Box Tops

I feel bad for people who don’t have small children in the house. They actually have to wait until they get out of bed in the morning for the adventure to start. In our house, at least one major conflict needs to be addressed before my eyes flutter open.


This morning, it was Box Tops. If you’ve never woken up to a four year old at your bedside with a cereal box and a pair of scissors pointed at your face, you’re just simply not living.

“Mom! Is this a box top?”

Without contacts in, I vaguely recognize a small white rectangle that could indeed be a box top. After her prediction is confirmed, Ella runs out of the room (presumably with the scissors pointed down, because obviously we teach safety in this house) to cut out her box top.


I pause here because I just realized that some of you do not know what box tops are. Well, somehow these tiny white rectangles found on dry goods packages from the grocery store earn money for schools. I don’t know what kind of voodoo magic or tricky marketing scheme decided that parents should buy sugary cereal so that their kids’ schools can become more profitable, but, alas, here we are.


Anyway, and I’m still in bed, mind you, I then hear Harrison yelling to Ella that it is not HER box top; it is his. I think he surmised this because he poured the cereal, but I cannot be certain of his logic. Ella was more of the nature that since she cut it out, it was hers. This goes back and forth until I yell out to remind them that they attend the same school, so the box tops will, in fact, be going to the same place.


A short quiet pause followed, then Harrison said, “No, Mom. It matters. It matters because someone’s class has to WIN.” And this is one situation where I believe in the “everyone gets a trophy” theory. Otherwise, there will be families everywhere with multiple children in the same school fighting over box tops first thing in the morning and this world really has enough problems as it is. I’m really not sure what to do here. I have so many choices. I could distribute the box tops evenly. I could call the school to see who’s class is ahead and put all of our eggs in one basket and contribute to the class that has a chance at winning (winning what, I still am unsure). I could let the kids battle it out themselves (although, with sharp scissors in the mix I am pretty sure this is a bad choice). I really thought that with my thirteen years of public school teaching, I would be a pro at parenting school-age kids. This is an untruth. Nobody tells you before you have children that there will be certain unforeseen obstacles such as this.


I have no idea who won the box top battle this morning, because the kids were onto a different dispute by the time I reached the kitchen, over whether or not the small white tube found in the junk drawer was glue or paint. And this, my friends, is why coffee exists. IMG-4804

mismatched socks

Tonight, my daughter almost went to bed without dinner. As I struggled to carry her writhing body up the stairs while she sobbed uncontrollably, I reasoned that two bowls of popcorn and a chocolate cookie were sustenance enough.


Meanwhile, my son was hollering from downstairs as I wrestled Ella into some mismatched pajamas, reminding me that I had not snuggled him enough yet today.


“Fifteen minutes, I thought to myself. “Fifteen minutes.” A colleague of mine told me just this morning that she read somewhere about how it was necessary to snuggle your children for at least fifteen minutes a day. In her case, she had attempted to spend fifteen minutes of quality time with her teenager while he watched the Red Sox game. She gave up a few minutes early because he was getting frustrated that she was clueless about that particular sport and kept asking questions.  I’d get that fifteen minutes in, and more, I promised myself, as soon as I calmed Ella down. And that will be enough.


Back upstairs, I coerced Ella into snuggling with me for a few minutes. We lay there, heartbeat to heartbeat, just like when she was an infant. When I can feel our hearts beating together I always immediately calm down, and thus, so does she. She had been upset and tired, and I knew she wasn’t feeling that great. My husband, who is suffering at this very moment from a man cold, came home tired as well and did not have the patience for Ella’s antics. I knew if I could get her alone and quiet and feel our hearts beat, she might have a chance at staying up long enough to eat a real dinner. Like, one without baked goods in it.


We retreated downstairs and I managed to get my snuggles in with Harrison right before the debacle that we will call dinner. Harrison has this inability to chew with his mouth shut, and he can only take so much gentle redirection before he announces that we hate him and that we are very mean parents. The very mean parents also required that all carrots on the plate be eaten tonight.


That was just about all the fun anyone in the household could handle, but to keep life interesting, Harrison decided that tonight would be the night that he would learn to clip his own nails. This is a task that I abhor, as he always acts as though I am pulling out his nails from the nail bed in a very tortuous manner. Therefore, I was delighted that he would now be taking this on himself until twenty five minutes passed and I was still waiting for him to come upstairs to bed. Once he finally arrived, he was in utter shock that I did not bring up a treat for him for doing this new thing on his own, albeit, very slowly. I explained that he had earned my undying love and admiration, and that should be enough, but he disagreed. For the first time in his six years, my first-born child informed me that he had had enough here and was going to move out. I can’t lie, that hurts the first time around.


As I decompressed while folding the laundry, I recalled an acquaintance posting her concerns online that her son isn’t getting enough from her. In her case, it was reading time, as he seemed to be lagging a bit behind his classmates. In the comments, it became clear that this fellow mama also felt like she was coming up short in her house cleaning, her meal prep, and her quality time with her son. I kept folding the clothes, which had piled up from four days of neglect, and wondered to myself: Are we all feeling this way? Like we’re not enough? So many moms had answered her with empathy and advice. Yesterday I, too, responded to that desperate mama who was looking for answers. I was confident that she’d find a way. I told her she was doing great.

And tonight, a mere twenty four hours later, here I am, left with a handful of socks that can’t even keep their partners from laundry basket to washer to dryer, wondering how I can ever be enough. Who am I to be doling out advice or cheering her on? I know, deep down, I am confident that I’m doing the best I can. That there were enough snuggles. That she would have survived without a real meal if she needed sleep more than food. That my six year old isn’t actually going to leave home and embark on an independent journey. But today, even my laundry pile isn’t enough to form a matching pair of socks. 

I am hoping that these conversations continue though. I hope my colleague knows she’s not the only mom of a teenage boy who doesn’t know how to make conversation about sports. And that my friend whose son is struggling in reading knows that he’ll get there. And most of all, I hope that even though I doubt myself, I’ll find the faith to know that I’m enough for my kids, too.

And this is why you go to the dentist alone

Going to the dentist isn’t one of those things people usually look forward to-the poking, the prodding, the look of disdain on the dental hygenist’s face when you “roughly estimate” how many times you floss each week…it’s just not necessarily a comfortable experience. You have to sit there with your mouth open while weird tools are stuck in there, and did you ever notice that the hygenists seem to carry on conversations with you as if you might actually be in the position to respond?


The weird thing about me (or one of them) is that I LOVE the dentist. I always have. But since I became a mom, this is like a soulful retreat to me. Just hear me out: I am required, for an entire half hour, to lie down in a relatively comfortable chair. My dentist provides pillows, and there I sit the entire time in peace and quiet. I cannot get up. Someone else is taking care of me. Would I like a spray of water? Sure. What flavor toothpaste would you like today, Katie? Well, cinnamon of course! While there,  I cannot provide small children snacks. I cannot break up fights over the remote control. And the main reason for that, my friends, is that MY CHILDREN ARE NOT THERE!


Until last week, this was my impression of the dentist. Once every six months, I would charge right in there with a huge smile on my face and tell them to take their ever loving time, because this mama needed a break. Except, unfortunately, dentists don’t ONLY provide cleanings. Last week I had to experience one of the less pleasant services they offered which was an emergency repairing of the cap on a lower front tooth. If you’re interested, my brother knocked that sucker out when I was nine by elbowing me in the face on the way up the stairs to eat chicken wings. I had no chicken wings that night. I suppose it’s water under the bridge since it was 25 years ago and I don’t even eat chicken anymore, but I am still a little salty about it. So anyway, that cap lasted me a good long time until I decided to have yogurt for breakfast one day, and somehow it chipped while I was spooning it into my mouth. You gotta watch out for that yogurt, folks.

I called my dentist to see when they might be able to fit me in, and much to my surprise they had an appointment that very afternoon. I considered this only briefly, as I had the kids with me, however, my vanity took precedence over lack of childcare, and I decided I was not walking around with a chipped tooth for more than 24 hours if I could help it.

Because I’m an incredibly smart and organized parent, I packed the ipad, some crayons, and some snacks for my children in hopes that they would sit quietly during this process. The dentist and his assistant did not seem to mind that I had my cute cherubs in tow, as they are also patients of his, and they usually come well behaved to their appointments.

I got both kids settled: Ella was in a rolly chair in the corner watching an inappropriate show that I know would keep her occupied for a long amount of time. Harrison found a spot under a table in the hallway to color. Then, I settled myself in the nice chair and let them start getting to work. I’m a big baby, so they had to start with some Novacane. Once I was reasonably numb and drooling, Dr. Andrews started his work. There was some drilling, and some maneuvering, and some placing of  objects in my mouth to which I didn’t really pay attention. After all, I was all relaxed in my quiet place. And then, I hear my son come up to the dentist and say, “Dr. Andrews, do you have a blue crayon?” For the love of everything good, this child interrupted a man fixing my face to ask him for a crayon. I was mortified. My children mortify me a lot but not usually when I have a mouth full of dental tools and the lack of use of the left side of my face. My eyes got scary big and I glared at my child. I could hear the assistant giggle. She sent Harrison off to the reception desk to find a blue crayon. I didn’t hear from him again. Everyone got composed once again and focused on the task at hand. The dentist was literally just about to put the tooth stuff on to make my tooth whole again (plaster? cement? I have no idea what they use) when all of a sudden, a huge crash came from the corner of the room. A rolly chair went flying against the wall, a flash of pink soared above our heads, and screaming ensued. It turns out that the flash of pink was my ipad, which Ella had launched when she somehow managed to fall out of her chair. Everyone jumped up and was in a flurry about my poor child falling–except me. Seriously, guys. She falls all.the.time. I looked at them all and was like, “What? She’ll get up.” But actually me and my mouthful of dental equipment had to get up and put my child right side up again before anyone would proceed. She was scared out of her mind, I was annoyed, and the dentist was probably worried about liability. After she settled herself down (on the floor this time; chairs were out of the question), we were back in business.

The dentist was so out of sorts that he kept looking over at my kid to make sure she wasn’t going to have another accident. I do not know how he managed to complete the process of fixing my tooth, but he did, and we were out of there. I’m sure the entire staff was happy to see us go. But not before one more accident.

At the checkout counter, I was paying a somewhat reasonable cost for this endeavor, when the nice lady behind the desk pointed to a box of stickers and told my children that they could each have one. Not being exactly calm or polite, both kids reached for the cardboard box at once, causing all of the stickers to unravel on their rolls all through the waiting area.

“Oh my God.” I yelled. “DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING ELSE.”

My children thought that several spools of runaway stickers were hilarious. The receptionists were ready to go home and have a glass of wine. I still couldn’t feel my face and here I was crawling around on the floor chasing stickers.

I no longer know if I can ever consider the dentist a sanctuary, but I do know that I will not make an appointment when I do not have a sitter for my kids!


When They’re Hardest to Love, Love Them the Hardest

This summer has been full of growth for both of my babies. Harrison learned to ride his bicycle without training wheels at the very beginning of the season. He also has mastered swimming without swimmies, and even Ella is independent in the water. I can allow them to go outside and play and not have to hover over their every move like I did last year. I really thought that I’d be so happy when they needed me less, but to be honest, it makes me hug them tighter and hold them longer when they do end up in my arms.

As with all major growth spurts, the emotions are running wild within my children. Ella has always been quite dramatic and it doesn’t much shock us when she throws an epic temper tantrum or squeals with delight about something that excites her. But Harrison is usually a little more predictable and even-keeled. Today, however, was one of those days where that was not the case.


Today’s forecast was perfect to be near the water, so we set out to spend our entire day at a local swimming pool. Harrison could not be satisfied with any situation. If he was in the pool alone, he wanted us in there. If he had his swimmies on, he wanted them off. If it was snack time, he wanted to be in the water. This carried on all afternoon. At one point, he approached Justin, whining about some indiscretion he wanted amended, and knocked over Justin’s drink. We were annoyed; the drink was just purchased, and Harrison didn’t even seem to care that he had done it. Several minutes later, Harrison was swimming independently when he got spooked and started to go under. Luckily Justin was close by and literally saved the kid from drowning. After Harrison was safely on the ledge of the pool, he proceeded to yell and scream at Justin for saving him. Following this incident, Harrison decided to join Justin and Ella in the hot tub where he, once again, knocked over Justin’s drink. Then he got in the water and started hitting Ella for literally no reason. It was at this point that we decided it was time to save the peaceful day for the rest of the pool patrons and head home. Harrison was banished to his room (we knew he would fall asleep out of sheer exhaustion, and within minutes, he was out cold).


Once he woke up, I had a quiet little talk with him about how he needs to learn to monitor his feelings, and if he starts to feel like he’s going to be angry he needed to use his words to tell me that so we could talk through the situation. Everything was fine for an hour or so until after dinner when Harrison was angry that he got to watch a whole episode of television that he didn’t really want to watch (yeah, it doesn’t make sense to me either). Again the screaming ensued. The child refused to brush his teeth and getting him to get into bed was another story all together. By the time I got done tidying up, Harrison was still whimpering in his bed. This, at least, was a step up from the howling that was previously being used to express his feelings. I lay down beside him and wrapped him up in my arms and just held him.


We didn’t talk about his inappropriate behavior. We didn’t talk about what to do next time. I wasn’t exactly sure if I should be giving him so much affection after all of his antics, but then I remembered how sometimes we all run on empty and we need someone to fill up our metaphorical cups. I had a strange feeling that Harrison was running low on whatever he needs to be his happy sweet self, and so I just tried to fill him up with my love.  Although it seemed counterproductive, giving that kid some extra affection was exactly what he needed to recenter himself. We stayed there for several minutes, and eventually he reached for my hand and held it in his own. I noticed that his hands aren’t quite as small as they used to be, and I began to reminisce about all of the years between this one and the year he was born. I thought about all of the times when things were tough and I didn’t think I was ever going to get this parenting thing down. Six years in, I am no expert. But I did learn something really important today. Sometimes, when they’re the hardest to love, you have to love them the hardest.


After a while I looked down and saw his little smile, several teeth gone to the tooth fairy by now. He giggled when he looked up at me and said, “It feels nice to snuggle with you, Mommy.”


For now, I know he is still my little boy. I know there’s going to be so many more days where he’s hard to love. Six years has taught me how to love stronger and harder, although that makes the ache of my babies growing up all the more intense.IMG-4056

End of the School Year Burnout

Tonight, I poured myself a glass of wine. The box (classy, I know) was almost empty so I had to tip it to get anything out. While doing this, I held the box of peanut butter crackers balancing on top of the box up with my forehead so as not to disrupt the chaos that was once my organized and alphabetized pantry.


Before I sat down to write this, I tripped over several stuffed animals. I walked past a half dozen crayola markers that littered the front entry way. I only noticed this as an afterthought because I had just descended from kissing the kids goodnight and I was still thinking about how I should have changed the kids’ sheets before they got in bed. And how I should have washed the syrup out of Ella’s hair today after breakfast. And how I hadn’t finished the dishes and the kitchen was a mess. So really, balancing some crackers up against my forehead really wasn’t a big change from today’s pace.


It’s late May. I’m a highschool teacher. Some of my seniors might not graduate. My kindergartner has two and a half million things going on this month. I signed him up for baseball and apparently he hates baseball. My four year old still wears diapers to bed. My husband couldn’t find his ipad because I had too much unread mail stacked on top of it.  I’m off of my workout plan, and for the thirty-sixth summer in a row, I will not have a bikini body at the beach. Before I know it, graduations, family birthdays, and father’s day will be on my doorstep. I’m afraid I’ll forget gifts and parties. I’m afraid I’ll lose my mind.


Yesterday I went to get my hair done and my hair had a weird chemical reaction and almost fell out. You guys. I am totally not exaggerating. My hair stylist saved the day but gave me grave warnings about doing things like washing and brushing it. I am literally scared out of my mind that my hair is just going to all fall out any minute.


The thing is that I know lots of us mamas are at the end of our ropes here at the end of the school year. It doesn’t matter if we work or we stay at home; if we homeschool or private school or public school or unschool (get back to me on that one because I really don’t know what that is). We’ve all made it this far. This is the end of the year for mamas too; not just our kids. As frazzled as I am, I have a tiny bit advice for anyone feeling like their hair is going to fall out (and trust me, I’m right there with you. Literally.)


Today, I quit everything I was doing and snuggled with my kids. I promised myself twenty minutes on the couch. It then turned into thirty. Then forty-five. Did I feel like I wasted time “doing nothing” after that forty-five minutes? No. Instead I felt like it was the only correct thing I’d done in weeks. Everything stopped and I felt their hearts beat. I held their hands.


I’m not exactly sure what my lesson plans are for tomorrow. The coffee pot isn’t prepped yet. I sure didn’t spend any time reorganizing my pantry. But I did what mattered, and I can go into the week knowing my heart is full, my babies are loved, and I have the energy to get to the finish line. Just hug ‘em. IMG-2986

Crank That….

Before I became a mom, I was a real live human being. Did you ever notice that people judge moms way more than they judge parentless women or men in general? Become a mom and you’ll see. Luckily, I’ve known from the get-go that I was never going to be awarded Parent of the Year (that dream went out the window moments after childbirth when the nurse asked how much research I’d done on breastfeeding, to which I responded, “Exactly none”, and she clicked her tongue in dismay. In my defense, that book was next on the list but he came two weeks early…) My own mother has even told me, my husband, and complete strangers that she’s surprised at how decent of a parent I have turned out to be. The votes of being a stellar nurturer were clearly never in my favor. I think, though, that if they were, I’d have been even harder on myself these past six years. Now, when I mess up, which is often, I take a deep breath and move on. Then I write a blog post about it.


Probably the worst place to mess up parenting is when you’re at your kids’ daycare. I mean, you want these people to think you have your sh*t together and you want to be prepared with the right snacks, and a change of clothes, and slippers for the day time, and boots for the barn, and a blanket for the nap, and the hair and teeth brushed, and the clothes matching, an eight our sleep the night before, a nutritious breakfast, a nice lunch packed, and so on. My daycare provider knows me well enough that she expects me to have about 75% of these things done on any given day. I try really hard, but you understand if your child is anything like either of my two, everything you pack in the backpack the night before gets unpacked and inspected and complained about before you even walk out the door in the morning. The good news is that our daycare people accept us for who we are and also for who we aren’t. I really appreciate that and thus I try really hard to make sure I’m doing everything I can to make sure  my kids have everything they need to have a good day when they get dropped off.


Considering my self-awareness, I try to stay on the straight and narrow in other facets of my life-I hold a good job, I have a strong marriage, I hang around the right people, you know, just life choices. But there comes a point in my day where I am completely alone and in a private arena (my car), and sometimes, I let loose a little. After a long day with challenging teenagers, sometimes I like to kick back and rock out to some tunes. My choice in music is pretty PG, and if you checked my playlist, you would have proof. Wouldn’t it just be perfect, then if the absolute RAUNCHIEST song I have ever paid to listen to comes blaring out of my car stereo (brand new and extra loud, by the way) when I went to strap my children in their carseats early last week…


Try me, you say. You have worse, you say. But here I am, furiously trying to commandeer Ella’s carseat straps while “Crank That” by Soulja Boy is streaming loud and clear for all of the daycare parents and children to hear. You’re not familiar with the song? Well let me share some of the best parts for you.


“Soulja Boy up in this ho…”- (Can you imagine Harrison arriving the next day, only to announce his presence by saying, “Harrison up in this ho”?? Goodness. I’m going to Hell.)


“And if we get to fighting I’m cocking on your bitch ass” -(So at the next playground scramble, this will be my child’s response.That will get him sent to the principal’s office in no time.I CANNOT wait for that call.)


“Superman that ho” -Rumor has it that this line relates to a crude sexual act which I will NOT explain here in this venue, but y’all know how to use Google, so entertain yourself. My sweet, superhero loving child, however, does not know this meaning, yet he was delighted to hear Superman on the stereo and would love to hear the song again.For those of you in the back wondering how I came to have this knowledge, it is because I had to look it up several years ago when my sixth graders were singing this song in class. Now that I teach high school kids, they gladly offer me up definitions and explanations whenever I inquire. My education is vast.


I finally did get those straps buckled after an abnormally intense struggle. My cheeks flushed and my head bowed, I got into my car, afraid to make eye contact with the other pickups in the parking lot. After my most recent show of poor discretion, I’ll be making sure my kids are EXTRA prepared for daycare this week. Please don’t judge too hard. I don’t even really like the song.IMG-2918

Sub Zero

Today in Boothbay it is -4 degrees. I think we got up to a balmy positive two at one point, but when a friend posted that it is currently warmer at the North Pole than here, I gave up keeping track. I had prepared for this day all week-under no circumstances were we going to leave the house and that was final. So naturally, the Clark family was out and about before 8:30 am.


I don’t want you to think that I gave in or anything. It’s just that the kids are losing their ever loving minds being cooped up in the house due to this ridiculous weather and we had to get out. After Christmas break and then a snow day, followed by a two hour delay, I figured it would be best to get out. After all, we’re running out of things to do. Pictures have been drawn. Forts have been made. Movies have been watched. Crafts and projects have been attempted. We had to do something, even if it meant braving the subarctic temperatures.


Being the exciting parents we are, we thought taking the kids to McDonald’s indoor playground would be a nice idea. Normally I refuse to let my children near the place, and if for some reason they end up there, I promptly disinfect them upon returning  home. Today I didn’t care if there were dirty hypodermic needles on the slide; those kids were getting out of the damn house and they were going to PLAY.


Except. They didn’t. Because, heat.

The lovely employees at our local fast food establishment had somehow forgotten to turn on the heat in the indoor playground, thus leaving my children with nothing to do there but eat junk food. And that is exactly what they needed to add to their pent up energy. At one point Ella was doing pirouettes throughout the restaurant and one of the workers kind of side-eyed me. I nodded my head in the direction of the not-functioning playground and we silently called it even.


Since that part of our morning was so much fun, we moved on to our favorite big-box hardware store. Legitimately, I have to tell you that these places can be a LOT of fun with children. You can expose them to all sorts of things they’ve never seen, like model kitchens that are spotless. And washing machines that don’t have piles of clothes waiting to go for a spin. And windows and doors without fingerprints. (Well, now they have some, because Harrison and Ella touched every.single.display door and window in the place. Windex?)


Before we left, I took the kids to the bathroom. This is where I felt genuinely bad for my first-world, incredibly entitled babies. They were HAVING FUN DRYING THEIR HANDS.


We also went to Wal-Mart because we enjoy torture. And while Ella decided that we should practice putting her in and taking her out of the shopping cart for the entirety of our trip, my favorite part was when we could see salvation, and we were in the check-out, just about ready to escape the hell that is this store. That’s when a man came on the loudspeaker announcing that he was giving away free gifts in aisle twelve but only to the first few people, and that we must get there right away. I, for one, do not need any free gifts, and so I ignored this kind gesture of giving and was prepared to move on with my day. Justin, however, insisted that I go to aisle twelve promptly to get our free gift. So, I went to aisle twelve. And I waited. And I waited some more. And there were no free gifts. And then, my family joined me in aisle twelve, along with about half of the other shoppers in the store. There’s nothing I like more than being in Wal-Mart with fifty six of my favorite strangers, standing very close to me, waiting to receive a free gift that I do not want. Once Ella started trying to project herself from the cart independently, I remembered that I had the car keys and we left the building without any notice to the male counterparts in our family, who were still, in fact, waiting for their free gift.


It turns out that it wasn’t really worth the wait (Wow! Who knew!) to get a vegetable slicer (as vegetarians, we own a few of those…) but alas, the family was together again 20 minutes later.


It was now lunch time, which coincides with nap time, but we like a good challenge especially when it involves a hungry and sleepy toddler in a public place. I excused myself to use the ladies room, and when I found that there was a line, I remembered that there was another set of bathrooms downstairs. I snuck down there all proud of myself because I knew this secret trick. And then I realized when I went back upstairs that the door was locked. I panicked for a moment. What if Justin thought I just gave up and ran away? What if people started wondering what was wrong with my digestive system that was taking me so long in the loo? How was I going to get back IN the restaurant without going outside and walking all the way around the building with no coat?? Luckily the woman who got to the upstairs bathroom before me came by and let me in. Unfortunately, I had to explain what I was doing down there and now SHE knows about the secret bathroom.  


The good news is that otherwise we came out of lunch generally unscathed. The bad news is that Ella decided that she needed to take three trips to the bathroom during our lunch. This became incredibly irritating, but as I write this, I’m thinking she was hoping to dry her hands again, as that was so much fun back at the hardware store. I’m really hoping the weather warms up soon because I think I owe it to my children to give them more enriching life experiences than using a hand dryer…