Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Full Hands.

I used to get very annoyed whenever someone said the following phrase to me: "You look great--- for having four kids..."  (yes, those dashes were literary freedom.  I don't *really* think that was ever meant as an insult.) These days, I'd give much- around 20 lbs, at least, to hear that again.  I don't know whether I no longer look good (for having four kids) or if my blog is really that popular (since I frequently complained about that statement).  But now I have a new pet peeve statement.  Or maybe I'm just one of those people who always needs to have something to complain about....

Regardless, "you must have your hands full!" is now on my bad list.  To be honest, I'm not sure why this bothers me so much.  My husband says I just over-think everything and that people just say that to have something to say when they are done counting kids, but what I hear is "Are you crazy? How in the world do you handle four kids?  You must be so busy and so overwhelmed!"

Overwhelmed.  That's the word that really gets me.  A dear friend of mine was trying to explain to someone why she'd given my son a ride somewhere and described me as "she's just overwhelmed".  Oh, boy.  When she relayed this conversation to me, probably not realizing how I'd take it, I exploded "I am NOT overwhelmed!".  Her response:  But you must be!  You have four kids!

So this is my moment to clear the air, and explain to all you mothers and fathers of 1, 2, or even 3 children-- four children, well, it's not that different.  Oh, I get that it may be a little unusual for suburban America.  I recognize that there is a high population of people who believe in one child to replace each parent in order to keep our population from expanding too quickly... but that doesn't really make four kids that hard.  Or that crazy.  Or that overwhelming.

For one, I LIKE my children.  I actually, believe it or not, and despite my occasional under-my-breath grumblings of "oh, please, just go away", ENJOY being around my kids.  I like taking them places with me.  I like grocery shopping with them, going to the library, filing into church together.  Unless they are fighting or just being plain bratty (again, not something I say out loud to them), I really enjoy being around them.  All of them.  That's pretty much why I had them.

There are those people who have a whole lot of "oops" pregnancies.  There are also those who have children for ulterior motives (ie, welfare checks).  Those aren't me.  Well, I did have an oops pregnancy, but it wasn't the last one, so I don't count it as to why I have four children.  And if one more grocery clerk sees my trail of children following me down the aisle and asks me for my food stamps, she may just get some food-stamping that she's not looking for.  I had my four children because-- and here's the hard truth-- I WANTED four children.  I wanted a large family.  And guess what?  Four children later-- I still do!

When it comes down to it, the first child is the hardest.  That's the one that forces you to change your life, juggle your budget, make choices regarding your career and your parenting style, and intrudes on the one-on-one private time you are used to with your spouse.  And the second child-- well, that's the one that introduces fighting, squabbling, and "I'm not touching you!  I'm still not touching you!" into your life.  Numbers three and four are just extra mouths to feed, laundry to do, and hugs to receive.  And to be honest, if you're already cooking for a family of four, what's two more?  How much do little kids eat?  If you're already doing four loads of laundry a week, baby clothes are small, so it's now just four larger loads of laundry.  And, well, you do have to buy a bigger car (unless you already have a huge gas-guzzling, parking spot hogging SUV to cart around your one or two children....), but I needed a new car anyway.  College?  Listen, it WILL get paid for. Somehow, someway.  Student loans, part-time jobs.  No, I'm not worried about that.

I had four children (not three) for a reason.  I can always send one to play with another.  Oh, Mason is playing with Kolbie?  Then you play with Micah.  This may have worked out better if I had two boys/ two girls, but beggars can't be choosers, as my mother always said.  I had four kids because I love the fullness of my house in the evenings, when we're just together as a family.  I love having all six seats at the dining room table sat in. (I should have bought the 8-chair set when we got married.)  I love that when Kayton's off somewhere and Mason's off somewhere else, I still have two little girls playing at my feet.  It's not overwhelming, it's.. well... my idea of family.

Now, I won't say I don't get overwhelmed at times.  If you happen to live in my neighborhood you may or may not have heard me losing my mind at the top of my lungs on occasion.  Sometimes I forget my windows are open.  But being overwhelmed at times is not the same as "being overwhelmed".  And I am not overwhelmed.  I just have four kids. I am not so busy (if I were, this blog wouldn't be written)... I'm just a mom loving her life.

But, you're right, my hands are full.  One of them is always holding either amazingly soft and trusting toddler fingers that reach up to grab mine or a discarded toy or blanket (PLEASE hold this for me, Mommy- for just ONE minute!) from the four year old who always has so much to do.   One of them is always either reaching out to brush the nine year old's wild head of hair or grab the back of my eight year old's neck so that his hands don't fill up with trouble.
My lap is full whenever I sit down- someone always needs a book read, help with math homework, to nurse, or just to cuddle.
My arms are full at night as I go bed to bed to bed to bed saying prayers and kissing goodnight.
And my life is full.  Always full.

So, if when you say "your hands must be full" you mean "you must be overwhelmed".  No, I'm not.  But if you really mean "full of love".  Then yes, yes they are. And thank you for recognizing that.

But whether you are a parent with 1,2,3,4,5,6,7, or 8 children... I pray your hands are as full as mine.  As for those of you with more than 8-- well, you're just plain crazy.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Mid-Drift Crisis and New Year Resolutions

A few days before Christmas, while the kids were still safely in school but my husband was taking a few much-needed days off, he surprised me by volunteering to watch the kids for a few minutes while I ran out to get some coffee.  Starbucks gift cards still tend to be the Christmas present of choice from my husband's boss, despite the fact that he does not/ has never/ most likely will never drink coffee.  Her lack of attention to her employees' needs is my reward, since I can't justify the cost of Starbucks any other time.  The underlying issues of poor management and misguided attempts at employee motivation that are seen here are, selfishly, not my problem.  Well, not as long as my husband continues to go to work each morning.  So, with Starbucks gift card in hand, I ran out the door to enjoy a few minutes of peace, quiet, and rich, creamy mocha latte.  

What was not in my plan was the spontaneous stop by our local tattoo parlor.   Sure, I knew it was there, sitting next to a Mexican restaurant that I've also never frequented, but I'd never paid it much mind.  I mean, I am a 33 year old mother of four.  Some places are not intended for people like me-- well, not since I graduated from college, at least.  You see, I started college in 1996.  In 1996, computers existed, but they still cost a long discussion with the soon-to-be roommate over who would get the computer for the room, an entire summer's work worth of savings, and a special trip to the UVA tech lab to get internet installed so I could check an email that never received any messages since no one else in the world had email.  But I digress.  Computers were just coming into vogue-- and so were belly rings.  Back in 1996, a belly ring wasn't expected on the mid-drifts of sexy young co-eds (which I like to think of myself as back then, despite the fact that pictures will most likely prove otherwise).  A belly ring signified "alternative, different, mysterious, rebellious".  (Which is also what I liked to think of myself as back then-- just like 99% of other college girls.)  And one day, a few months into the semester, my roommate and I decided to do something alternative, different, mysterious, rebellious.... but not a tattoo- no, that was TOO much for us (that trip)-- so we got our navels pierced.  I'd say it was a bonding experience, and it most definitely was, but it was more than that.  It was a permanent scar on my poor stomach that has since then been further abused by the insertion and growth of four children.  Because while I could (and did) remove my piercing when I got pregnant with my first-- which, yes, I turned in to a mental ceremony of sorts-- a shedding of my old life and immaturity in preparation of a new life of wisdom and parenthood-- the scar remained.  

And that scar bugged me.  No, not every day.  I'd go months without even noticing it (I do make a concerted effort to not stare at my navel every day), but then, when I did notice it, it would bug me.  So on this day, with inspiring caffeine in hand and no children in the backseat, I spontaneously swerved into the tattoo parlor, marched inside, begged the piercer not to laugh at me, and had my belly ring reinserted.  Be warned, other nursing mothers who may attempt this, it is practically impossible to suck in your stomach without sticking out your chest, so I almost left there with a pierced nipple.  Regardless, the piercer did get a bit more than he was bargaining for since he had to strategically work around my four-kids worth of belly fat, six years worth of nursing breasts, and my constant verbal justification for why I was doing this while he attempted to insert the needle straight through the remnants of my past rebellion over fifteen years ago.

But my point is this:  that was an idiotic thing to do.  But because I'm stubborn and it cost $60, I refuse to remove it, despite the fact that Micah refused to come near me for a good four hours, pointing and screaming "out! out!" every time she saw it, and Kayton informed me that no "old person" should ever have their navel pierced.  Right on both accounts.

But the New Year is the time to make changes, right?  Time to look back on your life and take charge of the things you want to change-- time to remove the scars or, at least, cover them with something beautiful.  That's what we do this time of year.  We take stock of our mistakes, our lapses in judgement, our laziness, our "things that need to change", and we promise to change them.  While, chances are, we won't be successful, it's an evaluation time.  A time for a new strategy, a plan, an implementation of the new goals we've created for ourselves that we hope will lead to a greater success during this year.  A time to look at our weaknesses and the threats to our success and exchange them for opportunities to grow and ways to strengthen ourselves.  And so, I complied, by analyzing myself (my navel) and making the necessary changes.   

The thing about analyzing yourself is that YOU are only one perspective.  And, personally, while I think my perspective is the only accurate one, I am willing to acknowledge the need for outside consultants on this matter in order to avoid complete bias.  But this is where the real issues come into play.  Any of you that have friends and/or family members (and I hope you all do) know that every one of your friends and/or family members has an opinion on your life.  On your life, your marriage, your parenting skills, your career--that's sort of their job-- to sit back and subtly and surreptitiously critique your life, judge your actions, and then tell you what you should do- to be more like them.  (Something which we want to avoid since we've been sitting back, subtly and surreptitiously critiquing their life and judging their actions).  The problem with other people's opinions (other than the fact that they belong to other people and, therefore, can't be worth as much as my own) is that once you ask someone's opinion, you are obligated by politeness to acknowledge the value in it, then you must either A/ follow that advice (despite the fact that you don't want to) or B/ PRETEND to follow that advice while being careful to completely avoid it and any direct evidence that you have avoided it.  Of course, Option B often results in angry friends who want to know why you didn't just listen to them in the first place and (my favorite): "why ask my opinion if you weren't going to take it?"... uhm... because, well, I was curious?

Now, I'm no stranger to angry friends.  One of my neighbors was angry with me because my dog barked at Santa Claus (although I thought the barking less offensive to Santa than Micah's screams of terror and monkey-climbing to the top of my head to get away from him).  I have a family member who hasn't spoken to me in two years because she's angry at me.  I don't know the reasoning behind that one, and I've quit wondering, to be honest (although I do believe it has something to do with offered opinions).  My husband gets angry with me relatively often (typically when I promise to get out of bed to iron his shirt and then- accidentally- fall back asleep).  And one of my children is always angry with me about something- any given day, feel free to take a poll and see what results you get.  But what I've discovered is that people being angry at you is like an impromptu New Years.  It forces you to look at yourself, question your actions, and determine a course of action to improve in the future.  

Since someone's always angry at me for something, I am always being forced to question my decisions.  There's just something about Parenthood, specifically, that forces you to question every single thing you do, compare yourself to your child's friends parents, to your parents, to those parents you see on tv- specifically in Wife Swap or Super Nanny and, in absentia, on Jersey Shore (okay, we KNOW we have to be better parents than those parents).  But that's okay--because it's by questioning ourselves and seeking new ways to do things to cover those "scars" that we may or may not be inflicting on our children as a result of the things we choose to do as parents that we become better parents.  It's only by recognizing that we may have done something wrong, upset someone, made an error in judgement that we can improve and make changes.  And no, just because someone (spouse, child, parent, sibling, friend) gets angry doesn't mean we've done something wrong.  But it's a signal to evaluate.  And we should always be evaluating ourselves.  Not just at New Years, but on every New Day.  And that is my first New Year Resolution.  

The second is:  the scar on my tongue from the piercing that I had to take out when I started my first real job?  It stays a scar.