kids

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.

Miserable Mornings

The last door has slammed. Bickering children, hormonal girls and tears of frustration have piled in Daddy’s truck and are off to school. Our house now lays strangely silent.

Weekday mornings at our house are hectic. There are four young people with four distinctly different personalities all clamoring to get out the door in unison.imageimage

There is Slow Man. He operates at one speed: snail pace. Slow Man does not worry about making himself or others tardy for school. He’s definitely not a morning person and isn’t interested in eating breakfast before 10:00 am. Slow Man causes everyone around him to feel frustrated and angry.image

Then there’s the one who arises before the entire family, eats, gets dressed and is ready for school before the rest of us set foot downstairs. Fantastic. However, Early Riser will then linger about, watching everyone else stumble through their morning obstacle course — taunting and making unnecessary comments to her siblings. Usually the taunting ends with a giant outpouring of hormonal tears and shrieking. Doors slam. The house trembles.

I’m certain our neighbors think we all crazy. Later, when I see the smiling next door neighbor at the mailbox, I’ll wonder what was overheard and quickly avert my eyes with shame.

Don’t forget about Instigator. Instigator is well known across the land for striking up arguments. She stirs the pot knowing full well that she is brewing problems. Instigator has a knack for getting people fired up. Once they’re fired up, and they flip out, she enjoys playing the role of victim. She even finds humor in getting a sibling or three angry enough that they lose their temper and their minds.image

Last but not least, is Baby Bear. Baby Bear doesn’t usually cause problems. He’s the youngest and just content being along for the ride. He’s our one and only mellow child. His biggest fault is not being able to do many things on his own yet. During the morning flurry Baby Bear often gets lost in the shuffle. Sometimes he’ll take matters into his own hands for attention and to increase his standing in the unsanctioned Bottiaux kid ranking. He’s been known to strip naked and chase shrieking sisters and their friends around the house in order to put himself on the family map.image

In an effort to streamline our morning frenzy, we’ve tried a few things lately. Getting Slow Man’s outfit ready the night before seems to help him through his sluggish morning haze. Setting the timer helps put a jump in his step. He’s always up for a race; even if it’s against the clock.

Clear guidelines are necessary for the others before the drama begins. They need to know that starting fights will insure that their free time is filled with extra chores and revoked privileges.

Showing a little interest might be what’s needed. Maybe they’re acting out because they are worried about something happening at school. At my older daughter’s age, there are a lot of issues with friends. One day she’s in friend land and everyone is getting along beautifully. The next day, they’re enemies and she’s avoiding them at all costs. Taking a minute to draw out of each child what could be causing anxiety might lead to a more subdued morning.

Lunches. Oh how I dislike packing them. Nighttime assembly would be ideal. I know this. But, I’m exhausted and sick of cleaning up other people’s messes by the day’s end. So, project lunch box is handled in the morning.

Up until a few months ago we were cereal people. Easy. Suddenly I became a short order cook with bossy customers. One kid can’t live without his framed egg. Another needs an acai bowl with all the fixings. Porridge and protein shakes are on the morning menu too. The oldest can help with eggs and porridge. But, the high powered blender business is an adult matter.

One day, when they’re all grown, mornings won’t be so rushed, stressful or chaotic. In the meantime, I will try to find joy in providing them with healthy meals and a loving home.image

Dana Point Discoveries

Today wasn’t a day that could be spent indoors. It was a clear, crisp day waiting to unfold before us. The aquamarine sky and sparkling ocean beckoned us. While all the big kids were in school, my youngest and I took a field trip to one of our favorite local spots.

The Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center and Trail System are local gems. There’s something for all ages inside the Nature Center. Kids can pop their heads up through a clear dome and gain the perspective of a small animal in a mini re-created headlands area. We learned about watersheds by listening to recorded information through headphones and examining an expansive wooden watershed model.imageimageimage
My son got to spin the species wheel. When the wheel stopped and pointed to an animal, he would eagerly locate the animal inside of the nature center. We dared to stick our hands into the mystery box and guess its contents. I braved the box first. I have to admit, I was a bit squeamish about reaching into a box involving unknown ingredients. I’ll give one hint: it doesn’t bite. As we marveled at the enormous hand painted mural that captures the era of Richard Henry Dana, Jr. it transported us back in time.image
Friendly and knowledgeable Docent, Tressa Lam provided a wealth of information. She explained how the prized Pacific Pocket Mouse is closely monitored by biologists within the confines of the conservation area. We got to speak with one of the biologists about the Pocket Mouse tracking system. Tracking tubes are used to measure the number of paw prints of these tiny fur balls. The mice, once thought to be entirely extinct, are hibernating in these Winter months, and will re-emerge March through October.image
Tucked away in 29.4 acres of conservation area, the Dana Point Headlands Conservation Area is home to many native plants and animals species. The Coastal California Gnatcatcher and the Pacific Pocket Mouse are on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Threatened and Endangered Species List. Both make their home in the conservation area. Coastal Sagebrush grows rampantly throughout the area. We were taught to rub the plant in our hands and then breathe in the fresh scent.
The mostly flat one mile trail is ideal for young children. We borrowed a pair of binoculars and took them out on the trail to enhance the already majestic panoramic views. As we walked the easy sand trail, we were serranaded by birds and the distant crashing of waves. The ocean shimmered and shone under the warm golden sun. The views on this clear day were breathtaking. Both of us enjoyed pointing out animal tracks and mysterious holes that were presumably animal’s homes.imageimage
People we encountered on the trail seemed happy. Some even stopped for casual conversation. Quick greetings and friendly smiles were exchanged with passersby. It was as if we had an unspoken understanding that this lovely location was a small slice of heaven. Visiting this place was a beautiful way to reconnect with nature, oneself and rediscover the simple pleasures in life.image

Fat: Why it’s a Bad Word in Our Home

Swimsuit season has arrived. Ready or not, thousands of nearly nude sunshine seekers, of all ages, are flocking to beaches and pools. As moms we must decide if we’ll partake, or watch from the sidelines.

I grew up skinny. Never thought twice about what I put in my mouth. Friends joked that I had a tape-worm, since I could eat anything I wanted and never gain an ounce. But, by high school, I’d developed an unhealthy relationship with food. I had to be skinnier. Smaller. Obsessed about the size of my newfound teen curves, I spent hours in front of the mirror, at the gym and pouring over weight loss literature.

As a kid, I remember my mom dieting constantly. Mom wasn’t obese, but wasn’t thin either. She was always trying to lose weight. Weight. Diet. Calories. Fat. These were all words that were common in my home growing up. While my mom didn’t force any of us kids to diet, she was careful to provide low fat food. Strangely enough, there was little or no emphasis placed on exercise.

To my whole hearted dismay, junk food rarely crossed the threshold of our childhood home. No sugar cereals, no chips or packaged cookies. The standard after school snack at our house in the 80’s was graham crackers and apples. Every single night we choked down dark, leafy green salad with chopped scallions and vinaigrette.

Thin is in. Just standing in line at the market, we are inundated with magazine covers telling us how to lose weight. Society seems to be dabbling in plus sized, curvier bodies; but slim still wins.

imageI realize the impact that we, as moms, have on our children. Kids are always watching; imitating us. As a mom, I’m extremely cautious about how and when I use that F word; especially around my daughters. In our house, fat is a word we try to avoid.

Gone are the days of endlessly obsessing over my weight and size. But, naturally I still have a few body image hang-ups. When I declare that I’m going to exercise, I explain that I exercise to stay healthy and strong. True. I do not add the other reasons. I also drag myself to the gym to sweat off those ever growing saddlebags, chisel the caboose, say goodbye to the unlovely love handles and melt that tummy and that really hasn’t fully recovered from birthing four offspring (and probably never will).

imageI don’t want any of my kids to develop unhealthy relationships with food, like I once had. I want them to eat nutritious foods and exercise to be fit. We talk about making good food choices and living active lives. When they want ice cream for breakfast, we discuss how that’s not a healthy choice for our bodies. My white carbohydrate loving daughter would eat only white rice or plain noodles for each meal, if I allowed it. I’m constantly fighting the battle of re-directing her choices. I’m careful about how I word my suggestions.

My personal battle of the bulge is daily fight. Every day I choose what food I put in my mouth. Fried versus baked. To butter or not to butter. Cheese, oh how I love thee. Chocolate, wine and everything fine. Portion control. And they’re watching. There are four impressionable young kids who are eyeballing me. The struggle is real.

imageOn our family vacation, I was quite aware that all of those 5:30 am cycle classes hadn’t quite done the trick. Instead of hiding out in a cover up, poolside, I got out there. My kids and I took full advantage of the hotel waterslides and pools. I was definitely self conscious about the bikini situation.  However, it was more important to make lifelong family memories, than worry about bulges and misplaced jiggle.

So, to the old man with whom I recently crossed paths at Costco, who slowly looked me up and down, then with squinty eyes proclaimed, “well, I can tell that you like to eat”, yes, yes…I do. Thank you for noticing.  And I shall continue to eat. I will model healthy food choices, exercise and bravely go where no mom in a bikini has gone before; all in the name of blazing positive trails for my kids.

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In Flight Entertainment

Air travel with four young, spirited individuals is its own special form of torture.

Just before take off, Zachary, who hasn’t been feeling quite himself for a week, started begging to “just get off and go home”. The fat, silent, crocodile tears slithering down his cherry red cheeks and his pleading eyes, told me he wasn’t kidding. 

 Crap. 

This dreamy Hawaiian vacation has been locked into place for 12 solid months. The very idea of relaxing on the pristine Hawaiian beaches, cool, crisp Lava Flow in hand, has been the sole reason I’ve survived most days leading up to today. 

Five minutes into the five hour flight, Mr. Grey Hair With Glasses, in front of Lauren wormed around, while peeking between the seats, and with a tight, I’m-so-peeved-to-be-seated-in-front-of-the-ten-and-under-crowd, leathery smile, lectured her about how to gently close her tray table.  
 Really?

I’m seated next to Cinderella’s step sisters. Help me. I cannot fathom why they perpetually argue with each other. But, argue they do. Nonstop. I’m ready to ask to be seated elsewhere. Would that be weird? 
 Meanwhile, the brothers behind us are actually behaving. The children’s chewable Advil for which we paid top dollar in the airport bookstore seems to have kicked in. Zachary is holding on. 
 During drink service, the flight attendant takes pity upon us. 

“How many do you have?”

Four. 

“Ohhhhhh my gawwwd!”

I force a small laugh. This is a scenario that has repeated itself dozens of times over the years.

“How old are they?” 

I politely list their ages, and don’t even have to pause awkwardly to recall this time. Jovial flight attendant shakes her head and erupts in laughter. She grins a big you’re so nuts, grin.

“What’ll you have to drink?” 

Wine.

She reappears with the biggest little bottle of airplane vino ever. I think it’s nearly full sized. And she’s not even charging us for it. I look behind me, she’s deposited four free beers onto my husband’s plastic tray table. Four?Four! 

 Woah

We must really appear to need outside assistance. 

Time passes by shoveling copious amounts of chemically enhanced edibles into our mouths. By the time the fasten seatbelt sign has disappeared, we’ve plowed through gummy bears, Cheez Its, Swedish Fish, Juicy Fruit Starburst flavored gum, strawberry icebreakers, s’mores fishies and Reese’s Pieces. 

I hand out the surprises. A My Little Pony coloring book, An American Girl chapter book, level 2 Planes Fire and Rescue reader and Matchbox cars. They devour those too. 

Soon we are all jumbled up. Everyone’s playing musical seats. Some are here. Some are there. Lauren, in her sparkly pumps, has been playing flight attendant for the past hour. The sharing of ear buds proves to be a poor way to save a buck.   

  

I tell the kids we aren’t that far away from heaven, way up here. The boys stare at me.

“We’re like an hour away?”, asks Zachary.

I think so.

He adds, “So, God can actually smell us?”

Probably.

Finally, we start the descent. The 757 floats down. Little blinking eyes peek out the tiny airplane windows. Through the clouds. Down, down, down. With a giant thud onto Earth, we’ve landed. Hello, Hawaii. 
 I carefully avert my eyes from those around us. Yes, I’m their mother. Please, stop judging me. I tried. Really, I did. 

I over hear the man behind my husband say, “Well, it was a pleasure sitting behind these kids”. 

Say whaaa?

He doesn’t know. 

The kind gentleman doesn’t realize that I’ve reprimanded my daughters 496 times in 300 minutes. We bag it all up. Hurry. Let’s get out of here before we ruin the well behaved children perception that this misguided sole has.

Aloha. 

 

In Search of an Awesome Summer

Why I’m Decluttering Our Summer

A few weeks ago I sat hovered over my phone, intertwining four summer schedules into my calendar. I had it all figured out. Everybody’s camps and classes were carefully arranged in my trusty phone. 

It certainly wasn’t an easy task to configure the master schedule. But, I’d done it. I should’ve felt content. I thought I’d feel relieved to have my quad of kids actively pursuing an awesome summer.

But, no.

Instead, I looked at that calendar and found myself growing increasingly frustrated. Nearly every single summer day was accounted for. Each glorious, free flowing, lazy summer day — for which we’d awaited since September — was reserved. After our family vacation, we were left with a mere handful of freedom. Those weeks were threatened to be swiftly snatched up by enticing activities. Dance camps, church camps, musical theatre camps, surf camps, swim team and Junior Guards were the culprits.

As a kid, I never had the opportunity to partake in a vast buffet of recreational delights. My childhood summers were low key. My two younger brothers and I spent our endless summer days playing mailman, swimming in the neighbor’s pool, frog hunting in the creek (until my brother unearthed the towering stack of Playboys near the murky water). My friends and I would ride bikes on the bike trail, alongside the canal. We tirelessly perfected our cartwheels and handstands on the cool front lawn at dusk. We’d thunder through front yards during heated games of tag and hide ‘n seek. We built majestic indoor forts — using every single blanket and bed sheet in the house.

There were plenty of boring days too. I remember my dad warning us that if we stayed inside watching cartoons any longer, people would forget that kids lived in our home. Mom bought me a thick “Big Book of Things to Do”, so I’d stop bugging her about it. It worked; for a short while. I developed a love of simple things. Reading. Crafting. These slow days of summer empowered us to entertain ourselves. We learned to decompress from the quicker pace of the school year.

I had to choose.

The proposed line up was impressive. Hours of shuttling over-heated, complaining children in a smallish, motorized rectangular box on wheels, was not. And I was to blame. If I signed them up, it would be nobody’s fault but my own that our summer was over scheduled. I’ve had to convince myself that my kids don’t need these extracurricular activities. They would survive without over-the-top camps and classes galore.

So, I’ve decided not to.

I’m decluttering our summer. It’s going to be simple. Easy. I refuse to make my summer an extension of the hectic school year. I want my kids to have a fun summer. But, I also want my kids to experience a boring summer.

My kids weren’t exactly thrilled when I announced we’d be participating in minimal planned activities this summer. There were tears; and lots of moaning. At first I felt guilty about their disappointment. Not for long. They’re going to have an old fashioned summer; the kind I experienced as a kid. They’ll have to learn to love it.image

I’m not going to omit every single planned activity. A few will remain. Last summer was Sarah’s first year of Junior Guards. It was nothing short of magical. She has looked forward to JG since last summer and will be returning in August for her debut leap off the pier. Bi-weekly swim practice will continue for both boys. Other than that, let freedom ring!image

I want my kids to know what it feels like to play outside all day, barefoot, with toes sticky from Popsicle drippings. They can stay up too late on a hot summer night, with no place to be the next morning. Swim in the pool so long their fingers and toes become shriveled like raisins. I want them to play in the warm sand all day at the beach. Hunt for sand crabs. Boogie board in the salty sea. Learn to surf.imageimageimage

After this summer experiment of stripping away excess, I may find that it wasn’t a good move. Maybe I’ll be going slightly nuts after spending many hours with my kids every day. At the beginning of last summer I’d considered homeschooling. By the end of the summer, boarding school seemed like a better option.

No matter what, we’ll make an abundance of memories. I’m hoping those memories aren’t of sisters tattle tailing on everything that moves and brothers thrashing everything in sight.

I believe that we can pull off a simple summer to remember.image

Top 10 Reasons a Family Road Trip Might be a Bad Idea

10. Who tooted? Every few minutes somebody fires off their bodily gasses. In our family, we go into full filter mode. All windows down, air vent on over drive. Everyone’s hair is whipping around as the outside air blows out the stagnant toot-afied air inside the car.

 9. He’s touching me. Let’s all keep our body parts to ourselves, shall we? It’s not hard. Just do not touch anyone. Ever.

 8. She’s looking at me. Eyes should be peering out the window, gazing at the endless miles of dreary farmland. Or watch the movie. But, do not look at your siblings. Even though I can’t ever quite catch you, I know what you’re doing. Stop it.

 7. Not this DVD! Oh, the debate. Everyone has an opinion. As luck would have it, when everyone finally reaches a consensus, we typically find that the darn DVD is fatally scratched. Then, it’s back to square one.

 6. Are we there yet? Ten minutes in, and this is their favorite question. Nope. Nine hours left, folks. I’m as disappointed about it as you are. Trust me.

5. I’m hungry. Seriously? You just ate. You can’t possibly be hungry.

Gas station meat is a family favorite.

 

4. I have to go potty…now! You didn’t go at the last rest stop? Roadside bushes work well for boys. Girls need something classier; like a gas station bathroom that smells like it was last cleaned somewhere around the turn of the century.

 3. My tummy hurts. Quick! Pull over. Oh no. Too late. 

 2. I forgot to pack underpants.  Do you mean that the pile of briefs, that I told you to pack at least 50 times, is still sitting on your bed at home? Honey, can you say, going commando?

1. We forgot who at the rest stop?!  Everyone’s re-loading. The same kid never listens. Ever. He’s catching roly polies while his siblings are obeying. We’re slowly driving away when low and behold, we forgot boy child! Park. Find kid. Deliver same old speech about listening. Hit the road. We’re almost there! Too bad there’s a return trip…day after tomorrow.

You Made Me a Mom

Dear Sarah, Lauren, Zachary and Nathan,

You probably didn’t think Mommy would have a special note for you on Mother’s Day! Each of you has been gushing about the special projects you’ve been working on at school for me.

Homemade gifts are the best.

Homemade gifts are the best. But, the gift of no fighting, is my favorite of all! (hint, hint)

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I wanted to give a little something special to you too.

All my life I thought about my future children. I imagined us all sitting around our dinner table talking about life. I’d imagine narrating interesting parts of my life to you. Like, that time I was too timid to ask my Brownie troop leader where the bathroom was, and instead of letting out just a drop to provide a little much needed relief, I ended up releasing Niagara Falls on the Drosos family’s kitchen floor.

As I stood, mortified, in a sea of my bodily fluid, I’ll never forget the look on Andrea’s big sister’s face. She just stood there, mouth hanging open; with huge, disbelieving eyes, staring at the giant golden lake, and at me. I was absolutely horrified, and age 8 is way too old for a potty accident. Never be afraid to ask where the bathroom is, kids!

Although I could never clearly see your faces, or hear your voices, I knew I loved you deeply. Already. Tears would well in my eyes, as my mind would drift to the future. I knew I’d meet you one day. I longed to see you. Know you. Hold you.

Each one of you was planned. Wanted. I’ve been asked, more than once, if all of you kids were “planned”. The answer,  without a second of hesitation, is yes. Mommy and Daddy dreamed of each and every single one of long before you breathed your first breath. Someone once said to me that they’d never have four kids, because it would be too hard to visit Disneyland. That’s certainly never been a problem in our family.

When I was 29 years old, I found out I was pregnant with Baby Sarah. We weren’t sure I was going to be able to have any babies. Before Sarah, I miscarried a baby. That means another baby lived inside of me who died before they were born. It just about broke me. It seemed like forever before I became pregnant again. But, finally it happened! This time, the doctor gave me special medicine to help you grow inside of me. Daddy had to overcome his life-long fear of needles and learn to administer injections in Mommy’s buns. (Stop laughing, at the word buns, boys.)

It was not looking good when Daddy turned as white as a sheet, began sweating and had to lie down in the doctor’s office, while the nurse taught him how to do this. But, guess what? He did it! He gave me those shots for many weeks. He did it during my pregnancy with Nathan too. And oh my, they made me sick. I was sick with all of you while I was pregnant, but never as sick as I was with Sarah. Every one of you was worth the months and months of barfing and feeling like a giant whale.

Speaking of needles. Do NOT ever get a tattoo. Trust me on this one. You might think you want one — when you’re a teenager, going through your weird-o, wanna-be hippy, listen to 70’s music, hang out in coffee shops on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley phase. Oh, wait. That might’ve been me. Tattoos are permanent, kids. Removals are pricey. If you’re feeling a little zesty in those teen years, maybe go for a temporary henna deal,  or…or nothing. Lots of unsavory ideas come to mind. But, just know that you’ll regret it later.

Sarah was the one who taught me how to be a mommy. I’d read all of the books about how to be a mom while I was pregnant. But, nothing you read in a book can really, truly prepare you for what lies ahead. They say you don’t know what love is until you have a child. They are right. I’ve never loved anyone as much as I love my children. Yes, of course I love Daddy, but that’s a different love.

New at the Mommy gig.

New at the Mommy gig.

A child is like your heart existing outside your body. I feel deeply on behalf of each of you. When you are sad, I’m sad for you. When you’re happy, I am too. I’m super protective of you all, just like a great big Mama Bear. You are a part of me. My love for you is deep like the vast ocean and vast like the sapphire sky.

Zachary felt nervous and unsure about going on his very first kindergarten field trip last week. After everyone left for school, he had a nervous tummy and tears. I knew he’d end up loving the field trip. But, convincing Mr. Z, can be a difficult task. We dried those tears and I held his hand tightly as we walked into class that morning. He was trying his best to put on his game face, but I knew. My eyes grew watery and a big lump formed in my throat as I watched my brave little boy climb onto that big yellow school bus. I feel what you feel.

You ended up having the best time.

You ended up having the best time.

I felt you, as babies growing inside of me. I loved you from the second I knew of your existence. I watched you on the ultrasound screen in the doctor’s office grow from the size of a grain of rice, to a gummy bear, to an apple, right up to a tiny baby. You kicked me from the inside, and I could feel you growing stronger. Sometimes you woke me up at night by kicking and moving around.  Lauren and Zachary, you were the strongest! Lauren was dancing, I’m sure and Zachary was practicing his swimming kicks. That fluttering in my belly and your hiccupping was a gentle, reassuring reminder that a tiny person was living within me.

There's Zachary!

There’s Zachary!

God has given you a life and you need to live it to the fullest. Live your life for God; not for yourself. That means that you talk to and listen to God. You follow what he tells you. Trust in Him. The times in my life that I’ve forgotten to do this have been the toughest.

You will make mistakes. Lots of them. But that doesn’t mean that you give up. Don’t fall into the trap of peer pressure. You can learn valuable lessons from things that don’t go as you hoped they would in your life. I’m always here for you, if you need to talk. I’m a good listener. I’ll even pledge not to post our conversation on Facebook.

Please be respectful, and kind to others. A little act of kindness to another, can go a long way. Remember that. Put others first. By giving back, and serving others, you will feel fulfilled and happy. Remember that time we made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and toiletry bags for the homeless in downtown Santa Ana? We were all a little nervous driving around in that part of town, where lots of homeless people live. Then, we walked around and delivered the things we’d brought. It felt good to help others.

I love each one of you. And no, I do not have a favorite child. I was asked that once, recently. It caught me off guard, because it was something I’d never even considered. Each of you is so different. So unique. Sometimes I wonder how it’s possible that four children, all born from the same parents could turn out so differently. I hope you feel like we celebrate your individual qualities.image

I want each of you to feel special for just being you. No accomplishment of yours will ever make me love you more than I already do. You are enough. Just be you.

Thank you; each of you, for making me a Mommy.

I love you. 

This was all I saw of him.

Quick. Silent. Deadly.

I sat on the lounge chair by the pool, a mere five paces from where my youngest was perched on the steps leading into the swimming pool. All four of my kids were in the water. But, my eyes were glued to Nathan, my only non-swimmer. He was holding onto the gleaming metal railing while repeatedly dunking his little noggin under and blowing bubbles, which he proudly called his explosions.

The water thing has all been a very recent major breakthrough for Nathan. Besides the bathtub, garden hose and backyard water table, he’d never enjoyed the water. He’d always preferred to merely dip a toe in the water on the steps, while all his siblings swam like fish throughout the pool. I had put off swimming lessons every summer because of his strong aversion to all things swimming related. I just didn’t have the fight in me to force him into the pool to learn to swim. Until last month.

‘Lil land dweller.

I’d avoided it for four summers, but this had to be the year. Like it or not, he was going to learn to swim. Becoming water safe was the main reason he had to learn to swim. Living in Southern California, we are constantly in or near the water. It’s a way of life. We live seven minutes from the Pacific Ocean and two minutes from our closest community pool.

I signed him up for private mini sessions twice a week at the local aquatic center. He was bitterly angry with me for doing this. I could tell by the way his tiny chin quivered when he asked me why?, that he felt that I’d betrayed him.

On the first day of class, he cried for hours before it was time to head to the lesson. I had to peel him off of my body, unclamp his hands from my t-shirt, and hand him over to his new swim teacher, Kayne. Although Kayne is a well respected swim teacher, I had my reservations.

Kayne is nothing short of a drill sergeant in water. At about 6′ tall, she’s tough as nails, her deep, gruff voice can sound a bit intimidating, and she wastes no time letting her students know who’s boss. She wasn’t having any of Nathan’s sprinkler fest. It was time to turn off the tears, get in and get to work.

It felt so wrong. I felt so guilty. It was awful. I fought back tears. His little face kept looking at me, pleading with me to rescue him. I forced the corners of my mouth to curl into a tight smile, in hopes that it would help encourage him, if ever so slightly.

For the next few weeks, he’d ask if he had swim lessons that day. If the answer was yes, he’d cry until 11:30, when his lesson began. It wasn’t a whiney cry. It was a frightened cry, and he would tremble uncontrollably. He was terrified of those swim lessons, and maybe a little scared of his coach too.

Soon enough, I began seeing hints of happiness creeping across his face. Little laughs here and there. He even floated on his back one day…unassisted. He’d climb out of that pool, at the end of the lesson and his little green eyes would flicker with delight. I was so proud! He was so proud! It was happening. His fear was slipping away.

he started having fun

He started having fun.

this was a huge day!

Huge day!

I sat there, warmed  by the May sunshine, clapping, and flashing the thumbs up for his small accomplishments. I watched him on those steps that day, squealing with excitement each time he plunked his head under, knowing this summer would be different. I’d have to really watch him closely in the pool and ocean this year. He was no longer terrorized by water.

I must’ve looked away. Maybe I’d glanced around the pool for my other kids. But, when my eyes returned to Nathan, I saw only his two hands wildly flailing. He had gone under. I bolted over to the steps, in what felt like slow motion, threw myself into the water, and yanked him up by his hand. He sputtered water, gasped for air and was shaking with genuine fear.

this was all I saw of him

This was all I saw of him.

My heart refused to slow. It remained beating wildly out of my chest. I’d been so careful, so aware. Yet, this had happened. I’m guessing it took me 8 seconds total; to realize what had happened, jump up, and get over to save him. What if? What if…

Initially Nathan wanted out of that water. I envisioned all of that hard work to overcome his fear of swimming, reversing itself. We sat on the lounge chair together. I held my little burrito, wrapped tightly in a beach towel. I hugged and kissed him. I reminded him of a promise I’d made to him when he began swim lessons. I’d promised him that I would always jump in the water, even if I was fully dressed, to save him if he started drowning.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the #1 cause of death in children ages 1-4. Drowning can be quick, quiet and can happen anywhere. Bathtubs, pools, buckets and even toilets are common places young children to drown. Sadly, most drownings happen at home, in backyard swimming pools.

this is what drowning looks like

What drowning looks like.

When we told Kayne about Nathan’s near drowning experience. She scoffed. “Why’d you jump in?” (I couldn’t reach him without jumping in up to my torso!) She added, “I take my time rescuing them, because I know that I have three minutes. I want to give them a chance to swim to the safety wall. I want them to learn from it.” While that may sound harsh, it’s coming from a woman who’s been teaching babies, adults and everyone in between, to swim for decades. Thankfully, he’s not scarred too badly from his experience. Getting him right back in the water afterward was the best thing to do.

It’s preventable. Risk of drowning can decrease significantly with swimming lessons. I’m hoping to have all four of my kids water safe by summer. Nathan’s improving with each lesson. So, sign ’em up. Even if they scream, kick and complain. Sign ’em up. The sooner the better. I was weak, and waited. But, it could’ve ended up costing my child his life.

 

K.I.S.S. (Kayne’s Instructional Swim School): A year-round private swim lessons program offered through the city of San Clemente, for ages 3+, at the San Clemente Aquatic Center. Please call (949) 429-8797 for details, or visit www.san-clemente.org/recreation-community/classes-programs

 

 

That Four Letter Word

No…not that one. Lice. That horrible, no good word, with whom nobody wants to be associated. It’s the four letter word that will temporarily turn your world upside down.

Only at Walmart is there a huge sign for lice.

Only at Walmart is there a huge sign for lice.

We’ve just wrapped up round #2 of these microscopic beasts, who chose to set up camp in my kid’s hair. It started when I got my neighbor’s text, “just found 2 eggs in Clair’s hair”. Oh no. NO. I cannot handle this. Not now. This is bad. SO bad. Not again. Nooooooo!

It’s usually bedtime when the lice text is circulated. Just as the kids are about to drift into dreamland, it’s time to eject them from their warm, comfy nests and begin the check. I comb through every inch of hair. Strand by strand, I hold my breath, heart thumping like a tribal conga drum, waiting to see if the next strand will unleash the nightmare.

The first time my kids had lice, I was totally in denial that our family…my kids…could possibly ever get lice. I know. Seriously, who did I think I was? My kids were swimming 3-6 days a week. I figured chlorine kills everything, right? Wrong.

The elementary school had notified parents that lice was on the loose. Those news flashes always send my kids into a tail spin. Convinced they too had the dreaded creatures, they begged me to check their hair. I told them over and over that they did NOT have it. I thought they were over reacting and I wasn’t about to feed into their frenzy. The girls began complaining that their heads were itchy. “Oh, c’mon! You’re imagining things”, I told them again and again. This went on for several weeks. Their paranoia seemed not to cease.

Turns out they weren’t all that paranoid.

I got the lice call from my son’s preschool. The teachers were doing head checks and his turned up positive. Not only did he have eggs, he had live critters. Lots of them. A full on village was living in his hair. Teachers guessed he’d had them for a while, since they’d hatched. I asked his teacher to check my head too. Just in case. You guessed it. I had ’em too.

The least disgusting image of lice I could find.

The least disgusting image of lice I could find.

I immediately called my daughters’ school and divulged everything. The lice siren was sounded. They were yanked from class, and checked by the nurse. Yep . OMG. So all that complaining about itchy heads had been valid?! …And the Mom of the Year Award goes to…SO. NOT. ME!

I was a Googling fool. I could not get enough information fast enough. I had to know how to exterminate these things…these awful creatures that had taken over my children’s clean, silky tresses. I called a few lice salons. Yes, they do exist. The only ones I could pull up in my searches were astronomically expensive. I’m talking $200 or more, a head. As much as I would’ve loved for someone else to do the dirty work, it was totally out of my price range. No way could we afford $1,000 to make these things go away. Ugh.

I recall having lice as a kid. Shivering, naked in the bathtub, my mom meticulously combed through my long, ultra-thick hair with that infamous metal lice comb. She used pungent smelling liquid poison from the local drug store. To this day, I clearly remember the smell, how cold I was and that it took ions to finish. I don’t remember anything else being a big deal regarding lice.

Grasping for straws, I called the pediatrician. She said lice is a different animal from when we were kids. Over time, it has mutated and become stronger and more difficult to kill. Awesome. So, I was faced with body builder bugs who had picked a massive fight with our family? The doctor prescribed lice killer for us. We needed two rounds each, she said. First round now, second round in a week. We opted for this option, despite the fact that it wasn’t all that cheap either. Each prescription was $40. A quick math calculation revealed the undesirable truth: 4 kids, 1 adult, x2= definitely not in this month’s budget.

Prescription lice treatment.

Prescription lice treatment.

I wasn’t totally confident that the prescrioptions alone would remedy our situation. There were many cyberspace testimonials about how mayonnaise had cured them. In collaboration with the RXs, I did a mayonnaise treatment on each of us. To this day, mayo reminds me of lice. Tea tree oil and rosemary oil became my new BFFs. According to my internet searches, these oils don’t kill lice, but they can help to prevent it. I also bought homeopathic lice remedies from the health food store, along with shampoo that promised to prevent lice. You name it, I’ve tried it.

The weapons

The weapons

More online searching and talking to people lead me to believe that we needed to evacuate our lice ridden home and caravan to a nearby hotel. Apparently if lice don’t find a host, they’ll bite the dust within 24-48 hours. Our extraordinarily kind hearted hotel manager friend took pity on us, and put us up in his hotel for two nights. Things were beginning to look up.

After I’d sealed in our whole sectional couch with black plastic trash bags, I bagged up most of the contents of each kid’s rooms. Every stuffed animal was a suspect. Whatever I didn’t bag and banish to the garage, I washed. Oh, the laundry situation was daunting, to say the least. I struggle to keep up with our family’s every day laundry. Now that dozens upon dozens of loads had been added to the line up, I was beyond overwhelmed.

Maybe I went a little overboard.

Maybe I went a little overboard.

During the lice saga, I ran into a friend. I told her the unabridged version: how I’d ignored the kid’s itchiness complaints and they’d hatched and we all got it. She looked at me with eyes as big as saucers, and in a whisper said, “I really think you shouldn’t go around telling people that”. Really? I’m not one to hide the truth. It is what it is. Lice happens. Obviously it can happen to anyone, at any time. So, why are we all so ashamed of it? When we catch a cold, we don’t care who knows. When we get the flu, we don’t slink around keeping it a big shameful secret.

In fact, I was so open about our family’s lice, that I posted on Facebook about it. I posted all the drama. All of it. And you know what? People told me they were baffled that I’d spoken so candidly about it. Heck, I posted un-glamerous pictures of the kids and me with plastic bags on our heads, while we carved Halloween pumpkins. I showed everyone the garbage bags piled up to the ceiling in the garage, filled with our lice infested belongings. Never did I think twice about it.

Happy Halloween! Don't we look scary?

Getting into the Halloween spirit with bags on our heads.

The kids eventually returned to school, free of lice, and we moved back into our home and unpacked all the trash bags full of belongings. It truly was one of the worst experiences of my life. For months, I lived in fear about a repeat attack.

Fast forward about a year. Round #2. Thankfully only one kid had it this time. These days, when the lice gong sounds, and the warning lights flash, I check everyone’s heads immediately. We’ve had a few false alarms. But, this particular time, my head check had revealed a few nits. Isn’t that word just plain gross? Nits. There they were in all their glory, attached to my daughter’s beautiful brunette hair. How dare they.

There was nothing I could do that night, besides send the group warning text to the moms of every little girl I could think of who had been around my daughter within the past few days.  This time I executed the attack differently. I’d heard of a local lice salon, that was more affordable. Plus, since only one child was affected, that was an avenue I could explore.

The salon’s front door and pamphlets inside the waiting room promised discreet service. There were private rooms, where the culprits got checked. The lice technician, who seemed rather bored with the whole thing, checked all my kids and me. As expected, we were all clean, except the one. For some reason, I was so much calmer about the whole process this time.

Maybe it was the fact that someone else was helping me. Maybe I was just a pro this time. The lice salon told me to just wash what my daughter’s head had touched in the last few days. Wash all bedding, clothes she’d worn and stick anything unwashable in the dryer for 30 min. Not only was the salon treatment quick and efficient, there was no endless bagging up of our home, no moving out to another residence, no alternative treatments.

Our partner in crime, the technician, said that lice really isn’t as easy to catch as people think. Lice can’t jump or fly. They only walk. I marveled at the ease of this lice episode. The hair product they used was a proprietary, chemical free solution.

One week later, we all reported to the salon for follow up checks. We were each given the all clear. I bought peppermint oil to spray in our hair, to help prevent lice from setting up camp in our hair. Apparently are scent driven, and don’t like the smell of peppermint. That’s great news, because, have you ever smelled tea tree oil? It’s nasty. I can deal with smelling like a candy cane though.

This time, I didn’t broadcast to the big wide world of Facebook about our lice affliction. Maybe because it would’ve been publicly outing my one specific kid who had it. Maybe I’m conforming to society’s freakish secretiveness surrounding the almighty louse.

Whatever the case, I do know that four letter word: lice, really isn’t shameful. It’s just an extremely unpleasant part of life. Lice doesn’t mean you’re a filthy person with subpar hygiene. Anyone can get it. In fact, your more likely to get lice if your hair is clean. Lice can’t attach themselves to dirty hair as easily, or hair with lots of product in it.

I sure would like to believe we won’t have to deal with lice ever again. But, with four young kids, I’m pretty sure there will be future incidents. I’ll be prepared.