Monday, February 19, 2007

Been There & Survived It

I know God has a sense of humor: I have proof living in my house! They're ages 3 and 4 1/2, and they're the reason I invest in a different hair color every six weeks.

When that wonderful moment of life began and the doctor announced I was the new mother of a beautiful son, I looked into that adorable face (the baby's, not the doctor's) and I was filled with hope. How hard can raising a boy be? I thought.

That optimism started to fade the first time I changed a diaper without taking evasive action.
And when my second son arrived shortly after, it was obvious I was outnumbered and out of my league. Here are my top ten tried-and-true tips for moms:

10. Quiet isn't necessarily a good thing.
Quiet children are acceptable at nap time and bedtime. All other instances must be investigated. Like today, they were in their bedroom with the door shut, and they weren't making a sound. Intrigued, I walked over to the door and listened. I heard whispers and then soft giggles. How nice, I thought. The boys are playing together.

I decided to open the door gently so I could observe them in their innocent play. I pushed open the door to see my four-year-old wearing his pirate hat, sitting on top of the bunk bed and holding onto the magnetic strip of a cassette tape. As I watched, he tossed the cassette into the air, held onto the magnetic strip, and giggled as the roll of tape lofted into the air and unraveled out of the case as it headed to the floor. His younger brother sat on the bottom bunk (the dungeon), imprisoned by bars of unraveled magnetic tape strips. Thirty-five children's cassette tapes were hung all over the room.
Quiet isn't necessarily a good thing!

9. Be wary of small gifts.
Children delight in sharing treasures with the ones they love. Nothing warms the heart like a limp dandelion from the chubby fist of a toddler. But beware! One day my three-year-old came running up to me with a huge grin on his face and an outstretched arm. "Here, Mommy! Here!" he said as he dropped an odd-looking piece of lint in my hand. He then stood by to marvel at my appreciation.
"Why thank you, honey, what a beautiful . . . gesture," I said, trying desperately to figure out what it was. It looked like a tightly wadded roll of cotton thread with one loose string. I leaned closer to the unknown item in my hand, and that's when it moved. It took every ounce of restraint to keep calm and not fling the unknown thing against the wall.
I looked at my son, who was still standing there with a huge grin on his face, waiting for his praise. "Spider, Mommy!" he said. I finally realized what I was holding: a daddy longlegs with only one badly broken leg remaining.
Whoever said good things come in small packages obviously never has received a gift from my son!

8. Pictures speak 1,000 words (most of them inappropriate for small ears).
Photos of the grandkids are a must for every proud grandparent's coffee table. Getting a good photo of the child, however, isn't as easy as it looks. After spending three days battling traffic at the mall and ending up with a photo of a skinny Santa and two terrified, screaming toddlers, I decided to take our own family portrait. I dressed everyone perfectly, positioned each in front of the brightly lit tree, and set the camera on automatic. One child standing, Daddy in the middle, myself sitting. I even had the foresight to set the youngest on my lap where I could whisper sweet threats into his ear so he would smile. We took 17 pictures and then I rushed them upstairs to upload online and started signing Christmas cards.
I should have known something was wrong when my husband came down stairs looking gloomy and the boys vanished. Sixteen photos of the kids sticking out their tongues, crossing their eyes, and making goofy faces. Only one photo where the children flashed angelic smiles . . . and I had my eyes closed.

7. Washable markers are the only markers.
I never was concerned about making sure my kids used only washable markers for their art projects. After all, our kitchen table was old, and they had plenty of play clothes that could handle a few stray marks.
Big mistake. HUGE. I now have letters in random places all over my house. Mostly of the letter "H." What's great is when they are written on freshly painted walls and furniture.

6. Give specific directions.
If you say, "Go take a bath," be sure to add "and use soap, and fill the tub up with water, and take off all your clothes before you get in." You'd think these are obvious, but I've learned they aren't.

5. Let them pick their nose.
Every mom has a horror story about taking her kid(s) to the grocery store. My 20-month-old toddler was sitting in the cart, grumpy because he was late for his nap. I was eight months pregnant and struggling to maneuver the toddler, groceries, and a cart with one sticky wheel. I was nearly done when I noticed the little guy had pulled a rather nasty booger from his nose and was playing with it. Disgusted, I pulled out a tissue and wiped away the slimy treasure.
That was the final straw for him; he threw a full-blown temper tantrum. Between screams, his only distinguishable words were, "Booger! Back!" Of course there was a huge line at the checkout, and none of my sweetly whispered threats had any affect on him. Finally, out of sheer desperation, I said, "Oh for Pete's sake, just get another booger!" He stopped crying immediately and sat there contently digging in his nose. I was able to complete all my shopping in relative peace and quiet (if you don't count the hysterical laughter of the 40ish mother who stood behind me in line observing the whole ordeal).

4. Buy the warranty, no matter what.
This speaks for itself.

3. There's more to potty training than meets the eye.
I thought I'd taught my toddler everything he needed to know about the potty. But apparently I'd forgotten to mention that the bathroom is reserved for doing his business, not for monkey business.
One afternoon, my girlfriend and I sat chatting on my living room sofa. Our two toddlers were contently playing together. It wasn't long before our quiet time was interrupted by squeals of laughter. And why did we hear water running? Following the trail of giggles, we walked through our bathroom door just in time to see a Spiderman action figure shoot out of the toilet propelled by a volcano of water. Apparently 11 Matchbox cars and 1 action figure stuffed into a toilet bowl will create enough pressure to propel the six-inch Spiderman five feet. That commode still doesn't work right!

And little boys like to announce loudly, it's potty time. There's nothing like being in the middle of the store when your little one proudly proclaims, "I have to go potty now and it's poop." Even the little old lady with the hearing aid you've run into 4 times and thought couldn't hear your apology starts to laugh.

2. Teach them to pray.
Yes, it gives them a way to communicate with God, and teaches them to take their troubles to him, but it also gives them an example to follow. Then maybe when they're asked to give the Thanksgiving prayer at their preschool lunch they won't say, "God, I sure hope you have a nice turkey dinner. My mom dropped our turkey on the kitchen floor when she took it out of the oven. Please keep us safe from germs, in Jesus' name. Amen."

1. Enjoy them.
All of the gray hairs, broken dishes, and temper tantrums fade when you see them show affection, watch them share a cookie with their sibling (even though no one told them they had to), and when they say "I love you, Mom. You're the best mommy ever."