Summer Break: Week 1

2-4-6-8 Running Club is really great!
Week 1 of Laurel's 8 week summer break is coming to a close. She specifically requested "no camps" this summer. I love her school, but the schedule is kind of intense for kindergarten....8:30-3:30 every day and no nap. I can totally understand why she wants some unstructured time. And luckily, I can accommodate that very easily as a SAHM! I knew that I couldn't just let the summer unfold without any planning though, so we made some lists. Summer Reading Program at the library. Running Club (more on that below). A Duckie Tour. Painting on the porch. Visiting every pool in the city. Volunteering somewhere. I made a loose schedule so we could be motivated to get out of the house with enough time to get back in the afternoons for naps for the boys. I thought it would be amazing.

Then Monday happened. It was terrible. 

The kids fought with each other all morning. They only wanted to watch tv. It was hot. Max was having trouble going to sleep or nursing with all the distractions. The house was almost immediately destroyed. They took out all the art supplies and every toy. Marko stole some jelly out of the fridge and was eating it with a spoon but also leaving big sticky globs all over the place until I caught him. I immediately started researching which camps still had slots opened.  Then my mom came to the rescue and picked up Laurel. She had a lovely two day vacation at their house. When I went to pick her up, we left Marko there for a night. It takes a village, people. However, there were some good times this week. On Thursday we launched our Running Club. We do a warm up, stretching, run a course or some sprints and then play games that involve running. Laurel loves to run, but pretty much hates all sports that involve balls and passing them off to teammates. Her favorite thing to do is play tag. This week was the first session and 12 kids came, even though it was pouring down rain. I think it's going to be a big hit this summer. 

Bagel rescue complete!
Another thing we did was visit Creative Reuse to stock up on paper and random junk for crafting. Apparently a science teacher recently cleaned out her classroom because they have a lot of pyrex beakers and pipettes and scales and other fun science-y things for sale right now. Marko and Laurel spent hours on the front porch assembling projects. Max likes to stand in his exersaucer and watch them. I need to add glue - a LOT more glue - to my shopping list, though. We also went to our usual playgroup, which meets outside in the summer. The playgroup is hosted by the pastor's wife at the Pittsburgh New Church and they have a great space outside for kids to play. There's also a school there, so they are very unfussy about kids playing in the dirt and mud, constructing fairy houses, climbing the trees, etc. And on Friday we did our "Food Rescue Mission" and diverted three boxes of bagels to a senior high rise. One of my strongest childhood memories is volunteering for various things with my dad and siblings. We used to go to a nursing home and do crafts with the residents. And finally, we wrote letters to our school friends who went away to New Mexico for the summer. I love getting mail and it's really fun to do pen pals with Laurel now because she can write her own letters.

So, even though there was a fair amount of crying and gnashing of teeth, when I look back at the week and see all that we did, I feel pretty happy. Next week my mom will take the kids for an overnight, and we'll do pretty much the same thing, except maybe add a trip to the creek or to the spray park.


Single Track

I can still hear crying when I lock the door behind me, but M shoos me on. I can actually "hear" it all the way down the street, but at that point it's actually just a noise stuck in my head. Once I turn down the first gravel path into the park, my head starts to clear a little. By the time I get to the single track turnoff, my shoulders have lost their tension and my arms are swinging freely. My breathing slows and deepens. After an hour or so of walking in the park, I feel recharged.

I spend a lot of time with my kids right now. This is not a bad thing, because I have fun with reading aloud and painting and playing with Legos. Poop, pee, vomit and blood do not phase me at all (loose teeth are another story). I have remarkable patience for answering the same question over and over again. I would say that 90% of the time I'm really enjoying myself as a stay-at-home-mom. But still, the twenty-four-hour-ness of the job can be taxing. Taking a break is key. I try to do different things....hang out with friends at a bar, go to the coffee shop to write, or take a yoga class. But none of those are as effective as an hour of walking on single track paths in the woods.

It's rained a bit the last week or so and the trails are very muddy and slick. I like the focus that is required to remain upright with each step. I like how my eyes adjust to the wall of green and brown surroundings and start to pick up all the variations in color and texture. I like how the city noises fade into the background and what I mostly hear are birds and squirrels.

When I get back home, M has generally succeeded in getting all the children into bed and will have a dish towel slung over his shoulder, while he cleans up the dinner dishes. Our evenings together are much more pleasant when I've been walking. My birthday is coming up this week and the best thing about getting older is figuring out what makes me feel good and not worrying about whether it's what I should be doing or getting. Frankly, a haircut causes me great anxiety and a pedicure would probably put me over the edge. Walking in the woods does the trick, though.


Mother's Day

My gift from Laurel. She
was so excited to give it to
me and I love it.
Sunday morning I was awake at the very first light. I don't mean the sunrise, but long before that, before even the first bird songs, when the darkness of the sky shifts ever so slightly to gray, and you can imagine the end of night coming. I was sleeping in the back of our SUV with Max, which sounds horrible to every single person I ever tell, but is actually really comfortable. The seats fold down and it's pretty much flat and firm. M was in the tent with the other kids. We were camping with our neighbors, who have two kids. Other than that, there weren't too many people at the campground this weekend. It rained for a couple of hours in the middle of the night. It was dark, dark, dark.

I spend most nights in the well-lit city though, so even enjoying camping as much as I do, it can be unnerving to experience the darkness of the forest in the middle of the night. Max is five months old today, and wakes up several times at night to nurse, but last night I had no diversions to see me through these night feedings. No Facebook to scroll through, no Atlantic stories bookmarked in my browser. (Once I even placed a grocery order in the middle of the night.)

It's good to have some time to think, and especially on Mother's Day. Motherhood has been this hugely transformative force in my life these last 7 years. It's not easy all the time, but it has become a role that I find deeply fulfilling. And this is perplexing to me, because all the "doing" of motherhood is repetitive, messy crap that gets undone quickly, that mostly goes unnoticed by others and is highly undervalued in our society. The other tasks of raising up children...teaching kindness and empathy and conflict resolution....you can't actually be very successful at them if you set out to them "right." It's actually a lot more effective to just strive to do them well yourself. They will see. They see everything. At the end of the day, I have little tangible evidence of my work. I was me. I swept crumbs. How is it that I am so happy doing it and that it feels so worthwhile to be doing it?

I've written about this before, but motherhood feels like I am on a stage, constantly watched and imitated. As the children gain language they experiment with my phrases, with my tones. Their play mimics my work. My missteps are reflected back immediately by the expressions on their faces. But on the other hand, they are not growing up to BE me. I can't really make them be any kind of way. Admitting that lack of control over them is both freeing and terrifying.

Our camping trip - our first with Max - went well. We found sites at Ohiopyle that had a little creek flowing behind them so the kids had someplace to play. I brought just enough changes of clothes for Marko. Nobody seems to have gotten poison ivy, miraculously because it was everywhere. We had a really nice hike along the river and saw a water snake and tadpoles and tons of spring wildflowers. And my mother's day wish was fulfilled when we managed to get a photo with all five of us in it!


Things That Happened This Week

1) Max rolled. He was delighted with himself. I was slightly less delighted because now I have to be super careful about where I leave him.

2) Marko ran up to me in the schoolyard at pick up time holding a plastic baggie of something brown and said, "Here's some poop, Mom!" It wasn't (I don't think), but still. WHY DID YOU PICK IT UP IF YOU THOUGHT IT WAS A BAG OF POOP, MARKO??

3)  Laurel and I had a Daisy meeting. I am a recent convert to the Girl Scouts, but I love two things about it. First, her Daisy troop is definitely bonding with each other and I think it's cool to have some good friends outside of school. Second, I think our society has degraded into a decidedly uncivil state, and I adore hearing Laurel recite the Girl Scouts Promise and the Girl Scouts Law because it reminds us to be friendly and helpful, honest and fair and so forth.

4) I became obsessed with Property Brothers. This is a tv show where a realtor and a contractor first trick an unsuspecting couple by showing them the house of their dreams...that is way out of their budget. HAHAHAHA! LOLOL. They are always mad. Then they show them ugly houses that smell like cat pee and convince them to buy and renovate. Don't worry, it always turns out great. Neatly wrapped up in 42 minutes. Personally I disagree with the "open concept" obsession. This when all your rooms are open, especially the kitchen. For "entertaining" they always say. I prefer a door, to hide the dishes from my guests. Also, what's the fuss about granite countertops? I'm saving up for butcher block.

5) I planted some green onions. I keep seeing these articles about food you can grow from scraps. We often buy things like green onions, cilantro, or ginger and usually only need a little but you have to buy the whole bunch and then some of it goes bad. Well, it goes into my compost pile, so I'm not totally wasting it, but I've really been thinking about food waste since I did a volunteer mission for 412 Food Rescue. If you are local to Pittsburgh, definitely follow them on Facebook and you too could save some food that is perfectly good, but about to get dumped!


Things That Happened This Week

In no particular order...

1) Laurel had her last gymnastics class for the session and I finally ended up making it to this one. She was bubbling over with excitement. Marko even got to come in and was super excited to scamper over all the equipment and try out the trampoline. I would not have been able to pull this off without the help of my friend, who also has children in this class. We met at the bus stop last year and due to similar schedules, we ran into each other a lot. Our kids play well together, so even though they aren't at the same school anymore, we've kept things going. I didn't even imagine that I would be able to go in to the class and hoped taking pictures from behind the glass would satisfy Laurel, but Valentina appeared, scooping up little Max and singing to him for 30 minutes because that was the only thing that kept him from crying.

2) Marko sneezed while having a nosebleed, spraying blood all over my face, neck and hair. It was like a scene from a Quentin Tarantino movie. Oh, sorry, Mom! he said cheerfully, because he gets nose bleeds periodically so they are not a super scary event to him. This was during school pick up and because we live one block from the school, I didn't have a diaper bag. My friend Alison appeared with kleenex and wipes and even dabbed off the spots that I missed on my own neck. Without making me feel dumb at all.

3) The neighbors who borrowed our book on fermentation brought it back and delivered homemade blueberry oatmeal muffins along with it. Muffins are pretty much the best breakfast food ever for my kids so for a change they all got dressed and ready for the day without screwing around.

4) I wrote a complaint email and got a refund. I usually really suck at this so it was a pleasant surprise.

5) My mom took Marko to her house, and with Laurel at school I got a chance to spend some one on one time with Max while he's not just strapped in the back of the car. He's starting to roll over and loves scooting around on his back by pushing off with his feet. I can feel his eyes following me, waiting for me to make eye contact with him, and then he smiles and pushes his legs up and down. He reminds me a lot of Laurel.


Something About Me

It's still February and it's actually snowing today, but it was a spring-like snow. Pretty flakes falling but not accumulating. I like to see the little gatherings of snowflakes on the ground next to the crocuses and snow drops that have started to come up. Springer Fever is hitting us hard.

Compost is my new obsession and we've had warm enough weather that I've taken the boys into our woefully neglected backyard. Max lays in the stroller and looks at the sky. Marko drags every blessed toy out of the garage. And I turn my compost pile. I find it extraordinary that (certain) things we discard can turn into soil given enough time. I'm more pragmatic than scientific about my compost, and pretty much try to create optimal conditions for available materials. I shred up corrugated cardboard and newspaper when I run out of dried leaves to mix with my food scraps.

I feel exceptionally tired tonight, I think because of all the shoveling and pitchforking. I have a new mom friend who has equal enthusiasm for dirt and we even went to an urban farm down the street and voluntarily turned their compost pile, in return for a bucket of their finished compost. I've also procured a BOB double jogging stroller, and have been taking the boys on lots of walks at a brisk pace instead of at a Marko pace. I definitely feel the burn though, pushing that thing up a hill.

And speaking of burn, the other exciting and muscle fatiguing thing that I did recently was go to the rock climbing gym. They have a bouldering section so you don't even need to belay at first. After a brief orientation, they pretty much let you at it. I climbed so hard that I had blisters on my hands and could barely lift my hands over my head. The only downside was the awkwardness of being too old to fit in with all the college kids who were hitting on each other and not old enough to be one of the quirky old people. They really didn't know what to make of me.

I'm writing this down because it's a reminder that even though parenting takes up the vast majority of my time, that there are still things that I do that are about me or for me that have nothing to do with the children and I'd be just as likely to do them if they'd never come along. Of course, I'm delighted that they are here...but I'm equally delighted that I'm still here.


Two Months Post Partum

I don't have a newborn anymore! Max is 2 months old, weighs 11 pounds 14 oz and is 24 inches long. He wailed through the measurement portion of his check up. Also the vaccination portion. He's kind of a homebody, likes to nap in his own bed, with his white noise machine. He needs breaks from the action-packed life going on downstairs. But when he's with the whole family he seems to really enjoy us.

He smiles at us, kicks his legs, and tries to scoot backwards while lying on his back. He looks delighted when he manages to get all the way off the changing pad, which I usually lay on my bed. He's not a huge fan of babywearing or nursing. Definitely an eat-to-live sort of guy and I very rarely nurse him to sleep. He likes a pacifier. He hates wearing hats. If he's feeling a little fussy the only thing that will do is laying him over my arm on his tummy and walking around while patting his back. This is an extraordinarily difficult position to maintain while getting anything else done, like say helping Marko use the toilet in a sanitary fashion, or cooking dinner. I love having a baby and it's nice to be somewhat relieved of most of the new parent anxiety around rashes and pooping. I can just enjoy him. But I'm glad that the baby phase only lasts for a short while.

As for me, I don't feel the way I did before I had this third baby. I think three kids might be a tipping point of some sort. Your belly button will only take so many years of being stretched out. I still have a linea nigra, but it's fading. I try to work out every day in some way, although even getting in a 30 minute cardio video without interruption is kind of impossible some days. From past experience, I know that my body will hang on to the extra weight until I wean Max, and then it will come off pretty easily.

I can remember when taking one child out with me was an arduous task. Getting into the car with the three kids is like reverse Jenga and requires a careful order of entry and buckling. It has sort of a carbon offset effect though, because I tend to plan our outings and errands for one day and stick to the neighborhood the rest of the time.

When I think of having a family, I always think of three kids, maybe because I was from a family of three kids. I have fond memories of my siblings from childhood, but I don't remember any of the chaos that we are currently experiencing. We were very close in age, only 2 years apart, instead of the 3 that my kids are. So maybe it was crazy when we were all very young and I just don't remember it. The only memory I have when I was 4 is the color of the carpet in my house, and I only have a few memories of when I was 5 or 6. Sitting at the orange table in kindergarten. This Toyota minivan that the neighbors drove. The color of my sister's hair when she was very young. It's kind of depressing when I think about it, that my kids will probably not remember very much of what has happened so far in their lives, especially when the last 7 years have been such a formative experience for me.

This morning, Max took a nap and Laurel went to school, so Marko and I hung out and sorted the coins in his piggy bank. We dropped some pennies into a solution of vinegar and salt and watched them turn shiny again. We arranged them into shapes - triangles and squares. I have a tendency to get a little too lesson-oriented sometimes, but Marko lets me know when it's too much for a three year old. For instance, today I started pointing out some of the pictures that are on the coins and telling him about who they were. His response was to lay down on the couch and say "I'm going to lay down. It's a pretend nap. Cover me up." Then I remember, he's 3 years old. There's no rush to learn a damn thing about Abraham Lincoln. The constant flood of language that middle class parents believe is giving their children a positive early childhood experience might just be a little annoying to them. Sometimes, you should shut up and listen. Or just be silent together.


More Real Life

Marko and I finally made it back to our Thursday playgroup today for the first time since Max was born. It was a cold morning but Marko was a good sport about walking because he had his snowball maker. Max was not so into the cold wind, but he fell asleep pretty quickly. There are lots of new babies in this playgroup and it's nice to have some mom friends who are doing the whole up-all-night thing. I like that I can send a message in the middle of the night and pretty much expect an immediate reply.

The morning playgroup and the walk there and back paved the way for an afternoon nap for Marko, although sadly, Max was awake so I didn't get to lay down. After that, it's exercise time (dancing to YouTube videos), and then we pick up Laurel from school. And bam, that's the day, because it all goes to hell when we get back home.

If the weather isn't terrible, we stay and play in the school yard. There's another mom who has a very similar tolerance for dirt and free play, as well as a similarly chill schedule, so there's always at least one other kid to play with. Today they got super muddy. I'm not sure what game they were playing, but the snow melt today created some pretty intense mud conditions. When we finally called them out of the school yard to come home they emerged clutching large balls of mud. I seriously thought they were holding cow poo. It was made slightly worse by the fact that Marko had a bloody nose at some point, which the girls took upon themselves to help him with, so he was covered with dried blood. I made my kids strip on the front porch with the plan of immediately heading towards bath time. (If it's getting dark, I consider it night and appropriate to start night time routines. Who cares if it's 5 o'clock?)

Laurel had already reached her limits today, and started arguing. She loves to argue so much she will argue against getting things she wants. Then she cries. So then I had two naked children, one of them yelling and crying and the other gleeful to be naked. And a screaming baby. I wish I could say this was unusual. If it's not mud, it's something else.

People warned me about this three kids thing. It's a lot more kids than two kids, they said. No way, I told them.  I was a teacher after all. I'm used to dealing with children in groups of 20.

I try not to think of parenting as an Us vs Them kind of thing. But if it were a competition? The kids would win the matches played between 4 and 6pm. Every. Single. Day.

So here's what I do. First, I put on Brian Eno's Music for Airports. And I get myself a coffee or a beer. This relaxes me more than the kids, but you gotta put your own oxygen mask on first. I neutralize Marko by putting him in the bath. He'll hang out there for a good twenty minutes and there's a minimal amount of destruction he can cause in the bathtub. Sometimes he even remembers to wash himself. Then I help the baby because there's only like 4 things that make him cry and 3 of them I can take care of really quickly. By this time I've gotten used to Laurel's wailing and tuned it out. If I give her a good 10-15 minutes to cry, she comes around with an apology and a solution. Ten minutes is a long time to listen to a six year old cry (sorry, neighbors), but I honestly just think this is part of the way she processes her day.

By six o'clock they are usually all in pj's and eating a snack. (You'll notice there is no mention of dinner...cooking or eating it. I'm sure at some point I'll have to figure this out, but for now, I have given up on real dinner. I make them pb&j's or quesadillas or an egg. Almonds, carrot sticks and green smoothies on the side. Clif bars or muffins for dessert and a hearty glass of milk.) Real dinner is reserved for grownups who don't complain about being served dishes with multiple ingredients that touch each other.

Then we have story time, and suddenly I like having three kids again. If Max is awake, he joins us and the kids will read something to him. Tonight I read Lemonade in Winter and Leaf Man to Marko and the first part of a children's version of a Midsummer Nights' Dream to Laurel. Max fell asleep too fast to get a story this time.

At this point in the evening, Marko becomes the wild card. Some nights he lays down in his bed and falls asleep. If he does not fall asleep right away, I will spend the next 2 hours bringing him ice packs for real and imagined injuries, helping him on and off the toilet, tucking his covers, removing or adding various layers of pajamas, finding his water bottle and other various requests he comes up with that have just enough legitimacy to make it hard to say no. Three year olds are geniuses at this sort of thing.

Laurel falls asleep immediately pretty much every night. Thank you, full day kindergarten.

Once everyone is asleep, I take a bath, which is a cue for someone to wake up. Seriously, as soon as I just start to relax in the water, someone cries. Most nights M is home from work by this time so he deals with it. Tonight he is at a meeting, so I'm just not going to bother trying.

What I want to remember about today is looking across the school yard and watching Marko and Laurel hug each other. Max's big round eyes and his smile when I bounced him on my knees and how pleased he looked with himself as he is learning to hold his head up. I want to remember sharing the last slice of Marko's fire truck birthday cake with him today after nap time and how he relished each bite. Laurel nestled in next to me while I read to her and how quiet and still she was while she tried to make sense of Shakespeare's words.


Real Life

Max just spent a half an hour trying to let go of his left hand with his right hand. You know how little babies can't really control their grasp for a while? There was much grunting and heavy breathing over the effort, but no crying. Exhausted from the effort, he fell asleep. I took it as a gift and grabbed the opportunity to make myself some lunch and read Facebook while I pretended that I didn't know that Laurel and Marko started another Netflix show.

It is 5 o'clock. Laurel has no school today or tomorrow. M was in Florida for work last week, and I don't think I've quite recovered from the experience of being by myself with 3 kids. The days were long. The nights were longer.

Also, winter.

Getting everyone dressed and out the door and then immediately back in the door and undressed because someone forgot to use the potty and then redressed and out the door and the baby is now screaming because he's hot...well I didn't even start down that path today.

Things that happened today....

Marko and Laurel found Pez dispensers. And many rolls of Pez. They hid under the couch and ate them for breakfast. Thank you very much to whoever bought these for my children.

Marko went to his annual physical and apparently had an ear infection that is now fortunately clearing up on its own. He also has gained the appropriate amount of height and weight despite refusing to eat 85% of what we prepare for him. PB&J's forever.

Laurel emerged from Quiet Time with a large amount of makeup on her face. But it wasn't makeup because she's six and doesn't have makeup, so she used crayons. It was applied surprisingly well considering she doesn't have a mirror in her room.

I bought a subscription to Beachbody because I'm all gungho about working out and losing what I'm calling baby weight, but is actually more due to my husband becoming an ultra marathoner this year and me eating enough to also be an ultramarathoner, but not putting in the miles. The kids ended up doing more of the workout than I did because Max screamed the whole time and I sort of tried to keep up using Max instead of my dumbbells but I'm not sure I actually burned any more calories than I would have if I was just doing the usual rocking and bouncing and patting routine.

I'm a little bit in denial about how fussy Max is.

I have a book and a magazine and three weeks worth of New York Times Sunday Editions still mocking me from inside their blue bags, but I cannot comprehend anything more complex than blizzard photos right now. Just a tiny bit tired these days.

So Facebook it is, and a few words on this blog and waiting for M to get home from work so we can have Pho.

And that's Real Life around here.


Max at One Month

Max is a month old already. I just reread what I wrote about the other two when they were this age and found it hilarious how similar Laurel acted when Marko was born to how Marko is acting now. Three year olds, man. They are a trip.

Laurel had a colicky stage, which forced us to go to great lengths to stop her crying (and eventually just masking it to save our sanity). I can remember one time my parents walking in and we were rocking her in a cradle with the vacuum cleaner parked next to it, all other sources of white noise having failed us. If there is a six year old version of colic, she still has it. Her feelings will not be a secret to you or anyone else. She has a need to cry in order to process some things and bursts of creative energy that must be released. It's kind of beautiful actually, to see the world through her perspective. It's so very intense.

Marko was the pure opposite as a baby. Maybe because he was a tinier baby and born at an earlier gestational age? He didn't really do anything except sleep until he was about 2 months old. He has lots of energy now, but is goofy and entertaining. He can read an audience and perform in a way that Laurel doesn't.

And who will Max become? As a newborn, he has been somewhere in between. He gets a little fussy with gas at times and he hates to have a soiled diaper. But we can also swaddle him up and put him down. He can fall asleep and stay asleep without touching someone. In fact, he doesn't really like to ride around in the wrap or to sleep on my chest the way the other two did. Sometimes in the afternoons or evenings, he wants to be held in the crook of our arms, cradled close to our bodies, but so that he can look at the lights.

M and I go between enjoying the ease of having a third, healthy baby and dropping f-bombs over the astonishing amount of mess and chaos that descends upon our family from time to time. We know how to take care of Max, so that part is much more relaxing. On the other hand, it's totally nuts around here. We'll have everything under control, and then some kind of a cyclonic energy hits the kids and everyone cries, dumps out every toy they own, pees their pants, spills our coffee...all at once.

Max at one month is about 10 pounds, up from his 8 pounds 3 ounces at birth. His ears are very round. He has different cries...he uses a particularly angry one for a wet diaper. He likes the Soothie brand pacifier and relaxes the second he hears the white noise app on my iPhone. He has a tiny tuft of hair that sticks up on top. I have only given him one real bath so far and he seemed to like it ok, once he got over the initial shock. I haven't read to him that much but the other kids do. I love the way that he recognizes my voice and turns his head when I come into the room, and how he looks at me with big, round eyes. Chemical love. It's deep and out of my control. I do not choose to love him, it washes over me. Slows my heartbeat. Flows down my arms so that my shoulders drop their tension. I suppose this happened with the other two, but I was always distracted by worries. Was the latch right, what's that rash, should we sleep more or less, should I cut out dairy? This time, freed from such distractions, I can really savor the mother/newborn bonding that is happening.