Me & Odysseus

In the first week of school, my daughter Annabelle received two Falcon flyers.  This was a super big deal because she could turn them in for a prize.  I wasn’t sure where to take the flyers, so we stopped at the office and were told to give them to the teacher, who would put them in a box for a raffle drawing.  Problem solved.

The next morning, Annabelle’s head is full of these flyers.  We bring them to the teacher…who tells us we’re supposed to give them to the office.  OK, back to the office, where this time we are told to put them in a large plastic box outside the office for a drawing.  Mission complete!  It’s exciting, too, because Annabelle’s two flyers are the only two in the box, so she’s got this raffle in the bag.

Over the next couple of days, Annabelle’s two flyers are still the only ones in the box, and I begin to get suspicious.  Colin sees them and verifies that this is Not Where Falcon Flyers Go.  We go back to the office and are told again that they should have gone to the teacher, but the nice woman in the office takes pity on us and lets Annabelle pick out a little plastic dragon from the prize box.  The dragon is her favorite toy for exactly 27 minutes, which is about how much of my life was sucked away in pursuit of said dragon.

The Fun Run is coming to the kids’ school, and this means more prizes.  It’s super exciting, and Annabelle is pumped.  To motivate the kids to fundraise for the run, they are given cheap little plastic gears that are apparently the most thrilling toy ever.  Why I break the bank at Christmas over these kids is a mystery.  Annabelle is particularly tickled that the gear colors match each of her favorite stuffed animals.  There is a green one for Lambie, red for Foxy, white for Zebra, and yellow for Piggie.  Life could not be more perfect.

I log on to donate to the run.  The system prompts me to donate per lap, but I’m no fool.  I’ve seen Colin at that Fun Run, and he tears up the track.  I choose the flat donation.  The kids say that if I donate, they can get a prize.  Done.

After school the next day, Annabelle tells me that prizes were passed out, but she didn’t receive one.  Why didn’t my kids get a prize?  I have a budding theory that it is because I didn’t choose the donate-per-lap option.  Colin confirms that he has prize-less classmates who are the children of cheapskate, flat donation parents.

I tell Annabelle we can check on her prize tomorrow after school if she reminds me.  She is very helpful and reminds me before bed, when she wakes up in the morning, on the walk to school, and again when I pick her up.  We go to the office after school to ask about the prize, even though I am embarrassed out of my mind.  If I’d wanted a reputation at the school, it was not the crazy lady who is on an Ahab quest for Dollar Tree prizes.  The office tells us to go to the teacher, who—you guessed it—tells us to go to the office.

It takes a day to go back and forth and ask at the different locations, so Annabelle reminds me 72 more times.  Finally I am told to search the school for the Fun Run people.  Never in my life have I worked so hard to bring more cheap plastic toys into my home.

At last!  I locate the Fun Run woman, who says she has been told of my quest.  This confirms my suspicion that I am the most ridiculous person in the world.

“I don’t know why you didn’t get a prize,” she says.  “But sometimes when the donation is very large, it doesn’t register.”

Yeah.  I don’t think that’s what happened here.  But I’ll be sure not to fall into that little trap next time.

“Let me just go to my computer and verify that you donated,” she tells me.  So we wait around while she checks, but I don’t blame her.  If word got out that we got these prizes for free, people would be bashing in storefronts all up and down First Street.

The Fun Run woman returns with our prizes, and they are…more of the same plastic gears the kids already got.  It’s just a larger pack.  I hand them to Annabelle and brace for disappointment.

But Annabelle, God bless her, says, “Oooh!  It’s a double pack!”  Then she takes them home and connects them to her other little gears, and she reaches a level of contentment rivaled only by Buddha.

I spend the next three weeks fishing gears out of the couch cushions and picking them up from various places in the house, and I question whether it was worth it.  Did Jason ever look at his fleece and wonder what it was all for?  But then Lambie shows me the gears that match him—he now has three, six if you count Colin’s—and I am assured that I have somehow unlocked the meaning of life.

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Logging Lies

On the second day of school, Colin’s homework was to read for twenty minutes and fill out a reading log.  Colin reads a lot, so this log would be no problem.  But of course the day the reading log came home, there was no time to read.  Normally, I’d say, eh, you’ll make up the minutes later in the week.  But this was the first homework assignment!  It didn’t feel right to put it off.  Still, the day was packed, and bedtime came too soon.

The next morning before school, the blank reading log is still haunting us.  What to do?

“I know!” I say.  “You read Monday!  That was a school day.  Just list those minutes.”

Colin is reluctant.  The reading log had been passed out Tuesday.  So listing Monday minutes is Not Right.

But I make a good case for it, and he relents.  Then I suggest that he puts Tuesday’s date for the Monday minutes because, really, what’s the difference?

Colin reacts as if I’m suggesting reading log blasphemy.  He thinks, sure, we could be comfortable with fudging the date—if we are also comfortable with murder.

Fine.  He keeps the Monday date and then lists the book title.  It’s almost time to leave for school, but he’s close now, and I think he can make it.  He needs to list the exact times he started and finished reading, so I pretend to remember them.  Colin’s skeptical, but then I say with great authority that he started reading at 3:17 pm, and we move on.  Filling out this reading log is a long, slow slide into the den of iniquity.

Now Colin needs to know the page numbers he read.  We see from a previous entry he made in school that he must have left off on page 12.  “You probably started on page 5,” I say.  “Just put that.”

But no.  He thumbs through the book to find the correct number.  “Page 6,” he says after more precious Time to Leave for School minutes have ticked by.  Whew.  Good thing he didn’t listen to me and put page 5.

Suddenly I have another thought.  Colin also read Monday night!  He can list those minutes too!

Colin isn’t sure.  “Am I really allowed to list two separate entries for the same day?”

“You are,” I assure him.

He agrees, probably because he sees that the integrity of this reading log has been crushed like a snail under a tire.  Now he has to remember what he read that night.

Car and Driver magazine,” I say, glancing again at my watch.

He gives a slow shake of his head.  “No.  I think it was…Motor Trend.  But what pages?  I’ll have to go look.”

“No!  Just skip that for now.”

Colin sighs.  Skipping is Not Right, but he agrees.  “What were my start and end times?” he asks.

That’s a hard one since it was two nights ago, but fortunately Mommy remembers that it was exactly 8:33 pm -8:53 pm.

Whew!  We made it.  Reading log done before school.

“Wait!” Colin cries.  “It wasn’t Motor Trend I read.  It was a Lego book.  I’ll have to go to my room to check which one.”

“No!”  Now it is really Time to Go, and we are not going to be late over this reading log, which I begin to suspect is an assignment designed to slowly drive both of us mad.  “Just keep it Motor Trend for now, and you can change it after school.”

Oh, poor Colin.  Now I’m forcing him to go to school with his first assignment of the year filled with lies.  And I do feel for him.  I would have been the same way as a kid, wanting everything to be just right, and here I am, his mother, encouraging flippancy and fabrication.  He hates this.  Am I really okay with that?

But then I look again the clock and find that, yeah, I’m good.

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School Mournings

Ugh.  That morning school rush.  We always arrive at the school gates at the same time, somewhere around rushed-but-can-still-make-it-o’clock.  This year, I also have to get our baby ready to go in the morning.  It seems like we’d never make it with those added responsibilities, but we do—and we get there at the same Almost Late time as last year.  How is that possible?  It makes me think that last year, I should have had enough free time to train for a 10K and draw up a plan to end world hunger.  Instead, I emptied the dishwasher.

The goal every morning is to leave at 8:05.  So far we have hit 8:13 every day.  Why is there an 8 minute lag?  I’m using every minute to work toward the goal of leaving on time, but I begin to suspect I’m the only person working towards this goal.

Here’s what this morning looked like:

Ten minutes until it’s time to leave.  Colin is ready early!  He believes school is a vacuum that sucks away his time and soul, so he rejoices at his extra minutes and goes to play in his room.  He promises that he will come out immediately and be ready to go when I call him.

Baby Carson is almost done slurping milk, and I need to brush my teeth.  Annabelle just needs to put her shoes on.  This one is in the bag.

Annabelle is excited about a long-lost possum backpack that she has discovered in the dark netherworld of her closet.  We have already discussed where Possum came from (her aunt), when he arrived (Christmas one year), and who he was given to (probably Colin, but I pretend not to remember, as Colin is listening a little too attentively, and there is no time for a fight over possum ownership).

“Annabelle, go put your shoes on,” I say because I think we’re done with Possum’s origin story.

But Annabelle is not done.  “Sometimes Possum didn’t get enough air in the closet!  So do you know what he did?  Whenever someone opened the door, he breathed real hard to get more air.”  (Demonstration of Possum breathing hard to prevent his demise.)

“Oh, good thinking, Possum.  Go put your shoes on, Annabelle.”

“Do you know what Possum did when he got cold?  He put on a jacket!  Because there are lots of jackets in there!”

“Well done, clever Possum!  Go put your shoes on, Annabelle.”

“He also packed some food for himself for when he got hungry.  And he packed just enough for the days he was left in the closet.  It’s all gone now, but I took him out, so it’s okay.”

“Well, he better not have made a mess in there.”  Like I need another thing to clean up.  “Put your shoes on, Annabelle.”

“Guess what’s in Possum’s bag?” she asks because Backpack Possum is carrying his own little pack.  He’s like a little fractal possum.

“Food!” I guess.  “Or maybe his babies?  Or, I know!  School supplies.”

“No.  It’s stuffed with fuzz.”  (The “Duh, Mom” is implied.)

“Put your shoes on.”

“OK!”

She said OK!  Oh, sweet success, this is what you feel like.

Annabelle walks to the kitchen.

“Wait, where are you going?  Your shoes are not in the kitchen.”

“Oh!  Ha ha!”  Annabelle goes to the shoe rack.  As Etta James would say, “At Last.”

Before I brush my teeth, I call out, “Time to get your shoes on, Colin!”

“OK!  I just have to clean up real quick.”

Colin commences putting away his 57 Lego minifigures that he has somehow managed to scatter everywhere during his five minutes of free time.

When I come out from brushing my teeth, Possum is telling Colin about his closet experience.  No one has their shoes on.

I check on Baby Carson, who cannot find his blue fluffy blanket that he likes to be wrapped in for the morning school run.  He blames Daddy.  I do not disagree with him.

Our ten minutes are up, and what have we accomplished?  I’ve fed and burped the baby, brushed my teeth, gotten the baby in his car seat (sans blanket), gathered my purse, the baby carrier, and pacifier, and made sure the children have their backpacks stuffed with lunches, water bottles, and jackets.  Annabelle has helped Possum outline and pitch his memoir.  Colin has fought and won several Lego battles.  Carson has spit up all the milk I just fed him and lost his blanket.  We leave at 8:13 again.

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I Wanna Hold Your Hand

Ever since Annabelle was a baby, Colin has wanted to hold her hand, saying her hands are so soft that he can’t resist them.  This sounds sweet, but when Annabelle was an infant, she was very particular about what was okay and what wasn’t.  In the Okay Box was Mommy holding and feeding and taking care of her.  In the Not Okay Box was everything else.

Colin was only three when Annabelle was born, and he compulsively grabbed her hand.  This meant that every two minutes, Annabelle screamed.  Also occurring at two minute intervals was Andy or me yelling, “Colin!  Stop holding your sister’s hand!”  (Chalk that one up to things you never think you’ll say as a parent.)

“You could hold my hand,” I told Colin.  “I’d like that.”

“No thanks,” he said.  “Yours aren’t as soft.”

Once Annabelle got older, I got this little gem from her: “Baby hands are soft, Mommy, but yours are like rocks.”

These kids.  Let’s see how silky their hands feel after they spend years cleaning up vomit and poop.

Colin is right that Annabelle’s hands feel like creamy lotion.  I figured that as she got older, her hands would lose that baby softness, and my hands might be in the running for being noticed again.  But no!  Still, at age five, her hands feel like silky goodness, and still she creates a demand for the pleasure of holding them.

Sometimes, in rare, happy moments, she lets Colin hold her hand, and then Colin is over the moon, smiling at us and gesturing to their clasped hands and basking in the short-lived joy of touching that lovely smoothness.  But for a girl who loves her brother more than anything, she sure does know how to withhold something valuable.

Since his hand holding moments are so rare, Colin saw his opening when I was pregnant with our third.

“Carson will have soft hands!” Colin said, “and when he is a baby, he won’t be able to tell me I can’t hold them.”

And Colin is right.  While Carson spends many of his waking hours voicing strong objections to no one knows what, he is perfectly amenable to hand holding while unconscious.  At last, Colin can pet a baby soft hand as much as he wants.

This means that often, while I’m holding the baby, Colin is standing two inches away, rubbing a little baby hand against his face.  It sounds sweet, but every time I try to move, I’m tugging Colin along with me, and holding a baby and tugging an eight-year-old while making lunch is a bit difficult.  I see now why Annabelle objects to the endless hand holding.  But I pretend I’m okay with it because it is cute.

It’s not like I can offer Colin my hand as a substitute anyway.  The poor guy would probably cut himself and have to be carted off to the ER.

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Boss Babies

We bought our baby an expensive, high tech robot bed.  Whenever Carson is fussy, his bed is programmed to soothe him by rocking him and playing white noise to simulate his time in the womb.  I purchased it from a friend who called it a miracle bed, saying it saved her marriage and sanity.  It’s supposed to quiet a crying baby within a minute, and it got rave reviews online, with everyone claiming it stretched their sleeping hours longer and longer.  Andy and I were so excited.  Finally, at baby three, we’d be the most well rested parents on the planet.

Carson hates his robot bed.  He spends his one minute in the bed screaming, and then the app on our phones tells us, “Carson needs your care.”  Stupid lazy robot bed.  I hold him all day, and it gives up after a minute.  Incidentally, the swing also sits unused in the corner of our room.  All of our expensive baby soothing devices are just extra things for me to dust every week.

Poor Andy, who believes in the robot revolution, and now the robots have let him down.  But maybe it’s not the bed’s fault.  Carson likes to be held, all the time, day and night.  We keep trying to set him down, but the moment his little baby back hits the bed, he startles and starts to scream, even if he’s in a deep, eyelid fluttering, dream filled sleep.  Sometimes I try to put him on his play mat.  So fun!  Baby play time!  But Carson calls it his orphan mat.  No playing happens there.  Ever.

You can imagine how fun our car rides are.  “How long can he do that for?” Colin asked one day when we were trapped in the car and Carson had been at max volume for the last fifteen minutes.  “It sounds like it hurts his throat.”

Funny Colin should ask.  I ran that experiment with him (not by choice).  It turns out their little baby throats are surprisingly resilient.

We shouldn’t be surprised that we can’t put little Carson down.  Our daughter Annabelle was the same way, screaming the minute her little body left our arms.  I can’t help but see this as a compliment.  I must have a particularly warm and comforting womb, if no baby can adjust to life outside of it.

Unfortunately, Annabelle and I had thrush, so I sometimes had to set her down to pump.  Annabelle, talented thing that she was, could amp up to full volume in just under five minutes.  I know because there was a timer on my pump.  FYI, it takes longer than five minutes to pump milk.

And those baby cries.  There’s just no getting used to them.  Annabelle’s crying weapon was the red faced, silent cry.  We knew that when the silent cry came, the next one would not be silent, and, oh, would we be sorry.

Colin had colic, which meant he cried for hours in the middle of the night.  Andy was so patient with him, rocking him to sleep for thirty minutes, then trying to set him down gently—so, so gently—while I prayed to every deity I could think of, “Please, please let this baby stop screaming.”  But, then, no.  The screams would echo around the room again, and Andy, with his endless well of patience, would start rocking him again.

I was not like Andy.  After about ten minutes of the wailing, I cracked like an iPhone meeting the cement.  Note to my friends and family: If ever I become an international spy and am captured and tortured with baby cries, I will sell out all of you.  Probably in under five minutes.  Why drag it out when I already know how it will end?

Meanwhile, Annabelle, buckled right next to her screaming baby brother, can—get this—fall asleep.  I am beside myself with admiration and envy.  She makes me believe in unicorns.

Despite his vocal chords of steel, I am lucky with Carson—because there is no thrush and no colic, just a baby who wants to be held.  Carson is my last baby, so I enjoy the cuddles and watching him sleep.  The third time ‘round is definitely the easiest because I’ve learned that everything ends.  I can relax, knowing that in six months I’ll get to do all those little things I can’t do now—like eating, sleeping, and using the restroom.  Until then, I’ll enjoy my baby, snuggling him with one hand and listing his bed on eBay with the other.

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Welcome, Carson!

Carson Paul Kaiser is in the world!

The day he came, I started feeling contractions around noon, and I had students arriving in a couple of hours for a tutoring session.  The pain wasn’t yet of the crippling, debilitating variety that I knew was looming, so I debated waiting it out and letting my students come.  Distractions can be good.

The only problem is that Annabelle came so quickly that I had her in the wheelchair, and I didn’t really want Carson’s birth certificate to list 680 N as his place of birth.  When I called the hospital, the nurse advised me to come right away.  Andy still had twenty minutes left of class before lunch, so I asked the nurse if he could stay and finish.  She said he could if I wanted this baby to be born at home.  So Andy went ahead and left class early.

Annabelle had school, but she was excited to skip and stay with her aunt.  For someone who only goes to school twice a week, Annabelle embraced truancy pretty quickly.  What will that mean for next year when she has to go five days?  I try not to think too hard about that.

After we dropped off Annabelle, the contractions started getting intense.  Andy and I had been here before—rushing to the hospital, hoping to make it in time.  Both times I had this growing fear.  What if I got Andy all worked up, screaming that the baby was coming any minute, and the nurses checked me and said, “You’re two centimeters dilated.  Drama queen.”  Then, when I was in between contractions and not writhing in agony, I’d feel very silly.

But, lucky me, I was 9 ½ centimeters dilated.  Since everything was urgent, Kaiser prioritized by giving me lots of forms to sign that I could not read, and they probably now own my house and soul.  But that’s okay because after I signed them, I was allowed to go to the labor and delivery room.

Once there, the nurses helped me onto a bed and cheered me on.  “You’re doing great!”, they said, instead of  “Here.  Have an epidural.”  In fact, none of them mentioned an epidural.  So I didn’t either.  But I thought it very loudly.

“Do you want me to break your water?” one nurse asked because I did not get a fun movie scene where my water dribbles all over, and I shriek while everyone points.

“I don’t know,” Andy said.  “Last time, the nurses broke her water, and she and the baby got an infection.”

The nurse looked at me.  “It’ll go faster if I break your water.”

“Break it,” I said.

Then, after several minutes of me swearing in my head because I am too repressed to do it in front of strangers, Carson was in my arms.  He was beautiful and perfect and crying and traumatized.  Labor is such an intense experience that after it’s over, I’m amazed that I am not the only person in the world who’s done it.  More amazing is that the nurse who delivered me rushed downstairs after helping another woman do the same thing just moments before.  While my body is twisting in the worst pain I’ve ever felt (except, you know, the two other times I’ve felt it), the nurses are saying, “Great job!  Way to go!”, as if what’s happening to me is the most natural thing in the world.  And I guess it is.

But despite how common a miracle it is, there is nothing like that moment when they put the baby in my arms, and I am overwhelmed by how much I love him, and he looks like a little bundle of perfection.

Now that the hard part of giving birth is over, I can enjoy my cuddly little boy and, like every other mother in the world, pretend to forget that he ripped and clawed his way out of me.  Then I will love him while he wakes me relentlessly.  How quickly they learn to progress from physical to psychological torture.  Cute little buggers.  They grow up so fast.

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Over Due

I’m writing this on May 1st, and as of today, my baby Carson was due a week ago.  We all thought he’d come early, so for the last two weeks, Andy has been ready.  He’s said good-bye to his students, prepped his substitute plans, and come home Friday night ready to start his paternity leave.  But every Monday morning, Carson has sent him back to work.

Now that Carson is expected any day, every one in our family keeps adding one more thing that needs to get done before he arrives.  My eldest son Colin wanted to go to the car show in town.  (He made it!)  My sister’s birthday was today, and she wanted Carson to wait until that passed.  (Check.)  Colin’s birthday is in March and Annabelle’s is in April, so both kids wanted Carson to wait until May so that each of them could have their own birthday month (even though I told them that the birthday month is Not a Thing).  Poor Carson probably thinks there’s never a good day to come.

I like birth dates that are multiples.  I was born on 7-14, Colin on 3-6, and Annabelle on 4-4.  I love that, so I get excited whenever a multiple date crops up as the potential big day.  But now that his arrival has slipped farther and farther past my due date, the chances of him hanging on until the next multiple seem slim.  Andy was born 9-2—not a multiple.  I do love Andy, so I’m trying to accept the possibility that good people can be born on non-multiples.  Maybe.  But wouldn’t Andy be even more awesome if we celebrated his birthday on 9-3?  (Andy says no.)

Here’s an exciting thought.  The next multiple is 5-5, Cinco de Mayo, and I was born on Bastille Day.  That would mean we’d both be born on international holidays.  How’s that for a fun subcategory of multiples?  So maybe Carson should wait a little longer.

People love to ask the kids if they’re excited to get a new baby brother, and both Colin and Annabelle go disturbingly silent at the question.  Sometimes one of them will mumble a yes because they know that’s the expected answer, but they haven’t yet learned the art of faking sincerity, so no one is convinced.  Colin has confessed he has anxiety about our new addition and would prefer things to stay as they are.  I understand that.  He still has memories of learning to share his parents with new baby Annabelle, and that was a tough and long transition for him, even though she is his best friend now.  Naïve little Annabelle, who has never experienced another baby popping into the family, claims she’s excited about becoming a big sister.  Great!  I don’t have to worry about her.  But recently we talked about a future outing, and when I mentioned Carson would come with us, she was shocked.  “I thought we’d leave him at home,” she said.

“No!  He’s your brother.  He’s going to come everywhere with us.”

“Oh.”  She thought about this.  “But maybe sometimes we’ll just leave him at home.  Like Rocky.”

Yeah, so she might not be quite as on board as I thought.

Here’s a fun update.  As I was writing this, I started having contractions, and less than two hours later, Carson was in the world.  So uncheck that box about not having the baby on my sister’s birthday.  (Sorry, Whitney.)  But, May 1st is a multiple!  And it’s May Day—an international holiday!  It’s in May, so Colin and Annabelle are also happy that everyone has a distinct birthday month, and order is maintained.  Baby Carson has learned his first life lesson that it’s impossible to please everyone—and his second lesson that if you have to choose who to please, choose the person who’s in charge of your food supply.

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