Abi is five now. That’s just crazy! Unforseen! At bedtime I said, “You used to be so little, and now look at you! What is your secret?” Abi laughed and replied, “I don’t have a secret! It’s the Lord’s secret! And anyway, YOU did it too. You grew up into an adult. And so did your husband.” She elaborated on various ways she would continue to grow. First on her mind? “I will have a pelvis as big as yours!” She needs a big pelvis, she says, so she can fit babies in there. As soon as she grows up she is going to find a husband that meets two criteria: a) she really likes him and b) he wants at least four children. She didn’t add a third criterion to the list but she plans to move back in with me when she has all the kids, so he must be fond of living with in-laws as well. She would like to know in advance how many of her kids I am willing to take care of at a time; of course she will give me breaks if I need them, making all the children go down for a nap. But usually her babies will not be on a schedule. She will just set up eating, sleeping, and diaper stations and let them pick what they want to do. “How do you know if a baby is hungry or sleepy?” she asks.

Conversing with this girl is one of the pleasures in my life. Tonight it was mapping out domestic bliss; other times it is how to save the wild tigers, becoming an Olympic swimmer, or renaming all her dolls as Little House on the Prarie characters. One night they were all named Jack, after Laura’s pet dog. I run into a lot of trouble with the invented Super Abi stories I tell her each night, as she immediately notices any logical inconsistencies or injustices in them and wants to correct them, whether it is endangered tigers or bad guys not getting in enough trouble for their evil deeds or poor people staying poor even after Super Abi helps them. Once I had Super Abi and her team go to a developing country to rescue a small people group from a volcano or some such. She drank some water with really bad germs in it while she was there and turned green– luckily that was the only thing that happened to her because she was a superhero, and some fairy dust solved the problem. Real Abi was upset. Why, if Super Abi was doing exactly what God wanted her to do, would she get sick from doing it? And why was she the only one to get sick, and no one else on her team, if they all drank the water? And why didn’t she get as sick as a regular person would, because that didn’t seem fair to regular people? And did the people who lived there all the time get sick from the water too? Shouldn’t Super Abi fix the water somehow so no one got sick anymore? Though it was already late, I sent Super Abi back to the volcano and had her fix the water. Sheesh. What a girl.

I made Abi a poster of five things about her that are special. Here’s what I put on it:
1. She makes her own recipes for Bell Pepper Cups, Snudge, and Strawberry Milk.
2. When she goes to school, she plans to do art, then science, then art, then science, then art.
3. She has so much love in her heart that she has to use similes to describe it: “I love you as much as a walk around heaven forever.”
4. She knows that if something feels good on her hands– like mud or flour– it will feel EVEN BETTER on her whole body.
5. She asks beautiful, interesting questions: “What was your least favorite thing to do with your family when you were a kid? When you get to God’s Kingdom, what will you ask him to let you do? I want to hop on the stars without getting burned.”

Abi is five. This is crazy! This is unforseen! I hope that one day she has her four children and saves the tigers and cleans the water and hops on the stars without getting burned.

My lovely boys have turned two. It was a bittersweet occasion for me, celebrating how far they’ve come (they live so LARGE!) and saying goodbye to my last two babies (for REALSIES!). And looking with some anxiety at the struggles ahead– beds, potty training, pacifiers. Helping these little people shed the last vestiges of babydom is not a task for the fainthearted. And I am a little fainthearted.

We already tried the two beds thing. Callum was in a bed for almost a month and doing great; we let Ronan switch over too. This grave mistake unleashed a cascade of naptime and bedtime horrors. Ronan is back in the crib, which has cut the horror by about 25%, but Callum has now fully absorbed the level of shenanigans that are possible at sleep times. I’ve given up trying to clean every puddle of urine. I just damp dry it with plans to lug in the steam cleaner more often. I’ve dragged large items of furniture out of the room. I’ve stood secretly poised for a quarter of an hour at the cracked open door, ready to pounce the second Callum burbles his evil “I’m misbehavin’” cackle on his way out of bed. If I hear one more child shout “Get nakey!” in that bedroom I might start duct taping their diapers to their torsos.

Dr. G. and I commiserate over the fact that docile Abi did not prepare us for parenting actual toddlers. Like, at all. We had to teach her how to open doors, as it never occurred to her to try it herself. Though she has always had a terrible time falling asleep, when we put her in a toddler bed at age 2, she just continued with her usual hour of charming off-key singing and story-telling in bed. Her rare tantrums lasted five minutes. Her biggest rebellion was refusing to eat dinner. She used the same play kitchen for four years, microwaving toys that had gotten on her bad side, and it stayed in near-pristine condition; then the boys started using it, and within six months I didn’t even want to put the kitchen out on the curb with a “free” sign on it, it was so jaggedy and missing so many parts and held together primarily by six months worth of gradually applied duct tape. Crashing it over to ride it like a horsey will do that to a play kitchen. As will dragging it around as a feat of mighty strength, or trying to take pieces off on purpose so it can be “fixed,” or pushing it over to the window to see if it can be used as a ladder to reach the cords of the blinds.

And yet the sweetness of these boys is near-constant. They have a new thing of trying to kiss each other goodnight when they have their pacifiers in– the cutest and most awkward clacking of plastic ever. The other day Ronan was lonely for Callum, who was sleeping much longer than he had, and he asked to look at pictures of his brother on my phone. Abi was out all day today and Callum kept accidentally calling the larger children on the Chick Fil A play structure by her name. He brought a tear to my eye tonight when he and Ronan were struggling for access to my lap; he raised a hand to hit Ronan, thought better of it, and put his hand back down. It was a beautiful display of self-control. Now if only he could extend that to naptime. I’d love for him to think, “I really want to climb into my sleeping brother’s crib and flop down on him,” and then NOT DO IT. Maybe he does heed the still, small voice in that room sometimes, how do I know?

I spend a lot of time lately soothing hurt feelings when one of the boys tries to do something nice for the other and is rejected. They love to practice sharing and helping and hugging each other but they don’t always have the most well-conceived plans. “No, he doesn’t want you to put pecans in his mouth. His mouth is full of water,” I might explain to Ronan. “No, he doesn’t want a hug now, he is fixing the door with his tools,” I might explain to Callum. “But you are such a nice brother!” It is hard to learn to show love by giving others what they want, rather than what you want them to have. I guess they’ve got a few more years to work on it. I could probably use a few more years of work on that myself.

This post is only indirectly about kids. It is mostly about me, me, me. I think this choice of topics has to do with my sitting alone, at the moment, in a hipster hotel near downtown Phoenix where everything is Jetsons mod and all the staff are enchantingly tattooed and when you get out of the hotel pool, you relax in a beehive-shaped cocoon/nest thingy and peek out from the shadows at the glittering water wall opposite. The concierge will give me unlimited free junk food and sodas 24 hours a day too. She gives them to everyone but I pretend it is special for me because she understands my awkwardness about not knowing what to do with myself, all this extra time just flopping around, like when I sleep too long on my arm and it goes numb and I scream in fear at this strange hand near my face before I recognize it, dangling awkwardly as if it both does and doesn’t belong to my body. Familiar and foreign. Free time, I hardly know ye, but I will kiss ye on the lips.

My solo one-night getaway is possible because hotels in Phoenix are DIRT CHEAP right now, given that no one wants to come here for 109 degree days and 99 degree nights and possibly get caught in a HABOOB into the bargain. Nobody here actually calls them haboobs, by the way. Any English word with “boobs” in it is not going to be taken seriously, no matter how much detritus it blows into the pool. And my night away is also possible because my gracious husband, having acknowledged that the last two months have been a nearly unremitting slog for me (apart from those few days in California—thanks, Mom!), has taken time off work so I can go recuperate. Somebody buy that man a drink. Oh, maybe I should.

Apart from swimming, gazing into the middle distance, and jolting awake from naps sure that I have neglected some essential duty, I’ve been allowing myself to experience a wee tiny little mid-life crisis. I’m 39. Many of my friends are beginning to reap the rewards of years of effort in their careers and vocations. Given that I know wonderful writers from my graduate school program; extremely capable movers and shakers from my years living in DC and environs; and many totally with-it professors and researchers due to my with-it professor husband, it shouldn’t surprise me that so many of them are writing acclaimed books or helping to lead thriving emergent churches or heading up international non-profit organizations or getting rich or making break-through discoveries or, in one case, becoming an ambassador. I don’t feel jealous of any of them—quite the opposite– but I do feel left behind. What was I doing all those years before I had kids? Making wacky faces at myself in bathroom mirrors? Well, yes. I love that. But why didn’t I pick a career or something too? Was I just lollygagging along when I could have been carpe dieming and leaning in and whatnot?

Looking back, it seems that most of my jobs post-graduate school were taken with the aim of saving up enough money to have kids. And then I had the kids. And, being an infamous non-multi-tasker (never try to get me to sing and clap at the same time; it is not going to turn out the way you hope), the kids are what I do. I probably should have done more writing before I had them, but l don’t want to get on that merry-go-round (cf: non-multi-tasker, above) of shoulda woulda coulda. One of my only regrets about the present is that I don’t give myself enough time to write. But I am happy that I have carpe diemed life with my kids. Happy in the abstract– at the moment I don’t miss them a single bit, nor the chores they make. I am lying in bed typing and not having to peel open one last stick of string cheese for a hungry child or sweep up hardened sticky rice or make sure my TV time is productive by folding laundry while I yell at Buffy regarding vampires and fashion choices. WHHEEEEEEE! GRATUITOUS BLOG POST!

Callum and Ronan address each other almost exclusively as “brother.” As in, “Come, on brother, let’s play!” Or “Brother, can I have that?” This habit lends a poignant, universal air to many of their exchanges as they struggle to play together. They have huge goodwill towards one another. They want to do things together. But translating that desire into reality is tough. They have to figure out how to decide what to do, who gets which toys while they do it, and how to talk to each other while they do it. Three very complicated tasks. It’s a microcosm of human relations.

The other day they invented a game called Fop It. Callum was playing with his favorite wooden car puzzle and Ronan brought over a fork. He gave it to Callum. “Fop it, brother!” he suggested. “Okay, I will fop this one,” said Callum. He was not sure what fop meant but he used the fork to pry a puzzle piece out and send it flying. The boys cheered. For a few minutes Ronan was happy to suggest which pieces Callum should fop. “Fop this one. Now fop this one.” But soon he tried to grab the fork away and there were screams and tears. I brought a second fork to the game so they could both fop simultaneously. (What a weird sentence I just typed!) Happiness prevailed for about 20 seconds, until Callum started to only fop pieces that Ronan was already working on. More screams. Callum had a suggestion: “Let’s fop this one together, brother!” So they did that. Then Ronan yelled, “Hide and seek fop!” They both grabbed handfuls of pieces and ran down the hall to throw them into their dark room. Then they came back to get the puzzle tray and their forks, and they did something in the dark with all of them that I did not witness, but it was apparently very funny.

They abandoned Fop for the day, and then first thing in the morning yesterday, Ronan suggested, “Play Fop It, brother.” They did it in the kitchen where the pieces could go skittering across the floor… and under the fridge, and under the stove. Awesome. But watching them from my hover-at-a-distance position at the counter, my heart squeezed with a mix of bittersweet joy and tenderness as they negotiated their play. How hard it must be to grow up! And how hard they try and try! One makes up a word and the other goes with it. They both get angry and get over it a dozen times a day. They hug and kiss and hit and kick and push and cry and laugh and play. Every emotion is turned up to eleven and they still never give up. They play Hide and Seek and Fop It and Going Somewhere and Cookin Somethin and Mechanic and Doctor and Babies and Blocks.

What that means for me is that I am ignored more, which is a bit of a relief, but now I must continually referee fights over territory and resources, which is a grind. Throw Abi into the mix with her weird, complicated ideas for orchestrating imaginative play (you be a pteranadon in a nest. I will bring outfits and you say what a dinosaur would like the best) and it seems there is seldom a time when harmony reigns. Abi is learning much of this for the first time too, right along with her brothers. But I can see it coming, I can feel it coming. Love is here and peace is right behind. Maybe? I hope. Of course it takes a whole life to learn the give and take of close relationships. So maybe the harmony is just going to be in fits and spurts. But I’ll take what I can get.

Though (or perhaps because) Callum and Ronan have no idea what hot cocoa is, it serves as their greatest creative inspiration. If either of them is going to innovate, the result is going to be called hot cocoa. Drinking water with a damp washcloth over the the top of the sippy cup? Hot cocoa. Filling plastic eggs in the sandbox? Hot cocoa. Wildly swirling toys around in the tub? Hot cocoa. Coloring on playdough with markers? Hot cocoa. Who knows where they picked up the phrase. It is one of those cool twin things where they hit upon a shared idea and just keep expanding it together. It does have a nice ring to it, and anytime I hear hot cocoa, I know it is my job to praise it as the most wonderful hot cocoa in the world. Callum likes to play with a measuring cup in the tub and list off ingredients for hot cocoa as he pours and mixes. Most recently, he said, “I need sugar, powder, cinnamon, and a baby duck.” YUMMY HOT COCOA, CALLUM.

Callum rejoices greatly in his growing powers to be understood, and he rejoices even more, if possible, in his growing physical prowess. He is disciplined several times a day for assaulting one sibling or the other; though he clearly feels regret if he hurts them, he is only slowly using other methods to solve his problems. He can even hurt Abi sometimes, though mostly her sobs are ones of betrayal rather than pain. She is totally surprised every single time he takes her down. I praised her to the skies when she finally had the mental wherewithal to stand her ground and hang on tightly to a ball Callum was trying to wrest from her grasp, and, when that failed, pull her foot out from under her. Time out, Callum. You should have heard me cheer the other day when he said, “Excuse me, brother, I need that,” instead of shoving Ronan aside. Yesterday I saw him jumping so high in his crib that his knees were clearing the top rail on each leap. “That is kinda scary to watch,” I said. “Don’t jump so high, please.” Callum laughed maniacally and jumped ever higher, shouting, “Kinda scary! Kinda scary!” Being able to do something that could scare his mother ranked pretty high on his bucket list, I guess.

He surprises me often by reeling off sentences that sound just like a real boy talking. Mundane things, like, “I’m screaming, mom. And Abi’s screaming too!” Apart from the obvious lack of necessity for that communique, it’s pretty good talkin’, and it causes a flutter of panic in the base of my throat that his babyhood is almost over and I have practically missed it, and Ronan’s too. Dr. G. pointed out my detailed blog posts as evidence that I have not, in fact, missed much at all. But the feeling is still there. The boys will be two years old in JUST TWO MONTHS. For me, that is like a nap, a shower after which I forget to comb my hair, and five partly eaten meals away. Two blinks, more or less.

I especially feel like I am missing Ronan’s growing up because his happens so much more under the radar than his brother’s. He can actually fix things now, such as a plastic playhouse door that has come off its hinges or a battery case that has come loose on a remote. Tonight he spent a good while on his belly on the kitchen floor, using a fork and a broom handle to fish things out from under the oven, and he loves to wipe down tables and toys with baby wipes. When he has accomplished something he is proud of, his joy glows off of him like the pink light of a sunset cloud and I can’t help but smile smile smile too. In April, I enrolled the boys in a Messy Art for Toddlers class at the community center a few blocks from us; while Callum would apply his paint and glitter in wide, sloppy gestures and then jet off to run around the room, Ronan would focus, carefully applying each color, each bit of cut paper, each blob of glitter. He would not move for the whole 40 minutes, and loved to hold his art high to show the class at the end. Now he climbs up on our toy cubbies to study his own work hanging on the wall, and to point out its beauty to me. “I did that!” he says. “Paintin! Cutters!” It is nice to hear his sweet voice more and more.

And Abi is changing too. The girl whom a few months ago couldn’t stand to be on the same playground with wild children recently locked herself into a mini train car with a whole bunch of them, and she keeps talking with relish about how LOUD it was, and how I would have SNAPPED at them if I had heard it! And how if we ever go back to that train, she wants to go on that car by herself AGAIN! She has gained so much emotional equilibrium, recovering from disappointments and dislikes much more quickly, with less complaining, than ever before. I can’t tell you how much this growth has improved the dynamic of our family. There is more laughing and more quiet. And she is suddenly very into money. Getting it, giving it, spending it, plotting avenues for all of the above. She is incredulous that I will not let her pedal her trike door to door, selling knick-knacks she has gathered from her room. How is she supposed to get more money then, she wants to know? Indeed, how? She will be in kindergarten in three months, and surely that is old enough, by her lights.

Kindergarten just days away. Well, several dozen days away. It’s all going by in such a rush. It’s that first trip down a waterslide, where you seem to be rushing so steeply, so quickly, and yet so eternally down the twisting pipe. Then comes the mighty splash. Hot cocoa!

This past month included a week that ranks among our hardest ever as a family: all three kids down with a severe stomach flu within a day or so of one another. Just a few days prior, we had all finally recovered from a more minor 3-day version that hit each of us in turn. Then some nasty opportunistic bug attacked. Caring for three small sickies at once is just ridiculous. Triple sickness should not be allowed; isn’t that in the official rule book somewhere? First there is the sheer hard work: all the stripping of beds and clothing and all the scrubbing of floors and bathtubs and the constant loads of laundry. Next there is the mental and physical raggedness of interrupted sleep. Some nights I was lucky to get 20 minutes of silence in a three hour period. Dr. G. and I took shifts on the night watch, but often we had to recruit the other parent because the mess or the number of children awake was so extreme. As the week wore on, we each got better at handling nighttime emergencies on our own, which I guess is a victory of sorts. And Dr. G. adjusted his work schedule so I could have some time to rest each morning before facing the long hours once again on my own.

Abi had it the worst. She was vomiting at least hourly for almost three days, unable to keep down more than a few sips of water at a time, so listless she didn’t move from the couch for most of that time and just drifted in and out of sleep. She wanted me to be the one to hold her every time she threw up. Finally we got some anti-nausea meds from the doctor to get her through the final few days so her sweet emaciated self could keep some food down. She also invented a few pretty cool activities for sick kids as she began to perk up– twisting aluminum foil into sculptures once, and another time asking me to gather interesting things from around the yard in a jar for her to look at and play with.

The hardest part, though, was the emotional toll. One minute my heart would break for Ronan weeping through a painful session of vomiting or Abi asking for a piece of bread and then just staring at it tearfully. The next minute I would look at all my miserable children and mentally beg them to JUST STOP. Stop trying to climb up my legs while simultaneously trying to press down on your brother’s head to keep him from succeeding at the same task. Stop leaking explosive diarrhea out the legs of your shorts while I am filling your sippy cups with yet another flavor of fake Pedialyte. Stop crying at the same time. Stop chanting “I need you, I need you, I need you,” in that weak, piteous little voice, Callum. Oh, now my heart is broken again. Yes, I will pick you up.

Which brings me to the guilt. My standard of care for sick children was set by Abi. Whenever she got sick as a baby and toddler, I would hold her pretty much the entire time she was awake. That was what she wanted, and what better thing did I have to do? When her brothers came along that was no longer possible for her or any of them, but in general, my M.O. is to give the neediest child the most attention. The sick child gets picked up the oftenest, and the other two are able to go with it. And while I sometimes struggle with feelings of inadequacy about that, it is NOTHING compared to staring at three wan, tear-streaked faces at once– each with that desperate look that conveys feeling shaky and nauseous and crampy and clammy and wanting Mommy to cuddle and cuddle and cuddle–knowing you can give none of them as much comfort as they desire. Once in a while I resorted to setting the timer to designate when it would be the next child’s turn to be walked around in my arms.

And then there was one night when I was only awakened once; and a day with no leaky diapers and the children suddenly putting their food into their mouths instead of their pockets or the creases in their chairs; and the craziness of newly energetic kids who have been in the house far too long; and it was over. Relief, relief, relief. Callum immediately went back to working on being funny (like trying to climb out of the bathtub on the wall side– “Bye bye, mommy!” “Where are you going?” “Preschool!”) and Ronan learned how to say “mechanic” with perfect clarity and got busy “repairing” everything in the house; and Abi became obsessed with doing science experiments in the freezer (at the moment there is some plastic Easter grass in there because… well, who knows what the point is. But it is in there). There were no hard feelings, and life was no longer miserably messy but beautifully messy, just the way we like it.

We’ve had some moderately ill wee ones around the house for the past few days. That plus the combination of their mama’s severe seasonal allergies and severely interrupted sleep make it a constant temptation to just turn on the TV and let them veg out. We do watch some TV, but I don’t want it to be on for hours during the day. Ronan barely tolerates TV anyway. So what to do? Can’t go out; too energetic to sleep; too blech to run around or do things that require serious attention span; a whole day to fill. Here are some easy things we have come up with for sick days. What easy, easy stuff do you do? I’d love to expand my list of ideas.

Toy Rotation.

I keep a big box of extra toys in the garage and when the kids get really cranky, I swap out some too-familiar ones for some from the garage.

Baths.
Foam shapes in the bathtub
My kids have sensitive skin and live in a dry climate, so I normally try to limit bath time. But I justify extra baths on sick days by not including any soap or shampoo. We try to make baths extra special by forgoing regular bath toys for novel ones:

lights out, glow sticks in the water
dozens of washcloths
cups and bottles
foam shapes to stick on the walls– you can buy big stacks of these at Michael’s
squeeze bottles (the tall white cylinders that usually contain salad dressing or mustard)

Balloons.

I keep a bag of balloons around and only break it out once in awhile. We do all the regular balloon stuff plus rockets, static electricity, and balloon decorating. The kids loved peeling a sheet full of stickers to add to their balloons. Sometimes I hide stuff in the balloons and the kids have to figure out how to pop them to get the stuff out.

Paint with Water.

I took the kids outside and filled their water table. Then I threw in a few watercolor lozenges that I had popped out of those cheap water-color sets that come with their own closing lid and a paintbrush. It was just enough to tint the water, not enough to actually stain anything. I gave the kids adult house paintbrushes and let them mix the colors, then paint on the walls and doors of the house. They also painted many of their toys, the patio, some rocks, and sand. The only bad part was that the toddlers wanted to suck on the paintbrushes.

Tools.

This requires more close supervision than I always have the energy for, but once in awhile I will break out a measuring tape, a wrench, and a screwdriver and let the kids take turns measuring and fixing things in one area of the backyard. They especially love to work on trikes and scooters.

Play in the Car.

No explanation needed.

So I measured the circumference of the kids’ thighs the other day. Yeah, this is how I entertain myself sometimes. Don’t judge me. In order, from thickest to thinnest: Ronan, Abi, Callum. Our Ronan is a sturdy little fellow. I remarked to Dr. G. as I struggled to cram Ronan’s bottom into some jeans that I am not used to kids outgrowing clothes at the waist. Abi still fits into some of her 2T pajama shorts, after all. I’m also pretty unclear on what constitutes normal physical development for 20-month-olds, as Abi has always been supremely uninterested in anything sporty other than gymnastics– if there is any kicking, throwing or catching of balls going on, she just wanders away (unless it is her invented game, Sorryball, in which you swat the ball in any direction, yell “sorry!” and both go chasing it). Running, she still looked much like a Muppet at that age. I remember taking her to toddler story time at the library and her being the only one present (of about 15) who would not or could not jump along with a song. She has really only become proficient at somersaults since she joined gymnastics.

All this to say that both of my boys strike me as marvelously coordinated, though perhaps they are simply normal for their age. They get giggly and hop around the house for fun. Callum spins until he gets dizzy and falls. Ronan loves to hold a ball and see how many times he can bobble it in his arms before it drops. Callum likes to try to keep a balloon in the air and can sometimes hit or catch it three times in a row. The other day I watched him hop the length of his crib without holding on to the rail, and when I took him out, he turned two perfect somersaults on the floor. When I voiced my happy astonishment, Ronan tried it, too. His method was to put his head on the floor and then flop over onto his side. I voiced my happy astonishment again.

Ronan is the family member who consistently gets me laughing really hard. When he can’t keep up with his brother’s accomplishments, he just switches to silliness, making faces, waggling his bottom, jutting out his jaw and squishing his nose into my cheek. He has settled pretty firmly into the role of youngest family member, though technically he is about a minute older than his brother. He copies Callum’s words and actions while Callum copies Abi’s. Abi copies the host of the cooking show Weelicious.com, so there is a lot of pretend mixing up smoothies and batches of cookies when they all play playdough together. Ronan is also developing a strong chest push as a defense against Callum’s wrestling moves, and when he succeeds, I hear a wail from Callum and a proud report from Ronan: “Push!” I give him the disapproving eye and he leans his head contritely toward Callum’s shoulder. “Sawyee.” But it’s an arms race. Callum is nothing if not ambitious. He practices and practices and practices anything he wants to learn, whether it is the “R” sound or some game of Abi’s or making his new toddler scooter go. He just persists and persists until he masters it; it is wonderful to observe his tolerance for failure.

Now, if only a)Abi would stop coming out of her room an hour after bedtime complaining of “her worst thought ever” and b)the boys would stop waking at 4:30 am and c)if they MUST wake up then, go back to sleep significantly more often than 50% of the time; and d)Callum would stop tantruming through lunchtime several times a week (he’s overtired by then, but family schedule doesn’t allow an earlier nap) and e)everyone would stop falling down so much, we’d be on a roll. We are currently trying to move the boys to a later bedtime (should help with wakeups and the required late nap?) and getting Abi back in the rhythm of putting herself to sleep more quickly. But man, it feels like there are precious few hours available where no one is trying to steal my food or destroy my stuff or push me out of the way so they can take over my activity. Today I was up on a stepladder pruning a Vitex tree and Callum kept climbing up after me shouting, “MY turn! MY turn!” This with shaving cream in the water table AND the hose turned on AND his entire family there to play with. Like I said, on a roll. I console myself with the knowledge that I am allowed to measure his thighs whenever I darn well please.

I use “Worst Day Ever” somewhat facetiously. No one’s life was threatened, nothing was permanently destroyed, nothing required expensive repairs. Nothing happened that couldn’t be solved by disinfectant spray, paper towels, spot remover, leather cleaner, floor cleaner, steam cleaner, old towels, two baths, two loads of laundry, a closet auger, and a good night’s sleep. You see what I mean about the worst day ever.

Tuesday morning. I had a big pile of baby clothes out on the living room rug, gradually sorting them for a friend who is expecting twins. Remember that sweet, pristine pile of onesies and footie pjs; it comes back into the story later. As usual, I put Callum and Ronan into their cribs with some books and toys while I went to shower. As usual, Ronan disrobed and peed all over his sheet. It was pretty drenched. He did not want to get dressed right away, so I wiped him down and let him run around au naturel while I changed the sheets, found him some clean clothes and put together a snack. I figured he had peed so much in his crib that he wouldn’t have any more for the next 10 minutes. Crucial error #1: I forgot that he hadn’t yet had his morning bowel movement. I was in the kitchen filling his snack cup with pretzels and raisins when he called for my help. “Mom! Hard!” He was standing next to a giant pile of poop with one poop-slicked foot in the air that he was afraid to put back down on the ground. Callum was leaning interestedly over the pile.

“DON’T TOUCH. DON’T MOVE.” There was poop on the laminate flooring and the rug. Crucial error #2: I decided the most important thing to do was to clean up most of the poop before the boys got into it and then give Ronan a bath. I used a nearby cloth diaper to wipe down the poopy foot and scoop up most of the mess. I got out a disinfectant and a carpet spot cleaner to finish up. Then I went back to the kitchen to put away the cleaners and text my friend that I couldn’t meet her at the park in 10 minutes as we’d planned, due to POOP EMERGENCY. Callum wandered in, a hand and a foot caked with feces and more smeared on his pajamas. Oh crap! Literally! Where did that come from?

I picked up Callum by the cleanest parts and went back to the living room, where I saw Ronan standing in the middle of the baby clothes, a few more little fragrant piles of poop gracing the tiny, adorable T-shirts at his feet. He was smeared, too. GAH! I stripped Callum and plopped him in the empty tub; raced back for Ronan; turned on the water but left the plug open; raced back for the cloth diaper and the pile of poopy baby clothes. I let the boys splash around and rinse off while I was dunking and shaking everything in the toilet. The boys decided the water was too hot (it wasn’t) and started swinging their legs over the side of the tub to escape. They were VERY interested in my toilet activities. I had to act fast. I flushed the toilet, dropped the diaper I was rinsing, and turned to do a double body-block on the boys. It was a truly awesome feat, in which I managed to wrestle two wet, athletic, poop-flecked boys back into the tub without touching them with my toilet-water hands or getting more poop on myself. The boys were just as amazed as I was. I agreed to make the water cooler and plug the tub if they would just stay in there.

Now, where was that nasty diaper? Not on the toilet, not on the floor, not on the counter. Uh-oh. Test flush. Yup. I’d flushed it. Couldn’t see it to pull it out, even. Double crap! Make that triple crap– Ronan had taken yet another dump in the tub. How backed up could that boy’s intestine be? Surely he had emptied it by now? Drain, scoop, rinse, refill. Now what? um, plunger? I plunged the toilet and immediately realized that I was only making the situation worse. I had lost count of my number of crucial errors. The boys were shivering. I sudsed them up and rinsed them and dressed them, with Ronan only escaping once to play with the plunger. They had fun examining the steam cleaner as I dragged it in and filled it and cleaned the rug. Callum only got the bottle of carpet cleaner off the counter once while I was emptying the waste tank into the sink. End of disasters for one day. We could all laugh about it now, HA HA! I cheerfully regaled the line of parents waiting outside the preschool room with my tale of woe. But no. There was more to come.

We all made it basically clean and sane to bedtime. I was out in the laundry room digging through the clean laundry for pjs. We never seem to have enough pjs. The boys, Callum in particular, have gotten very picky about their sleeping attire and everything must match and fit just so, so it took awhile to assemble two acceptable sets. Also, I was texting my sister about the poop, my daily attempt at multi-tasking. Crucial error number one million. When I got inside, Callum was leaning against the couch nonchalantly drinking a bottle of sesame oil. Next to him was a nearly-empty 48oz bottle of canola oil, lid off, tipped on its side. It had been nearly full five minutes ago. The leather couch gleamed in the light of the torchiere, a puddle of golden oil running over the sides of the cushion down into every crevice and onto the floor. Surprise! Guess who was finally tall enough to reach the shelf of liquids in the pantry!

I grabbed the two bottles and started doing one of those horrible hysterical hyena laughs. Where was Dr. G? Why hadn’t he been supervising? He was busy examining and comforting Ronan, who had somehow sprained his foot while practicing jumping up and down on the carpet in his bedroom. Flat, unobstructed, cushiony floor; jumps that barely clear the ground; how could it have happened? No idea. But Ronan couldn’t put any weight on the foot and kept muttering “Hurts, hurts.” Dr. G. was absorbed in trying to decide if he should take him to Urgent Care or wait and see how it was in the morning. He decided it was a sprained toe, and that he should just carry Ronan around until he could be put to bed for the night. Poor possum!

Meanwhile I handed Callum some paper towels and told him to clean himself up, already! I took the rest of the roll and started soaking up the pool on the couch. No matter how much I soaked and scrubbed, the leather just stayed slimy and shiny. I tried to think of it as extra conditioning. I threw an old towel over the oily cushions and another old towel underneath where it was leaking through. Dr. G and I put all the kids to bed, Callum’s slightly oily hands notwithstanding. I told him it was just like lotion. He liked that idea. Then I got out all the appropriate cleaners and wiped and scrubbed while Dr. G. went out to Home Depot for some kind of snake or auger for the toilet. I jammed that thing as far as it would go and twisted it around some. Pop! The diaper came out. Hooray! The internet had been ominously intimating that I would have to take off the whole toilet to get it out. That would mean a call of shame to a plumber. In college I was once ridiculed by a plumber because I tried to dispose of hot candle-making wax by dumping it down the sink. Since then I’ve been afraid of plumbers. Clean the tub, clean the toilet, look with glum defeat at the full laundry basket of oily clothes, quit. The worst. day. ever. And now I have stayed up too late. Crucial error number one million and one. Thank God there will never be another day exactly like this one.

ADDENDUM, Wednesday morning: Ronan is still limping a little but is getting progressively better as the morning wears on. I’m taking him to the doc this morning just to make sure.

My heart is a little bit broken for Abigail. A few weeks ago, her best and only preschool friend, E, dumped her. Now whenever Abi invites E to play, E refuses and runs away. E is simply growing socially and wants to branch out with other games and other children. Abi is not in the same place. Whenever I arrive a few minutes early to pick her up, I see Abi wandering sadly and alone among the groups of happy children on the playground, like a tiny Jane Eyre upon the moors. Her teachers encourage her to join in with others, but she will have none of it. She wants only E.

This week when we were leaving, Abi realized some fake flowers she’d had in her hair were missing. A teacher told her E had found them on playground and had put them in her bag as treasures. The levels of betrayal in this admission were too much for Abigail, and she dropped to the floor in the lobby, screaming. She hates to make a scene at preschool but this called for it. Hunting for treasures on the playground– marbles, sequins, barrettes– had been THEIR special activity they had always done together. And now E had done it on her own. And, if she had been paying any attention to Abi at all, she would have known right away who those flowers belonged to. “THOSE ARE MY FLOWERS! THEY ARE NOT A TREASURE!” screamed Abi, sobbing and flailing. We were able to flag down E’s dad before he left the parking lot and get the flowers back. I had to stop Abi from screaming into the car at E and got her to scream “THANK YOU — AND THOSE ARE MY FLOWERS!” instead. Baby steps. When she was buckled into her car seat she methodically ripped the flowers to bits. She did not want them after all.

“I don’t think E wants to be my best friend anymore,” Abi confided to me the next day, eyes full of tears. I held her tight and told her I was so sorry to hear it, and that maybe E will change her mind someday. In the meantime, why not try playing with some other kids? I went down a list of names of friendly children her teachers had recommended, and she rejected each one in turn before settling on R, the girl she had originally thought would be her best friend before E came on the scene. Her plan of action? To climb to the highest spot on the playground so she could watch R from a distance and see who she played with and what she did. Well. Hum. It’s a start, anyway.

This social crisis has occurred just as we are trying to figure out where to place Abi for kindergarten next year. I had had fond hopes of letting her ride the bus to our neighborhood school, but after talking to other parents about the poor communication and unruly environment there and finding the sole teacher’s website rife with simple spelling errors, that is out. And suddenly I am engulfed with worry that she will do her Jane-Eyre-Upon-the-Moors impression the whole year and never interact with anyone or participate in group activities and be silently miserable at her little shared table. The decision of a kindergarten environment feels suddenly extra weighted, extra fraught, though really it is just kindergarten and we can move her or remove her if it is not working out. In the abstract I think it is 100% ok for a person to only want one or two good friends at a time (though it is especially painful when things don’t work out) and to prefer very small groups to larger ones. In the particular, I hope this trait does not work against Abi as she adjusts to a school environment. If her flowers fall from her hair I hope the child who finds them will carry them straight back to my sweet, loyal girl.

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