April 2016

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