Friday, May 30, 2014

random thoughts from the sidelines of a rapidly changing landscape

Whenever people hear that I have triplets, they will always ask me how I survived when they were babies?  Wasn't it so difficult?  How in the world do you function with three babies?!  Truth be told, I don't recall the infant stage being all that difficult. Sure, I was tired. And I'm certain there are certain things I'm forgetting, like the feeling of sheer desperation when it was 2 AM and I'm feeding one baby and still have two more to feed, including one that tends to get fussy and may not want to go right back to sleep, and by the time they do finally go back to sleep - the other two will be crying and ready to eat again. But that time didn't last too long, because we had them solidly sleeping through the night before they were six-months-old and then I had a lot of free time on my hands.

Actually, my memory of those days is really fading and the most challenging (and wonderful) stage is always the one I'm currently in.  Although, I do know that if I was uber-organized before I had children, my organizational psychosis reached a whole new level once I became a mother. To be organized is to be in control (or something like that), and my survival depended upon my organization.  My keen organizational skills actually kept my children alive, too.  I'm sure of it. 

Knowing when my tiny premature babies ate, and set off their heart monitor, and took their litany of life-sustaining medications was absolutely critical, so I tracked everything in an Excel spreadsheet which I'd cart with me everywhere I went.  

Control of Our Children's Schedules? CHECK!   

Around the time the babies were 10-months old, our pediatrician told me I could start weaning myself off the Baby Binder because he really didn't need to see a bar chart for every time they pooped.  The Baby Binder went away, but that intense organizational focus just shifted to other things. And so it is, I became consumed with things like toy - book - game - food - clothes - and pantry organization.  When we lived in our 1,600 square foot house in San Diego, people who visited would tell us they'd never suspect we had four small children because our house didn't look like a twister had swept through Toys R' Us and straight in to our living room. We had a lot of toys, but they were always precisely stashed somewhere when not in use.

Control of Our Living Space? CHECK!  

Even though we now live in a much larger house, I'm still meticulous about picking up toys and organizing our living space because clutter cripples me.  Clutter leads to the confusion of not knowing where things are, and taking the time to find things, takes time away from other things that I'd much rather be doing: things like skipping in the sunshine and chasing butterflies with my children.  So as I'm swiping armfuls of random things in to the trash, I'm doing it because the Less I Have to Organize And Put Away, The More Time I'll Have With The People I Love.  

Time. It's slipping through my fingers all the time.

That is precisely why I'll walk around the house at least once a week with an empty trash bag and fill it to the brim with paperwork, toys, partially complete games, and random clothes.  I don't know where or how things keep coming in to our house, because I very rarely bring anything new in, but there is a seemingly endless supply of things to get rid of and so I do.  Our children, now that they are a bit older, know that they better pick things up and put them away, appropriately. Or they better hide them extremely well, because I'm ruthless about throwing things away.

Control of The Vast Amount of Stuff That Comes Through the Door? CHECK! 

But what I'm realizing is that as the children grow older and more independent, my organizational and hence, control skills, are morphing in to the shape of a pretzel.  The kids, as they nudge closer to the edge of the nest and continually test their wings to fly, are learning to be more responsible, but they're not there just yet.  And my ability to control four kids and all their stuff now, is a lot harder than it was when they were little and stuck behind baby gates. Also, I work outside of the home more now than I did before, so I'm distracted from the Art of Controlling Our Lives, and when I actually have the opportunity to slow down and take inventory, I tend to get overwhelmed because I realize, I'm not in control the way I once was. Looking ahead, I see that I'll have even less control as the children continue to grow, so I need to gracefully adapt. 

I'm not very graceful. 

This entire week, Charlie is in California for the second time this month.  That means I've been working from home on single parent duty and IT IS SO DIFFICULT.  I have no idea how single parents do this everyday.  The act of getting the children up and dressed and out the door to school on time, and then working-working-working, until it is time to pick them up from the bus and feed them and do after school activities and dinner before getting them ready for bed, and then working-working-working is exhausting on every level of existence: physical, mental, spiritual.

I haven't had a chance to do any laundry since this past weekend.  I think there are at least seven loads waiting for me. I also haven't had a chance to go to the grocery store. Today, I packed the children whatever I could find in the cupboards.  Included in my kindergartner and third grade lunch boxes were pickled beets, mandarin oranges, cottage cheese, cashews and string cheese.  The kids started to complain but I told them, "It's all we have and I promise it's better than what you'd eat in the cafeteria, anyway."  They replied in unison it would be the worst day ever, and I laughed because I knew that my children's perception of my culinary awesomeness from the Dirt Cups earlier this week wouldn't last long.

As I was cleaning up this morning, I found that someone had used a full-sized bath towel to wash something in the sink, and had left that sopping wet towel on the floor so that it soaked through the carpet and left a water mark on the hardwood floor, below. A few minutes later, I found banana peels beneath the couch cushions, and I'm drawn by the stench to a half eaten turkey sandwich that has been left in a drawer for who knows how long.  This is how it goes whenever I'm at home. My realization of what I perceive to be the Family Train Falling Off The Well Controlled Tracks inevitably happens.  It's so much easier when I leave in the morning and Charlie confronts all of the child-impacts to our home.  Charlie doesn't lose his cool about sandwiches in drawers, or soaking wet towels on the floor.  He never loses his cool, so I think it must be a hormonal chemical imbalance thing for me? Or maybe Charlie's the one chemically imbalanced because it really doesn't seem normal that he is always so calm. Does it??

Yesterday morning as I was packing lunches, I realized that the kids have lost not one - not two - but eight water bottles since the start of the school year.  Where are these water bottles going, pray tell? If I was the primary responsible person responsible for putting away water bottles every day, instead of allowing others to complete this task, would I have realized our significant inventory shortage sooner, and perhaps discovered the black hole vortex of water bottles?  

Yesterday afternoon, one of our lovely neighbors, an elderly man from China, came over to drop off a gift for each of the children. Our neighbor, who doesn't speak a word of English, had handcrafted the most beautiful Chinese double-wheeled windmills for the kids.  They were constructed of delicate paper and bamboo and made a clicking noise when moved by the wind.  What I should have done is let the children LOOK at them, and then put them away until they are 35.  But I what I did is let them PLAY with them for a few minutes.  It only took two minutes before Henry and William's windmills were in pieces because they had turned them in to cars that they were trying to race down the driveway.  At this moment, only one windmill is still fully intact and it makes me wonder, would these toys have survived if they were played with by Chinese children?  Do Chinese children lack the destructive gene? If I wasn't distracted putting away dishes, would the windmills still be in tact?

Do Chinese parents blink?  

Also yesterday afternoon, I received my umpteenth e-mail from a teacher indicating that someone hasn't turned in their homework and it is really important that they complete their homework each night. In an effort to defend myself against the stigmatizing overwhelmed and neglectful triplet parent persona, I wrote back to the teacher, "I know that they did their homework, because I physically sat on them while they completed it.  I even checked their homework to ensure it was correct, and made sure that they put it in their backpack." I guess the fact that I wasn't there at school hovering over their shoulder to make sure they turned it in, was the stumbling block.  

Every so often, I toy with the idea of NOT cornering the kids to do their homework.  If they don't want to do it, they'll suffer the consequences, not me.  (Remind me of that if I ever wonder why our 40-year old adult children are still living with us.)  I've tried that approach and have even told the teachers that it really is the children's responsibility and I'm going to take a more laissez-faire stance. But then I feel guilty because they're only nine and I feel like I should be more involved. With a whole lot of energy, I can control that homework gets done. But as demonstrated yesterday, I can't control their ability to turn that homework in, or want to learn and further apply themselves in school.

I think there are some pretty good statistics out there that parents with advanced degrees are more likely to have children that eventually go to college. Especially children who can rapidly deconstruct a double-wheeled Chinese windmill. If so, I'd like to play that card, please.  In the meantime, instead of pushing them too hard, I'm encouraging them to GO PLAY OUTSIDE. They've been inside a school for eight hours a day, are they really going to learn something more in that ninth hour with me?  And if so, then perhaps I should be their primary teacher for the other eight hours a day, too.  Ah yes, homeschool.  I still entertain the thought of you every single day. 

Last night, I found a water bill in our children's bedroom. Because I'm manage all of our finances, I was actually waiting this bill to come in and was planning to call about it over the weekend if I didn't receive it, today.  It was tucked in my child's desk because they had collected the mail from our mailbox earlier in the month, and were planning to pretend like they were paying bills, too.  When I opened the bill, I saw that it was the SECOND NOTICE and our water service would be turned off by May 29th (yesterday) if it wasn't paid immediately. Fortunately for me and the seven loads of laundry I have to do, when I called the customer service line to pay the bill over the phone,  I was able to talk with someone and I learned that our service provider had changed recently and the bill I electronically paid last month, was routed to the incorrect provider.

Because there are 16,000 other people in Fairfax who recently changed water providers and may not know it yet, a large number of those new customers have also received second notices for cessation of service. Fortunately for the 16,000 of us that do not have locking mailboxes and children who may hide bills, the new provider is totally overwhelmed and extremely short-staffed, so doesn't have the resources to turn off water for another few weeks. But something tells me that if I hadn't paid the bill, our water would have been among the first turned off. 

This morning, as I was walking home from dropping the kids off at the bus stop, I see that the sliding door to our van is wide open from yesterday. Or maybe Tuesday. I can't recall the last time I left the house.  All I know is that it's been raining since the last time I was in the car, so the inside resembles a marsh filled with random debris. Crayons. Wrappers. Cub Scout patches. Oh, look! Two water bottles!!!  The battery is dead so I'll need to get a jump start from a neighbor, since Charlie and his truck are gone, before I can go to the grocery store. Or anywhere else for that matter.

I pray so much for patience, but it often eludes me.  And I feel like such a hypocrite, because I'm always preaching about how important it is to be kind and exert love in everything we do, and then I say something, or do something, that completely undermines my message.  The kids are developing their own attitudes and testing the water with things they have picked up along the way.  They will provoke each other and instead of being graceful, I'll get so worked up everyone is in tears.  I'll repeat myself once, twice, three times and more often than not, I'm not able to breathe deeply enough, or bite my tongue hard enough and KABOOM!  Then I'll beat myself up over my shortcoming and swear it will never happen again until ten minutes later, it happens again. This morning, I tried a new tactic when William and Henry were fighting over something (?) and I put them both outside and locked the door. As I closed the door I said, "You can come in once you've worked it out.  I really can't handle the noise of your bickering so you need to get it resolved elsewhere. Good-bye."   

It probably sounds counter-intuitive, but I know that if I had more time each day with them, I'd be more accustomed to children, and wouldn't have to re-calibrate whenever I'm on solo-parent duty.  As Charlie and I told the children recently, their brains won't be fully developed until they're in their 20's, so as their parents, we just need to remain CALM and remind ourselves that everything we are facing is perfectly NORMAL.  Although I'm really surprised at some of the things I've found myself repeatedly saying that I never thought I'd utter to another "normal" human being.   

While I might think that the children would have heard the message loud and clear the first time, that usually isn't the case.  As a sampling: 
  • Please don't brush the dogs teeth with yours (and/or your brother's or sister's) toothbrush.
  • Please wear underwear. Just trust me on this ... underwear are your friend. 
  • Please don't throw rocks / sticks / objects and hit your sibling in the head. 
  • Please flush. Just do it, it's really not that difficult and actually kind of fun. 
  • Please don't wipe your bottom and throw the dirty toilet paper on the bathroom floor. 
A new one that I've recently added, "Please don't take mail out of the mailbox and hide it.  If I unintentionally miss a bill and have to scrub seven loads of laundry on a washboard in our back creek because we have no water, I might have to be institutionalized."

I hope it doesn't sound like I'm complaining. That's not my intent in writing this.  I'm documenting these memories of parenthood for future reference so I can one day look back and remember the good old days. Because these really are the good old days.  I just wish these insanely fast flying days had more hours in them, or I required less sleep.

An industrial self flushing toilet that doesn't clog easily would be very nice, too.