There are commercials about parents who make ridiculous choices for their first born baby until baby number two arrives. Enter baby #2 and the parent picks up the pacifier off the ground licks the dirt off of it and sticks it back into baby #2's mouth. The viewer can only assume that the parent is proving her allegiance to the ten second rule. Selling diapers is the point of the ad. They target parents who make pricey choices until they wise up and decide to purchase diapers that function great at a fraction of the cost for their growing (and seemingly germ resistant) family.
Consistency. I crave it. As a middle child, I dealt with fewer photos in the family album, a first born son younger sibling who walked on water, hand me downs that begged to be worn by a short person vs. storky me, and a constant attempt to fit in. While it's good to have goals, I can definitely see a shift in my parenting style over the years. I fear inconsistency seeping in where I least expect it.
1. My patience is shot. Laddie rarely, if ever, saw me blow a gasket back in the day. Curly on the other hand predicts when I'm about to lose it, and like any good storm tracker she attempts to put some distance between us when things get dicey.
While peace and order may prove difficult to achieve in any big family, add two teenagers to the already chaotic mix and wait for it . . . before long you will observe fireworks as the new norm. As if the deplorable living conditions that exist in the teenage bedroom weren't sufficient to make a parent nuts, their interest in needling the younger siblings and mouthing off to whatever parent is within ear shot is mind boggling. Keeping busy with sports, school, and sibling harassment equates to little time to pull their weight with household chores. As the busiest person in the family, who constantly cleans up after the slobs we are raising, the teens' refusal to act as contributing members of the family in terms of putting ANYTHING away or wiping down ANY SURFACE leaves me in a ticked off state a good deal of the time. Believe it or not I am not a neat freak who requires Good Housekeeping standards 24/7. I have a high tolerance for chaos and clutter (I feel this is a prerequisite to having 6 plus kids), but I have my limits.
2. I never imagined I would swear like a sailor within ear shot of my children. Well, shit happens. I suppose #1 and #2 go hand in hand. The more I take on, the more the kids are involved in, the more hours Coach works in the evening, the less the kids listen to me, and the more moving parts to my very hectic schedule, the greater chance I'm going to cuss loud enough for the gang to stare wide eyed at me. They have adjusted to it and now they barley flinch but tend to scold me.
I recall a few four-letter words leaking out under my breath back when I was constructing an awesome Halloween costume for Laddie back in 2003. The morning after Halloween, Coach woke up with the kids while I caught up on sleep lost during the creative process. When I finally staggered downstairs, Coach informed me that 5 year old Laddie had instructed him earlier that morning to 'put on the damn TV.' I pointed out to Coach that perhaps there was a really great cartoon on that Lad didn't want to miss.
My foul language has progressed into a tactic I utilize to get the children's attention. Not listening the first time? Ignoring me? Enter a little "*@&%!*@&!" and suddenly I have their undivided, disturbed attention. Because of this development, I could hardly punish Curly recently for an incident that occurred when I wasn't home. Coach and I were running kids in a few different directions, and we were gone for a little over an hour. Laddie was home napping in his cave of a room surrounded by piles of clean laundry after a weekend sporting event out of state. When I raced out the door, Curly and Tetonka were watching a rated G movie on TV. Since most channels are kept on parental lock, having the TV on is a novelty in our house. I expected the two kids to remain poised in front of the television most of the time we were gone. Apparently Tetonka helped himself to an individually wrapped Hostess item that is restricted to packing lunch boxes for school. He thwarted Curly's attempt to call me to tattle on him. (I do ask the kids to stay away from prepackaged food items that are easy to throw in lunches, but I hardly have the time and energy to police such regulations. Curly still follows rules to a tee, and has yet to accept the 'freedom to eat anything not nailed down' act that has secretly been passed by the older gang in our house).
Curly did eventually phone me while hiding in her room. When I answered her call, I feared the worst. She was hysterical. She admitted to calling Tetonka a name, and he promptly banished her to her room. She feared major repercussions when I got home. I assured her we would straighten it out when I arrived home in a few minutes. At home, she leaned her red, blotchy face towards my ear and whispered the name she had called her food-focused, rule-breaking brother. 'ASS' This pot was not about to call my little, curly kettle black, especially when she was clearly hard enough on herself. I reminded her that she really isn't supposed to use bad words, but I also pointed out that it sounded to me like Tetonka was acting like an ass. I guess in a way I was congratulating her for proper bad word usage. How does that saying go? If the shoe fits . . .
3. Traveling with tots and meeting guidelines. We weren't allowed to leave the hospital with any of the babies until our car seat met the nurse's inspection. The straps needed to be so tight that I worried that the little bugger wouldn't be able to breathe. It never occurred to me that these newborns were accustomed to tight places after being cooped up in my gut when they were bursting at the seems. Tetonka was my largest delivery. He weighed in at 10 lbs 3 oz.
Coach and I used the locking clips on the seat belt straps to ensure that the straps didn't move in case of an accident. Our babies were always rear facing. We used caution when switching to other cars, always being sure the kids seats were properly installed. I remember how uneasy it made me when my sister in law explained that her infant screamed in the car until they switched his seat around. She opted to drive with him front facing when he was a tiny infant. Red flags everywhere. Booster seats were introduced when Laddie was ready to graduate from a car seat. We moved that booster back and forth from grandparents' cars to our car and lugged it on airplanes. No one would accuse us off not following the rules.
I don't know when I stopped attending to who was in what seat, and what the law called for. I believe our lackadaisical attitude began around the purchase of the great white (our retired, 12-seat airport shuttle). Reggie began riding in a booster around that time, and a few short years later Curly graduated from her 5 point harness car seat to a booster as well. The boosters were available, but the way the doors of the car were structured, I no longer climbed back to see who was sitting where. We dusted off the 5 point harness seats for long drives to Yellowstone and the like, but otherwise the three kid rows of seats became an unbridled free-for-all. Kids frequently flopped over seats and switched rows at stoplights.
One day my friend Miranda offered to take a few of my kids to the park. My youngest four ran from the house towards her car full of excitement for an adventure with friends. They were only going a few blocks but you would have thought that they had been released from a life sentence of brussel sprouts and sorting laundry. When they returned, Miranda, who owns and operates a day care in the city and is accustomed to meeting codes, shared a conversation she had with Reggie. Reggie had shrugged off her attempt to buckle him into a booster. He assured her that this was not necessary as he rode around in his mom's car without a booster seat the majority of the time. Miranda relayed the story to me thru her chuckles. I knew she was simultaneously calculating my numerous moving violations. I admitted that Reg was right. I no longer had any idea who was riding on a booster and who wasn't. I described the countless times I saw feet kicking as little bodies launched themselves over seats to relocate to a more desirable location while I sat at a stop light.
4. I still remember the first time I left young kids unsupervised in my home. I drove Eddie to baseball practice about 4 blocks from home while the other kids sat at the kitchen table. Laddie was about nine years old. Practice interfered with dinner, Coach worked late, and I couldn't fathom loading kids into the car while their warm food cooled. Although my heart raced the entire 5 minutes I was gone, no harm was done. No one choked on dinner. No authorities were called. I still refused to make a habit of darting out for even a few minutes.
Coach and I have moved into the relaxed lifestyle where lining up a babysitter is no longer paramount to a night out. Our safety net of built in babysitters has backfired occasionally. As Laddie and Eddie become busier with sports, school, and friends, we have found ourselves fumbling without coverage when our teenager makes plans on a night when we won't be home. We handle the situation by quickly agreeing that the next youngest kid can handle the duty of being in charge. Thoughts like 'we won't be far', 'it's almost bedtime', 'we can just throw on a movie', and 'things might run smoother without the older kids around anyway', typically carry us through these last minute predicaments.
Last summer, Coach and I drove to the north side to drop Curly at an Irish dancing class. We made dinner reservations near the dance studio to celebrate our anniversary. This seemed to make the most sense for the dance class pick up. Mini's broken toe meant she couldn't dance, and she was attending a birthday party sleep over. Laddie was out with friends. Eddie would be home from soccer practice shortly, so we left Tetonka and Reggie home alone for what we thought would be a few minutes. It wasn't until we were almost to the north side when I remembered that Eddie would be going directly from soccer to a summer festival with friends. I called Tetonka to alert him that his position had been upgraded to first in command of he and Reggie. He served the two of them dinner from the crock pot and popped in multiple movies until Reggie's bedtime. We wouldn't be home soon, and we weren't just down the street. Fortunately, the night went off without a hitch thanks to cell phones and our new willingness to leave our kids home without enough adult supervision.
5. Being called out. There is no denying it. Laddie and Curly are experiencing different childhoods despite my best efforts to be consistent. Laddie enjoyed a regular, rotating play date schedule as a tyke. His friend's mom would often stay and chat with me while we kept our babies entertained. Curly's play dates were significantly less frequent and typically hinged on whether or not her siblings' friends had younger siblings her age. She has spent much of her early years at older siblings' sporting events, Irish dancing competitions, or in a car (either buckled in a car seat or rolling around in the big van). Her siblings are either picking on her or smothering her with an abundance of affection. Laddie was never picked on at home. He was the king of the castle and our world revolved around him for years.
Laddie took the bus from our first house to his Catholic school. He was dropped off at our door. I waited outside for the bus for the first few days of school when the weather cooperated. After that, he let himself in the unlocked front door where he was immediately hushed because of napping babies. Eventually the bus stop moved up the street, through a vacant lot, and into the neighborhood behind us. Laddie and Eddie were in 4th and 1st grades. They walked to and from the bus together. Our first house was surrounded by original owners. All elderly. There were no other kids walking to the bus. If the boys didn't walk back to my house several minutes after they left in the morning, then I gathered that they had been picked up on time.
In our current house, the junior high is three blocks away. The older kids walk to school weather and schedule permitting. The younger kids attend school in a building about six minutes away. The first few years after we switched from Catholic school to public school, we drove to the little kid building because the bus service was so expensive in this district. This year I decided to sign Reggie and Curly up for the bus. Mini had moved on to the walkable school, so the bus cost would be a bit more manageable. I now can't imagine life without the bus. Reg and Curly cross the culdesac to the next driveway from ours to catch the bus. Sleepyhead Curly often runs to the stop still wiping the sleep from her eyes and the last bits of toothpaste from her lips.
I stood outside on the neighbor's driveway for the first week of school. I waved as they got on the bus in the morning with their fresh school supplies, and I waited for the bus to drop them off after school. We chatted about their day for the one minute walk to our driveway. Eventually I reverted back to my old-school ways. In the morning when they race out the door for the bus, I am busy packing lunches, cleaning up the kitchen, and hustling teens out of the shower. After school I am either inside the house folding laundry, starting dinner, or unloading groceries, and happily greet them as they walk in the door. These two know the code to the garage door and at times they let themselves in if they beat me home from the store or my part time job.
Our current house is not in an elderly-only zone. There are two or three moms and dads who are bus stop junkies. They wait with their kids at the stop in the morning, and they congregate there after school until the bus pulls up. These kids are old enough and close enough to the stop to not have an issue getting home unaccompanied. Curly has recently called me out on the fact that I am never at the bus stop waiting for her after school. Reggie agreed that my bus stop strike was a poor showing. It's hard to explain to them that these other parents have families half the size of ours. In addition, they probably employ cleaning ladies. Their abundant time and my lack thereof are inconsequential to my 3rd and 1st graders. While not hanging out at the bus stop is actually consistent with the way Laddie grew up, these over-achiever parents are making me look like an uninterested mom who just quit parenting the last few of my brood.
Despite my abandon-the-bus-stop or die trying mindset, my guilt over other inconsistencies from Laddie down to Curly will probably force me to make an extra effort to greet the kids at the stop after school.