Elizabeth

I'm a mom. "Just" a mom, as they say. I drive. A lot. I make lunches, make dinners, break up fights, help with that awful stuff called homework, clean up messes and try really hard to maintain my sanity. I exercise, when I don't talk myself out of it. I popped out four kids in five years. I'm a bit nuts because if it. Toss a dog in the mix...and that's my life! It's crazy, busy and I love it.

They’re Big. They’re Hairy. They’re High School.

Last week I substitute taught for two days at the local high school. It was my first time subbing for the big kids. Here is what I learned…

 

  • The sub is public enemy #1. Even though I think I am kinda cool and can relate to high schoolers, they do not concur. While I don’t necessarily need to be your buddy, I am not here to torture you or receive torture from you. Can’t we just agree on that? #nottheenemy

 

  • Nothing is funny enough to laugh hysterically for an entire 102 minutes straight. Nope, nothing. That, along with your glazed eyes gave you away. #ontoyou

 

  • High schoolers haven’t evolved very much since I was one one of you. The same old smirks and inside jokes when the sub looks your way existed when I was your age. #nicetry

 

  • Hey, you over there endlessly scrolling, when you said you were using it for homework. No it isn’t “quizlet”. Don’t lie to me. Controlling smart phones in high school is a sub’s worst nightmare. #iwasntbornyesterday

 

  • Ha! The office played a funny joke on me by giving me only three “Device Infraction” forms. A stack of 150 would be more realistic. But, thanks! #icouldhavesenteverystudenttotheoffice

 

  • Girls you are not hookers, so stop dressing like you are. When did high school dress code standards get thrown out the window? #omg #coverituphoney

 

  • Surfer who came to school without shoes. You’re pretty cool. I like you’re style. #coolbutdefinitelynotallowed

 

  • “Lit” doesn’t mean what it meant when I was in school. #oh #ok

 

  • Block schedule sucks. And from what I gathered, teachers and students agree that 102 minutes per class is WAY too stinkin’ long. #marathon

 

  • Seniors are far more mature than sophomores. Seniors, you have restored my hope in teenagers. You too can become mature adults. I see it. You’re almost there. #lightattheendofthetunnel

 

  • Teachers need to leave more than enough classwork in their absence. There is nothing worse than running out of work 20 minutes into a 102 minute period. #moreworkplease #duetoday

 

  • I will be back. You didn’t succeed in scaring me off. Yet. That does not mean you should keep trying. #untilnexttime #gameon

Intrepid Travels with Kids

Europe had the unique experience of encountering the Bottiaux family this summer. Our goal was to expand our kids’ horizons and impressionable young minds on the trip. France and Italy were on the agenda. Some people called us crazy for traveling to Europe for 2.5 weeks with four young kids ages 6, 8, 10 and 12.

…your six year old is too young …what about that long flight …there’s too much walking …what if they don’t remember the trip when they’re older …just wait until the kids are older. 

We did not listen.

There were plenty of sibling throw downs. It all piqued one night in Paris, as we blasted Les Miserables, Do You Hear the People Sing, from our way-too-small rental car. We couldn’t figure out how to use our ticket to exit the parking garage. None of the French signs made a heap of sense to us. Just as the impatient car behind us began to sound its obnoxious horn, one of the kids, who shall remain nameless, smashed her brother’s arm in the backseat. Blood curdling screams, from multiple family members, echoed through the parking garage; people tried not to stare. Bad words flew from our pulsating Peugeot like popcorn.

It was hot. Record breaking heat wave hot. Every day we walked until our legs ached and threatened to shrivel up and fall off. As Nathan stated, “My legs are at 1%”. It was hard work. Not at all relaxing. But, worth it.

Instead of five star hotels, our accommodations consisted of basic rooms without frills. Airbnb helped us locate clean, inexpensive basic accommodations with plenty of space for our family of six. It was a great way to truly acclimate. We hung our laundry out to dry alongside the locals in Sardinia, showered outdoors in our treehouse near Paris and befriended our friendly temporary landlord, just outside of Rome.

We live on an cul-de-sac with kids galore, in a dreamy master planned utopia. There are block parties, swimming pools a-plenty, concerts in the friendly neighborhood park, family activities at the club house and award winning schools. We are living the American Dream. Our kids are safe and sound in our not-so-cultural community. There is life outside our bubble. Life that we want them to experience.

Before kids and a mortgage, Paul and I traveled the world for four months. After scrupulously saving money and planning the itinerary, we embarked on our journey. We were young newlywed backpackers on a shoe string budget. Using around the world airline tickets, we were able to visit 17 countries.

In Africa I helped women paint. There were no brushes, we used our hands to slap wet mud onto huts. Paul paid 50 cents for a questionable haircut in Durbin. We ate a typical African dinner at our tour guide’s home in a poor township, listened to lions roar and elephant thunder on a safari and felt terrorizing fear as we faced a rhino head on while walking through the African bush. We visited a rural school and barefoot children in filthy clothes sang and danced for us.

In New Zealand we floated through dark caves and gazed up at millions of twinkling glow worms. We herded cows on the Australian farm of a couple we’d befriended in New Zealand. We stood in the Virgin Mary’s actual home, in Ephesus, Turkey, explored caves in Cappadocia, experienced painful massages in Turkish baths, rode bikes along the Mosel River in Germany, cried at Dachau concentration camp and spent our first wedding anniversary sipping champagne and eating French cheeses under the twinkling Eiffel Tower.

That trip changed us.

It’s difficult to be ethnocentric when you have traveled the world. Experiencing unfamiliar cultures opens your mind. The world was our classroom, instead of books or movies alone. Our kids lived and breathed the massive Wedding at Cana painting, instead of merely gazing at it on paper. Paul and I walked alongside more than 9,000 graves in Normandy; evoking emotions a book could never deliver. We want this for our kids.

Our kids need to know that life exists outside our shiny suburban bubble.

One of my favorite lines in the movie Good Will Hunting is, “Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that.”

Although the “Sixteen” Chapel, as the kids had thought it was called, smelled like hot, sweaty humans on the day we visited, we basked in the glory of it all. Despite groaning kids asking why they had to go to “boring Nevadacin” City, we ignored our young haters and joined thousands of others for the Pope’s blessing. None of us understood a word of the blessing, but (most of us) received it with great reverence.

Our kids have seen the view from the Eiffel Tower. They have touched the crumbling walls of the Roman Colosseum, said hello to the Mona Lisa in person, walked through the gleaming royal Palace of Versailles. Zachary tasted escargot in France (and to his astonishment, loved it), attended Sunday mass at St. Peter’s Basilica (we could only handle about 15 minutes of it, but still), swam in the warm, turquoise Mediterranean Sea in Sardinia, learned to make pizza and pasta on an agritourismo in Tuscany, lighted candles inside Notre-Dame Cathedral, walked miles and miles in stifling heat each day, rode numerous trains, boats, took several different flights and experienced the chaos of driving a rental car in Paris and Rome.

These memories will stay with us forever. As the kids grow older, they’ll realize how fortunate they were to have seen these wonders of the world. This is only the beginning of our family’s world traveling.

Trains are not a regular form of transportation in Southern California. We drive. Rarely have our kids ridden any form of public transportation. Navigating through the bustling train stations with confusing ticket machines and foreign signs was eye opening. In Italy it’s commonplace to offer your seat to the elderly. When my daughters did not know to do this, a man scolded them in Italian. They learned. All ages, races and socio-economic status’ take the trains. The true flavor of the city is present aboard the trains.

Our kids now know what it feels like to be the one who doesn’t speak the predominant language. It was tough at times and even a little embarrassing for them as they struggled to communicate with locals. Our kids were the outsiders for the first time. It was good for them.

The numerous Syrian refugee women lying prostrate in the middle of sidewalks, outside churches and sitting on cardboard with their families, didn’t go unnoticed. We talked with the kids about the millions of Syrians who had escaped violence in their war-torn country by migrating to Europe. Many of them seeking asylum. Europe has open borders, so the migrants were all over the big cities. It was a bit overwhelming for us suburb dwellers to encounter large numbers of beggars. But, it is part of the cultural landscape.

Now that we are home, we are singing the jet lag blues and longing for the wanderlust days of our trip. Our kids are brimming with ideas about where to travel next. I love that. My hope is that a seed has been planted within each of them. A seed that will blossom into their love of discovering our vast world.

Beautiful Goodbye

Dear Judy,

Your send off was like nothing I have ever experienced. The abundant love and free flowing grief enveloped in that room was intense. All of your grown children, their spouses and young children were there. The severe decline began Friday morning. I’d just dropped the girls at school and was in line for a much needed coffee, when I got the frantic call to “come home now!”

I drove like a maniac, my heart pounding in my chest. When I arrived, you were struggling. Oxygen was loudly pumping into your nostrils as you laid in bed. We helplessly watched as your lips turned blue and you gasped for air. You were slipping quickly. With shaky fingers and a trembling voice, I made calls. Megan was about to hop on a flight, Tom was at work, Kim was ready to begin her day of teaching. Grandkids were pulled from school. Close family friends and extended family appeared. Everyone immediately dropped everything and came.

Only one week earlier, we had finally convinced you to move in to our home. You had denied our requests for so long. Too long. Doctors had released you to hospice less than two months earlier. There was nothing more they could do. It had metastasized this time, and was terminal. We saw you growing weaker, but you refused our help. Cancer had sunken its toxic claws into your liver and all through your stomach. Depression had rolled in, like thick grey fog.

As soon as you said “yes”, we sprang into action. The playroom downstairs was emptied and plans were made. Later that day, I went to your house and packed a few necessities before we headed out. We made a quick pitstop at Zachary’s baseball game. You’d been too weak and sick to watch any of his other games. His face radiated pure joy when he saw Grandma rolling down to the field in the wheelchair. It’s something he will remember always. You were too weak to stay very long. I had to be careful with you. Like a fragile baby bird, I was afraid of breaking you.

Every day marked significant health declines. You were barely able to walk without assistance. Your emaciated body had been ravished by the disease; your haunted eyes and colorless skin whispered that death was near. Plagued constantly by exhaustion, you slept frequently. Your fight had evaporated.

Nighttime was scary. We could hear you getting up, and shuffling along to the downstairs bathroom throughout the night. We were on high alert and only managed to lightly sleep at night. Every noise we heard threw us into panic mode.

Then there was the day that we weren’t home and the hospice chaplain had found you curled up in fetal position on the bathroom floor. It was then that we knew you had to be confined to bed. No more walking to the bathroom. That, coupled with the fact that we’d found pools of vomit and pills strewn all over your room that morning, lead us to hire a nighttime caregiver. We couldn’t risk something happening to you during the night, while you while we lay fitfully sleeping upstairs.

You didn’t sleep much that first night that the caregiver was there. Your sleep pattern had changed suddenly. At this point we’d installed a camera to watch you from multiple monitors in our home, and through a smartphone app. Family in Michigan and Boston was able to watch you too. All night you’d reached out to one side. Were you seeing those on the other side? You mumbled incoherently and we played along, pretending to understand. You clearly told the caretaker that her husband had died. She was shocked because her husband was in fact dead. We believe you could see him on the other side. The comment about not having to be baptized revealed to us that you were able to see and hear things from the other side. That helped comfort us.

We wondered if we were capable of the level of care you seemed to need. We questioned whether it was healthy for our children to see their beloved grandma slowly deteriorate before them. One night at bedtime Zachary said, “It is all so overwhelming. Grandma moved in to our house so fast and she’s so sick. I worry about her every day when I’m at school”. Nathan added, “Yeah, I thought Grandma was dead because she didn’t come out of her room for breakfast today”. Our kids were definitely affected by the major changes occurring in our home.

Friday was an intensely surreal day, like no other. As tearful family and friends filtered in to your downstairs bedroom, and your sisters and other family tuned in via the app, we showered you with love. By this point your eyes were closed, as if you were in a coma. We know you could hear us talking to you by the way your eyes would flutter and your head would turn toward whoever was talking to you. I will never forget how you were able to, on your own accord, wrap your feeble arms around Megan. This happened not once, but twice. Megan begged you not worry about her, and that she’d get married and have babies some day. We’d pulled up chairs, turned on your favorite country music and set up camp in what, one week ago, was the kid’s playroom.

All eight cousins were there, and floated in and out of the room as they pleased. They played outside and upstairs and bonded on that day more than ever before. Nothing was ever forced. It felt natural. We no longer worried about shielding the kids. The circle of life was unfolding before our eyes, and we all accepted it. There were times of heightened respiratory distress, where we’d all find ourselves encircling your bed. We held onto whatever child was within reach. Tears streamed down our faces. Grief was ever present, but it was the love that I will never forget. So much love.

Your granddaughter lovingly and gently would wipe a small, damp sponge across your chapped lips and inside your parched mouth. At that point, you no longer could swallow, so this is the only way we could help you. Paul and Megan were each stationed at the top of your bed, across from each other, most of the day. They were hands on and fearless. All day. They would turn you, seeking comfort for you and to combat bed sores. They dropped morphine and other liquid pain medicine into your open, unmoving mouth. Your oxygen supply noisily hummed alongside our sometimes upbeat chatter.

A priest came to give you your last rights, because that’s what you had wanted. We prayed together while your sisters tearfully watched from Michigan, and one sister was there beside you. Through an unstoppable river of tears, I thanked you for the son you had raised. You are the reason this amazing man exists. Thank you.

At one point John Denver’s song, Take Me Home, Country Roads filled the room. Without much thought at all, we all began singing with the music. I know you heard us, as you laid there unmoving, eyes closed. It was powerfully perfect; a sliver of time that we will cherish always and none of us will ever forget.

I know you felt great sadness in your life; especially after that first cancer diagnosis, in late 2012. In your journal that you left behind, you were clear about that. You weren’t always able to feel our love. But you were so loved. And if you were unable to feel it before, you unquestionably felt it on that day. Closure of epic proportions happened for all of us, but most importantly, for you. For 16.5 hours we poured our love into you. We thanked you, loved you and told you it was ok to go now.

Your eight energetic grandkids were ushered to bed around 11:30 that night. Most of the family stayed, and slept on borrowed cots and blow up mattresses our gracious neighbors provided. A few went home. Big Cousin Bradley made himself comfortable on the couch next to you, a night watchman of sorts. By 12:15, the rest of us adults had wearily climbed into bed. Before we could drift off to sleep, we were urgently awoken. Megan had checked on you one last time. As soon as your room had grown quiet and still, you’d let go.

Your labored breathing was no more. You lay there, still and peaceful. We were not afraid. I touched you, and somehow you felt stronger. No more pain. No more sadness. You had left us to live in heaven. It was all over. Our end was your eternal beginning.

You had been strong for so long. It’s hard to believe that you lived alone for all that time. Once you came to live with us, I believe you knew it was safe to begin letting go. I think we were all caught by surprise that your downward spiral happened so fast. None of us could have predicted that each day in our home would mark a new significant decline.

After hospice was called, we waited. The hospice nurse was on her way. About an hour slipped by, before she arrived. You died at 12:35 am on May 13, 2017. Seventy years on earth wasn’t enough. We had hoped for more.

By the time the kids woke up, you had already been taken away. Nothing but an empty bed remained. It felt appropriate to lay some of your signature items on that bed. Everyone reconvened at our house that day. Plans and obligations were canceled to gather and watch old home movies and discuss the monumental send off we were able to give you. It felt absolutely flawless.

Our broken hearts are slowly healing. We miss you terribly. Don’t think for a minute that we will ever forget you. You left an impressive legacy behind. Some day we will all be together. But for now, we feel you watching us from heaven. Love you.

{Side Note: This is the first blog post that I have written since your passing. You were always the biggest, most outspoken supporter of my blog. I am going to truly miss your comments.}

Grand Getaway


Saying goodbye to our four kids this morning wasn’t exactly as I’d envisioned it.

Never is.

In the weeks that had lead to today’s departure I’d imagined giving each child a long hug and a calm, good natured little pep talk about behaving and manners while we are away.

But, oh no.

Our family specializes in wildly stressful, abnormally chaotic and downright maniacal mornings.

As I hurriedly stuffed the last kid into the school bound car, I begged and pleaded with Zachary, who had been patiently seatbelted in the car, to let mid-tantrum Nathan have the beloved window seat.

There was a scuffle.

I slammed the car door shut with crying Nathan perched on top of big brother, crying and refusing to cooperate by moving into the da#*n middle seat. Goodbye. Will miss you.

No, really.

I get it though. Nobody wants the middle seat. I’m currently sandwiched between two full grown male strangers while our aircraft taxis on the runway. My husband, the frequent flier earner, is stretched out comfortably way up there, in personal space a-plenty land.

First Class is the way to travel, if you’re not the one paying. Since this is his business trip, and he is the one with the important meeting immediately upon our arrival in Luassane, Switzerland, I’m letting him have the good seats. Guilt free. However, it’s my turn when we are home bound.

“Prepare for takeoff.”

I’d refused to really believe that this childless European getaway was going to actually happen. When Paul said, “don’t be disappointed if it gets cancelled”, I’d pretty much laughed in his face.

Oh, right.

I’ll march through my daily motherly duties with extra vigor and determination if my Swiss dreams are unexpectedly shattered. So, I’d tried to not get too excited about our potential trip. But, now that we are actually in the air, I think I’m pretty safe in assuming that we’ve successfully escaped.img_1985

Our brave neighbors, God bless them, volunteered to watch our kids for eight days. I’m not sure we’ve ever received a more selfless gift in our lives. We owe them. Big time. Our four, brings their total kid count up to seven.

SEVEN.

In preparation for our departure, I’ve had the five year old in butt-wiping-boot-camp. The goal was for him to be able to wipe his bottom all by himself without using an inordinate amount of toilet paper and clogging the toilet and without calling for backup.

It’s been a struggle.

As the baby of the family, I readily admit I’ve babied him far longer than the rest. Ready or not, time to cut the chord. Both boys have been given personal hair styling instructions. No, Mommy won’t be able to act as your personal daily stylist. It will be amusing to see how they do with this particular task.

All kid’s after school activities have been cancelled during our absence. There’s just no way I could ask someone to duplicate our family’s nutty, over the top juggling act. It will be beneficial for all to just stick with the bare minimum for a week. A week of largely uninterrupted play with their friends on our cul-de-sac.

Nothing but the basics is good for the soul: school and weekend dance rehearsals for the girls. I’ve notified the school, teachers and anyone else I could think of who might need to know. If anyone sees a young Bottiaux looking lost or confused, don’t call us; call their lovely legal guardians.

In the midst of raising a young family, there is really no greater gift than quality time with your spouse. Anything more than a high five in passing with the man I married these days is incredibly rare.

I’m beyond grateful for this amazing opportunity to reconnect with my husband and recharge my low battery. And, as the French speaking Swiss in Switzerland would say; au revoir.

Sushi and Sayonara: How a Japanese Homestay Impacted Our Family

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We weren’t even sure a foreign student would want to stay with our family. I mean let’s face it, our kids are pretty rambunctious and not the most well behaved young humans. What if we couldn’t pull off “normal American family” for three whole weeks? We had our distinct doubts and fears.

Japanese culinary student, Urara Suzuki, stayed with us in our home for three weeks this Summer. The 17-year-old lived amongst craft supplies, Legos and plastic toys, in the kid’s playroom, on the pullout couch. It was an incredible experience and our family will always remember it fondly.

Before her arrival we attended a homestay meeting where we learned about rules, cultural differences and general guidelines. It was a helpful starting point. Months earlier, the program coordinator had visited our home. She’d needed to confirm that we weren’t hoarders living in a one bedroom ramshackle trailer with boarded up windows and cockroaches wandering freely. After passing that test, we were allowed to choose our student.

It felt like an adoption process of sorts. As the kids and I hovered around the plastic three-ring binder holding all the prospective home stay student’s information, we searched for a suitable match. We scanned the applications for adjectives such as: outgoing, adventurous, energetic. Soon, we’d found our girl. As the oldest of three sisters and conforming to our requirements — Urara seemed like the perfect match.image

Finally, the day arrived when we were to pick up Urara. With our homemade welcome posters in hand, we set off to meet our Japanese daughter/sister/friend. A couple of our family members were unable to attend, but luckily and a little laughably, we had stand-ins.image

We received Urara with open arms and huge smiles. Understandably, she seemed a little confused. Overwhelmed, maybe. Immediately we were aware of the gaping language barrier. Simple communication was no longer simple. Soon, though, we learned to communicate via charades, Google translate (which, brings new meaning to the term “lost in translation”) and a free smartphone app called Line that translates texts.

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Throughout the next several weeks we visited many Southern California tourist destinations and local hot spots. We bonded. We laughed together. We learned about each other’s cultures through cooking and spending quality time together.imageimageimageimage

Did you know the 80’s surf brand Stussy is all the rage in Japan right now? Neither did we. While we were in Los Angeles we side-tripped over to a Stussy store in which Urara had expressed interest. As we walked up, a handful of surgical mask wearing Japanese counterculture youth sauntered out of the shop. Sexually explicit graffiti-like “art” adorned the walls, that my cackling sons quickly (and loudly) pointed out. No more than three simple garments on heavy wooden hangers sparsely hung on each clothing rack. It didn’t look like much of anything special to me, but what do I know? Compared to Japanese prices, these seemingly overpriced items were a bargain for Urara. She was gleeful.image

One of the highlights of the home stay experience was the Japanese cooking. We shopped for all of the ingredients at a popular Japanese market together. Later, we eagerly watched and learned as Urara showed us how to cook various Japanese meals. First we made sushi. All the kids bravely sampled the sushi, although they didn’t all approve of consuming uncooked gill-bearing aquatic craniates (aka: fish).imageimageimage

imageimageOver the next couple of evenings we learned to make Sukiyaki and Okonamiyaki. The kids enjoyed fumbling around with their chopsticks at dinners. We were surprised to learn that our 5-year-old is an expert in the area of chopstick usage.

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The prospect of driving to school and home from their daily field trip seemed a bit daunting at first. But, after joining forces with two other local families, we organized a carpool. In fact, the driving requirement was my main fear (just beneath the fear of my kids’ behaving badly) about the homestay. In the end, the driving wasn’t so bad. It all worked out.

Before we could say domo arigato, it was time for Urara to return home to Japan. The tears began flowing on the eve of her departure, during the student performance. Saying goodbye isn’t easy. This was no exception.imageimageimageimage

Dropping her off the next morning proved to be painful. One of our daughters was crying uncontrollably. Other families around us cried and hugged their Japanese daughters. Through tears and with heavy hearts we said our goodbyes. We know we’ll meet again. Our home will always be open to Urara, her family and her friends. One day our family will visit Japan. Urara and her family have invited us to stay at their home.imageimage

Our four kids have learned that compassion and patience are necessary components of communicating with someone who speaks another language. Hosting a Japanese student was an ideal way to introduce our children to another culture. Oh, and our kids did not behave like model citizens the entire time. Nope. Not at all. I suppose that’s all part of the real life American family experience though. Until we meet again…sayōnara.image

New Mom Club

Surrounding us were young, fresh faced moms. Shrill squeals and eager baby babble floated through the air like a fresh breeze. Fashionable moms feverishly diced their little one’s food, while Petunia Pickle Bottoms gently bounced on the back of their chairs. Newbie moms with their babies and toddlers enveloped us.image
We’d popped in for a quick lunch. It was a day that my youngest had stayed home from school sick. So, we were outsiders to this young mom luncheon club. There was a time, not long ago, that I ran the club. Of course it’s a fictitious club, built on the pillars of younger mom’s novice status. It’s a club that all moms belong to at one time or another though.image

I’ve barely graduated from the club. My youngest just began his 16 year educational journey this week. He’s now officially a kindergartener. I’m new at the alumni status thing. I was the mom always afraid my babies and young kids were the loudest, the messiest, the most unruly or the most complicated. With four kids born in five years, my fears were largely not unfounded. I became accustomed to older restaurant patrons whispering requests to their server to be moved away from our clan’s table. On airplanes we’d receive cold glances and stoney smiles. Sorry about those crushed eggs in the dairy section, my missing toddler was apparently quelling his curiosity. At restaurants we’d try to clean our dining area, then leave a little extra ”damage control” tip and quickly dash out the door.

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As we sat there, quietly munching on our chicken nuggets, an active young mom club member hurriedly approached me. She reached under my chair, and her eyes met mine. Apologizing about her child’s sippy cup that had been hurled our direction and lay under my chair, she indeed looked embarrassed. As I smiled and admitted I hadn’t even noticed the flying sippy, there was so much that I wanted to tell her.

I was suddenly overcome by emotion. It was emotion that I did not want to acknowledge at noonish on a weekday in a crowded fast food joint with my five year old. Unwelcomed tears seem to kick up at the most inconvenient times.

I wanted to tell that flustered young mom that it is ok. Her kids are ok. She’s ok. It’s really going to be ok. Ok? Seriously, it does get easier than launched spill proof sippies at mealtimes. The no sleeping at night issue? It will improve. I know all about babies on the go — gnawing on chords, and crawling into anything dangerous and off limits possible. One day soon all that baby proofing will be unnecessary. Tantrums? Well, just wait until your daughter is a tween or teen. You’ll think the toddler tantrums were a serious cake walk.
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Although I’ve phased out of baby, toddler and preschool land, there are many phases ahead for me. I have yet to sail the tumultuous teenage sea or navigate through uncharted territory as adult kids leave home. The idea of handing over the car keys to our teen driver sends chills down my spine. Dating and puberty are high on my OMG list too. I may have mastered the art of changing a squirmy baby’s diaper in the trunk of a mini-van at Costco, but I’m still trying to unlock the secret to communicating with my tween.image

As this small chapter of my life as a mom closes, I know that many chapters have yet to be written. I look forward to what lies ahead. It’s been said many times, and it’s true. The days are long but the years are short. It goes fast. Be present. Join the the club. Hold on tightly. It’s a wild ride.image

Camping is for the Birds

Every summer families eagerly pack up their belongings and head out to the wild blue yonder. They pay good money to rent a dusty plot of land in the dirt where they pitch a tent and pretend they’re homeless for several days. It escapes me why people love this odd ritual.

At this year’s multi-family campout we decided to go big or go home. We forked over the big bucks to rent an overpriced 28’ motor home. After last year’s tent camping experience at the annual family campout, I thought so called “glamping” might ease the pain of camping for me.imageimage

I’ll admit that it was indeed a step up from flimsy tent camping next to the constantly flushing, mega loud restrooms we endured last year. At 5 every morning no fewer than 5,000 squawking black crows descend greedily upon the camp ground. Campers are rudely awakened. Sleep ceases.

Rangers seem to overlook their self imposed rule of 10 pm to 8 am quite time. Campers are noisy until late at night. Since the primary goal of that particular campground is to cram as many motorized vehicles and electronic devices into its vast concrete jungle as humanly possible, it’s not your average getaway-from-it-all trip in the woods.

After two nights in the motor home with our four kids and their two friends, I’d had quite enough. Whoever coined the term glamping, should know that there’s really nothing glamorous about it. The impending dirt that constantly threatened to overtake every square inch of the minescule space combined with the stinky toilet, the ever shifting temporary home on wheels and piles of filthy clothes, is, in my humble opinion, overrated.image

As an adult, camping seems like endless work. There’s the packing. Clothes for all types of weather and situations, meals, snacks, sleeping bags, swim gear, bikes and toiletries are just the beginning. Then there’s that matter of cooking over an open fire or a does-this-thing-still-work portable stove. Trying to keep the camper or tent swept and filth-free is impossible.

Growing up, our family camped. We’d camp where showers and paved roads didn’t exist. Stinky port-o-potties packed full of human waste or digging a hole in the woods were the only options when nature called. We’d swim all day in the river and relax by the campfire before crawling into our faded green canvas tent to sleep at night. I’m not sure how the adults involved felt, but we kids loved camping.

There was one camping trip in my adult life that I truly enjoyed. Our family joined forces with another family who were avid campers. Their favorite type of cooking was over a campfire using a big black rustic caldron. We reaped the benefits of camping with experienced campers who, even as adults, enjoyed camping. They brought most of the necessary camp supplies. Our site backed up to a secluded, gently flowing river that our kids played in endlessly. The majestic scenery that surrounded us was almost surreal.image

Kids these days have far too much screen time and not enough stream time. Phones and other devices seduce our children into hours of inactivity. Camping is a way for kids to explore and enjoy the great outdoors. It allows kids freedom and opportunities they may not otherwise have at home.image

My husband still enjoys camping. Adventure Guides, through the YMCA, provides the ideal outlet for him to take the girls camping monthly. He also takes the boys camping each month with their group. While camping may not be the most desirable activity for me as an adult, it’s a kid friendly, fun adventure for children.image

Doggy Daze: Is Owner Entitlement Out of Control?

One of our family members is a furry four legged, rescued friend. My kids love dogs. I grew up with dogs. We are dog people. But, our dog does not go with us everywhere. Dog owner entitlement seems to be on the rise.image

As my two little boys and I recently pulled into the parking lot of a local restaurant I noticed the older couple on the patio with their medium sized dog lying next to them. I didn’t think much about it. It’s become quite common to see dogs of all sizes and breeds with their owners inside stores, on restaurant patios and in most public areas.

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We ordered and found a table outside, on the patio. I quickly dashed inside to retrieve condiments, drinks and napkins. I was inside for less than one minute, when my older son came running in to tell me brother was crying. I returned to find the dog owner holding my five-year-old’s hand and apologizing. Confused, I immediately assumed that he’d gotten scared while I was away and had started crying. Just as the mom guilt washed over me, the woman explained that her dog had bitten my son.

I did my best to remain calm. All eyes were on me. I could feel the weight of an entire restaurant watching me. Waiting. I hugged my scared little guy. I pulled up his shorts to check the chomp. There was a definite bite mark. Skin was broken in a couple of areas and hints of blood threatened to surface. The area was already bruising. There would be no trip to the ER, thankfully.image

The dog owners apologized and recounted their version of what had occurred. My unassuming son had headed to the nearby trash can. He’d started out walking, then had run the last few steps to the trash. The startled dog lashed out at him.

The owners said their dog was known to have certain fears and would randomly lunge at people. This aggressive animal with a checkered past was brought to an enclosed area with many people nearby. My son, who had in no way interacted with or provoked this animal, and was minding his own business, was attacked.

An onlooker stopped by the patio as she was leaving the restaurant. To my surprise she was not concerned by the fact that my young son had been bitten. No. She was there to console…the dog! She cooed over the dog, while petting it’s head. Really? My child was attacked and this woman wanted to soothe the attacker! Unreal. When did furry friends become more important than humans?

Before leaving the restaurant, I obtained the dog owner’s contact information and reported the incident to the manager. Although, obviously unenforced, the manager confirmed that dogs are prohibited on the patio. It was negligent of these owners to bring their aggressive dog to an enclosed restaurant. I suspect they’ll continue doing so. The next day, I reported the bite to Animal Control. Contrary to popular belief, nothing much happens when a bite occurs and is reported.image

Children should be taught to always ask the owner’s permission before petting a dog. If an owner says they’d rather not let my child pet their dog, I respect — even commend the owner for setting that boundary. For safety and sanitary reasons, dogs simply shouldn’t be allowed everywhere with humans. Authentic, card carrying service dogs are a different matter.

Dog ownership isn’t just a privilege. It’s a responsibility. I’m grateful the bite didn’t deter my son’s love of dogs. It could’ve been worse. But, it wasn’t.image

Mommy Said the F Word

As it drew closer, the kids counted down the days to spring break. No homework. No school. No problem. I’d envisioned sitting poolside, working on my tan while the kids swam for hours. There would be no rushing around, since most of the after school activities had been cancelled.

It began with a bang. We threw my daughter’s surprise birthday party on the last day of school. Giggling, screeching girls filled our home until late that night. I’m still sweeping up strands of fuchsia clip-on hair extensions and hot pink glitter.image

imageAfter a day trip to the La Brea Tar Pits with friends, spring break stagnated. Our normally bustling cul-de-sac was eerily quiet. Many neighbors had packed up and headed out, seeking either snow or sun.image

I decided we’d make our own fun. I’d take the kids to San Diego for a quick overnight getaway while my husband worked. After pulling an all-nighter to ensure nobody had to go naked, wear their underpants inside out or dirty laundry dive, we were off to find our FUN spring break.

By the time we arrived, everyone was ranting and raving about how starving they were. Driving our over-sized family SUV in a crowded metropolitan area with one way only signs on every other street and crabby kids proved difficult. Finally we found a suitable watering hole.

While impatiently awaiting our food, kids visited the restroom in shifts. Shift #1 returned to the table sprinkled in water. It was reported that the toilet had shot water at them. I somehow managed to convince them we didn’t need to leave immediately to shower and change clothes. A family friendly conversation of explaining what and how a bidet is used followed, over lunch. The hole-in-the-wall Mediterranean fare was delicious and plentiful. One of the kids finding a small black spider meandering through his yellow rice? Not so much. Lunch came to an abrupt halt and we high tailed it out of there, feeling a bit queasy.

We checked in to the hotel. Kids rejoiced in jumping on the freshly made beds, watching tv, waving to passersby below from the balcony, drawing on the note pads, playing “hotel” on the unplugged room phone and making coffee…just because.image

Sunshine hid behind a thick grey blanket of clouds. We ventured out for dinner. After threatening to ship each of the complaining, bickering offspring back to the room, we returned. Together. We warmed up in our jammies. Just as we were settling in for the night…FIRE ALARM!

Through the deafening, relentless noise of the hotel fire alarm I barked at the kids to find their shoes. The girls immediately began sobbing, and dashed around the room gathering belongs they didn’t want to burn. Seeing their sisters fall apart, the boys’ tears began flowing. I tried shouting over the horrendous racket that it was probably a false alarm. My voice went unheard.

As quickly as the chaos ensued, it ended. We got word that indeed it had been a false alarm. Nevertheless, all kids were thoroughly rattled and begged to return home. Nope. We were going to stay and have fun, darn it.

We talked about what had happened. “Mommy said the F word”, said one kid in a hushed and questioning voice. Oh. That. I did recall some forbidden word escaping my lips when it all began. Shoot. “Well Mommies make mistakes too”, I replied. The whole trip seemed like one giant mistake at that point.

The next morning was rainy and cold. We got dressed in our skimpy summer clothes and headed out for morning gelato. I mean, why not? Our getaway had been an epic failure. With no umbrella and without warm clothes, I made the executive decision to leave that morning. Home had never sounded better.

To my surprise the kids didn’t want to leave. As I listened to each of them recount their favorite parts of the trip, it actually sounded like they’d enjoyed themselves. Really? It certainly hadn’t been what I’d envisioned.

The ups and downs are all part of it. Life. Our kids didn’t need our vacation to be epic. They don’t need perfection. Through it all they’d found the fun.

QT With a Cutie

Extreme chaos and ear-splitting volume is simply the norm in our home. There are four young kids fiercely competing with each other in the “Parent’s Attention” playoffs. Each child tries to out do their sibling in an effort to be seen or heard. Kids can feel lost in the shuffle. It can be truly exhausting and overwhelming for everyone involved.

I’ve found that taking the time to connect with each child — alone — is invaluable. Finding that alone time can be incredibly difficult. Sometimes it requires pulling the cutie out of school for a few hours or dispersing siblings throughout the neighborhood. It’s amazing how different kids act when they’re plucked from the herd.

Without the need to outshine each other, calmness transcends. I’ve marveled at my kids’ behavior transformation when they’re alone. They act like completely different individuals. Thoughtful conversation replaces heated yelling.

My dear friend called to ask me what advice I might have to pass along to another friend of hers. The friend was in labor with their fourth baby. Without much thought I said, “regular alone time with each child”. That’s been one of the best kept secrets about how to stay sane while raising four spritely offspring. Sometimes it can be helpful in resetting a child’s bad behavior or poor choices. Any family with two or more kids can reap rewards from one-on-one time.

When the kids were younger, and they clung to me like monkeys, one-on-one quality time was a little different. Maybe it was reading a story while the others watched tv in another room. It often meant doing a craft with an older child, while their younger sibling napped. Sometimes it was baking cookies together while other kids played outside.

Recently I carved out QT with our oldest daughter. She and I were able to talk in a calm atmosphere without constant interruptions. We were able to bypass the constant sister bickering and connect in a way that simply isn’t possible with siblings present. I could listen without feeling guilty about ignoring another child.image

One-on-one time can be nothing more elaborate than driving home from water polo practice with only my little swimmer in the car. It’s rare, but once in awhile all the stars align and it’s just us. Listening to him eagerly tell me about his day for the five minute drive home? Priceless.image

My younger daughter found me last night as I was trying to sneak a quick shut eye. At first, I was irritated that I’d been discovered. But, when she sheepishly admitted that she wanted to snuggle with me, I welcomed her inside the warm covers. She simply needed me to listen with undivided attention. She categorically reviewed all of her body’s owies from head to toe. As we snuggled in bed, I could feel the day’s struggles melting away.

Kids grow up fast. By spending one-on-one time with each child, a clear message is conveyed. That child understands that they are important to you. I want each of my children to know they are loved and important.image