Photo by Helen Montoya Henrichs.
I have a large family. Six children. In a world where people are choosing to have fewer children (or none at all), this can seem weird and crazy and, for some, unacceptable.
These people always come out to play when I mention anywhere in an essay or piece of writing that six kids live in my house.
I get it. Six kids is a lot. Many people can’t imagine having that many, let alone choosing to have that many. It seems like a crazy, why-would-anyone-want-to-do-THAT kind of thing.
Their concerns range from whether these kids are all from the same dad (yes) all the way down to what my uterus looks like. So, since I don’t plan to stop writing about my large family, I thought it would be fun to have a page of FAQs and FCs (Frequent Comments) where I could just send them to save time. Because I’m considerate like that and wouldn’t want anyone to die wondering.
“You do know how they are conceived and (that) there are methods of preventing said conception, correct.”
-I’m Real Original
Dear I’m Real Original: This is certainly the mystery of the century. And, to be honest, I really have no idea. You know how people joke about that woman whose husband just looks at her and she’s pregnant? It’s not a joke. It’s me.
Please tell me how this happens. I really don’t want any more of these…things…wrecking my home. So let’s go get a cup of coffee and you can tell me the whole conception story. The more details, the better.
“I’d like to sit down with her and ask her exactly what she thinks she’s giving society by having six kids. These people are so selfish it makes me sick.”
-I Have No Kids
Dear I Have No Kids: Huh. That’s weird. I didn’t think I owed society anything.
(Also: My boys are awesome. I could care less what you think.)
“I think you have enough kids.”
-The Child Police
Dear The Child Police: I’m glad you noticed. Thanks for not being afraid to tell me, because now I can finally stop. Because I truly do care what you think, even if I don’t care what I Have No Kids thinks. You are the police, after all.
“I prefer a dog. I’ve always wondered why someone would bring another awful human into the world.”
-I Hate Everyone
Dear I Hate Everyone: I want to be offended by your words, but I just feel sad. I wish I could find you and let you know how important you are to the world. My guess is you didn’t have anyone to tell you that as a kid. Growing up in a world like that stinks. But not everyone is an awful human (I’m not. My husband’s not. My boys aren’t, either.). I hope you find some not-awful humans soon.
“Children can be taught to take care of their things. A quiet home may be impossible, but it can be a controlled noisy.”
“Do some parenting and much of that nonsense will stop.”
“Manners and chores are taught, not everyone who has boys has a torn up home.”
– Perfect Parent
There you are Perfect Parent! I’m so glad you could come around. I know you’re super busy raising your perfect kids. Can you do us all a favor and start a parenting class for the rest of us dopes? We could learn so much from you. Just tell us where to sign up and I’ll try to make sure I can’t find a pen anywhere.
“It just sounds like they run free, without any constraints. If something were to happen to the mother, who would want to care for them?”
-I Don’t Get Humor
Dear I Don’t Get Humor: Your name says it all. We’re speaking a completely different language.
“Take a step back and figure out routines to control their acting out behaviors.”
-I Know Everything
Dear I Know Everything: That sounds way too hard. I’d rather just let them run wild and terrorize the world while I lie on the couch and dream about my life before children.
“Why on earth do parents saddle their kids with ridiculous names?”
“What a bunch of bizarre names you’ve selected for your boys, lady.”
-Names Are My Business
Dear Names Are My Business: I didn’t realize I was in violation of the “Acceptable Names According to Society” list. Next opportunity I have, I’ll march on down to the courthouse and change their names to something that might be easier for you to stomach.
Or maybe I’ll just take a shower. Because it’s been a while, and opportunities are opportunities.
Shower or courthouse? Shower or courthouse? Shower or courthouse?
Aw, dang. Shower won.
Welp. Guess you’ll have to get used to those ridiculously bizarre names.
“What were you drinking when you named them?”
-I Know Names
Dear I Know Names: That would be peppermint Schnapps, straight from the bottle. Because, you know, they allow that at the hospital during a woman’s childbirth recovery period. By the time the birth certificate official came around I couldn’t feel my tongue anymore. You know what happens next.
Let that be a lesson, people. Don’t drink while naming children.
“If they are anything like the Duggars…”
“Is she related to the Duggars or just another dimwit breeding for the heck of it?”
“Trying to be like the Duggars or something?”
-I Can’t Count
Dear I Can’t Count: I know, I know. Six is so close to 19. Scarily close. Turn around, and I might have more children than the Duggars tomorrow.
Truth be told, we’re trying to be like another famous family. Just call us the Weasleys.
“What I learned from six boys: have a vasectomy.”
“Should’ve had an abortion at some point.”
Dear No Tact: What an educated, insightful answer. I’m so glad you could contribute something valuable to this discussion.
“Maybe booze has something to do with you guys getting pregnant so many times?”
-Stay Away From Alcohol
Dear Stay Away From Alcohol: I don’t really remember. All I know is every day I had to buy a new bottle of red wine from the corner store because the old one just kept mysteriously disappearing.
“She should have told her husband to put that thing away after birth #3.”
Dear Sexpert: I did. Didn’t work. Mostly because I look dang good in yoga pants and an unwashed-hair ponytail.
“She is discusting.” (stet)
-The Educated One
Dear The Educated One: Sorry, I don’t take insults from people who can’t spell. Maybe that’s snobbish. But I’m just being honest. Come back to visit once you learn how to spell the word “disgusting.”
“They sound like the worst parents ever.”
-I Share Opinions
Dear I Share Opinions: We are the worst parents ever. Just ask any of our kids when they have immediate lights out for getting out of bed for the third time and someone’s not dying (which constitutes an emergency). Just ask them when they get an extra chore for getting down from the table without being excused. Just ask them when they aren’t allowed to watch the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie like all their friends do because the content is too mature.
“No wonder there’s not a husband in the picture. She’s ugly.”
-Fugly and Fffffpppsmart
Dear Fugly and Fffffpppsmart: I know it’s really hard to understand, but there is this thing that happens when someone takes a picture. It’s called Standing Behind the Camera. You see, someone has to stand behind the camera in order for a picture to be taken (unless you set an auto-picture, which I have no idea how to do. Technology’s not my strong point. Having babies is.). Husband was behind the camera.
Please don’t let your brain explode with this amazing revelation.
“I know your hands are full, but you chose to have a large family, and it is time for you both to step up and be responsible. Do them a huge favor and try to have them become gentlemen. Make them pick up their own clothes instead of leaving them all over the floor. The world will thank you.”
Dear Concerned Non-parent: Well, this just dashes all my parent-hopes. I guess I thought my boys would leave their clothes on the floor forever, or at least until they found a wife to pick up after them. I definitely didn’t plan on teaching them to find the hamper or clean up their own messes or do their own laundry. Mostly because I LOVE BEING A MAID.
(Said no mother ever.)
“Her uterus must be dragging the floor just like her vag.”
Dear Crude Dude: Kind of you to be concerned. As far as I know, I haven’t tripped over either yet, so I think I’m doing okay.
“Women like this keep popping out kids to try and remain relevant because they have no skills or talent. Get an education, lady…they will teach you how to keep ur legs closed.”
-School Fixes Everything
Dear School Fixes Everything: I must be dumber than I thought. What does “ur” mean? I’ve never come across that word in my study of the English language.
Oh, wait. Study? I’ve never done that. It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that I did not graduate valedictorian of my high school class, and I didn’t get a full ride to a university of my choice, and I most definitely didn’t graduate four years later with a 4.0 GPA and a degree in print journalism and English. Because, you know, women like that don’t have trouble keeping their legs closed. They know where babies come from, and they make sure they don’t have six of them.
I’m sure it also wouldn’t surprise you to know that I’ve never, ever, in all my life, won a writing award or been recognized for any of my work, because, of course, I have zero talents.
Now I feel sad that I didn’t do more with my life. Guess I’ll go open that new bottle of red wine and have another baby.
Thanks for commenting! If you have any personal issues with any of my answers, please email email@example.com.
See you next time I write an article about my big family!
This is an excerpt from Parenthood: Has Anyone Seen My Sanity?, the first book in the Crash Test Parents humor series. It pre-releases Feb. 24. To be notified of its release, visit the Crash Test Parents Reader Library page, where you’ll also get access to some all-new, never-before-published humor essays in two hilarious Crash Test Parents guides.
(Photo by Helen Montoya Henrichs.)
It happened on date night, the first night out my husband and I had since having our new baby twelve days before. We’d just finished our dinner and decided to stop by the store to pick up a few baby necessities, since our son was sleeping soundly in a car seat (which we were pushing in our cart, for those of you who are concerned. We’re not completely incompetent parents) and the other five were at home (hopefully) asleep with a sitter.
We were almost through the checkout line when an older woman rolled into line. Her grandbaby, chattering in an unknown baby language, sat in the basket. Her husband stood behind her.
And because I’d just pulled up the car seat cover to check on my little one, she noticed him and said, “Oh my goodness! You have a brand new baby!”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said politely as my husband stood paying. I turned to put the bags in the cart.
That’s when her husband said, “Oh, looks like she’s got another one on the way!” all excited and proud of himself for noticing.
And I swear we heard that woman say, “Uh-oh,” while my husband and I tried to hold it together. We made it all the way to the exit doors before we burst out laughing. We laughed all the way home.
The next day, thirteen days postpartum, we stopped to get an oil change at this place my husband always goes, where you can just sit in the car while they do a quick change. No kids need to be unbuckled or entertained or chased away from the parking lot. It’s the best idea ever. There should be more places like this.
The attendant knew my husband, but I’d never met him before. Still, when we were leaving, he assumed familiarity, calling, “See you soon, man,” to my husband and then flippantly remarking, “Not you, I guess. I’ll see you after.”
My husband quickly rolled up the window, and I tried not to laugh while in clear view, until my husband said what I was thinking. “After what?”
Some men are just clueless.
But lest we go easy on females and just chalk it up to men not knowing any better, I must tell you the story of a woman we met at a park one week after I gave birth to twins.
Our twins were born six weeks early, so we had to leave them in neonatal intensive care for a while, but because our other boys weren’t allowed in the NICU unit and one of their birthdays was coming up, we decided one day to take them to the park. They were playing like children do, making friends with another little boy, and his mother ambled over. We got to talking about how I only have boys, and it wasn’t long before she gestured toward my postpartum belly and said, “Is this one a girl?”
“Oh, no,” I said, laughing, because I knew this was about to get awkward, and I really didn’t blame her. My uterus had a lot of shrinking to do after twins. So I kept it nice and gentle. “No, I just had twin boys six days ago. They’re in the NICU right now.”
She nodded and said, “Oh,” like she understood, but clearly she didn’t, because her next words were, “So when are they due?”
I had to explain it all over again, and she apologized profusely and then gathered up her son and hightailed it out of there.
I didn’t mean to make her uncomfortable. But such is life when we’re looking through the lens of assumptions.
Eight years ago, when my first baby was born and those eating disorders and body image issues still stood way too close, these experiences would have really bothered me, but today I know the truth of it. I know that something incredibly amazing happens to a woman’s body when she’s growing a human being. I know that in the days after, her stomach won’t just POOF! back into place.
You see, the uterus has fed and housed a new baby for nine whole months, and it can’t be rushed in its shrinking back to normal. Shrinking takes time. It’s not done in a day or a week or even three. For a time, we will still look just a little bit pregnant, with a bump that could go either way.
So when is it okay to assume that a woman is pregnant?
But if you really want to try, and you’re feeling brave, here are some (mostly) foolproof giveaways:
1. She doesn’t have a newborn baby with her.
2. She tells you she’s expecting.
3. She doesn’t say she just had a baby.
4. She announced a pregnancy on social media but she hasn’t yet announced a birth.
If you’ve checked all the above and answered no, there’s one really important one left:
5. Her stomach looks like it’s housing an oversized basketball, she’s almost doing a standing backbend and she’s waddling significantly. And I mean significantly, because yesterday was her due date.
That’s it. Any other time? Just keep your mouth shut.
Better safe than sorry.
This is an excerpt from Parenting is the Hardest Insane Asylum Ever, the first in the Crash Test Parents humor series. It pre-releases Jan. 24. To be notified of its release, visit the Crash Test Parents Reader Library page, where you’ll also get access to some all-new, never-before-published humor essays in two hilarious Crash Test Parents guides.
I don’t know if I’ve ever faced a harder challenge in my parenting years than raising twins.
Maybe it’s because our twins came near the end of the line of boys and they see all their older brothers do, and they expect that life will be exactly like that for them.
Except there are two of them.
Oh, you want to drink out of a big-boy cup because your older brother did it when he was 2? I’m sorry. There are two of you.
Oh, you want to sit free at the table instead of strapped into your chairs because all your brothers did it when they were almost 3? I’m sorry. There are two of you.
What? You want me to leave the baby gate on your door open because you haven’t yet figured out how to climb over it (it’s coming)? I’m sorry. In case you haven’t noticed, THERE ARE TWO OF YOU.
Our twins are identical, two sides of the same egg. Nature’s gift, doctors say. One is left-handed, one is right-handed. They complete each other.
That’s part of the problem. What one doesn’t think of, the other does. What one is afraid to do, the other will try.
It’s like having four toddler wrecking balls walking around the house, scheming about what they can destroy next. I imagine their conversations go a little something like this:
Twin 1: Hey. Hey, bro. Mama’s not watching. Remember how she told us not to touch this computer? She’ll never know. Where is she?
Twin 2: She’s in the bathroom. Remember what we did last time she was in the bathroom?
Twin 1: Oh, man. That was fun. But this computer. She’ll never know. I just can’t figure out how to open it.
Twin 2: Like this. But how do you turn it on?
Twin 1: Easy. I’ve seen Daddy press this button right here.
Twin 2: There it is.
(Mama comes back into the room with the baby she just changed.)
Twin 1: Close it, close it, close it!
Twin 2: Walk away. Not too fast, not too slow. Just enough to look like we weren’t doing anything.
I love my twins. Of course I do. It’s just that they were unexpected.
If I could have read a primer two years ago, this is what it might have said:
Every parent of twins needs…
1. An extra dose of patience.
You will need this for many things. You will need it for the stranger at the store who asks to see your amazing bundles of joy and, after looking at their angelic sleeping faces, declares she “always wanted twins” and you want to say, “Oh, really? Then take mine,” because one was up screaming at 3 a.m. and as soon as you got him calmed down two hours later the other one woke up screaming, and as soon as you got that one calmed down an hour later all the other boys were up asking for breakfast. Which woke up the twins, who were also hungry. Again.
You will need it for when they learn to talk and there are so.many.words and so.many.whys and so many demands for everything under the sun. You will need it for the potty training and the big-boy-bed transitions and the constant fighting from dawn until dusk.
You will need it for the times you were helping one out of his pajamas and into his day clothes and you return back downstairs to find all the dust jackets removed from your poetry books and spread across the living room floor like a special carpet for toddler feet, for the six thousandth time (You should probably just put those books away, Mama. Far, far away.).
2. Good decision-making skills.
These will come into play those times they both wake up at 3 a.m. because they’re hungry. Which one do you feed first? (Answer: You’ll figure out a way to feed both at the same time.)
You’ll need these skills when one twin is in the downstairs bathroom playing with a plunger in a potty you specifically remember your older boy didn’t flush five minutes ago when he stunk it up and the other is in his bathroom upstairs finger painting the mirror with a whole tube of eco-friendly toothpaste. Which do you get first? (Answer: The toilet one. Toothpaste is much easier to clean than the mess an overzealous plunger can make.)
You’ll need them when the one who’s known for wandering does exactly that, moves from his nap time place while you take a minute or five for a shower, because it’s been four days since the last one, and you walk out to find him playing with the computer he’s been told 50 billion times to leave alone and, in his panic to close it, he deletes the 1,500 words you wrote this morning before kids got up. What do you do? (Answer: Cry.)
3. A rigorous workout regimen.
When one is running down the street because someone forgot to lock the deadbolt he can’t reach and another is going out back without shoes in 26-degree rain, you’ll want to be in shape for that. I recommend interval training. That way when they stop and change directions, you’ll be ready. You’ve done this a thousand times. Ski jumps. Football runs. All-out sprints.
When they slip, unnoticed (because they’re like ninjas), into the playroom while you’re wiping down the table after a ridiculously messy lunch, and both of them come out with their scooters, you’ll want to be able to wrestle those “cooters” from screaming, flailing bodies without hurting anyone.
And when one collapses in the middle of the park because it’s time to go and he’s not ready yet and the other thinks that just might work, you’ll need strong arms to carry 32 pounds of kicking and screaming twins back to the car, one tucked under each armpit.
4. Containment measures.
This would be things like strollers until they’re 3 and booster seats until they’re 4 and a baby gate on their door until they’re…15. Okay, maybe 13.
It also means leashes at the city zoo on a packed day, even though you said you’d never use them and you can feel the disapproval of other people and you want to say, “Come talk to me when you have 2-year-old twins. These things have saved their lives 17 billion times, and that was before we even got out of the parking lot.”
Containment saves lives. And sanity.
Twins are great. And hard. And maddening. And great. And so hard.
They can disassemble an 8-year-old’s room of LEGO Star Wars ships in 3.1 seconds. They can disassemble a heart with one identical smile and a valiant try at saying “Uptown funk you up” that sounds like it should have come with a bleep.
There’s just nothing like them in the world. You’ll be so glad you get to be their mama.
Especially after they fall asleep.
This is an excerpt from , Parenting Is the Hardest Insane Asylum Ever, a humor book that does not yet have a release date. To read more of my humor essays, visit Crash Test Parents.
There’s this school of thought that really bothers me. It shakes fingers at us and says that if we think parenting is hard or we feel like giving up on a daily or hourly or minute-by-minute basis or we, God forbid, wish our kids would be different, less difficult people for a fleeting moment in time, then we probably shouldn’t have become parents in the first place.
It’s a lie.
It’s a dangerous lie, too, one that keeps us locked in chains as parents, because that’s when we start looking around at all those people who make it look so easy, who make it look as though they’re enjoying every single minute of every single in-the-trenches hour, and we can think that we are somehow deficient in our parenting abilities.
You know what the easy part of parenting is? Making it look easy.
You know what the hard part of parenting is? Every other second.
Parenting is hard. You’ll never hear me say it’s easy. It’s hard because I work really hard at it. And, also, nothing worthwhile was ever easy.
I fail every single day at this parenting gig. Every single day. Sometimes that failing looks like yelling because the 3-year-olds just poured a whole package of brand new crayons out on the table and broke 26 of them in half before I could even get to them, even though I just got done telling them to leave the crayons alone until their brothers got home. Sometimes that failing looks like speaking more sharply than I intended to the 8-year-old because I just warned him not to swing the broom like that, and he decided to do it anyway, and he broke a light. Sometimes it looks like standing in a kitchen and crying without being able to say why I’m crying, just knowing there are two many voices and too many words and too many needs knocking all at once, and it’s overwhelmingly suffocating.
But I will never pretend I don’t fail, because it’s not true. I will never pretend that parenting my six boys is not hard, because it’s not true. The world is not served by facades and pretty little pictures and perfect little examples. The world is served by imperfection and being brave enough to bare it.
So, yeah, parenting feels hard to me. It’s not because I don’t love my children. I love them with a love that is great and deep and wild enough to gouge out whole parts of me that never belonged. They are precious and wonderful and most of all beloved.
Parenting feels hard because I’m trying, every day, to be better at it than I was yesterday. It feels hard because we’re all people and we’re all imperfect and we are living and growing together in ways that can grind and carve and shape. It feels hard because these are tiny little humans we’re talking about, tiny little humans who will one day become men and women, and we get to shepherd them into that, and it is a giant, humbling, magnanimous task. A privilege. But a mountain of responsibility.
I don’t take it lightly.
I would venture to say that if parenting feels easy every second of every day, if there is never a moment where we feel like locking ourselves in a bathroom for just a breath or 50 of them, if we never wish, for that tiny split of a split-second, that they would be different people, we are probably doing it wrong.
The best parts of life demand hard work and dedication and perseverance, and the things most worth doing will, at any moment in time, feel hard. That’s how I know I’m on the right track as a parent.
For me, parenting feels hard every time my 8-year-old forgets how he’s been taught to handle his anger and lashes out with hands instead of words, because he’s always been a gifted kid whose emotional development lags behind others his age and we’ve worked really, really hard trying to walk him toward a place of control and knowledge and healthy expression of all the emotions, not just the good ones, and sometimes it just feels like a losing battle. It feels hard when I remember what a brilliant and kind and loving little boy he is and how much good he has the potential to blast into the world, if only he didn’t have this one little thing. It feels hard when I see that school number on my cell, and I wonder if it’s him they’re calling about.
Parenting feels hard every time the 3-year-olds eat a tube of toothpaste and leave the evidence on the counter, because I have to choose not to yell and use my words in ways that will honor and teach and show grace and love even in this discipline moment that’s happened a billion times already. It feels hard when the 6-year-old wakes up on a school morning and barfs all over the Hot Wheels the 3-year-olds dumped out, not just because now it means cleaning all of that up, but also because no mother wants to see her baby sick. It feels hard every time the 5-year-old comes home from school and talks about how one of the boys in his class was mean to him on the playground, because then I just want to throat punch the bullying kid, but I have to talk to my boy about how the people who choose to bully often don’t know any better and need to be shown a better way of making friends, and he’s the one who will have to do it, because he will have to do this brave and kind and world-changing work.
Parenting feels hard when they forget who they are. It’s hard because I love so much, because I want to order their worlds just so, because I want to make their decisions for them, because I don’t want to sit by and watch those consequences break their hearts, but I have to, because it’s the only way they’ll learn and grow and stumble back to who they are.
Sometimes I don’t feel up to this task. Sometimes I don’t feel equipped. Sometimes I want to give up, but I also know that I’m a fighter. I persevere. I keep going. Which is kind of the point of all this parenting in the trenches—to show us what we’re made of. And you know what? I’m made of some pretty tough stuff.
So, no, I’m not going to suck it up, buttercup, because I have discovered something else in my eight years with these delightful little boys. Parenting is hard because I’m doing it right. Because I fail. Because they fail. Because we keep going, all of us together, along the road toward wholehearted living.
There is nothing greater in the world than this.
A few weeks ago I got a text from my sister, who had her third baby in February. The text said, “Tell me you have days when you just can’t handle it. When walking out of the house is all you can do to survive. I just need to hear it from another human.”
I laughed out loud, even though I knew she was dead serious. And in my head were responses like “every damn day” and “just this morning” and “on a minute-by-minute basis.”
Parenting is hard. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I used to run six miles every morning in 10,000-pound humidity before commuting an hour to downtown’s Houston Chronicle office. I used to marathon-train on 10 miles of hills pushing a double baby stroller that carried a 4-year-old and a 3-year-old. I used to work for a narcissist.
Parenting is still the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
There are so many hours of my day that I just feel like giving up and hitch-hiking to downtown San Antonio’s Riverwalk, where Husband and I had a life before children—a life that didn’t include a panic attack every time a kid steps too close to the edge of the path and I imagine having to jump into that dirty black water to save him.
Like the morning last week, when the 3-year-old twins went outside into our very safe (normally) backyard while I transferred a load of laundry from the washing machine to the dryer. Two minutes, tops. That’s all it took. By the time I finished, one of the twins had come back inside, and the whole house smelled like gasoline.
“Why does the house smell like gasoline?” I said, to no one in particular. The twin looked at me. I looked at him. He had his guilty eyes on.
“What were you doing out there?” I said.
“Nuffing,” he said.
I knew it was definitely something, because of those guilty eyes. A mom always knows, after all.
His twin brother came in smelling like a gas pump, so I looked out on the deck, where they didn’t even have the foresight to hide what they’d been doing. There, on a deck chair, was their daddy’s gas can used to fill up the lawn mower the three times a year he mows. That gas can is stored behind a locked door. A locked and sealed door that somehow, SOMEHOW, these Dennis the Menaces had cracked open in less than two minutes.
They poured gasoline (less than half a gallon, for those who are concerned) all over the back deck, the grass and themselves. It’s a good thing no one in my house smokes, because we all would have been blown to high heaven.
I put them both in the bath (which was not on the schedule for the morning) while the baby stayed downstairs in his jumper seat wailing because he doesn’t like to be alone, and washed them, rinsed them, scrubbed them, rinsed them and washed them again. Husband sprayed off the deck (which also wasn’t on the schedule for the morning) and saturated all the grass, because a Texas summer hits 4,000 degrees, and we were afraid the sun might make the gasoline-drenched grass spontaneously combust and blow us all to high heaven anyway.
That morning was one of those give-up days, because there’s no way to be one step ahead in my house. There’s no way I can fully toddler-proof every room. There’s no way I can keep them out of every single thing they find to amuse themselves. It would take 23 of me.
That morning I wanted to walk out and let them fend for themselves in gasoline scented clothes that spread their stench all over the house in less than two seconds.
I used to feel guilty when feelings like this crept up. I used to beat myself up for sometimes wishing that they just weren’t twins, that there weren’t two of them ALL THE DANG TIME, that they weren’t so insatiably curious and 3 years old and nearly impossible to parent right now.
But there is something important I’ve learned in my years of parenting: Just because there are moments when we want to run away, when we want to flat-out give up, when we want to trade our kids for easier kids for just this little moment in time so we can catch up and learn to appreciate them again, it doesn’t mean that we don’t still love them with a love that is never-ending.
These little, irrational humans can be the best and worst people we know on any given day at any given moment.
There are days when I want to sit down and color next to my 3-year-olds, because they’ve just been playing so well together and the morning’s disasters have been minimal, and, gosh, I just love them so much, and then there are mornings when I want to put them on Craig’s list’s free page (I’d have to lie to really sell the idea, though. Something like “Two well behaved twins, of undetermined age.” Because what kind of crazy person would want two 3-year-olds voluntarily?)
There are hours when I love to comb through those old picture albums that show these two hooked up to machines because they were premature and remember how I fretted and cried and tried my best to help them learn how to eat, and there are days when those first moments feel like entire lifetimes apart from this moment, when they stuck their whole arm in the just-used toilet to see what poop floating in pee feels like (They already know. We’ve done this drill before.).
There are minutes when I pull them into my lap and kiss all over their faces until they’re giggling uncontrollably, because they’re getting so big and so fun, and then there are minutes when I’m half-heartedly holding their big brother away from them so he doesn’t clobber them for marking all over his journal with a giant red permanent marker they found lying around somewhere (who keeps giving us permanent markers? Please stop.).
Parenting is not for the weak. This is the hardest responsibility we will ever have in our lives. Raising another human being to be a decent person is not easy, and there are many times along our journeys when we will feel like giving up and giving in and giving out.
It just comes with the territory.
So I fire off my response to my sweet sister. “Yes,” I say. “Just about every day. Doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother.”
Because it doesn’t.
These moments when we feel the tension between wanting to give up and knowing we can’t make us stronger parents. They make us better people. They drag us into a deeper understanding of love.
Good thing, too. Because my toddler just figured out how to open a can of paint Husband left unguarded and now the pantry wall has a Thermal Spring scribble-masterpiece drying on it.
I’m going to be one amazing person by the time this is all over.
This is the best I’ve got, Pinterest. Sorry, son.
There is this weird thing that happens when you have multiple children.
You only add them one at a time, so you start out so well. Setting up that nursery in old-fashioned airplanes. Displaying books on the dresser so they’re all nice and neat and you can see each one. Organizing outings to the park and the pool and the children’s museum with all his little infant buddies.
And then you have more children. You start letting things fall through the cracks. You start losing track of time. You start slacking when it comes to things like…birthdays.
Not long ago we celebrated our third son’s fifth birthday.
I forgot to plan his birthday party.
So I scheduled it for two weeks after his actual birth day and then had to listen to him every single morning say, “Well, I guess I’m not having a birthday party this year” after I answered the initial, “Is TODAY my birthday party?” with a negative. If only 5-year-olds weren’t so bad at time relativity.
“Your birthday party isn’t today,” I’d say. “It’s in another ten days.”
He can count to 100, but he can’t count the ten days between the day he asked and the day with the box that says “HOSEA’S BIRTHDAY PARTY” in big blue letters on the calendar beside the fridge.
One day he took the guilt a little farther. “I didn’t get a cupcake for breakfast on my birthday,” he said.
It’s tradition in our house that the birthday boy gets a cupcake for breakfast on his actual birth day. He got cinnamon toast this year, because I’m
drowning doing just fine.
“But you had cinnamon toast,” I said. He looked at me like he was the most neglected boy in the world.
“We’ll plan what we’re having for your birthday party tonight,” I said. “How about that?”
He perked up. “How much longer until after dinner?” he said.
We ate our dinner, did all the chores and then sat down at the table to plan. I had my pen and notebook at the ready.
“What theme do you want?” Husband asked.
“What’s a theme?” our 5-year-old said.
“Like Robin Hood or Treasure Island or Star Wars,” our 8-year-old bookworm said.
“I want Penguins of Madagascar with ninjas,” the birthday-boy-for-the-last-week said.
My husband and I looked at each other with the same “What the—” expression on our faces. But I knew there was a solution. We live in an artsy fartsy world, after all.
I opened Pinterest.
What a mistake.
Now, I used to be a pretty crafty person. When my 8-year-old started school, I sent him there with five reusable napkins and five handkerchiefs complete with a monogrammed picture drawn by all the members of his family so he wouldn’t feel lonely during the school day. I know. I’m an overachiever. But no longer. When the next-in-line started school, he was lucky to get two of each. The third starts in a little more than three weeks. I’ve done all of zero.
My closet is full of material I always intended to use for on-the-go crayon bags and custom backpacks and notebook covers. There are baskets filled with ripped-up books I plan on using for craft projects someday (I’ve been waiting three years for someday. So far.). I have a bag that sits beside the living room couch for when the kids are all serenely playing and I can take out that blanket I’ve been crocheting for five years (mostly because boys hardly ever serenely play).
But the feed for a “Penguins of Madagascar party” was crazy. Homemade cakes with 3D penguins made from icing, standing up on top. Elaborate crafts that we could have for all the kids at the party (and who would clean up the mess? Me.). Coloring pages and games and party favors with penguins hand-drawn on the sides of cups.
I scrolled through. Can’t do this. Can’t do this. Won’t do this.
Shouldn’t have even looked.
When the oldest boy had his Star Wars party, I made Ham Solo sandwiches and Wookie cookies and Yoda soda. This year I just wanted to bake chocolate cookies and call them bombs.
I felt a little guilty about it. I couldn’t help it.
We live in such a Pinterest-perfect world. People post those elaborate cakes where Penguins of Madagascar are standing up on a no-lines-in-the-icing cake, striking their elaborate fight poses, and I wonder how anyone plans a birthday anymore.
“Think you could do this?” I asked Husband, because he’s the artist.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “Who has time for that?”
Exactly. Who has time for that? Last time we tried to decorate a cake in the kitchen, the 8-year-old tried to walk up stairs in roller blades and Spider-Man’s mask came out looking more like a face behind bars. Last time we tried to make our own pin-the-mustache-on-the-Lorax game, a little brother found some scissors and cut up all the school papers left in the basket beside the table. Last time we tried to make those hand-lettered food labels the twins discovered the plunger and a toilet their brothers forgot to flush.
So it’s not a party unless it’s a Pinterest party? Unless we spend two whole days making sure everything is perfect? Unless someone can tell us what that blob on the cake is supposed to be?
Pinterest can go take a walk all the way to Antarctica. Hey, Pinterest: Don’t let the ice numb your backside on the way out.
I’ll take my imperfect party with the rowdy kids and the penguin box game we never finished and the cake balls we called eggs any day.
See, the thing is, our kids have no idea. They have no idea. They hardly notice the clothes they took off and left all over the floor or the shoes they pretty much ran right out of or the way they smell when they come back in from playing outside in the middle of a Texas summer. Do we really think they’re gong to notice the way the eyes on that penguin-that-doesn’t-really-look-like-a-penguin are lopsided? Do we really think they’re going to say there just weren’t enough decorations at their party? Do we really think they’re going to point out the way the cake sinks in the middle?
No. They’re going to shove that cake in their pie holes. We should, too (well, maybe use a fork), because it’s dang delicious.
When my son’s party was over, I pulled him close and asked him if he enjoyed it.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “It was the best party ever.”
And he meant it.
He started to run off and then turned back around. “Can I have another poop cupcake, Mama?” he said.
“Poop cupcake?” I said. “That doesn’t sound very tasty.”
I thought he was joking, because, well, boys and jokes. The grosser the better. But my boy was dead serious. He pointed to two cupcakes left on the table, each with chocolate icing swirled up high.
I laughed so hard.
Guess those pretty cupcakes weren’t as pretty as I thought.