Monthly Archives: August 2010

The Last Week…part one.

Next week is “The Last Week.”

The Last Week before summer comes to an end in our household.  The Last Week before I have to say goodbye to my oldest 3 kids as they begin a new school year.  The Last Week of lazy mornings and unplanned days.  The Last Week of staying up late talking, laughing, and making one more hot chocolate and one more batch of popcorn.  The Last Week before the transporting and chauffeuring.  The Last Week before bedtime (and morning-time) anxieties.  The Last Week before packed lunches, packed bags, and packed schedules.  The Last Week of freedom to choose between quiet stay-at-home days or wild and crazy outdoor days.  The Last Week before routines:  morning routines, afternoon routines, evening routines, meal routines, homework routines, after-school routines, and even weekend routines.  The Last Week before the kids and I have to remember what day of the week it is.  The Last Week before the beginning of another long 10-month journey.

For the last 3 years, since #4 was born, I have fought a deep and unsettling pull.  I would always feel this unease around this time of year prior to #4’s birth and could never verbalize or pinpoint the source.  I always assumed that it was because I couldn’t let go of summer or because I dreaded the stress of all the scheduling the begins in September or because I was going to just miss the kids.  Then one day, the summer #4 was born, I was in a bookstore and happened (or sometimes it feels like I was drawn rather than just stumbled upon it purely by happenstance) to come across the book “The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and How Schools Should Teach” by Howard Gardner (I also highly recommend his other books especially this one and this one.)  And coincidentally (if one believes in coincidences which I don’t), I found it during The Last Week before school just as I was starting to feel that unnamed general malaise.  The pieces all started coming together as I started to examine more closely my thoughts on the institution of “school” and my definition of an education.

I never before questioned the authority or framework of “school” as the institution and I certainly never thought about how my children actually learn and if in fact these two things are compatible.  It has always been a given.  All children go to school.  I went to school.  A large percentage of children go to school.  I took it for granted.  Most of us take it for granted.  The questions of “Why do they go to school?” and “What are they really learning?” never crossed my mind until I began observing them more and digging deeper into my own schooling past and reading more books by John Holt and John Taylor Gatto that gave a different perspective on education, the school system, and the intellectual and physical development of the mind of a child.

There isn’t a parent out there that doesn’t want the best education for their child.  I just never considered to challenge the basic assumption that this education is found in school.  I was so concerned with finding the best school – Montessori, private, alternative, French Immersion, Waldorf, a public school with well-rounded teaching and extra-curriculars – that I never stopped to think if school itself could best prepare my children for adulthood.

I then took another step back and asked myself an even more basic question that I never thought to ask:  What kind of life do I want for my children?  For myself, school was a means to an end.  You attend elementary school and then high school where you strive to get grades that will allow you to continue your schooling into college or university and the natural progression of education should lead you to a “successful” career (then of course, this “conventional” and “normal” life leads to marriage, a house, children, more work, and so on and of course, in that particular order.)  Stability and financial security are paramount.  In this particular flowchart, “success” is defined by monetary wealth.  If you can be honest with yourself, as I was when I was thinking about my motivations in school, having more is the underlying, almost subcutaneous in nature, driving force behind school.  Do I want that life for my children?  Or do I want them to define “success” differently?

I am a product of “the system.”  I defined success in the most conventional terms like most people.  My aim was to make money and help give my daughter (only #1 at the time) the best life possible.  Cue the more is more philosophy.  After years of chasing the carrot and believing if I just make a little more money, we’d be happier, I stopped.  I’d be lying if I told you that the thought of working full-time again and making more money has never crossed my mind since then.  It does when I fall into the trap of living in the future tense – if I just had…if we just could pay off this…if I had money for…then I realize that even though we’ve had a few stressful financial situations, I still am more happy now living with less than I have ever been.  Success for me is feeling satisfied with a sense of abundance and being passionate about what I do – which right now is all about raising my family.

In my situation, I excelled in school but looking closely, I actually cheated myself out of a true education.  Where I may have began curious and a risk-taker, I ended my schooling career mastering the system by doing the minimum requirement to get an ‘A’, cramming for tests the night before taking full advantage of my photographic memory but never really learning anything, and following a path that would in the end make me money so I can achieve the “North American Dream.”

This is what I learned in school:

  • I hated math.
  • If you don’t make eye contact with the teacher and slouch behind the person in front of you, you won’t be called on.
  • Being popular made school a lot more enjoyable.
  • Kids can be very mean.
  • I could get an A by giving the teacher exactly what they wanted and discovering each teacher’s nuances and preferences each year became a skill unto itself.
  • I just wanted to fit in and belong.  Being different was not an option.
  • Being smart and not being smart made you a target for teasing – it was best to be neither and stay below the radar.
  • I could be smart only if I was popular otherwise being smart was not an option.
  • Good grades will help me make money as an adult.
  • Everything in school is taught out of context so I remember nothing of what any teacher has taught me with respect to curriculum.
  • I learned to follow instructions very well, to the point where I had to learn free and critical thinking skills from my “Intro to Political and Social Thought” and “Modes of Reasoning” professors in University (yes, I took a course on reasoning since it wasn’t a skill I picked up in grade school).  This was a difficult task still since grades were still an important motivator.
  • There is only one way to learn.
  • I learned that not getting in trouble, not being teased, being liked, and finding approval were more important than questioning something or being creative.
  • I learned that my friends’ opinions outweighed my parents’ opinions.
  • A university degree solves everything and is the golden ticket to instant happiness.
  • I learned to be a jack of all trades and a master of none.

You get the gist.

I challenge you to delve into your childhood experiences with school.  Speaking with a friend recently, she remembered the day her creativity was killed.  I remember not wanting to show my perfect test score to anyone and lying and saying I didn’t do well just to fit in.

This year #3 came home with her first report card which described her as an extremely quiet child who needs to come out of her shell more and participate in the circle time group discussions.  #3!  The one who sparks up random conversations with strangers needs to come out of her shell.  We were having fun being crazy together and I told her, “You are being so silly!” and her smile disappeared and she became worried.  I asked her what was wrong and she replied, “I don’t want to be silly.  I promise I’ll never be silly again.”  I was baffled.  After some probing and one-on-one time, she expressed that in school, kids got in trouble for being ‘silly.’  She began to associate that word with a negative consequence.  I tried to explain to her that sometimes we can’t be silly if other people are trying to speak or it’s time to be quiet.  Then I thought to myself, “She’s only 4.  Can she really distinguish levels of ‘silliness’ and situational ‘silliness’?  Of course not.  She recognizes the disapproval of an authority figure and simply will not take a risk at all in causing such disapproval.

Bear with me as I try to re-direct myself from this tangent.

Back to “The Last Week” unease.  I have seen my oldest change because of school.  I have watched it unconsciously and only more recently, have I become more conscious of it.  Last week we had a heated conversation.  A little background:  #1 is not musically inclined.  I’ve often suggested various music lessons which she has not been remotely interested in.  She does not enjoy music class because she sings songs that don’t speak to her and she learns music theory in a way that is not conducive to her particular way of learning – again, I recommend this book for more on that.  She still ends up with a B+ or A- but I really don’t care anyhow because she’s not into it.  Last week, out of the blue, she came downstairs and asked me to test her on her knowledge of musical theory.  She had been in her room for an hour studying what she had learned last year.  It is two weeks before the beginning of school and the girl is studying a topic that she loathes.  What??  I ask her the reason by this sudden cramming session and she tells me that she wants to be ready for Gr. 7 music since she’ll be playing an instrument and she wants to make sure that she gets a good mark.  Completely surprised, I tell her that I didn’t know she was now interested in music.  She tells me that she still isn’t but she doesn’t want to be the only one who doesn’t know what she’s doing and wants to get a good mark.  I ask, “So you’re not excited about learning music for the sake of learning music?  You just want a good grade and not look stupid?”  She says yes and I ask, “Let’s put aside the fact that your daddy and I try to teach you to not care what other people think and most of the time they themselves are busy thinking about how not to look stupid themselves than care if you are stupid.  Why do you need a good grade in music?”  She couldn’t answer me.  She didn’t answer me.  Ever-Patient and I tell the kids over and over again how their grades do not matter.  In fact, there are no grades given at #2 and #3’s school.  What we care about is learning skills – analytical, critical, creative, and even learning to love learning for the sake of learning can be a skill.  I want them to learn respect for hard work and to have a compassionate soul.  I want them to learn that time is finite and to use it well.  If I were grading #1’s use of time as she studied a subject which she absolutely had no interest in for the sake of a future and let’s face it, arbitrary, grade, I would have flunked her.

I have put a face to that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach in The Last Week.  It is school.

But now what?

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The Toilet Chronicles.

Warning:  The following post contains many potty trip descriptions and an obscene amount of references to “pee” and “poo.”

Last Monday we decided to begin toilet training #4 officially.

I say “officially” because for the last few months we have gently inquired as to whether or not she would like to use the potty.  The handful of times she has been so inclined to use said facilities, we have again ‘gently’ encouraged subsequent uses.  We marveled at our own patience with this process but also chastised ourselves for not just making the complete switch over to underwear rather than do the safe route and continue to use diapers/pull-ups (which are just fancier diapers with perfectly coiffed princesses parading all over them).

Each child prior to #4 was trained by age 2.5.  No one used pull-ups and were all trained within a month.  This was normally due to an upcoming preschool/daycare/program start date that required the child to be completely toilet trained.  Serious pressure and tons of anxiety accompanied the process.

#4 is a different child.  She has flat out refused to wear underwear or partake in any toilet shenanigans.  In the morning, she would lie down beside her brother, hold his hand, and they both smiled at me as I changed their diapers one after the other.  She was not so keen on giving up this brother-sister bonding time.  I would ask her to go pee and she would look me in the face and after a long pause (and a shiver), she would say, “I just did” then smile and go on her merry way.  She had no problem having a BM in the toilet but peeing in it was just not her thing.

Enough is enough.  Without consulting Ever-Patient, I made the switch.  I’m not sure what made me ask her that morning or what made her final accept underwear.  It could be that a shuddering statistic flitted across my mind:  I have been changing diapers for the last 7 years (and nursing but that’s another post entitled “The Girl Who Missed Wine and the Occasional Shot of Tequila”).  It could be that I had the ridiculous thought that if she wasn’t going to be trained now, she’d never be trained and possible have to wear those adult diapers for the rest of her life.  It could be that I figured summer was almost over and training is so much easier in the summer that I can’t let this moment slip by when she can just wear summer dresses everyday which would make accident clean-up that much easier.  It could be that I just had the mother’s instinct that she was ready.  (I’m finding that instinct pops up a lot now with 5 kids).  I’m pretty sure she decided to make the big girl switch because we had just bought this underwear from Target in NYC which happened to be covered in hundreds of Little Mermaids.

She went downstairs and announced to her father that she is a “Panty-Girl!”  He gave me a look that said, “Really?”  To which I shrugged my shoulders as if to say, “We’ll see how this goes.”  #4 proceeded to lift up her dress to show her sisters her new underwear with pride.  They all complimented her and gave her words of encouragement.

Throughout breakfast, I probably asked her about a million times whether or not she had to pee.  She’d roll her eyes and say no each time.  I’m already not liking this whole situation.  I’m tense.  I’m hyper-aware that she may pee any minute as she forgets she’s in underwear.  I take her to the washroom about 15 times in the span of an hour hoping she’ll just pee for goodness sake so I can have some peace of mind for another couple of hours.  Each time I get her to sit on the toilet, she stares at me and says, “It’s not coming out.” Another hour passes and she still hasn’t pee.  Now I’m completely neglecting my other 4 children and hoping Ever-Patient is tending to the rest of them as I hover over #4 asking her again and again if she has to pee.  Still no pee after we try to sit on the toilet a few more times.  I go to nurse #5 literally 5 minutes after taking #4 to the washroom and I hear, “Mama, I promise to pee in the toilet next time!”

Dear God.  I can’t do this.

I’m of course second guessing my ‘amazing intuition’ and tell myself she’s not ready.  I fight every anxious bone in my body that wants to run to get a diaper to put back on her.  I tell myself this is just one accident and that I should know that this is bound to happen a few times before she gets the hang of it.  Ever-Patient cleans her up and she runs to get another underwear.  If she’s still up for this, then so am I.

Day 1 ends with a total of 2 accidents and we just won’t talk about the second accident.  Day 2 is spent at home again with a couple more accidents.  After 2 days, she has been able to go to the toilet and pee with Dad and with #1.  Each time I take her, nothing.  Total stage fright.  I think she can hear the voice in my head begging her, “Please. Please. Just pee. Pleeeeaaaase!” and is so irritated with the subconscious pressure I am placing on her that she is just refusing to do it in front of me.

Day 3  – I’m in the middle of toilet training my toddler AND she is having a couple of accidents a day AND she won’t pee with me.  What should we do today?  Of course!  Let’s go to the zoo where the distances between washrooms span continents (fake zoo continents but still a great distance nonetheless).  Just me and the kids.  What!?  Really? Why do I do this to myself?  I pack a change of clothes and #4 sits on a plastic bag in the car and in the umbrella stroller.  Now I feel like my mind is going to turn to mush and ooze out of my ear as I am thinking a hundred thoughts a minute:  Where is the nearest washroom?  When’s the last time she went?  When do we stop for snack?  How much water should I give her?  Do we do the zoomobile later right after her next pee or now?  Are all my kids here?

After walking around the zoo for a bit, I take her to the washroom where she pees for the first time with me.  I breathe a sigh of relief.  That just bought me a couple of worry-free hours (besides the usual headcount every 90 seconds and trying to brace my abs as I carry around an 18 lb baby in a wrap for 5 hours at the zoo).  I relaxed a bit and would only ask her about going to the washroom every 15 minutes instead every 5 minutes.

A couple of hours go by and the kids want to go on the zoomobile which is about a 45 minute ride on a tram around the entire zoo.  I tell them that we will go after #4 has her next pee.  We stop at one washroom on the way to the zoomobile station and she doesn’t go.  We stop at another one and she still doesn’t go.  We are at the zoomobile station and I am faced with one of those tough parenting decisions:  The kids are dying to go on the zoomobile right now but #4 hasn’t peed in 3 hours.  If she has the urge to go, I have an extremely small window to get her to a toilet before she bursts.  Do we wait by the washroom here at the station until she has to go?  Or do we take a chance and hop onto the zoomobile to appease all the kids?

We went with option #1.  Going to the zoo on Day 3 of toilet training may lead you to believe that I enjoy talking a walk on the wild side (excuse the corny zoo humour) when in fact I fairly risk averse when it comes to training accidents.  Within the span of half an hour, I took her to the washroom 4 times.  No pee and the natives were getting restless.  Finally, I ask #1 to take her in because this was the scenario each time I took #4 to the washroom:

#4 is on the toilet in a stall in the women’s washroom.  I am standing in front of her with #5 in the wrap:

Me begging #4 (and losing some self-respect in the process):  “Just try.  Please.  Come on.  You can do it.  Please, just try.”

#4:  “I don’t have to Mom.”

Me, more begging, and even less self-respect, and a little sweat dripping from my brow:  “Please.  We’ll just sit here for a little while longer.  You can do it!  Please, just pee!”

#4 (with her head now in her hands):  “Mom, it’s just not working!  It’s not, Mom.  I don’t know what to do.  It won’t work here!”

Me (just realizing I have #5 in front of me who is now touching gross public washroom surfaces and then sucking on his fingers):  “Stop touching!  Stop!  Come on guys, let’s go.  We’ll try again in 10 minutes.”

#1 took #4 in and they were out in 2 minutes with #4 running out yelling, “It worked!  I did it!  I peed in the toilet!!!”  The cheers and celebration that ensued between the kids and myself can really only be compared to the reaction of winning the lottery.  I can only imagine what people thought as I was close to tears and hugging her tightly, as tight as one could hug with a baby strapped in front.  The girls gave her hi-fives and grateful embraces and we all ran to the zoomobile for a ride.  Halfway into the zoomobile ride, I start to sweat and panic again.  This can’t be happening.  I have to pee.  Badly. Karma is such a bitch.

At the conclusion of Day 3, I was happy to report to Ever-Patient that there were zero accidents.  I felt so confident that we decided to go to Ontario Place on Day 4, again just me and the kids.  After the whole zoo pressure cooker-fiasco, I eased up on her and trusted her more.  I wasn’t giving her the credit she deserved and decided to let her be aware of her own bodily functions.  She had a few false alarms.  We would go to the washroom only for her to say, “Pee!  Come out!  I don’t know why it’s not coming, Mom.  I thought it wanted to come out.  Maybe not.”  At the end of the day, we were happy to report another accident-free day.

As I laid down beside her that night, she said to me, “Mom, are you so proud of me that I peed in the toilet?”  I looked at her and I just wanted to hold her tight and say that she doesn’t need to seek my approval and that her alone is enough.  I said, “I am proud of you even if you don’t make it to the toilet…but peeing in the toilet is nice.”

***

It’s been about a week and a half and I now ask hourly if she has to pee.  She has been excellent at telling me when she has to go and every time she does she announces to anyone who will listen, “I peed in the toilet!”  or “I pooed in toilet!” or “I peed and pooed in the toilet!”  She has had only one accident since Day 2 which was with my dad although he tells me that she did indicate she had to go but they couldn’t get to the washroom fast enough.  I love how she is learning to pay close attention to her body.  For example, she went to pee at my mom’s house and as she peed in the toilet, she marveled, “It even works at Lola’s house!”  She loves to choose her underwear and is not interested in being a baby anymore.

4 for 4.  1 to go.  I think of all the money we’ll save on diapers now.  I think of the ease of taking her to washroom versus changing her toddler-size diaper.  But I also think of how they’re all growing up.  I think of how the transition to underwear is a major milestone out of babyhood.  A graduation of sorts into the school of independence.

My last baby girl is growing up…at least she still likes to fall asleep in my arms.

on goal setting.

After publishing yesterday’s post, I broke into a sweat almost immediately.  What did I just do?  How am I going to even accomplish these “simple” goals when I forget to eat breakfast and lunch most days?  Why did I have to publicize them and put unnecessary added pressure on myself?  I have a little over 4 months to achieve these goals…am I crazy?

As sheer panic and self-doubt set in, I came across this article.  Instead of focusing what I still had to accomplish this year, I started to reflect on what I actually have achieved this year and began listing my own set of personal mountains I have conquered so far in 2010:

  • Not only have I adjusted to 5 children, I have thoroughly enjoyed finding a new family rhythm.  Because of this, I have been increasingly comfortable taking the kids out on all-day excursions on my own.
  • I fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes (yay!) and feel stronger and more energetic than I have felt in the last 2 years.  Though I am proud that I have lost almost 30lbs this year through hard work, I am happy that I have embraced the exercise and moderate eating habits as a lifestyle – no crash dieting or extreme workouts.
  • Ever-Patient and I celebrated 10 years of marriage and did so in the most wonderfully understated manner:  we took a 3 hour bike ride together – this is something we’ve never done together and something I personally haven’t done in a long time.
  • We have purged about 25% of our belongings and are still in the process of getting rid of more – we are hoping to be living with 50% less by the end of the year.
  • I have managed to spend one on one time with each of the kids at least once a month since the beginning of the year.
  • With the exception of a few weeks here and there, I have kept up with blogging and documenting the events (and non-events) in our lives.
  • I was able to plan and execute 3 birthday parties with school friends this year – a first!
  • We introduced family challenges for 5 months.  My favourites included “Vegetarian Month” and “One Bowl Challenge.”  Each of these will be repeated in the future.
  • After only a week, #4 is fully toilet trained.  It was a bit of an adventure but we did it!  (Rest assure that there is going to be a full post on this soon.)
  • I have managed to take all of the kids to the following places multiple times on my own:  the Zoo, Ontario Place, the Beach, and all during the first week of #4’s toilet training and still live to talk about it.
  • We finally have some Lopez Family of 7 pictures! More on that soon.
  • I have conquered laundry.  There really hasn’t been a pile up since this post.
  • With the help from a friend (who happens to be a landscaper) and his wife, we finally did something with our lawn after years of it being disheveled and unkempt – basically, it looked like the back of #3 and #4’s head after getting out of bed.

I’m sure there are few molehills that I’ve been able to hurdle over that are missing from this list.  I love how that article was able to remind me that I had already rose to the occasion when confronted with everyday life’s challenges.

Setting goals can sometimes backfire and just bring feelings of inadequacy and self-defeat to the surface when its initial intent was to motivate and spur action.  This is what happened last night.  The optimism and associated euphoria I felt after creating the goals quickly dissipated as all the other things on my to-do lists began to amass in my mind.  How was I going to accomplish these goals in addition to my already expanding list of responsibilities?

From the article, this is one of the tidbits that really put things in perspective: “You won’t summit every one you come across, but you will become a better person with each attempt.”  There will undoubtedly be many mountains that will conquer me and goals that will be left unfulfilled…for now.  But at least I am making an attempt.  I am making an effort at becoming better, becoming more, at…becoming.  Each goal I set illustrates my quest to just be more than I am, to grow as a human being, and to demonstrate the belief that I can be more.  Isn’t that what this journey, this life is all about?  Pushing ourselves past the perceived limits.  Pushing ourselves to a realized potential.  Pushing ourselves to test our strengths.  Pushing ourselves in order to know failure and how to rise above it.

With this new-found love of goal setting, I am going to institute a new tradition in our household.  On each birthday, the celebrant must write 5 goals they would like to accomplish that year…big or small.  (I’m wondering if I can get this going for this year even though most of our birthdays have past already.)

If we consistently set goals, we shouldn’t view it as such a Sisyphean effort.  There will always be the next mountain to climb and the next peak to reach or almost reach.  But isn’t that the true goal in life?  To find happiness in the knowledge that when we start our descent from the mountain, there is another one waiting around the corner.

4 simple goals.

I love this challenge.

I have decided to dive into it for a couple of reasons:

1) By posting my goals here, I will be accountable.

2) I like crossing things off a short list.

There is still time before 2011 to accomplish a few things so here goes…

Goal #1:  Create beautiful bedroom spaces for my family.

We have lived in our current house for almost 4 years and we are STILL trying to finish decorating the kids’ rooms and the master bedroom.  It’s always the same excuses: time, money, and general indecision.

Enough is enough.  I have decided to officially become accountable by confessing all of this here and now and by making a public promise to finish the rooms before the new year.  We’ve taken baby steps this summer.  For #2 and #3’s room (and technically #4’s room although she refuses to accept that fact and thinks her room is mom and dad’s room), we added a dresser which we inherited from some good friends.  Living in an older house means living with itty bitty closets so the dresser was  a much-needed piece.

Here is the before pic:

A solid piece of furniture.

And now it looks like this:

Love it.

It’s a bright fire engine red with coral-like knobs from here….though #3 argues that they look like mini antlers.

The kids also wanted to work on some type of decorative element to hang across their rooms.  They were inspired by this and decided to make their own circle-dot banner out of paper:

#1's room - she's going for a gray and orange palette.

The little ones decided they liked the look of floating confetti instead.

Like I said, baby steps.

Corresponding reward:  A guilt-free order from this catalogue.

Goal #2:  Sew and knit something.

I have recently acquired a sewing machine from a wonderful friend and have started knitting here and there.

I’d just like to actually finish a project.

Corresponding reward:  This workshop.

Goal #3:  Organize and print pictures to update the kids’ scrapbooks.

Looking at the kids’ scrapbooks, I have noticed that there are some holes that need to be filled and many moments I would love to include in their scrapbooks.  It’s important for me to record all the stories visually since they love spending time looking at their books and having me talk about what happened, how I felt, and what they said.

Corresponding reward:  This print and a subscription to this.

Goal #4:  Write every day until December 31, 2010.

Whether it be one sentence or 10 pages, I want to write every day.  I need to write every day.  I’ve lagged a bit since #5 has been born and I’ve been noticing how my thoughts have truly overwhelmed me on occasion.  I miss writing gratitude lists and general observations.  I’d say that this one is a biggie for me and will take some major discipline on my part with life being the way it is of course.

Some strategies to accomplish this:

1.  Carry a pen everywhere.  (I can always write on my hand if I need to!)

2.  Keep various notebooks/journals in the house, baby bag, and in the car.

3.  Blog, blog, and blog some more.

4.  Just WSD.  (Write Sh*t Down…even if I have to drop everything – except the baby – when something comes to mind).

Corresponding reward:  A GREAT BIG HUGE book purchase.

That’s it.

Want to join me on this little challenge?

(Oh and remember our family monthly challenges?  Well, we’ve put that on hold for the summer…but we will definitely be continuing them in the fall!)

scrapbook pages.

Some journalling still needed…It’s a layout about #3’s dancing, twirling, and musical inclinations.

A closer look.

A layout about #2, #3, and #4's love of climbing, balancing, and exploring.

A closer look.

Have a great weekend!

a tutu and rainboots.

#4 and her outfit of choice.

How do I handle 5 kids?  I pick my battles.  I pick them very carefully.

It was time to go to #3’s soccer game after a rainstorm.  Muddy fields and all.  And #4 decided that this was a must-wear:

Posing amidst the flying bubbles.

Ms. Tutu-and-Rainboots was a hit at the field.  And she splashed in the mud and the puddles and dirtied the tutu.  But, she was all smiles and I averted a temper tantrum before we left home.  I call this “Big Picture” thinking.  Taking a step back to survey the situation.  A happy #4 hopping around in her boots while twirling in a tutu far outweighs the cost of having to scrub a dirty tutu.

Then we arrived home and found a chunk of hair that was clearly cut off of someone’s head.  A small someone’s head.  The texture and colour matched 2 possible heads – #3 or #4.  Another clue to the culprit – #4 has been obsessed with trying to master cutting with scissors.  Here’s how the interrogation went down:

Ever-Patient to #3:  “Did you cut your hair?”

#3:  “No.”

Ever-Patient to #4:  “Did you cut your hair?”

#4 with pride:  “YES!”

She’s a tough one to crack apparently.

Ever-Patient:  “Can we let the barber cut your hair next time?”

#4:  “Who’s Barbra?”

We pick our battles.  Especially since you can’t notice where exactly the chunk of hair is missing from:

Then we briefly reviewed that scissors are only used for paper and not for cutting your hair (or anyone else’s).  It’s not always this easy to see the Big Picture.  Sometimes the terrible twosome of fatigue and impatience accompanied by the nasty “What will people think?” monster get the best of us and we overreact to otherwise harmless events that really just demonstrate how kids can be kids – finding unconventional ways to express themselves without a malicious intent remotely entering their minds.

They are curious and are constantly exploring the world, experimenting with funny words and figuring out how things work.  They make me laugh when I desperately need to.  They remind me how childhood comes only once.  They teach me how seemingly incompatible items can actually work quite well together like tutus and rainboots and scissors in #4’s hand.

NYC 2010…part two.

Where did we leave off?  Ah, yes…

Some dancin' in the fountain.

#4 unsure and tentative about this whole fountain thing.

Sister to the rescue. #2: "Don't worry...I know it feels weird..we'll scrub our feet in the bath later when we get back!"

Washington Square was a hit again.  So much so that the kids did not want to leave particularly because other people decided to join them in the fountain and they also began performing public services for the NYC park staff:

#2 fulfilling the request of a park staffer to fill his hat with water.

Ever-Patient took off with Mr. Cranky-Boy-Pants (which is how I will be referring to #5 for the rest of this post and which is different than Ms. Cranky-Pants who is #4’s name between the hours of 3pm and 7pm when she doesn’t have a nap) and they went to find a good hit of espresso.  The kids finally exited the fountain.  While #2 insisted I cover her with a towel as she changed to her clothes, compulsively checking to see if the towel was being held tight enough that no one could see her change, I looked over to see #3 in her birthday suit trying to figure out which way her underwear goes.  We all stare at her and she says, “What? I still have trouble figuring out which way is the front.”  #2 , horrified, quickly changes and pleads, “Mama, please cover her!”

Notice how #2 is covering up even though she's in her swimsuit.

#1 was not down with the wading. She decided to people-watch instead. She especially enjoyed the acrobatic hacky-sackers.

Another “don’t”:  Don’t arrive at Washington Square at 4:30pm and make dinner reservations for 5:30pm at an amazing restaurant in the East Village.  It was 5:05 by the time they changed and Ever-Patient still hadn’t returned with Mr. Cranky-Boy-Pants from the coffee run.  We ended up meeting the boys at the tiny playground for the wee wee ones at the other end of the square.  This playground is about 1/5 the size of the one they were expecting to run around in but it was good enough for #4 and #5:

His favourite past-time.

A brief hiatus from crank mode.

#4 swinging next to her bro.

#2 and her temporarily wavy (and mildly crunchy) hair. Let's just say we spent a lot of time in the bathtub that night.

#3 happy to be alive as always.

A much-needed iced coffee for mama.

We had to cut short the playground bliss at 5:15 since we had to get to the restaurant for the early seating and before #4 held her own crank fest.  After many “How much longer?” and “My feet hurt!” type of exclamations, we made it there.  It helped that the streets were numbered and we could do a countdown to our destination: “Ok this is 3rd street and we have to get to 1st street, so how many more?”  Dirt Candy is a small and wonderful vegetarian restaurant in the East Village.  When I say small, I mean so small that our little family of 7 takes up 1/3 of the restaurant.  I have to admit that my heart did skip a beat or two as the kids clambered into their seats for a couple of reasons: 1) They’re tired.  When they’re tired, they don’t do well in small spaces particularly when they’re sitting next to each other – this is the main reason why we leave for road trips in the middle of the night.  2) It’s all vegetarian.  Although they fared very well during our vegetarian month, I’m never sure how they will react when confronted with adventurous cuisine.  Everything we ordered was absolutely amazing – the kids especially loved the jalapeno hush puppies with maple butter (#4 licked the butter dish) and the corn grits.  The kids were awesome.  Although they didn’t love everything, I was ecstatic that they tried everything.  The greatest part was knowing that we ingested high-quality and healthy food.  In the end, we skipped dessert because we were definitely pushing our luck with Mr. Cranky-Boy-Pants who sucked on a bread crust half the time and who sat with me on a nearby stoop outside the restaurant for the other half.

Dirt Candy...and the stoop I sat on.

Dessert at a nearby Pinkberry.

Another “don’t”:  Don’t leave a nice, clean restaurant without taking the kids to the bathroom.  About 10 blocks into our walk back to Soho, #1 has to pee.  So it’s a race to find a Starbucks since they normally don’t expect you to buy anything to use their washrooms.  Once we find one, I make sure that EVERYONE goes to the washroom before we continue on our adventures.

#1 is getting restless and wants to do a little shopping.  Thanks to my dad, each of the kids had a little bit of spending money.  By the time we get back to Soho, it’s already 8:30pm and we really only have time to hit one store.  We hit Uniqlo since we don’t have one here, the prices are affordable, the sizing is Japanese (which will fit #1’s super lanky-thin frame), and there are tons of staple clothing for #1 to stock up on.  While #1 is shopping, #2 is pulling many dresses off the rack for me to try on – she’s the best at that since I detest clothes-shopping, #3 and #4 are doing their best not to play hide-and-seek amongst the clothes, and Mr. Cranky-Boy-Pants is climbing all over me trying to gnaw my shoulder off.  #1, #2 (my personal stylist who tells me exactly what does and doesn’t look good on me) and I go to the change rooms.  It’s now about 9:30pm and the kids have been walking around the city for about 10 hours now.  Much to my surprise (and relief), #4 has not crashed and burned yet.  But I notice that she is a bit delirious.  Here’s what took place while the remaining Lopez clan waited outside the change rooms (turn up the volume on this one):

You can tell her degree of tiredness by how disheveled her hair is and how contorted her facial expressions are.  It’s a fine line between CrankyWorld and CrazyWorld.  I’ll take CrazyWorld any day.  (And #3 couldn’t let #4 have all the fun of course.)

Another “don’t”:  Don’t get on a subway train a 10:30pm at night without knowing where it’s going.  We ended up taking a train that was not going to stop at Grand Central Station or come close to it really for that matter.  We had to get off near Times Square and yes…walk to Grand Central Station to catch the EXPRESS train at 11:26pm.  And if we missed this one, we’d have to wait an hour for the next one.  5 super-tired kids?  2 super-super-tired parents? One stroller? One wrap?  Minimal snacks and distractions for the train ride?  Let’s move people…

then again...one quick picture with NYC nightlife behind the kids...ok..now let's haul ass!

We made it with time to spare.  But the train ride was another story and another “don’t”:  Don’t ride on a train with only an empty water bottle, a chap stick, and a very expensive camera as possible toys to entertain the kids.  That train ride was LOOOOONG.  I stood for about 2/3 of it with Mr. Cranky-Boy-Pants doing my walking and swaying thing.  After banging #4’s head with the empty water bottle making himself giggle, he fell asleep eventually….though it was only when the doors opened for us to disembark.  #3 alternated between laughing and crying hysterically during the ride.  #4 kept asking for snacks as she licked the inside of the popcorn snack bag we had brought.  I know, I know…crazy rave dancing and the munchies?  I swear she’s clean.  #1 tried to sleep but kept being awakened by a bored #2 and a camera flash.

I thought passing out after the long road trip was heaven on earth. Oh no.  Passing out after our day in the city?  Now that was pure bliss.

The kids woke up the next morning begging to go into the city again.  Ever-Patient and I looked at each other and I said, “Maybe we should find a nice Target nearby today and spend time with your new cousins or hit a nice air-conditioned mall!”  They frowned and then I said, “Then we can have an early family movie night!”  There was a collective “Yay!” and they were happy with the new plan.  Thank God my kids are easy…except for Mr. Cranky-Pants who came down with a mild fever that lasted on-and-off for the remainder of the trip.

The kids were treated to some books by Ever-Patient’s cousins – a tradition they started 2 years ago.  We are so grateful for their generosity and their efforts to remain close to us and the kids.  We spent our last day with family – at brunch with Auntie Jac thanking her for her hospitality and ultra-fluffy towels, and at the baptism (and after-party) of their newest cousin.

The kids and Auntie Jac.

The celebrant.

#4, #3, and another little cousin who hails from Frisco.

Mr. Cranky-Boy-Pants and his "What the eff are you looking at?" face.

We headed home right after the party.  For more details about the ride home, read this post.  We got home at 3:30am and the kids were sound asleep for the last leg of the trip.  Why were we in such a rush to get home?  #2 was starting art camp Monday morning.  The last “don’t”:  If your family is like our family and tend to take a lot of last minute road trips to NYC, don’t schedule any summer camps for the kids.

We love NY.

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I know you want to see this again…go ahead and pump up the volume (and take a look at her new shoes…and if you ever see her wearing them, do me a favour and compliment her on them – she frowned for an entire day when no one commented on her new shoes)…