Stay at Home Mom

At the beginning of August, the kids and I were looking at a full month of empty week day schedules.  I had envisioned trips to the pool, a tour of all the area playgrounds, maybe a few morning runs with the jog stroller.  And then the real live Arkansas summer reared it’s ugly three digit temperatures and all my plans were dashed.  In the meantime, we’ve found a few new summer pastimes that come free and complete with climate control.  If you’re not in Little Rock, maybe this list will help you get ideas when researching things to do in your town. Click the links for location and hours.

Indoor Playgrounds: Two area churches have indoor playgrounds that are open to the public.  Both of these locations also have a cafe so you can catch lunch or at least a snack after a long play session (the cafes are not free).

  • The Church at Rock Creek‘s playground is a beast, boasting four levels of climbing, tunneling, sliding adventure.  There is also a less intimidating space for the under two set.  As best I know this playground is open every day except Friday and Sunday.
  • Little Rock’s First Baptist Church Family Recreation Center has a small indoor playground that is great for preschool aged kids and younger.  It is two levels with a slide, and it’s very easy to see the kiddos at all times.  There is also an adjacent outdoor playground here. Open Monday thru Friday starting at 5:45am

Storytimes: Normally the Central Arkansas Library system is ripe with  storytimes throughout the week, but for some reason several branches take the month of August off.  We’ve found a couple great storytime events to keep us afloat, though.  Both of these storytimes are scheduled to continue through the fall.

  • Storytime at McMath Library is every Wednesday at 10am.  Miss Julie is a wonderfully energetic storytime librarian, and the library itself is beautiful, clean, and easy to get to.  Storytime includes 3-4 books, 2-3 songs, and an art/craft activity.
  • Storytime at Whole Foods is every Friday at 10am.  “Farmer Kaylea” (complete with overalls) takes time out from her farm to share some stories and a yummy snack.  Storytime includes 2-3 books, 1-2 songs, a healthy (usually fruit) snack, and coloring sheets.  The kids and I usually stay and play in the kids’ play area (blocks, puzzles, books) for an hour or so.

Open Gym: There are a couple opportunities for open gym play that I know of. (These are not drop-offs.)

  • Unity Martial Arts offers a free open gym every Friday from 9am-11am.  Sometimes a wide open padded space is all a kid needs.  The huge bouncy balls and a game of bean-bag toss are just icing on the cake.
  • The Little Gym is offering a free open house this Friday, August 13 from 2:30-4:30pm.  Instructors will be on-hand to facilitate free play, themed games, prize drawings, face painting, and more.  If you decide to sign up for classes while you are there, mention that you heard about the open house event from me (Fawn) and they will waive the yearly membership fee for you.

If you know of any other free “beat the heat” activities or events, please post them in the comments section. We still have a month til school starts!

I’m starting to realize that I might be one of those oblivious moms; the kind that just does things without thinking too far ahead, or considering what might come next after the present hurdle or milestone is surmounted.  You would think I would have learned my lesson. I couldn’t wait for Carina to start talking.  Now she won’t be quiet.  I was so excited when Callen army crawled across the floor at nine months, and then was horrified when he started climbing the fireplace just a few months later. Potty training has been no different.

I wasn’t really surprised when Carina showed an interest in potty training at 16 months old. I was 8 months pregnant with Callen and in the bathroom all the time, so it was only natural for her to want to mimic me.  By the time Callen was born, Carina had just started wearing big girl undies.  But, then she regressed (toddler logic: if you’re going to change his diaper, you’re going to change mine!). One year and one month later, Carina was officially potty trained after many false starts, puddles on the floor, and near mommy-meltdowns.

Rockin' the Big Girl Undies

I was very happy to have one less set of diapers to change every day, but I soon realized that “official” potty training has its stages.  It’s one of those many things that no one ever told me.  Once a child is potty trained, things don’t necessarily get easier.

Going in 20 Seconds -Luckily, this stage did not last long, but after Carina started wearing big girl undies, there were several months when Carina had about a 20 second lead time on her potty needs.  If she had to go potty, she had to GO.  This was certainly an issue if we were out and about, but also became and issue at home, where I sometimes could not react to her needs immediately because I was in the middle of changing a diaper or making an important phone call.

Taking the Show on Road – Carina soon realized that her new found skill could feed her love of exploratory expeditions. Thus began her mission to visit every ladies room in the central Arkansas area.  Restaurants, Wal-mart, gas stations (yuck), public parks (double yuck!), and anywhere else that looks like it might have a potty on premise will send her bladder into action. One visit doesn’t mark a potty off her list, either.  Once she’s been there, she remembers, and she will suddenly need to pee when she comes within 50 yards of previously visited potties.

The Great Potty Escape – Carina also uses her diaper-less-ness as  a weapon.  If she wants to escape a situation, she just cries potty.  She somehow mastered the ability to pee one tablespoon at a time, so she always has some potty on hand if she gets in trouble and has to stand in the corner, or if she’s tired of sitting in the stroller during our Stroller Strides class.  Her teachers at parents day out expressed great concern for her physical health the first time she avoided taking a nap by getting up to go potty six times in an hour.  If she’s asked to wait in these type of situations, she wails, “But I CAN’T WAIT!” and then I worry that people are going to call the Division of Family Services hotline on me if I don’t take her to the bathroom.

Night Night, Pull It Up Tight! – This is the point that I’m most disappointed with myself for not anticipating.  Even though Carina is officially potty trained by day, the same is not true for night.  Apparently this is standard process for all potty trainers, but no one told ME!  Nine months after crossing the line into big girl undie-land, Carina still wears pull-ups to bed every night.  Every morning they are soaked.  Sometimes they get so wet they leak and I get to wash all the bed linens. I’m starting to wonder how long this will go on.  How do kids learn not to pee when they’re unconscious?

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Big Girl Undies –  And finally, having a potty trained kid has posed a challenge to travel.  On a recent plane trip, we chose to put her in pull-ups just in case.  Sure enough, just as one flight left the ground, Carina had to go.  We couldn’t get out of our seats, so we were thankful for the pull-up.  Who knows what would have happened if we had gone without.  Car travel is another story.  Carina is good in the car usually for about an hour or so before she gets bored and starts using potty as an escape mechanism.  She also likes to wait until we’ve traveled into extreme rural-ness before playing the potty card accompanied with the “Going in 20 Seconds” urgency card.  And of course, as we’re whizzing down the highway, passing all those gas stations, stores, and other businesses that have potties she’s never been to before, it makes her need to do some whizzing herself.

The travel issues are all annoying, but somewhat manageable when Craig and I are both in the car.  However, when I am traveling alone with both kids, we have more of a problem.  You see, as unexcited as I am about having Carina pee into a filthy gas station toilet, I am even less elated to have to bring Callen in with us so that he can roam freely while I assist Carina.  He loves to lay on the floors, crawl under the stall walls, and make those swinging trash can lids spin around and around.  I cringe just thinking about it.  Thanks to a discussion with my mom about this, I came to the conclusion that it would be much cleaner (and possibly safer) to just pull off on the side of the road and let her pee in the grass.  So, for the three-hour trip between our house and grandma’s, I’ve successfully scouted multiple overgrown parking lots, scenic overlooks, and farming field entrances that I can pull off onto and allow Carina to let it all out, one tablespoon at a time.  This is probably illegal, but I’m willing to risk it.

So, if you’ve read this far, and you have potty training in your future, consider yourself warned. Potty training is so much more than you may have imagined.  You might start to wonder who is training who.

I can’t wait till it’s Callen’s turn…

Visions of Things to Come

This morning I loaded up the kids in Craig’s truck with the usual comedy of errors: multiple trips in and out of the house; chasing Callen from truck door to truck door (it’s a four-door truck) as part of his routine of climbing into the truck and then catapulting himself around on the inside of it with a sort of enthusiasm rivaled only by super bounce balls; loosening car seat straps to fit winter coats, wrestling, buckling, and then tightening the straps again; returning to the house to spray down Callen’s brand new cloth backpack with Shout after realizing that he drug it though motor oil that had been dripped on the garage floor; and finally climbing into the driver’s seat, my head pounding, with a combo Carina Whine-fest and Callen Fuss-a-palooza going on in the back seat.

I should also mention here that this would be the first day of both kids going to parents day out in over two weeks due to a half-way across the country trip to see the in-laws followed immediately by a 10 day battle with pink eye/ear infection/upper respiratory yucko.  10 days is a long time to be stuck in the house with two mini-sickies.

And we were late. For school, that is.  So, I punched the garage door opener button, turned around and attempted to threaten the kids into silence, turned back around, buckled my seat belt, put the truck in reverse, and took my foot off of the brake.  Thud.  I knew what happened without looking.  I backed right into the garage door, which had not cleared the height of the truck bed in its too-slow ascent.  I got out to face the scene of bent metal and crushed tail light. I said some bad words.  I got back into the truck, called Craig and told him the news, and then I cried.

Later in the afternoon, after two separate visits from two separate garage door repair men had rendered my garage door operable, but still dented and in need of some replacement panels and parts, I felt a little better.  By four pm I could actually get the truck out of the garage and go somewhere.  As we drove to get Callen’s three-weeks-too-long  hair cut, I realized that the garage door and I had a lot in common.  Both of us had been knocked off-kilter by the mayhem wrought by a toddler and a preschooler.  Like the garage door, I am still able to function in my duties, but I am feeling a little battered and bent from this most recent stretch of motherhood. Since the mayhem began, the door and I have declined in our abilities to fulfill our duties. We need some fixing up. Luckily, only one of us costs $400 to repair.  I just need a quiet day to myself to reflect, relax, and iron out the wrinkles in my super-mom cape.

*For those feeling concern over the nature of my last two blog posts: rest assured that I do indeed love my children and love being their mother, and that my next life-related post will be of a sunnier disposition.

Right at this moment, I should be writing about three different articles that I have floating in my head.  Really, there’s nothing to stop me.  It’s 9:10pm and the rest of my family is in bed… asleep…probably. And therein lies the problem.

Before kids I loved commitment.  If anything, I was over committed.  At work, I took on duties that were not part of my job description.  If I thought of something that would help my coworkers or the organization I worked for, I took it on and made sure it got done.  In my free time, I was committed to training for sprint distance triathalons. And of course, I was committed completely and without competition in my love for my husband.

Now, “after” kids, I have a hard time with commitment.   For small-scale commitments, I often find myself paralyzed by my fear of starting a task or project.  The primary basis of this fear is interruption.  I can’t stand to leave something undone. Being the owner of two toddlers means that life is lived in 15 minute segments.  Anything that cannot be accomplished in that amount of time is a dangerous escapade of recklessness, most often resulting in wailing children, teed-off mommy, or both.  Even within these 15 minute segments, I do not have control at least 50% of the time.  I’m outnumbered. They know it.  I know it. They know I know it and they rub it in by alternating who pushes my buttons in each 15 minute time segment.  Tasks that are nearly un-accomplishable during daylight hours include washing dishes (hence my hatred for the task and the name of this blog), mopping floors, folding laundry, talking on the phone, showering, writing, and many more.

Now, certainly I do have occasions where I go an hour or more without being interrupted.  Nap time, evenings, and the theoretically huge but perceptively small four-hour blocks of time when the kids are at parents day out and I am not working.  The problem there is that my fear of interruption has become a bit irrational.  Sure the kids usually sleep from 8pm to 2am.  However, I still hesitate to start writing because someone might wake up, or my brain is not as sharp at the end of a long day as it should be for my best writing to come out, or if I do get a good draft written, how long will it be before I’ll be able to come back to it, and can I keep my train of thought?

My other commitment issues come from that time-honored scape-goat that all mommies are strapped to (willingly or un): guilt.  As I mentioned, before kids I had three large-scale commitments: hubby, work, and hobby.  Now, the kids, in all their innocent, dependent, defenseless glory, have taken that list and smashed it to bits.  I feel guilty about where this lands hubby on the list, but I love him with all my heart, and feel that raising our children well is one of the best gifts I can give him.  Work has nearly disappeared from the list, and the little amount of work I do makes me feel guilty for taking away from family time, although the extra cash helps a little as we’re currently paying two mortgages.  Anything I do that gets anywhere near hobby-ish (including writing and fitness) immediately gets soaked in guilt, what with all the other commitments I am already not satisfying.  On the other hand, I feel that I’ve earned the right to have some time to myself, and that truly, I need that time in order to be the best mom I can be.

So, I am struggling to strike a balance, to ascertain whether I have too many commitments on my list and what should be scribbled out.  I need to reprogram my brain to work without fear of interruption, to utilize my “me” time to the fullest extent, since “me” time is what gets scribbled off the list first. I love my children to bits, but I don’t want to be one of those moms who lose themselves to the process of mothering. I’m curious as to how other moms do it, and how long  it takes to learn this skill.  I’ve been at it three years and counting.   Isn’t there a class I can take?

Please welcome my first ever guest blogger, Kristen, who has come out of the kitchen long enough to tell us about a fun way to make some extra cash.

If someone told you that you have buried treasure in your house, wouldn’t you try to find it? I know I would. I’d enlist the whole family, hand them each a shovel, and tell them to get digging!

This is no fairytale: You just might be sitting on a gold mine and not even know it. The treasure I’m referring to isn’t underground and marked by a great big “X.” Instead, it’s most likely packed away in your attic, sitting among your old high school memorabilia, or stuffed in the bottom of your jewelry box. Bracelets, necklaces, rings, and watches that you haven’t worn in years could be worth a ton of money at a gold party.

I went to my first gold party completely by accident. I was at a friend’s house one night, and she said she wanted to go by her neighbor’s party for a few minutes. Since I had no idea what went on at a gold party, I was curious and went with her. One of the women who came brought a bag of gold and made several hundred dollars. She was so excited that she went back home to find more jewelry.  She returned with another full bag. That night she left with a total of $1,600 cash! After I saw that, I said, “Sign me up!” and hosted my own gold party a few weeks later.

Having a gold party was a great experience for me. If you’re interested in making a little extra moolah for the holidays and have considered hosting a party, now is the perfect time. The best part about a gold party is that no one feels pressured to buy anything. Your guests have nothing to lose and everything to gain. In fact, you can tell people to leave their checkbooks and credit cards at home. They won’t need them!

Take a look at a few more reasons why you should book a gold party:

  • Gold is VERY profitable right now. As of 11-17-09, gold sells for $1,136 an ounce. Wow. This is an ideal time to cash in on your gold jewelry while the price is high.
  • It’s an easy way to make money…and lots of it. Anyone who hosts a gold party makes 10-15% of the total amount of gold sold by those attending. For example, if all the gold sold at your party equals $1,500, you get to keep $150. Not bad just for having a few people in your home and setting out some treats. I made about $500, and I was thrilled with that amount.
  • Come and go format. People are more likely to come to your party because they don’t have to block out two hours in their extremely busy lives for it. They can pop in, sell their gold, and leave whenever they want. Or, they can enjoy a night out with friends and stay the whole time. It’s totally up to them.
  • People that can’t come can give you their gold ahead of time. This is a BIG plus. Tell your friends to collect all their gold, put it in a plastic baggie, and get it to you before the party. Most of the money that I made was through people who dropped off their jewelry in bags.
  • People MAKE money at your party, not spend it. We tend to dread invitations to most home-based parties because we feel obligated to buy something if we attend. At a gold party, there is no pressure to spend anything. You go home with more money than you came with!

If you’d like to host a party, start by finding a reputable gold buyer in your city, and get a date on the calendar. Spread the word among your family and friends. Talk it up! Then, don’t forget to search high and low for your hidden treasures that are just waiting to be found.

Kristen Feola is a freelance writer whose popular blog,, supports individuals and churches worldwide who are doing the Daniel Fast. She is currently working on her first book. She enjoys cooking, riding her bike, and going rock climbing in Arkansas with her family. She lives in Springfield, Missouri, with her husband and two daughters.

I just finished rocking Callen to sleep for his nap.  Lately, this little activity stirs emotion in me like no other.  I know that the days of rocking are numbered.  He’s 20 months old now, and getting more independent by the day.  In his waking hours, he’s an active go-getter: climbing, chasing, talking, throwing, exploring, and making messes along the way.  A virtual mini-man, he’s hard-headed, humorous, and hungry.

But, for those few minutes between when we wrestle pajamas on and when I lay him down in his crib, he is my sweet, cuddly baby boy; happy to nestle his head beneath my chin and share a book.  When the book is finished (for the second or third time), he helps me turn out the light, and I ask him if he wants me to sing him a song.  He always nods yes.  We rock and sing for a while.  I kiss him on the forehead and bury my nose in his hair between stanzas.  He points to his nose, then mine; his eyes, then mine; his ear, then mine.

It’s during this time that my emotions stir.  The cuddles, the closeness, the feel of his little hands on my face all fill me with a combination of comfort and panic.  The comfort comes from feeling the unspoken love between mother and child that surfaces during moments such as this.  On the other hand, the dramatic part of my brain wastes no time in fast forwarding right through Callen’s childhood to a point in time when he is a 20-year-old college student who only calls when he needs money.  What will I do when my baby is gone and I have no one to rock?  My throat literally begins to close up, and my heart beat quickens.  I steal another forehead kiss and take a deep breath of little boy hair smell to calm myself. This is how siblings come to be.  I can completely understand how one of these rocking sessions could cause many a mommy to run straight from cribside to wherever her husband may be and advance on him with the specific goal of not having to leave that baby years behind. Luckily, my dramatic brain can still be overruled by my logistic brain, which reminds me that Rechkemmer babies don’t sleep through the night for the entire first year.

When the singing is done, he reaches up and hugs me with both arms, kisses me, and we rub noses Eskimo style.  “I love you,” I whisper to him as I lay him in his crib.  “Yuv yuuu,” he whispers back.

Our couch is a neutral tan/brown color. It has large seat cushions with huge throw pillows that constitute the back cushions.  It’s a very cozy couch that can magically make you fall asleep within minutes of laying down on it. It’s about 8 years old, and is starting to show some wear.  It has survived cat scratches, stranded sippy cups slowly leaking sour milk into it, three moves, and lately, it gets stripped of its cushions on a daily basis to become the stage for “The Carina and Callen Show”, a production that includes A LOT of jumping and bouncing.

This morning Callen woke up at 5:30, which he’s been doing a lot since we took away his pacifier.  In an effort to keep him quiet so the rest of the family could continue to sleep I brought him out to the couch to snuggle.  Burrowed between the throw pillows, I was aware of one of those fleeting moments:  a silent, calm, stillness shared by mother and an otherwise highly active little boy.   I tried desperately to memorize the smell of his hair, the curve of his cheek, and the coy little grin he gave me as he realized I was inspecting him. I thought back to the hours he and I spent together on this very couch before he was even born.  It was the only place I could get comfortable enough to sleep through the night.  Even then Callen was a very active fellow, somersaulting and ninja-kicking my pelvic bone to show his boredom in the wee hours.

I thought back further to the hours and hours I spent sitting on our couch, nursing Carina and reading, reading, reading.  I didn’t know how good I had it.  Carina could easily make a day out of getting her nutrients, and I remember sitting, and staring longingly into the kitchen, wishing I could go and do something productive, like cook dinner or wash the dishes.  What was I thinking?!  Going even further back I recalled more pregnant nights spent on the couch, waking up the morning of my due date to see Craig standing over me expectantly.  “Where’s the baby?” he joked.  Little did we know we’d be waiting five more long days.

Pre-kids, the couch was the place where we sat and visited with friends, where Craig and I cuddled and watched movies, and where both of us took what now seem like impossibly luxuriant hours-long afternoon naps.

It seems odd that something as utilitarian as a couch could be such a source of nostalgia.  Maybe this is why I have yet to find a couch that I like better than the one we have. Maybe excessive wistfulness is just one of those things that happens when you become a parent.

As the world’s leading expert in being NOT domestic, I struggle almost daily with making dinner.  While I consider myself an organized planner with a type A personality, I just cannot master dinner. I get stuck on what to make, usually trying to think of something that is easy to prep because the kids will be harassing me while I make it.  I also need something that is easily reheatable or will stay warm for a long time, since we never really know what time Daddy will make it home on week nights.  My pantry is well stocked with ingredients, but I rarely remember to unthaw meat or get a marinade set up early in the day.  I feel guilty feeding my family “boxed” dinners with their copious amounts of sodium (and who knows what other chemicals) too many nights a week.  Sometimes I get so stressed that I don’t make anything at all, and the kids end up eating PB&J with apple slices while hubby and I spoon down cereal (I have mine with a side of guilt).

Then, I came across an article about supper swapping.  “Ah-ha!”  I thought.  “I can do this.”  supper swapping is a micro version of village-style dining.  Two or more families of similar size work together on a rotating schedule to provide meals for one another, so that each family has to cook dinner fewer nights each week.  For example, I recruited three mommy friends who have families of three or four and live nearby.  The four of us rotate cooking one “swap” meal per week.  So, in week one, Rebecca cooks and delivers a meal to the rest of us.  In week two, Lucy cooks and delivers, and so on.  Other supper swaps are set up so that each family cooks a meal on a set day of the week, meaning that each family only has to cook once per week.  That’s one great thing about setting up a supper swap – you can customize it to be whatever the families in your group would like.

The huge and obvious benefit for me is that I have one less night per week to stress about dinner.  In addition, it gives me more time to spend with the kids, and when Craig gets home, we can all sit down to a wonderful homemade dinner.  We get to try a lot of new dishes we haven’t had before, and the kids seem to get a kick out of knowing that “David’s Mom” cooked our meal.

So, gather up a couple friends and give it a try. Here are links to a couple resources to get you started:

This post is all about how my kids collaborate and connive to hijack my sleep time.  It’s a rant.  So, all you moms who have kids that have been sleeping through the night since you got home from the hospital can stop reading now.

In the three plus years that I have been farming kids, I’d estimate that I’ve slept through the night a total of 10 months worth.  The bulk of those 10 months were between when Carina turned 9 months old and finally slept all night and when I got so hugely pregnant with Callen that I couldn’t stay in one position all night. I spent the last month of that pregnancy sleeping upright on the love seat with a top-secret concoction of throw pillows arranged just so underneath me.  Now, the kids are one and a half and three, and I still don’t get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis.

I know that this is partly my fault.  I am a night owl by nature, and it seems I am raising a little bumper crop of night owls to keep me company.  The problem is, my little hooters like to sleep through the evening hours (bedtime is 7:30) and party down in the wee hours of the morning.  In addition, their father calls himself a morning person, and they want to follow in his footsteps too, so no matter what time they go to bed, or how many times they are up in the night, the absolute latest they are going to sleep in is 7am.

We are to the point now where on most nights, one hoodlum sleeps through the night while the other dutifully wakes at 2am and screams until I appear.  You know, just to make sure mommy is still around.  Carina, being a typical precocious three year old, has an entire laundry list of stall tactics to ensure that I lose the optimum amount of sleep to put me over the edge of sanity.  These needs include: drinks of water, sleeping in a different bed (mine or the guest room), using the potty, blowing her nose, a specific book or animal to sleep with, and me to sleep with her for “two minutes” (which non-coincidentally is the exact amount of time needed for me to fall asleep in her bed in an uncomfortable position and wake up three hours later, angry for falling asleep and unable to walk because my feet are both numb).

Callen, on the other hand, is actually the good sleeper of the moment.  He didn’t sleep through the night consistently until well after his first birthday.  Now, most nights, he is cozy and quiet, leaving the rowdiness to his sister.  However, he has two plans of attack. One is what I call the stealth-scream.  From his crib across the hall, Callen will scream a single, shrill, blood-freezing scream.  He never actually moves or wakes up.  But, being one of those mommies who hears her kids cry at night even when they’re staying over at Grandma’s, that one scream is enough to bring me to full wakefulness with a physical jolt of my body, after which I lay awake, first trying to discern whether Callen is actually awake, and then trying to get my brains to turn off so I can go back to sleep.  His second approach is to whine pitifully until I come in and pick him up out of his crib.  As soon as his feet leave that mattress, he’s ready to party.  3am?  No worries.  Why not get up for the day?  Let’s turn on all the toys that make noise and dig that plastic hammer set out of the closet!

I should also mention here that hubby is oblivious to all of this. This is not part of his job description since he has to get up and go to “work” in the morning. The one thing I worry about when I travel and leave hubs and the kids at home is that one of the kids will have some sort of crisis in the middle of the night, and he will sleep right through it.

I’ve been feeling kind of sickly the past few days, and was really looking forward to catching up a little on my eternal sleep deficit while the kids took a nap today. I should have not even had the thought.  When Callen started nodding off into his lunch plate, I put him to bed.  He was quiet until Carina finished her lunch and I got her into bed.  Then he yelled until I came and got him.  Thus started an hour long cycle of rock-lay down-scream that ended in me finally feeding him lunch and getting him into bed nearly asleep (again).  Before I could finish an over-due writing assignment, Carina was awake, and my prospective nap was a no-go.

Now, it is nearly 10pm, and both kids have been sleeping for about 2 hours.  I should be sleeping myself, but being a night owl makes it very difficult for me to get into bed much earlier than 10:30.  I’ve had the thought of trying to match their schedule – going to bed around 9 and getting up at 6.  I don’t think that I could function that way though.  Apparently I need my midnight oil a little more than I need sleep these days.  I sometimes wonder who I would be if I was still getting 9 to 10 hours of sleep every night like I did pre-baby.  But then, what would I have to write about?

The kids and I just returned from four days and four nights in Branson, MO.  We were house and dog sitting for Grandma and Papa while they were on vacation.  It seems odd, but I’m fairly certain that this little trip was the longest I have ever been “alone” with my children.  The idealist in me thought that this might be a sort of mom and kid retreat.  We would spend our days visiting friends and doing fun activities, and I would have the evenings to myself to write, read, or maybe even get a workout in on Grandma’s Wii Fit.  This  setting would allow me time to really focus on my kids and my mothering skills, allowing me to practice yelling less and laughing more. When I first had this thought, I couldn’t actually hear my inner realist laughing at my inner idealist, but by the end of day two in Branson, the knee slapping and hysterical cackles coming from my inner realist were ringing in my inner ear.

This trip was less retreat and more boot camp.  The visit to the science museum ended after two and a half hours of trying to chase two kids in two different directions while also trying to visit with my friends and former colleagues who work there.  My back hurt, and we were all tired and hungry.  To complement the fast food that I had bought them when the snacks ran out on the way to the museum, on the way home the kids each had a strawberry ice cream cone.  I began to question my retreat idea when I realized that I was buying my kids ice cream to keep them from screaming in the back seat, which they were doing because it was bedtime.  By the time we got home, wiped the sticky mess off of all of us, and I got the kids to bed, it was 9pm and I was fried.

Visits to the homes of friends and family were much nicer and less stressful, although my mothering skills were still tested by disrupted eating and sleeping patterns that left the kids begging for dinner at 4pm, taking 20 minute cat naps in the car, and screaming-fussing-whining their way through several hours of the day.  Callen woke up at 5:30am every morning.  One day Carina refused to take a nap, and woke Callen from his nap during her protest. Grandma and Papa’s  house is full of fun toys and is surrounded by acres of garden, yard, and farmland to explore, but that didn’t stop the incessant need to play with all low-lying breakable objects, and to climb things that weren’t meant to be climbed.  My quiet evenings never materialized, as I was usually too tired to focus on anything by the time the kids went to sleep.

In the end, we had a great trip, filled with the normal amount of non-scheduled, chaotic fun and resulting meltdowns that we get when we travel. Instead of yelling less, I yelled more, because there wasn’t a second parent there to pick up the slack. But, I learned that I can manage two kids on my own for a semi-extended period of time, even with two high-strung golden retrievers added in.  I found ways to think creatively about the nutritional merits of strawberry ice cream.  I realized that the witching hour, that late afternoon time when we all drive each other crazy while waiting for Daddy to get home, never really arrives when there is no one to wait for. I upped my already high level of respect for single parents.  I reconnected with many old friends, and the kids did too.  We all missed Daddy.

The retreat finally did happen.  It only lasted a couple hours, but when we arrived back in Little Rock, the kids played nicely and happily together and with me.  We  re-familiarized ourselves with our home and its accoutrements while we waited anxiously for Craig to get home from work.  When he finally did get home, we were all happy together, and I marveled at the way our children teach us about ourselves.

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