My Birthday Present

We're just over a month into our new family ventures, and already we have established a hint of normalcy. Just a hint though….because it is an absolute madhouse here. Not just most days, but every day. Even when the kids are in bed. Madhouse. However, the boys seem to fit right in with the ebb and flow of our daily routines. Well, we think they are fitting in...but I'm sure they wonder what all the fuss is about when I have a panic attack and pass out each time they make a move from the table with dirty hands.

The middle sis is really coming in handy. If she's not leading them by her example, she's doing so with explicit and precise instructions. In a tone that is all too familiar to Keith…as well as my former students. Still, like siblings who have been together from the beginning, they are quick to publicize, though few they are, her every infraction.

I knew it was inevitable, but have already I added the title of “Referee” to my Motherhood resume. We are not able to make it downstairs in the morning without my having to set up boundary lines with objects, put someone in Time Out or physically restrain or remove a child from any given location. The honeymoon is definitely over for these 3.

After the kids’ “rest time” yesterday, which is never that for me, I had to clean up 3 sets of urine and rescue a child who had fallen in the toilet after slipping on the urine of a sibling.

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I did pick up a child who was covered literally from hair to sock in pee. Um, not before grabbing a towel of course! I wouldn’t dare touch that without a thick absorbent barrier. After carefully wrapping him in the towel, I comforted and cleaned the little guy off while shooing away the laughing hyenas in the hallway.

On that subject, I nearly peed my pants one night last week when Keith put Garris in Time Out…and he actually sat in the chair the whole time, which for now is a whopping 2 minutes. No screaming, kicking or walking away. I am grateful and a little pissed that he will at least sit there for someone, even if it isn’t me.

Tomorrow is my birthday. While I make everyone around me celebrate the event for at least a month, I only made one request to Keith: a day off. Ahh. He is granting my wish and has arranged for me to spend the day with 2 of my favorite girlfriends while he and another brave soul take care of all 7 children.

I am scared.

Not scared so much of what will happen to the kids. I’ve already been informed of the day’s agenda. Krispy Kreme to get them in a great mood with all the sugar and fat of a couple dozen doughnuts…followed by dumping the kids at the gym’s child watch…then the pool and a bike ride.

I’m scared of the state in which I will find my organized house and life upon my return. Every bag, craft, snack, etc. has a particular “home” so that I can find it easily next time I want to use it. Yes, I’m that girl. Keith says he hates it but relies on me to know where everything is. Honey, it’s not my day to keep up with that tiny piece of paper you claim to have had in your hand last month.

I tried to pass on some information to him regarding food, our routine and the contents of all 18 pool bags it takes us for each trip, but he did not want to listen. So, I am relinquishing control. This is a good step for me, The Control Nazi. In the same way, he tried to give me instructions tonight…on how to fold his clothes! In 10 years of marriage, tonight was the first night I have ever asked Keith to fold his own underwear and socks. I folded every other piece of laundry during the time he balled his socks. I learned that, even though I have folded hundreds of pairs of boxers each week, because he wears at least 5 pair a day (one for each category or mood), I could have been simply tossing them into his basket of clean laundry. Hours later, I am still baffled that in all this time, I have given him neatly folded undies that he basically unfolds before putting away.

Have I mentioned our communication problem?

We have a sitter and dinner reservations for tomorrow night’s date, but I’m not sure I’ll want to come home for it.


Signature Move

Removal of possessions, withholding of privileges, and modified time outs are my go-to tools in our current no-spanking method of discipline and correction. Just the threat of not getting to watch Tangled during lunch will usually get my kids out of the pool at the first request, and only one time did a child not get to sing along with Rapunzel and Mother Gothel. If you are the parent of a child who can walk…or at least has control of his limbs, you know there are times when none of these work. None of them. And, you are left to physically restrain a child. Out of love of course. Sometimes out of your love for the child. And, sometimes out of your love for doors without holes kicked in them.

This week I have been grateful for the younger brother of my high school best friend. He was a wrestler, and a pretty good one if I remember correctly. We couldn’t walk into a room he was in without being dragged into a wrestling match with him. I eventually learned to just give in, wrestle him, put up a good fight but still be instantly defeated. Fun times they were. However, I must have subconsciously stored away some strategies I saw because I whipped out several of those moves on my children this week. I even put one of my best friends in a particular hold on my kitchen floor because she didn’t believe my story.

Um, now she does.

Monday and Tuesday these matches were so intense…and long…that I unashamedly skipped my class at the gym. Had to skip it. I was still fatigued when it was time to leave my house an hour after I had declared victory one day. As if I could be defeated. No. Mommy always wins. Always.

My side of our bedroom has become a holding place for nearly all of this child’s belongings, including his entire wardrobe. Each time he asks for something, for instance a pair of undies or an electric train, we remind him of the broken rule that resulted in the removal and withholding of his possessions including his favorites of the community toys.

It’s not like I had made the child go naked. Each day I gave him an allotment of clothing that included one outfit (of my choosing), one pair of undies, and one pair of PJs. I’ve used this same technique with Avery for probably 2 years. It was a little easier with her because she will only wear dresses and an occasional skirt, so a removal of just those items was enough…or just verbally restricting her options worked as well.

I will admit I felt a little like Mommy Dearest when I denied his request for new undies after our trip to the pool. As the kids change into their swim suits, each stacks his or her clothing together for me, and I leave the 3 neat stacks at the door so that when we get home they can change into dry clothes without tracking water upstairs. Clever, right? After his little pouting episode over the mysteriously missing undies, during which the other kids and I went and had lunch while he stood...naked...at the bottom of the stairs glaring at us in the kitchen, the undies were found right where he left them: inside the day’s pair of pants. While he pretended not to understand the irony of the situation...or my sarcasm over it, I have had many good laughs because of it.

After naptime today, all undies along with the rest of this child’s clothes were returned to him because he followed this one directive. If we have a replay tomorrow, he will get back his favorite shoes and silly bands.


A Notable Milestone

Last Sunday night the boys slept in their birthday suits after deciding the pajamas I laid out were not up to their newly acquired high standards. Thankfully, I was absent for most of this fiasco. All I know is what I saw when I went in for a final tuck and kiss. Ivan’s undies hung from a slat under the top bunk, and Garris’s had been tossed across the room. I let Keith keep the naked bodies in their beds, which took about an hour before they finally gave in to their exhausted post-swim state.

This of course was not our first battle of the day. Garris had refused to eat lunch because we wouldn't turn on Tangled, i.e. Rapunzel for those of you without little girls. This obsession is growing old, and I haven’t even had the chance to watch the movie from start to finish.

We quickly realized our boys were made for the water, especially Ivan. They are little fish. It is unbelievable the tricks they will do and how they get around in it. Both will do front flips into the water and swim all around with just the water wings. They’re even taking the first steps of swimming: remove water wings, jump into pool, swim back to side. Awesome! Little Ivan even dove off the diving board. Some of their bravery has even rubbed off on Avery. At 4, she will finally put her face in the water. Of course afterward, she immediately runs to dry her face on a towel. And, she’s so proud of herself, telling everyone she encounters, what an advanced swimmer she is now that she can swim with water wings alone, instead of requiring several additional floatation devices.

The boys’ English is coming along. They will repeat nearly any words and phrases but don’t always use them in the appropriate context later. Right now I’m a tiny bit grateful they do not speak fluently because they would for sure turn Avery against us as well. Our teams (Us versus Them) will be outnumbered by the end of the year I’m sure. Avery is actually using some Amharic…and possibly in situations to embarrass me on purpose. While the boys will tell me they need “to go potty,” Avery says “shinti” and “caca” for pee and poop. She orders around her brothers, including Simon, saying, “Takamet!” which means “sit.” Or, she reprimands someone with, “Atincow” instead of “Do not touch.” And many more that sound ridiculous coming from her little assertive mouth.

During one 24-hour period last week, I changed 4 sets of sheets and every piece of the coordinating bed covering. We’ve had so many recent accidents that I haven’t always had time to wash and dry set 1 before set 2 has been soaked. We’ve each made the decision at separate times to just move a child to a dry area for the rest of the night. It’s a good thing a spit bath with baby wipes will eliminate most of that smell because there is zero time in the morning for a bath. At least we have mattress protectors so the urine just pools there under the sleeping body. Although the boys are potty trained and had no accidents the first 2 weeks, the changes must be setting in. We decided Ivan would sleep in a pull-up until he can stay dry at night consistently, but I didn’t have the time or energy to take my 3 Tiny Bladders to the store. Luckily at bedtime I found some leftover size 3 diapers, which were soaked for 2 nights in a row because Ivan didn’t know how to take the tabs off when he got up to use the bathroom. I had wanted to use up the diapers because they are free from my closet but finally broke down and purchased some pull-ups. Now the kid has stayed dry every night! What? Those babies were $10! I feel I should get a little more use out of them. And I probably could if he didn’t rip the sides off each morning. Wasteful!

After my Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day post, I received so much encouragement and advice from other moms. Thank you for that! Now if anyone knows how to avoid such days, I’d love to know that little secret because I’m not sure I could handle another. Since I didn’t get to share much of the week’s high points, I’ll do so at this time.

The boys haven’t been very affectionate with me…I can’t imagine why. I’m such a warm and loving person, right? They do hug and kiss nearly every other human they come in contact with though. Well, lately they have each been giving me random hugs and kisses. So sweet. Ivan has initiated fist bumps and high fives with me, a macho way of showing affection but it’s still affection. And one afternoon while I was at the sink, he came motioning for me to bend down then whispered, “I love you,” in my ear. Now that was the sweetest!

Although it may take 10 times as long, we’ve already got a routine down, and the boys could be better at cleaning up than Avery is. Usually their beds are already made before I even go in to get them up. Not just sloppily thrown together in a child-like manner. They are done to military level of perfection.

They’re eating very well and trying lots of new things, sometimes even with a reluctant smile… because they don’t really want me to know if they’re enjoying it. That doesn’t stop me though. If I get any hint of compliance, I cheer and dance around the table. My trick is to show them to dip everything in marinara sauce. Now I would never do this because of my anti-dipping philosophy, unless it’s cheese sauce or hummus, of course. But Avery first started eating veggies with marinara because I wouldn’t dare introduce her to ranch dressing. Gross! Dipping is fun for kids. Works for the boys too! Garris has his own trick though. If he finds something unappetizing or if he’s just not in the mood, he chews quickly and washes it down with water. He is a little stink! And still so, so great.

Tonight all three kids played without arguing, breaking anything, or crossing the boundary lines into the kitchen while Keith and I cleaned up dinner’s aftermath. A notable milestone for our new family.


It Always Gets Worse…Much Worse…Before It Gets Better

Okay, we’re two weeks in and I feel I should give another update… you know...with all this spare time. So I was going to recap the last week. Tell you about the boys' sing-song chanting: "Oh, Rapunzel, let down your hair!” While Keith is terrified…of that or the fact that they have the soundtrack memorized, Avery loves it! And, oh, the sibling rivalry that no meal is without. If it’s not a footsie fight under the table, they are scooting plates to infringe on another’s allotted space on top of the table. I want to tell you about the sweet yet destructive bonding that has already taken place between Avery and Ivan. They accompany each other to the bathroom and several times have nearly flooded the one downstairs. And their first trip to the pool! Within 3 minutes they went from being terrified to jumping in (with water wings of course). Even Ivan, whom I was most afraid for, took the next step: performing front flips into the water. Remember their first bath in Ethiopia? It was water-park-level excitement! I can’t imagine what they thought of the pool upon first glance.

Instead, I have to tell you about one single day: Today. Memorial Day 2011. This will likely be a day I never forget but would very much like to. I thought nothing would beat Thursday. Graduation day at my school. I used to be super on top of things and would get ready for the day before getting Avery up at 7:15. But with the boys getting up at 6:00 in the orphanage, I moved wake up to a reasonable 7:00. Thursday I had planned accordingly to be not just ready for work but professional enough to hand out diplomas to graduates on stage. Getting everyone on board has been tough: Garris isn't quite following the change in his routine. Who can blame him? He is my son. After waking up at 6:00, he immediately dropped down to Ivan's bed to wake him for their early morning trip to the bathroom. The problem is that they do not return to bed! How dare them! So my combat with children began at 6:15, clothed in only a towel. I was sweating within 15 minutes. I cried out to Keith for help even though I knew he was at the gym. Would have beat the floor in my pleas to God, which I admit to having done with Avery, if I'd had the time to drop down and get back up before a child escaped. I had no choice at 7:00 but to let them get up and get dressed. So lights on for all 3. Well, the boys are speedy quick with every move they make, which put them dressed and ready to go down for breakfast about the time Avery rolled out of bed. I had to find some way to keep the boys upstairs while Avery got dressed, and, oh, while I finished getting ready. The boys were content for 45 seconds before Avery began screaming about her “scratchy” outfit, and my battle with her began. At that point I didn't care what she wore as long as I didn't see It or Them. The four of us waged war until 8:05 when we loaded the van.

I wish I had the time to tell you more about last Thursday morning. I honestly thought I may have seen the worst. We've all complained about a day from hell. Today was straight from the deepest, darkest pit.

At 5:45 Garris woke Ivan up, well tried to wake him with persistent nudging and shaking. I quickly intervened by instructing Garris to use the bathroom, alone for once. After helping him back to bed and ignorantly thinking he would go to sleep, I had to go back in at least a dozen times trying to get him to stop making loud noises with books before finally taking the books from his bed. Although it’s against my soul to withhold literature as punishment, within 5 minutes I had removed 2 shelves of books…and some shoes…because now neither would stay in bed! Garris began asking for time out, i.e. playing with the fan and night light, so I granted his request. Now, while Ivan sits quietly for the most part in T.O., Garris has to be held there, which is a workout. I won’t bore you with all the details of the hour, but at 6:45 when Keith left for the airport (heading to Illinois to pick up a vehicle), I wore earplugs because Garris was wailing and kicking anything near him, and at 7:40 I removed the earplugs as he calmly joined us for breakfast ready for the day. And I was pooped. At 7:40!

One of our best friends Andy, who also lives in our neighborhood, had offered to help me with the kids at the pool. There’s no way I alone can keep all 3 from drowning, even with water wings, mini surf boards, a life jacket and star floatie. All I had to do in the hour and a half between breakfast and pool time was entertain them, keep them safe, and get out pool attire. I failed. But not too badly. After about 6 warnings of T.O. for various behavior not too atypical for boys, Garris and I suffered through another T.O. because he tripped Avery, causing her to hit her head on the table. I was more worried about having to hold him in T.O. again than whether or not Avery’s head was okay.

Swimming was uneventful, a huge relief to me.

Before we exited the gate, I repeatedly reminded the kids something of which they are fully aware: they must walk with me to the van. If not, it’s T.O. Garris took off laughing hysterically and Ivan soon followed. I am learning to choose my battles, and this one is worth it. For safety. After using the same tactics I did with Avery when she pulled a trick like that, the boys eventually rejoined us to safely cross to the van together.

After the boys were released from their well-deserved T.O. (during which the decibel of Garris’ screaming was so high that Avery had her ears covered and I couldn’t even hear the timer), Garris was still wailing and kicking the wall, I was exhausted and dripping with sweat, and Avery and Ivan sat quietly at the table waiting on lunch to be served. For the next 10 minutes, I removed Garris from the floor near the kids’ table at least 100 times because he only wanted to kick or shove it into the other 2. During this time, I was also unsuccessfully trying to get lunch out for everyone. I was shaking when I realized I needed back up. Fast. Everyone I knew was out of town for the holiday except for Andy, who quickly came and served lunch while I dealt with the relentless disobedience. We all cheered for Garris when he joined us for the last 5 minutes of lunch.

My heart rate returned to normal while I sat with the kids during their nap, a success thanks to the pool time.

Included in our daily routine is one snack, which occurs after naps. And the battle ensued. So far when Garris hasn’t gotten his way, I have seen no limit to how far he will go physically. Don’t be scared of him…no one’s been hurt too terribly. But I am getting worn out containing him or removing him from a situation. I had no idea what he wanted, but the snack I provided was definitely not it. Shocker. For the next half hour, I physically restrained him from attacking a sibling or appliance. I had called Keith in a panic as I chased Garris around the block, so he called our next-door neighbor for back up. When I returned with the now compliant runaway, I found Avery and Ivan who had stayed inside and literally cleaned up the snack time mess for me. Those two are not always helpful. They just tag team me.

Dinner went over fairly well, and I found out what Garris had wanted at snack time: croutons, that had been sitting out to go with dinner’s side salad. As if I had intentionally teased him with those delicious carbs. Sheesh!

One final task of the day, one I had never done alone: bathe all 3 kids and put them to bed. Plus, I needed a shower. Desperately needed one, despite my use of deodorant. I asked the boys to stay in the playroom, which they of course did not obey, while Avery and I took a bath. Okay, I know that’s weird, but she begged me and has already felt left out because she can’t take a bath with the boys. So, I regretfully caved. Regretful because of our vastly differing preferences in water temperature. After a not-so-thorough bath and hair washing for the gals, I sent Avery to get PJs while I helped the boys with their bath.

I have to admit that I was 15 minutes late getting everyone in bed. Gasp! But the worst part of the evening was when the boys asked for Keith when we prayed after a story and song. They call him Daddy to his face but often refer to him as Father in their cute little accents. Hearing that would normally melt me, but not after the day I had. Nope. Not after today.