Thursday, April 10, 2014

When Does the Grown Up Get Here? - My Messy Beautiful

We celebrated my father's birthday a few years back, and at the end of our dinner he raised a glass and announced to his assembled family,

"Well, I can tell you one thing for sure. You never do feel seventy-five!"

I knew just what he meant. 

I try, as often as possible, to spend time with my childhood BFF. Whenever we're together it's like old times. We laugh like crazy, we rage like emotionally unbalanced teens, and we generally act like the kids we were back when we first met. Then at some point her 23-year-old son will saunter into the room and stun us with the hard truth that what we are, in 2014, is a pair of forty-something moms on an ill-advised weeknight bender.

We've all had this experience, right? Where the very realness of our current reality proves just so out of step with the way we perceive ourselves that our brains can't…quite...manage to...keep up.

I'll give you another example.

Several years ago my car broke down on the 101 freeway in Los Angeles. I don't remember the exact mechanical details, but suffice it to say that without warning my vehicle decided to stop being a vehicle and to become instead a giant car-shaped paperweight completely incapable of forward motion.

I panicked. 

Trucks and automobiles were whizzing by me on either side at alarming speeds. I prayed that perhaps some kind soul might lend a hand, but passing motorists merely slowed in order to offer a shouted critique of my driving abilities and/or to briefly proffer a raised middle finger and a facial expression designed to convey, 

"Thanks for ruining the freeway! You. Are. Terrible."

I did the only thing I could think of. I called my Mommy. 

From the 3rd lane of one of the busiest freeways in America I sat in my smoking vehicle, crying, and I called my mother -- a woman with absolutely zero automotive knowledge who was, at the time, over 3,500 miles away in the suburbs of New York City.

My mom picked up the phone, and after finally making sense of my situation through my frantic sobs responded abruptly,

"Well, darling! What in the hell are you calling me for?"

I didn't have what you'd call a "logical" response to what was, in truth, a pretty fair question. 

But as I look back, I understand that I was calling for a reason. I was calling because in spite of the fact that I was close to thirty years old at the time, I'd managed to get so overwhelmed that I'd opted to abandon any pretense of being an adult and instead just kind of commit to curling up in a very small ball, staying completely still, and hoping that a "real grown-up" would magically show up and make everything OK again.

It's a feeling I get sometimes.

I was thirty-seven the night I sat trying to soothe my firstborn child through his early hours home from the hospital. As I rocked and sang to him I just kept thinking,

"Wow, this seems a little advanced for me. I sure wish an adult would come and, you know, actually take care of this little guy."

Just a year earlier I'd sat holding my husband's hand in the warm office of a Texas funeral home making arrangements for his father's memorial service. As we began to work out the details I found myself summoning what willpower I could muster to keep from actually saying out loud,

"Um -- shouldn't we wait until a grown-up gets here before doing any of this?"

It's a panic reaction really. 

It's this feeling of being an impostor -- a frightened kid in a grown woman's body who is IN NO WAY CAPABLE of dealing with the things that real adults have to face.

But the truth is, of course -- those magical grown-ups? They're not coming. (I mean, to be fair, the Triple A guy who dragged me off the highway was an adult and he was pretty magical in that he didn't even goof on me for bawling and he let me finish his Big Gulp to help me calm down -- but that's not really what I'm talking about here.) 

I now have three children of my own. I am at a stage of my life in which bruises and bad days and good days and accidents and outings and diagnoses and dilemmas and sometimes even terrible awful deaths are going to keep arriving at my grown up doorstep -- mine to figure out and navigate.

And that -- I mean IT'S LIKE REALLY REALLY FREAKY you guys!!!

But there's no sense in panicking, right?

So instead I do what I can. I try to offer comfort. I attempt to soothe. I work at meeting the "big girl" challenges with whatever flawed and fraught and frantic solution I have at any given moment.

I work on accepting the fact that I'm not the caller anymore. I am the one who gets called.

And what else can I do but try to do it. Try to answer.

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

There Were Three in the Bed (room)

We have three children under six and we live in a two bedroom house, which means that of late we have found ourselves desperately trying to figure out how to get all three of our kids to sleep in the same room at the same time.

I'm not gonna lie -- it hasn't been going that well.

When we first moved into this home we had one 7-month-old baby. Having moved from a one-bedroom apartment, this place felt downright ENORMOUS. I mean SIX WHOLE ROOMS. What would we ever do with that amount of space?

What we ended up doing was having two more kids in the next three years - - and suddenly our castle started feeling much more like a tiny little cabin.

When my second son was born, we optimistically set up the "kids' room" with a nice white crib right alongside his brother's "Big Boy Bed". What we failed to foresee was that older brother would see this as an open invitation to leap upon his supine brother Wrestlemania-style whenever we placed him down at rest time.

Scrambling to protect our baby's delicate internal organs, we opted to move him to a Pack-n-Play in the living room until he was able to gain control of his limbs and scurry away from his older bro's athletic enthusiasm.

When our second son hit the 18-month mark we felt it was time to move the boys back together. 

And a whole new set of problems began.

Each night we'd march through the steps of our carefully planned bedtime ritual. We'd bathe our boys lovingly, read them tender stories, and then tuck them gently into their beds and quietly shut the door...

…at which point a room-destroying party of truly epic proportions would commence. Those two boys would unleash themselves upon their surroundings like rabid baboons, pulling clothes from the drawers, breaking toys left and right, and at one particularly low point ripping their entire dresser from where it was bolted (BOLTED!) to the wall, toppling it onto the floor and then gallivanting atop it "Lord of the Flies" style.

I'm telling you people, Charlie Sheen would have been like, "Tone it down a notch, guys. You're embarrassing yourselves."

Can you spot the two year old in this actual bedtime photo?

And you're probably thinking to yourself -- why didn't you just, you know, stop them?

Well, I'll tell you why!

1. Because it was 8pm and I didn't have the energy.

2. Sometimes toddlers scare me.

In fairness, I did make a promise to myself that I would get up and intervene if anyone started an actual fire.

Eventually the boys would tire themselves out with all their manic carnage, and at about 9pm we'd go pick them up from wherever they'd landed prone on the floor and put them back in their beds for the night.

The system had its flaws, but it was actually fairly effective. Before long the excitement of all-brother bedtime wore thin and our evenings calmed down significantly.

That is, until we added a little sister to the mix.

After her own long months of Pack-n-Play confinement, a few weeks ago our daughter was ready for her transfer to "the kids' room". 

We'd been through this difficult phase before and we felt pretty prepared. But the truth is that nothing -- NOTHING could have prepared us for the reality of three in one room.

The arrival of their younger sibling seemingly brought all of our sons' room-destroying instincts back to the fore. 

And as for their sister? 

It's as if the very act of turning off the lights each evening awakens deep within our daughter a dormant party animal with a burning need to host her very own super-rockin' all-night toddler-fest. 


The games at this totally rad event include but are not limited to:

Unfold All the Clothes!

See How Loudly I Can Shriek Like an Injured Orangutan!

Slam One of My Roommates' Fingers in the Sliding Door! NOW HARDER!

This Toy Is Mine! Can You Not Tell By My Hours-Long Tantrum That All I Say Is True????

Is This Something I Should Eat? Even Though Mom Specifically Told Me Eight Times That It's Not??

I Know! I'll Take the Hair Off My Brothers' Eyebrows Using Only My Hands!

WAKE UP! WAKE UP! It's Morningtime! Ha-Ha - Just Kidding It's 11:30pm and I Haven't Fallen Asleep Yet!!

Bounce On My Bed! Bounce On Another Bed! Bounce On a Sleeping Brother's Head!!!

It's a horror show.

Even my sons have lost their enthusiasm at this point. Sure they love a raucous late-night bacchanal as much as the rest of the under-six set, but this girl? 

She's too much even for them. 

My oldest emerged yesterday morning, eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep, and laid his hand on my arm.

"Mom", he said seriously, "You've got to do something about her. She's just too crazy."

So our daughter's been banished. She's no longer welcome in the kids' room at bedtime. Instead, we've taken the mattress off of her bed and placed it in the corner of the playroom where she can run wild until finally passing out, often after everyone else in the house is fast asleep.

It's a solution for now.

Do not be fooled by adorable owl sheets. SHE'S A MENACE!

Until she calms down.

Or we find a bigger house.

Whichever comes first.