To My Kids: How to Survive When Mama is Away

To My Kids: How to Survive When Mama is Away

I don’t get many days off from children. Who am I kidding? The days-off count has been dialed to zero for the last several years.

But every now and then, my responsibilities as an author call me away for a night or two. When I’m called away, I celebrate—I mean, I miss them a ton. One thing I never do, though, is worry about Husband’s capabilities as a parent.

Husband is a great father. He romps with his children and rubs courage into their chests every night and talks to them about their kid concerns and always has something wise and profound to say to them.

However. There are some things that even he has trouble with when I’m gone. I chalk it up to Being a Man. Things like turning off lights, flushing toilets, putting clothes in the laundry hamper, staying safe—they’re all reasons why boys and men need a woman in their lives. I’m glad for that, mostly. Actually, no I’m not. Turn off the lights. Flush the toilets. Pick up your own clothes. And for God’s sake, if you think something would be cool, don’t try it. It’s probably not, and you’ll just end up with a cracked femur.

So for the days that I’m gone, I have a small stack of stapled papers, titled, “How to survive when Mama is away,” populating a file folder that sits on our kitchen counter. The guide begins with “Dear Boys” and contains tips like:

1. This is how you turn out a light.

I know there seems to be a magic fairy who flies around flicking the light switches in all those empty rooms to the “off” position, but don’t you worry. This isn’t a hard trick, by any means. It just takes a little practice.

Do you see the white miniature lever surrounded by what looks like a white rectangle? That’s called a light switch. When the lever is up, that means the light is on and our electricity meter is, minute by minute, climbing higher and the earth is slowly dying because of your negligence. When you leave a room and there is no one else in the room, the lever should move to the down position. That would be “off.” If, on the other hand, you’ve just finished brushing your teeth and your little brother is still peeing, the lever should remain “up.” I know you sometimes get these two confused, and I totally understand. It’s fun to hear, “Hey, turn the light back on!” But it’s definitely not funny. Trust me. One of these days you’ll get your due, and then you won’t be laughing.

I’m sure that once you practice a little (and you’ll have several opportunities, now that the magic fairy is gone for a couple of days), the muscle memory will kick in. After all, you used to turn lights off all the time when you were a baby. Up, down, up, down. On, off, on, off. You’ll remember the joy you used to get out of actually making a room go dark when you weren’t inside it.

And if you don’t, there’s an easy solution to that, too. Your allowance.

2. This is how you flush a toilet.

I appreciate that you want to save water and energy, but I can assure you that the environment will not be terribly harmed by a couple of flushes a day. The aroma of our house, on the other hand? It could be called The Dead Swamp.

When you’ve done your business, stand up (if you’re not standing already). Turn around to face the toilet (if you’re not already facing it). Put the seat and, preferably, the lid down. On the left side, near the top of the porcelain is a silver lever. That’s the flusher. All you have to do is push it down. You don’t even have to hold it down, just a quick flick and you’re done. So easy.

And now no one has to lift the lid and find an unwelcome present that shoots stink bombs toward their nose.

3. This is where your dirty clothes go.

We have what is called a hamper for all of your dirty clothes. It’s a tall, dark basket sitting in the hallway between your rooms. There’s also a basket downstairs if you happen to strip down in the living room. And there’s another in Mama and Daddy’s bathroom. In it you’ll likely only see Mama’s clothes, but that’s a conversation for another day.

The hamper is where your dirty laundry goes. Your dirty laundry does not belong in your closet. It does not belong in rolled-up wads under your bed. It does not belong in my bed, because if I wanted my pillow to smell like Dirty Sock, I would use my own stinky ones.

All you have to do to make sure clothes get in this thing called the hamper is bend over, pick your sweaty shirt up off the floor and drop it in the hamper. You don’t even have to walk anywhere, because you were so close when you threw it on the floor.

4. This is how you take a bath.

Unfortunately, while I’m gone, I won’t be standing over you to make sure you soap up your hair and clean under your neck and wash between your toes. So this is how it’s done: Take a squirt of soap and lather your hair. Take another squirt and lather it all over your body. Take another for your lower half. And another for your feet, because they need it.

Fill the cup sitting on the side of the bathtub with water and then dump it on your head to wash the soap out of your hair. Do it as many times as it takes to get all the soap off your body. It might take longer than you’d like, but, trust me, a few more minutes of rinsing is better than waking up in the morning looking like Donald Trump.

5. This is how you drain bath water.

I can’t tell you how many times I have walked into your bathroom to see yesterday’s murky bath water still stagnating in the tub. I usually stick my hand in that grainy, cloudy, slimy water, trying not to gag at the grossness, and drain it before it’s time for your bath. I know this is probably why you think the water magically disappears, but I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t really. And now that I’ll be gone for a few days, it’s a perfect opportunity for you to practice the Art of Draining Bathwater. There is a small amount of work required to successfully execute this task.

When you’re finished washing (per my instructions), stand. Dry off BEFORE getting out of the bath, turn around, bend over, and pull the silver or bronze plug at the foot of the tub, directly underneath the faucet. Listen to the water slowly sucking out, and imagine something is coming up out of the drain to get you. Run away screaming.

(You don’t have to do that last part.)

6. This is how you close a door.

Do you see the handle sticking out from the door? It’s called a doorknob, and it’s what you use to open the door. Funny thing is, you can also use it to close the door. Grab it on your way out and swing it the opposite way required for opening. It’s easy to remember, because close is the opposite of open. So it stands to reason that to close a door, you’ll have to use the opposite motion you used to open the door. Make sense?

The door will make a satisfying “click” when it’s truly closed. Listen for the click, and you’ll be well on your way to closing a door.

Other ways you can accomplish this same feat are using a hip bump when you walk in the door, aiming a back kick on your way out or executing a full-body lean in whichever direction you need. I don’t really care what method you use, so long as it shuts.

Now that you know how to do all of these things, it’s time for the most important one of all.

7. This is how not to die.

Do not jump from a swing when you’ve reached twenty feet in the air.

Do not climb on a glass-top table that’s only held in place by (inefficiently spaced) suction cups.

Do not turn out a light when your brother is still peeing.

Do not play dodgeball with a baseball.

Do not try to jump over the backyard fence when you’re jumping on the trampoline and someone double dog dares you to.

If fact, do not go through with any double dog dare. Being called a coward is better than being called dead.

Do not leap from the top bunk to the bottom one when the beds are perpendicular and the ceiling fan is on.

Do not try to ride a fan when it’s turned on.

Do not ride your bike blindfolded.

I’m sure I’ve missed something. There are a million ways to die when you’re a boy, but that’s why I’m leaving you to the meticulous care of your daddy.

(On second thought, maybe I should brainstorm a bit longer.)

This is an excerpt from This Life With Boys, the third book in the Crash Test Parents series. To get access to some all-new, never-before-published humor essays in two hilarious Crash Test Parents guides, visit the Crash Test Parents Reader Library page.

8 Ridiculous Things About Which I No Longer Care

8 Ridiculous Things About Which I No Longer Care

It’s taken me nine years of resistance, but I have officially passed into the territory of A Parent Who Doesn’t Care.

I’m mostly talking about the way I look. Tell me, please, who in the world has time to care about the way she looks when one boy is flying off the trampoline with a towel he thinks will work as a parachute and another is rummaging through his daddy’s locked shed—he already picked the lock—and taking out a massive chain saw that he’ll race around the yard along with an accompanying roar, which is, presumably, the sound he thinks a chainsaw would make. Another is asking for his fourteenth snack of the afternoon.

I don’t have time to care. Sorry, Husband. You’re lucky if I smell nice anymore.

Here are some things that have gone down the drain since becoming a parent of six boys:

My hair.

I used to have great hair. I remember a time when I would actually curl it with hot rollers. I always liked to wear my hair long for this very purpose—those beautiful auburn curls etching their natural flourishes onto my shirt. I still wear my hair long, but I never do anything with it, so it just lies sad and flat or, usually, gets tied back into ponytail. Also, my gray hairs have multiplied exponentially since becoming the mom of twins. And because I’m a tree hugger sort, I won’t be dyeing it until there’s an eco-friendly alternative.

My attire.

I wear what I like to affectionately call a Mama Uniform. It is, at its simplest, a pair of workout pants, a sports bra, a T-shirt and my running shoes. I joke with the people who ever dare to say anything that I wear these clothes because my boys keep me on my feet and running in all directions. This is true—when I’m on duty, I hardly get to sit down for five minutes before someone is doing something that they didn’t fully think through when the idea came crashing into their brains—like riding a bike with a blindfold. Being pre-prepared in workout clothes and running shoes means that I will be ready, at a moments’ notice, to race out the doors when someone thinks it would be a good idea to drop their drawers and water the plants from the top of our van.

Sometimes I accessorize this Mama Uniform with a black sweatshirt, which takes attention off the many stains my workout shirts wear because kids like to use me as their napkin, their snot rag, their pillow and, of course, their vomit shield.

My smooth limbs.

I’ve grown so used to walking around my house wearing shorts even though I haven’t shaved my legs that once I accidentally walked all the way to my boys’ school before I realized I’d ventured outside with man calves visible to the world. Sorry you had to see that, world. And yet I’m not sorry. A woman should be able to show her hair if she wants to. Who got to decide that a beautiful woman was only the one with perfectly smooth legs? I wasn’t on the council, and I’d like to revoke the decision. If I want to walk around with porcupine quills growing out of my legs, just give me a wide berth, please.

My perfectly bagless eyes.

Once upon a time, when I did not have any children, I used to take spoons out of my freezer and apply them to my eyes every morning. I’d read in a beauty magazine that this got rid of the bags under your eyes. I didn’t care if it was true. I just did it.

Now, however, I don’t even bother, because it’s just another step to a morning routine that includes fixing breakfast, waking up boys (multiple times), reminding boys to put folders in backpacks (multiple times), pouring milk, washing out bowls, changing a baby’s diaper, and shouting over the noise that it’s time to leave (multiple times). If you read carefully, you’ll notice a theme here.

If I were to add this step to my morning routine, it would mean emerging from my room, which has a squeaky door, at 4:15 and attempting to slip past my boys’ rooms without waking them. Every parent knows that as soon as a kid smells you awake, he’s awake, too. And I’d like my two hours of alone time. So I skip the frozen spoons. And you can tell. But I don’t care.

My shoes.

Yes, those are holes in my shoes, thanks for noticing. I haven’t bought myself new clothes or shoes in three years. That’s about the time when I added my twins to the mix of little boys. They terrorize clothes just like they terrorize everything else in the world, so all our clothes budget goes to keeping our twins clothed.

One of these days, I’ll buy myself something new. For the next seventeen years, I might be wearing holey shoes.

The swimsuit.

I used to be all about the bikini. Not string bikinis or anything wild, because I’ve always been a modest person, mostly because I’ve never been truly comfortable with my body.

But you would not want to see me in a bikini now. Six children do a number on the belly, and I’m not just talking about the baby weight. There are also stretch marks and the umbilical hernia I had to repair after my twins and what happens when you go through another pregnancy with a piece of mesh holding your insides together. Also, there was an emergency appendectomy in there somewhere, so let’s just say that a two-piece is not in my future any longer. And I’m doing the world a favor.

The made up face.

There was a time when I would not think about going anywhere without makeup on. Now I can hardly think of going anywhere with makeup on. This is because makeup takes much too long to apply. In the ten minutes I apply my makeup, my boys can cover every available window space on our van with stickers, can rearrange all the books on our library shelves (and by rearrange I mean take them all off and get too tired to put them back on), and consume two pounds of apples. So no thanks.

Husband told me the other day that he wants to start doing more video marketing with one of our parenting platforms, and I groaned, because that means I’ll have to actually put on makeup. He asked why that means I had to put on makeup—couldn’t I just do it like I would normally look? I couldn’t stop laugh-crying. Because no. No one wants to see this face on camera without makeup.

The wrinkles.

Nope. I still care about those.

(But there are a lot more now. I blame the kids. And the crying at night over my challenging life. Just kidding. I don’t cry. I just complain.)

I don’t really care about the way I look or the way I smell or the way I dress—whether or not I come across as one of those moms who has it all together. The truth is, at the end of the day—or the beginning of the day—I’m just too tired to care.

My kids think I’m beautiful. A little overweight, a little uncool, a little old, but mostly beautiful. Husband just thinks I’m beautiful.

And that’s all that really matters.

This is an excerpt from This Life With Boys, the third book in the Crash Test Parents series. To get access to some all-new, never-before-published humor essays in two hilarious Crash Test Parents guides, visit the Crash Test Parents Reader Library page.

What Do Scissors Have to Do With an Untidy Home? Pretty Much Everything.

What Do Scissors Have to Do With an Untidy Home? Pretty Much Everything.

There is not a day that goes by in my house when boys aren’t rummaging around in the art cabinet, pulling out supplies. Sometimes they’re searching for the latest coloring book, because they want to scribble on a few of the pages and call it done. Sometimes they’re looking for some blank drawing paper, because they just got the idea to create this really interesting-looking snake and now they have to see it for real, instead of just in their heads. Sometimes they’re trying to find the pages they stapled yesterday so they could work on the comic book they chose as this year’s art project.

And sometimes, in their rummaging, they find the glue and scissors, which, of course, immediately changes their plans.

These are my least-favorite art days.

I don’t mind the glue so much. Sure, it gets on hands, which get rubbed all over the glass-top table and make nice little streaks that are really fun to scrape off later. Sure, it gets accidentally dripped on three sheets of paper that then get stacked and stuck together and we have to figure out how to get them apart without ripping a single paper fiber off because the 6-year-old really wants to keep them for his art portfolio. Sure, sometimes the boys lick their fingers clean and won’t admit that it tastes maybe a little bit good.

No, the glue doesn’t bother me.

It’s the scissors that kill me.

This is because my boys use them irresponsibly. What this means is that scissors have been banned from our house more than once, because one of them has decided his bangs are too long and he’s just going to cut them himself. He assumes, in making this decision, that his parents are probably never going to take him in for a haircut, and he can surely do this himself without coming out looking like a fool. (Nope. That would be a fail.) Or one of them has used the scissors to satisfy his burning curiosity about what a few cuts might do to a shirt, and now he has a huge hole in an otherwise perfectly fine shirt (why couldn’t he experiment on the shirt with permanent stains?). Or one of them decides to cut paper.

Now. It may not seem like paper is all that bad a thing to cut, especially after the hair and the shirt. BUT. The problem with paper is that it gets EVERYWHERE. And I mean everywhere. It’s like glitter’s first cousin.

Kids don’t just like to cut out something normal, like the picture they colored of that minion, and then leave it at that. Oh, no. That would be way too easy for parents. They’ll cut out that traced picture of a minion, and then they will cut up that background of the minion into tiny little pieces because they love making a mess they can’t possibly clean up, especially once it spills off the table and onto the carpet. And if they’re feeling really adventurous and it’s your lucky day, they’ll glue all those tiny little paper pieces to the table while you’re upstairs trying to manage the 3-year-old who refuses to use his legs to walk, because he’s making a statement.

My boys get some hair-brained ideas when it comes to scissors. The 8-year-old once decided he was going to cut out some Legend of Zelda paper dolls that he had drawn. He drew fourteen of them and then left the cutting extras and the scissors out so while I was preparing an elaborate dinner of cold carrots and hummus (it’s all I can manage most days), the 3-year-old twins picked up those left-out scissors and went to town on all the leftover paper, the carpet, and each other’s hair. They ended up looking like identical orphans.

The 6-year-old once decided he was going to make some confetti for his birthday party, except he didn’t tell us until those 3-year-olds (yes, there’s a theme in my house) got a hold of the pouch where he’d stashed it and dumped all four billion pieces out onto the living room floor.

The 5-year-old, now, he just likes to practice cutting his coloring pages, which wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t twelve coloring pages every day.

Because of all these delightful encounters with scissors, they have now moved to the top shelf of the art cabinet, too high for boys to reach on their own. But that doesn’t stop them, of course. Any time Mama or Daddy disappears into the bathroom or is distracted by dinner or a phone call comes through (you wonder why I never answer my phone? Because kids.), they’ll drag a chair all the way across the room and stand on it to find this greatest treasure of all treasures. Before we even know what’s happening, our house looks more like the Paper Bowl than the Dust Bowl.

It’s really hard to tidy a house when you have one hundred billion tiny little pieces of paper all over the floor. Why not use a vacuum cleaner? you might be thinking. These tiny papers are so good at being tiny that a vacuum cleaner doesn’t really pick them up, so we mostly have to use our hands, and, go ahead, judge me, I don’t really feel like picking confetti out of the carpet when it’s time to get dinner on the table. I’m pretty much done.

The other problem is that boys are really good at manipulation. Take this conversation:

Them [whispering because they think I can’t hear]: Can you reach the scissors? I need the scissors.
Me [in the other room, preparing dinner]: Oh, no you don’t. You are not using the scissors. Don’t even think about it.
Them: Aw. I just need to cut this one thing.
Me: What one thing? Come show me. [You know, because I’m a good parent.]
Them: This picture I’m coloring.
Me: That’s all you’re going to cut?
Them: Yeah.
Me: Alright, just that one thing. [Because maybe we can try again.]
Them: Yay!
Me: Just that one thing. Only that one thing. The one thing, and that’s it. Then you put them away. [They don’t hear anything unless you say it three times, at least.]

They nod, so maybe we have a win?

Nope. Five minutes later there are four pictures cut out of the coloring book, and the scraps have managed to carpet the floor, and the twins are stealing the scissors from their brothers and trying to show just how much they know about this whole cutting thing and it’s all over. It’s all over. There is so much to tidy up we can’t even.

So. I hide the scissors. The boys find them. I know, because I find the paper scraps and the orange peel scraps and the hair snippets and the mangled toys and everything else they use the scissors to cut.

One of these days. Sometimes I feel like I live for one of these days.

This is an excerpt from The Life-Changing Madness of Tidying Up After Children, the second book in the Crash Test Parents series. To get access to some all-new, never-before-published humor essays in two hilarious Crash Test Parents guides, visit the Crash Test Parents Reader Library page.

The Surprising Things Kids Will Eat at Least Once

The Surprising Things Kids Will Eat at Least Once

The other day I went upstairs to unpack a bag, because Husband and I had been out of town for the weekend, and I wanted to get a little unpacking done while the 5-year-old twins were outside, jumping on the trampoline. I thought, foolishly, that they’d be jumping for a while.

Little did I know that while I was fully engrossed in the fifteen minutes of unpacking this cursed bag, these two delightful children snuck into the house (they’re nothing if not opportunists) and smuggled out five apples each. Which they ate. In fifteen minutes.

When I came back down, I immediately noticed that the bag of green apples I’d emptied into the fruit bowl had mysteriously disappeared.

Of course I knew what had happened. But I wanted to give everyone a chance to confess.

I called all the boys inside and pointed to the fruit bowl. “What happened to all the green apples?” I said. I wasn’t angry, wasn’t accusing, I simply arranged my voice into a cauldron of curiosity.

“I don’t know,” the 8-year-old said, his eyes fastened on mine. I believed him.

The 7-year-old and the 10-year-old said the same, and I believed them, too. But when I turned my attention to my twins, they avoided like I had some kind of contagious disease. Which, of course, told me everything I needed to know.

“Did you take the apples?” I said.

One of them pointed to the other. “He took four,” this one said.

“And he took five,” the other one said. They prefer tattling on each other over confession.

As a natural consequence, their snacks were revoked for the rest of the week, because my boys already eat so much that every time I go through the grocery store line, cashiers ask me if I run a daycare (kind of), if I make a lot of smoothies (sometimes), if I live with a handful of monkeys (yes, I do), and many other creative questions.

It might sound cruel to revoke snacks for the rest of the week, but when you’re 5 and you consume five apples in one sitting, it logically follows that they’ve eaten their allotted share of snacks for the rest of the week. They’ll eat enough food, regardless. Trust me. Snack time is just one of many times they find an excuse to shove food in their face. Some kids don’t even get snacks. This is a first-world problem.

Plus, there are many other things they can eat. My boys are creative when it comes to filling their bellies. Here’s a list of all the things they’ve tried to eat (and probably will again).

1. A ladybug.

One day one of my boys double-dog-dared his brother to eat a ladybug, and everybody knows that you can’t turn down a double-dog-dare. So some unlucky boy swallowed a ladybug and called it a day.

Most of the world, you might know, consumes insects already, so this really isn’t that big a deal. In fact, it might be considered an exotic delicacy. My sons’ bug-catching skills will come in handy when the food supply wanes and we need bugs rather than animal meat for our daily protein intake. So thanks for the practice, guys.

2. Dirt.

I don’t know what it is about dirt that appeals to my 5-year-old twins, but every time they come into the house after playing outside, it’s quite obvious that they’ve been feasting on it. It’s not that they aren’t getting the nutrients they need, which is a strange phenomenon of the body, to demand dirt when mineral intake is low. We eat plenty of whole foods, and, as I said, they sometimes eat five apples in one sitting. I think they just like the taste of dirt in their mouth. Which is weird to me, but I guess it’s better than eating something else that’s brown.

3. Grass.

Every now and then one of the boys will come in and say something randomly shocking, like, “That grass was really tasty.” I’ll do a double-take and say, “What was that?” thinking I haven’t heard him clearly. But I did, and then I can’t even pretend I didn’t hear him clearly, because he has another pile of grass in his palm, stretched out to me. I politely decline. Thanks, but no thanks.

4. Raw beans.

Since there is no reason you would ever want or need to eat raw beans, I simply pretend not to see it.

5. Pencil erasers.

Every pencil that I pull out of the container where we keep them no longer has a working eraser. The other day I put on my Sherlock Holmes cap and observed the teeth marks inflicted all over the pencil body and the twisted metal on its end and the apparent nonexistence of the tiny white or pink cylinder. The only thing I can logically conclude from these observations is that my boys like to eat synthetic rubber. Hope it all comes out all right.

6. LEGO pieces.

One day the 10-year-old was building with LEGO pieces, and he said that they smelled really gross.

“Why would they smell?” I said.

He shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Two minutes later, I saw one of the 5-year-olds with a mouthful of LEGO pieces. He looked like a chipmunk storing up nuts for the winter.

“Get those out of your mouth,” I said.

“Mmfuolkay,” he said. I don’t actually know what he said, but I do know that he bent over the LEGO mat and heaved up LEGO pieces, along with volumes of kid slobber. I felt a little sick to my stomach after watching him, thinking of how many germs were likely living in that LEGO mat. It’s no wonder the LEGO pieces smelled.

I’ll never build with them again.

7. Gum.

We buy sugar free gum that doesn’t contain harmful ingredients because we’re annoying health freak parents. What this mostly means is that gum is not cheap. And my sons go through it like candy. We have a rule in our house that they’re only allowed to have one piece of gum a day, but someone is breaking this rule, judging by how quickly a bag empties.

But the biggest problem is really what they do with their gum when they’re finished with it. Sometimes they do what they’re supposed to do—spit it in the trash. Other times they’ll stick it on the counter while they pour a glass of milk or have another apple, and then they’ll conveniently forget they were saving it for later so that the next time we lose our balance and nearly fall (and by we, I mean me), we have the privilege of scraping someone else’s gum off our hands. Sometimes the less thoughtful or perhaps those less efficient at aiming inside the trash, will leave a piece on the floor, where it will either stick to the bottom of an oblivious shoe and be carried all over the house, or our cat will think it’s a fun, sticky ball and leave this treasure in random, unexpected places for one of us to flatten beneath our cheeks, a delicious decoration for our derriére.

It’s so fun living with kids.

Why don’t I outlaw the gum? you might be asking. The answer to that is simple: gum tricks my sons’ stomachs into thinking they’re actually eating. Which is important in a house where the grocery bill is already more than you pay for housing. And teenage years aren’t even here yet.

My point, in all of this, is that boys will try anything once. Sometimes twice or more. Which is great when we’re introducing a new exotic vegetable, like eggplant or artichoke or bok choy, all of which they’ve so far refused, in case you’re wondering.

Thanksgiving is coming up. That means my boys will likely be hovering around the stove, peering into the oven, and generally getting underfoot, unaware of how difficult this makes getting dinner on the table in a decent amount of time. So if they do this year what they do every year, I think I’ll throw out a few experimental snacks: branches, mud pies, and maybe even a few raw grasshoppers.

Everything’s worth trying once for a double-dog-dare (except toilet water. And anything that might drop in toilet water. Please don’t.).

Things You’ll Never Hear in a Household of Boys

Things You’ll Never Hear in a Household of Boys

I don’t know what it’s like to live with girls. Well, I take that back. I remember living with three girls in college, and I remember my mom joking with me about how the powers that be must have been preparing me for a life with a messy husband.

Little did I know that the powers that be were actually preparing me for life with six boys and a husband. Silly me. I didn’t dream big enough.

Now. I know that girls can be just as messy as boys, but I also know that I am a neat and tidy person, for the most part. I imagine that, if I had a daughter, she would share my propensity toward neat and tidy—no way would I end up with THAT many messy kids.

All that aside, there are some other things I’ve noticed about my boys: they can be selfish little twerps. I know, I know, most young kids are. And I know we can teach them to be selfless and clean and tidy—and it’s our duty, really, because it’s clearly not the way they’re born.

But there are also some things I imagine will never change in a household of smelly, wild boys.

Like the things they say—or don’t say.

Here are some things you’ll never hear in a household of boys:

1. “It’s OK. You take the last taco, brother.”

Feeding time at my house is quite an event. The most accurate description I can pull out of my writer brain is “Feeding frenzy.” With so many starving boys who haven’t eaten in the last hour (when they consumed, impressively, a whole pound of carrots in one sitting) vying for space and a serving spoon, there’s likely not to be anything left by the time I get around to the table—except for the asparagus no one likes because once the oldest got it stuck in his throat, and when he pulled it out, the string just kept coming, like a comic representation of a magician pulling a scarf from his throat.

Taco night is, by far, the worst.

Because the boys are still young (the oldest is only 8), they need help making the tacos (we’d likely run out of meat by the fourth taco—because they’ll fill the shell to the top in an effort to shovel as much food into as little space as possible). But the problem is, by the time we’ve made the taco for Boy Number 5, because Boy Number 6 doesn’t eat adult food yet, Boy Number One is already done with his taco and is (politely) asking for another. We usually make him wait until Husband and I have eaten our first taco, too, hoping that this rule will make him chew instead of inhale. Of course that never works.

But worst of all is when there’s only one taco left. The boys all look at each other, daring a brother to reach for the shell so they can smack his arm right off his torso.

I will never, ever hear those gracious words, “No, you take the last taco.”

Instead, we will slice it up into tiny little pieces and listen to the words that always follow this solution: “Aw, no fair! He got a bigger piece than me.”

2. “Well, I didn’t win. At least I had fun.”

I have never heard a boy say this. I don’t think any parent has ever heard a little boy says this, because when you’re a little boy, you only want to win. It’s not because your parents teach you that winning is everything (we sure didn’t). It’s jut that this is part of who you are. Second place is for people who shouldn’t be playing anyway.

About once a week, for Family Time, we’ll break out the board games to play. I don’t know why we do. We always go in thinking that this time will be fun, because they’re a week older and they’ve got one more loss under their belt, and surely they’ll realize that even though they lost last week they’re still alive. The world didn’t end, and, bonus, they’re still happy, for the most part. And yet, inevitably, as one player’s token nears the finish line before the others, my blood pressure begins to rise, along with a wedge of anxiety in my throat, because I know someone’s about to melt down.

“Aw!” the loser says. “I wanted to win.” And then he starts crying about how he never, ever, ever wins and he’s just going to quit.

“It’s not about winning,” I’ll say. “It’s about having fun.” He just looks at me like I’m an extraterrestrial with a rutabaga growing out of the top of my head—part amazement, part confusion, part disgust.

I’m still waiting for those words, but I fear they’ll never come.

3. “It’s completely fair that he gets to stay up later than I do.”

This one works with many different phrases. “It’s completely fair that he got the bigger strawberry.” “It’s completely fair that he had five friends come to his birthday party and I only had four.” “It’s completely fair that he gets to wear a black shirt.”

There is nothing fair in the life of a boy.

I’ve tried explaining the difference between just and fair, but this is a lesson lost on my boys right now. They’re still young. They see in mostly black and white, which means it’s not fair that one brother gets the longer straw. It’s not fair that one brother gets the superhero cup. It’s not fair that one brother is using more air or weighs more or grew more inches in the last year.

It’s hard for kids to see fair as it should be seen.

“It’s not fair,” the 6-year-old said yesterday morning.

“What’s not fair?” I said.

“He gets a bowl of oatmeal,” he said.

“You also got a bowl of oatmeal,” I said.

He cocked his head. “Oh. Oh yeah,” he said.

I shook my head and waited for the next declaration of “it’s not fair” to come. And it did, three minutes later, when the 8-year-old showed up at the table wearing a pair of sweat pants and the 5-year-old thought it wasn’t fair that his brother had clean sweat pants while he did not.

4. “Don’t worry, Mama. Of course I know better than to try that.”

I wish I could say I’ve heard these words or that I would hear these words in the future. But in a household of boys, I don’t think this is possible. I’m speaking purely from experience.

I didn’t hear these words from the 8-year-old, who attempted to walk up the stairs in roller blades while I hobbled up in my broken-foot boot. I didn’t hear them from the 6-year-old, who tried a headstand three stairs up and slid the rest of the way down on his face. Not from the 5-year-old, who wanted to see what his pee would like like if he peed off the top of the minivan out front. Not from one 3-year-old, who wanted to see what would happen if he tried to put two CDs into the CD player and push play. Not from the other 3-year-old, who thought he’d unstop the toilet paper mess in his favorite toilet with his brother’s plastic yoda puppet (Fix it, I will).

Boys don’t have these critical thinking skills down, and I hear it’s a long time before they master them.

But you know what I do hear in a household of boys?

“I really, really, really love you, Mama.”

And that’s more than enough.

This is an excerpt from This Life With Boys, the third book in the Crash Test Parents series. To get access to some all-new, never-before-published humor essays in two hilarious Crash Test Parents guides, visit the Crash Test Parents Reader Library page.

The Most Common Battlegrounds for Entropy in the Life of a Parent

The Most Common Battlegrounds for Entropy in the Life of a Parent

Not considering your children, the law of entropy is the biggest reason you can’t keep a tidy house.

Husband and I don’t always have the time to put all the out-of-place items back where they go, so we designate a holding spot. In my house, that holding spot is the banister that lines our stairs.

On this banister, we’ll put things like the plates from that time we ordered in at 10 p.m. so the kids wouldn’t smell the food and turn into beggars like they normally do. We put things like pens and markers that the 3-year-olds have an astounding ability to find. We put things like clean clothes after we’ve done all the laundry and it took all our energy just to turn the shirts and pants right side out and search for sock pairs.

(“Do they make monogrammed socks?” Husband said after this week’s laundry.

“Well, if they did, we wouldn’t want them,” I said. “The boys manage to lose their socks two minutes after buying a brand new package. Look at all these stray pairs.”

“At least then there would be a one-in-twelve chance that we’d find a match,” Husband said.)

This banister also sees the action of stray toys that somehow made it back upstairs when we weren’t looking, stacks of books that are out of place and we’re just too lazy to put back on the shelf, mugs Husband is growing unintentional science projects in (Materials: coffee cup and coffee. Just let it sit for a month, and see what you get).

But the problem is, when we leave something out, no matter how tiny it is, it’s always going to attract ALL THE OTHER THINGS.

It’s like, hey, guys, why don’t you all come hang out at my party? Obviously, that’s what those doofuses intended, or else they would have put me away. And all the other things listen and obey, unlike my children.

Before I know it, the whole banister is covered in randomness, and what I really want to do is bag it all up, except most of it is articles of clothing, and I know someone else will be wearing that in another year, and I don’t want to buy a new wardrobe for boy number three.

When we cleaned off the coffee table in my bedroom, there was only one thing left out on it: a three hundred page manuscript I’d printed out for revisions, because I didn’t have anywhere else to put it.

Two days later, it had sixty thousand other things hanging around it—a comb someone used to brush a strand of hair (because clearly it wasn’t their whole head), some toenail clippers that, judging by the residue in it, had been recently used on someone’s dirt-encrusted nails, the last year’s electric bills, a random wrapper for a cough drop I’m pretty sure I didn’t eat, and something unidentifiable—a toenail, perhaps?

You can’t leave a single thing out, if you’re really interested in achieving a tidy home. The law of entropy (otherwise known as “If you leave a shirt here, it will turn into a whole pile of shirts, and, probably, boys’ dirty underwear, because clearly this pile is the new dirty clothes hamper, even though no one in the house actually knows how it all got there, because, again, the law of entropy) will win. Every time.

Any job worth doing is worth finishing, is what I always say. I don’t always walk the walk, but I’m really good at talking the talk.

The problem is, when it come to finishing, I’d really rather lie in my bed and read, because it’s been an overwhelming evening, and the boys are still getting out of their beds claiming they have to go potty, even though when I check on them ten minutes later, they’re dancing with the plunger.

So, I don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t even try. If I can’t do it right, why should I do it at all? I’m just making more work for myself. (Husband would interject here that I’m a delightfully positive person to know. I’m relatively sure he’s just joking, because I’m actually a pretty big pessimist, which is why me and the law of entropy get along well together, because I can point to that thing Husband put on the banister to “put away later” and let him know that “Entropy is coming to get that,” and he’ll just look at me like I’m crazy, because of course he knows I’m right, but he doesn’t want to admit it. Who’s laughing three days later when that one coffee cup has turned into three forks, two bowls, five more coffee cups, twelve plates, and fifteen spoons? Not me. But still. I win. But not really.)

Here are some of the places entropy most likes to play:

1. The sink.

My dishes multiply like rabbits, and it’s not because there are eight of us. I’ll load the dishwasher, with nothing left in the sink but a single fork that didn’t make it in before I pressed start, and when I come down from my work shift, there are now at least fourteen cups that need to be loaded—and there were only six people hanging out downstairs who know how to drink out of a cup. Explain that math to me, please.

2. Our bed.

I used to have this habit of making my bed and then piling all the things that were on the floor on top of the bed, with the intention of putting them away at some point during the day. You know, chipping away at the mess as I had the time. And then a boy would get his foot stuck in the crib, even though he wasn’t supposed to even be in the crib, because he’s 3, and another boy would fall off the trampoline because he didn’t think about what might happen if he tried to fly to the ground, and a third boy would try to “skate” on two scooters and run into a brick wall. So I gave up on the whole “chipping away at the mess on my bed.”

The bed used to attract a lot of junk. But now the floor does.

3. The coffee table.

I’ve never seen so many papers. But you can bet there will be more tomorrow.

4. The basket in our kitchen.

It’s supposed to be reserved only for important school papers, but if I leave school papers in the basket, they will attract a billion other school papers that should really be in the recycling, because they’re worksheets I’d never keep. At least five worksheets come home with each boy every day, and there’s no possible way to keep all of that. I’d be crazy to try.

Halfway through the week, I get a little burned out on sorting through all the papers, so this basket quickly overflows, spilling onto the counter, which spills onto the floor, which spills out the doors, and pretty soon we’re practically swimming in papers.

I give up.

5. The carpet.

We have a crawling baby now, which means everything he finds on the floor goes right into his mouth. We vacuum all the time, but I swear if there’s one other thing that is left on the floor, all the other things on the bottom of my boys’ feet or in their hands or hidden inside their pockets will find that one other thing. So baby boy has quite a pile of Things That Go In His Mouth, and I feel pretty much powerless to stop it.

I dig it out of his mouth, he puts something back in. I dig it out, he puts something else in. I dig that out, he’s ready with something else. It’s the best game ever.

6. My 3-year-olds’ faces.

They never wipe their faces. They’re old enough to, and we’ve taught them to wash their hands and faces before and after meals, but do they? Well, that’s questionable. Whatever they have on their face is sticky, so, of course, all the other things find a way to that stickiness and stay there. There is dirt, there is snot, and there is wind. Yes, wind. Because in Texas, when the wind is blowing, you can sometimes see it, because it’s blowing dust and cedar and all the other things you don’t really want to be breathing. It all ends up on my twins’ faces.

Their faces also attract berry smoothie, peanut butter they got into when I wasn’t manning the place as well as I should have, the juice from black beans, pollen from the flowers they rub all over their cheeks, grass they like to eat, dirt they like to eat, bugs they like to eat. (Notice a pattern here? They’ve never been sick. It’s quite disgustingly amazing.)

7. My 6-year-old’s pants.

I don’t know what’s with these pants. Maybe my 6-year-old uses them as a napkin. Or maybe they never get washed. For some reason, he has this pair of pants, bright green, that are perpetually dirty. It doesn’t matter how many times I wash them. (I remember them going through the last clothes cycle, because I poured dish soap all over them, which is my best attempt at stain remover.) As soon as he puts them on, there’s a new stain coming at him. Pretty sure those won’t make it through the other four. We’ll just cut it off here.

8. The boys’ bathroom counters.

Every so often, Husband and I will elect not to lock our twins in their bedroom. What always (without fail) happens is one of them (still haven’t figured out who) will wander. He will sneak into his bathroom, open a cabinet he’s been told again and again not to even touch, take out his toothpaste and paint the counter with it. You don’t know sticky until you’ve tripped over some sweat pants the boys left on their bathroom floor and planted your hand on a toothpaste-painted counter to catch yourself. I peeled half my skin off trying to get out of that trap.

This delightful ritual (paint, clean it up, paint, clean it up) has so far attracted two flies and a handful of gnats. Because bathrooms are gross. Especially the ones belonging to boys.

Entropy is a force to be dealt with, but it will never be mastered. So if you’re not going to do it right, I say don’t do it at all.

Now I’ll just go recline on the couch while my kids tear my house apart. There’s not enough time to clean it all up, so why try?

This is an excerpt from The Life-Changing Madness of Tidying Up After Children, the second book in the Crash Test Parents series. To get access to some all-new, never-before-published humor essays in two hilarious Crash Test Parents guides, visit the Crash Test Parents Reader Library page.