Too Much of Any Good Thing

Okay, you know those new moms who, when pulled from their cocoon of newborn nesting, finally come out to coffee with you, tiny tot attached to her breast, diaper bag piled high with “necessities” sitting on the stroller, ready for any immediate situation?

She eventually pulls her gaze from the newborn and aims her bleary eyes at you, wondering if she can remember your name.

You don’t have the heart to tell her that there’s spit-up on her shoulder.

But it doesn’t matter, because before you utter a word, she begins.

On and on and on and infinity ON about this new life experience. About the baby this and the baby that and how much her life has changed and why didn’t anyone WARN her but isn’t this the best thing since sliced bread and do you know the odds of this baby’s intelligence boost from when she played all that Mozart for her in-the-womb infant and here look the pictures she took yesterday of tubby time and maybe you can help her explain what is just a little weird about the baby’s navel?

She cannot WAIT to tell you what the baby did this morning.

You would not BELIEVE how the Hubby is taking all this.

It’s a good thing she’s adaptable to not getting any sleep anymore, and not eating regular meals (unless cold ones over the sink while the baby is screaming for attention counts), and sitting on her bum all day nursing and her bum is getting bigger by the day, but who cares because now she can read her billionth book on how to be the best mom ever while lactating.

She’s going to be the best mom ever. Did she mention that?

But just in case, she will take all of her insecurities to her girlfriends who have gone down the road before her. Surely they can explain what in the heck is just a little bit weird about her baby’s navel.

Best baby ever. Cutest baby ever. Worth every minute.

You will smile, nod, drink the coffee while it’s hot, and prove once again that you are sterling girlfriend material.

I’ve heard so many birthing stories, I could be an OB/GYN with one hand tied behind my back.

But I was also, once upon a time, that new mom who would NOT shut up, and I vowed never ever to be that obnoxious again.

Until I glanced into the mirror today and stopped cold, toothpaste dripping from my mouth.

It was her.

Oh no.

Okay, you know those new employees who, when pulled from their cocoon of new desk nesting, finally come out to coffee with you, cell phone attached to her palm, work bag piled high with “necessities” sitting on the table, ready for any immediate situation?

She eventually pulls her gaze from the newspaper headlines and aims her bleary eyes at you, wondering if she can remember your name.

You don’t have the heart to tell her that there’s a gap in her designer blouse.

But it doesn’t matter, because before you utter a word, she begins.

On and on and on and infinity ON about this new life experience. About the new job this and the new boss that and how much her life has changed and why didn’t anyone WARN her but isn’t this the best thing since sliced bread and do you know the odds of this job’s promotional possibilities from when she did all that Excel spreadsheet training and here look the notes she took yesterday at their staff meeting and maybe you can help her explain what is just a little weird about that one coworker’s comments?

She cannot WAIT to tell you what happened at work this morning.

You would not BELIEVE how the Hubby is taking all this.

It’s a good thing she’s adaptable to not getting any sleep anymore, and not eating regular meals (unless cold ones over the desk while the job is screaming for attention counts), and sitting on her bum all day typing and her bum is getting bigger by the day, but who cares because she will read her billionth book on how to be the best employee ever just as soon as she gets home.

She’s going to be the best employee ever. Did she mention that?

But just in case, she will take all of her insecurities to her girlfriends who have gone down the road before her. Surely they can explain what in the heck is just a little bit weird about her coworker’s comments.

Best job ever. Funnest job ever. Worth every minute.

You will smile, nod, drink the coffee while it’s hot, and prove once again that you are sterling girlfriend material.

I know you have so many career T-shirts, you could do my silly little job with one hand tied behind your back.

Thank you for seeing my life phase for what it is, and not running the other way when you see me coming.

When I am on my fifth-born job, I too will be over it.

But I’ll try to stop being so obnoxious in the meantime.

Thumb Wars

It’s baby season, and while I no longer have a license to hunt one down, I enjoy admiring yours from a respectful distance.

After you’ve carted it home and cleaned it and mounted it just right in your Ergo, I will give you one of the most important things you will ever need: a pacifier.

Binky. Bippy. Nuk. Sucky.

I will give you a variety pack, because we all know how ornery  persnickety  opinionated  selective the sweet little varmints are.

This transparent nugget of quiet contentment (notice the quiet part, please) will save your bacon for the next couple of years or so, until the time comes to lose  burn  give it to the big boy fairy in trade for a Ferrari not have one anymore because little Timmy should not bring one to kindergarten unless he can bring one for everybody.

Sharing is not caring in this case.

The reasoning behind a pacifier is common sense itself.  Little Timmy can have as many as he wants because they come from the plastic factory. They are easy come, easy go.

But he only has two thumbs. Those came from God.

And thumbs are not disposable. Yet.

Oh, I’m sorry. Did you just pledge to keep your child pure and free from all things synthetic and decide to nurse him into his organic teen years? I will add you to my prayer list and we can talk in twenty years because yes, you will at some point hand him a frozen pizza and go out for drinks with your girlfriends.

Oh, I’m sorry. Did you just say “Tossing out my kid’s binky is like inviting the toddler apocalypse into the house”?

Let me tell you which habit is going to be harder to break.

When I was my mother’s firstborn darling, she thought it was the cutest thing, her baby bundled up with her thumb in her mouth.

What happiness and instant quiet that thumb brought. (I did say quiet.)

It kept me happy for months which turned slowly into years.

It must have dawned on her one day that her kindergartner was still sucking her thumb. I’m sure  Miss Smith and my classmates noticed, and if they had any sense at all, were chock full of envy.

Sure they had thumbs of their own, but mine was so far superior – I made it look good, really – that they didn’t even try to compete.

And don’t think for a minute I was going to share.

Time wore on, as it does, and I have memories of painting bitters on my thumb to keep it from straying into my mouth, and on my nails to stop me from biting them. I remember being shamed by family members and embarrassed by peers.

I didn’t want to be a baby anymore, but my fingers would not stay out of my mouth. They snuck in when I was concentrating on schoolwork or watching TV or deep in sleep.

Eventually I was able to keep my nails on the short side. Occasionally I went with acrylics which, as you know, don’t come off by biting on them, they come off when you’re mid-vacation by catching them in a zipper.

They take the top of your real nail off, too, but at least you didn’t bite them.

It’s not your fault.

The roof of my mouth is permanently shaped in the press of a thumb print, like a cookie.

My right thumb is flatter than my left thumb, knuckle included.

My teeth were crooked, not side to side, but front to back, as my right teeth came forward for convenience and allowed me to bite my own lip once in a while. Good times.

When I finally got braces, I was a young newly-wed.

They stopped my fingers – and food – from going anywhere near my mouth for over two years.

The pain kept me from biting anything harder than applesauce.

Now you know.

The pacifier is an orthodontist’s kryptonite. You can invest one direction or another.

All hail, the binky.

It would have saved my dignity, my teeth, my thumb, my lip, my nails, and my marriage.

Well, the marriage worked out.

Because once you’ve seen your wife suck her thumb in her sleep, there’s really no other secrets left.

At Dawn

The rising sun is still a suggestion, painting a faint glow around the window shutters.

The house feels like calm clear water, a faint refrigerator hum, one sparrow singing his personal thoughts on summer flits off to another backyard.

Here in the darkness it is very content and warm and full of possibility, and for one moment, my mind merges with the babe about to enter this world today.

I sit on the couch and listen to the soft breathing of the two-year-old while her parents drive to the birthing grounds across town.

Watching her mama quietly prepare to leave, I recognized her aura…her knowing.

It is a purely female current that hums and sparks with purpose and courage, and it runs very deep.

The release of long days of waiting lifted from her shoulders and her back straightened with complete focus on the present.

A woman in labor is a formidable thing.

A woman in labor holds enough inner force and focus to stop an army in it’s tracks.

A woman in labor knows that there is only one conclusion to this event: the baby is out.

Quitting is not an option.

And everybody better get out of the way.

Or everybody needs to gather around.

Or both, every other five minutes.

As I sit here, there are more memories joining me than will have room on the page, because once you’ve had a baby you will never forget it. It had never occurred to you that you held that kind of power within your body; that your body could rise up and bring forth life like that.

You try to explain it to someone who hasn’t tried it, and they want to believe you, that their body has that level of strength too, that it lies within the mitochondria to kick into autopilot and explode into new life. The cells create new cells, another person’s cells, nourish them, protect them, and then force them out to exist as a whole separate being.

How this miraculous creation is taken so casually by everyone else not in active labor, is beyond me.

But we all do it.

Put a group of moms together and you will hear the inevitable birth stories and roll your eyes because if you wanted to hear so much TMI you could watch PBS at two in the morning.

They compare episiotomies the way a WWII vet talks about his war scars.

They want to know they aren’t the only ones who just went through that world-shattering event.

For mothers, the world will never be the same.

They wonder if they ever want to go through it again.

Mothers cannot believe that a womb can expand that much, and after the birth, they cannot believe that a heart can expand that much.

Mothers cannot believe how much a child can kick these organs and yet all of it remain intact.

A mother is one of the strongest things ever invented.

The sun has risen now, inevitable, changing the ambience of this home from waiting to fulfillment, and brightness fills the room as I open the shutters.

A single text pops up on my phone: baby brother has arrived.

The little one stirs in her big girl bed, dreams slowly giving way to thoughts of a new day and the marvels it may hold.

I will write more about this thing called ‘motherhood’.

But for now, all of my best memories must patiently wait while I make some tea and cuddle a toddler and lay claim to the humming deep in my cells.


From the Nanny Jo Diaries

Dear Diary,

Worry of the Day: Sometime in the murky future, this sweet little tater tot kidlet will discover that the only reason I hang out and party with her is because I’m getting PAID to do it.

And then she will hate me for the rest of my life.

Nobody warned me about this. Now I’m nervous. Now it’s….personal.

Perk of the Day: Kidlet thinks I’m an amazing cook. It doesn’t matter what gourmet lunch mom has prepared for her, the kid wants what I’ve packed in my own bag.

Today we had day-old cornbread muffins and made a delicious glorious mess of them.

Rant of the Day: Comatose parents!

I took the kiddo on a field trip today to a place that is designed specifically for toddlers through maybe six year olds.

It’s a “discovery” play place with both indoor and outdoor stations meant to encourage theatrics, scientific dialogue, gardening, and waterworks engineering. There were bubbles, legos, musical instruments, a climbing structure, book nooks, and a playhouse and play market, complete with little grocery carts and plastic produce.

I stood there digesting this for a minute before I said, “So, it’s basically just like home…but it comes with built-in siblings and I don’t have to clean it. Cool.”

Unlike home, my kidlet had to share this free-for-all with two busloads of kindergartners, one birthday party, and several exhausted new mothers who huddled in the picnic area, breastfeeding with one arm and slicing bananas into non-choking bits with the other.

There were only two supervisory eyes on the kid tornado that was blowing through the place, and they were both mine.

One eye stayed trained on the actual kid I had brought through the door, and the other eye helped me intercept the objects hurtling through space at her.

Kidlet is two years old now and becoming quite the little butterfly.

She went flitting between stations, considering all of the options, before settling on the slide.

Up the carpeted stairs, across the landing, and down the slide….over and over and over and over for a solid half hour.

If a little one sat on the slide ahead of her, she waited politely until it launched.

The larger ones would come along, pass her by, nudge the little ones out of the way, and help themselves.

She was very confused by it.

Eventually I lured her off and outside with the idea of bubbles.

“Bubble” is one of her first words. It’s what she called her contact lens.

There were five vats of bubble solution outside and multiple long wands for dipping and wafting through the air to create large bubble clusters.

It was fascinating for two dips.

Then another big kid came along, snatched her wand right out of her hand and walked away.

She and I looked at each other for a long minute before her face melted.

When kidlets cry, they begin with the lips, then the eyes follow, then the cheeks give way.

We decided that some kids are crazy like that and found her another bubble wand.

But inside I was steamed.

“Where are your parents?!” I mentally hollered at the kid wandering off.

As I turned back to my kidlet, another excitable kid waved his wand in the air and whacked her right on the head.

She got an instant shampoo and I was ready to wring out a few adults.

I looked around.

The adults were either scrolling through cell phones or talking to each other in corners, baby slings attached.

No one was going to claim the free-range shampooer.

Who does that??

Maybe this is the new parenting norm.

Confusion of the Day: At my house, the kids are either glued to computer screens or sitting in corners talking to each other and completely ignoring us adults who are running around “playing at real life” and occasionally bopping each other on the head.

Today’s Conclusion: If the adults and the teens are happily comatose, then society is currently being managed by bubble-wielding kindergartners. And we should be very afraid.

Would You Rather…The Toddler Version

My kids have a card game called “Would You Rather”.

The premise is that you have to choose between two pretty ridiculous things.

For example: Would you rather wear a tuxedo to school/work every day…or clothes three sizes too small?

Would you rather post all your report cards on Facebook…or all your love letters?

Would you rather be able to camouflage yourself like a chameleon…or puff up your body like a blowfish?

They love it.

Because they haven’t lived long enough.

So tell me, parents in the toddler trenches…would you rather…

“Sleep in” till 6am while your kid gets the butter out of the fridge and butters the entire kitchen and himself…or fall asleep at lunchtime and forget to pick up your kindergartner from school?

Pretend the toddler is still taking his nap so you can finish the chapter of the book you’re reading…or walk in before he decides to finger paint the walls around the crib with the contents of his diaper?

Force your kids to swallow “chew forever steak”…or look the other way so they can spit it into their napkins?

Eat a nice dinner of fettucini alfredo with roasted chicken and a side of acorn squash….or make spaghetti for the ten zillionth time in a row because that is all the kids will eat?

Potty train ‘early’, cleaning the floor, doing the laundry and tolerating six months of ‘relapses’…or wait until the summer they turn three and turn them loose buck naked in the backyard with a never-ending sippy cup and a potty chair?

See the inside of every bathroom in your community, suspending the tot above the sleaze…or keep a permanent line item in your budget labelled: “diapers and wipes”?

Step on Legos, Jacks, and Slinkys in the middle of the night while running into the kids’ bedroom…or let them throw up over it all and toss it out the next morning as “collateral damage”?

Let the flotsam of a year’s worth of meals build up to the point where you can no longer tell what color your high chair is…or put a pile of Cheerios in the middle of the floor and let the kid have at it?

Give them a pacifier that they drop out of the crib every single night at 2am and shriek madly…or let them suck their thumb until they’re 20?

Spend 15 minutes strapping your baby to your chest and your toddler to your waist while making a two minute stop to pick up your kindergartner…or spend a half hour waiting for Hubby to show up with a spare car key because the kindergartner climbed in and accidentally locked the car from the inside and is attempting to drive away?

Give your little one a pet fish that refuses to die (unless, of course, you pet and cuddle it)…or give her a hamster that refuses to live (and especially loathes petting and cuddling)?

Have the child who hates swim lessons and refuses to get into the water…or have the child who loves swim lessons and refuses to surface from below the water?

These are important choices to ponder, and I think I speak for us all when I say, “To Toddle or not to Toddle…that is the question.”

I’ll be making different versions of this game, as I find it rather cathartic.

And when you’re standing in the kitchen and have to choose between washing the dishes or drinking your bevmo from a sippy cup…well, we all know the answer to that one.


I go to more than one place on a regular basis for the singular purpose of making myself more visible. I will get my nails done or my face steamed or my hairs cut.

I sometimes buy the brightest scarf on the rack.

This allows common pedestrians strolling down the street to notice me without involuntary startles or rapidly avoiding eye contact.

It’s okay now. I’m me, I’m here, and I don’t mind sharing a friendly smile across the elevator.

So when a beautician, a young newly-married blonde thing, announced her first pregnancy to me accompanied by hormonal fireworks in her eyes, I took a deep breath and paused there.

“Some people are so insensitive!” she explained, “They see my belly and go on and on about how big I am and how much weight I’m gaining. I guess I’ll just work really hard to get back to normal after the baby comes.”

How do I tell her?

No one else will bother.

But there’s something about having a new baby that no one tells you and it really helps to be prepared with the knowledge that for the first year after your baby comes you are no longer visible.

You walk into a room holding a baby and no one looks at you.

They hold conversations with you while staring, cooing and poking at your bundle until you give the bundle up and then you will be talking to their left ear.

You are just the baby display. The handles that prop up the cuteness. You could be wearing a burka and no one would notice.

I was wearing a burka. Nobody commented.

I started using this to my advantage.

If I wanted the last cupcake on the table, I just waved the baby in the general area. While everyone converged on the infant, I swiped half the buffet.

And hid it in the folds of my burka.

Well, it was more like a muumuu; a giant all purpose burp cloth that I just tossed in the wash every night. It was like wearing a nun habit, but way too late for the vows.

You do know real clothes are pointless, yes? You’re getting assaulted from within as well as without, because if you’re nursing and any baby within ten miles starts to cry…your body attempts to feed it.

I missed a girlfriend’s wedding once, because on the way there, I drenched my best dress in milk and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

And jewelry? Painfully true. When they are finally sitting up in your arms, baby’s favorite little game is “rip mom’s earrings right out of her ears”.

“Girlfriend,” I began calmly, “I would enjoy the attention while it lasts. Once the baby is out, no one will notice you again. Eat all the food you want and concentrate on a healthy happy mom and baby.”

She looked undecided.

“No, really,” I went on, “I somehow have maybe two photographs of myself over the span of fifteen years but heaps of pictures documenting every month of each child’s life. I’m sure I was there, just nobody can prove it.”

I could see her inner debate, insisting her pregnancy glow would bloom into mother-hood glow.

Moms don’t glow.

They sweat, lactate, hyperventilate and fade into the tapestry.

“Here’s the clincher,” I ended, because really I guess you need to see it (or not) to believe it, “the cuter your baby, the more invisible you’ll be. I dressed my babies in nothing but diapers and onsies. Their cuteness levels were so high, even disguised in overalls, that people never looked higher than my kneecaps. True story.”

I wiggled my freshly painted toenails.

From the kneecaps down, I look pretty good.

5 Things to Learn While You’re Pregnant and Use the Rest of Your Life

I had five kids the hard way, and I’ve been La Maze breathing ever since.

Every once in a while I look around for an epidural.

Hey, there’s no extra credit for suffering.

That’s one of the latest mommy things I’ve learned.

For example, ideally you should be nursing your little pumpkin for a solid first year, but when weaning is moving along and the horrors of mastitis set in, subbing a bottle of formula is not going to compromise his future football career.

It’s not, no matter what the little pumpkin insists otherwise.

So let’s get some things on the table right now and realize it’s never too late to stop being a mommy martyr.

1.   Vitamins. Those nasty horse pills that make you constipated just looking at the bottle. You take them for your baby and the minute he’s out you toss those vitamins. Don’t. You need those for the rest of your life. Maybe reducing to a lighter version will help those “side effects” but you will not be eating right for a couple of frantic years followed by years where everything edible for miles is eaten by your kid. You will be reduced to sharing the applesauce baby food jars. Do you want to be able to walk in a straight line? Take your vitamins.

2. Stretchy Pants. Keep em. I know you are as big as a house and sometimes you walk into your closet and fondle the cute little ‘wild thing’ wardrobe that got you into this situation in the first place. You look into the mirror and promise yourself that the minute this little parasite exits the building, you aren’t ever going to be seen in these rotten maternity clothes again. Ha. Yes. Yes, you are. Because not only does your pregnant body take it’s sweet time deflating but you will be barfed on, pooped on, peed on and bled on. You do not want baby’s precious bodily fluids ruining anything but the clothes you already loathe.

3.   That Birth Plan. Yeah, remember when you were taking birthing classes and hospital tours and shopping for pediatricians? You have a cute little paper that you filled out stating all of your wishes while in labor and delivery. Then you go into labor, the hospital staff “files” your paper, and after 24 hours of screaming, you get your C section. Frame that ‘Plan’. You need to remember over the next twenty years (okay, much longer) that this is the new norm.

4.   Perfectionism sucks. So will your house. Enjoy the view at the moment, while your bun is still in the oven. The seven pound cinna-bun already has her own room, freshly decorated with new paint, new crib and bedding, adorable bric-a-brac, a closet of clothes with accessories, and a battalion of strollers, carseats, bassinet, swing, highchair, diaper bags, changing table, bathtub, potty seat, cutlery and “entertainment”. Organize it all. Find spots that seem logical and color coordinated. Take a photo. Now imagine every single item rearranged, filthy, and possibly hanging from the ceiling fan a month from now. None of this was needed, except the carseat, because all the cinna-bun wants to do is remain attached to your body forever. Your only respite is to strap baby bun into the car and go for a long drive involving the 24 hour drive-through Starbucks. You didn’t even need the house.

5.   La Maze is for life. Breathe with me here. Iiiiinnnn…..hold it…..ooooouuutttt. Good. Every time a life contraction hits, remember your training. Sit down or lean against the wall, close your eyes and count your breath until the pain passes. Your baby may come out of your body but your body will still hurt every time your child has a growing pain. Remember, it’s a natural process. You need to release and roll with the pain; if you tense up and fight it, you will hurt more than you need to. It’s a good pain, a hard working, sweaty and worthy pain. And just when you think you can’t take it one more time, your child shows up with a new lease on life. Maybe a little messy, but you made it through. Well done.

Yes, I know.

That dazzling little creature smiling at you makes it all worth while.

Which just goes to show how you’ve really lost your mind.

You may as well get used to that, too.

Nanny Jo Rides Again

My kids insist I’m a dinosaur.

When they were four years old, I cheerfully went along with it.

Now that they’re twenty, it’s not so cute.

They tease me that they can make me a grandparent whenever they feel like it and there’s nothing I can do to stop them.

They say, “We’re not going to call you Grandma though…we’re going to promote you straight to ancestor. You can teach our kids about the Stone Age.”

I’m pleased to report that although I am nowhere near the grandparent zone, I am officially a nanny to a sweet little one year old girl. I began as a babysitter but she quickly promoted me to Nanny Jo, a title I don’t take lightly.

When I was approached about watching her on a regular basis, I balked. I’ve raised my five kids past the age of 13 years old now and going back to “square one” is not my idea of smart.

Every time my youngest passed a milestone, I was ecstatic.

I couldn’t wait to toss the crib. The sad two-seater stroller had a ripped canopy, a broken wheel, and was faded from multiple washings. Kicking it to the curb was such a good day.

When your youngest has finally potty trained and you don’t have a single diaper in the whole house…this my friends, is freedom.

But her mama was ready to start back to work part time, and I’ve been vaguely considering rejoining the workforce (ie: having a paycheck).

Don’t ever ask a mother if “she works”.

First, she will laugh hysterically. Then she will go all crazy in the eyes and come after you with a bulb syringe.

I agreed to try it for a while and see if everyone involved still thought it was a good plan after a few weeks.

The drooling, squirmy package was placed into my arms and mama waved good-bye.

The moment the door closed, we had a little sit-down.

She sussed me out immediately, the bright thing, as a lady who was rather no-nonsense.

“Look kid,” I told her, “this isn’t my first rodeo.”

She patted my face and babbled on about her morning.

She took some time to explain that her mama very likely didn’t mean it about naps. That basically naps were for sissies, and there were plenty better things to do. She offered me up to half of her little kingdom if I wouldn’t lay her down in the crib.

Thankfully, I speak fluent eight month old.

When I explained that napping was basically heaven in a pillow, she saw it differently.

I had to demonstrate a couple of times to prove it.

But she got the message.

She showed me around her home, pointing out the particularly great refrigerator door handles they had and took me to every spot that was naughty or unsafe within the first half hour.

She really made sure I understood the job.

She is very helpful like that.

She admired my shoes. She admired my jewelry. I admired her extensive hair bow collection.

We chatted over lunch about her taste in music (I lean toward classical, she likes dad’s stereo system) whether Barney still exists (Oh I hope not) and why, if you baked four and twenty blackbirds into an actual pie, did they get away and bite off a lady’s nose?

It doesn’t make sense.

We planned some tea parties, a couple of field trips, maybe a play date or two.

We discussed the pros and cons of siblings, and what the definition of “toy” is.

And then I rocked the wee bundle of charm to sleep and placed her in the crib.

I stood there, suddenly speechless and shook my head.

Now we know how I ended up with five.

I did have the last word before backing slowly out of her room:

“You are kind, you are smart, and you are important.”

Courtesy of Aibileen.

I (Almost) Left my Heart in San Francisco

As a mom of five children born over ten years, I know the feeling of being surrounded at all times with a busy brood of toddlers.  When you’ve got the house battened down, the gates up, the doors double-latched and the baby-proof outlet covers in place, you can be lulled into a sense of temporary security.  You may or may not be able to take your eyes off them for a moment to use the toilet.  Maybe some will have to come with you.

Maybe you’d better leave the door wide open, just in case.

Knowing my distractible forgetful self, I spent every move of our day doing headcounts.  The numbers may have changed over the years, but the routine stayed faithful.  If we went from playing outside to coming in for bath time, we counted heads.  If we are going to the park, line up for headcounts.  As a matter of fact, line up your shoes, hats, and water bottles for a count.  We moved in a herd, and if one kid needed something, we all just lined up and got tended together.  Call me obsessive if you must, but we never lost a kid.

Until him.

When I tell you that if he had been my first, he would also have been my last, I tell you the truth.  If I had not already had four children, enough to know exactly what I was doing, my dear fifth-born would have broken me.  The poor child had inherited my ADD from birth.  While other children nursed calmly, he could not stay focused more than five minutes or so before wondering if he were missing something.  Of course, surrounded by siblings, he was missing things, but a newborn should not be thinking about that quite yet.

I’m explaining up front so that my guilt level doesn’t rise as I confess my story.

This was my only child to break an arm, lose teeth in a living room rumpus, get a concussion, and, heaven help me, get lost on major family adventures, all before the age of 5. He is the most curious, enthusiastic, happy, people loving, gregarious boy you will ever meet.  And when the world is your oyster, you are never lost.  Perhaps your parents are lost, but you most certainly are not.

I spent a lot of my time during our trip to San Francisco head counting.  I did not go so far as to dress everyone in matching neon yellow shirts, although looking back I guess it wouldn’t have hurt anything but our dignity.  The kids rode the trolley cars and toured the city, playing in parks and enjoying the views.  Pier 21 was bustling and a big lure was the sea lions congregating in the water along the edge.  We are animal lovers and many photos were taken.

It wasn’t until all the way around to the other side that my headcount came up short.  You can guess who was AWOL.  Truly when people are massed and moving, your family suddenly looks like everyone else’s family.  We regrouped and spread out to find him.  Those ten minutes were an eternity.  I stayed put like every mom says to a lost child, so that you can be found.  There was always the chance he would find me.  There was also the real possibility my legs couldn’t move as they turned into jelly with terror.

I’m not sure I was breathing.

Dad found him back on the other side of the pier. Our little boy was enjoying an ice cream with a policeman and had not a care in the world.  Apparently he stayed behind to watch the sea lions and then wandered along enjoying himself.  He was the only calm person involved in the story and I have to say we rather hovered over him for days afterwards.

Yes, there are mothers who tether their children and I was happy when the kids could be belted into a stroller.  If only the older four had not lulled me into thinking we had no need of such things.  Even holding mom’s hand was considered sissy stuff, so the head counting was my way of invisible tethering, of ticking off the fingers, of collecting all of my precious children in one hand.

I have since discovered ways of making sure the kids, now older, will watch for me, peering over the crowd to find the mom who has something they desperately want….ice cream.  For the older ones, cash works.  They can just count my head, an easy number of one, as their precious thing to track.

Fireworks on the Homefront

I’m dusting around the room with my trusty feathery duster and not really paying attention because there are so many voices in my head, all discussing which things should be at the top of which lists, which is important when you’re a list maker.  Then my eyes actually focus on the object at hand. It’s a silver desk bell. You tap the button on top to “ding” it, like in a hotel lobby or old-school diner when your order is ready for pick-up. So I stop and ding it.

This makes me happy because it reminds me of when I bought it. I had five kids in three schools and you can safely imagine the amount of daily chaos around the house.

I was always coming up with different ideas for ways to get my kids’ attention. Yelling for a particular child did not turn out well. First of all, I needed to call out the correct name.

“Mm, Han, Cay, J..” I would sputter, while stirring spaghetti sauce, “kid number four!” I finally scream, hoping for the best, “Child! Where are you?!”

When I volunteered in a classroom, learning the names of students was nigh impossible for me. It took all year and then I had to start over with a new batch. I was reduced to calling out, “OK, you in the blue stripes, your turn on the electric keyboard!”

Of course, this was a fun activity and anyone remotely wearing a blue striped top was stepping over the heads of other students to get to me as fast as possible.

Not so at home. A child could be summoned for many reasons, and most of them involved an activity that could not by a long stretch be labeled “fun”. My kids knew whatever they were currently involved with, from playing with matchbox cars to picking their nose, it was way more exciting than whatever mom was going to tell them.

Didn’t they know that by the time I had the correct child actually respond and arrive in my presence that my question or command would be completely gone? Yes. Yes, they did.

The child will stand there looking innocent, wondering why mom felt the need to send three other children to summon him (“Mom wants you!  Now!”) while I frantically scan my last three working brain atoms for the thought they held not five minutes ago.

I decided many times that it was not okay to be constantly yelling from across the house for some random person. It wasn’t all that big of a house. Parenting manuals will tell you that it is so much more effective and bonding to walk to the child, kneel down at his eye level and quietly explain what you need. This brings the volume in a home down several decibels and sets a good example.

Excuse me while I laugh so hard my stomach hurts. This is not humanly possible unless you are working in a day care and are getting paid to do nothing else but stare soulfully into a child’s eyes while he is completely ignoring you. You can speak softly for hours. This kid is not going to hear you.

I tried the old, “Speak softly, carry a big stick” routine.

But the little buggers heard me coming and ran.

No one who joined us for dinners over the years could understand why my children all spoke so loudly. Even one on one, it was like they were sure no one was listening unless they put in maximum velocity.

The little silver bell was supposed to fix this. If I “ding” the bell once, it meant I was calling child number one, the firstborn.  The one mature enough to listen for such subtle summons. Two dings meant child number two, and so on. It was supposed to be obvious that five dings, which sounds rather frantic, meant the lastborn, no real counting of dings required.

Just show up when it sounds like mom is playing the maracas on the dinger.

Okay, now my stomach is really hurting. Make it stop. Yes, yes, shades of von Trapp.

Today I use a completely different tack. I just lunge for the nearest warm body and make it do whatever needs doing at the moment. Carpe diem. “Sieze the kid.” Also saves me from looking completely bewildered all day long. Makes me look competent and efficient.

They give me a wide berth.

I thought about claiming a Greek or maybe Italian heritage. But let’s face it. We’re just birds of a feather yelling together.

When you see me burst into laughter while dusting, now you are in on the joke.

And even when I’ve put my mom messages in writing (Swimsuit Edition much?), you can be assured that hundreds of people worldwide have instantly gotten the memo…and that my own children are steadfastly not listening to a word of it.