Tuesday, December 20, 2011


We like to celebrate the achievement of goals.  Some in our culture might call that being pro-victory.  Regardless of your political views, being pro-victory in the Bushlack household means celebrating accomplishments.  Some major ones for the adults are Tom completing his PhD and my last day of work on August 1, 2011.  Some major ones for the kids are Audrey rolling over (to which we respond with clapping and shouting "hooray, Audrey!") and Sean beginning to show more signs of wanting to potty train.  In September I thought Sean was ready to start potty training after we hosted a string of visitors who had 3-year-olds who were potty training (thank you, Victoria and Mia, for shining a "light' in the bathroom, a 'light' on the training potty).  He showed some minimal interest then and I jumped all over it: I bought Disney's Cars stickers from Target, Sean and Tom drew a 11X14 picture of a road, and we encouraged Sean that any time he tried sitting on the potty he could get a Cars sticker to put on the road.  He got three of them.  That was back in September. 

Just the other day Sean complained that he does not like changing his diaper.  He says the wipes are too cold.  Call me old fashioned, but I have not invested in a wipe-warmer, and now I'm glad that we have not.  I told him that if he didn't want to use the cold wipes anymore, he could start sitting on the potty and we could use toilet paper.  Something clicked in his brain (or perhaps his cold, cold butt cheeks revolted) because he agreed to sit on the potty.  Now the 11X14 piece of paper is filled with cars.  Up and down that road, they are two by two, and sometimes piled on top of each other.  It makes my heart happy.  He's not yet potty trained, per se, but the possibility of him becoming potty trained is there.  The potential ability of him to be more in tuned with his body exists and we are working on it.  Hooray, Seancito!

This morning, Sean found his own way to celebrate.  He is the definition of pro-victory.  I asked him if he wanted to use the potty this morning, and he responded, "yes!" and jumped up and ran, pants-less, to the bathroom.  At the door, he turned to look at me and said, "Mom, I need some priwacy."  read: privacy.  (other convoluted yet charming Seancito words include "patterkillers" for caterpillars, "chicken" for the kitchen, "member" for remember, and "tending" for pretending, just to name a few.)  I allowed him this space.  I thought this yet another pro-victory moment! Not only is he learning to use the potty, but he's learning that he needs privacy to do it.  I applauded this request in my brain.  After a couple minutes in the bathroom, he came storming out, as he has done a number of times this week, shouting, "I peed in the potty!"

I was so excited, I celebrated with him, told him how proud I was of him and then headed in to inspect the potty myself.  When I looked into the small training potty, I didn't see any gathering of urine.  I questioned Sean about the lack of pee.

me: Hey, buddy, where's the pee?

Seancito: Huh?

(We've heard "huh" a lot recently from him.  As a mother of a tantrum-proned toddler, I relayed to Tom that we should not indulge the repeating of ourselves over and over again.  I indicated that this "huh" business was just Sean's way of drawing out moments, stall tactics.  It was only last week when we had his hearing checked and ear-tubes inspected that we learned he has minor hearing loss in the left ear due to one tube falling out and fluid behind the ear drum.  Nothing too serious, nothing that a replacement tube can't fix, but the woman testing his hearing told us that until he has a new tube put in we should, "try to speak into his right ear so that he gets clear speech samples."  Brilliant.  Best Mother of the Year award right here.  Thank you very much - I've been angry that he says "huh" so much and he has minimal hearing loss in one ear.  Pro-victory.)

me: where's the pee, Seancito?  You said you peed in the potty?

Seancito:  Yeah!  I peed in the potty!

me:  yes! but where?

Seancito: Huh? oh yeah.  I peed standing up.

I glanced at the outside rim of the potty, speckles of urine in every corner, dotted every which way except for in the basin of the toilet.  He was so thrilled with his new-found  ability to pee on the potty, he decided to celebrate with a little standing-up-peeing.  He's pro-victory.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Curiosity Killed It

Curiosity has been anecdotal-y blamed for killing many a feline.  I might suggest, however, that much more than cats get killed when curiosity takes over.  For example, this morning, in a flurry of gathering items to get ready to leave the house (two kids, coats, hats, gloves, carseat, blanket, toys, snacks, water bottles, box to ship at UPS, laundry tag to pick up coat, items to return to our neighbor, grocery list, directions to grocery store, keys, wallet, cell phone, diaper bag, diapers, wipes, powder, etc.) I completely forgot one crucial item for my day:  deodorant.  As Sean would say, "Oh Man!"  Or as I said to myself a mile from home, thinking of the stench that could emit from my armpits later that day, "Son of a..!"  One might argue that this forgetful moment was not brought to you by curiosity but rather by distraction, and that could be correct.  But the following are examples of when curiosity really stonewalled a situation.

So as to not leave Audrey out of these posts, this first story is about her.  She has been an easier child on us all the way around.  She seems to be mild-mannered, easy going, even-keeled, and any other lackadaisical term you can conjure.  My only point of frustration with her has been in the past two months.  Plagued by ear infections, her sleep has been disrupted.  From the age of 8 weeks, this girl slept through the night, but with ear infections, she has been up every 2, 3 or 4 hours, and this bought me a one-way ticket to crazy town.  Sleeplessness will make me delirious, slap happy, and irritable (hence the posts about me nearly killing a 2 year old I know).  Yet, despite her sleeplessness, Audrey maintains a pleasant attitude.  Even when awake at 3am, she is often smiling, singing, and talking to me.  And even when I think she and I might be nodding off to sleep, her curiosity takes over.  If I could verbalize Audrey's mind, it would go something like this:

Audrey: ahhh, almost to sleep, almost to sleep, eyes fluttering shut, about to snooze.... what is this fabric my hand feels?  Is this a leather chair?  My goodness, this feels funny; I'd like to scratch it: scratching, scratching, scratching.  And here are my fingers, scratching, scratching, scratching.  Well this is interesting!  I didn't know leather feels this way!

I re-position her so that she can't touch the chair.

Audrey: aaaahhh, head on mom's shoulder, relaxing, closing eyes, drifting off to sleep.... what is that shadow I see?  It seems like the faint outline of a flower.  Is that an orchid?  There are many petals on there!  Those are strange flowers!  I like flowers.  Maybe I can talk about that.  Maybe I can think of a song.  Let me try exercising my vocal chords!

I position her away from the orchid, trying to find a dark corner where she can not see anything.

Audrey: aaaaannnnd ready to sleep, a little yawn here, rubbing my eyes there, just snuggling in, it feels great to relax... 

Sean wakes up in the other room screaming - yelling for Tom, wanting someone to help with his blanket.

Audrey: WHAT IS THAT I HEAR?  Is that my brother? Where is he? Can I see him?  Does he see me?  Can we play together? Can I talk to him?  I will try talking to him.  I will waive my arms and try to talk to him.  I will use my vocal chords!  I will find out what he needs!

Just last night, Sean and I get into a disagreement about his supper.  He eats his chicken, but he does not want to eat his rice because it has "green stuff" in it (olives).  Fair, that's fair, I don't even know if I really like olives as an adult, so I understand that he doesn't want to eat them.  Fine.  We tell him that he doesn't have to, he can set them aside.  Which he does.  Slowly.  Meticulously.  This process goes so slowly that Sean eventually leaves his uneaten rice to go play with his bus and plane.  However, when he later asks for a cookie and chocolate milk, the response is "no" because he's not finished his dinner.  He goes back and forth from the table to the toys, and while contemplating the rice, the issue grows larger than just the "green stuff."

Sean: Mama, I don't like the yellow things.

me: What yellow things?

Sean: Mama, you take the yellow things out.

me: Sean I don't know what you're talking about: show me the yellow things.

He points at the sauteed onions mixed in with the rice, chopped fine so as to not be too big.

Sean: I fink (read: think) those yellow things.  They are yucky.

me: Sean, I can't remove those, they're onions, and they're mixed in with the rice.  You can either eat them or leave them, but you only get a cookie and chocolate milk if you eat your rice.


He's bouncing up and down in his chair, angry, livid.  This goes on for 30 minutes.  Back and forth between trying to extract the green stuff and yellow things.  Strangely when he tries to remove these things, there's nothing left for him to eat.  This tantrum is escalated when I take the plate from him (of course with ample warning, with the counting to 3, with letting him know that he has one last chance to eat it) because he's not eating anything and it's time to brush teeth.  The tantrum takes a brief hiatus while we read his favorite story (Robert Munsch's Pigs) and say prayers.  I even tell him goodnight and walk out of the room with no tears from him, but 3 minutes later, he is yelling for me.

Sean:  MAAAAAAAAAAmmmmmaaaaaaa!

I hear him stumble out of his bed and make his way to the door, the sound of his yelling getting ever closer.  He slowly makes his way down the hall towards the living room.

Sean:  Maaaaamaaaa!  I have a runny nose!!

me: Well then go get a kleenex and take care of it.

Sean: Maaaaammmmaaaa!  I need you to do it!!

me: No you don't.  Go get it yourself and then throw it away.

He makes his way back to his room, obtains said kleenex and wipes his nose, still crying, still reviling the presence of green stuff and yellow things in his life, ruining all of his fun.  Those things and ME, of course, ruining all of his fun.

Sean:  Maaaaaammmmaaaa!  What do I do with this???!!!

me: Throw it away, Sean.

At this point, Sean completely stops crying.  Utter silence from his bedroom.  I can't see him, but I know in this moment that he is lightly flicking his upper lip, the extra skin from his cleft lip surgery his perfect "thinking spot" for as long as he could maneuver his fingers.

Sean: (curiously and quiety) Where can I throw it away, Mama?

The question is so calm and sane that it's unnerving.

me: Throw it in the trash can.

Sean: Where is the trash can, Mama?

Now this question is cruel, because I have no doubt that's STARING at the trashcan in his room.  I realize that this is only his latest stall tactic for not wanting to get back in bed.

me: It's right there, Sean.

Sean: Right here, Mama?

me: Yes, right there.

Sean: Which one, Mama?  This one right here?

me: Yes, Sean, the trash can right by Audrey's dresser.

We are rooms away, but his quiet voice floats to me like nails on a chalkboard, and I am ever so slightly twitching.  On the inside.

Sean: This trashcan, Mama?

I can hear his lid of the trashcan hitting the wall, a sure sign his foot is on the footpedal, opening and closing the lid.

me: YES! Just throw it away!  In the trashcan!

Sean: Oh. Okay.

Curiosity killed the tantrum.  And it damn near killed me.

Being the Christmas season, we have a nativity set under our tree.  Tom starts the season by telling Sean that he can't play with the set.  That lasted for about an hour and then Sean took all the pieces and has been playing with them ever since.  We've talked about the Christmas story, and we've explained who all the characters are.  Simply put, Sean's curiosity has endangered the lives of every single character in the nativity, except for the baby Jesus.  Thank goodness he's not been born yet, otherwise he, too, might be decimated.  Last night I find Sean hanging one of the wise men by the neck through the back window of the stable - I'm sure in his mind, the wise man was just looking in the window, but from my perspective, it was cruel and unusual punishment for that king. Then after getting in trouble for taking Audrey's toy away from her, I tell Sean he could go find another toy to play with. I tell him that he could go play with his truck or his plane, but that he can not take Audrey's toys away from her.  I return to making supper in the kitchen until I hear Sean yelling something from the living room.  As I round the corner, I see Sean mowing down each of the nativity characters, one by one, with his plane.  Though the characters are as tall as the plane itself, they all meet the same fate.  Curiosity killed it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Merry Christmas

I was at the YMCA with the kids on Monday changing Audrey's diaper on a bench in the middle of the lobby.  This bench sits just outside the studio area where a group of (mainly) middle-aged women were taking a dance class.  At that precise moment, they were dancing to Jeff Buckley's version of Hallejuia, and a woman stopped in the middle of her dancing to come out to the lobby to see me.  She very kindly walked over to our bench and said:

woman: I just had to stop and tell you that there is light coming from you.

me: oh! well, thank you!

woman: it's just, such a lovely light, it's almost like...

and here she touches my face (I'm not kidding) and has tears in her eyes

woman: Mary and child.  it's clear you have so much love for these kids.

me: well, what a nice thing to say, thank you!

Merry Christmas, lady, seriously, that was the sweetest thing someone could have said.  However, this lady did not see me but two hours later dragging a kicking and screaming Seancito from the Babies R Us sidewalk to the car.  This lady did not see him wrestle himself free of my arms long enough to manuever one arm out of his winter coat while one arm stayed in.  She also did not, then, see me when I grabbed Sean around the waist while he twisted and screamed in the parking lot, flinging his body upside down, kicking his feet around my head and nearly passing out because of his lack of oxygen to the brain.  I've had to ask him recently to breathe during these tantrums for fear of him holding his breath too long.  But Merry Christmas all the same.  This woman was sweet as can be, and she highlighted for me a quiet moment where I was appreciating my time with my kids.  For this I am truly grateful.

However, in the same spirit of strangers approaching strangers: it does seem like the holidays encourage more talking amongst those who do not know each other.  I for one would talk to strangers any day of the week, 365 days a year, but this is not the norm, I realize.  Especially here in Minnesota, I'm learning that many strangers do not like to be spoken to out of the blue, so I try to tone down my extrovertedness in public places.  It's a cross I bear.  Today, though, waiting in line at a store, two women behind me decided to strike up conversation.  Again, they must be filled with the holiday spirit and therefore want to reach out to their neighbor - goodwill to all, right?  This conversation, unsolicited by me, I might add, went something like this:

woman #1: you have a lovely baby (referring to a sleeping Audrey in her carseat on the floor.  When walking down the aisles, I would set Audrey down when I wanted to look at something, then pick up the heavy carseat/baby load when I was ready to move again.  Seancito watched this pattern and decided to mimic me.... using his animal crackers box.  I set Audrey down, he sets animal crackers down.  I sway back and forth, he sways back and forth.  I pick Audrey up, he picks animal crackers up.  and so on...)

me: thank you.

Please note, I did not encourage the conversation beyond this point.  I had to call upon my introvertedness, which does not exist, but rather it's a mask I sometimes wear.  I'm not very good at it.

woman #1: (after a brief pause) my baby is 44 years old.

me: Oh, they say it goes by so fast.

In this instance, the "they" to which I refer is every single human being who's ever commented on the passage of time to me regarding children.  This comes from people who have kids as well as people who don't have kids.  I think this is an easy comment to fall back on.   It's right up there with complaining about the weather - when you have nothing else to say, complain about the weather.  When you have nothing else to say, tell young parents that it goes by so fast.

woman #1: it does.  it does.

woman #2: (smiling at me) my baby is 23.

woman #1: boy or girl? (as if we're referring to children!? - let's check ourselves, we're talking about adults)

woman #2: well, the baby is a girl, but we also have a boy.

woman #1: mmm hmmm... and I bet one is more agreeable than the other?

woman #2: well...

woman #1: let me guess, the girl is more agreeable?

woman #2: well...

woman #1: because I tell you what, I can't get my boy to do anything for me.  He won't even come over and cut my grass.

woman #2: actually they are both pretty good...

woman #1: and I put him through private school, too!

Woman #2 is awkwardly trying to avoid eye contact with woman #1.  I HAVE STILL SAID NOTHING.

[long silence]

woman #1: (talking to me again, referring to Sean, his animal crackers, and Audrey, sleeping) well these two are well mannered enough, aren't they?

me: yes, they are good kids.  really sweet kids.

[another long silence]

woman #1: did you hear about the woman on the news who put those two boys in a...what was it?...

woman #2: oh yes, I did, she put them in a...

woman #1: a CAGE.  That's horrible.  As punishment.  That's horrible.

Thankfully at this precise moment I am called up to the cash register.  I pick up the carseat, and Sean picks up his animal crackers.  As we are exiting the store a couple minutes later, woman #1 catches my eye and says,

woman #1: now you have a good day.

me: thanks, you too.

woman #1: Merry Christmas.

me: and to you.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  This is spreading good cheer?  MERRY CHRISTMAS??  The things I have gained from this interaction are as follows:

1. spread Christmas cheer by striking up conversations with people in line at the store.  Regardless of the content of the conversation - and regardless of the reciprocity - this is somehow creating goodwill towards your neighbor.

2. within said conversation where content does not matter make sure to bring up something awful - like abusing children - right in front of young children.  this is sure to be a hit with young mothers everywhere.

3. expect that your girl children will be more agreeable than your boy children.

4. do not send your children to private school because they will never appreciate it.  They are ungrateful creatures anyway.

5. expect that your boy children will cut your grass for you and if they don't, complain about it to people in public.  Somehow, that karma will get back at your ungrateful boy children.

What I leave you with is this: if you're going to wish someone a Merry Christmas in the next couple weeks - or even just a simple Happy Holidays - I recommend going with the YMCA-dancing-class-lady.  Perhaps it was the way the light was streaming through the windows at that moment, or maybe it was all the dancing she was doing that went to her head.  Even if I didn't feel like the Blessed Virgin Mary (in that moment or any other - certainly not two hours later at Babies R Us), it was a human interaction that left me feeling serene, grateful, and peaceful.  That's what we're going for here, people. Then we have example #2.  Don't do that.  Don't ramble on complaining about your ungrateful boy children to strangers.  If nothing else, just say Merry Christmas.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Angels Among Us

I like going to Trader Joe's.  Having been a TJ's crew member for 3 years in Chicago, I find my time at Trader Joe's to be nostalgic, happy, and fun.  I like finding the products I used to love, and I like discovering the products I've never before seen.  Usually my trips to Trader Joe's end with a smile on my face and a rumble in my belly as I think about the food I get to eat at home from Trader Joe's.  My trip to Trader Joe's this week, however, threatened to end with me in tears, if it weren't for one angel who parked next to me at Trader Joe's.  She does not have a name, she does not have wings (at least not visible ones), but she is my angel.  If I ever needed proof, she is the proof I have always searched for.

I wanted it to be a quick trip to Trader Joe's, because we only needed a few items.  I took Audrey into the store while she was sleeping in her carseat, and where I would normally have put her in the stroller, I foolishly thought to myself, "this will be so fast, I don't even want to bother with the stroller in the trunk.  We'll just be in and out."  Famous last words.

We purchased a couple packages of nuts (which you can get great deals on at Trader Joe's, and I receive no kickback from them for saying so): almonds, peanuts and cashews. We also purchased a dried fruit bar for Sean.  He was proudly carrying the bar all the way through the checkout line, and all the way outside.  I had told him that if he ate his sandwich, he could have the fruit bar after.  He seemed to go along with this plan, but he insisted that he carry the bar himself.

When we got out to the parking lot, I enacted the usual drill:

me: Sean, when we get to the parking lot, I need a hand.  Remember we hold hands when we're in the parking lot because there are cars around.

He obliged.  And as if to reinforce my point, a car pulled around the lot just at that moment, facing us as we were about to cross the pavement.  The driver of the car, seeing my hands full with a sleeping Audrey in the carseat in one hand and holding Sean's hand and the groceries in the other, waved me across the way.  He kindly slowed to a stop, and he had a look of nostalgia or quiet love on his face.  It was the look of a grandfather, perhaps seeing in me his own child, and seeing in my kids his own grandkids.  He was enjoying the moment to take care of us as he would his own family.  Thank you, sir.

me: Okay, Sean, this kind man is letting us cross the street, let's go.

Sean resisted my pull on his arm, focused on some item? lost activity? some opportunity for fun that was back in the Trader Joe's sliding doors?  I don't know, but I quickly dismissed whatever distraction kept him from walking forward with me.

me: Sean, let's go please, the car is waiting.

Sean: Yes, but -

I've been getting the "yes, but" a lot lately.  Do I say this alot?  Do I consistently agree with him and then counteract whatever is his desire?  If I am doing this, I'm not aware of it, but I'm keenly aware in this moment that he's turned a tool around against me.

Sean: Yes, but - I want to -

me: Sean, we need to be fast, fast, fast (a common phrase of mine, and I don't know if it inspires speed or if I just feel better saying it) the car is waiting.

Sean: NNNOOooooo!

He begins pulling my arm back towards the store, and I'm pulled in two directions as I lunge forward with Audrey (still sleeping) in her carseat and simultaneously pulled backwards with Sean wanting to go back to the store.

me: (abruptly) Sean, you have a choice: either you come with me right now and be a good listener (for this line, I must credit Susie Qualls-Agniel) or I will pick you up and carry you to the car.

Sean: (louder) NNNNOOOOOOOOOoooo!

With this his body goes boneless - as the great children's writer, Mo Willems, likes to say.  I count to three, giving him the final opportunity to come with me of his own accord.  Before doing this, I glance back at the driver of the car, and I give him a silent apology.  His face has gone from seeing his family members in our faces to slight... terror? compassion? pity?  I have no time to figure out what he's thinking...

me: Sean, you have to the count of three: 1!

He's leaning back towards the store with his full weight. Screaming.

me: 2!

He's on the ground screaming. YUCK! He's on the ground of the parking lot. What germs could possibly be down there?!

me: 3!

I scoop him up with the hand carrying the groceries, and during the jumble as I re-situate things, Audrey's eyes bolt open.  She's disoriented, so gratefully, she's quiet.  She's perplexed and she looks a little lost.  Sean is still screaming, but he's added arching his back to his tantrum, which makes this moment seem more like a kidnapping than a parent/child disagreement.  I walk with a gait, Sean on my hip, the carseat clunking at my side, and I must look like a hunchback moving through the parking lot, except my "hunch" is not on my back.  It's on my hip.  Still screaming.

Thankfully, I've pulled the car keys out of the backpack before we left the store, so I'm able to unlock the car during the tantrum.  We cross the way, allowing the man in the car - God bless you, sir - to move through the parking lot.  I've given up trying to assess what he's taken from this moment.  I set Audrey down on the pavement beside the car, open her door, and toss Sean and the bag of groceries into the car.  I leave it up to the reader to imagine what this toss looks like, though in my defense, he is not harmed in the toss.  He hates this. He continues screaming and yelling at me.  I then use Audrey and her carseat as a blockade so that Sean may not leap out of the car again to run back towards Trader Joe's.  I lock Audrey into the base of her carseat, and I slam the door.  Then, I move to Sean's side of the car.  He sees me coming and darts underneath Audrey's carseat behind the driver seat.  I open the door on his side and have to crawl into the car to extract him.  What follows is more back arching from him, shouts of "No, No, No, Mama! No, No, No, Mama!" coupled with going entirely boneless and trying to wiggle out of my arms.  It's a challenge getting his butt in his carseat.  During the fracas, I lose my car keys.  I don't know where they have gone, but the task at hand is getting Sean into his carseat.  By this point, Audrey is starting to fret.  She was woken from a sound sleep, being jostled about in the parking lot, and now her brother is screaming.  I try a new approach to get him to work with me.

me: Sean, I need you to sit in your seat. (I question if he can even hear what I'm saying over the sound of his own voice.) And if you don't sit in your seat, I'm going to take your bar away.

This is a gamble.  If he listens to me, I have succeeded.  But if he doesn't listen to me, I have to follow through with this threat, which I know will only make things worse.

me: Are you going to sit in your seat?

Back arching, kicking, screaming, shouting no, [fill in your own tantrums here].

me: you have until the count of three. 1!


me: 2!

[no change]

me: 3!

The removal of the bar from his hands sends his tantrum into the overdrive: the silent scream.  His face turns a couple shades of red and purple, his body is solidly held in "back arch position", and his eyes are WILD.  I perform my final move - the knee to the crotch - which was a lot easier a year ago when he was smaller and weighed less.  Through kicks, screaming and many tears, I finally get the seat belt buckled.  I search frantically for my keys, don't see them, and close the door, nearly brought to tears myself.

angel: Mommy, you are doing a good job.  I had one myself, and he's in 2nd grade now, and he's much calmer and so much fun.

I turn to see a woman standing next to her mini-van.  Is this what my fairy godmother looks like?  I've entered the world of motherhood, and my fairy godmother drives a white minivan.  Sweet!  She comes over and pats me on the shoulder.

angel: you are doing a good job, I know it doesn't feel like it, but you are.  Oldest boy, right?  Oh, yes, and I have one of those, too (she's looking across Sean now to Audrey) - my second child is a girl, sweet as can be.

Audrey is smiling at the woman, her widest grin, showcasing her two teeth in the middle of her bottom jaw.

angel: it will get better.

me: thanks, because I feel a little beat up!

What I don't say is, "Where the F are my keys???"

angel: he will outgrow this, and he will be a really fun 2nd grader.

me: thank you, you are an angel.  I appreciate it.

angel: no problem.  keep up the good work - I have been there - it will get better.

me: thanks again!

After she and her daughter head into the store, I comb the car for my keys.  Sean is still screaming and crying, he wants his bar, he wants to snuggle, he wants to talk to Dad.  I search Audrey's side, Sean's side, my seat, the passenger seat.  I finally find the keys behind the passenger seat, lodged  in the kangaroo-esque pouch directly facing Sean's carseat.  We are off, with Sean still crying, Audrey still trying to figure out what just happened, and me trying to take deep breaths.

The beauty of having a visit by this angel-mother is that she gave me the message I needed to hear, right in the moment I needed to hear it.  She took an opportunity to speak, as if a vehicle of God, sending words my way that would keep me from an emotional breakdown right there in the Trader Joe's parking lot.  Like a loving presence from the great beyond, she looked at my kids with eyes of love, instead of with eyes of incredulity (which is where I was headed), and she allowed me a break from dealing with Sean for a moment.  Thank goodness for the angels among us.

Before taking her daughter into the store, the angel-mother asked one more question.

angel: What is his name?

The car door was closed, Sean's screaming muffled, but the sound charging through the mass of steel, and the wild look in his eyes was enough for her to understand the full picture.

me: Sean.

angel: (directly to Sean) Aw, Sean.  Your mommy loves you.

Sean took one moment to breathe, a quick inhalation, a break for his brain, a brief flow of oxygen so that he may see clearly.  I know he looked at this angel-mother for a split second, wondering what she just said, wondering if maybe she was there to save him from his own mother, wondering if she would sympathize and give him his fruit bar back.  In the split-second break, I also know that he processed what the angel-mother just said, and gave over to the sense of defeat.  He took a second deep breath in, arched his back as much as his seatbelt would allow, screamed, and regained the wild look in his eyes.  My angel-mother received this final scream, because it was directed at her instead of me.  The angel brought, just as she did to me, the exact message Sean needed to hear, right in the moment he needed to hear it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mommy Dearest

If anyone ever idealized the relationship between mother and child, it was me. I always envisioned that my existence as a mother would be full of warmth and light. Many days it is! However, there are those few exceptions that happen more frequently than I would expect. These situations currently revolve around Sean because he can walk and talk, and I'm sure once Audrey is able to think for herself, she'll present her own moments where I want to pull my hair out. For now, I give you, these shining examples of my exemplary mothering skills.

Dreams of Autonomy #1
Sean wakes up in the middle of the night screaming. I stumble into his room, hoping he doesn't wake up Audrey, and also wanting Tom to get some sleep before he has to teach in the morning. When I approach him to wrap him up in my arms and tell him it's okay, it must have been a bad dream, that he is safe and can go back to sleep, he shouts in my face, "No, Mama, I want to close the garage door myself!"

The garage door. A frequent obstacle in our day. Whether coming or going, Sean is focused on - dare I say, obsessed with? - opening and closing the garage door. Many times, he will insist - by way of a tantrum - that the door be retracted from its current position, so that he may push the button causing it to open or close. Where other children might dream of scary monsters or vicious animals, Sean is dreaming of his mother closing the garage door before he can get to it. I'm sure in this horrendous nightmare of his I'm also cackling maniacally, wringing my hands, and saying, "I did it first, ha ha!"

Dreams of Autonomy #2
Sean wakes up in the middle of the night screaming. I stumble into his room, hoping he doesn't wake up Audrey, and also wanting Tom to get some sleep before he has to teach in the morning. When I approach him to wrap him up in my arms and tell him it's okay, it must have been a bad dream, that he is safe and can go back to sleep, (is this starting to sound familiar??) he shouts in my face, "No, Mama, I want to put the water in the cup myself!"

The water cup. I must say, I didn't see that one coming. The garage door, I understand, this is something we deal with everyday, but the water cup? This is not usually an issue! Clearly, the dreams are progressing from me just laughing maniacally and taking away his most precious joys in life to me refusing to let him even get his own water.

Dreams of Autonomy #3
Sean wakes up in the middle of the night screaming. I stumble into his room, hoping he doesn't wake up Audrey, and also wanting Tom to get some sleep before he has to teach in the morning. When I approach him to wrap him up in my arms and tell him it's okay, it must have been a bad dream, that he is safe and can go back to sleep, (if you feel like you know where this is headed, still read on:) he shouts in my face, "No, Mama, I don't want you, I want Dada!"

What are you, a dummy?
The other day we were at the library in downtown Minneapolis. Sean loves it at the library. In the lobby area, you can sit and watch the elevators go up and down to all four levels, because the elevator shafts are exposed, and the walls of the elevators are all glass. I think this is the number 1 reason Sean likes going to the library downtown. Sure, there are books, and sure there's a great children's section, but really he's there for the elevators. After watching the elevators go up and down 6 or 7 times, we then proceed inside to RIDE the elevators for a while. We make lots of friends with strangers while we do this, most of whom smile at Sean while he asks me, "going up?" while we go down and "going down?" while we go up. Though I try to correct him each time and explain the sensation he's experiencing is actually is going down while we go down or going up while we go up, he insists it's the other way around. No matter!

After finding children's books that we like and checking out, we move across the lobby of the library to the coffee shop where we can take a rest. We purchase a muffin, a cup of coffee and a cheese stick (the latter for Sean, of course), and sit watching all the people coming and going downtown. I feel totally content in this moment, because I love our adventures downtown, and I love being around a diverse population and exposing our kids to that. I love coming to the library, and reading books together. I love seeing Sean's face light up as he watches the elevators, and I love getting to spend this time with these two precious kids. Born out of this moment of gratitude and contentment, I look at my son who is people-watching quietly.

me: Seancito, do you love coming to the library? Isn't this so much fun?

Sean: Actually Mama, this isn't the library, this is a cafe.

Okay, Weakling...
The way I make it through the day is by staying one step ahead of the 2 year old. This I learned from my mother and my sister-in-law, Susie. If I can somehow foresee what his needs might be throughout the day, I can avoid a tantrum. If I can keep Seancito well fed with snacks and water, he is much more amenable to running errands. If I can foresee those things he likes to do himself (re: garage door, water, etc) and just factor in the extra time it will take for him to accomplish these tasks rather than me do it for him, we usually have good days. This requires a lot more energy from me, because instead of me just unscrewing the lid off the milk by myself, I ask him if he would like to do it ("yes!"). Instead of opening the drawer where his toothbrush lies, I ask him if he would please get his toothbrush out ("yes!"). One of these would-be tantrums turned Seancito likes to "do it the self" moments surrounds his stepstool in the kitchen. This small wooden, two staired step stool is perfect for him getting up to the sink to wash his hands, standing up at the counter to help with his cereal and various and sundry other "do it the self" moments that he insists upon participating in. This morning, trying to avoid one of these usual tantrums, I stopped before moving the step stool myself, I thought twice before just picking it up, adjusting it to where I needed it to go, and I quickly formulated a question that would make Sean believe he was "doing it the self" instead of me doing it for him.

me: Sean, will you please help me move your step stool over to the sink so you can wash your hands?

Sean: Oh. Sure. (and then under his breath) It's too hard for mama to do it yourself.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Applesauce Effect

It seems there are things that only the mind of a two-year-old can know. For example, why does he refuse to let me get the peanut butter out of the jar to make his PBJ sandwich, and why must he take the cap off the milk, and why must he hold the applesauce container and scoop the applesauce out himself? While we're on the subject of applesauce, here's a recent exchange between me and Seancito:

me: Seancito, your lunch is ready. (lunch involves mac and cheese and applesauce, in a separated plate, so that they are not touching each other.)

Sean: No, I don't want the applesauce!

me: okay, if you don't want it, you can leave it on your plate.

Sean: No! Mama, take the applesauce away! Take it! Take it away!!

me: Sean, if you don't want -

Sean: NOOO (pounding his fists), mama take it! (flailing his body)

me: I'm not gonna take it -

Sean: NOOO (sliding down between his seat and the table) I DON'T WANT THE APPLESAUCE!!

At this point Sean is laying underneath the table, face down, screaming, pounding the floor, and yelling about the applesauce. After this tantrum leaves his body, he moves back out to me, throwing himself at my legs, wrapping his arms around my thighs and yelling, "MAMA TAKE IT! I DON'T WANT APPLESAUCE!!"

I tell him that he doesn't have to eat the applesauce, but that I'm not going to take it off the plate. I'm not going to put it back into the container, I'm just going to leave it on his plate and he can either eat it or leave it. I also tell him that I'm going to take a break. This usually involves me going into the living room and sitting on the rocking chair quietly praying to God that I don't go crazy. Sean watches me leave the dining room, he watches me sit on the rocking chair, and he goes back to his place at the table, to the unwanted applesauce and the turkey sandwich that is getting completely ignored in this transaction. He crawls back up on the chair, still slightly moaning, crying, whimpering to himself. He positions himself in his chair, picks up his spoon, and dips it into the applesauce. He then takes a bite. And another. Then another. He's eating the applesauce! Tom walks into the kitchen just after this has all transpired, and Sean looks over at Tom.

Sean: Dada, will you please get me some more applesauce?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mole Autopsy

The man who lives behind us has a beautiful lawn. Nothing too fancy, but the grass is green, there doesn't seem to be any weeds, and he waters it daily with a sprinkler system. It's clear he cares about yard cleanliness. Come to find out, he more than cares. One day he approached our other neighbor with a plan to stop the moles.

Sidetrack here: moles are digging up all sorts of tracks in our neighborhood. My father-in-law tells me that moles can dig many miles in one night. Many, many miles. This angers our neighbor. Let's call him George. This angers George.

So George approaches my next door neighbor, Beckie, with a pair of gloves and pack of gum. He tells Beckie that he's done all sorts of research on moles, and that he's learned how to get rid of them. First you must buy a pack of Wrigley's original gum. Not spearmint. Not winterfresh, but ORIGINAL. Then, using the gloves, you unwrap a piece of gum, wad it up into a ball, and - still wearing the gloves (you must not touch the gum!) - you dig a hole in one of the mole's tracks and insert said-rolled-up-piece-of-Wrigley's (STILL WEARING THE GLOVES). Supposedly, the mole comes along, thinks the gum is a grub, chews it up, SUFFOCATES, and dies.

Now, to most of you out there, this might seem slightly strange, but to our friend George, this is all in a day's work. He tells Beckie that she should not overdo it (you don't want the moles to be wise to you), and she shouldn't put too many pieces of gum in the yard. However, he does explain that it must be Wrigley's original because it's the only kind and flavor that's chewy enough to suffocate the mole. Very important detail.

He also relates to Beckie that he knows this works because he planted one of these faux grubs in his yard and it successfully killed a mole. How would he know that? Because he dug the mole up. He went back to the scene of his own crime and dug up the suffocated mole to confirm that his Wrigley murder worked. My question - and I have yet to speak to this George - is this: did you perform a mole autopsy? Did you dig around in the mole's mouth? How in the world did you determine that your gum killed this mole? It gives me the willies just thinking about it... Ahhh, the life and times of those of us in the suburbs. We can't all be mole morticians.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

When I get off this toilet

Sean and I have butted heads recently. Specifically around the potty. Yesterday he pushed me to the brink of my sanity having slapped my leg twice. Once was in response to multiple pleas for him to clean up his blocks. The next was in response to getting ready to go pick up Tom from work. The second hit, much later in the day, my patient-reserves were low, was while I was sitting on the toilet. It's true. I was sitting on the toilet, he was discussing something with me and getting disgruntled about it. He did not like the responses I was giving him, so he slapped my leg.

me: When I get off this toilet, you are going to sit in time out.

Sean ran out of the room with a smirk on his face.

Any sentence that begins with "When I get off this toilet..." is not really an intimidating sentence. How can his 2 year old mind know that when I am sitting on the toilet, I am not a force to be reckoned with. In fact, I am at my most vulnerable!

Today, we were discussing his ability to sit on his own potty in the bathroom. his training potty has been set up since we arrived, and strangely (miraculously) he has sat on the potty a couple times in the past two weeks and he has successfully peed! Incredible! I told him that he would receive a small piece of chocolate if he successfully peed or pooped on the potty, so today he decided he wanted to get a piece of chocolate. However, he had just completed filling a full diaper and I was cleaning it when he decided he wanted to do this. So... he sat on the potty, and sat, and sat. I suggested a couple times that he might want to put his diaper on and come back out and join us in the living room, but no, he wanted the chocolate. Finally, I left him to his own devices. He was singing a song, sitting on the potty, pants-less, when the repair man stopped in. I held a crying Audrey on my shoulder (she was hungry) and welcomed my man Mitch into the house. He brought in our piece of furniture newly repaired, and I turned to show him where to put it only to see Sean standing at the top of the stairs with only a shirt on.

When I get off this toilet...

Monday, August 15, 2011

An ovary, a thumb, and a toddler (in no particular order)

Our move to Minnesota began a couple weeks ago when I finished my last day of work. We frantically packed the house for three days, moved on a Friday, came to Golden Valley on Saturday, and have been Minnesotans ever since. But the details of the actual move can be followed by some major/minor medical incidents.

Wednesday, August 3 - 2:58 AM
I wake up with searing pain on my left side. I am convinced this is an ulcer that has burst due to the amount of coffee I have been drinking. Between sleeplessness with a newborn, keeping up with Seancito, and going back to work for July, I was enjoying coffee every morning. Then, my office mate, Beth, was kind enough to surprise me with lattes a couple times at work. As delicious as all of this was, I knew that I had given myself an ulcer. A coffee-induced ulcer. Brilliant. I am terribly nauseous along with this pain, and I can't even lay back down in bed, so I prop myself up in the recliner and try to go back to sleep. I waver between thinking I have food poisoning, a burst ulcer, or maybe appendicitis, but eventually, I fall back asleep.

Thursday, August 4 - 8:30 PM
After getting ready for bed, I notice that this dull pain on my left side has not gone away but seems to be getting worse. I push on it, and it hurts. My stomach feels bloated, it hurts to bend over, hurts to move from side to side. I call my mom, a nurse, who gives medical advice freely. I go in search of this medical advice for just about every ache and pain I have. Sometimes mom is spot on, other times, she is totally off base, but regardless, her opinion always makes me feel better. My mom wants me to be seen by a doctor tomorrow. Tomorrow. Moving day. Brilliant.

Friday, August 5 - 8:45 AM
Moving truck arrives - Two Men and a Truck. Seancito believes this is the best day of his life because a huge truck is in front of our house. Seancito also believes this is the worst day of his life because two men are carrying all of our worldly belongings into the truck. Thank goodness I could distract him with a trip to the doctor.

10:00 AM
After assessing multiple organs around my abdomen (no appendicitis, seemingly no ulcer), the doctor determines this is "gynecological in nature." Seriously? I'm seeing a GP I've never seen before because my regular doctor is out on Fridays. We are supposed to be moving across the country today. I tell him this. He says, "basically I'm trying to assess whether or not you need surgery." Great. I hold back tears.

me: what would that mean? Why would I need surgery?

doc: well, it could be a burst ovarian cyst...

me: which would need surgery?

doc: no. But it could also be an ectopic pregnancy. In which case we would need to get you to surgery quickly. Please undress from the waist down and I'll be right back. I know this isn't the best time.

Correct. This isn't the best time. But he's not referring to the move. He glances over at Sean while saying this inferring, "I know you don't want your two year old to see you in this awkward position" and I silently agree because honestly who wants to see anyone in this awkward position? After quickly undressing, the doctor returns with a nurse, who kindly pays attention to Sean during my exam. Thankfully the doctor is quick. Before any of us know it, the stirrups are in place, and the exam begins.

doc: (pushing on right side) Does this hurt?

me: no.

doc: (left side) Does this hurt?

me: yes. (!)

doc: okay, that's it for now, I'll send you down to the medical foundation for blood tests and I'll put them through STAT. We should have answers in a couple hours, I hope. By then we can make a decision about whether or not you travel.

I thank the doctor and he leaves, but not before giving me a requisition form for blood tests. STAT. I drop Sean off at a friend's house where he barely looks back to say goodbye while heading to the playroom filled with toddlers. Thank goodness for friends.

After getting blood drawn STAT, I call my OBGYN office, and they call me down for an emergency ultrasound. Thankfully the images rule out an ectopic pregnancy and show that I have "free fluid" in my abdomen. This indicates a ruptured ovarian cyst and they tell me to take ibuprofen for the pain. Free to move to Minnesota, I return home around 1pm - and there are still two men packing the truck.

Despite the inability of the moving company to fit in all of our worldly posessions, we leave South Bend with most everything we own in a truck and our family in a car around 5:30pm. We sleep in Madison for the night, and then arrive in Golden Valley, MN on Saturday.

Sunday, August 7 - 8:25 PM
24 hours in our new house and the Carmonas arrive to help us move in, play tourists for the week, and just be the best copadres any family could ask for. Sean and Victoria are so excited to see each other, they are running around the house, giggling, yelling, and throwing their bodies onto the futon and couch. Sean runs into the living room headed for the couch again and trips just before making it there. His face slams into the wooden base of our couch. He screams. The parents standing around offer their usual condolences, "you're okay, get up, brush it off." "Come here, let me see, you're okay." He still screams and turns around from the couch. We see blood coming from his lower lip and as Tom picks him up, his screaming stops, his eyes still searching the room for some explanation of his pain. His body then bends completely backwards making an upside down "U" and someone says, "Tom, he's not breathing."

I run for my cell phone, because we have no home phone. Four years of house management experience and working in a building with poor cell phone reception, and I walk immediately out the front door while my cell phone connects with 911. Someone picks up.

1st responder: emergency 911. (his voice does not sound at all urgent)

me: 1435 Toledo Ave. N. Please, my two year old just hit his head and passed out. I don't think he's breathing. Please send someone. Please.

1st responder: what city are you in?

me: Golden Valley, MN.

1st responder: one moment while I connect you.

ONE MOMENT? I don't have one moment, my heart is racing, fear is wrapped around my shoulders, clutching my chest and throat, my eyes frantically search the street as if an ambulance might be coming at any minute.

2nd responder: 911 emergency.

me: 1435 Toledo Ave. Please send someone, my two year old hit his head and passed out, please send somebody. 1435 Toledo Ave.

2nd responder: one moment while I connect you with Golden Valley EMTs.

Are you kidding me??

3rd responder: Golden Valley

At this point, I can't remember the exact exchange other than the 2nd responder tells the Golden Valley EMTs our address and they quickly get off the phone. The 2nd responder then continues talking to me.

2nd responder: they are on their way. Are you with your son right now?

Am I with him? No. What kind of a parent am I? What am I doing outside? Why am I standing at the edge of our very long driveway? I feel like I'm a mile away and start jogging towards the house.

me: no, I came outside to get cell phone reception, but my husband is with him...

I continue rambling, explaining, justifying myself. As if this woman is judging me.

2nd responder: okay, go to him, and tell me if he's breathing.

Thankfully by the time I get back in the house, he is awake, but pale, sweaty, and confused. He is looking around the room trying to figure out why everyone is hovering over him. The 2nd responder tells me to keep talking to him, to roll him onto his side if he vomits, and to call 911 back if he passes out again. Shortly, the first police officer arrives and then the EMTs. They ask us where we want Sean to be taken. A hospital, right? I have no idea how to get to the grocery store much less the ER. One officer says, "I have 5 kids, and if I had to send them someplace, I would send them to Amplatz." Okay. Amplatz - wherever that is. They put a neck brace around his neck and roll towels on either side of him while they transfer him onto a board. He does not like this.

Another police officer writes directions down on a piece of paper for me, and they try explaining directions to me verbally. I am certain the look on my face is utter confusion. I pack the diaper bag, put Audrey in her carseat, and tell our copardres goodbye. This is when I break down. Astrid tells me it's going to be okay. Victor tells me that Sean is fine, this is just a precaution. The police officer sees me crying and tells me this is a good decision to send him to the ER, but he thinks he's okay. It doesn't feel like he's okay when he's just been carried out of the house on a board.

I follow the ambulance to Amplatz - thank goodness it was a Sunday night - not much traffic. Tom rides in the ambulance with Sean, so when they get there, the two of them are rushed into the ER, while I look for parking elsewhere. Tom's parents are with me, and we all head up to the ER entrance together. The woman at the front desk checks me in and asks for my address. I'm able to give her everything but the zip code and then I break down again. I tell her we just moved here yesterday; I don't know my zipcode.

After a couple hours in the ER, they determine that Sean is fine. The doctor believes he hit his head, cried so hard that he held his breath, and then passed out. They send us home by 11:30 PM with instructions to return if he gets worse. At some point during our discharge with her she says, "Welcome to Minnesota."

Monday, August 8 - 12:30 PM
Truly the most anti-climatic part of this story is me fixing lunch for the kids and slicing off the top of my thumb and thumbnail with a cheese slicer. I spend the next week healing that wound, but in comparison to the rest of our medical exploits this seems minor.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The first day of my life

This is the first day of my life. I officially completed my last day of work and started a life as a full time mother. I could not be happier. This evening, my co-workers threw me a going away party and the volunteer ushers asked me over and over again what I would be doing when we moved. I felt so vindicated in saying, "I'm going to stay home with our kids." I received a variety of reactions; everything from, "oh that's wonderful" to some blank stares to looks of bewilderment that I didn't have another job lined up for myself. It's this process of becoming. I'm sure it doesn't make sense to some people that I wouldn't have something else on the horizon. Thank goodness for the space to figure out what might be next.

Someone said to me last week, "we know where we are born, but we do not know where we will die." What's more fitting to where I am right now is "we know where we are, but we have no idea where we are going." A complete and total act of surrender this moving away.

In moving away from South Bend, we are physically moving, but there's also a metaphorical moving - a spiritual and emotional moving. Who we have been in this place will never exist again. We are in the process of becoming new people; a new family.

Friday, July 22, 2011

And so it begins

I've thought for a long time about starting a blog. One that would accurately reflect the beginning of our new life in Minnesota. This is a place for me. This is a place to reflect, to honor and to celebrate a new beginning.

Some of the volunteer ushers I've worked with have commented that this is the best time of my life - having young kids and my husband starting a new job. I have tried to take this to heart; is it just nostalgia talking when they give me this advice? There is a kernel of truth as I see it; each day is new. Our little kids are growing every day, learning something new, constantly changing and taking in the world around them. Because I am leaving a job of four years that hasn't felt fulfilling, and because Tom is starting a job that he will hopefully find fulfilling, we are starting with a clean slate. As a family of four we are constantly in the process of becoming who we will be and who we are. The art of becoming.

To memorialize my first post - here's something funny Sean did today. We sat reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar before I went to work this morning. As I read, he repeated after me. He enjoyed yelling "patterkillers, mama, patterkillers!" Priceless.