Saturday, August 10, 2013

the art of breathing

This past Wednesday night (early Thursday morning), I started a blog post (that I never published) about being on my own this week with the children since Charlie is on a business trip in California.  The post went in to great detail about how Wednesday, despite the fact that I'd been so jazzed about having a few days - on my own - with the kids, it was one of the WORST parenting days ever.

In a nutshell, here's why...

I dropped Charlie off at the airport and headed over to Costco to shop for school supplies before we went to gymnastics. If I could accomplish purchasing school supplies in early August - I'd be a rockstar, if only in my own mind, because most of the time I don't get around to buying school supplies until AFTER the school year begins. Also, for the next four weeks, we'll be very busy including several trips out of town, so I wanted to get it done while I had the chance and not leave it to Charlie to accomplish on his own. Most importantly: acts of service is my love language so this was a demonstration of my love for my husband.

So, we arrived at Costco at noon.

First and foremost, don't go to Costco at noon. Perhaps it was the lunch crowd filling the store, trying to get in and pick up a few things during their lunch hour - and grab a quick bite to eat - but the volume of people was comparable to the Saturday before the Super Bowl.

Second and secondmost, don't go to Costco looking for school supplies. Sure, they have them. Or at least some of them. But they aren't neatly organized like they are at some place like Office Depot where you'd be happy to pay twice as much because they're ALL TOGETHER.  At Costco, you'll find your pack of 16 marble covered notebooks on aisle 113 and the Lysol wipes on aisle 322 which is at the each opposite side of the store. And while this may not be a challenge ordinarily - if you're on your own - it is a BIG challenge when you're in the store with four hungry children and gymnastics that starts in less than 90 minutes.

Third and thirdmost, when you're in a rush, don't order an entire pizza at the Costco food counter. Instead opt for the slices because even those are more expensive than the "whole pizza deal" you can get those in an instant as opposed to the whole pie which will take at least 20 minutes to cook which feels like 2,000 minutes when you have four ravenous children and things to do.

All this to say: Expectations. They are the death of my peaceful attitude, every time. Whenever I approach anything, especially in parenting, with heightened expectations for myself and/or my children, I'm destined for failure.

After realizing after an agonizing 30 minutes that I couldn't possibly do my school supply shopping at Costco, we jetted over to Office Depot where I was able to procure 95% of the items on our list in less than 30 minutes.  Think Warner Brother's Roadrunner zipping around the store while throwing things in to the cart.

Beep! Beep!

The children, meanwhile, were asking, "Why do I have to have that ugly black / red / green notebook?  Why can't I have the one with the robot / hearts / baby ducks on the front?" and I tried to explain that the teacher specifically indicated that they needed these exact notebooks without any cartoons or logos and they all protested, "Awwww! Come on!"

Ditto to the pencil box question. Why does it have to be solid? Why can't it be the metal one with Iron Man; Princess; Puppies?  "Awww. Awww. Awww. This is terrible!" they told me.

I was ruining my children's school year before it even started. 

With nearly all of our school year goods supplied for three 3rd graders and one kindergartner, we went to gymnastics. I dropped off William and Elizabeth and took Carolyn and Henry with me to the gym so I could work out for a blessed 30 minutes.  (Henry's on the waiting list to join a class, and Carolyn is no longer in gymnastics. She despised it, and was miserable for two full sessions before I finally consented that she didn't have to do it anymore. And with my decision went the dream that all of my children will be engaged in the same sport. It would have been so convenient for ME if it had worked out that way. Why is it that the children can't think more about ME and my needs??)

I'd like to note that this is the first time I've been to the gym all month and my theory is that I need to go at least once a month in order to rationalize maintaining the $166/month membership.

(I've got delusions of grandiose, obviously, that one day I'll be in good shape again.)

Following the gym I went to pick up William and Elizabeth with one Henry and one Carolyn who were VERY UPSET about having to leave the gym because they were having fun. And even though I explained that we needed to get their siblings who would otherwise be sad and alone, it no matter because the world?  It revolveth around themeth and likely more than it should around meeth too, because otherwise I should have been able to better rationalize with my children why we needed to leave at that exact moment.  Instead, there were more protests of "Awww. This is terrible!" 

We arrived at gymnastics.  Children were bickering. It's my fault, of course, I know I could have managed this entire day better by just taking them to a park and letting them loose, but whatever, STOP BICKERING. At around that moment, Henry was crying because Carolyn was being mean and the reason she was being mean was because Henry was being a pill. I told them to LOVE one another and hold hands to the car, but instead Carolyn pinched him and who knows what happened and he cried, cried, cried.

I'm not sure what transpired, all I remember is that we were in the car and in the rearview mirror, I could see that there were dirty looks being given to one another and tongues being stuck out, and because I just couldn't tap the reservoir of patience that I know exists in my heart, I pulled the car off the road and snapped, "Is this how you show love or hate?  Do you want me to show you what hate looks like? Do you not understand I grew you in my body and delivered you and nursed you from my breasts and you made me bleed? WHAT IS THE JOB OF A MOTHER?" They started to answer, before I cut them off and finished, "The #1 job of a mother is to teach her children RESPECT AND KINDNESS AND LOVE TOWARDS EACH OTHER and how am I supposed to do that when you act like monsters?" Then I rambled on and on about how they have the propensity to try me to my core and why do they insist on pushing their mother over the brink of reason?


If none of this sounds challenging to you - and you're wondering why I can't just get a grip and be more of a grown-up, then I'll just kindly suggest that you haven't been out alone in public, running errands, for a full day with four children under the age of nine, in an unmedicated state, in more than a decade.

By the time we arrive home, all four of the kids are crying - which seldom occurs at this stage in life.  And because at that point I must have been partially brain impaired from the lack of oxygen in my body from my panicked breathing all day, I thought it would be a good idea to sit down and work on their workbooks once we arrived home before dinner.

That's right. After a full day of running errands, instead of letting the kids loose to blow off some childhood steam, I sat them down do to MATH because it had been several days since they'd done anything academically related and we've got to keep those brains lubed!

I should have known this was an idiotic idea and retracted my plan once I saw that it took them 30 minutes to do one question.  But no, I couldn't see the forest through the trees so we mustered on.

Not surprisingly, I got so frustrated when my children seemed to forget how to count. The specific exercise that sent me over the ledge was to write out what one dollar plus a nickel and a penny was equal to ($1.06).  My rationale was that our kids have been working with money all summer and this isn't new material. The other rationale is that the two preceding answers were $1.04 and $1.05.  So if you were to look at the question and just think about it - a little bit - you'd easily be able to tell that the answer was $1.06.

Alas, for 30 minutes ... THIRTY MINUTES ... every time I'd pop in (between dinner preparations) to see how the homework was progressing, I'd see that my child would be writing things down like, $6.06. Or $1.16. Or $1.0006 and I damn near lost my mind when this continued to happen even after I methodically wrote it out on paper and showed how the decimal place remains the same and they said, "Oh yeah! Oh yeah! I totally get it!!"

So I freaked out and said things that I'll regret for the rest of my life and I shouldn't have because my children know how to count and even if they don't ... SO WHAT??

Remember Jen?  The #1 job of a mother is to teach her children RESPECT AND KINDNESS AND LOVE TOWARDS EACH OTHER and how is she supposed to do that when she can't even demonstrate it herself, sometimes?

(Please excuse that little voice in my head, it follows me around everywhere.) 

I went to bed at nearly 3:00 AM that morning because I was up working on work. Carolyn crawled in to bed with me at 6:30 AM and told me that she couldn't sleep because she was thinking about what she wanted to be when she grows up. She sweetly asked me, "Mom, what did you want to be when you grew up?" And I looked my beautiful, precious child in the eyes and even with only three hours of sleep there was absolute clarity as I said, "I've known for as long as I've been alive that I wanted to be a mother when I grew up.  But not just any mother - YOUR MOTHER. And I'm so sorry that I said anything to hurt you and you are the most wonderfully, perfect blessing I've ever received and I pray that you'll forgive me for losing my patience."

Fast forward to today.

Today, I noticed that the days have been remarkably better which just supports my theory that people need to acclimate to being around children, full-time. They need to realize that you can't go out shopping on a hot summer day and expect that the children are going to happily follow along. But in my defense, it's definitely not easy to revert in to full-time parent status when you've spent the past several weeks with professional colleagues and then return to a houseful of children who need to be told 20 times to put on their shoes and to stop pinching one another.

We woke up this morning, had a wonderful breakfast and headed back to Costco for groceries.  Once we dropped a small fortune, we returned home, unloaded the car, had lunch, and went to the pool.  There, we met up with friends who invited us over to their home tonight for a s'mores party at 8 PM.

We left the pool at 6 PM, rushed home - showered and had dinner.  By the time we were ready to leave it was exactly 8 PM and the dog was missing. Someone had gone out earlier and he slipped out and now he was gone. Now under normal circumstances, we would have looked for the dog until we found him. But tonight, after looking for 20 minutes - I decided to leave the garage door open and go out ANYWAY because we live in an extremely quiet neighborhood that backs up to conservation land and he always comes back and I wasn't worried.  Also, good company and s'mores were waiting for us and those were two things that I really, really needed.

We arrive at the party, Carolyn is a wreck because Louie. Louie is her dog and the only reason we haven't said goodbye to Louie is because I'm worried what it would do to her.  She adores that dog, and he adores her - given the fact that he follows her everywhere and sleeps directly beneath her bed.

We make s'mores. Or rather, I make s'mores after prying (and/or blowing out) flaming marshmallows on the end of long sticks from little hands.

The kids retreat to watch a movie, and my friends pour me a glass of wine. Then they hook me up to this breathing / heart rate monitor system that they recently purchased through Heart Math and my very good friend, who is a PhD clinical psychologist was telling me about the importance of breathing and staying out of the RED ZONE.  Deep breathing is so important for your overall well being - including your heart rate and oxygen levels.

There's a lot more I could write about this, including that the company started as a means to help evaluate biometric readings for children who were struggling with math, but I'll cut to the chase that as I'm sitting there - sipping my wine and watching my breathing stabilize in the green zone (a very good thing) their phone starts ringing off the hook.

First it was Charlie - calling from California to tell me that neighbors were calling him on his cell phone because Louie was wandering all through the neighborhood and WHERE WAS I?

Then it was our neighbors calling - who had figured out from talking with Charlie that I was at this family's home that they tracked down through the school directory - and WHERE WAS I?

Everyone wanted to know if me and the children were safe, because why wouldn't we be home at 11:00 PM on a Friday night? Shouldn't the children be at home in bed, asleep?

Instead, I'm where? At a party drinking wine?? 

I looked at the little breathing apparatus in my hand as it turned from the relaxed green state, to the blue state, past red and proceeded to purple.  This is how I normally feel.  Which makes sense that I make so many poor decisions because I'm not breathing properly and my brain is devoid of oxygen when I need it the most.  You always hear people tell you to slow down and breathe and it can be tough to do when you're not consciously thinking about it (which can be tough to do when you have a lot of other things on your mind).  But this little device keeps track of it for you and reminds you with it's bright light display.  I think I need one.

In case you're wondering, at this moment, I'm safely at home. The children are happily tucked in to bed and soundly asleep after having one of the most fun evenings of their summer. The dog is asleep at my feet.  I'm breathing deeply and feeling relaxed.  All is well.   Except I'm out of chocolate, and Mama's got a serious hankering.


  1. proofreeding is highly over--ratyed. Ask anywon.

  2. I die laughing. I have 3 boys very close in age and I have felt like this all summer as we try to go about doing things. God bless school for giving me those 170 days a year to do errands by myself. I keep wondering if they ever figure out things would be so much easier if they would just keep their hands to themselves and DO WHAT I SAY!!!!! We dont live by a costco but the evil empire of SAMS is pretty close and the last 2 weeks I have ventured there to buy the vending machine package of hersheys bar, not my usual choice, but hey when you're hiding in the pantry shoveling in chocolate at 8 am I have decided any chocolate will do. Kemper

  3. Wow I am exhausted just reading that account of your day!
    There was a funny saying I saw that says "while some mums are busy making things off pinterest I consider it a good day if all my children are alive at the end of it"


  4. I really like this post. It's so real. I find myself catching a deep breath here or there and boy is it refreshing! Hang in there.

  5. I feel like you made a full confession!I abstain you from any sins you think you may have committed.
    You are doing a super job so relax and enjoy. One day, before you know it, you will long for the days when your little ones need you. It will be a big memory ---you have your blog to look to to remind you of the adventures.
    Remember "don't sweat the small stuff ---and it is all small stuff."

  6. Sounds like my trip to pick up the $100 cheater chicken (when I took the kids after work and before dinner). I think the most difficult thing about this age is that you'd think that they would be old enough to know better.