Happy 4th Birthday, Little Buddy

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Last Thursday our baby turned four.  FOUR.  It sounds so cliche to say but HOLY HELL does time fly.  It seems like just yesterday I was telling Andy that if he really didn’t want three kids, I would be ok with it…only for him to tell ME that after years being convinced otherwise, he was now on board.

Yes.  That would be our Quinn.

While pregnant with Quinn, I was constantly reminded of my age.  Perhaps it was because I had two other kids to take care of or because it had been over four years since my body had been through this little nine-month roller coaster, but I like to think that it was because the OB nurses LITERALLY reminded me every time I saw them.

“Hi Alex, we’ll need to take some blood again.  Because you’re of advanced age.”

Old and pregnant.  Super.

At 28 weeks along, we had a major scare; Quinn’s heart rate shot through the roof and as we were whisked off to labor and delivery, I’d never been so terrified in my entire life.  Was the baby going to die?  Was I going to die, leaving Andy to raise Ben and Georgia and this preemie?  It was horrible….for both of us.  Although his little heart fixed itself within an hour (apparently babies in utero “can just do that,” WHAAAT?!), it was a very tense last trimester and I knew I wouldn’t feel completely at ease until he was born healthy.

Well, he was.  VERY healthy.  And extremely explosive.

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You see, our baby has been a tornado long before he even existed.  He kept us on our toes while in the womb and hasn’t stopped since.  Labeled a “Happy Spitter” by his pediatrician, he barfed for 10 months straight but never failed to grow.  He spent his first year being passed from one parent to another while his brother played soccer and baseball and served as a kind of mascot for the 9-year old Summer Travel team.  He was treated like a living baby doll by his big sister who, despite her 4 1/2 years, would pick him up every time I turned my back.  He has been loved.

Photo1Of course, as he’s grown up he’s asserted himself into this family (and the world in general) like a tiny dictator when he so chooses.  A typical third child, he’ll bark when he wants something because if he doesn’t, he might not get heard.  He fought me for six months when it came to potty training (I’m forever scarred) but now frequently insists that I come admire his “handiwork.”  And despite a bad back, he can STILL get me to carry him when he wants.

That being said, he’s still the little boy who jumped out of the car with me on the ride home from daycare to admire a rainbow stretching across the afternoon sky.  His excitement upon finding his new Power Ranger Halloween costume was priceless (“IT’S THE BEST THING I EVER SAW!”) and I still can’t help myself from getting one last look at him before I go to sleep.  He has definitely been worth it all.

IMG950101And besides, what other four year old do YOU know who’s poop “looks JUST like a dolphin?”  Kid’s a keeper.

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Savoring the Moment

It’s Back to School time and I for one am thrilled.  Back to routine, back to schedules, back to kids using their minds instead of their thumbs (video games and TV clickers have gotten some serious mileage in the two weeks since camp ended).  Laundry was done, clothes were laid out and hair was washed as we prepared for Day 1.

My oldest began 7th grade at a new private school but luckily, Andy works there and had the lay of the land down.  While it didn’t make it worry-free for Ben (far from it…when an adolescent actually ADMITS to being nervous, you know it’s serious), all the preparations had been made.  He had finished his summer reading, had a closet full of collared shirts and even brand new sneakers that actually fit him.  I owe all of that to his Dad.

IMG_8260Georgia, however, seemed to fall under my jurisdiction and clearly, I had dropped the ball.  She spent the day before school finishing the 10 pages left in her summer math book (whoops), and hunkered down in my office while I worked.  A matholympics done at a snail’s pace, she finally finished at 7:34 pm and I told myself that it would be fresher in her memory this way.  Before going to bed, I tried to play the part of the organized mom by suggesting we pack her bag for the First Day of School.  And that’s where it all unraveled.

Upon pulling the backpack from a dusty corner of her room, I was floored by how heavy it was and as the words left my mouth, I wanted to pull them back in.

“Why is this so heavy?  What’s inside?”

Oh. THAT would be everything that’s been sitting in there since the last day of school.  In other words…Mom of the Year never even went through her bag to see what she had done in second grade.  Everything from her pencil box to her journal and even the note from the incoming teacher on what the kids should be armed with for third grade was in there (I REALLY could have used that before bedtime); even her pink fleece jacket was stuffed at the bottom (mystery solved).  To be honest, I was actually relieved that I didn’t find an empty carton of milk and bag of rotten grapes in there too.  Guess I got lucky.

ImageIt occurred to me that June seems like a lifetime ago.  I can’t remember how busy the last day of school was (my guess now is VERY) or what she wore or even what the date was, but life got so crazy that I forgot to stop and savor the moment.  I decided to fix that immediately by pulling out her journal and we read some of the passages together.  What I found out was pretty amazing.

Georgia won her soccer game 6-1 in September and had fun meeting her cousins’ goats in October.  She played with a bunny named Thumper in November, and was so proud of how her Christmas tree looked.  Staying up until midnight on New Years Eve made her year and the Easter Bunny brought her hair elastics and nail polish and hair clips (she loves Easter).  She also declared that if she were President, she would make a law never to hurt anyone because “if you do you could go to jail.  I know you wouldn’t want that.”

I realized that so often as parents, we forget to slow down.  We need to remember that It’s ok to say no to volunteering for another committee or to meeting people after work or even (gasp!) to take a day off once in a while.  It all goes so fast and while I’m glad that I have Georgia’s journal to keep forever, I’m sad that I missed that moment with her in June.  Never again.

After all, I could be raising one heck of a future President.  Time to step it up.

Confessions of a 41-year old Mom

As parents we like to believe that our children see us as perfect adults who have all the answers.  And while they are young, we may actually have them fooled…but it’s fleeting.  As they get older (and mouthier), they start calling us out on those deep dark secrets that we’ve hidden for so many years.

Recently I found my 12-year old and his friend watching a movie that, well, let’s just say had grossed out even me.  He said, “Don’t worry Mom, I won’t tell anyone.  You know I’ve seen worse.”  And in a way, it was true.  At that moment I realized it was time to come clean about my own dirty parenting secrets, so here goes.

  1. Even though I roll my eyes when the kids demand to listen to their Top 40 Pop radio in MY car, there are a few of them that I actually like.  No, LOVE.  As in, when-I’m-in-the-car-by-myself-I-crank-the-volume kind of love.  “Troublemaker” by Olly Murs and Flo Rida comes to mind, as does “Blurred Lines.”  And when it’s just Ben and me in the car, we jam to Justin Timberlake’s “Suit and Tie.”  The non-edited-for-radio version.  Don’t judge.
  2. photo-42This is a terrible one but since I’m baring all: I hate pushing kids on swings.  I realize that this ranks me like, one tiny rung above Joan Crawford, but for me it is the most mind-numbing activity and the fact that children can do it for hours on end makes it all the more painful.  I see all those happy Moms, smiling and pushing, smiling and pushing…and on the surface I try to keep up appearances but on the inside I’d swear my teeth actually itch.  I’m not proud.
  3. I hate broccoli.  I mean, I had Ben and Georgia fooled for years…or rather, I had become very adept at distraction and sleight of hand whenever they would notice that they were eating it and I was not.  I have tried my whole life to like it as I know it’s SO good for you and of course I want to lead by example, but the truth of the matter is that I simply cannot stand it.  I can stomach broccoli if it’s buried deep inside a quiche or drowning in melted cheese but really, I would eat wood chips if they were prepared that way.
  4. photo-36During the summer, we often count trips to the swimming pool as bathing.  I really try to have them take a shower or bathe at least every other day but sometimes there is so much going on between camp and work and baseball and neighborhood friends that by the time they saunter on home, it’s dark and I’m tired and, well…they’re sort of clean.  All hail, chlorine!
  5. I’ve mentioned the age-inappropriate movie that Ben was watching, but there’s more.  The older kids watch “Big Brother,” which is SO dumb that you can almost hear your IQ dropping during the course of an episode.  Georgia and Ben have seen “Jaws” and love it (at least they have great taste but still, it’s terrifying).  And one time I smiled as Georgia and Quinn were snuggled up under a blanket, looking so cute watching TV, only to realize that they were watching “The Hunger Games.”  Quinn is 3 1/2.  Needless to say, that was flipped off immediately but still?  Oh, Mother of the Year.
  6. photo-41Despite my complaining, I’ve grown to love Elvis the dog.  Sure, he still poops on the dining room rug now and then and always has a crusty tail (because he drools in his crate and then rolls in it) and did I mention that he suffers from separation anxiety?  Despite it all, that mangy mutt has found a place in my heart.  Of course, now it’s a dirty corner of my heart that smells like dog but still, there it is.  Ugh.

So while I realize that I am far from perfect, I ask you honestly, what parent is?  Maybe the kids will see that I don’t judge other Moms because people in glass houses don’t throw stones and therefore acceptance is what is paramount.  Yeah, that’s the grand teaching that I’ll impart upon them…not that it’s okay to dress up like a pickle while you swim through vinegar on national television in hopes of winning $500,000.  It’s really all about acceptance.

That’s my gift to my children.  And to my fellow imperfect parents.  Ya’lls are welcome.

“I wish I were an only child” and other heartwarming sentiments

“MOMMMMM, Ben (insert abusive act here) me!”

“No, I didn’t.  Georgia, I didn’t even TOUCH you!”

“Yes you did, you pushed me to the ground!”

“Mom, I wish I were an only child.”

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Smiles brought to you by threats and ice cream.

Groannnnn…

I don’t know about you, but at my house it seems as though the kids spend 97% of their time actually looking for ways to annoy each other.  I daresay it’s actual sport at Chez Shumway; so much so that even the 3 1/2 year old has gotten into the game and ever the competitive child, has bypassed J.V. and gone straight to the starting Varsity lineup.

Take for example, Sunday morning.  I awoke to Quinn “Bullhorn” Shumway climbing into bed with us around 7:15 and demanding to watch “the movie that I watch yesterday with the man.”  Huh?

I digress.

So there we were, enjoying some quiet time with the little guy (quiet because we both had pillows over our heads) while the older two seemed to be downstairs in the playroom peacefully watching something else.  Of course, they could have been “peacefully watching Platoon” but as long as there was no arguing then who was I to judge?  I came downstairs around 7:45 and while pouring myself a cup of coffee, the kerfuffle ensued:

“Ben hit me!”  “No I didn’t!”  “Yes you did!”  “NO, GEORGIA, I DIDN’T.”  “OOOWWWWWW!  MOMMMMM!”

At that point, who really needs caffeine?

We have tried reasoning, threatening, ignoring, everything (they’ll probably put the quote “I don’t care!  SELF-GOVERN!” on my tombstone).  We’ve explained that if they fight with each other, they will both get in trouble so remember to think about that before running to Andy and me.  If they work to resolve the dispute – which is usually over uber-important issues like one’s feet touching the other’s leg, one breathing too heavily, or Heaven forbid, the deadliest of all sins, changing the channel from one’s favorite tv show – then we will applaud their diplomacy rather than send them to their rooms.

Another (oft ignored) suggestion – albeit somewhat radical – is this: if your brother/sister is annoying you, go to one of the 14 other rooms in the house.  Unfortunately this doesn’t apply to Quinn as, at 3 1/2, he desperately craves the company of others and will follow you wherever you go.  He has so mastered his craft of annoying the other two that they have to literally hide from him to escape his reign of terror.  While Ben and Georgia may  have such skewed versions of the truth that COMPLETELY contradict one another, Quinn is totally irrational which makes it like trying to reason with a crazy person.

“Mom, Quinn just broke my Lego plane that I built.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Quinn, we all just saw you do it.  Pick it up.”

“I didn’t play with the cars and yesterday at camp when my counseluh tells me to swim with a noodle, I go in the pool and my friend Jonathan went under water…”

You get the idea.

I’m told that at some point, this will pass.  I mean, my father used to refer to my younger sister as my sparring partner and now we’re best friends, so I’ve got to assume that they’ll grow out of it.  In the meantime, however, I’ll be hoping for some sort of Olympic “Annoying” Event in which my children can bring home the gold.  Ain’t no one can touch these three.

Either that, or make sure there’s a pillow within reach at all times.  Positioned correctly, they can bring peace to any household.

Do as I say, not as I do, children…

So last night as I was leaving Ben’s 27th baseball game in three days, I was carrying too much and as I stepped over the wooden fence to get to my car, I whacked the top of my left foot on the wooden post.  Hard.

Ummm…ouch.

After a few choice words I limped to my car and cursed myself – literally – for not being more careful.  When I got home (foot throbbing), I noticed that I was bleeding.  Despite the mind-numbing pain, I put a wet paper towel and a bag of frozen peas on it, propped it on a pillow and went to bed.

“I’m fine, right?” I asked Andy.  “You’re totally fine,” he told me, “the fact that it’s bruised and swollen is fine, your foot just needs to heal.”  After 14 years of marriage he’s learned that telling me what I want to hear is always the best course of action.

ImageAfter keeping it elevated today during work, I had decided that I would take it easy, “walk it off” and wait for it to feel better.  There was no way I was going to the ER and DEFINITELY no way I was going to settle for it being really injured, because that would destroy my summer plans.

At tonight’s baseball game I asked for the expert opinion of a friend who’s an oncology nurse but as she was heading to work and even had her scrubs on I figured that I was covered (right?!).  Her raised eyebrows and insistence that I ice it more and “keep an eye on it” made it clear that perhaps I may just be shrugging off something I shouldn’t be.

I mean seriously, busy parents out there, who has time to go to the doctor?  Or the patience to sit through x-rays (oh and that co-pay alone that could be better spent on things like swim trunks for the boys or hell, more wine to numb the pain)?  I had a full day of work, a tournament game of Ben’s to attend and kids to ferry around.  An injured foot, for the love of GOD?   I don’t think so.  That is SO not fitting into my life right now.

I remember my father falling off a ladder when he was in his late 70s.  My younger sister still tells the story about how, despite the fact that he was clearly in severe pain, Dad had told her not to call the ambulance because “Christ, I’ll walk it off.  I’ll be fine.”  When he eventually wound up in a cast (broken foot), we never let him forget it.  As I recall, he didn’t want to go sit in the ER and suffer the co-pay.

Where EVER do I get this from?

My Mom says it’s the Irish in me…we don’t go to the doctor unless there is an actual organ protruding from our bodies and as for a high fever, I learned from her long ago that after a hand to the forehead, you say to the child that “You-ah cool as a cucumbah,” feed them a Bufferin or Baby Aspirin (at least in 1977) and off to school you go.  We are tough stock.  Not exactly Mensa candidates, but tough nonetheless.

Of course, if one of the kids had done this I’d have them in the doctors office so fast their eyes would spin but I’ll be honest, much of the reason would be that if they had gotten injured, it would mean time off of sports and constant complaining at home.  Then they’d REALLY be injured.

So do as I say, not as I do, kids.  That’s my prerogative as parent.  I’m Irish.  And I’m tough.

Just don’t step on my foot.

Middle School Finals: do what you gotta do, ‘rents.

This week I learned a valuable lesson in parenting a pre-teen and I’d like to share it here.

Embrace bribery.

photo-25As Ben headed into his first week of finals in Middle School, he had good grades – all A’s and B’s.  He knew as well as we did that in order to finish strong and have a shot at all A’s, he’d have to hunker down and crush every test.  He also knew (because I told him about 25 times a day and even whispered in his ear while he slept) that the surest way to achieve this was to study.  And that, I explained to him, would involve quiet time in his room with a book open on his lap, reviewing the past few terms.

“I got it, Mom, I think I’m prepared.”

Hmmm.

I’ll give it to him, he went through study guides and seemed to recall most subjects pretty well.  We’d have him practice using ethos, pathos and logos persuasion in real situations like, “Ben, using ethos, tell me why you shouldn’t have to study for another half an hour.”

As you can imagine, he nailed that one.

When it came to the math final however, he and I went to blows.  You need to understand, I totally get math.  For me, the logic completely makes sense; I’m careful and methodical and write everything down.  Ben, however, is a big “yeah, I got it” kind of guy and that, to me, screamed “I’m unprepared.”

Batten down the hatches, kids…there’s a storm comin’.

photo-26As Ben and I argued incessantly (I, of course, was right), he got angrier and more stubborn and I became more insistent on “helping him.”  As I’ve stated before, I am Alpha Dog in this house when I’m sure of myself, so I had all but declared summer vacation canceled when I noticed a turning point.

On Sunday afternoon in the car ride back from New Hampshire, he studied.  When we got home, he went to his room and with his math pages spread out over his bed, he prepared.

“I knew he’d realize I was right.”

As we went to bed that night I remarked to Andy how proud I was of Ben and that it was great to see him embracing responsibility.  Our boy was growing up.

“Yeah, either that,” Andy explained, “or it could be that I told him that if he got an 86 or better I’d pay him $50 and if he he got an 85 or below, he’d owe ME.”

The day after the exam, I was sitting in the lobby of an ad agency waiting for my meeting when I got a text from Ben:

103 on my math final

You know, at first I was disappointed that it took a financial reward to get Ben to get an A+ but then I realized, what motivates any of us?  I mean, I love my job but I’ll admit that I don’t give it my all SOLELY because I want my Mom to be proud; I do a great job because I’m getting paid.  And although it’s not Ben’s choice to go to school, there are many days where working full time may not necessarily be my choice either.  But there I am, doing my best, making a salary because, let’s face it, the aforementioned pre-teen and his siblings tend to cost a bomb and I intend on going the extra mile because my bank account sure could use it.

So at the end of the day, I’m down with motivating my kids by pressing the right buttons.  While I’d love for them to strive for excellence based on a desire to change the world, I’ll settle for a couple bucks or Taylor Swift concert tickets (Lord help me if that carrot ever has to be offered).  When I told my client today about Ben’s final, this intelligent young woman with a good job admitted that her parents had paid her $20 for As and $10 for Bs.  And just look at her now.

Hey, if it keeps going in this direction I’ll be working harder than ever before…not to pay off the mortgage but rather to fund the blooming intellectuals I’m raising.

Maybe I’m not so good at math after all.

Kickin’ it on the Soccer Field: Tips from a Hapless Coach

After three years and six seasons of coaching Georgia’s soccer team, I have decided to hang up my clipboard and whistle and call it a day.

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Alright, sure, I never actually owned either – and my soccer skills are lacking to say the least (never having actually played makes it hard on that front) – but I have definitely picked up a few things along the way. A friend told me a while back that when the girls are little, you don’t need to know much more than which way to kick the ball and how to hug them when they fall down (which is a lot).  Now that they are older however, I am quite sure that most of them are on to me; any time I’m asked to “demonstrate” something, I divert their attention with funny story or explain that I just got a pedicure and can’t possibly be kicking balls around.  While I seem to have gotten away with it by the skin of my teeth, I credit a few things I’ve learned and would like to impart my wisdom on other future inexperienced-but-backed-into-a-corner-by-their-child-to-coach soccer coaches.  By following these five easy tips, you too can become a 8-and-under coaching phenom!

  1. Picking the Team Name – the first practice is always terrifying.  “Will they listen to me?  Will they ever score a goal?  How the hell am I going to fill an entire hour of soccer practice?”  A good/hack coach can stretch this little exercise to eat up at least 30 minutes.  Begin with the shirt color (little kids need a starting point) and work from there.  We’ve been “The Golden Soccer Players,” the “Purple People Eaters,” and my personal favorite, “The Silver Bullets.”  Nothing like telling people your team of 6-year old girls is named after a beer.
  2. IMG_0099The “Assistant” Coach – this can mean the difference between a leading a skilled and confident team and trying to organize a pack of wild monkeys.  Although I’ve always been the “Head” Coach (which at this level simply means I’m on the league email list and have to bring the soccer balls to practice), I’ve never been without an Assistant  who actually knows what he’s doing.  It’s because of my seconds-in-command that my girls knew how to do throw-ins, corner kicks and pull-back turns.  It’s because of me that the balls were always fully inflated.
  3. Ice packs – when your girls fall to the ground writhing in pain because they took a stray ball to the face or tripped over their untied cleats, make sure to have copious amounts of ice packs in the soccer bag.  Nothing makes an “injured” soccer player feel better than being able to grab that white pack, punch it until the stuff inside breaks and mixes to get cold.  Like a toddler with a Band-Aid (“my belly hooots, I need a Band-Aiiiiid!”), the allure of the ice pack can cure any ailment.  Next time I have an angry client, I might consider pulling one out of my bag to see if it solves the problem.  “Sorry your expensive ad campaign didn’t work, but…ice pack?”
  4. A drill is drill is a drill – IMG_0093alright, my soccer knowledge is limited to one college intramural game (they needed an extra body) and many years of watching from the sideline, but I did play four years of High School lacrosse and so therefore I used what I had in my arsenal.  On the few occasions when I was coaching alone, my girls basically played lacrosse without sticks.  Shout out to Wayland High’s Coach Nelson, the Purple People Eaters often played her game.  And three years in, I still have to stop myself from calling the offense “the attack.”  Old habits die hard.
  5. Give good hugs – Schmaltz alert: I am really going to miss my team.  What I lack in actual knowledge of the game, I make up for with high fives, cheers and bear hugs.  The way I see it, I haven’t earned the right to be too authoritative when it comes to skills so I need to rely on positive reinforcement.  It seemed to work (I think we won a lot…I’ll admit, I’m not really sure of our record) and I saw more smiles than tears.  A winning season in my book.

And so, while I’m somewhat relieved to let go of my coaching duties, I’ll miss my kids greatly.  Having spent three years with them and watching them go from little girls who skipped (the wrong way) on the field to great players who passed the ball and played as a team, they’ve become a big part of my life.  And even if I didn’t teach them much more than how to break an ice pack, what they gave me is something that I’ll never forget.