When What Happens is What Everyone Assumes Is Always Happening

Last night held one of those moments where I stopped in the middle of the melee and thought, “THIS is what those ladies in Safeway probably mean when they widen their eyes and say, “FOUR kids?  THREE are boys?!  Oh, you are in for it.”  They assume my life is chaos every waking hour.

It’s not, not even close, but when it is, it reeeaaally is.

I was supposed to have dinner with my girlfriends, my beloved gals from college days, who gather monthly to make sure we stay connected through all of life’s changes.  We call ourselves ThirThur, because we meet on the third Thursday of the month.  (Actually that’s not even true anymore, but SecWed just never had the same ring.)

Since it’s set on our calendar, Mike knows I’ll be heading out around 6 to make our 6:30 dinner.  Except this day, his CFO asks for a last-minute 5 – 6PM meeting downtown, and to his credit, he texts me to ask if this is okay.

I text back, “Work comes first so of course — but since it’s downtown could you tell him you need to jet at 5:45?”  He says no problem, and I resign myself to making and feeding the children their dinner, a task I’d hoped to relegate to him for my night out.

One of those girlfriends, Kelly, stopped by to greet the kiddos, since she hadn’t seen them in several months.  They go into an elevated state of energy when we have company they love, so making and serving dinner was loud, overwhelming and chaotic; it was like herding feral puppies just to get everyone seated at the table.

I texted Mike a touch of an SOS:

5:36PM “The kids are driving me insane with their energy.  It’s because Kelly is here but will make it so hard for me to get dressed and ready.  Please hurry.”

He replies:

5:54PM “Left 10 minutes ago!”

I uncharacteristically write, “Bless you my love” because I truly was so grateful he was honoring our deal so I could get out of the house on time.

Kelly takes off so she can get ready for our dinner out, and I clean dishes and wipe the table before heading upstairs to get dressed myself.

I stood in the closet trying to pick a maternity top that made me feel dressy enough to be out to dinner, only to find after putting it on that the first one has a mysterious water-like stain right in the middle of it.

I choose another — and discover a different faint mark in the midsection of this one.  I’m horrified that my clothes have stains I didn’t know about.  Then I realize it’s amusing that I’m shocked by stains on my clothes when I am cooking for and running after four children all day.  There shouldn’t be a surprise factor here.  But what’s to be done?  Wear an apron?  Are rubber gloves and a hairnet far behind?

After donning outfit number three, I start fussing with my hair and makeup.  Arden is hanging out with me in the bathroom, as I always dreamed my daughter would, when Henry walks in, eyebrows high and little palms face-up in a surrender pose.

He says, “Don’t be mad.”

Few words cause me to panic faster.

“What is it?” I ask.

“Jameson did something.  He really did.  But don’t be mad.”

“WHAT is it?”

“Don’t be mad, it’s broken.”

“Henry, it is so, so much worse for me when you draw it out like this.  WHAT is?”

“You know that Christmas train that turns around and makes music and…he broke it.”

“Do you mean the snow globe!?  Is it shattered all over the floor??”

“Yes,” he says, eyebrows higher than ever, hands of supplication still raised.

Henry doesn’t have a dishonest setting, so I know he’s telling the truth, and yet I’m baffled that such a thing could occur without me hearing it.  I’d heard a thud a few minutes prior, but nothing like the sound of an enormous snow globe shattering.

A glimmer of hope flickers in me that perhaps a piece of the train around the snow globe has broken off, and that’s the extent of it.  I don’t give a flying French hen about the globe itself, I just really, really don’t want to deal with the aftermath.

I reach the bottom of the stairs and look down the hall at huge shards of glass cascading up the hallway, a lake of water across the hardwoods, and wet, goopy glitter everywhere.  Jameson and Hunter are frozen in front of it,  and Jameson’s socks are soaked, but he isn’t crying, so I hold my breath that he hasn’t cut himself.  They’re each holding a white trash bag, presumably to clean with, and I notice the rolled-up rug in the adjacent bathroom — trash bags and pushed-back rugs are stunning acts of household preservation from my preschoolers, and perhaps this is what keeps me from completely losing my mind.

At this point one may be thinking, the negligence!  What kind of mother leaves a 2.5, 4.5 and 6 year old downstairs when she is upstairs?

This mother does, every single day, because that’s life.  I cannot stand next to them every moment; there are chores to be done, things to grab upstairs, clothes to change, diapers to attend to — we all can’t be in the same room all day.  Nine times out of ten, nothing happens.

This was not one of the nine.

I tell everyone to sit across the bottom stair so I know they aren’t near glass, and I gather paper towels, rags and a broom.  I begin gingerly picking up glass fragments, hunched over and painfully reminded that I’m eight months pregnant.

I look at the row of boys and say, “Who did this?”

Hunter and Henry: “Jameson!”

Jameson:  “I did!!!!”

His shamelessness is disarmingly endearing, and I salute myself for not having yelled or screamed so far.  It is an achievement that I hope will be recorded in my Book of Life.

After a few minutes of cleanup they get restless on the stairs, and start to tussle.  I am having none of that, so like the genius I am, I send them to another floor away from me.  It worked so well the first time.

“Go up to the playroom so I can clean — go! Go play!”

They run up the stairs and I resume cleaning until it occurs to me to call Mike so he’s forewarned about what he’s walking into.  It’s also now 6:20, so I’m a liiiiiiiitle curious how much longer he’s going to be.

After I describe the fiasco, he says, “I’m five minutes away, you’re doing great, I’ll be there soon,” and I sigh and unroll more paper towels.

I text my girlfriends the situation, and tell them I’m going to be very late, so please, order your wine and begin your evening.  One writes back, “We’ll order you two glasses of wine!”  before remembering I’m pregnant and writing, “I realized it after I wrote it.”

By the time he walks in I’ve got 95% of it cleaned, and I’m eerily calm.  He sends me back upstairs to finish getting ready, Arden joins me and gives me a hug, and then runs back to the playroom.

One minute later she comes back in.

“So how mad are you right now?” she asks.

I sigh and say slowly, “I’m fine; I’m not mad. Didn’t you notice I didn’t yell at all?  I’m fine.”

“So how much madder would you be if something else happened?” she asks tentatively.

I look over at her with my hands frozen in the creation of my topknot.

“What happened?  You can’t be serious.  What happened?” I ask.

“Umm,” she looks at me nervously.  “Don’t be mad.”

Those magic words again.

“I don’t want to tell you.  Let’s just not go look,” she decides.

I turn to walk down the hall to the playroom but notice the twins’ door is closed with the light on inside.  I open it.

Henry is up on his bunk bed, Hunter is sitting on the floor.

“What’s going on?” I ask them.

“I’m grounded,” Henry says sadly.  He’s already meted out his own punishment, which is precious, but makes my anxiety triple.

I start walking toward the playroom but Arden runs ahead of me saying, “Don’t go in!  Don’t look!” I push past her and open the door to find our brand-new light fixture dangling from the ceiling, hanging on by one teensy wire.

I gasp and say, “It’s been ONE MINUTE!  How did this — ” but I see the plush football as Arden says, “They were playing football.”

I return to the boys in their cowed positions and calmly say (where is my award for non-yelling excellence!?), “We will not be playing football in this house.  Is that clear?”

Hunter: “Yes, Mom.”

Henry:  “Yes, ma’am.”

There’s nothing like a “yes, ma’am” to rip my heart out, so I walk over to him and tell him I love him, kiss him on his cheek and rub his hair.  Just then Mike gets wind of what’s happened and his face is a storm, but I say, “I did NOT lose it over THAT down THERE so you are not losing it up here,” and he inhales deeply but doesn’t lose it.

I announce: “I am out of here.  I am gone!  Goodbye, family.  I am now 30 minutes late.”

Arden follows me downstairs, all reassurances, with maturity that makes me adore her to the point of cracking open.

“Mom, you’re just going to have the best time tonight.  It’s going to be so great and you’ll just have the best time at your dinner.”  She grabs me halfway around the waist, because I no longer have one, and kisses the baby belly before racing back up the stairs.

The girls text me not to stress, and for the first time maybe ever, I don’t.  I just drive.  I don’t drive like a bat out of hell, which is what I would normally do when I’m even five minutes late.  I just drive.  I recount to myself what didn’t happen: no one cut themselves.  I didn’t yell.  I didn’t cut myself.  I didn’t shame/blame Mike for being late, or not being there when I had to deal with the mess.  Somehow, grace got through.

In short, it wasn’t a disaster.  It was a broken snow globe.  And this might be the first time those two were not synonymous.  Which, really, makes it a victory.

 

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Party of Five

We are having our fifth baby!

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We’re really excited and we’ve been surprised by others’ excitement when we told them.  We thought we’d get a lot more eye rolls or aghast expressions, but mostly we’ve felt nothing but love and joy from our friends and family.  Shoppers at Costco don’t know yet because I’ve yet to take all four while my bump has been visible.  We’ll get those aghast stares yet, folks.

Each of our previous children have arrived before the prior child turned two, so this feels like a huge gap to us.  Jameson will be about 7 weeks away from his third birthday when the baby is born, and that is eons older than the 21-months-old twins we brought Hunter home to, or the 3.5-year-old twins and 22-months-old Hunter we brought Jameson home to. His ability to talk, understand, obey, and generally function will be light-years easier than our prior experiences.

We also feel really unfazed, and that’s the blessing of time and experience.  We’re not holding our breath or totally freaked out.  When Jameson joined the family, it didn’t make waves the way the first three did.  He synced into our lives and brought happiness, not strain.

We anticipate a similar experience with this baby, because really, what other option is there?  That’s the secret behind larger families that we’re discovering: your first child alters your universe, the second rocks your world, the third overturns the apple cart, but the fourth has to roll with what’s already there.  The fifth?  They are allowed very few demands, by necessity.  We already have routines, school schedules, commitments, structure, and the baby will hopefully jump right in.

Maybe I’ll read this six months from now and weep from my own ignorance, but I doubt it.  It’s funny how we’re finding that though life is much busier, wilder, and louder with more kids, it’s not exponentially harder with each additional kid.  The bell curve shoots straight up from kids one and two and then kind of levels out.  From what I’m told, most people opt out of kid 3 and 4 because they assume (and why wouldn’t they?) that the bell curve rockets straight into the sky indefinitely — and who could live like that?  But it doesn’t.

For instance, I’m not making more dinners or driving more places…I’m just doubling a recipe and setting one more place at the table, and dropping more kids at the same school.  Do you see what I mean?  We don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time.

The real sweetness is in their relationships with each other.  Mike and I could not be more obsessed with our kids, but we know the long-term blessing is what we’re giving them in each other.  Watching them run out of the house every day to play football in the yard (with two vs two they can actually make do even if the neighbors aren’t home), or hearing Arden and Hunter play school in one of their rooms, or seeing Henry wrestle both boys, these are the moments when our effort in the daily grind is nothing compared to the joy before us.

I’m constantly amazed by the lightening of my load in other ways too.  It wasn’t long ago that I was pushing a double stroller with a baby on my chest, and now I have four kids racing ahead on their bikes, leaving me hands-free to jog behind them.  It’s so easy!

The car, though.  The car.

Everybody asks what on earth we’re going to do about our car.  We drive a minivan, obviously, but all the kids are still in car seats.  So if we put the middle seat back into the middle row (it’s captains chairs right now), how will two kids access the third row?  We can’t fit three car seats across the back row, or we’d do that.  The twins are still in five-point harnesses, but we’re thinking it’s time to switch to lap belts — still, that doesn’t reduce the size of their car seat, it only changes how they’re strapped to it.

We are seriously considering a sprinter van, which would make us look like we’re delivering Amazon Prime packages, but I may have to make my peace with that.  I don’t think I can do a Suburban, because I’d lose my auto-open van doors, which are the crown jewels of my loading-kids-in-the-car experience.

I don’t spend my days thinking about February when the baby will be here.  I spend much more time savoring being pregnant.  I love it wholeheartedly, and every day I walk around ecstatic that I get to do this again.  It’s glorious feeling the kicks, it’s fun to have to quasi-waddle or hold my hands on my back like a pregnant woman in an 80’s movie, I love when my body demands that I lay down for ten minutes because it feels so good, I love that I am eating what I want and still exercising, I love wearing maternity clothes again…I could write endlessly about my love of being pregnant.

And having had several kids, I know what’s ahead with a newborn, so I am consciously grateful every day that this baby doesn’t yet need to be fed, held, rocked, nursed, quieted, soothed, bathed, changed — nada!  This baby just hangs out silently inside me, eating what I eat (sorry about Halloween, baby), sleeping when I walk, and waking and kicking when I lay down.  It is the greatest.

The kids can’t wait, though like last time, they’re toeing the party line on baby’s gender.  Boys want a boy, Arden wants a girl.  We’re talking often of preparing our hearts either way, so no one bursts into disappointed tears in the delivery room.  I think they’ll see the little bundle in a blanket and newborn hat and fall in love either way.

I’m almost 29 weeks, so we’ve a little over two months to go.  To say each pregnancy goes faster than the last is an understatement, but I also know that the baby stage goes faster each time, so I’m hoping to savor it, even the harder parts.

Mike and I can’t believe we’re going to have five kids.  Five!  It’s bananas, and we’re overwhelmed with gratitude.

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Happy Ten Year Anniversary, WBO!

Ten years ago, my sister, Erin, told me to take up blogging.  She said this because I was lamenting the lack of jobs in journalism/writing/magazines, or lamenting that they paid peanuts.  I had resigned myself to earning a real paycheck in project management in the tech world, but I needed a creative outlet.

“You should start a blog,” she said.  I think I grimaced on the phone because it sounded so cliché, and probably embarrassing.

“Won’t people think I’m a navel-gazer?” I asked.  “What would I even write about?”

She replied that there were dozens of blogs she loved reading that weren’t self-serving, and I’d find topics as I went.

“Just don’t name it after yourself.  Don’t Abby.com.  That’s super annoying.”

Noted.

A few days and many hems and haws later, I posted my first blog about…why I am blogging.  Original!  But I quickly followed up with a story about making over a house in south Seattle, and one about a race to get to the symphony.  I committed to posting every week for a year and I met that commitment.

Was my posting robust after that first year?  Not hardly.

I’ve published 182 posts in ten years, which is very un-Victor Hugo of me, but does mean I met a larger goal of mine: to keep at it.  I cannot count the number of friends and acquaintances who have eagerly started blogs with high ambitions, only to fizzle out after less than a year.  This is not a reflection of their talent, only discipline.

I fault them exactly zero percent, because my last post was…October! October, everybody.  That’s a different year than now.

When I started blogging, I was a working newlywed with no children.  I was 24 precious years old.

europe 2009

On a plane with a beverage.  Entirely ignorant of how rare that caption would become in parenthood.

Now my marriage is a preteen, I have four kids (two are 5.5, one is 4, and one is 2), and my job doesn’t even pay peanuts.  I enjoy how that came full-circle.

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Note the absence of planes and beverages.

 

 

But!  I know for sure we are far, far more joyful and purposeful than when we began.  And, it goes without saying (but I’m saying it), working a hundred times harder.

Which is the central reason I have failed to blog for so many months.  I just don’t make the time.  I miss it.

A couple of friends and I have challenged ourselves to engage in deep work — writing or creating or researching that takes a minimum of two consecutive hours.  No interruptions allowed, no phone, no internet, no TV in the background.  It’s the answer to so much of what ails us; in fact, it’s worthy of its own blog post, and maybe I should deep work that this evening.  But I have plans tonight.  And tomorrow is Friday.  So maybe Monday.  See how the discipline is the problem to blogging?

To you, kind reader, I want to say thank you, whether this is the first time you’ve clicked or you’ve been here for a decade — thank you for the encouragement and generous thumb-scrolling to make it to the end of the post.

This sounds like a goodbye speech.  This is Abby.com, signing off!

Pshhh.  As if I’d give up after ten years.

Tradition dictates that tin or aluminum are the ten-year gifts, but let’s not be bound by tradition.

Wink!

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