen my son with the bag, so he knew whose it was because we hadn’t actually gotten around to ever putting his name on it anywhere. That would make too much sense.

So for those of you who are keeping track, he lost his bag and cleats twice so far, and this morning he forgot to boil his mouthguard until we were walking out the door. However, that wasn’t all the day had in store… Late morning I received an email from his band teacher saying that she had found his red folder he had lost, and of course she found it shoved way back in someone else’s cubby, which he had mistakenly used. Who’d a guessed that? But the fun didn’t stop there. Oh no. At the end of the school day, he informed me that he’d forgotten his football pants at home and that he needed them for practice an hour later. At this point, my backbone had grown back, and I told him he would have to walk home to get his pants because I had meetings I couldn’t miss. He replied that he wouldn’t be able to get home and back in time, to which I replied that it’s only one mile away, and that he could get there in 10 minutes. Obviously, I forgot how slowly my son does everything, along with the fact that I could barely do a 10-minute-mile when I was training for a half-marathon. Lucky for him my husband had gotten home from work by the time Boy #3 got there and was able to bring him back to the school. Instead of the 10 minutes that I projected, it actually took him 25 minutes to walk there. Whoops! “Bet you won’t forget your pants again!” I said when he tried to get mad at ME for the whole situation.

This picture kind of sums up our school year so far. Why is it that last week on Facebook my feed was full of photos of happy, smiling children, holding beautiful Etsy signs announcing “Back to School 2nd Grade,” and when I tried to get a “first day of school” photo, this is what I got?

Yep, it’s pretty much a mug shot.

So yeah, my routine back-to-school stress this year is complemented by my I-have-a-7th-grade-boy stress, with just a pinch of my-sophomore-in-college-waited-until-the-last-minute-to-figure-out-his-student-loans stress and my-sophomore-in-high-school-waited-until-the-last-two-days-of-summer-to-read-his-assigned-summer-English-novel stress. Oh, and my sophomore in high school also got a concussion last week in football practice and missed his first two days of school. There’s that, too.

And although it probably seems a little bit (or “a lot bit”) like I’m complaining, please know that I’m really not. Because with the brain farts (and the actual farts), the stinky football pads and the “Oh my gosh, Mom, you’re so melodramatic” attitude comes the unexpected hugs, the deep conversations over which Shark Tank investor we want to fund our hypothetical business and the “I forgot to tell you I love you” texts.

Back to school means back to stress. And probably the onset of The Great Acne War. That’s just the way it is. It’s how we choose to handle that stress, however, that determines who we really are. We can let it take over, or we can acknowledge its presence and then move on. In the process, we may not only manage to get through this thing called life (nod to Prince), but we may even learn to appreciate the messiness we encounter along the way because it means we are really living.

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P.S. After writing this last night, Boy #3 has managed to once again lose his shoes and had to go to school wearing his dad’s tennis shoes.

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P.P.S. After school today I got a phone call from Boy #3 telling me he had left his football pants in my classroom (even though he managed to remember to grab his shoulder pads, jersey and helmet) and would I please come bring them to the practice field? I can’t make this stuff up.

photo by: Mark Bonica

The Final Countdown

Sending your kid off to college kind of sucks.

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It’s the final countdown. [Insert annoying keyboard riff here if you’d like. Or don’t. Although I’m sure the tune has already penetrated your brain by this time and now will be on “Repeat” for the next three days anyway. Yeah, sorry about that.]

No, I’m really not referring to the Europe song. It’s exactly one week until we drop off Boy #1 at college.

One. Week.

The pit in my stomach began to form a year ago, when I couldn’t believe he was going to start his senior year. And it’s never left. There were just too many “lasts” that the pit never had a chance to leave — the last time he’d play football, the last wrestling match, the last time he and his girlfriend would sit on the floor by her locker before school (And yes, I stood outside my classroom and pretended to answer a text while secretly taking a photo so I could remember this moment forever. Did you even have to ask?)

Graduation was hard enough, but at least I knew I had a few more months with him before I had to kick him out into the cold, cruel world. And as the summer has begun waning down, I’ve found myself becoming just a wee bit crazy, trying to do anything I could to take my mind off The Final Countdown.

Like cleaning. It began with the garage. I started out just taking down the tables that were still set up in my garage from my rained-out garage sale two months earlier. (No one’s surprised they were still up, are they?) Then suddenly I was organizing tools, wiping mystery fluorescent-green grime off the workbench, knocking down cobwebs that I’m pretty sure were original to the 1960s house and even venturing into the corner where I know a mouse lives and is just waiting to jump out and eat my face. Now mind you, we still can’t park a car in there. It’s only one stall and well, we have a lot of crap that has nowhere else to go. And although I still wouldn’t eat off the floor, I would probably eat off a plate that was sitting on the floor, which is as good as it gets at our house.

Then I started to tackle the basement. You know, the basement where we finished a room for Boy #1 and then apparently after hammering in the final nail, dropped the hammer, put our hands up and announced, “I’m out.” We’ll get all of this cleaned up tomorrow, we said. And we did. If the term tomorrow has been changed to now mean a timespan of approximately four years.

Yes, people. I’m talking wood, drywall, power tools — it was all still down there. Along with about four inches of drywall dust mixed with just regular old gross basement dust. Now, we had cleaned up Boy #1’s room, we’re not that disgusting. But the rest of the unfinished basement was HORR. I. BLE.

Did I mention that everything that we didn’t know where to put over the past four years was also stashed in the basement? So it was not only dirty, it was CHOCK FULL. And the best part? The petrified turds I kept finding from when my dog had evidently snuck downstairs to do his business. Oh, he won’t go down there when we’re down there. He knows better. He just sits at the top of the stairs like a perfect angel. But apparently when he thinks we’re not looking he likes to creep down the steps and take care of business. I never knew when I would run across one; it was always a surprise. You know, kind of like an Easter egg hunt. But not as colorful.

As I was elbow deep in dust and doo-doo, Husband came downstairs, processed what he was witnessing, and said, “I think you’re opposite nesting.” And it hit me — I was. Before the boys were born, I always got that burst of energy that made me want to clean out cupboards and alphabetize the spice rack. I realized that I’m experiencing that same feeling, except instead of trying to make everything perfect before a boy joined our home, I’m trying to make everything perfect before one leaves our home. And the fact that it keeps me so busy that I don’t have time to think about the fact that he is going to leave soon is an added bonus.

But now the garage and basement are clean, nearly everything on the college shopping list has been checked off and I am forced to think about it.

And it kind of sucks.

Parents of young kids, I know every day someone or another tells you, “They grow up way too fast.” And you politely nod your head and smile.

But, seriously, they grow up way too fast. It’s really a thing. Soon scientists are going to discover the proof that as your children age, time moves exponentially faster, so much so that you will finish reading the last Harry Potter book to your child, hand him his soft blue blanket, tuck him in and innocently close your own eyes for the night only to wake up and find that he’s got armpit hair, big muscles and tattoos (Yeah, tattoos. Just go with it.) and you’re at Target buying him a set of steak knives and explaining to him what a pillow sham is.

And you try to remember the last 18 years and all you come up with are glimmers of images of baby steps and toothless grins and light sabers and that “Husky phase” and home runs all blurred together so that you really can’t picture anything clearly at all.

And you’re not only sad, you’re downright pissed that his childhood is gone and you had no say in the matter.

Rational Me knows that this is part of life. Children must grow up and move away. And it will someday feel normal and right.

But Batshit-Crazy Me considers locking him in the basement, where I can read to him when I bring down his cookies and milk and kiss him goodnight. I mean, we haven’t even read the new Harry Potter book yet!

And Rational Me tries to regain control and reminds me that this is not a reason for heartache. People lose their children, for Heaven’s sake! And I can’t even begin to imagine that pain.

I know Rational Me is right. And it will tackle Batshit-Crazy Me next week before I handcuff myself to Boy #1 so we never have to be apart.

And instead Batshit-Crazy Me will go home and cry, flipping through scrapbooks and eating that King-Sized Hershey Bar that looked at me so sympathetically in the grocery checkout line. And realizing I will be doing this again in another four years, I’ll begin warning myself: They grow up way too fast.

Catching (and throwing) up

Catching (and throwing) upWell, friends, I figured now is as good a time as any to slink back to my blog, blushing and apologizing profusely for my interupptus unexpectedi (I’m sure that’s real Latin).

Let’s see…I just picked up Boy #3 from school, the fourth member of our household to catch the most violent vomiticious virus we’ve ever had, my house literally looks like a pack of raccoons lives here AND I turn 41 on Sunday. Yep, now’s as good a time as any…

Starting with the vomiting, which I’m sure, after not hearing from me for several months, is what you are DYING to read about. But, hey, that’s how I roll, and you knew this entering into the relationship. You’ve been warned.

So, the vomiting. Well, it all started last weekend with Boy #2. Poor guy was fine one minute and then filling a bowl with what felt like 10 pounds of his innards the next minute. I. kid. you. not. And there wasn’t even anything watery about it. That stuff was dense, I tell you!

A few days later, I was the lucky victim. It came on fast and furious. And if hovering over your toilet wasn’t humiliating enough, I got to experience it with the added touch of peeing my pants as well. Twice. I should’ve seen it coming. If I have to now cross my legs and pray when I sneeze, then it shouldn’t be a surprise that having my abdominal region go into convulsions before violently erupting should cause some significant bladder leakage as well. After the first time, I was so desperate and sick, I just grabbed a pair of ABW (already-been-worn) underwear and pants from the bathroom floor and didn’t even realize until hours later that I had them on backwards. Bonus.

Last night, Husband jumped out of bed and bolted into the bathroom, where he made it to the toilet — almost. Well, the sink, anyway. Thankfully, he “cleaned it out” before I got in there this morning — almost. Nothing like brushing your teeth and spitting into the sink, where you notice remnants of your significant other’s upchucked asparagus, to make you feel fresh-breathed and ready to start your day. And now this afternoon I had to fetch Boy #3 from the school nurse. He has not yet thrown up, but every time I look at him all I can see is a ticking time bomb. Filled with asparagus.

Now on to my house…what can I say? It was already getting pretty out of control before the virus struck, and it’s been downhill fast since then. It doesn’t help that Husband spilled an entire bowl of Campbell’s Chunky Chili down himself and on the living room carpet several days ago (Yes, we dine in front of the TV like all good families do). I’m just waiting for the crew of “Hoarders” to start filming anytime. Maybe then we’ll find Mrs. Mouse, the dwarf hamster who escaped from her cage several weeks ago. (Never a dull moment. Ever.)

On to the birthday. Well, nothing much to say there. At least 40 was a kind of milestone and usually results in someone treating you extra special because it’s one of those “ends in ‘0’” days. This year, 41 just seems, well, old and dull. What do 41-year-olds even do on their birthdays? Ugh. I’m pretty sure I’ll spend at least part of the day trying to catch up on laundry (*insert BIG laugh here*) and maybe will treat myself to a big cup of Metamucil later. Ooh, since it’s on a Sunday this year, maybe the boys will actually let me steal the remote so I can watch CBS Sunday Morning! Wow, I really am old.

If you made it through this post without losing your lunch, congratulations and thank you. Sorry my first post in several months is about puke, pee and poor housework, but if you can’t keep it real on your own blog, where can you?

photo by: Ү

The disappearing little boy

They just refuse to stay little.

I knew it was coming. Boy #3 turned 8 in August and even though he’s just in the 2nd grade, he is transforming from little boy to plain ol’ boy right before my eyes.

Darn him.

It started with him talking about a girl he likes. Okay, I know some boys have girlfriends as soon as they walk through the preschool doors, but Boy #3 has never EVER mentioned girls in that context, which I was more than okay with; I’m surrounded by enough testosterone in this house as it is. But a few weeks ago he got into the van after school, and I could tell that something was up. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me, “I have a crush.”

The words that melt and break a mom’s heart, all in the same instant.

Not understanding why this would make him sad, I probed further. Apparently, rumor had it that Crush had kissed one of Boy #3’s friends one day in the friend’s treehouse! And apparently Boy #3 did not have much experience about how fickle these second-grade romances can be, as evidenced by his next statement:

“Now I’ll NEVER get married!!”

I still don’t think he’s over that one, although Crush has since been playing football with Boy #3 at recess and calling him “Nicki Minaj,” which is apparently hilarious if you’re 8 and is obviously her way of flirting with him. And even though I’m sooo not ready to delve into the trials and tribulations of primary-grade romances, I was encouraged when Boy #2 asked him if Crush was beautiful, and Boy #3 said, “No. She’s not beautiful. She’s nice and funny, and I guess she’s cute.” So far, he’s got his priorities straight, I’ll give him that!

So after realizing that Boy #3 was starting to break out of his “little boy” shell (and dreading it), my heart broke a little bit more this morning. Let me preface this by saying that Boy #3 has not shown much interest in sports yet, which we are fine with. He pretty much walked behind all of his teammates in soccer, visited with whoever would talk to him on the baseball diamond and at wrestling club — he lay on the mat and refused to get up. (This was especially awesome since his dad was the coach.) He’d rather make-believe he was fighting monsters or evil ninjas than obey the rules of sports, and we wanted him to be able to stay a little boy as long as he could.

But yesterday morning, I saw my little boy grow up some more. He asked me to turn on the TV while he ate breakfast (in the living room, of course, because I’m THAT kind of mom), so I pressed the power button the 12 buttons on 3 different remotes to turn on the TV, receiver and satellite. Husband and Boy #2 had stayed up watching football the previous night, so ESPN was still on. As I got ready to change the channel to Cartoon Network for “Ninjago” or “Pokemon,” I heard these words come out of Boy #3’s mouth:

“Wait, Mom, leave it on Sports Center.”

And just like that, my little boy is no more.

 

Kids write the darndest things

I love this kid.

This week his second grade teacher sent home a journal entry he wrote so we could read it. The kids were supposed to finish the prompt: “The best gift I ever received was…” Here’s what what was scrawled in his sloppy handwriting:

My mom and dad were the best gift I have ever received and I know it. I love my mom and dad so much that I don’t think any gift is better than them. Also food. I need food and water to live because I can die of hunger and thirst too.

Seriously, what parent doesn’t want to read that? I nearly cried, and I think Husband teared up a bit too.

What makes it even better is that last week I was called in by his teacher to read some other examples of his writing. The assignment was to use his spelling words to write original sentences. And they definitely were original… Here’s one of our favorites:

I have the notion that you will never get married, grow old, and die alone.

Of the other nine sentences, seven were just as lighthearted as this one.

Yeah…

When we asked him about the sentences, his response was, “I can’t think of anything else to write!” (He soon learned that he could think of other things to write about besides someone being pushed into the ocean, maimed in a fight or dying alone as Husband and I made him write new sentences. Imagine that!)

So for now, I am thankful that my son is capable of writing something sweet as well as something disturbing. My anxiety levels have dropped and I am hoping that soon my recurring nightmare that I am raising Dexter will subside.

(So even though I would still love you even if you did grow up to be a serial killer, Boy #3, I really hope you choose to use your powers for good, not evil.)

Our perfectly imperfect themed birthday party

I have a thing for themes.

Any kind of theme, really. I love pulling things together into a fun package. I loved it as a H.S. Language Arts teacher, I love it as a curator of features like Handmade in Iowa for the Des Moines Register, and I love it as a mom.

In fact, sometimes I get so carried away with planning themes that I neglect everything else, like personal hygiene or cleaning my house. I’m pretty sure there’s a mental disorder with my name on it.

So when it came to Boy #3’s birthday party, I knew I wanted to go with a theme. My sister and I decided to do a joint birthday party for her son and mine since they’re both in the same grade (although a year apart in age), and since we were both belated in our planning (one’s birthday was July and one’s mid-August). Better late than never, right? (Just don’t ask a 8-year-old that…)

Both boys are really into LEGO Ninjago right now, so I decided to run with that. I Googled and Pinned until my fingers bled, finding some incredible ninja-related party ideas and some REALLY elaborate parties. All I can say is WOW.

And WOW again.

This kid’s party is more professional-looking than my wedding was! I totally admire all of the work and creativity that went into putting together this themed party, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to spend the money nor time that this party probably cost (Hello, new screens, tables and floor pillows??), and since I’m living in the middle of Iowa and not Hollywood, I figured no one would expect me to.

So, my sister and I put together a very imperfect party for our boys, and it turned out good enough. In fact, Boy #3 told me after the party, “I didn’t know you were going to make it so fun!” As if I would, instead, make them do “un-fun” things, like play “I Spy a Toilet That Needs Cleaning” or “CNN Headline News BINGO.”

We made the brilliant decision to rent a building that our friends own for the party. There is a kitchen, a smaller room with tables and chairs and a HUGE open gym, perfect for boys because there was not much in there they could damage or destroy. PLUS, I didn’t have to worry about planning the party AND getting my house clean, and if you would’ve seen my house before we left for the party, you would understand why — it looked like a Nobbies had exploded.

When the boys arrived, they were each given a headband with their name on it. My sister made these and they looked awesome. The font was a perfect “ninja” font, and the boys loved wearing them. Then we did “The Ninja Walk,” which was a variation of a “cake walk” or “book walk.” They had to walk in a circle and were supposed to walk stealthily like a ninja while the music played. Ah, yes, the music. Well, I thought I had downloaded the theme song to the “Ninjago” cartoon onto my computer, but when I went to set it up at the building, I couldn’t find it. And unfortunately, I had lost all of my songs on iTunes several months ago when my hard drive was rebuilt. I had literally ONE song on iTunes — “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. (Yeah, don’t ask.) So the ninjas discoed around the circle instead of ninja-walked, and when the music stopped, Husband called out a number, and whoever was standing on the number got a prize.

While half of the kids did the Ninja Walk, the other half made a Ninja scroll. I downloaded the word “Ninja” written in Japanese Kanji and showed the kids. Well, I’m trusting the Kanji meant “Ninja.” For all I know it really said “llama turds” or “bite me.” But since I don’t think any of the parents can read Kanji either, I think I’m safe. I had scrolls already made up, using two 10-inch dowels I found in the cake decorating section of Wal-Mart and tracing paper (which is much thinner than computer paper). We watered down some black paint to look like ink and gave each kid a paintbrush and had them try to copy the Kanji on their scroll. They really enjoyed this, and some of them just did their own thing with it, which is totally cool.

We also had each boy stand in front of a photo booth with their choice of prop to hold. I literally copied these from someone else’s blog, printed them out and glued them to a cereal box to make them sturdy. I hung up red wrapping paper as a backdrop, but of course I hung it way too high for the kids. Oh well… They still looked cute.

Next, we gave each kid a weapon. (You’re welcome, parents!) My sister made Ninja swords by spray-painting paint sticks silver and then covering the bottom of the sword, or the handle, in black electrical tape. They looked really cute and proved to be very effective as well! I wish I would’ve gotten a “before” picture of the Ninja Training Center because once we turned them loose, it was destroyed in about 2.4 seconds! We had blown up quite a few balloons with helium, tied ribbon around them and taped them to the floor so the balloons were about head-high to the kids. They were supposed to “spar” with the balloons, but apparently wooden sticks and balloons are not very good friends, and the game became “see how fast we can pop all of the balloons.” Some balloons escaped to the ceiling, and then the swords starting FLYING to try to hit the balloons. I was envisioning having to take a Ninja to the ER with a sword in the eye, but luckily no one was injured during this game. When we saw that boys were started to STAB with the swords, we quickly collected them until the kids went home (Again, parents, you’re welcome!) and moved on to food.

I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a store-made cake when I knew the boys would probably take one bite and then run off to play, so I attempted to face my culinary fears and create my own. Fortunately, frosting can cover a lot of mistakes, including the cake breaking into pieces. Of course, I copied these cakes off someone’s Pinterest board, although mine were very sad adaptations of theirs.

A green ninja…

And a blue ninja…

Even though I used the same cake mix for both, the green cake was about 4 inches taller than the blue cake. I can’t tell you how much food dye I went through to get the blue frosting that color, which I was cursing myself for as I cleaned up bright blue dog vomit off my carpet the next morning.

I decided to also try making “sushi” out of Rice Krispie treats, Swedish fish gummy candy and Fruit Roll-Ups. I am embarrassed to admit that I cannot for the life of me make Rice Krispie treats, which I think is a prerequisite to joining the “Good Mom Club.” Everyone and their dog can make Rice Krispie treats — except me. They never turn out right, either so gooey that you cannot dislodge them from your fingers no matter how much you shake them, or so crumbly that you can’t even cut them into squares — you just have to take a spoon and eat them out of the pan. So not trusting myself to make these, I cheated and bought Rice Krispie treats, except not even REAL Rice Krispie treats, the cheap Little Debbie version of them. They were about $2 cheaper per box! I figured the kids would just inhale and then run off to play, so I hoped they wouldn’t notice the difference.

And finally for the food, I wanted to just give out fortune cookies and then decided to dip them in chocolate almond bark …

… which then looked exactly like goat hooves. I’m not kidding. One of the boys even asked, “Why did you make goat hooves?”

I was too cheap to buy Gatorade for the kids, so I just bought bottled water and downloaded some Ninjago water bottle labels from another more-talented mom blogger than me. Boy #2 helped out by presenting each Ninja with his “element,” depending on the color of the Ninjago character on the bottle. They seemed way impressed and excited, which was funny. Hey, dudes, it’s just water!

Afterward we opened presents and apparently my camera was hijacked for a while by a little person because as I uploaded photos, I saw a bunch of photos like close-ups of presents, the door and other photos I hadn’t remembered taking. But this photo, taken by the Anonymous Ninja, was perfect! I love how it’s at eye-level with Nephew and completely captured his mood at the party!

After the party, we made Husband and Brother-in-Law pose for a photo. I’m not quite sure about their Ninja moves…

So of course, Sister and I had to show off Ninja moves of our own.

After which, Sister said that it’s obvious we’re related as both of our first instinct for a Ninja move was to hike up our knee, which I’m not even sure looks anything like a Ninja. (If you’ve heard us both talk, you’ll know that we sound exactly alike, too, so apparently we share more than just the “Ninja” gene.)

Overall, it was a fun party, and I think the fact that it wasn’t polished and perfect made it even more memorable. After all, imperfection is my middle name. Boy #3 is already planning his theme for his 9th birthday party. I think I may try to not wait until the morning of the party to make all the food and decorations next year, though. Yeah, right…

Want to see where I got my ideas? Check out my Ninjago Birthday Party Ideas Board on Pinterest. And if you can’t find something there that I’ve written about, leave a comment and I will get you the link!

 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

It’s happened every year since my boys became old enough to really make a mess. A few weeks before Christmas I am optimistic and hopeful, sure that the boys will get into the ol’ Christmas spirit and start helping around the house more, even before I have to break out the “nagging mom voice.” Together we’ll get the house all spruced up for the holidays. Sometimes when I’m feeling especially blindly ignorant gleeful, I even picture us all baking Christmas cookies together while singing “Winter Wonderland” along with Johnny Mathis. (In my daydream, we’re not just listening to my Johnny Mathis CD, either. He’s actually in the kitchen with us!)

And then the inevitable. It’s 6 days until Christmas, our house looks like raccoons have moved in (which they very well may have) and instead of fresh-baked cookies and candies, a desperately torn-open box of Queen Anne Cherry Cordials is the only holiday goodie sitting on the kitchen counter. (Full disclosure: I have eaten three in the last 7 minutes.)

I keep thinking one of these years that Christmas magic is going to turn these boys into good little elves, whistling jollily while they vacuum the floor, put away their clothes and let Mom work on her Christmas to-do list. But tonight, upon assessing the current state of affairs, I had to accept the fact that this year isn’t that year.

Maybe it was the pair of my underwear the puppy had found and kindly left right by the front door to greet our holiday visitors. Or perhaps it was the fact that I not only discovered Clementine peels left on the living room floor, but I also spotted a half-eaten bag of carrot chips beside the recliner AND I caught Boy #2 sitting on the leather couch eating, with his fingers, straight out of a bag of lettuce (in his underwear). Now, you may be thinking, “Wow, Paula! How do you get your boys to eat so much produce?” Or, more likely, “Wow, Paula! Your kids are pigs! And why don’t they ever wear clothes?” And to both, I will answer, I don’t know.

So tonight, as is wont to happen when blind optimism meets harsh reality, I began to get grumpy. And stressed. And a little bit grinchy. And I really wanted to figure out who I could blame their poor habits on. I mean, I know I’m a little too accommodating, and a bit too much of a pushover sometimes and I’ve never been accused of being a fabulous housekeeper myself. But still… There was Iceberg lettuce all over my couch, people!

It’s gotta be a faulty gene somewhere. They were born without the gene that determines “neatness” or at least “good sense.” That sounds like a much better explanation than the one that says instead that I’m a mom who doesn’t know how to properly train her children (or, apparently, her dog). It’s got to be in their DNA. It’s a genetic problem. That’s it.

Or, better yet…

I blame Bush.

Image by Garrison Photo

Brotherly love (sarcasm implied)

Dairy cow ready to milkYou’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll get punched in the gut…

Ahh, as it is in the life of brothers. Well, at least when it comes to the brothers that I brought into the world.

Now mind you, I didn’t grow up with brothers. Just sisters. And we sisters NEVER fought.

(Sorry, Middle Sis and Little Sis, if that last statement just caused you to spit your chai latte all over your keyboard.)

Okay, so the truth is, we fought a little. But it was never my fault.

(Sorry, Middle Sis and Little Sis, if that last statement just caused all those feelings you thought you’d “dealt with” in therapy to resurface. Just send me the bill for your follow-up sessions.)

Okay, so the TRUE truth is, I picked, or caused by my lack of regard for anyone but myself, more than a few fights with my sisters growing up. I distinctly remember steering the white 1976 Cordoba (with robins’ egg blue pleather interior, mind you!) with my left hand, while successfully punching my middle sister with my right hand. On a gravel road. Going at least 65 mph, I’m sure.

And I’m pretty sure it was all my fault.

But I swear, we didn’t fight NEARLY as much as my sons do. And when we fought, we fought about things that were IMPORTANT, like whose turn it was to feed the cats (not a job to be taken lightly, or without full-body armor), who got to keep the Billy Squier “Stroke Me” cassette tape that was accidentally left in the floor model stereo my dad brought home from Pamida or who borrowed whose shaker knit sweater and then just left it in a heap on the floor (Yeah, that was probably me too). You know, stuff that MATTERED.

My boys, however, fight constantly. Sometimes I even convince myself that they’ve formed some secret alliance to drive Mom crazy by purposefully picking fights about anything and everything they can think of. And it’s totally working.

Last night I snuck out for a few hours after Husband got home so I could get some work done without distractions. Of course I went where any sane person goes for a little peace and quiet — the casino. Okay, I actually went to the lobby of the casino hotel, which is the only place in town I have found where I can get free wi-fi any time of day, so it wasn’t exactly loud. But I think even the dinging and ringing of the slot machines would’ve been preferable to the chaos at my house!

After I got home, I noticed that Boy #3 was asleep on the couch. Asking Husband why he wasn’t sleeping in his bed, he replied that Boy #3 wouldn’t stop talking when Boy #2 was trying to sleep, so Boy #2 punched him in the chest, causing Boy #3 then to think he couldn’t breathe. “I think he moved my spine!” Boy #3 informed me this morning.

Ahh, just another day at the office.

This morning before school, then, they were getting along fine, but it soon turned ugly when they got into a heated argument about — what else? — whether or not milking machines hurt cows. Why they were even discussing this is beyond me and frankly makes my head hurt just trying to think about. But it was a voice-escalating, finger-pointing, insult-hurling brawl. And I think the big loser in all of it wasn’t either one of them, but the one who was trapped in the van with them, me. And maybe the cows.

After this argument was quelled and I got them to “agree to disagree” until we can look it up somewhere or ask a dairy farmer, things turned ugly again, this time over that controversial topic that often pits neighbor against neighbor: fact families. Yes, as in arithmetic. Boy #3 was yelling, “FACT FAMILIES ALL HAVE TO HAVE THE SAME SUM!!!” and Boy #2 was countering, “NO THEY DON’T! JUST LOOK AT 2×3=6 and 6/2=3! THOSE ARE FACT FAMILIES AND DO THEY HAVE THE SAME SUM? HUH? HUH?!?!”

And all of a sudden I was in the middle of it as they were both yelling, “MOM? WHICH ONES ARE FACT FAMILIES? WHICH ONES?!” Of course, I couldn’t for the life of me remember what in the heck the definition for a fact family was, so I did what being married to a math teacher gives me the right to do. I told them to ask their dad. (I am knocking women’s lib out of the park when I do this, I know. “Boys, you know mommies don’t do math.” But frankly, when they’re both yelling and my head is pounding, I don’t really much care what Gloria Steinem would think.)

I’ve known parents who have said, “My boys get along so well! They are best friends!” And to them I reply, “So do mine!”

When they’re not trying to kill each other, that is.

(The cute photo of the cow with bulging udders comes from rburgoss)