Life is absurd. And life is precious. Family is a lot of both.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Carry On Baggage

When our fifth child was just four months old we flew our entire family from our home in Germany to Ireland. It was a sleep-deprived decision, but we knew it was likely our only chance to see that beautiful country and it still ranks among our favorite trips ever. This in spite of the fact that we took along more little creatures than just our children.

It began on the plane ride when Baby Girl started scratching her head. A lot. By the end of the two-hour flight I'd lost count of how many times her chubby 2-year-old fingers had raked through her beautiful blonde curls. But it was enough times for my mother instinct to kick in and a hot, sinking feeling to take hold. My husband and our traveling companions had noticed nothing, and I was not about to announce anything to anyone until I knew for sure.

In the craziness of deplaning, gathering luggage, and attempting to fit us and our stuff into a mini-car, I forgot all about it. Until we headed out for lunch and Baby Girl was scratching like crazy. As we stood in the bright sunshine deciding where to head first, I casually parted her locks and peered down. HOLY LEPRECHAUNS! Her head was crawling with lice.

I wanted to throw up. I wanted to run. I wanted to disown this infected little girl. Of all the children we'd had in all the schools over all the years, we'd never done lice. I mean, really, don't only bad parents have licey children? I know logically that lice do not signal an unclean home, an uneducated family, or neglectful behaviors. But there anything ickier?

I cleared my throat and told my husband the bad news. He gaped at me. As if I thought this would be a funny joke to pull on everyone. "I'm not kidding," I told him. "And I think I'm going to be sick."

My problem-solving husband sized up the situation and proclaimed, "Well, I guess we'll have to shave her head." It was now my turn to gape.

"Shave her head?!" I yelped. And then I actually considered it for a few long seconds. But first things first, we had to tell our friends and the owner of our rented cottages.

Our friends had a family sort of the opposite of ours. The kind of family with two quiet children, ironed clothing and a spotless car. I was surprised they'd even wanted to travel with our circus. And I was pretty sure they'd regret it instantly when we told them our circus had lice. As for the cottage owner, I had visions of being kicked out and trying to find an Irish homeless shelter for the week.

Our friends took the news pretty well and the lovely owner informed us cheerfully that lice are a common problem in Ireland and she had to treat her own kids several times a year. She even had lice combs we could borrow. We smiled weakly and inquired where we could purchase treatment. She directed us to a large supermarket and the dads left to find what we needed. I stayed back doing my best to keep an itchy toddler away from everyone and off of anything upholstered.

The men soon returned with a few boxes they had chosen from an entire aisle devoted to lice treatment (lucky for us the Irish may have no snakes, but they are prepared for blood-sucking parasites). We broke the news to the other kids and proceeded to treat everyone except the bald-headed baby and the close-cropped Army guys. The first half of our pictures from that trip show plastered heads and towel-draped shoulders while we waited for the noxious stuff to do its job. The box said in order to be extra cautious the subject could sleep in the gunk and wait until morning to rinse. We were extra cautious.

It was pretty strong-smelling stuff and we were happy to wash all that hair, throw open the windows and get to seeing the sights. I, of course, spent most of the trip peering at Baby Girl's head instead of at the cliffs and castles and clover. It was an irresistible obsession. Those creepy crawlies were my worst nightmare made real. I shuddered every time I thought of them, and was delighted at how thoroughly the treatment rid our little one of any trace. Her pretty head was squeaky pink and clean.

It was after we returned home that I discovered the treatment's active ingredient was a chemical long banned in the United States.

In hindsight, shaving the child's head might have been the way to go. Because if having lice in the first place is not a sign of bad parenting, I'm pretty sure choosing a treatment that could potentially poison the whole group just might be.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Potty Training for Moms

When our 2-year-old son tinkled in the potty consistently and contentedly, we parents high-fived and figured we could check the toilet-trained block. Until we realized the child had not pooped in days. And certainly never in the potty. So we did what logical parents would do--we fibered him up and waited. And The Boy did what he still does best --he messed with our minds. He fished out an old diaper, changed himself into it, barricaded his bedroom door, and filled his pants. Then, with what I swear was a gleam in his eye, he summoned his mommy to take care of his mess. This went on for days and days and, well, truthfully for years. For almost two years that kid refused to poop anywhere except his pants.

We tried everything. Up went the sticker charts, out came the candy jar rewards, stacked up in the bathroom were the best-sellers Everyone Poops and Once Upon a Potty. There are a few motherhood memories that remain so clear in my mind that I tremble when I think of them. "The Day I Bleached the Bathroom" is one of them. On that day I was inspired to clean my bathroom better than it had ever been cleaned before. I washed and rehung the shower curtain. I scrubbed the faucets with a toothbrush. I bleached every inch of subway tile from the corners to the walls to the gross spot behind the toilet. Never had that space been so clean and sanitary. It made my day. Until about two hours later when I strolled into the spotless lavatory and found poop. On the floor.

I'm not so proud of what happened next. I found the culprit, grabbed his shoulders, sank to my knees and screeched some variation of the following: "Seriously?! You chose today to poop OUTSIDE of your beloved Pull-Up?! Are you aware that I just used bleach--bleach!--to clean that bathroom? Are you trying to kill me? Because really I think my head is going to explode and it's all because you won't poop on the potty. YOU POOPED A MERE THREE INCHES FROM THE POTTY! What is wroooooooong with you?!?!"

And I'm even less proud of what happened then. The Boy pushed out his lip, quivered his chin and started to wail. Only I didn't care. At all. I'd been had and I was done letting him get the best of me. Even as I bellowed the next few lines some part of my brain was chiding, "Um, this is really not effective parenting. Truly, lady, you are breaking all sorts of rules here. This is not going well." But I was on a roll and could not help myself. I continued: "And I will tell you something, Mister. ("Mister?" Did you really just call him "Mister"? that same voice asked.) I am not picking up this mess. If you can't get it in the potty the regular way, then you will just have to use your hands."

At that point we were face-to-face and both a little terrified at what I had just said. But I was not backing down, oh no. I grabbed a half dozen tissues and pressed them into his little hands. "There!" I barked. "Now pick it up and put it in the potty." He stood frozen, turning paler and paler. I just grew madder and madder (both definitions). "I am not kidding, kid!" I insisted.

As he knelt, still teary, to scoop up his mess I stood over him and congratulated myself, "Well, see, this is what he needed all along. Tough love. How ridiculous that we've let it go this long without insisting that he clean his own mess. He will certainly not continue to poop outside the potty if he has to clean it himself. Really, Self, I'm surprised it took you so long to realize this."

The Boy shot me one more pitiful look over his tiny shoulder, shuddered and reached down. At which point the wad of tissues shifted and three little fingers sank into the pile of poop. In one quick instant, he stood, screamed, and turned to me. Then he vomited.

In the end, The Boy learned that it's better to do your business somewhere besides the floor, especially if your parents promise to buy you a really cool bike.

I learned a lesson too. Tough love is not always the answer. Sometimes it's simply a load of crap.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Google is a Mom's Best Friend

What kind of a genius kid sticks dog food up his nose?

I'd watched him playing with the bowl earlier. Child #5 gets to do a lot of things Child #1 never could. I saw his tiny tongue take a tiny lick and said, "Ewww, Sweetie, that's gross." Then I walked away for a minute. (It's possible he gets his genius from me.)

When I returned to the kitchen he was sniffing. A lot. Then the snot was flowing and I suddenly thought, “Oh no. Surely he's not that stupid."

I had no choice but to pin that toddler to the floor and shine a flashlight right up his nose. Snot-covered dog food looks about like you would expect under bright lights. He was breathing fine but I was afraid we were destined for the Emergency Room. And if there's one place I will do just about anything to avoid, it's the Emergency Room.

It was clear that the little guy was becoming very uncomfortable. It could have been from the expansion of the dog food as it absorbed liquid. Or it could have been that every five minutes I pinned him again to check the progress. Like most mothers, I hate to see my offspring unhappy, unsettled or covered in snot. So I did what all good modern mothers do. I Googled.

I was dismayed when the entire first page featured links with advice "RUSH THE TODDLER TO THE ER IMMEDIATELY SO HE DOES NOT DIE OF THE DOG FOOD". I was growing concerned, but calmly clicked through to page three (where I have found Google hides the really good stuff). What I read seemed too simple, too heroic, too hilarious to be true. But simple, heroic and hilarious are the guideposts of my parenting so I jumped right in with ambition.

"Hold his legs," I hollered at his brother as I straddled the poor kid's chest. "What are you doing?!" my teenager yelped. "You won't believe it if I tell you, so just hold tight there. He has dog food stuck in his nose." "Way to go, genius," Big Brother smirked. The toddler just looked up at me with eyes wide and nose streaming.

"Here goes nothing," I muttered as I pinched the unblocked nostril, took a deep breath, then blew as hard as I could directly into his little mouth. We were all three surprised when a wad of snot-covered, almost-dissolved kibble came shooting out of his nose.

After a half-second of stunned silence, the toddler and I burst out laughing. The tough teenager ran for the bathroom wailing, "I’m gonna puke!”

I don't know who invented Google. But I'm pretty sure he was a genius.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Is Anybody Listening?

I lost my voice again. It must be God's Christmas gift to my family because I seem to lose it every year in early December. No sore throat. No fever. No warning. It's here one minute and gone the next...a lot like a box of Froot Loops in my pantry.

My family doesn't even try to hide their glee from me. And I would be okay with how funny they think it is for mom to be verbally impaired. I would, frankly, be fine with not talking at all for three or four days. Even I get sick of hearing myself and could use a break. I would be okay with it...except that they can't stop asking me questions. "Why can't you just leave the mute mommy alone?" I want to whisper. But there's that omnipresent oxymoron--mommy and alone.

Last night Oldest Boy wanted to know where I had hidden his favorite sweatshirt (because that's what I do in my free time). "MO-OHM!" he hollered from downstairs. "WHERE'S MY HOODIE?" Normally I would have hollered back, "I DO NOT HIDE YOUR SWEATSHIRTS. IT'S WHEREVER YOU LEFT IT." Only I couldn't. And I certainly wasn't going to walk down the stairs to explain laryngitis symptoms to the kid. Instead I sat upstairs and counted how many times he'd yell for me before he finally gave up and either wore a different hoodie or used those healthy young legs to come and find me. It was five times. I didn't see him until this morning when he left for school wearing the allegedly stolen sweatshirt.

Middle Girl was working in the kitchen while I Facebooked at the table. The phone rang. And rang. And rang. I wondered how long before she'd remember that mom is verbally stricken and cannot reasonably answer the phone. It rang. And rang. Finally she picked it up, said "Yes ma'am, just a minute" to whomever had called, and then handed me the phone. "I can't talk," I literally gasped. "Remember?! Sheesh. Take a message." I'm fairly certain an eye roll accompanied the statement, "So sorry. My mom says she can't talk." I wanted to growl at her but it hurts my throat.

Little Girl bounced onto my bed and proclaimed I needed to help her study for her economics test. Economics in third grade? Explaining opportunity costs to an 8-year-old would not be easy even if I had full use of all my octaves. Preaching it in a low whisper just led to several rounds of "What?" "Huh?" and "I don't understand." "Isn't your father around here somewhere?" I croaked. "I'm sure he can clearly explain this." "Oh yeah," she chirped. "He's in there reading the newspaper." Yes, growling at my children definitely hurts my throat.

Little Boy was on the computer this morning earnestly interacting with some virtual animal in some virtual world. I was trying to get his attention from the kitchen to find out what he wanted for breakfast. Clearing my throat, snapping my fingers and jumping up and down waving my arms did not work to distract him. I finally leaned down, tapped his shoulder and whispered, "Here are your waffles." He answered without looking up from the screen, "But, Mom, I wanted Froot Loops."

"Too bad for you. They're all gone," I muttered as I turned around. Judging from the groan of protest, that was one mom whisper he heard just fine. And it turns out giggling at my children doesn't hurt my throat at all.