Back on the Wagon… Again

My name is Sarah Russell.  I am a yell-aholic.  I have been yell-free for eight days.

So here we are.  Day Eight.  Many, many events have taken place in the past month or so.  Mainly summer vacation hit me like a ton of bricks.  The first couple weeks were quite euphoric.  I was craving the lax of no school, no obligations, no pressure… Until that’s just what I got.  Sure, the relaxed nature of our days is easier in some ways but I am not sure the pros have outweighed the cons because something happens when you don’t have to answer to school, sports practices, preschool pick-up and bus schedules: You get lazy.  And I am not just talking about lazy like Oh I’m just going to lay around— no, no.  Lazy like, I’m going to take a little break from parenting.  Lazy like, I’m going to ignore the bickering for just a little bit too long.  Lazy like, I’m going to say sure to that (store bought) cookie because you can get it for yourself and I don’t have to get up from Pinteresting to cut you up a goddamn piece of fruit.  You want to watch TV for an extra hour?  Sure.  You want to play video games past the 20 minute limit?  Go for it.  Your brother kicked you because you– oh nevermind.  Get another cookie.

And as I am sure you can imagine, the cart plummeted off the cliff at the intersection of lazy parenting and children gone wild.  Ugh.  Something had to change.  I was unhappy.  I felt like shit.  The summer was passing us by and I was like an indifferent, stinky high school student on summer vacation.  And then it hit me.  This isn’t my summer vacation.  It’s theirs.   What was my problem?  I was so looking forward to slacking off and then I realized I was wasting their vacation by being self-absorbed and lame.  Mama Fail.

So we went on a trip and spent a week at the ocean.  It was amazing.  On our last day, we had a very stressful travel itinerary and I knew that to keep us from living in a constant state of chaos while one humiliating meltdown blends into another, it was gong to take everything I had in me– which was not a whole hell of a lot considering the steady BAC I was able to maintain for six straight days (impressive, I know).  The night before, I panicked and fell back on the No Yell Challenge.  It was the only tool in my cloudy, liquor-saturated box.  I needed the No Yell Challenge.  And I needed to get Husband on board.  We needed to work as a team- not as ring leaders of t this dysfunctional circus we had operated for  the last couple months.

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Despite the whining, crying and annoying complaining of the next 24 hours, I managed to remain in control.  I did not lose my temper.  And when I was close, Husband became quite adept at identifying the bulging vein in my forehead and stepped in as needed.  We even high-fived each other.  Twice.  As I sat, crammed in between a sweet child and a fat, crabby Canadian (both snoring with drool hanging from their lips), I realized that I can do this.  And I owe it to these amazing little humans I brought into this world to be better.  Better at playing with them.  Better at listening to them.  Better at  guiding them.  

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So here we are.  Day Eight.  I’m doing it.  I have not yelled.  I have taken deep breaths.  I work so hard every day to be patient, kind and attentive.  It’s tough, I won’t lie.  But I feel so much better at the end of the day.  Instead of the guilt-stricken recap, I wrack my mind thinking of little things I can do to make them smile the next day.  And then I do them.   I have left tasks unfinished to read to them.  I have forgone errands to take them to the beach.  I have put my phone down to play with them.  Relishing the feelings which swell as they grab for my hand, turn to smile at me or as I catch them pretending.  This is their summer vacation.  My summer vacation is over.  Or maybe it’s just now beginning.

Peace, Mamas.

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Mama Needs to Rally

Do you ever just feel like giving in to this chaos?  Like you are walking around in circles and into walls all day long?  Yeah?  Well join the club.  There are many wonderful things about motherhood.  And I do so adore my children.  And sometimes I want to throw them through the wall.  The whining is what’s been getting to me the most lately.  And with the end of the school year, I am feeling like I just don’t give a shit anymore.  Cub went to school twice this week with a jelly sandwich for lunch and guess what he’s having tomorrow… Sorry little dude.  Although he looks at this like a treat, I’m still feeling shitty about it.  I wonder what those lunch ladies think when the see what the kids have to eat at this time of year… Who else sorta gave up on packing a lunch encompassing the different food groups?  C’mon.  Where’s my slacker Mamas at?

The truth is I’m just tired.  Husband forgot to grab a key item required for dinner tonight so Mama had to stop at the store on the way home from work- along with 40,000 other Mamas whose husbands forgot shit too.  Do you switch lines when the competency level of the cashier is revealed or when you notice a handful of coupons in the customer’s hands in front of you?  Normally, I am not a switcher but my anxiety about getting home, dinner, showers and the bullshit that would greet me at the door got the better of me.  I made two bad switches before I realized it made no difference.  I was stuck in a suck line behind a suck customer and a suck cashier.  Great.  My husband calls while I am pulling out of the parking lot.  I can hear screaming in the background.  Shit.  The high point of my day came when my dear friend texted me to inform me that (thankfully her children are nearly as screwed up as mine or I’m not sure we could be friends) her son told another child at daycare that she smelled like a penis.  Boys. Rock.  And that actually gave me some of my energy back and lightened my mood a bit.

When I pulled in the driveway, I could hear the screaming of the “chase game” from the driveway.  Rally.  Dinner was nuts.  Zook is crying.  Why is he crying?  He wants a spoon.  Wait he wants a fork.  Wait he wants ice cream.  With a fork.  Ugh.  Unload dishwasher, load dishwasher, pick up the corn and rice off the floor.  At this point, I actually almost started to cry.  I think because I realized that there wasn’t a clean kitchen towel in the drawer.  And I knew there wasn’t one in the basket upstairs either.  And yes, it sounds trivial but the absence of the kitchen towel midst the crying and demands of Zook, the whining and arguing of Mooch and Cub and the fact that I still had so far, so far to go before the calm could set in, really, really started to get to me.  Suck it up Mama.  Rally.  Showers, screaming , soap in eyes (it’s the tearless kind for God’s sake!) clip 60 (yes, 60) nails.  Read an Elmo book.  God I hate Elmo.  Quiet.  Snuggling my babies with warm soft hands on my cheeks.  Almost there.  Lights out and done.  Breathe.  And good news folks!  We get to do it all over again in 24 hours!

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There are just not enough hours in the day- so cliche right?  So true.  I am barely getting by here.  Summer has got to come.  No more homework, no more projects, no more searching for library books or forgetting sneakers on gym day.  No more hunting for the perfect item for Share Day.  Oh sweet summer.  I think I am craving the serenity more than my kids.

Rally.  That’s what I feel like most of my life has come to lately.  I am so tired.  Stretched to the point of exhaustion.  And I know that’s the reason I yell and have a lack of patience.  I know it’s me and not them.  But (I am about to admit something terrible here) sometimes I feel like I just don’t want to care anymore.  Like I am just done trying.  I know I shouldn’t yell and sometimes in the moment, I even think Why am I yelling right now?  Stop!  Stop it, Mama!  But no.  I yell and spend the next hour feeling like shit.  That’s more the cycle I speak of.  More than the chores and endless whining from the kids.  It’s me.  Mamas (and the Papas) reading this who have toddlers and babies… I used to be like you.  Said I wasn’t going to yell.  Said I wasn’t going to lose my temper.  Read all those Zen parenting books and blogs.  And then my kids could talk back.  And that all went out the window.  This is a judgement-free zone.

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So where do we go from here?  We start over.  Tomorrow the sun will rise again.  The cycle might start again.  Or it might not.  I am not in control of their behavior.  But I need to be fully in control of my own.  And of my responses to their behavior.  Breathe.  Tomorrow I’ll be back on the wagon.  It won’t be perfect but as long as I keep trying to make things better.  As long as I keep giving a shit.  I can do better.  I owe it to them (and myself) to be better.  And that’s all I can do.  Rally.

Peace, Mamas.

Sunday Reset: Vomit Talk

End of another week.  My posts haven’t been as frequent due to round 411 of this fucking stomach bug.  Seriously.  My middle dude seems to pick it up more than anyone else.  So he’s had it twice in the last week.  Just when I start to think we are getting through this…  Mama…?  It’s coming.  Racing up the stairs, clutching his body, turning to head back down the stairs and…  Yup.  All over me.  In my hair.  Dripping down the stairs.  Oh my God.  What the hell just happened?  While husband is showering Mooch, Mama has now stripped and is cleaning up some of the vilest vomit with diluted vinegar –because some idiot (ugh, me) decided it would be a good idea to break up with the Clorox.  Idiot.  While I am cursing myself out for that stupid decision, near-naked, I realize I have quite a night ahead of me.  My prediction was dead-on.

So I think we are in the clear and three days over again: Hello, Vomit!  Missed you so!  This time the stairs were safe however, the carpet and sheets took a hit.  Not in my hair- but in his and just on the shoulder of my shirt.  Only for the rest of the day, I can smell throw up.  You know what I’m talking about, right?  Where you know you catch a whiff and then you start sniffing like a lunatic trying to locate some shred of evidence to support the stench?  I’m not the only one who does this, right?  Right…?  But then you don’t smell it anymore.  Life goes on.  And all of a sudden, while playing the 506th game of Connect Four, I get the whiff again.  Pulling out my own shirt, I locate the source: a dime-sized chunk of vomit stuck to the inside of my sports bra (yes, I’m still wearing the same one from last night, no I have not showered and no you can’t  judge me).  What the fuck.   This is my life.

Now this may all seem very gross to you- even if you have kids.  But I bet you can relate.  And if you don’t have children, well, I should apologize because after reading that you may not ever want them.  But if you have stuck with me thus far, keep reading.

All of this throw up and lost sleep, carpet cleaner, laundry and scrubbing also brings some good stuff too.  Like watching them sleep.  (Okay, I’ll admit it, I am obsessed.)  In addition to swearing slow and painful torture on the culprit who wakes said child, I get the privilege to witness their peace- the steady rise and fall of their chest, those soft pink lips, the sweaty little palms holding tight to your own.  The gentle flicks of their eyelids.  Staring, searching their faces for hints of change or age; memorizing every contour of that plump chin and those fleshy, warm cheeks.  It’s bliss.  And then comes the upchuck of bile and the acidic remnants of last nights dinner.  Instant replay.

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It’s in these moments of bliss that I realize two things (1) They are fleeting and (2) I’m actually really patient and kind when helping my children through incredibly stressful, terrible situations (getting barfed on is about as bad as it gets…) yet in those times of normal stress, I kind of suck.  The annoyances of every day life seem to, well, annoy me the most.  Those ridiculous noises, the random yells, repetition of song lyrics, whining, not listening and sluggishness when it’s time to get out the door.  If I can deal with vomit in my hair (and in my fricken bra for half the day) why can’t I deal with the little shit?  Good question.

I need to be more patient.  I need to dig deep.  This week, I shall.  One week from tomorrow, I leave my children for four days.  Leaving on a jet plane to Denver for work.  I’m going to miss them terribly.  And I know they will miss me.  This week, before I go, I am making it count.  I am going to give them my ultimate patience.  And I’m sure you’ll hear about it.  How hard it is, how I may fail but how hard I am going to to try.  As I was reminded recently by a friend, I need to rediscover the No Yell Challenge.  It is really hard.  But it’s really important.  Join me.  It will be far less repulsive then vomit in your bra.

Peace, Mamas.

Mama’s Still on the Wagon. Barely.

Well it’s been five days and I am still on the No Yell Wagon.  There have been a couple close calls but somehow I have managed to hold on by my fingernails.  Pressing my buttons the most these days is my youngest.  The tantrums are pushing me over the edge.  Most frequently, melt downs happen when someone does something irreversible like flushes a toilet, throws something away, someone goes through the door first- you get the idea. When something can’t be undone, we have a situation.  The situation usually includes screaming, repetitive sobs of “No, mama.  No, mama.  No, mama.”  Or, “Me do first.  Me do first.  Me do first.”  This can last anywhere from 10 minutes (never less) to 40 minutes (sometimes longer).  The situation also may or may not include rolling, kicking, throwing, hitting or pushing.  Or pulling clothes.  Which for some reason enrages me.  Why?  I have no idea.  When a child pulls on my clothing as I try to walk away or move, I just about lose my shit.  These situations occur 4-5 times per day lately.

I was in Old Navy a few days ago when a situation came about (He wanted to pull clothes off the shelves and I wasn’t really cool with this so he was strapped into the stroller.)  The screaming lasted the entire time I was in the store.  I needed to finish the errand and couldn’t take time to cool down in the car, outside etc.  As I walked through the store, looking for the last fucking pair of size 7 slims they had in inventory, the screaming became so loud that a salesman approached us an produced a golf ball.  He asked if it would make him happy if he held it.  Yeah, sure dude.  I hope you have dental insurance because I am guessing you’ll need it after he hucks that ball at your chops.  Seriously?  My child doesn’t need a fucking ball.  He needs an exorcism.  And a tranquilizer.  Um, I mean, no thank you.  The sobbing continues.  “Mama, out.  Mama, out.  Mama, out.”  In the check out, we waited for the cashier-in-training to reload the register paper.  Would you like to sign up for an Old Navy card, ma’am?  Really?  You read my mind!  That’s exactly what I want to do right now!  Just like I want to chew through my own arm and beat you with it.  Um, I mean no thank you.  We left the store and I swear I heard applause as the door shut behind us.

Getting into the car, I was forced to use the hold-child-secure-with-elbow-technique while buckling the five-point harness that should have come with a muzzle.  “Mama, peas.  Mama, peas.  Mama, peas.”  I kissed his sweaty, snotty cheek and shut the door.  And stood in the parking lot next to the car.  Wanting to cry because that was really hard.  Because I didn’t think I could make it.  Because that was embarrassing and terrible and stressful and awful.  But also proud that I didn’t freak out.  That I made it.  That I didn’t lose my cool.  Breathe.

I put the stroller in the trunk and got in the car.  The crazed animal looked at me from the back seat, quiet now.  He had stopped crying but looked like he could relapse at any minute.  I sat there, looking at him in the mirror.  Hi, he said.  Hi.  And we smiled.  That moment.  The smile.  The relief.  I can do this.  Breathe.  Want to grab a bagel?  Yes.  Hungry.  Let’s go, little buddy.

So I think we are getting there.  Slowly.  Slowly.  It’s not easy.  And it’s not even getting easier.  But I feel a little better each time I don’t yell.  Maybe one of these days it will be easier.  Or maybe we will get sued because someone eats a golf ball.  Ya never know what tomorrow brings.  Peace, Mamas.

The Confession

So, I have a confession…  I’ve deterred a little from the No Yell Challenge in the last few days.  Maybe you thought I wanted to mix things up a little- and you’d be right- but it’s more than that.  I felt like I was failing my own challenge…  I promised real, so Mama is getting real.

Do your kids ever make super repetitive, annoying noises?  Like unst, ah, ah, oohhaaaa, unst ah, ah, oohhaaaa!  Over and over and over and over.  And over.  Sounds like a mentally ill beat-boxer.  Please stop.  (Louder) Unst, ah, ah, oohhaaaa, unst, ah, ah, oohhaaa!  I said please stop now.  (Unchanged) Unst, ah, ah, oohhaaa!  Please, I have really had enough.  Please stop.  Silence.  Blank stare.  Please finish putting your jammies on.  Fine.  Unst ah, ah, oohhaa.  Ugh.  (Insert one of those phrases I wish I could say but can’t.  In this instance it would be something along the lines of Shut the fuck up, child.)

Am I being too sensitive?  Am I too easily annoyed?  Maybe.  Probably.  But it’s seriously so aggravating to be so close to that me-time and stare at a child taking his sweet fricken time to get his jammies on.  I am totally powerless.  If I want him to get to bed so I can sit my ass on that couch and relax, I have got to endure this process.  And he knows it.  He totally knows it.  I am aware that he’s pressing my buttons.  I am aware that he’s aware that he’s pressing my buttons.  Is he daring me to yell? Yes, I think so.  He is challenging me.  C’mon Mama, will you bite?  You bet.  Suck.

Here’s a shaming truth: I’m afraid that I have yelled for too long that they don’t believe me or respond when I don’t.  It’s like they test every task I give them to see if I will yell.  The “breathing” bullshit is just that.  Seems like my kids are pushing harder, talking back more, listening less.  Fighting me every step of the way.  From tantrums to refusal of chores, homework, bedtimes (for God’s sake, brush your teeth!), dressing, undressing, meals.  Holy shit.  Where does it end?  

If there is one thing we Mamas can’t do, it’s give up.  Never give up. Always keep trying.  Even when you are tried out.  Even when it seems so exhausting, so hard so immensely heavy, keep trying.  So that’s what I plan to do.  I did yell tonight.  But instead of coming downstairs and feeling like shit, I went and laid next to my biggest baby and held him in my arms, so tight,  and whispered in his ear that his Mama is trying.  That his Mama will keep trying. That she needs his help.  That it breaks her heart to raise her voice but she just gets so frustrated she can’t help herself.  And that though she raises her voice, her pride and love for him is unchanged.  Mama is sorry.  There’s hugs and cuddles and nose rubbing, smiles and secrets and a few hidden tears.  

Tomorrow is a new day and Mama’s not gonna give up.  Peace, Mamas.

 

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

A true test of the No Yell Challenge was placed in my path tonight.

There was the usual Phases of Tooth Brushing Revolt but the craziness of bedtime was accompanied this evening by screaming, kicking– and  there was no lack of attitude.  It peaked with a Mama sitting on a child’s back to pack his violently striking feet into jammies.  Oh holy shit, did I want to yell.  I also wanted to throw them out the window from the second floor bedroom.  But neither would have been productive and one may have won me a bunch of free evenings in a quiet room with my own bed and a guard at my door (hmmm…).

The whole time, all I could tell myself was: Breathe. Breathe.  Breathe.  And the truth is, it hardly did the trick.  How did we get like this?  My oldest now taunts my No Yell Game.  He pushes me to the point of breaking; testing every limit I provide.  He even throws in his recently acquired skills of making my rules seem like trivial jokes.  My middle child seems to be the only one marginally benefiting from this whole thing: I am so busy dealing with his brothers, he can do whatever he wants.  And then there’s the little guy- who I have grave concerns that he’s either in need of an exorcism or having a psychiatric break.  The tantrums and fits and irrational episodes, oh my.  (He is also now creating Lego men with sniper rifles jabbing into their skulls- should I be concerned about this?)  

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I used to be the Mama who closely monitored television- no one watched before age two (okay, that’s a lie but only when I really needed a shower).  And everything was age-appropriate and nurturing.  I used to be the Mama who was calm and rational and took time to explain what we did wrong and why we shouldn’t do that again.  What rot.  Because then we had Number Three and everything changed.  Some for the worse, a lot for the better.  But this Mama became so overwhelmed that she kind of forgot how to parent.  Sounds dumb right?  Somewhere in the transition to a family of five, we went wrong.  I yell first, ask after.  Where was the wrong turn that led us to Fuctupville?  And which way is Home?

Breathe.

I’m really trying here and I am having some success.  But.  It’s really hard.  It just doesn’t seem like I am making a dent in all of this.  I feel like the Lego guy with the gun in my skull.  Is this really going to work?  Why are they fighting me so badly on this?  Do they like the yelling?

Breathe.

The night ended with cuddles, Pumpkin Soup, kisses, warm hands on my face.  And a glass of wine as big as my head.  And I think, maybe I can keep going.  I’m not giving up.  Just struggling.  Like Day Eight of quitting smoking, it’s not going to get a lot worse than this and if it does, I am going to be that much stronger to fight it.  I didn’t yell.  And that’s about the only way I can measure my success today.

Breathe.  Keep on keepin’ on, Mamas.

Bedtime Sucks a Little Less.

So what is the worst time of day for my family?

Hands down: Bedtime.  Bedtime can be brutal.  Let’s break it down: they are tired but don’t want to go to bed, you are oh-so-close to that coveted quiet time.  Meet the perfect storm.  Sometimes I look at the clock and think In twenty minutes this will all be over… Rally woman, you can make it!  That might make things worse- and I am realizing this as I write it but I am not sure it’s possible to not perform that mental countdown so I am just going to move on.

Our bedtime routine consists of 1. Brush Teeth, 2. Jammies, 3. A Book and 4. Lights Out.  Now there are multiple phases in between- but I’ll get to that.  (You mama’s who do the whole bath/shower deal… Well, let’s just say, I’d rather have dirty kids than deal with that every night.  The screams of “water in my eyes” are enough to push me over the edge!  Seriously, I am not using acid to wash their hair.  Man up- it’s water.  I digress.)

My cheerful voice says Time to brush your teeth!  (Can you picture the stupid smile I have slapped on my face?)  First comes Phase One:  Blatant Push-back (no, not now, a few more minutes, etc.).  When that doesn’t seem to be working, we move on to Phase Two of push back which addresses the issue of who brushed “first” last night and who is going to go “first” tonight.  Now tell me something, is it really a surprise that we are brushing our teeth before we go to bed?!  We do this every night.  Does it really matter who goes first?  Phase Three: (should we make it that far) The Toothpaste’s Rating on the Spicy Index.

I am usually yelling before we get to Phase Two.  Why?  Because I am frustrated.  Because, I am tired.  Because I can’t understand why they won’t just get up off their sweet little asses and get in the bathroom and brush their damn teeth.  Because I am tired.  But it’s not about me… Or is it?  Shit.  It’s totally about me.

Last night, I didn’t yell.  I didn’t even give that meanish snarl that we all know is just like yelling but pretend it doesn’t really count.  But it counts.  I didn’t do an arm grab or rip a toy out of someone’s hand.  I just knelt down and looked right into said child’s eye.  I know playing is important to you so I am going to give you two more minutes and then I need you to brush your teeth because it’s important to me that you get to bed.  “Fine.”  And that was it.  I provided one more reminder and then we moved straight past Phase Three (the toothpaste Spicy Index rating) to Phase Four: Jammies are Too Scratchy.  Progress is progress, people!

The rest of bedtime routine was better because we laughed.  I purposefully tried to make it fun and funny.  We played.  It was fun.  It was longer than usual by about 20 minutes but there was no yelling.  No yelling.  And no one hyperventilated, had a melt down or threw anything.  And I was still downstairs in plenty of time to dig out my well-hidden snacks and find out whether Kourtney is going to let Kim talk her into a spray tan for her six month postpartum bikini photo shoot.  (Which by the way, are you fucking kidding me?!)

Bedtime.  No yelling.

How did you do today?