I took the boys and J to the store yesterday morning…

…after swim lessons. The trip was preceded by a stop at the house for J to go potty, during which we lost the keys, something I didn’t realize until after I’d loaded everyone back in the van. I searched for 20 minutes, gave up, unloaded them again, and the second J was unbuckled, found the keys under the car seat. So, same song, second verse, only with more yelling this round. 

By the time we’d pulled out of the driveway and made the turn towards Hy-Vee, I was questioning my decision to have any children, let alone five, given my difficulty in keeping crap together. 

When we arrived at Hy-Vee, I remembered I was wearing my “Raise Good Humans” t-shirt and said a quick prayer that they would act like good humans (or, at least, not animals) and I could act like a person capable of raising good humans (or, at least, not a screaming lunatic). 

An older woman handed us her cart in the parking lot, and I put J and Roo in, then told the boys to walk beside me. We waited for another woman to enter the doors ahead of us, and met up with an older gentlemen, who insisted we walk in first, then asked me, “Where’d you get all these kids?”

I told him they were mine and he asked if they liked trains. I said they did, and so we stood in the entrance for several minutes while he showed us pictures from a train museum he helps run. After handing us a brochure, we went our separate ways and the lady who had walked in ahead of us, having finished her shopping and witnessed us standing in the same spot for quite a bit, came back by on her way out of the store, stopped, and said, “You have very well-behaved children.” I laughed and told her she had no idea the amount of arguing it took to get here and she smiled and said, “Well, some days are like that.”

As we made our way through the aisles, we were interrupted a number of times by people smiling at the crew and asking them questions and inquiring (yes, really) whether or not they were mine, usually followed by a joke (“Did you pick up all those kids here?” “Do they sell them by the pound?”). 

One man, waiting to check out, told me a story about how, when he was young, his mom and dad took them all on a trip to the dump and, when they got there, two extra kids popped out of the car. “They were the neighbors,” he recalled. “Scared mom to death. She had no clue they were in there. (Pause) Thanks for letting me tell you that and for having these kids with you. Made my day.”

We paid for our groceries and I headed to the van with a cart, four kids, one Nutty Bar, one Zebra Cake, and three Fudge Rounds (because we try to include daddy in our snack buying), feeling pretty good about the life we’d created.  After all, if complete strangers like these hooligans, we must be doing OK.

I get caught up in the chaos around here quite a bit, feeling that the crazy is an indication that we’re screwing this all up. And I have to remind myself that it’s not. That mostly it’s the result of trying to get seven people with seven different personalities and busy schedules moving in the same direction in a “well, good, we’re close to on time and we have almost everything we need” manner. All while trying to teach them (simultaneously…hence the head-swirling) to be decent humans.

Good humans.

(Or maybe the t-shirt was just a lucky charm. If so, I need a dozen.)

Maybe six weeks ago…

…Brad and I were sitting at the table after the kids were in bed, eating lukewarm spaghetti and not really saying much, just taking a couple of deep breaths in the relative quiet of the kitchen. 

We make it a habit of playing music in the background at night, and the song “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful” (if the “ain’t” didn’t tip you off, yes, it’s country) came on. After the first chorus, Brad looked up from his plate and said, “This song kind of sums up the last few years, huh?” 

I smiled, because it’s exactly what I think every time I hear it, and even though he doesn’t always say much, it’s occasionally nice to know–between the noise and the hectic schedules and the very real need to simply do what it takes to survive the day before starting all over again in the morning–that, in certain ways, our minds still connect.

Today, when my iTunes shuffled to that same song, this scene was laid out in front of me. It wasn’t idyllic–with the exception of the littlest one, they’d all submitted exceedingly obnoxious cases for why they should be allowed to watch Netflix on their Kindles as they ate supper, and the oldest initially stood in protest after I refused to let her take a plate of food down to her bedroom. 

But it’s our reality and it’s the world we’ve created and, for the most part, it’s a very beautiful, messy, roller coaster of a life that’s more than I could have hoped for.

Tonight was exactly the reminder I needed. 

 

Because some nights…

…after work and swim team and everything else, you get to stand in your kitchen while the kids play outside and you listen to music and talk to your husband and drink a beer.

And some nights that husband is at a track meet and you come home with all five solo and walk through the back door with three screaming and get them settled at the table with Burger King and head down to start a load of laundry, then find yourself 10 minutes later walking back up the steps with a forgotten baby bottle in your teeth and a mop in one hand and a sack of dog poop in the other and a bottle of Bud Light Lime between your teeth (on the other side…because those are the talents I’ve developed).

You get the overtired baby to bed and put three kids in pajamas and tell the biggest one to turn off Netflix and finish her homework and you clean the kitchen and you step outside to throw the bag of poo in the trash and notice it’s really nice outside. So you make sure they’re all content and you turn the lock and you sneak onto the porch and just sit. 

For as long as they’ll let you. 

(Then, in the juxtaposition that is parenting, you start to miss them. And, so, you head back in…) 

 

Dog for sale.

One the things I’m really working on is keeping my cool when life gets hectic around here. But sometimes I feel like I’m presented with situations that few first–world people with first–world problems should be expected to handle calmly. Case in point…

Brad is at a track meet, so I needed to pick up all of the kids after work (AFTER a run…or else I may not still be here). In spite of my best planning (i.e., having a 3lb bag of gummie bears in the van to appease the “I hate my car seat with all of my being” 18-month-old), Roo screamed the entire way home. As we pulled into the driveway with said screaming baby, the older three unbuckled and practically rolled from the moving vehicle, begging to play with the neighbors. I said that was fine, but only after they brought their belongings inside. 

Cue eye-rolling and whining.

I hauled the still screaming youngest into the house and plopped him in his highchair with a banana, which he threw at me, then pretzels…which he threw at me…then grapes…which he threw at me. During his tirade, I noticed that the dog had ripped off the towel diaper I’d placed on her this morning due to her “I’m an emotional mess” leaking, so–given that the rest of the house is pretty well blocked off–I ran downstairs to investigate.

Luckily–and I use that term lightly–I missed the dog poop plopped on four of our carpeted steps.

I ran back up, gave Roo a bottle in an attempt to calm him, then grabbed a garbage bag and picked up the poo. I ran outside with the bag and told the kids, who were happily playing on the playset, what had happened and not to come in until I’d cleaned up the mess. Of course, the dog followed me out and hopped through the still-open van door, devouring the gummie bears the boys had left on the backseat. 

I yelled–yes, yelled, loudly–at the boys to pick up the candy before Daphne ate it all and told Keaton–who had decided, using 11-year-old girl logic, that this would be a perfect time to talk back–to grab a garbage bag from the passenger seat (because, well, I’m a mom who drives a van) and pick up the dog poop from the yard I hadn’t gotten to yet.

I walked back inside, found Roo reasonably happy in his chair, and noticed that the floor was sticky, presumably from the Fun Dip the dog had grabbed earlier out of Keat’s room and drug all over the main floor.

Excellent. So, we’ll add that to the list…

I went downstairs, sprayed and cleaned the carpet, then inspected the wood floors, where I found more poo. I sprayed it, went back to grab a towel out of the laundry basket on the steps, and thought, “It still smells like crap.” Two more piles, hidden on the landing in the shadows.

Pick up, spray, scrub, curse, throw a load of dirty rags and towels in the washing machine.

As I’m coming back up with the bag ‘o turds, the kids–perfectly content outside until I told them they couldn’t come inside–stood by the back door, begging to be let in. I handed the 7-year-old the garbage bag, asked him to throw it away, and said they could come in as soon as I mopped the kitchen floor clean of Fun Dip remnants.

And….cue sobbing. (The neighbors across the street must think I’m an amazing mother.)

I leave the crying children with their noses pressed against the screen door (seriously) and grab my Wet Jet, which promptly runs out of the last bit of soap. For the love of…OK, grab a bowl and baby shampoo (because we have a Barbie-sized sink and therefore don’t keep dish soap in the house) and a rag, drop to my knees (“That’s what she said”–there, already covered it) and scrub the whole floor by hand, with Roo still watching me from his highchair.

I let the kids come in the front door, repeatedly ask them to please not walk into the kitchen, then ask Rusty if he’s actually lost his mind when he steps onto the wet floor not once but twice. In the meantime, Keaton has ahold of Daph’s collar to keep her from following me (because she’s seriously that dense) and/or digging in the garbage for Roo’s scraps (because, again, she’s that dense). I finally dry the floor with a towel, pull the baby from his perch, and get them settled in front of “Star Wars” while Keat goes to her room to figure out what exactly I took away and hid as a result of her talking back (mostly dog-slobbered on candy, but she doesn’t have to know that yet).

I cook six grilled cheese sandwiches, heat up leftover tuna spaghetti and macaroni with hot dogs, cut up a few apples, set J at the kitchen table, and let Keat eat downstairs while the boys eat in their room. Again, the dog, unable to control herself, barges through the upstairs gate and eats a sandwich, then, after being pulled down the steps, licks Joey’s bowl of macaroni. 

And…cue more sobbing. Miraculously, not me, though I’m sure if I’d had two seconds to stop and evaluate the situation, I would have. 

Everyone finished eating what Daph didn’t manage to steal. I put Roo to bed, and got the kids settled in our room with Netflix while Keat again disappeared to her room, hopefully to do homework. I cleaned dishes and took out the trash and grabbed a beer and told Hutton, “I’ll be in the bathtub for 15 minutes. Can you guys just lay here quietly and watch Curious George? Please?”

He promised me they could.

So, here I sit, trying to relax with the knowledge that we survived and the house is in one piece and so is the dog…and Brad will be home from his track meet with take-out burritos and another Bud Light Lime very, very soon.

Reset button.

As a teacher, my husband pays attention to the school calendar and, since I pay attention to pretty much everything else, I let him own that piece of our lives. So, when Brad said, “Hey, Monday is an elementary teacher plan day and Hutton doesn’t have school,” I agreed that not only would he go to daycare with his younger siblings today, but that we would let Rusty skip preschool and have a play day at Aunt Mandy’s as well.

This meant that all we had to do this morning was get four kids ready to leave with Brad by 7:15, leaving me 15 minutes to get myself ready for work and take Keaton to school.

Easy.

Then Joey lost her shoes and both boys couldn’t find their coats and one Kindle wasn’t charged and I yelled, “If everyone around here would just do things like I ask, none of this would happen!” right as Brad opened the fridge to grab leftovers for lunch and knocked an entire jar of pickles on the floor, which Roo walked through.

Damn it. Like, for the love of all that is holy, damn it. 

When the circus from h-e-double hockey sticks finally left, I used the time I needed to get myself showered and dressed cleaning the floors, starting laundry and diapering the “mom yelled and now I’m going to leak everywhere” dog. I threw a coat on over my pajamas, ran Keaton to school (while receiving “hey, did you see my coffee cup in the driveway?” texts from my husband), then came back home to make myself presentable (thank you fresh-out-of the-dryer jeans for zipping easily after a weekend of gorging or that may have been my final straw) and, miraculously, pulled into the parking lot at about my normal time. 

Of course, as I badged in, the security pad read something wrong on my ID and set off the “Alert! Alert! Please go to security!” alarm. I ran around the building, presented my license and my badge, and finally arrived at my desk.

Then my cell rang. It was the elementary school.

Secretary: “Good morning! I have Hutton marked absent. Is he sick?”

Bang head against cubicle wall: “Um, nope. My husband said today was a teacher plan day for elementary. Apparently not.”

Secretary (who has known me now for six years and understands I’m not crazy or neglectful, just scattered): “No, we’re here.”

“OK, well, I’m already at work and he’s playing, so he’s not going to be there today.”

Secretary: “Gotcha. And did you know you missed Kindergarten registration for Rustyn?”

Band head harder: “Dang it. What do I need to do?”

Secretary, laughing: “You filled out the transfer paperwork (because we attend a school outside our boundaries), right?”

“Yes! That I did do!”

Secretary: “OK, good. Just come in sometime then when I’m here and we’ll take care of the rest of it.”

“Great. Thank you!”

Hang up phone. Engage in flurry texts with Brad and my sister-in-law about how we seriously do not have our crap together, followed by stressed emails from Brad about plan periods and testing and track meets and kid schedules (which are, clearly, a struggle area for us) and how we really just need to go back and start the whole day over. 

Yep.

And, so, with any luck, we’ll all get home tonight in one piece with most of our belongings and toss kids outside for awhile and eat a simple “who wants macaroni and who wants a cheesy” supper and put everyone to bed early and drink a beer and go to sleep ourselves and try again tomorrow. 

Because, right now, that’s the only idea I’ve got.

Losing it.

So, last night Brad and I were sitting with Roosevelt in the dining room eating supper when Rusty ran up from the basement (where the other kids were finishing their food) with two swollen hands. Figuring he was having an allergic reaction to something, I hustled to the bathroom to give him Benadryl (while simultaneously snapping photos and texting my friend Molly for her food-allergy mom opinion), slathered him in cortisone, and laid him on our bed with instructions to “tell me immediately if your throat starts to itch!”

In the midst of this, Brad threw a refried bean-covered Roo in the bathtub, leaving the kitchen totally unoccupied with all the supper contents well within the dog’s reach. Ever the opportunist, Daph proceeded to knock my plate to the floor, then lick and chew the high chair.

Frustrated, I did a quick-clean of the kitchen while Brad washed the baby, then yelled at the other three kids to please bring everything up from the basement table to prevent another dog-induced disaster. As plates and Coke cans piled on the counter, they seemed to have fully complied and so I told them to get pajamas on.

At this point, with Roo and Rusty laying in our room and the others presumably getting ready for bed, Brad decided to take a phone call and I headed downstairs to wipe the table and, I figured, do a little sweeping. As I stepped on the floor, my foot hit something wet.

J, it turned out, had left her plate, next to a half-full can of soda, which Daph knocked down as she stood on her back legs to grab her leftover nachos. Anticipating my reaction and in, I’m sure, a panic, the dog drug the whole mess throughout the basement. Coke seeped under the glass and onto the wood door that serves as our giant bar. 

I. Lost. It. 

Mostly on the dog (“Damn it, Daphne!”), partly on Brad (who had locked himself in Roo’s room to finish his call) and partly on the universe, God, luck, and myself for being dumb enough to think I could calmly handle five children, an emotionally-challenged Weimaraner and, you know, life.

By 9:30, everything was back in place and the kids were asleep and I was busy hating the way I’d reacted.

Brad wasn’t super thrilled with me either.

And it turned into a long, long night. Where I sat wide awake and read and ate popsicles and resolved to do better next time. 

The sun came up this morning, of course. I apologized to the whole crew for not acting like an adult. Rusty’s swelling went down. I made a note to call the allergist. Every one of us got ready and where we needed to be in a fairly organized fashion. 

Life moved on. 

Now I need to.

I hesitated to write this. I’ve been working so hard on keeping things in perspective and this felt like a world-record long jump backwards. But it seemed dishonest not to. 

Because it’s real. 

And maybe you lost it last night and you’re chugging coffee today and you need to hear that you’re not the only one.

You’re not.

I’m right there with you.

And we’ll both do better the next time.

Three years ago tonight, we met to paint and drink wine and talk…

…about two months after Joey was born and two months before my mom died.

In the midst of a whirlwind.

I don’t know how many of you still have close, “could call them at 2:00 in the morning if you needed something” friends from high school, but these guys are mine. I don’t see them very often and I never call for the hell of it and I usually screw up our group texts and I’m always the last one to show up to dinner with an excuse (that may be the real reason why I had five kids)…but I know they’re there.

I wrote them all a long overdue thank-you email last week. It was for them, certainly, but just as much for me. Somehow saying in writing, “Hey, the last six-ish years were a pretty dysfunctional mix of good and really crappy and you all listened and gave advice and called me out when I wasn’t making sense (which was more often than not) and gave me hugs and beer and lots of coffee and bigger hugs and I would have been lost without all of it so thanks” validated every reason my head has been on spin-cycle since Hutton was born. 

It made me look past the amount of time we’re able to spend together and realize that what we get out of our quarterly “let’s meet at a restaurant and order food and drinks and talk and laugh and say, ‘OK, sorry, we got distracted, finish your story (insert name here)’ over each other for three hours” keeps me going in the same way seeing each other every day for years got me through 8 to 18. 

And kept me going when I wasn’t sure I could or really wanted to. 

Look, my advice should be taken with a boulder-sized grain of salt. I have multiple kids who still crawl into our bed every night and a 3-year-old who smacks me with a gallon of milk and a bottle at 1:00 a.m. and I’ve managed to wear something other than a t-shirt and jeans once this month. 

BUT if you have friends who fall into that category, who know your history (like, “I remember when you dated so-and-so” and “I remember when you wore socks with Birkenstocks” and, most importantly in my world, “I remember when your mom…” kind of history), acknowledge it. Tell them what they mean to you. Make them laugh and cry. 

And just say, “Thanks.”