The 5 Eating Personalities of Ravenous Children

The 5 Eating Personalities of Ravenous Children

My husband and I used to sit down to a quiet dinner, just the two of us. We used to be able to eat the same thing every week. We used to be able to hold hands when we wanted and pack up leftovers for the next day’s lunch.

Kids changed all that.

Now we sit down to a dinner with more words than you’ll read in a George R.R. Martin novel. We have to have something different every night of the month. We use our hands to dish out food, and there are never any leftovers.

Over the years of eating dinners together, which, in spite of the mayhem six boys can rouse, we still find important, my boys have emerged with very different eating personalities.

There is The Picky Eater.

This is the kid who asks what’s for dinner, and, before you even get “chicken noodle soup” out, he’s already looking in the pot and saying, “I want something else.”

“If you can cook it,” I say. (He can’t. He’s 4.)

“But I HATE that.”

“Do you even know what it is?” I say, because I’m a cook, not a chef, kid.

“No.”

I have to give him credit. He gives it a chance. In fact, he gives it three chances, in three separate helpings, all the while saying how much he wishes he could have something else for dinner.

We also have The Player.

This is the kid who will take a string of spaghetti and swing it around like a rope. He’ll set up a forest with his broccoli. He will wear his pizza like a triangle hat.

“Stop playing with your food,” I’ll say.

“I not playing,” he’ll say. “I eating. See?” He puts the broccoli in his mouth, shouting, “I eat tree! Oh no!”

Well, at least he’s eating broccoli.

And we have his twin brother, The Wanderer.

This is the kid who cannot put one bite in his mouth without moving from the table to pick up the book he wanted to show his brothers. He’ll take another bite and remember he forgot to show Mama the toy he found under the couch today. It was gone for so long. Another bite, and he’s up again, using the bathroom or putting his shoes where they go or remembering he left his Thermos in the refrigerator.

“The rule is you stay at the table and ask to be excused,” I say.

“I am staying at the table,” he’ll say.

“You’re not.”

“I AM!”

“No. That’s not staying. See? You just got up from the table.”

“No! I staying.”

Ever argue with a 2-year-old? Not only does it not make sense, YOU WILL NOT WIN.

So we strapped him into a booster seat. The Wanderer wanders no more.

One of our boys is The Talker.

This is the kid who will take so excruciatingly long to eat his dinner he’s the last one at the table and we’ve all fallen asleep.

It’s not that he isn’t hungry, because he’ll always ask for more, even if dinner has already been cleaned up.

It’s just that he has to tell us every single second of his day, and he forgets that there is food to eat. The loud rumbling in his belly will not make him shovel that food any faster.

“You should eat,” I’ll say, after he’s told me in finite detail what went on today in his Sage class.

“But I want to tell you about my day.”

Twenty-five minutes of every person he came across at school today and what he did in math class and who he played with at recess and I’m getting a nervous tick in my leg, because dinner is almost over and he’s only taken two bites.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad he talks. It’s just…Eat.

Then there is The Inhaler.

This kid is the opposite of The Talker. He will start eating at the exact same time as everyone else but will finish when everyone else is on their second bite.

“May I have some more please?” he’ll say.

“You’re already done?” I’ll say.

“I’m really hungry,” he’ll say.

Obviously.

These are the only words The Inhaler will say during dinner, except for a quick one-word answer when asked what his thankful is for the day. He’s too busy shoveling to talk.

“Chew your food,” I’ll say. “Take your time.”

He’ll shoot me that you-don’t-know-what-you’re-talking-about look.

“My stomach hurts,” he’ll say after dinner.

“Do you think it’s because you ate too much?” I’ll say. “Too fast?”

“No. I think it’s just gas.”

I’ll wait a while before I tell him that eating too fast causes gas.

All I know is mealtime sure has gotten interesting.

And, if I’m being honest, a whole lot better.

This is an excerpt from Parenthood: Has Anyone Seen My Sanity?, the first book in the Crash Test Parents humor 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.

My Kids Know (and Use) the Worst F-Word of Them All

My Kids Know (and Use) the Worst F-Word of Them All

My boys are playing together just fine over in a corner of the dining room, on the glass table we never use for eating, (because it’s glass and kids have twelve thousand sticky hands). They’re occupied with the Contraptions, these really fun wooden planks they like to make into tracks, so it looks like the perfect opportunity to sneak into the kitchen and cram down another of those dark chocolate brownies I made last night, even though I just got done telling them, when they asked, that it’s too early in the morning to have one.

I should know better by now. I mean, I’ve been a parent for 8 years. I should know that in a household of kids, there is never, ever, ever a perfect opportunity. But sometimes I go a little wild and get my hopes up.

So I’m in the middle of cramming, hiding in the pantry just in case they come wandering into the kitchen, when the 8-year-old catches me, red-handed, with chocolate all over my fingers (the curse of gooey brownies).

He looks from my face to my hands and back again. And then he tosses out that bad word I just love to hate: “Aw, no f**r. You ate a brownie. You said it was too early for us to have one.”

I think fast. “Well,” I say. “I’m a grownup. When you’re a grownup you get to eat whatever you want in the morning.”

Real smooth, I know. Real good example of the way I DON’T want my children to eat. Well, parenting and paradoxes go hand in hand. We’re all hypocrites. The sooner we can face up to that, the happier we’ll be.

Hours later, when it’s time for lunch, I pile some strawberries and sliced cucumber on their plates beside their PB&J sandwiches. Off to the side, I put a handful of raisins on everyone’s plate except the 8-year-old, who doesn’t like raisins. I give him pecans.

His brothers notice, of course. “No f**r,” the 5-year-old says. “He gets pecans.”

“You have raisins,” I say. “He doesn’t like raisins. I’ll take your raisins and give you pecans, if you want.”

He shuts his mouth and shakes his head, because, of course, he prefers the sweet raisins to the pecans.

I get so tired of the phrase, “No f**r.” They have several variations. Those variations might sound like “It’s not f**r” or “That’s not f**r” or “You should be f**r” and so many more I can’t even remember right now, in my annoyed, flustered, I’m-so-sick-of-this state of mind. All I know is I hear them 15 billion times a day.

When someone goes out to play because he’s finished his after dinner chore: “That’s not f**r. He gets to go play already, and I’m still stuck here doing dishes.” When someone pours his own milk and it’s half a centimeter more than I gave the brother: “It’s not f**r. He got more milk than I did.” When someone comes down the stairs with a red shirt on: “No f**r. I never get to wear a red shirt.”

What I want to say every single time I hear these delightful words is, “Welp. Life’s not f**r. The sooner you can learn that and accept it, the better.”

What I usually do, instead, because I’m a good parent, is empathize with their feelings and then explain exactly why fair isn’t equal. Sometimes they understand. Most times they don’t.

But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t take incredible strength of will to keep calm when they’re throwing out and kicking around the f-word. In fact, this is what it usually sounds like in my head:

When we’re eating dinner, and their daddy and I have a glass of wine:
3-year-old: “No f**r. You get wine.”
What I want to say: “If you only knew who I’d be without it…”
What I say instead: “Want to taste?”
He gets close enough to smell and picks up his cup of milk without a single complaint.
That’s right, son. This stuff is NASTY, because it’s cheap and it’s survival.

When we’re watching a movie and the boys get their cups of popcorn.
6-year-old: “Hey, no f**r! He got more than I did!”
What I want to say: “Wow. Aren’t you an efficient counter? You know fractions already? Because he has half a kernel more than you.”
What I say instead: “Here. Have another.”
Because, dang, I don’t want this fight. I know what it will look like. It will look like five cups of popcorn dumped onto the floor so they can count it, and the 3-year-olds can’t even count past 12, which means this will take ALL DAY.

When the older boys are sitting around during art time, and the 8-year-old decides he’s going to make the most epic paper airplane ever.
5-year-old: “No f**r. My brother knows how to make a paper airplane.”
What I want to say: “Stinks to be you.”
What I say instead: “Here. Let’s learn how to make one.”
Forty minutes later we have a paper airplane that won’t even fly, because making paper airplanes is much more complicated than it looks.

When it’s almost nap time, and I’m telling the 3-year-old twins what they need to do next.
3-year-old: “No f**r. My bruvers get to have Quiet Time and I have to take a nap.”
What I want to say: “Only boys who know how to say ‘brothers’ get to have Quiet Time. Besides, I don’t need a break from your brothers. You, on the other hand…I need a thousand year break from you.”
What I say instead: “Do you want to crawl like a dog to your bed or run like an ostrich?”

During dinner, the oldest is sitting beside his littlest brother, watching me feed him.
8-year-old: “No f**r. You get to feed him.”
What I want to say: “What the—?”
What I say instead: “You can do it if you want.”
Two minutes later, the baby sneezed sweet potatoes all over his face, and I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing hysterically. Not so fun now, is it?

Everybody in my house knows this bad word. Everyone uses it. We’re born knowing how to use it, I think.

Kids have such a messed up definition of what f**r really is. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the feeling of unf**r any less real to them.

The other day, when we were playing a game and one of his brothers drew a yellow card he needed, my 6-year-old said, “That’s not f**r.”

“What does f**r mean?” I said.

No one answered, because none of them knows. All they know is they want life to work for them right now. They want it to be perfectly smooth and perfectly easy and perfectly their way.

And, honestly, so do I. But I’ve been alive longer than they have, and I know it’s just not. I know it’s not f**r that some lose babies while others get to keep them. I know it’s not f**r that some business deals fall through and we suddenly can’t make our mortgage payment this month while others have more than enough. I know it’s not f**r that the store was out of raw oats so now I have to think outside the box for Wednesday morning’s breakfast.

So much about life is not f**r. So many times I want to stomp and complain and throw out those same words my kids overuse. Because it’s not f**r that my air conditioner broke and we had to try to sleep through four days of 1,000-degree heat. It’s not f**r that my kids don’t listen to what I’m saying 99.7 percent of the time because they have better things on their minds. It’s not f**r that last night, when I had just slipped into dreamland, one of them came knocking on my door to say he couldn’t sleep, and then it took me three hours to get back to sleep so I’m more exhausted than normal today.

In a child’s life, f**r means get-what-I-want. Everything they want to be f**r—a game, the ability to make epic paper airplanes, a treatment—is strictly for their own benefit. They want a f**r game, because they want to win. They want a f**r ability, because it means they wouldn’t have to ask Mama’s help and their paper airplane would actually fly. They want f**r treatment, because they’re afraid they’re missing out on something special.

We’re born with this complex. We all know adults who still have trouble accepting its reality in their lives. That, to me, means it’s good for our kids to practice surviving “unf**r,” because they get to learn, in the process, that life doesn’t end because something doesn’t go exactly the way they planned or even hoped.

That’s what develops grit.

So, today, when the 8-year-old plops on the couch and says, “I want to watch a movie,” and I answer in the negative, and he says, “It’s not f**r. My friends get to watch TV all day,” and it’s the sixtieth time I’ve heard those blasted words in an hour, I send them all outside to jump out their frustration on the trampoline. And when the last one gets out the door, I turn the lock. No one’s coming back inside until dinner.

Life isn’t f**r, after all.

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.

Dear Concerned Reader: As Far as I Know My Vag Doesn’t Drag the Floor and Other Business Matters

Dear Concerned Reader: As Far as I Know My Vag Doesn’t Drag the Floor and Other Business Matters

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.”
-No Tact

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.”
-Sexpert

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.”
-Concerned Non-parent

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.”
-Crude Dude

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 idontcare@babymakingfactory.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.

8 Things Kids are Masters at Destroying

8 Things Kids are Masters at Destroying

Six boys produce a lot of destruction around my house. Everywhere I look, there are nicks in bookshelves and unintended holes in the walls from errant hands or fingers or just curiosity, and there are cracked toilet lids and picture frames that have no more glass and shattered lights that took an accidental knocking.

But the destruction, by far, hits toys the hardest. Mostly because toys are made of paper. Or something similar. They’re surely not made of anything durable, like steel. Or iron. Or cement.

I know, I know. If we had toys made of steel or iron or cement, we’d have bigger things to worry about, and besides, boys wouldn’t even be able to lift them, which might be my point.

I have no idea what goes through the minds of toy manufacturers when they’re building these complicated little things intended for boy play. I imagine it’s something like this: “Haha! Finally! Here is something they’ll never be able to destroy.”

The answer is always False.

My boys get pretty wild and rowdy when they’re playing, but, from what I’ve observed, it’s not any more wild and rowdy than their friends, including some girls. Kids play hard. It’s their favorite thing to do, and that means that many times, the toys they choose to play with consistently are usually always on their last life. Or maybe they never really had a life in the first place, because as soon as they came home and saw the boys, they gave up (remember the scene in Toy Story 4 when Woody and Buzz and Jessie watch the kids at daycare play with the old toys and you can just tell they’re terrified to be brought into the room? That’s what I imagine any toys coming into our house feel like, if they have feelings.).

So I’m just putting it out there, toy manufacturers: If you want to test whether or not your product is really durable—and I’m talking nothing-is-going-to-destroy-this durable—send it to my house.

Here are some things we’ve already tried and successfully destroyed:

1. Anything made of foam.

Once upon a time, my second son got a Thor foam hammer for his birthday. It was the coolest thing, if you talked to him. Two days later, it was about half its original size, with tiny little bite marks all over it, because his little brother thought it looked like a good thing to eat. THIS IS THE ONLY THING FOAM IS GOOD FOR.

Trust me. We made light sabers out of pool noodles this summer, because we thought our boys would really enjoy some safe sword play, except it’s hard to sword fight when you’re focused on how many bite marks your opponent’s light saber has. They kept slashing me in the face, because I couldn’t stop staring, marveling at how quickly those cool light sabers had deteriorated.

You know those foam protectors they put on the metal bars of trampolines so kids don’t get hurt while they’re jumping? Yeah, my little foamivores got those, too. Maybe they’ll learn their lesson next time a body part connects with a metal pole. But I doubt it. They’d probably think it was fun and try to do it again.

2. Anything made with a thousand pieces that don’t keep their pieces.

This would be things like LEGOs that get opened immediately, without any plan, and dumped out. It was a sad awakening when I realized no one really cares about putting together that awesome Star Wars starship as much as I do. This category also hosts things like puzzles, which are all packaged in a bag kids can’t open and neither can parents—so when it is finally, finally, finally wrestled open, the pieces go flying everywhere, and at least one of them is sure to disappear. Forever.

(I think toy manufacturers do this on purpose. Someone somewhere is laughing every time a parent sweats through trying to open something and a billion pieces fly everywhere. You know who’s not laughing? Me. Thanks for another anxiety attack, toy manufacturers. My kid just tossed a puzzle into my lap and asked me to open it.)

3. Mr. Potato Head’s butt.

This was just lazy designing, in my opinion. I get why it’s there—easy storage for all the pieces that make Mr. Potato Head Mr. Potato Head, but it’s just that Mr. Potato Head, at least in my house, has a very leaky butt, because every other minute my kids are asking me to put Mr. Potato Head’s butt back on, except we don’t allow the word “butt” in our house, so it sounds more like, “Can you put Mr. Potato Head’s booty back on?” which is really kind of ridiculous and a little bit cute.

I’ll put it back on, and then I’ll watch them fill it up with pieces and close it and then open it again, and, whoops, there went the butt flap again and all the pieces are spilling out and my kid is throwing Mr. Potato Head across the room, because it’s so frustrating. I know, kids. It’s frustrating when you have a leaky butt on your hands. Especially when it’s not your own.

4. Action figures.

These guys. I feel sorry for them. They lose limbs like we lose matching shoes. I’ve found Captain America with only one arm, but “at least he still has his shield,” the boys say. I’ve found Hulk without a head, which would be a very dangerous Hulk, if you ask me. I’ve found Iron Man missing a leg, but “at least he can still fly.”

All I know is I’m hoping they won’t come back to avenge their missing limbs, because I have no idea where they are.

5. Games.

Now, I love playing Apples to Apples and Ticket to Ride and Dominion just like any other parent, and even, when it comes to kids’ games, Battleship and Candy Land and Operation. It’s just that even though these games are super fun and most of my boys are old enough to play them, they come with two thousand tiny pieces. And they’re packaged in boxes.

This alone is a recipe for disaster, but put together, it’s a recipe for we’ll-never-play-this-again. The boys try to cram on the box lid, even though the Battleship board is still halfway open, and the box tears in half, and then the pieces are everywhere, and we have to break out the Duct tape, and even still, pieces go missing. Ever tried to play Operation without the liver and the heart and the funny bone? It’s not as much fun. What’s even worse, though, is when parents don’t replace the batteries (they never do—but that’s an essay for another day).

6. Anything that’s super cool.

The 8-year-old once got a microscope for his birthday, because he was really into science (and still is), but it lasted all of three days, because he left it out on the table once and one of his twin brothers decided to see what would happen if he squeezed the tiny little light bulb. Easy enough to fix, except that when he crushed it with his tiny little hands, he also bent a piece that wouldn’t permit any other light bulb to be screwed in. (Fun fact: How many people did it take to screw in a light bulb? About twelve, until Husband looked at it and called it what it was: destroyed.)

The 6-year-old once got a really cool bug catcher that broke the first time a fly got caught. (I know. That wasn’t his fault.) Another boy once got a frogosphere where you can raise your own frogs, and we didn’t even try that one, because we’re talking about live animals. After what these boys do to toys? No thanks. You just dodged a bullet, baby frogs.

7. Scooters.

It’s amazing how difficult it is to align the handlebars with the wheels on a scooter when you’re putting it together and how amazingly easy it is to mangle this contraption beneath the tires of a minivan when boys forget to put it back where it belongs.

8. Stuffies.

If the 3-year-olds are left alone with a stuffed animal for any amount of time, they will defluff it, which is about as terrible as it sounds. Every now and then they sneak a little stuffy past my eyes and hide it under their pillow until I take a bathroom break from my post right outside their room, which is where I have to stay if there’s any chance that they will take a nap, and when I come back, I find miniature throw carpets that have dog heads and lion heads and pink elephant heads with sparkly purple eyes.

In fact, this has happened so often recently I’m considering starting a business selling slippers made from old, defluffed stuffed animals. Because those little throw rugs look suspiciously like the material used for kids slippers. Might as well make a profit off my boys’ destruction.

All I’m really trying to say, toy manufacturers, is that you’re going to have to do better than this. Let’s see you make something cool that will not be taken apart in ten seconds and put back together all wrong, or maybe, worse, better than before. Let’s see you make something that can withstand cross-purpose playing (like puppet sticks that are actually durable enough to be used as swords—which will happen in a house of boys). Let’s see you make something kids can’t destroy.

I know it’s a daunting task, but judging by the price of that action hero castle they got for Christmas last year that was destroyed two hours later, I’m paying you about twenty-five dollars an hour. You can do this. I know you can.

Plus, my boy just put a cool Star Wars light saber on his birthday wish list, and I still remember what happened to the last one. No one wants to see an 8-year-old on a war path to figure out who broke his favorite toy. Trust me.

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.

Why Traveling With Kids is Maybe the Worst Idea Ever

Why Traveling With Kids is Maybe the Worst Idea Ever

We’re finally all packed up, and everyone is buckled and already said their piece about how strange it is that Mama’s driving this time (because I never choose to), and Daddy has his laptop open, ready to work. We’re going to get moving, after two hours of trying.

That’s right. It takes two hours just to leave the house.

And then.

Then I turn on the car. The gas light, indicating a gas tank on fumes, is on.

Son of a—

I know what this means. A stop. A stop that will likely turn into a potty break that will turn into five potty breaks (because everyone forgot to go before we left) that will turn into thirty minutes (or more!) of wasted time.

It’s only a three-hour trip. It will take us five (not counting the two-hour departure time).

When we stop, after I’ve huffed and puffed about how someone should fill up the car once in a while and why can’t whoever was driving it last just fill it up before the gas light comes on (pretty sure it was me, that day I was running late to get dinner started and the three older boys had just effectively made me lose my mind fighting over two computers in the public library, so I didn’t want to stay in the car with them one second longer), I tell them we are NOT getting out to potty, because this is not a scheduled potty break. This is an inconvenient, necessary stop.

Scheduled potty breaks happen when the baby needs to eat.

“But I really need to go!” the 8-year-old says. It’s been a whopping three minutes since we left.

“Did you go before you left, like I told you?” I say.

“I didn’t have to go then,” he says.

Welp, you don’t have to go now, either.

There are so many kids. It’s like a field trip traveling with all these boys. When one needs to potty, they all do. When one falls asleep, the others don’t. They just get louder.

Every two minutes a different one asks, “Are we almost there?”

We’re not even out of the neighborhood yet.

At first we answered no. Then we answered yes. Then we tried to ignore it. Then we told them to stop asking. Then we told them the truth.

“Two more hours.”
“One hour and fifty-eight minutes.”
“One hour and fifty-six minutes.”

Then we turned it into math practice.

“One hour and fifty-four minutes. How many minutes have passed since you last asked?”
“One hour and fifty-two minutes. Do you notice a pattern between your questions?”
(This plan backfired, because they actually adore math.)

In the end, this is the question that will break us. It’s the one that will make Husband and me look at each other with those crazy eyes and silently mouth, “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER again,” so the kids can’t hear our declaration and have a meltdown in the middle of our meltdown (the car would explode if too many meltdowns happen at the same time. It’s a law of physics.).

I took some traveling notes on things I wanted to make sure I’d remember next time I think it would be a good idea to pack six boys into the van and travel more than the five miles to the grocery store:

1. Bring some oversized cups.

It’s never too early for boys to learn the art of peeing in cups. When our 3-year-old twins are playing free at home, they will go hours without having to visit the restroom. When they’re in the car, their bladders shrink to about the size of a peanut. They need to pee every half hour. So make it a game: They have to pee in a cup without unbuckling.

On second thought, you’ll probably be the loser in the end, so let’s just forget I mentioned it.

2. Bring treats for every mile you go without hearing, “Are we almost there?”

This question (and its twin: “How much longer until we get there?”) will drive you absolutely crazy, because when you have multiple children, they each take turns asking, as if the answer you gave their brother wasn’t good enough for them. As if their asking might suddenly create a time warp we can speed through that crosses fifty miles in one minute (Every parent wishes this time warp were Real Life instead of Science Fiction.). As if something has changed in one hundred twenty seconds.

One kid might ask it two thousand times. Six kids ask it 13 billion times. So reward them for keeping their mouths shut.

3. Don’t bother putting shoes on the 3-year-olds.

They take them off as soon as they get in the car anyway, and they’ll get buried under all the jackets that get left in the car because no one needs jackets during a Texas winter. Some of them will get shuffled under seats. One will probably fall out the door and you won’t notice (true story). You’ll waste way too much time (and remember: minutes are precious when traveling with kids) looking for shoes, especially when one has gone missing because it was left in the last town. So don’t bother.

4. Bring audio books. They’re more for you than for the kids.

They’re so the next time they ask, “Are we almost there?” you can say, “I’m trying to listen to the story.” They’re so when they say they need to go to the potty again you can say, “Let’s wait until this story is over (they don’t have to know that will be another hour). They’re so when they’re rocking the back of the car because they want to move it faster, you can retreat into your own world and try to ignore the way the van is not moving any faster—probably slower, because everything is slower with children when children try to help.

5. DON’T INTRODUCE I SPY. OR KNOCK KNOCK JOKES.

Notice this one is in caps. There’s a good reason for that. Three thousand rounds of I Spy. Five hundred knock knock jokes. Do you remember? Of course you do. Your eye is still twitching.

The “Are we almost there” question is nothing compared to this. So just close your mouth and keep your eyes on the road.

6. Use a better reservation system than Husband.

“Shoot,” Husband says when we’re turning into our destination. The sky fell dark hours ago, the kids are tired and I’m feeling especially grumpy, because I had to drive.

“What?” I say.

“Never mind,” he says. But I know. There’s something. We’ve been married too long for him to hide anything from me.

“What?” I say again. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

“Well, I can’t remember which condo is ours.”

At this point nothing could really surprise me. I don’t even blow up or rant about how could you not write it down and do I have to do everything and how about we just turn around and go back home. I’m too tired for all that. So I simply put my head down on the steering wheel and let loose a long, long sigh.

“They left the key under the mat,” he says, looking at the row of fifty condos.

“Have fun looking,” I say.

He gets out, checks enough doormats to make it halfway down the line of condos, then returns to the car.

At the last minute he remembered. It was the first condo we passed through the gate.

We all pile into the 500-square-foot condo that looked bigger in the online pictures and collapse on our bed.

Nothing like traveling together to ensure a good nights’ sleep.

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.

No, I’m Not Still Pregnant. This is Just My After-Belly.

No, I’m Not Still Pregnant. This is Just My After-Belly.

(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?

Never.

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.