Teenagers are lucky to be alive. . .

Honestly, I don’t think I’m a bad parent, or an “inhuman monster” as my son declared today. He was furious with me for “bullying” my other son, his twin brother. Nevermind the fact that the twin brother had repeatedly spoken to me disrespectfully, refused to do his work and interrupted my instructions with comments like, “I don’t care!” and “I’m not going to do it.”

Finally, at my wits’ end, I dialed the phone and said to my husband, “Please, just listen to this.” And then I repeated the instructions to my son while holding the phone between us. I said, “Please write down the formula and then do the work.” He said, “Okay.” Then I said, “Thanks,” to my husband and hung up.

And then, out of his father’s hearing, my son started up again, refusing to do his work, arguing with me.

I dialed again. This time, my husband spoke directly to my son who began to cry.

All this because the boy refused to write down the formula, plug in the numbers and solve the problem. Four problems, to be exact.

Teenagers make me long for the days of tantrums and diapers. Teenagers make me nostalgic for the days of spilled sippy cups and plastic toys all over the floor. Teenagers make me view their toddlerhoods through the gauzy film of selective memory. Ah, they were so cute! Even better were the days before they had language and all they could do was cry. Crying seems preferable, after a day like today when my teenager told me in no uncertain terms what he thinks of my parenting.

I excelled as the parent of twin babies, twin toddlers and twin preschoolers. However, just to keep the universe in balance, I fail miserably as the parent of twin teenagers. At least that’s what they’ll tell you.

(I’d like to resign now.)

Untitled Just Because

Today the half-day of school was canceled because the power was out at the school.  However, we had power here at home.  So, all my boys had the day off and they spent their free time bickering, arguing and annoying one another and thus, annoying me.

I made the 13-year old twins watch “Schoolhouse Rock” on DVD as their “school” for the day.  And later, they chose to watch a Disney movie, “Robin Hood,” for awhile.  My daughter spent most of her time this morning outside, chasing and running and pretending.  Despite the fifty-something degree temperatures, she refused to wear even a jacket.  This child does not get cold.

I spent my day pondering the absence of the word “flang” in the English language.  If you have “sing, sang, sung,” why don’t you have “fling, flang, flung”?  I cannot let this conundrum go.

Hodge-podge

Thick fog greeted us Friday morning when I took the children–my own four, plus two extras, to the pumpkin patch again.  My 8-year old missed our first outing and wanted to pick out a pumpkin.  And I knew all the kids would love seeing the baby animals again.  The farm has six kittens, a lamb, two baby goats (kids?), two piglets, a calf, ducklings and two ponies.  The children are allowed to enter each enclosure and pet the animals. 

So, off we went, leaving at 9:30 a.m. and arriving before the farm even opened.  The sun shone at the farm but the ground was damp and moisture hung in the air.  We sneaked in anyway, blending in with a preschool co-op that arrived before we did.  My 8-year old picked out a 57 pound pumpkin and one of my twins picked out a 31 pound pumpkin.  I picked out half a dozen Granny Smith apples and the 2-year old picked out a baby pumpkin.  My daughter begged for a bag of potato chips.

We returned home at about 11:00 a.m. and I launched into full panic-attack cleaning mode because at 11:45 a.m., a local (very small) newspaper reporter was due to arrive.  She’d already interviewed my husband about our participation in our state’s virtual academy (Washington Virtual Academy) and she wanted to ask me a few questions, talk to the boys and take their pictures.

The boys were not happy about three things:

1)  I ordered them around, like hired help.

2)  I insisted that they comb their hair.

3)  I requested that they change into decent shirts.

I was shoving dishes into the dishwasher and relocating the paper-piles from my desk and sweating lightly when I asked one of my 13-year old boys to sweep.  He did so, but with an exasperated sigh.  “Why do we have to do this?”

I said, “Because that lady is coming.”

He squinted at me, held the broom aloft and said, “This is just like dad’s sermon.  You know, where he talked about people cleaning up before they have people over . . . how they pretend, you know.  This is just like that.  This is just a big charade!  No one lives like this!”

(I thought he was talking about hypocrisy, pure and simple, but my husband told me he’d been talking about hospitality in his sermon and about how people shouldn’t feel that they couldn’t invite guests over unless their homes were perfect.)

I told my son that some people do indeed have clean houses, but he was unconvinced.

My house looked pretty good by the time they lady arrived.  Unfortunately, I was only halfway through a hurried make-up routine and had to appear downstairs (where she sat on the sagging couch in the living room where I hadn’t intended to invite her) without eyeliner or mascara.  Hello, no eyes! 

She was very friendly, though, and I had flashbacks of the long-ago interview gone awry that I gave once to a reporter at the Charlotte Observer while I worked as a college intern at Heritage USA.  I mention this only because on that particular occasion, I was chosen as an interviewee by my bosses at Heritage USA . . . and during the interview with the reporter, I yapped on and on, saying things that made Heritage USA look bad, in an era when the Charlotte Observer was intent on finding dirt in Jim Bakker’s ministry.  (Within two years, the whole empire collapsed, but I promise, it was not me who started the dominoes falling.)  I was told my by boss later (when I was gently reprimanded) that upon reading the article, Jim Bakker said, “Who is that intern?!” 

The only other time in my life that I had been as full of mortification and horror was in seventh grade when my homeroom teacher sent me to the principal’s office because of my impudence.  Me!  Saucy, indolent, mouthy!  Imagine! 

(I had mentioned to the reporter how I worked 70 hours my first week at Heritage–I’d been on the grounds crew until I wised up and unwittingly used my family connections to get a transfer to a different department.  The focus of the interview was their college intern program and it didn’t look so good for me to talk about the overtime, blah-blah-blah.  Oops.)

Anyway, so I worried I would say something stupid, but I thought she seemed very favorable to the virtual academy, so I’m sure the slant will be positive.  And it’s an extremely small newspaper.

And as soon as she left, I returned the three-level desk organizer to my desk, along with the pile of stuff that needs my attention and my tower of Post-It notes.  The dust will take longer to reappear.  

*  *  * 

Saturday, my dear husband opened the gates and let me out into the world.  I had a glorious time, saw a very violent but well-done movie (any guesses?) and returned home to so many dirty dishes that I had to run two full dishwasher loads to clean them all.

*  *  *

My husband woke me at 6:42 a.m. to ask me to look at something in the bathroom.  The bathroom light blinded me, but when I could finally open my eyes enough to look, I peered into the grossest bloody eyeball I’ve ever seen.  Too bad it’s not Halloween yet.  He could scare a lot of people!  He said it didn’t hurt, so I said maybe he burst a blood vessel coughing or sneezing (his cold lasted almost two weeks) and I went back to bed where I fretted until I had to get up.

Our friend at church who is a practicing family doctor assured him that, indeed, it looks like a blood vessel burst probably from coughing or sneezing.  (I’m telling you.  I should have gone to medical school.  I have excellent instincts.)

*  *  * 

Our church is having an All Saints’ Harvest Party . . . we all have to dress as a character (or animal) from the Bible.  I was thinking about going as Eve, dressed in a big leaf, or maybe as Jael, holding a tent peg and a hammer.  Or maybe as Gomer or Jezebel . . . high heels, fishnet stockings, red lipstick, big hair, small skirt . . .

Okay, just kidding!  The party is for kids, after all, and these things would be tough to explain.  (I’m going as Deborah who was a judge in the Bible.)  My husband and I keep coming up with implausible Bible characters we could portray . . . this is funny to me because the party planners insist on Bible characters because they want to keep the party wholesome.  But Bible characters, so many of them, were involved directly in an epic struggle between good and evil . . . if anything, they are way scarier than a vampire ever could be. 

And that’s how my weekend was.  How was yours?

A Fine Day for Field Trip

This morning, I took six children (three of my own; three borrowed) to Tumwater Falls Park where we saw a presentation about the life-cycle of salmon.  The man would pick up a salmon by its tail from the holding pond to use as a visual aid.  The children were enthralled and exclaimed loudly each time a salmon jumped into the air.  (I couldn’t get a picture of a the guy and his salmon up close, though, because of the crowding children.  Alas.)

At one point, the man picked up a female salmon and squeezed some of her eggs onto the concrete wall.  Then, he picked up a male and squeezed milt from it.  The milt looked like milk and I’m sure all the children wonder why their mothers make them drink this white stuff squeezed from salmon.  (This link shows all about the reproductive cycle of salmon.) 

My little kids grew bored by the questions and so did I.  Why do people insist on asking dumb questions?  I have always hated those who raise their hands when a speaker says, “Any questions?” and asks questions.  As far as I’m concerned, “Are there any questions?” is a purely rhetorical question, needing no response.

We wandered away and saw this sign:  P1010071_1.JPG Then we walked down the path by the river and waterfalls and no one fell in or died.  Hooray for me. 

P1010072.JPG  At the very bottom of the walkway, we saw salmon swimming upstream, waiting in a watery traffic jam to get up the fish ladder.  The bumpy surface on the stream are wriggling salmon as big as your arm.  P1010076.JPG  Here’s a shot of a portion of the fish ladder. P1010078.JPG

Then, as if that wasn’t enough excitement, I spotted this slug, which can only be a Banana Slug, in my slug non-expert opinion.  P1010080.JPG 

We had a little picnic afterward and the kids all played on two cement play structures shaped like boats.  The two-year old was covered in grime.  A fine time was had by all and I even met a few other school-at-home mothers, which was dandy, indeed.

Now, all the kids are crabby and tired and my house is in disarray, but meatloaf is in the oven and it’s only three and a half hours until the four-year old goes to bed.  Not that I’m counting.

School-at-home

So, you ask, how’s school-at-home going these days?  (Yeah, I know.  No one asked, but I can’t think of a single thing to talk about tonight.)

Much to my shock, my boys have become somewhat self-motivated.  They are on their computer, starting their lessons and doing their pre-algebra problems before I’ve even eaten my bowl of old-fashioned oatmeal.  Finally, they seem to understand that the sooner they start, the sooner they’ll be done.

Obviously, I still check their work and oversee their progress, but they are handling the bulk of their assignments on their own.  I can’t rave enough about K12.com’s curriculum.  I love everything about it, with the possible exception of science projects, but so far, we haven’t had to do any major ones.

We’re getting into a routine, all of us.  I’m still nostalgic about summer . . . the darkness comes so much earlier at night.  Before we know it, Christmas will take us by surprise and then we’ll be in the gloom of January and then crocuses will spring up.  Time doesn’t march; it sprints.

Reminder to self:  Plant more daffodils.  Can you ever really have enough?

How To Win the War Against Terror

Today’s task: Sort through last year’s school books, box up the non-consumables, discard the workbooks in the recycling bin, open up new boxes of materials, inventory and shelf them.

After I unpacked the new materials from K12.com, I realized that I was missing an entire box of materials. I’d noticed an uneven number of boxes when they arrived several weeks ago, but assumed that the missing box would show up sooner or later. Only, it didn’t.

So, after making sure my daughter was happily involved in a computer game at Nickjr.com, I telephoned K12.com to report the missing materials. (This is a paraphase of my actual conversation.)

Me: “Hi, I just unpacked my materials from K12 for this year, and I’m missing a whole box.”

Him: “How do you know?”

Me: “Um, because I have twin students and didn’t receive all the materials for the second twin. Plus, I have the packing list here and I am missing five subjects. A whole box.”

Him: “Let me check. I see we shipped five boxes.”

Me: “Yes.”

Daughter: “MAMA! MAMA!”

Me, hissing under breath, motioning to boys in the family room: “Go help your sister!”

Him: “Just a moment. Let me check.”

Daughter, shrieking: “NO! I WANT MOMMY!”

Me, holding phone against thigh: “PLEASE! HELP YOUR SISTER!”

Boys, staring at television: “She only wants you!”

Me, speaking into the phone: “Hello?”

Him: “Yes, I show we shipped five boxes. Did you receive five boxes?”

Me, ignoring screaming in the background: “Yes. But I should have six boxes.”

Him: “How do you know?”

Me, calm voice, now aware I’m dealing with an imbecile: “It’s like a math story problem. I have two students who should have three boxes each. Three plus three is six. I have five boxes. Six minus five is one. I’m missing a box. Plus, I. Don’t. Have. The. Materials. I’m looking at the packing list right now and I’m missing five subjects.”

Him: “How did you get a packing list?”

Me, now sweating, hissing under my breath at daughter who has appeared to cry up close and personal: “GO. AWAY!”

Me, aware of sweat on brow: “The packing list came with the history materials which were shipped separately because of the shape of the box.”

Him: “Do you have a tracking number?”

Me, glaring death-glare at red-eyed, weepy, gasping daughter: “Do I? I have a packing slip. Should it be on here?”

Him: “Um, let me check. Okay. Well. Do you want me to order the materials?”

Me: “Well. I need them. Do you need to reorder them? Or find the missing box?”

Him: “I’ll have to call UPS with a tracking number. I will reorder the materials.”

Me, still sending death-rays through the air at sobbing daughter: “Okay. Do you want the ISBN number?”

Him: “Yes.”

Me: “Number is XXXX.”

Him: “That’s back-ordered.”

Me: “Then how come I received the identical item already?” Pause. “Never-mind. Do you want the other numbers?”

Him: “Yes.”

Me: “Blah-blah-blah-blah.” Phone against hip again so I can yell at boys, “HELP ME OUT HERE!” Daughter still screams.

Him: “Okay. Those items are ordered.”

Me: “Thank you.”

Him: “Can I help you with anything else?”

Me: “Yes, please call 911 because I am going to JUMP OFF MY ROOF and then send me a nanny and a ticket to Tahiti because I AM RUNNING AWAY FROM HOME!” (Okay, I didn’t really say that part, but I could have!)

Why, please, tell me WHY small children have urgent needs ONLY after their parent has begun an important telephone call? Why do they not understand the universal sign for “I’M ON THE PHONE SO GET LOST!”? Why? And why do companies hire people with an IQ of a cardboard box to be customer service agents?

When I got off the phone, I restarted my daughter’s game (it had shut off after a 30-minute trial) and noticed my boys had disappeared. (Smart kids.) I jerked the thermostat down to a cool 70 degrees and then stomped around for awhile until my pulse returned to normal. I told my daughter that she can NOT talk to me while I’m on the phone. Her eyes were red-rimmed and she was contrite.

I hugged her then and felt terrible for my crescendoing fury. If the powers-that-be really want to defeat the terrorists, I suggest they use a preschooler who can break the terrorists down within fifteen minutes by merely screaming and whining and sobbing while they are trying to think and talk on the phone at the same time.

Today My Head Exploded

Tomorrow is our last day of school.  So, today we had to do a bunch of science.  Science lessons in this particular curriculum (K12.com) are on-line.  And I’ve discovered (to my utter dismay) that my boys don’t stay on track unless I am participating in the lesson with them.

So, at 10 a.m., we’re finally ready to start our lessons.  I sit here, one sits on my left, one sits on my right.  I read the introductory paragraph about cells and cell processes and then this happens:

Brown-eyed kid:  “Hey!  That’s my pencil!”

Blue-eyed kid:  “So?”

Brown-eyed kid:  “Give it back!”

Me:  “Look, here’s a pencil right here.  Don’t be silly.”

Brown-eyed kid:  “GIVE!!  IT!!  BACK!!” 

Blue-eyed kid:  “Mom!”

Brown-eyed kid lunges for pencil.  Blue-eyed kid darts to side. 

Me:  “Give the pencil back.”

Blue-eyed kid:  “No.  I had it first.”

Brown-eyed kid:  “He did not!”

Me:  “Let me know when you finish arguing and we’ll get to work.”  I click to my email account.

Flurry of motion.  Brown-eyed kid rushes blue-eyed kid’s hand clutching pencil.  In the melee’, my jumbo-sized glass of water spills.  Water, water everywhere, on my mousepad, on my pantleg, on the floor, on my desk, on a student guide.  I jump up, chair falls over behind me.  I shriek.

Me:  “NICE JOB!  CLEAN!! THIS!!  UP!!”  (I utter other assorted Christian curse words like, “Geez!” and “Shoot!” and “ARRRRRRG!”  Then I stomp upstairs where I slam the door for emphasis and change out of my drenched pants.)

We resume.  Blue-eyed kid’s student guide is damp, unwritable, but he retains the pencil.  Brown-eyed kid is repentant, but I am royally ticked off.  I read the science text in a grim, mechanical voice.  I sound like Ben Stein in Beuller’s Day Off.  This thought does not amuse me because I am mad and when I say “mad” I mean insane, not just angry.

Blue-eyed kid:  “See what you’ve done?” (addressed to brown-eyed brother).

[Just now, this very second, I am interrupted by the children in question.  I open the door and find one kid, arm raised in the classic “I’m-going-to-punch-your-brains-out” pose, while other kid taunts him from his reclining position in bed.  I snapped off the television, ordered them to their own beds and RIGHT NOW I hear them and will return to their room to sternly warn them and possibly throw them into the driveway where perhaps raccoons will adopt them.]

As you can see, it’s all sunshine and rainbows around here.  Not long after we finished our science reading at the computer, I sent the boys to read their individual science textbooks in the living room.  They immediately set about bickering and caused my head to actually fly off my shoulders like a firecracker you pick up after it doesn’t light and then it explodes and blows off your hand.  Like that.  Boom!  Splat!

I marched into the living room, attempted to sort out their disagreement, and then said, “You have three minutes.  Work it out!”  They each wanted to sit in a particular spot to do the reading and neither one would budge.  They worked it out before the timer rang.  Too bad my head was in uncountable tiny bits of matter stuck to my red kitchen wall already.

If only I could fit them with electric shock collars, everything would be just fine.  You think I jest?  Ha!

Sum-sum-summertime in the Northwest

Summer in the Pacific Northwest means that at the end-of-the-school-year picnic, you wear the same coat you wore in February.  The rain floats down in a fine mist, rendering umbrellas pointless.  Your toes curl in your shoes, victims of a lack of blood flow. 

A fellow virtual-school mom is driving her family back “home” to Oklahoma next week to spend the summer in humid heat.  They’ll be  smacking bugs off their necks and wiping sweaty hair from their foreheads while we are donning sweatshirts on the fourth of July and carrying blankets to the fireworks display. 

I’m used to this chilly weather, but today even I repeated, “I can’t believe it’s so cold,” at the beach.  The children paid no mind, of course, and frolicked happily.  My boys wandered as far from me as they possibly could and my daughter, the former leech, kept disappearing from my side and reappearing on the horizon.  I continue to be shocked by this development in her persona.

One more week of school here in the nippy Northwest.  I think I may be looking forward to sum-sum-summertime more than any of the children.  Five days.

And tomorrow?  I’m going garage-saling with my mother.  It’s one of those huge community-wide sales where you can hopscotch from sale to sale.  Can anything be better? 

A Mind Is A Terrible Thing to Lose

A stack of magazines, school work, file folders, VBS manuals, mail, and random papers sits about eight inches high on my desk.  The folded laundry is stacked on the Lane recliner, the one I paid $10.00 for at a garage sale last summer.  My computer is decorated with thirteen post-it notes, all containing vital information. 

Dirty dishes remain in the kitchen sink.  Baskets of dirty laundry sit upstairs.  The bananas are rapidly turning from ripe to black.  The newspaper from Sunday waits for me on the kitchen table.  I must read the Sunday paper.  It’s one of my rules.

One week of school to go and we have to finish up two units of science, two units of math, some composition and a bunch of spelling.  Four weeks until Vacation Bible School (Fiesta!) and I have many positions left to fill. 

And I have a cold.

We bought a used van.  We agreed to pay $1300 to fix our old car.  My son left his glasses at his friend’s house and the friend’s dog gnawed a lens right out of the glasses.  I’m going to take a picture because if you can’t laugh about the destruction of prescription glasses, you are missing a component necessary to surviving motherhood.  So, I will joke about it.

My email box is jammed so full that I fear my long-time friends are plotting against me.  I owe everyone in the world an email.  I have a real letter with an actual stamp from a prisoner sitting somewhere in the pile on my desk (or maybe in the pile on the kitchen counter).  (The letter is sitting somewhere–not the prisoner.  The prisoner is in Virginia.)  I started writing her months ago, committed myself to writing her cheerful, newsy, breezy letters . . . and now, I’m lagging behind.  The poor woman is in prison and I can’t seem to get a letter written to her.  

So, all this swirls around me and in the midst of this madness, I have concluded that I need to make a life change.  A serious life-change, one I have dreaded and avoided for years–for 30 years, as a matter of fact.  Terror fills me, yet I see no other choice.  

That’s right.  I decided to grow out my bangs.  I hope the universe doesn’t grind to a halt in the wake of this momentous decision.  

Almost Midnight and Here I Sit

My 3-year old has been a fairly reliable nighttime sleeper for quite a while.  I can’t tell you the specifics because my brain synapses no longer fire since I’ve been living with at least one child under the age of four for thirteen long years.  But trust me.  She normally goes to bed easily and sleeps all night, waking up ten to eleven hours later.

Except last night when she woke up at 1 a.m., 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.  And tonight, when I put her down at 8:30 p.m., 8:50 p.m. and 9:50 p.m.  (My husband tended to her that last time.)

I don’t have a point, either.  I’m just saying that I’m distracted and tired.

*  *  * 

Today, my back yard was filled with men (okay, well, three men) who put together one of those mammoth Rainbow Play Systems.  Now we have a slide, ladder, fort, sandbox, two regular swings, one tire swing, swinging rings, and a partridge in a pear tree. 

Afterwards, while the men were sitting around swigging bottles of water, one of them explained that two years ago today, his father died.  And so he’d planned to come down here and construct the play system today, in memory of his dad.  Did I mention that he donated this play system to us in the first place?  (His kids outgrew it.)

I think it did his heart good to see my kids frolicking and swinging and christening the fort a “castle.”  My daughter has never, ever been so dirty.  At one point, she scampered inside, grabbed a pink fleece hat and ran back outside where she flopped down on her back in the sand and proceeded to make “snow angels,” only in sand. 

*  *  * 

My 13-year old sons have nearly finished their second year of school-at-home.  A few weeks ago, we read a children’s version of some excerpts of Don Quixote.  My blue-eyed twin, especially, adores the ideas of knights and swords and quests.  He laughed out loud as I read of the exploits of Don Quixote and his sidekick.  Then, he asked if I could get him the book Don Quixote. 

I explained that the actual book is really long and challenging and he said, very seriously, “Mom, I think I can handle it.”

The book arrived from Amazon two days ago and he’s a dozen chapters into it.  He thinks it would be a fine thing, indeed, to be a knight and to wander about seeking quests while carrying a real, live sword.  I just want to clutch my throat and close my eyes in gratitude for this teenage boy who still thinks a fort can be a castle and who calls himself “Master King” and offers to knight anyone, including his 3-year old sister.

The midnight hour approaches.  Seven hours until the house begins to wake up again.  And how much sleep does a mom need? 

(That’s right.  Just ten more minutes.)