Remember Flying Without Kids?

I remember when vacation meant a week of sleeping in, eating meals over the course of hours while enjoying a bottle of wine and long leisurely days laying on the beach. I long for those days sometimes but I generally love vacations with my kids, too. What I don’t like is flying with my kids. A friend of mine told me she’s getting on a plane this week without her kids. I’m so jealous. I’ve flown without my kids once in five years. It was the most glorious trip ever.  I didn’t have to feed anyone, get anyone down for a nap or worry that someone was going to be unable to equalize the pressure in their ears and scream bloody murder for three hours. It was awesome. Here’s what flying looks like before kids and after kids:

Before: Getting to the airport exactly one hour before my departure time because that’s all I needed.

After: I now arrive at the airport two hours before departure because we travel with an entourage made up of 7 suitcases, a stroller, two car seats and two children who only want to run in opposite directions from each other. Moving through the airport is like driving an 18 wheeler: long, slow, wide turns while constantly checking to make sure I haven’t run into someone or dropped anything/anyone off on the side.

Before: Sharing knowing, annoyed glances with strangers over the screaming child in 9B.

After: Dodging eye contact with everyone around me because my child is seated in 9B screaming his head off. Instead, I share knowing, sympathetic looks with the other people traveling with kids and gratefully accept the bag of half-eaten Cheetos from the mom across the aisle in hopes it will shut my kid up. 

Before: I would pick out a book just for reading on the airplane knowing I would have a chance to sit there for several hours, uninterrupted, able to totally engross myself in the characters and plot.

After: My reading material consists of something that includes  an illustrator listed on the cover or the Sky Mall magazine.

medium_9701362008

Before: I ordered more than one drink without dodging disapproving looks from other passengers.

After: I order more than one drink but it’s usually for the six passengers seated around me who are being tortured by my kid crying or my kid’s movie that is inexplicably still audible despite him wearing headphones, and those who will need surgery for their herniated disc caused by my  kid repeatedly kicking their seat.

Before: I wouldn’t drink anything for an hour before the plane in fear of having to actually use one of those broom closets disguised as a bathroom.

After: I contemplate letting my kid pee in a bottle rather than taking him to the bathroom. I made the mistake once of scheduling a trip while  my kid was in the middle of potty training. Never again. You think airplane bathrooms are gross? Try being three feet tall with questionable balance. There aren’t many places to put your hands to keep from falling over.

The next time you are flying and seated near someone traveling with kids, offer to buy them a drink. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it as much as you.

Photo Credit: Chef Cooke via Flickr   

The Yelling Project

medium_8055193182

I’m a yeller. I hate yelling. Yet, I can’t seem to stop myself. My Little Loves just push my buttons and then – WHAM! – nuclear Mommy meltdown and I start spewing forth all kinds of toxic loudness. It usually happens after I ask my kids 37 times to do something and it usually ends with me yelling some sort of Dr. Seuss sounding nonsense at them: “Time to go. Put on your shoes. Put your shoes on. Put your shoes on. Shoes on. Shoes on. Shoes on your FEET. Put SHOES on. Shoes go ON YOUR FEET. SHOES. Feet. On. GO. Feet. PUT SHOES ON! FEET AND GO!!!” And my head spins half way around my body and my eyes glow red all Exorcist-like.

I hate it. I feel horrible. My kids hate it. They feel horrible. Then I’m a Bad Mommy and I just feel worse and my patience is that much shorter making it that much more likely I’m going to lose it.

Bleckh.

So, I decided to do something about it and I found the coolest blog: The Orange Rhino (not a promotion. I don’t know this nutty lady. Just something I stumbled on in my search for help).  It’s awesome. The premise is to set a goal of number of days to stop yelling. The nutty lady set a goal of one year. And did it. Holy shitballs. A whole year of not yelling. At her husband. At her kids. At anyone. I was terrified and decided she was crazy and clearly had the help of tranquilizers, long child-free vacations and a live-in nanny. I dismissed it. Impossible. Liar liar pants on fire. A whole year is impossible. I mean, how did she make it through the holidays? How did she make it through a car trip longer than 30 minutes? How did she make it through a meal out at a restaurant? No way. 

But then I found out she was starting a 30-day challenge. I’m a sucker for challenges. I’m competitive. Ok. I can do 30-days. I’ll show you Orange Rhino Lady. Thirty days is nothin’!  I can do a month. 

So, here I go – 3o days of no yelling.  I’ve been reading up. I have my strategies. I’ve stocked the freezer and wine rack. I told my husband and kids (husband stifled a laugh but said he was on board and kids were genuinely excited). I’m telling all of you, so now I’m accountable. I’m nervous but excited. I’ve started rehearsing my song for “Put Your Shoes On” sung to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. The kids love it.

This is gonna be hard but fun(ish).

Wanna join me?

Photo Credit: The Found Animals Foundation.

Five Things You Should Never Say to the Mother of Your Children

Dear Husband,

You are a wonderful father and husband. I thank Fate everyday that we crossed paths and managed to scare each other into getting married. You do the grocery shopping (usually with the kids!), help with bedtime, cook dinner at least two nights a week, and are home for dinner almost every night. You are a dream! How did I get so lucky?

But, there are some phrases you should just stop saying. Every time I hear them, I  contemplate a one-way ticket to Tahiti…for me. Alone. All by myself.  For starters, here are five things you should never say to the mother of your children:

We need this in our house.

We need this in our house.

1. “I need a couple of minutes to go to the bathroom.” Almost without fail you come home, say hello, kiss me on the cheek, get the kids riled up with excitement to see their daddy and then excuse yourself to go to the bathroom. Alone. With the door closed. And locked. You get annoyed when one of the kids tries to follow you in there, or worse, bangs on the door demanding to be let in. I get to go to the bathroom alone only when both kids are at school or in bed. That averages out to about 1.5 times a day. And in reality, usually during one of those times you are in the bathroom brushing your teeth. No, dear husband, you get to have an audience, complete with running commentary on all of your body parts. Prepare to be humbled.  And by the way, our three-year-old is potty training so show some enthusiasm!

2. “I thought you were going to _______ .” Yes, I had big plans for today, too. I thought I was going to get a shower. I thought I was going to call the plumber. I thought I was going to put the Christmas decorations away.  I thought I was going to make it to the pharmacy. I thought when I grew up I would  travel around the world saving children from orphanages but then, guess what?? You knocked me up. Twice. And now those little bastards are holding me hostage everyday making me do things I never dreamed I would do without someone putting a gun to my head. I do not control my days, let alone my hours or minutes. Yes, I thought I was going to do something today too, but alas, I only managed to keep our small humans alive just so I can live to tell of their tortures tomorrow.

3. “Have you seen my ______?” You are a grown-up. I am keeping track of my stuff and the humongous piles of crap that come with our two children. I cannot keep track of your stuff, too. Please do your part and find your own crap. And while you’re at it, pick it up and put it away, too.

4. “It’s been a while since we…you know.” Yep. And it’s gonna be a while longer (see #1 and #2). I am never alone. Someone is always touching, grabbing, licking, wiping, hitting or otherwise abusing my body. At 8:30 at night when that finally stops, the last thing I want is a grown-up touching, grabbing, or slobbering on me. To say nothing of the other thirty things that I didn’t get done today that I must now somehow get done between the hours of 8:30 PM and 11:00 PM. Yes, I miss you. Yes, sex is important but you knocked me up (twice, remember!) and now I have certain responsibilities. I should be free in 2018.

5. “I don’t feel so well. I’m gonna take a sick day.” I call this the Man Flu. I didn’t coin this phrase but it is so true. It doesn’t matter what the affliction is but men seem to suffer so much more than anyone else when they are sick. In the five years I’ve been a parent, there is only one thing that has made me take to my bed and it was a horrible case of mastitis (can I get an “Amen!”?). So, dear husband, not that you aren’t allowed a sick day but you aren’t allowed to then lay in bed all day, complaining of how bad you feel and summoning me to fetch you drinks, medications, and meals.The barely controlled chaos of my day tips into uncontrolled chaos with the addition of your sickly demands. The lives of the three other people in our house must go on. I get sick yet our kids still get to school. They still get fed.  I still wake up at an ungodly hour to snuggle our youngest so he doesn’t wake our eldest. You can take a sick day but don’t be surprised when I only manage to throw some Children’s Tylenol and a gummy bear vitamin at you as I pass by with a half-naked toddler.  Yes, that is probably poop smeared on your drinking glass because you summoned me in the middle of a diaper change. If you get sick, do what I do and Suck. It. Up.

I love you. I appreciate you. You are amazing. But please stop saying these phrases unless you want to  be forced to hunt me down on a remote island in the middle of the South Pacific.

Hm. I think my plan is about to backfire. <Sigh.>

In case you didn’t see it, my husband  posted his reply, “Five Things You Should Never Say to the Father of Your Children.”

Photo credit: Beautiful Freaks

Rainbows in the Water

It’s been amazingly warm here so we’ve been enjoying time in the backyard. Last week I was sleep-deprived and in desperate need of the boys doing something that didn’t require a lot of my brain-power. I had to pick something up at the hardware store and the boys saw a baby pool and begged for it in the charming way that preschoolers do: “MOMMMMMMYYYYY!!! Can we get the pool? Please? Please? I want to play in the pool. Can we get water balloons? Please? Pleeeeeeeeeeeease?????”

I saw my opportunity to end the begging and happily handed over the $13 to buy me some sanity.

We got the pool home and filled it up and they were having a great time but their attention span was waning and I needed another 20 minutes to finish dinner so I stole an idea from preschool. I brought out the rainbow ice cubes and color blocks.

IMG_2046Ok. So I had to plan ahead a little. It’s not like I can spontaneously freeze water (although my kids think so). Sometime last week I checked the forecast and saw that Northern California was skipping May and June and going straight for July (it’s supposed to be 85 here on Thursday!), so I got out the old ice cube trays, filled ’em up, dropped some food coloring in them and stuck ’em in the freezer. Then I got out three large plastic food storage containers, filled ’em with water, added food coloring and stuck ’em in the fridge. And there they all sat for a week until I needed them. Little golden eggs just waiting for me to hatch at the right time.

IMG_2039 Tah-dah! Twenty more minutes of happy boys playing, learning and laughing. Of course it was a near blood bath trying to get them to come in for dinner. The Witching Hour is still very much alive and well at our house. Somewhere between 5:30 and 6:30, giggles and laughs turn to shrieks and tears most nights of the week. Gotta figure out a remedy for that. More ice cubes? Gonna need ’em this week.

IMG_2042

A Cure for Broodiness

I promise I won’t always write about the chickens but they are providing so much entertainment and material that I can’t resist.

We noticed a couple of weeks ago that our chicken Salt was spending a lot of time in the nesting boxes. Over the course of the week it became clear that she was not just smitten with the box but in fact was obsessed with it. If I opened the nesting box she gave me the what-for with lots of clucking and puffing of feathers and some mock pecking for good measure. She only left the box if I made her and spent very little time eating and drinking. Salt was broody. She had the undeniable and totally normal need to hatch herself some cute little chicks. I don’t blame her. The maternal instinct can be strong and add to it the cuteness of fuzzy little chicks and I would probably sit on a clutch of eggs for three weeks if it meant I got to have a bunch of little fuzzy chicks following me around.  But, alas, we don’t have room for anymore chickens.

photo(2)Poor Salt had no idea that the bunch of eggs she so desperately wanted to hatch was full of duds. No rooster, no chicks. Remember, chickens are as smart as rutabagas. After more online research (my Google search history is embarrassing…all chicken related), I found out this is a common problem and most resources started by saying, “If you have room, it’s probably easiest to just get some fertilized eggs and let her hatch some chicks.” We don’t have room so I moved to the next option and separated her from the nesting box during the day by keeping her in a separate pen and then putting ice packs in the nesting boxes at night so she would stay out of them.

I was skeptical, especially when on the first night of letting her back into the roosting coop with the nesting boxes now filled with a combination of flower pots and ice packs, she wedged her way into a tiny space, right on top of a frozen water bottle and slept there all night long. When I checked on her in the morning she had laid an egg right on top of the still chilly water bottle. I decided to hold fast to our strategy for another couple of days and I put her in her separate pen anyway.

Eight hours later while waiting for dinner to finish cooking, I went outside to put the chickens into their roost for the night and she was gone. Gone. Nowhere to be seen.

Gone.

Salt had literally flown the coop. The last I saw of her was around lunch when I had gathered eggs. She was nowhere to be seen. Justin was on his way home from work, dinner was on the stove, the boys were engrossed in some elaborate fantasy world of trains, volcanoes and space ships. And I had a missing chicken. And it was getting dark.

I literally wrestled the boys into the car, a feat made only a little bit easier by the motivation of a missing chicken and the need for a search party, on a train, to a volcano, to catch a space ship. On the way out the door we saw our mail person. I decided to deputize her as part of our search party. Her English is very limited. The conversation went like this:

Me: “We lost a chicken. If you happen to see a black chicken with white spots on your route today, would you come tell me?”

Her: “Lost?”

Me: “Yes. We lost a chicken.” (Now making chicken wing flapping gestures with my elbows.)

Her: “Chicken? Dead? To eat?” (Flapping her arms, as well.)

Me: “No, no. A live chicken. Black and white. Bawk! Bawk!” (Still flapping my arms.)

Her: “Chicken?” (Still making chicken flapping gestures.)

Me: “Yes! Chicken!” (Still gesturing and almost shouting, partly out of excitement and partly out of urgency…the clock was ticking and it was getting dark.)

Her: “Chicken? For dinner tonight?” (Now using her pointer finger to make a slashing gesture across her throat.)

Me: “No, no. She’s a pet. We need her alive.”

Her: “Chicken? Pet?” (Pointing to kids and making chicken gestures)

Me: “Yes! Pet chicken. Come tell me if you see her.” (Still needlessly flapping my arms but relieved we had come to an understanding.)

Her: “Chicken. You eat for dinner.”

It was a command, not a question. Yes, she and I understood what the immediate issue was but she was offering a more long-term solution. We both moved on to our work at hand.

I jumped in the car and drove around one block. I spotted one of our neighbors and rolled down my window. I related our dilemma and she said, “Yes! She’s in our backyard! My son called a couple of hours ago when he stopped by the house and said there was a chicken in our backyard. I didn’t have your number so I couldn’t call.” I jumped out of the car, leaving my two boys wailing (they get very upset when I leave them in the car alone, even for a few seconds). I sprinted to the backyard. No chicken.

I got back in the car. The kids were only moderately comforted by my return. They took turns wailing and admonishing me, “You CAN’T leave us alone in the car!”

Yes, I know, but I had to find the chicken. It was getting much darker and a chicken left out overnight was surely fox or raccoon breakfast.

More wailing.

And then I spotted her. About 3/4 of a block away Salt was sitting on the corner of a busy street. Sitting. As in nesting. Totally calm.

I slowly drove towards her, turned the corner, parked, got out of my car (ignoring the wailing in the backseat) and walked right up to her, picked her up and put her under my left arm. I was half-way back to my car when I realized I had absolutely no plan of how to get her home. I had no cage. I couldn’t leave my kids in the car and walk home. It was too far for all of us to walk back together, never mind where would I put the chicken while I got the kids unstrapped from their carseats.

So I secured my grip on Salt under my left arm, climbed into my car and rolled down the window. My instinct was that the chicken would feel better with the window down (dogs like it, right?). I put the car into gear and started to pull out into traffic. As soon as Salt felt a little wind come in the window she freaked out! She got one wing loose from under my arm and started flapping wildly. I couldn’t see, the kids started howling with laughter. I had to pull over. In the meantime, neighborhood rush hour traffic swirled about us.

I rolled up the window, re-secured my grip, screamed at the kids to be quiet and then tightly gripped the steering wheel with my right hand and drove home. By the time I got home there were tears streaming down my face from laughing so hard. I was nearly hysterical with laughter!

Oh, domestic life that I imagined in my younger days…afternoons baking with my kids, kicking the soccer ball in the backyard, movie night, dinner parties and PTA meetings…you are a long ways from here but here is pretty great, too.

Now, on to the next broody hen remedy…

Magic

I love this time of year. If I could freeze time and live in any month for the rest of my life, have a Groundhog Month if you will, I would live in October. I can’t find anything wrong with it. I get all four seasons in one month. I can still eat fruits and veggies from summer and I can start cooking soups and breads to get cozy on those cold nights. It might rain, but not a lot. It’s warm. And cold. We can still go to the beach and wine country is in its prime. But more than anything, I love Halloween. I love magic and mystery.

As a kid, during October, I spent my walks home from school swearing I saw fairies flitting in the falling leaves and goblins scurrying on the dark branches in the trees and that every rock was the home of a small troll. And I knew that on Halloween I was going to magically transform into the latest creature of my imagination and defy the laws of gravity and the universe to do whatever I wanted during my brief time as a Fill-In-The-Blank. Nothing was impossible. And nothing needed an explanation. It was perfectly fine if someone wanted to be a mummy princess or punk rock zombie. Nothing had to fit into the confines of our rules.

Our kids have offered a whole new perspective on magic. It’s everywhere and it’s not just about a holiday. To them, so much in the world is magical because they don’t have the comprehension of science, yet. I especially noticed it this summer on our trip to Iowa and watching Carter’s first firefly hunt. He just giggled and giggled and ran and giggled some more. He brought me a container full of fireflies, all of them flashing their little green behinds like crazy. Carter’s eyes were wide, his grin even wider. I asked him what made their little behinds light up like that. And he whispered, “Magic, Mommy.”

And then a couple of weeks ago we finally fulfilled a promise we made to Carter and Mitchell and let them ride in the convertible. Do you remember the first time you rode in a convertible or a motorcycle or a boat or anything that went fast and blew the wind through your hair and made you squint your eyes because of the cool air on your face? I remember riding in my cousin’s jeep with the top off and thinking, “Why the hell doesn’t everyone drive a jeep?!?!” I loved it. There was something about driving a car without a top (or sides in this case). It broke The Rules and invited an up-close interaction with the world around me that engaged my entire being, sense of wonder and didn’t demand an explanation because it was just…So…Cool.

It was magical.

One of the greatest gifts of being a parent is having a front-row seat to a child’s endless stream of “firsts” and encounters with “magic.” Most of them end up ingrained in our memories, maybe we are lucky enough to remember to write them in a journal or baby book, but the real gift is when we happen to catch that moment in a picture or video. We did just that when Carter and Mitchell rode in the convertible for the first time:

And later that day, I asked Carter what he thought of riding in the convertible and he said in his excited four-year-old voice, “It’s magic!” Thank you, My Little Love, for reminding me that magic is still everywhere, all the time. And although my tendency is to jump in with a scientific lesson about why the firefly’s little behind lights up or follow-up your convertible ride with a lesson on driving safety, I will try very hard to keep magic alive for you because all of those lessons will come soon enough. There’s no rush. And I will be on the lookout for more ways to bring magic into your life.

I hope you, reader, find some magic today, too. Go for a bike ride, put the top down or just drive with your windows open. And be on the lookout for fairies in the falling leaves…you never know!

Tucking in the chickens

I feel the need to document one of the more ridiculous activities in our life from the last month. A little bit of background: when we bought the new house, the contract stipulated that we also take possession of the three chickens currently residing at the house. They were cute and charming and produced wonderful colored and tasting eggs (see previous post for an introduction). We loved our new-found identity as suburban hispsters with backyard chickens. But one of the chickens had a taste for blood that rivaled Hanibal Lecter and it became obvious that she wasn’t well-suited to being a positive experience (or role model) for our young kids. So, off to another chicken-loving family she and her two companions went.

But we had already drank the Backyard Chicken Kool-Aid so new chickens were purchased. They aren’t babies (we are already raising two kids and baby chicks are just about as big of a commitment…we aren’t having a third child for a reason), but they aren’t full-grown either. In preparation for the new chickens we did our research. We learned the pecking order is a real thing and it would take a couple of weeks to sort itself out with plenty of blood and feathers to show for it.

What no one told us is that we would have to teach them to go to bed.

Really.

I still don’t have my four-year-old trained to go to bed, how was I going to train five chickens to go to bed? Which method would I use? Babywise? Healthy Habits? Ferber? Attachment? None worked with my four-year-old so my confidence level that we were suitable chicken keepers was pretty low.

After much reading (it’s scary how much is out there about raising chickens) we learned chickens have a roosting instinct that makes them seek higher ground as the sun goes down. Unfortunately, as someone pointed out to us, chickens are about as smart as a rutabaga and they aren’t very discriminating about where that roost may be. It could be on a large rock that is just a few inches off the ground. It baffled us why our chickens were choosing to pile themselves, all of them, onto a single 12″ stick that was stuck about two feet off the ground in the corner of their cage, completely ignoring the wonderfully cozy, enclosed roosting bars inside their hen house.

Rutabagas, indeed.

We were told we needed to train them to roost in the right place. For three weeks, every night, our evening routine consisted of dinner, bath for the kids, brushing teeth, singing songs with the two-year-old, putting him down, then wrestling (literally) our four-year-old, reading books, going to the bathroom, singing Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star, tucking him in and then marching outside to the chicken house and grabbing each chicken, one-by-one, off their ridiculously chosen perch (on top of another chicken in four out of the five cases), gently shoving them up the chicken ladder leading to the hen house and then opening the door to the hen house to make sure they were all actually roosting on the bar and not just standing there (rutabagas!). You add the hysteric flapping of wings and chicken poop flying everywhere and suddenly our bedtime routine became a whole lot messier.

We were told it would take two weeks. It took more than three. Three of the chickens caught on pretty quickly but two hold-outs drew it out. They simply were not interested in joining their friends inside the house. We clearly had not met their demands. We were stumped.

So, I called a new friend I had made over the summer. Mike The Chicken Farmer in Sonoma. He was a bit bewildered. He’d never had problems with chickens roosting but he admitted he was a “real” chicken farmer and he didn’t have time to tuck in his 100+ chickens every night (I’m pretty sure he thought I was a rutabaga). But he did say that chickens are followers (see: pecking order) and that maybe we didn’t have the right order. We needed to get the alpha chicken to roost before all the others.

Ok. We knew which one was the alpha chicken so we tried that. Didn’t work. We were still stumped and feeling silly for already dedicating three weeks of our lives to this endeavor. Justin had been handling the bulk of the chicken bedtime and it just so happened he couldn’t do it for a couple of nights, so I did it. And guess what? After two nights of me tucking in the chickens, all five began roosting in the hen house on their own.

I guess we were wrong. I’m the alpha chicken and Justin ranks at number four in our flock of rutabagas. Yay, me!

I think.